by Krystle Cole, M.S.
When I first started learning about psychedelics, I came across a plethora of helpful writings from the Who’s Who of psychedelia including Terence McKenna, Alexander Shulgin, Albert Hofmann, Timothy Leary, Aldous Huxley, and numerous others. Still, I quickly became aware of the scarcity of women’s voices. Because of this, I believe it is imperative for more women to speak out about the psychedelic experience.
Krystle Cole: To begin, will you provide us with some background regarding your participation in the UDV?
Hanna: I had my first ayahuasca session with the União do Vegetal in the spring of 1995 in London. It was a navato session headed by a Brazilian Mestre. A navato session is a session for people who have never drank the tea before, but those who are already established can also attend it. The position of Mestre is the highest position in the UDV and can only be occupied by a man. I do not consider them to be masters. They are more like maestros conducting the session, which is in my opinion a more accurate description of what they do. There were maybe twenty people there, and it was a beautiful experience. Very high, soft, loving, deep. It was also the most casual; there were cushions and blankets spread out over the floors and low lighting. I was invited to drink because my father was a member and had been involved with them since 1993. He has traveled throughout Brazil over the years and has drunk hundreds of cups of Tea. He recently stopped going to sessions and is quite happy with the choice. I drank twice in England and upon my return to America in 1995 I joined the UDV.
Back in California, we had sessions once a month. Sometimes we had an extra one if there was a visiting mestre or it was a special holiday that had some meaning to them. Christmas Eve, Mother’s day (one of the few headed by a woman), Mestre Gabriel’s birthday, and a few more. During this time in the U.S. there were very few Brazilians and not as much Portuguese during the sessions. In my opinion we also had better, more western friendly music, and things in general were more conducive to our particular western perspective. As more and more Brazilians moved here, things became more traditional, more structured, and … well … to be honest, more boring for me. But then we stopped drinking the tea due to the legality issues, and it went flat all together.
Drinking the tea in America was preferable to drinking in Brazil (I had a brief trip there in 1998) for obvious cultural/language issues. I enjoyed my sessions in England because, as I stated before, they were more relaxed than in America. Low lights, cushions and couches, and very little Portuguese was spoken. It was more my taste. Although I really enjoyed my U.S. sessions, there is definitely more structure. Members wear uniforms that consist of green button down shirts and white pants for men and goldenrod yellow for women. The lights are much brighter and you sit in chairs that, although not terrible, do not lend to complete comfort. You drink the tea as a group, you sit, and the documents (rules etc..) are read in Portuguese and English. Then a shamada (sacred song/not song) is made. The mestre sometimes speaks if he is moved to, or he may play a song or piece of music. Early on in the 90’s the music was western and not often Brazilian; it was conducive to introspection and psychedelics. Once the music shifted to a more Brazilian sound it lost me; it was more of a distraction than an inspiration.
The community of people that form the UDV are really lovely. They tend to be intelligent, educated, creative people who are family oriented. They are big on marriages and children, and encourage any single person to go in that direction. They are a Christ-based religion, and they do have some of the same moral teachings that Christians have. They frown upon premarital hooking up, but they accept discrete behavior. They believe in reincarnation and have a lot of mythology regarding the creation of Ayahuasca, but fundamentally they are still Christ based and that is ultimately a no go for me. Too many rules and conditions squash the organic movement of the Tea. All this being said about the UDV, the Tea is what it is all about. As long as the Tea was there I put up with the conditions and rules that I had to follow.
Ayahuasca is a very high caliber substance, and it remains for me one of the most conducive psychedelics for mystical experiences. If you are a mystic, and you do know if you are, any substance you take, no matter what the conditions you take them under, are approached with the perspective of a mystic. The experiences while under the influence are never just the drugs. They are not separate from the experiences one has in life, just more psychedelic. I loved doing them at raves, connecting with people and dancing in harmony with everyone. Most of the raves I went to were in India in the 90’s when good LSD was still readily available. The saddest part about doing LSD or Ecstasy at a rave/party was running into people in the morning. You had profound connections with them the night before, and they look at you like they don’t know you once the sun comes out. Like it was just the drug and that is all. It was never just the drug for me. Fun, silly, intense, excessive, or whatever it may have been; a mystic is still a mystic and all is life living Itself. Those connections I made with people were real. I never separated them from connections I made sober … well except sometimes on a psychedelic the connections were deeper and more real.
After drinking the Tea with the UDV the connection with the others in the session remains. When a substance is taken as a sacrament by all those involved, the bond is strong and heartfelt. Unified intention and psychedelics go hand in hand. If you take LSD, Ecstasy, smoke a joint, eat mushrooms, drink San Pedro, or drink Ayahuasca as a sacrament, the experience promises to be unique and more intense. Often this can by helped along by providing a space that one can have deep personal movement, clarity, inspiration, catharsis, and inspiration in. The UDV is a fantastic place to have that in your life, but only if you are geared to their ideals, concepts, and traditions. A mystic can take any substance as a sacrament, and I believe inspire those around them to take the journey as well.
KC: Would you share a prayer that was sang or chanted during one of the ceremonies you attended?
