The Making of an Ethnobotanist in a 1960s University Scene

One of the books on my ethnobotany shelves is Witchcraft Medicine:Healing Arts, Shamanic Practices, and Forbidden Plants, a colloboration between Wolf Dieter Storl, Claudia Müller-Ebeling, and Christian Rätsch, all three anthropologists and ethnobotanists.

Müller-Ebeling and Rätsch are married and live in Hamburg, but Storl was born in Germany in 1942 and came with his family to Ohio in 1953. Now he goes back and forth but lives primarily in Germany with his American wife.

Despite the cover and and subtitle, “A German ethnobotanist’s wild roots in the Psychedelic Sixties,” what  Storll’s memoir, Far Out in America, really describes is the pre-psychedelic late 1950s and early 1960s, the time when only a few university students would have heard of LSD and — lacking a connection to certain psychology professors or a father working in the right section of the CIA — would have had no idea how actually acquire some.

Storl himself describes Far Out in America as a story of personal adventure that would be “told in the hall of the gods.”  When not in school, he sets out on epic hitchhiking adventures, passing through every subculture from Appalachian moonshiners to civil rights activists to Chicano adventurers to seasonal workers in national parks.

I liked the two half-assimilated German beatniks, sons of German scientists brought to the US after World War Two “to continue their reearch on miracle weapons, rockets, antigravitational objects, and jet fighters.” They introduce college freshman Wolf Dieter to the music of Bob Dylan, whose 1963 album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, Storl says “expressed the feeings of the times, the Weltschmerz, world-wearienss, and all that was stirring young hearts.”

For a bright young Ohian, Ohio State University is an obvious choice, and he goes off to Coumbus to study botany and agriculture, only to discover that he has enlisted in the Green Revolution, learning to “export high-yield ‘miracle seed’ to backward peasants in Asia, africa, and South America,” as one of his professors explains. The program is totally about large-scale, mechanized, monoculture farming guided by technocrats like he was being groomed to become.

Erika Bourguignon in the 1970s.

He drops out. After other false starts, he ends up in anthropology, where one of his professors is Erika Bourguignon (1924–2015), who taught more than forty years at OSU, and who was one of the few anthropologists to take “woo” — excuse me, “extraordinary states of consciousness” — seriously.

She published a lot, and when I was in grad school myself, her books and article were widely cited. Nikki Bado, my friend and former Pagan-studies book series co-editor, was one of her students.

Another was Felicitas Goodman (1914–2005), whom I met in the 1990s and thought of as sort of the European Michael Harner. She came to OSU as a middle-aged student, another one whose family emigrated to America after WW2, and earned a PhD there. She also started her own school of (neo)shamanism, The Cuyamungue Institute, in New Mexico, but also taught classes in Denmark, Germany, and other countries.

When I edited Witchcraft and Shamanism (1994) for Llewellyn, I was thrilled to get a chapter from her, “Shamans, WItches, and the Rediscovery of Trance Postures.” For the whole story how how she managed postures depicted in ancient and and indigenous pictures and sculptures with different sorts of trance experiences, read her book Where the Spirits Ride the Wind: Trance Journeys and Other Ecstatic Experiences.

Wolf Dieter Storl has numerous YouTube videos, about two-thirds of them in German and others in English.

“These Are Dangerous Books”

Dale Pendell, erudite writer of “the poison path,” author of Pharmako/Poeia, Pharmako/Gnosis, and Pharmako/Dynamis, died two years ago, but I only recently found a video of his memorial service.

I am starting this video at the 30-minute mark, because that is when Gary Snyder comes on. Quite simply, I think that most of what little wisdom I have about “nature,” the “wild,” and so on comes either from Snyder or from directions his work has given me. Read his poems, read The Practice of the Wild and The Old Ways,[1]Buy it used. and you will have it.

Gary Snyder  . . . Beat poet, Zen Buddhist-animist, not a self-proclaimed Pagan but aware of Pagan sensibilities going back to the Old TIme.

Here he reads the introduction that he wrote for Pharmako/Poeira and then gives a short biography of Pendell.

I would not be surprised if a lot of the people pushing “traditional witchcraft” poison-path stuff are not just lifting it from Pendell’s books. Because they are great.

Notes

Notes
1 Buy it used.

Massive 2015 Year-End Link Dump! Something for Everyone!

This is a Druid knife. It says so.

Some of the links that I saved that never turned into blog posts . . .

• The Internet loves quizes, so “What Kind of Witch Would You Be?” (answer: hearth witch). I always suspect that the answer is based on just one question, while the others are there just for fluff and decoration.

• I saved this link from the Forest Door blog because I liked this thought:

This is, indeed, one of the roots of many problems in modern polytheism – people being unwilling to wait and let things naturally evolve. My biggest concern here isn’t the specific examples of mis-assignment (though they do exist, and are indicative of a serious lack of understanding in some cases). It is the fact that these folks are sitting around trying to artificially assign gods to places and things as if it’s just a game, or at best an intellectual exercise.

