Ritual Entheogens and Divination
Ancient humans connected to the divine to provide for them, to protect them, and to grant them knowledge that may have saved their lives. Stretching back to the darkest recesses of human memory, men & women have sought knowledge from the spirit world. Divination is one, if not the, oldest forms of magic. It has been used as a means of survival, and to gain the upper hand in a situation. Ancient humans were nomadic, moving from place to place. Life was uncertain. Because of this they relied on the spiritual wisdom of their elders. They practiced shamanic traditions that were closely tied to the land and the dead, and divination was a big part of how they communicated with this realm.
Divination is a subjective and personal practice, and there are as many techniques as there are practitioners. Communication with the spirit world was what the daily lives of ancient humans was based on. Nothing was done without consulting the spirits. It was these early shamans that learned the properties of ethnobotanical plants, some say through direct communion with the plants themselves because who else would have taught the first shaman? These botanical allies would play a major role in the shaping of human civilization and were key to unlocking consciousness.
This prehistoric knowledge was passed down orally, and eventually recorded in ancient religious texts. These oral traditions were long gone by the time of the ancient Egyptians, but their knowledge was preserved in the mystery traditions of the classical period. In the ancient world, divination was elaborate and entire traditions were formed around contacting the gods. Some of the first religious cults were formed around the taking of an entheogenic sacrament. From the deserts of Mesopotamia to the Oracle at Delphi, from the hedge rider to the ceremonial magician, mind altering entheogens have plated a pivotal role in western magical traditions. Ethnobotanical knowledge has also survived in indigenous communities around the world. Much of what we understand about entheogenic ritual comes from an anthropological study of these communities.
Entheogens are substances, usually plant based that have the effect of altering consciousness in a way that catalyzes a spiritual experience, whether that be divinity, spirit communication or shamanic journeying. These plants can alter our consciousness in widely differing ways depending on the state of mind one desires to achieve. Entheogen, comes from two Greek words, which basically mean “to generate the divine within.” This could be a higher spiritual entity or state of mind, or the divine spark within each of us. Entheogens help us connect to the spirit world, the collective consciousness or that deeper part of ourselves. They generally have a ceremonial or ritual use that has been practiced in the past. Their spiritual nature has given them a heightened status in many cultures, and they are mentioned in folklore and mythology.
Divination in the ancient world was often oracular, where prophecies were spoken out loud and there was lots of accompanying ritual. Dream incubation was also a common practice in the past. There were temples dedicated to the gods of sleep and dreams where people could go to petition the gods for help, sleep at the temple, and receive insight into the solution to their problem. Today we know of countless different types of divination that have been practiced throughout history, as well as some methods that are relatively new or modernized.
All these methods require different states of mind or parts of the brain to work. Some methods are more objective, where you have a specific image or symbol in front of to which there is attributed meaning. Then there are subjective methods like tea leaf reading, scrying, and or crystal gazing where the images are being generated in your mind. A third category would be when a third-party entity is called upon to relay information through you. Depending on the technique being used and the necessary state of mind, one can choose botanical allies with the appropriate effects to enhance their abilities.
Entheogens help us connect to the subtle part of ourselves, the part that has always been spirit. It is through this that our inhibitions our lowered and our minds are open, allowing information to come through. It all depends on which route the practitioner wants to take to access alternate consciousness. These states can be achieved through passionate frenzy, dream incubation, and psychedelic trance to name a few. Here are some examples of how ritual entheogens can enhance divination practices.
Herbs that are relaxing & sedative: skullcap, blue lotus, cannabis, kava, & valerian (I love the essential oil)
Soporifics (visionary sedatives): this term is often used to describe the effects of plants in the nightshade family. These visionary plants were known for sending people into a visionary sleep, often attributed to witches’ flying ointments. Henbane, a member of the nightshade family is frequently associated with divination and communication with the dead. These plants can have a very intense effect. Oftentimes carrying them as a charm, having the living plant in proximity, or utilizing a flower essence made from the plant is enough to experience the benefits.
Oneirogens (herbs that induce dreaming, enhance dream clarity and recall): mugwort, Mexican dream herb, African dream root, wild lettuce.
Some other great herbs to explore when strengthening your psychic senses are clary sage, mugwort and yarrow.
Herbs can be taken in your preferred way as long as it is safe to do so. Brewing a cup of tea, rolling up an herbal smoking blend, or applying an infused oil are all acceptable ways of incorporating plant spirit medicine into you practice. Essential oils are also an amazing way to experience the effects of a plant. Our sense of smell is the most connected to memory, and the effects of aromatherapy are immediately noticeable. If you don’t want to come into physical contact with or ingest your herbs, you can create a charm bag or a piece of talismanic jewelry to use as a focal point when preparing for divination. Some practitioners also like to practice divination near their plants, especially visionary ones like datura!
The goal here isn’t to become inebriated. When using ethnobotanical herbs in a ritual context with due respect the plant spirits only enhance the experience. There is no need to worry about it becoming a crutch or not being able to perform divination without them. When you are in communion with the plant spirit you will know the right time to partner with them. Not every occasion will call for plant spirit medicine, and different situations will benefit from different types of plants. These plant spirit allies can also be approached if you are just beginning your practice. They are often approach for their ability to create catalytic experiences that help us to access out psychic senses, leaving the pathways open for us to return on our own.
*** Make sure you are using these herbs properly and understand and contraindications. Consuming herbs in any way is done so at your own risk.***
Follow Coby for his upcoming events as well as his future class available online soon, with The House of Twigs.