Navigating the ineffable realms through plant medicine offers what many would call a mystical experience, an experience transcending rational thought. For some, integrating these mystical experiences into ego consciousness goes smoothly, it is what depth psychologists would call ego syntonic. For others, processing, integrating, and filtering the experience can be deeply confronting, vulnerable, and challenging. Egoic consciousness recedes during ceremony so that the plant medicines can interact with and heal the psyche and soul. Through this process some individuals can be led into perceivable near-death experiences. Without proper integration of these profound psychosomatic experiences, the ego can be left feeling weak, fragile, and dystonic to the individual’s evolving personality structure.
Depth psychologists hold the assumption that psyche contains all of the conscious and unconscious contents that allow us and/or block us from accessing our self, others, and all that which transcends psyche (Ulanov, 2017, p. 8). Ulanov describes the psychoid realm as where psyche and matter become one, one is no longer separate from the other. The soul acts as a two-way mirror. Reflecting upwards, the soul bridges unconscious contents to consciousness, and the reverse, it also bridges contents of consciousness back down into the unconscious. In our everyday experience, the psychoid realm is most notable in moments of synchronicity, the meaningful coincidences that collide within a time-space continuum. In psychoid moments psyche and matter collide so that we are left feeling the most human and inhuman simultaneously. It is the work of many depth psychologists and Jungian analysts to provide individuals with an experiential framework for these deeply meaningful experiences.
Psychedelics can offer an immediate gateway into these psychoid realms. They can open individuals to realms of the psyche that on one end, are blissful encounters with archetypal experiences of love and light, and on the other, experiences of holy terror and dread. It is my intention in this paper to explore the latter, as these perceivably traumatic encounters with archetypal realms can lead to what is called post ceremony stress syndrome (PCSS). PCSS can easily lead one into neurosis if the individual is not given an appropriate context and container for integration.
It is my intention in this paper to elaborate on how participating in a Santo Daime ceremony can mirror the alchemical process depicted in the Rosarium Philosophorum. My hope is that a symbolic interpretation of this alchemical series can offer depth psychological context and healing for individuals who are struggling to integrate PCSS following plant medicine ceremonies. As plant medicine usage continues to grow in the West, it is important that depth psychologists are equipped to help individuals process interactions with the psychoid realm. What I have to offer in this paper is my personal experience with Daime—led by a shaman in South America whose foundations lie in the Church of Santo Daime.
The plant medicine I will discuss in this paper is Santo Daime. The brew is made from two different plants. One is a vine banisteriopsis caapi, also called jagube or yagé. This half of the brew is said to carry the masculine energetic force of the divine. The other half of the brew contains leaves of psychotria viridis, that are said to be an embodiment of the feminine energetic force of the divine. In the Santo Daime tradition, the divine nature of the brew is said to be a fusion of masculine and feminine energies. The brew is prepared during a process called "feitio." Women gather and clean the leaves, while men pound the vines. Throughout the two-week process of brewing, the medicine is never left alone. The entire time, it is prayed and sang over. Due to the nature of preparation, the beverage is not called 'Ayahuasca', but 'Santo Daime.’ “Daime,” is a Portuguese word meaning “give me,” as in the prayer “give me light, give me strength, give me wisdom.” The term is a prayer or invocation towards the sacramental nature of the brew. Individuals who choose to participate in sacred Daime ceremonies are thought to become exposed to powerful realms of the psyche.
Dr. William Barnard (2021), understands that by combining the feminine and masculine archetypal energies together in the brew with a deep respect and reverence, the brew itself becomes the “divine offspring” of the two forces. As the brew works through the psyche of the individual, it is thought to be a communion with Christ consciousness. With this in mind, the sequence of 10 woodcuts from the alchemical Rosarium Philosophorum (1550) provide a symbolic representation of this archetypal process of unification, death, and rebirth that can occur in an individual ingesting and becoming transformed through Daime. In alchemy, it was the coming together of opposites that served as a key element of the alchemical process. The Hieros Gamoes, the sacred marriage of the masculine and feminine elements, create a union that manifests something larger than the individual separated parts. It generates the hermaphrodite.
