Chilean cult leader's family blame mental illness, drugs and Satan

Santiago Times, Chile/May 15, 2013

Family remembers cult leader Ramón Castillo as an animal lover and musician, blames drugs and religion for catalyzing sudden personality changes.

Leader of the now infamous cult "Antares de la Luz" Ramón Castillo may have suffered from delusion, but family members maintain that he was only a victim of circumstance.

After weeks on the run from international police, the fugitive cult leader was found dead in an abandoned house on the outskirts of Cusco in late April after apparently hanging himself. Family members of the deceased traveled to Peru early this month to bring back Castillo's remains.

Recent accounts from family and friends depict Castillo as a mentally unstable man on a dangerous spiritual quest, which ultimately ended with the gruesome death of his presumed three-day-old daughter and his suicide earlier this month.

"What happened to Ramón can happen to anyone," said Daniela Castillo, the deceased's sister.

Ayahuasca and mental illness: a lethal mix

Daniela blamed the hallucinogenic plant ayahuasca - known to affect the awareness of time and perception of the body - as being responsible for her brother's mood changes and subsequent behavior.

"About five years ago, he started to become very uncommunicative with his search of self and these halfway esoteric things," Castillo told La Nación. "With luck, we saw him once a year for my mom's birthday."

In stark contrast with the allegations against her brother, Daniela remembered the cult leader as a scout leader with a love of music. Something must have "clicked" with his drug consumption that led him to act in this manner, she claimed.

"In my family, there is a history of mental illness, and maybe this could have worsened things - the mix was disastrous," Daniela said.

Daniela similarly denied that her brother would have sacrificed animals were it not for excessive consumption of ayahuasca.

"I still have his cat, which he adored. He even slept with her," Daniela said.

Devil's intervention?

The cult leader's uncle Gustavo Gaete likewise believed the drug ayahuasca was responsible for his nephew's irrational behavior, but he claims an even more sinister force led his nephew astray - "the devil."

Gaete said on Chile's National Television Station (TVN) that he plans to write a book called "Conversations with the Devil" about his nephews experience.

"I have to testify what he [the devil] did to my nephew. The devil has to answer to me, even if people think I am crazy. I am Catholic, a Christian, and it is my duty to believe in God and the devil," he said.

Gaete said the family was aware of Castillo's strange behavior during his spiritual quest, but had no reason to be concerned for his, or anyone else's, welfare.

"We heard that many people were following him, and were happy," Gaete said. "No one had a bad thing to so ... so we didn't worry".

Spiritual journey gone awry

Former friend and transpersonal psychologist Isis Bravo, however, said Castillo always showed signs of delusion and narcissism, and that drugs were not to blame for his subsequent actions.

Bravo met Castillo in 2003 through her father's theater company, for which Castillo played music. Castillo was very timid and did not play very well, however, which led to him leaving the company, Bravo said to an interview with El Periódico.

Through Bravo, Castillo was introduced to ancient indigenous rituals that take place in sweat lodges called temazcals.

"Ramón participated in a temazcal and actually hallucinated, loved it - and as he was on a spiritual quest - came to learn more about it," Bravo said. "He asked me questions and when he started to study healing techniques, his ego soared, he began to get delirious and I lost him."

Bravo denies that Castillo took drugs or smoked, saying that even if drugs were involved, it does not lead to babies being burned.

"If you are a conscientious and normal person, there is no problem," she said. "In this case it is not the plant responsible, but him."

In an interview with Radio Bío Bío on Tuesday, a forensic psychologist for the investigative police (PDI), Gonzalo Torrealba, said the cult members were not under the influence of drugs on the day they committed the baby sacrifice.

"The events on Nov. 23 were not carried out under the influence of ayahuasca consumption," he said.

All seven members of the cult involved with the sacrifice, including the mother of the deceased baby, will remain in preventive custody during the span of the eight-month investigation and may be charged for homicide.

"I want to ask for forgiveness - I ask for forgiveness from all, from every Chilean," said Castillo's uncle Gustavo Gaete. "I ask for forgiveness in the name of God for this terrible act committed by my nephew."

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