“But to me nothing – the negative, the empty – is exceedingly powerful.”
– Alan Watts
“Beyond the edge of the world there’s a space where emptiness and substance neatly overlap, where past and future form a continuous, endless loop. And, hovering about, there are signs no one has ever read, chords no one has ever heard.”
– Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore
I’ve long thought that many UFO or strange light sightings are of natural, earthly origin, if still quite mysterious in their scientific nature. British author Paul Devereaux wrote an insightful book on the matter in 1989 called “Earth Lights Revelation” that links these sightings with fault lines. It is almost certainly what causes things like the mysterious Marfa Lights in West Texas (which I’ve witnessed) and ball lightning. Surely, many standard UFO “bright ball of light” type sightings fall into this category as well. Some new articles with photos about this phenomenon have just been published, including the one linked above. I love the photo showing several such ball lights “floating” above the ground and presumably emergent from a local fault line there.
That said, there are also many sightings and encounters of other phenomena that go far beyond these lights, and which I believe originate in some form of ‘parallel dimension’. This alternate dimension can be accessed, if only with great discomfort and hard effort, through the ritual shamanic use of entheogens like Ayahuasca and Peyote. Graham Hancock’s book, Supernatural, is a great introduction to this concept.
All such adventures are subjective experiences, of course, (at least for now) but there is a large consistency across all such human reports. I offer my own report of such a powerful experience in my series on Ayahuasca, linked in the sticky post at the top of my Home page (or here).
An interesting graphic animation of a reading by Dennis McKenna from his book “The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss.” In it, he describes a particularly awe inducing vision experience with the medicina. Dennis is the brother of the late Terence McKenna and his book is a good read about their relationship and their various pioneering adventures working with Ayahuasca and other entheogens.
His great vision, related here, is the kind of experience that draws people to Ayahuasca and can significantly alter one’s perception of themselves and of their place in the universe.
[Source: http://vimeo.com/80337226 -- Voice Media Group]
This is a digital art and photograph collage, but the stone face is an actual formation I came across in a less-traveled region of a lightly traveled hoodoo wonderland called the Bisti Wilderness Area in northwestern New Mexico, USA (commonly called the Bisti Badlands). Is it pareidolia – an accidental shape that looks like a face, or is it an expression of animism? Yes, of course, and perhaps, I think, the other as well. Having taken myself down under the skin of consensus reality and once meeting a female Spirit of the Earth, I treat such things as this with respect and honor.
~ ~ ~ ~
Spirit Stone Woman (by David P. Crews)
Once, I was wandering through time,
Threading a tortuous line through
undulations and towers of rock and clay.
Sitting, resting from my efforts,
I looked up and saw her face,
Sudden awareness chilling my arms.
A crickle of power and presence:
I had come unawares into a place
of natural holiness.
I speak. I ask permission. I look.
I gaze into the sky as She gazes.
Who has spoken with her in ancient days?
How long has she watched the stars?
For whom does she wait?
A shape sits silent, breathing another air
poised on the edge of eternity.
From the swirl of
An image I took of the moonrise over the Gulf of Mexico at Surfside Beach, Texas on October 23, 2013.
My final ceremony in the Amazon was not with Ayahuasca, but with the ancient medicine of the Chavin culture of the northeastern mountains and coastal areas of Peru. Huachuma is the most common local name for the plant whose post-colonial name is the San Pedro cactus. As both cacti contain mescaline, Huachuma can be considered South America’s parallel, if decidedly not equivalent, to North America’s peyote. Just as with peyote, this cactus has been used for thousands of years to bring humans into a powerful spiritual dimensional experience for healing and for enlightenment.
The ritual and ceremonial forms associated with Huachuma are based on the mesa, a literal table or layout of ceremonial power objects in the form of a cross. Much of this has been co-opted by the Catholic church and most “San Pedro Mesa” ceremonies are very syncretic and include objects, references, and appeals to Jesus, Mary, the saints, etc. My interest was to find the older, more authentic, pre-Columbian version of the cactus ceremonies, representing true ancient shamanism. In today’s Amazonian or Andean cultures, this is not easily found, but Howard Lawler is, surely, the best source for this kind of experience. He has been restoring this ancient style and level of Huachuma ritual for decades, and has been able to attain and establish a truly non-syncretic and very powerful mesa ceremony. His Huachuma Mesada Pilgrimages are intense, nearly two-week long expeditions to the ancient sacred sites in northeastern Peru to engage with the plant in the way and in the very places that the ancients did.
