Nicole Bétrencourt

Psychologist and writer

 

SHAMANISM, AN INTERNATIONAL FREEWAY

FOR A NEW CULTIST USE OF DRUGS

 

 

For over three years I have been investigating for a book I am writing which should be published shortly, on the drift of hallucinatory shamanism. Shamanism, which is known as the oldest form of religion observed since times immemorial, has made a return in force in popular esoteric circles in the West.

 

This ancestral knowledge of ancient peoples has had a favourable echo for those who thirst for spiritual values or for a certain form of the sacred. After reading books or having attended conferences, a number of people are seduced by these practices. But their gullibility can be abused by charlatans who attract searchers with pseudo-practices of shamanism which are not always inoffensive, especially when they are conjugated with a drug. Their leaders are often well known by the MIVILUDES, and by victims' associations several of which belong to the FECRIS network.

 

The more appreciated shamanic traditions are those which use drugs in their rituals. Particularly popular is the Amazonian tradition with its powerful hallucinatory drug, the ayahuasca, the effects of which are similar to those of L.S.D. Other sacred drugs are also concerned by this racket. Just behind the ayahuasca today, one finds the rising power of the iboga, the African L.S.D., used in the Bwiti's tradition.

 

Before these perversions, the use of the ayahuasca was limited to the restricted circle of Amazonia. It's a traditional medicine which treats local populations. It is used by the Shamans of Amazonia, called "ayahuasqueros", in the framework of magic-religious rites, practised after dark. These people believe that the origin of illness is caused by magic and this is diametrically different to the Western conception of disease. The ayahuasca is a sacred drink since times immemorial composed of two plants: the ayahuasca liana (Banisteriopsis caapi) which has given its name to the drink and which grows in abundance in the Amazonian forest and another, the chacruna, which contains D.M.T, an Illegal drug at international level.

 

Behind its natural facade, the sacred drink of the Indians of Amazonia is highly hallucinatory. Its effects are close to those of L.S.D, the psychoactive drug of reference. The Amazonians call it the "Liana of Death". This is experiencing new popularity in Europe. Distributed by cultist micro-groups, it has acquired the status of a very effective chemical tool for the induction of undue influence. The increasing numbers of these small hallucinatory groups, often independent from each other, has created a new sectarian nebula both insidious and difficult to identify.

 

The ayahuasca makes it possible for charlatans, gurus of individual health care and well-being, alternative medicine and psychotherapy to trade in destabilising behavioural techniques. These techniques are creating an increasing number of victims. All cults hide behind masks and Amazonian pseudo-shamanism is no exception to the rule. I will tell you the story of my personal experience in one of these cultist hallucinatory micro-groups to illustrate the mechanisms of seduction used by the leaders of shamanic micro-groups to recruit candidates and how they are able to make people believe that the Amazonian drug is harmless,

Within the framework of my investigation, I had infiltrated one of these very closed circles and accepted the Amazonian drug. On the second occasion - instead of the expected shamanic journey - I had a "Bad Trip" provoked by the drug's powerful effects. I should make it clear that I was the victim only of the drug and not of the cultist influence as unfortunately may have occurred to others. It was a kind of industrial accident which happened to a writer who had gone too far in her investigation. I do not recommend that anyone should try to repeat such an experiment as it is extremely difficult to escape the pressure of a hallucinatory group's rituals. I only fell partially into the trap tended by two leaders of a micro-group similar, alas, to many others that exist in France, Belgium and elsewhere in Europe.

 

The victims of this pseudo-shamanic nebula undergo a double submission - chemical and cultist - as highlighted by the pharmacologist, Dr. Gilbert Pépin, Cultist undue influence leads to the psychological de-structuring which falls under the French About-Picard law.

 

The idea of writing on the perversion of shamanism occurred to me after a series of discussions with a doctor friend of mine. Profile of the 1968 revolutionary, now and then smoking a joint, he was always in research of new alternative medical methods or of a new psychotherapy to solve his existential difficulties. As time went on, I saw this brilliant personality change. That made me curious.

 

Enthusiastic, he told me of his experience under ayahuasca, a drink originating in Amazonia that he had been taking for a few months both in France and in Peru. The colours, the feelings which he described made me think of reports on the psychedelic phenomenon that I had read. Unknown in Europe, this friend called it “The Plant”, I had not thought of the ayahuasca as being a drug. Curiously, although he was a doctor, he never imagined at any time, that this might be a drug like L.S.D. He was fascinated by the context surrounding the absorption of the Amazonian drink as by the healing virtues of the plant which was supposed to solve all physical and psychological problems of Western populations seen from the point of view of the "Change of Paradigm" discussed earlier today by Jean-Pierre Jougla.

