I was honored to be able to conduct this interview with my friend Patrick Lundborg, who recently passed away on June 11th, 2014. More than anything I think this interview shows what a brilliant, warm, and humorous soul he was, with an unprecedented passion for investigating altered states of consciousness, especially via psychedelics.
Benton Rooks: Your first major work, The Acid Archives, contains expansive reviews of 60’s psychedelic rock and was released in 2006 with considerably favorable reviews. Your new book Psychedelia is also highly acclaimed, and is now known as “the psychedelic bible”. It is one of the first truly “meta-psychedelic” texts, in that it attempts to cover all known etheogens, but also everything from Neoplatonism and Swedenborg to Philip K. Dick, EDM and cyberpunk. What inspired you to be so expansive in your inquiries, in regards to relating the psychedelic experience to history and culture, rather than just concentrating on psychedelics themselves?
Patrick Lundborg: The psychedelic experience and its offspring has always been more than just a drug and its effects to me. I think of it more as a way of life, sprouting tangents that affect what you do and who you are. So for that reason it seemed clear to me that whatever I wrote about Psychedelia, it would be fairly broad in subject. Back in 2010, when the ideas behind this book came together, I set some time aside to figure out what scope I was after and how it could be structured, before the actual writing began. One of my main principles is to avoid repeating the work of others and ‘make it new’ like Ezra Pound says. But this also requires you to know what others have done. Fortunately I had already spent more than 20 years studying the psychedelic canon, making notes and so on. There were still things I needed to catch up on, not least in anthropology and the recent flood of ayahuasca books. As you commit yourself to your reading and engage in a sort of private discussion with these works, you begin to see what areas are already crowded with dozens of writers and researchers. You may also begin to notice a number of topics where there seems to be a shortage of knowledge. A defensive response to this realization is to say “it can’t be very important, then…”. However, in a heterogenous field like Psychedelia, it’s equally possible that no one has had the opportunity to deal with these matters in the past. Obviously it is important, since it keeps popping up in your head!
While preparing the outline of the book, I came upon the idea to treat the psychedelic experience as not just a lifestyle, but a kind of philosophy in the classic sense of Spinoza or Schopenhauer; a paradigm through which other phenomena could be studied and discussed. Developing a psychedelic philosophy, other ideas related to psychedelic culture would surface, small and large. I discarded that which I felt was well-known, and concentrated on the prospects that made sense and had been poorly covered. An example might be the Utopianism that seems to emerge within any long-running psychedelic group, whether it’s Hesse’s “League” in the 1920s, or the back-to-nature hippie communes of the 1970s. The idea of Utopia forms an obvious part of the psychedelic enterprise, yet this was an angle that had only rarely been touched in the acidhead literature. So I read up on that aspect, talked to people who were experts, and added a chapter that discussed the psychedelic thrust towards Utopia, and the hows and whys of that.
Could you tell us about exploring the philosophical implications of what you call the “psychedelicist” and “Innerspace”, and unpack these terms for us a bit?
I do not wish to introduce new terms unless absolutely necessary, and when using familiar terms I usually reference the familiar meaning. By ‘Innerspace’ I mean the place you go when you’re on psychedelic drugs. Nocturnal dreams and tantric meditation have their innerspaces too, which may or may not overlap with hallucinogenic Innerspace. A parallel term is the ‘Otherworld’ of shamans; among tribes using entheogenic plants this realm would be quite close to the Westerner’s Innerspace. If someone wants to reference the world he enters when the neurotransmitters kick in as ‘Otherworld’, I personally prefer that over Terence McKenna’s ‘Hyperspace’, which sounds like something from an old video game. Those who believe that the trip realm is extra-psychic, meaning entirely outside one’s personal consciousness, may object to the intra-psychic implication of ‘Innerspace’.
The ‘psychedelicist’ is a person who explores psychedelic Innerspace. It is any person who has a serious interest in the psychedelic experience, which tends to be most people who ever try these compounds. There are some who drop acid a couple of times, have fun and enjoy it, and then move on with their lives. I’ve always been impressed by that; their inner lives must be very rich when they can so easily integrate what to most people is a major game-changer.
