Odysseus as Western Literature’s First Economic Hitman?

We are honored that John Perkins, founder of the Pachamama Alliance and author of the New York Times Bestseller Confessions of an Economic Hitman, has penned a preface for our forthcoming book, The Shamanic Odyssey: Homer, Tolkien, and the Visionary Experience.

Here is John’s preface, which reveals his own early intuitions that Homer’s Odyssey is far more indigenous — and contemporary in relevance — than is recognized.

My dad taught Latin. I was raised on the classics. Homer’s epic poem, the Odyssey was bedtime reading in our house.

When a Shuar shaman, deep in the Amazon, saved my life not long after I graduated from college, he demanded that I repay him by becoming his apprentice. “It will be a tough journey,” he warned, “but you’ll connect with sacred plants and powerful spirit guides. . . just like Etsaa.” His description of the adventures of this legendary rain forest hero astounded me. Etsaa so resembled Odysseus that I puzzled over how two cultures so far removed in time and space could share such similar myths.

Later, as an economic hit man, I traveled the world, coercing governments to subjugate their people to a new form of empire led by multi-national corporations. During long flights I re-read Homer. I was struck by how little we humans have changed. We had traded sailing ships for airplanes and swords for AK-47s, but we were still hell-bent on exploiting others. I knew that Odysseus would admire the wily tricks-of-trade – the Trojan horses – I and my cohorts employed to conquer other lands.

So, was Odysseus Western literature’s first full portrait of a practicing shaman and shapeshifter? What about Odysseus, that ancient Greek raider of cities, as Western literature’s first economic hit man?

Sound implausible? All I can say is: “Read on!” Prepare to be amazed by the confluence of Ancient and indigenous ways with ruthless modern capitalism, as realized in the character of Odysseus. You may even find yourself agreeing with Tindall and Bustos that the origin of our current global financial meltdown is far older than contemporary predatory capitalism – it can be found in Odysseus’ dolos, his renowned spirit of trickery and cunning deception.

The Shamanic Odyssey is more than just an exploration of ancient texts, native cultures, and shamanic practices. Like the bards of old, Tindall and Bustos sing the Odyssey for our time; this modern version is a warning for a world threatened with ecological collapse and economic injustice. The prophetic voices of our indigenous relatives – the Shuar, Hopi, Kogi, Quechua, Maya, and so many others – have now penetrated the iron bubble of our exploitative society; they expose the causes of its likely collapse. Their voices remind us of our humble, and probably brief, span on this glorious planet. The message we are advised to hear in the Odyssey is one that calls us to reconciliation with and respect for the remaining indigenous cultures. Even as I write these words, Wirakuta, the ancient site of pilgrimage for the Huichol peoples of Northern Mexico, is threatened by corporate raiders, who seek to enter the sacred ground and strip mine it. The message that echoes through the ages urges us to protect those lands and the cultures that have honored them for millennia.

Tindall and Bustos demonstrate that the Odyssey’s oral tradition summons us to heal the break with our own native self, with the indigenous experience of a vital, meaningful cosmos – the ultimate resolution to rapacious capitalism.

We do not need to live in oblivion, cut off from the voices of our ancestors and wild nature. As a nostos, a homecoming song, the Odyssey can call us back again – to a home we recognize and our offspring will want to inhabit.

Unravelling Some Strands: Seeking the Origin of the Eagle and Condor Prophecy

The prophecy of the Eagle and Condor is remarkable in that it marks the first truly international indigenous prophecy widely embraced by both Native and European-descended peoples, yet in approaching it, we need to be wary of the word “prophecy.” Anthropologist Adine Gavazzi reminds us that prophecy in the West involves a diachronic historical process, which among the peoples of the Andes and Amazon does not exist. Rather, there is the experience of cyclical and synchronic time, where different levels of perception of reality occur simultaneously. In other words, people do not witness prophecies unfolding in the linear progression of historical time. They live and experience the reality of myth – and in post-colonial America, such revitalization of the mythic core is a potent means of cultural and political resistance. Continue reading “Unravelling Some Strands: Seeking the Origin of the Eagle and Condor Prophecy”

Have Euro-Americans Any Right (Or Hope) to Lay Claim to Indigenosity?

A reader, Elina, wrote this response to my posting Indigenize Yourself!:

“How lucky for you to have become Indigenous without ever having to have experienced colonization, racism, etc. How miraculous for you to have received “the seed of an indigenous, native intelligence within me`,`without having been part of an Indigenous family. “I believe that day I became the first of those in my English and Danish lineage to set foot in the sacred topography of the New World, receiving the seed of an indigenous, native intelligence within me.“ – yes, I`m sure your English and Danish ancestors were more interested in “receiving“ other things – the land itself, resources, etc – laying the ground for their future generations to have the good fortune to eventually be able to miraculously `receive` the knowledge and understanding you are getting in life. I`m not sure if you realize how exploitative and ignorant this post comes off as.”