 

In France, this doctor friend was initiated by Guillermo Vilar, a Peruvian Shaman, the hero of the documentary film by Yan Kounen, "Other Worlds". All the participants of the primitive training courses of this shaman were co-opted and carefully selected: people from the cinema world, doctors, psychologists, psychotherapists… In those days, ayahuasca had not as yet been classified as a drug. Only DMT[1] was, and few of those who took the Amazonian drug in France knew that it was a drug. To know that, one had to have visited Peru. And one should not lose sight of the fact that the information of the public relates primarily to narcotics distributed by dealers.

 

It rapidly became clear that this friend had been duped into believing a sham. Indeed, he had fallen victim of the double submission - chemical and cultist, mentioned earlier, and he had not detected it. The idea of writing a book on the subject to denounce these perversions attracted me more and more. I had never taken the ayahuasca, or any other drug. I quickly realised in the course of my investigation on the ground, that Amazonian shamanism was cheapened by a new age syncretism which denatured the original tradition of the Amazonian shamans.

 

With the complicity of this doctor, I was introduced undercover into this very select circle. We both registered for a conference on shamanism where the participants illegally take ayahuasca. It was organised by an Argentinean, teacher of kundalini yoga and his fried, a masseur using sensitive techniques who was a priest of the orthodox patriarchate of the apostolic filiations of Antioch. For the weekend, one of their followers, a hospital nurse, had put at our disposal her companion's barge which was moored on the banks of the Seine, at Saint-Germain-en-Laye.

 

I took part in two sessions, at one month's interval between January 2002 and February 2002. We were fifteen participants. Once on board, my attention was attracted by three people that I learned later were a mother with her two children, a young woman and her brother in their twenties. They were there to follow a strange kind of family therapy with “The Plant” to free themselves of the influence of an alcoholic father.

 

Once embarked on the barge for the night, I followed the preliminaries of kundalini yoga, a group healing session slightly disconnected from reality, a sort of game which was fun if one looked at it with a critical eye but that the followers took very seriously, under mental constraint and regular intake of ayahuasca, provided by the two leaders. When the stage of intake of the sacred drink had been reached, distributed by the two rogues in a new age folklore context of tobacco fumes and pseudo-Indians chanting, I tried to wriggle out of my turn. But I was cornered, under the pressure of the group, to drink the Amazonian brew. The new age “dealers” had it all taped so that it was impossible to escape.

 

On that weekend, at the time of my first intake, all went well for me: I did not feel any effect of the drug; my thoughts were clear without colour visions. Only my imagination and emotions were more acute. I took this opportunity to observe the group. I saw sick participants bringing up, bent over in anguish and pain. Both gurus were present accompanying the participants, the majority of whom were patients of their medical practice. The pseudo-shamanic ritual was complementary to further individual work in yoga and holistic therapy.

Between the two sessions on the barge, a month passed. In retrospective, I realise that drug had created a craving which I had refused to admit. I feverishly waited for the next session on the barge, attributing my impatience to my research for my book.

 

But when I took the drug a second time always in the same new age syncretism, I felt a sudden harsh pain in the head. I shouted "Help" and the only thing I remember before falling into a coma for an indeterminate time, is that I was insulted and asked to keep quiet so as not to trouble the others' experience. When I returned to consciousness, I experienced feelings worthy of a Stephen King book. Nobody came to my assistance. Neither one of the two leaders, nor my doctor friend prostrated by the effect of the drug, nor any other passenger even looked at me. I learned later that many of them had thought that I was dead and that the two dealers had given instructions not to take any notice.

 

It took me several weeks to get over this bad trip. I went through transient psychiatric de-compensation treated as an out-patient. In incredible circumstances, I managed to get rid of the two leaders and my doctor friend who, to stop me from testifying against them, had formed an alliance against me and tried to convince me that I had gone on shamanic trip in hell.

 

This group which I had infiltrated may be considered as a typical group of all those which propose the ayahuasca in Europe. Many people have fallen under the chemical and cultist influence of Amazonian pseudo-shamanism. I have met victims who, in the long run, have been psychologically destroyed. Observation of those who took the Amazonian drug in this sectarian context showed that it resulted in psychiatric de-compensation, cases of suicide a few months after having taken the drug, comas and of deaths by overdose. Many direct victims do not wish to call victims' associations to testify for fear of reprisals by the leaders who have actually managed to make them believe that they can be punished by practises of sorcery.

