Saturday, May 24, 2008

A Review of Daniel Pinchbeck's "2012"

It's a bird! It's a snake! No, it's a hyperspatial archetype with a message for humanity! Or a drug hallucination! We're not sure!

2012 came to my attention via Vanessa Grigoriadis's August '06 Rolling Stone article "Daniel Pinchbeck and the New Psychedelic Elite". After reading the book I realized Grigoriadis was being rather snarky. Pinchbeck does not think the world is going to literally end in 2012, nor that only the "psychedelic elite" will be spared. What he foresees is a potential, directed transformation of consciousness in the New Age tradition (though he shuns the label). He suggests this can be achieved without the use of psychedelics - but the drugs would help, apparently.

The book's hook is that Pinchbeck, like his intellectual forebear Terence McKenna, like Philip Dick, and like just about everyone else who has taken massive quantities of these drugs, believes he came into contact with an ultradimensional intelligence that told him all about the end of the world. Specifically, the Aztec bird-serpent god Queztalcoatl.

Son of a Manhattan Beat writer and an abstract painter, Daniel Pinchbeck lived a life out of a Brett Easton Ellis novel, suffering middle-class ennui he now attributes to the influence of the planet Saturn. To break the monotony, he decided to take the same path trod by his mom's late comrades, follwing Burroughs into the Mexican jungle in search of ayahuasca ("yage"), the drug that induced what Burroughs described as the most harrowing experience of his life. But first he experimented with LSD, mushrooms, DMT, and an array of other psychedelics. The life of a "Dostoyevskyan renegade plagued by erotic failure" melted away. "I felt significantly smarter, sharper, attuned to new patterns of information and ideas that had eluded me before." The doors of perception were flung open to Pinchbeck, and his life was forever changed. Sort of. He still wrote for Wired and edited a literary journal.

The result of Pinchbeck's spiritual/chemical odyssey was 2012, a weirdly compelling brew of chemognosis, esotericism, true confession, Mayan myth, sacred geometry, and shamanic wisdom. Heavily influenced by Terence McKenna, Pinchbeck also references Jung, Rudolf Steiner, Jose Arguelles, and anthropologist Peter Whitely. Like them, Pinchbeck firmly believes that the veil between worlds is very thin, and that he has glimpsed things on the other side. The world we see every day is amazing, but the worlds we could see if given the opportunity to slip beyond that veil would literally blow our minds.

It was images glimpsed in drug trips and some poltergeist activity, combined with instances of synchronicity, that led Pinchbeck to wonder if a daimonic trickster entity was interacting with humanity. To examine the matter, he first traveled to England to study crop circles. His spiritual quest led him on to study Mayan mythology, close encounters of the fourth kind, shamanism, and Santo Daime (under a woman he refers to only as "the teacher"). Oh, and more drugs.
He concluded the Mayan calendar could be "fundamentally a time-schedule for the evolution of consiousness."

The late Terence McKenna was the first person to suggest, in his 1975 book The Invisible Landscape, that the winter solstice is in the constellation Sagittarius, only about three degrees from the Galactic Center, and that the winter solstice node is moving closer and closer to the point on the eliptic where it will eclipse the galactic center. In other words, a rare precession of the equinoxes will occur in 2012.
Um, so what? Well, this precession could be a time a time of renewal, a "moment of potential transformative opportunity", as writer John Major Jenkins puts it in 2012: Maya Cosmogenesis. Upon reading Hamlet's Mill (1969) by Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend, McKenna realized that the ancient shaman-astronomers of the Olmec and Maya civilizations had possessed the same knowledge that had come to him during a magic-mushroom trip: The cosmos will end on the same date as the Mayan calendar. Not that McKenna believed the world world actually end. It was his opinion that he and the ancient Mayans knew creation would evolve, "truly begin", on December 21, 2012. But what what would happen, exactly? McKenna freely admitted he didn't know. From Wikipedia: "Terence McKenna's mathematical novelty theory suggested a point of singularity in which many things could occur in 2012: hyperspatial breakthrough, planetisimal impact, alien contact, historical metamorphosis, metamorphosis of natural law, solar explosion, quasar ignition at the galactic core, or nothing."

Pinchbeck's take on 2012 mirrors McKenna's. Though the book is threaded with prophecies from various cultures, no apolocalyptic scenario stands out from the crowd.

