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The grammar of ecstasy — The world within the word.
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A Conversation with Terence McKenna and Ram Dass
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Tryptamine Hallucinogens and Consciousness
Tryptamine Hallucinogens and Consciousness
Lilly/Goswami Conference, Esalen Institute, Big Sur, California
Well, perhaps this morning's session will be a difficult, uh, act to top; I'm not sure. It was a little rough getting here. I want to call your attention this morning to a very circumscribed place in organic nature that has, I think, an implication for what's been discussed here, uh, not in the general sense of the--some of the theories that we've heard, but in the more particular and experiential sense [clears throat], and that area is, uh, a family of hallucinogenic drugs that are--have not been mentioned particularly, which are the tryptophan-derived hallucinogens: uh, dimethyltryptamine, psilocybin, and, uh, a hybrid drug which is an aboriginal drug used in the rainforests of South America, called ayahuasca, which is dimethyltryptamine but made orally active by being taken in the presence of a monoamine oxidase inhibitor. And, the reason it seems to me appropriate to talk about these drugs in a conference devoted, not only to consciousness, where its appropriateness is obvious, but devoted to quantum physics, is because, uh, it's my interpretation that the major quantum mechanical phenomenon that we all experience, aside from life itself, uh, is dream and hallucination, because, uh, these states, at least in the restricted sense that I'm using it, take place when the large amounts of, uh, radiation of various sorts that are conveyed into the body by the senses are restricted. And, instead we see interior images, interior processes, which are mental. And, uh, these things definitely arise at the quantum mechanical level. Uh, it's been shown by John Smythies and others that there are quantum mechanical correlates to hallucinogenesis of one mol--of one atom. In other words, a compound will be inactive and one atom is moved on the ring and then the compound becomes highly active. And, to me this is a perfect proof of the dynamic linkage at the formative level between matter, quantum mechanically described, and mind, as experienced.
So far what I've said is true generally of hallucinogens and of the, uh, the anesthetics that John is interested and of other drugs and experience as, uh, as well. In other words, ordeals, dieting, this sort of thing can elucid--can elicit hallucination. But, what makes this tryptamine family of drugs interesting is the intensity of the hallucination and the concentration in the visual cortex of the activity, so that, uh, there is an immense vividness to these interiorized landscapes. It is as if information were being presented three-dimensionally and fourth-dimensionally deployed as light, as surfaces which have information coded into them. And, when you confront these dimensions, the--the dynamic relationship that, uh, is evolved is one of you relating to it, trying to decode what it is saying. And, uh, this phenomenon is, uh, not new - people have been talking to gods and demons for millennia. In fact, people have been talking to gods and demons for far more of human history than they have not.
It is only the conceit of post-industrial society's science and technology that allows us to even propound some of the questions that, uh, we take to be so important. For instance, the--the question of contact with extraterrestrials is, uh, a complete red herring, because it is hedged about with a number of assumptions which a moment's reflection will tell you are completely false. In other words, the search for, uh, a radio signal from an extraterrestrial source is probably as culture-bound an assumption as to search the galaxy for a good Italian restaurant [audience laughter]. That is just, uh, not going to happen. And yet, this has been ruled [audience laughter] as the means by which it is going to happen. Meanwhile, people all over the world - psychics, shaman, mystics, schizophrenics - are--their heads are filled with information, but it has been ruled
, uh, irrelevant, incoherent, or mad. Only, uh, that which is consensually validated through these certain instrumentalities will be accepted as a signal. The other problem is that we are actually so inundated by these signals from these other dimensions that there is a great deal of noise in the circuit.
This is what I say to John if he were here: that, uh, it is no great accomplishment to hear a voice in the head. The accomplishment is to make sure that it's telling you the truth [audience laughter], because, uh, "the demons are of many kinds: Some are made of ions, some of mind; the ones of ketamine, you'll find, stutter often and are blind." [audience member: "Alright!"] And, of all the others, I might say as well; It is not that you kneel in genuflection before a god, because you will be like Dorothy before Oz. There is no dignity in the universe unless you meet these things, uh, on your feet, and that means that you have an I/Thou relationship, and you say, "Okay, well, you say you're omniscient, omnipresent, or you say you are from Zeta Reticuli, or you say, you say; you're long on talk, but what can you show me?" And, uh, magicians, people who invoke these things, have always understood that you go into it with your wits about you.