 

The consumption of ayahuasca in groups in Europe is only the preliminary step before a visit to Peru which clinches the chemical and cultist influence. The applicants to learn shamanic, psychotherapeutic and humanistic techniques among others go on strange holiday camps where ayahuasca helps them in their spiritual evolution, and nurses their spirit and body thus helping them to overcome the change of paradigm.

 

All the leaders of pseudo-shamanism have common features and I have drawn up their "Profile".

For these men of influence, the debate does not seem to pivot around the drug or the practises with which it is associated but the ultimate objective which is that of individual and religious freedom.

 

The pseudo-shamanism leader is either a:

 

        Medical doctor

        Pharmacist

        Psychotherapist

        Holistic therapist (New Age)

 

        If he is a doctor or a pharmacist, he knows about new Amazonian shamanic medicine through Doctors without Frontiers, Barefoot doctors, Pharmacists without Frontiers.

        If he is a psychotherapist or holistic therapist, he knows Amazonian shamanism by participating in private psychotherapy training programmes or by visits to Peru where he/she was initiated in Amazonian traditional medicine.

        He calls himself as shaman or apprentice-shaman practising modern shamanism or neo-shamanism.

        His ideology is that of the transpersonal movement, that of New Religious Movements (Esalen and New Age).

        He is the author of scientific counter-culture articles on hallucinatory substances, or of books on popular esoterics.

        He gives conferences in esoteric bookshops, in private training institutes on the training of psychotherapists.

        He mainly recruits his correspondents within the New Religious Movements nebula, holistic medicine, humanistic psychology, which are porous between themselves.

        He proposes a new concept of care by holistic medicine: personal technique of care based on modified states of conscience by Amazonian or African natural plants and humanistic therapies or psychosomatic therapy.

        He proposes to develop a new spiritual way based on shamanism and modified states of conscience, syncretism of psychedelic neo-shamanism

        He is often an ex-addicted of hard drugs

        He does not consider that hallucinatory drugs are similar to drugs traded by narcotic traffickers.

        He was initiated by Peruvian, African or North American Indian Shamans. Or belonging to other traditions close to voodoo.

        He organises initiation conferences in France, in Belgium and residential visits to Peru in therapy communities.

        He has created a therapy community or a residential centre in Peru

        He has close relationships with the cult leaders.

        He may have been charged for incitement to drug consumption

        Or because of the About-Picard Law

        He has been pinpointed by contradictory articles in the media

 

Psycho-spiritual tourism is organised between Peru and Europe. Over there, Westerners consume hallucinatory drugs and other toxic local plants quite legally in therapeutic communities, specialised in the treatment of drug-addiction and in all kinds of psycho-spiritual disorders.

 

The most important residential centre is that of T…, a centre that treats drug addiction managed by a French doctor, once a member of Doctors without Frontiers and an ex-drug addict himself. This centre of natural medicine hides behind the official mask of a therapeutic community, a method of treating drug addicts which no longer exists in France after the cultist perversions of L. Engelmajer, the Patriarch.

 

All over the world, therapeutic communities exist as a method of treatment for drug addicts. Their modus operandi is inspired by the Anglo-Saxon model of Synanon and Daytop. A short reminder of the story of Synanon or of its founder Chuck Dederich who introduced coercive methods which caused Synanon to drift into cultism. The Italian therapeutic community model which includes the spiritual aspect is most appreciated in America and in Latin America. T… is thus officially a therapeutic community, approved by the Peruvian State, which at the start treated local drug addicts with traditional medicines.

 

Anyone can visit the Internet site of the TC of T…where the programme of treating drug addicts is developed in Peru using ayahuasca and other Amazonian toxic plants and psychotherapeutic techniques, of which some are known for their potential as psycho-cultist tools (like holotropic breathing invented by Stanislav Grof, leader of the transpersonal movement).

 

I am concerned about the effectiveness and the danger of a programme which treats drug addiction by administrating another drug at the moment of detoxification, the ayahuasca a kind of L.S.D and other highly toxic plants as datura which deteriorate conscience, and accompany this treatment by psychotherapeutic techniques which provoke modified states of conscience?

