Journeys into Mythic Time

All of this is very true, and obviously is of great significance not only to psychology and psychotherapy but also to the ethnology of religion and the ecstatic experience. But it is important to note that the phenomenon of "plunging the mind into myth" or mythic time, that is, into a time when everything is possible, is larger than the choice of a particular alkaloid or group of related alkaloids, because, as we know, other plants with active principles that belong to different groups than the harmala alkaloids are also used in this manner. And similar experiences can also be obtained without any drug. So the cultural context has to be stressed again as being at least as important as the subjective effects of a certain drug.

Transposition from the "here and now" to the "there and then" is common in the initiatory experience, whether in the yage ritual of the Tukano or in the peyote quest of the Huichols, which Weston La Barre (1970b) has characterized as "probably the closest to the pre-Columbian Mexican rite." It is especially important in shamanic curing, precisely because in the mythic "there and then," experiences of transformation, or being and becoming, are the normal order, and all manner of ordinarily difficult or impossible things respond with ease to the efforts of the gods, who are themselves the original and most powerful of shamans. To illustrate what I mean, let me digress for a moment from the contemporary yaje complex and modern psychotherapy and return to sixteenth- and seventeenth-century central Mexico and the world of the Nahuatl-speaking curer.

In the course of analyzing the extraordinary corpus of shamanic incantations collected in Ruiz de Alarcon's Tratado of 1629, historian Alfredo Lopez Austin (1973) has found that the synthesis of mythic chants and mind-manifesting drugs (e.g. picietl [Nicotiana rustica], and also peyote, mushrooms, and ololiuhqui [morning-glory seeds]) assists the process of curing in two ways: one, it gives the shaman or "magician" the gift of clairvoyance—the perceptive capability of discovering the occult reality of things, the "supernatural in the natural," in actual time and space, and of achieving contact and communication with supernatural beings that have become visible to him. Second, myth and magic plant

... permit him to break free from the actual time and space and travel to a world in which the action that is being attempted (the cure) is both feasible and more effective. In short, chant and drug enable him to act in the here and now or there and then.

For example, to set a fractured limb (which he does pragmatically by splinting) the shaman invokes the magic powers of the drug and chants the myth of the journey of the God Quetzalcoati to the land of the dead, Mictlan, to obtain the bones of the dead of a previous creation and with them to recreate a new race of humanity. In the myth a quail caused Quetzalcoati to fall and break the bones. The shaman identifies the evil spirit that has taken possession of the fracture with this mythic quail, and he identifies himself with a divinity that has the power of counteracting the evil and reconstituting the broken bones of the dead. He even calls the fractured limb of his patient "bone of the world of the dead." "Aha," we say, "this is obviously what anthropologists call analogous magic." But that is too simplistic, and it fails to appreciate the philosophical subtleties of the Aztec perception of mythic times in relation to the here and now. It is not, writes Lopez Austin, that the expulsion of the evil that has taken possession of the fracture is identified with the myth of the taking and breaking of the bones of the dead and their re-constitution into living beings. Rather, the mythical element "fractured bone" is the fissure through which the magician slips in order to avail himself of a favorable point in time. He does not attempt to relate analogically a divine event with a result that he wishes to obtain in the real world. It is not simply analogic magic. The magician does not want analogies; he wants a moment of time that by virtue of being of the Creation, and hence critical, abnormal, is also malleable, pliable, subject to easier manipulation than any other.

None of the above invalidates Naranjo's thesis, especially with respect to archetypes; but it does extend the mythic experience as such beyond the boundaries of a specific psychedelic. This will be especially evident in the peyote quest (Chapters Ten and Eleven).

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