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Breaking Open the Head: A Psychedelic Journey Into the Heart of Contemporary Shamanism

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  3,133 ratings  ·  182 reviews
A dazzling work of personal travelogue and cultural criticism that ranges from the primitive to the postmodern in a quest for the promise and meaning of the psychedelic experience.

While psychedelics of all sorts are demonized in America today, the visionary compounds found in plants are the spiritual sacraments of tribal cultures around the world. From the iboga of the Bw
Paperback, 336 pages
Published August 12th 2003 by Crown Publishing Group (NY) (first published 2002)
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Shivatva Beniwal
Actually, the Hebraic-Babylonian concept of God is very premature. They imagine God as an object, a person, and not as a quality. And that's why Jews claim God's official name is Yahuha and Muslims claim God's official name is Allah. They describe God as a mighty emperor.

Whereas in the Eastern religious traditions, God is a quality, not an object. They believe God is within the universe and the universe is within God. God is not God but godliness - and godliness has to be found first within our
Jul 18, 2009 rated it it was ok
The least insulting thing I can say about this book is maybe that Pinchbeck was too young to write this when he did. It's a complicated topic and he deserves some credit for addressing its intrigue. In general, I got the feeling he wrote this to enhance his hip, New York bachelor, image. Pinchbeck's background is in journalism, and that style is expressed pretty grossly here. He travels around being the witness, relaying different accounts of psychedelic or shamanistic encounters without expound ...more
Nina  H
Jun 11, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Reading through Pinchbeck's incredibly well-documented experiences with various plant substances such as iboga and ayahuasca, along with his quest for knowledge in understanding the dwindling shamanic culture of the rainforests was a thrilling way to live vicariously through someone's most intimate and trippiest moments. He's just that good at getting it all down on paper. But the best part of this book is the message that really gets driven home to the heart of who we are, the potential of what ...more
Nov 11, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: spirituality
Wow, I have rarely seen such an arrogrant prick writing so lazily. If the subject matter hadn't been absolutely fascinating, it would have gotten 1 star. Because of the subject matter, I only hated it (or more precisely, hated the author).

Jan 02, 2011 rated it it was ok
Pinchbeck is the type of person that gives psychedelics a bad image. While the book starts off with a rational Pinchbeck, one can already tell his rationality is more of a misplaced materialism. By the end of the book Pinchbeck appears to have lost all rational inquiry as he comes to believe he is a modern day shaman. Highly disappointed...first time I've ever really disliked a book. ...more
Joseph Y
Oct 08, 2012 rated it did not like it
this is one of the few books I've ever thrown across a room ...more
Brandon Wicke
Apr 01, 2018 rated it it was ok
Alright, I’ve gotta call it quits on this one.

Probably just read Castaneida instead. Or drop acid and cut out the middle man.
Aug 22, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Since November of 2007 to present day August 27, 2009 I have read an estimated 160 books. Daniel Pinchbeck is a voice that speaks to me more than any I've encountered along my self-developmental path. With a supreme command of the English language, Pinchbeck accounts the history of his and many great minds of the "Beat" generation while venturing into unfamiliar cultures, ritualistic initiations, and transcendent states of being and alteration through a number of organic substances and synthetic ...more
Derek Pegritz
Apr 30, 2008 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: Everyone interested in hallucinogens.
Shelves: psychedelics
Daniel Pinchbeck is a complete fucking idiot. And a tool. However, this book *does* contain some very interesting material on psychedelics in contemporary society. Too bad it's filtered through the POV of a complete and utter idiot. ...more
Gnarly Authenticity .
Oct 01, 2013 rated it did not like it
Deeply and fundamentally bogue if taken on its own terms. Three and a half stars if read as a confession by an aging horndog and failed artiste attempting to found a dope/occult cult in order to slake his need for hippie poon.
Jan 11, 2015 rated it it was ok
Just awful! Pinchbeck,s ego just screams out from almost every page. I wonder who wants to be the next Terence Mckenna? hmmm not a chance Daniel.
Oct 02, 2020 rated it it was ok
interesting subject, author seems generally unpleasant
May 26, 2011 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this perspective on modern/ancient psychedelic experiences. The author has a frank honesty about the rationale for his drug use and seeks out spiritual experiences throughout this novel for his own personal fulfillment. I enjoy books that suggest other authors for me to check out and point back to an author's reading experience and journey as a learner and this book was not short on those suggestions. This book seemed to me to be the evolution of perspective that one might have on drug ...more
Jeff Phillips
May 31, 2011 rated it really liked it
I came across this randomly in a bookstore and was intrigued, partly by the hallucinatory cover. But I'm glad I did. I've always had a fascination with altered consciousness, particularly with a more spiritual slant to it, as though the hallucinations represent a different world altogether. I appreciate books that change the way I think to a degree, and this book did in the fact that I do look at plant life differently. At times his tone seems like it pushing too hard to open one's mind to a psy ...more
Jan 05, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Susan by: Colin Mortensen Sánchez
It's an intriguing, educating and inspiring read. Don't get discouraged by the overdone literary analysis at the beginning (or just beyond the beginning) of the book; there's some good stuff in there but if that's not your thing just keep going and he gets back on his psychedelic journey where he accesses parallel dimensions and his ethical reflections on human life on this planet. For me it was one of those books that sort of changes your whole perspective on things, or better put, it brings yo ...more
Jan 06, 2019 rated it it was ok
The book could have been shorter. It’s clear that when he wrote this book he could not see the true value of psychedelics, I don’t know if he still does. He advocates for respecting psychedelics while casually ingesting, snorting, etc like it’s no big deal.The hypocrisy of the book is mind bending. He goes on to project some semblance of humility with anecdotes from friends and disdain for the capitalists mindset. However, he fails to realize that he is part of the very culture he resents. The t ...more
Brittaney Freiheit
Oct 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
That moment when you finish a book and your entire conception of what it means to be a human being changes. The kind of book that leads you to a fantasmical realm as you hold hands with reality.
Dec 31, 2020 rated it really liked it
Part biography, part history of the major psychedelic compounds.
What's remarkable is the author's story arc as his head breaks progressively wider open. I wonder if I'll also get to the later stages, using crystals and tarots to rid my house of evil spirits.


