Alchemy Shamanism Organic Food And The Doctrine Of Signatures

Submitted by Howard G. Charing

The 16th century alchemist and philosopher, Paracelsus, introduced in his treatise the Doctrine of Signatures, the concept that the Creator has placed his seal on plants to indicate their medicinal uses.

Underlying Paracelsus’ treatise was the premise that nature was itself a living organism, which must be considered an expression of “the One Life”, and that man and the universe are the same in their essential nature.

The 16th century alchemist and philosopher, Paracelsus, introduced in his treatise the Doctrine of Signatures, the concept that the Creator has placed his seal on plants to indicate their medicinal uses.

In this book of nature, Paracelsus noticed how the qualities of plants so often reflected their appearance – that the seeds of skullcap, for example, resemble small skulls and, it transpires, are effective at curing headache. Similarly, the hollow stalk of garlic resembles the windpipe and it is used for throat and bronchial problems. By the same token, willow grows in damp places and will heal rheumatic conditions.

Because of this, Paracelsus held that the inner nature of plants may be discovered by their outer forms or ‘signatures’. He applied this principle to food as well as medicine, remarking that “it is not in the quantity of food but in its quality that resides the Spirit of Life” – a belief familiar to those who choose to eat organic food and share the common concern over Genetically Modified substitutes that they lack ‘life force’, or spirit. According to Paracelsus, then, the appearance of a plant is the gateway to its spirit or consciousness

Shamans recognise the spiritual powers and qualities of plants in many ways: the colours of the flowers, their perfumes, the shape and form of their leaves, where they are growing and in what ways, the moods they evoke, and the wider geographical, cultural, or mythological landscapes they occupy

The doctrine of signatures treatise is not something known by indigenous shamans, but they understand the principles behind it well enough, that nature has spirit and communicates with us. These principles are not regarded as fanciful at all, but so important that they can save lives.

I discovered how the doctrine of signatures operates in the Amazon, for example, during my experiences with the Jergon Sacha plant.

Jergon Sacha (Dracontium peruviuanum)

My first exposure to this plant came about quite accidentally, when one day walking through the rainforest studying the properties of the plants, the maestro Javier queried why I always walked around with a machete. I jokingly replied “it’s against anacondas!”. He paused in thought for a moment and beckoned for me to follow him, a few minutes later we came across this tall-stemmed plant. He proceeded to cut it down and then whip me around the body paying attention to my legs and the soles of my feet… He then said “no more problems, you are protected against snakes”. I asked him why this plant was used in this way, and he indicated the pattern on the stem, which looks identical to the snakes in the forest. Later as I started to investigate this plant even more, I discovered some interesting correspondences; this is a plant, which is widely used as an antidote against snakebite venom in the Amazon.

This is accordance with the ‘doctrine of signatures’ concept. This doctrine is at the heart of homeopathy, folk medicine, and plant shamanism. The doctrine was revealed by the great alchemist and physician Paracelsus who lived in the 16th Century. The underlying principle was that the healing properties of the plant are not only in the outer ‘physical’ form, but also in their inner or spiritual nature. The Doctrine of Signatures holds that this inner nature can be revealed by its outer physical form or signatures. This plant is a clear demonstration of the outer form indicating the inner qualities. It’s use is directly related to it’s physical appearance, the patterns on the tall stem closely resembles the skin patterns of the highly venomous pit viper known as ‘Bushmaster’ or Jararaca which is indigenous to the Amazon.

The large tuber of the plant is a well-known and highly effective antidote for the bite of venomous snakes. The tuber is chopped up, and immersed in cold water and then drunk. Also the chopped tuber is placed in a banana leaf and used as a poultice, which is wrapped around the bite area. These procedures are repeated every few hours. Of course the deal here is that it works, and as it not possible to store anti-venom vaccines in the rainforest without refrigeration, this plant has exceptional life-saving importance.

Mocura / Mucura Petivera Alliacea

This plant can be taken orally or used in floral baths to raise energy, or take you out of a saladera (a run of bad luck, inertia, sense of not living to the full). Gives mental strength and you can feel its effects as also with Ajo Sacha, both are varieties of ‘false’ garlic and have a penetrating aroma.

One of its qualities is that on a personal psychological level it can boost one’s strength. For example it is considered good in countering shyness, and can strengthen one’s own sense of personal value and authority. One of its properties is to help people overcome ‘irrational’ fears & fearful memories

Medicinal properties include asthma, bronchitis, reduction of fat and cholesterol. This plant grows widely in the lower Amazon, and it is used widely in purification (floral baths).

Piñon Colorado Jatropha gossypifoilio

Has short-lived effect after drinking but helps lucid dreaming later on when you go to bed. Can be used as a planta maestra and it is a plant that maestros can take when being during their initiation. Can also take with tobacco.

The plant’s properties on the physical level relate to problems such as, burns, swellings, intestinal parasites, Insect bites and stings, vaginal infections, and bronchitis. It is possible to take the resin which is much stronger but toxic if too much ingested. The resin can be applied directly to the skin.

Piri-piri, (Cyperaceae)

Native people throughout the Amazon cultivate numerous varieties of medicinal sedges to treat a wide range of health problems, the native peoples for example, use sedge roots to treat headaches, fevers, cramps, dysentery and wounds as well as to ease childbirth. Special sedge varieties are cultivated by Shipiba women to improve their skill weaving and to protect their babies from illness.

Teresa a Shipiba craftswoman who joins us on our Amazon Retreats, told me that it is customary when the girls are very young for their mothers to squeeze a few drops of the ‘piri piri’ seed sap into their eyes in order to give their daughters the ability to have visions of the designs that she will make throughout her life.

The men cultivate special sedges to improve their hunting. Since the plant is used for such a wide range of conditions, it was once dismissed as being mere superstition. Pharmacological research has revealed the presence of ergot alkaloids, which are known to have diverse effects on the body from stimulation of the nervous system to constriction of blood vessels. These alkaloids are responsible for the wide range of medicinal uses. Apparently the ergot alkaloids come not from the plant itself but from a fungus that infects the plant.

