Vegetalistas in the Amazon: Plants and Chants of Peruvian Jungle Healers

Traditional and folk medicine has remained a primary treatment source for many people throughout the world. Even in developed countries, such as the United States, the number of visits to practitioners of traditional and folk medicine actually exceeds the number of visits to Western doctors (Bussman, Sharon 2006). While Western medicine operates and treats patients from a strictly positivist framework, most traditional practitioners believe that diseases can be both caused and cured supernaturally. In Peru, many locals, as well as tourists, seek healing of their physical and spiritual ailments from vegetalistas, who are shaman healers that work closely with plants and their supernatural healing powers. The following paper will examine the beliefs regarding disease origins and several of the main practices of vegetalistas in the Peruvian Amazon, such as dietas, ayahuasca, and icaros.

The term vegetalista can also be interchangeable with curandero and shaman. However, we will use the term vegetalista to describe the healers in the Amazon who work supernaturally with plants and who ascribe largely to the indigenous healing practices of Quecha tribes such as the Shipibo and Conibo, but who may also utilize aspects of Catholicism or New Age beliefs. Vegetalistas can be Mestizo or from indigenous tribes, and, in some rare cases, of European descent (if they have extensively trained under a master shaman) (Demange 2002). Many vegetalista healing practices come directly from the traditional indigenous ones. It can be argued that vegetalistas are appropriating the practices of the indigenous tribes, however, it is not cut and dry, because most of the vegetalistas are mestizo and are descendents of the indigenous tribes. The main difference between a vegetalista and an indigenous curandero, is that vegetalistas focus on the individual healing of physical and spiritual disease, while indigenous curandero practices are centered around maintaining social structures and balance within the tribe and cosmos. If a person is sick, the indigenous curandero views it as an imbalance within the entire society and universe, and heals to restore the balance. The vegetalista is concerned with the individual. Nevertheless, their techniques are very similar and can be difficult to distinguish (Demange 2002: 60).


Vegetalistas believe that illness can be caused either naturally or supernaturally. A person can be infected by a variety of supernatural means, such as spirit darts (virotes) sent by demons or shamans. There are many culture-bound illnesses of supernatural origin in the Vegetalismo belief system (Homan 2011). Mal de aire (evil wind) is when a person gets infected with an invisible illness from an encounter with an evil lost soul, and is thought to be highly contagious. Susto happens when a person is extremely scared and part of their soul leaves their body due to the shock. This causes the person to experience imbalance and become sick (Homan 2011). Symptoms of susto are depression, loss of appetite, weakness, and diarrhea (Beyer 2009:327). The only way to cure susto is to visit a shaman and have them travel the spirit world to retrieve the missing soul. When illnesses originate from natural causes, they are referred to as enfermidades de Dios (illness from God) (Homan 2011). When a person experiences an illness from God, they typically visit a pharmacy or clinic to be treated, although sometimes the vegetalista shamans provide treatments too (Homan 2011).


Peru is rich in biodiversity and there are many plants which are recognized to have healing properties, both supernatural and natural. There are countless plants used in vegetalismo as a vehicle to connect to the spirit world (Demange 2002: 30). Vegetalismo practices are centered on the belief that plants are “animated superior intelligent beings” that can relay important teachings (Demange 2002:33). Vegetalistas claim that they receive their healing powers and knowledge directly from the spirits of the plants in the rainforst (Santuario). The vegetalista aims to become acquanited with as many plants as possible (Demange 2002:33). Dietas, or plant diets, are followed in order to connect with the spirit of a certain plant, make it an ally, and to understand it’s healing properties. Vegetalistas- in- training typically follow a dieta for six months to a year as part of their apprenticeship, and will continue to follow it periodically for the rest of their lives. Dietas are very restrictive and the follower can typically only consume very plain, unseasoned foods such as boiled plantain, rice, fish, and chicken. All sexual activity must be refrained from, and time is spent in an isolated jungle hut (Demange 2002:34). One at a time, they will add a medicinal healing plant to the diet. The blandness of the rest of the diet allows the healing properties of the plant to be understood, without interference from other compounds or plant spirits. It is also believed that some of the healing plant medicines get easily jealous, so the bland diet with little additives and no sexual activity proves to the plant that it is the most important.


One of the primary plant mixtures which is used in treatment is ayahuasca, which is an entheogenic brew made out of the vine baanisteriopsis caapi, and the leaves of DMT-containing plant such as chacruna. DMT, or dimethyltyptamine, is one the strongest psychedelics known. It is not normally orally active, but is once it is combined with a MAOI, such as the baanisteriopsis caapi vine (Chantin 21). The two main ingredients are boiled into a dark and bitter tasting tea. Ayahuasca has potent consciousness-altering properties, and the user experiences profound visions, intense emotions, and synthaesia, which is the cognitive phenomenon where colors are heard and sounds are seen ( Demange 2002: 20). Vegetalistas typically hold regular ayahuasca healing ceremonies, where both the vegetalista shaman and the patient will ingest ayahuasca. These take place at night. The ayahuasca is said to allow the shaman to see and diagnose where the physical or mental sickness is coming from in the patient, and to work to extract it out through supernatural means. This can be done by sucking out the supernatural arrows and entity attachments, using certain chants to manipulate energy,

While everyone has a different ayahuasca experience, a common theme is seeing anacondas and jaguars (even those who take ayahuasca out of the jungle, in other parts of the world). It should be noted that ayahausca has shown scientifically to have some benefits, especially when used as a treatment for substance abuse disorder and depression (Winkleman 2014). It has also been shown to be effective in killing and expelling parasites (which is a very convenient feature in the jungles of the Amazon!) (Winkleman 2014).


Sacred healing chants, or icaros, are revealed to the shaman. These icaros are viewed as a main tool through which healing occurs, and are a “shaman’s most highly prized possessions, the vehicles of his power and the repositories of his knowledge” (Townsley 2001:267). An experienced shaman will know hundreds of different icaros. It is believed that every living thing has its own song, and it can be revealed to the shaman under certain states of consciousness, like after taking ayahausca. These icaros, when sung, invoke the healing spirits. The icaros chants are believed to have the power to manipulate reality and to weave strands of energy to rebalance and heal. Many individuals who have participated in ayahuasca rituals relate that the chanting can be directly felt and experienced within the body. The ayahuasca has the effect of causing the body to feel like a buzzing highway of vibrations, and the vibrational tones of the icaros can be felt moving throughout the body like a snake, or pulling or tugging the energy of the body.


The Introduction of Ayahuasca Tourism

While many traditional healing systems around the world are being swapped out for Western medicine, vegetalismo is unique because it is only gaining in popularity as tourists flock to the Amazon in search of physical or spiritual healing. There are many tales of Westerners overcoming serious diseases, depression, and having extraordinary spiritual awakenings. This trend has encouraged some to take advantage of the opportunity to make money by holding ayahuasca ceremonies for tourists. While some of these people are legitimate vegetalistas who have had years of training, unfortunately, many are not trained vegetalistas and shamans (these are called ayahuasceros- they can make ayahuasca and hold ceremonies, but are not trained shamanically). Trained vegetalistas and curanderos look down on this because they believe by doing a ceremony without a shaman, the participants are left vulnerable to evil spirits and negative energies. If a participant has a healing crisis of some sort, there won’t be anyone there to guide them through it. Also, some warn that the ayahuasceros are brujas, or witches, and that they use the ayahuasca ceremonies as a way to siphon energy out of its participants to increase their own power (Homan 2011).


Vegetalista medicine plays a large role in Peru. While many Peruvians head to Western doctors for “diseases from God” (natural illnesses), they still will visit a vegetalista, curandero, or shaman to help heal them from any illness that appeared from supernatural causes (Homan 2011). Many people throughout the world seem to trust the traditional healers, who almost always deal with supernatural aspects of illness, more than Western doctors. Looking at this from a positivist perspective, the traditional healers act more holistically than Western doctors, and spend more time and care on their patients. If a person trusts their practitioner, and believes that what they are doing will heal them, it can remove the stress they are feeling about their illness which is greatly conducive to healing. Traditional and supernatural medicine will continue to flourish as long as people have supernatural beliefs, and will continue to be combined with or used as a compliment to Western medicine.


Bussman, Rainer., Sharon Douglass. 2006. Traditional Medicinal Plant Use in Northern Peru. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine. 2006 2:47

Demange, Francois. 2002. Amazion Vegetalismo: A Study of the Healing Power of Chants in Tarapoto, Peru. University of East London MA thesis.

Homan, Joshua. 2011. Charlatans, Seekers, and Shamans: The Ayahuasca Boom in Western Peruvian Amazonia. University of Kansas MA thesis. Accessed https://www.researchgate.net/publication/242331589_Charlatans_seekers_and_shamans_the_ayahuasca_boom_in_western_Peruvian_Amazonia

Winkleman, Michael. 2014. Psychedelics as Medicines for Substance Abuse Rehabilition: Evaluating Treatments with LSD, Peyote, Ibogaine, and Ayahuasca. Current Drug Abuse Reviews. 2014. 7, 101-116.


Psychedelics as a Treatment for Substance Abuse Disorder by Megan Funck


Psychedelics have had somewhat of a negative stigma attached to them ever since the Hippie movement of the 60’s, which was notorious for its widespread (and perhaps reckless) use of mind-altering drugs. In the 70’s, they became illegal and classified as Schedule 1 Substances in the U.S, and the research that was being conducted on various psychedelic substances was halted. Subsequently, their potential therapeutic applications in psychology and medicine were largely forgotten about. Recently, there has been a reemergence of scientific interest on psychedelics and their potential to treat various disorders, such as anxiety in cancer-patients, substance abuse disorder, and depression. The following paper will briefly survey some of the psychedelics which have shown some evidence of being effective treatments for substance abuse and anxiety disorders.

