Twelve years and many journeys ago, during an ayahuasca ceremony in the Peruvian Amazon, Zoe Helene was challenged by a powerful, ancient goddess archetype to step up and do something with the privilege of having grown up in a place where she felt safe, with parents who encouraged her to follow her natural creative talents.
Helene saw during this vision that she had turned inward and given up on her artistic dreams after being sexually harassed by a graduate school professor. “We know now, with the #metoo movement, that what I survived happens to most females in this male-dominated world,” Helene says. “It harms us into silence, which is a type of censoring. Finding and freeing our voice is something a lot of women deal with.”
Blown away by the power of her own transformation, Helene went home to Amherst, Massachusetts, and founded Cosmic Sister, an environmental feminist collective that advocates for women, wilderness, and wildlife and for humans’ natural right to work with “sacred” plants and fungi such as ayahuasca, peyote, iboga, San Pedro cactus, psilocybin mushrooms, and cannabis, which she calls “nature’s evolutionary allies,” in a safe, legal set and setting.
A few years after she founded Cosmic Sister, Helene—who has worked in the arts, high tech, and the natural products industry—came up with the term Psychedelic Feminism as a way to describe the feminism that embraces psychedelic plants as evolutionary allies for women’s healing and empowerment and to popularize Cosmic Sister’s core educational advocacy work.
A tireless and passionate environmental advocate for decades, Helene is convinced that Psychedelic Feminism is the key to saving the planet from patriarchal malware fouling up the matrix. “The entire idea of Psychedelic Feminism, in a nutshell, is that we humans, as a species, have survived male-domination for thousands of years and that system has brought us to where we are today—destroying our own home and taking everything else down with us,” she says. “Cannabis and other plant medicines such as ayahuasca, peyote, iboga, and psilocybin may help save us from ourselves.”
Helene believes it’s high time women took center stage, and psychedelics can help make that happen by bringing them inspiration, clarity, and perspective, as well as liberation from old wounds, self-sabotaging thoughts and thought patterns, and disempowering social programming. “In the medicine space, women can explore conditioning and wounds that stunt and silence,” she says. “We can make sense of them, learn to live with them differently, or purge them altogether.”
Psychedelic feminism has nothing to do with promoting victim consciousness, Helene adds. “We’re about moving forward. Facing wounds and demons resulting from having been victimized is an essential step towards healing.
Finding Our Voice and Power
Helene has worked with dozens of women in pre-psychedelic preparation, immersive journeying, and post-psychedelic integration. She and her husband, ethnobotanist Chris Kilham, who wrote The Ayahuasca Test Pilots Handbook, have been taking groups of pasajeros (journeyers) to experience ayahuasca with Indigenous healers in safe retreat centers in the Peruvian Amazon for more than a decade. In 2013, she launched the merit-based Cosmic Sister Plant Spirit grant, which provides support for women to experience ayahuasca ceremony in the Peruvian Amazon, where ayahuasca is legal. She’s seen la medicina work magic on women whose superpowers had been blocked by trauma or grief, often the result of a world that is inherently harsh to women.
“So many cases of PTSD from sexual misconduct and assault, ancestral trauma, and abusive relationships, so much anxiety and depression, repressed rage, low self-esteem,” Helene says. “So many women living with debilitating eating disorders and body image dysmorphia, with addictions, with obsessive compulsive disorders. So much strength and so much needless suffering. Why?”
Ayahuasca, a powerful blend of two plants native to the Amazon, is an intense psychedelic that can “help us access and communicate with our subconscious selves—our pysche—the wilderness within” through visions, which Helene describes as “life-enhancing messages that show up in abstract, symbolic, archetypal, and universal poetic languages.”
Dawn Musil, a scientist and pollinator advocate who went to Temple of the Way of Light in Peru with Helene last March, says ayahuasca taught her to face fear, guilt, her rapist, family pain, and the loss of a loved one—all things she thought would kill her but actually taught her how strong she was. Raised in a family that valued women less than men and taught females to keep quiet, Musil came to a deep understanding while she was in the medicine space that her voice had as much value as men’s.
“Mama Ayahuasca taught me that my power and strength as a female reflects the feminine power of ayahuasca as a plant spirit and that through plant spirit, we will find our voice and power as females to lead the future of gender equality and human rights,” says Musil, who came home from Peru determined to work with plant spirit medicine. “The medicine taught me who I can be and to know that my voice has as much value as the voices of men in the plant medicine space.”
Sabrina Pilet-Jones, an urban gardener who also traveled to Temple with Cosmic Sister last March, had a similar experience of tapping into the essence of all that she could be, empowered by the lineage of her ancestors—an entirely new perception of herself. “Ayahuasca is not a magical pill. It’s hard, deep, transformative shamanic work that forces you into the deepest, darkest parts of yourself to find the unique light we all hold,” Pilet-Jones says. “I left with a strong desire to expand my connection with plants and to continue my research into indigenous plant remedies and now psychedelic plants for healing.”
Coexisting in Exquisite Diversity
The Cosmic Sister Plant Spirit grant is part of an interconnected quartet of merit-based grants that support women’s voices in psychedelics and cannabis. Psychedelic Feminism grants make it possible for women from diverse backgrounds to be heard through writing, photography, and speaking engagements and media placements. Cosmic Sister will play a key role in the upcoming Spirit Plant Medicine Conference (SPMC) in Vancouver, BC, this year, sponsoring all seven of the female speakers, including Helene.
The Cosmic Sister Women of the Psychedelic Renaissance and Cosmic Sisters of Cannabis grants help get widespread media placement for women’s stories in support of cannabis liberation and responsible psychedelic use. Launched just last month in partnership with the Sleeping Octopus Assembly on Psychedelics (SOAP) conference in Pittsburgh and Vancouver’s SPMC the first week of November, the new Emerging Voices Award supports talented newcomers who demonstrate potential in the field of psychedelics by strengthening their visibility and gifting them tickets to important conferences.
One of Helene’s goals with the grants is to help more minority women achieve name and face recognition in the psychedelic community because, she says, “the psychedelic scene is white, cis-gendered, and male-heavy—and our psychedelic culture is supposed to be leading in a more enlightened way.”
Helene’s also quick to point out that Psychedelic Feminism is about promoting gender balance, and she doesn’t believe matriarchy would be any better than the patriarchy we’ve had for thousands of years because “power over” naturally corrupts. Blaming men for everything is sexist, Helene says, and it’s important for the movement to welcome male allies who are interested in growing when it comes to their own archaic gender programming.
“Matriarchy would not be balanced, and it would not be healthy,” Helene says. “It’s all about working together and coexisting in exquisite diversity.”