A conversation with a kindred spirit, Josh Schrei, about the visionary, animistic worldview that informs Tolkien and Homer, and that was the normative worldview for humanity for many millennia. Lots of connecting threads here. And a beautiful discussion on cave art and sacred song. Enjoy!
(Please note this pilgrimage is now filled).
You are invited to journey to Mayantuyacu, located deep in the heart of the Amazon jungle alongside the sacred boiling river Shanay-timpishka, for a 12-day Ayahuasca & Plant Medicine Retreat. Mayantuyacu is a center dedicated to the study of sacred plants and the preservation of indigenous knowledge and is the home of the Asháninkan curandero, Maestro Juan Flores. This trip will be guided by Robert Tindall (author of The Jaguar That Roams the Mind and Sacred Soil: Biochar and the Regeneration of the Earth).
To enter the rainforest and engage in the practice of plant-based shamanism is to embark upon an ancient and time-tested approach to the healing of many modern diseases of body, soul, mind, and spirit. It is deep, committed work that can bring about radical transformation or lay important foundations in one’s own healing process. I have been an apprentice of Juan Flores for around 15 years and have documented a number of radical healings that the Maestro has done in the course of his work, including of an inoperable brain tumor. Yet, it’s the deep work that matters at Mayantuyacu. The opportunity to realize the words of Jesus from the Gospel of Thomas:
“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”
That’s the ceremonial work! Yet, the joy of these pilgrimages is in the community and the nature cradling Mayantuyacu. It’s an opportunity to enter that state which anthropologist Viktor Turner called liminality, where our hardened, habitual ways of being begin to fall away and we enter communion with one another and the cosmos in a sacred place. It’s good! Continue reading “Journey to the Heart: 12-Day Amazon Plant Medicine Retreat at Mayantuyacu Dec. 28th to Jan. 9th 2019-2020”
There is an old paradox discussed by Heraclitus, that great ancient philosopher of impermanence, called “The Ship of Theseus.” It poses this question: “Consider a ship that has, over its long lifetime, had every part replaced during its repair so that not even a single nail from its original construction remains. Is it still the same ship?”
There have been many solutions offered to this puzzle down through the centuries, and I can’t think of a moment where it’s more relevant to our generation than with the burning of Notre Dame. Already the international community is rallying and pledges towards its rebuilding are flowing in. The French president says that it will be “more beautiful than ever.” Yet will it be the same cathedral? Will it be Our Lady? Or will it be a replica, such as the pseudo-Cave of Lascaux, the reproduction of the original Paleolithic temple created to protect the original from destruction by tourist hordes? Beautiful, yes, but not the Cave.
Of course, our own bodies contain not a single molecule of our original version while purportedly containing atoms that once helped embody Shakespeare, Hitler, and Alexander the Great’s mortal frames, so from the perspective of this radical impermanence, all things really are essentially empty and utterly interconnected. Yet it’s impossible to shake that sense of continuity, of the accumulation of something called a “soul,” that remains the Ship of Theseus, even after all its timbers, ropes, and sailcloth have been replaced. It’s the “aura,” as the philosopher Walter Benjamin called it, which is accumulated through time and which cannot be replaced by “mechanical reproduction.”
The outpouring of grief over the immolation of Notre Dame is because, I believe, millions of us venerated Her as not just the heart of France, but as “ensouled.” For many of us, regardless of religious background and creed, She was a living being who we loved, with whom we had a personal relationship that has graced our existence.
I would like to share a story of Notre Dame that I hope will illustrate why. Continue reading “The Immolation of Notre Dame and Why We Might Want to Give Her Back to Nature Again”
One can get the sense from reading ancient Greek mythos that they had a tragic view of human existence, yet that would be a mistake, for the ancient Greeks also had an open door to redemption that we no longer have.
One of the strengths of the Greek perspective on the human condition, I think, is they didn’t make it all human. Instead, the psyche is sometimes a battle ground for archetypal forces, and there is no clear demarcation between the human and the more-than-human and other-than-human.
A Ted Talk by my friend Andres Ruzo, a geologist and National Geographic Explorer who has sought to understand the magic of the boiling river that is so integral to the healing work of the curandero Juan Flores.
Myths are time capsules designed to weather a voyage of centuries, even millennia.
