For the swashbuckling Saturday shaman, who desires nothing more than to cultivate entheogenic empathy using some of the wisest & wiliest plant teachers known to man, the logical place to start is by spelunking the caves of one’s own subconscious. Dream divination, known as Oneiromancy by the ancient Greeks, allows us to peer into the depths, to know ourselves, to establish a symbolic vocabulary that helps us forage through the morass of daily life with the prophetic poise of a wise crone.
The functional prophetess should be able to navigate the dreamlands by one’s own compass, retrieving useful information for both oneself and others. The requisite accoutrements include traveling with fierce intentionality, a basic understanding of one’s subconscious mythos, and, of course, a well-maintained dream journal. Dream allies are your fiercest comrades in the Land of Nod, unlocking doors and mediating communion betwixt you and a motley crew of aetheric entities. The dream allies listed below are meant to be an ethnobotanical survey of my most prized oneirogens, and treated as such. If anyone wishes to approach the allies, it should be done in good health, only when deemed appropriate by a hearty sign-off from your healthcare provider. I am not keen on providing dosages over the Internet, as these plants are unique creatures with wildly variant properties, and a myriad spectrum of moxie from stem to stamen. I believe this should be the jurisdiction of your herbal purveyor, as they know the persnickety potency of each herb they grow and peddle. And also, my dears, DO check your state laws, as many of my most prized herbs for healing and gnosis are psychoactive at certain dosages, misunderstood by an ignorant hegemony, and therefore may be illegal for consumption in your state (don’t worry, you are still protected under the law to poison yourself slowly on Diet Coke and factory-farmed meat).
The Dream Herb: Calea Zacatechichi
My most favorite prophetic dreaming ally is the indigenous Latin American plant Calea Zacatechichi, also called the ‘Dream Herb’ by the Chontal people of Oaxaca. She’s used by the big ups of Mexican shamanism to produce psychotropic benders of prophecy and mirth, producing crystal visions worthy of a witched-out Stevie Nicks divinatory diatribe. Village shamans will bong rip Calea like there’s no tomorrow (which there very well may not be), though I prefer a genteel infusion of dried Calea in tea. Bitter to the point of near un-drinkability, a few stirs of honey will add an air of class to the whole ordeal, though it may still inevitably taste like someone has disgracefully vomited battery acid in your mouth. Do not let that deter you, dear seekers! In traditional Chinese medicine, bitterness is good for the heart spirit, and the quality detracts not from Calea’s lovely, generous spirit. Like a liminal Charlie Rose, you can ask her all matter of thorny questions, which she will graciously answer in bouts of epic visions and narrative. Though she’s often symbolic with an astounding archetypal imagination, many times her answers are so literal and linear, that you will be re-reading your dream journal months later with slack-jawed astonishment. She’s very forthcoming with her brujeria, and I’ve never had her turn me down. Therapeutic dosages will produce catnaps with bursts of intense visions. Dreaming recall is EPIC. I’ve found she’s well suited to a make-shift opium den constructed in your home parlor, with furs and pillows strewn willy nilly in front of a dream altar constructed with your dearest friends.
My basic method is to brew a strong pot of Calea tea and steep it for 15 minutes in my ritual chalice, while cradling it in my hand and meditating upon my query. Occasionally, I’ll bundle up my herbs in a homemade teabag, and tie it with a tiny tag upon which my divinatory question has been scrawled. Then, I stir in my honey, imagining the tendrils of tea lacing the brew with my mojo. Raising the chalice above and thanking Calea Zacatechichi for her wisdom and guidance, I imbibe my limbic elixir, and retire to my bedchamber with a journal nearby to record my visions. Seeing as she is traditionally used by shamanic healers to solve village health quandaries, I think she is an especially robust guide for clarity in healing work.
I will offer one caveat; there is, unfortunately, inferior Calea skag floatin’ around the ether. Which is why I ALWAYS order from the impossibly awesome Botanical Preservation Corps (if the emblematic bitterness is missing from your brew, you have an landed yourself an inferior herb). Should you be the journeyin’ kind, I have crafted a lucid dreaming elixir laced with Calea called Hypnotiana, and will be peddling my wares shortly at the Botanarchy test kitchen.
Mugwort: Artemisia Vulgaris
With fragrant silvery spires that glow incandescent white in the moonlight, Artemisia herself harkens to both the poetic dreamscapes of the moon and the subconscious hinterlands of the mind. A muse to both Old Gods and mere mortals alike, Mugwort is the sacred weed of Artemis (or Diana, if you’re a rapacious, re-appropriating Roman), a humble herb that grows freely (like the wild Botanarchist she is) amongst freeway meridians, sidewalk cracks, and areas of blight, disregard, and disarray. Foraging for her is the delight of urban hunters, left to get their jollies amongst paved-over pastures and sagacious sprawl.