There are a couple of more terms that should be addressed for clarity’s sake. In the Psychedelia book I use the ‘entheogen’ term frequently, but like Ralph Metzner and others I’ve never understood what was wrong with the fine old word ‘psychedelic’. On the contrary, ‘psychedelic’ is very well established and has a cool ring to it, and in recent decades the accurate meaning of the word ‘psychedelic’ has been reclaimed, once the fools in media and marketing lost interest and moved on. I grew up in the 1970s and 80s, and among hip people ‘psychedelic’ always had a positive, mysterious ring to it, even if you were into punk rock or whatever. Hippies weren’t considered cool, but psychedelic drugs almost always were!
I respect the effort and thinking behind the launch of ‘entheogen’, and I find that term useful when referring to plant drugs specifically. I often refer to psilocybian mushrooms, or the chacruna bush or peyote cactus as ‘entheogenic’, but I never refer to LSD-25 as ‘entheogenic’, since it is a semi-synthetic lab drug. Terms like psycho-active and psycho-tropic and hallucinogenic work alright too. Linguistic variation is a necessity when writing a 500-page book. I like the term you suggested too, entheodelic, meaning the manifestation of the godhead inside, if I got it right?
But to me at least, the most important question of terminology concerns the minded presence that the psychedelicist may perceive in the tryptamine realm of Innerspace. What I mean by this is the Voice that you can hear on a solid dose of mushrooms, and which will also signal its presence on ayahuasca, but only rarely on LSD. To me this is among the most important of all identifiable phenomena in the psychedelic experience, as it not only offers communication for you to engage in, but typically also implies that it is, in fact, running the whole Innerspace show. For some reason this is stronger expressed on the tryptamine psychedelics, and I know veteran acidheads who have never encountered it. Not all shroom-heads have felt this presence either, but it seems to be most common there. This cognitive anomaly is what Terence McKenna meant when he was talking about the Logos (see for example the Tree Of Knowledge pt 3 lectures for a clear explanation). Unless you have experienced it, his references may seem vague and mystifying. It seems clear to me that his basic method for acquiring psychedelic wisdom was to do big doses of psilocybin and then maintain long dialogues with this voice talking in his head, this Logos.
It’s important to understand that it’s not like a “thought” voice, but a very real-sounding, calm, mature voice speaking somehow both outside and inside your head. It comes across fairly similar to HAL 9000, the computer in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. In my Psychedelia book I refer to a study made of dozens of people who had this experience on psilocybin, and the overlap in their descriptions of the voice was remarkably consistent and similar to my own. On ayahuasca the form of communication is more varied and not necessarily a dialogue, since instructions may come in various visionary forms, from forest queens or trios of angels or ghosts of elder shamans, but the presence of an alien, communicating spiritual force is as undeniable there as it is on shrooms. Having something else with you inside Innerspace will freak some people out, which is why I always advocate starting with minor doses of LSD before getting into the classic shamanic entheogens.
I don’t care for the word ‘Logos’, which carries with it all kinds of religious and philological baggage. I think McKenna liked it because it sounded like something out of Jung, who was a definite influence on him. But the Logos can mean anything from Heraclitus to John the Evangelist to various occult and alchemical systems, and it is simply stretched too thin reference-wise, to be useful in yet another context. It is also a little deceiving in the sense that the Logos is presumably the outpouring of truth, but even Terence himself stated that you needed to be skeptical and on your toes when receiving presumed wisdom from this talkative guest in your psychedelicized head. Sometimes the voice may just be testing you, you know? Sometimes it’s not really the voice, but one of its little assistants. And so on.
Like others I have found this tryptamine voice to be a useful, stimulating party in conversation, handling matters of both analysis and emotion in the manner of a patriarchic tribal elder. In my book I refer to this voice as the Overseer, which I think gives a good indication of its (as it seems) governing role in one’s spiritual development, and its personality as a mature, stern, but benevolent teacher. Now, who the Overseer actually ‘is’, and whether he represents some supra-conscious brain state reachable only on serotonergic hallucinogens, or actually speaks from another dimension, or if it is a mouthpiece for all knowledge of a genetic past hidden in your unidentified DNA, or some alien who has created your world in the way that humans create Sim City worlds… no one obviously knows. What we can do is to put on our phenomenological glasses and make the trek out into Innerspace, taking notes of all we see and hear, and bring it back to base-line. Slowly ideas will emerge, probably amazing ones. It seems to me that the Overseer should be viewed as vital to our inquiries into Innerspace, rather than some curiosity mentioned only by senior tryptamine heads.
