The Church of Ayahuasca Healings sprang on the local scene late last year and quickly managed to catch the attention, and lots of ire, from locals who questioned their motives.
Now, the supposed church appears to be going out with a whimper, and possibly a bank account full of cash.
At least four weekend retreats were held during the church’s flurry of activity in early 2016. Attendees to the retreats were given access to what the church described as “sacred plant medicine” known as Ayahuasca, which is native to South America and causes a severe hallucinogenic experience for the user.
Now, though, the self-proclaimed spiritual center that briefly occupied an idle farm in a peaceful crook of the Cascade foothills near Mineral has apparently ceased its East Lewis County operations entirely. While there may still be a few people tending to the property on an intermittent basis, the group’s typically well-maintained website has been shut down for some time and all pre-scheduled retreats have been canceled, or as the group’s leaders prefer to phrase it, the retreats have been rescheduled.
Future retreats will be held in Peru.
The Church of Ayahuasca Healings, also known as the Oklevueha Native American Church of Ayahuasca Healings, announced in early March that it would be postponing all scheduled and prepaid retreats until another, unspecified time. The change in plans also came with the caveat that the organization would not be providing refunds to any spurned spiritualists. Instead, church President Trinity de Guzman suggested that those who lost money to the group look at the experience as a donation to a well-meaning spiritual enterprise.
In an email obtained by The Chronicle, de Guzman attempts to explain the next steps for the church as well as the church’s latest offer to the would-be spiritualists who were not afforded the opportunity to imbibe within the confines Lewis County despite their sizeable monetary “donations.”
The cost for the weekend-long retreats was as high as $2,000, with limited opportunities for “scholarships” that dropped the price down to $500.
In the email, Guzman states that he has recently been in Peru where he has worked out a deal for the prepaid spiritual seekers to use the plant medicine. One major complication, though, is that attendees would have to take a trip to Peru within the next month.
In an effort to explain the small window of opportunity, de Guzman said, “Why next month? Because I will still be here in Peru, so I’ll be there as well!”
According to de Guzman’s email, the eight-day Ayahuasca retreats in Peru are scheduled for May 20-27 and May 29-June 5.
Confirming the opportunity for jilted stateside seekers, de Guzman wrote, “Yes, for people who have registered for our Ayahuasca Church in America, you will have the opportunity to join us for free.”
During their grand opening phase, the Church of Ayahuasca Healings branded itself as the first church in North America that offered Ayahuasca plant medicine to the general public. One obvious issue with the most recent offer from the church’s president is that the replacement retreats are now being offered in Peru, not Mineral. That change would seemingly carry an increased travel cost, and scheduling issues for prospective attendees are also likely since the makeup retreat dates in Peru are different than those that were originally scheduled, and then canceled, in Mineral.
Locals in the Mineral area say that the teepees were still up at the church compound as of last week, but the action seems to be sparse these days. Phone calls to church CEO and shaman Marc Shackman this week were unanswered, and it appears his phone has been shut off.
The flash bang arrival of the unorthodox church caught the attention, and ire, of many locals who were distrustful of the group’s intentions. The county prosecutor was quickly tipped off to the church’s existence, and although Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer stated that the church’s practices would likely be held up as constitutional in court, his office did take umbrage with the lack of notice and the dearth of official startup preparations undertaken by the church operators.
Lewis County Deputy Prosecutor Eric Eisenberg said one of the main issues facing the Ayahuasca Church has been its failure to comply with a pre-submission conference with the county, which is a requirement for all new businesses. Those conferences are intended to preemptively identify and address any regulatory or code issues that may affect the group’s operation.
According to Eisenberg, the group said it would participate in a pre-submission conference but never did. Later, after receiving complaints that the church was serving prepared food without the proper facilities or paperwork, the county instructed the church to obtain a food handler’s permit and to abide by all food safety requirements in the kitchen.
As far as Eisenberg knows, those steps never happened. Now, he too is hearing the rumors that the group has halted its operation, although he was unable to confirm it.
“The last I’d heard is that they had delayed some of their retreats, which I took as a positive sign that they were pausing to try to take care of the pre-submission issues that we’d asked them to work on,” said Eisenberg. “If they’ve just packed up and left town, I don’t really know anything about that.”