by Katherine Hargreaves
1. It is no secret that language holds our creation story. Philosopher and theologian Philo Judaeus said, "language is an ecstatic activity of signification." A word brings ideas into being. In his trance stat the Mazatec shaman translates his vision: he speaks of a place outside time. Shapes and colors float by as he journeys through the mind. In his essay "The Mushroom of Language," Henry Munn describes how the "the shaman's words...indicate a creative activity neither outside the realm of reason or out of contact with reality." What is spoken of in the mushroom trance, he argues, is real.
2. Myths accrue meaning over time as cultures evolve. Language is the impulse of the living - it is a means of connecting our experiences to something larger. Similarly, the shaman operates with a sense of what the ancient Greeks called poiesis - or the verb to make. As Henry Munn notes, this word implies an act of transformation. The act of speaking breaches the void between separate worlds and strangers both.
3. In her essay on erotic power, bell hooks demonstrates how "in order to perpetuate itself, every oppressor must corrupt or distort those various sources of power within the culture of oppressed that can provide energy for change." She names the power of eros as a force in the fight for control. Born of chaos yet personifying creative power and harmony, eros is "firmly rooted in the power of our unexpressed, unrecognized feeling." Although she names eros the "nursemaid or nurturer of all out deepest knowledge," it recieves little if any critical examination in religious texts or traditions. Furthermore, as bell hooks explains: "The need for sharing deep feelings is a human need. But within the European-American tradition this need is satisfied by certain proscribed erotic comings-together. These occasions are almost always characterized by a simultaneous looking away, a pretense of calling them something else, whether a religion, a fit, mob violence, or even playing doctor. and this misnaming of the need and the deed give rise to that distortion which results in pornography and obscenity - the abuse of feeling."
Not only does the system dictate what is an "acceptable" urge, it tends to condemn the natural fact that we feel desire as an expression of our life-force. Or, as bell hooks summarizes so eloquently in her essay: "we have been raised to fear the yes within ourselves."
4. Every society has their spiritual gatekeepers: the priests, rabbis, brahmins, prophets and philosophers who isolate, interpret and deliver whatever divine messages they deem necessary to the masses. But the most important role of the shaman is to speak for the sick one. The shaman is but a guide for those wishing to visit other worlds. One reason given for the shaman's assistance is to help the sick ones find their lost souls, believed to be stranded somewhere on the other side. It is thought that this inner "hole" gives rise to other psychological problems. But as Henry Munn notes in his essay, "it is immediately obvious that a discrepancy exists between the Indian conception of the mushrooms' effect and the ideas of modern psychology: where as in experimental research reports [drugs] are said to produce depersonalization, schizophrenia, and derangement, the Mazatec shaman, inspired by them, considers himself endowed with the power of bringing together what is separated: he can heal the divided personality by releasing the springs of existence from repression to reveal the ecstatic life of the integral self."
5. In his book The Archaic Revival, Terrence McKenna defines ecstasy as "the contemplation of wholeness." Much like the shaman teaches, the revelation reached via the psychedelic experience re-unites the seeker with their spirit. In this effort,t he shaman is but a vessel for the message and he interprets for those around him as the mushroom speaks. Mazatec synonyms for mushroom include: prayer, flesh of the gods. Although a secular figure unordained by any contemporary church, the shaman "assumes a sacerdotal role as the leader of Mazatec ceremonies where small groups of people eat psycilobin in sessions known as masses." Or, as Alfred Metraux puts it, the shaman is "an individual who, in the interests of the community, sustains by profession an intermittent commerce with this spirits or is possessed by them." In the beginning was the word made flesh.
6. The cathartic integration of consciousness begins with contemplating our wholeness, but it can be difficult to see past a culture that instructs its citizens to repress the expression of their deepest selves-erotic or otherwise. When we integrate, we release ourselves into wholeness. Our souls are expanded. However the systematic elimination of eros in the cultural conversation dramatically impacts the psyche, and inevitably, the soul. For as bell hooks describes, "when we begin to recognize our deepest feelings, we begin to give up, of necessity, being satisfied with suffering and self-negation, and with the numbness which so often seems like the only alternative in our society." The continued suppression of eros flattens the human experience; it negates the yes of being-the very impulse of living.
7. Symbols feed both myth and religion. Language just opens the door to understanding. We must bear the weight of our lives and one solution we've found is to share stories of it is we've seen-what has altered us profoundly. Symbols are not flat things; they can't be contained by any one definition although certainly a few get close. As Henry Munn points out: "one who knows that the world 'poetry' comes from the Greek verb which signifies 'make'...For those who have conserved the sense of the poetic mystery, poetry is a sacred action. That is to say, one which exceeds the ordinary level of human action. Like alchemy, its intention is to associate itself with the mystery of the 'primordial creation'..." Like a poem, connection exists across multiple dimensions - another attempt to condense transcendence. For instance: the cross "indicates a crossing of the ways, an intersection of existential paths, a change" in addition to being a religious symbol of crucifix and resurrection. And it is precisely this intersection we must further examine.
8. Embarking on a new era means an opportunity for expansion - but beware there is no standard answer. If, as Henry Munn posits, the "conditions" of inspiration are both psychological and social, then the call for a more integrated approach to spirituality in the dawning age is necessary. bell hooks writes that "recognizing the power of the erotic within our lives can give us energy to pursue genuine change within our world, rather than merely settling for a shift of characters in the same weary dance." The shaman remains unseen in our modern world because he eludes the system but he imparts two important lessons: To access god we must first experience our own transcendence. To do this it is necessary to own your wholeness.
This essay owes it ideas to earlier writings by Terrence McKenna (The Archaic Revival), bell hooks (the Uses for the Erotic: The Erotic as Power), and Henry Munn (The Mushrooms of Language).