As philosopher David Abrams has commented, “Oral cultures preserve verbal knowledge by constantly repeating it. Practical knowledge must be embedded in spoken formulas that can be easily recalled––in prayers and proverbs, in continually recited legends and mythic stories…without writing, knowledge of the diverse properties of particular animals, plants, and places can be preserved only by being woven into stories.”
Yet, how accurate can the transmission of knowledge of animals, plants, and places be over the centuries? Can it be accurate enough to reach back as far as 10,000 years ago to the end of the last ice age? Can we read in them a record of when the seas began to rise as the ice caps melted with the warming climate?
It’s an awesome prospect. And, yes, according to researchers, we can — with remarkable precision.
Science journalist Jeff Goodell’s recent book, The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities, and the Remaking of Civilized World, looks both at the probable geological origins of the myth of Noah’s flood in the Old Testament and the far older tales preserved by the Aboriginal Australians which can be argued to reach back all the way to the end of the last ice age.
Join your guides Robert Tindall (author of The Jaguar That Roams the Mind) and Brian James (yoga teacher & musician) on a special men’s retreat at Mayantuyacu, located deep in the heart of the Amazon jungle and situated along the sacred boiling river, for a 12-day Ayahuasca & Plant Medicine Retreat. Mayantuyacu is a centre dedicated to the study of sacred plants and preservation of indigenous knowledge and is home of the Asháninkan curandero, Maestro Juan Flores.
The intention of this pilgrimage is to give us men the opportunity to touch the core of our experience together: the wounding, passion, bliss, and fear of it all.
We men are carrying around a massive amount of shadow materials right now. In this retreat, we create together a container that is safe, immersed in the life of the rain forest, and held in a strong prayer. By peeling back that tough guy persona we men have to wear, we can be actual warriors instead, having the courage to finally bring forth our deeper selves. A lot of it comes from authentic listening, both to one another and to the medicine. As Christ put it in the Gospel of Thomas, where he says, “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you don’t bring forth what is within you, what you don’t bring forth will destroy you.” Continue reading “Journey to the Heart: 12-Day Amazon Plant Medicine Retreat For Men at Mayantuyacu Dec. 28th to Jan. 9th”
The clash between the Cyclops and Odysseus is, in its unique way, the strongest analog to a cave painting that exists in the literature of the West, containing, as it does, a sacred space where indigenous vision is transcribed for future generations.
Indeed, in the tale of Odysseus and the Cyclops, one touches the fire-blackened floor of the Paleolithic hunter’s cave, so primordial are its elements. Containing as it does a ritual blinding with a wooden hunting spear, a master of animals figure, and an underlying concern with the problem of eating and sacrifice, its provenance is clearly in the prehistoric storytelling repertoire.
Yet it is possible to discern the outlines of a fragment of myth, or mythologem, in the heart of the struggle between Odysseus and the blinded Cyclops. This struggle seemed to capture Western civilization’s emerging violent rupture with its native self—and, within the symbolic language of oral literature, to presage dire consequences. In short, it appeared to have all the characteristics of a prophecy, a vision much like the Hopi of the two roads of humanity: “those who know they belong to the Earth” and those who seek material, individual gain in a condition of spiritual disunity.
The uniqueness of the fragment of myth preserved in Homer’s Odyssey lies in its depiction of the break between the indigenous and newly emerging modern mind. Continue reading “Healing the Eye of the Cyclops”
You probably won’t be finding any of this in your Zen master’s upcoming teishos, but it is nonetheless worthwhile to get caught up on recent neurological studies of meditation and its impact upon the brain, an organ which has revealed itself to be far more plastic, adaptive, and regenerative than was ever suspected in those golden years of brain science that brought us the frontal lobotomy.
There are a number of good books on the subject now, but I particularly enjoyed James Kingsland’s Siddhartha’s Brain: Unlocking the Ancient Science of Enlightenment. Kingsland, a science journalist for the Guardian, writes with classic English skepticism while simultaneously embracing his own dharma practice and arguing for the deeply transformative affect of meditation practice on the fundamental neurology of the brain.
