The Salt of the Earth – An Astonishing New Film About the Tragedy and Beauty of Our Planet – and A Mysterious Saying of Jesus


This amazing film, playing in theaters now, is a documentary about the life and work of the great Brazilian photographer and photojournalist Sebastiao Salgado, who is now in his 70s.

The film was made by German avant-garde filmmaker Wim Wenders together with Salgado’s son Juliano Ribeiro Salgado. The trio visit many of the places in the world Sebastiao had photographed (all in black and white only) and accompany him on his photo shoots, asking him questions, eliciting his reflections.

Salgado had originally studied to be an economist – he earned a Ph.D. in economics – and has a deep understanding of the conditions that result in the environmental disasters and accompanying social disruptions of war, violence, starvation, exploitation and genocide. In the film, the authors intercut Salgado’s images, many of which are emotionally devastating to see, with his reflections on what he sees and documents. These reveal him to be a deeply compassionate witness of the “heart of darkness” in the human presence on this Earth. Not only disasters of war and destruction attract his attention but as an inveterate traveler the inhabitants of the remotest regions of the Earth – the Sahel, the Arctic, the deep rain-forest – where he would often spend many months, documenting not only the place but the people of the place, especially the children.

In the middle of his life Salgado seemed to have reached a turning point, where he could no longer tolerate witnessing and documenting the awesome and brutal destructiveness of human beings towards life. He stopped being a disaster photographer and became a nature photographer – accompanied by his son, one of the two film-makers of this documentary.  Here he revels in the magnificent color and beauty of plants and animals of all kinds, and the ordinary people in their mode of being living close to nature, as the “Salt of the Earth”.

He and his wife had inherited a piece of land in his native Brazil that had been completely denuded of plant life and deteriorated soil in his absence of many years as a global traveler (also because he was fleeing political repression in Brazil). They decided to restore the land with irrigation and ecological restoration practices, thereby in a dozen years or so generating a luxurious farm with greenhouses, producing food and produce in abundance and beauty.

The Sermon on the MountCarl Bloch, 1890

Sermon on the Mount by Carl Bloch

“Salt of the Earth” is a mysterious phrase that scholars have puzzled over. It occurs in one of the sayings of Jesus – in the Sermon of the Mount, (Matthew 5, 13) where Jesus is addressing his disciples, calling them “salt of the Earth”, but warning them, in the next line, “if the salt has lost its savor, wherewith shall it be salted? It is henceforth good for nothing but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of man.”

In the immediately following verse, Jesus gives a second metaphor to describe his disciples: “Ye are the light of the Earth. A city that is built on a hill cannot be hid.”

In ancient times, before the advent of refrigeration, salt was of course the main means of preserving food like meat and fish, and bringing out the flavor of food.  Salt was also a necessity in lands far from the sea, where the salt essential to human health and diet needed to be carried from afar. Salt or saltiness is that quality that preserves and brings out the life-force and zest in a situation or event.  “Salt” is also symbolically a  quality of skeptical realism, as in the expression to take an idea or information “with a grain of salt.”  Perhaps the Master Jesus is saying to his disciples that unless you can convey the new teaching of salvation with  excitement  and zest, but also with down to earth realism, you might as well forget it – you won’t convey its real value.

Pre-Columbian Explorations and Contacts between Africa and the Americas

christopher-columbus-africa-america-400x223Increasing numbers of European and African scholars are questioning the received so-called “history” of the Italian navigator Columbus “discovering” America. As Garikai Chengu points out in his article on the Global Research website:

“One can only wonder how Columbus could have discovered American when people were watching him from America’s shores?” According to American historian and linguist Leo Weiner, in his 2014 book Africa and the Discovery of America, Columbus himself related that Native Americans had told him about “black-skinned people (who) had come from the south-east in boats, trading in gold-tipped spears.”

According to American historian and linguist Leo Weiner, in his 2014 book Africa and the Discovery of America, Columbus himself related that Native Americans had told him about “black-skinned people (who) had come from the south-east in boats, trading in gold-tipped spears.” European-trained academic historians have for centuries maintained that Africans did not have the navigational skills or ship-building capabilities to cross the Atlantic, although the Greek historian Herodotus wrote of the ancient Egyptians’ great sea-faring and navigational skills. As Chengu notes, historians are beginning to move beyond the racial-intellectual prejudice of accounts of the “European age of exploration.”

theycamebeforecolumbusIn his 1976 book, They Came Before Columbus, Gyanese historian Ian Van Sertima assembled an astounding array of evidence for ancient contacts and explorations from Africa to the Americans. Extensive westward African explorations occurred when Abu Bakari II was a Ruler of the Mali empire, which dominated West Africa from the 13th to the 15th centuries. In the 14th century the Arabic scholar Al Umari wrote about the reign of the Malian emperor Musa I and his historic pilgrimage to Mecca. While in Egypt, Musa explained that he had inherited the throne after the abdication of the previous ruler. He explained that in 1310, the emperor Abu Bakari financed the building of 200 vessels of men and another 200 of supplies to explore “the limits of the sea” that served as the empire’s western frontier.

