*What are Planta Maestras?*
Plant teachers, or Planta maestras in Spanish, are believed by some to be actual spirits of living beings – plant beings – and can be engaged with by people who are open and sensitive to energies and spiritual entities. Ayahuasca is sometimes said to be the king of the plant maestras, but not all maestras are hallucinogens or have strong physiologic effects.
Amazonian shaman and other practitioners of ‘Plant Spirit Medicine’ believe that plants are living beings that possess spirits, every bit as alive and soul-full as animals. Not only are plants believed to have spiritual powers. Lakes, mountains, forests, rivers, caves, and stones are also believed to be the physical manifestations of powerful spiritual forces and entities – referred to as ‘Apus’ in Quechua. Sacred lakes are seen as having healing powers or magical energies. It is possible for humans to be affected, to draw the energies, or use the energies of such sacred places. Individuals such as shaman may cultivate an awareness of such energies as well as an ability to store more energy within themselves and use it to heal, have lucid dreams, and divine information from the cosmos at large. People might travel to such power spots regularly to help cultivate their personal energy and awareness.
We can adopt a planta maestra to be our guide and healing ally. Working with a plant maestro involves following special diets and practices to help to hone your sensitivity and working with the chosen planta maestra on a nearly daily basis. In most cases, the maestro is ingested, but in some cases one works with the plant in the form of seguros and other shamanic preparations. In addition to ayahuasca (various brews based on Banisteriopsis caapi), other hallucinogens including Toé (various Datura species), San Pedro (Trichnocereus), Wilka (Anandathera), and Chiric Sanango (Brunfelsia) are said to be plant maestras. Non-entheogenic medicinal planta maestras include Ajo Sacho (Jungle garlic), Jinigbre or Kion (Zingiber species), and Abuta.
*The Practical Application of Working with Planta Maestras*
While in the western world, people usually seek out molecular and biochemical explanations for their physical and emotional ailments, in the Amazon, people are just as likely to believe that a problem with the spirit or soul is the problem. Instead of seeking biochemical pharmaceutical cures and therapies, people will make an effort to treat their spirit with energetic therapies believed to work more directly on the weakened spirit or soul. The molecular and the energetic may, in fact be one and the same seen from different paradigms, for what are molecules and chemicals then a collection of vibratory energies fixed in a stable, physical form? Biochemists and physicians may study the physical form – the molecules, while others, while shamans and healers may work with the subtler energy that gives rise to the physical form. Engaging and working with plants on the spiritual energetic plane is believed by many, to be just as effective, or more so, than working with matter, the physical manifestation of the energy. Rather than claiming that a plant has this or that molecular constituent noted to affects cells, neurotransmitters, and physiology in specific ways, shaman will attempt to solicit the aid of a plant’s spiritual and personal powers to improve a person’s health. Planta maestras are plants with so much power and so many uses that they are “masters” in treating the emotional, spiritual, and soulful aspect of human beings, and “teachers”, offering us lessons and insights into our own natures.
Engaging and working with plants on the spiritual plane is one important aspect of shamanistic medicine. Some shaman report that all plants have spirits, both good and bad. Our work as humans is to invite the good spirits to live with us, inside us, and the bad spirits to live outside of us, protecting us, acting as allies on our behalf. As such, plants are not seen as “bad” in a judgmental, right or wrong sort of way, they are more seen as “bad asses,” powerful spirits that you want on your side but otherwise give a lot of respect to.
Sometimes the term “spiritual attack” is used for occasions when a person feels that their health or their luck has turned bad due to hexes, curses, and other spiritual influences causing them to seek the aid of a shaman. Many people believe that such spiritual attack comes to them from nearby community members who may envy them or have a grudge of some sort. People may engage in regular rituals that free them from such attacks, place certain plants around their homes to protect them from such attacks, or may engage the services of shaman to do this for them. The next three blog entries will focus on individual plants and planta maestras used to cleanse our energy, bring us into balance with the world around us, and promote mental, physical, and emotional health.Peru this Week’s Ethnobiology blogger, Jillian Stansbury discusses ‘plant teachers.’
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