H: Chamadas are the prayers/song/not songs that are made in a UDV session. They are not really songs, but they are melodic. They say that they are “made” or “called”. The best definition I have found is this one:
Chamada (from the verb chamar, “to call” or “to summon”): A performance genre in which a single member intones a chant a cappella. Chamadas are intended to channel the “force” of the burracheira by calling on divine entities and/or revealing certain aspects of nature’s mysteries. (Erowid, 2009)
I can’t repeat them because they are in Portuguese, and they are private to the people in those sessions. I have one that I can still hear now in my head. It still makes me feel something deeply. It is the Chamada that is called in the beginning of the session right when everyone is starting to feel the effects of the Tea. It is a call for Ayahuasca to come and join us, be with us, guide us. This is so mystical and deep, it is the part that I resonated with. It always felt like we were calling our Mother home, or probably more accurate to say that it was like our Mother was calling us home. For me, Ayahuasca is the Mother. She is like Kali, black like the night sky. Absorbing all color, She is all color, and She destroys what is needed so the new can be birthed. She cradles you when you need it and slaps you up the side of your head when you need that.
Ayahuasca isn’t an easy substance to take. You would have to be pretty fucking out of it to want to party on this one. I would not have wanted to drink the Tea and go to a rave. With the chills, no desire to move around, vomiting, and general intestinal upset, it isn’t something everyone would want to take. There are varying degrees of physical discomfort that can be the result of the particular brew, where you are at personally/emotionally, or what Mother thinks you need. I have spent a few sessions next to the bathrooms tripping my brains out and trying not to shit myself. A session with the UDV means bonding over vomit buckets, and it isn’t even really that gross. It is just part of the whole experience. It often leads to humorous tales the next day and much laughter.
KC: How did this spiritual aspect of the ceremony impact to your trip?
H: I am a mystic, and I have mystical experiences. The “spiritual” aspects of the ceremony were often distracting and not necessary for me, because to me they remain religious even if one calls them spiritual. The Chamadas are mystical, affecting me on a cellular level. The Tea is ingested physically, absorbed into my organism like a cup of tea or a chocolate bar. I experience this absorption on a material level. I see colors, patterns, and shapes. I hear sounds, music is enhanced, voices merge. My skin can crawl, tingle, melt before my eyes, or feel like velvet and bunnies. The neurons are popping, and my cells are dancing to the tune of one of the glorious substances that shift perspective. It is fucking mystical! Although I have never had the opportunity to drink the Tea outside of the structure of the UDV sessions, I absolutely believe that I could have had deeper and more profound trips if I had drank it outside that setting. Not everyone would agree with me, and for some this would not be wise to do, but I know that is the truth for me.
KC: Since you bring thus up, I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on the psychedelic experiences you’ve had during UDV ceremonies versus settings outside the church.
H: No matter what I take or where I take it, the potential is the same. Whether smoking a joint on my bed while watching some stupid shit on T.V., shrooming in a sunny meadow, or sitting upright in a session with the UDV deep in the jungles of Brazil, they all have the same potential. The potential to be freaking bored out of my skull, or to be lifted up and released, the potential to be inspired or repulsed. The potential is there to be brought to your knees in humiliation or filled with blissful tears of recognition. I do not see that one is better than another except for what is your personal taste. I prefer lower lighting and pillows; good techno or Indian music is nice. But that is all just personal taste and what I tend to gravitate to.
KC: I wonder, did you have a greater number of highly introspective/Godhead experiences in UDV ceremonies or a greater number in non-UDV settings?
H: I have had some of the most profound, cathartic experiences after a couple of hits off of a joint, and have had “bored to tears” experiences during sessions with the UDV. You never know what you are going to get. Not all experiences are deeply mystical, but as a mystic they are all perceived with a mystical perspective. So even if they don’t reveal any deeper meanings, they still are embraced as part of the whole and interesting as hell, not always my favorites but still pretty cool.
KC: Did you feel safer consuming ayahuasca during the UDV ceremonies than in more recreational settings?
H: I always felt safe during a UDV session. Ayahuasca isn’t conducive to aggression or intimidating types. The people really do tend to be pretty gentle and kind. During the sessions they keep an eye on you so you don’t roam away from them. They will come check on you if you are gone a long time. Recreational settings for drug taking can be safe or not safe. As I am sure you know what both are like, so do I. Raves are not always the safest places to be on drugs. Weird unknown people’s houses are not always a wise location to trip. So there really isn’t a comparison between the two. I have never had Ayahuasca outside of the UDV. If I did, I would drink it with my Beloved and maybe one other friend. Low lights, really comfortable lounge zone, music that I resonate with, and mystical conversation with the one I know is a real Master. This would be a really, really wonderful trip, or as the UDV would call it – a Burracheira. A Burracheira is:
…the experience of being under the effect of Vegetal, of the força (“force”) and luz (“light”); burracheira is said by UDV members to mean força estranha (“strange force”) in Portuguese. (Erowid, 2009)
KC: Why did you stop being a member of the UDV?
H: I quit because we were not drinking the tea during the court process, which eventually led to the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize the use of Ayahuasca. No Tea meant there was no reason for me to continue with the UDV. I believe that all I have stated before explains my position on this. I quit because something more profound and quicker came my way. But that is another story all together. 😉