What are Psychedelics

Psychedelics are drugs, both of natural and synthetic origins, which result in an alteration of perceptions and cognitions. Psychedelics have a very low chance of causing any long-term side effects and are non-addictive (Winkleman 2014: 114). They are very safe when administered to carefully screened patients with supervision. Psychedelics are said to produce profound visions and epiphanies, and can create intense  feelings of euphoria and peace. The specific mechanisms detailing the way these drugs work in the brain is out of the scope of this paper. However, it is shown that all of the psychedelics increase serotonin levels in the brain. In turn, “serotonin acts as a neuromodulator, with direct effects upon other neurotransmitter systems”, and “enables serotonin enhancement to cascade into other neurotransmitter systems affected by addictions” (Winkleman 103).  Those who are suffering from addiction typically have very low serotonin levels. Additionally, it seems that psychedelics have some action on the brain, by increasing activity in certain areas, which allows for the user to access repressed emotions and memories, and to view their life choices from a different perspective.


            From the early 1950’s to 70’s, the federal government funded 116 studies on LSD (Pollan 2015). It was tested on people for a number of different conditions, such as terminal cancer, alcoholism, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. The results were frequently positive; however, by today’s standards, many of the tests were poorly designed and controlled. When psychedelics became banned and (wrongly) classified as Schedule 1 substances  (which means they have no therapeutic uses and a high potential for abuse), the research was halted on LSD, and because of the poorly designed studies, the results were dismissed  and forgotten (Pollan). Recently, in 2012, a study (this time, a well-designed and controlled study) was conducted on LSD as a treatment for alcoholism (Krebs 2012). The results showed that just a single dose of LSD is associated with a decrease in alcohol use, and that compared to other drug treatments for alcoholism, like naltrexone, LSD was superior (Krebs). The results showed significant positive effects for around six months after the single dose. After six months, the positive effects seemed to diminish, and patients returned to drinking.

It seems there needs to be further research which periodically administers LSD sessions to patients (perhaps twice yearly), to determine if the positive results can be sustained. LSD can have some negative side effects, such as a “bad trip”, anxiety and confusion, and the psychedelic experience lasts much longer than other similar psychedelic compounds, such as psilocybin. However, it has a very high safety profile and there is no scientific reason as to why some patients should not be treated with LSD for alcoholism (Winkleman 102). LSD appears to provide a “fundamental shift in consciousness that provides a profound motivation for positive change”, and can produce a “vivid awareness of one’s personal problems, presenting graphic images of the immediate and long-term deleterious effects of the alcohol” (Winkleman 102). Many of the patients who benefited from LSD attributed their positive changes to the “spiritual affects” of the drug.


Ayahuasca is a medicinal and sacramental tea which originates from South America. It has a strong history of use in shamanic healing rituals. It normally consists of two main ingredients: the leaves of the chacruna tree, which provide the psychedelic compound dimthyltryptamine, and the vine baanisteriopsis caapi, which provide a MAO inhibitor which allows the DMT to become orally active.

There is a plethora of anecdotal, ethnographic, and some scientific data which indicates that ayahuasca can useful and successful in treating addiction and other psychological disorders. Ayahuasca has anti-addictive properties via its “direct and indirect actions on dopaminergic and serotonergic neurons in the mesolimbic pathway”, which balances brain chemistry “between the low levels associated with withdrawal and the elevated levels associated with initiation and reinforcement of addictive behavior” (Winkleman 110). In order words, ayahuasca can essentially promote a neurological rewiring of the brain’s reward pathways, making addictive substances and behaviors less desirable. While ayahuasca is currently illegal in the U.S. (except for use by some religious groups), there are many treatment centers around the world which use ayahuasca-based therapy. Because of the unreliable dosages of DMT/MAOI’s in ayahuasca (being made from whole leaves and bark, which may have differing levels of the compounds), it is hard to do dose-controlled studies with ayahuasca.

However, studies and observations on various ayahuasca- based religious groups and treatments have shown very positive effects in participants. For example, studies on the members of the ayahuasca church Uniao do Vegetal, in Brazil, showed that “people with a history of alcoholism underwent profound life changes leading to sobriety shortly after joining the church” (Winkleman 108). In addition, case-controlled studies revealed that long-term religious ayahuasca users had less cases of drug abuse and psychiatric disorders compared to the general population (Winkleman 108). However, some of these positive effects may be from the other factors surrounding the ayahuasca use, such as the strong community support aspect. While there  needs to be more research on ayahuasca, so far, the evidence of its positive benefits is impressive, and it should be included as a potential treatment.


            Ibogaine is a compound which comes from the bark of a tree in West Africa. It has shown  evidence of being a useful treatment for substance abuse disorder, especially for individuals who suffer from opiate  and cocaine addiction and withdrawal (Winkleman 112). Some non-medical clinical studies showed that ibogaine resulted in “attenuation of opioid withdrawal symptoms within several hours of ingestion, and lasting resolution of the acute opioid withdrawal syndrome within 12 to 18 hours”  (Winklem 107). In addition, animal studies showed that when addict-rats were administered ibogaine, they stopped self-administering the addictive drug for at least several days (Winklem 107).

There has been some controversy about the safety of ibogaine, after a handful of deaths related to it occurred. However, the individuals who died either had preexisting medical conditions that should have excluded them from ibogaine treatment (cardiac issues), or had used cocaine or opiates within a short time before or after using ibogaine (Winkleman 112). Ibogaine is similar to the other psychedelics, in that the experience produces “visions that provide psychological insight into their drug use, particularly understandings that helps overcome psychological blocks” (Winkleman 112).


            Psilocybin is a compound found naturally in certain species of mushrooms. It has been found to be very safe and is not hazardous to physical health (Grob 2011). A recent double-blind study on patients with terminal cancer and acute anxiety showed a reduction in anxiety and an improvement in mood (Grob). In another psilocybin study, individuals with obsessive-compulsive disorder experienced reductions in OCD symptoms (Grob 2011).  The results on this compound are so far promising. More studies should be conducted on psilocybin as treatment for various psychological disorders.


There are no valid scientific reasons as to why some of these psychedelics should be excluded as legal and potential treatment options for substance abuse disorder and anxiety. They have proven to be very safe when administered carefully to the right candidates with proper supervision. There is very little potential for abuse with these substances, and they are “more ethical than maintenance/treatment programs employing drugs of high abuse or substitutes (e.g. methadone treatment) because of their abuse and overdose potential” (Winkleman 113-114). Additionally, the rates of effectiveness of psychedelics for treating addiction is substantial- in comparison, the actual rates of those who attribute their remissions to conventional treatments is about the same as those who have spontaneous remissions without treatment (Winkleman 114). Hopefully, with more research, psychedelics will lose their negative stigma and become included as legal treatments for those suffering from substance abuse disorder and anxiety.








Charles S. Grob, MD; Alicia L. Danforth, MA; Gurpreet S. Chopra, MD; Marycie Hagerty, RN, BSN, MA; Charles R. McKay, MD; Adam L. Halberstadt, PhD; George R. Greer, MD  (2011). Pilot Study of Psilocybin Treatment for Anxiety in Patients With Advanced-Stage Cancer .Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2011;68(1):71-78


Krebs Ts, Johansen PO (2012). Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) for Alcoholism; Meta-analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Journal of Psychopharamacology. 26(7): pp994-1102.


Pollan, Michael. “The Trip Treatment.” New Yorker. New Yorker, 9 Feb. 2015. Web. 10 Dec. 2015.


Winkleman, Michael (2014). Psychedelics as Medicines for Substance Abuse Rehabilitation.

Current Drug Abuse Reviews, 2014, Vol. 7, No. 2. pp.101-116.


Core Shamanism- A Modern Embodiment of Ancient Traditions

drum  by Megan Funck

Shamanism’s roots extend deep within the history of the world’s cultures. Core shamanism, although technically a newcomer to the scene, extends just as deep, it’s concepts embodying the essence of all the various ancient shamanic traditions. Like all shamanic traditions, Core Shamanism is “grounded on a view of nature in which spirit travel is both possible and necessary” (Berry 2012:159). The name, idea, and practice of Core Shamanism was initially developed by Anthropologist Michael Harner, who had a significant amount of personal experience with various shaman traditions, especially the Hivaro  of the Ecuadorian Andes (Harner:1980:1). Core shamanism is not based on any specific cultural tradition, but includes and utilizes basic ideas and practices that are a common undercurrent in nearly all traditions of shamanism- such as employing certain techniques to enter altered states of consciousness, a general belief that aspects of the physical world can be affected or changed by taking action in a non-ordinary reality, and that everything has a spirit. The intention behind Core Shamanism is to bring the basic teachings and benefits of shamanism to individuals who lack a specific shamanic tradition in their own culture- at the same time respecting indigenous cultures by not “copying” their sacred traditions, ceremonies, and the language used to describe such traditions.

Unlike some other spiritual traditions or practices, Core Shamanism does not entail any creation story or concrete belief system-shamanism is a path of knowledge, not of faith, and that knowledgecannot come from anyone else in this reality. To acquire that knowledge, including the knowledge of the reality of the spirits, it is necessaryto step through the shaman’s doorway and acquire empirical evidence.” (Harner 2000). Shamanism is learned through personal experience, and even the specific beliefs that seem to be crucial to the concept of Shamanism aren’t concrete, end-all beliefs. There are individuals who practice and believe in the benefits of Core Shamanism, but attribute its effects strictly to placebo affect, or to some unknown psychological shifts that occur, rather to the idea of literal manipulation of unseen realms. Core Shamanism does however emphasize the implementation of various ethics to be practiced when a shaman is working with a “client”, such as working only with good, loving intentions, and keeping strict confidentiality with a client.

