Tag Archives: hallucinogens

Psychedelics, plant teachers or whatever you want to call them

First of all it is important to point out that all words are made up. People have had a good think and come up with a word which in some cases has caught on. But understand this – they are all make-believe. Even the most precise of words with the clearest of definitions is made up by someone.

The meaning of a word is determined by the consensus people find around it. Some words have very precise meanings, such as the word centimetre. Other words have a general consensus, but can still be open to interpretation at some point, such as the word chair or forest. Yet other words are the cause of constant quarrel. What is art? Define love. Describe ego.

When it comes to words describing experiences and plants or substances with psychedelic properties there are many different words, but little actual consensus, in part because we are still in the process of trying to agree on them. There is often no exact right or wrong, but as with most things there are plenty of people with strong opinions on the subject. But just so that we are clear about this – those opinions are made up about words that are made up. In the end it is all make-believe.

Since there is still little consensus on these words it is important to ask the person using them what they mean by them, because what the words mean to them might be very different from what they mean to you. And if you are getting worked up about what they mean to you only to find out much later that they mean something totally different to them… well, it’s a whole lot of arguing about absolutely nothing.

It is also important to understand that the words and definitions we use are a reflection of what we need them for. A scientist needs very well-defined words, so the wording is very precise. This often leads to the words being quite complicated, because in the scientific world it is not a problem if a word is complicated, as long as it is well-defined.

I am not a scientist. My goal is not to be precise, but rather to be understandable. In order to help people I need them to understand what I am saying, which they won’t do if I use a scientific jargon. I need words that people at least have a clue about, and then we can take it from there.

So let’s talk about some of the words that are floating around out there.

Plants and substances

This is a distinction where there is much consensus, but which still causes confusion, especially for people who do not work with such things. A plant is something you will find growing in nature. It can be a cactus like the San Pedro or a vine like the Banisteriopsis caapi, which is used in the brew Ayahuasca. The psilocybin mushroom is by a biologist’s definition not a plant but a fungi, but for the sake of making this understandable I group it with the plants, because it is something that grows in nature.

A substance on the other hand is an isolated molecule or combination of molecules. It is something that a person has isolated, extracted or produced. Mescaline is a substance which one can get from San Pedro, DMT is a substance which can be found in Ayahuasca and psilocybin is a substance which can be found in certain mushrooms.

It is important, at least from a shamanic perspective, not to confuse these with each other. Eating a San Pedro cactus is not the same as eating mescaline. The San Pedro is a plant and as a plant it has a spirit connected to it. Or to put it in other words, it is alive and is able to communicate with us. Mescaline might give some similar effects, but there is no spirit there to communicate with.

Let’s take one of my favourite substances as an example. Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) is a substance in the meaning that it is an isolated molecule which does not have a spirit attached to it, in the shamanic sense of things. It is a very powerful medicine to work with and many of the effects might seem similar to mushrooms or cacti, but when working with it one is not doing so with the help of a spirit which is attached to the substance.

While all this is perfectly clear for people who work with such things, it is often very confusing for people who for example make and enforce laws. They often name a substance and confuse it for the plant, or the other way around. In a shamanic setting it is a world of difference and it is well understood that a plant cannot be reduced to a certain substance contained within it, because it will be missing the spirit.

What are these plants/fungi being called?

Madarchen hud by Nic Dafis on Flickr
Madarchen hud by Nic Dafis on Flickr.

When writing this I asked people for the words they use for such plants. One person simply replied Teacher. Short and to the point. This is a common perception and while it might be figuratively speaking for some, most who say it mean it literally. They see the plant as a spirit separate from themselves who teaches them things, and this is an understanding which has been around for thousands of years in the cultural settings in which such plants have been used. It is a term that not only conveys what the spirit does, but it is also a word which shows respect.

In that cultural setting it would be disrespectful to confuse for example the San Pedro cactus with the word mescaline. It would be disrespectful in the same manner as if you called your university professor Book. Your professor is as little a Book as San Pedro is Mescaline.

A similarly respectful and common expression is Master plant. It says with all clarity that this is no silly little spirit, but a spirit worth listening to carefully. It is also common to call the plants by what help they give, such as Medicine plant or Visionary plant. They are medicine. They give vision.

