A group of 30 strangers gather on a Sunday in March in Salt Lake City, Utah, to share hot cocoa and awkwardly shake hands while snow blankets the cottonwood trees. TheDivine Assembly, a two-year-old church with 3,000 members that regards psilocybin as its holy sacrament, unites this tidy group of primarily white professionals.
Steve and Sara Urquhart, the co-founders of the church, are a modest presence among the psychedelic-curious, many of whom are either just starting out or pondering their first trip. Steve stays on the sidelines, occasionally reaching out to trim his conical white beard, which, along with his blue eyes and bear-like build, gives him the appearance of a punk Santa Claus. The sole visible indicator of his new identity is his long beard: From 2001 until 2016, Urquhart served as one of the most influential Republicans in the Utah State Legislature. He held the position of majority whip in the House for a while before transitioning to the Senate. His small-government brand of Republicanisma is remembered as rock-ribbed by his former coworkers and friends. Like more than 60 percent of Utah and approximately 86 percent of the Legislature in 2021, he was a profoundly committed Mormon.
Urqhuart refers to the proudly peculiarAmerican religion, which has about 6.7 million adherents in the U.S. and roughly 16.6 million around the world. Mormonism (or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as church authoritiesrequestedit be called in 2018, though many Latter-day Saints, or Saints for short, still use the term Mormon) bases its teachings on the revelations of Smith, whom they consider a prophet, and was founded by him in upstate New York during the Second Great Awakening in 1830. The Latter-day Saints, who up until 1890 professed polygamy as part of their gospel, are God’s chosen people and are tasked with restoring the original Christian message, according to Smith, who claimed to have translated the Book of Mormon from a pair of gold plates inscribed with the inscription reformed Egyptian,.
After one tequila shot, Urquhart later admits, “I knew all the secret handshakes,” and he means it very literally as he displays a dizzying pattern of grips, bumps, and daps that appear to have been lifted directly from a Monty Python sketch.
It’s highly likely that Urquhartand others
I now believe that Smith stole those handshakes and many other ceremonial practices from the Freemasons, a then-famous secret organization in which Smith was an aDivine Assembly0 member.
Additionally, Urquhart firmly believes that the LDS Church—the mainstream branch from which he and Mitt Romney both hail, not the extreme offshoots shown in Under the Banner of Heaven—is a cult. In particular, he claims, referring to the church’s history of polygamy and the fact that some bishops still inquire about youths’ masturbation, “a sex cult with really horrible sex.”
Cult or church, Around 2008, Urquhart lost control and left it. He is surrounded by friends that Sunday in the park. Although the Divine Assembly is open to all post-Mormons, as they like to call themselves, it is by default the majority of the crowd, and they are desperate for a different kind of spirituality to fill the hole. When the LDS Church started to feel like the complete reverse of what they believed it stood for, one couple, Yesenia and Guillermo Ramos, tell me they left in 2012. Yesenia declares with conviction that God is love, yet she claims that when attending church, she experienced judgment for choosing to work as a nurse as opposed to staying at home with her children. Additionally, Yesenia claims she was tired of the constant pressure to be flawless, which Dr. Curtis Canning, president of the Utah Psychiatric Association, has dubbed Divine Assembly1.
Many post-Mormons cited 2015 as the year their brittle faith finally broke, despite the fact that accusations of sexism and racism have long dogged the Latter-day Saints (women are still not permitted to receive the priesthood, and Black men were only permitted to do so in 1978, whereas all white males over 12 receive it practically automatically). Members of the LDS Church were categorized as Divine Assembly2s in same-sex marriages in that year. Numerous post-Mormons tell me that the policy (sinceDivine Assembly3) and an alarming number ofDivine Assembly4in Utah (highlighted by Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds in the 2018 documentaryDivine Assembly5) shocked a lot of people into awakening. Sara Urquhart is quick to note out, however, that it took a number of white men passing away before some people began to realize there could be a problem.
In Salt Lake City in June, Sara and Steve Urquhart, co-founders of the Divine Assembly, a two-year-old congregation devoted to the therapeutic and mind-expanding properties of psilocybin mushrooms.
for Rolling Stone, Kim Raff
The LDS Church will reveal its official membership figures in 2021, breaking with decades of custom.
