By Graham Hancock
Random House Graham Hancock
All right reserved. ISBN: 0385662165
The Plant that Enables Men to See the Dead
I lay on a couch in the darkened drawing room of a 200-year-old townhouse in the English city of Bath. The streets outside were deserted and offered few clues to remind me of the familiar world. It was reassuring to find that I could still read the luminous dial of my wristwatch if I held it in front of my eyes. Ten minutes passed, then 20, then 35. I began to feel bored, restless, even a little blase After 45 minutes I closed my eyes and directed my thoughts inwards towards contemplation, still noticing nothing unusual. But at the end of the first hour of my vigil, when I tried to stand up and walk around, I was amazed to discover that my legs would not work. Out of nowhere, an enervating feebleness had ambushed my limbs, the slightest physical effort set off uncontrollable tremors and stumbling, and I had completely lost my sense of balance.
A wave of giddiness and nausea washed over me and I fell back exhausted on the couch, drenched in cold sweat. I remembered with a shudder of finality that I could not change my mind because there was no antidote. Once it was underway, the process I was going through could not be stopped and would simply have to be endured.
My hearing was the next faculty affected. At intervals, there would be a tremendous ringing and buzzing in my ears, blotting out all other sounds. My eyesight also rapidly deteriorated, soon becoming so obstructed at the edges with strange black lines, like fence-posts or gratings, that I could no longer see my watch and had to abandon all control of time. For what felt like a very long while the poison remorselessly tightened its grip and I fell prey to indescribable sensations of physical and psychic unease. There was a great deal of pain, weakness and discomfort. It was as if my body were being slowly and systematically smashed and dismembered and I began to fear that I might never be able to put it back together again.
In a moment of stillness when my eyes were closed a vision popped up-a vivid moving tapestry of intertwining branches and leaves, elaborate arabesques and Celtic knotwork. I blinked my eyes open. Instantly the writhing patterns vanished and the darkened drawing room returned. But as soon as I closed my eyes the patterns came back.
More unmeasured time passed while the patterns continued to expand and multiply. Then another great gust of dizziness hit me and I winced at the terrifying new sensation it brought of balancing on a swaying tightrope over a bottomless abyss. I found that if I lay on my back, looked straight up at the ceiling and stayed absolutely still I could minimise these uncomfortable effects. But all it took was the slightest movement of my head to left or right to bring on another spectacular surge of vertigo.
When at last I closed my eyes again the sinuous intertwined patterns reappeared with renewed intensity and then were abruptly overwritten by a profile view of a heavily built blond young man with his eyes turned towards me in a glare of reproach. He appeared right at my side, startlingly close. His skin was pallid and his brow blotched with patches of green mould.
In the Central African countries of Gabon, Cameroon and Zaire certain age-old ancestor cults still flourish in the twenty-first century. Their members share a common belief, based they say on direct experience, in the existence of a supernatural realm where the spirits of the dead may be contacted. Like some hypothetical dimension of quantum physics, this otherworld interpenetrates our own and yet cannot ordinarily be seen or verified by empirical tests. It is therefore a matter of great interest, with highly suggestive research implications, that tribal shamans claim to have mastered a means, through the consumption of a poisonous shrub known locally as eboka or iboga, by which humans may reach the otherworld and return alive. How they mastered this skill is told in the origin myth of the indigenous secret society known as the Bwiti:
Zame ye Mebege [the last of the creator gods] gave us Eboka. One day . . . he saw . . . the Pygmy Bitamu, high in an Atanga tree, gathering its fruit. He made him fall. He died, and Zame brought his spirit to him. Zame cut off the little fingers and little toes of the cadaver of the Pygmy and planted them in various parts of the forest. They grew into the Eboka bush.
The pygmy's wife was named Atanga. When she heard of the death of her husband she went in search of his body. Eventually, after many adventures, she came to a cave in the heart of the forest in which she saw a pile of human bones:
As she entered the cave she suddenly heard a voice -- as of the voice of her husband -- asking who she was, where she came from, and whom she wished to speak with. The voice told her to look to the left at the mouth of the cave. There was the Eboka plant. The voice told her to eat its roots . . . She ate and felt very tired . . . Then she was told to turn around in the cave. The bones were gone and in their place stood her husband and other dead relatives. They talked to her and gave her a [new] name, Disoumba, and told her that she had found the plant that would enable men to see the dead. This was the first baptism into Bwiti and that was how men got the power to know the dead and have their counsel.
Today several million people distributed across Gabon, Cameroon and Zaire have no difficulty resisting well-financed efforts at conversion aimed at them by Christian and Islamic missionaries. Their allegiance instead is to the Bwiti, into which they have been initiated by consuming huge amounts of eboka root-bark shavings and experiencing a journey into supernatural realms.
Eboka, also known as iboga (the spelling that I will use from now on), is classified scientifically as Tabernanthe iboga and is a member of the Apocynacae (Dogbane) family. Its root bark turns out to be very special, as the myth of the pygmy asserts, and contains more than a dozen unusual chemicals belonging to a class known as the indole alkaloids. One of them, ibogaine, is the potent hallucinogen responsible for the convincing and life-changing visions experienced by Bwiti initiates, notably 'encounters with supernatural beings' and 'encounters with the spirits of the dead'. Many report meeting their deceased fathers or grandfathers, who act as guides for them in the spirit world. However, the bark must be eaten in toxic quantities if the visionary state is to be attained, and initiates confront an ever-present risk of fatal overdose as they seek out their ancestors.
Even without the barbaric threat of a jail sentence, ibogaine is a very serious business, so I had not gone lightly into the decisions that had led me to this couch, this night, and this state of helpless prostration to whatever was coming next.
Excerpted from Supernatural by Graham Hancock Excerpted by permission.
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