God, magic mushroom, and me
As Priest positioned himself on a sofa, Richards asked, “How do you feel?” “I’m a little nervous,” Priest told Richards, who held a degree in theology and was an ordained minister. Richards said with a smile, “You’re about to meet God.” He offered Priest a tablet of psilocybin in a chalice, as if it were a sacrament. Priest took the pill and drank from a glass of water. He lay back on the sofa.
In January 2016, Hunt Priest flew to Baltimore, where he met Bill Richards, a psychologist at Johns Hopkins with a small frame, a white beard, and a warm smile. As a twenty-three-year-old graduate student at the University of Göttingen in Germany in 1963, Richards had taken psilocybin as part of a research project. It altered his life. The “unspeakable beauty” he saw on that trip, he later wrote, was psilocybin’s “potential importance for all of us.” Hunt Priest can talk about his psilocybin experience because he was part of that government- sanctioned Johns Hopkins study, which then gave him the cover to form an educational Christian psychedelic society in 2021 called Ligare, from the Latin for “to bind or unite.” Ligare, as a nonprofit, has quickly emerged as the preeminent source of Christianity and psychedelics. It has reached hundreds of pastors and priests through its newsletter and online forums with plans to offer retreats where clergy can experience the same deepening of faith… In indigenous cultures and, some believe, the early mystical Christian church, women were the high priestesses. They delivered the plants in religious ceremonies. Sarah leads our service now. With the sun setting and the room darkening into long shadows, Sarah has each of us scoot before her. When it’s my turn, she says the Spirit has told her to offer me two things: sassafras and then the psilocybin-laced mushroom. Sassafras is a hallucinogen, in my case derived from tree bark. “This is your first time with the plants,” Sarah whispers, “and sassafras is a bit milder. It’s a good on-ramp to the mushrooms…” Paul …taking psilocybin… sacrament seems to only hide now the deeper truth… the depression came eleven years into the life that was supposed to make him happy… I’ve fucked up everywhere, starting with the fact that two thousand miles away my wife is distressed and can’t even drive the lone car we have, because it’s broken. I’m muttering, and realize I’m muttering, as I stare at the candle in the bathroom. I finish up, wash my hands, look in the mirror. I take a deep breath and open the door. The pastor is standing right there. He looks at me, asks, “You okay?”