Don Rómulo, the Penultimate Guardian of the “Hidden Science” of Ayahuasca

Don Rómulo, the Penultimate Guardian of the “Hidden Science” of Ayahuasca

Don Rómulo Magin has small, lively blue eyes, glassy due to advanced cataracts. At 94, Don Rómulo wakes up at dawn every day in his house/maloka in the Peruvian Amazon, takes up his machete, and opens paths in the jungle, or identifies medicinal plants he will use in his healing practices. His vision may be weak, but he still precisely recognizes hundreds, perhaps thousands of plants, which will be part of the diet for visitors and disciples at his center.

Don Rómulo was born in Ecuador and belongs to the Aguaruna people, related to the Shuar, and, as he says, direct descendants of an Inca lineage. His father and grandfather were healers. His mother tongue is Quechua, in which he speaks and ‘ikarea’. His Spanish is rudimentary, sprinkled with jungle idioms and Quechua terms, so his son Winister helps us with the translation into Spanish. Winister, like his son Winister Jr., was born in Peru, in the Loreto region, so their main language is Spanish. However, they continue to use Quechua in their ‘ikaros’: “The ‘ikaro’ must be done in Quechua,” explains Winister, “so that the medicine can do its work, Spanish is not suitable.”

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Jeremy Narby: “We are experiencing a shamanic renaissance”

Jeremy Narby: “We are experiencing a shamanic renaissance”

It is estimated that over four million people have consumed ayahuasca at some point in their lives. In 2019 alone, approximately 820,000 people consumed the beverage, which translates to about five and a half million doses of this psychoactive substance used for thousands of years by Amazonian indigenous peoples.

The data comes from a study conducted in America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand by the ICEERS Foundation. The report was compiled between 2020 and 2021 and was released in the last month of June.

The globalization of ayahuasca, which has led to an increase in its consumption and a rise in so-called psychedelic tourism, has been pointed out by some experts as a threat to the traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples and also to the sustainability of the plants used in its preparation.

In an interview with Psicodelicamente, Jeremy Narby, a Canadian anthropologist based in Switzerland, argues that this movement also has a positive side. “The external interest in Amazonian shamanism has led indigenous people to reconsider the value of their own knowledge.”

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“90% of Spanish police officers have not heard of ayahuasca”

“90% of Spanish police officers have not heard of ayahuasca”

Recent police operations in ayahuasca ceremonies have caused justified alarm among the ayahuasca community, who are questioning the motivations behind this offensive against a practice deeply rooted in Spain, and which to date, has not caused any serious health problems and is legally protected by current legislation and by recurring judicial rulings based on it.

Who orders these police operations? For what purpose? Is the excessive use of force, as shown in videos released by the police themselves, justified? These are some of the questions asked by facilitators and practitioners of ayahuasca, following half a dozen police operations that, to date, have not resulted in a single judicial conviction.

In this context, the participation of a police officer in a recent symposium on shamanism at least partially revealed the police perspective on ayahuasca and answered some of the previously asked questions. The event took place last May in Tarragona, thanks to ICEERS, which invited sub-inspector Marcos Quinteiro to participate in the colloquium ‘Shamanism, Science, and Knowledge: Challenges of the Globalization of Master Plants,’ featuring prominent members of the Barcelona-based NGO, as well as teachers and researchers from the Medical Anthropological Medical Center (MARC) at the Universitat Rovira i Virgil, which hosted the meeting. All videos from that event are available on ICEERS’ website.

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“When you pollute the last river, when you cut down the last forest, we will also be out of this Earth”

“When you pollute the last river, when you cut down the last forest, we will also be out of this Earth”

Nixiwaka Biraci Yawanawa, the leader of the Yawanawa people in the Amazon, delivered a passionate speech at the Psychedelic Science conference in Denver, Colorado, which was organized by MAPS, a key player in the ‘Psychedelic Renaissance.’ His speech echoed the sentiments found in the 1854 speech by Chief Seattle of the Suquamish tribe to the first governor of Washington Territory. He emphasized the urgent need to consider the environment and indigenous perspectives in the context of the ongoing Psychedelic Renaissance.

“When you pollute the last river, when you cut down the last forest, we will also be out of this Earth”.

Nixiwaka Yawanawa did not miss the opportunity to remind that the so-called ‘Psychedelic Renaissance,’ in which MAPS is one of the main actors, is taking place without listening to indigenous peoples, “the true guardians of many medicinal plants, of sacred plants”.

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“There is no bigger drug cartel in the world than big pharma”

“There is no bigger drug cartel in the world than big pharma”

The psychedelic renaissance is the talk of the town, currently enjoyed on  therapy couches and meditation mats of a privileged few. Albert Casasayas tackles issues such as like inequality in access to psychedelics and the so-called “psychedelic exceptionalism” in his new book ‘Luces y sombras del renacimiento psicodélico’, which has been published by Revista Ulises and available for free on the Universo Ulises website.

Albert Casasayas teaches Spanish and Latin American Studies at Santa Clara University in California. He admits he’s a newcomer to psychedelia or, according to Juan Carlos Usó, who wrote the book’s prologue, a “neo-convert.” This fresh look at psychedelics is one of the book’s greatest strengths. The book is not intended to be academic, but rather a “middle-ground” perspective, distinct from those deeply involved in the psychedelic community but also beyond the “very biased mainstream media with its anti-drug discourse.”

