Miroslav Horák, Ph.D.
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There is a fire burning in the center of the tipi, surrounded by an altar made from fresh leaves and flowers. About 30 people are sitting around on their mattresses. Some of them have come to drink ayahuasca, others to take peyote during a ritual performed under the supervision of an organizer who has adopted the Lakota tradition from native North America. We are neither in the Amazon, nor in the Mexican desert; we are in the heart of Europe, in the Czech Republic! The retreats are booming here currently, just as in other parts of the world.

In the Czech Republic, ayahuasca is used in three different contexts: 1. traditional (where the rituals are conducted either by members of Amazonian ethnic groups or mestizos); 2. neoshamanic (rituals performed by non-native organizers and devotees of this spirituality, e.g., citizens of the US or EU); and 3. religious (ceremonies of some of the Brazilian syncretic churches, e.g., Santo Daime).

Over the past 10 years, a number of interesting research projects on ayahuasca have been implemented in the Czech Republic. There have been pilot studies focused on its use in the treatment of addiction, in psychotherapy and personality development, and the results reveal it has a positive impact on these areas.1 2 3

Local researchers have prepared original publications on shamanic tourism4 and the motivation of Czech participants in ayahuasca rituals organized in Europe.5 They published the first scientific paper on glocalization of ayahuasca and its possible therapeutic application in local conditions.6 Recently, information on the subculture of Czech users of traditional Amazonian medicine was collected.7 However, research on the Brazilian syncretic churches has not been carried out; according to our informants they also operate in the Czech Republic.

Fig. 1: Tipi where ayahuasca rituals are performed (source: Horák, M.)

In addition to a number of popular domestic and foreign books, mass media has raised public awareness on ayahuasca in the Czech Republic. There are a number of websites focused on the topic, such as forums and online groups consisting of drug experimenters, sites of organizers of exotic expeditions to the Amazon, and webpages of spiritual leaders and seekers. In recent years, a Czech Television has also broadcast several remarkable documents describing ayahuasca utilization in various settings, such as Otto Placht – malíř džungle (Otto Placht: Jungle Painter), Síť noci (Network of the Night), and Brána smrti: Z housenky motýlem (Gate of Death: From Caterpillar to Butterfly).

In recent years, the topic of ayahuasca has also been publicly discussed in the Czech Republic due to the disclosure of prevalent use of ayahuasca by the Czech Psychedelic Society and other organizations aiming to raise awareness about its preparation, use, integration, spirituality, and therapeutic potential. Last autumn, the successful Beyond Psychedelics 2016 conference presented a significant number of talks dedicated to the plant medicines. And exactly one year after, another great conference is about to take place in Prague, the International Transpersonal Conference 2017, that will introduce tracks on “Psychedelics – Science, Spirituality and Therapeutic Potential,” and “Shamanism and its Potential for Modern Man,” with Stan Grof, Jacques Mabit, Luis Eduardo Luna, Armando Pazzi, and many other great speakers.

Since ayahuasca is not legal in the Czech Republic, those that use it are mainly connected through informal confidential social networks. As far as its expansion is concerned, ayahuasca rituals are organized in all regions of the Czech Republic, most notably in Prague, the Central Bohemian, and the Pardubice Regions. For anonymity reasons, the names of all organizers that appear in this article are pseudonyms.

Ayahuasca is utilized in so-called autonomous zones: situations and environments in which people gather who experience their situation as unacceptable or unsatisfactory. Therefore, they are defiant in terms of laws, mechanisms, and institutions that maintain discipline and control in society.

Depending on the style of the work, organizers of ayahuasca rituals that take place in the Czech Republic use techniques that are typical in the Amazon. Commonly, smudging, ophthalmic or nasal application of tobacco, cleansing with a rattle, laying on of hands or perfume applications are performed. A specific technique consists of a cleansing with a liquor that is also used to rinse the mouth. At the end of the ritual, personal experiences from the altered states of consciousness are shared, thus facilitating users’ integration of them into everyday life.

