Let’s put aside for a moment, any debate over what exactly the term “spirit” entails. If you practice prayer or meditation, seek the guidance of a higher power, or even just greater inspiration in your life, you might find some interesting suggestions within.
Let’s put aside for a moment, any debate over what exactly the term “spirit” entails. If you practice prayer or meditation, seek the guidance of a higher power, or even just greater inspiration in your life, you might find some interesting suggestions within…
Disclaimer: This post is, at its core, about perfectly legal and common food, drink and diets in general. It is not an endorsement for any kind of illegal activity which might be described for background informational purposes.
Humans of all cultures have long practiced rituals which surround cosmologies reaching back to their ancient roots. These cosmologies are often perceived as incompatible, but the practices themselves are nonetheless remarkably similar at times, especially where diet is concerned. Such diets typically accompany a journey meant to create a connection with the ineffable. Nowadays, both psychotropic and nootropic substances of all kinds are sought after especially by students and people looking to gain some kind of mental edge, and includes everything from pill-popping to microdosing psychedelics such as LSD, to a simple cup of morning tea. In short, the process of feeding ourselves has never been about mere satiation and provision of cell energy, and in the future, I predict that perceptions of the hows and whys of diet will continue to diversify into areas hardly even considered today by the average person.
The term entheogen (“generating the divine within”) is used to denote any psychoactive substance that induces a transformative experience and is aimed at spiritual development. Use of entheogens is practiced both by legal religious bodies in various societies, as well as in decidedly more underground settings. It’s not what I am here to discuss, as such, but it is necessary to mention, in that it raises interesting questions when so many people consume things, not just designer drugs but regular plant matter found in nature, for such purposes. And if one believes that there is a connection between the state of spirit and our general ability to flourish as people, then it might be prudent to ask ourselves if there isn’t a puzzle piece left to be fit somewhere in the spaces between biological maintenance, eating for mood or cognitive enhancement, and sacramental ritual. A puzzle piece where regular foods that we consume might have an effect on our spiritual function, specifically.
Sure, a hot cup of morning joe can be said to lift the spirits, but that’s not exactly what I mean.
A Brief History of Food & Religion
Being that most of us come from historically religion-centric cultures, I’ll give some background on how diet and the spirit have related to each other in our recent past. Ritual practices of a sort surrounding food have long been a normal, accepted aspect of all religions, though they tend to have pretty basic, dull sounding explanations. In Lent for example, the primary intention of fasting is to commemorate Jesus’ forty day fast in the desert. This is quite a departure from the motivations Christ himself had, and those of the early church as well as their Judaic progenitors, who sought visions from the Lord. Over the centuries there has been a long, subtle shift in motivations for the average religious practitioner from doing what once had very practical implications, to doing the same for more mundane reasons. The net result is that we don’t know any real good reason why we continue to do it, and ultimately, we stop doing it at all.
Fasting wasn’t only an Abrahamic thing, of course – Native American tribes practiced (and to some extent, continue practicing) vision quests, and Amazonian shamans prepared for ayahuasca ceremonies in which the spirits of all things could be contacted. Those in nature. Those of the dead. And the deeper levels of our own self. One might even say that each group, whether “religious” or “shamanistic”, originally actually had very similar motivations, and perhaps more similar ways of thinking in general than is often admitted. I’ve long wondered if there might be reasons for these common practices rooted in physiological processes we all share. I’ve also wondered if it might be that through the process of institutionalizing spirituality, much of the potential therein has been lost to the greater population.
The Science of (Not) Eating
Before we get into food itself, it’s worth looking at the act of fasting from a perspective of health and science. Few would argue that a controlled fast of even up to twenty or more days would be harmful in any sense to most people; fasts have been studied in some depth and found again and again to reverse disease states and extend lifespan in animal models, and so, on the contrary, it’s looking like they are very beneficial scientifically speaking. It’s hard to find fault in the practice. But was it necessarily done in ancient times to extend life? It’s likely that there are many answers, and the foremost might be scarcity – food wasn’t always readily available, unlike today in some parts of the world where we have so much that it is often thrown away. So it isn’t as if this is an unnatural practice we are introducing when we do it. On the contrary, it gives the body an opportunity to rest and use its energy for healing processes, rather than digestion and metabolism of byproducts.
Where the modern person is likely to run into difficulties is the nature of their typical diets; Whereas we eat heavily processed foods, laden with unnatural levels of salt, sugar, fats and chemicals we did not evolve to consume, our ancestors ate perhaps smaller, but more nutrient dense portions, and the body was able to adapt more easily to transient states of ketosis. Our diets often create metabolic problems and inefficient function of organs, and thus it is slightly more challenging to transition into fasting, but more important as well.
