In our first article, we were inspired by the season, and talked about witches as practitioners of shamanic flight in Europe. We looked at their legendary flying ointment from a chemical perspective, and learned about its properties and dangers.
Shamanic flight is not confined to archaic Europe, however, and examples of the phenomenon are common around the world and in all times. As with the witches’ nightshades, plants were often used to provide “liftoff”. Two of the most interesting plants of flight, from both historical and modern popular cultural perspectives, are Syrian Rue and Wild Red Asparagus.
Syrian Rue is a shrubby desert plant, native to the eastern Mediterranean to India. It is used ritually throughout its native lands, often as a protection against the evil eye or envious and malicious gaze of others. This practice dates back to the pre-Islamic Persians, who called the seeds Espand, and burned them on charcoal while reciting a prayer:
“This is espand, it banishes the evil eye
The blessing of King Naqshband
Eye of nothing, Eye of relatives
Eye of friends, Eye of enemies
Whoever is bad should burn in this glowing fire”
The person being blessed would be fumigated with the smoke of the seeds, which has been shown to have psychotropic effects, acting as an MAO inhibitor and creating feelings of well-being.
Espand was also used internally as a digestive tonic and as an anti-depressant. As an MAOI, it is uplifting to the mood, and in larger doses, it has a more pronounced lifting effect, bringing a sensation of both falling and rising, like floating through the air on something swinging or swooping.
Syrian Rue seeds are also used as a dye, to create the rich “turkey red” found in Persian carpets. This dye can fluoresce under the right light conditions, and we have both personally seen very old rugs in which this strange glow creates the startling illusion of the carpet rising off the floor. Combine this trick of the light and the inner experience of flight, and you get the legendary flying carpet!
Our next flying herb does not have the same chemically entheogenic properties of the nightshades or Syrian Rue, but it is just as revered as an herb of flight, and has made its own mark on modern mythos.
Wild Red Asparagus is a very special type of asparagus, more of a mutation than a species. Asparagus root is grown as medicine throughout China, where it is used as lung and kidney tonic, to balance sexual function in men and women, and to nourish the skin.
Sometimes, in a field of regular Asparagus root, one plant will be found with a red root, instead of the normal light brown. This special root is Wild Red Asparagus, and it is revered as much more powerful than the regular type. The Red Asparagus is an especially powerful tonic to the Shen, or peaceful energy that resides in the heart.
Wild Red Asparagus protects the Shen by raising the consciousness and spirit to a place above worldly concerns, where an elevated perspective can be held in which life’s troubles don’t cause anxiety or stress.
But this wonderful plant also carries a much more shamanic flight energy, as it was long revered by the Taoist sages as an herb that can literally give the ability to fly. It was used for this purpose by the martial arts-practicing wise men of Shaolin and other centers of study, and it was this use that led to the Kung Fu legends of masters that could clear rooftops with a leap.
We have had some interesting experiences with this herb, in which the body feels very light immediately after use, making it very interesting for dancing, yoga, or Qi Gong. And we can also attest to the traditional use of Red Asparagus as a dreaming herb- when you take it before bed, you will have dreams of flight all night long!
In our next post, we talk about our own work with herbs of flight, and how we created a formula using Syrian Rue, Wild Red Asparagus, and a unique, non-toxic nightshade which brings the classic flying experience.