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Fishers of Men: The Gospel of an Ayahuasca Vision Quest Hardcover – July 22, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Author Elenbaas, a New York writer and therapist who grew up Minnesota-nice until he rebelled into a sex-and-drugs period, writes of his discovery of the curative and transformative power of the psychedelic experience. Elenbaas participated in ayahuasca healing in Peru; ayahuasca is a jungle vine brewed to make a highly purgative, hallucinogenic drink. The healing experiences allow Elenbaas to come to terms with himself and a family history of men who can't figure out what to do with themselves. At the heart of the book is the relationship between Elenbaas and his father, a well-intentioned progressive Midwestern Methodist minister who cares more for his job than for his family. The tension in their relationship is heartbreakingly poignant, and the book's best writing comes when Elenbaas writes with an observer's eye about his family and his experiences. The conclusions he draws are less than profound, but the journey he writes about should not be missed. Less about drugs and more about family, this is a book for fathers and their sons; it beats the swagger of war stories.
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Ayahuasca is a highly psychotropic brew traditionally used for divinatory and healing practices in South America. It’s at the heart of this memoir charting the reconciliation of Elenbaas’ wounded religious past as a minister’s troubled son with his current holistic, nonsectarian spirituality. With a nod to angst-filled coming-of-age accounts like Jim Carroll’s Basketball Diaries (1978) and addiction-recovery fiction such as Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son (1992), Elenbaas takes readers on a clear-eyed tour of childhood memories and hallucinatory ayahuasca ceremonies, drawing clear lines between early traumas and his later spiritual grappling. Though the themes he wrangles with aren’t new (an itinerant childhood, his father’s depression and infidelity, the glamor of Fundamentalist Christianity), the candor with which he expresses his confusion in attempting to develop a coherent spiritual narrative for his life is refreshing. To call this a gospel, as Elenbaas does in the subtitle, might sound grandiose at first. But being a firsthand Evangelical account of the wonders of spiritual exploration and discovery via ayahuasca makes it one, of a sort, and an engrossing one, at that. --Taina Lagodzinski
Read the first chapter from Fishers of Men [PDF].
Top customer reviews
My initial impression of Elenbaas as I read Fishers of Men was that this is one hypocritical, hypercritical, self-righteous kid who's too smart for his own good. He rebels against his family by attending a fundamental Baptist church and starts speaking in tongues, all the while smoking marijuana. He begins competing with his adulterous father, who he deems too liberal, and he spirals into heavier drug use and indiscriminate, haphazard on-line dating while youth-pastoring a church in Chicago.
When he stumbles upon psychedelic mushrooms, something inside him is transformed. He halts the self-destructive behavior, becomes enthralled with shamanism and is eventually driven to the jungles of Peru, where he's led through ayahuasca ceremonies by a charismatic "gringo" shaman.
Only someone who's tried hallucinogenic drugs can understand how they may possibly be able to change your life for the better. If there are drugs for physical and mental ailments, why can't there be drugs for spiritual maladies also? My own experiences with mushrooms and LSD convinced me that there's more to these substances than just having a good time and feeling good. One particularly strong trip on mushrooms induced in me an attempt to change my life while I was in the early stages of an opiate addiction. While on this trip, I saw heaven and hell, and I perceived myself clearly and saw my downward spiraling life from beginning to end. I was momentarily scared straight. The opiate addiction and the use of psychedelics were completely incompatible with each other. There was no way I could have progressed in my addiction if I had continued to use the hallucinogens, because I would have been forced to look at what I was doing to myself and to others. Quitting all drugs would have been the wisest choice, but I quit the hallucinogens instead, and recommenced my plummet.
In his subsequent trips to the jungle, Elenbaas is forced to face his fears and study his spiritual self with more clarity. He repairs his relationship with his father and finds his purpose in life - working with schizophrenics. I know that most people will doubt and roll their eyes when they hear of someone finding redemption through the use psychedelic drugs, but Native American cultures have been using these plants for centuries, and unlike the rest of us, they've lived in harmony with the planet. But using these drugs recreationally, as I did, is like climbing into the cockpit of a 747 and attempting to fly without instruction or training. But with guidance and the right motivation, one can probably learn a lot about his or her life and place in this enigmatic world. But it also seems to me to be a shortcut (or maybe the scenic route, the long way home) to the fourth step of Alcoholics Anonymous which calls for a searching and fearless moral inventory, something everyone would benefit from.
Regardless of my opinions about the author and his subject matter, Fishers of Men is a stunning and smart book. I truly relished watching this experiment unfold as I read. Elenbaas performs a superb task of expressing his ineffable experiences in the jungle, and tackles his shortcomings with maximal courage and honesty.
David Allan Reeves
Author of "Running Away From Me"