Michael Harner said, “Wherever shamanism is still encountered today, the shaman functions fundamentally in much the same way and with similar techniques- as guardian of the psychic and ecological equilibrium of his group and its members, as intermediary between the seen and unseen worlds, as master of spirits, as supernatural curer. The shaman is able to transcend the human condition and pass freely back and forth through the different cosmological planes” (Harner 41).
In Core Shamanism, these three different cosmological planes are referred to as the Lower, Middle, and Upper World. It is in these planes where the Shaman can meet and consult with personal spirit guides and animal helpers, retrieve missing “soul” pieces, find lost “power animals”, extract dark or unwanted energy that is attached to a person’s energetic body (which can cause physical or spiritual illness), and communicate with spirits of the terrestrial world- the plants, animals, mountains, rain, etc. To access these realms, the shaman enters into a non-ordinary state of reality, and goes on what is referred to as a “journey”. The process of entering these states of non-ordinary reality in different shamanic traditions, can entail the use of psychoactive plants, all night dancing, chanting, and drumming. In Core Shamanism, drumming is generally the most commonly used tool, as it is simple, legal (unlike some of the psychoactive plants), safe, and- it works. Drumming is said to be effective because it initiates changes in the central nervous system and affects activity in the brain. The low frequencies allow more energy to be transmitted to the brain, and it has been established that four to seven cycles per second is the most effective speed of drumming to enter an altered state of consciousness (Harner 51).

The Lower World, as described by Leo Rutherford in Way of Shamanism, is the “place of instinctual knowing where our animal-like powers reside…most helping spirits take the form of animals, some of humans, some mythical beings. Generally speaking, it appears just like the natural landscape does in this world. When journeying, everything one experiences is of relevance and has symbolic meaning” (Rutherford 1996:88). The Lower World journey is initiated by the in-trance shaman first envisioning a chosen “portal”, which may be something like a cave, a hole in the roots of a tree, or diving down deep into the sea. The shaman then continues “down” this portal until breaking through a noticeable veil or barrier, which signals the entrance into the lower world (Rutherford 88).

The Middle World is experienced as a parallel non-ordinary version of our own world (Wood 2001:51). It is believed this is the realm where a shaman can interact and work with the spirits of the plants, land, a crystal, a drum, etc. Practitioners of Core Shamanism generally believe that all things in the world have spirits, and can all be encountered in the Middle World (Wood 50).

The Upper World is generally described as an ethereal, light, beautiful place, and is where one can consult with spiritual guides and teachers. The moon, stars, and planets are also associated with the Upper World (Wood 49). Shamans usually venture to the Upper World when inquiring about healing an aspect of themselves or others. By meeting with one of their spirit teachers, they can find out what specific work can be done and any relevant information that will assist in the healing process (Wood 49).
Shamanic journeys, much like dreams, “require interpretation…but they might also demand action” (Chedester 48). In shamanic journeys, everything encountered may have a possible deeper symbolic meaning. A shaman may be instructed or encouraged by his power animals or spirit guides to carry out a certain action in ordinary reality that will be beneficial to the shaman.

Two of the most common Core Shamanism techniques practiced are “power animal retrievals” and “soul retrievals”. In core shamanism, everyone is said to have at least one power animal. A power animal can infuse specific beneficial characteristics, strengths, and powers into a person and their life. For example, a lion power animal may bring an energy of fierceness into life, of loyalty, and power to manifest desired events. A power animal is retrieved by a shaman journeying to the lower world and “asking around” to any beings encountered where their power animal is. Usually a power animal will show itself quickly if that is the reason for the journey, and can be confirmed by the shaman simply asking the animal if it is his/her power animal (Harner 67). If a power animal retrieval is being conducted for a client, the shaman will consult his personal power animal(s) first, and ask them to help find the client’s animal. Once the animal is found, the shaman will inquire as to what specific powers or strengths it will bring the client. Next, the shaman will “cup” the animal in his hands, and returning back to ordinary reality, will blow through his hands onto the client’s chest and crown of head, transferring the energy of the power animal (Harner 84). A Soul Retrieval is believed to bring back missing parts of an individuals energy body, which unattached or escaped during periods of extreme stress or trauma. Symptoms of soul loss can be: disassociation, chronic depression, PTSD, addictions, and generally feeling “out of it” (Ingerman 2012). A Coma is considered to be extreme soul loss, with more soul missing than present in the body (Ingerman). A soul retrieval is performed very similar to a power animal retrieval, in finding and bringing back the energy. However, the “missing” soul piece may be anywhere, and the shaman is led by his power animals and spirit guides to the specific area of non-ordinary reality where it is. The missing soul piece may appear as the client, but at a different age. Sometimes it takes gentle encouragement to effectively convince a soul piece to “come back” to its owner (Ingerman). 

Shamanism, as ancient and distant from today’s world as it may seem, can still be integrated with relative ease. A modern shaman doesn’t need to be a jungle recluse or dedicate his or her entire life to the practice. Core Shamanism is an effective way for Westerners or others without a cultural shamanic tradition to learn beneficial techniques and instill a certain spiritual orientation towards the world. Shamanism persists because it produces results- whether they be “real” or purely a result of a placebo effect. Core Shamanism techniques allow people to explore perceived alternate worlds and realities.There is no distinction between helping yourself or helping others in Shamanism, for it is said that a deep realization that everything is one with the whole universe can’t help but rise to the surface of awareness during journeys. A shaman practices and works not just for his or her self, but for the broader purpose of helping all beings awaken to the reality of one-ness – and of seeing in the dark, and bringing a little bit of light back.


 Berry, Evan. “Nature”. Hecht and Bondo. Religion and Culture. Minneapolis. Fortress Press. 2012. pp 155-173.

 Chedester, David. “Dreaming in the Contact Zone”. Hecht and Bondo.Religion and Culture. Minneapolis. Fortress Press. 2012. pp 47-63.

 Harner, Michael. The Way of the Shaman. New York. Harper Collins. 1980.

Harner, Michael. “Core Shamanism Studies.” Foundation for Shamanic Studies. 2000. Dec 5 2012. <http://www.shamanism.org/workshops/index

 Ingerman, Sandra. “Soul Retrieval”. SandraIngerman.com (2007). 5 December. 2012.<http://www.sandraingerman.com/soulretrieval.html&gt;

 Rutherford, Leo. Way of Shamanism. Hammersmith, London. Thorsons. 1996.

 Serr, Dr. Steve. “Shamanism and the Upper World.”  Shamanism101.com. 2012.  5 December 2012.<shamanism-101/com/Shamanism_Upper_World.html>

 Wood, Nicholas. The Book of the Shaman. Hauppauge, New York. A Quarto Book. 2001.


