When it comes to shamanism nothing strikes the image of the shaman more than the use of entheogens or hallucinogenics to enter altered states of consciousness to receive direct revelation and to journey between the worlds. This is a complicated and expansive topic, one that I will only be covering very briefly in this blog post. Today, we will not be exploring the uses of entheogens in shamanism or core shamanism. This is because the use plant medicines to enter altered states of consciousness is not primarily found in shamanism, believe it or not. It’s not as common as we might think it is, about 90% of shamanic cultures utilize percussion to enter altered states to interact with the invisible realms.
With that said, however, plants are among the most common allies that we as shamanic practitioners work with. What makes plants particularly powerful and useful to shamanic practitioners like myself is because we can work with these sacred allies both in ordinary reality and non-ordinary reality. Many of us happen to be herbalists and study the usages of plant medicine for our community and ourselves. Plants are one of our oldest allies and most accessible allies.
We as shamanic practitioners apply not only the medicinal aspects of herbs (along with their culinary and cosmetic usages) but also their spiritual properties and virtues. We might make tinctures, decoctions, ointments, oils, brews, syrups, poultices and a number of other ways for medicinal application but we can also use plants in our spiritual and magical workings. The shamans of old were not just ceremonialists and bridges between the world of humankind and that of the Spirit World, they were also sorcerers. Masters of the mystical arts and had a deep appreciation and understanding of their local plants that they used for medicinal purposes but could also be applied to create needed changes in our world.
Again, the uses of plants for medicinal or spellcraft purposes is not the purpose of this blog post. Many of us spend years learning the various ways to prepare herbs for medicine, and many of us spend years learning esoteric practices and expanding our skillset in shamanism to include magical herbalism. These are skills that are forged by education, practice and the guidance of a teacher and helping spirits. One should study the proper uses of herbs long before they even attempt to utilize them for medicinal purposes, though herbs are safe in the hands of skilled practitioners, herbs and plants can cause many issues with overdose or the interactions with various medications a person might be on.
Those shamans today, and those of us who are shamanic practitioners studying herbalism for example, spend years in education learning from their elders and their spirits.
With that said, because I know I’ve talked alot about what this particular blog post isn’t about, let me talk about what this blog post will cover today.
Today we will discuss the use of plants as guardian spirits and allies, and how a shamanic practitioner might utilize their spiritual properties for healing and spellwork in a general sense.
First, I’d like to quickly define a guardian spirit. I know we’ve discussed this before but for those of you who are just jumping in now, guardian spirits are those who protect your power and essence. They prevent spiritual intrusions from entering, and for many of us who practice core shamanism our guardian spirits typically take on the appearance of an animal. BUT a guardian spirit can, and sometimes do, take on other appearances and forms. Plants, being one of them.
What separates, just briefly, a guardian spirit from a helping spirit is that the guardian spirits protect you and your essence and power, and helping spirits lend their strength and medicine to you. Both are a working partnership, but one is more intimate than the other with guardian spirits being the closest spirits we possess and work with because they’re the ones who protect and guard our essence and being. Helping spirits do not, but they can be used in moments to protect us and support us by asking them to lend their medicine and power to us.
So with that said, it is possible to journey between the worlds to retrieve a ‘power’ plant in the same way that we retrieve a power animal. This same process of power retrieval is the way in which we can utilize the spiritual and medicinal aspects of plants without actually administering them in non-ordinary reality. What this means is that the shamanic practitioner is capable of journeying, retrieving the medicine of a specific plant and then instilling it into a person and integrate it much in the same way we would a power animal. The difference is, typically, the power animals remain as guardian spirits and plant spirits are usually asked simply for their spiritual or medicinal use and is injected into the person and will dissipate over time.
Having a good working relationship with your plant allies and building connections and bridges with plant allies is vital. As they will be the spirits that you will be going to for information and knowledge on how to work them alongside your education into the plant world. Knowing that chamomile is good for sleep and relaxation one might journey and retrieve that particular medicine from chamomile and then return it to someone to help them sleep better, but chamomile can also be a depressant in high dosages (which means if you were constantly drinking chamomile you might run into the issue of depression because of an overdose for example). Since we are instilling the medicine of the spirit into the person the spirit actually self-regulates what the person needs for their highest good. This is one of the easiest and safest ways to work plant medicine, is to have a good working relationship with the plant, retrieve the power and to instill it into a person. This same concept can apply when we are trying to bring spiritual things to people such as money or love!