The mission was inconclusive, and the only information available on its fate came from a single boat whose captain refused to follow the other ships once they reached a “river in the sea” and a whirlpool. According to Musa I, his predecessor was undeterred and launched another fleet with himself as head of the expedition. In 1311, Abu Bakari temporarily ceded power to Musa, then serving as vizier and departed with a thousand vessels of men and a like number of supplies. After the emperor failed to return, Musa I became emperor (information compiled from Wikipedia links).

Perhaps the most convincing evidence for an early African presence in the Americas are the colossal (20 ton) Olmec stone heads found in central Mexico, displaying unmistakably Negroid features, quite unlike any other Mesoamerican depictions of faces. The Olmec civilization is the oldest of the Meso-American cultures, and is believed to have flourished around 900 BC, plus or minus 200 years. Conventional academic historians and archaeologists, who do not recognize any pre-Columbian contacts between Africa and the Americas pass over the obvious Negroid features of these sculpted heads, without comment, although, judging from their monumental size and the decorative head-dress or helmets, they clearly represent rulers or semi-divine beings, as well as demonstrating highly advanced methods of moving and working with stone. A Russian-Israeli historian of ancient Near-Eastern cultures, Zachariah Sitchin, believes that “the African Olmecs accompanied Thoth (alias Quetzlacoatl = ‘The Winged Serpent’) when Ra chased him out of Egypt, circa 3100 B.C. The Olmecs faded out of the Mesoamerican scene with the rise of the Mayas, circa 500 B.C.”(The Earth Chronicles Handbook, p. 164).

Provocative additional evidence for ancient contacts between Egypt and the Americas has recently come to light – which has sent scholars into veritable paroxysms of denial. In 1992, Dr. Svetlana Balabanova, a respected pathologist associated with the University of Ulm in Germany, analyzed samples of hair, bone and soft tissue from Egyptian mummies in the museum. She tested the samples using radioimmunoassay and gas chromatography – found no traces of opium and or lotus – but significant traces of nicotine and cocaine. Since then, Balabanova and other researchers have found nicotine and cocaine in hundreds of mummies, ranging from 800 to 3000 years of age. Now, nicotine and cocaine are only found in the tobacco and coca plants, respectively, and these are both New World plants, generally considered unknown elsewhere until after Columbus. Some scholars have pointed out that there are no representations of coca leaf or tobacco use in Egyptian paintings, though beer and opium are depicted in tomb paintings of the desired after-life. The levels of nicotine and cocaine found in the Egyptian mummies matches well with the levels found in South American mummies (Yahoo.com/question/index: Did scientists find nicotine and coca in Egyptian mummies?)

While these findings are totally in accord with the evidence of pre-Columbian trans-Atlantic trade and contacts dating to several centuries BC, current orthodox ancient history and Egyptology can’t “stomach it,” so to speak. The Yahoo expert, at the end of the article cited above, comments “Beyond the pathology results, there is little to support the idea of Egyptian trade with the New World. The Egyptians were, according to Teeter, ‘famously bad sailors’… They were incapable of crossing the Mediterranean, far less the Atlantic.” Dr. Balabanova, to her credit, does not indulge in this kind of unscientific prejudicial thinking… but simply describes her findings.

New Essay in Tyr – 4: The (Nine) Doors of Perception: Ralph Metzner on the Sixties, Psychedelic Shamanism and the Northern Tradition.

Tyr: 4New essay, in Tyr – 4: The (Nine) Doors of Perception: Ralph Metzner on the Sixties, Psychedelic Shamanism and the Northern Tradition.

You can order a copy of this volume, Tyr 4, with Ralph’s essay, signed, from Green Earth Foundation, for $25.

The annual monograph series Tyr contains the above 20-page essay interview with Ralph written by Carl Abrahamsson and Joshua Buckley in its vol 4.