 

This care programme for drug addicts is contested by the official scientific community. But it is cautioned by gurus of alternate medicine. This approval is far from the criteria defined by WHO with regard to traditional medicine and primary education care in countries medically under-equipped. This includes the medicine practised by the ayahuasqueros officially reintroduced in Amazonia by the programme AMRITA 2000.

 

The Director of T. comes to France regularly to give conferences, he publishes articles in reviews specialised in New Spirituality and with his indisputable charisma recruits candidates to go to Peru to take ayahuasca, which is legal there and to follow his teachings, on how to deliver the "New Keys" of the change of paradigm.

 

T... proposes training courses for adolescents whether drug addicts or not, to taste the sprit of the plant

and pseudo-shamanic rituals; there are also conferences for non-addicted adults of psycho-spiritual development.

 

This kind of centre must be financially profitable because the ex-business partner of this doctor, a Spaniard, opened another such centre even more specialised in psycho-spiritual development. Its programme is very Science-fiction sometimes they speak of organising meetings with humanity's oldest ancestors like certain plants there, or animals who have come from other planets such as snakes and dragons.

 

When I boarded the barge, my two leaders were organising journeys to Peru to the centre created by this Spaniard. Since then they have had created their own Peruvian centre, judged by other pseudo-shaman competitors as deviant.

 

In these dark files of shamanism, all is axed on the manipulation of concepts: ecology, anthropology, psychology, alternate medicine and science.

The pharmacology of ayahuasca is prone to playing around with scientific concepts. The leaders omit to compare ayahuasca to L.S.D, a forbidden narcotic. If they admit that ayahuasca contains DMT, a forbidden but less known narcotic which was consumed for its entertainment value at the time of the psychedelic revolution, they insist on the serotoninergic action of ayahuasca observed in an anti-depressive series of medicines. According to them ayahuasca is not toxic and does not create dependence. In short, a multi-usage medicine which heals everything, even cancer… but what of the psychiatric side effects?

 

However, the characteristic and side effects of ayahuasca are partly those of L.S.D. With a pharmacological component and unknown side effects stressed by Dr. Gilbert Pépin.

 

 According to charlatans of shamanism, there are very few victims. And when they exist, they are generally exceptions due to failures to follow recommendations on the use of ayahuasca. Not those registered by associations of victims or by doctors but due to attacks by malignant spirits, sorcery, and magic. Their point of view is of a para-psychological nature and pseudo-scientific.

 

If the charlatans deny the dangers of ayahuasca, it would seem that they are reconsidering the question with regard to iboga (drug and rites associated), estimated to be more dangerous than the Amazonian drug.

 

The result desired by the intake of ayahuasca is the opening of the conscience through a modified state which is thought to be comparable to a shamanic trance. It must at all costs stimulate with a hallucinatory drugcalled entheogene, a zone of the brain that Vilayanur Ramachandran of the University of San Diego, called “God's module".

 

Scientific literature speaks highly of ayahuasca. Surprising reality, but when one looks more closely one realises that this has been written from psychedelic research tolerated on the other side of the Atlantic, under so called draconian conditions, by the FDA. The director of T… wrote in MAPS (the review of psychedelic research) in 1992 and 1996, articles one the treatment of drug-addiction by the Amazonian plants. Currently, ayahuasca is being studied by the ethno-medicine branch of psychedelic research. On the other hand, traditional scientific literature speaks much of the side effects of LSD and DMT.

 

Only two European experts implicated in non psychedelic research, to be precise, expose the dangers of ayahuasca: Gilbert Pépin, a French pharmacologist, expert attached to the courts, and the Swiss toxicologist, Laurent Rivier.

 

There is a enormous variation on the level of the classification of the ayahuasca in Europe. Although DMT is forbidden everywhere, it is not the case of ayahuasca and of other natural hallucinatory drugs. Ayahuasca is legal in Belgium, tolerated in the Netherlands within the religious framework of Santo daïme, but illicit in Italy, Spain and France. The iboga is allowed in France but forbidden in Belgium. Thus European legislation is confusing and contradictory.

 

The leaders benefit from the gap in European law to recruit followers as fast as they can, organising amateur training courses in those countries where the hallucinatory drug "x" is not illegal. In the meantime the list of victims increases all the time.

 

In spring of 2005, the French medical authorities (the ASSAPS) strengthened the prohibition of ayahuasca in France, by classifying the liana itself as absent in the European biotope. But the non-prohibition of ayahuasca, apart from DMT, in the rest of Europe remains an important problem.

