Fw: [drugwar] Entheogen Interview
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Thu Dec 4 20:21:14 EST 2003
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Sent: Wednesday, December 03, 2003 2:39 PM
Subject: [drugwar] Entheogen Interview
Daniel Pinchbeck - Speaking Shamanic
Phenomena News Editor Greg Taylor attempts to break open the head of Daniel
Dateline: Monday, September 22, 2003
By: GREG TAYLOR
By: Phenomena News Editor
Daniel Pinchbeck is the author of BREAKING OPEN THE HEAD (available from
Amazon US and UK). BREAKING OPEN THE HEAD is a personal journey of discovery
in which Pinchbeck acts upon his disenchantment with modern urban life and
sets out on a quest to reconnect with what he terms the 'archaic tradition'.
His travels take him from tribal initiations in Africa to meetings with
shamans in the Amazon, as he undergoes a personal transformation. You can
read more about Daniel Pinchbeck and BREAKING OPEN THE HEAD at the website
devoted to the book.
GT: Greetings Daniel - thanks for taking the time to speak with us. Your
book BREAKING OPEN THE HEAD is a journey of discovery into shamanism and the
intriguing domain of altered states of consciousness, including those
brought about by entheogens (hallucinogens). It has been a generation since
the 1960s psychedelic era - most people today consider these substances, and
indigenous shamanism, to have little relevance in our complex,
technologically-based civilization. Why do you believe there is still
validity and meaning to this type of inner exploration? What is the use?
DP: We have to look at the ways that we use language and classifications to
create avoidance mechanisms and barriers around the reality of individual
experience. To say that psychedelics are a dusty "1960s" thing is to ignore
the fact that when you take them it is your consciousness that is
transformed, radically, in the present moment. There are different levels of
value in undergoing this type of ontological shock. First of all, one may
get a radical deconditioning from one¹s social programming a sudden
awareness of how society is a fictive construct of language games, power
trips, and manipulative strategies. Secondly, one can - not in one trip
perhaps, but over time - discover that there is something profound and true
about the shamanic vision of a multidimensional cosmos. Taken seriously, the
psychedelic experience still does exactly what it did in the 1960s: It calls
into question the entire structure and validity of our current "suicide
system." It gives the perspective of an "Other," whether botanical mind or
alien consciousness or "Higher Self", on our current sad situation.
GT: BREAKING OPEN THE HEAD examines shamanism and the use of entheogens as a
tool in expanding consciousness. The noted scholar Mircea Eliade felt that
entheogen use was basically a more modern (of course in terms of shamanism,
this means the last 2000 years) technique which resulted from the
degradation of original shamanism - that is, as time passed, humans lost the
ability to reach the altered states through their own skills. Do you agree
with him on this point?
DP: I think that Eliade eventually recognized he was mistaken. Through his
friendship with Gordon Wasson, he later realized he had let his own bias
against "drugs" influence his opinion. I suspect that, as these shamanic
plants have always been around, they have always been used. Psychoactive
substances are probably the original method for achieving visionary states -
some anthropological evidence supports this.
Recently I had the chance to take the African psychedelic root, iboga (known
in the West as ibogaine), for a second time, at an addiction clinic in
Mexico. During this trip, I experienced the "spirit of iboga" as a black man
in a suit. I was able to ask "Mr. Iboga" questions, and the answers would
come back like telegraphic shouts in my head. I asked "Mr. Iboga," "What is
iboga, anyway?" And the answer I received was: "PRIMORDIAL WISDOM TEACHER OF
HUMANITY!" - not my syntax at all. Since iboga grows around the African
Equator, my thought is that it may, in fact, be the long-forgotten model for
the "Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil" described in the Bible, and use
of it may go way, way back to early phases of human evolution. Unlike other
psychedelics, it is a direct instructor in personal morality and
psychology like a stern father. It is no accident that iboga is reentering
the modern consciousness at this precise point in time.
GT: In mentioning Iboga, I was bemused by your Iboga initiation with the
Bwiti - in terms of establishing the proper 'set' and 'setting' for a rather
major entheogenic journey, it could have hardly been more catastrophic.
