DMT (N, N-dimethyltryptamine) is an incredibly powerful, short-lasting tryptamine psychedelic found naturally in animals, fungi, and a wide variety of plants. DMT experiences are characterized by fantastic visions and breakthrough events, including most interestingly, contact with a range of entities. Among these DMT entities, “machine elves”, or “clockwork elves”, are some of the most well-recognized in the DMT realm, even cross-culturally. In this article, we will take a deep dive into machine elves, and also explore some of the other DMT entities that are commonly reported in DMT trips.
Overview of DMT Entities
Contact with entities is reported in the majority of DMT trip reports in the West, but also in a multitude of non-Western cultures. This ranges from the ancient shamanic traditions of Native Americans to indigenous Australian and African tribes.
In the West, the psychiatrist Rick Strassman was the first to conduct human research with DMT at the University of New Mexico throughout the early 1990s. In the five year study, nearly 400 doses of DMT were given to 60 volunteers. In his book DMT The Spirit Molecule, where he documents these experiences, Strassman writes,
“I was neither intellectually nor emotionally prepared for the frequency with which contact with beings occurred in our studies, nor the often utterly bizarre nature of these experiences.”
Indeed, of the thousand pages of notes taken throughout the course of Strassman’s research, 50% of them involve interactions with DMT entities. Similarly, Philip Mayer collected and analyzed 340 DMT trip reports in 2005. Mayer found that 66% of them (226) referenced independently-existing entities that interact in an intelligent and intentional manner.
According to Strassman, the research subjects described contact with “entities”, “beings”, “aliens”, “guides”, and “helpers”. Contact with “life-forms” such as clowns, reptiles, mantises, bees, spiders, cacti, and stick figures was commonplace among the volunteers as well. Interestingly, the DMT entities appear sentient and autonomous in their behavior, as if denizens of a free-standing, independent reality.
What are Machine Elves and Clockwork Elves?
Machine elves is a term coined by the ethnobotanist, philosopher, and writer Terence Mckenna to describe some of the entities that are encountered in a DMT trip. They’ve come to be known by many names, including “clockwork elves”, “DMT elves”, “fractal elves”, and “tykes” (a word for small child).
In his book Archaic Revival, Mckenna refers to them as “self-transforming machine elves.” In any case, they are inhabitants of the DMT dimension that often try to teach something to whoever is visiting. McKenna frequently resorts to a series of metaphors to describe his experiences with machine elves (and the DMT experience in general), underscoring the difficulty of reducing such ineffable experiences to the lower dimensionality of language.
As detailed in his book True Hallucinations, Mckenna traveled with his brother and some friends to La Chorrera in the Columbian Amazon in search of Oo-koo-he, a DMT-containing plant preparation used by the indigenous people to access the spirit realms. Mckenna found their descriptions of entity contact resembled his own experiences with the machine elves,
“What was eye-catching about the description of this visionary plant preparation was that the Witoto tribe of the Upper Amazon, who alone knew the secret of making it, used it to talk to “little men” and to gain knowledge from them.“
Machine elves are frequently portrayed in trip reports as benevolent, playful, prankish, and sometimes ornery. Generally, they’re reported to greet the visitors with a child-like curiosity and innocence, often continuously changing form and singing immensely complicated objects into existence. They commonly urge the DMT realm visitors to try to focus on what they are showing them, or even want the subject to imitate what they are doing.
Self-Transforming Machine Elves Theory
The DMT experience is certainly married to the cultural context in which the trip happens. There are, however, marked similarities between experiences with machine elves and old folkloric accounts of elves and fairies. These accounts are documented extensively by the anthropologist Walter Evans-Wentz in his 1911 book The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries. The Celtic people of Britain, Ireland, and France largely believed in the existence of hyperdimensional elves and fairies in the early twentieth century, around the time Evans-Wentz recorded his encounters. Traditionally, the Celtic people saw them as spirits of the dead, maintaining some ability to communicate with the living.