Local cultus is the new kale.

Is a knife named for Druids meant for Druids? (Echoes of allegations of human sacrifice?) Just what does “Druid” mean here?

• I did like John Halstead’s post on “the tyranny of structurelessness.” See also “Reclaiming.” See also “The Theology of Consensus.”

• Turn off the computer and play a 1,600-year-old Viking war game.

• From last July, a Washington Post story on Asatruar in the Army.

A photography book of modern British folklore. Not an oxymoron.

• More photography: “Earth Magic – Photographer Rik Garrett Talks About Witchcraft.”

What if witches hadn’t changed that much since medieval times and were still fairly close to the popular imagery conveyed by their early enemies during the classical witchhunts?

• So you’re a Pagan? Here are ten ways to show respect for your elders. It’s the Pagan way.

• Philosophy should teach you how to live. “Why I Teach Plato to Plumbers.” Also, it’s Pagan.

• Reviewing a book on Greek and Roman animal sacrifice, which was, after all, the chief ritual back in the days when Paganism was the religion of the community.

• Was it the bells? Morris dancers attacked by dogs.

• Camille Paglia’s definition of “Pagan” is not mine, but she still kicks ass. Also, “Everything’s Awesome, and Camille Paglia Is Unhappy!”

• Embiggen thy word-hoard! Visit the Historical Thesaurus of Engish.

• But if you really want to go down the 15th-century rabbit hole, follow The Great Vowel Shift.

The New Yorker covers psychedelic therapy. To learn more, follow and donate to the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. Also: “How Psychedelics Are Helping Cancer Patients Fend Off Despair.”

Looking good for an academic interview.

A review from last year of Season of the Witch: How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll.

• From the Chronicle of Higher Education: “How to Be Intoxicated.” Not surprisingly, Dionyus figures in more than does binge-drinking.

• Apparently the Yakuza, the Nipponese Mob, planned to call off Halloween due to a gang war. So how did that work out?

Ancient Precedents for a Norwegian’s Pro-Psychedelic Campaign

berserkers

This cartoon was not part of the New York Times story, in case you wondered.

A campaign to legalize LSD, MDMA, and other psychedelics in Norway reaches for ancient precedents. Didn’t the Sami (Lapp) shamans maybe use entheogens? What about those Viking who allegedly chewed on Amanita muscaria?

(Via law-blogger Ann Althouse)

Passing of Sasha Shulgin

Here is a good article on Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin, entheogenic chemist and “father of Ecstasy,” who passed away yesterday.

Shulgin was known for discovering, creating and personally testing hundreds of psychoactive chemicals and documenting the results, along with his wife, in his books and papers.

The Shulgins published the results of their research in two volumes PiHKAL – or Phenethylamines I have Known and Loved – and TiHKAL, which stands for Tryptamines I Have Known and Loved.

Both the books, which run to more than 800 pages, were later published online for free as every person should have “the license to explore the nature of his own soul”, he told Time Magazine in 2002.

Pihkal was subtitled “A Chemical Love Story” (partly alchemical, but it includes how they got together), while Tikhal was “A Continuation.”

I have read only the first, which includes descriptions of tripping amidst the rich and powerful at the Bohemian Grove, where he played the viola in an amateur string quartet. Yes, he was a member and apparently saw no contradictions in that. He had friends there.

After Decades, Legitimate LSD Therapy

Long, long ago, in other words, the 1960s, some psychiatrists and others were interested in the therapeutic potential of LSD, after the Central Intelligence had pretty well decided that it was useless for making spies confess.

There were two approaches to LSD back then. One was more cautious — it should be distributed quietly to artists, intellectuals, opinion-makers, etc. for a gradual transformation of society. Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World and The Island was in that camp.

The other approach was epitomized by psychologist Timothy Leary: Give it to everyone, now! Turn on, tune in, drop out!

We all know which approach won out and what happened. One result of the subsequent legal crackdown was that serious research with LSD became impossible.

That has changed.

On Tuesday [March 4,2014], The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease is posting online results from the first controlled trial of LSD in more than 40 years. The study, conducted in the office of a Swiss psychiatrist near Bern, tested the effects of the drug as a complement to talk therapy for 12 people nearing the end of life . . . . The new publication marks the latest in a series of baby steps by a loose coalition of researchers and fund-raisers who are working to bring hallucinogens back into the fold of mainstream psychiatry. Before research was effectively banned in 1966 in the United States, doctors tested LSD’s effect for a variety of conditions, including end-of-life anxiety.

Read the rest in the New York Times.

Kind of related: a short article, “Beyond Castaneda: A Brief History of Psychedelics in Anthropology – Part 1  1859-1950.” (Part 2 has not yet appeared.)

Ayahuasca Tourism and Pagan Holidays

Kira Salak, a writer for National Geographic, has a good article published on her ayahuasca pilgrimage to Peru.

