In the jungle, you might be hours away by boat from medical services that may be less than optimal for many medical emergencies. In fact, you may be days away from even an ill-equipped local medical center. Under those circumstances, it may be important to know what provisions have been made at an ayahuasca retreat center for the emergency wilderness care of foreseeable but potentially life-threatening medical emergencies.
Stephan Crasneanscki and the Soundwalk Collective — famous for their soundscapes of cities and journeys into strange and desolate spaces — have now produced Ayahuasqueros, a mixture of jungle sounds, textual narration, and ayahuasca songs, with a text by anthropologist Jeremy Narby, that soundwalks us through the ayahuasca experience. You can listen to the whole thing here.
At a meeting of the Native American Church, after a long night of singing and praying, the participants are served a sacred breakfast of small amounts of water, parched corn, and pemmican as the close of the ceremony. This is then followed by an informal breakfast where people eat, stretch their cramped legs, chat, and tell funny stories, often having to do with peyote and peyote ceremonies. James Howard, a professor at the University of North Dakota, calls these stories peyote jokes.
A new epidemiological study adds weight to the claim that no evidence has yet been found of psychological maladjustment, mental health deterioration, or cognitive impairment in human adults who ingest ayahuasca regularly, frequently, and over long periods of time as committed members of the Brazilian ayahuasca churches. But caution is required in interpreting these findings.
Ayahuasca, as cultural critic Erik Davis puts it, is now “swimming in the cultural water supply.” Ayahuasca crops up in the oddest places — the latest is in a romantic comedy starring Jennifer Aniston — and I continue to watch with fascination as ayahuasca slowly infiltrates American popular culture. In the popular media and on social networks, ayahuasca has become a trope for the edgy, the transgressive, the seriously cool. So I suppose we should not be surprised that ayahuasca has now been incorporated into rap culture.
A recent toxicological study has assayed the neurotoxic effects of ayahuasca in laboratory rats. “The results of this investigation,” the author reports, “indicate the presence of oxidative stress in rats treated with ayahuasca, with statistically significant values of neuronal apoptosis measured by TUNEL assay.” In other words, the author says that ayahuasca killed off brain cells in experimental rats. What can we make of this?
Over a period of twenty months, fourteen shamans were murdered in the district of Balsapuerto, a small river port in Alto Amazonas province. Seven of the victims had been shot, stabbed, or hacked to death; seven others had been reported missing, but their bodies had not been found, presumably because they had been tossed into rivers to be eaten by piranhas. All those killed — as well as almost all the members of the communities from which they came — were members of the Shawi ethnic group. How could such a thing have happened?
There is a special narrative of almost-being-dead, which may perhaps shed some light on death and the way in which we should understand our understanding of death. And If stories of almost-being-dead demand a special form of listening, then every story demands the same humble and respectful approach, the same hermeneutic — a sense of wonder at the infinity of the human text.