Tickets are now on sale for this year's Breaking Convention, the multidisciplinary conference on psychedelic consciousness, to be held in London July 12th to 14th. With 137 speakers from 20 different countries, a bunch of films, music, art, science and a whole lot of high grade discussion about all things psychedelic - from neuroscience to anthropology to psychopharmacology, and everything in between - it's sure to be a great event if this topic interests you.
Speakers for this year's event include some of TDG's good friends in Graham Hancock, Erik Davis, and Dr. David Luke, as well as the likes of Jeremy Narby, Ralph Metzner, Andy Letcher and Rick Doblin.
Full details and ticketing information are available at the Breaking Convention website.
Apologies for the lack of updates this week, but am neck deep trying to get my book finished off at the moment. In the meantime though, here's a great Kickstarter to get behind: a fundraising effort by visionary artist Alex Grey - whose iconic images have graced Tool's album covers, and Rick Strassman's DMT: The Spirit Molecule - and wife Allyson to build their dream:
For over 30 years, the art of Alex Grey has reached the hearts and minds of people all around the globe with its portrayals of the physical and subtle anatomy of individuals in the context of cosmic, biological and spiritual evolution.
From 2004 to 2010 the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors installation was on view in the heart of New York City and saw tens of thousands come from all walks of life to experience the transformational power of art. Since closing its doors, the paintings have been in storage and unavailable to the public. It's time to bring the paintings back!
Our plan is to build a permanent exhibition space for these iconic works of art, along with works from other visionary artists. It will be a destination you can visit anytime of year to commune and contemplate with the art, now and for generations to come.
That place is ENTHEON.
This is your chance to help your favorite artist create his most ambitious project to date. Estimated cost of construction, complete with all the required amenities of a two-story building will be over $1.5 Million Dollars. The bank has approved a construction loan, but it won't be enough to cover the entire amount.
Head on over to the ENTHEON Kickstarter page to see the various pledge packages, and do your bit to help one of this generation's great artists fulfill his lifelong dream!
Update: TED have pulled Graham Hancock's talk for being 'unscientific'. You can read more details about the this controversy here on TDG.
Our good friend Graham Hancock, author of best-selling books on historical mysteries including The Sign and the Seal, Fingerprints of the Gods and Supernatural, recently gave a TEDx Talk in which he discusses his exploration of the South American shamanic brew ayahuasca, and its impact upon his life:
Graham Hancock tells the story of how his 24-year relationship with cannabis was brought to an abrupt halt in 2011 after an encounter with ayahuasca, the sacred visionary brew of the Amazon. Along the way he explores the mystery of death, the problem of consciousness, and the implications for the human future of a society that wages total war on true cognitive liberty.
Well, I think it's time for you to have your lysergic acid.
Pretty much the words that go through my head anytime I'm dealing with someone firmly embedded in their reality tunnel...
(link via @JohnHiggs)
Last year, Terence McKenna's brother Dennis launched a Kickstarter appeal (video above) to fund a book he wanted to write about his life with his brother, titled Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss. Plenty of people got on board and with $85,000 in funding, and a year to write it, the book is now a reality. Poetically, the first edition of the book (as an ebook), was published on what would have been Terence's 66th birthday.
Luis Eduardo Luna summarises the book in his Foreword:
Dennis is a well-respected researcher and thinker, and many of us have read his scientific papers or listened with pleasure to his interdisciplinary lectures, which combine ethnobotany, psychopharmacology, history, and philosophical reflections. But this is not an academic book. It is the long-awaited account of his lifelong relationship with his older brother Terence, the great raconteur of wide-reaching philosophical and eschatological ideas. In other words, what we have here is the privilege of going behind the curtains and peering into the private lives of these two extraordinary brothers, the poet and the scientist, the public figure and the more retiring originator of ideas, one who haunts us from the invisible yet pervasive World Wide Web (his words still fresh and even more relevant twelve years after his death), the other still with us, wise, and with an acute sense of humor. Like his brother, Dennis is a teacher from whom we still have much to learn.
Psychedelics researcher Rick Strassman discusses LSD as a gateway drug to all sorts of dastardly behaviour, like...Buddhism and the search for enlightenment.