Could you get into the historical background of the Lumber Island Acid Crew, what it is and how you first began to be involved with it? What impact has this art collective had on Psychedelia?
The Lumber Island Acid Crew is a story of its own, but clearly this Stockholm artist collective was and remains an important thing for me. In young adult-hood I think it is vital to find a group of peers to connect with, both socially and creatively. This will help you shed the skin of the less productive games of your teenage years and instead raise your eyes towards the long, wide-open road ahead for you and your own creative potential. When this process involves psychedelic drugs it becomes a particularly powerful experience, not just in terms of the intellectual and spiritual development you go through, but also the strong bonds that build up within your communal group. Having tripped a few times with someone means that you share a special relationship that will always be there, even if you drift apart. A psychedelic group that sticks together for years will take on an almost tribal nature, with its own aesthetics, language, behavioral codes, and so on. It’s held together by those shared trip moments of warmth and radiant beauty and transcendental love. You rarely talk about it—it’s simply there.
I feel that one of Timothy Leary’s more useful slogans is “Find your tribe”. In your late teens and early twenties, that is really what it’s about. Find your tribe—not the one you were forced into in high school, but the real one, the one that makes you grow rather than shrink. As I point out in the Psychedelia book, the communal impulse is very strong among psychedelicists, and given enough time it may develop into full-blown utopianism, or eschatology if the vibes go wrong. The collective trip was there already at the epicenter of our alternative Western culture, with the psychedelic communion at Eleusis. And you can find it described most beautifully in Hesse’s “Journey To The East”, in which he as an ageing man mourns the loss of the magic circle of artist friends and spiritual explorers that he belonged to in younger days. Ken Kesey & the Merry Pranksters are another example with their own unique twist. Or take the 13th Floor Elevators, whose songs “Slip Inside This House” and “Dust” describe the psychedelic tribal lifestyle in an unsurpassed way. Our local gathering here in Stockholm still exists, and almost all of those who got involved in the mid-1980s are highly active in various creative and curatorial projects. I came up with the name the Lumber Island Acid Crew, by the way. “Lumber Island” is a direct translation of “Stock-holm”.
While much attention is given to LSD in your book in the context of psychedelic history, in the later chapters you become particularly focused on the tryptamines as contained in 5-MeO-DMT, Ayahuasca, DMT, and Psilocybin. Could you tell us a bit about the differences and similarities between these profound spiritual medicines, in your experience? What makes the tryptamine phenomena so particularly mysterious?
There are many dozens of pages and even whole chapters about LSD and mescaline/peyote in my book, but I can accept a reading that sees an orientation towards the tryptamine drugs in the overall scope. One reason for this is historical. The pre-WWII psychedelia of the West was exclusively about mescaline, while the 1950s and 60s were all about LSD, so these two drugs are well established since long ago. Moving in to more recent times, there is an underground shift towards tryptamines that began with the mushroom research of the 1970s, and received a considerable boost with the DMT and ayahuasca waves of the past few decades. Although this tryptamine buzz has been going since the late ‘80s, there is still much to research and write about, which you can’t really say about LSD, where the amount of clinical research performed during pre-legislation days was truly massive. I don’t think people today realize how deep the psychiatric community was involved in the ‘50s research into LSD; it was a truly big deal, going hand in hand with the serotonin research. There was also, thanks to Stan Grof, Jean Houston, the Harvard trio and others, a huge rounding-up of case histories and trip reports within the LSD field. And of course, the socio-cultural connection of the ‘60s acid wave has been hammered home endlessly by baby-boomers. So, in short, there isn’t really much left to write about regarding LSD, at least not until we see some significant progress in neurochemical brain research. As for the tryptamines, on the other hand, there are plenty of white spots on the research map, both in clinical, socio-cultural and anecdotal terms. Hopefully my book addresses some of these.