Self-Medicating Behavior in Non-Human Primates

medicate by Megan Funck

Throughout history, humans have turned to various herbs, plants, and natural elements found in the environment to prevent and treat illness, and many of our modern pharmaceutical medicines are derived from plant sources. Scientists and researchers are constantly searching for novel compounds in plants that have the potential to cure, treat, and prevent diseases, illnesses, and various disorders. According to Michael Huffman, from the Primate Research Institute at Kyoto University, it is likely that the origins of herbal medicines have their roots deep within the animal kingdom, and “our earliest hominid ancestors may have exhibited similarities in plant selection criteria with both extant apes and modern humans” (Huffman 2001). Zoopharmacognosy, or the study of self-medicative behavior in animals, can provide insights into our own species evolutionary past. In recent years, Primatologists have recorded a substantial amount of evidence supporting self-medicating behavior among non-human primates, including the ingestion of plants and pith seeds known for their medicinal properties, leaf swallowing, fur rubbing, and geophagy.
Primates engage in self-medicating behavior through the ingestion of plants known for their medicinal qualities. Many plants are high in secondary compounds, which hold little nutritional value and are generally toxic to some extent. African great apes have been observed ingesting plants high in secondary compounds, and more frequently during the rainy season. The rainy season is a period of time associated with a higher risk of parasitic/bacterial/fungal infections- due to the increased amount of moisture and humidity in the air, which is an ideal breeding ground for bacteria and parasites.(Huffman 1997). The plant Vernonia Amygdalina (common name: bitter leaf) is known by African indigenous groups as a treatment for malarial fever, dysentery, and other intestinal parasites (Ijeh 2011). The plant is high in alkaloids in its pith, flower, bark, and leaf. When infected individuals from two groups of chimpanzees and a group of local human inhabitants were observed after ingesting the pith, there was a noted recovery time of 20-24 hours in both chimpanzees and humans. (Huffman 1997). After primatologists witnessed this, a chemical analysis of V. Amygdalina was conducted. They found the presence of four different types of secondary compounds. After further testing, two of the secondary compounds (vernonioside B and vernodaline) were found to inhibit the movement of adult parasites and the egg-laying capacity of female parasites. (Huffman 1997). These findings were consistent with the decline in nodular worm EPG level 20 hours after an adult female chimpanzee at Mahale ingested V. Amygdalina pith. (Huffman 1997). The secondary compound vernodaline was found to be lethal at higher doses. Vernodaline is abundant in the leaves and the bark of V. Amygdaline, but found in smaller amounts in the pith, which can explain why chimpanzees, when consuming this particular plant, tend to avoid the leaves and bark in favor of the pith (which has higher levels of the other secondary compound, Vernonioside B). (Huffman 1997).
Leaf-swallowing has also been observed in a number of primate species. Leaf swallowing behavior involving thirty plant species has been documented in groups of chimpanzees, bonobos, and eastern lowland gorillas across Africa (Huffman 1997). There is evidence that supports the hypothesis that these leaves are ingested for medicinal benefit rather than nutritional. For instance, studies conducted by primatologists revealed that plants from which the leaves are derived for swallowing were utilized infrequently and were not a regular dietary inclusion. The leaves were purposefully folded, then swallowed whole, without chewing (leaves are found intact and undigested in feces samples).The leaves were also utilized during periods of increased risk of parasite infection (rainy season), by primates with observable illness (and showed parasite infection in feces). Primates that seemed healthy (and confirmed as infection- free in feces samples) showed little interest in the plants. There was also a positive change in the health of the primates after ingestion. (Fowler 2007). In one study of chimpanzee leaf-swallowing, in Gashaka Gumti National Park in Eastern Nigeria, Primatologists identified parasitic worms attached to the surfaces of leaves found in the chimpanzees feces. The plant from which the leaves came is known as “takamahi” by the local indigenous groups, which means “the one that sticks to you”. (Fowler 2007). It was originally thought that the positive benefits from leaf swallowing stemmed from the pharmacological makeup of the plant. However, after discovering that there are many different species of leaves swallowed, which are composed of varying chemical makeups, it seemed unlikely that all benefit is derived from the pharmacological properties. However, the different leaves ingested share similar physical characteristics: they are spiky and rough. This feature could be a factor in expelling parasites; the worms becoming attached to the rough surface of the leaf, and the bulky, undigested leaf matter serving as a “plug”, cleansing and dislodging parasites, as the leaves make their way through the digestive tract (Fowler 2007). However, the most commonly view held today is that the benefits of leaf swallowing are due to the fact that by taking in plant matter that does not digest well, a purgative response (diarrhea) is induced in the system, and the transit time of the material in the intestines is quickened, which in addition to causing the expulsion of parasites, can interrupt their life-cycle (Fowler 2007).
Fur rubbing also provides evidence of self-medication in primates. Fur rubbing is commonly seen in primates, especially wild and captive capuchin monkeys (Huffman 1997). This is where plants are rubbed onto fur (in some cases, chewed first and mixed with saliva). Capuchins studied in Costa Rica were seen using five different plants for fur rubbing, engaging in both solitary and group rubbing (Huffman 1997). It is possible that the benefits of fur rubbing are the repelling of insects and ectoparasites, and skin treatment for bacterial infections (Huffman 1997). All plants used in fur rubbing have a pungent quality to them, and the plants contain various secondary compounds which have known benefits of: insecticidal, antiseptic, fungistatic, anti-inflammatory, and anesthetic properties.(Huffman 1997). Captive-born capuchins, when presented with onions and oranges, began fur rubbing, utilizing the resources each time. (Meunier 2007). There may be some non-medical benefits to fur rubbing, such as conditioning of the fur, group scenting, and the facilitation of social grooming (Huffman 1997). Capuchins have also been observed to frequently rub their fur with millipedes (this behavior is called “anointing”). Chemical analyses was completed on the millipedes, and it was found that they contained two different compounds called “benzoquinones”, which are potent insect repellants. (Valderrama 2000). Primatologists found that during a capuchin study, out of 87 bouts of self-anointing with millipedes, 40 of them were done in group settings. If one capuchin found a millipede and began self-anointing, others would approach, and attempt to take the millepede from its hand. If that didn’t work, they would then rub their tails over the fur of the self-anointing capuchin, and bring the tail back to their own body and rub it on their fur (Valderrama 2000). This has led Primatologists to believe that the sole purpose of this behavior is to acquire the insect repellant secretions of the millipedes. (Valderrama 2000).
Geophagy is another evidence of self-medicating behavior among non-human primates. Geophagy is the ingestion of soil-like substances, such as clay or chalk. Although providing no carbohydrates, proteins, or fats, these substances are very rich in minerals. In non-human primates, geophagy is beneficial for absorbing toxins that are acquired through a diet which is high in incidental secondary compounds (Huffman 1997). Clay soils ingested by primates were found to contain components which are similar to Kaopectate (medicine used to treat gastrointestinal distress). (Huffman 1997). Some primates, such as Red Colobus Monkeys, have been seen eating charcoal from leftover fires, which serves to counteract the heavy toxin-load that is present in their diet of leaves. An important question to consider is: what are the origins of self-medicating behavior? How do primates learn which plants and natural resources are effective in treating illness? Is it an innate, instinctual behavior, or learned socially? And if learned socially, how was the behavior initially started? The results of an experimental study of leaf swallowing in captive chimpanzees, conducted in 1997 at Kyoto University ’s Primate Research Institute, addressed this issue. A group of healthy chimpanzees were introduced to a leaf similar to the ones found and ingested in the wild in 38 different trial sessions. There was one interesting case of a male and female chimpanzee who were both born into captivity (eight chimpanzees in the group were wild- caught and brought into captivity by the age of one). When introduced to the leaves, they both folded and swallowed them whole, without hesitation. They had never previously observed any other chimpanzees exhibiting this behavior. There were six chimpanzees who rejected the leaves during their first trial session, but after two of them closely observed the leaf swallowing of one female, they followed suit, exhibiting the same behavior. (Hirata 2004). Two in the group chewed and swallowed the leaves, instead of folding and swallowing them whole. Four of the six who rejected the leaves continued to avoid the plant. The study concluded that “individuals born to wild chimpanzee mothers were no more likely to perform the behavior than captive-reared group mates” (Hirata 2004:113), and that “the acquisition of leaf swallowing behavior is based in part on a propensity to fold and swallow rough leaves, but that the acquisition and spread of leaf swallowing within a group is likely to be socially influenced.” (Hirata 2004:114). They also conclude that the results of the study supports that leaf swallowing is not an innate response to a parasite infection, since none of the chimpanzees that ingested the leaves had any kind of parasite infection. (Hirata 2004:117) Rather, they theorize that the rough texture of the leaves is what causes primates to swallow them whole, and that leaf swallowing “may have originated in the feeding context of a novel plant item”, and “the self-medicative function of leaf swallowing behavior must be a secondary adaptation of a feeding response brought about by leaf texture.”(Hirata 2004:117). However, this theory doesn’t explain why in the wild, primates only utilize these plants occasionally, and more frequently during the rainy seasons (high risk period of infection), which supports that these plants are purposefully ingested for their medicinal qualities.
It is still crucial to consider the way in which other forms of self-medication, such as bitter pith chewing, may have originated.. In bitter pith chewing, it is not just the species of plants that matters, but which specific part of the plant is ingested. The pith supplies the most medicinal benefit, while the other parts of the plant are sometimes too toxic too consume comfortably. Primates have learned to only consume the pith, the most beneficial part, and discard the rest of the plant. How do they know this? Michael Huffman hypothesizes that the specific selection of plants may be based on chemosensory criteria, and the similarity of the plants consumed between neighboring groups of primates may represent cultural traditions- information of behavior being exchanged between groups via female group transfer (Huffman 1997) He also asserts that “given the high degree of conservatism in chimpanzee feeding habits, random sampling of novel food items, especially when ill, does not seem likely to occur very frequently. If so, traditions must have started rarely, perhaps as a result of ill, hungry chimpanzees trying new foods during periods of extreme scarcity, recovering their health, and associating their improved health with the new item.” (Huffman 1997:192).
By observing and researching specific, non-nutritive plants that non-human primates (and other animals) consume and use topically, it is possible to discover novel medical benefits, and apply them towards modern medicine. The similarity between medically beneficial plants chosen by great apes to use, and the same use of these plants by humans to treat illnesses, is exciting evidence for the evolution of medicine. (Huffman 2001). Huffman said “humans have looked to wild and domestic animals for sources of herbal remedies since prehistoric times. Both folklore and living examples provide accounts of how medicinal plants were obtained by observing the behavior of animals” (Huffman 2001:651). By researching and discovering the self-medicating behavior and criteria among non-human primates (bitter pith chewing, leaf swallowing, fur rubbing, and geophagy), we can learn not only about our own evolutionary past, but discover exciting new possibilities applicable in the field of medicine, today.

Fowler, Andrew. 2007.“Leaf Swallowing in Nigerian Chimpanzees: Evidence for Assumed Self-Medication”. Primates (2007) 48:73-76
Hirata, Satoshi. Huffman, Michael. 2004. “An Experimental Study of Leaf Swallowing in Captive Chimpanzees: Insights into the Origin of a Self-Medicative Behavior and the Role of Social Learning”. Primates. 2004. 45:113-118
Huffman, Michael. 1997.. “Current Evidence for Self-Medication in Primates: A Multidisciplinary Perspective.” Yearbook of Physical Anthropology 40:171-200. 1997.
Huffman, Michael. 2001. “Self-Medicative Behavior in the African Great Apes: An Evolutionary Perspective into the Origins of Human Traditional Medicine.” Bioscience. Volume 51 No.8. pp. 651-661.
Ijeh, Ifeoma. Ejike, Chukwunonso. “Current Perspectives on the medicinal potentials of Vernonia Amygdalina Del.” Journal of Medicinal Plants Research Volume 5. pp 1051-1061. 4 April, 2011.
Meunier, H. “Resource Influence on the Form of Fur Rubbing Behaviour in White-Faced Capuchins”. Ethologie des Primates, 7178 CNRS-ULP, 23 Rue Becquerel, 67087 Strasburg cedex 2, France.

Valderrama, Zilda. “Seasonal Anointment with Millipedes in a Wild Primate: A Chemical Defense Against Insects?” Journal of Chemical Ecology. Volume 26. Number 12. 2000.
Vitazkova, Sylvia. Huffman, Michael. “Primates, Plants, and Parasites: The Evolution of Animal Self-Medication and Ethnomedicine.” Ethnopharmacology Volume II.


Male Homosexuality: An Adaptation


MALE HOMOSEXUALITY: AN ADAPTATION                       Megan Funck

Homosexuality is currently a hot topic, due to the recent calls for marriage equality, although it most certainly is not a new or unique phenomenon. Most (if not all) cultures around the world have traditions and evidence of engaging in forms of homosexuality. Despite its prominence in human (and non-human primate) cultures , homosexuality does not overtly and directly contribute to reproductive success, and thus is a puzzle in conjunction with current evolutionary theory. However, it is reasonable to hypothesize that because homosexuality is such a widespread trait, that it served, and does serve, some adaptive purpose(s). The following paper will explore possible models of homosexuality as an adaptive strategy, while discussing the effects it contributes in cultural and individual realms. The evolutionary hypotheses of homosexuality which will be discussed are alliance formation and bisexuality, homosexuality as a side-effect of advantageous feminine traits, parental manipulation, and kin selection. .