He also offers an introductory mesa ceremony in the Amazon for those, like myself, who are there to work with Ayahuasca but also wish to have an initiation into Huachuma. This actually makes a lot of sense, as Huachuma began in the Amazon with the concept of the water mesada.
Yacumama is the serpent spirit that represents water and the essence of life springing from the great Amazon. He is pictured as a serpent and as the serpentine river that winds through the great forest of life, enlivening all the inhabitants from plants, to animals and us. Water is the essential ingredient for life.
In Ayahuasca rituals, one works with Pachamama, the great female spirit of the plants and animals – this is Mother Ayahuasca, the “mother earth” spirit who engages, teaches, and heals within the context of the Ayahuasca medicina. When working with Huachuma, one encounters a complementary male spirit, a Grandfather Huachuma. He is expressed in the Amazonian ritual in the form of Yacumama, the essence of water.
The ritual begins at the great mesa that don Howard has created inside the ceremonial molucca at the sanctuary. This large layout begins with the lower world, then the crossbar mesa representing the middle world (our everyday dimension), and the mesa at the top representing the upper worlds. There is also a lancon or stone stela like the one at the great temple of the Jaguar. This stands at the cross point and represents the “axis mundi” or the world axis. It leads up into the heavenly realms as well as down into the unconscious worlds. The mesa is a three-dimensional map to a multi-dimensional universe.
Huachuma cactus is reduced to a liquid that is intensely bitter, but is not disgusting or nauseating as Ayahuasca is. Also, there are no dietary restrictions with Huachuma as there is in Ayahuasca. One drinks the liquid and is offered an immediate chaser of limonade – a tart and non-sweet lemonade that really helps to offset the bitterness and slight discomfort of drinking the medicine. This will be offered at various times throughout the length of the ceremony, which can take eight hours or so.
[Click on any small photo for a larger view.]
Unlike Ayahuasca, this does not occur at night with darkness and the singing of icaros. Huachuma is an animating and animist agent and it is useful to take it during daylight and, in the initial stages, get out into nature to see and experience it. We took the medicine at about two in the afternoon and after the initial rituals, immediately got into the boat for a trip some miles upriver to a tiny settlement. We pulled into the bank and walked along a long covered wooden walkway to get to the village. A few locals came out to see us and some of the kids played in the river or with a soccer ball while one boy presented a monkey for us to see. As this is happening, I was coming alive with the energy of the Huachuma medicine. A gentle rain began to fall, and the individual drops were superimposed over the verdant green fields surrounding the settlement. Each drop vibrated like electric diamonds and the greens beyond seemed to glow with life and energy. This is a very active medicine that, in this initial phase, engages us in a physical and super-awake mode that leads to a strong sense of joy and happiness.
Everything is alive! This is what animism feels like! As we returned to our boat, I settled in and took a fresh apple to eat. It’s flavor was enhanced in the same energetic manner as the objects I saw. It was delicious! A truly wonderful sunset glowed in orange and red like an open kiln under the rain clouds that began to gather.
As we motored back down the Rio Momón, that rain began to fall in earnest – a true tropical downpour. This was no ordinary rain, with or without our enhanced senses. It rained in sheets until the boat was literally encased in a tube of water. Water below the hull, water rushing the canvas above our heads as if we were under a huge waterfall, and not rain streaks, but walls of solid water on all sides of the open-sided boat. The pilot had to slow to a crawl and use his searchlights to make our way safely back to the sanctuary. Howard said that in his quarter century of living here, it was the hardest rain event he had been in on the water.
Rather than feel in danger during this huge rain, I and the others felt safe, curious, and engaged. It was obvious to us that we had truly invoked Yacumama – the Water Spirit – and he had manifested for us in a very big way.
With a safe return to the ceremonial molucca, and with darkness upon us, the next phases of the medicine began. In the presence of the mesa, we entered into a more internal space where introspection and visioning can happen. This lasts until about ten o’clock when the medicine begins to dissipate and we retreat to the dining hall for a good meal. This was the first meal in about two and a half weeks for me that had any salt in it. We had some bits of chicken that were fried with some salt, and they were truly delicious after the long diet and having just been sensitized with the Huachuma.
