Approaching a plant on more than just a physical level creates a greater awareness of what exactly the full effects of an entheogen are. Recreational users are primarily concerned with the physical and mental effects, and some people constantly look for more and more potent forms of their favored drug. Being aware of the spiritual effects of an entheogen allows the spirit worker to use plants that are less chemically potent and still experience a full gamut of desired phenomena. Mugwort , for example, has little chemically speaking to make it psychotropic, but its spiritual power is such that many people react very strongly to just having it around - hence its popularity as an herb used in dreamwork . A plant's full virtue is not contained only in its chemical strength; spiritual strength is a necessary component of its power.
Since we work to know a plant on all its levels, it's important to study the magical, spiritual, and medicinal properties of any plant you work with. Many entheogens have a lengthy history of being used for medicine and are the origin of some of our most valuable modern medicinal drugs. Knowing these uses will help you get a feel for the physical effects of an herb, as well as an idea of how much is too much; be sure to pay attention to any known antidotes and treatments, too. A plant's medical uses are sometimes reflected in its magical applications, and vice versa, but this equation is far from consistent. Knowing the magical uses is a clue to a spirit's personality and may be the first step in getting to know a spirit. What cultures have made use of a particular entheogen and how was it used? What taboos surrounded it and what did people think of it? A plant's spiritual use is not limited to any culture or single understanding but knowing what those who have used the plant traditionally had to say about it is very helpful.
While I feel that using a plant's physical parts by means of eating, smoking, drinking herbal teas, or bathing in infusions is an essential part of this path limiting ourselves to only the physical act of ingestion ignores the holistic approach that we strive to foster. Our knowledge should not be limited only to knowing how much herb to dose ourselves with, but should also include knowing how to work with the spiritual power that exists outside of creating an altered mental state; for example, I have found valerian to have unique protective properties that have nothing to do with the tea made from her roots. Brugmansia and datura are known to induce trance states just from their presence alone; this is something I have personally experienced and in the right circumstances could be very useful. Having a plant around taps into their subtle effects; they brighten our day with flowers and soothe stress with their quiet green energy.
The topic of physically partaking of entheogens now comes up. I won't tell you how much of any herb to take to achieve an altered state; that's for you to learn from study and working with the plant spirit in question. The dose needed to create the altered state may be surprisingly small; this is because, as I have said, we are working with more than just the physical components. Having spent time getting to know the spirit and its power now pays off and the entheogenic power of an herb works on more than just your physical body. Besides, a wild experience is not necessarily the goal; you may only need a little to get the job done. Practices such as fasting or a restricted diet also help physically prepare the body.
Some of you may have experimented with psychotropics before staring on the path of sacred plants, or used them recreationally. I was a casual pot smoker for a few years, then was told to quit cold turkey when I started working with my patron God; once my relationship with plant spirits began to develop, the reason for this became clear. (I'll admit to missing it a little bit every so often, but what I've gained is greater than the temptation to toke; besides, the risk I'd run by giving into temptation far outweighs momentary pleasure.) It can be tempting to use that recreational experience as a basis from which to create your practice with a certain plant, but as you are no longer a casual user, you are no longer able to rely on that knowledge. Indeed, having a recreational past with a plant necessitates starting over from the beginning after a period of abstinence. Any addiction will have to be broken and it may be that you will not ever use the substance you were addicted to in your work; addiction has connotations of spiritual debt, and staying away from that substance and its derivatives may be required. Once you begin a working relationship with any entheogen , you will not be able to use that entheogen for recreational purposes. For those like myself who are on the path of sacred plants for the long term, recreational use of any entheogenic plant is taboo, whether or not it has a specific place in my practice. Medicinal use seems to be the only exception to these conditions, though even this should be carefully considered.
Even if you only have need of an entheogen for a single task, you still carry that relationship with you. The same attention to building a relationship with a spirit will need to be given each time, though each plant will have different needs and will likely expect different things from you. Violating the trust of that relationship through misuse incurs a spiritual debt. These debts won't function exactly like a monetary debt, for example, with balance being restored by making recompense. Instead, other spirits will be reluctant to work with you after the violation occurs and, if enough debt is incurred, this will negatively affect your spiritual health. This can manifest in addiction, which includes effects on the mental and physical levels. The symptoms of addiction don't manifest spiritually the same way they do on the mind and body, but looking at the aura of an addict shows that very real damage occurs. The damage of debt also manifests in personal luck ( hamingja
, in the northern tradition), affecting the development future oaths and alliances you seek to make, as well as limiting the options available to you in the future. It may take a long time to repay this debt; it's better to avoid it all together if possible, and take steps to ensure that past decisions aren't repeated.