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mr peabody

Moderator: Music Discussion, PM
Staff member
Aug 31, 2016
Frostbite Falls, MN

The Second Psychedelic Revolution Part One: The End of Acid*

by James Oroc | Reality Sandwich

In November of 2000, a DEA sting dubbed Operation White Rabbit arrested William Leonard Pickard and Clyde Apperson while they were moving an alleged LSD production laboratory from a renovated Atlas-E missile-silo in Wamego Kansas to an undisclosed location. Many questions remain regarding the case and the involvement of the DEAs informant Todd Skinner, and the DEA now claims that no LSD was ever produced at this silo. But both statistical analysis and anecdotal street-evidence agree with the DEAs claim that this one bust resulted in a 95% drop in the worlds LSD supply at that time, making it seem possible that there might actually be An End to Acid.

A year later almost to the day (Nov 10th, 2001) LSDs original Merry Prankster, Ken Kesey, died. With Timothy Learys ashes already orbiting in outer space and the Grateful Dead disbanded for more than six years following Jerry Garcias death, one could have been tempted to believe that the Psychedelic Revolution that had begun somewhere in the mid-1960s, with the widespread societal introduction of LSD, had finally come to an end. The world had been changed in many ways thanks to the rediscovery of psychedelics. But like most revolutions, its dreams were never fully met, and its heroes were passing into legend.

Ironically, as disrupted and antiquated as The Psychedelic Movement may have appeared to be at that moment, the seeds of the Second Psychedelic Revolution were already planted more than a decade earlier. These seeds bloomed in the desert of that LSD drought.

This was a profound example of how ineffective prohibition can be at extinguishing interest in a potent substance. The possibility of a world without acid inspired a younger generation to seek out a plethora of alternative psychedelics, some old, some new. In the process, they rediscovered and reclaimed the original entheogenic experience, the mystical taste of the Other, the FLASH outside of space and time, that LSD had provided for the 1960s pioneers.

Now, little more than a decade later, we can witness psychedelic research slowly but surely re-entering the universities and research labs, thanks to: the vision and persistence of Rick Doblin and MAPS; the global spread of the Burning Man meme; the rapid growth of the entwined Visionary Art movement and the transformational Art-and-Music festival culture; Electronic Dance Music, which is the first popular musical form to venerate and popularize psychedelics since the 1960s; the birth of hundreds if not thousands of websites (Erowid, DMT-Nexus, etc.) that either promote psychedelics or are directly influenced by them; the dizzying number of new books on psychedelics on the shelves (or at least on Amazon); and the greatest array of psychedelics and entheogens, both natural and man-made, that has ever been available to any society in history. It can be said that the psychedelic/entheogenic revolution in Western culture is alive and well. In fact, it is now entering a renaissance.

So how did this Second Psychedelic Revolution come about? What are its goals and its ideals? Are they different from the First Psychedelic Revolution of the 1960s, or is this just fashion reinventing itself?

As someone who accidentally had his own personal Second Psychedelic Revolution in 2003 after smoking the rare entheogen 5-MeO-DMT purchased legally off the Internet, and as the author of a widely-reviewed book on psychedelics, and as one of the founders of FractalNation, a Burning Man camp known for its music-performance-visionary art gallery and speaker series (which has arguably been the high-point of psychedelic culture on the planet for the past three years, more on that later), I believe that I am in as good a position as anyone to examine and help define this shift in our societal attitudes toward the potential of psychedelics, as well as our Movements hopes, fears, dreams, and aspirations.

By doing so, I hope to bring greater awareness of the opportunity now presented to us, along with the warning that even as its popularity rises, this Second Psychedelic Revolution is already under threat. I also want to promote the possibility that psychedelics, which once seemed like a formula for instant societal change in the 1960s, may turn out to be a life raft for whatever society manages to emerge from the chaos that population growth and environmental change will undoubtedly wreak on the second half of this 21st century.

The birth of this Second Psychedelic movement began a decade before the Kansas Silo bust with the publication of four very different books in the early 1990s: Sacred Mirrors: The Visionary Art of Alex Grey (1990); PiHKAL; A Chemical Love Story, by Sasha and Ann Shulgin (1991); and Terence McKennas The Archaic Revival and Food of the Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge, A Radical History of Plants, Drugs, and Human Evolution (1992). These books would provide the philosophical foundation for this new psychedelic movement. This movement has largely been created by the popularization of a new form of non-stop electronic music that had been percolating around the full-moon parties in Goa, India. By the early 90s, this music began to spread out to clubs and remote, often desert locations around the world. Also formative was the popularization of the Internet, which for the first time allowed the widespread dissemination of psychedelic culture without fear of censorship or repercussion.

The five cultural developments that distinguish the Second Psychedelic Revolution from the 1960s LSD and rock music revolution are:

1. The introduction of a wide number of new psychedelic compounds and analogues, and especially phenethylamines from the 2-C family such as 2-CB, 2C-I, and 2C-E.

2. The rediscovery of sacred natural plant entheogens, especially ayahuasca, and the publication of simple methods of extracting DMT from plant sources.

3. The birth of Visionary Art (which is often a deliberately sacred form of psychedelic art), and its two-decade integration into contemporary festival culture (most notably at Burning Man in the USA and BOOM! in Portugal).

4. The emergence of psychedelic trance music that integrated sacred chanting from various cultures with non-stop, repetitive Acid House beats. (May all my Trance DJ friends please excuse this gross simplification.)

5. The popularization of the Internet, which allowed for the rapid and widespread dissemination of psychedelic culture.

Anyone who has experienced the worldwide growth of transformational festival culture over the past decade, or stumbled into the Do Labs section of Coachella (one of the last great rock festivals), attended one of the academic MAPS conferences in California, or the World Psychedelic Forums in Basel, Switzerland, or even just surfed the Internet and discovered psychedelic information sites such as Erowid and DMT-Nexus, will easily recognize the influence and prevalence of some, if not all, of these new developments in psychedelic culture. However, during the waning days of the 20th century, and at the end of the First Psychedelic Era if you like, none of these factors were yet popular or commonly known. And while it is somewhat irrelevant to rank the importance of the very different contributions of the three main architects of this new psychedelic age, Alex Grey, Terence McKenna, and Sasha Shulgin, I think that most historians and educated observers would agree that Sashas contribution, the publication of PiHKAL and later TiHKAL, was undeniably both the bravest and the most essential first act.

*From the article here :
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mr peabody

Moderator: Music Discussion, PM
Staff member
Aug 31, 2016
Frostbite Falls, MN

The Second Psychedelic Revolution Part Two: Alexander ‘Sasha’ Shulgin, Psychedelic Godfather

by James Oroc | Reality Sandwich

‘I first explored mescaline in the late ’50s, three-hundred-fifty to 400 milligrams. I learned there was a great deal inside me.’ — Alexander Shulgin, LA Times, 1995

If there is ever a Psychedelic Hall of Fame, the section on chemists will be small, since there have only really been two giants in this field — Albert Hofmann, who first synthesized LSD-25 and psilocybin (and later isolated that compound from the magic mushroom specimens provided by R. Gordon Wasson), and Alexander ‘Sasha’ Shulgin, who seems to have invented nearly everything else. (So great are the shadows of these two men that twin statues of them facing each other should be the Hall’s entranceway arch.) However when the remarkable volume PiHKAL; A Chemical Love Story [1] first appeared in 1991, few people outside of the psychedelic community in California knew about Sasha and the quiet existence that he and his wife Ann (the co-author of both PiHKAL and TiHKAL) lived; and those that knew of him knew mostly the fact that he was the ‘popularizer’ of the empathogen MDMA.

MDMA had first been synthesized in 1912
; it was later used by in the CIA’s Project MK-ULTRA studies in 1953-54; these reports were declassified in 1973; Shulgin then synthesized the compound and tried it himself in 1976 for the first time after hearing accounts of its effects from his students at the University of California, Berkeley. Shulgin liked to call MDMA his ‘low-calorie martini’, and introduced it to numerous friends and colleagues, including the noted psychotherapist Leo Zeff, who was so impressed with the compound that he came out of retirement to train psychotherapists in its use.

MDMA grew in popularity in the early 1980’s amongst psychologists and therapists until it was made illegal in 1985 due to it rising popularity as a recreational drug, most commonly known by its street name Ecstasy. By the late 1980’s MDMA use had become prevalent in England’s rapidly blossoming electronic music or ‘Acid House’ scene, with the ‘smiley face’ logo becoming identified with both the drug and the new ‘youth’ culture. Despite being made illegal more than twenty years earlier (and in another obvious rebuttal of the effectiveness of ‘the War on Drugs’), the UN estimated between 10 and 25 million people took MDMA in 2008.

An entire article could be written about the similarities and differences between empathogens (also called entactogens), and psychedelics (also called entheogens), and while this is an important conversation for our community, it is also territory I do not intend to cover in this article. [2] What is important for the purposes of this article however is that empathogens like MDMA and perhaps the oldest known psychedelic/entheogen, mescaline, are phenethylamines — which is to say they are variations around the same basic phenethylamine-ring shape. Thanks to this simple fact, when the Shulgin’s (Sasha and his sister Ann Shulgin) wrote PiHKAL and released it to the world in 1991, Sasha provided not only the greatest known resource on MDMA and its older cousin MDA (the original 60’s love drug), but he also revealed a catalogue of over 200 previously unknown psychedelic and empathogenic compounds that he had discovered, including the entire 2-C family, which included the psychedelics 2C-B and 2C-I, and the empathogens 2C-E and 2C-T-7 amongst others.

Sasha is a giant of a man, both physically and intellectually, reputedly with an IQ that matches Einstein’s. Early in his career he developed the first biodegradable pesticide for DOW Chemicals, a patent that made his employers millions and garnered him a certain degree of independence, allowing him to relocate his laboratory to his home near Lafayette, California in 1965.

shulgin lab-3524-1

From this remarkable home-lab that looks more like a garden shed, Shulgin would discover, synthesize, and bio-essay over 260 psychoactive compounds during the following 35 years, often publishing the results in peer-reviewed journals such as Nature and The Journal of Organic Chemistry.

shulgin lab-3481


While clearly a libertarian in his views, Shulgin somewhat paradoxically developed a professional relationship with the DEA, who granted him a special license to synthesize Schedule 1 compounds and used him as a consultant and legal expert on certain cases, and in 1988, Shulgin published the then-definitive volume on illegal drugs [3] for Law Enforcement for which he received numerous awards.

Then in 1991, in an effort to ensure that Sasha¹s discoveries wouldn’t be lost or oppressed due to contemporary society¹s prohibition of psychedelics, the Shulgins released their book PIHKAL. It is both the story of Sasha and Ann¹s love affair, and a detailed manual of how to synthesize nearly 200 psychedelic compounds that reflects Sasha’s stated belief that psychedelic drugs can be valuable tools for self-exploration.

In the history of literature, there are few braver acts than the publishing of PiHKAL by the Shulgins, and ironically this could probably only have happened in the United States—the country that has effectively made psychedelics illegal world-wide [4]—thanks to the protection of the First Amendment. (The mere possession of PiHKAL in many other countries is a crime.) When copies of PiHKAL started turning up in busted underground labs all over the world, the DEA were outraged to discover that one of their own contractors (and occasional-court expert) had published what they considered to be ‘an illegal drug-cook book’ (complete with Shulgin’s own rating scale). In reponse, in 1994 the DEA raided the Shulgin’s home and lab, fining him $25,000 for the possession of anonymous samples that they (the DEA) had actually sent him, and revoking his Schedule 1 license. [5] The Shulgins responded by publishing TiHKAL; The Continuation [6] in 1997, Sasha’s seminal work on the tryptamine family that includes LSD, DMT, and 5-MeO-DMT.

Raiding Shulgin’s lab after the publication of PiHKAL was something of a case of trying to close the barn door after the horse has bolted, and by the mid 1990’s a number of previously rare or unknown and most importantly unscheduled compounds began to become available on the street, and—in a new development for psychedelic culture—online via ‘research chemical companies’ websites. By the time of the LSD ‘drought’ of the first few years of the 21st century (and during a period of considerable media attention about the low purity of ecstasy pills), many of these compounds and especially the 2C family were well-established as the psychedelics of choice for a new generation who had never had the opportunity to try synthetic mescaline, psilocybin, or DMT, and now even LSD.

While the Federal Analogue Act had been passed in 1986 as a response to these so called ‘designer drugs’, the sheer number of different compounds and ambiguities in the Act made it difficult to contain these new compounds, just as federal and state authorities were struggling to deal with the new international factor of the Internet.

In July of 2004, a DEA operation called Web Tryp arrested 10 people in the United States associated with 5 different ‘research chemical companies’, effectively closing all remaining companies or driving them further underground. (Most recently on the Silk Road website). In an interesting act of synchronicity, at around the same time, the web-info site EROWID.org published (with his permission) all of the Shulgin formulas contained in PiHKAL and TiHKAL, an act that effectively allows anyone around the world access to them, and virtually ensures that they will never be lost or repressed.

When attempting to assess Alexander Shulgin’s legacy and importance to psychedelic and underground culture, it is impossible to calculate the importance of the popularization of MDMA (Ecstasy) to the global rise of Electronic Dance Music, other than to note that the drug and electronic dance culture were synonymous with each other in England for at least a decade, and while the music was originally often called Acid House, it was the Smiley Face logo of Ecstasy that defined it, just as LSD had defined the rock music of the late sixties.

Nor can the fact be ignored that after the LSD Silo bust of 2000 and during the half-decade LSD drought that followed it, thanks to Sasha’s staunch libertarian views and the brave publication of PiHKAL a decade earlier, 2C-B became the preferred (and available) psychedelic of choice, while a number of other Shulgin creations such as 2C-E, 2C-I, and 2C-T-7 (to name just a few) became prominent, breaking open the Pandora’s Box of psychedelic ‘analogues’ and guaranteeing that the Second Psychedelic Revolution would not be dependent upon the same 4 compounds that started the first—mescaline, psilocybin, LSD, and DMT, as defined by Leary, Metzner, and Alpert in The Psychedelic Experience—but via a veritable alphabet soup of new compounds, all based around the structure of these original ‘classics’ (as I like to call them).

For these two considerations alone, Sasha’s importance to modern psychedelic culture would seem obvious and without equal. But incredibly, there may be even more than is commonly known, a coda if you like that would mean that Psychedelic Culture owes Alexander Shulgin a debt even greater than we had ever imagined. The full story goes something like this:

At a testimonial dinner for the Shulgins in 2010 at the MAPS [7] conference in San Jose, CA, the underground chemist Nick Sand (who had only recently been released from jail), and who (along with Tim Scully, who was Owsley’s chemist) is often credited with the ‘invention’ of Orange Sunshine LSD, revealed that in 1966, after LSD had been made illegal in California thanks to the newly elected Governor Ronald Reagan, the precursors required for creating LSD under the methods of the day dried up, and for a short time LSD actually disappeared and much like would happen some twenty four years later in 2000, it appeared as if there could be ‘an End to Acid’.

According to the historical record, Sand and Scully then started manufacturing DOM (street name STP), an extraordinarily powerful psychedelic phenethylamine invented by Shulgin in 1964. Five thousand ‘doses’ of this new compound were given away at the first Human Be-In in San Francisco (Jan 14th, 1967) in an effort to promote the new drug as a ‘replacement’ to LSD, but unfortunately they (Sand and Scully) had apparently developed a tolerance to DOM, and reputedly made the dosages too high. This combined with the fact that the onset of DOM was much slower than LSD, with many people reportedly making the mistake of taking a second hit after an hour or so with little effect, caused numerous users to overdose and sent scores of ‘tripping hippies’ to the city’s emergency rooms. The press then further demonized LSD by reporting that this was the compound responsible.

Perhaps due to the aftermath of the Human Be-In debacle, Nick Sand and Tim Scully were then given a formula for a new method of manufacturing LSD that got around the constraints of the old method; they were told that it was from a ‘friend’, an ally who believed in what they were doing, but couldn’t be revealed at that time. At the MAPS testimonial dinner for the Shulgins in 2010, in a startling revelation whose importance somewhat slipped by most of the gathered audience and as far as I know has never been reported, Nick Sand identified that mysterious ‘friend’ as Sasha.

Assuming this is true—and obviously Nick Sand would have no reason to make up a story like that—this means that along with popularizing MDMA, and inventing literally hundreds of psychedelic and empathogenic compounds that have surfaced with increasing regularity in the 21st century, Alexander Shulgin was also the inventor of Orange Sunshine LSD, which was by far the most commonly manufactured LSD from the late 1960’s onward (Orange Sunshine is estimated to have been over 75% of the worlds LSD). Or to put it another way, while Albert Hofmann invented LSD, it can now be said that it was thanks to Sasha (and the bravery of Nick Sand, Tim Scully, and the Brotherhood of Eternal Love [8]) that it was available from 1967 on!

From what I can remember, Sasha just sat there with an obvious twinkle in his eye and a wicked grin throughout Nick Sand’s testimonial as if to say, ‘What can they do to me now!’ But that’s classic Alexander ‘Sasha’ Shulgin for you, looking out over an adoring audience on what was hopefully one of the happiest nights of his incredible life, with the same singular mix of humor and intellect that made him our one and only Psychedelic Godfather, and the most irreplaceable architect of contemporary psychedelic culture.

James Oroc and Sasha enjoy a laugh-1

In the next part of this series I will examine the very different and yet equally important contribution of Terence McKenna.

