My Vanity Fair editor, Dana Brown, came up to Montreal last week, and as we were sitting in my kitchen drinking coffee I told him about the Yanomamo Indians, who live deep in the Amazon rain forest on the Brazil-Venezuela border, snort the hallucinogenic snuff of the Virola tree and then become their rishi, their animal alter ego, which is living a parallel existence to theirs somewhere in the forest. One of the Yanomamo I was with in l975 became a hawk and started screeching and flapping around in the malocca, or communal thatch house he was living in with the rest of his village.
.Dana, who is real New York, was fascinated and asked, how do they know which animal is their rishi ? I said I wasn’t sure, but there was probably some complicated ritual/mystical process involving shamans and a vision quest in which your rishi was revealed to you.
What if you take the snuff and become the wrong animal, some animal that is not your rishi ? he went on. This was not anything I had ever thought about. I wasn’t sure it ever happened. Presumably you took the snuff and became your rishi. I had always accepted this without questioning. You were primed and programmed to become this particular animal, so you did. But conceivably you could become another animal. Why not, especially if you were in a state of mental confusion when you took the snuff, or had a bad trip. Good question, Dana, I said. Then he thought some more and came up with his own answer, which was even more New York : “You don’t tell anybody.”
That is why I love this guy, and what I love about New Yorkers. Nothing is sacred, and there is no bullshit. They’re on the ball and get right to the point, and they’re very funny, and ultimately it’s all driven by their enormous heart.