The other and more important reason why there’s so much about the tryptamines in the Psychedelia book is wholly subjective and experiential: the psychoactive properties of psilocybin and dimethyltryptamine are just so damn fascinating! You chew down a few pairs of Cubensis or drink 2 cups of ayahuasca, and go into a realm of Innerspace that is so weird that it makes LSD seem almost normal. There is the sense that something else is in there, in the tryptamine Innerspace. Not just one thing, but several things, maybe a whole carnival. But most of all, as I mentioned above, was this presence of an Overseer. And I am amazed by the intelligence and diligence of this ‘master of ceremonies’, who can produce the most beautiful metaphors you ever saw, multi-layered creations like you could only find in Shakespeare, and it’s important stuff most of it—not always, but most of it seems presented with meaningful intent.
So at least to me, the tryptamines expand the psychedelic polygon that I was familiar with from LSD with some new angles and planes, and it’s all utterly fascinating. For me it’s been mostly about ayahuasca, which has a trip signature which fits me, despite the nausea. I have to work hard to truly ‘see’ the ideas as my visual imagination is rather poor, but when I do catch them they can keep me busy for months afterwards. The mushroom does much of the same, plus it has the special Voice effect that I don’t receive on the DMT brew, but in all I feel slightly more comfortable in the yagé realm of innerspace than in the psilocybin realm. The mushroom can be quite intimidating, and I find it amusing that many Western authorities consider it a slightly weaker hallucinogen—except for pure DMT, I think that high-dose psilocybin may be the most challenging psychedelic trip of the big ones. Odd as it may seem, after all we’ve been through with acid, with all those billions of trips and socio-cultural upheaval, the LSD-oriented phase of modern Psychedelia may have been just an introduction to the deeper and more rewarding returns that await with the major tryptamines. The psychedelic game hasn’t been revived, it has been upgraded.
One of the things I loved about Psychedelia is that it does not attempt to justify the psychedelic experience through the supposedly more “natural” forms of spiritual paths such as yoga and meditation. You really dismantle the false dichotomy between natural and artificial forms of consciousness altering techniques. Your book essentially argues that, in the safe ceremonial setting, especially with high does tryptamines, the psychedelic experience is equivalent to mystical experience, rather than just a “short cut”. Could you tell us a bit more about your thoughts on this?
Right—I have received plenty of response on this topic, so it’s clearly worth discussing. When former acidheads describe how they found what they needed in the church or the temple rather than in the trip, the amount of self-rationalization is difficult to gauge. Why do they even compare these two, radically different fields? The direct spiritual experiences offered within organized religion (which is almost nil in the Abrahamite systems, and tightly controlled in the Eastern systems) can never replace what you experience on a solid ride through hallucinogenic Innerspace. Surely, if you do a formal religious conversion, the main reason must be something other than the sights from your inner travels.
The condescending attitude towards psychedelics among converted Western yogins and sadhaks that you describe is sort of the standard Oregon ashram view that came out of the second wave of modern Psychedelia, meaning the counterculture wave and all those 1960s-70s acidhead hippies. I could agree with their skeptical opinion in the specific sense that the psychedelic drugs will not bring you to some sort of lasting state of religious revelation like that of a saint. But at the same time, the whole perspective is wrong, as it is based on the idea that the purpose of taking psychedelic drugs is to attain nirvana or satori or whatever perfect soteriological (final/revelatory) state you imagine. Who ever decided that was the main purpose? It is a largely meaningless conflation of two different schools; one which is the Eastern religious path, and one which is the path of psychedelic drugs. So I wouldn’t say equivalent as much as incommensurable, another useful 50c word which means ‘impossible to compare’.