Speaking via Zoom from California, Albert is preparing for the imminent academic year while continuing to delve into the complex, fascinating, and often paradoxical world of visionary drugs.

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The Revolution of Polypharmacology: Science Endorses Traditional Herbalism

The Revolution of Polypharmacology: Science Endorses Traditional Herbalism

In 1910, the German bacteriologist Paul Ehrlich made a groundbreaking discovery and patented arsphenamine, a chemical compound derived from arsenic that proved effective against syphilis and was marketed for two decades under the trade name ‘Salvarsan’.

Ehrlich,  who had already been awarded a Nobel Prize for his vaccine research, had a profound impact on 20th-century pharmacology with his concept of the “magic bullet”:a pharmacological compound that specifically targets a particular pathogen without harming the host’s body.

‘Salvarsan’ was the first successful drug based on the “magic bullet”  hypothesis and saved millions of lives in Europe until the introduction of penicillin, discovered by Alexander Fleming two decades later. Penicillin proved to be more effective than ‘Salvarsan’ for treating syphilis and other infectious diseases. However, the echo of Ehrlich’s discovery and the “magic bullet” concept continues to resonate, albeit with diminishing influence.

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Daiara Tukano: “If you want to investigate how to address suicide and depression, come to indigenous communities.”

Daiara Tukano: “If you want to investigate how to address suicide and depression, come to indigenous communities.”

When we talk about mental illnesses, anxiety, depression, and suicide, we usually focus on modern Western societies, considering them as afflictions of our time caused by an increasingly disconnected lifestyle from nature. However, indigenous peoples in the Amazon suffer from extremely high levels of alcoholism, and their suicide rate is three times the national average, as denounced by the artist and activist Daiara Tukano, from the Tukano (or Yé’pá Mahsã) people, during the opening of the 7th Colloquium ‘Shamanism, Science, and Knowledge’ held last week in Tarragona.

“It seems incredible to me that there are so many research projects for mental health, but I have a request because I know that we need that attention in our communities. Indigenous peoples are the most marginalized. If you want to investigate how to treat suicide, depression, come and research with us… the suicide rate among indigenous peoples is 300% higher than any other social report,” explained Daiara Tukano via videoconference from her community in the state of Vaupés, on the border between Colombia and Brazil.

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‘Plant teachers: ayahuasca, tobacco and the quest for knowledge’

‘Plant teachers: ayahuasca, tobacco and the quest for knowledge’

The botanical classification only includes two species of ayahuasca, the famous Banisteriopsis caapi and the lesser known Banisteriopsis inebrians, a gnarled vine that is also used, less frequently, to make the Amazonian medicinal concoction. However, traditional indigenous peoples contemplate a wide range of ayahuasca vines, not only in terms of colour and morphology, but also in terms of their effects.

The taxonomy of Amazonian plants by indigenous and mestizo healers and shamans is no less precise or “scientific” than that offered by botany. In fact, more and more researchers are trying to build bridges between traditional knowledge and the western Cartesian vision, two complementary approaches with the same objective: the attainment of knowledge.

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Companionship of the Sacred Vine, a religion for legally taking ayahuasca in Canada

Companionship of the Sacred Vine, a religion for legally taking ayahuasca in Canada

Allan Finney began his “healing journey” with ayahuasca at the age of 59, seven years ago, with a lineage of Shipibo shamans in Peru. The journalist and television producer from British Columbia, Canada, returned home to find that ayahuasca was illegal, in contravention of the UN Conventions on Narcotic Drugs, which recognise that the Amazonian concoction is not banned. How did this happen? “It’s about the pharmaceutical industry, about big corporate interests. They don’t want to see people being cured, healed by ayahuasca,” Finney responds in this interview we conducted via Zoom last week.

To try to get a licence for the use of traditional ayahuasca in Canada, three years ago he founded Companionship for the Sacred Vine (CSV), a religion that would allow the opening of ayahuasca centres in the Shipibo tradition in all provinces of Canada.

Why a religion? “Because it is the only legal possibility Canada allows to import ayahuasca,” explains Finley. In order to file a legal battle in the Supreme Court, and eventually sue Health Canada, the CSV has launched a crowdfunding campaign seeking to raise $20,000. 

You can listen to the full interview here:

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First course on risk reduction in ceremonial work with plants

First course on risk reduction in ceremonial work with plants

Next May 7th will start the second edition of the course ‘Increasing safety in ayahuasca sessions’, a pioneering training offered by ICEERS for guides and facilitators of ayahuasca work in non-native environments to learn the best practices around ayahuasca to reduce risks and increase benefits during the sessions, will begin.

The course lasts six months (May to December) and its format is mixed: one hour a week of video and live dialogue every two weeks to chat and ask questions to the instructors, namely David Londoño, José Carlos Bouso, Constanza Sánchez Avilés, Marc Aixalà and Jerónimo Mazarrasa, all members of the NGO based in Barcelona and its Support Center, which has completed ten years attending “hundreds of cases” of people who have suffered some kind of mishap during or after the ingestion of ayahuasca.

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