Zombies and Snakes and Entheogens! Oh My!

For years we’ve said that 2012 was going to be a great paradigm shift, but every day we see stranger things happening. Zombie folklore used to be part of our Halloween tradition. Interesting how culture and art become life.

First, a naked man is found eating 75% of the face of a homeless man. He growls like a beast when the cops find him and they have to shoot and kill him. His victim remains in critical condition.

Now, a 21 year old student from Baltimore confesses that he ate the heart and brain of a man whose dismembered body was found in his apartment.

The first attack is being credited to a new synthetic drug known as “bath salts,” which produces psychosis and extreme paranoia and whose side effects are being compared to zombification. The phenomenon is more widespread than originally thought. This video mentions several places in the US and elsewhere where zombie attacks have been documented.

Before the recent attacks, the zombie phenomenon was attributed to tetrodoxin (aka the zombie powder), a venom that was developed by Haitian voodoo priests.  It induces a temporary death-like trance.

With zombie powder, after family members bury their relative, thinking he or she is dead, the voodoo priest comes back and digs the grave. The victim is then used as a slave for the rest of his or her life.

Some victims of zombification in Haiti have been found by family members years later, but the brain damage induced by zombie powder is such that the victims are speechless and dysfunctional.

Whoever created this new synthetic drug is the modern version of a voodoo witch.  Science, when used for evil purposes, would have been black magic to our ancestors … and the process of experimenting with these drugs can be understood as a modern attempt at shamanic trance, except that it’s generally completely void of any spirituality.

The fact that our drug policies are anything, but pragmatic and have created an underground market where substances cannot be tested by any official or trusted agency to determine how dangerous they are makes things worse.  Legal drugs like tobacco and alcohol generate many more deaths than illicit ones, but at least when people consume them, they are educated about what they’re doing and they are generally making educated choices, even if bad ones. Labels are placed on cigarette boxes and alcohol bottles.

In our modern urban shamanism, we have none of that. It’s impossible for consumers to assess their risks and to make fully educated choices. They have to rely on the word of their illegal drug provider.

No less sinister is the news about Mack Wolford, a West Virginia pastor who was bit by a snake during a snake handling....  The evangelical preacher wanted to demonstrate that, as per the Gospel, he would not be affected by the venom.

And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. – Mark 16:17-18

Although he was bit at two in the afternoon, he was not taken to the hospital until ten in the evening, shortly after which he was declared dead. His family hoped that his faith would save him, in spite of the fact that his own father, who was also a snake-handling preacher, had died a similar death.

I wish to share an interesting note on snake handling. The side effects of the venom include pain and delirium, at times ecstasy.  It affects the nervous system and produces altered states of consciousness.

Religious people might be particularly susceptible to these types of experience.  It’s possible that people who get bit often by snakes and survive several bites may develop some level of resistance to the venom and might begin to enjoy these experiences of altered-state of consciousness.  This is just one hypothesis.

Perhaps part of what our civilization needs are healthier and less dangerous ways of experiencing a natural high.  Perhaps this need to escape ordinary reality is part of what makes us human and we should embrace it, recognize it, and then find wholesome outlets for it.  People, I think, might be much happier.  These experiences were always tied to the realm of the sacred.


any substance, such as a plant or drug, taken to bring on a spiritual experience

etymology: lit. ‘generating the divine within’

- dictionary.com

Native Americans in huge numbers degenerated due to alcoholism after the denial of their culture and spirituality for several generations under the colonial policies of previous generations.  A similar phenomenon took place with Siberian aboriginals when the Russians converted them to Christianity.  It’s possible that the imposition of sobriety and the repression of their particular cultural expression of the numenic and magical created a type of cultural anxiety whose only expression was alcoholism.

I’m not saying that the shamanic practices of these tribes and nations had been entirely safe, but they did take place within a sacred context, under the guidance of an experienced mentor, and were not habitual practices. There was a time and place for them, and there were clear boundaries between ordinary and extraordinary awareness.

Smoking was also not a habitual practice to Native Americans: tradition dictated that the use of sacred tobacco was only for praying.  Today, Native Americans also suffer from high rates of lung disease due to habitual smoking.

Perhaps we should go back to creating spaces and traditions where people are able to experiment with their awareness in a less hazardous way than what’s available now, using healthy, natural entheogens like kava kava instead of toxic, dangerous legal and illegal drugs and venoms.

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