This book is such a unique creation from Robert Tindall regarding Shamanism. Then to throw in Tolkien and Homer and so much more. It really is a journey that is a must for any on the path of the medicine man. I really enjoyed it and I always love to do interviews with people filled with wisdom of the shaman. Robert Tindall is a blessing indeed when it comes to knowledge. I hope you enjoy this interview. Presenting.
1. What was the prime motivation and inspiration in creating your book The Shamanic Odyssey Homer, Tolkien, and the Visionary Experience?
RT: The Shamanic Odyssey can be mainly traced back to a conversation Susana and I had with our teacher of the vegetalista shamanism of the Amazon, the Ashaninkan curandero Juan Flores. It happened when we were engaged in a very traditional diet deep in the rainforest, where Susana and I were living in isolation drinking shamanic plants and subsisting primarily on roast green bananas! Flores had tramped back to visit us, and sitting together by the stream there, the conversation turned to the mythic – and quite real according to him – beings that inhabit the Amazonian waterways. As Flores described the behavior of these sirenas, I was suddenly struck by the deep parallels between their seductive behavior and that of the Sirens described by Homer. Flores had never heard of the Odyssey, yet when I described the story of Odysseus’ ordeal in the orbit of their rapturous song, Flores nodded his head and said grimly, “That’s them, alright.”
I had already been observing a number of intriguing parallels between the ancient mythology of the Greeks and Celts I had studied at the university and the contemporary cosmovision of peoples in the rainforest, but this conversation stuck with me.
Upon our return to the United States after our year-long immersion in the vegetalista tradition, I had a chance to spend some time teaching the Odyssey, and it was then I began to recognize that the text is shot through with indigenous and shamanic cultural elements: shapeshifting, visionary journeys, plants with resident divinities, masters and mistresses of animals, the symbiosis between plant/spirit/shaman, animal becoming, sacred topography—the list went on and on. The case became particularly intriguing when Susana and I began analyzing the descriptions of the therapeutic effects of bardic song in the Odyssey in the light of her research into the healing powers of Amazonian healing songs, i.e. icaros.
The Odyssey led me into an unfolding meditation on the indigenous mind at the root of the Western tradition. The more I followed up on details of the epic poem, the more terrain was revealed. Most notably this occurred around the mythologem of the clash of the Cyclops and Odysseus, which I see as a remnant of a very ancient oral tradition transposed into Homer’s comparatively modern narrative. As a teaching story, like the Genesis account of the Garden of Eden, it appears to me to capture modern humanity’s break with indigenous consciousness.
Just as I was contemplating the ramifications of such a mythologem existing in the Odyssey at all, I encountered the peyote shaman Bob Boyll, the second major cultural informant for our book, and heard his account of the two roads of humanity he had been taught by the Hopi prophet David Monongue.
Again, like the uncanny parallels between the Amazonian and ancient Greek sirenas, Monongue’s description of the two roads of humanity struck me as too similar to the cultural tensions illustrated in the clash between the proto-modern Odysseus and the indigenous Cyclops to be accidental.
In fact, I often felt like an amanuensis, those folks who during medieval times assiduously transcribed the oral tradition, during the writing of this book. In that sense, its genesis lies in converging lineages of plant-based shamanism, the research into icaros of my co-author Susana, ancient texts, ethnography, the work of anthropologists like Reichel-Dolmatoff, even the mythopoeic work of J.R.R. Tolkien.
2. The Hobbit film being one of my favorites of 2012. I have to ask you how J.R.R. Tolkien fits into all of this from a shamanistic perspective?
RT: Tolkien has been a great inspiration to me ever since I was a boy. The cosmovision of The Lord of the Rings made more sense to me than anything else in the barren Reagan-era culture I grew up in the 1980s, and during my studies of medieval literature in the university I found myself following in Tolkien’s footsteps academically as well. What I came to learn that Tolkien’s express purpose was to re-inject the vitality of the pre-Christian oral tradition back into the enervated Western imagination. He termed his endeavor “mythopoeic,” and some of his earliest writings are clear evocations of the primal mind of our ancestors. Given that my purpose was to revitalize the cosmovision of the Odyssey, I found myself enlisting the old master’s support.
When it came time for me to write a sort of apologia for shamanic states of consciousness as valid ways of truth seeking, I found myself involved in a deep reading of Tolkien’s last literary will and testament: Smith of Wootton Major. This novella is almost entirely neglected, and yet Tolkien set aside work on his treasured Silmarillion to compose it. I believe the story is about the nature of the creative/shamanic consciousness as Tolkien experienced it, and is his attempt to pass on the fay-star to future generations.
