Part One: Cyber-Shamanism: The Fusion of Modern Technology with Ancient, Plant- Based Shamanism
By Zoe Seven
Ever since life here on Earth began, all of its species have strived to explore it. From the microscopic organisms which were spawned deep in the seas and which later emerged to explore the landmass and become the land species we have on Earth today, to the caveman that ventured out of the familiar and safe surroundings of the caves and into the woods – the outside world – Man has constantly continue to venture into the unknown. Indeed from Columbus to Armstrong some individuals have dared to go where no other has gone before. But a different type of explorer has also existed throughout the ages. I am referring to the individuals that have opted to leave behind the familiar confines of their conscious awareness and ventured inward to explore the psychological landscapes of the mind. From Shamans to Zen masters, these individuals explore and even chart the unexplored regions of the psyche and hyperspace so that others brave or curious enough may follow.
These individuals, also known as psychonauts or mind explorers, depending on their cultural background, use a number of techniques as well as tools to acomplish their psycho-navigational feats. Tibetan yogis for example, have used fasting, sensory depravation, and even “technology” in the form of bowls and rattles to access various mind states. Similarly, shamans have used drumming, chanting, and the flickering light of campfires to help alter their consciousness.
It is interesting to note – at least from a neurological/technological standpoint – that the accesories used by both yogis and shamans in these cases is for the express purpose of slowing down or rather modifiying brainwave activity. In turn this facilitates the entrance into alternate states of consciousness. But a little known fact is that some Tibetan yogis as well as other spiritual practicioners use psychoactive compounds and plants, such as hashish and mescaline, as part of their spiritual practices.
Shamanism also appears to be greatly influenced by geographical location as well as cultural factors. Therefore shamanism can be thought of as being not a fixed modality, rather, it appears to be an open-ended practice that is very much creative in nature given its wide number of incorporated belief structures and artifacts, which are fused into its practice.
For example, the Santo Daime and UDV churches based in Brazil practice a combination of plant-based shamanism and Christian doctrines. This curious fusion may very well be because of both Christianism and shamanism having large followings in South and Central America.
Similarly, in north America native Americans have been known to use another (psychoactive) sacrament, peyote, a cactus, in their spiritual ceremonies. Interestingly psychoactive plants and compounds afford users entrance into exotic states of consciousness in a single sitting as opposed to having to practice mental exercises for years. On the other hand of the spectrum shamans feel that plants are a sentient species capable of interaction and likewise capable of bestowing states of illumination and transcendence on those that ingest them. In addition, the states of mind experienced while under the influence of shamanic teacher plants (another term for them and one which, I like to use) allows users to experience reality and even their own state of being from a number of perspectives than the usual, day-today linear one. Indeed, under the proper guidance and care, a shamanic journey with a teacher plant can be one of the most life-changing events ever.
A wide variety of psychoactive plant species are used in plant-based shamanic practices, such as datura, salvia divinorum, psilocybe mushrooms and San Pedro (another cactus) to name but a few. But the most infamous shamanic sacrament used in the south American countries of Brazil, Peru, and other regions of the Amazon, is a potent psychoactive brewed called ayahuasca, also known as yage or vine of the dead, which is prepared and used by shamans called ayahuasqueros in their ceremonies. The effects of this brew last anywhere between three to six hours.
End of Part One
Copyright: Zoe Seven, Author and AVS Journal, Michael Landgraf, Publisher (2006) Granada Hills, CA. All rights reserved.