After many decades of being a forbidden topic, research into psychedelic experiences and their possibly beneficial effects is once again blooming. For a fantastic exploration of the topic, check out the documentary Science and Sacraments (embedded above) which "surveys the history of psychedelic research and the current renaissance, focusing on the potential to enhance insight and creativity, foster psychological healing and growth, and catalyze spiritual awakening".
You can grab a hard copy of the documentary on DVD from the Institute of Noetic Sciences.
This beautiful earth that we have,
this gift that the universe has given us
is precious beyond measure,
precious beyond imagination,
and we are part of it
and we must treat it with
love, respect and reverence.
(Creator: Sean Gereson)
It is only the conceit of the scientific and postindustrial societies that allows us to even propound some of the questions that we take to be so important. For instance, the question of contact with extraterrestrials is a kind of red herring premised upon a number of assumptions that a moment's reflection will show are completely false. To search expectantly for a radio signal from an extraterrestrial source is probably as culture bound a presumption as to search the galaxy for a good Italian restaurant. And yet, this has been chosen as the avenue by which it is assumed contact is likely to occur. Meanwhile, there are people all over the world - psychics, shamans, mystics, schizophrenics - whose heads are filled with information, but it has been ruled a priori irrelevant, incoherent, or mad. Only that which is validated through consensus via certain sanctioned instrumentalities will be accepted as a signal. The problem is that we are so inundated by these signals - these other dimensions - that there is a great deal of noise in the circuit.
It is no great accomplishment to hear a voice in the head. The accomplishment is to make sure it is telling the truth, because the demons are of many kinds: "Some are made of ions, some of mind; the ones of ketamine, you'll find, stutter often and are blind." The reaction to these voices is not to kneel in genuflection before a god, because then one will be like Dorothy in her first encounter with Oz. There is no dignity in the universe unless we meet these things on our feet, and that means having an I/Thou relationship. One say to the Other: "You say you are omniscient, omnipresent, or you say you are from Zeta Reticuli. You're long on talk, but what can you show me?" Magicians, people who invoke these things, have always understood that one must go into such encounters with one's wits about oneself.
What does extraterrestrial communication have to do with this family of hallucinogenic compounds I wish to discuss? Simply this: that the unique presentational phenomenology of this family of compounds has been overlooked. Psilocybin, though rare, is the best known of these neglected substances. Psilocybin, in the minds of the uninformed public and in the eyes of the law, is lumped together with LSD and mescaline, when in fact each of these compounds is a phenomenologically defined universe unto itself. Psilocybin and DMT invoke the Logos, although DMT is more intense and more brief in its action. This means that they work directly on the language centers, so that an important aspect of the experience is the interior dialogue. As soon as one discovers this about psilocybin and about tryptamines in general, one must decide whether or not to enter into this dialogue and to try and make sense of the incoming signal. This is what I have attempted.
Link: Tryptamine Hallucinogens and Consciousness, by Terence McKenna
A nice little monologue by Joe Rogan, set to music and images, on how psychedelics and other border experiences offer a means for us to snap out of the routines that have blinded us to the majesty of life, and 'reset' ourselves. (NSFW language warning)
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One of the central plot devices in Frank Herbert's 1965 science-fiction epic Dune is melange - colloquially known as 'spice' - a naturally-occurring drug found only on the planet Arrakis which has numerous positive effects, including heightened awareness, life extension, and prescience. These effects make it the most important commodity in the cosmos, especially as the prescience allows for faster-than-light interstellar starship navigation (and thus trade) by the 'Guild Navigators'. The spice also has other more, deleterious effects, which begin with its addictive properties, a symptom of which is the tinting of the whites and pupils of the eye to a dark shade of blue.
This central theme of Dune has often prompted assocations with psychedelic culture - the mystical-surrealist avant-garde film-maker Alejandro Jodorowsky, who once attempted to make a film based on Dune, said that he "wanted to make a film that would give the people who took LSD at that time the hallucinations that you get with that drug, but without hallucinating". The popular nickname for the strong hallucinogen dimethyl-tryptamine (DMT) - 'spice' - may also have taken some inspiration from the novel.