Ayahuasca has been used in the Czech Republic since 2001. The first rituals in the Pardubice region were performed by José Alvarez, a Peruvian mestizo healer and painter, who became famous because he cured one of his epileptic clients. José came to the Czech Republic thanks to the invitation of the husband of one ENT doctor, who had previously participated in his rituals in Croatia. She said:

It was in 2001, when the Twins fell down… That’s why I remember the Twins because we were driving… We had José in the car and went to the cottage, right? He just came from Croatia, but we organized… my husband organized a healing of a friend, his classmate, who hasn’t got Parkinson, but multiple sclerosis, sclerosis he has…  We paid him a week in Croatia, but it was canceled, yeah… So, we did it quickly and invited him to our friend’s cottage to do the ritual there. He just cured our son… (from epilepsy). I do not know if he treated him there. He only diagnosed him and then it was held somewhere close to Svitavy… It was already organized … There were about 54 people, it was huge… It was for all those who did not get to… (Croatia).

José still occasionally visits the Czech Republic. Some of the local patients also go to him in his newly established healing center in Iquitos, northeastern Peru. In 2007, it was possible to take part in a ritual led by another Peruvian healer of mestizo origin, Daniel Quispe. He organized the rituals with his girlfriend in the South Bohemian Region. However, he returned to Peru after several years in Spain and did not continue. Formally, the rituals organized by Daniel were very similar to the work of Ecuadorian healer, Luis Zambrano, with whom it was also possible to establish a contact. Both of them performed overnight rituals, followed by sharing of experiences and the interpretation of visions by the healer.

Luis has been performing rituals in the Hradec Králové Region since 2012, and has also organized a couple of work stays in the Ecuadorian Amazon with jungle trips, rituals, and seminars in the indigenous community he came from. He has a former student in the Czech Republic, Jiří Horák, who uses similar techniques, but organizes rituals for a smaller number of participants (five, on average). In the past, they also differed in the work ethic. While the clients of the Ecuadorian healer were charged some amount of money to participate in the ritual, the Czech healer did his work for a donation that the patient decided at his own discretion. Jiří has had a separate practice since 2014.

Clients of Milan Burian were also interviewed. Milan is a Czech citizen, who performs rituals in dance halls in Prague and the Pardubice region; he also organizes expeditions in Peru. In this case, the informants stated that rituals are significantly shorter compared to other organizers, lasting approximately until midnight, after which—probably still under the effects of ayahuasca—the participants return to their homes.

Another organizer working in the Czech Republic is a Dutch neoshaman, Arnold Uhlenbeck, who bases his practice on so-called process-oriented psychology and experience he gained in Santo Daime. Arnold occasionally organizes rituals in the Hradec Králové Region, where he books a private cottage for this purpose.

Another important group among our informants are those participants of rituals guided by Jan Novák, a screenwriter and a former member of the Brazilian syncretic church Porta do Sol (MacRae, 2004). Jan lives in the Moravian-Silesian Region and has been organizing rituals since 2010. Christian elements can be recognized in the style of his work.

Another organizer of Polish origin, Mateusz Kowalski, lives in the Moravian-Silesian Region, became one of our key informants after finding out that, besides offering original workshops, he dedicates himself to giving public lectures. Mateusz left his homeland after problems with the law and the Roman-Catholic Church as a result of organizing ayahuasca rituals; he has performed them in the Czech Republic since 2012.

Finally, in one of the South Bohemian centers of personal development, the rituals of Santiago Hernández are performed, a Mexican organizer currently living in Slovakia who has adopted the Lakota tradition. A sweat lodge usually precedes Santiago’s rituals, which sometimes incorporate both ayahuasca and peyote (Lophophora williamsii).

Fig. 2: Participants sometimes attend a sweat lodge before the ayahuasca ritual (source: Horák, M.)

Ayahuasca is used in the Czech Republic in a (non-clinical) therapeutic or spiritual context. I argue that organizing ayahuasca rituals is perceived as a type of service tailored to the needs of users; as a result, their number may increase. However, the organizers’ goal is not only to satisfy as many clients as possible, but also to maximize their earnings in a modified context.

Participants in rituals in the Czech Republic claim ayahuasca efficacy in healing functional diseases of the gastrointestinal tract, skin problems, depression, parasitic infections, allergies, and asthma. Ayahuasca is popular because it has a promising therapeutic potential in the treatment of addiction and other lifestyle diseases.8 9 In addition, participants of rituals in the Czech Republic say they also use it to detoxify from foreign organisms and to enhance immunity.

