The English Girl & The Peyote Ceremony

The English Girl & The Peyote Ceremony

I’ve decided to write about my experience taking part in a traditional peyote ceremony, because I learnt a lot from it and I’ll forget it if I don’t write it down. And it will be interesting to reread this in 10 years' time. There were a lot of little things that brought the ceremony to life for me, so I’m going to try and be as detailed as possible for you here. I apologize in advance for sounding like a gringa / tourist.

This ceremony took place in Oaxaca with Kristy and Monika, my two Slovakian friends. Kristy was 31, Monika was 29 and I was 26. Monika is Kristy’s sister and she had been suffering from Lyme disease for many years. She had been experiencing exhaustion, spent a lot of her days in bed and had been on all kinds of medications. She was looking for a way to be healed, through any means necessary. So, when Kristy told me she was coming to Oaxaca in Mexico with us, it was clear from the start that we wanted to have some kind of healing experience.

I got in touch with Maria*, our peyote guide, through a chance encounter and a bit of Facebook stalking. On Facebook, I used the feature where you can see that friends had been to a city in the past and “liked” it. Looking at Oaxaca Centro, I saw that my friend Teresa from Penn (my alma mater) had graduated from high school in Oaxaca in 2012 or so. This was 2021. I assumed that Teresa had probably grown up in Oaxaca and knew something about the area. It was a bit of a weird thing to do, reaching out to an old college friend to ask her about her experiences studying in a city, but such is the stalkerish nature of the internet. Teresa herself is of more Spanish descent, but like the classic gringas we were, and the tourist that I am, after I asked her about her recommendations for restaurants, I said, “And do you know where we could do ayahuasca?”

It turned out that Teresa had never done ayahuasca, but she shared Maria’s contact details with me that she got through a friend. Maria would come to play a very important role in the ceremony and our experience with peyote. I had Maria’s contact details on WhatsApp. Her picture seemed very sweet. She was very cute looking from the outset, and she had dark skin, so I assumed she was Mexican. I didn’t notice until much later that in her photo she was also wearing these spiritual-looking jewelry, like wooden earrings and a necklace, and she also had dreadlocks.

So, once we had arrived in Oaxaca and settled for some weeks, I decided to call Maria. We spoke in Spanish, and she said that ideally we could come in March (it was early February) for a hickory ceremony. I told her we had Monika with us, who wanted to help with her disease. This was when I first learned that we would be doing peyote, not ayahuasca, and that we would basically be driving out to the middle of nowhere and staying in a random field for the night. It was a whole night long affair: you take the peyote in the evening, then you stay up the whole night, and come back in the morning. I told her that because Monika does not speak Spanish, it was very important for us to have an English translator, and while my Spanish was decent, obviously it would be easier for me if it was in English too. She mentioned some things about how to prepare for the ceremony: don’t have sex two days before, don’t eat red meat or drink alcohol for two days before, don’t take any antibiotics, etc. I agreed to this, and the cost would be $1500 MX pesos each, equivalent to $75 US, which was a steal for us at the time. We agreed to join her for a ceremony in two weeks’ time, and I extended my trip by a week, because my flight was going to leave on the Sunday morning, and I was worried that we might not get back from the field in time for me to get my flight to Dallas, and then move on to New York. As you’ll see, it was very lucky that I did.

We still had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. Monika asked, would she be able to take antibiotics the day before? Where would we be going? How would we get there? Maria sent me some very spiritual looking images on WhatsApp of the hickory ceremony that we were going to do, with a stag and sparkling blue stars, and with words written on them like “marakame”. She also sent us a list of what to bring (I’ll paste it in here if I find it). On the list it says things like bring a sleeping bag, and a tent. Well, we didn’t have any of these things. I asked Maria if it was okay that we came without the sleeping bag, tent, etc., and I thought she said it would be fine. Clearly there was a misunderstanding and I was completely wrong.

So, we started to prepare ourselves in the days before. We didn’t really drink when we went out for dinner, although the Friday night before the ceremony Monika and I did go out and have a couple beers and dance in a club, with some tourist guys from Brazil, England and France, which was really fun. The ceremony was planned for a Saturday night, and I spent the time getting ready as I would any other psychedelic trip. I was concerned: who was Maria? How would we get back to the city afterwards? I felt responsible because I was the one who had planned everything.

We planned to leave about at 5:45 PM to be there by 6:30. Maria sent us the location of a random place along the carretera (freeway) and a picture of an old, abandoned house where we should meet her. I also didn’t have data because of my shitty and expensive Verizon data plan while traveling abroad, so I also put her in touch with Kristy. (I’ll paste our pictures in here at some point too.)

As I was getting more nervous, I was trying to put my mind at ease and focus on spiritual things I had been thinking about: Creative Ideas by Ernest Holmes, writing about women’s issues, and spending my Saturday exploring ideas and writing to get myself in the mood. I went to the bank at about 5:30, and took out $3000MX pesos, about $150USD in cash, so that again, worst came to worst, I could figure out a way to get out of there.

Back at the house (Casona Soledad in Oaxaca Centro, an incredibly beautiful and spacious apartment-style hotel that we stayed at), we packed to get ready. I bought only one small bottle of water, and one set of warm clothes for myself. I stuffed these into my backpack. I had a thin coat from Pendleton that my aunt had given me, a pair of leggings, an extra pair of blue sweatpants, a pair of socks, and my long shirt from Patagonia (not that warm). I also had a blue cashmere hat, and my gortex shoes that Anya, my sister, had gotten me for Christmas. I figured that this would be enough clothes for me to last all through the night. Again, I was wrong.

Also, Kristy had been suffering from terrible UTIs for the last couple days. We had gone back and forth about whether she should take antibiotics before the peyote trip, and finally decided it was necessary, along with her constantly drinking a shit ton of cranberry juice and maracuya (passion fruit) juice to flush out her insides with Vitamin C. She had been really sick, in a lot of pain, and barely slept in the night. She decided at the last minute that she could still make it and wanted to join us.

In any case, we left the hotel and I was stressed about being on time. We got in a taxi and the taxi driver agreed to drive us to this random part of the freeway about 20 miles out of town, and I loaded the location on my Apple Maps. We bargained with him to take us there for $220MX pesos. On the way out of the Casona, Kristy and Monika both had some corn on the cob, and water, which I didn’t have because I was trying to cleanse myself and be fully prepared for the experience. The sun was setting as we headed out of Oaxaca Centro in the taxi, with the taxi driver who was driving very fast. Kristy also turned up the radio, so we had very loud and wailing Mexican music was blasting. This, along with Monika taking a lot of pictures, was makes me anxiety and irritated and even more nervous. The roads were really busy, as we headed out of town to the east, towards a town called Tulle. Of course, the cab driver too had no idea where we were going, so he kept asking now and then and I’d say: continue for another 10 km, or such and such. Once we were out of the city, and I realized we were going to be perfectly on time, I started to relax. The sunset was absolutely incredible. The girls stopped the cab so they could get some water, which again we weren’t supposed to drink. Even though I wanted some water, and was hungry, I was set on preparing properly for the experience. This turned out to be a good move, as I felt a lot less nauseous later.

We passed Tulle and got out into the countryside. There were fields with broken down, dilapidated and semi-constructed houses, and rubble on the side of the road, and the occasional speed bump randomly at intersections on the freeway. The air was really hot, and of course we were all wearing masks and had sanitized our hands because we were still in the middle of the pandemic. We found ourselves driving on the carretera (freeway) that was part of a giant grassy valley in between two mountains. The valley was huge, and the mountains were also huge. The grasses were wispy gold with purple hues along the horizon. I want to say we arrived almost exactly at 6:31, which I felt proud about, because I wanted to give our little group the best chance of having a lovely night.

Through a combination of photo checking and maps approximations, we finally found the half-constructed house where we got out of the car. There was a girl standing on the roadside. The taxi driver helped us get our bags, and I paid him. I ended up paying him the $250 MX pesos that we originally agreed on, because I was anxious to feel more oriented, and I didn’t want to fuss while I was feeling so nervous. The taxi driver left, and there we were, waiting on the side of the freeway. It was this time that I checked my phone, and actually saw that I had received some pictures from Maria. She had set up a sort of animalistic, colorful shrine, which after having no idea where we were going still, helped me feel assured that we would be okay. I shared the pictures with Kristy and Monika as well, hoping it would help them feel safer.

Monika and Kristy had dressed nicely and done their makeup and hair for the experience. I, on the other hand, was going for my back-country California look. Having spent my summers in the rural mountains of the Sierra Nevada, I was not about to look pretty for the grasses and the valleys. I wasn’t wearing a bra or underwear under my leggings or my long-sleeved lumber-jack style shirt because I figured we were about to be outdoors for a really long time, and being comfortable for me was by far the most important thing. But already as the sun was starting to set, I put on my jumper. Kristy was already cold. We were about to spend the entire night outside in the valley, and the temperature was dropping fast.

In any case, we met the girl who was standing by the roadside. She was Mexican, and at first I thought she was Maria, but it turned out her name was Fernanda. She seemed to be about the same age as us, and we got to talking. She lived in Oaxaca Centro, and she was 25 years old. And what blew our minds (all childless European women, and Monika and I were single, while Kristy was married), was that Fernanda had 3 young children. I think they were 7, 6 and 3 years old or something. This was not the first time I had met a woman like this in Mexico: a couple has a kid or two, then the guy ditches, and the girl is stuck raising the children herself. I felt incredibly grateful for my IUD and for never having had a child. We talked to Fernanda in Spanish and translated for Monika at times. Kristy and I were totally perplexed by the shittiness of Fernanda’s previous partner, who had left her when her daughter, her youngest child, was just born. I think I said,

“En Ingles, decimos, “Fuck that guy”.

Fernanda said, “Fuck that guy?”

“Si, como, Puta de Madre,” I said (i.e. son of a bitch), and she seemed to laugh a bit, but not significantly. Swearing hardly seemed to help the situation, but I was already on Fernanda’s side. We made it clear that we supported her, not whoever this random dude was who had ditched her and her 3 children.

We continued to chat to her, and she said we had to wait, because there were more people coming. Like the tourist I was, I was expecting the ceremony to start for us right away, and that it would just be us with the shamans, etc. But we were the first ones there from our group, arriving on time, and so we had to wait by the carretera for the rest of them. Kristy, Monika and I eventually left Fernanda and went to sit on the broken terrace behind the dilapidated house, and watch the sunset over the valley, which in itself was an incredibly fucking magical experience. Kristy played the song Spring Mix 1 from her phone. We had been sitting there for about half an hour, before the first part of the rest of our group arrived. I was curious who it was, so I went to greet them.

It was a girl called Natalia, which we agreed was similar to my name, Natasha, and she arrived in a white car along with her two friends, and a woman who turned out to be her housekeeper, called Gloria, though for most of the night I thought that Gloria was her adopted mother. Natalia seemed…very cool. She was pale and from Oaxaca Centro. She reminded me of Teresa in a way, except she was wearing this traditional long Mexican skirt, and some nice sandals, and a long shirt, and beautiful jewelry. She looked practically elegant and radiant compared to me.

In any case, Fernanda said that we were still waiting for one or two more people. It was almost completely dark. Night was starting, and we were still not any closer to starting the peyote ceremony. The girls and I were really starting to get impatient. We had been waiting for an hour by the roadside already. In any case, it was there that I decided I would give some money to Fernanda. I didn’t know how much I was going to give her. But I knew that with three children, she needed the money more than I did. And this also surfaced later in my peyote trip (which I promise I will get to soon).

Eventually, and by eventually I mean another half an hour later, a truck arrived. It was a black Ford 4x4 car, exactly like the pickup trucks that I have seen everywhere in America. The girls and I got put our bags in the back, and got in the pickup truck, and we all squeezed in the middle with Fernanda. This again, was where it was very useful that we could speak Spanish. In the front sat a woman, Beatriz, who was probably in her 40s, and the man who was driving the truck. At times I thought he was Beatriz’s brother, but they were actually friends. And we were laughing the whole way there. We explained to them that we were from Slovakia and England, and then the woman started asking us questions. And we talked about boyfriends, and we were also teasing Beatriz’s brother who was driving the truck because he was single, and I started asking if he was a drunk (emborrachito), which they found very funny. Fernanda directed us through the narrow valley roads in the dark. I had no idea where we were, so the realization that we were about to spend the night in the middle of a field off of a freeway in Mexico was really starting to sink in. We were well off the paved road now, and the pickup truck was jolting a lot as we went down this bumpy road. I wondered how Natalia and her group were doing in their other smaller white car.

Eventually we turned the corner and pull right up through some trees and bushes. We got out, and the stars are really starting to come out at this point. And now we’re pretty terrified because we realized we did not have any of the right gear. We entered what was kind of like a campsite. It was a circle, with some thin wooden poles marking the edge of it. In the middle was a campfire space, not lit yet, and around the people had already started laying out their mats and things in a circle around the fire. In one corner, it was dark so it was hard to see, there were candles and the altar laid out that Maria had sent me pictures of earlier. And there were a couple other mysterious looking people, who I later learned was the marakame (shaman), called Xquenda (which means soul in Zapotec), his wife, Nayeli (which means I love you in Zapotec) and their 5-year-old daughter (?) who again stayed up with us for a lot of the night. This little girl was surely living just about the complete opposite life that I had lived growing up in London. She was the daughter of Xquenda, and part of a family who did things like host peyote ceremonies that lasted all night long in the middle of rural Mexico. There was also an older, and more sacred shaman / marakame. There was also a woman from the United States, called Caroline, and a hut made out of what looked like bamboo sticks, which was in fact 2 dry toilets, so after you went to the toilet, you had to put sawdust to cover your poop / pee.