But it seems the origin of the spice theme actually does have a direct link to the psychedelic experience: in his book Mycelium Running, legendary mycologist Paul Stamets notes that not only was Frank Herbert a talented and innovative mushroom enthusiast, but that the sci-fi author confessed to him that Dune took its inspiration from Herbert's experiences with magic mushrooms:
Frank Herbert, the well-known author of the Dune books, told me his technique for using spores. When I met him in the early 1980s, Frank enjoyed collecting mushrooms on his property near Port Townsend, Washington. An avid mushroom collector, he felt that throwing his less-than-perfcct wild chanterelles into the garbage or compost didn't make sense. Instead, he would put a few weathered chanterelles in a 5-gallon bucket of water, add some salt, and then, after 1 or 2 clavs, pour this spore-mass slurry on the ground at the base of newly planted firs. When he told me chanterelles were glowing from trees not even 10 years old, I couldn't believe it. No one had previously reported chanterelles arising near such young trees, nor had anyone reported them growing as a result of using this method." Of course, it did work for frank, who was simply following nature's lead.
Frank's discovery has now been confirmed in the mushroom industry. It is now known that it's possible to grow many mushrooms using spore slurries from elder mushrooms. Many variables come into play, but in a sense this method is just a variation of what happens when it rains. Water dilutes spores from mushrooms and carries them to new environments. Our responsibility is to make that path easier. Such is the way of nature.
Frank went on to tell me that much of the premise of Dune — the magic spice (spores) that allowed the bending of space (tripping), the giant worms (maggots digesting mushrooms), the eyes of the Freman (the cerulean blue of Psilocybe mushrooms), the mysticism of the female spiritual warriors, the Bene Gesserits (influenced by tales of Maria Sabina and the sacred mushroom cults of Mexico) — came from his perception of the fungal life cycle, and his imagination was stimulated through his experiences with the use of magic mushrooms.
It seems Frank Herbert did indeed 'let the spice flow'!
"Technically, chemistry is the study of matter, but I prefer to see it as the study of change", said the fictional chemist Walter White on the hit television show Breaking Bad. "Electrons change their energy levels. Molecules change their bonds. Elements combine and change into compounds. But that's all of life, right? It's the constant, it's the cycle. It's solution, dissolution. Just over and over and over. It is growth, then decay, then transformation". Walter White's words paint him as much a latter-day alchemist, ruminating on the mysteries of life and metamorphosis, than as the criminal crystal meth technician that he was.
His words also serve as a succinct description of the questions that drove real-life drug chemist, Alexander 'Sasha' Shulgin, who entered the state of physical dissolution at around 5pm on June 2nd, 2014, just a couple of weeks short of his 89th birthday. Shulgin too was fascinated by the study of change - in his case, how the mind and consciousness could be modified so profoundly through interactions with the most nuanced changes to molecules. "I was always interested in how, if you move one carbon atom, for example, on amphetamine, you can change it from being a strong stimulant to a psychedelic," he once told a reporter. "How is it that the difference of one atom produces such a dramatically different result in the human? The answer is, nobody knows."
Shulgin though, was no Walter White. His concern was not with power or making money (so much so that wife Ann once quipped that a little money would have been nice), and for the most part his experiments synthesizing new drugs were done on the right side of the law (he held a Schedule 1 license until 1994). It was always that question, about the change in consciousness produced by chemical modifications, that drove him throughout his life. And as such, the test subject for the synthesized psychedelics that he invented was always, primarily, himself (as well as another willing subject, wife Ann). Their seminal books TiHKAL and PiHKAL ('Tryptamines/Phenethylamines I Have Known and Loved') provide a permanent record of their bio-assay experiments; a typical entry, such as that for the tryptamine DIPT, includes the chemical procedure to synthesize the drug, followed by comments on the qualitative aspects and duration of the experience (18mg: "Wild effects noted in an hour. Remarkable changes in sounds heard"; 250mg: "Shortly after I ingested the substance I heard a spirit say, 'Once in a lifetime.' She encouraged me to believe that I would have more life after the experience. But, there was a feeling of foreboding"). Each entry finished with a personal commentary, which might touch on anything from chemistry notes to possible applications of the drug. Not all experiences were interesting or enjoyable though, as one might expect when experimenting with the effects of newly designed chemicals – the Shulgins suffered, on various occasions, nausea, periods of unconsciousness, and terrifying psychological symptoms.
