One of my biggest influences is Graham Hancock, the pioneering British journalist and explorer. In my opinion, Hancock is a giant of our times and his influence on popular culture is as huge as it is unacknowledged. I attended his first talk on his latest masterwork, Supernatural, as New York's sublime Chapel of Sacred Mirrors. Being a Casteneda fan from way back in the day, I was captivated by the talk. Yet at the same time I was desperately hoping that people wouldn't use the book as motivation to go out and chug some ayahusca for themselves. I see that kind of activity as the equivalent of deep sea diving or Antarctic exploration- best left to the experts.
Many of the details in Hancock's talk struck a chord with me. When I was a kid I would get respiratory infections all of the time. As a result I would get terrifyingly high fevers, often peaking at 106ºF. As a result of that, I would often hallucinate. When I was 12, I got a particularly serious ear infection and was bedridden for over two weeks. Actually I was couch ridden- I was so weakened I couldn't walk up and down the stairs. If I wasn't so incredibly sick it would have been Paradise- nothing to do but lie around and read comics. I was a big Captain America fan at the time and was reading about three years worth of the title during that episode.
One night during this illness, I woke to a most peculiar tableau. A leprechaun was sitting on a rock in the middle of the living room and there was a thunder storm flashing in the adjacent room. I call him a leprechaun only because he was small and bearded and wearing archaic clothes and a rope belt. But he didn't seem cute and charming, he seemed scary as hell. He was shouting over the noise of the storm in a language I didn't understand, maybe Gaelic. And at some point the ceiling opened up and gold coins rained from the ceiling. The noise was unbearable and I passed out.
The thing is, that happened. It wasn't a dream- it all happened when I woke up and stopped when I passed out. I remember it better than yesterday. I was painfully awake at the time. There were no coins on the floor the next morning nor any burn marks on the floor or on the furniture in the dining room. But that doesn't mean the episode didn't have weight and mass and sound and sight and smell. It also doesn't mean that it wasn't extremely unpleasant either.
After Hancock's talk I waited in the receiving line and then told him that story. His face lit up and he nodded knowingly the entire time. He told me that my experience was basically identical to any number of the shamanic experiences he heard about in the field. He said that high fever seemed to throw the same filtering switch in the brain that hallucinogens did. I was gratified by his response, but at the same time I wondered how anyone could put themselves through that kind of thing voluntarily.
Still and all, I was captivated by Hancock's research. And as per usual, the more I heard about shamanism and its by-products the more I was reminded of Jack Kirby....
To Be Continued