Author’s correction: A more careful examination of Nick Sand’s comments at the MAPS testimonial dinner for Anne and Sasha Shulgin reveals that I was mistaken in my understanding of Sasha’s exact involvement in the development of the Orange Sunshine synthesis of LSD by Owsley, Nick Sand, Tim Scully, and the Brotherhood of Eternal Love. While telling the audience how he (Nick Sand) had had “a synthesis for LSD” that was challenging and then talking about getting “a synthesis” from Sasha, which allowed his LSD project to go forward, Nick then says that the Brotherhood gave him “a synthesis” that they’d adapted from Sasha’s research and that “with that [synthesis] I was able to make production amounts of DOM to raise the FUNDS to make the orange sunshine project happen.”

Apparently the precursor restrictions that come as the result of LSD being made illegal had resulted in a steep increase in the price of precursors and well as a limited availability, and the Brotherhood of Eternal Love simply didn’t have the funds to manufacture LSD like they wanted. But as Nick states the manufacture of DOM (sold on the streets as STP) generated the funds required for the Orange Sunshine LSD synthesis, making Sasha’s role in the whole affair much more peripheral and limited than I previously stated. Nor does it seem likely there was any direct connection between Owsley and the Brotherhood and Sasha himself, since when Owsley was arrested in late 1967 for 100 grams of LSD and a quantity of DOM in 20mg pressed pills — and apparently oblivious of the fact that this was amount two to six times too potent— Owsley placed the blame back on Shulgin. “He had this stuff, and we thought it might be good. It turned out it wasn’t.”
My thanks to Jon Hanna for his rigorous research and endless knowledge.​
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mr peabody

Moderator: Music Discussion, PM
Staff member
Aug 31, 2016
Frostbite Falls, MN

The Second Psychedelic Revolution Part Three: Terence McKenna, Rise of the Plant Shaman

by James Oroc | Reality Sandwich

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 co-map these two, 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. ~ Terence McKenna

The publication of PIHKAL and TIHKAL by Alexander and Ann Shulgin resulted in a plethora of new psychedelics that are now commonly available largely thanks to the scarcity of Acid after the Y2K Kansas missile-silo LSD bust. However, unlike the First Psychedelic Revolution, which was sparked primarily by the artificial psychedelic LSD and to a lesser extent laboratory synthesized mescaline, psilocybin, and DMT, (as listed in the introduction of The Psychedelic Experience: A manual based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead by Leary, Metzner, and Alpert in 1964), the Second Psychedelic Revolution cannot be defined purely by synthetic drugs alone. For although the LSD drought resulted in the popularizing of 2-CB, 2-C-T-7, 5-MeO-DIPT, and other previously unknown laboratory-discovered psychedelic compounds, it also accelerated an ongoing rekindling of interest in naturally occurring plant entheogens and the popularization of the previously little known concept of plant shamanism and the idea that these plants were not so much psychedelic drugs, as they were spiritual medicines.

The Shulgins first volume, PIHKAL: A Chemical Love Story, focused on Sasha?s work with the phenethylamine family of compounds, and while these include many true psychedelics such as mescaline and the numerous 2C-x compounds, it was his work with the popular empathogens MDMA and MDA that bought Sashas work to the attention of the burgeoning rave culture of the early 1990s. The Shulgins second volume TIHKAL: The Continuation, however, dealt with Sashas work with tryptamines, the class of compounds that includes important neurotransmitters such as serotonin and melatonin, powerful natural and synthetic psychedelic/entheogens including psilocybin (5-OH-DMT), LSD, and ibogaine, and the only endogenous psychedelics, dimethyltrpyamine (DMT) and 5-methoxy-DMT.

Long regarded as the Holy Grail of psychedelics, DMT was comparatively rare on the illicit drug market even in the 1960?s, its scarcity adding to its fearsome reputation. Grace Slick, the singer for the Jefferson Airplane, once famously said that while Acid was like being sucked up a straw, DMT was like being shot out of a canon, and it had effectively disappeared from general psychedelic culture long before TIHKAL was released. However, it was not the publication of TIHKAL, but a pair of books in 1992, (a year after PIHKAL) by a little-known author with no training in either organic chemistry or cultural anthropology that would ultimately be most responsible for popularizing DMT in contemporary psychedelic culture. But unlike the DMT use of the 1960s, which utilized DMT either by IM injection or in its smokable salt form, this authors primary interest in DMT was as the active ingredient in an obscure Amazonian shamans brew that was at that time still primarily known by its Spanish name yage, rather than it is now, by the phonetic approximation of one of its many indigenous names, ayahuasca.

When both The Archaic Revival (a collection of Terence McKennas essays and speeches) and The Food of the Gods (his magnum opus on psychedelic plants that includes his Stoned Ape theory) were published in 1991, it had been nearly two decades since Terence and his younger brother Dennis McKenna had written The Invisible Landscape (1975), a strange alchemical volume describing their 1971 expedition to the Amazon in search of oo-ko-he, a shamanic snuff that contained DMT. (Terence was seeking a natural source to the synthetic DMT experience that as both a linguist and psychonaut he had become utterly enthralled with). This first McKenna book was originally not long in print and became something of a collectors item for psychedelic bibliophiles, due to both the extraordinary tale of the expedition and the numerous radical ideas contained within its pages. (These ideas included an early compilation of speculations about time and casuality, which Terence developed into his Novelty Theory, as well as his prediction of the arrival of the eschaton: a singularity at the end of time, which he eventually predicted would occur in December of 2012.) While this now-legendary expedition was unsuccessful in finding the DMT-snuff that they were searching for, the McKenna brothers did find a species of very psychedelic psilocybin cubenis mushrooms, and in a now-lesser recognized part of the McKenna story, brought the spores of these mushrooms back to the United States and spent the next few years developing effective methods of indoor cultivation, the results of which they published in 1976 in the popular Psilocybin: A Magic Mushroom Growers Guide.

For this act alone, the introduction of readily available plant-entheogens that anyone could cultivate and the first book on how to do so, the McKenna brothers would deserve a mention in this essay, but this would only be the beginning of extraordinary careers in the psychedelic arena for both men. Dennis McKenna returned to University, and has become a widely respected ethnopharmacologist. While over the last decade of his life, and now through the first decade of the 21st century, the philosopher, memetic engineer, and entertainer, Terence Kemp McKenna (1946-2000) has become the most popular and recognized spokesperson for psychedelics since Timothy Leary. It is Terence who is most responsible for evolving contemporary psychedelic culture into its current state, thanks to his writings and lectures, many of the latter now having been transmogrified into a seemingly infinite number of internet podcasts since his death, a brand new medium that he had embraced enthusiastically in life as a new mode of communication and artistic expression, and that has now has fittingly immortalized him.

The publication of The Archaic Revival and Food of the Gods in fact coincided synchronistically with the nascent years of both the Internet and electronic music; and while Timothy Leary was truly an early pioneer of the Web, it was Terence McKenna that the global rave culture of the 1990s emphatically embraced. In the last years of his life Terence was often the most popular speaker and draw at the various conferences he attended, as well as a main attraction at the raves themselves, the self-declared Mouthpiece for the Mushroom, Terence had the rare ability that could make a packed dance floor sit down between DJs to listen as he waxed eloquently about the wild beauty of psychedelics, often for hours on end. His extraordinary capacity for the spoken word and the discovery of an often-captivated audience once again coincided with the Internet revolution, and many in Terence?s audience were technologically advanced for the time (there is a long-going relationship between the psychedelic and silicon communities) resulting in an incredible number of recordings and pod-casts, often set to electronic music.

Terences unexpected and untimely death at 53 also happened to coincide with the LSD drought that followed the Kansas-Silo bust of 2000, and the period where many psychonauts were forced to consider new psychedelic options. Magic mushrooms thus increased in importance to psychedelic culture, and interest grew in both ayahuasca, which had first begun to appear on North American shores in the late 1990s, and, DMT, which after being incredibly scarce for decades, had also by the mid-2000s begun to be more widely available. This interest in Terences central ideas, along with his popularity with both the electronic music and cyber-communities has thus increased McKennas influence exponentially since he died. A process only amplified by his bold prediction of the arrival of the eschaton on December 21st, 2012, the prediction that most ironically (and unfortunately) he did not live to see.

Now over a decade since Terences death, and more than a year after the aftermath of the 2012 hope and hysteria that he helped create, there can be no denying of McKennas influence on contemporary psychedelic culture, or even on the fringes of popular culture itself. The veneration of magic mushrooms and the reintegration of the Goddess figure; the current interest in DMT in all its various forms; the often-debated supposition that natural plant entheogens are inherently superior to synthetic or artificial compounds, most notably LSD; our concepts about plant spirits, shamanism, and the corresponding rise of ayahuasca tourism; modern festival cultures interest the idea of an archaic revival to reinvigorate spirituality in Western society; the comingling of psychedelics and virtual culture; alien abductions and UFOs; and of course the viral spread of the 2012 meme; these are all now well-known themes that have been either born or popularized due to Terence?s own ideas and interests, even though he ironically lived to see very little of the shift that he in many ways created.

In the decade following his death, the focal points of Terence McKennas lifes work have become, for better and for worse, something of a blueprint for the rise of a global neo-tribal, techno-shamanic culture, evidenced in Burning Man, the BOOM! Festival, and the now countless other events that represent it. Terences ideas have now influenced psychedelic fashion, the music we listen to, the psychedelics we take (and the way we take them), the countries we are visit, even the way we use the Internet. His bold prediction of a Singularity at the end of time within our lifetimes (if not his own) provided a modern coda to the ancient Mayan translation, and helped generate worldwide interest in what would have otherwise been an insignificant archeological date. But now that we are on the other side of Terence McKennas 2012 Omega Point and everything is still standing, it is Terences championing and popularization of ayahuasca that is most worthy of our attention.

Over the past decade the rise in interest in ayahuasca has been extraordinary; not since the original advent of LSD in the 1960s has there been a psychedelic that has so captured the artistic and spiritual imagination of the time, and ayahuasca use, while still nowhere near the numbers of LSD users in the late 60s, has become common enough that it has started to penetrate the mainstream media. (Marie Claire, a popular womens magazine, is the latest unlikely publication to include a feature article on ayahuasca circles). Previously only known to psychedelic culture through William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsbergs slim booklet of correspondence The Yage Letters published in 1963, it was Terence McKennas popularization of this unlikely Amazonian shamans brew through the late 1980s and early 1990s that would subsequently give birth of an international ayahuasca culture. Once the first South American shamans and Santo Daime members started to visit Europe and the US in the late 1990s, ayahuasca use spread rapidly throughout the psychedelic community in the early 21st century, a process that I believe was accelerated by the corresponding LSD drought that followed the Kansas silo bust, as many psychonauts looked for other pathways to the psychedelic experience. (There has also been a renewed interest in San Pedro and Peyote, while smokable forms of DMT have reappeared in the underground market-place for the first time in decades, greatly aided by plant-based extraction recipes that are commonly available on the internet.)

Prohibition, it would seem, only creates diversification, and one noticeable difference that separates the Second Psychedelic Revolution from the First is the incredibly wide variety of psychedelics and empathogens, both natural and synthetic, that are now widely available.

Ayahuasca culture itself has, in several ways, begun to develop outside of the traditional psychedelic community; many in the yoga community for example, have openly embraced ayahuasca, with independent yoga centers around the world hosting South American shamans and their ceremonies that attract many spiritual seekers with little or no connection to the psychedelic community, since they do not view ayahuasca as a psychedelic drug, but as a sacramental medicine.

While ayahuasca contains DMT, a Schedule 1 drug just the same as LSD, ayahuasca use itself has (so far) not been prosecuted in the United States. Favorable federal court rulings in favor of the Brazilian synchretic Christian churchs Uniao do Vegetal (UDV) and Santo Daime (who use hoasca, the Brazilian form of ayahuasca, in their ceremonies) in the early 2000?s has been interpreted as a loophole in the law for many, and has undoubtedly been a factor in ayahuascas rapid and wide spread rise in popularity. As more and more celebrities willingly endorse their life-changing experiences on the Amazonian brew, and more and more psychiatrists and psychologists speculate on the therapeutic value of the experience, the rhetoric around ayahuasca increasing resembles the tremendous excitement that LSD inspired before it was made illegal in 1966.

It is virtually impossible to quantify the psychedelic experience; ayahuasca has gained a special reputation due to the intense colorful visions that it can induce, while the LSD pinnacle is generally represented as dissolution into the mystics white-light. When compared from a strictly phenomenological perspective, both have reputations for being able to induce heaven or hell, and both experiences are long and physically taxing. Both have been described as true entheogens, capable of inducing life changing spiritual conversions; both have been successfully used to break addictions; and both have originated as medicines. (LSD was originally a legal medicine.) Many of the extraordinary properties attributed to one, telepathy, an increase in everyday synchronicity, artistic flowering, deeper connections with nature, mystical and transpersonal experiences, have also been attributed to the other, as has the specialness of the communities that form around them. So where is the difference between these two Psychedelic Revolutions, or have we merely traded high dosages of a potent entheogen once manufactured in a Swiss laboratory for a natural equivalent haphazardly harvested from the Amazonian rain forest?

The difference, I would argue, lies not so much in the phenomenology of the internal psychedelic experience, but in the external container; the experience of the shaman and their icaros, and the ritual provided in the ceremonies themselves. When LSD use really exploded in the 1960s after it became illegal, what the First Psychedelic Revolution ultimately lacked was a safe container for the experience itself. Too many young people slipped through the cracks of the Prankster model, and in the aftermath, psychedelics themselves became illegal. What we learned from the First Psychedelic Revolution is that in the West we lack the Mystery Schools needed to successfully and beneficially integrate the use of psychedelics into our society. Thus, much of the evolution of contemporary psychedelic culture has been a process of investigating and integrating ancient wisdom and techniques with the hard-won underground anecdotal psychedelic experience that the last fifty years have generated.

First looking for knowledge and direction in altered states of consciousness from the Gurus and Rinpoches of India, then the shamans of the Amazon Basin, and now from a wide-variety of traditional shamanism from numerous cultures, modern psychedelic culture has adapted to the entheogens on hand, and moved willingly back-and-forth between the laboratory and the ancient plant knowledge in search of the undiluted entheogenic experience. Terence McKennas enthusiastic advocation of the shaman as a spiritual psychedelic guide (as opposed to the homeopathic healer that could be argued to be closer to the truth) has resulted in thousands of Americans and Europeans journeying to Peru, Ecuador, and Brazil in search of that guidance, and a wave of South American shamans having journeyed to foreign shores, a psychedelic innovation which has inevitably spawned a horde of local imitators, and unfortunately made shaman one of the most abused words in the modern vernacular. Sung ayahuasca icaros (guide-songs) can now be found melded into electronic music, the woven icaros found transmuted into festival clothing, and the habit of attending ayahuasca circles has begun to approach a cult status in places as diverse as Asheville, Brooklyn, Los Angeles, Portland, and Santa Fe.

During this same period, academics studying Western history and anthropology have had to reconcile the fact that many of the worlds major civilizations and religions, including the Greeks, Hindus, and Buddhists, utilized psychedelic plants. This is an idea that has been extremely unpopular, but is now increasingly obvious to the generations of psychedelically savvy anthropologists and mythologists born since the 1960s, many of whom can be assumed to be familiar with Terence McKennas work. It is now increasingly realized and accepted that the Amazonian ayahuasca (and DMT-snuff) culture can in fact be considered the last remaining sacramental entheogen of a great planetary era marked by at least five known distinctly entheogenic cultures, all of which lasted more than two thousand years; the others being the Soma of the Hindu Vedanta (India), the kykeon of the Eleusian Mysteries (Greece), the San Pedro culture which peaked in Chavin de hunatar (Peru), and the astonishingly broad variety of entheogens (cubenis mushrooms, morning-glory seeds, peyote cactus, and toad venom) used by the Mayan-Toltec-Aztec cultures (Mexico). Plant shamanism is now recognized to be the primary shamanic model world-wide, not a vulgar substitute for (the) pure trance of shamanic methods such as drumming and chanting, as Mircea Eliade originally supposed in his classic 1951 text Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstacy. (Eliade himself changed his mind at the end of his life, pointing out to Peter Furst in an interview not long before his death that prior to the 1960s anthropologists didn?t have enough of a psychedelic perspective to recognize the significance in the various local rites, and so the evidence simply wasnt there.

Terence McKenna was one of the first writers who really grasped the psychedelic history of humanity and ayahuascas link to our own ancient past. It was largely his writings that have helped bring the beauty, myth, and magic of the Amazonian people and culture a wider audience, and despite his association with the 2012 phenomenon and the unfortunate comingling of the two, his championing of plant entheogens, and reintroducing the shamanic process to the modern Western World will ultimately be remembered as his enduring contribution to psychedelic culture. Even his Stoned Ape Theory, the idea that spoken language evolved as our primate ancestors developed a diet that included psilocybin mushrooms, may still one day be mainstream enough to be given serious consideration. His untimely death at the too young age of 53, both robbed the psychedelic movement of its most charismatic spokesperson, and guaranteed Terences immortalization thanks to the emerging technology of the Internet which he had enthusiastically embraced, and of which he will one day surely be remembered as one of the early pod-cast stars.

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mr peabody

Moderator: Music Discussion, PM
Staff member
Aug 31, 2016
Frostbite Falls, MN

The Second Psychedelic Revolution: Part Four: Alex Grey – Mystic Artist

by James Oroc | Reality Sandwich

To summarize this series of articles (The Second Psychedelic Revolution) so far, I have attempted to provide both a rough outline and quick examination of contemporary (21st century) psychedelic culture by proposing that a ‘Second Psychedelic Revolution’ has arisen phoenix-like out of the ashes of the original 1960’s acid-and-rock n’ roll revolution following the deaths of its two most famous voices, Timothy Leary and Ken Kesey[1] at the end of the Twentieth Century. (Part One).

