Four women united by their appreciation for psychedelics have launched a cultural forum and member-maintained library in the heart of New York City, providing a community hub for well-traveled psychonauts and psychedelic curious alike. Operated by Psychedelic Assembly founders Kathleen Lakey, Abby Lyall, Sarah Fernandez and Suzy Baker, the Psychedelic Athenæum is “essentially a library with a social element,” says Lyall.
In ancient Greece, the athenaeums (named after Athena, goddess of wisdom) were places where writers and scholars gathered to share their works. In New York City, the world’s first psychedelic athenaeum offers members and guests a place to connect through a curated collection of psychedelic literature, learn from experts like Dennis McKenna, and engage with the community.
The connecting element
If you’re into all things psychedelic, the word “integrate” you’ve probably heard before. In its simplest form, integration is the process of exploring and making sense of the insights we receive during a psychedelic experience. While journaling and meditation can be helpful in the integration process, these practices are often done alone. The athenæum offers guests a place to practice integrating together – something its founders understand is imperative to the psychedelic experience.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic interrupted her plans, Lakey recognized the importance of group integration while practicing to become an ayahuascara in the Peruvian Amazon. She says her biggest takeaway from the three-year experience was that while ayahuasca was a powerful medicine, it was often the interactions that occurred. after O ceremony that offered the deepest healing.
“In my opinion, it was these moments of connection where people came together and talked about their experiences and were open and vulnerable in a way they never have been before, that were crucial,” says Lakey. “The connecting element felt really important.”
A community driven initiative
Lakey returned to the US and got a job working for a friend at the Blue Building in Midtown Manhattan. She formed Psychedelic Assembly in early 2022 with the intention of creating a small-scale psychedelic conference in the unique space where she worked, where guests could engage in the same kind of connection she witnessed in the Amazon. Soon, Lyall, Baker and Fernandez were part of the team, and in September 2022, the assembly hosted its inaugural event, featuring a lineup that included William Leonard Pickard, Julie Holland, Sutton King and Dennis McKenna.
“It was a huge success,” says Baker. So successful, she says, that the sold-out event prompted the building’s owner to offer Lakey and his team the chance to rent the private storefront he used to house his library and Alice in Wonderland antiques and turn them into something bigger.
While the conference was a success, Baker says, “We didn’t exactly have the money to start paying rent on a storefront in midtown Manhattan.” To open the athenaeum’s doors, the assembly launched a crowdfunding campaign and raised $12,000. More than 90 donors supported the fundraiser, with most donations averaging under $100. Since the launch of the athenaeum, publishers Inner Traditions and Synergistic Press have also helped to grow its book collection.
“We really are a community-launched, community-funded, community-driven initiative,” says Lyall.
A place to come out of the psychedelic closet
Since opening in February, the Psychedelic Athenæum has hosted numerous events, including panel discussions, psychedelic-inspired art installations, book launches and stand-up comedy. It also offers a monthly membership program that grants access to the athenæum, discounted books and early access to event tickets, as well as access to a members-only calendar of events.
“The more people that are part of that community and the more diverse that community is, the more valuable it is to everyone,” says Lyall, noting that accessibility was a factor in how the assembly structured its members. “We’re not trying to be an exclusive social club for the rich to hang out in – there are already too many.”
“We want to co-create this space with the community and create opportunities for people to come out of the proverbial closet”, adds Fernandez. “There is an aspect of homage to the generation that has been carrying this. This is also part of our mission. The athenaeum is a portal from the underground community, where psychedelics have historically lived, to the mainstream.”