Visions from other worlds: Western Esotericism, UFO beliefs and conspiracy theories in New Age ayahuasca groups

Ricardo Assarice dos Santos, Leornardo Breno Martins

Abstract


Despite being originally used by indigenous people in the Amazon region,
the ritual use of ayahuasca – a psychoactive drink resulting from the mixture of a vine (banisteriopsis caapi) and a leaf (psychotria viridis) whose active principle is dimethyltryptamine (DMT) – has grown  substantially in the last decades. In part of the new groups that make use of the drink, we can highlight those linked to the so-called Brazilian ayahuasca religions, such as Santo Daime, Barquinha and União do Vegetal (UDV), but also those considered by the literature as neoayhuasqueiros (or neo- shamanic). In this last one, the presence of a symbols and imaginary widely influenced by New Age and its underlying
ideologies are not uncommon. In this hybrid and multifaceted religious imaginary, it is not difficult to find, be it in ayahuasca religions, in neo-shamanic groups, or even among recreational users of DMT, speeches, worldviews, rituals and performances influenced by the repertoire of Western Esotericism. Notions such as correspondence, living
nature, imagination and mediation, transmutation and other typical qualities of esoteric thought are easily identified values in the aforementioned groups. In addition, the visionary experience, commonly known as “miração”, is still a complex phenomenon that requires further study by the scientific community. In great part of these visionary experiences (which directly affect and transform the individuals who experience them), alleged encounters with extraterrestrial
and/or interdimensional beings are common. As a part of what ethnography in these groups has been showing, these groups channel messages from alleged extraterrestrial beings, receive special “information and initiations” from them and change their diets and the relationship with nature, to say the least. Nevertheless, the presence of conspiracy theories is also widely verified, as, for example, in the beliefs related to the role of different “alien races” in the destiny (positive or negative) of humanity.
Given this scenario, the objective of this study is to analyze allegations of
contacts with aliens of ayahuasca users in Brazilian religious and recreational
contexts, seeking to verify, in depth, similarities and differences between their
reports and fundamental topics of Western Esotericism and conspiracy theories.
The methods used include ethnographic inroads and interviews carried out during
the master’s and doctoral research of the authors of this article, who obtained
the material from ayahuasca groups, UFO groups with esoteric tendencies, and
recreational DMT users who answered an online survey.
As a result, contacts with aliens mix elements of both Western esotericism and
characteristically contemporary conspiracy theories, as well as icons of Middle
and Far East cultures. Narratives seem to fulfill religious and mystical functions,
especially among people who have moved away from such hegemonic traditions
(such as Christianity).


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