What people need to do is stop confusing these two paths. Moksha and nirvana are specific end-states of a specific spiritual advancement that has been developed within a certain culture, a culture moreover which does not seem to have dealt much with psychedelic drugs. People who use hallucinogens do well to imagine quests and states within their spiritual path that are specific to the psychedelic experience, and stop meddling with Buddhism and Hinduism as though there was some shortcut between the two. There isn’t. You can save yourself a bit of time on the Eastern path by taking psychedelic drugs, but after that your work towards nirvana will have to be done within the realm of Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana, as the psychedelics veer off from the Buddhist path at a fairly early stage and set course for their own goals, which are full of colours and visions and very strange experiences. I believe the kind of ‘conclusions’ that a lot of baby-boomers reached concerning their psychedelic trips were merely the natural outcome of an incorrectly defined path. What is needed now and for the future is a Western Shamanism that draws on the spiritual wisdom of several schools to develop techniques, paths and end-states that are unique to the psychedelic compounds.
Regarding the actual contents of the visionary experience, what I’m saying is basically two things. First, since few or none of the Eastern inner traditions emanated from the specific use of serotonergic drugs, attempts to transpose things like the Abdidhamma or most secret Tantra to modern psychedelic trips has been awkward and frequently embarrassing (like The Psychedelic Experience by Leary & Co from 1964). Comparing the mindstream log from a series of psilocybin trips with that from a number of classic dhyana meditation sessions is almost meaningless. The content of the experience is profoundly different and the purpose is outright contradictory; the mushroom trip is about an adventure of the imagination and the gaining of knowledge, while the traditional meditation is about the quieting of the mind towards a state of non-dualistic liberation. I mean, it’s like comparing eating an orange with a stroll in a Summer pasture—there is too little isomorphic basis to draw any parallel.
The other point I make in the book is that the psychedelic experience is a mystical revelation of its own. It doesn’t need to be explained or interpreted through some existing tradition. The psychedelic compound provides its own distinct properties: how the trip evolves, its extremely rich impact on your cerebral processing, the lingering effects on your world-view. This wonder is given to you from nature, and you should let it unfold itself in all its magnificent glory. The tenets and forms surrounding a tryptamine mystery cult should obviously be designed by the experience itself, not by importing learning from poorly related realms. And I think during the third wave of modern Psychedelia, which began around 1980, this important issue was finally being learned. It is where we should have started back in the 1940s, but due to a number of circumstances, it didn’t happen like that.
In recent decades, thanks to the theoretical influence from anthropology and the practical influence from Amazonian drug plant shamanism, we have a good opportunity to develop an original, tailor-made context for our spiritual experiences. The Brazilian hoasca churches are obviously an interesting model, although I think the end result will be somewhat different. Again, we must stay true to the nature of who we are and what we are dealing with. This is a key intention behind my Psychedelia book; to survey the landscape in preparation for a modern-day Eleusis or a Western Shamanism. Our analysis should ultimately lead to synthesis, where we stop studying and begin to create, but like Jack Kerouac said when high on mushrooms, “walking on water wasn’t built in a day”. I would love to see people’s ideas about psychedelic mystery rites for the modern West, not just to support our purposeless play of hedonism, but also for the imparting of knowledge from higher states in peak moments.
Could you talk a bit about the crux of the book’s phenomenological thrust, what you called the Unified Psychedelic Theory (UPT)?
Except when writing formal scientific papers, I think any writer committed to a subject should try and bring a bit of his own creativity to the table, and ‘make it new’ in some way or other. The merits of this may be particularly clear in psychedelic research, where there is room for speculation and free-form intellectual energy. The Unified Psychedelic Theory is presented towards the end of my book rather than at the beginning, which is to signify that one does not have to accept the UPT to find value in the rest of the book. The UPT is a kind of a bonus, if you wish. It combines several independent models and theories also covered in the book to form a unified theory that, more or less, covers the entire psychedelic experience, from the taking of a specific plant drug and its psycho-active effects on brain neuro-chemistry, through the changes in cognitive and emotional processing it causes, and on to visionary peak states and the lingering psychological effects on the psychedelicist. The subsequent socio-cultural effects of tribal bonding, pantheistic ideals and utopian societies are also covered in a more implicit way.
