Shamans walk among us. So do prophets, visionaries, mystics, and people with extra-sensory perception. The West's refusal to heed them irks Daniel Pinchbeck — especially in an era that he dubs not the End Times but the "Edge Times."
"Many factors such as 'peak oil,' climate change, species extinction, and the melting down of the global financial system indicate we are in a mega-crisis, and it is extraordinary that the Classic Maya pinpointed this time as the crux of a transformation, from 1,500 years ago," said Pinchbeck, whose new book Notes from the Edge Times is a collection of dispatches to a world he believes is about to change beyond all recognition. "They had a precise awareness of natural and cosmic cycles, indicated by their extraordinarily accurate calendars."
The ancient Maya "used shamanic ritual to attain non-ordinary or visionary states of consciousness," Pinchbeck said. "I propose that this was a kind of experimental scientific method that may have allowed them to understand aspects of their far-distant future, which is now our present."
A Manhattan intellectual whose parents were abstract painter Peter Pinchbeck and Beat Generation memoirist (and Jack Kerouac's ex) Joyce Johnston, Pinchbeck is a cult figure and a spokesman for the otherworldly. Based on his own experiences among subcultures that use mind-altering substances for sacred purposes, his previous books Breaking Open the Head: A Psychedelic Journey into the Heart of Contemporary Shamanism and 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl lent the paranormal a hip latter-day legitimacy.
Readers devoured his revelations about crop circles, the Mesoamerican serpent-god Quetzalcoatl, Brazil's ayahuasca-quaffing Santo Daime religion, and other wonders "probably for the same reason I did: because they need to reconnect to source, and because they find themselves spiritually unfulfilled by their culture and by the various religious and traditional offerings available to them," said Pinchbeck, who believes that Quetzalcoatl has spoken to him directly.
"There is currently a cultural reconsideration of shamanism and the psychedelic experience taking place on many levels of our society — the New York Times recently had a page-one story on psychedelic medicine, and many studies are underway. As I discuss in my work, I see the visionary plants like ayahuasca and psilocybin to be teachers who seek to convey messages to human beings about how to reconnect to the natural world and how to become healthy citizens not of any country but of a planetary ecology."
A key theme of Pinchbeck's books and his webmagazine RealitySandwich.com is the increasingly popular theory that the ancient Mayan calendar predicted a global cataclysm in 2012. Pinchbeck believes that this transition will entail the death of money as we know it and "a shift of focus from quantitative progress to qualitative participation. Art will be revalued as not just a leisure activity, but essential to what makes us human, in the new paradigm we will co-create," said the author, who will be at Diesel (5433 College Ave., Oakland) on Sunday, November 7. 3 p.m., free. DieselBookstore.com