Way of the Shaman


Ambrosia - Food of the Gods 2

Yellow and grey amber wash up on far away beaches from invisible sources; and it takes us a while to realise amber comes from trees, but ambergris from whales. Both are expensive and they appear together in the marketplace - amber as jewellery, incense and medicine, and ambergris as perfume, incense and medicine. What is more, along with 'ambrosia, fragrant, burning and granaries', they gather round anbar - son of heaven.

A new word joins them: anbar as aloe, the 'plant of immortality'. 'Aloe' comes from Arabic alloeh and Hebrew allal, both meaning 'bitter; and we find amber is connected with Latin amarus, which also means 'bitter'. So:

anbar = aloe = alloeh = bitter = amarus = amber

anbar = aloe = plant of immortality = ambrosia

The prime source of aloe in the ancient world was Socotra ('Isle of Bliss'). The island separated from Africa six million years ago, preserving many endemic plants, of which the aloe perryi (rediscovered in 1878) may be closest to the ancient Socotrine aloe. Its bitter juice has many uses, so its role as a purgative may not stand out. But Robert Graves has shown how another 'plant of immortality', Gilgamesh's, resembles the buckthorn which the Greeks took as a purge before their Mysteries (GM 90.4). Graves reminds us that purgative and ambrosia go together - as we see in the aloe-ambrosia connection in anbar, and in the purging aloes on the Isle of Bliss. These aloes seem to share both the purifying role of amber and the immortalising role of ambrosia.

The Socotran connection unfolds in part III, but it's worth noting 'Sokos' here, the similar sounding pre-Olympian deity. His name comes from soukinos meaning 'made of amber'; and succinum is Latin for amber, after succus meaning juice. His son Melisseus ('honey-man') invented ambrosial honey; and his granddaughters, the Melissae, raised the infant Zeus on this 'food of the gods'. The 'Sokos tradition' of amber and ambrosia nurturing the Divine continues today among shamans who purify honey and mushrooms over burning copal (Note 2).


The modern Hebrew word for amber is i'nba. But the older word is hashmal. In Jewish folk-lore, Hashmal is a 'fire-speaking angel' - appropriate for the Sun-stone. The word is an enigmatic compound of hash and mal meaning 'speed-cutting', or else 'silent-speech'. The second meaning seems to be preferred, suggesting perhaps an inner speech or message or vision. It appears in Ezekiel's first vision:

And I saw, and behold, a storm wind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a flaming fire, and a brightness was on it round about; and out of the midst of it was like the glitter of amber, out of the midst of the fire. ...

I saw as the colour of amber, as the appearance of fire round about within it...the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord...And the spirit entered into me...

Amber here is like 'the glory of the Lord'. This is evidently to be understood as the 'bridge' God provides to his unapproachable self. It is the vision-bringing ambrosia, and the fire-speaking angel.

Ezekiel does not reveal which ambrosia he uses, but it would not have been unusual if his amber hashmal was associated with ambrosial hasheesh (cannabis) [1, 2, 3].

Hasheesh means 'dried herb' or 'grass'; and 'grass' has been a popular name for cannabis from ancient India through to the present day. The Sanskrit name for amber is trnagrahin, which means 'grass-attracting', referring to amber's electrostatic quality. So, given their close connection, amber may be the stone that attracted ambrosial cannabis. The Iranians, part of the same Aryan invaders of India, evidently borrowed this idea in their word for amber, which came into Arabic as karabe meaning 'straw-attracting'. 'Straw' is a product of the plant, and a popular word for smoked cannabis. The Greeks used pterygophoron, meaning 'feather-attractor', which in the same spirit may be a reference to 'flying' or 'getting high' from the drug.

The word 'cannabis', like the green-leafed 'hemp' it is made from, comes via Germanic khanapiz from Greek kanabis and Persian kanab. It seems to include Sumerian An ('heaven'), which is appropriate for the ambrosia that enables Ezekiel's grass-attracting amber become a bridge to God, through silent-speech with a fire-speaking angel.

