Coca And The Sacred Plants Of The Incas The Timeless World Of The Andes

Submitted by Howard G. Charing

The Incas regarded coca as ‘the divine plant’ mainly because of its property of imparting endurance, nevertheless its use was entwined with every aspect of life; the art, mythology, culture and economy of the Inca Empire.

Millions of Indians have chewed coca on a daily basis for many hundreds of years, yet never has a plant been so misrepresented and its use so controlled by prejudice and ignorance, including up to the present day. The Conquistadors considered it an idle and offensive habit to be prohibited, but it was soon seen that the Indians could not work without coca even when forced to do so.

The coca leaf has been sacred to Andean people since the dawn of pre-Colombian civilization. Doris Rivera Lenz, a renowned Andean Ceremonialist, healer, and Coca leaf Diviner, when asked about the source of the information she divines from them, she says:

“They give me such a powerful awareness it is as though an energy comes into me from just touching them. I invoke Mother Nature and the spirit of the coca, and with just seven leaves, the answer comes, as though through an open doorway.”


An ancient method of diagnosing illness, still common in Peru, is to rub an egg over the body of the patient. Doris is gifted in this tradition and prescribes remedies, which include medicinal herbs.

Much Andean wisdom is based on observation of nature, noting for example, that if the ducks go round in circles, there will be long rains, etc… Involvement with nature prevents the mind from becoming mechanical, can see that it is constantly nurturing us and helping us to grow.

The ofrenda

An ‘ofrenda’ is the most important ceremony used by Andean Indians to relate with Mother Earth. The ofrenda is a symbol of reciprocity with nature and its purpose is to teach us to reproduce this attitude. Through it we speak back to nature saying we understand the message and concord.

The ofrenda which is also known in Spanish as a ‘pago’, is not a ‘payment’ to nature as the Conquistadores saw it, implying a sinister pact with nature spirits. Additionally, they accused the Indians of being miserly because they preferred to pay symbolically rather than with real money!

An ofrenda is an expression of gratitude, not of debt or obligation. Neither is it selfish to want things for ourselves as some people see it even today. It is true that urban people in Peru have started to make ofrendas for reasons such as wanting their businesses to flourish, but good business can equally imply good health, and harmony to the community and for the natural world.

In an Andean community realities are closer to earth than they are in the city, it is more important that the cattle do not die than to have more private possessions. Hence in the country there is a better understanding of the shamanic meaning of the ceremony, the re-establishing of relationship to nature. This is why we need a little preparation so that an ofrenda can work for us too.


We live in a time of the fulfilment of an ancient Inca prophecy. This is the time of the new Pachacuti, a great change bringing with it a new relating to the Earth (Pachamama). Each Pachacuti is an era of time about 500 years. The last Pachacuti occurred with the Conquest in the early 16th century, and the Q’ero (Inca) priests have been waiting ever since for the next era, when order would start to emerge from chaos. The current Pachacuti refers to the end of time as we understand it, the end or death of a way of thinking and a way of being. A new relationship with the living Earth, and an emergence into a golden age of peace. There are many indications that changes in human consciousness are taking place, yet there is still a long way to go. It is part of Doris’s vision to show us traditional ways that we can re-engage with the sacredness of life and the Earth so we too can more fully participate in the new Pachacuti.

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.

San Pedro The Cactus Of Vision Plant Spirit Shamanism Of Northern Peru

Submitted by Howard G. Charing

Shamans from different cultures and traditions have been using psychoactive plants since the dawn of human emergence.

These plants have been used traditionally for guidance, divination, healing, maintaining a balance with the spirit or consciousness of the living world.

Howard G. Charing and Peter Cloudsley talk with Maestro Juan Navarro.

The hallucinogenic San Pedro cactus has been used since ancient times, and in Peru the tradition has been unbroken for over 3,000 years. The earliest depiction of the cactus is a carving showing a mythological being holding a San Pedro, and dates from about 1300 bc. It comes from the Chavín culture (c.1400-400 bce) and was found in a temple at Chavín de Huantar, in the northern highlands of Peru. Later, the Mochica culture, (c.500 ce) used the cactus in their iconography. Even in present day mythology, it is told that God hid the keys to heaven in a secret place and San Pedro used the magical powers of a cactus to discover this place; later the cactus was named after him.

La Mesa Norteña – Juan Navarro was born in the highland village of Somate, department of Piura. He is a descendant of a long lineage of healers and shamans working with the magical powers of the sacred lakes known as Las Huaringas, which stand at 4,000 metres and have been revered since earliest Peruvian civilization. At the age of eight, Juan made his first pilgrimage to Las Huaringas, and took San Pedro for the first time. Every month or two it is necessary to return here to accumulate energy and protection to heal his people. As well as locals and Limeños (people from Lima), pilgrims also come from many parts of South America.

During the sessions Juan works untiringly, assisted by his two sons – as is common in this tradition – in an intricate sequence of processes, including invocation, diagnosis, divination, and healing with natural objects, or artes. The artes are initially placed on the maestro’s altar or mesa, and picked up when required during the ceremony. These artes are an astonishing and beautiful array of shells, swords, magnets, quartzes, objects resembling sexual organs, rocks which spark when struck together, and stones from animals’ stomachs, which they have swallowed to aid digestion! The artes are collected from pre-Colombian tombs, and sacred energetic places, particularly Las Huaringas.They bring magical qualities to the ceremony where, under the visionary influence of San Pedro, their invisible powers may be experienced. The maestro’s mesa – a weaving placed on the ground on which all the artes are placed, (mesa also means ‘table’ in Spanish) – is a representation of the forces of nature and the cosmos.Through the mesa the shaman is able to work with and influence these forces to diagnose and heal disease.

The traditional mesa norteña has three areas: on the left is the campo ganadero or ‘field of the dark’; on the right is the campo justiciero or the ‘field of the light’ (justiciero means justice); and in the centre is the campo medio or ‘neutral field’, which is the place of balance between the forces of light and dark. It is important for us not to look at these forces as positive or negative – it is what we human beings do with these forces, which is important. Although the contents and form of the artes varies from tradition to tradition, the mesa rituals serve to remind us that the use and power of symbols extends throughout all cultures.


