The Rise of Mixed MedicineDec 19, 2020
I was in a plant medicine ceremony recently which revealed some deep messages around the colonization of these spirit beings, and how these ancient technologies were changing due to these new practices. Over the last few decades’ plant medicines have gained popularity as a cure-all for just about anything. Ceremonies have become a new form of ritual showmanship by mixing cultures to create a unique experience for seekers, distracting most from the point of these ancient medicines. There are Ayahuasca concerts with amazing music and songbooks you can download to recreate your own ceremony, retreats mixing plant medicines with Buddhist texts to deepen your consciousness, vegan yoga detoxification plant medicine retreats to cleanse the body-mind-spirit, women’s embodiment retreats allowing traumas to be released alongside womb reclaiming practices, more authentically direct retreats with plant dietas for the more traditional path, and let us not forget the scientific reduction of these plants to chemical constituents for clinical use. My point is that the Medicine Path has become a New-Earth-Mixed-Love-Child, which is evolving in ways many of us may not like and may actually do more harm than good depending on what comes next.
Today I read a post by an old friend in Peru who asked that these medicines be returned to their rightful lineages, and as much as I agree to a certain extent, this age-old conversation got me thinking about the times in history where traditions, religion, spirituality, and indigenous practices were morphed into something new, which is called syncretism by the way. This practice of merging different cultures has been going on since the beginning of time. Examples of this are; parts of ancient Egyptian cultures forming into Judaism and Islamic religions, the history of Buddhism absorbing and morphing different Asian cultures & politics together to form ‘lineages’, Catholicism & Christianity now influencing most of the indigenous practices of the world from Celtics to pagan Europe or say, the entire Americas since colonialism? So what does it really mean to return these practices? To whom? And which parts?
When anything is on the edge of an evolution, there are changes that end up being uncomfortable for people on both sides. As someone who was introduced to plant medicines, natural healing, herbalism, and energetic medicine as a youngling, I am in a unique position to weigh in on this debate. I studied with all kinds of Elders from my own lineages, from others, and basically anyone I could learn from, on top of perusing higher education in medicine that has nothing to do with my current incarnation (Taoist & Chinese Medicine). That said, I am very protective of these medicines being shared with integrity, without harm, and from an integrative spiritual standpoint, rather than purely medical.
I have sat with Elders full of integrity and those that should be locked up for dangerous practices, modern practitioners (indigenous, local & ex-pat) incredibly skilled, and others who are embarrassingly harmful. The reality is that there are all kinds out there, and having discernment is key to a transformative experience. Having spent seven years living, working, and studying with plants and Elders in Peru, I found that just because someone says they are knowledgeable in shamanism (or herbalism) doesn’t mean that they are integral, capable, or safe to work with. Finding true Elders with skill and integrity in this day and age is incredibly hard to come by. Most people show up on medications or with issues that are difficult (and dangerous) for the older shamans to work with so many of them team up with Westerners, which also financially benefits the shamans’ families.
In my private practice, alongside the retreats I supported, the number of people being harmed by local and ex-pat practitioners serving medicine was actually pretty neck-in-neck. Numerous women came to me for support after being sexually assaulted or coerced in medicine ceremonies. Others felt mentally unstable after their ceremonies or just “off energetically”, some people ended up in hospitals, others sent home, or others, sadly, died by their own hand or due to malpractice in the ceremony.
While the question of who should be serving medicine is valid, it is also pointless in this day and age now that there is access to pretty much anything due to the internet. Anyone and everyone can look up How-To’s on YouTube and claim to be able to do anything. So how do you know whom to work with? Who is for “real” and who is an amateur? And what constitutes “real shaman” anymore?
This conversation is incredibly important as everything is evolving at lightning speed. For my part, it is not just calling out ‘fake shamans’, or the New Age whitewashing of traditional practices, or returning practices to the indigenous, who also used mixed methods in their ceremonies, but a calling IN for better screening practices of plant medicine seekers in order to support or turn away difficult cases for those not equipped to support them, more integration coaching and treatments to support preparation and aftercare, and a return to learning from these medicines in a disciplined and committed way which requires a lot of time and dedication. Regardless, as a few Elders of mine laughed… ”How do you know this is not what the plants wanted? They are far more intelligent beings than we are.” That said, I hope to find a way to keep these Sacred Beings protected as we ALL grow from them in one way or another. Oha!
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