Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences

, Volume 9, Issue 2, pp 159–170 | Cite as

Sacred plants and visionary consciousness

  • José Luis Díaz


Botanical preparations used by shamans in rituals for divination, prophecy, and ecstasy contain widely different psychoactive compounds, which are incorrectly classified under a single denomination such as “hallucinogens,” “psychedelics,” or “entheogens.” Based on extensive ethnopharmacological search, I proposed a psychopharmacological classification of magic plants in 1979. This paper re-evaluates this taxonomy in the context of consciousness research. Several groups of psychodysleptic magic plants are proposed: (1) hallucinogens—psilocybin mushrooms, mescaline cacti, dimethyltryptamine snuffs, and the synthetic ergoline lysergic acid diethylamide induce strong perceptual changes, affective intensification, and cognitive enhancement. Their ethnobotanical uses include long lasting divination rituals, prophecy, and sacramental practice. (2) Trance-inducers—ergoline Convolvulaceae and South American Banisteriopsis produce quietness, abstraction, lethargy, mild sensorial and cognitive changes, and salient visual imagery changes used in trance rituals and specific divination practices. (3) Cognodysleptics—marijuana (tetrahydrocannabinol) and other terpene-containing plants induce changes in thought, imagination, and affective functions and are used in short-term divination or oneiromancy. (4) Deliriants—tropane-containing Solanaceae, wild tobacco, and Amanita muscaria (muscimol) induce a delirium characterized by dim and clouded consciousness, stupor, confusion, disorientation, perception distortion, difficulties in recollection, anxiety, irritability, excitation, and behavioral disorganization employed in sorcery, purification, or exorcism rituals. The core mental effects required for a drug to be used in shamanistic rituals include light-headedness, enhanced imagery, and experience intensification. This constellation was the reason why, in his classification of psychoactive compounds, the pioneer German psychopharmacologist Louis Lewin established in 1924 a group of drugs under the appropriate name of Phantastica.


Psychoactive plants Hallucinogens Trance-inducers Cognodysleptics Deliriants Psychedelic experience Psychedelic visual phenomena 


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of History and Philosophy of Medicine, Faculty of MedicineNational Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM)Mexico CityMexico

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