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Sowilo: The Psychedelic Retreat From Hell

A Miami real estate agent turned messianic Bufo facilitator and cult leader provides a window into the shadow side of the psychedelic retreat industry.

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Julia is a British psychotherapist in her 40s who has been exploring and working with psychedelics for eight years. In 2022, she read glowing reviews about a psychedelic retreat center in Mexico called Sowilo. She and her friend, who’s a psychotherapist, signed up for a 17-day Bufo facilitator training course for $5,000.

Sowilo was based at a beautiful farmhouse outside Merida, in Yucatán, Mexico. It was run by a Frenchman named Bruno Cluzel, who calls himself Gabriel, and his wife Aymeline. They lived there with their three children. They offered Bufo (5-MeO-DMT) ceremonies that cost a few hundred dollars and multi-week facilitator training for thousands of dollars. Some people found healing from addictions and other issues, ultimately choosing to stay at the retreat and become employees or followers. 

But Julia and her friend had bad vibes from the start. When they arrived, Gabriel was mid-ceremony. He eyed them strangely and muttered what sounded like incantations, then produced startlingly accurate information about them. “It was weird,” said Julia. “There were all these red flags, yet for some reason, we stayed.”

Sowilo began each day with what Gabriel said was a “low dose” of 5-MeO-DMT, which was not small by any normal metric. Then there would be an even higher dose in the afternoon, or sometimes a magic mushroom or Syrian Rue ceremony. Julia noticed Gabriel was smoking a lot of Bufo, causing him sometimes to fall over. Guests fell over, too, burning themselves with the pipe or banging their heads on the ground. The facilitators offered kambo and Bufo on the same days. One time, Gabriel forcefully grabbed Julia’s head and, without consent, put drops of sananga (eye drops made from a shrub found in Latin America that often elicits a burning sensation) into her eyes. 

“Honestly, it felt like blood was pouring down my face,” Julia said. “He was so rough. There was no permission and it just felt abusive.”

While Julia had previously had positive psychedelic experiences, her experiences were hellish at Solwilo

“With every Bufo session, I was catapulted into an utterly terrifying dark place,” she said. “Gabriel said the darkness was in me and my fault. He said I was a witch and needed to give up my black witch ways and that I hid from him in the medicine. He said every session I went into hell, he came and ‘saved’ me to bring me back.”

Gabriel was an odd mixture of a guru with Messianic pretensions and a former Miami real estate salesman with slicked-back hair who often spoke about money and how successful he’d been in his previous job. He told Julia he was a “walk-in spirit” called Gabriel (which is his middle name), and sometimes that he was Lucifer. 

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From the first Bufo session, Julia felt in a state of permanent terror. 

“Every time I almost fell asleep, I felt myself fall into hell,” she said. “Lost souls energetically around me lining up to be released through me, back to the light. At different times during the night, my body jolted as a malevolent spirit entered my body… Gabriel’s remedy was to serve me more Bufo to release them. I felt in a drugged state the whole time. My energy field was blasted open, and I didn’t know what was real or not anymore. I lost myself and I lost my mind.” 

One day they were served Samadhi, or Syrian Rue, seeds. Julia could hear Gabriel whispering to his assistant, “Make sure she drinks it all.”

“After a while, my head felt like a helicopter propeller whirling, round and round, a loud constant noise brought mental agitation that was seriously disturbing and terrifying, and continued through the night. It felt horrific.”

Gabriel lied next to her during the ceremony and said, “You’re so boring, you’re such a victim.” He also tried to get her friend to mock her for being pathetic. She felt like Gabriel was trying to break her spirit. 

“I experienced an overwhelming, all-consuming paranoia of wanting to kill myself,” she said. “I had this tiny bit of rational mind that was still there, which was able to say, ‘Please, can you move these pipes because if you don’t, I’m going to slash my wrist.’ In the garden, a hammock rope was hanging from a tree. I walked to it, compelled to put a loop in it and wrap it around my neck. Thankfully, someone came so I wasn’t left alone.”

Finally, Julia and her friend mustered up the courage to leave the retreat center 10 days early, get to Merida, and find a way back home to the UK.

“I spent six weeks physically recovering after returning home with chronic diarrhea and nausea,” she said. “Mentally, I had no energy or concentration for conversation. I was terrified to be alone and slept with the light on. The night terrors lifted after four weeks. It took over four months to recover and feel whole again.”

