My early life path is typical to any male born in an English colonial state. In these states, Christianity is the source of your spiritual and moral values. Jamaica is unique because it has more churches per square mile than anywhere else in the world. The transatlantic slave trade removed Africans from our own story; our spiritual development was based on a fear of going to hell.
Members of the Pan-African community and the Rastafari community did a lot of research and found out that the geographical location of the Bible story was African, even though the images were of Caucasian people. So the book, along with the preservation of our African traditions, became one of empowerment and gave us an opportunity to see ourselves in a different light. That light was Rastafari. The light of Rastafari transformed us from spiritual fear to spiritual enlightenment.
In 2007, Rastafari Indigenous Village (RIV) was formed on land near Montego Bay, Jamaica. Our template came from individuals like Marcus Garvey, who formed the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), and Leonard P. Howell, who formed the first free, sustainable Rastafari village— named Pinnacle. Their purpose, and ours, was to create intentional communities where we could rekindle our traditions; and preserve, protect, and promote our relevance to humanity. At RIV, we see ourselves as emissaries of Mother Earth, with a mission to restore balance on the planet. From the beginning, we have welcomed visitors— not as tourists, but as fellow seekers.
The Village and Its Sacraments
The Village started with our stories, our drums and a few temporary structures. And ganja, which has always been our sacrament. An initial lack of resources limited our capacity to implement our vision, but we persisted and after 16 years were designated an official Heritage Site by the Jamaican government. We have gone on to create internationally recognized events and projects, and are beginning to expand to other locations around the island.
RIV acknowledges every human being as a gift and their stories as a lesson to share for the evolving cyclic experience of humanity. This makes the setting an atmosphere of mutual respect, learning and awareness of each other. Our mission is to build meaningful relationships and advance how we can live in balance with nature.
Around 20 villagers live full time on the property. Their spaces are called stations and we have a few. There is a food station, herbal remedies, drum making, regenerative planting, arts and crafts, music, energetic healing and self-care spaces. Visitors can engage with any area that connects their heart to explore. There is a beautiful river that runs through the property that we share with the geographical community. This brings in the component of a service so we spend time cleaning these Rivers as a part of our duty.
The village is a celebration of life, where we live by the lessons that the plants teach us. The families and stories are ever present in the space. The vibration of the plants exists at a cellular level as opposed to being curated for a few days of experience. The ongoing drumming of the traditional activities of people are available for levels of inclusion to share joyous songs and music with the people who the plant has carried through prohibition. The love-food plant-based offerings, along with our energy healing space and the river that runs through the property are reminders of our divine ability: to change, to flow and to be free is an amazing experience.
Approximately a decade ago we received visionary plants like ayahuasca and psilocybin into our private circle for celebration, enlightenment and gratitude. The inner core of RIV immediately embraced these plants and their teachings; and we started to build relationships with practitioners and shamans from the Amazon and around the world. But among the broader Rastafari community a lack of knowledge about the physical and spiritual effects of these medicines led to some suspicion.
We invited a few of our community members to share the experience with us, but after seeing the massive life-changing effects on those who attended the ceremony, we realized we needed to keep these medicines within the RIV ecosystem for some time. We chose to focus on our own journey of learning from the plants and their custodians, and the principles and traditions that govern these interactions. Over the years we have infused our own connections and realities as Earth people in the development of these relationships.
Our embrace of these Sacred plants further enforced our philosophy of plant Divinity, confirming that human beings don’t have a monopoly on God consciousness. God for I is not like the Western mind as someone you serve or worship. God for I is someone you become. God is an atmospheric consciousness of the characters, behavior and attitudes that can preserve the harmonious expansion of the universe.
Our songs have always celebrated and revered Haile Selassie the First, and ganja. Now all Visionary plants and their tenets are included in our behavior, attitude, ceremonies and creative expressions. This process expanded our spiritual technologies to include cosmic channeling, and universal energy work and practices. The most important thing that we are blessed with is a full awareness that Mother Earth can speak to us; and we can share this conversation through our songs, chants, instruments and stories.
Over the years, as the wider Rastafari community has begun to build alliances with indigenous people from all over the world— people who are also battling systemic discrimination— conversations about the sacramental plants of these allies have become more common but not yet sparked much broader engagement.
