Monthly Columns

As Above So Below (How the Stars Became Our Hearts)

Entheogen Influence Across Time and Culture

When a baby draws its first breath, somehow its lungs already know how to extract oxygen from the air, and exchange it for carbon dioxide. It already knows how to transfer oxygen to the blood, where red blood cells already know how to use that oxygen. When a seed first sprouts, its roots already know how to absorb water and minerals from the soil, it already knows how to use sunlight to synthesize food for energy. The mystery of life, of consciousness. DNA encoded with information since the very first cell magickally appeared on earth. Ancient wisdom and adaptation, present at the dawn of time, is encoded into each and every one of your cells from birth. There is a divine intelligence already present in every living organism, and there are ways to tune in to it.

Shamanism is the religion of the earth. For thousands of years, shamans have employed various methods of communicating with ethereal realms. To achieve this, the shaman must attain states of consciousness that allows their mind to slip between the waking state and dream-like trances. Depending on region and culture, Shamans use drumming, singing, dancing, meditation and plant medicines to journey mentally into what many of them believe to be the spirit world. This enables them to have contact with various levels of entities, depending on methods used, individual experience, and culture. They use this ability to ask the entities with help treating sickness, and give mental and spiritual counsel. The shaman does not only use this medicine, but also those being treated during healing ceremonies. Some ceremonies are purely for the purpose of inner growth and understanding. The shaman does not only administer the medicine, but they also take the medicine, and perform various services for the participants. As a result, most shamans are considered healers and teachers in their respective cultures and are usually held in high esteem by the communities they serve.

Though the roots of shamanism run deeply in indigenous cultures, it’s branches are widespread, and have reached the hearts of many in “western” cultures as well. Every continent had a form of Shamanism. The word comes from ancient Russian indigenous, and later was used to describe similar practices seen in other cultures.

Due to western colonialism and mass christianization, many have lost trace of the roots to their own indigenous cultures, but the earth itself knows no cultural lines. Many in indigenous  cultures find the use of the word shaman outside their own cultural reference offensive. Shamanism seeks to destroy these boundaries, not build them up. Since every culture has had some form of shamanic elements historically, it’s no surprise that the earth is calling for a revival of consciousness raising elements in “western” culture. In fact, terms like “indigenous” and “western” are divisive in and of themselves. The various entities that inhabit the spirit realm teach humans the shedding of the ego. Once the ego has been shed, you can no longer identify with divisive labels. Since shamanism deals with walking in the realms behind the ego, it should be acceptable for any person of any cultural background to call themselves the title shaman if their heart calls them to do so.

The word ego has various definitions. Derived from 19th century latin, meaning “I”, Google describes ego as one’s sense of self esteem and self importance. Merriam-Webster defines it as the self especially as contrasted with another self or the world. In psychoanalysis it’s the part of the mind that mediates between the conscious and unconscious, and is largely responsible for the sense of identity. These definitions all point in the direction of what the ego truly is, in it is more complex in truth. The ego is the window through which the true self experiences of the universe. It accounts for sense of self, but is not the self. Ego is the mind, which is part of the body. There is no proof that consciousness is even manifest in the brain. It would make sense then that the true self is something that must be tuned into, and is not the automatic “default mode” of the brain.

Vedic scripts (the ancient Hindu texts), describe self realization as identification with the self beyond the ego. Maya, is the illusionary world to which we all identify within the waking state. The ego, the false sense of self is part of this illusion. We imagine we are the person, but the person is just an illusion. The true self has no physical manifestation, and has no qualities. This self is called Atman. The ultimate true reality behind all phenomena is called Brahman. These terms will be important in As Above So Below, as we’ll be discussing the nature of reality and the ego quite a bit. Identification with the true self is essential to attain the higher forms of consciousness beyond the ego.

Entheogens are an excellent way to dissolve the ego, and have been a tool used by many shamans, indigenous and western alike. Entheogen, a word of Greek origin, meaning “becoming divine within”, is a choice word to describe psychotropic substances by those who use them in spiritual context. These substances include, but are not limited to LSD, trichocereus genus cacti, psilocybe mushrooms, and Dimethyltryptamine, the active alkaloid in psychotria viridis, a commonly used plant in the shamanic brew of the Amazon Basin, Ayahuasca. These substances have profound effects on the consciousness. Arguably, the most notable of these effects is the ability to walk behind the veil of death.