The whole thing is rather complex, particularly the aspects that deal with the concept of neuro-gnostic processing that come from anthropologist Michael Winkelman. In his recent work Shamanism Winkelman presents a detailed theory of alternate states of consciousness that goes further into detail than anything else I’ve seen, and which has several convincing aspects. I encourage the reader to examine Winkelman’s model of brain function and neurotransmitters directly, as it cannot be compressed into a simple phrase or two. Another piece that I used to construct the UPT puzzle is Edmund Husserl’s philosophy of Phenomenology, which remains our best tool for studying the individualistic chaos of the hallucinogenic experience. In fact, Ralph Metzner’s high-lighting of Husserl provided some vital inspiration when I was preparing the Psychedelia manuscript.
Between the strictly empirical mindstream observations of Husserl and the complex psycho-physiological mechanics of Winkelman, the UPT also outlines an experiential model for the classic psychedelic journey. My General Trip Model combines trip models from the 1960s research (Leary, Alpert, Metzner; Masters-Houston; Grof) into a chart that identifies four different levels of psychedelization, where the highest is the transcendental state beyond ego-loss, and the lowest level consists of faint sensory phenomena with no peak experience. I’m hoping this can be accepted as the standard template for the long-acting psychedelic trip, which would be a useful step forward. Finally, the socio-cultural aspects of the Unified Psychedelic Theory are expressed through the definition of four psychedelic core values; these are 1) holism, 2) pantheism, 3) hedonism and 4) utopianism. These are only covered in passing in the Psychedelia book, and discussed more at length in a recent essay I wrote for the Fenris Wolf journal (“Notes Towards The Definition Of A Psychedelic Philosophy”, Fenris Wolf #7). Finally, the evolutionary-historical dimension of the UPT is covered via an alternate panspermic theory explicated in the final chapter of my book, but we will return to this topic in a later question.
In a recent article by Gayle Highpine, Unraveling the Mystery of the Origin of Ayahuasca, Highpine criticizes Jonathan’s Ott’s tryptamine focused way of categorizing ayahuasca and their analogues, and instead favors the vine based brew, relating that the Amazonian tribe Napo Runa call the Ayahuasca vine “the mother of all plants”. Do you have any thoughts on this? In your experiential experience, what are some of the central differences between the traditional ayahuasca brew (B. Caapi and Chacruna/Chaliponga/Mimosa Hostilis) and the ayahuasca analogues?
Ayahuasca is a mystery that we may never see the end of. Not just because of the phytochemical question-marks that still linger to this day, but the nature of the experience itself. Of course, all psychedelic experiences consist of entering the mirror and stepping out into a strange other world, but with ayahuasca there is a sense that the mystery is the dominating attribute. There is an eerie playfulness that I don’t really get with psilocybin, even if these two realms of Innerspace are rather closely located. With that said, my answer to your last question is that I experienced no loss of mystery when trying one of the anahuasca combinations—chacruna + Syrian Rue to be precise. My empirical basis is much too small for any real conclusion, but on a purely anecdotal level I thought the analogue brew produced effects and results entirely comparable with the classic chacruna+B. Caapi brew that I had taken a couple of times.
My enthusiasm for ayahuasca is constantly thwarted by the fact that my visual imagination is fairly weak. When doing tantric meditation, I have difficulties projecting the strong images that you’re supposed to work with. In the ayahuasca space, I am presented with these wonderful metaphors from the ‘Overseer’, but I have to be absolutely totally concentrated to capture these as images seen by the mind’s eye. You want all the details and perspectives for the subsequent analysis of what the ayahuasca showed you, and so the higher the resolution and the brighter the light, the better is your chance of success. I am not sure at all about the indigenous claim of the Caapi vine bringing the ideas and the chacruna (or other DMT source) bringing the light, but I do agree that on some schematic level, there really is a partition of the ayahuasca innerspace vistas into two principles; one is what you see, the other is the clarity with which you see it. To return to your original question, I found that my inner-eye ability seemed slightly weaker than usual when doing the Syrian Rue instead of B. Caapi for MAOI, but it may been purely incidental. I am diligent in following prescribed dosages and preparations, but the explanation here may simply be that I need to increase the Syrian Rue dosage. Of course, this also contradicts the Amazonian idea that the visual clarity has to do with the DMT source rather than the MAOI, but as I mentioned I am not convinced that their perspective is neurochemically accurate.
