The Emerald

By Joshua Schrei

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Episodes: 77


The Emerald explores the human experience through a vibrant lens of myth, story, and imagination. Brought to life through the wise, wild, and humorous vision of Joshua Michael Schrei — a teacher and lifelong student of the cosmologies and mythologies of the world — the podcast draws from a deep well of poetry, lore, and mythos to challenge conventional narratives on politics and public discourse, meditation and mindfulness, art, science, literature, and more. At the heart of the podcast is the premise that the imaginative, poetic, animate heart of human experience — elucidated by so many cultures over so many thousands of years — is missing in modern discourse and is urgently needed at a time when humanity is facing unprecedented problems. The Emerald advocates for an imaginative vision of human life and human discourse as it questions deep underlying assumptions about societal progress.

Episode Date
Animism is Normative Consciousness (Re-mixed, Re-musicked, and Re-released)

For 98% of human history — over 10,000 generations — our ancestors lived, breathed, and interacted with a world that they saw and felt to be animate — imbued with life force, inhabited by and permeated with beings with which we exist in ongoing relation. This animate vision was the water in which we swam, it was consciousness in its natural dwelling place, the normative way of seeing the world and our place in it. It wasn’t a theory, a philosophy, or an idea. It wasn’t, actually, an "-ism." It was direct, felt experience. It was, simply, how things were. Which is why it has been commonly understood across the entire world for all of time. In this musically reimagined reissue of a classic episode of The Emerald, we explore how foundational the animate worldview is to the human experience and to human consciousness, and what we lose when it starts to fade. Listen on a good sound system when you have time to devote your full attention. 

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May 09, 2023
The Revolution Will Not Be Psychologized, Part 2 (Interview w/ Báyò Akómoláfé)

Báyò Akómoláfé  is an author, celebrated speaker, teacher, and self-styled trans-public intellectual whose vocation goes beyond justice and speaking truth to power to opening up other spaces of power-with. In this episode of The Emerald, Báyò joins Josh for a deep-dive discussion into how the Western psychological vision shapes modernity, and the need to expand into alternative stories of what 'being' means. Says Báyò: "Psychology is complicit in the creation of Western modernity. It is not a thing apart. Its disciplinarity, its history, and its legacies are tied up with the industrialization, commodification, the manufacturing, the replication and the reproduction of the human subject. How we think about what it means to be human, what it means to have agency, what it means to think, who has cognition, who doesn't have cognition — all of this is tied in with the historicity of psychology." Using animate tradition as a foundation, Josh and Báyò explore Norse and Polynesian trickster myths, trauma discourse and Puritanism, and pay homage to the gods of in between spaces as they explode open a vision of being, bodies, and sentience that is vast, wild, and porous. 

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Apr 07, 2023
The Revolution Will Not Be Psychologized

Once upon a time, psychologist James Hillman spoke of anima, the breath of life, the soul of the world, as something that had to be rescued by psychologists from theologians. Now, with pop-psychology vernacular inundating all aspects of life, it may be time for the breath of life to be rescued all over again. The New York Times recently released an article entitled 'The Problem with Letting Therapy Speak Invade Everything.' Philosopher Bayo Akomolafe writes of the need to 'decenter Western psychology.' It seems that psychology discourse has grown from a simple means of understanding and evaluating the forces at play in the psyche to be the medium through which much of modern discourse takes place, through which nearly everything is evaluated. If there is a value to ritual, it is increasingly articulated as a psychological value. The traditional yogic process has become deeply conflated with the psychological process. Traditional plant medicines are on the verge of a global psychologization. Psychology vernacular has been adopted en masse — and also weaponized en masse — so that simple disagreements in viewpoint or worldview are now called out as psychological pathologies. Activist movements have abandoned the spiritual vocabulary of Martin Luther King and Gandhi and the Dalai Lama in favor of outing narcissists and addressing collective traumas. Part spoken-word rant à la Gil Scott-Heron, part devotional ode to the breath of life, this episode is not an indictment of psychology or of therapeutic systems that benefit many people, but rather a glimpse into what goes missing as we increasingly evaluate everything through the psychological lens.  As always in the modern west, what gets sidelined first is... the animate itself. There are textures and depths to the way that traditional systems understand relationality with the larger animate world that get lost when seen through the modalities that have arisen out of individualism. And in traditional animate systems, we find visions of consciousness, animacy, and relationality that make us deeply rethink psychological visions of trauma, safety, agency, and alterity. Listen on a good sound system, at a time when you can devote your full attention.

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Feb 21, 2023
Universe, Adorned: Ornament in Culture, Cosmos, and Consciousness

Human beings adorn. Scientists now say that the earliest adornments date back over 160,000 years. Why is adornment so universal? It is easy to see adornment as simply an indication of status, wealth, and identity. But adornment is also more than this. The word 'adorn' and 'ornament' relate directly to the word 'order,' to the pattern of the cosmos. And so to adorn has also been associated with aligning to a greater pattern, a pattern evident in the harmonic structures of nature and expressed in the aesthetics of culture and ritual. So in many traditions, to adorn is to directly enhance and pattern consciousness. To assume the boar-tooth mask or the macaw-feather crown is to bring consciousness into greater unification with the pattern of nature — to both heighten perception and to defend against unwanted forces. So adornment plays a key role in the shamanic navigation of the cosmos. In Tantric traditions, deep, loving, attention is paid to adornments. Hymns are sung to the goddess's adornments. The entire universe itself is seen as the adornment of the primal mother power, and practices of invocation and imaginal architecting deliberately adorn the consciousness of the practitioner. Such meticulous adornment has been foundational in many animist traditions. Yet in a world of decontextualized spirituality, the architecting and adorning of consciousness through ritual patterning is often discarded in favor of spiritualities that put all the emphasis on ridding the mind of constructs rather than deliberately patterning it.  Perhaps in a post-modern, post-structuralist world, modern minds need deliberate patterning. Like the Sumerian goddess Innana, we need to adorn... for survival. Featuring music from Sidibe, harpist Andy Aquarius, and Nivedita Gunturi and drawing on the work of Tantric scholar Sthaneswar Timalsina, this episode is a patterned journey through that which shines, shimmers, jingles, defends, and aligns... listen on a good sound system, at a time when you can devote your full attention. 

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Jan 09, 2023
On Birds, and the Imperative of Mystic Flight

Birds in myth are messengers, deliverers of prophecy, and instigators of journeys. But birds are much more than this. Human neurobiology is deeply linked to birds, who, through the arcing patterns of their flight, their hypnotic songs, and their high, piercing calls, awakened human sense faculties, taught us to look up in wonder, and therefore gave us the ability to soar into imaginal spaces. Somatically, we ideate, journey, and soar because of our coevolution with birds. So we find the influence of birds everywhere in human culture —particularly in the core foundations of global spiritual traditions, whose visions of spirit are deeply tied to birds. The first recorded word for spirit itself is a picture of a bird, and birds have provided the primary means of shamanic and mystic travel for centuries. All across the world, birds influence language, poetic meter, musical composition, ritual vision and artistic expression. Most fundamentally, birds invite us to see farther, soar higher, imagine, initiate, ideate and dream. At a time when planetary futures seem bogged down in bleak inevitability, birds remind us that the ability to soar upwards, see far, imagine, ideate, dream, and navigate spaces of heightened awareness is more vital than ever. In fact, mystic flight is a somatic necessity that provides potential solutions for the future. For if we are going to ideate our way out of the mess we're in, we have to be able to see far and soar high. With original music from Peia, Sidibe, and Charlotte Malin, this episode recounts mythologies of eagles, falcons, macaws, roosters, ravens, hummingbirds, hoopoes and more as it invites a whole lot of upward soaring. Note — The Emerald podcast is meant to be listened to with full attention, preferably on a rocking sound system or a good set of headphones.

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Nov 24, 2022
Embodiment Means Being Torn Apart and Flying Away

Modern embodiment discourse has arisen as a reaction to the Western world's fraught history with bodies. In a world of deep fracture from the natural world, the current emphasis on embodiment serves to help reclaim a relationship with ecology and with the sacredness of the immediate. But what does 'embodiment' really mean? For some, embodiment is synonymous with wellness.  For others, embodiment is related to ongoing personal processing. Often, traditional cultures are held up as examples of embodiment. Yet traditional mythic and ritual visions of embodiment are very different from modern wellness embodiment and from therapeutic/psychological visions of embodiment. Bodies, in ritual, go through agonizing repetition. Bodies are driven to the point of rupture. In myths, bodies do not exist in a kind of happily embodied stasis — bodies are ripped apart. Bodies shrink. Bodies expand. The individual self in initiation is specifically meant to be taken to the brink and then ritually dismantled. Ritual and mythic visions of embodiment ask us to expand our vision of what the body is, to embrace all the paradoxes of embodiment. As we explore in this episode, sometimes, to be embodied requires tearing the body into pieces. Sometimes it requires soaring out of the body. Ultimately, we find that in mythic and ritual traditions, embodiment is less about us and our individualized journey, and more about the great transformative journey of the body of the community and the cosmos itself. This episode seeks to challenge some of the common narratives of embodiment discourse in order to help return embodiment discourse to its living, breathing, paradoxical body. Best listened to when you have time to devote your full attention, on a bumping sound system or with really good headphones. 