Chanca piedra “Stone Breaker” (Phyllanthus Niruri)

This is a hybrid name “chanca” meaning “to break” in Quechua and “piedra” meaning “stone” in Spanish. This herb from the Amazon has been used by the indigenous peoples of the Rainforest for generations as an effective remedy to eliminate gall, and kidney stones. The plant has demonstrated its effectiveness against many illnesses including, kidney problems, urinary problems, colic, dysentery, jaundice and numerous other conditions. This herb has become widely used in South America as the herbal remedy for gall and kidney stones, and can typically be bought in capsule or leaf form from many stores. This plant is used only for its pharmaceutical properties, and is not a planta maestra. As a note, this plant is also starting to become known in Western Medical circles, as when I brought some back for my mother to help her with her kidney stones, her doctor was apparently familiar with this herb, but he still didn’t want her to use it due to possible contra-indications with the prescribed pharmaceutical medicine.

Reflections.

On reflection plant medicine is totally different than pharmaceutical medication which only affects one whilst it is being taken; these kinds of plant medicines seem to have a permanent effect in some way metaphorical or otherwise altering one’s consciousness or “DNA”. Paracelus, is still a source of inspiration to all those who work with the healing properties of herbs, and the plants.

One of the great revelations that we can experience in working with the plant spirit or consciousness is that we are not separate from the natural world. In our culture we perceive ourselves to be separate beings with our minds firmly embedded within our physical being (typically our head). The plants can show you that this way of being is an illusion and that we are all connected, all of us and everything else is a discrete element in the great universal field of consciousness or spirit.

Related link: The Attributes of Plants, and the Spirit of Life – a Shaman’s Perspective

Howard G. Charing is a partner in Eagle’s Wing Centre for Contemporary Shamanism. His initiation into the world of Shamanism was sudden, which was caused by a serious accident, which resulted in severe injuries and a near-death experience. After many months of physical pain and disability, he had a transformational experience, which started him on a path to healing. If you like to know more about his work, Howard conducts “Plant Spirit Medicine” journeys to the Amazon Rainforest.

Jimson Weed Datura Stramonium Poisonous Herbal Medicine

By Ina Woolcott

What is Datura Stramonium?

Datura Stramonium is the botanical name of the plant more commonly known as Jimsonweed. It is a widespread, poisonous plant of the nightshade family and is able to flourish in nearly all environments, but prospers in high nutrient soil. The name Datura is early Sanskrit and means “divine inebriation.” The Origins of Datura are unclear, due to the plants wide distribution, although Mexico and Central America have the highest concentration. It is found in most areas of the USA, apart from the West, Northwest and the northern Great Plains and most frequently in the South and throughout various other areas of the world, growing 2 to 4 feet high. The stems are purple and fork out with leaves 7-20cm long with ‘teeth’ of uneven occurrence similar to those of an oak trees leaves. What stands out the most are the flowers that are trumpet-shaped, white to purple in colour, and 5-12.5 cm long and because these open and close at atypical times, the plant has been given the nickname moonflower. There are also fruits on the plant which are egg shaped and roughly the size of a walnut and covered in spikes. Each fruit breaks into four compartments containing a small number of kidney shaped seeds. When crushed all parts of the plant give off an unpleasant smell.

Datura Stramonium is also known as simply Datura, Jimson Weed, Gypsum Weed, Loco Weed, Jamestown Weed, Thorn Apple, Angel’s Trumpet, Devil’s Trumpet, Mad Hatter, Crazy Tea and Zombie’s Cucumber.

The plant contains tropane alkaloids that cause life like hallucinations which cant be differentiated from ‘normal’ reality. Sometimes Jimson Weed is used instead of illegal drugs as it is generally not illegal, although there are regulations on its usage. Generally it is drunk as a ‘herbal’ tea, although it can be smoked or eaten. As it is reputed to be an unpleasant and poor high, it is not in big demand as a recreational drug. Now and again a grazing goat will come across Jimson weed and upon eating it, die a prolonged and painful death.

Who uses Datura and for What Purpose?

Navajo cautionary advice on Datura “Eat a little, and go to sleep. Eat some more, and have a dream. Eat some more, and don’t wake up.”

No matter where Datura originated from, it appears to have played an important role as a “culture plant,” particularly in Asia and the New World, for many years. It has been used as part of spiritual ceremonies and acts in many parts of the world. The Sadhus (Yogis) of Hinduism used datura as a spiritual tool, smoking it with cannabis in traditional pipes called chillums. Native Americans have used this plant in sacred ceremonies, such as the ceremonies of manhood, and also to receive visions. A young Native American coming of age would go to an isolated location, sometimes alone, fasting and praying to purify himself. Then a shaman would come and give the initiate a Datura tea to induce visions. A shaman would always prepare the brew as he knows how much to administer and also where to gather the plants. In Haiti’s Voodoo religion, Datura is known as Zombie Cucumber and is used on the trial by ordeal which at times makes zombies. The ‘Zombie cucumber’ is mixed with other ingredients to make a balm which is used to find out if someone is telling the truth or not. If they are being honest they stay alive, if not they die by turning into a zombie.

Carlos Castaneda used Datura under the tutelage of Don Juan Matus and write about his experience with the plant ally in great detail in THE TEACHINGS OF DON JUAN: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge

Datura has been used for its mind altering properties, to induce visions, to ‘fly’, (this is what ‘witches’ used, the word flying was used metaphorically) to help foretell the future, to reveal the causes of disease and misfortune, to treat colds and nervous conditions and to hex and un-hex. Other datura species have been used to hold counsel with the gods. In addition, it has been used to find stolen objects and even to make predictions of the likelihood of recovery of black magic associated illness. Datura ceratocaula was used in an ointment to treat cracked soles, sores, bruises, as plasters for ulcers, pustules, and as a poultice for rheumatic pains. It has also been highly revered as a powerful aphrodisiac and is by some regarded as one of the most ancient healing herbs. Datura has been used for empowerment to manipulate the “supernatural forces” that control nature and influence human activity.

The effects of Jimson Weed are extreme dilating of the pupils, flushed, warm and dry skin, dry mouth, urinary retention, slowing or stopping of intestinal movement, rapid heart beat, high blood pressure and jerky movements as well as of course being a strong hallucinogen. People who have experienced Datura describe the effects as if living in a dream, where one falls in and out of consciousness. When at the peak of the experience, one often loses touch with reality and is unable to communicate. It is a “real” trance when someone under Daturas influence is awake but completely disassociated from his immediate surroundings. He would ignore most stimuli and respond to unreal ones. People known miles away are visited and engaged with. Effects can last for 24-48 hours, sometimes longer due to the alkaloids in Jimson weed slowing the digestive process! Some users have described their experiences as disagreeable and extremely frightening.

