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2013-12-24

To be spoken for the Mass of Christ, 25 December

On this day of the Mass of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour, I offer these words of praise and faith.

Throughout most of the year many of us live a profane life, unconscious of the gifts bestowed upon us by God.  Jesus Christ came to earth 2013 years ago on this day to remind us of the grace and blessings of God on this Earth.  The embodied divinity he brought remains with us in the words that we still possess.

Blessed are the poor, for they shall receive charity.
Blessed are the rich, for they can charge to their credit cards.
Blessed are the hungry, for they will feast.
Blessed are the obese, for their stomachs have expanded and can encompass even more food.  For he that have much, more will be given.
Blessed are ye who spend all your money on gifts until not a cent remains, for great is your reward in Heaven.

When you pray, do not repeat the doctrines of your peculiar denomination, but pray directly to the Economy, using one of its many great names.
In this manner therefore pray ye: Our Santa who art in Lappland, hallowed be thy name.
Thy reindeer come, thy gifts be unwrapped on earth as they are in heaven.
Give us this day our daily chocolate custard plum cake
And forgive us our debts, as we continue to sink deeper into debt.
Lead us not into asceticism, but deliver us with consumption.  For thine is the kingdom, the possession and the convenience, for ever and ever.  Amen.

And when you give gifts, do not just hand them over.  But wrap them in paper that you also purchase, and place them under a pine tree.  Thus, as you surprise the recipient, so shall you be surprised in heaven.

No man can serve two masters: for either he will spend or he will save.  Ye cannot serve the Economy and sustainability.

The peasants came to Jesus and asked him, "How shall we attain the Kingdom of Heaven?"  
And Jesus said unto them, "Wrap objects in coloured paper, tie them with bows and give them to your brethren.  Do not worry about money, how ye will survive into the new year, how ye will pay thy rent.  Go into debt, overdraft thy bank account.  God knows that ye are in need of money and he shall provide.  Only in this way shall ye attain the Kingdom of Heaven."

A rich man approached Jesus and asked him, "Good Master, I have kept all the commandments from my youth.  What more can I do, that I may have eternal life?"
And Jesus said unto him, "Go into town and spend all your money on stuff, wrap that stuff in coloured paper and give it to the poor and your rewards will be great in Heaven."

On this day we celebrate the birth of Christ, who saved us from poverty and ignorance.  He gave us shopping malls, stupormarkets and online shopping.  In his name we can purchase, consume and dispose.

In the name of the Economy, Santa Claus and holy advertising.  Amen.

2013-12-22

Nature is the centre of the mandala; by Terence McKenna

The formal title of the lecture is “Nature is the centre of the mandala”.  This is simply a structure to anticipate and discuss where nature lies in the cultural future that is unfolding in front of all of us. 

I have always had a relationship with nature that I pretty much took for granted but perhaps was somewhat unique and more intense than most peoples'.  I grew up in a small town in Colorado.  I was very early into being a rock hound and a butterfly collector.  The attraction of tropical butterflies was the exuberant expanse of colour, the affirmation of the patterned richness of the universe that was seen to be thrown out like a spark by these things.  This search for iridescence thrown off by nature, seen first in the glint of metallic ore crystals and then in the colourful expanse of butterflies and then in tropical fish, reached a kind of apotheosis with the discovery of the psychedelic plant hallucinogens, where suddenly the colour, the flash, the iridescence, is not two or three dimensional, it is multi-dimensional, it is inside the body, it is outside the body.

I came to see that nature, as experienced – meaning as it hits you when you walk around in it and pick at it and carry it with you – has been bred out of the repertoire of images that most people bring to bear on their reality.  Consequently the reality is de-spirited.  The spirit resident in nature is not visible when these mechanistic grids are laid over it.  The lux natura, the salvational radiance that can be found in the organic kingdom, a term of Paracelsus, has slipped from the grip of modern human beings.

It seems to me that nature is psyche, in a way that has been occluded by the perverse development of language.  We take nature to be external to ourselves and sustained by the laws of physics.  It is not that at all.  It is a kind of stratum of expectation that has been laid down by the human journey through time.  There are elements of nature which are not aspects of the human journey through time, but they are occult.  This has been the strategy of science; to use an instrumentality to reveal the occult side of nature.  The problem is that this occult side of nature, once explicated, does not reveal a satisfying reflection of ourselves.

It seems to me that a small miracle is taking place, the thing that we least expected to happen.  It is that our point-of-view is actually gaining ground.  Sitting on the mountainside in Hawaii, you think you're like Lenin in Germany; you have to politically think it all through so that, to the extent to which one's voice can be heard, mistakes are not made.  All this New Age hustle and bustle, though 95% of it is just intellectual noise and efforts to coin the perfect analogy that fail, appears to have become the cutting edge of the guiding image of this mega-culture.  So it becomes important for people who identify with the human potential movement, spiritual development, the rebirth of intuition, to make a place in the plan for the role of nature. 

The Gaia response claims nature as a stabilising feminine force.  That's definitely the image that has to emerge.  The recognition of the presence of control mechanisms that are not coercive, that are Taoistic, is a way of coming to terms with nature that we have resisted. 

