Supernatural: Meetings with the Ancient Teachers of Mankind by Graham Hancock (Disinformation Company, Hardback $29.95)
I’m sure you all remember my 9/6 review of William J. Broad’s book The Oracle (if, for some reason, it doesn’t come immediately to mind feel free to consult the copy I’m sure you have framed on your wall). In it I said that Broad "…pussyfoots around the central revelation of the book – the fact that the Oracle of Delphi achieved her fantastic results and acclaim with the aid of consciousness altering agents." I went on to ask the rhetorical question "Is it really a shock that the Oracle relied on consciousness altering agents when the shamanic origins of religion places them at the very dawn of human spirituality, and even, some postulate, the genesis of consciousness itself?"
Well, Graham Hancock, the author of Supernatural: Meetings with the Ancient Teachers of Mankind could never be accused of pussyfooting around the revelations of his research, and he certainly postulates the heck out of the place of consciousness altering agents in the shamanic origins of religion and consciousness itself. It’s a brilliant, breakthrough book which comes close to being the unified field theory of, if not all of the supernatural, at least of all encounters between humans and supernatural beings.
Hancock begins with a description of his own visionary experiences with the hallucinogen Ibogaine, which he took, with a logical vigor that escapes most academics, in order to truly gauge its effect, and therefore the validity of his theories. He follows this with a (perhaps too) meticulous examination of the cave paintings that represent the beginnings of human art, concentrating on their bizarre and seemingly inexplicable nature, at once representative and fantastic, a contradiction that the bonehead academics have (naturally) been totally unable to puzzle out in over a hundred years of trying.
But just when I thought the book was going to be one of those tedious Fortean catalogues of weird stuff, Hancock brought forth his first thesis, based on David Lewis-Williams’s The Mind in the Cave. Lewis-Williams’s idea is simple – that the enigmatic cave paintings were produced by shamans in a trance state and are representations of the shamanic experience. It’s an audacious, elegant solution – the psychotropic distortions and patterns match that of drug users and there’s no doubt that many shamanistic cultures, such as the prototypical Siberian and the still extant South American, exhibit a heavy use of mushrooms and other hallucinogens to achieve shamanic journeys and transformations. Hancock also examines the rock art of a tribe in South Africa whose paintings were similar to cave art and whose imagery was explicated by the last survivors of that tribe.
This theory seems almost self-evident, so naturally it remains controversial in the academic world. Perhaps as a reaction to the sixties, the academic establishment now rejects all the fruits of dream, drug and trance as hallucination, and tries to efface the very clear fingerprints of sense altering agents in our culture and civilization. It should come as now surprise, then, that several stalwart defenders of the empty status quo have stepped forward to advance their careers by attacking Lewis-Williams theories with various sophistries. Hancock handily refutes them, exposing them as deeply misguided if not purposefully dishonest. It’s a deft explanation for the general reader of a difficult theory in the manner of Colin Wilson, but the start of the book is just a stepping stone for Hancock, who moves on to his own conceptual breakthroughs.
The genesis of Hancock’s insight, like many of the crucial insights of modernity, came while he was under the influence. During his Ibogaine trip he saw a large headed, bug eyes "alien" figure, and recognized several similar creatures in cave paintings. One of the major techniques of modernity is juxtaposition, and Hancock placed the shamanic model next to contemporary accounts of alien abduction and concluded "Shamanic experiences of spirits and modern experiences of aliens are essentially a single phenomenon." There are startling similarities – transformations, journeys into the sky, ritualistic, invasive body manipulations and encounters with powerful, mystifying, alien entities. But what in heaven’s name do these creatures want with us? As I said in Snakes in Caves, the purpose of the whole Alien project may be some kind of vast breeding experiment, and shamans were certainly familiar with intercourse with various interstellar entities and even the production of human/alien hybrids.
Hancock then further links the shamans of the stone age to the abductees of today by brining in theories advanced by Jacques Vallee in his book Passport to Mangonia. Vallee compared the fairy lore of medieval times with UFO data and found similarities there as well, with more abductions to unearthly realms, time distortions, encounters with superhuman "others," and, of course, "reproductive contact." Hancock then draws a single breathtaking, unbroken line of human/supernatural contact from the dawn of humanity to the present, the nature of the contact basically the same, but understood in accordance with the prevailing conceptual world view.
Where do these "others" come from? Parallel universes will be, I believe the overriding theory of the twenty-first century, and it’s certainly easy to see, as many have postulated, the often inexplicable aliens emanating from other vibrations rather than other planets, but Hancock introduces an even more audacious theory. Like a lot of archaic/psychedelic thought it originated with the late, great Terence McKenna who, confronted with the prevalence of helix imagery during his trips, postulated that his drug of choice, DMT (an ingredient in many shamanistic substances), makes "information stored in the neural-genetic material available to consciousness." In other words all that "junk" information contained in DNA, which resembles a language and has inexplicably been preserved for millennia, is in fact a message that the superior beings who created it imbedded in advance of the time we would be able to understand it (kind of like the monoliths in 2001). Francis Crick, one of the discoverers of DNA (who was, by the way, under the influence of LSD when he first visualized the double helix shape of DNA – something they sure didn’t tell us in high school when we reverently studied The Double Helix) even came to believe that DNA itself was the result of an alien seeding project.
Hancock presents these ideas as more speculative than the rest of the book, as indeed they are, and in his final chapter gives a quick overview of the shamanic origin of all religions and the essentially psychedelic nature of shamanism, tracing the use of hallucinogens in such landmarks of ancient spirituality as the mysteries of Eleuis and the Soma of the Vedas.
All in all, it’s an impressive, enthralling book which gains force as it continues, firmly grounded in scholarship, yet able to utilize the fruits of personal experience and experimentation. Hancock presents a unified theory for almost every encounter between humans and supernatural beings (although, in the "spirit" of the season I must say that, despite the fact that departed ancestors play a role, Hancock does not grapple with the localized phenomena of ghosts). Supernatural is a brilliant work, the capstone of Hancock’s career, one that has (of course) been ignored by mainstream media and science, despite being much more interesting and valuable than timid but more ballyhooed works like The Oracle.
Hancock is no freewheelin’ hippy, but a rather rigorous enquiring mind of the old English school, but he’s not afraid to go where Wisdom beckons, and the book’s final scene shows him recumbent in the midst of nature, about to gobble a handful of magic mushrooms, the results of the journey to be recorded, I can only hope, in his next volume.