I returned recently from the World Psychedelic Forum
in Basel, Switzerland held from March 21-24 this year. It was massive. It was beautifully
organized. A big bookstore. A room dedicated to video presentations art and documentary. 1,900-plus people, from 37 countries attended the four day
event, according to Dieter Hagenbach, of Gaia Media Foundation, organizers of the event. The shift to a psychedelically informed culture is well
Snapshots of the Forum
There were at least four simultaneous tracks of presentations, but you could pick up the ones you missed on DVD hours after they were given. Its worth a look at the program
to see the depth and breadth of topics covered. Uses of psychedelics
beyond the medical and psychiatric applications were covered: cognitive
enhancement, sensory acuity; heart opening; the ecodelic insights and
teaching; creativity, innovation, novelty applied to various
disciplines; problem-solving and its relation to intelligence and
intelligence agents; and aesthetics and art.
Im not even going to attempt to review individual presentations,
beyond a few impressions from my own peculiar viewpoint. Like how funny
Dennis McKenna is in his talks. As droll as Terence was, only with his
own biochemical flavors.
Rick Doblin (founder of M.A.P.S.)
is as persuasive a man as Ive ever heard and keeping up the good cheer
and relentless pursuit of the goal of legitimizing psychedelic research
for this many years is a superhuman feat in itself. Or the grounded
good sense of Mountain Girl, who kept reminding me of Wild West Woman
But the conversations with people synchronistically woven into my
life there lay sheer magic. Speaking with a woman who has been trying
to find the perfect circumstance for taking a psychedelic for the first
time for 30 years, I think she said. Tjalle, a seasoned psychonaut with
her own long history, practicing in Egypt, brought me tales of other
xenolinguists. There was Frank, who understands the birth of new
languages in the psychedelic sphere. And Sita, gateway to the Ayahuasca Convergence 2008. Sara, feisty aerial dancer from Bristol
I gave a presentation in a Rising Researchers session which I was
entirely too worked up about, and ended having to improvise due to tech
troubles. The talk turned into a statement not so much about my work in
Xenolinguistics, but some personal thoughts and feelings. Ive felt
positively squeamish at times, not (only) due to the agoraphobia of
coming out of the nested closets Ive built around the work. The
politics of academic knowledge demand conformity to certain paradigms
that exclude key forms of knowing opened by psychedelics. Subjectivity,
for starters. Transdisciplinarity. Heart knowledge, and how it isnt
necessarily separate from analytical approaches. I question myself,
deeply, every step of the way, as to what I am omitting, what is
unspeakable at the level of academic practice circa the early 21st
century. Or how I am reducing aspects of psychedelic experience to
current paradigms of disciplinary knowledge, to communicate at all, to
be understood, much less to convince.
Its been a rhetorical issue in
part: how much can I shape my material to the available discourses
without losing its essential qualities and meanings? Its an ethical
issue for me, beneath it all. In the quest for acceptance, how to
maintain the passion of the quest? I saw no lack of passion among the
well-known or the rising researchers. And, for myself, a reaffirmation:
the articulation of what I have experienced in this nine year noetic
quest to understand a set of psychedelically informed alien linguistic
signs must, to have a maximum value to myself or others, be
accomplished in a manner which is true to the material being studied,
first and foremost, even if that material exceeds the bounds of current
disciplinary paradigms, and commonly employed methodologies.
What I saw in Basel was a surge of confidence across the entire varied
field of psychedelic studies, above ground and under. Factually, most
have a foot in both worlds. The closing ceremonies were deeply moving.
Jon Hanna played a taped phone call from Casey Hardison,
acid chemist currently in jail in the UK, trying to break into new
legal territory in his own defense. Hanna reminded us of the role
played by the outlaw scientists who provide our sacraments, and our
research materials, and that the vast amount of psychedelic research is
underground. That a few sprouts are being given sanction to grow above
ground, after all these years, is tribute to those who have been
fighting the battles, steadily, for so long. But this growth rests on
To state the obvious how many who are now pursuing
psychedelic research had the life-changing experiences that resulted in
the pursuit of an academically-iffy-at-best career in a legal setting?
And its this vast mycelial underground of personal connections, and
material and information interchange, including technologies of
cultivation, which is now spreading at warp speed. Thanks to the WWW
(mycelial in structure), the super-structures of the blogosphere and
social networking, the power and specific targeting of the search
engines, and the growth of high signal-to-noise repositories of
information such as Erowid, M.A.P.S., and the Council on Spiritual Practices, and the podcasts on Matrixmasters (to name a few), the vital knowledge spreads and connects, filament by filament.