It's a simple idea.  Before technology people had to store firewood in the autumn for the winter, in the spring they had to sharpen tools for the late spring planting.  There was an implicit rhythm laid down by nature that entered the human cosmos at every level and was reflected in poetry, culture building and the evolution of language.  There has been a flattening of the human dimension.  Urbanisation and other factors removed the influence of these rhythms, with the final culmination being the modern city, where life under electric light goes on 24 hours a day.  There is no more a sense of being embedded in flux, there is instead the myth of the eternal culture.

I was at a conference recently where someone proposed the notion that our time is not special, that there is nothing unique about this moment.  I think nothing could be further from the truth.  There is no question that there is a deepening ambiguity in the present moment.  There is a something coming over global civilisation.  It registers in all of us as how weird it is, how compressed time is, how complicated the interconnections are.  I think this is a real phenomenon which will eventually be elucidated.  Eventually, there will be a break with the prevailing paradigm of historical process. 

In case you're not aware, the current prevailing paradigm is the one that calls itself the “trendlessly fluctuating theory”.  It says, “We trendlessly fluctuate; and to search for a trend is to be drawn into a cultural hysteria.”  Standing outside of the cultural hysteria, the trend is fairly clear.  It is a trend toward temporal compression and the emergence of ambiguity. 

Nature anticipates all of this, and anchors it.  Nature is actually the goal at the end of history.  We are getting closer and closer to the end of history and we will not go past it with a moment of blindness.  There will be vouchsafed intuitions about the emerging structure of the Other into which culture is being subsumed.  You're all familiar with the image of the Ouroboros, the snake which takes its tail in its mouth.  The end of history is an archaic revival.  The ground of being in which the original archaic renaissance occurred was nature.  In terms of the expression of design elements, in terms of the expression of human relationships and political agendas, the economies of nature are going to set the guiding images.

I read Edward O. Wilson's book Biophilia in which he describes his work with ants in Suriname and how there are ants who grow fungi in their nests.  They cut leaves off trees and chew them up into a mash which they then store in rooms underground.  They bring the right spores in and grow them there and it produces a sugar which the ants then eat.  They tend the fungal gardens and remove foreign spores.  This is a symbiosis between a social organism, the ant, and a fungal organism, which produces an enzyme, sugar, which drives the ant society to a greater state of activity.  Activity, in an insect economy, defines how well you can survive.  This provides a curious analogy for the situation that exists in human society vis-a-vie hallucinogenic plants. 

Hallucinogenic plants act as enzymes that stimulate imagination.  Imagination is reconnected to this feedback loop in which we ask ourselves, “How can I make more of this hallucinogenic plant that is giving us all these great ideas?”  So then you get the invention of agriculture, but one can't grow all plants in one place.  So then the feedback loop from the presence of hallucinogenic plants in the diet asks the question, “How can we get the plants that we can't grow?” and the answer is, networks of trade and systems of barter, and behind that lies the need for language.  

These types of symbiotic processes are implicit in the human experience.  Some of you have heard another lecture I give in which I go into this in great detail.  I try to show that mushrooms in the dung of undulate animals on the veldt of Africa 150,000 years ago drove a series of processes which resulted in self-reflecting human beings.  That process didn't end with the invention of language or the domestication of cattle, it continues right up to the present day.  

It is as though, from a planetary point of view, an enzyme system called the human species was deputised into an information-gathering mode.  It was sent out as a kind of prodigal subsystem, a kind of episome of the social environment, to cognise the organisation of the natural world through a process called "human history" or "the historical advance toward understanding and sufficiently complete modelling".  That I think is what is happening. 

The human species was deputised for Gaia into the Fall; the fall into profane time, the time of non-participation in the immediacy of the Tao, through a series of successive linguistic declensions.  This begins to sound almost Biblical, because it says there is a Fall, and the Fall is somehow related to a confusion of languages, not one from another, but from the object of experience.  As the language became less and less natural, the world of the species using this language became less and less natural, because the evolution of symbols moved toward the abstract, it became the realisation of ideals.  In Platonic philosophy we get the enunciation of abstractions, great over-weaning concepts that subsume entire areas of particulars.  This ability to subsume particulars under a class name is the beginning of this process of replacing the particulars with the symbolic structures.  The reason for this process we can only guess at.  It seems as though nature requires this reflection upon itself; that the completion of nature is in the hands of a single target species, which acts as an enzyme within the global organism of Gaia.  

From the point-of-view of an extraterrestrial looking down on the surface of the planet there are not discreet organisms, there is simply a gene swarm.  Through viruses and many non-genetic ways in which genes are transformed, the previously imagined sharp declensions between species are actually somewhat illusory.  Within the confines of my body, the unfolding of gene expression and the molecular assembly of enzyme systems and proteins is simply under a tighter regimen of control than are the same kind of processes which are going on between people.  We are really a loosely regulated organism that has a tendency to ever-tighten the connection between its sub-units. 

So you can see that with the evolution of language, the evolution of technology being at the service of media, the rise of cities, oral poetry, we seem to strive for greater and greater cohesion, greater and greater free-flow of thought among ourselves.  What we're looking toward is a moment when the artificial language-structures which bind us within the notion of ourselves are dissolved in the realisation that we are a part of nature.  When that happens the childhood of our species will pass away and we will stand tremulously on the brink of the first moments of coherent human civilisation. 

