Saturday, 31 March 2007


Some advances, I found a very good deal on 500Gb Lacie drives, so I bought 4 of them. Today I've finished (at last) capturing all the tapes.

Drive 1 - Brazil 2004 - 31 hours
Drive 2 - Peru 2006 - 27 hours
Drives 3 & 4 - Peru 2007 - 76 hours

That's 134 hours of recordings, including interviews with Benny Shanon, Johnatan Ott, Jacques Mabit, Luis Eduardo Luna, Ralph Metzner, Richard Yensen, Antonio Escohotado, Josep Maria Fericgla, dozens of curanderos, mestres and members of the Brazilian Ayahuasca churches: the UDV, A Barquinha, and Daime, psychologists who use the brew to get people off drugs, former drug addicts, and a host of people from all walks of life whose lives have been touched by their encounter ayahuasca, plus rituals, masses, preparations, healing sessions, seminars, detox centers... the list goes on and on.

I am attempting to make an audiovisual archive of all the different manifestations of Ayahuasca use. I am nowhere near done yet and I already have a couple of big problems:

1 What I want to say no longer fits in one, two or even three documentaries

2 If I try to compress the subject skipping over a proper introduction it is very likely that people will not understand/think it's crazy.

..and that is the last thing I want

Working on this problems during a course on Future Documentaries I found a possible solution, using the interactive video tool Korsakow System I could create a multi layered documentary:

On the main (top) level it would be a normal objective 1.5 hour documentary about ayahuasca that even my grandpa could watch.

Throughout the doc there would be a series of video footnotes, that you could access for additional information on a particular point (level 2) after watching the footnote you would be automatically redirected back to the point you left (much like reading a footnote in a book and then continuing reading)

...unless you want more. There would be footnotes to the footnotes these go deeply into the subject (level 3) giving more detailed and technical information.

...and if you want even more there are the footnotes to the footnotes to the footnotes (level 4) at this level I'd assume the viewer is really interested in the topic. At level 4 wait all the strange, crazy and hard-to-explain things around Ayahuasca. It is also at this level that I say what *I* really think about all this.

At level 1 the doc might be 1.5 hours long, following the footnotes it can stretch up to 6 o 7 hours..

The demo of the system will soon be online, meanwhile you can see some screen captures here.

Saturday, 10 March 2007

Fake Shamen

Interesting article about fake healers problem among the Navajo nation of course since there is no such thing as an official traditional healer certificate (an we hope there never is such a thing) the problem can be found all over the American continent. Its a problem inside the Indian communities, and it is also a problem that the communities have with outside people, mostly white new-agers (such as Sedonia Cahill's THE GREAT ROUND organization) who use ceremonial pipes, Indian names and paraphernalia, chanting, sweat lodges, and other offerings of Indian spirituality... but without the Indians.

Helene Hagan in her fantastic article states:

"Like Bird Brother and Sedonia Cahill, the people in such networks all purport to have a spiritual calling and to be legitimately trained in one or more Native American traditions. The fact of the matter is that they are not legitimate in the eyes of any Native American community, nor do they hold any seminar, conference or ceremonies among Native Americans. What they have in common is that they steer away from real Indians, do not interact with them and absolve themselves of any responsibility toward the Native American community, locally or nationally.

Furthermore, some have the audacity to claim that the Native American medicine people and elders are "jealous" of their "powers" (comment by O'Shinna Fast Wolf in the same issue), a ridiculous notion which only reflects the low level of esteem such commentators hold for Native American spiritual leaders and elders who are concerned about the proliferation of fake medicine people. Such statements deny Native American intelligence and wisdom, and ignore the very real possibility that legitimate traditionalists would know how dangerous the manipulation of partial ceremonial knowledge can be to the individual and collective psyches.

Traditionalists know how damaging someone who is not trained properly can be when manipulating psychic forces or invoking spirits of the depths without adequate preparation. It is this knowledge which impels the real spiritual Indian leaders to warn against these "plastic medicine people"-whether they call themselves "medicine" men and women, "shamans" or any other name. No Indian spiritual leader speaks of ownership of spirit, as they have been accused of recently in publications of The Great Round, as such notion is idiotic. To even advance such a notion can ony stem from very ignorant people in matters of Native American spirituality. It also reeks of racism, for it belittles the intelligence of a group of people in such a way that can only be called racist.

When Sedonia and Bird Brother write or speak about ownership of spirit, they are showing childish ignorance of spiritual matters. Indians are not seeking to protect their ceremonies from being practiced by others who hold more "power". The issue of power is a very misunderstood one, indeed. It is one that involves the shadow of all individuals engaged in the healing professions in the western world. To know how to relinquish power is the first step to spiritual understanding and the step missing from all New Age Indian teachings. People are getting very rich indeed in misleading others into quests for "powers" toward false values.