Julia was not the only person to endure severe harm during their time at Sowilo. 

“It became obvious he thought he was Jesus”

At first, Sowilo garnered rave, five-star reviews on Retreat Guru. But in 2023, people started posting about their negative experiences on that site and on Reddit. Gabriel was apparently claiming he was Jesus Christ. 

Rebecca went to Sowilo in March 2023 for its 17-day Bufo training.

“Gabriel was abusing the medicine like I’ve never seen,” she said. “I watched him smoke eight to 12 hits of Bufo in a row. He would smoke it, drop the pipe, glass would go everywhere, and he would get up and go to each person, look them in the face, and yell ‘What’s my name?’ Over and over, until you said ‘Jesus Christ,’ then he’d leave you alone.”

Michael signed up for their three-week program for $5,000 in December 2022. 

“Gabriel was doing enough Bufo to kill a horse,” he said. “It became obvious he thought he was Jesus. He genuinely believed it. He would say, ‘Only God can reveal who I am.’ I said, ‘who are you?’ ‘God will reveal it in time’.’  After the first week, I was so high on Bufo and in such a vulnerable state, I thought ‘Maybe this motherfucker really is Jesus.’” 

Michael said that because Gabriel believed he was Jesus, “He was never wrong and his ‘apostles’ agreed with everything he said, no matter how ludicrous. He would insist his dogs lick the negative energy from your mouth after ceremony. In one ceremony, he stood over me and pissed his pants.”

Greg is an English teacher from the Mid-West of the US, who signed up for a $3000

nine-day retreat at Sowilo in March 2023. He saw multiple disturbing scenes at Sowilo.

“In their library was a psychedelic painting of Jesus and he looked just like

Gabriel. I made a joke about him growing out his hair to look more like Jesus.

There was also a statue of the archangel Gabriel holding a sword. They kept

saying, ‘This is our garden of Eden here.’” 

Greg tells me about one evening when Gabriel, Ayme, and their daughter suddenly rushed into his room while he was on mushrooms. “Bruno was crying and said, ‘Oh my son, I have been feeling lonely too.’ And Ayme said, ‘Oh my son you’re so loved.” And she started singing me a lullaby. Even in an altered state I thought, what are you doing? Stop pretending you’re my parents.”

Ayme then said to Greg, “‘Remember that joke you made about Gabriel looking like

Jesus?’ She stared into the distance. ‘It’s him!’”

Greg was becoming more and more uncomfortable. “‘Oh no, no, no, stop with all that,’ I said to Ayme. ‘You’re a teacher, Jesus is a teacher—won’t you give us a chance?’ she said. ‘I need to go home,’ I told Ayme. ‘What even is home?’ she asked. ‘Not here, this is a cult.’ It was this weird telenovela scene. She said to Gabriel, ‘I told him who you are’. And he did this mock protesting: ‘Oh no! Well…the truth will set you free!’ I yelled at them, ‘You’re not who you think you are, and what you’re doing is wrong.’ He said, ‘Do you want more medicine?’ I said no and went to bed.”

That night, Greg texted his friend who accompanied him to Sowilo and said, “We need to leave, this guy thinks he’s Jesus.” They packed, changed their flights, and told Gabriel and Ayme they were healed and were leaving. 

“I got home and I was traumatized,” Greg said. “I took mushrooms months later and was flailing on the couch terrified that I was Jesus. I sought professional counseling after that and it took me six months to recover from the three days at Sowilo.”

Mental Torture and Adverse Events

It wasn’t just Gabriel’s delusions of grandeur that were damaging. He could also be a bully, subjecting guests to mental torture. Summer is a 47-year-old hypnotherapist and shaman with a traumatic childhood. She went to Sowilo in March 2023 for a 17-day practitioner training for just under $5000. When she arrived, Gabriel seemed to take against her. 

“I have had four COVID vaccines. And apparently, vaccines put Gabriel into a state of extreme aggression,” Summer said. “Anytime he smoked Bufo, which was a lot all day long, he would walk around in circles, and if he was near you, and you happened to be vaccinated, he stared at you and started yelling, ‘What’s my name?’ if you didn’t say ‘Jesus,’ he would get more and more aggressive. And then later, his followers would come up and say, ‘Did you get vaccinated? how many times?’ and then Gabriel would start drilling you – ‘Why did you get vaccinated? Why?’”