While undeniably influenced by the First Psychedelic Revolution, the current interest in readily available ‘research chemicals’, organic tryptamines, neo-tribal ‘techno-shamanism’, and Visionary Art—the defining parameters of this ‘Second Psychedelic Revolution’—have come not from the influence of Sixties psychedelic culture, but have evolved largely out of the publication in the early 1990’s of the collective works of the three seminal architects of this new psychedelic era—the chemist Alexander Shulgin (PIHKAL and TIHKAL)(Part Two), the author and mycologist Terence McKenna (The Archaic Revival and Food of the Gods)(Part Three)and the ‘Visionary’ artist Alex Grey (Sacred Mirrors: The Visionary Art of Alex Grey).

The influence of these 3 authors, along with the unprecedented world-wide rise in popularity of electronic music since the birth and exportation of Goa-Trance during the same early 90’s era, has resulted in an entirely new psychedelic culture best represented today by the blossoming Transformational Festival movement inspired by gatherings such as Burning Man (which moved to Black Rock Desert, NV, in 1992) and the BOOM! Festival in Portugal (first held 1996). Ironically, this latest psychedelic revolution was initially much hastened by the now infamous Kansas Missile Silo bust of 2000 that saw a (luckily temporary) halt to the world’s LSD production; proving once again that Prohibition only leads to diversification.

My art has always been in response to visions. Rather than confine myself to representations of the outer worlds, I include portrayals of multi-dimensional imaginal realms that pull us towards consciousness evolution.” –Alex Grey.

From what I can glean from Terence McKenna’s writing, he was never a great fan of LSD; he certainly never gave it much thought after he discovered the organic tryptamines (and especially magic mushrooms). Ken Kesey, who I have always considered the best authority on LSD and the 60s psychedelic culture that he undeniably helped create, very rarely ever mentions DMT in his writings, and according to his son Zane, was not much of a fan of it. On his deathbed, Timothy Leary was asking for cocaine and all anybody had was some DMT, which, Leary being Leary, he promptly smoked. When he ‘came back’ from what was his last psychedelic experience, Leary said in some confusion that he had just met up with William S. Burroughs in heaven. Burroughs meanwhile, despite the fact that his prose has become synonymous with opiates, was the original psychonaut-author, having written a book about his travels to Colombia and Peru in the 1953 in search of yagé (ayahuasca) in an effort to break his opiate addiction, (The Yage Letters), as well as being one of the first people to ‘shoot’ straight DMT ‘recreationally’ in London in the early 60’s. (An experience that terrified Burroughs so much that he wrote a letter to Timothy Leary warning him about the dangers of the drug).[2] By the time LSD came along and kick started the First Psychedelic Revolution (with the enthusiastic help of Burroughs’s close friend Allen Ginsberg), Burroughs had apparently already seen enough, and he was a notable non-participant choosing to witness it all from the sidelines with an amused and knowing eye, his biographers now mostly erroneously reporting that Burroughs ‘didn’t like’ psychedelics.[3]

One man’s medicine can be another’s poison, one man’s heaven another man’s hell. An individual’s biochemistry can be a very tricky thing, and if there is one thing that history has established it is that there is no universal cure. The common ground in psychedelics lies in the actual experience itself—the mystical transpersonal experience being remarkably similar irrespective of the vehicle that takes you there—while the psychoactive compounds involved are merely different fingers that point at the same moon.

The four authors cited above—McKenna, Kesey, Leary, and Burroughs—all deserve special mention because they have been most responsible for translating the psychedelic experience to the outside world, a custodianship held by writers since the Beat Generation. (Musician/writers such as Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Neil Young, John Lennon, the Grateful Dead, and Jefferson Airplane etc—who were the inheritors of the Beat Poet tradition—should also be included in this category.)

In a 1998 interview with Alex Grey published in ‘The Entheogenic Review’, the interviewer (Jon Hanna) points out that describing the Psychedelic Experience had until that point mostly been the territory of writers, since other than the poster and blotter art of the psychedelic 60’s, few visual artists have openly admitted the influence of psychedelics upon their work. With the publication of Sacred Mirrors: The Visionary Art of Alex Grey in 1990, the psychedelic community soon discovered that the art contained within its pages resonated to many like miraculous snap shots of the psychedelic realm, faithfully rendered vistas brought back with great skill from the far shores of the visionary experience. And when Alex and his wife and fellow-artist Allyson Grey first addressed the Psychedelic Community at the Mind States conference in Berkeley, CA, in 1997, they discovered for the first time an enthusiastic audience to whom they didn’t have to apologize for their own psychedelic use.

Since this fateful nexus, Alex and Allyson Grey’s influence on psychedelic culture has been unparalleled. The use of Alex Grey’s artwork on the album covers and stage shows of bands like Tool and The Beastie Boys greatly increased his general popularity with youth culture, while the inclusion of his artwork in the actual Burning Man structure in 2006 essentially anointed his chosen status as this generation’s most important psychedelic artist.

Over the last two decades, the Greys have inspired and actively encouraged a whole new generation of classically trained and highly talented ‘Visionary Artists’ (most notably Luke Brown, Carey Thompson, Android Jones, Amanda Sage, Michael Divine, and Shrine) who have taken up the torch and become the new ‘shock troops’ of the psychedelic experience. Working together in collectives, these younger artists work with stage, lighting, and sound engineers to create psychedelic environments of considerable sophistication at (often remote) ‘transformational festivals’ and other events around the globe, generally with a Visionary Art Gallery attached displaying their own work (most notably BOOM! in Portugal and FractalNation at Burning Man); while the internet has provided the ideal vehicle to spread this inspired collective vision around the globe as posters, stickers, clothing, and the imagery for thousands of websites. (www.DMTsite.com)

While still painting (often live on stage at major events and festivals), Alex and Allyson Grey themselves have embarked on what is probably the most ambitious psychedelic art project ever—the long-term construction of a Chapel to house the Sacred Mirrors series, and as a genuine pilgrimage site for visionary art.

The underlying primary psychic reality is so inconceivably complex that it can be grasped only at the farthest reach of intuition, and then but very dimly. That is why it needs symbols.’ –Carl Jung.

In the earliest body of work that has established Alex Grey’s special place in psychedelic history, his art manages to blend the physical realms of the human body—a feat in itself only achieved by many years of training in medical drawings—with the psychic energy fields and auras of the mystics and quantum physicists, the knowledge of which has come to the artist from years of meditation, study, and contemplation. Human figures are stripped of their covering (“the skin encapsulated Ego”[4]) to reveal a complex multi-colored system of organs, bones, veins, and arteries that can be seen to be generating rainbow fields and crackles of pure white energy that penetrate the vacuum in every direction, an effect that could seem ghoulish were it not for the presence of the subjects eyes, which gaze out at the viewer with an often astonishing humanity and are revealed as the true ‘windows of the soul’.

Published in 1990, Sacred Mirrors; The Visionary Art of Alex Grey has now sold over 150,000 copies and has been translated into ten languages. The Sacred Mirrors series itself is twenty-one paintings that are conceived to be viewed as a single experience; and a kind of psychic ‘map’ to reconnect us with the spiritual by stripping away the various layers—the ‘biological, sociopolitical, subtle, and spiritual aspects of the self’[5]—to reveal the universal essence.

Later Alex Grey paintings show these figures complete with skeletons, veins, and aura fields, in the acts of prayer, dancing, loving, dying, … all powerful visual metaphors that seek to integrate the connection between body-mind-spirit, and the great mythologist Joseph Campbell’s assertion that the human body is a ‘bio-organic field-generator’; a series of energy fields that are generated by the body’s major organs—the chakra system in the Vedanta—and that combine into one singular field of consciousness that is the ‘ego’ of the human individual.

Both mythology and great art often originate at the juncture of numerous competing and coalescing streams of human thought, and both Joseph Campbell’s ideas and Alex Grey’s art have arrived at a time where modern scientific thought is undergoing a radical paradigm shift as we move away from the old Newtonian ideas about singular points in time and space (a human construct) to the realization that the Universe is as series of interpenetrating fields being generated out of the Quantum Vacuum,[6] and that all forces, (including most likely consciousness) that originate, and potentially operate, at this unseen quantum level.

‘The new spirituality in art—as well as in philosophy, psychology, and metaphysics—would have to be a Spirit approached more directly and immediately, not in mythic forms, but in direct intuition and contemplative absorption.’ – Ken Wilber, “In the Eye of the Artist: Art and the Perennial Philosophy,” from the foreword for Sacred Mirrors by Alex Grey.

Alex Grey’s art is a powerful visual metaphor for a concept that is often difficult to grasp, so skillfully combining the scientific vision that our generation has become accustomed to with the ancient knowledge of akashic energies and aura fields that the two become effectively integrated, and a kind of transmission of teaching or ‘enlightenment’ occurs, often without the viewer having any knowledge of the complex entanglement of meditations and philosophies that have resulted in the artist’s singular view.

Technically, Alex Grey’s paintings reveal great skill and years of training, while viewed from a strictly philosophical platform, they represent the hard-earned understanding of a significant philosophy, a viewpoint so clearly grasped that the artist is capable of transmitting that knowledge to others through the remarkable clarity of his vision. (Alex Grey himself often describes his art as a ‘visual philosophy’.) A stunning achievement, and one made all the more significant in these days of brutal prohibition by Alex (and Allyson) Grey’s enthusiastic championing of psychedelics (or entheogens as they prefer), and their frank admission that many of these visions have been delivered to them via the psychedelic experience.

The most obvious example of how influential the publication of the art-book Sacred Mirrors; The Visionary Art of Alex Grey by Inner Traditions has been to contemporary psychedelic culture is the fact that the entire contemporary genre of what would have once been called ‘psychedelic art’ is now called ‘Visionary Art’ by the growing number of artists, curators, galleries and collectors who participate in it. The term ‘Visionary Art’, as mentioned by Ken Wilber in his introduction to Sacred Mirrors, Alex Grey has taken from the mystic-artist William Blake, and was encouraged by his editor Ehud Sperling to include it in the title.

What exactly is meant by Visionary Art is hard to define and can mean a number of different things to different people, but it generally implies a respect for the Sacred or at least a glimpse into the Mystical, and the belief that the art has arrived as a ‘transmission’ from the Absolute or God, rather than purely as an invention of the artist. (Much in the same way many now prefer to use the term ‘entheogens’, rather than the more tainted term, psychedelics[7].) While not recognized or accepted by the traditional art world (Alex Grey, for example, has had few museum shows, and is not represented by any major gallery), the still nascent ‘Visionary Art Movement’ is undoubtedly the most vibrant and youth-driven form of art available in the world today, and it is quite happy to showcase itself at the events and festivals it creates, most notably Burning Man, which is arguably the most significant development in the art world, and should be recognized as the last 20th century/ first 21st century ‘art movement’. (‘Burning Man art’ and ‘Visionary Art’ are pretty much 2 sides of the same coin, with the incredibly profound and gorgeous Burning Man temples of David Best, Shrine, and others being the ultimate example of where the two meet.)

Alex Grey has said that after the unexpected death of Terence McKenna, he felt that he (and others) had felt the call to ‘step up and speak out about psychedelics’ to try and occupy the void in psychedelic culture that Terence’s early departure created. And one of the reasons that Alex Grey has become the most popular speaker on psychedelics since Terence McKenna—and perhaps the thing that separates him from other visionary artists—is the fact that there is a serious philosophy behind Alex’s work, and that he himself has been (and continues to be) one of the great students of psychedelic history.

The fact that Alex Grey was more than just a great painter became obvious in 1998 with the publication of his book The Mission of Art that revealed the extent of his underlying philosophies. (I personally consider Alex to be a philosopher who uses painting as the main medium for explaining his philosophy.) Tracing the development of human consciousness though art, and the role of the artist as a kind of lightning rod for the future, the corner stone in Alex Grey’s philosophy comes from the assertion by the universal historian Arnold Toynbee (1889-1975) that the growth and decline of civilizations is a spiritual process, and that new civilizations arise to give birth to ‘better religions’.

Proposing that the creation process of the artist is a mystical link with the source of the creation process of the Universe itself, and that Visionary Art itself can be the foundation for a new world religion, Alex Grey is the first major psychedelic voice since Aldous Huxley and Alan Watts to return the conversation about psychedelics back onto ‘traditional’ mystical grounds. A long time Vajrayana[8] practitioner, Alex Grey’s personal psychedelic philosophy diverges sharply from Timothy Leary’s often politically-inspired rhetoric, or Terence McKenna’s fantastical talk of self-replicating tryptamine elves and the mushroom spore as a spaceship[9], by rationally arguing that psychedelics are in fact the most effective way for modern man to truly know God.[10]

In his incredibly popular slide-show presentation that he and Allyson Grey offer to promote the construction of the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors, Alex Grey traces psychedelic history all the way back to the cave painters and explains to his enthusiastic audiences that both psychedelics and art have been an integral part of the religious experience for thousands of years. The only speaker in the psychedelic community these days that has the power to hush a packed dance floor and make the kids willingly sit down, Alex Grey’s ‘pull’ has in fact become so great that when he and Allyson appear at festivals to live paint and give their talk/slide show, they are now often in fact the headlining attraction. For while Alex Grey’s work is pretty much entirely outside of the mainstream art world, these days he may well be the most popular artist in America.

The test for that popularity will be the construction of the actual Chapel of Sacred Mirrors on land purchased by the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors Foundation in Wappinger Falls, New York,[11] in 2008. An ambitious project that will take many years to complete, the Grey’s appear undaunted in their task, and CoSM was granted Church Status that same year. Since the unfortunate death of Terence McKenna in 2000, and the stroke suffered by Sasha Shulgin in 2010, Alex and Allyson Grey’s tireless advocating of both the importance of psychedelics to our society, and of having hope for our future, has made them both the psychedelic community’s most popular speakers, and its most important voice. [12]

To learn more about the construction of the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors in upstate New York visit COSM.org.

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mr peabody

Moderator: Music Discussion, PM
Staff member
Aug 31, 2016
Frostbite Falls, MN

The Second Psychedelic Revolution, Part Five: A Short Psychedelic History of Humanity

by James Oroc | Reality Sandwich

Over the course of the past four articles of this series, I have proposed that a new “Second Psychedelic Revolution” has arisen phoenix-like at the end of the 20th century out of the ashes of the original 1960’s LSD-and rock n’ roll “revolution”; and that the foundations of this new, “Second” revolution (new psychedelic analogues, organic tryptamines, techno-shamanic tribalism, and “Visionary” art) have mostly emerged from the published work of its three principal architects/authors — the chemist Alexander Shulgin, the mycologist and philosopher Terence McKenna, and the mystic-artist Alex Grey.

This is, of course, something of a generalization, designed to elucidate the point that there is a new psychedelic “ground-wave” moving through our contemporary society. There are of course other factors and other people who have contributed greatly to this ongoing process and who also deserve mention; most importantly Rick Doblin and MAPS[1] who have almost single-handedly led the fight to get psychedelic research back into the Universities; Dr Rick Strassman, for conducting the first DEA approved psychedelic trials in the USA in over thirty years[2], and most recently, for creating the Cottonwood Institute; Roland Griffith, for his repeating of the “Marsh Chapel Experiment” at Harvard, perhaps the most important event in psychedelic academia since Timothy Leary’s original tenure;[3] and Stanislav Grof, for his sustained examination of the transpersonal realms and its relationship to the human psyche.[4] There is also a new entheogenic generation emerging, with visual artists such as Android Jones and Amanda Sage creating their own followings, authors like myself and Daniel Pinchbeck who have managed to have books on psychedelic culture widely published despite a virtual ban on the subject in general society, and popular DJ’s with evocative names like Mimosa and Run DMT.

Other factors greater than any individual have also been involved. The birth and rapid world wide growth in popularity of electronic music since the early days of London’s “Acid House” coincided with the gestation of this latest Psychedelic Generation and has provided a willing audience, with the two cultures effectively merging in many areas. The importance of the creation of the Internet on contemporary psychedelic culture also cannot be emphasized enough, since this is the first global network that has defied censorship, and has been able to widely disseminate rational information about psychedelics and psychedelic culture without fear; an entire article could easily be written on this subject alone. Earth and Fire Erowid deserve a prominent mention for their pioneering example of EROWID.org, which remains the most important psychedelic site on the World Wide Web due to its thoroughness and practicality, and is an inspiration to a host of other sites such as DMT-Nexus, and DMTsite.com; while E-zines such as Reality Sandwich have evolved into viable social platforms publishing information relevant to the emerging communities that support them; a large portion of which is information on psychedelic culture that would not be published anywhere else.

The idea of a “Second Psychedelic Revolution” is an evocative one, for it hints at the possibility that the “First Revolution” had not entirely failed. But the fact of the matter is that the contemporary wave of interest in psychedelics is not really “The Second Psychedelic Revolution”, nor should the 1960’s LSD-and-Rock N’ Roll revolution be considered “The First.” Psychedelic revolutions in various societies —psychedelic transformations might be a better term—are now being realized by anthropologists and historians to have been somewhat common throughout mankind’s history, and may prove to have been essential to the development of our planetary culture.

Humanity has two histories: the short history since written language evolved, and the vast unknown history of the oral traditions that preceded it during an era that some tribes now describe as “The Great Forgetting.” How language, and later literature, evolved to separate us from all other life on this planet by giving us the ability to store and transmit one generation’s combined knowledge to the next remains one of the great mysteries of our existence. Time moved much slower before written language, and great traditions such as the cave painters continued uninterrupted for tens of thousands of years—a concept almost inconceivable in this modern age.

