The Psychedelic Journey of Marlene Dobkin de Rios: 45 Years with Shamans, Ayahuasqueros, and Ethnobotanists

Overview

A look inside almost half a century of pioneering research in the Amazon and Peru by a noted anthropologist studying hallucinogens, including ayahuasca

• Reveals how ayahuasca successfully treats psychological and emotional disorders

• Examines adolescent drug use from a cross-cultural perspective

• Discusses the deleterious effects of drug tourism in the Amazon

Ayahuasca is an alkaloid-rich psychoactive concoction indigenous to South America that has been employed by shamans ...

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The Psychedelic Journey of Marlene Dobkin de Rios: 45 Years with Shamans, Ayahuasqueros, and Ethnobotanists

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Overview

A look inside almost half a century of pioneering research in the Amazon and Peru by a noted anthropologist studying hallucinogens, including ayahuasca

• Reveals how ayahuasca successfully treats psychological and emotional disorders

• Examines adolescent drug use from a cross-cultural perspective

• Discusses the deleterious effects of drug tourism in the Amazon

Ayahuasca is an alkaloid-rich psychoactive concoction indigenous to South America that has been employed by shamans for millennia as a spirit drug for divinatory and healing purposes. Although the late Harvard ethnobotanist Richard Evans Schultes was credited in the early 1950s as being the first to document the use of ayahuasca, other researchers, such as the distinguished anthropologist Marlene Dobkin de Rios, were responsible for furthering his findings and uncovering the curative capabilities of this amazing compound.

The Psychedelic Journey of Marlene Dobkin de Rios presents the accumulated experience of de Rios’s 45 years of pioneering field studies in the area of hallucinogens in Peru and the Amazon. Her investigation into ayahuasca—which she undertook in collaboration with more than a dozen traditional Mestizo folk curanderos, shamans, and fellow ethnobotanists—focuses on the use of this revolutionary plant in the treatment of recalcitrant psychological and emotional disorders. She also shares some of her theories that prove that the ancient Maya used psychedelic plants as part of their religious rituals, thereby demonstrating the impact of plant psychedelics on human prehistory. In addition, Dobkin de Rios examines altered states of consciousness derived from the use of biofeedback and hypnosis and discusses her current work on the deleterious effects of drug tourism in the Amazon.

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Editorial Reviews

Stanislav Grof
“In her new book, Marlene Dobkin de Rios summarizes her experiences and observations from forty-plus years of research in this field. The book is a treasure trove of information on the use of visionary plants in ancient and native cultures of South and Central America. Of special interest are the passages discussing the increasingly influential ayahuasca rituals and the effects of LSD and ayahuasca on creativity and artistic expression. This book will be of great interest not only for scholars and researchers but also for large audiences of laypeople interested in consciousness and spirituality.”
Rick Strassman
“An informative, insightful, and colorful journey with one of the founders of the modern anthropology of hallucinogens. Dobkin de Rios’s work has influenced the mind-set of all those who seek understanding through indigenous cultures’ use of psychoactive plants. This is a valuable academic resource as well as a moving autobiographical account.”
John R. Baker
“This book describes the life and work of one of anthropology’s premier border-crossers. Marlene Dobkin de Rios was one of the first to postulate that hallucinogenic substances played an integral part in the development of many aspects of human culture and has clearly and forcefully distinguished between the constructive and the destructive uses of these substances. She has built bridges between anthropology and psychology, theory and practice, and traditional and modern cultures. Over the course of her adventurous life, she has learned love magic from women concerned about her then single status, used fortune-telling cards as an ethnographic research method, and counseled burn victims and other traumatized individuals using insights gleaned from her studies of shamanism. A fascinating book about a fascinating individual.”
From the Publisher
"De Rios writes in a very accessible, easy style that even a novice in the field—like myself—can understand. . . . For anyone following a more shamanic path, I'm sure that de Rios's insights in the field of ethnobotany and how native healers around the world use those plants will be of great value to their personal spiritual practice."

"It is of interest to those who share her enthusiasm with hallucinogens and everyone interested in the discipline's earlier history."

“An informative, insightful, and colorful journey with one of the founders of the modern anthropology of hallucinogens. Dobkin de Rios’s work has influenced the mind-set of all those who seek understanding through indigenous cultures’ use of psychoactive plants. This is a valuable academic resource as well as a moving autobiographical account.”

“Dobkin de Rios is one of the few professional anthropologists who has had the courage to describe her personal experiences with psychedelics. Hers is a compelling story about how direct experience resulted in both wisdom and discernment.”

“In her new book, Marlene Dobkin de Rios summarizes her experiences and observations from forty-plus years of research in this field. The book is a treasure trove of information on the use of visionary plants in ancient and native cultures of South and Central America. Of special interest are the passages discussing the increasingly influential ayahuasca rituals and the effects of LSD and ayahuasca on creativity and artistic expression. This book will be of great interest not only for scholars and researchers but also for large audiences of laypeople interested in consciousness and spirituality.”