This, I think, is already beginning to happen.  It's a slow process but it's a kind of cascading phenomenon such that once it begins to happen it happens faster and faster.  The mirroring of psyche that was always the glamour that stood behind nature is correctly perceived with greater and greater clarity as this process proceeds.  This correct perceiving of nature's relationship to self and language is the essence of all of these cultural vectors that are converging; feminism, the exploration of space, the perfection of the thinking machine, or of the human-machine interface and the mysterium tremendum at the core of the psychedelic experience.  All of these things are anticipations of the post-historical state which lies beyond the working out of the themes that have been set in motion by materialistic science.  

These forces have been set in motion and sustained by so-called “new thought”, New Age thinking.  It seems that we all noticed early on a trend in society which is now going to have tremendous repercussions and because this seems to be happening, there is a responsibility to clear thinking about what this thing is and how it works.  There seems to be a rush to get in line with the sloppiest metaphor as quickly as possible.  There have been a number of syncretic fates, new myths, that have arisen and competed with each other with greater and lesser degrees of success.  I suppose this is a healthy thing, except that it gives such comfort to the people who think we're all just airheads.  They observe all this and it confirms to them that it's a hopeless lot. 

Everybody has their own version of what is the mistake that is being made.  So here's my version.  There is a confusion between scientific materialism and reason.  Science has set itself up as a kind of new pontificate and brooks no challenge.  It expects to make judgement on any idea emerging from any realm of human endeavor.  It has set itself up as judge and jury.  The fact of the matter is that this is only by virtue of its spectacular acts of technological prestidigitation.  What science is really most successful in telling us about are realms which none of us have ever penetrated nor are ever likely to.  I mean, how much do you wish to know about the rings of Neptune or the quark? 

We are continuously sold the line that somehow, when the metaphors of consciousness are fully mapped onto quantum physics and biology that a great step forward will have been taken.  It seems to me that since the information coming out of quantum physics and molecular biology is so removed from the realm of common experience that if we succeed in mapping mental phenomena onto those realms we will have succeeded in the final act of alienation; because we will have at last totally removed our experience of ourselves from the realm of felt cognition.  

Instead of the idea that there needs to be an erection of an overarching metaphor from the physical sciences into the social and psychiatric sciences, there should be the recognition and celebration of mystery.  

We are an intelligent species caught in a historical process.  No generation which preceded us knew what was going on.  There is no reason to assume that we know what is going on or that the generation which follows us will know what's going on.  And what kind of trip is it anyway to insist on knowing what's going on?  It's a highly unlikely enterprise.  Look at the data sample.  The data sample is your lifetime, on one planet, in one tiny corner of the universe.  From this, via the fallacy of induction, certain principles of uniformity are extended to the far-flung corners of the cosmos in space and time.  A bunch of fancy metaphors are built up that nobody can check on anyway and then this is called understanding.  You see, it isn't understanding.  Understanding issues into appropriate activity.  A model of the universe which doesn't issue into appropriate activity in the here and now is a curious model indeed.  Appropriate activity in the here and now is the sine qua non.  Everything else is unconfirmed rumour.  

Nature is the visible manifestation of this mystery, it entirely surrounds and completes us.  It is there to be beheld and imbibed in.  It is simply that one must either replace the sterile language of scientific materialism or one must bring no language whatsoever to it, so that it speaks for itself.  

Ayahuasca, the South American visionary vine, unlike the mushroom, does not speak, it shows; its language is visible; a fractal hieroglyphic surface of intermediate dimensions that contains an endless unfolding of phenomena, at level after level into the micro-physical realm.  This is a correct seeing of what is.  The mystery is co-present with its denial.  It is a matter of changing points of view and changing points-of-view is a matter of retooling language.  If nature is psyche, ayahuasca is the auto-poetic self-reflecting cloud of cognition that manifests as language.  It is partly based in the structure of matter, it is partly based in the implicit syntax of the perceiver, it is partly an interference pattern between the two; but it is as close to the ground that one can approach without theory.  

The key to the forward-looking expression of the archaic revival, the key to making the New Age fulfill its best hope and not fall into a crypto-fascism of paradigmatic warfare, is to enunciate two principles.  The primacy of experience and the toxic nature of ideology.  This to me is the core.  If the New Age, the archaic revival, can exemplify these two principles then we can navigate past the dangerous shoal that threatens any idea that attempts to leave its cult status and enter the mainstream.  

I connect the primacy of experience to Heidegger's notion of what he called "care for the project of being".  The primacy of felt experience begins with a notion as simple as "be here now".  We must take ourselves more seriously, more lightly and more seriously.  We are not at the bottom of a pyramid of goods and information production where we pay the sucker's price for everything as it is handed down through pieces of intractable cultural machinery that we have no effect on.  That is the myth that is being promulgated by those very institutions; the myth of the hapless consumer; the myth of the meaning of faddism.  As if there is a meaning to switching from one ideology to another the way hemlines and perfumes and decorator colours come and go.  This is allowing ourselves to be self-victimised.  