San Pedro (trichocereus pachanoi) grows on the dry eastern slopes of the Andes, between 2,000 – 3,000 metres above sea level, and commonly reaches six metres or more in height. It is also grown by local shamans in their herb gardens. As can be imagined, early European missionaries held the native practices in considerable contempt, and indeed were very negative when reporting the use of the San Pedro. Yet a Spanish missionary, cited by Christian Rätsch, grudgingly admitted the cactus’ medicinal value in the midst of a tirade reviling it: “It is a plant with whose aid the devil is able to strengthen the Indians in their idolatry; those who drink its juice lose their senses and are as if dead; they are almost carried away by the drink and dream a thousand unusual things and believe that they are true. The juice is good against burning of the kidneys and, in small amounts, is also good against high fever, hepatitis, and burning in the bladder.” A shaman’s account of the cactus is in radical contrast:

“It first … produces … drowsiness or a dreamy state and a feeling of lethargy … a slight dizziness … then a great ‘vision’, a clearing of all the faculties … it produces a light numbness in the body and afterward a tranquillity. And then comes detachment, a type of visual force … inclusive of all the senses … including the sixth sense, the telepathic sense of transmitting oneself across time and matter … like a kind of removal of one’s thought to a distant dimension.”

San Pedro, considered the ‘maestro of the maestros’, enables the shaman to make a bridge between the visible and the invisible world for his people. The Quechua name for it is punku, which means ‘doorway’. The doorway connects the patient’s body to his spirit; to heal the body we must heal the spirit. San Pedro can show us the psychic causes of illness intuitively or in mythical dream language. The effects of San Pedro work through various stages, beginning with an expanded physical awareness in the body. Soon this is followed by euphoric feelings and then, after several hours, psychic and visionary effects become more noticeable.

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talking with Juan Navarro

What is the relationship of the maestro with San Pedro?

In the north of Peru the power of San Pedro works in combination with tobacco. Also the sacred lakes Las Huaringas are very important. This is where we go to find the most powerful healing herbs, which we use to energize our people. For example we use dominio [linking one’s intent with the spirit power of the plants] to give strength and protection from supernatural forces such as sorcery and negative thoughts. It is also put into the seguros – amulet bottles filled with perfume, plants and seeds gathered from Las Huaringas. You keep them in your home for protection and to make your life go well. These plants do not have any secondary effects on the nervous system, nor do they provoke hallucinations. San Pedro has strength and is mildly hallucinatory, but you cannot become addicted. It doesn’t do any harm to your body; rather it helps the maestro to see what the problem is with his patient. Of course some people have this gift born in them – as our ancestors used to say, it is in the blood of a shaman.

Is San Pedro a ‘teacher plant’?

Of course, but it has a certain mystery. You have to be compatible with it because it doesn’t work for everybody. The shaman has a special relationship with it. It circulates in the body of the patient and where it finds abnormality it enables the shaman to detect it. It lets him know the pain they feel and whereabouts it is. So it is the link between patient and maestro. It also purifies the blood of the person who drinks it. It balances the nervous system so people lose their fears, frights and traumas, and it charges people with positive energy. Everyone must drink so that the maestro can connect with them. Only the dose may vary from person to person because not everyone is as strong.

What about the singado?

(inhalation of tobacco juice through the nostrils) The tobacco leaf is left for two to three months in contact with honey, and when required for the singado it is macerated with aguardiente, or alcohol. How it functions depends on which nostril is used; when taken in by the left side it is for liberating us of negative energy, including psychosomatic ills, pains in the body, bad influences of other people – or ‘envy’ as we call it here. As you take it in you must concentrate on the situation, which is going badly, or the person, which is giving out a negative energy.

When taken through the right nostril it is for rehabilitating and energizing, so that your projects go well. It’s not for getting high on. Afterwards you can spit the tobacco out or swallow it, it doesn’t matter. It has an interrelation with the san pedro in the body, and intensifies the visionary effects.

Tobacco is an important plant in the ceremonies – can you smoke in the session?

No, no, no. It may be the same plant but here another element comes into play, which is fire. As the session is carried out in darkness, the fire in the darkness can perturb, create a negative reflection or vision. It can cause trauma.

You use a chungana (rattle) during the san pedro sessions and I ‘see’ the sound as a beam of a light penetrating the darkness. Yes, sound and light are interrelated. Chunganas are used to invoke the spirits of the dead, whether of family or of great healers, so that they may feel comfortable with us. The chunganas are to give us ‘enchantment’ (protection and positive energy) and it has a relaxing effect when taking san pedro.

What is the power of the artes – the objects on the mesa?

They come from Las Huaringas, where a special energy is bestowed on everything, including the healing herbs, which grow there, and nowhere else. If you bathe in the lakes it takes away all your ills. You bathe with the intention of leaving everything negative behind. People go there to leave their enemies behind, so they can’t do them any harm. After bathing, the maestro cleanses you with these artes, swords, bars, chontas (bamboo staffs), saints, and even huacos (the powers from ancient sacred sites). They ‘flourish’ you – spraying you with agua florida (perfume) and herb macerations, and giving you sweet things like limes and honey, so your life flourishes. We maestros also need to go to Las Huaringas regularly because we make enemies from healing people, so we need to protect ourselves. The reason for this is that two forces exist: the good and the bad. The bad forces are from the pacts which the brujos (sorcerors with negative intentions) make with the devil. The brujo is the rival of the curandero or healer. So when the curandero heals, he makes an enemy of the brujo. It’s not so much because he sends the bad magic back, as because he does the opposite thing to him, and they want supremacy in the battle. Not far from Las Huaringas is a place called Sondor, which has its own lakes. This is where evil magic is practiced and where they do harm in a variety of ways. I know because as a curandero I must know how sorcery is practiced, in order to defend myself and my patients.

Do people go there secretly?

Of course no one admits to going there, but they pass through Huancabamba just like the others who are going to Las Huaringas. I know various people who practice bad magic at a distance. They do it using physical means, concentrating, summoning up a person’s soul, knowing their characteristics etc. and can make them suffer an accident, or make an organ ill or whatever, or make their work go badly wrong. They have the power to get to their spirit. And people can even do harm to themselves. For example, if a person has bad intentions towards another and that person is well protected with an encanto, (amulet) then he will do himself harm.

How does the ‘rastreo’ (diagnosis through psychic means) work? Are you in an altered state?

No, I’m completely normal and lucid. What allows the reading of a person’s past, present or future, is the strength of the san pedro and tobacco. It is an innate capability – not everybody has the gift, you can’t learn it from someone, it is inherited. The perceptions come through any one of the senses – sound, vision, smell, or a feeling inside of what the person is feeling, a weakness, a pain or whatever. Sometimes, for instance, a bad taste in the mouth may indicate a bad liver. All the things on the mesa are perfectly normal, natural things: chontas, swords, stones etc. They have just received a treatment – like a radio tuned to a certain frequency – so they can heal particular things, weaknesses or whatever. But always it is necessary to concentrate on the sacred lakes, Las Huaringas.

Is it necessary for the maestro to take San Pedro to have vision?

Of course, he must take San Pedro and tobacco. But it is to protect himself from the person’s negativity and illness, not because he needs it to have the vision.

