Psychedelics in The Valley Part 3 | Sacred Reciprocity
We hope you’re enjoying our on going series, Psychedelics in The Valley. Psychedelics in the Hudson Valley PART 1 + PART 2 took us on a deep dive into the now and potential future of the psychedelic landscape. We explored subjects of legalization, and the importance of set and setting, integration and more as Beth Weinstein shared insights gleaned through her 33-year journey with plant medicines and entheogens.
Here in our 3rd, yet most foundational installment, we have had the great honor to speak with Francois Demange and Dr. Kelly Jennings. For decades, this husband and wife team has devoted their lives to bringing clients into greater balance, working with medicinal plants, and indigenous people and their sacred ways. They have been raising awareness and much-needed funds to honor these alliances, wisdom keepers and traditional ways of life, and will help us better understand a too often overlooked aspect of this psychedelic paradigm shift: Sacred Reciprocity.
As the world catapults into a psychedelic revolution all over again, albeit with more science and policy shifts to back it up, there is even more widespread appeal than in the 1960s. These days, most of the discussion about psychedelics has been a forward-focused one. The 5th Annual Psychedelic Science Summit 2023 ran June 19-23rd in Denver, CO, was attended by some 12,000 visitors. The throngs enjoyed the sold-out workshop offerings, “facilitated by some of the utmost leading experts in the clinical, academic, business, and cultural fields.” The robust line-up included presentations on psychedelic-assisted therapies, psychedelic neuroscience, decriminalizing psychedelics, policy-making agendas and legalities, psychedelic therapy for end-of-life and palliative care, and many other subjects. Of the 29 different workshops, lectures and talks about psychedelics at the event, only one, Plant Medicines, Indigenous Healing Traditions and Right Relationship, reflected this important aspect of the equation. Clearly not a priority, it was listed last on their list of offerings online, though the schedule is not ordered alphabetically or chronologically in terms of presentation.
How are natural environments, animal species, cultural traditions, curanderos and indigenous ways of life impacted by the voracious global desire to harvest and use plants and animals?
Let’s start with Bufo alvarius aka Sonoran Desert Toads as an example, already under threat of extinction because they are so popular. These coveted toads come by other names: sometimes the Colorado River toad, and more recently, Incilius alvarius. Psychedelic enthusiasts have been rounding them up in inordinate numbers to obtain their poisonous secretions that happen to also be lush with a powerful hallucinogenic substance called 5-MeO-DMT. “Many who’ve undergone the experience refer to the poison as a “god molecule” that has cured their addictions or helped them achieve a deeper connection to the earth. Toad altars, T-shirts, and tattoos all profess worship of the species.” Toad medicine circles are taking Malibu and other swanky areas by storm, but at what cost to the balance of things?
And this global fervor for psychedelic experiences is only just beginning to take hold. As retreats, events and conferences focused on psychedelics bloom like mushrooms alongside a forest of bestsellers and favorite reading lists on the subject, movies, celebrities and validate their efficacy, important and urgent aspects of this puzzle must also be considered and prioritized. Meanwhile, there are other species, like Peyote, which are also seriously under threat and take a long time to regenerate and grow. Considered a sacrament to Native American Church members, the plant is nearly extinct and can take decades to regrow. Protecting this plant and the diminishing lands where peyote grows wild “could also mean saving a Native American religion from extinction.” Please read more about this plight in the LA Times here: “Why are some Native Americans fighting efforts to decriminalize peyote?”
The popular blogger and podcast host, Tim Ferris, wrote this in a 2021 blog:
“Psychedelics have saved my life several times over, including helping me to heal from childhood abuse. So, it’s with a very heavy heart that I’ve come to accept several sad truths. Chief among them is this: Most natural sources of psychedelics simply cannot withstand ever-increasing global demand. Many plant and animal species are already endangered or near extinction.” He goes on to share, “Given the slope of popularity growth, if we don’t reconsider our sources, I’d wager that we extinguish at least a handful of critical species within the next 3–5 years. There are also questions of animal abuse, and while some practices are ethically justifiable for small indigenous populations, they are catastrophic if expanded to even tens of thousands of people.”
