The Entheogen Re-Evolution

A cross section of the ayahuasca vine (Banisteriopsis caapi). Via: Nicole Powers.


by Stephen Shaw

on March 24, 2016

It seems the world turns really slowly. Humans tend to favor evolution not revolution. A few thousand years ago, many ancient cultures displayed advanced knowledge of mathematics, astronomy, calendars, architecture, and construction (for example, the Maya in Mesoamerica). Modern humans tend to ‘rediscover’ and ‘reinvent’ technologies.

When it comes to psycho-emotional healing and spiritual transcendence, the ancient cultures were far ahead of our current knowledge-base and techniques. We are like spiritual children, excitedly rediscovering mystical mescaline (e.g. San Pedro cactus in Peru and peyote in Mexico) and powerful DMT (e.g. ayahuasca in Brazil and Peru). Today it seems everyone is flocking to the South American jungle in search of shamanic healing.

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As discussed in my latest book, The Fractal Key, numerous and diverse entheogens are spread around the entire planet. They have been used across the globe for millennia in indigenous shamanic healing practices. There is nothing new under the sun. From the psychoactive blue lotus (Nymphaea caerulea) and mandrake herb (Mandragora officinarum) used by the Egyptians, to the white water lily (Nymphaea ampla), sacred mushrooms (Psilocybe mexicana and Psilocybe semperviva) and extensive psychedelic pharmacopoeia used by the Maya and their predecessors, to the ergot-based LSD-like potion called kykeon that was consumed at the Eleusinian Mysteries in Greece, to the secretive soma in India, to the iboga (Tabernanthe iboga) coming-of-age rituals initiated in Central Africa, to the psychoactive brew ayahuasca (a blend of the MAO-inhibiting vine Banisteriopsis caapi and the DMT-laden leafy plant Psychotria viridis or Diplopterys cabrerana) of the Amazonian Indians.

For those of you new to this world, psychedelic means ‘mind-manifesting’ and entheogen means ‘meeting the divine within.’ Entheogen is the preferred term as it denotes the sacredness of the journeys. These natural catalysts facilitate profound psycho-emotional healing and retune your awareness to the vast array of multi-dimensional consciousness.

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If you are considering an entheogen journey, you need to make some important decisions. It is not something to enter into lightly. Knowledge is imperative. Working with excellent shamans in Africa, Peru, and Mexico has allowed me to distill their profound knowledge and sacred techniques. The following are extracts from The Fractal Key:

Entheogen journeys have four crucial components: set, setting, sitter and catalyst.

Set refers to the mindset, attitude, intentions, and readiness of the psychonaut. You should only journey if you are in a positive state of mind. That does not mean you have no wounds, issues or traumas. It does not mean you have no sadness, pain or fear. It means that you approach the journey with clear, positive intentions and a sense of optimism. Your mindset, attitude, intentions, and readiness will influence the direction of the journey. You need to be welcoming of novel experiences. You need to be ready to face buried traumas and shadows. You need to be open to teachings that challenge your beliefs, stories, and ideologies. You need to remember your navigation tools: witness, breathe, surrender. Finally, you must be willing to ask for assistance if necessary.

Setting refers to the physical and psychological environment of the psychonaut. You should only embark on a journey when settled in a place that feels secure and sacred. You will be in an intensely vulnerable position so you must ensure your needs will be met. Are you at home or in a foreign environment? Are you with friends or strangers? Does the atmosphere feel supportive and loving? Are you comfortable journeying with fellow psychonauts or would you prefer a private journey which typically allows more freedom and devoted attention?

Sitter refers to the shaman or trip-sitter. This is the person responsible for your well-being, the person who watches over you during your journey. Questions you need to ask: Does the sitter have experience with psychedelic journeys and with the entheogen you are going to ingest? Has the sitter discussed your state of physical and psychological health? Do you completely trust the sitter? Are you able to surrender and be vulnerable with the sitter? Does the sitter operate with impeccability, altruism, and radical respect? Always journey with a shaman or sitter. Never journey alone.

Catalyst refers to the psychedelic or entheogen you are going to ingest. Is this the right catalyst for your particular needs and goals? Have your physical and psychological states been calibrated to establish the ideal dosage?

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Entheogen journeys are characterized by five stages. You may experience one, a few or all of these stages during a particular journey.

Physical: The first stage of a psychedelic journey involves physical and sensory changes. Being forewarned will help you relax and settle into the experience. Physical changes may include increased heart rate, blurred vision, twitches, mild tremors, sweating, feeling cold, blue hands and feet, nausea, upset tummy. Sensory changes may include heightened sensitivity to light and sound, perceptual distortions and entoptic phenomena (visual images occurring inside the eye). Fractal patterns often occur during this stage.

Psychodynamic: This is usually the second stage of a psychedelic journey, however, you sometimes jump ahead to other stages. In the psychodynamic stage, unconscious material surfaces into the conscious mind. This may include repressed emotions and memories; buried traumas; ingrained patterns, attitudes and beliefs; and hidden aspects of your personality. You may experience a range of frightening and beautiful visions. This is your opportunity to witness, accept, and embrace your shadows.

Perinatal: When most of your unconscious issues are resolved, you may regress and re-experience aspects of life in the womb or your birth. If your birth was traumatic you may experience a catharsis.

Past Lives: This advanced stage may reveal past life memories, traumas, karma, lessons, and life scripts. You may hear a voice or sense the presence of a guide. You are often invited to make reparations and changes.

Transcendent: This is the highest stage. You usually enter this stage after numerous psychedelic journeys; however, you may move through all stages or leap to this stage in a single psychedelic journey. Experiences may include loss of personal identity, meeting higher beings, accessing the multi-dimensions, assimilation of sacred teachings, dying to self, spiritual rebirth, immersing into the Source or Light. Depending on your readiness and resistance, you may shift between ecstasy and fear.

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The Far Side Of Your Journey

As a final thought, keep in mind that psychedelic and entheogen journeys require courage and vulnerability. Although they are not a panacea (‘cure-all’) they can profoundly shift your consciousness in positive and spectacular directions. They often facilitate wonderful life-changes.

Ensure your health and safety. Do your research. Excellent resources include the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies and Erowid. Useful conferences include Horizons (New York), Visionary Convergence (California), Exploring Psychedelics (Oregon), Breaking Convention (UK), and Entheogenesis Australis (Australia).


The Fractal Key is available at This handbook for psychonauts reveals the secrets of the shamans and discloses the techniques and practices used in psychedelic healing and transcendent journeys.