Are we missing something essential when we take natural medicines without ritual?


Among natural peoples, natural medicines are never taken without ritual. A drug, whether psychoactive or not, has personality, a spirit and is part of nature, just like man himself. We work with the resource. But what are the consequences when we take these natural medicines without the healing and supportive rituals? In this blog, we explore this topic.

Respect for natural medicines

Are drugs just a collection of active substances? In the Western world it is seen that way, among natural peoples it is not. Medicines are sentient beings, spirits, ambassadors of nature that must be treated with respect and dignity. Many powerful remedies are therefore administered only by a shaman, healer or curandero, who understands the art of dealing with these spirits. Using medicine also goes along with rituals to support and promote cooperation with the spirits.

So dealing with medicinal plants is not simply a matter of pulling the plant out of the earth and processing it. A shaman or healer listens and works from a humble attitude. It is precisely from this approach of man and mind-expanding, healing agent (such as magic mushrooms, ayahuasca or mescaline) that healing can occur. So what actually happens when plant medicines are taken out of their ceremonial context? When there is no longer a role for the shaman? What happens to the plants’ spirits when they are put into a pharmaceutical matrix?

Natural medicine without ritual: The wilderness as a supermarket

Rituals and the worldview of original peoples are not something to be simply disregarded. They are the key to reconnecting with the world on a spiritual level. So how exactly do we recognize and protect the role played by indigenous healers as the demand for natural medicines explodes?

There are several plants and mushrooms that have become hugely popular in recent years. And usually that demand is met without considering the effects that commercialization of such a drug has on nature and indigenous people. In this blog, we focus on the growing need for ayahuasca. This is a mind-altering drink made from two plants.

Many people who have used ayahuasca think it is nothing more than an herbal drink; it is completely detached from its original cultural and ceremonial context. Even though there are therapists who still weave a ritual around it (and picked exactly what they liked from the existing rituals), this is far from the plant’s original cultural origins. The native healers with their years of experience spanning several generations are not sympathetic to this either.

In the Western world, we would like to market powerful plant-based medicines that are ready to use. As Kenneth Tupper of the University of Columbia explains, “Drinking ayahuasca at an original ceremony is not affordable for most people. It costs hundreds of dollars, and a plane ticket to the Amazon is completely out of the question.” So it may be the only way to be able to use such a drug.

The need for ritual when using natural medicines

So there are two sides to this: on the one hand, it is nice that certain natural remedies are accessible to everyone. Research shows they have potential in treating alcoholism, addiction, depression and PTSD. So the question is who has access to ayahuasca in a world where there is much need for healing. But is free access to every natural medicine the solution or are we missing something important by omitting ritual?

Commercial companies are quick to respond to the demand for natural remedies A Canadian company has marketed an “ayahuasca pill.” They see it as the next logical step. But ayahuasca is known as a powerful drug that not only brings healing, but also challenges you. Taking the drink is usually accompanied by nausea, vomiting and general discomfort. According to shamans, this should not be seen as a nasty side effect to be eliminated. It is part of a “rite of passage,” a severe ordeal you have to go through, that is part of the magic of medicine.

In his book “Millennium: Tribal Wisdom and the Modern World,” author David Maybury-Lewis wonders why people continue to use ayahuasca when it causes such unpleasant effects. This is because shamans are convinced that the horrors are something that humans must go through in order to gain knowledge. Such an ordeal produces something that a quick-fix never can: self-knowledge.

Standardizing a drug and the need to take advantage of it removes such medicinal properties from a plant. By creating a drug that provides only a worry-free experience, companies are misleading prospective users by making them think that a single pill will be able to cure their anxiety, sadness or depression.

What is the power of natural medicines?

Anthropologist Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff lived with the indigenous tribes of the Amazon. He described the emphasis here on the power of rituals. These helped to unite a social group, individuals among themselves, but also all the villagers with their past and their cultural identity. This is a far cry from the individual approach that therapists often use today.

Today, ayahuasca is put forward as a panacea for a variety of complaints, including eating disorders, addiction, anxiety and depression. But could it not be that going through the “ordeal” that is part of the ritual associated with this natural remedy is precisely what makes ayahuasca so powerful? Among natural peoples, illness is seen as a disruption of energies. It focuses not only on health and healing of the individual, but also on the natural and social environment, of which the patient is a part. In the Amazon, a healing is an event that involves the entire village, and that even includes the trees, rivers, spirits and wind.

And to what extent do we overlook the fact that by healing ourselves, we can also heal the world itself? Who knows, maybe we are trying to avoid our depressive feelings, which are a reaction to what we are doing to the world. Perhaps we mourn nature, cities and peoples and the destruction of our earth. Perhaps we need to heal ourselves in conjunction with our village, the forests, fields, rivers and oceans around us.

As part of that cure, money and attention should also simultaneously go to the areas where the medicine came from, to preserving tropical forests and maintaining the culture and health of the original inhabitants. So that we can also preserve the knowledge and experience of the guardians of The Forest with their shamanic knowledge.

If you are interested in using natural remedies, check out our shop at medicinal mushrooms, microdosing truffles and our health shop full of powerful natural remedies.

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