Rather, Indians are concerned that bits and pieces of their ceremonies are used and manipulated without discretion, in an ignorant manner as to their consequences. They are concerned that such actions, based on slavish imitation and improprieties, can cause damage to others, and that the very people who speak so loudly of their concern for mental health are engaging in unauthentic spiritual practices. Psychic damage has been known to result from such experiences. The individual may not be able to link it directly and it may show up in unpredictable ways months and years later. Native American spiritual leaders are fully aware of these dangers.

To belittle the knowledge of Indians, and to pretend that their practices can be taken over by non-Indians harmlessly are indications of non understanding and arrogance. To fabricate new ceremonies out of bits and pieces of various Indian rituals, out of the full ritual context in which they are embedded, is to create psychic monstrosities. This, the fake medicine people are unaware of. Rituals have a context. They are a part of an entire fabric of a given society, and one ritual is only a part of a whole. The balance is in the whole, not in the parts. And the whole is still the full practice within Indian circles, founded on ancient Indian traditions, for Indian people. Others can pretend to achieve identical results with only outward paraphernalia and a patchwork of gleaned information as to the steps of certain rites, but they do not have the key to the whole meaning, the whole context, and how the parts complement and fit each other. They are crippling other human beings by subjecting them to only bits or parts of a whole system, without having the keys to the entire mental system.

This is truly what is at stake and why Indians are concerned. They know these people do not have a clue and through arrogance, greed for money, for results, for power, for prestige, for followers, for validation of their fantasy trips, or from simple ignorance engage in improper behavior. As to the claim that rituals are "generic" and not specific to any group of people, one must indeed be a trained anthropologist to speak to that issue. Sedonia and Bird Brother are not. Rituals have contexts, are context specific and emerge from the collective unconscious of a particular group.

There are patterns which are embedded in an ecosystem, particular to a given culture and which function precisely and effectively for a particular group. It is Theodore Rosack who emphasizes that we are on the verge of discovering that the deep unconscious is not just sexual (Freud), or spiritual (Jung), but related to the ecosystem in which we live. And in that regard we must understand how Western people have diverged very far indeed from their unconscious in a destructive way. The destruction of the environment goes hand in hand with the destruction of our relationship to the unconscious, which is at its very depth our natural habitat and its indigenous populations. The recovery of this relatedness of all things can be accomplished as individuals, simply, genuinely and honestly without external trappings or borrowed traditions.

Rituals have to do with the careful relationship to these depths and ways have developed among certain people to balance these forces which can affect the individual and collective mental health of a given group. Playing with rituals is a dangerous game and in this regard Westerners who play at being Indians are unaware and unconscious. That is why Indians are concerned. Such "plastic medicine people" are fooling around with mental health and in ways for which they are not properly trained by experts. It is not a question of dispute over who is right and who is wrong and who owns spirituality.

Furthermore, the views set forth by The Great Round publications that "rituals are generic" and can be borrowed from one group or another and passed around reflects abysmal ignorance as to the very specific qualities of ritual as it is elaborated by the collective psyche of a given group of people, and it is valid for them alone. No ritual can be borrowed. No ritual can be created as an innovation by one individual. In indigenous groups, innovation occurs only as it emerges from a vision or a dream of a member of that community and bears all the marks of having a collective meaning, and must pass the scrutiny of experts in that community. The contention, for instance, that the "Prune Dance" began to be practiced by these New Age people because some white man dreamt of the world as if it were dried up like a prune and therefore needed a new ceremony to juice it up, is a severe misunderstanding of the true nature of dream. That white man's dream referred to his white world and not to any Sun Dance, which is an Indian ceremony. It might have meant that this particular man's env-ironment was like a dried prune. The white man's arrogance is boundless.

And while indeed the Spirit exists for each and all, and manifests in many ways, the way a human group relates to the earth is very specific. Each ritual, item, song or action exists in a very real context of family and social life in a group, and carries meaning within this very group, and not for other people. To borrow bits and pieces and create some hodgepodge for one's own benefit, financial or emotional, and as one wishes, is indeed the American way, but it is also very sad. It is as if Americans were so spiritually bankrupt that they did not have any inner resources to draw from and had to borrow from others the source of any inspiration. To peddle such hodgepodge to others for a fee, be it vision quest, sweatlodge or other ceremony, is taking advantage of the gullible and disoriented and to profit by it. This is the true essence of charlatanism.

