Life Betwixt – The Ayahuasca Thing

I don’t talk much about entheogens in my work, largely because I don’t use them. I don’t think they’re bad or any such, I just have never needed to use them to get where I want or need to be, in terms of the ecstatic. Nonetheless, when I teach Intro to Modern Shamanism , I mention the use of substances to enhance ecstatic journeying. They are a curiosity for many seekers, and for others are a vital component of connecting with Nature and all things soul.

That said, I want to comment on the many damnations and romanticizations I see of late, regarding ayahuasca (Banisteriopsis caapi), peyote (Lophophora williamsii ), and various other natural substances as wings for soul flight. Notice that when you read about the use of entheogens, there’s little middle ground. People either sing their praises from the hilltops, or fluffy kittens died as a result of their use. There’s really no between. Why might that be?

It’s pretty simple, really. People either know what they’re doing with entheogens, or they don’t. Most people in the west fall into the latter category, and as a result, don’t take the necessary steps required to make solid use of plants as a vehicle for spirit travel. The key thing that is demonstrated over and over in writings and experiences detailing successful use of working with plants for journey is relationship to the plant spirit.

The Ayahuasca Thing - Soul Intent Arts, S. Kelley Harrell Photo By Rafael Guimarães dos Santos ( [FAL], via Wikimedia CommonsPeople who use entheogens as part of their lexicon for journey know what they’re doing. They have spent time coming into connection with the plant spirit, which means the plant has given them permission to bond in this way, and it has shared insight into how to do that. Likewise, people who connect that intensely with a plant in this way study it. Either from a mentor who is on the same path (most common and perhaps the best resource) or from intense botanical studies of their own, these folks understand the plant from a horticultural standpoint.

There is an assumption that people who run into trouble with them were using them recreationally, or weren’t grounded into a spiritual path prior to their use. Not true. I have known people, solid shamanic types, who decided to try entheogens, and it went badly wrong. With everyone one of them, there was no interaction with the plant spirit prior to ingesting it, and no sense of reciprocity for what the plant spirit wanted. In short, they didn’t ask permission of the plant. They didn’t approach it with respect.

And yes, I know people have been taken advantage of. Some having died under the poor watch of a trusted trip sentinel. Mind-altering substances are nothing to be trifled with. They aren’t something you just decide you want to incorporate into your ecstatic practice. Consider the following:

  • Work with someone only after deep research into his/her experience. Ask for references. Open dialogue about what to expect, and credentials. If the person doesn’t supply convincing knowledge about his/her spiritual and grounded experience with the plant and its use, rethink plans.
  • Work with someone who knows how to administer the plant.
  • Work with someone who knows life-saving protocols.
  • Work with someone who has a relationship with the plant spirit of choice, and can instruct on how to enter into that relationship.
  • Engage the plant spirit, yourself.
  • Learn from it what your relationship is to be, and honor that.

In short, seek the whole package, not just the high. Find a mentor. Study the plant. Take the necessary time to come into relationship with the plant spirit before leaping into ingesting it. Forming relationship with the plant prior to use isn’t done just to set self up for a positive experience, but to give back to the plant, and to create the foundation to root the info learned into something useful when back from the trip.

I stand to be corrected, though I’m confident in saying, I’ve never known a person who was harmed by entheogens who took the above steps. When entheogens are approached with thorough attention to the spiritual and practical considerations, they enrich.

So I’m told.