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Food of the Gods by Terence McKenna

Schultes' Food of the Gods review

A recent, and not well-circulated, review of Food of the Gods from American Scientist, by this century's most important ethnobotanist, Richard Evans Schultes of Harvard University.

A masterpiece of research and writing, this volume should be read by every specialist working in the multifarious fields involved with the use of psychoactive drugs--even though many readers may not accept its message. It is a venturesome call to review or even reassess our prevalent thoughts, customs and laws concerning drugs.

The main theme is succinctly stated in the author's introduction: 'A Manifesto for New Thought about Drugs.' 'A specter is haunting planetary culture--the specter of drugs. The definition of human dignity created by the Renaissance and elaborated into the democratic values of modern Western civilization seems on the point of dissolving... This situation is not new, but it is getting worse...'

Terence McKenna's 313 pages are overflowing with well-ordered and skillfully written cultural, sociological, historical, legal and moral discussions on the political future of drug uses. In the epilogue, McKenna ends with the conviction that 'our breach of faith with the symbiotic relationship to the plant hallucinogens has made us susceptible to an ever more neurotic response to each other and the world around us... We can now move toward a new vision of ourselves and our role in nature.'

The book includes an introduction, four sections and an epilogue. The first section is entitled 'Paradise,' and includes chapters called 'Shamanism: the Magic in Food,' 'Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge,' Plants and Primates--Postcards from the Stoned Age,' 'Habilu as Culture and Religion,' and 'The High Plains of Eden.' The second section, called 'Paradise Lost,' includes 'Searching for Soma,' 'Twilight in Eden, Minoan Crete and the Eleusinian Mystery,' 'Alcohol and the Alchemy of Spirit,' and 'The Ballad of the Dreaming Weavers, Cannabis and Culture.' The third section, called 'Hell,' includes 'Complacencies of the Peignoir: Sugar, Coffee, Tea and Chocolate,' 'Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: Opium and Tobacco,' and 'Synthetics, Heroin, Cocaine and Television.' The fourth section, called 'Paradise Regained?' includes a 'Brief History of Psychedelics' and 'Anticipating the Archaic Paradise.' Finally, the epilogue is called 'Looking Outward and Inward to a Sea of Stars.'

The body of the book is followed by highly detailed notes on the foregoing sections; a glossary, containing structural formulae of the principal hallucinogens; a bibliography of 151 sources; and 11 pages of an extremely complete index.

This volume will long be consulted by researchers and others who may not be convinced by McKenna's scholarly venture into a highly controversial realm of thinking. It is, without question, destined to play a major role in our future considerations of the role of the ancient use of psychoactive drugs, the historical shaping of our modern concerns about drugs and perhaps about man's desire for escape from reality with drugs. McKenna concludes by suggesting a plan supposed to solve the drug problems of today in the developed countries.

The book is beautifully produced, a credit to Bantam Books, and considering the vast amount of expertly organized material in its pages, it is very reasonably priced.

Richard Evans Schultes
Biology and Harvard Botanical Museum (Emeritus), Harvard University
American Scientist, September/October 1993, Vol. 81, No. 5, page 489

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