Tobacco: Friend or Foe?
When it comes to tobacco in Europe, we tend to see it as the devil we love; we know it is bad for us, yet so many people find solace and comfort within its embrace. However, irrespective of whether you enjoy smoking tobacco or not, it is seen by and large as an undesirable habit. This is not the view the world over, though. Especially not in parts of the world where tobacco is a native plant, and holds a place of spiritual significance and reverence with the local people.
THE BAD SIDE OF TOBACCO
We probably don’t really need to go into too much detail here. Nearly everyone is aware of the health risks associated with tobacco. However, just in case you weren’t, here are some serious concerns when comes to regular tobacco use.
For one, the nicotine in tobacco make it extremely addictive, so say goodbye to the significant amount of money spent on keeping the habit up. Then, when tobacco is burnt, it creates a plethora of toxins, tar and carcinogens that cause cancer, pulmonary disease, cardiovascular disease, renal damage, impotence, female infertility, increased risk of infection, and increased stress levels – even though the immediate act of smoking is perceived by the user as relieving stress.
The trade-off is an gratifying sensation of alertness, sharpness, and relaxation induced by the chemicals.
THE SPIRIT WITHIN
So, hands down, tobacco is a bad thing to smoke – something a lot of tobacco smokers can agree on. But what about the good side of tobacco, the side that has origins back among the tribes of the rainforest who use it for healing and guidance?
It is thought that the many variations of tobacco originated from the Americas, where they were used for thousands of years before the arrival of European settlers. Its healing power was harnessed in a number of ways, with it being smoked, chewed, sniffed, juiced, eaten, made into eye drops, and even used for enemas, depending on the location and culture.
For the people of the Amazon, tobacco was used recreationally, medically, and spiritually. In fact, tobacco is one of three key plants at the heart of their native culture, with the tobacco spirit offering protection, the Ayahuasca spirit offering learning, and the Toé spirit offering power. As such, tobacco smoke was often blown over fields before planting crops, in the face of men before battle, and even over women before sex. It is thought that the smoke purifies and blesses. It was also used to help diagnose illness, and aid in treatment.
A great deal of the time, the tobacco (Mapacho, Nicotiana rustica) used by shamans is uncured. This uncured tobacco is extremely potent, and even toxic in small doses. This potency allows the tobacco to be almost visionary, taking shaman to the edge of death. For some shaman it is a rite of passage; to get so close to death and fight your way back shows you have what it takes to heal others. Those who fail, die. It seems harsh, but this potency and visionary questing guided certain communities for centuries. In fact, before the discovery of Ayahuasca, tobacco based shamanism was the main practice. It is even thought that it was the spirit of tobacco that guided shamans to the creation of ayahuasca, letting them know which plants were needed to make the hallucinogenic brew. The purifying power of tobacco is now used in conjunction with ayahuasca, balancing and sealing a person’s energy field before they undertake an ayahuasca journey.
Tobacco is a deep and spiritual plant steeping in history. It contains thousands of individual organic compounds, and science has found a good degree of good application for them, even if tobacco is overshadowed by the health concerns of its combustion. Sure, tobacco is bad, but, maybe, for the spiritual, there is a glimmer of good in there as well.