A lot of ink has been spilled over civil rights battles. Blood too, for that matter. And pontificators have given us our last civil rights fights for a long time. They say affirmative action is the last battle. They say gay rights is the last battle. They might even say that political correctness is a civil rights battle. But what has not been addressed is the freedom of consciousness movement.
Extracted from the root bark of a west African plant, ibogaine has been used in spiritual rituals in parts of Gabon, where it is said to open up ancestral memories and enable people to re-evaluate life experiences. It is banned in the US, Belgium and Switzerland but legal in the UK, where it is classified as an unlicensed, experimental medicine. Concerns over its safety and high price have limited its popularity.
The following observations refer to two plants used by some of the autochthonous peoples of Madagascar and are based on an article by a French researcher, Pierre Boiteau. The article is unmentioned in the specialist literature on psychoactive plants. Furthemore, the two plant species mentioned were unknown to us. The article, ‘Sur deux plantes autochtones de Madagascar utilisées à la manière de Chanvre comme stupéfiant’ (‘On two autochthonous plants from Madagascar used in the manner of Cannabis as a narcotic’), was published in 1967 in the Comptes Rendus de l’Académie des Sciences (Paris).
Humans have been decorating their bodies with the beauty of natural objects for thousands of years. Primitive man wore necklaces made from the bones, claws and teeth of slain animals. Today most people think of natural jewelry as shiny pieces of corals, pearls and precious or semiprecious stones, polished and set in gold or silver.
The Temple of the True Inner Light was formed in 1980 by Alan Birnbaum as an offshoot of the New York City branch of the Native American Church. The Temple uses Di-Propyl Tryptamine (DPT) as its sacrament which Temple followers regard as the actual manifestation of God, rather than a means to access God. DPT ingestion, according to the Temple, allows direct communication with spirit forms and this communication provides the source of their theology.
The last ayahuasca ritual we attended in Brazil was the Barquinha, a split off the Santo Daime and the smallest of the three established Brazilian churches who use ‘huasca’, as its called in Brazil. As with the others, the religion incorporates beliefs from Spiritism, Christianity and the native jungle tribes.
Descriptions of still-existing Peyote rituals that are essentially free of Christian admixtures – those of the Tepehuan, Cora, Huichol, and Tarahumara tribes in Mexico, for example – hint of pre-Columbian origins of contemporary Church meetings, for anthropologists can point to aboriginal counterparts for virtually all of the sacred artifacts that the Native American Church uses.
A review of psychoactive plants known from archaeological contexts and artistic representations shows that their use has spanned centuries, continuing in places in Mexico and South America to the present day. The discovery of the unusual properties of these plants took place as part of the exploration of the physical milieu of the Western Hemisphere. That these plants must, in some cases, be made into infusions in order to be consumed reveals ancient enterprise in manipulating aspects of the environment.
More than a quarter of a million Native Americans use the peyote cactus (Lophophora williamsii) as sacrament in a Pan-Native American religion called the Native American Church. This bona fide religion include Native Americans from throughout the United States and Canada. Almost all the peyote consumed in their ceremonies comes from the “peyote gardens” on the Mustang Plains in south Texas, which has been carefully documented by Morgan (1976, 1983) and by Morgan and Stewart (1984).
I believe that we’re at the beginning of a shamanic Renaissance. Shamanism has been rapidly disappearing from the planet as missionaries, colonists, governments, and commercial interests overwhelmed tribal peoples and their ancient cultures. During the last decade however, shamanism has returned to human life with startling strength, even to urban strongholds of Western “civilization,” such as New York and Vienna.
Salvia divinorum is one of the vision-inducing plants used by the Mazatec Indians of central Mexico. The present status of research is summarized. Experiments with material collected at different Oaxacan sites confirmed that the mint has white (rather than blue) flowers with a purple calyx and that flowering is induced by short daylength.
Calea zacatechichi is a plant used by the Chontal Indians of Mexico to obtain divinatory messages during dreaming. At human doses, organic extracts of the plant produce the EEG and behavioral signs of somnolence and induce light sleep in cats. Large doses elicit salivation, ataxia. retching and occasional vomiting.