Well, it’s certain I’m walking a fine line in claiming that, even for the ancestors of Euro-Americans, our indigenous souls can still be reclaimed. Perhaps she is right to accuse me of hubris. Continue reading “Have Euro-Americans Any Right (Or Hope) to Lay Claim to Indigenosity?”

How to Cross the Mythic Line

menhir IrelandSome years ago in Argentina, a gaucho who loved the works of J.R.R. Tolkien politely inquired of me if there was actually a place like the Shire he could go to visit in England.

I was rendered speechless by the sheer audacity of the question — Tolkien’s work is fantasy, right?

Now I know there is such a place.

About this passage into myth-time the poet Gary Snyder wrote, “There is an almost visible line that a person could walk across: out of history and into the perpetual present, a way of life attuned to the slower and steadier processes of nature. The possibility of passage into that myth-time world had been all but forgotten in Europe [by the Renaissance]. Its rediscovery — the unsettling vision of a natural self — has haunted the Euro-American peoples.”

In short, the passage involves reawakening to our indigenous, native perception of the cosmos. It involves communion with our wild nature and our ancestors who knew that way, from whatever place on Earth we originally sprang from. Continue reading “How to Cross the Mythic Line”

On Paleolithic Dreamtime

Traditional people, and I think the people of the Paleolithic had, very probably, two concepts that change our vision of the world. The concept of fluidity and the concept of permeability,

French Prehistorian Jean Clottes, interviewed in Werner Herzog’s recent exquisite film, “Cave of Forgotten Dreams.” continues describing the creators of the art of Chauvet Cave, whose works dates from 32,000 B.C.E., thus:

Fluidity means the categories that we have, man, woman, horse, tree, etc., can shift. A tree may speak. A man can get transformed into an animal and the other way around, given certain circumstances. The concept of permeability is that there are no barriers, so to speak, between the world where we are and the world of spirits. A shaman, for example, can send his or her spirit to the world of the supernatural or can receive the visit of supernatural spirits. When you put those two concepts together, you realize how different life must have been for those people from the way we live now. Continue reading “On Paleolithic Dreamtime”

Icaros: Song and Healing in Ayahuasca Ceremonies

MAPS logo

The healing power of icaros, the magic melodies of Amazonian shamanism, were the focus of Susana’s research in the Peruvian Amazon in 2004, where she participated in numerous ceremonies and conducted extensive interviews with healers and their clients in the vegetalista tradition.

Based on her findings, Susana gave this presentation on the therapeutic use of icaros in ceremonies with ayahuasca at the MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) conference “Psychedelic Science in the 21st Century” in April, 2011.

Susana Bustos- Icaros: Song and Healing in Ayahuasca Ceremonies from MAPS: Psychedelic Science on Vimeo.

Ayahuasca Matters: Interviews with Robert Tindall

“My take is “salvation” or “obtaining liberation,” in the Western sense, is clearly an import into Amazonian culture. Their concern is in how to walk the way of life and death, how to understand their world in greater depth. Juan Flores instructed us, “ayahuasca teaches you how to die and be reborn.” It’s important to bear in mind that for traditional people, this world and the next world interpenetrate, and as Juan put it, “Death is a door you pass through, nothing else.”

Read Robert’s interview with Ivar Verploegh of the website A General Introduction to Ayahuasca here, for an exploration of the interface between the practices of Amazonian vegetalismo and modern Western society in search of itself.

As well, a second interview with DoseNation’s is available here, which is worth checking out for the balance of grudging respect and skepticism brought by James Kent to the interview!

Finally, listen to a rocking interview, The Jaguar and the Pilgrim, with KMO, whose C-realm podcasts are gems of intelligent, humorous inquiry, here.

Awakening Our Indigenous Mind: Hopi Prophecy on the Coming Great Purification

Between the underground kivas of the Hopi and the astronomical temples of the Maya where prophecy of world shaking events were received in ancient times, and contemporary apocalyptic fantasies such as the film 2012, lies a vast distance. Yet somehow those indigenous visions have migrated through the time depths to ignite our contemporary imagination.

Perhaps this is because, like other beings of myth, prophecy roams from mind to mind. One of the further flung components of a culture’s cosmovision (or what we call, from a safe distance, a mythological system), prophecy arises from a confluence of visions, dreams, trance-states, and artistic inspiration. It is also, like a dream, curiously elusive to pin down – official, priestly versions may eventually be engraved upon calendrical stones at the feet of pyramids and jungle astronomical observatories, but only after the prophecy has simmered among the people, in many local variations, for many passing moons. Continue reading “Awakening Our Indigenous Mind: Hopi Prophecy on the Coming Great Purification”

Shamanic Song in the Treatment of Addiction

Our society is well aware of the addictive siren song of drugs such as heroin, cocaine, and chemically-degraded tobacco, all derived from originally sacred, healing plants. Yet little is known of the power of psychoactive plants to heal addiction, especially as mediated by shamanic song. We would like to share with you how one Westerner, a French doctor named Jacques Mabit who trained in the Amazonian tradition of vegetalismo, uses icaros, songs that embody and transmit the healing power of plants, to guide his patients into realms of healing and self exploration.

