A small church in Santa Fe, N.M., has grown up around a unique sacrament. Twice a month, the congregation meets in a ritualized setting to drink Brazilian huasca tea [also called ayahuasca], which has psychoactive properties said to produce a trance-like state.
UDV, founded in 1961 by a Brazilian rubber tapper now revered by followers as Mestre Gabriel [photo], stands for Uniao do Vegetal, which means “the union of the plants.” Huasca tea contains DMT, considered a Schedule 1 drug (in this case, a powerful and illegal hallucinogen) by the U.S. drug-warrior establishment.
Anthropologists who’ve trekked to the Amazon to try the “vine of the soul,” as it’s called, have described the intense experience it produces as death, returning to the cosmic uterus and rebirth.
UDV members are pretty gung-ho on the brew.
Barbara, an electrologist, says the tea cured her Lyme disease; Satara, a substitute teacher, claims huasca amplifies perception of herself and the world — like turning up the volume on a radio. Joaquin, a tattooed massage therapist, says the tea is much more spiritual than tripping on acid; and Pete, a martial arts teacher, says he’s here to be part of a community of people all trying to get closer to God.
Jeffrey Bronfman, national UDV vice president, swears people drink huasca for spiritual reasons. Despite the bitter taste — some congregants head for the bathrooms to vomit right after taking the sacrament — he sees the substance as a pathway to something good, a higher consciousness.
“The tea is really an instrument to help us get in touch with our own spiritual nature. It’s not something that takes people into a state of disorientation.”
He and his congregation have had to spend years in litigation with the federal government, right on up to the Supreme Court, to gain the right to drink huasca. The Supremes decided in 2006 that if Native Americans have the right to eat peyote, UDV members must be allowed to partake of their tea.
Wanna join? The church isn’t looking for new members, Bronfman says, so you may have to get high spiritual someplace else. Like Peru.
More than 40 ayahuasca lodges in Peru advertise on the Internet with pitches like, “Your vibrations will begin to harmonize with the flow of nature! Click here for rates.”
But beware bad trips — and bad characters:
Some of the experiences turn out badly. Articles have described a few spiritual seekers who’ve died or gone berserk during rituals, and women who’ve been molested by unscrupulous shamans.
[photo via VCU]
P.S.: To clarify, I don’t see the use of huasca tea, or other sacramental drugs, as a moral failure or a crime on the part of the church. At all. More power to the UDV members — and may I just add, “good for you.”
I do find it odious and annoying that the federal government has strictly verboten any drug that contains DMT — unless you belong to a certain faith.
Religion excuses everything.
I’m not blaming the church; I’m blaming the double standards of America’s policy makers and judicial authorities.