Ayahuasca is not for everyone. By now, the mystical Amazonian jungle brew with a hit of DMT is widely known and even accessible in America today. One no longer needs to reach a remote "shamanic center" in the rainforest by boat; "shamans" offering the "ceremony" can be found in the Bay Area and L.A. Its effects are well-documented: intense insights, uncomfortable revelations, and all the ups and downs that come with a strong, vivid, and lengthy hallucinogenic experience. But, being illegal, an encounter with ayahuasca is out of reach for many people.
For the drug's many proponents, who swear a trip can bring on an authentic "spiritual experience" — which can in turn supposedly heal hardwired afflictions like addiction, depression, and PTSD — that barrier is nothing short of tragic.
Hamilton Souther says he has a way around all that. The Bay Area native and veteran ayahuasca shaman, who spent 12 years in the jungle and has the bonafides from Peruvian masters to show for it, says he has discovered a path to a similar "authentic spiritual experience," with the same benefits and none of the risk.
For starters, it has none of the ayahuasca. All you need, he pledges, is an open mind and an Internet connection.
And a little bit of marijuana.
Marijuana is not a psychedelic drug. Being stoned is a regular ritual for many, but not necessarily a spiritual experience.
Souther would tell you otherwise. Cannabis has been a staple of various cultures' mystical traditions for thousands of years. Learning the ways of an ayahuascero in the Amazon, he knew marijuana had shamanistic potential.
Even so, his spiritual breakthrough with weed happened by accident. Back in California last year, trying to find ways to bring shamanistic experiences to more Westerners, he turned to marijuana — for pain, to deal with nerve damage from an old motorcycle accident. He hadn't been stoned since the late 1990s (tried it in college, wasn't his thing) but the herbs and poultices from the rainforest he used to soothe pain were unavailable. Alone in his L.A. apartment, getting a little high, something funny happened.
He went on a tour.
"I entered into a dialogue with the plant," he says recently by phone, describing an "intense spiritual experience" as plainly as if he were describing a trip to the dentist. High on cannabis, cannabis started talking to him. The plant showed him where the paranoia and the anxiety high people can experience lurk. Steered away from there, the plant then showed him something else entirely. "I met the spirit of the plant, and she showed me the gateway to a vast realm of healing," Souther says. "She told me where to go."
So he tried it again, but this time he prepared. He set his mind's intentions, and spoke the chants he learned in the Amazon. He focused his mind for an hour — and then it happened. "I found a vast space free of context," he says, a place of "pure love and pure bliss." Pain and anxiety melted away. "I'd never found a space like that," he says. "That's the pinnacle of mystical tradition."
Souther says he figured out how to use cannabis to create an ayahuasca-like spiritual experience. And on Sunday, 4/20, he'll take anyone who wants to go there with him.
The "cannabis shamanistic experience," he says, requires no more than 90 minutes to two hours of your time, a place in your home you can concentrate undisturbed, and a little weed. Any kind will do, enough to alter your reality is plenty. Via UStream, access to which is granted via email to those over 21, Souther will lead a ceremony from Colorado (where it's legal): He'll set your focus with intentions and chants and put you in a place where you can concentrate and find that same "spiritual realm of healing."
(And the real kicker, he says, is that you don't even need weed. The whole point is to be put in a state of trance. Weed is an aid, but not the key).
People calling themselves shamans breed suspicion — even a clean-cut, light-haired 35-year-old in business casual like Souther.
What's in it for him? A shot at getting 5,000 people, the audience for his first event (he's repeating the ceremony every 20th of the month thereafter) in the biggest-ever mass shamanistic experience.
It sounds crazy. It's definitely out there. Will it work? For marijuana users tired of the 4/20 shitshow, a shot at a spiritual breakthrough might beat the predictable blunts in Golden Gate Park.