Shine on, you crazy diamonds!
March 10, 2009 5:56 PM   Subscribe

Favourite psychedelic / drug / shaman / consciousness related books? My brother met a shaman in South American and has given me his credit card and asked me to order him a bunch of books. Think Terence McKenna, Alex Grey, Alexander Shulgin, Carlos Castaneda, DMT, Ayahuasca... *Documentary/DVD recommendations welcome as well.

Out of the authors listed above, I'd like to know which are the best works of each, or the best ones to start with. Particularly Castaneda, I don't know where my brother should begin. Which books are the most interesting?

Further info: he also has budding obsessions with Zeitgeist, Jacques Fresco, George Carlin and Bill Hicks so anything even loosely related is good - lateral thinking is encouraged here!
He's also suddenly into dreaming and sensory deprivation tanks and quantum physics.

Please give me the titles of anything related to these topics - please only recommendations of books you've personally read and liked :)

Thanks for helping my brother :)
posted by mjao to Grab Bag (36 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Robert Anton Wilson's Cosmic Trigger trilogy.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 6:13 PM on March 10, 2009 [3 favorites]

Best answer: You absolutely should check out Stan Grof.

Start with Beyond the Brain. Then Cosmic Game. Also, LSD Psychotherapy.
posted by mikeand1 at 6:24 PM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

I read The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge by Castaneda and liked it a lot.
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 6:37 PM on March 10, 2009

The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley.
posted by PercussivePaul at 6:50 PM on March 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

You'll have to buy it used but Adam Smith's Powers of Mind is one of my favorite books on these topics - "Smith" dabbled with and wrote about a large variety of related topics. Its humorous, skeptical but not reflexively dismissive, and the footnotes and bibliography alone are worth the price of admission - it's been a while but it used to be pretty easy to pick up fairly cheap.

Popular wisdom is that Carlos Castaneda made up what he didn't plagiarize, but the books are entertaining, at least the first three. The shtick gets progressively more irritating as he goes on.

I read Food of the Gods by McKenna and that was pretty interesting (though his reasoning to me mostly seems like a stretch)
posted by nanojath at 7:02 PM on March 10, 2009

For Shulgin, you'll want PIHKAL and TIHKAL, of course. Throw in Robert Anton Wilson's Prometheus Rising while you're at it.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 7:03 PM on March 10, 2009

(a few more suggestions from the bookcase) Aleister Crowley's Diary of a Drug Fiend is a really interesting read, too. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention William S. Burroughs' Cities of the Red Night.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 7:10 PM on March 10, 2009

Best answer: SEX, DRUGS, EINSTEIN, & ELVES: SUSHI, PSYCHEDELICS, PARALLEL UNIVERSES, AND THE QUEST FOR TRANSCENDENCE by Clifford A. Pickover was the clear winner at my last family reunion.
posted by cinemafiend at 7:14 PM on March 10, 2009

Best answer: High Priest (among others) by Timothy Leary, who I am surprised hasn't been mentioned yet.
posted by TedW at 7:19 PM on March 10, 2009

A drug book with a Latin American flair that is among the funniest things I have ever read is Cosmic Banditos (also the name of a mefite)
posted by TedW at 7:26 PM on March 10, 2009

The Culture of Counterculture (or anything for that matter) by Alan Watts
posted by Kifer85 at 7:31 PM on March 10, 2009

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe. A fun rollicking read.
posted by lmm at 7:37 PM on March 10, 2009

Seconding/Nthing PiHKAL and TiHKAL. For years I hadn't read them, but considered them practically-read. I finally bought them and read them -- boy, both are easily in my top 10 list.
posted by wrok at 7:48 PM on March 10, 2009

Journey to the East by Hermann Hesse is a good psychedelic novel (bonus points for the edition with the Leary preface), as are parts of his Steppenwolf and Siddhartha (the ending of which inspired the lyrics to Radiohead's "Pyramid Song," incidentally). Shulgin is must-read, and don't forget the oodles of free information (and full text books) at Erowid
posted by caminovereda at 8:11 PM on March 10, 2009

Remember, Be Here Now
posted by JohnR at 8:14 PM on March 10, 2009

This may not be in the spiritual vein you are seeking, but Peter Jennings' "Ecstasy Rising" is terrific.
posted by chairface at 8:16 PM on March 10, 2009

my name sake Cosmic Banditos is a zany romp across Mexico and the American Southwest, fueled by weed, Mescal, and metaphysics. Seriously funny, and you may even learn something about quantum physics. I've previously likened it to Hunter S. Thompson and Steven Hawking smoking buds in a Mexican dive bar.
posted by cosmicbandito at 8:16 PM on March 10, 2009

When one friend/brother asks another to help and support him on a new venture, it also a request for validation, an implicit question to confirm that the plan is good. You have to do more than just take his word for it. You have to think about it and use your common sense.