I feel like I have internalized much of the work I did with Huachuma and will be processing it in my life for a while to come, just as with the work with Ayahuasca. I was unable to continue on with Maestro Howard on his Mesada Pilgrimage this time, but hope and intend to do so next year. These ceremonies: five Ayahuasca, one Bobinsana, and one Huachuma over two and a half weeks, is enough for me for now. I am very happy to have had the opportunity, however, to work with Huachuma this time and experience the great Chavin Mesa and the power of this level and style of shamanism, based as it is on the very work that our ancestors were engaged in over three thousand years ago.
San Pedro ceremonies are rather common in the Andes and are generally not nearly as powerful in terms of the actual medicine used. They also blend in all the syncretic religious elements that tint the experience and give it a shape that does not originate with the plant and its spirits. I feel very fortunate to have encountered Howard’s mesa, an authentic, pre-Columbian shamanism that resonates with the power and energy of the great Spirits.
Click image for larger size and better resolution.
With my upcoming trip to Peru, I’ve been blogging a lot about Ayahuasca lately. I thought I’d give you some unrelated eye-candy for a change! Here’s a photo I took a few years ago at the incomparable Monument Valley on the Navajo reservation on the Utah/Arizona border. This is a special place not only to the Navajo, but to all Americans. There is no other landscape quite like it or the other great canyon vistas of the Colorado Plateau.
La Selva – The Forest. That’s the name given by the locals to that greatest forest on Earth, that unimaginably immense ocean of green we call the Amazon Jungle.
It contains the greatest diversity of animals and plants in the world, and is the source of much of our breathing air and medicines. It is a vast repository of bio-chemical riches that we have only just begun to learn about, even as the trees and life systems are so carelessly and ignorantly destroyed en masse, every day.
Those who work with the traditional great psychoactive medicines of La Selva, like Ayahuasca, see this green sea as something more than “just trees.” For those who have traveled into the enigma of the jungle beyond the physical matrix, being in the midst of the jungle is a powerful experience. There is a palpable sense of the life force animated as a conscious and intentional entity. Gaia is not a metaphor. Mother Earth becomes a very real person. There is great mystery here and great capacity for gaining knowledge and for healing.
This is not a secret experience, reserved for an elite. It is available to anyone who would learn or who would be healed, but it is rarely an easy path. Dealing with one’s own personal psychic challenges can be the hardest work one has ever accomplished. And then, it can be challenging to actually come face to face with an Elemental being and live to tell of it, even if she should prove to be kind and loving. To paraphrase Terence McKenna, one might in that situation be most in danger of expiring from astonishment.
Having braved the journey and traveled through the amazing veil and returned to the physical world of trees and rivers, we are never the same. What unknown new measure shall we use to describe our new perspective of ourselves and our world? The old ones are surely as mundane as the lives left behind us, and will not suffice.
Regardless, it is better to have dared to see a marvel than to settle inside an old skin, fearing anything that changes us.
“I would rather know a fearful truth than remain deceived by comforting falsehoods.”
(A saying I wrote down many years ago, and one that in my life has typified that other old saying about being careful what you wish for, for you might get it.)
You can read about this kind of ancient and authentic journeying in my five part series on Ayahuasca, here.
[GoogleMaps image of Iquitos, Peru (the lighter area center), the Amazon River on the right, and the Rio Nanay as the black squiqqle on the left side.]
A photograph I made many years ago along the path to Clingmans Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Much time has passed since then, yet time seems not to be a factor in such places when the fog is resting in the pines and a vision of the past smiles and wanders silently by.
“A truer image of the world, I think, is obtained by picturing things as entering into the stream of time from an eternal world outside, than from a view which regards time as the devouring tyrant of all that is.”
~Bertrand Russell –Mysticism and Logic: And Other Essays (1919)
“Time is but the stream I go fishing in. I drink at it, but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. It’s thin current slides away, but eternity remains.”
~Henry David Thoreau
“A ritual is the enactment of a myth. And, by participating in the ritual, you are participating in the myth. And since myth is a projection of the depth wisdom of the psyche, by participating in a ritual, participating in the myth, you are being, as it were, put in accord with that wisdom, which is the wisdom that is inherent within you anyhow. Your consciousness is being re-minded of the wisdom of your own life.”