I think Tolkien has been cast in the mold of a brilliant academic with a marvelous, far-ranging imagination, yet a man of essentially Cartesian rationality. I disagree. I think there’s more to Tolkien’s creative experience than is recognized.
I have yet to see the film version of The Hobbit, by the way, but I think Peter Jackson's film versions of Tolkien's works are gross distortions of Tolkien's mythopoeic vision.
Of course, Tolkien dreaded the day "the Americans" would get a hold of his work, but had accepted in advance our inevitable and general incomprehension of his work. I've been turning the issue of the film adaptations of Tolkien over in my mind for some time -- I noted in Jackson's TLotRs a perverse tendency to degrade mature masculine wisdom: Elrond, Gandalf, Faramir, Treebeard, Theoden, even Denethor, all of those mature figures who knew to what cosmic order they belonged and served heroically are treated as panicky, wavering, even cowardly in the film versions. Meanwhile, the perky wisdom of Hobbits with their New Age blather take front stage. As a boy, growing up in the general masculine corruption of the Reagan-era, Tolkien's work was medicine. Here in TLotR were examples of men with integrity, whose masculine power and wisdom nurtured and supported life on Earth! Little of that archetypal power transferred to the films.
Can you rewrite Shakespeare? No. Tolkien should, in my mind, remain similarly inviolate. But, of course, we've already crossed that line. The question now is: Will the memory of the films die away and Tolkien's vision remain preserved and uncorrupted into future generations? Or have "the Americans" committed commodicide, death by transformation into a commodity, upon it?
It's worth quoting Walter Benjamin here, considering the issue of film in his classic essay, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction":
...their most powerful agent is the film. Its social significance, particularly in its most positive form, is inconceivable without its destructive, cathartic aspect, that is, the liquidation of the traditional value of the cultural heritage. This phenomenon is most palpable in the great historical films. It extends to ever new positions. In 1927 Abel Gance exclaimed enthusiastically: “Shakespeare, Rembrandt, Beethoven will make films... all legends, all mythologies and all myths, all founders of religion, and the very religions... await their exposed resurrection, and the heroes crowd each other at the gate.” Presumably without intending it, he issued an invitation to a far-reaching liquidation.
Certainly, Tolkien's work is now threatened with liquidation, unless we start reading the stories to our children before they go to bed!
3. Alright how about Homer's Odyssey and Odysseus's journey to the land of the dead? What do you teach us about this in your knowledge?
RT: I was a bit astonished as I researched and wrote The Shamanic Odyssey that I could encounter a mere handful of commentaries upon Homer’s poems that referenced ethnographical accounts of shamanic practices among indigenous peoples (the work of Classicist Carl Ruck and German philologist Walter Burkert being notable exceptions). Given the intensity of the shamanic negotiations, work with psychoactive plants, shape-shifting, and visionary journeys within the poem, I simply couldn’t believe that no one had bothered to connect those dots. I think this is a reflection of how truly impenetrable the ivory tower of academia can be to multi-disciplinary approaches. In fact, early on I was warned by the classicists I was consulting that my work would not be well received among academics. “Why?” I inquired. “Is there something wrong with my method?” No, I was assured. My method was sound. “We’re just a very conservative lot,” I was told.
I gave up writing for a solely academic audience at that point. My goal became to invite the Muse to sing the Odyssey anew for this generation and time. I believe that we must re-familiarize ourselves with our indigenous roots, the life-ways of our own European ancestors, to address our current ecological crisis.
4. Would you tell us about your views on Snake Medicine? I read once in Cherokee astrology I was of the Serpent people astrologically speaking. So this interests me.
In Poison is Physic, as Shakespeare says. The Shamanic Odyssey gives a detailed description of a healing through traditional shamanic medicine of a severe degenerative disease -- Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy -- brought on by a snakebite, a healing that Western technological medicine was incapable of achieving. Much of the healing process had to do with coming to accept the disease as a healing path -- and in this case, related as it was to the serpent, to the wild, uncultivated power of the Earth.
5. Could you tell us about the Hopi Prophecy stone?
RT: The petroglyph carved upon the cliff-like face of the massive stone is quite old, and I believe marks a stage of particular vitality in the Hopi prophetic vision. From what year it dates and what hand or hands carved it, I do not believe is known. It is certain, however, that the Hopi disguise their traditions from outsiders, and there is no one orthodox, standard version of their prophetic tradition. It is a living current.
An in depth discussion of the particular prophetic lineage that is recounted in The Shamanic Odyssey can be found here on our blog:
6. Poseidon's Curse The Rupture with the Indigenous Mind. What do you embody message wise in this chapter?
RT: When I first sat down to explore the striking parallels between the mythology of the ancient Greeks and the cosmovision of contemporary Amazonian peoples I thought I was writing a short article. Sixty pages later I knew I had a hydra on my hands, and I wasn’t able to lop off heads fast enough.
