on 3 March 2011
This is the account of New York writer Daniel Pinchbeck's investigation into the world of Shamanism and the use of natural psychedelics - Ayahuasca, Iboga and others - as a tool in the healing process. Eschewing the formalities and limitations of detached academic case-studies, Pinchbeck provides us with some gripping first-hand experiences of Shamanistic healing rituals led by indigenous tribal elders in places like Mexico and the jungles of Peru. This a brave and mostly dignified call for a re-appraisal of the significance of the presence of psychedelic substances in our world. Pinchbeck repeatedly makes a case for the responsible, guided use of psychedelics in the process of becoming a happy, wholesome, integrated human being. His experiences tell of the 'primitive sophistication' of indigenous tribes, who place their connection with spirit before worldly concerns. This book takes these venerable and truly vital spiritual processes and re-introduces them to a contemporary audience. Parallels are drawn between the wisdom of the ancients and the modern young person's innate yearning for mysticism, adventure and vitality (as manifested in the recreational use of drugs like LSD and MDMA, and gatherings like The Burning Man Festival in Nevada). 'Breaking Open The Head' will speak loudly to younger people who've experimented with drugs for the sake of overcoming personal barriers, or those who've looked into alternative healing processes as an antidote to contemporary malaises. Sometimes Pinchbeck goes a little bit too far in trying to convey his own instances of synchronicity, and his arguments come across as being a little repetitive and scatter-shot at times. But all in all, this is a very spirited and admirable stance from an articulate and intelligent New Yorker who ventured far off the beaten track in order to remind us of the forgotten possibilities held within psychedelic substances. Contemporary Shamanism anyone? See you out there. .
on 15 February 2004
Pinchbeck throws himself so completely into his subject that this book could have been the senseless ramblings of some burnt out hippie that has done too many psychedelics.
Thankfully it isn't, and instead, contains stories of meetings with remarkable people from both from the ancient world and the modern west. Pinchbeck ties this together with some real insights about the role of shamanism and how it can rescue us from our destructive lifestyles.
Everyone I know that has read this book has been changed by it. I myself have started taking what I dream very seriously.
on 26 May 2003
I will not go into a synopsis of this amazing journey, but a more intelligent and insightful detailing of one man's search for the ultimate Consciousness I have not come across. Here is Truth, Wisdom and Belief, stripped of all the distractions and nonsense of organised religion. The author has been to places we cannot even conceive of, but he has returned, sober, sincere and humbled, to tell us of what he has found. The messages he brings back are searing, unequivocal, and would shake the belief-systems of any open-minded person. This book should be required reading for all our leaders, lawmakers, politicians, scientists, anthopologists, priests, rabbis and anyone who has the slightest interest in what it means to be human and self-aware. My first instinct, after reading this book, was to start at the beginning again, this time with a red pen, to underline and mark all the myriad points of interest and profundity that cascade through the pages.
on 1 February 2007
I first encountered Daniel at the launch of his book, via Strange Attractor magazine, held at the Horse Hospital in London way back in Febuary 2003.
Now I must be honest from the moment the place filled up my concerns started. I am neither a stranger to mind altering chemicals or to supernatural events, and have much experience of those linked to either and indeed both. It quickly became apparent that the bulk of the audience were quite simply what I would call 'druggies' and burnt out hippy rejects, not the etheogenic shamans of which the book was relating to. Unkind perhaps but you had to be there to see it, such as the self proclaimed 'buddhist' who started glowing red and swearing, or the rude judgemental comments aimed at those who dared ask questions. This left me wondering what to expect from our speaker, and indeed his book.
However I found him to be both articulate and down to Earth, which was a good start. What left me concerned, as someone heavily involved in self development and an experiencer of many mystical events, was that I could hear little about real positive benefits from his experiments with chemicals or any of the peculiar happenings. There was no talk of moral and spiritual advancement, it was all just a great adventure, nothing wrong with that however, adventures are fun to hear about after all, but I was glad to realise this before reading the book as I think some may have been expecting rather 'higher' information than was on offer.
