Saturday, August 26, 2006

Entheogen (Glossary)

An entheogen generally refers to a mind or mood-altering substance, often hallucinogenic, that supposedly generates profound spiritual experience.

Common entheogens include "psychedelic" mushrooms, cannabis, peyote, morning glory seeds, and other natural drugs that are often illegal today.

Many researchers believe that elixir substances like Amrita, Soma, the Apples of Eden and the like were entheogenic in nature. An opposing view is that the elixir primarily promoted good health and longevity.

In this blog, we have suggested that the elixir, which indeed was linked throughout many cultures, is strongly connected with a specific sacred location -- the cosmic mountain.

In this location, all consumables -- entheogens, herbs, fruits, water, etc. -- were considered sacred and as possessing magical properties or "mana."

Soma/Haoma of the Sea

The tradition of Soma or Haoma coming from the sea is an interesting and puzzling one. Most entheogens involve land-based plants.

According to the Mahabharata, after the ash and debris from the flaming Mount Mandara poured down the rivers into the sea turning the waters white, the Amrita or Soma arose like butter from the churned ocean.

In the Indo-Pacific region, there are numerous seaweeds that contain indole alkaloids similar to those found in other entheogens.

It's difficult to say when seaweed consumption began in this region although it appears very old. Seaweeds were widely consumed in the Pacific when the Europeans arrived. There is even some archaeological evidence of its consumption despite the fragility of the algae from the Latte Period in Guam, which started in the 9th century CE.

The Hawaiians favored seaweed when eating poi, and in the Philippines traditional fresh salads were made with gelatinous seaweeds, while terrestrial vegetables were usually cooked.

Pigafetta found "the sea to be full of grass although the depth of the sea was very great" as he approached the island of Jolo in the southern Philippines.

P. Blanco in his late 1700s book on Philippine flora mentions gulaman a general term for seaweeds used especially to make the gelatinous substance known as agar-agar (Malay jelly). Bergano, from around the same period, mentions cancung as the name of "grass" grown in the water without specifying sea grasses. However he also says that some types of cancung were collected for use in salads ("ensalada"), which suggests that cancung included seaweed, which has been eaten raw in salads for centuries at least.

The Philippines is currently a major producer and cultivator of seaweed including the peculiar Caulerpa species known generally as lato.

"Peppery" seaweed

Caulerpa species are known to contain psychoactive substances such as caulerpin, caulerpicin and caulerpenyne.

Some of these are mild and caulerpin even has root growth stimulant properties.

Sea grapes, Caulerpa racemosa, Hawai`i, source:

Lukay-lukay, Caulerpa taxifola, an hallucinogenic algae, source:

In the local tradition, food with these substances are said to have a "peppery" taste. Mild seaweeds of this type cause a slight numbness to the tongue and mouth.

Strong peppery seaweeds sting the mouth and are avoided by most people. However, some are predisposed to the stronger seaweeds including the Caulerpa taxifolia species, which can be strongly hallucinogenic in nature.

Psychoactive fish

Certain herbivorous fish consume Caulerpa and similar hallucinogenic algae and concentrate the active substances in their flesh or other body parts.

For example, the blue seachub (Khyphosus cinerascens) is known worldwide as one of the most frequently implicated species in hallucinogenic fish poisoning.

In the Philippines one of the names for the blue seachub is dapog "open fire," which probably suggests the strong "peppery" qualities of this fish when eaten.

Recently, Caulerpa taxifolia invaded the Mediterranean, where it is not native, and was apparently was consumed by a local herbivorous fish known as the Sarpa salpa. Two people reported having hallucinations and nightmares after consuming the fish.

In the Pacific, such hallucinogenic fish species are called "dream fish."

Algae blooms can also cause many common edible species to become toxic and sometimes hallucinogenic.

Blue seachub, Khyphosus cinerascens, known in some parts of the Philippines as dapog is a powerfully-hallucinogenic fish well-known for cases of fish poisoning, source: Robert A. Patzner.

The "red tide" bloom effects shellfish and among some people a substance known as domoic acid found in cases of Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning (ASP) causes hallucinations. A similar effect occurs with edible fish species during ciguatera blooms.

Indeed even spoiled shellfish can contain the neurotoxin tetrodotoxin, which is believed to be the active substance in the famous Haitian zombie powder used by voodoo practitioners.

It's interesting that many species classifed as hallucinogenic and poisonous elsewhwere are easily available in Philippine markets including Caulerpa taxifolia, Blue seachub, damselfish (ulan-ulan) and goatfishes (saramollete).

While a fresh seaweed salad is considered today a healthy and delicious addition to a meal through much of the Nusantao and Austronesian region, I know of no indication that psychoactive seaweeds, fish or shellfish were used in ritual fashion of any kind.

Betel nut and kava were more commonly used as mild intoxicants with some link to spiritual rituals.

However, the general effect of these "peppery" seafoods is certainly known, and no doubt some people consume them for this specific reason.

In this regard, the tale of bird's nest soup is of interest.

Made from the nests of certain species of Southeast Asian swifts, the bird's nests are considered an elixir of youth in Chinese and Vietnamese traditional medicine. Even today bird's nests are still sold as an expensive health tonic.

The swift birds in the Philippines and the bird's nest itself are known as salangana.

The nest is constructed mostly of regurgitated seaweed eaten by the swift. In ancient tradition, the bird digested the sea foam itself infusing the sea's nutrients into the nest. Most commonly it was the local Ngoso type of seaweed that was involved, but also not rarely the Lato or Caulerpa seaweeds and even the powerfully psychoactive Caulerpa taxifolia was used by the little swift!

Paul Kekai Manansala


California Sea Grant, Caulerpa Weed Story,

Capuli, Estelita Emily and Kathleen Kesner-Reyes. "Khyphosus cinerascens in Philippines," Country Species Summary, Link.

Meinesz, Alexandre. Killer Algae, University of Chicago Press, 2001.

Simoons, Frederick J. Food in China, CRC Press, 1990, pgs. 428-9.

Velasquez, Gregorio. "History on the Local Uses of Seaweed," Science Review Vol. 8, no. 3 (March 1967), Philippines: National Science and Development Board.


richard said...

Hi, very interesting post ! thanks !
may i invite you to visit my blog about entheogens plants in philippines ? :
Hope to see you there !