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Thread: Book: The Shaman by Piers Vitebsky reissued!

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    swords's Avatar
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    Book: The Shaman by Piers Vitebsky reissued!

    While viewing the Chris Mars art exhibit & book signing at the Galleria Barnes & Noble tonight I ran across this book in the bargain section:



    http://www.amazon.com/Shaman-Voyages...6139994&sr=8-1

    Being interested in the archaic/earth/nature based consciousness & "religions" outside the western contexts (jew/xtian/muslim) I've looked at this on Amazon but never wanted to part with the $50 for it (being a mere 184 pages). Barnes & Noble now has it in paperback at the easy price of $5.98. So if you're into visual encyclopedias on these kinds of subjects have look at your local shop, lots of great images and artwork. The Articles aren't bad either, not totally in depth but a good few page introduction to each subject. At least no new agey stuff in here as it aspires to put things in their cultural context. The section on enthnobotany is very brief and disappointing, and taking a rather dim view of the vision plants which essentially is a shamans key to the cosmos and source of their "power" as a healer (early psycho-pharmacology) along with a tribes belief in him/her. This subject should occupy at least 1/4 of the book as each culture has their sacred plants. Being a plant nut I suppose I'd never be happy no matter how many pages it devoted to the subject.

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    herenorthere's Avatar
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    That's fascinating stuff, but I think the ethnobotanical aspect gets blown out of proportion because of its appeal to modern druggies. Maybe 1/4 of the book would be the right amount to devote to the subject, like you said, but even that seems like too much.
    Bruce in CT

    Madness is something rare in individuals but in groups, parties, peoples, ages it is the rule. Friedrich Nietzsche

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    Looks to be an interesting book. I have an abiding interest in ethnobotany as well. I have always found it strange that there is no religious ethnobotanical exploration among our own people that isn't viewed as getting druggie kicks. It's a pity that some of the deepest insights in my life came by aide of that which brands me a crimminal. Were I a paranoid type, I would almost think that that such insights were selected for discouragement by our society.

    Anyone who's ever chawed on Peyote buttons knows the kick value just isn't worth the effort of keeping them down....so when did it all get twisted into something illegal and amoral, and most importantly WHY?

    Maybe it's because mystics don't make good consumer taxpayers? Many times laws based on moral rights have been Christian dominated, but as far as I have ever been able to ascertain, there are no biblical prohibitaions against the use of power plants. Our own societie's touted abuse of these substances in the rare instances producing real crime was likely because there never was any teaching on the *use* of them.
    I have a good deal of anger about being restricted from exploring my own mind as I see fit. The strange thing is it's not just the USA that has this antagonism. The plants are prohibited worldwide. If I were paranoid I'd have to say the conspiracy runs deep.

    On a similar topic, what was your impression of the Casteneda books? A real Yaqui sorcerrer who is my friend had a lot to say about those books, surprisingly not all deragatory either, but then again he is also a Professor of Minerology, lol. Was Don Juan bona fide, or just a clever product generated by an undergrad desperate for a PhD?
    "Grow More, Share More"

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    herenorthere's Avatar
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    My point is that a shaman would load up on nicotine and experience & do mystical things. In our culture, the nicotine consumers chain smoke to calm their caffeine-accelerated nerves while grumbling about the boss or spouse. We seem to be culturally incapable of having shamans.

    Back when I was into the Castaneda books, I found a great magazine article about the Castaneda effect - a lot of old men in the desert were scamming naive seekers of supernatural powers. As near as I could tell from a lot of reviews, etc., Don Juan was a composite figure with some basis in fact and a heavy dose of fantasy. I remember one article in an anthropology journal that mentioned a fellow student asking Castaneda if his subject "flew" and saying he had heard of such stories. Castaneda allegedly answered "no" at the time, but when the books came out, the answer had become yes.
    Bruce in CT

    Madness is something rare in individuals but in groups, parties, peoples, ages it is the rule. Friedrich Nietzsche

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    Hey Tam! Great to see/hear from you again!

    I must admit I've never read any of the Castaneda books. I worked with a guy who was really into them but in our discussions on such subjects he had a big, rather irrational fear of certain things he considered "sorcery". Whether this sort of thinking came out of those books or from somewhere else I don't know. Last I knew of him he was trying to get in with the Mdewatonkan (sp?) tribe of this area and get an initiation. Funny about the chief there, he's a "fancy boy"! Everyone knows, even though he's never came out and said so outright. My uncle is the Fire "Supervisor" of the reservation fire dept. - only one chief around there and it ain't him! lol!