Then we realized shit had really hit the fan. Beatriz and her friend had brought a tent and sleeping bags. Everyone in Natalia’s car had bought not only beautiful giant matts, and mattresses to sleep on, but they also had brought sleeping bags, pillows, and then a bunch of objects that they either wanted to offer as a gift for the altar or to get blessed by the shaman to bring them good energy. I had managed to remember to bring the book by Ernest Holmes, Creative Ideas, so at least I had that. But Natalia and her friends had brought some crackers and shakers, some old pictures and picture frames, dried lavender and garlic, and little trinkets that were so pretty. I was really embarrassed because we basically had nothing. We had not even brought cups to drink the peyote, so Kristy and Merry had to cut up a water bottle in two and drink out of that, and then Maria gave us a plastic bowl and a gave me a cup which was usually used for candles, that I used a tiny amount of our water to clean out, and still after half an hour of rubbing and washing it, I ended up drinking a combination of peyote and candle wax in my concoction.

This entire time, I was starting to get impatient. I wanted the fire to start because it was getting cold and I was worried about Kristy and Monika. I ended up basically putting on all my layers already, and we all lay on this mat that Kristy had managed to grab at the last minute from Casona Soledad. It was a joke how underprepared we were.

The woman Caroline was also very interesting. I tried not to make too many judgments about her when we first met, and over the course of the night, I continued to like her more and more. I don’t think it’s possible to not like someone if you do a peyote ceremony with them if you open up to each other in the right way. You see so deeply into these people’s souls, you can’t help but feel and recognize the pain that other people have experienced. But, in any case, I also felt like I had to justify us a little bit as the obvious white, European / American tourists who had just rocked up to a traditional ceremony. Caroline said she had been traveling for about a year, starting first in the Amazon, and that she was studying indigenous shamans and herbal based medicines. Caroline was wearing again a very traditional style dress, like Maria and now Fernanda and Natalia who were all wearing this. I was still dressed as an American lumberjack. Caroline’s gray hair was braided into buns at the bottom of her head, which had some kind of ribbon wrapped into them. I thought ethnically she was either partly indigenous or Mexican, as her nose was long and pointy, and her eyes were dark. She was very beautiful. But it was still weird because even though she looked like this, I still found her very American, which was a bit of a strange paradox. We were two different types of tourists in a way, just trying to find ourselves.

So, we got to talking to her. I told her that I also spoke Spanish, so would be happy to translate some of the ceremony for Monika. With the marakames there, I was really embarrassed because Monika was taking so many pictures and trying to document everything. To me, I felt this was not only disrespectful to Xquenda, who was about to share a very sacred ceremony with us, but it was creating a lot of light that was distracting from the stars. At one point I told Monika that we should probably not be taking pictures, and I felt bad that it bothered me so much. In the end, we ended up asking Maria if she could take pictures. She said Monika could take pictures before the ceremony, but not during it, and could take them afterwards in the morning. This was the perfect happy medium.

In any case, I was quite preoccupied with doing tourist damage control, and Caroline too had brought a blanket. It turned out, that while I thought she was part of the whole group, she had actually just travelled to Oaxaca for that ceremony and was in fact returning to Guatemala the next day. But in any case, we were lucky that she was there because she ended up translating a lot of the Spanish, which actually made the experience far more enjoyable for me.

At this point we had already been sitting in the field, getting cold and being impatient waiting for the ceremony to start for about an hour. We finally got our cups ready, and things were beginning to start. Maria was playing Danit, who is a very spiritual sounding artist, probably is not Mexican as they’re based in Switzerland. When I took the peyote, Danit’s song Cuatro Vientos was on, which was a song I felt slightly nostalgic about and spiritually connected to when I had been dating Matthieu, and we listened to it driving through the mountains of New Mexico.

In any case, the spiritual music was playing, with soft, low cello tones and Danit singing about the wind, the trees, the earth, etc. Caroline had tried to explain to us some things in English, which Maria said in Spanish. We were only supposed to walk around the circle in an anti-clockwise direction, we weren’t supposed to drink water or eat for the rest of the night, and we were not allowed to speak while the shaman was speaking. Maria said we had to focus on the fact that this was an individual experience, and we really should not touch or hug each other. They lit the fire, which we tried to get near, and Caroline said that we were supposed to have brought candles, one to each put in front of us to keep the energy going for the whole night, and another to put at the altar. Everyone was sitting around in their respective cubbies, or in our case, lying on the open grass shivering. I had given my extra sweatpants to Kristy to help her keep warm.

Finally, the peyote ceremony was beginning. First, we had the option to do rapé (pronounce “ra-pay”), which is supposed to make the experience of the peyote itself more intense. Maria and Fernanda came around the circle with a long, thin wooden pipe, and blew a bit of hot spicy tobacco up your nose (not very coronavirus friendly, as everyone who was administered the rapé used the same little pipe for both of our nostrils). They said that it was normal to vomit after both the peyote and rapé. I decided to do it. Monika went first, and they went around first in a circle. I watched Monika do it, and essentially Maria and Fernanda got you to breathe in, hold it, breathe out, and then after you breathed back into it, she blew it up into your nose. Monika seemed pretty flustered. Kristy had asthma, so didn’t want to it. Next it was my turn.

Maria rested the little wooden pipe gently in my left nostril first. I breathed in and out a couple times, and Maria shot it up my nostril. It shook me, a lot. It felt like when you get water up your nose and then it gets into your throat, but with a shit ton of pressure. My eyeball basically started watering and was soaking with tears immediately, like it was going to pop out of my head, and the entire left side of my face went numb. But I was ready. As soon as it happened, I ripped the hairband out of my hair and let my hair hang loose. I opened up the buttons of my coat so I could breathe deeply and fully. This was the first part of opening myself up to the night, and the experience. Then, of course, before my eyeball had time to stop wincing and weeping, it was time for the other nostril. A shock to the system. My whole face was on fire, my right eyeball tearing up again. Maria again reminded me that it was normal to cry and vomit. I felt shaken, but also kind of moved, like I was being woken up from my resting state of normal life and being brought into what would be a crazy and exciting spiritual world. At this point, I felt ready to whatever the night was going to throw at me. But of course, first we had to wait another half an hour or so before we were going to do the actual peyote.

At this point, knowing how long it takes for psychedelics to kick in, I was feeling pretty impatient. I passed the next half an hour sitting by the fire, and then lying down and looking at the stars with Kristy and Monika.

To take the peyote itself, which was some kind of gritty tea that came from a pot cooked on the fire, we each had to go up and receive a cup from the shaman. This is where I was pretty concerned about doing it wrong, because I had understood some of the instructions in Spanish but not all of them. They started from the other end of the circle this time, and one by one, Gloria, Natalia’s first and second friend, then Natalia, then the man who had driven us in the pickup truck, then Beatriz, then Kristy, then me, then Monika, then Caroline and finally Fernanda and Maria all took the peyote.

Each person got up and went around the circle anti-clockwise once and then approached Xquenda and Nayeli, and their kid, who was resting on her lap where they were sitting, and then sat down in front of them. Xquenda would bless you, by touching you with a stick with feathers on the end of it, and humming some chants in Zapotec, before Maria asked me in Spanish whether I wanted honey or not to go with my candle-wax-infused peyote tea. Kristy had said she wanted no honey, in Spanish (I could hear her from across the circle), and I said that I wanted a lot (Si, mucho miel) because I was about to drink this seriously disgusting drink and I wanted mine to be as palatable as possible. Each person was also given a stick to stir the tea, not because it was hot, but because all the gritty bits just stuck to the bottom.

What I had noticed as I went back to my seat was that the other people who had taken the peyote before us were now vomiting. They had finished drinking theirs, and I was struggling to drink mine without vomiting just listening to the sound of them retching. Gloria was throwing up the most. And that made me nervous because she and the rest of them had drunk their peyote a little earlier than us. I pointed this out to Kristy. Luckily, none of us threw up, though I did retch a few times and very almost did.

The peyote itself, what Nayeli put into my drink, was just like a giant tablespoon of dirt which I guess is dried and ground up from the peyote cactus. It looked like light cinnamon, but the liquid it was in also had these green bits in it that tasted like leaves. It didn’t taste like mint or spinach or anything. It was just kind of a gritty, leafy mixture. The grittiness of it, the bitter grittiness of the dirt, was really what made me feel so disgusting while I was taking it. I couldn’t even taste the honey, though I wanted to. I felt like it was one of those moments of being an adult where you just have to force yourself to drink it, even though it’s really disgusting. You just have to do it. I just drank mine as quickly as possible to get through it.

I didn’t really feel anything for another hour. Once everyone had taken the peyote, we gathered around the fire in a circle. Maria and Fernanda had each given us a piece of string and a stick of a certain species. The first exercise was to tie 5 knots into the string, and request from the fire, which would from then on be referred to as “Grandfather Fire”, or “Abuelo” or “Fuego”, and think about the 5 things that we wanted the fire to provide for us.

This is where Maria’s role as the guide in the ceremony was so key. Even though I was struggling to understand her in Spanish, it was her guidance that basically made the difference between a random acid trip in the forest with my friends, and a deeper, meaningful, spiritual connection with my ancestors. That, and also having the shamans come round the circle and bless us occasionally, was really nice. Basically, once in while Xquenda would go around to us one at a time and press on our heart with one hand on our front and one hand on our back, and then also tap the stick and the feathers on the end of it on out forehead, and at times across our chest, (almost like how people will tap their forehead and shoulders for the father, the son and the holy ghost). The power of rituals like this in human cultures cannot be underestimated.

It was funny because Xquenda had to bless everyone in our group, even though one of Natalia’s friends, who was French, didn’t take part in the circle at all and fell asleep early on, and the man who had been driving the pickup truck also spent most of the night away from the circle. So, every time Xquenda would go around and bless everyone, Maria would have to remind him to bless the other two people who were asleep.

I asked for a couple things. I asked to be open to new things, to be surprised by what I was going to discover during the night. I asked to learn how to be less judgmental of other people, and I wanted some guidance about my life too, as to which direction I should go in. I also wanted to learn how to forgive others, and to forgive myself. I liked the intentionality of tying the 5 knots. We then threw the sticks with the red strings tied around them in 5 knots into the fire, so that it would come true. We did this routinely throughout the night, with cocoa beans, and other small sticks that we could find. It was a nice ritual and it helped to get things out.

All we did for the next 10 hours or so was sit around in a circle by the fire, and as Maria encouraged us to do, we would just take it in turns to express whatever was on our minds. You didn’t need to say anything if you didn’t want to, but if you felt called to, you could. So, we first went around the circle starting with Monika. We offered to let her talk in English, so Caroline could share it in Spanish, but Monika didn’t want to. Then it was me. I said in Spanish that I asked for the night to bring me surprises, and I asked for the night open me to new things, to be open to new experiences. But I found it difficult to speak in Spanish. Suddenly, while I am usually very talkative, I felt like things weren’t coming out properly. I later learned that when I was doing peyote, I got a lot of benefits from speaking in my mother tongue. I tried to be friendly and open to the people in the circle, but it seemed pretty immediately like most of them were dealing with much bigger demons of their own, and this was not going to be a happy-go-lucky, run around and frolic in the forest like I have had in previous psychedelic experiences. We had to introduce ourselves, and I was going for the: I’m a traveler, I come in peace kind of welcoming statement. But as soon as it got passed Kristy, it was clear things were taking a far more serious turn.

Beatriz was already crying when she started speaking. She said her full name, and said she was Colombian and was feeling very lost in her life. She was a descendant of Colombian healers. Already, the peyote was starting to take effect. I can’t remember quite exactly what the others in the circle were feeling, but it was clear that Natalia had at some point been abusing alcohol and tobacco, and that Gloria had lost her son, and already their pain was very apparent. They were crying a lot. I started to realize that I probably wasn’t thinking deeply enough. Caroline was translating into English, which was really soothing, and she was describing the pain that each person was feeling.

And that’s when it finally started to hit me that I had to think in English. But as Maria was encouraging us in Spanish to think about our ancestors, present and past, I was suddenly overwhelmed with pain, and I couldn’t really breathe. After each of the others had gone around and introduced themselves and their pain and said their full names, it was time for me to do the same. I felt like the rest of the group had been so open, and because I had been speaking in Spanish and trying to be nice, I had just brushed over everything and barely scratched the surface. Now, I asked Caroline, who had only taken peyote a few times herself, to translate for me. And I opened up, a lot.

I said that my full name was Natasha Roísín Doherty, and that my middle name was Irish Gaelic, a language which is not spoken anymore. And this was something that was really powerful for me. Thinking about the languages of Irish Gaelic, and later Yiddish, and how much of my ability to connect with my ancestors was limited because I didn’t speak their languages, and how so much of our customs, and traditions, and ideas and lives and stories have been lost. I was crying a lot, already. And I felt an incredible amount of pain, specifically coming from my Irish family, and possibly parts of my English family too. Until this point in my life, I had felt like I was traveling alone throughout the world. But then I realized that everything that I was living was a culmination of all of their lives. And in their lives, they had wanted to do many things that they had not been able to do. Maybe I was living out some of their dreams. Maybe they were just expressing to me how hard their lives had been. But they had wanted to do things: perhaps be educated, perhaps learn to read, perhaps have their own thoughts, and express them, perhaps be honest with the people closest to them in the world and their families. But for whatever reason, because of circumstance or religion, or their finances, or their husbands or wives or children or duties or access had not been able to. They had been stuck. They did not have the ability to say what they honestly thought or live their lives as they wanted to. They could not realize their potential, in whatever way that was. And I felt that, and it was incredibly painful. Especially with the Irish and Yiddish ancestors, I felt so strongly their loss of language. It was actually incredibly painful, because this was the language of my ancestors, my past and I didn’t speak either of these languages.

