Increasing I’m hearing about folk travelling to the ends of the earth to find ‘connection’ and spiritual ‘enlightenment’ through the ceremonies of drinking Ayahuasca and San Pedro. As someone who works intimately with British plants to achieve the same goals, I’m curious as to what this pull to the amazon, to Peru and these powerful plants is. I don’t doubt for one minute the power of these plants and the call to go a work with them; but these plants are very much rooted in the cultures and traditions of a people of the jungle, the hot humid lands stalked by jaguars, hummingbirds and condors, a far cry from my undulating chalk hills of the north downs! I’m often the first person to say that you need to be taken out of what is familiar and comfortable to find yourself, your connection, returning with a renewed sense of knowing and insight – so may be that is it? I also love exploring and experiencing diverse cultures and traditions throughout the world which can them inform my tradition, my spirituality a little more, often through the similarities and stark contrasts witnessed.
I have a feeling it’s about authenticity once again, I’ve written about this in previous articles; where folk are looking for an authentic un-broken lineage of spiritual practice, for this is a lot harder to find here in the western, European world, especially in Britain. There aren’t reservations in Britain we can go to, gaining teaching from elders of an unbroken tradition, partaking in ceremonies to connect spiritually deeper to nature and indeed our self through the ingestion of plants. So, with the internet and modern travel it’s easy to seek this from other cultures and traditions, it easy to attend an Ayahuasca and San Pedro ceremony in the mundane sense of organising it. Here finding assurances and trust that the native folk leading the ceremony ‘know’ the plants and how to work with them safely and respectfully while allowing you to have the visions.
To understand these things, I tend to try to interpret it through my spiritual tradition, and so I thought about how I would craft ritual around the developing a connection to a plant to bring about visions for healing, inspiration, knowledge and connection. For indeed its possible with British plants, I’ve used them in this way for many years through my study of them both spirituality and academically. For the past few years I have been working alone to explore this notion, crafting ceremony that focuses on specific plants and exploring the power they have. Then I find ceremonies offered on the internet, Mugwort ceremony, Yarrow ceremony etc, I find that a little hard to swallow too in some way, for there seems to be a need to replicate these amazon ceremonies but with native plants, I feel something is still missing, we still looking to find that authenticity as its simply too deeply hidden here in this land.
When we look at our heritage’s mythology, legends and tales they hold a host of references to the use of plants, more than just their herbal healing properties, but their magic, their spiritual essence and power. From the inspirational brew of initiation crafted by Cerridwen, to the talismanic powers of herbal charms hung in homes and in babies’ cradles. We find an archaeological record of plants offered as grave goods and foods, we find plants used to craft fibres to weave, sew and bind. There are Roman accounts of Druid rituals harvesting and using Mistletoe, Vervain to name but a few. There is a welsh herbal tradition that emerged in the middle ages that was said to come from a Druid linage, known as the Physicians of Myddvai, they trace their knowledge to the inspiration of a spirit known as the ‘Lady of the lake’ who taught the first physician Rhiwallon. There is a tale that speaks of this where this knowledge originates. A shepherd, while out with his flock saw a beautiful woman sitting on a rock on the bank of Llyn-y-Fan Fach (the lady of the lake) and after three attempts to woo her, she agreed to marry him. She told him, he had to treat her well, for if he strikes her three times she would return to the lake. This lady was of the old religion and know the magic and power of plants and prophesy. It came to the christening of their first child, and the lady was very upset for she could foresee that their child would be harmed by the Sun, so the shepherd struck her lightly to bring her back to her senses. The next time the lady was crying at a wedding for she could foresee the bridegroom was to die, again the shepherd struck her lightly to bring her round. The third time the farmer struck her was because she was laughing at the funeral of the bridegroom for she knew he was free and no longer suffering. This third and final time made the lady run off back to the lake straight away and the shepherd, unable to stop her, and was left heartbroken and all alone to look after their son’s. As the sons grew they inherited their mother’s powers and knowledge of the plants, it is said they could have been great warriors but instead choose a path of healing instead. The tale is from the Red Book of Hergest and the Mabinogion. The text of the Physicians of Myddvai suggest that there were over 170 plants, grown locally in the Myddvai area, to treat aliments such as sunburn, headaches, swellings, pains in the legs and colds and sneezes. There is clearly evidence for the use of plants in our islands history, but what of the psychedelic, mind expanding plants, the magic mushrooms, Henbane, Belladonna? Dr Andy Letcher when researching his book ‘Shrooms’ said that he concluded that due to the lack of any surviving evidence in use of hallucinogenic mushrooms, not merely since they “rot away to gloop unless actively dried or preserved in some way” it was very unlikely that they were used regularly in rituals. For if they were used in religious ceremonies then you would have thought that some evidence would have survived, Andy suggests “until Liberty Caps are found jammed in a pot or preserved in the stomach contents of a bog-body, we’re left in the unsatisfactory position of not knowing one way or the other” We know that absence of evidence doesn’t give evidence of absence, but nevertheless I feel that we ‘want’ or indeed ‘need’ there to be some authenticity to the use of these plants in spiritual/mind expanding ways to feed our curiosity today. In some way, we are free to think and explore free of the archaeological evidence, but instead rely on the stories of our land and our own unique connection to it, or head of to Peru!
I simply put down the books of research and headed out to nature, I asked the plants, the trees, my spirits mingled with my learnt knowledge and entered a journey of discovery, and simply dreamed with the plants. They taught me! I ingested the plants, I burnt the plants, I foraged them, and grew them. I gave them offerings and crafted ritual with them and they taught me. I would consult my herbalist friends to ensure that I didn’t poison myself, and checked my plant identification skills. In the past, I have taught Plant Spirit Medicine courses, focusing on the healing qualities of plants, but crafted those courses from a head centric path, its wasn’t an expression of my real work with plants; some of it was fear, sharing such an intimate knowledge of my plant friends, some was trying to normalise and standard the use of plants in a more spiritual way as form of recognised healing. During the last four years since that last course I run, I have taking this journey to simply connect and work with plants, not for the sake of healing, but simply to connect and form a sacred relationship with their presence, their energy, their power. This has led me to craft a new course Dreaming with Plants, exploring native British plants of the countryside and how we can connect with their spirit essence, their power and magic to gain a deeper sacred relationship to Nature and to ourselves, not through a want of healing, but too simply learn, to explore, to develop a relationship with the sacred (often healing is a result but it not the focus here). We have powerful plant allies here in Britain and they don’t have to be purging hallucinogens that can kill, but powerful, visionary and deeply connecting to our land and home – Mother Earth. While there may be little evidence for a historic/ancient tradition of British entheogens, we find ways of crafting a tradition that works for the twenty first century, yet inspired by our ancestors and the ancestors of this land. The authenticity comes from the intention and the mutual honouring and expression of earth-centre spirituality, where nature is central and key to our learning and experience. We open our hearts and minds, we reawaken our ancestral memory and transformation and wisdom can be gained. Ultimately healing our connection to Nature, which in turns helps to safe guard Nature for future generations to come.
Why Ayahuasca and San Pedro? people are looking to be taken out of their comfort zones, to break the structured and ordered pathways of their brains and experience a culture and tradition that just might offer what they have been looking for. However, if we are willing to put the work in, got out, get muddy, be with the plants in their natural habitat, we can find such powerful, albeit more subtle plants, here in Britain and I for one, believe they can be just a powerful and transformative, expanding mind and consciousness beyond this mortal world.