Someone lit a stick of palo santo in the car. I watched the road through a veil of spiritual smoke as my ego murmered in the backseat: What are you doing? You don’t do things like this. You don’t go off to hippy communes, you don’t burn wood sticks or offer hugs of inestimable length to strangers. What would your friends say?
I was sharing a ride with three women I’d never met from Amsterdam out into the Dutch countryside. We were meeting our group of 30 fellow psychonauts for a retreat organised by Truffles Therapy.
Pulling up somewhere rural, muddy and surrounded by sheep, the farmhouse looked even bigger than it did in the photos. It was filled with secret rooms, creaky doors and hidden stairs. The people inside inflating air beds and sipping from mugs of hot cacao seemed friendly, but I was nervous.
Powered by their own life-altering experiences with plant medicine, Truffles Therapy founders Chi and Leti moved to the Netherlands just four months ago. They’ve since jumped aboard a train speeding towards the full legalisation of psychedelics, starting where psilocybin truffles (not mushrooms) are legal.
I’ve microdosed a bit, which tends to make me feel more connected to the world around me. But mounting research proves larger doses can bring about serious healing, most notably to people suffering PTSD, depression and anxiety. This retreat I should point out, was not intended as a substitute for medical or psychotherapeutic care. For most of us on a cold rainy weekend outside of Amsterdam, this was purely a chance to do what Timothy Leary urged at his orchestrated Human Be-In in 1966: “turn on, tune in, drop out.”
I shared one of the living rooms with three other girls. Two of them had met before at a monastery retreat in China. The other, a smiley Latvian I felt a connection with instantly had been to lots of retreats, most recently a Gong retreat. I didn’t even know what that was, just that it sounded noisy. I felt inexperienced in comparison; new to the art of sitting still and just… being.
In the middle of the house, a converted barn made the perfect space to create a circle. The fans whirred softly from 30-foot-high wooden beams, wafting more palo santo over clusters of flickering candles.
I watched as people laid mattresses, blankets and pillows ready for our evening ceremony. Others worked to stack logs in a giant brick fireplace and make it burn. It was before this hearth of spitting flames we sat, hours later, holding hands and chanting in front of a shaman.
Jesse van der Velde, a handsome, towering Dutchman with eyes that see straight through you (yeah OK I’m a romance writer usually, give me a break!), spent 2.5 years learning the healing principles of the ancient Incas. As well as his ceremonial work with shamans, he’s a renowned “medicine man”, nutritionist and published author.
If you’ve ticked off the Rijksmuseum and Red Light District and you’re looking for something more enlightening to do in town, he also holds his own sacred truffle ceremonies in a teepee outside of Amsterdam.
“Truffles are drugs when we use them to party, to escape from the reality of our lives… “ Jesse writes on his website.
“When truffles are taken in a ceremonial setting to promote spiritual healing and growth, we give a completely different intention to the act and this results in a completely different experience.”
We watched his silhouette against the flames as he started to chant and call upon the great pachamama, or Mother Earth: “Nitche Tai Tai, N-U-Y, Oro Nika Oro Nika, Hey Hey…Hey Hey, Ooo Ai.”
One by one we threw sticks we’d found outside into the fire and set our intention for the journey. We carried on chanting…. on and on and on…. while everyone took their cup of magic medicine. The truffles had been prepared in a warm cacao drink, to hide the nasty taste I guess.
We each took our dose from a coconut shell, kneeling before Jesse. It felt like the most sacred, spiritual thing I’ve ever done, but I was still nervous when we were instructed to sit in silence, waiting to ride our psychedelic highs.
I felt the effects after 15 minutes. Jesse came around with a singing bowl, and the sound sent colours sweeping through the room towards him, like the northern lights behind my eyes. I drifted on a warm, happy buzz before the silence between live music sessions made me restless. I felt the urge to explore, to see some cool stuff through these new eyes, so I went to the bathroom and stared at a painting of a duck (ahem).
Then I escaped to my room and played a song, but I felt like I was missing something back in the circle… missing the point of it all. The truffle journey was not a strong trip at all for me; more light and fun and floaty, but back in the circle other people were flying.
They were also taking rapé, a dried and powdered tobacco snuff they’d inhale through some sort of pipe. It was making them hack into bowls and cough in the candlelight.
Not wanting to puke in public, or anywhere really, I refused it, but apparently, the rapé helps you hone in on certain things you might be processing in your trip, and can supercharge the experience.
Later I learned that one girl who took the rapé stopped herself from throwing up by channeling a past version of herself:
“A while back I puked for 24 hours straight for no reason,” she told me. “When I took the rapé tonight I felt the truffles saying I had already thrown up enough, so now I didn’t have to… like the past me did the future me a solid.”
