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.

History Of Psilocybe Mushrooms Legal Status

By Ina Woolcott

History of Psilocybe Mushrooms

From pre-Columbian times up to this present day, the hallucinogenic Psilocybe mushrooms have been used among the native peoples of Mesoamerica for spiritual communion, healing and divination.

To the Mexicans, psilocybin was known as teonanácatl, which literally translated means ‘god mushroom’. Apparently these were dished up at the coronation of Moctezuma II in 1502. Sadly, after the Spanish conquest, the use of hallucinogenic plants and mushrooms, like other pre-Christian traditions, was forcibly, sometimes in the most horrible of ways, suppressed and driven underground.

The non-natives, by the 20th century, believed that the use of hallucinogenic mushrooms was gone for good. BUT THEN…Valentina and R. Gordon Wasson became the first Westerners to take part in an indigenous psilocybin mushroom ceremony. They did a lot to publicise their discovery, even publishing an article based on their experiences in Life in 1957. Please see the related link below. The article is from the Life magazine.

In 1958, Albert Hofmann identified psilocin and thereafter psilocybin as the active compound in these mushrooms.

Today hallucinogenic mushroom use has been reported amongst various groups, from central Mexico to Oaxaca, including groups of Mixtecs, Nahua, Mixe, Mazatecs, Zapotecs, as well as others.

Entheogens were made widely popular by the Wasson’s and Timothy Leary, leading into an explosion in the use of hallucinogenic Psilocybe globally. Books telling of methods on how to cultivate Psilocybe cubensis in large quantities were also published. The pretty much easily available hallucinogenic Psilocybe from wild and cultivated sources has made it among the most widely used amongst hallucinogenic drugs.

Effects of Psilocybe

Psilocybin contained in the psilocybe mushrooms is absorbed through the lining of the mouth and stomach, with effects beginning 10-40 minutes after ingestion. The mushroom is held in mouth for 20 minutes to an hour, or swallowed on an empty stomach.

A minute number of people are unusually sensitive to psilocybin’s effects, and smaller than normal does can induce in effects usually associated with medium to high doses. There are also people who need pretty high doses of psilocybin to gain low-dose effects.

Some find themselves hooked on the substance, and may need treatment and recovery from mushroom addiction later on.

An individual’s brain chemistry and metabolism determine a person’s response to psilocybin. The effects are generally pleasant and ecstatic feelings that last 2-6 hours depending on species, dosage and individual metabolism. Also, a deep sense of connection to others, the universe and nature can be felt as well as confusion, hilarity (the most mundane things or most serious situations can suddenly appear laughable, and people will think why do I worry so much, about things that aren‘t actually even that important)

One may experience a bad/difficult trip when in a poor setting – such as no support, being an inexperienced person without guidance of an experienced guide. Also if one were to take an unexpectedly high dose, or if the difficult areas of ones psyche were activated one could have a bad time.

Low doses usually bring on hallucinogenic effects, such as breathing walls, a vivid enhancement of colour and sound, and the animation of organic shapes. Higher doses will bring on experiences that are generally less social and more entheogenic, often giving spiritual experiences.

Psilocybin is mainly metabolised in the liver where it becomes psilocin and is broken down by the enzyme monoamine oxidase.

Harmful Effects

Consuming psilocybin MAY cause HPPD Hallucinogen persisting perception disorder. Those with schizophrenia should not ingest psilocybin or any hallucinogenic drug at all due to the risk of triggering a psychosis.

Medical and Psychiatric Uses

In some Mesoamerican native tribes, healers for centuries have used the hallucinogenic Psilocybe for divining the causes of illness and as part of psychological counselling. In medical and psychiatric studies, contemporary researchers usually prefer using the purified form of psilocybin. However in practice, whole Psilocybe cubensis is frequently used.

In 1961, Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert ran the Harvard Psilocybin Project, conducting a series of experiments using psilocybin in the treatment of personality disorders and other uses in psychological counselling.

In the USA, an FDA approved study supported by Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) took off in 2001 to look into psilocybin’s effects on patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder. In 2006, this study found psilocybin effective in relieving OCD symptoms, in some cases for more than a few days.

MAPS has also proposed researching psilocybin’s potential in treating cluster headaches based on anecdotal evidence given them by a group suffering with cluster headaches.