What we currently believe however—thanks in part to the hard science of the Human Genome project[5]—is that at some point somewhere around 50, 000 to 70,00 years ago, the ancestors of our modern humanity were in deep trouble. Forced by sub-Saharan desertification out of their formerly forested environment in south-west Africa (the original Lost Garden), these early humans existed as scattered small tribes—with a total population numbering in the thousands—scavenging along the land bridge between Africa and western Asia, right on the verge of extinction.

Something quite incredible then happened, some deep unknown catalyst for a new kind of evolution that had never occurred before. One small wavelet of Homo Sapiens—numbering perhaps as few as a thousand, these are the direct genetic ancestors of all the non-African races — would then migrate into Western Asia “in a revolution of behavior that some archeologists believe included more sophisticated tools, wider social networks, and the first art and body ornaments”[6]. Marked by the point of this tenuous migration out of Africa[7] and due to some still unknown fulcrum or flash-point, this is the moment that Homo Sapiens appears to have clearly made its radical break from the other hominoids, and began to exhibit “fully modern behavior” in complex art and tool-making. Language and religion also probably began to rapidly evolve at this juncture as man embarked on his relatively short march to dominate the planet like no other species has ever before it.

The mycologists Gordon Wasson and Terence McKenna have both proposed that the spark which caused early Homo Sapiens to first conceive of God and language was due to the accidental consumption of the psilocybin or magic mushrooms that would have been ubiquitous in the dung of primitive cattle. (The Horned Goddess of the Neolithic cults represents that link between cattle, mushrooms, and the first religious cults.) This theory is practically unprovable (as are most theories about our ancient history) but it is interesting to note that many of the strange t-shaped carved pillars at Göbekli Tepe in the Anatolia region of Turkey—founded in the 10th millennium BCE and currently believed to be the oldest ‘city’ in the world— certainly resemble mushrooms, and that ancient cave paintings (5,000 BC) of hominoids with mushrooms coming out of their torsos have been found on the Tassilli plateau of Northern Algeria.

What we do now know from more than a century of anthropological studies, is that the primary spiritual practice employed by primitive hunter-gather societies is a variety of forms of shamanism — the practice of using altered states of consciousness to mediate with the Spirit World. While our use of the word comes from the Siberian word šaman (meaning literally “one who knows”), the practice of shamanism was widespread throughout the planet, and especially in Africa, Asia, and the Americas. The vast majority of shamanic practices involved the sacramental use of psychotropic plants. (Other techniques, such as fasting, drumming, and chanting are now thought to have developed in areas that such plants were rare or unavailable.)

In the Amazon basin, one of the few areas where traditional hunter-gather societies still exist[8], these tribes continue to utilize a staggering array of psychotropic plants and plant-admixtures, including potent DMT and 5-MeO-DMT-containing snuffs (yá-kee, yopo, epéna, paricà) and the now legendary jungle-brew known by its phonetic approximation, ayahuasca[9]. A burial site in northern Chile included a bag with snuffing paraphernalia and snuffs remnants containing DMT and 5-MeO-DMT dates back to the 8th century, although snuff use in the Amazon Basin is believed to be at least 2000 years old.

Six thousand years older than Stonehenge, Göbekli Tepe is considered one of the most important discoveries (1996) in modern archeology. It is of particular interest, since it is believed to have been constructed by a hunter-gatherer society who only occupied it sparingly, and was actually more of a temple than a city—thus upending the belief that the establishment of sedentary farming communities was responsible for the first monumental edifices. The building of Göbekli Tepe predates pottery, metallurgy, the invention of writing or the wheel, and is even older than the invention of agriculture or animal husbandry during the so-called Neolithic Revolution[10]. Its elaborate construction and carvings— an incredible feat for a nomadic peoples utilizing stone-age technologies—indicates that hunter-gatherer societies had clearly developed significant enough religious philosophies and practices[11] at this point that the first house that humanity built was for our Gods. Or as excavator Klaus Schmidt observed, “First came the temple, then the city.”

Over the following millennia, as the history of humanity moved out of the ‘wilderness’ and into the towns and cities, so too apparently did our entheogen use, and at least four ‘major’ sustained entheogenic cultures are now known to have existed. These included:

—In Mexico, a remarkable number of entheogenic cults are known to have existed within the great Meso-American cultures that arose there. A variety of psychoactive plants were venerated as Gods and are commonly found represented in Toltec, Mayan, and later Aztec temples, including psilocybin mushrooms, ololiuqui (morning glory) seeds that contained LSD like compounds, and even possibly 5-MeO-DMT-containing toad venom; carbon-dating now indicates that the use of mescaline-containing peyote in North America goes back 5700 years.[12]

—In Peru, a significant culture arose around the sacramental use of the mescaline-containing Trichocereus (San Pedro cactus), as evident by the construction of the Chavín de Huantar temple[13] complex in 1300 BC by the remarkable Chavín civilization. Nestled in a verdant valley on the eastern slope of the Cordillera Blanca, the highest set of mountain peaks in Peru, the beautifully preserved Chavín de Huantar houses a sophisticated tunnel system (replete with water drains and air shafts for ventilation) that takes one under the main temple complex and through a labyrinth that, when successfully navigated, opens into a chamber with a fifteen foot high granite carving of a fanged deity, the chief god of Chavín. (Called the Lanzon, this floor to ceiling carving looks like something the visionary artist Luke Brown might sculpt.)

San Pedro cactus grow in large clumps all around the temple complex, while the carved amphibitheatre at the entrance of the tunnels with its obvious fire-pit seems clear in its shamanic intent. The Chavín civilization apparently conquered other Andean societies without warfare; they simply brought the chiefs and priests of other Andean tribes to Chavín de Huantar, filled them up with San Pedro, and then led them into the underground labyrinth. By the time the stunned participants emerged back into the sunshine on the other side of the temple, they were apparently convinced enough of the superiority of Chavín’s shamans that they simply joined them, and Chavín’s influence became widespread across Peru. Incredibly sophisticated stone carvers, the Chavín civilization is considered the origin of the stone construction techniques that the Moche, Inca, and other Andean societies later used in their own temple building. The sacramental use of the San Pedro cactus has remained a continuous tradition in Peru for over 3000 years.

—In the Indus Valley, the mixing of proto- Indo-Iranian people with the Aryan invaders from the north created the Vedanta, the most important of the six philosophical schools (dashan) that are the foundation of what we now call Hinduism. These Aryan invaders brought with them the Rig-Veda (which dates back to at least 2000 B.C.), a collection of 1,028 hymns that is considered to be the oldest written book (and religious text) on the planet. One hundred and twenty of these verses are devoted to the praise of a plant/God called Soma, the ritual use of which was an integral part of early Vedic religion.

We have drunk Soma and become immortal; we have attained the light, the Gods discovered’.[14] Verses such as this indicate that Soma was clearly an entheogenic plant, although its identity and preparation was eventually lost. Various entheogens have been suggested, including the Fly Agaric mushroom (Wasson, Hofmann), psilocybin cubenis mushrooms (McKenna), and white lotus and cannabis preparations, but no definitive identification has yet been made. The importance and influence of this mysterious Soma[15] on the creation of the Vedanta however—humanity’s oldest surviving religion and the philosophical system that Alfred North Whitehead called ’the most impressive metaphysics the human mind has conceived’—cannot be denied. According to the eminent religious scholar Huston Smith, ‘the Vedas derive, more than from any other single identifiable source, from Soma’.

Ironically, the fourth great entheogenic culture, and the society that should be of the greatest interest to us in the West, is increasingly believed to have been Ancient Greece, the philosophical bedrock from which our own Scientific-Reductionist (and thus anti-entheogen) beliefs have grown.

Entheogens and the West

“For among the many excellent and indeed divine institutions which your Athens has brought forth and contributed to human life, none, in my opinion, is better than those (Eleusinian) mysteries. For by their means we have been brought out of our barbarous and savage mode of life and educated and refined to a state of civilization; and as the rites are called ‘initiations,’ so in very truth we have learned from them the beginnings of life, and have gained the power not only to live happily, but also to die with a better hope.” — Cicero, Laws II, xix, 36.

Eleusis, a small town 14 miles from Athens, was the site of an ancient temple to Demeter, the Greek Goddess of Nature and Agriculture, whose initiation rites became known as the Eleusinian Mysteries.[16]. Held annually for over 2000 years, these Mysteries were considered the pinnacle of Greek culture, with the majority of Greek writers and philosophers — including Socrates, Plato, Plutarch, Aristotle, and Sophocles — and later Roman Emperors and philosophers such as Hadrian, Marcus Aurelis[17], and Cicero, all included amongst its initiates. An indication of the great importance of Eleusis to Greek society is the fact that when the Romans arrived, the only ‘road’ in central Greece greater than a goat path was the road from Athens to Eleusis — called ‘The Sacred Way’ — that the initiates walked each year.

Designed “to elevate man above the human sphere into the divine and to assure his redemption by making him a god and so conferring immortality upon him”[18], the Greater Mysteries were held in late summer each year and lasted for 10 days. After purifying themselves in the sea at Phaleron, fasting, and then participating in the ritual–filled procession to Eleusis, the great mystical revelation came after the initiates drunk a special drink of barley and pennyroyal called kykeon, and then entered the great underground hall[19] called the Telesterion, where the true nature of the Mysteries were revealed.

This much we know; but since revealing the Mysteries themselves to the uninitiated was punishable by death, we do not know a great deal more, other than that certain sacred objects were revealed by the hierophants (temple priests and priestesses), and that there was some kind of a grand ritualized performance, often said to involve fire. According to Proclus, who is often described as the last great Greek philosopher, the performance of these Mysteries “cause sympathy of the souls with the ritual in a way that is unintelligible to us, and divine, so that some of the initiates are stricken with panic being filled with divine awe; others assimilate themselves to the holy symbols, leave their own identity, become at home with the Gods and experience divine possession.” [20]

The Mysteries retold the ancient story of Demeter and her virgin daughter Persephone’s abduction by Hades, the lord of the Underworld. As Demeter searched ceaselessly for her missing daughter, she stopped performing her task of maintaining the Sacred Law, the seasons halted, and all life began to wither and die. Faced with the extinction of all living things, Zeus sent his messenger Hermes to the underworld to bring Persephone back; upon her departure however, Persephone breaks her fast with either 4 or 6 pomegranate seeds. By a rule of the Fates, this act binds her to Hades and the underworld for at least 4 months a year. Persephone’s return to her mother each year thus coincides with the arrival spring.

Western scholars have for centuries identified the Eleusinian Mysteries with Demeter’s role as the custodian of the seasons and as the Goddess of Agriculture. In her search for Persephone, Demeter became tired, and rested for a while at the palace of Celeus, the King of Eleusis, where she nursed his sons, Demeophon and Triptolemus. It is to Triptolemous that Demeter taught the secrets of Agriculture, giving the gift to humanity of planting and growing grain.

That gift however came at a cost; Demeter’s original intent had been to bestow the gift of immortality upon Demeophon, but she was interrupted by the boy’s mother. Agriculture thus was our consolation prize for immortality, and any real understanding of the Eleusinian Mysteries must realize that these two themes are irrevocably entwined. The Greek Mother-Goddess Demeter was Goddess of Nature as well as the Harvest, and thus responsible for the Sacred Law, the uninterrupted cycle of Life and Death. A scholar with a more entheogenic perspective will also notice an obvious mirroring of this myth of Persephone’s descent, and then return, from the Underworld; her journey mimics the most central shamanic requirement, the psycho-spiritual death and rebirth of the shaman on his own journey to the Spirit World.

This is the most shared characteristic of shamanism worldwide, the idea that the shaman dies and then is reborn with new knowledge. And judging by the lasting power of the Eleusinian Mysteries, one must suspect that some kind of a mystical-shamanic agent was involved. Commentaries on the Mysteries describe reactions ranging from extreme terror to blissful awe. Pindar, the greatest lyric poet of ancient Greece said of the Mysteries, “Blessed is he who, having seen these rites,
undertakes the way beneath the Earth.
 He knows the end of life, 
as well as its divinely granted beginning,” while Sopatos[21] remarked, in a commentary that would be familiar to any contemporary 5-MeO-DMT initiate today, “I came out of the mystery hall feeling like a stranger to myself.

The knowledge of the preparation of kykeon was lost when the era of the Mysteries finally ended, but numerous candidates have been suggested for as its psychoactive component, including psilocybin and amanita muscaria, opiates[22], and DMT-containing phalaris grass or some kind of acacia with Syrian Rue; but the most compelling theory (forwarded by Albert Hofmann, Gordon Wasson, and Carl Ruck) argues that kykeon was made from ergot-parasitized barley grain that contain LSD like alkaloids (LSA, a precursor to LSD, and ergonovine[23]).

The importance of Greek thought in our Western culture is considered irrefutable; the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead once noted: “The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.” Clear, unbroken lines of influence lead from the two thousand years of Greek philosophy to early Islamic philosophy, the European Renaissance and the Age of Enlightenment. Greek philosophy made the critical break from understanding the world from a purely mythological perspective to a sustained examination of our environment based on reason. Presocratic philosophers strived to identify the single underlying purpose of the entire cosmos, and their legacy was the initiation of the quest to identify the underlying principles of reality; the origin of our Scientific Rationalism begins there.

Greek philosophy’s quest however was ultimately mystical, an attempt to reconcile physical laws with the presence of Spirit or pneuma. For the Stoics[24], pneuma is the active, generative principle that organizes both the individual and the cosmos. In its highest form, pneuma constitutes the human soul (psychê), which is a fragment of the pneuma that is the soul of God (Zeus). As a force that structures matter, it exists even in inanimate objects. To the Stoics, nothing in the world had an independent existence from this pneuma (logos). Sometimes described as an ether, the pneuma/logos is similar to the Hindu concept of akasha, and considering the importance of the Eleusinian Mysteries to the Greek philosophers[25], and the importance of Soma to the Vedic philosophers, one has to wonder if some kind of entheogen was not involved in this mystical realization of a transpersonal nature of reality. As Albert Hofmann – the inventor of LSD and investigator of the Eleusinian Mysteries – puts it: “If the hypothesis that an LSD-like consciousness-altering drug was present in the kykeon is correct – and there are good arguments in its favor – then the Eleusinian Mysteries have a relevance for our time in not only a spiritual-existential sense, but also with respect to the question of the controversial use of consciousness-altering compounds to attain mystical insights into the riddle of life.”

By the time the Roman emperor Theodosius I closed the sanctuaries at Eleusis in 392 AD, the Mysteries had reputedly lost some of their power, with the sacred kykeon having been served at profane parties in Athens (one of the pieces of evidence that kykeon was most likely psychoactive). The last remnants of the Mysteries were wiped out in 396 AD, when Alaric King of the Goths invaded accompanied by Christians “in their dark garments,” bringing Arian Christianity and “desecrating the old sacred sites.”[26] And for the following 1500 years, the Western Christian based culture that evolved in Europe had no obvious entheogenic influences what so ever, and our spiritual life became dependent on obedience, fasting, and prayer.

An Emerging Fifth Entheogenic Culture?

This changed in 1897, when mescaline was first isolated and identified by German chemist Arthur Heffter, and then radically again in 1919, when mescaline was first synthesized (by Ernst Späth). One of the themes that continues to fascinate me about contemporary psychedelic culture is the fact that our chemistry, our anthropology, our interest in psychology, and our spiritual curiosity all evolved to a point at the beginning of the twentieth century when they became increasingly intertwined.

Mescaline, for example, was isolated after Western intellectuals[27] became interested in the phenomenon of the “native peyote inebriation” of the peyote cults of the South-Western Indians of the United States and Northern Mexico. In 1887, Parke, Davis and Co distributed dried peyote (obtained from Mexico) to interested scientists. The first reported “non-native” account of peyote inebriation was published in 1897 by the American physician and novelist Weir Mitchell. Mitchell then sent peyote “buttons” to Havelock Ellis, whose accounts of his own experiments caused considerable scientific interest when they appeared in the British Journal of Medicine. Mescaline was subsequently isolated by Arthur Heffter in 1897; Heffter’s scientific curiosity was so great he discovered mescaline by systematically ingesting a number of alkaloid “fractions” isolated from the peyote[28] himself until he identified which one was psychoactive (thus becoming the first modern psychonaut).

Once mescaline was successfully synthesized in a laboratory in 1919, scientific interest shifted to it instead of peyote. In 1927, Dr Kurt Beringer, a friend of Herman Hesse and Carl Jung’s[29], published a 315 page study entitled Die Meskalinrausch (The Mescaline Inebriation). There are some reports of mescaline use in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s amongst artists and other curious intellectuals, but these experiments were interrupted by the outbreak of World War II in Europe. (Jean-Paul Sartre for example took mescaline in 1935.)

In the early 1950’s, the British psychiatrist Humphry Osmond would begin to examine the properties of mescaline in his research on psychosis and schizophrenia. It was Osmond who administered mescaline to the British novelist Aldous Huxley in Los Angeles in 1953; Huxley’s subsequent 10 mescaline experiences would be the basis for his book The Doors of Perception in 1954, arguably the most important and influential book on the freshly termed ‘psychedelics’ ever written.