In conclusion, we must acknowledge that we, as humans, have realised from earliest times that knowledge goes beyond sensory awareness or the rational way of understanding the world. San pedro can take us directly to a telepathic communion and show us that there is no such thing as an inanimate object. Everything in the universe is alive and has a spirit. This is the gift of the plants, which offer us a doorway into the infinite.

Juan Navarro was born in the highland village of Somate, department of Piura. He is a descendant of a long lineage of healers and shamans working with the magical powers of Las Huaringas.

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.

Deadly Nightshade Belladonna Atropa Belladonna Ancient Powerful Witching Herb

By Ina Woolcott

An ancient and powerful witching herb

All continents, apart from Antarctica, have seen Belladonna and similar alkaloids used by shamans, witches and sorcerers for thousands of years, who take advantage of the sensations of leaving their bodies, to access alternate realities to gleam wisdom, to fly through the air or to shapeshift into an animal by a shift in consciousness. It has been suggested that this is where the witches riding on brooms legend was started. The shamans and others who used Belladonna throughout the centuries were not looking to get high – they wanted to leave their minds and/or bodies and travel on a different path that few people are able to handle, either physically or mentally.

The word nightshade stems from the Medieval practice of some Italian women using eye drops made from this plant to dilate their pupils, and give the eyes a bright, glistening appearance. Large pupils at this time were considered a sign of feminine beauty, because dilated pupils were considered more attractive as pupils usually dilate when a person is aroused, thus making eye contact much more intense than it already is. This is where the name bella donna, beautiful woman, comes from. It had the side effect of making their vision a little blurry and making their heart rates increase. Prolonged usage was reported to have resulted in blindness. The juice of the berries was used to stain the skin a dark purplish colour.

This plant species is also named after the Greek word Atropos, the name of one of the three mythical fates controlling when humans died. She was considered the most fierce and inflexible of the 3 fates, her sole purpose being to cut the threads of life with the shears she always carried with her.

The ancient Greeks knew of the psychoactive and sensory effects of this plant, and it was believed to have been added to the wine of Bacchanals to give it a legendary potency. The maenods of the orgies of Dionysus would take Belladonna, either throwing themselves at male worshippers or tearing them apart and eating them

It can be deduced, theoretically, from the extensive references to the use of herbs, belonging to the nightshade family, in medieval texts, that these were frequently used to induce hallucinations and for recreational purposes.

Belladonna is one of the most important hexing herbs of days long gone. It was one of the main ingredient in witches brews during the Middle ages, often being associated with aggressive female sexuality. A flying ointment was made from Belladonna together with other plants. This was then applied to women’s bodies causing them to feel erotic sensations and hallucinate. The ‘witches’ would ‘fly’ to the Sabbath in this condition to participate in orgies with demons. It was thought that the ingestion of Belladonna would give witches the ability to ‘fly’ to far off places. This was probably in reference to consciousness going to alternate realities and experiencing what they found there. Experiments have shown that the sensation of flight, in the mind, is common with subjects under the influence of solanaceous compounds, similar to what seems to have been experienced by ‘witches’.

Legends tell of Belladonna being cared for by the Devil, that every night apart from one he spends tending his plants. He has exclusive rights to planting and harvesting the herb. Yearly on his one night off, Walpurgis night, he leave his herbs to prepare for the witches’ Sabbath.

It has also been suggested that the original witch hunts were brought about by the increased use of these herbs by those deemed peasants, and the decline in the churches control over the populace.

Belladonna was used during the middle ages to torture people until they confessed. The victim would be weakened and confused, not sure of what was real or fantasy, what they had really done or had simply imagined. Many false confessions were given because of this, with a lot of innocent people being convicted of crimes they had not committed.

This plant has a long history of being used as a poison, being called dwale. This name was either a derivative of the French word deuil, for grief or sorrow, or from the Scandinavian word dool, for delay or sleep.

During the time of Duncan I of Scotland’s reign ( around A.D. 1035 ), a whole army of invading Danes led by King Sven of Norway were poisoned and defeated by Belladonna. There are contradictory tales as to whether the Danes were poisoned by eating a meal that had been laced with Belladonna, or by drinking a liquor containing its infusion. In earlier times still, the troops of Marcus Antonius were apparently poisoned by Belladonna during the Parathion wars.

Roman priests were known to have ingested Belladonna before praying to Bellona, their Goddess of War, for a victory in battle.

A veneficae, someone who specialises in botanical drugs ) frequently uses belladonna as an ingredient in poisons giving their black art the name of veneficium.

Belladonna was listed in several pharmacopoeias, until 1788 when is was removed. It was added again in 1809. Up until 1860 it was used medicinally in England as an anodyne liniment, a fluid capable of soothing or eliminating pain.. During this time it was also used as an antidote for opium overdose, or for chloroform or Calabar bean poisoning.

A liniment, salve/cream or plaster was used to help ease the effects of gout and rheumatism and to counter neuralgia. Angina was treated by applying a plaster to the chest area, as well as being smoked to relieve asthma. It is reported that children were frequently given large doses to oppose the effects of whooping cough and false croup without adverse reactions.

Belladonna was also used as a cure-all, before antibiotics were discovered. It was used to treat pneumonia, sore throat, scarlet fever, typhoid fever, infection and even cancer. A concoction of lead, Belladonna and salicylic acid was used to treat sprains, as well as being a cure for bunions and corns. Atropine is very fat soluble and was frequently used in salves and plasters applied to the skin.

Related link:
Deadly Nightshade, Belladonna, Atropa Belladonna, Aphrodisiac, Relieves Urinary Tract Irritation
Deadly Nightshade, Belladonna, Atropa Belladonna, Dangerous Hallucinogen

San Pedro Trichocereus Pachanoi Cactus Hallucinogenic Mescaline

By Ina Woolcott

What is San Pedro?

San Pedro is a fast-growing columnar cactus who’s botanical name is Trichocereus Pachanoi, not to be confused with its close relative the Peruvian Torch Cactus. It is native to the Andes of Peru and Ecuador, but it is cultivated all over Peru and other places in South America. In its natural environment San Pedro grows up to 20 feet high and is multi branched. The cactus is light to dark green, sometimes glaucous (covered with a bluish, greyish, or whitish waxy coating or bloom that rubs off easily). Generally it has between 4-8 ribs. Groups of 1-4 small, yellow to light brown, spines are located at the nodes which are evenly spaced apart (circa 2 cm apart) along the ribs.

San Pedro contains a number of psychoactive alkaloids, including mescaline (3,4,5-trimethoxyphenethylamine, 0.11 – 2.3%), and also 3,4-dimethoxyphenethylamine, 4-hydroxy-3-methoxyphenethylamine, 3-hydroxy-4,5-dimethoxyphenethylamine, 4-hydroxy-3,5-dimethoxyphenethylamine, anhalonidine, anhalinine, tyramine, hordenine and 3-methoxytyramine. Mescaline is an entheogen and also found in Peyote (Lophophora Williamsii), as well as other species of the Echinopsis genus such as Echinopsis peruviana, and Echinopsis scopulicola.

