Ethnomycology is the study of the historical use of mushrooms. (I must take an aside by for personal experience. My brother-in-law worked in the past for Pfizer, researching spider venom for use in medicinal pharmaceuticals. He left to open his own lab where he extracts enzymes from mushrooms from all over the world to sell to companies like Merc, Pfizer, and Cline, for development of new medicines). The “flesh of God” has been used for millennia. Mushrooms of all kinds may induce an altered state of consciousness, but experimenting is very dangerous, as some may cause death.
Peyote cults are groups which use peyote for spiritual practice, where the Indians say that unless one is morally upright, he can not partake of the peyote. Peyotism is the religion of the Native American Church, founded in 1918 and may have come about as a way to deal with the defeat of their culture. Peyotism is a religion of submission and withdrawal, and one of its primary values is contemplation.
The effects of drugs are known to be variable cross-culturally and even within a single culture. For one the effect might be paradise, for another hell. Addiction and overdose are real dangers inherent in the use of drugs and the use of ritual settings may help to prevent “madness”. Drugs have been used throughout the centuries, from the ancient Greeks, through medieval times and into modern day society. It is the purpose of their use that has changed.
There are varied perspectives on the phenomena of altered states of consciousness or ASC. From shamanic trance and sex, to “raves”, a gamut of ASCs exist. Brazilian Spiritist healers induce a trance during which they perform surgeries. These are not “psychic” surgeries as performed in the Philippines, but are actual intrusions into the bodies of patients using scalpels, tweezers, and other medical instruments. These are done without anesthesia, sterilization, or sophisticated equipment and the results are typically achieved without significant blood loss, infection, or complications. There are many different healers and some of their somewhat gruesome and remarkable surgeries are extremely efficacious. But it should be pointed out the healer is not the only one experiencing an ASC. More interesting is the ASC exhibited by the patient. This patient ASC could be what really explains the results obtained by these healers who use no antisepsis or anesthesia, don’t wash their hands between patients, and perform surgeries with minimal blood loss, no pain, no infection and few complications.
None of the patients are induced by drugs or ritual into an ASC, yet videotapes seem to indicate that their consciousness is certainly altered. The human organism is hypothesized to be a communication system wherein information crucial to its functioning is constantly flowing. This information may be accessed through an ASC to aid in healing and cure by the mind of the patient. The receptivity of the patient to enter into an ASC may make this all possible. This approach could depend upon a highly specialized belief system, frame of reference, and world view. This means that the Brazilian culture and the susceptibility of the Brazilian people to “suggestion” may be how the patient achieves the ASC. With an affinity to fantasy, these patients are also believers in the powers of supernatural entities that they believe are real and are there to help them. They learn through their culture to enter an ASC easily, they trust their patron, and therefore no formal induction is needed to move the patient into an ASC. Unconscious cues given by the healer may result in the patient being able to access the bodily information and systems to achieve the astounding results of these surgeries. They may slow the flow of their blood, reduce blood pressure, access their immune systems, and speed up the healing of the wounds they suffer. And all is done in an unconsciously induced, culturally aided and founded altered state. Fascinating!