Social Justice in the Cannabis Industry

Learn about Social Justice in the Cannabis Industry and how you can take action – watch Danielle Schumacher, Amber Senter, and Danielle Barber speak at our Women & Cannabis Salon, March 4th in Oakland, and follow up with the list of resources that Danielle S. shared with her presentation.

Online resources

Drug Policy Alliance

What’s Legal Now – CalNORML

Dr. Lucido’s Prop 64 Recreational Cannabis in California FAQs

State of California Judicial Branch

SF Cannabis Task Force

THC Staffing Group

2 Dope Queens, a podcast with Phoebe Robinson & Jessica Williams

Further reading

Maude White Katz, “End Racism in Education: A Concerned Parent Speaks” from The Black Woman: An Anthology by Toni Cade Bambara (1970)

Human Rights Watch, Punishment and Prejudice: Racial Disparities in the War on Drugs (2000)

Legal Action Center, After Prison: Roadblocks to Reentry, a report on state legal barriers facing people with criminal records (2004)

Silja J.A. Talvi, Women Behind Bars: The Crisis of Women in the U.S. Prison System (2007)

Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindess (2010) > click here for Study & Organizing Guides

Phoebe Robinson, You Can’t Touch My Hair And Other Things I Still Have To Explain with foreword by Jessica Williams (2017)

“Managing Unconscious Bias”, Paradigm

Lawmakers have doubts that the system to license marijuana sales in California will be in place by deadline” Patrick McGreevy, Los Angeles Times, January 25, 2017

Oakland race and equity official reviews cannabis” Rachel Swan, San Francisco Chronicle, January 29, 2017

How should California regulate pot? The Teamsters are weighing in” Taryn Luna, Sacramento Bee, February 1, 2017

The Green State Daily Briefing, David Downs, San Francisco Chronicle, February 24, 2017 & February 28, 2017

“Women in Cannabis Have Twice as Much to Lose”, from Cannabis Now

“The Growing Movement for Marijuana Amnesty”, from New Republic

“Marijuana legalization must include justice reform”, from The Hill

Related organizations

Cannabis Cultural Association

CCA strives to involve underrepresented communities in the legal cannabis/hemp industry by providing informational workshops, cultural programs, and community events with an emphasis on issues disproportionately affecting communities of color: access to medical cannabis, adult use legalization, and criminal justice reform.

Hood Incubator

Founded in 2016, The Hood Incubator transitions underground cannabis entrepreneurs to legal markets by translating & augmenting their existing capacities,  catalyzing the community’s existing capacity to help each other rise to the next level of socioeconomic access in the cannabis industry.

Minority Cannabis Business Association

The Minority Cannabis Business Association (MCBA) is the first non-profit organization created specifically to progress the cannabis industry by increasing diversity. Their mission is to create equal access and economic empowerment for cannabis businesses, their patients, and the communities most affected by the war on drugs.


The Oakland Diversity & Equity Cannabis Coalition is building diversity and prosperity in the Oakland cannabis industry. OakDECC wants to ensure a prosperous cannabis-based community and a thriving model of social justice that sets the bar for this industry nation-wide.

Supernova Women

Supernova was formed by and for Women of Color in 2015 with the goal of empowering our people to become self sufficient shareholders in the evolving cannabis economy. Supernova was founded with the mission to foster community empowerment through holistic education, advocacy training, and skills acquisition.  

Black Lives Matter

Black Lives Matter is a chapter-based national organization working for the validity of Black life. BLM advocates for dignity, justice, and respect, broadening the conversation around state violence to include all of the ways in which Black people are intentionally left powerless at the hands of the state.

Critical Resistance                        

Critical Resistance is a national, member-based grassroots organization that works to build a mass movement dedicated to opposing the expansion of the prison industrial complex.

About the speakers

Danielle Schumacher earned a degree in Anthropology in 2004 at the University of Illinois where she co-founded chapters of NORML and Students for Sensible Drug Policy in 2001. While still in college, she was appointed Executive Director of Illinois NORML and held the Youth Seat on the National NORML Board of Directors. She was named Freedom Fighter by High Times Magazine at age 22. Danielle was recruited by the Berkeley Patients Group in 2005 to head the Cannabis Action Network.  As the first Chancellor of Oaksterdam University, she worked with Richard Lee to establish America’s first cannabis college. She has served as office manager for internationally-respected authority on cannabis Chris Conrad and activist author Mikki Norris, and she is currently office manager for nationally noted physician Frank Lucido MD and nurse practitioner Maria Mangini PhD FNP. Danielle’s newest project, THC Staffing Group, is a boutique recruiting firm whose mission is to encourage diversity in the cannabis industry.

This workshop was dedicated to Alex Zavell, a beloved activist who died suddenly in January at the age of 25. Alex worked at the office of cannabis attorney Robert Raich, and was known around the state for working with social justice groups, grower’s organizations, and government representatives. Among many other issues, Alex understood how important inclusion in the cannabis industry is and fought for it every day.

Danielle Barber is a cannabis wellness consultant, that has been with Harborside since 2007. During that time, she has worked in several leadership roles, currently serving as the Ombuds Manager and local community engagement representative. Danielle grew up in Oakland, CA, as the daughter of a Baptist minister. This upbringing has allowed for a unique perspective on life and a tremendous amount of empathy and compassion towards others. Being one of the few people of color in a leadership role in the industry, Danielle has more recently become involved in vocalizing the need to create a more diverse leadership and ownership dynamic in the industry. She is the co-chair of OakDECC (Oakland Diversity and Equity Cannabis Coalition) and has organized several events focused on building diversity in the industry.

Amber E. Senter brings eighteen years of marketing and project management experience to Long Dog Consulting. A veteran of the United States Coast Guard, Ms. Senter’s pre-cannabis career was spent in the south and midwest providing high level design and marketing services to Fortune 500 companies, including Home Depot, Walmart, and Whole Foods. After years of successful employment in the traditional marketplace, Ms. Senter moved to California to work in the established medical cannabis industry full time. In her time in California, Ms. Senter went from Creative Director at a cannabis consulting firm to Chief Operations Officer (COO) at Magnolia Wellness. Her voice is trusted in the growing cannabis industry, as is her unsurpassed knowledge of the end medical and recreational user base. Ms. Senter also contributed to the Berkeley Compassionate Care Collective’s successful bid for a medical cannabis dispensary license in a highly competitive bidding process. Ms. Senter also co-founded and is Chief Executive Officer of Leisure Life, a lifestyle and infused edibles company, where she heads product development and marketing for the brand. Ms. Senter is a sought after coach and mentor, and a role model for new cannabis business entrepreneurs. She has spoken at several business conferences on various topics, including the High Times Business Summit, the International Cannabis Business Conference, and the New West Summit.

Videos from the Women & Cannabis Salon now online

On March 4th, our community gathered in Oakland, California at Oakstop to explore our relationship with cannabis in all her manifestations. We heard presentations by women who have pioneered cannabis research, cultivation, activism, and business.

Videos from the Salon are now available online for you to watch, share, and enjoy.

Shamanic Bee Keeping – Shonagh Home

Shonagh HomeShonagh Home is an author, teacher and shamanic practitioner. Her offerings focus on the shamanic mysteries of the spirit realms and the world of nature. She assists her students in the development of their intrinsic abilities that include the faculties of intuition, creativity and multi-dimensional awareness. Shonagh is a loving steward to 4 beehives that hum with magic. She is author of the books, Ix Chel Wisdom: 7 Teachings from the Mayan Sacred Feminine, Love and Spirit Medicine, and the upcoming Saving the Bees: A Modern Melissae Speaks. She gave this talk at the 2014 Women’s Visionary Congress in Petaluma, CA.

Thank you, Annie. Thank you so much, everyone. It’s wonderful to be here. I like how this morning has progressed from Leary to this beautiful study, which opens up so much of the human heart and now to the bee, which is really the embodiment of love. The bees are playing a starring role right now as clarion, as canary in the coalmine for the mess that we are in on this planet, and it is global. I have been stewarding bees now for, I think I’m actually into my fourth year now, and yes, I work with them shamanically. It makes perfect sense and when I do my mushroom medicine they come to me and they don’t actually speak in English but they are all around me. The Greeks thought of them as messengers of the gods and mellisa or mellisae is the Greek word for honeybee, and the priestesses of the temples in the Mediterranean were called, “melissaes” and those temples were modeled after the beehive.

So, I’m going to touch on a lot of things here in a very short amount of time. Before I get fully into the honeybee, I just want to give props to the other pollinators. They are not the only pollinators. So we have the hummingbird and we have the butterfly and we have the gorgeous bats and the bumblebees and mason bees and even flying foxes are pollinators in some parts of the world. And they all play a massive role in what I think of as creating and maintaining beauty, and as a child that’s what I always used to say. I said, “I love bees so much because they create and maintain beauty.” I was always very touched by them and then of course they give us our food source as well.

Okay, so this is an old coin and that is a skepSkep Beehive Coin beehive, which has been used for a long, long time through the centuries. I chose this because the bee is really a symbol of the feminine, and the bee is about roundness. And the ancients observed. That was one thing they were very good at. They didn’t have too many diversions and they observed, and they observed that bees would choose trees or hollow logs and it was all about a round container. So, when they did come up with hives they created a skep. The bummer about that was that they would destroy the whole colony when they got the honey. In any case, before that, the Greeks, the Minoans, the other cultures also had circular containers for the bees so bear that in mind because we will see that play out in the hive.

