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Content Revised July, 1998

 

Ritual Smoking & Magic

In this section, I’d like to focus on the connections to spirits invoked by Ritual Smoking. In my experience this is one of the most pleasurable aspects of Ritual Smoking and has played a large role in why smoking in general remains a popular activity. I realize that for some, this may be getting a bit out there, but I think it is an essential discussion if we are to begin to understand the underpinnings of Ritual Smoking. If the phenomena of smoking in our culture could be fully understood and appreciated using the vocabularies of sociology and psychology, then the act of smoking would lie exclusively within the realm of reason and, I’m almost certain, no one would even consider smoking. But smoking persists despite social pressures and scientific evidence. To understand Ritual Smoking and smoking in general more fully, let us allow our minds to consider some ideas which, in these times at least, are somewhat out of fashion. The rewards for such persistence I’ve found are substantial and, if nothing else, entertaining and pleasurable.

Ritual Smoking and its connection to magic is in part dependent upon the very old idea of spirits of things. In times before we became so "sophisticated" as to put men on the moon (and people on the streets), it was very common for many things (if not everything) to possess spirits. Spirits were akin to personalities which were said to inhabit all sorts of things: plants, animals, places, times of day, and seasons of the year, just to name a few. For example, the spirit of the Bear was embodied in all bears which walked the earth, the spirit of corn grew in every ear wherever cultivated. Of particular interest was the belief that the spirit of a thing possessed not only certain qualities which distinguished it from other spirits, but that by bidding for and accepting a relationship with a particular spirit, one could gain access to the power of that spirit. So someone who had bid for and established a relationship with Bear Spirit could call upon a certain fierceness and determination to see them through difficult situations. Someone who had bid for and established a relationship with a particular forest or stream could call upon a quiet energy and persistent patience in the same way. Spirits were said to confer upon their patrons their unique attributes as gifts of the spirit. In return, the receiver of these gifts honored their spirit familiars, and walked proudly and with confidence, knowing that he or she did not walk alone.

In the case of Ritual Smoking and Magic, we’re interested in three particular things:

  • soliciting a relationship with the spirit of the tobacco plant,
  • maintaining that relationship by finding ways to honor that spirit, and
  • coming to understand the nature of the gifts she possesses so that we may come to honor these gifts by using them wisely.

 

Soliciting a Relationship with the Spirit of Tobacco

A relationship with a spirit is something which may sound a bit strange when put into words. In speaking with others who are familiar with spirits, I am lead to believe these relationships are a very personal matter. What a relationship with the spirit of tobacco will be like for you is something you will have to explore on your own. I can suggest ways you may initiate and nurture such a relationship, but beyond that, I can only offer my own experiences in which I have found a relationship with the spirit of tobacco to be benevolent, challenging, beneficial, and compelling.

If you are not aware of a relationship with the spirit of tobacco in your life, the first step is to look back and see if you might have passed up an invitation from her.(I should mention at this point that I experience the spirit of the tobacco plant as female and refer to her as "she", but that may just be how she appears to me and not to others).Did you ever feel the desire or inclination to smoke? Did you ever unexpectedly find a pack of cigarettes and passed up the opportunity to try them for fear of what others might think? Maybe you were "too young to smoke" at the time, or maybe it would have been a difficult time for you to pursue such a relationship. In any event, think back over your experiences and memories of tobacco and see if you can come up with something which felt like an invitation. If you do remember a particular event in your life, how has the memory set with you over time? Did you voluntarily forget it happened? Was it something you consciously tried to put out of mind because of a negative association with habitual smoking? Maybe you have sustained a lingering curiosity about smoking in the back of your mind as something you never quite understood, but which none-the-less seems to have drawn you to this site? Whatever the case, if you can recall at least one experience in your life in which you felt a healthy curiosity to experiment with smoking, consider that you may have received a solicitation from the spirit of tobacco.

If you have no memory of the spirit of tobacco soliciting a relationship with you, your task will be to solicit a relationship with her, and then to look for signs of whether she wishes to accept your solicitation; like all relationships, this is a two-way street. You will need to ask the spirit of tobacco for the opportunity to establish a relationship. In this endeavor, you might reveal to her some of your intentions for seeking her company. It’s not uncommon in these matters to make a small offering as well, as a token of your sincerity. After you have made your request, you will need to listen for a response. If you receive no definite negative indications, or if you believe you’ve already received an invitation from the spirit of tobacco, begin to pursue Ritual Smoking according to the instructions I’ve provided for Creating and Participating in a Smoking Ritual: go shopping for cigarettes and begin to explore an appropriate time and place to smoke. If the preliminaries feel good to you, slowly and mindfully begin to conduct Smoking Rituals. Pay attention to how Ritual Smoking feels to you. If it feels adventurous, appropriate, and fun (and ultimately it’s your call), then consider that your solicitation has been accepted by the spirit of tobacco and continue to explore. If not, go onto other things. There are certainly no shortages of interesting things to do in this life.

 

Maintaining a Relationship with the Spirit of Tobacco

Given that you’ve established a relationship with the spirit of tobacco, let’s look at maintaining and nurturing that relationship. Maintaining your relationship with the spirit of tobacco involves coming to live your life in harmony with her: allowing her access to the depth of your being and accepting her gifts with wisdom and gratitude. Ritual Smoking is nothing more than the embodiment of this ideal. The spirit of tobacco has taught me many things and I can attribute to her numerous pleasurable and expanding experiences which I don’t believe I would have had otherwise. In return I participate in Ritual Smoking, I honor the gifts the spirit of tobacco has brought to me, and I seek ways to deepen this relationship. For further guidance, you might want to read legends from different cultures which maintain traditions involving relations with spirits. Native American mythology is very popular and easy to find these days, particularly in the US. But there are certainly many sources to choose from.

