Of all the drugs in the world, I’ve been wanting to try ayahuasca most of all. For those not familiar with drug culture, ayahuasca is an herbal potion brewed from Amazonian plants that causes crazy hallucinations, puking…and eventually (they say) spiritual clarity and transformation. They also say a middle-class white hippie can find her true self by drinking ayahuasca, as it contains DMT and will really open up your consciousness and allow you a glimpse of the divine truth of nature.
Though there are recipes posted, and the herbal ingredients can easily be ordered online, it’s not advisable to just chug ayahuasca alone, willy-nilly — you need the guidance of a trained shaman, who can mix and administer the brew, and guide (babysit) you on your trip. If you Google “ayahuasca,” you’ll find all kinds of crazy/terrifying firsthand accounts…so you really don’t want to fuck around with this potent stuff. Among all the far-out drugs in the world, ayahuasca is definitely one of the furthest out — this ain’t mushrooms, fool!
Ideally, the ayahuasca experience consists of flying to Peru or Ecuador or someplace in South America, then trekking deep into the jungle to the hut of a grass-skirt-wearing ancient wise man, and swiping your credit card on his iPhone. But some of us don’t have the cash to fly to South America…so luckily for me, there are shamans in the U.S. who also conduct ayahuasca rituals. So if interested, all the intrepid drug explorer has to do is find one of them. How convenient!!
Now, keep in mind that because ayahuasca contains DMT, it is considered a Schedule I drug, and is totally illegal…unless you’re a member of a church that uses it for religulous purposes. And even that is a kind of gray area. But you know me!!!
That being said, I don’t want to get anyone else in trouble…so I have to be kinda sketchy with details here, which you know I hate. But it’s the only way.
Anyhoo, let’s just say a friend I ran into at that Burning Man party I went to last weekend invited me to an ayahuasca ceremony she was hosting at her home last night, and let’s just say I said FUCK YEAH!! This friend spends a lot of time in a certain New Age woo-woo town in the Southwest, where she had fallen in with a Brazilian ayahuasquero (shaman) and his group, and she ended up inviting them up to Vegas for a special ceremony. One night only!! Like I said, I’ve been wanting to do this forever…so not even the steep “recommended donation” of $150-200 scared me away. I signed up, saved my pennies and dimes, and started reading up on what to expect.
As previously mentioned, if you Google ayahuasca, all these terrifying personal accounts come up — tales of puking and freaking the fuck out, people screaming and crying and masturbating uncontrollably while simultaneously enjoying cosmic revelations. Whoa, man! I couldn’t wait!!! If there’s one thing I need, it’s truth — I mean, I can’t go around flashing my twat to old men forever, ya know?! I need to know my special purpose! Maybe ayahuasca would help me find it.
Because I’m a sensible type, I followed the recommendations in the RSVP email and avoided certain foods (avocado, garlic, meat, alcohol) the day before the ceremony…and then fasted on the day itself, so that my stomach would be totally empty, and I’d be less likely to puke. If I’m shelling out $150, I want to make sure I get the best experience possible! So by the time the ceremony started around 8pm, I’d been fasting for 24 hours.
Now meanwhile, I was also working as a booth babe at this bullshit convention — the JCK jewelry show, a huge expo where all the diamond dealers and gold-hawkers of the world converge to contrive new ways of convincing idiots into spending an entire year’s salary on carbon crumbs. I’m not a jewelry fan myself, so the whole idea of spending thousands of dollars on something as intrinsically meaningless as diamonds leaves me ice-cold…but whatever, plenty of suckers line up to buy this shit, so every year they have this ginormous convention in Vegas. And I usually end up working it.
This year, I was repping a group of inscrutable Chinese who manufacture modest mens’ engagement rings made from cobalt, ceramic and titanium…none of which retail for more than $300-$400. (Come to find out, many guys spend all their money on the woman’s ring…then sort of cheap out on their own band.) Whatever, it’s all completely alien to me, and I don’t give a fuck. I just pretended to be enthusiastic about it, as per my job description.
