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Visionary Plants

Visionary Plants



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Published by krauklis
Plants which is used in shamanism
Plants which is used in shamanism

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Published by: krauklis on Dec 03, 2008
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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 ,,
little earth spirits,and a deity namedVahiyinin,are the actors in a tale a Siberian Koryak shaman told aRussian ethnographer at the turn ofthe nineteenth century.BigRaven is both culture hero and trickster in tribal Siberia.Whale is whale;the earth spirits are the fly agaric,
 Amanita muscaria
;andVahiyinin,meaning Existence,is the great sky god.In guides tomushrooms,the fly agaric is sometimes called “deadly poisonous, but although it can cause intestinal upsets,this is undeserved.For centuries,and probably many millennia,the fly agaricserved shamans in Siberia,and probably across much ofthe north-Eurasian forest belt,as an ecstatic inebriant.Fly agaric was the means by which they believed themselves,and were believed by others,tofree their souls for out-of-body journeys to the spirit world.In the Koryak tale,Raven and Whale were friends.One day,sogoes the tale,Whale swam too close to shore and became stuck inthe mud.He called on Raven to lift him up and escort him back todeep water;but try as Raven tried,he was not strong enough.Hetold Whale to wait while he asked advice from Vahiyinin.The god told Raven to go to a certain plain where he wouldfind earth spirits called
Ifhe ate some
they wouldgive him the strength to help his brother Whale.Vahiyinin spatupon the earth,and wherever his spittle fell,there sprang up little white spirit beings with big red hats shaped like umbrellas andspotted with white flecks.Raven ate some and soon felt so exhilarated and powerful thathe was able to lift Whale and return him to the open sea.He toldthe
spirits to grow forever on this earth.To his children,theKoryak people,Raven said that when anyone who was sick ate a
it would tell him what ailed him,or explain the meaning of a dream,show him the Upperworld,the world beneath theground,or foretell the future.The fly agaric grows in many places,including North andMiddle America.There are tantalizing hints but no firm evidencethat it ever enjoyed the same importance in the Indian Americasas it did in Siberian shamanism.But other plants with similareffects on consciousness did.Yet it is Siberia,where numeroustribal religions were focused on the fly agaric as visionary inebri-ant,that is the homeland ofthe ancestors ofthe First Americans.Beginning perhaps 30-40,000 years ago and ending around10,000 B.C.,small groups ofSiberian hunters pulled up stakes forunknown lands across the Bering Sea and gradually spread into virtually every corner ofthe western hemisphere.Why they would have ignored the fly agaric’s Americancousins—ifindeed they did—remains a mystery.Still,it may bethat the Siberian tradition ofthe fly agaric was indirectly responsi- ble for the extraordinary proliferation ofspecies with comparableeffects on consciousness in the Indian Americas.To date,
such species in ritual use have been identified,and there are undoubtedly more yet to be recognized.That’s ahundred times more than the two species reported by the earliestSpanish explorers.One was a powerful snuffwith which Fray Ramón Pané,a companion ofChristopher Columbus on his sec-ond voyage in 1494,saw the Taíno inhabitants ofthe island oHispaniola intoxicate themselves into ecstatic out-of-body jour-neys to Otherworlds.The other was a shrub the misnamed
 ,   
Chumash cave painting of a toloache (Datura inxoia) vision. Painted Cave,Santa Barbara, California.
Visionary Plants andEcstaticShamanism
 . 
   P  e   t  e  r   T .   F  u  r  s   t
 whose leaves they set on fire to inhale thesmoke for the same “diabolical”purpose.Smoking is in fact themost common method oftobacco use,but there are others,including licking,sucking,drinking,inhaling as snuff,and intes-tinal absorption by enema.
