May 14, 2014

Shamans are Sexy & Drugs are Drugs.

Lily Kay Ross (author submitted)

Observations on recreational drug use and the rockstar-shaman in festival culture.

Years ago I was at a pizza party where I met a man who looked like a pirate. His black clothes were marked with rivets, leather, and amulets, his well tended dreadlocks hung below his waist, his beard was thick, and his face was marked with many piercings. I was surprised that when I asked him, playfully, “sir, are you a pirate?” he didn’t play back. Instead, he pssssht-ed me and said, “I like to think of myself as more of a nomad shaman.”

I said nothing and wondered silently. I wondered if he was a drug dealer. And I wondered if, like so many before him, he used his claim to shamanic power to charm and seduce women.

For a time, my interests in marginalized religious groups and harm reduction had me attending music festivals for research, networking or, occasionally, to speak.

I saw a lot.

One consistent observation had to do with how participants spoke about drugs and drug use. Often, festival participants didn’t call psychedelics “drugs.” They called them “medicines.” “Sacred medicines.” Participants didn’t say, “hey man, I’m gonna get high and have a great time,” preferring, instead, to jive with the subculture’s lingo and say, “I’m gonna take an intentional sacred medicine healing journey.”

Once I asked someone what this meant. “Well,” they replied, “I took two hits of acid earlier and smoked some ganja, now I’m gonna take a dose of Molly and go catch an epic music set.”

Ummm… Sacred medicine journey? Really?

It appears related to the desire for socially acceptable manner to engage in illegal behavior. It also seems to create spaces for anyone in a festival or party setting, regardless of background, to supply drugs and facilitate their use under the sanction of sacredness. Gone are the days of sketchy dudes known as dealers. Now they call themselves shamans and act like gurus. It’s “sacred” washing. And it’s dangerous.

To claim the power that comes with being a shaman can lead to inappropriate sexual conduct. People claim that power for a reason. And remember that sexual acts in non-ordinary states of consciousness—known for dissolving one’s sense of self and boundaries—is a few shades beyond blurry consent. Legally and morally it’s not a grey area. Few people want to talk about it, but it’s something I have heard tell of far too many times.

One is one too many.

Calling someone a shaman isn’t just a nod to the cool factor, it’s a claim to significant spiritual power—and in too many cases, claiming the title “shaman” has more to do with the sex appeal and social clout that comes with that power than with the training and responsibility which underscore being a healer of any kind. This is something to be mindful of; even wary of.

In other words: yes, shamanism is trendy, but that guy smoking whatever is in that pipe in front of the main stage at sunset is not a shaman. Yes, he might like drugs, he might sell drugs, but he’s not a shaman. If he calls himself one, it’s probably because it charms the ladies. That’s bad news all around.

Of course, sacred contexts for use do exist, even legal contexts. As do shamans. And the propensity for abuse of power exists among highly trained shamans, too—just as it exists among doctors in allopathic medicine. It’s why there are established ethical standards.

Maybe this whole article is actually about power—the power of substances, and the power of the people who carry them. Power which, I would argue, can be used or abused. Power which can be dangerous.

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Apprentice Editor: Jess Sheppard/Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Provided by Author, Flickr

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