Tobacco – Horror or Holy?

Approximately 8 billion dollars is spent on tobacco every year in this country, consumed by roughly 19% of America’s adult population. 69% of those who smoke are reported to want to quit. Smoking has been somewhat of an epidemic in the United States, contributing to somewhere around 440, 000 deaths per year. But tobacco has been used by native people all over the world for thousands of years without the same detrimental effects, why?

In the 15th century, when tobacco was first recognized by the western world, the natives were using it as a sort of ‘cure-all’, they even called it the ‘holy herb’, even ‘God’s medicine.’ So, what is the difference between the way native people used this plant and the way we have for the last couple of hundred years?

Tobacco Then

For one thing, the natives who grew tobacco, both for ritual and medicinal uses, treated the plant very differently. As do many ancient cultures, they respected the plant, took great care in its cultivation and preparation and used it with prayer and thanksgiving. It was ingested and applied with the knowledge that it was healing them, as a gift from the Great Spirit of all. Never was this plant tarnished by adding noxious substances.
Natives used tobacco as a pain reliever, teeth whitener, aid for the glands, as a wound and burn healer, an antidiarrheal, an emollient and an anesthesia. Later, in the New World, tobacco was touted as a healing herb that assisted with digestion, fevers, body aches and to aid in the alleviation of thirst and hunger. In the mid 1500’s tobacco was being used for nearly everything, including ringworm, deep wounds and early forms of cancer expressing as skin lesions. It was known to “cleanse, incarnate, and knit together all manner of wounds”.

It wasn’t until 1602, in Europe that doctor Philaretes questioned the extensive use of tobacco and started to speak much criticism to its use as a panacea. After his bold words, the population was more wary of its use, though nothing had changed in the plant itself, only that someone’s opinion of high standing had been brought against it.

Tobacco Today

In America in this day and age, tobacco is very different, both in usage and in purity. Most tobacco sold today has over 4,000 chemicals added to it, including ammonia and propylene gylcol.  69 of the 4,000 chemical additives are known to be cancer-causing substances. Also, users of tobacco have been drowned in advertising, first for, and now against the use of this substance to the point of the act itself being likely more toxic than the actual herb.

There are many studies out today that report how important our belief is to the working of any product or experience on our bodies and minds. Take the placebo effect. It doesn’t matter what the placebo is replacing, the fact that a ‘zero-potenty’ ingredient can affect a human at the same potency as a supposed chemical, drug or food is enough to convince me that our minds are more powerful than anything we can ingest.

The fact alone that tobacco users today are smoking cigarettes packed with chemicals, while at the same time mentally affirming to themselves that they are going to die of cancer, is a travesty. Now, I am not affirming the use of tobacco, especially not in the form available to the general public, but I am suggesting that we take a good long look at the way we educate in this country. Both to promote and discourage the use of any product we largely rely on the emotion of fear.

Alternative approach

What if instead of promoting fear as the advocate for individuals to quit smoking, or to do anything for that matter, what if instead – we educated one another on the most beneficial approach to handling any situation? If you are going to smoke tobacco, (and many are hell-bent on continuing with their relationship with this herb), then smoking ought to become an act of love, a return to the ritual of thanksgiving.

I once met a shaman, a holy woman, who was also a western woman. She had transformed her smoking experience into a spiritual act. She told me that every time she went to smoke, she would roll her own, so that she could contact the herb directly. She would sing to the plant and bless it as she prepared this offering to her highest self. When she lit the cigarette she would shout out praises to the creator of all and then imagine rainbow lights entering her lungs as she inhaled the prayerful rite.

How different this is to the abusive inner dialogue going on in most smoker’s heads these days. Perhaps if smoking could take this alternative approach, then those who are engaged in the activity would begin to transform not only their relationship with the plant itself, but with themselves. Learning to honor the body, in all of our expressions of it, is a most important step in maintaining health and in the healing process.  If honor and respect could replace fear and negative affirmations, the body of one ingesting tobacco would have the opportunity to feel the best choice for them self, and make decisions based on a healthy perspective.

Natives often used tobacco to induce altered states of mind helpful for prayer and meditation. If the smokers of today would shift the times and reasons why they smoke from merely a distraction, a ‘smoke screen’ against the world or a general ‘hit’ to take the edge off, and chose to create each moment with the herb as one of silence, inner reflection and thanksgiving, the results from their actions would be very different. Especially if those who chose to partake of the sacred smoke would choose a non-chemically laced product. I dare to say that incidents of cancer would decrease dramatically.

So in the question of tobacco or no tobacco, rather than taking a stern side against this ‘so-called killer’, I choose instead to ask the question, “is it a horror or is it holy?” The answer is within the intention, always.

Written by: Stasia Bliss

Sources: Tobacco Fact sheet; Cigarette Ingredients; Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine; Yahoo Voices – Trad uses of Tobacco; Yale Global On-line

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