UPDATE: Reality Sandwich temporarily took down this article to more fully investigate the context around Sauder’s claims, after readers questioned the validity of the claims and expressed concern about Sauder’s appeal for financial aid. We have followed up on the legal contacts listed below and can categorically confirm there is a case happening, and a person calling out to the shamanic community for assistance. We don’t feel it is up to us to decide on the case’s merits (frankly, that is the role of the court). But without stepping into legal issues, this is exactly the meaty subject the shamanic community needs to start addressing. We have removed the financial channels originally listed, but Sauder’s email is below for contact if you want more information about how to aid his case. Sauder will also answer any reader questions in the comments section at the end of the article. In the future, Reality Sandwich will endeavor to publish more articles addressing the duty of care in the shamanic community, and will discuss these issues as they come to light as a community. – Rak Razam for Reality Sandwich
Richard Sauder is an American living in Ecuador who has experienced the dark side of shamanism. He is currently in a legal battle to expose the shaman who almost killed him, and is asking for support from the shamanic community with his legal fees. He says: “I need to raise several thousand dollars to pay my attorneys. My case is important, maybe even precedent setting, in that there is so much fear and silence surrounding these topics, and so few people have tackled the problem head on like I have. It has come at tremendous cost to me. It almost cost me my life. And yet I believe I can turn the experience to a good end, and benefit many others by lancing a very ugly wound that is festering in the heart of Amazonian shamanism and also in my heart.” His contact details and ways you can financially support him are listed at the end of this article.
In November of 2010, I traveled to Ecuador on a long-anticipated vision quest. Never did I imagine that I would remain and that the vision quest would prove to be ongoing and open-ended. Neither could I have envisioned the precise series of circumstances that resulted in my living all of 2012 with a shaman in Ecuador’s Upper Amazon region. I had spent more than a year living on the Pacific coast and was casting about for a different region of the country to live in and explore. I went online and began looking for volunteer opportunities.
It was that I found the finca where he lived on a website that offered volunteer packages in various regions of Ecuador. The website profiled the shaman and the finca as a place to live, work and learn about the Amazon and indigenous culture. It mentioned organic farming, a tranquil, rural location and said that the shaman was respected in the local community. So I paid the volunteer-tour company and traveled to live at the finca for an initial period of just a few weeks. After I was there about a month I asked the shaman if I could stay longer. I relished the opportunity to learn more about the Amazon region, shamanism and the spirits of the jungle. He agreed and so I paid him to live there and help out on the finca for the next year.
As the year progressed I learned a lot from the plants. I went deep into both the malicagua (angel’s trumpet) world and the ayahuasca realm. I learned and observed certain things that I have not read or observed elsewhere. The spirits took me deep enough to understand that I have barely scratched the surface of the plants and of All That Is. There were certain key visions that the plants showed to me again and again, that they really wanted me to grok. The shaman noticed this and in the second half of the year, he asked me more than once if I wanted to become a shaman. We spent hours discussing the plants, the spirits, the forest, the peculiarities of certain visions, and much more.
I helped with ceremonies. I cut mounds of firewood for the fire in the little hut where the ayahuasca ceremonies were held. I planted scores of trees. I helped care for the horse, the dogs and the chickens. I built a stone staircase down the hill to the creek. I carried water from the creek for the kitchen and the toilet.
Not long after my arrival I noticed that he would come and go at unpredictable intervals, at any hour of the day or night, frequently without mentioning anything to me, though there were occasions when he would ask me to watch the place in his absence. I asked him about his unconventional behavior and he replied that a shaman should not have predictable routines, that it was important that others not be able to predict his comings an goings. I accepted his explanation without question. It was an answer reminiscent of Don Juan’s laconic utterances, in Carlos Castañeda’s books.
Other aspects of his behavior were even more mysterious to me. After I had been there a few months, I asked him about some of his peculiar idiosyncrasies, including some things that the plants revealed to me, and he explained them by saying that they had to do with esoteric secretos, certain secret aspects of shamanism that he might tell me about later.
When I first drank malicagua I had no idea what to expect (and I still do not). Indeed, there are some very obscure, but highly interesting aspects of that plant and the particular spirits with which it interacts. As I say, I drank it for the first time just after sunrise and was sitting there in a stand of saplings wondering what would happen, when I suddenly noticed two men standing right beside me! I whirled to my right to see two Amazonian warriors standing literally at arm’s length from me. They were naked, with bird feathers in their hair. Their entire bodies were painted with black and white pigment that caused them to blend in extremely well with the mottled background of the vegetation and the dappled sunlight. It was extraordinarily effective camouflage. They were looking at me very soberly. They had cerbatanas (blow guns), traditional Amazonian lances — the kind with the wickedly serrated heads that slide in easy and when they come out, they bring your guts with them — and bows and arrows. They were dressed to kill.