This paper will not delve into any of the specific mechanisms for how homosexuality comes to be expressed in the individual. It should be mentioned, however, that current evidence suggests that homosexuality is correlated with many different traits: some genetic, some developmental, and some experiential (Kirkaptrick 2000:390). Birth order, genetics, intrauterine environment, culture, and other factors can come into play in determining one’s sexual orientation. While these are important, they are separate from the evolutionary issue of the existence of homosexuality. Researcher Edward Miller asserts that even “if an “environmental” explanation [for homosexuality] comes to be accepted, there will still be the evolutionary question of how humans evolved so as to have a genotype in which environmental factors could cause certain individuals to have a phenotype so poorly adapted to continuing the genotype as homosexuals are”(Miller 2012: 3).When hypothesizing that homosexuality is an adaptation, it is being assumed that it is inherited in one way or another, but this does not necessarily mean that the only way it can be passed on is through genetics- culture too can be an effective way of passing on traits (Kirkpatrick 389).


Anthropologist R.C. Kirkpatrick argues that same-sex alliance formations are greatly beneficial to individual and cultural success, which is how homosexual behavior evolved.  Humans and non-human primates rarely have sex for procreation, and there are non-procreative benefits to sex. When  we have sex, feel-good hormones are released (oxytocin and prolactin) which facilitate bonding behaviors. Homosexual and heterosexual sex are both used as a form of exchange (Kirkpatrick 398).  Our primate cousins have been observed to engage in homosexual behavior for maintenance of social relationships, and it is rational to assume that since we share a common ancestor, same-sex alliances were an important  part of our pre-human evolutionary past, which would  result in a psychological disposition for same-sex affiliation (Kirkpatrick 397).  Kirkapatrick cites examples of societies in which homosexual bonds were beneficial, such as in Native American tribes, where those individuals in homosexual pairings had more reliable food intake (Kirkpatrick 393).

Kirkapatrick argues there is significant data which indicates that most individuals who have engaged in homosexual behavior are actually bisexual in definition, especially those in traditional societies where homosexual behavior is encouraged along with heterosexual marriage (Kirkapatrick 394). Bisexuality would clearly have more direct reproductive benefits than homosexuality, and can therefore be seen as more adaptive than strict homosexuality. Bisexuality would allow one to form strong same-sex alliances, while also simultaneously allowing one to produce offspring. In some societies, such as 17th century Japan, classical Athens, some societies in Melanesia, and among the Hawaiian ali’i,  it was expected that men be attracted to other men (Kirkapatrick 397).

In the Gebusi tribe of New Guinea, young men often engaged in homosexual relationships before they had any type of sexual experience with a female. Once married,  many men still participated in same-sex relations, and it was not taboo or discouraged by their wives (only when the men had sex with another woman was it considered an affair). This system was very adaptive- especially in this particular tribe where others were frequently murdered  on suspicion of practicing witchcraft- the probability of being accused and murdered would likely be less for those who had a higher number of strong bonds and alliances (Knauft:2010:72).

The alliance formation hypothesis has some holes, as it does not directly deal with the issue of there existing men who identify themselves as solely homosexual and who never engage in heterosexual sex, but asserts that nearly all men who engage in homosexual behavior are bisexual. However, it could be that humans are not either one of three sexual orientations (homosexual, heterosexual, or bisexual), but that all humans are innately bisexual, with the potential to be attracted to either sex. Freud argued that “neither homosexuality nor heterosexuality is learned; it is bisexuality that is forgotten” ( Kirkapatrick 397). In relation to this, it could be considered that somewhere along our human evolutionary path, it is likely that some men who had a  homosexual orientation were in cultural circumstances where they were convinced (or coerced) to marry and produce offspring (and possibly engage in same-sex relationships in addition, or suppress their homosexual instincts).  In this scenario, the potential negative reproductive effects of their homosexuality were not realized, but the positive effects potentially were (such as forming same-sex alliances and/or the benefits of possessing adaptive feminine traits), therefore homosexuality became adaptive under those circumstances.  There are many modern examples of men who identify themselves as homosexual who have married and had children. For example, it was a common suggestion several decades ago in the Mormon religion for men who were “struggling” with homosexuality to try to “cure” it by marrying. Many of these men married and had children, and ended up suppressing their homosexual desires. It seems that non-attraction to females does not mean that a homosexual man can not still perform sex with a woman and pass on his genes . However, in cultures such as these, there are increased suicide rates and depression among homosexual male adolescents and men, due to extreme social pressures, stress, and possibly from the belief instilled in them that their homosexuality is a “sin”.  Today, it is possible that some individuals who are engaging in solely homosexual relationships may be doing so now because it is becoming more culturally acceptable- whereas if they were living in a different culture/time/place, they would conform to social pressures and end up marrying a woman despite their sexual orientation.


Some researchers hypothesize that feminizing traits are advantageous in heterosexuals who carry them (Zietsch: 2008: 425), and that homosexuality is  a less-common side-effect of the possession of these traits (Dewar:2003:228). In males, there a number of alleles which affect levels of femininity. If only some of these alleles are possessed, then reproductive success is enhanced. If many of the alleles are inherited, then even the feminizing trait of male attraction is produced (Zietsch 425).

Researcher Colin Dewar hypothesizes that with the arrival of agriculture 10,000 years ago, humans, especially men, were under new and different selective pressures. Prior to the advent of agriculture, humans typically lived in smaller hunter-gatherer groups, and  men would have had an advantage if they were more aggressive, daring, and competitive (typical masculine traits) (Dewar 228). Engaging in physical combat with other males may have been a frequent occurrence. In the new world of agricultural production, humans began living in larger populations and were in close social contact with one another. Whereas previously, success may have depended on more typically masculine traits, these traits were now maladaptive. In turn, more feminine traits (such as better language skills, patience, and the ability to carefully plan) were now adaptive.

Having these feminine traits in this environment would assist one in “getting ahead” and gaining a higher social status, rather than aggression or competitiveness. As civilization further developed, financial wealth and social status became the markers of success. Women are naturally drawn and attracted to (and in turn, mate with)  males who are successful. There is evidence that women are also directly attracted to men with feminine traits such as tenderness, kindness, and feminized faces (although this fluctuates with the menstrual cycle) (Zietsch 425). Therefore, if these beneficial feminizing traits were expressed in a heterosexual man, who then become successful due to these traits, and in turn produced a lot of offspring, these traits were adaptive.  Dewar asserts that even for men who carry these feminizing traits, it would not automatically mean they will be homosexual, but that many environmental factors (including intrauterine or after birth) come into play in ultimately determining sexual orientation (Dewar 230).There is some evidence which could support this hypothesis, including the fact that the brains of homosexual men function differently than those of heterosexual men- they function more similarly to those of heterosexual females in many specific ways. For instance, research showed that homosexual men and heterosexual females had more connections from the right amygdala, while homosexual females and heterosexual males had more connections from the left amygdala. (Gooren: 2006:597).  Homosexual men have also been shown to have superior language skills compared to heterosexual men- similar to the language skills possessed by heterosexual females (Dewar 229).


The parental manipulation is one evolutionary hypothesis for homosexual behavior which has little support, but some anecdotal evidence  The premise of parental manipulation is that parents can manipulate their selected offspring by encouraging them to take non-heterosexual roles in life, which would bring benefit to the parents by increased social status, which would enhance their success. An extreme example of this would be when parents castrate their sons to qualify them to be eunuchs in the Byzantine Court (Kirkpatrick 393). Another example is parents who would make their sons be sexual servants to influential leaders (in 15th century Florence). This again raises the question of how much culture can influence an individual’s sexual desires. It is apparent in the case of some homosexual men, culture influences sexual orientation very little. They are homosexual despite the ideals of their culture, which ostracizes, condemns, and judges those who are homosexual.


The kin selection hypothesis was first constructed by Trivers and Spith, who hypothesized that although homosexual men did not reproduce directly, they reproduce indirectly, by channeling resources and energy to relatives (Bobrow 362). Other researchers (Ruse and Weinrich) who supported this theory assert that males who are homosexual are those who had poor mating prospects from early in life, and that homosexual men were lower in weight and did not carry as much muscle mass and bone density as heterosexual men (Bobrow 362). Researchers Bobrow and Bailey conducted surveys that included men who identified as homosexual, and men who identified themselves as heterosexual. The survey asked questions such as “Have you contributed financially to a relative? How much?”, “How often do you talk on the phone with your mom?”, and many more similar questions. The results found that homosexual men were not more generous to their relatives than heterosexual men, and that they were more emotionally distant from their families (Bobrow 366).

Although there isn’t yet sufficient evidence in support of the kin selection hypothesis, it should not be completely dismissed as a possible model. It is important to consider that the tests conducted to gather data for this hypothesis were done in modern America, where there has been a strong bias against homosexuality, mostly due to religious persuasions (Adamczyk:2009:339). This is most certainly not representative of all human history and may be a completely different environment from the one in which this trait first became adaptive. If a person who is homosexual belongs to a family who ostracizes and is non-accepting of him or her due to their sexual orientation, it is not likely this individual will want to contribute extra energy (money or time) to benefit them.  In other cultures, past or present, where homosexuality is not seen as something “wrong” or “unnatural”, it seems much more likely that a person with homosexual orientation would contribute to their relatives.

In conclusion, there is not yet a definitive answer to the question of why homosexuality is a trait which is so widespread. It is possible that it is being approached from the wrong angle- as it is “a fallacy to assume that all components of a behavioral act are under equal selection pressure, and [to treat] behavioral acts as discrete adaptive units when in fact they usually have both adaptive and nonadaptive and neutral components (Dickemann:2000: 399). The current adaptive hypotheses require more research. The hypothesis that homosexuality is a side effect of other genetic components which were adaptive includes the most direct evidence and provides the strongest argument, due to the fact that homosexual men have similar traits as heterosexual females, such as similar brain function and language skills. Kirkpatrick’s alliance formation hypothesis can provide much insight on the adaptation of bisexuality, which is much more widespread than homosexuality. There is strong evidence that same-sex alliances were very important in our evolution as a species, and bisexuality behavior could be used as a viable vehicle to strengthen same-sex bonds while still allowing for direct reproductive success. However, the alliance theory does not address the existence of individuals who are solely homosexual (and who have differing brain function of heterosexual men to illustrate it). The parental manipulation model seems weak and needs more evidence. It is difficult to imagine that parental influence could affect sexual evolution so drastically. The kin selection hypothesis, which asserts that homosexuals would have channeled more resources to their relatives, may have been true in the past, but there is no evidence today that this is or was the case. All of these adaptive hypotheses of human homosexual behavior are valuable in providing potential models of the evolution of homosexuality, but can not be made into more solid theories until there is more concrete evidence.







