Communities of all types can become stronger by developing new ways to resolve conflict. As more people feel empowered to speak out against sexual coercion, harassment and assault, many social groups are reflecting on their collective values about safety and how to uphold them. Radical Risk Reduction is an approach which makes the most of the limited resources available to settle community disputes and reduce safety risks. The goal of these ideas is to develop sustainable systems that have the greatest impact on encouraging resiliency in troubled times.
For event organizers, effective conflict resolution and risk reduction is especially important. They are responsible for the safety of participants at their parties, conferences, and festivals. In 2014, the WVC responded to the resurgence of interest in psychedelics by creating a list of SafetyTips for those participating in ceremonies where psychoactive substances are used. This present list of recommendations for Radical Risk Reduction is a continuation of that initial effort to address community needs.
The best practices suggested here are also based on support for community education and mutual responsibility. They include ideas for addressing the potential for overdose and accidental poisonings from adulterated substances – especially materials cut with the synthetic opioid fentanyl. WVC created in 2015 a series of risk reduction workshops to teach drug safety skills. These protocols for Radical Rick Reduction include lessons learned from three years of conducting these trainings. They also reflect ideas presented in an essay on the topic posted in November 2018. Suggestions for subsequent versions are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.
However your community chooses to act, taking responsibility for the safety is an ethical duty. These suggested measures require courage and a commitment to stand up and act in the defense of others. Communities that endure through times of social upheaval learn how to resolve conflict. Effective risk reduction protocols reduce the potential for harm and create internal safety agreements. Train and empower people in your community to create a system that works for your culture. Budget carefully the collective energy you have available to resolve conflict and keep your community safe. Build resiliency. Practice Radical Risk Reduction.
Best Practices For Radical Risk Reduction
* Identify the leaders in your community or group of event organizers
* Empower these leaders or organizers to make decisions about safety
* Draft documents that set expectations for safety at community gatherings and events
* Consider the benefits of private, invitation only events where attendees must be sponsored by an established participant to attend and are accountable to that person
* Ask participants at private events to refrain from posting any details of the gathering on social media or other public places
* Develop an in-house ranger crew or safety team to uphold safety agreements at events
* Hire professional medics or EMTs to provide medical services at your event
* Create a quiet space and train a staff to provide care at that location for participants having difficulty
* Organize a rapid response team to react swiftly to consent or safety violations at events
* Develop a system to publicize how to report consent or safety violations during events – and also
outside your events if that information is considered
* Hire professional counselors to host workshops about consent during gatherings
* Publicize information to support affirmative consent. You could say, for example, “Make sure that every ‘yes’ is a ‘hell yes!’ A ‘no’ requires no explanation or qualification.”
* Form a group of mediators with training as counselors to consider complaints about consent or safety violations and help organizers make decisions to support community values
* Consider limiting decision makers to a small group as opposed to a larger collective process that may delay or dilute firm action and exhaust participants
* Develop protocols to gather information about a safety or consent disputes and limit the size of the group doing this work
* Reflect on the idea that conflict resolution may be especially challenging for women who may need to overcome socialization that encourages them to be accommodating and agreeable
* Consider that people may attempt to intimidate or manipulate those trying to settle a dispute
* Decide critical procedural questions such as whether to consider anonymous accusations or allow accusers to conceal their identity from the accused
* Determine who in your community will make decisions about excluding participants for violating community safety and consent agreements
* Understand that the capacity to engage conflict and uphold safety is a limited community resource
* Support those who wish to make formal legal complaints about sexual assault
* Empower community decision makers to act with firmness and clarity and also recuse themselves if they are too close to a person that is a party in a mediation case
* Set a blackout period for considering disputes three weeks before an event unless considering an incident that takes place within that window
* Remove those involved in mediation cases from projects critical to any upcoming event
* Prepare for the fact that a person excluded from an event for violating safety standards – or their friends – may attempt to lobby or pressure decision makers to reconsider their actions
* Consider different forms of restorative justice for the accused and the accuser in mediation and conflict resolution cases
* Embrace the possibility of removing those who violate community values from invitation lists and enacting the time-tested idea of social banishment
* Decide if there will be an appeals process for those removed from invitation lists or disinvited from community events
* If there is a path back to the community after a safety or consent violation, decide who will evaluate the person’s fitness to return, the timeframe, and what criteria will be used
* Consider a process where there is no path back for offenders in recognition of limited community resources to fully analyze that person’s ability to change their behavior
* Cultivate relationships with professional therapists and refer both accusers and the accused to these practitioners for care
* Allocate a budget to provide outside professional counseling to people who have been harmed at events you organize
* Determine how your community will or won’t publicize decisions to exclude people and – and consider how publically sharing this information may invite possible defamation cases
* Consider how your community will respond to requests that you share your list of banned persons with other groups
* Set boundaries on how organizers will talk about mediation decisions with community members or outsiders. Reserve the right to decline to discuss these matters in person or on social media.
* Be alert for threats of intimidation, reprisal or self-harm by those removed from invitation lists. De-escalate and encourage friends to provide support for all impacted parties
* Hire a lawyer to provide advice if those removed from the community threaten legal action
* Consider the effect that misuse of substances may have on consent or safety violations
* Limit alcohol use by perhaps not operating a bar at your events and prevent others from doing so
* Operate a teahouse or juice/elixir bar instead of an alcohol bar
* Allow only personal quantities of alcohol at your events or ban it outright
* Organize daily or twice daily sobriety support groups at your event
* Train community members to administer Naloxone or Narcan to prevent opioid overdose
* Distribute Naloxone kits at no cost to people who have been trained to use them
* Train community members how to properly operate a milligram scale and use volumetric measurement to accurately calculate dosage and prevent overdose
* Train community members how to use commercially available reagent testing kits to test for the presence of potentially deadly adulterants and reduce risk from misidentified drugs
* Offer free, anonymous reagent testing on site at your events from DanceSafe or other providers
* Develop event evacuation plans for fire and other natural disasters
* Determine which leaders or event organizers will interface with law enforcement and emergency personnel
* Cultivate good working relationships with in-house security at rented venues
* Uphold a culture of respect and fairness for your community and those you interact with
* Be at peace with the knowledge that the world is an inherently dangerous place and that you are taking steps to help keep your community safe
DOWNLOAD A PRINTABLE .PDF OF THE RADICAL RISK REDUCTION MANUAL
The #MeToo civil rights movement is creating an opportunity for communities of all types to develop new ways to resolve conflict. As more people feel empowered to speak out against sexual coercion, harassment and assault, many social groups are reflecting on their collective values and how to uphold them. For event organizers, effective mediation and risk reduction is especially important. They are responsible for the safety of participants at their parties, conferences or festivals. At events I organize, we practice a form of Radical Risk Reduction, which makes the most of the limited resources available to settle disputes. Our goal is to develop sustainable systems for resolution that have the greatest impact.
Many of the safety protocols that I help develop rest on the idea of community education and mutual responsibility. I am one of the founders of the Women’s Visionary Council (WVC) an educational nonprofit organization which hosts the Women’s Visionary Congress and other gatherings of women researchers, healers, artists and activists in the psychedelic community. After launching these events in 2007, WVC organizers began receiving reports of women being sexually abused by leaders of ceremonies that use ayahuasca and other psychoactive substances. In response, the WVC released in 2014 a series of safety tips for people participating in these gatherings.
Our safety tips advise people to work with female facilitators or male/female teams and conduct due diligence to check out the reputation of the shaman or healer they may work with. Participants are also encouraged to consider the safety of the substance dispensed, check out the ceremonial site, secure safe lodging, attend the ceremony with a trusted friend, identify mechanisms for accountability, practice setting good boundaries, and evaluate how they are touched during the ceremony. These recommendations have been widely reposted and translated into several languages. Chacruna has created their own version of these tips which focus on ayahuasca ceremonies.
Reducing the Risks of the Psychedelic Renaissance
In the years since the WVC began considering the safety of women at psychedelic ceremonies, there has been a rapid expansion of interest in psychedelics and other non-ordinary states of consciousness. Driven by media stories, popular books on psychedelics, and publicity by groups like MAPS, millions of dollars are being raised for research into psychedelic-assisted therapies. In response, the WVC now supports other forms of education – such as proposals for the creation of a professional association for psychedelic therapists to create codes of conduct and hold practitioners accountable to ethical standards. This type of oversight could also moderate the impact of businesses and organizations that are entering this market which may or may not have the capacity to self-regulate.
While psychedelic-assisted therapies are presently attracting a lot of attention, most people will not engage with these substances in a ceremonial or carefully controlled therapeutic environment. Most people will have – and have always had – psychedelic experiences in social settings where they engage in unsupervised, self-experimentation. Growing interest in the therapeutic use of psychedelics has prompted increasing numbers of people to procure these substances in underground markets and use them in social environments. At parties anywhere in the world, chances are good that someone is ingesting some sort of mind-altering substance in addition to alcohol, tobacco and caffeine.
As interest in psychedelics expanded, members of the WVC community became aware of an increasing number of overdoses linked to the use of psychedelics and other substances. We also saw an escalation of accidental poisonings from adulterated substances, especially materials cut with the synthetic opioid fentanyl. In response, the WVC created in 2015 a series of risk reduction workshops.
These workshops teach participants how to administer Naloxone or Narcan which blocks the effects of opioids, especially in cases of overdose. Instructors distribute Naloxone kits at no cost to people receiving this training. Trainers also demonstrate how to properly operate a milligram scale and employ volumetric measurement to accurately calculate dosage and prevent overdose. They also show how to use commercially available reagent testing kits to test for the presence of potentially deadly adulterants and reduce risk from misidentified drugs. Some event producers offer testing services onsite. This approach has the potential to attract unwanted attention from law enforcement, but can be carried out and publicized discretely.
Five years ago I co-founded another organization, an event production company called Take 3 Presents that creates immersive art parties. Together with our collaborators and producers of other events, we began to think about best practices to support risk reduction and community mediation. We developed these ideas for organizers of social events, but they are useful for other kinds of communities as well. The easiest kind of social gatherings in which to effectively manage risk reduction are private, invitation only events. The strongest models are gatherings where new attendees must be sponsored by an established participant to attend. This approach increases accountability. People avoid inviting friends who might make them look bad. Removing alcohol from the event to the greatest degree possible also supports risk reduction. Event producers can choose not to run a bar and still allow participants to bring personal quantities of alcohol – as long as they themselves don’t set up a bar at your event. Reducing alcohol consumption limits potential profits, but it significantly decreases the potential for illness, injury and consent violations.
Instead of a bar, an event could offer a teahouse which gives participants an opportunity to be in a social space without alcohol. I founded the Full Circle Tea House as a collaborative community art project at the Burning Man arts festival in 2011. This teahouse is now run by a group of volunteers who offer tea, empathy, water, soft pillows and a place to rest – sometimes providing 24/7 service. The act of being offered a tea cup, receiving it, drinking tea, and putting down your cup for a refill, brings you into connection with others and with yourself.
Safety and Mediation Teams
Tea servers are one of several potential safety teams that organizers can recruit and train. Those producing events of significant size or duration should also consider hiring professional medics and staff a quiet space for focused care. You could hire the Zendo project or develop your own similar crew based on this model. It’s also helpful to ask someone to lead a sobriety support group at your gathering for those who choose to remain sober. Instead of hiring an outside security service to patrol your event, organizers can create a volunteer ranger crew drawn from past participants who can be trained to uphold community standards of health and safety. The Burning Man Festival does this with their Black Rock Rangers.
Developing safety teams from within your own community helps organizers create and uphold a set of common values. This is especially important when creating protocols to deal with sexual coercion, harassment and assault. Organizers can start by forming a rapid response team to react swiftly to consent violations at their events. I also recommend forming a group of mediators who consider complaints from participants and help organizers make decisions to support community safety. If a participant wishes to make a complaint through the legal system, that is their right and they should be supported. But some people don’t trust law enforcement to investigate and some communities can’t afford to hire lawyers to settle internal disputes.
I support the idea of creating mediation teams who are comprised of participants trained as therapists, counselors, social workers – or those with similar backgrounds. They have the professional skills to help organizers develop protocols for gathering information about a dispute and consider critical procedural questions – such as whether to consider anonymous accusations or allow accusers to conceal their identity from the accused. Such people can also help organizers develop systems to publicize how to report consent violations during events and also incidents that take place outside events.
