Neo-Shaman and ayahuasca ceremony leader Édgar Orlando Gaitán Camacho has been charged on suspicion of assaulting eight women while serving as their spiritual guide, Colombian prosecutors announced on Thursday. Suspecting multiple assaults over a period of decades, authorities calculate that Camacho drugged and raped as many as 50 women while serving as an ayahuasca priest. Ayahuasca, also known as yagé, is a hallucinogenic tea traditionally used by indigenous peoples of the Amazon. Authorities allege that Camacho, also known as "El Taita," added sedatives to the ayahuasca he administered, allowing him to prey on women who attended his ceremonies.

Participants in ayahuasca ceremonies report significant improvements in mental well’being, along with life-changing epiphanies as a result of taking the drug. Western anthropologists and biomedical researchers working in Amazonian communities have long supported these claims. A recent small-scale study in Brazil suggested that ayahuasca could be an effective treatment for depression. Larger-scale clinical studies are expected in the future. Regardless of the drug’s potential benefits, ayahuasca imbibing requires leaders to guide participant’s “trips.”

According to regional Colombian prosecutor María Soledad Franco, Camacho took advantage of his position as a spiritual leader to assault dozens of women seeking physical and emotionally healing, including at least one minor.

“He offered many women spiritual and physical cleansing,” Franco told local media. “He made appointments for them at his farm. Once there, he’d have them take yagé, incapacitating them. Afterwards, he sexually abused them,” she added.



Authorities say that it wasn’t just the Ayahuasca that left the women inert. Camacho allegedly added pharmaceutical sedatives to the traditional hallucinogenic ayahuasca drink. He also benefited from a strong tradition in the natural healing community, which had supported him for decades. According to El Universal, Camacho was part of a group awarded the 1990 Right Livelihood Award, commonly known as the “alternative” Nobel Prize. Far from a fly-by-night fraudster, the healer had worked with Colombia’s Minister of Social Protection. Police allege that his legitimacy helped him prey on trusting victims.

“The suspect had a constructed an organization and foundations so that people looked to him as ‘all-powerful’ and fell into his traps," Foster said, adding that "The cultural phenomenon of 'neoshamanism' is expanding, driven by some people who, supposedly, offer spiritual cleansings."

Camacho is initially sexually assaulting abusing 8 women, including one who was 17. Foster calculates that he had abused dozens more, alleging that he “drugged and raped [as many as] 50 women.