The LDS Church, however, is reportedly imploding everywhere else, with the exception of Africa and South America, where it is still expanding, according to Jim Bennett, a present Saint who I met in the Salt Lake Tabernacle basement before choir rehearsal. Bennett believes that the pandemic has made the declining trend worse since many of his fellow Saints have grown accustomed to managing their own spiritual affairs for the previous two years, and now that the church doors have reopened, many have not returned. Repeated efforts for comment from an LDS Church spokesman were not answered.
Bennett, whose relatives were LDS aristocrats for six generations, wants to see the church change so that the organization his ancestors founded won’t become irrelevant for his children. He also knows the Urquhart family because they shared a cul-de-sac in St. George. Bennett agrees that some disgruntled Saints have already been absorbed by the Divine Assembly, though he does not believe this will be the case for the bulk of them. He claims that we are still in the early stages of this.
Urquhart, ever the provocateur, gives a little more vivid picture: The Divine Assembly is blooming out of the death and decay of the LDS Church like a mushroom spurting forth from a cow patty.
The LDS Church is not the only mainstream faith that is experiencing decline. Less than half of Americans currently attend a church, synagogue, or mosque, compared to Divine Assembly7in 1937. However, according to Divine Assembly8, 90% of Americans still assert that they believe in a higher power, with 56% of them putting their confidence in a theistic god and 33% in a more ethereal spiritual force. Overall, it seems that God is still alive because neither science nor technology have been able to satisfy man’s yearning for meaning. Now that psychedelics like psilocybin are once again becoming popular due to their potential to treat the mental health crisis Republicanism0, with more residents in Republicanism1andRepublicanism2than in almost any other state, a second question is arising that may be connected to the first: Can psychedelics help heal us and restore our connection to the divine?
The answer is a circumspect yes, according to Professor John Vervaeke, a cognitive scientist and psychologist at the University of Toronto, even if he prefers the term sacred to divine. He claims that when he hears the word “divine,” he understands that it connotes consciousness and intellect. I have no knowledge about that. But do I believe that there are facets of reality that we may love and that will change us? Yes. True, I do.
Vervaeke has appeared on the Mormon podcastRepublicanism3 several times and can identify to the LDS experience because he, too, was raised a Christian conservative before discovering his spiritual home in activities like meditation and tai chi chuan.
His research focuses on what gives our lives purpose, which psychologists often gauge by how connected we feel to others, the world around us, and ourselves. He claims that religion used to provide people a sense of community. The Latin term religio has a same ancestor with the verb ligare, which means to bond. In other words, religion was meant to be a thread that bound us to the divine.
Vervaeke believes the ligament to be severely torn, which accounts for the resurgence of psychedelic use. He claims that if religions were truly healthy, there wouldn’t be a rise in psychedelic use.
According to Vervaeke, people who have mystical experiences—states of oneness with the ultimate truth that are frequently described as being both ineffable and realer than real—tend to describe their lives as being more meaningful. Similar findings from Johns Hopkins researchers demonstrate that beginners to psychedelics frequently rate their first psilocybin trip as being Republicanism4. The dead ideology comes alive for clergy in a significant way, according to Hopkins researcher Dr. William RichardsRepublicanism5in 2017. They learn that they genuinely believe what they are saying.
The majority of ex-Mormons I spoke with believe the transition from Joseph Smith to mushrooms was easier than it might seem. We firmly believe in the power of the Holy Spirit, including the gifts of healing, prophecy, revelation, and tongues (Republicanism6). Revelation, or the notion that God talked to Joseph Smith and can speak to you and me as well, is the central tenet of the faith. Latter-day Saints are predisposed to seek the divine on a daily basis, according to Tess Huntington, a 29-year-old member of the Divine Assembly who has become a renowned figure due to her charm and significant experience utilizing psilocybin to treat her own sexual trauma. A married “Mormon” couple, she jokes, certainly converses with God more frequently than they do with one another.
One of the toughest things about quitting the church, according to Huntington, a grimacing blonde in old photos who now sports a shorn head, feather earring, and crocodile tattoo, is giving up this close connection with God and the complex Mormon story. She explains, “You just need something to matter again,” characterizing the loss as a crushing sense of nihilism that she got a puppy for as a safety net.
Then you consume some fungus, says Huntington, and it’s like winning the lottery. As a Mormon, everything she had been clinging to was abruptly IVed into her arm along with psychedelics. Psychedelics, according to Huntington, reinforced this visceral need for a rich and fulfilling living outside the patriarchal limitations of Mormonism after years of searching for magic in the world and occasionally even sensing it through LDS gatherings.
