Set & Setting Lead the Way in a Sacramental Journey
Having spent the afternoon of Yule, 2015 exploring a lush moss forest on the Olympic Peninsula, my senses heightened exponentially by the dose of coastal azurescens mushrooms I had ingested, the idea of “set and setting” becomes even more important to me. That particular setting is pure magic, no entheogens required. Adding a wild mushroom to the mix brought my already deep-felt sense of awe and appreciation to a place of ecstatic wonder. With the assistance of the mushroom I tapped into the spirits of the forest and the heart of the mountain stream that sparkled and danced in the afternoon sunlight. The cathedral of moss-clad trees and moss-covered earth beckoned me into its multi-layered green mystery, and elicited copious tears of joy that poured down my cheeks.
This calls to mind a beautiful sentiment by Thomas Vaughan from ‘Anima Magica Abscondita,’ “Sometimes thou may’st walk in groves, which being full of majestie will much advance the soul.”
Unfortunately, there are fewer and fewer safe and secluded natural settings available to the entheogenic traveller. That said, if a nature setting is feasible, I highly recommend it, as the beauty and majesty of nature does indeed “much advance the soul,” as does the reverent use of nature’s entheogenic offerings. Nature provides us with a profound glimpse into its beauty and the intelligence behind it. With our senses enhanced by a visionary substance we experience the deeper layers of the natural world very intensely, which does much to further the opening of our hearts and minds to the exquisite beauty and mystery that both surrounds us and exists within us.
A good mind “set” is something to consider before traversing the realms. An open mind is essential, as some people can freak out and actually override the journey and pull themselves out of it. A relaxed state of mind, calm not agitated, will serve the traveller well. As powerful as these substances can be, they can also be subtle, so quiet attentiveness will yield more return. If the mind is racing or trying to make sense of a multidimensional experience, the experience may be lost. Approaching entheogens in an angry or fearful state of mind may hinder the journey greatly. Of course, the psychoactive might be a healing balm for that state of mind but there is also the chance that it might exacerbate an already anxious mind frame. I recommend approaching the substance as a magical being, a sacred teacher. Go in with reverence toward that entheogen or alchemically sublimated spirit. Go in with humility and openness and let it teach and inspire.
Personal safety is of paramount importance when we choose to alter our consciousness, no matter what the setting may be. Planning the creation of a setting that will support a deep and profound, uninterrupted exploration goes a long way in ensuring a safe trip there and back. We want a setting that provides comfort and inspiration, and the planning is well worth the effort. As our modern western world offers no accepted formal training in the taking of visionary substances we must exercise our own common sense and good judgment as to how we approach them. As these substances have been declared illegal in our civil society, we must be extra careful about how we access them, where and how we approach them, and with whom.
Enlisting a trusted friend to act as “sitter” while we journey can be helpful for some. At the very least it’s a good idea to inform a friend of our plans, just so that someone is aware and looking out for us. It is well advised to ensure that our surroundings are harmonious and that we’ve taken care of any responsibilities before we embark. We also want to make darn sure we won’t be disturbed during our inner sojourn. Creating a safe and balanced setting permits us to explore deeper with the assurance that outside interests will not coincide with our inner explorations.
Speaking of which, it is also important to consider carefully who shares our space during such a journey. As I have heard numerous stories of unwanted sexual advances from unscrupulous shamans and other folks, I would strongly suggest choosing wisely your fellow travellers. Personally, I don’t take these journeys lightly, as I receive so much from each experience. For myself, it has always been essential to ensure that if I am not alone, I travel only with people whom I trust implicitly. In this way my boundaries are respected and my personal safety is ensured, and that has been the case from the get-go. It is my responsibility and mine alone to ensure that I put myself in the safest possible setting for this kind of exploration.
For indoor journeys, a beautiful environment contributes nicely to the experience. Humans respond positively to order and beauty, whereas disorder and mess often contribute to inner disharmony. As these substances have long been used ritually, the creation of a temple-like setting can be very pleasing and balancing for the traveller. If I am indoors I like to make the room I’ll be using as beautiful as possible. Light is a factor and harsh light can be very jarring for the traveller. Some prefer absolute darkness for nighttime journeys while others desire soft light. Candles provide gentle illumination but must be safely situated. We definitely do not want to deal with a fire while steeped in powerfully altered states! Salt lamps are another option and they cast a pleasing, pale rose glow.
Plants and/or flowers affect the feel or vibration of a room, which is why temples were often filled with them. Scent can be very transporting and the burning of incense or scented oil can provide an avenue into deep states of being. So too, the right music has a profound effect on the entheogenic listener, taking them beneath the surface of the music and into the innermost existential layers, traversing the harmonics, the rhythm, the pitch and the texture, that penetrates the very essence of the listener, taking them to far-reaching depths of feeling.
Some people incorporate ritual into their set and setting. These substances have long been used ritually by cultures around the world for untold thousands of years. Ritual is second nature to human beings and many of us create it without even realizing we are doing so. A good example is the way some folks will carefully prepare a daily cup of coffee or tea, then sit in a specific place where they take a few moments to enjoy the brew and calm their minds. This is done daily and often at the same time each day, either very simply or elaborately, depending on the person.
When ritually engaging entheogens, some people will walk a circle around the space they’ll be using, holding a stick of lit sage or other plant ally that clears the air and bestows protection. Candles are lit, and spirit allies are called in. Local spirits and elementals are acknowledged and invited, and prayers or chants are spoken. Sacred objects share the space with the traveller such as talismans or feathers or other significant items. The entheogen itself is smudged and held to the heart center in a moment of prayerful thanks and spoken intention. For many, this is a way of recognizing and communing with the unseen forces all around us. It represents an age-old form of inviting in spirit teachers and guides for healing or teaching or playful engagement. Ritual is an announcement to the deep psyche that we are leaving the world of the mundane and entering the world of the sacred. The entheogen itself is acknowledged as an ancient teacher that holds a key to the great mystery. After all, which came first, the mushroom/ayahuasca/peyote, etc., or the shaman?
As these substances have the capacity to confer unprecedented healing, epiphany and spiritual awakening, it will only serve us to put thought and care into the creation of a set and setting that will provide safety and comfort as we plumb the unseen worlds of nature and our own human nature.
I am a practicing shaman, author and sacred beekeeper. I teach in the Pacific Northwest and the Yucatan. I consider myself to be a spiritual warrior and a spiritual warrior seeks to know. I take my students beyond the watered-down, westernized versions of shamanism to plumb the mysteries with curiosity and courage. My aim is to lead participants out of the cultural mass-trance and into the territory of the sacred. I work for Terra, Mother Earth, who is my benevolent guide and teacher….Please visit her website to read more and access her wonderful array of offerings.