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BOOKS ONE RIvER: ExPLORATIONS AND DISCOVERIES IN THE AMAzON RAIN FOREST by Wade Davis. Simon & Schuster, New York, NY, U.S.A., 1997.537 pp. Trade, $27.50; paper, $16.00. ISBN: 0-68480886 -2. Reviewed l7y George Gessert, 1230 w: Broadway , Eugene, OR 97402, U.S.A. E-mail: . Drug wars go back to the Inquisition and to the witch hunts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when anyone who grew the wrong kind of plant or used suspicious brews or ointments could be accused ofwitchcraft. Midwives , village healers and wise women were among the victims ofwitch hunts, and evidence ofwitchcraft included possession of "diabolical ointments" and the treatment of sickness with herbs. Some Europeans did concoct mind-altering brews, and probably practiced the vestiges of an ancient shamanism , using hallucinogens to mediate between the "spirit world" and the human community. We do not know exactly what was in these potions, but they may have contained belladonna, mandrake , hensbane or the secretions of toads, all ofwhich can produce sensations of flight and reveal visions of supernatural beings. Such experiences were anathemas to Church officials, not because Christians shunned visions or mind-altering brews (which included an impressive array of alcoholic beverages ), but because witches worked independently of the Church. From the beginning , drug wars have been less about drugs than about political power and the shape of culture under centralized authority. The Spanish brought the Inquisition to the New World and established tribunals in Mexico and Lima, Peru in 1570, and in Cartagena, Colombia in 1610. The New World is the historical center of consciousness-altering drug use, and REVIEWS numerous New World cultures have religious practices that involve the use of hallucinogens. So effective were the New World Inquisition and Protestant anti-drug crusades that by the early twentieth century even scientists could not confidently identify teonanacatl, ololiaqui and tlitlilzin, three of the most important hallucinogens mentioned in early Spanish chronicles. But in the hinterlands of Mexico, ceremonial use of these plants persisted in secret. In the 1930s, Western botanists established that teonanacatl was a generic name for several species of mushrooms still used in divinatory rites in Oaxaca. This discovery helped lay foundations for a revolution in Western consciousness about hallucinogenic drugs, and prepared the way for the psychedelic era. The person chiefly responsible for identifying teonanacatl was a Harvard doctoral student, Richard Evans Schultes. He went on to become the world's greatest ethnobotanist and foremost scientific authority on hallucinogenic drug-plants. A biography of Schultes is long overdue-his discoveries , writings and teaching have had a significant, if largely unrecognized, influence on late twentieth-century culture . Schultes' influence will probably grow if use of hallucinogens changes from a chaotic social experiment to a permanent feature ofWestern life, as seems to be happening. Many of the young people in the United States who use marijuana, for example, are second or third-generation users. Wade Davis does not pretend to write a full biography of Schultes, nor is One Rivlffabout only Schultes, but I doubt that any future biographer will improve upon this book for its generosity of spirit and sheer reading pleasure. Davis is a gifted storyteller with a sense of pace that would be the envy of a skilled novelist. In addition, OneRiuerhas solid information-Davis, who studied with Schultes and conducted 30 hours of interviews with him for this book, portrays him as a man of magnificent quirkiness, integrity and courage. The son of a plumber, Schultes entered Harvard in 1933 planning to become a doctor. However, in an economic botany course taught by Oakes Ames, an eccentric gentleman scholar more interested in orchids and South American dart-poisons than wheat, Schultes read about peyote and was so intrigued by reports of the plant's effects that he asked Ames for permission to write an undergraduate thesis on the cactus. Ames agreed, on condition that Schultes observe peyote in use. In the summer of 1936, Schultes, who had never been west of the Hudson River, travelled to Oklahoma and, with the help of a Kiowa contact, Charlie Charcoal , attended peyote sessions of the Native American Church. Schultes took peyote in these ceremonies, and found...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1530-9282
Print ISSN
0024-094X
Pages
pp. 152-153
Launched on MUSE
2017-01-04
Open Access
No
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