For this fortnight’s Natural Medicine Challenge on the Steem blockchain we are asked to write about Valerian, Salvia divinorum or Thyme. I love each of these plants so it’s hard to pick just one to write about, but I have an untold story concerning one of them.
@Riverflows planted the seed with her own post Diviner’s Sage Musing: Salvia Divinorum, Poetry and Bird Tongues – Plus, The Importance of Reverence for Plant Medicines & The Poison Path. Her post is excellent and includes many paragraphs from my own Salvia “mentor” Dale Pendell- go give it a read!
Dale Pendell is the human tongue for so many plants that humans have had complex relations with. As a researcher/scientist/poet, he has a unique perspective. @Riverflows did a great job weaving with his words and you can read his whole Salvia Chapter from his book Pharmako/poeia here. I have probably read it hundreds of times for I traveled with Salvia for about a year in my 20s and his book was a resource to me.
First things first, through writing this I’m not suggesting, condoning or encouraging the use of Salvia divinorum. It is illegal in most states of the US due to an outbreak of YouTube videos that scared lawmakers into thinking Salvia is the new LSD that will make countless youth do stupid things like jump out of windows.
That said, I will share my experience with the plant which I used prior to it becoming illegal in the state I was in.
Salvia divinorum, as its latin name depicts, is a Sage relative in the Mint family, that group of square-stemmed wise and useful plants that have walked with humanity for a long, long time.
Unlike most Salvia plants, this one doesn’t grow easily from seeds. In fact, its method of growing is along the surface of the earth. It doesn’t have a very strong stem and a branch will actually fall down near a mother plant, set down roots and in this way vegetatively propagate. In this way, Salvia d. has crawled along the surface of the earth in the places it is indigenous to (Oaxaca, Mexico). As I was working with this plant during that year long stint this struck me as very conducive to its healing powers (more on that, later).
In Oaxaca, the Mazatec people have used this herb in healing divinatory ceremonies and continued to do so even under threat from the Catholic church. This “Diviner’s Sage”, as it is also called, went underground and became amalgamated into their worship of the Virgin Mary – hence the name La Maria that Salvia also goes by. This happens a lot when a dominator culture seeks to erase a very rooted, place and plant based culture – the people simply pretend to follow along with the new ways while disguising their original beliefs. Thank Goddess that some of the best traditions aren’t wiped out by this covert survival method.
A Year of Salvia
For anyone who knew me during that year, I talked about Salvia a lot. I was communing with her 3+ times a week and introduced her to a lot of people.
I had had one of those rare experiences of divination when using Salvia and so it meant different things to me than to other people. To me it really was a sacrament, it was like stepping into an ancient temple and hearing the far away tinkling of a bell. I knew things when we were together and they were helpful things, things I needed help knowing at the time.
As Dale Pendell writes,
The Ally:Pharmako/poeia: The Salvia divinorum chapter by Dale Pendell
It is when you are really stuck, when you really don’t know what to do, when you are nearing the edge of funk and self-destruction, that the leaves are the most powerful and the most precise. And symmetrically, for one not seeking engagement, for one seeking diversion, the plant is not much fun. Outside of her sacred context, la Pastora has surprisingly little to offer. It’s not a spectator drug.
First a bit of backstory
There have been times in my life when a plant will call to me and I intuitively know that I need to take it. This has happened to me countless times. Whether tulsi, dandelion, schisandra, hibiscus, garlic, the drink ayahuasca or others. I have plants call me. They say, “Let’s work together for a while. Take me into your body. You would benefit from me.” So I listen. I listen to the words my body speaks to me and heed the beckoning tendrils of plants that come my way.
Salvia did this. I had no experience of Salvia, had no friends who had tried it and knew relatively little about it, but it called to me so I answered.
I was in a huge huge huge funk during this time. I was a wee bit suicidal, out of sorts, out of purpose, searching and going through a major ego crisis/dying back thing which was really painful at the time, but which was ultimately perfect. It was during this time that I tried Salvia for the first time and I will simply say that she showed me a way out.
As you’ve caught on, Salvia goes by a lot of different names. Seer’s Sage is another and it is for this purpose that the Mazatec people employ her traditional use.
A lot of people don’t have this experience. Instead they’ll leave their bodies for a short time. In the Erowid vaults you’ll read plenty of stories by people who turned into a chair leg or went into a fractal universe… for 15 seconds (it happens fast.) Salvia isn’t very popular for this reason (after people try it at least once) and I probably wouldn’t like it if that was the only sensation I had.