Although Tyr presents itself as a kind of journal – it is actually a 430 page book, no. 4 of a series named after the mythic Norse deity Tyr, who was the upholder of the traditional ways of knowledge the in the Nordic pantheon. The monograph-journal describes itself as radical traditionalist, celebrating “the traditional myths, culture and social institutions of pre-Christian, pre-modern Europe. It means to reject the modern, materialist reign of quantity over quality, the absence spiritual values, environmental devastation and overspecialization of urban life and the imperialism of corporate monoculture.” The monograph series as a whole is edited by Joshua Buckley and Michael Moynihan and presents both European and American scholars and writers.

The interview-essay, which also contains a number of black and white photographs, is the first time I have returned to many of the themes discussed in my book, The Well of Remembrance, since its original publication in 1994. Topics we discuss include: the work of Marija Gimbutas, the worldview changes and political upheavals of the 1960s, the role of psychedelics, the meaning of the myths of Odin, C.G. Jung’s views and many others.

The Tyr volume also reprints an essay by my friend the German ethnologist Christian Rätsch on “The Mead of Inspiration” – and what specific plant and fungal preparations might have been involved in that mythic brew.

Other essays in this lavishly illustrated and handsomely produced volume Tyr 4, include: What is Religion? by Alain de Benoist; What is Odinism? by Collin Cleary; Traditional Time-Telling in Old England, and Modern by Nigel Pennick; Garden Dwarves and House Spirits by Claude Lecouteux; Germanic Art in the First Millenium by Stephen Pollington; Finding the Lost Voice of our Germanic Ancestors: An Interview with Benjamin Bagby; On Barbarian Suffering by Steve Harris, and others.

Paul Lee at Tedx Santa Cruz: Thymos, The Thymus Gland, and Thyme

The Greeks had a word for it – thymos!: Paul Lee at TEDxSantaCruz

This is a 20 minute video of my friend Paul Lee giving a TED talk on Thumos, the thymus gland, and the herb thyme.

Paul Lee is a retired philosophy professor from UC Santa Cruz who has made a lifelong study of the Greek concept of “Thymos,” which means “courage to be,” the Thymus Gland, which is a part of our immune system, building up our immune system in response to stress, and the herb thyme, which is a mildly uplifiting culinary herb that boosts your immune system and promotes well being. Listening to Paul Lee’s talk about courage and Thumos will help you learn about this vital force to which we all have access.

 

The Work of Terence and Dennis McKenna – An Appreciation

Reading the fraternal autobiography, The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss,  was for me  both fascinating and moving, as I was and remain close friends with both the brothers, have shared stimulating conversations and psychedelic explorations with them, and was deeply saddened by Terence’s early death. Terence became known for his scintillating eloquence and Irish gift of the gab, like my old friend from an earlier generation Timothy Leary. His scintillating flights of the imagination, mixing far-out speculative science and arcane scholarship, delivered in his characteristic dead-pan nasally inflected voice – have astonished and delighted thousands – and remain in disembodied recordings circulating worldwide on the internet.

As his brother Dennis writes “Terence channeled the logos of the age. Silver-tongued and a riveting speaker, he articulated the concepts that his fans groped for but could not express, and did so in a witty, disarming way. He was the gnomic trickster and bard, an elfin comedian delivering the cosmic punch line, even as he assured us we were all in on the cosmic joke.” Especially, one might add, if you followed his advice and continued to take what he liked to call  “heroic doses” of psychoactive mushrooms and DMT.

Dennis, who was close to and admired his eloquent and imaginative older brother, took on a different role in society, after the two intrepid explorers returned from the shamanic-alchemical-cosmic folie-a-deux described as “the experiment at La Chorerra,” in their joint autobiography The Invisible Landscape.  Dennis went back to school, got a Ph.D. in plant biochemistry and embarked on a career as research scientist in botanical medicine. His writing, in this dual autobiography, is enormously engaging, brilliantly articulating complex issues of natural history, while dealing honestly and humbly  with the personal, familial and professional challenges with which he was confronted.

Terence once commented to me in a conversation, that while he was known as the more eloquent speaker and captivating story-teller, his brother Dennis was, in his view, the more profound thinker and scientist. “His mind goes deep into matter,” he said with obvious admiration. Indeed,  Dennis has carved out a significant career as a consultant in the development of new botanical medicines, with a slew of research publications to his credit. I’ve always loved listening to his lucid and articulate explanations of complex concepts in molecular biology and entheobotany.

