‘Not simply a dry academic discussion of these topics, although that alone would be intrinsically interesting. Instead, it provides cross-cultural perspectives on all aspects of plant-spirit based healing… Whether you want to learn to practice plant-spirit medicine or simply want to gain a better understanding of it this book will be a useful addition to your botanical library.‘
Dennis J. McKenna, Ph.D., author of The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss
‘A colossal book! [It] soars!‘
John Perkins, New York Times bestselling author of Confessions of an Economic Hit Man
‘An incredible book, a book with depth that speaks to the soul… The knowledge in this book could very easily be put to good use in everyday life, which makes it a ‘keeper’ for any healer’s library.‘
Bonnie Cehovet, Angelfire
‘Healers will find this essential to understanding plant processes.‘
Diane C. Donovon, California Bookwatch
‘A valuable asset to personal and public libraries, this work opens the door to the wondrous dark chamber we enter every time we close our eyes to pray, meditate, chant or dream.‘
‘A new form of spiritual experiential magic that will change most people’s views of reality.‘
‘Ross Heaven [has] nurtured the most fertile ground for the development of true spiritual sightedness.‘
Malidoma Patrice Somé, author of Water and the Spirit
‘This is a particularly needed book… Heaven, whose own knowledge and experience is clearly a wealth in itself, has collated an admirable selection of texts that provides the reader with a thorough perspective.‘
Psychedelic Press UK
‘This book brings to light the possibilities that await us as an evolved conscious species if we reach out and communicate with plant species in a true ‘communion.’‘
Rahasya Poe, Lotus Guide
‘This is a simply splendid book! Ross Heaven has written and edited an insightful and information-filled volume including reports from several shamans who have worked for many years with San Pedro. We finally have a definitive book on this remarkable psychedelic plant. Thank you for opening so many doors, Ross Heaven.‘
James Fadiman, Ph.D., author of The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide
‘An amiable, intelligent, and passionate introduction to the sacred medicine of the Andes… valuable not only as an orientation toward the ancient Huachuma tradition but also as an exploration of the experiences of healing and creativity common to all sacred medicine traditions.‘
Robert Tindall, author of The Jaguar that Roams the Mind
‘Absolutely LOVING the Shamanic Quest for the Spirit of Salvia! FANTASTIC work; really advanced shamanic knowledge. Our species really needed this book!‘
David Jay Brown, author of The New Science of Psychedelics
‘Ross Heaven… examines the deepest aspects of one of the most powerful and least used plant hallucinogens in history. The tangles of experience weave a wonderful view on such a powerful teacher… Just reading about it makes one’s mind go to another place of existence just like what the plant does. Delicious reading if you ask me. Enjoy the mystery as it deepens and learn about the potential for the medical value of the plant.‘
Water Smith, Dragibus
‘A moving memoir… highly recommended for anyone interested in Celtic lore and shamanism.‘
New Age Retailer
‘I can heartily recommend this book to anyone interested in healing or Celtic traditions as an engrossing and entertaining read, a moving biography of a powerful, wise and humble man.‘
Lauren D’Silva, Bella Online
Ross has written around 20 books, which you can find in bookstores
and at Amazon Books.
Here are a few extracts taken from some of these.
EXTRACT FROM SALVIA DIVINORUM: THE SAGE OF THE SEERS
If the universe were not mysterious enough, there are also mysteries to Salvia. Surprisingly, for example, the shamans of Mexico have no creation myths to explain its origin. This is unusual since with all other entheogens the personality of the teacher plant, its divine source and the reason for its gift to humankind are understood and described in myths which can often be traced back thousands of years.
The Huichol people of Mexico, for example, tell how the peyote cactus first arrived here with Tatewari (grandfather-fire), the oldest god, who is also known as Hikuri the peyote-god and is personified with peyote plants growing on his hands and feet. It was Tatewari who led the first peyote pilgrimage to Wirikuta, the ancestral region where the plant still grows. That was over 2,000 years ago but every year a select group of Huichols, usually ten to fifteen in number, walk the same route to gather peyote and follow Tatewari to ‘find their life’.