This combination of precise chemistry skills with the drive to self-experimentation and self-exploration evokes the label of 'alchemist' all too easily. And Sasha Shulgin's physical appearance ... Read More »
With modern Western culture continually spreading throughout the globe, glimpses of fascinating ancient traditions become like jewels when we are lucky enough to observe them. Thankfully, when photographer Asher Svidensky was privileged to watch a 13-year-old huntress in Mongolia using an eagle to catch foxes, he captured the girl and her huge bird for the rest of us to see:
The Kazakhs of the Altai mountain range in western Mongolia are the only people that hunt with golden eagles, and today there are around 400 practising falconers. Ashol-Pan, the daughter of a particularly celebrated hunter, may well be the country's only apprentice huntress.
They hunt in winter, when the temperatures can drop to -40C (-40F). A hunt begins with days of trekking on horseback through snow to a mountain or ridge giving an excellent view of prey for miles around. Hunters generally work in teams. After a fox is spotted, riders charge towards it to flush it into the open, and an eagle is released. If the eagle fails to make a kill, another is released.
Head over to the BBC to see more photographs and read the full story.
Drugs: They're harmful. They're addictive. They're everywhere, and all around you there are peddlers seeking to give them to your kids.
But wait, the drugs I'm referring to are the corporate drugs patented by Big Pharma; the ones your government wants you & your children to be hooked on, in order to numb you into compliance. And if that doesn't keep you sedated enough, there's the sanctioned stimulants - i.e. alcohol, tobacco & caffeine - along with all sorts of sleek consumables promoted by TV ads & flashy billboards; guaranteed to force you into voluntary slavery, until you literally drop out from exhaustion.
On the other hand, the drugs our leaders have been trying to protect us from for the past 40+ years, have been shown through sound scientific trials to have incredible therapeutic benefits, when given to patients under the right conditions. The documentary Neurons to Nirvana explores the healing potential of LSD, MDMA, Psilocybin, Cannabis & Ayahuasca, not only for the treatment of physiological ailments, but also in helping integrate past traumas, and all the psychological wounds which lead many in our society to try filling their internal void with external satisfactors.
What's more, the biggest lesson these plant teachers can instill to the willing seeker, is that Mind, Spirit & Soul are *all* part of the same equation; as such, the imbalance in one would provoke an illness in the other... which might also account why we have brought our world into such state of disarray.
Neurons to Nirvana, directed by Oliver Hockenhull --who was recently interviewed by our good friend Alex Tsakiris on his Skeptiko podcast-- brings together a whole set of 'heayweights' in the fields of Neuroscience and/or Psychedelic research; like ethnopharmacologist Dennis McKenna, addiction expert Dr. Gabor Maté, professor of Psychiatrics & Pediatrics at UCLA Dr. Charles S. Grob, and many others.
On the link NeuronsToNirvana.com you can find a list of all the upcoming screenings worldwide, but if you prefer it you can either order a DVD or stream the film online --you can even send the streaming link as a gift to up to 5 different people; why not send one to your Congressman or elected representative? Maybe that could grease the wheels of change a bit.
If you haven't seen Darren Aronofsky's Noah yet, do yourself a favour and see it. It's copping a lot of criticism from atheists & believers alike, both sides completely missing the point of storytelling and mythology. Allegory isn't that hard to find in the dictionary. It's their loss, Noah is a fantastic movie.
Sir Anthony Hopkins, who plays Noah's grandfather Methuselah, gave this brief but fascinating interview about his approach to playing Methuselah, the film's shamanic themes, & why he gave Noah a hallucinogenic brew to speak with God. I have an inkling Aronofsky's read Persephone's Quest by R Gordon Wasson (Amazon US/UK), and possibly The Holy Mushroom by J.R. Irvin (Amazon US/UK). Professor Benny Shannon suggested a few years back that Moses may have been on a psychedelic trip when he received the Ten Commandments, so the idea of entheogens influencing Judeo-Christian religion has been around for a while. Combining Noah's visions, psychedelic trip, and affinity for all creatures great and small, Aronofsky has certainly built a case for a Biblical shaman.
Russell Crowe drinking a psychedelic beverage when he thought he was getting a nice cup of tea is just one reason why Noah is a lot deeper than just the flood myth (uh, pardon the pun). The film Noah began as a graphic novel (Amazon US/UK), and although both the comic (gorgeously illustrated by Niko Henrichon) and the film follow the Biblical story fairly faithfully, there are enough differences to make them completely different beasts. io9 recently spoke with Aronofsky and co-writer Ari Handel about creating Noah, and why it should appeal to atheists, believers, and everyone in between.
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