In his book, Evans-Wentz claims that the realm containing these little people exists “as a supernormal state of consciousness into which men and women may enter temporarily in dreams, trances, or in various ecstatic conditions.” Along similar lines, perhaps DMT also grants entrance to the realms the Celtic people spoke of more than a century ago.
In the article The Case Against Machine Elves, James Kent approaches the topic of machine elves from a more materialist vantage point. He claims they stem from “an aberration of the brain’s perceptual mechanics” via DMT’s interaction with the serotonin 5-HT2A receptor.
In summary, Kent makes the argument that DMT entity contact and psychedelic visuals may be the result of chaotic visual patterns overlapped with images created from waking dreams. In this way, internal data, rather than extrinsic stimuli, is taken to be the primary workload of our “imaginal workspace” (the mind’s eye).
As for the frequency of the elf meme in the DMT world, Kent says,
“Why is the alien/elf archetype so common to the DMT experience? The only answer I have is that we humans must have innate evolutionary wetware that forces our senses to latch onto any piece of anthropomorphic data that pops into otherwise randomly uniform data.”
These claims rest on the reductionist assumption that the brain is a generator of consciousness and nothing more. In DMT The Spirit Molecule, Rick Strassman proposes that the brain’s relationship to consciousness may be akin to the relationship of a TV set to a TV signal. When given DMT, the brain can now perceive different channels of information that it couldn’t in ordinary waking consciousness (that is, within the narrow frequency of Channel Normal). Understood this way, DMT allows us to peer into something real that is not normally accessible, but perhaps all around us. The spirit molecule may, therefore, be like a piece of technology, not unlike a microscope or telescope.
What do Machine Elves Look Like?
Machine elves can take on many forms depending on the individual. Many experimenters find recalling the precise image of the machine elves can be difficult, due in part to the fact that their energetic shape may continuously transform. However, many artists have depicted fractal-like and mechanical representations of machine elves.
Terence McKenna’s first encounters with machine elves date back to 1965 when he was an undergraduate at Berkeley. In his 1989 book True Hallucinations, Mckenna recounts his initial encounter with machine elves:
“During my own experiences smoking synthesized DMT in Berkeley, I had had the impression of bursting into a space inhabited by merry elfin, self-transforming, machine creatures. Dozens of these friendly fractal entities, looking like self-dribbling Faberge eggs on the rebound, had surrounded me and tried to teach me the lost language of true poetry…”
In the Invisible Landscape, Mckenna describes another personal account with the machine elves, stating they’re like “jeweled self-dribbling basketballs” that “come pounding toward you and they will stop in front of you and vibrate.” All of this he describes as happening in a high-speed mode, like being flooded with thousands of details per second.
Can You Talk with Machine Elves?
According to anecdotal reports, interactions with machine elves can vary dramatically. Communication with machine elves may occur subtly through gesture and movement, but largely it is mental telepathy. The direct thought transference in the DMT realm is often likened to a matrix-style upload of a rapid, unfathomable amount of information.
Machine elf interactions are also commonly described in terms of visual language, where things heard become things seen—a sort of geometric hyperspace synesthesia. The machine elves may use song to communicate, speaking either conceptual thoughts or, as Mckenna has put it, in “translinguistic glossolalia” (i.e. in a nonsensical manner with no clear meaning).
Terence Mckenna describes vocal energy as the prima materia of the DMT realm, where everything is made of the stuff of visible language. According to Mckenna, “It is a language, but not made of words—a language which becomes and which is the things it describes. It is a more perfect archetypal Logos.” Through this medium, they may convey anything, indeed, complicated fractal objects with no chance of being conjured within the narrow bounds of imagination in consensus reality.
As to the nature of these interactions, many trip reports mention machine elves are loving, playful, and benevolent guiding forces, capable of imparting valuable insights. Sometimes they’re indifferent to visitors, playful in a trickster-esque way, and even actively hostile. With respect to the latter, sometimes the intent seems malicious and tormenting, and for others, it amounts to the imparting of hard lessons. This includes being criticized, having mistakes analyzed, and told how to improve as a person.
