At a time when indigenous people and their habitats are imperiled, and consumerism has sucked the spirit out of our own culture, books like Nathan Horowitz’s autobiographical novel Gateway Mexico are more important than ever. We’re now faced with the knowledge that we have brought our planet to the brink of destruction. Although this is not an environmental book per se, it reminded me of the value of indigenous ways and cultures, something fast and frighteningly disappearing. Gateway Mexico is the first volume of a quadrilogy that details the author’s spiritual and physical journey into indigenous shamanism--something that I always dreamed of doing, but never had the courage to think was possible. Against a number of personal odds, Nathan Horowitz traveled as a young man to a country he’d never seen, with little money and a plan to track down a shaman and offer himself as his student. The result was a classic hero’s journey of learning and spiritual healing, and Gateway Mexico is just the beginning. This is a book that needs to be read and absorbed slowly to get the full effect, and by that I do mean to compare it to taking a drug. If you’ve ever tried psychedelics, you may find Nathan’s writing to induce some of that same mind expansion--perhaps even if you never have. This takes place on two levels. One is the level of narrative, in which the author describes his states of consciousness after taking various substances. The other is the writing itself, where he adroitly uses Joycean wordplay, poetry and stream of consciousness to create an altered state in the reader. In this respect Gateway Mexico and the other volumes of this series differ from other books in the psychonaut genre, being the product of a literary mind rather than a how-to-get-enlightened manual or a work of reporting. This means that I recommend it not just for spiritual seekers, but for people who like good writing, admirers of James Joyce and Virginia Woolf. - Meredith McGhan
This is a thoroughly engaging memoir of the author's own search for self as well as his driven need to connect with some primal essence greater than himself. Full of cultural insights, adventure, philosophical meanderings and humor, I found the matter of fact tone to be refreshingly honest. I have to give the young and sometimes naive Horowitz a ton of respect for having the courage to take the journey alone and equipped with nothing but serendipity and his self-effacing (well, after he realized he wasn't the second coming of James Joyce) attitude. The story is poetically told from a place that at times is gritty and uncomfortable and sometimes dreamy, but never claiming the high ground. Call it an initiation, a baptism or a call from the wild, but the quest taken is worth the price of the ticket. I want more! - J.L. Sartain
Couldn't put it down and I might just immediately start reading it again... It's a trip! (His next is a wild journey as well)... - Dawn Adrienne Saliba
I love the genre of literature (which as far as I know it doesn't have a name) in which a young misfit struggles to make sense of his or her place in the world. Practically everyone I know who is an interesting person as an adult turns out to have a history of not fitting in when they were young. Sometimes they are a member of a cultural minority group and have to figure out how to balance their own cultural identity with their identity as a member of the larger society. Sometimes they are gender non-conforming and (unlike a member of an ethnic minority) may grow up with a sense of alienation and difference from their own family as well as the larger society. Sometimes they grew up in a cult, and broke out, or in some other unusual circumstance. Sometimes they have a special talent or calling or gift no one else understands or supports. When the search takes the form of an actual physical search, through exotic locales, When the search takes the form of an actual physical journey, through exotic locales, all the better. Whatever the reason, as I said, this is one of my favorite genres of literature. And this book is the best example of this type of literature I think I have read in years. Early in the book, the author let me know what to expect, when he reports his docovery in his creative writing classes he had no aptitude for writing fiction, because he wasn't good at constructing plot or characters, but that he "can take a thought and coat it with words, and let that dry and peel it off, and that's a poem." So I knew what to expect: a long poem. Which it turned out to be. A very friendly poem. It's like hanging out with a poetic storyteller who also happens to be funny and fun to hang out with. He quotes his early creative writing professor as saying he has "no narrative drive," but the book has a compelling flow that just carried me like a river. The writing is vivid, and I recognize many of the characters he encounters -- having made similar journeys myself -- and made me feel like I was there. I knew when I read the first few pages that I had to wait until I had time to read it, because once I tumbled into the river I wouldn't want to put the book down. Which turned out to be true. This, and, I believe, the books to come in the quadrilogy, will also be also an intimate record of a world that is rapidly disappearing before the bulldozer of corporate globalization and modernization. It won't be too many more decades before books like this, like those of Wade Davis, will be read as a record of a world lost. So I'd just like to add my testimony that this is a lot like how it actually was. - Earthworm