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Oct 24, 2022
No One Here Gets Out Alive (The Death Episode)

Death is universal, an undeniable fact of existence that every single one of our ancestors faced, just as we will. So mythic traditions around the world are full of stories of death. Many initiatory rituals directly enact death, taking the initiate through a process of dying while alive. For Ancient Egyptians and Tibetan Tantrikas, death was not something to run from, but something to actively embrace, as acolytes regularly plunged into the intermediary state. Yet modern culture tries to run from the reality of death. For in an individualistic world, what could be more terrifying than individual death? So billionaires feverishly seek to reverse the aging process and 'solve death.' And yet, in seeking to stave off death at all costs, and in the absence of a healthy intimate relationship with death, modern consumerism also enacts death on a massive scale. For modern culture to reconcile its terror of death requires a deep re-orientation around the place of the individual within the universe. For if “I” am not an isolated unit but rather a continuum of ancestry, then what actually dies? If "I" am water molecules momentarily repurposed as a human on my way to become streams and summer thunderstorms, then what actually dies? So death, as described by tradition after tradition, is a great continuance, a great cycling of matter... and perhaps more. This episode dives deep into the mytho-somatics of death, providing a felt journey into a place many fear to tread, but a place that for many traditions was absolutely essential to navigate while alive. Join us as we explore Tantric death texts, Japanese death poems, Siberian death realms, heroic death epics and culminate with a journey into 4500-year-old Egyptian funerary texts in which death and spoken poetry are intimately linked. Rising Appalachia reprise the old folk classic 'Oh Death' specifically for this episode. Note — The Emerald podcast is meant to be listened to with good headphones or on a high quality sound system, at a time when you can give it your full attention.

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Sep 17, 2022
Reissue: How Trance States Shape the World

Human beings need ecstatic trance. Trance states have played a vital and necessary role in human culture and in the shaping of human history, causing some anthropologists to label the attainment of these states the 'main need' of the 'ceremonial animal' that is the human being. Trance states traditionally help communities reinforce shared bonds, establish values, gain insight into the nature of reality, establish reciprocal relation with the natural world, and even heal. Yet in the modern world, trance states have been pathologized by both institutionalized religion and science, and ecstatic ritual has lost its centrality. Finally, anthropologists are recognizing what many cultures have known all along — that trance states are essential for human thriving, and that when we lose access to these states we seek ecstasy in darker, more destructive ways. This episode goes deep into the trance states that have defined cultures and traditions for thousands of years. We look at trance in India, Ancient Greece, Africa, South America, and beyond and explore what it means when a culture loses its ecstasy.

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Aug 09, 2022
I Wish It Could Have Been Another Way (A Lament w/ Peia Luzzi)

Not easy listening, but possibly necessary listening — this episode of The Emerald dives deep into the heart of the grief many are feeling over the social and environmental ills that are plaguing the planet. The consequences of ecosystem destruction, species loss, industrialization, social inequality, and rising extremism can be felt everywhere — acutely, in the bodies of those affected by environmental toxicity, armed conflict, and class divide, and more subtly in the gnawing sense of anxiety that pervades the modern psyche. Our experience of the world feels diminished. A vastness and wonder, a fundamental hope has been seemingly lost. Faced with such devastation, what is there for us to do? The mythic traditions have much to say about grief and woe. Rather than simply being 'about' grief, this episode takes us on a direct journey into the tears, into heartwrenching mythologies of lamentation and woe, through rivers that weep and fields of flowers that cry to the skies. The journey follows Demeter's search for her missing daughter, weaving its way through the story of the sirens, who were fated to sing forever of the violation of the world. Featuring original music by Peia Luzzi and Serena Joy, this is one great keening for the loss of the world, a journey through the depths that emerges at last into the morning meadows where grief and joy are one. It is recommended to listen to this episode on a good sound system or with headphones, when you have dedicated time to feel. 

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Jun 29, 2022
Your Consciousness Comes From the Moon

Traditional mythic, animist, and astrological systems have long told us that the moon is more than a distant, detached object in space, but rather plays an active role in governing the daily rhythms of life. The moon — in its repetitive pulse — gave early humans the first systems of measurement and the first calendars. So the word 'moon' is directly related to the words meter, measure, and memory, and is tied to all human endeavors that repeat. Repetitive ritual enactment — humanity's primal means of remembering — is something we learned from the moon. Poetic meter, in its repetitive cycles, is similarly lunar. But the influence of the moon goes far deeper than this. Scientists now find this lunar influence in all bodies, aquatic and terrestrial. "It is plausible that… the first life forms adapted to the different rhythms controlled by the moon," says one new study published in the Journal of Molecular Biology, and it is becoming increasingly clear that living bodies — all of which are made of liquid — have fundamentally tidal, lunar structures. Our somatic ancestry is lunar. The pulse of the moon lives in the valve structures that formed the very first sea life, and the very fact that cells pulse and breathe at all can be attributed to the moon. Within human bodies, the tides of hormones, neurological signals, and the feelings and thoughts of consciousness are built around the lunar rhythm. This lunar structure to consciousness has implications for everything from how we align our lives around ritual, to how we navigate cycles of thought and feeling, to the 'hard problem' of consciousness itself. In diving into lunar mythologies and Tantric understandings of lunar goddesses, we start to see consciousness not just as an isolated function of individual biological units, but a billion year agreement between bodies across time and space. The moon begs the question — if an 'inanimate object' is the source of so much animacy, is it really inanimate at all? Come, let us build a ladder to the moon. Featuring music by Sidibe and Robby Rothschild.

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May 31, 2022
Awake in the Forest of Dangers and Wonders

How many myths and stories and fairy tales take place in... the forest? The forest in these stories is more than just setting or backdrop. It is a character of its own, alive, awake, animate, both treacherous and beautiful. The forest doesn't 'represent' something abstract in the myths, it is exactly what it was for our ancestors — a place of beauty and peril, of life and death, of food and devouring, of danger and wonder. To step into the forest is to step outside of linear, organized time and space into the liminality of trance. In the forest, sounds are different, everything is immediate and up close, and every choice matters. To navigate the forest well — like the protagonists of so many fairy tales show us — is to use discernment, to cultivate sensory wakefulness and a deep respect for protocols of animacy. Animism, therefore, is not simply about acknowledging nature's beauty. It is about cultivating a deep relationality with the varying forces of the forest — some of which are perilous. Traditional forest-dwelling cultures recognized the danger of the forest, while the modern world tends to flatten the forest into something either to be destroyed or to be adored from a distance.  But to deeply know the forest also means knowing how to navigate unfriendly forces.  It's easy in the modern world to view traditional understandings of malevolent forces as 'primitive,' or 'superstitious.' Yet for cultures who actually navigate the forest and its intricacies, knowing how to navigate these forces means survival. And so — if we value animism, it means not looking at the forces of the forest as an 'illusion', or as something to 'move beyond' but something to be treated with deep discernment and respect. Take a step into the forest, this time on The Emerald. Featuring music from Rising Appalachia, Charlotte Malin, and Nivedita Gunturi. 

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Apr 26, 2022
War and Ritual Ecstasy

The horrors of war have been part of the human story since the beginning. While there have been differences in how different cultures have done it, war is so widespread that it is impossible to see it as anything other than a primal human drive that fulfills some type of deep somatic need. What is that somatic need? It is easy to chalk war up to a base and 'primitive' aggression or to cold, calculated policy objectives. But an increasing number of scholars and thinkers are finding something else when they examine the roots of war — war involves many of the same protocols and therefore serves much of the same purpose that traditional ecstatic ritual once served. Both traditionally involve group syncopation, drumming, invocation, consciousness alteration, all built around a ritual enactment within a dedicated time and space that leads participants towards a sacrificial catharsis that follows a mythic narrative. So war becomes a way of fulfilling the human need for ritual intensity. In a day when we live without initiation rites, when we have no ecstatic ritual outlet for the intensities we crave, war becomes — sadly, tragically — the acceptable way for people (men, particularly) to feel ecstasy. So to truly understand war involves understanding why human beings crave ritual intensity to begin with. This inquiry takes us deep into our ancestral past, when the intense ecstasies and traumas we felt were hardwired into us as the basic experience of being within the cycle of predator and prey. Drawing heavily on the book Blood Rites by Barbara Ehrenreich, this episode goes into the origins of war, and as we understand more its ritual, ecstatic foundations, leads to the conclusion that the way to peace is not a process of 'reason' triumphing over the 'primitive'  — for humanity' s worst wars have come during the age of 'reason' — but rather in looking to rediscover ecstatic ritual outlets for our need for intensity. 

