Navigating the ineffable realms through plant medicine offers what many would call a mystical experience, an experience transcending rational thought. For some, integrating these mystical experiences into ego consciousness goes smoothly, it is what depth psychologists would call ego syntonic. For others, processing, integrating, and filtering the experience can be deeply confronting, vulnerable, and challenging. Egoic consciousness recedes during ceremony so that the plant medicines can interact with and heal the psyche and soul. Through this process some individuals can be led into perceivable near-death experiences. Without proper integration of these profound psychosomatic experiences, the ego can be left feeling weak, fragile, and dystonic to the individual’s evolving personality structure.
Depth psychologists hold the assumption that psyche contains all of the conscious and unconscious contents that allow us and/or block us from accessing our self, others, and all that which transcends psyche (Ulanov, 2017, p. 8). Ulanov describes the psychoid realm as where psyche and matter become one, one is no longer separate from the other. The soul acts as a two-way mirror. Reflecting upwards, the soul bridges unconscious contents to consciousness, and the reverse, it also bridges contents of consciousness back down into the unconscious. In our everyday experience, the psychoid realm is most notable in moments of synchronicity, the meaningful coincidences that collide within a time-space continuum. In psychoid moments psyche and matter collide so that we are left feeling the most human and inhuman simultaneously. It is the work of many depth psychologists and Jungian analysts to provide individuals with an experiential framework for these deeply meaningful experiences.
Psychedelics can offer an immediate gateway into these psychoid realms. They can open individuals to realms of the psyche that on one end, are blissful encounters with archetypal experiences of love and light, and on the other, experiences of holy terror and dread. It is my intention in this paper to explore the latter, as these perceivably traumatic encounters with archetypal realms can lead to what is called post ceremony stress syndrome (PCSS). PCSS can easily lead one into neurosis if the individual is not given an appropriate context and container for integration.
It is my intention in this paper to elaborate on how participating in a Santo Daime ceremony can mirror the alchemical process depicted in the Rosarium Philosophorum. My hope is that a symbolic interpretation of this alchemical series can offer depth psychological context and healing for individuals who are struggling to integrate PCSS following plant medicine ceremonies. As plant medicine usage continues to grow in the West, it is important that depth psychologists are equipped to help individuals process interactions with the psychoid realm. What I have to offer in this paper is my personal experience with Daime—led by a shaman in South America whose foundations lie in the Church of Santo Daime.
The plant medicine I will discuss in this paper is Santo Daime. The brew is made from two different plants. One is a vine banisteriopsis caapi, also called jagube or yagé. This half of the brew is said to carry the masculine energetic force of the divine. The other half of the brew contains leaves of psychotria viridis, that are said to be an embodiment of the feminine energetic force of the divine. In the Santo Daime tradition, the divine nature of the brew is said to be a fusion of masculine and feminine energies. The brew is prepared during a process called "feitio." Women gather and clean the leaves, while men pound the vines. Throughout the two-week process of brewing, the medicine is never left alone. The entire time, it is prayed and sang over. Due to the nature of preparation, the beverage is not called 'Ayahuasca', but 'Santo Daime.’ “Daime,” is a Portuguese word meaning “give me,” as in the prayer “give me light, give me strength, give me wisdom.” The term is a prayer or invocation towards the sacramental nature of the brew. Individuals who choose to participate in sacred Daime ceremonies are thought to become exposed to powerful realms of the psyche.
Dr. William Barnard (2021), understands that by combining the feminine and masculine archetypal energies together in the brew with a deep respect and reverence, the brew itself becomes the “divine offspring” of the two forces. As the brew works through the psyche of the individual, it is thought to be a communion with Christ consciousness. With this in mind, the sequence of 10 woodcuts from the alchemical Rosarium Philosophorum (1550) provide a symbolic representation of this archetypal process of unification, death, and rebirth that can occur in an individual ingesting and becoming transformed through Daime. In alchemy, it was the coming together of opposites that served as a key element of the alchemical process. The Hieros Gamoes, the sacred marriage of the masculine and feminine elements, create a union that manifests something larger than the individual separated parts. It generates the hermaphrodite.
