on August 7, 2008
Readers or collectors of books on entheogens (a.k.a. psychedelics or 'hallucinogens') have reason to celebrate this year (2008) due to the publication of J. D. Arthur's magnificent book. "Peopled Darkness" is a beautifully written, penetrating, and haunting account/analysis of Arthur's personal salvia divinorum experiences. It ranks way up there among classics of its genre such as Aldous Huxley's "The Doors of Perception" and D. M. Turner's "Salvinorin"; arguably, it's the finest piece of writing on salvia yet published. This is a book to be read, savored slowly, and reread.
Arthur is at first turned off by the arbitrariness of his salvia visions, but is also fascinated, and then slowly but surely finds himself drawn to a strange and compelling world that follows an elusive yet unmistakable dream logic. Not quite the hallucinogen he expected it to be, salvia for Arthur becomes a portal to an inner universe - "totally alien yet utterly familiar" - peopled by mysterious `presences' (spirits?) and held together by its own peculiar consistency and modes of communication.
Is this universe `real'? Western culture tends to focus on external, repeatable and measurable `reality' and be dismissive of fluid internal states. But, as Arthur notes, the salviaic experience throws this apparently rock-solid reality into question by exposing its ultimate dependence on the observer, an internal entity (shades of quantum physics here). Furthermore, the reality opened to us by salvia has its own validity, and perhaps, even its intimate connections to our everyday consensual one. It's as valid as our own thoughts, dreams and highest aspirations, which are certainly not 'hallucinations' even though they may lack spatio-temporality.
Arthur's writing is engaging, yet sober and free of the unbridled speculation that often mars writing in this genre. It leads one to think deeply about the salviaic state and realize that there is much more to it than first meets even the `third eye'.
"Peopled Darkness" is destined to be a classic of entheogenic literature.
on April 26, 2008
J.D. Arthur's Peopled Darkness is a milestone in the literature of experimentation with naturally-occuring psychoactive substances.
The term "experiment," used in connection with anything mind-altering, often seems a rather high-flown euphemism for an idle and shallow adventure; the media even reports on adolescents "experimenting with alcohol," as if they were wearing lab coats and drinking beer out of test tubes. In light of such bloated imprecision of language, it's refreshing -- no, profoundly illuminating -- to read an account of serious experimentation with a substance as intriguing as salvia divinorum. Over the course of five years, J.D. Arthur meticulously recorded his experiences with the little-known Mexican psychoactive plant, bringing an acute intelligence to his analysis of the meaning of the visions, profoundly altered perceptions, and "thoughtless awareness" those experiences afforded.
The result is a book in the tradition of Aldous Huxley's The Doors of Perception and the serious, less sensationalized accounts of the synthetic hallucinogens. I hesitate to use the term "hallucinogen" in connection with salvia, though, as Arthur makes clear that the quality and meaning of his entry into the visionary state made accessible by the plant far exceeds that of any mere hallucinatory experience. "Hallucination" implies the false perception of things that aren't really there; the salviaic state, as Arthur makes convincingly clear, is a profoundly instructive and insightful realm. Not having used salvia myself, I can't say whether I would receive the same education; in the meantime, though, Peopled Darkness -- the title refers to the guiding "presences" that Arthur encountered -- is certainly an eye-opening education in itself.
on November 1, 2008
I got the book in the mail today, and was somewhat dissapointed at it's short length, 88 pages. To my suprise the book was so incredibly gripping that I could not put it down until I had reached page 88! I think the reason is my own expeirience with salvia so clearly reflects the author's. The book is basically a recount of the author's experiences with salvia with subsequent interpretations of the experiences. He goes from timid curiosity to full imersement into salvia space and records his experiences in his journal, which he includes excerpts of in the book. He describes his experience as it is, without prejudging it or trying to fit it into the framework of ordinary reality. It is like reading an account of a true pioneer or explorer who visited an amazing world. Permeated thoughout the book was the sensation or revelation that the "salviaic" state (a term he uses) is the land of the dead. He recounts how he was skeptical of this at first but on having so many recurring experiences he begins to open up to this possibility. From my own experience with salvia what he says and describes rings true. I also have a distinct sensation of "entities" or "spirits" or what have you (hard to describe in words), although I have not gone nearly as far as the author into such experiences. Reading his accounts indicate there is much further to go for me. I have been held back by fear, not wanting to become a permenant resident to this land of the dead, however, the author has traversed safely and returned to decribe the landmarks. Also one facinating part of the book is his experience several times that it was inappropriate to be a solitary traveler. Such travels are to take place in the context of helping out a clan or a tribe, that it was possibly dangerous to travel alone, at least withour a sitter watching over the body to make sure everything is ok. This is what he learned from the "spirits". Many seemed irritated or annoyed, that he did not belong there and was out of context. Some were irritated that he was "not really dead" when originally they assumed he was and were in the process of escorting him. I have had similar experiences being told that I should not travel alone and currently in search of a true shaman who can guide me safely through the deeper experiences. I don't think I am brave enough to travel as far as the author has without a shaman. I don't think it is wise. The spirit world is a jungle, with many dangers.
