THE MAKESHIFT MYSTIC
Flashes of terror. Flashes of joy. Flashes of confusion. Flashes of understanding. Something like Hell. Something like Heaven. I saw myself as an angel. I saw myself as a demon. Life vibrated with meaning and love. Life cracked and exploded with chaos. I thought I would die. I thought I would live forever.
Time loop 1
Some time past midnight, after hours of tripping out together, I pulled a trusted friend from out of the house because I didn’t think he would tell me the truth unless we were alone. Illuminated under a street lamp, my confused friend wondered what the hell I was acting all weird for. All I could do was ask, “is everything OK? I don’t know what’s going on. Is everything OK?” He had no fucking idea what I was getting on about but he could see that I looked terrified.
Time loop 2
Triumphantly, I marched through the suburban subdivision in the glory of the beating afternoon sun. While my friends sat confined in square containers of approved knowledge, I was scaling the walls of my consciousness – solving the mysterious of my life and writing bad teenage lines of poetry.
Time loop 3
Upon inspection, the arms of the circular clock were nowhere to be found. Time was utterly untraceable. The filthy and dark attic room soon proved to be a torture chamber for the psyche, so much so that my companion spontaneously fled the scene, hoping to escape its black corners. Where had the beatific visions gone? Where was the insight and revelation that had previously lighted the ways of the dark corridors? The entire trip brought on nothing but bleak confusion and paranoia. When would it end, of God, when would it end?
Time loop 4
The tiny wooded area expanded before us so that it’s edges were the perimeter of the universe. All was wondrous. All was hope. Laughter, uncontrollable laughter. Lest I forget the unexplainable telepathy. We could read each other’s minds, finish each other’s thoughts. We crossed the forbidden precipice that opened into the cosmos. A bound of knowing followed us and holds to this day. For me, at least it does. We had gone in the footsteps of so many before us, yet in that time and space it felt like we had unearthed secrets never before found.
LSD was the first psychedelic substance that seeped into my young brain matter. Like a launching pad, my consciousness was catapulted out beyond anything I had ever known. The year was 1997, 30 years after the Summer of Love and I was all of 16. That first trip was better than losing my virginity. A lot better. For starters, it lasted much, much longer in comparison. Secondly, after I committed to doing in, there was no self-consciousness or embarrassment in the process.
In the years that followed I broadened my psychedelic palate with magic mushrooms and mescaline, each providing me with a unique spiritual, mental and physical flight. Comparatively, LSD was the least pleasant but most mind-bending by far. The entirety of my hallucination experiments only spanned four to five years in total, yet they still influence me on an undefined level to this day.
It's incredibly hard for me to imagine advocating such a powerfully mind-altering journey to someone under 18. It’s funny how looking back on life works. We never seem to think the teenagers of today can handle what we once did. Almost every friend I had in high school jumped into psychedelic experimentation with immense enthusiasm. It was our rite of passage. A loss and reclamation of innocence, all at the same time.
What is the reasonable age at which taking hallucinogens would be most advisable? Every individual brings so many unique variables to the table that influences the outcome. Is there an appropriate place or context that leds to optimal breakthrough? There seems to be more consideration that should be considered beyond Timothy Leary’s classic “Set” and “Setting” model. An incomplete list to consider would include - childhood trauma, maturity, experiences with other drugs, an open or closed minded worldview, religious influences, mental illness, self-awareness, daringness, and so on. It may never be advisable for someone with an acute mental disorder to ever take a trip. On the other hand, I know many with depression who benefited greatly.
As a teenager, I struggled with self-hatred, low self-esteem and inner blockages, accumulated from a dysfunctional upbringing. My spiritual emptiness was filled by the only means I had available to me – drugs. By age 16, my soul was screaming out for a transcendent experience. LSD arrived just in time for me.
In many ways, I think the world would be a healthier, more enlightened place if everyone tripped at least once in their life. I guess that’s my Utopianism showing. In a reality, that’s probably a silly thing to wish for. When I went back and researched how the original hippies felt about LSD, I found the word for word sentiment being expressed. I have to remind myself that the Manson Family dosed up heavily on acid, which when used nefariously can create massive delusions of grandeur and be the set-up for mind control. While I am a general advocate, it would be foolish not enter the discussion with plenty of considerations. In short, I realize it's not something to be taken lightly.
