SANTA FE, N.M. — The Journal’s two articles and same-day editorial (March 20-26) regarding the controversy between neighbors and the proposed UDV (Uniao do Vegetal, which translates as “union of the plants”) templo in Arroyo Hondo perpetuates some misconceptions.
The UDV is not a “Christian-based church” but, according to a former member, is a religion “shrouded in mystery” and derived from a nativist religious movement in Brazil whose core beliefs are a “mixture of Christianity, Freemasonry, Kardecism/Spiritism, and tiny sprinkles of African-based religions like Umbanda and Candomble.” It incorporates “lots of stories from other religions changed/tweaked to fit this religion” like “the story of Theseus and the Minotaur, the beheading of John the Baptist,” and they “believe King Solomon invented ayahuasca,” the sacramental hallucinogenic tea that is the central part of the religion and the reason for the existence of the UDV, without which the UDV cannot exist.
Unlike Christian churches, in the UDV there are no crosses, no Christian imagery, no Bible or religious books, and the central figure is Master Gabriel (Mestre Jose Gabriel), an illiterate Brazilian rubber-tapper who apparently discovered how to make ayahuasca and started the movement in 1961. He died in 1971 and is venerated like Jesus would be in a Christian church.
The Journal editorial implies that Arroyo Hondo residents have been, and are still, fighting against the building of a Christian church, which is not accurate.
Unlike Christian churches, the UDV is closed to outsiders and one has be invited by a current member to attend a ceremony. Apparently, none of the members of the Santa Fe UDV currently lives in Arroyo Hondo, although the local founder, Jeffrey Bronfman, owns a home adjacent to the site (he donated the small plot of land) where the templo is to be built.
The religion is quite hierarchical and only men can ascend to become masters. Ceremonies include readings of church documents containing the rules of the religion, chants (chamadas) and music, all under the influence of ayahuasca, a psychedelic brew/tea that “makes you trip, very hard” and is not “a joy ride.”
Purging (vomiting and diarrhea) are among the side effects of ingesting the tea, and one of the contentions of the Arroyo Hondo neighbors and those who initially opposed the building of the UDV church in Arroyo Hondo is that the hallucinogens (DMT and other chemicals) in vomitus and diarrhea containing ayahuasca would eventually enter and contaminate the groundwater and local aquifer.
Before the settlement with the county, it was stated that Bronfman had set aside several million dollars to take on the county and win his case, and that he could outspend the county. And, of course, Bronfman and the UDV did win after all.
The issue of hallucinogenically impaired UDV members leaving completed services after midnight and until 3 a.m. or 4 a.m., and driving out on narrow, sometimes icy, and poorly lit roads on their way back to homes in Santa Fe, Albuquerque, other parts of New Mexico, and even Colorado and Texas has not been fully addressed as yet. DMT, when smoked or injected, is illegal but within the context of a ritual tea is apparently legal, and the storage and disposal of DMT-containing ayahuasca is under the jurisdiction of the DEA.
I believe that the Arroyo Hondo homeowners who were/are opposed to the UDV locating its templo in Arroyo Hondo have had their good names impugned by the Journal articles and editorial. To my knowledge, none of these people is anti-UDV (and I am certainly not) but were/are all along against locating the organization’s church on a small piece of land in a residential neighborhood where none of the members live, when all along they have had 40 acres or so on a remote section (1 square mile) of land in/near Glorieta where they could isolate themselves, and protect their members (“sleep off the effects of the tea”) and the public from any potential problems associated with use of their sacramental hallucinogenic tea.
Christopher Fletcher, M.D., is an Arroyo Hondo homeowner.