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Breaking Open the Head: A Psychedelic Journey into the Heart of Contemporary Shamanism

Breaking Open the Head: A Psychedelic Journey into the Heart of Contemporary Shamanism [Kindle Edition]

Daniel Pinchbeck
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*Starred Review* Stop the eye-rolling--now! The words psychedelic and contemporary can be used in the same subtitle, as can contemporary and shamanism without referring to American consumer shamanism ("I took a weekend workshop") but to the real thing, practiced by the Bwiti of Africa and by Amazon brujos. Pinchbeck's startling and absorbing book flashes from German philosopher Walter Benjamin and British mind-explorer Aldous Huxley to the literature of anthropology to the politics of drug use, all while touring Gabon's outback, the lush South American jungle (six miles and several world-views away from industrialization), and the wild, evanescent culture of Burning Man in the Nevada desert. What keeps the book from being just another apologia pro wasted vita sua is the depth of Pinchbeck's personal searching. An agnostic with yearnings toward mysticism at the book's beginning, he underwent, and he documents, a genuine experience of the divine that resulted from "breaking open" the rational mind. He achieved a sophisticated vision, but one not without unease, for he encountered demons as well as gods in the otherworlds. But nothing is more demonic, he concludes, than a society whose relentless commodification blasts a short route to addiction. Grippingly dramatic, powerfully moving, this is a classic of the literature of ecstasy. Patricia Monaghan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

From Library Journal

In this firsthand account of the world of psychedelic substances today, Village Voice and Rolling Stone writer Pinchbeck weaves elements of his personal life, including vivid descriptions of his reactions to the substances he takes, with larger topics, such as the history of psychedelic substances in the modern world and the foundations of shamanism. To aid his inquiry, he participates in visionary rituals around the world, e.g., taking iboga as part of a tribal initiation in Gabon. He also discusses key figures such as Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsberg, and Terence McKenna. Pinchbeck repeatedly decries the rationalism and destructiveness of Western culture and the shortsightedness of completely outlawing psychedelic substances. The book is not an extended diatribe, however. The author offers various viewpoints on how certain drugs should be used and on whether a modern, Western shamanism is possible. Pinchbeck posits a universe that may be difficult to accept, but his book will be of interest for public and academic libraries.
Stephen Joseph, Butler Cty. Community Coll. Lib., PA
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.


  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • Dateigröße: 590 KB
  • Seitenzahl der Print-Ausgabe: 272 Seiten
  • ISBN-Quelle für Seitenzahl: 0767907426
  • Verlag: Three Rivers Press; Auflage: 1 (6. August 2002)
  • Verkauf durch: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Sprache: Englisch
  • Text-to-Speech (Vorlesemodus): Aktiviert
  • X-Ray:
  • Durchschnittliche Kundenbewertung: 5.0 von 5 Sternen  Alle Rezensionen anzeigen (1 Kundenrezension)
  • Amazon Bestseller-Rang: #226.261 Bezahlt in Kindle-Shop (Siehe Top 100 Bezahlt in Kindle-Shop)

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5.0 von 5 Sternen Another trip into shamanism 28. Dezember 2006
There are a lot books about learning the principles of shamanism, but only a few of them are really good. This is one of these few books. It is not the positive scum about the positive way of shamanism. It is quiet rational, a bit critical, pessimistic and clearly written. This guy knows how to sell his ideas and convince you by his way.

He describes various aspects of modern shamanism including burning man festival and tribal tourism. Though he criticizes most of what he experieces he is coming to a deeper understanding of the underlying principles behind it all.

