Editor’s Caveat: In the following interview, author Graham Hancock makes a number of arguments about the reality of the invisible world and the strategies which have been employed by some to gain access to these realms. Regarding the use of chemicals, drugs, or so-called natural psychoactive plant extracts, to achieve the desired spiritual awakening (what some reductionists have termed ‘altered states of consciousness’), we would like to make a couple points. Atlantis Rising does not endorse any such technique, in fact, we strenuously object. We believe that the opening of the spiritual centers which leads to true enlightenment is best achieved by natural means without resort to chemical assistance, whether advocated by shaman or priest. This, we believe, is an essential message from all great spiritual and mystical teachings of East and West. Moreover, there is very good reason to believe that the use of any form of hallucinogen for the purpose of spiritual awakening incurs the risk of damaging the natural spiritual centers in such a way as to abort a process, which would otherwise, with sincere application, in due course, lead to the desired liberation. The difficulties which may be encountered along the way, the wise ones have always said, are for our instruction and the strengthening of hearts, and are best overcome by spiritual means, not by avoidance or short cut. We understand the impatience which some may feel with such a process, but we believe the end result is well worth whatever price may be required of us. Having said all that, in the interest of fully informing our readers on the issues involved, we still think that Graham Hancock, for whom we have great respect, has earned the right to have his views on the subject heard.
For nearly 20 years Graham Hancock has been investigating a forgotten episode in human history, searching for evidence of a lost civilization. His many best-selling books, including Fingerprints of the Gods, Sign of the Seal, and Underworld have been seminal works in the fields of alternative history and archaeology providing scientists and researchers with facts, evidence and theories that challenge conventional thinking about human origins and push current theories in profound new directions.
At the Conference on Precession and Ancient Knowledge (CPAK) this year held at the University of California at Irvine, I met with Graham to discuss his most recent book Supernatural: Meeting with the Ancient Teachers of Mankind. This new work is a departure from Hancock’s previous works, delving more into investigations of the origin of human consciousness rather than civilization. Spurred on by his university studies in Anthropology and a desire to stay fresh and forward thinking, Hancock’s research again challenges current accepted theories regarding the dawn of modern human thought.
His first mystery explored: Why were we so incredibly dull? Here, where Hancock’s views usually oppose traditional academics, he found himself surprisingly in agreement with conventional points of view. The fact is, humans were incredibly unproductive for a very long time; this is no mystery, the fossil record is clear. But why? And how did that circumstance change so abruptly some forty thousand years ago? Hancock explains “It only really becomes mysterious after 40,000 years ago when, as I characterize it, it’s as though a light had been switched on in the human brain all around the world at once and the entire suite of behavior that we characterize as modern human behavior was introduced.” These characteristics were not introduced when we became anatomically modern 200,000 years ago: they weren’t introduced until after 40,000 years ago and that’s when you see lateral thinking, creativity, spiritual and religious ideas all introduced virtually overnight. At the same time that this happens, these incredible paintings, the art of upper Paleolithic Europe, the cave art, the rock art of tribal and indigenous cultures appear all around the world dating roughly from the same period. Hancock realized that was a mystery that he wanted to pursue. “I wanted to understand why we went through six million years of doing nothing and suddenly changed, and why it wasn’t connected to any anatomical change. It was a behavioral change obviously deriving from some change in human consciousness.”
Conventional theories more or less assert that in the course of evolution, humans came down from the trees and began to walk upright, which freed our hands to create. And what we created were tools, which we continued to refine. So, according to scientists and researchers, what differentiated humans from other forms of animals was our ability to walk upright on two legs and invent and use tools. Hancock found that explanation lacking, and he is not alone in considering this an out-moded theory. It’s now widely recognized that other animals, such as the crow, walk on two legs and use tools to accomplish tasks. What actually separates humans from other animals, Hancock asserts, is the ability to express themselves through symbolism and creativity.
