Tag Archives: shamanic

San Pedro – shamanic plant books

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.

Feral Druidry

Feral Druidry



Feral Druid

Stark naked chanting

Feathers dark in hair




Of bone

Blood, moon, ancestors

Dancing to wild rhythms




Rain soaked

Mud encrusts skin

Living in the moment




Unlikely to

Be invited again

To great uncle Ted’s


Friday Reads (because books are worth talking about)

Recently I read Jez Hughes The Heart Of Life. It’s a mix of spiritual memoir and shamanic philosophy. As such it will not teach you how to fix your life, but it does has a lot to offer in terms of how to think about fixing your life. I’ve read quite a few shamanic books, and I realise that I’ve not previously read anything much about the underlying philosophy of this array of healing practices. All too often in MBS titles, there can be a blame element to healing. It’s your karma, or you put it in your life plan before you were born, or because like attracts like it’s a consequence of your not being positive enough. It’s rare to read a genuinely uplifting and helpful book about spiritual healing. I know many of you following the blog have ongoing issues with physical and mental health. I can’t say this book is going to sort everything out for you, but it could give you some useful things to chew on. Certainly worth a thought. I really liked it. More about the book here – http://www.moon-books.net/books/heart-life


I first encountered Nausicaa, Valley of the wind, as an anime film from Studio Ghibli. Director Hayao Miyazaki has also written and drawn a 7 book graphic novel series. It’s a much bigger and more complex story than the film offers, everything is in more details, you get to find out more about where the creatures and technology came from, the politics are far more complex. It’s a really good read. There are two things I especially liked about it – the handling of purity and corruption as concepts, and the idea that no one is entirely beyond redemption.

I read all 7 in a couple of days because I really needed some escapism. They absolutely delivered. If you like speculative work and graphic novels as a medium, these are well worth your time.

More about the manga series here – http://www.nausicaa.net/wiki/Nausica%C3%A4_of_the_Valley_of_the_Wind_(manga)

The Upside Down Mountain

A guest blog by Mags MacKean

Mountains have always inspired me – for their lofty heights and exhilaration in scaling them. I’ve immersed in Andean shamanic practice that venerates the mountain as wisdom, home to the Gods. Their earthier grandeur used to compel me upwards into new vista and weather – exposed to Nature’s surprises, her hidden habitats and unruly expressions as wind, rain, sun, snow and everything in between. Weeks at a time in remote hilly places reset my sense of scale. Geological history pulped all clock time, which could run me ragged back home.

Off the mountain, as a journalist, I faced another kind of ascension – a career ladder. Newsworthy stories and their deadlines could also hold the thrill of sport. Still, my restless nature that drove me to climb, scramble and roam rarely let up at sea level. My sights would be set on the only thing that mattered: the next escape upwards, the promise of adventure. After years of seesawing between the worlds of up and down, I finally quit my job for a mountaineering life. Chasing the seasons from one hemisphere to the next, I practiced skills to set me up for the rigours of altitude. The unimaginable happened: I discovered a crippling fear of heights, and was as burnt out as I’d ever been. There were always more routes to tackle and summits to attain. There was no neat finishing line when the effort and struggle stopped. Mountain – as unconquerable force – had something to teach me – and took me to the brink of endurance ‘til I got the medicine…

It was bitterly cold and the ice glistened in glaring sun. The silence felt full and charged, a weight of sound – cracks of melt ricocheted across the glaciated terrain like a shotgun. My arms were aching and trembling, clenching two ice axes for dear life, the blades of my crampons the only other connection to dubious solidity. I was scared – so much so, I was frozen into inaction, my arse protruding over a two hundred foot fall to where my friend waited for me to join him. Gavin resembled a drop of blood in all the white. I could feel his impatience in every hollered encouragement, “Keep going Mags. Nearly half way!”

Mount Cook National Park was no ordinary alpine destination. Within a lick of the Southern Ocean, storms were a continual threat. Exposure was part of the package – laying out time-consuming protection had to be weighed against volatile weather which could erupt without much warning. This was serious climbing – rope too heavy to carry and too short to protect the descent of large ice walls. And to compound my distress, I remembered the helicopter that could have picked us up to take us back to civilization within minutes. Instead we opted for the adventure of a lifetime – relying on stamina and skill to climb and traverse our way out of the Park. There was no plan B.

Time slows in the hell of fear. I had wrestled with this demon time and again, knowing it as part of the thrilling deal. Only this time, alone and with no chance of rescue, fear rose unchecked, overwhelming all instincts to hack and kick my way down the ice. Inertia is dangerous. One move. Breath. Then another. Breath. One more. And again.

This slow staccato rhythm, never natural, willed me down eventually to Gavin. The relief was a reprieve. Nightfall close, we had to navigate the crevassed glacier to the refuge of the valley. We had also run out of water, hours from the snow-melt. Battling with exhaustion, the soft glow of lights taunted us from the closest settlement – still miles away. In the end, it took twenty-two hours to reach Gavin’s front door. That walkout was to prove my last ever ice climb. It was the turning point when my dream crashed: the pursuit of high-altitude trials and rewards for overcoming them. I was safe – but at what cost?