In Native American traditions, the holy men and women, the spiritual advisors and medicine people hold different functions in society and have very different training. But all are sustained by their community without benefit to themselves. In return, they know that their primary responsibility is to their community, and should they depart from that path, seeking fame or glory or financial gain, they are leaving their true vocation and will be shunned. True humility and service to others are indeed their remarkable qualities. They do not market themselves, do not publicize their skills and do not issue flyers. They work hard in silence and in true dedication to the welfare of others and they know well the dark forces which can overcome them should they depart from their obligations.

Indian medicine men and women train from childhood. They are not allowed to practice until they have undergone a long experience of the powerful spirits or psychic forces they will encounter first in themselves, long before they are singled out for specific healing tasks by others. They do not appoint themselves. Rarely does a medicine man or woman come to practice before maturity, for these very reasons. There is not a hint of this wisdom in any of the so-called teachings passed around in the "circles" forming around plastic medicine people."

Via who owns native culture? which now has an rss feed, do subscribe

Indigenous ringtones

The Xavante Indians of Brazil are selling their traditional chants a mobile phone ringtones

..apparently its been pretty successful

The first Ayahuasca documentary - El primer documental sobre Ayahuasca

[texto en español debajo]

..the oldest Ayahuasca doc I've been able to find was "Ayahuasca", filmed in 1971 (!!!!) by Nora de Izcue, who is now in her 70s and was one of the first Peruvian female directors, she had a very interesting and active life, in her 60s she made a documentary exposing Fujimori corruption.

In 1983 she made a fiction film called El Viento de la Ayahuasca that I haven't been able to see, but if you are in Lima you can find it in La Biblioteca Luis E. Valcárcel, Jr. Cuzco 414.

I tried to contact her production company when I went to Lima, without success.

UPDATE: Blogging woks! Thanks to this post I was contacted by a personal friend of the director. On my next trip to Perú I was able to meet and interview Nora de Izcue. It was a lovely evening with a most interesting woman.

Nora de Izcue - Filmography

1970 Así se realizó La Muralla Verde.

1971 Ayahuasca.

1973 Runan Caycu.

1974 Guitarra sin cuerdas.

1977 Te invito a jugar.

1978 Canción al viejo fisga que acecha en los lagos amazónicos.

1978 El Juancito.

1981 Las pirañas.

1982 El viento del Ayahuasca.

1990 Color de mujer.

1991 Elena Izcue - La armonía silenciosa

2004 El viento de todas partes

[texto en español]

..el documental sobe Ayahuasca más antiguo que he podido encontra es "Ayahuasca", dirigido en 1971 (!!!!) por Nora de Izcue, una de las primeras directoras de cine peruanas, con una biográfia muy interesante y de gran actividad, con más de 60 años dirigió un documental denunciando la corrupción de Fujimori.

En 1983 dirigió una película de ficción titulada El Viento de la Ayahuasca ambientada en Iquitos. Aún no he podido verlas, pero si estáis en Lima La Biblioteca Luis E. Valcárcel, Jr. Cuzco 414. tiene una copia

Cuando estuve en Lima intenté sin éxito entrar en contacto con ella a través de su productora

UPDATE: Los blogs funcionan! Gracias a este post fui contactada por una amiga personal de la directora. En mi siguiente viaje a Perú pude conocer a Nora de Izcue y grabar una entrevista en su casa, pasé una tarde entrañable con una mujer fascinante.

UPDATE 2: He encontrado un clip de El viento de la Ayahuasca (1982) en youtube

New book on Ayahuasca

Alto das Estrelas has an inteview with Gover Derix, a dutch philosopher who after many years of research has published a book on ayahuasca. When asked about shamanism in Europe Derix answers:

"It's multifaceted, and very interesting, but it is also impossible to tell what is authentic. The only criteria that makes sense using is that of sincerity. Some people can really feel that they are a shaman (or a mestre in the UDV, o padrinho in the Daime) they can feel that they have a real relationship with Ayahuasca, "the teacher´s teacher". At the same time it is an illusion to think that there is such thing an "original" shamanism. A "return to nature, or to shamanism" makes no sense, but what might have a great value is the movement forward, towards a new relationship with nature and a re-invention of a living shamanism..."

I can't agree that sincerity alone should be the main criteria when telling one shaman from the other. I've seen enough sincere people with the best intentions take completely misguided routes fast leading to troubles for themselves and for others. I mean, Would you let a sincere but ignorant person take your car's engine apart?

Would you be comfortable having a student fresh out of dental school do a root a canal on you?

No, I think sincerity (although very important) shouldn´t be the main criteria

015 - ignacio

Anthropologists have argued that shamanism was mankind's first profession, in the sense that it was the first specialized occupation, separated from the survival occupations: hunting and gathering. Shamans, they argue, were the first professionals. Wouldn't it make sense to judge them using the same criteria as other professionals? I am talking about things such as experience and reputation. Would you pick a car mechanic or a doctor by his appearance?

