I live in Ulster County–hippie country–not far from a longstanding “Church of Ayahuasca,” where devotees take what they describe as life-altering psychedelic trips induced by drinking a precise mixture of B. caapi tea and chacruna leaf. While I’ve been curious about the experience, I haven’t been enough so to get past the vomiting that’s pretty much a standard part, and the stories I’ve heard about bad trips.
At The New Yorker, Ariel Levy reports on ayahuasca’s recent uptick in popularity in San Francisco among young people in the tech world, and in New York City among the young and the hip. As part of her reporting, she braves one of the ceremonies in Williamsburg, led by an ayahuasquera called Little Owl .
One at a time, we went into the front room to be smudged with sage on the wrestling mats by a woman in her sixties with the silver hair and beatific smile of a Latina Mrs. Claus. When she finished waving her smoking sage at me and said, “I hope you have a beautiful journey,” I was so moved by her radiant good will that I nearly burst into tears.
Once we were all smudged and back in our circle, Little Owl dimmed the lights. “You are the real shaman,” she said. “I am just your servant.”
When it was my turn to drink the little Dixie cup of muck she presented, I was stunned that divine consciousness—or really anything—could smell quite so foul: as if it had already been vomited up, by someone who’d been on a steady dieta of tar, bile, and fermented wood pulp. But I forced it down, and I was stoked. I was going to visit the swampland of my soul, make peace with death, and become one with the universe.