In our individual and collective quests for more holistic healing, we must move with an awareness of these ethical considerations. As Dr. Jennings, Francois Demange, and others in the field with such an orientation have noted, these concerns have too often been left out of the conversation in current psychedelic circles, as well as research, funding and inclusion in lawmaking. Admittedly, in spite of this writer’s own prior concerns and even passion about these things, coverage of these subjects was nearly left out of this blog series until Dr. Jennings understandably expressed that there cannot be a comprehensive discussion of psychedelics if these matters are not included and given the breadth they deserve. Perhaps others too have considered this conversation too controversial or overwhelming, especially when explored by white Americans with little access to authentic indigenous voices in these circles. Still, one cannot merely share partial questions or truths. Otherwise, we will merely continue to have a partially healed world.
Before we return our focus to Dr. Kelly Jennings and Francois Demange in a deeper way, here are some other important questions to first consider:
- From whom and where do these traditional plant medicines, wisdom and lineages of their use as psychedelics and as healing allies derive?
- Can we move into a brighter future of mental health in our modern world, benefitting from the healing of these sacred plants and ways, while also honoring the people, cultures and environments of their origin?
- Can we meet the needs of this voracious new global appetite for psychedelics without negatively impacting indigenous people and their environments? Are too many Westerners over-harvesting, receiving, and using these medicines in ways that only consider short-term or personal benefits?
- At what point is accessibility going to tip a balance, depleting environments, supply and straining traditional cultures…or has it already?
Let’s define “Sacred Reciprocity”…
Native American writer and botanist, Robin Wall Kimmerer, is a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. As an American Distinguished Teaching Professor of Environmental and Forest Biology and Director at the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, she bridges mainstream science and ecological wisdom with traditional earth based knowledge, handed down for countless generations. In her groundbreaking, bestselling book, Braiding Sweetgrass, she eloquently explains the tenets of Sacred Reciprocity in this way:
- Know the ways of the ones who take care of you, so that you may take care of them.
- Introduce yourself. Be accountable as the one who comes asking for life. Ask permission before taking. Abide by the answer.
- Never take the first. Never take the last. Take only what you need.
- Take only that which is given.
- Never take more than half. Leave some for others. Harvest in a way that minimizes harm.
- Use it respectfully. Never waste what you have taken. Share.
- Give thanks for what you have been given.
- Give a gift, in reciprocity for what you have taken.
- Sustain the ones who sustain you and the earth will last forever.
Sacred Reciprocity in Action
Dr. Kelly Jennings, is a primary care physician and holistic health practitioner in Dutchess County’s Staatsburg, offers naturopathic medicine, acupuncture, herbalism, and more. François (Metsa) Demange has given his life to understanding and being immersed in indigenous medicine ways. From the Shipibo, Quechua Lamista and Aguaruna in the Peruvian Amazon, the Bwiti traditions of Gabon, the Mazatec traditions of Oaxaca, the Dinè traditions of the Native American Church, François has cultivated an incredible capacity to understand these disparate and not dissimilar cosmovisions and their respective ceremonies.
From their perspective as shared with Jenny Wonderling of INSIDE + OUT:
In the psychedelic renaissance, the indigenous and traditional ways of using these sacred plant medicines are largely being ignored. The communities who’ve carried these ways forward are being left out. There are few organizations talking about reciprocity, though many say this is important. There are thousands of therapists being trained to use these psychedelics without a sense of the historic or traditional use of these substances, which by and large are about connecting to Spirit, to the greater web of life. We continue to marginalize the communities, elders and wisdom keepers who’ve sustained these ways and medicines.
If you have read, or experienced this yourself, you may know that the most common psychedelic, or entheogenic experience is a deep sense of being connected with everything. A sense of Oneness. As the indigenous and traditional medicine people have done for thousands of years, it seems important, essential even, that those who’re giving these medicines, especially therapists in a clinical setting, have some spiritual training, some understanding of the fundamentals. How to orient oneself in a guided journey? How to pray for support? How to best prepare for a profound spiritual experience? How to integrate?
And perhaps most importantly, how to say thank you. This is reciprocity in action.
