Across cultures, and since the beginning of time, women assumed the role of healers. From wise-women, medicine women, curanderas, to ‘witches’, it was customary for each community to have respected and relied upon female healers.

However, the advent of modern medicine pushed much of this knowledge underground — sometimes violently. Similarly to the use of psychedelic medicines, the ancient knowledge of wise-women was disregarded, defamed and sadly in many cases, forgotten. 

Photo by Noah Buscher on Unsplash

The Resurgence of Natural Plant Medicines

Today with the renaissance of psychedelic medicine playing out before our eyes, we are also seeing the reemergence of more traditional, spiritual and natural healing practices — many of which were the domain of women centuries ago. It seems that these two deeply intertwined histories are supporting each other in their rise back to prominence. 

What is International Women’s Day?

March is observed as Women’s HIstory Month. And, March 8th being International Women’s Day, we thought there was no better time to delve into the history of women and psychedelic healing, as well as its future. But firstly, what is International Women’s Day?

International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. It’s held every year on March 8 to commemorate the movement for women’s rights.

The first International Women’s Day (IWD) was held in 1911 in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. The day was decided upon by the Socialist Party of America following a declaration made by Clara Zetkin at the 1910 International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen.

International Women’s Day 1948 in Berlin. Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-S83859 / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Zetkin had proposed that an annual day be set aside to honor women and proclaim their economic, political and social equality. She also urged for a day of international solidarity among all working women.

The first official IWD was celebrated on February 28, 1911 in Austria, Germany and Denmark. That same year it was also celebrated in Russia by the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (RSDLP). By 1913 IWD was being celebrated throughout Europe with numerous events taking place including speeches, rallies and publications about women’s rights issues such as suffrage, pay inequality and education.

There is No Equality Before We Are All Equal

The idea behind IWD is that by celebrating the achievements of women you encourage others to do the same. It also helps to draw attention to issues such as violence against women, the pay gap between men and women (and the lack of female leaders), and how gender stereotypes can prevent girls from fulfilling their potential. 

Photo by Joel Muniz on Unsplash

Today IWD has become an international event with marches taking place across Europe and other parts of the world. Those of all genders support it, knowing that until we are all equal, equality will not truly exist for anyone. 

Women and Psychedelic Healing

Famous curandera Maria Sabina

Of course, the full history of women and natural psychedelic healing processes is complex, vast, and partially hidden. However here we will give an lil’ overview of its legacy. 

Psychoactive plants have been employed as a tool for healing, spiritual connection, therapy and medicine since ancient times. The Aztecs used sacred psychedelic mushrooms in their religious rites and rituals, and the Indigenous Mexicans used these same mushrooms to heal people. These mushrooms were usually used by curanderas and curanderos. This translates as witch women and witch doctors. 

In Asia female shamans administered plant medicines. China had the Wu — female healers who performed healing, divination, dream interpretation, and even forms of exorcism.  In Indonesia, the majority of shamans were female and were known as dukun, belian, or wadian. They were practitioners of healing, herbalism, and magic. 

Witches and Shamans: More Connected Than You’d Think

Western cultures have, historically, dubbed women healers as ‘witches’. Sure enough, there are many crossovers and similarities between ‘witchcraft’ and shamanism when it comes to plant-based medicine and knowledge. In early modern European culture, women who had this same special command of the uses of plants and herbs, and the ability to concoct salves and medicines, were known as witches. 

Unlike shamans however, there is no clear evidence that ‘witches’ induced altered states of consciousness like shamans did. It is likely any records of such things would have been lost or suppressed. Still, there is much speculation and theory on whether witches partook in, or administered, psychoactive substances or not. 

The History of Witches and Wizards, 1720 Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Plants that witches used in the European medieval era are known to have effects on the cognition as well as the physiology of the patient. “Flying Ointment” or “Witch Salve” were terms used to describe a range of different plant-based folk remedies. Some of these ointments are said to have had psychoactive effects, and were used for healing. 

The plants and herbs that these women used in their ointments and medicines were often of the Solanaceae family. Among them belladonna, henbane and thorn apple. These plants contain the alkaloids atropine, scopolamine and hyoscyamine which can have psychoactive effects. The effects would have caused vivid dreams and visions. 

The Changing Role of Female Healers

Despite their vast knowledge, the roles of women in medicine were different to men’s. In the medieval era (and until very recently) women did not have access to education or work in the same way as men did. This suppression meant that they had no way of being involved in ‘official’ medical and scientific study or organizations. Therefore, they practiced and specialized in traditional natural healing techniques to aid their communities. The majority of people during this time would have had access to no other medical options.

Later during the witch-hunts of Europe and America these same women who helped their communities would be penalized, or even killed. Much of their ancient and natural methods were lost. 

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

How Psychedelics Are Helping Women Reclaim Ancient Healing Practices

In recent years, the growing spotlight on, and research into, psychedelic healing has begun a re-evaluation of modern medicine. The increasing usage of psychedelics, such as magic mushrooms, in Western culture links back to past healing traditions, as well as learning from the knowledge of Indigenous cultures. 

Psychedelics aid with healing that is both physical and spiritual, addressing the cause of the problem as well as the symptoms. It is a circular and full therapeutic process, giving power back to the patient.

Photo by Timothy Dykes on Unsplash

Equally, women are taking their power back, by studying and becoming involved with this growing field, as psychedelic healers, therapists, and practitioners. As well as helping others, these modern Medicine Women use natural plant medicines to reconnect with nature and feminine power. There are growing communities and organizations that prioritize women’s roles and contribution to psychedelic healing. 

The Beginning of a New Era?

This International Women’s Day we give thanks to all the women working in psychedelics today. We are hopeful that we are at the beginning of a fairer and more caring medical era, that will change the future for the better.

Happy International Women’s Day!