Now Playing: Simon Jones "Melanie and Me"
This photo dates from another psychedelic conference, long ago (late 1970s) and is previously unpublished I think. Only xerox prints survive, alas.
Alp, Ginz & The Hof
December 16, 2013
Three wise men but only two Santas
Now Playing: Simon Jones "Melanie and Me"
This photo dates from another psychedelic conference, long ago (late 1970s) and is previously unpublished I think. Only xerox prints survive, alas.
December 15, 2013
Breaking Convention / Erik Davis "Back to the Bardo"
Now Playing: Cerrone "Supernature"
After watching his 50-minute presentation, I would venture that Erik Davis maintains his position as Most Valuable Psychedelicist of the children of the '60s. He has the special Generation X ability to keep one foot inside the circle and one foot outside, moving between roles of participation and observation simply by shifting his intellectual weight around.
Erik's talk dealt primarily with a re-examination of the Psychedelic Experience book and the Bardo Thödol (Tibetan Book Of The Dead). As described in my Psychedelia and elsewhere, the Leary/Alpert/Metzner book was on one hand the only psychedelic guide that people truly used back in the 1960s, on the other hand it has aged badly enough to become an "embarrassment". Erik Davis shows how layers of Westernization created an end result which was far removed from the original Tibetan meditation instruction. The fact that people actually used it confirms the great need for guidance for virgin trippers, but except for some vague notion of Eastern death and rebirth, it's difficult to see how any acidhead could find concrete support in lines about how "the Lotos God of Dance may appear" when in fact the walls were breathing and growing hairs and your buddy ran screaming to the bathroom. On a personal anecdotal level, we pulled out the old Leary tome on a couple of trips, and I remember reading the translated Tibetan incantations with a feeling of zero relevance. Some friends tried using it to bring one head back from a negative mood, but I don't think it worked except in the sense that people cracked up when hearing the lofty lines read out loud. O friend, O beloved traveller...
However, after mentioning that he saw the concept of death as one of the key elements that the psychedelic experience casts light on, Erik Davis turns the Dharma wheel one more time, and points out that while Leary & co were wrong in a lot of ways, the fundamental notion that the Bardo Thödol and the psychedelic trip both dealt with (can deal with) death and rebirth experiences was in fact accurate. Perhaps on a purely intuitive plane, the Harvardites felt the parallels between the advanced tantric practice which the Book Of The Dead* describes and a powerful, ego-loss acid trip, even if their creative response to the Book was more wrong than right. As I point out in Psychedelia, the Bardo Thödol is primarily intended for a special 'dark cave' meditation for advanced yogis, who allow themselves to be walled in inside complete darkness, where after a few weeks, a death-like state will emerge and is to be handled in the way the ancient book describes.
Can the Bardo Thödol still be used for psychedelic purposes? Having read a modern, non-westernized translation of it, I would have to say "no". The mental state of the advanced tantric practitioner and a guy flying high on psychedelics are too dissimilar for the Tibetan tantrics to lend much use to someone getting towards the point of ego-loss and non-duality. There is so much other stuff going on in the psychedelic space (unless you are a fully realized being, but if you are, you won't be dropping LSD) as compared to the purified cognitive trickle in the 'dark cave' state, that the advise just won't apply. At least, that is the feeling I got after reading a modern translation of the (actual) Bardo Thödol, and its direct, tangible instructions. I did however get a feel of it being useful for someone in the actual state of dying, as it seemed very distinct in its presentation of the various stages one goes through near the end. If properly used, a favorable rebirth, or a good parking spot in heaven, will result.
That was my tangent rather than Erik Davis', but as usual there was not much of disagreement between the two. His presentation, done entirely without manuscript, was lively and arresting, and unlike some of the other video recordings the sound quality was quite acceptable. The first 10 minutes is a good summing up of the status of the psychedelic world right now, and the somewhat problematic span between new scientific research and surviving underground culture.
*The title 'The Tibetan Book Of The Dead' is a complete Western invention, from the early translator Evans-Wentz, who also was responsible for much of the confusion and distortion of the actual source text--while admittedly still doing a great service to adventure-minded laymen and pop culturists for many decades to follow.
December 3, 2013
Psilocybin research discussed at Breaking Convention
Now Playing: Beacon St Union-1st LP
Next up on my improvised stroll through the Breaking Convention conference material was an entertaining lecture by American Katherine MacLean, who is involved in the authorized psilocybin research currently going on in the US, incidentally some of the first psychedelic studies in progress since the moratorium that went into effect around 1966-67! Read more at MAPS about the current projects and their background.
MacLean spoke enthusiastically of the research and seems an excellent spokesperson for the cause. A few comments worth preserving included:
- People who are classified as 'Open' on the classic personality matrix become even more 'Open' towards new experiences after taking psilocybin; a measurable fact. If I understood MacLean correctly, this increase in formal Open-ness has not been observed with any other psychological catalyst.
- The increase in Open-ness is positively correlated with the advent of a mystical experience during the psilocybin trip, a personality change that was still measurably present at a 14-month check-up.
- MacLean offered no hard biochemical data but mentioned that the serotonin-related process in the brain were persistently altered in people with life-long use of psychedelics, and again the Open-ness factor gave an atypically high reading.
- from her research she observed that 'high-dose' (exact figures were not offered) psilocybin trips had 70% of the subjects reporting a mystical experience, while around 30% experienced ego-death/ego-loss.
The last point raises the interesting question of the precise difference between an ego-loss trip and a mystical experience, but the short time-slot available for MacLean did not allow for detailed looks behind these examples. There can be no doubt that this psilocybin research is highly promising, an impression furthered by MacLean's spirited yet professional presentation.
