Neil White, BA Social Sciences, University of Leeds, England, Semillas Cofan, Barcelona
Introduction: This study is, in part, a response to the return to a holistic vision of the human being with many modern therapeutic practices taking direct inspiration from ancient techniques employed by traditional communities for the purposes of individual and collective health as opposed to the fragmented and often unilateral vision of modern medicine. Objectives: To investigate the motives and relevant representations of Ayahuasca among young people from a westernized culture (Cali, Colombia). It was necessary to determine and categorise the ideas, beliefs and myths that make up their social representations of Ayahuasca with a view to finding their relationship to physical and psychological health. Method: An integral, qualitative and descriptive study by means of a semi-structured interview of 10 subjects between 18 and 25 all of whom had been drinking Ayahuasca for more than 4 years with Cofan shamans. The design of the study was such as to allow for the search and retrieval of incidences and characteristics across categories and comparisons were drawn between theoretical concepts and an overall theoretical framework (Social Representation Theory). Results: In most of the young people interviewed there appeared to have taken place indicators of personal growth through the process of drinking Ayahuasca in a shamanic setting, especially relating to the search and discovery of a personal spirituality. Conclusions: Among the most common social representations held by the subjects was its consideration as a medicinal plant on a physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual level as well as the fundamental importance of all aspects of the Ayahuasca ceremony. Despite the fact that this phenomenon is relatively new in the western context, the social representations developed through the drinking of Ayahuasca have caused deeply rooted ideas, beliefs and myths in the daily lives of the subjects. Ayahuasca is a means by which the subjects have found self-understanding, something which they were unable to find in western culture.