To further support consent culture, organizers can work with professional counselors to host workshops about consent during their gatherings. Announcements about the event could also include support for affirmative consent. Such language could say, for example, “Make sure that every ‘yes’ is a ‘hell yes.’ A ‘no’ requires no explanation or qualification.” Creating a culture of respect and consent is important, but it is not enough to help ensure safety. To take a serious stand against abuse and harassment, communities should designate who is going to make decisions about excluding participants for violating community agreements. If nobody is willing to take that responsibility, it’s very possible that no action will be taken. People may be abused without recourse which can create trauma and pain within the community. Conversely, if too many people take part in collective decision to exclude a participant, this process may delay or dilute firm action and exhaust participants. The capacity to engage conflict is a limited community resource.
I prefer a system in which a mediation team of two to five people gather information from parties in a dispute and make a recommendation of possible action to event organizers. If the organizers are running a business to hold the gathering, the owners of that business have a legal duty to make the final decision. This process should take into account that people may attempt to intimidate or manipulate those trying to settle the dispute. This may be especially challenging for women engaged in this work who may need to overcome socialization that encourages them to be accommodating and agreeable and retreat from conflict.
If a decision is made to exclude someone from an event, friends of that person will often lobby the organizers. They might insist that the person in question is a terrific human being, that they didn’t mean it, that they deserve a second chance, that the process is flawed, or that mediators or organizers are bad people for making this decision. If this happens to you, don’t take it personally. It’s important to act with firmness and clarity. Consider also setting a blackout period for considering disputes three weeks before an event unless the incident takes place within that window.
Communities will have different responses to these difficult situations. Some will embrace a form of restorative justice for the accused and the accuser. Other communities simply remove those who violate their values from the invitation list. Social banishment is a very old idea. There remains the difficult question as to whether there should be an appeals process or a path back to the community over time. Mediators could decide, for instance, to exclude a participant for a period of time and then evaluate what efforts they have made towards personal evolution and resolution with the people they have harmed.
While organizers may want to exercise compassion in these cases, they should also consider a system in which there is no path back. This is not because they are infallible judges of human frailty. It is simply that community members may have limited time and energy to consider whether someone has taken the appropriate steps to reform their behavior. Instead of attempting to provide such therapeutic services, organizers could consider a system in which people banned from events are referred to outside professional therapists. They could also set aside a budget for a limited number of counseling sessions for those who have negative experiences at their events and need support.
Finally, organizers should determine how they will or will not publicize these decisions. They could set boundaries on these conversations and say, for example, “This decision is final. I am not going to engage with you about this on Facebook, or here at this community event. Let’s set another time to talk.” Or perhaps organizers will decide not to publically discuss the matter. If organizers have been empowered by their community to act, it’s their right to make that decision.
Sometimes, people who are removed from a community threaten to sue for defamation. It’s helpful for organizers to have a lawyer they trust give them legal advice through this process. If a person’s name is removed from an invitation list without any public information about why this action was taken, this reduces the chances for a defamation case and other forms of retaliation against the accuser, mediators or organizers. Other communities may choose to publically shame people who are removed and publish an account of their transgressions.
However your community chooses to act, taking responsibility for the safety of participants at events is an opportunity for communities to decide what their values are and how to uphold them. These measures require a commitment to stand up and act in the defense of others. Communities that endure through times of social upheaval learn how to resolve conflict. Effective safety protocols reduce the potential for social discord and harm. Train and empower people in your community to create a system that works for your culture. Feel free to share the WVC’s manual on Radical Risk Reduction for Community Organizers. Budget carefully the collective energy you have available to resolve conflict. Build resiliency. Practice Radical Risk Reduction.
DOWNLOAD A PRINTABLE .PDF OF THE RADICAL RISK REDUCTION MANUAL
2017 has been a year deep reflection for the Women’s Visionary Council (WVC). After a decade of organizing our annual Women’s Visionary Congress and other gatherings in the U.S. and Canada, we took a step back this year to reexamine our mission. The WVC was created to provide a platform for women who were treated as second class citizens in vital discussions about non-ordinary states of consciousness. When the WVC first began inviting female researchers, healers, activists and artists to speak at our events, there were few women included in public conversations about these topics. While women made up a large proportion of research subjects for investigations into the therapeutic uses of MDMA, psilocybin and other substances, there were few female researchers invited to speak at gatherings where these studies were crafted and examined. Female investigators pursuing qualitative versus quantitative research were often sidelined. As women’s use of alcohol and opiates began to escalate, few people examined women’s use of cannabis and other alternative substances. Women activists, who stepped forward to change cannabis laws, as they did historically to end alcohol prohibition, did not receive the same recognition and support as their male counterparts.
The WVC was created in 2008 to provide a platform to redress the longstanding imbalance of opportunities between women and men to present their research and perspectives in vital discussions about non-ordinary states of consciousness. When the WVC first began inviting female researchers, healers, activists and artists to speak at our events, there were few women included in public conversations about these topics. While women made up a large proportion of research subjects in investigations into the therapeutic uses of MDMA, psilocybin and other substances, and were often the member of the research team working most closely with subjects, there were few female researchers invited to speak at gatherings where these studies were developed and examined.
As quantitative research is generally recognized as a standard for rigorous investigation, the pervasive failure to appreciate the value of qualitative research, which is more frequently pursued by female researchers, undervalued the contributions of these women. Little attention has also been paid to the use of of alcohol and opioids by women and few people have examined women’s use of cannabis and other alternative substances. As it was with the repeal of alcohol prohibition, pioneering women activists, who stepped forward to change cannabis laws did not receive the same recognition and support as their male counterparts.
The WVC has stepped forward to push for the inclusion of women’s perspectives in these discussions – and we have succeeded and prevailed. Today at academic and professional conferences where these topics are discussed, women make up at least half the speakers – and many got their start presenting at our events. A growing number of female researchers are entering this field and there is more respect for the rigor of qualitative inquiries. Women are now recognized as leaders in changing laws that support a racist drug war. There is still much to be done in equalizing the role of women in these efforts, but the past decade has seen substantial progress in the inclusion and recognition of female voices.
Other topics that the WVC championed have now also been embraced by mainstream culture. Years before the revolution sparked by the #MeToo movement, WVC spoke out about the sexual abuse and harassment of women participating in ceremonies that use psychedelic substances. In 2014, the WVC membership began collectively developing a series of Safety Tips that were translated and republished by organizations around the world. As increasing number of women participate in these ceremonies, the WVC continues to receive messages from people of all genders seeking safety advice and support after abusive encounters.
The WVC has also been on the forefront of education about the safe and effective use of cannabis, which will become legal for recreational use in our home state of California on January 1. In March of this year, we held our first annual Women & Cannabis Salon creating a platform for respected women leaders in this industry to share their experiences and wisdom. We heard from nine women pioneers in the fields of cannabis medicine, business, cultivation, activism and research in Oakland, CA. The following day we gathered for a cannabis oriented recipe exchange and cooking class. Click here to view videos of the presentations made at the event.
The WVC has also led educational efforts to help address the opioid crisis and the impact of adulterated substances. In July 2017, WVC launched its second annual workshop series on risk reduction and drug safety skills. Participants received training in the use of Naloxone/Narcan, which blocks the effects of opioids and helps prevents overdose deaths. WVC trainers also provided instruction in accurately measuring liquids and powders to help prevent overdose and the use of reagent testing kits to check for the presence of potentially deadly adulterants. As the only organization to provide training in all three of these skills, we are seeking support to continue to offer these workshops and Naloxone kits at no cost to participants.
Please consider making a tax deductible donation to WVC to help fund our upcoming programs. When you donate $75 or more, you will become a member of the organization and will have access to our membership newsletter and the ability to nominate speakers, scholarship recipients, and grant recipients to the board.
A Focus On Inclusiveness
In the coming year, the WVC will continue to focus on health and safety initiatives. We plan to extend our risk reduction workshops and discussions around sexual assault in psychedelic ceremonies. The WVC is also planning our second weekend-long Salon in New York this year. Our last gathering in 2016 was extremely successful and we look forward to reconnecting with our east coast community once again. The WVC is also planning to organize another women and cannabis event in the near future to create an opportunity for women – especially women of color – to thrive in the rapidly changing cannabis industry. We’ll be working to ensure that these conversations include non-English speaking communities and will begin to translate the WVC website into Spanish.
While the WVC privileges the voices of women, all our activities will continue to welcome people of all genders interested in the expansion of consciousness through many means including the dream state, art, spiritual, and physical disciplines. Our new focus on sustainable food systems and traditional cooking skills that support our internal psychobiome will continue in 2018 with another presentation of our annual home canning class and community dinner. Twenty-six participants joined us at Cybele Farm in Grass Valley, CA in November of this year, where chef Emma Sanchez taught us how to make applesauce, sauerkraut and pickled vegetables as our grandmothers did.
The Women’s Visionary Congress will again return in the fall of 2018 with a focus on these topics – and also more up to date information about the therapeutic and spiritual uses of expanded states of consciousness. We’ll examine both qualitative and quantitative research as well as indigenous and experiential ways of knowing. The WVC is emphasizing its commitment to work for the inclusion of people from many cultures whose insights into the use of sacred plant medicines are essential for social and scientific understanding of these substances. The WVC is currently determining a location and date for the 2018 Women’s Congress and we’ll be in touch to let you know more information.
Donations and Grants
None of the projects that the WVC has created and shared with our members over the last decade would have been possible without support from our donors. We would like to thank the River Styx Foundation, Pilar Starr Woodman, and the Sarlo Foundation of the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund for their generous donations to the WVC in 2017. We would also like to thank our WVC members for their support and all those who have attended WVC events. A portion of the ticket sales to these events goes toward WVC programs. We would also like to thank the many volunteers who have donated their time to help organize, manage and webcast WVC events. Please consider making a tax deductible donation to WVC and becoming a member of the organization to support our work in the new year.
Thanks to the generosity of our community, the WVC continued this year to award grants to exceptional women and organizations who advance our mission. In November, we awarded a grant to Dr. Julie Holland to host a Women in Psychedelic Research networking event at the Drug Policy Alliance conference in Atlanta, GA. The event was attended by approximately 40 women and men including many young and transgender people. Dr. Holland is a psychiatrist, psychophamacologist, and former Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine. She is the author of several books and serves as a medical monitor for multiple therapeutic studies investigating the utility of MDMA and cannabis in treating symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
The WVC also made a grant in 2017 to the Upcycle Clothing project in New Mexico founded by visionary artist and WVC presenter Jean Nichols The WVC has a long history of supporting and promoting the work of women artists who serve their communities. Upcycle Clothing creates opportunities for women in Mora County, New Mexico to earn money by creating fashionable garments from used clothing. This project helps women learn new skills, work at home, and provide for their families in a small county with few jobs. The WVC grant will help the organization rent space where the ladies can work together a few days a week and mentor young women who are launching themselves the larger world.
Hello and Goodbye to WVC Staff
As the WVC continues to reach out to new communities of friends and allies, our own team here in the San Francisco Bay Area is undergoing changes. After significantly expanding our programing and digital communications, Anne Tara Szostek will be moving on to a new job in the health care sector in the new year. She will continue to use her sound judgment and digital acumen as WVC’s Secretary and webmistress. Kati Silva, a graduate student and community leader has now stepped into the role of WVC’s new Program Coordinator. Kati’s insights into the vital role of ceremony in healing traditions were shared in her presentation at the 2016 Women’s Congress entitled The Importance of Ceremony on the Spiritual Path. She will be using her extensive organizational skills for WVC program administration and digital promotion, and will be sending updates about upcoming events and projects in the new year.
Kristel Peterson, who has served as our events registrar, is also leaving the WVC. Kristel brought her solid ideas and fine management skills to our events. We will miss her deft hand and tremendous positive energy. The WVC also saw the resignation of Denis Berry from our board of directors in 2017. Denis offered wisdom, gravitas and nonprofit expertise that greatly benefitted the WVC. She will continue as an emerita board member together with a group of extraordinary women including former board member Diana Slattery, and our first board president Carolyn Garcia.
Together with our group of senior women advisors and our allies, the WVC is setting a clear course for the next decade. Thank you for your continued support for our community, our projects and our gatherings. We wish you all joyful holidays, peace in your hearts, and a visionary New Year.
