Crocodiles and Plant Medicine: Lessons of the Modern Shaman
Crocodile came to me recently in ceremony. At first I was startled by his appearance, feeling I have already embraced every shadow aspect of myself he represents. Since his visit, however, I have spent time welcoming him and examining the teachings he now brings.
Crocodile/Snake holds our basal self, our deepest fears and lesser-evolved leanings which are held in the reptilian brain. In sacred ceremony and spiritual initiations, it is snake or crocodile who confronts you to face and embrace that which you fear most. His personal challenge to me: “You’re not a true shaman. You don’t work in the rain forest, you don’t ingest plant medicines, and you’re falsely holding your craft, thereby misleading those you serve.”
On more than one occasion I have been questioned and warned against calling myself a shaman. I haven’t studied in the jungle, I don’t have any hint of bronzed pigment in my Irish skin, and I don’t have a Maestro or don teaching me the ways. My path is unique in devoted past-life reclamation, shamanic journey, and an early proclamation at five-years-old that I would be a shaman. I was born ready and haven’t looked back. However, the thorny challenges still arise.
Enter the internal struggle of spirit and shadow. It’s brought me to a place of deep self-inquiry and an eventual and potent reclamation. It’s also offered me a new perspective on the path of the modern shaman.
What is a Shaman?
When asked, “What is a shaman?” my easiest answer is “someone who works in the invisible spaces to bring peace and healing to those whom they are in service.”
“Shamans are intermediaries or messengers between the human world and the spirit worlds. Shamans are said to treat ailments/illness by mending the soul. Alleviating traumas affecting the soul/spirit restores the physical body of the individual to balance and wholeness. The shaman also enters supernatural realms or dimensions to obtain solutions to problems afflicting the community. Shamans may visit other worlds/dimensions to bring guidance to misguided souls and to ameliorate illnesses of the human soul caused by foreign elements. The shaman operates primarily within the spiritual world, which in turn affects the human world. The restoration of balance results in the elimination of the ailment.”
In Cave and Cosmos, Michael Harner suggests it is simply “one who knows.”
Core and Indigenous Shamanism
The big divide in the shamanic communities lies between those who work in the rain forest with the lineage of indigenous wisdom in their blood; and so-called Plastic Shamans who have no connection to the cultures and traditions they represent.
As shamanism has gained prevalence in the modern era, “core shamanism” has become the accepted term for those who use the methods of the shaman but have not been raised in the traditional cultures. The Foundation for Shamanic Studies has reintroduced the shamanic journey for self-healing, while the Psychonauts have lead a revolution through chemically assisted self-inquiry. Both are valid paths that differ greatly from a jungle education. While the efficacy of the practice is all that should matter, there still lies a division.
Another crucial distinction for indigenous shamans is their relationships with the plants. Dietas are ceremonial ingestions of plant medicines that teach the shaman how to walk between and within the astral worlds. Any number of teacher plants are used, from tobacco to ayahuasca. These ceremonies are performed with great reverence and honor and remain within sacred guidelines as sincere spiritual endeavors to deepen the path of the seeker. The illusion of this world fades away and great insights are gained, revealing the true nature of one’s own soul.
Freakin’ awesome when done in this sacred space, right?
I, however, am a different kind of shaman. I traverse the dimensions without the use of hallucinogens. Drums, deep meditation, and the psychic connection with spirits and plant allies, for me, have been enough. And Croc challenged me on this also: “Is your plant abstinence genuinely enough to gain such an alliance with the spirit realms?”
In the modern world, our relationship to the plants is vastly different than that of the indigenous shaman. We don’t commune with them personally, nor do we seek to hone their wisdom. As a result, contemporary seekers often misuse the medicines. In my younger days, I experimented with mushrooms recreationally. I found them an expansive and uplifting dalliance that only affirmed my path as a seer and healer. Yet I took them with no noble intent.
Recently, I found myself called to work more closely with the plants in ceremonial space and felt conflicted. My ego holds my hallucinogenic refrain as a badge of honor — a way of ensuring the purity of the messages received. And yet I found myself deeply appreciating the plant spirits again, in great awe and gratitude for the teachings they shared.
And what they shared was this: I’ve connected more than sufficiently with the plant spirits. I learn and walk beside them every day to offer blessings to my community. I need not ingest them, for they have been my allies all along!
In a recent Aubrey Marcus podcast, Astral Snakes and Binaural Beats (episode 59), Cory Allen shared his most recent devotion is not in using the plant medicines, but rather simply being in the astral plane without any enhancements. Under the influence of the medicine, “The consciousness of the plant is with you in that space and colors your vision of that space. If you get there without it, you are completely you and you are on your own.” Boom, validation! And Croc began to smile.
What I realized was, it all comes back to me not having any allies, any perceptions, any filters on my experience in these worlds. The mark of the shaman is not who they are when they’re on the medicines or how they handle these energies inside of them. It is who they are in the absence of any aids at all!
The Story of Santa Claus Might Come From Mushroom-Eating Shamans
Is it possible that the folktale we know and love about Santa Claus finds its roots in the psychedelic mushroom-eating shamanism of people living in boreal regions of Europe? While there is some contention around this theory, there are a number of undeniable motifs connecting Santa’s yearly trip drawn by flying reindeer, and the analogous rituals of an isolated peoples’ use of the psychedelic Amanita muscaria mushroom.
For those unfamiliar with Amanita muscaria or Fly Agaric as it’s also known, you’ve probably seen it depicted in pop culture from Super Mario to Alice in Wonderland, to the toadstool your average garden gnome is seen akimbo beneath.
Known for its distinctive red and white speckled cap, Amanita muscaria is one of the most recognized mushrooms in the world. Though it can be deadly when consumed improperly, some cultures eat it for sustenance after boiling away its toxins. For those looking for an otherworldly experience, its ibotenic acid-rich contents have led many on psychedelic journeys over the thousands of years of its known use.
If you live in a wooded area in the Northern hemisphere, there’s a good chance you’ve seen it growing near an evergreen tree, especially a pine or fir. In fact, the mycelia of the mushroom intertwine with the roots of the tree in a mycorrhizal relationship—in this case, a positive symbiosis. And it’s here that we find the first instance of Amanita’s connection to the story of Santa Claus—the mushroom growing under the Christmas Tree.