You can listen to the longer form audio interview here, or read on for the shorter text version.
If I shredded and smoked 'The Journeybook', how high would I get?
Probably not very high. But during our launch party at Rainbow Serpent Festival in January, "somebody" dosed our sangria punch to make it psychoactive and then claimed to have dropped a dose of Hofmann's finest on the cover of a few books. We originally wanted to perforate the covers in a grid like a sheet of acid, but every printer we spoke to balked at the idea - not so much from a production angle but because they thought we were doing something illegal! So who knows, if you buy a copy of 'The Journeybook' and lick the cover you may get very high indeed.
You had to spend months editing all these articles, which one was your least favorite?
James, that's like asking which of my children I love least! All the articles are written to a very high standard, but I will say that some writers were harder to deal with than others. I had to hound Terence McPhilip -- a really wonderful writer that deserves more recognition -- to finish his work. He lives near Byron Bay, the hippie Mecca of Australia, and he was pretty busy knee-deep into the psychedelic experience on a continual experiential basis, a bit like the beatniks but here in Australia we would call them "bushniks". McPhillip is a walking continually self-medicating drug store, so it was hard to get him sober and lucid. But when I did his articles were fantastic: An overview of the failure of the revolutionary promise of the Ecstasy generation, "Whatever Happened to the E-volution?"; and "Inside the K-Hole", a sarcastic take on the ketamine experience; plus a raw piece on the pharmaceutical industry and the prescription drug fad. He's an up-and coming writer to watch.
How many people contributed essays to 'The Journeybook'?
There's over two dozen contributors from around the globe with a solid Australian flavor. There are overviews of different aspects of psy-culture, like Peter Webster on the failure of prohibition or Erik Davis on the rise of the contemporary psychonaut, plus in-depth interviews. There’s an interview on the psychedelic resurgence with Daniel Pinchbeck, and a gem of a previously unpublished interview with Terence McKenna.
An Australian DJ called Krusty interviewed Terence when he came out here in early 1997 and they rapped about all things under the sun -- including Diana Ross and the need for a new dance! Terence also quite astutely prophesized the War on Terror and the rise of dominator culture trying to wrest control just as the new wave of psychedelic revolution builds. It was quite a trip to read this interview from 'beyond the grave' and see how it still has resonance for the here and now. And there's also Dennis McKenna, Terence's brother, on what it's like going inside the ayahuasca molecule from a scientist's perspective!
So half the book is upside down, and when I flip it over the other half is upside down. Is this a metaphor for something?
We decided to make it a flip-book that can be read in two directions. One starts at "History's first drug bust" with Adam and Eve in the Garden, and that side charts the sacramental plants and earth entheogens. The other side starts at 2012 and delineates the man-made chemicals and modern psychedelic movement, including a story I wrote about Albert Hofmann's 100th birthday symposium in Basel called "Rebirth: The Psychedelic Movement Comes of Age". Both sides meet in the middle and there's also a timeline with data-nuggets charting the history of psy culture through the ages.
You have some crazy art in this book. What is Art Director Tim Parish's favorite PhotoShop filter?
Tim is an amazing Art Director and has given 'The Journeybook' a real organic, unifying feel with customized tweaks. The artists in the book are global and have a fresh approach to representing psychedelic states. There's little of the cliched tie-die swirling hypnogogic imagery, instead we have Oli Dunlop doing amazing photography montages and surreal artscapes; and Gerhard Hillman, who has done many of the entheo pieces specifically about sacred plants like San Pedro and magic mushrooms. His art is wonderfully organic, photo-realistic and gets to the guts of the psychedelic experience in a visceral way. There's also wonderful imagery by Shiptu Shaboo, Andy Ross and others, and Tim himself has a number of moving pieces inspired by his ayahuasca experiences in Japan which absorb the thick fluid Japanese style. He's exhibited many of his works internationally, and Undergrowth is hosting an exhibition feature many Journeybook artists later this year. That may tour and hit San Francisco and Burning Man in August.
How would you characterize the psychedelic scene down under? What's unique to Australia?
