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!
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.
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.
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”
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.
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”
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”
Animistic perspectives, which hold the cosmos as “a being to whom prayers and offerings are made, who is endowed with understanding, agency and sentience, and responds to the actions of humans” are often dismissed as primitive, even as “incompatible with an impersonal regard of objective reality.” Yet this account of a healing of chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (the consequence of severe rattlesnake envenomation), within the shamanic traditions of the Native American Church and the vegetalistas of the Peruvian Amazon, reminds us of how profound healing can be when it arises from indigenous perception of a sentient, living cosmos. It also demonstrates the diagnostic and healing capacities of shamanic traditions utilizing psychoactive plants, capacities sometimes beyond the reach of Western science. Continue reading “Snake Medicine: How Shamanism Heals”
The winding path that led to this essay, just published in Arion: A Journal of Humanities and the Classics, began with the traditional lore of an Ashaninkan shaman working in the Peruvian Amazon. It may be the first significant discussion of Homer’s Odyssey in the light of contemporary knowledge of sacred plant medicines, indigenous ways of knowledge, and shamanic practices to appear in decades.
Towards the end of our year long investigation into the healing practices of the vegetalistas, as the indigenous and mestizo practitioners of rainforest medicine are known, we engaged in a plant dieta under the direction of one of the informants in Susana’s dissertation research, the curandero Juan Flores. One day, Flores tramped back to visit us during our solitary fast, and there the conversation turned to the mythic—and quite real according to him—beings that inhabit the Amazonian waterways. As Flores described the behavior of these sirenas, Robert was struck by the intriguing parallels between their seductive behavior and that of the Sirens described by Homer. Flores had never heard of the Odyssey, yet when given the story of Odysseus’ ordeal in the orbit of their rapturous song, Flores nodded his head and said grimly, “That’s them, alright.”
It was then we began to suspect that the indigenous experience of the natural world, which has a marked universality among native peoples, might have an underlying, shaping influence upon Homer’s narrative.
Along with familiarizing us with the cosmovision of the Amazonian peoples, our fieldwork also introduced us to the practice of shamanic journeying, which among Amazonian peoples, who live in an environment of extraordinary biodiversity, is often conducted in ceremonies utilizing ayahuasca, a psychoactive plant medicine whose name translates from Quechua as “vine of the spirits” or “vine of the dead.”
There we were also struck by certain parallels between Odysseus’ visionary descent into Hades and ethnographies of traditional shamanic practices among indigenous peoples worldwide, especially when supplemented by cognitive archaeologist David Lewis-Williams’ theory of the intensified trajectory of consciousness. These parallels are suggestive of a deeper morphological relationship between Homer’s narrative and the traditions of vision quest among the ancient, indigenous Mediterranean peoples (whose material culture is preserved in the Paleolithic cave sanctuaries), than is generally recognized. By viewing, as our main objective, just one episode in the Odyssey, the hero’s visionary journey in Hades, from an ethnographic perspective, this essay hopes to open up more inquiry into the indigenous, and shamanic, background of the epic poem.
To read the entire article, please enter here: The Intensified Trajectory of Consciousness in Odysseus’ Vision in Hades
Awareness of the remarkable efficacy of psychoactive plant medicines to heal addiction is growing. These presentations by Robert Tindall and Susana Bustos, sponsored by City Lights Books, were inspired in part by the authors’ work at Takiwasi, a center for the treatment of addiction in Tarapoto, Peru which utilizes the traditional medicine of the rainforest, including ayahuasca, with a high degree of success.
These videos interweave two perspectives on the spiritual nature of addiction: An exploration of addiction versus shamanic initiation in the light of ancient Western texts, and a report on research into the shamanic treatments of addiction just conducted at Takiwasi, focusing especially on the lesser known vegetalista practice of the plant diet.
Part One is Robert’s talk on addiction versus initiation in the light of the ancient Greek and Celtic traditions.
Part Two is Susana’s talk on the vegetalista practice of plant dieta and its unique efficacy in the treatment of addiction.
With gratitude to Emerald Tablet, upon whose premises these talks were given on December 19th, 2013; to Vincent Tamer who captured them on video; and to Peter Maravelis at City Lights Books.
Here is an engaging, insightful commentary upon magic mushroom use among Tolkien’s contemporaries and a review of The Shamanic Odyssey by Carl Ruck of Boston University, co-author with Albert Hofmann and R. Gordon Wasson of the classic, groundbreaking study The Road to Eleusis: Unveiling the Secret of the Mysteries.
