Alex K. Gearin Brisbane, PhD Candidate in Anthropology, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia
Embodying types of metropolitan and industrialised consciousness, ayahuasca drinkers in Australia approach their practice as a means of gaining ʻnatural intelligenceʼ and organic wellbeing on the level of spirituality. These notions of intelligence and wellbeing permeate narrative accounts of ayahuasca visions and are associated to diverse types of individual healing and cultural critique. Based on recent ethnographic fieldwork in Australian ayahuasca circles, this paper explores ways in which ayahuasca visions couple with discourse on anthropogenic ecological crisis and natural alienation to mediate personalised understandings of sickness, emotional and social instability, and diverse moral vicissitudes. Distinctions of ʻnatureʼ and ʻcultureʼ in this context are shown to underlie morally charged perceptions of personal and social conduct. By contrast, concepts of ʻnatureʼ and ʻcultureʼ in the anthropology of indigenous Amazonia have undergone radical revision in recent decades to the extent that some researchers are urging the abandonment of the distinction all together. This paper imports nuances of nature-culture theory in Amazonian anthropology and demonstrates ways in which the reimagining of ayahuasca in Australian society involves the modern idea of nature as separate and wounded. This idea is linked to specific political and scientific discourse of industrialised states and is shown to provide the vision by which Australian ayahuasca drinkers work to overcome social alienation and heal diverse aspects of their moral lives.