In his own research, Hancock began noticing a similarity between ancient rock and cave art and the images and descriptions provided by shamans and healers from indigenous cultures, both past and present. He understood this correlation to hold a deeper meaning. “The creators of this fabulous cave art must have experienced altered states of consciousness. And while not a soul from that era exists today to tell how and why they made their images, the images themselves speak to the nature of their origin and meaning. We see therianthropes, half man, half beast, in all these cases.” Therianthropes comes from the Greek “therion” meaning “wild beast” and “arthropos,” meaning “man.” Hancock states, “There’s certain characteristic imagery that people in altered states always see. That’s true whether it’s in modern medical research where subjects are given hallucinogens or reports from modern shaman who claims to travel to other worlds in search of spiritual truth and enlightenment. Images of half-human intelligent beings, combined with abstract geometrical patterns, are examples of images universally seen in altered states of consciousness and universally not seen ordinarily in daily life.” How can we explain this commonality between the images depicted in cave art, the images that shamans reportedly encounter and the images experienced in medical research experiments?
In the past twenty years there has been a great breakthrough in the research surrounding ancient prehistoric cave art, proving that there exists a remarkable similarity in cave art found around the world. In Supernatural, Hancock superbly documents these findings as part of his exploration of this great mystery. Paying tribute to the work of South African Professor David Lewis-Williams, Hancock continues: “And really, David’s latest work in this field has absolutely established beyond any serious shadow of a doubt that these universal features in rock and cave art are to be explained by realizing that the artists were shamans who explored altered states of consciousness.” That led Hancock to ask what it was that inspired the artists to make those paintings. When he realized that the very first credible paintings, the art of upper Paleolithic Europe, contained imagery that was painted not of naturalistic real life beings and events but of supernatural beings, Hancock began to feel too that this was a really fascinating area to pursue.
Known for almost literally throwing himself headfirst into his research—Hancock and his wife photographer Santha Faiia logged over 2000 dives researching Underworld—Hancock headed to South America to interview shamans and document their experiences. He quickly realized that the shamanic life revolved around ingesting a hallucinogenic brew called ayahuasca, produced from a combination of jungle plants. The psychoactive ingredient in the ayahuasca is DMT or NN-diemethyltryptamine. This compound, found naturally in plants and fungi around the world, is also produced by the human Pineal Gland located near the center of our brains. Interestingly, the ancients referred to this gland as the “seat of the soul” or the gland through which the souls enters the body and DMT has been dubbed “the spirit molecule” for the compound’s possible connection to our state of consciousness. In fact, Hancock states, “Ayahuasca is the hallucinogenic brew that is used by more than seventy different cultures in the Amazon jungle. Ayawasca means the vine of the soul and the vine of the dead, and its primary purpose is for use entering the spirit world to gain knowledge.”
That modern shamans access the spirit world by drinking ayahuasca, Hancock believes is a huge clue to the leap in consciousness our ancestors took so long ago. His theory puts forth the possibility that, as new plant life was taking hold in Europe after the glaciers receded at the end of the last ice age, humans new to the area stumbled across psilocybin mushrooms which were ingested as a possible food source and which had unintended hallucinogenic consequences. As Hancock explains, the hallucinations that ensued triggered a process: “I think it was a very complex process, but I think that was really at the heart of what was shaking our ancestors up and taking them out of the very rigid and unchanging behavior pattern into a new one. I think these experiences altered the behavior of our ancestors, and by altering their behavior, it altered the conditions on which evolutionary processes work and thus it can truly be described as an evolutionary leap forward. Shamans still today, in tribal and hunter/gatherers cultures, who induce altered states of consciousness by taking hallucinogens or by other methods, report that they receive teachings from the beings they encounter in their trance state, and Hancock sees no reason why it would have been different for our ancestors, that the teachings of these spirit beings that they encountered may be precisely what switched them from that rigid pattern that remained unchanging for six million years and transfomed them into the creatures we have become.