One notion which I long resisted was the idea that loss of spiritual power and well-being could any way be associated with “calcification of the pineal gland” as I began to hear ad nauseum. But, as I continued to study many aspects of health, it became clearer with time that there is actually some kind of merit in thinking that areas of the brain becoming calcified (which happens) would be detrimental to not only a person’s rational faculties, but their spiritual centers as well. And not only this, there would seem to be a dietary component to its causation. According to Healthline:
Calcification can be caused by injury, infection, and autoimmune disorders. However, it is not caused by a calcium-rich diet.
The dubious nature of the last statement notwithstanding, autoimmune disorders and chronic inflammation have themselves been begrudgingly linked to modern consumption habits, and it is only logical therefore to conclude that over time, sloppy eating habits must play a significant role in brain calcification. While they claim that there is no accepted treatment, it is already well known that vitamin K2 transports calcium in the body from areas it is not needed, to areas where it is – such as bone. As the paper laments, “…due to modern manufacturing processes, the vitamin K content, particularly the vitamin K2 content, of the food supply today has significantly dropped.”
Fortunately, K2 can be supplemented and should therefore probably be used as part of any sort of decalcification regime for any purpose, including enhancement of our natural spiritual faculties. Can we really be disconnected from our own spiritual “self”? And can practices like fasting or supplementing calcium transporters be effective strategies to reconnect? It will be obvious to some and difficult for others, but the above are some simple first ideas in understanding how we might approach “spiritual” eating. Believe you me, we are going to get much deeper still.
Spiritual Diet Traditions
Let’s move on to concrete literature surrounding the idea of spiritual diets, because surely there must be some, right? Yes, there is. So… Historically speaking, what was eaten and not eaten, when speaking of “spiritual eating” practices?
First, let’s look at the Hebrew scriptures, canon to both Christianity and Judaism. According to Daniel 10:
1 In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia, a revelation was given to Daniel (who was called Belteshazzar). Its message was true and it concerned a great war. The understanding of the message came to him in a vision. 2 At that time I, Daniel, mourned for three weeks. 3 I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over.
Sometimes the others would snack on the smoked boiled manioc or smoked meat that they carried in their monkey-skin pouches. I, however, was forbidden to eat solid food. “You must suffer,” Tsangu explained, “so that the grandfathers will take pity on you. Otherwise, the ancient specter will not come.”
Two weeks later I was back in Quirishari, when Ruperto appeared for his first private lesson. He told me before leaving, “I will return next Saturday. Prepare yourself the day before, eat neither salt nor fat, just a little boiled or roasted manioc.”
You are usually required to maintain a diet of no salt, sugar, oil, or sex all day before the ceremony and until noon the day after. If you want to learn from the ayahuasca and chacruna (or any other sacred plant that has been added to the ayahuasca medicine), you must diet for a minimum of a week, following the same prescription of no salt, oil, sugar, or sex. … When you follow the required diet, the spirit world is more accessible.
In virtually all accounts, they are allowed mild vegetal teas or at most, bland food of the same type. Never is anything rich, fatty, salty or spicy consumed while seeking a spiritual encounter. Is it possible that there is something “scientific” going on here? In performing these rituals, is it not logical to postulate that physiological processes are occurring which might radically change brain chemistry, decalcifying, or perhaps even something more profound, like altering DNA expression? In denying meats and relying mostly on plant based matter, what could we possibly be doing? I’ve been giving this a lot of thought, and have actually come to a few conclusions, though it depends quite a bit on what specifically is allowed.
I’d like to briefly touch on the “No sex” stipulation, as it might seem oddly out of place. Could that also have a function? One thing I’ve learned is that in males, semen contains a significant amount of zinc, thus subtracting its potential to perform other roles in the body – one of which is in the brain:
Zinc plays an important role in axonal and synaptic transmission and is necessary for nucleic acid metabolism and brain tubulin growth and phosphorylation.
One main element separating Christian ritual diet from native tribal practices, is that there is not really any trick in Christian tradition to what you do eat, it’s far more about what you don’t eat (which does often include sexual abstinence as well) – but interesting clues are still scattered about old testament texts like the book of Daniel. Native practices also rely heavily on a second phase of “diet” which is really the main course, the prime catalyst of any visions and adventures in the ethereal realms. The principle components are nearly universally serotonin analogues derived from tryptamines. If you’re not sure quite that means, I’ll put it this way. The plant kingdom is chock full of them. You may not even know how familiar you are with them.
These serotonin analogues include things like psilocybin, dimethyltryptamine (DMT), bufotenin, and even something you’re probably much more familiar with, especially around Thanksgiving: Tryptophan. Some of them (like DMT) are distilled from plants such as Psychotria viridis, of which around 0.3% is DMT alkaloids. The alkaloids must typically be consumed with monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), which prevent their breakdown in the body and allow them to enter the brain’s serotonin receptors unimpeded. In the Amazon, this would be found in the vines of the Banisteriopsis Caapi.