In one case, 16 might be a perfectly acceptable age to trip. Another person may not best benefit from the experience until they hit their 20's, 30's, 40's, or 50's. You get the point. In my estimation, mindset and intention mean everything. Then again, in all honesty, I had no idea what to expect going into my first trip. None at all. I was just a naive kid looking for an adventure. I felt compelled to challenge societal rules and laws. To separate myself from what was so-called "normal." There was a yearning to be like my idols that had shown me the way through music.
I firmly believe even one trip is enough to change the experiencer’s outlook on life. Of course, with so much to feel and process, repeated experiments often bring greater residual value to the table. There does seem to be cases of “acid casualties” – Syd Barrett types, who went too far out, for too long. I like to think there’s very few instances of that sort of extremism and that it’s more an exaggerated myth.
To be sure, taking any type of hallucinogenic does involve a death. Not a physical death, but a metaphorical one. A transformative death of self. A Freudian Ego death. The death of restrictions, judgments, resentments, the future, past pain and failure. Not that fear isn't a key component of the journey. It very much played a crucial role in the transformative psycho-drama. (In fact, the more trips I took, the more fear showed itself. This eventually led to my discontinuing these inner dimensional explorations, for fear of fear.)
This inspiring and fearful death trip is in part, a sacrifice of the ordinary mind. The part of the mind that tries to reinforce order and regularity. The materialist mind that uses the lash of rationality to beat the paranormal into a dark corner. Plenty of atheists have taken acid. I'm sure they can explain away everything they saw and felt as nothing more than the disturbance of brain chemistry or some other scientifically approved hypothesis. When I tripped, the materialist view of the world was ripped clean off its hinges. Or like John Sinclair once said, the frame was completely blown off. The veil that obscured the infinite was torn from the window. Common sense became nonsense and vice-versa. The shackles that bound my soul, or whatever you want to call "IT," were loosened for flight. Perhaps this is merely my own confirmation bias at work. To that I willingly say, "maybe so." Even still, I am of the belief that my life psychologically and spiritually is better for interpreting my experience as a mystical breach of normalcy more than if I threw my hands up saying, "chemicals."
Alongside a detachment from self, came periods of hyper self-reflection and self-consciousness. Hours were spent dissecting the precise ins and outs of my psyche and motivations. The self-analysis period of the trip usually came just after the highest peak of visually disorienting effects. At the highest points of potency, the tangible and relatable world is utterly striped away. There wasn’t much clear thought in that stage, more like flashes and waves of awareness and vision. Upon passing the midway mark, when the strength of the auditory and visual hallucinations let up some, was when philosophical profundities came together. Rearrangements of how I saw the world, how I saw other people and how I saw myself all came naturally and without concentration. It was as if multi directionally blown bits of an image, came piecing back together, as a unified whole after a long journey through the galaxy.
I didn’t know it then, but I had been initiated into an ancient stream of vision-questing. Martin A. Lee’s and Bruce Shlain’s book Acid Dreams, perhaps the definitive study on LSD and the 60’s counter-culture, took stock of the ancient, cross-continental, shamanic history of probing into the darkness of the human psyche.
“The idea that a turbulent acid trip could have therapeutic consequences reflected an ancient understanding of the human psyche and the principles governing the healing process. The “perilous passing” through the chaotic realm of the bummer was structured into the drug rituals of primitive societies as part of the sacred “vision-quest.” The key figure in the hallucinogenic drama was the shaman, the witch doctor, the medicine man (or woman, as was often the case) who gave song to dreams and provided spiritual access for the entire tribe. A connoisseur of the drug-induced trance state, the shaman derived his or her strength from confronting terror of ego death – the quintessential trail by fire that was seen as a necessary prelude to an ecstatic rebirth, the resurrection of a new personality.
Nothing, however, could be more alarming to the ecclesiastical hierarchy than a popular outbreak of mysticism, for this might well amount to setting up a democracy in the kingdom of heaven-and such alarm would be shared equally by Catholics, Jews, and fundamentalist Protestants.”
It’s with reflection that I can reevaluate what I previously deemed as “bad trips.” The crushing fear of never coming back down, now seem completely necessary and hold an equal value to the ecstatic moments from the mountain top. I reflect back also on my going on those vision-quests with no shamanic guide, outside the various friends who joined me along the way. Had there been someone guiding me through the bleakest legs of the journey, perhaps they would have been less traumatic. Despite the “evil” turns my psychedelic procedures took, I hold absolutely no regrets about any of them. I look back with profound reverence and respect upon the various substances and their unique abilities at shattering my reality in a way nothing else has ever come close to.
