During dance lessons, Tom and I talk about books a lot, which inevitably leads to exchanging such books.
One he recommended is The Teachings of Don Juan, by Carlos Castaneda, published in 1968. This book was very popular when I was in college in the '60's and '70's. Now I can see why.
Castaneda was a graduate student at in anthropology at the University of California at L.A., when he met an old Yaqui Indian shaman named Don Juan Matus.
Throughout the book, Castaneda asks Don Juan a lot of questions, some of which Don Juan deigns to answer, others which he considers stupid (some of which I consider pretty stupid, too.) It is very much a student-teacher relationship. The quest is to become a man of knowledge, to follow the path with heart, and to experience non-ordinary reality.
In the beginning, Castaneda asks Don Juan to teach him about peyote. Don Juan takes quite a bit of convincing, but eventually agrees to take Carlos under his wing, and teach him about hallucinogenic drugs, and the powers that they bestow, in the form of enlightenment and wisdom, and assistance from various allies, helpers, supernatural beings like Mescalito and the diableros. I say assistance, though sometimes the trip is bad, and these beings don't assist, they terrorize and destroy, even kill.
The taking of the drugs is very ritualized from the gathering to the preparation, to the rules of ingesting or smoking. In the course of the book, Castaneda experiments extensively with peyote, the devil's weed (datura) and Don Juan's personal favorite, little smoke (psilocybin).
The drug trips are very interesting, as is Don Juan's philosophy. I see it as a mythology developed to explain the experiences with the drugs, and the enlightenment that can accompany some drug trips. A good experience would mean that the god in question liked you (apparently, Mescalito liked Castaneda, though if I'd experienced what he did, I might have had some doubts. But Don Juan said he liked him...)
Many of his experiences involved terror, running around like a madman, and sometimes waking up far from where he started, nudity, and one memorable awakening took place in a ditch full of water with Don Juan holding his head above the water. Other times, he is euphoric, sometimes flying.
(SPOILER) Ultimately, Castaneda gives up his apprenticeship when after several years of taking hallucinogenic drugs under the guidance of Don Juan, he finds himself experiencing "non-ordinary reality" without actually taking any drugs.
I recall some controversy about the book, questions about whether Castaneda had made up Don Juan (though I don't know about the drug experiences themselves). Either way, it's an interesting look at how a body of belief can grow around what one experiences.
The book itself is interesting, though the forward, introduction, appendices and analysis (in other words, everything written for this new edition) get pretty repetitive and tedious.
[Peyote cactus from Wikipedia]