Plato as Shamanic Philosopher Options
#1 Posted : 4/9/2018 5:26:30 AM

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First I'd just like to say what a pleasure it is to be a part of this site. You're a great community and I owe you all a great deal.

Attached is a PDF with all the hyperlinks. Let me know what you think. I'll be interested to get feedback.

Plato as Shamanic Philosopher

It is argued by Benny Shanon, (author of the Antipodes of the mind which charts the phenomenology of the ayahuasca experience) that Platonism is likely shamanic in origin and that the philosophy itself fits best with the ayahuasca experience out of all the philosophies he is aware of link.

Is it not therefore likely that Platonism represents a great resource for the modern psychonaut for approaching the spiritual and the mundane realms given that Plato so thoroughly covers both of these in his writings? Indeed Socrates does describe himself as a mystic in the Phaedo.

I have outlined here some of the major ideas present in Plato which I believe relevant to such people. I had wrote this document as a means of preserving my own memory and to act as an introductory guide for anyone interested. I have argued below that Plato has created a system of many benefits to the modern psychonaut for both their mundane and spiritual lives with links for further reading.

The Cave

Plato describes the visible world as analogous to the inside of a cave in which, from childhood, we have been chained. The images that our senses take in are less real than the true reality outside the cave (the realm of the mind), and that through certain processes (mainly the dialectic, the out of body experience, and love) one can leave the cave and come to know reality itself (Republic 514-516).

Immortality of the Soul

Plato argues on three separate occasions, in the Republic, the Phaedrus, and the Phaedo, a reasonable proof of the immortality of the soul, that it survives through all experiences including the death of the body and is reincarnated until it learns enough so that it may maintain its existence in the realm of the mind by regaining the ‘wings of the soul’ and breaking the cycle of reincarnation (Phaedrus 246-250). Indeed, for Plato, our existence here on Earth is a direct result of inability to maintain our existence in the realm of the mind.

The Out of Body Experience

Plato argues that one way to reach the reality outside of the cave is to practice the habit of collecting the mind’s awareness from all areas of the body such that it can be by itself in a process which he describes as being like death but occurring before the physical body dies (Phaedo 66-68 ).


Plato argues that love is a semi-divine entity that inspires the mind of the lover to become more like the Gods (ideals that exist in the realm of the mind). He argues that through love one can both regain their ability to maintain their existence in the realm of the mind (Phaedrus 244 onwards), and come to know the true nature of the ideals that exist there (Symposium 202 onwards).

Key to the pursuit in the Phaedrus is figuring out which of the olympian Gods one likes the most, and attempting to imitate them as closely as possible so that when finding a lover who also most likes this God one will be appealing to them. By falling in love by the methods outlined one can be greatly inspired by the demi-God Love, and use this as a platform to come ever closer to resembling the mind of the olympian God one desires to be like. All this of course could easily be overlayed onto any system of Gods if one desired.

All is Good

Plato argues that there is only one danger in our existence, and that is to forget the truth, that the mind is capable of surviving all experience, nothing happens to anyone that isn’t good for them in the long term, and that thus, in essence, all reality is good (Republic 380, although the Rouse translation renders this point much better).

Plato builds on this and argues for a ethics based on virtue with wisdom being based in the true belief that reality is good and courage being the maintenance of this belief through all experience. He argues that physical and intellectual exercise should revolve around the development of this courage, that one should pursue things that challenge their courage so as to make it stronger.

Indeed this concept of reality being good and that one should take a courageous approach to whatever comes one's way in life mirrors the buddhist idea of non-attachment.

Proclus: There is No Such Thing as Evil

In Proposition CXLIII of his metaphysical elements, Proclus (the last leader of Plato’s academy before it was shut down by Christian Rome) follows this up and argues that there is no such thing as evil, just an obscuring of the divine light in individuals which caused by inaptitude for the light causes imbecility and ignorance.

Anyone who has physically combated hostile entities whilst out of their body may attest to their weakness and inability to resist when met with force.

Turning Belief into Knowledge

Plato argues that it is better to turn the belief that you may receive from reading his work that all reality is good into actual knowledge that is less likely to leave your mind through degradation over time or being argued down by opposing beliefs from others.

To do this one must gain knowledge of a particular ideal in the realm of the mind, the Good or the One itself (both these ideas are considered to be the same for Plato).

To do this one can follow the process outlined in the Symposium (where the Good is termed the beautiful), or follow the process outlined in the Republic termed the dialectic.

The dialectic is a process whereby you demolish all your assumptions about the nature of reality by systematically questioning them and seeing if they stand up to reason. In doing so one should come to question the nature of the One. What is the One itself?

For some ideals such a question is easier, but this one is tricky. What is the two itself? Well, two is simply two ones. Two individual ones which are identical in some way such that they can be grouped together and called two. This goes for all number, and as such all number is set on the base of one. But what is the one? How can it be defined? All number is defined in terms of one, and of course the one cannot be defined in terms of one as then it will not be a definition.