That brings me to thoughts on the nature of reality. The whole concept of reality creation or realities in the plural sense, remains one of the most fruitful aspects of my trips. On close examination of our media-soaked culture, "reality," becomes such based upon an engineered consensus agreement. The majority consensus is taken as absolute truth and that which is transcendent is excommunicated as rubbish. The most boring and uninspired rationalism pushes the mystical out of the picture in favor of that which can be measured and quantified. If LSD and psychopsilocybin didn't completely kill off my consensus reality syndrome, it certainly maimed it for all times. It received its mortal wound, dying off slowly still with each day.
It needs to be said that I’m romanticizing my experiences for want of them being meaningful. As anyone who’s been there knows, the beautiful psychedelic transcendence of Ego is a temporary one. As soon as the high wears off, you begin to wonder if it was all not completely artificial. I currently believe my trips held meaning and profoundly influenced me. At a time in my life when I had no spiritual tools to work with to get out of the confines of my fears and ego, I’m glad I was able to experience even a momentary freedom. The reality is that soon after coming down from those trips, I feel right back into destructive patterns and got caught up in recreating the elusive feelings of freedom by any means necessary. A lot of that has to do with where I was at in my life with the internal struggles I had. It took me many years after stepping away from mind-altering indulgences to get to a place where I can properly look back at the psychedelic component and mine it for relevancy. Without having some clear-headed way to extend and develop the glimpse of truth that came so easily with the hit of a tab or sugar cube, I would be doomed to futile attempts at recreating past glories. I found out pretty quickly that after a certain point, tripping was a path of diminishing returns.
Despite my needing to put the psychedelic path behind me, I’m still very uncertain of the great meaning of it all. A look at the true shamanistic practitioners and their centuries of commitment to vision-questing presents a difficulty for me in simply dismissing the activity as mere recreationalist escapism. If there is no substantive spiritual foundation for it all, there’s an even harder case of dismissal on purely creative grounds. It’s safe to say that the worlds of art, design, literature, poetry, music and technology over the last 50 years would be at a great loss without the presence of psychedelics.
Is it the case that the flocks of seekers making pilgrimage down to South America to drink ayahuasca are in fact trespassing on a cultural event they were not genetically wired to benefit from?
A look at the hidden historical records clearly show the tremendous importance medicinal plants played on cultures all over the world. Especially, among those that placed a high value on cosmic knowledge and mystical healing. The records also show us time and again, their sacred practices being demonized and suppressed by the spread of invading European imperialists.
This criminalization of naturally occurring plants would eventually expand into an international web of drug busting bureaucracies. Turning back to Acid Dreams –
“When Christianity was adopted as the official creed of the Roman Empire in the fourth century, all other religions, including the Mysteries, were banished. Christian propagandists called for the destruction of the pagan drug cults that had spread throughout Europe after the Roman conquest. Like its shamanistic forebears, paganism was rooted in rapture rather than faith or doctrine; its mode of expression was myth and ritual, and those who carried forbidden traditions possessed a vast storehouse of knowledge about herbs and special medicaments. The witches of the Middle Ages concocted brews with various hallucinogenic compounds – belladonna, thorn apple, henbane and bufotenine (derived from the sweat gland of the toad Bufo marinus) – and when the moon was full they flew off their imaginary broomsticks to commune with spirits. The Spanish outlawed peyote and coca leaves in the Americas, and the British later tried to banish kava use in Tahiti. Such edicts were part of an imperialist effort to impose a new social order that stigmatized the psychedelic experience as a form of madness or possession by evil spirits.”
The principle concept I consider in regards to any use of mind-altering substances is physical and mental sovereignty. The moral imperative that we as individuals are born above the rulership or control of another individual or group of individuals is at the core of my philosophy. Gratefully, notions of human sovereignty over ones own mind and body are becoming more and more of a talking point in discussions of drug experimentation. Even political candidates like John McAfee from the Libertarian Party have voiced this argument from a national platform.
“Our bodies and minds belong to ourselves. Liberty is lost when governments decide what is right in wrong with what we do with ourselves,” declared McAfee during a 2016 Presidential debate.
While mainstream politics flirts with the acceptability of medical marijuana, the call to completely end the “War on Drugs” has a solid voice only among Third-Parties. The corporate two-Party system that’s in bed with the pharmaceutical and prison-industrial complex will probably never give up their cash-cow. It helps little that among average citizens is unawares of the difference between actual scientific studies of psychedelic use and the old hysterical propaganda drummed up in the hippie era.