Due to the legal status of these entheogens, most scientists, and western culture in general have turned a blind eye to investigating these claims further. Those who have experienced these effects however, claim to gain a deeper understanding of life, spirituality, and the nature of reality. There is evidence that human beings have used these substances since the dawn of man to commune with the divine. They’re legal status in many places is due to a general misunderstanding of the substances. There are many advocates such as MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies), who are fighting to change the legal status of these sacred medicines.

Western colonialization cut us off from our wild indigenous roots, so the new generation of explorers of these realms had very little guidance. In indigenous cultures, these substances were used in ceremonial settings, with a shaman who had knowledge who had been passed down to them from many generations. Those of us in western society had no such knowledge passed down to us, yet we were born with the innate yearning to connect to the gods, our ancestors, or our higher selves. The legal status makes it even more difficult for people interested in these paths to reach out to others to find more knowledge. Sadly, these sacraments have been deemed “drugs” by many law enforcement agencies, and as such, are usually only accessible by visiting a drug dealer. In this context, the substances have been abused and misused for decades. There are other routes, but still involve breaking the law. It is unfair to cut humans off from what is one of the most beautiful experiences life has to offer. It is time for a more mature approach to the mysterious nature of entheogens.

Some believe historic religious figures used entheogens to commune with divine entities, such as Moses and his encounter with the burning bush in the book of Exodus. John Allegro, archaeologist and Dead Sea Scrolls scholar, theorized that Christianity, and many other religions find their roots in fertility cults, and that their practices, including the ingestion of visionary plants persisted into the early christian era. This would mean, the use of entheogens could possibly account for the initial experiences written in the holy books of the world’s major religions, and the initial discovery of the pagan gods as well. Late ethnobotanist Terrence McKenna theorized in his book Food of the Gods, that psilocybin mushrooms could have been the catalyst that caused the consciousness of our ape ancestors to start to expand, leading to the evolution of human beings. This is known as the “Stoned Ape Hypothesis.”

Religions use historical accounts of divinity as the cornerstone of their belief systems. The experiences of Moses, and The Prophet Muhammad have altered the course of history. Millions put their faith in the mystical experiences of these historical figures, yet are quick to discredit the validity of a modern person’s account of the divine. The scientific analytical nature of western thought teaches us to be skeptical about anyone who claims to have had an experience that is in any way not of an ordinary nature. While this scientific look at life is necessary, we should change our approach to mystical experience.

The issue is, everything a person is ever taught in life is a product of culture. Which is a difficult problem to overcome, as culture, like the ego, is a lense through which the entire world is perceived. Just like a baby has to learn to distinguish between objects that are not attached to them and their fingers and toes, we must first learn our own culture to be able to distinguish between our beliefs and anothers objectively. Once you’re able to look at your own belief systems objectively, you’ll see, there’s no way we could all agree. And there’s really no way to know if our theories are correct. We only know what we see, what we feel. This is an aspect of consciousness called Qualia, a term coined in 1988 by cognitive scientist and philosopher, Daniel Dennet. He used the term to describe the unshareable nature of conscious experience. How the gods touch me may be the exact same way they touch you. But who knows? What is experienced in the eye of another is forever unknowable.

Entheogens have varied origin, effects, and mechanisms of actions. Depending on the substance, dose, and independent variables as well. Set and setting colloquially refers to the numerous factors to consider before use, such as mind set, and physical setting. That being said, a spiritual context is necessary for mystical experience. There of course are outliers, someone just trying to party and gets more than they bargained for, but this is uncommon. When used properly, the users report gaining psychic abilities such as precognition and telepathy. Direct downloads of divine information from the cosmos. Many report having gained a divine introspection on the nature of reality. In this column, we’ll explore many different shamanic traditions, old and new. We’ll also explore how these substances could have positive effects on society, and how in many ways, they already have.

