Discovering humanity’s connection to spirituality via the resources of the natural world: from out of body hallucinations to a soul-cleansing purge, these rituals, practiced throughout ancient times and continued today, are said to bring us closer to the realm of the gods.
Ayahuasca—purge negative emotions, experience revelations
Discovered in Amazonian Peru, ayahuasca is a tool of spiritual healing. Indigenous Amazonian populations discovered the ayahuasca brew with the help of plant spirits, and the voices of the plants themselves. Drinking ayahuasca leads to a spiritual awakening, which can mean anything from psychedelic revelations to purging negative energy through vomiting. Shamans are an integral part of the ceremony, and one should not drink ayahuasca without a genuine spiritual guide.
Morning Glory—dream-like connectivity
The people of the Oaxacan villages in Mexico have held Morning Glory (Ipomoea violace) sacred for hundreds of years. The Mexican name for the brightly coloured blossoms is tlitliltzin, and its seeds are used for divination and healing disease. Tlitliltzin is believed to contain a strong spiritual energy, able to connect the faithful with the higher spirits and gods. Staying true to tradition, present use of the seeds differs little from ancient practices.
Datura—for truth seekers
Datura (also known as Jimson Weed or Devil’s Snare) has been found in excavations that date back to 1200 CE. Popular the world over, datura is used for spiritual ceremonies in Mexico, India, and Central America. Traditions vary from country to country: some Native American tribes use it for rituals that bring a boy into manhood, while in India, the plant brings people closer to the Hindu god, Shiva Nataraja.
Wormwood—inspiration for artists
At the heart of absinthe lies wormwood. This plant’s initial purpose was medicinal—a remedy for maladies in ancient Egypt and Greece. However, after becoming the ‘green fairy’ in the 1840s, wormwood took off in France, where absinthe was a source of inspiration for artists like Van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec. Some claim the drink has vision-inducing, hallucinogenic properties, while others describe the effects as a feeling of lucid drunkenness.
Kava—relax and open up
Pacific Islanders have used the kava plant for thousands of years. Traditionally, the brew is prepared by the daughters of chiefs, and given only to those with status in the village. However, the specific purpose of kava now varies between island nations. In several, such as Tonga and 'Uvea, kava is associated with building a brotherhood between young men. The drink is known for its relaxing effect, which encourages the men to open up about important issues and speak freely with one another.
Magic Mushrooms—celebrate life
The earliest records of magic mushrooms are found in North Algerian cave paintings, which date back to 5000 BCE. Cultures in Central and South America built temples for mushroom gods and ate the fungi in ceremonies where they would collectively hallucinate and celebrate their connection to the gods. Although 'shrooms' occupy a less religious space in western popular culture, some scholars have theorised that their role in ancient civilisations led to humanity’s spiritual revolution.
Peyote—bring out inner creativity
This small, spineless cactus is found in the deserts and scrub of Texas and Mexico. People of the region have used peyote for spiritual purposes over the last 5,500 years, and it continues to play a huge part in connecting people to art and spirituality. A group called the Huichol still performs rituals that resemble ancient practices, where people gathered together and drank peyote before singing, dancing, weeping, and connecting with their ancestor spirits.
Cannabis—reject materialism and oppression
Although cannabis has quite a different reputation in western cultures, it is a tool of spiritual enlightenment in Ethiopia and Jamaica. Both countries embrace cannabis in relation to the Rastafari Movement, where the plant is associated with rejecting materialism and oppression. In Rastafari communities, cannabis is equivalent to the Eucharist, and its ubiquity creates a tension between the religious movement and the laws against its consumption.
The iboga plant is a rainforest shrub, and its bark is chewed in rituals in West-Central Africa. Used as a central part of the Bwiti spiritual practice, the bark is ingested in huge doses during initiation ceremonies, and in smaller quantities throughout other rituals. Iboga is also known as a substance that heals the spiritualistic part of our being, and has been trialled in treatment for substance abuse.
Charas—closer to God
Made from the resin of cannabis, charas is a hashish form of marijuana used in Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, and Nepal. Charas plays an important role in certain sects of Hinduism—in particular the Sadhus and other devotees who follow Shiva. Smoking charas through a chillum (more commonly known as a hookah) is said to bring a believer closer to Shiva, as the substance is venerated as an aspect of the god.