Archives For ayahuasca

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

Many religions through the ages have used certain substances to acquire altered states of awareness/consciousness. When used responsibly and under certain controlled circumstances, various entheogenic substances are purported to allow communion with divine beings, travel to different planes of awareness, and the removal of certain ego traits that hinder the building of a tribal group-mind experience. While many tribal/indigenous groups around the world still engage is such practices, the use of such substances for religious purposes long fell out of favor in European-descended nations for a variety of religious, economic, and social reasons. Flash forward to the 1960s, and thanks to “psychedelic” pioneers like Timothy Leary the recreational use of entheogens and related hallucinogenics experienced a huge boom, prompting strict government control over their usage. These controls did contain exemptions for “magical and religious rites”, but only for pre-approved “small” and “clearly determined” groups.

With America’s war on (some) drugs still raging (not to mention a long history of villianizing drug-use), religious groups that want to obtain an exemption for the use of certain entheogens during rituals have faced an uphill battle. In 2006 the Supreme Court ruled that members of O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao do Vegetal could legally import the herbs and plants needed to create the entheogenic brew ayahuasca for their rites. Now the syncretic practitioners of Santo Daime, who prepare a similar ayahuasca blend (what they call “Daime tea”) have won a court challenge in Oregon’s federal distric court to allow the importation of ingrediants necessary to make the brew. As commenter and expert witness Mark Kleiman points out, under the seemingly more tolerant Obama administration, this could lead to lower hurdles for religious groups to seek legal exemptions to use controlled substances during their rites.

“Now the new leadership at DoJ faces a question. The government can appeal the Oregon ruling and continue to fight the New Mexico case, and do the same with every religious body that comes forward to ask permission to used a controlled-substance sacrament. As a practical matter, that would mean that only well-financed churches had any chance of winning recognition; these are expensive cases, albeit the churches can recover their attorneys’ fees at the end of they win. Or the Attorney General could tell the DEA Administrator to draft, and publish in the Federal Register, a set of procedures and criteria to deal with such cases in the future. (The Supreme Court ruling makes it clear that RFRA provides ample statutory authority for issuing such regulations.) It’s an interesting test of Eric Holder’s skill, and I’ll be interested to see how he handles it.”

Kleiman seem particularly hopeful because Holder recently ordered the DEA to stop unwarranted raids on California’s medical marijuana dispensaries. Making many wonder if the slow decriminalization process for medical and recreational marijuana now under way in individual states will soon have approval (or at least non-interference) from the executive branch.

What does this all mean for modern Pagans? It means that we may soon see a time where individual Pagan faiths and traditions, if they so chose, could apply for an exemption to use a controlled substance (most likely an entheogen) during religious or magical rites. This will no doubt cause some amount of controversy if/when it emerges. While many Pagans have used controlled substances both recreationally and in a ritual context, many Pagan spokespersons since the early days have strived to present modern Pagans as law-abiding folk who absolutely reject illegal means to achieve altered states of consciousness. So expect this to be a big issue within our larger movement as laws become more permissive towards the religious use of controlled substances.

My semi-regular round-up of articles, essays, and opinions of note for discerning Pagans and Heathens.

A Boy Scout troop helps clean up a local graveyard in Florida and finds three “authentic Voodoo/Santeria” poppets hanging from a tree. Cue superstitious Hollywood-fueled misconceptions of folk magic in 3… 2… 1…

“That’s when they spotted the strange objects on a nearby Spanish moss-draped oak. Three 5-inch-tall voodoo dolls, hung in a vertical line on the tree’s bark. “They looked nothing like dolls,” said Bryan McDonough, 12. “They were kind of like ugly creatures that would eat you alive,” added his 10-year-old brother, Kevin, a Webelos Cub Scout. Nails peeked through their stuffing. Rusty pins stuck in their faceless heads, arms and legs. “It freaked out a couple of the boys,” said scoutmaster Marty Robertson. “Some thought it was kind of cool.” … One curious adult claimed she touched one of the dolls, and her friend wrecked his scooter that same day. Was there a connection? Cue spooky music.”

I’m glad they admitted that some of the kids thought it was cool, I mean, real Voodoo dolls? How awesome is that? Thankfully, the rest of the article is fairly even-handed, with one Boy Scout investigating the dolls and telling the press that they can be used for healing in addition to hexing, and a local professor of religion talking about the context of poppets used for magic.

The Independent looks back at the bizarre occult and death-obsessed life of artist Robert Lenkiewicz. Lenkiewicz, at his death, left behind a huge library of texts on witchcraft and the occult, a well-preserved corpse hidden in a bookcase, and a large assortment of children, legitimate and otherwise.

