Decomposing the Shadow by James W. Jesso

It is difficult to find anyone today who has not, at some point or other in their lives, been firmly and squarely bitten in the proverbial backside as the direct result of some innocent use of one drug or another.

For James W Jesso it was the after effects of his initial consumption of the psilocybin mushroom that initiated him into a state of consciousness that was terrifyingly strange to his young mind.

However despite his initial negative experiences with the powerful mind-bending drug he was drawn deeper into a life which increasingly focused on recreational drug use.

A Psychological Journey

In his book Decomposing the Shadow James W. Jesso shares with his readers his gradual slide into depression — one that led him into a near complete psychological breakdown whilst visiting Bangkok.

It was a point in his life that he realised that he had to take drastic action towards getting his life back on track.

Jesso tried several alternative approaches to healing — none of which gave him the permanent results that he was looking for. Despite his earlier deep personal issues borne from his drug use Jesso looked to the world of psychoactive plants for help. More specifically he returned to the psilocybin as a tool for self-healing but this time he approached its use with close and careful reference to the traditions regarding its shamanic use as its cultural history as an entheogen.

In June 2010, Jesso began a series of monthly experiments with psilocybin that he called “full moon alchemy”. This practice involved him meditating at night in open countryside and giving the mushroom free rein to guide him spiritually and psychologically.

It is as a direct consequence of his experiences during this time that led Jesso to write Decomposing the Shadow and to offer others his own personal perspective on the drug — both positive and negative.

Guiding Hands

In his book, Jesso offers a conceptual framework, or psychological model, for users of the psilocybin mushroom.

He explores the history of the Magic Mushroom and its early advocates by such figures as Timothy Leary, Ram Dass and R. Gordon Wasson before quantifying some of the core features of psilocybin use; such as those related to language and the spiritual experience.

Jesso expresses his belief regarding the importance of initiating a ‘state of surrender’ both as a way of obtaining the greatest benefits from psilocybin as well as being able to reduce the possibility of experiencing a bad trip.

It is also whilst being in this open and receptive state that he believes we make ourselves available to synchronicities and the ‘flow of things’ in our life.

Later, Jesso looks at the world of the personal and collective Shadow and explores its darkest recesses — for this is in this region that the mushroom most effectively operates in bringing to the surface most of what is so energetically repressed within and by us all.

It seems that in many regards the psilocybin mushroom can, like so many drugs that are maladministered, be either our masters or our slaves along the road to spiritual awakening.


Early on in his book Jesso describes how, after taking his first magic mushrooms, most popular forms of information dissemination; those such as TV and the internet, seemed to be so incredibly shallow and irrelevant.

After reading his book — without the added benefits of psilocybin in the system, one tends to end up feeling much the same, for here is book that instinctively highlights the most important elements to the human experience whilst eradicating our obsession with the banal and inane.

Jesso has done an exceptional job in his book not to glorify either the properties of psilocybin or its use. Instead he maintains a very grounded and realistic approach to the subject — one which serves to dispel a great deal of the misinformation that surrounds its use.

To anyone who interested in the process of unfolding their consciousness and confronting their demons this is a work that offers much. The author walks into dangerous ground by tackling social taboos and as a result comes up with some equally socially challenging ideas.

Whether anyone else’s experiences with magic mushrooms is the same as the authors or not is not really that important. What is more important is that this book opens up an important debate — one that largely challenges the immature consensus reality of civilisation…and to that end the author does a very impressive job.