While a lot of the environment, such as the tribal setting, would probably
have been positive elements, do you feel that you suffered any ill effects
as a result of the other circumstances surrounding your initiation?
DP: Ultimately, the ill effects receded from my memory and the positive
aspects took root in my psyche. Also, the entire incident made for a great
story. In retrospect, I even feel fondness for The King, and hope to meet
him again some day. It was partially our fault. We were trespassing on his
scene without much knowledge of the deeper levels of the situation.
GT: Early on in BREAKING OPEN THE HEAD, you describe the psychedelic
experimentation of the 1960s as a "failed mass-cultural voyage of shamanic
initiation". Why do you think it failed, and do you believe that this
'failed voyage' has impacted negatively upon the modern neo-shaman's ability
to explore consciousness?
DP: One reason that the 60s' mass shamanic journey failed is because people
lacked guides or cognitive maps available to interpret and integrate the
realms into which they were suddenly catapulted. To make things worse,
because our society is so consumer-oriented, people would overdo their
intake of psychedelics until they had a regressive or nihilistic effect.
John Lennon, for example, said that he tripped over a thousand times on LSD
until he destroyed himself. Done in the wrong way, without knowledge or
attention to context, psychedelic substances can induce what the Mazatec
Indians call "mind shadows," amplifying destructive and negative aspects of
When psychedelics became politicized and demonized, that also influenced the
kinds of experiences people would have when they took them. If you go back
to the early 1960s, LSD was considered an "astonishingly safe" drug - even a
wonder drug - by psychiatrists. The propaganda against it exponentially
amplified the dangers associated with it. The psychedelic experience is
personal and delicate and it relies on "set and setting" and cultural
context. A lot of other social and gender issues were being worked out
during the 1960s, and this added to the general confusion. Those voices that
shouted loudest in the 1960s, like Timothy Leary's, tended to be very
egoistic and self-aggrandizing. However, even Leary, at first, was trying to
find a way to integrate psychedelic use into modern society - he wanted to
create a new profession of shaman/psychologist/guide to administer these
As for the "modern neo-shaman," I think they are at a distinct advantage.
There is much better information available, and many more guides around who
have been through their own initiations. The people who will benefit most
will be those who put time and thought and some research into what they are
doing. While the professional class that Leary hoped to create does not
exist officially, there are people who have stepped into that role.
GT: Following on your comments - I recently read through Michael
Hollingshead's "The Man Who Turned on the World", and though the anecdotes
of the Millbrook years (with Timothy Leary et al) make for entertaining
reading, I was struck by the feeling that the participants seemed to give
too much of themselves to the drugs, rather than using them simply as a tool
of exploration. Would you agree that there needs to be more recognition that
drugs are only one tool of many for exploring the potentials of
consciousness, if they are to become more 'legitimate' to the general
DP: There are lots of great methods to explore alternative forms of
consciousness without substances. My own attempts with Tibetan Dream Yoga
have led to episodes as deeply psychedelic and profound as anything
connected with substances.
The bad part of globalization is that it is destroying the biosphere, the
good part of it is that all of the esoteric spiritual traditions of the
world are now available for study. We can now integrate scientific knowledge
with shamanic wisdom and create a new paradigm, or we can watch the world
collapse, or both at once.
GT: Part of the problem for any explorers of 'inner-space' in the modern
age, I believe, is that participation and success in society depends largely
on living by a physicalist, reductionist philosophy - with some notable
exceptions of course. That is, we now are asked to live our life with
maximum efficiency, and judge the outcome of our works by their impact on
purely physical factors. How do you see the individual re-integrating
elements of shamanism, and indeed humanism, back into their life in the
DP: I think modern materialist society has entered an accelerated period of
transformation and self-destruction, and it will not continue in its present
form for much longer. The environmental consequences of globalized
capitalism and mass consumerism make the perpetuation of this "suicide
system" impossible. When we hit the wall in the next few years, people are
going to have to systematically reevaluate the entire delusional ideology
driving them and their culture. The only possible way forward for our
species is to turn inward - what the alchemists meant by their injunction to
"Visit the interior of the Earth." I think it is a premonition of this that
is leading so many Westerners deep into Buddhism and Yoga. A revival of
shamanism and intelligent use of sacramental substances is another aspect of
this inward turn.
