The best book yet on ayahuasca: ERIK DAVIS on "Singing to the Plants" by Stephan Beyer

stephanbeyer

Above: Stephan Beyer, conscientious gringo

Singing to the Plants: Stephan Beyer drinks up
by Erik Davis

techgnosis.com – January 11, 2010

Book website: http://www.singingtotheplants.com

The spiritual superhero of the baby boomers was the guru. But where the guru once hovered with his beatific smile, the shaman now shakes his stuff: an earthier, more pragmatic icon of mystical powers more suited to our era’s green anxieties. Now a significant figure for scholarly discourses as well as popular ones, the shaman, and especially the ayahuasca-swilling Amazonian variety, has not only stepped forward as a vehicle of archaic spirituality but has become—as the gazillions of bedazzled Avatar initiates can attest—a seductive site of fantasy and projection. For many of the aya tourists now hustling down to Peru in droves, or the untold thousands dropping 300 bucks or so to drink in their own Euro-American backyard, the man with the rattle (and his less common female compatriots) has become a visionary Rorschach blot: a New Age therapist, an avatar of environmentalism, a psychedelic captain fantastic.

This is why we need Stephan Beyer’s new book, the magisterial Singing to the Plants: A Guide to Mestizo Shamanism in the Upper Amazon. In this tome, Beyer has found the sweet spot between scholarly and popular writing, the otherworldly and the disenchanted, participation and observation; the result is the best or at least most comprehensive book I have seen on ayahuasca.

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"The plant-mind can be *experienced*": ERIK DAVIS on the Avatar-ayahuasca connection

deandragon

Aya Avatar: Drink the Jungle Juice
by Erik Davis

Originally posted: techgnosis.com

January 7, 2010

In paradoxical and altogether predictable terms, James Cameron’s ravishing Avatar sets a blue man group of mystically attuned forest dwellers against the aggressive and heartless exploitation that characterizes the military-industrial-media complex, with its virtual interfaces, biotech chimeras, and cyborg war machines. The paradox, of course, is that a version of this latter complex is responsible for delivering Cameron’s visions to us in the first place. To wit: before a recent screening of the film at the Metreon IMAX theater in San Francisco, we hapless begoggled ones were barraged with military ads, not to mention a triumphant techno-fetishist breakdown on the Imax technology that would soon transport us to the planet Pandora almost as thoroughly (and resonantly) as the handicapped jarhead Jake jacks into his computer-generated avatar body.

But those are behind the scenes ironies. With its floating Roger Deanscapes and hallucinogenic flora, the manifest world of Avatar instead spoke another truth: that the jungle pantheism that now pervades the psychoactive counterculture has gone thoroughly mainstream. Of course, noble savage narratives of ecological balance and shamanic wisdom have been haunting the Rousseau-mapped outback of the western mind for centuries. That said, Avatar represents some important twists in that basic tale. The most important of these is that the Na’vi’s nearly telepathic understanding of their environment is grounded not only in ritual, plant-lore, and that earnest seriousness that now afflicts PC Hollywood Indians, but in an organic communications network: the fibrous, animated, and vaguely repulsive pony-tail tentacles that not only allow the Na’vi to form direct control links with animals but also, through the optical filaments of the “Tree of Souls,” to commune with both ancestors and the Ewya, the biological spirit of the planet whose name resonates with Erda, our own Earth.

Call it ayahuasca lite. For while Avatar features nothing like the South American shaman lore and stupendous aya visuals that litter the otherwise very bad 2004 Western released here as Renegade, the film does suggest that the bitter jungle brew, and ideas of ecological wisdom now attached to it, is having a trickle-down effect. The banisteriopsis caapi vine that gives ayahuasca its name (though not its most hallucinogenic alkaloids) is also known as the “Vine of Souls,” which echoes the Na’vi’s Tree of Souls. And when Sigourney Weaver attempts to establish the efficacy of the Trees through a neurological discourse of electrical connection, the corporate tool Parker asks what she’s been smoking—a backhanded way of acknowledging how much Avatar’s visionary take on ecological consciousness is grounded in psychoactive consciousness.

After all, beyond a thriving and in many ways damaging ayahuasca tourist market in Brazil and Peru, clandestine aya circles manned by South American shamans and all manner of Euro-American facilitators are are now well established throughout the west. Among the professional creative classes who make up a sizable portion of West Coast seekers—for spirit and/or thrills—ayahuasca could almost be said to be mainstream. So it no longer matters whether Cameron or his animators have themselves drunk the tea; its active compounds are already swimming in the cultural water supply. Eco-futuristic dreams are now indistinguishable from the visionary potential of media technology itself. Indeed, whether you are talking form (ground-breaking 3D animation) or content (cyber-hippie wetdream decor), Cameron’s visual and technological rhetoric is impossible to disentangle from hallucinogenic experience.