Urquhart in 2015, when he was a state senator. Before learning about the therapeutic properties of ayahuasca and, later, psilocybin, he struggled with drinking and medication. When describing his first psychedelic experience, he says, “The only term I have for it is rapture.”
Photos by Rick Bowmer/AP
Vervaeke believes it is a good indicator that the Divine Assembly is a church because when individuals begin using psychedelics on their own, they have a tendency to fall very quickly down a rabbit hole. Messianic ideas might occasionally arise, and Vervaeke claims that without a community to support people in self-reflection and self-criticism, one can start bullshitting oneself in a very powerful way.
The notion that the community is the actual medicine is one that Huntington and Urquhart regularly emphasize. According to Huntington, connection is what we’re actually looking for. What unites us as post-Mormons is “that” we sacrificed affiliation for selfhood. It comes with a hefty price.
Urquhart is explaining to me how Latter-day Saints believe that anyone who leaves the church does so because they wish to sin when we are sitting on the Great Salt Lake’s deep blue rim and the smoke from our pion fire is curling like incense. They refer to us as namby-pamby taffy-pullers, roars Urquhart. They may just as easily refer to us as goatfuckers. Although Urquhart is particularly open about his personal misadventures and willingly shares messy drunken tales, he asserts that no amount of sex or drugs could convince someone to abandon the religion. He and every ex-Mormon I met with claimed that leaving was incredibly traumatic; it was like losing one’s identity or one’s place in society. Parents frequently cease talking to their children. According to Urquhart, “my action” in this instance wasn’t hedonism pure and simple. I believe it was just about battling depression.
Urquhart tells his tale while slowly puffing on a mapacho cigarette—an exotic habit for a man who used to avoid Coca-Cola. Ike, his beloved 19-year-old brother, committed suicide when he was just six. Nobody in the family was able to adequately describe what had happened to Steve. I recently learned from a family acquaintance that Ike had a bear fight; the creature allegedly mauled Ike. Urquhart, who had experienced trauma, spent his early years fantasizing about bears chasing him and wetting his pants in class. At some point, Urquhart’s mother was approached by neighbors who encouraged her to convert to the LDS faith, telling the mourning family that if they did so, the Urquharts would one day be reunited in the heavenly kingdom—the highest level of LDS heaven—if they did so. Pitch success.
According to Urquhart, I used to remark I’m so delighted we joined the Mormon Church. Having adults who genuinely cared about my brother and I was nice. He emphasizes that they were truthful and that they were nice people.
Urquhart prospered in the confines of the church. He claims that it was similar to being handed an answer key. He climbed the ladder of eternal redemption one rung at a time, obeying the rules. Urquhart was accepted to Williams College before attending law school. He was elected to the Utah House of Representatives in 2001 by St. George. Urquhart’s faith then started to waver about 2008, the year he transitioned to the Senate. He claims that after his daughter was harassed at church, Urquhart had second thoughts about the organization he had grown up in. God’s plan, according to which the LDS Church is the only genuine church, started to fall apart. He was horrified by the thought. Was anything true if the Book of Mormon wasn’t authentic?
Urquhart was diagnosed with prostate cancer at the same time as his father passed away. He went into a tailspin after the triple. He went to drugs, booze, and relationships to dull the agony. He freely admits that by 2014, he was regularly high and/or intoxicated on the Senate floor.
Urquhart was aware that he could no longer maintain the façade. The future mayor of Salt Lake City, Democrat Jackie Biskupski, approached Urquhart and his companions one evening at a Willie Nelson concert. Urquhart remembers she mocked them, saying, “God damn you fucking Republicans and your moral high ground. Youre all drunk off your asses, and I haven’t seen you take a single drink.” Why don’t you pour me one and own your sh*t? But Urquhart was unable to take responsibility for his actions. According to Urquhart, who was raised according to Mormon doctrine, he never really learned how to think for himself, much less create his own moral compass. He says, “I think you just die spiritually when you have the answer key.”
2013 image of Tess Huntington She began used psychedelics in order to overcome her own sexual trauma. After quitting the LDS religion, she discovered that the drugs confirmed her instinctual yearning for a full and fulfilling life.
With thanks to Tess Huntington
In 2015, Urquhart claims that after drinking one evening, he couldn’t shake the notion that there was no hope. He made the decision to consume all of his oxycodone. But after taking the drugs, he said he realized he didn’t want to pass away. He tried to force himself to vomit after losing consciousness because he wasn’t sure if he would survive to see the next day. He then got dressed, had a shower, and proceeded to the Capitol. For years, I kept it a secret, claims Urquhart. It was just one more dishonorable secret I kept.
