Undlela ziimhlophe - African Dream Root
The Xhosa call the plant "undlela zimhlope" which translates as "white ways" or "white paths." The Xhosa use the roots of this plant to induce prophetic dreams and to communicate with ancestral spirits.
Many of the visionary plants in South Africa are oneirogenic (dream inducing). These effects have been confirmed by a number of western researchers studying South African traditional healing.
The Southern Bantu-speakers value oneirogenics and other psychoactives because of the fundamental association of dreams with the ancestor spirits in their culture. Dreams are the primary medium through which the ancestors communicate with the diviner.
Oneirogenic (onei·ro·gen·ic) (o”ni-ro-jen´ik) producing a dreamlike state; capable of causing dreams.
Oneiric (onei·ric) (o-ni´rik) pertaining to or characterized by dreaming or oneirism.
Oneirism (onei·rism) (o-ni´riz-?m) a dreamlike state of consciousness.
The use of the oneirogenic plant among the Xhosa of South Africa plays an important role in the initiation of Xhosa diviners (amagqirha) which is enshrined in myth. The root, which is called `undlela zimhlophe' in Xhosa and means literally "white ways or paths," is categorised as one of the plants known as ubulawu, which produce a frothy white foam when mixed with water and have a ritual provenience in traditional religion. Xhosa novice diviners ingest the root to induce dreams which, having personal and prophetic significance for the dreamer, are closely linked to the liminal colour white, the ancestral spirits and the practice of divination.
Traditional preparation :
It is the root that is used to prepare the sacred medicine called ubulawu.
A small piece of the root is placed into a container of water and then stirred rapidly with a stick. This causes the water to foam or froth up - caused by saponins in the plant matter. (Saponins are a highly bioactive group of molecules. Anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antibiotic and immuno-regulating effects have been ascribed to saponins.)
Because of this foaming action, these medicines are also sometimes referred to as `bubbling medicine'.
`Undlela zimhlophe' makes strong and stable bubbles, hence it is considered by some sangomas (traditional healers) to be one of the best ubulawu plants.
The traditional ritual lasts for three days and a description of the process follows :
The root is mashed into a powder before being stirred into a container of water. Foam will form, and the foam is then eaten. Each time you require more you stir some more; this should be done while kneeling.
The ritual lasts for three days and the bubbles must not totally disappear during this time, hence there is a regular stirring, even right through the night.
Limiting the intake of protein during this time will enhance the process.
On the 3rd day the initiate pours the remains of the liquid over their naked body to cleanse their body; the initiate is now both internally and externally clean and their senses are clean.
Now what is going to be done, and who is going to be met?
What will be offered to them, and what will be done with what is received?
Will they be thanked?
After the ritual and the answers to one's questions have been found, protein can then be eaten which will stabilize the blood and have a grounding effect.
Preparation methods :
Mix half a teaspoon with a cup of water. Drink or eat the foam that forms. Then go to sleep. (One can add more water to make more foam; one can also eat as much foam as one likes.)
Mix a heaped tablespoon with half a liter of water, and blend the water until a froth is formed. Drink or eat the foam that forms. Then go to sleep. (One can add more water to make more foam; one can also eat as much foam as one likes.)
Chew and eat 50mg or more of root before bedtime. This can be done daily. One bio-assayist reported that the effects become especially enhanced after doing this for 2weeks.
One's dreams will be exceptionally colorful, and will be remembered upon awakening. (Ubulawu is traditionally used to have informative and prophetic dreams, and to communicate with one's ancestors.)
The following myth related to the useage of ubulawu is quoted from the article `Root, Dream & Myth: The Use of the Oneirongenic Plant Silene capensis among the Xhosa of South Africa' by Manton Hirst.
The River Myth :
The candidate diviner strips on the river bank and plunges into the water. Significantly, although the novice is “out of his (her) mind”, he (she) is not a potential suicide or accident victim about to drown, but goes into the river “as if by magic”, undressing as though he (she) is “going to swim”. Under the river, the novice encounters a snake, guarding the entrance to a subterranean enclosure. The snake is coiled beside wet, white clay (ifutha), resting on a grinding stone. In another version, the snake is coiled round solid white clay (HAMMOND-TOOKE 1962). If the novice “belongs to the river”, then he (she) smears the white clay on his (her) face and body and passes the snake, which does not harm the novice. However, the snake is also the “Messenger of Death.” It kills people who try to enter but do not belong there or have a complaint against them at home. The snake bites its victim’s eyes, ears and genitals. Having passed the snake, the novice goes through the hole in the ground and enters the enclosure beyond, which is not only like the interior of a thatched Xhosa hut, but also bears a remarkable resemblance to the interior of the diviner’s medicine-hut. On the floor, medicines are spread out on rushes (imizi) - barks and roots, including ubulawu. There is also an old woman, with very long, black hair, who is reputedly half human and half fish. She is “ a fish below the waist” which is a euphemism of respect (intlonipho) for the diviner’s girdle of wild animal pelts. Traditionally, the Xhosa did not each fish, which were classified with snakes (THEAL 1882:16).