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One night, Summer took four grams of mushrooms. She went to some dark places from her childhood. 

“While I’m there, Gabriel starts yelling at me about how I’m supposed to see him as Jesus,” Summer said. “Then, he brings over these two chairs and he and his disciple JP sit above me and just start peppering me with information about how he’s Jesus, and we’re all here to serve them and support them as they heal people. The psilocybin eventually wore off to the extent I could tell them to stop yelling at me. Then they wanted to give me four more grams. They were getting ready to shove it down my throat. I thought I’m going to have to physically fight, and I was trying to assess how strong I felt. And then, eventually, I became docile about seeing him as Jesus, so he said, okay, you don’t need any more medicine.”

While Gabriel, his staff, and guests were undergoing these extreme experiences, his three children were wandering around the retreat center, supposedly being home-schooled but, to Greg’s mind, not receiving much in the way of proper education. Michael also felt it was an unsafe environment for children. He went to Sowilo to try and find healing from what he felt was demonic possession, and he could manifest this “demon” in extreme ways while on psychedelic drugs. 

“One time, Gabriel handed me mushroom tea and said, ‘Drink that.’ It was a very high dose; no way you should be giving it to someone outside of the ceremony. I was in his kitchen, having a panic attack, I ran up and said I needed help. He told me to sit down between his children, who were doing some painting at the kitchen table. You have someone who is possessed on a high dose of mushrooms. I said, ‘Bro, I can’t be sitting next to your children.’”

Needless to say, many clients at Sowilo had extremely adverse experiences: psychosis, hell trips, spirit possession, and people running off into the night. I interviewed two people who said they arrived at Sowilo in good health and felt suicidal within days. One of them is Jean, a 36-year-old fitness coach from France. 

Back in 2021, Jean decided to go on the adventure of a lifetime, including a trip to Latin America to try psychedelic ceremonies. He heard about Sowilo and signed up for a Bufo ceremony. 

He arrived at Sowilo and sat in a Bufo ceremony. He said 5-MeO was like no other psychedelic he’d taken. He felt “completely out of this world.” He was on his knees, puking, and felt a huge energy come up through him. Finally, he got it out and said he “felt a huge connection with nature and love. It was exhausting. I felt like, ‘OK, I’ve done Bufo, I can cross it off the list.’” 

Gabriel came back and said Jean should do another hit.

“I said I wasn’t sure, that it was super intense the first time. But he said, ‘Yes, do another, don’t worry, it will be way better.’ So we go through the same process, I am back to purging energy, and I remember at some point I thought, I want this to stop, I’m too exhausted. And it stopped pretty quickly after my thought. And then all of a sudden, without any warning, I felt really bad, terribly anxious.”

The first thing Jean saw when he opened his eyes was Gabriel’s two daughters, roughly between the ages of 9 and 11, playing in a swing hanging from a tree. “It was so beautiful, like a painting,” Jean said. “And then I thought, isn’t that image a little bit too pretty? Why do you think that’s pretty? That’s weird.”

The ceremony ended, and Jean went to take a shower.

“I could feel something was very wrong,” he said. “Five minutes before the Bufo, my life was better than ever. 25 minutes later, I was feeling terribly bad and nothing had changed. It was like feeling traumatized after a huge car accident, but you don’t realize you’ve been in it. I went to Gabriel and said, ‘I feel terrible.’ He was very smiley. ‘Everything’s fine.’”

The next morning Jean left Sowilo. He started to have intrusive thoughts. Specifically, Jean had intrusive thoughts about pedophilia—not sexual fantasies about children, but rather a sort of repetitive intrusive loop. What if you’re a pedophile? You’re not safe with children, you’re not safe to be a parent, he thought.

He’s not the only person to experience intrusive OCD-type thoughts after challenging psychedelic experiences, or the first to experience intrusive thoughts about being a pedophile. 

Jean went into a mental health spiral, felt suicidal, and tried everything to get better. He reached out to Gabriel to ask for help. In September 2022 he sent a text:

“hi Gabriel. It’s been a few times that I come back to you with my problem. I absolutely don’t know what to do. I don’t even know if you can help me, but to me it is important that you know that since the ceremony with you, my life is terrible. I’m in constant depression. I have intrusive thoughts all the time and never did before. I feel I’m going to kill myself. I don’t know what to do.”