The Alchemical Process of Daime
Stages of the alchemical process mirror stages in the evolution of consciousness. Through meditation, prayer, and contemplation centered on the elements, the alchemists were attempting to create gold. They believed that spirit is immanent in the body and that their work was to animate the spirit and liberate it so that it can live more fully. I believe this is also what Daime offers to the individual. Through an experience of the psychoid, the individual can become conscious of the symbolic process of creating inner gold. The Rosarium Philosophorum describes the preparation of the Philosophers Stone, each chapter containing a symbolic image. The images are integral to bridging the alchemical process to experiences with Santo Daime. I will discuss and relate images one through ten of the series to my Daime journey in this paper. I use Jung’s Psychology of the Transference, in Collected Works Volume 16, as a primary reference for the images of the woodcuts, as well as for its wisdom in providing a psychological interpretation of this alchemical text. I also use Scottish writer Adam McLean’s (1980) seven stages of the alchemical text Rosarium Philosophorum to create a framework for navigation.
Stage One: Entry into the vessel of transformation
The first image of the Rosarium Philosophorum, The Mercurial Fountain (Figure 1) presents the alchemical prima materia. These are the old instinctive reflexes, reactions, undeveloped emotions that are stored in the somatic unconscious. The image shows the three elements to be transformed—body, soul, and spirit—represented by the three faucets flowing into the Hermetic fountain. The stream of the body represents the feminine forces, the stream of spirit represents the masculine forces, and the stream of the soul represents the Mercurial soul forces. Although these forces are streaming into the lower soul world, the contact with the upper spiritual realm is still disconnected and separated into dual masculine and feminine energies represented by the moon and the sun. This symbolizes spirit and matter’s separateness.
The alchemy within a Daime context is at this point attempting to recognize the prima materia in the individual participating in the ceremony. I believe the medicine works on what Jung called the “unholy trinity,” the body, the feminine, and the shadow. Through recognition of these elements, the Daime can intuit where the individual soul has separated spirit from matter. The ego would prefer to inhibit this unconscious confrontation since that would require a death and rebirth process, a symbolic crucifixion of the ego. In this process, Daime uses the soul as the vehicle to begin to bridge spirit and matter.
At this point in my Daime process, the shaman walked around the circle of individuals, and stopped at me. I told her it felt as if my heart would not open. She knelt down, said a prayer, and whispered to me, “You must let go, they cannot hurt you any more.” At that moment I purged for the first time and alchemically, my prima materia was now available for the medicine to begin alchemizing.
Figure 1. The Mercurial Fountain
Stage Two: A conjunction of archetypal forces
Images two through five of the Rosarium Philosophorum (Figures 2-5) represent the conjunction of the masculine and feminine forces. In Figure 2, the opposites are beginning the unification process, but at a distance. There is a clear distinction between masculine and feminine consciousness. The King and Queen are fully clothed and have joined hands on the left. Jung believed this was the meeting of both the masculine and feminine dark sides, uniting them in the lower soul. The right hand of each holds a flower and offers a distant, yet conscious acknowledgment of one another. The bird descending from the star above illustrates a third form of unity from the spiritual realm. This strengthens the meeting and alchemical container. As the prima materia is exposed, this spiritual third allows the alchemy to continue as a form of grace that offers security within the context of uncertainty and the unknown.
Figure 2. The King and Queen
Image three in the series (Figure 3), the King and Queen have now stripped their clothes. The animating masculine and feminine forces within the psyche are slowly shedding the layers of protection from persona roles and can be seen more clearly. The veils of consciousness have been lifted. The King and Queen are now holding branches and blossoms of the flowers in each hand. The white bird above is still offering the unifying element. The polarization of masculine and feminine forces has alchemized enough for the integration process to begin. This is the beginning of the transmutation of the opposing forces.
Figure 3. The Naked Truth
It is at this point in my Daime ceremony, I experienced a wave of divine love like I had never experienced before in my life. I link this to the symbolic dove pictured in the images above. As the veils between my own masculine and feminine forces lifted, the anima/animus within me were beginning to alchemize and confront the dark matter within each other. I felt immensely held by what can only be described as a somatic experience of love so deep that it took my breath away. As the tears rolled down my face, I held my hands in a prayer position and began to kiss the ground with reverence for the amount of grace I was experiencing. Rumi once said, “Love cannot be learned or taught. Love comes as Grace.” Synchronistically, at this point in the ceremony, an angelic version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah reverberated through the casita. The lyrics moved as medicine in and through me. The verse that was the most medicinal was the following,
There was a time you let me know,
What's really going on below,
But now you never show it to me, do you?