A few people called them Spirit helper or Spirit guide. It still conveys the sense of there being another intelligence, but for me those terms carry a different meaning that are not connected to a plant.

Sht my Dad paints by Ryan on Flickr
Sht my Dad paints by Ryan on Flickr

Other words that try to capture the essence of these plants and substances

The fact that we are dealing with both plants and substances which have similar properties does confuse the situation. While the plant spirits have been known in shamanic use for many millennia they are still quite new to us in the modern world. These things haven’t really been known to us for more than a century, and to a broader public only half that time.

One thing that we are very good at in this modern world is playing with words, so it comes as no surprise that there is a wealth of different words trying to describe these plants, substances and experiences. Some are quite good while others are awful. Many are catchy and accessible, while others confuse things even more. Here come some of the ones that I like better:

Psychedelics

The best thing about the word psychedelic is that it is well-known. People at least have a vague idea what it is, and even though the ideas might be off, it is a starting ground.

The term means “mind revealing” and is derived from the Greek psyche (soul, mind) and delein (to manifest). It was coined by the British psychiatrist Humphry Osmond in 1957. At the time he and Aldous Huxley were discussing what to call these wonderful plants and substances. Huxley sent Osmond a rhyme with the word he preferred: “To make this trivial world sublime, take half a gram of phanerothyme” (thymos meaning ‘spiritedness’ in Greek.) Osmond wrote back “To fathom Hell or soar angelic, just take a pinch of psychedelic.

I wanted to share that story with you to show the playfulness and ingenuity that bright minds have put into making these words up.

Personally I think it is a word which is very suitable and it can be used for plants and substances alike. They are truly soul and mind revealing. They put us in direct contact with our inner workings, with or without the help of a spirit.

It is also a word that is easy to connect with other words, such as psychedelic mushroom, psychedelic medicine or psychedelic therapy. In that way it is good for communicating, which suites me.

I have heard several negative remarks about the word. A shaman friend of mine dismisses the word because it somehow doesn’t take the plants spirit into account. It reduces the plant to a mere substance, is the argument. I do not agree. There is nothing inherent in the word which says that it refers to a substance or which excludes a spirit. Those restrictions are not in the word itself, but in the critics own head.

Hallucinogens

Psychedelicological III by Derrick Tyson on Flickr
Psychedelicological III by Derrick Tyson on Flickr

This is another word which I like, but which is often (mis)understood in ways that narrow it down to something it doesn’t inherently need to be. The word hallucination was coined by Sir Thomas Browne in 1646 from the Latin alucinari meaning “to wander in the mind”.

That word goes well together with the notion that a hallucination is a visual projection of what is going on in the mind, which many such experiences obviously are. But many visual effects on such plants and substances are not projections of what is going on in our mind, which leaves many feeling that the word is incorrect. Many visual effects are universal and people report similar geometrical patterns, energy trails and other visual experiences that seem to emanate outside themselves.

I find that the anthropologist Jeremy Narby explains this wonderfully in his book The Cosmic Serpent where he studies shamans of the Amazon and compares their knowledge to Western scientific knowledge. There he makes a difference between inner and outer hallucinations. Inner hallucinations are projections of what is going on in our own mind, while outer hallucinations are things that are really there, but which are normally hidden from us. These outer hallucinations can be things like auras, spirits, energetic patterns and the fabric of existence. It is all there even when we don’t see it and what the plants and substances do is open us up to being able to see.

If the word hallucination or hallucinogen is used to only mean “projections of your own mind” it is not a suitable word to describe these plants and substances, since it leads us to believe that what we are experiencing only originates from within. If the word is used to mean inner AND outer hallucinations, then I find it to be very accurate. The visual effects are projections of what is going on inside AND they also reveal other realities to us.

Entheogens

The word entheogen was coined in 1979 by a group of ethnobotanists who wanted to capture the spiritual aspect of the experience. This also comes from Greek and is made up of entheos (full of god, inspired) and genesthai (to come into being). An entheogen is a plant or substance which wakes the God within, which inspires us, especially in a spiritual way.

