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Review: "The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge" by Jeremy Narby

I found Jeremy Narby's The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge while walking through Barnes and Nobles looking for Christmas gifts. Narby is a Canadian/Swiss Ph.D Anthropologist who studied at U of Canterbury and Stanford. Narby works with the Swiss non-profit Nouvelle Planéte. The text is relatively short: only 162 pages not counting the notes and bibliography which make up nearly half of the manuscript. I am a slow reader, and finished this book in about 2 weeks. It is warmly written in a 1st person perspective, so though it approaches topics of scientific research it does not exclude the author or audience from the work.

The Cosmic Serpent is not an anthropological dissertation, but Narby's explanation why scientific reasoning has limitations, and demonstrates how those limitations keep him from being able to research a phenomenon he observed working with the Ashaninca Indians of the Peruvian Amazon for 2 years.

Narby's book is important to the Neo-pagan community because 1.) it addresses the relationship between the analytical agnostic and the devotions of the Earth-conscious, and 2.) Examines the possibility of scientific evidence of Shamanism, traditional medicine, and pagan cosmologies.

Narby explains that the Ashaninca use hallucinatory plants in shamanic rituals to communicate with spirits. The imagery of Shamans is oddly similar around the world. As an anthropologist myself, I can attest that this is true. Narby brings it to the next level, and hypothesizes that there must be some scientific explanation for this, some common strand to all of the shamans. Looking further at the imagery, there is a lot of mention about line forms (snakes, ropes, vines, trees, ladders, double helices). He is introduced to the structure of DNA (mind you, his work has happened over the passed 20 years), and he starts to study human biology. The traits of DNA continue to synchronize with shamanic trance imagery. Narby believes that the trance-enduced hallucinations of shamans allow them to communicate with their DNA, and the DNA of the entities around them, on a molecular level. This could be pseudo-scientific, and Narby recognizes this. His recognition of the lack of empirical information is what sets this book apart from similar explorations. Narby needs more data to make a definitive conclusion that would allow him to make a scientifically recognized theory. He cannot fund the data, and his concept does not have scholastic merit.
There were several aspects of Narby's work that really captured my curiosity. Firstly, his account of the hallucinatory serpents shaming him, and the description of the twisted ladder/double helix, was disturbingly similar to my own experiences with ritual narcotic use. I've gone over that in a previous post. Narby makes an interesting point about how Anthropology's interpretation of Shamanism changes with the role of anthropology, showing that western thought struggles to understand the role of the shaman. The shaman Carlos paraphrases the spirits saying, "I will give you the power not for your personal gain, but for the good of all." Carlos adds, "That's why they say that there is a very narrow path on which no one can travel." Shamanic imagery of Amazonia and Australia link the serpent with crystals. This is especially interesting because DNA is, on a molecular level, a crystal. We, and all living things on earth, are essentially made up of a bunch of little crystals. "All living beings contain DNA, be they bacteria, carrots, or humans...Biotechnology proves by its very existence the fundamental unity of life." DNA emits photons at wavelengths that correspond to the narrow band of visual light, and that the emissions create a magnetic field which make constitute 'consciousness'. DNA activity increases when it is stimulated by seratonin (or seratonin-like chemicals: hallucinogens).

Narby's curiosity is nicely summed up in the last paragraph of chapter 9: "What if DNA, stimulated by nicotine and dimethyltryptamine, activates not only its emission of photons (which inundate our consciousness in the form of hallucinations), but also its capacity to pick up the photons emitted by the global network of DNA based life?

If this is true, it would support shamanic cosmology the world over, explain how shamans have their wort-cunning, give credence to serpent cults, and provide us with a deeper understanding of our biological history.

I thoroughly enjoyed every sentence of this book. It has inspired me return to working with crystals, and boosts my reverence for the serpent iconography. As an anthropologist with an interest in ethnopharmocology I am driven to write Narby about his work, and see what I can do to help. I hope that everyone takes the time to at least peruse this publication. I feel confident in Narby's work as an anthropologist, and cannot wait to hear from some biology friends about their interpretation on his biological research. This proposal could be a building block for the recognition of the work of shamans and traditiona, earth-conscious spiritualities the world over.

On a quick side note to Fauve:

The question yet to be answered: "Why do emotions hinder the ability to understand?
Also, I am willing to read for you, Fauve.

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