Legality issues have imprinted on the reputation of entheogens in media and pop culture. Their label as a drug puts them alongside cocaine and heroin in the brains of those who have not been made aware of the larger scope of these substances. Those who use them regard them as a holy medicine. A gift from god.

The universe is awake. There is a way to be awake and part of this. Even the gods themselves acknowledge they are part of the web. The mystery of consciousness if still unsolved. If there is still not proof consciously originates in the brain, consciousness could then, therefore exist in states modern science has yet to consider.

Indigenous perspective offers that these substances are a sacrament, but, we must ask the question, how are plants so intelligent? If a plant can give you universal insights, where do those insights come from? Are the plants sentient, or do they simply open a doorway? The fundamentals of nature we’ve now been taught to overlook just to work and acquire material wealth are really miracles all around you. From the hive mind phenomena of ants and bees, to the meticulosity of the forces and particles that bind the universe together, there is a great intelligence at play. This universe is begging us to wake up and be accountable for our actions. Teaching us to love, and to be wise. Ushering in a new age of man. Shamanism sees the connections between the value in each human’s personal experience, and the infinium of the universe.

Shamanism is also just a word. You don’t have to be a shaman to have a relationship with the universe. It is part of your nature as a resident on this planet. As a child of Mother Earth, you deserve to have a deeper relationship with her. Entheogens offers a glimpse at the true nature of reality. The truth. It’s as natural, and as sacred (and as taboo), as sex. It has been demonized as a schedule one substance, which is classified as highly addictive and having no medicinal value. Addictive substances usually act on dopamine receptors in the brain, whereas most “classic psychedelics” (LSD, DMT, Mescaline) act on the serotonin receptors. They have been in fact used in many instances to cure addiction from drugs such as opiates and alcohol. In addition, psychedelics can sometimes be intense, or even frightening, and require a bit of courage and commitment to use. Not only that, but they have been proven to be medicinally effective, not only in the perspective of its users, but in the eyes of western medicine as well.

It is a medicine that opens the mind in many different ways. There is so much we still do not understand about the universe. Every object and event in all of space and time is intimately connected. Even your own personal understanding of life is an expression of the highest consciousness in the universe. In As Above So Below we will explore the deepest mysteries of the universe. We’ll explore how everything in life is spiritual, and that our lives, and the lessons we learn, are the stories the universe is teaching us. And that we ARE the universe. The gas and dust from the beginning of time collapsed into stars, those stars made the elements that are the air you breathe, the ground you walk on. The bones that hold you up, the blood that runs through these veins. The stars are our hearts, and we yearn to return to that luminosity.

***

About the Author:

Alexiel Raynes is a shaman, philosopher, and musician from Louisville, Ky. He has studied religion and science for over 20 years. His spiritual path focuses on self realization, the liberation of the constraints of the mind on consciousness. He also studies plant medicines and their use in indigenous cultures world wide. He is fascinated with exploring the world beyond the veil of mainstream western science, and postulates at what lies beyond general consensus reality. He, together with his wife Hallie Walker are the owners of Saol Bandia, a holistic herbal apothecary based in their hometown. They are also very active in raising pagan awareness in their community, and helping give witches the courage to stand up to a world that has forgotten our ways.

You can visit their store at Saolbandia.com

For contact visit Facebook.com/AlexielRaynes2020

Or email [email protected]

Alexiel Raynes is a shaman, philosopher, and musician from Louisville, Ky. He has studied religion and science for over 20 years. His spiritual path focuses on self realization, the liberation of the constraints of the mind on consciousness. He also studies plant medicines and their use in indigenous cultures world wide. He is fascinated with exploring the world beyond the veil of mainstream western science, and postulates at what lies beyond general consensus reality. He, together with his wife Hallie Walker are the owners of Saol Bandia, a holistic herbal apothecary based in their hometown. They are also very active in raising pagan awareness in their community, and helping give witches the courage to stand up to a world that has forgotten our ways. You can visit their store at Saolbandia.com For contact visit Facebook.com/AlexielRaynes2020 Or email [email protected]