Let’s talk about Tobacco. Tobacco is dangerous and legal everywhere, even though it is one of the most addictive substances in the world. It is one of the world's most significant public health issues, as it kills over 8 million people each year, including 1.3 million non-smokers exposed to second-hand smoke. In 2020, 22.3% of the world’s population used tobacco (source WHO.) Despite killing so many people, with 80% of them in developing countries, it is a “legal drug” primarily because of the size of the tobacco business, its lobbies, and government revenue. The global tobacco market size was estimated at USD 868 billion in 2022, and even in countries like the U.S., where its image is neither good nor fashionable, it is growing.
I have had issues with commercial tobacco as I grew up when it was both fashionable and widespread. I started smoking as a teenager when everyone used to smoke in France and stopped when I was in my early thirties as my Gitane-addicted beloved father died from cancer. My father’s death caused me to stop smoking, and I had to use nicotine patches for a few months to help eliminate the addiction. Fortunately, now having friends smoke around me is rare as it is forbidden in public spaces in most developed countries.
It is well known that commercial tobacco and cigarettes contain chemicals designed to increase their natural addictive components, such as nicotine.
During my first visit to Peru and the ceremony, I was surprised to see the indigenous shaman blow tobacco smoke on us. I had no idea why. I quickly understood that while we use tobacco for “recreational use” and commercial tobacco companies have a profit-driven goal, indigenous people around the world use tobacco for ceremonial, medicinal, and spiritual purposes. It is considered a sacred plant intended to connect with spiritual entities, ancestors, or the Creator. We use tobacco and kill ourselves; indigenous people use it to heal themselves and others. The tobacco they use, often called “mapacho,” is natural, air-dried, and lacks commercial products' additives and chemical processing. It is consumed in its pure natural form, just dried under the sun. I have often met many indigenous people using tobacco and have never heard of any of them being affected by cancer or dying from smoking. I have seen many of them naturally addicted, though.
They say it is sacred. Is it sacred because it’s addictive? It is certainly addictive and should be approached with this in mind. It is sacred for most indigenous and ancient wisdom keepers because they use it to pray. There are many tobacco rituals where the shamans do not consume or smoke it; they pray and offer it to the altar, spirits, the fire, nature, or people who need it. I have heard them often say that “we turned tobacco into a drug, industrializing it with many terrible chemicals in it,” while it is an essential tool for them “given by the divine to communicate with the universe.” In other words, we ruined it and turned it into something dangerous.
There are many different tobacco rituals I have seen or learned and worked with myself, but I will focus here on one specific form called “rapé” (make sure to pronounce it with the accent at the end...). I will write about others, like the sacred pipe, later.
Here is my story about rapé, how it is made, and how to use it. Please subscribe to support my work to read the remainder of the story.