Are some of the fantastical elements in Homer's Odyssey actually based on hallucinations caused by plant-based psychedelics?
Homer's "Odyssey" recounts the adventures of the Greek hero Odysseus during his journey home from the Trojan War. Though some parts may be based on real events, the encounters with monsters, giants and magicians are considered to be complete fiction. But might there be more to these myths than meets the eye? Matt Kaplan explains why there might be more reality behind the "Odyssey" than many realize.
To learn more about the use of shamanic plants in ancient cultures around the world, grab a copy of Paul Devereux's wonderful book The Long Trip: A Prehistory of Psychedelia (available from Amazon US and Amazon UK).
Humans and canines have a long history of working together, with the use of hunting dogs stretching back to perhaps 20,000 years ago. And in some cultures, it seems ancient shamanic practices related to hunting success have extended to their four-legged partners: according to a new paper in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, at least 43 difference species of psychedelic plants have been used in cultures around the world to allegedly improve the performance of hunting dogs.
The researchers focused on the Ecuadorian Shuar and Quichua people - who use at least 22 species "for ethnoveterinary purposes" - trying to determine the possible pharmacological basis for the use of these plants with hunting dogs:
The use of psychoactive substances to improve a dog׳s hunting ability seems counterintuitive, yet its prevalence suggests that it is both adaptive and that it has an underlying pharmacological explanation. We hypothesize that hallucinogenic plants alter perception in hunting dogs by diminishing extraneous signals and by enhancing sensory perception (most likely olfaction) that is directly involved in the detection and capture of game. If this is true, plant substances also might enhance the ability of dogs to detect explosives, drugs, human remains, or other targets for which they are valued.
For more on the topic of animals and psychedelics, see the links below.
Last month the 2015 Breaking Convention - a multidisciplinary conference on psychedelic consciousness - was held at the University of Greenwich in the U.K. Quite a few of our good friends were in attendance (some speaking/performing), and I'm thrilled to see that quite a few of the talks are now available on the Breaking Convention Vimeo Channel.
Above I've embedded Professor David Nutt's excellent talk about the need for changes in drug policy, not least to assist in medical research. Others available include Daniel Pinchbeck chatting about DMT entities, Dr Rick Strassman on Neurotheology and Kat Harrison discussing 'The Perception of Feminine Personas in Psychoactive Species'. If you're interested in the topics of shamanism and psychedelics, but couldn't make it to the conference, dig in!
The 2015 Breaking Convention is on this weekend in London, so if you're in the area and interested in all things shamanistic and psychedelic you should definitely make the effort to get on down to the University of Greenwich and attend.
Speakers at the conference include a bunch of absolute legends in the field: Jonathan Ott, Kat Harrison, Rick Doblin, Amanda Feilding, Dale Pendell, Rick Strassman, Carl Ruck, Martina Hoffman and David Nutt. Also there will be a bunch of people Grailers might be well familiar with, including Daniel Pinchbeck, Anthony Peake, Jack Hunter and David Luke.
Fantastic line-up, sad that I'm on the other side of the globe from this one. Note though, if you're in the same boat as me, that the Breaking Convention website posts plenty of online videos of talks from previous years that you can enjoy from the comfort of your own home.
Link: Breaking Convention 2015
Here's an interesting remnant from back in the days when it was still kosher to conduct scientific studies with LSD. An artist --whose identity has been lost-- was administered two 50-microgram doses of LSD, each separated by a lapse of one hour, and was then asked to draw portraits while under its influence, using the doctor who administered the drugs as model. The gradual progression into a freer and more abstract style, is a tell-tale indication of how the psychedelic is influencing not only the perceptions of the test subject, but also its creative processes.
It is believed these artworks are part of a study conducted by Oscar Janiger, a University of California-Irvine psychiatrist known for his work on LSD, which started in 1954 and continued on for the next seven years.
Einstein once said "No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it." Given the incapacity of our world leaders against not only the age-old problems plaguing humanity since the Dawn of Time --e.g. War, Hunger and Poverty-- but also new threats like Climate Change, I'd say the answer to their stagnation is pretty obvious...