Queen Bee

Image courtesy of

So, I’m just going to get to the queen bee. We’ll start with her. There she is, a much longer bee. So she is the queen bee and she is the oldest symbol, by the way, of the divine mother goddess that we know. There are other symbols but she’s a pretty big one. So she rules the roost as it were. She lays 1500 to 2000 eggs per day. She does not leave the hive. Now as I tell you this, by the way, bear in mind the priestesshoods. So she’s surrounded by attendants always who cater to her every need. They feed her, they clean her, they remove her waste, and her sole job is to lay these eggs and I’ll speak later to what happens when she leaves the hive. She sends out pheromones and those pheromones go throughout the hive and they send the signals for the bees for what needs to be done. She is the only female in the hive who mates and we’ll discuss that at length later as well. So she is this extraordinary creature.

And you’ll see they are on honeycomb and those are hexagonal-shaped cells and the eggs are laid in those cells. Now, when a queen bee, when her cell is laid, it’s not one of those. It actually is a separate cell. It’s like a peanut almost, like a protruding finger. It’s longer because she has a longer body. So what happens is the workers will choose specific cells and they’re going to grow a queen there. So they’re going to feed her a different food than the younger brood is fed, and it’s royal jelly. So, I’m sure some of you have heard about it because the entire hive is a medicine chest. Talk about medicine. This is big stuff. So she is fed royal jelly and the constituents in royal jelly inform the pupae hormonally so it will transform into a queen.

Bee Queen Pod InsideHere’s what it looks like if you cut a queen cell open. There is the developing pupae and she’s in this gorgeous liquid and it is secreted from glands within the worker bee’s head. They grow in this liquid and their body grows to accommodate this queen cell. I will say, royal jelly is one of the medicines that comes from the hive. I actually don’t use it because the bees are so imperiled and that’s a tough one. So I kind of leave that alone, there is other bee medicine that I can use.

So there’s the queen – mama – and she’s surrounded by all her attendants. She’s elusive when you’re looking for her in the hive, she scrambles around and she’s not always so easy to find. So this gives you and idea. There’s three, and by the way,  I’m way into numbers. They’re very esoteric and there is very, very high esoteric symbolism going on with the bee and the hive.  So, we have the queen, “mama.” We have the worker bee there, and the much bigger drone. I’m going to speak to Rudolf Steiner. I am dedicating my book to that beautiful man. He spoke to the bees saying these are like the organs within the hive. The hive itself is really like an organism, a single organism. So these are our organs. So she lays the eggs, and I’ll get into the role of the worker bees and the drones.

Worker BeeThe next star on our list is the worker bee. There you are, darling. She started as an egg and then a pupa and then at a certain point in her development there is a thin wax sheath that covers her cell and she grows to her full development. She then chews her way out of that cell and cleans up after herself. They are meticulous housecleaners. Then she goes to work right away and starts patrolling the hive, So, she’s all furry. She’s the cutest darn thing, if she didn’t have that stinger… So they have a number of chores. The worker bees are female bees. The hive at the height of the season will swell to fifty, sixty thousand bees. So, you’ll have the queen, “mama” and then you have these workers and when I get to the drones, which are the male bees, you might have just five hundred to a thousand male drones.

There are a lot of female bees so it’s really like a sisterhood. They will feed the pupae. They live for about six weeks. The first three weeks of their lives are spent within the hive and they will take nectar from the foraging bees. They’ll pass it from mouth to mouth and then they’ll spit it into the cells and create the honey. They will feed the brood. They’ll clean the hive. They’ll hang out in front of the entrance and be guard bees and make sure no “unfamiliars” get in. They also build the honeycomb and they do that – check this out. They secrete wax from their abdomen and this is way cool. They put it in their mouth and they chew it to soften it and then they pass it to their back legs and then they manipulate it into the honeycomb, which is a mathematical, geometric wonder. I’ll get to that in a bit. So, they mix that wax with a bit of propolis, which is resin collected from the trees. I’ll also cover that. I’m squeezing in a lot in forty-five minutes, just FYI.

So they create this gorgeous, pure white honeycomb and then the queen will lay her eggs. So that is a feat and when they do it you can see the bees hang like a chain, and by the way, there’s the roundness again. They hang this way. It’s almost heart-shaped, and they create their comb. It’s really amazing and the comb would be considered the bones of the organism, of the hive. No comb, no hive.

Bee ProboscisAnd so this is their tongue, their “proboscis.” When they go out foraging those last three weeks of their life, well of course, the bee is thought of as the feminine and the great mother bee because she was pollinating the flowers. On the fur of their body they will collect the pollen from the male flowers and then go on the female flowers and everything gets pollinated. They use their proboscis to suckle out the nectar, and it’s the nectar from the flowers that creates the honey.

Bee Pollen Sacs

Image courtesy of

So, those are the pollen sacks. I think it’s a hilarious picture. It looks like she’s ready for take-off. Well, they hit all these different flowers and the hairs on their legs are particularly long and they collect all the pollen.

Bee Pollen Sacs - Orange

Image courtesy of David Cappaert – Michigan State University

Here’s another picture of a bee in a flower and you’ll see different colors, from deep orange to deep yellow, of that gorgeous pollen. It will cover their entire body and they’ll return to the hive and the pollen is the food for the brood. It’s an amazing food for the bee – 40% protein. It has absolutely everything they need. So, that’s our worker bees – the girls. I call them “my girls.”

Drone BeeHere’s the drone and you can see, well, let’s go back if I can. Okay, you can see the eyes on the worker bee, they’re very different on the drones. And they are so cute. They do not have stingers. The worker bees, as I think many of us know, do. And by the way, real quick. The queen bee has a stinger and she can sting as often as she needs to. She doesn’t really use it but the worker bees, they sting once and it’s game over. They really don’t want to sting you. So the drones, these are the male bees, and in conventional beekeeping, which I don’t do – a lot of beekeepers don’t want those bees in the hive and they think of them as kind of superfluous. The drones do not collect honey. They don’t forage. They have to be fed. So you think, well what the hell are they doing? They’re taking up all this room in the hive and they’re eating all the honey and yada yada yada. But no, no, of course not. They are waiting for the queen to take what’s called her “nuptial flight” and I’ll get to that in a minute. They’ll fly up and she’ll fly six hundred feet into the air and they will follow her. They live for this so they can mate with the queen. They also maintain the heat of the hive and Steiner felt also, because the drones are more connected to the earth, that they’re like the sense organs of the hive. And listen, nature doesn’t make mistakes. I wish we would get that through our thick heads. So, I don’t remove my drones. I let the hive produce as much drone as they feel they need.

So, let’s talk about a swarm. That is a swarm and it’s extraordinary. Again, Bee Swarmconventional beekeepers don’t want their bees to swarm so they’ll use a queen excluder in the hive so she can’t walk through the entire hive and she can’t swarm when she wants to swarm. So, I said that the hive is a single organism so swarming is a way that they perpetuate themselves. So, in the spring, if they’ve survived the winter, the nectar stores are there, the queen is laying. It starts to swell and gets to a point where the queen decides, “All right, it is time to leave and find a new place.” You would think, well, why? You’ve got everything you need. You’ve got all this honey and all these new bees and all of this is happening. Why would you leave when it’s all so perfect? So here is this act of love and also an act of faith, I think. So, she sends the signal and three quarters of the hive will gorge themselves on honey and then thousands of them will leave the hive. It’s this incredible black cloud of bees, and they will fly to a nearby branch. It’s very chaotic because the queen is in the center and they want to keep her protected so they keep it really chaotic.

So, they’ll go to a nearby branch and they will alight and this is what you get. It’s SO awesome, and again, there’s that beautiful shape, that round shape and they’re all around the queen. Now, the uninitiated who don’t know bees will kind of freak out if they see this in their yard but they will not sting you. They’re gorged on honey, they actually cannot sting you. They also have bigger and better things to do because they have three – interesting number – especially if you study law. It’s the ultimate esoteric study – but in any case – and I swear it goes back to the bees. But in any case, three days to find a home, otherwise they will perish. So they send scout bees out to find a home and eventually they do. And I’ll tell you, one of my hives didn’t make it over the winter and it stood empty and a swarm showed up out of nowhere and found my hive and it was awesome. I didn’t even have to catch it. If you do catch these you can catch them with your bare hands, they won’t sting you.

You have a box underneath and you just put them in the box. It’s so amazing and then you put the box under and leave the rest of the bees and they’ll find their way to it. The bees will come outside of the box and they’ll wave their little bottoms, which is a signal to say, “Hey, we’ve got a home. We’re good to go.” And so, you leave it till nightfall and then you get the other scouts back and then the next day, you can hive your new bees, which I’ve done.

So, meanwhile, back at the ranch, at the hive itself, you’ve got about a quarter of the bees. Well, what happens is as soon as they know the queen is going to swarm, they will pick certain cells and they will start feeding them the royal jelly, right? So, you’ve got these queens cells and the first queen to hatch will sting to death the other queens. This doesn’t sound very nice but it’s the wisdom of nature because you want the strongest – now this is key – you want the strongest queen, right? You want a healthy hive because she determines the kind of bees you’re going to get. If you have a weak queen you’re going to have weak bees. And if you have a mean queen, by the way, you’re going to have mean bees, so good to know. But in any case, eventually she hatches and a couple of days later she takes her nuptial flight. So, she flies from the hive five to six hundred feet into the air. Into the sun by the way, which I’ll discuss. And then the drones who have been waiting for this moment, and there will be drones from other places as well, fly up to meet her. So, the drone will – and only the strongest ones will reach her – and insert his endophallus, which then rips off and the drone falls to his death. And then the next drone to reach her will pull that out and then insert his endophallus and so again, the wisdom of nature to get as much differing DNA as she can so she creates a healthy colony.