There is a study taking place momentarily, led by Charles Grob, where12 subjects are being given psilocybin or a placebo in 2 separate sessions, in the hope of reducing the psychological distress linked with losing a loved one.

Is it legal?

The United Nations 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances psilocybin and psilocin are listed as Schedule I drugs.

Schedule I drugs are those with the potential for abuse and that have no recognised medical use (or ignored beneficial medical uses). This is reflected in the drug laws of the majority of the world’s nations. Therefore, using and possessing psilocybin mushrooms, including the bluing species of Psilocybe, is prohibited by extension. But in many national, state and provincial drug laws, there is a lot of vagueness about the legal status of psilocybin mushrooms, as well as selective enforcement in some places.

The legal status regarding Psilocybe spores is even more unclear, as they contain neither psilocybin nor psilocin – hence they are not considered illegal to sell or possess in many jurisdictions, though there are many jurisdictions that can prosecute under broader laws prohibiting items that are used in drug manufacture.

Related link: The Wasson’s Experiences with Psilocybe

Ayahuasca Sacred Teacher Plant Used By Indigenous Tribes

Who uses Ayahuasca and for what Purpose?

By Ina Woolcott

This powerful brew has been used ritually by the indigenous people of the Amazonian basin from time immemorial for prophecy, guidance, divination, worship, telepathy, cleansing and healing the body, mind and spirit, to diagnosis illness, to rid the body of worms and other tropical parasites, to defend themselves in supernatural battles against other shamans, to explore other realms of existence and to connect to one’s higher self. Ayahuasca enters into nearly every aspects of the life of those who use it, to an extent unequalled by any other entheogen. Those that drink ayahuasca, shamans or not, may see in their ayahuasca induced visions gods, the primordial human beings and animals, and even become privy to an understanding of the arrangement of their social order. Something primal and timeless is felt and known, it can feel familiar, as if you knew this all along but only forgot. Ayahuasca has been used in a number of countries in South and Central America, including Brazil, Ecuador, Panama, Venezuela, Colombia, Peru and Bolivia, by around seventy different indigenous peoples of the Americas. Amongst most Amazonian tribes, entheogenic/hallucinogenic intoxication is considered to be a collective journey into the subconscious and therefore a social event.

The ingestion of Ayahuasca is oftentimes accompanied by nausea and vomiting. The tea is extremely bitter tasting. Usually not the very first time, but after, the taste turns ever fouler. Once swallowed, one can feel it “snake” its way down their body. It actually feels like something alive has entered you. Typically, but not always, medicine songs called icaros, accompanied with the use of a chakapa (a healing instrument), are chanted by the shamans/medicine men or women, ayahuasqueros, and curanderos (folk healer or shaman in Hispanic-America) in Ayahuasca ceremonies. This is done to contact different spirit entities using specific icaros for each one, for healing, or to remove a bad spirit from an afflicted person. When undergoing the bra experience, you may even receive your own icaro, which is part of your medicine and for your use only, although an icaro can also be given away as simply a gift.

The repetitiveness with which snakes and jaguars occur in Ayahuasca visions is a matter of intrigue for psychologists. These animals may appear frequently in visions, as they are respected and feared by the Indians of the tropical forest for their power and stealth. Often shamans and participants in general become a feline creature during their Ayahuasca experience, exercising their powers as a cat metaphorically speaking. Some of those who’ve taken Ayahuasca may have the experience of jaguars swallowing them or huge snakes approaching and coiling around their bodies. A different sense of self may be experienced which can seem overpowering, frightening and alien as what is witnessed is overwhelming to the rational mind. Structures in the brain are triggered that have been ‘asleep’ so to speak for years – parts of the brain that are generally unconscious and can process at a level far beyond the limits of ‘normal’ consciousness. You are able to feel how truly connected we are with All That Is/the Universe/God.

In South America neo-Christian churches have arisen that use Ayahuasca. These religions appear to have begun at the beginning of the twentieth century. The most famous of them being Santo Daime and the União do Vegetal (or UDV). Some of these religious groups have thousands of members. Both Santo Daime and União do Vegetal have members and churches throughout the world. This is likely to assure the continued use of Ayahuasca as an entheogen. No matter which culture it is associated with, Ayahuasca is used largely as a religious sacrament. Sadly, early missionary reports generally claimed the plant brew was “demonic” and great efforts were made by the Roman Catholic Church to stamp out its usage by wrongly trying to impose their beliefs on the Native People of the Americas. Sometimes through murdering whole tribes and through torture. People, although not all people, fear the unknown. Some also believe they have the right to try and change others into ‘their’ image of what they believe they should be and do.

