“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,((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.

The Southwest Follows Us to Salem & Salem Follows Us Home

Yet another addition to the Peabody Essex Museum is under construction.

Before M. and I left on this trip, someone mentioned a Georgia O’Keeffe exhibit at the big Peabody Essex Museum in Salem. As it happened, the exhibit ended just before we arrived, but that’s all right — we can visit a whole museum devoted to her painting in Santa Fe whenever we are down there.

We live in southern Colorado – within the province of New Mexico, if you follow a pre-1821 map.((Not that the Spanish ever settled this far north, although Gov. Juan Bautisa de Anza’s epic 1776 pursuit of Comanche raiders ended in a battle not far away.)) So we often feel that Santa Fe, more than Denver, is our cultural capital.

T. C. Cannon, self-portrait, 1975 (Wikipedia).

And what did the PEM have to replace O’Keefe: an exhibit devoted to the artist T. C. Cannon. 

Cannon (1946-1978) was an enrolled member of the Kiowa tribe, born in Oklahoma. He studied at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, then joined the Army, fought in Vietnam, returned to the US and painted up a storm until dying in a car crash in Santa Fe.

There’s almost another connection — a high-school friend of mine taught at IAIA, but not until a time after Cannon had finished there.

Coming soon, Kakawa in Salem! Photo made a few yards to the right of the one above.

No trip to Santa Fe is complete without a stop at Kakawa chocolate house, tucked away between some state government offices and the art galleries on Paseo de Peralta, where you can take your chocolate the way that Marie Antoinette drank hers or — my preference — the way that the emperor Moctezuma II  drank his, with chiles.

Imagine our surprise to see this storefront on Essex Street next to the museum: Kakawa is coming! Sure, I’d believe it in Aspen, Colo., or Scottsdale, Ariz., but Salem? I would love to know how they picked Salem, but I suspect that their new outlet will do well, being perfect for someone seeking a historical “elixir” after a morning of museuming. A Salem-Santa Fe axis — who knew?

Artemisia Botanicals

Further east on Essex Street sits Artemisia Botanicals, the serious herb shop in town (as opposed to the jars of herbs in some of the witch shops that have probably sat there for years and years), offering herbs, teas, oils, jewelry, and, of course, psychic readings.

We picked up a few things — for me it was a package of copal incense sticks. I have copal resin and like to use it for certain things, but there are times when sticks are just convenient. I looked at the label: They were from Fred Soll’s Incense in Tijeras, N.M., which is just east of Albuquerque. According to Mapquest, Tijeras is 358 miles (573 km) from my house, whereas Salem (had I chosen to drive), is about 2078 miles (3325 km).

But at last we are home. Then I see an unfamiliar car in the driveway.

Two nicely dressed men are at the bottom of the stairs, one middle-aged, one twenty-something. The older man holds a small, leather-bound book. When I step out onto the porch, he starts into a spiel about visiting the neighbors((Never saw you before, buddy.)) and conducting a survey about how to find happiness.

¡Madre de dios! ¡Los puritanos!

I tell him that I never talk about religion before breakfast, and I am just about to sit down at the table. And that the best way out of the driveway is to pull toward the garage door, then cut your wheels hard as you back up.

Maybe they were just evangelicals, not Calvinists, but we live on an obscure road in the woods, and this was only the second missionary visit in twenty-five years.

The mystery of why the Kakawa chocolate house is coming to Salem has been solved! You can read the rest here.

On Dale Pendell (1947–2018)

Every plant is a teacher
But as in every crowd
There are always
A few loudmouths

–Dale Pendell

I went to town this morning and drinking my Americano at the coffee house while reading the comments on Kocku von Stuckrad’s memorial to Michael Harner.

But then the screen went all blurry, and I had to stand and walk over to the big window that looks out on Main Street, watching the cars and trucks go by.

Dale Pendell is gone too.

Dale Pendell reactivates the ancient connection between the bardic poet and the shaman. His Pharmako/Poeia is a litany to the secret plant allies that have always accompanied us along the alchemical trajectory that leads to a new and yet authentically archaic future.

—Terence McKenna

If you are a plant person, a “doctor of the poison path,” a student of entheogens, or an herbalist, and you do not have these three books — Pharmako Gnosis: Plant Teachers and the Poison Path, Pharmako/Poeia: Plant Powers, Poisons, and Herbcraft, and  Pharmako/Dynamis: Stimulating Plants, Potions, and Herbcraft — you are missing out.

They combine poetry, organic chemistry, alchemy, ethnobotany, mythology, plant shamanism, and art.

If a forest fire were coming at my house, I would grab these three and leave the rest of the ethnobotany/entheogen texts for the flames.

And now there won’t be any more. But as Gary Snyder wrote, sometimes “books are our grandparents,” and these can be yours and mine.

There is more about his final illness on his blog. Here is another tribute:

He paced back and forth, his delivery measured and careful. But this was no timid circumspection. His slow pace tried to give space to the spontaneous, to create deeper spaces for his risk-taking to dive into. At the time I was getting more and more into James Hillman, whose fidelity to the ‘Western tradition’ (not to mention his sobriety) is both edifying and frustrating. Dale rooted around in the same ancient Greek soil as Hillman, but also branched out into Native American shamanic conceptions of ‘soul’, and traces of intoxicated wisdom submerged in Western tradition. I was hooked.


Links: Exorcists, Vampires, Shamans, and the New Gothic

Rutina Wesley and Kristin Bauer van Straten in “True Blood.”

