Google “shaman”, hit “Images”, and you’ll realise how—like firefighters and doctors—the mystic world of shamanism is also afflicted by the frustrating malaise of gender stereotyping. Most images that pop up show men in varied magnificent shamanic regalia, at times holding a drum. There are only a few women in there, a bias not helped by male-centric pop culture representations of these intermediaries between this world and the spirit world either. One woman, though, is not just trying to overturn this by putting together a community of female shamans, but also subverting the stereotype of women as natural nurturers, and instead using it in her favour.
Florencia Bollini, known as the “corporate shaman”, is a globally trained medicine woman. She’s also the founder and CEO of Nana Heals, a psychedelic advocacy organisation billed as the “world’s first integrative solution for mental health care and wellness”. Her “Nanas”, named after an African word that translates to “the wise healer”, are tasked with being spiritual guides for those seeking an outlet for their mental health. To qualify as a nana, the person must have a background in being a medicine woman, which is fused with a psychological and medical understanding through a collaborative training process. While their operation is largely digital, they also host ceremonies in cities like Los Angeles and Miami, with a vision to expand their operations globally in the coming years.
“While I was doing this underground [as a medicine woman] for several years, I decided to move my operation over-ground in 2018, using ketamine,” Bollini told VICE over a video interview. Controlled doses of ketamine are FDA-approved and legal for medical use in countries like the U.S. with a doctor’s prescription.
While her current method involves administering prescription doses of ketamine, Bollini has worked extensively with plant medicines like ayahuasca, ibogaine, mescaline as well as LSD. She also credits herself with introducing her community to the progressive dose of the God molecule —the powerful psychedelic form of 5MeO-DMT—by which users are gradually given plant medicines so as to avoid shocking their system.
“One of our most important rituals was with this famous DJ, who was addicted to cocaine, ketamine, cigarettes and an unhealthy lifestyle,” she said. “We did a ritual for him as a birthday gift, and he had a full-body orgasm without even being touched. He said the ceremony helped him realise his role as a community leader, after which he went from being an addict to climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and raising millions of dollars for brain cancer research.”
Bollini has helped several others, including her brother and cousin, kick their cocaine addictions. She’s also helped people overcome sex, porn, alcohol and gambling addictions, depression, eating disorders, and PTSD.
Exuding an aura that is at once strong and sensitive, Bollini is regarded as one of the few entrepreneurs in the new age medicine industry blending her spiritual awakenings with a capitalist approach to help business professionals prosper. But her story is one steeped in mysticism, feminism, and a desire to battle a world that had grown all too comfortable with male leaders.
Born in Argentina, Bollini didn’t quite have a spiritual upbringing. Born to a Freudian psychologist, Bollini also studied the subject herself as a young adult. At the age of 19, she joined an Agrentinian political party called the Justicialist Party (Partido Justicialista) as their spokesperson. Bollini says she was not only responsible for cultivating LGBTQ conversations for the party but was also part of the team that developed the first online campaign in Argentinian politics. It was here that she honed her experience in marketing, learning to use private sector practices to help the public sector flourish. But a few years after her foray into politics, Bollini realised she wanted more out of life. “It was a very corrupt system, and I found it hard to make changes, even from the inside,” she said.
Her search to find a more meaningful life brought her to Germany. Here, she enrolled in a psychology course in Berlin that taught her Jungian therapy, which included extensive information on psychedelics like ayahuasca and ibogaine. “I had never tried a drug in my life, but I was curious to know more,” she recollected. “So I read research papers about psychedelics for two years, and in 2007, when I was 28, I tried ayahuasca for the first time in an underground ceremony.”