Australia has an ancient and powerful energy that's rubbed off on the people and the psychedelic scene here, which has, by they way, an amazing abundance of entheogens. We have a raft of Acacia species with DMT in them, including our national emblem! There's a new tree just been "discovered" in Perth that has six times the yields of DMT than the normal acacias, and the entheo scene is bubbling over with a new wave of exploration and journeywork.
There's lots of overlap between the Australian trance music scene and the annual festivals like Rainbow Serpent that gather 10,000 plus dancers to ritually stomp on the earth. There's been a current of activist energy in Australia that reflects the worldwide anti-globalization movement, but here it was anchored to direct action against inappropriate logging, saving the forests, stopping uranium mines, etc. Earthdream.net has been pivotal in organizing autonomous networks of people to make a difference as well as party; those ethics rub off on the psy scene, too. EGA - Entheogenesis Australis is an organization I'm involved with that hosts annual conferences in the bush, and there's such a vibrant buzz about the Oz Plant scene. So many faces brimming with solid knowledge and linking up.
We like to call it the "Ultraculture" down here, not the counterculture, which is a dated term. The Ultraculture are the grandkids of MK-Ultra worldwide, the bright young things with the activist know-how and the hippie heart, the unified spiritual warrior. Everyone here's into bio-diesel, sustainability, solar, doofs (trance music gatherings), plants and living the new paradigm. It's a really exciting time to be in Australia. The seed bed of the last 20 years is sprouting now.
If you had to write your own intro, would you call yourself a "whacked-out gonzo journalist" or a "neo-hippie entheoscribe on a mission"?
I like to call myself an "experiential journalist" as well as a media provocateur. I may get whacked out - but professionally whacked out - and I always take lots of recordings, etc. to capture the experiences with an eye to making artifacts to ground into my work. There is an element where I believe in the experiences and greatly respect the cultures I'm visiting and sharing medicine with. There is such a rich body of knowledge, for instance, that the curanderos of Peru can share with the world, or that elders like Albert Hofmann had to give to us here and now. And we need all the tools at our disposal as we make this evolutionary leap from the old to the new paradigm, so experiential journalism is the best tool I have to contribute to that change. By accurately sharing my experiences and the tribal visions of others I hope that these ideas can percolate into the mainstream collective consciousness, the moms and pops and young kids hungry to find truth and enable change within themselves. I do journey out onto the edge, but it's the return and sharing that's most important. That's what 'The Journeybook' is about, and what 'Aya: a Shamanic Odyssey' is all about, and what I hope the future is all about too.
What’s your take on ayahuasca in the new book?
Two of the stories in Journeybook - "Jungle Fever" and "Surfing: a DMT journey into the heart of the Godhead" are excerpts from 'Aya: a Shamanic Odyssey', which will be released by Icaro Publishing in late May, 2009. It is part journalistic account, part adventure-memoir of my travels in South America and the world of Amazonian shamanism. There's so much to cover there as it's a booming international business and the culture shock between the old world and the new. The mix of Peruvian shamanism and Western capitalism is fraught with difficulties. And then there's the ineffable mystery and magic of the ayahuasca experience itself, which cannot be commodified, although the West is certainly trying its best!
The book though takes a journalistic approach. It started as a feature article for Australian Penthouse and I interviewed over two dozen curanderos throughout Peru, charting the business of spirituality as well as the magic of ayahuasca. It gets pretty cosmic in parts, like when a rogue scientist wired me up to a skullcap connected to his computer to map my EEG brainwaves while I smoked DMT. After a lot of ayahausca ceremonies I was flushed clean and receptive to spirit, and because I was in this hyperreal journalistic mode I managed to record or remember lucidly an archetypal white light or godhead encounter and ground it in words. I firmly believe, as Terence said, that we need to start grounding the Other, bringing ideas back to share with the tribe, and the whole Aya book is a great example of that, of contextualizing psychic journeywork embedded within a professional journalist approach to recording Amazonian shamanism. It's aimed at mainstream audiences to give an objective overview of the rise in global shamanism and why it's important for the planet at the moment.
Other than the cleansing and the psychic afterglow, what do you think is the most important thing ayahuasca has to offer?