Beehive HairdoSo, now I just want to speak to the beehive itself. Oh and not that beehive! Just a little bee humor for you. But interesting and I also think of like the wigs of the French court and whatnot. What were they doing? I wonder!

In any case, we’ll get to the beehive itself. So, honey – we all know honey. Honey is extremely healing. Bees are alchemists and there’s a guy in the UK who is part of the Steiner college there and he’s a speaker and a writer, Patrick Dixon, and he calls bees, “monastic alchemists.” And so they create this extraordinary substance called honey, which is from nectar and nectar from the flowers is oxygen, hydrogen, and blah, blah, blah, and light from the sun. That’s what it is. So honey is light. You’re eating light. It was used by the Egyptians who used it as medicine, who took medicine to a high art, they really did, and the Greeks. So formulas regularly consisted of honey along with herbs and vinegar and that kind of thing. So, extremely healing for your body. You can use it as a salve. You can use it for burns and I’m sure some of you have heard of Manuka honey out of New Zealand, which you can put on an open wound and it will heal it. And I don’t have time to get into everything about this but it is a profound healing substance.

Then there’s mead and I’m not a drinker but I will sip a bit of mead, which I say is the drink of faeries and kings. And old, old, old, it comes out of Africa originally, because check this out. The bees in Africa would hive in a hollow log because some elephant would knock off a big branch and they’d be in there. And then the monsoon would come with the rains and the bees would get out of dodge, but all their honey was left and this natural yeast would occur in there and you’d end up with mead, which I would love to taste that mead. I mean…made by nature… In any case, the ancients got their hands on that and made it a high art form for a long, long, long time. So, it’s honey wine, fermented honey wine. And it’s made quite a comeback now and there are some delicious versions of it.

They also have wax of course, that is created in the hive and of course wax was used for candles and the monks of old were big beekeepers because they wanted that wax for their candles. And also it can be made into balms and salves and lotions, which I do with my beeswax. Amazing stuff.

PropolisThis is propolis. So the bees when they forage, it’s not just for nectar. They will go to the trees and they will take the resin from the tree and mix it with their enzymes and create this sticky substance and they use it to line the walls of the hive and to fill in every nook and cranny so that there is no draft and they’ll put it around the entrance as well and it is incredible. It’s antimicrobial, antibiotic, antibacterial, antifungal. It’s just amazing and you can make tinctures out of it. It really is the immune system of the colony. It’s really amazing and it’s amazing for your own immune system and I make my own propolis tincture.

And then of course the bee pollen, which is thought of as nature’s perfect food. It has everything actually, that our bodies require. I mean, you could live on it. I wouldn’t want to but if you had to…It’s amazing and it’s incredibly vitalizing and good for endurance and on and on. So the hive is a medicine chest and the bees create all of this. They are extraordinary beings and we can understand why they were revered so long ago.

Painted Beehive

Image courtesy of

So, this is just a gorgeous painted beehive from a place called, ‘The Melissa Garden,’ which is in California somewhere in this neck of the woods. So the beehive was thought of as the adytum of the temple and the bee was like the initiate entering the temple, which is this place of great mystery. And it’s dark and it’s a place where alchemy occurs. And I wanted to give you this quote by Jonathon Swift who wrote,

“We have rather chose to fill our hives with honey and wax, thus furnishing mankind with the two noblest of things, which are sweetness and light.”

So the hive is the embodiment of love and light, which gives new meaning to those love and light types, and the bees definitely are. Also, it is a symbol of resurrection and transmutation. So, deep esoteric stuff. The Greeks called them the “birds of the muses” and they were thought to be the souls of the dead coming back as bees. Now in terms of the transmutation and resurrection, I just want to read you a quote by this guy, Samuel Purchase, who was a cleric in the 1700’s, and he said about this – which is just so perfect:

“The larva of a bee is scarcely worthy to be called a life but after it is transformed by death it appears in a more excellent and glorious condition. It lies dead and entombed in the cell wherein it was bred but wait with patience a score of days and you shall see it revive and appear a far more noble creature than what it was before. What is this but an emblem of the resurrection?”

I mean, think about that because you can think of the cell as almost tomb-like and the egg is laid and you get this pupa and then the cell or the tomb is covered and then it emerges and you get this very different being. So anyway…very profound.

So now we get to Rudolf Steiner, who I adore and he was really a multi-faceted genius. Born in Austria in 1861, died in 1924. In 1923 he gave a series of lectures on the bees and you can read the book online. He explores not only the esoteric nature but what Rudolf was was a spiritual scientist who wove together the esoteric wisdom of the ancients with science and made it, I think accessible, I do. So he said of the bees, which I think of as the embodiment of love,

“I’ve already told you about the reproductive process and the unconscious wisdom contained in it. This unconscious wisdom is unfolded by the bees in their external activity. What we only experience when love arises in our hearts is to be felt by the bees in the whole hive as substance. The whole hive is reality permeated with love. The individual bees renounce love in manifold ways and thus develop love throughout the whole hive. One only begins to understand the life of the bees when one understands that the bee resides in an atmosphere completely pervaded by love. On the other hand the bee is quite especially favored in that in its turn, the bee feeds upon just those parts of the plants that are also wholly pervaded by love. The bees suck out their food, which they then turn into honey exclusively from those parts of the plants that are centered in love. They bring, so to speak, the love life of the flowers into the hive.”

(Annie Sprinkle pipes from the audience) “They’re eco-sexuals!!”

Yes, well I was gonna say… ANNIE! That’s for you, my friend!

So, Steiner spoke to how bees are the embodiment of light and of the sun. There’s a fabulous documentary called, ‘Queen of the Sun.’ Watch it. And here’s why they called it, “Queen of the Sun.” Check this out. So the sun revolves on its own axis every twenty-one days. Well, guess what the gestation time of the bee is? Twenty-one days. So, Steiner explained it this way. Okay, first of all, he was into the science of Goethe. So, unlike material science that brings it down to the parts and examines the parts and it’s all separate, Goethe saw that it was about the whole. And so the celestial realms, the sky, the stars – it’s magnetic, guys. So, when you took your first breath and the constellations were in a specific configuration and you were born, you are the physical manifestation of where those stars were aligned. You are, and those patterns were struck at your birth.  So that is the case for every living thing. So the worker bee, its gestation time is twenty-one days and so it carries the energy of the full revolution of the sun to the very end. So it is a creature of the sun.

Now the queen, her gestation is 16 days. So she never completed the revolution of the sun. She is fully a creature of the sun and this is also, Steiner said, why she can lay eggs because she is closer to her larval state and she is closer to the sun. In other words, that ability to lay eggs comes from, well, the sun is a major star, is it not? It comes from the stars. Humans would be a different deal and we won’t go into that right now. So the worker has gone to the very end of that cycle and maybe just a moment past. So, this is also why the queen is the embodiment of the sun. She stays within the hive and she’s really the light of that hive. And then the workers can go out.

Then the drone – his gestation is twenty-four days. Three – we’re back to three – three days beyond the worker bee. So the drones have essentially fallen to earth in a sense. And when you think of earth you think of fertility, don’t you? So they are fertile. They are able now to fertilize the queen. And they are earth beings. So, I just think that is very interesting and you can get way, way deep into that but we have to move on.

So, onto the comb itself. This is extraordinary. It’s hexagonal-shaped. The bees need to utilize every inch of space. It wouldn’t work with circles. It wouldn’t work with squares. They meet at exactly 120-degree angles and this gave the bees their status as masters of sacred order and beauty and geometry. And the Pythagoreans were all over this and studied the bees quite extensively. Also, conventional beekeepers, when they have their frames in the hive, they would have man-made comb that the bees would then build their comb out from.  The problem is bees make comb. Why are you doing that? I know it’s easier and they make the cells a bit bigger so you get a bigger bee and blah, blah, blah, and more honey.

Heart Bee CombSo, here it is, if the bees are allowed to make their own comb and you can see it is more rounded though it’s in a frame. Now, if left to their own devices… and this picture will be the top of the hive but with no frames and the bees were allowed to do what they wanted, and they lifted the top and flipped it over. So, check that out! How feminine and it’s heart-shaped and it just makes you go like this (gestures), you know? It’s just amazing. So there they are, doing what they do.

Now I will speak briefly to the hive as womb because it’s also a symbol of the womb. And so the womb, again, it’s like alchemy. It’s its own little hive and it’s dark and it’s warm and mysterious and this exquisite alchemy occurs, and something is created, birthed, shall we say, in this womb. And so the hive is a very potent symbol of the feminine and the womb.

Minoan Bee Goddess -Mellisa

Minoan Bee Goddess, golden plaque, British Museum. Found at Camiros, Rhodes, 7th century BCE.