But the convention was fascinating, on many levels. First of all, this is not a racist statement, but a fact: there are a ton of Jews in the jewelry biz (in fact it was really fun to watch them interacting with the other two main demographics, which were Chinese and Indians. All three are known to be hard bargainers, so it was pretty entertaining). Many of the Jewish exhibitors at the show are observant Orthodox, so even though the show ran Friday-Monday, half the show was dead on Saturday because it was Shabbat, and the observant stayed back at their hotel rooms. This is so prevalent that the show even has a “Shabbas Vault” where companies can safely store their gems while they’re observing Shabbat from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.
I think I may have mentioned this last year…but I really wonder what all those Orthodox Jews do all day on Saturday. If they’re really observant, they can’t even turn on a light switch — do they stay in their hotel rooms all day and pray?! They can’t get downstairs without operating an elevator…so I guess they must. I find this bizarre. Why don’t they change the days of the show to Tuesday-Friday or Sunday-Wednesday?! But for whatever reason, the show always runs over a weekend. All these observant Jews end up paying for an extra night in the hotel, for nothing. It seems counterintuitive!
Anyway, this was a particularly long and physically draining show for me — four 8-hour days of standing on concrete in high heels under fluorescent lights, braying “Cobalt? Ceramic?? Titanium???” at passers-by. By the fourth day, I was exhausted, and to make matters worse I wasn’t even able to eat anything, since the ayahuasca ceremony was that night. I didn’t even have a glass of wine the night before!! (I did, however, smoke weed…against their advisory. But, really?! Am I to have no enjoyment at all?!) Anyway, somehow I made it through the day, and was looking forward to the ayahuasca trip as a sort of celebration that the damn show was finally over.
So the second I got off work, I raced home to prepare, donning an all-white outift as per the email instructions: they recommended loose, comfortable, modest clothing for women, so I wore a long white skirt and white cami. But I also brought a blankie and a shawl and some warm socks, as they say ayahuasca (or “the medicine,” as they call it) can make some people cold.
I also brought a crystal I was once given by a Thai saleswoman at a hippie boutique on Haight Street in San Francisco, as a sort of good-luck talisman — I was really trying to go into this with an open, believing mind. I tend to be an incorrigible skeptic/cynic, so I really tried hard to banish my usual snarky thoughts and believe! I even spent time meditating on my intentions for the ceremony — what did I want to get out of it? I decided I was going in with no expectations, but that I was hoping to become a more open person, better able to connect with those around me. Because truthfully, in my day-to-day life I have a hard time taking many people seriously…most people I meet strike me as insufferable dumbasses. And that’s no way to live.
The ceremony was taking place at my friend’s suburban McMansion up on a hillside in the farthest reaches of town…not very far, in fact, from the house where I used to film all those breath-holding fetish videos back in the day. This struck me as possibly meaningful, since my insomnia set in right around the time I started doing those videos — maybe if I had a revelatory ayahuasca trip in the same area, it would negate all the negative vibes lingering from that previous shitty experience (I used to shoot for a medical fetish site that required us to hold our breath to the point of almost passing out, while hooked up to an EKG. I have often wondered if that experience contributed to my inability to “let go” and fall asleep, for fear I’d stop breathing.)
Anyway, there were about 15 people there for the ceremony — a shaman and priestess, plus a triad of male acolytes who had accompanied them up from their desert retreat, and a couple other regulars. The rest of us were first timers — and a fairly diverse group: a few single guys, a hot Asian bottle waitress from one of the pool clubs, and a mysterious quiet couple. We all sat around chit-chatting nervously until the sacred space was ready for us, and then we were ushered in to the hostess’s casita, which had been transformed into a sacred ayahuasca-drinking chamber, with an altar in the middle covered in sage bundles, crystals, candles, etc and surrounded by pillows and blankets for everyone to get comfortable on. We all sat down, and the ceremony began.
After a welcoming speech , the priestess administered some kind of weird snuff to each of us by blowing it up our nostrils with a little bamboo gun-type thing, to sort of prime us for the experience. Damn, that stuff burned like hell!! It did clear out my perpetually clogged sinuses, though, and gave me a really heady buzz…so I couldn’t complain. After everyone had their snuff, the singing, chanting and drumming began…and the shaman poured out little glasses of ayahuasca for each of us.
