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Tripping on faith: Psychedelic churches proliferate in the US

By Andrew Duval Apr. 5, 2023

In a tent in the rural town of Hillsdale, Utah, a group of two dozen lay face down on patterned, blanket-covered air mattresses, braving the frigid air to experience a mind-altering, psychedelic-induced trip. Business executives, military veterans, middle-aged suburban parents and former members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS)—this mixed congregation has traveled hundreds of miles for a pricey weekend retreat with Hummingbird Church, which utilizes the psychedelic ayahuasca as it sacrament. In recent years, churches like this have proliferated across the United States, reflecting a growing interest in psychedelics as a medium for spiritual enlightenment and healing from past traumas.


Quincy Han Art

Psychedelics and religion are by no means a new combination. According to The Associated Press (AP), ayahuasca has played an integral part in the religious rituals of Indigenous groups in the Amazon for hundreds of years. Its popularization in the West can partially be accredited to celebrity testimonials; high-profile stars including Aaron Rodgers and Will Smith have publicized their experiences with using psilocybin recreationally, describing them as life-changing. Many who have struggled with various forms of addiction and trauma, including eating disorders, physical abuse, depression and alcoholism, have also reported positive experiences. Maeleene Jessop, a participant in a Hummingbird Church retreat, grew up experiencing sexual abuse within the FLDS church and reported that psychedelic ceremonies helped ease her depression.


Quincy Han Art

Despite its positive reception, magic mushroom churches have largely remained underground in the U.S .as many of the substances are illegal under federal law and stigma surrounding recreational use of psilocybin persists. Los Angeles Times reports that on Aug. 13, 2020, the Zide Door Church of Entheogenic Plants in Oakland was raided by police after a anonymous complaint that the church was functioning as a dispensary for cannabis and psychedelics. The church responded by filing a lawsuit against the city, claiming that the seizure violated their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.


Churches, activists, government officials and psychedelic users across the country are actively pushing for acceptance and legalization of psychedelics as a medium for therapy and spiritual healing. Some churches have invoked the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which prohibits the federal government “from substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion.” Additionally, per AP, an Arizona church filed a lawsuit against the federal government for confiscating an ayahuasca shipment in the port of Los Angeles originating from Peru.


“Psychedelic churches should be legalized; there are a lot of positive effects such as providing relief for people who are struggling mentally and need external help. However, everything comes with its downsides—in this case, people abusing the drugs offered—so psychedelic churches and ceremonies should be closely monitored, with proper precautions in place like background checks,” Senior Tejas Shah said.

According to Rolling Stone, many psilocybin users are ex-Mormons who left the church, seeking a deeper connection with God and freedom from the restrictive, antiquated views of the FLDS. Many who have now become leaders of religious rituals involving psychedelics stay away from strict hierarchy and organization in their churches and ceremonies, weary from past experience.


“I would still characterize psychedelic churches as establishments of religion because they have foundations in long-standing religions. I am worried about the potential risks of psychedelic rituals, and I personally do not believe that they are worth participating in,” Sophomore Jay Penner said.

Partaking in the ceremonies can be risky; the AP states that people have been sexually assaulted, robbed or left without the usual support of time for reflection and communal discussions.


Psychedelic churches are a rapidly growing phenomenon raising important questions about the intersection of religion, spirituality and drug use. While some critics have raised concerns about the safety and legality of these practices, advocates argue that they have the potential to offer profound experiences of personal transformation and spiritual insight.

 

About the Contributors

Andrew Duval

staff writer



Andrew Duval is a freshman staff writer for The Charger Account. He spends his spare time surfing Wikipedia, reading, and editing videos.









Quincy Han

artist



Quincy is a senior at Leland High School and an artist for The Charger Account. He likes to play video games and listen to Will Wood.

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