"Come out, come out in Jesus' name," a man calls. He's inside a tent at Maitreya Music Festival in Victoria, Australia—grasping the face of a young guy on acid. At the sound of the Lord's name, the bush doofer starts convulsing, thrashing his head about.
The young man had just spent the night wandering around the festival, tripping, and according to the Christian group around him, he was possessed by a demon because he took LSD. Inside a tent the group had set up at the festival, he was told he could repent, and give his life to Jesus.
This scene features in a short documentary called Cast Out Demons by a group called the Normal Christian Life. There's been backlash since the video was released on social media—anger, disgust, and disbelief from many festival goers who believe that the man tripping balls was "manipulated," "taken advantage of," and "brainwashed" into converting to Christianity. Some commenters even levelled death threats against the group.
The Normal Christian Life rejects all of this, saying they'd set up the tent to offer people tea, and the opportunity to be reached by Jesus. But two attendees told VICE they felt they were "lured" into the Normal Christian Life's tent, and accused Maitreya festival of failing to keep them safe, both physically and mentally.
Whatever your beliefs, watching this video prompts the question: When people are vulnerable, alone, and on drugs at a festival in the middle of nowhere can this really be considered okay?
Imogen*, a regular Maitreya attendee, told VICE things turned ugly inside the Normal Christian Life's tent after she was questioned about her religious beliefs and her relationship with her parents. She, and a friend, were in an extremely bad headspace at the festival, wandering around, seeking comfort, when a member of the Normal Christian Life invited them into the tent for what was described as a "healing ceremony."
"Neither of us had done one before so obviously we were curious, and agreed," Imogen explained. "Throughout the 'healing,' he repeatedly told us, 'Jesus is with you' and that we would be 'saved.' That 'Jesus led you here to be healed.'"
After seeing the short video released by the Normal Christian Life, Imogen was outraged and took to social media to share her frustration:
"I generally DGAF about what anyone believes in, each to their own. This video really upset me because a festival is a place where collective persons are able to just BE FREE, no matter what they believe in. These preachers attempted to prescribe the ideas of Christianity by preying on the subconscious of those who are already in a mentally susceptible state," she wrote.
"I don't need to emphasise how wrong that is. It fucked with me personally because I was raised with a different religion, and whether I follow it or not, does not give the right for something else to be forced on me. Referring to their actions as a form of 'healing' is also EXTREMELY misleading."
Anna* has complicated feelings about her time inside the tent at Maitreya. Early on during the festival, she'd met one of the women who ran the tent. She told Anna the setup was meant to be a chill out space for festival goers. Anna was invited back for a foot massage at any time, an offer she took up a few days later.
Once inside, the woman started asking Anna about her life—an open, friendly conversation that quickly soured. Anna was pressed about her relationship with her parents, personal questions that left her in tears. A woman attempted to convince her that she was there, crying, for a reason, and that reason was for the Christian group to help her find God.
"I told her I wasn't interested, and she became completely disinterested after that comment," Anna told VICE. "My interactions with her made me feel manipulated. She had waited until I trusted her to speak openly and also until I was feeling vulnerable before revealing her agenda."
But what were the Normal Christian Life's intentions when they were talking to people under the influence of drugs? Did they really believe that people tripping balls were possessed?
"We feel it really does need to be taken case by case," the Normal Christian Life told VICE. "We definitely do believe that there are instances where people who take psychedelic drugs can be influenced by the demonic. We understand that not everyone will agree with us on that topic and we're of course happy to discuss it with people who have a different perspective."
Overwhelmed at the hateful feedback, the Normal Christian Life said they never forced their opinion on anyone. The group argues they were happy for people with different opinions to come spend time with them because they love people from all walks of life regardless of their beliefs. They were immensely disappointed that so many hateful comments had been thrown around to the point of death threats, especially from a culture that represents love and tolerance.
But was it manipulation? At the end of the video, the young tripper did appear to have a breakthrough. While the group claim their intentions were pure and positive, many festival goers have warned one another of steering clear from the tent while being in an altered and impressionable state of mind.
Responding to the negative feedback about the video, the Normal Christian Life said it was "shocked at the hateful and angry feedback we have received concerning our video" but acknowledged there were "serious issues were raised about the video." You can read the whole statement here.