"Somewhere there's an alchemical text which says 'The highest mountains, the widest deserts, the oldest books, there you will find the stone', and what I would like to suggest to you is that of all the methods, tools, points of view, ideologies, and so forth that you will meet when you begin your catalogue of the edge material, the psychedelic dimension is the ne plus ultra of that dimension. Most spiritual seeking is done with the accelerator pressed to the floor. Once you encounter psychedelics you have found the answer. Now the name of the game changes. No longer the ever-eager ingenue hanging on the guru's latest iron whim. Now you have to face the answer. It's not a matter of blithely seeking, it's a matter of screwing your courage to the sticking point, because the tool has been placed into your hand that will work, that will deliver the goods. You know, people tend to complain there's no adventure left in the world, the world is devoid of challenge. I say to you: five grams in silent darkness in the confine of your own apartment on a rainy Sunday evening and you'll feel that Ferdinand Magellan should take a back seat."
The above quotation was taken from Terence McKenna's Camden Centre Talk, which he delivered on May 6th, 1992. I agree with Terence that the major issue is "screwing your courage to the sticking point" and facing the answer. One does not open the doors of perception without some trepidation.
The fact that the government virtually outlawed all research involving psychedelic substances raises troubling questions about who really controls consciousness. Despite draconian drug policies, research has continued outside the confines of the United States among indiginous peoples whose traditional use of sacramental psychedelic substances stretch back millennia. The shaman, according to Eliade, is the technicion of the sacred, the one who could communicate with the spirit world on behalf of the community in his role as healer and seer. It is this unfamiliar world of the shaman to which western researchers have been introduced that offers a challenge to the rationalistic assumptions we've lived by for centuries. There is a growing body of evidence compiled by anthropologists, physicists, neurologists, mystics, and theologians that argues for a radical shift in our understanding of reality.
Terence says: "It's almost as though what the psychedelics are attempting to do for sociology and psychology is what was achieved by quantum physics from matter in the 1920s and '30s. Matter, during that period, was re-analyzed and found to be not tiny hard billiard ball-like particles whizzing through space carrying spin and electric charge, but that there was another level, a lower layer, and that other level, that other description, revealed an interactive wave system where individual points of concrescence are merely statistical rather than real, everything dissolves into a kind of soup of multi-leveled, multi-dimensional connectedness, and this is what the psychedelic experience is."
According to Terence, "It's humbling, it's transformative, it's astonishing to realise that shamans all over the world for time uncountable have been accessing this appalling, complex, ontologically challenging, scientifically impossible, reality. This means that culturally we are living out some kind of schizophrenic delusion, because we live our lives totally ignorant of these possibilities, or perhaps only glimpsing them at the edge of anesthesia, or something like that, unless, of course, we have the courage to be counter-cultural heads. But even then many people confine themselves in the private world of their own reflection because social pressure and, indeed, social legislation make it very touchy to talk about these things. But I say to you, this is part of the human birthright. This is as much a part of the game as birth, sex and dying."
So what role does the shaman play in contemporary western society where the use of psychedelic substances is illegal and punishable by years of incarceration? I regard him as an archetype of transformation, a true medicine man. Shamanic studies have now become part of the curriculum and a focus of intellectual debate. At the very least, the shaman is now receiving more scholarly attention. His role in the west has been persona non grata.
A final thought by Terence: "We tend, you see, to always imagine the challenge rests with someone else. We have been made spectators to life by a disempowering view of ourselves carried to us by science and mass media. You know, you're supposed to identify with Madonna or Elvis or somebody, but the richness -- the inner richness --of one's own being, because it cannot be bought and sold, is deemed worthless by the culture. We actually live in a de-humanising culture and, as you know, the consequences of a couple of thousand years of this kind of alienation are that now we face the potential death of the planet. We have invented a sin for which there isn't even a word in English that I am aware of, it's the sin of stealing the future from your own children."
I couldn't agree more.