Meanwhile, in the great wave of chemical discovery at the beginning of the twentieth century, DMT had been synthesized in 1931 (although its psychoactive effects would not be recognized until 1956), and in 1938, a Swiss chemist employed by the pharmaceutical company Sandoz had invented lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD-25), the most powerful (by dosage) psychedelic known to man. The psycho-activity of this compound also remained unrealized all through World War II, and may have remained unknown had Albert Hofmann not had a “strange premonition” to re-examine the compound again in 1943. After accidentally dosing himself when a small amount of LSD landed on his skin, Hofmann repeated the experiment by willfully ingesting 250 µg of LSD on April 19th, 1943[30], and LSD’s psychoactive properties became overwhelmingly obvious.

The rest, as they say, is history, but the importance of Albert Hoffman’s discovery is central to the psychedelic culture of the second half of the 20th century. While there have been numerous plant-entheogens in history, and other man-made psychedelics have since been invented, there had never been an entheogen that a competent chemist could make three millions hits of in an afternoon. When LSD arrived on the cultural scene in full-force in the mid 1960’s, it was the perfect psychedelic for the job — laboratory produced and packaged first as a liquid on sugar cubes and then on brightly printed sheets of paper, LSD epitomized the space-race-driven scientific frenzy of the late 50’s and early 1960’s in a way that ancient entheogens like peyote, psilocybin mushrooms, or ayahuasca would have never been able to, and its appeal was instantaneous. It’s invention allowed an estimated 30 million people access to the psychedelic experience between 1960 and 1990, and has changed the cultural and spiritual landscape in the West more than any other identifiable modern influence (except perhaps television).

The synthesis, and subsequent invention, of psychedelic compounds in our laboratories is the unique contribution of Western culture to the psychedelic history of the world, and this is now approaching one century old. Modern psychedelic history, I would argue, begins at this date (1919), and that the early curiosity in mescaline by artists and intellectuals in the 1920’s and 1930’s; the MK-ULTRA experiments that came out of WW II; R. Gordon Wasson’s identification of the effects of psilocybin mushrooms in Life magazine in 1957; the interest in mescaline, LSD, and DMT by psychologists and psychiatrists in the mid 1950’s and early 1960’s; the cultural upheaval caused in the late 1960’s by Western Youth cultures enthusiastic embrace of the psychedelic experience; the ongoing anthropological reassessment of Mankind’s history that began in the 1970’s, as we have increasingly had to recognize the role that traditional entheogens have played in Mankind’s development; the discovery of endogenous entheogens in late 1970’s; the rise in popularity of empathogens and the Acid-House culture of the late 1980’s; the various analogues of the research chemical companies of the 1990’s; and this latest 21st century ‘transformational culture’ that has evolved from the combined works of Alexander Shulgin, Terence McKenna, and Alex Grey; are all in fact mileposts in the same modern societal evolution. And thus, instead of a “Second Psychedelic Revolution” that has arisen from the ashes of the 1960’s acid-fueled youth rebellion, we are in fact a century into the establishment of Mankind’s fifth great entheogenic culture.

This statement raises the inevitable question at this critical juncture in human history: Why?

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mr peabody

Moderator: Music Discussion, PM
Staff member
Aug 31, 2016
Frostbite Falls, MN

The Second Psychedelic Revolution, Part Six: A New Earth?

by James Oroc | Reality Sandwich

For those of you who have been reading this series from its beginning, I must apologize, since this final chapter has taken far longer than I anticipated for a number of different reasons, not the least of which being the fact that I have been grappling with the scope of my conclusions, and searching for the concise language with which to present them. Psychedelic History and Psychedelic Philosophy are both enormous, virtually neglected fields of scholarship, and there are days where I feel like I could write endless volumes about various complex facets of the Psychedelic Experience; thus any attempt to summarize the importance of psychedelics to our contemporary culture within the confines of a single article is somewhat doomed to generalizations. However, after the surprising publication of my book on the entheogenic experience Tryptamine Palace[1] in 2009, and now more than six years of addressing audiences around the world on these complicated and diverse subjects, I have come to some definitive conclusions of my own about both the practical use of entheogens – psychedelics capable of providing a sacred or mystical experience – and the ultimate purpose of their surprising reappearance in contemporary western culture.

UnMask, by Jennifer Espenscheid

Psychedelics and the Self

You are the World, and your relationship with another is Society’. —Krishnamurti.

There are 4 main beliefs about psychedelics that have become the cornerstones of my own personal entheogenic philosophy, and that I now regard as virtual facts.

The first of which, at the risk of stating the obvious, is that the most practical application of psychedelics in this day and age is as a tool for examining differentiated states of consciousness, and ultimately for investigating the basis of consciousness itself. This was the promise of psychedelics that first created such tremendous interest within the scientific community before research was effectively banned in the early 1970’s. This was also the same aspect of psychedelics that first fascinated experienced spiritual ‘seekers’ like Aldous Huxley and Alan Watts in the 1950’s, who both declared that a single session on psychedelics had taught them more than decades of meditation[2].

The second is that the ‘ultimate’ psychedelic experience is the relatively rare transpersonal experience–the blissful realization of the Oneness of All Things–and that this transpersonal experience is often identified (by some, not all) as a recognition of the Sacred Nature of Existence, a merging with Source. With the right set, setting, and psychedelic, an untrained individual can experience a very different ‘reality’ by merging with a state of consciousness remarkably different to the one that we normally occupy. Upon returning to our ‘normal’ state of consciousness, we generally lack the vocabulary for the experience, and often all we can do is meditate in silent wide-eyed astonishment upon the fractal of a memory of that Mystery of Mysteries.

The third is that this transpersonal or entheogenic experience (an entheogen is any plant or compound that can initiate a mystical experience) is phenomenologically indistinguishable from the classical mystical experience of Union-with-Source, and thus should be regarded as one.

Prior to the re-emergence of the psychedelic experience in Western Culture during the 20thth Century, mystical states of consciousness were considered rare in our Society, and generally accompanied severe austerities or even obvious psychosis; while the majority of mind-altering compounds available to European society offered only a consciousness-numbing inebriation (alcohol) or narcosis (opium)[3].

For the traumatized generations emerging from the sophisticated horrors of two consecutive World Wars, the white light of the mystical experience became something of an intellectual Holy Grail, a potential escape hatch from the existentialist crisis that Western humanity had fallen into. While Aldous Huxley’s book The Doors of Perception has gained considerable notoriety in the decades that have followed its publication due to the now illegal nature of the compounds (mescaline) and experiences (psychedelic) that it promotes, people now tend to forget that at the time of its release Huxley himself was regarded as one of the world’s great intellectuals and the preeminent expert on the spiritual/mystical experience[4].Thus it was Huxley’s enthusiasm for psychedelics as a genuine tool for spiritual self-examination and personal growth that generated such interest for the generation that survived World War Two, and for the generation born directly after it.

The most convincing part of my own transpersonal experiences[5] – and I would argue that this is in fact the basis of all mystical experiences – is the remarkable experience of Consciousness without Identity, as it is sometimes called. That is to say that a part of me is able to merge and identify with the Consciousness of Source/Ultimate Reality, but in doing so ‘I’ have no idea that ‘I’ exist or ever existed … me, James Oroc, human, Earthling, that complex amalgamation of cells and particles that seems to contain consciousness, now revealed to be nothing more than a vague and distant memory of some unimportant shadow of drifting star-dust, while it is undeniably the underlying and unimaginably Greater Consciousness – ‘the ground of Reality’ – that remains.

It was the unexpected experience of this state-of-consciousness that is sometimes called the Universal Mind, or God Consciousness, that shattered not only the bedrock of most of my scientific-rationalist beliefs, but even my rabid atheism. After this experience, for example, I could no longer believe that consciousness originates within the physical body, but is in fact a Universal Field that our brains[6] somehow access, and I have since come to the conclusion that evolution itself is consciousness driven. Which is to say that rather than the scientific-rationalist view that consciousness is an ‘accidental’ epiphenomenon of matter, consciousness is in fact the primary driving force of Existence, and evolution is the history of matter organizing itself into more complex forms so that this Universal Consciousness can evolve into more coherent ways of knowing Itself – a philosophy, I have come to discover, expounded in various forms by mystics for centuries.

ENTHEON Hall, the first phase of the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors began construction in late 2013
Entheon Hall, by Alex Grey

This shattering of my belief system after my unexpected and unwanted mystical experience then led to the greatest intellectual adventure of my life, the reconstruction of a world-view that could make sense of my new convictions – a journey that would ultimately be the topic and tale of my book Tryptamine Palace. One of the things I believe that makes Tryptamine Palace unique amongst contemporary psychedelic literature is that its pages not only offer some complex theories about the basis of the entheogenic experience, but actually present a model – based on neural Bose Einstein Condensates and the holographic nature of the quantum Zero Point Field – that I believe explains the mechanism of the transpersonal-entheogenic experience within the boundaries of current cutting edge science. However rather than revisiting these ideas in depth in this article, I would rather examine in greater detail some of the concepts that have evolved for me since the publication of Tryptamine Palace.

The most important of these – and one which came about directly from the recognition of consciousness without identity – was the realization that I had in fact experienced ego death, and that the Ego, something that had only ever been a little-understood philosophical concept to me previously, had now been revealed as a very real mask and entity.

There is a moment at the peak of the transpersonal experience (on 5-Methoxy-DMT) when it has all become too much, the moment when even Universal Consciousness feels like it will shatter in awe at what it is experiencing, dissolving as it is back into the mysterium tremendum[7], and it is at that moment that the questions appear that will bring you back. The moment a voice asks, How is this is possible? How long has this been happening? And who am ‘I’ ? With this last question, the Ego rapidly re-forms and swiftly delivers ‘you’ back to your body, which is usually collapsed in an inglorious heap upon the bed or floor. From these experiences I have come to believe that this is the most practical application of personal psychedelic use – for the recognition of the existence and role of the Ego, and for experiencing how its disruption can result in a greater connection with Source.

Alpha Centauri, by Luke Brown

Before I venture on any further, I should define what is meant by ‘the Ego” since this particular word is fraught with numerous definitions. My own current understanding has been heavily influenced by the work of the contemporary mystic Eckhart Tolle, and especially his book A New Earth: Awakening to Life’s Purpose, (the title of which I have somewhat ironically appropriated for this article), and the basis of the definition that I am using comes largely from his work.

By the Ego I mean the mechanism in consciousness that differentiates between things and ‘labels’ experiences, by creating a thought/memory/word that becomes attached/associated with that experience. (Or quite simply, the voice in your head.) Over one’s lifetime, it is the collection of these thoughts/memories/words (that have now replaced the actual experiences themselves) that creates a sense of history and Self. Babies are born devoid of Ego, and are trained to build one – children often first talk of themselves in the third-person before they grasp the concept of ‘I’ – but once the Ego is established, it generally continues to grow and fortify itself throughout an individual’s life. Human beings are in fact the only animals that must protect their offspring for years until they can gestate to maturity – virtually all other animals must learn to survive within weeks if not days or hours – and it is the Ego that is being developed during this period of childhood and puberty. We are born fully conscious, it is our ability to put labels and values to experiences (and later abstract concepts) that we are developing towards adulthood, and along with it, our sense of ‘I’. In our modern capitalistic society, and especially in the West, one’s sense of ‘self’ is considered to be the most important thing we have, and we are taught to worship the idea of the rights of the individual above everything else; a belief now more important than family, tribe, or country. (“I have to do what’s right for me!) The grip of the Ego on the individual (and especially in the West) is now so strong that most of us never realize that there is anything but the Ego at all, and thus this is the mechanism – that Einstein called ‘an optical illusion of consciousness’ – that has separated Humanity from the rest of the web of life on this planet by causing us to believe that we are ‘unique’ and ‘special’ – made in God’s image no less – and that the Earth is here for our exploiting, rather than our custodianship.

A viewpoint of separation that become virtual dogma during the late 18th and 19th century after the scientific philosophy of Rene Descartes, whose Cartesian Duality advocated the complete separation on body and mind, paving the way for the wide-spread introduction of the Scientific Method[8] and the absolute economic philosophies of John Locke and Adam Smith that would become the operating principles of the Industrial Revolution. (Locke famously wrote that “Unused property is a waste and an offense against nature.” According to his economic theories – which are one of the foundation stones of our modern capitalist paradigm – it is humanity’s God-given duty to subjugate the earth and reap the rewards, as “wealth’.)

Thus my fourth belief/conclusion is that a mystical experience – by any means – destroys the illusion of separation by revealing the singular ground of Reality, the Numinous, and this occurs by transcending the Ego, the overwhelming sense of “I”. (Once again, a belief commonly expounded by mystics for centuries.) This very-real experience of ego-death[9] is the same experience that Aldous Huxley, Alan Watts, Jack Kerouac, Alan Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, and many others of the post-WWII generation were all seeking from their study of the Eastern texts and technologies; the momentary cessation of the Ego (by meditation, yoga, etc.) so as to reveal the ultimate Source of Reality. A paradigm shattering event whose Sanskrit word, satcitananda, is best translated as “being-consciousness-bliss” or “existence-awareness-bliss”, or what we in the West might describe as ‘a moment of enlightenment’.

This concept was mostly abandoned in the West since the cessation of the Eleusinian Mysteries in Ancient Greece other than in radical pockets such as the alchemist tradition[10], it was the Theosophists of the late 19th century who generated a wave of interest in the transpersonal teachings and methods of eastern philosophy that many western intellectuals began to investigate. (Madame Blavatsky is often credited with coining the term ‘Cosmic Consciousness’, later used by William James.) A two-year speaking tour of the United States by the remarkable Swami Vivekanada, a disciple of Ramakrishna, led to the formation of the influential Vedanta Society[11] in the United States in 1894, and it was by this direct line to Indian mysticism that many western intellectuals were introduced to yoga, transcendental meditation, and the philosophy of the Vedanta, in a sober and often studious approach to the mystical experience – which Leibniz defined as ‘the metaphysics that recognizes a divine Reality substantial to the world of things and lives and minds’ – that steadily gained popularity with intellectuals and bohemians through two World Wars and the Great Depression, and still continues in many Vedanta and Buddhist centers today. An approach that ironically would be unwittingly undermined by the writings of the Beatniks, who while enthusiastically embracing aspects of Vedanta philosophy into their own mythology– the Dharma Bums – had realized in the periods of chaos between their lengthy meditations that there was another kind of much more accessible transcendence available with just the right mix of jazz, alcohol, benzedrine, and a then little-known illegal drug known as ‘tea’ or marijuana, in the heady liberation of smoky mixed-race music-clubs. The unlikely commercial success of Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac in the late 1950’s led to a popularization of this hybrid Beatnik philosophy that would unknowingly prepare youth culture for the spectacular arrival of psychedelics shortly thereafter.[12]

Ana-Suromai, by Amanda Sage

So to quickly recap, these are what I see as the most practical personal uses of psychedelics.​
  1. For examining and experiencing differentiated states of consciousness; and for examining the role of consciousness itself.​
  2. For realizing the existence of the Ego; and experiencing the field of universal consciousness without it.​
  3. For experiencing the transpersonal nature of reality that is the common ground of all mystical experiences.​
  4. For realizing our connection with Source.​
BM- temple and uchronia-2
Burning Man, Temple and Uchronia

Psychedelics and Society

The task of our generation, I have no doubt, is one of metaphysical reconstruction’ —E. F. Schumacher Small is Beautiful, 1973.

The first structure that Man built was thus in Consciousness, in the inner space that we began to call ‘our minds’; the walls of separation and division required for the construction the Ego, for the creation of the sense of ‘I’, and ultimately, of Homo Sapiens. Numerous commentators[13] throughout history have stated that this false sense of separateness from the Universal is the inherent ‘dysfunction’ in ourselves and our Society that is stopping us from realizing our full potential. By recognizing that the human ego is the mechanism[14] of division and separation that has been responsible for the world that we have created, then it applies that in understanding the ways in which psychedelics are useful for an individual’s personal growth, we can understand just as equally how they might apply to the collective growth, and in fact survival, of our culture. Although known to be non-toxic and non-addictive, psychedelics are currently amongst the most feared AND most revered aspects of our contemporary society (depending upon who you ask), and despite an all-out war against their use that has been ongoing for nearly 50 years, the popularity of psychedelics has in fact steadily increased (world-wide) along with the astonishing number of entheogenic compounds and plants now available, and there are signs – such as the reemergence of psychedelic research in academia and articles about ayahuasca in popular ‘women’s’ magazines like Marie Claire – that suggest that psychedelics are already returning to mainstream culture. There is a fragment of human curiosity that remains fascinated with the psychedelic experience and is willing to face any persecution to continue it’s influence, and in my opinion this is the part of Humanity that recognizes the inherent dysfunction in human thinking, and instinctively wants to break down the prisons of separateness that the modern Ego has built up around us, the part of us that longs to reconnect with Source. I also believe that this same Universal Source is equally trying to get back in touch with us, to help Humanity through this dilemma, and that entheogens (sacred psychedelics) are perhaps the only technology capable of penetrating the Western Ego’s omnipotent view of itself, and thus allowing us can learn to integrate back into the Web-of-Life again. (They are undeniably the most effective.) This is why I believe that that the reappearance of entheogens in Western (and World) culture at this critical juncture in human history is more than just a coincidence – it is in fact necessary for our future survival as a species.