But she can’t call it a that. It was “a lark,” at least the first time:

And then there is me, who a year ago came to Peru on a lark to take the “sacred spirit medicine,” ayahuasca, and get worked over by shamans. Little suspecting that I’d emerge from it feeling as if a waterlogged wool coat had been removed from my shoulders—literally feeling the burden of depression lifted—and thinking that there must be something to this crazy shamanism after all.

And so I am back again.

I have read a lot of put-downs of this sort of journey. The term “ayahuasca tourism” is tossed around, along with the presumption that any such experience cannot possibly be “authentic,” whatever that means.

Such an attitude may suit neo-puritans, but it is profoundly un-Pagan.

In the collection Anthropological Research on Contemporary Tourism (thanks to Amy W. for the citation), Nelson Graburn offers a “Working/Traveling Matrix,”

                                          Stay                                      Travel

 Voluntary                     “Doing Nothing” at home                  Tourism and/or recreation

Compulsory/Serious    Work, incl. school & housework       Occupations requiring travel

What I see in this is the attitude that if you are not getting paid to travel, it’s not real, and that if it is not work, it is not serious travel.

Think of those times when you have met someone — or maybe said about yourself — who claimed to be a “traveler” but not a “tourist.”

Imagine someone leaning against a wall two thousand years ago outside the sacred precinct of Delphi, sneering, “Look at that — another bunch of rich oracle tourists.” (Well, there were the Cynics.) But a scholar of religious tourism in ancient Greece writes,

Many tourism scholars however have begun to recognize that the differences between what is a tourist and what is a pilgrim is not as large as was once thought. These scholars have coined a new term, the religious tourist, to describe those travelers who seem to bridge the gap between the traditional definition of a pilgrim and the traditional definition of a tourist.

Maybe a contemporary writer has to describe her trip as “a lark” in order to distance herself from the fact that it might be a pilgrimage, leading some of her readers to dismiss her as a “religious wacko.”

Entheogens for Good and Evil

Probably most people who have taken MDMA (Ecstasy, Adam) have felt that it can be a very “psychological” entheogen, enabling you to look at your thoughts in a dispassionate and sort of therapeutic way. Now a new study shows that it can be useful in treating war veterans with post-traumatic stress syndrome for that very reason.

“The feeling I got was nothing at all for 45 minutes, then really bad anxiety, and I was fighting it at first,” said Anthony, the Iraq veteran, who patrolled southwest of Baghdad in 2006 and 2007 amid relentless insurgent harassment and attacks with improvised explosive devices. “And then — I don’t know how to put it, exactly — I felt O.K. and messed up at the same time. Clear. It was almost like I could go into any thought I wanted and fix it.”For instance, he could think and talk about an attack that occurred in a town near Baghdad, in which Iraqis posing as allies — and who had been armed by the American military — turned their guns on American troops, killing several. The unit could not quickly evacuate its wounded because of weather conditions. Anthony’s rage and grief were so overwhelming that he had to suppress them and did so for years.

On the other hand, entheogens administered to unsuspecting people can be destructive, something the Central Intelligence Agency learned in 1953. That death, of a government researcher, is news again because his family is suing the CIA for causing it, claiming that it was murder, not drug-induced suicide.

For more on the Cold War use of LSD as a “secret weapon,” read Jay Stevens’ Storming Heaven: LSD and the American Dream.

Timothy Leary Floated Here

To raise money for the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies  (MAPS), the organization is auctioning off a floatation tank used by Timothy Leary near the end of his life.

MAPS raises money and lobbies for research in using psychedelic (entheogenic) drugs in mental-health treatments. I donate to them and have the MAPS hoodie to show for it, but a $5,000 opening bid is a little rich for my blood.

But I did try the floatation tank experience, back in the early 1980s. From Wikipedia:

Flotation therapy developed from the research work of John Lilly although he was not primarily interested in therapy, rather in the effect of sensory deprivation on the human brain and mind.

People using early float tanks discovered that they enjoyed the experience and that the relaxed state was also a healing state for many conditions including stress, anxiety, pain, swelling, insomnia and jet lag.

As a result float tanks were produced for commercial uses and commercial float centres offering flotation therapy opened in several countries during the period from 1980 to the present day when there are hundreds of flotation centres in dozens of countries. In almost all cases these float centres offer wellness treatments and in particular the release of stress.

And it was John Lilly himself who donated this tank originally.

I found the experience restful and relaxing, but I did it without the DMT or LSD that made it really “cosmic” for some folks.

In the early 1990s I attended a nature-writing workshop at New Buffalo in Arroyo Hondo, New Mexico. In the late 1960s, funded by one guy’s inheritance, it was a famous commune, until it suffered the typical fate of being overrun by losers and freeloaders, and the residents shut the gates, so to speak. When I was there, the owners were trying to make it a mini-conference center and extremely crunchy B&B.

There was a sign in the main room, which read something like, “Timothy Leary slept here. Or maybe he stayed up all night.”