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What Trees Can Teach Us About Regeneration

What Trees Can Teach Us About Regeneration

I have spent the last 30 years of my life living and working in west Sonoma County at a place called the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center (OAEC). I am one of the founders of this 80-acre community and retreat center. It is also a center for the study and practice of permaculture. It was there that I came to love oak trees and also came to know Erik Ohlsen, the author of The Regenerative Landscaper, which features my art on the cover.

It was at OAEC that Erik was introduced to many of the core concepts of his natural philosophy. Over the decades, our friendship has deepened as our roots have grown in the ground we share. Fundamentally my Great Oak series and Erik’s new book spring from the same source; many years of close prolonged observation in nature, decades of study in and out of the field and countless hours of practice. I am so happy and honored to see one of my oak portraits on the cover and to feel such profound alignment between the image and the content of the book.

The Summer Oak painting on the cover is one in a series of 33 large portraits of ancient oak trees. All of the works can be seen in this gallery. This work is undertaken during a perilous time of species loss, deterioration of whole ecosystems, climate change, war, pandemic, and economic inequality and uncertainty. We are also experiencing dramatic social polarization and disconnection, health-threatening stress and trauma and an epidemic of Nature-Deficit Disorder in our youth. For me, this context is part of what makes this work relevant and interesting.

In the context of current multi-crises, the symbolism of a mighty ancient tree seems especially potent. Images of great trees are filled with meaning in cultures and religions throughout the world and far into the past. For me, these trees symbolize life, wisdom, growth, abundance, generosity, prosperity, community, and healing. Like so many artists before me, I am aware that when I paint a tree, I engage in an ancient practice. I hope in this time, in this society, the paintings represent not only great oak trees but models to emulate and a set of important values. These include conservation and regeneration, resilience, and community. These trees nourish and shelter us, offering shade, water, and food to whole communities of organisms. They increase the biological carrying capacity of place. They clean the air and share their resources. They teach reciprocity. They live and die in integrity with place, connected and interdependent. Trees show us how to be good citizens in the web of life.

These paintings are large oil paintings either 4’x6’ or 5’x7’. Fundamentally this work is rooted in deep, prolonged observation in the presence of the trees. In time this leads me into relationship and even into love. When I come into relationship with these trees, I know we are both part of a greater whole living system. I hope the viewer will share some part of my experience of slowing down and connecting in this way. In one sense the subject of the paintings is as much my relationship to the tree as the tree itself.

These paintings honor the living but also memorialize the dead. Starting in the mid-1990s thousands of great oaks in northern California have died of Sudden Oak Death (SOD). Part of the inspiration for this series has been witnessing the dramatic disappearance of these beloved beings. It has been shocking to see how vulnerable these mighty ancient trees are. In many locations they are irreplaceable. In this way, the work moves me to feel more in touch with the true nature of the world. Perhaps it gives me a container to both honor and grieve. Of course, the natural cycle of death and rebirth is integral to all natural systems but in this case, there is a serious imbalance. In spite of these and other challenges, we can all be inspired and filled with hope when we read Erik’s book and open our eyes and hearts to the vast regenerative power of nature and of our collaboration with her.

When Philanthropy Reinforces Colonial Dynamics

When Philanthropy Reinforces Colonial Dynamics

Image by Freepik

When Philanthropy Reinforces Colonial Dynamics

While the act of giving has historically been seen as a benevolent gesture, there are underlying systems and ideologies that serve to perpetuate colonial and capitalistic structures. Traditional philanthropy, rooted in wealth accumulated during colonial eras, often reinforces the power dynamics of the past. When wealth derived from oppressive systems is redistributed without relational attunement, deep introspection, or systemic change, it can inadvertently uphold the very disparities it seeks to alleviate. This article explores these critical perspectives on the changing landscape of giving.

UK Charity Dimantles Itself, Recognizing Philanthropy as a Colonial Capitalist Force

Last month major charitable foundation based in the UK, Lankelly Chase, which distributes approximately £13m annually to numerous organizations focused on sectors like social, racial, and climate justice, expressed its concern about the way in which traditional philanthropy is “entangled with colonial capitalism”, expressing its intentions to form innovative paths forward.

