BY ALLAN VREELAND
Author: Daniel Pinchbeck
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The title of Pinchbeck’s 2012 is an archeological artifact written literally in stone by the Mayans about a thousand years ago. In 2012—specifically, on December 21—the rising sun will mark the end of the 5125-year Mayan Long Count Calendar by achieving conjunction with the center of the axis of the Milky Way galaxy.
The Mayan prophecy on the completion of the Long Count is the return of the Mesoamerican deity Quetzalcoatal, translated as “Sovereign Plumed Serpent.” Quetzalcoatal is a supreme deity responsible for civilization and time itself. The Mayans believed that the end of the Long Count will mark the end of our present world civilization, when Quetzalcoatal will intervene to hand down another.
2012 is the high-energy, complex, fascinating tale of Pinchbeck’s personal pursuit of this prophecy. It’s a fun read, simultaneously a global treasure hunt, a mystical inner quest, and a personal redemption following the death of his father. It also has the ambition and scale of mythological revelation.
The only summary possible is that Pinchbeck has set out on a present day Grail Legend hero journey. The Grail hero was Parsifal, a brilliant young knight of the 12th century who lost his father in the Crusades. He is heir to the Grail Castle, which is the mystical, spiritual version of Camelot, and he’s on a quest to redeem the spiritual well-being of Europe. Parsifal leaves the pragmatic matter of a splintered Europe in the Middle Ages to King Arthur.
Like Parsifal, Pinchbeck leaves the work of political and economic change to others. Instead, his hypothesis is that “the completion of the Great Cycle and the return of Quetzalcoatl are archetypes, and their underlying meaning points toward a shift in the nature of the psyche.” The mythic Parsifal sought the Holy Grail, the elusive completion of wisdom and enlightenment. Pinchbeck declares his own quest to be of equal mythical proportions.
That structural similarity ends when we discover his method. 2012 has no chivalrous knighthood or Grail King or other boring cultural artifacts. Pinchbeck instead adopts the postmodern individual manifesto: “I follow my own process of discovery.” Nevertheless, his method is that of stalwart predecessors like Aldous Huxley and Huston Smith.
Namely, Pinchbeck uses hallucinogens.
He doesn’t have the wit and cynicism of William Burroughs or Jack Kerouac. He reports tripping like he really thinks the answers might be there. His substance preference is thoroughly contemporary: he likes “yage,” slang for ayahuasca, sometimes distilled into DMT, and he especially goes for the deep Amazon jungle version called Daime. He seeks out the worldwide brotherhood of iboga shamans and Amazon upriver practitioners to indulge in the days-long, stomach-convulsing, vision-blasting, soul-baring yage pilgrimages to the depths of psyche. He takes the expense and trouble to screen bona fide shamans, and they happen to be attractive young priestesses. All in all, Pinchbeck shows us an enviable “process of discovery.”
2012 is arguably the best primer on current shamanic approaches used by those who seriously follow a certain quest, the gonzo crew we could call practitioners of “Extreme Spirituality.” We learn about shamanic mutations, new age seekers of ultimate truth, extraterrestrial drop-ins, and happenings like Burning Man.
Boldly, Pinchbeck includes the darker side, like details of erotic explorations that bring him face to face with Kali, the malevolent cult goddess of cataclysm. He admits memories of his neglected girlfriend and their daughter back home. But there is also humor. When he is high one night and bails out of a ceremony that bores him, his confrontation by other nervous disciples that culminates with a 300 pound Samoan promising “serious consequences” is hilarious.
The Pinchbeck project finally delves directly into Quetzalcoatl, the Mayan deity. He invokes, without overt acknowledgment, ancient Tibetan traditions of the “terton.” Tibetan terton are retrievers of “terma,” which are the buried treasure of ancient spiritual texts. In modern times, long after the literally buried terma have been discovered, the tradition continues with the adept retrieving lost texts through direct transmission in trance or dream.
Pinchbeck’s version is to load up on Daime and move into an extended personal encounter with Quetzalcoatl. The climax of his quest is to face directly the raw archetype. The result is clearly intended to be a sutra, or gospel, that is a verbatim transcription of the revelation.
Alongside my enthusiasm, and as a practitioner of less extreme shamanic spirituality, I must report that there is an elusive, almost mysterious thread woven into the text. As the work veers tout de suite from personal journal into postmodern metagonzo, you must give vast permission for a naive journalist like Pinchbeck to launch an expensive global quest into the psychical resonance of a vague prophecy. He flirts with your credulity until it is impossible to decide if this is powerful cultural myth on the level of a Grail Legend or if it’s merely back-of-the-napkin Harry Potter.
Similar book: The Doors of Perception, by Aldous Huxley