February 13th, 2006


I just HAD to comment ...

There was a post in the shamanism community this morning which began with the following:
"Last night I, stupidly, drank a whole bottle of coke before going to bed so I couldn't get to sleep despite my exhaustion."
Gee ... a whole bottle of coke? Most, if not all, of the Shamans I have ever worked with use some forms of entheogens in their practice, and the idea that a bottle of Coke would even remotely effect one's mental state is laughable to me. I'm reminded of the stories of Aleister Crowley excusing himself from the dinner table, "shooting enough heroin to kill an elephant", and returning for dessert and after-dinner chit-chat ... how can one presume to be a Shaman or an Occultist without the ability to overcome the effects (I am assuming, of course, that the post was referring to consuming a product of the Coca-Cola Corporation, and not some large quantity of cocaine!) of a bottle of Coke?

Perhaps, due to my own rather high "tolerance" for caffeine, this strikes me as particularly pitiful, but it boggles the mind what would happen to this "Shaman" were he or she to find themself in a ritual involving Ayahuasca? If a few milligrams of caffeine makes you trip so much that you're convinced you're being contacted by a "spirit helper" (NEW! From The Folks Who Brought You "Hamburger Helper" and "Tuna Helper"!), what are you going to do when you play with real "paleo" Shamans?

Man ... maybe I'm jealous ... I need to have something like four Venti Mocha Lattes before I'm in any danger of not getting to sleep, and will frequently nod off despite having just consumed a pot or more of coffee. It amazes me that there are "delicate psyches" for whom a poorly-timed bottle of fucking Coke would have any effect!

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A Superb Book ...

Wow. I've read a lot of Sufi books over the years (over at LibraryThing I've got the 2nd most Idries Shah books in my catalog, at 28 titles, and those are just the ones he penned), but the vast majority of them are indirect, either simply presenting teaching stories, or hiding gems of info in the midst of "noise". This is the first one that really struck me as being "direct", laying out the how, what and why of Sufi teachings.

Of course, this makes me wonder why this book seems so different from all the other books, and what might be happening with this particular title that is, perhaps, indirect in its seeming directness! Such is the downfall of the student who is working just with texts and without any guide, I suppose (perhaps it is time for me to write a request to The Society for Sufi Studies).

Anyway, Sufi Thought and Action is "An Anthology of Important Papers" assembled by the late great Idries Shah, including an introductory essay by himself. Shah was, by nearly unanimous regard, the "Light of the Age", the foremost Sufi teacher over the past half century. His efforts in publishing legitimate Sufi material (through Octagon Books, the ISHK, the ICR, and Designist Communications, among others) is referenced frequently here as being of major importance.

The book is assembled in nine sections: "Sufi Spiritual Rituals and Beliefs" by Shah, "Sufi Principles and Learning Methods" comprising 7 papers, "Current Sufi Activity" with nine subjects by one author, "Ritual, Initiation and Secrets in Sufi Circles" with 3 author's pieces, each covering 5-7 topics, "Theories, Practices and Training Systems of a Sufi School" by one author, "Key Concepts in Sufi Understanding" comprising of three papers, "Visits to Sufi Centers" with pieces by five authors, "The Sufis of Today" by one author, and "In a Sufi Monastery, and Other Papers" with seven assorted reports. It almost "feels" like Shah had gone back into the archives (I believe that I may have read some of these previously, either in other collections on in the old Designist monograph series) and pulled out the most direct not-beating-around-the-bush papers for this collection. Even topics such as the mundane use of ESP communications by "real Sufis" is addressed off-hand (in the context of attempting to get in touch with "supposed" Sufi teachers), as though this should be no surprise to the reader. Again, it is a remarkably "open" approach for a book from Octagon!

While this book, like most of what I've been reading over the past couple of years, has spent a decade or more on my shelf (it was published in 1990), it has the advantage of being from ISHK/Octagon, and so is still very much in print. However, this does mean that if you want to get a copy you're going to have to dig deeper than is often the case on the things I'm reviewing. You can get a good used copy for around $3.50, but a new one will set you back $22.00 (for a 280-page paperback).

I don't know if this would be something that I'd recommend for an introductory book on Sufi teachings, but if you've read some Sufi materials and were more confused than enlightened by that reading, I would definately recommend checking out Sufi Thought and Action!

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