I was listening to Terence McKenna talking on ethnobotany this morning (courtesy of the Psychedelic Salon), where he mentions Ayahuasca.
Apart from the fascinating entheogenic properties of this psychotropic brew, the discovery of it is fascinating in itself.
We don't know who the first human was to put psychotria viridis leaves together with smashed stems of banisteriopsis caapi as a tea, but the awesome fact is that, amongst tens of thousands of plant species in the Amazon jungle, these two in combination – and only in combination – produce an intense DMT trip. This trip which, somewhat distastefully to me, is available to casual tourists in the Amazon basin today.
The one plant, psychotria viridis, produces DMT in its leaves, but this DMT is unavailable to humans until a monoamine oxidase inhibitor is added: and banisteriopsis caapi is the vine whose bark contains exactly that. It could have been a process of trial and error which led humans to the correct combination of plants.
But, you know, there's this tool much-used in the bag of tricks which metaphysical materialists carry with them wherever they go. It's called Occam's Razor, and it basically says that, when faced with a choice of explanations for a phenomenon, choose the simplest. I like this principle of parsimony very much, not being given to understanding the Cosmos as a terminally complicated place governed by a jealous god who goes out of his way to make things non-understandable to people.
Turning back to the topic of plants again, I remember when, a couple of years ago, I dreamed of a small yellow plant with odd-shaped leaves. And in the dream, I heard the name Coltsfoot uttered. When I woke up, I wrote it all down. Now, I had never suffered from bronchitis before in my life- despite being a fairly heavy smoker – and, even though it was Winter, I wasn't aware of anyone around me at home or at work who had bronchitis. Therefore it was a stunning revelation to me when, about 10 days after dreaming of Coltsfoot, I came down with bronchitis for the first (and so far only) time. Why stunning? Well, one of the major properties of Coltsfoot is its ability to dry up phlegm. It was a remedy much used in the past in cases of bronchitis.
Now, I suppose I could explain this somewhat in the following manner:
I somehow knew, ten days ahead of time, that I would contract bronchitis (even though my body had never hosted this particular pneumococcal bug before). Plus, I somehow knew that the plant Coltsfoot was sovereign against this disease – it's not impossible, to have subconscious knowledge which comes out in a dream. But to dredge up this particular piece of arcane lore just before I came down with the illness it is strongly indicated for is, really, pushing it. Although I guess it could all have been coincidence. There's at least 3 fuzzy suppositions in there.
The much more parsimonious explanation – and the one I prefer – is that the mechanism at work here is simply that of a living being communicating with another living being. And we know that's a common,if not universal, modality.
What gives depth and strength to this preferred explanation – that the plant spoke up and warned me – are the numerous occasions of plant communication in dreams which followed. To this day, I continue to speak with the plant kingdom, and although their timing may not be human (as with the Pin Oak who produced a gorgeous green-leaf-bearing shoot at exactly eye-height for me on an otherwise artificially stripped trunk), and their reasons sometimes obscure, it remains a rich and rewarding field of experience which draws me ever closer to a knowledge that the entire damned universe is alive, and, if you are inclined to listen carefully, speaking.
Pic: Banisteriopsis Caapi, the Vine of Souls