“Sacred space and sacred time and something joyous to do is all we need. Almost anything then becomes a continuous and increasing joy.
What you have to do, you do with play.
I think a good way to conceive of sacred space is as a playground. If what you’re doing seems like play, you are in it. But you can’t play with my toys, you have to have your own. Your life should have yielded some. Older people play with life experiences and realizations or with thoughts they like to entertain. In my case, I have books I like to read that don’t lead anywhere.”
Excerpt From: Campbell, Joseph. “A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living.” Joseph Campbell Foundation, 2011-08-01.
A lovely quote from the great Joseph Campbell posted on his Facebook group page today (here).
This resonates as I prepare to return to the Amazon in June for an intensive series of Ayahuasca ceremonies. One of the most enduring aspects of working with this great plant medicine is the spirit of play and joy that envelopes the group you work with. Even though there are often tough hurdles during the ceremonies, and honest apprehension occurs when approaching the unknown of this sacred space, this sense of camaraderie and joyful excitement suffuses the family of those who participate together, though we are all strangers before we meet in the great forest.
At least, that was my experience and it reflects the experiences reported by many others. It is part, I think, of what we sense as “authenticity” when working with Ayahuasca. It affects our holistic attitudes and spirits in a positive way that reflects what Campbell was talking about – the essence of sacred work as being like play and expressed in joy.
I am anticipating just such a time ahead. Fortunately, when we gather for this great work, everyone brings their own toys, and they are all really good ones!
“Psychedelics are not suppressed because they are dangerous to users; they’re suppressed because they provoke unconventional thought, which threatens any number of elites and institutions that would rather do our thinking for us.”
Some thoughts from Dennis McKenna, ethnopharmacologist and brother of the late Terence McKenna, bard of modern psychoactive literature and thought. This is from his interesting new book, “The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss,” detailing his life with his famous brother and how their adventures affected their lives and influenced many thousands more. Dennis goes on to say:
“Historically, those in power have always sought to suppress free thought, whether bluntly or subtly, because it poses an inherent challenge to their rule. That’s no less true today, in an age when corporate, political, and religious interests form a global bloc whose interests threaten all earthly life, including human life.”
[Dennis McKenna, The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss, North Star Press of St. Cloud, St. Cloud, Minnesota, 2012. p. 450-1.]
Dennis is known amongst many other things for his participation in the “Hoasca Project” – a pioneering effort to document and understand the pharmicokinetics and effects of Ayahuasca in the Brazilian Amazon.
BTW, Dennis’ book was funded through Kickstarter, the crowdsourcing site. It was the most successful book project in Kickstarter’s history.
You can learn more at his book site:
As I prepare to return later this year to the Amazon to work with Ayahuasca once again, I’ve been looking at some of the prep work I did a few years ago, prior to my first encounter with the great spirit medicine. One striking thing (especially looking at it now, long after the fact) was an I Ching reading I did a few months before I left for South America. I see and use the I Ching (the ancient Chinese life guidance oracle system) as a “synchronicity system” that reflects our greater selves back at us from outside the normal time stream. This can inform in ways that are surprising, especially if there is an emotional or life-altering component to the question one asks of the oracle (or rather, of one’s Self).
I asked, “Can I expect Ayahuasca to change my life in a positive way?”
The answer (which I’ll partly quote from my favorite English interpretation of the symbols by Stephan Karcher) was hexagram 36, “Brightness Hiding” (field over radiance). The symbol is of a setting sun, indicating travel through demon’s country.
It told me:
“Brightness Hiding describes your situation in terms of entering the darkness to protect yourself, or to begin a difficult new endeavor. . . Conceal your intelligence by voluntarily entering what is beneath you, like the sun sets in the evening. There is real possibility of injury in the situation. [Meaning the current life situation outside or before this action.] By dimming the light of your awareness and entering the darkness, you can avoid being hurt. This becomes a chance to release from old problems and inaugurate a new time.
“Putting your ideas to the trial by accepting drudgery and difficulty will bring profit and insight. Adapt yourself to the situation. . . . Don’t lose your integrity. Be clear about what is really happening.”
[“I Ching – The Classic Chinese Oracle of Change-The First Complete Translation with Concordance”, Stephen Karcher, Vega, 2002, p. 405.]
This passage one takes is not darkness for the sake of darkness – not an evil trip with no purpose for the voyager other than harm and fear. With Ayahuasca in particular, it is always a purposed passage through the underworld of our soul in order to learn what we are and where our weaknesses come from. We can benefit from this dark passage, this study of our under-structure. If we are shown them, we can better repair the creaking beams that hold up our thoughts, our egos, our presumptions, our social mores and norms, and our very beliefs. We can gain a holistic view of ourselves that will inform us once we are back in our ego-based persona, ingrained in the consensus reality flow of our “normal” lives.
This is not an easy or comfortable journey, this trek through the basement of our being, but it can bring us great value if we consent to do this work. The thing with Ayahuasca is that you will encounter this trying but important task, but you won’t control when it happens. Therefore, one must be ready for it at any time and we must truly and heartily consent to do this work from the beginning.
The rewards are definitely worth the real work we do and the apprehension we naturally feel as we approach the mouth of the dark cave of ourselves.
[For more comprehensive information on Ayahuasca, see my five part series, here.]
[ Click the image above or here for the story from Science/AAAS ]
Thought I’d pass along an interesting report on a study about the possibility of chocolate being found in North American pottery bowls.
