The old ones had their own names for the homes they made under the shadow of the cliffs.
Sometimes, their voices yet echo softly down the walls of stone. You may hear them if you are very still.
It was a good life, here in the protected canyon with its stream and its cottonwood trees. There was trade and there were crops of corn. The women wove the magic into the fabric of their clothing and baskets, and the men kept the farms and hunted on the mesas.
They gathered in sacred spaces to experience those things that connected them to the spirits of the land.
This ceased to be one day, as the people walked away from their elegant labors. We still do not know for certain just why.
Speaking of Arthur C. Clarke (last post), something else of his came to mind today as I was using my iPhone. Clarke’s law states that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” It is also a fact, I think, that something of the reverse is true. I might say, “Any sufficiently advanced technology that has come into everyday use is rapidly considered mundane.”
So, here I am, holding a highly advanced and miniaturized computer in the palm of my hand. Visions of the future from not that long ago cannot match the reality of this device.
It has an extremely high resolution, full color image screen. It can access information from anywhere in the world almost instantly and connect me to anyone in the world who has even minimal technology like a telephone. I can shoot broadcast television video in HD into a digital memory chip with no moving parts. I can play stupid games on it. I can find the cheapest gas station near me and see my house from outer space.
I popped up the science news list and these actual stories were first in line today:
“Asteroid Threat to Earth Sparks Global ‘NEOShield Project”
“Alien worlds abound! NASA scope finds 26 alien planets”
“Robotic Russian Supply Ship Docks at Space Station”
“Life in ocean ‘blue holes’ studied . . .
. . . could give clues to what types of marine life might be found on distant planets and moons. . .”
“Two teens send a Lego man into near space”
“Mining the moon isn’t as easy as it sounds”
“Nuclear fusion in the future? New laser could hold the answers”
Now, wait a minute. How did this happen without someone making a very loud announcement saying, “Hey everybody! Remember our promises of a magical, science fiction future? . . . IT’S HERE!!”
Perhaps we would not have heard such an announcement anyway, with our earbuds in and our noses buried in a glowing crystal between our fingers.
Well, I have to go now. There’s an old Flash Gordon serial on YouTube I wanted to watch.
On my mundane hand-held science fiction computer technology device.
When I made this piece some years ago and named it “The Sentinel,” I had forgotten that was the name of the original 1948 Arthur C. Clarke short story that was the inspiration for his 2001: A Space Odyssey. Not exactly the same geometries, but still apropos, I think.
“It was only a matter of time before we found the pyramid and forced it open. Now its signals have ceased, and those whose duty it is will be turning their minds upon Earth. Perhaps they wish to help our infant civilization. But they must be very, very old, and the old are often insanely jealous of the young.”
– Arthur C. Clarke, The Nine Billion Names Of God, “The Sentinel” , (New York: Signet – Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1974) p. 227.
. . . .
At a special desert place where I go to contemplate the world and life from within a sacred circle, I found a large area of ripple rock. This is slate-like sandstone that actually has embedded or recorded in the rock surface the precise ripple patterns from when that sandstone was laid down at the bottom of a lake or shallow sea. Some natural event rapidly covered it up and locked in that exact pattern of waves caused by the water on that particular day, perhaps 60 or 70 million years ago!
Now, after being buried for all that time, it is being slowly exposed here in the parched desert, a faint echo of water from ages past. The fascinating thing about ripple rock is that the image preserved represents something relatable to a human timescale. In most geologic forms, we are looking at shapes that reflect what happened to the specimen over millions of years, but here is a rock that presents a flash-frozen moment of time, like a time fossil. I can touch this rock and feel the ripples with my hand. I can almost hear the lapping of the waves as they washed over that sand on that one day so long ago. I can relate to it.
I suppose some things human (Pompeii comes to mind) are recorded in similar fashion, but surely most of what we do will never be so preserved. How many lives and stories and wondrous events of nature have happened on this planet over the millions upon millions of years that were not so fortunate to be recorded in a stone panel by a freakish chance?
Sometimes as I watch a particularly wonderful sunset, it occurs to me that there must have been billions of such beautiful sunsets over the history of this earth that went, well, unappreciated.
I wonder if a dinosaur ever paused to look up in hazy curiosity at a red-orange sky?
It is a stunningly beautiful but quite dangerous plant, used with great respect and reserve by highly experienced ayahuasceros. Every part of the plant is potent and is poisonous if used incorrectly.
These were in a private garden in Ollantaytambo, in the Sacred Valley area north of Cusco, Peru.
. . .
With my eyes fresh from sleep
Like the naive gaze of a child,
I look out at the world beyond my simple bed.
The dry air is delicious.
The moonlight is delicious.
The sigh of the soft night breeze is delicious.
The stars are delicious.
The backlit clouds are delicious.
One thin veil of cloud has a fish’s shape and a star
Shining through it, just so placed to be its bright eye.
The spirits of the night sky are watching me sleep.
The Freemont Indians would have understood.
If I reached out my hand and held the Moon within it,
Would it burn me? Is its bright face hot or cold?
Would it, perhaps, freeze me so that I would
Quickly let go and drop it in its old track?
Would it scold me, then, in its dusty old voice
For having been so bold?
It is by the Moon’s cool light only that I write these musings,
So perhaps he would just gaze down upon my tiny form,
Then smile and sail away.
©2012 David P. Crews
Horizons 2011: Stephan Beyer, Ph.D. – “Ayahuasca, Cognitive Psychology, and the Ontology of Hallucination”
A very interesting lecture by Steve Beyer, author of one of the most comprehensive books on Ayahuasca shamanism, “Singing to the Plants.” [2009, University of New Mexico Press]
His discussion here at the Horizons conference focuses on my area of highest interest: ontology, or what can be determined as real vs. not real as experienced in the visionary spaces of Ayahuasca. Some of his points include the idea that there may be more “buckets” than just those two (real and unreal), and that Ayahuasca teaches us that the spirit world or dimension is here now and we are in it. Many who work with and teach shamanism often believe or assert that it is somewhere “away” that we travel to.
