Salvia divinorum, known as Xka pastora by the Mazatec, is elusive by nature. Differing from other psychoactive plants Salvia divinorum is not an alkaloid and its principal ingredient, salvinorin A, is considered the most potent psychotropic molecule found in nature.
Long concealed by the isolated Sierra Mazateca’s cloud-covered mountains and vertiginous pathways, the plant was unknown to the outside world until relatively recently and continues today to defy classification. There are no confirmed references to the plant predating the Spanish colonization of the region, however its use is assumed to precede this period. The few scientific studies of Salvia divinorum have revealed its highly unusual effect on the brain and its therapeutic potential for the treatment of a range of conditions including depression, addiction, and epilepsy.
Among the Mazatecs themselves, famed for their ritual use of psilocybin mushrooms, the origin of the plant in the Sierra remains mysterious. Very rarely producing viable seeds, the propagation of the plant is intimately related to human cultivation.
In a number of regions in the Sierra the large green leaves of the plant are freshly masticated or drank as a liquid at nocturnal ceremonies which are lead by experienced curanderas and performed to cure serious illness or resolve the personal/familial/economic problems of those seeking help. Ingestion of the leaves, carried out by both the curandera and participant/s, induces colourful and three-dimensional images which show or provoke the resolution, or lack thereof, to each specific dilemma or condition.
Powerful extracts of the plant are today recreationally smoked around the world which can sometimes lead to disturbing effects. Without an awareness of the plant’s indigenous context the popular imagining of Salvia divinorum has been limited, even within the psychedelic community, to a dangerous, inane drug.
Divinorum Documentary Project
The majority of documentaries about entheogenic plants limit themselves to abstractly addressing the way humans experience them, privileging the dialogue of users and specialists. Divinorum overcomes this through an immersive, lyrical exploration of Salvia divinorum and its matrix of cultural contexts and environments.
The plant’s organic physicality, its existence within a fabric of other living organisms and phenomena, and its role in the material lives of the people around it, are vital for a more comprehensive understanding of the plant. An appreciation of its extraordinary effects on consciousness also go far beyond the clinical study of its chemical composition.
Divinorum aims to thereby uncover Salvia divinorum by offering the viewer a sensory experience combining ethnography and aesthetics to better explore the ontology of this powerful plant.
Salvia divinorum today
Lawmakers in Mexico, a country with one of the greatest variety of psychotropic plants in the world and a long history of entheogenic plant use, are planning to vote on whether Salvia divinorum will be included on a list of prohibited psychoactive substances. We want our documentary to contribute to a more informed debate on this and many other plants’ criminalization both in Mexico and around the world.
The sacred plant Xka pastora, drug, nature’s most potent psychoactive, psychedelic medicine, diviner’s sage, psychiatric insight, spiritual experience, psychopharmacological enigma…This documentary weaves together these facets of Salvia divinorum into a search for the elusive nature of this enigmatic plant.
Divinorum is an independent project financed in part by a grant from the Mexican secretariat of foreign affairs and a successful crowdfunding campaign. MAPS, a research and educational organization that develops medicinal, legal, and cultural contexts for people to benefit from the use of psychedelics, is also now acting as our non-profit fiscal sponsor. To continue developing the documentary we are now interested in meeting co-producers and collaborators who are interested in psychedelic medicine, the decriminalization of psychotropic plants, and the traditional use of medicinal plants in indigenous contexts.
People interested in supporting the project can now also make a donation on our website through our non-profit fiscal sponsor MAPS (donations within the USA are tax-deductible). All donations will go towards the production costs of the documentary and contribute to the wider understanding and appreciation of this misunderstood plant and its enormous potential.
To find out more about our project you can visit our website and social media sites:
Based in Mexico City we are a collective of filmmakers and anthropologists with diverse experience in ethnographic fieldwork throughout Latin America. We are dedicated to the production of visual anthropology and ethnographic documentary. As anthropologists we are constantly rejuvenated by the revelation that the world in which we live is but one of many. We believe that Salvia divinorum and the diversity of practices which surround it represent different and valid ways of curing and being in the world, which can greatly enrich the societies in which we live.
Roberto Lopez Melinchon
Born in Peru. Studied social psychology in Lima and visual anthropology in Barcelona. He has experience in social and transcultural research as well as in documentary and photo production. He has worked in Istanbul, India, Barcelona, Cuzco and Mexico as a researcher and documentalist. His latest work has focused on traditional medicine and medicinal plants.
Born in the UK. He studied social and visual anthropology and has carried out fieldwork in Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico. In Brazil he carried out fieldwork with various communities who use ayahuasca, including the Yawanawa. He has written for several publications on indigenous rights and transcultural cinema. He is currently living in Mexico City where he teaches and makes documentaries.
Born in Mexico. She studied cinematography and social anthropology in France and visual anthropology in Spain. In 2011 she founded Tlazocamati, a collective of ethnographic cinema which addresses traditional medicine, music, and everyday life. Today she combines working as a professional editor with the production of independent documentaries.