My Alien Experience at Coachella Weekend One / by grace mcgrade


If I don’t narrate the events of my life with rigorous honesty and fearlessness, I am afraid my memories will shift and slip away. The following story is told with sincerity, vulnerability and truth.

Some say to have a mystical experience, you have to go to the desert. If you think about it, Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, Moses..all of them went out into the desert at some point. There is something about the desert, about the absence of water and a vast barren terrain, that seems to act as a stage for divine manifestations. Coachella weekend one is no exception.

My friend Laz and I were driving down to Palm Springs to do an art installation at the Ace Hotel for the weekend. It was his thing, really, and I was just happy to get out of L.A. The plan was to set up a tent, an altar and a temporary “Witch Doctor” station, where we would prescribe spells under the gentle guise of ‘art’. Laz, with his background in superstition, folklore and sublime artistic talents- was the main attraction. And I was there to implement my intuitive skills..talents I hadn’t quite owned just yet. I was still in the ‘broom closet’, shall we say..still hesitant to present this deeply personal side of myself to what was going to be the greater Los Angeles area, crammed into Palm Desert. Quietly afraid of ostracisation, maybe even of  being burned at the stake.

As we slid past the windmills, copper and gold dunes and Coachella traffic, Laz recounted a dream he had about driving off a cliff, whilst I chained smoked through the humidity. I rehearsed what we had planned in my head. Arrive at the Ace hotel, set up our tent,  then go check into the Airbnb, begin at night, do the whole thing again tomorrow.

We had each brought boxes of sacred items, Laz’s had been acquired in Haiti and at a local botanica, a store run by a Shaman with two pet parrots , walls painted with hummingbirds and sugar skulls, Guatemalan fabrics- selling oils and amulets and wax candles in strange shapes and violent colors with exotic names. The items were pressed into an old box that suited it's contents. We planned to construct a grid to each of the four elements, creating a high vibrational space for healing.

I collect things like make up and fortunes from Chinese restaurants, photos of old boyfriends and letters from friends..but also bones, feathers and dragonfly wings, crystals and candles, rocks, shells and dried flowers. I keep them in a box at the foot of my bed, and when I am short of inspiration, I trace my fingers along each one. On New Moons I spread them out in front of me, like an intricate map, and I follow them into other realms.

I was going take others with me, this time.

As soon as we parked the car at the hotel, I noticed a feeling in my stomach, a feeling of a lack of preparation before something astronomically changing. Almost like when you are on a plane, and you realize you have forgotten something. I knew something was about to shift for me, for both of us. What followed this feeling, in the desert, was a sequence of events more bizzare and euphoric than can possibly be conveyed through writing. A synchronicity safari, weaving out of us faster than we could record.


The Ace Hotel is a strange combination of pretentious, dingy and chic. It's occupants were always bikini clad hipsters and men with well groomed hair on their face and none on their chest.  We assembled our station by the pool of the hotel, or rather, Laz assembled it, while I watched and contributed by adding helpful affirmations and smoking. When we were given our wristbands for the event,  we gasped. They said “We’re Here Now”, in the font of Ram Dass’s Be Here Now. This is the closest thing I have to a bible.


The altar was set up quickly, and we decided to go unpack our bags at the airbnb. I said that this felt like a dream, in that way desert humidity makes you feel euphorically drowsy, almost like you could melt into your surroundings. When we opened the door of the mid-century home, a wall decor replica of my tattoo of a Gardenia was hung on the wall. The tattoo, which was done by my close friend Marielle, came out of her imagination- I couldn’t rationalize how it could have been added to the stock of some random furniture store in Palm Springs. But, like most people, I chose not to assign meaning to it and silently dismiss it as a surreal coincidence. I told Laz, this feels like a dream. When we stepped out into the poolside area, there, painted on the brick wall in huge letters read “Your Dream Here” I decided at this moment that coincidences don’t exist, at least not at this amplitude and pace. Laz, who was witnessing these events unfold was giggling excitedly, affirmed their magnitude, which was comforting because I could easily have been having some sort of thirst driven hallucination.


We returned to our tent at the Ace that night, and sat behind our altar, illuminated by candles that dripped in different colors. Bees and flies flew onto our table, and shimmered between the glitter and tarot cards, the bones and crystals. We invoked Earth forces and Star beings, asking for guidance and protection. Soon after,one by one people entered, first a leather-clad Musician who talked about loss and an inability to find the right job. In this setting, I could feel myself downloading information, almost in a language I didn’t speak- and shocked myself by my own accuracy and boldness in my understanding of these individuals. We prescribed rituals for him, and he ended up crying for about ten minutes- another shock that Laz and I attempted to contain with hugs and affirmation. There was a girl with arthritis who asked us to heal her wrist pain, and declared that it had subsided after we put our hands on her. There was a man who said he had been pulled and told to come over here, and I was told to tell him (by what or who I still don’t know) that his Grandmother was watching over him. In these instances I feel I was somehow picking up on ripples of a voice that did not belong to me. In the winking candlelight there was an air of unreality, with Laz my only tie to the real world. We were transmitting some borrowed power, borrowed from a place we didn’t quite understand. He spoke words out of my head, as if we shared a bottomless tidal pool of knowledge that diverged in and out of each other. Each visitor in the tent left in tears or in awe. But no one was more awe stricken than either one of us.

That evening, we returned to the house in a pleasant daze, and danced and danced till we were drowsy and could dance no more. We smoked outside and spoke of our family and the trauma we may have inherited, through blood, but were determined not to repeat. We talked about love and loss. We lay back on the outdoor couch and stared at the stars in the night sky, the only stars I had seen in months. I said that I didn’t know if it was healthy to live somewhere you couldn’t see the stars, and he agreed. They were vast and expansive, winking, twinkling and calling out through the violet sheets of midnight ether. If I looked closely at the the space between stars, there seemed to appear more and more parcels and fractals of light.


After staring up, necks tilted and eyes wide for what seemed like hours, a cluster of three or four stars began to move in a very peculiar way. They were not twinkling or blinking, but darting around in circles and back again. Almost as if they were tearing apart, or dancing. I initially assumed they must have been drones, but the proximity and luminescence was that of a star. Laz and I were in shock, and followed them with our fingers, confirming that we were both seeing the same thing. My heart thumped and my palms began to sweat. Laz started laughing and almost crying. We watched until they seemed to stop and begin to tear open, sending currents of energy towards us. Both of our mouths dropped open, and we began to vibrate, receiving a transference of light filaments that reached my heart and sent sparks through my body.


I couldn’t tell you how long this phenomena lasted for, as time seemed to disappear for it’s duration. We were both in hysterics, in bliss, in joy. We spoke more for hours, and the next day, Laz took an app that scans the sky and told me it was the Pleiades star cluster, the same star cluster my friend had very deliberately left a book on the week before.


The next day we drove back, on an almost straight desert road to Los Angeles. We sat in traffic  and both cried. We cried about being lied to about our own divinity, about experiencing something so beautiful and pure, so organically. About the intensity and depth of life that at one point, we had both resisted. About the trajectory of impossibility and unreality our lives took when we decided to trust feelings over facts.

From that moment onward, every fractal of a second in our lives were colored, and shaped by a dimension of the mystical, because it was the only thing left that made life worth living. I can feel in my body that life is only half-captured by the senses. There are spectrums of color and lights, chimes and scents that will evade our cognitive mind- but it does not mean that they don’t exist, bearing witness to us. We concluded the power of thought and belief is what life follows, so we decided were warriors and wizards and angels and high elves and that was our reality.

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