EVOLVER > Daniel Pinchbeck interview > by Tim Boucher

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Daniel Pinchbeck is one of the leading voices in today’s psychedelic counter-culture, exploring the connections between psychedelics & shamanism and their importance in the modern era. Though he’s published feature articles in the New York Times Magazine, Esquire, Wired, The Village Voice and is a regular columnist in Arthur magazine, it was his 2003 book, Breaking Open the Head: A Psychedelic Journey into the Heart of Contemporary Shamanism, which seems to have really given him a higher profile among those interested in alternative religion and spirituality.

Evolver illustration by Tim Parish


TIM BOUCHER: Your work has a strong spirit of intellectual exploration, which is why I thought it was so great when you admitted in your book: “My intellectual drive for understanding was cover for my spiritual development.” Why do you feel like you were using that as a cover? How did you manage to give yourself permission to really “go for it” spiritually?

DANIEL PINCHBECK: I can’t say that “I” ever gave myself permission to “go for it” spiritually, although it was a thirst for knowledge that led me into this quest. What seems to happen is closer to what Gurdjieff talks about – that as you begin to become fascinated by this area, you activate something he calls the “magnetic center,” and in a very real sense that magnetic center then takes over and impels you along your path – sometimes whether you like it or not. Both Jung and Steiner talk about a “Self” or a “Higher Self” that is beyond the individual ego-identity, and that Self acts and expresses itself not through words but through “deeds and events.” The process of spiritual development is somehow connected with recognizing that Self and aligning with its purposes, which can often seem in direct contradiction with the desires and ambitions of the limited ego. The Western god-image, for Jung, as it evolves through the Old and New Testaments, is the archetype of the Self.

The fact is that the areas of mysticism, shamanism, the occult, etcetera, are available to intelligent questioning. It is not a question of “turning off your mind” to enter these areas. In fact, I found that it required the deepest level of intellectual engagement to clarify my own understanding of what is happening on these levels, and how you can integrate it with the modern, scientific view. For me, it is not a question of rejecting science for shamanism, but of integrating these approaches to reality.

In my own life, the iboga initiation in West Africa and the daimonic intrusion through taking DPT in my house in New York were the major experiences that marked my quest, as described in Breaking Open the Head.

TIM BOUCHER: When I first heard an interview with you on Coast to Coast AM with George Noory, it really clashed with what I’d been hearing on that show. In particular, Noory seemed to have a really hard time with your assertion that you didn’t necessarily believe anything. He also kind of quailed when you brought up psychedelics, which seemed weird given your expertise in the subject. Why do you think there’s such a big divide between what you do and the paradigm that somebody like Noory is operating under? Is there a way to bridge this divide?

DANIEL PINCHBECK: First of all, I am not sure I would say that I don’t believe anything. I think, like Jung, I feel comfortable saying I believe only what I know. At this point in time, most people are trapped in dualisms, paranoias, and sensationalism when it comes to considering the occult or esoteric aspects of reality. Either the “aliens” or “demons” or “angels” are literally real, or they are phantasmal aspects of our own mind. It is harder to accept the possibility that these phenomena are truly daimonic, truly in-between or outside the definitions we might like to create for them. In fact, they may even take a special pleasure in subverting our categories and upsetting our assumptions. It may be the case that we can only explore or discover what is happening on these other levels of being if we begin from a much subtler level of understanding. The pop economics of late-night commercial radio do not necessarily support a subtly nondual perspective on occult phenomena – they support more of a sensationalist tone. A lot of Coast to Coast AM’s subject matter seems specifically designed to intensify negative thought vibrations – fear and anxiety over the future.

My personal hypothesis is that our consciousness is co-creating reality, therefore we want to be increasingly careful about the kind of thoughts we are allowing to absorb our awareness. If we spend too much time worrying about surveillance and Grey Alien predation and the HAARP Project, it is like we are attracting negative energy and negative vibrations towards us. We are substantiating that kind of material. I don’t mean that one should become polyannaish – one should stay grounded, but one should realize that one is better off practicing an inner ecology on the level of thought, or you will end up in a frothing state of apocalyptic terror, which is what much of our culture seems to be trying to induce.

As I recall, Noory was miffed that I wouldn’t discuss the negative aspects of the Hopi Prophecies, though I do know all about them. Instead, I suggested that everything is in the act of interpretation – “magnetic pole reversal” could be something that takes place on the level of consciousness, rather than some literal destruction of the physical Earth. If our consciousness and therefore our intention is embedded in the structure of reality – as quantum physics, for instance, tells us – then how we focus our thoughts could catalyze certain possibilities and support more or less desireable outcomes. In that case, logically, we should use our psychic energy to support the best, most compassionate and generous future conceivable for ourselves, the world, and humanity.

