In the ever-evolving narrative of psychedelic exploration, the prevalence of U.S.-based entheogenic retreats is an emerging chapter with deep indigenous roots. These retreats often unfold over two days: the first immerses the group in the unifying realm of MDMA, fostering connection, while the second delves into introspective exploration through psilocybin.
As an experienced solo traveler, embarking on a group retreat to experience the profound nature of psychedelic substances was a novel adventure. My journey brought me a retreat center nestled in the verdant landscapes of North Carolina, sanctioned by the Association of Entheogenic Practitioners (AEP).
A religious professional organization and mutual aid society uniting practitioners from many traditions who share a sincere belief in the religious nature of the entheogenic experience in order to expand safe access to such experiences.
AEP is a non-profit organization and mutual aid society uniting practitioners from diverse traditions who believe in the religious nature of the entheogenic experience. Spearheaded by Yale graduate and attorney Daniel Peterson, AEP has been a leading endeavor to provide safe access to legal, entheogenic experiences. With over 40 members across North America, AEP administers over 150 to 200 experiences monthly. But I was particularly surprised to discover that The Association has been hosting quarterly gatherings in my home state of North Carolina since June 2021, nurturing a community of regular attendees. I couldn’t believe there were opportunities like this in a highly regulated state, so I immediately jumped on the opportunity to attend.
Although initially apprehensive about journeying with a large group, I was pleased that the retreat offered a harmonious balance between group activities and personal exploration. We were encouraged to immerse ourselves in the serene surroundings. Hammocks strung between trees invited introspection, and hiking trails led to untouched natural beauty.
Day One: The Unifying Journey with MDMA
On a rainy evening, our group, comprising 12 attendees (two facilitators), convened in a yurt emanating with sage, Florida Water, and tobacco. As the soft strains of singing bowl music filled the air, we were invited to place an item of personal significance on the altar. At that moment, surrounded by the warmth of the yurt and the quiet anticipation of my group, my initial anxiety melted away.
We began by getting to know others in the group more closely and by stating our intentions for our journeys. As for me, I was seeking to develop a kinder relationship with myself through self-love and self-acceptance, something that has felt more challenging the further I’ve progressed into adulthood.
To prepare us for the ceremony and establish a grounded presence, a facilitator administered mapacho, a type of traditional tobacco, nasally. This first step was jarring yet invigorating, a burning sensation creeping through my nose. “I should do less of this next time,” I immediately told myself. The sharp sensation of the mapacho made me alert, snapping me out of my everyday thoughts and grounding me in the present. Simultaneously, it introduced a mild disorientation, like a subtle unmooring from the familiar, preparing me for the upcoming journey. I quickly sat down before I stumbled and embarrassed myself in front of my new travelers.
Next I ingested a regulated dose of MDMA, a substance known for its heart opening and extroversion effects. The experience was unlike any solo trip I had taken before. My sociability heightened, the energy of my fellow participants palpable. It felt like a shared journey into the subconscious, a space where barriers collapsed, and true understanding and kinship flourished. At its simplest, it just felt good to connect with others without any external distractions.
The experience was amplified by the space holders' compassionate guidance. They rotated their roles to partake and learn from each other's practices, fostering a deep sense of community and shared understanding. Although the MDMA kept me up until 4:30am, I still felt an afterglow.
Day Two: The Deep Dive with Psilocybin
The following morning heralded an introduction to the albino penis envy strain of psilocybin, ingested through the lemon tek method. This preparation method, known for its potency, was new territory for me. The onset, always the hardest part of the journey, was surprisingly gentle and kind.
As the effects started taking hold, the roof of the yurt transformed into a canvas for my expanding mind. Vivid visuals of an older Native American woman appeared, her image traced against the roof of our sanctuary. Suddenly, the appellation “Grandmother Yurt” made sense. It was as if she was a guide, a spirit protector for us all. This visualization rooted me further into the experience, knitting together the threads of past and present, indigenous wisdom, and the natural world. My concentration momentarily breaks as I hear others get up to wander outside.
I found myself walking the nearby labyrinth, a physical manifestation of our individual and collective journeys. Each turn, each twist mirrored the complexities of our lives, similar to the complexity of balancing one’s own journey with that of others. Yet, as different as our paths were, they all led to the same center, a poignant reminder of our shared human condition.
A unique ritual became the cornerstone of my experience. Before ingesting each substance, a fellow participant and I would draw a tarot card. The card I pulled – Rest and Restore – perfectly embodied my weekend. It symbolized a refuge, a place where I could retreat from the world, rest my mind, and restore my spirit. It was an opportunity to be truly present, mindful, and to partake in shared experiences. It was a call back to the heart of humanity, a reconnection with nature, and a time to learn wisdom from others. Partaking in hallucinogens with a group, something that seems so against Western culture, felt truly primal and essential to being human.
As I reflect on my journey, I appreciate how the experience opened a doorway into a realm of consciousness and self-discovery I had previously not explored. My adventure with the Association of Entheogenic Practitioners was undoubtedly a life-altering experience. It showed me the immense potential of these substances in facilitating deep emotional healing and the forging of shared connections.
Embarking on this trip not as a solitary traveler, but as part of a collective, amplified the experience. While I do not advise journeying with a group at the early stages of one’s psychedelic use, it reminded me that while our journeys are unique, the human experience is shared, and there is profound beauty and potential for change in that shared experience.
To learn more about AEP, please visit https://www.aep.community/at-a-glance and visit their booth at MAPS Psychedelic Science!