Datura has a long history of use as a herbal medicine, it is very poisonous though and should be used with extreme caution, the line between the amount taken for hallucinogenic effects and death are very thin. Overdosing is easy to do, and can result in hyperthermia, coma, respiratory arrest, seizures and fevers in the 40-43°C range. This can be accompanied by delirium with visual and auditory hallucinations and can be fatal. Advise for an overdose: Vomit and go straight to hospital! There is no antidote for this and treatment normally includes pumping the stomach and administering activated charcoal to absorb the contaminants. The drug physostigmine, a mild nerve agent and a reversible cholinesterase inhibitor obtained from the Calabar bean is used in severe cases. People overdose mainly because effects take a while to kick in, they take some more and before they know it have OD’d.

Once upon a time Datura was used as a medicine – the alkaloid was known as daturine – to help asthma sufferers, by extracting Stramonium from the seeds and leaves and then using it to relax the smooth muscles of the bronchial tubes. This was done by smoking Stramonium or by taking the solution internally. Often the Datura leaves were ground in to a powder with the same amount of cannabis and lobelia then blended together with potassium nitrate. This was then burned in an open dish giving off dense smoke giving tremendous relief from asthma attacks. At the start of the 20th century asthma was treated with medicines that had these ingredients in extensive amounts. When the dangers of tropane poisoning were uncovered datura stopped being used medically. The FDA has rendered it unfit for human consumption.

Ayahuasca Protected In Peru

Taken from an article on www.realitysandwich.com

Posted By Ina Woolcott

This past week in Peru marks the end of a year long debate and a major victory regarding Ayahuasca shamanism and Ayahuasca medicine practices. For the past year the Peruvian government was deciding whether or not to regulate the medicinal use of Ayahuasca and the practices of the curanderos and Ayahuasqueros.

The bill that was finally passed this past week declared Ayahuasca shamanism and Ayahuasca medicine practices to be a culturally protected “patrimony.”

The number of world travelers migrating to Peru for healing has grown exponentially over the past two decades, and it marks a major cultural victory not only for the indigenous Peruvian tradition but for the entire planet.

The Peruvian government was moved by hundreds of letters from world citizens and visitors testifying to the miraculous healing properties of Ayahuasca and to the tremendous sensitivity and expertise of Peru’s indigenous Ayahuasca shamans.

WA-HEY! EXCELLENT EXCELLENT EXCELLENT!!! 🙂 Im glad the Peruvian government seems to have wise people in it, unlike other countries where they would rather keep peoples minds and souls captive. Even if one of the reasons the bill was passed is to maintain tourism to boost the economy, so what! Also, amongst all the darkness on earth, new light is always shed… Well done Peru.

Making Healing Allies In Nature

PLANT SPIRIT SHAMANISM – Making Healing Allies In Nature

By Ross Heaven

Since the beginning of human experience, plants have played a role in the evolution of our species, not only in the provision of food and medicine but in our deepest spiritual experience and the development of consciousness. Their form, beauty, enchanting scents, their healing and emotional qualities, have all provided a gateway to the Great Mystery of Nature, which our Celtic forebears called “The visible face of Spirit”. Though our lands are no longer forested as they were, we try to recreate a sense of their beauty and tranquillity in our gardens, parks, and the green spaces in our cities, giving us at least a taste of Nature with which we can sustain ourselves against the soulless backdrop of the steel and concrete jungles that are our homes today. For many people, plants are still the messengers of divinity, harmony, and beauty. They are also the source of our health and wellbeing, not just as medicines but in their ability to relax, refresh, or excite us. Some deep part of us knows that the healing power of plants is inherent in what they are as much as what they do. Flowers have a role to play, for example, in all of our most primal celebrations of life and death – birth and birthdays, comings-of-age, marriages, illnesses, funerals and deaths. They are there at the first ‘I love you’, and they are there for our endings too. Even after death our connection to the natural world continues and our spiritual destination in many religious myths is some form of paradise which is often symbolised as the “Heavenly Garden”, or the Garden of Eden.

Archaeology shows that plant spirit shamanism has been part of our healing experience for thousands of years, predating other practices by millennia and going back to a time when healers worked in harmony with Nature.

Plant shamanism is – and always has been – a person-centred approach and incorporates, in a holistic way, practices such as herbalism, energy work, aromatherapy, and counselling to provide a unique blend of therapies that is most needed by each individual client, based on the healer’s attunement to the state of balance or otherwise of that client’s soul. But it is also fundamentally spirit-centred, and all traditional healers – from the Curanderos of the Amazon to the ‘folk magicians’ of Ireland – regard plants as sentient, aware, intelligent, alive, and as ‘doctors’ in their own right.

Plant shamanism involves practices for meeting these spirits, such as shamanic journeying, soul retrieval, rituals using flowers and fragrances, offerings to Nature, floral baths for protection, and the use of visionary plants to find purpose, clarity, and new directions in life. All of these, to the shaman, are implied by the term ‘healing’.

WAYS OF HEALING

As a young boy, I was apprenticed to a Welsh sin eater – a ‘cunning man’, as they were called in Wales – who used plants and flowers in his healing work. One of his methods was to bury the name of a patient, etched on a piece of bone, in a corner of his garden, next to a patch of ‘sun flowers’. Each day he would say his prayers to the flowers, consulting with them on the condition of his patient, then squeeze a few petals so their aroma was released. As the scent drifted upwards, he said, a little more of his patient’s illness was carried away until he or she was healed.

This may seem like a strange approach in our culture today, but when I grew up and went travelling I found the same essential methods used in Haiti, Peru, Africa, Greece, America, Turkey… so it is not an eccentricity or even unique to Wales.

The world over, in fact, wherever shamans work with plant spirits rather than extracts and compounds as Western doctors do, it is understood that plants are alive, aware, and willing to teach their healing secrets. Plant spirit shamanism is therefore learned practically – by getting out into the fields and making contact with natural forces, not by reading about plants in some dusty library.

