Indigenous Instrument

Traditional use of psychedelics

Our coach Silvia explains a bit about the traditional use of Psychedelics and what role integration techniques play.

Entheogen use in traditional contexts

Humans have been practicing entheogens (psychedelic plants) since they exist. Ancient cave paintings are believed to bear witness to this. Psychedelic plants from mushrooms to ayahuasca and San Pedro cactus have long been used as part of traditional spiritual practices in the belief that they connected those who used them to the gods. Psychedelics have assisted human beings in experiencing the numinous, and the divine and in bringing about healing and transformation. This is as true in modern times as it is historically.

Under the influence of the Christian church, socialist and communist regimes, shamanic practices and the use of entheogens were forbidden in many periods of history. In spite of this, their use continued among shamans and healers, and despite the risk of severe punishment. The knowledge of the advantages and application of entheogens was thus retained. To this day, certain Asian and South American communities continue in their use of psychedelics along these traditional lines. Including their application in healing contexts, for finding lost persons or objects, and in facilitating visions that assist in preserving the future of the tribe.

Reconnecting with their indigenous identity, many communities are reclaiming their right to practice their own traditions. As a result, in countries like Mexico, Bolivia or Peru, the use of entheogens has been re-legalised within the context of traditional medicine.

And in modern contexts

To the western eye, the rituals of traditional communities may still remain obtuse, or even seem bizarre. This is especially so when the healers in question live and work far removed from global interests, western value sets, and tourist networks. Or when practitioners have little contact with western customs. There is a cultural gap. When we consider the difference in systems of value and in ways of seeing between those living in modern urban environments versus those living in the South American rainforest, as an example, it is not difficult to imagine why such a disconnect in understanding can occur.  

The former group, unless trained in meditation, are often in a constant state of urgency and/or mental stimulation. Whether this stimulation is foisted upon them or deliberately sought out. It is a state often called the „monkey mind“ in eastern thought. And has its benefits in dealing with a fast-paced urban environment, where the constant processing of stimulus is required and dealing with an ever busy life-context full of distractions is the order of the day. In indigenous communities, by contrast, the need for speedy, constant integration of relentless information streams is not usually the primary concern. It is more often the case that direct, deep-seated experience of the current moment is more personally advantageous and sought after.

Different perceptions

When it comes to ways of seeing, illness is a good example. In several indigenous schools of thought, diseases are not seen in terms of bacteria and/or malfunction of the (individual, inner) body. Rather they are seen as being relationally caused – by witchcraft, the evil eye, by a shock or envy. In other words, in the understanding of illness and its treatment, the western mind makes the inner workings of the organism the focal point. For traditional cultures, it is the context surrounding the individual or organism that is considered, dealt with and/or healing.

Traditional, Modern fusion in the use of Psychedelics

Today, healers in the cities have to deal with the change in their own culture as globalisation forces adjustment. They face the challenge of integrating their own values and ways of seeing with the mindset that urban life requires. As a result, modern practitioners from traditional cultures will often use mixed concepts. Where traditional and modern ideas exist side by side. This can, however, offer easier access to common understanding for westerners looking for healing in ceremonies.

Other healers have modes of understanding that are already much closer to western concepts. Meaning people outside traditional communities can find resonance. Today it is more likely that westerners and urban dwellers are able to participate in rites, rituals and retreats where entheogens play a role.

Despite all this, a cultural gap remains. Active attention to the process of integration – through discussion, mental analysis, bodywork and emotional work – may still prove insufficient. Following any ceremonial experience, questions remain. These questions, when unanswered, can lead those with western perspectives to miss the full scope of psychedelic experiences. Or even become disquieted by them.

The importance of integration

Here we see the importance of facilitated integration work. Working with those who offer a bridge between the traditional and western ways of experiencing. Awareness of one’s inner, the post-experience state is essential. As is going deeper into feelings that arise afterwards and observing thoughts and dreams. Dreams have a particular significance. As they are the language of the subconscious and work in for more symbolic, metaphoric and narrative ways.

It is often the case that after a ceremony, retreat or ritual is completed, and the environment in which it takes place is left, one assumes that there is nothing more to do. That everything has already been integrated and the process has ended with one’s exit. In retreats particularly, there is time to reflect and to be in silence, so one is more inclined to think that when one returns to everyday life, the work is done. This is rarely the case, however. As many who work in the healing field know, certain themes come up only when one is truly ready to face them, or when one simply must. This is often some time after the experiences themselves have ended. In the world of traditional healing and psychedelic experience, this is no different. Important thoughts, feelings, insights and topics may come up days, weeks or months later.

To conclude

The use of psychedelics and the rituals surrounding them is still in flux, as is our understanding of them. Traditional and western ways of seeing still collide and seek integration. The use of entheogens is undergoing a renaissance, while the cultures that support them continue to metamorphose. As culture changes, our ways of understanding do too. The speed at which these changes occur is faster than ever before. New ways to facilitate this integration process offer an inspiring journey we all can be part of.

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