:The Path of Sacred Plants

PLant and Entheogen FAQ

Q: Why specialize in entheogens?
A: One of the basic forces of the universe is reciprocity, which helps maintain a balance and even flow between all forces.  Midgard is currently imbalanced and in debt to the Green World; by ignoring the plant spirits (and the animal spirits, for that matter), we make their willing sacrifice incomplete.  Whether we use plants for food, material goods, or for recreation, we are responsible for acknowledging their sacrifice through conscientious use.  People dedicated to working with plant spirits of any kind help to restore the balance.  Some entheogenic spirits are particularly concerned with debt and working with them to create meaningful sacrifice is a good way to ensure a healthy flow between Worlds.

Q: What about illegal entheogens?
A: I cannot tell you what choice you should make when it comes to dealing with plants or plant derivatives that are illegal where you live.  I suppose it comes down to whether or not the potential repercussions are worth the risk.  I personally do not grow plants that are illegal to possess in the United States ; some plants are not technically illegal when cultivated for ornamental purposes, though the derivatives are still prohibited.  I choose this because I feel that growing one of these plants would place this aspect of my spiritual work under the jurisdiction of forces I can't control if they come knocking at my door.  I have chosen not to purchase these plants either, because I don't want to directly support the street drug industry that exploits these plants and others; I am given all I need when I need it, without even asking.  In any case, these are herbs I use infrequently; if I needed one of these substances much more often, perhaps I would take a calculated risk.  There is also the consideration of ecological menaces; some plants, while not outright illegal, pose threats to local ecosystems and are subject to systematic eradication when found growing wild.  Pay attention to natural propagation, as always.

Q:  My local greenhouse doesn't stock any of the plants I want to grow.
A: First, make sure you're not walking away too soon.  Not everything will be conveniently found in the herb section of the greenhouse or nursery; some plants that have historically had medicinal/magical importance are now cultivated for purely ornamental reasons; Artemisias are prized for the color of their foliage and the Ranunculaceae or buttercup family is known for many beautiful flowering genii (Aconitum, Helleborus, etc.).  Also inquire about special orders; greenhouses have resources the commercial public doesn't.  There may be a garden society where you live with information on plant collecting or historical gardening; speaking with one or two enthusiasts can educate you about resources you would not have found otherwise. 

Alternatively, there are online resources to purchase most anything from.  Horizon Herbs has an extensive variety of medicinal herbs from around the world, organically grown and open farmed.  Other sites (like Bouncing Bear Botanicals) specialize in things more on the psychotropic end of things.  I cannot vouch for the quality of their products, nor is their inclusion here any endorsement of their business; they are mentioned here for the variety of items they offer. 

If you can't find a plant at a greenhouse, and you can't order it online, and networking attempts have yielded nothing you'll have to go hunt for it yourself.  Find out where it grows and go on a field trip; sometimes hunting for the required plant is an essential part of this work.  However, gathering plants from the wild presents concerns that are unique to the modern age.  Pesticides, chemicals, and Gods know what else could be present on or in the plant depending on soil, water, or what could have been sprayed on it.  Even things that look safe could be growing in contaminated soil or water.  Also, be considerate of private property and National Park regulations.                 

Finally, for better or worse, those who use entheogens in the context of drug culture are very creative; there is information and resources out there and this may be the place to find them.  I am certainly not supporting drug culture, just stating that this is a source of information, though much of it is highly suspect. 

If everything fails, perhaps you aren't supposed to be working with a particular plant or their spirit, at least not insofar as having one of the plants in your possession.  This may change in the future as you become more skilled, or a plant may just be unwilling to work with you for whatever reason.  Accept that, and move on.

Q: The plants aren't speaking to me; what should I do?
A:  Plant spirits have their own ways of communicating; it could be that you are more accustomed to spiritual contact that is 'louder' or more direct.  It takes time and practice to communicate with plants, sometimes a great deal, in order to gain the knowledge needed for skillful entheogenic use.  Also keep in mind that communication always goes two ways; your attitude may not be correct for the personality of the plant in question.  For example, though both aconite and hellebore were very willing to communicate with me, my exuberance was too blunt and they pulled back a little in the same way a person might if I suddenly started speaking in a very loud voice.  My enthusiasm has certainly not lessened, though I had to adjust how I convey it.            