Chocolate was used by many Mesoamerican cultures, usually as a sacred drink for the elite, but not always (and not the sweetened drink or candy we know today, of course). The possibility of it showing up in North American bowls like these shows that a more robust trade was going on between the peoples of the tropics in Central America and parts of Mexico and those of the more northern zones represented by the U.S. This is controversial, but I think there is a high chance of it being so.
A number of years ago, I was in Monument Valley enjoying the rare treat of talking with a loquacious Navajo man. Most Navajo are quite reserved, especially around strangers. This young man was very open and verbose, so we talked a good while about many things. In that discussion, I remember him bringing up the Kokopelli legend and iconic art image. Kokopelli was the humpbacked flute player that appears all over the West in rock art and in ancient legends and is so commercialized today on everything made to sell to tourists in the desert southwest.
He told me that in his tradition, Kokopelli was remembered as a real person – an itinerant trader who, a very long time ago (as much as 1,200 years according to current estimates), came up out of Aztec Mexico and even more southerly lands. He brought trade goods like the copper bells, shells, and parrot feathers that have been documented in the North. He was unusual in that he was able to move freely between tribes without being killed. This was because he was not only a tradesman, but also a healer. The legends tell and the artworks show him playing his famous flute, and my friend said this was probably to announce his presence to a tribe he was approaching. They knew his flute and song and allowed him to come without a violent challenge, even if he had just come from an enemy tribe. They did this because he could bring healing techniques and medicines from his southern cultures. Although I have no proofs of it, I would presume many of these were shamanic techniques as well. To these northern tribes, he was an exotic traveling shaman/medicine man. The humpback was probably derived from his large sack of trade goods that he swung on his back. Kokopelli took advantage of his celebrity status and the power it brought him. Although you won’t see it much in the tourist art, he is often portrayed with an erection, and was known to engage with the tribal women wherever he traveled. Modern archeologists even consider him a fertility deity figure.
I think there is so much we do not know about pre-Columbian people’s range of travel, capacities of trade, and interactions with distant, foreign cultures. Places like Chaco Canyon in New Mexico seem to have been religious centers linked to such trade of goods and ideas. It’s fascinating that, with our modern technologies, this new research is finding the traces of tropical chocolate still lying in the grit and whorls of these wonderful northern bowls.
“All is mystery, mystery, mystery; we know not whence we came, nor why,
we know not whither we go, nor why we go.”
– Mark Twain “Three Thousand Years Among the Microbes” – 1905
“Where do we find ourselves? In a series of which we do not know the extremes, and believe that it has none. We wake and find ourselves on a stair; there are stairs below us, which we seem to have ascended; there are stairs above us, many a one, which go upward and out of sight.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson “Essays – Experience” – 1844
What, then, is our current position, and what strange tool shall we use to measure our location and log our progress?
We are in motion, passing through the thing and form called human – shape shifting ourselves from forms we uncomfortably acknowledge to some other fabulous shape: shapes upon shapes. Forms we cannot draw the outline of in our minds, for we are within the process and the ruler we would use to assess it must measure great spans of Time. The journey is by no means assured of an ending, much less one that we might project for ourselves.
As Loren Eiseley put it, we are “crouched midway on that desperate stair whose steps pass from dark to dark. . .”
– Loren Eiseley, “Man Against the Universe” – The Star Thrower, 1978
“Tantalus means the impossibility of drinking the waters of thought which are always gleaming and waving within sight of the soul. The transmigration of souls is no fable. I would it were; but men and women are only half human.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson “Essays – History” – 1841
(Click any image to enlarge)
“As I walk, as I walk, the Universe is walking with me.”
(from the Navajo rain dance ceremony)
Digital artwork by David P. Crews
The shamanic path gives us direct, personal experience of non-ordinary as well as everyday reality. These shamanic experiences underlie all our religious ideas. I believe it represents the source experiences that establish our core humanity. It is our birthright, available to all who wish to experience the universe rather than just read about it.
“As a boy I once rolled dice in an empty house, playing against myself. I suppose I was afraid. It was twilight, and I forgot who won. I was too young to have known that the old abandoned house in which I played was the universe. I would play for man more fiercely if the years would take me back.”
– Loren Eiseley, “The Invisible Pyramid”, (New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons) 1970, 2-3.
From one of my favorite authors and one of the great writers of the 20th century, Loren Eiseley.
“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
Endless was my journey over broken
Lands and through forests green;
Between great white mountains,
Across cobalt deeps – desolate seas:
Ahead, my goal. My path a road – now a trail.
Steps pursuing lands of promise. I was not
Where I should be. I must campaign to the end.
At last I carved a path from unknown soil
To reach that storied land. I could not stop. I was
I stood at last upon a jutting rock,
A stony islet black as a forgotten dream.
Vast waters lay ahead. Somber waves roiled against
My feet, then became singularly quiet.
Receding spume erased my former trail. The
Setting sun reflected in darkling waters, now still as
I gazed up at two golden towers. Needles –
Silent gnomons attesting a single message:
There is no East or West. There is no
South or North. There is no Down.
We speak for the Zenith. Look
I looked into the fading air above,
My wandering paths all lost from view,
Nor any new paths seen. Only the sharp tips of
Gold and the sweet air beyond.
There is but this one place – this one
Here, all the pieces of Time collect and
Converge around a mass that compels
All to become one moment, ever moving,
Ever lasting, ever evolving, ever
The Mystery opened my soul,
And I knew I was where I should be,
At the Center. where all things are – beneath
The Gates of Forever.
The word “zenith” is derived from the Arabic: “samt ar-ras”, meaning “the road above one’s head.”
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.
. . . .