Personally, I believe that, through shamanism, it is completely possible to
work with "Elemental Beings," other forms of sentience involved in the
natural world. I collected many stories about this in my book. Learning to
work with these other levels is going to be necessary in order to put the
Earth back together. In other words, the rational scientific and the
intuitive shamanic mindset are going to fuse, a kind of dialectical
synthesis that is necessary for the continuation of the human species.
I see the current biospheric crisis as a self-willed cataclysm designed to
force human evolution to a higher level of consciousness - what Gurdjieff
called a "higher octave."
GT: Your comments here about 'elemental beings', would obviously be seen by
a large portion of society - those most centred in rational and physical
thinking - as talk of delusions. Could you outline briefly how you have
arrived at a 'belief' in the existence of sentient beings on other planes,
and any possible ways that such a belief could be justified to the
DP: Most people's skepticism is based on untested faith in the materialist
belief system in which they have been indoctrinated. They don't realize this
is a faith because they have been constantly assured by all of their
professors and TV talking heads that our empirical materialism is "rational"
and even "the end of history." They can't even imagine there is an outside
perspective from which to critique this limited "irrational rationality,"
just as Medieval people could not imagine that there was another way of
conceiving the relationship between the Earth and the Sun. This is why the
Gnostic Christ is right on the money when he said: "Open the door for
yourself, so you will know what it is." The pursuit of gnosis requires an
individual effort, an overcoming of the societal inertia which keeps us
passive and asleep.
I am not really interested in the language of "belief" versus "unbelief." I
arrived at the hypothesis that there are other forms of sentience through
experiences of them - to my own surprise. I also listened to the stories of
many people who have had similar experiences. In BREAKING OPEN THE HEAD, I
tell the story of a friend who met the "Thunder Beings," described in many
Native American traditions, and afterwards he developed, for a little while,
the ability to control local weather systems - like certain Native American
shamans. I watched a group of laughing elves that appeared to me on a
mushroom trip, and dealt with a Djinn that caused poltergeist phenomena in
my apartment. I wouldn't say these entities necessarily have consciousness
in the same way we do - they probably have their own way of being and
knowing. The elves were damn cute, however.
GT: For many people, the desire to revert to a simpler and more 'natural'
way of living has made 'shamanistic tourism' somewhat the cause celebre du
jour. As you have pointed out, this embracing of shamanism, and
proselytising on its behalf, carries with it a large share of ignorance.
There is a darker side to shamanism that is often overlooked, both in the
personalities that are encountered and the experiences in altered states.
What are your feelings about the 'pop conception' of shamanism, and the
possible dangers that individuals might face in regards to this superficial
DP: I am not too worried about those dangers. The plants really are amazing
teachers, and they seem to be conveying very strong messages right now about
what needs to be done to improve our situation. I think that anyone who
approaches this area with an open mind and an open heart can gain real
benefits. As I discuss in my book, shamanic tourism, done correctly, can
benefit tribal groups, who feel marginalized and in some cases have stopped
valuing their own traditions. At this tragic point in time, Western visitors
can spark renewed interest in disappearing tribal traditions.
GT: But what about the 'dangers' of the Astral Plane - as Dion Fortune says,
just because a voice speaks from another plane of existence doesn't mean
that it is good-natured and omnipotent. How does the 'novice' approach
neo-shamanism? Is it essential to have experienced guides?
DP: The only thing you can do is use your intelligence and intuition to
separate good information from bad - not just in regard to Astral entities
but in politics and life. All the occult writers strongly caution against
giving up your will to any "Other," no matter how glamorous or seemingly
wise. I am not sure, however, that anyone could do worse than George Bush,
and the directives of any Astral Entity are likely to be an improvement over
CNN or Hollywood.
