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, retesting, recoding 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
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 35,000 years ago; measurement, 5,000; Galileo, 400; 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 500 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.
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.
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. On 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 over intellectualized 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 16th 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 45 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.
Magic is alive in hyperspace. It is not necessary to believe me, only to form a relationship with these hallucinogenic plants.
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 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.
“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.” -Jorge Luis Borges in “The Sect of the Phoenix”
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.
The mushroom states its own position very clearly. It says, “I require the nervous system of a mammal. Do you have one handy?”
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