The shaman’s world is one of allegory, symbolism, metaphor and transcendence into the realms of energy and spirit. Their understanding of the universe and the abundant sentient beings which inhabit it is wildly foreign to the mind of the material scientist. Our best chance, therefore, at bridging the gap between science and spirit may lie in the anthropological study of those tribal cultures whose operating systems permit them to move freely in the metaphysical realms with the assistance of natural hallucinogenic substances.
The shamanic explanation of the origins of life and of the intelligent nature of the plants and animals which inhabit the rainforest are quite unbelievable to most, but a rational approach to understanding their perspective lends extraordinary insight into some of the greatest mysteries of human consciousness.
Author and anthropologist Jeremy Narby set out in the mid 1980’s to do just this, hoping to learn from medicine men of the Amazon jungle about how it is they claim to be able to communicate directly with plants and unseen spirit beings of the forest. In his remarkable must-read book, The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge, his journey of empirical study takes a remarkable twist when he agrees to ingest the potent shamanic plant medicine, Ayahuasca.
“Research indicates that shamans access an intelligence, which they say is nature’s, and which gives them information that has stunning correspondences with molecular biology.”
Researching this hypothesis, Narby began by examining the very real paradox offered by plant masters of the Amazon, namely that their vast, extensive, and incredibly thorough understanding of the thousands of plants in their environment is the result, not of any kind of scientific study as we know in the West, but rather as the result of direct communication with plants themselves.
“So here are people without electron microscopes who choose, among some 80.000 Amazonian plant species, the leaves of a bush containing a hallucinogenic brain hormone, which they combine with a vine containing substances that inactivate an enzyme of the digestive tract, which would otherwise block the hallucinogenic effect. And they do this to modify their consciousness.
It is as if they knew about the molecular properties of plants and the art of combining them, and when one asks them how thev know these things, thev say their knowledge comes directly from hallucinogenic plants.” ~Jeremy Narby
At face value, the claim may seem ridiculous to the western mind, yet the fact remains that shamanic knowledge, especially regarding the medicinal properties of thousands of plants, is so thorough that it has provided the basis for the modern pharmacological model of medical science. Many of the top-selling and most effective medicines of our age were derived directly from the culturally appropriated knowledge of the people of the rainforest.
Intrigued by this perspective, Narby ultimately agreed to participate in Ayahuasca ceremonies to experience first-hand the connection spoken of by scores of indigenous cultures and medicine traditions. Doing so led him to the conclusion that not only were these people being truthful in their assertion of direct communication with plants is possible, but that their hallucinogenic journeys may provide a means of unlocking and accessing the origins of human knowledge which have been transmitted for eons in the codes within DNA.
“Intelligence comes from the Latin inter-legere, to choose between. There seems to be a capacity to make choices operating inside each cell in our body, down to the level of individual proteins and enzymes. DNA itself is a kind of “text” that functions through a coding system called “genetic code,” which is strikingly similar to codes used by human beings. ” ~Jeremy Narby
The Cosmic Serpent by Jeremy Narby. Available at Amazon.
During an intense period of analysis into the content of his plant medicine visions, testimony from the shamans he worked with, and his scholarly study of DNA, Narby had the realization that many ancient cave art paintings and shamanic artwork of bygone civilizations seems to produce similar iconic images of intertwining snakes, which look remarkably like the double-helix form of DNA.
DNA and the Cosmic Serpent
Is this mere coincidence, or have ancient cultures across the globe been directly accessing DNA with the assistance of consciousness altering natural substances found in abundance on planet earth?
Narby explains further:
“DNA is a single molecule with a double helix structure; it is two complementary versions of the same “text” wrapped around each other; this allows it to unwind and make copies of itself: twins! This twinning mechanism is at the heart of life since it began. Without it, one cell could not become two, and life would not exist. And, from one generation to the next, the DNA text can also be modified, so it allows both constancy and transformation. This means that beings can be the same and not the same. One of the mysteries is what drives the changes in the DNA text in evolution. DNA has apparently been around for billions of years in its current form in virtually all forms of life. The old theory—random accumulation of errors combined with natural selection—does not fully explain the data currently generated by genome sequencing. The question is wide open.” ~Jeremy Narby
The imagery of the snaking figures led Narby to the defining concept of the Cosmic Serpent, the potential source of intelligence in our universe, and the symbolism of the snaking figures in a double helix is central to his question of whether or not shamans can directly access the codes of life during altered states of consciousness.
Again, Narby explains:
“This is the observation that led me to investigate the cosmic serpent. I found the symbol in shamanism all over the world. Why? That’s a good question. My hypothesis is that it is connected to the double helix of DNA inside virtually all living beings. And DNA itself is a symbolic Saussurian code. So, yes, in at least one important way, the living world is inherently symbolic. We are made of living language.
Both shamans and molecular biologists agree that there is a hidden unity under the surface of life’s diversity; both associate this unity with the double helix shape (or two entwined serpents, a twisted ladder, a spiral staircase, two vines wrapped around each other); both consider that one must deal with this level of reality in order to heal. One can fill a book with correspondences between shamanism and molecular biology.” ~Jeremy Narby
While certainly a fascinating and refreshing take on the important role of shamanism, language, symbolism and consciousness in human development, Narby acknowledges that his theory opens the door for entire new set of questions to be examined by the scientific community.
“I think we should attend to the words we use. “Consciousness” carries different baggage than “intelligence.” Many would define human consciousness as different from, say, animal consciousness, because humans are conscious of being conscious. But how do we know that dolphins don’t think about being dolphins? I do not know whether there is a “consciousness” inside our cells; for now, the question seems out of reach; we have a hard enough time understanding our own consciousness—though we use it most of the time. I propose the concept of “intelligence” to describe what proteins and cells do, simply because it makes the data more comprehensible. This concept will require at least a decade or two for biologists to consider and test. Then, we might be able to move along and consider the idea of a “cellular consciousness.”
I wrote the book because I felt that certain things needed saying. Writing a book is like sending out a message in a bottle: sometimes one gets replies. Judging from the responses, a surprising number of people have got the message loud and clear.” ~Jeremy Narby
Indeed, the question is wide open for exploration, but the proposition that we human beings may be able to directly communicate with DNA in order to influence our own evolution is a powerful one, especially in the context of technological advancements which give us more options than ever of collecting and organizing data.
What knowledge have we human beings forgotten in our press forward in time, and can this knowledge be recovered and put to good use when determining our future?
About the Author
Dylan Charles is a student and teacher of Shaolin Kung Fu, Tai Chi and Qi Gong, a practitioner of Yoga and Taoist arts, and an activist and idealist passionately engaged in the struggle for a more sustainable and just world for future generations. He is the editor of WakingTimes.com, the proprietor of OffgridOutpost.com, a grateful father and a man who seeks to enlighten others with the power of inspiring information and action. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.