While ayahuasca has been much spoken about as a life-altering experience, this one upended Bollini’s life entirely. “Growing up, I was always taught that the mind is the most important, and that all our emotions are in our heads. But my first trip with plant medicines was a totally out-of-mind experience. I experienced this gentle voice inside me, and it taught me to hug myself and connect with myself, showing me the answers to many questions I had, such as why my previous relationship, a broken engagement, didn’t work out. Despite going through decades of therapy with my mother, this was a lifetime of therapy in one night.” It was after this enlightening first trip that she decided to embrace the life of a vagabond, travelling across the world to take part in psychedelic ceremonies at Ayahuasca churches in Brazil, within tantric and ayurvedic communities in Goa, and the remote jungles of Africa.
But the more time she spent tripping around the world, the closer she came to a profound realisation. “What this medicine does is that it shows you your light and then darkness, and you have to work on what it shows to you to process any pain and trauma. But around 2013, what I realised was that most ceremonies would give people a dose higher than what they could handle. This is known as the hero dose, and it can create new traumas instead of helping people heal. I also realised that this [practice] came from a culture of misogyny in shamanism, because most men have a macho attitude and it's about proving how much you can take,” she said. She added that since ancestrally, men played the role of hunters, they served psychedelics from their ego, and lacked the gentleness of a woman. This became all the more important since Ayahuasca, the plant that contains the natural hallucinogen known as DMT, is said to have a feminine energy, one equated with the emotion of “mother nature.”
The more Bollini explored these thoughts, the more evident the misogynistic culture of shamanic rituals became. “I’ve taken part in hundreds of ceremonies, and most of them were presided over by male shamans. But the few times I experienced a trip with a female shaman, I felt like a safe and nourishing space to surrender my fears and hopes,” she said.
It was then that Bollini concluded that though women were more suited to be shamans, they were often denied entry into this space. “Most women are born with a womb, so they are more likely to naturally have that maternal instinct and sensitivity to be a shaman. But over centuries, their power and agency was taken away and given to men, whose role was as a hunter-provider. So, I decided to train a network of female shamans and introduce the progressive dose. At the time, shamans would serve the plant medicine and it would hit the user like a punch. My method was more like a handshake that slowly eased users into the trip,” she said.
According to Bollini, the answers to reclaiming women’s rights in the shamanistic space came to her after a particularly intense and overwhelming trip. “It was a vision of the planet and a woman with over-the-knee boots rocking the planet. She kind of challenged me saying this is what a rockstar looks like. She was showing me this female power, and what I understood then was that light is way more scary than darkness. I could swim effortlessly in my own darkness, and stay comfortable in my weaknesses—or, I could use the fear I was feeling and embrace my destiny,” she said. Over the course of the next five years, she made sure that the number of female shamans in her community would outgrow the male ones.
One of the key reasons why women and men with feminine qualities are better at leading shamanic plant medicine ceremonies, she theorised, is because they are able to empathetically create a set and setting that lets the user thrive. “What we’ve noticed is that when women are in ceremony, your sexuality starts spilling out all over the place. So for men serving this [plant] medicine, it’s very hard [to steer the ceremony] when women are having full body orgasms, and expressing their sexual energy. It’s why midwives are usually women.” Given that psychedelic ceremonies in areas like the Amazon have often been accompanied by allegations of sexual assault, this differentiating factor becomes all the more pressing.
Bollini isn’t the first female shaman entrepreneur, and definitely won’t be the last. Women in Korean communities have found sociopolitical mobility through the spiritual practice, and the concept of “psychedelic feminism” has spiked a massive interest with organisations like Cosmic Sisters, which help develop a psychedelic education through the feminist lens. But by scaling her underground model into the modern world of prescription ketamine therapy, Bollini is bringing this blend of feminism and shamanism into the mainstream. Currently, her focus is on working with substances legal for medicinal use like cannabis and ketamine, but eventually aims to train a global network of nanas to administer psychedelics in a progressive dose and provide counselling to help people process their pain and trauma. “All the powers of women were taken away, including their roles as healers especially in South American countries,” she said. “Men captured all the power aspects that were earlier our domain, and shamanism became paternalistic and misogynistic. This is our way of reclaiming the space.”