With ayahuasca, the jungle medicine of the Amazon regions, legends tell that a shaman discovered the plant after a jealous deity cut the ‘rope to the moon’ which served as a connection between human beings and the divine. When this rope was severed what had been paradise on Earth became a world of sadness and anger and a shaman was instructed by his people to find a new rope so they could return to peace and happiness. In a vision the healer was told to walk into the jungle and ‘turn two corners’ and there he would find the plants he needed to rebuild the connection between worlds. At the beginning of time he did so, according to legend (or around 5,000 years ago, according to archaeologists who have discovered what are so far the earliest ritual artefacts used in ayahuasca ceremonies) and came upon the ‘vine of souls’ which we have been able to climb ever since to find paradise inside us.
The route to a better world was found by the shamans of the Andes, meanwhile, in San Pedro (huachuma), the mescaline cactus inside of which Saint Peter (San Pedro) hid the ‘keys to Heaven’. It is said that the curanderos were led to it by following the flight of a hummingbird, its magical guardian spirit. Again, ritual artefacts and huachuma-inspired art show that this discovery was made over 3,500 years ago.
There are similar stories for other healing and teaching plants including mushrooms, cannabis and datura (the ‘flying ointment’ of witches) – but none at all for Salvia. As D M Turner writes in his book Salvinorin: The Psychedelic Essence of Salvia Divinorum, the Mazatecs even lack an indigenous name for Salvia, ‘both the Christian theme of Mary, as well as sheep, having been introduced to the region during the Spanish conquest.’ Furthermore, as he says, their method of consuming the plant (as a quid or a tea rather than a prepared extract) ‘does not efficiently utilize its psychoactive content and [they] seem to be generally unaware of its tremendous potency’; a point echoed by the famous Mazatec shaman, Maria Sabina, who once remarked that, ‘If I have a sick person during the season when mushrooms are not available I resort to the hojas de la Pastora… Of course, the Pastora doesn’t have as much strength.’ Something of an understatement when we are referring to the world’s most potent natural hallucinogen.
Contemporary Western botanists have no answer for the origins of Salvia either and can’t even say whether it is a naturally occurring species. The plant is partially sterile, which suggests a hybrid although no likely parent species have yet been found – but if that is the case it leads only to further questions; like who created it and why? Turner again: ‘Salvia divinorum … is not known to exist in the wild and the few patches that are known in the Sierra Mazateca appear to be the result of deliberate planting. A Mazatec shaman informed Wasson that the Indians believe the plant is foreign to their region and do not know from where it came. And if Salvia divinorum is a hybrid, there are no commonly held theories on what its prospective parents may be.’
A final puzzle is that no-one – scientist or shaman – seems to know quite how or why Salvia works. Although salvinorin A is the world’s strongest natural hallucinogen, for example, it has no actions on the 5-HT2A serotonin receptor, the principal molecular target for most psychedelics. Indeed, until Dr Bryan Roth’s discovery in 2002 that it acts on the kappa opioid, it did not seem to have a target in the brain at all. Action on a single receptor site is still strange and unique, however, since other psychedelics require multiple targets.
These mysteries have led some people – again, scientists and shamans alike – to speculate that Salvia may not be indigenous to Earth at all.
EXTRACT FROM AYAHUASCA: THE VINE OF SOULS
Ayahuasca – a simple Amazonian vine – has, in the past few decades, spread its tendrils from the remote forests where it grows to destinations worldwide and has come to be seen by some of those who have drunk it (a varied bunch including musicians, models, doctors, lawyers, nurses, actors, artists, tradespeople, businessmen and women, to mention just some of those who have attended my workshops with the plant) as a sort of panacea for our age; a ‘living God’ which can put us back in touch with our souls and lead to new understanding and the potential for a peaceful Earth.