One of the  most exciting passages in Dennis’s book, to my mind,  is in the chapter where he describes the research work he and two colleagues did on the chemistry and pharmacology of ayahuasca for the Brazilian UDV church – work that resulted in several scientific papers published in the botanical and pharmacological literature.  He subsequently participated in a group session with ayahuasca (or hoasca as the church calls it) for several hundred participants  – a ceremony I also attended. With the help of a concoction of the visionary vine, Dennis found himself identified as a sentient water molecule and was shown and actually subjectively experienced the entire process of photosynthesis, step by step. As a trained plant biochemist, he was able to identify and name the different processes he had come to understand objectively, as he was experiencing them subjectively, from the point of view of a single drop of water.

 “I knew that I had been give an inestimable gift, a piece of gnosis and wisdom straight from the heart-mind of planetary intelligence, conveyed in visions and thought by an infinitely wise, incredibly ancient, and enormously compassionate ‘ambassador’ to the human community.”

This was perhaps a core vision of Dennis’ life as a scientist, presaging, like the work of Jeremy Narby, a time when the instrumental external observations of material and natural scientists will be supplemented by and compared with the interior observations of those same scientists in sensitized and expanded states of consciousness.

I find a comparable core vision statement of Terence’s life work in the introduction he wrote to the Magic Mushroom Growers Guide, which the two brothers published, under pseudonyms, in 1976. This guide itself is perhaps one of the most important contributions the two brothers made to the advancement of culture – describing a relatively simple process of growing the psilocybe mushrooms from spores in glass jars – thereby making these vision mushrooms accessible to millions and obviating the plundering invasions of the mountains of Oaxaca by fungophile hippies.

 

The experiment at La Chorera

In his fraternal autobiography Dennis is frank about the early unusual degree of closeness of the two brothers, triggered perhaps by the death of their mother when they were teens, and certainly fueled by the daily consumption of huge amounts of cannabis, as they made their early 1960s migration from small town Colorado to the West Coast hippie carnival. In 1971, the two brothers, young men in the twenties, ventured on a journey to Colombia, together with several friends, to search for ayahuasca, the legendary shamanic hallucinogen,  then relatively unknown. What they found instead were large quantities of high potency psilocybe mushrooms, with which they began what they called “the experiment at La Chorera.” This was described in their co-authored 1975 book The Invisible Landscape.

Basically, the experiment consisted of both of them repeatedly ingesting rather large quantities of the mushrooms, listening to a kind of interior, alien-sounding, buzzing or humming sound, and then reproducing that sound vocally to induce a lasting expanded state of consciousness. They had a complex theory, which they were discussing and elaborating in intense daily speculative conversations,  of how the psilocybin could activate endogenous tryptamines in the brain and create some kind of “holo-cybernetic unit of superconductive genetic material, activated via tryptamine harmonic interference.”

Following the ingestion of an enormous overdose of nineteen psilocybe mushrooms (a “normal” dose being perhaps three to six), plus continuous smoking of cannabis and also some ayahuasca that Terence had brewed up, and experimenting with prolonged vocal ululations,  Dennis developed a thought-hallucination,  sympathetically supported by Terence,  in which he felt they both were in touch with a “Teacher” of some kind.  This “Teacher” would guide them to …

…generate a hologram, which would begin to broadcast the information stored in the DNA, making the data both comprehensible to thought and open to manipulation by thought. If the experiment worked, one of us in the near vicinity would be turned into a DNA radio, transmitting the collective knowledge of all earthly life, all the time. This was the information that was downloaded to me by the Teacher, a recipe for constructing a hyper-dimensional artifact that would bind four dimensions into three and thereby end history. An object made of mushrooms, bark (from ayahuasca) and my own DNA, welded together by the sound of my voice.

While Dennis was being flooded by these eschatological thought-hallucinations, and furiously scribbling notes about the information he was “downloading,” his brother Terence was playing the supportive role of maintaining contact and communication, refusing the urgings of their companions that Dennis be committed to a mental institution.

Dennis writes, in his 2012 autobiography,

“in retrospect, I see how our conceits embodied a paradox of psychedelic experience. ..on one level we understood that a molecule doesn’t contain the trip. Rather, the trip is an interaction between a living organism and molecule’s pharmacological properties. Those properties may be inherent to the drug, but the trip itself is not. .. We got that, sort of. But in our delusion, if that’s what it was, we also embraced a conflicting view: We believed an intelligent entity resided in the drug, or at least somehow communicated to us through it. Even as we theorized about the 4-D expression of the drug – that the trip could somehow be expressed on its exterior by rotation through the fourth dimension – we were assuming on another level that a being of some sort was directing the trip. We weren’t the first or the last to make that “mistake.” After all, this is very close to shamanistic views of psychedelic experience, in which the drug speaks through a skilled practitioner.”

