This past summer, I was privileged to take a course on the intersections of substance use and spiritual practice. The intertwining of sacred attunement and substance use is likely as old as human experience, yet through systems of domination and oppression — particularly racialization and anti-Blackness, patriarchy, and constructing gender as a binary system — those with the most spiritual and political power have created cultures of fear and harm around substance use.
Our teacher, Ayize Jama-Everett, guided us through learning about how anti-Black, patriarchal power structures have weaponized substances and substance use to further harm Black and Indigenous peoples and many other people of color, to maintain patriarchal colonial dominance over bodies and land, and to monetarily capitalize off of “permissible” substances. I learned a great deal about. how most of us are not trained to support people who struggle in their relationship to substances; we have dominant cultures of shaming, silencing, and punishing those who most need community and care around substance use.
As human beings, we have the right to play at the intersection of substance and sacred practice. We have the right to community care and to loving support as we learn how to be in relationship with sacred substances. Our ancestors from every part of the planet have had historic relationships with sacred plants, and as new synthesized substances emerge, so too can we form sacred relationships with them.
It is my hope that spiritual leaders will undertake learning and professional development so that we may support our communities in exploring relationships with sacred plants and synthesized substances. I believe that religious and spiritual communities have a moral obligation to uproot anti-Black, anti-Indigenous colonial systems of domination. I believe that we have a moral and spiritual calling to honor embodiment and the relationship between our bodies, substances, and liberation. I believe we can play an enormously influential role in encouraging right relationship with traditional sacred substances and synthesized substances through cultivating respectful relationships with land, Indigenous peoples, sacred plants, and our own ancestors.
As part of my final project for this class, I created liturgies around collective substances use, modeled off liturgies from my own traditions of ancestral faith and the faiths I have been called into (Christianity, Judaism, and Unitarian Universalism). I hope to share all these liturgies here on Hallowed Be, and to write more over time!
I begin by sharing a prayer imagined for Unitarian Universalist small groups that are journeying into relationships with sacred substance. Feel welcome to personalize and develop the prayer in a way that works for you; if you use or adapt it, please credit me as the original author. You may credit me as Esther Wallace and use she/her or zhe/zher pronouns to refer to me.
A Prayer Before Substance Use
O Sources of the mysteries of life and death
Kindlers of darkness and light
All that we who gather here know and name as sacred;
We gather in reverence for the substances we are about to receive — [name specific substances being worked with during this time].
We feel awe and gratitude for all those substances which grow from the earth, for the resilience of plants,
the intricacies of mycelial networks,
the ordinary-yet-miraculous knowledge of our ancestors.
We turn with wonder and thankfulness to synthesized substances, for the marvelous molecules,
the magic of the laboratory,
the ever-expanding knowledge of the now.
Let us be in right relationship with these substances and may our encounters on the journey be our teachers.
Let us be in right relationship with each other
and may our encounters on the journey teach our community the ways of accountability, healing, pleasure, and joy.
May our time here today be a time of possibility and insight and may we emerge with the capacity for transformation.
Amen. Selah. Blessed Be.
Note: in this post, I am not encouraging anyone to enter into careless relationships with substance that come at the expense of relationships with self and community, particularly if you are someone who knows that this is a risk for you. I am not encouraging you to participate in illegal activities, including but not limited to the illegal sale, purchase, or use of controlled substances. This content is for informational use and is not intended as a substitute for professional legal or medical advice.