This is a special area of top secret information from the Past, Present and Future of Goa Freaks World.
Today we will make a deep dive into the mystic World of Shamanism.
SHAMANISM AS WE SEE IT ..
When we reach for a good solid model for the function of psychedelics within a larger culture, we immediately face the shaman. The shaman is a very romanticized image, very "overwritten" as the academics like to say, meaning that the term now means many different things, including scores of things totally outside of its original ethnographic context. I’m not going to go into any specifics about particular shamanic cultures, but we would like to draw sort of a general picture that relates to the question about contemporary psychedelic culture.
One thing you can say about the shaman or witch is that she lives on the edge of cultural maps. The shaman acts as a kind of interface between the specific culture of a particular tribal group and the world outside, a world that we can think of not only as nature, of course, but as the cosmic, the abstract, and the alien. The witch lives at the edge of the village; in her zone, we start to move into the wild. And that’s a very potent image for being a transfer point between the outside and the inside of human culture. One of the interesting paradoxes of shamanism is that, on the one hand, it is very technological, very savvy, and full of knowledge in almost a modern sense of the term, like scientific knowledge. And yet the worlds that are being produced, sustained, and performed by the shaman are extremely cultural, spiritual, and mythological. Look at a healing ceremony, and think about what exactly is happening there. Let’s say that healing is occurring through the use of quartz crystals being pulled out of the body. What’s happening there? What’s really going on?
One way of looking at it is to say that the shaman is playing a two-fold game. On the one hand, he knows perfectly well what he’s actually doing, that he’s pirated a little quartz crystal in his palm, that he’s using very specific plants which have very specific properties which can produce effects, both specifically related to health and to more general psychoactive goals as well. There’s a tremendous amount of knowledge there. And yet, what does the shaman do in the actual situation of the healing? He performs. And what he performs is a whole cultural web, the glue that embeds those knowledge in lived human life. Our doctors do that too, but the package is pretty one dimensional – "take this pill; it’ll work out for you." Their knowledge is kept on the inside. What the sick person perceives is a cultural story, a cosmic metaphor, an image of the illness being removed from the body. So it’s not that the shaman is a manipulative trickster just playing games with quartz crystals. It’s that the shaman understands the technology of packaging knowledge within the cultural matrix of transformation, and performs this packaged knowledge as if it were one thing, one process of body and mind. Even a skeptic must recognize that the placebo effect plays a tremendous role in healing of all sorts, and that the art of producing the placebo effect is incredibly valuable.
Within this performance, the shaman plays a liminal role, mediating between knowledge and performance the way he mediates between outside and inside. Liminality is an anthropological concept that describes, again, a place on the edge of cultural maps, a zone between the wild and the culture, between hot and cold, between different villages. In the ancient world, crossroads were places of tremendous liminal power. People from different villages, different cultures would encounter each other there. So there’s a whole mythology of trickster figures – Hermes, Coyote, Legba, often associated with communication – who model this relationship between inside and out. The concept of Liminality is crucial to understand what function and what role psychedelics play in the larger culture.
Today, many people attempting to create models for modern psychedelic use have looked to the image of shaman healer.
Of course we should be wary of abusing this poor old character for our own purposes. There’s also one very important distinction between the world view of the traditional shaman healer and what we are faced with, which is that we do not have a coherent, contained world view.
We no longer have a specific cultural story that can be performed in that mythological sense. We’re at this very strange juncture in history when cultures are smashing together and flattening out. We have globalization, we have fragmentation, and it’s a very open-ended situation. If there is a central error in the shamanic interpretation of modern psychedelic culture, it lies in a romantic nostalgia that wants to reconstruct or re-embody some fully coherent mythological world view.
We don’t want to say that in a way that undercuts the power of traditional myths, not to mention traditional practices and knowledge.
Moreover, modern psychedelic culture has largely been defined by a relationship to non-European knowledge and cultures, and the reception of those stories and practices from the world over inform the evolving picture or cultural story about what psychedelic people are trying to do in the world. But we think that we often find a misplaced desire or tendency to want that story to be fully complete and realized, so that we then know that what we’re doing is engaging the mind of the planet, or that nature herself is telling us something.
Those are valuable perceptions, but their attempt to escape the Western model can sometimes be Western transcendence – not to mention Western consumerism --- in new disguise. We think it’s very important to recognize that, at the moment, we are still intimately embedded in this tremendous, bizarre, horrible and fascinating process of technological modernity. We can see its horrible claws, its profound lacks, and there’s a desire to overcome these things quickly and fully, to chuck that framework and enter into a different kind of re-enchanted world. The desire to re-enchant our experience of the world is a profound thing that we’re all feeling. It’s incredibly legitimate. And yet, we think that the way in which we move forward with that is not by reconstructing a kind of mythological world view in the name of ancient wisdom. The psychedelic eye sees that things are already enchanted, just the way they are, fragmented and integral at once. In this sense, it is important to see psychedelic culture not as a resistance to modernity, but its own fractal edge.