Sometimes Pinchbeck veers into the ludicrous, as when he describes lounging in an Oregon motel room and telepathically communicating with the hive-mind of an intergalactic praying mantis, or tripping on iboga in a Mexican clinic and seeing a black and white vision of himself as a little girl being led up a flight of stairs by Sidney Poitier.
And he just as unexpectedly veers into eerie and disturbing observations. Noting that his dad and his partner's dad died around the time he first took DPT, he recalls, "In studies of Shamanism, I had read that initiatory jolts, releasing currents of psycholophysical energy, could be dangerous, even fatal, for the family and friends of the one undergoing them...only long after the fact did I fully accept that there were occult realms, and that mistakes made in them could have severe consequences in this reality." This realization apparently has made Pinchbeck very wary of being led astray by malignant forces, and led him to make some distinctions that must seem arbitrary to anyone unfamiliar with the New Age mindset. It's like saying "Of course unicorns exists. But dragons - that's just silly." For instance, he believes alien abductees are being systematically decieved by Ahrimanic entities that are expoloiting humanity, perhaps stealing our genetic material to replenish their own, yet he speaks approvingly of Celtic fairies. He explains that true crop circles (those of unknown origin) feel different from the crude fakes; their energy is higher, almost papable.
He also expresses disgust with the superficiality of other psychedelic enthusiasts and New Age hispters, though most of the the beliefs and practices he has studied can only be described as New Age. He bemoans society's lack of spiritual discipline, but finds Santo Daime workings tedious. He recoils from the teacher's "superstitious" wariness of bad spirits, yet is convinced others are being led astray be bad spirits.
The people he singles out for the most criticism are alien abductees. In a recent appearance on Whitley Strieber's online radio show Unknown Country he announced that Streiber is being manipulated by his "visitors"; they are entities who want to control humanity for their own ends, entities who have turned Strieber into a pessimist. Stunned by the outburst and deeply offended that his interpretation of his experience was called into question, Strieber severed all personal ties to Pinchbeck on the spot. Strieber has long considered his experiences with the visitors as positive, life-affirming, transformationl events that could also lead us to the next step in the evolution of human consciousness. In fact, re-reading Strieber's accounts of his many visitor contacts, I could only notice how Pinchbeck's and Strieber's hopes and expectations for the future mesh almost perfectly. Sure, Strieber is a bit gloomy-and-doomy when it comes to climate change, but Pinchbeck appears to feel the same way.
In 2012 Pinchbeck relays dire end-of-time warnings from an archetypal entity, yet he views others' predictions of global cataclysm and fascism as "too negative". Again, this comes across as pure silliness. "Your visitors are evil, but my bird-god is good!"

The Quetzalcoatl material comes lates in the book. Cruising through the Amazon on a boat, visiting Daime communities with the teacher, Pinchbeck received a lengthy telepathic transmission from the spirit of Quetzalcoatl. The message is a patchwork of religious traditions, concluding with a sinister warning and the announcement that Pinchbeck is to be the vehicle of Quetzalcoatl's next incarnation. Quetzacoatl also told Pinchbeck that he is the Beast of Revelation, having been born in June 1966.
This "archetypal transmission" asks more questions than it answers. Even Pinchbeck wondered if this was coming from his own mind, or if he was being led astray by malicious astral entities.
In its own way, the material is just as dogmatic as the traditions Pinchbeck disdains (monogamy, Christianity, the New Age). Quetzalcoatl clearly has a wrathful aspect. But what is it were're supposed to be doing in the short time we have left? "It is up to the individual to find his way through the ideas presented here - of course he is entirely free to ignore them altogether."

Pinchbeck does have a few suggestions for change:

  • Adopt a new claendar that is in sync with nature ("the deepest root of our present predicament is or enslavement by artificial time...acceptance of a synchronized calendar could initiate the shift in a unified planetary culture, one that honors the Earth and the human in all of its manifestations").

  • Glastonbury would be the logical headquardters for new civilization because of its crop glytphs, mythic statues, ley lines, and a propecy that "humanity's twelve tribes" will someday converge there.

  • A restructuring of society: Achieve exploitation-free union with indigenous cultures, from whom we can learn much; reintegrate aboriginal and mythic worldviews; relieve climate change with concentrated psychic energy, as Peter Whitely suggests; and establish a nonhierarchical society based on "trust and telepathy".