Nathan Horowitz has written a compelling, strange narrative. Novel? Memoir? Creative nonfiction? It's never made clear, although the fact that the narrator shares his name provides a clue that this will at least be a deeply personal book. It follows a young man's quest to experience various types of mysticism and shamanism. Parts of the book reminded me of Hesse--Siddhartha and Journey to the East--although other parts shared more of the philosophical decadence of Steppenwolf or the little-boy-lost themes of Beneath the Wheel, Rosshalde, or Demian. That said, the narrator's journey is not to East but to the South, through Mexico and Central America into the rain-forest. The results of this spiritual quest are at times amusing (often, the narrator asks for things and is told simply "No" for various comical reasons) and disturbing (intestinal discomfort seems to be the road to enlightenment). Whether the narrator ever finds the answers he's seeking, well, that's up for debate, but the journey itself has its moments of bliss, its chaos of drugs tried and people met. It's the journey, not the destination, right? This is a journey worth taking.... - Ace Boggess
If you ever wondered what it feels like to take a journey through psychedelic Latin America without risking brain damage, flesh-eating mosquitos, dengue fever or leaving the comfort of your chair, read Gateway Mexico and Bat Dreams. Horowitz takes you on a mind-bending journey into an altered Universe with insight, humor and poetry. Reminds me of Jack Kerouac, Edward Abbey, Loren Eiseley and J.D. Salinger all rolled into one. Thoughtful. Sensual. Playful. Anyone searching for the meaning in life can find that satori is here in the infinite now and the only way to discover one’s truth is to wander lost, and will enjoy reading this book. It takes you back to that time when you were young and curious and on the edge of despair and everything wonderful. - Sunmin Lee
This is an astonishing heartfelt, grand and masterfully written account, which once I picked up, I could not put down. Bravo, I say to you. Inquisitive, often momentarily hilarious and all the while taking us into territory most of us have never visited. Wonderful to read. - Chris
Just read it. It’s a story about world class medicine people from an ancient tradition. Ancient visionary wisdom from the great dreamers. Worlds beyond worlds. See what lies beyond the gates of infinity and your own heart, through Nathan’s incredibly sincere account of a seemingly impossible tale. Just read it! - Dave Santander
A shaman starts out as a person who his or herself needs to be healed. In this first part of a memoir of his own path to healing Nathan Horowitz describes his younger years and their frustrations that led him go to Mexico in search of perspectives that could help him mend his psychic wounds. The more honest a person is with himself the more likely he will be able to find useful answers, and Nathan is very honest with himself. He has a good understanding of his own psycho-dynamics, how they were influenced by the divorce of his parents when he was very young. He is equipped with a good head, a good mind, a prerequisite for entering on the path of self-knowledge. In the narrative we first learn in considerable detail about this personal background that prepared Nathan for his search. When he finally gets to Mexico Nathan knows what he wants to do but is entirely open to serendipitous happenings. Those happen in the classic pilgrimage place for peyote, the Wirikuta of the Huichol people, in the middle of the country. The adventures Nathan has are described in language that is never dull. If you're up for a good read this memoir is for you. - N. Pearson
Nathan D. Horowitz's Gateway Mexico is a travel journal wrapped in a fever dream, and smoked higher and higher into the warm, wet living night. His smooth, poetic, restless prose takes the reader friendly by the hand, & leads him or her into passages of natural & metaphysical beauty, weaving them together so that dream & trip & breakfast & books & music & faces & birds & sky & rain & countless other things become again the singular kaleidoscopic vision of the world they always were, before humans starting stripping language of music & started outfitting it as a weapon. Read his work with trust, & he will keep it always. Warm with him by the ancient fires of his fine words, listen, learn, think on what you might share in return. - R.S.