Kingsland’s approach is to travel back in time and, drawing upon modern scientific evidence (which has been “enhanced enormously through the use of new brain-scanning technologies such as fMRI – functional magnetic resonance imaging”), envisage that neurological transformation as it unfolded in the brain of Siddhartha Gautama based upon the colorful accounts in Buddhist scripture.
Once upon a time, in a land so far away it now borders of the realm of story, there was a ten-year boy who was abandoned in a children’s shelter.
That distant land was the United States, the era was the 1970’s, and I was that child. Children’s shelters in the U.S. were, and probably still are, the equivalent of minimum security prisons. They are run upon the same principles, and the shelter I was left in was adjacent to the actual juvenile halls. The only difference was we could walk out the doors and jump the fence — although when I contemplated escape over the chain link to the roaring highway below I knew I had nowhere to go.
That story of induction, culture shock, torment, and loss of identity I’ve written about elsewhere. Incarcerated for the crime of coming from an unstable household, not for criminal behavior, I was that middle class kid who fell into the subterranean world of the criminal class. Continue reading “Awakening from the Dream of Imprisonment”
In an astonishing bit of pseudo-scientific sleight of hand, Congressman Tom McClintock effectively denies our beloved California is burning, and that it is going to keep burning for the foreseeable future.
He does it by denying Humanity’s hand in shaping the climate. Ever since Alexander von Humboldt’s scientific explorations in the late 1700’s, it has been clear that our conduct shapes the health of our ecosystems. This is an absolute no-brainer.
Of course, it took climate science a while longer to understand the more subtle details, such as how the European Medieval warm period and subsequent Little Ice Age (which Congressman McClintock describes below) had clear human causes: the native peoples of the Americas conducted a continent-wide summer burning of forests before the arrival of Columbus, and all the released carbon actually warmed the entire planet! Thus, those vineyards in Greenland. The subsequent Little Ice Age was triggered because, with the extinction of 95% of the native population of the “New World” the burning ceased and global temperatures plummeted. Thus, ice-skating on the frozen Thames and famine stalking the land.
Here is how Congressman McClintock turns this careful scientific research upon its head:
Thank you for contacting me regarding global climate change.
I firmly believe that the United States should not hamstring its economy in an attempt to combat global warming.
The Earth’s climate is constantly changing and has been since the planet formed over four billion years ago. We know that during the Medieval warm period, from the 10th through the 13th centuries, wine grapes were grown in northern Britain, and Iceland and Greenland supported a thriving agricultural economy. We also know that during the Little Ice Age that followed, the Thames River froze solid every winter and advancing ice sheets destroyed many towns in Europe.
Simply adding more regulations based on suspect science will not change natural climate patterns. Such regulations will, however, devastate our economy and make America less competitive with nations like China and India, who refuse to strangle their economies. For these reasons, I will not support them.
“Natural climate patterns”? “Suspect science”? Particularly disturbing is Tom’s total lack of familiarity with the famines that regularly devastated Europe — it’s as if we either happily drank wine or enjoyed frosty cones, oh, even though admittedly we did lose a couple of villages to advancing ice sheets… Congressman McClintock is oblivious, or lying, about the human cost of climate change in exchange for short-sighted economic growth.
Thomas Jefferson, who mistrusted merchants and their loyalty to money, believed that our country would be at its strongest and its liberty best kept by a population of farmers, men and women who raised their own food, lived in close contact with the Earth and its climate, and who heeded scientific discoveries to improve their happiness and prosperity. For Jefferson, happiness only arose from connection to the Earth.
He also said, “Honesty is the first chapter of the book wisdom.”
I recommend to Congressman McClintock that he take a page from Jefferson’s book.
In the mid-1500s, a German seafarer named Hans Staden encountered a Tupinambá chief in the Amazon rainforest who was eating a human leg out of a “great vessel full of human flesh.”
Holding the limb to Staden’s mouth, the chief invited him to try it. Staden replied, “Even beasts which are without understanding do not eat their own species, and should a man devour his fellow creatures?”
At that, the chief took a bite and turning Staden’s argument on its head, replied, “I am a tiger; it tastes well.”
Such accounts serve, as anthropologist Carlo Fausto reminds us, that not all native cultures practice a “loving animism.” Indeed, sometimes, their practices are “better understood as a predatory animism.”
