The term cultural appropriation refers to the use of artifacts or elements of a non-dominant culture by a person from the dominant culture without reverence or respect for the source. For example, someone of European ancestry wearing a feather headdress is considered cultural appropriation. The person neither recognizes the spiritual significance of the headdress nor the history of colonization and genocide that has been enacted on the culture they are appropriating.
Why does cultural appropriation happen? For one thing, people who have lost contact with their own peoples’ traditions and rituals may be feeling this lack of connection and searching in other cultures to find meaning.
Although the harm is often unintentional, cultural appropriation perpetuates oppressive dynamics. A person may do it for economic gain and/or status, reinforcing their privilege as a person who can choose at will to adopt the sacred cultural elements of a historically marginalized group for their own benefit.
Given that the use of many plant medicines, including ayahuasca, is native to indigenous groups, some may be wondering: Is it cultural appropriation for non-indigenous people to take part in ayahuasca ceremonies? We have gone to Psychable, the online community with answers to all things related to psychedelics, looking for the answer.
Ayahuasca is a traditional Amazonian psychedelic plant brew that can induce an intense physical, emotional and spiritual experience. People from all over the world are recognizing the healing potential of ayahuasca, as evidenced by a massive increase in research studies and scholarly articles, mainstream news media coverage, and a booming psychedelic tourism industry in parts of South America, especially Peru.
Ayahuasca cannot be traced back to one original tribe or people. The brew is commonly consumed in a ceremonial setting under the care of an experienced facilitator, and both indigenous and non-indigenous people have served ayahuasca as a profession for at least the last 400 years in the Upper Amazon Basin (and probably longer, but there is no written record). With no original culture to appropriate from when it comes to ayahuasca, is it ethical or appropriate for anyone to drink ayahuasca? What about to serve ayahuasca as a facilitator or shaman?
Here are some important considerations to be aware of if you drink ayahuasca or are thinking of doing so:
- Tourism to the Amazon has complex economic, social, and ecological impacts on the region, including indigenous communities. Ayahuasca tourism can increase social and economic disparities in the Amazon.
- As financial pressures have mounted, many healers have withdrawn from serving their local communities to become facilitators of ayahuasca ceremonies for foreigners.
- Indigenous youth do not necessarily have the resources to devote themselves to apprenticeships in ayahuasca work, so fewer are becoming trained to facilitate ceremonies.
- The worldwide surge of interest in ayahuasca gives rise to imposters and charlatans impersonating ayahuasca facilitators. Uninformed foreigners may end up attending a ceremony with an incompetent facilitator; there have already been cases of physical harm, sexual abuse, and death. This is not only dangerous for ceremony attendees, it also degrades and devalues the work of true ayahuasca healers.
- Anyone can imitate true healers and call themselves a “shaman.” Where the facilitator is from or what they look like is less important than their training, experience, and integrity.
- The Amazon Rainforest is facing large-scale deforestation and depletion of its resources. Consumer culture perpetuates this degradation of the natural environment, especially in the Amazon rainforest, the lungs of our planet and the home to many ayahuasca traditions.
- While the ayahuasca vine is not in danger of extinction, some regions have been depleted of all of their wild-growing ayahuasca. With the growing global market, ayahuasca plantations are cultivating the vine to meet the demand.
Here are some suggestions for anyone who is interested in ayahuasca and wants to participate in ayahuasca ceremonies in integrity:
- Support self-determination of indigenous cultures who practice ayahuasca healing modalities
- Remain aware of current issues, such as spiritual extractivism
- Listen to voices from the global South, especially women, who are deeply rooted in ayahuasca traditions. A statement from Coshikox, a collective organization of Shipibo-Konibo and Xetebo peoples, says that onanya (the Shipibo word meaning “one who knows,” referring to the role that is commonly, and inaccurately, called a shaman) should be able to devote their energy to training and educating Shipibo youth, who do not have the same access to resources and opportunities for long apprenticeships as many foreigners have. Learn more and donate here.
- If you’re considering sitting in ceremony, ask if the circle engages in meaningful reciprocity (ayni, in Quechua).
- If you are attending a ceremony inside or outside of the US, consider who you are giving your money to. Ask if the circle has a sliding scale and what they do to make the medicine accessible to people who have less financial means. While the fancy retreats with high price tags are very attractive and comfortable, more of your money may be going to frills and luxury than to giving back, especially to the places where these traditions originate from.
- Remember that ayahuasca can be responsibly facilitated by anyone, regardless of their ethnicity, as long as they are authentically grounded in service of healing (rather than personal gain) and have gone through the rigorous training that it takes to serve the medicine.
- Vet any retreat center you are considering attending or facilitator you are considering working with. Read these safety guidelines in preparation for an ayahuasca experience to learn more about how to stay safe.
- Become informed as a consumer. Ask about the source and sustainability of the medicine before committing to a ceremony.
- Do not support corporations that are destroying the Amazon, and limit consumption of products that come from these extractive industries. Support conservation and sustainability efforts toward a more regenerative future for the lungs of our planet and the people who live there.
Psychable is here to help you learn about Ayahuasca and other critical issues such as these. On Psychable, you can even connect with others who want to be part of the conversation.
They are building an online directory and community for people who would like to explore the power of psychedelics and psychedelic-assisted therapy with practitioners who can support them. Their mission is to help individuals from across the country find knowledgeable practitioners and receive the support they need.
They support service-seekers and practitioners, as well those who are just learning about psychedelic-assisted therapy, through evidence-based research, an engaged and passionate online forum, and a professional directory powered by ratings and reviews.
They have a wealth of resources and written guides to inform you all about psychedelics, healing, and consciousness. Their articles about ayahuasca, psilocybin-containing mushrooms, iboga, and other plant medicines will inform you about critical topics such as ethical use, cultural appropriation, sustainability, history, and more.
As the legal landscape continues to shift, Psychable aims to simplify the process of finding experienced professionals offering legal healing modalities (such as ketamine-assisted therapy, somatic healing, and breathwork) along with integration specialists that can help people with their pre- and post-psychedelic experiences.