With love and gratitude,
The Women of the WVC
Annie Oak, President
Mariavittoria Mangini, Treasurer
Anne Tara Szostek, Secretary
Kati Silva, Program Coordinator
Eleonora Molnar, Director WVC Canada
Emerita Board Members
Emerita Financial Wizard
Thank you for all your support during our year end fundraising drive. Thanks to many generous donations from our members, we raised $12,850 towards our goal of $5,000, which will help make possible a new series of workshops and events that serve visionary women and their allies in 2017.
This year, 2017, will present many challenges for our communities and our nation. Thus, we have decided to refocus our efforts to make our voices heard by holding a series of events that reflect gatherings requested by you, our members. These events will be opportunities for you to speak out on issues you care about, connect with community, receive feedback on your projects, and further evolve the world of ideas that we have set in motion since our first gatherings over a decade ago.
WVC stands for both the Women’s Visionary Congress, the gathering we have hosted annually for the last decade, and for the Women’s Visionary Council, a non-profit we started to gather ideas and organize these events.
When we started holding our annual Women’s Visionary Congress eleven years ago, very few women were represented in public discussions about psychedelics and consciousness and we felt that creating a space where women’s voices on these topics were privileged was essential. Now we are seeing many women represented at gatherings focusing on these topics. WVC played a pivotal role in this shift – many of the women speaking at these gatherings spoke for the first time at our Congress or gained valuable support for their projects that allow them to succeed. Our 10 years of Women’s Congresses gathered a strong community and a wellspring of women’s wisdom.
This year we feel that it is time for our focus to shift and so we have chosen not to host a Women’s Visionary Congress. Rather, we will be focusing on a series of smaller events in Northern California with a focus on building and strengthening our local community.
WVC stands for both the Women’s Visionary Congress, the event we’ve been holding for the last decade, and for the Women’s Visionary Council, a non-profit we started to gather ideas and organize these events. We are all part of this Council and we look forward to hearing your ideas and gathering with you this year. Feel free to share your ideas for events and projects with us at email@example.com.
Our year of events will begin on March 4th and 5th with our two-day Women and Cannabis Salon in Oakland and San Francisco.
On April 24, we will hold a workshop on Psychedelic Culture and Community at the Psychedelic Science Conference in Oakland.
We welcome you to join us during these gatherings and send us suggestions for events that reflect your interests. Stay tuned for announcements of additional events that will be held in the fall and winter of 2017.
Our journey through 2016 has come to a close and it’s been a memorable year. We are grateful to all of our WVC members and supporters for their contributions and support over the past twelve months. Our community donated their time, their expertise, and their resources to organize new projects and make the WVC tenth anniversary year epic in many ways. As we plan new gatherings for 2017, it’s satisfying to look back and take stock of work well done and the prolific creativity of visionary women and their allies.
The WVC began 2016 with our first east coast gathering in New York City from March 11th-13th. We kicked off three days of events with a party and private guided tour of the Himalayan art collection at the Rubin Museum. This was followed by a day of presentations at a WVC salon held at the Alchemist’s Kitchen, a hub of visionary community in the Lower East Side. The salon featured talks by three remarkable women, Katherine MacLean PhD, Julie Holland MD, and Allyson Grey.
A postdoctoral research fellow and faculty member at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Katherine MacLean contributed to groundbreaking studies investigating the therapeutic use of psilocybin. She discussed her current work examining the role of psychedelics in preparing for death and healing trauma related to grief. Katherine’s talk was followed by a presentation by Dr. Julie Holland, a psychiatrist, psychopharmacologist, and author who serves as a medical monitor for studies examining MDMA and cannabis in the treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Julie observed that one in four women in the U.S. takes medication for a mental health condition. She argued that cannabis can be used to reduce opioid dosages, mitigate opiod overdose deaths, and provide a less toxic alternative to alcohol and tobacco.
In keeping with WVC tradition, the scientific and research discussions at the NYC event were balanced by presentations from artists. The third WVC salon speaker, artist Allyson Grey, is the co-founder of the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors (CoSM) a magnificent gallery and community center in upstate New York that houses the work of her partner Alex Grey and other visionary artists. Allyson showed images of her art and concluded her remarks by noting that her psychedelic experiences have provided insights useful to the management of her highly successful family business. The daylong WVC salon was followed by an evening visionary storytelling gathering in Brooklyn co-hosted by the WVC and Psymposia. On our final day in the city, WVC members made art of our own hosting a tea party and participatory theater performance at the statue of Alice in Wonderland and her friends in Central Park. Entitled “Alice Has Options,” the event encouraged participants to describe non-ordinary states of consciousness engendered by substances, Tai Chi, the dream state, and other experiences.
Just three months after the WVC salon in New York City, our community gathered at our home base in Northern California for the 10th annual Women’s Visionary Congress. Capping a decade of presentations by healers, researchers, activists and artists, the 2016 Congress featured a who’s who of visionary women who inspire us. The gathering included a discussion of activism around sustainable food systems. Urban homesteaders and herbalists Sophia Buggs of Lady Buggs Farm and Maya Blow of Soul Flower Farm talked about stewarding their land and teaching urban communities to grow their own food. Other activists who presented showed what it took to be pioneers in their fields. Veteran fundraiser Virginia Wright spoke about the practical work of making visionary initiatives financially sustainable. Marsha Rosenbaum, director emerirta of the San Francisco office of the Drug Policy Alliance, reflected on her 44 years of educational initiatives around youth and drugs. Ellen Komp, Deputy Director of Cal NORML, who has been an hemp/marijuana activist since 1991, discussed then-pending cannabis legislation and her new book “Tokin Women: A 4000-Year Herstory.”
The artists who presented at the Congress included visionary trailblazers such as print artist Dana Smith, photographer Marc Franklin, visual artist samsara shmee, Jesse Jarnow, author of “Heads: A Biography of Psychedelic America” and filmmaker Connie Littlefield who screened her excellent film “The Sunshine Makers.” We even had a fashion show courtesy of our friends at the Upcycled Fashion Collection.
Balancing, as always, art with science, the 2016 Women’s Congress featured researchers and healers on the leading edge of inquiry and practice. Alchemical healer Nicki Scully, Moon Dancer Katherine Silva, behavioral therapist Wendy Ludlow, body worker Raz Ma, mindfulness teacher Flora McCloud, and cannabis educator Sara Payan offered their visions of health and wholeness. Shannon Clare Petitt, who leads staff development for the Multi Disciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), provided our annual update on MAPS research projects. Dr. Dana Blu Cohen, who works with MDMA-assisted psychotherapy researchers at MAPS, discussed feminist approaches to psychedelic assisted psychotherapy. Spanish psychologist Ana Elda Maqueda shared her investigations into salvia divinorum and ayahausca. Those present at the 10th annual Congress also received direct care and blessings from yoga teacher Yoga Ma and Eda Zavala Lopez, a spiritual leader in her tribal community in the Amazon. Botanist Jane Straight brought a living altar of power plants from her garden to remind us that we are indeed people of the plants.
Just as we were dusting ourselves off from the Women’s Congress, the WVC directed its focus to the online world and launched a new initiative to help our members and other organizations support digital privacy. Keenly aware of the sometimes controversial nature of the discussions at our events, the WVC has taken steps to prevent visitors to our sites from being tracked or surveilled through member lists, our website, or our social media outreach. We assembled a list of suggestions based on steps we have taken to modify our use of MailChimp, Paypal, and Google services. Written by WVC board member Anne Tara Szostek, this initiative provided suggestions for concrete action and a list of resources including Privacy Badger, a browser plug-in from the Electronic Frontier Foundation that blocks spyware and invisible trackers. The WVC believes in proactively supporting the safety and security of our members and anyone who wishes to access our digital resources.
After releasing our privacy recommendations, the WVC launched a second public outreach campaign in July focused on risk reduction skills. Observing the increasing rate of opiod overdose, the WVC took action to address this widespread public health emergency. In the interest of preventing future deaths, the WVC decided to provide often difficult-to-acquire information about how to prevent overdose. The WVC partnered with the San Francisco Psychedelic Society to organize a free workshop at the Internet Archive to teach critical risk reduction skills. At the start of the workshop, WVC board member Mariavittoria Mangini PhD, FNP reviewed past risk reduction initiatives. She was joined by Internet Archive Administrative Coordinator Michelle Krasowski who read remarks by librarian Andrea Mitchell, a member of the Substance Abuse Librarians and Information Specialists (SALIS) who have developed a collection of digital resources at the Internet Archive for ongoing risk reduction education.
The second part of the WVC risk reduction workshop featured Dr. Gantt Galloway, Executive Director of the New Leaf Treatment Center who provided training in the use of Naloxone or Narcan which blocks the effects of opiods, especially in cases of overdose. Dr. Galloway trained participants how to use Naloxone and gave us kits that we could use to reverse a potentially fatal overdose. The risk reduction workshop closed with a presentation by Earth and Fire Erowid, founders of the Erowid archive, one of the world’s most comprehensive digital libraries documenting interactions with psychoactive materials. Using water and baking powder as demonstration tools, the Erowids demonstrated how to prevent overdose by accurately measuring liquids and powders, demonstrating the proper use of a milligram scale and showing techniques to improve the accuracy of measurement. The Erowids also showed how to use commercially available reagent testing kits to test of the presence of psychoactive substances and potentially deadly adulterants. The WVC held a second similar risk reduction workshop a week after this initial event. Both workshops were presented at no cost for maximal accessibility.
As 2016 drew to a close, the WVC ended a busy year with its first workshop focused on traditional food skills and celebrating our connection to the Earth and her bounty. We began this adventure on November 6th with a free tour of City Slicker Farms in Oakland, CA. We learned how this project launched an urban farm park that provides fresh produce to neighborhood residents and others. Our visit included a presentation by Imperfect Produce which provides affordable fruits and vegetables to consumers by sourcing cosmetically imperfect food. Both groups are central to the evolving revolution of food systems and addressing the large quantities of California-grown produce that is discarded. The workshop day concluded with a cooking and canning class led by visionary chef Emma Sanchez. Using fruit and vegetables from Imperfect Produce, we learned how to can as our thrifty grandmothers did making applesauce, pickled vegetables and canned squash. We concluded the work with a delicious feast and gave thanks for another year of visionary gatherings and the community that creates them.
The Women’s Visionary Congress is based in the San Francisco Bay area and our members our among the community of artists who make our culture so vibrant. We mourn the loss of those who died in the Ghost Ship warehouse fire in Oakland, California on December 2nd and those who are impacted by this tragedy. Our thoughts and prayers also go out to the many Bay Area artists who are impacted by the chronic lack of affordable housing, studio and event space in the most expensive housing market in the U.S. We support efforts to increase the safety of these spaces and prevent artists from being evicted from their homes. If you wish to make a donation to the families of those who were lost and the Ghost Ship artists who are now homeless, the Gray Area Foundation for the Arts has set up a crowdfunding page – click here to learn more
. We encourage you to support the artists in your community this holiday season and help make sure they have safe, affordable places to live and work.
The 10th annual Women’s Visionary Congress (WVC) will gather in Petaluma, California next month to present the work of visionary women healers, scholars, activists and artists who study consciousness and plant medicines. WVC supports the transfer of knowledge among women of all generations who apply their research and personal insights for the betterment of communities around the world.
The 2016 Women’s Visionary Congress will take place Friday, June 17th through Sunday, June 19th at the IONS Earthrise Retreat Center. The gathering will feature discussions, presentations, film screenings, music, a fashion show of upcycled clothing, and visual art. People of all genders are welcome.
Presenters include Denis Berry, Sophia Buggs, Dana Blu Cohen, Jodie Evans, Marc Franklin, Ellen Komp, Flora Lintern, Connie Littlefield, Eda Zavala Lopez, Wendy Ludlow, Ana Elda Maqueda, Mariavittoria Mangini, Annie Oak, Sara Payan, Shannon Clare Petitt, Janis Phelps, Marsha Rosenbaum, Anne Tara Szostek, Jane Straight, Nicki Scully, and Virginia Wright. Jane Straight will bring a living altar of plants from her garden. Urban homesteaders and herbalists Sophia Buggs of Lady Buggs Farm in Youngstown, Ohio and Maya Blow of Soul Flower Farm in El Sobrante, CA, will talk about their urban farms. Meet our speakers here.