Amongst Westerners, interest in Ayahuasca is increasing. There are now Ayahuasca healing retreats available in South America, which some label ‘Ayahuasca Tourism’. By no means are all organizations bad, but some caution is required if you wish to attend a retreat. Observational reporting and scientific studies maintain that ritualized use of Ayahuasca can lead to the betterment of mental and physical health. Some celebrities have publicly discussed their use of Ayahuasca, including Sting, Tori Amos, and Paul Simon, as well as a recent British TV show called Extreme Celebrity Detox where celebrities took the brew live on TV.

Ayahuasca is NOT a recreational ‘drug’. It is a serious affair that offers profound insights into ones life. You lose the ability to hide from yourself and the things you normally try and block from your mind. Your life is laid out before you. Ayahuasca is drunk with an intention This can oftentimes direct the experience among specific avenues. A strict diet is followed before taking Ayahuasca which confirms one’s commitment to the teacher plant. The intelligence in the plant apparently recognizes this. One Ayahuasca session which lasts 3-8 hours or more, can have the benefit of years of therapy. You see your whole life before you, your mind and body are oftentimes healed, your brain re-wired after some regular use. Clarity is gained and a feeling of truly being alive is felt. As well as feelings of being at one with the universe and of being refreshed mentally and physically. One thing is for sure, once having had an Ayahuasca experience your life is hardly viewed the same as before.

Is it Legal?

DMT is a Schedule I/Class A drug internationally, under the Convention on Psychotropic Substances. However, the commentary on the Convention on Psychotropic Substances notes that the Banisteriopsis caapi vine (the MAO inhibitor, which is also oftentimes referred to as Ayahuasca) is excluded from this control. The cultivation of plants from which psychotropic substances are obtained is not controlled by the Vienna Convention. Neither the crown (fruit, mescal button) of the peyote cactus nor the roots of the plant Mimosa hostilis nor psilocybinmushrooms themselves are included in Schedule 1, but only their respective principles, mescaline, DMT and psilocin. Which can be a tricky loophole.

In the USA, the legal status of these plants is rather questionable. The plants used for the Ayahuasca brew and preparations are legal if used as part of a religious ceremony. But, Ayahuasca brews produced with DMT containing plants are illegal since DMT is a Schedule I drug. Currently, this is being challenged. A court case to allow União do Vegetal (UDV) to use the brew for religious purposes in the United States was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court on November 1, 2005; the decision, released February 21, 2006, allows the UDV to use the tea in its ceremonies in accordance with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

In Brazil, religious usage was legalized after two official inquiries in the mid-1980s, which concluded Ayahuasca is not a recreational drug and has valid spiritual/religious uses.

In 2005 the Santo Daime church won a court case in France allowing them to use the tea, not on the exception for religious purposes, but rather because they did not execute chemical extractions to end up with pure DMT and harmala and the plants used were not scheduled. Four months after this, the common ingredients of Ayahuasca as well as harmala were declared narcotic Schedule 1 substances, making it illegal to use or possess the tea and its ingredients.

Regardless of the drug of choice, all addicts are welcome to get treatment and join a drug program.

Related Link: Ayahuasca, Yajé, Yagé, Caapi, Vine of the Soul, Visionary Effects

Ayahuasca Journeys And Retreats In The Amazon Rainforest

Submitted by Howard G. Charing

We are pleased to present a dedicated programme in the Amazon rainforest, which is focussed on an inner and deep self-exploration and encounter with the power of the rainforest. This is an adventure into the magical world of the rainforest, and a transformative experience of the ancient mystical rituals of the plant spirit medicines.

This programme will take place in the Mishana Private Retreat Centre. We have 57 Hectares (140 acres) of land with a lodge in the Allpahuayo Mishana Nature reserve. Our lodge is located directly on the river, which is part of a 58,070 hectare nature reserve.

The uses of powerful hallucinogenic plants such as Ayahuasca and San Pedro have been developed by indigenous peoples and early civilizations over thousands of years, and their effects are highly dependent upon the context of the ceremony, the chants and the essential personality of the shaman, all of which can vary with surprising results.