One of the things that got me interested in doing research with these psychedelics is because of how much overlap or similarity seem to exist between the stories that you hear from experienced meditators within the Eastern meditative traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism, and those reports that you hear from people who take these psychedelic drugs. And it always seemed to me there must be some sort of way of combining the two fields, that perhaps you can maybe be inspired to become a Buddhist or a Hindu through the psychedelic experience. And there are a handful of papers that have described that, that quite a few people got their start as Buddhists or Hindus from a big LSD flash.
I went to a Zen temple in my early 20s, and, ever the scientist, every chance I got to speak to a monk one on one, I asked every one of them if they had tripped on psychedelics and how important their trips were in their decision to become a monk. And I'd say 99% of these junior monks in their 20s all got their start on LSD.
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Our good friend, visionary artist Adam Scott Miller, informs us of a fantastic conference starting this week in Far North Queensland (Australia), in the lead-up to the solar eclipse that will occur in the region next week: EntheonGaia. Featuring presentations/performances/workshops from the likes of Dennis McKenna, Mitch Schultz, Rak Razam, and Adam himself - amongst a huge line-up - this sounds unmissable if you're in the area:
EntheonGaia is an outdoor conference on Medicinal plants, Consciousness, Ancient Wisdom, Contemporary culture issues and a platform to openly explore Medicinal plants, Spirituality, Ritual, and Science in order to garner more respect and reverence for our connection to our Great Mother Earth.
Workshops, talks, performances, and interactive art installations will facilitate the transfer of wisdom at this special gathering in Far North Queensland.
This is one event - not to be missed....
The conference runs from the 2nd to 4th of November, and is situated less than an hour's drive from Cairns. Full details and ticket information are available at the EntheonGaia website.
Anyone who has studied shamanism in any detail will have heard statements to the effect that shamans imbibed the potent Fly Agaric mushroom (Amanita muscaria) in a rather odd, idiosyncratic manner: they would collect the urine of reindeer that had eaten the mushroom and become intoxicated as a result, and drink this urine in order to enter altered states of consciousness.
But is it true? In his fantastic book Shroom: A Cultural History of the Magic Mushroom (Amazon US and UK), Andy Letcher dispels many myths about 'freaky fungi', and the reindeer urine story is one. According to Letcher, it is "a modern urban myth that shamans or anyone else drank reindeer urine: an intoxicated deer would be slaughtered and eaten, by which means the effects would be passed on."
So there you have it: the reindeer urine shamanism story has been debunked. One might think so, except someone has since disputed Andy Letcher's claim: the expert author on mushroom culture, Andy Letcher! Writing on his blog, Letcher tells how a chance meeting with a reindeer herder, who had herds in both Britain and Scandinavia, led to a surprising outcome. Without being prompted on the question of reindeer urine being drunk by shamans, the herder told Letcher the following story:
Once, while living amongst the Saami, his hosts started feeding reindeer with fly-agarics, which the deer consumed with some relish. Waiting for nature to take its course, the fruits of micturition were collected in a bucket (strapped to the animals' flanks perhaps?), boiled up in a pot (I'm guessing to concentrate the brew or perhaps to make it more potable) and shared round.
"I don't drink and I've never taken any drugs" he told me. "But I took some when they passed it round. Well, you have to, don't you? They expect it. Anyway, I was high as a kite I was, high as a kite. There was an old eighty year old grandmother with us, and I fancied her, that's how high I was. High as a bloody kite!"
Letcher's last word on the topic? "So there you have it. A report from a credible witness that some Saami do drink fly-agaric-imbued reindeer urine and that the effects are palpable. I stand corrected."
And if you're wondering why shamans would choose to drink Fly Agaric-containing urine (both reindeer, and human), rather than eat the mushrooms raw, Paul Devereux's wonderful book The Long Trip: A Prehistory of Psychedelia Amazon US and Amazon UK) may provide at least one possibility:
Filip Johann von Strahlenberg, a Swedish prisoner of war in the early eighteenth century, reported seeing Koryak tribespeople waiting outside huts where mushroom sessions were taking place, waiting for people to come out and urinate. When they did, the warm, steaming tawny-gold nectar was collected in wooden bowls and greedily gulped down. The Amanita muscaria effect could apparently be recycled up to five times in this manner, and, remarkably, was less likely to cause the vomiting often associated with the direct ingestion of the mushroom itself.