Another way plants are used on a spiritual level is that shamanic practitioners who have a strong working relationship with them can use them in extraction healing, using typically two or more plants for a specific kind of intrusion the shamanic practitioner can more easily pull out and displace spiritual intrusions. What this looks like will be largely dependent on the shamanic practitioner and their working relationship with the plants that they use. Simply put, like power animals, the spirit of the plants are called and using their power to bolster their own alongside their helping spirits they are capable of removing these energy blockages.
It’s not uncommon to see shamanic practitioners utilize fresh or dried plants and used either as spirit traps (to trap spiritual residue and energies) or used topically (that is to say not ingested) for shamanic treatment. You can see many practitioners use fresh herbs and plants to sweep and clean an aura, to remove spiritual intrusions, to strengthen the individual and to empower them with the medicine and virtue of these plants.
These plants may also be made into special incenses, oils or powders to be sprinkled, burned or applied to an individual to draw in or remove certain spiritual forces as well.
This is where having a working relationship with plants is important! Having a guardian plant in particular can be quite helpful to navigate these more tricky relationships as the guardian plant will not only be a source of wisdom and power to draw on they themselves are plants and can help you better understand these allies. I personally like having a physical plant of my guardian spirits that happen to be plant allies. These fresh plants I can cut from and dry to be used in all sorts of spiritual and shamanic treatments. I tend to favor jars filled with dried plants for my spirit allies by contrast, as I will be working with them alot but since they do not protect or guard my essence like my guardian spirits in the form of plants I don’t have a huge need to have them physically grown in my home or gardens–with some exceptions.
The tricky thing about plants is really this.
They have both a ordinary and non-ordinary component to them. Each plant must be respected and tended to, whether you’re growing them, buying them dried or wildcrafting (going out in nature to collect them). All the unique individual spirits should be honored. In addition to these spirits in the Middleworld, each species like a power animal has a collective consciousness that can be found in the transcendent realms.
These plants can be found in the Upperworld or the Lowerworld and it is these energies that you should be working with when we utilize them in shamanism, as they are egoless beings and helping spirits in the truest sense. We honor the spirit of the individual plants, but we utilize them to connect to the vast expansive experience of their species. It is this power plant that we are truly working with, in conjunction with the individual plants themselves.
One way we can appease these plants spirits in ordinary reality is by cultivating them properly. Whether you grow them or find them in nature taking the time to attune and give an offering to the plant can be a powerful tool to work with their energy. We are also quite careful how much we take from a given plant, and when we need the entire plant we should honor that sacrifice as much as we might honor the sacrifice of an animal that sustains our body.
One way we can work with plant allies is to learn their various songs and tales. It’s quite common in many shamanic cultures to invoke the power of the plant by singing. At the very least you should have a song for your power plants that act as guardian spirits.
Rattles are also particularly connected to plants, and making a rattle using natural plant materials such as the use of corn or seeds is an effective way to stir and invoke the power of plants.
Trees are powerful sources of spiritual energy and are fantastic allies. I typically encourage people wanting to incorporate plant allies to have both a tree and a guardian spirit in plant form before attempting anything else. I work alot with Birch and Basil, for example. The Birch is a fantastic representative of the World Tree for me, and I often incorporate Birch in my journeys between the world. I have a physical tree I can visit and work with, but I also connect with the collective experience through this physical birch to connect with ‘Birch.’ I also have basil in my home that I grow, and I connect with the plant spirit and the collective through this plant. By growing the plant I have access to its power always and can use it in the physical world whenever I have need.
In addition to this, I encourage also to cultivate a relationship with 6-12 herbs and plants not only for their medicinal properties but for their spiritual properties. These spirit helpers can be a valuable source of education and strength and by journeying to the invisible realms to communicate with their spirits to learn more you not only build a strong relationship you also gain an understanding. Typically, 1 Tree ally (that I like to call a patronage), 1 Guardian Spirit, and roughly 6 to 12 typically will cover most spiritual needs from extraction to empowerment.
This has been a very, very brief overview of plants and how they might be used in shamanism. I plan on going over more of this in future blog posts. Remember, for us as shamanic practitioners our journeys are our most sacred ceremony. To build and maintain connections to anything spiritually we can simply journey to the spirits and commune with them directly. When applying plant medicine beyond spiritual means learn as much as you can before attempting to use them any other way as they can cause issues for you and others that you may wish to administer to. Overall, plants are powerful allies that we can build and forge strong working relationships with both in this ordinary and non-ordinary reality, with the shamanic journey at the core of our practice we have a tool to commune with these spirits.