And there were a couple things that came out of this for me. The first was really the feeling of my female ancestors of their frustrations and pain, at needing to hold their tongue. And with that, they gave me as sense of duty, that they were reminding me of. I felt their love, but it was kind of like a gentle finger wagging. It was a small cautionary tale: don’t fuck this up. Haha. Unlike them, I was alive, I had energy and life in me, I had everything at my fingertips, including education, the ability to travel and be independent, I had birth control, the ability to learn new languages and connect with foreign people, no religion or responsibilities towards a family, not as many rules, for sure. And so, it felt like a bit of a finger wag. Then I laughed at this, a lot. Don’t mess this up, they said.

This is what I explained to the circle. And as each of us around the circle said something, Maria would encourage us to say, “Aho” (pronounced a-ho, translates from indigenous languages as thank you or amen), setting it free, basically. Or they would say, “Ofrece Ooh” or "Offreteo" (sorry I don’t know how to spell it, from the verb ofrecer, to offer). The idea was to get rid of whatever this pain was that you were feeling. As we took it in turns, in different points in time, not necessarily in a circle but whenever we felt called to, the group would encourage us to offer this pain to the fire and get rid of it.

After the first round, when I was crying a lot, Xquenda and Maria came over and gave me extra special coals that they blessed me with. Throughout the night, I would see Xquenda rub his hands and hold them, hovering above people’s backs or bodies or arms or hair and kind of pull the pain out of them into the fire, using his hands. What was funny was that at some point early in the night, the other older shaman had gone to sleep and was snoring loudly for the entire night. Nayeli and the little girl also disappeared and went to bed. So occasionally, Xquenda woke up to bless us, and after chanting in Zapotec, went back to sleep.

So, when I really let go of this pain for the first time, Xquenda was blessing me, and the rest of the circle felt my energy, and I felt that my pain was coming out. As we took it in turns, people just had so much pain that needed to come out. Gloria had lost her son. Other people wept for ancestors they had never met. And Fernanda and Maria, especially, were just balling their eyes out. Maria had been treated badly by previous partners, and had also been raised in France, though she was Mexican so she also spoke in French at some point too. I was the only person who would kind of understand her French, at which point I said, “Offrer-ca” in French, as a point of encouragement at the end of her outpouring. But specifically, I felt Fernanda’s pain so deeply. Whenever Fernanda would talk, and look into the fire, she’d get down on all fours, with her tears and snot dripping down her face and down her nose. She just kept saying, in Spanish, “I’m so tired. I’m at the absolute end of everything. I am exhausted. I’ve tried everything.” It was so deeply upsetting to watch, and so painful. I just have these images in my mind of her tears streaming. Her wailing. Her hands grasping at the rocks around the edge of the fire.

Fernanda’s role was to tend to the fire, which she did diligently whenever it was getting low and we were starting to freeze. But what I found most tragic about her pain was that Xquenda did not really acknowledge her as much as he did the rest of us. When Fernanda was on her hands and knees, Xquenda would often start chanting again, essentially not giving space for her pain in its full expression and hurrying the rest of us along. I found this incredibly sad. Here was this lovely, kind 25-year-old girl, with all these children, having such a hard time and living a life where she was really truly struggling. But she was, in a way, even their eyes, this fallen woman. Even in such a sacred ceremony, it was clear that the shaman did not want to give the full space for her pain. And that was incredibly difficult to watch. Not even in this traditional ceremony was Fernanda given the full permission to express herself, as she was going through so much. It hurt me to see it, a lot.

That was when the feminine energy of the night became stronger. Beatriz’s friend went to sleep and was snoring at one point, so it was all women sitting around the circle. When Fernanda and Maria said that they were so tired of their old partners, and people had also gotten divorced, or gotten stuck with children when the men in their lives had left, I said that I wanted to sing a song to open them to the possibilities of new love. I sang the song in two parts, in Spanish, because I could not remember the lyrics, but they loved it. And I loved singing it for them too. It felt really good to be able to teach them something, and to sing them a song to bring new love into their lives, and they all seemed to love that. I also tried to express to them in Spanish that I was going to make an offering to the fire of all the people who we are going to meet in the future, who will love us, and who will not be perfect, because nobody is perfect and everyone has imperfections, but they will be perfect for us. They seemed to love that. And again, I loved to speak to them in Spanish because they actually understood what I was saying. And it felt great to be able to give that to them.

This is where Kristy and Monika were facing a bit of a problem. I encouraged them to say things in Slovak, which is their native language, but Kristy didn’t have anything to say, and Monika spent the entire night feeling sick. We had explained to the girls that Monika had a sickness and a disease. And the entire night, Monika said that she wanted to vomit, and she didn’t want to speak. Maria and the others would offer her words of encouragement that she should throw up and get the sickness out of her, but Monika didn’t manage to do it.

What was nice was that we then each took turns to sing different songs, mostly again in our native languages. Kristy and Monika sang a song in Slovak, which was lovely, and the others sang songs about water and mothers and nature in Spanish, which I really liked. I sang the first verse of Jerusalem. Every time I would usually speak or sing, I felt like I had to qualify in Spanish what I was about to do. So after the others sang some songs that were sad or beautiful, I said, “Este cancion es muy fuerte, con mucho energia, y es una cancion de Inglatera” (This is a very strong song, with a lot of energy, and it is about England), and I loved singing it proudly, loudly and strong. And just fucking going for it and belting it out.

I was taught a lot about communicating and language that night. First, I learnt from the other of Natalia’s friends, Romina, the one who was Mexican, not the French one who was asleep, was that the most important thing about another language is the ability to understand. As we kept going around the circle, and they were speaking in Spanish, and I was trying to understand and translate for Monika along with Caroline, it was clear to me that Romina was not only a native Spanish speaker, but she was also the best at understanding English, which was used whenever Caroline or Kristy or I spoke, she could translate the best into Spanish. And in terms of understanding Spanish, Caroline had a better understanding of Spanish than me, in that she could pick up on words for Monika that I could not, but I had the best-spoken Spanish of any of the non-native Spanish speakers. So, we basically hobbled through each person’s self-expressions of their pain. But being able to speak Spanish was not the most useful thing for our group in this case. For actual translation, understanding each of the languages is the most important thing. So that was interesting, and basically I was kind of useless until later in the night when I had gotten over my most painful shit in English and wanted to tell the girls things in Spanish. It was a role that I really liked to play, because I also introduced them to a song called Ojos Del Sol (Eyes of the Son) by a band called Y La Bamba that none of them had ever heard of before.

It was after we sang songs in different languages that we slowly stopped translating as much, and everything was just speaking a mix of English and Spanish more. It seemed that after a while, language didn’t really seem to matter, as long as we were sitting around the fire, and were listening to each other’s pain, the words themselves didn’t matter what language they were in. Gloria also spoke a couple sentences in Zapotec, which was interesting. It was just incredibly beautiful to continue to share these moments with other people, as they prayed for the street dogs, or asked the fire to help bring an uncle who was lost in his life, deep in a heavy addiction, to come back. And each person gave love and blessings to their family.

“Aho.”

Caroline also spoke in English, which is when I discovered that Romina was exceptionally better at understanding English and then translating it into Spanish than any of the rest of us. Caroline spoke about the fact that she was crying out for the Earth, that we have lost so much, and how people think she’s crazy, but then coming to do the peyote ceremony, she knows that the earth is hurting and we’re not doing anything about it. And how she is feeling the earth’s pain, and that she feels like it’s too late already, and that she doesn’t understand why other people do not see the pain of the Earth that she sees. She was very American in the way that she spoke English, which felt raw. I learnt later from her that this was the first peyote ceremony she had done where she actually spoke in English, which I found very unusual, because the importance of speaking in my mother tongue had felt so obvious to me from the beginning.

“Aho.”

Natalia and Romina also spoke about their sadness and the loss of the natural landscape. I felt bad in that I am not really the most environmentalist type, but it was painful to hear them talk again about how much they cared about the loss of all the birds and wildlife and animals and water from pollution, and all that. At one point, Gloria, or la madre, as I began to call her, because she felt like the mother of the circle to me, started talking about her garden. It was actually earlier in the night, after Gloria had talked about the death and loss of her son, that I tried to speak at her in English, which distressed her a bit because she couldn’t understand me, but then Natalia and Romina started translating. I said that I know that her son’s death and pain was not in vain, and that when she talked about her experiences being a mother, it reminded me of my mother who is very far away in England, and that helped me feel more connected to my family. In a sense, I was going to say that she is all our mothers, as she also apparently takes in other people’s children and helps them, which did not surprise me.

Gloria also at one point said, “Gracias a la chica blanca” (Thank you to the white girl), at which point I thought Natalia was her adopted daughter, but that wasn’t in fact the case. It was a bit confusing.

“Aho.”

One thing that I did learn from Gloria, though, was the word “jardinería”. At one point in the circle, Gloria talked about all the names that she has for all her animals and plants. She absolutely loved her garden and named all her animals after different types of food like “Chichurron”, “Fresa”, “Piña”, etc., which we all laughed at and found hilarious. And she taught me the word “jardinería”, which translates directly into English as “gardening”, but it has a slightly different meaning. If a word ends in “ería”, it's more about the process of creation, or preparation of some kind of food. For example, “panadería” means bakery, but it's more about the process of baking bread. So basically, what the word “jardinería” has what “gardening” doesn’t have is the idea that you are growing food to eat, and that closes the loop between the human systems and the natural systems. So I brought this up with the group, speaking in Spanish, that in English we don’t have a word that specifically talks about the ability to grow food from the garden for the house, and that this could offer us new ways for us to reconnect with the natural environment, and that we can continue to discover new ways to fit these new humans and natural systems together, as we were all feeling the collective loss of our ancestors, our natural habitats around the world, and really the languages and traditional aspects of culture that help us feel connected and that tell us who we are.

“Aho.”

Still, there was more for me to learn about myself. Another thing that I had been thinking about was fame and wealth, and really since the peyote trip I have had not as much craving or a sense of lacking these things. One thing that I started to think about in terms of wealth was not keep track of how much money I had but keeping track in kind of a block chain ledger or something for all the gifts I had bought, and all the money I had given away. For example, I ended up giving Fernanda $500 MX pesos, which is equivalent to about $25USD because I wanted her to buy something for her children. There are a lot of things I could do with $25USD, but the chances are that few of those things would bring me as much joy as giving it to a kind, well deserving woman with young children who was struggling and having such an incredibly difficult life. I began to think that maybe if instead of counting my money, I counted all the things I had spent my money on that had actually helped other people, I would feel and I would be a lot more wealthy. In that sense, accumulating money for money’s sake is selfish, pointless and futile. And frankly, I have enough money. But I could always have more of a sense of giving to other people, which is in itself far more meaningful to me.

“Aho.”

The other thing that really struck me once I realized that I was at a loss when it came to Irish Gaelic and Yiddish was that I now had all the tools to write and express myself, and that I kind of had a duty, based on what my ancestors had told me, to be honest. There is no point, it all said, for me to not tell the truth as I see it. I have to be honest. I have to tell the truth. This manifested in a couple different ways. First, I was reminded of the overwhelming need I have to write, and I rediscovered why I write: I write so that I do not forget. So that we do not forget things. So that the world does not forget. So that this information is, somehow, captured in our collective consciousness, because if we don’t record it, we will lose it. This is what I personally felt strongly from the Irish Gaelic side. But then, from the Yiddish side, I saw Grammy’s glasses (my grandfather James Weinberg’s mother, Hazel Sapero Weinberg, so my great grandmother). From her side of the family, I got the scholarly nature of what the Jews were doing, and how the Jews wrote things down, and kept the traditions alive, and so in this sense were not suffering from as much as a collective loss as my Irish ancestors. So, the Jewish side of me was giving me the pen, and the Irish and English side of me was giving me the need to express myself honestly. And my goal was to write honestly, from my perspective, so that I would not forget.

In a related sense as well, I had to write, i.e. it is my duty to write, because we also do not want things to be recorded incorrectly. If I do not express my perspective, it will never be known, and the events of history might be recorded in the way things actually were, or not at all. I have to write. Because if I don’t, people will never know that I, or any other woman, has thoughts, or that there were any alternative points of view than that of your standard man. So that felt to be incredibly important to me. I need to write things down, because otherwise no one will ever know.

I thought a lot about colonial languages, and that’s when I realized that with colonial things, its either that you adapt to become the colonizers when you are colonized yourself. That was what was so fascinating, was that the ceremony was largely in Spanish, and English, the language of colonizers. And yes, while I am English mostly, I am also at least a quarter Irish and Jewish respectively, and in many ways these people have been persecuted. And their languages have been lost. And it was interesting to share that with others, and just realize collectively how much we have lost as a species or destroyed on our own terms. You must colonize or be colonized, I have come to believe. And once you are colonized, once you join the colonizers, you become part of the force that colonizers others, as a means to survive. The Irish were colonized by the English. There is not a single mono-lingual speaker of Irish Gaelic in the world today.

“Aho.”

Another thing that came up for me was that I was always too hard on myself when it came to imperfect beginnings. In many points in my life, ever since I was little girl, I felt that I had to be perfect, and that when I was on a journey and things were going wrong, it was because my beginning was not good enough. Somehow I had become, and have become, so fixated on the beginnings, of things like my podcast, or a random sticker book I remember I was making once, and I think that this perfectionism when I think about the beginning of things was really hurting me. I also expressed that I realized that I was my own worst enemy, and that I needed to continue to show love and compassion towards myself before I could really be open and help others. It’s the classic give to yourself first, then you will have the capacity to give to others.

