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Working with “La Medicina”: Elements of Healing in Contemporary Ayahuasca Rituals

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Abstract

Healing is an essential aspect of Amazonian mestizo shamanism. Not only is it one of the most commonly quoted motives for Westerners for participating in ayahuasca ceremonies, but most elements of an ayahuasca ceremony are aimed to heal and protect. This article is purely ethnographic, and its purpose is to provide insight into the ways healing is conceived by both ayahuasqueros and Western participants in the context of shamanic tourism in Iquitos, Peru. I show that illness is perceived to have physical, psychological, and spiritual dimensions, and healing is a complex process that takes place in and outside of ceremony. I show that a multitude of elements in a ceremony converge to address all three dimensions of illness, one of the most important ones being the element of personal crisis. Often present in healing narratives, the element of crisis becomes the catalyst for positive transformation, including physical, psychological, and spiritual healing. Rather than being seen as a singular event, healing in this context is seen as a process, in which the patient carries the responsibility for their own healing.

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