These altered states of consciousness could also be induced by a shaman seeking to go on a journey. The drum was a very powerful shamanic tool, seen as a mode of transporting the soul in its regular beat as it opened gateways for the shaman. Dancing was another method employed to achieve a trance state, usually to contact a specific animal spirit. By moving the body in a way that mimicked the animal in question, the shaman became that animal and was able to relate directly to it. Costume was also important in this respect and the use of feathers, skins, bones and significant desings was seen as a way of linking with spirits and journeying to other dimensions.
Sacred plants have a long history of being used as a means of accessing the spirit worlds. In Europe, fly agaric, psilocybe mushrooms and doses of helmlock were all used as vehicles by which a shaman could enter an altered state of consciousness. In Mexico, the peyote cactus was, and still is, eaten i na ritual taht takes many hours. The trance state it induces brings the shaman into contect with the spirit of the universe, who grants visions and gives knowledge.
In South America the principal sacred plant is the banisteripsis vine, which has also been used for a long time. The plant is brewed into a drink known as ayahuasca or yagé, which is drunk in a ceremony. It induces similar affects of those of peyote, inducing visionary trances and heightened telepathic abilities which allow the shaman to “tune in” to the different levels of creation or travel to otherworlds.
Because of the powers of these sacred plants, they need o be aproaches with respect. Their gathering and preparation involves a lengthy ritual incorporation prayers and offerings to the spirits of the plants that can take many hours or even days.
Shamans, then, held a position of influence but also oe of great responsibility. The people would turn to them first in matters of importance, and the shamans would use their abilities and powers to find a satistactory outcome.