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

I found this book shortly before Christmas, and knowing that it was too late to add to the list for Santa made the purchase myself. I have just begun reading it, and will give a full review when I'm finished, but found something that really interested me and had to discuss it. Narby's book is about resolving how native shamans, of Amazonia in particular, know how to use plants for medicine. The shamans of the area have explained for years that the knowledge comes from their trance state. Academic anthropology dismisses this explination. Narby is exploring it.

In my previous post, I published an account from my other blog about my experiments with Cannabis Sativa. I am not a recreational drug user by any stretch of the imagination: I barely drink. Curiousity and a background in ethnobotany inspired me to use the drug, then try to meditate. In short, I had a unique experience that resolved a meditative issue that I had been struggling with: the capacity to ground and be free simultaneously. The paradox of the state I was in reached its zenith when I felt I was in a whirling gyroscope descending an ascending, turning double-helix. Finding I had resolved my issue through the use of the plant, I began to feel extraordinarily guilty, to the point of seeking divine forgiveness.

Now, after reading a bit in the Narby book, I wonder if instead of asking for forgiveness I should have questioned. Narby writes of his experience drinking Ashaninca's Ayahuasca:

I began seeing kaleidoscopic images behind my closed eyes... I feel my mind crack, and in the fissures, I see the bottomless arrogance of my presuppositions. It is profoundly true that I am just a human being, and, most of the time, I have the impression of understanding everything, whereas here I find myself in a more powerful reality that I do not understand at all and that, in my arrogance, I did not even suspect existed. I feel like crying in view of the enormity of these revelations. Then it dawns on me that this self-pity is part of my arogance. I feel so ashamed that I no longer dare feel ashamed.

Then, comments on the research of Eliade (1964) p. 5 ("specializing in a trance"), pp. 96-97 ("secret language"), pp. 126ff and 487ff. (vines, ropes, ladders), and p. 9 ("spirits of the sky"):

Wherever these "technicians of ecstasy" operate, they specialize in a trance during which their "soul" is believed to leave the body and ascend to the sky or descend to the underworld." They all speak a "secret language" which they learn directly from the spirits, by imitation. They talk of a ladder--or a vine, a rope, a spiral staircase, a twisted rope ladder--that connects heaven and earth and which they use to gain access to the world of the spirits.

I believe that their ladder, and my double-helix are the same thing. I want to go back and research Eliade's work now. I need to return to meditation at some point, and after regaining control of my psychic awareness, I might have to take another go. Shamanic research is an area that I am interested in learning more about, but hardly consider it an area of concentration.

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