Finally, I would like to restate the overview of Ritual Smoking I gave at the introduction to this site:

Ritual Smoking is a conscious and appropriate use of tobacco and as such is a choice, something done at special times and in a special places, maybe with special smoking accessories, and maybe in the company of others who share and know how to participate in smoking as a ritual as well. Above all, Ritual Smoking is done for pleasure, for the connection to spirits it invokes, and as a wholly positive experience about which you do not even consider feeling guilty. Specifically, Ritual Smoking is not done on the sly or in shame, nor huddled under a shelter which your employer has provided as a concession until you successfully complete their stop-smoking program. Nor is it something you do while attempting to accomplish anything else. Ritual Smoking is a singular activity: It calls for your complete and focused attention and rewards that attention with an experience which expands the boundaries of awareness and pleasure.

I can think of no better way to maintain a relationship with the spirit of tobacco. In this context, it becomes clear that Ritual Smoking is not done for the pleasure of smoking per se, rather Ritual Smoking is done as a part of the pleasure of nurturing a relationship with the spirit of tobacco. When you smoke, visualize taking the gifts of the spirit of tobacco inside you as you inhale then pause for a moment and let the smoke cleanse your spirit. As you exhale, return the smoke to its rightful place, to the earth and spirits from which it came. Give thanks when you are done.

Coming to Understand the Nature of the Gifts of the Spirit of Tobacco

So what are the gifts of the spirit of tobacco? My readings and personal experience with tobacco have resulted in the list below. If you know of others, please feel free to email me so I can share them here.

1. Divination, Healing and Knowledge
Historically, tobacco has been used as a means to divination, to know more about something than meets the eye. It has been used to diagnose the cause of illness and disease, and to determine the most beneficial course of action in a personal or community crisis. Personally, I often find the spirit of tobacco to be a very willing and able teacher in matters pertinent to my life. I have come to rely upon this teaching for insight into perspectives which would otherwise be beyond me. I’ve never found this guidance to be anything but helpful, intelligent, and in my best interest. All that seems to be required to engage this gift is a humble request and the willingness to listen. As an example, the content of this web site is comprised of things taught to me by the spirit of tobacco.

2. Ritual and Transformation
Tobacco has been used extensively in ritual and ceremony because of its ability to alter our perception of time, our perception of ourselves, and our perception of the world.

The Ability to Alter the Perception of Time
Ritual Smoking certainly alters one’s perception of the passage of time. I will leave it to you to verify this claim with your own experience. It’s my impression too, that smoking in general seems to have a related effect: have you ever watched someone smoking in public? Do they seem to you to be somewhere else? Their eyes focused on some far-away place, their thoughts obviously elsewhere. When asked why they smoke, often smokers say it affords them a "break," a short period of time in which they can set the troubles of their world aside, and for that brief time get away from it all. Whether it be Ritual, habitual or otherwise, it is my belief that smoking alters our perception of the passage of time. The focus of Ritual Smoking is to consciously cultivate this ability and to place it in an appropriate and useful context, as opposed to leaving it undeveloped in the context of a nervous habit.

The Ability to Alter the Perception of Ourselves and our world
At the very heart of the idea of transformation is the idea that we possess the ability to change, to remake ourselves and our lives in meaningful ways. It’s my experience that Ritual Smoking can serve as a transformational agent in life with a power equaled by few other activities. Again, I will leave it to you to verify this for yourself. Even in its habitual role though, smoking often serves as an agent of change. It’s certainly no secret that most people begin smoking in their teens, a time of intense transformation if ever there was one. In our teenage years, we are called upon to transform our entire self image from that of a child fully dependent upon our parents, to that of an adult, ready to face the responsibilities of life on our own. Is it a big surprise that kids often begin to smoke at this age? It is often said that kids smoke to make them feel "grown up." Our culture always denigrates this claim, thinking they are cheating or worse, relying upon a "crutch." (Must we do everything the hard way?) What if we take this at face value: smoking is an active agent in the revision of their self-image from that of a child to an adult. There, I said it. It was certainly true for me, and I don’t think I’m alone in this matter.
As adults, are there not other, equally profound changes and transformations available to us? I have to think so. And it’s my experience that one of the gifts of the spirit of tobacco is that which can open our eyes to visions of ourselves which are all too often obscured by the everyday routines of our lives. Legends and mythology are full of tales of heroes being led by spirits to enact positive and meaningful transformations in their lives and cultures. Why, in our quest to be modern do we deny ourselves access to such powerful gifts?. Again, in Ritual Smoking, the emphasis is upon cultivating this ability consciously and to place it in an appropriate and useful context.

4. The Ability to Influence Dreams
I’ve recently read accounts of people having had very vivid and profound dreams after smoking certain exotic (yes, tobacco) cigarettes. I don’t know why this is, and I don’t think the mechanism is important, but I think it’s worth noting that such things happen. Personally, I’ve asked the spirit of tobacco for dreams of guidance and received very interesting and personally valuable results. It also bear mentioning that in some cultures tobacco is know as a "Power Plant" for its ability to promote and enhance visions, divination, and psychic ability.

Summary
It is my experience that smoking in general, and Ritual Smoking in particular, interrupts and alters to some degree our perception of time, our idea of ourselves, and the information we receive through our senses, each in a barely noticeable yet tangibly pleasant way. The resulting interruption, if used wisely, can spawn the most interesting and valuable experiences, often of a very pleasant and beneficial nature. It is my intent here to suggest that the gifts of the spirit of tobacco can be used to engage life on a broader scale, and that we waste these potentially valuable gifts by denigrating smoking as an habitual pastime.


MrTedd 1998