TIM BOUCHER: There’s a passage in your book where you suggest that philosopher Walter Benjamin “…saw thinking as a form of intoxication.” A really interesting take, especially since thinking tends to be so damned addictive as well. Do you ever worry that intellectualism prevents us from fully experiencing certain aspects of spirituality? Is thought the strongest drug of all?

I think in the Bible we are exhorted to “love God” with all of our minds as well as all of our hearts. I believe that “loving God” with my mind requires the full use of my intellectual capacities to think about and explore the nature of reality and the nature of consciousness – otherwise, I wouldn’t be doing my best. In Hinduism, the intellectual’s path is recognized as one form of yoga, and a legitimate route to the Sacred. If there is a spiritual reality – in some sense, a higher or more evolved level of being than what we have yet reached – I would only presume that my mental capabilities were developed to be part of my spiritual process of development, not something to be cast aside as I climbed the ladder.

This is one aspect of Rudolf Steiner’s significance – he recognized that thinking was in itself a spiritual path, and that the invisible world of thought was part of our entry into other orders of being. I strongly recommend checking out his Philosophy of Freedom for this perspective. He also believed it was completely possible to reconcile scientific materialism and empiricism with the other levels of inner cognition required to explore “higher worlds” – and I think he is correct. From Steiner’s perspective, we actually developed our materialist and empirical form of consciousness partially as a foundational tool that would allow us to explore other realities without losing our balance, if we were willing to allow for such a possibility.

At the same time, intellectualism has its limits, and there are experiences that pass beyond the limits of thought. Thinking can become a kind of negative or useless intoxication – this seems to be the case with a lot of academic fixation on post-structuralist analysis, which seems to alienate people from confronting basic truths through endless conceptual game-playing.

TIM BOUCHER: Your work exhibits a deep reverence for those who tread these roads ahead of you – people like Walter Benjamin, Jose Arguelles, and Rudolf Steiner. Why is it important for spiritual people to have heroes, and teachers? Are you comfortable with the fact that you’re becoming something of a role model for a new generation of seekers - while still in the middle of your own spiritual voyage?

Just as there is no individual separate from the material reality of earth, atmosphere, cosmos that surrounds us, there is no individual separate from the larger human tribe, including the intellectual and spiritual lineages that have come before us. I think it is natural and also important to acknowledge one’s intellectual ancestors and older brothers – just as tribal people honor their ancestors. If I am becoming some kind of role model for other seekers in our time – although I admit part of me still wants to flinch away from that idea – I think it is because I am honest about my doubts and my quandaries and my struggles. I was lucky to grow up with the direct influence of people like Allen Ginsberg, who was so refreshingly free of egotistical self-aggrandizement in his pursuit of his own personal liberation. He was the first to admit his own faults, and I try to do the same. I also think we in the contemporary West have reached the point in our development where it has become clear that the Eastern model of guru/disciple is of no use for us, and in fact has a negative effect on our progress. That was what the spiritual chaos of the late-1960s and 1970s demonstrated, rather painfully. We have to do it for ourselves, become our own spiritual authority – and this is extremely difficult and challenging, but also very interesting.

TIM BOUCHER: I know this is an overly simplistic reading of your work, but I feel like the point needs to be clarified for people coming to this material for the first time. Does anybody who takes psychedelics automatically become a shaman? What’s the difference between a shaman and a casual drug user?

A shaman in a tribal society would go through a deep process of initiatory training, learning an entire skill set and the myths and wisdom of his particular healing lineage. A casual drug taker does not have that deeper pool of knowledge and experience to draw from. However, since we have no initiatory tradition in the West, many of those attracted to exploring non-ordinary states of consciousness (even destructively through heroin etc.) may be people who in a tribal society would have been recognized as having a shamanic disposition, requiring training. We may need to recover initiatory practices in the modern West in order to create our own form of shamanism – it is also possible for modern people to go through initiatory training in South America, or with North American indigenous cultures. Some people do manage to reaccess the shamanic archetype without training in a lineage – this could also happen in tribal cultures, where someone struck by lightning, for instance, sometimes would instantly become a shaman, gifted with special healing powers. I argue in the book that shamanism is a universal human dispensation, based on our connection to the earth, and natural as well as supernatural forces, and therefore anyone can reaccess it, starting from where they are.

TIM BOUCHER: No initiatory tradition in the West? You mean in terms of shamanism, right? What about ceremonial magic? How does that fit into all this?

