Plants in Religion


The use of plant hallucinogens by humans for religious purposes is very ancient, probably even older than its use for healing, magic or teaching purposes. The profound alterations in one's state of consciousness brought about by the use of a hallucinogen has served as a founding axis for religious systems, and in the development of established religions throughout the history of humanity.

Even today, we are witness to the birth of new religious "psychedelic" movements. Their renewed presence is evidence of the actuality and at the same time the atemporality of the values associated with the correct social use of sacred plants. Two large religious movements which incorporate the use of vegetable hallucinogens have emerged during the past 150 years, both syncretic of Christianity and both consolidated at the national and ethnic level: the Native American Church of the North American Indians, which uses peyote, the Bwiti, practiced by the people of Fang and other locations in Africa which use the iboga, Ayahuasca vine in Brazil, wine grapes from Ancient Greece, and Cannabis in India.

Plants have always fascinated humans with their color and the effects that they have on people. These effects, which has caused some of them to be made illegal, have led to the use of these plants in religion. These plants serve as vital instruments in what makes each religion unique.

A depiction of the hallucinations caused by Ayahuasca. From

One of these plants is Ayahuasca, a tea made from the ayahuasca vine that causes vivid hallucinations followed by severe vomiting. It is grown and used mainly in South America. Religious ceremonies including the tea last for hours, where the members claim to have been cured of addiction, depression, and other medical conditions. Others claim to have spiritual revelations. The subsequent vomiting is seen to be a purging of demons to the religious members. Although believers swear by it and it is similar structurally to known antidepressants, ayahuasca has not been thoroughly tested, so the extent of their effects is not fully known.

Peyote ceremony. From

Another plant that is used in religion is Peyote, a small cactus that is either eaten or made into tea that is used by The Native American Church in their practice of Peyotism as well as in Mexico. It is illegal or controlled in all most all countries. Though its use varies depending on the tribe, some believe that the cactus is the flesh of God and that eating it brings them closer to God.

Chalice of wine. From

Grapes have one of the most storied histories in regards to plants seeing human use for religious purposes, and unlike others here, is not a hallucinogen. Rather, wine, an alcoholic drink made from fermented grapes, has seen use in religions throughout the world and throughout history. The ancient Greeks and Romans both had cults dedicated to worshiping a wine god, whose worship included getting heavily intoxicated via drinking wine. Christianity throughout the world has an intimate relationship with wine. It is present or even the focal point in several stories seen throughout the bible and is used in Christianities most sacred ritual, the Eucharist. Catholics go so far as to believe the wine used ceremonially is Jesus' blood. Other religions have not been so accepting of wine and its intoxicating effects, such as Islam, which prohibits wine and all other intoxicants.

Bwiti initiation ceremony with iboga. From kwekudee

In the Bwiti religion, centralized in West Africa, the ground up root of iboga (Tabernanthe iboga) is a significant instrument used for ceremonial purposes as a kind of sacrament. Iboga is meant to provide the potential member with a personal, revealing journey to his/her past, seeing his/her wrongs and vices, to learn and become new from the introspective journey. Besides being used for initiation purposes, iboga root is used in religious ceremonies every Sunday, and on special holidays like Easter. The hallucinations brought on by the plant are believed to allow members a way to connect with their ancestors, undergo initiation rights, and heal medical or emotion problems. The ritual usually includes a long night of hallucinations and vomiting.

Cannabis plant. From

Cannabis has a long history of religious and spiritual use all over the world, probably because it grows well in many different environments and naturally occurs in many places. Cannabis has several methods of preparation, almost all of which are used religiously. These include a resin, commonly known as hashish, several solid varieties that can be smoked, and the Indian beverage Bhang.