“Aho.”

Overall, throughout the night, I felt a strong desire to really connect with other people, and I felt strongly about wanting to help the people around me feel loved, comforted, listened to, and supported. I was concerned about Kristy and Monika, because they did not speak in Slovak so I was worried their experience would not be as intense. At one point earlier in the night, I checked in with Kristy, and she said that she wasn’t really feeling anything, and was distracted because the older shaman was snoring. And she was cold. Because I was obviously feeling the effects of the peyote, she asked me how I was so in the zone. I told her to think about the fact that all her eggs that she has are inside her body right now. I guess I was trying to get her to think about her future children, and the cycle of life. Kristy then shared some really interesting ideas with me. She said that the last witch who knew traditional herbs and healing died in Slovakia only about 50 years ago. I found this fascinating.

“Aho.”

In fact, while I had been feeling a bit lonely, like I was traveling through the world alone, I was really able to accept death and things in the peyote ceremony, because I really started to see myself as a vessel. I felt that I was a vessel for life and energy, and that when I had my own children, I would pass on that energy to them, and then my physical body would die. And it felt really nice to be surrounded and loved and comforted by my ancestors. I got a very strong sense that right now, each of us that is alive, is the sharpest point in the spear. We are the pinnacle of all the culmination of everything that our ancestors have lived through and experienced and survived before us, which is an astounding and incredible thing. And soon we will no longer be the sharpest point in the spear. But we will have carried the energy forward, and we will have been grateful that we were able to live at all.

“Aho.”

Another story that I told the group was the story of Raquel, my Mexican tía from Puebla who lives in LA, and is my uncle’s first wife, and how I had first come to Oaxaca when my mother was pregnant with me. I told them about how Raquel had taken the first pictures of me when I was born, and that she was the first person who had introduced me to Mexico. I felt an incredible amount of love, as I was talking about her and speaking in Spanish at the same time. I also felt the support and presence of her ancestors in Mexico. They seemed to say to me, we’re here, we love you, but it’s complicated and you might not want to get into it. Haha. Later, when I reflected back on this with Raquel, we decided that the love and support I felt that night was from Raquel’s mother, Connie, who apparently loved me a lot when I was a baby though I don’t have any memories of her. So that was really wonderful, and it was very special for me to be able to tell the story of Raquel and share my connection to Mexico with the rest of the group.

“Aho.”

At one point, Maria directed us to look into the fire and describe what we saw. I remember seeing myself, kind of like a hooligan woman with long hair running through a huge field, and the ashes I was running on had all the messages and words and languages of my ancestors, which was my foundation. And at first I thought that I was just running through a field, but then I realized that the flames of the fire itself symbolized the fact that the world was on fire. I was running through the world that was really on fire. So that was interesting.

“Aho.”

Natalia, Caroline, Romina, Maria and Fernanda and I stayed up the entire night. Caroline and I were the only ones that really did not sleep at all. I remember looking at my watch. 1am. 4:30am. And I got that distinct thought in my mind: “Tash, you are on drugs.” Haha. That always made me laugh. And at about 4:30 in the morning was about when I felt ready to go home. I was done crying and being sentimental, except when I blessed my siblings and I told the fire that we were not going to argue in the same way that Mum and Uncle Jon have been arguing over my grandfather’s apartment block in LA. I sent my siblings a voice note afterwards: if we are arguing over a house, you can just have it. I don’t want to spend 10 years of my life battling over a property. I’ll just give it away to them. And I also realized through this why the Oak Street Apartment block was so messed up. I honestly think it was cursed, because of the circumstances surrounding Grandaddy Jim and Auntie Judy’s deaths. Auntie Judy was my grandfather’s second wife who looked after him for many years. But one day, Judy told Grandaddy Jim she was going to put him in a nursing home, after which he had a series of strokes and died. So his will was cursed. And then Judy killed herself a year later from the shame and pain of what she had done to him, so her will was cursed too. And then Mum, Uncle Jon and Auntie Laura ended up with a doubly cursed house, which they fought over for more than ten years. And that’s that. I told this to Mum after, and I do think it’s true.

“Aho.”

As far as I can remember, these are all the things that came up for me during the peyote trip. I will write more if I can think of it. Eventually the sun started to come up. I didn’t feel tired, or hungry, but I just wanted to be out of the field and back at Casona Soledad. But that was at about 6am, and we didn’t end up leaving until about 11am, so I was pretty bored at that point, and tired of standing around in the field.

Eventually, Monika kind of woke up. I remember a conversation she had with Caroline in the morning. This is when Caroline told us her story. She was 40 years old and had left her abusive husband after having 4 miscarriages. She was sick of all the abuse that she had had, and she felt a really strong desire to just pick up and go to the Amazon. Her crazy husband, her mother and father and family told her it was the worst idea ever, but she went anyway, and she went to the Amazon to try to understand what was happening with the world. She’s now studying indigenous cultures and healers. She said that she had gone to a Mayan healer in Guatemala, who had told her that the reason why all her babies had died is because Caroline herself was so sad, that their sadness killed her babies. Difficult stuff. In any case, she was offering Monika the opportunity to go to Guatemala and be healed. She said that many of these chronic conditions had 3 components: physical pain, emotional pain, and physical and emotional pain. And actually, if you are able to heal some of the emotional pain and the mental sides of things, you can get pretty fair in healing the physical pain. But I could tell that Monika was not going to go to Guatemala.

I asked Caroline about whether she had done much studying on psychedelics, i.e. non-natural hallucinogenic drugs, and if that was part of her research, and she kind of avoided my question and instead told me about how it was important as a foreigner to come into a ceremony with the right intentions. I thought that was a valid point, but she didn’t get that I wanted to talk about the different between LSD and peyote, because peyote is a far more spiritual, guided, interconnected experience, whereas LSD feel far more chemical because it is made in a lab. She gave me some really great book recommendations, including Your Body is Not an Apology, which I have been reading since, and she did tell me about Adrienne Marie Brown, and this other woman whose book I can’t remember now, but it is all about how originally indigenous healers in Europe were women, and basically they were killed, or branded as witches, or prevented from practicing with all the patriarchal bullshit that came with it. I expressed an interest in interviewing her for my podcast, and also in learning about these indigenous healers from Europe, and that seemed to finally convince her that I did have good intentions.

In any case, the sun was coming up, and what was strange was that Nayeli and their daughter laid out jewelry and hand-made beaded necklaces and trinkets like paper-mâché animal heads with beads that we could buy. It was as if this was their day job. Nayeli got up and so did her little girl after they had been sleeping in the tent all the night.

It was very beautiful when the sun was rising up over the valley and touching the mountain. We had been next to the fire, shivering for so long. Pro tip: if you find yourself in a field the whole night and you have a fire, expose your body in parts that is close to the fire so that you get your skin as close to the flames as possible. The layers that you’re trying to use to keep you warm are getting in the way of your actual skin touching the fire. Then you want to balance this by covering up the parts of your body that are not next to the fire. It’s actually not optimal to wrap your entire body in blankets because then your skin closest to the fire isn’t getting as much warmth as it could. I started lifting up my shirt, so the skin of my chest was directly exposed to the fire, and I stayed warm. The other girls followed suit, and lifted up their skirts, so their legs were warm. So, clothe your back, and expose your front and skin to the fire. That’s key. I managed to stay warm enough where I was having fun just chatting to people the whole night.

The only problem now was that we all wanted to be in Casona Soledad, but we had no way of getting home. We eventually got to asking Beatriz’s friend if he could take us to the carretera, but that wasn’t before people just kept standing around and either napping, or talking to the older shaman, who had finally woken up and put on his best suit. Beatriz handed out some small snacks, and Maria offered us fruits from the alter. I ate two bananas and drank some of the water we had left. In any case, at this point it was 8am, 9am, 10am, and we were so ready, me in particular, to leave literally hours before. All we wanted to do was shower and be home. But obviously, Beatriz and her friend had been sleeping, as had everyone else, so they were a bit more awake and wanted to all get breakfast together. We did not want to want get breakfast, so we just sat in the back of the pickup truck, ready to go, while everyone was chatting and listening to the shaman. Caroline had traveled all the way from Guatemala to attend this ceremony, so of course she wanted to learn from the shaman and stick around. Natalia and Romina had been napping together, as had Gloria. Even Fernanda and Maria napped together on our mat. But I didn’t sleep at all, so was itching to go. I could feel myself getting really sunburnt. I left voice messages for my siblings to tell them about the fact that I don’t give a shit about our property in the future, and also I left a voice message for Raquel, to tell her that I had been visited by her ancestors.

I gave Fernanda $500MX pesos as we were packing up. At first she seemed offended that I was giving her money, and I felt awkward about it. But then I said, “Comprar algo para tus niños” (Buy something for your children), and she accepted the money. I hope it was okay in the end. Its awkward to give someone a tip after you spend an entire night sitting around a fire, experiencing their pain with them as they try to get it out. But the reality is that she did need money to buy things for her children, and in that sense she was willing to accept it.  

When I reflected back on the ancestors I had visited by, Granny Doherty (Neal Doherty, my paternal grandfather’s mother) came to mind, as did Grammy in particular, and also Raquel’s mother.

Eventually they packed up the whole campsite, and Maria and the shaman’s family travelled together, and then we got in the back of the pickup truck. Natalia’s French friend had had enough, and hadn’t taken part in the circle at all, and was also desperate like us to get the fuck out of the grassy valley and back to Oaxaca Centro. Kristy, Caroline and I got in the back of the black pickup truck, and I joked that I had never been so excited to get in the back of some random man’s pickup truck.

The truck finally left towards Tulle, and being afraid of roller coasters, I was pretty nervous about riding in the back of the pickup truck because the road was so bumpy, and also sitting in the back of it while driving on the motorway. It seemed dangerous to me. But we didn’t really have a choice. Xquenda, Nayeli, and kid and Monika were going to sit in the middle of the truck. I did not give a fuck where I was sitting on that vehicle as long as we got out of there. I was roasting in the sun in the back of the truck as we drove about 25 minutes to Tulle, and luckily I was still wearing my long sleeve lumberjack shirt and leggings, so the only thing I had to defend from the sun was my face. As we went, we chatted with Caroline.

She told as that she was at first a bit nervous when we showed up as tourists, because she had recently been the only translator for a white Canadian dude who came to one of the ceremonies. Apparently this dude was really sick or just had so many problems in his life, that he just sapped up all the energy of the group, and didn’t speak a word of Spanish, and never even said Thank You to her. I was glad that I had been thanking Caroline throughout the night for speaking to me in English, because it was soothing even for me to have someone translate a lot of what everyone else was saying. That’s when she was saying that she also spoke in English for the first time in this ceremony, and how it was interesting that we were all translating the languages back and forth, and that it almost didn’t matter what any of us said in any language at some point, because we had a really beautiful and accepting circle. She seemed very resentful towards this Canadian guy, who apparently just took and then never gave anything back to the circle.

Throughout the night, I had been worried that I was speaking too much and getting too much attention. And often times, I let other people take turns to speak and share their pain. But what I really liked to do was to bring new ideas to the group: new love they had not discovered, a song in Spanish that they didn’t know. I felt that I had a lot to give. Kristy had said to me during the night that she felt too humbled to say anything, and I wish I too had felt this. Kristy was saying that these people had had really difficult lives, which was true, and that any problems that she had paled in comparison to what many of them were experiencing. I agreed with her, but I guess I just felt more than I wanted to be part of the conversation, and in my mind that was my way of giving to them. We also talked in the pickup truck about how much we as women have lost, and how little we know our bodies, and what that’s done to us, whether it’s our periods, or our sex lives, or pregnancy, or what have you.

In any case, eventually, sunburnt and sweaty, we arrived in Tulle. The rest of the group was going off to barbacoa for breakfast, and Kristy said she was hungry, but I insisted that at this rate we would never get home. It was almost noon. We weren’t sure how to catch a ride back to Oaxaca Centro, but luckily we found a public bus that was going close to the Centro. We quickly said goodbye to everyone and hopped onboard. The bus was $8MX pesos each, which is about $0.40USD, or 40 cents. Monika and Kristy were tired and felt gross and talked about how cold they had been. I had I guess been feeling the peyote the strongest, so surprisingly I wasn’t that hungry or tired. We then got a taxi because the bus was going away from the center. We had to cross the street in the scorching heat, and I finally looked like one of those tourists who has been traveling for months without showering. I knew that we needed bread, so I somehow found the energy to offer to go to the bakery and buy bread for us.

Since the peyote trip, I’ve been a lot less insecure about fame and wealth. I feel like writing is important, I feel like family is important, and that’s that. In the coming week, Monika started to look a lot healthier and happier, and she went on a date with Marcello, a Brazilian guy, that very night after we rested for a couple hours, which she had not done in years. I guess she was feeling nauseous and sick, and so the peyote was working physically more than mentally or emotionally, perhaps. For me it was definitely working more emotionally.

Recounting this story for you has taken me several hours. I think I sat down to do this at about 2pm, or 2:30pm, and now it's 6:30pm exactly. It makes me think about the limits of human communication, and if there is any easier way to record things. Is dictation faster? Is getting a brain chip faster? The human brain is good for complex thinking, but in this case, expressing language, and the motor connections I’ve found linking my brain and my fingers in their typing is significantly limited. I wonder if there are new ways that I can express myself, faster. We are going to need to communicate information more quickly. And right now, I feel like writing has been therapeutic, but it has not been fast enough. It has taken me an incredibly long time, multiple hours, to write this story. And soon, there will be too much information in the world that we need to know for us to be able to comprehend and communicate it verbally. I am going to ask the universe for a quicker and easier way of communicating.

The End.