Well, what does it--all this have to do with this family of drugs that I was talking about? Simply this: that
family of drugs has been overlooked. Eh, whenever you--psilocybin is the one that most people have some experience with. Psilocybin, legally, and in people's assumptions about it, is lumped with LSD. They say, "psilocybin, LSD, mescaline, da da da da." It is, uhm, each one of these things is a phenomenologically defined universe unto itself. And, uh, psilocybin and DMT, although DMT is more intense and briefer in its action--these things invoke the Logos, which means they work directly on the language centers, so that the important, uh, aspect of the experience is the dialogue. And, as soon as you discover this about psilocybin, about tryptamines, you have to decide whether or not to enter into the dialogue, to try and make sense of the incoming signal. And, uh, this is what I've done.
I don't call myself a scientist; I call myself an explorer, because the area that I'm looking at, there is not enough data to dream of a science. We're at the stage where people map one river and indicate other rivers flowed into it, but they didn't ascend those rivers and so nothing is known about that. And, this Baconian collecting of data, with no assumptions about what it has yielded--what it will yield, has pushed me to a number of conclusions that, uh, I didn't anticipate. I, uh, maybe by chronologically going through it I can explain to you what I mean, and describing these trips raises all of the issues.
I first took DMT in 1965, and a friend of mind came to me with this substance--how many of you have smoked DMT? [audience: "by injection"] By injection [audience member: "Yea. Wow!"] Yea [laughs]. Well, it's surprising so few have, because we live in a society that is absolutely obsessed with sensation; every kind of thing you can imagine: every therapy, every drug, every sexual configuration, all forms of media overload, all of these things are adored in this society. And, yet, here is something that actually, uh, hedonists that we are, pursuers of the bizarre that we are, this thing, uh, is too much. Or, at least as they say in Spanish,
, "it's enough!" - so much enough that it's too much. Uh, you smoke it, and it comes on in about fifteen seconds. You essentially fall back unconscious; your eyes are closed, and you hear a sound like ripping cellophane, like someone crumbling up, uh, Saran Wrap or something like that and throwing it away. A friend of mine says this is your radio entelechy ripping out of the organic matrix. And, you hear a tone, one of these ascending [makes ascending tone], this kind of thing. And, then, there is the normal hallucinogenic drug modality, which is a shifting geometric surface of migrating and, uh, changing colored forms. And, then, you come up against this; it's like the [clears throat]--well, there must be some analogy in the--at the site of activity. All the bond sites are being occupied and you're actually seeing the state begin to come into being over a period of about thirty seconds. And, then you are in a place, which is, uh--well, I haven't taken all drugs. I think if someone tells you they have taken every drug, you know they're confessing they're a dilettante. It's, uh, much better to lean hard on a few. But, I've taken most of the ones that would reflect or give, uh, uh, a measure against this experience--and you find yourself in a space, uh, it has a feeling of being underground or somehow insulated and domed. It's what, in
is called the "merry go raum," from the German word
, for "space." And, you actually--the room is going around, and in that space you feel--and Amit brushed this this morning--you feel like a child; you feel that you have come out somewhere in eternity. And, it always reminds me of the fifty-third, uh, fragment of Heraclitus, which is: "The Aeon is a child at play with colored balls." And, you not only
the Aeon at play with colored balls, but there are entities, which are, in my book,
The Invisible Landscape
, I describe them as, uh, self-transforming machine elves, but--and this is sort of what they are; they're, um, dynamically contorting topological modules that are somehow distinct from the surrounding background, which is itself undergoing this continuous transformation. They al--I always think of the scene in, uh,
The Wizard of Oz
after the house knocks the witch down and she's in Munchkin Land and the head of the Munchkins comes with a scroll, and they all have very squeaky voices and they sing a little song about [in high pitch voice] "you are absolutely and completely dead" and they're marching around her [audience laughter]. So, the Munchkins come, these hyperdimensional machine-elf entities, and they bathe you in, uh, love, which is spelled L-U-V. It's a kind of, um--well, it's not erotic and it's not heartful, but it
sure feels good
[audience laughter]. And, what they are saying is "don't be alarmed. Remember. And, do what we are doing." Now, another [stutters] and one of the interesting characteristics of DMT, and another reason that I would prefer it over something like ketamine. With ketamine, you are not afraid. You go unafraid. I think one of the interesting things about judging a drug is to see how eager people are to do it the second time. If they're eager to do it the second time, it's probably not worth bothering about, because what is necessary to have validity in these experience is, uh, the terror. The terror is the stamp of validity on the experience, because it means, you know,
this is real
. We are in the balance, and, uh, in these states with these tryptamine drugs, we read the literature, we know what the maximum doses are, the LD-50, this and that. But, so great is one's faith in mind that, when you are out there, you
that the rules of pharmacology do not really apply and that control of existence on the plane is a matter of decision and luck and the roll of the dice. With ketamine you don't get this.