Everyone interested in shamanism should read this book. Maybe it is not breaking open your head, but maybe it still will open your eyes.
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170 von 183 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
4.0 von 5 Sternen Stalking the sacred plants 14. Januar 2003
Von Royce E. Buehler - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
(Four and a half stars) Dreams are fascinating, and psychedelic experiences are fascinating, to the one who has them. And the rule of thumb is, that people's descriptions of their fascinating dreams and trips rate right up there on the boredom
meter with hole-by-hole narratives of your boss's last golf game.
It's not coincidence, I think, that the two great, readable narratives to come out of the psychedelia's da-glo glory days in the sixties (Wolfe's Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test) and its nightmarish decline and fall in the seventies (Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) came from two fellows whose primary love and loyalty was to journalism. Then the substances that Daniel Pinchbeck calls "entheogens" fell into cultural eclipse, the interminable pathology known as the War on Drugs took center stage, and little original or noteworthy has been published on the topic for quite a while. Terence McKenna, brilliant but sometimes barely in touch with the real world, has had the field pretty much to himself.
Now we've got another entrant, not quite up to Wolfe or Thompson, but as wide ranging as McKenna, while staying more level-headed and instructive. The strengths of "Breaking Open the Head" are once again journalistic. Pinchbeck undertakes an odyssey in search of genuine shamans, who can properly initiate him into the authentic use of psychoactive plants. He takes us with us on his journey, sets us into scenes from West Africa, to the invisible perennial contemporary Woodstock in Nevada known as the Burning Man Festival, to the Amazon, to the peyote fields of Mexico, to labs in New York City where chemicals the plant kingdom never quite got around to inventing are concocted and consumed.
We get Pinchbeck's trip reports, yes. We also get his personal spiritual journey, and a refreshingly objective picture of what remains of traditional shamanistic cultures, and what is emerging of Western shamanism (or pseudo-shamanism, as the case may be.) Best of all, we get his thought-provoking ruminations, goosed by his eclectic reading from Huxley to Eliade to Walter Benjamin to Rudolf Steiner, as to what this mysterious human drive to get high at almost any cost is all about. I don't think much of his answers, but his principal question is spang on: what is it about Western civilization? What gives us this chip on our shoulder about any and all forms of ecstatic consciousness, chemically assisted or not? Why is ours almost the only culture in the world to regard hallucinogenic plants with horror, rather than with reverence and
In the final few chapters, Pinchbeck goes off the deep end, down a rabbit hole into which few of his readers will probably want to follow, convinced that there are objectively real "plant spirits" out there directing psychedelic experiences. But his reportorial instincts are so sound, that he doesn't let his ultimate views color his account of events along the way. And so we are free to ponder some of the questions he doesn't raise. Like: if these chemicals are so all-fired spiritual, why are half the traditional shamans he meets violent, or greedy, or vain? And: how is it that all the ingesters from traditional societies
take the drugs to get practical advice from the spirit world on how to live their ordinary lives, while all the westerners take them in order to find Ultimate Answers, and to step outside consensus reality? With goals so different, can the Westerners' quest really lay claim to the value these substances might have within traditional cultures?
A lively, illuminating read, one of those books that is as fun to argue with as it is to learn from.
84 von 90 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Psychedelics and Anti-Capitalism 23. Dezember 2002
Von Thomas M. Seay - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe|Von Amazon bestätigter Kauf
We can now speak of an entheogenic renaissance and this book is part of the growing literature of that movement. "Breaking Open the Head" is an autobiographical account in which the author details his transformation from a cynical Manhattan atheist to an entheogenic psychonaut. Along the way, the writer introduces us to the various psychedelics in use, their effects and cultural history (i.e how they have been used throughout history &/or at present).
One element that differentiates this book from other psychedelic accounts is Pinchbeck raises criticisms of capitalism, often via
the voice of Walter Benjamin. We are all under the spell of capital. We are hypnotised by commercials and advertising jingles. We are told, by the powers that be, that capitalism is "natural", that we have arrived at some kind of Hegelian "End of History", in which capitalism has won and any attempts to imagine a different scenario, a different form of global exchange, is empty utopianism. Unfortunately, many of us have accepted this fabrication. And so it is, that the rainforest continues to be depleted, many people in Third World countries live in poverty (thanks to multinational corporations and the politics of debt played by such organizations as the World Bank); spiritually
empty we, in the post-industrial capitalist countries, greedily seek to fill our spiritual emptiness with things, commodities. We consume more and more, yet still cannot fill the emptiness. We're like rats on a turnwheel.
Psychedelics MAY be PART of the antidote to all of this.
Through psychedelics we are awakened from our trance and can see the world from a completely different perspective. Psychedelics spark creativity. It has been said that Silicon Valley (where I work by the way) would not exist if it were not for acid. That may be an exaggeration, but only in part. Numerous luminaries in the field of computer science sought/seek inspiration through psychedelic visions. What's more, psychedelics reveal a broader (not necessarily HIGHER) reality. As biological organisms, our brains have specialized (at least this is my opinion) and have closed out many parts of the larger reality that exists. In our everyday existence, We stare out at the world through a narrow chink and conclude that is all there is.