The psychologist Jennifer A Lyke of Stockton University categorized the nature of interactions with DMT entities in a compiled sample of 149 trip reports from Erowid. Of these 149 reports, she found 180 total entity experiences were reported, and 75% of the reports included a description of at least 1 entity.
She grouped the nature of the interactions as follows, with the relative frequency:
- Showing/teaching guiding (25%)
- No interaction (10%)
- Hostile (10%)
- Warmth (9%)
- Welcoming (9%)
- Reassuring or encouraging (8%)
- Neutrality or observation (7%)
- Playful (4%)
- Power or control (3%)
- Sexual (3%)
- Questioning (3%)
- Unclear interactions (3%)
- Reminding (2%)
- Miscellaneous (2%)
No matter the nature of the interaction, machine elves frequently demonstrate an awareness of those entering the DMT world. They have been reported to warmly welcome DMT travelers. As Terence Mckenna says,
“You burst into this space and they’re saying, “How wonderful that you’re here, you come so rarely! We’re so delighted to see you!”
For others, initial contact is met with indifferent detachment, and sometimes, with surprise or shock as if an unwelcome intruder has arrived. The emotional state of the individual having the experience, determined by set and setting, may play a role in the overall attitude projected by the machine elves.
Other Types of DMT Entities
Researcher Jennifer A Lyke also analyzed the types of entities reported in the DMT realm. In her analysis, she categorized the entities and their frequency as follows:
- Poorly defined/unclear entities (29%)
- Humanoid beings (22%)
- Divine beings (10%)
- Aliens (8%)
- Elves and fairies (7%)
- Animals (6%)
- Geometric objects or machines (6%)
- Voices (4%)
- Faces (4%)
- Miscellaneous entities (3%)
Let’s take a look at some of these other DMT entities in more detail.
Poorly defined entities
According to Lyke, entities may be poorly defined because the person’s experience of the entity was not clearly defined, or they didn’t report it clearly in their trip reports. With respect to the former, some entities don’t appear to conform to a recognizable image at all. The entities may also be hard to describe with language, or difficult to discern visually.
Humanoid beings are a common archetype of the DMT experience. This may include, but certainly not limited to, ordinary humans, shadow people, hooded figures, clowns, goblins, ancestors, cartoon-like entities, stick figures, light beings, elementals, and shamans. Some trip reports mention entities that have manifested as deceased loved ones or family members. Often, they’re seen as “guides” or helpers” giving teaching lessons.
Contact with all-powerful supreme beings or the source of all creation, The Godhead, is commonly reported in DMT trips. Individuals also report seeing Gaia (Mother Earth), demigods, goddesses, demons, angels, souls, spiritual elders, and religious figures like Buddha, Jesus Christ, Krishna, and Muhammad.
Entity contact with aliens typically coincides with experiences of being experimented on by probes, implants, or surgeries in futuristic settings. Encounters may fit science-fiction-like descriptions of Grey aliens, Blue aliens, Pleiadians, Arcturians, as well as anthropomorphic reptilians and insectoids.
Many animals have been reported in DMT trips, and it appears to be a common theme in ayahuasca experiences. Common animals reported include reptiles, mantises, bees, spiders, felines, jellyfish, and insects. According to trip reports, creatures may not always carry direct messages for the visitors, and some, like reptiles and spiders, may evoke apprehension.
Geometric objects or machines
Going off trip reports, individuals have described conscious inanimate machines, mechanoids, androids, biomechanical intelligence, and robots, to name a few. Geometric objects may present as giant, multi-colored undulating spheres or other shapes, or more generally, morphing multi-colored, fractal-like structures of various textures.
Are DMT Entities Real?
The ontological status of DMT entities has been debated by scientists, philosophers, theologians, and psychonauts for decades. In short, it is an open question whether the DMT realm and its entities exist outside of human consciousness or are a product of human consciousness.