          • REFERENCES

Adamczyk, Amy. 2009. Social Science Research Volume 38. “Shaping Attitudes about homosexuality: The role of religion and cultural context”. Pp338-351


Bobrow, David. Bailey, Michael. 2001. Evolution and Human Behavior volume 22. “Is male homosexuality maintained via kin selection?” pp 361-368


Dewar, Colin. 2003. Medical Hypotheses “An Association Between Male Homosexuality and Reproductive Success”. Pp225-232


Dickemann, Jeffrey. 2001. Current Anthropology volume 50. Review of “The Evolution of Human Homosexual Behavior”. pp385-410


Gooren, L.2006. Hormones and Behavior volume 50. “The Biology of Human Psychosexual Differentiation”. Pp589-601


Kirkpatrick, R.C. 2000. Current Anthropology volume 41. “The Evolution of Human Homosexual Behavior”. Pp385-410


Knauft, Bruce. The Gebusi: Lives Transformed in a Rainforest World. 2010. McGraw Hill Publishing.


Miller, Edward. 2000. Archives of Sexual Behavior.Volume 29. “Homosexuality, Birth Order, and Evolution: Toward an Equilibrium Reproductive Economics of Homosexulity”.

Zietsch, Brendan. 2008. Evolution and Human Behavior volume 29. “Genetic Factors Predisposing to Homosexuality May Increase Mating Success in Heterosexuals”.pp 424-433










TRAVEL LOG informal

2.09 Woke up in the crappy motel 6 room in Casa Grande with the awesome shower head (water pressure is insane so it felt like massage). Drove into Tucson: hello Tucson Crystal and Gem show! The very first crystal buying: we parked at 22nd st street tent show. As we made our way inside, I immediately recognized some of the same booths from last year. Huge fossils perched up everywhere, massive crytals. A huge fossil of a turtle. We found the Chinese vendors we bought from last year. The chinese guy is so cute! He recognized Mike and joked around saying “i been waiting all day for you!” (with thick accent). We got a box of fluorite, yellow calcite squares, rose quarts balls, tektite, smokey quartz, polished quartz, etc. Yay! Then we went to Two Hawks guys and got some crystal balls and a piece of blue chalcedony. We also ended up buying a bunch of labradorite hunks and stones, blue calcite, green calcite, brown calcite, ice calcite, orange calcite, pyrite spheres, fish tail selenite, a huge selenite chunk for ourselves, tumbled rose quartz, tigers eye, unakite. Decided to drive back to Casa Grande where the motels are cheaper.

Went to African Village. I was enamored by the beautiful African art and crafts. It being called African Village, naturally the vendors were from Africa. They are so beautiful!! Lots of African dudes checking me out….oooo!!!

2/10 went to the biosphere 2. it was pretty cool. i liked the jungle. i felt a little sick/dizzy/fast heart rate. We finally made it to tucson around 5. Stopped at a moroccon tent show and picked up some large sharks teeth, ammonite fossil pendants.

2/11 Woke up at Best Western Plus. Had some free breakfast then made our way to a show. Stopped at the first one we saw- I remembered going to it last year. Weird how all of the same vendors are in the same exact rooms/spots, and weird that I actually remembered that. Felt like Deja Vu. We got some meteorites, and a couple of flats of really pretty indian crystal specimens.

Then, we went back to our favorite, 22nd st show. It was super rainy and SUPER cold. I was kind of freezing my ass off. Ands hands. My fingers and toes were numb. We parked near the Mexican guys’ tent. We like these guys, we spent probably half our total money spent at their booth. Always willing to make deals. We bargained down and scored a 47 lb box of beautiful crystals, some loose kyanite, moldavite calcite, and black tourmaline for a very decent price.

We we already pretty stoked on our day, and then we went to a booth we bought at last year and got a bunch of singing bowls! I’m a huge fan. The owner even threw in a free pair of mittens for me! And served us coffee (with the option of added rum).

Next, we stopped at JOGS tent. I found some cool kyanite beads. Then we found a good deal on various stone/crystal beads so we got a big pile of strands. Pleased with that, because I wanted to add some beads to my collection to make some new necklaces. Yay!

We had made plans to spend the night at a couch surfer’s house. We connected on couchsurfers.org. As he answered his door and invited us into his house, I smiled big to myself and knew 1) he wasn’t a psychopath planning on murdering us, and 2) we would get along just fine. His wall was littered with scenic photos he took of Bryce Canyon and Moab Park. Inspirational and witty quotes were scribbled all over the walls in every room. It was a really pleasant experience. First time for him hosting, first time for us couch surfing. Good times.


2/12 Woke up at Adam’s house. I actually slept pretty well. We parted our ways and went to our last day of crystal shopping. We started at 22nd st where we had some selenite wands on hold at a moroccon vendors booth. I wasn’t really planning on buying anything else besides the wands, but I ended up getting about 50 little crystal/stone pendants, 4 pieces of himalayan salt shaped into an egg, a small treasure box (for displaying), a bunch of hunks of blue selenite (my favorite crystal of all time), and probably more than I’m forgetting. We then made our way over to a new show, Electric Park. It had different variety of vendors than other shows, a lot of native american booths. I got some angelite hearts and a pendant with a slice of ayahuasca vine on it. Then a couple of tapestries. After that, I was DONE DONE DONE shopping. Both of us were, and we high tailed it out of Tucson into Phoenix.


2/13/13 Woke up in Phoenix at a friend’s house from GaiaYoga I hadn’t seen for over two years. Around 11 left to drive north. We stopped at Montezuma Castle finally- I’ve driven by a few times, and one time even went to the visitor center but didn’t want to pay the $5 entry fee (haha). I’m so glad we stopped. Looking up to the rock dwellings, I felt transported back in time. I saw it’s inhabitants, going about their days and routines under the towering cliffs. Closing my eyes momentarily, I felt a strange shift inside, and I felt like I was a woman, in her late 40’s maybe, who had lived there. A spiritual woman, healer. My face actually felt like it shape shifted! Haha. I enjoyed this feeling and walked around the rest of the trail with the feeling. I left Montezuma’s Castle feeling very peaceful. We missed the exit to Sedona (again, just like last year!), where we had planned to stop and take a hike to one of the ‘power spots’. We wanted to bring some of the crystals we had just bought to “charge” them up with energy, ya know? 😉 We got to Flagstaff and realizing our error would cost us about an extra 45 minute driving time, decided to change the plan. We pulled into a circle K to gas up before continuing north. On a whim, I decided to buy two lottery scratcher tickets along with my decaf coffee. One of them was a $100 winner! We went and cashed in, then bought several more tickets, and won $100 more dollars. Hell yeah.

This brought us into a great mood. I had just been listening to a law of attraction hypnosis thingy right as we pulled into the gas station, I wanted to manifest some energy in money form. Guess it worked? We continued our drive, I was really jiving with the scenery, the desert, there is something very alluring about it. We passed lots of interesting looking rock formations and sand piles. As we passed one cool looking sand pile spot, Mike said “hey, that’s the place you took that colorful shit that one time!”. Indeed I had. It was memorable because it was three colors: bright red, dark green, and a brilliant purple. I don’t normally take so much attention to shit, but this was like a work of art, so I borrowed Mike’s phone to take a photo of it. He was less than pleased and refused to look at it. I deleted it. I wish now I had kept it 😉

The sunset glimmering off of the small amounts of snow left on the red cliffs was beautiful. Now, we are holed in a room in Lake Powell AZ. Glad we got it because I’ve been able to get some homework/studying accomplished. Well, when I’m not distracted from Mike watching shows about people addicted to inflatable pool toys, cat licking, and black market butt injections. 🙂


