US psychedelic churches are pushing religious boundaries

HILDALE, Utah (AP) — The tea tasted bitter and earthy, but Lorenzo Gonzalez drank it anyway. On a frigid night in remote Utah, he wanted a life-changing experience . That’s how I found myself in a tent with 20 other people waiting for the psychedelic brew known as ayahuasca to kick off.

Soon, the gentle sound of the guitar was drowned out by people’s nausea. Some have gagged. Some spit out into a neighboring bucket.

Gonzalez began howling, sobbing, laughing, and babbling repeatedly like a child, “Wow, wow.” The Hummingbird Church facilitator placed him face down on the grass and calmed him down for a moment before he laughed and crawled on all fours.

“After seeing these dark veins emerge in this big red light, I saw this image of the devil,” Gonzalez later said. It was only when I put my hand on his shoulder and prayed.

His journey to this small town along the Arizona-Utah border Growing global trend of people turning to ayahuasca They say they seek spiritual enlightenment and experience to bring them closer to God than traditional worship. Many people hope that psychedelic teas can heal their physical and mental afflictions after conventional medicines and treatments have failed. Use disorders, PTSD, and more.

of Demand for ayahuasca rises Supporters say such churches are protected from prosecution by a 2006 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. In that case, New Mexico Branch of Ayahuasca Church based in Brazil It has earned the right to use this drug sacramentally, even though the active ingredient remains illegal under U.S. federal law. A subsequent lower court ruling ruled that another Oregon branch of the Ayahuasca Church could use it.

“Every major city in the United States hosts multiple ayahuasca ceremonies every weekend. rice field.

But with the growth of the psychedelic advocacy movement, the scrutiny has increased. In addition to the seizure of shipments of ayahuasca from South America, some churches have closed for fear of prosecution. There are also concerns that these unregulated rituals may pose a danger to some participants, and that the benefits of ayahuasca are understudied.

“Our knowledge is limited,” said Anthony Bach, a professor of medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle. We don’t have a lot of information about sex.”

Aside from the flickering of candles and the orange glow of heaters, it was dark as the Hummingbird Ceremony kicked off on a Friday night in October. Psychedelic art hung from the walls. Statues of the Virgin Mary and Mother Earth were placed near the makeshift altar.

Veterans, business executives, thrill-seekers, former members of the polygamous Mormon sect, and the man who appears to have made a fortune at a game show have gathered for the $900 weekend. Many were apprehensive about starting the first of the three rituals, but they seemed dizzy.

They sat quietly awaiting the arrival of Taita Pedro Davila, the Colombian shaman and traditional healer who oversaw the ceremony.

The brew contains shrubs from the Amazon rainforest containing the active ingredients N, N-dimethyltryptamine, or DMT, and vines containing harmara alkaloids, which prevent the drug from breaking down in the body.

Those who drink ayahuasca report seeing shapes and colors and continuing on a wild, sometimes terrifying journey that lasts for hours. Some say they encountered dead relatives in this dreamlike state. A woman saw her family dying in a car accident, and her friends and spirits speaking to them.

“When you were invited here, you were invited to a weekend of healing,” Davila told the group in Spanish through an interpreter.

Wearing a fedora, a boar tooth necklace, and a beaded chestplate with the image of a jaguar, Davila makes eye contact with each participant, says a prayer over a cup, and whistles. handed me the cup. After everyone drank and settled down on their mattresses, Davila took a walk in the tent, where the drugs took hold, waving bunches of leaves and playing mournful tunes on the harmonica.

“Every process is personal and completely different for each of us,” he said. If you think about it, die.With this, you can be reborn.”

Gonzales and his wife Flor were among several ayahuasca newcomers.

They had driven from California to wish Gonzalez relief. He had battled drug addiction for much of his 50 years, suffered the effects of COVID-19, and had been diagnosed with early-stage dementia. This is probably the result of years of concussions from motorcycle crashes and concussions from industrial accidents. accident. He doesn’t drive because of his amnesia, rarely sleeps, and is prone to outbursts of anger.

“My poor body is dying. I don’t want to die,” said Gonzalez.

Flor Gonzalez, 48, was fed up with doctors and the drugs they prescribed. None of this worked and she feared losing Lorenzo. So, born-again Christians with a penchant for natural medicine thought ayahuasca was worth researching and trying.

“If he’s already sick and taking all these drugs with side effects, what do we have to lose? … might stop the progression of the disease,” she said. “It might help him…be more accepting of things without anger.”