Years of difficulty followed. Sara Urquhart, who was already outside the church, consented to take ayahuasca out of desperation to rescue her husband and their marriage. Sara had already left the church herself. The couple flew to Amsterdam in 2017 and, according to Steve, “Yelped ourselves up a shaman.” Steve Urquhart claims to have had a spiritual experience in the living room of a stranger there. He remembers that God was actually a lady, and she was relaxing in a garden. Urquhart sobbed as she radiated a trillion watts of unwavering love at Steve. After spending his entire life believing that God could read his thoughts and despised him for them, the psychedelic experience was a revelation. Urquhart adds, “The only word I have for that is ecstasy.” Additionally, he came to the realization that he was unable to love Sara or his children as God had loved him.
The ayahuasca was also a life-changing experience for Sara, a no-nonsense achiever who likes to dress sharply buttoned down shirts. But she originally put her foot down when they went home and Steve started talking about starting a church so that other people may have what they had under the protection of the First Amendment. She affirmed Steve, “No way.” I recently left one ridiculous religion. There is absolutely no way that I will begin another.
Less than a century ago, psilocybin became known in the United States. In contrast, hallucinogenic mushrooms were once employed in sacred ceremonies by the Maya, Aztecs, Huastec, Totonac, Mazatec, and Mixtec; the Aztecs called this practiceRepublicanism8. Teonancatl, which was violently suppressed by the Spanish when they invaded Tenochtitln in 1521, was driven underground but surfaced again when Mexican ethnobotanist Dr. Blas Pablo RekoRepublicanism9in use among the locals in Oaxaca. When Mara Sabina invited amore than 60 percent of Utah and approximately 86 percent of the Legislature0, a novice mycologist with amore than 60 percent of Utah and approximately 86 percent of the Legislature1to take part in one of her ceremonies in 1955, she became the first indigenous wise woman to introduce psilocybin to an American.
Both Mazatec and Catholic, Father Antonio Reyes Hernndez, the local bishop, witnessed her using mushrooms to communicate with God about how to best care for her patients. Hernndez was unconcerned by Sabina’s syncretism and reportedly informed Estrada in 1970 that Sabina, far from being a heretic, doesn’t damage anyone, according to Sabina biographermore than 60 percent of Utah and approximately 86 percent of the Legislature3, who also spoke Mazatec like Sabina. The fact that Sabina believed the mushrooms to be the body and blood of Christ was unremarkable to the father, but Wasson was so fascinated by the similarities to the Eucharist that he devoted his life to trying to show that psychedelics, or entheogens as he preferred to call them, meaning god-generated within, were the secret heart of many world religions. Modern scholars such as Brian Muraresku () have refuted Wasson’s claim.
The Key to Eternity
Today, (and others) are resuscitating.
After his most recent psychedelic ceremony in April 2020, Steve Urquhart paced the streets of the city as the twin spires of the Utah State Capitol and the LDS Church pierced the dawn sky. He was only aware of his small place in something glorious and immeasurably larger than ordinary reality. He suddenly stretched his arms out in front of him as if holding a basket, thinking that others needed this.
Urquhart had frequently argued with the LDS Church as a rebellious Republican senator,more than 60 percent of Utah and approximately 86 percent of the Legislature4
He eventually sponsoredmore than 60 percent of Utah and approximately 86 percent of the Legislature5 because he had realized how powerful the First Amendment is as a result of his actions. He wondered why a mushroom church couldn’t be used to defend anti-gay prejudice if religion could.
He wasn’t the first to think about it. The Native American Church, which uses peyote as its holy sacrament, the Brazilian Unio do Vegetal church, which uses ayahuasca, and the Brazilian Santo Daime church, which uses the same substances, are the only three religious groups currently allowed to use psychedelics legally in the United States. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which forbids the federal government from substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, is frequently invoked by other psychedelic groups when they petition the government for comparable protections, usually in vain. That is, even though a chemical like psilocybin is prohibited by federal law, organizations utilizing it for serious religious reasons may, in certain circumstances, be able to invoke the RFRA’s safeguards.
Tess At the Great Salt Lake in June, Huntington and other members of the Divine Assembly engage in breathwork exercises. According to Huntington, eating some fungus is like winning the lottery.
