» PLANTS, MAGIC & SPIRIT: Lit-Tripping in the Ethnobotanosphere

by Brian Awehali

“It is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring”. – Carl Sagan

I’m always looking for examples of magic in the world that don’t require the willful suspension of disbelief, or the complete setting aside of critical thinking. Happily, the plant and animal kingdoms — not all that distinct or separate from us — provide almost limitless examples of interconnectedness, magic, and cosmic intelligence.

Consider highlights from Wikipedia’s, “Plant Intelligence” entry:

Plants are not passive entities… They signal and communicate within and among themselves, accurately compute their circumstances, use sophisticated cost-benefit analysis, and take tightly controlled actions to mitigate and control environmental stressors. Plants are capable of ‘learning’ from their past experiences, and of updating their behavior in order to survive present and future challenges of their environment. Plants are also capable of refined recognition of self and non-self, and are territorial in behavior.”

Ingredients for ayahuasca brewSo, keeping that complex and communicative intelligence in mind, are Columbian Amazonian shamans (or “medicine men” of many possible names) and their tribes able to communicate directly with animals and plants, and do they possess means of traveling to alternate psychic and physical realities? Can a combination of (animistic) belief, rhythm, color and strong plant medicine provide people with direct access and communication with what can be called a spirit realm? How is it that many Amazonian shamans possess understandings of the pharmacology and neurochemistry of plants that far exceeds that of Western scientists?

These are questions explored by Dr. Richard Evans Schultes’ landmark book, Vine of the Soul: Medicine Men, Their Plants and Rituals in the Columbian Amazon (1992), an extraordinary photo-centric collection of indigenous myths and narratives from travelers and scientists about the ayahuasca experience…

Harvard botanist Richard Evans Schultes and an Amazonian medicine man, snorting curare powder through bones. Curare, a plant-derived poison most often used to lethal effect on hunting darts and arrows, is also capable of producing psychedelic states of consciousness.

Harvard botanist Richard Evans Schultes and an Amazonian medicine man, snorting curare powder through bones. Curare, a plant-derived poison most often used to lethal effect on hunting darts and arrows, is also capable of producing psychedelic states of consciousness.

Are the claims of medicine men — that they get their information directly from the plants, particularly under the influence of ayahuasca — to be taken literally, poetically, or both?

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