There are several red flags in your brother's situation - psychedelic drug use, involvement in a religious cult, and being away from home. How much do you know about this "shaman"? Experimenting with psycho-active drugs is quite risky, especially when combined with being the gringo follower of a religious cult/shaman/sorcerer.

If I were you, I would be worried about my brother.
posted by conrad53 at 9:00 PM on March 10, 2009

Response by poster: Conrad53: thank you for your concern. :) However, this isn't a new interest of my brother's, by any means. He and a friend met a shaman quite a few years ago, on holiday. He just wants reading material because he is working in a mining town and has a lot of time on his hands.
posted by mjao at 9:14 PM on March 10, 2009

Here's a second vote for "Remember, Be Here Now" by Ram Dass.
posted by pianoboy at 10:00 PM on March 10, 2009

Several essential classics listed above. I would add:

Psychedelic Shamanism - Jim Dekorne
Transfigurations - Alex Grey
The Scientist: A Metaphysical Autobiography - John C. Lilly
Breaking Open the Head: A Psychedelic Journey into the Heart of Contemporary Shamanism - Daniel Pinchbeck
DMT - The Spirit Molecule - Rick Strassman, MD
posted by Roach at 10:02 PM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

He might find Austin Osman Spare interesting. If he likes that, recommend Peter Carroll next.

Point him towards Phillip K. Dick, who mostly wrote fiction, but it's a good bet to be to his taste. He also wrote a little non-fiction, "The Shifting Realities of...", which is a perfect match.

And if he's going to do any reading in this area, Principia Discordia is a must.

I would also recommend giving Castaneda a pass.
posted by BigSky at 11:17 PM on March 10, 2009

I'd say Castaneda should be read in sequence, because things that happen in previous volumes are often revisited, reevaluated and turned on their heads. I haven't read him in a long while but when I did, I thought all the books were quite amazing, but the first three were more entertaining. Then again, they're not at all meant to entertain.
posted by rainy at 12:48 AM on March 11, 2009

I found One River by Wade Davis pretty fascinating. It's a mix of ethnobotany & exploration. There is a lot about psychedelics of the Amazon basin, although this is not the only focus of the book.
posted by OmieWise at 6:13 AM on March 11, 2009

Shamanic voices is very good (and a bit more credible than Castaneda).
posted by BadMiker at 6:29 AM on March 11, 2009

Definitely check out Stanislav Grof.
posted by hellboundforcheddar at 6:48 AM on March 11, 2009

Best answer: Jan Kounen directed Other Worlds a few years ago.
posted by nicolin at 8:10 AM on March 11, 2009

Look, there is no such thing as "shamanism" as an all encompassing term. The yoking together of various animist religions of less developed cultures is a product of academic classification. It's not as if the Inuit and the Yaqui had the same religion under different names.

Fer crissakes, stay away from the Carlos Castanedas, the Michael Harners, the Eliades and Pinchbecks and all the other Plastic Medicine Men. [wiki] Native communities feel strongly about this. Some, who have come under the most direct assault by appropriators feel especially strongly: Declaration of War Against Exploiters of Lakota Spirituality. Native American intellectuals agree and have produced good accounts. [pdf] Popular appropriation of native religion for commercialization as pre-packaged "shamanism" for the spiritual tourism of needy consumers is adding cultural theft to a history of cultural imperialism. Castaneda is one of the worst of these: his 'shamanism' bears no resemblance to anything really done by any natives, and his informant most likely did not exist. This is a pretty good bibliography of work on the topic.

Shulgin (Pihkal, Tihkal) is probably best on the chemistry, etc. For better understandings of 'shamanistic' cultures I'd suggest investigating the anthropology section of a university library, or these communities' own accounts of their religion (to the extent they've been willing to share) rather than the pop-pysch aisle at Borders.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:26 AM on March 11, 2009 [6 favorites]

I didn't want to say it but I had the same reaction as snuffleupagus. I recall from an undergrad course on anthropology of religion that this is a topic with a great deal of controversy. Unfortunately I don't recall any sources to cite. But here's some food for thought.

