Pagan Blog Project – The Faces of the Gods, entheogens in pagan practice

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I am going to start this post off with a warning: I am not an expert. Everything I say here will require more research on your part if you want to put it to use. The things I will speak about here can kill you if used improperly, so please don’t run out and get yourself hurt.

So, now that I have your curiosity unduly peeked, what is it that I am speaking of? Entheogens, known by many different names, fall into a category that is traditionally used by those on the poison path. Wikipedia defines it as “a psychoactive substance used in a religious, shamanic, or spiritual context” and tells us that entheogen means “God inside us”. Okay, that’s all well and good but what does it actually mean???

To really understand entheogens, you have to have a basic understanding of what it is we are trying to achieve through the use of such substances. Spirit-workers of all kinds, including witches, seers, and shamans, may utilize tools by which to achieve altered states of conscious. We do this for many many different reasons, but I am going to drop the impersonal here and speak for myself. I utilize these methods when I do journey work, ripping my soul from my body so that I can go visit the Gods where they live. The reasons I do this are varied, but the end result is the same. These methods are traditionally knows as the Eightfold Path to Altered States of Consciousness. They include:

  • the Path of Meditation (or Breath) – altering your breathing patterns consciously to affect your brain patterns
  • the Path of Ritual – creating a ritual and usually repetitive pattern that triggers an altered state
  • the Path of Rhythm – using dancing, drumming, or repetitive motions to achieve trance
  • the Ascetic’s Path – using fasting, sleep deprivation and other forms of sensory deprivation and purification
  • the Path of the Sacred Plants – using entheogenics to achieve trance
  • the Path of the Flesh – includes ideas like tantric sex and energies
  • the Path of the Ordeal – using pain to affect an altered state
  • the Path of the Horse – direct spirit-possession or physically allowing a God to take command of your body

The object of the game here is achieve ecstatic trance states that allow is to commune directly with the Gods and spirits. The interesting thing here is this: no one path is better than the others and no one path works for every person. Most of us utilize many different paths, picking and choosing what works best and what is most appropriate for the occasion. I utilize the path of rhythm most frequently, but I have also utilized the path of ritual and the path of the ordeal. The one we are discussing now is the path of the sacred plant.

Plants are our most sacred allies. They are the basis upon which we exist, creating a symbiotic relationship with humans for food,shelter, propagation. Plants make up the basis of our diet and our homes and our clothes. Without plants, there would be no humans. But never mistake the opposite for truth, plants would be just fine without humans. They chose to help us and assist us, even with the chemicals and abuses we throw at them. And in that assistance they span the human imagination. Just stop and think for a second. Is there any part of your life where plants don’t play a part?

So what exactly is included under the label entheogen? Lets make a list:

  • Nicotine
  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Salvia
  • Marijuana
  • Datura
  • Ayahuasca
  • Peyote
  • Iboga
  • Henbane
  • Mandrake
  • Belladonna
  • Aminita Muscaria or fly agaric mushrooms
  • Mugwort
  • Wormwood

I am sure there are others that I have forgotten or that have yet to cross my radar. Many of these are toxic, datura seeds have been known to cause permanent psychosis in the first use.

But I wont say not to learn. These plants are our heritage as witches. They have been used for centuries to see the faces of the Gods, in the form of drinks, smokes, incense and flying ointments, or a preparation of herbs and fats combined to rub over the skin.

The main plants used in flying ointments come from the Solanaceae family. They contain the alkaloids atropine, hyoscyamine, and scopolamine. The tropane compound contained within the Solanaceae family can cause heart problems, heart failure, permanent blindness or even death when taken internally but are much less dangerous when used in a salve on the skin.The other plants in the Solanaceae, like foxglove, hemlock and monkshood, should never be used. These are known to cause permanent paralysis or kill outright. Mugwort and wormwood come from the Artemisia family and contain the alkaloid thujone. Juniper, tansy, oregano and sage also contain thujone, though in lesser amounts. An overdose of thujone, like what used to happen to absinthe drinkers, can cause seizures and death.In the 1970’s an article was published in a British scientific journal which compared the moleculare structure of thujone to THC and speculated that they might act on the brain in the same way.

Okay, have I scared you enough? I didn’t mean to, but its important to express how dangerous these plants can be, as innocuous as they appear.

How far back does the use of plants go? The documentation of flying ointments can be found as far back as Homer’s The Iliad, around 800 BCE, when the goddess Hera is said to use an oil of ambrosia to fly to Olympus without touching the earth. And prehistoric graves and tombs from the Neolithic era have been unearthed with the remains of henbane, belladonna, and marijuana in Scotland and Northern Europe, seeds and the remnants of alcoholic beverages in ritualized bottles. That’s quite a heritage.

Many people, when discussing entheogens, will warn people away from the “hard” stuff, but I’m not going to do that. I know that for me, a warning is as good as a welcome mat. I tread in the specific places I am always told not to. But I will tell you every decision has its consequence. If you approach a plant spirit in fear or in the hopes of getting high, they will smash you to pieces and leave you to put yourself back together.

Lady Hela tells me these are the keys, not the doors. It is up to us to do the heavy lifting. But in the event that you chose to wander down the poison path, just remember, there are friends and allies in the most unlikely of places. Honor them well, treat them wisely and they just might impart a touch of their wisdom.

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6 Comments

  1. ladyimbrium says:

    Good information and even better warnings! My real job keeps me from ever using most of the plants you’ve listed, but I’ve had surprising results from drumming. I am finally learning to “catch” myself right as I fall asleep. The results can be… interesting. I’m not sure where that falls on the Paths you mentioned though.

    1. lcward says:

      I’m not sure what you mean by catch, but that sounds a bit like the celtic and norse practice of faring forth. Do you mean you fall asleep when you try to journey? Or you can journey when you hit that edge between wake and sleep?

      1. ladyimbrium says:

        It feels like falling and then being caught by a safety net, which is why I used that term. I seem to stop short right before I fall truly asleep. It’s like a dream because I don’t try to control what I see, but I don’t know if it’s really a journey because after a while it fades away and I fall completely into sleep.

      2. lcward says:

        That sounds quite similar to what I used to do at the beginning of learning to journey. As you get better control of it you will have less falling asleep. The thing that delineates a journey to me is this: can I control the landscape? If its yes, I can change that rock to a plant, then you are in meditation. If its no, then congratulations.

  2. Andrew Lore says:

    Very enjoyable.

    I have dabbled with some of the plants you listed but that was more teenage experimentation then anything for a spiritual practice. It has always been something interesting to me though. I read an article on the use of mushrooms recently that said that if you use them even once it will have a change in your psychology and make you a more easy going person. It was very interesting.

    BB
    Andrew Lore
    http://www.paganinsider.com

    1. lcward says:

      I truly believe that plants can change our dna and brain chemistry permanently. When I was researching for this essay, I kept coming across references to people who developed a psychosis at the first use. Thats pretty amazing to me. I don’t know if mushrooms have made me more easy-going. I do know that I can hear the voice of my Goddess much more clearly now. 🙂

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