And so to the ancients, the Minoans preceded the Greeks in the Bronze Age, 2000BC to 1500BC, and many of these have been found, these amulets and whatnot, of this figure that is half bee, half woman. And the Minoans referred to the mother, well they had a word called, “Potnia.” That means, “pure mother bee” and that was reserved for sacred women and goddesses, and these goddesses were called, “Potnia.” And so there were these temples composed of priestesses and they would serve a specific goddess and there were goddesses that were thought of as the queen bee like Demeter, Artemis and Persephone. So you had these groups of women who came together to serve in this temple. Now the worker bees don’t mate so these women were very chaste and they maintained and created beauty and they participated in these exquisite rituals and served their communities as the bees do.

The bees are a symbol for community and beauty and mystery and the sacred and these women endeavored to be the embodiment of that, which brings us to Delphi.

Now bees are associated with prophecy and again, the ancients were observing them and the bees always seemed to know. They wouldn’t leave their hive on a particular day and sure enough a big wind would come or there would be rain, because of course, you know that bees are highly sensitive to electromagnetic waves. So they were associated with prophecy, so we’re emulating the bees, and prophecy has long been the domain of women. We’re kind of naturally good at that, and Delphi was created a long, long time ago and it lasted a long time.

Interestingly, these women would imbibe some kind of an entheogen. It was the gasses that emitted from a crevice in the rock cave but also they were given a specific something to drink. Interestingly, one of those was a honey mead, and there is a Rhododendron ponticum and Azalea pontica and they produce a flower that creates a psychoactive honey. If you have too much it will make you good and sick, but these guys back then, they were alchemists so I’m sure they knew just the right amount of that, and then mixed it with this herb and this herb, and it was given to the priestess, who would then go into this altered state and connect to these realms and bring through information. And these weren’t scheisters, you know. That temple was around for fifteen hundred years or longer and there were warlords and emperors and all these different people coming from all around to get information from these women. So I can assure you, if they were full of shit that place would have closed down in a couple of months.

They were in touch with very profound wisdom and at one point – it was said the temple of Delphi went through several incarnations and it was said that the walls were once lined with beeswax and feathers. I couldn’t imagine. Can you imagine how that must have smelled? Incredible. The priestesses there were called the “Delphic bees,” and “melissas” and there were coins made with the honeybee on them in honor of the priestesses.

So another thing is this is a bee doing a waggle dance, which it does when it finds a good location for nectar. It will come back to the hive and it will do this dance and it’s directing the bees where to go. So again, they were observing these creatures so dance became a big part of what these women were doing in these temples.

Bee Priestess DanceAnd so there are old pictures such as this and you can see that these are women but you can see that is layered like a bee abdomen so again, part bee, part woman, dancing together and we know dancing is a way of achieving altered states. So is drumming and the majority of people depicted in the Greek statuary and whatnot, it’s mostly women who have frame drums. And Gunther Hauk, who is a biodynamic beekeeper has said that bees are attracted to the drum. He said that it reminds them of the human heart and it calms them. And the ancients would actually attract them by drumming and using cymbals. So here’s an image of priestesses who are doing just that – dancing and drumming and whatnot, and killing two birds with one stone and going into a good old altered state as well and maybe catching some bees.

Omphalos StoneIn any case, this is an omphalos stone. This was contained within the adytum at Delphi and it looks very much like a beehive, doesn’t it? The bees were thought of as messengers of the gods and they would deliver all this wisdom. And the legend of the omphalos is that Zeus sent two eagles out in opposite directions and said, “wherever they meet is the navel of the world.” Omphalos means “navel” and it was said they met at Delphi. So this omphalos stone was there and you see this in a lot of ancient statuary.

Persephone OmphalosAnd here’s something interesting. This is Persephone with an omphalos on her head. So again, a very beehive-shaped deal telling you she is receiving information from the gods through this beehive. So here is another one to reiterate my point.

Omphalos BowlAnd also these are omphalos bowls. So, very interesting. You’ve got that bulge in the center, which is very beehive-like and then this bowl around it. They would put a sacred libation in there and then they would pour it. I saw this and thought, “wait a minute..” Because think of women, and we have our pelvic bowl, right? So, wait a minute. I just think that is very interesting. The uterus is like that bulge within the pelvic bowl. So again, back to that very sacred connection and reverence for the feminine. The bee embodies that.

And then real quick, the pomegranate, which also has that bulge there and all those seeds there are a symbol of fertility and also a symbol of the beehive and the bees love its syrup. Okay, so that’s that gorgeous magical connection that our ancestors had with the bee. And so now, to kill your buzz, so to speak, let’s get into the sad facts.

So, get ready. So this I find, like I can’t even look at it. To me it’s so offensive and upsetting. So this is a laboratory and it is a queen bee being artificially inseminated. So, I title this, “The Rape,” and I think this sort of summarizes everything (click link to view image). And Steiner warned against this. Steiner said if you manipulate the bees – this is modern manipulation. What farmers were doing back at the turn of the century – just as farmers would hybridize plants to get stuff from them, they started breeding the queen, and they were breeding her for specific traits. When you do that you lose other intrinsic traits and you weaken the species. So we’ve had decades of this and now they’ve got it down to a high science. What happens? Well, you lost all those drones who would fertilize the queen and you don’t necessarily have the strongest queen so it’s a mess and it’s big business.

So there are companies that breed queens and you know, on one hand it serves a small…but we’re talking about industry. It’s an industry and another thing Steiner warned was, he said “Do not use the land commercially. Don’t use the land to make money. Don’t do it.” So, hello? Take almond farms, so we’ve got mono-culture and genetic, GMO and all of this. So, we’ve got acres and acres for as far as the eye can see of one thing. And the bees that are schlepped there, they are like us. They need a diversity of foods. So they only have that for three weeks. Not only that but the farmers are spraying pesticides and they can spray willy nilly to their heart’s content at these places while the bees are there trying to do their job.

So, we’re going to get into commercial beekeeping. So, just as factory farming, which is a contradiction in terms – is not farming – industrial beekeeping is not beekeeping. It’s an aberration. They have ginormous trucks and they have like 1.6 million hives that are schlepped like comfort women from end of the country to the other on these ginormous trucks and they wrap plastic wrap around them and netting. The problem is that if you have this dude’s bees from South Dakota and they are infested with, I don’t know, some mite or something, and he brings them to pollinate with all these other bees from all over the country, you just spread that like wildfire. Not only that, I mean, they’re just so weakened. That is not how you keep bees. It’s no different than keeping a pig in a place where she can’t even move around or cramming these animals together. This is not how nature is.

And then of course you get messes like big accidents on a highway and you lose so many bees. So, they’re desperately weakened and this is what they feed them – high fructose corn syrup, which is genetically modified. I have two girls, sixteen and thirteen and they’re not allowed to eat anything with high fructose corn syrup. So, what these guys do is they just pour it in. It’s liquid. They’re bees and that’s what they feed them and then they take their honey and they think that that’s enough.

So, then we have the agricultural spraying of pesticides and Steiner gave a series of talks in 1924, which turned into biodynamics and that was actually a response, a solution, to the chemical spraying. I always thought it was World War 2 but it was World War 1. That’s when it started. So, you’re basically spraying nerve gas all over the place on food that we eat. So there’s another example and this just destroys not only our honeybees but all of our pollinators. You’ve got people in their backyards spraying willy nilly his trees so that’s very bad for us. And this just sort of tells you what pesticides do, and a big piece that we can do is not use the damn pesticides, they’re just brutal on the bees, and GMO’s also. If nature didn’t make it I’m not putting it in my body and I know you guys are scientists (referring to the slides) but that’s more for me to not trust, actually.

So, I’ll come into the solution real quick. For the earth. What I see is a powerful solution and it goes beyond organic. It is biodynamics, and what biodynamics is, is you’re actually giving remedies to the earth. So Steiner came up with these extraordinary remedies. There are two field sprays and then there are these other remedies that get put into your compost. So this is for farms where the farm becomes its own organism and it makes everything itself. It makes its own compost and everything is a part of that organism and you’ve got a wild portion and the animals and whatnot. So you take these horns from cows and you fill them with manure and…I have so little time to go into this. And you bury them into the earth in the fall and winter and they absorb the forces of the earth.

So now we’re into Goerthean science, which understands the underlying forces behind everything. And there are specific terrestrial forces as there are specific celestial forces that work together. So, when you dig those horns up in the spring you get this gorgeous hummussy–like – it’s not manure anymore and that gets – a little bit gets put into water and it gets stirred till you create a vortex and then you stir it back the other way and it creates chaos in the water and then the water reorganizes itself. And you do that for an hour and then the water is like a homeopathic treatment. Homeopathy is like, dilute, dilute, dilute, and then it becomes very strong and then you just flick that on the ground. But by the way, you flick it on the ground in the evening because just as we breathe, so does the earth. As above, so below, as within so without, so just as we breath in, guess what? At nighttime the earth breathes in, so you want to put that on the soil at night and it will be absorbed as the earth breathes in. And in the fall and winter, the earth breathes in and in the spring and summer, the earth breathes out and all the plants come out.

So there’s a silica spray, which is crystals and those are crushed and also put in horns but buried in the spring and summer then dug up. And those have absorbed the light forces so that is the foliar spray, which gets sprayed on the plant’s leaves and enhances the plant’s ability to absorb light. And these other homeopathics go into the compost and I have used it. You can do it in your garden. So that’s a biodynamic garden. You don’t need to make these by yourself. Check out the Josephine Porter Institute – they are a ginormous farm and they make these homeopathic remedies and you can buy them and then do this yourself. It transforms the land and your soil will be teeming with worms and beneficial organism. So what you do is, you are affecting the whole ecosystem even if it’s just your backyard garden. So you’re giving the bees and all these pollinators not just great plants but incredibly nourishing plants.