December 2, 2013
Michael Hoffman's entheogen theory
Expanding on the post below, a few more comments may be in order with reference to Michael Hoffman’s theories on psychedelic cognition. As he deepens his philosophical inquiries he carries the persistent idea of self-revealing artifice with him into new conceptual domains. What began as a perceptual observation grows into a mental reflex leaving its signature almost everywhere it goes. A few quotes to highlight this tendency:
In other words, if I understood Hoffman correctly, the cognitive self-exposing reflex is vast enough to embrace the totality of one’s person, which is (as always) found to be artificially made up in order to be ontologically presentable. The buddhist idea of discrete mental quanta as the only real basis for a thinking ego is combined with two Western notions, one which is that the perception of time (and space) correlates with the continuous flow of the ego-mind, the other which is death as an existential result of lost power and lost freedom. As the basic time-slice (quanta) nature of consciousness is revealed by our own reflexive scrutiny, the foundation for existence dissolves, since the notion of a solid, continuous ego existing in time, turned out to be false. The end result is the psychedelic ego-death, a familiar event given an interesting context by Hoffman’s theory.
I am not sure what he means by “This mental construct exists both as the entire series and as individual time-slices, with the continuant agent’s motion and control-power mentally projected from within each time-slice”, but it seems to address a problem similar to that in Buddhist metaphysics, concerning the initial creation of ego-awareness when there’s nothing that exists except the energy quanta. The buddhists have, to my knowledge, not truly solved this rather central philosophical dilemma, settling for the invocation of transitional solutions such as ‘store consciousness’ in order to avoid getting stuck. Although these questions of individual existence and awareness appear very vital to the Western mind, the Buddhists (and possibly Hindus too) do not linger upon them with any particular fervor; except for the Abidhamma it is difficult to find existential topics covered at all. It is therefore not surprising that Michael Hoffman’s detailed exposition of mental time-slices is his own invention, even if the basic idea of the quanta came from the East.
When Hoffman states that “This mental construct exists both as the entire series and as individual time-slices”, we are dealing with a psychedelic philosophy that should be treated on its own terms, because there are no such ideas expressed in Buddhism. There is a certain affinity to the 'monads' of Leibniz, including Leibniz' use of the concept of 'necessity' but again the impression is of inspiration rather than true influence. Hoffman's model would have been well served by a lengthier description, but appears to mean that each time-slice aquires a self-awareness that clarifies its subordinate role in the total cosmology. These atomic time-slices contribute in the way that “the continuant agent’s motion and control-power [is] mentally projected from within each time-slice”. I e: from the aggregated attributes of all time-slices there arises the notion of a solid and continuous ego, which unfortunately does not know that it is artificial and phony until its physical vessel takes a psychedelic trip. Under psychedelics, the constructed, artificial nature of the coherent ego is revealed and the illusion is scaled back to reveal the underlying sequence of discrete timeslices instead.
Assuming that I understood this right, I think it’s an interesting model that goes some way to maintain its internal consistency. There is a formal elegance in how the same reflexive meta-analysis is applied first on the epistemological level of Plato and Kant, and then on the ontological level of Buddhist-inspired existentialism. There is however an aspect to the model which I cannot follow in full, and which concerns the event when the presumed ego realizes its nature as a timeslice only. The realization comes as an effect of freeing the consciousness through psychedelic drugs, where among other things the reflexive self-scrutiny and insight follows. This sounds like a perfectly possible thing to occur during an acid trip, but again its hard to see it as a generalized model experience. Does it happen every time, to everyone? One might also object that an understanding of the ego’s illusory nature can come about in several ways, including the meditative paths the Buddhists prescribe, and not only as the distinct process that Hoffman describes. Once more, it is useful to look at actual psychedelic experiences for a helpful ‘acid test’.
Mapped against a real-world experience of ego-loss (my preferred term for ego-death), there is an interesting parallel between Hoffman’s suggested revelation of the true, discontinuous self, and an often reported trip vision in which the subject visualizes him or herself pass through a variety of “roles” or “personalities” that make up the totality of the ego. This sequence, which again is familiar from Eastern thought (Hesse describes it in Siddharta), has received a memorable presentation by Richard Alpert in a passage concerning his earliest psychedelic experience (see Be Here Now, or Jay Stevens’ Storming Heaven). As the various personas that made up the totality of Alpert one by one fell away, he was left with what he considered the essence of his being, the fundamental ‘Alpertness’, and as this too began to fall away, he began to panick. But rather than dying or passing out, a voice in his head asked him ‘Who’s minding the store?’, proving that the mindstream continued even when all the fundamental elements of the ego had been removed. For Alpert this experience was an obvious step towards Eastern spirituality which he would take on in full a few years later.
What Alpert/Ram Dass found was in a sense the opposite of what Hoffman describes—beyond all the layers and ornaments that made up the totality of his personality there existed something that was larger than them all, and which maintained an individual existence; a thought which incidentally is decidedly non-Buddhist. Michael Hoffman on the other hand seems to say that once the psychedelically iluminated mind has realized its inferior position as one of many timeslices in a sequence which maintains the false illusion of a continuous and solid ego, the idea of the existing ego and its presence in spacetime collapses (ego-loss/ego-death), leaving no higher order residuals behind. What exactly is left behind after the false-ego revelation in Hoffman’s model? The notion of one-self as an atomic timeslice, powerless in its predetermined course through time and space? Or does the collapse of the maintained ego illusion put one in a nirvanic void? None of these variants seem to match observed effects of psychedelic ego-loss very well.
In the introduction to his main essay Hoffman has added that after the revelation, “Experiencing this model of control and time initially destabilizes self-control power, and amounts to the death of the self that was conceived of as an autonomous control-agent. Self-control stability is restored upon transforming one's mental model to take into account the dependence of personal control on a hidden, separate thought-source, such as Necessity or a divine level that transcends Necessity.” However, the possible transformation of the subordinate time-slice state into an allegiance to some form of intellectual supra-state (much like the voice Alpert heard) is never elaborated upon in the actual essay, leaving the issue unresolved on any finer level.
