People have always searched for the higher meaning of existence. In their search they have had sensations of the highest divine and tried to name that which cannot be named. They have sacrificed to Zeus, thanked Freya, asked Shiva for focus and God for mercy. They have searched inward and outward with dance, prayer, singing, yoga and meditation.
One of the oldest traditions in order to get in touch with the highest divine, and with the other realities that surround us, has been by using plants. In the beginning humans were very close to nature and talked with the sun and the plants, the wind and stones. Nature was a teacher who shared its wisdom, but who also helped humans to be able to get in contact to other realities.
Over time some people have however made the experience more academic than spiritual. While the original spirituality was based on every persons own experience and their own contact with the highest divine, nowadays many people are content to believe in a constructed religion. They do of course overlap, but I’m guessing that most religious people today do not have a personal experience of contact with the highest divine, but are satisfied with believing others’ descriptions of it.
To me there is big group of illegal substances that is intimately connected with spiritual exploration – mostly those we would call natural psychedelics. I’m talking about plants and preparations such as Ayahuasca, San Pedro, Peyote, Cannabis (semi-psychedelic), psychedelic mushrooms and Iboga.
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Ayahuasca is a preparation made from a jungle vine and another plant. Shamans have probably used it for more than 6,000 years to have contact with other realities and heal people. It is used almost exclusively in ceremonial contexts, but is banned in Sweden because it contains the natural substance DMT, which is also found in the human brain and appears to be heightened and released by prolonged meditation, sleep, and at the moment of death.
San Pedro and Peyote cacti are used in similar ways and in similar contexts, for deep transformative and spiritual experiences. As far as we know the knowledge to work with them is probably more than 4,000 years old, but as with all these substances it might very well have been used for much longer than that. Today the knowledge is kept alive by South American shamans and North American Indians. While the cacti itself is legal in Sweden, it is illegal to consume it because it contains the natural substance mescaline.
Cannabis is regarded in Hinduism as a gift from the god Shiva to mankind, created from his body. It has been used for more than 4,000 years, both spiritually as medically in Hinduism and Buddhism, but more recently also in religions such as Islam and Rastafarianism. It is celebrated for its spiritual, mystical properties, but also because it allows people to see through illusions and lies. In the drug context cannabis is among the least dangerous substances, much less dangerous than alcohol or tobacco, but it is being fought with tremendous zeal. The active ingredient THC is easily spotted with a quick urine test.
Psychedelic mushrooms are available in hundreds of varieties and on every continent. The most famous Swedish psychedelic mushrooms are the Liberty caps, used by witches and shamans. In Europe, however, the Christian mass murder of dissidents makes it difficult to track past use. The mushrooms produce similar deep spiritual experiences including contact with other realities, past lives, a connectedness with nature and with the universe. Liberty caps are commonly picked in cow meadows after the first frost, but if you do so you are a criminal. All mushrooms containing the natural ingredient psilocybin are forbidden to handle.
Iboga is a West African shrub that contains the illegal natural substance ibogaine. It is documented to have been used in Africa in a spiritual context since the 19th century, but before that it is difficult to say. It gives deep transformative experiences and having taken Iboga one will often lie down for an entire day. Nowadays Iboga is most famous for its medicinal properties, as it has been proved to be able to break even deep rooted addiction with only one or two trips. But to do so is illegal.
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These are just a few of the illegal substances that have been used in spiritual practice for thousands of years before such recent phenomena as Christianity came along. Natural psychedelics are found on all continents, and maybe even in all countries. The tradition of using them in order to get in contact with other realities and with the highest divine has been preserved in many places in the world – by shamans in South America, witches in Europe, yogis and shamans in Asia and medicine men/women in North America, Africa and possibly Australia. However, they have for long periods been forced to go into hiding, because above all Christianity has violently persecuted them. Today this continues with the help of the disrespectful and discriminatory drug laws.
Drug laws thus not only violate minority rights, but also each person’s inherent right to their own spiritual experience and journey.
There are those who argue that these plants should only be used in their original cultural contexts, that is only the shamans of the Amazon should be working with Ayahuasca, and only the medicine men/women of North America with Peyote. With that logic the Liberty caps should of course be legal in Sweden. But besides that these people seem to overlook that we live in a globalized world and that the spiritual search has never let itself be confined to places or cultural context. Just as religions spread across the world and have borrowed freely from each other’s cultural contexts, shamanism is also worldwide and practitioners are inspired by each other. There have also been new substances used in similar ways, with similar spiritual effects and with similar healing properties – LSD, MDMA and Ketamine, to name a few.
Some people speak of religious freedom. I guess that would be the freedom to settle for believing in other people’s descriptions of the highest divine. I’m not interested in religious freedom. I require spiritual freedom – the freedom to have my own spiritual experience and my own contact with the highest divine. If my spiritual path happens to involve working with plants and in a tradition that is older than any religion, that is my business as long as I do not harm anyone else. A law that tries to stop me from doing so is nothing more than oppression and discrimination institutionalized.
Main photo: Headlong by Brad Hammonds on Flickrby