The spirits must have granted me a momentary fit of prescience. On February 3, I published a blog post on selling spirituality; on the same day, the Los Angeles Times Magazine published an article on a self-professed ayahuasquero named Lobo Siete Truenos, or Wolf Seven Thunders, and the growing role of ayahuasca in what the article calls the "nouveau wealth" of suburban California.
Truenos has a murky background. He gives, the article says, "few straight answers about his background but plenty of mystic filigree." He has founded his own church, which he calls Aurora Bahá, presumably to add a semblance of legitimacy to his use of a substance whose possession remains — despite the United States Supreme Court ruling exempting the União do Vegetal — a felony. Truenos also possesses an eagle's wing. If he is not a Native American, that too is illegal. But his ancestry is as murky as his history: he is, apparently, Dominican, Lebanese, Basque, and Taino. According to an email attributed to him, this means mostly Lebanese.
|Lobo Siete Truenos, Wolf Seven Thunders, also known as Francis de la Maza|
He also claims to be a pipe carrier of the Yankton Sioux, and to be the carrier of a portion of the sacred bundle of Crazy Horse.
Now, there are thousands of ayahuasqueros who toil in obscurity in the Amazon, providing services to their communities — people of genuine learning, compassion, and integrity. My teacher don Roberto Acho works as a carpenter to support his healing work. But, of course, the Times was not interested in those ayahuasqueros. In fact, it was not all that interested in Seven Thunders. What the article was really interested in was his clientele — that is, the sort of people who read the Los Angeles Times.
These clients are pretty much as I described them in my post on selling spirituality. They are largely white, urban, relatively wealthy, and spiritually eclectic. They have no particular involvement with the struggles of the indigenous community whose healing ceremonies they are purchasing. Their goal is not an increased intellectual or scholarly understanding of the culture from which the ceremony comes, but rather their own personal spiritual growth, healing, and transformative experience. Indeed, the article repeatedly stresses that ayahuasca is the hallucinogen for smart people — liberal thinkers, academics, writers, journalists, psychiatrists, soul-searching intellectuals.
What are these people looking for? The article quotes one artist — it is not clear whether he is a client of Truenos — as saying that "ayahuasca brings your awareness to a place where it's understood that you are connected to everything on Earth." Another consumer, a high school math teacher, says that ayahuasca cured his clinical depression. He now offers ayahuasca ceremonies himself, for a suggested donation ot $75 to $300 per person. Author Graham Hancock credits ayahuasca with having improved his life. When pressed for details, he says, "I'm a better husband and father." Truenos himself says that ayahuasca is a cure for the "cancer of indifference," a remedy for our "failures in integrity."
I am glad that ayahuasca ceremonies are making these people — talented, intellectual, privileged, rich — feel better about their lives. I hope Truenos has strong protective spirits. I hope la diosa holds his clients with compassion. I hope his clients are contributing their talents, their intellects, and their wealth toward the communities from which Truenos claims to have learned to heal.