May The Best Story Win: Spirituality, Religion And Shamanism.

Dedicated to my mother Della Pratt, on her 75th Birthday. I love you.

“Dao, the process, seems more nitty-gritty and tangible since I acquired an apartment with a panoramic vista of Monterey Bay and the surrounding hills. The view never seems quite the same twice. Waves, sun, fogs, seasons, dogs, dolphins, moons, planets, stars — all seem flowing, as if every kind of evolution, cosmic to biological, parades before me. More and more I lose contact with “me” and flow with all else that flows..the Dao-process.”–Robert Anton Wilson, Thought Of The Month 2002.

I want to dive into the hot and holy waters of spirituality to see where my thoughts take me if I ask myself, what does Steve Fly believe? (2.4k Words, approx. 3-4 min. read)

Off the top, I’d define my own position or my goal when communicating on these matters as Multi-model agnosticism, a term lifted from Robert Anton Wilson, roughly translated to mean, suspension of disbelief coupled with a passion for new synthesis and pluralism.

I feel I do not have to believe in a permanent supernatural force to enter into alternate modes of consciousness, associated with spirituality, religion. That said, I try to remain humble to the fact that some discipline and devotional practice can cause states of consciousness radically different from what my own limited experience can produce. Scepticism mixed with a playful willingness to engage with alternate realities is a personal balance you must strike, one man’s play is another man’s absolute reality. On a general level the ability for each of us to navigate the thermo-plastic reality around us is critical for our sanity and survival, narratives that we tell ourselves and others limit or expand our perceptions of spirit. 

In soundbites I could say, give me religion without priestcraft, give me my own church in the form of my body and our planet, give me scripture in the language of RNA-DNA transcription and Python code, give us all the Gods and in all the things, give me parables poetry and true story. Be aware of throwing the baby out with the holy water. Every culture, tradition, ritual, religion, book, method and language is a portal of discovery for YOU to interpret and to grow from. With a mantra on repeat such as “the map is not the territory,” the dangers of taking anything too literally is lessened, together with fear of the word of god. 

Any psychonaut who conducted a little post-research into parallel experiences will come to discover Shamanism. For me, personally speaking, I thought I’d found my spiritual home when I first read about wild rituals that include entheogenic substances, ecstatic dancing, singing, chanting and trans-dimensional trips with insect animal-plant entities! Hell yeah, where do I join up? I was a naive teenager and perhaps fit the stereotypical middle-class white kid who discovered acid and went on to believe he was an urban shaman because he could float down to the 24-hour petrol station and buy a pack of large Rizzla papers at 4.00 A.M. 

As the years passed I continued my study of Shamanism-lite, today I remain in awe of indigenous and aboriginal traditions that survived today, in the face of growing adversity in part due to disaster capitalism munching on their homeland and spirit allies. To make a fanciful analogy, imagine if Vatican City were situated deep in the Amazon jungle and only a handful of priests lived there. Imagine loggers and fossil fuel prospectors moving in, threatening to destroy their holy Churches (trees) and violent threats on their life if they do not comply by moving, or selling out. Imagine the major religious institutions being under such a threat as indigenous Shamanism, while at the same time secular society relegates Shamanism to snowflake culture, off with the fairies and the druggies.

I’ll consider these different views while at the same time shouting loud from the rooftops: entheogens consumed in the correct set and setting, make up a part of my spiritual practice based on past spiritual experiences. My spiritual philosophy is best defined and demonstrated in nature, a process evidenced by the evolutionary epistemological synthesis between Toads, Toadstools (Fly Agaric) and flies. See Fly Agaric, Flies And Toads: A New Hypothesis by Georgio Samorini 1999. 

My challenge to you and to other religions and spiritual practitioners is to try and match these facts of processes observable in nature with scripture. Botanical and epistemological processes observable in nature, I would argue, are holy scripture composed in the complex undecipherable chemical-geometrical language of RNA-DNA synthesis, cell replication, photosynthesis and symbiosis. Nobody “said or wrote” anything.

Spirit entities like those encountered in plant based Shamanic traditions are entangled with our human RNA DNA brain-body nervous system, somewhat trapped in our symbolic language, held hostage by the individual ego and sense of self. I’m guessing here. Shamans meet with, are devoured by, wrestle and dance with all manner of entities, a phantasmagoria of animal insect-plant/fungus hybrids, winged serpents, toads, birds of prey, buffalo, bats, bees, flies, reindeer. I find it interesting and poignant that rarely are humans encountered in Shamanic vision quests, I deduce this stays in the domain of the anthropomorphic traditions where the schlong is more or less what makes an entity divine or not.