Here, I believe, was a crucial turning point in the development of their shared delusion, due to the brothers’ inevitable conditioning and commitment to the materialist worldview, as children of their time and their place of origin.   In the shamanistic worldview, the visions do not come  from the drug,  nor from the plant, nor even from the shaman guide who speaks or sings (whom the two brothers in any event did not have).  The visions  come from the spirits associated with the plants who communicate to the shamanic practitioner or explorer.   The shaman usually has established relationships with specific plant and animal spirits through his or her practice and training, and is thus able to decode the messages and visions “coming through” (or “being downloaded”) and translate them into the locally appropriate action or teaching.

As a committed materialist in good standing with his profession,  Dennis, in his autobiography, offers his support of the reductionist credo, though he clearly has some reservations:

“These substances did none of these things. The human mind-brain created these experiences. At La Chorrera, the psilocybin somehow triggered metabolic processes that caused a part of our brains to be experienced not as part of the self, but as the “other” – a separate, intelligent entity that seemed to be downloading a great many peculiar ideas into our consciousness. That’s the reductionist perspective. Is it true? I honestly can’t say, even today. If either is true, or is the alternative  true, that there are actually entities in hyperspace that can communicate with us via something akin to telepathy when the brain is affected by large amount of tryptamine – that’s a hypothesis worth testing.”(p. 248)

Actually, from my perspective, having long ago abandoned the reductionist empiricism of modern science and become a “radical empiricist” in the sense of William James, I  would say one needs to first simply describe the experiences – and later, separately, speculate about their meanings and implications for our existing worldview. Easier said than done, I agree, considering the irrepressible excitement of new discoveries. You have to hold the theoretical speculations in abeyance until the intensity of the experiential download diminishes somewhat, and you can calmly reflect on the experience.

Certainly, by now there are enough individuals in the psychedelic shamanic subculture who have had multiple experiences of intelligent communications with spirits, and who have learned, with practice, to decipher these communications and utilize them in their projects of healing or creative expression. However, our two young explorers from Colorado in the early 1960s were just beginning their life-long journeys as psychonauts.

Over the years, I have been around dozens of people (myself included) who, as a result of ill-prepared ingestion of high-dose psychedelics,  got temporarily caught in a delusional thought-system – often including profound insights,  but over-generalized as to their significance. Delusions of grandeur are mixed with genuine amazement at the bewildering grandeur and magnificence of the actual world of nature all around us. There are several examples of such delusional over-generalization in the text that Dennis wrote at the time he was setting himself up for the high-dose experiment.

“In the final Stone the tryptamines act as a superconductive antenna to pick up on all cosmic energy in space and time.”

Not just picking up some cosmic energy, but all.

Or, “It will constitute the 4-D holographic memory of the device, and will contain and explicate the genetic history of all species.”

As if picking up the genetic history of one species or even one individual wouldn’t be enough.

Over-generalization is part of the delusions of grandeur – perhaps a special feature of high-dose psychedelic drug experiences. I recall many times at our communal experiment in Millbrook, NY,  and afterwards, being cornered by a wild-eyed hippie wanting to impart the ultimate cosmic secret he had just been granted on his trip, that he was sure everyone would appreciate for its earth-shattering profundity.

Receiving such visions does seem of overwhelming importance and it is – at least to the individual concerned. Others, like family members or professionals, may not appreciate the cosmic significance of the vision/hallucination and are more likely to be alarmed by the tenuous nature of the individual’s connections to ordinary reality. Visionaries are notorious for appearing to others like madmen.

As a psychologist, I do not believe that what the brothers experienced was schizophrenia of either variety.  The latter is characterized by  fragmented ideation and inability to think rationally. What the McKenna brothers experienced was a glimpse into what shamans would call the “spirit world”, and what they call “hyperspace.” There is an inexhaustible vastness of other dimensions of our universe that are always there but only accessible in special states of consciousness and/or through shamanic or yogic practice, or through special instrumentation.

