It is questionable as to whether the fruits of this genus have been used culturally on their own as a psychoactive sacrament. It is possible that the ripe fruits were used solely in the preparation of various intoxicating drinks. The plant does seem to have some sort of entheogenic quality – in Peru, folk healers say that the spirit of the plant appears as a bull. In Venezuela, various species of the genus are called borrachero, a name that is used for most all plants of the region that have psychoactive or inebriating effects.
P. aselliformis is a well known medicinal peyote sold in the markets of San Luís Potosí, Mexico, and is used as a remedy for fevers and rheumatic pains. Extracts have also been shown to have antibiotic activity. It was first described as a peyote by Britton & Rose who state that “it is said by the Mexicans to possess medicinal properties.”
Just recently, archaeologists have excavated frozen Scythian tombs in central Asia, dated between 500 and 300 B.C., and have found tripods and pelts, braziers and charcoal with remains of cannabis leaves and fruit. It has generally been accepted that cannabis originated in central Asia and that it was the Scythians who spread it westward to Europe.
Iboga is used traditionally amongst the various Bwiti sects as the “one true sacrament”. The complex ceremonies and the tribal dances associated with Iboga vary greatly from locality to locality, but the application of the drug is fairly consistent.
The frankincense tree is best known for the golden, aromatic resin which is harvested from incisions in its bark. In ancient times, this resin was the most precious of all resins that were used for incense. It has been used for centuries to make incense, cosmetics and perfumes. It was the most important incense of the ancient Assyrians, Hebrews, Arabs, Greeks and Egyptians, and was burned as an offering to the gods at every ceremony. The Assyrians burned it specifically for their goddess Ishtar, and their gods Adonis and Bel.
Many aboriginal Indian tribes from central Mexico and northern Central America have long believed in the magical and mysterious powers of Kieli/Kieri (Plant of the gods): some of these tribes include the Huastec, Huichol, and Mixtec; there are even pre-Colombian, Aztec era artifacts clearly depicting Kieri that may actually predate their Peyote (Lophophora williamsii) cult rituals.
One of the most powerful herbs of the Tarahumara of Mexico is apparently a species of Scirpus. Some medicine men carry Bakana to relieve pain. The tuberous underground part is believed to cure insanity, and the whole plant is a protector of those suffering from mental illness.
Since prehistoric times the tribes of South Africa have revered the antelope for its grace and beauty, they incorporated this animal into their art and many of their traditional rituals. They have even used the same word, kanna, to describe this antelope as wells as S. tortuosum. The Bushmen of South Africa have used S. tortuosum in many of their ritual ceremonies for hundreds of years. They have employed this ‘magical’ plant in their rainmaking ceremonies, divination observances, healing rituals as well as in their communal trance dancing ceremonies.
The Mazatec consider Salvia to be a holy sacrament, hence all of its names in some way reference spiritual divination and the Virgin Mary. When a curandero sets out to gather the leaves of this sacred plant they will take extra precaution not to accidentally step on any of the surrounding plants, they will kneel down and offer a prayer to the plant before and after they harvest its leaves. After the leaves have been used, the curandero will go out of their way to discard the plant remains in a secure place, where it will not be trampled on by other people or be disturbed by foraging animals.
When I was in school and we were studying the classics of literature, one of the authors we studied was Homer, who produced such famous works as the Iliad and the Odyssey. In the Odyssey, which deals with the attempts of the Trojan warriors to return home, the trip took 20 years due to one of crewmen accidentally unleashing every foul wind and bad weather spirit contained in a bag given to them by a sorceress.
The shamanic state, the state of spirit-possession, often induced by sacred herbs, is often encyclopedic – super-conscious, not subconscious. That’s why many shamans demonstrate uncanny memory. We know that The Odyssey and The Iliad were preserved, for hundreds of years before they were written down, by mnemonic power that very few moderns could match.
Putumayo state in the northwest Amazon region of Colombia is dense, green and humid. Its lush rivers and jungles are a vision of a tropical paradise, home to untold species of fauna and flora still awaiting discovery. They are also perfect cover for underground fighters, as well as the peasant farmers who toil in labs hidden under leafy canopies, turning coca leaves into the white paste that will be processed into cocaine.