I can think of a number of western parallels to this problem of language and identity, such as the Korzybski, Sapir Whorf Hypothesis: the language you use can transform your apprehension of the cosmos (also lifted from R.A.W) Benjamin Whorf, coincidently, studied Hopi languages extensively, concluding that they have a unique apprehension of the cosmos due to a unique use of Syntax. By extension of this idea, you can follow this principle and imagine how different cultures using different language and syntax experience the cosmos (to mean everything) very differently. By extension of extension, now consider Marshall McLuhan and how the medium of the message transforms the message utterly.

The implications and findings from comparative studies of religion, in contrast to Shamanic traditions, are worthy of consideration and to me brings up another challenge to those who adhere to a single true religious faith, in what language does God speak to you?

Experimenting with polytheism may also bring clarity to the questions of Shaman to a Western mind, rather than deny and negate subjective experiences based on some absolute, I’d suggest yet again that a playful willingness to experiment with belief, temporarily. Here I might also point you to Magick and Acting as two such existing playful examples. Take notes and keep a diary, write out your thoughts if you can, I find this process helps me to order and clarify my own thoughts and consider how to share them with others. 

Another distinguishing feature can be found in sacraments, how they’re consumed, with what intention and what is the Sacrament chemically made of, what may it mean symbolically. I conclude that the three major religions forbid any entheogen or psychoactive compound, rather using alcoholic wines and placebo (the eucharist wafer) to mimic ingesting flesh of the gods. Shamanic traditions on the other hand, openly and explicitly ingest and worship Peyote, Ayahuasca, Iboga and a variety of Magic Mushrooms. Evidence suggests humans and proto-humans have been getting high long before the one and only true religions were established before over-confident individuals claimed contact with the divine or stated their absolute knowledge of man, god and universe. In other words, I’ll tolerate your limited knowledge of spirituality, if you’ll tolerate mine.

One interpretation linked with the end of the Mayan Long-Count Calendar and prophecy that I like, involves the tribe (humanity) rediscovering entheogens (Magic Mushrooms) and regrouping to lead the regenesis of planet earth, which mimics the general goal of the current climate crisis movement. Through deeper connections with the planet, new maps and models and metaphors can be formed, to help assist in the regenerative process, to give the planet, flora and fauna what they need to continue doing what they do: grow naturally abundant. Psychedelics (entheogens) are critical tools for nurturing intelligence and harmony, attention to detail and the ability to cultivate compassion/empathy. 

To be blunt, I see a lot of fake shit out there today, a lot of disease and ignorance. Many are lost, have been lost for a long time, some have ignored the signposts and repeated warnings, choosing to walk into the wall over and over again. You cannot recover from death, and that’s where we are heading, some sooner due to stronger ignorance. Like moths flying into a light bulb over and over again every night, not listening or caring or being willing to learn can lead to physical Death. Sometimes I feel a deeper connection with animals, plants and insects than I do with humans, especially the greedy racist xenophobic homophobic violence-prone, loud-mouthed liars and predators. Critical decisions personal and collective lie ahead, we all have work to do, billions of people need help, billions. A new world is possible, shine your light. I refuse to look away but I also refuse to pass without comment. 

Yes, to me this fits the description of a global spiritual emergency and a global material emergency. Thoughts and prayers as currently practised are not working for the large population of earth. Perhaps modify our thinking and prayer so it includes indigenous and aboriginal teachings. Nurturing common ground with the Thoughts and Prayers across faiths and lead the way into deeper thoughts and deeper prayer rather than blow off the cliche’ used to mask detail. Join in thought and prayer on the regular, innovate to lead by example. Where do your thoughts go?   

I am currently an apprentice Shaman of the urban poet, drummer, DJ variety. These practises or art forms make up my spiritual practice, or you could say my religion, my means to connect with non-human entities, such as my muses. If I had to choose a pre-existing spiritual tradition that hits all the bases of my interests, I’d pick Shamanism, drums, music, long poetic chants, sacred sacraments and dancing, yep.

