Wednesday, May 21, 2008

GERALDINE FIJNEMAN:
Santo Daime Activist Extraordinaire



geraldine

On this day, seven years ago (21 May 2001) in Holland, Geraldine was acquitted of all charges stemming from her arrest for possessing and distributing the sacramental tea of Santo Daime. Her story has been an inspiration to us all. Viva Geraldine!


Lígia Kosin
Correio Braziliense Staff
World, May 23, 2001

Geraldine Fijneman, a tranquil, 56 year-old Dutch woman with a Zen face and a gentle gaze, accomplished what seemed unthinkable a few years ago. After making a mockery of a medical diagnosis that gave her just a few months to live, this grandmother of five beat the Dutch Justice department and won the right to practice, legally, the rituals of the Santo Daime religion in Dutch territory.

Leader of the Amsterdam center, Geraldine was arrested in October 1999 as she distributed the Santo Daime tea to her followers during one of the religion's rituals. The drink, a mixture of two tropical plants, also known as ayahuasca, contains the psychoactive substance DMT (dimethyltryptamine), which is prohibited in Holland. She spent two days in prison and had the 17.5 liters of the drink in her possession confiscated. She was freed after analyses demonstrated that the liquid contained just 3 grams of DMT, a quantity not considered harmful. Guided by the lawyer Adele van der Plas, she preferred to be tried. "It was a way of forcing a judicial decision about the matter that, if it were favorable, would permit the holding of Santo Daime rituals in the country," Adele explained. It worked.

After a trial lasting a year and a half, Amsterdam's Supreme Court ruled that the use of ayahuasca within the rituals of the Church of the Eclectic Center of Universal Flowing Light, the official name of the religious movement, is not a crime.

Geraldine and the lawyer, Adele, celebrated in Brazil, where they arrived some days ago. "At last I can take Santo Daime again and help other people who need support in their lives," she told the Correio yesterday, before embarking for the sect's headquarters - Ceu do Mapia - in the municipality of Pauní, in Amazonas state, for a long stay of three months. "I want to heal myself again."

There is reason for Geraldine's anxiety. She attributes to the religion and the ingestion of ayahuasca the fact that she's been alive for the last nine years. In 1992, Geraldine was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Surgery was not feasible owing to the tumor's location. Doctors gave her few months to live. Desperate, she sought alternatives. She heard of a group that utilized Amazonian plants in Pisa, Italy, and went there. "When I took the tea, I knew that it could help me a lot." Two months later she was in Amazonia, where she stayed 60 days. "Santo Daime completely changed my life. It helped me to get to know my dark side and my enlightened side." When she returned to Holland, the doctors didn't know what to say.

"The tumor had entered remission," she says.

THE TRIAL

While the trial lasted, however, Geraldine was forbidden to use ayahuasca in Holland and the rituals of the cult were done without the drink. She limited herself to taking it during sporadic trips to Brazil. "My health suffered a relapse and the tumor began to grow again," she says, attributing the fact to the tension she lived through during the last months of the trial.

During this time, the lawyer, Adele, claimed that the utilization of the drink was fundamental to the functioning of the religion and that its prohibition, therefore, violated the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Liberties. According to the treaty, freedom of religion cannot be limited except by reason of public safety, protection of public order, health and morality, or the rights and freedoms of others. "The prosecutor had to prove that the use of ayahuasca in the church's rituals was harmful to society, and he could not," Adele explains.

In its decision, the Dutch court states that, owing to the small number of members of the religion in the country-about 100 people-and to the rigid control that the leaders exercise over the use of the drink in the rituals, the consumption of ayahuasca does not present significant risk to public health, and that the freedom of religion intended in the Convention on Human Rights, in this case, supersedes the anti-drug laws that prohibit the consumption of DMT. The decision may serve as a precedent for similar cases in other European countries that are signatories of the same convention. Currently, the Santo Daime religion has representatives in almost all European nations, including Italy, Spain, Great Britain, Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, and Belgium, but it faces resistance in the majority of them.

Happy with the decision, Geraldine doesn't hesitate to reject any notion that the decision may bring publicity to the sect in Holland. "We don't go after people, they find us, of free and spontaneous volition," she says.

What she and her lawyer are thinking of doing is asking for reparations for the days spent in prison and the confiscation of the drink. That is, if there is no appeal of the decision. "The prosecutor of the case told us he has no intention of appealing, but the Dutch government may have some say in the matter," the lawyer explains.

ARTISTS TURNED FANS - The Santo Daime religion has for decades been a part of Amazonian culture, but it was the hippies from São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro who took it upon themselves, in the late 70s, to take the Daime rituals to the rest of Brazil. In the 1980s, various celebrities such as Ney Matogrosso, Lucélia Santos and Maitê Proença, among other artists, tried the drink and became defenders of Santo Daime culture, helping to publicize the religious group. Some remain members to this day, like the cartoonist Glauco, leader of one of the Santo Daime communities in São Paulo, where he uses the rituals to help drug addicts to kick the habit.

DRINK SAID TO OPEN THE MIND - Santo Daime is an eclectic religion resulting from the syncretism of several cultural, folkloric and religious elements, including Catholicism, and originated in the early 20th century in Amazonia, when the grandchild of slaves, Raimundo Irineu Serra, had a "vision" upon consuming a drink used by the indigenes, ayahuasca.

The drink is a concoction of two tropical plants, the vine Jagube and the leaf Rainha, and has properties that are hallucinogenic or, as the members call it, "entheogenic" (manifesting God within each one). According to the followers, the drink is utilized during the rituals to produce an expansion of consciousness and to permit self-knowledge. Among the physical effects of the drink are nausea, intestinal discomfort and vomiting. Some feel absolutely nothing.

In 1974, a follower of Mestre Irineu, Padrinho Sebastião, registered the religious movement with the name Raimundo Irineu Serra Eclectic Center of the Universal Flowing Light [Centro Eclético da Fluente Luz Universal Raimundo Irineu Serra] (CEFLURIS) and developed the idea of communities around the churches. After years of suspicion owing to the psychoactive properties of ayahuasca, and several commissions that evaluated the effects of the drink and the religion's rituals, the Federal Council on Narcotics [Conselho Federal de Entorpecentes] (CONFEN) authorized the utilization of the tea in the Santo Daime rituals in 1991.

There is an excellent updated history of the Santo Daime's long march toward worldwide legitimacy here.




2 comments:

Anonymous said...

geraldine is not only the leader of the dutch church, she guides all of europe. In person, she is very unpretentious and caring. if only the churches in america were as united and progressive as the european churches have been.

Anonymous said...

Geraldine actually nearly screwed up the entire legalisation process here in 2001. It was Hans Bogers of the Hague congregation (Ceu dos Ventos) who found Adele van der Plas and persisted that the case ought to be brought to trial. Geraldine ignored Hans' warnings that the churches had to be prepared and was incredulous when the churches were actually raided by riot police. Hans is severely handicapped with Parkinsons Disease and it would be a fitting tribute that the above article were corrected to reflect the facts. He may be out of the picture now, but it is thanks to him that the case was won. Even Adele was sceptical that the case would be decided in our favour.

Daniel Waterman