The House that Sings:
The Therapeutic Use of Icaros at Takiwasi
by Susana Bustos, Ph.D.

This article originally appeared in Shaman’s Drum, Number 73, 2006.

Shamanism is the Technology of the Spirit — an Interview with Dr. Mark Plotkin

A little known fact is one of the greatest breakthroughs in 20th century medical science came from a preparation used to shoot monkeys down from the tops of trees. Naked “primitives” running around the jungle with blowguns turned out to be master chemists whose curare, a paralyzing muscle relaxant, revolutionized the practice of anaesthesiology, making possible the open heart, organ transplant and hundreds of other surgeries now performed daily in hospitals around the world.

Many experts claim the teeming life of the rainforests continues to promise cures – to AIDS, cancer, diabetes, auto-immune disorders. Yet where are these miracle drugs? Have we exhausted Nature’s cornucopia? Or are we wearing blinders that prevent us from seeing them?

We decided to pose this question to Dr. Mark Plotkin. One of the generation of swashbuckling ethnobotanists trained by the legendary Amazonian explorer Richard Evans Schultes at Harvard, Plotkin is as intimate with the shamans of the jungle and their healing practices as any Westerner now alive – and he claims the cures are there. He’s seen them. Continue reading “Shamanism is the Technology of the Spirit — an Interview with Dr. Mark Plotkin”

Assessing a Quest to Heal HIV with Ayahuasca Shamanism

During the years that Susana and I have spent studying and training in the Peruvian vegetalismo, a mixed-race healing tradition that combines indigenous shamanism with Western elements such as Catholicism, we have come to appreciate the paradoxes that indigenous medicine comes wrapped in for Westerners. Among them is the distinction between curing and healing of disease, concepts which, as in Venn diagrams, overlap yet remain experientially distinct. The thrust of modern Western medicine is to “cure,” from Latin cura “to care, concern, trouble,” by either managing disease within, or excising it from, the body, and disease is usually considered cured when symptoms abate. In indigenous styles of medicine, which give equal importance to curing as the West, healing, from Old English hælan “to make whole, sound and well,” may also involve searching out the hidden origin of the disease in the body/mind. In this healing quest, a cure may be found, and may not. The valence of the disease, however, will change. In such cases, it is the entire self that is engaged in unraveling a disease’s enigma, and the body is the laboratory wherein the cure can be found. As a consequence, such healing is often idiosyncratic, because each body’s laboratory is unique. Continue reading “Assessing a Quest to Heal HIV with Ayahuasca Shamanism”

Cultivating Maitri: Parenting in the Native American Church

I don’t know if this current generation of children is any different than those that came before, but I certainly know as a middle-aged Buddhist and practitioner of traditional shamanic medicine, the coming of our first child Maitreya was a far greater event than my arrival signified for my folks in the 1960s. During my daughter’s first months, our house seemed to be swimming in divine pheromones, and I often quipped that if we were in India we’d be carrying about my daughter on an altar, offering incense, and singing to her throughout the day.

All joking aside, our spiritual practice did quickly change as we became aware of how important a task we had been given: to not pass on the mechanical ways of being that caused such suffering in our families, as well as our culture at large, to our newly come child. Continue reading “Cultivating Maitri: Parenting in the Native American Church”

The Medieval Quest and Beheading Games with Green Men

Robert’s new book, The Battle of the Soul in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, an exploration of the inner struggle of pilgrimage as it was enshrined in this most beautiful of medieval English romances, is now available!

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, written in the late 1380’s by a cleric immersed both in Arthurian and Celtic mythology as well as the mystical traditions of his epoch, has fascinated scholars and translators from J.R.R. Tolkien to W.S Merwin. Robert’s book is the first to draw the connection between the courtly narrative of the poem and the “entry into unknowing” of the mystical tradition of Pseudo-Dionysius.

For more info, click here,

Encompassing the Amazon: Ayahuasca, Vegetalismo, and Cultural Survival

We are happy to share that Ayahuasca, Vegetalismo and Cultural Survival is now available for viewing below!

Generations of shamans, mad poets and intrepid researchers labored to give birth to this event on the endangered practices of entheogenic plant shamanism and the Amazonian ecosystem at City Lights, the literary mecca of San Francisco, with

Robert Tindall, author of The Jaguar that Roams the Mind

Lou Dematteis, author of Crude Reflections, which documents the environmental and cultural devastation left behind by Chevron in the Ecuadorian Amazon

Ralph Metzner, author of numerous works, including The Psychedelic Experience with Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert, as well as the more recent Sacred Vine of Spirits: Ayahuasca, and Sacred Mushroom of Visions: Teonanacatl

Dale Pendell, author of the trilogy Pharmako/Poeia: Plant Teachers and the Poison Path

We were fortunate to have this historic evening — City Lights was the publisher of The Yage Letters between Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs 25 years ago — captured on video. This video is the first in a series — please find the subsequent sequences on YouTube!