One of the most recognized Rastafari principles is that no one can speak for Rastafari, you can only speak as Rastafari. Rastafari is the revelation of yourself to yourself. So there are many expressions of Rastafari.
Leadership does not mean domination. It means setting a higher standard, and holding I-self to it. To see each other as a gift in a communal setting creates the functioning structure for Rastafari indigenous Village model of a horizontal society: none above, none below, all sovereign in their own realm. This interdependent ecosystem creates an environment for individual and collective security and self-determination. This way of life is based on the recognition and empowerment of the All.
After Covid hit the globe and the Black Lives Matters movement catalyzed a spirit of inclusion, some companies active in the psychedelic retreat space began to search for people who live by the teachings of the plant to be employed in their system. Members of Rastafari indigenous Village started to offer plan medicine ceremonies to visitors engaged with these companies.
The retreats organized by these companies, like most retreats in Jamaica, were hosted at resorts and guest houses— not communities where Jamaicans themselves live. The companies seem to have been attracted to Jamaica more by the fact that plant-based molecules are legal in Jamaica, rather than any interest in Jamaican culture. Facilitators are typically flown in from overseas, while local staff are usually completely ignorant about psychedelic medicines and experiences.
People who attended the retreats we helped facilitate seemed to be getting immense awareness and healing, both about themselves and the medicine. However, sustainable integration of these lessons into their daily lives seemed to be an ongoing challenge. We began to reason amongst ourselves at RIV, and with our friends and supporters, to see if we could prepare a different way. Our reasonings were guided both by traditional Rastafari principles, and our own understanding of the changing world we live in.
Guided By One Love
One Love is one of the most widely recognized Rastafari principles. It is an action statement that recognizes the impact of the colonial and neo-colonial mindset on the planet, and the exploration and implementation of the necessary steps to repair that impact. One Love is the call for the ending of exploitation of the Earth Resources and our atmosphere for personal gain. One Love is the recognition that humans are not rulers of the Earth but simply a part of the Earth. One Love encompasses all the reparative steps we must take so that humans and all entities can live together in harmony.
Healing of the Nation is another key concept. It derives from Rastafari relationship with ganja. The spiritual, clinical and economical immersion with the plant created a universal, instructive responsibility for the declaration. Healing of the Nation is a mitigating stance against the narrative of prohibition propaganda that describes the plant as a dangerous drug with no medical or environmental benefit.
Governments of the world were deliberate in their efforts to rid our memories of Self, in relation to Mother Earth and the Universe. Their attack on Visionary plants all over the globe assisted their efforts to impose conformity and obedience over creativity and self-determination.
The personal collective in search of the self, the herb smoking journey lived by Rastafari, exposed the impact of the human mind control governance systems. Mental and biological disease, environmental crisis; the violation of rights to spiritual, social and economic sovereignty; can all be restored if the mind opens beyond the default mode of human regulated society. Ganja can restore humaneness creating a balance with nature and that is why Rastafari calls it the Healing Of The Nation.
Covid exposed the fragile nature of globalization and manufactured reality. The ships and planes that are the foundation of the man-made reality became vectors of infection, weapons of mass destruction. The disconnect from the Earth and natural existence made it evident that for Humanity to survive there has to be a deeper relationship with the natural world.
Indigenous people are in direct contact with this information as a way of life beyond cloud storage. It’s a lived reality, coexisting with Mother Earth. Data shows that 80% of all pharmaceutical products that were identified by indigenous communities are still being used for the same purposes these communities have used them for for generations.
The ability to work with nature, to identify natural disasters; the ability to know the foods, herbs and natural resources that exist within the Plant World; and the knowledge to connect us to spiritual technologies that can expand the self into the universe makes indigenous people and their cultures essential for the existence and preservation of human kind.
The Rastafari Psychedelic Experience
The Psychedelic Experience is a limitless memory bank that can go beyond time, that can inform and connect us to the harmonious activities needed for our Evolution to the Eternal now. It is only through guidance of Mother Earth that human beings who are in touch with these memories could have created the unique blends of roots, bark, leaves, fungi (and in some cases animals) that empower our connection to the universal reality of One Love. We must interact with these teachers in an accountable, respectful and reverent way.