So far as indigenous cultures practicing "shamanism" (an term only slightly more specific than "religion" given the vast variety of practices thus labelled), a shaman tends to be a priest who can enter the spirit world by entering a trance. The shaman serves the community, perhaps by healing and telling the future, and acts as the community mediator between regular life and the spirit world.

So for as Western cultures go, many people are fascinated by shamanism and try to learn the techniques. In almost all cases, these people are NOT interested in healing their community and telling the future; rather they are on a personal quest to expand their consciousness and perhaps find some deeper meaning in the world. This is not shamanism; rather, it is Neoshamanism. The Wikipedia article (linked) is short but has a long reading list for more on the topic.
posted by PercussivePaul at 9:02 AM on March 11, 2009

If you want to identify the specific tradition that your brother's friend/mentor belongs to, I'd be happy to trawl the journal archives for you.
posted by snuffleupagus at 10:18 AM on March 11, 2009

While what snuffleupagus says is true from a certain perspective, it ignores the fact that "shamanism" as such can be thought of as a practical methodology for communicating with archetypes. Just because I'm not directly lineaged from an Incan priest doesn't mean I can't find truth and power in engaging with the Jaguar archetype. In the end, it's about results.
posted by Roach at 4:33 PM on March 11, 2009

And further, the sort of dismissal put forth by the Lakotas can be just as easily levied against syncretism of types. Does one require blood lineage to legitimately study a path?

I agree wholeheartedly that exploitation is to be decried, or the false claiming of mastery. But as useful elements on my own journey? I will appropriate practices and imagery as I see fit.
posted by Roach at 4:41 PM on March 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

And further, the sort of dismissal put forth by the Lakotas can be just as easily levied against syncretism of types. Does one require blood lineage to legitimately study a path?

Maybe so, if that path is reserved for members of a blood lineage. What gives you the right to say otherwise, to decide what part of a culture's internal logic is valid and what can be ignored or dismissed?

From the linked article:

But [McCloud's] real disdain is for those Indians who have taken up the practice of marketing their heritage to the highest bidder. We've also got Indians who are doing these things, McCloud continues. We've got our Sun Bears and our Wallace Black Elks and others who'd sell their own mother if they thought it would turn a quick buck. What they're selling isn't theirs to sell, and they know it. They're thieves and sell-outs, and they know that too. That's why you never see them around Indian people anymore. When we have our traditional meetings and gatherings, you never see the Sun Bears and those sorts showing up.

As Thomas Banyacya, a spiritual elder of the Hopi, explains, these people have nothing to say on the matters they claim to be so expert about. To whites, they claim they're 'messengers,' but from whom? They are not the messengers of Indian people. I am a messenger, and I do not charge for my ceremonies.

Some of the more sophisticated marketeers, such as Sun Bear, have argued that the criticisms of McCloud and Banyacya are misguided. Sun Bear has claimed that the ceremonies and wisdom he peddles are not truly Indian, although they are still based on Indian traditions. Yet, his promotional literature still refers to Native American Spiritual Wisdom, and offers ceremonies such as the sweat lodge for $50 per person, and vision quests at $150.

The 'right to appropriate' arguments are self-serving responses that dismiss the injurious nature of the kind of appropriation we're talking about here, and the larger context in which it is being carried out.

Since when is the sweat not an Indian ceremony?... It's not 'based on' an Indian ceremony, it *is* an Indian ceremony. So is his so-called 'vision quest,' the pipe, his use of the pipe, sage and all the rest of it. Sun Bear is a liar, and so are all the rest of them who are doing what he's doing. All of them know good and well that the only reason anybody is buying their product is because of this image of Indian-ness they project. The most non-Indian thing about Sun Bear's ceremonies is that he's personally prostituted the whole thing by tuning it into a money-making venture.

--Russel Means

Addressing "syncretism of types" more specifically, the article continues:

Sun Bear has also contended that criticism of his activities is ill-founded because he has arrived at a spiritual stew of several traditions—his medicine wheel is Shoshoni and his herbal and other healing remedies accrue from numerous peoples, while many of his other ceremonies are Lakota in origin—and because he's started his own tribe, of which he's pronounced himself medicine chief. Of course, membership in this odd new entity, composed almost exclusively of Euroamericans, comes with a hefty price tag attached. The idea has caught on among spiritual hucksters, as witnessed by the formation of a similar fees-paid group in Florida, headed by a non-Indian calling himself Chief Piercing Eyes.

