A mushroom ceremony gone awry
Mattha Louis Busby reports from Mexico
Mattha Louis Busby is a freelance journalist and podcaster who covers the psychedelic industry and culture. Here he tells us about ‘the worst trip of my life’ amid the astrological precariat of Mexico. Things get messy when you venture beyond the controlled conditions of a psychedelic clinical trial….
Welcome to La Costa Chica, Oaxaca’s coast in Southern Mexico, where mystical nomads float from ceremony to ceremony. Peyote, mushrooms, ayahuasca and DMT are all easy to find in the area, in rituals facilitated by both indigenous Mexican marakames and also by white foreigners. Psychedelic hawkers prowl through the hostels and along the beaches asking if people want to smoke the toad secretion known as bufo, which contains 5-MeO-DMT — several times stronger than regular DMT. Temperatures in the coastal paradise average around 32C and most people spend the bulk of their time next to the beach wearing very little clothing. It’s not the most grounded place.
Back in October 2022, I was living on the coast, working as a freelance journalist. I had avoided sitting in any psychedelic ceremonies at that point, but then Ruby, an Australian drifter-cum-shaman, invited me to a mushroom ceremony to “be present in my masculine”. I had been courting her for two weeks, so, against my better judgement, I agreed.
A dozen of us met up at an ecolodge and gathered in a circle round a sacred fire. On my right there was a flamboyant dance teacher called Jimmy. To my left, a singer-songwriter, who along with the handpan player, serenaded us at intervals. The dude who owns the land, a Mexican photographer called Juan, sits nearby. Sat by a superbly arranged altar is his girlfriend, tarot card reader Angela, who is assisting the ceremony leader. At her side is Leila, a bubbly American who puts on tantra retreats and is also helping facilitate. Between them two is head honcho Ruby.
Ruby had circulated a poster for the event around community chat rooms on encrypted messaging apps. Most turned up their noses at the price but she got two paying gringos.
It seems like this is a dress rehearsal for larger, and potentially lucrative, mushroom rituals in the busy tourist season for those who do not want to travel hours north upland for more authentic experiences either in the mountains of San Jose del Pacifico or the world’s original mushroom town Huautla de Jimenez, the former home of Maria Sabina, the famed indigenous healer who introduced magic mushrooms to the western world in the 1950s.
We drank a foul chocolatey decoction containing four grams of incredibly strong magic mushrooms, lab grown in Denver, Colorado. The effects were just starting to take hold, and I was surrendering inward to the enveloping trip; kaleidoscopes forming, streaming like consciousness itself through the visionary portal conjured within my closed eyes.
Suddenly Leila, who I just met, asks me in a southern drool: “Can I touch you?” It seems rather difficult to say no and I reply, “Sure.” Her supple hands slide delicately, almost erotically, across my forehead. Now I’m mildly aroused, and highly distracted, by the unsolicited touch of an attractive woman. The emergent visions swiftly subside and my attention tunnels into the sensual pleasure “energy healing” fest that has been bestowed upon my impressionable being.
I soon sense another set of feminine hands working on me, those of another facilitator, Angela. Let’s call the two ceremony helpers the babeshamans for ease of reference. And so an energetic roller coaster ensues. Working in tandem, they send me into a near frenzy.
Then Angela starts on my neck. She runs her nimble fingers up the channels of my throat. Bliss radiates through my skull, yet a tension vacillates akin to a yo-yo elsewhere in my body. Leila continues to do something else on my belly. It feels like they’re competing against each other to show who has the best skills. I’m getting stressed.
Angela’s fizzing fingers scratch either side of my neck and my Adam’s Apple contorts sharply. My throat rasps dryly, gasping for breath as her fingers leave a searing pain in their wake. As soon as I choke, she falls theatrically to the ground with a shrieking yelp that morphs into a deep sob. “Concentrate!” urges Ruby.
It feels like a scalding energetic gash is still blistering on the front side of my neck. Angela, who is a mere 22 years of age, wipes away her tears, gets to her feet and remorsefully shifts whatever weird residue was left in my neck. I’m given relief from my malady and I flummox onto my front.
A state of bliss begins to return as the gruelling effects of the “energy therapy” winds down and I tap back into the mushroom energy. “Do you want more?” asks Leila some minutes later. At this moment, I realise this so-called ceremony is more of an “energy healing” boot camp for aspirant witches. I decline, and am left alone, spread eagle at the bottom of a grassy knoll tucked away in a rural Oaxacan enclave.
Then the landowner, Juan, begins making strained noises, like he can’t breathe. The babeshamans, all wearing sombreros decorated with feathers, do not need a second invitation to distract themselves from checking how many people are liking their Instagram story. They set about their purge mission and attempt what can only be described as an exorcism. Juan groans with contrition. His pitbull begins to go haywire. Grizzling and barking, it marauds around the space sniffing all of those present, before licking his owner as Juan settles into something like serenity.
Minutes later, the babeshamans round on me again. They get straight into their work without asking for permission. I guess I gave it earlier, at the onset of one of the strongest trips of my life.
I squirm and show my annoyance. “Are you OK?” one of them asks slightly accusingly. I do not reply but simply enter a child's pose, a yoga position with my head face down and my legs stretched open. Leave me alone, my position says. But I can still feel something both tugging on my heart, as if to remove it from my torso through my chest, and pushing me down like a leaden weight. It’s torturous.
Completely perturbed, I remove my blindfold to witness Ruby, standing over me like the sword of Damocles. She contorts her hands like an opera leader as if manipulating me, her puppet, her voodoo doll child.
“Meet me!” she demands. Mushrooms sprout from her temples like horns: mutating, warping, glowing. Seconds pass as she silently seethes. She can sense my reticence. “MEET ME!” she bellows. Given that it appears I’m not permitted to stay still, I have two options. Meet her (that means stand chest-to-chest with an apparent maniac, and risk embracing) or flee. “I’m not really feeling it right now,” I say meekly before scampering up a thorny embankment and escaping into the kitchen. My bare legs scrape against cacti en route.
After the paywall, Mattha’s motorbike gets stolen, cartel concerns mount, and he begins to fear a terrible sacrifice is brewing…