The vine seems now to be everywhere – almost an ‘overnight sensation’ – known to Western shamans far removed from the Amazon rainforests, and to non-healers alike. Even the mainstream media is aware of it and, while it would normally fly into a moral outrage about the brew (as it does with all ‘drugs’, calling for them to be banned as soon as it is aware of them), it has until now at least taken a more restrained and considered view about ayahuasca, perhaps partly due to the positive words that have been spoken about it by celebrities and musicians including Sting, Tori Amos, Paul Simon and even the fresh-faced and wholesome Olivia Newton John.
“Every leaf, every blade of grass, every nodding flower is reaching out, every insect calling to me, every star in the clear sky sending a direct beam of light to the top of my head. This sensation of connectedness is overwhelming. It’s like floating in a buoyant limitless ocean of feeling that I can’t really begin to describe unless I evoke the word love. Before this experience I would have used the word to separate what I love from everything I don’t love – us not them, heroes from villains, friend from foe, everything in life separated and distinct like walled cities or hilltop fortresses jealously guarding their hoard of separateness. Now all is swamped in this tidal wave of energy which grounds the skies to the earth so that every article of matter in and around me is vibrant with significance. Everything around me seems in a state of grace and eternal”
Sting (in his autobiography, Broken Music)
“It was one of the most influential journeys I have ever had being in ceremony with ayahuasca, the vine from the Amazon… It’s very much a journey that a real medicine woman [or]medicine man has to take you on, where you go inside. It’s not a social thing and it’s not something you should do on your own. It’s an internal experience… And yes, it does sometimes give me visions. But my intention when I am doing it is very different than recreational. I don’t do it recreationally. I do it to go do inner work”
“[My album] ‘Spirit Voices’ is really based on events that happened to me on a trip into the Amazon. We went to see a shaman in a shack in a jungle… first he sang. He sang for a long time, chanted… these beautiful melodies… and then they made up this brew called ayahuasca… which we drank.”
“I have realized the ritual of ayahuasca in Pucallpa and I have shared a few days with the Shipibo, whose members are wonderful people… Peru is a charming land.”
Olivia Newton John
“Cut to February 2012 and the mega-celebrity, Jennifer Aniston, best known for playing perky girl-next-door Rachel in Friends, is tipping a bowl of ayahuasca to her lips in Universal’s newest romantic comedy Wanderlust. In just a few years, the once secret ‘shaman’s brew’ of the Amazon has snaked its way into the popular consciousness, including the entertainment industry, with cameos in the TV shows Weeds and Nip/Tuck and now the movie Wanderlust… This ancient ayahuasca healing modality has proven effective in cases where Western medicine failed. In Black Smoke, author Margaret DeWys describes how ‘the spirit vine’ cured her of terminal breast cancer… and National Geographic adventurer Kira Salak wrote about how overcoming a ‘devil’ in an ayahuasca vision vanquished her life-long struggle with depression in what has become ‘the most popular article the magazine has ever published, bringing in 20 times more reader response mail than any previous article.’”
Jonathan Talat Phillips in The Huffington Post.
Ayahuasca has always been good at making its own mythology so we must be careful about over-claiming the undoubtedly remarkable qualities of this plant and portraying it as something miraculous. Amazing cures and spiritual illumination are certainly possible from working seriously with it, however, although this normally requires more than one ceremony or one drink of the brew, but a rigorous healing process of which ayahuasca is one important part. (More on this in the section below).
EXTRACT FROM SAN PEDRO: GATEWAY TO WISDOM
Most of us deceive ourselves. We do not live lives but stories. If I asked you to tell me about yourself and your life over the last 40 years for example and you answered me fully and objectively then logically we would be sat together for another 40 years as you told me, moment-by-moment, all that had happened to you. This still wouldn’t tell me who you are, of course, but I would know the events of your life and could then form my own picture of you. Even then, this picture would probably differ from your own, so maybe there is no “you” at all in a truly objective sense?