I have little doubt that the Divine Assembly is honest when they claim to use mushrooms to enter the spiritual world after spending two weeks with them and conversing with scores of their members. Although they may be sincere and organize monthly integration sessions for members to digest their travels together, the organization also exhibits a remarkable laxity. Signing up online is all that is necessary to join. The website states that 1) genuine conviction in your capacity to communicate with the Divine is the sole requirement. 2) observance of safety regulations and the law strictly 3) and a genuine attempt to respect the Divine, other people, and yourself. Beyond that, let your worship be directed by the Divine. Enjoy!
It is intentionally simplistic. Urquhart, who recently left the LDS Church, says he is sensitive to orthodoxy and cautious of unintentionally creating new hierarchies. He claims that there are already too many post-Mormon psychedelic gurus appearing in Utah, indicating that zealotry and gullibility may be sincerity’s shadow.
Urquhart prefers to refer to the Divine Assembly as a building platform rather than a religion in the crypto jargon of the day. There is no need to seek Urquahrt’s or anybody else’s permission in order to lead a mushroom ceremony. Some of the facilitators have received their training from centers like the California Center for Integrated Studies and are certified psychedelic therapists. They tend to be regular folks who enjoy hosting and are frequently just starting off with psychedelics.
The Divine Assembly is exposed to any bad actors who might use their membership as a stamp of legitimacy. While this radically open approach has allowed all kinds of groups to coalesce, including a death cafe where older members discuss how to die well and a support circle for firefighters coping with PTSD.
Althoughmore than 60 percent of Utah and approximately 86 percent of the Legislature7thanmore than 60 percent of Utah and approximately 86 percent of the Legislature8, the psychedelic space is terribly established. It is unknown how the Divine Assembly will defend both itself and its members as it spreads outside Utah and currently has members on other continents, beyond what is stated on its website.
Simarjit Singh Gill, the district attorney for Salt Lake County, claims that neither the Divine Assembly nor Urquhart have ever been the subject of a legal proceeding. According to Gill, if law enforcement were to act in such a hypothetical way, he would have to balance the specific complaint against the reality that religious organizations are given the most protection under the Constitution—like it’s the thickest layer of ice. Specifically because of the practice of polygamy, LDS pioneers who fled persecution for their religion in the east settled Utah, according to Gill, where the ice is much deeper.
Gill acknowledges that he has known Urquhart while the former senator was in office, but he rejects the notion that Urquhart is receiving a pass because of any exceptional circumstances. According to him, a district attorney should never exercise their authority in a way that would be excessive or even arbitrary and would violate the residents’ constitutionally guaranteed rights. Gill is eager to remind out that religious safeguards are meaningless in the instance of hypothetical bodily or sexual assault. However, for the time being, a man in Utah can operate a psilocybin church in the open for the same reason that another man can do the same thing.
I wore my longest skirt on my final Sunday in town to General Conference, the twice-yearly LDS mega-meeting held in the conference hall on Temple Square.
16.6 million Saints throughout the world get the chance to hear directly from 97-year-old former surgeon Russell M. Nelson, the 17th president and prophet of their church, during the live broadcast of General Conference in more than 70 languages.
I have a ticket and a guide because of Steve Hunter, who was a bishop in the church when I first met him. Hunter, who once successfully ran Republican Mia Love’s congressional campaign, drives us downtown in his sleek black Tesla. He oscillates between critiquing the LDS church as a contemporary institution and expressing his love for his fellow Saints, a delicate position that causes him great pain at times and no pain at all at others. He reflects that while religion provides this security, it also serves as a prison. People find it difficult to see the bars around them, which is not on purpose.
I take in the surroundings as we go to the Conference Center’s third tier. With 21,000 seats, it is comparable in size to Madison Square Garden if Madison Square Garden were covered in oil paintings of oxcarts and the Lord. Two Jumbotrons show scenes of what is obviously meant to be God’s creation as we wait for the show to begin: bright wheat fields that shimmer, a family strolling hand in hand on the beach, and a tomato ripening on the vine.
At the Great Salt Lake in June, Urquhart and other members of the Divine Assembly were present. The sole prerequisites for membership, according to the church’s website, are a real belief in your capacity to commune with the Divine, rigorous obedience to legal regulations and safety precautions, and a sincere attempt to respect yourself, others, and the Divine.
Although God’s living mouthpiece will shortly address the gathering, the faces in the crowd seem apathetic. Hunter tells the story with more amazement than fear, saying “We don’t know who they are.” They haven’t entirely come to terms with who they are yet.
