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Mushroom Wisdom: How Shamans Cultivate Spiritual Consciousness
by Martin W. Ball, PhD
Publisher:
Ronin Press 
Year:
2006 
ISBN:
1579510361 
Categories:
Book Reviews
Reviewed by gregoryp(tm), 6/14/2007

About ten years ago, Dr. Martin Ball had a profound experience with psilocybin mushrooms. Taking the fungi with the intention of finding their spiritual power, as opposed to doing it “just for fun,” Ball found himself in a place where he began to see mushrooms as a powerful cognitive, psychological, and spiritual and emotional tool for growth.

But in his new book, Mushroom Wisdom: How Shamans Cultivate Spiritual Consciousness, Dr. Ball takes a terribly long time (about ten chapters) to explain how others might be able to do this as well.

Despite the woo-woo inherent in the title, Ball’s treatise is highly academic, as if he hopes that by enshrouding the mushroom experience in an erudite, almost clinical tone, he’ll be able to entice the most skeptical mind into the value of the psychedelic experience. While it’s a certainty that credentials-wielding anthropologists are just as likely to pooh-pooh the value of shamanic experience as the flag-waving crypto-fascists who like wars (particularly the war on plants and plant-knowledge masquerading as a “war on drugs”), there is, as we know, a rather huge audience that’s quite hip to the idea that psychedelics are valuable tools for growth of all kinds.

Sadly, Ball rarely addresses this particular audience, though he does offer a practical guide to ways of thinking about mushrooms and their capabilities. After spending many pages on a didactic treatise on how “the knowledge path” is why we should trip in the first place, he eventually gets around to some chapters on practical knowledge, specifically the chapters on Ritual, Symbolism, and a Clean Heart.

I was very eager to receive this book, as any book that wants to lead people into using entheogens in a ritualized way to achieve practical results is something that’s sorely lacking in the field. This is what I had hoped to read, but much of this book seemed to go out of its way to convince me of what I already know and believe, rather than impart the wisdom – mushroom-birthed and otherwise – that I’m certain Dr. Ball actually has to offer.

4 Comments »

  1. I found Gregoryp™’s review here to be very helpful. The main thing I hope to get from a book review is something to help me decide whether or not it is worth it to spend the time and money on the book in question. Going on the title and the publisher’s short description, this seemed like a good book. But upon reading this review i feel confident that I would regret buying this book. Thanks for the review gregoryp™.

    Comment by Rendi Case — 6/15/2007 @ 12:36 am

  2. Having read Mushroom Wisdom and further recommending it to those curious about entheogenic paths, I feel inclined to comment on this review.

    I think it likely that this book was reviewed by someone who is already a part of the “rather huge audience that’s quite hip to the idea that psychedelics are valuable tools for growth of all kinds.” That’s great! But as he states, “any book that wants to lead people into using entheogens in a ritualized way to achieve practical results is something that’s sorely lacking in the field.”

    I found Mushroom Wisdom to be an EXCELLENT read for the person considering using entheogens in shamanic and/or ritual practice, especially if he or she has little experience with such things, and limited or no access to persons already part of that rather huge and quite hip crowd :)

    I agree that Dr. Ball offers “a practical guide to ways of thinking about mushrooms and their capabilities.”

    Comment by Marianne Bjelke — 6/15/2007 @ 10:15 am

  3. As the author of the work for which this review was written, I would like the opportunity to respond to some of the points that Gregoryp raises in his review.

    The first point that I would like to make is that a book should be reviewed for the audience it does address, not reviewed for an audience that a reviewer wants it to address. My intention in writing this work was to impart guidance and instruction to those who are not “hip” to the spiritual use of entheogens, and while there may be this quite large hip group that Gregoryp identifies himself a part of, I’ve met and talked to plenty of people who have used entheogens or were curious about entheogens who largely had no idea about the spiritual aspects of entheogen use. As Gregoryp points out, this is the primary audience for this book, and therefore any review should focus more on what this book provides for readers within that audience and not critique it for not addressing Gregory’s chosen or preferred audience. I’m more than happy to have all those hip folks read my book, and I hope they get something from it, but I consider this work to be a philosophical and practical introduction to entheogenic spirituality and shamanic techniques for the uninitiated. I would say that it is wonderful that Gregoryp feels that he personally already knows these things and doesn’t need a book to help him understand these aspects of entheogens, but there are plenty of people out there who don’t, and Gregoryp’s review sheds very little objective light on how this work may be of help to those who are not already part of that hip crowd, such as young people just exploring entheogens for the first time or the curious spiritual seeker who doesn’t have such hip friends to turn to for advice, guidance, and experience.

    I strongly feel that Gregory’s own sense of hipness and already being in the know strongly colored his reading of this work. What he describes as academic chapters of a didactic treatise are, in my opinion, highly accessible introductions to the basic metaphysics, ontology, epistemology, and phenomenology of the mushroom experience, along with meditations and guidance for how these aspects of the experience reflect on basic and universal spiritual principles. Later in the work I turn to more specific examples of actual mushroom experiences, but all the chapters preceding these more experiential chapters are just as central to the overall goal of the book. Again, I would point out for those not part of the hip crowd, these chapters are meant to be illuminating and are all ultimately grounded in practical experience with entheogens.

    Gregory’s mention of anthropologists also inspires me to comment as I feel that this could be a very misleading portion of his review. Nowhere is Mushroom Wisdom claiming to be a book on anthropology. I am not an anthropologist (my degrees are in Religious Studies and Philosophy), and there is nothing in any way anthropological about my work as it is based on personal experience and not ethnographic fieldwork or research. While I have conducted fieldwork among the Mescalero Apaches of New Mexico, this book is not related to my academic work and is not a study of Mescalero practices (Mescaleros do not use entheogens). It is possible that those reading Gregoryp’s review here will be led to believe that this is an anthropological work, but I want to make it clear that it is not.

    I would finish this comment by leaving with the thought that even though Gregoryp did not find my book to be useful for him, I’ve received plenty of feedback from readers who have found the book to be helpful, insightful, and inspirational for them. It is meant to be a help for those who are on their path, or looking to get started, and I am happy that so many have found it to be of use and illuminating. For those already steeped in entheogenic wisdom such as Gregoryp, this work might be less useful, but there are plenty of people out there, Gregoryp notwithstanding, who have benefited from reading this work, and that is the audience for whom I created this book.

    Comment by Martin Ball — 6/16/2007 @ 8:37 am

  4. I found this book extremely rewarding. It taught me alot about using mushrooms for personal development/spiritual growth. I advise anyone interested in using entheogens as cognitive tools to check this book out.

    Comment by Zack — 6/4/2008 @ 4:09 pm

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