The fact, though, of course, is that no-one does that. Nobody sits for 40 years recalling their lives in detail when they are asked about themselves. Instead, we cherry-pick moments to build a story of who we are. If we are inclined towards a ‘victim’ mentality, for example, we will completely overlook the ten million moments of glory in our lives in favour of another sad story; if we are narcissists we will have already forgotten our ‘failures’ (which will be the fault of others anyway) and the story we tell will be nothing but achievement and splendour. There is no objectivity in our summaries and synopses.
On top of this, our memories are fallible and what we choose to tell others may not even have happened at all, or not in the way we recall it. Psychologists like Elizabeth Loftus, for example, have completed studies which show that even the memories of eyewitnesses to dramatic and memorable events such as robberies and muggings are wrong in more than 50% of cases when they describe the event to police, recalling short, dark-haired Latino muggers as six foot Swedish blondes, and so on. The way a question is asked also provokes a different memory response. In one experiment Loftus showed people a film of a car hitting a tree and then asked one group ‘How fast was the car going when it smashed into the tree?’ and another group ‘How fast was the car going when it collided with the tree?’ Both had seen the same film but the first group recalled the car travelling many miles per hour faster. She then asked both groups what colour the car was. Even within the same group some said red, some blue, some couldn’t remember at all. Her conclusion was that ‘memory’ is not a thing that actually exists but a fluid engagement with the world through which we make sense of events. In other words, a story.
Dennis McKenna (Terence’s brother) makes a similar point in his book The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss, commenting that “Among the most curious of my earliest remembrances are those that may not be real.” He goes on to describe an event from his early childhood where his older brother pushed him down a flight of stairs. “It’s certainly a traumatic memory” he says “but did it really happen? I have no idea. Maybe it happened to someone else and I falsely remembered the experience as mine. Or perhaps I dreamt it… I continue to be astonished by how readily the mind confabulates, creating its own story to fill in the holes in memory, to the point where I can imagine looking back at the end of life and wondering if any of it really happened.”
This is how most people arrive for healing at a San Pedro ceremony: stuck in a story of themselves which may or (probably) may not actually be true and which they are (literally) sick and tired of but don’t know how to release themselves from. They carry with them a myth of illness as part of their story of who they are. Even if they do not consciously know it, they are searching for those “ten million moments of glory” in their lives so they can find a new story, reinvent themselves and walk out of the ritual as new people, reinvigorated and positive and ready to dream a new life instead of the same old, same old, same old…
EXTRACT FROM DRINKING THE FOUR WINDS
The effect of San Pedro, when drunk over a prolonged period of time, is to create a state of relaxation and acceptance. You may be dealing with difficult emotional issues and San Pedro does not absolve you from the responsibility of exploring them but it adds an element of objectivity and places a little distance between you and the subject you wish to examine. If not that, then it is like going into those dark places with the support of a strong and protective friend, a guide or a counsellor. The cactus does, however, require that we do enter those places in order to understand them and take back the power we have given to them and lost from ourselves in the process. Again, like an exorcism of sorts.
Three years ago in Peru I watched as one of my participants went through this. As a teenager Alexia had met and fallen in love with a young man who had turned out to be anything but what she expected. When she moved in with him he effectively kept her prisoner and controlled her every action. She was subjected to sexual and emotional abuse and he also gave her a heroin habit. She had several breakdowns during their time together and became a real shell, a shadow of herself.
When she escaped she was in therapy for years and eventually became a therapist herself, learning techniques for dealing with the terror and trauma of her past until it was, she said, fully packed away, forgotten and forgiven and she had moved on to a successful and happy life.
San Pedro thought differently.
She drank the cactus with us and spent almost an entire day lying in a ditch outside the Temple of the Moon, crying, screaming and vomiting. The most painful experience of her life, she said later, and also the most liberating. She realised that in fact she had dealt with nothing. Instead she had learned ways to suppress it, trapping her memories and pain in a corner of her mind which she never visited so that her trauma was contained but not conquered and its energy continued to infect her soul, her emotions and the way she engaged with life. San Pedro puked, screamed and cried it out of her until, eight exhausting hours later, she could say that now she was finally free. She drank San Pedro again two days later and had one of the most blissful experiences of her life. Then she knew without doubt that she was healed37.