So many links, so little time to comment. Pick one, two, or three of these to read. Mix and match. Fill your plate. Come back for more.

Sexy vampires threaten Catholic youth, thus encouraging — you guessed it — “dabbling.”

• Witchy craft: I am building these.

• Another interesting article on the revival of Siberian shamanism.

• “An Ordinary Girl Born into a Family of Witches” — in the famtrad sense. So of course she wants to be “normal,” because this is not Young Adult fantasy fiction. Or maybe it is.

• An interview with Victoria Nelson, author of The Secret Life of Puppets,  on Gothicka, vampire heroes, human gods, and the “new supernatural.” That happens to be the title of her new book.

“Good Witches” at the Alchemical Bar

In Brooklyn, says the New York Times, “real-life good witches” are selling herbal cocktails and “celebrating all things magical.”

Ms. Ayales’s best-selling formulas are Love Handles, a tonic said to help blast fat with ginger, Himalayan pink salt, green coffee bean and a rain forest tree berry called cha de bugre, and Lucid Dreaming, a pungent cocktail of kava, ashwagandha, rose and passionflower that addresses anxiety.

Although let me say, as someone married to an herbalist, that herbal medicine works but it works slowly, and one drink served up by your “alchemical baristas” is not going to do the job.


Quick Review: Two Books on Mind-Altering Herbs

My house holds several shelves of herb books, thanks to M.’s interest in herbalism, some of which rubs off on me.

Lots of them are not relevant to our ecosystem, but we keep them for one little bit or another.  Of the best, my favorites include Charles Kane’s Herbal Medicine of the American Southwest, although it leans more to the Sonoran desert than the southern Rockies, and the late Michael Moore’s various works of herbalism and ethnobotany.  (Others by Kane here.)

One thing this reading did for me is make me sensitive to which writers have gotten their hands dirty, so to speak, and which are just recycling.

I would put Kenaz Filan’s The Power of the Poppy: Harnessing Nature’s Most Dangerous Plant Ally in the first category and Steve Andrews’ Herbs of the Northern Shaman: A Guide to Mind-Altering Plants from the Northern Hemisphere, sadly, in the second.

I have a real negative reaction to phrases such as “is thought to contain tryptamine”  or “has been reported to have been used in the berserker frenzies of the Viking tribes” or to borrowing from dear old Maud Grieve, who was indeed a leading herbalist of the early twentieth century, but has no one learned anything since?

Unfortunately, Herbs of the Northern Shaman is full of that kind of bluster that promises more than it delivers.

Some sentences are completely confused: “Further to all these uses the Thorn Apple was a hallucinogen that ancient Greek priests employed as an oracle” (118). Presumably, the priest, not the plant, was the oracle, but if he employed Datura (thorn apple) as an entheogen, how was it done? And where and when and in what god’s service were these priests?

You won’t learn that here. Herbs of the Northern Shamanism is too elementary to be a solid  historical work and too vague to be useful to the hands-on herbalist. It offers precious little about cultivation, preparation, or dosage. And for a book with “Shaman” in the title, it has little solid to say about the entheogenic uses of plants except for bland references to other peoples in other places. You would get much more at Erowid.org.

Open The Power of the Poppy, by contrast, and you will find a solid, documented history of humankind’s various interactions with Papaver somniferum, both the plant itself, its chemical constituents (heroin, morphine, etc.), and its synthetic imitations. Filan can write several interesting pages just on the history and development of the hypodermic syringe:

The hypodermic quickly became a status symbol among physicians, a sign that they had the finest and most modern medical equipment at their disposal [in the late 19th century]. Wealthy clients learned how to inject themselves or trained their servants in the technique . . . .  The 1897 Sears Roebuck catalog feature hypodermic kits (a syringe, two vials of cocaine or morphine, two needles, and a carrying vase) for$1.50. (255)

The chapter on cultivation is basic but accurate enough, but the payoff is the chapters on dependence, tolerance, and getting clean.

Finally, if shamanism is partly about relationships with the other-than-human world, you will find that here too. It is not merely a literary device to write, “Poppy wants to alter your consciousness; that is one of the major means by which she encourages human cultivation  . . . . But be advised that Poppy has her own best interests at heart, not yours. We may believe that Poppy is a tool that suits our purposes. Be advised that Poppy feels the same way about us” (276).

A Folk Healer in Urban Detroit

Tamra Meadows in her garden.
Tamra Meadows in her garden.

An interesting story but it raises the old question: how much credit goes to the herb and how much to the herb-doctor:

A lot of inner-city folks don’t have much money, don’t have any health insurance, and have little trust for the run-down clinics that cater to the poor. So if their illness isn’t too serious, many will rely on folk treatments or natural remedies passed down through families for years.

And they rely on people like Meadows. Her reputation in the neighborhood has even earned her the nickname “The Witch Doctor.”

“They say, ‘I know you got something over in the yard. I need you to fix me something up,'” Meadows says of her neighbors. She’s learned much of what she knows from books she’s studied, but a lot of it, she says, just comes to her. “I pray about it,” she says. “And I tell them, ‘It’s not me. It’s a power.’ Sometimes I tell God, ‘Leave me alone.'”

Read the rest.

Around the Pagan Blogosphere

Ways of leaving offerings for land wights, at Golden Trail.

Hermes versus the Internal Revenue Service (and a great poem) at The Alchemist’s Garden.

• “Animist Human Diplomats”  at Adventures in Animism. Are you asking more than you are giving?

• Still on the theme of place: Dealing with a psychically hostile place of the dead, from Three Shouts on a Hilltop.