Tag Archives: drumming

Thoughts on “True Hallucinations” by Terence McKenna

This book has been on my shelf for a while. I picked it up years ago from a used bookstore called Reader’s Corner that was next door to where I worked at the time and is now closed (the sad fate of too many bookstores). I had heard of McKenna but had not read any of his work. Anyway, in my current quest to reduce the number of unread books straining my shelves, I decided to read this one.

Overall, I liked the book. It was certainly well written and the subject is fascinating for me. I am very interested in shamanism and consciousness, and McKenna explores these topics through the lens of psychotropic plants and mushrooms. My one criticism, though, is that he sometimes slips down the rabbit hole of truly bizarre ideas, but I suppose that is par for the course considering the subject matter. Anyway, for this post I will focus on the parts that I thought were interesting and gloss over the weirder stuff.

I have been fascinated by the metaphor of the jungle as a symbol for the subconscious and primordial mind. As McKenna recounts the arrival in the Amazon, he senses the jungle not just as a symbol of the subconscious, but as an actual manifestation of the deeper consciousness.

Everyone in our small expedition felt, I think, the sense of something opening around us, of the suspension of time, of turning and turning in a widening green world that was strangely and almost erotically alive, surrounding us for thousands of miles. The jungle as mind, the world hanging in space as mind—images of order and sentient organization came crowding in on all sides. How small we were, knowing little, yet fiercely proud of what we knew, and feeling ourselves somehow the representatives of humanity meeting something strange and Other, something at the edge of human experience since the very beginning.

(pp. 71 – 2)

Something that has always intrigued me is the ability of sound vibrations to alter consciousness, and hence alter reality. This is done through chants, incantations, and certain types of music (shamanic drumming, binaural beats, etc.). McKenna describes how they used sound vibrations to affect space and experience dimensional shifts.

Further experiments with the psycho-audible warp phenomenon yesterday raise some interesting new questions and enhance our ongoing understanding. I choose the term “audible warp” because my experience thus far, coupled with what I have been told, leads me to believe that this all has to do with vocally generating a specific kind of energy field which can rupture three dimensional space. I do not understand if the field is electromagnetic, but it seems to bend space in such a way as to turn it upon itself through a higher dimension.

(p. 81)

I firmly believe that, as a species, we have barely scratched the surface of consciousness and its power to mold reality. I can’t help but wonder if ancient civilizations had a deeper understanding of the potential of human consciousness. McKenna certainly shares these thoughts.

Perhaps the shamanic traditions of this planet are the keepers of an understanding that uses the human body/brain/mind as its vehicle, leaving the present state of the art, which our own “scientific method” has achieved, a very poor second. This is really an old idea—the siren song of Pythagoras—that the mind is more powerful than any imaginable particle accelerator, more sensitive than any radio receiver or the largest optical telescope, more complete in the grasp of information than any computer: that the human body—its organs, its voice, its power of locomotion, and its imagination—are a more-than-sufficient means for the exploration of any place, time, or energy level in the universe.

(pp. 84 – 5)

The rest of the book goes quite deep into the exploration of consciousness through altered states. There is a lot packed in to the just over 200 pages, and if this is a topic that interests you, it’s worth reading. But be forewarned—there are some very strange ideas put forth here, but if you have the fortitude to sift through it, you will discover some interesting ideas regarding the mind and its hidden potential.

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Thoughts on “Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace – Part 9

Nosferatu

Nosferatu

As a musician, I have always been intrigued at the way sounds and rhythms can be used to stimulate parts of the subconscious mind and cause hidden aspects of the psyche to surface. I believe this is why chanting and drumming are integral parts of ritual, the goal of which is to alter the consciousness of the participants.

There is a great passage in Infinite Jest where a recovering addict is sharing an experience he had where he was playing violin and the notes blended with other vibrations resulting in a sudden shift in his consciousness. This shift allowed a dark, primordial aspect of his psyche to surface, an experience that was terrifying and traumatic.

‘The direction of flow is beside the point. It was on, and its position in the window made the glass of the upraised pane vibrate somehow. It produced an odd high-pitched vibration, invariant and constant. By itself it was strange but benign. But on this afternoon, the fan’s vibration combined with some certain set of notes I was practicing on the violin, and the two vibrations set up a resonance that made something happen in my head. It is impossible really to explain it, but it was a certain quality of this resonance that produced it.’

‘A thing.’

‘As the two vibrations combined, it was as if a large dark billowing shape came billowing out of some corner in my mind. I can be no more precise than to say large, dark, shape, and billowing, what came flapping out of some backwater of my psyche I had not had the slightest inkling was there.’

‘But it was inside you, though.’