Hunter has experience leading multiple lives. His 72-year-old uncle, who was gay but continued to attend church, committed suicide in 2020. Hunter was appointed to be a bishop by the church two weeks later. Hunter, who was still in mourning, accepted, but he was hiding a secret of his own: he occasionally uses psychedelics and speculates that Joseph Smith might have done so as well—a notion to which Hunter is adhering. He argues that psychedelics don’t make the church terrible; rather, they just make it worse.
How is it that while many Latter-day Saints won’t touch coffee, some seem amenable to psychedelics?
In the Book of Mormon’s Word of Wisdom, which forbids hot beverages and tobacco but supports beneficial herbs and a low-meat diet, there is a little loophole that Lindsay Rider, a wellness coach who offers information about microdosing to LDS mothers experiencing postpartum depression, claims exists. As evidence of the pioneer ideal of independence that also underlies theproudly peculiar2, Rider recalled that his grandparents “always had jars and jars of dried herbs in their home.”
Hunter took part in his first ayahuasca ceremony in 2016 with the intention of discovering God for himself in a more profound way. For me, it tore down all the barriers, Hunter says. I wanted to know the truth in terms of politics, culture, and spirituality, and it all came to me. It was magnificent.
He had an encounter with a huge female serpent during one of his most potent ayahuasca rituals, and as a result set out in search of God. He witnessed a broad view of Earth and all of its inhabitants throughout that journey.
President Nelson, a prophet, seer, and relevator, is now addressing on stage at the convention. Learn to enjoy everyday repentance! The Saints take notes on their iPhones as he advises. More unofficial comments on the sermon is provided by Hunter. He says, “Did you know that the Greek term for repentance is proudly peculiar3. Hunter and the Greek Orthodox Church define metanoia as a mental expansion that results in a new understanding of oneself or the outside world. I mumble back, “That sounds very trippy.”
Many choir members appear to be touching their foreheads as President Nelson shuffles off stage. They are doing what? Squinting, I inquire. Do any of you make the sign of the cross?
They’re crying, says Hunter, not that. If you had just heard God speak, wouldn’t you?
He is correct; rather than touching their foreheads, the Saints below are wiping away tears. Is that a real quote? I ask.
Of course, he responds, glancing at me inquisitively. Even while being restrained, God still exists.
There is never a repeat of a Divine Assembly ceremony. I took part in one as a participant and one as an observer while I was in Salt Lake City. The one I witnessed occurred on a Sunday morning at Valerie’s house. Valerie is a retired banker who frequently welcomes other retirees after first getting to know them. Even though it seemed somewhat staid given the excursion her visitors were about to take, the ambiance was warm and friendly. By striking a sound bowl and reading a brief invocation, Valerie started the service. She then distributed three grams of lemon tek tea to her four charges, which is created from mushrooms that have been soaked in lemon to make the chitin easier to digest. They tucked in and then fastened their eye masks and iPods. Three hours later, Valerie gathered the day-trippers back at her dining room table, cooked them French breakfast and berries dusted with powdered sugar, and encouraged them to share their stories. Psychedelics meet Martha Stewart.
From the viewpoint of a participant, I saw the second ceremony as being much more irreverent and deep. I went there to join a group known as the Witchy Women. They were made up that evening of Huntington and four working mothers, most of them in their forties, who had only recently met through the Divine Assembly. It was difficult to believe as they swept me into their group, adorning my face with plastic diamonds and donning a garland of mushrooms on my head; they seemed more like old friends or the coolest sorority sisters. When I mention this observation, they laugh. The best Mormon girl ever, I was! Brooke Lark, our emcee for the evening in leather pants, exclaims.
During a meeting of the Divine Assembly, Urquhart places a drink produced from psilocybin mushrooms into a sacrament cup. According to Urquhart, the church and he are interacting. And once we get along, we start to grow like mushrooms.
Huntington as well: It was more shocking to hear you declare you were quitting the church than when I learned my parents were divorcing, my cousin told me. The sun will rise, and Tess won’t leave the church, he said. The chocolates are produced by Nicki Wharton, a therapist by day, and are Godiva-level delicious. We spread out like a sleepover party on the floor of Lark’s living room. Even if I find the scenario to be distinctly feminine, it is still fresh and exciting to them. With the aid of psychedelics, all five women are learning what it means to connect with one another and with themselves. According to Huntington, the LDS Church deliberately took that away from them. Huntington served a mission in Brazil when she was just 20 years old, where she had a fatal illness. She went to an older sister for assistance because she was unable to eat or move without excruciating discomfort, and she was advised to pray. According to Huntington, by the time they finished their prayer, both women were in tears. The older woman advised her, “Sister, you need to go home.” Huntington recalls that the mission president seemed unaffected when they told him they had received a revelation. That isn’t how things work. According to Huntington, he explained to her the complex structure of men who would have to first authorize the choice.