On a general note, I think it is important that we must continue drinking the brew the way the Amazonian tribes do, no matter how challenging the vine is. There is so much we do not yet know or understand about the ayahuasca world that we need to linger in a phenomenological-empirical mode for some time further. The fact that the shamans insist on the Caapi vine being the main ingredient, the true ayahuasca, simply cannot be brushed aside, even if our microscopes and brain scans tell us that the Chacruna provides all the major action. These people are the experts, that’s what Harner and Narby and the other anthropologists realized, and there is no credible way that we can suddenly dismiss their beliefs in some places. They may of course be wrong, and we may be right in what the Western bio-chemistry tells us, but I do not think we are at the point of making that bold assertion yet. What I do think is coming up, and which may in fact be the key to unlock this particular ayahuasca conundrum, is a concentrated look at THH, Tetrahydroharmine, the third and least understood alkaloid in the harmala trinity. I know others who say the same thing regarding THH, and I hope one of the mainstream research projects currently in progress will be able to open a sidetrack to look more into THH on its own.
Jimmy Weiskopf says in his book Yaje: The New Purgatory that drinking Ayahuasca in the jungle is “full of dangerous forces and the drinker fully enters this other dimension…wouldn’t it be better to isolate the ritual from nature instead of realizing it in the middle of the forest? Yes, in a way, but what would be the point?”
I mention this because in your book you state that it is not necessary to go to Peru or Columbia in order to have a profound experience with Ayahuasca, advocating something that has been criticized lately, which is 1st world, predominantly white or European, “bedroom shamanism.” Of course there are also issues around neo-colonialism and the appropriation of indigenous cultures in general.
But as Richard Meech has recently said, we are all indigenous to the earth, and everyone deserves a chance to find their own path. There are many traditionalists in Aya culture who feel that a shaman is absolutely necessary in the process, and frown upon self initiation for the solitary drinker. Could you talk a bit about shamanism tourism and your thoughts on that?
Having not witnessed it first-hand, I can’t comment too much on the ayahuasca tourism phenomenon. What I have seen on video looked embarassing for both natives and Westerners—“sessions” held in broad daylight in spaces full of on-lookers, while local tribes-people dress up in their most colorful clothes and smile towards strangers. Presumably the brew is getting more diluted every year. Then there is the dark side with the phony shamans, the mind controllers and sexual predators… it’s just a new spin on the old encounter between incompatible cultures. But a few will find what they’re looking for, and their accounts will be different from the bad stories seeping out.
I don’t care particularly either way. I have developed a trans-oceanic fascination with the Amazonian tribes, the entheogenic-shamanic ones in particular. It amazes me that as recently as the mid-1960s, right at the time of the great, second wave of modern Western psychedelia with Haight-Ashbury and the Human Be-In and all, there existed ancient American cultures built around the use of psychedelic drugs, and absolutely no one except a few anthropologists and ethnobotanists knew about it. Imagine if the intelligentsia of Haight-Ashbury had gone on a trek into the Sibundoy Valley back in 1966—imagine what that would have done to the entire late ‘60s hippie culture, when they came home to file report. But almost no one understood the importance of these indigenous societies, or the depth to which strong hallucinogens governed their culture, and instead everything in the West remained fixated on LSD and its rather unexciting background as a lab-grown psychiatric-military research tool. We had to wait until the third phase of Western psychedelization for the shamanic-entheogenic paradigm to play out, and over the past 30 years it has done so most beautifully, from the advocacy of the McKennas and the discovery of Pablo Amaringo to the tribal drug metaphors found in billion dollar movies like The Matrix and Avatar.
Ignoring the bumpy and sometimes poorly synched socio-history, the vital fact is that the tryptamines are here, and the Westerner’s relationship with them has just begun. The reason why I say that I don’t really care about the Iquitos tourist spectacles and phony shamans is because I regard this as the wrong road from the start. Any viable culture that is developed from profound spiritual experiences needs to take the larger cultural matrix into account, or else the threshold will be too high to climb. You can start a-fresh with the tryptamine lore of your and your friend’s experiences, but you need to develop this enclave in a way where there is as little socio-cultural friction with the host society as possible. For a Westerner, this means that you do not import the entire tribal vegetalista belief system that works brilliantly for the Neolithic village in the Amazon. What you do, to make it work, is that you try to develop a Western Shamanism, which draws from a combined understanding of the formidable entheogenic-botanic knowledge of the DMT tribes and their shamanic navigators, and a realization of the visionary strengths of the Western culture in which you grew up and are at home. Our spiritual inheritage is so massive, and a lot of it, like William Blake or Herman Hesse or the Beats, has direct bearing on our higher state experiences. This was a point Albert Hofmann insisted upon in later years—first of all look to your own saints, your own mystics—and he was absolutely right.
