Learning at the Feet of the Plant Teachers: Part 5

Founder and Director of the Church of the Holy Light of the Queen in Ashland Oregon, Jonathan Goldman, explores the risks of unqualified Ayahuasca use and proposes a guild for safe, ethical plant medicine practices.

Overview: This is the fifth and final of a five-part series titled “Learning at the Feet of the Plant Teachers,” Jonathan Goldman, Founder and Director of the Santo Daime-based Church of the Holy Light of the Queen in Ashland, Oregon. In this series, Jonathan recounts a powerful experience with Daime (Ayahuasca) and emphasizes the importance of responsible use in spiritual ceremonies. He warns against the dangers of seeking guidance from untrained shamans, highlighting the potential for psychological harm. True healing, Goldman argues, is a long and challenging journey, not a quick fix. Goldman expresses concern over a recent surge in the popularity of plant medicine use, which has unfortunately coincided with a rise in unqualified practitioners. He worries that improper ceremonies conducted by these individuals can lead to negative experiences and damage the reputation of plant medicine as a whole. He also criticizes those who exploit this growing interest for personal gain. To address these issues, Goldman proposes the creation of a “Guild of Entheogenic Practitioners” across the upcoming parts of the series. This voluntary organization would establish ethical and safety standards, ensure proper training for practitioners, and offer a trusted resource for those seeking safe and legitimate ceremonies. The guild would respect individual autonomy and traditions while providing a certified list of qualified practitioners. Unregulated practices, Goldman argues, risk government intervention and potential bans on plant medicine use. He believes that responsible self-regulation through a guild system can protect both participants and the future of plant medicine use. Stay tuned for the following parts of the series where Goldman delves deeper into solutions and the potential benefits of this approach.

The Legal Arena

I don’t want the government telling me what to do. No government has an actual right to tell anyone what to do with the divine gift of our body. That is one reason we went to court, raised enormous amounts of money, and spent ten years of our lives to free our spiritual practice from that ridiculous interference.  But if we in the extended plant medicine circle don’t regulate ourselves, the politicians, cops, and bureaucrats will. And they will have an opening to do so under the excuse of protecting people.

As I referred to earlier there has been in recent years — and steadily growing — a huge proliferation of plant medicine work in much of the world. And in recent months a crackdown on that work is in force across the world. In the US, in Mexico, in France, and in Italy, sudden and strong restrictions on the importation of ayahuasca and persecution of those who import and export it has increased. There are reasons, obvious and hidden, for that. But in at least some of those instances, the excuse of the government’s cracking down is that some people have not been well taken care of in some of the huge number of ceremonies being held by people I’ve described above, and those undesirable results have come to those governments’ attention. And there are greedy people selling large quantities of medicine for no other reason than profit. Some of them have been caught and prosecuted. As, in my opinion, they should be. There is a vast difference between legitimate medicine practitioners bringing their sacred medicine into a country, and salespeople jumping on the bandwagon of interest in medicine work to line their own pockets.

Governments do what they do based on their agendas. And that there are those cases that can be used as an excuse to increase persecution is on those conducting the ceremonies in which people have not been cared for. Those of us in the plant medicine world can choose how we interpret and respond to this situation. I choose to seek to emulate one of my icons, the leader of the Daime called Padrinho Sebastião. When I met him in 1989, he looked at me with hawk’s eyes, obviously simultaneously accurately seeing and forgiving everything about me.  My years in the plant medicine world have taught me that denial of truth- in me and outside me- is deadly, a waste of time, and disempowering. We need to recognize hubris and greed among our fellows, just like we need to honor each other for the dedication, sacrifice, and courage we exhibit. We need to call out those who, by hubris, greed, arrogance, or ignorance, are endangering people coming for healing and endangering all of our work.

If we are to become the self-regulatory circle of sacred plant practitioners that I and others envision, we must be humble, open- eyed, and open-heartedly honest about who is doing work that merits support and who is confusing their own lower-self wounding with divine inspiration and imposing that confusion on others. And who is just greedy, who has confused plant medicine with capitalism, and who has erroneously believed that narrow western science is meant to explain and dominate the plant teachers.   

Jonathan Goldman, Founder and Director of the Santo Daime-based Church of the Holy Light of the Queen in Ashland, Oregon.

I understand better than most that we are faced with regulators that are not our friends. The instinct to circle the wagons against the bureaucratic, cultural, religious, and political ignorance that would call what we do drug dealing and seek to, at best, narrowly control what we do, is great and understandable.  But there are people in our extended circle who are doing things out of their own ignorance, arrogance, confusion, and hubris that are tainting all of us and will bring us all down if we don’t take care of our business.