I had no idea what to do, so I said, “Buenos dias, caballeros.” (Good morning, gentlemen.” They said nothing and continued to gaze at me.
I suppose Carlos Castañeda might say that these are allies. I do not know. Clearly they can be either your best friends or your worst enemies. They are guardians of the forest. They are as real as real can be, and very serious. They were my welcoming committee.
I do believe they work for Pachamama, because as I was solemnly staring at them, and vice versa, my attention was suddenly drawn to the presence of another being, even more compelling. I turned my head to see a very tall, Green Mantis Lady looking at me. She beckoned to me to approach her, which I did. I stood up and went over to her. She motioned to me to come closer. So I walked over and stood right in front of her, face to face. She was regal and majestic and possessed of extremely compelling authority. She exuded an enticing feminine grace with an aura of tremendous power. She is not someone you refuse.
Neither is she one with whom you would want to trifle. You just would not want to tangle with her. You sense this with every fiber of your being when you are in her presence.
We looked each other right in the eye. She had long feelers that she began to touch me with, delicately, all over my body. She had a very light, exquisitely feminine touch. She was very femme, all female. Then she began to rhythmically bob her head from side to side and up and down, in the peculiar, gracious, courteous manner that many malicagua spirits do. It is a salutation that is particular to the spirits of the magical malicagua realm — and once you learn it you begin to notice it as you pass through the forest. The beings of the forest naturally live in that state of consciousness and once you become initiated into their realm they will sometimes courteously salute you when you encounter them in their natural habitat. The Green Mantis Lady looked me right in the eye, bobbed her head at me, and took me deeper and deeper into her magical green kingdom until I moved into a deep state that is beyond words and I have nothing more to say about it for that reason. I can say nothing more.
And then in my last days with the shaman he almost killed me. He gave me a malicagua potion to drink that incapacitated me. At least he presented it to me as being malicagua. I was physically abused. He injected me with something with a hypodermic needle. I have no idea what was in the injection, but the effects I suffered were devastating. He and his family put me under the house for a period of hours. I was face down in the dirt, immobilized and incapacitated while they walked around me and talked about me. The shaman kept telling me, again and again, “The jungle is rough, Richard. The jungle is hard. You have to be strong. You have to stand up. You have to walk.”
I nearly died. I did not urinate for two days. I didn’t defecate for four days. I was hospitalized for more than four months, and am still recuperating from the physical trauma, more than 15 months later.
From a physical standpoint, my body was covered with BUBBLES. My skin had bubbles on it. I have never seen anything like it before. My skin also had red welts on it. I had internal lesions. I lost most of the feeling in my calves and my feet. I could not stand up or walk without falling over. I had lost control of my lower extremities. Most of my body was wracked with pain. I could not roll over from the pain and swelling. My posterior was extremely swollen and painful. I had to awkwardly scoot myself to the edge of the bed to defecate in a five gallon bucket. It was like a scene from a horror movie.
That is the physical side of it. On the spiritual side I am certain that there was witchcraft or sorcery involved. In the days after the assault the shaman came to my little hut where I was suffering before I made it to the hospital, and he plainly told me, for the first and only time, that his shamanism is against God, that he does not serve God.
At times the pain was more than I could bear. When I groaned the shaman came to my hut to tell me to be quiet, that my groans were frightening the other tourists. When I asked him what had caused the bubbles, welts, contusions and swelling on my body, he told me that insects had bitten me. I was in profound shock in the first days after the assault. I did not know what to think or believe about what had befallen me. It took a few days to collect my wits and engineer my escape.
This is the dark side of shamanism. It exists and the shamanic community needs to be aware of this and talk about it openly and frankly, and deal with it. We need to put an end to the pretense that all indigenous shamans are full of light and love and peace and harmony and just want to heal people.
That is simply not true. I found out the hard way, at the hands of a man I spent a year with, and whose family I knew personally.
He is not the only shaman like that. There are certainly others like him in Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and Brazil. I have read of and heard of other cases of abuse by shaman, and assault by shaman, and robbery by shaman. One young man e-mailed me to tell me of his girl friend who was assaulted by a shaman near Iquitos, Peru. She elected to leave the country.
So it happens. And almost always the victims slink quietly away without bringing charges, without making waves, without confronting the shaman. Thus it is that the problem persists and festers.