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Mar 25, 2022
Neck Hairs of the Shapeshifter (w/ Simon Thakur)

Shapeshifting is nearly universal to global mythic tradition. The myths of the world feature shapeshifting gods, shapeshifting animals, shapeshifting spirits, and, of course, shapeshifting people who assume the forms of tigers, bears, wolves, eagles, and more. The prevalence of shapeshifting in myth challenges our assumptions about the static nature of selfhood. Yet even from the scientific view, we are shapeshifters. We contain multitudes of beings within us — we are at once fish, bird, mammal, reptile, and more. Understanding and connecting to this permeable, malleable self was key for our ancestors for many thousands of years, as we learned about things primarily by becoming them in states of conjunctive trance. Shapeshifting, accomplished through the animal dance, through the assumption of the animal form in states of ecstasy, formed the foundation of  how we learned, communicated, and cultivated empathy for the world. In a world that has turned its back on the sensate animal body, shapeshifting is more important than ever, as it offers a way back to a deep relationship with the living world. Simon Thakur of Ancestral Movement and Biblical Scholar Dr. Natalie Mylonas join us for this episode on shapeshifting, conjunctive knowing, and the sensate body. 

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Mar 09, 2022
For the Divine Mother of the Universe (w/ Nivedita Gunturi)

There’s a lot of cultural clutter these days around 'The Goddess.' She appears everywhere, her many names are invoked free of context in a hundred thousand ways. She’s what? An empowerment tool. An archetype. A self-help course. A political symbol. Something that is invoked to bring more creative energy or material abundance into our lives.  Something that, in an individualistic modern world, always seems to have a whole lot to do with us. Yet the goddess, traditionally, is much more than this. She is the animating power of the universe itself, felt in bodies, realized in states of deep conjunctive rapture, accessed through ritual protocols, alive in trees and stones and living geography, alive in song, alive in the myths and stories of her, alive in sound, alive in longing, alive in trance, alive in the states of consciousness realized by those who feel her. This devotional episode honors the goddess as the animating power of creation, drawing on her texts, her myths, her songs, and on personal experiences of journey to her sacred seats to evoke her as a living presence rather than as a conceptual abstraction. With songs and slokas from special guest Nivedita Gunturi. 

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Feb 07, 2022
Snail Juice & Bear Fat & Werewolf Moons (w/ Leah Song of Rising Appalachia)

Modern culture increasingly encroaches on unknown, uncharted space, both geographical and mental. This primordial space is accessed during times when we unplug, slow down, and allow ourselves to incubate and connect to a deeper rhythm. Traditionally, this space was accessed in trance rituals, in journeys to underworlds and otherworlds and in festivals which exist outside of mundane time. Access to this space is the true intention of the holidays — the holy days — that are meant to be time outside of time and so serve as portals to the eternal, to true unknown wild. Yet in the modern vision, this unknown space must be quantified, categorized, mapped, and regurgitated into a commodity at all costs. Why? Beyond the obvious monetary implications, the want to colonize these imaginal slow spaces stems from a deep-seated fear — the fear of nature, of an order that exists beyond our control... and the fear that if we succumb to this larger order we may experience the annihilation of our mundane concerns and encounter instead a world that operates in slow, spiraling, billion-year cycles that have very little to do with us. Yet we vitally need these unknown spaces. Defined, articulated access to unknown space is essential to maintaining our alignment to the greater rhythms of the world around us and is therefore vital to the process of planning for and creating lasting change. In a world that is facing the consequences of its own addiction to urgency and anxiousness, access to such spaces remains essential, even in the midst of all that needs to be addressed right now. Special guest Leah Song from Rising Appalachia chimes in for this episode on the ongoing necessity of access to the deep, slow, primordial and wild.

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Jan 10, 2022
The Body is the Metaverse

Science fiction writers and tech enthusiasts have long spoken of a digital Metaverse — a virtual otherworld that, as the narrative goes, is the logical next phase in human technological development. This Metaverse serves a deep mythosomatic function — it satisfies our collective need for otherworlds, for trance, for mythic narrative, for journeying, and even for shapeshifting. Yet it does so removed from all somatic context — without the accompanying ritual, without any somatic sacrifice, without the sweat of the dance or the fast or the vision quest and without providing any larger contextual purpose or individual/cultural renewal. The brokers of the new digital Metaverse seek to sell us a shamanic otherworld, while traditional access to such otherworlds takes place through the simplest of all vehicles — the body. Traditional trance practices harness breath, movement, vocal invocation, and artistic visioning as portals to otherworlds, whose ultimate purpose is not escape, entertainment, or distraction but to re-invigorate our relationship with this world. And so the magisters of tech veer into what, according to the myths and fairy tales, is profoundly dangerous territory — misusing the power of the otherworld, harnessing mass trance-induction techniques for profit rather than for communal transformation and renewal. Tech dystopias, shapeshifters, plant beings, Tantric meta-anatomies, fairy woods and more... on this episode of The Emerald.

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Dec 03, 2021
Festivals! Initiation and the Brilliance of Eternity

Just in time for Holiday season, an episode that dives into the deep role of festivals in providing regular, ritualized access to states of rapture and initiation. For thousands upon thousands of years, the festival formed the drumbeat of culture. Festivals forged bonds and provided communal and individual focus. The festival gave space for grief, for rapture, for joy, for renewal. Hurts were healed at the festival… thresholds crossed, revolutions hatched, at the festival. The festival renewed our relationship with the vegetal world and established us in right relation with plants. The festival was able to accomplish all these things specifically because the festival was a shared agreement around time, an architecting of temporal reality to construct a portal to the eternal. Yet at a certain point in the history of the modern west, the festival was de-sanctified. And so, we are left with a schism between the sacred and the profane, in which the festival and its associated arts become simply ‘entertainment.’ The results of this schism are deep. Traditional festivals took participants on a fully enacted journey through pain, grief, loss, death, and then renewal and ecstatic communion, while the modern holiday celebrates only the consumptive side of this cycle. The ethos of modern capitalism removes all possibility of ‘sacred time,’ and gives space only for debauchery as an antidote to the numbing cycle of the workplace. What do we lose with the de-sanctification of the festival? Ultimately, we lose the potential for the festival to provide one very important thing — enacted access to the initiatory moment, to what Byung-Chul Han calls the brilliance of eternity. 

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Nov 18, 2021
On Resonance: Caves, Hooves, Hearts, Harps... and the Birth of Culture

The word ‘resonance’ is commonly used these days to convey agreement with a point of view or perspective. But resonance is much more than this. ‘Resonance’ implies a universe that is sonorous and reverberatory and that operates according to the principles of harmony. Within this, many cultures have seen the role of the human being to become an instrument — to cultivate, through ritual repetition, a resonance with our fellow beings, with land, and with cosmos. This vision is not metaphorical. Science is increasingly finding that nature operates through resonance, that music predates language, and that when human beings decide to do things — to embark on adventures, to vote for politicians, to join groups — the primary driving force to do so is not ‘fact’ but resonance. Culture itself almost certainly arose through resonance, as we entrained to one another, in sync, through musical somatic ritual in resonant spaces. From the deep sounding board of the Paleolithic cave to the resonant spaces that birthed Greek prophecy to mythic visions of humans-as-instruments, this episode explores how resonance is utterly central to human experience, how modernity has become what one sociologist referred to as a ‘catastrophe of resonance,’ and what we can do to reclaim our deep resonance with one another and the natural world.

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Oct 12, 2021
Becoming a Ruin: Decomposing and Regrowing the Mythic with Sophie Strand

Sophie Strand describes herself as a writer, an animist troubadour, and a giant pile of composting leaves. Her lyrical, eco-centric vision of the mythic has gained her a wide following, as she blasts monomyths wide open into swarms of glittering spores. With essays entitled 'My Saint is a Weed,' 'Confessions of a Compost Heap,' and 'Becoming a Ruin,' Sophie's work brings the mythic into the tangible, helps myths regain their body, and places stories deep in the middle of a living ecosystem of time, place, and specificity. In this episode, Josh and Sophie discuss her model of looking at stories through the triple lens of Myco Eco Mytho, and then go on a rhizomatic conversational journey into kingdoms of astonishment, Orphic root systems, flowering wands, and visions of how to give the Gods back their bodies. 

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Sep 16, 2021
Mapping The Mystic: Geographies of Ecstasy in Consciousness and Culture

Modern studies of mystic states focus on the 'ineffability' of the ecstatic experience — the impossibility of explaining what the experience was like. Yet mystic experience might be indescribable in modern culture simply because we’ve failed to culturally describe it. For those cultures historically who tread the mystic space with great regularity, there’s nothing indescribable about it. Mystic unity has been mapped. The people who have tread its spaces for thousands of years describe in scintillating detail landscapes, architectures, points, vortexes, luminosities, mandala-like configurations, all alive with animate entities. And these geographies are not simply described as personal visions, but as tangible externally existing landscapes that others can visit too. So where do such mystic scapes live? Are they a function of brain chemistry? An externally existing reality? An overlap of individual consciousness and the external world? All of the above? This episode unpacks the articulated geographies of mystic states and looks at the mystic experience beyond 'just brain chemistry' but rather as a state of alignment to greater patterns and forces that already exist within nature, forces that shaped our biology to begin with. Within this ongoing relationality, art, ritual, story, and song, work together to create a fully formed mythic structure through which human beings contextualize the world, and in an age of decontextualization and fragmentation, this mythic structure is as vitally important to the human bodymind as it has ever been. 

