The psychedelic powers of a standard Amazonian plant medicine called ayahuasca are drawing in increasingly more tourists. It’s said to bring spiritual enlightenment and to help with dependency, depression and trauma. But a string of allegations recommends there’s a darker side to the ayahuasca scene.
Rebekah initially tried ayahuasca on a “complete whim” when she was travelling in Peru in 2015.
” I believed it sounded interesting and I thought I might too offer it a try,” states Rebekah, a New Zealander in her 20 s who asked the BBC not to use her surname. “So I discovered a retreat centre that I felt was excellent and I just went for it and it was amazing.”
Ayahuasca can induce visions of things like snakes, palaces, and alien beings – and bring up long-forgotten memories. Like many who have actually drunk the brew, Rebekah has a wide-eyed far-off appearance as she thinks back about the experience.
” It resembled being guided very gently and really kindly through some actually awful experiences that I ‘d had in the past,” Rebekah states. “And returning back home after that, I felt like my relationships were a lot more powerful. I felt it was a lot simpler to share and receive love.
” They do state that ayahuasca resembles 20 years of psychotherapy. And I entirely believe that.”
Image copyright Alamy Image caption A standard thatched-roof hut used for ayahuasca events.
It’s been used by people in the Amazon area for centuries however now there’s a boom in what’s become known as “ayahuasca tourism”, with ever more expert retreat centres opening.
When Rebekah went on her first ayahuasca retreat, she was the only single lady there and saw that the male healer was paying her unique attention.
A year later, by now a more knowledgeable ayahuasca drinker, Rebekah returned to the exact same retreat in Peru.
Simon Maybin and Josephine Casserly’s documentary Ayahuasca: Worry and Recovery in the Amazon on is transmitted on BBC Radio 4’s Crossing Continents on 16 January 2020 at 11: 00 Or listen once again on BBC Sounds
Rebekah states the therapist sexually abused her, coercing her into sexual acts.
” It’s disgusting,” she states. “Because he was a shaman, I thought he had ethical supremacy in a sense and I trusted him.”
After she was abused, Rebekah left the centre – and the nation: “I scheduled a flight and got the hell out of there.”
She was entrusted a tangle of unpleasant emotions: “Disgust, repulsion, betrayal – confusion, as well as to why a guide would do this, why a teacher would do this and why they would exploit their power like that.”
Rebekah’s supposed abuser is still the head shaman at his centre – which gets luxury scores on evaluation sites.
” He is still there,” Rebekah states, plainly deeply angered by the scenario. Her hands are noticeably shaking. “There are other centres that I understand of also that are still running. There’ve been multiple females that have been sexually abused in these centres.”
One name that comes up consistently is Guillermo Arévalo, a well-known therapist who’s been honoured by the Peruvian Congress for his work on sustainable advancement.
” He came to Canada numerous times,” says a woman in her 40 s whom we’re calling Anna.
” It was rather profitable – big events.
Image copyright Getty Images
Anna, who had long been interested in alternative medicine, hoped ayahuasca might assist her handle her addiction to heroin.
At first, she was impressed by Arévalo.
” Like a great deal of individuals, you’re flabbergasted by the guy’s presence and power and capability to lead the ceremony – it’s rather profound,” she states. “The chanting. He is a good therapist.”
But an event about seven years ago significantly altered Anna’s viewpoint.
” It was completely pitch black, the space had no windows. There were a great deal of people.
” I was under the impacts of the medication. When you’re under the impacts there’s great deals of different sounds. Individuals are sobbing, verbalising things that make no sense at all, purging or groaning.
” Even if I had actually been able to say something, no one would respond.”
Image copyright Getty Images
Could ayahuasca have health benefits?
Around the very same time, a group calling themselves Ayahuasca Community Awareness Canada – which consisted of senior academics – put their names to a letter about Arévalo’s behaviour and circulated it within the ayahuasca scene.
When even more named signatories were included to the letter in 2015 and it was made public, Arévalo stopped going to Canada to lead ayahuasca events.
Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Guillermo Arévalo in2004
He says he’s heard about the letter by members of the Canadian ayahuasca community, but has never read it.
” It does not interest me due to the fact that the allegations aren’t true,” he states.
When we put Anna’s specific claims to him, he states he doesn’t keep in mind ever touching a client during a ceremony in Canada, saying she too must have envisioned it.
Image caption Ayahuasca on sale at Belén Market in Iquitos, Peru.
She states that in 2014 she was raped in ayahuasca ceremonies in Peru by a healer who is a member of Arévalo’s extended family.
She states again she “just froze” and “let him do whatever he desired to me”.
Later on, Anna states she was in shock.
Emily Sinclair, a British doctoral trainee investigating ayahuasca, is part of a group trying to raise awareness about the problem of sexual abuse in the ayahuasca world.
Working with the Chacruna Institute, an organisation set up to share research study on plant medications and psychedelics, Sinclair has actually written the Ayahuasca Neighborhood Guide for the Awareness of Sexual Abuse.
The guidelines highlight normal scenarios in which abuse happens. They also motivate individuals to consume with relied on companions and to research retreats by taking a look at review websites before they check out.
Sinclair has actually been dispersing the little green pamphlet to cafes, tourist offices and ayahuasca centres in the Iquitos area of Peru, called the hub of ayahuasca tourist.
Image caption Emily Sinclair.
” A lot of abuse we’ve discovered occurs in the context of specific recoveries where a woman may be asked to eliminate her clothes unnecessarily,” she says. “And when she remains in this unknown context, she doesn’t know if that’s regular or not.”
Sinclair explains that it’s not just indigenous healers abusing Westerners. “Abuse takes place across cultures and within them,” she states.
” However among the huge problems is that a great deal of individuals who come here romanticise shamans. So we put them on a pedestal. And it’s extremely simple for that image to be benefited from.
” There’s likewise assumptions that some of the people here might have about Western females and culture.”
Some of the red flags Sinclair warns people to watch out for echo Rebekah’s experience.
Information and Support
” If he’s overly touchy with you, he tells you his wife doesn’t mind him making love with other women, he motivates pacts of silence and secrecy between you, he says he wishes to teach you ‘enjoy magic’. This example. And also that having sex with them will increase their power and energy. These are all things that have actually been reported to us as being said to women in this context.”
Those impacted by sexual assault not surprisingly find it hard to speak about openly. There’s a strong sense within the ayahuasca world that any kind of unfavorable publicity might result in government intervention, which develops an extra pressure to stay silent.
But Rebekah and Anna are speaking out because they hope it will avoid other women being abused.
” I believe the only thing we can do is just speak up about it and talk about it,” Rebekah states, “ensure people know that it’s happening.”
Rebekah says that after she was abused there’s been “a great deal of sadness and a lot of therapy”.
It’s been effort for her to rely on a healer once again, now she’s back in Peru, taking ayahuasca and investigating her master’s thesis on indigenous medicine.
” Regardless of whatever that took place, clearly ayahuasca’s great,” Rebekah laughs, “due to the fact that I keep returning to it.”