Likewise, Xhosa diviners abstain (ukuzila) from eating the highly desirable and socially acceptable meat of various antelopes and the chacma baboon, for example, the skins of which are worn in the regalia. The old female diviner is the representative of the ancestors of the agnatic group who initiates diviners under the river. She tells the novice that he (she) has been called by the ancestors to be a diviner. “Go home now”, she says, “heal your people and other people.” Like someone being physically reborn, the novice passes out through the hole in the river bed and returns to the surface of the river. The novice stays there a moment and then sinks down, and this continues for three days. On the third day, when the fermented sorghum beer (utywala) is ready at home, siblings and relatives find the novice, who is covered from head to foot in white clay and to this extent resembles a disinterred corpse (izithunzela). The candidate diviner is accompanied home, where people are already dancing, and placed in a separate shelter, which is called intondo (medicine-hut), containing a tin beaker of frothy white ubulawu. The diviner instructs the novice to drink from the beaker. Afterwards, the novice relates his (her) experiences “under the river” to the diviner.
The myth is a parable of the whole process of becoming a diviner. It contains many references to cultural details already described and referred to in the preceding sections of this paper, from the initial predisposing “trouble” or affliction, i.e. submersion in a river, to the ensuing ritual consequences - the intondo in which the novice is placed at the end of the myth is, in fact, a makeshift grass shelter in which the novice is actually secluded in the intlwayelelo ritual.
Although considerably masked by metaphorical language, the myth also contains quite explicit details pertaining to the use of the entheogen and the ensuing experiential effects. The novice in the myth is also the analogue of the entheogen, namely Silene capensis root, which is stripped of its hairy stem and leaves before use, i.e. before “going for a swim” in the water in which the root is churned up. An analysis of a collection of Xhosa traditional nursery tales (iintsomi) reveals that the river, another analogue of the novice, always strips the hero of his apparel, weapons and other belongings and carries them off (THEAL 1882). Not only is the medicine mixing-stick (ixhayi) forked like the bifurcated tongue of a snake, but under the river the novice encounters a coiled snake that resembles the twisted root when dry. The hole or entrance the snake guards, in the myth, is, of course, the hole in the ground from which the root of the plant was removed by the foraging diviner. Remember how Nontando called upon her ancestors by name before removing the root from the ground and then, before covering the hole, sprinkled a few white beads into it. Thus, in the myth, after passing through the hole or entrance, the novice encounters the old woman and all the professional trappings of the diviner, such as the regalia and intondo, in the enclosure beyond. That is the “other world” of the spirits, of death as well as of dreams, which, having visionary import for the dreamer and events in the dreamer’s life, typically occur, during sleep, in the unconscious (FREUD 1913) and are vividly manifested to the novice following ingestion of the root (i.e. “passing the snake” into the enclosure in which the spirit of the old female diviner is secreted). The river, separated and enclosed (like circumcision initiates abakhwetha secluded in the bush, the novice diviner secluded in the intondo in the intlwayelelo ritual or the frothy white ubulawu foam in the tin beaker), is the symbol of the limen or boundary between the worlds - of life and death, of reality and dreams - through which the novice must pass, with the aid of the root-snake, into the world of the spirits and the unconscious beyond (cf. DUERR 1985). The root is mixed with water, the novice ingests the white foam and, in turn, is swallowed by the river of dreams and metaphors that eventually regurgitates the novice back to the surface in much the same way as the novice ingests the foam until he (she) regurgitates some of it. The returning novice, who is found in the water by the river by siblings and relatives in the myth, all white as clay or foam. the “rising and sinking” episode of the regurgitated novice that takes place at the surface of the river in the myth, is an allusion to the ubulawu drinking sessions of novice diviners that typically take place during three consecutive days at full-moon.
Myth, like the sacred root itself, is an effect operating from outside the individual to induce a mind-altering experience within resulting in self-insight and enlightenment. Dreams take place spontaneously in an intuitive world separated from routine reality and enclosed in the individual unconscious. However, dreams like myths and story-tales in general, by and through their narration inter-subjectively come to have significance for people and events in the real world. The root (undlela ziimhlphe; silene capensis) straddles the boundary between the worlds and bridges them through imagery. Not only does ingestion of the root induce dream imagery in the novice diviner, but that is also one of the important topics embedded in the imagery of the “river” myth. Relating images to social facts is the work of the myth, the diviner in divination and ritual addressed to the ancestors. Notably, the plant has a white flower, a rather obvious analogue of the diviner or novice who is closely associated with the ancestral spirits, the river and the liminal colour white, as much as the myth is the analogue of the use of the root and its experiential effects.
Silene capensis flower.
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