Uh, so they are reassuring you, these little entities, and saying, "don't worry, don't worry, do this, look at this." Meanwhile, eh-uh, you are completely there. Your ego is intact. Your fear reflexes are intact. You are not fuzzed out at all. And, consequently, your reaction is this......[silent]........you know, and it persists, and it persists, and you breathe, and it persists, and they're saying, you know, "don't, don't get some loop of wonder going that quenches your ability to understand; just try not to be so amazed; try to hang in and look at what we're doing." And, what they're doing is, um, emitting sounds, like music, like language, and these sounds, uh, pass, as Philo Judaeus said that the Logos would when it became perfect, pass from being heard, without ever going over a quantized, uh, moment of distinction, into things beheld. And, so what you--you hear and behold a language of alien meaning, which is taking place right in front of you and it is conveying alien, uh, information, which cannot be Englished.
Now, being a monkey, there is a--there is, uh, a kind of cognitive dissonance that is set up in our hindbrain when you a--encounter an unenglishable object, because you try to pour mind over it and it just sheds it like water off a duck's back. And, then you try again and you are looking at it, and this cognitive dissonance, this "wow" or "flutter" that is building off this object, uh, causes wonder or awe, awe at the brink of terror. So, you have to keep controlling that. And the way to control it is to do what they're telling you to do, which is "do what we are doing," and then you begin to experiment with your voice, and, uh, I've, uh--a phenomenon is possible. And, uh, by the way, I give this lecture in this way to invite the attention of experimentalists, whether they be shaman or laboratory people or tank people or whatever. Because, I'm telling you: there's something going on in this, uh--with these drugs that is, uh, not part of the normal spectrum of hallucinogenic drug experience as its, uh, known to be. So, you begin--you begin this glossolalia-like phenomenon, although it isn't classical glossolalia, which has been studied. In classical glossolalia, pools of saliva eighteen inches across have been measured on the floors of these South American churches after these, uh--where people have been kneeling. And, people always ask, after the glossolalia has happened; they turn to the people next to them and say, "Did I do it? Did I do it? Did I speak in tongues?" This isn't like that. This is simply a brain state which allows a--either the assembly language which lies behind language, or a primal language of the sort that Robert Graves was talking about in
The White Goddess
, or a Kabbalistic language of the sort that is described in the
a primitive, primal, proto
that comes out of you, and you discover
can make the extraterrestrial objects - the feeling-toned, meaning-toned, three-dimensional rotating complexes of light and color in transformation...and you feel like a child. And, you are playing with colored balls; you have become the Aeon.
