Despite the fact that ayahuasca is prohibited in Canada, Céu do Montréal was granted an exemption on religious grounds and is one of six Canadian organizations allowed to utilize it. Four out of those groups are from Quebec alone.
For many, Montreal will always be synonymous with poutine, bagels and chilly winters. But did you know that this vibrant city has become home to legal ayahuasca churches? Yes – it’s true! The practice of drinking the ayahuasca brew (a traditional spiritual remedy in South America) is now becoming part of modern culture; just one way people are turning to non-traditional ways to explore their spirituality and look for meaningful answers.
As clinical trials continue to navigate the FDA approval process, a legal pathway for accessing ayahuasca and its associated therapeutic benefits is available through the Santo Daime Church.
In June 2017, the Canadian government granted the Santo Daime Church of Montreal, Céu do Montréal, Eclectic Center of the Universal Flowing Light, the right to import and serve ayahuasca brew in their spiritual rituals. This marked a major milestone for the church and its congregation, who have been advocating for this right for years.
The mission of the church, founded in 1996, is to “provide for the transformation and evolution of all persons seeking enlightenment”, according to its website.
Health Canada has so far approved six federal exemptions, permitting ayahuasca churches in Montreal, Toronto and Winnipeg to import and use the sacred tea – an Indigenous brew composed of harmaline and dimethyltryptamine (DMT).
This tea is strictly prohibited by the U.S. as well as Canadian government; however it is used by many indigenous cultures in South America for healing and spiritual exploration. The brew is made from two plants native to South America—the ayahuasca vine (Banisteriopsis caapi) and chacruna leaf (Psychotria viridis). The drink has psychoactive properties that can cause powerful visions and intense inner journeys when ingested. It is traditionally used as part of a healing ceremony or ritual.
A wealth of research has revealed the potential therapeutic applications of ayahuasca, from relieving depression, suicidality, anxiety, trauma, grief, addiction and substance use disorder to even neurodegenerative diseases.
The Santo Daime Church
Founded in 1930's Acre, Brazil by Raimundo Irineu Serra (Mestre Irineu), the Santo Daime is a religious practice that unites several customs like Christianity, South American Shamanism, African Animism, Kardec Spiritism and Eastern transcendental wisdom. Its unique syncretic nature allows it to celebrate spiritual beliefs from around the globe while connecting its followers across different cultures.
The Santo Daime movement has spread around the globe since its inception in the 1990s, with spiritual rituals known as Works at its core. These Works involve partaking of a sacred sacrament referred to as Santo Daime, unifying followers and creating an international presence for this ancient practice.
Rev. Dr. Jessica Rochester has made it possible for the Montreal Santo Daime church to obtain an exemption; however, this exemption does not mean that the use of ayahuasca, or the Santo Daime sacrament, is legal in Canada. Each legitimate organization must apply to Health Canada for its own exemption, and for all information regarding the exemption process. Any importation or activities conducted with ayahuasca or Santo Daime without a Section 56 exemption from Health Canada will be considered illegal in Canada.
The Santo Daime Sacrament
Members of the Santo Daime church prepare a sacred tea referred to as ‘Feitio' utilizing two plants: Jagube – Banisteriopsis Caapi, and Psychotria Viridis, which is called “Queen of the Forest” by its adherents.
This ritualistic ceremony unites them in spiritual celebration. During the Feitio hymns, participants partake in the sacred Daime while men shred Ayahuasca vine with wooden hammers and women clean and sort its leaves. Owing to this special preparation of the sacrament for spiritual rituals only, it is referred to as Santo Daime rather than simply Ayahuasca. Céu do Montréal is an individual Sacrament Church dedicated to these practices.
In the morning, participants in the Céu do Montréal ayahuasca rituals abstain from eating and begin with prayer. Afterwards, they drink the ayahuasca tea at room temperature for 60-90 minutes in silence before engaging in collective hymn singing. Later on during the day, another smaller dose of ayahuasca is taken followed by more songs, dances and prayers to close off the ceremony.
According to the Montreal Gazette, every member of the ayahuasca church takes part in a sacrament ceremony regularly, one that emphasizes and celebrates their inner journey. Works, or rituals performed during these services serve as reminders to correct our imperfections and embrace transformation. The day ends with a communal potluck dinner shared by all attendees.
Founded on principles of love, respect for nature, acceptance of others and faithfulness to God, the church provides a safe environment for members to practice their spirituality with reverence for life itself.
With a flourishing membership of around 40 people and an additional 50-100 drop-in guests, Céu do Montréal is dedicated to fostering support amongst its community members. The team leaders that oversee the group are highly experienced individuals from all over Canada who have obtained their training directly from Brazilian masters with international recognition in Santo Daime teachings.
Ayahuasca, this sacred brew, has recently become increasingly popular among celebrities. Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers is perhaps its most vocal advocate in recent years and Will Smith even had an eye-opening “surrendering” experience with it. As more high profile figures continue to explore ayahuasca's power, word about this unique ritual will spread further than ever before.
The Canadian government's decision to grant permission to import and serve ayahuasca marks an important shift in how religious freedom is viewed in Canada. It shows that the government respects and values religious beliefs and practices that may be seen as unconventional or controversial by some. It also shows a commitment to protecting religious minorities who are often marginalized due to their beliefs or practices.
In addition to the Céu do Montréal, Montreal is also home to another ayahuasca church – The Beneficient Spiritist Center União do Vegetal. While they have been relatively discreet regarding their exemption status, this center provides a safe and welcoming environment for those seeking spiritual healing through ayahuasca ceremonies.