I like this word because it captures the spiritual aspect in a way that the other words don’t. These plants and substances are to a very high degree being used in spiritual settings and with spiritual intentions, so it is fitting to have a word which highlights this.

I once channelled information from the spirit world about how dangerous drugs are. After having a list of different plants and substances I noticed that some were obviously missing. There was no mention of mushrooms, LSD or DMT. When I asked why the answer was very clear. “Many people have completely misunderstood these plants and substances. They are not drugs. They are keys to speak to the Gods.”

I couldn’t agree more. That is the most common view among people who work with such plants and substances in a serious manner, and that is also why no amount of legislation can ever stop people from using them. It is simply ridiculous to think that people will obey laws that try to stop them from speaking to God or themselves.

Substances of essence

This is not an expression I have heard being used, but when I asked for words someone wrote this. I think it is a wonderful expression, because it shows that respect can be directed towards a substance too. While I have heard several in spiritual settings dismiss substances and molecules, they are also truly miraculous and hold as much healing power as many plants. I find such dismissal to be disrespectful and lacking in knowledge in the same way that others disrespect the plant spirits out of lack of knowledge.

A couple of words I think are really bad

Dr. Mom by Bart Everson on Flickr.
Dr. Mom by Bart Everson on Flickr.

Drugs/dope. No one who has the slightest knowledge on the subject would use such words about plants or substances with psychedelic properties. When you hear someone using these words it is a red flag clearly stating “I have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about”. Unfortunately drug laws are often written and upheld by people who haven’t a clue.

Phanerothyme. I’m just using this as an example among many similar words. It translates into “producing visable feelings”. The person who created this might have put a lot of thought into it and the meaning might be quite true, but trying to communicate it is horrible. It is bulky, hard to pronounce, hard to combine with other words and nobody has the slightest idea what it means. It might work with a scientific intention, but in everyday communication I wouldn’t touch it with a ten foot pole.

In conclusion

There are a lot of good words out there and there are a few bad ones too. Use the good ones and let the bad ones die. But perhaps more importantly, there are good and bad interpretations of the words.

If you meet someone who uses the words in a way that you don’t think you agree with, don’t take for granted that you don’t agree with one another. Simply ask them what they mean and have a friendly talk about your different choices in words. In many cases we get tangled up in trying to say that something is right and something else is wrong. When we do so we are missing the crucial point – it is all made up. Our language is make-believe. We often confuse the use of different vocabulary with being of different opinions.

Another point that I see in all this is that although there are several very good words out there, these plants, substances and experiences are so diverse and complex that they are hard to capture in a single word. Any way you choose to describe them you will automatically be missing other crucial points. The plant is a teacher, but is that all it is? Yes, these plants and substances help us sort out our inner workings, but is that all they do? Yes, they cause inner and outer hallucinations, but is that what it is all about?

I don’t think that the solution to all this is to make up yet more words, trying to capture that which cannot be captured. I think a good lesson is to simply understand that language itself is a limitation.

Main photo: A bumble bee hovering over a lavendar bloom by Steve Slater on Flickr

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Mårten on the subject of time and how it can break

These are notes from a channelled conversation with a spirit contact named Mårten. In it he discusses time, trauma and identity. This is a rough translation from Swedish.

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– Trauma changes time, there becomes a gap in it. Strong traumas fracture our experience of time. When something happens in a place that time is carved into it. In a place with many traumas, such as Auschwitz, time is fragmented and chaotic. It still is. Time has not moved on, which means you can go there and experience it again.

– It is the same for people. Time can break for them. For someone traumatized by losing someone, for example, time can become so fragmented that the experience could just as well have happened 7 seconds ago, as 7 years ago. A person like that breaks every day.

– Thus both a place and a person can get stuck in a certain time.

Identity and time

– Time is linked to the identity we create in the life we ​​live now. In our basic state that time does not exist, it is only now. When we are through meditation work our way down to our basic state we come to now, which also brings great security. In the ego, identity, we create time. It is with the help of the time we then create memories, what we’ve been through and what we dream about.

– Our memory teaches us the basic, practical social things. Therefore we need time, in order to learn and create our selves. We build our dreams on what we have experienced.

– When it works you go from one time to the next, but when there is a trauma time is fractured. Small images are spread and shattered. If that happens you can get stuck or move on without the image. It is the image of one’s self or expectations for the situation.

