Have you ever wondered what a shaman’s responsibilities are? We often think of them as healers of the sick, but it turns out this is only half of the picture. The word for this sacred profession actually comes from the Turkic dialect, originating in a remote region of Siberia thought by many to be the birthplace of shamanism. One of the earliest interpretations we have found for the term shaman is “one who heals the sick and honors the forest.” So in essence, their duty is to look after the wellbeing of both man and mother nature.
Today, I’d like to focus on that second obligation. I am not a shaman, but working alongside them in the course of this work has taught me that in addition to their obligations as tribal healers and the keepers of the ancient ways, the shaman also leads the conservation effort in their tribe or community. They take responsibility for the protection of the forest, the ecosystem that supports the sacred plants.
If you follow the news, you’ve probably noticed some big demonstrations and summits about the global climate crisis lately. In fact, the Peoples Climate March in New York City last month was the largest demonstration on US soil in over a decade. This is some rare good news for mother nature, but still many bemoan the abstract and indecisive rally cry of these movements and feel that this cause is a headless serpent moving without any real strategy. Today, I’d like to pose a new message from the Sacred Science team, specifically regarding the preservation of the most essential natural sanctuary left on earth – the Amazon Rainforest.
The message is simple – we are unwittingly destroying the earth’s medicine cabinet and shredding the pages of its built-in manual.
The environmental crisis in the Amazon is not a new issue. From the time I was a teenager I can remember watching commercials and reading magazine articles about the mindless destruction of the South American jungles. In fact, it became such a popular topic back in the eighties that it might have even over-saturated our awareness and become one of those shamefully ignorable tales of devastation.
But in the fight against deforestation in the Amazon, there is one angle that doesn’t seem to have been emphasized enough. There is plenty of talk about our moral duty and obligation to do the right thing, but what about the 100% selfish reasons for preserving this incredible resource that is burning down before our very eyes?
There are over 60,000 species of plants in the Amazon Rainforest and of these, less than 3% have been studied by western medicine for their medicinal value. Of this small number of plants that have been extensively researched, over 25% of our conventional treatments are derived from them. Aren’t we curious about the potential cures that the other 97% of these plants hold?
Unfortunately, we don’t have much time to find out. The tropical forests of South America are rich in natural resource value and are being bulldozed and burned by government backed businesses who are willing to do whatever it takes to squeeze money from them. Each year, hundreds of plant species go extinct and countless indigenous tribes of the Amazon are displaced because of this type of “forward progress”.
As renowned ethnobotanist, Mark Plotkin puts it, “If you look at the Amazon Jungle as an encyclopedia of medicinal plants, the indigenous tribes that live there are surely its index and table of contents.” Without their guidance, you are lost in your search.
The indigenous communities in the Amazon are the only people who know how to navigate the maze of plant species in this region. Having thousands of years of ancestral experience with these herbs, they alone can distinguish which have medicinal value and which do not. As we continue this mindless destruction of their land and the plants that live on it, we are losing this knowledge forever.
Our mission with the Sacred Science is two-pronged. On one hand, we are endeavoring to seek out ancient medicines, something that is near and dear to our hearts, as you know. On the other, we are working to bring the world’s attention to the plight of the native communities that hold this wisdom.
Our “angle” in this second mission is to show the medical importance of understanding indigenous healing lineages, with a highlight on the plants they use. Our aim is to make a logical, scientifically sound case for the preservation of this tribal wisdom – as an untapped well of potential cures.
The Sacred Science movement began as an unlikely healing journey into the Amazon, but there is more at stake now than the physical and emotional wellbeing of eight patients. In the coming months, we will be exploring new ways of giving back to the culture that is featured in the Sacred Science film and we invite your suggestions and feedback.
FYI: During next week’s free screening of The Sacred Science, we will be hosting a special live talk with the founders of Amazon Watch, one of the most respected environmental conservation organizations in the world, who will be giving us their insights on what each of us can do to help protect our precious forests and support the efforts of our indigenous brothers and sisters.
It all starts with community. Together we can accomplish the impossible.
Nick & The Sacred Science Team