Entheogenic Plants

Here we have to address those herbs that our ancestors used to put themselves into altered states, both for religious and for shamanic work. This is a controversial subject, but there is really no way to avoid it in a northern-tradition herbal. These plants were among the most sacred of all, and to dishonor them is to dishonor the ancestors that used them.

Today, many of these plants are illegal, and all are looked at askance by mainstream society. The ancestors put a much lower value on immediate physical safety than we do, and considered it reasonable to take a certain amount of risk for many of the important things in their life. They also had a higher death rate, and they considered that to be merely part of the package. The values of our society are somewhat different now, and protecting people from their own stupidity is more important these days; thus, entheogens (the word means those substances that connect us with the Gods) are deemed too dangerous. And for most people, they probably are.

On the other hand, shamans the world over have used them to visit other worlds, and they are one of the legitimate branches of the Eightfold Path to altered states. They continue to do so today, regardless of what society or the law thinks, because shamans tend to be a cussed lot, and if it works - or if your gods and spirits tell you that this is part of your path- then you do it. It's also fashionable right now for anyone who writes about shamanic paths to immediately disclaimer that they never use entheogens, they don't approve of using entheogens, and that today's shamans don't need to use them, and oughtn't to. Perhaps they're all worried that the DEA will start raiding their houses...or perhaps their publishers are all afraid of getting sued.

Either way, I am not good enough at hypocrisy to do that. I could, of course, just skip the entire controversy, but I don't think that would fool anyone for a minute. The personal truth is that I don't do entheogens because Hela forbids me to. On the other hand, some magical workers may - certainly not always, but sometimes - get told to use such things. It can happen, and if those are the plant allies that call to you, and they specifically want you to ingest them, then it's between you and them and no one else has a say. I have a great deal of respect for those who use this technique skillfully and respectfully.

Of course, most people have no idea how to properly respect the plant spirits. Part of working with them is being taught, by someone who is spiritually skilled with such things, how to utilize them properly. To approach them with an attitude of experimentation is to disrespect their power, and you deserve to end up in the emergency room or worse. If you can't find someone who is skilled, reputable, and stable to train you in how to deal with them, don't do it.

It's also disrespectful to approach them with an attitude of recreation. If you use a mind-altering plant for sacred purposes, you should never be using it for recreational purposes, because it is an offense to the plant spirit. That means that if you use a tobacco pipe for spirit work, you can't recreationally smoke cigarettes, and you certainly can't be addicted or habituated. (That goes as well for hemp and its byforms.) If you are going to use them for sacred purposes, you are forming a relationship with them that will last the rest of your life, whether or not you ever partake of them a second time. You will be in working partnership with their spirits, not merely exploiting their alkaloids for a good time, and they will hold you to that. Once you make that decision, You Know Better. You don't get to be blithely blinded to their real purpose on this earth, which is not to let people have cool trips and talk to light fixtures for fun.

There's also the slippery-slope effect; sometimes, once you enter into a deal with one of these sly and powerful plant allies, you may find yourself unable to be recreational about any others that you might be taking. This may require you to quit addictions, or at least not take some or all mind-altering substances socially. It's all part of that "you know better" thing. If this sounds like it might cramp your style, and it makes you nervous, then stay out of the ring and stick to drumming or dancing or fasting or whatever works for you. (The other side of this warning is that if you are a spirit worker who uses these plants for work, attempts to use them recreationally will often result in work showing up, regardless of your intention, your surroundings, or any innocent bystanders who were just looking for a party.)

For information on the entheogenic use of plants from a skilled practitioner of this technique, see Entheogenic Plant Spirits and the Spirit Worker by Jessica Maestas.

That said, here are the entheogens which we have evidence of the northern ancestors using for religious purposes.