So, next time you're at a party and everyone's discussing magic mushrooms and urine drinking, you'll be able to set them all straight. The Daily Grail, always here to help you improve your social conversations.
[Image by Onderwijsgek, Creative Commons Licence]
With the mainstream 'discovery' of psychedelics in the early to mid-20th century came great hope that these substances may prove to be a valuable scientific tool in investigating psychiatric illnesses such as schizophrenia and psychosis. Indeed, in 1947 - in the direct wake of Albert Hoffmann's synthesis of LSD - his employer Sandoz began actively marketing the psychedelic substance to psychiatric researchers as a tool for this very purpose.
But from the mid-1960s, as hallucinogens such as LSD began to 'escape' the labs and as the general population began experimenting with the mystical states offered by the drugs, governments around the world began to heavily regulate distribution, and soon after began criminalizing them altogether. For three decades psychedelics became 'forbidden fruit', and scientific research languished.
However, in the past two decades research with hallucinogens has slowly been making a comeback, not least through the efforts of organizations such as MAPS (the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies). Recent studies have looked at the use of MDMA in treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), LSD and psilocybin for end-of-life anxiety, and ibogaine therapy for drug addiction.
As such, many high profile scientists have been calling for more open discussion of the possible benefits from psychedelic use. A new addition to that list is famed neurologist/psychologist Dr. Oliver Sacks, author of a number of bestsellers such as The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat, and who was portrayed by Robin Williams in the movie Awakenings. In the interview above he notes how psychedelic use has allowed him to be more empathic towards his patients, although in the second half of the video he also warns of the dangers of other types of drugs, such as amphetamines:
Although I can't claim very lofty motives in my drug-taking, it did occur to me that there might be a bonus, that the drugs might sensitize me to experiences of a sort my patients could have. And I certainly felt that very strongly when I came to see migraine patients, and they described all sorts of geometrical patterns and colors, which I was very familiar with... Also, when I came to work with my 'Awakenings' patients, some of these patients had extraordinary sensory experiences - of time stopping, of motion being split up, into a series of separate stills. Which I think is almost unimaginable, but I had experienced that myself on LSD and I knew what they were talking about, and I knew how confounding it was.
So on the one hand, one bonus of the drug experiences was that it allowed me to be more empathic and to understand from my own experiences what various patients were going through.
Dr. Sacks' latest book, Hallucinations, will be released later this year.
The shamanic/psychedelic experience is often described as being something that can only be comprehended via personal 'communion' with entheogenic substances. But for those not willing to kick open the doors of perception, Jan Kounen's documentary Other Worlds may be the next best thing. Filmed as a companion piece of sorts to his 2004 'cowboy-shaman' feature film Blueberry (also titled Renegade), the film has real impact because it not only shows Kounen's personal exploration of both physical and mental space, in tracking down shamans of South America to assist him in his quest for understanding, but also uses CGI technology to try and show what the visionary aspect of the shamanic experience is like (the final 5 minute 'trip' is brilliantly done).
Mysticism isn't a practice integrated into our cultures. And yet, I felt its call. I had gone to see the Indians, the shamans, witchdoctors who heal with psychotropic plants. In raising the glass to my lips I had no idea I'd embarked on a journey with no return. It was with respect that I went to meet them; those I imagined capable of facing and transcending fear of death, of exploring their psyches and decoding the mechanics of thought, to discover the invisible world. I crossed Mexico, then Peru, in search of these men. I shared their rituals, until I met Kestenbetsa, Shipibo-Conibo shaman. The rituals I shared with him took me to the frontiers of mental death, to a breaking point where my mind had to accept these experiences, to accept questioning, and redefining reality in a new way.
Another excellent aspect of Other Worlds is that Kounen talks to many experts and researchers in the field, including DMT researcher Rick Strassman, psychedelics researcher Charles Grob, and numerous others including Stan Grof, Jeremy Narby, Alex Grey, Moebius and Pablo Amaringo. For anyone interested in these topics, this is a must watch (although be advised, there are some disturbing scenes for the faint-hearted, such as the killing of a pig, as well as plenty of puking).
You can grab the full-resolution documentary on DVD, with loads of bonus material, at the Other Worlds website.