Photo: The Mantis and the Grasshopper. I once gathered blue paint chips to make my own cyanometer to document the different colors of the sky. Now I think I’ll start collecting colors of green. This week, I was struck by two different and spectacular shades.
A few years ago, I heard Wade Davis, the amazing writer, explorer, botanist, talk about what he’s learned about ethno-botany. He showed a film about a recent trip he’d made to South America, in which he asked indigenous women living there how they knew the proper quantities of the many different plants making up Ayahuasca, the psychoactive brew used in psychedelic, ceremonial, or shamanic experiences. “The plants told us,” the women said, matter-of-factly. Which helped me understand how throughout the world and across time, indigenous people have ‘known’ which plants have which medicinal qualities, which don’t, and which are fatal if ingested. I’d always wondered if some dangerous system of ‘trial and error’ had occurred, stories from which have been passed down through generations. Which is such a disenchanted way to look at it. Take datura from the nightshade family. They’ve been used forever as medicine, for ritual intoxication, but also poison. I mean, really, how many people died figuring out that one? Turns out when approached spiritually, the datura must have let the practitioner know which part of the plant and in what quantity to use for which specific purpose. There are likely 10,000 examples like this of “Indigenous Knowledge” that might be beneficial to us as we’re forced to face the coming relentless impacts of our warming planet. I wonder if the term “enchanted” minimizes the power and grace of the lives indigenous people lived and continue to live, the lives all of our ancestors lived for tens of thousands of generations until modernity dis-enchanted our world, not that many centuries ago. I’ll keep using ‘enchanted’ (along with ‘re-enchanted’). For me it’s become synonymous with ‘evolutionary’, referring to the way our species evolved to live. Which suggests that our ‘evolving’ as successfully into our future, as we’ve done in our past, requires ‘enchantment’.