The sin eater communicated with plants in this way and knew several magical uses for them that they had told him of. For example, the ‘sun flowers’ he used were actually marigolds, but he called them sun flowers because they are “Bright like the sun” and warmed the soul with protection. It is interesting, then, that we find the same belief in Andean Peru, where rosa sisa (African marigolds) are also used for protection. Here, they are often planted by the door of a house, so if someone should pass by and give the ‘evil eye’, the flowers will catch these negative energies and protect the soul of the house from disease. The petals turn black when this happens, but revert to their bright colour when the energy is discharged through their roots to the soil. The sin eater I knew had never visited Peru and yet the message from the plant was the same: marigolds – “sun flowers” – protect.

WORKING WITH PLANTS

The key thing with plant spirit shamanism is to establish a connection with the plant. Once that is done, the plant spirits themselves teach you everything you need to know and reveal the many ways of using them in healing, most of which are very unlike the Western medical notion of ingesting them in a tablet or even a herbal form.

In Haiti, Peru, Brazil, Indonesia, and in our own Celtic past, there is a practice, for example, of taking floral baths, where flowers and herbs are added to blessed water. The sick person then bathes to wash away his ailments. These baths are not restricted to physical healing, but can be used to draw good fortune and change your luck (which is regarded as a real and tangible force), by making you more ‘open’ to the receipt of money, love, or spiritual power.

Other ways of working with plants include the making of pakets, ‘power pouches’ containing herbs that remove negative energies, while returning life force to the patient as the pouch is brushed over his body. The paket has similarities to the Amazonian chacapa, a bundle of dried leaves which has medicine powers to rebalance the patient’s energy field, and is rubbed over the body in the same way.

The seguro of the Andes, a bottle which contains a mixture of plants and herbs in Holy water and perfume, uses the same principles of spiritual connection with the plants. Here the shapes, colours, or qualities of the plants invoke various powers that the client wishes to draw in to his life. Round, golden, seeds attract money, for example, while cactus spines embody protection. The seguro, according to Andean shamans, becomes a “Friend”, you can consult with. Every time you speak out your problems to this friend, they are removed, while the powers of the plants draw good energies in.

One rule that comes up consistently in this work is that we must treat our plant allies with respect. In Haiti, healers literally pay the plants for their work by dropping coins at the base of the tree they’re collecting leaves from. They are then ‘fed’ and there is a fair exchange: we charge the plants with energy so they have the power to help us.

We must also treat plants kindly. Research shows that they have feelings, intelligence, language – even the ability to count and make music! – and they can sense our intentions and respond to our actions. If we treat them with love, they flourish and grow; if not, then their spirits die and we don’t have the healers we need.

GETTING OUT OF OUR MINDS

One of the biggest challenges for the Western mind in learning how to work with plant spirits is our cultural fascination with science and measurement. This socialisation into ‘scientific thinking’ is hard to overcome because, as part of it, we have been taught to stifle our dreaming and imaginative selves. Luckily, however, there are also plants which have a spiritual intention to re-establish our connection with the spirit-universe and open us up to the true nature of reality.

One of these is guayusa. In the Amazon it is known as “The night watchman’s plant” because of its ability to bring lucid dreams and dissolve the boundaries between wakefulness and sleep. Thus, the night watchman can take guayusa and nap, while remaining alert to the sounds and sights around him as he watches over the tribe.

The shamans say that in every country we have plants to cater for our own needs; thus, in Europe, it may be difficult to find guayusa, but a tea made of vervain, valerian, and chamomile will achieve similar affects.

Another way of getting ‘out of our minds’ is through a special state of trance consciousness known as shamanic journeying.

To take any shamanic journey, find a time and a place where you can be alone and undisturbed for 20 minutes or so, then dim the lights or cover your eyes, lie down and make yourself comfortable.

Most journeys are taken to the sound of drumming, which encourages ‘dreaming’ patterns to emerge in the brain, taking the shaman deeper into a more holistic experience of the world in its fullness. You can drum for yourself, have a friend drum for you, or use a drumming tape to guide your journey.

Expressing your intention and keeping this in focus is again important. Intention is the energy that guides the journey and enables you to engage with the mind of the universe so it can work with you.

You can try this yourself by setting your intention to meet with a plant ally – the consciousness of a plant that will guide you into the world of the collective plant mind. You do not need to have a specific plant in mind. Stay open instead to whatever comes.

As soon as the drumming begins, imagine yourself entering a place which connects you to the Earth in a way that is meaningful to you, then allow your imagination to take you where it will. All you need do is receive.

When your plant ally appears to you, spend some time in conversation with him or her (in the imaginative world, most plants take human form). Enquire about its healing gifts and the way these properties manifest in the plants themselves. Ask how you can work with this ally and the plants that embody him or her.

Visit your ally often in this way and you will learn more about the world of the plants, the nature of reality and, indeed, about yourself, as part of this vast and beautiful universe.

Further recommended reading of Ross Heaven:

Ross Heaven is the director of The Four Gates Foundation and the author of books on shamanism and healing. His latest is Plant Spirit Shamanism: Traditional Techniques for Healing the Soul. Ross also teaches Plant Spirit Shamanism workshops and trips to the Amazon to work with indigenous healers and plant shamans. Details of these are available at The Four Gates

Ayahuasca Sacred Medicine For The Soul

The below is taken from Part 1 of Ayahuasca – Sacred Medicine for the Soul
Author Howard G Charring

We humans have a special relationship and dependence on plants. Since our beginnings, they have been the source both directly and indirectly of our food, our shelter, our medicines, our fuel, our clothing, and of course the very oxygen that we breathe. This is common knowledge and in general we take if for granted. Yet we view plants in our Western culture as semi-inanimate, lacking the animating force labelled soul, mind, or spirit. Many people ridicule and regard as eccentric those who speak up and say they communicate with plants. You only have to recall the popular reaction to Prince Charles’s comments saying that he often did just that.

The biggest challenge for a Westerner undertaking this communion with the plants is to accept that there is another order of nonmaterial reality that a person can experience through his entrance into plant consciousness, and to do this requires a significant leap of the imagination. We are all born into the social paradigm that surrounds us, with all its beliefs, myths, and institutions that support its view of the world, and it is not within our worldview to accept the immaterial and irrational. Before we embark on this journey to the plant mind, then, we first need to examine some of our most deeply ingrained assumptions, assumptions still fostered by many of our religious and social institutions today. The starting place for this journey is we ourselves.