In a statement published on their website, they write, “We have recognized the gravity of the interlocking social, climate and economic global crises we are experiencing today. At the same time, we view the traditional philanthropy model as so entangled with Colonial Capitalism that it inevitably continues the harms of the past into the present.”

Over the next 5 years, the organization plans to redistribute its assets and dismantle itself to redistribute its assets and dismantle itself, “so that money can flow freely to those doing life-affirming social justice work. We will make space to reimagine how wealth, capital and social justice can co-exist in the service of all life, now and for future generations.” 

Taking a look at the connection between colonialism and philanthropy, Edgar Villanueva, author of Decolonizing Wealth, commented, “Colonization has a lot to do with philanthropy. Organizations and individuals who invest money need to understand the trauma that exists because of how wealth has been accumulated. We must own our part in perpetuating colonizing dynamics in order to really practice grant-making and investing with a lens of racial equity.”

Lankelly Chase’s recent decision to explore innovative ways to make change as a philanthropic organization mirrors Villanueva’s call for organizations to take responsibility for their impacts, proactively taking steps towards fostering true equity.

What is Philanthrocapitalism?

Philanthrocapitalism is a relatively new term coined by Matthew Bishop and Michael Green to describe a “new way of doing philanthropy” which mirrors the way that business is conducted in the for-profit world. 

In this model, philanthropists act akin to venture capitalists, seeking measurable returns on their social investments. The focus shifts from merely giving away money to strategically investing it in initiatives that promise both a social and a financial return. In theory, philanthrocapitalism combines the ideals of the capitalist marketplace with the desire to bring about positive social change. Critics argue that by aligning philanthropy too closely with market principles, it risks sidelining the voices of those it aims to help, and may inadvertently perpetuate systems of inequality. Yet, its proponents believe that by applying business methodologies, greater efficiency, transparency, and long-term impact can be achieved in the realm of charitable giving.

Philanthrocapitalism as a Colonial Force

However, author and environmental activist, Dr. Vandana Shiva, critiques the notion of philanthrocapitalism in her book titled Philanthrocapitalism and the Erosion of Democracy. Dr. Shiva suggests that philanthrocapitalists are perpetuating and creating new forms of colonial violence through the use of digital technologies. In particular, her critique of philanthrocapitalism centers on how billionaires and corporations are amassing wealth and power through philanthropic interventions in land, food, and farming in the Global South. 

She writes, “When technology is seen as a religion, a civilizing mission to be forced undemocratically on people, and a means for money-making elevated to human ends, it goes beyond ethical, social, ecological, and democratic assessment. Instead of being chosen, adopted, or rejected, we see technology as a forced recolonization in modern garb.” 

Ever since the advent of the Green Revolution, companies have dictated what constitutes a “profitable venture” for farmers. However, as a direct result of such ventures many small-scale farmers found themselves burdened with debt, leading to the loss of their properties. In some tragic instances, the overwhelming pressure of these debts pushed them to take their own lives.

Dr. Shiva goes on to explain how such ventures “elevate corporate tools to a new religion and new civilizing mission, which has been imposed to civilize the ecological, independent, knowledge-sovereign farmers who are seen as the new “barbarians.” New technological fundamentalism makes corporate tools a measure and indicator of human progress, immune to social and democratic assessments.

In conclusion, as the philanthropic sector grapples with its complex legacy and evolving practices, it is imperative to prioritize introspection and accountability. Dr. Vandana Shiva’s book, Philanthrocapitalism and the Erosion of Democracy, offers invaluable insights into this very critique. By actively engaging with such critiques and prioritizing the voices of those affected, we can begin to compost ideas that perpetuate inequality and cultivate novel pathways that work to benefit all beings.

Synergetic Press Accepts Year-Round Submissions!

Synergetic Press Accepts Year-Round Submissions!

