Today’s offering combines material about two of the most influential figures in my development — Philip K. Dick and Mircea Eliade.
Mark W. Smith asks, “PKD: Sham or Shaman?”:
In February of 1974 Philip K. Dick was feeling a lot of personal stress: financial matters involving the I.R.S., lingering effects of the break-in of his home and other fears experienced in 1971, and family matters involving the birth of a new child. He was also dealing with the effects of an impacted wisdom tooth. Phil had been administered Sodium Pentothal during surgery and later was awaiting the delivery of a pain killer. Phil had also been taking lithium in prescribed doses for some time.
During this time Phil began to receive and experience a series of dreams, visions and other-worldly experiences that would change his life and times for ever. He would spend the remaining years of his life in pursuit of explanations for what had happened. What follows is a synopsis of possible ideas, borrowed from both western and eastern thought; past, present and even future.
In speculating on the condition of Phil’s psyche at this point, one must ponder the combined effects of the stress, pain and drugs. The vision quest is a ritual practiced for gaining a guardian spirit or asking for supernatural guidance. These three forces are often utilized in preparing the mind and spirit for this: stress, in the form of isolation, fasts, thirsts and physical danger; pain, through mutilation or self mortification; and drugs, such as hallucinogens. In the successful vision quest the combination of these preparations will place the individual in a trance and make him a receptacle for supernatural forces. The vision quest still lies outside the realm of tribal shamanism.
Shamanism itself exists within the social structure of the tribe and is the practice of entering an altered state of consciousness and traversing non-physical realities in order to heal sickness, both physical, emotional, and spiritual; or to tell of the future and of things to pass, or to contact the dead, etc. The shamans are not priests, but are often more like mystics, and as such are separated from the main function of the society by their intense experiences. Siberian shamans go down to the underworld of the ancestral spirits to gain their knowledge. This belief system has had parallels in other cultures as well; in yoga tradition, the Manomya and Akashaloka siddhis provide access to other dimensions of the universe. In Iranian mysticism, Hurgalya, the celestial earth, is accessible for spiritual travel.
Within the shamanic traditions it is a long-held belief that of the three chief methods of obtaining shamanic powers (1) family transmission, (2) spontaneous vocation, and (3) people who become shamans of their own free will, the self-made shaman is the least powerful.
Mircea Eliade in Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy says, “However selected, a shaman is not recognized as such until after he has received two kinds of teaching: (1) ecstatic (dreams, trances, etc.) and (2) traditional (shamanic techniques, names and functions of spirits, mythology and genealogy of the clan, secret languages, etc.).”
Looking at Phil’s experience through a shamanistic viewpoint, we can say that it was spontaneous, and upon receiving the “call” he had a series of dreams, trances, visions, etc. Then he spent the next eight years trying to learn the traditions of his people, their mythology, the names and functions of their spirits, and so on.
For the most part he was on his own in his attempts to relate the experiences to the traditions of his people, due to the spiritual poverty that existed around him, and one wonders what would have been made of his experiences if he had been born or lived in a culture of rich shamanistic traditions.
Smith moves onward into deeper territory from there, an interesting and provoking essay that touches on many of the themes that make life meaningful.
If you’ve got the time, pull up a chair, heat up your cup o’ Joe, and meander through a thought stream that begins to uncover the certain something that makes PK Dick such an intriguing literary figure for those who cannot quite buy the dominant version of “reality” being peddled to the masses.
[Crossposted at Spontaneous Arising.]