In our thirst for a meaningful relationship to the cosmos, one with a nourishing spiritual dimension, it’s easy for us Westerners to romanticize indigenous cultures and their “animistic” world views.
As I once heard the Apache writer and shaman, Martin Prechtel, say: “How can you be lonely or depressed when you wake up in a cosmos where you’re surrounded by companions and friends?” He meant a sentient world, filled with life that sings in our ears and stirs our hearts with messages from beyond the merely human.
More popularly, Disney’s Pocahontas sings,
You think you own whatever land you land on
The Earth is just a dead thing you can claim
But I know every rock and tree and creature
Has a life, has a spirit, has a name.
The rainstorm and the river are my brothers
The heron and the otter are my friends
And we are all connected to each other
In a circle, in a hoop that never ends.
It can come as something of a shock, therefore, to discover that the “animistic” worldview can also be predatory, a thing practiced “in darkness and secrecy” as in Amazonian shamanism. Or in broad, consensual daylight, as among the warring Plains Indians of North America, whose torture of captured members of rival tribes would have made the Spanish Inquisition blanch:
“Indian torture rituals had a purpose beyond inflicting excruciating pain. The majority of tribes believed that all humans went to the same idyllic afterlife in the exact physical condition in which they had died. This breathtaking arcadia, bursting with ponies and game and populated by unlimited comely maidens, was a literal Happy Hunting Ground. But if the ghostly warrior had no eyes or tongue with which to see this paradise and taste its fatty meat, if he had no feet with which to chase the game, no hands with which to draw back a bowstring no genitalia with which to satisfy his carnal desires, then one man’s heaven had become another’s hell. This belief was universally accepted among the tribes.”
You can imagine the practical implications of such a cosmovision, although fine details such as punching a hole in the living war captive’s bladder and urinating or defecating in it might elude you.
Yet, leave it to the ancient Celts of Ireland to take predatory animism to the most refined artistic heights. As avid head hunters, their records and tales are filled with accounts of magically animated severed heads. Perhaps the most haunting and moving account is from the tale of Donn Bo in the Battle of Allen, from the Yellow Book of Lecan.
A battle was fought between Fergal, king of northern Ireland, and King Murchad of Leinster, whose territory Fergal invaded. The Leinstermen were victorious, and Fergal and many of his followers were killed. At the feast held after the victory, the king asked that someone should go to the battlefield and fetch a man’s head, for which he would pay a rich reward.
A man named Baethgalach went to where King Fergal lay, and as he drew near he could hear a voice commanding the musicians and poets on the battlefield to make music and to sing for their lord. Then came music unsurpassed in sweetness, and the head of Donn Bo began to sing for Fergal.
Don Bo was a youth famed for his skill in story-telling and song, who had been unwilling to sing for the king on the night before the battle but had sworn to make music for him the following night, no matter where they might be. Baethgalach asked if he might take the head of Donn Bo to the hall, and the head consented, if he promised to bring it back afterwards and lay it on his body.
The head of the minstrel was carried to the feast and placed on a pillar in the hall. All recognized Donn Bo, and grieved for the loss of the finest minstrel in Erin.
Then the head turned towards the wall where it was dark, and sang a lament, and so sweet was the song that none could refrain from weeping. Afterwards the head was taken back and replaced on Donn Bo’s body, and because saint Columcille had promised the youth’s mother that he would return to her unharmed, it was joined to his body again.
Yoga teacher, musician and artist Brian James, who has been exploring the intersection of music, yoga and shamanism for over 20 years recently spoke with Robert, In this conversation we talk about our explorations of indigenous healing traditions of North and South America, including work with ayahuasca and peyote, and get into a discussion about mythology and the hero’s journey.
There was a time when scientists weren’t ashamed to go on record contemplating the meaning of the cosmos as revealed through the scientific method, and one of the great practitioners of this genre was Loren Eiseley. While waiting to take my daughter to school this morning, I came across this passage in his book, The Unexpected Universe, published in 1964 — one year before I was born.
