March 1, 2004
"There is no difference in principle between sharpening perception with an external instrument, such as a microscope, and sharpening it with an internal instrument, such as one of these...drugs. If they are an affront to the dignity of the mind, the microscope is an affront to the dignity of the eye and the telephone to the dignity of the ear. Strictly speaking, these drugs do not impart wisdom at all, any more than the microscope alone gives knowledge. They provide the raw materials of wisdom, and are useful to the extent that the individual can integrate what they reveal into the whole pattern of his behavior and the whole system of his knowledge."
During the ecstatic trance state a new landscape of sense experience not normally detected by the human nervous system opens to the shaman's soul. The entheogen bridges the sensational dam of normal consciousness to award the shaman with the ability to dive into the alchemical energy ethereally infusing life with creative and destructive power. The shaman's spirit taps into this universal energy to contact the supernatural, diagnose and heal illness, and divine the future. At high doses entheogenic plants catalyze the electronic feedback impulses in the language centers of the brain to often manifest outbursts of songs and visions.
Numerous thinkers identify shamanic plant use as a viable theory for the promotion of psychic and cognitive development among developing hominids, as entheogens could have acted as evolutionary enzymes to augment higher level intellectual, emotional, and spiritual synthesis. As reality can be seen as a linguistic architecture where individuals and society map out their journey through space-time with ideas and symbols, the continuous communion of a human-plant interface neurologically developed and patterned an understanding of the world where humans shared the experience of connectedness to each other and the natural Earth, and increased their perception of and manipulation over the world around them.
The shamanic experience of ecstasy lifts the spirit out of the constraints of the selfish ego to transcend cultural phobias and beliefs, and interact with the greater model outside the political and social limits imposed by the tribe. Entheogenic use by tribes expunges the distinctions between selves, and unifies individuals into a single thinking and feeling multi-leveled organism. For millennia, human society and culture that utilized entheogenic substances existed in a self-sustaining, homeostatic equilibrium, and did not conceive the modern notions of time and progress.
The cultural mores and taboos of the tribe dissolved before the biological values inherent in the planetary organism, and the body-mind-spirit became part of the eternal photosynthesis of the world soul. The evolutionary animal shell that trapped the angelic essence of the human transmuted into chemical molecular intelligence to telepathically communicate with the one living energy of the universe. The entheogen provided a direct hookup to the spiritual world of partnership, and held at bay any need for the interpretive priestly power structures prevalent in the dominator model of society.
As nomadic herders overgrazed their flocks of hungry animals across northern Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, the land underwent a slow yet devastating transformation into desert waste. This desertification erased almost all of the traces of entheogenic plant life, and a new substance derived from plants arrived to direct the lifestyle of human development. Alcohol replaced the partnership bonds of the ecstatic orgiastic cult with the drunken dominator relationships of warriors and prostitutes. As entheogens opened the door to the neurological coding system of the logos and entelechy with life, alcohol dulled sensory perception, impaired social judgment, and ignited the libidinal system to outbursts of territorial anger and sexual possession.
Hunter-gatherers in forests selected from a multitude of diverse plant life, but after an agricultural revolution farmers and herders developed a few staple grains to provide for the backbone of their diet and distillation of their booze. The symbiotic model of plants that linked humans with each other and nature, devolved into the survival of the fittest model of animals that organized pecking orders, obedience to leaders, competition over resources, and destruction of the environment. Societies erected walls to protect the surpluses of their harvest from an increasing population of starving people, and constructed class hierarchies to differentiate status within the pack. Cities then replicated like a virus, now ingest all available resources, and will eventually sicken the host body to the point of biological death.
Alcohol first existed in wines and beers, and people both mixed these liquids with plant extracts and diluted them with water to their taste. The distillation and concentration of alcohol turned the substance into hirstory's first synthetic drug. Distillers heated and vaporized the liquid, then cooled and condensed the vapor back into liquid form to produce a much higher concentration of the substance. Alchemists created these potent cocktails and replaced brewers and vintners with the fire that destroyed the natural essence of the alcoholic beverage. The grains and honeys of the earth transformed into a different material devoid of its natural properties and endowed with the destructive qualities of the alchemists' furnace.
At modest doses, alcohol arouses the ego to break free of some social restraints and interact with others more freely; however, the greater the quantity consumed increasingly inhibits the individual's awareness of social signals and control over motor skills. The higher the dosage of alcohol consumed, the greater the severance between the individual and society, and the greater the strain in the relationship between men and women. Alcohol often generates states of ego obsession that manifest in outbursts of an anal sadist discourse, in emotional con games and territorial pecking order rituals of domination and submission, and in violent physical abuse that often terrorizes and controls women and children.
Alcohol defines and often engenders dominator society's treatment of women and obsessive view towards sexuality. The gestalt of alcohol creates the social conditions for a neurotic fear and antipathy towards the feminine that either marginalizes women's role in the home as chastely devoted wife and mother, or slanders her role in the bar, dance club, or on the street as bitch and whore. Alcohol, combined with red meat and more recently sugar, supplied the dominator model with an over-stimulated testosterone addiction to conquer the planet and its people. These ingredients imposed a survival of the fittest order on human relationships, and destroyed the bonds of partnership societies that esteemed the interdependent union of men and women, and society and nature.
Poised now at the outset of a new millennium, human society stands at the cusp of a major evolutionary quandary. Which model of society and relationship to the home planet do we wish to encourage and advance as the Earth continues her elliptical dance through the solar system? Presciently aware of our place in time, evolution of our hirstory, and course for the future, we must decide whether we wish to continue the dominator paradigm that has sucked the marrow from humanity and Gaia's bones almost dry, or revitalize the symbiotic plant based partnership ideal nurtured by shamanic awareness of the holistic nature of life.
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[Ed. The first part of this essay was published in January 2004.]
Scott Orlovsky is a World History & Cultures, and an American History teacher at Clifton High School in New Jersey. He has a BA in History from the Johns Hopkins University and a MA in History from the University of Colorado.
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