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Aug 31, 2021
The Shape of Stories: How Myths Move Through Bodies and Worlds

Author Kurt Vonnegut once proposed that stories have shapes — that there are a few common wave-trajectories that underlie all of our stories. This episode builds on Vonnegut's thesis and explores the energetic shapes and trajectories of myths — trajectories that serve, within oral myth telling cultures, to take the listener on an experiential journey of scattering and rejoining, of rupture and cascade, of coiling and release, and of journey and return. These wave dynamics exist throughout nature and are inherent to our somatic structure, which is also why certain story structures, like the Hero's Journey, are difficult to get away from. Stories of journey and return mirror energetic cycles that exist in the breath, in the brain, in seasonal cycles, and in the phases of the moon. So while the socio-political externals of Hero's Journey stories can — and in some cases probably should — change, the underlying circular energetic of departure and return is as fundamental to human experience as the breath is. From the tale of Sisyphus, a breath-journey of rise and fall, to the vibrant spiral dynamics of the Indian goddess tales, this episode explores myths in terms of their directional energetic dynamics and cracks open a way of understanding and feeling story that is somatic rather than analytical.

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Aug 05, 2021
TRA is for Trance: On the Linguistics of Crossing Over

Trance, traverse, transformation, tradition, transcendence, transgression — all come from a single Indo-European linguistic root TRA, which signifies some type of crossing over. Crossing over is something human beings have always been inclined to do — populations migrate across great expanses as explorers seek new horizons. Too much emphasis on crossing over, however, can lead to worldviews of transcendence, in which the purpose of existence is to 'get past' rather than exist in harmony with what is. Transcendence worldviews are alive and well in modern apocalyptic religion and in modern science, which seems determined to transcend nature, blast us to mars, and extend human lifespans. Yet traditionally, this human need for traverse was addressed through ritualized trance, which carried practitioners across a great inner divide. The great inner traverse offered by trance practice brought the practitioner into a state of focused presence, a flow state that is the heart of mystical tradition, and that requires the greatest of traverses to reach — the traverse across the torrent of agitated discursive thought to a state of seamless integration. These days, this traverse is harder and harder to make, as we are inundated with technologies that 'carry us across', and we spend most of our waking lives in an unwitting trance, perpetually crossing over without even realizing it. TRA is for trance — choose your trances wisely. 

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Jul 15, 2021
On Trauma and Vegetation Gods

Modern discussions on healing individual minds, cultural wounds, and painful societal histories now revolve around the word ‘trauma.’ Yet addressing trauma is nothing new — traditional cultures across the globe have historically had their own forms of trauma work, without ever labeling it trauma work. For many cultures for many years, cathartic ritual practice that bypasses the conditioned mind has served multiple purposes as it regrows and re-patterns brains and bodies and communities. These ritual enactments, communal ecstasies, and group catharses — these weepings over the bodies of lost gods — are traditionally tied to something very specific… vegetation. There is a profound link between the myths and rituals of the old vegetation gods and what we might now term trauma work — because the cycle of vegetative birth, growth, decay, and death mirrors our own cycle. This episode explores the deep link between the repatterning of the nervous system — which itself is described in a language of trees — and vegetation, from the numerous studies that show the healing power of the presence of plants, to the plant medicines that are literally regrowing nerve tissues, to the old vegetation deities whose theatrical ritual enactments, repetitive singing and dancing, and relationship to altered states of consciousness are deeply tied to trauma repatterning. The stories and rituals of the vegetation gods reveal a language around trauma which does not vilify or sanctify trauma, or isolate it, or see it solely as something to be extracted or released, but rather addresses it as part of a larger network of patterning and repatterning, regrowth and assimilation, a greater cycle of nature. If we start looking through this ritual lens, we see ritualized trauma work everywhere in cultures around the world. And it doesn’t always look like we think it would. Sometimes it even looks fairly… traumatic.

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Jun 22, 2021
The Emerald Turns Two

Reflections of gratitude, some info on ongoing study opportunities, and a little bit about the long-term vision as The Emerald turns two years old.  

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Jun 01, 2021
Tyson Yunkaporta on Pattern, Kinship, and Story in a World of Decontextualized Minds

In his book Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World, author, teacher, artist and Apalech clan member Tyson Yunkaporta presents a model of five minds — kinship mind, story mind, ancestor mind, pattern mind, and dreaming mind — that together form a way of seeing, knowing, and interacting with the world in a relational context. This episode looks at the rampant fragmentation in the modern world — which impacts everything from spiritual movements to transhumanist science to conspiratorial worldviews to progressive discourse — through the lens of these five minds. From Aboriginal rain rituals to QAnon pattern-seekers, from sorcery and curses to alternative communication models, this vibrant and polytropic discussion between Tyson and Josh explores what context means in a fragmented world, and how to truly find it requires seeing beyond obvious dichotomies into deeper layers of connectivity. 

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May 26, 2021
Semele, Kuṇḍalinī, and the Path of Interiorized Lightning

Stories of lightning and lightning-bearers pervade global mythology.  With so many tales of mighty gods who punish mortals with lightning it can be easy to view the presence of lightning in the myths as simply a metaphor for power or brute force. Yet the lightning myths go a lot deeper than this. Across the world, the traditions most familiar with states of ecstatic rapture  use a common language of lightning. This lyrical episode re-awakens the story of Semele, mother of Dionysus — herself incinerated by lightning — and uses it as an entry point into a network of global myths and traditions that sing of lightning as a central aspect of the rapturous experience. Across the globe, we find a common somatic language of interiorized lightning from the Dionysian mysteries to the Kuṇḍalinī traditions of India to the Sufi illuminationist traditions to the trance practices of the Kalahari. In an era when Kuṇḍalinī is a buzzword, Zeus is a scorned adulterer/patriarch, and the story of Semele is a scholar's footnote, this episode seeks to restore somatic sanctity to the force of living lightning that has guided ecstatic practice for millennia. Listen with headphones, preferably in a quiet meditative space, and maybe even in the dark. 

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May 08, 2021
Trickster Jumps Sides: Disruption and the Anatomy of Culture

Tricksters and culture disruptors populate global mythology. From Loki to Coyote to Èṣù and Hermes, they bend rules, cross boundaries, commit deliberate and unintentional offenses and generally mess with established orders. Yet they are often seen as indispensable to these orders — they are renewers and cultural innovators and often pave the way for great change. So in many cultures, Tricksters, despite their shenanigans, are seen as sacred. In modern society, we have no such ritualization of cultural disruption. Trickster is relegated to the margins. So when Trickster comes along these days, he tends to upend everything. Sometimes, we welcome that change — it's a wonderful thing when Trickster shows up and topples the gods that we want toppled. It's a lot more disconcerting when it's our gods being toppled. And ultimately... Trickster isn't on our side. He's the mythic embodiment of the other side.  From ritualized mockery in Ancient Greece to the Merry Pranksters to Ol' Dirty Bastard to the Capitol riot, this episode explores how a society acts in relation to its own dirt...and how, when Trickster is not honored by keeping a society fed and renewed, he shows up in darker ways.  Warning: This episode contains explicit subject matter — because that's how Trickster rolls.

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Apr 21, 2021
The Many Voices of Water, Part 2: Imagining Water Beyond Lines

With the announcement that water futures have begun trading on the stock market, it's time to take a deeper look at our relationship with water. Water challenges us to ask how we are in relationship to something that is both continuous and discrete, something that flows, moves, evaporates, seeps, and pours forth. Yet rather than honor this multivalent nature of water, humans have tended to treat water as an object and a servant. Water is compartmentalized, sequestered, and marginalized, bottled and sold in plastic, all in the effort to make it 'just another commodity.' This episode examines what right relationship with water looks like and advocates a relationship not simply based in metrics of quantity but in metrics of quality — in feeling, in longing, in reciprocity, in reliance, in ritual, in art, in song, in bodies — a relationship in which we construct our lives around water instead of expecting it to serve us, in which the mutable aspects of water are honored. Water, beyond plastic, beyond lines. Special guests include Water Activist Isabel Friend, Designer and Professor Dilip Da Cunha, and Greenpeace USA's Oceans Director John Hocevar.

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Apr 02, 2021
How Trance States Shape the World

Human beings need ecstatic trance. Trance states have played a vital and necessary role in human culture and in the shaping of human history, causing some anthropologists to label the attainment of these states the 'main need' of the 'ceremonial animal' that is the human being. Trance states traditionally help communities reinforce shared bonds, establish values, gain insight into the nature of reality, establish reciprocal relation with the natural world, and even heal. Yet in the modern world, trance states have been pathologized by both institutionalized religion and science, and ecstatic ritual has lost its centrality. Finally, anthropologists are recognizing what many cultures have known all along — that trance states are essential for human thriving, and that when we lose access to these states we seek ecstasy in darker, more destructive ways. This episode goes deep into the trance states that have defined cultures and traditions for thousands of years. We look at trance in India, Ancient Greece, Africa, South America, and beyond and explore what it means when a culture loses its ecstasy.