Personally, I am not much of a supporter of ceremonial magic. Perhaps out of ignorance, I don’t see much value in it, particularly at this point in history. I would rather see people put their energies into serving the world situation, using their psychic and magic capacities towards direct and hands on transmutations of our present difficult and dangerous and soon-to-be dire circumstances. I am not sure that consort with potentially ambivalent entities or energies conjured through ceremonial magic is the way to go. I also get the sense that it is a fairly debased and Luciferic tradition in the modern West, a kind of retrofitting of old ideas and old styles. However, I don’t know too much about it and don’t practice it so perhaps I am wrong.

TIM BOUCHER: You talk a lot about entheogens being at the root of many shamanic and religious practices. Yet I’ve seen people like Michael Harner suggest that less than 10% of world shamanic traditions involve ritual drug use. Mircea Eliade also suggested that use of drugs to achieve altered states was seen as a degenerate practice among some indigenous groups (although I remember you saying he eventually modified that position). Without getting into the argument of who’s “right,” why do you think there’s such a disagreement about psychedelic shamanism? What traditional lineages support your pro-psychedelic thesis? And the people who disapprove of it, on what grounds might they do so?

Definitely shamanism flourishes in areas of the world where no psychedelics were used or even available, but it also reached a particularly developed state in South America. through use of sacred plant medicines such as ayahuasca, mushrooms, etcetera. Both paths are valid. I don’t really care about debating percentages, but I think 10% is absurd. Christian Raetsch has done work to establish that some shamanic groups previously unassociated with drugs, like the Bon tradition in Tibet, do in fact use psychoactive plants. I think the disagreements in the modern Western circles have more to do with cultural approbrium – Harner as well as Eliade were working within institutional and academic structures that did not support the idea of personal psychedelic exploration, therefore they were very cautious and perhaps disingenuous. Eliade reflected the cultural bias against plant hallucinogens in his work, which is otherwise excellent.

TIM BOUCHER: In an interview with New World Disorder, you stated “I worry that people who trip all the time without any container or ritual or connection to some shamanic lineage are in danger of inducing ‘mind shadows,’ as the Mazatecs say, or bringing down negative entities.” What kind of ritual containers do you use to avoid such potentially dangerous complications? What happens to people who bring down these “mind shadows”?

Through karma or luck, I connected with a number of lineages including the Bwiti in Gabon, the Secoya in Ecuador, the Mazatecs in Mexico, and the Santo Daime in Brazil, also the Native American Church in the US. I do feel that making these connections has had a protective aspect – this has been suggested to me in many dreams, some directly warning me or revealing certain possibilities. I strongly recommend that anyone who wants to explore this area make the effort to connect with a shamanic lineage, an “old medicine line,” as one teacher of mine called it. People who bring down “mind shadows” often find a negative or sinister caste or obstructive element that makes their life more difficult until it is confronted and taken care of by working with a traditional shaman or modern energy healer who can see the problem and handle it energetically.

TIM BOUCHER: Going back to something you said earlier: I’m not sure I understand what you mean when you say that we should avoid a guru/disciple relationship but seek out a shaman.

The guru/disciple relationship is different than the one between a shaman and a participant in shamanic rituals. In Hindu and Buddhist traditions, you are supposed to elevate the guru to the status of a divine being, holding them in your heart as one who can do no wrong. Theoretically, by meditating on the guru in this way, you are also identifying with the guru and elevating yourself, but in practice, it often means giving up your will and agency to another. I personally suspect this is an Eastern practice that doesn’t benefit Westerners, who have chosen a different dharma. I think that the shaman is never presumed to have that deified status, and in fact in tribal societies, people tended to be wary of the shaman.

TIM BOUCHER: You talk a great deal about spirits and elemental entities in your work. For people of a materialist or rational mindset, such talk is very hard to swallow. The closest many people can come is believing that these things exist solely within our minds. Is there any particular method you’ve found that works best for opening people up to at least the possibility that these things actually might exist “out there” somewhere?

I suppose one could ask them to interrogate what makes them so convinced there is an “out there” as opposed to an “in here” – perhaps these are two aspects of the same thing? This is what Carl Jung proposed when he insisted upon the “reality of the psyche,” manifesting itself in synchronicities and dream-visions and numerous life events. Steiner noted that the thought that there is a material world separate from a conceptual world within our own minds was, in itself, only a thought, and therefore had no more essential substance or validity than any other thought we might like to hold. For the Buddhists, the reality we observe around us is “maya,” a magical projection of the ultimate ground of being, which is Brahman, or universal consciousness. This idea is developed through Twentieth Century quantum physics, which seems to substantiate it perfectly. Check out Fritjof Capra’s The Tao of Physics or Amit Goswami’s The Self-Aware Universe for this perspective.

TIM BOUCHER: One of the most compelling points for me personally that comes up again and again in your work is that ultimately shamanic practices and traditions can be traced back to the spirits themselves – that the spirits are the ones who originally taught the shamans their songs and rituals. Are there any teachings, songs or rituals you could share with us which came to you directly from a spirit?

