This fascinating book by alternative historian Graham Hancock investigates the origins of consciousness with reference to the work of David Lewis-Williams
and his theory of the neuropsychological origins of cave art. It also goes further in proposing that those worlds and entities encountered in shamanic visions are not mere hallucinations but very real and that altered states are the means to gain entry to them.
Part One: The Visions, includes the author's experiences with the African hallucinogenic plant Iboga, looks at the cave of Pech Merle and then examines the theory of David Lewis-Williams. It also includes a section on Hancock's use of the South American plant ayahuasca.
Part Two explores the cave art of Upper Paleolithic Europe, with a closer look at the half-human half-animal representations that are so widespread. These "therianthropic" designs also occur in the rock art of Southern Africa and elsewhere. Hancock examines recurring themes in this ancient art, like that of the Wounded Man. He also discusses other aspects of this art, like the dots, starbursts, nets, ladders and windowpane-like geometrical figures. He closely examines the similarities and the differences between the art of ancient Europe and that of Africa. For example, the European art is found in dark subterranean caves while in Africa it is most often found in open rock shelters.
Chapter Six looks at the history of the academic study of rock art and concludes that it led nowhere until the theory of Lewis-Williams came along. Hancock demolishes the criticisms leveled at the work of Lewis-Williams and exposes the smear campaign waged against the South African academic. Among other interesting topics, he considers the 19th century notebooks of Bleek and Lloyd on the mythology of the San. These valuable documents provide clues to the religion of the San and the trance or altered state experience.
Part Three: The Beings, starts with discussions of the experiences and work of William James
, Aldous Huxley, Albert Hoffman and Rick Strassman. It also looks at the UFO abduction experience and compares it with the shamanic exploration of other-worlds, with supernatural myths and folkloric traditions like that of fairies and elves. There really are fascinating correspondences between fairy lore, the UFO abduction experience and certain hallucinatory states.
Part Four: The Codes, considers the structural similarities and connections and the common themes like therianthropic transformations, small robot-like humanoids, the breeding of hybrid infants, the idea of the Wounded Healer, etc. Hancock is convinced that the mind is a receiver and not simply a generator of consciousness. In this section he relates his impressions after smoking DMT, and then goes into a deeper exploration of the work of Dr Rick Strassman
who is famous for his work with this substance. The passages on DNA are particularly gripping, especially the idea that our DNA might contain specific information on our origins and future. Hancock also discusses the work of other researchers like Jeremy Narby, Terrence McKenna, Benny Shanon and Francis Crick, the discoverer of DNA.
Part Five: The Religions, examines the belief in supernatural entities in all the world's major religions. He points out how "Father Christmas" and St Sebastian are ancient shamanic figures, the first for his red and white clothes which resemble the colours of the Amanita Muscaria mushroom and the second for being a therianthrope with a dog's head. Dreams and visions are then investigated, including those of Joan of Arc and Bernadette Soubirous at Lourdes. Also the vision of Ezekiel, the mysteries of Eleusis and the role of Soma in Vedic religion. Hancock concludes this section with similar themes in the religion and mythology of ancient Egypt and the Maya.
Part Six: The Mysteries, returns to the work of Lewis-Williams and the fact that the ancient cave art is the oldest surviving evidence of the belief in spirit worlds and supernatural beings that exist at the heart of all religions. He disagrees strongly with Lewis-Williams about the reality of these realms and beings. He observes that people have consistently reported the same pattern of experiences from every part of the globe and from all cultures. Hancock believes that these alternative realms are very real and that we may gain access to them via the trance state, whether it is brought about by ingestion of substances, trance dances, fasting or other practices that cause a change in consciousness.
There are many black and white illustrations and paintings throughout the book and a set of colour plates that includes, amongst others, the paintings of Peruvian shaman Pablo Amaringo plus photographs of San rock art from Southern Africa. The three appendices are: Critics and Criticisms of David Lewis-Williams' Neuropsychological Theory of Rock and Cave Art; Psilocybe Semilanceata: a Hallucinogenic Mushroom Native To Europe by Professor Roy Watling; and an illuminating interview with Dr Rick Strassman. The book concludes with bibliographic references arranged by chapter, and an index.
Supernatural deals with so many thought-provoking matters that the interested reader might want more information and/or other perspectives on various aspects of the study. The following books may be helpful: Stone Age Soundtracks
by Paul Devereux, DMT: The Spirit Molecule: A Doctor's Revolutionary Research into the Biology of Near-Death and Mystical Experiences by Rick Strassman, Huston Smith's Cleansing The Doors Of Perception: The Religious Significance of Entheogenic Plants and Chemicals, Chaos, Creativity and Cosmic Consciousness by Abraham, McKenna and Sheldrake, White Rabbit: A Psychedelic Reader
by John Miller, Plants of the Gods: Their Sacred, Healing, and Hallucinogenic Powers by Richard Evans Schultes, Albert Hofmann and Christian Ratsch, Magic Mushrooms in Religion and Alchemy by Clark Heinrich, The Cave Of Altamira by Pedro Ramos and The Mind In The Cave by David Lewis-Williams.