The other side of that is the toxicity of ideology.  Ideology itself is poisonous.  In the 15th and 16th centuries there was 120 years of intermittent religious warfare because people were so uptight about whether you were a Catholic or a Hugenaught or a Walloon.  These were life-or-death issues.  Finally people just became sick of it.  I hope, I choose to believe, that we may be approaching such a watershed with the social ideologies that have been dinging themselves into the global population for the past hundred years.  They are extremely bankrupt.  The notion of any kind of serious competition between Marxist-Leninism and capitalist-democratic techno-fascism, or whatever it is, is ludicrous.  Neither system works within the need to wage ideological warfare against the other.  

Ideology has become an anachronism.  It's a kind of lack of good taste.  It's like being a nut.  You come on with some ideology and people just look at their plates; they're embarrassed for you.

The ideology that naturally claims our attention is pretty well understood.  It says in the Old Testament, “You can know the truth, the truth is the still small voice in your heart.”  You don't have to take courses in theology and ethics to get all this down.  The political agenda is fairly clear; you feed people, you cure disease, you anticipate and solve social problems having to do with sewerage disposal, distribution of land and wealth.  None of this stuff is controversial unless you're living inside a locked ward.  

This anti-ideological position has to be articulated by causing language to evolve.  You cause language to evolve by saying new and intelligent things to each other.  And then other people say, “Oh so this thing that I've always thought but never felt like saying is actually legitimate and okay and I can say it and I will say it”.  It begins to move like a wave through society.  

You will be told that for me to advocate the poisonous nature of ideology without calling it anarchy is to peddle my own private ideology.  But this is absurd.  It's like saying that if someone tells you not to drive they're advocating a certain style of driving.  That's not it at all.  It's a translation of levels, it's something entirely different. 

We cannot afford the continued existence of the unconscious.  It is a neurotic excuse for not getting our act together as a species.  The way in which the unconscious is eliminated is by turning the language machinery back upon itself and reflecting on the process of attention.  This is what Buddhism is all about; attention to attention.  Awareness of the modality of the cognitive process.  Doing that to oneself has a kind of morphogenic field effect, a kind of chain-reaction which sweeps through society.  It's simply that the act of conscious self-inspection creates more conscious people which creates a more conscious society, which erodes the possibility of the poisonous and toxic effects of ideology. 

This is what psychedelics are about in terms of their social and legal position in society.  Psychedelics are illegal not because a loving government is concerned that you may leap out of a third-storey window.  Psychedelics are illegal because they dissolve opinion structures and culturally laid-down models of behaviour and information processing.  They open you up to the possibility that everything you know is wrong.  Government and society spend a lot of money educating you into being a loyal worker, consumer, debt-payer and citizen. 

I think anarchy is the great future for human society.  Only responsible human beings can exist in an anarchistic society.  To the degree that people are responsible, we will have anarchy.

I want to leave you with the notion that nature, the linguistically expressed topological manifold of the psyche, is indeed a historical object that is pulling us forward.  When we cross over into the eschatology that appears fairly eminent, we will find it to be anticipated by the human relationship with nature, the embedding of psyche in nature, the mysterious relationship mediated by language.  

The key to unfolding a sane society, in my single humble opinion, is an obligation to reason that clearly distinguishes between reason and science, an obligation to self-involvement in immediate experience, which means psychedelics, sexuality and what I call “time”; a deep literary involvement with the felt present.  Psychedelics, sexuality and time.  To empower the individual.  To make the individual naturally responsible.  To create the basis for a caring global society that will transcend the historical cultures as though we were just moving very naturally out of winter and into spring; no apocalypse, no millennium, no rescue by flying saucers, no Mayan return, simply the unfolding of a programme of mutual caring and responsibility.  This is the highest aspiration of the New Age and I feel that it is attainable.

~

An abridged transcription of a Terence McKenna lecture from sometime in the 1980s.  From Psychedelic Salon podcast #197, "McNature" .
Unedited, unimproved audio from Archive.org.  

2013-12-08

The Figure of the Shaman; from The Invisible Landscape by Terence McKenna and Dennis McKenna

Of all the diverse religious institutions that humans have elaborated since before the beginning of recorded history, that of shamanism is one of the most singular and is probably one of the most archaic as well.  The shaman is something of a maverick among religious practitioners.  While shamanism occurs in almost every culture on the planet, manifesting itself in religious traditions both ancient and modern, both primitive and sophisticated, the shaman remains eminently individualistic, idiosyncratic, and enigmatic, standing ever apart from organised ecclesiastical institutions while still performing important functions for the psychic and religious life of the culture.  Comparable, but not identical, with such similar idiosyncratic practitioners as medicine men and sorcerers, the shaman is the possessor of techniques of proven efficacy and of powers bordering on the paranormal, the complete understanding of which still eludes modern psychology.  It is this complex and fascinating figure of the shaman that we want to analyse from a standpoint at once sympathetic, interpretative, and psychological, with a view to answering the following questions: (1) What are the traditional aspects of shamanism as it is encountered in primitive cultures?  (2) What is the nature of the shamanic personality and abilities, and what is the psychological role of the shaman in the society at large?  And (3) Are there institutions analogous to shamanism in modern society?

