Yaya Erin Rivera Merriman by Jamie Street @jamiestreetphoto

Yaya Erin Rivera Merriman
Cosmic Sister Emerging Voices Award
Psilocybin Summit

Yaya Erin Rivera Merriman (@activeculturefamily) is a folk medicine practitioner, artist, and mother of primarily Taino and Irish descent who specializes in sacred plant medicines for reweaving wholeness. Raised on a multi-generational Christmas tree farm in rural Connecticut, she learned the importance of community stewardship and being in right relationship with the natural world.

Yaya holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Pratt Institute (@prattinstitute) and has taught art to Brooklyn teens, volunteered as an interfaith chaplain in a maximum-security NYC prison, facilitated women’s initiatory journeys, and organized retreats with Indigenous and emerging wisdom keepers since 2007. She has completed a Shamanic Herbalist apprenticeship in the Wise Woman Tradition with Susun S. Weed(@susunsweed), trained as a Zen hospice and prison chaplain through the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care (@newyorkzencenter), studied Shakta, Kaula and Sri Vidya Tantra with lineage holder Laura Amazzone (@laura.amazzone), and is reclaiming her own Indigenous Afro-Caribbean ancestral wisdom traditions under the guidance of elders Irka Mateo (@irkamateo), Arzu Mountain Spirit(@arzumountain) and Carmen Vicente (@carmenvicenteoficial).

She lives at Rio Cosmico, a private homestead, seasonal ceremonial micro village, and Library of Earth Magic in Kumeyaay territory in Southern California, where she provides multidimensional support to non-conforming wisdom keepers “on the green road” to responsible, creative, liberated embodiment.

Does being female in a male-dominated world factor into your personal and/or professional work? If so, how?

Yes, very much. Although I began my formal teaching career in an all-gender public high school, the majority of my professional experience has unfolded within women’s-only medicine spaces. In these spaces, we are able to catch our breath and express aspects of who we are that we are often told we must keep hidden to survive and be loved. We come to see that our individual challenges are not ours at all, but the outcome of intentional subjugation of women and nature under patriarchy. We learn how much fear there is of the nurturing, creative, evolutionary principle in the universe and the many ways that this fear can manifest. We comprehend how much structure has been created to attempt to harness and contain us and what that structure does to our bodies, our psyches, our sense of identity, our self-esteem, and our planet. From this place, we remember our intrinsic value and activate the necessary confidence and creativity to challenge and dismantle these structures that do not serve life, wherever they show up in our realm, and in so doing become skillful empowered navigators of these times we find ourselves in.

What sacred medicines do you work with personally?

At this time, I mostly work with Water (one of our most sacred and powerful healing medicines on this planet), Psilocybin and Cacao, but Ayahuasca, Wachuma, Kava, Cannabis, Kambo, and work with medicinal Goddess mantras have all been instrumental in guiding me through major mental, emotional, and physical health challenges.

Why are women's voices important, especially in the sacred psychedelic medicine world?

It seems to me that the current conversation here in North America about teacher plants and entheogens has grown out of the scientific research community. The issue with this is that the scientific tradition only acknowledges that which is replicable and tends to dismiss myth and story and miss the ineffable and difficult to quantify. Healing and magic and earth medicine emerge from the spaces in between—the unquantifiable, the void—and invite us to expand beyond our limited sense of self that is causing us to be unwell. I practice in the Wise Woman Tradition, the oldest tradition of healing on the planet (known, of course, by many other names in many different cultures.) It is the traditional knowledge shared by all women and mothers that kept our species alive long before science or medicine as we currently know them. On this path, we say, “a wise woman insists on the uniqueness of each situation.” And so, women’s voices are important not just because we are at the table, we do make up roughly 50 percent of the population, and we make the majority of the babies here on this planet, so to ignore our perspective would be a dangerous departure from reality. Women’s experiences and expertise regarding teacher plants are important also because they express and reveal the existence and persistence of a completely different paradigm, one that acknowledges that which is not even remotely replicable but nevertheless exists as a possibility for our personal and planetary healing and evolution.

Can you share a personal medicine healing experience?