As my friend Ken Jordan, who has his fingers on the pulse of the psychedelic world, told me recently, the movement of plant medicine into the mainstream, the exploding interest in it, is here to stay. I believe that this movement from the jungle and the desert to the mentally, emotionally, spiritually suffering people of the north has an inner purpose. It’s not just because we are a bunch of cultural thieves dedicated to the consumerism of the next great thing. There is that also. But the plants and the non-physical spiritual beings who attend them have heard our collective cry for relief  from our lostness and seen our potential for awakening and evolving. And spiritual entities and forces act through whoever is available and willing to be their collaborators, no matter our preparedness and no matter our many defects and weaknesses.  When we say “yes”, they take us seriously. It is up to us to be the most truthful, grounded, honest, worthy collaborators possible. As well as learn to care for our bodies and lives, energetic and material.

What is needed is for those of us who have taken that sacred responsibility of serving plant medicine to create our own self- regulatory mechanisms. Because if we don’t, the ignorant government will eventually step in and do it for us. Which is absurd, dangerous, and useless. But if we can’t come up with agreed-upon standards for our own circle, the cases of people flipping out behind taking medicine in settings with people who are ill-trained and unable to help them will only multiply exponentially as there are more and more people “serving medicine”. Those chickens will come home to roost on all of us, whether we are operating with legal protection, or not.

We need to address, individually and collectively, the strong tendency among people doing this work towards libertarian views of regulation. I get it. I am among those who don’t like anybody telling me what to do. It’s one reason why we do something so outside the norm. But my preferred way of doing things is only partly from what I’ve been “guided” to do. There is at least a percentage of “my way” that is just personal preference and therefore opinion. Holding up opinion as truth is the enemy of the collective good. Rather than stay stuck in our own opinions, which is an excuse for resistance, fears, and egos, we need to ask what is in the highest good of all of us, and of all beings, and act from that. “I’m not going to let anyone tell me what to do”, is not a solid basis for a mature and successful movement towards legitimization of our sacred work.

I would not suggest that I or anyone should have a say in how a ceremony is conducted, what philosophies are believed, or songs sung or blindfolds used or clothes worn or prayers chanted. All ceremonies are essentially the same. The variations speak to human preference, slightly different intent, different cultural heritage, and different spiritual energies invoked. But the underlaying intent and purpose is the same everywhere. Ceremony is simply a way to organize experience. I don’t want to tell you how to pray, nor do I want you telling me how I should pray, sing, meditate, or heal. I am talking about the need for common standards of safety, training, conduct, finances, boundaries, and follow up. And for me and other sincere, independent-minded leaders to put aside our ego-driven reluctance to enter collective evaluation of our practices, so that we can apply modern methods of collective decision making to the upholding, preserving, and defending these ancient practices. We can enhance their safety without destroying their beauty and purity. Divine inspiration can exist side by side with human collective responsibility. 

I understand full well that most people leading ceremonies are doing so at this point in the shadows. Coming into a circle of ethical consideration, especially with people using social media indiscriminately as is the general case, can be perceived as dangerous. And I am fully aware that many of the people who most need the feedback and help from their fellows are the least likely to accept the input. If they were less arrogant and ignorant, they would already have sought such counsel. What I’d like to offer is an idea that grew out of our ten-year process that resulted in us winning our legal right to practice our spiritual work legally.

The full story is for another day. What I want to tell you here is that we faced a lot of difficulties; from the government, within our own movement, and in our own selves. Different agendas, different philosophies, different strategic opinions, egos, and emotions all played their part in delaying, but also refining our case. There were moments of despair, moments of head scratching, moments of anger, moments of triumph, and of hilarity. I learned a huge amount on many levels. What is most salient for this essay, is that I learned to unite with those who wanted to be united, and let the rest go. 

I would like to suggest for your consideration the creation of a Guild of Entheogenic Practitioners.

Guild: an association of people for mutual aid or the pursuit of a common goal. A guild is a voluntary organization of people who come together to help each other. They are practicing the same skill, providing the same service, or similar enough to be able to mutually help each other in each member’s development. They mutually, democratically create rules that are pledged to by the members and enforced by the circle in agreed upon forms. The membership qualifications and maintenance of good standing are available to those who want to be assured that the service offered by an individual guild member are certified and monitored by the trusted guild.

Not every practitioner, probably never most, probably not many at first, will want to join. That’s good. Starting small, working out the agreements and consequences for their violation, while respecting each member’s autonomy and all the traditions of sacred work, will take time. What we would create is a certified guild list of those practicing their own plant medicine work ethically, safely, professionally, and with knowledge of how to optimally help those coming to them for healing and spiritual growth. Those who are not members of the guild may or may not be conducting themselves that way. What we can guarantee is that the members of our guild are doing so.

We will be creating a reference for other practitioners to follow, or not. And for people entering the world of entheogenic plant medicine, contemplating coming to sit at the feet of the Plant Teachers, we can give them trustworthy orientation to and safe passage through this fascinating, powerful, serious, glorious, challenging, transformative world of these sacred plants and the teachers who inhabit them. 

Jonathan Goldman

Ashland, Oregon

March 2022

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