I have had so many direct teachings – I describe them in my first book and in my new book, which will come out in the Spring. Some of them are in ordinary language – I was told during an ayahuasca session in the Amazon, “You go deeper into the physical to get to the infinite.” – and some take other forms. I now find that the whole world speaks to me continuously, offering me synchronicities and hints all the time.

TIM BOUCHER: Do you plan to raise your own children according to a shamanic tradition, or is that something you’d rather allow them to discover on their own? Do you believe there’s a right age for a young person to first be introduced to psychedelics? How old were you when you first tried a mind-altering substance?

This is a very complex area with a lot of cultural baggage attached to it. When I was down in Brazil, I noted all the children attended the Santo Daime ceremony, drinking small amounts of ayahuasca, and remaining extraordinarily patient and attentive throughout the ritual. This seemed a stark contrast to our typical vision of children as impatient and incapable of concentrating very long. I think the atittudes of children and their behavior is very much shaped by our own atittudes and expectations of them. I would have no problem with my daughter attending a Daime ritual when she is a bit older, perhaps nine or ten, if we go down to Brazil together. I was nineteen before I tried psychedelics, though I had tried other substances in high school.

TIM BOUCHER: You made an interesting statement in the Palenque Norte lecture about how you can learn as much from a phony shaman as you can from a real one. This goes against how most people think about spirituality – that charlatans have no knowledge to impart. Could you elaborate on what you meant by that?

Perhaps people get the shaman they deserve – or the one that they need at that particular point in time. Sometimes people may need to have the experience of being tricked, disappointed, led down the garden path. Also shamanism is a liminal activity, on the border of tricksterism, very much invested in breaking apart any system or preconception you are trying to hold. I am thinking lately that the distinction between shamanism and sorcery is that sorcery utilizes language to control and dominate reality, to limit human potential (like the pharmaceutical companies turning people into helpless victims by creating new chronic syndromes which they then medicate through new chemical potions), while shamanism provides the liberating act of breaking up certainties and returning reality to the status of mysterious perhapsness and infinite possibility.

TIM BOUCHER: I know a lot of people who would argue that sorcery is actually a method of fulfilling potential. Where does your negative attitude in this area come from?

Perhaps it is a matter of definition. I see sorcery as more oriented towards personal power than fufilling a collective responsibility for a tribe or a community. For instance, in the Castaneda books, Don Juan has no interest in serving a larger collective.

TIM BOUCHER: In your book, you describe a conversation you had with a woman on an airplane who’d been having unusual dreams about mysterious shamans. You explained to her, “The Indian cultures have been almost wiped out, but shamanism is an essential human phenomenon connected to the earth. Right now, the shamans of the past are looking for candidates who can carry on the tradition. They have zeroed in on you as a possible candidate.” As in the case of this woman, how can people know whether or not they are being authentically called to a shamanic life?

Once they know, they know.

TIM BOUCHER: In her piece in the Brooklyn Rail, Ellen Pearlman suggests that one potential way your work might be interpreted is as “… a privileged white boy who plays culture vulture and rips off the indigenos to report on his own solipsistic musings with an intellectual twist in order to validate his quasi-imperialist wanderings.” I know you’ve written elsewhere that shamanic tourism can actually be beneficial for indigenous peoples, but haven’t you had experiences where these groups were resentful of outside intrusion into their traditions? Do you ever feel out of place or perhaps out of your league as a white New York writer sitting among traditional shamans and medicine men?

Ellen is a friend of mine, but I find her comment utterly preposterous and unnecessarily hurtful – especially since she goes traipsing around the world after Tibetan Buddhism, participating in their practices, “ripping them off” to get her own jollies. I don’t see why she felt the need to criticize me in such a manner for following the path I was called to follow. As for “privileged,” I certainly have no trust fund, and have often been flying by the seat of my pants. It is amazing to me how we have become experts at using language to slap down other people’s experiences – Ellen’s comment, in my opinion, only reveals the enormous gap separating her from anything remotely approaching an “enlightened” state of consciousness. However, she is still a nice lady.

I think we have to realize that the world is literally melting down right now – along with the great extinction crisis and accelerated climate change, we are in a period of vast cultural extinction, with half of the world’s 6,000 languages on the verge of disappearing. Let’s take stock of the urgency of the situation, and measure our actions according to reality rather than some nonexistent ideal of purity. I actually always feel incredibly comfortable whenever I am in the indigenous world – I feel like I understand their way of looking at reality, and have no conflict with their value system, intentions, or priorities. Frankly, I generally feel far more confused, nonplussed, and depressed sitting at a table of upper middle class white people, who will exert enormous amounts of energy talking about stupid gossip or idiotic vacations or dumb junk they have purchased, rather than examining things that are actually important – like the fact their opulent lifestyle and refusal to take responsibility for their thoughts and actions is condemning an entire planet to death.