WVC is organized by the non-profit Women’s Visionary Council. Tickets for the 2015 WVC sold out and participants are encouraged to reserve their spot at this year’s gathering as soon as possible. Tickets are $475 which includes delicious food and comfortable accommodations for the entire weekend. For more information contact Annie Oak at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Join us for an illuminating summer weekend of conversation with old friends and new.
Consider becoming a visionary patron and purchase a ticket for a woman who could not otherwise attend the event. All donations to WVC are tax deductible.
The Women’s Visionary Congress held its first gathering in New York City this month which featured three remarkable women from our east coast community. Katherine MacLean PhD, Allyson Grey, and Julie Holland MD each presented their work at an afternoon salon held Saturday, March 12th at the Alchemist’s Kitchen, an event space on the Lower East Side run by our friends from the Evolver Network. The WVC NYC weekend also included a party at the Rubin Museum where a guide led a private tour of the galleries for WVC members. We had great fun on our visit to the Big Apple and welcomed many new friends from throughout the east coast who came to hear the presenters and meet each other. The rising awareness of psychedelic research and therapies continues to draw an increasingly large number of participants to WVC gatherings and our events in NYC were full of thoughtful and interesting people.
One of our primary reasons for journeying to NYC was to hear Katherine and Julie discuss their groundbreaking research. We had invited both women to speak at our annual event in California for several years and finally determined that we needed to bring the WVC to their hometown. Katherine, who is one of a small number of women conducting research with psychoactive substances, served as a postdoctoral research fellow and faculty member at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. She worked with researchers who examine the impact of psilocybin on personality change and how this substance could enhance mental health and creativity. Her current focus is the role of psychedelics and meditation in preparing individuals for death and healing trauma related to grief.
Katherine is now the director of the Psychedelic Education and Continuing Care program at the Center for Optimal Living in New York City. We attended the Center’s monthly public psychedelic group meeting on March 10th which took place at the New School for Social Research in Manhattan. As a complement to the WVC Salon, the Center focused on the topic of “Psychedelics and Gender” for this month’s meeting which offered an excellent opportunity for participants to integrate their psychedelic experiences.
Dr. Julie Holland is a psychiatrist and psychopharmacologist with a private practice in New York City. Julie is a former Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine and serves as the medical monitor for multiple therapeutic studies investigating the utility of MDMA or cannabis in ameliorating symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). She is the author of “Weekends at Bellevue,” and the editor of “Ecstasy: The Complete Guide. A Comprehensive Look at the Risks and Benefits of MDMA,” and “The Pot Book: A Complete Guide to the Risks and Benefits of Cannabis.” Her new book is “Moody Bitches: The truth about the drugs you’re taking, the sleep you’re missing, the sex you’re not having, and what’s really making you crazy.”
Katherine and Julie’s presentations at the WVC Salon focused on how to integrate insights from explorations in expanded consciousness. Katherine began by discussing her research at Johns Hopkins which examined the impact of psilocybin on mystical experiences. 60-70% of the participants in this study reported that it had lasting effects. Katherine argued for more research in this area and noted that therapeutic psilocybin sessions in natural settings can promote fuller bodily healing. She said she believed that psychedelics can help us adjust to and prepare for potentially stressful life events and also for our deaths. Both she and Julie observed that their experiences with psychedelics prepared them well for motherhood. Katherine honored the contributions and sacrifices of Mexican curandera Maria Sabina who brought psilocybin containing mushrooms to western awareness. She concluded her talk by thanking her trainers at Johns Hopkins, especially Mary Cosimano.
Julie began her remarks by pointing out that the U.S. Government has consistently blocked research into the therapeutic effects of cannabis. She noted the current epidemic of opioid use in the U.S. where she said pain medications are overprescribed. While the U.S. consumes 80% of the pain medications worldwide, she points out that many people in other parts of the world don’t have access to pain meds. Julie observed that one in four women in the U.S. is taking some sort of medication for a mental health condition. She believes that cannabis can be used to reduce opioid dosage, mitigate the increase in opioid overdose deaths in the U.S., and offer a less toxic alternative to alcohol and tobacco. Julie noted that cannabis can be a powerful anti-inflammatory and that there are medicinal benefits to recreational use. According to Julie, micro dosing and vaginal absorption of THC, can mitigate the effects of chemotherapy for those undergoing pancreatic cancer. She concluded her comments by noting that the pharmaceutical industry and alcohol producers will likely continue to keep undermining drug law reforms, but that concerned citizens must push back.
Our third WVC salon presenter, Allyson Grey is a painter and social sculptor. She holds an MFA from Tufts University and is a long-time art educator, arts organizer and muse to artists worldwide. Since 1975, Allyson has collaborated with the visionary artist Alex Grey. Together they founded the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors (CoSM), a spiritual retreat center for artists outside of New York City. Allyson and Alex paint on stage for thousands of people at gatherings around the world. She began her presentation by showing images of her art and discussed how her first LSD experience inspired her recurrent artistic themes of sacred symbols and secret writing. Allyson also showed images of her lesser-known performance art with Alex. She described her visioning of the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors, their current Full Moon Ceremonies, and the fundraising campaign that she and Alex have launched to create the Entheon building at CoSM that will house visionary art. Allyson concluded her remarks by noting that her psychedelic experiences have provide insights into running a successful business including emphasizing the importance of imagination, possibilities and forgiveness. For every action pertaining to CoSM, Allyson says she considers the benefits, costs and risks to the project. “Business is social, said Allyson. “Make more friends!”
The WVC Salon was followed a visionary storytelling gathering in Brooklyn co-hosted by the WVC and Psymposia. Emceed by journalist Lex Pelger, the event attracted a sizable crowd and offered participants an opportunity to share compelling experiences, scientific or academic research, and underground explorations with psychedelics and other psychoactives. We contributed own stories and had a fine time meeting members of the Psymposia community. If you have an opportunity to attend one of their storytelling events in a town near you, we suggest you go.
On Sunday, March 13th, the WVC concluded its weekend of events by hosting a tea party and participatory theater performance at the statue of Alice in Wonderland and her friends in Central Park near East 74th Street. Entitled “Alice Has Options,” the event encouraged participants to personify and describe different non-ordinary states of consciousness (SOC). The intention of the piece was to acknowledge that there are many ways to access expanded states of awareness – and to look at how some of these states are more culturally accepted than others. Participants described a variety of SOCs including caffeine, the dream state, cannabis, touch, MDMA, Tai Chi, and mushrooms containing both psilocybin and muscarin. Many people visited the statue of Alice during our performance and a number them stayed to share our theatrical moment. Alice, who explores a number of altered states during her journeys in Wonderland, smiled from her perch atop a mushroom.
The theme of the 2015 Womens’ Visionary Congress was “Rising from the Underground.” Next month, the WVC will travel east and ascend further by gathering in New York City for a weekend of events from March 11-13. Our conversations in NYC will focus on how we integrate insights from our explorations in expanded consciousness and share them with the world. As with all WVC events, people of all genders are welcome to join us.
The WVC gatherings in New York City will begin in Manhattan with a party on Friday, March 11th from 6-10 pm at the K2 Lounge inside the Rubin Museum at 150 W 17th Street. The party and museum admission is free, as is a guided tour of the museum galleries. On Saturday, March 12th, from 11 am to 5 pm, the WVC will host a Salon at The Alchemist’s Kitchen, on 21 East 1st Street. The Salon will feature talks by three of our favorite local visionaries, Katherine MacLean PhD, Allyson Grey, and Julie Holland MD. Tickets to the Salon are $50 and benefit the WVC which is a 501C3 nonprofit organization.
Always on the frontier of investigations into consciousness, Dr. MacLean received a fellowship from the National Science Foundation to study the effects of intensive meditation training on well-being and brain function. As a postdoctoral research fellow and faculty member at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, she worked with researchers who examine the impact of psilocybin on personality change and how this class of medicines could enhance mental health and creativity. Her current focus is the role of psychedelics and meditation in preparing individuals for death and healing trauma related to grief. Dr. MacLean is now the director of the Psychedelic Education and Continuing Care program at the Center for Optimal Living in New York City. As a complement to the WVC Salon, the Center has chosen the topic of “Psychedelics and Gender” for their monthly public psychedelic group meeting which will take place at The New School at 7 pm, Thursday, March 10.
Allyson Grey, a painter and social sculptor will present the second talk at the WVC Salon. Grey holds an MFA from Tufts University and is a long-time art educator, arts organizer and muse to artists worldwide. Since 1975, Allyson has collaborated with the visionary artist Alex Grey. Together they founded the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors (CoSM), a spiritual retreat center for artists outside of New York City. For the first few years of the WVC, Allyson flew to California to speak at our gatherings and offer her wisdom and support. We can now reciprocate by bringing the WVC community to her hometown. Allyson and Alex paint on stage for thousands of people at gatherings around the world and act as ambassadors for the visionary realm. As she has done in the past at our request, Allyson will talk about how she applies her psychedelic family values in the business world to sustain transcendent art.
The final WVC salon talk will be presented by Dr. Julie Holland, a psychiatrist and psychopharmacologist with a private practice in New York City. Dr. Holland is a former Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at NYU School of Medicine and serves as the medical monitor for multiple therapeutic studies investigating the utility of MDMA or cannabis in ameliorating symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. From 1996 to 2005, Dr. Holland ran the psychiatric emergency room of Bellevue Hospital on Saturday and Sunday nights which is chronicled in her excellent book, “Weekends at Bellevue.” Dr. Holland is editor of the book, “Ecstasy: The Complete Guide. A Comprehensive Look at the Risks and Benefits of MDMA,” and also edited “The Pot Book: A Complete Guide to the Risks and Benefits of Cannabis.” Her new book, “Moody Bitches: The truth about the drugs you’re taking, the sleep you’re missing, the sex you’re not having, and what’s really making you crazy,” was published in 2015. If you’ve never read, Dr. Holland’s books, especially “Moody Bitches,” I strongly suggest you do so before hearing her talk. The presentations will include time for Q and A and I will be lined up with everyone else to ask questions prompted by her groundbreaking work.
The WVC Salon will be followed on the evening of Saturday, March 12th by a visionary storytelling gathering co-hosted by WVC and Psymposia which will take place from 8 pm to midnight at the Hell Phone Speakeasy at 247 Varet St. in Brooklyn. There is no charge for admission. We’re delighted to be setting sail with Psymposia’s “Psychedelic Stories” series which they describe as “The Moth Radio Hour… On Acid.” The event will be emceed by drug writer Lex Pelger and will give participants an opportunity to share compelling experiences, scientific academic research and underground explorations with psychedelics and other psychoactives. We’re getting our own stories ready to contribute.
And finally, on Sunday, March 13th, the WVC will host a tea party and theatrical experience from 10 am to 2 pm at the statue of Alice in Wonderland and her friends located in Central Park north of the Conservatory Water at East 74th Street in New York City. Entitled “Alice Has Options,” the event will offer a San Francisco-style immersive art narrative intended to disrupt cultural conditioning. Participants are invited to bring a teacup and an open mind.
Kai Wingo at her mushroom farm in Cleveland.
As 2015 draws to a close, I’ve been reflecting on some of the remarkable people in the visionary community that I had the pleasure of meeting this year. It’s becoming increasingly common for women who attend our WVC events to create their own gatherings – and then invite us to meet the healers, artists and activists that they admire. I received an invitation to participate in one such event this fall that took place in Cleveland, Ohio. Organized by Kai Wingo, the Women and Entheogens conference brought together an inspiring group of entheogenic researchers and teachers from around the U.S. It was an opportunity to meet Kai’s community from Cleveland and Detroit and visit her urban mushroom farm, Kultured Mushrooms, where she grows shiitake, lion’s mane and other fungal delicacies. Kai has also been outspoken about the therapeutic benefits of psilocybin mushrooms for both personal and cultural healing.
In addition to being a teacher and pioneering urban farmer, Kai has a gift for connecting people. Kai first contacted WVC requesting a scholarship to our 2015 Women’s Congress. Thanks to WVC donors and supporters, we were able to grant her one. When Kai invited me to speak at her gathering in September, I booked a flight to Cleveland and met people from Cleveland, Detroit and other cities. Many of the participants were teaching and practicing plant and spiritual traditions from Africa, Native American and contemporary urban cultures.