Who uses San Pedro and for What Purpose

San Pedro has a long history of traditional use. It has become the most popular cactus in neo-shamanic rituals due to its excellent fertility and ease of cultivation. The San Pedro cactus is used by shamanic tribes in the Andes as a psychedelic and for complex healing rituals and more recently, the western world. The mescaline is most commonly extracted by cutting the cactus into slices, boiling them for 5-7 hours and then juicing it into a green liquid. The tea is drunk during the shamanic ceremonies which usually take place at night. Dosages vary according to the purpose of the ceremony, although it is generally used in low doses. Sometimes the San Pedro is used in conjunction with other psychoactive plants, such as coca, tobacco, Brugmansia andAnadenanthera.

San Pedro is used by the Huachuma, Shamans of the Andes for guidance, decision making, healing, spirituality enhancing experiences, shamanic trances, to access other realms and the spirit world, and to remain in balance with the natural world. In the mountains above the Peruvian village Makahuasi there are ancient stone meditation huts which are still in use today. San Pedro shamans come here from all over the Andes to recharge their powers, sometimes in solo rituals. San Pedro has also been used throughout history by a number of different pre-Columbine cultures and civilisations that settled in northern Peru. San Pedro is a religious sacrament, healing medicine, and spiritual guide who’s psychedelic nature has been documented for a minimum of around 3000 years. Its use has been a continuous tradition in Peru all this time. In an old temple in Chavín de Huantar in the northern highlands of Peru, a carving was found with the earliest depiction of the cactus showing a mythological being holding the San Pedro. It belongs to the Chavín culture (c. 1400-400 BC), and dates about 1300 BC.

Today’s master shamans use San Pedro on ‘mesas’, (altars) erected for healing rites to treat enchantment and bad luck. The mesa follows a sophisticated ritual – sniff tobacco with alcohol, ingest San Pedro, pinpoint the diseases, cleanse the evil and the ill person will get better. This rite is performed in the early hours of Tuesdays and Fridays, these being sacred days in the Andean religions.

Shamans who use the psychoactive plants claim that much of the knowledge and insights gained comes directly from the plants themselves. That the plants have plant spirits. One example is that psychedelic plants are claimed to have taught songs (Icaro’s) to those who ingest them. This has been found with San Pedro using shamans, Ayahuasca drinkers in the Amazon, the Mazatec who use hallucinogenic mushrooms, and the Huichol who use Peyote.

The effects of San Pedro are more pleasant than those of peyote. It tastes only slightly bitter and the initial feeling of sickness is not as likely, although vomiting can occur. Its effects are felt within 1-2 hours of ingestion and can last up to 15 hours. When the experience fully takes hold it is less overwhelming, more tranquil and not nearly as physical as that from peyote. At first drowsiness or a dreaming state is felt accompanied by lethargy. Then a slight dizziness is experienced, followed by a great ‘vision’, a clearing of all the faculties. A light numbness is felt in the body and afterward a tranquillity. And then comes detachment, a type of visual force, including all the senses as well as the sixth sense, the telepathic sense of transmitting oneself across time and matter, a kind of removal of one’s thought to a distant dimension. Other potential effects include intense sensitivity to light, for instance being able to see and feel every ray of light. People and things may also be seen to ‘radiate’. Long lost memories may come back, being able to hear and see far off sounds and voices. Emotions may also be experienced and gone through such as laughing, crying, screaming, feeling pleasure, fear, love, love for everything that is and everything that is not.

Unsurprisingly, taking their general contempt for native life and particularly the use of psychoactive plants into account, European missionaries were very negative when reporting the use of the San Pedro.

San Pedro has been used medicinally to treat nervous conditions, cardiac disease, and high blood pressure.

Is it legal?

It is legal to cultivate the San Pedro cactus in most countries, but in countries where possession of mescaline and related compounds is illegal, cultivation for the purposes of consumption may be illegal. This is how it is in the USA, Australia, Canada, and the UK, where it is currently legal to cultivate San Pedro unless it is for the purposes of consumption.

Related reading: San Pedro the Cactus of Vision – Plant Spirit Shamanism of Northern Peru

Deadly Nightshade Belladonna Atropa Belladonna Aphrodisiac Relieves Urinary Tract Irritation

By Ina Woolcott

Homeopathy uses Belladonna as a cure or to treat a variety of afflictions, including heat of the body. The ingested preparation is so diluted as to contain very few, if any, molecules of Belladonna.

This herb is used as an aphrodisiac and to stimulate the memory in modern day Morocco. It used as a sedative in Nepal. Shamans add solanaceous herbs to a brew containing San Pedro in the Andes. It is used to strengthen marijuana in the near East.

Atropine is still used by Optometrists and ophthalmologists today to dilate the pupils during eye examinations, although dosage is minute.

Atropine makes up over 50% of the asthma drug Asthmador.

Belladonna (as Atropa Belladonna Extract) can be found in some over-the-counter cold and flu medicines (in small amounts) due to its pseudoephedrine-like qualities of clearing up nasal and other passages where mucus forms.

The plant is an important source of atropine, an effective antidote to the effects of poisoning by cholinesterase inhibitors e.g. Parathion and Malathion. Atropine will also counter the effects of poisoning by nerve agents designed for chemical warfare. In Europe, the plant is specifically cultivated to this end.

Belladonna is one of the most important remedies for kidney and bladder diseases. At the same time as stimulating it also relieves irritation of the urinary tract. The solid and watery constituents of the urine increased in amount.

As it increases the rate of the heart by some 15 to 45 beats per minute, without lessening its force it has been used to treat pneumonia, typhoid fever and other acute diseases as the action on body circulation helps those that collapse from this.

Use for recreational purposes is considered dangerous because accidental overdose is possible. Though apparently, few if any recreational drug users who try Belladonna, Jimsonweed, or Mandrake and hallucinate want to repeat the experience. Reports of a good trip are extremely hard to come by. Most recreational users say that they cloud, rather than clear consciousness with nausea being a common side effect. Because of this, they are legal and not regarded as a drug abuse problem. The effects of Belladonna can be so terrifying and unpleasant, and the loss of contact with ordinary reality so complete that it is only used with great caution and rarely for pleasure. The hallucinations are usually negative, with most users reporting them as being evil, threatening, terrifying, or something of this nature.

One must have a certain sort of mind to be able to appreciate the sensations, and most westerners do not have this sort of mind.

The Law

In the USA, Belladonna is uncontrolled, meaning all parts of the plant and its extracts are legal to cultivate, buy, possess, and distribute (sell, trade or give) without a license or prescription. If being sold as a supplement, sales must conform to U.S. supplement laws. If sold as a drug or food, sales are regulated by the FDA.