Vegetables and fruits that come from biodynamic farms are amazing and this preceded organics by fourteen years but it’s still relatively unknown and very, very powerful. And it’s out of the box thinking but again you’re also working with the celestial, the positioning of the planets, the sun and moon, all of which has an effect on us. Like it or not, believe it or not, it does. So very, very powerful and I will finish with a poem. I’ll finish with a poem. I run in this woods near my house and I always come home pouring forth poetry and one day, the bees, I mean the trees because I’m good friends with them as well, and they said, “Dear one, don’t you get it? Poe-TREE!” Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. So cute! So, I wrote this poem for the bees and its called, “Pledge to the Bee.”

Thy majesty, our dear queen bee
Thy fate seems sealed if man can’t see
The commercialization of nature’s garden
Has caused the hearts of man to harden
The hubris of man as he splices genes
The spraying of poisons on fields of green
The skies criss-crossed with chemical spray
I fear that there will come a day

When the blossom of fruit tree and scented flower
Lies sterile without the bee’s sweet power
To suckle the nectar with loving care
In a sensual dance that brings to bear
All manner of bounty, a radiant feast
That feeds and delights both man and beast

Thy majesty and maintainer of beauty
I pledge to thee, my solemn duty
To care for the land with a sensitive touch
Guided by nature that teaches me such
That celestial and telluric forces
Respond to certain specific courses
Of actions that don’t follow popular science
But follow a higher cosmic alliance

Oh dear bees, I shall not rest
As long as my heart beats beneath my breast
I’ll write, I’ll speak, I’ll share the magic
Of remedies to prevent the tragic
Loss of you and so many creatures
Whose presence in my garden features
Largely as I hear the song
Of bee and bird, oh how I long

To see the hearts of mankind awaken
And return to nature what has been taken
By working with earth instead of against her
We call back the beauty and cast out the gangster
Whose plunder has caused such harm and disgrace
To the character of the human race

This is our time to save not just the bee
But all creatures and humanity
Our moment is now, the time is here
Take action all and do not fear
For the spirit of man and woman is true
And the Goddess is calling me and you
To summon our authority
And gather our community
To begin to act with sanity
As we recreate with dignity
A planet of people who act with grace
And restore consciousness to the human race
I hold this vision as what can be
When people remember their sovereignty

Oh blessed pollinators, dear
Your warnings we hear loud and clear
I know that we have the power to heal
And hold to ourselves a new ideal
This is my vision-quest in life
May the bees prevail as we end this strife.

~Shonagh Home

Abuse of Power in Ceremonies That Use Psychoactive Substances

Annie Oak is the founder of the Women’s Visionary Congress. She gave this talk at the Shaman Women, Plant Medicine and Psychedelics Salon hosted by WVC in Vancouver, Canada in November 2014. This presentation addresses the growing number of women who have described being sexually abuses by shamans and others who lead ceremonies where psychoactive substances are used.

I am grateful to be here today and would like to thank Eleanora Molnar, the director of WVC Canada, for organizing this weekend of events. We had a very interesting community discussion last night about different ways that power can be misused in ceremonies and steps that participants can take to protect themselves. In my talk today I would like to consider what we as a community have been hearing about these abuses and how we might work together to help ensure that women and men are treated with dignity while exploring the potential healing benefits of ayahuasca and other psychedelic materials used in ritual settings.

As I said last night during my remarks, our community has been discussing this topic among ourselves and at our gatherings for several years. We are a group of women who are generally well-informed about the benefits of these substances and believe that these materials and ceremonies that use them can offer positive opportunities for healing and growth. As many of us have been using ayahuasca and other psychoactive substances for years, we do not have the zeal of new practitioners who tend to take an uncritical view of these experiences. We have been meeting together since 2007 and we are observing a growing number of women who are coming forward to describe sexual advances by male shamans, particularly, but not limited to,  ayahuasca ceremonies. We also hear from those who describe being energetically violated in different ways. As the number of people from around the world traveling to Peru, Ecuador and other parts of Latin American to drink ayahuasca has increased, so have reports of abuses by people leading these ceremonies.

WVC hosts discussions throughout the U.S. and in Canada where researchers, healers, activists and artists present their investigations into non-ordinary states of consciousness. We have had a number of presentations by researchers about the abuse of power in these ceremonies and some of these presenters have published research which examines these concerns. As a community, we strive to be measured and careful in our investigations. We like to cite documented research and we recognize that scientific investigation and lived experience should both be honored as ways of knowing and given respectful consideration. When women at our events come forward to tell troubling stories of being assaulted by shamans during ceremonies and after ceremonies, we recognize that this takes great courage and can sometimes re-trigger trauma that these women experience.

Elders in our community have noted that these accounts echo what took place during the 1960s and 1970s when some practitioners of eastern spiritual traditions abused women from western cultures who sought to understand and participate in these teachings. It’s the old, “I am your guru, let me transfer my great wisdom by having sex with you” routine. This is an old story. But as we heard earlier from Connie Carter in her presentation, it has also been used by those supporting drug prohibition. The earliest laws passed in the U.S banning the use of substances were laws against the use of opium. The argument for these laws was that white women were being seduced by Chinese men who used opium to disable them and therefore opium should be made illegal. This was the basis for the cascade of drug laws that followed which has led to mass incarceration of drug users in the U.S., primarily people of color.

So the question remains, how do we create a system of accountability for those who misuse their power as healers and abuse women seeking  personal healing or transformation with ayahuasca and other psychedelic substances? And how do we do this without supporting prohibitionists who might try to use these concerns to call for outlawing substances such as ayahuasca – arguments that may be inflamed by media accounts that suggest this powerful medicine is being used as some sort of Amazonian date rape drug.

First, we would like to caution those who find ayahuasca and other substances useful to be careful not to become enchanted or fall under their spell in a way that discourages critical thinking. We also see that ayahuasca ceremonies are becoming a big business and many shamans, ceremonial leaders, tour operators, owners of lodges and other parts of this industry have a vested interest in not discussing this topic, silencing those who have been violated, or somehow denigrating this discussion. I want to say here that WVC has no financial interest in this industry. We are a nonprofit and members of the board are not shamans or therapists. Our concerns are with the health and safety of our constituency, visionary women and people of all genders who are interested in non-ordinary states of consciousness.

I believe that the opportunity to work with non-ordinary states in an environment that supports the health and safety of participants is fundamentally a human rights issue. Women and men have a right to change their consciousness and work with spiritual teachers without being assaulted or abused. It does not matter what culture or country they are in. There are criminal laws in Ecuador and Peru against sexual assault. Sexual abuse is considered a violation under international human rights accords and is investigated by truth and reconciliation commissions and international criminal courts. It doesn’t matter if these assaults take place while using an illegal or quasi-legal substance. This is a criminal act. Those who call themselves healers have an ethical duty to refrain from sexual acts with people under their care no matter if they are western doctors or therapists or traditional shamans. Failure to do so is an abuse of power.

The Use of Disabling Substances

Some criminals use psychoactive substances to disable their victims and some unscrupulous shamans have also used these methods to assault women. There are very well-documented cases of travelers in Latin American, especially in Colombia, who are poisoned with the drug scopolamine, for example. Scopolamine is a tropane alkaloid, also known as burundanga, which is derived from plants in the solanacea or nightshade family such as the borrachero tree or datura which is found throughout Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and other parts of the world.

Scopolamine is used to treat motion sickness, but it is also used by criminals to rob and assault people because it renders victims incapable of exercising free will. It’s odorless and tasteless and victims are given this material in food or drink, or blown into their face as powder, or dissolved in alcohol and rubbed in the skin – and then, robbed, raped or taken to ATMs where they withdraw funds and hand them over to their assailants. Scopolamine erases the memory and victims often find themselves coming back into awareness many miles away not being able to identify their attackers. The U.S. State Department has cited thousands of cases of scopolamine poisoning in Colombia each year.

This substance has also traditionally been used in small quantities as an admixture in ayahausa brews and some people who call themselves shamans have used higher quantities of this material, also known as toé, to poison and abuse participants during and after ayahuasca ceremonies. We have heard of several cases of women who have experienced this kind of violation and been assaulted over a sustained period of time. This does not necessarily mean that they have been poisoned with ayahuasca, which is a point that may well be lost in the media coverage of this phenomenon. But rather people presenting themselves as shamans have used this well-established substance to sexually assault participants in ayahuasca ceremonies and afterwards, especially the foreigners who are flooding into Iquitos and other centers of ayahuasca ceremonies. At higher dosages toé can be fatal and indeed there have been accounts of poisonings in which those targeted have died. When I visited Colombia a few years back, I was cautioned never to leave my food or drink unattended and to think twice about accepting consumables from strangers outside of a bar and restaurant setting. This was good advice, I followed it, and I’m glad I did. The most important step to defending oneself against the use of scopolamine for the purpose of sexual assault is to be aware of its power.