    As far as Western Civilization goes, McKenna says in Food of the Gods that the Greek Elysian mysteries were the last "visionary rite" before the priesthood of the occidental west was decidedly changed over to be based on hierarchies and servitude instead of personal exploration of the mysteries (i.e. mysticism). Albert Hoffman said that he thought the Elysian mysteries was based on Ergotised beer and Mckenna thought it was something else, some other sort of Claviceps fungus that infects barley but produces the same effects without the deadly effects of C. purpurea that infects rye.

    Funny bit about infected rye, when a kid I knew in HS found out about "St. Anthony's Fire" from our science teacher and that LSD was extracted from the fungus found growing on infected rye plants he bought a loaf of unpreserved bread and let it rot. He had the idea he'd get ergot fungus on it... He was an idiot but he never had the guts to eat the rotten bread! lol!

    A lot of kids think the entheogens should be fun and games but one spoonful of ground Datura seeds and a few hours later in the ER they won't likely think so! Mckenna labeled them "ordeal drugs" (something to be lived through which generally only make sense to those in the culture accustomed to using them) as opposed to the "recreational drugs" like people take at a concert or something. Not many people just looking for a good time are interested in brewing bark for 12 hours that makes them puke while they drink it. lol!

    It does make for good reading though. Ayahuasca; Vine of Spirits and Sacred Mushroom of Visions by R. Metzner are a couple nice volumes on the subjects. I saw a huge volume called "The Divine Peyote Cactus" at the used book shop. Somewhere around 600+ pages, full botanical description of L. williamsii and it's habitat, the peyote rituals, modern and ancient accounts from peyotists(?), etc. but I didn't buy it for some odd reason. I doubt it'll still be there by my next visit. I missed a chance to get the entire series of Crowley's Equinoxes (I-X) in hardcover for $10 each last year... I don't know what possesses me to pass by these deals on book rarities sometimes. A rare break in the bibliomania I guess!

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    I am not even going to go into the blanket use of the term Shaman, lets just say its argued about a lot in the anthropological circles.

    You do not find Shamans in Western (Our) Culture because we do not have another world to journey too. Shamans in almost every shamanistic culture I am aware of journey to the "other" and use various techniques including chanting, dancing, pain, deprivation, hallucinogens, tobacco, and a many others. Entering this liminal state, between this world and the next is their goal. This is what they do in their trance or vision state. The reason so often writers of these books leave out much of the ethnobotanical information is to prevent people from looking only a the fact that they are in a "drugged" state and not recognizing the real purpose of shamanism. Not the drugs, but instead the journey, the ability to go into a liminal state, the ability to exist in two planes of being at once. The way that the Greeks achieved this is irrelevant from a shamanistic point of view, what is important is they were able to achieve liminality when they needed to journey to the other world.

    As for Casteneda from what I have heard from several Mesoamericanists who study shamanism in the ancient world through analogies with the modern world his work just doesn't line up with the ethnographic literature on Mesoamerican Shamanism. I hear the are good stories, just not true that's all.

    As to the illegality of many substances that allow you to achieve this liminal state of mind if you are capable for the most part they were passed for racist reason. The people that used those represented a Them and it was a threat to US and thats why its illegal.

    Also there is no way this book does a good job covering Shamanism from Siberia to the Amazon as it claims with only 184 pages. I dont think you could give good coverage to one cultures shamans in 184 pages much less shamanism as a whole.
    "We're terrible animals. I think that the Earth's immune system is trying to get rid of us, as well it should." - Kurt Vonnegut

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    Yes, the book states at the outset of the introduction that the title is a misnomer and that "Shaman" is only specifically applicable to the Siberians but is being used as a blanket term.

    You do not find Shamans in Western (Our) Culture because we do not have another world to journey too.
    Well, we have the puffy clouds, the angels and the pearly gates and we have the fire, the demons and the nine levels what other supernatural stuff do you need? lol!

