"Fellowship of the Vine": an interview with shamanic psychonaut-author Daniel Pinchbeck (Arthur No. 1/Oct 2002)

Originally published in Arthur No. 1 (October, 2002)

“The Garden of Magic; or, the Powers and Thrones Approach the Bridge” by Alan Moore (1994)


Fellowship of the Vine
An interview with shamanic psychonaut-author Daniel Pinchbeck

Daniel Pinchbeck is a New York-based writer and journalist who co-founded the literary magazine Open City in the early ‘90s. The son of the writer Joyce Johnson (a member of the Beat Generation and author of Minor Characters) and the painter Peter Pinchbeck, Pinchbeck has been on a passionate intellectual quest for the last years that has taken him across Nepal, India, Mexico, the Amazon and West Africa, writing pieces on art, psychedelics, and altered states of consciousness for Rolling Stone, The Village Voice, Wired, Salon, and The New York Times Magazine, among others. His new book, Breaking Open the Head: A Psychedelic Journey Into the Heart of Contemporary Shamanism (Broadway), is an account of that quest, blending cultural history, personal narrative, and metaphysical speculation. The original interview was conducted by Joseph Durwin on the eve of Breaking Open the Head’s publication; there’s been some slight futzing of the text by Arthur’s editor.

Arthur: In your book, you talk about exploring many of the same hallucinogenic drugs—LSD, magic mushrooms, ayahuasca—that postwar Westerm bohemians like the Beats and the Hippies were interested in. How does your quest compare to those of people like William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Ken Kesey and Timothy Leary?
Daniel Pinchbeck: The Beats were working by instinct and intuition. They realized that modern society had become a horror show, and that their task was to begin to uncover, in Allen Ginsberg’s words, “a lost knowledge or a lost consciousness.” They took that process as far as they could in the context of their times and their individual personalities.

I believe that my approach—and my book—is more scientific and analytic, because that is the task of the “counterculture” in our time. Perhaps I am the only person who feels this way, but I see a clear goal ahead. This goal is a direct legacy of the counterculture —but it is actually hundreds, if not many thousands, of years older than that. In fact, it is the mission that we must somehow accomplish. Think of it as a secret raid to be carried out deep behind enemy lines, despite incredible odds, and with no possibility of failure.

The Beats and the Hippies saw through the abrasive insanity gnawing at the soul of America–this warmongering, money-mad, climate-destroying monstrosity, which is now casting a dreadful shadow across the planet. Where the Beats acted intuitively, from the heart, we now have the necessary knowledge to put together a new paradigm that is simultaneously political, ecological, spiritual, and far more scientifically accurate than the out-dated Newtonian-Darwinian model which is propping up the doom-spiraling status quo. The psychedelic experience supports the physicist David Bohm’s vision of a “holographic universe,” which is also identical to the alchemical perspective of “As above, so below.” We now have the tools to reinstate the archaic cosmological perspective on a firm scientific basis. Once that sinks in, it becomes obvious that the true goal of human existence is psychic and spiritual development, and the entire thrust of the capitalist system is a samsaric delusion that is keeping humanity from recovering its birthright.

Perhaps there is a reason that humanity has been frantically seeking to develop a “global brain” through the Internet, cell phones, and satellites: I suspect that a moment will come when complete social transformation becomes not only possible, but inevitable. That moment may be sooner than we think.

What were the circumstances that led to pursuing the experiences you relate in your book?
I first tried mushrooms and LSD in college–as many people do—and my experiences left me intrigued but puzzled. It seemed extraordinary that such vast alternative dimensions of consciousness could be revealed with such shocking immediacy. And it was equally extraordinary that the mainstream culture didn’t find this a worthy subject of discussion or thought. After college, I put psychedelics aside to enter the “real world.” When I hit my late twenties, I began to feel increasingly desolate and despairing. I was lucky enough to be connected to the New York media world, the art world, and the literary world, but all these scenes began to seem unbearably empty to me. I realized that I needed to know for myself if there was a spiritual dimension to existence–I really thought that I might literally go insane or prefer to die without access to some form of deeper knowledge. I didn’t think a bit of yoga was going to do the trick. At a bookstore, I heard about iboga, an African tribal psychedelic plant used in Gabon and the Congo that is said to show initiates the African spirit world. Most people just take it once in their lives–it lasts for thirty hours. I got an assignment to go to Africa and go through the initiation, and that was where my quest began. Continue reading

