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Breaking Open the Head: A Psychedelic…

Breaking Open the Head: A Psychedelic Journey into the Heart of…

by Daniel Pinchbeck, Daniel Pinchbeck (Author)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
448538,619 (3.9)3
A dazzling work of personal travelogue and cultural criticism that ranges from the primitive to the postmodern in a quest for the promise and meaning of the psychedelic experience. While psychedelics of all sorts are demonized in America today, the visionary compounds found in plants are the spiritual sacraments of tribal cultures around the world. From the iboga of the Bwiti in Gabon, to the Mazatecs of Mexico, these plants are sacred because they awaken the mind to other levels of awareness--to a holographic vision of the universe. Breaking Open the Head is a passionate, multilayered, and sometimes rashly personal inquiry into this deep division. On one level, Daniel Pinchbeck tells the story of the encounters between the modern consciousness of the West and these sacramental substances, including such thinkers as Allen Ginsberg, Antonin Artaud, Walter Benjamin, and Terence McKenna, and a new underground of present-day ethnobotanists, chemists, psychonauts, and philosophers. It is also a scrupulous recording of the author's wide-ranging investigation with these outlaw compounds, including a thirty-hour tribal initiation in West Africa; an all-night encounter with the master shamans of the South American rain forest; and a report from a psychedelic utopia in the Black Rock Desert that is the Burning Man Festival. Breaking Open the Head is brave participatory journalism at its best, a vivid account of psychic and intellectual experiences that opened doors in the wall of Western rationalism and completed Daniel Pinchbeck's personal transformation from a jaded Manhattan journalist to shamanic initiate and grateful citizen of the cosmos.… (more)



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Showing 5 of 5
I like the idea of this book better than the execution.

Pinchbeck's personal narratives are interesting enough, and would make a passable film memoir on their own. His contextual descriptions of various other cultures and thinkers really ruins this book, though. As another review states, the journalistic tone is clear. His personal anecdotes aside, this reads like a really dry literature review / annotated bibliography.

Oh well. ( )
  urnmo | Jul 29, 2019 |
Wow, I have rarely seen such an arrogrant prick writing so lazily. If the subject matter hadn't been absolutely fascinating, It would have gotten 1 star. Because of the subject matter, I only hated it (or more precisely, the author). ( )
  blake.rosser | Jul 28, 2013 |
This book is filled with fascinating insights about the relationship between botany, human consciousness, and "reality," from Pinchbeck's firsthand experience with various mind-altering substances across many contemporary shamanistic tribes. His account is well-written and engaging; I enjoyed living vicariously through his local and (other)-worldly experiences. ( )
  juliana_t | Aug 20, 2009 |
Pinchbeck does a pragmatic yet culturally unbiased examination of the universal role of psychedelics in the human experience. One might not take this statement with much importance at first glance; but we must realize that there is a taboo against psychedelics in our society. In order to understand psychedelics we must step outside of our preprogrammed biases about the subject. And I shall reiterate that Pinchbeck does just that.
This is a must read for anyone who is jaded with the trivialities of modern society and are seeking spiritual enlightenment or a greater knowledge of oneself. The book is itself a synthesis of individual experience, scientific knowledge, historical analysis, and comparing cultural constructs. The book also has a healthy bibliography of referenced material in regard to psychedelics. This book is both entertaining and noteworthy of academic examination at the same time.

Here is a quote
"In contemporary life we do whatever we can to deny intuition of the invisible realms. We clog up our senses with smog, jam out minds with media overload. We drown ourselves in alcohol or medicate ourselves into rigidly artificial states with antidepressants. Then we take pride in our cynicism and detachment. Perhaps we are terrified to discover that our “rationality” is itself a kind of faith, an artifice, that beneath it lays the vast territory of the unknown." ( )
  Smoking_Mirror | Jan 11, 2007 |
I think I ran across this book over at Seth's--but can't recall. I expected the standard fare: metaphysically curious seeker uses plant friends to anaesthetize himself against the manic neuroses of modern life, describes his drug experiences, says something is obviously missing from the world but still isn't sure what, blah-blah. These expectations weren't disappointed by this addition to the psychedelia genre, and I found Pinchbeck's book in fact near the summit of such literature. He's got the erudition of Huxley without the stodginess, and seems much less naive and New-Agey than many other modern expounders of a return to shamanism. His prose is also exquisite and witty.

There is nevertheless a great deal of New-Aginess in Breaking Open the Head, but Pinchbeck is refreshingly skeptical of his own experiences and beliefs, and is willing to deflate movement icons like Terrence McKenna when necessary (he trashes Timothy Leary, who deserved it). Pinchbeck's also fantastically well-read and marshalls heavyweight intellectuals like Walter Benjamin in this elegant book. I've not read a more accurate description of where I find myself intellectually and spiritually these last few years.

I started Breaking Open the Head randomly while working through Ouspensky's In Search of the Miraculous, which is a document of his 'work' with G.I. Gurdjieff. Strangely in a chapter about synchronicities in Pinchbeck I found myself reading quotes from Ouspensky's book that I'd read not an hour before. Then, in the mail that day, I received an unsolicited invitation from some Dr. and Mrs. so-and-so to come hear Gurdjieff's music at their Silver Spring home in a couple of weeks. How they got my name and address is beyond me. ( )
  ggodfrey | Nov 21, 2006 |
Showing 5 of 5
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Daniel Pinchbeckprimary authorall editionscalculated
Pinchbeck, DanielAuthormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Kobbe, PeterTranslatormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
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