Plants exist on their own timetables, and their rhythms are different than ours.  Patience, steady practice, and learning how you sound to the plant will eventually pay off.

Q: I'm horrible at growing plants, but I really need to do so.
A:  I've heard many people say that they can't grow plants, even using this as evidence as to why they should never have children (and, in some cases, is a decision I wholeheartedly support); they claim to have a 'black thumb' and are more likely to conduct an assisted suicide practice for plants rather than a rescue mission.  Honestly, I don't feel myself to be more than moderately skilled at sprouting seeds and nurturing plants; mine don't seem to be any healthier than any other, though they do seem to be a measure more 'present' and aware than most.

Simply put, plants grow themselves; in our care they require that we supply the correct factors for growth and life, but they do quite well without a great deal of interference from us.  To grow to their full potential they do require a certain minimum of care; adequate water, light, and soil nutrients are as essential to them as food and water are to us.  As I've discussed elsewhere, many factors past basic needs will determine how healthy a plant is.  Sometimes your environment, both physical and energetic, isn't conducive to plant life.  A great deal of this can be changed with the right effort, but no amount of energetic housecleaning will help life flourish if you aren't willing to do your part.  These are your teachers, partners, and tools on this path; they deserve your respect, care, and attention.  If you are unwilling to change your habits to care for a few plants, then perhaps you don't belong on this path at all.

Q: Why do you hate drugs?
A: I don't hate drugs or, for that matter, those who use them.  What I hate is addiction, and I don't like being around people who are so dependant on their next joint or line of cocaine that they loose perspective of the rest of their lives.  I have no problem whatsoever with recreational use of alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, or whatever so long as that use does not obscure larger responsibilities or put anyone in danger; what I choose to be around is my choice.   I hate addiction for the abuse it perpetuates on the spirits I care about.

Q: Do you find being vegan at odds with working with plants?
A: Not at all.  I have found that a close relationship with plant life has given me a greater appreciation of food in general, and a vegetarian/vegan diet in particular; I now know how much effort goes into cultivation and how much vitality is contained in foods that have recognizable origins.  As I said one of the main essays, plants have a comfortable relationship with death and understand that cycle far better than we do.  I will note that, while eating plants is no issue, weeding the garden demands that I turn off my "astral ears" and do my best to ignore the energy released by that chore.  But nature's lesson is that no element can flourish to the exclusion of any other; if the health of my plants are at stake, there are choices that need made and I'm comfortable in the role of being the one to make those choices. My diet also places my well-being entirely in the hands of the plants; I depend on their cooperation in my spirit-work, but also for my daily nutritional needs. Let me tell you, it's hard to be disrespectful to the entities that feed you.

Q: I'm worried about my pets/children/stupid roommate eating my plants.
A: As silly as it may sound, the best solution for the pet/children problem is to cage the plants.  Find some tomato cages, chicken wire, second-hand bird cages, or even old aquariums to grow your plants in (make sure to use a screen of some kind on one side of the aquarium to insure air circulation, and be mindful of heat).  It may look incongruous, but narrow bars or heavy doors will help keep paws and small hands away.  If the plant is being grown outside this does not address the concern of seed dispersal or natural growth patterns.  (Some mesh screen on a frame is also a good way to keep insects like grasshoppers away.)        

One of the first things you notice upon reading firsthand accounts of entheogen/drug experimentation is that there are a lot of people who make some very stupid choices.  Not all entheogens are widely known to be psychotropic, and there are many less toxic plants to grow; everything you deal with will not necessarily be toxic.  If the concern is great enough, hold off on dealing with poisonous entheogens and focus on relatively mild ones like skullcap or mugwort.

Q: Will you send me seeds/live plants/dried herbs?
A: No, I won't. I am not a seed distribution company, plant locating service, or an occult store. I grow enough for my own needs and any surplus is handled in the best way I see fit.  I understand being geographically and financially disadvantaged (since I am both), but if I can find what I need, so can you.  I may consider trading seeds or dried plant matter if you offer something I need, but as there is nothing I currently need or desire, this isn't likely.