Presenters included, Ayana Iyi, a “seer,” event organizer and the founder of “Sistahs of the Sacred Black.” Her talk was entitled, “Sex and Psilocybin: Connecting the 3rd Eye to the Sacral Chakra.” LaToya Kent, a yogi and Kundalini teacher, talked about her work as a community healer. Sophia Buggs, owner and operator of Healing Flower, a spiritual and herbal consultation company, and the Lady Buggs Farm in Youngstown, Ohio, spoke about reclaiming the sacred roots of farming. Sophia revitalized her community by creating a sustainable urban homestead across multiple city lots in Youngstown where she offers gardening and cooking classes.
Other businesswomen at the event included Kai’s mother, Vicki Acquah, a designer and artist who sold her jewelry at the event. Vicki has a fine eye for style. I bought several pairs of her earrings and appreciated her wisdom and her energy.
Traveling all the way from Colorado to attend the event, Onani Meg Carver gave a thoughtful presentation and was my wise, joyous roommate at our lodging in Cleveland. Onani shared insights from her apprenticeship with Grandmother Keewaydinoquay who taught her the medicinal uses of plants, songs, stories and ceremonies from her Ojibway Native American tradition. From the academic community in Indiana, archivist Stephanie Schmitz joined the conference to talk about her work with the Psychoactive Substances Research Collection at the Virginia Kelly Karnes Archives and Special Collections Research Center at Purdue University. The collection documents the history of the therapeutic use and application of psychedelic substances.
Three additional women traveled to Kai’s conference in Cleveland to contribute their knowledge. Shonagh Home, who has presented several times at WVC, talked about the cultivation of intrinsic abilities, intuition, creativity and multi-dimensional awareness. Shonagh is a honeybee activist and author of the books, ‘Ix Chel Wisdom: 7 Teachings from the Mayan Sacred Feminine,’ ‘Love and Spirit Medicine,’ and the upcoming, ‘Honeybee Wisdom: A Modern Melissae Speaks.’ Another writer who spoke at the conference, Bett Williams, is a New Mexico-based journalist and author of the novel “Girl Walking Backwards.” Bett is now working on a book about psilocybin mushrooms called “The Wild Kindness,” and hosts retreats for poets, artists and mystics near Sante Fe. Ifetayo Harvey, who had just joined the staff of MAPS before arriving in Cleveland, offered an update on research being carried out by that organization. A writer and activist, Ifetayo has spoken at the International Drug Policy Reform Conference and on NPR about her experience growing up with a parent in prison.
L-R Onani Meg Carver, Ifetayo Harvey, Kai Wingo, Baba Moudou Baqui, and Annie Oak
In addition to these accomplished women, the conference featured a number of remarkable men including Bro Omari Miles-El, the founder of Third Eye Open, A Historical and Metaphysical research Organization and R.Y.D.E. (Rolemodels for Youth Development and Enlightenment), a youth oriented motivational consulting firm. A long time student of Kemetic Antiquity and Egyptology, Bro Omari Miles-El offered insights into hidden cultural history and knowledge from the ancient world contributed by people of color. Conference participants also received sonic information from the modern era offered by Detroit-based artist Onyx who preformed his multidimensional concept called beatjazz. Onyx’s improvisational, electronically derived rhythm and jazz delivered projected visualizations, light color sequencing, robotic feedback and CAD design dimensions. And finally, Justin Petty, M. Ed. (Ser Moudou Awa Balla Baqui) aka Baba Moudou Baqui, offered his perspectives as a third generation Detroit-based metaphysician. An activist, Certified Level II Reiki healer, martial artist, urban shaman, and educator, Moudou talked about the healing taking place in his community.
After two days of celebrating the sovereignty of consciousness and right to self-knowledge, Kai and her children invited us to their urban farm for delicious shiitake mushroom and vegetable pizza. Community elder and mycologist Kilindi Iyi, head instructor of the Tamerrian Martial Art Institute, was there to stoke the fire in the earthen oven and remind us of all the healing powers of fungi.
It was a great honor to meet this community, hear the presenters speak, and spend a beautiful autumn afternoon sharing a meal at Kai Wingo’s mushroom farm. We have invited Kai to present at the 2016 Women’s Visionary Congress, June 17-19 in Petaluma, Calif. and we hope to continue offering scholarships and grants to healers, farmers, and community activists like herself who are changing the world – please click here to make a donation to our scholarship & grants funds. I encourage everyone to learn more about the members of Kai’s community and support their projects.
The 2015 Women’s Visionary Congress is fast approaching and we the organizers have had the great pleasure of inviting an especially wonderful collection of speakers this year. The best part of getting ready for our annual gathering is corresponding with healers, activists, artists and researchers whose work inspires us. Tickets for this year’s event are almost gone, so please get one soon if you wish to join us – click here to register. If you won’t be able to attend the gathering this year, or if you will be there and want a preview of the fine discussions to come, allow me to introduce you to the speakers as they will appear on the schedule.
The 2015 WVC will begin Friday, June 19th with a presentation by Valerie Corral, the co-founder and director of the Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana (WAMM), the longest running medical marijuana collective in the U.S. Founded in 1993 in Santa Cruz, California, WAMM serves seriously ill and dying people with organic cannabis grown in a collective on a donation basis. Valerie is also acting director of WAMM’s sister non-profit, the Raha Kudo, Design for Dying Project, a hospice organization that addresses the concerns of dying WAMM members and their families. Valerie’s talk will be followed by a presentation by Meriana Dinkova, MFT, a San Francisco-based psychotherapist, speaker and workshop facilitator. Meriana will talk about the development of her psychological and neo-shamanistic inner-space navigation tools designed for exploring non-ordinary states of consciousness. The final speaker of the evening will be Eleonora Molnar, a health professional and independent researcher, who will hold a workshop on kinesthetic knowing. Participants will examine the ontology of consciousness and explore an “Oh Wow” experience developed by master clown Richard Pochinko to help his students encounter a feeling beyond rational explanation and discover trust through impulse.
The first full day of the WVC, Saturday, June 20th, will begin with a yoga class taught by Yoga Ma, also known as Barbara Powell. A long-time yoga practitioner with a deep personal practice in the meditative arts, Yoga Ma leads retreats and offers Wild Yoga wilderness hikes in the forest near Santa Fe, New Mexico and other locations. After yoga and breakfast, the first presenter of the day will be Sitaramaya Sita, a PlantWisdom Practitioner trained in the Shipibo tradition. Sita has founded several organizations including PlantTeachers, Conscious Path Creation, and Quantum Path Creation as well as the Convergence conferences. Her commitment to deep ecology has led to the development of “Fundo Sitaramaya” a preservation project of privately held Amazonian land to steward and protect old growth trees, waterways and rainforest flora and fauna. Sita will report on the use of dietas and other traditional Shipibo practices in urban North America including discovering and dieting Master Plants native or local to California.
The second presentation on Saturday will be offered by Kathleen Harrison, M.A., an independent scholar and teacher of ethnobotany. An esteemed researcher in the WVC community, Kat has initiated and participated in recurrent fieldwork, mostly among indigenous people in Latin America, since the 1970s. She is the president and co-founder of Botanical Dimensions , a non-profit organization that has worked for 28 years to collect medicinal and shamanic species and the lore that helps us understand how to regard them. Kat will be introduced by anthropologist Beatriz Caiuby Labate, Ph.D. who studies psychoactive substances, drug policy, shamanism, ritual, and religion. Bia is a Visiting Professor at the Center for Research and Post Graduate Studies in Social Anthropology (CIESAS), in Guadalajara, Mexico. She is author, co-author, and co-editor of twelve books, one special-edition journal, and several peer-reviewed articles.
The midmorning discussion will be led by Jennifer Dumpert founder of the Oneironauticum, an international dream group that meets in physical and dream space. Jennifer will discuss ways in which this group explores the use of oneirogens — herbs, medicines, scents, auditory experiences, and practices that promote vivid dreaming. Participants will choose from a variety of oneirogens that will be supplied as part of the session, journey together in the dreamscape overnight, and gather again on Sunday to share stories about their dreams. The final presentation of the morning will be offered by Jane Straight, a true pioneer in the realms of collecting, preserving, and disseminating rare medicinals. Jane has played a central role in the important cultural shift back to plant-based medicines, and speaks eloquently about the relevance of intentional connection to the botanical world around us. She will bring us a beautiful living altar of plants to admire and will share heart based stories.
After lunch, we will hear a talk given by Veronica Hernandez, a Peruvian clinical psychologist and shamanic practitioner. Veronica is completing her doctoral degree at California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) in San Francisco where she is carrying out research on the healing and transformative benefits of entheogens, especially ayahuasca. Her talk will undertake a comparative analysis of entheogenic shamanism and Jungian Psychology and look at ways in which entheogens have been, and are being used, in shamanic practice as catalysts for exploring inner psychic realities.
In the mid-afternoon, we will have the great pleasure of hearing from pioneering climber and guide Doug Robinson, founder of the American Mountain Guides Association. Doug considers climbing a physical meditation that hones the attention and nudges us into visionary experience. He first explored these thoughts in an essay entitled, The Climber as Visionary. Between guiding trips, Doug studied biochemistry. He investigated the delicate transformations deep in the brain that lie behind our bright, visionary eyes, and crystallized these observations into a remarkable book entitled, The Alchemy of Action.
Jacqueline Patterson and Mara Gordon will present together during the next scheduled WVC presentation, giving a talk entitled, “From Disability to Diversity: Can Cannabis Compliment Conventional Condition Based Therapies?” Jacqueline Patterson educates legislators, patients, and the public as a patient ambassador for the medical cannabis patient’s group Patients Out of Time. While cannabis has great medical utility, state cannabis laws are not acknowledged by federal authorities putting patients at risk of prosecution. Jacqueline will focus on how these laws create obstacles to optimal health and create social stigmas for cannabis patients. The founder of Aunt Zelda’s, Mara is a cannabis alchemist and process engineer who helps patients customize their cannabinoid and terpene dosage. The former head of Methodology at a Fortune 50, Mara will look at how patients can be best served with precise cannabis delivery.
The late afternoon tea time presentation will be given by Alicia Danforth, PhD who serves as a co-investigator on a current FDA-approved phase 2 pilot study looking at the effect of MDMA-assisted therapy on social anxiety in autistic adults. Alicia also served as a study coordinator and co-facilitator on a Heffter Research Institute-sponsored clinical trial of psilocybin-assisted therapy for existential anxiety related to advanced cancer. She will provide an overview and progress report of the MDMA-assisted therapy study, which is sponsored by the Multidisiciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), and share insights into how being in community with visionary women has supported her in her research career.
Before dinner on Saturday, there will be two concurrent events. The first at 4:40 pm, will feature Dr. Gantt Galloway, who served from 1989-2005 as Chief of Pharmacologic Research for the Drug Detoxification, Rehabilitation & Aftercare Project of the Haight Ashbury Free Clinics in San Francisco. Now a Senior Scientist at the California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute in its Addiction and Pharmacology Research Laboratory and co-founder of the New Leaf Treatment Center, Gantt studies medications and psychosocial treatments for addiction to methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, and alcohol. He will discuss the nature of addiction and the rationale for using psychedelics as treatments for addiction. Gantt will also present information about opioid overdose prevention and will be available during the weekend to train anyone who has a need for an overdose prevention kit.
The second concurrent event at 4:40 pm will be a Walking Tour Performance entitled “Here Come the Ecosexuals!” Presented by artists Beth Stephens, Annie Sprinkle, and their scouts, the tour will begin at their sparkly blue “Pollination Pod” and will guide participants on a wondrous journey around the IONS grounds. The adventure begins with Ecosex Orientation, followed by the location of our E-spots (ecosexy spots) and an exploration of ways to make love to the Earth through our senses. Ecosex switches the metaphor from “Earth as mother” to “Earth as lover.” Local environmental issues will be brought into the open, drama will ensue, and by the end of the tour, participants will have developed the ‘ecosexual gaze.’ Annie Sprinkle is an internationally known multimedia artist whose performance pieces based on her life as a sex worker, “Post Porn Modernist” and “Annie Sprinkle’s Herstory of Porn,” toured for nine years throughout the US and to 21 countries. In 2001 Sprinkle fell in love with artist Beth Stephens and together they produced the documentary film, “Goodbye Gauley Mountain—An Ecosexual Love Story.” Beth Stephens is an interdisciplinary artist, activist and a professor at UC Santa Cruz. Her visual and performance work has explored themes of the body, queerness, and feminism for over 25 years. She has exhibited and performed in many museums, galleries and theaters across the US and Europe. Sprinkle and Stephens will head up the first ecosexual contingent in the San Francisco Pride Parade on June 28th and invite all Earth lovers to join them.