The classic description of psychedelic ego-loss is a period of bliss in a space completely free from attributes and dualism, from which one is ultimately returned back to the 3-dimensional ego realm, usually in an exhilarating mood. If the effect of this elusive event infallably or frequently would be what Hoffman describes, the state should come with warning signs attached, as it looks rather much like a nihilist-determinist inversion of the joyous breakthrough that Alpert and others have reported. I feel confident that Michael Hoffman and others familiar with his theories can clarify the “what happens next?” issue that I’m raising so there is a better understanding. For now, my view is the same as I stated above regarding the purely epistemological aspect of Hoffman’s model: the model seems to me a fully credible description of a cognitive process that can occur during a psychedelic session, but I do not consider it to be the standard or most common development of the trip.
Read more here: http://egodeath.com/EntheogenTheoryOfReligion.htm
*Note that I have not addressed the extensive use Hoffman makes of Christian history and Graeco-Roman mythology in his writings, mainly because they do not seem germane to his arguments and may even distract more than inform.
**Hoffman refers to Salvia Divinorum as his entheogenic guide, which may account for some discrepancies visavi the classic psychedelic experiences, as Salvia belongs to a phytochemical and experiential class of hallucinogens all of its own
December 1, 2013
Psychedelic phenomenology, some notes
Now Playing: East Of The River Ganges psybient
I've finally found time to go through the material produced during the past Summer's psychedelic gathering in England, 'Breaking Convention'. I was unable to attend (I really wish these conferences would upgrade their tech strategy to include Skype and video conferencing) but clearly it was an impressive round-up of hallucinogenists of all ages. Videos of many presentations are now uploaded, and I intend to go through a number of them and comment as time permits.
First off was "Seeing and Believing; The Cognitive Phenomenology of Mind Manifestation" by Joseph Bicknell. Ostensibly about psychedelic phenomenology, it does not deal with the classic Husserlian phenomenology to any real extent, but still covers some useful ground. A few minutes are spent on the semantics of the word 'psychedelic' which is both common knowledge and not terribly important. Bicknell then introduces a few familiar metaphors (such as Plato's cave analogy) to give an idea of what the psychedelic experience is like, and while these are agreeable enough, the use of metaphors would seem to pull in the opposite direction from phenomenology, which is the objective observation of mental events. I feel we need fewer metaphors within Psychedelia, not more.
Bicknell mentions the prevalence of empirical data such as trip reports on the net and in the psychedelic literature, but does not offer any concrete conclusions from having studied these. Moving on to a famous 1955 passage concerning Aldous Huxley's trousers, Bicknell observes that Huxley assigns the living, organic quality of the folded fabric not to his own psychedelicized mind, but to the actual trousers themselves, which is an interesting point. Without expanding on this, it is suggested that the hallucinogen undermines the solidity and stability that we find in the baseline reality, a statement hard to disagree with.
The most interesting passage deals with a reference to the psychedelic researcher Michael Hoffman (egodeath.com, Salvia magazine, etc). According to Bicknell and Hoffman, one main effect of the psychedelic state is a new level of self-awareness in the mind, by which the subject gains insight into his or her own representational machinery. In the baseline mind, we are offered streamlined representations which we take as ‘reality’, but when tripping we can see what goes on behind the facade; the process and mechanisms that create these representations. The Platonic-Kantian realization that what we see is not the elusive, underlying source object brings a sense of artificiality to the whole cognitive enterprise. Our consciousness shows us that what we thought was actual was in fact manipulated, but it does not, at least not immediately, show us what is truly original and actual.
As far as I can tell, Bicknell and Hoffman offer no analytical proof or empirical sources for this model of cognitive processing. The reader can instead gauge its usefulness by mapping it onto his or her own repository of psychedelic experiences and knowledge. The suggestion that the baseline world takes on a slightly cartoonish or unreal quality after the cognitive skin-shedding has taken place is a relevant point, but other aspects I find harder to swallow. The revelation of artificiality seems to me just one possible psychedelic effect among several others; not the only one, and hardly a truly fundamental one. Understanding the dualistic split between platonic forms and objects is not a very profound revelation, it may in fact have been one of the main purposes of the Eleusinian Mysteries.
On the General Trip Model scale a normal ‘2’ is a sufficient degree of psychedelization to enter the level of abstract thought where the mind is able to look back upon its own mechanisms. Some may find this discovery fascinating or disturbing, and for psychological reasons attach significant value to it, but it should be obvious that the reality-obliterating experiences in store as one reaches deeper into Innerspace are of a more radical order than the notion of Kant’s “ding-an-sich”. To understand how close Hoffman’s model is to classic epistemology, this quote may suffice: “The representation layer is present to awareness like a tangible painting, while the referent layer is a remote, speculative realm that is pointed to but is perceptually absent, like a foreign country one has never directly seen”.
The further discussion of this psychedelic revelation has a certain undertone of negativity to it, as though the dualistic self-insight might anger or depress the subject. The situation may take on an existential sheen: “A person lives their entire subjectively experienced life inside a simulation that their own mind produces by presenting mental constructs to awareness. In metaperception, personal control-power and personal movement through space and time appear as synthetic mental constructs” (M Hoffman, 1996). The scope of the “metaperception” is here broadened to its maximum range, offering a potential crisis when the phoniness in its totality is understood, not just as a conventional epistemological dilemma, but artificiality that cuts across the whole human situation. Again, this is credible as the description of an occasional acid trip one might have, but as a generalized model for psychedelic cognition and enlightenment, it appears overstated and in great need of an intellectual foundation.
Joseph Bicknell’s 15-minute presentation does not extend beyond this, and in view of its contents would have been better served by a heading related to “epistemology” rather than phenomenology, the latter of which there is very little in the material. That said, I appreciate any discourse on subjects like these, of which there are far too few in the psychedelic field in relation to their relevance. The natural link to Michael Hoffman’s intriguing research was another positive I gathered.