Q: Why create this web site?
A: A focus on entheogens arose very naturally for me, combining my interest in herbalism, altered states of consciousness, spirits, and more; I can't point to a single moment when it became clear that this was the right thing for me, and until I was quite deeply into this, it was never explicitly stated that this would be my work.  As I began to investigate the spiritual aspect of entheogenic plants, I was a little disappointed at the information I found; it wasn't bad information, but it wasn't as applicable to the sort of work I was doing as I would have liked.  I found lots of books about shamanism and neo-shamanism, but almost nothing about the spirits themselves, and even less about spirits specifically associated with entheogenic plants or about how these entities shaped the trance experience.  I specialize because this information should be available, because I hope to help others by sharing, and because this is the work I was given to do. 

Q: Which entheogen is the best?
A: This is a very open-ended question; it really depends on what you mean by "the best." The most intoxicating? the most versatile? the one least likely to rip apart your psyche?

Instead of asking "which entheogen is the best?" ask "which entheogen is best for this job?" and "which entheogen is best for me?" Each herb has its unique character and use; getting to know several sacred plants is key to knowing the strengths and weaknesses of each in order to more accurately gauge what is needed when, and why. There is no single plant that encompasses all your needs or applies with equal strength to every situation you encounter. That said, there are some that have a very broad spectrum of powers, but those have a great many weaknesses as well. Not everyone is suited to each entheogen; even ones with a reputation of not being picky may choose not to work with your or be your ally. This depends largely on the work you do and what role sacred plants play in that work. You may only need one or two plant allies simply because the work you do with them is focused on a few very particular applications. If such is the case, you can be sure you are already working with the "best" allies, entheogenic or not. The Universe is nothing if not efficiant and no ally would enter you life if neither of you had a use for the other.

Q: You say that a change in consciousness can occur during contact with the spirit of a sacred plant; if that's so, then why bother with the physical plant at all?
A: There are many ways of working with plant spirits. Not everyone is able to or allowed to work with entheogens in a way that includes physical consumption. While I believe that such is a requirement of someone who is on this path full-time, those who encounter the path of sacred plants in a less intense or long-term way have some margin around this requirement. These spirits have a great deal to teach people willing to work with them and not all that work will necessarily include imbibing. I personally feel this physical component is a key part of the communication that happens between the spirit worker and one of these unique plant spirits, but how often and when that happens is a personal matter.

One way to look at this topic is to consider the direction the communication is coming from. When a spirit speaks to you, the voice comes from outside your physical and spiritual boundaries to communicate with your awareness and soul matrix on various levels; when the physical herb speaks to you, it speaks from inside your body to communicate with your cells and organs. Learning to listen with subtle senses and with your physical body are important skills in this path; they warn of danger and gauge the intensity of experience. Without the ability to use both, you can miss out on important information that can't be gotten any other way; knowing how the chemistry trips through your nerves gives important insight to the spirit itself.

The physical and the subtle are very closely intertwined on this path, much like they are on the Ordeal path. You cannot separate the two and without each component the work is incomplete. One could turn the question around and ask "if chemistry is such an important consideration, why bother with the spirit at all?" Don't think to make this path safer by avoiding the plants altogether; you won't succeed and your information will be very incomplete. Avoiding the risk inherent to this path removes the power and potency of this work.

Q: So what next?
The information on this web site is just the beginning. Getting to know the plants and their spirits opens the door for many potential developments. You may be pulled towards the broader field of herbalism, towards scientific research, towards environmentalism, or towards deeper spiritual applications. Something interesting in my life is how my work with plants refuses to stay in a box. It has touched every aspect of my spirit-work from my personal devotional practice to the way I set up wards. Like all paths of shamanic practice, plant work meshes with and overlaps other techniques, creating new ways of thinking about and looking at spirit-work. Working with plants has given me a sense of wonder and love for the natural world all around me. I am, to borrow Diane Ackerman's term, an earth ecstatic. Life Itself is a marvelous, mysterious thing that never ceases to surprise me. I have felt healed and rejuvenated by the plants. Getting to know the spirits is just the first of many steps that can take you in surprising directions.


© Silence Maestas, 2006