Tobacco is a very misunderstood plant in our culture. Many people associate it with addiction and death, and considering it is one of the top killers in some countries this is understandable. But for thousands of years tribal societies worked with tobacco as medicine and considered it to be one of the earths greatest healing plants – while there was some danger associated with the plant, in most cases the plant was revered as powerful medicine. There were tobacco shamans who would ingest huge amounts of the plant on a regular basis without getting sick, and using the tobacco these healers could cure illnesses of many different kinds.
There could be many different reasons for these different perspectives of tobacco, but my understanding is that the main difference is intention and respect. Tobacco is considered an amplifier of intention, prayers and thoughts. So when you ask the plant for medicine and protection that gets amplified. If you are smoking angrily and habitually to relieve frustration and desire – that amplifies something else. So this being said – I want to suggest that anyone who feels called to work with this plant be mindful of how they use it. It is a very powerful plant capable of great wonder and miracles as well as great destruction.
There are many ways to work with tobacco but I want to focus on one tobacco tradition that is very close to my heart. Rapé is the name of a dried and powdered tobacco snuff that comes from the Amazon – where it is used as a powerful and beautiful healing medicine. It is pronounced “ra-pe” in Spanish or more commonly “ha-pe” in Portuguese (the snuff is found in both Spanish and Portuguese speaking countries but is most popular in Brazil which speaks Portuguese). It also has many other names in other indigenous tongues from the Amazon region. I prefer the spelling rappé with an extra “p” because some people misread the word rapé and confuse it for something else (traditionally it is spelled with only one “p”).
Rappé is a dried and powdered snuff which is usually blown into the nose through a blow pipe. You can use a special blowpipe for serving yourself called a kuripe, but most often a larger blowpipe called a tepi is used to serve a partner. The main ingredients of the snuff are usually tobacco and tree ash, but often times other seeds, leaves and plants may be added for additional properties or even just for aroma. Sometimes a rappé can be made without the tobacco and tree ash, but this is uncommon – generally the first ingredient is always the cured jungle tobacco mapacho. This species of tobacco (Nicotiana Rustica) is different than common tobacco found in cigarettes – it is often 8-20 times stronger and it is processed with zero additives and with lots of prayer and intention. Ashes from sacred trees are also added to the snuff as an alkalizer which balances the tobacco, and then in personal recipes people may add whatever plants they want to get specific desired effects. Seeds like yopo or wilka may be added to increase the visionary properties of the snuff, or flowers might be added to instill a more feminine and nurturing energy – many different plants can be added for personal recipes. The snuff is made during a lengthy and intensive ritual process to invoke the maker’s medicine and the spirits of the plants used.
There are many reasons one might wish to work with rappé and there are many ways of working with it as well. Because so many different cultures in the Amazon region use rappé a number of different traditions and practices have revolved around its use. The benefits of rappé use range from physical and psychological to energetic and spiritual. Rappé clears and focuses the mind and thoughts, centers and grounds your energy, opens up your physical and spiritual senses and awareness, cleanses and purifies your body and energy, connects you to your spirit allies and medicine and much more. It can be used in almost any situation a ceremony might call for and can function or pair well with many other rituals or medicines. Traditionally it is used as its own ceremony or also within other ceremonies (such as Ayahuasca or kambo ceremony). It is also used for hunting, before warfare and even for recreation. Sometimes you mostly feel energetic and physical sensations from the rappé, but other times it can even create visionary experiences despite not being a classically visionary medicine. It is possible to do different styles of journey work using the rappé as an aid to help you communicate with your spirit guides and allies for healing or guidance.
To work with rappé you will want to get some quality product. These days there are a number of online shops which sell tribal rappés gathered in the Amazon, so luckily those of us not living in South America can still have access to this medicine. It is also possible to make your own rappé by drying, powdering and mixing the plants you want to use. You will probably also want a blowpipe for serving the rappé. While the medicine can be snuffed directly off of your hand or a small scooping device, the pipes really add a nice dimension to the ceremony and also get the snuff further into your nose where it absorbs better.
You can get a more profound effect from the rappé by using it in an intentional and ceremonial manner. There are many ways to do this as each culture using the medicine developed its own rituals. I will share my method of working with rappé and the symbolism behind it. You may wish to open sacred space or begin with your usual style of beginning ceremony. It is also nice to take a little time to pray, think about your intentions, and if you feel called to sing a medicine song or two or play a little ceremonial music. When you are ready you can put a single serving of rappé into your hand – for beginners this might be a pea sized amount (that amount will serve both nostrils). You can use less or more depending on your experience level and your intention – someone with more experience or who needs deep cleansing or healing might do a much larger amount.
Scoop half of the rappé in your hand – this amount will serve your first nostril. I like to then take 3 breaths to focus and ask for blessings – if sharing rappé with a partner I like to do these 3 breaths together as a way of connecting with each other’s energy before serving the medicine. The first breath I hold the rappé and the blowpipe towards the earth and breath in the blessings of Pachamama (Mother Earth). The second breath I hold the pipe towards the sky and breath in the blessings of Creator. The third breath I hold the pipe at my heart asking my personal allies to bless my medicine and for these blessing to all come from my heart (these 3 breaths represent the 3 worlds to me: lower, upper, and middle). I blow the rapé into my left nostril first. If blowing for someone else I will tell them to hold their breath before blowing it in, and then to breath from the mouth afterwards. As soon as possible I scoop the remaining rappé into the pipe and serve the right nostril. In this way the left nostril is a symbolic death while the right is a symbolic rebirth. This balances the yin/yang energies of your body and mind.
After the rappé is in the nose try to mostly breathe through the mouth and keep all the medicine in your nose. Try to sit with it and observe any sensations that arise without reacting to them. You may wipe your nose if some snot drips out, but try to wait at least 20-40 minutes before blowing your nose. If you feel anything drip into your throat from the rappé you can spit it out – some tribes view this as a type of purge while others actually swallow it so as to not waste any medicine (you can make your own judgement call here).
Mostly I sit and meditate while under the effects of the rappé but sometimes I will sing medicine songs to deepen or guide the effects of the medicine. This is also a great time to pray or ask for guidance and healing. Most times the rappé puts you into a deep meditative state, but sometimes it causes more profound cleansing and purging – while not always common with the smaller amounts of rappé it is possible to experience purging, bowel movements, energetic or emotional releases and so on. This is a powerful medicine and usually these are signs of deeper healing and releasing – I once saw someone purge out physical parasites during a bowel movement initiated by the rappé.
Besides different recipes of rappé and different medicine songs you can use to empower and guide the medicine, there are also different breaths you can use to focus your intention. There are many types of animals and other spirits you can call on to empower your breath and generally each one of these breaths takes time to get to know and learn correctly. Generally you learn these breaths either from spirit allies directly or from other rappé shamans. The most common and basic breath is the deer breath. You start by taking a deep breath into your stomach, connect with your power and medicine, and then blow long, then at the end blow hard while closing your throat at the same time.
This is just the beginning of what you can learn about rappé and the real benefits come from experiencing it yourself. This medicine can be a very powerful way to cleanse your body and energy as well as connect with your spirit allies through prayer and ceremony. The real beauty of this medicine is that it can be used expertly in the hands of a master but is still effective when used by a beginner learning on their own. Just remember to be mindful and respectful of the medicine and pray from the heart.