The Ecosex Walking Tour will continue until 6 pm, but for those who would prefer to remain inside and look at visionary art, Clancy Cavnar will present images of her art work beginning at 5:30 pm. Clancy has a doctorate in clinical psychology and works at a dual diagnosis residential drug treatment center in San Francisco. She is co-editor, with Beatriz Caiuby Labate, of three books The Therapeutic Use of Ayahuasca (Springer, 2014); Prohibition, Religious Freedom, and Human Rights: Regulating Traditional Drug Use (Springer, 2014) and Ayahuasca Shamanism in the Amazon and Beyond (Oxford University Press, 2014). Clancy also has a master of fine arts in painting from the San Francisco Art Institute and will show images from her body of work, many of which appear on the WVC website.
After an excellent dinner prepared by the IONS chefs, the evening portion of the WVC Saturday program will begin with more art presented in the amphitheater by artist Dana Smith. Dana founded a fine arts digital press to create limited edition artwork in a project called Dana Dana Dana. The press focuses on very small edition, hand-made books and digital prints with an emphasis on working collaboratively with other artists. Dana’s longest collaboration has been with Mark McCloud, artist and renowned overseer at the Institute of Illegal Images, a massive collection of LSD related art in San Francisco. Together Dana and Mark created “LSD Barbie” in 1993, and later in 2003, started The Blotter Barn, an ongoing project to document Mark’s extensive collection of blotter papers.
The final presentation of art Saturday evening will be offered by Marc Franklin, a self taught photographer, media artist and psycho-activist. Since 1975 Marc has been immersed in experimental photography, painting and sculpture incorporating advancements in digital image making. In 1984, he designed and co-published the seminal “High Frontiers,”, a wildly experimental underground magazine, and diligently photographed nearly all the key figures of the psychedelic subculture: chemists, clinicians, researchers, artists, poets, writers, musicians, and activists. Marc’s talk, entitled “From Laura Huxley to Ina May Gaskin,” features photographic encounters with twenty prominent women explorers along with the stories behind them. After this presentation, participants who choose to may adjourn to the Full Circle Tea House for tea, stories and conversation with Carol and Michael Randall, visionary activists, artists and historians.
The final day of WVC will begin with another sublime yoga class with Yoga Ma, followed by breakfast and a reading by TEDx Poet Rachel Kann. Rachel is a modern-day mystic: irreverently reverent and exuberantly human. Rachel has performed her poetry with artists such as daKAH Hip Hop Orchestra, Marianne Williamson, Sage Francis, Saul Williams, and Rahzel, at venues such as Disney Concert Hall, Royce Hall, The Broad Stage, The San Francisco Palace of Fine Arts, and the Vans Warped Tour, as well as spiritual and sacred spaces like Jewlicious Fest X aboard The Queen Mary, Agape Spiritual Center and Sinai Temple. She is a shamanic apprentice, dancer, teacher and DJ. Rachel will perform poetry entitled, “The Poetry of Transcendence: Get High, Get Off, Get Free!”
Rachel’s poetry will be followed by stories about gender, community, and spirituality presented by Jae Starfox. A queer, trans, psychedelic visionary, Jae is studying to be a radical accountant and is an experienced coordinator of restorative spaces, a lover of tea, yoga teacher, and bicycle delivery person. Jae’s transmasculine gender involves paradox and non-duality, two of the essential characteristics of unitive or mystical experience. Their personal work focuses on deepening awareness through the joyful practice of yoga, meditation, critical theory, and self love.
Each year at WVC, we invited a member of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) to present an update on current MAPS research. This year, the update will be presented by MAPS Public Benefit Corporation Clinical Study Assistant Allison Wilens. Allison’s talk will cover preliminary data from MAPS’ Phase 2 clinical trials in MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD, current timelines for FDA approval, and the rationale for formation of the MAPS Public Benefit Corporation (MPBC). Allison’s presentation will be followed by a second presentation from Vancouver, Canada-based Eleonora Molnar who organizes an annual WVC salon in Vancouver, BC at Simon Fraser University. Eleonora will look at the impact of international drug tourism in the Amazon basin and the appropriation of traditional indigenous practices in North and Latin America. She will explore possible ways to mitigate problematic behaviors arising from this events in North America.
The last talk on Sunday morning will be offered by Patricia Shaw Savant, aka Khats, who holds a PhD in clinical psychology and behavioral medicine, and works as a clinical psychologist in private practice. Khats leads shamanic ceremonies and sacred medicine journeys and has conducted workshops and individual shamanic healing at the Shamandome at Burning Man for the last 10 years. She will compare and discuss medicines, holotropic breathwork and shamanic techniques for entering and traveling in “inner space” to achieve healing, transformation and expanded awareness of the multiverse at large.
After lunch on Sunday, Jennifer Dumpert will lead a followup discussion of the previous day’s Oneironauticum dreaming practice where we will discuss our adventures in the dreamscape. This conversation will be followed by a presentation by Danielle Schumacher who began her career as an activist when she was appointed Executive Director of Illinois NORML and held the Youth Seat on the National NORML Board of Directors while she was a student at the University of Illinois. As the first Chancellor of Oaksterdam University Danielle worked with Richard Lee to establish America’s first cannabis college and is currently office manager for nationally noted physician Frank Lucido MD and nurse practitioner Maria Mangini PhD FNP. She will talk about the history of the cannabis movement and her newest project, THC Staffing Group, a boutique recruiting firm whose mission is to encourage diversity in the cannabis industry.
The 2015 Women’s Visionary Congress will close, as it traditionally does, with talks by community elders. The first elder will be Carolee Waidelich, founder of the Nayeli Nature Retreat in New Mexico, who lived for several years in her RV in the desert of eastern New Mexico. Carolee now resides in her RV in the woods of Northern California and will talk about how her commitment to the medicine has created a life that is utterly simple and close to the earth, animals and plants, without a lot of stuff and money. She has been working with plant medicines and their allies since 1989 when she became an apprentice and partner to a Native American medicine man and graduated from the California Institute of Integral Studies in 1995 with an M.A. in East/West Psychology. She has used her shamanic training in private practice and to offer elder wisdom to festival participants at “grandma’s cozy corner for resting.”
The final WVC presentation will be given by Rhoney Stanley, who will share stories of the visionary women of the Grateful Dead community and how their expressions of culture and family offered a different view from the complacency and materialism that they grew up with. Rhoney will talk about how these women learned from their LSD experiences to expand their artistic creativity, value the handmade, and expand their spirituality and sense of oneness with each other and with nature – then used these insights to create a community that transformed the counterculture into mainstream culture. She will draw from interviews with women who worked for and influenced the Grateful Dead and the Merry Pranksters as well as stories from her book, Owsley & Me: My LSD Family.
You can read more about each of the 2015 WVC speakers on our biography page. We look forward to seeing you at the Congress and hearing your thoughts on these remarkable presentations.
For the past several years, presenters and participants at WVC gatherings have been engaged in a very interesting discussion about the ongoing mass-market commercialization of psychoactive substances and efforts to regulate them. As an increasing number of people travel to Latin America to participate in ayahuasca ceremonies, we have also heard from a growing number of women who have been abused by shamans leading these ceremonies – and other rituals involving non-ordinary states of consciousness. These stories are amplified by those who seek to create regulatory structures for these experiences. I expressed my own thoughts on these issues in my presentation at the November 2014 WVC salon in Vancouver Canada.
As the debate over the proposed regulation of these substances and ceremonies has raged on during the last few months, WVC decided that the most useful contribution our community could offer is to directly assist users of psychoactive materials to become more careful and discerning psychonauts. WVC sustains itself with very little funding and does not have the tens of thousands of dollars raised by groups who claim that they will protect the visionary community. What WVC does have is a wealth of knowledge and experience freely offered by the wise women and men of our community. After consulting with our elders and others with deep knowledge of these matters, WVC has posted a list of thoughtful and practical Safety Tips for those participating in ceremonies that use psychoactive substances.
We firmly believe that the best way to secure your safety when entering non-ordinary states of consciousness is to take steps to educate yourself and develop your own plan to address potentially hazardous situations. You should cultivate your own power and knowledge instead of depending on outside groups or individuals who offer promises of safety. The unseen world is full of potential perils, but you have it within your ability to take proactive measures and effectively address potential threats. If you would like to share your knowledge to expand on our suggestions, please contact us. If you would like to help support our gatherings where this information is shared, donate your funds or your energy.
WVC will continue to discuss these important issues at gatherings throughout the year. Our next conversation will take place February 21st in Santa Cruz, California at a book launch for Ayahuasca Shamanism in the Amazon and Beyond, a collection published by the Oxford University press and edited by WVC community members Bia Labate and Clancy Cavnar. I will be joining Bia and Clancy together with long-time WVC presenter Val Corral, co-founder of The Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana (WAMM), the first openly operating cannabis collective in the U.S. Moderated by Janis Phelps of CIIS, the discussion we will examine the parallels between cannabis, ayahuasca and psychedelic cultures and the current models of commodification and regulation of plant medicines. See you there.
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Annie Oak is the founder of the Women’s Visionary Congress. She gave this talk at the Shaman Women, Plant Medicine and Psychedelics Salon hosted by WVC in Vancouver, Canada in November 2014. This presentation addresses the growing number of women who have described being sexually abuses by shamans and others who lead ceremonies where psychoactive substances are used.
I am grateful to be here today and would like to thank Eleanora Molnar, the director of WVC Canada, for organizing this weekend of events. We had a very interesting community discussion last night about different ways that power can be misused in ceremonies and steps that participants can take to protect themselves. In my talk today I would like to consider what we as a community have been hearing about these abuses and how we might work together to help ensure that women and men are treated with dignity while exploring the potential healing benefits of ayahuasca and other psychedelic materials used in ritual settings.
As I said last night during my remarks, our community has been discussing this topic among ourselves and at our gatherings for several years. We are a group of women who are generally well-informed about the benefits of these substances and believe that these materials and ceremonies that use them can offer positive opportunities for healing and growth. As many of us have been using ayahuasca and other psychoactive substances for years, we do not have the zeal of new practitioners who tend to take an uncritical view of these experiences. We have been meeting together since 2007 and we are observing a growing number of women who are coming forward to describe sexual advances by male shamans, particularly, but not limited to, ayahuasca ceremonies. We also hear from those who describe being energetically violated in different ways. As the number of people from around the world traveling to Peru, Ecuador and other parts of Latin American to drink ayahuasca has increased, so have reports of abuses by people leading these ceremonies.
WVC hosts discussions throughout the U.S. and in Canada where researchers, healers, activists and artists present their investigations into non-ordinary states of consciousness. We have had a number of presentations by researchers about the abuse of power in these ceremonies and some of these presenters have published research which examines these concerns. As a community, we strive to be measured and careful in our investigations. We like to cite documented research and we recognize that scientific investigation and lived experience should both be honored as ways of knowing and given respectful consideration. When women at our events come forward to tell troubling stories of being assaulted by shamans during ceremonies and after ceremonies, we recognize that this takes great courage and can sometimes re-trigger trauma that these women experience.
Elders in our community have noted that these accounts echo what took place during the 1960s and 1970s when some practitioners of eastern spiritual traditions abused women from western cultures who sought to understand and participate in these teachings. It’s the old, “I am your guru, let me transfer my great wisdom by having sex with you” routine. This is an old story. But as we heard earlier from Connie Carter in her presentation, it has also been used by those supporting drug prohibition. The earliest laws passed in the U.S banning the use of substances were laws against the use of opium. The argument for these laws was that white women were being seduced by Chinese men who used opium to disable them and therefore opium should be made illegal. This was the basis for the cascade of drug laws that followed which has led to mass incarceration of drug users in the U.S., primarily people of color.