Truthfully, though, all these things are everywhere, and chances are, at some point in your life, you have unknowingly eaten a combination of things under just the right circumstances, leading to that strangest dream you ever had in your life, to a vision, hallucination, or possibly just an incredibly inspired day. DMT is within virtually all life (including you) in trace amounts, and in some plants in concentrations of up to around 2 percent. Acacia tree bark has quite a bit, Mimosa plants, Phalaris grasses (Canary reeds), and more.
Making Food Mundane Again
Modern Christian and Western tradition in general have, especially from the middle ages forward, diverged from tribal mindsets. No longer do we associate diet with spiritual state, and although subtle clues may be found in the bible, nothing in it explicitly promotes the use of plants or foods of any kind to increase the strength of ones connection with the divine. I am not prepared to go to the lengths that some do, like Hebrew professor Benny Shanon, who claims Moses was high on DMT when he saw the burning bush on Mount Sinai. His reasoning, which is that the Acacia and Syrian rue are both found on Sinai, and thus could have fueled his visions might not be that far-fetched, but is unfounded speculation. What is true is that Acacia was used in old testament sacramental rituals, as ordered by God himself:
“Moreover, you shall make an altar as a place for burning incense; you shall make it of acacia wood.” -Exodus 30:1
However, the nature of how it was used is uncertain, and it’s a bit unlikely that alkaloids were breathed in. It would depend on a lot, such as what part of the wood was used in the altar, and what was used as the incense. Syrian Rue aka Harmala has indeed been used as a ritual incense in the Middle East throughout recorded history. Being a very well known and potent MAOI, and also known for its ability to produce visions on its own, if the two were combined together by combustion, it might function as some kind of analogue to ayahuasca, but that still might be a stretch. If the Acacia bark specifically were used as an altar bed, that would increase the chances about a hundred fold – but no mention is made of bark. One does wonder (at least I do) why God would be so particular if there was no function to the choice of material. Are we to believe that he is simply vain and demanding? I guess a lot of people do believe that already…
Update: According to Dennis McKenna: “…some of these Acacias, the content is so high, they’re 2% DMT. So if you were to take leaves and throw them on a fire in an enclosed space, you could potentially get quite loaded on DMT. ”
Interesting. I had not expected that. Especially when I wasn’t even looking for information on the subject. To randomly hear an interview covering the same theories I wrote about here is synchronicity at its finest, I guess.
Well… I ought to get back to food because this is going a little off track now. In general, the Western Christian view which has developed over the centuries is that food is to be regarded as sustenance. Regardless, our culture does occasionally acknowledge a “spiritual” aspect of food in more subtle and benign seeming ways; chocolate, of course, puts most women on cloud nine, while coffee perks most of us up and helps us to focus. Tea, similarly, and through similar means, gets us focused but often in a calmer way. There are an incredible number of tea preparations out there, and few as famous as Earl Grey, which is made with an infusion of Bergamot, a type of citrus. Would you be surprised if I told you, then, that Bergamot has also been found to contain tryptamines and tryptamine derivatives including DMT?
As for N,N-dimethyltryptamine, which is the compound of major concern due to its well-known hallucinogenic properties, it is present at very low levels also in peel, edible parts, and seeds.
Nature is often said to mimic form according to its use. Isn’t it odd that the bergamot then, heavily resembles a brain?
Bergamot is just a single example of a countless number of foods which contain tryptamines. But before I go on, let’s back up for a moment and talk about the cultural legend and stigma of this “DMT” substance. First of all, it is considered a Schedule I drug, illegal to sell or distribute, yada yada ya. Back in the 80s and 90s, it gained a lot of notoriety in no small part due to the smooth ramblings of the afro-wearing, hippie-like guru Terence McKenna, who was basically a major cult figure of the psychedelic community, and major proponent of its use for the purpose of promoting “novelty”, breaking down the institutions of egocentrism and materialism, and whatever else. Terence recounted dazzling tales of taking this substance and flying off into realms where he would encounter “machine elves” decorated like faberge eggs, who, via telepathic gibberish language, brought entire new realities into creation. Suffice it to say, it is wild stuff to listen to and the man is full of memorable quotes, if nothing else.
“Chaos is what we’ve lost touch with. This is why it is given a bad name. It is feared by the dominant archetype of our world, which is Ego, which clenches because its existence is defined in terms of control.”
― Terence McKenna
Why Does My Body Make This Crazy Stuff?!?