“This academic resource is a journey in itself. One of the first medical anthropologists to explore hallucinogens, de RIOS furthered findings by the late Harvard ethnobotanist Richard Evans, who documented the use of ayahuasca (Diplopterys cabrerana) in the 1950s. In this book she summarizes her forty years of research on visionary plants of Peru, the Amazon, and the Mayans. She moves gracefully from autobiographical anecdotes to scholarly information in a readable story line.”

“This book describes the life and work of one of anthropology’s premier border-crossers. Marlene Dobkin de Rios was one of the first to postulate that hallucinogenic substances played an integral part in the development of many aspects of human culture and has clearly and forcefully distinguished between the constructive and the destructive uses of these substances. She has built bridges between anthropology and psychology, theory and practice, and traditional and modern cultures. Over the course of her adventurous life, she has learned love magic from women concerned about her then single status, used fortune-telling cards as an ethnographic research method, and counseled burn victims and other traumatized individuals using insights gleaned from her studies of shamanism. A fascinating book about a fascinating individual.”

director of Global Indigenous Nations Studies Prog John W. Hoopes
“Dobkin de Rios is one of the few professional anthropologists who has had the courage to describe her personal experiences with psychedelics. Hers is a compelling story about how direct experience resulted in both wisdom and discernment.”
September 2012 American Herb Association
“This academic resource is a journey in itself. One of the first medical anthropologists to explore hallucinogens, de RIOS furthered findings by the late Harvard ethnobotanist Richard Evans, who documented the use of ayahuasca (Diplopterys cabrerana) in the 1950s. In this book she summarizes her forty years of research on visionary plants of Peru, the Amazon, and the Mayans. She moves gracefully from autobiographical anecdotes to scholarly information in a readable story line.”
John W. Hoopes
“Dobkin de Rios is one of the few professional anthropologists who has had the courage to describe her personal experiences with psychedelics. Hers is a compelling story about how direct experience resulted in both wisdom and discernment.”
Michael Heinrich
"It is of interest to those who share her enthusiasm with hallucinogens and everyone interested in the discipline's earlier history."
Bronwen Forbes
"De Rios writes in a very accessible, easy style that even a novice in the field—like myself—can understand. . . . For anyone following a more shamanic path, I'm sure that de Rios's insights in the field of ethnobotany and how native healers around the world use those plants will be of great value to their personal spiritual practice."
American Herb Association
“This academic resource is a journey in itself. One of the first medical anthropologists to explore hallucinogens, de RIOS furthered findings by the late Harvard ethnobotanist Richard Evans, who documented the use of ayahuasca (Diplopterys cabrerana) in the 1950s. In this book she summarizes her forty years of research on visionary plants of Peru, the Amazon, and the Mayans. She moves gracefully from autobiographical anecdotes to scholarly information in a readable story line.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594773136
  • Publisher: Inner Traditions/Bear & Company
  • Publication date: 10/15/2009
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 216
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Marlene Dobkin de Rios, Ph.D. (1939-2012), was a medical anthropologist, associate clinical professor of psychiatry and human behavior at the University of California, Irvine, and professor emerita of anthropology at California State University, Fullerton, where she taught cultural anthropology from 1969-2000. She is the author of seven books and several hundred professional articles.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 3