Boom! 2010 the Libliminal Drop art gallery and speakers area.created by Bamboo DNA-47
Boom! 2010, the Libliminal Drop art gallery and speakers

The lasting function of psychedelics must be as a tool for the reintegration of the Transpersonal Experience into the Western Mind; a very-real ‘realization’ that is brought about by the temporary disruption (and subsequent recognition of) the Ego structure, and any goal less than this should be regarded as mere entertainment. And yet while many fascinating things have been written about psychedelics and the psychedelic experience over the past fifty years, from strange tales of transformation and telepathy to ingenious theories ranging from mushroom spores as spaceship to the Soul or Spirit occupying a singular molecule, what I find most revealing is that the practical philosophy that I have acquired from my own decades of academic and personal enquiry (the belief that psychedelics are most useful for realizing and examining the role of the Ego as an obstruction to Source) is virtually identical to the excitement of Aldous Huxley and Alan Watts over fifty years ago, and yet in the five decades of psychedelic history since, this is ancient ground that has barely been revisited, as psychedelic culture has moved further and further away from self-examination, and further and further towards hedonism, escapism, and a flirtation with the fantastic[15].

There are a number of obvious reasons for this – one being that Huxley and Watts had the advantage of years of Vedanta study and training before they experienced psychedelics, and thus had fully-formed experiential philosophies of their own with which to compare to their psychedelic experiences. Coupled with the fact that their generation experienced psychedelics before there was any stigma attached to psychedelic use gives their writings and speeches[16] a scholarship and an authority that few commentators since have been able to equal. (Unfortunately their philosophical comparisons of the psychedelic experience to the classical mystical experience would become discredited by association and lost in the hubris of Timothy Leary’s cultural excesses less than a decade later.[17]) But I also believe that the core of their understanding – that the classical mystical experience can be achieved by the negation or chemical disruption of the Ego, and that this is the most useful application of psychedelics for the modern Western mind – has also until recently been considered increasingly irrelevant. In the ego-driven decades that have followed our flirtation with the transpersonal in the 1960’s, the mystical experience has been of little societal interest, and the consciousness-modifying compounds of choice have been either life-force negating drugs (heroin/ prescription opiates), potent ego-inflaters (cocaine and alcohol), or vehicles of pure escapism (MDMA) – anything in fact that can help avoid serious self-examination[18].

This situation that has only began to change again in the past two decades[19], as the threat of both the impending ecological disaster and the collapse of the world’s economy – two events that are now inextricably entwined with each other – is creating an existential crisis for today’s generations not unlike the deep despair for humanity that many people felt post World War Two. In 2015, nearly 50 years after LSD was made illegal in the United States, millions of people (world-wide) will go to yoga, meditate, eat a vegetarian diet, and even occasionally take a wide variety of psychedelic drugs, all in that same search for meaning that the beatniks and the hippies once sought[20]. This search for the mystical experience – coupled with the LSD ‘drought’ that followed the Kansas Silo bust in 2001[21] – has resulted in a increase in interest in DMT, 5-MeO-DMT, and especially ayahuasca[22] in the 21st century; an interest that in many way mimics the original fascination with LSD before it became illegal, the same hope for a glimmer of reason in an increasingly meaningless world.

If the function of all revolutions is to bring about change, then the 1960’s LSD Revolution remains worthy of that title, since it was a fundamental component in changing Western – and especially American – society’s views on race, sexual politics, religion and spirituality, and perhaps even more importantly, the way in which we related to our planet and our environment. Few social revolutions have been so successful so quickly, and then been abandoned with equal haste, for while the origins of the LSD revolution can be dated back to the early 1960’s (if not earlier), it’s main years of influence were remarkably short (1966-1973)[23]. Coinciding with one of the most tumultuous periods[24] in American politics, these years may also prove to have been one of the most pivotal and transcendental periods in human understanding; for this was the first (and so-far only) time that human beings saw our whole planet from another man’s view from outer space.

While orbiting satellites had taken grainy images of the Earth before, it would be two unauthorized photographs shot by astronauts on the Apollo mission’s – ‘Earthrise’[25] taken by William Anders during the Apollo 8 mission of 1968, and ‘The Blue Marble’, taken during the last manned lunar mission, Apollo 17 in 1972 – that would (via the increasingly sophisticated channels of human media[26]) quickly become the most distributed images in human history. Of the two images, it is the latter image showing a fully-illuminated Earth that is perhaps the more remarkable, since you need to be at least twenty thousand miles away from the Earth to view it as a complete globe, and of the twenty-four human beings[27] who have journeyed far enough into outer space to see that sight during the nine Apollo missions that went to the moon, only three men – the three astronauts on the last manned lunar mission – actually had the opportunity to see a fully-illuminated Earth[28]. It’s still unknown which NASA astronaut took the series of four unauthorized snap shots of our planet that have become the most reproduced image in history[29].

This stolen image of a fragile blue bubble floating in outer space, broadcast on the increasingly borderless medium of television, came in the midst of the LSD revolution that was dramatically introducing the transpersonal experience – the connectivity of all things – to an actively divided American society. Many contemporary commentators now believe that these two seemingly unrelated events were the primary forces behind the birth of the modern Environmental Movement, as millions of people around the globe began to wake up to the great danger that Life on this planet faces. Hard on the heels of the Civil Rights movement and the Sexual Revolution, the modern Environmental movement has for the first time in the history of our planet fought for the rights of Gaia, of our Mother Earth, and our society has in many ways become divided between those who believe that the planet is here to serve us, and those who recognize that if as a species we are to survive, we must evolve towards a protective custodianship of the only home we have — a battle that is becoming more and more critical every day, as many biologists now believe that the Industrial Revolution and subsequent growth in human population over the last 250 years humans is now responsible for the Sixth great extinction event in history; the Anthropocene – the Age of Man. [30]

While the concept of extinction was only realized by our sciences a little over 200 years ago[31], this is an advantage that no other known species presumably has ever had. And yet in the final chapters of Tryptamine Palace, after describing the powerful sense of responsibility for the Web-of-Life that comes with a transpersonal-psychedelic experience, I am forced to conclude that our species is suffering from Extinction Denial – that our planetary society is on course for the most anticipated crash in human history, and yet due to the peculiar narrowness of our individual focus, we are somehow able to ignore it. This narrowing of focus is of course the mechanism of the Ego at work – our own personal needs (food, shelter, money, sex, stimulation) keep us occupied from the Big Picture, and especially if that picture is looking grim.

Micheal Christian sculpture LIB 2011-2011
Michael Christian sculpture at Lightning in a Bottle

Technology and the Ego

Technology, the unique human development of consciousness that separates us from all other known species on the planet, and is the source and/or cause of many of the ill’s that are afflicting the biosphere, is the concrete manifestation of the Ego – the concentration and narrowing of focus that is required for the conception and creation of our complex and remarkable tools.[32] This narrowing of focus, combined with the human fascination with our own ingenuity, has resulted in a planet with an estimated 19,000 nuclear warheads, 250,000 tonnes of nuclear waste, and the development of chemical and biological weapons previously unknown to nature, while the unfettered use of our ‘good’ technology (i.e. agriculture, energy, transportation etc) has also at least contributed greatly to global warming (if not creating it) due to the enormous amount of ‘greenhouse gases’ that we have added to the atmosphere as a result of the combined effect of the Industrial Revolution of planetary deforestation, and the ever-increasing burning of fossil fuels; by 2050, CO2 levels will be twice what they were in pre-Industrial days.[33] This release of carbon into the atmosphere has also resulted, perhaps even more ominously, in the increasing acidity of the oceans that is the ‘evil twin’ of global warming, and a related effect only realized at the beginning of the 21st century; roughly one-third of the carbon-dioxide that the rapid growth of human society has released into the air in the past two hundred and fifty years has been absorbed by the oceans, and by the end of the 21st century they will be 150% more acidic then they were at the start of the Industrial Revolution. What effect this will have on the food-chain in the ocean is unknown[34], but the best-case scenario seems to be ‘a considerable reduction in bio-diversity’.[35]

According to Eckhart Tolle’s interpretation, the Ego will constantly try and tell you that it has reformed itself, that it has learned its lesson so to speak, and that it no longer needs to be of any concern – and this is very much how I view our human relationship with technology. (Which is, as I have said, the concrete manifestation of the peculiar adaption to consciousness that is human ego). Our modern view on technology is almost exclusively celebratory, and the pursuit of technology is viewed as somehow being neutral, no matter how patently evil the use of that technology may be, or how unfortunate the result. One of the main paradoxes of modern civilization is that we somehow believe that the solution to the looming ecological disaster that the Industrial Revolution has wrought upon this planet lies in the very same attitude towards the technology that has caused it. But as Albert Einstein said, “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking that created them,” and it seems obvious that we must create a new relationship with technology that recognizes the fact that our technology is a manifestation of Ego – the mechanism of separation – and requires the same scrutiny and rigorous self-observation that any selfish and tunnel-visioned ego does. The reappearance of a transpersonal-psychedelic perspective in Western culture after an absence of nearly 2000 years[36] is thus far from coincidental; it is a necessary and important tool for the socially required reassessment of both our love of technology, and of the indiscriminate ways in which we use it.

Take for example one synchronicity that I find most telling, which is the timing between between the discovery of the isolation and synthesis of psychedelics compounds, and of nuclear energy.

The first isolation of mescaline was in 1895 by the German chemist Arthur Hefftner[37]; the same year that the German physicist Wilhelm Röntgen produced X-Rays (or Röntgen rays), a discovery that led to the discovery of radiation and to the birth of the nuclear age.[38] A mere 43 years later LSD was discovered in 1938, although its unique effect on human consciousness was not realized until 1943, after its discoverer Albert Hofmann had a ‘strange premonition’ to reinvestigate this previously synthesized compound. During the same period, the Einstein-Szilárd letter to President Roosevelt in 1939 first warned of the potential development of “extremely powerful bombs of a new type”; a warning that led to the creation of the Manhattan Project, and the first detonation of a nuclear device (codenamed Trinity) in 1945.

The behavior and influence of an Unfettered Ego apply as much to Society as to the individual; viewed in the terminology of the Ego and the Transpersonal, the Atomic Bomb is clearly the most egotistical invention in history of Man – the idea that any individual has the right to order the deaths of millions of others due to a perceived notion of ‘right and wrong’. It was the terrifying shadow of the Bomb, coupled with the deaths of more than 60 million people in the two ‘World Wars’ and the discovery of the extent of the atrocities of Nazi Germany, that were the primary causes of the existentialist crisis that Western culture faced in the 1950’s. LSD on the other hand, has proven to be one of the most ego-nullifying compounds ever discovered[39], and perhaps equally importantly, one of the few psychedelics of which millions of doses can be manufactured in a single afternoon.

The fact that the realization[40] of these morally-opposite inventions came about within two years of each other I find quite remarkable – as if the Yin to the other’s Yang – as is the way LSD jumped from the post-war laboratory (most likely with the help of the CIA ) and introduced mass-produced psychedelics and a revolutionary taste of the transpersonal into popular Western (and especially American) culture in a way that no other entheogen ever could have. However I do not consider this a coincidence, since the challenge for human consciousness has now become whether or not it can survive itself; and now nearly seventy-five years since the invention of both LSD and the atomic bomb, and with virtually the whole planet now having fallen into step on the treadmill of our own ‘mutually assured-destruction’, the sustained study of transpersonal consciousness and the dysfunction of the human ego may in fact be our only hope of survival.

Lucent Dossier performing on the FractalNation Collective performance stage at Burning Man 2012
Lucent Dossier performing on the FractalNation Collective

The New Eleusis

The answer is never the answer. Whats really interesting is the mystery. If you seek the mystery instead of the answer, you’ll always be thinking. I’ve never seen anybody really find the answer, but they think they have. So they stop thinking. But the job is o seek mystery, evoke mystery, plant a garden in which strange plants and mystery bloom. The need for mystery is greater than the need for an answer.” —Ken Kesey, The Art of Fiction CXXXVI, The Paris Review, 1994.

Late one night at a psychedelic gathering in Miami during Art Basel a couple of years ago, I was asked why I spent so much of my time promoting psychedelic culture by a intelligent young dread-locked man who seemed interested in my work, and who I was later told is heir to a considerable fortune[41]. As I struggled to connect the dots between my ideas about the Ego, technology, the environment, and the absolute necessity of the reintroduction of the mystical transpersonal experience into the western mind, the young man stopped me and told me that he understood, and the way he neatly summarized it was:

“The psychedelic perspective is the perspective required for us to adapt and survive.”

I couldn’t agree more, and the hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of people who have adopted healthier lifestyles and attitudes due to their personal psychedelic use are a testimony to the possibilities of this approach. Perhaps the hallmark of modern psychedelic culture is that if you happen to participate in one its many rotating nexuses, (such as a CoSM[42] fundraiser, the FractalNation art-and-performance Collective at Burning Man, a transformational festival in the USA or Canada, or a major psy-trance festival in Europe), you cannot help but be impressed by the beauty and complexity of the many-layered vision being presented there; a Vision[43] that proclaims the possibility of what the world might be like if we simply allowed responsible psychedelic culture to flourish.

Having often been a working part[44] in these various events over the past decade, and having engaged in an on-going conversation with committed psychedelic activists such as Alex Grey, Rick Doblin, Android Jones, Carey Thompson, Jon Hanna, Amanda Sage, and many others about what it is we are collectively trying to achieve – sometimes despairing that the message is being lost in all the beautiful pictures and the pretty lights – I have come to the conclusion that this ‘Second Psychedelic Revolution’ is somewhat instinctively building modern mystery schools, and that these temporary temples of art, music,[45] and dance that the psychedelic community have been lovingly creating with an ever-increasing sophistication over the past fifteen[46] or so years are the closest things our Society has to true portals to Transcendence. ‘Art could be the new religion,’ Alex Grey is fond of saying, ‘with psychedelics recognized again as sacraments’, and he and I share the belief that the psychedelic-mystical response to art, music, and dance is one of the few experiences that can actually cut through the programming of modern existence and alleviate our existential suffering through a transformative connection with the Transpersonal; a viable technology capable of freeing us from the tremendous paralysis of an impending planetary demise of our own species’ creation.

This is why psychedelic culture often showcases itself these days as ‘transformational festivals’, genuinely believing that transformative personal growth can occur from experiencing some aspect of the transpersonal from within the multi-layered vision that the community that has evolved around these festivals collectively and collaboratively weaves and creates; and that if enough people experience this sense of connection there will be enough of us to make a change, ‘the sharpened spearhead of humanity’[47]. If there is a substantial difference between the outsider attitude of the psychedelic politics of the 1960’s – immortalized by Timothy Leary’s advice to ‘Turn On, Tune In, and Drop Out’ in 1966 – and the pragmatic politics on display today at tech-savvy festivals like BOOM!, Lightning in a Bottle, and Symbiosis, or within a ‘professional’ psychedelic organization like MAPS[48], it is the realization that reformation is more likely to occur within the system than as any kind of overwhelming ‘revolution’; and that while a transpersonal experience from taking psychedelics can motivate an individual to work towards real personal and social change – a psychedelic form of ‘liberation theology’ – the mere act of taking psychedelics themselves changes nothing.

The intense awareness of the psychedelic community of the fragility of this moment in history is obvious; virtually every ‘Transformational Festival’ has lecture series and workshops on the environmental crisis, alternative energy, and permaculture, while the entire 2012 phenomenon was, in my opinion, a misguided identification of the stark reality of the global crisis that we will most likely soon face. And one of the things that I find most encouraging about the psychedelic community as a whole, is how many really smart people I meet at these events and conferences, often the densest concentration of brilliant minds I have experienced outside of a University, and generally the most tolerant and open-minded. A transpersonal experience challenges virtually every foundation stone of our soulless DesCartesian-Newtonian paradigm, and can stimulate an aroused intellect to new heights of understanding, while opening up the heart to the tolerance and acceptance that comes from knowing that all things are connected, that we are all part of the One. Something we now know from more than fifty years of modern psychedelic culture is that responsible psychedelic use can build community, since any community with a high number of individuals who are familiar with transpersonal spaces – be it due to yoga, meditation, prayer, or psychedelics – is likely to be both more cognizant and more inviting. The contemporary psychedelic community is continuing proof of this, with a significant community now having built up around the West Coast transformational festivals and the annual Burning Man Festival, a remarkable experiment in art and group consciousness that is for that week each year arguably the most open and tolerant place on earth. The psytrance festivals in Europe and Australia offer a similar sense of community, with Goa in India, and the openly psychedelic BOOM! Festival that is held every two years in Portugal as major epicenters. What these festivals all offer in common, apart from the art, the electronic music, and the workshops on permaculture, yoga, and psychedelics, is the same sense of community that can come from attending them, and the fact that the more you attend, the more this sense of community grows, as does the ability and desire to collaborate and work with other like-minded people.

The community involved in the now global production of these transformational festivals – the producers and artists, stage-builders and designers, structural engineers, sound engineers, lighting and video engineers, wood and welding wizards, along with the musicians, DJs, and performers, and another whole community of vendors, many of whom now travel with their young children – has in fact grown so large over the past fifteen years that there is now a move AWAY from the festival model, since many of the people centrally involved are beginning to feel that these events have become too large and wasteful considering the amount of time and resources that the community spends constructing these elaborate psychedelic environments, only to have to break them down again[49]. The natural progression seems to be towards the purchase of permanent sites for these festivals[50] that can develop as prototype sustainable villages for a currently transient community. In an increasingly disenfranchised world, the building of real community offers a very powerful draw, and the high concentration of radical free-thinkers within the psychedelic community – many of whom are pioneers in their own fields in the ‘real world’ – may have unforeseen advantages in the tumultuous years ahead[51].