And I remember when I moved in you,
And the holy dove, she was moving too,
And every single breath we drew was Hallelujah (Cohen, 1984).
Figure 4. Immersion in the Bath
In image four of the woodcuts (Figure 4), the King and Queen have sustained their unification through the floral cross, in addition to the aid of spirit, but they now reside in a hexagonal bath. The King and Queen who represent the archetypal figures of the depths, the anima/animus, are now entering into the unconsciousness of the soul that was initially presented in Figure 1 with the Mercurial fountain. In Collected Works, Volume 16, Jung (1946/1966) believes this part of the alchemical process is, “a descent into Hades and a journey to the land of ghosts, somewhere beyond this world, beyond consciousness, hence an immersion in the unconscious'' (p. 245, para. 455). Here there lies an invitation for transformation from previous outdated hierarchical ruling forms of consciousness. The rigid and overidentified beliefs of the ego are immersed into the womb, preparing for a rebirth process. This is the first stage of cleansing, which will be seen again in this alchemical process. At this moment, the ego becomes increasingly fearful as the old identity is stripped and space for a new identity is created.
Figure 5. The Conjunctio
Image 5 (Figure 5), the first conjunction of the masculine and feminine forces of the soul are participating in a sacred unification process. The spirit bird has now left the image and the King and Queen are fully immersed in the watery elements of the underworld. The penetrating masculine forces are actively uniting with the receiving feminine forces of the soul. This coming together of opposites leads to the two opposing elements transforming into a hermaphrodictic one. The soul is now illuminating itself within the body. This conjunctio must take place for the resurrection of the emergent Self (Figure 10) to take place later in the process. This sacred union creates a solid ground for the next step, death.
In the Daime experience, stages four and five in the process took place after the Hallelujah song had finished. I grabbed my purge bucket and I felt as if the energy stirring in the depths of my body was hard to keep inside. Then, I remember a green hued light coming into my periphery. It looked as if a TV was on in the corner of the room behind me and the green glow began to swallow me within the casita. Then, I dropped into what felt like a primordial jungle underworld of chaos. The visuals were electrifying and I saw the most ancient looking forest and trees, while simultaneously being bombarded with electrifying visuals of sacred, tribal geometry. My senses were stirred and the loud, tribal drumming matched my inner confrontation with chaos. Lines, dots, and snakes moved from right to left continuously through my visual field. Then, everything went black.
Stage Three: Merging hermaphrodite into a death
Figure 6. Death, Nigredo
The third stage of the alchemical process according to McLean (1980), is the merging of the opposing forces into a hermaphroditic state of unity. The two soul forces now occupy just one body. Jung (1946/1966) adds, “Thus the descent that began in the marriage-bath has touched rock—bottom: death, darkness, and sin” (p. 258, para. 468). This stage in the alchemical Rosarium, is the beginning of psychic matter starting to disintegrate so that transformation can take place. This is the confrontation with shadow material, the nigredo, that lies within the psyche and soma. The spirit that had once rose up from the bird into spirit, now moves into the body for decomposition and dismemberment. In a psychological sense, this can subjectively feel as if one is being torn into pieces, a true dark night of the soul similar to what Saint John of the Cross (1905) wrote about:
And thus it is fitting that, if the understanding is to be united with that light and become
Divine in the state of perfection, it should first of all be purged and annihilated as to its
natural light, and, by means of this dark contemplation, be brought actually into
darkness. This darkness should continue for as long as is needful in order to expel and
annihilate the habit which the soul has long since formed in its manner of
understanding, and the Divine light and illumination will then take its place.
The breakdown of the old internal order is being alchemized by the chaos of the unconscious. In the Rosarium process, the union of these two energies is entirely contained in the tomb.
At this time of the Daime journey I was literally unconscious. The group I did the ceremony with later informed me that they initially saw me sitting up with a purge bucket and then I made a guttural gasp for air and fell straight back onto my back on the mat into unconsciousness. I concur with the reflections of Jung (1946/1966) about this stage of the process when he states, “The meeting with the collective unconscious is a fatality of which the natural man has no inkling until it overtakes him” (p.’ 261, para 470).