TIM BOUCHER: I spotted this article by you about the Santo Daime tradition in Brazil. In it you reveal your discomfort with organized religion, and your later transformation to understanding and accepting such things. This extreme distrust of institutional religion seems very common nowadays, especially among people drawn to alternative religions. How did you overcome this initial distaste for organized religion and do you have any tips for people struggling in this area? Are there any other institutional religious settings in which you’ve had positive experiences?

My connection was particularly with the Santo Daime – I still have no interest in organized religion, in general. However, I do feel that the Daime is providing a tremendously valuable sacred container for working with ayahuasca, and their “doctrine” essentially consists of the experience of ayahuasca, and the wisdom it dispenses. I overcame my resistance when the truth of their practice was directly revealed to me during my third session with them, in the Amazon. This happened beyond any mental activity or intellectual process – it was a complete knowing, revelation, or one could say grace, bestowed upon me. I accepted it because its sacredness became evident to me.

I believe that the Santo Daime is a true prophetic vehicle, aiding in the return of the Christ consciousness to the Earth – not as an individual being, as Fundamentalists imagine, but as a compassionate and heart-centered level of consciousness, destined to put our world back together by teaching us how to put the greater good ahead of our individualistic and ego-centric aims. My hypothesis is that this second coming of Christ represents an aspect of the fulfillment of the prophecies and the Mayan Calendar, bringing a deeper level of heart and consciousness to the earth. I recommend you go down to the Amazon and try it for yourself, and then we will talk. While stating this, I am not claiming that the Daime is the “one true way” or anything of the sort. You could be a Buddhist and a Daimiesta, or many combinations of mystical paths, without violating any precept of the Daime.

My tip is that people have to learn to discriminate for themselves and take responsibility for their own minds. That is the key to life on earth. Also, you have to have experiences for yourself rather than accepting second-hand knowledge because it is more convenient or comforting.

TIM BOUCHER: The ideas of Rudolf Steiner are a very strong thread running through your work. You seem to gravitate in particular to his ideas about higher spiritual realms, and the concept of the Luciferian and Ahrimanic currents pulling us upward and downward spiritually. But I’ve noticed you rarely if ever talk about Steiner’s teachings on Christ or Christianity. Is there a particular reason for this avoidance? Does Christ play any role in your own personal cosmology?

I have talked about Christ a bit, especially in a piece for Arthur about The Passion of the Christ, which I thought was an important and misunderstood film, also a strange artefact. What is lacking in the “New Age” or “New Edge” spiritual culture is any sense of the significance of sacrifice, for which Christ’s life provides a model. Doing yoga, eating delicious raw food, hanging Tibetan prayer flags – that is all very nice, providing a great lifestyle, but it has little to do with pursuing a true spiritual path, in my opinion. The meaning of Christ’s life is missed by Christianity: He did not “save our souls” through the crucifixion. He provided a model for how we should act, if we would like to save our own souls. And that activity is one of conscious sacrifice – not stupidly throwing one’s self on a machine gun, but figuring out how to utilize your psychic energy and your particular position for the best possible outcome. The way to bring “Heaven down to Earth” is to match your actions with your intentions.

Both Steiner and Jung, in their different articulations, provide powerful readings of Christ that can help us understand him from our contemporary perspective. I have written about this in my new book. So yes, Christ plays an important role for me.

TIM BOUCHER: In Steiner’s book, How to Know Higher Worlds, he seems to advocate a very slow, very measured approach to spiritual elevation. In defense of this slower path he states:

“There are, of course, other approaches that lead more quickly to the same goal. But such faster ways have nothing to do with the path presented here because they have certain human consequences that are considered undesirable to anyone experienced in esoteric practices. […] If we do not wish to entrust ourselves to dark powers, whose true nature and origin we do not know, we shall do well to leave such other approaches alone.”

Though he may or may not be talking about psychedelics here, it seems like this is a rather stinging condemnation of certain aspects of your own path. Your conversation with Neil towards the end of BOTH also seems to point in this direction, when Neil says “People are entering the lower realms of the spiritual world unbidden and unprepared, exposing themselves to delusions and deceptions.” How do you reconcile this apparent dichotomy between your deep interest and respect for Steiner and your own psychedelic experiences?

