Thursday, September 30, 2010

Dust of the Earth, chap 15

Welcome to the continuing serialized version of Phantom Limbs' bassist Jim Parks' novel, Dust Of The Earth, a Tucson story about Tucson history, mystery, other worlds, desert mojo, forbidden love, and the fledgling Tucson music scene... (c) by Jim Parks, reprinted with permission

We last left off with our narrator...He's interviewing Don Pedro. Talk of secret societies, rituals, and emulating the ways of psychedelic indigenous shamanistic tribal people. 

Chapter 15
Mesoamerican anthroplogy at that time was largely the domain of Americans and Europeans, and they were much more interested in the material remains of the great cultures - the pyramids, the hieroglyphics...that sort of thing. We were studying the cultural remains. A decade or two later, our immersion-style investigation would be much more acceptable, desirable in fact. Look at the work of Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict. Though even their research wasn't participatory. Many decades would pass before participatory anthropology would be accepted - though it would still be controversial and ultimately unreliable. You mentioned being familiar with the works of Carlos Castenada.

Yes! Did you know him too? You seem to know everyone.

Well, I am telling you my life story! [laughs] Which necessarily involves people I know or knew. The list of people I don't know is vastly larger than those I do, just like everyone else. Though admittedly, my list of people known - people of some repute - is longer than most.

So Castenada. I loved those books. But I don't know whether to believe them. I want to. They seem believable. It seems like I could sit in a bus station in Nogales and there would be Don Juan. depends on what you mean by true.
I hate answers like that!

[laughs] Part of what seems believable in the books is due to Carlos' familiarity with the geography and culture of the region. He really did travel and study there for many years. He really did speak with the Indians. He really did get to know some of the shamans and became familiar with their practices. He undoubtedly ingested hallucinogenic plants - perhaps even under the guidance of a shaman. But as for the identity of Don Juan...I would say that Don Juan is an amalgamation of several different men he knew. Some shamans, and some men like with knowledge of esoteric Mesoamerican practices and philosophies. And some...well, can I put it...beatnik West Coast counter-cultural Aquarian gurus. [laughs]
So it seems like you knew Castaneda pretty well?

Yes, indeed. We corresponded for many years. And we met regularly. You really shouldn't tell this to anyone. This is off the record, so to speak. For one thing, I have no wish to aggrandize myself. To you is one matter. [laughs] I think you can take it...and take me. And for another thing, I have no wish to harm Carlos. He is a troubled soul. the Germans say.
Honestly, I see much of what I told Carlos put into the mouth of Don Juan. In some ways, I am Don Juan. I honestly do not hold this against Carlos. There is a great literary tradition of this sort of thing. And personally, I think the line between history and fiction is often blurry. It's like watching a magician - the sleight-of-hand kind. You know that you are being fooled, but nevertheless you see something magical. You want to see magic! And as much as the sleight of hand is important, also vital is the communication between the magician and the observer - the banter. This is the power of words.

Carlos has a wonderfully creative mind. And whether or not his stories are literally true, they contain truth. And they contain beauty. Some men, for various reasons, cannot handle the truths of this world. And so they create truths of a better world. Nobler truths.
Ain't that the truth.

Calla te! [laughs] You responded to something in Carlos' stories. It called to you. And this is where the true magic is. When you feel that life is something bigger than our petty activities of the day. And that we can participate in that bigger life. Drugs are an easy passport to this bigger world, but there are dangers -- practical ones, but also, shall we say, existential dangers. They say in Zen that when you reach Nirvana, you realize that Nirvana is what you were doing before you started trying to reach Nirvana! The same, but now different.
That would be a great name for a band: Nirvana.

[laughs] You and your bands!

(to be continued...)


  1. The pre-Columbian mask of the half-jaguar, half human, better known as the "were-jaguar", on your site which is one of my favorites because it encodes an Amanita muscaria in the head and nose of the human side, led me to your site. I describe this were-jaguar mask in detail at my research site, dedicated to my father the late Maya archaeologist Stephan F. de Borhegyi.

    My study of pre-Columbian art was inspired by a theory first proposed by my father, the late Maya archaeologist Stephan F. de Borhegyi, that a hallucinogenic mushroom ritual may have been central to Maya religion. He based this theory on his identification of a mushroom stone cult that came into existence in the Guatemala Highlands and Pacific coastal area during the Preclassic, along with a trophy head cult associated with the Mesoamerican ballgame and the ritual of decapitation. After reading a number of my father's publications, I began searching mushroom imagery in the existing images of pre-Columbian art. Although not listed in either the captions or indices, I discovered numerous images of mushrooms like the one encoded above in the head of the so-called "were-jaguar". The pre-Columbian mask, shown on the left, depicts the transformation of a human into a "were-jaguar," a mythical creature first described and named in 1955 by archaeologist Matthew W. Stirling. This half-human, half-jaguar deity appears in the art of the ancient Olmecs as early as 1200 B.C. and eventually came to be worshiped and venerated throughout Central and South America The mask above cleverly encodes the infamous Amanita muscaria mushroom into the nose and forehead of the human side of the mask, and then depicts the effect of the Amanita mushroom on the left side as resulting in were-jaguar transformation. (photo of were-jaguar by Prof. Gian Carlo Bojani Director of the International Museum of Ceramics in Faenza) (Photo of Amanita muscaria from Richard Fortey)
    Carl de Borhegyi
    For more on pre-Columbian art with mushroom imagery visit Breaking the Mushroom code at

  2. The were-jaguar mask you depict on your web site which is one of my favorites depicts an Amanita mushroom encoded in the head and nose of the human side. I began my research of mushroom imagery in pre-Columbian art back in 2007 and have discovered many other pre-Columbian artifacts with mushroom imagery cleverly encoded which can be seen at

    Despite all the evidence of the religious use of narcotic mushrooms recorded in the Pre-Columbian codices and described in the Spanish chronicles, the archaeological community, with the exception of ethno-archaeologist Peter Furst, has been surprisingly reluctant to recognize and accept the important cultural and religious role played by hallucinogenic mushrooms in ancient New World society. Both my father, archaeologist Stephan F. de Borhegyi, and R. Gordon Wasson, a well known ethnomycologist, noted this fact over a half century ago. Though both added enormously to the body of published ethnographic and archaeological information on the subject, and a few mycologists (Gaston Guzmán, 2002:4; 2009) have continued through the years to make important contributions to the scientific literature on hallucinogenic mushrooms, the subject remains to this day relatively unknown and absent from the literature on Mesoamerican archaeology, art history, and iconography. My father's foremost research topic was the pan-Mesoamerican ritual ballgame (see Borhegyi 1980). The archaeological evidence presented by my father suggesting a Mesoamerican mushroom cult was based primarily on his research of mushroom-shaped stones and pottery shaped mushrooms that were commonly found throughout Central America, and in particular the Olmec influenced Maya region ( Borhegyi, 1957, 1961, 1963). The native population of Mesoamerica prior to the arrival of the Spanish considered mushrooms holy and divine, compared to their modern status of being offensive, and illegal. It is noteworthy that almost four centuries elapsed between Spanish chronicler Fray Sahagun's description of narcotic mushroom rites and the rediscovery of this cultural phenomenon in the 1930's. My intention in creating my research site is to present convincing, never previously noted, visual evidence from the prehistoric art of the New World to the effect that mushrooms are not only frequently depicted in this art, but that in Mesoamerica in particular, hallucinogenic mushrooms played a major role in the development of indigenous religious ideology. By so doing, I hope to correct a lamentable gap in our knowledge and understanding of the past.
    Carl de Borhegyi