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Ross Heaven and Howard G. Charing
In a time when psychedelic drug tourism is popular and weekend workshops promise to make you a shaman in a small amount of time for a large amount of money, it might be tempting to dismiss a book about spiritual healing with plants as another snake oil. It would be a mistake, though, because what Heaven and Charing offer in Plant Shamanism is an antidote to that kind of approach rather than another facet of it. Rejecting exoticism, the authors offer the traditional belief that plants grow where they are needed and encourage readers to seek out plants native to their own regions to learn from, suggesting specific species for those in Western Europe and North America. While they do also describe rainforest plants used in Amazonian shamanism, they provide in the appendix a Peruvian Herbal that lists the Peruvian and scientific names of traditional shamanic plants, as well as their medicinal and magical uses along with analogues and alternatives for both. For those interested in plant magic and plant medicine, this appendix alone is worth the cost of the book.
While Plant Shamanism is no mere hymn to ayahuasca (nor an advertisement for it,) Heaven and Charing include a very thorough chapter about sacred hallucinogens. They discuss the role of hallucinogenic plants in spiritual healing, include an interview with a maestro from San Pedro and give instructions for creating a seguro—a bottle containing herbal allies that a practitioner can call upon as needed for healing and support. They also provide nutritional guidance for neural health, as expanding consciousness requires that your brain be up to the task.
While the authors provide a great deal of detailed instruction in traditional techniques such as soul retrieval and making preparations such as magical perfumes and floral baths, the heart of the book is in the cosmology it presents and the approach to the natural world it encourages the reader to take. To that end, in addition to describing specific practices such as how to diet a specific plant to commune with its spirit so that it can teach you directly, Heaven and Charing spend a great deal of time unpacking the worldview necessary for shamanic work with plants. They also explicitly critique standard Western views such as Cartesian dualism, allowing the reader to examine their own relationship with the natural world for problematic beliefs that might impede their ability to contact and learn from the spirits of plants. Heaven and Charing do not want the reader to merely learn from them how to cook up a useful brew, they want you to learn how to come under the direct tutelage of the plants themselves.