Back in the jungle, when Ayahuasca had told me the story of its origins it also said that San Pedro was the guardian of the Earth and of all things on it, including human beings, and this is another way in which it heals: by revealing nature as spirit-filled, intelligent, aware and an expression of love and God. When we understand that the world itself is alive and can see it with our own eyes we cannot feel alone and abandoned, the underlying cause of so much sickness and despair.
On my mountain in Spain the trees were breathing, whispering to each other and to me; the hills were shining, filled with life and magic; the entire world was crackling with potential, excitement and joy at its own presence and the love of existence. Every feature of the land was art, painted by an artist greater and more talented than us – and yet we are this artist too. Our senses interpret what God has drawn for us and we create beauty from it but, more than that, there is only one energy to the universe and it fills us all, we just as much as God.
I was reminded of a story La Bruja told of one of her early encounters with San Pedro when she was training to be a huachumera. She was walking with her shaman in her own mountains, having drunk San Pedro, when she glanced up and saw what she took to be a stairway carved into the hillside; a stairway comprised entirely of light. It appeared real but she knew it must be a vision, a hallucination, a communication of some kind from her soul or her unconscious given to her in symbolic form just as Ayahuasca might do, so she asked her shaman to explain what it meant.
‘There is no meaning and nothing to explain’ he said. ‘It is a stairway of light.’
‘You mean you see it too?’ she asked.
‘Of course’ he said. ‘San Pedro simply shows you what is real and always there. It is just that we can’t see it most of the time because our minds get in the way.’
She wasn’t entirely convinced by this, still believing that it was a trick of the mind or her unconscious feeding her symbols since this is the Western way of interpreting such things, so her shaman told her to take a photograph if she didn’t believe it was there. She took the photo, not expecting much from it, and carried on with her day. Later she had it developed and if you ever visit her hostel in Cusco or look in my book, The Hummingbird’s Journey to God, you will see what came out. It is a stairway of light carved into the hillside in the mountains near the Temple of the Moon.
EXTRACT FROM SHAMANIC QUEST FOR THE SPIRIT OF SALVIA
A little over three years ago I embarked on a shamanic quest to find the spirit of Salvia divinorum. Salvia is a power plant, a teacher and ally, which has long been used by the shamans of Mexico for healing and divination, but I had hardly worked with it before. So why the interest? There were a few reasons.
First, I have studied extensively with San Pedro, the visionary mescaline cactus of Peru, which is my own ally, and during my journeys with it, it suggested that I also get to know Salvia as the two plants had much in common. I had gone to Peru for several months to begin serious work with San Pedro, and it was as part of this that my Salvia explorations began.
Second, I was then co-owner of a plant medicine retreat center in the Amazon rain forest where we offered ayahuasca and sometimes San Pedro to participants to help with their healing, and I wanted to see if Salvia (a plant that also has a reputation as a profound healer) could become part of our program and an ally to others.
Third, Salvia is developing an unfortunate reputation in the West as a “dangerous recreational drug,” and there is a (misguided and ill-informed) moral outcry by the media to have it banned. I understood the plant as a sacred shamanic medicine and was sad to see it belittled like this and its healing potential denied as a result of media panics and bandwagon politics. The same thing has happened since at least the 1960s with many of the useful psychedelics that aid our understanding of the self and the world we live in: LSD, DMT, mescaline. In America, Australia, and parts of Europe ayahuasca was also being targeted, “magic mushrooms” had been declared illegal, cannabis was moved from one “drug” class to another and back again. Even common herbs were being considered for an off-limits status unless you were a medical professional and “properly qualified” to administer them (which would theoretically make even giving a friend a cup of chamomile tea illegal unless you have trained first as a doctor). We were back in the days of the witch hunts, and I wanted in some way to redress the balance, to show the potential of Salvia to heal.