It can be good to have guides but they are not always available and life is
short. Some psychonauts are proponents of the "heroic dose," but I am not
really one of them. I think there are advantages to starting with smaller
amounts and getting used to the space before diving in to some massive
experience of ego-explosion. I think that most people will know when or if
they need guides. It has also become a problem in modern society that we
always feel we need "professionals" before we can do anything for ourselves.
I know people who run all over the world chasing shamans and lamas and that
seems a bit ridiculous to me - a form of spiritual consumerism.
Shamanism is definitely a "D-I-Y" field.
GT: You talk about William Burrough's experiences with yage (ayahuasca),
describing his vision of 'dark mergings and dissolutions and horror', and
qualify that with the summation that this vision was "probably not the
vision he wanted. But it was the vision he needed". Indeed, when you talk of
ayahuasca in general, it comes across that you believe it is a cathartic
tool of sorts, designed to purge the soul of the negative influences. Would
this be a correct interpretation? If so, do you see a use for it in modern
DP: I think many of these substances could be extraordinary tools for
psychology - and in fact, they will be studied and used for those purposes
again, when the inevitable paradigm shift happens, as they were in the 1950s
and early '60s. But psychedelics are more than psychological tools - and
this is where our division of disciplines is completely inadequate. What is
the psychological benefit of the "ontological shock" caused by smoking DMT?
At the very least, it proves that you certainly don't need to bomb the hell
out of anyone to experience "Shock and Awe." A small inhalation of DMT smoke
will do the trick just fine.
Ayahuasca, especially, makes people spiritually stronger - compared to the
popular club drug Ketamine, which weakens people spiritually and sets them
up to be used by glamorous ambiguous entities from the Astral Plane. With K,
people often think they are doing the drug when the drug is actually doing
them. I do think that contemporary culture desperately needs the psychic
purging provided by ayahuasca and iboga. George Bush, Michael Jackson, Rush
Limbaugh, CNN, MTV, Eminem - let's vomit them out and move on.
GT: Well then, how do we tell which substances are helpful, and which have a
negative influence? Do we revert to the natural substances used for many
centuries, such as ayahuasca, iboga, peyote and mushrooms? Perhaps we are
better off leaving the substances alone and concentrating on other
techniques such as yoga and ritual magick?
DP: Who is this "we" you are talking about? Each person should do what is
necessary and right for their own psychic evolution.
GT: Well, I guess 'we' would be all those that are curious about different
techniques of achieving altered states of consciousness. Speaking of which,
since you started this journey, you have become quite interested in the
mystical/magickal tradition - Gurdjieff, Ouspensky, Crowley etc. Have you
encountered any difficulties in sorting the useful information from the 'new
age pap', for want of a better turn of phrase?
DP: It is like with anything - you have to think about it and turn ideas
over in your mind, again and again, to see how they resonate. The most
amazing of these figures is, for me, Rudolf Steiner. He worked incredibly
hard to create a "spiritual science" that could be validated by anyone
capable of work on themselves. He was a pioneer whose ideas on farming,
medicine, and education remain completely relevant - yet he also explicated
the most fabulously complex esoteric cosmology. Unlike Crowley and
Gurdjieff, Steiner was extremely balanced. But Crowley and Gurdjieff were
also extraordinary thinkers with useful ideas.
GT: Can we really be sure that the 'psychedelic experience' is something of
worth? While people certainly feel that they have had revelations and
insights while using entheogens, could it be that it simply comes down to
the brain being fooled? There's an anecdote by a skeptic where he describes
his revelatory experience beholding a sign in a toilet - do skeptics have a
DP: Taking psychedelics is an individual decision. People have to overcome
their own biases and the mainstream's repression and ridicule. I don't feel
that I was ever interested in "drugs" - what interests me is consciousness,
trying to understand it, to stretch it out or compact it, to experience
different potentials of the mind's relationship to time and space and other
dimensions of existence. Ultimately, all you can get from any trip is an
amplified or magnified mirror of what is inside your own mind. If one's mind
is full of garbage, your trip will reveal a garbage-world. As Walter
Benjamin put it, "Nothing bores an ordinary man more than the cosmos."