Laid out for me was the entire, intricate process of my self-development. The process was complex yet ultimately organic. The extension of the self was, I realized, a natural process, akin to the blossoming of a plant. While a plan
Aug 10, 2017 rated it liked it
The book started off well and I was interested in the subject matter that I didn't know anything about when I started reading. I also liked how each Part of the book was devoted to each entheogenic compound which made it easy for me to keep track of all of the different topics being covered.

I quickly found the book less interesting (I even started skipping whole paragraphs and sections) when what I thought would be a subjective recount of a man's experience with psychoactive substances but inste
Jack Barten
Apr 15, 2013 rated it liked it
This was a refreshing book to read when it came out and the fact that it seems a bit dated now is an indication of how much has happened since then, in terms of use of research chemicals and the expansion of festivals, than a reflection of the book.

It journals a mans journey from that of a cynical hack to a new age neo shamanic enthusiast, via assignments to the jungles to take shamanic potions and also via the use of research chemicals. Those descriptions are a touch navel gazing but better th
Jul 30, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: drugs
This is much more than a cultural history of psychedelics. It is an argument for 21st century spirituality, which Pinchbeck claims is necessary to regain different levels of consciousness lost to the Western world. Towards the end, the book takes a rather bizarre turn but until then it's a good read. As a person who had previously only taken psychedelics for fun, Pinchbeck's book really made me reconsider the possibilities of these drugs and what other realities could be out there. It could have ...more
Teri Dluznieski
Aug 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This is an excellent book about altered consciousness. I particularly like the fact that it instills a need for respect and integrity when working with the invisible realms. Too many people approach drug use, getting drunk and getting "high," casually. This is dangerous. Daniel Pinchbeck's writing and stories illustrate and emphasize this reality very clearly. I also like how the book is broken down into paired chapters. A first chapter on a particular substance will be historical, anthropologic ...more
Mar 09, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I LOVE this book! Reading this book was like having mental masturbation for me. It breaks open your head. For psychedelic lovers.
Cindy Brandner
Feb 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I love a book that makes me look at the world and my own way of thinking differently and this one definitely did that for me.
Mar 05, 2016 rated it liked it
Some parts were fascinating, others a little scary. It's well written in readable journalistic prose. Recommended if you're interested in the exploration of consciousness. ...more
Dec 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
"Plants are revered because of their potential to awaken the mind to other levels of awareness and to act as gateways to other dimensions - bringing about a holographic vision of the universe." - Daniel Pinchbeck

"I did not want what other people wanted, but I didn't know how to find what I needed. I wanted truth - my own truth, whatever bleak fragment of whatever hellish totality it might turn out to be." - Daniel Pinchbeck (Breaking Open the Head, Pg.14)

"Because they are so closely related to s
Jul 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
I was recommended this book because of the nature of the subject it discusses, mainly psychedelics. After reading it I was impressed by Daniels knowledge about psychedelics, clearly a subject he has frequented from a young age and his indoctrination into intellectual studies has no doubt enhanced his awareness of the subjects mentioned in the book. I did however feel the book had a feel to it which revolved around a purely disconnected perspective. Perhaps, at least for me, the book felt like it ...more
Oct 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
What starts a relatively objective become a little more woo-woo and New Age-y as it goes on. Also, don't forget he's been accused of being a sexual predator.

However, the idea of Shamanism meeting Modernism is an enjoyable and escapist narrative to consider in this world. The idea that the ecological crisis is a rite of passage or initiation for humanity collectively, forcing us to reach the next level of our consciousness as a species is an idea that fun to consider as the world appears to erod
Apr 08, 2018 rated it liked it
It's a fun book. I enjoyed some of the commentary on his ventures into shamanic rituals and mind altering substances. He's well read on the pop-literature surrounding these drugs. His arrogance and unskeptical embrace of any and all spiritual practices got tiring, though. He makes comparisons between cultures that highlight a few similarities and brush a myriad of differences under the rug. The author also makes haphazard claims. No, Daniel, shamanism isn't a human universal. How could it be whe ...more
Aug 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
For such a small book Breaking Open the Head covers a lot of ground. Although I found the author's stories of psychedelic usage to be the most interesting part of the book the historical, botanical and psychological topics covered balanced the overall worth of the book. This is a great primer for anyone who wants to learn more about the potential for hallucinogens to "open doors" as well as Shamanism. ...more
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Heathens, Pagans ...: August / September 2012 - Breaking Open the Head 10 26 Sep 18, 2012 12:34AM  

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Author Daniel Pinchbeck has deep personal roots in the New York counterculture of the 1950s and 1960s. His father was an abstract painter, and his mother, Joyce Johnson, was a member of the Beat Generation and dated Jack Kerouac as On the Road hit the bestseller lists in 1957 (chronicled in Johnsons bestselling book, Minor Characters: A Beat Memoir). Pinchbeck was a founder of the 1990s literary m ...more

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181 likes · 47 comments
“In shamanic cultures, sychronicities are recognized as signs that you are on the right path.” 21 likes
“The plants that produce visions can function- for those of us who have inherited the New World Order of barren materialism, cut off from our spiritual heritage by a spiteful culture that gives us nothing but ashes- as the talismans of recognition that awaken our minds to reality.” 11 likes
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