THE PSYCHOTHERAPEUTIC EMPLOYMENT OF SACRED PLANTS
The human being shows a remarkable disposition to seek spiritual
Since the irrational cannot be erased from the human mind, the harder we
try to deny it, the greater the power it will exert upon us. The
spiritual experiences are associated to the occurrence of altered states
of consciousness (ASC).
The society we live in considers (as opposed to shamanic knowledge)
modified states of consciousness to be onanistic and vicious. Shamans
argue that to satisfy our religious drive we have to experience the
divine, and in order to achieve that, they use sacred plants. That is
why the sacred plants are called entheogens, because they help
experience the divine.
Abraham Maslow called these experiences "peak experiences",
but they are not limited to the altered states achieved through drugs or
sacred plants. They can take place during meditation, hyperventilation,
the practice of yoga, hypnosis, fast, physical suffering (such as the
self-inflicted pain some saints underwent or the postures certain yoguis
kept for months, etc). In short, it is a state that can be reached in
many ways and, once there, we can explore aspects of reality which are
different from those perceived in an ordinary state of consciousness.
These different aspects of reality are well studied.
The orthodox branch of science considers these altered states
subjective, therefore worthless. Then, these feelings of ecstasy, these
other "dimensions" of reality, these occurrences of mystical
reunion, of beauty, this crossing of the space-time barrier, can be
catalogued as pathological. Traditional Psychiatry does not separate
mysticism from psychosis. That is why Transpersonal Psychology blends
science with the study of the spiritual capabilities of man using
methods to alter the state of consciousness, because the spiritual
phenomena seem to be incomprehensible in an ordinary state of
Modified states of consciousness may have a dangerous side because,
since they affect the defense mechanisms of the individual, they may
pave the way for unacceptable, repressed material from the individual´s
past to the conscious mind and cause restlessness, which could rise to
terrifying levels if the individual is unable to cope with his anxiety
(this is what is usually known as a "bad trip"). That is why
previous psychological counseling is advised, for the individual to be
able to tell what comes from the outside from what comes from the
inside. It is recommended, also, to experience such modified states of
consciousness in the context of psychotherapy, under the supervision of
qualified, well trained proffesionals.
But, in spite of the risks, the spiritual experiences, the unconscious
material, and the altered amplified of consciousness related to them,
are too valuable to be ignored. Thus psychotherapy takes advantage of
the information, available when the repression mechanism is weak, to
modify unwanted patterns of behaviour.
Most psychoactive substances resemble (and sometimes are identical to)
substances normally produced by the human body. Therefore, the
individual has a built-in capacity to experiment psychedelic states,
which are inherent to certain aspects of the human mind inaccessible
during wakefulness. So, under the appropriate circumstances, these
substances allow the individual (for a limited period of time) to gain
access to deeper parts of his psyche.
Through dreams we get in touch with those aspects of our personality
which are hidden from the conscious mind. The entheogenic or
psychointegrative plants help reach those states that we experience
while dreaming or while in the middle of those rare, ecstatic epiphanies
that can happen while we are awake. Unlike most drugs, entheogenic
plants do not produce physical dependence. A quick, time-limited
tolerance (that does not increase with the dose administered) is also
Their main use is to spot the individual’s conditionings and destroy
them, to be unselfish by dissolving momentarily the limits of the ego,
to expand the inner vision, to be more lucid, obtaining in that fashion
very important insights. In short, to be able to recognize the forces,
the impulses behind the individual’s actions and emotions, to track
thoughts back to their source and to be in control of one´s life.
That´s why they help the individual to become one.
Due to all this the sacred plants are called psychointegrative, or
entheogenic. The list includes Ayahuasca, Peyote, Psilocybin mushrooms,
San Pedro (a cactus), Epena, Cebil, Brugmansia, among others.
Abraham Maslow in his book called "The psychology of Science"
has shown how science might be the best neurotic defense mechanism
invented by man, because the selective rejection wielded by human
knowledge acts as a defense and therefore constitutes a neurotic
maneuver which, out of fear, disqualifies transpersonal experiences as
objects of study.
We´d all benefit if science became an open sistem oriented to personal
Modern physics teaches us about the Universe´s unity, in which
consciousness plays a role much closer to the one described by the great
When we transcend the ego, we begin to heal.