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Plant Spirit Shamanism

Traditional Techniques for Healing the Soul

Foreword by Pablo Amaringo
Published by Destiny Books
Distributed by Simon & Schuster



About The Book

An in-depth look at the role of plant spirits in shamanic rituals from around the world

• Shows how shamans heal using their knowledge of plant spirits as well as the plant’s “medical properties”

• Explores the core methods of plant shamanism--soul retrieval, spirit extraction, and sin eating--and includes techniques for connecting with plant spirits

• Includes extensive field interviews with master shamans of all traditions

In Plant Spirit Shamanism, Ross Heaven and Howard G. Charing explore the use of one of the major allies of shamans for healing, seeing, dreaming, and empowerment--plant spirits. After observing great similarities in the use of plants among shamans throughout the world, they discovered the reason behind these similarities: Rather than dealing with the “medical properties” of the plants or specific healing techniques, shamans commune with the spirits of the plants themselves.

From their years of in-depth shamanic work in the Amazon, Haiti, and Europe, including extensive field interviews with master shamans, Heaven and Charing present the core methods of plant shamanism used in healing rituals the world over: soul retrieval, spirit extraction, sin eating, and the Amazonian tradition of pusanga (love medicine). They explain the techniques shamans use to establish connections to plant spirits and provide practical exercises as well as a directory of traditional Amazonian and Caribbean healing plants and their common North American equivalents so readers can ex-plore the world of plant spirits and make allies of their own.


from Chapter 2


When the spirit accepts the dieter and the dieter has the will, the spirit will grant him energy. The path to knowledge opens and the healing can take place.

This chapter will open you further to the spirit of the plants through a process known as the shaman’s diet. This body of practices involves certain actions and restrictions on the behavior of the shaman-to-be so he (or she) can learn from his plant ally how to use it for healing, and how to strengthen himself physically, psychologically, and spiritually.

One of the great revelations (and comforts) that we can experience while working with plants in this way is that we are not separate from the natural world at all; we are all connected. Here, we have included a few exercises to enable you to work deeply with your plant allies and experience more of this connection for yourself.

A few obvious comments first:

1. Work with plants that grow locally.
The healing needs of the various cultures will differ from one another. Sometimes this is a matter of climate and other physical factors. Wherever we are, though, shamans tell us that the Creator knows and has met our healing needs and so local plants will always be stronger and more appropriate in our diets and cures.

2. There is power in every part of a plant.
Nothing need be discarded and we can learn from each flower, root, leaf, or fragment of bark. Even common plants (or so-called weeds) have spiritual and medicinal properties. Choose the plant that calls to you, irrespective of its status in the Western world.

3. The process of selecting a plant to diet is intuitive and emotional, not rational and cerebral.
Your choice might result from many factors--the color or scent of a plant can be meaningful to you, or perhaps there was a flower you loved as a child and would like to know more about now.

How to Diet

As our example, let’s take rosemary. Its distinctive scent is invigorating and stimulating, and maybe that sense of revitalization is a quality you want in your life. You feel that dieting this plant would help and you are drawn to it emotionally.

If you now “tune in” to or research this plant, you discover that rosemary has long been known as a blood and nervous system stimulant. Oil of rosemary is used in salves to treat rheumatism, nervous headaches, muscular aches, and sprains, and when added to baths it helps tone the skin. Your research shows that your emotional perceptions were right. So you decide to diet it.

Make Friends with the Plant
First, spend some time simply being with the plant. Look at it, noting its shape and colors, run your hands through its leaves, feel how smooth the body of each one is, but how sharp the tip, like a needle ready to inject its health-giving properties. Inhale its scent as you visualize its stimulating and purifying qualities entering your body. Be playful and invite the plant to become your friend and teacher.

Gather the Plant
Before you pick any part of a plant, tune in to it again and it will tell you the best time for gathering it. Night gathering tends to infuse a plant with gentler and more “feminine” moon energy, for example, whereas picking at midday will mean it is charged with powerful and “masculine” sun energy. By the same token, gathering early in the growing season will give you a subtle, “adolescent” energy which is not yet fully developed (but that may be exactly what you want), while picking toward the end of the season--in the plant’s “old age,” as it were--will mean a plant filled with wisdom but whose energy is now returning to the soil as it begins its winter hibernation. There will always be an optimal time to gather, according to your needs, and the plant itself will reveal this.