The use of ayahuasca has its own risks that cannot be ignored. On the organizers’ side, these risks can be caused by a lack of screening of users, who may also arrive with contraindications to the diet proscriptions (e.g., abstinence from psychoactive substances and sex, prohibition of pork and spicy food consumption). On the user’s side, the risks can be caused by ignorance of the effects of ayahuasca and poor quality of aftercare impacting the integration of the experience. Although scientific studies do not confirm its negative impact on health, caution should be taken into account when administering this preparation to pregnant women, children and adolescents.

Ayahuasca has become a subject of tourist interest in the last decades, and rituals are sometimes performed by people not only with a bad reputation, but also without any preparation. Some of them use the culture of the indigenous ethnic groups of the Amazon inappropriately.10 For this reason, there is a risk is that ayahuasca will be removed from ritual and ceremonial spaces as a result of glocalization, and could come to be viewed as a drug used in psychotherapy only. A plant that is traditionally considered sacred would become a product provided at exclusive private clinics and centers for personal development. Sacred medicine would transform into the subject of commerce, used in the spirit of economic opportunism without consideration of the limitation of resources and will be provided for high fees. In the eyes of users, participating in the ayahuasca ritual would turn into an exotic holiday.

  1. Horák, Miroslav, The House of Song. Rehabilitation Of Drug Addicts by the Traditional Indigenous Medicine of the Amazon (Brno: Mendel University in Brno, 2013). URL: https://goo.gl/KGARXn
  2. Kavenská, Veronika, Tradiční medicína Jižní Ameriky a její využití v psychoterapii (Traditional medicine of South America and its use in psychotherapy), (Olomouc: Palacký University in Olomouc, 2013).
  3. Kavenská, Veronika. “Traditional Indigenous Medicine of the Peruvian Amazon and its Potential for Psychological Treatment and Personal Growth,” in A Reader in Ethnobotany and Phytotherapy, ed. Miroslav Horák (Brno: Mendelova univerzita v Brně, 2014) 48–58. URL: https://goo.gl/bmjKEm
  4. Kavenská, Veronika and Simonová, Hana, “Zkušenost s halucinogenní rostlinou ayahuasca v kontextu šamanského ritual” (Experience with hallucinogenic plant ayahuasca in the context of shamanic ritual),  Anthropologia Integra 1 (2014), 51–63. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.5817/AI2014-1-51
  5. Kavenská, Veronika and Vosáhlová, Šárka. “Zkušenosti s ayahuascou v Evropě – motivace, možné přínosy a rizika” (Experience with ayahuasca in Europe – motivation, potential benefits and risks), E-psychologie 4 (2013): 28–39. URL: https://goo.gl/TavMK8
  6. Horák, Miroslav, Lukášová, Romana, and Šárka Vosáhlová. “Glokalizace ayahuasky v ČR a možnosti jejího terapeutického využití v místních podmínkách” (Glocalization of ayahuasca in the Czech Republic and its possible therapeutic applications in local conditions), Anthropologia integra 2 (2015): 7–13. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.5817/AI2015-2-7
  7. Horák, Miroslav and Vosáhlová, Šárka. “Tradiční amazonská medicína v české subculture” (Traditional medicine of the Amazon in Czech subculture), Anthropologia Integra 2 (2016): 47–55. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.5817/AI2016-2-47
  8. Frecska, Ede, Bokor, Petra, and Winkelman, Michael, “The Therapeutic Potentials of Ayahuasca: Possible Effects Against Various Diseases of Civilization,” Frontiers in Pharmacology 35 (2016): 1–17. doi: 10.3389/fphar.2016.00035
  9. Tafur, Joe. The Fellowship of the River: A Medical Doctor’s Exploration into Traditional Amazonian Plant Medicine (Phoenix: Espiritu Books, 2017).
  10. Tafur, Joe. The Fellowship of the River: A Medical Doctor’s Exploration into Traditional Amazonian Plant Medicine (Phoenix: Espiritu Books, 2017).

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