Stage Four: The ascent of the soul into the spiritual realm
I open my eyes very confused and see the blurry outline of the shaman and she is placing salt in my mouth. I hear her say, “You need to breathe, your soul is trying to leave your body.” I realize I have passed out and feel like I am having a hard time breathing. In my body, it felt like someone was applying defibrillator pads and shocking my entire body. I felt a violent push and pull between life and death as I struggled to keep my eyes open.
Figure 7. The Ascent of the Soul
“The corpse in our picture is the residue of the past and represents the man who is no more, who is destined to decay.” (Jung, 1946/1966, p. 267, para. 477). I close my eyes and I see myself laying flat, much like the hermaphrodite in Figure 7, but I am now floating in a white ethereal plane. There is nothing around me except white. It is calm there. Then, I get pulled back into the casita and can see the ceiling and feel the electric sensations in my body. I then float back out into the white ethereal realm. This continues for what seems like hours.
Stage four of Mclean’s (1980) alchemical Rosarium, is the ascent of the soul into the spiritual realm. This is the alchemical sublimatio, in which spirit separates from matter. The masculine archetype, the animus, separates and rises up from the decaying body below. The ascent of the masculine energetic forces, leaves the remains of the hermaphrodite to become the vessel for the feminine forces to receive their healing. McLean (1980) believes this to be a turning point in the alchemical process. This stage allows for a transformation of the somatic unconscious, for the bodily trauma, the matter, to be worked in and through. The separation of the animus from the soma, “... corresponds psychologically to a dark state of disorientation. The decomposition of the elements indicates dissociation and the collapse of the existing ego-consciousness” (Jung, 1946/1966, p. 267, para. 476). The push and pull between the dissociated ethereal state and the struggle taking place in the casita felt like sheer holy terror which indicates to me, my own resistance to have the feminine energy lay inert and bare in my body. “Nobody who finds himself on the road to wholeness can escape that characteristic suspension, which is the meaning of crucifixion” (ibid, p. 262, para. 470).
Stage Five: The descent of a spiritual dew or essence from above
The next stage in the Rosarium Philosophorum is the descent of dew upon the corpse. “The falling dew is a portent of the divine birth now at hand” (ibid, p. 273, para. 483). This is the solidification of new life after the dismemberment and disintegration of the old form. Psychologically, here the ego must be able to differentiate itself from the unconscious so that it may return to the body. If this is not completed, the process can have destructive effects on the personality, as the body houses the personality. The dew represents the divine intervention for an enantiodromia to occur. Meaning, the death that has taken place due to a union of opposites reaches a stage where resuscitation offers a new light, a consciousness, an ability to see and discern human form from the unconscious.
Figure 8. Purification
At this point in the Daime ceremony, I remember seeing all of the shaman’s helpers gathered around me spraying me with mist as they chanted prayers. I saw the dark outline of the shaman, illuminated behind her were the candles from the altar. She had the silhouette of an ancient Native American. She was diligently praying as if nothing in the world could break her concentration. I close my eyes as I feel the mists of the helpers and surrender into the prayers. I now realize that I must accept my death. I had to accept that my fiancé may leave Costa Rica without his partner. I had to accept that my parents would no longer have a daughter. I had to accept the ways in which I treated my body as a trash receptacle, a machine that I would use as a means to my end. I realized this would be the death of me if I did not slow down and respect my own nature. In Figure 8, the feminine elements of the soul are washed and purified from the elements in the spiritual realm. McLean (1980) states, “The hermaphrodite needs to be cleansed both by the waters of the sea of the unconscious and by the higher conscious spiritual rain.” This was a symbolic baptism.
Stage Six: The return of the extracted soul forces
The next stage in the alchemical process is the return of masculine soul forces from above as seen in Figure 9. This stage of the alchemical process is crucial, as the returning masculine soul forces assist the ego in discriminating itself from the archetypal world. The ego must learn to relate to the archetypal forces, as opposed to remaining in identification with them.
The process of differentiating the ego from the unconscious, then, has its equivalent in
the mundificatio, and, just as this is the necessary condition for the return of the soul to
the body, so the body is necessary if the unconscious is not to have destructive effects
on the ego-consciousness, for it is the body that gives bounds to the personality. The
unconscious can be integrated only if the ego holds its ground (Jung, 1946/1966, p. 294,
Figure 9. The Return of the Soul
“Here the reconciler, the soul, dives down from heaven to breathe life into the dead body” (ibid, p. 283, para 487). This creates the space for a renewed element to enter into the feminine soul, the anima. After the descent into primordial darkness of the unconscious, the hermaphrodite is able to keep contact between body and spirit following this inner death. This return of spirit into matter creates an inner solidarity, a foundation for the soul to have a consciousness about it. The body has become reanimated and can now become an active participant along with spirit in navigating life. Jung was adamant that the exposure to the unconscious does not in any way diminish the importance of ego consciousness.