“In the six years since his death, Lenkiewicz’s estate has been gradually sold off to the tune of more than [5 million Euro]. While sales of his enormous collections of books at Sotheby’s – the occult and witchcraft were among his favourite subjects – account for about [1.6 million Euro] of the total, the rest of the money has been generated through sales of his paintings … Luckily, in his work, as in all other areas of his life, Lenkiewicz was prolific. ‘There are some incredible statistics about Robert,’ recalls Jojo, a local photographer who knew Lenkiewicz for 20 years and has now written a play about the artist’s life, The Man in the Red Scarf, which will be performed at Plymouth’s Barbican in December. ‘He produced 10,000 works, had relationships with, if you believe him, in the region of 3,000 women, was married three times…’ And how many children did he have? ‘I think the official count was 11.'”

You can see some examples of Lenkiewicz’s work at his official Internet site.

The conservative Catholic blog Churchill’s Parrot indulges in the sin of bad satire to warn us Pagans of the “spy nuns” infiltrating our ranks.

“We have recently uncovered a development to which we are compelled to alert you with utmost urgency. It is our belief that armies of Catholic nuns have been dispatched by the Vatican to infiltrate, mimic, subvert, and corrupt the sacred beliefs, rituals, and practices of your family of Earth Religions. Their goal: to arrest Neo-paganism in its present ascent in contemporary society and banish it – yet again – to the ill-regarded fringes of mainstream culture.”

The key piece of “evidence” for his “charges” are the Catholic orders who signed on to the Earth Charter. Hitting on all the usual pantheist, God-denying, “worshiping the creation not the Creator” charges religious conservatives have been prattling on about for decades. Of course, the Roman Catholics appropriated just about everything else from the pagans, so why not religiously-motivated environmentalism too? Oh, and you can’t truly “subvert and corrupt” a religious movement that has no hierarchy, single liturgy, or uniform conception of the divine. The dominant monotheisms on the other hand…

The Houston Chronicle documents the growing trend of “ayahuasca tourism”. But unlike other kinds of drug-related tourism, these aren’t kids looking to get high legally in foreign lands.

“But this is not some Amazonian Kool-Aid Acid Test and these are not Merry Pranksters. LSD and other recreational drugs are not for them, and many shun alcohol. Ranging in age from early 20s to late 50s, they work as university professors, marketing executives and environmental activists. Then there’s Heather, a tall, muscular woman who competes in Ironman races. With the help of ayahuasca, they hope to address persistent emotional, physical or psychological afflictions that Western medicine has failed to alleviate. Others seek more spirituality in their lives.”

This “spiritual psychotherapy” is very close to what LSD pioneers like chemist Albert Hofmann envisioned (albeit in far more clinical settings). A “medicine for the soul” used to make major breakthroughs.

In a final note, the “Witch City” of Salem is bracing itself for another October tourist season, and trying to tackle the ongoing logistical problems that have plagued the New England seaport.

“Mayor Kim Driscoll, who moved recently to have 25 percent of the revenue the city receives from the hotel/motel tax dedicated to tourism promotion, spoke of the difficulty she faces balancing the effort to keep the industry healthy against the burden visitors sometimes place on the city’s services and neighborhoods – especially during October. Those concerns, she added, are heightened by the fact that the next three Halloween nights are on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday respectively. As Salem’s Halloween festival has grown in popularity, so have the problems. Driscoll cited efforts – which this year could include the hiring of an events planner – to keep the month-long celebration both fun and orderly. One of the big concerns: After people are here, especially on Halloween night, how do you tell them the party’s over and it’s time to go home?”

Some suggested improvements included better signage and more toilets. Still no word yet on how to signal “the party is over”. A fireworks display last year didn’t seem to do the trick. Maybe you could have Salem’s Witches do a big closing ritual?

That is all I have for now, have a great day!

Some great Pagan and Pagan-friendly content has been popping up lately in the blogosphere, so I thought I would take some time to highlight some posts that I found particularly interesting.

To start off, Mollie at Get Religion takes a look at recent press coverage concerning the entheogenic plant ayahuasca, and the surge in popularity of shamanistic therapy sessions among upper-class suburbanites in Southern California.

“Piccalo explains that ayahuasca, meaning “vine of the soul” has been used for hundreds of years or more by tribes in Central and South America. In countries where it is legal, pilgrims flock to ceremonies. She notes that Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs introduced the plant concoction to pop culture in the 1960s but that it has remained a largely underground phenomenon – until now. A community shepherded by shamans is emerging in the United States … Unfortunately, the religious component of ayahuasca isn’t really explored. Most of the piece deals with Truenos, who comes off more Elmer Gantry than devout believer. He has a shady past and can’t answer Piccalo’s questions in a straightforward manner. In an area where New Age practitioners have found fertile ground for preying on the wealthy, he seems perfectly Californian.”