In order to explain how it was possible for the Sirens in Homer’s epic and the sirenas of the Amazonian waterways to be so uncannily similar, I realized I needed to explore the consciousness underlying these experiences among traditional peoples. It turned out that there is a primal experience of “permeability,” of a transparency to the elements, animals, spirits, stars, which has allowed human beings over the millennia to experience the sentience of the cosmos and derive valuable information from that communion. I eventually realized that this “primal mind,” sometimes derided as “animism,” underlies not only Homer’s work, but is also markedly present in the works of other authors central to the Western European literary canon, such as Shakespeare and J.R.R. Tolkien.
Yet more profoundly, based on readings of certain currents of indigenous prophecy and the oral tradition in the Odyssey, that chapter argues that we are under a kind of curse, one akin to the Biblical account of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from their immersion in the Garden. Our break with the primal mind of our indigenous ancestors was violent, a profound rupture in our communion with a vital, sentient cosmos.
7. I love the stories of Coyote and collect any books I can find on them. Would you share with us your perspective on Coyote since you share stories of his antics in your book?
RT: I love Coyote too. It was deeply satisfying to find the winding narrative of The Shamanic Odyssey coming to a close with a Coyote story by Barry Lopez, a nature writer for whose vision I have great respect. I kept thinking, "Surely there's something more formal by way of conclusion to add?" But there just wasn't!
I see Coyote as that shaggy, earthy, humorous, unabashedly vital, and divinely idiotic aspect of each of us. He's the one who helps keep us free of too many societal impositions of duty, being good, etc, and reminds us that first and foremost, we're humans. "Human," of course, shares the same etymological roots as "humor" and "humus." We are Earth-beings.
Like many animal spirits, Coyote is potentially a healing agent in the shamanic realm, in the sense that Richard Grossinger once suggested:
The patient of a shaman no doubt also has an “inner child,” but that
child is experienced as a raven or a wild bear and thus liberated to
transmute, finally, into something larger than the neurosis. The so called neurosis may have been no more than the unborn “shaman”
within, careening toward its voice. No real growth can happen as
long as the victim state requires either comforting or revenge. In fact
the more deeply wounded the victim, the more powerful must be his
or her potentiation in order to overcome the wound.
8. Who is the plant Goddess Circe and how does plant medicine and animal medicine fit into your shamanistic perspective?
RT: I see Circe as a confluence of two quite ancient figures: The Potnia Theron, or Mistress of Animals, and the divine feminine as encountered within the orbit of certain potent plant medicines, especially opium. Certainly, there is marked evidence for the use of both opium and more powerful narcotic plants in the Solanaceae family, which also gives us that long list of fabled ingredients of witch’s lore: mandrake, henbane, belladonna, datura. The transformation of Odysseus's men into swine is a classic example of the consciousness altering affects of such narcotic plants.
For myself, as a long-time participant in the vegetalista shamanic tradition of the Amazon, Circe is evidently both a pharmakeus, that is, a female shaman deeply intimate with the power of plants and surrounded by spirit and animal familiars, as well as what the great ethnobotanist Richard Evans Schultes once termed a "resident plant divinity."
It's the sacred apprehension of plants that is really necessary to unravel the Circe episode -- this is where we also encounter the powerful apotropaic plant moly, which Hermes appears in the vicinity of to inform Odysseus about. The whole triad of plant/spirit/shaman is most distinctly imprinted upon this episode.
9. Could you explain to us what Consciousness is? I always ask this and always get different unique answers. I am curious to your view on consciousness.
RT: Well, I use a metaphor to describe it, such as, "Consciousness is the particular channel you're tuned into at the moment."
We’ve ended up in a narrow corridor of perception, one that privileges Cartesian consciousness as “normal,” the standard by which the worldviews of other cultures are measured. Yet, in fact, viewed ethnographically, the modern style of perception is rather peculiar. Who in their right mind would believe in a dead, mechanical universe, and of themselves as the sole arbiters of meaning of their existence?
I know I went through a painful shift of paradigm during my first year of apprenticeship in the shamanic traditions of the rainforest. As an educated Westerner, I had been open to Jung’s ideas of archetypes and had experienced meditative states during my training as a Zen Buddhist, but my default setting was essentially Cartesian: I think, therefore I am. I was the center of the show, the only real consciousness in charge.
It was therefore with a mixed sense of wonder – Oh, brave new world! – and profound existential disorientation that I began to discover my little consciousness was only one wavelength in a vast transmission of sentience that permeated everything.
Ugh. I wanted to crawl under a rock.