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Mar 12, 2021
The Many Voices of Water, Part 1: Oceans of Melancholy and Bliss

Water is life — all life on planet earth depends on it. So it is no surprise that in the mythic visions of all peoples, water teems with personhood and agency and speaks with many voices. The Ancient Greek world was populated with water beings, who existed not just as abstract concepts but as living entities that were deeply tied with ecstatic trance rituals. The Greeks heard the voices of hundreds of distinct animate forces in the sea, voices of melancholy and bliss and rapture. This joyous longing is also present in the profound Afro-Brazilian traditions that honor Iemanja, the Queen of the Sea. The songs sung to Iemanja from Nigeria to Benin to Brazil to Cuba invoke qualities of the sea that are also qualities of consciousness itself — and many are the traditions that have viewed consciousness as an ocean. This understanding of consciousness is more than a mythopoetic metaphor, when we consider that all of the conscious processes of the human being happen in a matrix of water. With a range of diverse voices, including water activists, scholars of water traditions, free divers, and more, this first installment of a series of three episodes on water explores the ocean's many voices, and sets the stage for a deeper look at some of the profound issues facing our planet's waters today.

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Feb 04, 2021
Give the Drummer Some: Trance, Danger, and Rapture in the Oldest Instrument of All

The link between music and trance is so deep that many ethnomusicologists will say that every single culture on the planet has some form of musically-driven trance tradition. Right at the heart of these traditions sits the drum. Far from being a 'primitive' instrument, the drum is advanced technology — more often than not, it is the essential instrument that opens up the doorway to states of rapture. This long-known power has led to the development of intricate cultures of trance drumming from West Africa to Cuba to Tibet to Scandinavia. This power has also led the drum to be vilified, even banned. 17th century European witch trials banned ritual drumming, even, in some cases, executing drummers. But as ritual drumming and trance traditions reached the New World via the slave trade, they rose to prominence again, in the new musical forms of blues, jazz, and rock 'n roll. European and American youth went crazy for the trance states offered by the rhythms of amplified music, and the same culture that once vilified drumming now came to adulate it. It is no exaggeration to say that all popular modern music is based on what were once African ritual trance rhythms. In this way, the recent history of drumming has a lot to teach us about how the postmodern mind — in a culture that outwardly marginalizes trance states — still longs for trance, and what it looks like when trance rituals are taken out of their traditional context and become more of a free-for-all. Anthropologist Wade Davis and producer/DJ Walker Barnard chime in on this episode that takes us from the Orixá traditions of Brazil to the Tibetan Bönpo shamans to John Bonham and Clyde Stubblefield. Take a journey on the wings of the drum. This time, on The Emerald. 

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Jan 19, 2021
When Exactly Was the Age of Reason?

Telling people to 'just listen to reason' or 'just look at the facts' in a post-fact world mired in addictive consumption is akin to telling an addict 'just stop using.' Well intentioned, but not ultimately addressing the root of the issue. So while rational analysis of factual sources is certainly necessary to combat conspiracy and widespread untruths, there are deeper forces at play within human minds, hearts, and societies that ultimately must be addressed in order to find a harmonious way of living in the world. Within this, pursuits that have long been deemed ‘irrational’ — structuring societies around a living, breathing, ritual core, enacting forms of regular cathartic expression, telling stories that reinforce deep access to the imaginal, forwarding a vision of life in which we are deeply linked to animate forces of nature  —  such ‘irrational pursuits’ that reprioritize harmonious relationship with a living world as the pinnacle of all human purpose may be the only rational way to get us out of the mess we’re in.

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Dec 30, 2020
Animism is Normative Consciousness

For 98% of human history, 99.9% of our ancestors lived, breathed, and interacted with a world that they saw and felt to be animate. Imbued with lifeforce. Inhabited by and permeated with forces, with which we exist in ongoing relation. This animate vision was the water in which we swam, it was consciousness in its natural dwelling place, the normative way of seeing the world and our place in it. It wasn’t a theory, a philosophy, or an idea. It wasn’t, actually, an -ism. It was felt experience. It was, simply, how things were. Which is why it has been commonly understood across the entire world for all of time.

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Dec 01, 2020
Giving Thanks

Spontaneous expressions of gratitude on this Thanksgiving Day, and a look at the role that gratitude plays in consciousness, community, and cosmos. 

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Nov 26, 2020
Seeking the Luminous in an Age of Manufactured Light

Light, within nature, has always drawn us in, held our attention, and revealed marvels through its variegated displays.  Coleridge said that the “eye is to light like lover to the beloved.” Light and human attention share a very deep relationship. And with our attention increasingly drawn towards a luminous focal point that is manufactured, it becomes more and more difficult to experience something essential that exists in the meeting point between us and the light of nature around us. This meeting point has been envisioned as a place of revelation, of germination, of ideation,  and as the home of the imaginal itself.  At this meeting point,  the architectures and harmonies of nature reveal themselves to us and we see right into our own relationship with ourselves, each other, and the world — and so it informs our perceptions of truth, ecology, art, beauty, harmony, and justice. All in that little place where the light of our attention meets the light of the natural world. 

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Nov 15, 2020
Medusa and #MeToo: How Modern Narratives Miss the Heart of Myth

Who remembers Medusa? Hair of snakes, gaze that can turn to stone, beheaded by Perseus… that Medusa. She's in the news again, because a sculptor has re-imagined the story of Perseus and Medusa as a tribute to the #MeToo movement — and this time, Medusa's the one doing the beheading. Some have embraced this re-telling, but the founder of #MeToo has spoken out strongly against it, saying that #MeToo isn't about vengeance or simply 'turning the tables.' Lost in the current dialogue is the sacred place that Medusa actually holds in the original myth. The original myth is not about Medusa 'losing' and Perseus 'winning.' Like so many myths, the story of Medusa is about deep cycles of nature, sacrifice and regeneration, and in these myths the place of the 'slain one' — whether Medusa, or Vrtra, or Ouranos, or Ulu — is the heart of the myth. In this episode we dive into the story of Medusa and find her original power as the slain-creatrix, the primordial goddess herself, who through her unending involutions leads us to eternity. And we explore how when myths are bent to fit modern narratives about punitive justice and socio-political issues, we lose out on the beating, animate heart of myth, which, like nature itself, doesn't always fit into neat boxes. 

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Nov 01, 2020
When Bread is No Longer Bread: The Importance of Context in Consciousness, Community, and Cosmos

The defining characteristic of the postmodern capitalist world is a cycle of decontextualization for the sake of monetization. It happens everywhere — with the products we buy, the food in our grocery stores, and the spiritual traditions we import from other lands. Modern Yogic and Buddhist practices have been removed from the deep context of their original practice — and often what is lost in the process is the living, breathing, animist heart of tradition. This episode explores how consciousness naturally exists in context — mythic, animate, communal, and cosmic — and looks at the consequences of this deep loss of context on our minds and our world. 

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Oct 08, 2020
The Return to Focused Presence: Rediscovering the Greatest Conspiracy of All

Conspiracy theories abound these days. The Yoga and wellness communities have come under fire for being particularly prone to indulging these theories. Yet the teachings of Yoga ask us ultimately to look deeply at the difference between focused presence and spiraling mental agitation. This is how, in indulging conspiratorial world views, the yoga world is overlooking a profound treasure that lives at its very core. For right at the heart of yogic teaching is perhaps the greatest conspiracy of all — a conspiracy that resurfaces throughout the ages in traditions everywhere. The ability of the the individual to find freedom from panicked reactive thought and find peace and presence here and now. Through this inner work comes the agency that the conspiracy theorists so deeply crave — the agency to find center, and act from a place of focus to navigate chaotic seas effectively.

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Sep 16, 2020
The Honey that Hums and Blazes: Somatic Nectars of the Trance State

Honey was revered across the ancient world — found in Egyptian tombs and Chinese apothecaries and referred to glowingly in ancient Sumerian medical texts. The myths and stories that come to us from the ancient world are soaked in honey. Honey is certainly a remarkable substance. But is that enough to explain the presence of liquid nectar in myth upon myth upon myth? There are strange commonalities in the myths and stories about nectar and honey. The association of honey and immortality. The descriptions of cascades or rivers of honey or nectar. Honey described as luminous dew. Associations of honey with rapture and prophecy. Associations of honey with sound and with particularly effulgent qualities of light. When we delve into the myths and stories, we find that the prevalence of liquid nectar in myth can only lead to the conclusion that the honey being spoken of is experiential — it is a nectar of felt experience. Specifically, the nectar of heightened awareness, of trance. Today on the podcast, we steep in the honeys of consciousness, and find a common vision of luminous, sonorous liquid that pervades mystic discourse around the world.

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Sep 01, 2020
A Brief History of Want: Longing and Its Place in Cosmos and Consciousness

Human beings have a complicated relationship with want. For some traditions, desire, want, or longing sits right at the heart of creation itself, providing the spark that sets the universe in motion, and is inherent to what it means to be human. Yet unchecked want has also resulted in untold suffering for people and planet. Renunciate traditions have put forth practices and philosophies designed to get rid of the want altogether. But is getting rid of want even possible? Is longing inextricably part of the fabric of reality, and to deny it is to deny existence itself? In times like these when we face unprecedented global crises, perhaps we need to harness this primal want in service of life and nature rather than deny it.  In this episode we follow the fascinating history of one Sanskrit word — Kāma, desire, longing — in order to shed light on humanity's intricate relationship with want, ultimately finding ourselves at the feet of the Goddess of Longing herself, whose temple and traditions speak to a universe that is built upon a deep substrate of longing, and who encourages us to harness longing rather than deny it. 