So the question remains, how do we create a system of accountability for those who misuse their power as healers and abuse women seeking personal healing or transformation with ayahuasca and other psychedelic substances? And how do we do this without supporting prohibitionists who might try to use these concerns to call for outlawing substances such as ayahuasca – arguments that may be inflamed by media accounts that suggest this powerful medicine is being used as some sort of Amazonian date rape drug.
First, we would like to caution those who find ayahuasca and other substances useful to be careful not to become enchanted or fall under their spell in a way that discourages critical thinking. We also see that ayahuasca ceremonies are becoming a big business and many shamans, ceremonial leaders, tour operators, owners of lodges and other parts of this industry have a vested interest in not discussing this topic, silencing those who have been violated, or somehow denigrating this discussion. I want to say here that WVC has no financial interest in this industry. We are a nonprofit and members of the board are not shamans or therapists. Our concerns are with the health and safety of our constituency, visionary women and people of all genders who are interested in non-ordinary states of consciousness.
I believe that the opportunity to work with non-ordinary states in an environment that supports the health and safety of participants is fundamentally a human rights issue. Women and men have a right to change their consciousness and work with spiritual teachers without being assaulted or abused. It does not matter what culture or country they are in. There are criminal laws in Ecuador and Peru against sexual assault. Sexual abuse is considered a violation under international human rights accords and is investigated by truth and reconciliation commissions and international criminal courts. It doesn’t matter if these assaults take place while using an illegal or quasi-legal substance. This is a criminal act. Those who call themselves healers have an ethical duty to refrain from sexual acts with people under their care no matter if they are western doctors or therapists or traditional shamans. Failure to do so is an abuse of power.
The Use of Disabling Substances
Some criminals use psychoactive substances to disable their victims and some unscrupulous shamans have also used these methods to assault women. There are very well-documented cases of travelers in Latin American, especially in Colombia, who are poisoned with the drug scopolamine, for example. Scopolamine is a tropane alkaloid, also known as burundanga, which is derived from plants in the solanacea or nightshade family such as the borrachero tree or datura which is found throughout Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and other parts of the world.
Scopolamine is used to treat motion sickness, but it is also used by criminals to rob and assault people because it renders victims incapable of exercising free will. It’s odorless and tasteless and victims are given this material in food or drink, or blown into their face as powder, or dissolved in alcohol and rubbed in the skin – and then, robbed, raped or taken to ATMs where they withdraw funds and hand them over to their assailants. Scopolamine erases the memory and victims often find themselves coming back into awareness many miles away not being able to identify their attackers. The U.S. State Department has cited thousands of cases of scopolamine poisoning in Colombia each year.
This substance has also traditionally been used in small quantities as an admixture in ayahausa brews and some people who call themselves shamans have used higher quantities of this material, also known as toé, to poison and abuse participants during and after ayahuasca ceremonies. We have heard of several cases of women who have experienced this kind of violation and been assaulted over a sustained period of time. This does not necessarily mean that they have been poisoned with ayahuasca, which is a point that may well be lost in the media coverage of this phenomenon. But rather people presenting themselves as shamans have used this well-established substance to sexually assault participants in ayahuasca ceremonies and afterwards, especially the foreigners who are flooding into Iquitos and other centers of ayahuasca ceremonies. At higher dosages toé can be fatal and indeed there have been accounts of poisonings in which those targeted have died. When I visited Colombia a few years back, I was cautioned never to leave my food or drink unattended and to think twice about accepting consumables from strangers outside of a bar and restaurant setting. This was good advice, I followed it, and I’m glad I did. The most important step to defending oneself against the use of scopolamine for the purpose of sexual assault is to be aware of its power.
Examining Sexual Abuses in Different Cultural Settings
As the role of scopolamine poisoning is well-documented as a tool in sexual violations, social science researchers have also recorded incidents of sexual abuse by those who lead ceremonies – and the response of the communities that they are part of. This research makes clear that sexual violations are also condemned by users of psychoactive materials in traditional and indigenous cultures. The psychologist Clancy Cavnar gave an interesting presentation at the World Ayahuasca Conference this year entitled, “Reflections on Spirituality, Gender and Power in my Experience with Santo Daime.” Cavnar wrote a doctoral dissertation on the experience of gay people who used ayahuasca promoted by her largely positive experience in the Santo Daime church. She notes that the religious use of ayahuasca by the Santo Daime, as practiced in Mapia, Brazil, the place where she participated in the ceremonies, is sexually very conservative and places strong emphasis on the segregation of the sexes and virginity.
Cavnar notes in her talk that in 2008, the U.S. Santo Daime church was thrown into turmoil involving a prominent Padrinho, or Santo Daime ceremonial leader, from Rio de Janeiro who was revealed to have had a history of sexual impropriety with female Daimistas both in Brazil and North America. The Brazilian Santo Daime church refused to sanction this Padrinho for an unwelcome sexual encounter with a Canadian woman which led to his being banned by the U.S. Santo Daime churches from leading ceremonies in the U.S. for two years. Cavnar notes that this Padrinho never acknowledged his actions and even claimed that invisible forces were trying to destabilize the Santo Daime. This came after a period when this man appeared poised to become the Brazilian leader of the North American Santo Daime communities. At an annual meeting of the Santo Daime in the U.S., this man’s wife, one of the daughters of a founder of the church, accused those who did not support his leadership of being possessed by devils.
The ban against this Padrinho did not last long and his prominence faded in the U.S. But these incidents did open up a dialogue about cultural differences of Brazilians versus North Americans and the treatment of women. After this Daime leader was exposed, Cavnar notes that a wealthy female benefactor and pillar of the church in California left the Santo Daime in disgust when she learned that this Padrinho had previously accosted a woman at a ceremony she held in her own home where she had hosted him as her guest. This left the California church in disarray and the community was forced to regroup. During this time, Cavnar noted that some Daimistas in North America began to question their allegiance to Padrinho Alfredo who is the current leader of the Santo Daime.
Cavnar and anthropologist Beatriz Labate have also approach this topic in an excellent book they edited together called Ayahuasca Shamanism in the Amazon and Beyond which is part of the Oxford Ritual Series published by Oxford University Press. There is an excellent chapter in this book entitled, “Ayahuasca’s Attractions and Distractions: Examining Sexual Seduction in Shaman-Participant Interactions” written by anthropologist Daniela Peluso. The central locus of Peluso’s research is Puerto Maldonado, Peru where she has conducted fieldwork for the last 20 years. Peluso notes in her essay that sexual abstinence is often part of the overall dieta that indigenous and mestizo ayahuasca shamans undergo restricting certain foods and sex and which is expected of shamans in training. She documents how some participants have been sexually assaulted while they are experiencing visions -such as one shaman who placed his hands on a female participant’s belly to help with nausea and then put their his down her pants and tried to lie next to her. Peluso notes that this woman felt abandoned by her shaman who was meant to guide her experience and she spent their sessions trying to resist her visions. While some so-called healers who engage in these abuses are clearly fraudulent shamans, Peluso writes that the shaman in this case was well-known and respected. The woman he assaulted kept thinking about what she might have done to make him think that his act was acceptable – the classic case of a victim blaming herself. She never drank ayahuasca again.
Peluso notes that some who heard about this incident brushed it off saying, “This is how men are here; you just need to tell them that you are not interested. It’s not a big deal.” I agree with Peluso’s view that this response completely sidesteps the question of ethics because it absolves the perpetrator and places the burden on the victim to repel these advances based on their character and understanding of local culture and gender relations. Peluso also notes that some women have reported “falling in love” with shamans and expressed that sex was a potentially fulfilling aspect of the ayahuasca experience. Ultimately, Peluso believes, and I agree with her, that accountability lies with the shaman who is responsible for resisting their own possible arousal and not attempting to seduce women who participate in their ceremonies.
Peluso also notes that some women interested in spiritual haling are sometimes themselves victims of sexual abuse and thus find the sexual advances of shamans especially emotionally damaging and exploitative. Peluso notes that this problem is compounded by a tendency to idealize shamans and overlook the fact that shamans are humans who have flaws. She points out that indigenous women are also sometimes harassed within the context of traditional ayahusasca shamanism. Non-indigenous shamans, who are aware of the allure and mystique surrounding people’s ideas about shamans, must also, of course, be held to the same standards. In her study, Peluso finds that people generally respond negatively to a shaman’s inappropriate sexual advances and female participants feel vulnerable, ashamed, exploited and betrayed. Male onlookers are disturbed and confused. Both assume that the shaman and his assistants are taking advantage of their power and status and participants become unsure of roles, methods, and boundaries. In these cases, people feel that the shamans have undermined their trust they have given them as guide, caretaker and healer. Many feel that their experience of ayahusaca and their outlook toward it has been tainted.
Some who weigh in on this topic argue that people from the U.S., Canada and Europe are imposing our own values on sexual behavior on shamans who are acting appropriately within their own culture. But Peluso notes that examination of local and indigenous social norms reveal that such behavior is also frowned upon by people from those cultures. She notes that in Puerto Maldanado where she does her research, the indigenous and non-indigenous people do not feel that sexual relations of any degree are acceptable between shamans and participants in their ceremonies unless there are preexisting and legitimate relationships that occur outside of the ayahuasca experience and ceremonial context. Peluso notes that there is significant social criticism when these norms are violated. The women she has interviewed who have experienced these actions attribute them to abuse of power both in terms of gender and community norms. When shamans use their power to intimidate or try to seduce female participants, they see it as a way to impose physical and political dominance over women. Peluso notes that many women in Latin American cultures are reluctant to drink ayahuasca with an unknown shaman unless accompanied by family, friends, or their children, and even then sexual harassment may still occur. Some tourist websites for ayahuasca package tours are addressing this concern by working exclusively with female shamans. In her essay, Peluso quotes the website of one such operation in Peru which describes their service like this:
“Ayahuasca facilitation in Peru has typically been a male dominated world. It is not uncommon for male shamans in Peru to misuse their leadership role to seduce unsuspecting foreign women that come to them for shamanic healing. The fact that we almost exclusively work with elder, female Shipibo ayahuasca shamans provides a safe environment for women coming to the Amazon for ayahuasca experiences…These Shipibo shamans represent the highest level of integrity that you can find anywhere in the Amazon region.”
Proactive Responses To Abuse in Ceremonies
Our community of visionary women has seen other examples of those who seek to proactively addressing concerns about sexual violation in ceremonies. Some have come forward to condemn the abuse of power by specific shamans. Here in Vancouver, a letter was circulated concerning the actions of a prominent Peruvian shaman Guillermo Arevalo, who has a strong following in the U.S. and Canada. The letter stated that Arevalo had engaged in unwanted sexual encounters with women under the influence of ayahuasca. The letter criticized Arevalo for sexual abuse of participants in his ceremonies. We would like Arevalo to have an opportunity to respond to these allegations if he wishes to, but we are grateful for the frankness of this document.
This letter has been controversial, but I think that we have a right and responsibility to be informed and not trapped by our own idealizations and romanticizations of shaman worlds and practices in Peru, Ecuador and elsewhere. Peluso notes that many of the documented abusive sexual encounters take place in areas where there is a notion that in most circumstances, women will surrender to male sexual advances if they find themselves in a vulnerable position – or merely alone with a man as such behavior is aligned with gender expectations. She notes that to circumvent vulnerability, indigenous women sometimes avoid smiling directly at men, laughing with them, paying too much attention to them, being in their presence without close kin nearby and traveling alone. These behaviors, of course, describe actions that many women from our own cultures would participate in without a second thought, particularly if they travel alone, esteem the shaman, and converse and laugh freely unhindered by local customs.
I believe that the problem of sexual assault during ceremonies is exacerbated by the meeting together of people from different cultures. But researchers such as Peloso have shown that in cultural traditions from which many shamans practice, sexual acts with participants in ceremonies is not condoned and sexuality itself is often viewed in a conservative light. I would like to see more discussion about this topic from other perspectives. The organizers of WVC want to create more opportunities for women to speak out if they feel they have been violated during ceremonies or know of these violations. We understand that this can be a scary and potentially dangerous process for victims. I also want to see forms of due process that can provide the alleged perpetrators and their followers an ability to answer charges of abuse.