Enjoy reading these well written articles for yourselves!

For the full Part 1 of 5 articles: Ayahuasca Sacred Medicine for the Soul Part I

Part 2: Ayahuasca Sacred Medicine for the Soul Part II

Part 3: Ayahuasca Sacred Medicine for the Soul Part III

Part 4: Ayahuasca Sacred Medicine for the Soul Part IV

Part 4: Ayahuasca Sacred Medicine for the Soul Part V

Making Your Own Pusanga

By Ross Heaven

If you want more love in your life (and who doesn’t!) and would like to make pusanga of your own, just follow these instructions and romance will come your way!

The Doctrine of Signatures is your guide to collecting the plants you need. Pusanga plants for love all have certain characteristics. Their names are often significant, such as passionflower or honeysuckle (“honey” for sweetness and “suckle” for nurturing). Their colours are bright and attractive. The way they grow may also be important (ivy, for example, winds itself around other plants so the two intertwine and are drawn closer together). Their archetypal qualities may also call you (rose, for example, is nowadays practically synonymous with love). Where the plants grow can also have meaning (two plants standing together in sunlight within an otherwise dark forest signify a bright future, for example) – and so on. Look for plants that mean something to you and the desires you have.

When you locate each plant spend a little time with it, explaining your need and asking it to offer itself to you before you pick it (you don’t need to take the whole plant; a single leaf, a flower, or a piece of bark will do as this contains the energy of the whole. Try to avoid taking roots if you can). Then, when you take a piece, offer your thanks and perhaps a gift of your own, such as corn or tobacco, as they do in the Amazon. All of this is important in helping you connect with nature and develop the right attitude of respect.

When you have the plants you want, take them home and put them in a clear bottle. If you intend to use the pusanga over a few days, you can fill the bottle with water taken from ‘power places’, such as Holy water from a church or a place of spiritual power like the Chalice Well at Glastonbury, or you can use spring or mineral water. If you want to keep the pusanga a while, though, it is better to use alcohol instead of water as this will preserve the plants.

You can also add aromatherapy oils to your blend, which, in traditional magic, also have helpful qualities. To attract a new lover, for example, add a few drops of rose, jasmine, and bergamot. For a ‘deepening love’ add rose, vanilla, and a sprinkling of gold glitter. For passion during love-making once you have found your mate, add ginger, patchouli, and sandalwood.

Finally, add your prayers to the mixture, too, as the shamans do, by blowing three times into the pusanga bottle while you tell the perfume what you want it to do for you. Then wear it as a scent and expect more love in your life!

Related link: Pusanga, The Perfume of Love

Further recommended reading of Ross Heaven:

Ross Heaven is the director of The Four Gates Foundation and the author of books on shamanism and healing. His latest is Plant Spirit Shamanism: Traditional Techniques for Healing the Soul. Ross also teaches Plant Spirit Shamanism workshops and trips to the Amazon to work with indigenous healers and plant shamans.
Details of these are available at The Four Gates

Ayahuasca Neurogenesis And Depression

Posted By Ina Woolcott

A recent article published in New Scientist magazine suggests that neurogenesis – the growth of new brain cells – is a key to curing depression. The article discusses how depressed people have an enlarged amygdala, which causes an imbalance of cortizol a fight or flight stress hormone that ‘whittles away neural structures’ – especially in the hypocampus which is the cortizol shut off valve. In depressed people, this structure can be 15% smaller than the statistical average.

Banisteriopsis caapi, the Ayahuaca vine, is regarded by many that use it as an antidepressant. The MAOI beta-carbolines in the vine reduce the clearing of serotonin from the synaptic cleft : i.e MAOI another angle from which serotonin can be boosted, which qualifies the use of MAOI in the treatment of depression back in the mid twentieth century.

The additional power of Ayahuasca over commonly prescribed SSRI’s is that it allows people to experientially approach the early causal factors to their depression and work to symbolically resolve them, and cathart the primal pain and energies bound up in those repressed early experiences. Ayahuasca allows conscious realisation of how those experiences effect ones constitution and patterns of behaviour, giving beneficial insights into how the effects of the damaging influences on ones life can be greatly negated by changes of attitude and lifestyle.

For the full article click HERE

Peyote Visions And Alternate Reality

By Ina Woolcott

Peyote is a spineless cactus that is dome shaped and soft with button-like nodules. It is blue green in colour and grows to about 5cm tall and 8cm wide. There are 2 species, Mescal (Lophophora williamsii) which has flowers white or pink in colour, and Lophophora Diffusa which is more primitive with yellow to white flowers and a yellowy green body. These plants are native throughout the Chihuahuan Desert from central Mexico to southern Texas and are also known as Mescal. Peyote is an entheogen containing mescaline as its primary active chemical, well known for its hallucinogenic effect after chewing the dried out or fresh nodules found on the cactus. They can also be boiled and drunk as a bitter tea. A ‘trip’ last around 6-12 hours depending on the individual. Unfortunately, Peyote takes 30 years to mature and flower and due to over-cultivation is in danger of being extinct in the wild.

The usage of Peyote

The Peyote Cactus has a history of traditional use amongst Native American tribes as a shamanic teacher plant that can give visions of an alternate reality or the spirit world. It has been used by indigenous tribes, shamans and medicine men such as the Navajos of South West USA and the Huichol of northern Mexico for the psychedelic effects when ingested, to communicate with the spirit world and as a medicine. Huichol Indians rub the juices of fresh peyote into wounds to prevent infection and to promote healing. Peyote’s known history dates back to pre-Columbian times; possibly as early as 300 B.C. This is a part of traditional rituals and ceremony. Peyote has many uses in folkloric medicine, e.g. influenza, intestinal disorders, diabetes, the treatment of arthritis, consumption, snake and scorpion bites and datura poisoning.

The sad thing is that ever since the first Europeans arrived in the New World, Peyote has provoked controversy, suppression, and persecution. The Spanish conquerors condemned its usage for its “satanic trickery”, and it more recently came under attack by local governments and religious groups. Nevertheless, this amazing plant continued to play a major sacramental role among the Indians of Mexico, whilst its use has spread northward into the United States and Canada among many of the Plains Indian Tribes such as the Navajo, Comanche, Sioux, and Kiowa in the last two centuries.