Salvia is a true treasure. Keep it legal where it still is.
on April 20, 2010
Now available for $10.17 under the title Salvia Divinorum Doorway to Thought-free Awareness. It's the same book as Peopled Darkness, but a different publisher.
on January 24, 2009
This is the most captivating entheogenic experience book that I've had the pleasure to read - I've read it three times since its release and it gets more mesmerizing each time. Peopled Darkness, as James explains, is not for those of you who want to learn more about the science, history, and traditional use surrounding this wonderful sage - he decided to leave that information out as it's readily available online and in other books (check out Daniel Siebert's website). Instead, this book shows us the true potential behind an often misused and soon to be illegal plant. James takes us on a journey through some of the many places he visited throughout his experiences with Salvia over a 5 year span while analyzing and dissecting each one along the way. Let's just say curiosity got the best of him and he was shown a lot more than he initially expected to see. A great read for anybody with an open mind.
on May 11, 2008
Arthur's accounts of his experiences while using Salvia divinorum offer the reader an intimate glimpse at a state of awareness that transcends waking perception and even goes beyond our familiarity with the act of dreaming. Despite not having had similar experiences, I was able to gain a palpable sense of the experiences through Arthur's well thought out descriptions, which I found to be intrinsically understandable. These accounts are intensely personal without the burden of being overly subjective. Arthur does an excellent job of recounting events in a clear and honest manner that does not restrict the reader. I recommend this book as a great read for people who are interested in the question of what constitutes "real" perception and why we should limit our understanding of the world to our waking reality.
on February 27, 2009
It is one of the most challenging things to describe altered conscious experiences to fellow humans; we just lack the vocabulary to communicate our inner workings, particularly when they are severely changed from their usual states. This is hard for experiences on "normal" psychodelics, but it is even more challenging for experiences brought about by Salvia divinorum, the highly unusual mesoamerican psychodelic plant.
J.D. Arthur does a fantastic job in this regard. Over the course of a few years he regularly smoked Salvia divinorum. Often this divorced his senses from what is commonly called "reality" within seconds, and he found himself in a strange land with strange people. Some of them he encountered repeatedly. For some reason, many of them seemed "Caribean" to him. He reports strong feelings about what they are (dead) and how he fits into their circles (an outsider, but often accepted in a benign manner). Does he believe they are "real"? I believe not. Do they seem to him completely real? Yes, certainly.
In the course of his Salvia divinorum evoked experiences Arthur learned valuable lessons about the very essence of human consciousness, and he manages to let the reader partake in these lessons.
on February 25, 2009
This was incredible. He gives a detailed record of his entire journey, and words it so well. It's a quick read, I couldn't put it down. He tells it to you straight and lets your imagination do all the speculation. It's amazing -- the brain and its potential. A much needed account of one of the weirdest mysteries of human experience recently have been made available to the public.
By the end I felt I was left wanting more though. You know, what would've happened if he took it further? I suppose Psychonautics is a lot like space exploration. JD has gone to the Moon and back in once piece. Now we await to hear from the Martian and Jovian explorers..
on October 31, 2008
This is an excellent description of the experience whith Salvia. It gives insight in the phenomenon of pure consciousness, a state where awareness of the body is absent.
on March 6, 2009
I recommend this book to anyone. It is very thoughtful, well written and not overly lengthy. Also it seems to have no significant bias neither toward promoting nor bashing the use of psychoctive drugs.