Fragmented time

– People with traumas have fragmented time. This may occur in many ways, for example by assault, accidents, vulnerable situations, lost love, alcohol and drug addiction, psychoses, neuroses, depression and apathy.

How can we mend fragmented time in a person?
– It depends. The person has to want to.

– One way is by remembering. A piece of time breaks. The pieces are still there in your backpack. You feel broken. Putting together the pieces begins by remembering how the image was before it was broken. This is not something to do by yourself.

– Go into the difficult things to reach the realization that it is okay that it happened.

Can you bring such time fractures to the next life?
– Yes, as karma.

How does one work with time that has been shattered by alcohol?
– By remembering. It is still there, that what was before the intoxication. There is something about yourself that you do not remember.

I forget who I was during that time. I don’t remember the hardest parts.
– You behaved in a way when you were drunk that you now do not want to remember as a part of you. Compare before and after. What disappeared in-between?

– The biggest key is identifying yourself. Every day and in every situation you decide how and who you want to be. You have to decide all the time, facing each new situation. A large part of our identification is based on how we have been and what we have been through in life. It determines our decisions and how we choose to be today.

Paused and enlarged time

– Sometimes time is broken in a way that it stops right there. We note details that we always remember afterwards. Pause. Then the problem is not to remember, but to get the image to assume the same proportions as the rest. The image stands out from everything else. That is as great a trauma. An equal displacement in the ability to identify.

– It depends on how time was broken, what one has done since, and our attitude.

Remembering and patterns

– There are some keys, but they have so many different variables. To remember has so many different variables. Remembering with the mind can be one tool, but you can also remember with the body or by saying things aloud.

– Then there is the aspect of patterns. We have time to create patterns and logic. We learn order and how to create patterns. This means that trauma of various kinds also create patterns, which often makes it happen again if it has happened once. Maybe that could also be a way to remember, until we actually remember it, until we actually see what is going on.

– The process is the whole thing, our process. Things happen and we get stuck. That’s why we have all these lives and continue to reincarnate, because we didn’t learn. So we bring it along to the next life too.

– It is through our identity and the experience of this life that we can get through the illusion and down to ourselves. See it as our core or essence. On it are various layers. Identity is one layer. That means that whatever we do in life can not damage the core. Any dirt will be on the outside of it.

Energy inward and outward

– Energy that harms, that stems from the illusion that the ring of identity is the self, is directed outward. We create the illusion that we are separate from God.

– Real healing energy can mend the identity ring. Then the energy is directed inwards, towards the core, and then we realize that we are God, that everything is connected, that everything has meaning, that we are complete. When we look for explanations outside of ourselves we direct the energy outward.

How do we direct the energy inward?
– Just do it. When we actually do what we know is right for us. It all ties together. When I know what I need to do I am in contact with the core, and then the energy is directed inwards. When we disconnect the mind, which is a huge process. When we become aware that we are not our thoughts. When we wake up.

– Most people have a little energy inward and little energy outward. Being in contact with ones intuition and feelings makes the energy go inward. The mind switched on, then the energy will go outward. The more energy goes inward, the greater humility the person will have. It becomes a tool. Such a person is aware that she is not the work she performs. She doesn’t identify strongly with such things.

– The essence, our soul – whatever we experience, we cannot damage it. Our identity can be damaged and create a “broken person”, slit personality and other disorders, but inside of that the soul is intact.

– With techniques for getting in contact with oneself so much healing occurs by itself, because that is the nature of energy – to heal.

Hallucinogens as medicine

– Hallucinogens can be excellent tools in this context, but the identity ring cannot be too broken. The identity ring needs to be quite intact, because it is through it that we create the context and intention. If the ring is broken the energy goes outward and becomes harmful.

– How noticeable hallucinogens are depends on how strong your identity ring is. If your ring is full, you are in balance.

Getting stuck in a time

– There is another way for time to break. We talked about 1. gaps, 2. that it is frozen and magnified, and 3. that a piece of time breaks so that it becomes choppy and fragmented. One can also get stuck in a time, often in a sequence. With a longer period of difficult things you can start reliving what is happening. It is repeated for real or it feels like it is being repeated. Outside time continues, but on the inside the same time pattern is repeating itself.