This part of the Daime journey is one I will never forget. I was able to take a breath and the breath felt like the first deep breath I had ever taken. Even at 29 years old, it felt as if it would mimic a breath that an infant would take as soon as they exit the womb. Although I was very weak and needed help moving, I began to restore feeling in my legs, my arms, and my torso. I felt an immense wave of gratitude as I again felt embodied. I realized that although I had been moving through this world for 29 years, many of those years had been a dissociated and disembodied experience of life. It felt as if I had consciously felt a sense of being home in my body for the first time. Synchronistically, the song Hallelujah had come on again, this time a different variation. I laid there and wept as I listened to the words, “But listen love, love is not some kind of victory march, it's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah” (Cohen, 1984).
Figure 10. The New Birth
Stage Seven: The resurrection of the hermaphrodite
The final image I want to include in this paper is the image in Figure 10, the image that shows the hermaphrodite who has been reborn out of the tomb, standing on the moon, representing a mastery of feminine soul forces representing a psychosomatic and spiritual rebirth. To me this represents a conscious connection between ego and Self, between body, mind, and spirit. Given the spirit has a hard time living in the body and the animalistic instincts have a hard time working with spirit, this is a feat for the individual.
Nothing humbles the human ego like nature. It is hard to understand intellectually what is happening during a mystical experience with plant medicines, especially the ones that open up contact to the psychoid realm. My argument is that through an alchemical, symbolic understanding of the psychic processes happening within a plant medicine context, we as depth psychologists can help individuals integrate what it means to move through traumatic confrontations of the unconscious. The Rosarium Philosophorum woodcut images provide a symbolic framework for the individual transformed through contact with archetypal processes of union, death, and rebirth. As Jung stated, “The meeting of two personalities is like two chemical substances, if there is any reaction, both are transformed” (Jung, 1933, p. 57), the same could be said about the archetypal anima and animus becoming one during a Daime ceremony.
In many plant medicine experiences, especially using the intelligence of Santo Daime, the archetypal cycles of descent, death, and rebirth are evident. The problem with contacting these archetypal realms for the average human is that after the experience ends, the ego still remains in fear of being consumed by the archetypes, or the ego unconsciously becomes identified with them. This can cause individuals to either remain traumatized or to become addicted to accessing the psychoid. They may begin to think of themselves as a god or goddess that is entitled to the type of power that is only for the gods and/or goddesses. Using alchemy as a symbolic guide can help the individual maintain the right relationship to the archetypes. This helps the individual create enough ego strength so the psyche is strong enough to hold the mystery of the archetypal experience as they integrate.
To understand the somatic, experiential process from this alchemical perspective helps bridge the body, mind, and spirit in a way that avoids one sided shallow integration. Arguably, it is impossible to integrate trauma from only the rational level. As Peter Levine, creator of Somatic Experiencing states, trauma is hell on earth and trauma resolved, is a gift from the gods. It is our work as the alchemists of modern day depth psychology to lead from a place of embodied experience and reverent symbolic mastery. This is so we can help individuals heal the ever-present split within Jung’s “unholy trinity,” the body, the feminine, and the shadow. Alchemical texts offer a thread of deep wisdom that individuals can implement post ceremony to gather their boon and carry it forward into their lives to create an embodied individuation experience that will inspire and help others as they navigate their own individuation experience.
Barnard, W. (2021). Accessing the Ineffable with Santo Daime. Interview by A. Borda. Pacifica
Cohen, L. (1984, December). Hallelujah. On Various Positions [Audio]. John Lissauer.
Jung, C. G. (1933). Modern man in search of a soul. Routledge.
Jung, C. G. (1966). The psychology of the transference. The collected works of C. G. Jung, 16,
McLean, A. (1980). The rosary of the philosophers. Phanes Press.
Saint John of the Cross. (1905). The dark night of the soul.
Ulanov, A. B. (2017). The psychoid, soul and Psyche: Piercing space-time barriers. Daimon.