So, this happened to me twenty seconds after I did this drug, uh, on this day in 1965. And, I was, uh, appalled. I mean, I thought that I had my ontological categories intact, and I had taken LSD, and, just, it was all going forward, and this thing came upon me like a bolt from the blue. And, I came down and I said (and I said it many times while I was coming down), "I
believe it; this is
impossible." Because, it was not, you know, that I was kneeling at the feet of some rishi or roshi or geshe or one of those guys; it was not, that it was--there was a declension of gnosis. It was that, friends, right here and now, one quanta away, there is raging a universe of active, uh, intelligence that is transhuman, hyperdimensional, and--but extremely alien. The god that John Lilly talks to, that they play these games with about moral values and setting the constraints of the universe is not like this god at all. The chief thing about the 'god of tryptamine', if we can use that; I call it the Logos; that's what I think it is--and I make no judgements about it. I constantly engage it in dialogue, saying, "Well, what are you? Are you some kind of diffuse consciousness which is in the ecosystem of the Earth? Are you, uh--and the problem with it is that it is just full of answers to these questions [audience laughter], you know. It's--it's the
history of the galaxy over the last four and half billion years is, uh, trivial to it. And, it can show you. You know, you can tune these images. And, of course, the question always is: independent validation, at least for a time, for me, the question was...but, as I attended more and more conference like this and realized that the structure of the Western intellectual enterprise is so flimsy at the center that apparently no one knows anything, I became less, uh, reluctant to talk about these experiences. Because, they
experiences. They are primary datum for being. It is, uh, this is, uh, not remote, and yet it is
unspeakably bizarre that it casts into doubt
of man's historical assumptions. And, any of you who are familiar with the books I've written, I've entertained various ideas about it. When we first discovered the mushrooms in South America, and, uh, it does these same things that DMT does, although it builds up over an hour and is sustained for a couple of hours and then comes down. But, there is the same confrontation with an alien intelligence, and, um, these extremely bizarre unEnglishable information complexes and the hint, the hint that's--that these drugs suggest that there is something that you can do with your body that you have never done, that no one has ever done, and that, yet, once it is done, it will be so obvious that it will fall right into the mainstream of cultural evolution. And, I suggest that, uh, language either is the shadow of what I'm talking or that what I'm talking about is a further extension of language. Perhaps, uh, you know, I mean
a language, a human language is possible where there--actually the intent of meaning is beheld in three-dimensional space. If this can happen on DMT, it means it is at least, under some circumstances, accessible to human beings. Well, given ten thousand years and a high pressure technology looking at that, does anyone doubt for a moment that it could become, uh, just a cultural convenience in the same way that mathematics has become a cultural convenience or language has become a cultural convenience?
But, anyway, in confrontation with this organized entelechy on the other side, I--many theories were elaborated. Uh, the theory that we wrote about in the book on psilocybin, that teaches you how to grow it, was, uh, that it was in fact an extraterrestrial; that, in fact, the physical body of the mushroom was the flesh of a species that did not evolve on Earth; that, uh...and it, it--it said this; it had a whole rap. It said, "yes, well, once a culture takes control of its, uh, has complete understanding of its genetic, uh, information, it reengineers itself for survival. And, our version of that is a mycelial network strategy when in contact with the planetary surface and a spore dispersion strategy, uh, in terms of--as a means of--of radiating through the galaxy." And, uh, though I am troubled with how freely Bell's non-locality theorem is thrown around, nevertheless, my friends on the other side do seem to be in possession of a--a huge body of information drawn from the history of the galaxy. And they say that there is nothing unusual about this, that man's conceptions of, uh, organized intelligence and the dispersion of life in the galaxy and this sort of thing are just hopelessly culture-bound, and that the galaxy has been a, uh, an organized system for billions of years. And, that, and that life evolves under so many different regimens of temperature and pressure that searching for an extraterrestrial who will sit down and have a conversation with you is like searching for a good Italian restaurant out in the galaxy. The main problem with extraterrestrials is to
them. Because, time is so vast and evolutionary strategies so varied and environments so varied that, uh, the trick is to know that contact is being made at all. The mushroom, uh, if one can believe what it says in one of its moods, is a symbiote, and it desires symbiosis with the human species. It achieved it early, ah, by associating itself with the domesticated cattle that people keep. In other words, like the plants man grows and the animals he, uh, husbands, the mushroom sought to inculcate it into--self into that family, because it's very clear that where human genes, those genes will be carried. It's the old 'develop, uh, burrs so you can attach yourself to the fur of an animal and it c--will carry you with it wherever it goes'. The mushroom, by being domesticated by human beings, has become a part of the human family. But, this is all just beginning, in terms--speaking for a moment in terms of the classic mushroom cults of Mexico, they were destroyed by the coming of the conquest. The--the Franciscans had an absolute monopoly on theophagia [sic--theophagy], which is eating God; and when they came upon these people calling a mushroom
the flesh of the gods, they set to work. The Inquisition were able to push this thing into the mountains of Oaxaca so that it only survived in a few villages until Valentina and Gordon Wasson went, in the 1950s and found it there.