And yes, their glimpse was fragmentary and yes they were unprepared, and yes they had no ready-made language to describe what they found – explorers never do. These non-ordinary reality visions can only be communicated if one has access to a worldview and a consensual language to describe them. The brothers McKenna did not have either at the time of their “experiment”  though they have both contributed significantly since then to creating an expanded worldview – Terence through his imaginative  and inspiring speculations, Dennis through his solid scientific investigations into ethnobotanical medicines and their neurochemical effects.

Reflecting on his experiences of forty years ago, the sixty-year old Dennis writes poignantly about the wild mis-adventure of his twenty-year old former self.

“The ravings of a madman, I’ll grant you that. And yet, there is also poetry here, and beauty, and a longing for redemption.  What I expressed is not that different from the vision articulated by the most compassionate and beautiful of the world’s religions: the universe will not achieve perfection until all beings have achieved enlightenment. Isn’t that what I’m saying? No doubt there is messianic delusion here; indeed, in passages a bit further on in that text I discuss my role as cosmic Antichrist. But there is also a deep wish for healing, not only of myself but of the universe. Our mother had been dead less than six months. I have to believe that much of what happened to us at La Chorrera was linked to that tragic event. So overwhelmed were we by the sense of loss, and of guilt, we were ready to tear space and time apart in order to reverse that cosmic injustice.” (p. 257).

Over the next couple of weeks Dennis put his fragmented identity-programs back into a functional order, while his brother Terence was obsessively starting to construct his own metaphysical system that later become known as Time Wave Zero. The brothers’ companions could see only psychosis and wanted to bring Dennis to a psychiatric facility – no small task considering they were in the Amazon jungle. Dennis writes he is “grateful to Terence for resisting the pressure to leave La Chorrera. He insisted that whatever was happening to us be allowed to unfold in its own time and on its own terms – there was no need for intervention beyond making sure that I didn’t wander off or hurt myself.”

Terence’s intuitive understanding of the need to let the fragmented self-system of his brother find its own way back to center and to wholeness was consonant with the teachings of psychiatrists like Ronald Laing, Stanislav Grof, John Perry and others who have championed the idea that some forms of so-called “psychosis” can be understood as the psyche’s own natural healing journey – that is best supported by others, and not cut short by psychiatric medications.

 

The aftermath of La Chorera and returning to mainstream reality

After returning to the US, the two brothers, more convinced than ever of the value of psilocybin mushrooms, wrote and published, under pseudonyms and with the collaboration of Kathleen Harrison as illustrator, the first Magic Mushroom Grower’s Guide which gave easy instructions for indoor cultivation and made the mushroom experience accessible to thousands. The brothers eventually took different career paths. Dennis went on to pursue graduate, doctoral and post-doctoral studies in plant chemistry and pharmacology, published research in the pharmacology of Amazonian psychoactive plants, and worked (still does) as a research consultant for the pharmaceutical and herbal industry. Terence, more of an auto-didact, devoted himself to ethnobotanical research and writing and became a much sought-after speaker on the lecture circuit.

In the introduction to the Mushroom Grower’s Guide booklet, Terence described a vision he received, perhaps the core and guiding vision of his life, of the interstellar origin of the mycelial nets, the true body of the mushrooms, which he believed maintain a “vast historical archive of the career of evolving intelligence on many worlds.” The mycelial networks seek habitable planets, he was told, where they can enter into symbiotic communication and exchange with intelligent species, providing that species with access to the “community of galactic intelligence.” The notion of the true form of the mushroom being the mycelial nets and the emphasis on symbiotic interactions of fungi with other species are points consistent with current scientific understanding of fungal evolution, as formulated in the work of Paul Stamets and Lynn Margulis. The idea of extra-terrestrial origin is uniquely and provocatively Terence McKenna, emissary from the world of entheogenic fungi.

In a later essay published in his book The Archaic Revival, Terence McKenna returns to elaborate on this theory, or rather the vision that he received and first recorded in the introduction to The Mushroom Growers Guide.

The mushroom was a species that did not evolve on Earth. Within the mushroom trance I was informed that once a culture has complete understanding of its genetic information, it reengineers itself for survival. The Stropharia cubensis mushroom’s version of reengineering is a mycelial network strategy when in contact with planetary surfaces and spore-dispersion strategy as a means of radiating throughout the galaxy…The other side does seem to in possession of a huge body of information drawn from the history of the galaxy…The Stropharia cubensis mushroom, if one can believe what it says in one of its moods, is a symbiote, and it desires ever deeper symbiosis with the human species. It achieved symbiosis with human society early by associating itself with domesticated cattle and through them human nomads.