- Joseph Campbell
•Click image to go to the film (19 min) •
A short film from an interesting group [The Overview Institute] whose mission is to find a better way to leverage the incredible power of seeing the Earth from outside of it. From the time I was a little boy, watching the space shots and avidly consuming every photo or film of Earth and space, I’ve always felt the frustration these folks are talking about. I truly grasped for myself that “Spaceship Earth” idea, and the concept that we’re all in this together on a small, fragile rock in the middle of infinite and truly harsh space. It is frustrating because as incredibly important this perspective is, it is so inactionable by most of us that we say “Wow,” and then go back to our daily affairs, politics, and wars. Because so few of us humans (about 500) have seen the Earth Overview personally, the idea of it has been relegated to a curiosity or a head-nodding stereotype. Instead, we should be using this priceless insight for the potent tool it is to bring humans together to solve our problems before the fragile craft is so damaged that we cannot. Truly perceived, the overview of our home and the perspective it brings us causes a major cognitive shift. If enough of us experience it and are so shifted, it could cause a true paradigm shift for our species.
I’ve said in this blog and elsewhere that we are not Earthlings. We are not a random thing that happened upon the surface of the Earth. We are not invaders nor are we some unique creation placed here by the hands (?) of some god or gods. We are Earth itself! We are the life that this planet has brought forth and we are intimately connected in every way to this ecosphere. We have minds that are more developed than any that have come before. By taking a bubble of it with us, we can escape the ecosphere for a while and gaze back upon it. We can perceive ourselves as being the planet we gaze at.
We may gain wisdom and learn to regulate ourselves, or we may not and become a colony of spores that overwhelm our own resources until the ecosystem shuts us down dramatically. In either case, we are natural – a part of the overall description of the Earth, including a description through time.
We are Earth.
More from the Overview Institute site at: http://www.overviewinstitute.org/
“It is said by the Eldar that in water there lives yet the echo of the Music of the Ainur more than in any substance that is in this Earth; and many of the Children of Ilúvatar hearken still unsated to the voices of the Sea, and yet know not for what they listen.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion
My photo is from Caye Caulker in Belize, Central America. The breakers on the horizon mark the location of the second largest barrier reef in the world after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. The colors of the waters in the Caribbean never cease to amaze me and no photo ever does them justice.
Gazing out at this twisted and textured landscape, I ask myself, “Why does the desert interest me? Why does it have a different effect than, say, driving across Ohio or Kansas?” Certainly, the desert is harsh and calls to mind the counterpoint with living things that it represents. Certainly, the desert is hot or cold, but then so can be other places. Maybe it has something to do with what I expect. When I drive across “normal” places like Ohio or Kansas, I pretty much know what to expect. I know that I will see fields, farms, trees, grass, towns, and cities, that all look similar and fit a pattern that man has evoked upon the landscape.
In the desert, things are different – literally. You never know what to expect, or what may be coming next. It is this novelty that I think makes the desert so attractive to us. The key to understanding why we like the desert is the word Curiosity. We are curious animals and the desert is endlessly fascinating to that part of our psyche because it is always showing us something new and mysterious and compelling.
In the high dry lands of southern Utah, near Hanksville, the desert becomes something like a stereotype or parody of itself. It is a cartoon desert with sand and sagebrush for endless miles and the most unlikely orange and white stone castles and parapets sticking up at strange distances and positions. It has a gray-green-tan-iron red coloration and is so arid that what life there is out here is gray and low and crouches sparsely upon the sands.
It is an eerie place, a dangerous place. It sears the eyes and captivates them at the same time.
It is truly amazing.
The top photo is from Goblin Valley State Park, north of Hanksville, Utah. One of the wonderful hoodoos with Wild Horse Butte as a background.
The second photo is of Factory Butte, just west of Hanksville in the Cainville area east of Capitol Reef National Park. This is a particularly strange and wonderful landscape that continues to entrance me after 35 years of visits.
Note: Some of the text for this post is taken from an early website I made called “A Circle In The Desert,” which may be viewed at: http://www.newrational.com/circle
It features many more photos plus commentary, poems, and more.
A lifetime of knowledge earned
Along the paths of wisdom,
Will one day surely seem to you
Quite meager and in vain.
