Despite Western civilization’s rather recent awareness, hallucinogenic sacramental plant use has been a part of the human experience for millennia. Indeed, a desire for a sacred altered state of consciousness seems to be part of how we define ourselves as human. The altered state of consciousness being highly desired for spiritual and healing purposes --- is shamanic in nature. Shamanism was the Paleolithic spiritual practice of healing, divination and art developed some ten to fifty thousand years ago. It was not so much a religion as it was a set of techniques. The most important shamanic technique, whether the practioners lived in Siberia or in the Amazon, was Ekstasis or ecstasy -- meaning the flight of the soul from the body. And the most important way of achieving this ecstasy was through the use of psychedelics plants or entheogens.
Entheogen[ic] from entheos meaning becoming the divine within is derived from the same root word that is cognate with the word enthusiasm. Entheogen is now considered the primary term for shamanic inebriants. Entheogen is an attempt to describe all the modalities of a divine inebriant. Additionally the term psychedelic is perceived as a pejorative outside counter-culture. Thus an entheogen is a psychedelic substance used in ritual context.
Shamanism was the Paleolithic spiritual practice of healing, divination and art developed some ten to fifty thousand years ago. It was not so much a religion as it was a set of techniques to achieve ecstasy. And the most important way of achieving this ecstasy was through the use of psychedelics plants or entheogens.
In modern Western societies we are without teachers – without shamans – familiars in the entheo realm. Without such teachers, the importance of learning from other cultures’ successful ecstatic experiences cannot be under estimated. How these materials are used and what this understanding suggests for those of use today seeking the ecstatic gnostic spiritual experience, transpersonal truths or inner healing is paramount.
Might this be a consideration of their less than appropriate use? How one takes entheogensis everything to the experience. There are lessons to be learened from these societies, which have succesffully integrated these valuable spiritual, transpersonal and healing tools, and to apply these understandings of entheogenic exploration. This article could not have been written only thirty years ago. There has been an explosion of research in psychedelics or entheogens. New psychedelic plants are being discoverd every year and with these discoveries comes new awareness about they how they have been used in the past or by others. Where eyes have been closed a veil is being pulled back and what seems clear is the importance fohaving an open and questioning mind. Most cultures that were aware of psychedelic materials found them to useful today, if we use them wisely.