Religious hierarchy rarely makes much room for women, but in the most unexpected of places, things are beginning to change.
Ayahuasca refers to the tea made from the plant, which has always been central to Amazonian spirituality. When the tea is drank it produces strong hallucinations, visions that Shamans (spiritual leaders) have relied on for hundreds of years to answer the worlds most outstanding questions. Not anyone can drink the tea however, and since many of the visions are interpreted as communications from God, the tribe turns to the Shaman for answers and advice, sort of in the same vein as Catholics and their views on The Bible. Shamans are trained to interpret the visions, not just anyone could translate hallucination to proper guidance.
But just because it takes training, doesn’t mean anyone can learn.
Historically, women were considered “too fragile” to go through the ceremonies, and were actually told to avoid the spiritual leaders all together.
But recently, one tribe, and a few women in particular, are trying to change this.
Her name is Waxy Yawanawa, and she has started a revolution.
She wanted to become a Shaman and lead ceremonies, and the first step is a test of endurance:
“At first, the Yawanawa men laughed at the women’s quest. After all, they reasoned, becoming a shaman required a show of commitment and discipline few men could muster. Shamen had to abstain from sex, meat, salt, sugar and fish, and live in isolation for a year before being anointed.”
After three long months of begging, the medicine man made a decision, to let women attempt the test. And as it turned out, they were a lot stronger than anyone could have guessed.
“If the shaman told us to take one drink a day, we would take three. If he told us to not see our families, we would stay away from absolutely everyone,” said Julia Yawanawa, 35, who, along with her sister Waxy, led the movement to include women in ceremonies. “We went above and beyond what they asked, to prove we were stronger than they realized,” she said.
In 2006, her tribe became the first to consecrate a female shaman. And soon, others would do the same.
“The men who are against this still think they should have a measure of control over women,” said 31-year-old Tatiana Marquez, a member of the Guarani tribe from eastern Brazil who participated in the female empowerment ceremony. “But the men are the ones who don’t understand the strength of the medicine and women’s ability to discover their own power through the tea.”