Jeremy Narby

  (Redirected from The Cosmic Serpent)

Jeremy Narby (born 1959 in Montreal, Quebec) is a Canadian anthropologist and author.

Jeremy Narby
Jeremy Narby visitando el Centro Takiwasi (cropped).jpg
Narby in Peru, 1996
Alma materUniversity of Kent at Canterbury
Stanford University
Notable work
The Cosmic Serpent
Intelligence in Nature

In his books, Narby examines shamanism, molecular biology, and shamans' knowledge of botanics and biology through the use of entheogens across many cultures.[1][2][3]

Early life and educationEdit

Narby was born in 1959[4] and grew up in Montreal, Quebec, and Switzerland. He studied history at the University of Kent at Canterbury.[5]

He has a PhD in anthropology from Stanford University[5] and spent time in the Peruvian Amazon undertaking his PhD research[6] starting in 1984.[7] During those years living with the Ashaninca, Narby cateloguued indigenous uses of rainforest resources to help combat ecological destruction.[6]


Narby has written and edited five books, as well as sponsored an expedition to the rainforest for biologists and other scientists to examine indigenous knowledge systems and the utility of Ayahuasca in gaining knowledge. The resulting documentary film was Night of the Liana.[8]

Since 1989, Narby has been working as the Amazonian projects director for the Swiss Non-governmental organiation, Nouvelle Planète.[5]

Narby and three molecular biologists feature in the documentary Night of the Liana that documents them revising the Peruvian Amazon to test hypothesis presented in Intelligence in Nature.[9]


Cosmic Serpent book cover

The Cosmic SerpentEdit

The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge, published in 1998 documents Narby's time researching in the Amazon rainforest and his hypothesis that indigenous peoples throughout the world have understood what modern scientists know of DNA for thousands of years.[7][6]

The book follow's Narby's two years of research as part of his doctoral studies in the Pichis Valley of the Peruvian Amazon researching the ecology of the Asháninka, an indigenous peoples in Peru that started in 1984[6] The book argued that modern scientific understandings of DNA have been known to indigenous people for thousands of years and learned by shamans through ritual.[10]

Narby documents his years of research, including his own ingestion of ayahuasca, and hypothesizes that shamans may be able to access information at the molecular level through the ingestion of ayahuasca and other entheogens.[11][12] Hewrites that his own ayahuasca ingestion was followed by hallucination and visions of two snakes, which he associates with DNA.[10] The book documents numerous indigenous peoples who incorporate images of snakes in their documentation of human creation stories, specifically peoples in the Amazonia, Mexico, Australia, Persia, Sumer, Egypt, India, the Pacific, Greece, Crete, and Scandinavia.[10]

Critical receptionEdit

Swami Gopalananda, writing in Ascent Magazine, praises the book's "spirit of personal discovery" and "unbridled enthusiasm".[13]

Biophysicist Jacques Dubochet criticized Narby for not testing his hypothesis.[13]

Publishers Weekly was critical of Narby, stating that he confuses his own enthusiasm for evidence, and while it praises his advocacy for the rights of indigenous peoples, it was critical of the lack of scientific methodology, noting the absence of experimental tests to his hypotheses.[14]

Intelligence in NatureEdit

Intelligence in Nature book cover

Intelligence in Nature: An Inquiry into Knowledge is Narby's 2005 sequel to The Cosmic Serpent and present's his hypotheses about intelligence in flora and fauna, and the ability of different species fo communicate, including at the molecular level.


Narby's recounts a journey to the Peruvian Amazon in 2001, and recalls his September 200 canoe trip with a Matsigenka Indian on the Urubamba River.[15]

Narby recounts his meeting Ornithologist Charlie Munn,[16] who recounted his investigation of macaws in the region that consumed clay which binds to the toxic alkaloids in the seeds that form part of the macaw's diet. Munn notes that the birds choose clay which is higher in kaolin content as this is more effective in binding the toxins than other clay. Narby then speculates on whether this is a sign of intelligence, instinct or evolutionary adaptive behaviour, noting that humans are identified as "smart" when they consume the clay, while birds are identified as "instinctive" when for the same behaviour?[16]