...and yet I've seen people pick curanderos like they picked t-shirts, by their outwards appearance. The more "indigeous" they looked the more gringo clients they got. Never mind that it was an obvious show, that none of their own neighbors wore anything other than tshirts and Nikes. The more feathers they put on the more gringos they got. Never mind that a shaman that only treats gringos, a local that no longer treats his own neighbors is, by definition, no longer a shaman.

But there is something else at play here, although the book looks very interesting, most of Derix ayahuasca experiences have taken place around the UDV church, the uniao de vegetal, and it shows in the ultimate ignorance towards curanderismo that he displays. The gap that separates the Brazilian drinkers (and those foreigners who drink with them) from the rest of South America (the mestizo and indigenous drinkers and those foreigners who drink with them) is as wide as ever. Right now there is so little contact between the Brazilian churches and real vegetalistas, they know so little about each other, that one encounters all sorts of misconceptions, specially when it comes to the origins of Ayahuasca and its role in precolumbian societies... Specially when it comes to curanderismo.

Here is another example, also form Alto das Estrelas. It talks about a CONAD meeting (Brazi´s anti-drug body) these people are very important because they were the first governmental body to do to do an open, serious, scientific study of Ayahusca's effects, and -in defiance of the US- the first to legalize its use within a religious context. This is very important news- It is *the* legal reference to the rest of the world when it comes to enlightened governmental approaches ayahuasca, and the UDV was in no small way instrumental in this decision. However, here are some of the topics discussed at the CONAD meeting

- Ritual use of Ayhuasca (definitions) - "Uso Ritual da Ayahuasca (definições)"
- Therapeutic use (research, methodology) - "Uso Terapêutico (pesquisas, metodologia, etc.)"
- Curanderismo (ways to avoid) - "Curandeirismo (formas de evitar)"

That's right, the respectable members of the multidisciplinary group, many of them Ayahuasca drinkers, many of them UDV members, many highly educated people, were sincerely, and with the best of intentions, discussing with the Brazilian drug agency ways to avoid curanderismo.

I can think of a million reasons why this would have happened, all of them stemming from sincerity mixed with ignorance. The same ignorance that leads the UDV to use words like "mariri", "chacruna", "vegetal" without acknowledging the Quechua vegetalista tradition from they obviously stem from.

Very pure, very sincere, ignorance.


It has taken me many years to reconcile the fact that most Brazilians, whom I love dearly are -in their origin- foreigners in their own country, colonizers. They are the descendants of European and Asian immigrants, of African slaves, mixed together with the occasional indigenous blood. This makes them very different from the majority of the population in Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, and the rest of the countries of the Amazon basin, who are mestizo cultures, that is: mostly of indigenous mixed with some colonist.

This difference shows clearly in their Ayahuasca traditions. You look at mestizo vegetalismo and you see that at the base it is an Amazonian indigenous tradition, with Christian saints and symbols thrown on top. You look at the Brazilian traditions and you see a non-Amazonian base that mixes Christianity, African traditions, European 19th cent. movements e such as Kardecism, and even traces of fremasonry, and on top of all this they put Ayahuasca (*)


Make no mistake, it's a fantastic mix, going on a hundred years old, an incredible Ayahusca tradition of its own, but it is a new tradition, and a new tradition that does not factor in the very vegetalistas from which Irineu (founder of the Daime)as much as Gabriel (founder of the UDV) learned about Ayahuasca in the first place. The Daime and the UDV are Ayahuasca without the curanderos, ayahuasca without the Indians... which is fine, I don't think Ayahuasca belongs to any one group in particular. I have a great deal of respect for the Brazilian traditions, and I don't think they are missing anything. It just worries me when I see how most of its members, because of ignorance, see themselves as *the* true carriers of the Ayahuasca tradition. So that we find that Ayahuasca drinkers from the UDV, people with the utmost devotion to the drink, who are working hard to establish it as the important medicine that it is, are subconsciously denying other traditions its rightful share of the credit, down to persecuting the very curanderismo from wich they sprang.

It is now more important than ever to bridge the gap between the Brazilian traditions and the vegetalistas, to have those members of CONAD visit Perú, Ecuador, Bolivia, and see with their own eyes where the word Vegetal that so prominently figures in their name, really comes from...

(*) For those interested in more of the churches' story here's a good summary by Jimmy Wesikpof

UPDATE 28/12/2008 - I came across some new information, indeed there seems to be more and more contacts between those two groups. I talk about it in this post