I can’t help but feel like some 60’s cultist as I gather around the fire for my first ayahuasca ceremony. Secret emails instructed us where to meet and what to expect, encouraging all participants to dress in white for the sake of purity and innocent intentions. It is also made clear to us that this is an off-the-books gathering— ayahuasca remains a schedule 1 drug in the United States, and the shamans from Peru are taking considerable risk to perform this ritual as intended. We are in the mountains of western Massachusetts, and it’s also been made clear that no medical attention is close. We are on our own. All of us know the risks. All of us have prepared in our own way, through reflection or meditation or the setting of intention, and we have come together to partake in the wisdom of the jungle.

I am what Jimi Hendrix would call “experienced,” and I’ve been both opened and hardened by my experiences with hallucinogenics, but what is unfolding tonight is primal. I am far away from the controlled settings, meditation mats, and carefully selected music that have dictated my rather sanitized and textbook trips to this point. I could feel it descending around me the minute I came off the highway and began the climb into the mountains. Enveloped by a canopy of summer green branches and stretching flora, I could feel the air clearing and my city-self steadily growing less and less distinct. The hot breeze whispered of forest secrets, and I could feel the beckoning call of the deep South American jungle reaching up into these East Coast hills.

I seek commune with what the ayahuasca shaman call the grandmother.

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