The Alchemical Process of Daime
Stages of the alchemical process mirror stages in the evolution of consciousness. Through meditation, prayer, and contemplation centered on the elements, the alchemists were attempting to create gold. They believed that spirit is immanent in the body and that their work was to animate the spirit and liberate it so that it can live more fully. I believe this is also what Daime offers to the individual. Through an experience of the psychoid, the individual can become conscious of the symbolic process of creating inner gold. The Rosarium Philosophorum describes the preparation of the Philosophers Stone, each chapter containing a symbolic image. The images are integral to bridging the alchemical process to experiences with Santo Daime. I will discuss and relate images one through ten of the series to my Daime journey in this paper. I use Jung’s Psychology of the Transference, in Collected Works Volume 16, as a primary reference for the images of the woodcuts, as well as for its wisdom in providing a psychological interpretation of this alchemical text. I also use Scottish writer Adam McLean’s (1980) seven stages of the alchemical text Rosarium Philosophorum to create a framework for navigation.
Stage One: Entry into the vessel of transformation
The first image of the Rosarium Philosophorum, The Mercurial Fountain (Figure 1) presents the alchemical prima materia. These are the old instinctive reflexes, reactions, undeveloped emotions that are stored in the somatic unconscious. The image shows the three elements to be transformed—body, soul, and spirit—represented by the three faucets flowing into the Hermetic fountain. The stream of the body represents the feminine forces, the stream of spirit represents the masculine forces, and the stream of the soul represents the Mercurial soul forces. Although these forces are streaming into the lower soul world, the contact with the upper spiritual realm is still disconnected and separated into dual masculine and feminine energies represented by the moon and the sun. This symbolizes spirit and matter’s separateness.
The alchemy within a Daime context is at this point attempting to recognize the prima materia in the individual participating in the ceremony. I believe the medicine works on what Jung called the “unholy trinity,” the body, the feminine, and the shadow. Through recognition of these elements, the Daime can intuit where the individual soul has separated spirit from matter. The ego would prefer to inhibit this unconscious confrontation since that would require a death and rebirth process, a symbolic crucifixion of the ego. In this process, Daime uses the soul as the vehicle to begin to bridge spirit and matter.
At this point in my Daime process, the shaman walked around the circle of individuals, and stopped at me. I told her it felt as if my heart would not open. She knelt down, said a prayer, and whispered to me, “You must let go, they cannot hurt you any more.” At that moment I purged for the first time and alchemically, my prima materia was now available for the medicine to begin alchemizing.
Figure 1. The Mercurial Fountain
Stage Two: A conjunction of archetypal forces
Images two through five of the Rosarium Philosophorum (Figures 2-5) represent the conjunction of the masculine and feminine forces. In Figure 2, the opposites are beginning the unification process, but at a distance. There is a clear distinction between masculine and feminine consciousness. The King and Queen are fully clothed and have joined hands on the left. Jung believed this was the meeting of both the masculine and feminine dark sides, uniting them in the lower soul. The right hand of each holds a flower and offers a distant, yet conscious acknowledgment of one another. The bird descending from the star above illustrates a third form of unity from the spiritual realm. This strengthens the meeting and alchemical container. As the prima materia is exposed, this spiritual third allows the alchemy to continue as a form of grace that offers security within the context of uncertainty and the unknown.
Figure 2. The King and Queen
Image three in the series (Figure 3), the King and Queen have now stripped their clothes. The animating masculine and feminine forces within the psyche are slowly shedding the layers of protection from persona roles and can be seen more clearly. The veils of consciousness have been lifted. The King and Queen are now holding branches and blossoms of the flowers in each hand. The white bird above is still offering the unifying element. The polarization of masculine and feminine forces has alchemized enough for the integration process to begin. This is the beginning of the transmutation of the opposing forces.
Figure 3. The Naked Truth
It is at this point in my Daime ceremony, I experienced a wave of divine love like I had never experienced before in my life. I link this to the symbolic dove pictured in the images above. As the veils between my own masculine and feminine forces lifted, the anima/animus within me were beginning to alchemize and confront the dark matter within each other. I felt immensely held by what can only be described as a somatic experience of love so deep that it took my breath away. As the tears rolled down my face, I held my hands in a prayer position and began to kiss the ground with reverence for the amount of grace I was experiencing. Rumi once said, “Love cannot be learned or taught. Love comes as Grace.” Synchronistically, at this point in the ceremony, an angelic version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah reverberated through the casita. The lyrics moved as medicine in and through me. The verse that was the most medicinal was the following,
There was a time you let me know,
What's really going on below,
But now you never show it to me, do you?
And I remember when I moved in you,
And the holy dove, she was moving too,
And every single breath we drew was Hallelujah (Cohen, 1984).