I would like to close with some suggestions that I made during the discussions last night for how participants in ceremonies using psychoactive materials can take steps to help keep themselves safe. The first is to come to these ceremonies with a clear intention. Know what you want out of this experience and take stock of your own strengths and weaknesses. Take steps to strengthen and ground yourself and cultivate a spiritual practice that gives you access to spirit allies or other guardians. I also suggest that you conduct some some due diligence and check out the reputation of the healer that you are working with. Determine what other people have said about their experience with them, get references, both online and ideally in person from people who have worked with them. Third, check out the safety of the venue where the ceremony will be held or if you are traveling to another country, the place where you will be staying. Do people feel safe in these places, are there reports of women being abused while doing ceremony there or staying there? Since there are now ayahuasca and other ceremonies using psychoactive materials taking place in many parts of the U.S. and Canada, consider taking part in these rituals closer to home where you have a support network and can spend the critical integration phrase in a place where you have access to trusted counselors or other resources.
Also, strongly consider going to the ceremony with a trusted friend or group of people who can help watch over you while you are in an altered state and possibly step in if it appears that someone intends to abuse you. If you are in another country, develop a safety plan to check in regularly with friends and a create a strategy for seeking help if you get into trouble. Practice setting good boundaries both spiritual and physical. I have never been violated sexually during a ceremony, but I have been violated energetically. I practice a form of visualization that sets an energetic perimeter around myself. One of the participants in our discussion last night requested that we all do this together, which we did. Also practice your own form of a grounding ritual, consider a physical practice such as yoga that keeps you tethered to your body. Be wary of physical contact with other people in ceremonies and find a way to release the energy of others you may have collected along the way. I like the old ritual of pouring cold water over my hands after a work. Finally, consider what forms of accountability the shaman you are working with answers to. Do they have a community who reviews their practices? Is there a criminal judicial system or human rights mechanism in the country where the ceremony that takes place where you can make a complaint? Drug prohibition in many countries makes it more challenging to bring complaints, but assault is assault, regardless of the context.
WVC has posted 20 Safety Tips for participating in ceremonies with psychoactive substances on our website. If you have experiences that you would like to share, positive or negative recommendations for a particular shaman, or suggestions for safety, please feel free to contact us at email@example.com. If accusations are made against particular people and the accuser wishes that alleged perpetrator’s name be made public, we will attempt to contact the accused and give them an opportunity for rebuttal. I would also like to offer support for the growing number of female shamans and ceremonies that feature both a male and female ceremonial leader. This trend will potentially help encourage safer environments for female psychonauts, provide balance, and encourage more female shamans to step forward do good work. I want to close by acknowledging the wise and ethical shamans of both genders who provide compassionate healing for those who seek these experiences. We recognized that spiritual teachers who work with psychoactive materials can assist us with our spiritual development, emotional healing and personal self-awareness. We recognized that not all shamans are scoundrels. We have a responsibility as a community to acknowledge wise teachers and question those whose practices violate not only our community standards but also the ethics of their own communities and international standards of human rights.
I have just returned from Canada where I attended WVC’s third annual Shaman Woman, Plant Medicine and Psychedelics Salon at Simon Fraser University in downtown Vancouver. Organized by Eleonora Molnar, the Director of WVC Canada, the event included a series of thoughtful conversations about the use and misuse of power in ceremonies that include psychoactive materials. The gathering also featured presentations by speakers who looked at the history of these substances and ways in which they shape culture, politics and our own personal search for self-knowledge. It was great fun to reconnect with a community of people in Vancouver who care deeply about these topics and have a well of insights to offer.
The salon began November 14th with a roundtable discussion. Everyone present was invited to take three minutes to introduce themselves and share their thoughts on strategies for maximizing the benefits of these ceremonies – and practical steps that participants could take to protect ourselves from potential harms and abuse of power. A number of participants recalled having beneficial experiences that supported lasting positive change in their lives. Others expressed grief and anger while reflecting on circumstances where they had been abused by shamans and others they had turned to for healing. Concrete suggestions were offered to hold such people accountable, conduct due diligence on prospective practitioners, and structure ceremonies in ways that could reduce the potential for abuse. We have posted a list of these recommendations on the WVC website which summarize many of the points made during this conversation.
The round robin format gave those in attendance several opportunities to speak. WVC events are open to people of all genders and one of the men present offered his three minute allotment for a group meditation to practice creating a circle of energetic protection around ourselves – a skill that is useful in many day-to-day situations as well as during ceremonies. I called on my own departed family members to be my guardians during this meditation and reflected that there are few spiritual traditions that do not honor ancestors in some way. This is an example of how the spirit world remains a part of our lives and can be called on when we use tools such as meditation or plant medicines to help heal and strengthen ourselves.
On November 15th, we gathered again at the university for an afternoon of presentations starting with an excellent talk entitled “Gender, Drugs and History: A Lesson in Power and Voice” by Connie Carter PhD, a senior policy analyst at the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition. Carter reminded us how narratives about women corrupted by mind altering substances have been used for many years as the pretext for the prohibition of these materials – and how these arguments have been deployed to flame racist fears of white women being seduced by men of color. This presentation was followed by a lively talk by WVC’s emeritus advisor Carolyn Garcia which she titled, “What happened in the 1960’s? The story of how LSD became part of American culture.” Garcia, who was present at the Acid Tests and a member of the Merry Pranksters, recounted how she became one of the first people in North America to ingest Ibogaine which she accomplished by consuming a research sample at Stanford University where she worked as a laboratory assistant in the early 1960’s. The experience showed Garcia that after descending into a deep state of altered consciousness, she could cultivate the inner strength to manage the psychological impact and retain valuable information.
The third talk during the Saturday event was presented by Donna Dryer MD and Richard Yensen PhD who spoke about a research project in Vancouver that is studying the efficacy of MDMA assisted therapy for those suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. Dryer and Yensen are serving as investigators in this important study that was initiated by psychiatrist Ingrid Pacey, MD and psychologist Andrew Feldmár. Dr. Pacey still remains the principal investigator. This research is supported by the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), whose members participated in the Salon. We look forward to the findings of this important study which has the potential to develop powerful new therapies for people who have experienced trauma and have not been treated effectively with existing therapeutic tools.
The importance of addressing sexual trauma was emphasized by the next speaker, Lily K. Ross, a graduate of the Harvard Divinity School, who recounted her experience with a prominent ayahuasca shaman in Ecuador who she said drugged her with multiple transdermal and oral doses of scopolamine and sexually assaulted her for several weeks. The use of scopolamine in the commission of crimes is well-documented and by no means limited to those associated with ayahuasca. But this was certainly a cautionary story about the abuse of power. Ross views her ordeal as a perilous rite of passage and reflected on what she says has been the inclination of those who hear her story to either blame her or resist exploring the ethical dimensions. During the Salon, event organizer Eleonora Molnar made insightful observations that considered the potential for materials like ayahuasca to enchant those who use them in ritual contexts – especially people who are new to plant medicines and those who facilitate these experiences. She observed that it is important to honor the healing potential of these journeys and also to think critically about shamanic and neo-shamanic practitioners and others who present themselves as “healers” in this context.
The talk I presented at the salon looked at existing social science research into sexual misconduct by shamans and the conversations about this topic during past WVC events. I noted the rapid growth of the ayahuasca tourism industry and suggested that some of the resistance to discussing these challenging issues may be due in part to financial self-interest among the growing numbers of shamans, lodge owners and tour operators. I acknowledged that many shamans use this powerful medicine with integrity and noted the growing number of female shamans, neoshamans and ceremonies that address the need for safety during these rituals. Click here to read a transcript of this presentation.
After considering these very serious subjects, Michael Horowitz stepped up to offer a talk entitled “Antidotes to Everything” that made us laugh and remember the ego-puncturing irreverence than can accompany psychedelic experiences. The editor of books by Aldous Huxley and Timothy Leary, he told a very entertaining story about visiting Leary in prison while under the influence of LSD. Horowitz co-founded the world’s first psychoactive drug library, operates Flashback Books, and produced with his wife Cynthia Palmer two groundbreaking anthologies of women’s drug experiences, Shaman Woman, Mainline Lady and Sisters of the Extreme.
The WVC Salon ended with a beautifully crafted talk by scholar Elena Andrade entitled,”The Poetics of Ayahuasca: Lessons Learned from César Calvo.” Andrade discussed how drugs can be a technology of control. She sparked an intriguing conversation about how the widespread use of anti-depressants, marketed heavily by pharmaceutical companies, may suppress our sense of outrage necessary for meaningful political reform. Andrade presented the idea that despair prompted by our present economic system increases dependence on these substances which in turn make citizens more docile and easily manipulated.
While we considered this observation, Eleonora Molnar skillfully brought the Salon to a close leaving us with an exquisite short film by Vancouver-based filmmaker Simon Haiduk. This piece of visionary art, entitled “Calling the Others,” reminded us how psychedelic experiences can renew our sense of wonder and our connection to each other and all life around us.
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Welcome to Terra Firma, the blog of WVC. We are a community of thoughtful people who support investigations into non-ordinary forms of consciousness. We seek access to self knowledge and aligned, informed service to those around us. We recognize that there are many ways to cultivate our creative energy and connection to the natural world. We have named this blog Terra Firma because as we explore the world of ideas, we keep our feet firmly on solid ground. Expect measured, carefully considered commentary from contributors to this blog. And expect us to address challenging topics. Today we will look at the recent wave of measures by states to change laws governing cannabis. We support the right to cognitive liberty and look forward to the day when those who use this plant are no longer targeted for harassment or treated as second class citizens.
We are not alone. Voters in the 2014 U.S. mid-term elections acted decisively to disassemble the century-long war on drugs which has prosecuted millions of global citizens, many of them people of color. Voters passed measures to legalize cannabis for recreational use, decriminalize cannabis possession, and shorten prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders. Let’s begin by commending the voters of Oregon who legalized the possession, use and sale of recreational cannabis for adults 21 and over. Oregon now joins Colorado and Washington which both ended the prohibition of cannabis in 2012. It will be interesting to see how Oregon spends the estimated $17 to $40 million in additional tax revenues from the sale of cannabis.
In Washington D.C., voters also sent a strong rebuke to federal prohibition by legalizing adult cannabis use, possession of up to two ounces of cannabis, and home cultivation of up to six plants for personal consumption. While the sale of cannabis remains illegal in D.C., we have faith that the Council of the District of Columbia will pass a pending bill for cannabis regulation and taxation. Voters in South Portland, the fourth-largest city in Maine, removed all legal penalties for adult possession of up to one ounce of cannabis. They followed the lead of voters in Maine’s largest city, Portland, which legalized recreational cannabis in 2013.
Up in Alaska, voters legalized the possession, use and sale of recreational cannabis for adults 21 and older who may also grow up to six plants. The Alaskan measure also legalizes the manufacture, sale and possession of cannabis paraphernalia. Not to be outdone, residents of the U.S. territory of Guam passed a medical marijuana bill by a margin of 56% joining 23 other states which have legalized medical cannabis. In Florida, 57 percent of voters supported a medical cannabis measure, but fell short of the 60% needed for passage.
My home state of California made me proud by passing Proposition 47, which reduced the classification of most “nonserious and nonviolent property and drug crimes” from a felony to a misdemeanor. This means that an estimated 40,000 nonviolent felonies a year for offenses like shoplifting and drug possession will now be downgraded to misdemeanors. As many as 10,000 people could be eligible for early release from California state prisons, striking a blow against decades of mass incarceration. California voters also turned down Prop 46 by 67.15% and I was among those who voted against it. Prop 46 would have created the first US law to require mandatory random drug testing of doctors. CalNorml has more information on the measure.
In New Jersey, voters passed a bail reform measure that will reduce the pre-trial incarceration of those accused of low-level drug violations. People who can’t afford bail, and are not considered a threat to the community, can now be freed through an alternative release system while awaiting trial. The Drug Policy Alliance, which championed the bill, found that almost seventy-five percent of the nearly 15,000 people in New Jersey jails are there simply because they could to afford to pay bail.
Cannabis and other materials such as LSD and psilocybin are still classified as Schedule I substances under federal law. But we expect more states to support the right to cognitive liberty by putting bills up for vote in the 2016 elections to end cannabis prohibition and by passing this legislation through actions by lawmakers. States are the laboratories of democracy in the political process. But the art and science of cultural discovery that these new laws make possible take many forms. Look to this blog for lively discussions as we continue our fight for fair governance and insights into the challenges and benefits offered by cannabis and other tools used in the exploration of consciousness.