Did you know that Synergetic Press takes Year-Round submissions from authors who are expanding the conversations around Psychedelics/Consciousness, Ecology/Regenerative Practices, and Social Justice? We accept un-agented submissions, place special emphasis on titles that live at the intersection of our three topics, and especially encourage authors from underrepresented groups to submit their work.

Interested in submitting? You can check out the guidelines on our website and relay your manuscripts to

Ann Shulgin Memorial Service

Ann Shulgin Memorial Service

The memorial service for Ann Shulgin was in Berkeley on July 9th, 2023, the one-year anniversary of her death.
We celebrated and honored her in a big way!
We’d like to give a wholehearted Thank You to the Berkeley Center for the Science of Psychedelics, California Institute of Integral Studies, and to Meihong Xu for sponsoring and supporting the memorial service for Ann. They made it possible to hold the celebration at the Zellerbach Hall on the UC Berkeley campus.
Also, Thank You to Mariavittoria Mangini, Bob Jesse, Dusty Yao, David Presti, Russell Thomas, Sonia Lub, the Teahouse, the Women’s Visionary Council, and all of the people who volunteered to help that day. It takes a village.
It was a beautiful event!
You can see the memorial service here:

The pre-memorial slideshow:

Mazatec Perspectives on the Globalization of Psilocybin Mushrooms

Mazatec Perspectives on the Globalization of Psilocybin Mushrooms

Maria Sabina’s birthday, commemorated on July 22nd, presents an opportunity to center decolonial perspectives when honoring her life and the Mazatec community. This article, excerpted from Psychedelic Justice: Towards a Diverse and Equitable Psychedelic Culture, sheds light on the profound significance of Mazatec perspectives on the globalization of psilocybin mushrooms, while also acknowledging the historical wrongs committed against their community. It emphasizes the vital need to rectify the injustices that occurred as a result of Western exploitation and appropriation of sacred Mazatec knowledge. By recognizing and addressing these wrongs, we can foster a more inclusive and respectful celebration of Maria Sabina’s legacy—one that amplifies the Mazatec community’s voices, reclaims their cultural heritage, and seeks to restore dignity and agency to those who have been historically marginalized.

This article is the result of conversations not only between its authors but also with Mazatec friends in the region who have at different times expressed their concern about the “little ones who sprout from the Earth,” especially in the face of an emergent psychedelic capitalism. To them, we give our respects.

In the Sierra Mazateca of Oaxaca, health problems are treated by mushroom healers, suction doctors, body cleansers, and snake-oil shamans who remove illness from people using various medicinal preparations such as mushrooms, morning glory seeds, shepherdess sage, cow’s tongue, rabbit yam, deaf man’s yam, hangover mint, and so on. In this study, we will focus on the so-called “magic mushrooms,” known as Ndí Xijtho or “little things that sprout from the ground” in the Mazatec language. In order to appreciate these people’s connection with the sacred mushroom over the past cen- tries, one must understand the relationship that various Mazatec families maintain with Ndi Xijtho as a means of healing and divination.

The Ndi Xijtho help the Mazatec communicate with the Creator-being who gave life to humanity; the same being who cures them from evil and pain. Ndi Xijtho are sacred to the Mazatec because they represent the strongest expression of the Mazatec spirit. The mushrooms are always used in pairs in Mazatec ceremonies, representing the duality and fluidity between the masculine and the feminine, between father and mother. In turn, Ndi Xijtho is the body of God and allows the deity to take possession of the body of those who ingest it: God’s blood flows in their veins, God’s saliva makes them speak aloud during the ceremony; the sacred mushroom are the means by which they speak with God and other beings of the sacred world, Són’nde. It is the Ndi Xijtho who show them the right path and who give them good luck. They are not consumed for pleasure or fancy, but because there is a need to heal. The mushrooms are medicine for the Mazatecs, and this ritual is so sacred that it can only be carried out on certain days of the week.