Related link:
Deadly Nightshade, Belladonna, Atropa Belladonna, Dangerous Hallucinogen
Deadly Nightshade, Belladonna, Atropa Belladonna, Ancient, Powerful Witching Herb

Silene Capensis Ubulawu African Xhosa Dream Root Induces Lucid Dreams

By Ina Woolcott

Silene capensis is a tender perennial, native to the Eastern Cape of South Africa. The local Xhosa tribe consider it a sacred plant. The root of the plant is traditionally used to induce remarkably vivid – and according to the Xhosa, prophetic – lucid dreams. It is classified as a naturally occurring oneirogen – that which produces a dream-like state of consciousness – and is similar, though apparently more effective, than the well-known dream herb Calea zacatechichi.

Silene Capensis is regarded by shamans of the South African region as a type of ‘Ubulawu’, or medicinal root that they call ‘Undela Ziimhlophe’, which directly translates to ‘white paths’ or white ways.’ It has been utilised for many, many years by a culture who believe ancestors are contacted through dreams, so they seek out and cultivate plants that assist in enhancing dreaming.

It is thought that this sacred plant’s dream-inducing ability is most probably due to triterpenoid saponins contained within its roots. Relatively small amounts of root are reported to be active. In waking consciousness, the plant exerts only minimal change, but the effects upon the dream state are extremely profound.

Generally the herb is mixed with water, then drunk early when one rises in the morning on an empty stomach. When hungry one eats. The alkaloids will then have time to travel through the body, and at night the effects will be felt. The alkaloids travel quite slowly through the blood system, so won’t get passed out during the day. While sleeping, dreams will be exceptionally vivid and colourful, and will be remembered down to the smallest detail when one awakens. The herb is traditionally used to access dreamtime and to communicate with one’s ancestors. Before going to sleep, a question is sometimes focused upon to which the ancestors in the dream state will give an answer. Silene Capensis is not just used for vivid dreams, but as a divination tool.

The recommended amount only should be used as the actives are active in these doses. If ingesting larger amounts, this will have a purgative action. However there are no reported fatalities or harmful side effects reported – just a hefty case of vomiting and cleansing of the stomach! Taking in small doses over several days will have an affect on even the most insensitive person, so there is no need to take a large amount.

Deadly Nightshade Belladonna Atropa Belladonna Dangerous Hallucinogen

By Ina Woolcott

Deadly Nightshade or Belladonna, Atropa Belladonna, and aka dwale, devil’s herb, love apple, sorcerer’s cherry, murderer’s berry, dwaleberry, witch’s berry, devil’s cherry, black cherry, divale, great morel, dwayberry, naughty man’s cherries. It is a well known perennial shrub of the nightshade family Solanaceae). This family of plants contains about 1500 species, sorted under 70 genera to include Jimsonweed, tobacco, tomatoes, potatoes, chilli peppers and egg plants. Atropa mandatory mandrake is Belladonnas related species. Deadly Nightshade has leaves and berries that are highly toxic and is native to Europe, Western Asia and North Africa. Having been introduced to North America, it has now spread into the wild by natural regeneration. It is not actually that common in the wild though, as flea beetles assault it, as well as not having a high tolerance for direct sunlight. In locations where it has become naturalised it is most commonly found in moist, shady areas with a limestone rich soil. Its use as a garden plant is not widespread, some consider it a weed.

Germination is not always easy as germination inhibitors are to be found in the seeds. A number of weeks are necessary for germination in completely sterile soil that is warm and moist, not in the usual normal garden conditions. It is not the sturdiest of perennials and is sensitive to being re-planted.

Belladonna is a heavily branching herb having a purplish coloured stem, capable of growing up to 2 metres high. It has dim green leaves and flowers. The leaves are ovoid shaped, up to 20 cm in length and have an oily feel to them and can cause vesicular pustular eruptions if handled without caution. The flowers are trumpet shaped, up to 15cm long, in an unexceptional shade of purple. These flowers bear black, shiny berries that are circa 1cm in diameter, which are sweet, but the majority of their alkaloids are to be found in the seed.

Belladonna is one of the most toxic plants to be found in the Western hemisphere. There are children that have been poisoned by ingesting as little as 3 berries. The berries are a great danger to kids as they look enticing and have a somewhat sweet taste. It is possible for an adult to die from eating 1 leaf of this plant! Generally, the root of the plant is the most toxic part, though there are variations form one plant to the next. There are a lot of animals, such as deer, rabbits, pigs, sheep, goat and birds that appear to be able to eat the plant without any ill effects, though dogs and cats are affected. Belladonna poisoning can lead to weakness, lack of coordination, colic and depression in horses, with deaths reported even for small amounts from 0.5 to 5 kg. A lot of reports imply that people have been poisoned by eating animals that have previously consumed Belladonna, though this has not been confirmed officially.

Active constituents of Belladonna are Atropine, d,l-hyoscyamine, scopolamine, and the dangerous apoatropine, which is contained only in the roots. The active alkaloids are deemed anticholinergic substances, producing effects by binding to, and blocking the action of acetylcholine receptors of the peripheral nervous system. This effect is termed muscarinic, and is named after muscarine, which is one of the active constituents of Amanita Muscaria fungi. Different to muscarine, atropine binds to the acetylcholine receptor without activating it, therefore making it an effective antidote to muscarine poisoning.

Tropane alkaloids are found in all parts of the plant. Symptoms of poisoning in humans, include:

* Rapid heartbeat – greater than 100 beats a minute in an adult
* Dilated pupils
* Hallucinations
* Loss of balance
* Blurred vision
* A feeling of flight
* Feeling like one is suffocating
* Staggering
* Extremely dry throat
* Husky voice
* Flushing
* Paleness followed by a red rash
* Urinary retention
* Constipation
* Confusion
* Delirium
* Seething Pain
* Possible Convulsions or uncontrollable body movements
* A potential memory loss up to several days after the poisoning

It is possible for the skin to completely dry out and shed. In fatal cases the pulse is rapid and them becomes weaker. There is an antidote though – physostigmine or pilocarpine. Most of these sypmtoms are because of the atropines effect on the parasympathetic nervous system. Atropine inhibits the action of acetylcholine (ACh) at the acetylcholine receptor in the nerve synapse, thereby preventing the parasympathetic nervous system from sending out electrical nerve impulses. As the parasympathetic nervous system controls non-volitional/subconscious activities e.g. heart rate, sweating and breathing, when prevented from sending signals, the heartbeat and breathing become extremely irregular.