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Aug 18, 2020
In These Mythic Times: Monsoon, Apocalypse, and What We Are Truly Longing For

These are mythic times. And what are we called to do in mythic times? What is the deep mythic transformation we are seeking? Often the mythic journey requires something very simple of us. Often, it asks us to cultivate the simple acts of paying attention and remembering. Remembering, in a chaotic age, who we are and what we want, what we truly long for. This episode of The Emerald draws upon the bhakti — or devotional — traditions of India and their profound relationship with longing to explore the idea that what we are longing for is to enact the cycle of longing itself. That we are wired as humans to enact cycles of longing, crisis, and release, and if we don't find ways to internally enact this cycle through ritualized longing, we enact it through the urgencies and crises of the external world. Steeped in fairy tales and the devotional songs of longing and monsoons, this episode seeks to rekindle a loving relationship with the world, a relationship from which ultimately profound change will come.

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Aug 04, 2020
Holy River of Flows: Words and Discourse in a Declarative Age

Wonder of wonders, words have started arriving for my 13-month old son! Their arrival is a deep reminder that words are more than detached concepts — they are somatic, they invoke, they carry with them the power and potential of transformational magic. Speech, or voice, in the Vedic vision is the goddess herself, and poetic discourse is a river whose ultimate promise is to allow us to 'step in tune with being', or to 'find the angel' that lives between us and another.  Yet these days we are inundated with millions upon millions of words, words that live removed from the somatic and communal context words once bore. And perhaps the further the word gets separated from its rapturous, somatic core — isolated and treated as a symbolic end unto itself rather than part of a continuum —  then the more public discourse, and even social movements themselves, become self-referential abstractions that are solely based on the shifting around of written words. Today on the podcast, we take a journey from the primordial deities of the word through Jay-Z and Rudolfo Anaya to understand the true transformative potential of words. 

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Jul 21, 2020
Sand Talk with Tyson Yunkaporta

Tyson Yunkaporta is an academic, an arts critic, and a researcher who is a member of the Apalech Clan in far north Queensland Australia. He's the author of Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World. Sand Talk looks deeply at the basic pattern of nature and how that pattern reflects through all of creation, informing not only how natural systems operate, but reflecting into systems of law, harmonious conduct, and relational communication. Join Tyson and me as we take a journey through the pattern — stopping along the way to talk about ancestral mind, native corn, Game of Thrones, and the best way to approach rocks.  Talking about the basic pattern of nature is a rich topic, one which ultimately begs the question, that Old Man Juma in the book keeps getting at, if all this is pattern, then is even the current destructive paradigm part of some greater pattern too? 

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Jun 30, 2020
Space Hex: The Curse of Restlessness in Worldviews of Perpetual Escape

"We don’t go to other planets because our planet is dying. Our planet dies, specifically because we perpetually want to go somewhere else." Today on the podcast, we look at humanity’s increasing obsession with transcending planet earth, in the context of the mythologies of human restlessness. How human beings, whether through certain religious visions of transcendence, or through the increasing transhuman and supernatural focus of modern science, are ultimately looking to be anywhere but right here, with ourselves, in nature. This misplaced spiritual drive, in which we perpetually seek wholeness out there, when wholeness ultimately lives right here, has been the subject of some of our most central stories about ourselves. Many in fact, have seen it as… a primordial curse.

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Jun 24, 2020
Rapturous Focus and Extraordinary Powers: Breathing Life into the Third Book of the Yoga Sutras

The third book of the Patañjali yoga sutras, the Vibhūti Pāda, is often skipped over in modern yoga teacher trainings. Why? Its descriptions of supernatural powers — of yogis who can shrink to the size of an atom, fly, and read minds — can cause cognitive dissonance or discomfort in the modern mind. Yet right in the heart of this discussion of the extraordinary powers is an animate, rapturous vision that is concurrent with the experience of human ritual culture dating back in an unbroken line to the Paleolithic. This is, in fact, the animist chapter of the yoga sutras, which is precisely why it's ignored. Today on the podcast, we look at the rapturous vision of the Vibhūti Pāda, which arrived at a time when the old ways of trance and animal powers were butting up against new doctrines of transcendence. With source references as diverse as Italian scholar Roberto Calasso and the Wu-Tang Clan, we can safely say this is like no other commentary on the yoga sutras that you've ever heard. And if it ruffles a few scholarly feathers, so be it. Enjoy. 

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May 19, 2020
Broadcasting Live From the Time of Poets and Bards

The poet/bard/singer holds a special place of reverence in many cultures and traditions. Far from being seen as 'escapism,' sung music, incanted verse, and told story was essential technology for transporting people to a place of greater presence, awareness, focus, and timeless vision that ultimately could assist in navigating life well.  This is why story, poetry, and song are more vital now than ever. On this live storytelling episode of The Emerald, we conjure up the old bards and singers, from the formidable Indian singer Tansen — who called fires and storms with his voice — to the Celtic Taliesin, to Orpheus, the animate force of poetry and song itself. In this vision, poetic, sung verse is sometimes a fountain, sometimes a stream, sometimes a cauldron full of bubbling liquid... and the force of praise is the force of nature itself, which exists in a state of perpetual awe at its own creative power. 

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May 06, 2020
Broadcasting Live From the Center of the Universe

In this live storytelling episode, we look at mythological visions of the world axis or central column across a range of cultures. Starting with the simple upright alignment of the human spine, and journeying to the central mountain of the Indian mythologies and the world tree of the Norse and Siberian cultures, we explore stories and ritual practices that illuminate 'center' and our relationship to it. 

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Apr 22, 2020
O Holy Rupture: Cracking Open the Great Myth with Joseph Sansonese

There’s a great myth that is told and retold in cultures throughout the world. The story goes like this — something is harnessed, raised upwards, suspended there, until finally there is a great cracking open and then a cascade of sweetness downward. Mythologist Joseph Sansonese calls this — and not Campbell’s monomyth — the real Great Myth. Today on the podcast we explore myths of rupture — from the cracking of Krishna's butter pot to the collapse of Troy — that invoke the yogic process. These myths, according to Sansonese, detail the journey of the individual practitioner toward an experience of yogic union, the trance state, a journey so central to the human story that it is found literally everywhere.

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Apr 07, 2020
The Pandemic and the Goddess: Perspectives on Humanity, Disease, and Nature

More and more pandemic experts are saying that humanity's disruptions of natural environments are responsible for outbreaks of new viruses. This sense of disease as intimately tied to imbalances that occur within nature is found in traditional Indian and Tibetan understandings, in which local nature goddesses are seen as both bringers and dispellers of disease. If there is something to be learned from the Covid-19 pandemic, perhaps it is that we need a deep re-evaluation of how we interact with the natural world and a re-alignment towards respecting the forces of nature. 

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Mar 25, 2020
The Eyes Have It: The Optics of Creation and Consciousness

Eyes have always held sway over the human imagination — mesmerized us, scared us, inspired us. The windows to the soul, they’ve been called. They’ve been the subject of song and poetry, folklore and myth. Consciousness, in the Indian texts is repeatedly described in relation to eyes. These glorious visions of eyes and consciousness reach their culmination in the 8th century Netra Tantra, the Tantra of the Eye, which opens with a playful question about the nature of eyes and spirals into something far greater — cosmos and consciousness as one great, macrocosmic eye.

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Mar 03, 2020
Reimagining Our Ancestors: A Dive into the Paleolithic Heart and Mind

We often assume that Paleolithic people lived in a world that was fundamentally less than ours because they didn’t yet have what we have. We assume that their existence was incomplete, because it hadn’t yet culminated in us. Yet new findings on our ancestors' culture, physiology, and physiognomy paint a very different picture. This episode takes us deep into the Paleolithic era, in which 97% of our ancestors lived, and dispels notions about war, violence, primitivism, chaos, and the minds and hearts of Paleolithic people. 

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Feb 18, 2020
The Shape of Art: Place, Relevance, and the Living Force Between Adorer and Adored

Bette Midler recently made headlines for tweeting a picture of three girls at a museum distracted by their phones instead of admiring the art. Yet the context in which we view art tends to be just as compartmentalized and distracting as a phone. Today on the podcast, we look at varying visions of art in cultural context — from the paleolithic caves to Indian temples to modern performance art — and move towards a conclusion that art, perhaps, isn’t just in the object. It’s in the state and quality of interaction between subject and object. Art, in its traditional context, reinforces the animate force of life, and is a gateway for an experience of this animate force. And if the observers aren’t delivered into a state of rapture by the art, perhaps it’s not a reflection on them, but on the entire context in which we view and compartmentalize art.