Hopefully I will be able to post more comments on the Breaking Convention material shortly.
September 30, 2013
A new interview with Patrick
Now Playing: Neil Young Archives
This recent interview with Revolt Of The Apes came out fairly well I think, the blog editor (Ryan) asked some questions that were new to me & also caught me in the Summer doldrums, when time was available... it's all about trippy music, hallucinogens and the Lumber Island Acid Crew.
September 18, 2013
Psychedelic mind map for book about psychedelic mind maps
Now Playing: Once "Hush" private press LP
After a false start, I realized that nothing readable would come from the "Psychedelia" project unless I had some kind of structure to carry the contents. Winging it as one goes along wasn't going to work this time. Somewhat reluctantly I went through a pre-production phase which aimed to identify and delineate individual chapters, and then arrange them in an effective sequence. The earliest step towards this goal was a mindmap of sorts, available in larger format here.
July 28, 2013
Ayahuasca vision journey: two excerpts
Now Playing: Kristyl LP
My ayahuasca trip report turned out to be several pages long and contained several references to other vision experiences in the past, and so it will have to be published in a more suitable environment, possibly a future book. However, I'd like to post a few excerpts for those interested. Nothing earth-shaking but good clean weirdness and a bit of shamanic training, as it should be.
Excerpt #1--The Jaguar
The Jaguar looked straight at me, menacing and determined, and I interpreted it as an archetypal intimidation scene, or staring contest. It crouched on the ground about 5 or 6 metres in front of me, watching me intently. I sent it a thought-message, declaring that ‘I do not fear you. I respect you, but I do not fear you’. Which was true at that moment; I felt oddly secure. After a little while, the Jaguar got up and strode around in a circle while still watching me, before walking away with a sullen growl. The vision sequence was completed in 10 seconds or less, even if my description may sound like it lasted for minutes. In the tryptamine realm, each time-slice is loaded with information where no attributes are random or unimportant; paying utmost attention is essential. Gauging the vibe in Innerspace after this archetypal encounter, it seemed the moment had been properly handled.
I saw myself shrunk to maybe 1 inch (2.5 centimetres) height and able to move around inside my own body. I watched myself climb up the individual ribs of my ribcage as though it was a ladder, and while more amusing than unpleasant, there was a certain realism to the blood- covered bones and tissue around me. The scene was peculiar because I seemed to have two parallel perspectives; with my normal eyes I could see my 1-inch double inside the left part of my torso, climbing and jumping, but I was also being fed images of how it looked from the point-of-view of the 1-inch climber.
The brevity of earlier visions urged me to try and make this body expedition useful before it disappeared. Continuing upwards the ribcage the 1-inch Me reached my heart, which (I realize today) most likely was his/its intention all along, since the body exploration began at the left-hand bottom part of my ribs. Reaching my heart, a memory of a preceding ayahuasca journey surfaced, wherein two angels had come gliding down to open a tiny double-door in my heart, out of which had streamed a puff of foul-smelling black smoke. This had seemed to mean that my heart had been cleaned of ‘bad air’, such as negativity or ugliness, and I had wondered ever since why I hadn’t noticed much improvement in my affairs of the heart after this presumed purification. It is not ayahuasca’s style to provide visions loaded with such significance randomly and without consequences.
The 1-inch Me was finally able to solve the riddle. After reaching my heart, I asked him if the double-door that the angels had opened two years before was still there. It was still there, in fact it stood wide open. And from this I now realized what had eluded me—the ayahuasca angels may assist in ridding my heart from some of the bad stuff, but they weren’t going to fill my heart with new content to replace the bad. This was my task; a most typical assignment from the Overseer of yagé Innerspace. I had failed to understand that after the angelic intervention, my heart contained empty space ready to be filled [...].
July 27, 2013
Youth, Psychedelia & Youth's Psychedelic Youth
Now Playing: Inland Empire 60s vol 2 -- CDR comp
After a dry spell on the review front I wondered if the Psychedelia buzz was fading already, but a Google Quest netted a brand new and very welcome review of the book written by none other than 'Youth', legendary UK musician and scenemaker with Killing Joke and the influential Dragonfly label. Youth's review in Classic Rock magazine is something else and needs to be read even without the Psychedelia aspects, as he goes off on several trips down acid memory lane with entertaining results. An autobiography or at least a lengthy interview with the man seems warranted.
As for the actual critique, Youth is quite enthusiastic over the book and awards it 9 out of 10, which is the best rating so far, along with those at Amazon.com. However, the favorable view doesn't mean that he doesn't have objections to certain aspects to Psychedelia, which he prefaces with a sort of apology, which certainly makes me appreciate the guy. I tried to attach a note to say thanks and bring a brief point up, but the 'Comments' section at the website was turned off, so I'll do it here instead.
First off, thanks Youth! Secondly, among the criticisms voiced I can definitely accept some of them without comments (such as the music section leaning 'too much' towards American acid rock sounds), but a couple need to be addressed. The Pretty Things' "£.S.d" is NOT an early acid tune, but is a song about money: Pounds, Shillings and whatever. This is a frequent misunderstanding, but if someone doubts me, ask any Pretties specialist and they'll confirm that there was nothing psychedelic about that 45. Of course, the band did get acidized later on with glorious results.
Secondly, I'm not sure I agree that the Ibiza connection is poorly covered--pages 399-403 cover the development from Ibiza '87 via acid house and onto Goa Trance, and it should be sufficient in a non-specialized book like mine. To a reader it may be possible to miss the first Ibiza paragraph which stands a few pages apart from the other London club scene coverage, but it's there alright, with a million tabs of MDMA on top. Although the purpose of that chapter was introductory rather than comprehensive, I regret not mentioning Dragonfly somewhere, not least since I have several of their early releases here.