It was not until the
th century that the antiquity ofplant“hallucinogens”as triggers ofshamanic ecstasy was firmly established.In South America,the earliest evidence concerns
San Pedro
,the popular name o
Trichocereus pachanoi,
a tall,columnar cactus that is native to Peru and Ecuador.Its princi-pal visionary alkaloid is mescaline,first isolated from the pey-ote cactus in Germany in
and brought to popularattention in
in Aldous Huxley’s
The Doors ofPerception.
Peyote (
Lophophora williamsii
) is a small cactus native to thenorth-central Mexican desert and the lower Río Grande valley.Historically,it was used by the Aztecs and other indigenouspeoples.For Huichols,who take peyote to be the herbal trans-formation ofa divine deer and who gather it on arduous pil-grimages in the state ofSan Luis Potosí,peyote stands at the very heart oftheir indigenous religion.Except for sharing mescaline,and that both are succu-lents,peyote and
San Pedro
are unrelated.Spines of 
San Pedro
, which is highly valued by Andean shamans and Mestizo
and their clienteles,have been excavated in sitesdating to
 .
.But in ceramics ofthe great Chavín civ-ilization ofPeru,which flourished around
.,wesee the cactus,itself,in direct association with the jaguar,theprincipal animal
alter ego
ofAmazonian shamans.The proven age of 
San Pedro
use was put to shame by dis-coveries in ancient Desert Culture rock shelters in southernTexas.Among cultural debris in these caves,archaeologistshave found two ritual intoxicants,the red bean-like seeds,mis-named “mescal beans,of 
Sophora secundiflora
,a flowering treenative to the southern plains;and peyote.The seeds were firstreported by Cabeza de Vaca in
as an item oftrade amongTexas Indians,and thereafter as a ritual intoxicant in shamanis-tic initiation ceremonies sometimes called “Deer Dance.This ritual intoxication practice,shared by a number of tribes in the southern Plains,died out in the last quarter of the 19th century.The amazing thing is,that on the evidenceofradiocarbon dating,the practice endured for some tenthousand years—notwithstanding that one ofthe alkaloidsisolated from the seeds is cytisine,capable ofcausing con- vulsions and even death from respiratory failure when takenin large doses.The oldest dates for ceremonial caches of 
Sophora secun-diflora
 ..
,came from a Desert Culturecave in the Trans-Pecos region ofTexas called BonfireShelter,where the caches were associated with the bones of extinct
Bison antiquus
.At another Trans-Pecos location,Frightful Cave,the earliest occurrence of 
 was dated
Huichols have mixed feelings about the solanaceous
and itsrelatives, crediting them with both good and evil powers. On a visit toBandelier National Monument, an Anasazi pueblo in northern New Mexico,Guadalupe de la Cruz Ríos, widow of the late Huichol shaman-artistRamón Medina, implores a large flowering
Datura inoxia 
not to do harm.Carved slate snuff tablet and forked bird bone inhaler, excavated by MaxUhle. (Tiahuanaco, Peru.Tablet L. 4
, W.2
”; Tube L. 4
, W.1
   L   E   F   T
  :   P  e   t  e  r   T .   F  u  r  s   t  ;
   R   I   G   H   T
  :   P  e  n  n   M  u  s  e  u  m
 ..
,and the seeds were also present in all subse-quent cultural strata.And at Fate Bell Shelter,in the AmistadDam area ofTrans-Pecos Texas,a region rich in shamanisticrock paintings ofspirit beings and shamans,the seeds werepresent in every cultural stratum from
 ..
 when the Desert Culture gave way to a new way oflife based on maize cultivation.The archaeological peyotes from Texas are not far behindin age.One pair preserved in the Witte Museum in SanAntonio,and tested at
dates equivalent to
 years before the present.And a recent issue ofthe Britishmedical journal
The Lancet 
reported a radio-carbon date of 
 years before the presentfor another pair,with the added bonus ofasmall but significant residue ofmescaline.All this points to very early discoveries of hallucinogens,their integration into Amerindianreligions,and rituals related to a variety of  visionary plants.This,in turn,relates to anintriguing and quite plausible hypothesisadvanced by anthropologist Weston La Barre.La Barre is the author of 
The Peyote Cult,
aclassic history ofthe
-member pan-Indian Native American Church,originally published in
and expanded and reissuedseveral times since.