And, I--the metaphor I like, uh, for that, another metaphor; you see, you balance these explanations: now I'm going to sound like I don't think it's an extraterrestrial. It may be, it may not be. It may be what I've recently come to suspect - that the human soul is so alienated from us in our present culture that, uh, we treat it as an extraterrestrial. The most alien thing in the cosmos is, uh, the human soul. That's why these movies like 'E.T.', or even 'Alien', uh, those guys could come tomorrow and, uh, the DMT trance is weirder [some audience laughter] and holds more promise for, uh, for information for the human future. Uh, it is--it is that intense a kind of thing. But, what I was saying was, um, they burned the mushroom cult, they forced it into repression, they burned the libraries of Greece at an earlier period, they dispersed the ancient knowledge, they shattered the stellar and astrological machinery that had been built (and, by "they," I mean the Greco-Hellenistic-Christian-Judaic tradition), and they build a triumph of mechanism; they realize the alchemical dreams of the 15th and 16th century and the 20th century with the transformation of elements, the discovery of, uh, gene transplant, and this kind of thing. But then, having conquered the New World, having driven its people into cultural fragmentation and diaspora, in the mountains of Mexico, they came upon the body of Osiris - the condensed body of Eros - where it had retreated at the coming of the Christos. And, this thing is now unleashed.
If any of you read, Phil K. Dick's--one of his last novels,
, where he talks about, uh, about the Logos, how it went into the ground. It was a creature of pure information, and it went into the ground at Nag Hammadi at the burying of the Chenoboskion Library in 270. But, it was information, and it existed there until 1947, and then the texts were translated, people read them, and as soon as people had the information in their minds, the symbiote came alive, because it is a thing of pure information. And, this is the same sort of thing. The mushroom consciousness
the consciousness of the Other, both in hyperspace, which means in dream and in the drug trance, at the quantum foundation of being, and in the human future, and after death. And, all of these places which were thought the be discrete and separate parts are seen to be part of a single continuum. The--what history is is the dash, over ten to fifteen thousand years, from monkeyhood to flying saucer, without ripping the envelope of the species so badly that the borth [sic]--that the birth is aborted and, uh, and, uh, fails, and we remain in physes.
[32:38] - BREAK IN REVIEW 1 (KW)
And, History is the shockwave of eschatology. Something is at the end of time and is casting an enormous shadow over human history, drawing all human becoming toward it. All the wars, the philosophies, the rapes, the pillaging, the migrations, the cities, the civilizations - all of this is occupying a microsecond of geological, planetary, and galactic time as the monkeys react to the symbiote, which is in the environment and which is feeding information to humanity about the larger picture. I do not belong to the school that wants to attribute all of our accomplishments to knowledge given to us as a gift from friendly aliens - I'm describing something I hope is more profound than that. As nervous systems evolve to higher and higher levels, they come more and more to understand the true situation in which they are embedded, and the true situation in which we are embedded is an organism, an organization of intelligence on a galactic scale. Science and mathematics may be culture-bound. We cannot know for sure, because we have never dealt with an alien mathematics or an alien culture except in the occult realm, and that evidence is inadmissible by the guardians of scientific truth. This means that the contents of shamanic experience and of plant-induced ecstasies are inadmissible even though they are the source of novelty and the cutting edge of the ingression of the novel into the plenum of being.
Think about this for a moment: If the human mind does not loom large in the coming history of the human race, then what is to become of us? The future is bound to be psychedelic, because the future belongs to the mind. We are just beginning to push the buttons on the mind. Once we take a serious engineering approach to this, we are going to discover the plasticity, the mutability, the eternal nature of the mind and, I believe, release it from the monkey. My vision of the final human future is an effort to exteriorize the soul and internalize the body, so that the exterior soul will exist as a superconducting lens of translinguistic matter generated out of the body of each of us at a critical juncture at our psychedelic Bar Mitzvah. From that point on, we will be eternal somewhere in the solid-state matrix of the translinguistic lens we have become. One's body image will exist as a holographic wave transform while one is at play in the fields of the Lord and living in Elysium.
Other intelligent monkeys have walked this planet. We exterminated them and so now we are unique, but what is loose on this planet is language, self-replicating information systems that reflect functions of DNA: learning, coding, templating, recording, testing, re-testing, re-coding against DNA functions. Then again, language may be a quality of an entirely different order. Whatever language is, it is in us monkeys now and moving through us and moving out of our hands and into the noosphere with which we have surrounded ourselves.