Two reviewers have taken offense by my questioning of the psychedelic qualities of some early Pink Floyd recordings, so for clarity's sake: I love a good 2/3rds of the Syd era Floyd recordings, and the book praises tracks like "Matilda Mother" and even the obscure "Julia Dream". It's all there on page 315:
...While fulfilling the basic qualities of Psychedelia, Floyd’s recurring depictions of space travel seem to lack the inviting human presence found in old Space Exotica records or "Dark Star", and they deprive the listener of a crucial step towards his or her full immersion in the experience. Instead, Pink Floyd’s music finds its most effectively psychedelic form on tracks in which the human element is clearly pronounced...
This view is not something I've pulled out of thin air, but is based on discussions with fellow acid heads/record collectors, several of whom have found the Floyd material to lose a little of its sheen over time. I make a comparison between "Dark Star" and "Interstellar Overdrive" to clarify my point--that there is at times a lack of human warmth in the Floydian music. I also bring in an excellent quote from ex-Deviants Mick Farren, who was in London at the time and sums it up better than I could:
The Floyd sang about Neptune and Titan, and setting the controls for the heart of the sun, but all was not science fiction, and I often regretted that the Floyd assumed such a crucially influential role in the London version of Psychedelia. They seemed so Oxbridge cold in their merciless cosmos: the Stephen Hawkings of rock & roll. They lacked the Earth-warmth of, say, the Grateful Dead, and things might have been a whole lot different if their sound hadn't permeated so many of those formative London nights.
Finally, Youth takes the book to task for not covering the European tradition of pastoral occultism, with witches and druids and so forth. It's true that the druid tradition is not dealt with in Psychedelia, and this may have been a mistake. I could not find convincing signs of drug-related activities, and also it seemed to me to be a regional rather than pan-European phenomenon. But I will look into this more indepth if there is a second edition, and I appreciate the comment.
Regarding the European witch tradition there is however substantial coverage, both in a lengthy section that deals specifically with this (pages 76-82), and also scattered about in other parts of the book. My viewpoint is that while a West European shamanism in the classic Mircea Eliade sense is missing, the witches and 'wise women' worked as bearers of a pre-Christian tradition of holism and pantheism, including the use of psychoactive drugs. The witch aspect is important, and I certainly hope this is clear from the book.
Youth singles out the Apocalypse Now chapter as particularly interesting, as have at least two other reviewers. I must admit that the hidden transition from Apocalypse Now to The Tempest was one of the more psychedelic things I wrote for the book, and I am delighted to see hip readers singling it out.
July 22, 2013
The Shaman & Ayahuasca (book review)
Now Playing: Rex Foster LP
The Shaman & Ayahuasca: Journeys to Sacred Realms by Don Jose Campos, Geraldine Overton, Alberto Roman and Charles Grob (2011)
Happily, however, the surly skepticism that lingered in me from reading half-assed ayahuasca tomes in the past soon gave way for a more positive sentiment. The shaman, Don José Campos, sounded like the real deal despite a distinct touch of Westernization, and he strives to share experiences that were neither opaquely woven into tribal mythology, nor trivialized with Western psychology. His language, translated from Spanish, is straightforward. As always I wish for more reports of specific visions and journeys, partly for the sheer thrill, but also for the purpose of accumulating maps of Innerspace, as described in my Psychedelia book. The reader does get a sense of the shamanic Otherworld from Don Jos'es words, but like a true curandero his focal point is always the healing of others. To that end, his monologues also deal with practices outside the ayahuasca sessions, including descriptions of medicinal plants, and the practice and purpose of "dieta".
Don José also takes us to meet his friend Pablo Amaringo in one of the great artist's final interviews, a worthwhile account which includes a vision description that I believe is unique to this book. Like Amaringo, Don José is well familiar with other cultures than his own, and he invokes both Western psychology and Eastern spirituality in his talks. He expresses a special interest in Buddhism and mentions the possibility that buddhist monks of old used vision plants such as Datura. Speaking of Datura, or "toé", our shaman gives the impression that it's been and still is a frequently employed additive when "drinking the plant". I think it's essential that Westerners find a way to handle Datura so that its place among the entheogens can be understood. It is abundantly clear that its shamanic role is substantial and also more widely distributed than any other vision plant. As I suggest in Psychedelia, Datura is likely to be the next frontier in psychotropic exploration.
Finally, the book does offer a couple of terrific trip reports; not from Don José but from the Western couple who befriended him. A few pages featuring an intermission of sorts recap what was clearly a couple of fully rewarding visitations from the "Madrecita". I'll leave it to the reader to absorb this material, and just observe that they are fine examples of ayahuasca's potential; beautiful, thought-provoking, and a little spooky. Kudos to the travellers who had such journeys both in this world and the Other, and went on to produce this slender but worthwhile volume.
There is a corresponding DVD which I hope to check out in the near future.
July 19, 2013
Ayahuasca dreamtime (prologue)
Now Playing: Kris & Jerry
I find it uninspiring to journey with the Vine Of The Dead unless it's tropical heat outside, or as close to that as we can get on these Northern shores. Hence, my yagé window is limited to 1 month per year, and last year it didn't happen at all, as I simply didn't feel up to it (had a pretty good psilocybin ride instead). This week we were gearing up towards the hottest day of the year, and with a growing psychedelic yearning in the soul, the time seemed right for a visit with the Madrecita, or Queen Of The Forest, or just plain ol' Ayahuasca.
To be technically accurate, this was to be an Anahuasca trip rather than Ayahuasca, since I had decided to replace the Caapi vine from earlier journeys with the non-Amazonian Syrian Rue (Peganum Harmala). The reason was simple--the Caapi extract tastes absolutely awful, and it requires a lot of preparatory work. With a few grams of raw Peganum Harmala seeds offering the same MAOI effect, it seemed necessary to try this hybrid shortcut, developed by Western researchers like Jonathan Ott in the 1990s. A tour on the internet gave some indications that the Harmala seeds made for a different kind of trip than the Caapi vine, but I've learned to treat these anecdotal opinions with some skepticism.
