The Supreme Court is currently debating whether to allow a small, religious following in New Mexico called Uniao do Vegetal (UDV) to continue consuming a spiritual and hallucinogenic beverage called hoasca tea.
In 1999, federal agents raided the Brazil-based church and seized its tea-a brew that's an integral part of their ritual and culture-and the case has been ping-ponging around in the U.S. judicial system ever since. Naturally, the official position of the Bush administration is that Uniao do Vegetal-Portuguese for “union of the plants”-should be prohibited from consuming the psychoactive tea.
That President Bush would deny any religious assemblage its right to worship freely in the privacy of their own temple while he continues to splatter his religion across this country like a sloppy painter painting the side of a barn, makes him a raging hypocrite asshole.
You always hear these right-wing Christian assholes spouting “Christian Nation” and “One Nation Under God” while they're putting crosses on public land and holy commandments on court property, and isn't this whole UDV/hoasca tea debacle a perfect example of why we'd better change that shit right quick? Because there is no way a government with direct ties to one church (the Vatican) can objectively make policy regarding the accessibility of another church (the Vegetable Union)?
Hoasca tea is made from sections of the Banisteriopsis caapi vine. Usage dates back as far as 10th-century BC. The Incans called it ayahuasca, which means “vine of the dead souls.” It's used throughout the Amazon rain-forest basin by indigenous peoples for the purpose of seeing the future, freeing the soul from the body, communicating with ancestors and remote viewing. Shamans use it to move through the patient's veins, confronting the demons that cause illnesses, which you'd think would at least qualify Uniao do Vegetal for a medical ayahuasca exemption.
My two favorite psycho-journalists, Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs, got all spun on ayahuasca back in the '50s. Separately, they traversed Central and South America in search of the next great fix, which they called “yage.” In their collaborative book, The Yage Letters, Burroughs wrote that he transformed into a large black woman and was attacked by flying snakes while under the influence. Ginsberg wrote that he drank yage with a witch doctor, then “peered through the black nostril of God and into the mystery of all creation,” and also that he “felt like a snake vomiting out the universe.”
Speaking of projectile vomiting, apparently the stuff makes you wretch pretty badly. Users sometimes vomit three or four times before the trip even begins. After the vomiting subsides, “you begin to think you're dying... submerged in the hell-realms suffering brutal tortures and repeated dismemberment at the teeth and claws” of various ferocious Mesoamerican deities simultaneously, according to an online ayahuascas cookbook.
It's easy to see why the ancients called it the “vine of the dead souls.”
Speaking of vines, my Encarta Encyclopedia says a “vine” is a “flexible, weak-stemmed plant whose long branches grow and spread.” A vine may use tendrils, hooks or thorns, to anchor or mount itself to a structure. In the forest, interior vines climb high into the forest canopy and spread horizontally, maximizing precious sunlight and weaving together the tops of many separate trees.
When I read that, I thought, Isn't organized religion just like a freaking vine? It overtakes anything it gets its hooks in. And right now there's this particular Christian vine that has its tendrils inside the U.S. government. If allowed, the vine will crawl and climb and spread until it becomes a towering jungle of theocratic rule-a vine of assholes, if you will. We must keep pruning, keep snipping those tentacles before it's too late.
Thankfully, in 1993 Congress passed a gorgeous little ditty called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. It states, among other things, that the federal government must have a “compelling state interest to impose a burden on the free exercise of religion.”
So, let's see-what compelling state interest does the state have to impose a burden on the Uniao Do Vegital?
Well, I suppose the state has a compelling interest in keeping the children safe from hoasca tea, because their very lives are at stake here.
And I guess the state has state interest in keeping the people from vomiting out the snakes of God-that can't be good for ya.
Oh yeah, and, of course, the state has a compelling state interest in keeping the state religion-Christianity-intact. Which means, of course, marginalizing the other religions, which means: No ayahuasca for you! Ten years!
So I guess the only question remaining is: Where can I score some of this kooky tea before it's banned? Anyone know? Because when I hear tales of black-hole God-nostrils and flying snake vomit, well, tea me up, Scotty. So who's holding? Anyone? Is there a website I can go to? A street corner I can drive by? Someone I can go down on? Tea, people, I need some tea.
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