By Thijs Roes
We are pleased to announce that acclaimed anthropologist, ethnobotanist, best-selling author, and photographer, Wade Davis, will be presenting as a keynote speaker at the Interdisciplinary Conference on Psychedelic Research 2020.
Wade Davis is well-known for his work among indigenous communities around the world, more specifically those of North and South America, honing in on the traditional uses and practices surrounding psychoactive plants.
Davis has degrees in both anthropology and biology, and received his PhD in the field of ethnobotany, completing all of his studies at Harvard University. Whilst working for the Harvard Botanical Museum, Davis spent over three years researching the plants of the Amazon and the Andes, living amongst several indigenous groups and cataloguing almost 6,000 botanical samples.
Between 1999 and 2013, Davis served as Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society (NGS). Later he was named by the NGS as one of the ‘Explorers for the Millennium’, and subsequently has been described by David Suzuki as “a rare combination of scientist, scholar, poet and passionate defender of all of life’s diversity.”
Further, Davis has published over 200 academic and popular articles on a wide range of subjects, including the Haitian practise of Vodou, the traditional use of psychoactive plants, Amazonian cosmogony and ethnobotany, and the global crisis in biodiversity.
One of Davis’ most celebrated books, One River: Explorations and discoveries in the Amazon Rainforest, recounts his ethnobotanical adventures in the Colombian Amazon as a student of the famed botanical explorer Richard Evans Schultes. Schultes is often referred to as ‘the father of ethnobotany,’ and spent his life investigating how indigenous peoples used plants in medicinal, ritual, and everyday contexts, being the first man to scientifically document the visionary Amazonian brew, ayahuasca or yagé as it is called in Colombia.
In recent years, psychedelic substances and psychoactive plant medicines have made a resurgence into public awareness and are becoming increasingly accepted as tools for psychological and spiritual healing in mainstream culture. To an extent, the heightened demand for traditional healing plants such as ayahuasca has created a booming tourist industry, taking the plant out of its traditional context.
Davis has participated in ayahuasca ceremonies with indigenous groups since his student days in the 1970s. Having spent forty years developing an understanding of how indigenous communities relate to and conceptualise the sacred Ayahuasca vine, he advocates that we should approach it with reverence whilst remaining aware of the issues surrounding its cultural appropriation.
In a recent interview, he cautioned that:
“[…] the more we can, not necessarily in a scientific, but in a serious, reverent way acknowledge this movement, remain always cognizant of the challenges of appropriation, the better. Ayahuasca is a very powerful medicine. Despite all of my experience with psychedelics going back over 40 years, I would never presume to lead an ayahuasca session. It’s probably wise to cast a cautious eye on those who do take on the mantle of spiritual leadership. Mail order mystics abound, conmen of the night.”
Going forward, this begs the question: what does the future hold for the cultural integrity of psychedelic plant sacraments? ICPR 2020 concerns itself with critical perspectives, aiming to facilitate dialogue between the diverse academic disciplines that study psychedelics, constructively exploring the future approaches to psychedelic substances.