The vocation of shaman is found in nearly all archaic cultures, from the Australian aborigines to the Jivaro Indians of central Ecuador and Peru to the Yakut tribes of Siberia.  It is believed to have originated among these Siberian peoples, though its diffusion into other cultures must have taken place very early in prehistory for, along with sorcerers, magicians, and priests, shamanism can be counted among the oldest professions.

The word shaman is derived from the Tungusic term saman, derived in its turn from the Pali samana, indicating a possibly southern (Buddhist) influence among these northern peoples.  Eliade distinguishes the shaman from other types of religious and magical practitioners primarily on the basis of his religious function and techniques:...he is believed to cure, like all doctors, and to perform miracles of the fakir, like all magicians, whether primitive or modern.  But beyond this, he is a psychopomp, and he may also be a priest, mystic, and poet.  He further defines the shaman as a manipulator of the sacred, whose main function is to induce ecstasy in a society where ecstasy is the prime religious experience.  Thus, the shaman is a master of ecstasy, and the art of shamanising is a technique of ecstasy.

In archaic societies, a person (either man or woman) may become a shaman in primarily one of two ways: hereditary transmission or spontaneous election.  In either case, the novice shaman must undergo an initiatory ordeal before he can attain the status of a full shaman.  The initiation generally has two aspects: an ecstatic aspect, which takes place in dreams or trance, and a traditional aspect, in which the shaman is given instruction in certain techniques, such as the use and significance of the shamanic costume and drum, the secret spirit language, the names of the helping spirits, techniques of curing, the uses of medicinal plants, and so on, by an elder master shaman.  These traditional techniques of shamanism are not invariably transmitted by an elder shaman but may be imparted to the neophyte directly through the spirits that come to him during his initiatory ecstasy.  Lack of a public ritual in no way implies that such traditional instruction is neglected.

The ecstatic part of the shaman's initiation is harder to analyse, for it depends on a certain receptivity to states of trance and ecstasy on the part of the novice: He may be moody, somewhat frail and sickly, predisposed to solitude, and may perhaps have fits of epilepsy or catatonia, or some other psychological aberrance (though not always, as some writers on the subject have asserted).  In any case, his psychological predisposition to ecstasy forms only the starting point of his initiation: The novice, after a history of psychosomatic illness or psychological aberration that may be more or less intense, will at last begin to undergo initiatory sickness and trance; he will lie as though dead or in deep sleep for days on end.  During this time, he is approached in dreams by his helping spirits and may receive instructions from them.  Invariably during this prolonged trance the novice will undergo an episode of mystical death and resurrection: He may see himself reduced to a skeleton and then clothed with new flesh; or he may see himself boiled in a cauldron, devoured by the spirits, and then made whole again; or he may imagine himself being operated on by the spirits, his organs removed and replaced with magical stones, and then sewn up again.

Although particular motifs may vary between cultures and even individuals, the general symbolism is clear: The novice shaman undergoes a symbolic death and resurrection, which is understood as a radical transformation into a superhuman condition.  Henceforth, the shaman enjoys access to the supernatural plane; he is a master of ecstasy, can travel in the spirit-realm at will, can cure and divine, can touch red-hot iron with impunity, and so on.  In short, the shaman is transformed from a profane into a sacred state of being.  Not only has he effected his own cure through this mystical transmutation, he is now invested with the power of the sacred, and hence can cure others as well.  It is of the first order of importance to remember this, that the shaman is not merely a sick man, or a madman; he is a sick man who has healed himself, who is cured, and who must shamanise to remain cured.  Lommel gives the following description of a shamanic initiation in Siberia:
The Tungus say of their shamans: Before a man becomes a shaman he is sick for a long time.  His understanding becomes confused.  The shamanistic ancestors of his clan come, hack him to bits, tear him apart, cut his flesh in pieces, drink his blood.  They cut off his head and throw it in the oven, in which various iron appurtenances of his costume are made red-hot and then forged.  This cutting up is carried out somewhere in the upper world by shaman ancestors.  He alone receives the gift of shamanhood who has shaman ancestors in his clan, who pass it on from generation to generation; and only when these have cut up his body and examined his bones can he begin to shamanise.

We have noted that the function of shamanic initiation in the primitive society is to effect the transformation of the shaman from a profane, human condition to a superhuman, sacred one.  But while the shaman may carry out activities such as divining and prophesying, and occasionally sorcery, these are not his major functions, and often fall within the province of other types of practitioners.  The shaman's primary functions are those of healer and psychopomp.  This is related to the specific nature of the shamanic ecstasy; not all forms of mystical ecstasy are shamanic, for this, like initiation, has its own peculiar nature.  The shamanic ecstasy is one in which the shaman is supposed to leave his physical body and journey to the Centre of the World, which connects the earthly realm with the celestial world above and the infernal regions below.  This axis mundi may be symbolised as a tree, mountain, tent pole, ladder, liana, or something similar; the shaman is able to make the journey and return safely because he is a master of ecstasy and possesses the guidance of helping spirits along the way.  His main functions thus become either guiding the soul of a deceased person to its home in the infernal or celestial realms or journeying to those realms for the purpose of retrieving the soul of a sick person (which has wandered off by itself or been stolen by the spirits while the patient was asleep), returning with it, and restoring it to the patient's body.  The shaman thus fulfills his functions by being able to travel in the supernatural realm, and he is enabled to do this because he is a master of ecstasy.