Though herself humble & hoary, Mugwort has the pedigree of a bona fide goddess in disguise. In an appropriately foxy compendium of sex & death meeting myth & medicine, her patron goddess Artemis was said to have bestowed all of her herbal knowledge upon Chiron, a centaur (hot!), who then passed it on to the martyred necromancer Asclepius (even hotter!). Asclepius then compiled the sacred medicinal arcana into the Materia Medica’s of Ancient Greece, and taught ancient mortals the art of healing magic before being offed by Zeus for raising folks from the dead for money (even necromancer’s gotta eat!). Primordial seekers used to make holy pilgrimages to the Mugwort-laden Temples of Asclepius to practice dream divination, asking Asclepius for guidance to heal the sick and infirmed. Shall you not find yourself amongst the enshrined elite anytime soon, a clairvoyant cup of Mugwort tea drunk before bed produces visionary dreams, can enhance recall, and is often used by those who practice the art of lucid dreaming. Mugwort achieves this magical melee due to a chemical cocktail of constituents that prevent us from reaching a deep sleep, trapping us instead in the twilight hours of vivid dreamtime purgatory. That said, she may leave you a tad torn and frayed if used on the regular. With anything, do your legwork before starting any herbal regimen, making sure you are in suitable shape for such dalliances. And never take Mugwort internally if you are pregnant (or any of the dream allies, really), as it can cause miscarriages at certain dosages. I’m partial to a few heaping teaspoons steeped in hot water for a good 10 minutes, then strained and served with a spot of raw honeycomb. She’s also quite divine whence mixed with equal parts Rosehips and Lemon Balm, a tea that I’m privy to sip before any scrying magic, or a bro-down with my cards.
Xhosa Dream Root: Silene Capensis
Known by shamans of the river valleys as the ‘Herb of the White Path’, Silene Capensis is a South African dream herb famed for bearing gossamer visions heavy on white symbolism. Though I haven’t met the White Lady in my dreams as of late, I will give Silene mad props for increasing dream intensity AND recall, a sibylline cocktail of Orphic bliss. The most astounding facet of her brouhaha might just be that a frothy brew of her twisted tendrils is ingested upon RISING from slumbers, with absolutely NO impact on waking life- all of the illusory vagaries happen between the sheets! Those with a penchant for Cthulhu and the Deep Ones will inevitably love Silene, as her spirit form is a magical, alien sea snake that lives in the deepest waters of the river, straddling the boundaries betwixt this world and the next.
Learning to work with Silene bears infinite rewards for the psychonaut, offering diviners Delphic intimations of their personal arcanum, connecting the dots between personal myth and ancestral legacy. When approached with the proper intentionality (as entheogens always should be), she brings communion with the ancestors, and can deliver you messages from those departed. I did tremendous work with her over the course of a moon cycle, using
Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Way of the Tarot as a tactile counterpart to my work in the ethers, the two overlapping to form a deep symbology that I still draw upon often.
When I use Silene, I devote a week or so to her majesty, allowing the alkaloids to build up in my system over time. For those doing ancestral work, or looking to commune with a particular sea-faring entity, it is often helpful to set up an altar near your bedchamber dedicated to those with whom you desire to speak. I drink an infusion of the herb in hot water on an empty stomach upon rising, after stating my intention over my frothy chalice. When one feels the typical pangs of morning hunger, it is safe to eat. I am one to abstain from drinking coffee whilst taking counsel from Silene, and those with more sensitive constitutions may want to follow suit. After a day ensconced in the typical mire of humdrum consensual reality, I will state my query again before bed, with a befitting meditative interlude before my dream altar. Again, do be mindful of the dosage prescribed to you by your herbal purveyor; as is true of most alkaloid compounds, nausea and vomiting is not uncommon at higher doses.
Inquisitive parties simply MUST read ‘Root, Dream & Myth: The Use of the Oneirongenic Plant Silene Capensis,’ a tremendous exploration of her mystic myth, published in Eleusis: Journal of Psychoactive Plants & Compounds, Vol. 4. Snippets of the perfectly prolix incantation can be found here.