Regarding the ritual use of the sacred mushroom, the ceremonies follow the agricultural, religious, and festival calendar of the Mazatecs. In the twenty-day month of Chan-Majti (“Angry Month”), it begins to rain and thunder, hastening the birth of mushrooms. The Mazatec say that thunder makes diamonds fall from the sky (Chosinle-Ngami). Thunder is caused when Chikon-Tokoxo, the supreme supernatural being the Mazatecs (from Huautla), pay tribute to, slashes lightning bolts with his axe. That is why it is said (Jacha Lechaon) that during this twenty-day period, you cannot take offerings or prayers to the sacred hill of Chikon. During this time, people begin preparing medicinal tobacco (Jna-Jno), referred to regionally in the Sierra Mazateca as piciete. Tobacco leaf is ground and mixed with garlic and lime and carried in small packages for the protection of the owner, especially during ceremonies. In the twenty-day month that follows, Chan- Sinda (“Month of Toil”), the spring of the sacred mushrooms (Ndí-Sijtho) begins. Mazatec elders say that mushrooms are born miraculously, that they are a gift from the gods, sent from the heavenly domain by thunder (Naí-Chaon).

When the Mazatecs perform healing rituals, a “man or woman of knowledge” (Chjota Chjine or Chjon Chjine) gathers the sacred mushrooms where they sprout in places that only they know by means of a special ritual seek- ing permission from the mushrooms’ owner (Chikon). The mushrooms can only be picked from the ground by children, whose purity and virginity does not corrupt this sacred harvest, ensuring truly beneficial rituals and cures. The mushrooms were traditionally collected at dawn on a full moon and carried with great care, trying to avoid any inauspicious omens along the way (encountering a dead animal, passing by a house where a wake is being held, seeing an injured or sick person, meeting a pregnant woman). These precautions ensured that the sacred mushrooms were not contaminated or spoiled before being delivered to the Altar of Knowledge, which is referred to as a “clean” or “transparent” ritual table (Yaa mixatse).

The ceremony traditionally begins at night and ends at dawn. Ceremonies are always presided over by a person of knowledge (Chojta Chjine) who is responsible for purifying the mushrooms with copal incense and using medicinal tobacco to anoint the person who has come to the ceremony to be healed or repair some problem in their life. The Chjine “marries” the mushrooms into pairs (father and mother) in ritual language and gives the patient their dose. The Chjine also eats his or her portion of sacred mushrooms during the ceremony, singing, praying, speaking with the Chikones, and fighting with evil spirits. Ceremonies are carried out in the Mazatec language, with some parts in Spanish. At the proper time, the Chjine inter- cedes with the gods or supernatural forces to cure the patient if they can be cured. The Chjine speaks intensely, but custom has it that it is the mushroom who is actually speaking, leading the ritual participants where they want them to go. At dawn, the mushrooms finish their work. Before and after the ceremony, four days of sexual abstinence and a special diet are kept. The Chjine recognized by Mazatec communities have preserved this collective and ritual knowledge, despite “modernity,” and have resisted misrepresentations by certain tricksters. For this reason, they call on foreigners, as well as their own community members, to show respect for profound wisdom, rather than vandalize customs.

First Encounter between Westerners and Ndi Xijtho

In 1957, New York banker and mycologist Gordon Wasson published a now-famous photo essay in Life magazine, making the Nndi Xitho ritual known to the general public far beyond the handful of mycological specialists who had been aware of the practice previously. He described an evening he spent in 1955 with his wife Valentina Pavlova and Chjon Chjine María Sabina in Huautla de Jiménez. The essay describes a ritual that had previously been thought extinct, but was now revealed to have been jealously guarded, since the mushroom belonged to the sacred realm.

Wasson was later criticized by scholars for his lack of ethics in revealing the “little ones who sprout from the ground” and publicizing the image and songs of María Sabina without her full consent. However, given the increasingly globalized world, sooner or later, with or without Wasson, these sacred rituals would have been discovered. With this international publicity, foreigners with diverse interests—whether for research, curiosity, or spiritual or mystical needs, began coming to the mountains of Oaxaca seeking contact with the little ones. In this regard, Wasson himself noted: “These words make me tremble: I, Gordon Wasson, am responsible for ending the religious practices of Mesoamerica that go back thousands of years…. I never doubted what I should do. The sacred mushrooms and religious sentiments that they embody in the southern highlands of Mexico were revealed to the world, just as they deserve, no matter what personal price I had to pay for this.” Wasson provides a clear example of the paradox facing scientists from various disciplines, and even Indigenous intellectuals: How much of such investigations should be revealed? Are all studies validated in the name of science? Is the agency of these communities and groups taken into account with respect to their cultural practices?