The tryptamine state seems to be in one sense transtemporal; it is an anticipation of the future, It is as though Plato's metaphor were true - that time IS the moving image of eternity. The tryptamine ecstasy is a stepping out of the moving image and into eternity, the eternity of the standing now, the nunc stans of Thomas Aquinas. In that state, all of human history is seen to lead toward this culminating moment. Acceleration is visible in all the processes around us: the fact that fire was discovered several million years ago; language came perhaps thirty-five thousand years ago; measurement, five thousand; Galileo, four hundred; then Watson-Crick and DNA. What is obviously happening is that everything is being drawn together. On the other hand, the description our physicists are giving us of the universe - that it has lasted billions of years and will last billions of years into the future - is a dualistic conception, an inductive projection that is very unsophisticated when applied to the nature of consciousness and language. Consciousness is somehow able to collapse the state vector and thereby cause the stuff of being to undergo what Alfred North Whitehead called "the formality of actually occurring." Here is the beginning of an understanding of the centrality of human beings. Western societies have been on a decentralizing bender for five hundred years, concluding that the Earth is not the center of the universe and man is not the beloved of God. We have moved ourselves out toward the edge of the galaxy, when the fact is that the most richly organized material in the universe is the human cerebral cortex, and the densest and richest experience in the universe is the experience you are having right now. Everything should be constellated outward from the perceiving self. That is the primary datum.
The perceiving self under the influence of these hallucinogenic plants gives information that is totally at variance with the models that we inherit from our past, yet these dimensions exist. One one level, this information is a matter of no great consequence, for many cultures have understood this for millennia. But we moderns are so grotesquely alienated and taken out of what life is about that to us it comes as a revelation. Without psychedelics the closest we can get to the Mystery is to try to feel in some abstract mode the power of myth or ritual. This grasping is a very overintellectualized and unsatisfying sort of process.
As I said, I am an explorer, not a scientist. If I were unique, then none of my conclusions would have any meaning outside the context of myself. My experiences, like yours, have to be more or less part of the human condition. Some may have more facility for such exploration than others, and these states may be difficult to achieve, but they are part of the human condition. There are few clues that these extradimensional places exist. If art carries images out of the Other from the Logos to the world - drawing ideas down into matter - why is human art history so devoid of what psychedelic voyagers have experienced so totally? Perhaps the flying saucer or UFO is the central motif to be understood in order to get a handle on reality here and now. We are alienated, so alienated that the self must disguise itself as an extraterrestrial in order not to alarm us with the truly bizarre dimensions that it encompasses. When we can love the alien, then we will have begun to heal the psychic discontinuity that has plagued us since at least the sixteenth century, possibly earlier.
My testimony is that magic is alive in hyperspace. It is not necessary to believe me, only to form a relationship with these hallucinogenic plants. The fact is that the gnosis comes from plants. There is some certainty that one is dealing with a creature of integrity if one deals with a plant, but the creatures born in the demonic artifice of laboratories have to be dealt with very, very carefully. DMT is an endogenous hallucinogen. It is present in small amounts in the human brain. Also it is important that psilocybin is 4-phosphoraloxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine and that serotonin, the major neurotransmitter in the human brain, found in all life and most concentrated in humans, is 5-hydroxytryptamine. The very fact that the onset of DMT is so rapid, coming on in forty-five seconds and lasting five minutes, means that the brain is absolutely at home with this compound. On the other hand, a hallucinogen like LSD is retained in the body for some time.
I will add a cautionary note. I always feel odd telling people to verify my observations since the sine qua non is the hallucinogenic plant. Experimenters should be very careful. One must build up to the experience. These are bizarre dimensions of extraordinary power and beauty. There is no set rule to avoid being overwhelmed, but move carefully, reflect a great deal, and always try to map experiences back onto the history of the race and the philosophical and religious accomplishments of the species. All the compounds are potentially dangerous, and all compounds, at sufficient doses or repeated over time, involve risks. The library is the first place to go when looking into taking a new compound.
We need all the information available to navigate dimensions that are profoundly strange and alien. I have been to Konarak and visited Bubaneshwar. I'm familiar with Hindu iconography and have collected thankas. I saw similarities between my LSD experiences and the iconography of Mahayana Buddhism. In fact, it was LSD experiences that drove me to collect Mahayana art. But what amazed me was the total absence of the motifs of DMT. It is not there; it is not there in any tradition familiar to me.