Frankincense: Boswellia Carteri
Dried tears of sap from resinous Frankincense trees are saturated with pineal-seducing sesquiterpenes ripe for the pillaging, and some folks preaching from the hinterlands of science believe it can stimulate the release of DMT from the pineal gland during near-death experiences, waking dreams, and psychotropic benders. Well, boy howdy! Is there any wonder why Frankincense is all biblical and stuff?! Located at the seat of the third eye, the pineal is a small endocrine gland resembling a tiny pinecone (hence its cheeky name), straddling the two hemispheres of the brain, suspended between our most primitive and most refined selves.
Nary the size of a grain of rice, and considered to be a superfluous, vestigial organ until the swinging 1960’s, the pineal gland’s main physiological function was unbeknownst to modern scientists until recent times. The gland that mediates our primal, circadian rhythms with a symphonic flourish, the pineal secretes melatonin, which effects sexual development, animal hibernation, metabolism, and seasonal breeding, secreting this hormone in sync with the seasons and cycles of light and dark (oh, the panache!). However, the cabalistic pineal- the mystical third eye, if you will- has been the darling of the esoteric haut monde since for evs, revered as the mysterious connecting link between the physical & spiritual worlds. Learning how to unlock its adamantine doors was the psychotropic prize of mystical traditions ranging from the embalmers of Ancient Egypt to the Vishnu apostles of Angkor Wat, as it was believed to grant the adept psychonaut second sight and transcendental consciousness. It is believed that there may be an opiate substance secreted from the pineal gland during Samadhi that has been variously called Nectar of the Gods, ambrosia, amrita, and the Living Water, and research into neurological changes in the brain during heightened states of consciousness may actually support this theory. In her book, The Biology of Kundalini, Jana Dixon writes that during peak transcendent experience, “many changes happen in the retinas and occipital lobes, including increased ATP production, acting as a neurotransmitter, histamine increasing blood flow in the brain, and an increase in nitric oxide metabolism. The end result being that one has an increase in visual acuity, inner visions, inner lights, seeing auras and vivid dreams.” Whether or not you believe in science or value direct experience (or if you’re like me and value them one and the same), there is a palpable link between pineal-stimulation and an activation of the dreamstate.
Take it from a sista, Frankincense is bar none for coercing gloriously halcyon sleep visions from deep within that lil’ brain pinecone. My method for dreaming deep is to diffuse Frankincense essential oil in the bedchamber before slumbers, and anoint myself with it liberally until I feel fit for the pharoses (this may prove too stimulating for some constitutions). Be forewarned- there is a reason that Frankincense was the gold standard in biblical times, bestowed upon kings and pharaohs, and lavished upon the illustrious as an unguent unparalleled. It is PRICEY, so be prepared to pay top dollar for a quality oil. Because I’m a neurot, the only purveyors I trust are Young Living, Lifetree Aromatix, and Floracoepia, the former because I can attest to the purity of their oils through hundreds of my patient’s testimonials, and the later because I can attest to the fastidiousness and character of their creators. Don’t worry, if you buy a bottle you can find countless uses for it in your healthcare regime. I have had success in using it for depression, narcolepsy, chest colds, pain, inflammation, wound healing, scarring, and skin infections. Not feeling quite that highfalutin? Procure a sprinkling of the resinous tears at an herbal shop (or lift some from your local Catholic church- it’s the incense they waft in those jaunty thuribles during mass), and burn it on a charcoal incense burner for a similar effect.
California Poppy: Eschscholzia Californica
Is anything more synonymous with the fantastical fairytale reverie of the dreamlands than Milk of the Poppy?! A bedfellow of the Opium Poppy without the déclassé trappings of, you know, having heroin, California Poppy can initiate deep dreaming by banishing the obsessive thought patterns that plague us during twilight hours, while snuggling us into a gently tranquilizing cuddle puddle.
A living emblem of the halcyon hallucinatory spirit of our chimerical Californian landscape, California Poppy is the state flower, and therefore, is illegal to wildcraft. My advice, as always, is to grown your own for tea and tincturing. She is a stubborn hausfrau, and like myself, loathes being picked or transplanted, preferring to proliferate footloose and fancy-free where she damn pleases. However, she has a joie de vivre so robust that she responds quite well to having her seeds scattered with wild abandon in a neglected, sun-drenched yard. A kindred spirit invited me to wildcraft Eschscholzia at her homestead near the desert, and I am now thoroughly obsessed with the resulting tincture. I urge all folks with a penchant for gardening to follow suit. Though easily procurable at your local apothecary, homemade California Poppy tincture is a picnic, as you simply tug her out of the dirt, clean her off, and use everything from root to petal. Taking a liberal dose of the tincture before bed will ferry one to the subterranean squall of dreamlands far beyond the cloying confines of physical and emotional pain.