The shamans work with the power of the plants in many ways, the colours of the flowers, the perfume, their shape, form, and associations. This although does not play a role in modern medicine, this understanding has a long history most notably introduced by the 16th century alchemist and philosopher Paracelsus, who in his famous “Doctrine of Signatures” treatise proposes his premises which are based upon the view that Nature itself is a living organism which must be considered as an expression of the One Life, and that man and the Universe are one in their essential nature, and that there is a ‘magnetic’ attraction between every part of nature and its corresponding part in man. He held that the inner nature of plants may be discovered by their outer forms or signatures. Paracelsus also applied this principle to food, “it is not in the quantity of food but in it’s quality that resides the Spirit of Life”.
Nowadays these are principles which are very familiar, in particular it one of the fundamental reasons for eating organic food. The huge concerns regarding the consumption of genetically-modified (GM) food is a powerful demonstration of the notion and ‘gut-feeling’ that it is basically wrong.
Even with this in mind, Paracelsus’s premise is a far more subtle , spiritual, and in essence shamanic then it’s rational minded critics deride, in as much the outer form is the just the gateway (i.e. an outer sensorial portal ) to the inner spirit or consciousness of the plant.
Of Paracelsus , Manly Hall the Canadian philosopher, and author has said, gained his knowledge “not from long-coated pedagogues but from dervishes in Constantinople, witches, gypsies, and sorcerers, who invoked spirits and captured the rays of the celestial bodies in dew” . As an observation it sounds just like the kind of people who do communicate with the plant spirits!
To illustrate the connection between the alchemical knowledge and the knowledge of indigenous peoples is this understanding of the form, and characteristics of the plant is not confined to the physical but also other attributes too , as an interview with the Amazonian maestro Artiduro Aro Cardenas who remarks;
‘A smell has the power to attract. I can also make smells to attract business, people who buy. You just rub it on your face and it brings in the people to your business, if you are selling, people come to buy. I also make perfumes for love, and others for flourishing. These are the forces of nature, what I do is give it direction with my breath so it has effect. I use my experience of the plants which I have dieted. I have a relation with the plants and with the patient; I can’t make these things on a commercial scale.
When I diet I take in the strength of the plant and it stays with me. Later I find the illness or suffering of the person or what it is they want, and the plant guides me and tells me if it is the right one for that person, and I cure them’
He also (as do many maestros) works with the plants not only to heal illnesses but to resolve domestic and family problems;
‘I get people coming for help to give up drug addiction, people with family problems, supposing the man has gone off and left his family, the Mama is here with me and the Papa is far away. I pull him back so he returns to his home so that the family can consolidate again. In a short time he will be thinking of his children and his wife, and he comes back. I don’t need to have the actual plants in front of me, I call the plant spirits which work for that, Renaco, Huayanche, Lamarosa, Sangapilla, perfumes and I call his spirit back to the family home. I blow smoke to reunite them.’
Another (in a very enjoyable way) the qualities, consciousness or spirit of the plant is used to attract benign forces is “los baños florales” or flower baths. In this the individual is bathed in flowers which have been soaking in water for many hours. The maestro prepares the water by blowing mapacho (jungle tobacco) smoke and at the same time placing his intention into the flower soaked water. Again these flowers and plants have been gathered from sometimes deep and not easily accessible locations in the rainforest and have been selected for their specific qualities which the maestro feels are needed to help that person.
On the edge of the Amazonian town Iquitos is the market river port of Belen, which has the famous street ‘Pasaje Paquito’ where many of the rainforest, herbs, plants, mixtures, tinctures are sold. Chatting to Delia the owner of the stall where I buy plants from, I remember her describing some of the potions, lotions, plants, tonics, barks, perfumes, roots, oils, aphrodisiacs and leaves, and remarking “when you talk to the plants you will get to know them like friends, they have their own spirits, their own personalities”.
Howard G. Charing, is an accomplished international workshop leader on shamanism. He has worked some of the most respected and extraordinary shamans & healers in the Andes, the Amazon Rainforest, and the Philippines. He organises specialist retreats to the Amazon Rainforest He is the author of the best selling book, Plant Spirit Shamanism (Destiny Books USA), and has published numerous articles about plant medicines.