If you're human, you likely struggle with self-deprecation at times. We live in a mentally ill culture that uses self-deprecation to control your behavior, from voting to worship to shopping. All hierarchical systems, from church to family to the workplace to the elementary schoolroom, relies to some extent on using self-deprecation to control people's behavior.
So, we're up against great powers in our daily life, and one thing that has helped me is to remember that the voice of self-deprecation is not really you – it's a voice injected into you by family, church, and culture. It's actually a spiritual parasite that feeds on you. When that seemingly powerful voice comes to you, just try to remember that it's not really you. It's a spiritual tapeworm, and it can be excised.
Self-deprecation is an energy that wants to convince you that you are smaller than you really are. The antidote to self-deprecation is to remember that you are made of pure love - the binding force of the universe, and the substance of Spirit itself. That's who you truly are.
Does that sound silly? Well it is, until you see it as true. When the voice of self-deprecation comes, try this: ask yourself what in this world do you love immensely and intensely. Remember that love, feel it, and summon it into your very bones and synapses - draw its power into you, as medicine against self-deprecation.
One thing I love is the work I've been doing for several years with the plants in the Amazon Jungle. The work is so full of mystery and power, but it's difficult to put into writing much of what the plants and my human teachers there have taught me, partly because the information is so utterly non-rational, like the plants themselves. That non-rationality exerts a great pressure on my western mind, which likes to pretend it is grounded in reason. So my work with plants brings me an ongoing wrestling match against the powers of my own culture, and it has taught me a great deal about the difference between the western and indigenous mind. I can say this: the purpose of working deeply with the plants is to build inner power that goes beyond "belief." And I can say that it has been working.
Let’s explore tobacco a little. It is considered by the shamans to be a most powerful healing plant – perhaps THE most powerful healer. Some South American shamans only work with tobacco and no other plants. Tobacco is the first plant many shamans work with because it provides a foundation of powerful protection against unfriendly spiritual forces. This kind of protection is mui importante, even more so if you are doing healing work. Tobacco is also a profoundly masculine plant, and it's full of fire energy. Those energies are part of its power to reach out and dispel and cleanse negative energy in someone, or bad air (huiso mayanaheubo in Shipibo), because unfriendly energies are often considered "cold," or infused with death force. So the active, hot, life-energy of tobacco is very good at cooking away bad air attached to, or embedded in someone.
This idea itself - of tobacco as healer - sends my western mind into conniptions since, for us, tobacco is a plague to be eradicated. The shamans say the westerners stole the tobacco without understanding its spirit, and they did what they always do - focused on how to transform nature into money without ever trying to relate to it spiritually. So, we pay the cost, in cancer and other maladies, of not respecting the tobacco plant, a cost we are beginning to pay in so many other ways in our relationship with nature. This counter-intuitive way tobacco works in healing is just one of the many intense conundrums that occupy my mind while working with the plants. So far I've worked deeply with only six plants and each one has, in its own way, built different skills in me.
I've written elsewhere about my journey to merge with the spirit of tobacco and how it came to be such an important part of my healing work. Right now I want to write about a few specific things I love when working with sacred tobacco.
You can get tobacco rolled into fat cigarette-looking things, called a mapacho. I use these in healing work because they are very convenient. But for most of my personal prayer work, I use loose tobacco in my pipe.
You dry the chopped up tobacco in the sun not only because it works, but because you are also asking the Sky Grandfather of all life on Earth to sing his power song into the tobacco, so that when you use it, it carries not only tobacco's inherent healing powers, but Grandfather Sun's song of life. Tobacco is a fire plant and carries a great deal of fiery, divine masculine energy, and this is boosted more by the sun song.
And, for that matter, when you have the tobacco outside drying in the sun, you are also asking all the powers of mother earth, sky, wind, water, creatures, and the pure love of the life force - all to come into your ceremonial tobacco. You do have to be clear with Grandfather Wind that you want him to sing into the tobacco, but to sing a sweet Feminine song into it, otherwise, Wind will just end up taking all of your tobacco, in which case you laugh, say "you're welcome," and start over with the chopping. That feminine wind song as well as other feminine energies of the life force helps to balance the masculine energies in the tobacco itself and that Sun song.
You may say, "Ah, this is all poetry and myth, this calling in of these energies into the tobacco." And you'd be right if you want to stay lodged in the western mind which is built on distance and arrogance.
If you want to step into the indigenous mind, though, you'd say that all these powers you are asking to come into the tobacco drying on your table are vibrations that inject physical energy in to the tobacco which stores it to be delivered along with whatever prayers you also inject into it when you use it. It's not myth, it's energy.
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Then comes the time when you rub the partly dry tobacco between your hands to break up bigger clumps. When you do this, you are working with the direction West on the medicine wheel, and the goddess of dismemberment and transformation – in my Celtic tradition, the Cailleach (KALE-yuck), the old woman who arranges and rearranges the landscape. You are asking her to also bless the tobacco and imbue it with her gifts of releasing old forms, releasing what is stuck in place, and open new pathways for Spirit, like Cailleach brings rocks crashing down the mountain to change the flow of rivers.
Three weeks ago, when I was deep in ceremony in Peru, I got two gentle scoldings from the plant spirits. One was a reminder not to forget to bless the pipe. You always bless the tobacco, she said, and the earth and the stars and the waters and the winds and the directions and ancestors and the teachers - but you forget to bless the pipe, and the pipe is Pachamama – the Great Mother that holds all life in her belly that you are calling on right now. The pipe is the womb that cooks the prayers that have been sung into the tobacco, and then births them into the world, so don't forget to bless and thank the pipe.
The other scolding was from the Fire-in-the-Earth Mother who reminded me to thank her, as well as the sun, for the fire that lights the tobacco. The sun is the flashy one, she said, and he dances in the flame that lights the tobacco, and he attracts your attention because he's such a flirt, but I, too, carry fire in my belly, the center of the earth, she said, and I light the tobacco in your pipe before he gets to it with that dancing flame of his, and if I don’t light it from below, his flame won't take and there's no prayer. (I've seen this happen – the tobacco just won't light, and now I know that it's because I need to bless the Fire-in-Earth Mother, and the womb of the pipe).
And of course, all flames are the visible result of the passionate kiss between Matter and Spirit so don't forget to honor that kiss every time you light your pipe. This kiss births the prayer into the world.
See, this is why shamans have a hard time getting anything done, because they have to make all these prayers all the time. It's also why shamans go on and on and on and on and on when you get them going. And we aren’t even talking about the constant care and feeding of one's own power animals and plant spirits and ancestors, and one's students' guides and ancestors, and the land you live on, and the faeries in your garden and the creatures. (That's tongue in cheek, of course, and for clarity's sake here is a little on why I don't call myself a shaman.)
So, in the video here, all of these prayers are loaded onto the tobacco before the video starts. And in the video, I load on more prayers to tobacco to come and dissolve and cleanse your self-deprecation, to open new pathways for Spirit to work in your and through you, to open blessing, to open the roads for the new song of power to make its way into you.
I hope, even in the limited form of the video, this can be a little help for you.