Nathan D. Horowitz’s Gateway Mexico has the fine subtitle 'Adventures of another gringo who wanted to be a shaman,' which conveys well what the book is about, and also the mixture of seriousness and irony which makes the book very worth reading. The adventures of the youthful, naive, first-person narrator, who is also called Nathan and may well be more than just an alter ego of the author, lead us through Mexico and Ecuador, always in search of the hallucinogens peyote and ayahuasca. His wondering, often self-doubting view, and his experiences with flora and fauna and with the indigenous communities where he seeks shamanistic experiences and healing from the pain of the world, shape the mood of this book, which recalls a little Carlos Castañeda, a little Wade Davis’ phenomenal 'One River.' Ciro Guerra's film 'The Embrace of the Serpent' also comes to mind when reading. - Wolfgang Ratz
Gateway Mexico: Adventures of another gringo who wanted to be a shaman (2019) is the first book in a self-published quadrilogy by Nathan D Horowitz titled Nighttime Daydreams. It is followed by Bat Dreams, Provisional Truths, and Beyond Wahuya. Horowitz spent several years living in Latin America, and half the royalties from his book series are being donated to the Siekopai (Secoya) nation of Ecuador ‘in return for allowing their myths and legends to appear in Nighttime Daydreams.’ This review deals exclusively with Gateway Mexico—entailing the first and second journeys of the series. In some respects Gateway Mexico sits within a classic formulation of ‘trip lit’ so far as it charts both a psychological and geographical journey, entwining both to underscore narrative development. The book begins in the third-person with a depressed teenager and a failed suicide attempt—more akin to a cry for help. The earlier passages set the psychological scene as the effects of a messy parental divorce, alongside the challenges faced by a young adult, are explored through recounted therapy sessions. It also shifts into a first-person narrative as you enter into the protagonist’s space, at which point his name, Nathan, is introduced for the first time. His home in Ann Arbor, United States, is immediately associated with the romantic and familial conflicts of his relationships, and in some sense represents a place of psychological alienation. He begins to look out into the world of Latin America and its native plant hallucinogens as a redemptive space, where a gringo might become a shaman, something other and seemingly more powerful. His mind is opened to its possibilities through discussion with returning visitors and his precocious reading habit—an important theme. ‘I loved literature, but I didn’t want to be only a reader and a writer. I wanted to be a hero in my own adventure. That didn’t seem to be an option, though. So I traveled in books. They were spaceships, time machines, multipliers of identity.’ (15-16) An intertwining relationship between life and literature cradles Nathan’s story, and is in several respects the meta-narrative of Gateway Mexico. Most poignantly, the French poet Arthur Rimbaud’s important notion of deranging the senses is introduced early on. This not only mediates the protagonist’s feelings at the beginning, but is also the transformative axiom as he journeys into Latin America—first to Mexico for a Sun Dance and then later onto Ecuador. The journey mediates a way through a derangement of the everyday. In this way the story sits within an interesting French pharmographical tradition that plays with this idea of derangement. This tradition includes Antonin Artaud (1896-1948) and Henri Michaux (1899-1984), and explores the potential for transformation. ‘I wanted to visit Huichols,’ Horowitz writes, ‘famous for their colorful art and their use of peyote. I wanted to systematically derange my senses, or, in Nezahualcoyotl’s terms, alter the bandwidth of reality I perceived’ (55). As he travels further away from simple derangement and his home existence, his focus transforms into a more encompassing ontology that entails a rearrangement, which sits paradoxically within a more alien and foreign landscape. In Mexico, he is introduced to the term inklakesh, which broadly means that what one does to others, one does to oneself, and vice versa. ‘Based on literary inklakesh, the events of this book might as well be happening to you; in fact, in the larger sense, we’re not separate individuals, but biologically-connected branches of the four-dimensional family tree of humanity’ (89). Horowitz cleverly uses this notion to switch into a second-person narrative for part of the text. While it is certainly an effective tool, one that gives a nod to a recurring Joycean influence, it does sometimes become slightly too metatextual when the narrator points out when this shift occurs. This extra level of self-reference removes the reader momentarily, which is a shame after having so excellently drawn them in. When Horowitz does try peyote for the first time the experience become the metaphorical gateway, allowing his trip to continue more deeply after briefly touching baseline back home. Thereafter, in Ecuador, he spends time with the ‘last’ Secoya shaman, don Joaquín Piaguaje, who is pleased that Horowitz had experienced LSD and other hallucinogens—it was hard to find local youngsters to pick up the mantle. There he tries yagé (ayahuasca), experiencing a kind of telepathic connection with his shaman, and believing that he had at last found a teacher to guide him.