One will generally be totally unaware that they are under the influence of this plant and lose all touch with conceptual reality, including the ability to distinguish between what is real or not. Deep sleep full of vivid dreams then takes place. Once awake, the subject often come out of the psychosis entirely convinced they had experienced what they had imagined in this ‘normal’, everyday reality.

If taken in small doses, atropine, scopolamine and hyoscyamine act as sedatives and generally produce pleasing hallucinations and very vivid, erotic dreams. High doses can result in extremely traumatic and terrifying psychotic episodes, as can continual usage. The words tropane and atropine are named after this plant. 10 mg of atropine is regarded a fatal dose, though there has been a reported case of over 1 gram being ingested and the victim surviving. Tolerance is very variable.

Related link:
Deadly Nightshade, Belladonna, Atropa Belladonna, Ancient, Powerful Witching Herb
Deadly Nightshade, Belladonna, Atropa Belladonna, Aphrodisiac, Relieves Urinary Tract Irritation

The Power Of Attraction Secrets From The Amazon The Pusanga

Submitted by Howard G. Charing

The Western rational mind can only struggle, to take as an example the famed ‘love potion’ of the Amazon known as the Pusanga. In rational terms it makes no sense whatsoever, how can a concoction of leaves, roots, and seeds attract a lover, or good luck to you?

My experience working with shamans in preparing Pusangas (which normally is prepared away from their clients so it was a privilege to be invited to participate in the preparation) showed me that far from interfering with the freedom of other individuals or putting a ‘number’ on them, we were altering something within ourselves, which was brought out by the ingredients, the magic of the plants. Whatever it was, it felt wholesome and good. It is what is in oneself… one’s own magic. Asking Javier Arevalo (the shaman) what does the Pusanga actually do, is it inside us or outside of us? His response was “When you pour it onto your skin it begins to penetrate your spirit, and the spirit is what gives you the force to pull the people. The spirit is what pulls”.

The anthropological term ‘sympathetic magic’ does not give this justice, to illustrate this, the water used in the preparation of an authentic pusanga (which has been specifically made for you) has been collected from a deep trek in the rainforest, sometimes 40 or 50 miles, where there are no people and where clay pools collect and thousands of the most beautiful coloured parrots and macaws gather to drink from them for the mineral content. Now the great leap of imagination required is to bring into yourself the knowledge, the feeling, the sense that the water in the Pusanga has drawn in or attracted thousands of the most brightly coloured creatures on the planet. If you do this, it can generate a shift in consciousness in you.

You can sample this for yourself, just find a quiet moment and space, close your eyes, and with the power of your imagination as the launch pad, draw in the verdant, abundant forest filled with life, colour, and sound. Sense the rich vibrancy of the rainforest as a single breathing rhythmic totality of life force. When you have this image, expand it to include, the humid warmth, the smell of earth, the scent of plants, hear the sound of insects and bird song, allow all your senses to experience this. Then with a conscious decision draw this sensory experience into your being. Whenever you are ready, open your eyes, and check how you are feeling.

Maestros do not invent diets, they are given by the plant spirits themselves, but there is more to it than simply abstaining from certain foods and activities. It involves a state of purification, retreat, commitment, and respect for our connection with everything around us – above all the rain forest. When we listen to our dreams, they become more real, and equally important as everyday life.

Morality and Power

This is a subject that is worth looking at as we in the West and particularly those who are engaged in following a perceived spiritual path in which there is an implicit or explicit ethical component, find the use of a pusanga (or equivalent) to attract a specific person an action which takes away and subverts that person’s free will. This is criticised as an unmoral and harmful action occurring within a tradition or system without perceived, never mind understood moral values.

This moral view is not shared in other societies and traditions, and there is a profound difficulty experienced by Westerners in assimilating this concept of values surrounding power.

The cause of this difficulty is by an absence of congruence between the moral code of the observer, usually a member of the religions emanating from the Levant, typically Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and including the varied ‘new age’ spiritual paths (which have absorbed much of the external hierarchical concepts from these religions). These religions all possess the central and dominant characteristic of projecting the concept of ultimate ‘goodness’ on an external supernatural being which operates both outside of his creation and outside the laws of the universe, who himself decides which laws are to be implemented; “let this and that come to pass!” and at the same time this supernatural being possess the mantle of a ‘personal god’ who has delivered a revelation which is described in a book, that people are to read and reverently accept, not to criticise, but to unquestionably accept and obey.

Now in all of this, those who would reject, or do not know these holy and inviolate scriptures are judged as jeopardising their eternal soul, and in effect are outcasts from their maker, typically the native and indigenous peoples (who have not yet been saved by the missionaries). So from this cultural theme there is a tendency to judge as inferior or despicable other cultural imperatives.

For example the Amazonian (amongst others) tradition portrays a spectrum of existential states, with the highest or most desirable being that of the powerful person, and the lowest or least desirable being that of the powerless person. Power is defined as the ability to do what one wishes, obtain wealth, make others perform desired actions (even against their will), or harm others without being punished or harmed in return. The proof of power is the individual’s material wealth, or social and political status, and their ability to offer patronage. These are not received as immoral acts, and I recall with my colleague Peter Cloudsley attempting to relay the Western view to Javier Arevalo without any success. The conversation went as follows:

Howard & Peter: “Something we make a big problem out of in the West, is that a shaman might be a magician to one person and a sorcerer to another. Asking for the pusanga to attract a specific person takes away that person’s choice. We see it as bad. How do you see it?”

Javier: “Take the case of a woman who refuses when you offer her a Coca Cola because she thinks you are lower class and that she is better than you. She might want others to think that she is better than you. That makes you feel like rubbish so you go to a shaman and tell him the name of the girl. He prepares the pusanga. Three days go by without seeing her and she begins to think about you, dreaming about you and begins looking for you”.

Howard & Peter: “Yes, we understand, but in our culture we think its wrong to counteract someone’s will.”

Javier: “But its only so that she will want you for the moment, so she’ll go to bed with you and then she can go”.

Howard & Peter: “(laughing) But if it happened to me, and let’s say I originally found her unpleasant and she did it to marry me I’d be outraged! It would be awful if I only discovered after having children and making a home with her! And would I ever know?”

Javier: “You would be hopelessly in love with her, you’d never know. That’s why it’s a secret.”

Howard & Peter: “Can a jealous third party separate a couple or break a happy marriage?”

Javier: “Yes, they can ruin a happy home. They come as if to greet the couple and soon after the couple are arguing and hating each other and the third party is secretly having sex with one of them”.

Howard & Peter: “Is this why people from Lima are afraid of the girls from Iquitos?”

Javier: “Yes it happens, they think they are dangerous and will break up their homes.”

Howard & Peter: “Does anyone have freedom if everyone is using pusanga?”

Javier: “its normal you get used to it.”

Howard & Peter: “We like to think we are free, this suggests that we are constantly subject to other peoples’ Pusanga.”