Remember that time it was revealed that Francis Crick, co-discoverer of the structure of the DNA molecule, used LSD and couldn't have made his discovery without it? The anecdote is often mentioned by those extolling the virtues of psychedelics as a way of 'opening the mind' to new ideas. Which would be great, except - according to Andy Roberts, well-known author on psychedelic topics - "the fact is that the story simply isn’t true. It’s an urban legend. The product of churnalism".
Prior to Crick’s death in 2004 there had been no mention anywhere of him using LSD as part of the process of discovering the double helix. Until, just ten days after his death, that literary bastion of truth and moral fortitude the Daily Mail, published an article on 8 August 2004, headed ‘Crick was high on LSD when he discovered the secret of life!’
Written by journalist Alun Rees, using information based on an interview conducted with a friend of the chemist Richard Kemp (one of the two chemists who manufactured LSD for the 1970s British LSD manufacturing and distribution conspiracy known as Operation Julie), the article is a mishmash of wishful thinking and idle speculation. It implies that Crick used LSD as part of his quest to discover the double helix structure of DNA and, furthermore, that Crick was involved in the genesis of Operation Julie.
If this story held even the slightest grain of truth, one would have thought the story would have been at least rumoured while Crick was still alive. But it wasn’t. Rees had obtained the post-mortem journalistic ‘scoop’ from one Garrod Harker, allegedly a friend of Richard Kemp.
...Presumably Daily Mail readers were expected to believe that the story couldn’t be published before Crick’s death because of his threat of legal action, and that threat is used in the article to strongly imply the story was genuine. It’s a great journalistic technique; allege that a ‘celebrity’ has told you a secret but that this secret is so special that if you reveal it during their lifetime, they will take punitive legal action. It then makes sense to reveal the bombshell after their death, and use the alleged threat of legal action to explain why you kept quiet about it until now. It’s a wonderful piece of circular logic and almost guarantees your scoop will be published because, whether true or not, no legal action can be taken against journalist or newspaper because the subject is dead.
Whatever the case, once printed after Crick’s death, the story immediately leapt from the printed page onto the internet where it has spread and grown uncritically, becoming a kind of fact-currency for those wishing to justify their ‘scientific’ use of LSD.
(We here at the Grail are mentioned specifically, due to an interview we did with Graham Hancock in which he mentioned this anecdote).
Roberts points out that it is certainly a fact that Crick experimented with LSD later in his life. However, the chances of him using it as a tool to make his great discovery are slim, given the timeline of LSD first appearing in Britain.
Does it really matter either way? Andy Roberts thinks it does. "The present psychedelic renaissance is afoot and going well", he notes. "LSD tests with humans are now taking place again, and scientists are beginning to re-discover the enormous potential psychedelics have for creating and sustaining real change in individuals and thus societies. But the psychedelic renaissance has its critics and its enemies too, and if claims such as those made about Crick can be easily shot down in flames, what does that say about the credulity levels of those within the psychedelic community who would believe and promote them?"
Full story: Francis Crick, DNA & LSD
Saturday, December 20th. On the last weekend before the Christmas holidays, many people in Mexico are celebrating the traditional posadas: Festivities still clinging to some religious overtones, which for the most part have devolved into an excuse to eat a lot, drink a lot, and watch the kiddies beat the crap out of a star-shaped piñata, so they can afterward wrestle for all the candy and fruit inside of it once it finally breaks.
My own family is also gathered in one of those parties, but I'm not with them. I'm standing instead on a small circle with other people I've just met today, just a stone-throw away from the ancient city of Teotihuacán, whose massive ruins are now being shrouded by the darkness; on the circle's center there is a timid fire straining to illuminate the congregation, who is attentively listening to the voice of a short, elderly man, dressed in a white-cloth suit brightly adorned with colored patterns on the sleeves and the of bottom of his trousers. The words are an almost unintelligible mix of Spanish and indigenous dialect, spoken in a soft yet commanding tone. Standing next to him is his wife, his 18-year-old son, a teenage girl -- the son's girlfriend-- and a cheerful boy who couldn't be more than 7 years old, who is also the child of the elderly man.
The name of the man is Don Clemente, and he is a Marakame --a shaman or medicine man among his people, the Wixárika indians who are also known as Huicholes. His words, which were later translated by his oldest son --also with the same name-- are a salutation to all of us who have gathered around the circle on this fateful evening.