Not because you have failed to learn,
But that the universe has opened up
Infinitely before you.
- David Crews
The photo is of myself at Bonneville Salt Flats in the NW corner of Utah. It had rained recently, leaving a wonderful reflective mirror for the mountains to float above.
Ah, yes, those Bonneville Salt Flats. Thought I’d set a new speed record – for how slow I could go.
“The earth has music for those who listen.”
– George Santayana
No place on the planet is quite like wonderful Bryce Canyon. Erosion is caught in a still-frame by our short lives, and presented as a complex tableaux. Orange and white ripples and folds appear frozen, but are truly in the midst of melting down through their fractal forms into countless grains of sand, flowing down and down through the magnificent canyons below.
Are we not incredibly lucky to be here right at this moment, when we can see this particular frame of the movie of the Earth?
I have just returned from a lengthy photo trip through southern Utah and other parts of the Colorado Plateau. I hope you enjoy my pictures and I’ll be posting more soon.
(Click photos for larger size & better quality.)
Time settles down as withered flakes
In the land of wizened stone.
Minutes and hours pile up.
One on top of another.
The essence of their measure
Baked hard into unyielding clays,
Filling each rocky crack.
Bajadas covered with arid months,
Arroyos layered with dusty days,
Until the desert is made of nothing
But time accumulated – waiting.
Released at last by some cosmic rain,
Floating free and blending.
A mass ascension into Eternity.
~ David P. Crews
Photo taken in the Bisti Badlands Wilderness Area, NW New Mexico, USA.
“Between here and there and me and the mountains it’s the canyon wilderness, the hoodoo land of spire and pillar and pinnacle where no man lives, and where the river flows, unseen, through the blue-black trenches in the rock.
“Light. Space. Light and space without time, I think…”
Edward Abbey – Desert Solitaire, 1968
The Colorado River with the Vermilion Cliffs in the distance.
“The crude product of nature, the object fashioned by the industry of man, acquire their reality, their identity, only to the extent of their participation in a transcendent reality.”
Mircea Eliade: The Myth of the Eternal Return (1954)
“The Experience of Sacred Space makes possible the “founding of the world”: where the sacred Manifests itself in space, the real unveils itself, the world comes into existence.”
Mircea Eliade: The Sacred and the Profane : The Nature of Religion: The Significance of Religious Myth, Symbolism, and Ritual within Life and Culture (1961), translated from the French by William R. Trask
My elk-hide shaman’s drum, from a spirit circle in Southern Utah. We drummed and danced as visionary artists Alex and Allyson Grey created a mural on the cliff behind us.
My last post about the Mayans made me think about how they revered caves and other underground spaces as sacred portals to the afterlife, so I thought I’d post this recent image of mine from Carlsbad Caverns Nat. Park.
As I suspected, this discovery helps to show that the Mayan “End of the World” is not literal, but rather a change of time or a transition to a new era. This is similar to the same end-of-the-world phrases in the New Testament that actually spoke of a fundamental change of the social, political, and religious “world” of that time.
What might our new “world” look like? Will the transition seem slow or fast? The modern Mayans I’ve spoken with know no more than we do.
“I am a being of Heaven and Earth, of thunder and lightning, of rain and wind, of the galaxies.”
A summer storm vies for attention with the setting sun in the Window in the Chisos Mountains in Big Bend National Park, Texas. I’ve been visiting and photographing this amazing place on the planet for over 50 years.
“Could the prehistoric artists have been hallucinating and painting their visions? And was it possible that such practices could lie at the foundation of art and religion, the most exalted achievements of mankind?”
Graham Hancock, Supernatural – Meetings with the Ancient Teachers of Mankind (Canada: Doubleday Canada, 2005) p. 158
The great escarpment of the Vermilion Cliffs lies just north of the Grand Canyon.
Time has a different pace in realms like this. To the ancient shamanic Taoists, vermilion was the color of eternity.
I’ve been making landscape photos mostly non-commercially for some 50 years now. This is some of my initial work in HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography.
“They cannot scare me with their empty spaces
Between stars—on stars where no human race is.
I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert places.”
- Robert Frost – from “Desert Places”
A Further Range – Henry Holt & Co. (1936)
Photo of badlands in Big Bend National Park, in west Texas, just north of Castolon.