*Names changed for privacy

The English Girl & The Peyote Ceremony

I’ve decided to write about my experience taking part in a traditional peyote ceremony, because I learnt a lot from it and I’ll forget it if I don’t write it down. And it will be interesting to reread this in 10 years' time. There were a lot of little things that brought the ceremony to life for me, so I’m going to try and be as detailed as possible for you here. I apologize in advance for sounding like a gringa / tourist.

This ceremony took place in Oaxaca with Kristy and Monika, my two Slovakian friends. Kristy was 31, Monika was 29 and I was 26. Monika is Kristy’s sister and she had been suffering from Lyme disease for many years. She had been experiencing exhaustion, spent a lot of her days in bed and had been on all kinds of medications. She was looking for a way to be healed, through any means necessary. So, when Kristy told me she was coming to Oaxaca in Mexico with us, it was clear from the start that we wanted to have some kind of healing experience.

I got in touch with Maria*, our peyote guide, through a chance encounter and a bit of Facebook stalking. On Facebook, I used the feature where you can see that friends had been to a city in the past and “liked” it. Looking at Oaxaca Centro, I saw that my friend Teresa from Penn (my alma mater) had graduated from high school in Oaxaca in 2012 or so. This was 2021. I assumed that Teresa had probably grown up in Oaxaca and knew something about the area. It was a bit of a weird thing to do, reaching out to an old college friend to ask her about her experiences studying in a city, but such is the stalkerish nature of the internet. Teresa herself is of more Spanish descent, but like the classic gringas we were, and the tourist that I am, after I asked her about her recommendations for restaurants, I said, “And do you know where we could do ayahuasca?”

It turned out that Teresa had never done ayahuasca, but she shared Maria’s contact details with me that she got through a friend. Maria would come to play a very important role in the ceremony and our experience with peyote. I had Maria’s contact details on WhatsApp. Her picture seemed very sweet. She was very cute looking from the outset, and she had dark skin, so I assumed she was Mexican. I didn’t notice until much later that in her photo she was also wearing these spiritual-looking jewelry, like wooden earrings and a necklace, and she also had dreadlocks.

So, once we had arrived in Oaxaca and settled for some weeks, I decided to call Maria. We spoke in Spanish, and she said that ideally we could come in March (it was early February) for a hickory ceremony. I told her we had Monika with us, who wanted to help with her disease. This was when I first learned that we would be doing peyote, not ayahuasca, and that we would basically be driving out to the middle of nowhere and staying in a random field for the night. It was a whole night long affair: you take the peyote in the evening, then you stay up the whole night, and come back in the morning. I told her that because Monika does not speak Spanish, it was very important for us to have an English translator, and while my Spanish was decent, obviously it would be easier for me if it was in English too. She mentioned some things about how to prepare for the ceremony: don’t have sex two days before, don’t eat red meat or drink alcohol for two days before, don’t take any antibiotics, etc. I agreed to this, and the cost would be $1500 MX pesos each, equivalent to $75 US, which was a steal for us at the time. We agreed to join her for a ceremony in two weeks’ time, and I extended my trip by a week, because my flight was going to leave on the Sunday morning, and I was worried that we might not get back from the field in time for me to get my flight to Dallas, and then move on to New York. As you’ll see, it was very lucky that I did.

We still had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. Monika asked, would she be able to take antibiotics the day before? Where would we be going? How would we get there? Maria sent me some very spiritual looking images on WhatsApp of the hickory ceremony that we were going to do, with a stag and sparkling blue stars, and with words written on them like “marakame”. She also sent us a list of what to bring (I’ll paste it in here if I find it). On the list it says things like bring a sleeping bag, and a tent. Well, we didn’t have any of these things. I asked Maria if it was okay that we came without the sleeping bag, tent, etc., and I thought she said it would be fine. Clearly there was a misunderstanding and I was completely wrong.

So, we started to prepare ourselves in the days before. We didn’t really drink when we went out for dinner, although the Friday night before the ceremony Monika and I did go out and have a couple beers and dance in a club, with some tourist guys from Brazil, England and France, which was really fun. The ceremony was planned for a Saturday night, and I spent the time getting ready as I would any other psychedelic trip. I was concerned: who was Maria? How would we get back to the city afterwards? I felt responsible because I was the one who had planned everything.

We planned to leave about at 5:45 PM to be there by 6:30. Maria sent us the location of a random place along the carretera (freeway) and a picture of an old, abandoned house where we should meet her. I also didn’t have data because of my shitty and expensive Verizon data plan while traveling abroad, so I also put her in touch with Kristy. (I’ll paste our pictures in here at some point too.)

As I was getting more nervous, I was trying to put my mind at ease and focus on spiritual things I had been thinking about: Creative Ideas by Ernest Holmes, writing about women’s issues, and spending my Saturday exploring ideas and writing to get myself in the mood. I went to the bank at about 5:30, and took out $3000MX pesos, about $150USD in cash, so that again, worst came to worst, I could figure out a way to get out of there.

Back at the house (Casona Soledad in Oaxaca Centro, an incredibly beautiful and spacious apartment-style hotel that we stayed at), we packed to get ready. I bought only one small bottle of water, and one set of warm clothes for myself. I stuffed these into my backpack. I had a thin coat from Pendleton that my aunt had given me, a pair of leggings, an extra pair of blue sweatpants, a pair of socks, and my long shirt from Patagonia (not that warm). I also had a blue cashmere hat, and my gortex shoes that Anya, my sister, had gotten me for Christmas. I figured that this would be enough clothes for me to last all through the night. Again, I was wrong.

Also, Kristy had been suffering from terrible UTIs for the last couple days. We had gone back and forth about whether she should take antibiotics before the peyote trip, and finally decided it was necessary, along with her constantly drinking a shit ton of cranberry juice and maracuya (passion fruit) juice to flush out her insides with Vitamin C. She had been really sick, in a lot of pain, and barely slept in the night. She decided at the last minute that she could still make it and wanted to join us.

In any case, we left the hotel and I was stressed about being on time. We got in a taxi and the taxi driver agreed to drive us to this random part of the freeway about 20 miles out of town, and I loaded the location on my Apple Maps. We bargained with him to take us there for $220MX pesos. On the way out of the Casona, Kristy and Monika both had some corn on the cob, and water, which I didn’t have because I was trying to cleanse myself and be fully prepared for the experience. The sun was setting as we headed out of Oaxaca Centro in the taxi, with the taxi driver who was driving very fast. Kristy also turned up the radio, so we had very loud and wailing Mexican music was blasting. This, along with Monika taking a lot of pictures, was makes me anxiety and irritated and even more nervous. The roads were really busy, as we headed out of town to the east, towards a town called Tulle. Of course, the cab driver too had no idea where we were going, so he kept asking now and then and I’d say: continue for another 10 km, or such and such. Once we were out of the city, and I realized we were going to be perfectly on time, I started to relax. The sunset was absolutely incredible. The girls stopped the cab so they could get some water, which again we weren’t supposed to drink. Even though I wanted some water, and was hungry, I was set on preparing properly for the experience. This turned out to be a good move, as I felt a lot less nauseous later.

We passed Tulle and got out into the countryside. There were fields with broken down, dilapidated and semi-constructed houses, and rubble on the side of the road, and the occasional speed bump randomly at intersections on the freeway. The air was really hot, and of course we were all wearing masks and had sanitized our hands because we were still in the middle of the pandemic. We found ourselves driving on the carretera (freeway) that was part of a giant grassy valley in between two mountains. The valley was huge, and the mountains were also huge. The grasses were wispy gold with purple hues along the horizon. I want to say we arrived almost exactly at 6:31, which I felt proud about, because I wanted to give our little group the best chance of having a lovely night.

Through a combination of photo checking and maps approximations, we finally found the half-constructed house where we got out of the car. There was a girl standing on the roadside. The taxi driver helped us get our bags, and I paid him. I ended up paying him the $250 MX pesos that we originally agreed on, because I was anxious to feel more oriented, and I didn’t want to fuss while I was feeling so nervous. The taxi driver left, and there we were, waiting on the side of the freeway. It was this time that I checked my phone, and actually saw that I had received some pictures from Maria. She had set up a sort of animalistic, colorful shrine, which after having no idea where we were going still, helped me feel assured that we would be okay. I shared the pictures with Kristy and Monika as well, hoping it would help them feel safer.

Monika and Kristy had dressed nicely and done their makeup and hair for the experience. I, on the other hand, was going for my back-country California look. Having spent my summers in the rural mountains of the Sierra Nevada, I was not about to look pretty for the grasses and the valleys. I wasn’t wearing a bra or underwear under my leggings or my long-sleeved lumber-jack style shirt because I figured we were about to be outdoors for a really long time, and being comfortable for me was by far the most important thing. But already as the sun was starting to set, I put on my jumper. Kristy was already cold. We were about to spend the entire night outside in the valley, and the temperature was dropping fast.

In any case, we met the girl who was standing by the roadside. She was Mexican, and at first I thought she was Maria, but it turned out her name was Fernanda. She seemed to be about the same age as us, and we got to talking. She lived in Oaxaca Centro, and she was 25 years old. And what blew our minds (all childless European women, and Monika and I were single, while Kristy was married), was that Fernanda had 3 young children. I think they were 7, 6 and 3 years old or something. This was not the first time I had met a woman like this in Mexico: a couple has a kid or two, then the guy ditches, and the girl is stuck raising the children herself. I felt incredibly grateful for my IUD and for never having had a child. We talked to Fernanda in Spanish and translated for Monika at times. Kristy and I were totally perplexed by the shittiness of Fernanda’s previous partner, who had left her when her daughter, her youngest child, was just born. I think I said,

“En Ingles, decimos, “Fuck that guy”.

Fernanda said, “Fuck that guy?”

“Si, como, Puta de Madre,” I said (i.e. son of a bitch), and she seemed to laugh a bit, but not significantly. Swearing hardly seemed to help the situation, but I was already on Fernanda’s side. We made it clear that we supported her, not whoever this random dude was who had ditched her and her 3 children.

We continued to chat to her, and she said we had to wait, because there were more people coming. Like the tourist I was, I was expecting the ceremony to start for us right away, and that it would just be us with the shamans, etc. But we were the first ones there from our group, arriving on time, and so we had to wait by the carretera for the rest of them. Kristy, Monika and I eventually left Fernanda and went to sit on the broken terrace behind the dilapidated house, and watch the sunset over the valley, which in itself was an incredibly fucking magical experience. Kristy played the song Spring Mix 1 from her phone. We had been sitting there for about half an hour, before the first part of the rest of our group arrived. I was curious who it was, so I went to greet them.

It was a girl called Natalia, which we agreed was similar to my name, Natasha, and she arrived in a white car along with her two friends, and a woman who turned out to be her housekeeper, called Gloria, though for most of the night I thought that Gloria was her adopted mother. Natalia seemed…very cool. She was pale and from Oaxaca Centro. She reminded me of Teresa in a way, except she was wearing this traditional long Mexican skirt, and some nice sandals, and a long shirt, and beautiful jewelry. She looked practically elegant and radiant compared to me.

In any case, Fernanda said that we were still waiting for one or two more people. It was almost completely dark. Night was starting, and we were still not any closer to starting the peyote ceremony. The girls and I were really starting to get impatient. We had been waiting for an hour by the roadside already. In any case, it was there that I decided I would give some money to Fernanda. I didn’t know how much I was going to give her. But I knew that with three children, she needed the money more than I did. And this also surfaced later in my peyote trip (which I promise I will get to soon).

Eventually, and by eventually I mean another half an hour later, a truck arrived. It was a black Ford 4x4 car, exactly like the pickup trucks that I have seen everywhere in America. The girls and I got put our bags in the back, and got in the pickup truck, and we all squeezed in the middle with Fernanda. This again, was where it was very useful that we could speak Spanish. In the front sat a woman, Beatriz, who was probably in her 40s, and the man who was driving the truck. At times I thought he was Beatriz’s brother, but they were actually friends. And we were laughing the whole way there. We explained to them that we were from Slovakia and England, and then the woman started asking us questions. And we talked about boyfriends, and we were also teasing Beatriz’s brother who was driving the truck because he was single, and I started asking if he was a drunk (emborrachito), which they found very funny. Fernanda directed us through the narrow valley roads in the dark. I had no idea where we were, so the realization that we were about to spend the night in the middle of a field off of a freeway in Mexico was really starting to sink in. We were well off the paved road now, and the pickup truck was jolting a lot as we went down this bumpy road. I wondered how Natalia and her group were doing in their other smaller white car.

Eventually we turned the corner and pull right up through some trees and bushes. We got out, and the stars are really starting to come out at this point. And now we’re pretty terrified because we realized we did not have any of the right gear. We entered what was kind of like a campsite. It was a circle, with some thin wooden poles marking the edge of it. In the middle was a campfire space, not lit yet, and around the people had already started laying out their mats and things in a circle around the fire. In one corner, it was dark so it was hard to see, there were candles and the altar laid out that Maria had sent me pictures of earlier. And there were a couple other mysterious looking people, who I later learned was the marakame (shaman), called Xquenda (which means soul in Zapotec), his wife, Nayeli (which means I love you in Zapotec) and their 5-year-old daughter (?) who again stayed up with us for a lot of the night. This little girl was surely living just about the complete opposite life that I had lived growing up in London. She was the daughter of Xquenda, and part of a family who did things like host peyote ceremonies that lasted all night long in the middle of rural Mexico. There was also an older, and more sacred shaman / marakame. There was also a woman from the United States, called Caroline, and a hut made out of what looked like bamboo sticks, which was in fact 2 dry toilets, so after you went to the toilet, you had to put sawdust to cover your poop / pee.