The shamans know this. Bringing a criminal case in Latin America is difficult for an outsider, messy, time consuming and financially expensive. Most people are on a tourist visa, they are traveling, passing through on a limited budget, they do not know the local language(s) well, they are unfamiliar with the justice system, and they don’t want to be doubly victimized by greedy attorneys of uncertain loyalties, and so the victims scurry away without making a scene.
This is the fact of the matter. And we are not talking about a mere two or three cases. What makes my case different is that my first hours in the hospital I firmly resolved to file a criminal complaint against the shaman, come what may. I have certain red lines: one of them is that if someone almost kills me, that I will take measures to defend my personal interests, among which is my physical integrity.
After more than a year of difficult legal maneuvering, the shaman was finally criminally indicted a few weeks ago. The trial process will begin at the end of this month. It has been a long, grueling, arduous process for me. It has required every ounce of emotion and physical stamina that I have. The medical and legal fees that I have incurred have completely exhausted the small savings that I had, and then some, by many thousands of dollars.
By default, while in the hospital I retained the services of a well-known, Quito law firm. They were my only option. I couldn’t walk unassisted. .I could not leave the hospital. I was in pain. I knew no one in Quito, where I had been transferred by ambulance. They happened to come right to the door of my hospital room on another case completely. I had been silently praying in those very days for help in finding legal counsel, so I considered that the Universe sent them unbidden right to me.
Now that the case is maturing legally I urgently need to pay them several thousand dollars – right now – for their ongoing services. The case is important, in that I am not the only victim of abusive shamans. There definitely are other victims — we just do not know how many. It is one of the great, dark secrets of Amazonian shamanism. Yes, there are many dedicated, skilled, caring shamans and curanderos. But the others, the dark ones, are definitely there, too. It’s just that it is not always easy to tell who is who.
Anyway, I am one of the few who have fought back. Usually people just scurry away in fear and shame, because the Latin American justice process is slow, convoluted, not very responsive, hard to deal with and understand, attorneys are expensive, the outcome of the legal process is highly uncertain — and then with shamanism and brujos there is the added factor of the spirit world and spirit allies, both good and bad. So people run away.
But I have not. The last 15 months have been a horrific ordeal. I have been utterly impoverished by medical and legal expenses, pushed to my limits physically and emotionally, and still I am here.
At times I have felt like the Green Mantis Lady has put me in a position to help root out the great evil that has infected the Amazonian culture — the alcoholism and borrachismo, the abusive shamans and brujos, the illegal logging and hunting, etc.
I am one man and cannot do it all by myself. But I can do some of it, along with help from others. And bringing a self-identified, corrupt shaman to justice and removing him from civil society is one less corrupt shaman to prey on others. It will also set a public example.
This is a basic truth the plants have showed me the extremely hard way: the degraded Amazonian culture and the degraded shamanic tradition. There is a dark side to it, a real dark side, and pretending it is not there, does no one any good.
Not every shaman is a brujo or an evil sorcerer — but some definitely are. And the ones who are, don’t put up a big sign out front saying so, or openly confess it. In my case, I was never harmed by the shaman, right up until the very end, when he almost killed me. By the same token, I never saw him do to anyone else what happened to me, on the contrary.
The shaman is facing jail time for what he did to me. Needless to say, this was not at all what I envisioned when I came to South America and it is not a task that I relish. It is not something I enjoy doing.
There are other activities that I had planned that did not involve extreme pain, near death, months of hospitalization, physical incapacitation, more than a year of physical therapy, being reduced to nothing and financially ruined, paying thousands of dollars to attorneys, etc.
So why me? Maybe because I will, when so many others turn their backs, pretend that everything is O.K., just spit out a pseudo-spiritual pitter-patter to draw people into shamanic tourism and make a living off of it / them.
It is now clear to me that shamanism spans a very big spectrum of ethics, wisdom, spirituality and personal knowledge, responsibility and understanding. It is far from a “one size fits all” undertaking.
Just before the taxi truck came to take me to town and the hospital, the shaman came to my hut and told me that if any doctor(s) asked what had happened to me that I was to deny that he was a shaman, or that he had given me malicagua to drink. He further told me to tell anyone who asked about my extensive injuries that I had fallen down while walking in the woods.
In that instant I realized beyond all doubt that he was a real bad man, and that I had to defend myself from him, and probably others as well, by filing a criminal complaint. I was reeling, in total shock. That was the first days of 2013. The assault was 29 December 2012. Having been wiped out by the expense of my ordeal, I am turning to the shamanic community for support.
I urgently need to raise several thousand dollars to pay my attorneys. My case is important, even precedent setting, in that there is so much fear and silence surrounding these topics, and so few people have tackled the problem head on like I have.
