Psychotria is distributed in the warm and tropical regions of both hemispheres. They are low to tall shrubs or small trees, sometimes epiphytic. Approximately 1,200 species are described, of which about 800 are valid taxa.
Based on significant amounts of archaeological and artistic evidence, it seems very likely that early civilizations in the area of the Fertile Crescent employed Datura, Cannabis, Claviceps, Mandragora, Nymphaea, Vitis, and possibly Papaver as medicaments and ritual entheogens.
There are various ways to speak about indigenous cultures, for example we could speak from the perspective of our so called ‘civilisation’ but how do we know that this perception is not contrary to the truth. We could speak on the basis of our traditional religious concepts but again these concepts may in reality be the opposite of what we believe. If we speak about the indigenous from the point of view of an anthropologist we arrive at a cold and empty language,
In 1966 Barbara G. Myerhoff and I published an essay entitled, “Myth as History: The Jimson Weed Cycle of the Huichols of Mexico” (1966:3-390). It introduced a myth we considered to be of considerable ethnological, ethnobotanical and literary interest. We also thought it might have historical implications for religious change in the Huichol past, specifically from a ritual focus on a solanaceous plant to the peyote cactus, Lophophora williamsii.
Tobacco in the South American Indian Tradition is used for purification, connection with the divine, and recreation. It plays a major role in many shamanistic traditions, and is an integral part of many of their cultures. “Tobacco-producing plants are exclusively of the genus Nicotiana, and Nicotianas belong to one of the largest genera of the nightshade family (Solanaceae)” (Wilbert 1987:1).
Grapes have been used to prepare inebriating beverages for quite some time, probably at least 9000 years. In Godin Tepe in Iran, clay vessels containing the chemical traces left behind by wine have been found, dating from between 3500 and 2900 BCE. Wine grapes are known to have been cultivated in Mesopotamia, Egypt, Crete, Greece, and Rome, and the Romans spread viticulture into every part of their vast empire that had appropriate conditions for growing the vines.
A follow-up to a 2006 Johns Hopkins study involving psilocybin, the active substance in “magic mushrooms”, found that the substantive spiritual effects produced by psilocybin were beneficial to participants interviewed more than a year later.
L. inflata is used by the Crow of the Yellowstone River Valley as part of rituals, and also has a history of use in the love magic of the Pawnee of Oklahoma and the Mesquakie of the lower peninsula of Michigan (Ott 1993). It is often added to kinnikinnick and other smoking blends, or smoked alone as a tobacco substitute – hence the name Indian Tobacco. The Penescot use the plant to cause sweating and vomiting in order to drive out evil spirits, and smoke the plant to improve clarity and induce relaxation.
Tantra is an ancient, esoteric Indian spiritual tradition, common to both Hinduism and Buddhism, dating back to before the time of Christ–and even the Buddha, who lived in the sixth century B.C.E. Buddha is said to have transmitted Tantric teachings to his disciples. Both Hindu and Buddhist Tantric traditions emphasize the cultivation of enlightened consciousness, divine oneness, and the burning off of blockages and defilements that cover and inhibit the inner radiance of our own original nature or innate state of perfection.
In the city of Iquitos and its vicinity there is even today a rich tradition of folk medicine. Practitioners, some of whom qualify as shamans, make an important contribution to the psychosomatic health of the inhabitants of this area. Among them there are those called uegetalistas or plant specialists and who use a series of plants called doctores or plant teachers.
Many years ago, while living among the Barasana Indians on the banks of the Rio Piraparana in the Northwest Amazon of Colombia, I was invited one night to drink ayahuasca, “the vine of the soul,” the most revered and celebrated of Amazonian shamanic preparations.
We have come to recognize two main types of religious practitioners, the shaman and the priest. The shaman is found typically in tribal cultures, the priest in state formations and so, presumably, later in appearance, although some overlap between the two may occur. The picture we derive from the literature on this subject presents a sharp contrast between shaman and priest: we conceive of them as qualitatively different.