Non-ordinary experiences of ordinary women: Initiation and individuation on the medicine path

Tamara Oxford
Dept. of Psychology, Pacifica Graduate Institute
July, 2004


Drawing on personal experience and grounded in a theoretical understanding that is derived from depth psychology, my research asks the question: What is the lived experience of the modern nonindigenous medicine woman? Within this context, I explore the lives of five women who have adopted and adapted traditional and indigenous spiritual paths that have, at their core, the ritual sacramental ingestion of entheogenic (often hallucinogenic) plants. Within these traditions, plant medicines, such as the iboga of Africa, the ayahuasca of South America, and the peyote of the Southwest are considered to have divine powers and have been used extensively throughout history as agents of healing---physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. These are embodiment traditions in which the Divine is incarnated by way of eating 'the flesh of God', modern paths that derive from an ancient, alchemical approach to literally, not metaphorically, bringing spirit into matter. Jung reminds us that the 'purpose' of human existence is the sacred task of serving psyche. Meaning may be gained by offering one's 'life in service of this process. Such an individual offers himself as a vessel for the incarnation of deity and thereby promotes the on-going transformation of God by giving Him human manifestation' (Edinger, 1984, p. 113). This research demonstrates that the medicine path can be the embodied expression of this cognitive concept. The experiences of these modern women, seen through a Jungian lens, allow us to understand an ancient way of initiation and awakening as a path of individuation. Here, these 'ordinary' women, sharing their 'nonordinary' experiences, can be seen offering themselves as vessels on a voyage to the Beyond---that we may travel in their wake. In their willingness to traverse the astral realms, they alter our world, with loving intention. If, in our bias to a consensual reality that fails to comprehend 'the reality of the psyche,' we fail to fathom the mettle this takes, it does not minimize their task or their sacrifice. Willing to wrestle with God, they are engaged in soulmaking. They are living Jung's myth for a modern age: the incarnation of God in man.