Somehow, with the support of those around me, I weathered it. I think it’s the process of adaptation, of crossing frontiers into other states of consciousness, which is far more interesting than the question of how to define it.
10. What books are you up to creating next and any links or projects you would like to share with us as we depart? Thank you.
RT: My own background as a Zen Buddhist, in which tradition I trained intensively for around two decades, has dovetailed with my current involvement in shamanic practices. This is a description of a currently unfolding project, Pilgrimage to the Land of the Dragon, which I am a team member of:
While in recent decades awareness of the plight of endangered species has grown in the media and among world organizations, an equivalent loss of human cultures and languages, the inheritance of traditional peoples from Siberia to the Amazon rainforest, has gone largely undocumented, and even unnoticed.
Like the ozone layer above, this delicate “ethno-sphere” of ancient spiritual, medicinal, linguistic, and artistic traditions spanning the globe has suffered deep rifts in its fabric. So profound has been the impact of modern social forces upon native peoples, the number of entire populations that have disintegrated and vanished in recent centuries is now beyond reckoning. Many peoples now roam solely in their ancestral dreamtime, without even a trace of their existence left recorded among us.
It is therefore unique and splendid that two ancient traditions should encounter one another in the profoundest expression of their spiritual and medicinal ways. These two traditions, the Tantric Buddhist of the Himalayas and the plant-spirit based shamanism of the Amazon rainforest, hope to converge at the Sangey Teng Nyingmapa Gompa, located at 12,000 feet outside of Trashintze, the easternmost village in Bhutan, beyond which rear the sacred Himalaya mountains.
This pilgrimage to the 800 year old monastery, which presently supports 40 lamas/yogis, is under the auspices of its spiritual head, Tsewong Sitar Rinpoche, whose family lineage has served the Bhutanese people for generations as doctors, and spiritual and political leaders. Tsewong Sitar Rinpoche, assisted by his disciple, Pema Tenzin Lama, now – at the urging of the Bhutanese king – teaches in the U.S.
Having drunk the medicine of the rain forest, ayahuasca, and being convinced (in his light-hearted way) that the vision-provoking brew is the content "of the gourd held by the Medicine Buddha," Tsewong Sitar Rinpoche has invited Taita Juan Agreda Chindoy, an accomplished traditional doctor and shaman of the Kametsa tribal group to accompany him on a pilgrimage to his remote monastery to share the ayahuasca brew with the lamas at the monastery.
This pilgrimage signifies more than a reuniting of continents, of peoples separated by migrations that took place thousands of years ago. At stake may be the ancestral memories, a communion among traditional ways of knowledge, which can help guide Humanity’s feet back onto the path of happiness and renewed indigenous knowledge of the Earth.
Reveals the striking parallels between indigenous cultures of the Americas and the ancient Homeric world as well as Tolkien’s Middle Earth
• Explores the shamanic use of healing songs, psychoactive plants, and vision quests at the heart of the Odyssey and the fantasy works of J. R. R. Tolkien
• Examines Odysseus’s encounters with plant divinities, altered consciousness, animal shapeshifting, and sacred topography--all concepts vital to shamanism
• Reveals how the Odyssey emerged precisely at the rupture between modern and primal consciousness
Indigenous, shamanic ways of healing and prophecy are not foreign to the West. The native way of viewing the world--that is, understanding our cosmos as living, sentient, and interconnected--can be found hidden throughout Western literature, beginning with the very origin of the European literary tradition: Homer’s Odyssey.
Weaving together the narrative traditions of the ancient Greeks and Celts, the mythopoetic work of J. R. R. Tolkien, and the voices of plant medicine healers in North and South America, the authors explore the use of healing songs, psychoactive plants, and vision quests at the heart of the Odyssey, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and Tolkien’s final novella, Smith of Wootton Major. The authors examine Odysseus’s encounters with plant divinities, altered consciousness, animal shapeshifting, and sacred topography--all concepts vital to shamanism. They show the deep affinities between the healing powers of ancient bardic song and the icaros of the shamans of the Amazon rain forest, how Odysseus’s battle with Circe--wielder of narcotic plants and Mistress of Animals--follows the traditional method of negotiating with a plant ally, and how Odysseus’s journey to the land of the dead signifies the universal practice of the vision quest, a key part of shamanic initiation.
Emerging precisely at the rupture between modern and primal consciousness, Homer’s work represents a window into the lost native mind of the Western world. In this way, the Odyssey as well as Tolkien’s work can be seen as an awakening and healing song to return us to our native minds and bring our disconnected souls back into harmony with the living cosmos.
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Jeffery Pritchett is the host of The Church Of Mabus Show bringing you high strange stories from professionals in the carousel of fields surrounding the paranormal.