Diverse urban uses have emerged recently and a few of these are spreading, while some traditional shamans travel the world, thus Ayahuasca is gaining recognition in Western civilization. But what really is the potential of these ancestral plants, and how can we get the most out of them?

In this special workshop – shamanism retreat, the Peruvian maestro ayahuasquero Alonso del Rio will be with us for 10 days and hold ceremonies with both Ayahuasca and San Pedro. Alonso will open us to a different dimension from working with a traditional shaman. He has both an Amazonian and Western background and is therefore well placed to understand the problems of modern people and help them to greater self-knowledge.

He will share his wealth of insight into Amazonian and Andean cosmology in a series of meetings with time for discussion and questions. Apart from the ceremonies, he will be offering a choice of two plants to diet: tobacco and guayusa. Both of these work with your dreams, making them more conscious and ‘real’, in order to rest the rational mind and explore more deeply inwards.

About the maestro

Alonso is a powerful maestro who interweaves Shipibo and other icaros with sacred music of his own to lead you on your journey; he is both a talented musician and an inspiring communicator of the Amazonian shamanic world. He first came into contact with ayahuasca in 1979 after spending three years working with huachuma (San Pedro). This was when he met Don Benito Arevalo, a grand Shipibo shaman with whom he developed a long relationship, and who gave him his first teachings in ayahuasca and other medicinal plants.

Later, taking ayahuasca alone as part of his traditional teaching, he says: “I didn’t feel comfortable reproducing the chants that I’d learned with my maestro, so one night I picked up my guitar and began to play what came to me and the result was surprising. From then on I was never without my guitar at ceremonies and over the years many songs came to me, set to different rhythms for ceremonies and incorporating teachings and revelations from the medicine itself.” He has published three CDs to date. Alonso lives in the sacred valley of Cusco where he runs a healing centre and a primary school for local children.

Our accommodation is in comfortable traditional cabins or tambos (dieting huts), a leaf roof supported by poles and with open sides (the most intimate way to sleep in the jungle). The beds benefit from a comfortable mattress and fly nets when necessary. The tambos are spread out to assure privacy and minimum disturbance from others. Participants have a choice of using either the cabins in the ‘Casa Grande’ annex or tambos for their retreat.

During the day when there are no activities, there will be hammocks to relax in, and you can read, or wander into the forest, or swim in the river (there is a small sandy beach). Our ceremonies and meeting will be held in either the Casa Grande with an open platform on stilts directly on the river with a magnificent view of the rainforest and star filled sky. Or our maloca (ceremonial temple), a large circular tambo made of natural materials and shaped like a womb. We will eat our meals in the lodge, the traditional meeting place, where food is cooked on a wood fire.

Single Accommodation

One of the unique characteristics of this programme is that we offer single accommodation throughout both in the hotels in Lima, Iquitos, and at our Centre in Mishana. This ensures that participants can obtain the maximum benefit from their encounter with the plants. The Diet really needs to be taken in solitude and personal retreat without distractions. This is a defining characteristic of this programme. Typically other programmes do not offer this and dormitory / shared accommodation is usually the rule. Our Tambos (individual accommodation huts) are all different and are spread out, some with more isolation than others and we also have individual accommodation rooms in the wing of our Casa Grande for those who would prefer being close to the main facilities. There are photos on the web or I can send pictures on request.


There will be opportunities to make night time dugout canoe fishing trips with Pedro our hunting guide and power boat trips along the river. There will also be a resident craftswoman to demonstrate and teach us to make the unique Amazonian crafts and textiles.

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.

Icaros The Magical Chants Of The Ayahuasca Shamans

Submitted by Howard Charing

The Shamans of the Amazon exhibit a close union with the Natural World. This powerful emotional and spiritual bond enables them to commune with the powers of the Rainforest. Singing the chants or Icaros, is a way that this bond is expressed, and the Rainforest responds.

I recall one night time Ayahuasca ceremony, held in a small clearing in the Amazon rainforest. It was a beautiful clear night, there was no moon, and the sky was filled with hundreds of thousands of glistening stars; just looking up at the sky made my head swim. We were surrounded by trees and bushes, but could only discern their shapes and silhouettes. It felt as if I was in nature’s primordial theatre. When I had drank the Ayahuasca, the shaman started to chant his Icaros, and within a few minutes, there was the song of birds, fireflies flitting everywhere, the jungle around us was responding to the chants of the shaman. It was an exquisite experience, and the following day, when I discussed the opening experience, with the birds and insects appearing when he sang the first Icaro, he replied, “the first chant was to summon and ask the birds, and the insects for their protection”.

