Jeremy Narby on "The Cosmic Serpent"

January 1, 2012

In the 1980s anthropologist Jeremy Narby went to the Peruvian Amazon to investigate the plight of indigenous people.  Narby's experience with the Ashaninca Indians transformed his life, especially once he tried their powerful hallucinogen ayahuasca.  He says the experience forced him to question the reductionist, materialist paradigm of Western knowledge.



we appreciate anything that will make the narrow and stuck western mind open up to the mysteries and huge unknowns that we humans still face. very interesting interview.

I totally agree with this comment. Please give us more of this type of mind-opening programs!

Narby seems oblivious to the very long history and literature on investigation of altered states of consciousness. His naivete is striking...he seems to think that he's the first person to make such a journey and undergo such experiences, which ignores and fails to acknowledge the work of many before him. His lack of depth and ignore-ance of prior work is immediately obvious to anyone who has sought and experienced different (plant- or self-induced) experiential states; his brief dabbling is a pale imitation of the 1970s reports of "Carlos Castaneda" and thousands of reports from mystics over the years to Coleridge and Poe to Aldous Huxley to Albert Hofmann to every hippie for decades, to... You get my point; this guy is so clueless and shallow regarding the field of altered consciousness that it's irritating to listen to his sophomoric findings.

I think Narby was speaking about HIS personal experience, merely sharing his own journey and mystical experience. I myself being a novice at the time I read The Cosmic Serpent very much appreciated it being a jumping off point. Yeah LOTS of people have had the same awakening if you will... who was first and said this or that first is irrelevent. The point is that as much info as possible about the true nature of humanity needs to be available, from many different view points and in many different voices so as to reach us where we are. I think I can now understand Castaneda thanks to Narby... Peace Love and Magic!

Quite to the contrary Thomas, and let me just start off by saying that the fact that you mention Castaneda as the first person on your list, together with your arrogant dismissal, makes it pretty clear that you're the shallow and clueless person here with regards to the states and substances in question. Narby is WELL versed in all of the people you mention (although Carlos I'm sure he don't really count, as any serious psychedelically informed person will only admit to some slight literary achievement in his first book, and little if any value beyond that) He also isn't pretending that he is anywhere near the first person to either investigate ayahuasca nor to propose certain of the things he's proposing, but his perspective still adds new material to the matter, which is an ongoing development in both anthropology, biology, psychology, philosophy, ecology and so on. It's not just about being the first or only person to try exotic drugs and ranting about the experience. He acknowledges plenty of previous writers on the subject in his book, way more that the ones you mention. Also these are far from a hippie's toys that have played out their part in our culture long ago, and even if you yourself is (slightly) well-informed on these matters and it so severely irritates you to hear something that you already know, it doesn't change the fact that most people, even university graduates whom are well versed in history and politics and the various pomo perspectives on knowledge and being and the rest of it, still have redneck-like reflexively dismissive thoughts and simplified biases (much like your contentions about Narby) against these subjects, that must continuously be challenged and further investigated if any real progress (in the healthy sense of the word) about the real nature and functions of psychedelics are to replace the fear, misunderstanding and otherwise total dismissal that still constitutes both the mainstream, academic and scientific positions and attitudes towards them.

Who cares who else has gone through these journeys. You have completely missed the point! Your judgement is nothing more than a "transference" of "your" reality. Did he state his expertise? No! he did not. Your comment was a wasted crappy babble. You completely and utterly missed the entire point of his experience. Your comment was sophomoric.

Tom, why don't you jump into a river?

Il est surtout respectueux ,et ne se vante pas de culture ou de fait une expérience avec un esprit scientifique digne d'être le fils de Lévis Strauss ,à aucun moment il ne gène le lecteur qui peut s'identifier au voyageur ,évidemment rien à voir avec la "défonce" des années 70! et puis quand on dit conscience altérée c'est que peut être on est dans une conscience altérée (voir le dico.pour altéré) il semble que la "conscience de Jérémy N.soit un peu plus éveillée que ça pour ceux qui peuvent l'entendre....

I guess you must be a great Shaman researcher, maybe with more experience than me .. (50 years) and I'm from South America. Geremy Narby is a great Scientist, a great professional. I would like to know your knowledge about the Shamanism from .S.America.

Gee Tommie gib the guy a break.

