Yanantin and Masintin in the Andean World by Hillary S. Webb
Originally published in 2012 ‘Yanantin and Masintin in the Andean World: Complementary Dualism in Modern Peru’ by Hillary S. Webb is the result of the author’s work as a psychological anthropologist in Peru. It is both a personal and scholarly work that investigates a number of philosophical ideas within this shamanistic culture, which Webb further investigates by taking part in some San Pedro ceremonies. Webb is the managing editor of ‘Anthropology of Consciousness’ and has previously written ‘Exploring Consciousness: Using Ancient Rites to Discover the Unlimited Healing Powers of Cosmos and Consciousness’ and ‘Travelling Between Worlds: Conversations with Contemporary Shamans.’
Webb’s autoethnography Yanantin and Masintin in the Andean World unfolds along two very complimentary trajectories; her personal experiences with the San Pedro cactus and her investigations into the meanings of the terms yanantin and masintin. In many respects, Webb’s narrative approach mirrors the meaning of the word yanantin, so far as it is described as a “complementary dualism.” Webb’s eloquent delivery of the two trajectories is, in this sense, the masintin, the action of yanantin; exemplified here by a succinct, unified narrative.
Webb chose Peru to do her investigation because it had a rich literary history in which to contextualize her research and was already familiar with the area from previous trips. There is an increasing number of travellers to that area of the world and Webb notes that this has had an effect in the language used by the participants in her study. For instance, she writes that the New Age delved into indigenous culture worldwide for its great milieu of terminology and theory. Then these ideas were disseminated back through travelling, in a reimagined form, leading to the use of terms like chakra and karma in their descriptions of indigenous terms like yanantin. Cross-cultural penetration permeates this autoethnography. Indeed, at heart, there lies a psychospiritual narrative that itself was formed from similar cross-cultural forces.
“As I will attempt to show throughout this book, making this shift from being an “objective” social scientist to finally achieving a trust in my own first-person experience only occurred after undergoing several radical shifts in consciousness that convinced me that I could acquire knowledge in this way” (Webb 2012, 7).
The psychospiritual narrative, where psychedelics are concerned anyway, came to fruition in the 1950s and 1960s under the auspices of authors like Alan Watts and Aldous Huxley. A number of key markers were developed that characterized them. For instance, the texts usually involved a rejection of antagonistic Western dualism and a process philosophy based on unification and well-being; characterised by a spiritual therapy for the psyche. “Not being able to prove how this [mind-body interaction] occurs, in the Western world, mind and body coexist, but begrudgingly and in separate domains” (Webb 2012, 45). Webb, instead, experiences yanantin with San Pedro, which applied here is the complement of mind and body. Thus, she gets over the falsity of disunity imparted to her by an impoverished Western social; this is both the spiritual realisation and the therapy of a psychospiritual narrative
The San Pedro experience is framed as imparting the experiential and intellectual knowledge of Yanantin to Webb. “It was not until, once again, through going into ceremony with San Pedro that I was able to wrench myself out of my own limited construct and receive an answer that was much more subtle and more complex” (Webb 2012, 121). San Pedro allows for an understanding of Yanantin to lay in the lived experience. This space, the antipodes, lies at the heart of psychedelic literature, and Webb’s following use of a psycho-cartography certainly invokes Huxley’s Heaven and Hell (1956). “In ritual, theoretically at least, one is able to access multiple spaces and multiple times. Divisions of past, present, and future; locality; and causality cease to exist and therefore cease to create the blockages that Amado spoke of. In this way, healing takes place” (Webb 2012, 60). And according to don Ignacio, San Pedro allowed for the “expression of that liberation in any moment” (ibid).
In the elucidation of yanantin, Quantum theory takes its obligatory place in a small passage on Schrödinger’s cat. The story is used to show how a duality lies unified and equal within a potential. The realisation comes in a San Pedro-induced state. “It became clear how much time and energy is wasted trying to determine what was true or untrue; whether we people are wonderful or terrible; splendid or savage; or, on a more personal level, whether I myself was lovable or entirely unlovable. These roles that we create for ourselves, the divine and the demonic . . . at what point do we stop existing as a mixture of both and become one thing or the other?” (Webb 2012, 86). The answer, of course, is for the two to exist as a unified, complementary opposite. Perhaps an interesting question is to what extent this is a traditional Andean, reimagined New Age, and/or psychospiritual reading?
At times, when reading this book, one is reminded of Carlos Castaneda’s earliest books, by the manner in which information is parted from various shamans and locals to Webb, and then demonstrated through the use of a psychoactive plant. Although Webb has essentially taken a traditional psychospiritual narrative, with all its intellectualisation and mind-mapping, she delivers engagingly on both levels. In terms of highlighting the psychospiritual approach through the lens of a, seemingly syncretic, Andean philosophy, she is very successful and the book articulates some of psychospirituality’s finer points beautifully.