Massachusetts Woman Provides Grants to Try Psychedelic Plant Ayahuasca
Zoe Helene’s grant program does not award the typical scholarship.
Through her organization Cosmic Sister, Helene, a Massachusetts-based artist and activist who’s married to medicine hunter Chris Kilham, pays for women to travel to the Peruvian Amazon to discover the rumored healing powers of a psychedelic drink called ayahuasca. So far, the organization has awarded four Cosmic Sister Plant Spirit Grants, three of which went to Massachusetts women.
The grants, Helene explains, have been given to women between the ages of 24 and 63 who embody Cosmic Sister’s ideals of creativity, kindness, and communication.
“After seeing how profoundly ayahuasca can move powerful people along on important journeys, I came up with the idea of supporting women financially,” Helene says. “The first Cosmic Sister Plant Spirit Grant was so exciting! I knew I was onto something that had a future, so I just kept going with it.”
Ayahuasca, a drink derived from an Amazonian jungle vine, is alleged to ease everything from sleep and eating disorders to PTSD and phobias, but it is perhaps best known for its intense psychedelic properties, which takes the consumer on a trip called “journeying” that affects each user in different ways. “I’ve learned that ayahuasca works in levels, a little like peeling an onion,” Helene explains. “People find deep healing, insight, and inspiration through ayahuasca journeying. It is complex and something you really have to experience to understand.”
Helene has experienced ayahuasca firsthand numerous times, and she credits the drink with, among other things, allowing her to acknowledge and act on her deep love of natural life. “The take-home for me was and still is more energy and focus around my work with women, wildlife, and wilderness,” she explains. “I am motivated to contribute more, even if I’m one small person, and to lead if that’s helpful, and to speak up and reach out, even though I tend to be an introvert.”
It’s with that empowerment in mind that Helene began her grant program, and it’s something she says could address a much larger problem: allowing women to express themselves and begin to overtake sexism. “We women need to rise to the occasion. The ayahuasca experience rebirths, inspires, empowers, and ignites us to do that,” she says. “The Cosmic Sister Plant Spirit Grant is just one small way women can encourage and support women to take that journey and shine as they were born to do.”
The grant recipients must travel to Peru for their ceremony because ayahuasca’s legality is dubious in the United States—some religious groups are able to use it in certain capacities because of its status as a “sacred plant,” but it is illegal for the most part. Helene says the location also strengthens the experience. “In Peru, ayahuasca is not only legal, it is also cherished and protected as a cultural patrimony,” she says. “I can’t think of a higher honor that a country could bestow on a tradition of any sort.”
Cosmic Sister may only have funded four women so far, but Helene says she hopes to find a non-profit partner to help fund the scholarships and grow the project for one simple reason: “I want to see more women shine.”