When we look into the indigenous cultures of traditional shamans it is common that there is use of hallucinogenic ethnobotanical’s (plant medicine). In traditional shamanism the medicine plant journey (which would move the subject into an altered state) was taken underneath the all seeing eyes of the shaman and guided all the way through. They would do ceremony to call in helping spirits and focus intent, watch over the spirit of the journeyer and deal with any entity invasion that may arise be that through something that needed to be healed via abuse, negative thought forms or something that they had picked up during illness or conflict.
This was a journey of the student, guided by their teacher. The student would never think to venture this type of journey alone. The shaman was actively present during it all and knew how hold space for the student and help them when terror gripped their mind, as they travelled the unknown realms, facing their fears and becoming one with the cosmos and nature. The shaman had already walked the path and recovered so they knew what the student would face and sensed intuitively what was needed during the experience.
Witches were known to use plants for different altered states and they also knew the importance of dose and danger in their use, chines medicine is based on the healing properties of plants, and many of the drugs of today started off from plants before they created the chemical copy. The use of plants for healing is wide spread and valuable. As a journey plant however we need to be careful in our approach and the reasons that one may feel the call to ingest them
These days there is much less sacredness in taking plant medicine for shamanic journeying. It is often done in a large group with a hefty price by people who take it upon themselves to be facilitators or invite a shaman from overseas to lead it. Individuals are often not contained on their journey due to the large numbers within the group and some do fragment severely. (There is no mental health assessment on people coming into these groups) I say this because many of my clients have been victims of badly held so called sacred medicine events.
The medicine plants that currently popular are Ayauasca, Iboga, San Pedro Catcus, Mushrooms.
Men are most commonly attracted to shamanic ethnobotanical journeying. Maybe its the inner Druid, Magician or the Alchemist that calls them. It can also be a pathway to healing the connection to the feminine via the archetype of mother earth as a living female entity.
Unfortunately many (both men and women) get caught up thinking it’s a bit of a fast track to enlightenment or a way to access other dimensions without hard worn effort. The truth is many enjoy the plant ride but do not fully integrate the teaching when they are back in ordinary reality.
There is talk about things like mushrooms and other plant medicines helping people with mental illness. As yet I have seen no proof of this in any way. Don’t get me wrong I am not condemning any plant as all plants are sacred and have their uses, even the weeds in the backyard, however if they are used as escape hatches and fast tracks to enlightenment its the same as a someone seeking nirvana through heroin. They will be forever chasing the white lady (nick name for heroin) to rescue them from their self-imposed lack of worth.
I remember years back this women who led medicine circle journeys with Ayahuasca (DMT) insisted that she felt it was time for me to journey to the sacred plant and felt that the plant was calling me. I really did not resonate with doing it. If the plant had called me itself, maybe…. I said that if I ever did it, I would honour the plant by going to where it originates (South America) and seek a traditional shaman of that culture to guide me. I really do not agree with taking plant medicine from a different landscape and culture in a place that the plant does not originate. I have for a long time felt very strongly about this, like its an innate law or something that is inbuilt in my knowing.
Don’t be fooled into thinking I am a purist, heck no. I have had my time with all sorts of recreational drugs in my youth and have experienced taking mushrooms, a small amount of Acacia wattle (the Australian version of DMT) and the sacred green herb that grows well here in Oz, marijuana.
I like marijuana. Not the horrible hydro stuff, just the naturally home grown mother earth loving herb. However when I do smoke marijuana its for pleasure and relaxation, not for shamanic work. Things do arise when I smoke but I would never do medicine work when I am stoned nor journey anyone else…because I am not fully present, I am between worlds enjoying the betwixing of it.
You see I learned to shift into shamanic altered states without sacred medicine. And because of that I don’t feel the need to use it for those purposes. Some people recommend it because it bypasses your mind and your need to control things. Sure I can see that could be helpful but I am all for relinquishing your mind naturally without ingesting anything but oxygen.
The shamanic breath pumps so much oxygen into your system that it automatically puts you into an altered state. If you have ever experienced rebirthing its very similar. You are breathing deeply in and out without pause. You are not breathing just into your chest (which leads you to hyperventilation) you are breathing your whole body. And by doing this you mind takes a back seat and you open up at portal within yourself and move into non ordinary reality with ease.
There are a very small percentage of people who cannot journey and thats because they are terrified of losing control. Just imagine if they took plant medicine. If they had the right guide to hold space for their terrors it may well benefit. If they didn’t….they may end up in the psych ward.
I have seen many people who were so deeply into it and praising its wonderful benefits but they did not integrate it at all and after time they became depressed and their cognitive ability to bounce back became less and less.
To me ethnobotanicals for shamanic journeying should be done with a guide that is very experienced within its culture and medicine, preferably indigenous to the land and has a strong connection to the plant and by example shows (not just tells) they have integrated the medicine. Otherwise its just another new age western wank.
My ex partner was immersed in ethnobotanical’s and loved the ways of Terrance McKenna, Timothy Leary and the rest of the ethno men and I didn’t judge that, but what I did notice is that it was all lovely when he was in it but it didn’t translate to ordinary reality. He just wasnt able to integrate the wisdom gained. And I have seen this with many others.
If the plant helps you to be more present thats great.
If the plant helps you to feel more connected in daily life, wonderful.
If the plant helps you to heal and wound and this healing continues in ordinary reality, brilliant.
But the truth is you don’t need the plant to help you be present, feel connected and heal wounds.
We are not here to be fragmented between worlds. We need to weave these worlds together so what we do in one benefits the other.
If you feel a strong pull to plant medicine then do it with integrity. Not as a fast track, not as an escape route, and do it with someone who has time to guide you personally. As a guide for others who travel in non ordinary reality its really important to have someone to assist you in the navigation when you are lost in the experience. Much like the Bardo the Tibetans refer to when someone dies, the spirit of the dead person who has left their body hears the monks read out what’s happening to them and assists their spirit to navigate the dimensions till its free from any bondage of mind, body and spirit.
We need guidance because our minds are so strong and can trick us into getting stuck in fear and terror. The use of plant medicine can really test you on your fears, so its imperative that you get good solid guidance and containment as you journey, if you chose that mode of travel.
© O.Nightsky March 2019
One thought on “Plant Medicine & Safety”
Wow! Great post. It really confirms to me what I feel in my soul about shamans and shamnism and the tools they use. With all this “new wave” stuff floating around, I am very wary of someone claiming to be a healer. I have taken some of the 3 weekend courses, but would never dream of calling myself a healer of shaman after a 3 or 5 day course. And while I believe as you do, that botanicals can and do help, they need a very educated and experienced practioner to guide them. Thanks for informing people about an appropriate process in healing. So many people think that one dose of botanical medicine will heal them of their ills and demons, not realizing what they are doing can actually be more dangerous for them. Thank you and blessings
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