Four time injuries

– The person who has had a time injury needs to identify what kind.

Four time injuries:
● gaps
● frozen and magnified
● broken, shattered, fragmented, choppy
● stuck in a time

– In recovery we need to create a new identity based on the present. The past is no longer relevant.

Photo: Trolley Drain by darkday on Flickr

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“Why this need to be intoxicated?”

Why do people feel the need to be intoxicated?

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This is a question that I sometimes get from people who do not understand why others want to get involved with “drugs”. The question itself is revealing, because it is obvious that the person has alcohol as a reference, which limits their understanding of other substances. It is rarely clear in everyday conversation that “drugs” can have other uses than intoxication.

Intoxication is only one of several states that alcohol and drugs are used to achieve. To broaden the subject, I would rather use the phrase mind altered states. Why do people want to achieve altered states of mind? By changing the words I hope that it will be clearer that substances may have more to them than only intoxication.

But let’s still begin with the state of intoxication. Alcohol is the typical example of an intoxicating drug, because it has few other purposes. In small or moderate use it can work well as a social lubricant or as relaxation. At high consumption it is an excellent escape drug, which explains its high potential for abuse. There are a large number of drugs with similar characteristics, or that are at least used in similar ways – as intoxication, social lubricant or as an escape. Opiates, amphetamines, cocaine, some prescription drugs and cannabis, to name a few.

But what other altered states of mind are people who take different substances looking for? Speaking of cannabis, there has long been talk about the plants medicinal properties. Some medicinal properties can certainly be isolated so that you can get the medical effect without the altered state of mind, but in other cases the altered state is strongly linked to the medical effect. Cannabis is used to relieve chronic pain and difficulty coping with stress, to name just a couple of uses.

Another group of substances that is much more mind altering is psychedelics, also called hallucinogens or entheogens. With these I have experienced everything from extreme confusion to total clarity, but I have never felt intoxication to be a valid word for my experiences. From a Western medical perspective, these substances can be used as therapeutic tools. They might give me the opportunity to become aware of and release that which is restricting me, help me heal past trauma, give me insight into who I am, give me a sense of purpose and my place in the world. The question of why I choose to intoxicate myself becomes very strange, because I am working therapeutically with the substance in order to heal and grow. The abuse potential of these substances are remarkably low, since they typically raise your awareness in a manner which makes you want to quit any substance abuse.

Another place where virtually all cultures seek altered states of consciousness is in the spiritual. Some achieve it through prolonged meditation, others in intense dance, through drumming, singing, beating themselves, with yoga, in prayer, in ceremonies, sweat lodges, through sex, separated from the world, or in close, intimate contact with it. One of mankind’s oldest ways to connect with the higher divine is by plants, which is a tradition that we know is more than twice as old as the Bible, and probably many times older yet. There are a few scenarios where it might be relevant to talk about intoxication, but in most spiritual contexts the word intoxication is extremely inappropriate, as the goal is rather to open up to other realities, for example so one can be able to speak with nature, spirits, ancestors, angels and the highest divine.

I understand that I have not given an answer to the original question. I have rather tried to explain that there are several other reasons to take drugs than just to get intoxicated. If we seriously want to answer the question of why people want to get intoxicated, we first need to take a step back and make these distinctions. Otherwise there is the risk that we confuse abuse with use, medical use or spiritual exploration. It is not helpful if we actually want to understand why people get intoxicated.

In conclusion I should probably have a go at answering the actual question. I think of the word intoxication as being connected to the word escape, which in turn connects to the word abuse. Intoxication is a very narrow and limited way to use a substance; a way that suggests that the person is out of balance. People are trying to escape themselves for many reasons, but what these people seem to have in common is that they often lack the tools and/or the driving force to handle the situation differently. People who live their lives in a haze do so because they don’t understand how it could be done differently. To unlock the mechanism that makes people want to escape through intoxication, we first need to identify what the person is trying to escape from and then confront and come to terms with it. When the reason we want to escape is healed, we no longer have the urge to do so.

Main photo: Self portrait – Me and my right hand man by MattysFlicks on Flickr

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