Examining Sexual Abuses in Different Cultural Settings

As the role of scopolamine poisoning is well-documented as a tool in sexual violations, social science researchers have also recorded incidents of sexual abuse by those who lead ceremonies – and the response of the communities that they are part of. This research makes clear that sexual violations are also condemned by users of psychoactive materials in traditional and indigenous cultures. The psychologist Clancy Cavnar gave an interesting presentation at the World Ayahuasca Conference this year entitled, “Reflections on Spirituality, Gender and Power in my Experience with Santo Daime.” Cavnar wrote a doctoral dissertation on the experience of gay people who used ayahuasca promoted by her largely positive experience in the Santo Daime church. She notes that the religious use of ayahuasca by the Santo Daime, as practiced in Mapia, Brazil, the place where she participated in the ceremonies, is sexually very conservative and places strong emphasis on the segregation of the sexes and virginity.

Cavnar notes in her talk that in 2008, the U.S. Santo Daime church was thrown into turmoil involving a prominent Padrinho, or Santo Daime ceremonial leader, from Rio de Janeiro who was revealed to have had a history of sexual impropriety with female Daimistas both in Brazil and North America. The Brazilian Santo Daime church refused to sanction this Padrinho for an unwelcome sexual encounter with a Canadian woman which led to his being banned by the U.S. Santo Daime churches from leading ceremonies in the U.S. for two years. Cavnar notes that this Padrinho never acknowledged his actions and even claimed that invisible forces were trying to destabilize the Santo Daime. This came after a period when this man appeared poised to become the Brazilian leader of the North American Santo Daime communities. At an annual meeting of the Santo Daime in the U.S., this man’s wife, one of the daughters of a founder of the church, accused those who did not support his leadership of being possessed by devils.

The ban against this Padrinho did not last long and his prominence faded in the U.S. But these incidents did open up a dialogue about cultural differences of Brazilians versus North Americans and the treatment of women. After this Daime leader was exposed, Cavnar notes that a wealthy female benefactor and pillar of the church in California left the Santo Daime in disgust when she learned that this Padrinho had previously accosted a woman at a ceremony she held in her own home where she had hosted him as her guest. This left the California church in disarray and the community was forced to regroup. During this time, Cavnar noted that some Daimistas in North America began to question their allegiance to Padrinho Alfredo who is the current leader of the Santo Daime.

Cavnar and anthropologist Beatriz Labate have also approach this topic in an excellent book they edited together called Ayahuasca Shamanism in the Amazon and Beyond which is part of the Oxford Ritual Series published by Oxford University Press. There is an excellent chapter in this book entitled, “Ayahuasca’s Attractions and Distractions: Examining Sexual Seduction in Shaman-Participant Interactions” written by anthropologist Daniela Peluso. The central locus of Peluso’s research is Puerto Maldonado, Peru where she has conducted fieldwork for the last 20 years. Peluso notes in her essay that sexual abstinence is often part of the overall dieta that indigenous and mestizo ayahuasca shamans undergo restricting certain foods and sex and which is expected of shamans in training. She documents how some participants have been sexually assaulted while they are experiencing visions -such as one shaman who placed his hands on a female participant’s belly to help with nausea and then put their his down her pants and tried to lie next to her. Peluso notes that this woman felt abandoned by her shaman who was meant to guide her experience and she spent their sessions trying to resist her visions. While some so-called healers who engage in these abuses are clearly fraudulent shamans, Peluso writes that the shaman in this case was well-known and respected. The woman he assaulted kept thinking about what she might have done to make him think that his act was acceptable – the classic case of a victim blaming herself. She never drank ayahuasca again.

Peluso notes that some who heard about this incident brushed it off saying, “This is how men are here; you just need to tell them that you are not interested. It’s not a big deal.” I agree with Peluso’s view that this response completely sidesteps the question of ethics because it absolves the perpetrator and places the burden on the victim to repel these advances based on their character and understanding of local culture and gender relations. Peluso also notes that some women have reported “falling in love” with shamans and expressed that sex was a potentially fulfilling aspect of the ayahuasca experience. Ultimately, Peluso believes, and I agree with her, that accountability lies with the shaman who is responsible for resisting their own possible arousal and not attempting to seduce women who participate in their ceremonies.

Peluso also notes that some women interested in spiritual haling are sometimes themselves victims of sexual abuse and thus find the sexual advances of shamans especially emotionally damaging and exploitative. Peluso notes that this problem is compounded by a tendency to idealize shamans and overlook the fact that shamans are humans who have flaws. She points out that indigenous women are also sometimes harassed within the context of traditional ayahusasca shamanism. Non-indigenous shamans, who are aware of the allure and mystique surrounding people’s ideas about shamans, must also, of course, be held to the same standards. In her study, Peluso finds that people generally respond negatively to a shaman’s inappropriate sexual advances and female participants feel vulnerable, ashamed, exploited and betrayed. Male onlookers are disturbed and confused. Both assume that the shaman and his assistants are taking advantage of their power and status and participants become unsure of roles, methods, and boundaries. In these cases, people feel that the shamans have undermined their trust they have given them as guide, caretaker and healer. Many feel that their experience of ayahusaca and their outlook toward it has been tainted.

Some who weigh in on this topic argue that people from the U.S., Canada and Europe are imposing our own values on sexual behavior on shamans who are acting appropriately within their own culture. But Peluso notes that examination of local and indigenous social norms reveal that such behavior is also frowned upon by people from those cultures. She notes that in Puerto Maldanado where she does her research, the indigenous and non-indigenous people do not feel that sexual relations of any degree are acceptable between shamans and participants in their ceremonies unless there are preexisting and legitimate relationships that occur outside of the ayahuasca experience and ceremonial context. Peluso notes that there is significant social criticism when these norms are violated. The women she has interviewed who have experienced these actions attribute them to abuse of power both in terms of gender and community norms. When shamans use their power to intimidate or try to seduce female participants, they see it as a way to impose physical and political dominance over women. Peluso notes that many women in Latin American cultures are reluctant to drink ayahuasca with an unknown shaman unless accompanied by family, friends, or their children, and even then sexual harassment may still occur. Some tourist websites for ayahuasca package tours are addressing this concern by working exclusively with female shamans. In her essay, Peluso quotes the website of one such operation in Peru which describes their service like this:

“Ayahuasca facilitation in Peru has typically been a male dominated world. It is not uncommon for male shamans in Peru to misuse their leadership role to seduce unsuspecting foreign women that come to them for shamanic healing. The fact that we almost exclusively work with elder, female Shipibo ayahuasca shamans provides a safe environment for women coming to the Amazon for ayahuasca experiences…These Shipibo shamans represent the highest level of integrity that you can find anywhere in the Amazon region.”

Proactive Responses To Abuse in Ceremonies

Our community of visionary women has seen other examples of those who seek to proactively addressing concerns about sexual violation in ceremonies. Some have come forward to condemn the abuse of power by specific shamans. Here in Vancouver, a letter was circulated concerning the actions of a prominent Peruvian shaman Guillermo Arevalo, who has a strong following in the U.S. and Canada. The letter stated that Arevalo had engaged in unwanted sexual encounters with women under the influence of ayahuasca. The letter criticized Arevalo for sexual abuse of participants in his ceremonies. We would like Arevalo to have an opportunity to respond to these allegations if he wishes to, but we are grateful for the frankness of this document.

This letter has been controversial, but I think that we have a right and responsibility to be informed and not trapped by our own idealizations and romanticizations of shaman worlds and practices in Peru, Ecuador and elsewhere. Peluso notes that many of the documented abusive sexual encounters take place in areas where there is a notion that in most circumstances, women will surrender to male sexual advances if they find themselves in a vulnerable position – or merely alone with a man as such behavior is aligned with gender expectations. She notes that to circumvent vulnerability, indigenous women sometimes avoid smiling directly at men, laughing with them, paying too much attention to them, being in their presence without close kin nearby and traveling alone. These behaviors, of course, describe actions that many women from our own cultures would participate in without a second thought, particularly if they travel alone, esteem the shaman, and converse and laugh freely unhindered by local customs.

I believe that the problem of sexual assault during ceremonies is exacerbated by the meeting together of people from different cultures. But researchers such as Peloso have shown that in cultural traditions from which many shamans practice, sexual acts with participants in ceremonies is not condoned and sexuality itself is often viewed in a conservative light. I would like to see more discussion about this topic from other perspectives. The organizers of WVC want to create more opportunities for women to speak out if they feel they have been violated during ceremonies or know of these violations. We understand that this can be a scary and potentially dangerous process for victims. I also want to see forms of due process that can provide the alleged perpetrators and their followers an ability to answer charges of abuse.

I would like to close with some suggestions that I made during the discussions last night for how participants in ceremonies using psychoactive materials can take steps to help keep themselves safe. The first is to come to these ceremonies with a clear intention. Know what you want out of this experience and take stock of your own strengths and weaknesses. Take steps to strengthen and ground yourself and cultivate a spiritual practice that gives you access to spirit allies or other guardians. I also suggest that you conduct some some due diligence and check out the reputation of the healer that you are working with. Determine what other people have said about their experience with them, get references, both online and ideally in person from people who have worked with them. Third, check out the safety of the venue where the ceremony will be held or if you are traveling to another country, the place where you will be staying. Do people feel safe in these places, are there reports of women being abused while doing ceremony there or staying there? Since there are now ayahuasca and other ceremonies using psychoactive materials taking place in many parts of the U.S. and Canada, consider taking part in these rituals closer to home where you have a support network and can spend the critical integration phrase in a place where you have access to trusted counselors or other resources.

