Shamanism and the Wisdom of Mental Illness

This talk is an in-depth exploration of the links between shamanism and mental illness. It looks at the traditional role of the ‘shamanic sickness’, whereby the prospective shaman underwent many years of mental distress as part of their initiation, and looks at what this can teach us about mental health. It argues that, in some cases such sickness could actually be a calling to a path of service and healing. Recasting psychological breakdown as a potentially transformational experience, what we label as pathological could actually be an initiation into a better relationship with ourselves and the world.

We will also explore the social and ecological aspects of mental health and how shamanism can help bring us back into balance with nature, providing individual healing alongside planetary change. This includes the very latest research on psychedelic medicines and the potential they are showing in treating and enhancing mental health and looks at the evidence of how unusual states of consciousness have helped us evolve as humans, and the shamanic origins of many of these states.


Jez Hughes has been on the shamanic path for over twenty years and is the founder of the training centre Second Sight Healing. He works closely with the indigenous Wixarika (Huichol) nation of north central Mexico, as a cultural liaison for their work in the U.K. and also through a ten-year commitment to apprentice with the sacred sites and teachers of their land. His own initiation involved a fifteen-year journey through various mental illnesses before finding a cure in shamanism, hence his passion for this subject. His work has featured all across the national press and on ITV television and BBC radio. He is the author of The Wisdom of Mental Illness- Shamanism, Mental Health & the Renewal of World and The Heart of Life- Shamanic Initiation & Healing in the Modern World.

don’t worry if you miss it – we will send you a recording valid for two weeks the next day

Curated by Maya Bracknell Watson and Dr David Luke

Maya Bracknell Watson is an interdisciplinary artist, poet, performer, retired cult leader and psychedelic and parapsychology researcher. Having just graduated from Chelsea College of Arts, her work over the last six years has been informed by her concurrent shamanic training, work with the Wixárika (Huichol) tribe from Mexico, and role as a research assistant under Dr David Luke of Greenwich university in the study of the psychedelic compound N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) and other worlds. Walking between the worlds of the arts, science and the occult, she combines media and investigative techniques from each to inform and articulate one another in the exploration of ontology, consciousness and altered states, mytholopeia and mythology, ecology, the human condition and its relation to the environment, otherness and mortality. She describes her practise and research as contemporary Memento Mori (‘remember you will die’), and explores what that means in a time of mass ecocide and species extinction.

Follow her on the crooked path on Instagram @maya_themessiah


Dr David Luke is Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Greenwich, UK, where he has been teaching an undergraduate course on the Psychology of Exceptional Human Experience since 2009, and he is also Honorary Senior Lecturer at the Centre for Psychedelic Research, Imperial College London, and Lecturer on the MSc Consciousness, Spirituality and Transpersonal Psychology for Alef Trust and Liverpool John Moores University. His research focuses on transpersonal experiences, anomalous phenomena and altered states of consciousness, especially via psychedelics, having published more than 100 academic papers in this area, including ten books, most recently Otherworlds: Psychedelics and Exceptional Human Experience (2nd ed., 2019). When he is not running clinical drug trials with LSD, conducting DMT field experiments or observing apparent weather control with Mexican shamans he directs the Ecology, Cosmos and Consciousness salon at the Institute of Ecotechnics, London, and is a cofounder and director of Breaking Convention: International Conference on Psychedelic Consciousness. He has given over 300 invited public lectures and conference presentations; won teaching, research and writing awards; organised numerous festivals, conferences, symposia, seminars, retreats, expeditions, pagan cabarets and pilgrimages; and has studied techniques of consciousness alteration from South America to India, from the perspective of scientists, shamans and Shivaites. He lives life on the edge, of Sussex.

David Luke