I also support the Buddhist notion that ultimately the world we live in is
no different - no more "real" - than a solid-state dream. David Bohm's
thesis of a 'holographic universe' puts this on a scientific footing.
Smoking DMT showed me that the physical world is like a simulation being run
in a cosmic computer, sustained by the meditations of impersonal God-like
entities who fascinated and terrified me. Our perceptual apparatus has
evolved to take in a very limited range of sensory data - a tiny range of
frequencies - and there are an infinite number of other frequencies that we
could be tuned to, like different radio stations. These substances allow you
to flip the dial.
GT: So you would then therefore subscribe to the theory of what Aldous
Huxley called "The Reducing Valve of the Brain"? That is, that our everyday
consciousness is simply a tool designed first and foremost to ensure
survival, and that other modes of consciousness allow access to information
that is not considered essential for that purpose - in short, that what we
term reality is simply a small portion (the physical) of a much broader
DP: That is one model of many. Ordinary consciousness allows us to "earth"
our perceptions of the non-ordinary. Buddha's first act after achieving
enlightenment was to touch the earth. Our daily plodding is necessary for
eventual soaring. The eight circuit model of Leary and Robert Anton Wilson
is also interesting. What amazes me, right now, is how a vast majority of
people seem to have abandoned interest in any higher levels of awareness or
their own spiritual fate. They have retreated into what Jose Arguelles calls
"machine normal" consciousness, striving to completely integrate with the
corporate machinery of manufactured mind, distracting themselves and
avoiding any vision of where this thing is going. Where people used to
think, at least, a generation ahead, most people seem incapable of thinking
even a few years into the future. They have lost the ability to connect
actions with consequences, except in the most simpleminded way. This has to
indicate that our current system has reached its end point.
The shamanic perspective gives you a much vaster perception of time and
allows you to think about the evolution of human consciousness as a
purposeful project and process. Sometimes it does seem to me that humanity
is headed in two opposite directions. It may be that after "2012" or the
"catastrophic bifurcation" or the "Apocalypse" or whatever is directly and
imminently ahead of us now, we will be in the right position to engage those
higher circuits of consciousness. This phase of intensified destruction may
be pushing us to the place where we are ready to make that jump.
Perhaps the childhood of the species is ending with one last hideous
acting-out, one last parading of all our greeds and horrors and miseries,
before we assume the responsibilities of adulthood - which may include
membership in a community of galactic intelligence.
GT: Do you think that 'transpersonal experiences' (such as when multiple
people 'share' the same trip) give some sort of substance to arguments that
there is such a thing as the 'astral plane'?
DP: My current syntax for thinking about it is more about levels and types
of vibrations, resonances, and intervals, rather than Astral or other
Planes. I think we need a more advanced language for conceptualizing
consciousness and the "supersensible realms," and I hope that someone much
smarter than I am will develop it. English is probably a poor language for
this as we are trapped in dualism and hard subject-object distinctions.
The overwhelming anecdotal evidence of shared dreams and shared trips, etc.,
should have made a dent on the materialist model, but it hasn't yet. The
Global Consciousness Project at Princeton is also discovering evidence for a
"noosphere," a mental envelope around the earth, by documenting fluctuations
in random number generators set up at 50 cities around the planet. On days
of major world events, they get significant statistical deviations from
normal patterns of randomness. On 9/11, these deviations peaked several
hours after the planes hit the buildings, but the deviations began an hour
or two before the first Tower was hit. The Project may be charting the birth
of a global consciousness aware of major events before they actually happen.
I suspect, in the new paradigm, we will recognize that human consciousness
and the Earth, together, constitute a single sentient and evolving organism.
GT: I agree, much of the consciousness research in the past few decades will
be of vital importance if the materialistic paradigm is to be changed.
Hopefully we can chat about this more at a later date - for now, though,
thank you very much Daniel for taking the time to speak with TDG.
(BREAKING OPEN THE HEAD by Daniel Pinchbeck is available from both Amazon US
More information about the Ibogaine