BTW, Steve’s book is one of the very best reference and explanatory books on Ayahuasca, especially the mestizo style work in the Upper Amazon. He studied with Ayhascero Don Roberto Jurama, whom I also had the opportunity to work with in 2006. Highly recommended.
ANCIENT SONGS AND GREEN MAGIC
– A Search for What Is Real in the Amazon Jungle of Peru
By David P. Crews
“Ayahuasca is a symbiotic ally of the human species; its association with our species can be traced at least as far back as New World prehistory. The lessons we have acquired from it, in the course of millennia of coevolution, may have profound implications for what it is to be human, and to be an intelligent, questioning species within the biospheric community of species.”
– Dennis J. McKenna, Ph.D., Ayahuasca: An Ethnopharmacologic History
(Ayahuasca; ed. Ralph Metzner, (New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1999) p. 207.
One reason I took years to study Ayahuasca before working with it was to be as certain as I could be that this was an authentic and valuable encounter that would take me beyond what I know and can see, and not merely a drug encounter. There are powerful chemicals involved in the Ayahuasca tea, but taking this brew is the farthest thing one can imagine from a recreational drug experience.
One takes Ayahuasca advisedly and with the help of experienced leaders and supporters. It requires commitment and some sacrifices to experience it safely and authentically. For many who work with it, Ayahuasca is the most intense event they have ever experienced. At times, it is physically demanding and difficult. It has the potential to be extremely frightening. However, it can also give a person the most beautiful, glorious, joyful, and richly fulfilling experience of their lifetime. Its healing and teaching effects extend into the life one leads afterwards and affects the quality of that life. It can be genuinely life changing.
I had to be certain I knew what I was doing and with whom I was going to work because I am not actually a very likely or typical person to explore psychoactive medicines. My father is a pharmacist and I was conservatively raised to respect drugs and to never abuse them for “fun.” Also, I’m a teetotaler. I have never used alcohol – ever. Nor have I smoked tobacco – ever. A virgin to mind altering substances, I set out for the Amazon to ingest the most powerful one there is. Why would I want to take such a radical path from the one I was on?
In Plato’s famous cave, the allegory can be interpreted to depict humanity seeing the universe only as if by shadows cast on the wall by a great pyre of light. It is a light and a true world existing behind us that we can never turn and perceive directly. In studying religions, I’ve come to understand them as the human-made shadows we project from a greater reality – the reality that Ayahuasca can show to us. Ayahuasca gives us the opportunity, for the very first time, to turn our heads and look outside the cave into a greater view of What is Real.
So, this is a journal of my particular experiences in the Upper Amazon in Peru in 2006. I was determined to conduct this direct experiment in ontology. Knowing from my deep research that I would be physically safe, my intention was to see for myself what I might make of the visions and information that would come with working with Ayahuasca in a controlled, sacred, indigenous, and ritual setting. This would be a journey to try to determine what is real and what might simply be illusion or masterful creativity.
SHAMANISM – THE PROCESS OF SEEING
In 1951, Carl Jung wrote:
“In psychology, one possesses nothing unless one has experienced it in reality. Hence, a purely intellectual insight is not enough, because one knows only the words and not the substance of the thing from inside.”
C. G. Jung, Aion: Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self (p. 33)
I was determined to go “inside” and see for myself. It would turn out to be an intense set of experiences – one that challenged my physical body through limiting diets, strong physical exertions and purging, and more to the point, challenged my mind and spirit on levels that can only be described as awesome and unexplainable.
This general approach to gathering information about things outside our everyday world by direct personal experiences is what we generally refer to as Shamanism. It is the oldest spiritual practice of humankind, stretching back tens of thousands of years and still being practiced in tribal and modern societies all across the globe today. Shamanism is not a religion, but a practice or a set of techniques that are used to investigate non-ordinary realms or states in order to learn and gather information useful to us in this world. Modern religions have emerged out of these practices with many specific personal shamanic stories becoming reduced to historical myths. These myth stories are often presented as magical proof texts for followers of a particular religion – those who are not afforded the opportunity to experience the magic for themselves.
Shamanism is the opposite of religion’s controlled beliefs and limited access to personal experience. Instead, it is defined by personal, direct experience of “spiritual” realms, beings, and other mystical encounters without relying on any other person’s testimony or doctrines or information. In a shamanic practice, each person goes through the process in order to see for themselves. Each person has to make up their own mind what the information consists of and whether it is meaningful or actionable. No one else can gainsay what you see or what I see in a shamanic state. We can compare notes afterwards and begin to draw maps of the realms we enter. Some knowledge has emerged by consensus over the millennia, but it is still a direct personal experience by nature. Please read the rest of Part II here.
Delicate Arch is waiting. Standing on the edge.
More than the effort of crumbled and windblown stone,
It is like a letter in some unknown alphabet
Set glowing and hard on the desert wall
Quietly hidden until it is sought, or,
More likely still, an entire word –
A statement waiting for some reader.
Is it then a symbol,
Spoken in a language not of words?
Is the speaker also the audience,
Or does he speak to men?
Does he utter such a thing
That shapes the land in reddened art,
Or say some other thing that lies
Beyond the sand and sky?
Delicate Arch remains, silently ringing.
©2012 David P. Crews
A poem I wrote many years ago, inspired by the incomparable Delicate Arch in Arches NP, Utah.
I once took my father up the trail there to see the arch and I read this out loud. It was very wonderful.