Dream Log

12/6/2013- I was driving up Alum Rock avenue, but when I got to the intersection at white road, there was some sort of riot happening. Police had set up barricades and I could not go forward. After a minute of waiting, they opened some up so I could turn right onto white. However, as i drove in, i realized I was driving into a trap. There were huge gates with barbed wire and armed guards- it was a large compound. I was prisoner. People were panicking. I got out of my car to try to find somewhere safer (people were freaking out). This young boy was alone and I took him with me to protect him. We found a hidden bathroom door and opened it but there were already two kids in it and a toilet overflowing with shit. I decided not to hide in there and went walking some more, saw a group of indian people slicing eggfruit. They were willing to share their food with me and others, and I was thinking about how cool it was that there culture was so naturally generous and altruistic.
5/28- I lived in a houseboat with my family, which had many brothers and sisters. I was about 16, I had a boyfriend who I knew was my soul mate. We were alone in the houseboat waiting for my family to come home. Next morning- soul mate spend the night but in different bed. In the morning after my father left the room he crawled into mine. All the beds were in one large room. Next there was a large gathering in the houseboat. A community meeting of some sort. It was night. Suddenly a massive wave appeared out of the calm ocean and flipped our boat sideways. It plunged, deeper and deeper into the black sea. I felt my body being hurled to and fro, water filled the inside of the boat quickly. I knew there was a door, to the right, which I needed to get to in order to escape. I opened it, and me, followed by many others, were sucked out of the door into the darkness. My perception changed and I was watching the scene from above, I saw myself floating up to the surface, and others. Creepy insect-like sea creatures were surrounded us, one landed directly on my face.
  Next dream: Walking around Mike’s old house. It was a lot bigger, and two stories.  He was showing some people around, it was a hostel. There was an interesting looking room. Mike announced proudly to the guests that this was where president Obama stayed. (wtf?). They took a picture in front of the door.
2/09 *warning: this dream is graphic and disturbing*
  I was inside a Mormon temple. I think I was pretending to be Mormon still and I just wanted to hang out with some of my friends in there. But, while I was inside, I discovered some terrifying things were taking place. The Mormon prophet was a large, aggressive, manipulative woman. She reminded me of the queen in alice and wonderland. She was directing murders and executions to take place inside the temple. I saw a bunch of dead bodies. Somehow, she figured out that I knew. She was planning to set me up, for it to look like I was the murderer. I escaped into the street, it was a busy downtown area. I met with a close friend (don’t know him in real life). Was excitedly try to explain to him the dire situation, but he kept interrupting me and not taking what I was saying seriously which was exasperating me. We came upon a peace rally which was taking place in an intersection, there were many people holding peace signs. Policeman were there and were trying to subdue the ralliers, and pulled out the guns and forced everyone to lie down in the street. I lie down with them, I looked up and saw the Prophet Woman standing next to a cop and pointing at me.
         Next, I was back in the temple with the Prophet Woman. She had taken control of me and forced me back. I was under her power and there was a feeling of helplessness- there was nothing I could do. She brought me into a side room, took off her pants. Her clitoris sprouted into a disgusting looking penis (sort of like a dog penis but bigger). She peeled the smelly foreskin back and commanded me to perform oral sex. I did. Suddenly, she got up, but her penis was still there in front of me, floating in the air. Her body (sans gross penis) left the room, and she instructed me to continue on with the oral sex. A second later the penis ejaculated- yes, all over my face and mouth- it was of a vile, putrid, and sickening taste and smell. I woke up suddenly at this point, left with a very disturbing and unsettling feeling.
Later that night:
    Big space ships were floating in the sky, gently descending. Playing electronica music. It was kinda neat. Then I was going to find somewhere to eat with my sister and her friends. We decided to go to a place called the “Rainbow Cafe”. A mexican restaurant? We parked across the street and decided to go to subway instead.
12/28. The big “Mayan apocalypse” was happening a week late. I was in a desert town with some others. Scorpions everywhere, I got stung on my toes, they were numb. Something was in the air, it was hard to breathe, heart started beating fast in my chest. A group of us decided to make a run for it, landed in water onto a raft. A black man was having a seizure, choking on something, I think I was  was him. I met some old friends, they invited me on a spacecraft. We were in a rush to escape the death of earth. Took off, not enough oxygen. I knew we would never return to earth. We eventually landed in a hill, grassy. A shaman had left a note. Instructing to pick four things to focus on the next five days. Saying at first these things will seem distant but after focusing on them for days, they will “grow big”. I chose two things, romantic live/sex, and compassion. Then I thought I might add “persimmon”. Woke up, heart was beating very fast, adrenaline from when the scorpions stunG me. Next dream, I was a boy. Trapped in a pioneer/ religious family. Lots of daughters. I was like a foster child. The father was cruel to me. I tried to run away. I snuck back to get food. Hid behind a door of the dads office when I heard people coming. A litter of puppies was born.
  Mike was wearing this strange sweater/shirt, that was decorated with tiny 1cmx1cm squares of glass. I noticed some of the pieces falling off and I warned Mike. He then flipped the shirt on inside out, to have the glass squares against his skin. There was also something else to this part of dream, something about being trapped in a small box square room. In another dream, I had a HUGE gorrilla as a friend. I put a metal contraption on his forearm, sort of like those type of crutches some people use. I used it to make it seem like he was tame in public, and that I was “in control” (even though I wasn’t). I brought him to a class. A girl started hitting on him, and they tried going off together, I was jealous. In another dream,  I was in a tall story building, with glass windows, helicopters were flying towards me and my companions, men sticking out the sides with aimed guns. My companions pulled out their guns and began firing, told me to run. I began descending flights of stairs, going down many floors.
12/25 I was in the library at my school, there was a new section with a bunch of different foods for sale. I picked out a huge macaroon cookie, using tongs to wedge it in the tiny paper bag provided. I perused around some more, looking at Jelly Bellies that were the size and shape of Easter Eggs. I then looked down and saw that my macaroon cookie was chocolate, ew, I went back and traded it for vanilla/white flour.
12/9 Blurry Memory of dreams. In one, I was taking a flight to a different island. The plane was strange though, and I was given my own “deluxe suite”, which I stayed the night in after the flight was over. I remember trying on different bikinis. The nex morning the pilot arrived early to fly to another island, and the plane was a water plane and had to take off in the ocean. So he steered the plane into the ocean, and water quickly seep ed into my suite, along with a huge great white shark. I was kind of nonchalant to the shark’s presence, until I realized “wait! this is a huge shark  and may try to eat me!” I began feeling fear,and then the shark began circling me. It was about to attack me, when the half of a walrus seeped in, the shark’s attention then focused on it. In another dream, I kept switching between 3 different characters: two guys and a beautiful woman. In one of the scenes, I was one of the guys, and was planning on proposing to the girl. I think we were all on a cruise ship. She was going to be berry picking or walking through some large garden. I had a little, strange bouquet made of weird flowers. I knew she would pause to look at it, and on the flower petals I had written ‘will you marry me’? Then I switched to the other guy and walked into a class the proposing guy was teaching. I wanted to ask how the proposal went, but he looked extremely depressed and sad, so I decided not to. I was also sick, full of mucus, kept blowing my nose. In another dream, I was walking down Noni Farm Rd, I looked down and noticed Mike’s cell phone on the dirt. I picked it up and saw that the camera was on, filming.  Looking further down the r
12/8 In a room at my parents house. There were 3 pet kittens, a couple hamsters, a bunch of baby hedgehogs, spiders, and some dogs. One of the dogs, a cute black puppy, was really frisky and kept trying to bother the kittens. I tried to force it outside, and then kept kicking it in the side to keep it out, because I was scared it would kill the kittens. (After I woke up, I felt bad that I was kicking it! Not sure how to interpret this). Looked at a reflection of my naked body in a mirror, I was in a room that was dark and lit by candles.
12/7 I dreamed that I asked someone why they had the certain belief system they did, even though evidence and “common sense” could almost prove it to be untrue. I then was told/shown a story of how this individual was given the task of cleaning out a very dirty bathroom. There were tons of bottles and gallons of different chemicals, but none of them were labeled. The individual said she didn’t need to read any labels or information, because she could “feel” which ones were the right ones to be used. She then took several bottles and started cleaning, but it was a deadly mix and her eyes got burned off. WOW. Then after, I dreamed that I was in a town that began rioting, people killing each other. Then a group of tourists showed up, but they thought it was just a movie being filmed and were taking pictures of blood and guts and horrible violence. Then I was traveling in a car which stopped at a tree full of baboons. I rolled down the window and was surprised to see some marmosets in the tree as well. What! Marmosets don’t live there!!! Next, I was eating psyilocybin mushrooms and coca leaves with Mike. The mushrooms were fresh and earthy tasting. At first I only at two small ones, but then I realized I wanted a full experience, because it had been a long time, and ate a lot. I felt the effects. I was at a community of some sort, and went through my food cupboard to find something to eat. I discovered a huge toad among the food. He looks really dehydrated so I put a bowl of water in the cupboard for him, then shut the door. Next, I was walking on this long, lone trail. Hiking down a glacier with crampons on. I passed my friend Clayton coming over a hill. We paused to say hello for only a minute, pleasant chit chat, then went our ways. Walking away, I felt I should have engaged with him more, I mean, we were both out in the middle of nowhere, on long journeys! I looked down and saw my Iphone on the snow, plugged into the trunk of a pine tree. Delighted to see a full charge.

12/6 God, I love lucid dreaming! I’ve had so many lately. Last night, in a dream as I was walking up a flight of stairs, in a public venue, trying to blend in with the crowd,  escaping a man who was determined to kill me, I began chanting the gayatri mantra, over and over, the vibrations of the mantra resonated through my energy body and I “woke up”, came to a circle of companions I knew from somewhere, greeted them and said ” man, I’m totally in a lucid dream right now!! I think it’s getting easier to sustain because of some planetary spiritual shift, do you feel it?” we all started chanting the gayatri then just toning, I felt my third eye light up, we then said over and over ” may all beings be well, may all beings be happy, may all beings be free from suffering.” I felt the power of these words and intentions shifting energy inside my heart, then a wave of sadness and pain gurgled up from somewhere deep inside, I wailed and toned loudly and it shot out of my body, released. man!!!!! Oh, then after I was at Disney world trying on a new pair of boots 😉
Lava: Three recent Lava dreams. All involving a sudden eruption, fast moving lava, death, and the need to escape quickly. Two of the times I jumped into the ocean and swam to a nearby island.
Earlier Memorable Dreams:
(High School Age). I was walking, alone, down a dusty road. I was in a desert somewhere. I began smelling a HORRIBLE smell. I kept walking, came into a battered town, or the remains of one. I look down, and on the sides of the streets, in the “sewers”, were people. Crammed full, piled on top of each other. They were so packed they couldn’t move. There was about a 2 ft space where their arms and some heads poured out. Some of the people were dead, their bodies decaying and oozing onto those still alive. They reached out their arms, trying to grab my ankles as I walked by. They were crying and wailing. I wanted to help, but I didn’t know how.
The Moon:
I was giving a lecture on religious history in America, when all of a sudden I looked up into the sky, and the moon, which was very close, full, and bright, was in a metal, man-made contraption, which was moving it around, manipulating it . I felt alarmed and panicked, as I knew that the moon, being trapped like this, would not stand for it, and that this would bring the end of the world. All of a sudden, there was a loud explosion somewhere on the ground, and I died. But my spirit still lived, and I began to journey to the sky, to release the moon..
Opa’s Death: I walked into his funeral. The rest of my family was already there. My Opa was there too. He looked a bit younger, and very happy. He had a big smile on his face. He was glowing! We greeted each other and I felt this tremendous exchange of love between us. I felt like he then really understood who I was and what I am about! And he was proud of it. We locked eyes and I realized that although we played these different
“roles” in life, to learn from each other, and we were really the one and the same, all souls are one.
Ramona: I’ve had several dreams with Ramona since her passing in the summer of 2011. They have all just consisted of sustained eye contact with her. The last time I dreamt this, she was sitting on this big chair, and looked very noble, enlightened, happy, and at peace.
Grandpa’s: I had this dream when I was 3 after my grandpa died. I still remember it vividly. We were in the back seat of a cab. The cab driver was taking me back home, driving up Alum Rock Avenue to my street. My Grandpa said “Don’t worry about me, I am happy where I am. We’ll see each other again. Tell your mom not to worry. I love you all.”