Opium Poppy

[Poppy](Papaver somniferum)

Names: Blind Buff, Blindeyes, Dream Poppy
Medicinal Uses: The latex of the unripe seed pod is the source of opium, which is an excellent but highly addictive painkiller.
Household Uses: Poppy seeds (which have no entheogenic value) are good in all sorts of baking.
Traditional Magical Uses: Poppy seeds are carried for wealth, used in invisibility charms, and of used as a charm to bring sleep.
Shamanic Magical Uses: The Germanic peoples planted fields of poppies that were known as Odainsackr ("field of the living") in Old Norse and Magenfeldern ("stomach fields") in Old Germanic. Just by laying in these fields one could be healed by the earth and by Woden's powers, as poppies were one of his plants. There is some evidence that entheogens were added to mead for ritual purposes, and poppy is a likely one for this. Poppies are the Dreaming Plants, and they can take you places in your dreams, but don't go without Woden's help and guidance, and don't go often or they will seize you and hold you for ransom, and you will have to worm your way out of their clutches.


(Atropa belladonna)

Names: Tolkirsch, Wutbeere, Banewort, Black Cherry, Deadly Nightshade, Death's Herb, Devil's Cherries, Dwale, Dwaleberry, Fair Lady, Sorcerer's Berry
Medicinal Uses: Leaves and root are narcotic and sedative, and have been used as an anesthetic.
Traditional Magical Uses: Astral projection.
Shamanic Magical Uses: This is the plant of the Valkyries, who answer to Freya and Odhinn. Belladonna is said to open the gateway to Valhalla, so that one may be let in whilst still alive (and presumably stay that way). However, I would strongly suggest getting Odhinn's permission to go before attempting it.


(Cannabis sativa)

Names: Pot, Weed, Marijuana, Chanvre, Gallowgrass, Ganeb, Bhang, Ganja, Hanf, Kif, Neckweede, Tekrouri
Medicinal Uses: Eases asthma, glaucoma, nausea, migraine, and general pain. It stimulates the appetite and relieves muscle spasms.
Household Uses: The plant fiber is made into rope, twine, and durable cloth. Hemp plants make excellent paper, and are more renewable for that purpose than trees. The modern plants bred for their smoke are not as good for fiber; separate fiber types exist.
Traditional Magical Uses: Seeds were often sown as part of love spells.
Shamanic Magical Uses: Hemp was smoked by shamans across Europe and Asia; one can still find antique-to-ancient ritual hemp smokers in Siberia and Mongolia. It is associated with Freya, in her role as Mistress of Seidhr, although most modern seidhr-workers tend to avoid its ritual usage for a number of reasons. Since hemp and its bred byform, marijuana, is a testosterone reducer, and Freya is known to be fond of effeminate men, I can see the connection. Since it is currently illegal in the USA, you may take your freedom into your hands if you decide to use it as a mind-altering substance for shamanic work.


[Henbane](Hyoscyamus niger)

Names: Prophetenkraut, Zauberkraut, Nifelkraut, Pilsen, Belisa, Alsitzerherb, Cassilago, Cassilata, Devil's Eye, Hebenon, Henbells, Hogsbean, Isana, Jusquiame, Poison Tobacco, Symphonica
Medicinal Uses: A powerful narcotic, sedative, and antispasmodic, Henbane is poisonous enough that it should not be used except by trained herbalists.
Traditional Magical Uses: Flying ointment plant, said to enable prophecy from its altered state. Burned to attract rain.
Shamanic Magical Uses: Henbane was the plant originally brewed into the ale that we call pilsner, in order to make it psychoactive. Sacred to Thor, it had to be harvested by a naked virgin, tied to her body, and both she and the plant were put in a stream and sprinkled with water. Henbane beer was a libation for Thor, and with his blessing, an aphrodisiac and prophesying potion. Henbane was also used for euthanasia of elders who were tired of living and asked to go out with a lovely dream.

Fly Agaric Mushroom

(Amanita muscaria)

Names: Little Red Man, Rabenbrot, Death Angel, Deathcap, Redcap Mushroom
Traditional Magical Uses: Astral projection, and used to increase fertility.
Shamanic Magical Uses: The name Rabenbrot, or Raven's bread, refers to the tale that Huginn and Muninn, Odhinn's two ravens, ate from this sacred mushroom. It is Odhinn's special fungus, and has been used across Europe and Asia for journeying. The Little Red Man, as he is generally called in many northern traditions, is a harsh master; he has many rules and is quite demanding. Turn to him only with the greatest respect.