I was a byproduct of the DARE program in the early ’90s. For those unfamiliar, it was a program brought into public schools that was meant to prevent children from experimenting with drugs. In it, I absorbed the value that plants are drugs, and drugs are bad. I developed a chronic health condition in my teens that included severe food allergies and daily migraine headaches for 10 years straight. This prevented me from forming healthy relationships with others and had me spending most of my free time and money visiting different doctors in search of a diagnosis and treatment. Desperate, I accepted a prescription for antidepressants after having been told again and again that my physical symptoms were all in my head. I really did not want to go down this road, and it seems the universe took mercy on me, heard my prayer, and brought a synchronistic opportunity to drink ayahuasca with my older sister, who was living in San Francisco and sitting in circles organized by her friend, who was in school to become a psychologist and writing his doctoral thesis on Shipibo shamanism. I had never felt drawn to ayahuasca, but reasoned, why would I try a prescription chemical made in a lab before trying something natural that grows out of the earth? I feel so blessed that my biological sister is the person that she is (someone not afraid to pressure me into taking my healing seriously!) and also to have been spared the nightmare of experimenting with different formulations and doses of prescription antidepressants.

In the ceremony, I experienced expanding outside of my body to a place where all paradoxes, binaries, and dualities exist harmoniously in a vibrant and variety-filled field of bliss and belonging, a total trust in the whole process of forgetting and remembering permeating all things. My body then became a vessel for a vast river of cosmic spider-like doctors who possessed my hands and proceeded to do body work on me for about six hours straight, adjusting by muscles, tendons, joints, and bones, working inside my ears and mouth, seemingly clearing out every cell of my body of dense and obstructed energy. My body was vibrating for weeks afterwards, like an ultrasonic cleaner, flushing out so many imprints of acute pain, sadness, and dis-ease. One night in ayahuasca ceremony gave me a powerful sense of validation of my deepest values and beliefs, brought me home to myself and my sense of purpose. After this ceremony, other therapeutic modalities became more effective, and I became more focused on deepening my understanding of plants as a pathway to accessing other realms of consciousness where clarity, guidance, and healing are more readily available, and on helping to make safe and sacred plant medicine-assisted healing experiences more readily available to folks experiencing acute mental, physical, and emotional suffering who are not able to find relief and resolution within the Western medical paradigm.

Is human beings’ relationship with Earth important to you?

Yes. We no longer enjoy a shared identity as humans that we are here as stewards and caretakers of a sacred living being, so we get to choose many times a day whether to behave as a steward, a tourist, an under-contributor, or an outright parasite.

Is there anything you would like to share with the Cosmic Sisterhood?

I’m so happy that women who share a passionate understanding that protecting and working with these plants is an important part of who we are coming together. A lot of potential can come from being in a supportive community with others who are serving the same forces of nature, learning the same lessons, being transformed, healed, and empowered through walking the medicine path in all the different ways that are available to do that in these times…so, yes! Thank you for being here.

Is heritage/ancestry important to your medicine work?

Yes. It is the plants that first reached out to me and called me home to South American red road traditions that are so interwoven with my Taino (indigenous Afro-Caribbean) ancestry. I believe we are often called strongest to work with plants that our ancestors worked with, because through the plants we can access that space of time-outside-of-time, where ancestral communications flow freely. In this space, we get to commune, show them what all their hard work was for, request support, and celebrate the gift that is awareness of the continuity of our consciousness across time.

I met my partner in an ancestral medicine dance. The whole intention of the dance is not around healing or receiving at all, but around offering and honoring our ancestors. There were so many moments of being dissolved into a collective embodied expression of gratitude for the sacrifices of my ancestors that I caught myself thinking this was one of the best moments of my entire life and all the pain and suffering was worth it because it turned me into someone who gets to be here doing this right now. While preparing for the dance, another attendee asked the dance chief if there would be plant medicine, and if so, what kind. She answered, “Es un secreto!” This is the beauty of exploring within an intact tradition led by an elder you have a genetic connection to and have had the opportunity to observe in community for a long time and trust deeply. A level of surrender to the experience can become possible that we cannot fathom and, furthermore, would probably not be safe (or appropriate) outside of a certain cultural context—to step into a container having no idea if we would be drinking plant medicine at all, let alone what kind!



The Comic Sister Emerging Voices Award (CS EVA) supports individuals who demonstrate outstanding potential in the field of psychedelics and cannabis to strengthen their visibility in the community. Special thanks to Mt. Tam Psychedelic Integration (@tamintegration) for donating an all-access pass to the Psilocybin Summit (@psilocybinsummit) to each CS EVA winner.

Opinions expressed by honorees are their own.

#cosmicsister #psychedelicfeminism #yayaerinriveramerriman #zoehelene #psilocybinsummit#healing #empowerment #selfliberation #womensupportingwomen #shamanism #herbalist #folkmedicine #taino #irish #water #cacao #ayahuasca #wachuma #kava #goddess #cannabis #kambo #psychedelicrenaissance #psychedelic


September 2021