Mollie and I both share the sentiment that journalists should further explore the religious ties to this plant and its usage. You can read the original Los Angeles Times article, here.

An the artistic front, classics professor Mary Beard reports on the opening of a new show of neo-classical sculpture at Tate Britain called “The Return of the Gods”.

“Highlight of the show, but not for me (I actually think it’s a bit irritating), is Canova’s Three Graces. I decided to talk about some of the less well known pieces. The aim was to explain why what may look like slightly insipid white marble, recreating some serenely voluptuous male and female flesh, is actually a lot cleverer and a lot more intellectually engaged with the Greco-Roman sources on which it is based than most people ever imagine.”

Meanwhile the Treadwells blog announces a new exhibition at the Transition Gallery (in London) entitled “Sex and Witchcraft”

“A sinister beauty pervades the work of seven artists from London, Manchester and Budapest in Sex and Witchcraft. Working across media, often incorporating the use of found materials and tabletop techniques, the artists engage in a disturbing alchemy. Dabbling in the chemistry of first sighting and the magical fusion of opposing elements, the artists reveal a dark underbelly to the world of love and flowers, white horses and watercolours.”

The “Sex and Witchcraft” show also features a specially commissioned essay from punk-pioneer turned occult historian Gary Lachman.

Over at MetaPagan, Cat Chapin-Bishop notices a “spontaneous blog carnival” concerning interactions between Paganism and Christianity.

“It must be something in the aether…Discussions of Christianity are breaking out on Pagan blogs everywhere. It’s odd, but whenever I post anything related to the subject of Christianity at my own blog, the number of hits and comments–from Pagans–goes way up. Maybe I’m not the only person to have noticed this, because over the last few days, numerous members of the Pagan/Heathen blogosphere have posted entries on the topic of Christo-Paganism and related topics. Some bloggers are concerned, some are puzzled, and some are embracing at least some Christian concepts, if not Christianity, per se.”

My coverage of Christo-Pagan inmates is included in this accidental blog carnival, as are entries from Gus DiZerega and Chapin-Bishop’s own Quaker Pagan Reflections.

Over at Paganachd Bhandia, Kathryn Price NicDhana points to updates on direct action protests taking place in Ireland in a bid to save Tara from further development.

“We still need bodies on the line, supplies sent to the camps, and fierce magic in support. See my earlier posts for more details if you’re new here.”

For this blog’s previous coverage concerning the fight to preserve the Hill of Tara, click here.

In a final note, author Erik Davis reviews the book “Romantic Religion” by R.J Reilly, and explores romanticism, sacred plays, the Inklings, and what really attracts him to religion.

“I have also begun to suspect that, a lot of the time, what has really attracted me to religion was less the glimmer of supernatural knowledge, of some answer to the irascible longing in my heart and the mercurial confusion in my mind, than the creative imagination that channels so much of this stuff in the first place. At root, my spirit resonates with to aesthetic dimension of religion – the pungent bite of frankincense, the swelling gallop of Mozart’s requiem mass, the comic book arcana of cosmological maps, the turn of phrase in a lost gospel, the spare decor of the zendo. It is not that I am interested only in aesthetics, or story, or figurative art – I have spent tons of time with doctrine and history, and I love the experience of some model or argument about the nature of existence or God or the afterlife worms its way into my quotidian mind. But the real alchemy happens when the creative imagination soars beyond itself, towards matters of final import. I cannot imagine an awakened genuine religion without flavor and taste, without vivid figures and surprise. I rarely read wisdom books unless they are engaging as literature.”

To find more great Pagan-friendly blog content, check out Blog Elysium for an extensive list of blog links, and MetaPagan for a human-edited look at content from other (Pagan) blogs.

That is all I have for now, have a great day!

The Non-Prophet blog has a guest entry up from journalist and adventurer Peter Gorman on the practices of shamanism in the northwest Amazonia. The piece is adapted from a talk he gave at the 2006 Shamanism Conference in Iquitos, and deals primarily with the use of ayahuasca and other entheogenic plants for the purposes of healing.

“Among the flora of the world as we know it, several plants are not just allies, they are considered Master Plant Teachers. You might extend that to read: Master Plant Teachers of Man. These plants might be considered gate keepers. These plants are the plants that allow us, we humans, to slow down enough to communicate with the mountains; to speed up enough to communicate with a hummingbird, to visit the other realms past and present and simultaneous that are here but that we don’t ordinarily see or hear within the band widths of our senses.”

Gorman owns a bar in Iquitos, and gives tours of sacred sites in Peru focusing on ayahuasca shamanism. The ayahuasca curandero in this presentation, Julio Jerena, recently passed away at the age of 91.