All this may sound incredible to those who have never experienced
the states entrained by psychedelics. Many believe that psychedelics are a means of escaping reality. It is possible, like all things, that they could be used to that end. However,
for the escapist, psychedelics would not be the drug of choice. The reason for this being that psychedelics are AMPLIFIERS, not sedatives. If you were to use them as a means to escape some phenomenon, that phenomenon would more than likely end up in your trip amplified to the nth power!
I am happy that through his book an anti-capitalist orientation has been introduced into the psychedelic context. While it is true that psychedelics have more or less defied being co-opted by capitalism (indeed there is a "war on drugs" campaign), there could be in the future an attempt to "integrate" psychedelics into capitalism. We have seen how the "New Age" is, for the most part, a marketing scheme. We have learned how paranormal talents, such as remote viewing, were tested by the CIA for use in spying. Should we break through this period of "anti-drug hysteria", one can well imagine that psychedelics could be coopted for capitalist use.
We, instead, should use psychedelics as a means of breaking free of the capitalist mindset, envisioning other possible socio-economic systems, and re-associating with the broader reality that exists (which some call the "spirit world").
58 von 62 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Absolutely essential reading on many levels....... 3. Oktober 2002
Von Ein Kunde - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
If you've found the writing of Terence McKenna interesting and thought-provoking, then you should consider this book an immediate must-read. However, Pinchbeck's book deserves to be read (and hopefully WILL be read) by a much wider cross-section of society than McKenna's. One of the problems inherent to writing about psychedelic experiences is that the nature of the experience itself makes describing it through the written word extremely difficult. I think Pinchbeck has done an incredible job of bridging this gap (to the extent that is indeed possible) and relating his experiences in a way that even someone who has never touched a psychedelic substance can begin to understand.
While that in itself is an important achievement, I think the real value of this book lies in the moral and ethical issues it ultimately poses for the reader...and this includes both those who've used these types of drugs, as well as those who've never even had a beer. The issues of corporate greed, ecosystem destruction, and blatant consumerism have never been more relevant to our society; the author addresses these issues with thought-provoking insight, and offers some extremely interesting and somewhat frightening ideas about the future of the human race....ideas that seem to have been catalyzed, but NOT created, by his use of psychedelics.
In my opinion, that's where the real value of this book lies, and the reason it should be a rewarding and worthwhile read for anyone who considers himself a concerned, active, thinking member of society and the human race. It would be a tragedy if potential readers overlook this and skip the book based on a preconceived notion about the subject matter.
26 von 28 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen To Put It Simple 25. Juni 2004
Von Julian P. Lazaro - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
This book, like all good books, expanded my consciouness without the use of any psychedelics- psychonauts please think on these words.
Anyway, I found that the most important idea explored in this book to cover in my review is that human beings have many, perhaps infinite doors into different states of consciousness within the human mind. Whether or not we choose to deny these completely different worlds, we must understand that current "rational" theories about the world, and about consciousness in general could never be true or complete without exploring these worlds; if you see them you know that many are just as true as "rational" reality. Those doors are there for a reason, or they simply wouldn't be there. Interestingly enough, not only are the doors there after millions of years of evolution, but many keys to open these doors are naturally occuring in thousands of diverse life-forms all over the world (Some of which Mr. Pinchbeck describes wonderfully). Considering psychoactives, I find it particularly interesting that (for example) although the brain has a receptor for THC found in the soft drug marijuana which kills 0 people a year (themselves from use), alcohol- the legal alternative- poisons the brain to intoxication and kills countless brain cells, users and non-users a year. It is also important to note that in general natural psychelics cause no physical addiction or damage (quite the opposite), as the brain is wired specifically for their use. I don't necessarily support the habitual use of drugs, as I find that the mind can be explored to a great extent without them, but they are tools on this earth which we are obviously meant to use- if you don't agree, read this book, as I found it very convincing.
Don't forget to explore EROWID.ORG!!!
One Love
26 von 28 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
4.0 von 5 Sternen More Flapdoodle, Please! 4. November 2003
Von Christopher B. Murray - Veröffentlicht auf
Okay, so he ain't Wittgenstien, but neither was Ludwig. Pinchbeck deserves a decicive clap on the back for his feverish, foolhardy romp into the unknown. To those who pooh pooh him, I ask--what have you done for me lately? This is Kapucinski meets Casteneda in a dread-laced Holographic Universe, and if you feel that intellectual rigor is lacking, or that the author relies too much on Benjamin's politics, I ask you when you last met the splinter-faced god of the forest? I feel that Pinchbeck is earnest and refuses to pose as a guide when he is in fact nothing but a balsy, intellectual Brooklynite who grew bored with chatter-mouthed literati and with himself--so he decided to cast the eternal dice and record his findings with talent and intelligence that may not be first rate, but are, nevertheless, uncharateristic of our time. In sum: a pip.
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