Ayahuasca Tourism and Pagan Holidays

Kira Salak, a writer for National Geographic, has a good article published on her ayahuasca pilgrimage to Peru.

But she can’t call it a that. It was “a lark,” at least the first time:

And then there is me, who a year ago came to Peru on a lark to take the “sacred spirit medicine,” ayahuasca, and get worked over by shamans. Little suspecting that I’d emerge from it feeling as if a waterlogged wool coat had been removed from my shoulders—literally feeling the burden of depression lifted—and thinking that there must be something to this crazy shamanism after all.

And so I am back again.

I have read a lot of put-downs of this sort of journey. The term “ayahuasca tourism” is tossed around, along with the presumption that any such experience cannot possibly be “authentic,” whatever that means.

Such an attitude may suit neo-puritans, but it is profoundly un-Pagan.

In the collection Anthropological Research on Contemporary Tourism (thanks to Amy W. for the citation), Nelson Graburn offers a “Working/Traveling Matrix,”

                                          Stay                                      Travel

 Voluntary                     “Doing Nothing” at home                  Tourism and/or recreation

Compulsory/Serious    Work, incl. school & housework       Occupations requiring travel

What I see in this is the attitude that if you are not getting paid to travel, it’s not real, and that if it is not work, it is not serious travel.

Think of those times when you have met someone — or maybe said about yourself — who claimed to be a “traveler” but not a “tourist.”

Imagine someone leaning against a wall two thousand years ago outside the sacred precinct of Delphi, sneering, “Look at that — another bunch of rich oracle tourists.” (Well, there were the Cynics.) But a scholar of religious tourism in ancient Greece writes,

Many tourism scholars however have begun to recognize that the differences between what is a tourist and what is a pilgrim is not as large as was once thought. These scholars have coined a new term, the religious tourist, to describe those travelers who seem to bridge the gap between the traditional definition of a pilgrim and the traditional definition of a tourist.

Maybe a contemporary writer has to describe her trip as “a lark” in order to distance herself from the fact that it might be a pilgrimage, leading some of her readers to dismiss her as a “religious wacko.”

One thought on “Ayahuasca Tourism and Pagan Holidays

  1. It happened that I grew up within spitting distance of a major psychedelic pilgrimage site. Folks, and the psychopharmaceutical substances in vogue, came in their journeys, and joined a notable community of seekers.

    So, by some Fate’s graceful whim, I didn’t have to travel for entheogenetic experiences.

    But I probably would have. And not felt inauthentic or missing the deeper context or disrespectful of traditions and customs being shared if I had traveled.

    I think that the world is, for spiritual seekers, no longer divided as maybe it once was. The Earth has revealed a wholeness that we seekers–and finders–journey within.

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