Now, I was pretty nervous. Aside from fearing what sort of freak-out I would experience, I was also apprehensive about all the incongruous plastic puke-buckets ominously strewn about amidst all the incense and crystals and flowers. I hate puking…but I was ready to give myself over to the medicine — to let go, and let ayahuasca! Still, I wasn’t looking forward to that aspect of the trip.
After drinking the cup of bitter, sweetish brew, we all sat back and sang songs from this songbook they passed out, while the shaman played this little electric guitar and his acolytes drummed along and shook gourds. The lyrics to these songs were about stuff like Mother Ayahuasca, Queen of the Forest, show us true wisdom in the loving arms of your eternal embrace, etc. Since this was a Brazilian shaman, some of the songs were in Portuguese, but most were in English, so we could all sort of bumble atonally along: “Let your ego die, love is the only truth,” etc. It actually felt very Spahn Ranch to be sitting around chanting about ego death in the company of a bunch of longhaired, dashiki-clad white people — because that’s what it was; aside from the one Asian chick, everyone there was white, middle-class, in their twenties or thirties. But so very earnest!
Before long, the first chick started puking…and from there, we all sat back and got progressively high, while the singing and chanting and drumming continued, accompanied by the sounds of intermittent puking from various corners of the room. I got mildly nauseous myself, but never did end up puking — I think I was the only one who didn’t. Apparently I’m such a Bitter Betty that my ego refused to let go and be purged, so all that blackness and bile is still trapped within me. D’OH!!!
But I was nauseous, so I laid back on my blankie and just let the sounds of the music and the smell of the incense/sage wash over me. Alas, I was so fucking exhausted from the jewelry show that I kept dozing off…which I fear fucked up the experience for me. I mean, I sort of drifted in and out of a dreamlike state, with sort of dreamy visualizations appearing behind me eyes, but nothing that could remotely called a hallucination. It was more like the typical drifting-off-to-sleep experience — or at least my typical drifting-off experience, since I get high every night before bed. In fact, the whole experience felt like nothing so much as being really, REALLY baked…with maybe a touch of mushrooms added in for variety. I kept waiting for all the intense visualizations and shit to start in…but it never did. I also kept waiting for the urge to purge, which also never happened, despite the fact that there were puking people all around me.
The room we were in was totally sealed off, so there was no sense of time at all, and I had no idea how much time had elapsed. I’d read online that an ayahuasca trip can last anywhere from 4-5 hours to 8-9 hours, so I was prepared for an all-nighter…but had no idea when was when, or what was what. About 3/4 of the way through the night, the priestess offered everyone a top-off shot of the medicine, but I was afraid if I drank more I really would puke, so I didn’t drink any. Maybe that was my problem — I was unwilling to let go and allow the medicine to make me puke, so out of spite she denied me a true experience.
But I don’t know….I have my doubts. It felt like going to one of those comedy hypnotist shows, where you really wonder if the people pulled up onstage are really hypnotized, or just playing along for the sake of entertainment. My gut feeling was that all these earnest white kids around me really wanted to have a trip, so they had a trip. Skeptical me, in all my snarky cynicism, wouldn’t “play along,” so I was left out. Hmmm.
After the second dose, the shaman passed around a medicine staff and we all said blessings or prayers or thoughts that we were having, about stuff like relatives that had passed away, or the divine spirit of love that was filling us, or how blessed we felt, etc. One of the three acolytes, a tall, skinny kid with an adorable afro and hipster glasses, told a story about how the thirty-third day of a pregnancy is the exact day when a fetus’s heart starts beating on its own, and begins generating an electrical impulse. This, they say, is the exact day the soul enters the body! In retrospect, I’m not sure what that has to do with anything…but at the time, it was very heavy-duty stuff!!
Then it was my turn. It’s always awkward for me in situations like that, because I’m not a spiritual person in the slightest, and I don’t really put much stock in that hippie-dippie mumbo-jumbo. But in the spirit of the moment, I dragged some platitudes from my ass about experiencing wonderment and enchantment, which was actually sort of true, so I didn’t come off as an asshole, at least.
