BEYOND THE SACRED VALLEY: PLANT MEDICINE SHAMANISM, COMMUNITY AND PILGRIMAGE ACROSS THE LOWLANDS AND HIGHLANDS OF PERU
My proposed lecture will be specifically related to my fieldwork in Peru. Furthermore, I am particularly interested in ‘narrative’ as a way to explore themes relating to plant medicine, spirituality, healing, pilgrimage, nature worship and consciousness, amongst other things. What I realised during my research was how insightful people’s life journeys were, particularly when explored through the events, experiences, syncronicities and life changes occurring, relating to medicine work, or more broadly, Peru.
I would like to present an insight into the ‘medicine community’ where I did my research. I intend on addressing various pertinent issues regarding the use of plant medicines that relate to the intentions, expectations, outcomes of people engaging with shamanic plants and traditional practices, both in Peru and across the globe. My purpose is to interweave my own understandings and insights - personal and academic (although not so opposed) with those of my participants, interviewees and friends in Peru.
My discussion will connect the local dimensions of my research within the context of global shifts in consciousness, conceptualisations of healing, spirituality, shamanism, modernity, tourism, nature, epistemology and so forth. The nexus between the local and the global became of clear significance throughout my research - exploring the interconnectivities that permeate boundaries, culture, ethnicity, class and gender, while at the same time revealing the vast array of people’s own vision and experience of ‘truth’, especially relating to healing work and shamanic practice. These insights have allowed me to now start developing a clear and comparative understanding of the teachings of plant medicines - wisdom, insight, mystery and magic.
My work has allowed me to meet and spend time with various different healers/shamans, seekers, neighbours, members of the community - people from all over the world spending time or living in Peru. In this, I will also touch on some important aspects of community and what that means in the 21st century, specifically relating to plant medicine and specific places, such as the Sacred Valley where I did most of my work. For me, this raises some important points about integration - life beyond the ceremony proper. It also offers the opportunity to share and discuss some gems of wisdom I have been privileged to receive from many different experience, people and places.
My professional background is anthropology. I am currently in the third year of my PhD in anthropology at La Trobe University, Melbourne. In February this year I returned to Australia after completing 16 months fieldwork for my Doctoral thesis. I spent several months living and conducting ethnographic research in and around Iquitos in the Peruvian Amazon, however, the majority of my time was spent living in the Sacred Valley, located in the Peruvian Andes. My research focuses on the contemporary uses of shamanic plant medicines, namely Ayahuasca and San Pedro (Huachuma), but also including Coca and Tobacco - continuities and changes. My ethnographic research has developed out of local insights gained through the experiences of fieldwork in Peru. My work also aims to explore the interconnectivities across locales that reveal new insights into commonalities of people globally, seeking out new ‘personal experience’, healing and spiritual development. I take a particular interest in the importance of environment, specific to the places I have carried out my work. This of course includes the jungle - ‘la casa de Ayahuasca’, but of focus is the Sacred Valley. I explore the medicine of the mountains - the sacredness of ‘los Apus’, Inca sites and the burgeoning ‘medicine work’ emerging - much of which has developed in the last 15 years. The connections between people, place and practice is a basic, but important motif for my work. As many of the people (not all) working, experiencing and seeking plant medicine where I conducted research, are ‘outsiders’ to the Valley - Peruvians, Latin Americans and foreigners, I seek to connect/intesect their insights and ‘journeys’, to reveal and explore deeper key aspects what it is that makes us human . I look at concepts of community, pilgrimage, spirituality and healing through a comparative lens - exploring the significance plant medicine shamanism potentiates in the new ‘global village’. Lastly, my personal journey with Peru and working with plant medicine started 5 years ago when I was still an undergraduate student. I had taken several trips to Peru to work with plant medicine namely Ayahuasca and to diet other plants also. These experiences have been vital for me personally and for directing, informing and enriching my research. The interrelationship between my personal experiences and academic/professional work has continued to be important in my approach to my research and life more broadly. I hope that my work is primarily about honouring these plants, the people who engage with them with integrity, the places, traditions and practices that are so important in the current expansions of their uses and appropriations.