The implications of these assertions are quite staggering. Hancock suggests that if humans enter an altered state of consciousness to the point of hallucinations, the universal images and beings encountered may be no less real than the reality we experience in everyday life. In other words, it’s possible that the intelligent beings that pass knowledge to shamans, while they’re in induced trances, may actually exist in another dimension of reality only accessed through the shamanic process, a process also experienced by the ancient cave artists.
Exploration of these concepts has spread to universities and researchers around the world. As noted earlier Hancock pays particular tribute to the work of South African University Professor David Lewis-Williams who has convinced the majority of anthropologists and archaeologists around the world that these theories hold weight. “On the basis of very solid evidence, David has convinced his colleagues, who now agree with him, that the astonishing common features in rock and cave art all around the world are to be explained by the fact that we all share the same neurology, and that in altered states of consciousness, therefore somehow we will all have the same experiences.” But that’s as far as most mainstream academics will take it, saying that this is merely characteristic imagery of disturbed brain chemistry and that this is sufficient to explain common features in ancient art all over the world. Hancock’s not buying that explanation. “What they don’t like to do is to ask a lot of questions about these perceptions that we today call hallucinations, about what hallucinations really are. There is a tremendous reductionist tendency in science, and this is particularly true with brain activity, and many scientists have themselves come from a very materialistic paradigm.” Hancock feels traditional scholars don’t want to consider the possibility that all the testimony of all the world’s religions for the last 35,000 years may actually be right, and that there may actually be such a thing as a spirit world or other dimensions beyond this dimension.
Hancock believes a new scientific model is needed to further explore the documented phenomenon of altered states of consciousness. In the new research model, where hallucinations are concerned, we don’t regard the brain as a factory that is manufacturing those impressions. Instead we regard the brain as a receiver as we do with many day-to-day perceptions. And, as Hancock observes, “Our brains are a few pounds of jelly. And somehow the light rays emitted on the eyes are transformed into conscious understanding and conscious perception and it is very difficult… no scientist can explain how that’s done. And it’s even more difficult to tell where the detailed perceptions we call hallucinations are coming from and what the source of those might be.”
If the brain is considered a receiver and decoder of data transmitted through our senses, is it possible that the “receive” sensitivity of our brains can be retuned to receive and perceive separate realities from our “normal” existence? If during our regular waking existence we’re tuned into “channel normal,” can altering our state of consciousness somehow retune the receiver, thus changing the channel? This is precisely what may be happening. According to Hancock, “Our brains may be hard wired to focus on daily material reality, but in an altered state of consciousness, we retune the receiver wavelength of the brain and we gain genuine access to other realities, to other dimensions if you like, which are normally closed to us and normally outside the range of our senses, [and] our brain is an instrument that can receive those impressions only in an altered state of consciousness.” In other words, because we are physical creatures and must deal with the laws of physics and we must function in this physical world, evolution has tuned our consciousness to focus on what we think of as everyday reality, but it has also allowed us a way to access the other levels of reality as well. And, according to Hancock, “I think of it as a secret doorway inside our own minds, which most of the time for most of us is closed, and we cannot go through it in the normal alert problem-solving state of consciousness that is useful for survival in the physical world. But when plant hallucinogens are ingested or other techniques are used to alter consciousness—and all these techniques have been explored and developed by shamans over countless centuries, whether it’s rhythmic dancing, whether it’s drumming, whether it’s fasting, whether it’s meditation” It’s Hancock’s thesis that these techniques together with plant hallucinogens have the capacity to open this doorway inside our brains and allow us to project our consciousness through that doorway into other freestanding realities, other dimensions that are real, that do exist, that are outside the capacity of any instrument that we have created with our science, and that we cannot access in our normal state of consciousness. So, the big question is: Is our brain the source of consciousness or the vehicle for consciousness? If it is the vehicle for conscious thought and perception, as Hancock’s model is suggesting, then of course consciousness can survive death, because the death of the brain is simply the death of the vehicle carrying our conscious existence, and not the death of consciousness itself. Perhaps our consciousness is just one of many signals our brain receives and interprets.