We tend to think of visionaries and philosophers of the past as being static thinkers whose thought is preserved, as it were, in a kind of psychic amber. This is really unfair to Steiner, who was a deeply and completely evolutionary thinker. For Steiner, everything was in a state of continual tranformation – humans were developing towards other conditions of existence, plants and stones possessed consciousness and were becoming more conscious, spiritual entities developed on other planets and dimensions. His understanding of reality bears resemblance to the ideas of the scientist Rupert Sheldrake, who proposes that the “Laws of Nature” are not actually laws but more like “habits” that change and evolve over time, through the creation of new “morphogenetic fields.” We only think they are “laws” because science developed at a time when the model of God was of an immutable and unchanging patriarchal figure. One of Steiner’s main accomplishments was to fully integrate an evolutionary approach into the occult cosmology. He was always evolving his understanding of reality by studying modern thinkers and so on. If he had lived into our age, he would have continued to change and develop his thought and his way of articulating it.

Steiner was painfully aware that humanity was in a process of rapid development, while dangerously under the sway of Ahriman, the evil earth spirit who represents minerality, materiality, material technology, hardening, and death. He believed we needed a return to the influence of Lucifer, the “light-bringer” who carries us up towards beauty, glamour, inspiration, but also haughtiness and arrogance and disdain for the earth. I think if Steiner had lived he would have recognized psychedelics as necessary Gnostic catalysts, giving us a necessary spark of Luciferic inspiration in a very Ahrimanic age. Steiner apparently said that humanity as a whole would crossing the threshold into the spiritual world after the Twentieth Century. I think that psychedelics are Luciferic, which means they restore direct vision of supersensible worlds that can be distorted by the unprepared ego of the individual. They also tend to pull us away from the earth and earthly responsibilities – whereas the Ahrimanic force of modern culture would drag us down into endless bureaucracies, the “cold evil” of our technological framing of reality, locking us into a deeply limited world.

I suspect that Steiner would have seen the necessity of psychedelics from the 1960s through today – he would have also cautioned against their overuse. The urgency of our time requires fast development, and psychedelics can definitely accelerate your psychic evolution. Sometimes, risks are necessary. Neil’s own opening to this material was created by psychedelics, so it is a bit disingenuous to then want to prevent other people from having those experiences. Western Buddhists often do this as well. By the way, I don’t find the statement a “stinging condemnation” at all – I believe these areas are highly complex, and it may represent your own state of mind that you find yourself searching for “stinging condemnations” of my position, rather than going deeper, even in your questions, to articulate a situation that is multi-layered, paradoxical, ambiguous, and dynamic.

TIM BOUCHER: You’re fond of repeating a particular saying from the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, attributed to Jesus: “Open the door for yourself, so you will know what is.” What translation are you getting that from, as I’m unable to locate it in any of the usual sources online? Are you interested in Gnosticism beyond this basic principle of direct experience? If so, what appeals to you about it? What impact could its revival have on the modern world?

I don’t know where exactly I read it in that form – here is a translation of what must be the same statement from an on-line translation: ” 94 Jesus [said], “One who seeks will find, and for [one who knocks] it will be opened.” I know I didn’t invent my version. I don’t know how much lattitude there is for translation. The Gospel of Thomas is extraordinary, perhaps crucial for understanding Christ in a modern context. It is clear that most of his followers were bewildered by most of his parables – I consider it possible that this text was a transmission designed for our contemporary moment. Parables are an extraordinarily compact way to transmit crucial information across vast oceans of time and space.

Ralph Metzner described psychedelics as “gnostic catalysts,” and I think that is a great description. The basic revelation of Gnosticism – that this reality is a kind of matrix and there are other dimensions or imaginal realms as well – is made vividly apparent through DMT. I wouldn’t agree with the Gnostic idea of the Demiurge – that this world was created by a deluded or wicked entity, who trapped us in this material plane. I would see that this reality is a necessary phase in what could be a larger evolutionary process encompassing many “worlds” as the Hopi or Rudolf Steiner say. You can’t fly until you learn to walk, and you can’t walk until you learn to crawl. I think the Gnostic concept of the Archons is also useful for understanding how astral entities may function in this reality, compelling arbitrary belief in various institutions or systems, whether nationstates or corporations or cult-like religions.

TIM BOUCHER: Your second book called 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl and deals with planet-wide transformation of consciousness, crop circles, ancient prophecies and the end of the world. Now, I’ve heard all kinds of crazy predictions on this, but what do you personally think (or hope) is going to happen in 2012? What are you planning to do if nothing actually happens?