Then we realized shit had really hit the fan. Beatriz and her friend had brought a tent and sleeping bags. Everyone in Natalia’s car had bought not only beautiful giant matts, and mattresses to sleep on, but they also had brought sleeping bags, pillows, and then a bunch of objects that they either wanted to offer as a gift for the altar or to get blessed by the shaman to bring them good energy. I had managed to remember to bring the book by Ernest Holmes, Creative Ideas, so at least I had that. But Natalia and her friends had brought some crackers and shakers, some old pictures and picture frames, dried lavender and garlic, and little trinkets that were so pretty. I was really embarrassed because we basically had nothing. We had not even brought cups to drink the peyote, so Kristy and Merry had to cut up a water bottle in two and drink out of that, and then Maria gave us a plastic bowl and a gave me a cup which was usually used for candles, that I used a tiny amount of our water to clean out, and still after half an hour of rubbing and washing it, I ended up drinking a combination of peyote and candle wax in my concoction.

This entire time, I was starting to get impatient. I wanted the fire to start because it was getting cold and I was worried about Kristy and Monika. I ended up basically putting on all my layers already, and we all lay on this mat that Kristy had managed to grab at the last minute from Casona Soledad. It was a joke how underprepared we were.

The woman Caroline was also very interesting. I tried not to make too many judgments about her when we first met, and over the course of the night, I continued to like her more and more. I don’t think it’s possible to not like someone if you do a peyote ceremony with them if you open up to each other in the right way. You see so deeply into these people’s souls, you can’t help but feel and recognize the pain that other people have experienced. But, in any case, I also felt like I had to justify us a little bit as the obvious white, European / American tourists who had just rocked up to a traditional ceremony. Caroline said she had been traveling for about a year, starting first in the Amazon, and that she was studying indigenous shamans and herbal based medicines. Caroline was wearing again a very traditional style dress, like Maria and now Fernanda and Natalia who were all wearing this. I was still dressed as an American lumberjack. Caroline’s gray hair was braided into buns at the bottom of her head, which had some kind of ribbon wrapped into them. I thought ethnically she was either partly indigenous or Mexican, as her nose was long and pointy, and her eyes were dark. She was very beautiful. But it was still weird because even though she looked like this, I still found her very American, which was a bit of a strange paradox. We were two different types of tourists in a way, just trying to find ourselves.

So, we got to talking to her. I told her that I also spoke Spanish, so would be happy to translate some of the ceremony for Monika. With the marakames there, I was really embarrassed because Monika was taking so many pictures and trying to document everything. To me, I felt this was not only disrespectful to Xquenda, who was about to share a very sacred ceremony with us, but it was creating a lot of light that was distracting from the stars. At one point I told Monika that we should probably not be taking pictures, and I felt bad that it bothered me so much. In the end, we ended up asking Maria if she could take pictures. She said Monika could take pictures before the ceremony, but not during it, and could take them afterwards in the morning. This was the perfect happy medium.

In any case, I was quite preoccupied with doing tourist damage control, and Caroline too had brought a blanket. It turned out, that while I thought she was part of the whole group, she had actually just travelled to Oaxaca for that ceremony and was in fact returning to Guatemala the next day. But in any case, we were lucky that she was there because she ended up translating a lot of the Spanish, which actually made the experience far more enjoyable for me.

At this point we had already been sitting in the field, getting cold and being impatient waiting for the ceremony to start for about an hour. We finally got our cups ready, and things were beginning to start. Maria was playing Danit, who is a very spiritual sounding artist, probably is not Mexican as they’re based in Switzerland. When I took the peyote, Danit’s song Cuatro Vientos was on, which was a song I felt slightly nostalgic about and spiritually connected to when I had been dating Matthieu, and we listened to it driving through the mountains of New Mexico.

In any case, the spiritual music was playing, with soft, low cello tones and Danit singing about the wind, the trees, the earth, etc. Caroline had tried to explain to us some things in English, which Maria said in Spanish. We were only supposed to walk around the circle in an anti-clockwise direction, we weren’t supposed to drink water or eat for the rest of the night, and we were not allowed to speak while the shaman was speaking. Maria said we had to focus on the fact that this was an individual experience, and we really should not touch or hug each other. They lit the fire, which we tried to get near, and Caroline said that we were supposed to have brought candles, one to each put in front of us to keep the energy going for the whole night, and another to put at the altar. Everyone was sitting around in their respective cubbies, or in our case, lying on the open grass shivering. I had given my extra sweatpants to Kristy to help her keep warm.

Finally, the peyote ceremony was beginning. First, we had the option to do rapé (pronounce “ra-pay”), which is supposed to make the experience of the peyote itself more intense. Maria and Fernanda came around the circle with a long, thin wooden pipe, and blew a bit of hot spicy tobacco up your nose (not very coronavirus friendly, as everyone who was administered the rapé used the same little pipe for both of our nostrils). They said that it was normal to vomit after both the peyote and rapé. I decided to do it. Monika went first, and they went around first in a circle. I watched Monika do it, and essentially Maria and Fernanda got you to breathe in, hold it, breathe out, and then after you breathed back into it, she blew it up into your nose. Monika seemed pretty flustered. Kristy had asthma, so didn’t want to it. Next it was my turn.

Maria rested the little wooden pipe gently in my left nostril first. I breathed in and out a couple times, and Maria shot it up my nostril. It shook me, a lot. It felt like when you get water up your nose and then it gets into your throat, but with a shit ton of pressure. My eyeball basically started watering and was soaking with tears immediately, like it was going to pop out of my head, and the entire left side of my face went numb. But I was ready. As soon as it happened, I ripped the hairband out of my hair and let my hair hang loose. I opened up the buttons of my coat so I could breathe deeply and fully. This was the first part of opening myself up to the night, and the experience. Then, of course, before my eyeball had time to stop wincing and weeping, it was time for the other nostril. A shock to the system. My whole face was on fire, my right eyeball tearing up again. Maria again reminded me that it was normal to cry and vomit. I felt shaken, but also kind of moved, like I was being woken up from my resting state of normal life and being brought into what would be a crazy and exciting spiritual world. At this point, I felt ready to whatever the night was going to throw at me. But of course, first we had to wait another half an hour or so before we were going to do the actual peyote.

At this point, knowing how long it takes for psychedelics to kick in, I was feeling pretty impatient. I passed the next half an hour sitting by the fire, and then lying down and looking at the stars with Kristy and Monika.

To take the peyote itself, which was some kind of gritty tea that came from a pot cooked on the fire, we each had to go up and receive a cup from the shaman. This is where I was pretty concerned about doing it wrong, because I had understood some of the instructions in Spanish but not all of them. They started from the other end of the circle this time, and one by one, Gloria, Natalia’s first and second friend, then Natalia, then the man who had driven us in the pickup truck, then Beatriz, then Kristy, then me, then Monika, then Caroline and finally Fernanda and Maria all took the peyote.

Each person got up and went around the circle anti-clockwise once and then approached Xquenda and Nayeli, and their kid, who was resting on her lap where they were sitting, and then sat down in front of them. Xquenda would bless you, by touching you with a stick with feathers on the end of it, and humming some chants in Zapotec, before Maria asked me in Spanish whether I wanted honey or not to go with my candle-wax-infused peyote tea. Kristy had said she wanted no honey, in Spanish (I could hear her from across the circle), and I said that I wanted a lot (Si, mucho miel) because I was about to drink this seriously disgusting drink and I wanted mine to be as palatable as possible. Each person was also given a stick to stir the tea, not because it was hot, but because all the gritty bits just stuck to the bottom.

What I had noticed as I went back to my seat was that the other people who had taken the peyote before us were now vomiting. They had finished drinking theirs, and I was struggling to drink mine without vomiting just listening to the sound of them retching. Gloria was throwing up the most. And that made me nervous because she and the rest of them had drunk their peyote a little earlier than us. I pointed this out to Kristy. Luckily, none of us threw up, though I did retch a few times and very almost did.

The peyote itself, what Nayeli put into my drink, was just like a giant tablespoon of dirt which I guess is dried and ground up from the peyote cactus. It looked like light cinnamon, but the liquid it was in also had these green bits in it that tasted like leaves. It didn’t taste like mint or spinach or anything. It was just kind of a gritty, leafy mixture. The grittiness of it, the bitter grittiness of the dirt, was really what made me feel so disgusting while I was taking it. I couldn’t even taste the honey, though I wanted to. I felt like it was one of those moments of being an adult where you just have to force yourself to drink it, even though it’s really disgusting. You just have to do it. I just drank mine as quickly as possible to get through it.

I didn’t really feel anything for another hour. Once everyone had taken the peyote, we gathered around the fire in a circle. Maria and Fernanda had each given us a piece of string and a stick of a certain species. The first exercise was to tie 5 knots into the string, and request from the fire, which would from then on be referred to as “Grandfather Fire”, or “Abuelo” or “Fuego”, and think about the 5 things that we wanted the fire to provide for us.

This is where Maria’s role as the guide in the ceremony was so key. Even though I was struggling to understand her in Spanish, it was her guidance that basically made the difference between a random acid trip in the forest with my friends, and a deeper, meaningful, spiritual connection with my ancestors. That, and also having the shamans come round the circle and bless us occasionally, was really nice. Basically, once in while Xquenda would go around to us one at a time and press on our heart with one hand on our front and one hand on our back, and then also tap the stick and the feathers on the end of it on out forehead, and at times across our chest, (almost like how people will tap their forehead and shoulders for the father, the son and the holy ghost). The power of rituals like this in human cultures cannot be underestimated.

It was funny because Xquenda had to bless everyone in our group, even though one of Natalia’s friends, who was French, didn’t take part in the circle at all and fell asleep early on, and the man who had been driving the pickup truck also spent most of the night away from the circle. So, every time Xquenda would go around and bless everyone, Maria would have to remind him to bless the other two people who were asleep.

I asked for a couple things. I asked to be open to new things, to be surprised by what I was going to discover during the night. I asked to learn how to be less judgmental of other people, and I wanted some guidance about my life too, as to which direction I should go in. I also wanted to learn how to forgive others, and to forgive myself. I liked the intentionality of tying the 5 knots. We then threw the sticks with the red strings tied around them in 5 knots into the fire, so that it would come true. We did this routinely throughout the night, with cocoa beans, and other small sticks that we could find. It was a nice ritual and it helped to get things out.

All we did for the next 10 hours or so was sit around in a circle by the fire, and as Maria encouraged us to do, we would just take it in turns to express whatever was on our minds. You didn’t need to say anything if you didn’t want to, but if you felt called to, you could. So, we first went around the circle starting with Monika. We offered to let her talk in English, so Caroline could share it in Spanish, but Monika didn’t want to. Then it was me. I said in Spanish that I asked for the night to bring me surprises, and I asked for the night open me to new things, to be open to new experiences. But I found it difficult to speak in Spanish. Suddenly, while I am usually very talkative, I felt like things weren’t coming out properly. I later learned that when I was doing peyote, I got a lot of benefits from speaking in my mother tongue. I tried to be friendly and open to the people in the circle, but it seemed pretty immediately like most of them were dealing with much bigger demons of their own, and this was not going to be a happy-go-lucky, run around and frolic in the forest like I have had in previous psychedelic experiences. We had to introduce ourselves, and I was going for the: I’m a traveler, I come in peace kind of welcoming statement. But as soon as it got passed Kristy, it was clear things were taking a far more serious turn.

Beatriz was already crying when she started speaking. She said her full name, and said she was Colombian and was feeling very lost in her life. She was a descendant of Colombian healers. Already, the peyote was starting to take effect. I can’t remember quite exactly what the others in the circle were feeling, but it was clear that Natalia had at some point been abusing alcohol and tobacco, and that Gloria had lost her son, and already their pain was very apparent. They were crying a lot. I started to realize that I probably wasn’t thinking deeply enough. Caroline was translating into English, which was really soothing, and she was describing the pain that each person was feeling.

And that’s when it finally started to hit me that I had to think in English. But as Maria was encouraging us in Spanish to think about our ancestors, present and past, I was suddenly overwhelmed with pain, and I couldn’t really breathe. After each of the others had gone around and introduced themselves and their pain and said their full names, it was time for me to do the same. I felt like the rest of the group had been so open, and because I had been speaking in Spanish and trying to be nice, I had just brushed over everything and barely scratched the surface. Now, I asked Caroline, who had only taken peyote a few times herself, to translate for me. And I opened up, a lot.

I said that my full name was Natasha Roísín Doherty, and that my middle name was Irish Gaelic, a language which is not spoken anymore. And this was something that was really powerful for me. Thinking about the languages of Irish Gaelic, and later Yiddish, and how much of my ability to connect with my ancestors was limited because I didn’t speak their languages, and how so much of our customs, and traditions, and ideas and lives and stories have been lost. I was crying a lot, already. And I felt an incredible amount of pain, specifically coming from my Irish family, and possibly parts of my English family too. Until this point in my life, I had felt like I was traveling alone throughout the world. But then I realized that everything that I was living was a culmination of all of their lives. And in their lives, they had wanted to do many things that they had not been able to do. Maybe I was living out some of their dreams. Maybe they were just expressing to me how hard their lives had been. But they had wanted to do things: perhaps be educated, perhaps learn to read, perhaps have their own thoughts, and express them, perhaps be honest with the people closest to them in the world and their families. But for whatever reason, because of circumstance or religion, or their finances, or their husbands or wives or children or duties or access had not been able to. They had been stuck. They did not have the ability to say what they honestly thought or live their lives as they wanted to. They could not realize their potential, in whatever way that was. And I felt that, and it was incredibly painful. Especially with the Irish and Yiddish ancestors, I felt so strongly their loss of language. It was actually incredibly painful, because this was the language of my ancestors, my past and I didn’t speak either of these languages.