Also, strongly consider going to the ceremony with a trusted friend or group of people who can help watch over you while you are in an altered state and possibly step in if it appears that someone intends to abuse you. If you are in another country, develop a safety plan to check in regularly with friends and a create a strategy for seeking help if you get into trouble. Practice setting good boundaries both spiritual and physical. I have never been violated sexually during a ceremony, but I have been violated energetically. I practice a form of visualization that sets an energetic perimeter around myself. One of the participants in our discussion last night requested that we all do this together, which we did. Also practice your own form of a grounding ritual, consider a physical practice such as yoga that keeps you tethered to your body. Be wary of physical contact with other people in ceremonies and find a way to release the energy of others you may have collected along the way. I like the old ritual of pouring cold water over my hands after a work. Finally, consider what forms of accountability the shaman you are working with answers to. Do they have a community who reviews their practices? Is there a criminal judicial system or human rights mechanism in the country where the ceremony that takes place where you can make a complaint? Drug prohibition in many countries makes it more challenging to bring complaints, but assault is assault, regardless of the context.

WVC has posted 20 Safety Tips for participating in ceremonies with psychoactive substances on our website. If you have experiences that you would like to share, positive or negative recommendations for a particular shaman, or suggestions for safety, please feel free to contact us at If accusations are made against particular people and the accuser wishes that alleged perpetrator’s name be made public, we will attempt to contact the accused and give them an opportunity for rebuttal. I would also like to offer support for the growing number of female shamans and ceremonies that feature both a male and female ceremonial leader. This trend will potentially help encourage safer environments for female psychonauts, provide balance, and encourage more female shamans to step forward do good work. I want to close by acknowledging the wise and ethical shamans of both genders who provide compassionate healing for those who seek these experiences. We recognized that spiritual teachers who work with psychoactive materials can assist us with our spiritual development, emotional healing and personal self-awareness. We recognized that not all shamans are scoundrels. We have a responsibility as a community to acknowledge wise teachers and question those whose practices violate not only our community standards but also the ethics of their own communities and international standards of human rights.

Antidotes To Everything – Michael Horowitz

Michael Horowitz is a psychoactive drug historian and writer.  He co-founded the Fitz Hugh Ludlow Memorial Library and was Timothy Leary’s archivist and bibliographer.  With his wife, Cynthia Palmer, he edited Moksha: Aldous Huxley’s Writings on Psychedelic Drugs and Visionary Experience, and Sisters of the Extreme:  Women Writing on the Drug Experience and co-edited Leary’s Chaos and Cyber Culture  He operates Flashback Books, a virtual bookstore on eBay specializing in psychoactive drugs.  He gave this talk at a WVC Salon in Vancouver, BC in November 2014.

Antidotes To Everything

Antidote: a remedy to counteract the effects of a poison or a negative mindset.


Past imprints
Formal education
Average sex
Failing to get the joke


Life’s problems
Death’s dominion
Organized religion
Disorganized religion
Reliance on anti-depressants
Imperfect psychoactive drugs
Less than instant gratification


Belief systems
Profit and loss
Prophets and love lost
The God Game


Verbal expression
Existential angst
Visionary deficit disorders
Listening to speakers talk about them
at psychedelic conferences


The absence of insight
A shortage of gratuitous grace
Truth and consequences
The sound of both hands clapping

Long before he took a psychedelic drug, Aldous Huxley speculated that the antidote for the psychological ills of the modern world would be the discovery of a beneficial drug capable of providing genuine ecstasy.

“The person who invents such a substance,” he wrote, “will be counted among the greatest benefactors of suffering humanity.”

The drug he introduced in his dystopian novel, Brave New World (1932), was called soma, after the most ancient of recorded drugs. It provided a holiday from everyday reality while it enabled the conditions of totalitarian social control.

“There is always soma, delicious soma, half a gramme for a half-holiday, a gramme for the weekend, two grammes for a trip to the gorgeous East, three for a dark eternity on the moon.”

Thirty years later, after having taken mescaline, psilocybin and LSD, Huxley in his last novel Island contrasted the use of tranquilizers (forerunners of today’s ubiquitous antidepressants) and stimulants with the spiritual potential of psychedelics, and “predicted a future society in which chemically induced transcendental experiences would lead to a mysticism focused not on symbolic structures but on the transformation of everyday life (Marcus Boon, The Road of Excess).”

Timothy Leary, writing in the early ‘60s: “Nature always produces the cure for the particular disease which has evolved. The disease that is crushing and oppressing this planet today is man’s possessive and manipulatory symbolic mind, and the cure for the disease has been provided.

“I have no illusions; LSD is simply a particular evolutionary molecule at exactly the moment when it’s needed.

“We feel like a medical team in a plague area. What is the plague? Abstract intellectualism. People instinctively reaching for categories.”

Psychedelics are remedies for minds hung up in categories, and antidotes to the harms of conditioning and brainwashing.

In 1978 Albert Hofmann and Gordon Wasson proposed that the Eleusinian Mysteries, the annual all-night ceremonial pageant of Ancient Greece performed over two millennia, was a kind of Trips Festival or Acid Test, with the sacred elixir kykeon a form of LSD. The Ancient Greek luminaries, from Socrates to Sappho, at least for one night a year, were blissed-out acidheads. There was even a Leary-Kesey figure named Alcibiades, who was arrested for stealing the sacrament from the temple and distributing it at private parties in 5th century Athens, thus qualifying him as the patron saint of recreational drug users.

The state, the church, the politicians and the military have for centuries demonized psychedelic plants. Their interests have been confined to their weaponizing and criminalizing.

Psychedelics are antidotes to thought control and the perpetual war machine. Psychedelics speak truth to power, empowering free agents to think for themselves.

Secrecy is essential to the apparatus of the culture of control, nowhere better displayed than in the workings of the hyper-paranoid intelligence agencies.

Psychedelics are the antidote to both institutional and personal secrecy. They “occupy” the Ineffable, and serve as cosmic whistleblowers.

The 1960s counterculture briefly liberated psychedelics, seeing them as spiritual and humanistic antidotes to controlling authority. The ruthlessly suppressed psychedelic movement planted the seeds that are flowering now, with further discoveries of plants and their compounds by ethnobotanists and chemists, and the efforts of researchers who are gradually moving them toward legal pharmaceutical status.

Psychedelics are of the rainforest and the desert, of backyard gardens and the laboratories of visionary chemists, yet they speak to us in the language of electrons, born in the accelerated brain. In the 1960s McLuhan predicted that “drugs that accelerate the brain” will only be widely accepted “when the population is geared to computers.”

Electronic language is the language of the media—- the television screen, the Internet, the wondrous devices that enable us to practice our free agentry–and the National Security Agency to become a zettabyte-powered snoop factory. It took one electronic dissident to expose it, but it still lumbers on, bloated on its monstrous data collection.

On a lighter note, “psychedelics expose and reduce the objects of our everyday world–those coveted and sexualized commodities–to a stoned ridiculousness (Richard Doyle, Darwin’s Pharmacy).” Psychedelics are the antidote to consumerism.

Psychedelics suspend time and promote immediacy. Being in the Now. They are the antidotes to being fixated on the calamities of the past…of our own personal fuck-ups and traumas…of the fears and promises of the future.

“Under LSD we seem to come up against that part of our inner world where meanings are made, where the patterning process operates in its pure form” (Richard Marsh in Psychedelic Review).

LSD is the antidote to the singularity of meaning and the pretense of patterns.

Psychedelics have given us the concept of the cosmic joke–the antidote to ego-driven uptightness and paranoia.

During an LSD trip, its discoverer Albert Hofmann found himself “laughing hopelessly.” Only on LSD can hopelessness be the occasion of laughter. That’s why psychedelics are so important now, as an antidote to hopelessness, of which there is clearly too much around.

Official research is underway for the first time in half a century; unofficial research—-recreational use–long criminalized, is undergoing gradual rehabilitation.

In Switzerland in April 1943, during one of the darkest periods in modern history, LSD placed a call to Albert Hofmann, and Albert picked up the receiver. When LSD calls, it is always best to answer. And if you’re put on hold, don’t hang up. Your call will be answered by the next available shaman or shamaness.

But if your phone is not encrypted or the shaman turns out to be a fraud, you’d best establish a direct connection to this alien caller. It might just be you in the future.

An earlier version of this talk was given at the Spirit of Basel Symposium on LSD: Problem Child and Wonder Drug (2006), honoring Albert Hofmann on his 100th birthday.

The Poetics of Ayahuasca: Lessons Learned from César Calvo – Elena Andrade

Elena Andrade is a Canadian scholar whose research interests include performance studies, psychedelic literature and space-time perception across cultures. She presented this talk at the 3rd Annual Shaman Woman, Plant Medicine and Psychedelic Salon hosted by WVC in Vancouver, Canada on November 15, 2014.  

The Poetics of Ayahuasca: Lessons Learned from César Calvo

The topic of my talk today is part of a project I’ve been working on lately for my graduate studies at the University of Victoria. I focus on performance studies, which is a field between political science and the arts. Performance studies views politics as a type of performance, as a performative practice. So, for example, performance theorists say that space is not something that pre-exists individuals but rather that the space around us is constituted by performative practices. Similarly, gender identity is also performative, meaning gender is not an intrinsic quality of a body but a continual reiteration of a set of practices that are considered by the culture to be feminine or masculine. In my work, I’m interested in the body as a communicative medium in the sense that the body or its absence reveals something about the way power works in a given context. My definition of the body differs significantly from that of a medical or a scientific definition, although I am interested in the human sensorium but more so in its relation to perception and aesthetics. I see the body as the site where political and social forces materialize and also as the primary site of resistance to domination and colonization. So that’s the lens I look through when I read an image, a text, or a performance.