From the description of the shaman's duties in the community, we can draw some obvious conclusions and make some further hermeneutical speculations as to the shamanic function within the cultural context.  The curing function of shamanism, as well as such secondary functions as divination and prophesy, show clearly that the shaman, like all magical practitioners, helps a primitive culture to come to terms with environmental forces that are both nurturing and threatening.  Thus, through the shamanic propitiation of the spirits, good crops or fruitful hunting can be assured; drought, epidemic, or other natural disasters can be averted.  On the deeper level of collective psychology, we can perceive several functions of the shaman that would not be articulated by the members of a given society, but that, nevertheless, are intrinsic to the shamanic function.  Lommel says of the social role of the shaman:
...primitive man is quite exceptionally susceptible to various forms of mental disorder.  Psychoses, neuroses, hallucinations, mass hysteria and the like are of very frequent occurrence.  The shaman can cure these states - but only when he has overcome them in himself... the shaman is the centre, the brain and the soul of a (primitive) community.  He is, so to speak, the regulator of the soul of a group or tribe, and his function is to adjust, avert, and heal defects, vacillations, disturbances of this soul.  Looked at biologically, the whole life of primitive people is more strongly influenced by the subconscious than seems to be the case among ourselves.  It is clear that in this situation the position of the shaman is one of paramount importance.

The shaman is able to act as an intermediary between the society and the supernatural, or to put it in Jungian terms, he is an intermediary to the collective unconscious.  Through the office of the shaman, the society at large is brought into close and frequent encounter with the numinous archetypal symbols of the collective unconscious.  These symbols retain their numinosity, immediacy, and reality for the society through their constant reaffirmation in shamanic ritual and through the shaman's epic narration of mythical scenarios and his artistic production. The shaman does more, however, than just recite the myths or express the religious symbolism in making ritual artifacts; the shaman lives the myth.  By virtue of his superhuman, transformed state, he enacts the role of the mythical hero: He can fly through the air, talk to the gods, see everywhere, understand the animals, and perform other feats characteristic of a semidivine entity.  Thus, the shaman is the exemplar in the present epoch, which is regarded by primitives as a profane, historical time, of the condition supposed to have been accessible to all humans before the fall.  In his ecstasy the shaman reenters that mythical, paradisaical condition that existed before the fall and thus reasserts, for the entire culture, the reality of that mythical time.  Thus, the validity of the archetypal motifs, which presumably describe the human condition in the paradisaical era, is reaffirmed.

The shamanic function also includes a psychoanalytic capability.  That the shaman can cure illnesses of a psychological or psychosomatic nature is well established.  The shaman is undoubtedly, perhaps essentially, a doctor - but the factual medical knowledge of the primitives is very small; the shaman's medical function seems to be confined to psychological, perhaps psychoanalytical techniques, and his successes fall mainly within the psychological domain.  But with what exact mechanism he is able to do this is not completely understood.  It is as through the shaman, in his capacity of ecstatic psychopomp, practices a participation therapy of the most sophisticated type; by means of his ecstatic capacity, the shaman plunges into the collective unconscious and restores the patient's self-identity (equivalent to finding his soul) by taking onto himself the unconscious contents that have inundated his patient through the principle of transference.  Because this is accomplished in the context of ritual, which is real and numinous to the participants, the shaman's task is doubtless somewhat easier than that of a modern psychoanalyst who is often faced with a demythologised, rationally hardened personality.

The shaman, then, acts as a doctor of the soul, both the individual and the collective soul, and he is also a real and living exemplar of the primordial, mythical human condition, and in being so maintains the reality and immediacy of the sacred.  He is able to carry out these functions because he is master of the techniques of ecstasy, and it is by virtue of this that he maintains his suprahuman state.

It is clear that the practice of shamanism, to a greater extent than other religious offices, depends on the unique personality of the shaman.  This must account in part for the great diversity of preinitiatory traits that constitute a shamanic election as well as the diversity in methods of shamanising, in the means employed to induce ecstasy, and in the motifs of the shaman's journey, not only in different cultures but between individuals as well.  With this in mind, let us lift the shaman out of his cultural context for a moment and focus on the characteristics of his psychological makeup.

An item of the first order in addressing ourselves to this psychological examination of the phenomenon is the question of the psychopathological nature of the shamanic personality.  There are, as we have noted, certain cases where the symptoms leading to shamanic initiation can be traced to a condition of mental illness, epilepsy, or catatonia; however, this is by means true of all such cases, as some have claimed.  Initiation can also be triggered by an encounter with a magical animal, the finding of a magical stone or other object, or an ordeal in the wilderness.

