Is Ayahuasca Healing a Self-Delusion? And If Not, How Can We Know?

At a recent panel on ayahuasca at the conference of The Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness at U.C. Berkeley, I was intrigued to hear a social critic question the “inventive ‘religious’ mystifying of ayahuasca today in northern hemisphere circles,” stating that “we need to acknowledge that, and question whether the elaboration of further mythology is really ‘healing.'” Finally, he raised the serious question: Can healing arise from self-delusion? That same day, returning home I found this query, the sort that as a writer on Amazonian shamanism and a guide for groups down to the Peruvian rainforest I occasionally receive. With my ears still ringing from the critic’s frontal assault on the most cherished tenet of work with ayahuasca, it struck me as particularly timely:

What are your feelings towards Americans who, without ever having traveled to visit a real Amazonian curandero, take it upon themselves to brew their own ayahuasca? I currently work with a gentleman who has been doing this for nearly a year now, I believe … ordering the components of the brew and making it in his kitchen. He claims that the ayahuasca ally herself told him that he was doing a good job and that he should continue. But as an individual he seems to have a tenuous hold on reality and handles his day-to-day affairs and those around him with an almost frightening lack of compassion. As well, he always describes his experiences with ayahuasca as “tripping”, and has even taken to mixing his hallucinogens (DMT with mushrooms, LSD with ayahuasca). I fear for him, because he does seem to possess a level of self-delusion I’ve never encountered before.

Just curious about your take on situations like that. Continue reading “Is Ayahuasca Healing a Self-Delusion? And If Not, How Can We Know?”