Maria Sabina, the woman who introduced RG Wasson to the ambrosial secrets of the mushroom, combined her ancient knowledge with a devout Christian faith. She explained her shamanic gifts in these words:

There is a world beyond ours, and that is where God lives ... a world where everything has already happened and everything is known. That world talks. It has a language of its own. I report what it says. The sacred mushroom takes me by the hands and brings me to the world where everything is known.


Ezekiel preached to Israel for 22 years (592-570 BC) during its Babylonian exile. His call from God has been compared with Isaiah's after the death of King Uzziah (740 BC). Both received an apocalyptic message, which some have related to contemporary regional events and others to a future reckoning.

But Isaiah must be purified before he can receive God's message. The temple fills with smoke, and a seraphim puts a burning stone from the altar to his lips. 'Burning stone' or bernstein is of course the German word for amber. The King James Bible translates it here as 'live coal', which indeed was used in the incense-burners with their mind-tuning plants. But others like Dr Judisch disagree:

The noun ritzpah is, in fact, found only here and in 1 Kings 19:6, where Elijah awakens to find an 'ugath-ritzapim, which is to say a cake baked on stones. Probable cognates in other Semitic languages are a word meaning "heated stone" in Arabic and one meaning "bread baked in ashes" in Syriac [BDB, 954a]. The lexicon suggests "glowing stone" and "coal" as meanings [BDB, 954a], but "coal" is speculative and the stone need only have been hot enough to have reminded Isaiah of the fire which consumed the sacramental victims which were burnt every day on the altar of sacrifice.

Where Ezekial had seen cherubim coming out of fire 'the colour of amber', Isaiah sees seraphim ('to set on fire, to burn') who bring him the purifying fire-stone. In Numbers 21, seraphim are translated as purging and healing 'fiery snakes'. God sends them to scourge the Israelites; and then Moses puts up a brass one on a pole to heal them. These seraphim are like the snakes on the pole of Hermes' caduceus; and they are the snakes on the Tree of Life of King Gudea's vase. They are in fact the same as the cherubim, which we have seen Joseph Campbell derive from the winged panthers on King Gudea's vase. They are 'flying panthers', and their role in the Exodus is the same as in the visions of Isaiah and Ezekiel, and on King Gudea's vase: to open the doors to God.

Singe and sing are thought to come from the same root - via Old English 'sengen' and Proto-Germanic 'sangjanan'. Etymonline suggests this is due to the 'sort of sound produced by singeing'; but perhaps the tradition of sacred singing around burning incense is more likely. Either way, they reunite in the choir of seraphim. The Korean word for 'burn' is saruda, and Professor Hae Yong Kim explores its etymological relations with saram, sarda, sarang and saranada (man, live, love, revive) in connection with Christ's words: 'Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life' [John 12:25].
His conclusion, in part, reads:

... Hence the man is a living being that burns his own flesh up to total destruction to love and because of love.

These etymological facts of the language of a country without christian tradition expresses perfectly the christian point of view of what a man is summoned to be. Jesus Christ, the man par excellence, the perfect model of what every man is summoned to be, has died on cross to redeem the humanity. He has burned his life entirely for our sake.

An-bar is the eternal flame of the spirit reaching up to the 'Son of Heaven'. It is the 'burning' sense of anbar that supports the incense (incendiary) roles of both amber and ambergris. The spiritual person burns like a candle - destroying/using the body to create light and ascend in the smoke. In the purifying flame, the Sun-god of the cosmos meets the 'divine fire resident in the mushroom'. Maria Sabina describes how the mushrooms open God's world to her; but many perish who taste the food of the gods. Not ambrosia alone, but ambrosia with purifying amber opens the door.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Isaiah is purified with the burning stone, before he receives the word of God. Ezekiel is initiated with an amber vision, before he receives the word of God, which he says, 'was in my mouth as honey for sweetness' (3:3).

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[NB Nothing in these pages is intended to encourage experimenting with 'magic mushrooms' or other drugs. There are serious dangers, and in addition 'flying panther' mushrooms are easily confused with poisonous members of the same family.]


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