First of all, I think it is already happening – the nature of reality is indeed shifting on us. This is happening on many levels at once. Most obviously, it is taking place in material form through accelerated climate change – check out the UN Millenium Eco-Systems Assessment for details. There are about two fish left in the oceans, and Eskimos are going to find it hard to have a snowball fight soon enough. The imminent depletion of energy supply in a Peak Oil crisis is also not a hallucination but something that is going to radically change our lives within the next few years. At the same time, something very peculiar has happened to our political sphere and mainstream media. It is as though they have entered a delusionary and superficial forcefield that allows no room for nuance or integrity or intelligent questioning. I see it as the exhausting or emptying out or forfeiting of an entire form of human consciousness – what the philosopher Jean Gebser called the “mental rational” structure of consciousness, which perceived everything through dualistic concepts that must be “grasped” (even our metaphors for thinking are inappropriate spatial ones). Gebser foresaw the crisis of anxiety for this form of consciousness, forcing a “mutational break” into a new structure of human consciousness, which he called “integral – aperspectival,” with a different relationship to time, space, psyche, cosmos, and a different model of truth.

I look at the situation through many different prisms, and I think I have developed a very coherent and sensible understanding of what is taking place. If we are indeed passing through the archetypal matrix of the Apocalypse, a word which literally means “uncovering” or “revealing,” then the Jungian view tells us that this is essentially a psychic event, the “coming to self-realization of human consciousness,” or the “coming of the Self.” According to the latest and most amazingly sophisticated reading of the Mayan Calendar in Carl Johann Calleman’s The Mayan Calendar and the Transformation of Consciousness, the Mayan understanding saw time linked to the evolution of consciousness in a series of accelerating cycles or spirals, each one twenty times faster in linear time than the previous one. A nine stage process began 16 billion years ago with the Big Bang, and completes itself in the year 2011 – 2012 when we reach the phase of “conscious co-creation” of reality. Before we can possibly reach this stage, the shadow of the psyche is revealing itself in all of its many dimensions.

Looking at the energetic cycles that pulse within the larger structure of the Mayan Calendar, Calleman proposes that 2007, roughly, will be the year that the new level of consciousness is crystallized, while 2008, roughly, will see the collapse of the pre-existing form of consciousness, perhaps in a large-scale socio-economic meltdown. I don’t know if these dates are correct, but this seems to me to provide a possible model for what is taking place. Since the cyclical wave-form of history is accelerating, we are now in a period that bears resemblance to many past eras simultaneously – the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, the rise and fall of the Third Reich, the last days of the Ancien Regime before the French Revolution. I think that 2009 – 2010 we may see the drastic end of the current civilizational structure and the immediate movement into a harmonic planetary civilization with no nationstates, based on compassion, creativity, and generosity. If that doesn’t happen, instead of activating the noosphere – the thought-envelope around the Earth – we may end up in a necrosphere, a dead planet.

TIM BOUCHER: In your interview with the Daily Grail, you wrote: “I see the current biospheric crisis as a self-willed cataclysm designed to force human evolution to a higher level of consciousness.” Self-willed by who or what? The planet? Aliens? Humanity as a whole? Some secret group of elites?

The cataclysm is self-willed by ourselves, by the collective psyche of humanity, by our unconscious desires. Nietzsche is helpful for understanding this – check out Geneology of Morals. He thought that comfort made humanity despicable, that suffering was necessary – even the discipline of great suffering – in order to intensify human consciousness. After World War Two, we could have created a post-work global leisure society, using industrial technology to reduce everyone’s work to a few hours a week, but instead we chose to create this present nightmare. The “irrational rationality” of this system is analyzed properly in Herbert Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man. Now we have burned through our resources, ruined the climate, and turned a former green world into a pressure cooker bristling with nuclear warheads. Who is doing this? We are doing this – it is our shadow projections, our unconsciousness, that has caused this mess. Therefore, we will need to attain a deeper level of consciousness – integrating our shadow instead of projecting it – in order to resolve our problems.

TIM BOUCHER: What’s the difference between a Christian Fundamentalist looking forward to the Rapture and a New Ager looking forward to 2012?

I can’t really say what some imaginary generic “New Ager” thinks about 2012. I can only say what I think about it. I think “looking forward to 2012″ would be a huge mistake. I believe McKenna was slightly responsible for creating this mistake in people’s minds, as he often implied the 2012 transition would be essentially technological, and therefore we just had to await the creation of some timespace-bending UFO-like object. This has been picked up the transhumanists like Ray Kurzweil and made into a doctrine of the approaching “technological singularity,” believing that some new technology would make us immortal or create super-potent AI’s that will solve our problems. My thinking is utterly opposed to this. Jose Arguelles has also created a new form of this mistake with his single-minded insistence that a switch to a “13 moon” calendar would, in itself, make a difference. Not only do I have problems with his calendar as a new global standard, I think that much more is required from us, on all levels – what Marx would call infrastructure and superstructure.