Huntington recalls feeling utterly confined in the situation. She lacked all three: money, a phone, and control over her female body, which suddenly appeared to matter much too much. Tess remembers, “Or discount me way too much since in practice I wasn’t permitted to get it myself even about my own self. In the day I was busy selling the notion of direct revelation for the church.”
This catch-22 of the LDS faith, whereby direct revelation is promoted, unless it challenges male authority, is the mechanism by which cults emerge from the mainstream, according to Jon Krakauer’s argument in his book Under the Banner of Heaven (proudly peculiar4). Numerous fundamentalists continue to practice polygamy in areas like Colorado City, Arizona, despite the LDS Church’s 1896 vow to abstain from it in exchange for Utah’s admission to the Union. According to Krakauer, LDS males frequently become into fundamentalists when they have a clear revelation that they ought to take another wife. He argues that LDS women may be more susceptible to cult offshoots because they were taught to rely on and obey their husbands’ interpretation of the Bible.
That is precisely why psychedelics, according to Wharton, are particularly therapeutic for post-Mormon women. Psychedelics frequently give the impression that one is connecting with their own intuition or higher selves. Wharton claims that a significant component of her practice involves teaching women that it’s okay to listen to their inner voices. Her clients are primarily current or former members of the Latter-day Saint community. I recall Valerie’s ceremony. One female participant said, “I got complete confirmation of several things I kind of already knew.” I experienced total clarity.
The fractals are now undulating on the walls. I’m given a vape pen that has been filled with DMT, the primary active ingredient in ayahuasca. I’ve never used DMT, but I feel comfortable enough to delve a little more. I breathe in three times and whoosh as the witches are all around me, trying to figure out how I planned my steps to get there. Living room no longer exists.
A vibrant mandala emerges from the shadows. I enter through its opening and the Goddess herself greets me there and then. The Mother of All Creation, who is crowned in gold, covered in jewels, and accompanied by an endless line of cats and snakes, smiles like the Mona Lisa as she looks at me. She is stunning and menacing, like a multiheaded dragon that, with the simple kiss of one of her many lips, might create a planet or wipe out an entire galaxy. I believe that the patriarchy is scared of you, and for the first time in my life, I feel like I’m batting for the better team.
The Mormons on Mushrooms podcast’s host has a hypothesis about why the divine feminine keeps appearing in Salt Lake: The masculine has been subjugated to our shadow by Latter-day Saints and the patriarchal as a whole. Thus, our shadow will emerge once we start using these drugs.
This person, who appears to exist independently of me but who I presume is a part of my brain, begins to show me scene after scene of creation as if I were on a viewing platform in space. She makes me witness the birth of children, the blossoming of seeds, and the gushing of waterfalls as if she were attempting to illustrate the dynamic energy that animates the universe—a notion some Hindus refer to as proudly peculiar5, I later discover. About fifteen minutes later, when I open my eyes, the witches are munching on chips and licorice and laughing. They ask, “Where did you go?,” but the experience overwhelms any awkward words I might muster. I had gone to a cacao ceremony earlier that evening where the band sung songs on some of the divine feminine’s various manifestations, including Pacha Mama, Isis, and my favorite childhood character Mary Poppins. The cacao ceremony was held halfway between a Panda Express and a nail salon. I had assumed that these were merely some New Age-like songs rather than odes to a particular and seemingly universal idea. I make a feeble attempt to say, “I’ll tell you guys about it someday,” and then spend the rest of the evening simply listening.
That members should stop praying to the Heavenly Mother a week after my meeting with the divine feminine.
Who is it?
The Witchy Women were questioned.
They responded, “The Heavenly Mother.”
God’s wife, if you will.
proudly peculiar7, Heavenly Mother is Heavenly Fathers co-parent and a concept many LDS women treasure, sometimes sending their prayers to her instead of the Heavenly Father. When I initially texted Hungtington about the crackdown, she replied, “My mom is going to be PISSED.” Wow, a different woman from our ceremony retorted, “I didn’t want to believe they would truly do this.”