Eliade masterfully points out where such theories have gone astray:
The problem, in our view, has been wrongly stated.  In the first place, it is not correct to say that shamans are, or must always be, neuropaths; on the contrary, a great many of them are perfectly sound in mind.  Moreover, those who had previously been ill have become shamans just because they succeeded in getting well.  Very often, when the vocation reveals itself in the course of an illness or an attack of epilepsy, the initiation is also a cure.  The acquisition of the shamanic gifts indeed presupposes the resolution of the psychic crisis brought on by the first signs of this vocation.  The initiation is manifested by - among other things - a new psychic integration

And, similarly, Nadel states:
And here it is important to stress that neither epilepsy nor insanity, nor yet other minor mental derangements, are in themselves regarded as symptoms of spirit possession.  They are diseases, abnormal disorders, not supernatural qualification.  No shaman is, in everyday life, an abnormal individual, a neurotic or a paranoiac; if he were, he would be classed as a lunatic, not respected as a priest.  Nor finally can shamanism be correlated with incipient or latent abnormality; I recorded no case of a shaman whose professional hysteria deteriorated into serious mental disorders.

From these comments, it is apparent that shamanism is not an institution designed to capitalise on psychological aberrations.

We shall return to the question of the stability of the shamanic personality in the next chapter, where we will consider the similarities between the self-cure of the shaman and the attempt to resolve a life-crisis that characterises essential schizophrenia.

Let us now consider the shamanic trance itself.  All of the shaman's functions, his ability to cure, divine, converse with the spirits, and travel in the supernatural realm, depend on his ecstasy; were he unable to attain ecstasy at will, he could not be a true shaman.  Thus, the human will employ certain means for achieving ecstasy, which may be frenzied and prolonged drumming, dancing, and chanting, sleep deprivation, fasting, and so on.  These techniques are not dissimilar to the self-flagellation and asceticism practiced by certain Christian mystics.  In addition to these techniques and often in conjunction with them, the shaman will employ certain narcotic plants, such as the drinking of tobacco juice or the inhalation of hashish smoke.  While Eliade asserts that the use of narcotic substances as an aid to ecstasy invariably indicates a decadence or vulgarisation of the shamanic tradition, there is reason to doubt this.  On the contrary, the use of narcotic plants as an adjunct to shamanism is widespread and occurs in every region of the globe where the plants occur.  The important role of the hallucinogenic mushroom Amanita muscaria in Siberian shamanism has been exhaustively documented by Wasson, and the incredibly complete narcotic technology of New World Indians has been examined by Schultes at length.  From this evidence it appears that the narcotic experience and the shamanic experience are, in very numerous cases, one and the same, though the narcotic experience must be molded and directed by the symbolic motifs of ritual to give it is peculiarly shamanic quality.

It is our contention, to be amplified in later chapters, that the presence of psychoactive substances is a primary requirement for all true shamanism, and that where such substances are not exogenously available as plants, they must be endogenously available, either through metabolic predisposition to their synthesis, as may occur in schizophrenia, or through the various techniques of shamanism: dancing, drumming, singing, and the confrontation of situations of stress and isolation.  Where these alkaloids are not present, shamanism becomes ritual alone, and its effectiveness suffers accordingly.  We hope to show that because of the biophysical roles these compounds play at a molecular level, they are the operational and physical keys allowing access to the powers claimed by the shaman.

One of the most interesting, and least understood, aspects of the shamanic personality centres upon the question of paranormal powers; the shaman is supposed to be a master of fire and psychic heat, is thought to be clairvoyant, clairaudiant, and telepathic.  Further instances are given by Eliade:
From among the best-observed cases, let us recall those of clairvoyance and thought-reading among the shamans of Tonga, recorded by Shirokogorov; some strange cases of prophetic clairvoyance in dreams among the Pygmies, as well as cases of the discovery of thieves with the aid of a magic mirror; some very concrete instances concerning the results of the chase, also aided by a mirror; examples of the understanding, among these same Pygmies, of unknown languages; cases of clairvoyance among the Zulus; and lastly - attested by a number of authors, and by documents that guarantee its authenticity - the collective ceremony of firewalking in Fiji.

There is herein a fruitful and untapped subject for parapsychology.  The actual occurrence of such phenomena, in at least some instances, is beyond question and suggests that the radical reorginisation of the psychic faculties, which shamanic initiation is supposed to produce, does have some validity beyond the merely symbolic; the shaman actually is superhuman in some little-understood manner.  Our latest speculations will centre on a possible biophysical mechanism for this transformation.  What is interesting, and also supports the assertion that these phenomena are real, is their essential similarity to paranormal powers encountered in other religious traditions.  Such motifs as magical flight, psychic heat, and immunity to hot coals, for instance, are found in the yogic techniques of Buddhism and Hinduism.  The ability to perform such magical feats, in both the shamanic and the yogic traditions, simply reconfirms the ontological mode associated with such practitioners; they have transcended the human condition and now participate in the condition of the spirits.