The arrival of foreigners took place in a complex historical context because, alongside the arrival of the counterculture movement in the 1960s, increasing numbers of roads and highways were being built in the Sierra Mazateca at the time. These opened a remote, mountainous region ever- more to capitalist logic and government initiatives, further facilitating the arrival of güeros, as tourists are called. Over the years, a special kind of tourism began to develop, catering to those who sought to have contact with the “little ones” and the Chjon Chjine or Chjota Chjine, inspired by the magazine story about María Sabina. She became a key figure for outsiders, but was ostracized and reproached by her community for revealing the secret of the mushrooms.

This tourism trade resulted in sacred knowledge (the mushrooms and the ceremony) being offered to outsiders, initially, under a logic of reciprocity, since early exchanges were based on barter, but that soon became monetized. This commodification of sacred heritage resulted in the rise of autonomous neoshamans who worked for tourists, and sacred mushrooms gaining a monetary value for foreign tourists as well as locals. Those who offer the ceremonies were viewed ambivalently, either valued or despised by different segments of the Mazatec community. The situation was further complicated when Huautla was included in a government program of “Magical Towns,” as the Mexican state attempted to appropriate local cultures to promote tourism.

Effects of the Psychedelic Renaissance: Negative Biocultural Appropriation

Western interest in the use of Indigenous peoples’ sacred plants has various motivations, from spiritual and mystical to recreational. In recent years, as restrictions on studying many substances have been relaxed and worldwide psychedelic research has entered a kind of renaissance, interest in psilocybin has increased. Organizations like Compass and Usona have contributed to growing interest around the use of the substance for spiritual, medicinal, and clinical purposes. Yet, it is worth asking: Is this interest only for therapeutic uses? Are we facing a more generalized opening of a psychedelic market? How can Indigenous peoples’ knowledge about psychoac- tive plants be taken into account without falling into negative biocultural appropriation?

Over the last two years, there has been a growing influx of foreigners to the Sierra Mazateca region seeking to learn about the ritual of the Ndi Xitho and gather spores of the mushroom (Psilocybe caurelescens mazatecorum) to take back to their countries of origin. Several claim they want to help other people in the West to cure their ills or, as Wasson once argued, “help the ritual survive.” But hasn’t the ritual survived for more than 500 years, since the beginning of the colonial process through today? Still others argue that mushrooms belong to all humanity. In the case of Psilocybe this is partly true, since there are various species worldwide, although many came to be in different countries through acts of biopiracy. However, in the face of this expansion of the use of mushrooms, how can we exercise a more horizontal learning process without falling into unequal power relations and appropriation? We do not intend to say that non-Mazatecs should be prohibited from experience with the “little ones.” Rather, we want to make it clear that various kinds of experiences can be valid, especially those that are carried out with adequate respect and without the desire to profit from the Psilocybe mushrooms of the region.

The Mazatec people have shared their construction of knowledge around the Ndi Xitho for years. We believe that, ideally, Western researchers who have studied psilocybin for different reasons would commit themselves to creating forums for dialogue, encounter, and discussion with those who have been working for generations developing an entire therapeutic tradition with the Ndi Xitho. These exchanges should move beyond the folkloristic attitude towards the ritual, appreciating the validity of the holistic therapeutic component of the ceremonies, which are intimately related to ways of being and sensing in the world. Finally, these approaches should not focus on only a few specialists in the region, which would reproduce unequal power relations while ignoring the important fact that this sacred legacy is, above all, a collective heritage.

Artwork by Irving de Jesús Segovia (Tuxamee)


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