- Shamans in many cultures seek the aid of powerful plants (sometimes understood to be other-than-human persons and even shamans in their own right). While many of these plants are labeled by Westerners (whether academics or enthusiasts) as hallucinogenic, psychotropic, entheogenic, or vision inspiring, it is as purgatives— vomit inducers—that they are valued by many indigenous shamans. Gordon Wasson and others interested in Central American mushrooms were apologetic and embarrassed about having to vomit under the influence of mushrooms, but the curandera (doctor), Maria Sabina, was insistent that vomiting is not only part of the healing process but in fact the most important help offered by the mushrooms. She said, “If the patient fails to vomit, I have to vomit for them.” As Andy Letcher demonstrates in relation to psilocybin, the positive value now attached by Westerners to the visions resulting from ingestion of such plants is of recent origin. Previously both the nausea and the “hallucinations” (false dreams) were considered signs of poisoning. With the global spread of movements like the ayahuasca-centered Santo Daime and increasing knowledge of the peyote-centered Native American Church, perhaps purgative purification will be revalued, too. Until then, vomiting should be added to Carlos Fausto’s list of signs that distinguish indigenous shamanisms from neo-shamanism.
Historical dictionary of shamanism. Graham Harvey and Robert J. Wallis. 2007.