Inside one of those anonymous high rises on Wilshire in Westwood, there is a bedroom in which all of the windows have been darkened and the walls covered in padding. The space is low lit and filled with electronics; it's been converted into a recording studio. EDM is blasting from the speakers.
This isn't, however, your run of the mill electronic music. These tracks are laced with icaros, traditional shamanic songs and chants from Peru. This modern electronic music is part of a larger effort to bring traditional shamanic practices to the masses. These tracks feature the apartment's inhabitant, 35-year-old Hamilton Souther, either as singer, or co-producer. Souther is not your standard DJ/producer. In his perfectly pressed button down and close cropped haircut, he looks like an investment banker.
In fact, he is a "master shaman" who, in addition to his musical pursuits, has developed what he calls 420 Ceremony and the 420 Shamanism Movement. He is the co-developor of something called Blue Morpho Cannabis Shamanism. And yes, this is all related to weed.
This story starts the year after Souther graduated from college. He was training to be a professional golfer when he had a "spontaneous spiritual awakening." He began, he says, seeing and communicating with spirits. "I definitely knew something weird was happening."
Still fully functional in the everyday world and looking for explanation, Souther eschewed western psychology, knowing that most any therapist would tell him he was delusional. He had never been a spiritual person before.
In 2001, the voices guided him all the way to Peru, where a seemingly synchronistic series of events led him deep into the Peruvian jungle. Here, he posted up with a group of shamans doing work with the Amazon-derived plant medicine ayahuasca. (This community of elders told him they had visions of his arrival.) Souther stayed in the jungle for 12 years.
During this time, and through periods of serious illness and a near death experience, Souther was transformed from would-be pro golfer to full fledged ayahuascero, a person who has gone through the extensive training to lead ayahuasca ceremonies. He subsequently co-founded Blue Morpho Tours, a destination ayahuasca center in Iquitos, Peru.
Souther has since returned to the states to share his own shamanistic projects with the world.
But wait, what are we talking about, exactly?
Cannabis shamanism, Souther says, utilizes pot as the medicinal plant, rather than, say, ayahuasca or peyote. Shamanic practices are designed to create altered states of consciousness for the purpose of journeying, self exploration and healing, and Souther notes that "cannabis creates a greater state of receptivity to the intention of the ceremony."
These ceremonies incorporate weed instead of other sacred plants since, basically, pot and its effects are more familiar and less freaky to westerners. "I think other medicinal sacred plants are scary," Souther says, "and the stories around them are scary."
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With his straight-laced attire and matter of fact way of speaking, Souther is not your typical airy-fairey new age type person. He seems sincere, and through his work says he aims to alleviate the malaise and anxiety of a modern world that does a lot to shape the mind but little to satisfy the heart. His 420 ceremonies are designed to help people remember their core essence of love and that they are, in fact, spiritual entities.
420 ceremonies last two to three hours. They begin with the setting of intentions, and then various icaros are sung by Souther to communicate with spirits and guide the ceremony. Pot is consumed at the beginning - or throughout - the ceremony.
But, participants don't even have to get high. In fact, smoking is optional. "It's easy to not stay connected to the ceremony," Souther says, "so the notion of the cannabis is to allow someone to have greater receptivity, but it's not vital."
Intrigued? You can get involved.
On April 20th, Souther will live stream a ceremony, for free, via his website While you can get high first if you like, Souther says the sound of the icaros will hold the ceremony together and unite people all over the world. (The actual ceremony will take place in Colorado, where marijuana is legal. Online streaming is restricted to those 21 and older.)
Subsequent online ceremonies will happen on the 20th of every month, as part of the 420 Shamanism Movement. The intention, of course, is to "induce the evolution of consciousness in the direction of love, and have a global impact." The goal is the same for Souther's musical initiatives, which in addition to the EDM, include rock and classical projects.
Back in the padded room, a song called "Journey of Consciousness" is turned up, with Souther's deep voice embedded in the trance-style beats. Plans for an album and a music festival are underway. While there is little scientific proof that any of this stuff works, the music is solid and the intention behind the ceremonies seems sincere. Realistically, it's all a lot safer than traditional rave drugs.
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