Let us now focus our attention on a more speculative question: whether there are, or could be, institutions in modern society that draw their models from shamanism.  There appears to be occurring in modern life a progressive alienation from the numinous archetypal contents of the collective unconscious, which has engendered a gradually encroaching sense of collective despair and anxiety.  The archetypal motifs of the Western religious tradition seem to have lost their effectiveness for the larger portion of civilised humanity or, at best, have been depotentiated to the level of a merely psychological reality.  Western humans have lost their sense of unity with the cosmos and with the transcendent mystery within themselves.  Modern science has given us a picture of human beings as accidental products of random evolutionary processes in a universe that is itself without purpose or meaning.  This alienation of modern humans from the numinous ground of their being has engendered the existentialist ethic and the contemporary preoccupation with the immediate historical situation.  Humans are regarded as leading a wholly profane existence within a wholly profane time, that is, within history; the reality of the sacred is denied or reduced to the level of psychology.

In non-Western cultures, in primitive cultures particularly, humans are not conscious of living in historical time, but regard themselves as inhabiting a numinous sacral time.  If these humans are conscious of history at all, it is of a mythical, paradigmatic history, a paradisaical epoch that lies beyond the attritional influence of profane time.  From the point of view of religious symbolism, this preoccupation of modern humanity with is historical and existential situation springs from an unconscious sense of its impending end.

It is in this unenviable position, then, that we find the modern temper: anguished by the imminence of death, yet trapped in profane, historical time and thus able to regard death only as nothingness; the saving presence of a sacred, transcendent mode of being is absent from the contemporary worldview.  Thus modern humans stand today at the very edge of the abyss of death and nothingness, and it is precisely here than one can perceive a useful role for a modern shamanism.  Again this is a need for a doctor of the soul, a figure who can bring humankind into close and fruitful confrontation with the collective unconscious, the creative matrix or all that we are and have ever been.

Naturally, the modern shaman will have to search for a means of fulfilling his psychopompic functions, which are different from the relatively ritualistic techniques of his predecessor.  One of the most potentially effective of such means lies in his artistic and poetic capacities; the soul of modern humanity is still open to influence by aesthetic means.  Hence one of the first places we should look for signs of a modern shamanism is in the artistic sphere.  The shamanic role of the artist in modern cultures extends not only to his work, but to his very life.  Through manipulation of his physical medium, the artist seeks to express his personal vision of reality - a vision arising from the roots of the unconscious and not dependent upon public consensus, in fact, often actively opposed to it.  More than that, the artist exemplifies in his life a freedom that is similar to the superhuman freedom of the shaman.

Although it is not too difficult to recognise the role of the artist in the modern world as being in some sense shamanic, it is perhaps more difficult to understand our second nomination for a contemporary counterpart to the shamanic practitioner, the scientific researcher.  Eliade has pointed out that scientists are the creators and keepers of a new mythology of matter.  Indeed, the scientist who charts the unexplored levels of organisation to be found in nature, from the bizarre, paradoxical realms of quantum physics to the staggering vastness of the metagalaxy, has much in common with the shaman who journeys through the magical topography of the spirit-world.

One area of modern life that does not appear to be shamanic, but that might profitably model itself after shamanism, is psychoanalysis.  A modern soul doctor might well achieve better results if he or she could model therapy after a psychopompic journey through the collective unconscious.  The exact techniques would, of course, have to be adapted to modern patients, but where the unconscious is concerned, all people are primitive.  One approach to such a shamanic psychoanalysis could be through the controlled and judicious use of psychotropic drugs; knowledge of both the promises and dangers of such agents has increased tremendously in recent years, as has understanding of the role they play in shamanism.  A combination of knowledge and wisdom in applying their properties could very well give an effective and harmless technique of ecstasy that could be usefully employed in psychoanalysis.

With this we conclude our preliminary discussion of shamanism.  The background that we have laid down, our discussion of the shaman's traditional role in archaic societies, our examination of his singular personality, abilities, and techniques have been skeletal at best.  Our speculation on shamanism and modern society is likewise incomplete and intentionally so; we sought only to make the point that the numinous motifs of shamanism can have a relevance to modern humans, and doubtless there are instances of this that have not been mentioned.  If we are to draw a conclusion as to how we can profit from the study of shamanism, it is this: Perhaps, through understanding the fascinating and alien figure of the shaman, we can draw somewhat nearer to that numinous, archetypal, living mystery that dwells within each of us.

[chapter one of The Invisible Landscape: Mind, Hallucinogens and the I Ching by Dennis J. McKenna and Terence K. McKenna (1975)]

References:
Mircea Eliade, Cosmos and History.  New York: Harper Row, 1959.
----------, The Sacred and the Profane.  New York: Harper Row, 1961.
----------, Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy.  New York: Pantheon Books, 1964.
----------, Myths, Dreams, and Mysteries.  New York: Harper Row, 1967.
Carl G. Yung, The Practice of Psychotherapy.  New York: Pantheon Books, 1954.
Andreas Lommel, Shamanism: The Beginnings of Art.  New York: McGraw-Hill, 1967.
S.F. Nadel, A Study of Shamanism in the Nuba Mountains.  /.Anth. Inst. of Great Britain and Ireland, 1946.
Claudio Naranjo, The Healing Journey.  New York: Random House, 1973.
Richard E. Schultes and A. Hofmann, The Botany and Chemistry of Hallucinogens.  Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas, 1973.
R. Gordon Wasson, Soma: Divine Mushroom of Immortality.  Italy: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1971.