OK, maybe I am the one smoking something. But if there is an aya-Avatar connection, it would explain one crucial way in which the film differs from conventional “noble savage” mysticism. Rather than ground the Na’vi’s grooviness in their folklore or spiritual purity, the film instead presents the vision of a direct and material communications link with the plant mind. Which means that Eyra does not have to be believed—she can be experienced. After the temporary fusion with the Tree of Souls that fails to prevent her death, Weaver’s chain-smoking left-brain doctor happily confirms Ewya’s existence. Like the Vine of Souls now wending its way through the developed world, the Tree of Souls becomes a kind of bio-mystical media, a visionary communications matrix that uplinks the souls of the dead and the network mind of the ecosphere itself.

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GIFT IDEAS FROM ARTHUR MAGAZINE NO. 3: "Nog" by Rudolph Wurlitzer

Click on the cover to go to a page on amazon where you can order the item…

nog-cover

“Rudolph Wurlitzer is the author of the novels The Drop Edge of Yonder, Quake, Flats, and Slow Fade, as well as the nonfiction memoir Hard Travel to Sacred Places. He wrote the screenplays for such classic films as Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Two Lane Blacktop, and Walker, among others, and co-directed the film Candy Mountain with Robert Frank.”

Read the introduction to the new edition of this “headventure” classic by Arthur columnist Erik Davis: download PDF

DENNIS MCKENNA! ERIK DAVIS! ALEISTER CROWLEY!

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Ethnopharmacologist Dennis McKenna, brother of the late great Terence, will be doing a rare live interview/conversation today on Erik Davis’s new weekly commercial-free online radio program, EXPANDING MIND—the perfect name with the perfect host and perfect guest, really, as the McKennas’ work in the ’80s and ’90s really expanded the cultural dialogue about what altered consciousness was telling us, (or, for Terence, what the Plants are telling us), what the historical record and scientific studies could tell us about entheogen (or: psychoactive substance) use, and so on…and on…and on… Should be interesting to hear what Dennis is up to, and his current thoughts on all things entheogenic. The show is on at 2pmEDT/11amPDT TODAY (Thursday, August 6) at Progressive Radio Network, and then will be archived. Here’s the link:
http://www.progressiveradionetwork.com

In other Erik Davis news, he sez: “I will be giving a presentation on Aleister Crowley and the movies at the Northwest Film Forum, 1515 12th Ave in Capital Hill. That particular rite will go down on Thursday, Aug 13, at 9pm.”

Here’s the description for the night:

“Though he died in obscurity in 1947, the renegade magician Aleister Crowley has come to exert an enormous influence on popular and sub-culture alike. Join Erik Davis, author of Techgnosis and the 33 1/3 volume on Led Zeppelin IV, for a clip-heavy “performance lecture” on occult film.

“Sampling rare footage, experimental shorts and documentary clips, Davis will use cinema to trace the development of postwar magick and Crowley’s apocalyptic religion of Thelema, with special attention given to the work of Kenneth Anger and the rise of magic in the 1960s and 70s. Numerous obscurities will be sampled, including Curtis Harrington’s Wormwood Star, Rex Ingram’s The Magician and the Jimmy Page version of Anger’s Lucifer Rising. Also included are excerpts from Crowley: The Other Loch Ness Monster, Joe Schimmel’s Christian expose Rock ‘n’ Roll Sorcerers and cut-up wizard Craig Baldwin’s recent Mock Up On Mu.”

Tickets and more info here:
http://www.nwfilmforum.org/live/page/calendar/942

ERIK DAVIS news

From Erik:

“How does visionary art help us create community? Art and performance can not only inspire and delight — they can transform your level and quality of engagement with the world and with others. Infused by the thrum of primal myths and rituals, a few powerful creators are opening our eyes to the possible, reforging community in a society driven into pockets of isolation. These calls, where participants are encouraged to direct practical questions at guests, will explore visions as well as concrete steps people can take today – on the personal, local and planetary levels.

“Take part in a week of remarkable encounters [starting today, July 30], hosted by the acclaimed author and culture critic, Erik Davis. Featured guests include visionary painter Alex Grey, author and ritualist Antero Alli, neo-tribal festival producers Debra Gusti (Harmony Festival) and Jen Zariat (Symbiosis), and the legendary Larry Harvey, founder of annual Burning Man festival.

“To learn more, just go to http://www.EvolverIntensives.com/VisionaryArt