Once you have taken what you need, air-dry the leaves, which you can then store in a moisture-sealed glass jar. Once they are dry, the active ingredients in the leaves will also be released more easily into water or alcohol.

Prepare the Plant
There a number of ways to prepare a plant, as we have seen. The easiest is to make an infusion. This is simply a tea made by steeping the leaves in freshly boiled water for ten minutes. As a guideline, use about an ounce (around 30 grams) of dried plant to two cups of boiled water, which will provide three doses of plant infusion.

Another method is to make a macerado, or tincture. Here, you macerate the leaves and stems in alcohol.

Whichever you choose, remember that your intention is always the most important ingredient, so hold in mind your purpose for dieting the plant as you go through each stage of preparation. In this way, you reach out to the spirit of the plant and inform it of your needs.

Diet the Plant
Each morning before breakfast, take a half cup of the infusion or, if you have made a macerado, a half shot glass (about three teaspoons). Do the same in the evening.

After a week or so, you may start to find your life taking on some of the qualities of the plant itself. In the case of our example, as rosemary is stimulating, you might find that there is more going on around you, or that you have more “get up and go.”

As you maintain your practice, there will come a moment when you sense the plant actively reaching out to you. At that moment you will know that the plant is your ally--the door will be open for you to learn its ways, how it will help you, and how it can guide your deeper journey into the plant world.

About The Authors

Ross Heaven (1960-2018) was a psychologist and healer with extensive training in the shamanic, transpersonal, and psychospiritual traditions. The author of more than 10 books, including Plant Spirit Shamanism, Vodou Shaman, and Darkness Visible, he taught workshops on plant medicines and coordinated trips to Peru to work with indigenous shamans.

Howard G. Charing is a director of the Eagle Wing’s Centre for Contemporary Shamanism and has taught at Dr. Michael Harner’s Foundation for Shamanic Studies. He holds workshops internationally and in addition runs Plant Medicine Retreats in the Peruvian Amazon. He lives in England and Peru.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Destiny Books (August 3, 2006)
  • Length: 280 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781594771187

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Raves and Reviews

"Plant Spirit Shamanism takes readers into realms that defy rational logic and scientific theory, showing graphically that we humans are not the only intelligent life on this planet. From their extensive travels to indigenous cultures that understand life very differently from those in the ‘developed’ world, the authors reveal a wealth of plant knowledge that has been lost to Western civilization.This book is both a fascinating read and a considerable challenge to the orthodox mind.”

– Leo Rutherford, author of The Way of Shamanism and Your Shamanic Path

"This is an incredible book, a book with depth that speaks to the soul. . . . The knowledge in this book could very easily be put to good use in everyday life, which makes it a 'keeper; for any healer's library."

– Bonnie Cehovet, Angelfire, Sept 2006

Plant Spirit Shamanism explores not the usual medicinal qualities of plants, but shamanic communications with the spirits of the plants themselves. . . . Healers will find this essential to understanding plant processes.”

– Diane C. Donovon, California Bookwatch, Nov 2006

"A practical and useful guide for healing on a deeper level, using Mother Nature's power."

– Vicky Thompson, New Connexion, Nov-Dec 2006

"Healers will find this essential to understanding plant processes."

– California Bookwatch, Nov 2006

"The book is not simply a dry academic discussion of these topics, although that alone would be intrinsically interesting. Instead, it provides cross-cultural perspectives on all aspects of plant-spirit based healing. . . . Whether you want to learn to practice plant-spirit medicine--or simply want to gain a better understanding of it--this book will be a useful addition to your botanical library."

– Dennis J. McKenna, Ph.D., HerbalGram, Journal of American Botanical Council, No. 78, May/July 2008

"Ross Heaven and Howard Charing create a cross-cultural distillation of plant shamanism to reveal the essential core of the techniques and the basis of the healing process."

– Alec Franklor, Edge Life, No. 187

“[Ross Heaven and Howard Charing] explain the methods shamans use to establish connections to plant spirits and provide practical exercises as well as a directory of traditional Amazonian and Caribbean healing plants and their common North American equivalents, so readers can explore the world of plant spirits and make them allies of their own, through various dieting techniques. Books like these are pretty difficult to come across. This one outlines the practical instructions one can apply in a ritual context to that which you seek to attract into or repel from your life.”

– Odyssey Magazine, October 2013

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