6 Insights into Working with Sacred Plants

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Likely you’ve heard about ayahuasca and other plant medicines, such as magic mushrooms, iboga, peyote and san pedro. Often known as ‘entheogens’, these plants help us realise that the divine exists within ourselves. They are able to lift the veils of separation, so we can experience the unity of all things.

When you read the enthusiastic stories on the Internet nowadays, they seem to be the magic potion of our time: the panacea that can heal all our problems and ailments. Possibly you became curious to experience their effects for yourself. However, there are some things you might want to know before entering the plant path.

1) We’re only just rediscovering how to work with psychedelic plants

The human relationship with psychedelic plants may be as old as humanity itself. Traditionally, techniques to alter consciousness and transcend the physical reality were the expertise of the shaman. (S)he is the one who knows how to prepare the plants, how to create the proper context for consumption and how to guide participants on their travels.

The current situation in which we have access to ritual traditions from all over the world is unprecedented. It’s a wonderful thing, but remember we’re still in the early stages of rediscovering how to deal with these powerful tools. Especially in the Western world we’ve largely lost our connection to a shamanistic worldview. At the moment, we’re in a process of finding out how to incorporate entheogens in society and in our lives again.

2) Where and how to take entheogens

Psychedelic plants open you up completely, so it’s really important to only take them in a safe and nurturing environment. Bad trips often happen when people are ill-prepared, for example in a crowded party with lots of noise and flashy lights, combining entheogens with alcohol or other drugs is definitely a bad idea.
sacred cacti
When you want to enter the marvelous world of plant medicine for the first time, it may be wise to attend a ceremony of an experienced shaman or ritual guide. Try to inform yourself as well as possible about the ‘setting’ to find out whether this is the right place for you.

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If possible, join a more experienced friend. This also holds if you decide to create your own ceremony at home.

Another good setting is a beautiful, quiet spot in nature. Make sure you won’t be disturbed and switch off all electronic devices. You may want to fast beforehand, or at least become very conscious of everything you put into your energy system the days before. Bring enough warm clothes and a blanket, something to drink and natural foods for later.

Make it a ritual: open the space, meditate, connect with the elements, ask for protection from all beneficial spirits and gods you can think of. State your intention and bless the sacrament, for example with a prayer or by smudging it.

In the open ritual space anything might happen. You may want to sing, dance, cry, shout, be silent, travel inwards, or explore and marvel about the world around you. Be sure to close the space afterwards and ground yourself in the ordinary reality. For example by taking some time to say thanks for all you’ve experienced, eating some food and sharing your adventures with others.

3) Always listen to your heart

Never go to a plant medicine ceremony or take psychedelics because others say you should do so. Always follow your own intuition. This is especially important when it comes to working with power plants. Many people experience a calling from the plants. This means you’ll know when it’s the right time. Don’t be led astray by what is common in a specific group or context. Listen to your body, also with respect to dosage.

Keep listening to the voice of your heart during the trip. In an ayahuasca ceremony I once found myself in ‘the grid’: an immense, non-ending network of possibilities, places and experiences. I realised I was free to move anywhere I wanted. But with it came the frightening realisation: if I can be anywhere: what does it still matter to be anywhere?

That moment the shaman started singing and his voice harmonised with the guitar playing of another attendant. Before my eyes the sound transformed into a river of love and it was immediately clear to me that Love is the only trusting guide in this immense universe. Devoid of love it’s overwhelming and frightening, and makes no sense. Love is the life-force. Just tuning into it will guide your way.

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4) Build a relationship with the plant

In plant medicine settings it’s very common to treat the plant itself as an entity or ‘spirit’ that can be communicated with. Some people directly ‘see’ the spirit of the plant, or hear its voice talking to them. For others it’s a stream of new insights that pop up in one’s head, during the journey.

A central aspect of the plant path is to maintain a respectful relationship. This means for example that you ask permission before harvesting or using a certain plant. Consecrate the plant by smudging it with incense or a prayer and never forget to express your gratitude for the possibility of meeting this plant and learning from it.

We live in extraordinary times, as we can collect plants and herbs that grow all over the world. However, the deeper you dive into plant wisdom, the more you’ll start to cherish plants that grow in your own natural habitat.

5) Transformation is beautiful, but not always easy

One of the characteristics of psychedelics is that they break open your thought patterns and perceptions. During a trip your old worldview may be shattered to pieces. It can be hard to build up a new one, as you realise more and more that there’s multiple ways of looking at things.

It takes time to integrate new insights and come to terms with them. Not seldom people experience deep transformations in their life after a plant medicine ceremony. These transformations can be beautiful and most people feel grateful for them. But they’re not always easy.

6) After the peak, life may seem bleak

This is a common phenomenon for all mystical and peak experiences. Once you’ve experienced that all-encompassing love and felt the whole universe was alive and buzzing with vibration, it may be hard to enter the mundane world again. What does this blissful experience still mean when you find yourself on a rainy Monday morning at the office, staring at your computer screen?

All experiences are floating. And even if you keep glowing for days or even months after a ceremony, eventually this will fade. As all experiences do. The plant path is not so much about attaining peak experiences, but much more about developing a lifestyle that follows from them. Connecting with people that can relate to your experiences is very valuable. Other spiritual practices like yoga or meditation can also be helpful with integrating your experiences.

The ‘power plants’ are able to give you a direct experience of the sacredness and interconnectedness of creation. They are powerful tools that can have deeply transforming and healing effects. But the plant path can also be tough and it’s not for everybody. In the end it’s
just one of the many paths one can take on a spiritual journey.

Image source
Plant Spirit
Ayahuasca shaman – Painting by Juan Carlos Taminchi
Pablo Amaringo

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  • Judith Sudhölter

    Freelance researcher and journalist, fascinated by wisdom plants (entheogens) and all kinds of spiritual traditions that connect us with our divine essence and help us to build a new, more eco-conscious paradigm. www.plantsofwisdom.org

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