The journey began in northern Africa, as recorded in the author’s earlier autobiographical account, The Jaguar that Roams the Mind: An Amazonian Plant Spirit Odyssey (2008) and it brought him eventually to his wife and coauthor, Susana Bustos, Ph.D., who was studying the healing songs, or icaros, of the mestizo vegetalista shamans of the Peruvian Amazon. The present book, The Shamanic Odyssey: Homer, Tolkien, and the Visionary Experience, is also something of a personal Odyssey, combining Tindall’s abilities as a classical guitarist and a professional scholar of medieval English literature1 and ancient Greek epic.
Of course, the fantasy novels of J.R.R. Tolkien, philologist and Professor at Oxford in Anglo-Saxon and the author of a series of fantasy novels, are now part of the general culture of the present generation through their film adaptations. The novels burst upon the world at the incunabula of what has come to be termed the Psychedelic Revolution of the 1960s and satisfied a thirst for a mythopoeia to codify the meaning of the flood of personal vision quests launched upon the world through experimentation with drugs, inadvertently instigated by R. Gordon Wasson’s Life magazine account (1957) of his participation in a mushroom healing séance of the Mazatec shaman María Sabina, and the ensuing general enthusiasm for psychedelic drugs like LSD. Continue reading “Tolkien and Magic Mushrooms: A Review of The Shamanic Odyssey by Carl Ruck”
Back in 2004, when I was documenting the shamanistic practices of the Ashaninkan curandero Juan Flores for my book, The Jaguar that Roams the Mind, Flores had a saying that captured the nature of his healing work.
Returning from the riotous din of the nearby frontier town of Pucallpa, he would turn to us with a smile and say, “The city for machines. The jungle for healing.” At such moments, speaking of his beloved rainforest sanctuary of Mayantuyacu, Flores’ face would light up from within, and he was capable of shedding bitter tears at the cutting of precious old growth medicinal trees on lands bordering his center for traditional medicine.
At that time, it was clear where Flores’ allegiance lay: the old ways. The traditions of the Amazonian peoples who lived in intimacy and conscious symbiosis with the mysterious lifeways of the rainforest.
One night, early on in my bewildered stage of adaptation to Mayantuyacu, Flores approached me after a ceremony with the visionary plant medicine, ayahuasca. Sitting with me on the floor, he described how his grandfather had taught him to make fire with the natural products of the rainforest. In Flores’ words, I heard that corridor open, the one that can very rarely be found nowadays, that leads directly back to our ancestors – those who knew not merely the utility, but the magic, of fire.
It was a good moment.That was Mayantuyacu’s gift to the world: memory of the old ways, of the healing power and rapturous beauty of wild nature, just as it is. Mayantuyacu had the power to recall one to his or her aboriginal senses.
At that time, Mayantuyacu floated delicately upon a sea of foliage and jungle cries. The animals, snakes, and birds were populous. The insects voracious. With no electricity, Mayantuyacu gleamed with kerosene lamps and candles, suspended in a matrix of silence, so deep your bones relaxed in its embrace.
This was in keeping with another of Flores’ beliefs: the spirits don’t like noise, which is why they make their residence in the most tranquil, undisturbed places of the wild. If you want to get to know them, Flores said, you had to seek them out there. Which is why Flores built Mayantuyacu at a place of unique geological power and beauty: the geothermally heated river that flows beneath his center. The spirit boat, so well known in the Amazonian cosmology, filled with doctors and other supernatural beings, traveled up that river. It is also a traditional site for his people — there is record of “wild Indians” gathering at the locale in the 1800’s.
Mayantuyacu now presents something of a contrast to those early days. Seen from the ridge above, it no longer appears like an organic part of the landscape. At night, electrical light blazes in the main structures, and the sound of an electric generator reverberates in the night. Technology is making its creeping way into the settlement. We observed during our hike in that the shaman’s apprentice, Brunswick, is now addicted to fiddling with his cell phone. Ominously, a worker assured us, Mayantuyacu is “catching up with the times.”
Viewed in that light, Mayantuyacu is beginning to resemble just another frontier town, aggressively pursuing its growth at the cost of the surrounding landscape.
This is the perpetual question: will Mayantuyacu lose its original vision under pressure from the world outside? Will it become just another hub for the spiritual tourism market?
As the concrete continues to pour and the infrastructure develop to provide more comfort to visitors from afar, we watch carefully if the “mythic line,” that place of tending to the ancestors and traditional ways, has been frayed or broken. Put bluntly, is Flores still holding it together? Has the container of Mayantuyacu been broken?
Yet it’s all too easy to fall under the delusion of naive realism — that we must hew to some primitive standard in order to have a true culture of shamanism intact. As in so many places in the world, Flores is in a race of adaptation to mounting pressures from inside and outside.