He cheerfully goes on to argue against his own thesis of extra-terrestrial origin though, when he goes on to say: “I’ve recently come to suspect that the human soul is so alienated from our present culture that we treat it as an extraterrestrial. To us the most alien thing in the cosmos is the human soul.”

I personally find the thesis that extra-terrestrial sources of vast intelligence might be communicating to the human species via entheogenic plants and mushrooms quite plausible and worthy of further investigation. It is consistent with the fact that interest in UFOs and extra-terrestrial culture and contact has been growing tremendously in the second half of he 20th century, in tandem with other movements of consciousness expansion, such as psychedelics, shamanism, spiritual practices and higher states of consciousness. Harvard psychiatrist John Mack, who had made an intensive study of the UFO abduction experience, has shown, in his most recent book, Passport to the Cosmos, that reported contact and communication with alien intelligences is widespread and almost taken for granted in societies with living shamanic traditions. The notion that experiences with Amazonian hallucinogenic vines and mushrooms could facilitate or induce visions of extra-terrestrial visitors and space-ships, is also supported by the art of Pablo Amaringo, a Peruvian ayahuasquero who painted hundreds of visionary experiences, including many encounters with extra-terrestrial craft.

Terence McKenna’s thesis on the symbiotic role of entheogenic fungi was further extended in his major work, The Food of the Gods, in which he proposed that the discovery of consciousness-expanding mushrooms by our proto-hominid ancestors might have led to the development of language, higher intelligence and culture. While this thesis has been generally treated with disdain, or else ignored, by the academic establishment, it is interesting that there isn’t really a good alternative theory of the development of language or higher intelligence.  Furthermore, establishment academics are likely to be unfamiliar with the nature of psychedelic experience, and therefore hardly in a position to evaluate McKenna’s hypothesis objectively. As we know, those scientists who had not looked through a microscope or a telescope were not really qualified to evaluate the observations of those who had. The history of science is rife with similar examples.

In favor of the idea that mind-expanding plants may have played some role (if not the only one) in the evolution of language are:  (1) laboratory evidence that psilocybin and other psychedelics lower sensory thresholds, i.e. heighten acuity of sense perception, which would confer a direct adaptive advantage; (2) studies of brain areas activated during psilocybin states that show major activity in the frontal cortex, the area most involved in processing complex perceptions and thoughts; (3) evidence from subjective experience accounts that psychedelic mushrooms heighten cognitive awareness and linguistic fluidity – as, for example, in the chants of the Mexican Mazatec curandera Maria Sabina; and (4) heightened problem-solving ability, with adaptive advantages, is also suggested by the effective use of psychedelic drugs in psychotherapy and shamanic divination.  Terence McKenna’s Food of the Gods ranges far and wide through history, anthropology and around the globe in his review of sacred mind-expanding substances.  He re-examines R.G. Wasson’s hypothesis that soma, a mysterious substance deified in the Vedas, was basically the fly agaric mushroom cult, imported from Central Asia. Though historian of religion Mircea Eliade, who had written a masterful overview of shamanism, considered the use of psychoactive plants a degenerate form of religious practice, Wasson, on the basis of his experiences in Mexico with the psilocybe mushroom and his beliefs about soma, took the opposite view. Wasson held that all religious experience was originally induced by psychoactive plants and that the practices of yoga developed in India were substitute methods, created when the mushroom was no longer available to the ecstatic visionaries. McKenna comes down on the side of Wasson, but thinks soma was the psilocybe mushroom, not the fly agaric, for the main reason that the latter is only mildly and ambiguously psychedelic; however, apart from some ambiguous mushroom-shaped stones, no evidence has been found for either mushroom species existing in India.

It may be impossible to ever settle this question in the history of religion completely. But that some psychedelic plants may have played a role in the origins of some religious traditions, as well as some aspects of language (for example, bardic poetry) seems to me both probable and plausible.