I had a problem with the fact that Pinchbeck frequently wanders into Too Much Information territory, detailing his sexual problems and his rocky relationship with his unnamed partner and their unnamed infant daughter. The fact that Pinchbeck wouldn't even come up with pseudonyms for these people so central to his life says something about him, I'm sorry to say. After asking his partner to move in with him and bear their child, Pinchbeck realizes that monogamy isn't his path and proceeds to hook up with random ladies around the world while Partner stays home in NYC and changes diapers. I hate to be judgmental on this point, but knowing the importance of a father figure in a child's life I must ask, how will their relationship be as she grows older? "Not now, honey. Daddy has to go to the jungle and get baked with strangers...No, sweetie, daddy can't go to your recital. He's the Beast of Revelation and he's due to receive a transmission from the bird-god again." William Burroughs Jr. became a penniless, drunken convict after his dad shot his mum and left him in a Mexican orphanage to search for yage, but maybe Pinchbeck will get lucky and his daughter will only bring sacred mushrooms to Show & Tell.

Also troubling is that some of the wisdom imparted to Pinchbeck by Qetzacoatl and the assorted entities who visit him during drug trips is a little too, shall we say, convenient? Qetzacoatl virtually orders him to boink a beautiful Santo Daime practitioner in the Amazon. When she expresses reluctance to submit to the orders of a bird-god who may or may not exist, Pinchbeck concedes that the urge to couple with her was probably just a working-out of their past-life relationships.

Did 2012 convince me that a global transformation of consciousness can occur four years from now? No, not really. That's too far a stretch from where we're at today. Advanced though the Maya were, I didn't find reason to believe that they possessed knowledge beyond that of their own time and place.

Did 2012 inspire me to get in touch with the cosmos via psychedelics? Hell no. Yage freaked out William Burroughs, people! I get jittery after two cups of coffee.

Did it show me that Pinchbeck is a sex-crazed wannabe cult leader, as Victoria Grigoriadis suggested? No. Like so many of us, Pinchbeck is simply seeking answers to Big Questions, and somehow manages to get a lot of action along the way. Would I recommend this book to someone looking for a surefire guide to conscious evolution? No. But it is a quirky, mind-tickling read for those who look around them and wonder, "Is this all all there is?"


Anonymous said...

cool review

of course im just as confused....

The Zombieslayer said...

seeing a black and white vision of himself as a little girl being led up a flight of stairs by Sidney Poitier.

That would make me not want to take drugs right there. Or maybe it would. I'm sooo conflicted.

Yeah, don't mean to attack the writer instead of his ideas, no matter how loopy they may be, but take care of your children, guy.

Maybe 2012 is when the zombie plague will start. Maybe that's what the Mayans meant.

I do think we have something to learn from indigenous peoples. For instance - how to survive without completely depending on technology, and getting more in touch with the natural world.

Unfortunately, there's almost nothing left. My father's friend who used to write for National Geographic (retired now) had a very grim thing to say - very few tribes live like they used to. It was much easier to do his job (cultural anthropologist - studied Stone Age peoples) back when he started.

tshsmom said...

Coming of age in the 70s, I've met a few people like Pinchbeck. He should be the poster-child for why we shouldn't use psychedelic drugs!
*walks off humming Magic Carpet Ride*

The Zombieslayer said...

Changing the subject entirely, found a movie that has SME written all over it.

Here's my review of Alice.

I actually didn't like it, but the pretentious critic I borrowed it from loved it.

SME said...

Dude, it's one all my all-time faves! Love love love it. Love Svankmajer in general, but this is his best (so, um, you might want to avoid the rest...)

Anonymous said...


Just very curious after coincidentally reading this. You aren't Sophia by any chance are you? Formerly Cambridge, UK? Aristotle? Noh, surely not! If you are she, this is Andrew. I'll check back in a day or so to see if (or how) you've responded to this note. (Gosh, you even look like her in the pic ...!)

SME said...

Er, no, I'm not Sophia. Sorry, Andrew.

I think they should scrap the current anti-drug public announcements and use Pinchbeck instead. Show hidden-cam footage of him strapping on a diaper before taking one of his more potent psychotropic drugs, to avoid soiling himself in Nirvana, then show him rambling about ancient gods and their dire warnings for humanity for about 5 minutes. No kid in his right mind would wanna do drugs after that.