Salvia Divinorum Experiences

    After that first mind-boggling salvia experience, I was intent on trying it again. It was too strange to ignore. I got back to California and took my new boyfriend, Mark, up to Alum Rock Park, in the dead of night, to try it. He had a lot of experience with other plants- but never salvia. He thought it would be a piece of cake.

We set up a blanket in the middle of an open field which was overlooking the city below. Beautiful scene. I loaded the pipe- I was going to go first, and them him right after me. I took a big hit- and the heavy laughs took control over me. I still had my eyes open, and everything changed- all the physical-ness of the world around me seemed fake- an illusion. It wasn’t real. I then closed my eyes, fell back onto the blanket, and began traveling the stars. The same lady came. I again was in my parents backyard as a toddler. The language words kept repeating over and over in my mind recirculating. Lots of swirling colors. There was no me. There was no such thing as thought or thinking. No recollection of me being a person in a body on a planet called Earth.  I was just swirling energy. Separating and reconvening. This was real. And this was all there was.

I slammed back into my body. Opened my eyes, looked up to the brilliant stars and the hovering moon shining its light onto our bodies. A feeling of absolute wonder took over. Who was I? I mean, I intellectually “knew” I was living in a body in a girl called Megan- but this was not the fundamental truth of “who” I was, and I could feel that very strongly.

I looked over to Mark. He started saying “turn off the lights! Hurry, turn them off!” There were no lights on, and his eyes were closed. I laughed and cuddled him. He came back. Just as confounded as I was. He described it as entering a inverse bubble of reality that’s not normally there. Like pressing down on a plastic bag and waiting for it to return to it’s normal shape. He felt perturbed that he had no “control” over the experience. How you can control something, when there is no “you” present?

The next morning, he woke up and wanted to do it again.(Note- it is very rare for anyone to ever want to smoke salvia after the first time, because it can be such an unpleasant and jarring experience).  He wanted to “figure it out”, and “conquer” it. I watched him inhale, and I watched him go.

His body stiffened. Tightened up like a corpse. His breathing became focused and heavy. His brow furrowed. All of a sudden he opened his eyes, turned his head toward me, and said in a very unusual voice “They’re not going to take Mark away again, are they?”

Holy shit. That was just a little bit freaky.

I smoked it about five more times- each time presented with the lady, language, early childhood scenes. One time I even was able to bring a word from the language back- “gesticadibidabrae” . Really bizarre! But I began to get a feeling that smoking it was “wrong”. Returning from the trips, I would feel an ominous energy in the air. All desire to further explore the plant was gone, due to the increasing unpleasantness of the experiences, and I abandoned the idea of more experiments.


It’s been years since I’ve smoked salvia. My take on salvia now: It still confounds me, but so far what I have personally deciphered from it: I think smoking salvia is a very quick and precise teacher. It automatically shows you, usually in an unpleasant way, that you are not really “you”- that there really is no such thing as a separate individual distinct from the universe- you are everything, and everything is you. We are normally so embedded in the illusion of separateness that suddenly having this jarring merging of all reality taking place is extremely uncomfortable. I think it must also bring one to an “in between” realm of some sort. I can’t put my finger on it.  It unpleasantly brings to attention the sort of “hollowness” of physical reality- that the physical is not ultimate truth. Living in a hologram. Almost like a video game, in a place governed by certain rules and laws of existence. I think it also shuttles the consciousness to enter into a stage known as the “dark night of the soul” (for more information on this, refer to Daniel Ingram’s book “Mastering the Core Teaching’s of the Buddha”)

Although I do feel I have benefitted from my relationship with Salvia, I don’t recommend anyone smoke it.  I have a sense that the plant wants to be chewed, not smoked- especially not smoking a strong extract of it. I have spoken with many other people who have smoked salvia that get the same sense that she doesn’t want to be smoked- almost like the plant is mad at them for smoking it. Salvia is very straightforward. Intense. She feels a little bit like a trickster, too. Smoking it for the reason of “having a good time”, or using it as a party drug, it NOT a good idea, in any instance. This is a powerful plant that commands utmost respect when approaching her. If you try to seek a relationship with her with the wrong attitude, chances are you will be scared shitless during and after the experience. You can also get flashbacks from smoking it. These can be extremely unpleasant.

A couple of years ago,  I was participating in a faetio, which is the activity of picking medicinal plant leaves and making into a tea called ayahuasca. It is a tradition to drink some of the plant medicine before picking the leaves. The medicine can be very strong- it shows you that everything is vibration and energy, among many other things.

The medicine was soaked up by my body in a pleasant way. I felt wonderfully connected to the earth, my bare feet gripping down into the sun-warmed mud. I knelt down picking the chacruna leaves, humming, happy. Suddenly, out of no where, I felt the left side of my body being pulled into what felt exactly like a salvia trip. The salvia language began circulating through my mind. I felt like I was fighting to keep my consciousness from exiting out of the left side of my body. It was frightening and a heavy, ominous feeling weighed over me. I looked over to my friend Josh, was about to tell him what was happening, when he exclaimed,

“Hey, look! That’s a salvia divinorum plant right there!”, pointing down to my left, at a plant which was entangled in the leaves of the charuna tree which I was picking from.

All I could do was smile, and quickly move away from the plant. Lady Salvia taught me a lot, but I had no desire to enter into her world anymore.


Spiritual Curiosity Piqued Again

I felt freed- emancipated- like the whole world was open to me. There was nothing I couldn’t do! I took my newfound freedom and started experimenting with some of the activities that were considered “sins” as a Mormon- drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes and marijuana (What!? Why the hell is this illegal but alcohol legal? Doesn‘t make sense), and had some fun with alcohol.

Soon after I left the church, I went to Wyoming for the summer to work in a lodge. It was an amazing experience. I would stay up all night with my new friends, going for midnight skinny dip swims in the freezing lake, pulling pranks, laughing.

Everything was pretty quiet on the spiritual home front of my mind, until one day some friends approached me.

“Hey Megan,” (in his southern accent) “You wanna smoke some uh this salvia I got here?

“What the heck is that? I’ve never heard of that.”

“It’s a plant from Mexico- it’ll just make you real giggly for a couple uh minutes. It’s completely legal. ”

   Sounded intriguing, so I consented.

I was slightly alarmed that Zach seemed surprised and excited I had agreed to try it, and yelled out for everyone to hear “Hey guys! Megan’s bout to smoke some salvia in her room! Come watch!” After the group of people had congregated in my room, I sat on the floor across from Zach, as he loaded the pipe for me. He instructed me to take the biggest hit I could, and hold it as long as I could.

I wasn’t nervous.

I did as he instructed.

Next thing I knew, “I” was up in outer space, surrounded by stars and planets. I was greeted by a lady who had dark hair and was wearing a red dress, holding a basket full of strawberries. She spoke to me in a bizarre language, intently, as if she was trying to tell me something. Her eyes were sharp and piercing, locking into mine, reaching down to the depths of my soul. I was absolutely, completely, utterly astonished. Words can’t describe how astonished I was. I began understanding pieces of the language, it seemed very familiar, as if I had spoken it in another life. I saw flashes of scenes of my life from the eyes of when I was a toddler, sitting on the patio in my parents backyard, the tiles and bricks vivid and swirling.  Suddenly the lady said (in the language):

“Okay- it’s time to go back to your body- for now”,

and she proceeded to “zip” me back up into physical reality and my body. I opened my eyes. I was laying on my back, and I was laughing hysterically. Laughing had never felt so good, so full and complete.

I started researching salvia. I learned it’s called “salvia divinorum”, and has been used by the Mazatec Indians sacramentally for thousands of years. However, they traditionally chew the leaves into a quid, rather than smoking it. I also discovered that there was a personality attributed to the plant- dubbed “Lady Salvia”, and people frequently see a lady with dark hair during their salvia experiences. She is said to be the personage of the plant in form for humans to understand and relate with.

In my researching, I stumbled across Terence McKenna. Terence was a ethnobotanist (the study of plant usage within cultures). He died in the year 2000, but there was multitudes of audio recordings and you tube videos of him available to watch. I began listening to him, and was very excited. This was the first person I had ever heard who was able to articulate so well things I had recently felt. He was all about viewing reality objectively- and freeing oneself from the cultural assumptions we possess. He was a major proponent of using consciousness-altering plant medicines for this purpose. He introduced the idea that all our minds are running on different operating systems- the operating systems being the culture/religion that we each experience. He purported that using psychdelic, or entheogenic plants, would essentially “deprogram” your mind from the ideaological realities that were previously imposed upon it.

This had been no doubt the most BIZARRE experience of my life. It had lasted less than five minutes, but it had felt like I was gone an eternity. I wasn’t quite sure what to think of it-  I mean, come on! I continued mulling it over in my mind. It had seemed so real- that my actual consciousness had left my body and traveled to some distant corner of some alter universe.

I started looking at culture and society objectively,  like I was an alien who just landed on earth. I found it funny how much our culture shapes our personal views about reality and the life we experience. I realized that if I was going to continue on this path of “seeking truth”, I would have to wipe the slate of my mind clean, and let go of all preconceived notions. So I did- and I let the universe take me for a ride.