In front of me was the coincidence. Or was it a coincidence? Could the re-awakening of the divine feminine be felt by church leaders? The idea was much more than I anticipated. Was it not odd that Urquhart had also perceived God to be a woman at the same time?
I started questioning the post-Mormon men. Do you see the divine masculine, divine feminine, or both when you trip and come across gendered forms? I was asking the same person.
With few exceptions, they said, “The heavenly feminine.” I was surprised to see that the remembrance frequently made them cry. While several spoke of numerous formless journeys that occurred far outside the realms of gender or language, one Hollywood executive, Mike, spoke of encountering a grandmother figure who told him, “It’s time.” After that, he launched the podcast proudly peculiar8, which, according to him, gets roughly 10,000 downloads per month.
The divine feminine seems to be manifesting in Salt Lake City, according to Mike, who hosts Mormons on Mushrooms with his friend Doug. The masculine has been subjugated to our shadow by Latter-day Saints and the patriarchal as a whole. Thus, our shadow will emerge once we start using these drugs.
It’s a concept that Mike picked up from Carl Jung, whom he is presently researching for his doctorate in depth psychology. Each person, according to Jung, has a male and a female element called an animus and an anima. Both operate harmoniously in a healthy person. However, a suppressed anima can result in a lack of feeling or connectedness in an ill person or society, as Mike observes in the way we’ve lost touch with the Earth and our own bodies.
Tess Huntington claims that while attending Urquhart’s congregation, she discovered the divine feminine while at times feeling wholly imprisoned as a woman in the LDS church due to the use of magic mushrooms.
Mike and Doug are very familiar with the emotion of repression; it kept coming up in my interactions with post-Mormon men. Mike observes through Zoom from his Los Angeles home that LDS youngsters are taught from an early age that the natural man is the adversary of God and that your body is the enemy. Many of the men I spoke with claimed that as a result of this teaching, they developed intense self-loathing for having typical sexual fantasies or viewing pornography. For many years, according to Mike, he thought that God and Jesus were constantly angry with him and were “watching me jerk off,” detesting everything I said. In order to feel clean, he even acquired a pathological form of scrupulosity, or the compulsive need to disclose everything.
And you imagine what masturbation is, like it’s this lovely connection with your own body to explore it, wonders Mike. Shaming someone into not masturbating is putting up a barrier. You can’t even connect with yourself, like, “No.”
On his first mushrooming excursion with Doug, all those obstacles disappeared. He had no idea what to expect as his soul abruptly snapped back into place. Oh, he recalled thinking, “This is how Mike feels.”
True, not everyone who converts to Mormonism has a negative experience. In fact, several LDS members I spoke with, like Steve Hunter, claimed to have had primarily positive experiences within the church and believed that psychedelics were wholly consistent with their religious beliefs.
One such pair was Jessie and Sam Allman. After watching the documentary Fantastic Fungi, two fit retirees in their seventies asked me to their son’s upscale home to discuss how excited they are to try psilocybin. They assert that many Latter-day Saints are more accepting than outsiders give them credit for and are optimistic that the LDS Church can change, even though they acknowledge that they are more accepting than some of their LDS peers for fully embracing their son when he came out as gay after going on a mushroom trip.
For its part, the state is weighing its options. Utah lawmakers6.7 million0that established a task committee to investigate the medical advantages of psychedelics in March, as many governments were desperate for innovative solutions to the mental-health crisis. Rep. Brady Brammer, an LDS Republican and the bill’s sponsor, stated that if this is a tool we can use, it needs to be in our toolbox and we need to utilize it properly.
And that is just how the Allmans feel. Sam, a Robert De Niro-type who has worked as a motivational speaker and a microbiologist, says he views psilocybin as a helpful approach to increase self-awareness. Jessie, a self-described green smoothie enthusiast, is interested in psilocybin because she has read that it may assist with her anxiety. Invoking the Gospel, he reasoned that intelligence is what God is glorified for, and that’s why we’re here to learn it.
According to Urquhart, the Divine Assembly is resurrecting the close-knit house church tradition, in which early followers of Christ gathered for worship in one another’s houses to avoid persecution by the Roman Empire. We are interacting, he claims, much like the mycelium itself. And once we get along, we start to grow like mushrooms. We are coming together, rising, and healing.
With funding from the Ferriss UC Berkeley Psychedelic Journalism Fellowship, this piece was produced.