Here is the kind of mythopoeic perception that Eiseley was capable to bringing to phenomenon that are now treated as mere cold facts:
A few days ago I chanced to look into a rain pool on the walk outside my window, and the beauty and the strange rhythm of the extending and concentric wavelets entered my mind. I saw that I was looking symbolically upon the whole history of life upon our globe. There, in a wide, sweeping circle, ran the early primates from whom we are descended; here, as a later drop within the rim of the greater circle, emerged the first men. I was the mammoths pass in a long, slow, world-wide surge, but the little drop of man changed into a great hasty wave that swept them under.
There were sudden little ringlets, like the fauna of isolated islands, that appeared and disappeared with rapidity. Sometimes so slow were the drops that the pool was almost quiet, like the intense, straining silence of a quiescent geological period. Sometimes the rain, like the mutations in animal form, came so fast that the ripples broke, mixed, or kept their shapes with difficulty and did not spread far. Jungles, I read in my mystical water glass, microfaunas changing rapidly but with little spread.
Watch instead, I thought, for the great tides — it is they that contain that planet’s story. As the rain hastened or dripped slowly the pictures in the little pool were taken into my mind as though from the globe of a crystal-gazer. How often, if we learn to look, is a spider’s wheel a universe, or a swarm of summer midges a galaxy, or a canyon a backward glance into time. Beneath our feet is the scratched pebble that denotes an ice age, or above us the summer cloud that changes form in one afternoon as an animal might do in ten million years.
This is mythopoeia. All of this from gazing into a little pool pelted by drops of water! It’s as beautiful as Shakespeare (who Eiseley loved as a gift from his father), and captures the exquisite drama of the human adventure in ways that few scientists’s writing can now do.
Eiseley concludes, “The truly perceptive man must know that where the human eye stops, and hearing terminates, there still vibrates an inconceivable and spectral world of which we learn only through devised instruments. Through such instruments measuring atomic decay we have learned to probe the depths of time before our coming and to gauge temperatures long vanished.”
How akin Eisley’s “Where the human eye stops, and hearing terminates, there still vibrates an inconceivable and spectral world” is with W.B. Yeats’ “The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”
Elizabeth Gilbert isn’t the only artist or scientist to believe it was a “huge error” when the Renaissance came and “put the individual human being at the center of the universe above all gods and mysteries,” leaving a barren landscape with “no more room for mystical creatures” behind it.
It turns out, if we just look around, we find that we are sharing the planet with numerous species that can justly be described as “mystical,” as belonging to an order of being that we fantasize of encountering on distant planets in the depths of outer space — yet we are simply too human-centered to recognize it! As primatologist Frans de Waal recently asked, “Are we smart enough to know how smart animals are?”
The verdict appears to be “just barely,” and we’ve only begun to scrape the surface of the intelligence of the cosmos. Continue reading “The Elusive, Creative Genius of the Dolphin”
For over ten years I have been accompanying committed men and women into the heart of the Peruvian rainforest to work with Asháninkan healer and teacher Juan Flores Salazar. This year I have felt a deep calling to focus this work just on women and their paths, or aotsi tsinane, in Asháninkan language. That’s the reason I am inviting you to a second iteration of this journey in August 2018. Continue reading “Aotsi Tsinane: Women’s Retreat at Mayantuyacu, Perú with Susana Bustos, Ph.D. August 7th to 20th”
I would like to share with you that yesterday marked the release of our book, Sacred Soil: Biochar and the Regeneration of the Earth!
A collaboration between a clean technology scientist, an anthropologist working among native communities in the high Amazon, and a budding novelist and student of mythos (guess which one I am!), Sacred Soil takes a multidisciplinary approach to the phenomenon of biochar soils — an elixir for the Earth that can contribute significantly to the restoration of the planet to pre-Industrial levels of atmospheric carbon by 2050, as well as helping us “go native” to our planet again!
U.C. Davis anthropologist Stefano Varese calls it a “jewel…a breath of pure utopian air” and Daniel Pinchbeck calls it “A visionary manifesto and a pragmatic, solutions-oriented approach to how we can heal our connection with the Earth;”
Ian Baker, in his Introduction, states, “The highly qualified authors of Sacred Soil show us a way forward toward restoring our garden planet, shifting the Earth’s carbon balance from the oceans and the sky to the soil and living vegetation, where it can nourish our hearts, blood, and bones and ensure our collective thriving. It is up to all of us to act on this knowledge.”