At last I began to see how I’d traded the office commute for the climb uphill: those values, my values, were the same: invested in outcome, driven by achievement – the satisfaction hard won and short-lived. Lasting change meant transformation – and that could never be external. Changed circumstances – a new peak, relationship or job – were spiritual fast food. I would remain the famished denominator in all the disappointments, triumphs and fatigue.

The initiation came later in France. Exploring Mount Bugarach, ‘the upside down mountain’, its wisdom radiated as a force-field. I felt its instruction, the way up is down. Bad weather forced me to retreat from Bugarach. But the message went deeper. If ascent represented ideal, dream, eventual arrival – then descent, I was to discover, meant shifting my focus to the present, to embrace my own body’s here-and-now sensuous intelligence. The first step was to address the restlessness that trailed me as a psychic twinge. That unrest was persistent and lurking, whatever the distraction. Exploring its cause was a gateway. And I could choose to really meet it, by descending into it, to discover what the ‘twinge’ itself would teach me, and what inner terrain it might reveal. I had to stop moving. Struggle and fear playing out on an external stage no longer had to be an exchange for the freedom I craved. Accepting my restlessness allowed it to be felt fully, until it transformed. What would such an earth-bound voyage mean for a fulfilling life – consciously swapping the summit for the opposite direction?

The Upside Down Mountain tells the story of my descent – to find out why no manner of thriving prospects inspired the happiness I yearned. Among the wild landscapes of the Pyrenees, the Amazon swamps, Tibet and Egypt, I chose to penetrate the depths of darkness so long avoided. The journey not destination was what then mattered. I no longer wanted to be cut off from the neck down – but to welcome my full-blooded sensuous humanity, however uncomfortable. Experience made life meaningful –not the ideas, thoughts or beliefs about it, including the story of ‘tomorrow’. A new map guides me now, in, down and through – to embody the change I seek. I don’t have to climb a mountain or travel anywhere to remember that. And when I forget – again – there is a map to reset my inner compass, feeling my way ever onwards: the way up is down.

And more about the book here.

Soul retrieval

I’ve had a few review books about shamanism in the last few years. One of the concepts this has introduced me to, is of soul retrieval. When a person is deeply distressed by an event, a part of their soul can, in this perspective, be broken away and lost to them, which in turn will add to ill health, depression and so forth. One of the jobs of the shaman is to go and retrieve those lost pieces of self.

However, every book I’ve thus far read has suggested that we can heal ourselves and make the spirit journeys to pick up bits we are missing. The odds are your lost soul fragment will be at the place the trauma occurred, so you just spirit journey to there, and call it back, and reassure it, and bring it home. Easy! Umm.
The first thing to say here is that in genuine trauma situations, revisiting the memories is the worst thing you can suggest a person does. In cases of mild upset, revisiting will help resolve what happened, but do we really think mild upset causes loss of soul? Revisiting memories of trauma can readily cause traumatised people enormous suffering for no gain at all. Forgetting is often the best sort of healing for PTSD and encouragement to go back there is encouragement to go into hell and risk brining that hell back into your life. I worry about this advice, and what people are being encouraged to do.

Battered, lost, with my sense of self in tatters and my life in pieces, I did try some of this, in desperation and because I was told it was doable and a good idea. I won’t make any claims at all for my skills in journeying and I am no kind of shaman. I was entirely unable to help myself in any way by this means, and the revisiting of sites of old wounding did me more harm than good. It may be that someone who knows how to do the work could do that for me, but I cannot do it for myself.

However, what the last few years have also taught me, is that there are other ways to bring back my lost sense of self and put myself back together. Places of safety, laughter, love and friendship do far more to heal those wounds and tackle the feeling of loss than classic ‘soul retrieval’ work ever did. In remembering who and how I used to be, and seeking out the places of good memory, I have managed to re-find a lot of missing pieces. People who have been important parts of my life historically, and people who’ve come into my life more recently in good ways give me moments when I can quite honestly feel myself healing, growing over the holes, putting back together. Some of those have been really unexpected.

Whether you rationalise this as psychological process or want to think in terms of magic and soul doesn’t entirely matter. There is a process, and for me it has been a very clear one. Going back to the places of wounding just opens those wounds a bit further, feeding my feelings of loss, distress and anguish. Going to the places that are good for me, that feed my soul and remind me of who I am, and connecting with the people who allow and enable me to be something that feels like an actual me, not a fake, or a product of damage – that works.

We are far too quick to ascribe to ourselves titles that should represent years of deep and dedicated study. We are far too quick to tell each other that, once you’ve read this one small book, you can do all the work of the traditional witch, shaman, wise-woman… it is a dangerous line of thought to adopt, especially in face of any serious issue or wounding. When we are down and vulnerable, being told how to magically fix that is so tempting, and it is so easy not to question the wisdom of it, but it can be a costly mistake to make. It is the person being told they can do the shaman’s work for themselves, with no proper support from anyone, who is most at risk. This troubles me.

I wish that more writers of New Age handbooks took the time to find out about the impact of trauma and poor mental health. I suspect really these books are written for and by people for whom getting a bit upset is the greatest trauma they have known. We all measure pain by our experiences of it, but if life is safe, easy and brings little more than angst, it is not difficult both to treat that as far more serious than it is, so go and play at soul-retrieval, feel better and tell other people to do the same. It is not, I think, what the practice of soul retrieval was originally intended for.