Another model Hancock explores in Supernatural is supported by the experience of Nobel laureate Francis Crick. Crick, who is credited with co-discovering the double helix structure of DNA, claimed the image of the structure came to him after taking LSD. This model suggests that an archive of common images and knowledge is imprinted on human DNA from an outside source, to be accessed in an altered state or when we’ve become technically proficient enough to decode the archive. This too would explain the commonality of the images seen in altered states by people around the world.
Always the intrepid explorer Hancock has experienced ingesting the ayahuasca brew on over a dozen occasions under the guidance of a shaman. He describes the results as spiritually transformational, and that they coincidentally cured a lifetime of migraines and mellowed an uneven temper in the process. He has also taken from the sessions a more spiritual view of the world and universe, a view based on the shamanic experience, not faith. “Shamans are different. Shamans are constantly having what can only be called spiritual experiences. They have those experiences in an alternate state of consciousness. For them, the experiences they have, the beings they encounter, the deceased ancestors they meet, this doesn’t require any faith at all. This is simply experience; this happens to them all the time. So, in a way, they actually don’t have a lot of doubt, not because they simply, blindly believe in something that has been taught to them by the previous generation, but because they are relying on the evidence of their own direct personal experience.”
As for Hancock’s own encounters during his experience; he puts it this way, “I have never seen a boa constrictor in real life, but I immediately started seeing boa constrictors in my ayahuasca visions, and later I was able to verify that that was the type of snake that I was seeing, but it was much larger than it is in real life, and intelligent.” And the truth and the message that was brought to him through these visions were very clear. He came away with a strong message about the current state of humanity and the possibility that changes in human consciousness may be an essential tool to saving humanity from itself. “We are really just reaching the point in history where the greatest danger to humanity is humanity itself.” And it would appear saving ourselves will no doubt require a change in human consciousness; Hancock goes on, “Maybe that change in consciousness is just bubbling under the surface. I do think something that touched me deeply in the contact I have had with shamans is their sense that they need to help us in the north and in the rich industrialized countries. They have diagnosed our sickness very well. They understand that we in the industrial and technological countries have lost our connection to spirit; that if we wish to recover our humanity and stop destroying one another and destroying this beautiful planet on which we live, we need to reconnect to the world of spirit, and the ancient shamanic planes are the surest, most certain way of doing that.” Maybe dreams, maybe visions, maybe the experiences that we can only have in altered states of consciousness are the most important parts of our selves. Maybe we need to cherish and nourish those experiences and maybe we are missing out on the next step in our evolution by creating a society that does not wish us to explore our own consciousness.
Do psychoactive chemicals and the shamanic experience hold the key to a secret doorway to other dimensions or
to a hidden archive of images and knowledge encoded in our DNA we’re intended to access? Hancock’s most recent work opens more doors and asks more questions than can be adequately addressed in this article. The surface has only been scratched and, without question, his cautionary vision demands further exploration. He reminds us, “If I am not sovereign over my own consciousness, then I am not sovereign over anything and I live in a society where others, outside myself, presently have the right under law to tell me what I may and may not experience in my own consciousness. This is an extraordinary invasion of privacy and sovereignty, and it is at the root of many of the terrible things that are happening in the world today.”
Hundreds of years ago Western civilization sent out religious missionaries to “save” the savages in the wilderness. Perhaps it is the ultimate irony that today these “savages” see it as their mission to now save us, modern man, lost in the wilderness of a material and technological society that disconnects us from the one path that may lead us to our own true salvation.
Glenn Kreisberg is a spectrum engineer, outdoor guide, historical researcher and writer who resides with his wife and two children, in Woodstock, NY.