The claim that the enigmatic THH (Tetrahydroharmine -- the least present of the three harmala alkaloids) was missing entirely from the Syrian Rue and in fact offered specific catalyst action for the Amazonian brew seemed a reasonable, slightly troubling objection, not least since recent voices have pointed to THH (more than harmine or harmaline) being the alkaloid agent behind the Caapi's elusive contribution to the ayahuasca high. I could look this up in my library, but figured the issue may still remain unresolved. Instead, the best way to say for sure is the trusted auto-bioassay analysis, i e: mix it up, drink it and see what happens. So be it.
The account of the actual Ayahuasca/Anahuasca journey will follow in a separate post, as soon as I've gone over my session notes and racked my mind for any visions I forgot to take down--because this was a 'dream' (as some people call their yagé trips these days) full of quick snapshots, and not much in terms of vision sequences. Coming up shortly, meanwhile you can enjoy my home-made Ayahusca bottle labels...
July 17, 2013
Other Worlds, 2004 ayahuasca documentary
Now Playing: Third Estate
Jan Kounen's OTHER WORLDS is not the first and certainly not the last ayahuasca road trip movie, but due to it being made by a 'real' director it is one of the most widely distributed. The story is the usual one--young Western seeker geek is looking for aboriginal remedies to unspecified problems and brings along a camera team as he travels around Amazonia. Made with some decent financing, Kounen's images and sounds are of a higher quality than the backpacker documentaries found on Youtube, which serves the recording of icaros (shaman's spiritual songs) particularly well. There are also some very cool sequences of CGI trip images that instill a psychedelic feel--incidentally these seem to be from the same graphic repository as the long trip scene in Kounen's Renegade (aka Blueberry)*.
Kounen hangs out mostly with the Shipibo-Conibo tribe, who have raised interest with westerners not just because of their ayahuasca tradition, but also because of their beautiful design patterns, which are said to show the universe as perceived on ayahuasca. Several rituals are held and shot with night camera, which accents the spooky feeling. Kounen clearly found a genuine shamanic scene, rather than the phony or black magic vegetalistas often reported on. Images of daily life and non-entheogenic celebrations are shown with no comment, which contributes to the sense of being an outsider in an effective way. The mandatory interviews with Grob, Strassman, Narby, Grof and others are heard and are probably useful to those new to the field. Artists including Amaringo, Alex Grey and Moebius also appear, the latter is a rare and welcome interviewee in this context. Kounen reports on a successful healing after a substantial number of sessions, and the movie ends with beautiful icaros sung over suitable Amazonian images.
Compared to some similar efforts, the Western 'seeker' aspect is relatively downplayed here, which is to the film's advantage. It is still more of a case study than an overall look at ayahuasca, and once again there is too little about DMT and it's unique aspects, whether in the vegetal brew, or taken neat. The movie is made for a French production company and hence mostly in French with English subtitles.
*The 9-minute trip sequence in Kounen's Renegade is rightly famous, but somewhat annoyingly the context blends peyote and ayahuasca ritual elements; two cultures that had zero contact or connection.
July 16, 2013
Psychedelia A-Z index
Now Playing: Black Country Gang
Been a couple of months since the last time, so here's a pointer to an extensive (19 pages) A-Z index to my Psychedelia book. It's in PDF format and can either be used on-line, or printed as a hardcopy and inserted into your book.
July 11, 2013
"Peyote To LSD", 2008 documentary
Now Playing: Soundsations LP on Phalanx
This seems to be a TV production for the History Channel, but is available as a commercial DVD. I'm not sure what its production history is but it looks like it might have been a confused one. The bulk of it is a documentary based on Wade Davis' celebrated biography of the great ethnobotanist Richard Evans Schultes. Both Schultes and Davis are given plenty of space in my Psychedelia book, and there is indeed much of value in their respective stories, particularly for those with a penchant for Amazonian entheogens. A camera team follows Davis as he traces Schultes' steps from a Kiowa peyote ritual to daredevil exploits in the remotest part of the Amazon rainforest. The various psychedelic plant drugs that Schultes discovered or documented are shown in vivo and as used in rituals, while Davis professes his admiration for the great teacher.
This is all shot in a 'point and roll' manner, like a news feature, and there is no ambition whatsoever to engage the viewer in anything more than listening to Davis and watching natives. It's somewhat like the old education reels shown in class in high school--information adequately summarized. In addition to a bit of creative flair, the movie would have been served by drilling down in a couple of the native drug scenes encountered, instead of moving onwards after just a few introductory minutes. Davis arranges for rituals with various plant drugs, yet we are not shown or told anything about what goes on, instead in the next shot he's already getting into a jeep somewhere else.
Comments from Andrew Weil, Jonathan Ott, John Halpern, Jeremy Narby, Ralph Metzner and a few others are heard, but except for Weil it's just brief soundbites that could have been uttered by anyone, and the purpose is presumably to demonstrate Schultes' high standing in the psychedelic community. The greatest problem to me is the strange way that the DMT aspect is botched. There are several minutes about ayahuasca, but despite the recent production year the movie fails entirely to deal with the Western resurgence of DMT use, along with the increasingly strong ayahuasca wave of the past 20 years. I'm not even sure DMT or dimethyltryptamine was mentioned, which seems extremely odd in a documentary about a man who spent decades wrestling with the mysteries of ayahuasca. Conversely, much is made of Schultes' involvement with peyote research, a brief, early enterprise where the main scholarly responsibility soon fell upon Weston LaBarre, who is mentioned only in passing. A balanced view would reverse the time slots awarded to peyote and ayahuasca, or better yet, expand the ayahuasca segment to three times its length and included modern-day research, the Terence McKenna factor, and so on. From my view, the movie seems to have been edited by someone with a very poor understanding of the subject.
