The Cosmic Serpent

 

The Cosmic SerpentDNA and the Origins of Knowledge, 2nd Printing (Originally published in 1998), New York: Tarcher/Putnam, 2003.

The Cosmic Serpent by Jeremy Narby is an extraordinary and refreshing book. Written from the perspective of an anthropologist, the book unveils many myths in that science when it goes out ‘to meet the other’, and return to declare the peoples it met as schizophrenic, retarded or ‘possessed by the devil.’

But the author also reports how ethnology changed over time and become more objective in its look on cultures that are markedly different from our own.

Anthropologists discovered that their gaze was a tool of domination and that their discipline was not only a child of colonialism, it also served the colonial cause through its own practices. The unbiased and supra-cultural language of the observer was actually a colonial discourse and a form of domination./14

From the early twentieth century onward, anthropologists progressively extended the use of this Siberian term and found shamans in Indonesia, Uganda, the Arctic, and Amazonia. Some played drums, others drank plant decoctions and sang; some claimed to cure, others cast spells. They were unanimously considered neurotic, epileptic, psychotic, hysterical or schizophrenic./15

The change came abruptly. In 1949, Claude Lévi-Strauss stated in a key essay that the shaman, far from being mentally ill, was in fact a kind of psychotherapist—the difference being that the psychoanalyst listens, whereas the shaman speaks. For Lévi-Strauss, the shaman is first of all a creator of order, who cures people by transforming their incoherent and arbitrary pains into an ordered and intelligible form./15

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Ayahuasca

 

AyahuascaHuman Consciousness and the Spirits of Nature, New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1999.

Ayahuasca is a fascinating reader presenting personal experiences with the sacred Ayahuasca brew, and it’s a most valuable resource for both researchers and those interested in a spiritual voyage.

In addition to this invaluable source material, the introduction and comments by the editor of the book, Ralph Metzner, a widely acclaimed authority on shamanism and entheogens, are precious and well-written.

The book throughout is very readable; there is no ethnobotanic gibberish, and the editor has mastered the task to unite different energies into a powerful laser.

I had an immense interest and pleasure reading this book, and it captivated me page after page. It is an absolute must-have in a personal growth library, in a spiritual library, in a library about tribal peoples, in an ethnobotanic library, and in a specialized library about shamanism. Continue reading

The Invisible Landscape

 

The Invisible LandscapeMind Hallucinogens and the I Ching, New York: HarperCollins, 1993.

The Invisible Landscape is the most esoteric of the three Terence McKenna books reviewed here. Many of the topics he treats in his other books, he treats here as well, but he presents them under a slightly different light, or in more subtle language.

His standard theme psychedelics, for example, assumes a new dimension, together with his regard upon science:

Psychedelic drugs have always been and remain the most useful molecular probes available to science for exploring the relationship between the subjective experience of mind and neurobiological processes. /Preface XIX

Despite its pretensions to objectivity, science, like any other human institution, places a certain vested interest in its own self-preservation; thus it is likely to be less than enthusiastic, if not openly hostile, toward any investigative strategy that could potentially call its most basic assumptions in question. /Id.

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Food of the Gods

 

Food of the GodsThe Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge: A Radical History of Plants, Drugs, and Human Evolution, Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishers, 1993.

Food of the Gods of perhaps the best book Terence McKenna has written, and I have read it with an enthusiastic participation that I have rarely experienced in my literary life. It was as if I was co-authoring the book while reading it.

And this book is much more coherent than The Archaic Revival, and much less esoteric than The Invisible Landscapethe book I shall review next. In fact, it treats a very important subject that is rather obfuscated in modern times: food. When I say obfuscated I really mean that most modern city dwellers have developed no consciousness of what they ingest on a daily basis; they are just gnawing away their very juice of life, with all the toxics that modern processed food contains.

While in ancient times food was medicine. You still have this philosophy in the Chinese food tradition where there are many dishes, for example a whole array of mushroom dishes, that originally were concocted for medical purposes but that today we eat just for enriching our daily diet. There is one rather esoteric dish among them, that is called the ‘black chicken.’  Continue reading

The Archaic Revival

 

The Archaic RevivalSpeculations on Psychedelic Mushrooms, the Amazon, Virtual Reality, UFO’s, Evolution, Shamanism, the Rebirth of the Goddess and the End of History, San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1992.

In The Archaic Revival, Terence McKenna lays the groundwork for something like a psychedelic culture, a society based on new values.

In the etiology of the group alienation that is so typical for our culture, the author detects a basic denial of ecstasy.

McKenna’s views are deliberately political in the sense that he claims nobody can develop a sane mind within an insane culture, without rejecting that culture in the first place:

In addition to choosing to repress the strange abilities of the shaman and the psychic potential of contact with the Other, Western tradition has a built-in bias against self experimentation with hallucinogens. One of the consequences of this is that not enough has been written about the phenomenology of personal experiences with the visionary hallucinogens. /3

I am a political activist, but I think that the first duty of a political activist is to become psychedelic. Otherwise you’re not making your moves cognizant of the entire field of action./13

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Your Brain is God

 

Your Brain is GodBerkeley, CA: Ronin Publishing, 2001, Author Copyright, 1968.

Your Brain is God by Timothy Leary is an unusual book. When pondering how to characterize it, it came spontaneously to mind to call it a Manifesto. I can’t think of another expression for describe the frantic speed of Leary’s diction, his highly affirmative style, his wit and colorful insights, but first of all the communication of his unique worldview and philosophy.

The book was for years in my bookshelf—untouched. It fell in my hands just last night, when I wanted to close this manuscript for publishing. By a chance event I saw a documentary on Youtube that showed Timothy Leary in prison, in California, a radiant Leary, not as you would find inmates ordinarily, as I found them myself in my years of prisoner care, as part of my work as a lawyer. To keep one’s mind in high spirits in such circumstances is an extraordinary, if not heroic, effort, and it shows the true innocence of the man, psychologist and philosopher whom Ronald Reagan notoriously had called ‘The Most Dangerous Man in America.’ Continue reading

The Cosmic Game

 

The Cosmic GameExplorations of the Frontiers of Human Consciousness, New York: New York State University Press, 1998.

The Cosmic Game is perhaps Stanislav Grof’s best book. It is written in fluent style, summarizes the most important of his LSD research and his research with holotropic states, and is not grappling with conceptual issues as the ones reviewed before.

It is a book that every intelligent person can read, written in normal and descriptive language; it is clearly the book of an expert, a man who also has a clear literary talent and an incredible knowledge of mythology, besides his sharp scientific perception and reasoning that is always empirical first and conceptual second.

The book is clearly structured and an overview of the contents shows that it’s not a ‘research report’ of experiments but a sublimation of any such research, a retrospective that is contemplative and basically spiritual. I would even use the word ‘religious’ in the sense that the book talks about our true ‘religio’, the link with our source, our inner divinity. Continue reading