Plant Medicines as Spiritual Tools

The Use of Plant Medicines in Spiritual Awakening

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by Neva J. Howell unless otherwise noted

Plant Medicines as Spiritual Tools
Except for any noted source material, content copyright, Neva. J. Howell, all rights reserved

There is an aspect of Native-American (and other indigenious people’s) ceremony and spiritual structure that is seldom talked about or dwelled on: the use of ceremonial alteratives, plant medicines such as marijuana, peyote, mushrooms, mescal, datura, etc., as a way of opening the group mind to a higher consciousness and to enter different levels of spiritual consciousness. Such use is intended to be a bridge but never a destination.

Because of my own addictive and compulsive tendencies, I may not be the most unbiased person to speak of these things or perhaps my experience makes me the logical person to do so — either way, I will speak of this matter.

Although it is possible for marijuana, peyote, or other mind-altering substances to be used in a sacred way — they have been so used for thousands of years — it is also possible for abuse and addiction to occur within that journey.

What follows is admittedly the opinion of a white woman who never lived at a reservation and doesn’t know what it was really like. I have gleaned my ideas from the stories I’ve been told, movies I’ve seen, and books I’ve read. I’ve also glimpsed the past through visioning but that was only my past lives, and may not be true of the Native American people as a whole.

I believe one of the reasons the ceremonial use of alteratives is different today than in times past, has to do with modern culture and lifestyle. In the Native way, before “Western Civilization”, from all that I’ve read and seen in documentaries about the way things used to be, the indigenous peoples of this land lived in intimate relationship with nature.

From the first waking moment into the dreamtime, each day was a continuous circle which revolved around the good of the whole and the connection to Great Spirit.

Community was strong from all that I’ve read – none walked alone but lived within a strong, communal support system which made hunting, food preparation, child care, and care for the elderly a shared responsibility.

Now, the focus of the average person in the work-a-day world is much more individualized. Our efforts revolve around making a living, and staying ahead of the bills. We are concerned with promotions, rent, traffic, smog, material acquisitions, etc. There is little communal interaction, with regard to daily tasks.

Even the preparation of food has drastically changed. Going into the grocery store and picking up a loaf of bread is not usually a spiritual experience. It contrasts broadly with the community experience of gathering the grain, stone-grinding it in the sun while singing or praying, and preparing it for the whole tribe.

Of course things haven’t just changed for Native-Americans but for pioneer descendants like myself, as well. I sure don’t do it the way Grandma did. She road into Alabama on a wagon, helped to build her own house, raised a garden, canned fresh vegetables, killed her own meat for food, and lived a lot closer to the land on a daily basis. However, even grandma lived a lot of her older years in a house with a well and a bathroom.

Living directly on the land, in teepees, getting water from a nearby stream and going in the woods presents a very different potential for staying grounded and centered and certainly could have made the use of spiritual plant medicines a lot safer than I feel it is today.

Those same indigenous peoples who once worked in such a communal, natural way and who lived free of such concerns as monthly rent and utilities, taxes, car, house, and medical insurance, etc., are now living on reservations or working out in the business world. For me, this is important to remember, with regard to any choice I might make to participate in the use of ceremonial alteratives.

For a certain period of time, the ceremonial use of mood-altering substances was prohibited by our government, as was the practice of many Native Ceremonies. In the interim, the brutal hand of alcohol addiction touched the Native people and, as is true of those of every race, many Native-Americans still struggle in it’s deadly grasp.

To utilize alteratives (herbal or other) as spiritual medicine, in a modern society where so many battle the demons of drug addiction, entails huge responsibility. In order to safely facilitate a medicine journey for someone, it would seem obvious to me that the teacher or healer must walk in a consistent state of personal balance. In addition, I would want any spiritual facilitator I chose for assistance, to have a balance of heart and third eye energies.

strong>No human is immune to addiction

It is possible for a spiritual leader to become physically or emotionally addicted to the medicine they use. In this case, instead of opening doorways to higher consciousness, my sense is that they may open doors of addiction, confusion, and even madness for those who follow them.

Another danger is that a teacher, healer or spiritual leader may have an active, open third eye but a heart that is closed. Therefore, they may have the knowledge necessary to initiate someone to higher levels of knowledge but, without a healthy heart chakra, are not able to ground the new awareness in compassion and love.

The bible says when the blind lead the blind, everyone ends up in the ditch.

If you are considering participation in the medicine way (with peyote, marijuana or other ceremonial alteratives), approach the decision as if your mental and emotional stability depended on making the right choice. Get to know the person who works with such medicine. Observe their daily personal life. Don’t be led by the blind.

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