The Native American Church movement was started in the late 1800’s when Native spirituality was revived. The church was officially ‘opened’ in 1918. This is one of the official organisations that use Peyote in their spiritual practises. The ‘Peyotero’ leads the ceremony and is similar to a shaman or medicine man. The use of Peyote has faced many legal challenges for non-Native Americans. In the USA, federal law currently restricts peyote use in religious ceremonies to members of Federally Recognized Tribal groups.

Interest in this plant was renewed after Carlos Castaneda documented his uses of it under the tutelage of Don Juan Matus, who gave the plant the name Mescalito, the name given to the spirit of the plant which is supposed to be sensed by those using peyote to gain insight and wisdom in to their lives. Once ingested, an initial feeling of nausea can be experienced, then a shift in consciousness with visions and changes in perception, sense of time and mood. There are no uncomfortable after effects and it is not addictive. Peyote is said to initiate states of deep contemplation of one’s own thoughts, feelings, and sensations and profound insights that are of a metaphysical or spiritual nature. Feelings of inner tranquillity, oneness with life, heightened awareness, and rapid thought flow may be experienced. Everyone has their own unique experience. This can be accompanied with abounding visual or auditory effects. A mental state is also produced that allows users to feel closer to their ancestors and the Universe/All That Is/God. Peyote is also still used as a medicine to battle things such as alcoholism, drug abuse or other social ills.

Peyote is a controlled substance and illegal in all states of America, apart from use by Native Americans in their ceremonies. A federal law was passed in 1995 to confirm this protection of rights.

In Canada the compound Mescaline is illegal but peyote is specifically exempt. So it is legal to possess the cactus, but not to use it.

Internationally Article 32 of the Convention on Psychotropic Substances allows nations to exempt certain traditional uses of peyote from prohibition:

A State on whose territory there are plants growing wild which contain psychotropic substances from among those in Schedule I and which are traditionally used by certain small, clearly determined groups in magical or religious rites, may, at the time of signature, ratification or accession, make reservations concerning these plants, in respect of the provisions of article 7, except for the provisions relating to international trade.

Ayahuasca The Medicine Of Love

By Ross Heaven

Shamanic healing often employs plants to good effect, though it is rarely about herbalism, per se. Indeed, most shamans are explicit that the pharmacological properties of the plants they employ are of far less importance than the spirit which is held by the plant. It is the spirit which heals, while the plant itself is secondary, acting only as the home of the plant-spirit.

The point is illustrated by Amazonian shaman, Javier Arevalo, who serves the community of Nuevo Progreso, on the Rio Napo river of Peru, working with the visionary jungle vine, ayahuasca.

Ayahuasca is a powerful purgative and curative mixture which is used by the shamans of the Amazon to commune with the spirits, who then oversee the healing of the person who drinks the ayahuasca brew, while the shaman guides the healing session and appeals to the spirits on behalf of his client.

The mixture itself, blended in careful measure, contains ayahuasca vine (Banisteriopsis caapi) and leaves of the chacruna plant (Psychotria viridis), often with datura and pure jungle tobacco, which cause the purging qualities that ayahuasca is famous for. The final mixture is also known as ayahuasca, from the Quechua words, aya meaning ‘spirit’ or ‘dead’, and huasca meaning ‘rope’ or ‘vine’. Hence, the brew is often referred to as the ‘vine of souls’ or the ‘rope of the dead’.

It is prepared by cutting the vines into short lengths which are then scraped, cleaned and pounded to a brown pulp. The vines, along with chacruna leaves and other ingredients are then placed in a cauldron, water is added, and the entire mixture is boiled for 10-12 hours, overseen at all stages by the shaman who will continuously blow sacred tobacco smoke into and over the brew. When ready, the mix becomes a muddy, pungent liquid with a foul, acrid taste.

Once ingested, the mixture produces initial feelings of warmth which spread up from the stomach, creating a sense of well-being and a sensation of skin elasticity, almost as if the skin has become rubber-like and pliable and no longer separate from the air around it. After this first phase, which may last 30-60 minutes, the visionary effects begin, which are often dramatic. Harvard ethnobotanist, Wade Davis, in his book, One River1, described the sensation as akin to being “shot out of a gun barrel lined with Baroque paintings, and landing in a sea of electricity”. Visions of snakes and vines in bright primary colours are very common but, for the trained shamanic eye, information on the illnesses and diseases which inhabit his client’s bodies are also expected. It is these visions which enable him, and the spirit of ayahuasca, to heal his clients.

During the visionary phase, purging may also take place through vomiting or diarrhoea. This is often emotionally uncomfortable for Westerners who are brought up to control their bodily functions and not to ‘let go’ of themselves, but it is welcomed by the people of the Amazon since it is this purge which removes the ‘poison’ that can lead to illness, and clears the system both physically and spiritually. Of course, the shaman must never purge since he is a master of (or partner to) the vine and must control the healing ceremony.

Javier is a Maestro (master) of ayahuasca (also known as an ayahuascero) and has spent 14 years understanding the ways and the spirit of this and other plants, which he refers to as “the jungle doctors”. The training of an ayahuascero is arduous, involving abstention from certain foodstuffs, from alcohol and from sex, since the spirit of ayahuasca, while angelic and protective, can also express very human emotions, such as jealousy and anger, and can turn vengeful, with unpleasant consequences for those who approach it in an impure manner.

Training as an ayahuascero also involves long periods of time spent in jungle isolation, “dieting” the plants, which means regular (often nightly) ingestion of ayahuasca, along with many others which are considered healers. He must also follow a special diet which denies him sugar, salt, alcohol, pork and other foods. In fact, the diet consists largely of rice, fish and rice water – and even that might be considered lavish since all of the food must be found locally or carried into the jungle, where the shaman must remain for months at a time. The harshness of this training regime is exemplified by one Amazonian shaman whose mentor once gave him tobacco to diet, in a mix so strong that it bordered on toxic. After consuming the fermented tobacco drink, the shaman retired to a jungle cabin where he lay in a coma-like state for three days. “When you take this drink, you’ll either live or you’ll die”, his mentor told him. “If you live, you will know tobacco”2.

“Every plant has a spirit”, says Javier. “The shaman goes into the forest as part of his apprenticeship and spends years taking plants and roots. He takes ayahuasca too and the spirit tells him what it cures. Then the shaman tries another plant, each time remembering which ailment is cured by that.