One of the most beautifully written sections of Gateway Mexico describes a river journey into the Amazon from the town of Coca, in the land of the Waorani. It is not so much a journey into the heart of darkness, however, as a return to the light of self, ending in a geographical dislocation where his psychology began. ‘I read from James Joyce’s jungly novel Finnegan’s Wake, muttering it aloud to help me focus. It made little sense, but reading put me inside a psychological force field, and its glossolalic neologisms reconnected me to the night of yagé’ (123). Through a blaze of mosquitoes and distasteful episodes of monkey eating, the mythologizing of his everyday life begins to form a psychological sanctuary. Overall, Gateway Mexico is an intriguing beginning to the Nighttime Daydreams series. It gathers an engaging pace as the narrative unfolds, and manages to balance the uncanny relationship between mind space and alien place to great effect. Having rearranged the senses, the follow-up books promise an exploration of the protagonist’s new-found forms, and what is likely to be an ever more intimate look at shamanistic life in Ecuador. - Robert Dickins, review in Psychedelic Press UK
The second volume in the Nighttime Daydreams quadrilogy, Bat Dreams, opens with the author/narrator back in Ecuador to study with the Secoya shaman don Joaquin in October 1994, and his second trip on yage, classified as an entheogen (psychedelic drug leading to spiritual experiences) and used for centuries, perhaps even millennia, by indigenous shamans to experience other realities. The prose is immersive and detail-rich, and brings the reader into the trip and the setting. Memories, realizations, and metaphors crowd into Nathan’s brain on yage--new words in the Secoya language, reminders of myth and literature, pop culture references and healings of past traumas. Western culture lacks initiation rituals for youth. It used to be that young men were initiated by their elders into adulthood, and into a community of men--brother and father figures, if not literal kin. (There were similar rituals for young women). Nathan’s first yage visions and the thoughts they spark speak to the loss in our culture of these ancient human rituals, as he grapples at the age of 26 with a deeply relatable desire for a healthy and functional relationship with his father or a surrogate, seeking it in don Joaquin. After a large dose of yage, a profound healing occurs--he feels a great pain that leads to catharsis, then joy, a realization that death is nothing to fear (though fear’s role is protective), all while lying in a hammock in don Joaquin’s house. He sees dead American soldiers and honors them in song and it makes me wonder if ancient warrior bands practiced initiations like this, and if Nathan has tapped into something ancient and hardwired in the human experience. Readers who have experienced moments of the numinous revealing itself, of lightning bolts of wisdom and self-insight, or inexplicable metaphysical happenings, may feel validated by some of the insights Nathan gains on his trips. I know I certainly did; they were quite parallel to my own at times. The only way to really describe such experiences is through imagistic, poetic lines and the author is very effective at this. Bat Dreams (and the first volume, Gateway Mexico) brought my own such experiences back to me, reminding me that I’m connected to other people at the ground of being, no matter how alienating Western culture is--not only other humans, but animals, plants, rocks, anything in this living system we call existence. If more people were to experience this level of connection (as many psychonauts and spiritual seekers have opined) we might have a whole different orientation to stewardship of the earth, and see more commonalities and reasons for peace and compassion across cultural divides. - Meredith McGhan
The writer of the first review did a fine and thorough job of describing Bat Dreams. I'll focus on some other aspects. First I want to say that Bat Dreams is first rate literature. The writing is superb and polished. Second it beautifully evokes the feeling of the location on the Aguarico river in northern Ecuador which I visited for a few days with the author in 1998 or 99. The descriptions of wildlife--birds, insects, peccaries are all superbly detailed as is the way the sounds of Nature in the Amazon region contribute greatly to mood in general, and, in this case also to the production of visions and insights under the influence of yage/ayahuasca. Third I want to mention sections of the book in which the author summarizes his realizations--the wisdom and insight he has gained from his sessions of drinking yage. These sections appear at various points following all night yage sessions, and you can say that they are the pith of the narrative. And they are wonderful. The purpose of the drinking of yage is to gain precisely such insights to help guide the next period of one's life. If you, like Nathan and me, have had this experience and benefited from it or if you are curious about it and considering it, reading Bat Dreams will give you a good sense of what to expect. - N. Pearson