Psychedelic philosophy is like a neon rabbit hole that fractals in every direction after the first time you dissolve in the tunnel of light, and I personally have spent most of the last decade reading and researching various fascinating facets of that rainbow-colored gem. Thus it is no wonder to me that open and enquiring minds are drawn towards this Mystery of Mysteries, since I personally think that psychedelics and our mystical relationship with them is one of the most fascinating avenues of pure human thought. The very fact that tryptamine psychedelics even work at all – that there are specialized molecules (DMT, 5-MeO-DMT, LSD, and psilocybin) found in trees, plants, fungi etc in nature whose shape is similar enough to serotonin (a brain hormone) that the extremely sophisticated defense system of the human brain (the blood brain barrier) is basically fooled into serotonin’s very specialized locks in the brain where these molecules then have the effect of dramatically modifying human consciousness – this is in itself a mystery that almost defies the human imagination, and has kept me awake pondering many a night. What possible purpose could this relationship serve in nature if life and consciousness are nothing but the accidental by-products of a Universe full of chemicals aimlessly bouncing around as many of our modern scientists would have us believe? And then, even accepting that consciousness is merely some highly specialized cosmic accident, how did we – homo sapiens – manage to figure out this strange relationship between us and the plant world, and what effect did that discovery then have on what must have been the most primitive of societies? This question inevitably leads to wondering how long psychedelics were revered before our own culture did its best to extinguish them, and why now, on the verge of our planetary destruction, have they so dramatically reappeared?

This Mystery only deepened considerably with the discovery of endogenous DMT and 5-MeO-DMT in the early 1970’s, and the scientific realization that two of the most powerful psychedelics[52] we know are being naturally produced somewhere within the human body[53]. While this discovery opens up a whole pandoras box of speculations and possibilities, what I find most fascinating is the manner (phenomenologically) in which we know these two compounds transform consciousness.

Dimethyltryptamine, or DMT, opens up the minds-eye to the visionary experience – anything that can be seen or imagined can vividly exist in the DMT realm, which is why it is so revered by visual artists like Alex Grey or Luke Brown. Nick Sand, the man who invented Orange Sunshine LSD and who also first figured out that you can smoke DMT, has described DMT to me as ”The Fullness”, and in my own lectures I correlate DMT to the 6th chakra in the kundalini system, for at the 6th chakra while you can experience the existence of God in all the infinite myriad of God’s forms, there is still the knowledge of a separation between the subject and object, between you and the manifestation of Source. Endogenous DMT is thus, I propose, the conduit of the vast and incredibly rich human realm of contemplative Mythology, replete with all its myriad of deities and demons, but still occupying the recognizable world of form.

5-Methoxy-DMT on the other hand, Nick Sand likes to describe as “The Void”, since the experience on this compound is completely different; the revelation of a space beyond vision, thoughts, identity, or time, 5-MeO-DMT induces the transpersonal experience via an ego-death so instantaneous and dramatic, it is often impossible to find the vocabulary with which to relate the experience[54] when one ‘returns’[55]. This is the transpersonal realm of the 7th chakra, the universal and very singular Mystical experience in which any separation between you and the Godhead ceases to exist – when in fact ‘you’ cease to exist – and All becomes One.

If you consider the hypothesis that virtually all religions on this planet have been born from a tension between the Mystical and the Mythological – which is to say that localized mythologies and religious systems have grown out of the same universal untranslatable mystical experience – then you would think it might be of great interest to human society that we have discovered that the two compounds in nature most likely to induce these mystical or mythological experiences when smoked or ingested, are also (almost unbelievably!) being produced naturally somewhere within our own bodies. The discovery of endorphins – endogenous opiates – and the opiate receptor, is now considered one of the major biological discoveries of the last fifty years, so you might think the much more difficult discovery of endogenous psychedelics entheogens would also be similarly celebrated. But due to one of those great ironies of our modern dilemma – a polarity one could even argue – shortly before it was discovered to be endogenous to the human body in 1972, DMT had been made illegal (along with LSD and all other known psychedelics) in the US by the 1971 Convention of Psychotropic Substances. All research on psychedelics effectively stopped, on what yet may prove to be the brink of a new era of human understanding, and non-toxic and non-addictive entheogens, despite being known sacraments to numerous cultures, became amongst the most illegal contraband in the world.

In 1973, a new Federal agency, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), was formed to fight the ‘rising drug problem’[56], and less than a decade later, Nancy Reagan, the wife of the man who had made LSD illegal in 1966, entered the USA into a seemingly endless ‘War on Drugs’. Considering the severity of the prohibition that psychedelics have been under for nearly the past fifty years, it is astonishing that there is a contemporary psychedelic culture at all; it is this author’s hope that once the federal legalization of marijuana has been achieved, then the organizations that have evolved in that battle turn to the legalization of psychedelics, and the freeing of hundreds of thousands of people in the United States whose greatest crime was simply modifying their state of consciousness.

Whatever the future brings – whether it be a rapid global social reinvention of our Society the likes of which history has never seen before, or an adaption for survival amongst the ruins of the first man-made planetary collapse – I firmly believe that one of the main transformations that our global society must make (and a large part of the ‘spiritual reconstruction’ that E. F Schumacher predicted) will be the realization that ALL religious systems come from the same singular mystical spark, the transpersonal experience of ‘enlightenment’ that can arise from the extinguishment of the Ego due to extraordinary stress or strain, pointed meditation, devoted prayer, or an entheogenic[57] experience. The experience universally states that all things are One, and bound to the God of Love, the greatest Mystery of All. Without this radical shift in human understanding we will doom ourselves to an existence of never-ending war and intolerance, a world where the poor will be endlessly pitted against each other over ancient racist mythologies to create profits for the corporations and the Global Elite, until the Industrial-Military complex[58] finally radically breaks the chain of life on the planet through its own colossal ignorance and indifference – a potential model that is already clearly playing itself out in the 21st century. Considering the lack of alternatives, it becomes obvious how the transpersonal-psychedelic experience grants us not only an invaluable perspective from which to view our relationship with ourselves and with our Society, and with our species relationship with planet and the rest of the Web-of-Life, but also ultimately with our relationship with Source, with the Universal Consciousness that has somehow managed to evolve, ever so briefly, into this packet of wonder that is ourselves, the first hand experience of which – Life – remains the greatest human mystery, and the greatest gift of all.

I would like to dedicate this series to the memory of Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin who, as arguably the most important Father of this 2nd Psychedelic Revolution, was the subject of Part Two of this series, and who died before the publication of the series was completed. While I can not claim to have known Sasha well, he was (and will continue to be) one of my greatest inspirations, and I consider the time I spent with him to be one of the great unexpected privileges of my life. It seems fitting to leave the final words on the lasting value of entheogens – taken from the Introduction to PIHKAL – to him, as an inspiration to us all.

“I have stated some of my reasons for holding the view that psychedelic drugs are treasures …. There is, for instance, the effects they have on my perception of colors, which is completely remarkable. Also, there is the deepening of my emotional report with another person, which can become an exquisitely beautiful experience, with eroticism of sublime intensity. I enjoy the enhancement of touch, smell, and taste, and the fascinating changes in my perception of the flow of time.

I deem myself blessed, in that I have experienced, however briefly, the existence of God. I have felt a sacred oneness with creation and it’s Creator, and – most precious of all – I have touched the core of my own soul.

It is for these reasons that I have dedicated my life to this area of inquiry. Someday I may understand how these simple catalysts do what they do. In the meantime, I am forever in their debt. And I will forever be their champion.” —
Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin, (1925 – 2014)

Sasha Shulgin. Nick Sand, and Alex and Allyson Grey at the Shulgins last easter gathering
Sasha Shulgin, Nick Sand, Alex and Alyson Grey

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mr peabody

Moderator: Music Discussion, PM
Staff member
Aug 31, 2016
Frostbite Falls, MN

Psychedelics and Extreme Sports

by James Oroc

According to the legends of this tight-knit underground, many incredible feats having been accomplished by modern extreme-athletes while under the influence of psychedelics. LSD can increase your reflex time to lightning speed, improve your balance to the point of perfection, increase your concentration...and make you impervious to weakness or pain.

For those unfamiliar with the effects of psychedelics, the title of this article may seem like a contradiction – for what connection could there possibly be between these psychedelic compounds and extreme sports? Based on the tangled reputation that LSD has had since the mid-1960’s it would seem impossible to believe that various experienced individuals have climbed some of the hardest big walls in Yosemite, heli-skied first descents off Alaskan peaks, competed in world-class snowboarding competitions, raced motocross bikes, surfed enormous Hawaiian waves, flown hang-gliders above 18,000 feet, or climbed remote peaks in the Rockies, the Alps, the Andes, and even above 8000 meters in the Himalayas – all while under the influence of LSD.

However, in the underground culture of extreme sports, the use of LSD or psilocybin while skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, surfing, skateboarding, etc., is in fact common throughout North American ski and sports towns, where they enjoy an almost sacred reputation. According to the legends of this tight-knit underground, many incredible feats having been accomplished by modern extreme athletes while under the influence of psychedelics.

Popular perception about the disabling effects of psychedelics and their use in the extreme sports community is mostly a matter of dosage and historical familiarity. LSD is extraordinarily potent - effective on the human physiology in the millionths of grams (mcg), and very small differences in dosage can lead to dramatically different effects. In the first decade of LSD research it was commonly accepted that the “LSD intoxication” occurred when dosing over 200mcg. At the lower dosages, a state was known as “psycholytic” was also recognized, where in may cases cognitive functioning, emotional balance, and physical stamina were actually found to be improved.

This recognition of the varying effects of LSD was lost after the popular media demonized LSD with the help of the various myths and excesses of the “1960s Love Generation.” When LSD made the jump from the clinic to the underground, its early explorers were universally fascinated with the higher dosage entheogenic experience, while the more subtle effects at lower dosages were largely forgotten or ignored. The first “street” LSD in the 1960’s was generally between 250 and 500mcg — a potency powerful enough to guarantee the casual user a truly psychedelic experience.

LSD is somewhat unusual, however, in that a user can build a fast tolerance to the compound after regular (daily use) and while one’s initial experiences on even a single dose can be dramatic, before long veteran psychonauts may be increasing their own dosage tenfold – thus requiring much stronger “hits” than the average user. It was the high dosage of this early street LSD that in combination with the complete ignorance of its early users that would be responsible for the high number of “acid casualties” that gave LSD its fearsome reputation. However, by the 1980’s both Deadheads and the rave generation had realized to drop the dosage of street LSD to between 100-125mcg, while these days a hit may be as low as 50mcg—or as little as ten percent as powerful as a hit of 1960’s LSD. Which is a dosage well below the true psychedelic threshold for most people, and for an experienced user suitably inclined, can certainly be calculated to fall within the forgotten “psycholytic” category."

There was always a strong contingent of “experienced psychedelic users” among the extreme sports community due to the little-realized fact that the seeds of the extreme sports revolution were actually planted with the dismantling and dispersal of Psychedelic Culture in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. As countless numbers of counterculture refuges left the major cities and moved out to small towns in the country in the “Back to the Land” movement, most were looking for new paths to fulfillment after the spectacular promises of the brief “Psychedelic Age” had failed and a new age of uppers and downers was emerging.

They were faced with an obviously dangerous downturn in what was now being universally called the “drug culture.” First heroin, and then, cocaine, dramatically increased in popularity, which marked the beginning of our urban society’s more than thirty year-old epidemic of cocaine and amphetamine abuse. A few turned to the traditions of Christianity, Islam, Eastern, or New Age religions, while many others, perhaps less institutionally inclined, went to small coastal towns in California, Oregon, or even Hawaii to surf. Or they landed in the numerous small towns in the Rockies from Montana to New Mexico that were being developed as ski areas at that time.

These “hippies” bought with them a newly found cultural respect for the land, which had come directly from the use of psychedelics, since the use of psychedelics in nature inevitably increases the spiritual appreciation of one’s role in nature, and of Nature itself. (There are many commentators today who believe that the modern environmental movement was born out of the fact that 25 million people took LSD in the late 1960s). They also had an adventurous attitude toward the land, derived from a general fascination with the Plains Indians and the Wild West era, and from the naturalist vision of the American wilderness that Walt Whitman, Thoreau, and especially Jack Kerouac espoused - the philosophy that one could somehow “find oneself” out among the wilds of America.

At the same time as this sudden influx of these “freaks” to the beaches, deserts, and mountains of the world, technological advances in what were considered minor cult-like sports were suddenly allowing ordinary individuals unprecedented access to the wildernesses of the world. In the mountains, the ocean, and even the air, a new kind of athlete took the concept of “finding oneself in the wilds” to a whole new definition. The invention of these highly individualistic sports (surfing, skateboarding, snowboarding, BASE jumping, tow-in surfing, etc.) that sought to use existing terrain in new and inventive ways generally raised the ire of the status quo, and so most “extreme sports” begin life as “outlaw sports” of some kind or another, with their participants regarded as rebels.

The attraction of these types of sports for the newly arrived psychedelic era refugees is obvious, and most of the leading figures of surfing, rock climbing, back country skiing, hang gliding, etc., of this era were clearly cultural rebels living well outside of the norms of society. For this particular branch of the psychedelic tree, the oceans, deserts, and great mountains of the world were now being recognized as the ultimate “set and setting” – a realization common to mystics and saddhus since the beginning of recorded time.

Thanks to the sudden exponential growth of the worldwide leisure industry towards the end of the 1970s, becoming a climbing, skiing, or surfing “bum” became the easiest way of dropping out of contemporary society, a socially healthier alternative to the free love communes of the previous decade that still allowed one to smoke pot, take psychedelics, and mostly fly under the cultural radar. By the 1980s a good portion of any American ski town (and especially the leather-booted telemark skiers) were Dead-heads, and the most effective LSD network in the country–while many other less obvious skiers and climbers still kept the tradition of using pot (a remarkable natural analgesic), LSD, and mushrooms in the mountains alive, where the mountains themselves acted as natural shields from prying eyes.

After the invention of snowboarding, mountain biking, and to a lesser extent paragliding, in the 1980s, virtually all of the newly named “extreme sports” experienced a rapid growth of popularity in the mid 1990s. This resulted in a corresponding growth in the populations of these same small ski and sports towns. Between 1992 and 1997 MTV Sports was one of the most popular shows on cable television, as it glorified the emerging “extreme-sports” to its youthful audience and established the “grunge” and hip-hop music it was promoting as the “in” sound of the now exploding snowboarder population.

"If you start asking about sporting feats accomplished on psychedelics in pretty much any bar in a ski town, you will hear some fine tales..."

The emerging electronic (rave) music of the same time period also appealed to the naturally rebellious nature of extreme athletes and introduced that culture to Burning Man from its very inception, further reinforcing the knowledge of modern psychedelic culture in what are often remote mountain towns. (“Black Rock City” got its name in 1995, the same summer as the first X Games.) Many Western ski towns now have a resident “Burner” population, much in the same way they had “hippy” or “freak” population in the early 1970s, and these small towns generally remain more liberally-minded than other towns of similar size in America.

This entwined relationship between the cultures of psychedelics and extreme sports has in fact been there since the beginning, with what is perhaps the original extreme sport, the much mythologized sport of surfing. After the fallout of 1967-68, when San Francisco and the Haight-Ashbury became overrun, and its original hipster founders abandoned it, the Southern Californian surfing town of Laguna Beach became the defacto center of the psychedelic world when a group of diehard surfers – known as the Brotherhood of Love – became the world’s first LSD cartel.

Along with the smuggling of tons of hashish from Afghanistan to fund their operation, they were responsible for distributing tens of millions of hits of Orange Sunshine LSD. In explaining the connection between LSD and surfing, early Brotherhood member Eddie Padilla remarks on the practical side of a culture based on pot and psychedelics use:

“The effect of the LSD we were taking was starting to demand a higher quality lifestyle, food-wise and in every way. All these surfer people had that lifestyle already in place. To surf, you had to remain sober and be more in tune with nature. Don’t get too screwed up, because the surf may be good tomorrow.”

In this explanation, Eddie Padilla hits on half of the real physical reason why psychedelics have always been a part of extreme sports culture, in that psychedelic use is not only more inspiring in the wilderness, but it is also eminently more practical. LSD can easily be a 10 to 14 hour experience, which is too long of a trip for most people, and especially if it is taken at night. If it is taken in the morning, however, and one has the voluminous expanses of the ocean, the deserts, or mountains of the world to roam and contemplate, then the length of an LSD trip is rarely a problem since it will also start to fade with the end of the light of the day.

If one keeps hydrated, and the LSD trip is kept within the regular biorhythms of the user to allow normal hours of sleep, then this “trip” can in truth be one of the least physically debilitating altered states experiences available, with little or no discernible “hangover” – ridiculously so when compared to the debilitating effects of cocaine or alcohol and the extreme hangover they bring. The non-addictive and nonphysically debilitating qualities of psychedelics are of course rarely touted by the popular media, but are well known among communities that are familiar with them, and the nontoxic qualities of psychedelics are half of the physical reason for their enduring appeal among extreme athletes.

The other half of this physical reason that “psychedelic drugs” are so popular with extreme athletes is due to their previously noted psycholytic effects at the correct dosages. Virtually all athletes who learn to use LSD at psycholytic dosages believe that the use of these compounds improves both their stamina and their abilities. According to the combined reports of 40 years of use by the extreme sports underground, LSD can increase your reflex time to lightning speed, improve your balance to the point of perfection, increase your concentration until you experience “tunnel vision,” and make you impervious to weakness or pain. LSD’s effects in these regards among the extreme sport community are in fact legendary, universal, and without dispute.

It is interesting to note the similarities between the recollection of these athletic feats while in this psycholytic state, and descriptions that professional athletes give of “Being in the Zone,” a mythical heightened “state” of neo-perfection where athletes report very psychedelic effects such as time slowing down and extraordinary feats of instantaneous non-thinking coordination. Athletes and normal individuals also claim the same effects in moments of heightened adrenaline – the classic fight or flight response. As LSD research returns to the mainstream in the United States, further investigation into the claims of athletes, such as the extreme sports underground, could result in a radically different perception for the variety of uses of psychedelics.