“As the spirits, or plant doctors, who teach us are pure, they are made happy when we are pure too. So a shaman must diet in order to attract them. That means they should not eat salt, sugar or alcohol, and they should abstain from sex.

“You learn all this in the wilderness. The spirits there are the angels of each plant, to which you add your own will to heal the client. This is the will of Christ”3.

Javier’s own training has taken place under the tutelage of his grandfather, a Banco (master shaman), who, under the protection of ayahuasca, is able to spend up to eight hours beneath the waters of the Amazon rivers, communicating “with the biggest fish of the river”, according to Javier. Once, he also saw a mermaid there, who is now a guardian and tutor to the old shaman. Soon Javier will begin his own “river training” on his own path to becoming a Banco.

The use of ayahuasca is completely egalitarian, according to Javier; its healing spirit being available to anyone who partakes of the drink, though it is often the shaman who carries out the healing, per se, once the spirit of ayahuasca has revealed the nature of the illness to him.

Laboratory tests reveal no significant healing properties for ayahuasca, only hallucinogenic qualities, so it is surprising to Western scientists and clinicians that such results are possible. For Javier, the explanation is simple: the spirit of the plant is a healer and it has, he says, had similar remarkable results in curing Western visitors with ailments including cancers and HIV, as well as alcoholism, drug addictions and other more emotional problems.

“I had a patient who was HIV positive and had been in hospital a fortnight”, said Javier. “That night we drank [ayahuasca, and] I saw in my vision that HIV was like the devil destroying him and that he was getting worse.

“He stuck to the [ayahuasca] diet for two months [and] he also took bitter tasting herbs which cure internal wounds. After three times [three ayahuasca sessions] he was better and, when tested, proved HIV negative”3.

The Pulitzer Price-nominated author, John Perkins, who has written extensively about ayahuasca usage among the Shuar Indians of Ecuador, has confirmed other ‘miraculous’ healings. “During the ten years we have been taking people to meet the shamans, there have been a number of remarkable stories”, he says4 – among them, cures for deafness, depression, weight loss, as well as endless accounts of life changes and new visions for a different personal and social future.

Against this backdrop of radical and positive change, it is depressing for Javier to reflect that the rainforest, home to so many healing plants – millions of them still unknown to Western medicine – is being destroyed so quickly by the ‘developed’ nations, with so little consideration of the consequences of this action. Every three seconds in the Amazon rainforest, one entire species is wiped out forever as a result of this development in order that Westerners might eat more burgers and drive more cars – the very things (pollution and fast food) which are, in many cases, causing disease in the first place.

People create such ‘madness’ as a result of confusion and to be noticed, says Javier. Ultimately, they are searching for love and belonging but, in the West, they believe this comes through status, rather than the more direct route of loving intent.

Javier’s point was underlined a few years ago, when he worked with a group of Westerners of which I was a member. Immediately prior to the ayahuasca ceremonies, Javier asked the group what they really wanted from their lives.

Most answered with spiritual or ‘cosmic’ answers and spoke of world peace and saving the planet, etc. Javier looked bemused and confused. He asked again and this time, after a little more thought and a good deal more honesty, people said what they really wanted was love. This Javier could understand. The requests were real and immediate – but it was as if people had not felt entitled to ask for these personal things.

Yet, paradoxically, these honest desires are where true healing begins, said Javier, since, if more people in the West were able to experience love, there would be no need for the madness of developed society, the search for more status and material gain and the destruction this leads to – and, consequently, no need to save the planet, which would never be in danger. “Love solves problems”, say Javier, simply. “Ayahuasca cures through love”.

Ross Heaven is the director of The Four Gates Foundation and the author of books on shamanism and healing. His latest is Plant Spirit Shamanism: Traditional Techniques for Healing the Soul. Ross also teaches Plant Spirit Shamanism workshops and trips to the Amazon to work with indigenous healers and plant shamans. Details of these are available at The Four Gates

REFERENCES

1. Davis, W. One River: Science, Adventure and Hallucinogenics in the Amazon Basin. Touchstone Books, 1998

2. In Heaven, R. Spirit in the City: The Search for the Sacred in Everyday Life. Bantam Books, 2002

3. Cloudsley P, Love Magic and the Vine of the Soul, Sacred Hoop magazine, Issue 36, Spring 2002

4. In Heaven, R. The Journey To You: A Shaman’s Path to Empowerment. Bantam Books, 2001

Plant Spirit Shamanism And The Medicinal Plants Of The Amazon Rainforest

Plant Spirit Shamanism and the Medicinal Plants of the Amazon Rainforest

Submitted by Howard G. Charing

Working with teacher plants is known as the ‘shaman’s diet’. The purpose of the diet is to prepare the body and nervous system for the powerful knowledge and expansion of consciousness given by teacher plants.

In everyday life, the mind creates the illusion that we are separate from reality, and thus protects us, like a veil, from experiencing the vastness of the universe. Access to the truth without preparation could be a radical shock to the system.

It offers a significant challenge for the rational Western mind to come to terms with the teacher plants, and a leap of imagination is required to incorporate the ‘other’ consciousness of the plant. The magical world to which we are transported by plants is not accessible through the verbal rational mind but through dream language or an expansion of the imagination. Thus dreams & our imaginative powers act like doorways during a plant diet and connect us with the plant spirit.

Some of the Medicinal Plants of the Amazon Rainforest

Mocura; taken orally or used in floral baths to raise energy, or take you out of a saladera (a run of bad luck, inertia, sense of not living to the full). This plant gives mental strength and you can feel its effects as also with ajosacha, both are varieties of garlic and have a penetrating aroma. Mental strength means it could be good to counter shyness, find one’s personal value or authority. Medicinal properties include asthma, bronchitis, reduction of fat and cholesterol. Another of its properties is that it burns of excess fat.

Piñon Colorado; this plant has short lived effect after drinking but helps dreaming later on when you go to sleep. Piñon Colorado can also be worked with as a planta maestra (teacher plant). Medicinal properties include dealing with Insect bites and stings, vaginal infections, and bronchitis. It is possible to take the resin, which is much stronger, but toxic if too much ingested. The resin can be applied directly to the skin.

