Breaking Open the Head: A Psychedelic Journey into the Heart of Contemporary Shamanism Paperback – Aug 12 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
Open City editor Pinchbeck's book debut is a polemic that picks up the threads that Huxley's The Doors of Perception, Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters and counterculture idealism left in the culture. Charting his gradual transformation from a cynical New York litterateur to psychedelic acolyte, Pinchbeck uses elements of travelogue, memoir, "entheobotany" ("the study of god-containing plants") and historical research to ask why these "doorways of the mind" have been unceremoniously sealed, sharing Walter Benjamin's melancholy about the exasperating nature of consumerism: "We live in a culture where everything tastes good but nothing satisfies." Pinchbeck travels the earth in search of spiritual awakening through tripping, from Gabon to the Nevada desert. At happenings like the Burning Man festival or a plant conference in the Ecuadorean jungle, Pinchbeck meets "modern shamans" and tells their stories as they intersect with his. In his reporting, he manages to walk a difficult tonal tightrope, balancing his skepticism with a desire to be transformed. He thoughtfully surveys the literature about psychedelic drugs, but the most exhilarating and illuminating sections are the descriptions of drug taking: he calls this visiting the "spirit world," which is "like a cosmic bureaucracy employing its own PR department, its own off-kilter sense of dream-logic and humor... constantly playing with human limitations, dangling possibilities before our puny grasps at knowledge." There's little new drug lore here, but Pinchbeck's earnest, engaged and winning manner carry the book.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Inside This Book(Learn More)
"The Bwiti believe that before the ceremony, the neophyte is nothing," Daniel Lieberman told me on my first morning in Gabon, as we took a cab from the Libreville airport. Read the first page
Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Top Customer Reviews
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!!!
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.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
The book begins fairly well with often hilarious (and as another reviewer pointed out, sometimes unintentionally so) accounts of the author's various psychedelic dabbling with... Read morePublished on Oct. 11 2010 by Kieran Fox
This book is an absolute must have for anyone interested in shamanism, psychedelia, or anything of the sort. Read morePublished on April 27 2009 by Donovan
definately an interesting subject, however, i didn't enjoy it much. the author, a self described neurotic, seems to be empty and searching for something, and the book seems to be... Read morePublished on July 19 2004 by gcon
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. Read morePublished on Nov. 3 2003 by Christopher B. Murray
Daniel Pinchbeck's Breaking Open the Head makes an earnest attempt to persuade its audience that a variety of natural hallucinogens provide users with a genuine glimpse into the... Read morePublished on March 18 2003 by The Wingchair Critic
Pinchbeck's journey into the unkown is one of the best adventure stories I've ever read. Our culture's disregard for the reality of unseen beings and dimensions, it's... Read morePublished on Feb. 28 2003 by J Doyle
We can now speak of an entheogenic renaissance and this book is part of the growing literature of that movement. Read morePublished on Dec 23 2002 by Thomas M. Seay
Though I have doubts about any kind of spiritual trancendence, I do find the other worlds or states of mind induced by psychedlics to be an essential experience in learning more... Read morePublished on Dec 20 2002 by Michael A. Parodi
I highly recommend this book to anyone who in interested in exploring the metaphysical realm and has existential angst. Read morePublished on Dec 5 2002