More and more people are heading down to South America for quote-unquote ayahuasca tourism, many raving about their experiences with messianic fervor. Bat Dreams is different. Grounded. Intriguing and poetically written. Here is the self-aware journal of a young man embarking upon a shamanic apprenticeship with the Secoya tribe in Ecuador, with all the discomforts, confusion and very odd meals that entails. This is not an epic quest for the secrets of the universe but a day-to-day, oft-ordinary, stream of consciousness account of harvesting, ingesting, experiencing and interpreting the bewildering visions of "yage", Amazonia's so-called brew of souls. The feet of the sky people hovering overhead. The inescapable grip of a spiritual jaguar. According to the author, many Secoya youth are increasingly disinterested in shamanic healing practices which is why older shamans are increasingly taking gringos under their wings. It is not an easy apprenticeship, but it is a fascinating one. For those who like their travellogues astral, temporal and real, and/or are curious about ayahuasca in its natural setting, Bat Dreams is the ride for you. - Ian Winn
Authentic and raw. A memoir of shamanic alchemical transformation from inside the hammock in an “insert yourself as protagonist” romp through the amazon and the psyche. This book is for folks who love mysticism, authentic traditional mythology, anything shamanic, dreamwork, medicine, psychology and archetypes. The format is part prose, part novel, part memoir, part visionary travelogue that bends genres and gently walks the reader out of the norm and into the phenomenal. I can’t recommend this book enough! The first and last book of its kind. Book 2 of 4. Collect em all! - Dave Santander
Just fantastic. A wild adventure through the eyes of a young adventurer who, unknowingly seeking healing from his parents' bitter divorce, escapes to the Ecuadorian jungle to train with a shaman. Evocative, penetrating, and filled with quirky insights and philosophic truth. - Dawn Adrienne Saliba
Nathan Horowitz continues the fascinating journey of narrator/author surrogate Nathan as he furthers his travels through central America, finding spirituality in the oddest places. This journey, which began in Horowitz's Gateway Mexico, adds new characters, some full of bluster and others levity, as here: "But can I be a healer? Joaquín has told me that each night one drinks yagé is called a house, and when I’ve drunk fifteen houses of yagé, I’ll be able to cure any illness. This house is number four. Any illness? I wonder, multicolored lights wink on in the darkness and my body becomes flexible and diffuse. Even AIDS and cancer? I doubt it, but I’m willing to try. Joaquín remarked in another conversation that he didn’t know if I’d be able to turn into a jaguar, because I’m so tall. “They having jaguar tunics in their house that they giving people to put on,” he explained. “I don’t know if they having one big enough for you.” He seemed genuinely concerned about this. Now, amid the pulsation of the multicolored lights of the soul, I remember I used to want to shapeshift when I was a teenager. I concluded then that I’d have to die before I could." Nathan's quest could be called Quixotic or maybe even Gonzo. Either way, it captures the imagination and leaves the reader with much to consider. A good book, especially if you've already picked up Gateway Mexico. - Ace Boggess
What would it be like to like to visit an indigenous communities untouched by ayahuasca tourism and drink ayahuasca with them? The author visited the Secoya/Siona of the Ecuador/Colombia border region in the late 1990s and drank yage with them. The book carries you along the current of the author's experience, and it feels like whitewater rafting – bouncing up and down, twirling around in unexpected currents, catching your breath in the more placed parts of the river and getting a chance to admire the scenery. Then, in the long Chapter 10 (of 11) we get out on the bank and watch the river go by, as the author talks with a friend who has spent time among the Waoranis and other indigenous peoples of the region. Unlke many writers on ayahuasca, the author had no expectations, but followed the flow of experience where it led, which made it very enjoyable. Reading the vivid poetry-prose brought me into the state myself. I felt like I was in the jungle with him feeling what he felt, And what more could you ask from a book? (Come to think of it, lots of things. But a book that lets you experience the author's experience is a good book.) - Earthworm
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