He did however mention a subject that I am very involved with, 2012 and the Mayan calendar. On this he showed a deeper side, and seemed more engaged with refined spiritual thought, revealing this side I was able to get a better view of him. His thoughts were very interesting, not identicle to my own but thats neither here nor there. Later i had the chance to question him, and in the evening a few of us went for dinner, where I got a little more of Daniel the man rather than the novelist. An inteligent, polite and fair seeming chap. A contemplative thinker, but more a sceptic rather than a dreamer.
What I am trying to get across is a more balanced picture of both Daniel and his book. Both seem to get very skewed and judgemental reviews all around the net. Despite many accusations to the contrary he made no movements to indicate he should be viewed as some kind of psychedelic guru, or mystical chief. He came across as what he was (back then in 2003) a man with a normal if very succesful career and home life (by normal I mean not supernatural or drug orientated!) whom had encoutered a new and radical mode of thinking. He had dared to step outside of the constricting western materialistic paradigm that had left him feeling uneasy about life, and had taken great risks to find a cure for his malaise.
It seems that for this he has experinced an old treatment of spiritual explorers, crucifiction by the masses.
If you read breaking open the head with this review in mind hopefully you will be able to view the material in a less hostile manner then some seem to of. There is much to be gained and much to enjoy, as I said this really is an adventure novel, but one based in fact rather than fiction, and with a most unlikely hero considering the context in which we find him.
If you have no knowledge of Etheogens (herbal drugs) then this is a perfect gateway into a wolrd much more fascinating than you ever did'nt bother to think. If your a hardened psychonaut then think of it as a greatly extended entry on Erowid, and they are generally good fun right?
As for the journeys to Mexican pyramids, Burning Man, Amazonian jungles and all the rest, well surely everyone loves travel stories with high jinx thrown in?
we are introduced to many of the characters and tales that make etheogenic study the captivating subject it has become. Also we get to see a man teleported from his normal life and job, into a realm where poltergeist start plagueing his home and he has to turn to experts on the occult to better understand what he thought was the 'normal' world around him. So for all those who have had a couple of weird events they will appreciate this.
For me, as someone who has a solid base in the spiritual and supernatural arena, I simply found it interesting to see what my 'normal' world does to those newbies who wander it into, wether purposefully or by accident. I took great voyeuristic pleasure in watching this poor chap squirm at times, but was very glad to see that he came out the other end stronger, better educated and more self aware.
I would advise anyone to read this book, like I say there is something in it for mystics, psyconaughts, sceptics and adventurers alike. I have strted reading his second book '2012', and feel that if you like the first you will like the second to.
Free your mind and the rest will follow...
on 19 February 2006
One of those rare, life-changing books. I identified with Pinchbeck's disillusionment with lifestyles in the Western world and I was seeking a way of finding meaning in my own life. After reading this book, I was inspired to go on my own adventure and undertook an iboga experience. This has succeeded in 'breaking open' my head. I am seeing the world very differently now and am pursuing a rational/spiritual quest for meaning. I am now due to do a shamanistic plant medicine course in which I will experience Ayahuasca (another of the drugs of which Pinchbeck writes). Thankyou Pinchbeck, there is no going back for me!
on 7 July 2006
I can't believe anyone hasn't submitted a review for this already. Great read if you like all things in the vein of Terence McKenna, Tim Leary, Ken Kesey et al. Pinchbeck's book is not sensationalist or particularly rhetorical, in contrast to Leary's famous mantra 'Tune In, Turn On, Drop Out'. Instead its a thought provoking exploration,a travelogue of the voyager on the psychic seas. I'd not heard of Iboga before but it sounds an amazing plant. Well written to boot.
on 24 August 2003
breaking open the head by daniel pinchbeck is an amazing book about shamanism. daniel pinchbeck travels all over the world to meet with different tribes who have shamanistic religions and experience some of their ceremonies. he tries different psychedelic drugs with the shamans and goes on journeys in the shaman's amazing land. the book doesn't preach at you at all or tell you which is the right way, it is just very informative and well researched.
i would reccommend this book to anyone with even a passing interest in shamanism. it's quite long but i enjoyed it so much i read it in five days flat!