Conference Agenda

4E: Health and Religion in Latin-America
Wednesday, 08/Sept/2021:
3:15pm - 4:30pm

Session Chair: Prof. Frank Huisman, UMC Utrecht. The Netherlands


Entheogenic Visions: Latin American Indigenous Psychoactive Substances in Images and Words

González Rodriguez, Milton Fernando

KU Leuven

This paper explores the ways in which images and written resources of various types have historically mobilized ideas about psychoactive substances from a medicinal, therapeutical, spiritual and religious perspective. In specific, the main focus lies on reviewing the visual and textual framing of entheogens, such as Lophophora williamsii (i.e., peyote), Datura wrightii (i.e., sacred datura), and brews produced of mixing Banisteriopsis caapi and Psychotria viridis (i.e., ayahuasca). The underlying premise is that ever since the first encounters of Europeans with indigenous communities actively consuming entheogens in the 17th century, these substances have been entwined with elements of spirituality, faith and (dark)magic. The intangibility of hallucination-inducing plants has been contrasted with the materiality of their effects in the care and cure of the body and mind of their consumers. I place emphasis on the instrumentality of the notion of indigeneity at various moments in history to contextualize the attributes of psychoactive substances. As I argue, while the diffusion of the above-mentioned plants reflects changes, additions and transfers of peripheral medicine-related knowledge(s) trans-continentally, their commercialization and promotion concomitantly raise questions about the legacy of (neo)colonization. As I show, all along, images have registered the journey of indigenous psychoactive substances from Latin America across Western media outlets.

Pascal Baylón, Saint Sebastian, and the Señora de los Remedios – New Spain’s Catholic Saints in Times of Epidemics

Gabriel, Martin

University of Klagenfurt, Austria

While it seems clear that America was no disease-free paradise in pre-contact times, a combination of war, drought, low fertility, and new pathogens resulted in enormous population losses. People turned to saints, deities or super-natural beings for help. Catholicism in Spanish America undeniably had a focus on embodiments of the Virgin Mary. Ciudad de México’ first patroness, the Señora de los Remedios, was closely associated with droughts, phenomena inseparably linked to epidemics. In 1577, during the huey cocoliztli epidemic of hemorrhagic fever, a large procession was organized in her honor. When an infectious disease hit the Yucatán peninsula in 1648, a statue of the “Virgin of Izamal” was brought from her shrine to the main city of Mérida on orders of the governor. The “Virgin of Guadalupe” was proclaimed patroness of Ciudad de México because of her role during the epidemic of 1737–1739, but only after two other icons had failed to end the crisis. In the city of Veracruz, of exposed to yellow fever outbreaks, Saint Sebastian, one of the “grandes santos antipeste” (P. Ragon), became an iconic figure. Around 1650, the Cakchiquel Maya of the Guatemalan highlands increasingly turned to the veneration of Pascal Baylón, a Spanish priest who had died in 1592, and was said to have appeared in a vision during the deadly cumatz epidemic. Even after the introduction of inoculation in the late 18th century, authorities proposed public veneration of saints, but also relied on support by clerics in the implementation of “modern” health practices.