I believe that 2012 is happening this minute, right now, in a very real sense. It is the work that we do on ourselves, transforming our own psyches and our communities and our global systems, that brings “2012″ into existence as a positive outcome for the world. There is nothing passive about this at all – it is completely active, absolutely “here and now” oriented. We have to entirely awaken to the current situation – with its death-like grip of totalitarianism and foreshadowing of mass genocide – and then put all of our energy and clear, cogent thought into creating the alternative that will supersede the current form of globalized inequity based on greed, fear, and ego-centrism. The phase-shift takes place, first of all, in our own minds, and moves outward from there.

Fundamentalists look forward to a passive “Second Coming” of a Messiah, and believe they will be saved because of their faith. I feel they are sadly deluded. We are the second coming. As William Blake said, God only acts, and is, in existing beings and men. It is through the active work of transforming this barbaric, violent, earth-destroying civilization into a truly human world that we will attain our own liberation and salvation.

TIM BOUCHER: What do you imagine Rudolf Steiner would have to say about 2012? Seems again like it violates his idea of a gradual spiritual maturation.

Apparently, Steiner said that at the end of the Twentieth Century, humanity as a whole would be crossing the threshold of the spiritual world. What I get from my reading of his work is that he thinks there are different forms of time, appropriate to different worlds and epochs. The acceleration we are currently experiencing could only happen because we are ready for it. I think he knew that we were quickly approaching a kind of phase-shift, which would be experienced as a different realization of time and space.

I also don’t think Steiner was infallible. I don’t turn to his work as some kind of gospel, even though he was absolutely amazing and an extraordinary teacher. It is one vector with which to understand things – and I don’t think there is any absolute Truth. Nietzsche suggested there was no such thing as a linear or unitary Truth – that Truth could be much more like a value, the way painters use values in a painting. That seems much more authentic to me. However, there are better and worse paintings, stories, and works of art. If consciousness is co-creating reality, then we should seek to give our energy to the greatest and most helpful story, or artwork, which fits the perceptual and historical data that surrounds us. Reality itself may be a work of art.

At the end of the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas we find another saying which could be applied here powerfully:

His disciples said to him, “When will the kingdom come?”
“It will not come by watching for it. It will not be said, ‘Look, here!’ or ‘Look, there!’ Rather, the Father’s kingdom is spread out upon the earth, and people don’t see it.”

To me, this seems like very sound advice when it comes to speculating about the end of the world. Yet you seem to write and talk about it extensively, so you must believe there is some usefulness to Apocalypse myths. Why should we watch for the coming of the Kingdom when it’s already spread out around us?

That statement is very similar to the Buddhist idea that “Samsara is nirvana,” which I also agree with. I am not speculating about the end of the world, by the way. That is a literalist simplification based on your own projections, that are probably fear-based. I am theorizing about the ongoing transformation of human consciousness, leading not to the end of the world but a birth – the birth of humanity’s higher mind. I am prophesying, in a sense. But this must be understood properly. I agree with the Hopi anthropologist Armin Geertz, “Prophecy is not prediction, even though it purports to be so. Prophecy is a thread in the total fabric of meaning, in the total worldview. In this way it can be seen as a way of life and of being.” Prophecy is an expanded sensitivity to the implications of the present.

It is always easy to wave around some passage or other and use it to close down thinking. In the Biblical narrative there is certainly a great sense of preparation for a future event of the Apocalypse, despite this passage. I would take the Hopi perspective that in a sense “All time is present now,” but we still have to pass through the cycle or the sequence as it takes place from our limited view into the spacetime matrix, which is already pre-existent in four-dimensions, as quantum physicists tell us. We are moving towards this event – and yet, in another sense, it has already happened. We have to hold paradoxes in our mind in order to appreciate this – for instance, roles are preassigned, yet freely chosen and self-willed. This kind of understanding is syntactically embedded in the Hopi language.

My interpretation of 2012 and the Apocalypse is that we are now called upon to act – not to passively “watch for the coming of the Kingdom.” It is through our actions that we ready ourselves for this future state. As Nietzsche said, “The deed creates the doer – almost as an afterthought.” We will enter the Kingdom by transforming our consciousness, which can only be done through the pragmatic labor of transforming the Earth, bringing compassion and light and generosity and intelligence down into this world. Once we accomplish this, we won’t have to argue about it anymore, as we will find ourselves actually living in the Kingdom...

More information:

Daniel Pinchbeck's new project Reality Sandwich

Information on Daniel Pinchbeck first book Breaking Open The Head

More writing by Tim Boucher


great article, thanks for sharing this. I've been reading some of the gnosis archive http://www.gnosis.org/ so the last section is very timely. http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-3099573935248548861 has an interview of Daniel Pinchbeck and Douglas Rushkoff which is also very interesting (part 1 of 4 - the rest are linked above in the related videos on this page). he speaks of some of his experiences and beliefs also mentioned in this article.