I wasn’t enamored with the idea of any teacher plant being used solely and soullessly for recreational kicks by ill-prepared teenagers (which is pretty much still how Salvia is presented on forums like YouTube) but there was no body of literature on the shamanic applications of Salvia and, in the absence of guidance, people with a need for healing (or at least to escape the mundane world and reconnect with their spirits) will always experiment for (and on) themselves. I thought that by doing this research I might be able to offer some of the advice that was missing on how to work with the plant in pursuit of the self.
There were one or two books on Salvia, which were a useful introduction, but none of them looked at shamanic work with the plant or its uses in healing, and most of them stemmed from the personal accounts of solo explorers. As J. D. Arthur, the author of one of these books, remarks: “My attempts to chronicle my own experiences presuppose [a] subjective interpretation. I have no idea if the experiences of others might parallel my own or be of a radically different nature.”2 Daniel Siebert, an early pioneer of Salvia (see the next chapter) adds that “Although it does seem to have a lot of potential, the use of Salvia as a therapeutic tool has barely been studied at all.” It was time for a book based on more than single-person reports so that wider and more objective conclusions might be drawn about the nature of Salvia and its applications for healing.
My final reason for undertaking this project was less noble, more personal, but it was important to me at the time. I was in love with a woman who loved Salvia, and I wanted to share a journey with her. She should really have written this book—I wish she had—but that is a different story (and I will tell you some of it later).
It all hinged though on meeting The Shepherdess, as Salvia is called by the shamans of Mexico: connecting with its spirit so its teachings could be heard; and this became my quest. The search for the spirit of Salvia would turn out to be quite an adventure, entailing shamanic ceremonies in Peru and Spain, work with participants and clients over the course of more than two years, a tragic love affair, and an encounter with a promiscuous nun before I finally met The Shepherdess and was clear on what she has to tell us. The result is this book, the first shamanic study of diviner’s sage and its ways of healing. I hope you find it useful.
The work continues with you. The tragic love affair is not compulsory (the nun may be) and in my experience is best avoided.
EXTRACT FROM THE HUMMINGBIRD’S JOURNEY TO GOD
Some time passed and I began to feel cold.
Part of me knew that I couldn’t actually be cold, however, because the sun was hot and the air so warm around us. I checked myself again and noticed I was sweating. But if I wasn’t cold, then why were my muscles cramping?
It was a simple question but even this, and the words I was using to ask it, began to confuse and overwhelm me. It was like I couldn’t think straight or find the right words and was becoming entangled by definitions.
If the cramping wasn’t ‘cramping’… then what was it? More a tightening and relaxation of the muscles. There was no pain (it could almost be sensual, in fact), but its unceasing regularity – and the sensation itself, which was like small jolts of electricity pulsing through my legs – was unfamiliar and uncomfortable, and I grew irritated as the cycle repeated itself and I began to anticipate and then wait for the next jolt to arrive.
I was also frustrated at myself for getting caught up in so much thought, so much trying and failing to find the right word to describe what I was feeling – as if I had no control over my own mind. I willed myself to relax and end my pointless mental chatter so I could let go and just experience.
To get myself ‘out of my head’, I turned my attention to my body. The cramps – if that is what I was choosing to call them – began in my feet, then my calves, and spread upwards to my thighs, stomach and torso. By the time they reached my shoulders I had forgotten my irritation and was fascinated. I sat up and held my arms out in front of me so I could study them, convinced I would be able to see my skin and muscles moving.
What I actually saw, though, was even more intriguing. My arms – along with my legs and body – were no longer ‘me’ at all; no longer even human. My skin had become yellow-green and my arms had grown ridges and furrows from which brittle hairs were sprouting. Their appearance reminded me of something but it took me a while before I knew what it was. Then it dawned on me: a cactus. I had become a cactus.
I understood what was happening then and what these cramps were all about: San Pedro, the cactus I had drunk, was an electrical charge moving through my body, transforming me until I became San Pedro itself, possessed by it. From the feet up, it was ‘checking me out’ and resolving areas of weakness it found in me. The cramps in my muscles were a response to its gentle surgery; like something passing through me and being expunged.
