Ayahuasca and the “Diet”: Some Cross-Cultural Considerations
Alex K. Gearin, Ph.D.
Co-author: Beatriz Caiuby Labate
With the recent expansion of ayahuasca from the jungles of the Amazon to the Western world, there have emerged curious continuities and discontinuities of the meaning and practice of drinking ayahuasca. This presentation focuses on one aspect of the transformative zone of ayahuasca expansion: the “diet”, whereby drinkers change dietary and behavioral regimes before and during a period of drinking ayahuasca. Drawing upon fieldwork in Australia, the United States, Europe and Peru, we discuss how the ayahuasca “diet” in neoshamanic contexts has been detached and transformed from a wider indigenous Amazonian cosmology and instrumentalized into a series of techniques for self-realization. Similar to how Yoga in Western society has been transformed by Western preoccupations with physicality—by emphasizing physical over mental or spiritual practices—is the neoshamanic ayahuasca “diet” more reflective of Western culture than indigenous Amazonian shamanism?
Alex K. Gearin, Ph.D.,recently completed his Ph.D. dissertation in anthropology, entitled An Amazonian shamanic brew in Australia: Ayahuasca healing and individualism in which he studied ritual healing practices of ayahuasca neoshamanism. He has published several research articles on this topic and is a co-editor of the book The World Ayahuasca Diaspora (2016); a multidisciplinary volume about the expansion of ayahuasca use to Europe, North America, Australia and elsewhere. He is a co-founder of kahpi, the online ayahuasca learning hub. His research interests include medical anthropology, shamanism, sensory studies, and ethics.