Narby discusses the intelligence corvidae and that half of the known species of birds have to learn how to sing and learning is a hallmark of intelligence.[17] He claims that shamans in trance communicate using their minds animals and plants, drawing parallels with similar behaviour exhibited in religion.[17][18] He then suggests that scientists and shamans should collaborate to "understand the minds of birds and other animals."[17] Narby also claims that shamans communicate with some entity to negotiate the exploitation of natural resources and that the entity protects plants and animals from reckless and greedy humans.[17]

In additional plants and birds, the book includes Narby's hypothesis about intelligence in mold, insects, and octopuses.[18][19]

Critical receptionEdit

Kirkus reviews points out that some of Narby's observations about mold and plants are not new information, but also notes they are "nicely summarised".[18] The review is critical of Narby for mixing up modern science with mysticism and rituals.[18]

Swami Gopalananda, writing in Ascent Magazine, notes that the book lacks the personal discovery elements that were present Narby's first book The Cosmic Serpent and assesses that while Narby asks good questions, there is a lack of answers provided. Gopalananda also notes that Narby is an anthropologist not trained in scientific enquiry.[13]


  • The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge (1995) ISBN 0-87477-911-1[10][6][9]
  • Shamans Through Time: 500 Years on the Path to Knowledge (2001) edited by Jeremy Narby and Francis Huxley ISBN 1-58542-091-3[20]
  • Intelligence in Nature (2005) ISBN 1-58542-399-8[18]
  • Psychotropic Mind: The World According to Ayahuasca, Iboga, and Shamanism (2010) ISBN 978-1-59477-312-9[21]
  • Plant Teachers: Ayahuasca, Tobacco, and the Pursuit of Knowledge (2021) ISBN 978-1608687732[22]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Posner, Michael (12 July 2006). "Plants with Soul". The Walrus. pp. 50–57.
  2. ^ Griffiths, Jay (7 July 1999). "Serpent's tale". The Guardian.
  3. ^ Pilkington, Mark (24 August 2005). "Helical visions". The Guardian.
  4. ^ Jim Willis (2017). Supernatural Gods: Spiritual Mysteries, Psychic Experiences, and Scientific Truths. Visible Ink Press. ISBN 9781578596652.
  5. ^ a b c "Jeremy Narby". Psycherence. Retrieved 16 May 2022.
  6. ^ a b c d e Wishart, Paul M. "Reflections on the cosmic serpent." Spirituality and Health International 3.4 (2002): 50-53.
  7. ^ a b Stewart, Todd (16 December 2014). "The Cosmic Serpent". Ascent. Archived from the original on 16 December 2014. Retrieved 17 May 2022.
  8. ^ Grant, John (2006). Discarded Science. Sterling Publishing. pp. 285–286. ISBN 1-904332-49-8.
  9. ^ a b Grant, John (2006). Discarded Science. Sterling Publishing. pp. 285–286. ISBN 1-904332-49-8.
  10. ^ a b c d Griffiths, Jay (7 July 1999). "Serpent's tale". The Guardian. Retrieved 15 May 2022.
  11. ^ Narby, Jeremy (2006). Intelligence in Nature. Penguin. pp. 1–2, 149–150. ISBN 1-58542-399-8.
  12. ^ We’re All Tools of DNA. Whole Earth. 2002;(107):84. Accessed May 16, 2022.
  13. ^ a b c Gopalananda S. Intelligence in Nature. Ascent Magazine. 2005;(27):61-62. Accessed May 16, 2022.
  14. ^ "Nonfiction Book Review: The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge by Jeremy Narby". 1 April 1998. Retrieved 16 May 2022.
  15. ^ Narby 2006, p. 18.
  16. ^ a b Narby 2006, p. 19.
  17. ^ a b c d Narby 2006, p. 24.
  18. ^ a b c d e INTELLIGENCE IN NATURE | Kirkus Reviews.
  19. ^ "Nonfiction Book Review: INTELLIGENCE IN NATURE: An Inquiry into Knowledge by Jeremy Narby". 1 March 2005. Retrieved 16 May 2022.
  20. ^ "Shamans Through Time: 500 Years on the Path to Knowledge". Retrieved 16 May 2022.
  21. ^ "Jeremy Narby – The Psychotropic Mind | Mind, Body, Health & Politics". 5 October 2021. Retrieved 16 May 2022.
  22. ^ "Plant Teachers: Ayahuasca, Tobacco, and the Pursuit of Knowledge by Jeremy Narby and Rafael Chanchari Pizuri". Psychedelic Scene Magazine. 16 September 2021. Retrieved 16 May 2022.

External linksEdit