This was a wholly new experience for me, even after years of working with other plant teachers and even with San Pedro itself: a total awareness on every level that the cactus was really in me. Or, rather, it was me; absorbed into who or whatever ‘I’ was.
For what now felt like the first time in my life, I was aware – without the shadow of a doubt – that plants have a consciousness that is unique to them and that I was in the presence of a whole and other intelligence that was more powerful than me and had its own agenda for my healing.
The wisest action I could think of was to do nothing, and certainly not interfere with whatever San Pedro’s intentions were, especially as I had invited it into my body for precisely this purpose. Although it is an odd word to use, to do anything else, it seemed to me now, would be rude and I did not want to offend the plant.
Frankly, however, I doubted that there was much I could do to control the experience anyway given the power of San Pedro so far, so I laid back down instead and tried to relax while the cactus did its work, resolving to put up with the… not discomfort exactly, but the unusual sensations that accompany a healing on this scale.
I must have drifted then and time must have passed because I ‘came to’ again at some point with a vague awareness that my conscious mind – that which I think of as ‘me’ – was no longer a part of my experience. Instead, it felt as if ‘I’ was standing behind myself, observing calmly as my body went through its changes.
This sense of calm detachment increased until something happened that is hard to describe. It was as if San Pedro gathered together all of my energy and swept it into the wind. A more prosaic, but no more elegant or descriptively useful, way of putting this would be to say that my soul left my body. From that moment, for what seemed like hours, I became the wind, unaware of anything else except being.
If the wind can have feelings, it felt wonderful to be this free. Wind is everywhere and blows where it wishes, from one side of the world to the other in an instant. It moves like a fluid, like water, its atoms uncontained like ours, so that one drop is all drops, even if they are separated by an ocean.
The writer, Kurt Vonnegut, once described Paradise as a place where: ‘Everything is beautiful and nothing hurts’. That is how it is to be wind. You breathe the sky, are breathed, and are breath itself – all of it at once. You are vast and connected to everything and, at the same time, wholly and totally free.
Somehow, from the perspective of the wind, you understand – not gradually, but with a gentle immediacy – that the meaning of truth is to view all eventualities and things from a place beyond space, time, and comparisons or judgements of any kind. All judgements are, after all, self-centred, ambiguous, meaningless and ultimately irrelevant. They are also ridiculous, hilarious, and faux, even if they are the stuff by which we manufacture our daily realities. And so, of course, ‘reality’ is suspect too.
My rational mind, normally filled with its usual roster of conceits, deceits, denials, affirmations, questions, judgements, and busy, self-absorbed concerns about what was real in the world had been put firmly on hold by San Pedro, and some new intelligence – one not my own – had propelled me to a new understanding. The simplest of concepts – those I had learned to take for granted in the world I had consumed and been consumed by – became unfathomably complex or obviously false while those that philosophers have struggled with for centuries – the meaning of life, the nature of truth, and the destiny of our souls, among them – revealed themselves in answers that were suddenly incredibly simple.
Time (as a concept, at least, rather than something felt and experienced) shifted again and, at some other point in my San Pedro journey, I started to feel more ‘human’ again as it dawned on me that this wind I had become was also contained by my lungs and that it was my breath – and my thoughts contained within it – which was everywhere, like the wind. It was as if my lungs were great bellows, pumping my life force, desires, and intentions out into the world where they flowed across landscapes as a presence in the clouds, the mountains and trees.
EXTRACT FROM PLANT SPIRIT SHAMANISM
Shamans recognise the spiritual powers and qualities of plants in many ways: the colours of the flowers, their perfume, the shape and form of their leaves, where they are growing and in what ways, the moods they evoke in the shaman, and the wider geographical, cultural or mythological landscapes they occupy.
Although such considerations do not play a role in modern medicine (which does not believe in these spiritual powers at all), it was not all that long ago that we, too, had an understanding that nature is alive and is talking to us in these ways.