The Psychedelic Community is like Rastafari, an ordaining cure from the plant to humans for self healing. Awareness, recognition and reciprocal structures are all foundation principles in the teachings of the plant; the Psychedelic Community is the most aware group of the Oneness of existence. The responsibility, accountability and integrity that comes with this awareness mandates us to an unwavering Stand; to find a way for restoring the value and protection and recognition of the Legacy and Indigenous culture that was disregarded by Colonial philosophy.
After Covid began to ease and our reasonings about a different kind of retreat became more solid, RIV began to invite a limited number of visitors to ceremonies of Celebration and expansion at the Village. Lessons were learned in this process, and incorporated into our approach. Most recently, RIV has built guest cabins that enable us to host multiple-day retreats on-site at the Village. We call them Life Is A Ceremony.
LIfe Is A Ceremony is the recognition of the coexisting state of reverence that preserves the universe. Confirming that magic is real. Recognizing that every interaction, every moment is an opportunity to celebrate and give thanks for life.
The mandate of RIV is to build relationships with the Psychedelic consciousness in all areas of functioning; creating the set and setting for people who want to adopt the teachings of the plants as a way of life; who each bring their own gift, to harmonize with Life Is A Ceremony as a portal for Collective Evolution. RIV does not seek to re-integrate our guests to the System that has wounded us all; we seek instead to inspire and empower our visitors to be agents of positive change.
Ceremonies come with a lot of preparation; abstaining from the things of the processed world; be it food, consciousness or irresponsible activities. Ceremonies require fasting, self-care, intentional thoughts, interaction with nature, mending relationships with fellow humans, and focusing on breath. We recommend a self-directed pre-integration process before attending ceremony. This means seeking peace with yourself, seeking peace with your neighbors, seeking peace with your family, and connecting to Nature. These preparation requirements should also be our way of life and that is what Life Is A Ceremony envisions.
All people can benefit from plant medicine ceremonies. However those who are already on the path and evolving, those with some previous psychedelic experience, those who want to tap into the conscious magic of existence, people who revere life and nature, people who want to identify and explore their gift, people who want to break the systemic mental disorder of conformity, those who are open-minded to the Divinity and directives of plant Consciousness and willing to expand through its teachings, will get the most out of ceremony.
It is my honest opinion that every human being on the planet at least once should take the time out to learn the conversations of plants and the teachings that they provide. RIV recently hosted a ceremony specifically for BIPOC people from the U.S. and we hope to continue to serve this community.
We hope that in a few years we will be able to mitigate the biggest threat to our culture: the lack of land ownership. RIV currently sits on leased land; we hope one day soon to be able to purchase it, to ensure the sustainability of our community and our culture.
In 1963, the Jamaican government ordered its security forces and the general population of Jamaica to turn in members of the community of Rastafari dead or alive. From that day we have been faced with Extinction. Still we gave Jamaica a voice of morality in the global arena with reggae music. Rastafari played a significant role in expanding reggae from a genre of music to a tool for human connection. Even though the Elders of Rastafari have always distrusted the entertainment industry; we nurtured and mentored Rastafari poets such as Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and Bunny Wailer; transforming a musical style into one of the most rapidly growing Global spiritual movements with a Timeless vibration.
Be it the heartbeat sound rooted in the ritual music of Rastafari harps and chants; or the image, color and message of One Love, it was all divinely designed as a tool for the inner souls of humanity to speak to the inner souls of humanity. From the Berlin Wall, to apartheid in South Africa, to Black Lives Matter, to cannabis legalization, reggae music addresses these events, knowing that Injustice anywhere on the planet is a threat to Justice everywhere on the planet. This Awakening of the human conscience has inspired millions of individuals to make pilgrimages from all over the world to festivals in Jamaica. This has transformed the tourism industry from a seasonal business to a year-round source of income generation and one of the biggest contributors of foreign exchange and GDP growth.
All of these threads that make up the fabric of Rastafari livity are reflected in RIV’s relationship with psychedelics: our proudly Afrocentric cultural stance; an unwavering commitment to social justice everywhere; a foundational principle that full personal development is inextricably linked to systemic change; an understanding of these medicines as sacraments that deserve and demand reverence and respect, and unbounded joy and celebration for the sacred mission we have all embarked upon together.
Every human being, born and yet to be born has a role to play in that mission. At RIV we hope to welcome, to reason and to celebrate with all who feel called to that mission.
See you in Jamaica! One Love!
Featured image: Participants standing in the river during Life is a Ceremony. Photo Credit: Carey Bradshaw.