Home World Psychedelic churches pushing boundaries of religion in small but growing U.S. movement

Psychedelic churches pushing boundaries of religion in small but growing U.S. movement

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The tea tasted bitter and earthy, but Lorenzo Gonzalez drank it anyway.On that frigid night in Utah, he was hoping for 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 sounds of guitars were drowned out by people vomiting into buckets. This is a common drawback of drugs.

Gonzales howled and sobbed, then began to laugh and bab.

The Hummingbird Church facilitator laid him face down on the grass and calmed him down for a moment before he laughed and crawled up, his wife touching his shoulder and praying before becoming quiet.

Seeking Enlightenment and Relief

“After seeing these dark veins appear in this big red light, I saw this demonic image,” Gonzalez later explained.

Gonzalez’s journey to this small town on the Arizona-Utah border is part of a global trend of people turning to ayahuasca for spiritual enlightenment, rather than traditional religious services. It’s an experience that brings you closer to God. Many people hope that psychedelic teas can heal their physical and mental afflictions after traditional medicines and treatments have failed.

Their problems include eating disorders, depression, substance use disorders, and PTSD.

There is a growing movement in the United States to decriminalize psychedelic use. Colorado has passed an initiative to decriminalize psychedelic her mushrooms for those 21 and older. We are joining the state of Oregon to establish a regulatory system for hallucinogens in some mushrooms.

Lorenzo Gonzalez, Center, and other retreat participants raise their hands to the sky during a breathwork ceremony on October 15, 2022 in Hildale, Utah. (Jessie Wardarski/Associated Press)

The growing demand for ayahuasca has led to hundreds of churches whose adherents say they are protected from prosecution by a 2006 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. acquired the right to use the drug as a sacrament, even though its active ingredient is illegal under U.S. federal law.

But with the growth of the psychedelic advocacy movement, the scrutiny has increased.

no real understanding of risk

Shipments of ayahuasca from South America have been seized, and ayahuasca is poorly studied, leading to concerns that unregulated ceremonies could endanger participants.

“Our knowledge is limited,” said Anthony Buck, a professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle.

“There’s not a lot of information about safety,” Buck said.

A candlelit altar with cups used to deliver ayahuasca to people in ceremonies.
On October 14, 2022, an empty pitcher and shot-sized cups were placed on the altar during an ayahuasca ceremony hosted by Hummingbird Church in Hildale, Utah. (Jessie Wardarski/Associated Press)

When the Hummingbird ceremony kicked off last October, it was dark, aside from the flickering of candles and the orange glow of heaters. Statues of the Virgin Mary and Mother Earth were placed near the makeshift altar.

Veterans, business executives and thrill seekers gathered for a weekend of $900.

They sat quietly and waited for Taita Pedro Davila, a Colombian shaman and traditional healer who oversaw the ceremony.

Ayahuasca’s effects last for hours

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.

“We turn off our minds and open our minds. If you feel like dying, let’s die. Then we can be reborn,” he said.

Last hope for many

Gonzales and his wife Flor drove here from California. They were among several ayahuasca newcomers. Gonzalez, who has battled drug addiction for the better part of 50 years, was diagnosed with early-stage dementia, likely due to past concussions.He rarely sleeps and is prone to outbursts of his anger. .

Flor Gonzalez, 48, was fed up with doctors and the drugs they prescribed. None of it works and she fears losing Lorenzo.

“If he’s already sick…what do we have to lose?” She added, “It might help him…be more accepting of things without anger.”

ayahuasca legal in south america

Ayahuasca’s roots go back hundreds of years and were used by indigenous groups in the Amazon. In 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 gained a foothold in the United States in his 1980s, and more recently with Hollywood stars Will Smith and Prince Harry of England We talked about using

A nine-year-old girl dressed in white kneels at a Brazilian altar and drinks tea.
Natalia Catalina, 9, participates in the dedication of the Sacred Dime during a service at the Ceu do Mapia Church in Amazonas, Brazil, June 22, 2016. All members of the community, including children, drink psychedelic tea during the service. (Eraldo Perez/Associated Press)

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.

Hummingbird founder Courtney Close, 42, credits ayahuasca with helping her overcome cocaine addiction and postpartum depression. Asked about its religious significance, she said, “We’re just trying to create a spiritual experience without dogma.”

Close has seen a change in the number of people attending her ceremonies since she started the church five years ago. She says there are more older working-class people who have transitioned from hipster youth and now crave mental health treatment.

But Close says ayahuasca carries potential risks.

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 also enforced a no-touch policy during the ceremony.

Back in California, Flor Gonzalez says the experience changed her husband.

Lorenzo stopped taking medication for depression, PTSD, and insomnia. He still suffers from memory problems, but he says he now sleeps through the night and has no screaming attacks.

“I feel healthier,” said Lorenzo.

“I feel like a dark force has been removed from my soul.”

A green statue of the Goddess depicting Mother Earth sits on the lawn of the Chapel of Hummingbird Psychedelic Church.
A statue of Mother Earth is placed in front of an altar used by Colombian shamans, healers and traditional medicine practitioners who lead the Hummingbird Church’s ayahuasca ceremony on October 16, 2022 in Hildale, Utah. (Jessie Wardarski/Associated Press)

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