And there were a couple things that came out of this for me. The first was really the feeling of my female ancestors of their frustrations and pain, at needing to hold their tongue. And with that, they gave me as sense of duty, that they were reminding me of. I felt their love, but it was kind of like a gentle finger wagging. It was a small cautionary tale: don’t fuck this up. Haha. Unlike them, I was alive, I had energy and life in me, I had everything at my fingertips, including education, the ability to travel and be independent, I had birth control, the ability to learn new languages and connect with foreign people, no religion or responsibilities towards a family, not as many rules, for sure. And so, it felt like a bit of a finger wag. Then I laughed at this, a lot. Don’t mess this up, they said.

This is what I explained to the circle. And as each of us around the circle said something, Maria would encourage us to say, “Aho” (pronounced a-ho, translates from indigenous languages as thank you or amen), setting it free, basically. Or they would say, “Ofrece Ooh” or "Offreteo" (sorry I don’t know how to spell it, from the verb ofrecer, to offer). The idea was to get rid of whatever this pain was that you were feeling. As we took it in turns, in different points in time, not necessarily in a circle but whenever we felt called to, the group would encourage us to offer this pain to the fire and get rid of it.

After the first round, when I was crying a lot, Xquenda and Maria came over and gave me extra special coals that they blessed me with. Throughout the night, I would see Xquenda rub his hands and hold them, hovering above people’s backs or bodies or arms or hair and kind of pull the pain out of them into the fire, using his hands. What was funny was that at some point early in the night, the other older shaman had gone to sleep and was snoring loudly for the entire night. Nayeli and the little girl also disappeared and went to bed. So occasionally, Xquenda woke up to bless us, and after chanting in Zapotec, went back to sleep.

So, when I really let go of this pain for the first time, Xquenda was blessing me, and the rest of the circle felt my energy, and I felt that my pain was coming out. As we took it in turns, people just had so much pain that needed to come out. Gloria had lost her son. Other people wept for ancestors they had never met. And Fernanda and Maria, especially, were just balling their eyes out. Maria had been treated badly by previous partners, and had also been raised in France, though she was Mexican so she also spoke in French at some point too. I was the only person who would kind of understand her French, at which point I said, “Offrer-ca” in French, as a point of encouragement at the end of her outpouring. But specifically, I felt Fernanda’s pain so deeply. Whenever Fernanda would talk, and look into the fire, she’d get down on all fours, with her tears and snot dripping down her face and down her nose. She just kept saying, in Spanish, “I’m so tired. I’m at the absolute end of everything. I am exhausted. I’ve tried everything.” It was so deeply upsetting to watch, and so painful. I just have these images in my mind of her tears streaming. Her wailing. Her hands grasping at the rocks around the edge of the fire.

Fernanda’s role was to tend to the fire, which she did diligently whenever it was getting low and we were starting to freeze. But what I found most tragic about her pain was that Xquenda did not really acknowledge her as much as he did the rest of us. When Fernanda was on her hands and knees, Xquenda would often start chanting again, essentially not giving space for her pain in its full expression and hurrying the rest of us along. I found this incredibly sad. Here was this lovely, kind 25-year-old girl, with all these children, having such a hard time and living a life where she was really truly struggling. But she was, in a way, even their eyes, this fallen woman. Even in such a sacred ceremony, it was clear that the shaman did not want to give the full space for her pain. And that was incredibly difficult to watch. Not even in this traditional ceremony was Fernanda given the full permission to express herself, as she was going through so much. It hurt me to see it, a lot.

That was when the feminine energy of the night became stronger. Beatriz’s friend went to sleep and was snoring at one point, so it was all women sitting around the circle. When Fernanda and Maria said that they were so tired of their old partners, and people had also gotten divorced, or gotten stuck with children when the men in their lives had left, I said that I wanted to sing a song to open them to the possibilities of new love. I sang the song in two parts, in Spanish, because I could not remember the lyrics, but they loved it. And I loved singing it for them too. It felt really good to be able to teach them something, and to sing them a song to bring new love into their lives, and they all seemed to love that. I also tried to express to them in Spanish that I was going to make an offering to the fire of all the people who we are going to meet in the future, who will love us, and who will not be perfect, because nobody is perfect and everyone has imperfections, but they will be perfect for us. They seemed to love that. And again, I loved to speak to them in Spanish because they actually understood what I was saying. And it felt great to be able to give that to them.

This is where Kristy and Monika were facing a bit of a problem. I encouraged them to say things in Slovak, which is their native language, but Kristy didn’t have anything to say, and Monika spent the entire night feeling sick. We had explained to the girls that Monika had a sickness and a disease. And the entire night, Monika said that she wanted to vomit, and she didn’t want to speak. Maria and the others would offer her words of encouragement that she should throw up and get the sickness out of her, but Monika didn’t manage to do it.

What was nice was that we then each took turns to sing different songs, mostly again in our native languages. Kristy and Monika sang a song in Slovak, which was lovely, and the others sang songs about water and mothers and nature in Spanish, which I really liked. I sang the first verse of Jerusalem. Every time I would usually speak or sing, I felt like I had to qualify in Spanish what I was about to do. So after the others sang some songs that were sad or beautiful, I said, “Este cancion es muy fuerte, con mucho energia, y es una cancion de Inglatera” (This is a very strong song, with a lot of energy, and it is about England), and I loved singing it proudly, loudly and strong. And just fucking going for it and belting it out.

I was taught a lot about communicating and language that night. First, I learnt from the other of Natalia’s friends, Romina, the one who was Mexican, not the French one who was asleep, was that the most important thing about another language is the ability to understand. As we kept going around the circle, and they were speaking in Spanish, and I was trying to understand and translate for Monika along with Caroline, it was clear to me that Romina was not only a native Spanish speaker, but she was also the best at understanding English, which was used whenever Caroline or Kristy or I spoke, she could translate the best into Spanish. And in terms of understanding Spanish, Caroline had a better understanding of Spanish than me, in that she could pick up on words for Monika that I could not, but I had the best-spoken Spanish of any of the non-native Spanish speakers. So, we basically hobbled through each person’s self-expressions of their pain. But being able to speak Spanish was not the most useful thing for our group in this case. For actual translation, understanding each of the languages is the most important thing. So that was interesting, and basically I was kind of useless until later in the night when I had gotten over my most painful shit in English and wanted to tell the girls things in Spanish. It was a role that I really liked to play, because I also introduced them to a song called Ojos Del Sol (Eyes of the Son) by a band called Y La Bamba that none of them had ever heard of before.

It was after we sang songs in different languages that we slowly stopped translating as much, and everything was just speaking a mix of English and Spanish more. It seemed that after a while, language didn’t really seem to matter, as long as we were sitting around the fire, and were listening to each other’s pain, the words themselves didn’t matter what language they were in. Gloria also spoke a couple sentences in Zapotec, which was interesting. It was just incredibly beautiful to continue to share these moments with other people, as they prayed for the street dogs, or asked the fire to help bring an uncle who was lost in his life, deep in a heavy addiction, to come back. And each person gave love and blessings to their family.

“Aho.”

Caroline also spoke in English, which is when I discovered that Romina was exceptionally better at understanding English and then translating it into Spanish than any of the rest of us. Caroline spoke about the fact that she was crying out for the Earth, that we have lost so much, and how people think she’s crazy, but then coming to do the peyote ceremony, she knows that the earth is hurting and we’re not doing anything about it. And how she is feeling the earth’s pain, and that she feels like it’s too late already, and that she doesn’t understand why other people do not see the pain of the Earth that she sees. She was very American in the way that she spoke English, which felt raw. I learnt later from her that this was the first peyote ceremony she had done where she actually spoke in English, which I found very unusual, because the importance of speaking in my mother tongue had felt so obvious to me from the beginning.

“Aho.”

Natalia and Romina also spoke about their sadness and the loss of the natural landscape. I felt bad in that I am not really the most environmentalist type, but it was painful to hear them talk again about how much they cared about the loss of all the birds and wildlife and animals and water from pollution, and all that. At one point, Gloria, or la madre, as I began to call her, because she felt like the mother of the circle to me, started talking about her garden. It was actually earlier in the night, after Gloria had talked about the death and loss of her son, that I tried to speak at her in English, which distressed her a bit because she couldn’t understand me, but then Natalia and Romina started translating. I said that I know that her son’s death and pain was not in vain, and that when she talked about her experiences being a mother, it reminded me of my mother who is very far away in England, and that helped me feel more connected to my family. In a sense, I was going to say that she is all our mothers, as she also apparently takes in other people’s children and helps them, which did not surprise me.

Gloria also at one point said, “Gracias a la chica blanca” (Thank you to the white girl), at which point I thought Natalia was her adopted daughter, but that wasn’t in fact the case. It was a bit confusing.

“Aho.”

One thing that I did learn from Gloria, though, was the word “jardinería”. At one point in the circle, Gloria talked about all the names that she has for all her animals and plants. She absolutely loved her garden and named all her animals after different types of food like “Chichurron”, “Fresa”, “Piña”, etc., which we all laughed at and found hilarious. And she taught me the word “jardinería”, which translates directly into English as “gardening”, but it has a slightly different meaning. If a word ends in “ería”, it's more about the process of creation, or preparation of some kind of food. For example, “panadería” means bakery, but it's more about the process of baking bread. So basically, what the word “jardinería” has what “gardening” doesn’t have is the idea that you are growing food to eat, and that closes the loop between the human systems and the natural systems. So I brought this up with the group, speaking in Spanish, that in English we don’t have a word that specifically talks about the ability to grow food from the garden for the house, and that this could offer us new ways for us to reconnect with the natural environment, and that we can continue to discover new ways to fit these new humans and natural systems together, as we were all feeling the collective loss of our ancestors, our natural habitats around the world, and really the languages and traditional aspects of culture that help us feel connected and that tell us who we are.

“Aho.”

Still, there was more for me to learn about myself. Another thing that I had been thinking about was fame and wealth, and really since the peyote trip I have had not as much craving or a sense of lacking these things. One thing that I started to think about in terms of wealth was not keep track of how much money I had but keeping track in kind of a block chain ledger or something for all the gifts I had bought, and all the money I had given away. For example, I ended up giving Fernanda $500 MX pesos, which is equivalent to about $25USD because I wanted her to buy something for her children. There are a lot of things I could do with $25USD, but the chances are that few of those things would bring me as much joy as giving it to a kind, well deserving woman with young children who was struggling and having such an incredibly difficult life. I began to think that maybe if instead of counting my money, I counted all the things I had spent my money on that had actually helped other people, I would feel and I would be a lot more wealthy. In that sense, accumulating money for money’s sake is selfish, pointless and futile. And frankly, I have enough money. But I could always have more of a sense of giving to other people, which is in itself far more meaningful to me.

“Aho.”

The other thing that really struck me once I realized that I was at a loss when it came to Irish Gaelic and Yiddish was that I now had all the tools to write and express myself, and that I kind of had a duty, based on what my ancestors had told me, to be honest. There is no point, it all said, for me to not tell the truth as I see it. I have to be honest. I have to tell the truth. This manifested in a couple different ways. First, I was reminded of the overwhelming need I have to write, and I rediscovered why I write: I write so that I do not forget. So that we do not forget things. So that the world does not forget. So that this information is, somehow, captured in our collective consciousness, because if we don’t record it, we will lose it. This is what I personally felt strongly from the Irish Gaelic side. But then, from the Yiddish side, I saw Grammy’s glasses (my grandfather James Weinberg’s mother, Hazel Sapero Weinberg, so my great grandmother). From her side of the family, I got the scholarly nature of what the Jews were doing, and how the Jews wrote things down, and kept the traditions alive, and so in this sense were not suffering from as much as a collective loss as my Irish ancestors. So, the Jewish side of me was giving me the pen, and the Irish and English side of me was giving me the need to express myself honestly. And my goal was to write honestly, from my perspective, so that I would not forget.

In a related sense as well, I had to write, i.e. it is my duty to write, because we also do not want things to be recorded incorrectly. If I do not express my perspective, it will never be known, and the events of history might be recorded in the way things actually were, or not at all. I have to write. Because if I don’t, people will never know that I, or any other woman, has thoughts, or that there were any alternative points of view than that of your standard man. So that felt to be incredibly important to me. I need to write things down, because otherwise no one will ever know.

I thought a lot about colonial languages, and that’s when I realized that with colonial things, its either that you adapt to become the colonizers when you are colonized yourself. That was what was so fascinating, was that the ceremony was largely in Spanish, and English, the language of colonizers. And yes, while I am English mostly, I am also at least a quarter Irish and Jewish respectively, and in many ways these people have been persecuted. And their languages have been lost. And it was interesting to share that with others, and just realize collectively how much we have lost as a species or destroyed on our own terms. You must colonize or be colonized, I have come to believe. And once you are colonized, once you join the colonizers, you become part of the force that colonizers others, as a means to survive. The Irish were colonized by the English. There is not a single mono-lingual speaker of Irish Gaelic in the world today.

“Aho.”

Another thing that came up for me was that I was always too hard on myself when it came to imperfect beginnings. In many points in my life, ever since I was little girl, I felt that I had to be perfect, and that when I was on a journey and things were going wrong, it was because my beginning was not good enough. Somehow I had become, and have become, so fixated on the beginnings, of things like my podcast, or a random sticker book I remember I was making once, and I think that this perfectionism when I think about the beginning of things was really hurting me. I also expressed that I realized that I was my own worst enemy, and that I needed to continue to show love and compassion towards myself before I could really be open and help others. It’s the classic give to yourself first, then you will have the capacity to give to others.