Javier: “laughing, but you all want women, and women all want men!”

Eventually we realised that there was no way that we could communicate this Western ‘moral’ viewpoint. Javier did not see that there was a problem. It was a massive cultural divide we could not cross. His people feel free the way they are and can have extramarital sex using magical means of attraction and without attaching our Western guilt to it.

Looking at this ‘down to earth’, guilt trip free viewpoint, on an earlier occasion when Javier asked the group that I was leading, what they really wanted deep down in their lives, many people gave cosmic, transpersonal, and spiritual sounding answers and were quite mute when he spoke about Pusanga. After a while the participants opened up to their feelings and many admitted they wanted love, apparently behind their desire to put the world to right, resolve planetary issues, and speak to the flowers. It was as though it were not acceptable to wish for love. Javier remarked “These thoughts tangle up their lives. Love solves problems”.

As an observation, if we (and that’s all of us) had more love in our lives, maybe we wouldn’t be worried so much about the state of the world, and be less judgemental, destructive, and just simply be willing to help others and alleviate suffering. It is because people do not have enough of this precious and enriching commodity that we live our lives increasingly bombarded by aggression, with new definitions, ‘road rage’, ‘air rage’, ‘safety rage’, ‘word rage’, ‘whatever-you-want rage’ We would also need less material goods, and titles all of which reinforce the boundaries of the ego-mind and separate us from each other and the natural world.

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.

Fly Agaric Amanita Muscaria Magic Mushroom

By Ina Woolcott

What is Fly Agaric?

Also known as Amanita Muscaria, this is a large, distinctive, commonly found ‘magic’ mushroom across the British Isles, Northern America, Europe, Siberia and Asia with strong psychedelic effects. The mushroom has been widely transported into the southern hemisphere, including New Zealand, Australia, South America and South Africa, generally to be found under introduced pine trees. Although un-related to other psychoactive fungi such as the Psilocybe species it has also been used in shamanic cultures to communicate with the spirit world. It’s cap is orange/red to scarlet in colour and between 8 to 20cm (3-8 in) in diameter. It is to be found naturally in birch, pine, spruce and fir woodlands. The volva is scattered across the cap in white or yellow flecks (or warts) and it has white gills. The stem is white and 5 to 20 cm high (approx 2-8 inches) It is worth noting that the red colour may fade in older mushrooms and after it has rained.

The mushroom is poisonous, but fatal reactions rarely occur, unless dozens are eaten raw. Most fatalities (90% or more) are from ingesting the greenish-yellowish-brownish mottled death cap (Amanita phalloides), or one of the destroying angels (Amanita virosa).

Fly Agaric contains a number of psychoactive compounds: ibotenic acid, muscimol, muscazone and muscarine. Muscimol (3hydroxy-5-aminomethy-1 isoxazole, an unsaturated cyclic hydroxamic acid) is the most significant. Muscarine was discovered in 1869 and for a long time believed to be THE active hallucinogenic agent, until the late 1960s, when the renowned scientists Dr. Albert Hofmann and Dr. Richard Schultes discovered, almost at the same time as Dr. Eugster in Switzerland and Dr. Takemoto in Japan that the active compounds were in fact ibotenic acid and muscimol. Muscarine binds with Muscarinic acetylcholine receptor exciting the neurons bearing these receptors.

Who uses Fly Agaric and for what purpose?

Ancient tribes and civilisations used hallucinogenic fungi to enter the spirit world. The fly agaricmay have been the earliest hallucinogenic substance used for religious or shamanic purposes, dating back possibly over 10,000 years. The shamanic preparation and use of the mushroom are meant to induce higher levels of consciousness, vivid visions, spiritual growth, elation and hyperactivity. They also alter the perception of sight, sounds etc (the senses) and change/enhance the feelings and thoughts of the user. The shamans were intermediaries between the common folk and the unseen worlds of spirit. The shamans, or medicine men, of East Asia and Siberia used the mushroom mentally ‘flying’ to other levels of reality.

Siberians have a story about the fly agaric, (wapaq), that it enabled Big Raven to carry a whale to its home. In the story, the deity Vahiyinin, meaning Existence, spat on to the earth, his spittle becoming the wapaq and his saliva the flecks, or warts. Once he had experienced the power of thewapaq, Raven was extremely exhilarated and told it to grow forever on earth so his children, the people, could learn from it.

Reindeer in northern Europe are drawn to the fly agaric’s euphoric effects. The Siberian people would note the intoxicated behaviour of such animals and slaughter them to get the same effects from eating the meat.

The active hallucinogenic ingredient is passed out in the urine of those ingesting the mushrooms. Sometimes the shaman/medicine man, takes the mushrooms, and then the rest of the tribe drink his urine. Though sounding highly unpleasant to modern ears, if the shaman had been fasting, the urine would have mainly been water containing the hallucinogenic compounds.

To minimise the toxic side effects the mushroom would be processed in some way e.g. dried out, made into a tea/broth/soup, smoked or made into ointments. When dried out the hallucinogenic chemicals are more concentrated (the ibotenic acid is changed into the more stable and less poisonous muscimol). Smaller doses may invoke nausea and a variety of other effects. These effects range from twitching to drowsiness, lowered blood pressure, increased sweat and saliva, visual distortions, mood changes, euphoria, relaxation, and hallucinations. In near-fatal doses it has been known to cause swollen features and delirium, together with periods of obvious agitation followed by intervals of quiet hallucination. Effects show after circa 60 minutes, generally peaking within three hours. Although some effects may continue for up to ten hours. Effect are extremely variable with individuals reacting quite differently to the same dose.

Care in its preparation and ritual were of utmost importance and part of the ritual. For instance Celtic Druids would often times purify themselves by fasting and meditating for three days, drinking only water.

The Taoists of ancient China seem to have made use of the fly-agaric mushroom, and often make reference to the ‘Divine Mushroom of Immortality’. It has also possibly been used in ancient India and Scandinavia.

Fly Agaric is widely thought to be the mysterious Soma talked about in around 150 hymns of the Hindu Rig Veda of India. These Hymns were written between 1500-500 BC by Aryans residing in the Indus Valley. Soma was a moon god, as well as a holy brew and a connected plant, also worshipped. In spite of the many suggestions as to the identity of the plant, fly agaric fits many of the Vedic references as an aid to contact the gods. It is also, but less often, thought to be the amrita talked about in Buddhist scriptures.