Consider these traditions, just to name a few. Traditional Amazonian Medicine, as practiced by the Shipibo-Conibo, Quechua-Lamista and many others, using Yaje or ayahuasca as a tool for diagnosing dis-ease, whether physical, mental, emotional, spiritual or within the collective. The Mazatec tradition of using psychoactive mushrooms called Nino Santos to diagnose an ailment and support healing. The Native American Church tradition of using peyote to doctor people who need a prayer or a healing for their lives. Each of these traditions have guides or medicine people who’ve gone through extensive life training to “see”. These medicines are used in a traditional context that is ancient and profound. These ways are designed to help people connect to Spirit, to remember Life and to live in respect and beauty. We are really missing out on the whole point if we leave these traditions out, substituting once again a substance for the true sustenance of Community and Connection.
As a way to say Thank You, Dr Jennings and François have created the non-profit Sacred Ways Foundation to provide annual basic incomes to medicine families who carry these traditional ways with integrity and authenticity.
Healers shouldn’t have to hustle to make a living.
Those who’ve been called by spirit and are duty bound to be in service to those voices – these are the people who need support. Their children are turning from these traditional ways because they see how difficult it is to make a living, it’s not a viable future.
We used to place our medicine people at the center of our tending and care. There are some things that just simply need our love to survive. Love, in this context, means financial support. Please join us supporting this critical need.”
“Knowing that you love the earth changes you, activates you to defend and protect and celebrate. But when you feel that the earth loves you in return, that feeling transforms the relationship from a one-way street into a sacred bond.” – Robin Wall Kimmerer
As within, so without.
In the name of consciousness expansion and healing, it is certainly inexcusable and ironic to justify any practices that facilitate harm or extinction. That applies to any aspect of the acquisition and use of psychedelic plants and animals. Remembering that the aim of these medicines is to bring us individually and collectively into balance, means that we cannot, in so doing, precipitate imbalance anywhere else. As within, so without.
While aiming for a more harmonious outer and inner world, one should not in any way justify or be complicit in the exploitation, destruction, or expense of people or cultures, animals or plant species. The original meaning of healing was to bring into balance with nature. If in the name of one’s own healing, suffering is caused, it is not true healing. Out of sight, may be out of mind, but the path would merely be the illusion of healing if by its attainment more dis-ease is perpetuated in the world.
“In some Native languages the term for plants translates to “those who take care of us.” – Robin Wall Kimmerer
Indeed we must also care for them and be willing to listen deeply to what they have to teach us. Together, intrepid reader, we have embarked on a kaleidoscopic exploration down into the roots of this fast growing tree, down, down into where some of the real impact and wisdom is being felt…thank you for coming along.
In this passionate individual and collective quest for holistic healing, we hope you will now more tenderly consider impact when making your own choices- whether about psychedelics, or even lifestyle choices. Are you even more inspired to do your part to make sure these crucial subjects are no longer left out of the conversations and policymaking?
What else can we do, today, you and I?
- Did you know Breathwork, dance, drumming, meditation, sound healing and singing are also incredible gateways to altered consciousness, deep healing and transformation? (And they’re legal!)
- Instead of peyote, please consider using the huachuma/San Pedro cactus (Echinopsis pachanoi), a faster growing cactus that is not under threat. Unless you are indigenous and have used peyote for generations, or are growing it yourself, leave remaining wild growing plants for the Native populations who have been in sacred relationship and deserve to continue to be. Ferris said in his blog, “Options like San Pedro largely avoid the ecological, ethical, and cultural challenges of peyote. Synthetic mescaline is also an outstanding substitute.”
- There are many other plants and animals at risk because of over-harvesting and more.
“We need acts of restoration, not only for polluted waters and degraded lands, but also for our relationship to the world. We need to restore honor to the way we live, so that when we walk through the world we don’t have to avert our eyes with shame, so that we can hold our heads up high and receive the respectful acknowledgment of the rest of the earth’s beings.” – Robin Wall Kimmerer
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If you would like to make a contribution or get involved go to: (https://www.sacredwaysfoundation.org/)
We would love to hear from you about these rich and complex topics! Add to comments below.