"Sun Bear hasn't started a new tribe. *Nobody* can just up and start a new tribe. What he's done is start a cult. And this cult he's started is playing with some very powerful things, like the pipe. That's not only stupid and malicious, it's *dangerous*."

The danger Williams refers to has to do with the very power which makes American Indian spirituality appealing to non-Indians in the first place. According to the late Matthew King, an elder spiritual leader among the Oglala Lakota, Each part of our religion has its power and its purpose. Each people has their own ways. You cannot mix these ways together, because each people's ways are balanced. Destroying balance is a disrespect and very dangerous. This is why it's forbidden.

Many things are forbidden in our religion, King continued. The forbidden things are acts of disrespect, things which unbalance power. These things must be learned, and the learning is very difficult. This is why there are very few real 'medicine men' among us; only a few are chosen. For someone who has not learned how our balance is maintained, to pretend to be a medicine man is very, very dangerous. It is a big disrespect to the powers and can cause great harm to whoever is doing it, to those he claims to be teaching, to nature, to everything. It is very bad. . .

For all the above reasons, the Circle of Elders of the Indigenous Nations of North America, the representative body of traditional indigenous leadership on this continent, requested that the American Indian Movement undertake to end the activities of those described as plastic medicine men.

I agree wholeheartedly that exploitation is to be decried, or the false claiming of mastery. But as useful elements on my own journey? I will appropriate practices and imagery as I see fit.

And what if that appropriation is in and of itself an exploitative and disrespectful act?

As to white people who think it's cute, or neat or groovy or keen to hook up with plastic medicine men, to subsidize and promote them, and claim you and they have some fundamental 'right' to desecrate our spiritual traditions, I've got a piece of news for you. You have *no* such right. Our religions are *ours*. Period. We have very strong reasons for keeping certain things private, whether you understand them or not. And we have every human right to deny them to you, whether you like it or not.

You can either respect our basic rights or not respect them...If you do, you're an ally and we're ready and willing to join hands with you on other issues. If you do not, you are at best a thief. More importantly, you are a thief of the sort who is willing to risk undermining our sense of integrity of our cultures for your own perceived self-interest. That means you are complicit in a process of cultural genocide, or at least attempted cultural genocide, aimed at American Indian people. That makes you an enemy, to say the least. And believe me when I say we're prepared to deal with you as such.

--Russel Means, excerpted from the Curchhill article linked.

I don't want to obscure the original question here. I've put in my $0.02 on why I think a lot of the 'shamanism' literature is poisonous and have offered to try to find better sources on whatever tradition the OP's brother is encountering. If you really want to defend freewheeling cultural appropriation without any respect for the cultures from which forms are being taken we can take it to MeTa.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:30 PM on March 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Every single book listed in this thread was written by a man (except for Shamanic Voices, which was edited by a woman). May I recommend reading Sisters of the Extreme: Women Writing on the Drug Experience, Including Charlotte Bronte, Louisa May Alcott, Anais Nin, Maya Angelou, Billie Holiday, Nina Hagen, Carrie Fisher, and Others -- which is an updated version of the 1982 compendium "Shaman Woman, Mainline Lady" -- for a word or two from the other 50% of the planet?
posted by Asparagirl at 8:24 PM on March 11, 2009

@ Asparagirl PiHKAL and TiHKAL were both co-written by Ann Shulgin. While Alexander Shulgin wrote all/most of the chemistry sections, the chapters in the 'novel' parts of both books are rather evenly split between the two.
posted by wrok at 6:00 AM on March 12, 2009


I really think that we're talking about two different things here. The appropriation of elements of various traditions to enhance one's own journey in a meaningful way is far different from the repackaging of the end result and selling it for a profit. The OP didn't say that his brother was looking for help in brewing together a convincing shamanistic stew through which to hoodwink potential followers. He asked for a broad selection of works relating to contemporary shamanism, or even neo-shamanism, as evidenced by the list of sample authors he shared.

I respect Means' position but respectfully deny him the right to make me feel like a thief for finding aspects Native American spirituality meaningful and useful enough to incorporate them into my own cosmological framework. I'm not selling anything to anyone.
posted by Roach at 10:39 PM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

« Older Chicken bones in NYC please   |   Where are all the good D&D websites? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.