The 16th century alchemist and philosopher Paracelsus introduced this notion to the West in his “Doctrine of Signatures” treatise which proposes that the Creator has placed his seal on plants to indicate their medicinal uses – that the seeds of skullcap, for example, resemble small skulls and are therefore useful for combating headache; that the hollow stalk of garlic resembles the windpipe and is thus to be used for throat and bronchial problems; that because willow grows in damp places it is indicated for rheumatic conditions; and so on. In fact, as Thomas Bartram remarks in his Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine, “Examples are numerous. It is a curiosity that many liver remedies have yellow flowers, those for the nerves (blue), for the spleen (orange), for the bones (white). Serpentaria (Rauwolfia) resembles a snake and is an old traditional remedy for snake-bite. Herbalism confirms the Doctrine of Signatures” – although, in this modern scientific world, Bartram is keen to point out that herbalism today “is not based on it”.
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, a fact that was proved for many people when, 500 years after Paracelsus, Dr James Lovelock produced his Gaia hypothesis of the unity of all life. 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 our 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.
The doctrine of signatures, per se, is not something known to many 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 as so important that they can save lives.
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EXTRACT FROM MEDICINE FOR THE SOUL
Shamanic healing has a different view of the nature and causes of disease than orthodox Western medicine. The latter tends to intervene at the point where the disease has become visible but rarely addresses the underlying cause. Shamanism, on the other hand, aims to intervene at the point of the cause so the underlying issues are dealt with.
For the shaman, there are a number of ways in which disease might arise but in every case there is an unseen world where all illness comes from and from where it can migrate to the physical plane as a result of magical or spiritual actions or distress. In this belief system disease will always manifest along these lines:
(4) Physical (the seen world)
(1) Spiritual (the unseen world)
All of these – the spiritual, emotional, mental and physical – are different ‘bodies’ or aspects of the self that each of us have. Together they make up the energy body or soul.
That stratum of the energy body which comprises the spiritual self is furthest away from our physical body, beginning at a distance of about an arm’s length from us and stretching into infinity (although its impact and effects on the world around us gets weaker the further it gets from us). The emotional self is slightly closer, in a band about eighteen inches thick which begins about twelve inches from the physical body. The mental self is the space between the emotional and physical bodies.
At the root of every illness is a problem that stems from the unseen (spirit) world and affects our spiritual bodies first. Depending on how in tune we are with spirit we may or may not notice that something is happening to us as the illness begins to connect with our energy field.
As the illness migrates towards the physical body the problem will become more noticeable and start to make an impact on our lives. It will be registered next by the emotions. If we are in tune with our feelings we may sense that there is something ‘not quite right’ with us although we may still be unable to articulate what the problem is or what we are really feeling. As the illness becomes more solid and physical we will become increasingly aware that something is wrong. At this point the illness is entering the mental self and the mind goes to work on the problem so we may become consciously aware of some event that haunts us and seems to have a connection to our feelings and illness. Or perhaps our mind also becomes affected by the spiritual fallout from that event, in which case mental illness, anxiety, depression and so on might result. Finally, the spiritual issue will create a physical problem.
Stress is a modern example. There is no such thing as ‘A Stress’ (in fact, the term was only invented less than 100 years ago). You cannot examine one in the way you can a broken leg for example; it exists in the world of the unseen; it is a mood, a sense, a feeling – a spirit (of the workplace, a relationship or a life circumstance for example). Yet many of us are affected by stress emotionally and mentally, leading to relationship problems, mental anguish, anger, panic attacks and depression. Eventually, when our coping strategies run out and our emotional and mental selves cannot deal with it any longer stress begins assaulting the body and is nowadays recognised even by orthodox medical professionals as a contributor to cancers, strokes, ulcers, heart attacks, high blood pressure and many other physical problems as well as numerous associated ones, such as increased smoking, drinking and eating disorders and decreased sex drive and life force. Stress is the invisible world making itself felt on the visible.
Because all illness has a spiritual cause in this way the shaman believes first and foremost that its cure also lies in the spiritual domain. There may be many ways in which these spiritual problems arise, however, and to understand them and their cures the shaman must also know the workings of the soul since this (the spiritual) is the part of us that is always first attacked.