“Ayahuasca is going global“, said a prominent psychedelic researcher recently, and it is also going mainstream as part of journeying across the planet. In the Californian TV series “Weeds” the leading act, Marie-Louise Parker’s character, Nancy Botwin, drinks ayahuasca under rather suspect circumstances with the leader of a drug-, guns- and human- trafficking Mexican mafia, who is also the mayor of Tijuana for added comic value. The ceremony is led by a young shaman who is told by the spirit of the medicinal brew not to give it to Nancy; she is not ready for it, so to speak, but he uses the words “I should not give it to her” and the gangster boss says “that’s alright, I’ll give it to her then”. Not off to a good start, but then again what do those shamans know about what a mobster’s girlfriend needs?
Watch the ayahuasca sequence here:
There are various issues at play here. Firstly, the most obvious one of the slightly forced drinking where the strong male insists that the little girl drinks despite warnings by the learned practitioner. That, however, is not so bad, – perhaps he knew better..
Much more interesting is that Nancy’s headache for which she is to be treated is a headache that finds its pain in the creeping notion that she is involved in something that is rather unethical, namely the trafficking of humans (from Mexico to the U.S.; presumably as bonded labour, maybe even in the sex industry, we do not know (yet)).
In other words, she is going to drink ayahuasca in order to heal the scars that an unethical job cuts in her soul. Mr. Forceful uses it whenever he has “issues” and “to learn”, which in the case of the latter could mean developing business practices of trafficking in humans, in the worst case scenario.
Some people say that ayahuasca is inherently a good thing and that in the end those who drink will see the light and come to the force of good, but I don’t think that plants have ethics or moral values, let alone principles. It is true that ayahuasca is a strong hallucinogenic substance that can open many doors, but so are LSD, cannabis and many other good chemicals and plants that have been used to further self-interest by a whole generation of hippies and other conventional people who accumulated primitive social relations in the margin and commodified them with great success in the central market place. There is nothing inherently counter cultural about getting stoned or drinking ayahuasca – all kinds of people do it and always have.
Another way to look at it is in terms of something sometimes called black magic – it refers to those who choose or cannot escape the lure of the dark side; black magic has a long and complicated history, but a good indication of what happens when shamanism and the market places come into play with one another is that, as is often the case in the Amazon and the Andes, shamans are invited with cash offers to cast a spell on a market competitor for some up and coming business man. To bring bad luck for his business or to even kill him. Amongst the indigenous and mestizo populations in Peru and Ecuador and beyond the power of ayahuasca can come in the form of a service by a shaman to further one’s self-interest.
Something of the somewhat same order is beginning to take shape as ayahuasca goes global: use to further self-interest. Nancy Botwin, is she imitating life or is life imitating her? How often does an organised criminal have to drink ayahuasca in order to maintain an equilibrium in their soul?
Drawing up business plans during ayahuasca ceremonies – does that really go on? It probably does and what is worse, I wouldn’t be surprised.
Drink with good intentions, say some shamans, and that is a good idea. Think in terms of autonomous self-help groups that heal each other collectively – sort themselves out and (prophylactically) protect themselves from bad social energies and dis-ease in general.
It wouldn’t take long to ethnographically establish, however, that the growing ayahuasca industry is not predominantly a people’s revolution, but rather a high class act. It is not to say that there is no altruistic drinking of spirit juice going down, – there sure is; but there is a mainstream culture of ayahuasca in the making that is for people with loads of cash – ayahuasca has become a cash crop. Isn’t that a shame? An ayahuasca super star is coming to Europe and a few days of ceremonies will set you back close to £500 pounds! Going around Peru for a few weeks, only a few thousand dollars (food not included), it’s a gas!
Going global is a good thing, I suppose, – the healing powers of the drink are clearly beneficial in a wide range of ways, the stability to life that it can provide and the group healing, community building potential that it so clearly exhibits are promising. Business as usual, however, it is the rich and beautiful who get to skim the cream. Where is the movement of autonomous ayahuasca self-help groups? Ayahuasca spiritual, anarchist fight clubs?
It is all too well known that the liberal / capitalist / christian / patriarchal apparatus of white male dominance over the world is faltering – since the the beginning of the World War (did it ever stop, is there more than one World War?) there have been various crises. Much more WAR in the 1940s, but it carried on in many countries around the world, from Korea to Guatemala, then there was May ’68, an oil crisis and then things began to heat up in the Middle East as the oil is running out and profits not growing as much as they used to. In recent years, Seattle, Gothenburg, Genova etc. etc. Repression is growing – but the crisis was always there, even from within the French Revolution can the State of Exception be traced. Currently airlines, tour operators and financial institutions are crashing like a fish on a bike. People who live in such chaotic systems as the socalled free market obviously need a medicine for the soul in order to carry on carrying out orders, authored as we are by advertising texts, – we need Huxley’s Soma .. and enter ayahuasca: the very crowning healing substance. The new acid, man! Only it’s much better and way more powerful, the Holy Grail of drugs, dude. My head is breaking open for business!