What’s up with the idea that we make something that’s a… a DRUG, dagnabit, in our own bodies?? This is of major concern here! What could a “valid” function of endogenous DMT and other tryptamines possibly be? If we cut through this clouded layer of drug culture association and look deeper at the evidence in nature, in our foods and indeed, in us, we begin to realize that DMT is not even a drug in the classic “scary evil illegal” sense at all. It is not a substance manufactured in the hidden basement of a kingpin’s laundromat or an ugly brown RV. It doesn’t require a chemist background to make. It isn’t even really made by human hands at all. And when human hands do touch it, all they do is concentrate it from source plant matter.
One theory of mine is: It makes us dream, and perhaps moreover, very specific kinds of dreams, which like the ayahuasca rituals, teach us about ourselves or connect us to something deeper. That would be fantastic, if it means that we don’t need to drink a disgusting cup of goop to access the secrets hidden within our subconscious!
Literature concerning the external consumption of DMT during ritual and recreatonal use tells us that there are two time related aspects involved: First is the objective measure of time a typical experience lasts, and second is the subjective, that is, in the user’s head. An average dose consisting of about 30 mg will bring on primary effects which objectively last somewhere in the order of five to ten minutes. Subjectively, however, the person may feel as though they are accumulating hours, days, or even more of experiences. With a threshold dose, it is not a stretch to imagine that somewhat more brief but equally intense visionary experiences are still possible.
This gap between the objective and subjective measure of time can also be observed in dreams. We know that our dreams do not last for hours, but they feel like they do. We may have dozens in a single night, and forget most of them. Could it be that endogenous DMT is activated during sleep in order to produce these extended scenarios, which, like psychedelic induced visions, often seem like nothing we’ve ever experienced? Could it be responsible as well for other unexplained incidences of spontaneous visions? Currently, researchers’ best guesses are that it plays a role in inducing a calm and relaxed state:
Furthermore, we suggest that endogenous DMT interacts with the TA receptor to produce a calm and relaxed mental state, which may suppress, rather than promote, symptoms of psychosis.
Eat Your Precursors, Dear
When I was around 24 years old, I laid down in my room after a lunch of KFC on a Sunday afternoon. I was not tired, I simply wanted to think and gather my energy for the day’s activities. Suddenly I found myself whisked away to another environment. It wasn’t anything like a dream. I felt myself present there in a very physical way – a wooden bench felt solid and cool to the touch; objects appeared convincing, their textures full of detail. Events unfolded, like some kind of VR movie going on around me, or a Star Trek holodeck simulation. Those comparisons pale.
I wondered long afterward: Man… what did they put in that chicken? It turns out, I may not have been far off the mark. Chicken contains tryptophan, one of the necessary precursors to the production of endogenous DMT. Those wishing for a bit of spiritual adventure or vivid lucid dreaming in their life might do well to consider the “precursor” approach to tryptamines rather than attempting to hunt down the finished product.
A good approach might be combining something very high in tryptophan content, such as eggs, with something high in tryptamine, like blue cheese, and then top it off with a nice cup of Earl Green tea for the Bergamot (DMT and various tryptamine derivatives) and L-Theanine content, which promotes alpha wave production. Earl Green as opposed to Earl Grey (Black Tea) would not have such stimulating properties which we might not desire. Finally, you could add a dob of Bergamot Marmalade to the tea to “sweeten the deal”.
Many already know about the bizarre dream inducing effects of Stilton cheese, but few seem to be able to clarify the mechanisms behind it, or why it produces this effect but other foods with similar compounds do not. It is my theory that blue cheeses are one of the few foods which contain all necessary precursors to DMT, enabling the body to synthesize and release it as we enter la-la land. Though, it wouldn’t be surprising at all if the fungi component P. roqueforti mycotoxins work synergistically with the tryptamines here as well.
I am not going to get into MAOI alternatives, because for one thing, we’ve already covered a lot, but also, even though the same is true and they can naturally be found in food and supplement products, bad interactions can (supposedly) happen leading to hypertensive crisis and things of that nature. It is unlikely with the amounts typically found in these alternatives, but nonetheless, I’d rather not get into it. And if I haven’t made it clear enough, I am not here to promote drug use nor anything resembling it.
It’s almost a cliche by now to see websites and videos with the claim “I’m here to promote knowledge and harm reduction”, but the fact is that I do not endorse the use of substances like LSD, psilocybin or DMT for that matter as replacements for a rich personal spiritual life attained by good habits, meditation, and seeking truth and goodness in ones life. Although it may seem like a contradiction of sorts and the lines may be blurred at this point, there is a difference between letting life happen as it will and learning from it, vs trying to manufacture encounters with the divine, so to speak. With that in mind, one should approach the information presented in this article with a view to enhancement of our natural capacities, rather than seeking to “trip”.
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