‘Katherine, Kate, it was total horror. It was all horror everywhere, distilled and given form. It rose in me, out of me, summoned somehow by the odd confluence of the fan and those notes. It rose and grew larger and became engulfing and more horrible than I shall ever have the power to convey. I dropped the violin and ran from the room.’

(p. 649)

In this scene, the addict experiences the emergence of what Jung termed the shadow.

The shadow, said celebrated Swiss psychiatrist C.G. Jung, is the unknown “dark side” of our personality–dark both because it tends to consist predominantly of the primitive, negative, socially or religiously depreciated human emotions and impulses like sexual lust, power strivings, selfishness, greed, envy, anger or rage, and due to its unenlightened nature, completely obscured from consciousness.

(Source: Psychology Today)

Throughout my life, I have experienced instances where music or sound caused my consciousness to shift, sometimes dramatically. But it can be particularly unsettling when the shift is unexpected. It’s one thing to experience this while meditating and actively seeking to unlock hidden realms of the psyche, but when it occurs for no apparent reason, it can have a devastating effect on a person.

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Naked Came the Leaf Peeper

NakedLeafPeeperAsheville, NC is a quirky place, to say the least. There is a saying here: “If you’re too weird for Asheville, you’re too weird.” But its home for me and I love it here. The unique blend of artists, musicians, writers, spiritual seekers, and fringe people of all sorts nestled within the Blue Ridge Mountains makes this the ideal place for me to live.

For the holidays, I was given a gift certificate to Malaprop’s, a local independent bookstore that I love to support. I knew before going there that I wanted to get a copy of Naked Came the Leaf Peeper. I had seen it on display for a while and it has been on my wish list. It is a collaborative work featuring twelve local Asheville writers each contributing a chapter.

The book is a riot! I burst out laughing multiple times as I was reading. Some of the scenes are so over-the-top that, even if you are unfamiliar with Asheville, you will still find them hysterical. For example, there is a scene where a vehicle gets stopped for reckless driving, and it is discovered that the woman driver is naked and shaving herself as her ex-husband tries to steer. And the craziest thing is, if you live in Asheville, it doesn’t seem that far-fetched.

So at this point, you may be wondering what it’s like in Asheville. Here is a quote that will give you an idea.

J.D worked his way downtown, pausing at a light straight across from the Asheville Civic Center so a man and his llama could cross the street in front of him.

A man and his llama?

J.D. turned off his auto-pilot and really looked around for the first time. There were llamas everywhere. Coming and going from the convention center, walking up and down the sidewalk, sitting on benches and parked cars. In the little park at the end of Broadway, hippies and llamas danced in a drum circle. There was even a llama standing with a tip bag tied around its neck while its owner played a guitar outside Malaprop’s Bookstore.

(p. 116)

So while this is a little bit exaggerated for humor’s sake, it’s not far from the truth. You’ll see all kinds of people with animals downtown, and there are always street musicians and people dancing around in drum circles. True story—I used to own an ice cream shop here in Asheville. One day a person came in with a goat on a leash and asked if it was OK to bring his goat in. I told him no, that the goat would have to wait outside. He seemed hurt. I couldn’t help wondering about relationship between him and his goat.

I had some neighbors once who told me that their friends would not come into Asheville because there were too many “wiggins.” It took me a few minutes to realize that he meant wiccans. Yeah, there is definitely a strong earth-based religious community here and the book includes a nod to them with a pretty accurate depiction of a pagan gathering in downtown.

The drummers began to beat their drums slowly, their rhythm increasing as Rowena’s voice grew louder, directing listeners to connect with the Divine within and to the spirits of the land, water, and sky. She called out to the spirits dwelling inside the rock and soil that formed the mountains visible in every direction; she called out to the spirits living in the rivers and springs that nourished the soil, the plants and the animals that drank from them; she called out to the spirits dwelling among the flowers and trees that also nurtured life and brought beauty and comfort. Holding a crystal wand in her hand, Rowena traced a spiraling pattern from above her head to the ground at her feet. She spoke to the dead, honoring those who had come before, and invited them to the circle, too. She undid the boundaries between the living and the dead, the animate and the inanimate, the earth and the cosmos. All were welcome at the gathering.

(pp. 169 – 170)

I don’t want to give away too much, but I’ll say that the rest of the book is filled with witty satire, parody, social commentary, literary allusions, and such. While the story is fictional, the depictions of Asheville and the surrounding counties are pretty accurate. I can also say that many of the characters in the book remind me of people I’ve met here over the years, from the conservative to the quirky to the just plain weird.

Yeah, I live in a weird city, but I love it. Honestly, I can’t imagine living anywhere else. And on that note…

Forget the Keep Asheville Weird bumper stickers. Asheville was weird enough as is.

