The use of psychoactive plants is the cornerstone of herbal wisdom in every indigenous culture I have had the opportunity to visit or read about. (1)Harvard professor Richard Evans Schultes says of the principal shaman of the Kamsa Indians of the Amazon, where psychoactive plants are widely used: "He insists that his knowledge and power come to him directly from the plants themselves through hallucinations."(2)
Modern America demonizes and legislates against psychoactive plants and their users. If we agree, and therefore back off from using these plants, we deny ourselves one of the most important links between people and plants - a link that dates back at least 40,000 years. (3)
The psychoactive link between people and plants is not limited to actual ingestion of the psychoactive plants. Teachers like David Winston, Isla Burgess(4), Stephen Buhner(5), and myself make a regular practice of not only talking with the plants, but also teaching others how to do so. But this, to my mind, is rather like learning to play music when your ears are stoppled. Psychoactive plants open our inner ears, and help us hear the language and music of the plants.
Psychoactive plants reveal healing information about themselves, other plants and people, too. Maria Sabina, Mazatec shaman, said that psilocybin mushrooms opened The Book of Wisdom, The Sacred Book of Language for her so she might know how to heal each person.(6)
Psychoactive plants are direct healers of troubled minds when used wisely. I hope that we can, at least among ourselves, acknowledge the tremendous healing powers - for both person and planet - of psychoactive plants. Perhaps it would help if we think of them not as hallucinogens but as "realitons": plants that can show us REALITY, if we know where and how to look. The Huichol of Mexico say they smoke psychoactive leaves "to produce clearer visions."
Where to look? Within, and in Nature. How to look? By honoring the power plant, by honoring yourself, and by creating a safe set and setting. Rituals provide extra safety.
In addition to the usual power plants, you may wish to try some of these:
Amanita muscaria (fly agaric mushroom/soma) - 1 fresh cap eaten; dried/smoked (inferior) "This mushroom [is] perhaps man's oldest hallucinogen. . . ." (POG/Plants of the Gods)
Artemisia vulgaris (cronewort/moxa) - dried leaves (and blossoms) smoked Coleus blumei (painted nettle) - 20-30 fresh leaves chewed, no swallowed; dried/smoked (8) (POG)
Cymbopogon densiflorus (lemongrass) - dried flowers smoked (POG)
Lactuca verosa (wild lettuce) - sap collected, dried and smoked
Leonotus leonurus (dagga) - dried leaves smoked (POG)
Lobelia inflata (puke weed) - ½ - 1 fresh leaves eaten (a favorite of mine)
Phragmites australis (common reed) - rootstock, with caution; best fermented (POG)
Phytolacca americana (poke) - 1-4 ripe berries, fresh or dried; 5-25 drops root tincture
Piper methysticum (kava kava/intoxicating pepper) - fresh or dried root infusion; ferment(8)
Salvia divinorum (diviner's sage) - dried leaves smoked
Solanum nigra (black nightshade) - 1-2 unripe fruits
Solanum dulce-mare (bittersweet nightshade) - 1-2 unripe fruits
Tagetes lucida (yauhtli) - dried leaves (and blossoms?) smoked (POG)
Worldwide Association of Shamanic Herbalists and Healers (WASHAH)
WASHAH is an invisible association. There are no board meetings, no dues, no membership drive, no fundraising. WASHAH is a figment of our imaginations. As such, it is always changing. The purpose of WASHAH is to make visible the shamanic healer and to declare in clear terms the impossibility and absurdity of licensing shamanic healers. Let us present ourselves to ourselves, each other, and our communities - as we have always done, through story, song, dance, and drama, and now through defining words - so that the weave of everyone's reality is touched by a shamanic thread, and our work is kept safe from restriction by the language of law.
What are the characteristics of the shamanic healer? What ought a shamanic healer not do? Here's my beginning list of the characteristics of shamanic healers/herbalists. Please change and transform as you will, as you wish, in person, on the Web, and in dreamtime.
- Shamanic healers and herbalists answer to universal law; they do not need permission from, nor to be licensed by, man's law.
- Shamanic healers and herbalists work without regard for payment, but absolutely insist on being honored for and supported in the work they do.
- Shamanic healers and herbalists use local herbs, harvested in ways that sustain or build plant populations. They talk/pray with the plants and accord them power, dignity, and sentience.
- Shamanic healers and herbalists use psychoactive plants as healing allies. They frequently keep a personal supply on hand, plus enough for apprentices. Restrictions on the use of these plants unfairly prevents shamanic herbalists/healers from accessing needed information.
- As shamanic healers and herbalists may be very limited in their ability to read and write, written tests are of little or no use in determining their knowledge, wisdom, or worth.
- Shamanic healers may be quite limited in their understanding of Western anatomy, physiology, and chemistry. Nonetheless, each shamanic healer has a "story" about the nature of the world(s) s/he inhabits, and a vision of the health/wholeness toward which individual patients are moving.
- Shamanic healers use drama and ceremony; whether public or private, a shamanic healing is rhythmic, colorful, memorable, and suffused with the unexpected, unique gifts of the moment.
- Shamanic healers use the power of kundalini/life force. They may be raunchy, suggestive, and lewd. They generally do not engage in genital sex with their patients/clients, however, nor do they imply or state that their healing help can be best accessed through sexual connection.
- Many thoroughly-Christianized Native Americans insist that their culture never used psychoactive plants. One Ojibwa shaman told me, "They make your dreams untrustworthy." But she, under close questioning, admitted that tobacco and all manner of other psychoactive smoking herbs have always been, and continue to be, important shamanic tools among her people.
- Richard Evens Schultes, Robert F. Raffauf. Vine of the Soul. 1992, Synergetic Press.
- DNA tests strongly suggest that humans began to change or "cultivate" psychoactive plants about 40,000 years ago. The earliest validated date for cultivation of food plants is 10,000 years. Is it four times more important to us to dependably fill our minds than to dependably fill our bellies?
- Isla Burgess. Weeds Heal, A Working Herbal. 1998, Veriditas Publishing.
- Stephen Buhner. Lost Language of Plants: The Ecological Importance of Plant Medicine to Life on Earth. 2001.
- Alvaro Estrada. Maria Sabina, Her Life and Chants. 1981, Ross-Erickson.
- Schultes, Hoffman & Ratsch. Plants of the Gods. 1998, Healing Arts Press.
- Ray Thorpe. Happy High Herbs. 2001, Possibility.com.
- Chris Kilham. Psychedilicacies. 2001, Rodale.