My new article in the current Psychedelic Press journal!
It starts like this:
Racism and the Discrimination Against Traditional Ayahuasqueros by Anthropology Users in Academia
‘We don’t talk to the lawn. We mow it’ – Jeremy Narby1
“Foreigners, and even Brazilians, often feel confused by the fierce accusations leveled by the mem- bers of different Brazilian ayahuasca religions against each other”, so anthropologist Edward Mac- Rae has stepped in to clarify things with his recent article Racism and the Discrimination Against Cannabis by Ayahuasca Users in Brazil.2 MacRae has a superb track record, making key contributions to the CONAD study that paved the way for legal protection of Daime in Brazil, and writing a fine history of what has become one of the largest ayahuasca groups in the world. He didn’t choose the title, and perhaps we can forgive Chacruna for its sensationalism given that they are competing with Bored Panda for clicks. He’s right in pointing out that prejudice has wide-ranging effects on the cultural landscape of Brazil; but what about his claim that traditionalists who reject the adoption of cannabis and other variant practices by the ICEFLU branch of Daime are motivated by racism?
My article is longer than a normal Chacruna piece, but then the topic is more complex (and more interesting) than MacRae makes out. Bear with me, and I will attempt to reveal where his argument is incomplete, and how the anthropological gaze can sometimes obfuscate the nature of ayahuasca.
Two “stigmatized traits” are brought up, namely spirit possession and cannabis, neither of which were part of Daime as created by its founder Mestre Irineu.3 They were introduced as Padrinho Se- bastião’s sect developed, along with different coloured shoes, a hexagonal rather than rectangular geometry of the session, dancing to the right rather than the left, and a different way of singing many songs. MacRae argues that the prejudice against possession is part of a general prejudice against anything from black culture, and it is true that racism is behind the stigma carried by the Afro-Brazilian possession cult of Umbanda. But there is more to it with Daime.
Mestre gave his blessing to his follower Daniel when he combined ayahuasca with possession trance into a new lineage he called Barquinha (not Daime) – though strictly speaking they work with “irradiação” (spiritual irradiation influencing the body), not “incorporação” (spirits taking over the body).4 In Daime, the instruction remained “sem alteração”: no alteration of your normal compos- ure. There may be a circus in your head, a riot in your stomach and caboclos in your shoes, but Daime practitioners (Daimistas) are to keep a lid on it, doing ‘mental’ rather than embodied mediumship.
Mestre regularly attended Barquinha, and his instruction to respect it is still followed. The eye-wateringly beautiful format is completely different from Daime, with designated mediums dispensing advice and spiritual healing in a designated room, while others are “irradiated” within a circle of participants. Mediums undertake a lengthy regime of supervised training, as in most possession cults. In Umbanda, a medium may also be tested by extinguishing a cigar on their hand, and in Haitian Voodou they swig at bottles of ludicrously hot chili sauce without flinching. Some hybrid Umbanda-Daime (Umbandaime) groups take the training seriously, and someone will intervene when an unauthorised incorporação occurs.5 In others I’ve attended over half the congregation were sobbing sofredores, preto velhos dragging ghostly balls and chains, or vaqueros tearing around the garden. Many “mediums” were complete newbies – they even let me get possessed! Umbandaime is the fastest growing style outside of Brazil, and many traditionalists are not surprised at news of participants ending up in the psychiatric ward.
While both possession and psychoactive plants are commonly found in indigenous cultures, the combination is vanishingly rare – one survey found it in only two out of 42 tribes (one if tobacco is excluded).6 It seems that those with extensive experience of plant teachers have overwhelmingly concluded that they do not mix well – as have modern occultists.7 Padrinho Sebastião went against the judgement of Mestre, against 40 out of 42 tribes, and against some of the most reckless punk wizards on the planet – and added a second psychoactive into the mix as well. If traditional Daimistas reject these changes, it may be because of reasons other than racism.
MacRae discusses possession to support his argument about cannabis, which Padrinho Sebastião called “Santa Maria”. As I invariably get called a religious fundamentalist by anthropologists, social scientists and “progressive” Daimistas whenever I defend traditional norms, let me make it clear that I use this wonderful plant to stimulate my creativity, for spiritual ends, and also for fun. I have worked for both THTC and Industrial Hemp Club Japan, and this month I gave a talk about cannabis in the Bible at a hemp expo (something like this).8 Ganja and I have benefitted a great deal from each other over our 25 year relationship, and it is like many of my relationships – often rewarding, sometimes problematic. The global prejudice against it is shameful, highly detrimental, and (as MacRae correctly notes) rooted in racism; but ganja is not without its complications. No weed smoker will be surprised that my talk started half an hour late as the previous speaker forgot his adapter, and the moderator was nowhere to be found.
Padrinho Sebastião himself described cannabis as like a beautiful woman with claws, from whose embrace it is difficult to escape – not the usual image of the Blessed Virgin Santa Maria.9 He told my former neighbour that while Daime required a sexual dieta (i.e. no sex) for three days before and after, Santa Maria required seven days before and after.10 He said different things to different people, but most people in his lineage don’t follow any Santa Maria dieta at all, and plenty conse- crate a couple of joints first thing every morning (“consagrar” is their word, not mine – I was once corrected by a 12 year-old in Mapiá before breakfast for using the word “fumar” to describe what he was doing). Padrinho Sebastião also said that if it comes from the black market it is not Santa Maria, it is maconha (a pejorative term for ganja).11
While some people smoke two spliffs in the morning and function perfectly well, we shouldn’t pre- tend that power plants treated without respect are problem-free. Odemir Raulino da Silva, a follow- er of Padrinho Sebastião with his own centre in Amazonas, is fiercely critical of the current situation:
Regarding the use of Santa Maria, our spiritual position is very distant from the model conse- crated, which should be the highest position in our consecration, and therefore we have lost our sensibility and respect for that divinity.12
Padrinho Sebastião’s eldest son Valdete has a hymn about it:
Here I left this plant, it was for everyone to respect
But they did not want to follow me. They followed the phalanges of evil
Now the use of it is suspended. And it is my Father who gives the order
Those who don’t want to obey, get ready to suffer.13
If the prejudice against cannabis is internalised racism, do Odemir and Valdete share it? According to Daime cosmology, our hymns are not composed but “received” from the spirits – in this case from the big daddy himself. So is the spirit of Padrinho Sebastião, speaking from beyond the grave, motivated by racism?
The rest of the article is in the journal, that you can read here.
– My First Trip by Julian Vayne
– Altered State Machines: Coding Salvia Space by Aaron Oldenburg
– Racism and the Discrimination Against Traditional Ayahuasqueros by Anthropology Users in Academia by Rev. Danny Nemu
– AnOther Dead Hippy ReBirthday by Sam Ross
– Ayahuasca Diet vs Master Plant Dieta by Elliot Geusa
– Review of Matthew Clark’s The Tawny One: Soma, Hoama, and Ayahuasca by Robert Dickins
– A Saucerful of Secrets by Andy Roberts