I think the most important thing ayahuasca can offer the West is a reconnection to spirit on a personal level and on a Gaian collective level. Ayahuasca opens you up to your own heart space for your own emotional healing in an idiosyncratic way that is individual to you and your needs. It's an amazing planetary exo-pheromone that is being seeded just as we need it collectively, and the ability to glean your own wisdom from it is enormous.
But on the larger scale the value is in connecting in a visceral way, so there are no gaps or spaces between you and the web of life around you. It is astounding. On so many ayahuasca experiences I would hear the crow of chickens, the rustle of trees, the sounds of the jungle, etc., and feel the energy of these creatures in an unbroken thread that I was connected to and they were part of in a rolling, breathing, interdependent super organism. Words don't do it justice because it's a translinguistic experience. But there is a heart and a love involved in this connection to It All, a mother love that madre ayahuasca can give to enable your own healing.
Where drugs like acid opened the mind in the ‘60s, and ecstasy the heart in the ‘80s, ayahuasca is now tuning in the spirit in the ‘00s, and I think the Gaian-mother-oversoul or whatever you want to call it is giving us that opportunity to connect to her, and all of life through her, to know what we really are. So the most precious thing in my opinion is that intimate and sacred reconnection. There is also amazing value in being facilitated and guided by trained curanderos or shamans in an indigenous setting in the jungle, where the pulse of life is strong and their knowledge and wisdom can be shared. But it's the plants, and especially ayahuasca that is doing the healing.
I recently watched video where you turn some people onto salvia and describe the experience like "becoming the drug" or "becoming something larger than yourself". What do you think is going on when you are fully immersed in that salvia consciousness?
I was approached by Vivecoolcity.com, an Australian mob which bills itself as a 'Gen Y' video site that talks about drug issues to their "hip" demographic, because they wanted someone with knowledge about Salvia divinorum. At first I was a bit leery that the tone and style of the site was going to encourage reckless hedonism. One of the stories I'd written in 'The Journeybook' was 'Divine Voyeurs: the Salvia YouTube Trip', which examined the current fad of filming Salvia experiences and uploading the videos to YouTube - often in the comedy section like it's "Jackass"-style content.
I was happy to see the reporter was palatable to hearing about the spiritual side of Salvia, how sacred it had been to the Maxatecs and how bastardized it had quickly become in the West, and despite filming two of his friends taking it they at least gave them the spiritual context to run with. My own Salvia experiences have been limited but intense: Salvia seemed to me to become me on a molecular level, not just removing the ego like other drugs but inserting its own consciousness in my place. A very alien experience of feeling and being different, multi-dimensional, moving through and becoming the things perceived, and of MC Escher-like dimensional fallout. It'd be great if the YouTube crowd experimented with more serious mapping of these spaces and sharing that info. There are a handful of psychonauts who do that, but usually people are hampered by the illegality of drugs. Salvia is still an opportunity to be grasped.
You mention the 2012 meme in the Journeybook. What do you think is waiting for us on the other side of the cycle?
The 2012 meme is naturally building to a self-fulfilling climax. What's interesting are the things outside of ourselves that are also rapidly changing as we head to 2012, the financial collapse, rapid cultural change, global warming, technology advances, etc. The vectors of change are part and parcel of the global transformation we are witnessing and the awakening of consciousness is at the heart of the change.
At the least I think we are living through a process of awakening that on the other side will result in a global culture that is aware of it's place in the natural order. We're being called to account for our 6,000 years of unsustainability and driven back into concert with the earth, and that's where things like entheogens have a primal role in helping with this Gaian reconciliation. It's one thing to "go green" but another entirely to "know green", to have an intimate psychic connection with the earth through entheogens, which then awaken us to our place in the web of life.
There's lots of fear around 2012 as the mainstream media tries to integrate and dismiss the nature of the event, and it’s not about a man made date like the millennium, it’s about 0.0.0.0.0 in our cosmic orbit of 26,000 years around the Milky Way, about connecting to galactic center and learning our place in the cosmic bio-rhythm. That may mean pole shift, mass coronal solar flare ejections, who knows? It's really about earth going through its natural cycle of awakening, just as we are on our level. I think the opportunity is there culturally with movements like Evolver in the US to harness this awakening and maximize the opportunities for our own growth. I'd encourage people to use the 2012 date as a catalyst for the change they want to see in the world.