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SPEAKERS

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ELIZABETH JOYCE
Psychotherapist

ABSTRACT

This paper explores issues of power, exploitation and submission within the context of a South American psychedelic cult. Drawing on the case study of Leah, a white British woman who travelled to Colombia to join a religious plant medicine movement, the story reveals her experiences of domination and subjugation under the guidance of a charismatic Western patriarchal leader.

In recent years, parts of South America have become associated with the growing phenomenon of ayahuasca tourism. This is something Evgenia Fotiou links with ‘the historical context of the relationship of the West with the exotic and spiritual ‘other’, a history that has gone hand in hand with colonialism and exploitative relationships.’

Leah moved to Colombia after reading about the transformative potential of indigenous plant medicines, but found herself immersed in a cult run by a white Western leader, who presented as a shaman and a guru. In his book, Feet of Clay, Anthony Storr describes gurus as ‘dictators on a small scale. Although their message is ostensibly religious rather than political, they behave like dictators, thrive on adulation, have no true friends, attempt to exercise absolute power, and are afflicted by the same kind of paranoid suspicions.’ Leah’s account of the abusive relational bond she formed with a narcissistic and seductive leader raises questions about the realities of cult movements in shamanic tourism, as well as the potential for narrative to give voice to marginalised subjects, and help to emancipate them from the structures of power.