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The Wild Kindness: A Psilocybin Odyssey
by Bett Williams
Publisher:
Dottir Press 
Year:
2020 
ISBN:
ISBN 978-1-9483-4031-1 
Reviewed by David Arnson, 3/9/2021

“The mushrooms speak to me, but I don’t hear words like another person talking. It’s as if language arises in my own body, though it’s nothing I’d come up with on my own. Sometimes I am aware of fully formed sentences.

Other times whole systems of knowledge present themselves, devoid of any coherent words at all.”

This is hands down one of the best “entheo-books” that I’ve read lately! Author Bett Williams is like a living Tom Robbins character, a cowboy hat n’ boots-wearing queer warrior, thoroughly and articulately versed in magic mushroom lore. Even better, she’s a great writer, leaving you hungry for more after a rollicking 300 pages.

In the 90s and early 2000s, I attended a series of psychedelic lecture conferences called Mind States. These were curated to include talks from writers, researchers, painters, performance artists and even poets. In the last 20 years, the trend among other such gatherings has been to concentrate more on hard scientific data and exploring the medicalization of psychedelics. While the latter topics are clearly useful and needed, they often lack the spark, cultural range and, well, entertainment value of these earlier multidisciplinary events.

In short, this is a Mind States-style book. The author capably shows that the way of the mushroom can be enriched by attention and ritual, while dispensing anecdotes, adventures, and experiences throughout each chapter. Starting off the book with a grueling relationship breakup, she recounts how returning to using psilocybin mushrooms helped her out of indulging the feeling that it was normal for her to be sick. Realizing that mushrooms can work as a mental and spiritual tonic, there’s a fascinating description on how the author learns to (mostly successfully) grow them at home. Grappling with a bout of self-doubt a few weeks into starting the project, with no apparent results, she writes:

“Who was I to think that I could make a psilocybin mushroom? I was a square. I didn’t have ‘it’. I hardly ever managed recycling and I drank Diet Coke on a regular basis. I enjoy Bruce Springsteen. I wasn’t worthy of growing any sacramental fungus…

Then-oh, behold! One day, a tiny little head just poked out. Just like that. It might as well have been a Princess Leia hologram, it felt that mystical and impossible and that much of an emotional revelation. A few more poked out over the course of a day or two, then BAM, big fat mushrooms were growing all over the place in little clusters of three, four, and five…”

There are also some terrific segments throughout the book where Williams expounds upon datura, tobacco, and (my personal favorite) syrian rue. Her insights are as insightful as they are frequently humorous.

Williams is a great advocate and acolyte of the 20th century’s great mushroom shaman, the Mazatec curandera Maria Sabina. She describes and breaks down Sabina’s poetry and recorded incantations, and recounts a visit to her hometown in Oaxaca, coinciding with the unexpected death of a friend. Without specifically intending to do so, she falls into an almost inevitable situation of participating in a mushroom ceremony in the home of a local family, and beautifully chronicles the intense and heartfelt experience.

A pertinent series of chapters describes her and her partner spending some time and contributing resources at the Native American pipeline protests at Standing Rock. She is suitably horrified when the area is inundated for a while by clueless festivalgoers who crank electronica music at night and try to enforce New Age values on the indigenous host community’s process. Take heed, my friends! Williams offers up helpful hints for you here.

Then… there is the section where she tries LSD for the first time (relatively recently), and describes being as delighted as “a kitten in a yarn factory”!

There are many descriptions of trip experiences, all well written, involving a stream of visitors to her desert property. I can’t tell whether she has an Airbnb, an endless number of friends, or a conference center, but they all give rise to some memorable and entertaining insights. The recall of dialogues in the psychedelic state is worth the price of admission to this book.

Bett Williams brings to the table one of the best overviews of contemporary psychedelic culture in a long time. There’s humor and sorrow, delusion and insight, pain and love, and an overall basic appreciation of what it means to be a mindful and aware soul in the integration of a psychedelically awakened mindset.

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