The fight to bring the truth of psychedelics to light has been a long one with many socially prominent advocates. Alan Watts, the Zen mystic and author, wrote a summary of his experience taking hallucinogens for the California Law Review in 1968. Following in the logical footsteps of William James, Watts put forth a brilliant defense of chemical assistance as a vehicle for religious experience and should therefor be protected from legal prosecution.
Part of his thesis builds of the observation that many of our values and laws are carry-overs from the Monarchy system. By employing authoritarian methods, both the Church and the State can enjoy high levels of obedience and reverence from the populace by claiming a Divine right of rulership. The mystical experience at root provides a realization that hierarchies, be they religious or political, are manufactured to centralize power and control among societies elites. The criminalization of drug use therefor services a mutually beneficial purpose.
“In the context of Christian or Jewish tradition, an individual declares himself to be one with God, he must be dubbed blasphemous (subversive) or insane. Such a mystical experience is a clear threat to traditional religious concepts,” Watts said. “The Judaeo-Christian tradition has a monarchical image of God, and monarchs, who rule by force, fear nothing more than insubordination. The Church has therefore always been highly suspicious of mystics, because they seem to be insubordinate and to claim equality or, worse, identity with God.”
The push from scientists, academics, artists and mystics to keep hallucinogens in the field of medical and therapeutic study was lost in Watt’s time. The United Nations held a Convention on Psychotropic Substances in 1971 that led to a massive clampdown on psychedelics. The Psychotropic Substances Act of 1978 amended the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970 and Controlled Substances Act to ensure compliance with the Convention on Psychotropic Substances.
Psychedelics seemed to fall underground and out of the public sphere of debate in the 80’s and 90’s. Of course the black market ensured that they never really went away. A powerful resurgence of the debate in the 21st Century has supporters demanding a fresh look back at the medical benefits of several key drugs. Issues like war-induced PTSD, widespread clinical depression and addiction has researchers turning back to substances that have long-proven effective as healing treatments to societal and psychological ailments.
Journalist Graham Hancock has been at the forefront making rational and emotional pleas for consciousness freedom in books and on stages around the world. There may be no one living today making a more cogent argument embracing the use of entheogens.
“The list of freedoms we enjoy today that were not enjoyed by our ancestors is indeed a long and impressive one. It is therefore exceedingly strange that Western civilization in the twenty- first century enjoys no real freedom of consciousness. There can be no more intimate and elemental part of the individual than his or her own consciousness. At the deepest level, our consciousness is what we are—to the extent that if we are not sovereign over our own consciousness then we cannot in any meaningful sense be sovereign over anything else either. So it has to be highly significant that, far from encouraging freedom of consciousness, our societies in fact violently deny our right to sovereignty in this intensely personal area, and have effectively outlawed all states of consciousness other than those on a very narrowly defined and officially approved list. The “War on Drugs” has thus unexpectedly succeeded in engineering a stark reversal of the true direction of Western history by empowering faceless bureaucratic authorities to send armed agents to break into our homes, arrest us, throw us into prison, and deprive us of our income and reputation simply because we wish to explore the sometimes radical, though always temporary, alterations in our own consciousness that drugs facilitate… hallucinogens such as LSD, psilocybin, and DMT are concerned, it is a means to make contact with alternate realms and parallel dimensions, and perhaps even with the divine.”
Joining Hancock, is former mainstream media journalist, turned activist, Amber Lyon. After suffering PTSD from numerous deployments to battlefields around the world, she turned to alternative solutions. After her successful breakthrough she has been on a crusade to make public her experience and the growing number of cases similar to her own. Rest.me is a multimedia project she spearheaded to promote alternative medicines and spiritual practices. This, she does largely in an effort to combat the behemoth of Big Pharma and their cohorts in the script-writing medical industry.
“Numerous studies show these substances are non-neurotoxic, non-addictive and are having profound effects curing some of the most stubborn mental health disorders by helping people purge bottled up trauma. MDMA is curing debilitating PTSD in veterans. Psilocybin, the psychedelic compound in magic mushrooms, is alleviating anxiety and depression. LSD was used successfully for decades to combat alcohol addictions and anxiety. Ayahuasca is helping people purge traumatic memories while increasing serotonin levels in the brain. Psychedelics are some of the most profound medicines known to man,” says a statement from the Reset.me website.
Hancock and Lyon are carrying on the missionary work that had grown too silent after the deaths of colorful luminaries like Timothy Leary, Terence McKenna and Bill Hicks. It’s clear that for a variety of reasons, psychedelics are back in the sphere of public consciousness in a big way again. When it became known that business and technology icons like Steve Jobs credit the creativity of their thinking to tripping, it was only a matter of time before the mainstream started paying closer attention.