Gabriel never replied to his text.

Eventually, thankfully, Jean found some healing. He learned to see his thoughts as just thoughts, not as who he actually is, and he also found some healing from a more held 5-MeO-DMT experience. 

The Beginnings of a Cult 

Gabriel’s retreat center seems to have been on its way to becoming a cult. 

“I [was] seeing all this behavior and it was like, ‘Ten signs you’re in a cult: isolation, stripping away people’s belief systems, making people believe there’s something wrong with them, dismissing other forms of support, keeping them in an altered state, extracting money from them, love bombing them.’ Every time I entered a room, it was ‘I love you, we love you, you’re so loved.’ And then, of course, claiming the leader is God.”

Rebecca tells me about a woman named Laura who had been there for months because she decided to stay and become Gabriel and Ayme’s assistant. “[Laura’s] husband Mike joined her at the center. Mike’s experience there sobered him up and he was excited about losing weight,” she said. “When he was on the medicine, Gabriel would go up to him and tell him to sell his restaurant business, sell his house, give up all material possessions, and commit to God for the rest of his life. Gabriel convinced Laura to move all their money to an offshore account. Laura was very nervous about it but she did it anyway. They did everything Gabriel told them to, and then they bought a house down the road from Sowilo.”

By 2023, however, the bad reviews were piling up on Retreat Guru and Reddit. Gabriel would go up to people while they were on medicine and shout in their faces that they had to leave a good review online. Eventually, Retreat Guru took notice of all the customer complaints and decided it needed to do a safety review with Sowilo. They asked Gabriel and Ayme some basic questions, and the responses they got were sufficiently concerning that they decided to remove Sowilo from their site, which is the first time Retreat Guru has ever done that in its 24-year history. 

At that point, perhaps, Gabriel realized which way the wind was blowing. He sold his retreat center to a follower / employee named Jimmy Dragon (who goes by his spirit name “Amanadiel,” which happens to be the name of Lucifer’s brother in the TV series Lucifer) for $1.3 million) for $1.3 million. 

Amanadiel now runs it as Noble Mountain Retreat, although it’s also listed on The Retreat Site as Casa de Vida Nueva. Amanadiel told me he personally found a lot of healing through Sowilo, and he believes Gabriel “walks close to God” but doesn’t claim to actually be Jesus. I asked him about people feeling pressured by Gabriel to take more medicine.

“If a good Bufo practitioner serves you medicine, and feels like you’re at a block, or you’re not completely where you need to go, he will offer to serve you another one,” he said. “Now you can refuse and if you refuse, I won’t force it. But I would suggest it and that’s why part of the model is trust. We see things that you may not be able to see.”

Noble Mountain Retreat still offers Bufo ceremonies and is listed on the Retreat Company (as Vida Nueva retreats) but not Retreat Guru. Amanadiel said he is still in touch with Gabriel. 

What’s My Name? 

Who was Gabriel, really? Before he was a messianic Bufo facilitator, he was Bruno Cluzel, a French real estate agent with a business degree from McGill University, who made a lot of money buying real estate in Miami and Atlanta and selling or managing properties for French investors. I was contacted by two people who used to know Bruno in Atlanta—John and Sarah. 

John worked as a mechanic at a garage in Atlanta, serving high-end customers. He met Bruno in around 2014. Back then, Bruno was living large. 

“[Bruno] had a Mercedes AMG, a Dodge Viper, an Escalade, a Hummer h2, an Infiniti SUV,” John recalled. “He sold the Viper and bought a Ferrari. Then he sold the Hummer and the Escalade and bought a Tesla. We became friends—he seemed like a very stand-up individual, well-spoken. My wife and I went round to his house, and after a while, we would house-sit when he and Ayme were away. That house was so big we would get lost in it. He would leave me the keys to the Ferrari and tell me to feel free to use it.”

One time, John and Bruno went on a road trip to go to a car show. On the journey, Bruno talked a lot about his background. 

