The Serpent’s Tale by Matthew J. Milliner

The Serpent’s Tale

2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl
by Daniel Pinchbeck
Penguin, 2007
(416 pages, $10.17, paperback)

reviewed by Matthew J. Milliner

Know your enemy,” wrote Sun Tzu in The Art of War; “Love your enemy,” said Christ. The two are not incompatible. Contemporary Christians, launching recurrent rebuttals to the New Atheism, may have been baited into fighting the last generation’s war. Certainly a response is required, but do the hotheaded children of Bertrand Russell truly represent where most young minds are today?

In the meantime, as C. S. Lewis predicted, not the Materialist, but the Materialist Magician—whom Screwtape called his “perfect work”—may have arrived. Daniel Pinchbeck’s 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl provides a frighteningly effective example.

The book has gotten serious attention, from The New York Times to Newsweek, from the Village Voice to a Colbert Report interview. Rolling Stone suggested that Pinchbeck is spearheading a “Psychedelic Revival.”

Materialist Disillusionment

Pinchbeck’s story at times resembles a born-again experience—at least the first half of one. His disillusionment with the materialism of his youth, his longing for the forbidden spiritual aspect of life, is poignant.

When, depressed, he drops out of college, he avails himself of his mother’s literary connections to meet rock stars and famous artists and publish stories of their exploits. “But even the most imaginative acts of perversion, artful cries of despair . . . ceased to thrill me after a while.” He seeks no solace in church or synagogue, “the somber remembrances and archaic vestiges of the past.”

Instead, he recalls his experience with a fistful of mushroom in college, and, under the cover of what might be called a Jungian fundamentalism—that all psychic entities encountered must be subconscious elements patiently waiting to be assimilated—he plunges into the world of archetypes using any method of psychic transport the globe and his connections can afford. His hallucinogenic tourism involves private New Age retreats in Hawaii, tribal initiation rituals with the Bwiti tribe in Gabon, and stints with “Santo Daime,” a psychotropic offshoot of Brazilian Christianity.

After field-testing one recently synthesized compound, powerful enough to make LSD look like a gateway drug, his trip didn’t end. Pinchbeck regrets that he seemed to have “bonded with some fugitive daimon or Luciferic force.” His newly discovered “astral-plane enemies” threaten to kill his family. People connected to him die; his daughter grows ill. “I felt as if I had inadvertently opened the gates of hell.”

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