Meanwhile, at the beginning of the ceremony we had all pledged to the shaman not to leave until the ceremony was closed — but toward the end, we noticed that the one mysterious, quiet couple had disappeared! Come to find out, they were hard-core psychedelic explorers who take mushrooms every other day in the interest of consciousness-expanding, and the medicine hadn’t been dramatic enough for their liking, so they bailed. How rude!!
I myself stayed til the bitter end, when we all held hands in a circle and said some more blessings and shit, then adjourned to the other room to talk about our experiences. (It’s bad form to talk about stuff in the sacred altar room, as it is filled with spirits.) I was finally able to check the time, and was startled to find that it was only 1:30am — much earlier than I expected! The entire trip was only about 5 hours from start to finish.
By now, I was starving, so I asked one of the traveling acolytes if it would be ok to eat now. This one beautiful white-blonde Nordic spirit-Viking kid advised that watermelon was a good thing to eat, and lo and behold our hostess had a watermelon in the fridge, so we cut it up and sat around beasting it, sitting on the floor talking. Another one of the acolytes told me that I looked completely different now than I had at the beginning of the ceremony.
“Oh, well probably because I put my hair up,” I explained.
“Ahahahahahahahah!!!!!” everyone chuckled heartily. Silly me, it wasn’t a physical change — my aura was different! “You’re shining now,” the acolyte beamed at me.
And he was right. I was shining like a motherfucker — my face was all sweaty and oily from being in that stuffy room with all those chanting puking people!!!
Anyway, after thanking the hostess and the priestess and the shaman, and bidding everyone else adieu, I walked back out into reality, got into my truck and drove home. I really felt none the richer or wiser, but it was a fabulously interesting experience.
Apparently, it’s fairly common to have a lukewarm first experience — they say it takes patience, and many sittings with the medicine before you really start chipping away at your ego…like a column of marble, with each subsequent trip chipping away more stone until your true self emerges, like a sculpture. Once you really start following the path of the medicine, that’s when shit gets real. Alas, at $150 a pop I can’t really afford to follow the path very far :-/
So, at the end of it all, what was my opinion? Well, I thought it was a fantastic experience, and actually worth every dollar. After all, people spend $150 on dumbass bullshit shows like Celine Dion and Cirque du Soleil all the time — this was infinitely more interesting, and interactive to boot!!! So do I recommend taking ayahuasca? YES! Just be careful about vetting your shaman, because they say there are some real mercenary types out there who only want your money, and don’t give a fuck about you personally. The shaman and priestess at this ceremony were actually really good — very attentive and kind and helpful.
Sure, I was a little disappointed that I didn’t puke/cry/scream/masturbate uncontrollably…but I guess it’s like everything else in this fuckin’ world: a letdown. Nothing is ever as amazing as the accounts you read online — in fact, it reminded me of nothing so much as my first Burning Man experience (as detailed in my last blog). Even though I really tried to go into both situations with no expectations…I guess I did have expectations, despite myself. And both just ended up being intense fun with friends.
Now, you might say the reason I didn’t trip out more is because I didn’t take the second cup of medicine — but to this, I argue that a) the second dose was very small, and b) I heard the others talking about how the second dose was much milder. They all tripped balls right off the bat, apparently.
You might also say my shaman was no good, or that the brew was faulty. To this I argue that a) the shaman was awesome, and b) everyone else seemed to trip out just fine. I’m just a particularly crusty nut to crack, apparently.
More realistically, I think if anything hampered my experience it was my extreme fatigue — I can’t express how fucking bone weary I was from working that stupid jewelry show! I can’t remember the last time I was so tired. Because of that, I drifted off several times during the ceremony. Maybe if I’d been better rested and more alert, I would have had a more animated experience.
So all that being said, I definitely want to try ayahuasca again. There are many different styles of ceremony — each shaman does it differently. They say there’s another shaman in town who does a Peruvian ceremony that is more meditative and religious in nature, whereas this one was more lovey-dovey and Spahn Ranch. It would be interesting to try a different method, and see how I react to that.
Either way, I’m super glad I did it!