As an extreme sports athlete, journalist, and advocate since the late 1980s, and a former resident of the Rockies for over a decade, I have witnessed tales of numerous incredible feats on psychedelics in the mountains – none of which, unfortunately, I have permission to tell of here. However, after MAPS asked me to write this article earlier this year, I started asking around for other people’s stories. If you start asking about sporting feats accomplished on psychedelics in pretty much any bar in a ski town, you will here some fine tales. I heard of a hang glider flown tandem off of a mountain top under a full moon with both the pilot and passenger on magic mushrooms, of helicopter skiing in Alaska on LSD when the guide got avalanched off a cliff right in front of the tripping skier, and of radical solo rock or ice climbs of the highest intensity performed on equally radically headfulls of psychedelics. I even heard of someone taking a hit of DMT before they jumped out of an airplane skydiving. (Now that’s crazy!) I also have no doubt that someone rides Slickrock in Moab on mushrooms or LSD probably every single day, and that you couldn’t calculate the number of people who are tripping when it snows in the Rockies. Psychedelic use among extreme sports enthusiasts is simply that prevalent, and has been since the start.

Psychedelics and sports, incredibly, can go together like cheese and bread. An enhanced spiritual appreciation of the natural environment, along with increased stamina and an almost unnatural improvement in balance, are too powerful of a combination not to become sacred among mountain athletes. When I asked a well-known high-altitude climber in Colorado about climbing in the Himalayas on LSD, he just laughed and stated that at high-altitude LSD was like “cheating” since it did such a good job of overcoming fatigue and altitude sickness. He also had no doubt that someone had summited Mount Everest while tripping. But I can see how this could all seem very circumstantial and uncorroborated to someone who is skeptical, so I can offer the single documented example of LSD being used in a truly remarkable sporting achievement. This is not one that comes from the outlaw fringes of the extreme sports, but from baseball, from America’s sport itself.

On June 12th, 1970, the Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher, Doc Ellis, threw a no-hitter against the San Diego Padres in a regular major league baseball game, which he admits occurred while he was on LSD. Ellis had thought he was off the pitching roster for that day and so had taken LSD with friends in Los Angeles, only to find out, while high, that he had to pitch a game against the Padres that night.

As Ellis recounted it:

"I can only remember bits and pieces of the game. I was psyched. I had a feeling of euphoria. I was zeroed in on the catcher’s glove, but I didn’t hit the glove too much. I remember hitting a couple of batters and the bases were loaded two or three times. The ball was small sometimes, the ball was large sometimes, sometimes I saw the catcher, sometimes I didn’t. Sometimes I tried to stare the hitter down and throw while I was looking at him. I chewed my gum until it turned to powder. I started having a crazy idea in the fourth inning that Richard Nixon was the home plate umpire, and once I thought I was pitching a baseball to Jimi Hendrix, who to me was holding a guitar and swinging it over the plate."

So for those of you who find it hard to believe that someone can ski, mountain bike, or even fly a hangglider while on psychedelics, I submit to you the well documented case of Doc Ellis, and the fact that a no-hitter in baseball is considered one of the hardest achievements in professional sport; while there have been over 175,000 professional baseball games played since 1900, only 269 no-hitters were pitched between 1879 and 2010. Doc Ellis would go on to be in the World Series with the winning Pirates, and was the starting pitcher for the National League in the All Star Game, but this now-legendary LSD-fueled day was his only no-hitter.

James Oroc

Athlete and journalist James Oroc has been involved in extreme-sport culture since 1987. In 1993 he made the first flight by a paraglider from the top of the world’s tallest active volcano, (Cotopaxi, Ecuador. The author of Tryptamine Palace: 5-MeO-DMT and the Sonoran Desert Toad; From Burning Man to the Akashic Field (Park Street Press, 2009), Oroc also writes and lectures regularly about entheogens and is the curator of www.DMTsite.com, launched in 2011.

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mr peabody

Moderator: Music Discussion, PM
Staff member
Aug 31, 2016
Frostbite Falls, MN

Building a Modern Eleusis

by James Oroc

The answer is never the answer. What’s really interesting is the mystery. If you seek the mystery instead of the answer, you’ll always be thinking. I’ve never seen anybody really find the answer, but they think they have. So they stop thinking. But the job is to seek mystery, evoke mystery, plant a garden in which strange plants and mystery bloom. The need for mystery is greater than the need for an answer. - Ken Kesey, The Art of Fiction interview, Paris Review, 1994

Late night, at an annual psychedelic gathering during Art Basel in Miami a few years ago, an intelligent dreadlocked young man, who seemed genuinely interested in my work and who, I later found out, is the heir to a considerable fortune, asked me why I spent so much of my time promoting psychedelic culture. As I struggled to connect the dots between my ideas about the ego, technology, and the impending environmental catastrophe, with the absolute necessity of the reintroduction of the transpersonal experience into the Western psyche, he stopped me and told me that he understood, and the way he neatly summarized it was:

“The psychedelic perspective is the perspective required for humanity to adapt and survive.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself, and along with the birth of the environmental movement, the millions of people worldwide who have adopted healthier lifestyles and attitudes because of their psychedelic use are a testimony to the possibilities of that approach. Perhaps the hallmark of modern psychedelic culture is that if you happen to experience one its many rotating nexuses (such as the annual Alex Grey Bicycle Day event in San Francisco, a transformational festival in North America, a psytrance festival like BOOM! in Europe or Australia, or a major entheogenic conference like MAPS or the World Psychedelic Forum), you cannot help being impressed by the beauty and the complexity of the many-layered vision presented there. A vision that proclaims the possibility of what the world might be like if we simply allowed responsible psychedelic culture to flourish.

Having often been a working part of psychedelic culture over the last decade, and having had long conversations with many psychedelic artist-activists about what it is we are collectively trying to achieve (sometimes despairing that the message is being lost in all the beautiful pictures and the pretty lights), I have concluded that this Second Psychedelic Revolution is instinctively creating modern mystery schools, and that these movable temples of music, dance, and art are the closest things our society has to true portals to transcendence. (Joseph Campbell often stated that two of the oldest and most reliable technologies of transcendence are music and dancing.)

“Visionary art could be the new religion,” Alex Grey is fond of saying, “with psychedelics recognized again as sacraments.” He and I share the belief that the psychedelic-mystical response to art, music, and dance is one of the few effective methodologies that can cut through the programming of modern existence and help to alleviate our shared existential suffering; a viable technology capable of freeing us from the paralysis of the impending planetary ecocide, through a transformative connection with the universal transpersonal experience.

This is why psychedelic culture often showcases itself these days as rather grandly titled “transformational festivals.” These are based on the genuine belief that tremendous personal growth and transformation can occur from experiencing the transpersonal within the multilayered vision that the neo-tribal community that has evolved around these festivals over the past two decades collectively creates; and that if enough people experience this sense of connection there will be enough of us to make a change, to become, as I wrote in Tryptamine Palace, “the sharpened point of the spearhead of humanity.”

If there is a substantial difference between the outsider attitude of the psychedelic politics of Timothy Leary, and the pragmatic politics on display at tech-savvy festivals like BOOM!, Lightning in a Bottle, and Symbiosis, or within a professional psychedelic organization like MAPS or the Heffter Research Institute, it is in the recognition that slow change is more likely to occur within the system than as any kind of overwhelming revolution. While a transpersonal experience with psychedelics can motivate an individual to work toward real personal and social change, a psychedelic form of liberation theology, the mere act of taking the psychedelic itself generally changes nothing.

The psychedelic community is intensely aware of the fragility of this moment in history. Virtually every transformational festival has lecture series and workshops on the environmental crisis, alternative energy, and permaculture, while the entire 2012 phenomenon was, in my opinion, a misguided identification of the stark reality of the global crisis that we will most likely soon face.

One of the things I find most encouraging about the psychedelic community is how many really smart people I meet at these events. They are often the densest concentration of brilliant minds I have experienced outside of a university, and generally the most tolerant and open-minded. A transpersonal experience challenges virtually every foundation stone of our soulless Cartesian-Newtonian paradigm, and can stimulate an aroused intellect to new heights of understanding, while opening up the heart to the tolerance and acceptance that comes from knowing that all things are connected, that we are all part of the One. From more than sixty years of experience, we now know that responsible psychedelic use actually builds community. Any community with a high number of individuals who are familiar with transpersonal spaces, be they from yoga, meditation, prayer, or psychedelics, is likely to be both more conscious and more inviting.

Contemporary psychedelic culture is continuing proof of this, from the original touring family that grew up around the Grateful Dead and is now heading into its fifth decade, to the significant visionary community that has built up around the annual Burning Man gathering, a remarkable experiment in art and group consciousness that is, for that week, the most open and tolerant place on Earth, and the West Coast transformational festivals that it has helped to inspire. In Europe, the bi-annual, openly psychedelic BOOM! festival held in Portugal is the major pilgrimage of the global psytrance tribe, and the two different communities surrounding these two different cultures (Burning Man and BOOM!) are increasingly becoming united (through art and music) into a single global tribe. The Oregon Solar Eclipse Gathering in 2017, which attracted more than fifty thousand people from around the world, was the first major collaborative transformational festival involving major festivals from the United States, Canada, Costa Rica, Australia, and Europe in the United States.

For most people, the more of these festivals you attend, the more this sense of community grows, along with the ability and desire to collaborate with like-minded groups and individuals. The community involved in the production of these festivals worldwide, producers and artists, stage builders and designers, structural engineers, sound engineers, lighting and video engineers, wood and welding wizards, as well as the traveling circus of musicians, DJs, producers and performers, and another whole community of vendors, many of whom now travel with their young children, has grown so large in the past fifteen years that there is now a significant move away from the festival model.

Many of the people involved are beginning to feel that these events are becoming too large and wasteful, in view of the amount of time and resources that are spent constructing these elaborate psychedelic environments, only to have to break them down again days later. (Burning Man is the most obvious example of an unsustainable festival, although to be fair, it has never had any interest in being otherwise.) The natural progression is toward the purchase of permanent sites for these events (such as BOOM! in Portugal) that can develop as prototypes for sustainable villages for a habitually transient community. In an increasingly disenfranchised world, the building of real community offers a powerful draw, and the high concentration of radical freethinkers in the psychedelic community, many who are pioneers in their own fields, may yet have unforeseen advantages in the tumultuous years ahead. The psychedelic community worldwide, for example, includes thousands of sophisticated marijuana growers who are rediscovering traditional ?permaculture farming techniques that have been lost to big agriculture. No other community that I know of has such a high concentration of skilled farmers. They may yet, out of necessity, find themselves growing more than gourmet cannabis.

Psychedelic philosophy is a neon rabbit hole that fractals in every direction after that first time you dissolve in that tunnel of light. I have spent much of the last decade researching many facets of this rainbow-colored gem, often describing my entheogenic epiphany on 5-methoxy-DMT and the subsequent six-year journey to the publication of Tryptamine Palace as the greatest intellectual adventure of my life. It is no wonder that enquiring minds are drawn toward this transpersonal mystery, for psychedelics, and our unlikely relationship with them, is one of the most fascinating subjects for pure thought even without taking them!

The very fact that tryptamine psychedelics even work at all, that there are specialized molecules in trees, plants, and fungi whose shape is similar enough to that of serotonin (a brain hormone) that the sophisticated defense system of the human brain (the blood-brain barrier) is tricked into accepting them, and that these molecules (DMT, 5-MeO-DMT, LSD, and psilocybin) then fit into the same very specialized locks in the brain and dramatically modify human consciousness to a state outside of consensual reality, this is in itself a mystery that defies the human imagination and has kept me awake in wonder many a night.

What possible purpose could this relationship serve in nature if life and consciousness are nothing but the accidental by-products of a universe full of mindless matter aimlessly bouncing around, as Newtonian scientists would have us believe? Even accepting the possibility that consciousness is merely some highly specialized cosmic accident, how did our ancestors figure out this strange relationship between our inner world and the plant kingdom? What effect did this discovery have on those primitive societies? And this then begs the questions: how long were psychedelics revered before our own culture did its best to extinguish them, and why now, on the verge of planetary destruction, have they so dramatically reappeared in the Western perspective?

This mystery only deepened with the discovery of endogenous DMT and 5-MeO-DMT in human blood and cerebrospinal fluid in the early 1970s. This means that the two most powerful entheogens we know of are being produced somewhere naturally within the human body. While this discovery opens up a whole universe of new speculations and possibilities, what I find most fascinating is the phenomenological manner in which these two compounds transform our consciousness.

Dimethyltryptamine, or DMT, opens up the mind’s eye to the visionary experience, anything that can be seen or imagined can vividly exist in the DMT realm, which is why it is so revered by visual artists. Nick Sand, the man who invented Orange Sunshine LSD, and also the person who figured out that you could freebase DMT, described it to me as “The Fullness,” while in my lectures I correlate DMT to the sixth chakra in the kundalini system. At this level, while you can experience the existence of God in all its infinite myriad forms, there is still a separation between the subject and object, between you and the face of the divine. DMT is thus the endogenous source of the vast and rich realm of our archetypical mythology.

On the other hand, the other known endogenous entheogen, 5-methoxy-DMT, Nick Sand described to me as “The Void,” noting that the phenomenological experience of this closely related compound is very different from that of DMT. This singularly powerful compound I correlate to the seventh chakra of the kundalini system, the crown chakra, the source of that indescribable event where all boundaries dissolve, and you and God become One. The seventh chakra reveals an interconnected dimension beyond vision, thoughts, time, space, the transpersonal experience defined by Abraham Maslow and Stanislav Grof, which 5-MeO-DMT accesses through an ego death so dramatic and instantaneous that it is impossible to find the vocabulary with which to relate the experience* with the sliver of consciousness that returns, the classical mystic’s dilemma. (The Indian sage Ramakrishna would relate the passage of the kundalini through his chakras till the seventh chakra, at which point he would collapse wordlessly into samadhi. Upon his return he explained: “But who should speak? The very distinction between ‘I’ and ‘thou’ vanishes.”) With its virtually guaranteed experience of ego death, 5-MeO-DMT is the endogenous origin of the singular mystical experience.

*Although I have tried on Tryptamine Palace!
There are rare cases when individuals won’t or can’t let go on 5-MeO-DMT, and their ego refuses to dissolve into the Void. At this point they are invariably dragged through hell instead, and end up having traumatic and potentially damaging experiences.

Virtually all religions on this planet have been born from a tension between the mystical and the mythological, which is to say that localized mythologies and religious systems have all arisen around the same common ineffable spark known to mystics throughout history. Therefore you would think it might be of great interest to contemporary society that we have recently discovered that the two compounds most likely to induce these experiences are also being produced naturally within our own brains.

The discovery of endorphins, endogenous opiates, and the opiate receptor is now considered one of the major biological discoveries of the last fifty years; its discoverers received a Nobel Prize. So you would imagine that the much more difficult discovery of endogenous psychedelics would be similarly celebrated. But, ironically, shortly before DMT was discovered to be naturally produced within the human body in 1972, it was made illegal (along with LSD and all other known psychedelics) in the United States by the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances, and all research on psychedelics effectively stopped. In 1973, a new federal agency, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), was formed to fight the “rising drug problem,” and organizations like the hashish-and-LSD ring known as the Brotherhood of Love, who reputedly kept the price of LSD low for years because they believed it was sacramental and could bring about social change, were dismantled.

The state of California made LSD illegal on October 6, 1966, meaning that our governments have now fought fifty years of a drug war against their own population over a class of nontoxic and nonaddictive drugs that have only grown in popularity, a failed Prohibition that is, thanks to the United Nations, enforced on a global scale. Whether or not the rapid reinvention of global culture results in a sustainable future for humanity or in a forced adaptation for survival among the ruins of the first man-made planetary collapse, I believe that the transpersonal psychedelic experience grants us an invaluable perspective from which to consider our species’ relationship with the rest of the web of life, and ultimately, with Source, the Universal Consciousness. The continued investigation into the entheomystical experience is both a basic human right and an inevitable result of our curiosity, and the firsthand experience, the connectivity of all things to Source, remains both the greatest of human mysteries and potentially the greatest gift of all.


mr peabody

Moderator: Music Discussion, PM
Staff member
Aug 31, 2016
Frostbite Falls, MN
James Oroc | Beyond The Tryptamine Palace

Episode Breakdown

- How psychedelics give people bigger egos (especially 5-MeO-DMT)
- Oroc’s encounter with 5-MeO-DMT and what led him to the Tryptamine Palace
- Being a successful psychedelic author
- Medicalization vs. psychedelics as agents of modern mysticism
- Finding God through psychedelics
- The importance of spirituality
- Ego death, psychedelics, and relating to God
- The history of psychedelics and where we are in its cultural evolution
- Visionary culture: art, music, and transformational festivals (especially Burning Man)
- The vital role of community, trance, and dance in human life
- Psychedelic university
- festival conferences

His first book, Tryptamine Palace, is a quintessential read for those interested in psychedelic philosophy. It presents his theories on reality, God, quantum mechanics and 5-MeO-DMT that are present in Tryptamine Palace. In this interview, we scratch the surface of those theories but advance beyond the Tryptamine Palace and explore the topics of his most recent book, The New Psychedelic Revolution -- the rich history of visionary art, modern festival culture, the rising popularity of 5-MeO-DMT, and his psychedelic philosophies on the nature of mind.​
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