The Long Trip: The Prehistory of Psychedelia (Arkana) Paperback – August 1, 1997
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When I found my first set of petroglyphs at Dinosaur National Monument in Utah, the music from the 1960s Planet of the Apes movie filled my head as I envisioned my predecessors carving out these images on these rugged hills. I could see with cinematic production quality the frantic artist, these images did not strike me as the work of a reserved and slow artisan but of someone that struggled to express either something that was important or something that he/she could not describe to the others.
What surprised me about the petroglyphs were their relation to the content of Paul Devereux's The Long Trip . Deveraux describes in The Long Trip the evidence of the relationship between humanity and visionary plants. The details provided in The Long Trip of the visions induced by these ancient rituals matched my observations of these petroglyphs exactly. On p. 164 of the 2nd edition (published 2008 by Daily Grail Publishing) a useful chart shows the three stages of entoptic and visual phenomena from the cultures of three separate continents. Fig 11.31 below isn't as neatly laid out as the one in The Long Trip but demonstrates a similar concept, relating entoptic phenomena to cave art, making the case that ancient art is often depictions of visions of these trance states.
The rock art at Dinosaur National Park corresponded all the stages of trance that Devereux summarized, including spirals (basic entoptic phenomena) and transformation into animals (one of the final stages of trance states).
Petroglyphs aside, one major aim Paul Devereaux had for writing The Long Tail was to demonstrate that modern civilization is a grand exception to the history of humanity because we do not have a ritualized context for accessing visionary states. Even more recent civilizations in Greece had the socially accepted Mysteries of Eleusis. Since Aldous Huxley and Humphrey Osmond coined the modern term for these visionary substances as psychedelics, the associated plants and visionary tools have become stereotyped and abused before being outlawed by the United States with many other nations following suit. Devereux looks to make a case for their integration into our society.
Devereux begins by laying a groundwork for the modern context of these visionary experiences. The modern era of visionary substances began when Dr. Albert Hoffman synthesized lysergic acid diethylamide-25 (LSD). These experiences connected with the past when explorer Gordon Wasson sent morning glory seeds to Hoffman in 1959. These morning glory seeds (of the R. corymbosa and I. violacea) were used in ancient rituals throughout Mexico. Hoffman discovered that the seeds contained the indole compounds related to LSD, lysergic acid amine... the same as LSD but about 10-20x less potent.
Anthropologist Andrew Sherrat's model of ancient intoxication is that the, "inhalation of fumes preceded the `drinking complex' and was the most ancient method of taking in aromatic and psychoactive substances. " And throughout ancient life smoked opium and cannabis sativa were prevalent. Moderns can know this through analysis of through Herodotus' descriptions of Scythian Kapnobatai (shamans) "howling with pleasure" during their rituals with cannabis. Old World Europeans encountered smoking only when they reach the New World and witnessed natives smoking tobacco. However in the ancient world liquid psychoactives were also available, Cypriot pots shaped like opium buds (where opium was prepared in an olive oil mixture) have been found as far back as 1550-1337BC in Egypt. Consequently, prehistoric opium and hemp seeds and pollens have been found around the globe. A Neanderthal man was even found in northern Iraq with Horsetail pollen, Ephedra the source of the nerve-stimulant ephedrine.
The accounts of ancient drug use that most greatly differ from our modern culture are the descriptions of the Amanita muscaria. This mushroom, known as the fly agaric, is the stereotypical toadstool. A red cap with white dots all over it, the eating of which is noted to produce euphoria and later hallucinations after inducing extreme physical strength and endurance. From p. 82 of the book, "A Russian anthropologist Valdimir Bogoras observed a Chukchi tribesman take off his snowshoes after eating some of the mushroom, and deliberately walk for hours through the deep snow just for the sheet pleasure of conducting exercise which caused no sense of fatigue." Event the reindeer craved this mushroom, passing these effects on to those that at their meat. Since the active constituents of the A. Muscaria remain intact when passed through a person's bladder the reindeer will swarm down men that urinate in the open. Fellow tribesmen would collect this urine and use it to attract the reindeer or to drink at a later time to obtain the desired effects.
One mystery surrounding these visionary substances is in their geographic location. In late 1970, anthropologist Richard Evans Shultes wrote, "...only about 150 [of the world's flora] are known to be employed for their hallucinatory properties... nearly 130 species are known to be used in the Western Hemisphere, whereas in the Eastern Hemisphere, the number hardly reaches 20." South America is filled with various snuffs, brews and plants that produce hallucinogenic effects like ayahausca, the world's most ancient example of a designer drug combining an MAO inhibitor in B. cappi and many various admixtures, many of which contain the potent naturally ubiquitous dimethlytryptamine.
I found the details that Devereux presented on the psychedelic's influence on myth to be the most interesting portion of the book. One example is of Richard Rudgley's suggestion that the middle eastern psychedelic syrian rue contributed the designs to the carpets before propelling its users into flights of ecstacy... the flying carpet myth incarnate. The myth of Santa Claus may have derived from use of the Amanita Muscaria, the red and white colors of the mushroom, the idea of Santa clambering down the chimney like the entry of smoke into the Siberan yurts during the winter, the reindeer pulling the sleigh reminiscent of the animal's connection with the substance and the flight through the sky the description of the basic shamanic experience of leaving the body, traveling through the air. My primary interest in psychedelics lies around their relations to ancient religious experience such as in Zoroastrianism and early Christianity, an example being in the taking of the Eucharist. This book didn't deal heavily in these issues, with only with a few mentions of Zoroastrianism. So in that sense it left me a little disappointed but that's why I'll need to read Jan Irvin's Holy Mushroom, a good follow up to this book.
An excellent history of humanity's tendency to intoxicate with pharmacological plants and to seek visionary experience, The Long Trip was deep with rich information, a strong section of notes and references. This book is filled with interesting tidbits that may have escaped those deeply interested in the field but provides an incredible gateway for those with cursory experience. In a non-threatening way, Paul Devereux succeeds in providing the general public an introduction to our ancestors and their use of ritual hallucinogens.
The Trip may be a somewhat cumbersome read for those unacquainted with anthropological discourse, because the text is often meticulously detailed, providing an account of what seems to be every conceivable snippet of evidence for the exploratory use of psychotropics throughout the long span of human prehistory. However, such detailed examination is used to establish and re-enforce the author's engaging, mind-widening insights. What others have only conjectured in this understudied field, Devereux substantiates and strengthens.
Psychotropics have had a marked influence on our spiritual traditions, philosophies and arts, and these mind-altering substances continue to play an important role in our collective experience. Here in Devereux's Long Trip is the who, what, when, where, why, and how much -- a mesmerizing tour through our ancestors' peculiar past, a photo album replete with fascinating glimpses into the universal drive and thirst for discovery, knowledge and truth.
This text, above many others, provides a compelling introductory survey of the true depth of psychotropic experimentation and exploration. Highly recommended to those already interested in psychotropic use, but especially suggested for those skeptical of the influence, value, importance and benefits such substances, curiously available in our own Grand Backyard, have the potential capacity to provide.
Top international reviews
But given the profound effects of the entheogens and their inevitable impact on the consciousness of early mankind this book may even understate the history-changing role of the psychedelics.
It's an interesting point that the 'modern' period may be the first one where psychedelics have not had a central place in the cultural life of society.