The red Fly agaric with its white dots, has been a much used image for the Midwinter and Christmas festivities in central Europe for a long time and is to be found on Christmas cards and as replica decorations for trees and wreaths. The modern image of Santa can be traced back as a fusion of several characters of popular European lore. For instance a more pagan Scandinavian house goblin who offered protection from malicious spirits in return for a banquet at midwinter, then there is the 4th century Byzantine archbishop who became St Nicolas and was famous for his kindness to children. More recently suggestions have been made implying that the Siberian use offly agaric may have played a part in the development of the legend of Santa Claus too. At midwinter festivals the shaman would come into the yurt through the smoke hole and down the central supporting birch pole, bringing with him a bag of fly agaric to be placed in stockings over the fireplace where they could be dried for celebratory use. Once his ceremonies had been fulfilled he would exit the same way he entered. Ordinary people would have believed the shaman himself was able to fly, or with the aid of ‘flying’ reindeer whom they knew had a taste for the fly agaric due to the euphoric results, and therefore prance around in a hallucinogenic after effect. Modern Santa is now dressed in the same colours as the fly agaric toting a sack overflowing with presents, entering and exiting the home through the chimney, can fly with reindeer and resides in the ‘Far North’.

Suggestions have been made that there is a symbiotic relationship between flies, toads and fly agaric (TOADSTOOLS). Flies become intoxicated and frenzied when licking these toadstools and become easy prey for toads with appetite who may have become privy to this, thus spending time near toadstools. This may give valuable insights into the ancient mystery of toads, flies and mushrooms appearing together in fairy lore and popular mythology.

The red-and-white spotted toadstool is a common image to be found world wide today. Picture any fairy tale illustration of elves, fairies, leprechauns, dwarves or goblins sitting on or under a toadstool, and most likely the cap will be bright red with white spots. There are countless garden ornaments available that feature these toadstools and gnomes. Even computer games such as the Mario series involve Mario ingesting a mushroom, then growing. Most young girls, and even adults are naturally drawn to the ‘little people’ and love fairies. How the artistic use of toadstools arose is unknown.

Fly agaric , years ago was used as an insecticide in some parts of Europe such as England and Germany. It used to be sprinkled in milk to kill flies, thereby earning the name Fly Agaric. The use as an insecticide was first recorded by Albertus Magnus in his work De vegetabilibus sometime before 1256. This fly killer is now known as Ibotenic Acid.

Fly agaric is still used for this purpose in some parts of eastern Europe such as Romania and Poland. In Sweden England and Sweden it was used for getting rid of bugs too and was sometimes known as ‘Bug Agaric’

Is Amanita Muscaria legal?

It is un-scheduled in the United States. The sale of Amanita muscaria for human ingestion is regulated by the FDA.

On July 18 2005 in the UK a law came into force meaning mushrooms or any fungus containing psilocin or an ester of psilocin are under the Misuse of Drugs Act and are now class A.

The Psychotherapeutic Employment Of Sacred Plants

By Silvia Polivoy,

The human being shows a remarkable disposition to seek spiritual transcendence.

Since the irrational cannot be erased from the human mind, the harder we try to deny it, the greater the power it will exert upon us. The spiritual experiences are associated to the occurrence of altered states of consciousness (ASC).

The society we live in considers (as opposed to shamanic knowledge) modified states of consciousness to be onanistic and vicious. Shamans argue that to satisfy our religious drive we have to experience the divine, and in order to achieve that, they use sacred plants. That is why the sacred plants are called entheogens, because they help experience the divine.

Abraham Maslow called these experiences “peak experiences”, but they are not limited to the altered states achieved through drugs or sacred plants. They can take place during meditation, hyperventilation, the practice of yoga, hypnosis, fast, physical suffering (such as the self-inflicted pain some saints underwent or the postures certain yogis kept for months, etc). In short, it is a state that can be reached in many ways and, once there, we can explore aspects of reality which are different from those perceived in an ordinary state of consciousness. These different aspects of reality are well studied.

The orthodox branch of science considers these altered states subjective, therefore worthless. Then, these feelings of ecstasy, these other “dimensions” of reality, these occurrences of mystical reunion, of beauty, this crossing of the space-time barrier, can be catalogued as pathological. Traditional Psychiatry does not separate mysticism from psychosis. That is why Transpersonal Psychology blends science with the study of the spiritual capabilities of man using methods to alter the state of consciousness, because the spiritual phenomena seem to be incomprehensible in an ordinary state of consciousness.

Modified states of consciousness may have a dangerous side because, since they affect the defence mechanisms of the individual, they may pave the way for unacceptable, repressed material from the individual’s past to the conscious mind and cause restlessness, which could rise to terrifying levels if the individual is unable to cope with his anxiety (this is what is usually known as a “bad trip”). That is why previous psychological counselling is advised, for the individual to be able to tell what comes from the outside from what comes from the inside. It is recommended, also, to experience such modified states of consciousness in the context of psychotherapy, under the supervision of qualified, well trained professionals.

But, in spite of the risks, the spiritual experiences, the unconscious material, and the altered amplified of consciousness related to them, are too valuable to be ignored. Thus psychotherapy takes advantage of the information, available when the repression mechanism is weak, to modify unwanted patterns of behaviour.

Most psychoactive substances resemble (and sometimes are identical to) substances normally produced by the human body. Therefore, the individual has a built-in capacity to experiment psychedelic states, which are inherent to certain aspects of the human mind inaccessible during wakefulness. So, under the appropriate circumstances, these substances allow the individual (for a limited period of time) to gain access to deeper parts of his psyche.

Through dreams we get in touch with those aspects of our personality which are hidden from the conscious mind. The entheogenic or psycho integrative plants help reach those states that we experience while dreaming or while in the middle of those rare, ecstatic epiphanies that can happen while we are awake. Unlike most drugs, entheogenic plants do not produce physical dependence. A quick, time-limited tolerance (that does not increase with the dose administered) is also characteristic.

Their main use is to spot the individual’s conditionings and destroy them, to be unselfish by dissolving momentarily the limits of the ego, to expand the inner vision, to be more lucid, obtaining in that fashion very important insights. In short, to be able to recognize the forces, the impulses behind the individual’s actions and emotions, to track thoughts back to their source and to be in control of one´s life. That´s why they help the individual to become one.

Due to all this the sacred plants are called psycho integrative, or entheogenic. The list includes Ayahuasca, Peyote, Psilocybin mushrooms, Salvia divinorum, San Pedro (a cactus), Epena, Cebil, Brugmansia, among others.

Abraham Maslow in his book called “The Psychology of Science” has shown how science might be the best neurotic defence mechanism invented by man, because the selective rejection wielded by human knowledge acts as a defence and therefore constitutes a neurotic manoeuvre which, out of fear, disqualifies transpersonal experiences as objects of study.

We’d all benefit if science became an open system oriented to personal growth.

Modern physics teaches us about the Universe’s unity, in which consciousness plays a role much closer to the one described by the great mystics.

When we transcend the ego for however brief, it is the beginning of an awakening to our true Self.

© Copyright Silvia Polivoy, 2003. All rights reserved.