Lick Death’s Postage Stamp: Shaman Portals and the Secrets of Rain Clouds

by Oct 1, 2021Smoke Signals0 comments

Lick Death’s Postage Stamp: Shaman Portals and the Secrets of Rain Clouds

by Oct 1, 2021Smoke Signals0 comments

Death is pretty trippy.

Lick it — Death will fly you to Mars, Venus, and back again.

If the C.I.A. could bottle Death, they’d quit their day jobs, go on tour slinging veggie burritos and “What the Fuck? It’s Only a Buck!” grilled cheese.

Sure, they manufacture it like Dunkin’ Powdered Freakin’ Donuts — but to actually hold onto Death, harness its mystical mystery, do bong rips on Nirvana’s back porch with Kurt Cobain in your boxers — now that’s the secret of the Jelly. 

For Shamans in pre-colonial America, death encounters were a door, a connection to the interior realms, essential to their training. It was believed “he who overcomes death by healing himself is capable of curing and revitalizing others,” quotes Iain Gately in Tobacco: a Cultural History of How an Exotic Plant Seduced Civilization.

And the perfect vehicle for Death? Good old, American Spirit tobacco:

“Tobacco played a central role in the spiritual training of Shamans,” Gately writes in Tobacco on page 6. “In the right doses, tobacco is a dangerously powerful drug and fatal poison. Shamans used tobacco, often in conjunction with other narcotics, to achieve a state of near death…. Shamans undergoing initiation were required to take enough tobacco to bring them to the edge of the grave.”

Yes, early Native Americans were marketing the fact that cigarettes could kill you centuries before the Surgeon General.


“Jungle Hunt” Atari Safari — the Shaman Vision Quest

Remember playing “Jungle Hunt” on Atari — swinging on vines across alligator infested waters, jumping over snake pits, rescuing damsels from cannabis cannibals in a quest for true love?

Believe it or not, but the spiritual quests of early Shamans were kinda like that.

As Gately writes in Tobacco:

“The spiritual journeys undertaken by initiate Shamans were perceived as real vision quests, during the course of which the neophyte would encounter terrible hazards. The Priest Shamans of the Warao, for example, endured a series of perils similar to those set out in computer games. After clearing an abyss filled with ‘hungry jaguars, snapping alligators, and frenzied sharks, all eager to devour him, the tobacco’ intoxicant had to pass where demons armed with spears are waiting to kill him, where slippery spots threaten to unbalance, and where giant raptors claw him. Finally, he must pass through a hole in an enormous tree with rapidly opening and closing doors. These symplegades are the actual threshold between life and death. Jumping through the clashing doors, he beholds the bones of those who went before him but failed to clear the gateway. Not finding his own bones among them, he returns from the other-world restored to new life.’”


So what were they smoking? Probably not the same American Spirit you buy down at the Circle K.

Artwork by Geenss Archenti

Mushrooms, Skydiving, and Cemetery Math — the Doors of Perception

Tobacco was central to the Shamanic experience. Often it would be combined with other psychotropic, hallucinogenic herbs, as well as blended herbs like bearberry, red osier dogwood, silky cornel, Canadian bunchberry, evergreen sumac, littleleaf sumac, smooth sumac, and staghorn sumac.

“A tobacco Shaman used the weed in almost every aspect of his art,” Gately writes. “Tobacco smoke was employed as a diagnostic tool to examine sick patients, and formed a part of many ceremonies over which these doctor-priests officiated. Ritual smoke blowing, by which a Shaman might bestow a blessing or protection against enemies both real and visible, was intended to symbolize a transformation….”

Key to that transformation was a near-death experience. To be a good Shaman, you had to go through some serious trials.  Look “for signs that they have endured some kind of serious physical challenges or personal sacrifices, possibly including a near death experience, or a physical disability, or a painful loss,” writes Jessica Brinton in her Vice piece, “11 Ways to Know a Good Shaman When You Meet One.”

“Of course you don’t wish anything bad on the Shaman, but the Shamanic path is supposed to be hard (many don’t make it) and suffering is a kind of rite of passage,” she writes.

Not that literal death is necessary to connect to that door on a personal soul quest for your own spiritual growth. There are plenty of other tools to connect to the “other side” of the spiritual realm: magic mushrooms, cannabis edibles, perhaps even hang gliding or skydiving — anything that forces you to stare in the face of your own mortality and takes you outside your skin. 

Or just take a Sunday stroll through a cemetery and have some fun with math. Vision quests don’t need to be complicated.


Artwork by Geenss Archenti

Be Here Now — Tomorrow We’ll Be Rain Clouds


Of course tobacco will kill you — and you’ve got so much to live for, cocoa puffs drowned in Hershey’s Syrup at 3 a.m., for example. 

We recommend you mix your tobacco with other herbs (it’s a great way to quit smoking tobacco), or mix your herbs with cannabis in a tobacco-less spliff, or simply smoke the herbs straight. 

Smoking herbs is a beautiful way to connect to the Spirit — the herbal Earth that sustains and guides us in everything we do. Smoking an herbal mix is a way to connect with ancestors and recognize the temporary passing of this ephemeral plane. 

We’re all smoke, rising up to the Great Herbal Spirit. Be here now — because tomorrow, we’ll be sky, drifting cloud balloon animals in the rain, passing on into the next ethereal plane. 

Find your Bliss.

Matt Gallagher

Matt Gallagher

Wordsmith Specialist

A freelance writer for hire, Matt Gallagher is the face and voice behind Web Copy Magician. He enjoys Bear Blend as a tea to spiritually reconnect with nature and the therapeutic wonders of chlorophyll.


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