I pray this work not only makes an empowering and enduring contribution to the revisioning and retooling of our planetary relations with all species that so many of us are working so hard to achieve, but that it is also nourishing for the heart and imagination of its readers.
Perhaps the finest review I received for Sacred Soil came from my Dad in the Native American Church, Bob Boyll, who told me after reading an advance copy that it gave him hope for the future. I know my prayers for my daughter Maitreya’s generation are woven into this book. Please, buy it and spread the news!
My first visit to Takiwasi, the center for the treatment of addiction that utilizes the methods of Amazonian shamanism along with Western psychotherapy, and its host town, Tarapoto, was many years ago, in a quieter age.
My partner at the time, a therapist, had arrived long before me, and developed a strong affinity with the work of the center – its compassionate approach to treating addicts, its commitment to the study of the native, traditional medicine of the rainforest, and the unique character of its founders, the doctors Jacques Mabit and Rosa Giove. When I had joined her there, she was working as a therapist in the ample, tree shaded grounds of the center, doing her dissertation research, and soaking up the accumulated knowledge of traditional plant medicines and shamanic techniques utilized at Takiwasi to heal. Continue reading “Shamanic Archaeology at Chavín de Huántar”
The loss of the daughter to mother, the mother to the daughter, is the essential female tragedy. It was expressed in the religious mystery of Eleusis, which constituted the spiritual foundation of Greek life for two thousand years…
The separation of Demeter and Kore is an unwilling one; it is neither a question of the daughter’s rebellion against the mother, nor the mother’s rejection of the daughter… Each daughter, even in the millennia before Christ, must have longed for a mother whose love for her and whose power were so great as to undo rape and bring her back from death. And every mother must have longed for the power of Demeter, the efficacy of her anger, the reconciliation with her lost self.
Adrienne Rich, Of Woman Born
One definition of “myth” might be: “A once sacred narrative which has lost its original context.” Like the flotsam and jetsam of a shipwreck on the high seas, we encounter fragments of myth, such as in Hesiod’s Theogony, drifting about detached from their original cultural setting and so read them as curious stories, quaint remnants, or illogical accounts of the cosmos.
What is lost in such fragments is the original wholeness of mythos, symbol, and ritual within which the myth had its transformative power. Continue reading “Remembering Persephone and the Eleusinian Mysteries”
Snakes have played an important role in my inner psycho-spiritual life, from the frequent snake-based nightmares that plagued my sleep as a child to far more interesting visions later on, especially during my explorations of the altered states induced by the ingestion of psychedelic plants and drugs.
I first took peyote, mescaline, psilocybin mushrooms, and LSD when I was fifteen and sixteen years old (far too young), and almost immediately serpent-related visions factored in to those experiences. In the early disorienting stages of those journeys, as I lay down and closed my eyes, one of the first effects was, as is very common, rapid-fire visual imagery of ever-shifting geometric patterns. Very often this kaleidoscopic onslaught would become an all-encompassing, sinuous wave pattern akin to a portion of a moving serpent’s undulating skin, and I suddenly felt as though I, and the whole world, were riding a giant snake. This usually terrified me and I would try to focus my mind elsewhere until this impression passed. It’s obviously not an uncommon experience, as exemplified by Jim Morrison’s song Ride the Serpent.
Serpent imagery would return again and again during at least some portions of my (fairly numerous: it was, after all, the 60s and early 70s…) trips, but I always experienced those visions as unsettling or frightening, and it never occurred to me to try to somehow work with or integrate that imagery during those years of excessive youthful experimentation with drugs of all types. I just viewed those episodes as bad portions of my journeys that I had to endure to get to the more ecstatic states. As is so often the case, I left that druggy phase of my life behind by my mid 20s and instead became obsessively focused on physical and psycho-spiritual development, seeking to live a highly disciplined life, which included forsaking all drug-taking, but psychoactive substances re-entered my life some 20 years later in a very different context. Continue reading “So You Want to Converse with the Serpent? A Journey to Mayantuyacu”
Dr. Mark Plotkin, ethnobotanist, molecular biologist, disciple of the great Richard Evans Schultes, and founder of Amazon Conservation Team, gives an eloquent, deeply informed, and passionate apologia for the rights and incalculable worth of the uncontacted peoples of the Amazon rainforest.