    I agree though, not having any cultural context for them here just equates to a rather unpleasant way of "getting loaded". For those frivolous teenagers who have no idea what to do or how to handle it once they've put themselves into such a state it, often leads to never trying it again. Combine, nausea with exotic materials and elaborate preparation methods I think the chances of abuse of these sort of things is relatively low.

    The context that is missing in this culture for these plants is the use of them in a religious context or a context of exploring a transcendental ideal. Any emotion charging event undertaken during these states of religious "ecstasy" (prayer, dance, breath work, astral travel, meditation, etc) completely changes the parameters of the experience into something much different than any of the activities partaken on their own, including the plants. Even the most devout of our culture are quite removed from the actual EXPERIENCE of the otherworld and could be considered "atheists" in comparison to the "primitive" religions having only dealt with our gods through prophets and company spokesmen. Our culture is so far removed from it's "gods" in bureaucratic red tape that nowadays I've heard it takes 3 weeks just to get a novena through!

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    That's a good point Herenorthere makes. Abuse can surely be attributed to wrong application as well as overindulgence. I have the nicotine habit so I can relate deeply there. Nothing spritiual about it. There are shamans out there for certain, and like I mentioned they can be found in unlikely settings. I've met a number of them, and I am not a gullible soul. These folk had something and let you know where you could feel it most and know it true. The problem is there are also so many quack cases and it takes a lot of intuition to tell them apart, and not too many intuitive souls.

    The reason that kids probably gravitate to any drug is the forbidden fruit of pleasure illusion. So many of my generation chose to explore such I have to think it a common experience in the human condition. People want these visionary experiences, to leave the oridnary world for awhile or it wouldn't have been so prevelent. Back in the 60's and 70's when our society ran into these substances, an attempt was made initially to try to use them in a ratioinal context, as sort of psychoanalytical tools, sort of a Church of the rational mind. Their potential was recognized. They were legal then. Like any power tools improper use carries dangers, and the misuses led to the illegailty. Had legailty won out from the get go as was attempted, the misuse could have been less, if not absent.

    So the government passed laws making circular saws illegal and no one ever used them again, yes? Hmmmmm. So, instead of use, there can only be misuse now, for the greatest part. Suffice to say, I hope there someday can be legal avenues for those so desiring, to learn the use of such consciousness changing substances. I believe they have great healing potential for many and are demonstrably intelligence enhancers. The mathmetician who developed chaos theory admits he used lsd to envision the mathmatics needed for this. Currently there is legal research again into the possible benefits of controlled and sacramental use.

    The inside scoop on Carlos is great, glad to learn of it, hahaha! If Carlos was a quack, he was a darn entertaining one, and true or not the books do highlite most excellently the difference between differing ethnocentric realities, and demonstrates the plastic quality of a reality we assume is solid and invariable in our culture. I liked those books, and they were his original PhD thesis or so I've gathered. I wonder if they ever revoked his degree if it was all fiction? (the later books surely were!)

    Allistar Crowley! Now there is a name I haven't heard in a....spell, heh heh. Well, all I can say is there is really only room for one Ipsissimus, as Crowley learned to his rue. He thought he had the Word of the Eon, but his ego won out in the end. Let that be a warning. He became another Child of the Abyss burnt out and spent. The books are ok, all the key details are missing from the published copy and so won't help anyone to repeat his mistake. THIS one wasn't a nut case. At least, not before seeing Pan. Funny that he's still making the rounds, but old occultists never die they just reincarnate.

    The Peyote books sounds grand. I took part in a LEGAL mitote back in the early 70's, although it was in a dorm room vs a teepee. A member of the Native American Church gave the sacrament, although it's now illegal for them too. I earned a Native American name from it. Most folk might get down 3. Nine Buttons they called me and I laughed for half of forever after I spewed. I wouldn't trade that night for 5 more years, and it was the most vile taste I have ever! Later I cried just as hard and prayed it would stop. It did, about 10 hrs later which = eternity!

    OK, for the kids I have to say these power plants are bad mojo if you aren't prepared by the Wise. Might go to heaven, might go to HELL otherwise. Might even go to jail. I advocate for opening legal exploration of what I feel is very needful to the human condition and that only.

    And for Ceremonial Magicians, I reccommend Ursla LeGuin's "Earthsea Triology" before you go opening what you can't shut again. Gibbeth can be soooo annoying.
    "Grow More, Share More"

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