This process continues in Plato’s Parmenides, and the conclusion across his work is that the One cannot be defined. That any assertion as to its nature limits it in some way such that it cannot be an unbroken unity. For example: Can the one be said to be at rest? No. If it was at rest it would have to be at rest relative to some other entity and then we’re talking about two entities. Can the One be said to be moving? Again no. This would mean it is moving relative to some other entity. Therefore the One cannot be said to be moving nor at rest. It transcends the concept of motion and rest entirely.

Continuing in this fashion is nearing the end of the process of the dialectic, the result of which is described at the end of the sequence on the pursuit of beauty in the Symposium as coming to see reality as a great ocean of beauty (210-211).

The One in Other Traditions

Assertions of the nature of the One, the basis of reality, are seen to take similar form in other traditions.

In the Zen teachings of Huang Po the One Mind is described as without beginning, unborn, indestructible. It is not green nor yellow, and has neither form nor appearance. It does not belong to categories of things which exist or do not exist, nor can it be thought of in terms of new or old. It is neither long nor short, big nor small, for it transcends all limits, measures, names, traces, and comparisons. It is that which you see before you. Begin to reason about it and you at once fall into error.

The Dao De Jing has it as:

“The Tao that can be understood (or described, or conceived of) cannot be the primal, or cosmic, Tao, just as an idea that can be expressed in words cannot be the infinite idea.
And yet this ineffable Tao was the source of all spirit and matter, and being expressed was the mother of all created things.”

The Kabbalah has Ein Soph rendered as:

“Before He gave any shape to the world, before He produced any form, He was alone, without form and without resemblance to anything else. Who then can comprehend how He was before the Creation? Hence it is forbidden to lend Him any form or similitude, or even to call Him by His sacred name, or to indicate Him by a single letter or a single point.”

The Mundane

In book eight of Plato’s Republic he describes the systems of politics as he understands them. In his discussion of democracy and oligarchy he makes many points which are applicable to the situation many states in the western world find themselves in. He describes in democracy the dynamic struggle between the rich and the many, and how the rich will use their influence to attempt to turn the political process to their favour.

The level of insight runs very deep when Plato’s politics is understood as analogous to his map of the mind. For each system of government that he describes there is an analogous state of mind, key motivator, and part in an individual mind. Oligarchs are ruled by the desire for gain, democrats by their desire for liberty, timarchs by their desire for victory, and philosophers by their desire for wisdom, and the various political states more or less represent the same motivations on a larger scale.

Applying this model of politics and the mind allows one to form insights into the motivations and nature of various states and individuals, allowing one to seamlessly integrate their own psychedelic understanding of the nature of reality down into the mundane realm without having to learn alternative systems of thought which may not fit together so well.

Plato also argues (Gorgias) that injustice done to oneself by another is far less worse for oneself that being unjust. He argues that it should be thought of lightly, and that the unjust person should be pitied. It is of primary concern to occupy oneself with one’s own virtue (wisdom and courage), and based in belief, knowledge, and experience of the goodness of reality and the immortality of one’s mind one will never falter in maintaining their own personal excellence.

He also shares a keen insight into the nature of mathematics with Kurt Godel in seeing the limitations of the system, and thought, like Godel, that a singular system of mathematics that encompasses ethics and calculation without limitation was possible to conceive.


The works of Plato represent a formal shamanic system of philosophy which is eminently useful to those disposed to such pursuits. It has many features which are poignant and applicable to the works of psychonauts. It relates intelligibly to other spiritual systems. It also ties well into many mundane concerns, explains them well in non-technical terms, and gives those interested a very approachable and practical means by which their mundane and spiritual lives can be tied together seamlessly.


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#2 Posted : 2/12/2020 5:47:34 AM

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#3 Posted : 2/12/2020 10:51:52 AM

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Very nice read!

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#4 Posted : 2/12/2020 2:40:15 PM
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I don’t know if I’d label Plato’s system shamanic - his aim is to guide a soul to theological knowledge, but that’s not necessarily shamanic, or even mystical. Neoplatonists like Plotinus, Iamblichus, Proclus, or Dionysius, may be closer to what you are thinking of than Plato himself was.

Plato himself may be closer in character to a fellow like Aristotle, for whom theology is a discipline which is simply aimed at understanding the origin of the universe. It is true that there is more soteriology in Plato than Aristotle, but, it is likely he was not “mystical” to the degree the Neoplatonists were (and are —- they’re still around, most prominently in Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Christianity, but also to a lesser extent in Judaism and Islam).

I prefer Neoplatonic readings of Plato though, as they produce a remarkable (and mystical) synthesis of Aristotle and Plato’s writings. Neoplatonism could very easily be synthesized with shamanism - just as it has been synthesized with countless other spiritual systems for nearly 2000 years.
#5 Posted : 4/8/2020 2:22:11 PM

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Interesting and well structured topic.
To add utility to this thread, I'm linking a search for Plato's works in the Perseus Digital Library, Tufts University.

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#6 Posted : 4/8/2020 7:41:53 PM

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Didn't Plato drink kykeon at the Eleusinian Mysteries?
#7 Posted : 4/9/2020 4:22:17 PM

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Jagube wrote:
Didn't Plato drink kykeon at the Eleusinian Mysteries?

Yes, probably.

We tend to look at greek philosophy with modern, rational eyes. But "irrational" things like spirituality or mysticism played a much greater role in greek society than we usually think.
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