Inwardly, traditional curanderos are not immune to the seduction of “progress,” and their families often ratchet up the pressure upon them to pay the bills, educate their children, and leave a concrete inheritance once they, and their traditional knowledge, pass away. Comfort and convenience creep into precedence over reverence for ancestral ways. Some curanderos entirely abandon the idea of transmitting their cultural heritage to their video game playing, TV watching, internet surfing children.
Outwardly, Mayantuyacu squats upon land controlled by a Houston-based oil company, which has thus far cast a tolerant, even mildly benevolent, eye upon Flores. Should some other corporate eye fall too hard upon the sentient river that flows through his lands, the sacred waters could be diverted, and the music of the spheres end in mere noise. Thus the scientists and film crews visiting Flores’ center, seeking to document and save it, all of whom require electricity to power their equipment. As well, as Flores’ reputation spreads, groups of physicians and medical students will come seeking education in indigenous ways — and they cannot be expected to adapt to raw jungle living in the brief time they will have to immerse themselves at Mayantuyacu. They will need more than a modicum of comfort.
Mayantuyacu, therefore, presents a fascinating challenge, perhaps an identical one faced by all beings who wish to live in communion with the original mind. Can we keep a balance between our necessity to adapt to the impersonal demands of the world economic system and vocations that require immersion in the embrace of sentient Nature, especially among traditional healers?
This strikes me as a battle now being fought on innumerable fronts, in innumerable ways, in every moment of our lives.
Future Primitive interviews Robert on the joy of participating in a sentient cosmos; water, the primordial womb; music and opening of the gates of consciousness; from shamanism to cultural regeneration; Tolkien: remembering the animistic perception of the world; “a love and respect of all things animate and inanimate”; “a cosmo-centric economy”; reintroducing the indigenous consciousness of reciprocity; cultivating a self-sustaining soil.
Taking a sacred medicine out in the jungle of South America appears to give rise to ecological awareness, as a reaction against a cold, materialistic view of the environment that mostly exists in the corporate mind, where it is seen as a ‘resource’ to be exploited.
Can such perception of interconnectedness and of a vital, living cosmos, characteristic of indigenous and traditional peoples, help save our world? Click here to check out this interview with Psychedelic Press UK.
It is a rare occurrence to encounter an anthropological work that is intellectually rigorous and deeply spiritual, one which both illuminates the mind and touches the deep concerns of the heart. Yet when such a miracle occurs, as we find in Frédérique Apffel-Marglin’s Subversive Spiritualities: How Rituals Enact the World, all too often these works languish in obscurity. The ethnographic works of Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff on the Tukano Indians, for example, still make for riveting reading, yet his volumes mainly gather dust upon university library bookshelves.
Subversive Spiritualities, like Reichel-Dolmatoff’s works, deserves wide reading. Continue reading “Subversive Spiritualities: A Review”
Among Zen Buddhists, there is a tradition of composing a final work of art or poetry upon one’s death bed.
As a teenager, freshly embarked upon my Zen training in a Buddhist temple in Hawai’i, I came across this poem that has stuck like a koan in my memory ever since:
All my life I have prepared for this moment,
Sharpening my blade.
Now, my time has come.
And I draw it forth.
Alas! My blade is broken!
“This is not good news,” I had thought, appalled. How could someone train for decades and find, at one’s moment of greatest need, all the effort to be worthless?
Over time, I have come to savor this final communiqué from an anonymous monk in the recesses of a medieval Japanese monastery. The Heart Sutra teaches us that all things are essentially empty, including all the layers of the self that lead us to the delusion of a permanent, solid ego. Form is emptiness, emptiness is form, and like clouds in an empty sky, we coalesce and dissolve as well.
This realization is the great liberation transmitted by the Buddha. Our blades are, indeed, broken. Good thing, too.
Yet, the anguished lament of this monk echoes still in the marrow of my bones:
Alas! My blade is broken!
“There are an increasing number of psychospiritual drug narratives that centre around ayahuasca and the Amazon, and while they all retain a great number of similar threads, Robert Tindall’s The Jaguar the Roams the Mind stands out from the crowd… For the scholar of pharmacography this is an excellent example of ayahuasca literature and, for the general reader, it is an illustrative and engaging story that probes both mind and culture.”
Rob Dickson’s beautifully crafted review of The Jaguar that Roams the Mind just out on Psychedelic Press UK!
Just in case the review piques your interest, the book is available here.
Robert recently had a conversation with Erik Davis and Maja D’Aoust on the Progressive Radio Network’s program Expanding Mind, exploring indigenous versus modern consciousness, addiction, and the profound relevance of Homer’s Odyssey to unraveling the roots of our current ecological crisis.
Erik and Maja, of course, are deeply informed and intelligent interviewers, who bring a critical, along with appreciative, perspective to their program. We hope you’ll enjoy this podcast. It can be accessed here.