Chirisanango; this plant is good for colds and arthritis and has the effect of heating up the body, so much so that the maestro advises a cold shower after each dose! This plant can be used in baths for good luck, and bring success to fishing, hunting etc. This planta maestra also makes possible for people to open up their heart to feel love for people and animals, and identify with other people as though brothers and sisters.

It grows mainly in the Upper Amazon and only a few restingas (high ground which never floods) in the Lower Amazon. The shamans say that plants connect us with nature because they take their nourishment directly from the earth, as well as the sun’s rays, the air. They allow us to know and recognize ourselves. A shaman must know this and must love his people to heal them. The gift of Chirisanango is self esteem i.e the ability to recognise ourselves.

The shamans say that this plant opens up the shamanic path, assuming that we are prepared to live under the rules of shamanism, to do this we need courage and no fear of extremes or negative & challenging circumstances. We need to understand what role we will play in society and have the heart of a warrior.

Guayusa; It is good for excessive acidity and other problems in the stomach and bile. Also it is both energizing and relaxing at the same time and develops mental strength. This also has the most interesting effect of giving lucid dreams i.e when you are dreaming you are aware that you are dreaming. The plant is also known as the “watchman’s plant”, as even when sleeping you are aware of the outer physical surroundings.

On another personal note, I found the experience with this plant also to be quite incredible. I found that the usual boundary between sleeping and being awake to be more fluid than I had anticipated. Even now, sometime after taking the plant my dreams are more colourful, richer, and lucid than before. For those interested in ‘dreaming’ this is certainly the plant to explore.

Ajo Sacha; An important planta maestra in the initiation of Amazonian shamans. Mental strength, acuity of mind, saladera (explained above), for ridding spells, self-healing. Originally used to enhance hunting skills by covering up human smell with the garlic smell of Ajosacha.

On another personal note, I found my senses being altered and enhanced with this plant. I could zoom in and focus on sounds emanating from the rainforest, my sense of smell became sharper, and in some ineffable way I could tune into the breathing or rhythm of the rainforest. The sound of insects and birds was no longer a random phenomenon, these sounds became a rhythmic breath, rising and falling. No wonder that it is used for hunting as one’s sense are heightened in an incredible way.

Icoja; A bark used for malaria, fever, an astringent, disinfectant for healing septic wounds. Used against Uta – a kind of leprosy found in the Amazon. Wounds are washed directly with this plant, and it is also used for an infectious disease (Pilagra) in children.

Chanca piedra; Used for Kidney problems especially kidney stones (hence the name ‘stone crusher’), gall bladder, disinfectant. This is recognised as a gall bladder and liver tonic. It is also used for cleansing the urinary system and for dealing with intestinal parasites. This plant is only used for its many pharmaceutical properties, not a planta maestra per se.

Sachamangua; This is a large single seeded fruit, which when you crush the fruit and squeeze the juice into the nose, it warms the area locally (it can sting a bit), and it is effective for curing sinusitis. It also helps the eyesight and restores visual acuity by relieving the pressure from the sinuses. You eliminate a lot of mucus and this gives relief. The fruit when ripe is normally eaten peeled or roasted, and is a little like the aguaje fruit, but for medicinal uses it must be green. It is also good for tired feet in a poultice. Taken orally it is useful for the liver when struggling with the digestion of fat, it is also a treatment for gases. Fungal spores in the nose can cause itching, rhinitis or allergy and Sachamangua is effective for this too. Athlete’s foot can also be treated with the dry powder, like talcum powder, prepared from this fruit.

Cat’s Claw (una de gato); Cat’s Claw is a tropical vine that grows in rainforest. This vine gets its name from the small thorns at the base of the leaves, which looks like a cat’s claw. These claws enable the vine to attach itself around trees climbing to a height up to 150 feet. The inner bark of this vine has been used for generations to treat inflammations, colds, viral infections, arthritis, and tumours.

Cat’s Claw can be used as tonic to boost the body’s immune system. And is considered by many as a ‘balancer’ returning the body’s functions to a healthy equilibrium. Its has anti-inflammatory and blood cleansing properties as well as being able to clean out the entire intestinal tract and therefore helps treat a wide array of digestive problems such as gastric ulcers, parasites, and dysentery.

From a psycho-spiritual, plant spirit, or shamanic perspective in which disease and illness can be initiated by a spiritual imbalance within a person causing the person to become de-spirited, or losing heart (in the West we would call this depression), it can restore this inner sacred union of spirit and physical body.

The medicinal properties of this plant are officially recognized by the Peruvian government and it is a protected (for export) plant. It is available widely in the west in capsule form. In the markets in Iquitos it is available in bark form, and many indigenous communities are increasingly cultivating this plant.

Boahuasca; Used to heal Cancer of the stomach and intestines and prolapses. Also used against Uta, and cancerous, malignant wounds. The shaman’s make an ointment from the ash and apply directly.

The underlying truth that is revealed in working with the plant spirit or consciousness is that we are not separate from the natural world. We perceive ourselves to be separate beings with our minds firmly embedded within our being (typically our head). The plants can show you that this way of being is an illusion and that we are all connected, all of us and everything else is a discrete element in the great universal field of consciousness. This is an area where the ancient knowledge of the peoples of the rainforest and modern quantum physics point in the very same direction, “Reality is an illusion, albeit a persistent one’ Albert Einstein.

Another way of seeing the shaman’s diet is that like the platitude ‘all roads lead to Rome’, all plants lead through different paths of experiences to the same place, i.e a deep and expanded understanding of one’s place in the world around us and a recognition of self as an intrinsic element of this.

The indigenous people of the Amazon see life as having enough purpose just as it is. Fulfilment comes from being in tune with the spirits so there is an abundance of fish, bananas, yucca for making masato (alcoholic beverage), and plenty of healthy children, in short, life is for being happy!

Howard has also authored the book Plant Spirit Shamanism published by Destiny Books (USA) with a Forword of Pablo Amaringo.

Howard G. Charing is a partner in Eagle’s Wing Centre for Contemporary Shamanism. His initiation into the world of Shamanism was sudden, which was caused by a serious accident, which resulted in severe injuries and a near-death experience. After many months of physical pain and disability, he had a transformational experience, which started him on a path to healing. If you like to know more about his work, Howard conducts “Plant Spirit Medicine” journeys to the Amazon Rainforest.