We discussed the possibility that time has no meaning, that we are everywhere and everything at all times. Under psychedelic influence, when we go deep enough, we’re the universe experiencing itself in infinite possibilities. This is the stuff that excites me. I didn’t go too deep the first night, though. Not that I didn’t intend to, it just didn’t happen. Maybe I was too restless. Maybe I was distracted by the hacking.
Maybe the truffles sensed some resistance and left me alone?
On the Saturday night, after a day of yoga, tarot readings, nature walks, some naked sauna time (optional, don’t worry), and some of the best vegan food I’ve ever eaten (think hot tomato soup and chutneys, homemade peanut butter and a constant supply of warm cacao), it was time for our second ceremony in the giant hall. This time, snuggled on cushions under blankets, holding hands with new friends either side of me, I felt way more prepared.
Take me, truffles, I whispered as I threw my second stick into the flames and sipped the milky tea from the coconut shell. Show me what I need to be shown.
Turns out, I needed to be shown the bathroom.
As the drumming and chanting echoed from the open hall I dove for the toilet, just as the stream of cacao-coloured vomit roared from my body into the bowl. I growled in annoyance at the chunks of truffle, now splattered in a psychedelic pattern of their own about the porcelain. The magic had rejected me. I had not rejected the magic.
The duck in the painting on the wall began to laugh, and I considered that maybe I hadn’t puked up all the precious plant medicine. But I was definitely still on earth, still stuck in the airport so to speak, when all I came here to do was fly.
Back in the sacred circle I felt like a spiritual failure. With my medicine flushed down the toilet, how was I supposed to trip now?
Someone was convulsing with laughter beneath a blanket. Someone else was shaking a maraca, deep in a spontaneous song. Others had landed on distant planets; their eyes glazed or closed, voyaging horizontally on yoga mats.
I watched a guy wearing cat-ears start to dance in the smoke from some burning sage, clearly high and loving it. Envy flooded my veins. I wanted to be there. Of all the places I’ve travelled, of all the aircraft I’ve been welcomed aboard, my ego raged… why aren’t I allowed onto THIS plane?
The thing about plant medicine, Jesse told us later, is that it has a mind of its own.
“The medicine will always offer us what’s right in the moment,” he said. “There’s no such thing as feeling nothing, we’re human… but when we’re doing the medicine work we can only really just surrender to what’s being offered in the moment, and find our healing.”
I still felt left out. The truffles were supposed to open my eyes to worlds unseen. What did I do wrong? Maybe I still wasn’t ready for this? Maybe I never would be. Of all the places to feel anger, this peaceful circle wasn’t it, but still it simmered inside me.
Then something weird happened. Jesse said he felt compelled to give those of us who wanted it a special blessing from the tribes from the lost city of Atlantis. When he said it, I felt like I had to step forward. I was second in line. As I took my place again on the cushion in front of him, tears started streaming down my face.
I wasn’t even tripping, I’d just thrown up, remember. I’d been angry and frustrated, but all those emotions lifted, as though those lost tribes of Atlantis (channeled through Jesse perhaps), pulled some kind of happiness lever. I felt the water, too… waves of joy and gratitude gushing over me.
The tears didn’t stop for hours. I was crying for everything, for talking ducks, for war and famine, for exes I’ve loved and lost, for my family, for my friends, for release, for the healing I hadn’t known I’d needed.
All I could feel was this pure, unconditional love flowing through me, from inside me, from everywhere around me. I was love, this was love, even after puking up the truffles. It was one of the most humbling, beautiful, surreal… and yes, spiritual experiences of my life. I definitely didn’t get the same vibes from Dubai’s Atlantis hotel. Jesse should head on down and sort that out.
Maybe the medicine worked in more mysterious ways than I’d anticipated this weekend? It’s left me feeling wonderstruck, wanting more. Psychedelics aren’t addictive, but dipping your toes into that realm makes you want to dive deep.
This weekend has left me itching to spark some palo santo and yeah… maybe I’ll offer hugs of inestimable length to strangers. At any rate, it has left me wanting to spend more time with people who’ve seen what I’ve clearly only caught a glimpse of. Other people spoke of profound experiences, with and without the rapé.
The nerves are still there, but the heart and the gates have been opened wide. I’ll travel further next time… if the truffles let me. And there’s already talk of more retreats, more healing circles, more magic medicine from Jesse, Chi and Leti, all of which makes me wonder if I’ll actually get to Atlantis, eventually?!
I guess that’s why they call this a journey.
Check out TrufflesTherapy.com for more info on magic truffles retreats.
See what Jesse van der Velde is planning.