The Schultes/Wade backbone runs a little over an hour, but should have been longer. Instead a 90 minute playtime is created by inserting at various unstrategic points the standard story of LSD and the psychedelic 60s and all that crap you've heard a hundred times before. Any notion of the radical developments within the psychedelic field during the 1990s and 2000s seem to be unknown to the creators of this documentary, who instead summon up the dead horse of MK-Ultra experiments and Tim Leary's maverick ideas for another flogging. I actually had to double-check the '2008' production year because these "contextual" segments look to date from 1988 or so. A sequence of Albert Hofmann turning 100 finally convinced me.
How is it possible to make a psychedelic documentary in 2008 and not be aware of the massive wave of entheogenic awakening in progress since the late '80s? Who today needs to hear ancient info about "acid" and "the sixties" when a much broader and more profound exploration of psychedelic drugs, both organic and synthetic, is going on around the Western world?
I doubt Wade Davis is to blame for these uninformed and clichéd segments. If I were to guess, I'd say someone took a documentary that was almost exclusively about Schultes, cut out some plant drug stuff that should have been left in, and added a bunch of dated shit about LSD and hippies in order to make the movie easier to sell and promote.
I wish someone could hook up with Wade Davis for a real Schultes study, with camerawork, audio and editing that makes you feel the realness of the jungle and the madness of the yagé, passing along vital bits of info on the great man while the creativity uses its psychedelic theme in the proper manner.
June 26, 2013
Now Playing: Brazil-Uruguay in Confederations Cup
A blog editor in Poland sent me a bunch of intelligent questions related to the Psychedelia book, which I answer to the best of my ability. Check out the brand new interview at the Magivanga blog.
June 8, 2013
Merry Prankster Trip on DVD
Now Playing: Bureman & O'Rourke
Anyone reading this is likely to have seen the 2011 documentary Magic Trip already, so I'll spare you the full disclosure. It took two experienced docu film makers to figure out how to handle the technical problems with the Further bus trip footage. As Jane Burton laments in the voice-over (actually an actress reciting Burton's words), a major problem with the Merry Pranksters was that they believed that just because you wanted to do something, you could also do it--as though there was no learning curve. So when they set out to make a movie, they didn't know about the most fundamental things such as using a clapper for audio/visual synchronization, or shooting recurring establishing shots that made the location and situation clear. The 40 hours were an out of synch mess, which the remaining Pranksters worked decades to sort out. The video material released in the late 1990s was the first truly watchable version, but it revealed other problems with the material, such as most of the audio being incomprehensible, even if now more or less in synch. And there was still no narrative framework, making it acceptable mostly to fans who already knew the story in and out.
What was done with this new, professional documentary was to allow the Pranksters themselves provide running commentary to the images seen on the screen, using either existing recordings, or adding new recordings with Pranksters and actors. This is much more effective than the modern intro provided with the circa 1999 self-released VHS movies (in 2 parts), and it gives both context, narrative thread and a professional feel. With these fundamental problems solved, the viewer's focus is directed where it should be long, which is the beautiful and often spectacular footage from the coast-to-coast bus trip. Shot with 16 mm cameras much of the footage is in remarkably good quality, some of it so pristine it looks brand new and therefore slightly surreal (same effect as the Jim Morrison 'HWY' footage inserted into People Are Strange). In addition, there are several minutes of never-before seen footage from the return home leg through Canada, including a beautiful communal trip on JT 191 by a rural lake. And so finally, after almost 50 years, the film that shows the Pranksters' search for the Kool place has been packaged in a lasting format that can be consulted when anyone wants to learn about Further and Kesey and the Merry Pranksters. I wish it could have been even longer than 100 minutes, but that's the fan-boy in me speaking.
So, the DVD version. The bonus material includes a half-dozen omitted scenes, all of which were worth seeing, if brief. The most remarkable was a parachute flight including footage of the bus from above; although shaky and fuzzy, it's unique and surprising enough that it should have been included. There was a brief visit to Las Vegas that is hardly ever mentioned in the Further chronicles, and one wishes the band would have stayed there a day or two and kept the cameras rolling. A few other snips follow, including one that shows the bus being towed into a parking spot after the trip, and some surprising footage from Mexico 1966, with the core Pranksters joining Kesey. They are seen at a bull-fight, but not much more. Ditto for the highly interesting Berkeley Vietnam Day prank which Kesey calls one of their best efforts, which is what I've always felt too. They were decades ahead of their time here... in fact people still haven't understood the importance of this message. You do not win over an opponent by opposing him with his own tools on his own arena; the only thing you do is strengthening him. Ralph Metzner said much the same thing in a 1967 interview. The acidheads know, some day the rest will follow.
Finally, there is a 50-minute audio recording from Kesey's first hallucinogen trip at Menlo Park, an item of extraordinary historical value, and pretty funny too, in parts.
June 3, 2013
"Psychedelia" reviewed in Flashback magazine
Now Playing: Stud LP from Texas
The new British magazine Flashback featured a lengthy review of Psychedelia in the most recent (#3) issue. Written by Gray Newell, the review is both enthusiastic and psychedelic in its own right.
Thank you Flashback and thank you Gray Newell, whose own contributions to psychedelic musicology have enlightened numerous souls!
May 27, 2013
The Joyous Cosmology
Now Playing: Justice label mix-CDR
Review by Patrick Lundborg
It is a pleasure to observe the continuing interest in Psychedelia around the world, the latest sign of which is a new edition of one of the early classics, Alan Watts' The Joyous Cosmology. Originally published in 1962 this has been out of print for decades, while the interest in Watts shows no signs of declining; on the contrary. During the 2000s, Watts has become probably the second most sampled voice heard on psychedelic ambient and downbeat electronica tracks (after the omnipresent Terence McKenna). Watts' thoughts, and the Joyous Cosmology in particular, was also a primary source text for my recent book Psychedelia, as will be shown below. Prior to that, a bit of background on the great man.