There is a very interesting story by Jorge Luis Borges called "The Sect of the Phoenix." Allow me to recapitulate. Borges starts out by writing: "There is no human group in which members of the sect do not appear. It is also true that there is no persecution or rigor they have not suffered and perpetrated." He continues,
...the rite is the only religious practice observed by the sectarians. The rite constitutes the Secret. This Secret...is transmitted from generation to generation. ...The act in itself is trivial, momentary, and requires no description. ...The Secret is sacred, but is always somewhat ridiculous; its performance is furtive and even clandestine and the adept do not speak of it. There are no decent words to name it, but it is understood that all words name it or, rather, inevitably allude to it.
Borges never explicitly says what the Secret is, but if one knows his other story, "The Aleph," one can put these two together and realize that the Aleph is the experience of the Secret of the Cult of the Phoenix.
In the Amazon, when the mushroom was revealing its information and deputizing us to do various things, we asked, "Why us? Why should we be the ambassadors of an alien species into human culture?" And it answered, "Because you did not believe in anything. Because you have never given over your belief to anyone." The sect of the phoenix, the cult of this experience, is perhaps millennia old, but it has not yet been brought to light where the historical threads may run. The prehistoric use of ecstatic plants on this planet is not well understood. Until recently, psilocybin mushroom taking was confined to the central isthmus of Mexico. The psilocybin-containing species Stropharia cubensis is not known to be in archaic use in a shamanic rite anywhere in the world. DMT is used in the Amazon and has been for millennia, but by cultures quite primitive - usually nomadic hunter-gatherers.
I am baffled by what I call "the black hole effect" that seems to surround DMT. A black hole causes a curvature of space such that no light can leave it, and, since no signal can leave it, no information can leave it. Let us leave aside the issue of whether this is true in practice of spinning black holes. Think of it as a metaphor. Metaphorically, DMT is like an intellectual black hole in that once one knows about it, it is very hard for others to understand what one is talking about. One cannot be heard. The more one is able to articulate what it is, the less others are able to understand. This is why I think people who attain enlightenment, if we may for a moment comap these two things, are silent. They are silent because we cannot understand them. Why the phenomenon of tryptamine ecstasy has not been looked at by scientists, thrill seekers, or anyone else, I am not sure, but I recommend it to your attention.
The tragedy of our cultural situation is that we have no shamanic tradition. Shamanism is primarily techniques, not ritual. It is a set of techniques that have been worked out over millennia that make it possible, though perhaps not for everyone, to explore these areas. People of predilection are noticed and encouraged.
In archaic societies where shamanism is a thriving institution, the signs are fairly easy to recognize: oddness or uniqueness in an individual. Epilepsy is often a signature in preliterate societies, or survival of an unusual ordeal in an unexpected way. For instance, people who are struck by lightning and live are thought to make excellent shamans. People who nearly die of a disease and fight their way back to health after weeks and weeks of an indeterminate zone are thought to have strength of soul. Among aspiring shamans there must be some sign of inner strength or a hypersensitivity to trance states. In traveling around the world and dealing with shamans, I find the distinguishing characteristic is an extraordinary centeredness. Usually the shaman is an intellectual and is alienated from society. A good shaman sees exactly who you are and says, "Ah, here's somebody to have a conversation with." The anthropological literature always presents shamans as embedded in a tradition, but once one gets to know them they are always very sophisticated about what they are doing. They are the true phenomenologists of this world; they know plant chemistry, yet they call these energy fields "spirits." We hear the word "spirits" through a series of narrowing declensions of meaning that are worse almost than not understanding. Shamans speak of "spirit" the way a quantum physicist might speak of "charm"; it is a technical gloss for a very complicated concept.
It is possible that there are shamanic family lines, at least in the case of hallucinogen-using shamans, because shamanic ability is to some degree determined by how many active receptor sites occur in the brain, thus facilitating these experiences. Some claim to have these experiences naturally, but I am underwhelmed by the evidence that this is so. What it comes down to for me is "What can you show me?"
I always ask that question; finally in the Amazon, informants said, "Let's take our machetes and hike out here half a mile and get some vine and boil it up and we will show you what we can show you."
Let us be clear. People die in these societies that I'm talking about all the time and for all kinds of reasons. Death is really much more among them than it is in our society. Those who have epilepsy who don't die are brought to the attention of the shaman and trained in breathing and plant usage and other things - the fact is that we don't really know all of what goes on. These secret information systems have not been well studied. Shamanism is not, in these traditional societies, a terribly pleasant office. Shamans are not normally allowed to have any political power, because they are sacred. The shaman is to be found sitting at the headman's side in the council meetings, but after the council meeting he returns to his hut at the edge of the village. Shamans are peripheral to society's goings on in ordinary social life in every sense of the word. They are called on in crisis, and the crisis can be someone dying or ill, a psychological difficulty, a marital quarrel, a theft, or weather that must be predicted.