Alan Moore discusses breakthroughs

Personal apocalypse; acid, Canned Heat and Hyde Park, 1970; magic, transrationalism… and in the following parts, a bit about why the announced collaboration with Damon Albarn/Gorillaz for an opera about John Dee isn’t happening, after all… “It didn’t work out, shall we say.” But Moore’s libretto will be appearing in upcoming ish of the ever-intriguing Strange Attractor Journal

March 13: "Simultaneous Conjugation of Four Spirits in a Room"—Alan Moore & Stephen O'Malley at Laing Gallery in Newcastle upon Tyne

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Above: The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, John Martin

From the Laing Gallery:

Alan Moore & Stephen O’Malley

Simultaneous Conjugation of Four Spirits in a Room: 2010

13 Mar 4 – 4.30pm

For the opening of ‘The Great British Art Debate: Turner Versus Martin,’ AV Festival 10 brings together two great forces in contemporary culture, the graphic novelist Alan Moore (V for Vendetta, Watchmen), and musician Stephen O’Malley (Sunn O))), KTL, Gravetemple). Alan Moore will write and perform a new text responding to the energy of the two paintings on show: John Martin’s The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and Hannibal Crossing the Alps by JMW Turner. Stephen O’Malley will create a new ambient soundscape, sonically melting in the radiance of the paintings.

The soul of Rick Veitch

From the blog of genius Vermont cartoonist/dreamworker Rick Veitch

“Over the last couple weeks I’ve found myself in a number on conversations with different people about the nature of the soul. The soul is one of those subjects that everyone has an opinion of but nobody really knows what the darn thing is or even if it really exists. Interestingly, I had a dream the other night in which I saw my soul! It was basically a globe with lots of geometric shapes attached that was constantly changing at a rapid rate. I’ve made a quick little black and white animation that kind of gets it across. In the dream there was an ever-changing riot of pattern and color on each of the geometric shapes. Maybe at some point I’ll do a color version of this to make it complete….”

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More Veitch on Arthur:

A conversation with dreamworker/cartoonist RICK VEITCH, with an introduction by Alan Moore

BRIAN ENO, interviewed by Kristine McKenna, with an appreciation by Alan Moore (Arthur No. 17, July 2005)

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Available from the Arthur Store


INDOOR THUNDER: Landscaping the future with Brian Eno
by Alan Moore

Remove ambiguities and convert to specifics.

The first half of the twentieth century saw all energies and the agenda that had driven Western culture from its outset reach their logical albeit startling conclusions in the various fires of Auschwitz, Dresden, Nagasaki, after which we all sat stunned amongst the smoking fragments of our worldviews, all our certainties of the utopias to come revealed as flimsy, wishful, painted sets, reduced to vivid splinters, sharp and painful. There was scorched earth, there was shellshock, there was no Plan B. Hiroshima rang through the traumatized and anxious mindset of the 1950s, through Jeff Nuttall’s Bomb Culture, its shuddering reverberation somewhere between funeral knell and warning seismic tremor. Our response to the bad news carved a division through society, between flat denial on the one hand, paralyzed hysteria upon the other; between those who doggedly refused the notion that tomorrow might be different from today, and those fixated by the mushroom clouds who scorned the notion that there might be a tomorrow. Both these attitudes, you’ll notice, have conveniently avoided any need to think creatively about the future, have dodged any obligation to consider the Long Now. Tomorrow is today with smaller radios or it’s strontium and ashes, and in either case there’s no need to prepare.

Continue reading

NOW AVAILABLE: "25,000 YEARS OF EROTIC FREEDOM" by Alan Moore

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25,000 Years of Erotic Freedom, with text by Alan Moore, edited by Eva Prinz, is out in hardcover now. It is adapted from Alan’s 12,000-word essay on the subject from the sold-out Arthur No. 25, “Bog Venus Versus Nazi Cock-Ring: Some Thoughts Concerning Pornography.”

The promotional text from Abrams:

“Sexually progressive cultures gave us literature, philosophy, civilization and the rest, while sexually restrictive cultures gave us the Dark Ages and the Holocaust.”—Alan Moore

With each new technological advance, pornography has proliferated and degraded in quality. Today, porn is everywhere, but where is it art? 25,000 Years of Erotic Freedom surveys the history of pornography and argues that the success and vibrancy of a society relates to its permissiveness in sexual matters.

This history of erotic art brings together some of the most provocative illustrations ever published, showcasing the evolution of pornography over diverse cultures from prehistoric to modern times. Beginning with the Venus of Willendorf, created between 24,000-22,000 bce, and book-ended by contemporary photography, it also contains a timeline covering major erotic works in several cultures. 25,000 Years of Erotic Freedom ably captures the ancient and insuppressible creative drive of the sexual spirit, making this book a treatise on erotic art.