Belen and the Amazon

THE NAIPES

At this time, I began to use the naipes, or fortune-telling cards, I had learned about in Salas. One night a healer there told his wife to bring the cards down to the tambo where his patients were waiting for the San Pedro ceremony to start. I tried to find out about the cards and how they were used, but the healer brushed me off. When I got back to Lima, I met with the institute’s secretary. Although she was solidly middle class in background, she was quite an aficionada of the cards and showed me how to read them.
I had also purchased several little books on the naipes in the Chiclayo city marketplace. One was even supposedly written by Mme. Le Normand, reputed to be the advisor to Napoleon, which helped me read each card specifically. When in Belen one day I took out the naipes, quite small and compact, and began to read the future of one of my informants. At the time, it didn’t occur to me to ask for any remuneration. After all, these people were so poor, why would I want to burden them any further? However, in November of 1968, I left Peru for a meeting of the American Anthropology Association in Seattle, Washington, and stopped first in New York to visit my family.
In New York, I visited Ari Kiev, a well-known psychiatrist interested in psychopharmacology. I told his fortune with the naipes (no one had ever accused me of being shy . . .) and he advised me to request money for any reading, even if it were a small amount, because that was the norm for others who read the cards. In Seattle, Michael Harner advised me similarly. When I returned to Iquitos, I became a full fledged curiosa, a specialist who could divine the future. Suddenly my practice increased tenfold and people practically lined up to have their fortunes read.
At the end of a day of clients’ fortunes, I could commiserate with others in the barriada about how tired I was, like them, after a hard day’s work. Two women with whom I had become friends acted as agents in the field and sent me clients. They kept insisting that I raise my prices, since I only charged the equivalent of a kilogram of rice, only a fraction of what was collected by my nearest competitor who lived in another area of Iquitos.
I learned that many ayahuasca healers and probably the San Pedro maestro in Salas used the cards as a diagnostic technique in their work, since there were about seventeen misfortune cards that people would dialog with out loud, which gave healers some insight into their clients’ stressors and problems. The healers would appear omnipotent, all the while in a shamanic mode of total control. Soon, my walk from the Belen market at the city’s banks down to the river community took a very long time, as people would call me the “gringa who knew things . . .” and pull me into their homes to tell their fortune. People would wake me up early in the morning as they sought advice before making a business decision or going on any kind of travel.
Fortune-telling has always been a marginal topic for anthropologists unless they go into great abstraction about people’s needs to understand their anxiety associated with not knowing what the future will bring. All societies have some means of forecasting—whether it’s calculus in mathematics to tell when a curve is about to nose-dive in the marketplace, or if it is fortune-telling cards to tell you if your lover will ever take you back. In Peru, I not only observed the use of fortune-telling cards but I also took the trouble to learn how to read them, and when I returned to the United States, how to interpret them mathematically and psychologically.
When I published on the fortune-telling data, I called the article “Fortune’s Malice,” to describe a little-known trait of the fortune-telling cards—namely the malice and bad luck that is ever present in a card reading. When examined through the lenses of probability statistics, one sees that the average deck of naipes cards in Peru, which consists of forty-eight cards, has up to seventeen cards that can be seen to bring misfortune—such as false pregnancies, business losses, and even death. Because folk healers who use ayahuasca treat a large number of psychosomatic disorders in their clients, these misfortune cards can be a real source to reveal social stressors that clients face in their day-to-day lives, allowing the healer to appear omnipotent. This is especially true when people in Peru “dialog” with the cards, commenting on all sorts of private information about who’s angry at them and who wants them to suffer.
In my study, with the help of some colleagues of mine at Cal State, L.A., we applied a complex mathematical probability equation to the reading of the naipes. The likelihood of at least one misfortune card would appear in a given reading was 99.76 chances in 100. Wow! That at least two misfortune cards would occur went down to 97.40 chances in a hundred. Finally, the likelihood that at least three misfortune cards would appear in a given reading was 87.70 chances in a hundred. The numbers fell precipitously after that. Each card read is modified by preceding and sequential cards. Any interpreter could construct a story line quite easily that focuses on interpersonal conflict, material loss, or illness. The deck effectively is stacked not in the direction of good fortune but as fortune’s malice to highlight stress and conflict present in the client’s world.

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Table of Contents

Foreword by Wade Davis

Introduction 

Part One
An Overview of My Anthropological Life

1 Salas: Capital of Witchcraft

2 Belen and the Amazon

3 The 1970s

4 The 1980s

5 The 1990s

6 The Millennium

Part Two
Psychedelic Research Summaries

7 Theoretical Approaches to Psychedelic Research
Man, Culture, and Hallucinogens
Shamanism, Ontology, and Human Evolution
The Function of Drug Rituals in Human Society
Hallucinogens: A Cross-cultural Perspective
Entheogens: A New Terminology
Women and Hallucinogens

8 Psychedelics and Ethnographies
Australian Aborigines
New Guinea Mushroom Users
The Fang of Northwestern Equatorial Africa
The Aztecs of Mexico
The Incas
Salas: An Ethnography
Adolescent Drug Use from a Cross-cultural Perspective
Hallucinogens, Suggestibility, and Adolescence from a Cross-cultural Perspective
Tobacco and Shamanism in South America

9 Psychedelics in the Archaeological Record
Psychedelic Folk Healing in Peru: Continuity and Change
Plant Hallucinogens and the Moche Religion
Plant Hallucinogens, Sexuality, and the Ceramic Art of the Moche and Nazca
Out-of-Body Experiences and New World Monumental Earthworks
The Maya and the Water Lily

10 Psychedelics and Healing
Socioeconomic Characteristics of an Amazon Urban Healer’s Clientele
The Vidente Phenomenon in Third World Traditional Healing
Saladera: A Culture-Bound Misfortune Syndrome in the Peruvian Amazon
Paranoia and Banisteriopsis in Witchcraft and Healing in Iquitos, Peru
What We Can Learn from Shamanic Healing Ayahuasca and Tobacco Smoke: Healing or Harmful?
Ketamine Use in a Burn Center: Hallucinogen or Debridement Facilitator?

11 Psychedelics, Art, Music, and Creativity
Hallucinogenic Ritual as Theater
Hallucinogenic Music: The Jungle Gym in Consciousness
LSD, Spirituality, and the Creative Process
Ecstasy: In and About Altered States

12 Psychedelics and the União do Vegetal Church
Ayahuasca Use from a Cross-cultural Perspective
Hallucinogens and Redemption

13 Psychedelics and Drug Tourism
Mea Culpa: Drug Tourism and the Anthropologist’s Responsibility
A Hallucinogenic Tea Laced with Controversy

Epilogue

Glossary

Published Works of Marlene Dobkin de Rios, Ph.D.

Bibliography

Index

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