“He was very into spirituality and talked a lot about overcoming your ego,” John said. “I thought, have you seen the house you live in? He claimed to have been raised by the Freemasons as a sort of prodigy. I think it’s likely he had some kind of narcissistic Messiah complex—he and Ayme were both obsessed with saving people. There’s a piece of them that genuinely cares. But I think they focus too much on other people’s issues and trauma, they can’t heal themselves.”

Bruno was an enthusiastic user of ayahuasca and would tell John that he would see him in his visions and see the trauma he had been through. He insisted John should do ayahuasca, too. 

“One time, he told me an angel had come to him in a vision and told him his real name was Ba’al. I did do a ceremony with him eventually, in Miami. He was absolutely flying. I found some healing in that ceremony but for me, once was enough.”

Meanwhile, John’s wife Sarah, who works in real estate, agreed to work for one of Bruno’s real estate management companies.

We’re both extremely good at reading people, but Bruno and Ayme were on a whole other level,” Sarah said. “They are high-end con artists. And they were very good at what they did.”

While working for Bruno, Sarah began to get a sense that something wasn’t right, that more money was going out each month than was coming in. 

“Something didn’t add up,” she said. “I also noticed a lot of tension between him and his partners. And he would show up to work high on mushrooms, offering me some.”

It’s clear Bruno and his family went to Atlanta to get away from lawsuits in Miami. He was taken to court twice by Puerto Rican Bank, first for defaulting on a loan, then for foreclosure of a property. He’s a defendant in an ongoing trial in Miami for fraudulent inducement, breach of fiduciary duty, civil conspiracy, unfair trade practices, and negligent misrepresentation during a real estate sale in Miami. A Miami court ruled that he owed French investor Lionel Nievault $115,000 for a property sale. Bruno was also in hot water in Georgia—a Frenchman named Paul Blanchard told me that Bruno sold a property for him for $150,000 and never sent him the money. It’s unclear how much money Bruno owes, but Sarah thinks it could be millions. 

“This man is an international crook,” Lionel Nievault, the investor, tells me. “He owes me a lot of money. He’s a big liar. I’ve been looking for him for years, but I don’t know where he is today. I have a judgment from the Miami court ordering him to reimburse me, but he fled to Mexico. He defrauded many people in France, the West Indies, the United States, and certainly other places. If you know where the police could find him, I would be very interested in this information.”

Today, Bruno is reportedly living in Mendoza, Argentina, still surrounded by followers, from whom he is still receiving large amounts of money. Investors are looking for him, but thus far has eluded them. Meanwhile, more horror stories are bound to emerge. Sowilo was running for three years—how many people went there and got seriously harmed within that time? How many people are getting harmed by him right now?

There are obvious takeaways from this story: Be careful where you book a psychedelic retreat. Do your research, and look for warnings on Reddit and psychedelic Facebook pages. And remember that not everything is light and love in spirituality. The spiritual marketplace is rife with grifters, charlatans, psychopaths, and knaves—many of whom are genuinely convinced they are sent by God to heal the world. 

This story is also a warning to anyone who works with psychedelics. Indigenous communities warn of those who get tempted by the power of plant medicines to consume more and more until they become brujos, enslaved by spirits. Western psychiatrists warn of similar risks. In 1965, Dr Sidney Cohen wrote: 

“An unusual number of those dispensing these drugs have themselves come down with psychiatric disturbances…a few have gone on to a psychotic breakdown or to megalomaniacal ideas of grandeur… The ability to induce the transcendental state is a heady and powerful endowment. Only well-adjusted therapists without personal needs to play God will be unaffected by the potency inherent in the situation. [Especially when] certain dispensers of these potions have consumed them in fabulous amounts.”

If you are working with medicine and taking it every week or every day, you could soon find yourself in trouble. 

I don’t think Gabriel is a terribly evil man,” Jean said. “He’s like the vast majority of so-called ‘shamans,’ who believe they are the chosen one and have special powers. There are thousands of Gabriels out there.”

**This story originally appeared in the Ecstatic Integration Newsletter written by Jules Evans.

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DoubleBlind Magazine does not encourage or condone any illegal activities, including but not limited to the use of illegal substances. We do not provide mental health, clinical, or medical services. We are not a substitute for medical, psychological, or psychiatric diagnosis, treatment, or advice. If you are in a crisis or if you or any other person may be in danger or experiencing a mental health emergency, immediately call 911 or your local emergency resources. If you are considering suicide, please call 988 to connect with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

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