To understand how bio and cultural diversity are intimately entangled as living, vital forces that shape our lives, we must understand the culture of Humanity in all its extraordinary diversity and imperiled circumstances: the “ethnosphere,” as anthropologist and National Geographic Explorer as Wade Davis calls it.
Janine Benyus’ concept of biomimicry has galvanized scientists, architects, designers and engineers into exploring new ways in which nature’s successes can inspire humanity.
Bacteria are wondrous critters. They fix nitrogen in the soil to nourish plants, populate our intestinal tract so we can digest our food, and convert our milk into cheese. Yet, like the uncounted billions of stars in the night sky, their cosmos is vast and mysterious beyond our reckoning. They populate every nook and cranny of Mother Gaia, from the highest peaks of the Himalayas to the most abysmal depths of the ocean trenches to deep into the core of the Earth. They even ride the clouds. Within your own body, at this very moment, more E. Coli bacteria are thriving than the entire number of human beings who have ever lived!
Bacteria can also have a fearsome bite. Bacterial pneumonia, cholera, diphtheria, leprosy, plague, gonorrhea, tetanus, and typhoid are among the scourges our species knew all too well until the medical revolution of the mid-20th century, when antibiotics made their first miraculous appearance. For the generations that have grown up under their protective shade, it is easy to forget that a doctor’s first line of defense against an infected wound was once a scalpel or amputating saw, not a pill. No longer can a mere nick upon the chin while shaving carry us off by blood poisoning. No longer is it fatal to be in the same room when a stranger coughs.
There is no doubt that the advent of antibiotics was an extraordinary medical advance. Indeed, so pervasive and profound was the impact of antibiotics during their heyday that in 1969 the Surgeon General of the U.S. trumpeted that, “It was time to close the book on infectious disease.”
He could not have been more wrong. Continue reading “Ceasefire: Ending Our War upon Bacteria”
You know, I think if people stay somewhere long enough – even white people – the spirits will begin to speak to them. It’s the power of the spirits coming up from the land. The spirits and the old powers aren’t lost, they just need people to be around long enough and the spirits will begin to influence them.
Spoken by a Crow elder to Gary Snyder.
Joseph Campbell, whose resonant interpretations of world mythology left such a mark upon the arts and spiritual imagination of the previous century, once offered four functions for any culture’s mythological system. “Mythology,” in this case, does not mean “outdated” or “pre-scientific,” but rather it means the interface of stories about the nature of existence that any culture must utilize to navigate through an ultimately unknowable cosmos. These stories we use to orient ourselves fall into four categories, or “functions,” according to Campbell:
1. The Mystical Function, expressing our awe of the universe; 2. The Cosmological Function, explaining the shape of the universe; 3. The Sociological Function, supporting and validating a certain social order, and 4. The Pedagogical Function, giving direction for living one’s life within the overarching meaning provided by a mythological system.
Apparently, this works by the trickle down effect. Authentic mystical visions of the highest attainable truths are given symbolic form and then stepped down, systematized, and eventually harmonized into the daily life of a society. This was the idea behind Plato’s Republic as well as the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages, in whose cathedrals we can see an entire cosmovision realized in stone.
Yet, as we know, myth can not only point to eternal truths but also be a system of control imposed upon a population. Folk sometimes imagine the sociological function has to do with “socializing” at church or the temple, but it doesn’t. Not at all. It’s the aspect of mythic systems that supports and validates the social order — and like the tradition of sati, where a Hindu widow would throw herself upon her husband’s funeral pyre and burn to death, it can actually be a fairly nasty piece of work. Continue reading “Revoking the Myth of 1492 and Reclaiming Turtle Island”
Not long ago, while hobnobbing one morning at my 5 year old daughter’s school, I overheard a couple of parents talking about their experiences with different ayahuasqueros and how difficult it was to find anyone reliable in the Bay Area these days. Continue reading “Integration of Ayahuasca Experiences”
I am not in charge. The spirits of Ayahuasca are – big, powerful, monumental – like a mountain with a Sphinx on top – brown and green and jungle. Sharp edges, lightening-like patterns like native weavings – strong. Continue reading ““I Am Not in Charge. The Spirits of Ayahuasca Are.” One Pilgrim’s Experience at Mayantuyacu”