We are gathered here to celebrate a Winter Solstice ceremony ministered by the Marakame, and I am about to ... Read More »
Over at Boing Boing, Johann Hari (Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs) writes about drug use in the animal kingdom - and by extension, in human society. He begins by discussing the work of Professor Ronald Siegel:
As a young scientific researcher, Siegel had been confidently told by his supervisor that humans were the only species that seek out drugs to use for their own pleasure. But Siegel had seen cats lunging at catnip — which, he knew, contains chemicals that mimic the pheromones in a male tomcat’s pee —so, he wondered, could his supervisor really be right? Given the number of species in the world, aren’t there others who want to get high, or stoned, or drunk?
This question set him on a path that would take twenty-five years of his life, studying the drug-taking habits of animals from the mongooses of Hawaii to the elephants of South Africa to the grasshoppers of Soviet-occupied Czechoslovakia. It was such an implausible mission that in one marijuana field in Hawaii, he was taken hostage by the local drug dealers, because when he told them he was there to see what happened when mongooses ate marijuana, they thought it was the worst police cover story they had ever heard.
Here at the Grail we've also previously posted about jaguars tripping on harmine and reindeer eating magic mushrooms. In his fantastic book High Society: Mind-altering drugs in history and culture, Mike Jay also notes that human drug use may have been, in some cases, inspired by other animals:
In many human cultures, the origin stories of plant-derived drugs involve tales of people observing and copying the habits of animals. In Ethiopia, for example, the discovery of coffee is attributed to goatherders who observerd their flock becoming frisky and high-spirited after consuming coffee beans. Goats are very fond of coffee, and modern plantations must be robustly fenced against them; their taste for the effects of caffeine may have prompted the plant, which spreads it seeds via animal droppings, to produce it. Theirs is a long-standing symbiosis, though human participation in the cycle is relatively new.
(For more on the beginnings of psychoactive drug use by humans, take a look at Paul Devereux's The Long Trip: A Prehistory of Psychedelia*)
Both Johann Hari and Mike Jay also note another aspect of drug use in animals - that it is often closely related to their environment, and sometimes with trauma being suffered. Hari notes that in Vietnam, "the water buffalo have always shunned the local opium plants. They don’t like them. But when the American bombs started to fall all around them during the war, the buffalo left their normal grazing grounds, broke into the opium fields, and began to chew." In Professor Siegel's research, a mongoose avoided the hallucinogenic silver morning glory in its pen until its mate died in a storm. And Mike Jay cites the research of addiction psychologist Bruce Alexander, in which rats taken out of cages and given a pleasant environment to live in reduced their intake of a supplied morphine solution to 1/20th that of their caged neighbours.
In all, Jay concludes:
Such experiments do not disprove the claim that animals take drugs for their chemical rewards, but they do indicate that the impulse to take drugs is more than a simple behavioural reflex. In humans, of course, the variables become far more complicated. Sensory pleasure is an obvious component of most drug use, though the definitions of pleasure are as varied as human culture itself. But some drugs offer strictly functional benefits. The ability to alter consciousness in dramatic but controllable ways has many uses, and there is much evidence to suggest that humans have long used such drugs instrumentally: even, in some cases, elaborating their entire social systems around the heightened states of consciousness such substances produce.
(* Full disclosure: The Long Trip is printed by Daily Grail Publishing)
In this 48 minute appearance at the Horizons: Perspectives on Psychedelics forum in New York last month, Graham Hancock contemplates the history of how humans have dealt with psychedelics:
Graham Hancock investigates the possibility that by demonising and criminalising the use of psychedelics, rather than seeking out ways to harness their power for altering consciousness in safe and nurturing spaces, our society may have set itself on a profoundly negative path — a path that might even deny us the next step in our own evolution as a species.
After many decades of being a forbidden topic, research into psychedelic experiences and their possibly beneficial effects is once again blooming. For a fantastic exploration of the topic, check out the documentary Science and Sacraments (embedded above) which "surveys the history of psychedelic research and the current renaissance, focusing on the potential to enhance insight and creativity, foster psychological healing and growth, and catalyze spiritual awakening".
You can grab a hard copy of the documentary on DVD from the Institute of Noetic Sciences.