The medicine and the challenges of visionary plants

In the past few weeks I’ve received a couple of questions about the use of ‘visionary plants’, one from someone simply curious about their use, and one from a young man who has had a very difficult experience ever since using mushrooms. Unfortunately I see this all too often in my practice: people who undergo enormous challenges after partaking of these plants without knowing the respectful way to engage with them. With marijuana becoming legalized or decriminalized in many states and countries, and with a range of other psychotropic plants such as ayahuasca, mushrooms and peyote readily available, it behooves us to look at the gifts and the pitfalls of relating with these powerful plant beings. While each of them has potent medicine to offer, they need to be approached with discernment and, above all, with respect.

Indigenous peoples, who have lived for millennia alongside these plants in their native environment, have learned how to safely partake of their medicine by relating to them with reverence. They express gratitude and create a relationship of reciprocity with each plant by offering prayers and rituals. By contrast, we westerners tend to approach these plant beings with the same attitude of appropriation that we treat the ‘resources’ of the natural world. We see the plant as something to be taken and used without any acknowledgement of the need to offer something in return. Even if we wish to be respectful we often unwittingly offend because we remain ignorant of what the appropriate exchange should be with that particular plant.

What this can look like in real life…..

Marcela came to me experiencing intense gastric symptoms, a failing healing practice and a recent divorce. It turns out that for several years, with her ex-husband, she had been involved with several questionable ayahuasca rituals, none of which were performed by an indigenous elder. As well as affronting the spirit of ayahuasca, she had also unintentionally attracted the attention of some other unwanted energies that tend to be drawn to ritual space not held in a safe way. Marcela underwent a ‘goodbye ceremony’ in which she expressed her gratitude to the plant for all that it had offered her and promised to never disrespect it or use it again, Since then her symptoms have cleared, her finances improved and she is now happily married.

These plants have profound medicine to offer us when approached in the right way. However, that same power can create havoc in our life if we disregard or are ignorant of the need for appropriate exchange.

Some Practical Guidelines

  • If you feel drawn to engage with visionary plants (or are already doing so) here are some useful guidelines to help you create a respectful and safe relationship with the plant in question.
  • Examine your motivation for taking the medicine: Is it an authentic desire to connect with the divine or explore the mysteries of consciousness? Is it out of curiosity? Is it out of boredom? Is it to anesthetize yourself and avoid challenging feelings that you don’t know how to be with? If your motivation is to avoid or distract you will most probably be in for a very difficult time, because all those feelings will inevitably return with greater force once the high is over. An enormous amount of marijuana use is motivated by this desire to medicate anxiety and other challenging feelings but in the longer term it only exacerbates the situation.
  • If you have decided to create a relationship with one of these plants, find an indigenous elder trained and initiated in its use. This can also be someone who has done an authentic apprenticeship with such an indigenous elder. These people know the safe and respectful way to approach the plant, with the appropriate exchange of prayer and ritual.
  • Even if you find such a person, make sure that they take an interest in who you are and have a way of determining whether you have a calling to use this plant. Some of us have authentic soul connections with a certain plant and an experienced elder can recognize if this is the case or if you have no business with this medicine.
  • Ensure there is some kind of grounded community or support system in place to guide you moving forward. There are many people, including indigenous elders, who travel around offering this kind of plant medicine without providing any follow-up support once they have gone. Because of the power of plant medicine, challenging transformation can sometimes occur after its use and it is important to have someone to guide you through the process.

In Conclusion…

These guidelines probably seem extremely conservative but they are based on hard won personal experience. I have used and misused several visionary plants myself and received both wondrous medicine and challenging side effects. In my practice people come to me with the fallout from their abuse of these plants and I treat them following the guidance received from my own teachers. If you are wondering if you might be suffering from some of the effects of a compromised relationship with one or more of these plants you can always seek help from a practitioner who has experience in working with visionary plants. In the end it is always about offering these plant beings your gratitude and appreciation.

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