Bushy ringlets drawn back in a ponytail, socked feet tucked behind him as he kneels, a young man bends gingerly above a cloth altar placed on his Brooklyn living room floor. He grasps a jug of brown, vinegary liquid drawn from the belly of the Amazon. Warm lamplight bathes him as he tips the bottle, and ayahuasca—a hallucinogenic tribal potion gleaned from jungle vines—drips into a teacup inscribed with Hebrew letters.
“The word L’chaim means ‘to life,’ and that’s a very appropriate message for an ayahuasca ceremony,” the ponytailed man, who goes by the name Turey Tekina, tells me of the Hebrew salutation. The cup was inherited from his Orthodox Jewish family—and used by his father, who died 20 years ago last month.
Tekina denounced Judaism immediately following his father’s death, but he uses this relic each time he leads the indigenous Quechuan ceremony in an unlikely location—a cozy, tidy apartment (where all shoes must be removed at the door) with wooden floors, white walls, and burgundy drapes, tucked between the factories of Bushwick, a Brooklyn neighborhood best known for artist studios and hipster bars.
Tekina, a former Orthodox Jew, uses a cup with the Hebrew word “L’chaim,” “to life,” which was passed down from his family. Photo: Meredith Hoffman
Tekina is an established ayahuasquero—a shaman-like figure who serves ayahuasca in ceremonies filled with music, chants, and incense. He began holding the rituals overnight in his apartment three years ago, after the drink—which sparks hours of hallucinations, vomiting, and self-realizations—delivered him spiritual fulfillment in ways Judaism never could.
“Growing up I always heard talk about sacredness and holiness, but I never felt it,” Tekina, now 33, tells me. “But in my first ayahuasca ceremony, I had a direct interaction with sacredness. I was enveloped in an energetic embrace of pure love.” We’re sitting cross-legged and encircled by pillows, a xylophone, a piano, a ceiling-high shelf of New Age books, and carved wood sticks Tekina whittles as a hobby.