But that’s not what happened to me.
I’ve looked all over for people who had an experience like mine, but to no avail. But part of me thinks that this effect it has on me might be why the shamans have worked with this plant for so long.
With the leaves there is no place to hide. That is why it is good for finding lost objects or for identifying thieves. It is a poison that illuminates poison: use it to find dis-ease.
For anyone who remembers reading My Natural Medicine Healing Story this was right around that time. I was breaking out of my Christian conditioning, I had quick soccer (which I had played for 14 years at the age of 21) and changed universities. It was a time of upheaval and I felt lost.
There had been two magical people I had met, but I exploded so much inside when I was around them that I avoided them like the plague. I was riddled with anxiety and was a walking question mark. I was in the perfect position to need Salvia’s help.
The first time I tried Salvia
I was sitting on my bed in broad daylight and smoked some (later learned that it is better to be in the dark when you try it as it’s very much an inward experience that one should close their eyes for and the dark helps focus.) I had no idea what to expect, but the experience hit me sooner than I thought it would and was over before I could laugh. But laugh I did! It was the first time I’d laughed in months! Because I had seen/heard something in the inner landscape during that brief encounter that helped me see my way out of my pain.
This is what I remember: When I took that hit, my head immediately went backwards and to the left. There was a pulling feeling and as my head went up, there were two “angels” waiting for me there.
They were like big pulsing wise spirit beings (I’ll call them angels for lack of a better word) and they communicated to me in such a direct manner that I instantly knew what my problem was and how to get out of it.
I came down reeling from this encounter feeling light hearted and bubbly. I was giggling at myself and crying at the breaking feeling I was receiving for finally knowing how silly I’d been and that I was tying myself in knots.
It was time to reconnect with those two magical people I mentioned above. The message was so simple, but I had forgotten. I knew that it was my ego-fear holding me back and that these people held some keys for me in my life. This, of course, turned out to be true, but not in the ways I could’ve predicted. Nevertheless, it was important for me to know these people and my fear of seeing my reflection in them and so keeping myself from them was an obstacle I now saw through.
Salvia and I went on like this for the whole year. Of course, she couldn’t take the steps for me to change my own life, but she helped me see again and again the next steps on my path. By the end of that year I was unstuck and on my path, a path that has led me to where I am today.
A month or two after I tried Salvia for the first time, my friend offered me a 4 foot tall Salvia plant and I was able to work with the fresh leaves. It was synchronicity at its best as Salvia’s workings in my own life were so much about connection and relieving myself of the alienated & left-out feeling that had haunted me from my youth. Salvia’s inability to propagate easily from seeds (she has sterile seeds mostly) made it necessary that we connect with others, ideally in person, to take & share the medicine. One couldn’t easily order a plant online and it seemed Salvia was forcing us humans to get out of our digital worlds and connect.
Since that year, I’ve tried Salvia a few times, but really don’t feel the need for her any more. She’s really there to See when things are murky or cloudy and you need a way out and I’m forever grateful for her for helping me that day on the bed and that whole year when I was the most stuck I’ve ever been, to the point of thinking about dying.
Though these plant medicines are increasingly made illegal within our modern culture (because what the lawmakers do not understand or want to control, they criminalize), it is our human birthright to have access to these experiences.
I would not be the person I am today without my experiences with entheogens (an alternative word for psychedelics literally meaning full-of-the-god, inspired) and humanity would be healthier and better off if we still had initiation rituals (that indigenous people have practiced since time immemorial) where people encountered themselves through the lens of these ancient human allies.
In a time where the cries of the earth are so loud because of our crazy immature human behavior, these medicinal plants speak to us, through us, they heal us, and teach us! And, immature a species as we are, we drastically need their healing. I’m glad to see a continual revolution of these medicines and yet I’ll also drop a famous line by Alan Watts that is one of my favs,
Once you get the message, hang up the phone.
For these plants are not purely an escape, but they can teach us and it is possible to get burned out or go to them too much when we need to be living and doing the ground work. I know it’s hard to keep doing the groundwork at times and I see a lot of these plants like “purpose refreshers” if we forget at times. But if I learned anything about taking a plant medicine that much for a year I did learn that that plant is not me and it is me who must make the changes in my life, that the plant is my ally, but not myself.
If you’re interested in learning more about the chemical constituents that make Salvia active, I suggest looking into the research of Daniel Siebert who runs Sage Wisdom and is an extensive researcher of Salvia who is bringing together people from all over the world. I have tried his extracts in the past and they’re the real deal!