Reaching Into the Universe

7 differences between sacred tobacco work and smoking cigarettes: a 4 quadrant analysis

People from my culture who are new to shamanic work with tobacco are often unsure and concerned about this plant, given all of the negative messaging we receive about addiction and the harms of smoking. And friends and family unfamiliar with traditional tobacco work may mistake these practices as no different from the smoking habits they are familiar with.

However, when viewed through the lens of integral theory's 4 quadrants, we see that sacred tobacco work and cigarette smoking are actually completely different.

4 quadrants - differences between sacred tobacco work and cigarette smoking

1. Tobacco work is intentional, usually with a mindset of prayer or healing; cigarette smoking is habitual, usually with an unconscious or default mindset.

2. Tobacco is often of a different species (N. rustica, or mapacho) and free of additives; cigarettes contain highly processed tobacco laced with hundreds of different additives, many of which are particularly nasty and unhealthful.
3. Tobacco is usually not inhaled into the lungs but cheek-smoked. It's also worked with in other ways such as nasal snuffs and infusions such as singa. Cigarettes are smoked by inhaling the smoke into the lungs repeatedly.

4. Tobacco is held as a medicine and as a powerful, sacred ally. Cigarette smoking in our culture is held as an unhealthful, shameful addiction.
5. Tobacco is seen as a spirit with which one develops a relationship (an I-Thou relationship). Cigarettes are seen as a drug that one "uses" (an I-It relationship).

6. Tobacco is worked with mostly in ceremonies or during private prayer. Cigarettes are smoked casually at any time.
7. Tobacco is gathered or cultivated like any plant ally. Cigarettes are produced by corporations for profit and distributed as consumer commodities.

So what's the point of all of this?

Besides the bare differences, it's important to note that from a shamanic perspective, tobacco's function as a kind of "fertilizer" is going to magnify each of those differences.

From this understanding, we can see that:

  • Tobacco will reinforce your mindful intentions OR your inadvertent unconscious dynamics.
  • Tobacco will feed equally well either your growing conscious relationship with its spirit OR your culturally taught stories of addiction and powerlessness.
  • Tobacco will empower the intentions you consciously set OR the intentions of tobacco companies bent on getting you to give as much of your money to them as possible.
  • Tobacco will even empower your story that what you do with it is healing OR your story that what you do with it is harmful. The effects you receive depend more on the story you empower than anything objectively true about the chemical makeup of the plant or its smoke.

Currently, the stories about old ayahuasceros and tabaqueros who have worked with mapacho tobacco for a lifetime and are healthy and cancer free may only be anecdotal. But we would do well not to jump to conclusions about practices represented by the graph on the left based only on science done to date within the context of the graph on the right. Especially if there truly is more to tobacco than meets the eye.