Opinion – Psychedelic Turn: Homophobia and anti-petism lead to disunity in the União do Vegetal

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As reporter José Marques revealed in Folha, the Beneficent Spiritist Center União do Vegetal (UDV), an ayahuasca church whose motto is “light, peace, love”, is on a war footing. The conflict escalated in the presidential election and already threatens to resurrect the myth of “brainwashing” with the use of psychedelic tea.

A popular action request sent to the Federal Supreme Court (STF) by Alexandre de Oliveira Rodrigues requests an injunction suspending the fortnightly use of tea in church ceremonies. Rodrigues left the UDV 13 years ago.

In the January 10 petition, the Brasília lawyer denounces “the possible use of ayahuasca tea as an instrument of alienation and ideological indoctrination”. Recommends the suspension of the sacrament to “avoid the use of ayahuasca tea for the ideological formation of fanatical, fundamentalist movements[s] and contrary to the constitutional order”.

The rapporteur for the case is Minister Ricardo Lewandowski, who has not yet given a decision on the case. It seems unlikely that he will accept the proposal to suspend the ceremonial use of the drink.

“I asked for a temporary ban on the use of tea by the UDV to investigate the reason for having several religious preachers supporting a coup against democracy, as it is a crime to incite a coup against the democratic regime,” said Rodrigues, when asked about a possible disproportion between the proselytizing of some leaders and the punishment covering 22,000 church members.

“What is the reason for preachers, even committing acts against democracy, still continues[re]m being preachers?” – he asks. “People who criticized the permanence of preachers [foram] punished by religion for spiritual faults.”

One of those punished with removal was Agamenon Honório, from Ceará, in the UDV for 34 years. He published a video pointing out the incongruity between the UDV motto and the rejection of homosexuals and the defense of weapons by leaders, as master Raimundo Monteiro did in social media posts.

In a written response to reporter José Marques, the UDV noted that it was a non-partisan religion and had neither preferred nor nominated a presidential candidate. He informs that he removed members of the board for “excesses”, but does not say which ones.

Monteiro preaches in his message that man, woman and children, the traditional family, are the matrix that allows human evolution. The homophobic tone is even more evident in a post by his wife, Zilda Monteiro de Souza, in which she recounts an alleged encounter with a transvestite in a women’s bathroom, a few weeks before the first shift of 2022.

The homophobia implicit in UDV doctrine goes well with Bolsonarist fixation on the subject, but it was not born with it. Long before the attempt to create the Alliance for Brazil party by Luis Felipe Belmonte, master of the UDV and businessman who defends mining in indigenous lands, being homosexual already prevented progression in the hierarchy of religion.

There is a revealing video about the homophobic bias of the UDV in which the psychologist and neuroscientist Daniel Gontijo interviews Armando Grisi, who was from the UDV. Grisi says that he spent a decade as a member of the church, unable to ascend to the first step of the organization, the Instructive Body, because he was married to another man.

When he separated from his partner, he ended up being invited to level up. Preferably by marrying a woman. Only married and heterosexual men can reach the condition of masters, the highest degree of the UDV.

Brazilian anthropologist Bia Labate, director of the Chacruna Institute in San Francisco (USA), never joined the UDV, but attended church meetings for two decades while researching the social phenomenon of ayahuasca in Brazil. She says that she always felt inferior to the sexism and heterosexual model dominant in the UDV, without adequate recognition from the institution for her intellectual and activist contribution to the field.

Labate now says he is “ecstatic” with the internal discussion in the UDV, which finally opened a breach for the debate on homophobia. But she says she finds it sad that a former partner is trying to file a legal request to suspend tea at the UDV.

“There is both a medical and common sense view that hallucinogens can cause suggestibility,” she clarifies. Chacruna himself has published extensively on sexual abuse following psychedelic use, including a guide to preventing harassment by therapists, guides and shamans of clients under the influence of psychedelics.

Saying that the UDV promotes “alienation and indoctrination” through ayahuasca, in his assessment, is equivalent to using the same categories that the State and common sense use to combat what are pejoratively called “sects”. They would not be legitimate religions, a pretext for criminalizing “hallucinogens”, which could not represent authentic ways of accessing knowledge, ancient practices among indigenous peoples and in churches that now face persecution in Spain and France, for example.

“Although I find the posture of Bolsonarist masters regrettable, I also find this legal way of trying to resolve an internal conflict regrettable. It is the reproduction of a prohibitionist and punitive logic.”

According to the anthropologist, the UDV has always been very legalistic, seeking institutional, formal, even judicial means. “It has always incorporated the State’s discourse and flirted with dominant interests. It has always had a certain superiority complex, of believing itself to be different, better and with more rights than the other ayahuasca religions”, she criticizes.

“It’s ironic to say the least. The spell is turning against the sorcerer.”

NOTICE TO NAVIGATORS – Psychedelics are still experimental therapies and certainly do not constitute a panacea for all psychic disorders, nor should they be the object of self-medication. Speak with your therapist or doctor before venturing into the area.

To learn more about the history and new developments of science in this area, including in Brazil, look for my book “Psiconautas – Viagens com a Ciência Psychedelica Brasileira”.

On the tendency to legalize the therapeutic and adult use of psychedelics in the US, see the article “Cogumelos Livres” in the December 2022 issue of Piauí magazine.

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