Merleen Jessop was also new to ayahuasca, but familiar with the Utah town of Hildale, where the ceremony took place. She is a former member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS) and a polygamist of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The ceremony was held in a tent on the grounds of a house owned by a former FLDS member of Hildale, where Jessop grew up and endured sexual and physical abuse at the group’s stronghold. Jeffs left church after being arrested for sexually assaulting girls he thought were brides. He is serving a life sentence in federal prison.

A 35-year-old woman has struggled to adjust to life after FLDS. FLDS controlled almost everything from what she ate to what she wore. Since her retirement, she has tried antidepressants, remedies, psychedelics like mushrooms, and has dealt with depression and various physical ailments. She attributed it to the abuse she was subjected to, including being deaf and blind.

“Like I needed a stronger breakthrough, I felt like I needed something more. This is the next step,” she said of ayahuasca. I have.”

While she remains wary of organized religion, it felt like Hummingbird provided what she was looking for. A sense of community and “whatever you call it, whether it’s us, the universe, or God” is a freedom that leads to a higher power.

More than three months after the ceremony, Jessop says ayahuasca has helped ease his depression and improve his ability to concentrate. She has found some clarity about her life goals and her plans to study communications that help her talk about her abuse.

Ayahuasca’s roots go back hundreds of years, indigenous people of the amazonIn the last century, churches were born in South America where ayahuasca is legal. Some Brazilian churches have a mixture of Christian, African, and indigenous influences.

The movement found a foothold in the United States in the 1980s, and interest grew. recently intensified as a celebrity favorite NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Hollywood star Will Smith and Britain’s Prince Harry have talked about using it.

Some spend thousands of dollars on ayahuasca at Amazon’s five-star retreats. In the United States, the movement has largely remained underground, fueled by social media and word of mouth. Some ceremonies are held at supporters’ homes, Airbnb rentals, or remote locations to avoid law enforcement surveillance.

Like many of these churches, the Hummingbird cannot be mistaken for a traditional Western church.

There is no written text, relying primarily on Davila’s prayers, chants and songs in Spanish and the language of the Camenza people to guide the participants. Davila spent several days preparing ayahuasca, following traditions he learned from his grandfather in Colombia.

Before serving the tea, Davila performs a purification ritual. For example, spray a cigarette in the participant’s nose to enhance its effect.

Hummingbird founder Courtney Close, who credits ayahuasca with helping her overcome cocaine addiction and postpartum depression, said the designation as a church meant that participants were “doing this for religious reasons.” But when it comes to defining it as a religion, Close emphasizes that it depends heavily on the experiences of individual participants.

The 42-year-old, who has attended about 200 ceremonies and had a vision of starting a church in one of them, said, “We are trying to create a spiritual experience without dogma.

Since holding the church’s first ceremony in Joshua Tree five years ago, Close has seen hummingbird numbers grow and their populations changing. Most range from young hipsters to older working class people desperate for mental health treatment.

The most uncomfortable moments are those who openly talk about suicide and see ayahuasca as their only hope. I told her I couldn’t stay.

Close said Davila proposed to the man Ayahuasca and told him to wrap a blanket around his side so he wouldn’t choke on the vomit. She wanted this psychedelic to provide him with a transforming, death-like experience while remaining physically safe.

“After the weekend, he looked like a different person, but I was like, ‘Oh my God. It’s like, this guy smiles and talks to people,” she said.

But Close knows that ayahuasca comes with risks. Especially when inexperienced users start hosting events focused on making money.

“It’s very dangerous,” she said, referring to cases in which people who attended the ceremony were sexually assaulted, ripped off, and sent home without follow-up assistance.

To increase safety, Hummingbird invited doctors, nurses and CPR-trained staff to the ceremony to encourage participants to stop taking certain medications prior to arrival and to prevent severe mental illness. We have created an intake process that excludes people with disease or heart disease. They enforced a no-touch policy during the ceremony and stopped offering other psychedelics.

But Close worries a U.S. government crackdown is coming, given the presumption that the largely unregulated movement is a “psychedelic church epidemic causing a public health crisis.” .

Back in California, Flor Gonzalez is convinced the drug is behind Lorenzo’s improvement.

“Ayahuasca changed him in many ways,” she said. “We are more optimistic about the future.”

The father of four said he had stopped taking medication for depression, PTSD and insomnia. He still has moments of forgetfulness and doesn’t drive, but he says the bouts of sleeping through the night and screaming are a thing of the past.

“I feel healthier,” he said. “I feel like a dark force has been removed from my soul.”


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