The scheduling of psychoactive substances certainly constricted
research in the field and can be considered a bug in the program. But I
want to suggest that this bug in many cases has been turned into a
feature, forcing creative adaptation of the field in order to survive.
And research, of course, never stopped.
At the end of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,
James Joyce declared, I will tell you what I will do and what I will
not do. I will not serve that in which I no longer believe whether it
call itself my home, my fatherland or my church: and I will try to
express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can, and as
wholly as I can, using for my defense the only arms I allow myself to
use . . . silence, exile, and cunning.
That strategy has paid big dividends in our field. Weve become world
experts at low-cost, DIY, under the radar research, and media
communications. Weve made chemical, horticultural, psychological,
technological, ecological, artistic, and spiritual leaps forward.
Without silence, exile and cunning, and the secret Dublin of the
soul, I would not have accomplished my own research, that noetic quest
to understand an alien language, Glide.
But for me its time to have more speech than silence, which can
involve dreaming up ever more apt and creative ways of coming out of
the closet. Doing this Ph.D. work is one. As far as exile goes it seems
to be basic to the human condition that feeling that Im a stranger in
a strange land, that no one speaks my language, that the experience of
being known at depth is vanishingly rare. The psychedelics have enabled
startling moments of reconciliation of these feelings, across
realities. The immanent paradox of these feelings of exile and
isolation, the homesick longing of the human soul, is that it is a
shared loneliness, a knowledge and a cure found in the boundary
dissolutions weve felt with psychedelics. Then theres cunning I dont
think its time to let go of that one just yet.
At the Forums big panorama sessions, I sat with upwards of a
thousand others, listening to the speakers, and looking around the
audience 20-somethings to 70-somethings. And younger. And older.
[Strikingly absent: faces of color.] I thought about how each of us
held a precious store of knowledge: our own psychedelic life-story.
Mystical revelations. Prat-falls. Dangerous situations and excesses.
Dark and bright traumas. Lessons learned. New knowledge put to use in
art, science, healing, relationships, the living of life in the alembic
of personal transformation dreaming of collective bettering. However we
see ourselves or others on the psychedelic paths of exploration, I
think it all needs to be said. Not just for the record but because it
seems necessary to hear about both the diversity of experiences, and
the even greater diversity of interpretations of those experiences. And
the roles we take on regarding the psychedelic experience. One day, Im
a poor dumb sumbitch trying to integrate supremely discontinuous
states of mind and heart. The next day, Im an ontological engineer
where tinkering meets transformation repeatedly dismantling the ego
really is) and re-configuring it, with a few new strange pieces, and
others gone missing in action forever.
I multiplied my own experience
by the 1,900 people at the Forum in Basel and the whole auditorium
transformed into Ali Babas cave. Wall to wall treasure, waiting to be
told. Stored in secret, obsessive journals, expressed in music and
painting and computer animations, in aerial dancing, in new rituals, in
huge festivals, in computer programs and botanical gardens and hidden
laboratories. Shared perhaps in ones closest psychedelic circle, or to
oneself alone, experimenting solo for years. I know that when others
tell their stories of psychedelic self-exploration, get them into
print, up on the web, self-published, or best-selling, I read them,
every one that crosses my path. I learn from them, deeply. Some stories
end in untimely death. Some in deep peace. Some in fame, jail, Nirvana
or nuthouse. I want to know it all. The protocols and the pitfalls. The
science and the sacred silliness. The recreational, the sacramental,
the practical problem-solving, the healing, the going-native stories,
the high-dose heroics, and the struggles to bring reasonable discourse
into the irrationalities and vested interests of drug policy
I think there is great great value in these narratives of
the long-term development of lives, knowledge, and relationships under
the sun and shadow of psychedelics. Our stories. What does it mean to
live simultaneously in the mythical and the mundane? How will we find
the persons living in adjacent myths, if we dont state our own? What
does it mean to keep faith with a myth while plying a planetside trade,
and keeping the usual planetside muddles of relationships, friends,
families, afloat? How do we build our own models, outside of, but
informed by, the cultures which have been navigating the
transdimensional commute for a long time?