“Aho.”

Overall, throughout the night, I felt a strong desire to really connect with other people, and I felt strongly about wanting to help the people around me feel loved, comforted, listened to, and supported. I was concerned about Kristy and Monika, because they did not speak in Slovak so I was worried their experience would not be as intense. At one point earlier in the night, I checked in with Kristy, and she said that she wasn’t really feeling anything, and was distracted because the older shaman was snoring. And she was cold. Because I was obviously feeling the effects of the peyote, she asked me how I was so in the zone. I told her to think about the fact that all her eggs that she has are inside her body right now. I guess I was trying to get her to think about her future children, and the cycle of life. Kristy then shared some really interesting ideas with me. She said that the last witch who knew traditional herbs and healing died in Slovakia only about 50 years ago. I found this fascinating.

“Aho.”

In fact, while I had been feeling a bit lonely, like I was traveling through the world alone, I was really able to accept death and things in the peyote ceremony, because I really started to see myself as a vessel. I felt that I was a vessel for life and energy, and that when I had my own children, I would pass on that energy to them, and then my physical body would die. And it felt really nice to be surrounded and loved and comforted by my ancestors. I got a very strong sense that right now, each of us that is alive, is the sharpest point in the spear. We are the pinnacle of all the culmination of everything that our ancestors have lived through and experienced and survived before us, which is an astounding and incredible thing. And soon we will no longer be the sharpest point in the spear. But we will have carried the energy forward, and we will have been grateful that we were able to live at all.

“Aho.”

Another story that I told the group was the story of Raquel, my Mexican tía from Puebla who lives in LA, and is my uncle’s first wife, and how I had first come to Oaxaca when my mother was pregnant with me. I told them about how Raquel had taken the first pictures of me when I was born, and that she was the first person who had introduced me to Mexico. I felt an incredible amount of love, as I was talking about her and speaking in Spanish at the same time. I also felt the support and presence of her ancestors in Mexico. They seemed to say to me, we’re here, we love you, but it’s complicated and you might not want to get into it. Haha. Later, when I reflected back on this with Raquel, we decided that the love and support I felt that night was from Raquel’s mother, Connie, who apparently loved me a lot when I was a baby though I don’t have any memories of her. So that was really wonderful, and it was very special for me to be able to tell the story of Raquel and share my connection to Mexico with the rest of the group.

“Aho.”

At one point, Maria directed us to look into the fire and describe what we saw. I remember seeing myself, kind of like a hooligan woman with long hair running through a huge field, and the ashes I was running on had all the messages and words and languages of my ancestors, which was my foundation. And at first I thought that I was just running through a field, but then I realized that the flames of the fire itself symbolized the fact that the world was on fire. I was running through the world that was really on fire. So that was interesting.

“Aho.”

Natalia, Caroline, Romina, Maria and Fernanda and I stayed up the entire night. Caroline and I were the only ones that really did not sleep at all. I remember looking at my watch. 1am. 4:30am. And I got that distinct thought in my mind: “Tash, you are on drugs.” Haha. That always made me laugh. And at about 4:30 in the morning was about when I felt ready to go home. I was done crying and being sentimental, except when I blessed my siblings and I told the fire that we were not going to argue in the same way that Mum and Uncle Jon have been arguing over my grandfather’s apartment block in LA. I sent my siblings a voice note afterwards: if we are arguing over a house, you can just have it. I don’t want to spend 10 years of my life battling over a property. I’ll just give it away to them. And I also realized through this why the Oak Street Apartment block was so messed up. I honestly think it was cursed, because of the circumstances surrounding Grandaddy Jim and Auntie Judy’s deaths. Auntie Judy was my grandfather’s second wife who looked after him for many years. But one day, Judy told Grandaddy Jim she was going to put him in a nursing home, after which he had a series of strokes and died. So his will was cursed. And then Judy killed herself a year later from the shame and pain of what she had done to him, so her will was cursed too. And then Mum, Uncle Jon and Auntie Laura ended up with a doubly cursed house, which they fought over for more than ten years. And that’s that. I told this to Mum after, and I do think it’s true.

“Aho.”

As far as I can remember, these are all the things that came up for me during the peyote trip. I will write more if I can think of it. Eventually the sun started to come up. I didn’t feel tired, or hungry, but I just wanted to be out of the field and back at Casona Soledad. But that was at about 6am, and we didn’t end up leaving until about 11am, so I was pretty bored at that point, and tired of standing around in the field.

Eventually, Monika kind of woke up. I remember a conversation she had with Caroline in the morning. This is when Caroline told us her story. She was 40 years old and had left her abusive husband after having 4 miscarriages. She was sick of all the abuse that she had had, and she felt a really strong desire to just pick up and go to the Amazon. Her crazy husband, her mother and father and family told her it was the worst idea ever, but she went anyway, and she went to the Amazon to try to understand what was happening with the world. She’s now studying indigenous cultures and healers. She said that she had gone to a Mayan healer in Guatemala, who had told her that the reason why all her babies had died is because Caroline herself was so sad, that their sadness killed her babies. Difficult stuff. In any case, she was offering Monika the opportunity to go to Guatemala and be healed. She said that many of these chronic conditions had 3 components: physical pain, emotional pain, and physical and emotional pain. And actually, if you are able to heal some of the emotional pain and the mental sides of things, you can get pretty fair in healing the physical pain. But I could tell that Monika was not going to go to Guatemala.

I asked Caroline about whether she had done much studying on psychedelics, i.e. non-natural hallucinogenic drugs, and if that was part of her research, and she kind of avoided my question and instead told me about how it was important as a foreigner to come into a ceremony with the right intentions. I thought that was a valid point, but she didn’t get that I wanted to talk about the different between LSD and peyote, because peyote is a far more spiritual, guided, interconnected experience, whereas LSD feel far more chemical because it is made in a lab. She gave me some really great book recommendations, including Your Body is Not an Apology, which I have been reading since, and she did tell me about Adrienne Marie Brown, and this other woman whose book I can’t remember now, but it is all about how originally indigenous healers in Europe were women, and basically they were killed, or branded as witches, or prevented from practicing with all the patriarchal bullshit that came with it. I expressed an interest in interviewing her for my podcast, and also in learning about these indigenous healers from Europe, and that seemed to finally convince her that I did have good intentions.

In any case, the sun was coming up, and what was strange was that Nayeli and their daughter laid out jewelry and hand-made beaded necklaces and trinkets like paper-mâché animal heads with beads that we could buy. It was as if this was their day job. Nayeli got up and so did her little girl after they had been sleeping in the tent all the night.

It was very beautiful when the sun was rising up over the valley and touching the mountain. We had been next to the fire, shivering for so long. Pro tip: if you find yourself in a field the whole night and you have a fire, expose your body in parts that is close to the fire so that you get your skin as close to the flames as possible. The layers that you’re trying to use to keep you warm are getting in the way of your actual skin touching the fire. Then you want to balance this by covering up the parts of your body that are not next to the fire. It’s actually not optimal to wrap your entire body in blankets because then your skin closest to the fire isn’t getting as much warmth as it could. I started lifting up my shirt, so the skin of my chest was directly exposed to the fire, and I stayed warm. The other girls followed suit, and lifted up their skirts, so their legs were warm. So, clothe your back, and expose your front and skin to the fire. That’s key. I managed to stay warm enough where I was having fun just chatting to people the whole night.

The only problem now was that we all wanted to be in Casona Soledad, but we had no way of getting home. We eventually got to asking Beatriz’s friend if he could take us to the carretera, but that wasn’t before people just kept standing around and either napping, or talking to the older shaman, who had finally woken up and put on his best suit. Beatriz handed out some small snacks, and Maria offered us fruits from the alter. I ate two bananas and drank some of the water we had left. In any case, at this point it was 8am, 9am, 10am, and we were so ready, me in particular, to leave literally hours before. All we wanted to do was shower and be home. But obviously, Beatriz and her friend had been sleeping, as had everyone else, so they were a bit more awake and wanted to all get breakfast together. We did not want to want get breakfast, so we just sat in the back of the pickup truck, ready to go, while everyone was chatting and listening to the shaman. Caroline had traveled all the way from Guatemala to attend this ceremony, so of course she wanted to learn from the shaman and stick around. Natalia and Romina had been napping together, as had Gloria. Even Fernanda and Maria napped together on our mat. But I didn’t sleep at all, so was itching to go. I could feel myself getting really sunburnt. I left voice messages for my siblings to tell them about the fact that I don’t give a shit about our property in the future, and also I left a voice message for Raquel, to tell her that I had been visited by her ancestors.

I gave Fernanda $500MX pesos as we were packing up. At first she seemed offended that I was giving her money, and I felt awkward about it. But then I said, “Comprar algo para tus niños” (Buy something for your children), and she accepted the money. I hope it was okay in the end. Its awkward to give someone a tip after you spend an entire night sitting around a fire, experiencing their pain with them as they try to get it out. But the reality is that she did need money to buy things for her children, and in that sense she was willing to accept it.  

When I reflected back on the ancestors I had visited by, Granny Doherty (Neal Doherty, my paternal grandfather’s mother) came to mind, as did Grammy in particular, and also Raquel’s mother.

Eventually they packed up the whole campsite, and Maria and the shaman’s family travelled together, and then we got in the back of the pickup truck. Natalia’s French friend had had enough, and hadn’t taken part in the circle at all, and was also desperate like us to get the fuck out of the grassy valley and back to Oaxaca Centro. Kristy, Caroline and I got in the back of the black pickup truck, and I joked that I had never been so excited to get in the back of some random man’s pickup truck.

The truck finally left towards Tulle, and being afraid of roller coasters, I was pretty nervous about riding in the back of the pickup truck because the road was so bumpy, and also sitting in the back of it while driving on the motorway. It seemed dangerous to me. But we didn’t really have a choice. Xquenda, Nayeli, and kid and Monika were going to sit in the middle of the truck. I did not give a fuck where I was sitting on that vehicle as long as we got out of there. I was roasting in the sun in the back of the truck as we drove about 25 minutes to Tulle, and luckily I was still wearing my long sleeve lumberjack shirt and leggings, so the only thing I had to defend from the sun was my face. As we went, we chatted with Caroline.

She told as that she was at first a bit nervous when we showed up as tourists, because she had recently been the only translator for a white Canadian dude who came to one of the ceremonies. Apparently this dude was really sick or just had so many problems in his life, that he just sapped up all the energy of the group, and didn’t speak a word of Spanish, and never even said Thank You to her. I was glad that I had been thanking Caroline throughout the night for speaking to me in English, because it was soothing even for me to have someone translate a lot of what everyone else was saying. That’s when she was saying that she also spoke in English for the first time in this ceremony, and how it was interesting that we were all translating the languages back and forth, and that it almost didn’t matter what any of us said in any language at some point, because we had a really beautiful and accepting circle. She seemed very resentful towards this Canadian guy, who apparently just took and then never gave anything back to the circle.

Throughout the night, I had been worried that I was speaking too much and getting too much attention. And often times, I let other people take turns to speak and share their pain. But what I really liked to do was to bring new ideas to the group: new love they had not discovered, a song in Spanish that they didn’t know. I felt that I had a lot to give. Kristy had said to me during the night that she felt too humbled to say anything, and I wish I too had felt this. Kristy was saying that these people had had really difficult lives, which was true, and that any problems that she had paled in comparison to what many of them were experiencing. I agreed with her, but I guess I just felt more than I wanted to be part of the conversation, and in my mind that was my way of giving to them. We also talked in the pickup truck about how much we as women have lost, and how little we know our bodies, and what that’s done to us, whether it’s our periods, or our sex lives, or pregnancy, or what have you.

In any case, eventually, sunburnt and sweaty, we arrived in Tulle. The rest of the group was going off to barbacoa for breakfast, and Kristy said she was hungry, but I insisted that at this rate we would never get home. It was almost noon. We weren’t sure how to catch a ride back to Oaxaca Centro, but luckily we found a public bus that was going close to the Centro. We quickly said goodbye to everyone and hopped onboard. The bus was $8MX pesos each, which is about $0.40USD, or 40 cents. Monika and Kristy were tired and felt gross and talked about how cold they had been. I had I guess been feeling the peyote the strongest, so surprisingly I wasn’t that hungry or tired. We then got a taxi because the bus was going away from the center. We had to cross the street in the scorching heat, and I finally looked like one of those tourists who has been traveling for months without showering. I knew that we needed bread, so I somehow found the energy to offer to go to the bakery and buy bread for us.

Since the peyote trip, I’ve been a lot less insecure about fame and wealth. I feel like writing is important, I feel like family is important, and that’s that. In the coming week, Monika started to look a lot healthier and happier, and she went on a date with Marcello, a Brazilian guy, that very night after we rested for a couple hours, which she had not done in years. I guess she was feeling nauseous and sick, and so the peyote was working physically more than mentally or emotionally, perhaps. For me it was definitely working more emotionally.

Recounting this story for you has taken me several hours. I think I sat down to do this at about 2pm, or 2:30pm, and now it's 6:30pm exactly. It makes me think about the limits of human communication, and if there is any easier way to record things. Is dictation faster? Is getting a brain chip faster? The human brain is good for complex thinking, but in this case, expressing language, and the motor connections I’ve found linking my brain and my fingers in their typing is significantly limited. I wonder if there are new ways that I can express myself, faster. We are going to need to communicate information more quickly. And right now, I feel like writing has been therapeutic, but it has not been fast enough. It has taken me an incredibly long time, multiple hours, to write this story. And soon, there will be too much information in the world that we need to know for us to be able to comprehend and communicate it verbally. I am going to ask the universe for a quicker and easier way of communicating.

The End.

*Names changed for privacy

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