What brought me to the study of politics as performance was spending time with indigenous anarchists and Zapatistas in Mexico before the drug war exploded in 2006. Already in those years before the official declaration of war against the cartels, the level of fear in Mexico was very high. To me it felt like a low-intensity war. At that point, the country was already militarized in response to the social problems caused by NAFTA, which had a devastating impact on the Mexican people. In Mexico, anti-NAFTA, anti-globalization activism is highly performative and theatrical because in such a repressive authoritarian system, the vast majority of citizens are shut out of the political process. The resources available to them are basically their own bodies and public space. So they develop ways to intervene using what’s available.

For a several months I lived in a small town in southern Mexico, in the state of Oaxaca, and during that time I began to notice that the military presence coincided with high levels of drug consumption in the community, and supposedly the military was there to protect the community from the evils of illegal drugs. A high percentage of the men in the town were addicted to cocaine, the community was flooded with it. I would see things in my peripheral vision that made me question if I was seeing correctly. Did I just see men with machine guns duck behind that house? Did I really just see that? I was experiencing the hallucinatory reality of the drug war. What I mean by a hallucinatory reality is a situation where you keep asking yourself if what you’re seeing is actually happening or if you’re imagining it. The anthropologist and performance theorist Michael Taussig calls this zone of hallucinatory reality the “space of death,” a zone where “signifiers are strategically out of joint with what they signify” (5). These are spaces where language hides the truth; it’s a space where armed soldiers are peacekeepers and capitalism equates with development. The mythology that overlays this space of death, Taussig explains, combines European, indigenous, and African figures and narratives with whites occupying a privileged position, whites being the ones who bring “progress” to backwards places and peoples. Taussig wrote a fascinating account of the system of terror in northwestern Amazonia after rubber became an important commodity in the international market. He studied ayahuasca shamanism as a healing practice that attempts to manage the fear and terror caused by the brutality of the rubber companies and capitalism’s advance into Amazonia.

So what’s happened in Mexico is that a massive space of death has opened up with the US-funded drug war. Every time I go back the violence is more horrific, more senseless, closer to home. It would be difficult to find someone who has not been affected by the violence. During the Iraq war, there were some months when more people were dying in Mexico than in Iraq. Basically, the Mexican system is a death machine that systematically targets young, brown-skinned males. It’s not at all about eliminating the drug trade. It’s about perpetuating war because war is a lucrative industry.

So I bring that lived experience of the drug war into my research of performative interventions against authoritarian systems. My own micro-solution to the ethical problem of the witness – for now – has been to engage in the discourse around drugs, and more specifically psychedelics, to frame these substances in a way that challenges the assumptions and fear-mongering of the current order. I especially appreciate Diana Slattery’s definition of psychedelics as a “discourse of the unmentionable by the disreputable about the unspeakable.” Psychedelics are material substances, a discourse, and a visionary aesthetic that represents the phenomenological effects of the drug. By speaking about psychedelics, we are exercising our freedom to describe and set the terms of our own lived experience. Psychedelics is a discourse that challenges the military-big pharma-prison complex.

The work of Peruvian poet Cesar Calvo has provided me with a window for research into psychedelics and the politics of drugs. Both literature and psychedelic drugs are complex material and narrative hybrids, I would argue, whose effects depend on psychosocial context as well as method of consumption. Calvo wrote during the last half of the twentieth century and was active in the revolutionary movements of the 60s and 70s. His work celebrates the African, mestizo, and indigenous cultures of Peru, especially their use of poetry, performance, and music to decolonize body and soul. He wrote Las Tres Mitades de Ino Moxo in 1979 under military dictatorship in a period when tens of thousands of Latin Americans were disappeared by the state as part of Operation Condor. The novel fuses text and performance and represents an aesthetic intervention against a regime that inscribes traumatic memories on both the individual and social body with violence and terror. Calvo draws upon both indigenous and European literary traditions to tell the story of a journey to the house of Ino Moxo who, for Calvo, stands among the great Latin American poets of the past century for his mastery of the ceremonial arts. The story introduces magical notions of conscious plants, interspecies communication, and shape shifting to challenge materialist and mechanistic worldviews. Calvo’s journey from the national capital to northwestern Amazonia to interview Ino Moxo provides the external structure for an interior, metaphorical journey with dimethyltriptamine (DMT), the active ingredient of ayahuasca. So the novel is a container for the transformative process of the writer and has an ayahuasca ceremony inscribed in it. Calvo writes from the space of death, directly confronting its contents to consciously manage its relation to his own life as a source of artistic inspiration. Tres Mitades depicts both Ino Moxo’s and César’s emergence from the space of death as somatic poets whose ritual use of psychoactive plants takes them through alternate realities of extraordinary beauty and terror as they strive to find a space of freedom for themselves in the modern world. Ease with paradox and hybridity characterizes this new psychedelic state of being.

3 thoughts about ayahuasca and drug politics:

Ayahuasca shamanism is a performance.

Ayahuasca ceremonies are a form of performance called “somatic poetry” by ethnographers who study the cultural practices of Amazonian peoples (from The Ecology of the Spoken Word by Michael Uzendoski and Edith Calapucha-Tapuy). Somatic poetry is defined as the “art of ritual healing” and it can be storytelling, plant ceremonies, healing rituals. Seeing shamanism as a kind of performance offers a grounded approach to ayahuasca ceremonies. Realizing that the person conducting the ceremony is a performer and in no way an authority figure, spiritual or otherwise, takes away the mystique around that person. From what I’ve observed, part of the shaman’s performance is to behave as an authority figure. An ayahuasca ceremony then is a form of Amazonian somatic poetry in which plants mediate “a process of textual creation that allows the body not just to create but to become the text” (Uzendoski and Calapucha-Tapuy 24).

By incorporating ayahuasca ceremonies into his writing practice, Calvo’s body and text become sites of aesthetic experimentation, political resistance, and momentary liberation. His writing represents an attempt to undo historical violence materially inscribed on his body through his senses.

Drugs are political technologies.

As the figure of Ino Moxo instructs, psychoactive plants are indispensable tools for investigation of consciousness and the nature of reality. Besides their material effects on the body, drugs produce changes in consciousness that have political and social implications.

Besides their influence on artistic expression, the history of drugs is bound up with multinational capitalism and state policies that make mass addiction profitable. Study of Calvo’s narrative raises critical questions about the uses of drugs as biopolitical technologies to undergird the global capitalist system. Certainly, pharmaceuticals, especially antidepressants, painkillers, and synthetic hormones, are indispensable to the formation of governable subjects in liberal democracies.[1] Drug historians have pointed out that virtually every highly addictive drug, including heroin, amphetamines, and cocaine, was first cooked up in a commercial laboratory then legally marketed with an advertising campaign based on unfounded hype. So with annual sales now in the billions of dollars, the current mode of capitalism ensures physical dependence on economic relations of domination. The medical system is implicated in this dysfunctional system because it is often through medical intervention that bodies are subdued and controlled in this culture.

Heroin is a really interesting example of the connection between capitalism and drugs. It was originally manufactured and sold over the counter in the late nineteenth century by Bayer and was only made illegal after the cost to society of its ravaging effects outweighed the profits to be made from it.

An essential book on this topic is Bruce Alexander’s Globalization of Addiction, where he identifies dislocation is the cause of all addictions. And the cause of dislocation is capitalism. So as long as there’s capitalism, there will be addiction. Until the inequalities built in to our economic systems are addressed, this problem will always be with us.

Interspecies communication.

As one who uses psychoactive plants to voyage into other dimensions or explore the nature of consciousness, Ino Moxo is a liminal figure, a bridge between worlds—the worlds of indigenous and settler, material and spiritual, city and forest. Both Cesar Calvo and Ino Moxo use plants for self-engineering and self-transformation, what Ken Tupper refers to as “phyto-chemical engineering”. Through their aesthetic experiments with plants and somatic poetry Calvo and Ino Moxo become hybrid beings able to communicate with plants to get information that helps them in three dimensional reality. Interestingly, this plant-human hybrid figure also appears in scientific literature in the metaphor of plant teachers. Dennis McKenna goes so far as to describe ayahuasca as “an emissary of trans-species sentience,” which is exactly what Ino Moxo says in Calvo’s novel. The integration of these plants into personal practices raises questions about the limits of the human, and whether interspecies communication represents the next stage of development for our species or the planet. Calvo writes that trees are his accomplices in life and that ayahuasca co-authors his novel. Trees are portrayed as conscious beings and humans are described as having the qualities of plants. The lines between human and plant world get completely blurred. The question of interspecies communication is really an intriguing question because the imprint of psychedelic plants is all over Calvo’s writing from the sentence level to the ordering of space-time. The signature of ayahuasca appears as trinary logic and multidimensional, multiperspectival descriptions of landscapes and events. Fractals are everywhere, especially the tree of life pattern. In this book, the tree is a supernatural figure completely entangled with human history and the forest is a material expression of an underlying energetic matrix. It represents an Amazonian cosmology that locates divinity in the plant world.