It has come at tremendous cost to me. It almost cost me my life. And yet I believe I can turn the experience to a good end, and benefit many others by lancing a very ugly wound that is festering in the heart of Amazonian shamanism and also in my heart.
I have born the brunt of this thing and lived to tell the tale. There is a sort of wounded warrior or wounded healer motif or archetype in play here. It wasn’t what I anticipated or planned, but it is what it is.
Anyway, that is my situation. I need your help. In a very real sense my struggle is for the benefit of the broader shamanic community. How can we pretend that everything is O.K., when it is not? At what cost to shamanism?
And it would help break open a situation that needs to be dealt with. My attorneys are talking about possibly doing a couple of interviews on Ecuadorian television when my case is legally more “ripe.” There is a sensational aspect of this and it has to be dealt with, instead of suffering in silence. But so far I have not done media interviews, and may not, I don’t know, though some of the national news media in Ecuador have caught wind of my case and have asked for interviews. But I have had no contact with them so far. My attorneys have kept me and the details of the case pretty much under wraps for more than a year now.
Carlos Castañeda danced around the edges of the problem of brujos in his work. Remember that he was Peruvian, from Cajamarca, so he certainly would have personally known about, or at least have heard stories about, some of the sorts of things I have dealt with personally and am seeking to rectify, at least partially, through the Ecuadorian justice system.
Of course, there is a very great deal more to say about all of this. It’s not a simple case, but the priority for me right now is justice in the criminal proceeding against the shaman.
I believe this man needs to be brought to heel and I am doing my best, against long odds, and with very meager resources, to bring him to a modicum of justice. You start where you can and go from there.
And it is important to start. I urgently need to raise several thousand dollars – right now – to pay my attorneys and continue the case.
I do not have a bank account or PayPal account, so if anyone with a PayPal account is willing to assist me with accepting donations I would be most grateful. Presently I accept Bitcoin donations at address: 1Dht92qEzCmvuLRKQD2MSJ1JdQ7rFRMVdA
I can also accept Western Union transfers. Western Union has many windows in drugstores and grocery stores in the USA. Western Union also has a website: www.westernunion.com that accepts online payments.The transfer should be sent to:
James Richard Sauder (please use all three names) in Ecuador. And then the sender must e-mail me: 1) the first and last name of the person making the transfer, 2) the 10-digit MTCN money transfer code and 3) the USA dollar amount of the transfer. I must provide these three pieces of information to the Western Union clerk to receive the money. My e-mail is: [email protected]
I am grateful for you help. I do urgently need it.
Never in my wildest dreams could I ever have imagined such a horrible ordeal. And yet it happened. The months of hospitalization, the painful ordeal of learning to stand up and walk again, the weeks of sleepless nights from off-the-charts pain, the impoverishment from the medical and legal expenses, the tortuous legal process. Now my objective is to turn this intensely negative episode to some good, and bring a positive result out of it that benefits other people and helps shine a light on the problem of shamanic abuse.
Of course, the trial of the shaman is not the end of this affair, far from it. I have no illusions about that, but sometimes you have to do what you have to do. The reality is that, as of today, the Amazon is dying.
How do we save it? You do what you can, and you fight the battles that thrust themselves upon you. Corrupt Amazon shamans are part of the problem of the multifaceted death of the Amazon. The human ecology of the Amazon is inseparable from the ecology of the forest itself.
A deeply spiritual, Nature-centric shamanism is indispensable in the salvation of the Amazon. Only by joining forces with the living spirit of Nature can we hope to rescue the Amazon. A healthy, vibrant, sacred shamanism is essential to that effort. If Amazonian shamanism is not healthy, neither Amazonian society nor the forest itself can heal.
The forest needs human allies of good will, human advocates who will stand up and be counted even in the face of great adversity and life-threatening personal challenge. In that sense, the struggle is bigger than me, but I am nonetheless here, I am on the scene, and I do need your help.
Thank you for supporting me at this crucial time.
– Richard Sauder
The case against the shaman goes to a court hearing on 28 April 2014 in Pastaza provincial court in Puyo, Ecuador. I do not know if the trial immediately follows the reading of the charge. The charge has no exact equal in the American system but translates approximately as “injuries resulting in or causing sickness or incapacitation.”
The shaman’s name is given in the legal filings my attorneys have made in this order, but cannot be disclosed for legal reasons. The legal assistant on this case is Jose Gabriel. My main attorney at trial remains to be decided. The firm has multiple attorneys. The firm is Estudio Juridico Lopez Salazar Cuesta or Lopez Cuesta – Lopez Salazar.or Ejuri Lopez Asoc. The order of the names can vary. It is all the same firm.