 

The saga of the Santo daïme European court cases where one consumes the daïme (another name for ayahuasca) as a sacrament, illustrates the ambiguity of the legal gap in Europe and its tolerated intake within a religious framework. This Brazilian spirit and condomble church is legal in Brazil just as the ayahuasca is, within its religious framework. In Brazil, moreover, DMT is not illegal. For its followers, Santo daïme, it is just popular shamanism or folklore.

 

If Santo daïme is implanted in Brazil, it is because in this country, the beliefs in spirit doctrines are part of Brazilian culture. Brazil is the first country in the world to propagate spirit literature, in particular that of Allan Kardec. Spirit mobile libraries furrow the country, both in the villages and in urban centres. The spirit Movement has its charities which cover a whole number of needs from day nurseries to psychiatric hospitals to schools and old people's homes.

 

Santo daïme has ramifications in Europe having been the subject of lawsuits. Initially there was the Dutch case in 2001, and then in 1999, six Frenchmen were arrested In Paris for consuming the daïme. The charge retained against them was the intake of DMT; the sectarian character of the hallucinatory church was not taken into account.

 

In these two countries or the European Union, the daïmists were accused of possessing, transporting and consuming illicit drugs. In Holland, in the same category as heroine and the cocaine, the ayahuasca is an Illegal drug because of its DMT content. But below are some common arguments used by the defence which allow the release of prisoners in Holland and France: there is no scientific base to affirm that “natural” DMT is a drug endangering public health. The DMT analysed in the seizures were in insufficient quantities to prove its toxicity.

 

I was present at the two phases of the French court proceedings, taking place in the Paris law courts, in 2003 and at to the appeal in 2004. The expert, Jace Callaway, known for his in psychedelic research, testifying for the indicted in both European cases that ayahuasca was not dangerous in the religious context of Santo daïme. During the hearing of the French case in Paris, the expert opinion of Dr. Gilbert Pépin, made on samples taken on the cans of daïme put under seals on the arrest of the daïmists, was only briefly raised.

 

One of the defence lawyers in the French case, in favour of decriminalization of what is known as "soft" drugs, invented the following term which explains the prestige of this profession. He called the daïme: cider of the tropics. One may presume that he had never taken the famous daïme and that he never had a bad trip! It should be added that another of the defence lawyers had already defended certain cult representatives who were in trouble with the law.

 

In 2005, the Santo daïme saga continued: in Italy a score of daïmists were arrested, in March 2005, by the Italian anti-Mafia brigade for being caught consuming DMT. They are on standby for judgement.

 

         However, after the French judgement, a tolerance of ayahuasca consumption, within its religious context, was granted in New Mexico to the Plant Union (a branch of Santo daïme). Precision: the Plant Union is under study officially in the departement of ethno-medicine by psychedelic research for its ritual use of the "tea" (another name of the daïme).

The future will tell if Italian justice will align itself on this international religious tolerance or whether the cultist character of Santo daïme will be proven in Europe. The Magazine MAPS autumn-winter 2005/2006 explains the latest research carried out on the curative use of alternate ayahuasca in medicine within the framework of the Santo daïme ritual, studied in the Amazonian village Céu Dio Mapià.

 

         I will conclude with very fresh news, obtained here a few minutes ago from the Chairwoman of a victim's association from the South-West of France. An ethno medical congress was held in Toulouse a week ago. It gathered the opinion leaders of pseudo-shamanism, which has become an international royal freeway for a new cultist use of drugs. Some doctors aware of ethno-medicine, thinking that they could find interesting information, felt tricked by the contents of the congress and are ready to expose this hoax.

 

Among the participants there were young people, 18 year-olds, probably the public of rave parties where indications show an increase in drug consumption as it was in the 70s, if nothing is done to stop the phenomenon these young people will in the long run be interested by the seductive mask of shamanism, sponsored by the dealers of the 3rd millennium,

        

There is a risk that the use of ayahuasca will rapidly become banal. That's what happened with ecstasy, twenty years back. The press spoke greatly of this drug for its very new age qualities of opening the conscience and of empathy. It is today a curse which devastates rave parties.

 

Thank you for your attention.

 

        

 

Sources:

Manuscript „The Ayahuasca Connection"

Draft The Dark dossiers of shamanism         

Personal notes 

 



[1] Metabolite Transporter (DMT)