There are several different kinds of icaros, at the beginning of the session. Their purpose is to provoke the mareacion or effects, and, in the words of Javier, ‘to render the mind susceptible for visions to penetrate, then the curtains can open for the start of the theatre’. Other Icaros call the spirit of Ayahuasca to open visions ‘as though exposing the optic nerve to light’. Alternatively, if the visions are too strong, the same spirit can be made to fly away in order to bring the person back to normality.

There are icaros for calling the ‘doctors’, or plant spirits, for healing, while other icaros call animal spirits, which protect and rid patients of spells. Healing icaros may be for specific conditions like ‘manchare’, which a child may suffer when it gets a fright. The spirit of a child is not so fixed in its body as that of an adult, therefore a small fall can easily cause it to fly. Manchare is a common reason for taking children to Ayahuasca sessions.

The arts of the Shipibo, especially textile designs, are closely related to Ayahuasca icaros. The words of the chants are symbolic stories telling of the ability of nature to heal itself. For example the crystalline waters from a stream wash, cleanse, and purify a person who is unwell, while coloured flowers attract the hummingbirds whose delicate wings fan healing energies etc. You might see such things in your visions but the essence or core which cures you is perhaps more likely to be the understanding of what is happening in your life. These deep insights allow your inner feelings to unblock so that bitterness and anger can change to ecstasy and love. To awaken from the ‘illusion of being alive’ is to experience life itself.

The Icaros demonstrate the emotional bond between the shamans to the world of nature, and the spiritual powers of the rainforest. The Following Icaro ‘ Icaro Madre Naturaleza’ shows this relationship between man and nature.

English Translation by Peter Cloudsley

Don’t leave me, don’t leave me
My mother nature
Don’t leave me, don’t leave me
My mother nature
For if you will leave me
I would die or of the pain
My tears of desperation
My mother nature
Yes you have the gift of life
Sacred purification in you hands
Blessed mother nature

Don’t leave me don’t leave me
My mother nature
Don’t leave me, don’t leave me
My mother nature
For if you will leave me
I would die or of the pain
Tears of desperation
The white veil that your you have
As it covers this child
Clean my body and spirit
With the breath or of your lips
Dearest miraculous Mother.

Don’t leave me, don’t leave me
My mother nature Don’t leave me, don’t leave me
My mother nature
For if you will leave me
I will die of the sorrow
My tears of desperation
In the mountains or upper jungle
Where you give me peace and prosperity
Without regrets neither bitterness
Dearest pure Mother

Don’t leave me, don’t leave me
My mother nature
Don’t leave me, don’t leave me
My mother nature
For if you will leave me
I would die or of the pain
My tears of desperation
Where you Take a bath with the plants
Blessed Child put onto me
Your crown of health
Eternally in my heart


No me dejes no me dejes
Madre mia Naturaleza
No me dejes no me dejes
Madre mia Naturaleza
Por que vas i ti me dejares
Moriria o de las penas
Llantos y desesperaciones
Madre mia Naturaleza
Si tu tienes el don de la
Santa purificacion en ti manos
Benditas madre Naturaleza

No me dejes no me dejes
Madre mia Naturaleza
No me dejes no me dejes
Madre mia Naturaleza
Por que vas i ti me dejares
Moriria o de las penas
Llantos y desesperaciones
El velo blanco que tu tienes
Como cubre a esta criatura
Limpia mi cuerpo y espirutu
Con el soplo o de tus labios
Madre cita milagrosa

No me dejes no me dejes
Madre mia Naturaleza
No me dejes no me dejes
Madre mia Naturaleza
Por que vas i ti me dejares
Moriria o de las penas
Llantos y desesperaciones
En las altas o montanas
Donde pone paz y prosperaciones
Sin remordimentos ni rencores
Madre cita la pura

No me dejes no me dejes
Madre mia Naturaleza
No me dejes no me dejes
Madre mia Naturaleza
Por que vas i ti me dejares
Moriria o de las penas
Llantos y desesperaciones
Donde Banas con las plantas
Obendita criatura ponme ya
La corona de la sanidad
Muy eternal en mi Corazon

Howard G. Sharing 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.

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.


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

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’.


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.


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.


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