Many individuals who’ve had entity contact report the experience as being more real than real, the furthest thing from a mind-altered hallucination. That is to say, the person in the thralls of a DMT experience feels the same mentally, allowing the experimenter to keep who they are, only propelled into an entirely different reality. Mckenna notes an effect of this:
“Is there risk to DMT? It sounds so intense. Is it dangerous?” The answer is: “Yes, it’s tremendously dangerous; the danger is the possibility of death by astonishment!”
The lucidity of these experiences coupled with the high degree of correspondence between peoples’ experiences intuitively generates the idea of alternate realities inhabited by independently-existing intelligent entities. Terence Mckenna believed in the independent existence of these entities, claiming the alternate realities form an “ecology of souls” within a “raging universe of active intelligence that is transhuman, hyperdimensional, and extremely alien.”
Even with Strassman’s hard scientific background, he was forced to seriously examine his materialist assumptions on the nature of reality after his DMT studies. One of Strassman’s volunteers in the DMT study, Jeremiah, reported how unbelievably free-standing and durable his experience in the DMT realm was:
“DMT has shown me the reality that there is an infinite variation on reality. There is a real possibility of adjacent dimensions. It may not be so simple as there are alien planets with their own societies. This is too proximal. It’s not like some kind of drug. It’s more like an experience of a new technology than a drug. You can choose to attend to this or not. It will continue to progress without you paying attention. You return not to where you left off, but to where things have gone since you left. It’s not a hallucination, but an observation. When I’m there, I’m not intoxicated. I’m lucid and sober:”
From a more materialist vantage point, it’s possible that DMT entities are symbolic manifestations of the unconscious mind. In this case, their appearance and how the interactions unfold may in part be determined by the psychological and spiritual development of the person having the experience. In addition, various cultural factors may be in play, which could determine the idiosyncrasies of the experience. In a 1990 workshop, Terence Mckenna describes the cultural lens offered to the DMT experience:
“I took this stuff to Tibetans, to the Amazon. I gave it to Tibetans, they said “this is the lesser lights, the lesser lights of the Bardo. You cannot go further into the Bardo and return. This takes you as far as you can go.” When I gave it to shamans in the Amazon, they said “It’s strong – but this is, these are the ancestors. These are the spirits that we work with. These are ancestor souls. We know this place.”
Are Machine Elves Aliens?
Many psychonauts who have experienced the DMT realm and its inhabitants first-hand believe machine elves are real but inhabit another dimension, a plane of existence only accessible through DMT or other altered states. Of course, there is no way to objectively verify this, given that the only data available is the subjective DMT experience.
Regardless, a recurring theme in DMT entity contact circles around being tested, probed, and instructed, usually in highly advanced futuristic settings. In light of reports like these, Strassman hypothesizes that endogenous DMT release from the pineal gland could account for alien abduction experiences.
Some psychonauts believe the visions are subjective evidence of highly advanced extraterrestrial intelligence, perhaps genetically-engineered advanced humans of the far future who are attempting to influence the current destiny of humanity.
According to Terence Mckenna’s thought-provoking and humorous take on this topic:
“If an extraterrestrial wanted to interact with a human society, and it had ethics that forbade it from landing trillion ton beryllium ships on the United Nations plaza – in other words if it were subtle – I can see hiding yourself inside a shamanic intoxication. You would say ‘let’s analyze these people, okay they’re kinda hard-headed rationalists, except they have this phenomenon called “getting loaded” and when they get loaded they accept whatever happens to them. So let’s hide inside the load and we’ll talk to them from there and they’ll never realize that we’re of a different status than pink elephants…”
Is DMT a chemical key that engages certain “programs” in the brain, programs left by an alien species for our development? As David Luke points out in the book DMT Dialogues, “Certainly there are many examples of dreams and psychedelic visions that have given rise to innovation, advanced creativity, and discovery.”
Resources about DMT Entities and Experiences
Rick Strassman and The Spirit Molecule Movie
DMT The Spirit Molecule is a 2010 documentary that overviews DMT from a multidisciplinary perspective, incorporating ethnobotany, modern neuroscience, spirituality, and more. It explores Dr. Rick Strassman’s DEA-approved human DMT research and the experiences of his volunteers at the University of New Mexico in the early 1990s.