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Jan 21, 2020
Airplanes, Epilepsy, and Shamanism: A Respectful Response to Neil deGrasse Tyson

A few weeks back, wizard-yogi-talkshow host Russell Brand interviewed scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson on his podcast Under the Skin. It’s the November 1st, 2019 episode and it’s highly worth listening to. On the show, Neil puts forward some commonly held suppositions about western science — that the scientific method is the only valid method of arriving at the truth. That subjective reality has nothing to offer the discussion on truth. That science itself is ultimately objective. And that the proof of science’s fundamental ‘rightness’ can be measured by the “progress” of technological society or what some have called civilization. In this episode, we take a look at some of the stories Neil uses to illustrate progress, triumph over superstition, and scientific objectivity and offer a differing perspective based on the animate vision that has driven humanity for 99% of its history. 

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Jan 07, 2020
Melting Frost: A Holiday Hymn to the Animate Heart

In this poetic ode to the animate vision of the cosmos that has been so central to humanity for so long, we explore the idea that the ritual heart of both culture and cosmos itself is poetry, and that poetry is the only way to accurately convey and invoke a cosmos that is ultimately artful. Poetry exists so humans can be propelled into states where we feel one with nature. Hence the gods “clothe themselves in poetic meter,” say the Vedas, and in doing so, give us a direct vehicle through which to access them, to revel in them, to ourselves shine. This episode uses the Greek myths as a jumping off point to celebrate the poetic vision of the cosmos and explores how we drifted far from our poetic source. Caution — Greek myths are explicit.


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Dec 24, 2019
How to Churn an Ocean and Breathe Like a Horse: Rekindling the Somatic Heart of Myth

The power of myth exists beyond representation and symbolism. Myths grow out of a time when to utter the word ‘sky’ around a fire at night would transmit something directly to the listener, something very different than the experience of reading the word ‘sky’ on a page from the comfort of a library.  Today on the podcast we explore the somatic dimension of myth, the idea that the great myths take place within the body. Myths invoke somatic journeys, focusing on one somatic journey in particular,  the journey of the individual practitioner towards a state of ecstatic union with the cosmos.

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Dec 10, 2019
Great Bear: The Being at the Heart of Global Tradition

Bears have been right at the center of pan-global belief systems for a very long time, causing some anthropologists to speak of a circumpolar bear cult dating back possibly over 100,000 years. Given the role that animals have played in shaping human imagination, it's not a stretch to say human beings have, over the ages, learned a whole lot from bears. And it may not be a stretch even to posit that some of our deepest spiritual archetypes and practices — including the practice of meditation itself — come directly from bears. 

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Nov 26, 2019
The Poetry of The Point: All of Cosmos and Consciousness in a Little Round Dot

What's the point? Well, far from being an image of smallness or insignificance, the single point, the dot communicates a lot. In fact, in India, there are songs devoted to the point, texts that extol its radiant qualities, practices designed to link to it as a focal point of meditative awareness. The importance of little dots takes on even greater significance when we realize that all life forms — and even the universe itself — began as a little round dot. In Indian cosmology, Bindu, the point, becomes everything — both cosmos and consciousness all in one. And the journey — to get to the point —is a poetic and visionary journey indeed.

Today on the Emerald — The Poetry of the Point — All of Cosmos and Consciousness in a Little Round Dot

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Nov 12, 2019
On Cauldrons, Inner and Outer

Cauldrons — cooking vessels — have been part of the human experience and have captured the human imagination for a very long time, from the ancient Celtic cauldron myths to Shakespeare's archetypal vision of three crones and their bubbling brew to the cauldron cults of the African diaspora.

But far more than a simple vessel, the cauldron becomes in many cultures synonymous with larger internal and external processes — with the alchemical journey of the transformation of the soul, with yoga, with consciousness, and ultimately with the universe itself. Today on The Emerald, we look at cauldrons, inner and outer.

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Oct 29, 2019
Healing the Science-Spirit Divide in 34 Minutes

In this episode we take a deep dive into the abyss — the seemingly unbridgeable gap that exists between science and spirit. Are there places where science — which sees the universe as something that, to quote physicist Stephen Hawking, doesn’t need God in order to exist, and spirituality, which sees an animate universe created with consciousness and perhaps infused with consciousness — can find commonality? What are these places, these commonalities? How far do they go? And are these two worldviews in their heart of hearts ultimately more similar than we think?

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Oct 15, 2019
Picture This with All Your Heart: Reclaiming the Urgent Incandescence of Imaginative Vision

The active practice of imaginative visioning has been utterly central for many societies. Far from being fantasy, such practices reinforce a deep understanding of the cosmos in which the active cultivation of imagination relates directly to tangible actualization — the ability to do, to see and understand, to shape one’s mind and therefore one’s life, to reap the benefits of spaciousness, luminosity, and calm in the mind, to bridge the inner and outer worlds, to understand oneself, the place of the individual within a community and cosmos. Considering its prevalence, it’s quite possible that ultimately for human culture to survive we need to actively imagine and seek visions.

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Oct 01, 2019
Enchanted Lands: Remembering the Holy Hum Between Person and Place

The word 'enchanted' is used a lot, from old fairy tales to modern pop culture. But enchantment is not something reserved for fairy stories or for vague tingling feelings when we encounter something mysteriously wonderful. What if I were to tell you, for example, that enchanted land is an actual thing, a very real thing. I’ve been to dozens upon dozens of places that are enchanted. You’ve probably walked unknowingly across enchanted land yourself. There is enchanted land on at least six of the seven continents of planet earth, and for a very very long time, among very very many people, land was not considered to even be in its full expression, to realize its full potential as land unless it had been deliberately enchanted. In fact, the enchantment of land has been considered by many cultures their ultimate duty as human beings. And the implications of increasing swaths of unenchanted land are very real for both us and the planet.

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Sep 25, 2019
Orpheus: The Song Of Life — A Conversation With Ann Wroe

He’s stirred the imagination of poets and writers and artists for 30 centuries. Rilke wrung his pale heart out to him. He finds his way into Shakespeare and Nietzsche, into the librettos of Stravinsky and Lizst. He’s the subject of ballets and sonnets and even avant-garde films.

I’m speaking, of course, of Orpheus. In this episode of The Emerald, I speak with author Ann Wroe about her remarkable book Orpheus: The Song of Life.  In the book, Wroe explores Orpheus from his Thracian shamanic roots into the modern era, finally coming to the conclusion — as many poets have — that Orpheus is not simply an abstract figure from the myths of old, but is the animate force itself, the force of song and poetry so timeless and so necessary in our modern world.

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Sep 17, 2019
The Goddess Wept All Night: That Little Matter of Sacrifice

It’s easy to dismiss the practice of sacrifice as brutal, but the fact is that sacrifice, enacted in varying degrees in both external and internal ritual, has dominated human traditions for thousands of years in cultures around the world. Today on the podcast, a look at humanity’s relationship with sacrifice — its prevalence, its permutations,  and how modern culture, without ritualized forms of sacrifice, compensates for what has been a driving force for humanity for thousands of years. Perhaps, we discover, the act of ritual sacrifice is so inherent to the human experience that our modern culture inevitably finds ways to enact this cycle over and over again, whether consciously or not.

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Aug 27, 2019
Sei and Her Soul Are Separated: The Colonization of Consciousness and Reclaiming the Visionary State

In the modern western understanding of consciousness, certain states are afforded the status of more important, or real, than others. The visionary state of meditative trance, which has been critically important for many cultures, takes a back seat to 'Normal Waking Consciousness.' Yet is the visionary state really less important than what we call Normal Waking Consciousness? And how have we historically treated those states of consciousness that veer from what has been termed ‘normalcy?’ With a modern lifestyle that is drastically different from how our ancestors lived, does what we call Normal Waking Consciousness even bear resemblance to how humans experienced the world for most of our history? Today on the Podcast, Sei and Her Soul Are Separated: The Colonization of Consciousness and Reclaiming the Visionary State

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Aug 20, 2019
Dispatches from the Cremation Ground: Comfort, Discomfort, and Surrender in Practice

Modern yoga has put forward a vision of the whole human being that revolves around comfort, ease, freedom from pain, and the healing of trauma. Yet in many cultures, what we call discomfort is actively sought out as a portal to the state of spiritual revelation. In fact, almost all traditional rituals that lead to the revelatory state of trance involve deliberate discomfort or some form of ritually induced trauma.

In this episode, we journey to what can be a very uncomfortable place — the cremation ground — to discuss notions of comfort and discomfort, death, and surrender in practice. And along the way we find that true comfort may not always be found where we normally think it is.

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Aug 13, 2019
The Shamanic Vonnegut: Or, The Fine Art of Hearing the Purple Hum

In his classic novel Slaughterhouse Five, about four-dimensional alien beings and a protagonist that has come unstuck in time, Kurt Vonnegut describes death as 'violet light and a hum.' The state of absorptive consciousness has been associated with the color violet, and with the sound of the hum, in many cultures around the world for many thousands of years. In this episode, we look at the relationship of the trance state to this place of the violet hum, exploring Zen koans, Greek myths, and Tantric visions of consciousness to get there. Features interview clips with mythologist Joseph Sansonese, author of The Body of Myth.

