Now, it’s difficult to imagine a society more different from the society of ancient Egypt than our society today. We hate visionary states in this society. In our society, if we want to insult somebody, we call them a dreamer. In ancient societies that was praise. And we have erected huge apparatuses of armed bureaucracies who will invade our privacy, who will break down our doors, who will arrest us, who will send us to prison — sometimes for years – for possessing even small quantities of psilocybin, or substances like DMT, whether in its smokable form or in the ayahuasca brew. And yet, ironically, DMT is, we now know, a natural brain hormone, we all have it in our bodies and it’s just that its function remains unknown for lack of research. It’s not as though our society is opposed in principle to altered states of consciousness, I mean, billions are being made by the unholy alliance of psychiatrists and “big pharma” in overprescribing drugs to control so-called syndromes like depression or attention deficit disorder in teenagers.
We have a love-affair in our society with alcohol; we glorify this most boring of drugs despite the terrible consequences that it often has. And of course we love our stimulants, our tea, our coffee, our energy drinks, our sugar, and huge industries are built around these substances which are valued because of the way they alter consciousness.
But what all these approved altered states of consciousness have in common is that none of them contradict or conflict with the basic state of consciousness valued by our society, which I would call the alert, problem-solving state of consciousness, which is good for the more mundane aspects of science. It’s good for the prosecution of warfare, it’s good for commerce, it’s good for politics, but I think everybody realizes that the promise of a society over-monopolistically based on this state of consciousness has proved hollow. And that this model is no longer working — that it’s broken in every possible sense that a model can be broken. And urgently we need to find something to replace it, the vast problems of global pollution that have resulted from the single-minded pursuit of profit, the horrors of the nuclear proliferation, the spectre of hunger that millions every night go to bed starving, that we can’t even solve this problem, despite our alert, problem-solving state of consciousness.
And look what’s happening in the Amazon, the lungs of our planet, this precious home of bio-diversity. The old growth rainforest being cut down and replaced with soya bean farms so we can feed cattle so that we can all eat hamburgers. Only a truly insane global state of consciousness could allow such an abomination to occur.
And I did a back-of-an-envelope calculation during the Iraq War, it seems to me that six months expenditure on the Iraq War would have solved the problem of the Amazon forever; would be sufficient to compensate the people of the Amazon so that no single tree ever needed to be cut down again, to garden and to look after that amazing resource. But we can’t make that decision as a global community. We can spend countless billions on warfare, on hatred, on fear, on suspicion, on division, but we can’t get together the collective effort to save the lungs of our planet. And this is perhaps why shamans from the Amazon are now mounting a kind of reverse missionary activity.
When I’ve asked shamans about the sickness of the west, they say it’s quite simple: “You guys have severed your connection with spirit. Unless you reconnect with spirit and do so soon, you’re going to bring the whole house of cards down around your heads, and ours.” And rightly or wrongly, they believe that ayahuasca is the remedy for that sickness. And many now are being called to the Amazon to drink ayahuasca, and ayahuasca shamans are traveling throughout the West offering the brew — often under the radar, often at personal risk — to bring about consciousness change.
And it’s true that the message of ayahuasca, the universal message, is about the sacred, magical, enchanted, infinitely precious nature of life on Earth. And the interdependence of material and spiritual realms, and it’s impossible to work with ayahuasca for long without being deeply and profoundly affected by this message. And let’s not forget that ayahuasca is not alone, that it’s part of an ancient worldwide system of the targeted, careful, responsible alteration of consciousness. It’s recently been shown by scholars that the kykeon used in the Eleusinian mysteries in ancient Greece was almost certainly a psychedelic brew. That the soma of the Vedas may well have been a brew based on the amanita muscaria mushroom. We have the DMT in the ancient Egyptian ‘tree of life’. We have the whole global cultures of surviving shamanism and what it’s all about is a state of consciousness that’s designed to help us find balance, harmony, the ancient Egyptians would’ve called it ‘ma’at with the universe’ and to remain mindful that what we’re here to undertake on Earth while we’re immersed in matter is fundamentally a spiritual journey, aimed at the growth and perfection of the soul, a journey that may go back to the very origins of what made us human in the first place.
And I stand here invoking the hard-won right of freedom of speech to call for and demand another right to be recognized; and that is the right of adult sovereignty over consciousness. There’s a war on consciousness in our society and if we as adults are not allowed to make sovereign decisions about what to experience with our own consciousness while doing no harm to others, including the decisions to use responsibly ancient and sacred visionary plants, then we cannot claim to be free in any way, and it’s useless for our society to go around the world imposing our form of democracy on others while we nourish this rot at the heart of society, and we do not allow individual freedom over consciousness.