We do not live in that kind of society, so when I explore these plants' effects and try to call your attention to them, it is as a phenomenon. I don't know what we can do with this phenomenon, but I have a feeling that the potential is great. The mind-set that I always bring to it is simply exploratory and Baconian - the mapping and gathering of facts.
Herbert Guenther talks about human uniqueness and says one must come to terms with one's uniqueness. We are naive about the role of language and being as the primary facts of experience. What good is a theory of how the universe works if it's a series of tensor equations that, even when understood, come nowhere tangential to experience? The only intellectual or noetic or spiritual path worth following is one that builds on personal experience.
What the mushroom says about itself is this: that it is an extraterrestrial organism, that spores can survive the conditions of interstellar space. They are deep, deep purple - the color that they would have to be to absorb the deep ultraviolet end of the spectrum. The casing of a spore is one of the hardest organic substances known. The electron density approaches that of a metal.
Is it possible that these mushrooms never evolved on earth? That is what the Stropharia cubensis itself suggests. Global currents may form on the outside of the spore. The spores are very light and by Brownian motion are capable of percolation to the edge of the planet's atmosphere. Then, through interaction with energetic particles, some small number could actually escape into space. Understand that this is an evolutionary strategy where only one in many billions of spores actually makes the transition between the stars - a biological strategy for radiating throughout the galaxy without a technology. Of course this happens over very long periods of time. But if you think that the galaxy is roughly 100,000 light-years from edge to edge, if something were moving only one one-hundredth the speed of light - now that's not a tremendous speed that presents problems to any advanced technology - it could cross the galaxy in one hundred million years. There's life on this planet 1.8 billion years old; that's eighteen times longer than one hundred million years. So, looking at the galaxy on those time scales, one sees that the percolation of spores between the stars is a perfectly viable strategy for biology. It might take millions of years, but it's the same principle by which plants migrate into a desert or across an ocean.
There are no fungi in the fossil record older than forty million years. The orthodox explanation is that fungi are soft-bodied and do not fossilize well, but on the other hand we have fossilized soft-bodied worms and other benthic marine invertebrates from South African gunflint chert that is dated to over a billion years.
I don't necessarily believe what the mushroom tells me; rather we have a dialogue. It is a very strange person and has many bizarre opinions. I entertain it the way I would any eccentric friend. I say, "Well, so that's what you think." When the mushroom began saying it was an extraterrestrial, I felt that I was placed in the dilemma of a child who wishes to destroy a radio to see if there are little people inside. I couldn't figure out whether the mushroom is the alien or the mushroom is some kind of technological artifact allowing me to hear the alien when the alien is actually light-years aways, using some kind of Bell non-locality principle to communicate.
The mushroom states its own position very clearly. It says, "I require the nervous system of a mammal. Do you have one handy?"
v1.0 - Dec 1982 - Dolphin Tapes - From a talk given at the Lilly/Goswami Conference on Consciousness and Quantum Physics at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California. This was the first of many lectures that Terence gave at Esalen. A transcription of his talk appears in Terence's 1991 book
The Archaic Revival
, wherein the incorrect year of 1983 is given for the talk.
v1.1 - Oct 1999 - Hosted by Erowid. Text taken from the Hyperreal Drug Archives, which used
The Archaic Revival
as its source.
Erowid Note: The audio recording of this talk was republished in 1986 by Lux Natura, and has
recently been posted online
. In addition to appearing in the 1991 book
The Archaic Revival
, a longer transcription of the recording that includes some of the audience question-and-answer session was published in 1993 in the
Jahrbuch für Ethnomedizin und Bewußtseinsforschung/Yearbook for Ethnomedicine and the Study of Consciousness
Nummer/Issue 2, 1992. Versions of this talk also appeared in the 1996 magazine
Towards 2012, Part II
and in the 2003
Book of Lies: The Disinformation Guide to Magick and the Occult
Original Transcription by:
Review 1 by: Kevin Whitesides (In Progress)
Review 2 by [admin only]:
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