Ross Heaven is the author of three books on the shamanic teacher plant San Pedro – Cactus of Mystery, (Park Street press 2013) The Hummingbird’s Journey to God (Moon Books 2009) and San Pedro: The Gateway to Wisdom (Moon Books 2016) I’ve not read Cactus of Mystery, but I have read the other two in the last week to see how they compare.
San Pedro is a Peruvian teacher plant, and when Ross started writing about it in 2009, very little was known about its traditions and impact. It’s a cactus that has mescaline in it and induces visions and healing experiences. In The Hummingbird’s Journey to God, Ross Heaven approaches the plant from a state of interest and inexperience. He reports on his own use of the cactus, and shares the words of shaman who have worked with it at length, and other explorers who have taken San Pedro. There is some history, some wider information about psychedelics, and on the whole it’s a very interesting read.
The Gateway to Wisdom comes seven years after the first book. There is significant overlap in terms of information – inevitably. However, in this title, Ross is able to speak with the confidence of longer experience and has more insight to share in terms of what San Pedro is, and what it does. There’s more practical information about use and ritual – both traditional and modern innovations. I think this is the more philosophical book, with some interesting things to say about the nature of reality and what it means to be human.
Neither title is a ‘how to’ book – Ross is very clear that anyone wanting to explore needs to do so in a safe and supportive environment. It’s not that a shaman is needed to mediate the experience, but that the support of someone who knows what they’re doing is invaluable. He considers San Pedro a safe enough plant to take – people have apparently managed to imbibe excessive amounts and come out unscathed (but chastened) by the experience. It’s not about risk, more that for the plant to work with you, you need a safe, quiet, supportive space for a good 24 hours.
The legal situation around San Pedro is complicated, and there’s a lot of information about this in The Gateway to Wisdom.
I’ve never taken anything like this, but I read books about teacher plants out of curiosity. I’m fascinated by human psychology, by healing approaches and altered states of consciousness. I’ve found these two books really helpful for thinking about my own journey, and what I need to change. San Pedro is clearly a plant that helps people make radical positive changes in their lives. It’s not just a brief rush of transcendent inspiration and then back to normal, all of the reporting from people who have taken it makes it clear there’s a serious life impact resulting from working with this plant.
Having read both books, I think it was worth my reading both. If you’re really into the subject, read both. The Gateway to Wisdom is the shorter book, so is better for people who just want to have a look at the plant, The Hummingbird’s Journey to God has a greater diversity of voices in it. If you are going to read more than one, read them in the order of writing so that you are taking the same journey as the author – there are developments of ideas between books and it will make more sense that way round.