,two old friends and professional asso-ciates,both now deceased,engaged in afriendly debate.Richard Evans Schultes wasdirector ofthe Botanical Museum ofHarvardUniversity and preeminent authority on New World plant hallucinogens.Weston La Barre was professor ofanthropology at Duke University.What,asked Schultes,explains the small number ofknown visionary plants recorded in the Old World,and their infinitely greaternumber in the New? The differential fates ofshamanism in thetwo hemispheres,answered La Barre.La Barre’s argument wasessentially this:At some time in the distant past,when small bands of Siberian hunters set out for unknown lands across the Bering Sea,their baggage might have been light,but surely it included itemsthat related to their well-developed religions and rituals.These would not have been very different from the ecstatic tribalshamanism that focused on the fly agaric mushroom,describedfrom Siberia since the 1700s.Once settled in the Americas,theirshamanic core remained intact through time and space,so muchso,that to this day,all American Indian religions,including that of the militaristic and expansionist Aztec civilization,can rightly becalled shamanic.Even ifthey seemingly ignored the American varieties ofthesacred mushroom oftheir ancestors—and we have no evidenceeither way—as inheritors and practitioners ofreligious beliefsand practices originating in ecstatic Siberian shamanism,withthe ecstatic trance as the indispensable foundation ofshamanicideology and practice,the First Americans would have been “cul-turally programmed”for conscious exploration oftheir new environments for plants with divine powers that replicated thosetheir ancestors attributed to the fly agaric.Theshamanic character ofNative American reli-gions remained intact.Prior to the Europeaninvasion and colonization,the Indian Americasexperienced none ofthe profound religiousand socio-economic transformations thatcaused the eradication ofecstatic shamanism inmuch ofthe Old World,and with it,knowledgeand use ofvisionary plants.It was La Barre’s contention that the exten-sive reliance by diverse Amerindians on psy-choactive plants is evidence ofthe survival of ecstatic Mesolithic/Paleolithic shamanism.Andso we find an abundance ofsuch plants as“alliesofthe shaman in Amazonia and theAndes.In Mexico they include especially the“sacred mushrooms,peyote;several species of 
and its relatives;and perhaps most inter-esting,
This isa Nahuatl term mean-ing no more than “little round thing.TheAztecs applied this term to the seeds oftwospecies ofmorning glory,the white-flowered
) corymbosa and the pur-ple or blue
Ipomea violacea.Ololiuhqui
givesnary a hint ofthe remarkable qualities inherent in these seeds.The reason why 
 which modern Indians abbrevi-ated to
is ofsuch interest was due to an entirely unexpecteddiscovery by Albert Hofmann,the brilliant Swiss chemist who,in1938,was the co-discoverer ofLSD (d-lysergic acid diethylamide).Several investigators had previously failed to uncover the morninggloriessecret.But in 1960,Hofmann,having received severalpounds ofthe seeds from Mexico,announced his discovery oftheactive principles of 
as lysergic acid derivatives.Such derivatives are closely related to synthetic LSD and toergot,the primitive fungus infestation ofrye that in the MiddleAges was responsible for the mass hysteria known as St.Anthony’s Fire.As Hoffman pointed out,never before hadthese fungal alkaloids been identified in the higher plants.
 ,   
Peruvian stirrup vessel with
cactus effigy (
Trichocereus pachanoi 
). With its high content ofthe visionary alkaloid mescaline, it iswidely employed in shamanic curingin north coastal Peru and elsewherein the Andes. There is also archaeo-logical evidence for its use in ancientPeru as far back as 1500 B.C.
   P  e   t  e  r   T .   F  u  r  s   t

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