Khanyisa Healing Gardens Organization, Johannesburg, South Africa
*Corresponding author: Jean-Francois Sobiecki, Khanyisa Healing Garden NPO, Johannesburg, South Africa.
Much has been written on how Ayahuasca heals and its role in shamanic healing. Yet, there appears to be a broad lack of attention in the West to the role of the other major traditional plant medicine categories besides the strong consciousness opening medicines. In this paper I explore the sequential use of subtle acting psychoactive cleansing, opening, strengthening and protection medicines that are indispensable in the successful healing and self-development process that indigenous healers undergo in both South America and Southern Africa, as part of their initiation with psychoactive plant medicines, and that this process can not be understood by focusing on the opening plants like Ayahuasca alone.
Having gone through a traditional South African plant medicine initiation in 2012 and a long period of study under a South African traditional healer (Sobiecki, 2018), I became aware of the significance of a sequence of psychoactive plant medicines and their rational and pragmatic use in the South African traditional healing and medicine process.
Details of this process are elaborated here (Sobiecki, 2018), but in summary, I used a progression of medicines beginning with 1) cleansing medicines to prepare my body and mind for gaining new knowledge, then 2) opening medicines that allowed for familiarization with new behaviours and learning, then 3) strengthening medicines to help me anchor the new knowledge and to relax and then 4) protection medicine to help fortify me.
Having read a research teams work on studying South American initiation medicines (Jauregui et al., 2011) that discussed these same categories, made me realize there may well be a cross cultural method or technology of healing psychological illness and facilitating psychological self development that needs to be understood in the context of the process of using sequential categories of plant medicines, and not merely using one plant medicine application alone, e.g., Ayahuasca, that affords greater understanding of the healing of consciousness in its entirety.
While Ayahuasca can and does take one on a process of healing in itself (Sobiecki, 2013), much more attention is needed on the role of cleansing and strengthening medicines and their importance in the shamanic or traditional healing process that can have great potential applications in medicine and treating mental illness. This sequential plant use can easily be overlooked or downplayed in our fast paced Western world where personal time is so limited, yet I argue that this traditional plant medicine process is crucial to undertake for proper healing and if not done correctly, can and does compromise the healing process in many instances.
What made me realize the significance of these other medicine categories is that my personal traditional plant medicine use entailed at one point – after my initiation – using opening ubulawu medicines (Sobiecki, 2012) without using sufficient strengthening medicines. This caused me to be unable to adequately use the sensitivity these opening medicines afforded me, in that not using enough strengthening medicines negatively affected my ability to hold my power and to engage people and relationships in a stable way. Thus, while I became more adept in sensing intuitively, I lacked the confidence and strength needed in order to execute relationships and decisions successfully. Sensitivity without power is only half success on the plant medicine path. I was taught, but did not realize fully until later, that one needs the right recipe for successful initiation; both opening sensitivity and intuition as well as strength and power. As is well know in cooking, for example, too much of one ingredient can easily spoil the entire meal. Thus, there is a need for both opening and strengthening medicines, following each other, in order to temper the opening intuitive power with fearless action and accomplishment. Both are necessary for successful self development. One without the other leads to imbalance or stifled progress.
This paper puts forward that the sequential use of subtle acting psychoactive plant medicines is indispensable for the healing process observed in traditional societies, and that Westerners would benefit in recognizing that shamanic healing is not only the use of opening plant medicines like San Perdo or Ayahuasca, but a well designed process of using numerous subtle acting psychoactive plant medicines, in a sequence, in order to heal and transform a person, that requires time and patience. Projects like the Khanyisa Healing Gardens aims to research these medicines and their applications in healing consciousness.
Jauregui, X., Clavo, Z.M., Jovel, E.M., & Pardo-de-Santayana M. 2011. “Plantas con madre”: Plants that teach and guide in the shamanic initiation process in the East-Central Peruvian Amazon. Journal of Ethnopharmacology.134: 739-752.
Khanyisa Healing Garden. 2012. http://www. khanyisagarden.co.za.
Sobiecki, JF. “Psychoactive ubulawu spiritual medicines and healing dynamics in the initiation process of Southern Bantu diviners”. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs 44(3) (2012): 1-8.
Sobiecki, J.F. 2013. An account of healing depression using Ayahuasca plant teacher medicine in a Santo Daime ritual. Indo Pacific Journal of Phenomenology. 13(1): 1-10.
Sobiecki, JF. 2018. Psychoactive Plant Medicines as Perturbatory Learning Tools in the Initiation Process of South African and Upper Amazonian Traditional Healers. Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs II: 50 Years of Research, Conference Proceedings. In Press.