(p. 116)

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“Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti” by Maya Deren – Pt 2

DivineHorsemen

I finished reading this book last night. To sum it up, it is nothing short of amazing, one of the most powerful books I have ever read. Not only is it highly informative and inspirational, it is masterfully written. I strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in religion, spirituality, anthropology, sociology, or with even the slightest interest in human culture.

This post covers the second half of the book. I cover the first half in an earlier post.

The second half of the book focuses primarily on the voudou rites. It is emphasized that voudou rituals are religious and not magic rituals. The purpose of a religious ritual is very different from that of a magical ritual.

… religion differs sharply from magic, for the sorcerer’s apprentice has only to learn the proper words and their proper order to achieve the desired result. The magic ritual is made mysterious because the magician conceals his means from the eyes of the observer; the religious ritual seems mysterious because the observer cannot yet grasp the meaning of what he sees. In a sense, religious training develops the psychic perception and power of the individual; magic apprenticeship provides informations as to the means of manipulating the world. (p. 158)

One of the rites discussed is that of baptism. I found this fascinating, particularly because all I knew about baptism was Christian-based. In voudou, baptism is the process of making something divine, thereby creating an object that can be used to contact the divine spirits.

… baptism does not so much confer divinity upon an object per se as it makes the object a “door” by which divine energy may be drawn into this world by those who possess the key, which is the name to be called. (p. 186)

Voudou rituals are intended to serve the gods, not to attempt to bend the gods to serve the practitioners. For this reason, voudou practitioners are called serviteurs, since they are essentially offering themselves to the gods.

Divinity is an energy, an act. The serviteur does not say, “I believe.” He says: “I serve.” And it is the act of service — the ritual — which infuses both man and matter with divine power. (p. 187)

Two key components of a voudou ritual are drumming and dancing. These help alter the serviteurs’ consciousness, opening them up to the mystical experience. Deren states that drumming is “the organic axis of the spiritual cosmos, around which all temporal elements of ritual are centered.” (p. 238) Regarding the ritual dancing, she asserts that “such dance might be understood as a meditation of the body.” (p. 241)

The final chapter of the book focuses solely on possession. There is no way that I could do this chapter justice in a blog post. Suffice to say that it is riveting to read. Deren describes in breath-taking detail how it feels to become possessed, the physical and emotional changes that one experiences. It must be read to be appreciated. I will note, though, that she describes the loss of self associated with possession by a loa (divine being) as a feeling of death, since one’s spirit is displaced by the loa.

To understand that the self must leave if the loa is to enter, is to understand that one cannot be man and god at once. (p. 249)

I cannot emphasize enough how powerful this book is. Just looking over my notes as I write this post fills me with awe. Now, as an added bonus and to whet your appetite to purchase and read this book, I am including the film that Deren made documenting her observations. It’s worth taking the 50 minutes to watch. The footage of the rituals, including possessions, is amazing. Enjoy, and thanks for reading.

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“Witchcraft, Oracles, and Magic Among the Azande” by E. E. Evans-Pritchard

This is a book that has been sitting on my shelf for a while. I picked it up years ago while scouring a used bookstore and had never gotten around to it until now.

The book is an anthropological study of the mystical practices of the Azande in Africa and was originally published in 1937. Evans-Pritchard was a Professor of Social Anthropology at Oxford University, so this is not some new age book touting an idealized view of indigenous tribal rituals, but an objective, detailed account of his observations during the time he spent living amongst the Azande.

There is a wealth of information in this book and it is written in a style that is accessible and engaging. It is by no means dry academic writing (except for the introduction by Eva Gillies – I would skip over that unless you like that kind of stuff). There were lots of things I could expound upon, but I will limit myself to a few key items.

One thing I found fascinating is the observation that the Azande used drumming and dancing to evoke the “manifestation of esoteric powers” (p. 88). This is something that seems to be consistent with most indigenous groups. I think it also explains the current interest in drum circles. Where I live, there is a weekly drum circle in the center of town and it draws many people who participate, either as drummers or as dancers.

Regarding the use of oracles, Evans-Pritchard writes: “Azande observe the action of the poison oracle as we observe it, but their observations are always subordinated to their beliefs and are incorporated into their beliefs and made to explain them and justify them” (p. 150). This is true of every culture. Each individual’s belief system determines how that person perceives events. Consider how the beliefs of a theoretical physicist and those of a religious fundamentalist would cause each person to view the same occurrence in a different manner.

Finally, regarding magic, the Azande believe that the main purpose of magic “is to combat other mystical powers rather than to produce changes favourable to man in the objective world” (p. 199). This is the opposite of what practitioners of magic in the west believe. According to Aleister Crowley, the purpose of magic is to manifest occurrences in accordance with one’s will.

This book is probably not for everyone. I personally enjoyed it, but that is because I have an interest in mysticism and anthropology. If either of those topics interest you, then you will likely enjoy this book.

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