Even with the Brazilian hoasca churches, which is a very fine, positive development, the ritual models are so strongly colored by the cultural particularities of their founders and their special paradigms, that I do not think they should be brought to Europe except to work as local branches. The Western man needs to develop his own psychedelic philosophy and rites, and the richer the links to our own cultural history are, the stronger they will grow. We already have an alternate spiritual history, we just need to find our way back into it. Following today’s psychedelic impulse backwards, through the wild ride of the 20th century, back to the Renaissance and the Neoplatonists and the hallucinogenic initiation at Eleusis, the implications of what we as psychedelicists are dealing with become more profound than just getting together to dance on shrooms and forget about tomorrow. It was all there at the Great Temple at Eleusis, in the dawn of Western culture—the psychedelic affirmation of something greater than reality, and the forming of a mystery cult based on this shared experience. We’ve done it before, we can do it again.
Tell us about your theory of pan spermia, and how this relates to the post-Terence McKenna theory of psychedelics and evolution?
The panspermic idea itself isn’t mine, but it may be true that it hasn’t been inserted into a psychedelic evolution theory like this before. Going back to Michael Harner’s legendary yagé trip around 1960, panspermia has been a recurring theme in the deeper realms of tryptamine Innerspace. There are a lot of drug visions about macro-scale evolution in the psychedelic chronicles, and the panspermia theme is probably best understood as part of that topic. It hasn’t been talked about as much as the grand evolutionary visions which kept both Leary and McKenna busy. McKenna did however clearly deal with panspermic issues in some of his vintage psilocybin lectures, while Leary didn’t get into it until the 1970s, with Star-Seed. Shortly put, panspermia has remained an underground theme within psychedelic culture, but it has been there for a long time.
Of course, panspermia as an idea isn’t restricted to hallucinogenic space cadets, but began as a theory among traditional astro-physicists and astronomers such as Fred Hoyle. It is simply the idea that earth was ‘seeded’ long ago by bio-evolutionary matter from another part of the universe. This may have happened simply as an accident, as the result of a meteor crash with some miniscule cellular organism surviving the journey and beginning to interact with the local chemical soup. Or it may have been an intentional act from an unknown power, who wanted to change and shape the infant planet Earth in a certain direction. If this sounds familiar it may be because Hollywood loves panspermia, and you can find it at the thematic core in recent things like Ridley Scott’s Prometheus and Brian De Palma’s Mission To Mars. The most basic form of the theory, which simply suggests that alien matter affected early evolution of organisms on earth, isn’t particularly controversial even if unproven.
As for how this fits into the Psychedelia book and the Unified Psychedelic Theory, I can’t really explain this without quoting my last chapter at length, so I suggest those interested to simply read the book. One point I make that sets it apart from comparable hypotheses is that the influx of alien genomic matter carried with it the potential for evolutionary paths of a higher order than what the local environment, meaning the young Earth, was ready for. So there may have been early expressions in ancient life-forms of abilities that never again existed on earth, but since they provided no advantage in the survival game, they were suppressed and overtaken by cruder but more useful abilities. Is it possible that this potential evolutionary high-road is still in some way operational, but buried in the oldest regions of the brain? Is this the superior realm we enter when high on psychedelic drugs—a suppressed evolutionary sidetrack that can now only be reached when the brain is flooded with neurotransmitters? These are some of the questions I raise, but there are other dimensions to the inquiry as well, and I’m not sure any of this makes sense when taken out of context. If this topic is of interest, read the book and then e-mail me your own theory. Spacey discussions like this are what psychedelicists were put on earth for anyway!