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Aug 06, 2019
Homer, Tolkien, and the Heart of the Visionary Experience: A Conversation with Robert Tindall

This week on The Emerald, a conversation with author Robert Tindall on Homer, Tolkien, Paleolithic cave art, Zen koans, Shakespeare, sacred song, and the visionary, animistic consciousness that connects all of them — a 'once universal mode of consciousness' in which 'reality is understood to be pervaded and structured by powerful numinous forces and presences that are rendered to the human imagination as the divinized figures and narratives of myth'.  You don't have to be a Tolkien or Homer fan to appreciate this episode. Our conversation goes deep into the worldview that was the normative vision for human beings for most of our history and looks at how we lost this worldview and what can be done to help reclaim it in challenging times, when an imaginative vision is increasingly necessary.

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Jul 30, 2019
Stone Soup: In Which I Argue Strongly in Favor of The Worship of Rocks

Sacred stones are ubiquitous across India. You find them in villages, in rural shrines, and in major urban temples that see tens of thousands of pilgrims a day. Shiva, the third most popular deity on the planet, is worshipped in the form of a smooth black stone. Many of the Indian goddesses too are worshipped as stones. Why? Why should such a simple object receive so much attention?  To really understand this, we have to edit out a whole lot of cultural clutter and take ourselves to a more direct experience of nature. 

Today on the podcast, I’m going to make the case for worshipping rocks. In fact, I’m going to put forward the outlandish notion that in the worship of sacred stones, we find some of the most ‘advanced’ visions of the cosmos and consciousness that human beings have ever developed.

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Jul 24, 2019
The Fauna Mandala: Animals, Imagination, and Consciousness

Animals have not only ‘shared the planet’ with human beings as we often hear on nature shows, which of course is a noble description intended to cultivate empathy for animals and urgency around their preservation. But animals are much more than this — more than just co-inhabitants of the world. In this episode, I explore the idea that the human mind, thought, imagination, language, and ingenuity are utterly dependent upon — and grow directly out of — our experience of animals. In fact, it is difficult to imagine that the human mind could have developed into what it is at all without animals. And what a future human mind would be like without direct experience of animals is a bleak thought indeed. Today on the Emerald. The Fauna Mandala: Animals, Imagination, and Consciousness. 

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Jul 16, 2019
Who Gets To Claim Objective Reality? An Imaginative Dive Into Cultural Fictions Along the Science-Spirit Divide

"I mean seriously, what's more out of touch with objective reality? The Lakota sense of Wakan-tanka, mother and father nature, mirrored in cultures and traditions around the globe. Or, say... Wal-Mart?"

Who gets to claim objective reality? Scientists, leftists, rightists, capitalists, religious types, the spiritual-but-not-religious, atheists, modernists and ancients alike have all tried. Ultimately it may be that the only thing that can lay claim to objective reality is mystery itself. In this episode of the Emerald, I take a recent New York Times Magazine interview between David Marchese and Stephen Colbert to talk about objective reality, cultural notions of the real, and fictions that we all participate in. Caution: This episode dives (respectfully) right into the heart of the science-spirit divide. If you're up for it, come along for the ride.

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Jul 09, 2019
Dismembered Frost Giants and the Core-Power Paradox — Self-Care Meets Self-Obliteration in an Identity-Driven World.

Ancient visions of cosmic dismemberment and ego destruction meet modern yoga practice with its focus on self-care and self-worth in this episode of The Emerald.

In creation myths around the world, from Scandinavia to India to Mexico, dismemberment is a central theme — a vision in which a primal oneness is torn into pieces to create this universe of diversity. This cosmic dismemberment is also reflected in the experience of the individual practitioner, who, in their journey towards finding wholeness, must themselves go through some type of disassembly or tearing apart of the constructs of small self in order to find connection to that which is eternal and universal. Shamanic acolytes around the globe experience — while in trance — their own dismemberment. Tantric practitioners of the chöd ritual in Tibet conduct an elaborate meditative self-dismemberment. It is nearly universal — practice involves some type of letting go of identity constructs. How then, does this vision meld with the modern vision of yoga practice, in which practice serves as more of an accessory to identity and a bolstering of ego than a tearing apart of identity? How do teachings on ego-destruction meet an identity-driven world?

Dismembered Frost Giants and the Core-Power Paradox — Self-Care Meets Self-Obliteration in an Identity-Driven World.

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Jul 03, 2019
The Yoga of Gun Control, The Grail Myth, and the Healing of the American Wound

In this mytho-poetic look at one of the defining modern political issues, Josh explores ideas of freedom, empathy, and responsibility and how they are viewed in various cultures, cosmologies, and mythologies around the globe. In the west, freedom tends to be seen solely in terms of the material freedom to follow our wants and impulses free of external interference. In yogic traditions, freedom is seen as moving beyond these same impulses towards a deeper vision of peace. 

Ultimately, questions around weaponry and armament in Indian mythologies and in the Arthurian legends revolve around worthiness and responsibility, a responsibility that extends not only to the larger community but ultimately to nature itself. Nowhere is this more evident that in the story of the holy grail itself, which explores this balance of freedom and restraint as a path that ultimately leads us towards empathy for our fellow humans and alignment to the natural world. 

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Jun 25, 2019
Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World: A Conversation With Wade Davis

What can we learn from those who can read the ocean like we can read words on a page? How can we transform how we view culture when modern western culture likes to position itself as the top of the cultural pyramid? What does a vision of sacred geography have to offer us? What are its implications for planet and person? A discussion with anthropologist and ethnobotanist Wade Davis.

If you don’t know the work of Wade Davis, you should. Davis is a Canadian anthropologist, ethnobotanist, author, and photographer whose work has focused on worldwide indigenous cultures, especially in North and South America and particularly involving the traditional uses and beliefs associated with psychoactive plants. Davis came to prominence with his 1985 best-selling book The Serpent and the Rainbow about the zombies of Haiti. Davis is Professor of Anthropology and the BC Leadership Chair in Cultures and Ecosystems at Risk at the University of British Columbia.

He’s also an Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society (probably the coolest job title on the planet) and his work has taken him all across the world. Today on The Emerald, Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World: A Conversation with Wade Davis.

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Jun 18, 2019
The Bright and Bristling Mind: Hair in Imagination and Myth

Have you ever looked at your dog and wondered what it feels like to have whiskers? Those bristling antennae, so bright and alive... Or have you put your hand on one of those globes at a science museum and felt the energy surge through the very ends of your hair? Today on the podcast, we’re going to talk about hair. Tumbling, cascading, curling, radiating — hair holds a very special and very energized place in the imaginative mind. Across the world, visions of the divine involve wild-haired goddesses, bristling white beards, and even silver-haired baboons. Turns out that hair and energy and even consciousness are very closely linked in the human mind and in some traditions, even the cosmos itself is a little bit hairy. These aren't just Rapunzel stories, this is something wilder and more unkempt — hair that sprouts out of the back of trance practitioners, hair in the shamanic experience of animal transformation, and hair as a qabbalistic mystery. 

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Jun 11, 2019
The Case of the Man Who Grew Horns: Imagination as a Driving Force of the Human Experience

Today on The Emerald. How did paleolithic and neolithic peoples see the world? What if, as an increasing number of anthropologists now think, they had access to a trance state — a vision-space — that is all but missing from the modern mind? A state that we don’t miss or see as vitally important because it’s like a relative we never knew we had. Gone out of mind and memory. 

Join Josh for this look at the human relationship with trance and imagination and how these essential states of consciousness have shaped the human mind and history. Explore lucid visions of theriomorphic beings from Siberia, Indian philosophies of the role imagination plays in the shaping of the cosmos, and Tantric practices that were designed to harness imagination as a living force that was ultimately considered more real that mundane reality itself.

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May 26, 2019
The Cow in the Elevator — An Anthropology of Wonder. An Interview with Professor Tulasi Srinavas

Today on the Emerald, we dive a little further into the topic of wonder. Not wonder as just a fleeting feeling, but rather wonder as a state of consciousness deliberately architected through creative ritual. Wonder that is pursued systematically, stoked, as our interviewee says, in order to break open our day to day experience and get us to something deeper. In this way, wonder becomes a form of resistance to the current state of the world.

Join us as Josh interviews professor and author Tulasi Srinivas about her book The Cow in The Elevator: An Anthropology of Wonder. Tulasi Srinavas is Professor of Anthropology, Religion and Transnational Studies at Emerson College. She is currently a Luce ACLS fellow in Religion and international Affairs, and a World Economic Forum expert in the study of religion. 

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May 26, 2019
Notre Dame in Flames, The Goddess Isis, and the Architecture of Consciousness

In this inaugural episode of The Emerald we take a look at some of the more mythic implications of the 2019 Notre Dame fire, the place that buildings hold in human consciousness and myth, as well as the little-known history of the cathedral which involves a popular goddess of the ancient world. 

Architecture can tell many stories — at its best, it reflects a synchronous relationship between human beings and nature. The great temples and mosques of the world are designed to convey the proportions of sacred geometry that are found throughout nature, and many are built on former sites of nature spirit worship. Notre Dame is no different. There is strong evidence that Notre Dame is built on a former site of worship of the mother goddess Isis.

Of course, architecture can also tell a very different story — that of power, class divide, and the human preoccupation with size.  

In the Tantric traditions, external architecture is seen as but a poor reflections of a deeper architecture that lives latent in the human mind, an architecture which is revealed and shaped through meditation. 

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May 26, 2019