With a mind both open and agile, Alan Watts (1915-1973) examined a wide range of esoteric traditions. The fruits of his studies he passed on to curious Westerners in a variety of formats, beginning with radio shows in California, but also through books, lectures and recordings. The latter produced the now-legendary 1962 LP This Is IT which today is considered a vital prototype for the eruption of psychedelic pop culture in the mid-'60s. At the time Watts' interest in psychedelic drugs was at its peak, and he diligently experimented with the major hallucinogens and observed his reactions. This period of mind expansion was documented in The Joyous Cosmology, a slender volume which stands as Watts' most important work today, and a given inclusion in a library of psychedelic source texts.
The Joyous Cosmology resembles Huxley's The Doors Of Perception to some degree, and the classic work of Watts' fellow British ex-patriate may have served as inspiration for his ruminations. While comparisons aren't entirely meaningful, one might observe that Watts' conclusions are just as useful as Aldous Huxley's, perhaps even more useful from the perspective of a modern reader. Watts contemplated the psychedelic state for a longer and more variable time than his colleague, allowing him to formulate viewpoints that are less anecdotal and less private.
At the same time, Watts' intelligent and slightly trickerish personality is much in evidence throughout the book, and his substantial training in the spiritual traditions of the East clearly allowed him to accept the often ambiguous and contradictory flow of psychedelic cognition. If at certain turns the LSD experience seems to reveal itself as meaningless, then so be it; so, too, does the Buddhist path at some points in that journey. Watts' conclusions on the psychedelic state and the workings of the mind are valuable, but he is equally able to drill down into the here and now of a trip through Innerspace. His detailed recollection of listening to classical music on LSD is one of the very best replications of the strange state of confusion and euphoria, and melancholy and brilliance, and numerous other moods that one experiences during the trip. It works as an excellent chapter for non-acidheads to find out what it's like to be on LSD, and it also proves that psychedelic trips can be described in words, despite some people's claims.
The Joyouos Cosmology was a significant source text for me when developing the psychedelic philosophy described in my book Psychedelia--An Ancient Culture, A Modern Way Of Life (2012). Watts' readiness to discuss the hallucinogen trip as a spiritual experience in itself, rather than as a metaphor or gateway into something else, offers a useful model in general terms, but there was also a direct, specific influence. What Watts ultimately found in his LSD and psilocybin trips was the notion that life could be approached as purposeless play. As I point out in Psychedelia this phrase comes from John Cage, but Watts appropriated it for his own purposes. What he seems to mean is that the quest into the essence of psychedelic ideation does not produce a distinct answer about existence in the traditional Western scientific sense; it is more like a cat chasing its own tail. Yet there is great joy and stimulation in the psychedelic activities, and Watts finds in this a satisfactory result of the series of trips he took. It could be described as a Taoist-like position, and falls well in line with Watts' overall spiritual orientation.
The phrase 'purposeless play' also works as a bridge across traditions otherwise far apart. As discussed in Psychedelia, the way Watts phrases his conclusion is reminiscent of ideas presented by the German phenomenologist Eugen Fink, who in the notion of 'play' found an acceptable representation of a metaphysical conundrum otherwise out of reach for the human reasoning mind. When engaged in 'play' we are able to come closer to the actual nature of the world than through any other activity, according to Fink.
Further aspects on the matter are discussed in my book, to which I refer for a complete explication of this psychedelic philosophy (or psychedelic phenomenology). Suffice it to say that Watts' book provided me with one of the key pieces when putting together the large psychedelic puzzle presented in Psychedelia. Most appropriately, I was engaged in a discussion about Alan Watts and this very book just the other day, when being interviewed for an upcoming podcast about psychedelic culture.
Alan Watts and The Joyous Cosmology have always been held in high regard among psychedelicists, yet one might argue that its full potential as a canonical work hasn't yet been properly realized. To this end, this new edition from New World Library appears perfectly on cue, beautifully designed and given an updated context in a new introduction by noted psychedelic researcher Daniel Pinchbeck. The original foreword by Tim Leary & Dick Alpert, written when the two were unknown researchers at Harvard Psych, is retained and shows the reader how much, and how little, psychedelic culture has changed in 50 years.
May 14, 2013
Let's Have A Luau
Now Playing: Paul Page
I finally found some spare time to go through and file the stacks of books, records and paraphernalia I've assembled over the past year. One thing that I've only given a cursory look before is this rather wonderful songbook featuring the late, great Paul Page.
There is a paragraph or so in the Psychedelia book devoted to Page, who was one of the most persistent and unswerving visionaries in the field of Exotica. Although he couldn't really sing he wrote plenty of songs paying tribute to the Polynesian islands and the Pacific Ocean, and recorded many of them for his self-released albums, using top-notch Hawaiian session men for backing. Page elegantly solved the problem of his non-vocal ability by adopting a half-spoken, half-sung style much like Eden Ahbez, who may in fact have inspired him. Paul Page has become a cult name among Exotica aficionados today, and rightly so. While no drugs except maybe Coconut Rum were involved, an album such as The Reef Is Calling transports the listener to a beatiful, joyous, inviting place, just like Eden's Island, and like much of the best psychedelia.
Paul Page is also discussed at some length in the Exotica 'Special Feature' in the Acid Archives Second Edition.
May 1, 2013
Psychedelia on the air
Now Playing: Bolder Damn
After connecting with noted writer/researcher Erik Davis a couple of months back, Erik invited me to appear on his recurring radio show on PRN, The Expanding Mind. Together with his co-host we spent an hour discussing the psychedelic experience and psychedelic culture based on topics raised in my book. I am not too experienced with live Q & A situations but I think it came out fairly well. You can hear the whole thing here:
As I mentioned to Erik, some of his writings from the early 2000s had inspired me, since he managed too understand the field of psychedelic research while still analyzing it objectively, a much-needed and surprisingly rare position. Many of you reading this probably already know who Erik is, if not I urge you to check some of his writings out.
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