Terence McKenna made the point, many times, that its the content that
is under-represented in our psychedelic discourse. Telling it like it
is. As big, or bizarre, or this changes everything as it may be. Only
when the stories are told, the narratives, unfolding in a single
session, or multiple sessions over a period of months or years, can we
begin to recognize our maps of any given vision, and see the patterns
in the details of the unfolding of longitudinal processes of sequential
visionary states, the personal and interpersonal evolution, across
reality domains. And find the fellow travelers, living in adjacent
I think its worthwhile to give a detailed example of such a myth. In his book, The Cosmic Serpent,
Jeremy Narby re-tells Michael Harners story of his first ayahuasca
journey. This is an extensive quote; the detail is important to my
After multiple episodes, which would be too long to describe here,
Harner became convinced that he was dying. He tried calling out to his
Conibo friends for an antidote without managing to pronounce a word.
Then he saw that his visions emanated from 'giant reptilian creatures'
resting at the lowest depths of his brain. These creatures began
projecting scenes in front of his eyes, while informing him that this
information was reserved for the dying and the dead:
First they showed
me the planet Earth as it was eons ago, before there was any life on
it. I saw an ocean, barren land, and a bright blue sky. Then black
specks dropped from the sky by the hundreds and landed in front of me
on the barren landscape. I could see the specks were actually large,
shiny black creatures with tubby pterodactyl-like wings and huge
whale-like bodies They explained to me in a kind of thought language
that they were fleeing from something out in space. They had come to
the planet earth to escape their enemy. The creatures then showed me
how they had created life on the planet in order to hide within the
multitudinous forms and thus disguise their presence. Before me, the
magnificence of plant and animal creation and speciation hundreds of
millions of years of activity took place on a scale and with a
vividness impossible to describe. I learned that the dragon-like
creatures were thus inside all forms of life, including man.
At this point in his account, Harner writes in a footnote at the bottom
of the page: In retrospect one could say they were almost like DNA,
although at that time, 1961, I knew nothing of DNA.
Narby makes the connections between the ayahuasqueros superior and
detailed plant knowledge, the representations of twined serpents, and
the forms of DNA, finding DNA to be, essentially, minded, intelligent,
and communicating intra-cellularly, inter-cellularly, inter-organism,
and inter-species. Life is a vast, complex, interconnected signaling
system, with DNA as the transceiver, and biophotonic emissions as the
signals, and the sources of at least some aspect of the visions one sees in
psychedelic states. But what about the narrative? The creatures fleeing
an enemy through interstellar space, landing here, creating life-forms
to hide within and disguise their presence?
Having had a similar
vision myself, with a similar narrative attached, on a high-dose
psilocybin journey, what shall I make of this? Who else has had this
particular story emblazoned, full of urgency and amazement, on their
minds in a psychedelic state? How do these similar narratives arise, in
all their detail, independently, under conditions of extreme
consciousness alteration? What does this tell us about how myths arise?
But why? How? And if I repeat this story now, adding my own, as Narby
repeats Harners story will there be other readers who remember some
similar story, who are living in adjacent myths? And how do we then
interpret these events? If DNA not only holds a vast store of
information, linguistically structured, but is also
intelligent minded and connected to the mostly similar DNA in the
highly diverse, complexly related, and deeply nested organisms, across
vast scalar differenceswell, weve arrived at the Gaia hypothesis,
havent we? And/or the noosphere.
So visions present stories, stories
beg for an interpretative framework. But it is the network of
interconnected stories (scientific, visionary) about the network of
interconnected life-forms that reveal this planet as a wonder we take
mostly for granted, a wonder that is restored in psychedelic states.
Our stories are important. The content beyond even such taxonomic triumphs as Shanons Antipodes of the Mind.
The visions, as revealed in single journeys, and developed over many
explorations, form their epic narratives and connect to other stories,
to form the larger narratives. And there is noetic treasure here that
can help us track, and relate, and understand, a little at a time,
these psychedelic experiences, form larger pictures, compare the master
narratives that emerge, compare the models that are being put forth,
share local knowledge, attempt maps.
Whether we frame these changes
that psychedelics are bringing about on individual and cultural domains
as revolution or evolution, whether we characterize them as catalysts,
solvents, sacraments, teachers, alien intelligences, the keys to the
kingdom, or the open sesame to Ali Babas cave, will be part of the
discourse for a long time to come.
Oh and heres a video clip I didnt get to show in Basel. Glide and the I Ching.