Shamanic practice has some overlap with the original illegal rave scene in the UK and the birth of most forms of electronic music and the spontaneous gatherings of urban tribes worldwide. Seeking connection through ecstasy, there’s a kinship with ancient ancestors who share similar desires for dancing, exultation, healing, ecstasy plus a yearning to reconnect and regenerate mother earth. Terence Mckenna was on the periphery of this movement and was present in the mix that led to new tribal sound systems throughout the 1990s and into the naughties.
Mirrored by what happened in the 1960s, the 90’s birthed a new generation of apprentice Shaman, stumbling along the bardo’s seeking truth through art and beauty through harmony and dance, surrounded by neoliberal disaster capitalism and climate degeneration. Groups of fledgeling urban Shaman formed and splintered off into a thousand paths, some went into PR, marketing, advertising, super clubs and the global dance music business. Like what transpired in the late ’80s to produce Silicon Valley, Shamanic skills deployed and sold to the worldwide computer industry and the emerging telecommunications industry.

A smaller but significant tribe took other routes, continued to innovate art and music and words with respect, integrity and passion. The temple is not for sale and Shamanism is not for sale, religion and art share a lot in common, it’s the price that distinguishes the difference here, how much for the temple and paid in what kind, blood/gold/bitcoin? 

Today it’s clear to me that religious or secular ideology that does not accept the fact we are all brothers and sisters rooted and sprouted from the same RNA-DNA transcript (individually expressed through our unique body sense and experience of time) are antiquated, heading for extinction like dinosaurs. Yet another distinguishing feature of indigenous spiritual practice is the shared tradition of the gathering. The idea/story/song that tells of a tribal gathering event, a gathering of humans during a global emergency (take your pick) to reconnect with mother earth listen to her advice and pass it on to ALL the people.
Some powerful thoughts and prayers are required, fierce blessings, no doubt. Perhaps entheogens play a part here if we can listen and interpret what we hear with selfless reverence. Keep in mind the power of story to transform humanity very quickly using hyper-connected media, sometimes producing a new piece of common ground with diverse peoples worldwide.

I guess that if six highly experienced Amazonian Shaman came up with a practical solution, such as a recipe for a new medicine or vaccine tomorrow, mainstream medicine and culture would not take it seriously. However, if the recipe was detailed in a documentary format with a soundtrack by DJ Shadow, guest narrators Samuel Jackson, Jamies Oliver, Gordon Ramsey and Jack Back, with a global release scheduled on Netflix, these facts can get fleshed out and reach the minds of the people, maybe leading to a new sub-genre of experimental films made with experimental techniques. 

Story and narrative are powerful beyond measure. Song and music and dance and costume are even more powerful when bootstrapped, use forces don’t fight them. Have fun, challenge the gods to a duel, stand your ground, play, take down a King or Prime Minister, be a cruel dispassionate God who tortures his characters, play with paradox and explore the dark recesses of your creative mind, reach for forbidden fruit and eat it, take another. Within story world you are alike Kukulkan (Quetzalcoatl: The Winged Serpent) a roving spirit of intelligence, free to fly anywhere and anytime, free to write what you like and add a serpent’s bite, you have two wings, one tragedy the other comedy and a tale that reaches the furthest galaxies. Consider the Shamanic overtones to the animated series: Midnight Gospel, for example.  

I consider the process of building a proposal and plan for a documentary, part of my spiritual practice and shamanic apprenticeship. Singing matter, dancing matter, healing matter, moving images, rooted in plants/insects/animals and flora, the tale of the gathering of the tribes.

“May the best story win”–Terence Mckenna.

Helpful Links:

Fly Agaric, Flies And Toads: A New Hypothesis by Giorgio Samorini

Chapter From The Cosmic Serpent by Jeremy Narby.

“This is why the shaman is the remote ancestor of the poet and artist. Our need to feel part of the world seems to demand that we express ourselves through creative activity. The ultimate wellsprings of this creativity are hidden in the mystery of language. Shamanic ecstasy is an act of surrender that authenticates both the individual self and that which is surrendered to, the mystery of being. Because our maps of reality are determined by our present circumstances, we tend to lose awareness of the larger patterns of time and space. Only by gaining access to the Transcendent Other can those patterns of time and space and our role in them be glimpsed.”–Terence McKenna, Food of the Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge.

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