Central to the argument McKenna makes for a role of psilocybe mushrooms are the facts that Stropharia cubensis grows in cow dung and that cattle were the main source of wealth and livelihood in early Neolithic cultures in Asia and Africa. When McKenna came upon the cave paintings on the Tassili plateau in the Sahara Desert of southern Algeria, he found the most impressive piece of evidence for a mushroom cult in the Neolithic period, dating from the 9th to the 7th millennium BCE. Judging from cave paintings of giant female beings, these people worshipped the Great Goddess, as did other cultures during  the Neolithic period in Old Europe and Anatolia. The people of the Tassili Plateau are described as the “Round Head” culture, because of cave paintings that show figures with rounded heads that could obviously be mushrooms. Among the surviving images there are running figures clutching fistfuls of mushrooms and a magnificent image of a giant anthropoid bee-faced goddess (the bee was also associated with the Goddess in Old Europe). The image is holding clusters of mushrooms in each hand and smaller mushrooms sprout from her arms, legs and trunk. Unmistakably, these people held mushrooms in very high regard. Terence McKenna writes,

“The contention here is that the rise of language, partnership society, and complex religious ideas may have occurred not far from the area where humans emerged – the game-filled, mushroom-dotted grasslands and savannahs of tropical and subtropical Africa. There the partnership society arose and flourished; there hunter-gatherer culture slowly gave way to domestication of animals and plants. In this milieu the psilocybin-containing mushrooms were encountered, consumed and deified. Language, poetry, ritual, and thought emerged from the darkness of the hominid mind.”

Concluding remarks

Re-reading and revisiting the works of the McKenna brothers brought to my mind an intriguing comparison with the life and times of another pair of pioneering scientist-scholar brothers from the early 19th century – Alexander and Wilhelm von Humboldt. Alexander von Humboldt was a naturalist and explorer who traveled extensively in Latin America, exploring and describing for the first time, in over 20 illustrated volumes, the biogeography, flora and fauna of the region. Wilhelm von Humboldt was a diplomat, educator and linguist, who made important contributions to the philosophy of language and the theory and practice of education in Prussia, their country of origin.

The McKenna brothers also have made significant contributions to expanding our scientific knowledge of mind-assisting plants, fungi and substances, to the flora and fauna of inner space geography, and to the new languages and concepts inevitably needed if we wish to understand the bewildering and fascinating world of psychoactive substances.

Works cited:

McKenna, Dennis, 2012. The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss – My Life with Terence McKenna.  St. Cloud, MN: North Star Press.

McKenna, Terence and Dennis McKenna, 1975. The Invisible Landscape: Mind, Hallucinogens and the I Ching.  NY: Seabury Press.

Oss, O.T. and Oeric, O.N., 1976. Psilocybin, Magic Mushroom Grower’s Guide. Berkeley, CA: And/Or Press.

McKenna, Terence, 1992. The Archaic Revival: Speculations on Psychedelic Mushrooms, the Amazon, Virtual Reality, UFOs, Evolution, Shamanism, the Rebirth of the Goddess, and the End of History. New York: HarperCollins.

McKenna, Terence, 1992. Food of the Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge: A Radical History of Plants, Drugs and Human Evolution. New York: Bantam Books.

A group of compassionate aliens visits retarded Earth

This is a link to a very unusual French YouTube video in nine parts, called La Belle Verte (The Beautiful Green). The story is about a group of very happy, loving people, living a simple pastoral life, on another planet – who decide to send emissaries to Earth, which they do every 100 years or so, to see how Earth civilization is progressing, and try to help out.

While on Earth they explore, with compassion,  such strange and amusing artifacts as money, cars, cities, hospitals, etc. And they have the ability to “disconnect” Earth people from their blindness, so that they then go around hugging and thanking others, and admiring the beauty in all that they see.

http://www.youtube.com/p/5369C972DDE4A827?hl=en_US&fs=1

Street grid found on ocean floor may be remnant of the lost Atlantis

A “grid of streets” on the seabed at one of the proposed locations of the lost city of Atlantis has been spotted on Google Ocean. Google Ocean, an extension of Google Earth, allows web users to virtually explore the ocean with thousands of images of underwater landscapes. The network of criss-cross lines is 620 miles off the coast of north west Africa near the Canary Islands on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean. The perfect rectangle – which is around the size of Wales – was noticed on the search giant’s underwater exploration tool by an aeronautical engineer who claims it looks like an “aerial map” of a city. The underwater image can be found at the co-ordinates 31 15’15.53N 24 15’30.53W. Atlantis experts said that the unexplained grid is located at one of the possible sites of the legendary island, which was described by the ancient Greek philosopher Plato. According to his account, the city sank beneath the ocean after its residents made a failed effort to conquer Athens around 9000 BC. The legend of Atlantis has excited the public imagination for centuries. In recent years evidence (always disputed) of the lost kingdom has been found off the coast of Cyprus and in southern Spain.

From the UK newspaper 
The Telegraph, February 20, 2009.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/google/4731313/Google-Ocean-Has-Atlantis-been-found-off-Africa.html