I fully agree with the other positive comments in this section. Any information of this nature, helping to dissolve the unjustifiable stigmas that continue to surround the issue of exploring consciousness is a wonderful contribution to the airwaves. @Thomas: If you even read Narby's book, then you would understand that he is an anthropologist before he was ever psychedelics explorer—and he never claims to be an experienced explorer at that. His discoveries, as we know are not original by any means and his true value comes in continuing to bringing this knowledge into the lens of science... And hopefully bring entheogenic/psychedelic knowledge more credibility within the human culture as a whole. I'm sure all the past mystics you mentioned would all be very pleased with his intentions—I imagine they would not be disappointed that their names were not mentioned in Narby's manuscripts; the absence of any self-centric ego in their own work is a signature characteristic of the successful psychedelic journey.

the anthropoligist gives cover to all sorts of psuedo-science. Does he really think the natives could know what plants might be helpful for curing disease xyz by looking at them while high? Or did they learn these things from oral histories of shaman? Sure, the shamans want you to think they know things they don't. As Carl Sagan and others have said, "Before claiming something is out-of-this-world, make sure it isn't of-this-world. Brain chemistry can create lots of weird shit. Doesn't mean it is real.

We'd be better off spending our hard-earned time doing creative writing rather than stay glued to the very left-brain indulgence of criticizing people, unless there is a specific use for doing such, as when I criticize people who call MDMA "psychedelic".. so, seriously, what on Earth would be the use of bashing this guy? I mean other than deflecting your own impotence to write anything nearly as interesting

Jeremy Narby is obviously one of the more humble of the people who have gone here, certainly not an arrogant person who deserves this criticism and certainly he deeply respects his elders.

Jeremy taught me a cool thing.. I was a teenager eating peyote, reading Castaneda and soon afterward feeling resentful that a book about spirituality and peyote embraced such nonsense and fiction ("levitation", etc).. when I mentioned this, he remarked that Shamans use words this way for a reason, and I realized it was not supposed to be anything other than fiction. I mean I may still think Castaneda is lame, I'm not sure hehe.. but it made me stop and look at it differently now as an adult rather than as the teenager whose intelligence felt insulted. So Kudos to Jeremy, and and if he can get me to actually second guess my condemnation of Castaneda, you may want to second guess your condemnation of him, as it only speaks to your insecurity.

And obscures the actual subject which this column would seem to suffice to be about:

less human and more interesting Things


The intuitive mind is a sacred gift the rational mind a faithful servant, we have created a society that honors the servant and has neglected the gift. Albert Einstein. These debates are on another dimension, one the servant has never experienced. The rational wants to debate thereby pitting all on its level. The intuitive and the experitial outside the rational system of thought is nothing but nonsense to top rational thinking. So, stop the dichotomous debate and let the rational mind think it jas triumphed once aGain in its arrogant way. Arrogance has never been becoming on anyone, let alone a servant.

This "author's" willingness to espouse alleged knowledge of a topic as though he has discovered something unique, compelling, or in any way of value to the human condition and introspective(s) awarenesses of things that mainstream culture(s) have a need to hear about today, when in fact all he has done is repeat informational material that has been published and discussed to such an extent that it's old hat in many circles, is insulting to the conscience. He has merely exploited the historical foundation of numerous other persons in order to gain attention, and this only belies his incompetence as a writer, explorative scholar, and so on. He is high finagled bum. End of story.

Taking a-huasa or any on the major plant or fungi-based p-delics at therapeutic doses will challenge beliefs and things we take for granted. And this can shake your foundations and rattle your windows. If you are not prepared to build some new footings for your life or see through different lenses, you might want to stay away from p-delics. Another experience that can often occur is to see yourself as others see you. And this may not be a pretty picture - think Scrooge. This can be very therapeutic, but also very disturbing.
Our species is sick and needs this pharmacological intervention. It is the only effective therapy which has half a chance of working in time (which may already be too late).
And Carlos Castaneda wrote his book in the basement of the University of Arizona library basement. So if you are basing your conceptualization of p-delics on don juan you might want to broaden your reference sources. Try Terence McKenna for more accurate info.

Thank you, TTBOOK, for this fascinating interview of Jeremy Narby. I appreciate it and your many other program features. I always look forward to listening to you on public radio. More power to your program.