I can’t say to what positive or negative effect the attention will bring. It’s hard to imagine an explosive, cultural phenomena like the late 1960’s ever breaking out again. Even with all the incredible disillusionment and destruction within our post-modern culture. We all know the revolutionary hippie movement that was equal parts, political, spiritual, social and creative, burned out fast, never to fully return. Naïve utopian dreams have long given way to a banal pessimistic complacency.
THE ETHICS OF CONSCIOUSNESS CHANGE
It didn’t take long for the Utopian 60’s notion of LSD saving the world to crumble apart by co-opting, sabotage and violence. There seems to have been an army’s worth of burned-out Flower Children who became disenchanted with the drug culture and began looking for more substantive means of continuing their inner-revolutions. Once having tasted the fruits of self-discovery, they pressed on, refusing to surrender their spiritual gains. The expanded vision that drugs initially provided, naturally pointed seekers towards other cultures from other times for direction and guidance.
“Herein lay another pitfall of the tripping experience. Even after they stopped taking LSD, many people could still hear the siren song, a vague and muffled invitation to a ‘higher’ calling. Those who responded to that etheric melody were plunged willy-nilly into an abstract vortex of soul-searching, escaping, and “discovering thyself.” Some were intensely sincere, and their quest very often was lonely and confusing. The difficulties they faced stemmed in part from the fact that advanced industrial society does not recognize ego loss or peak experience as a particularly worthy objective. Thus it is not surprising that large numbers of turned-on youth looked to non-Occidental tradition – Oriental mysticism, European magic and occultism, and primitive shamanism (especially American Indian lore) – in an attempt to conjure up a coherent framework for understanding their private visions.” – Acid Dreams.
For the occultist, the question of the legitimacy of using substances in conjunction with ritual is a heated one. It can be bewildering as well, with seemingly respectable and accredited sources coming out on either side.
Is there an inappropriate means of attaining gnosis? To take drugs is equivalent to cheating, so the thought goes. This was something that came up most recently on a podcast, Where did the Road Go? The guest, Gabriel D. Roberts, having extensive experience in both traditional spirituality and entheogenic experimentation, falls hard on the side of however you get there. He called bullshit on dismissals of psychedelically-powered boosts to the Divine. The host of the show himself admitted to having loosened up his ideas after years of not viewing the drug path as a valid or honest spiritual experience. This rift appears to be a very long one, probably going back at least 100 years or more.
Early 20th century occultist, Dion Fortune strongly advised against using substances as an aid to magical work. She went as far as to accuse such dabblers as being profane, left-hand path magicians. Fortune was a strict traditionalist in many senses and most likely represents a minority faction among practitioners these days. Obviously, Aleister Crowley operated off an entirely different paradigm and remains much more influential. Who gets the final word? It’s most likely an ethical issue only the individuals can resolve for themselves. I’m certainly not in a position to cast any final judgment.
Curious seekers back in the acid heyday faced attacks from the media that their experiments amounted to nothing more than nihilist escapism. In his essay to the California Law Review, Alan Watts headed off that argument by making clear the distinction between the dedication to taking a trip and the thoughtlessness of say, pounding down some legal drugs at the local pub.
“Drug use may be criticized as an escape from reality. However, this criticism assumes unjustly that the mystical experiences themselves are escapist or unreal. LSD, in particular, is by no means a soft and cushy escape from reality. It can very easily be an experience in which you have to test your soul against all the devils in hell,” Watts said.
I suppose I’d like very much to elevate my own experiences to the level at which Watts described them. From my perception, it appears hallucinogens do have the power to show us a world inside of us, that at it’s best, inspires us to take sober actions in our daily life that sustain a real and lasting life change. At it’s worse, it leaves an individual lost and depressed by the mundane ordinariness of daily life. Lacking ambition to rescale the mountain the long way back, they fall victim to a life of unfulfilling shortcuts, leading nowhere.
I’m left at the moment pondering a statement made by poet and unrepentant drug abuser, William S. Burroughs.
“Anything that can be done chemically can be done in other ways, that is, if we have sufficient knowledge of the processes involved.”
Late in Burroughs' life it’s known that he took up an interest in the chaos magic phenomenon, becoming an initiate of the Illuminates Of Thanateros. Was it due to the fact that the holder of the keys to consciousness change has always been found in the occult arts? It seems to me as good a place as any to search for them.