Acid Church: Using tarot as a container for therapeutic psychedelic exploration


Kori and I pile into our beat-up toyota pick up, affectionately nick-named ‘the butch truck’, and drive up a bumpy logging road until the trees reach too densely over the gravel path for us to continue. We pass a small, fierce mountain river by driving over a moss covered wood bridge . I wander into the forest to string up a green tarp above the truck box, which is equipped with a futon mattress. This structure is our shelter from the literal storm – it passes as we spend the night in pitch darkness, briefly interrupted by brilliant bolts of lightning. This is where we host acid church – our regular co-captained journeys to the depths of murkiest corners of our spirits.

This is where we hold hands and walk together through the swamp.

I don’t know about you, but my news feed is regularly peppered with articles about the growing realm of psychedelic research. This media even comes from places like the New Yorker and CBC. The stories talk about how entheogenic (heart opening) and psychedelic drugs like mushrooms, ayahuasca, acid and MDMA are being used in clinical trials where researchers are finding tremendous results. The drugs are proving to be helpful in treatment of PTSD, smoking cessation, drug addiction and severe anxiety. Often the experiences provide deep healing for a wide variety of traumas. But here’s the thing that gets me every time I read about these studies.

I don’t want to take drugs and talk about my feelings with a doctor or a psychologist.

Those settings just don’t feel right for me. I totally understand why research happening in this way is important. It’s smart for many reasons, including but not limited to legitimacy building and pushing back against violent and archaic laws, but the rub for me is this: I don’t want to take part in these kinds of studies and I don’t actually know how to, even if I wanted to. So where does that leave me, and many many other people, who want to access this kind of healing, but don’t want the highly regulated container of a study in a clinical setting?


And this my friends, brings me to the concept of acid church.

It used to happen every sunday, lately it’s been a bit more haphazard, but the point is that on a regular basis Kori and I will share a dose of LSD (or some other substance we feel like exploring) with the specific intended purpose of holding space for each other to step into the swamp.

I was first introduced to the concept of the swamp by a theatre-of-the-oppressed-inspired group called SWAMP in Vancouver (unceded coast salish territories). The swamp is that dark place we all carry in the pit of our guts. The swamp is built of insecurities, grief, broken hearts, fear about the state of the world, swallowed oppressive narratives. Really anything we’d rather turn away from, but ultimately need to explore in order to heal. All of these feelings are challenging to step into. They feel swampy. Like they could swallow you whole if you let them. And as much as we’d rather not wander through the swamp, this is the place where the most profound healing can and does happen.

We must step into the swamp and touch all the noxious beings that live there with gentleness and compassion, in order to heal our broken spirits.

There are many containers that hold space for this type of vulnerable exploration. Some succeed better than others. What I am here to offer is how tarot can be an exceptionally valuable container for psychedelic exploration.

Often we liken using psychedelics to getting “shot out of a cannon”. Having a map is useful because it means that that propulsion, the swift and often erratic energy that can come from feeding your brain a neuron stimulating substance, can actually be directed towards the areas of your heart and mind you seek to explore.


The way we make a map is this: we write down all the things we might want to talk about, in a circle around a piece of paper, and then we pull a card for each of us, for each thing we want to touch on. Some of the things we’ve written on the maps include: daddy issues, privilege guilt, intention setting, letting go of toxic exes, blocks in our creative practice and grief.

We talk a lot about grief.

The tarot map becomes a touchstone – literally and emotionally. We can wander through the forest with one topic in mind and then come back to the map when we want to ground or explore a new idea.
The cards help us utilize archetypes as doorways to explore particularly challenging topics.

Let’s take daddy issues as an example. It’s easy, when someone has hurt you repeatedly – especially when that person is deeply wrapped up in your DNA – to demonize that person. To see them in a shallow or one sided way. And part of what psychedelics can help us do is look at things from someone else’s perspective. Even someone we normally would never be able to do this for. We can start to see things from another person’s perspective and soften our hearts to the pain they are also carrying.

Tarot is useful for exploring the swamp because the provocative images remind us of universal concepts of spiritual wellness or challenges. they work similarly to the way psychedelics function: as an antidote to isolation.

For example, if I pull a 5 of swords when thinking about my dad, this card will encourage me to think about the pain that I carry, but also the pain my dad carries. It allows me to contextualize the pain that he has passed on to me as belonging to generations of ancestors. In this way I can see that we share the same pain and I am able to gain greater empathy for both of us.

And this helps me heal.

The cards act as a doorway into a way of thinking about the issues we’re dealing with, in relevant and evocative ways. They also allow us to see how our struggles connect us to other people, rather than pull us apart. And, in my opinion, the cards energetically provide a container. They are an answer to a prayer for safe keeping. They provide holding that makes it safe for me, or Kori – or anyone else who is open to this type of exploration – to fall apart fully.

Because we can trust the container to hold all the pieces, it enables us to melt away into star dust. if only for a moment.

As a tarot card reader, I find this process endlessly valuable. Not only in terms of the way the container holds me, but also because using psychedelics in combination with the cards gives me a unique and creative perspective on what the cards offer me. Psychedelics allow me to step out of my narrow perspective of the card, which can often be stale or overly personalized, and into a broader perspective about what the archetype of each card has to offer.

Pairing psychedelics with tarot allows me to explore the swamp more bravely and it has helped me be a better tarot card reader.

Psychedelics help open to me up to the medicine each card has to offer. and let me tell you – the medicine is tremendous.

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  1. hejyork says:

    This chimes so much with what I’m currently trying to figure out. Having finished therapy (only being allowed a certain number of sessions regardless) I have lost my container for my feelings and have been gradually building higher and wider walls so now I can’t even see my emotions. Whilst psychedelics aren’t for me, I do think tarot could be. for me, leaving the therapy room meant leaving behind the feelings and such which had come out that session. the act of going out the door closed the container as it were. I’m thinking putting away tarot cards might do a similar thing… anyway, the point of this rabble was thanks for the post and interesting concept to think about!

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