The Entheogenic Impulse: An Artist's Viewpoint

I have always loved getting high. Maybe it is because I am a Gemini, or perhaps because I am a dragon in the Chinese astrological system--all that smoke coming out of my ears--but I have been altering my consciousness in various different ways for the last 40 years.

When I first came across hashish in Zahedan, an Iranian border town, in the late fifties, I was surprised to discover that I recognized the odd shift in reality from my early years of model aircraft building. I’d been inadvertently sniffing the glue ever since I was a kid. The half-a-dozen wizened old Arabs, squatting around the enormous water pipe, all roared with laughter as the young Englishman coughed and spluttered. Still, after two good hits I was away, flying over the beat-up town in an ecstasy of freedom. I’d found something that I still value--a plant that has colored most of my adult life.

I say most of my adult life because I still find the soaring clarity of hash a valuable asset, especially for creativity. Whether this would be the case if I had not spent quite long periods abstaining from substances, might go towards explaining why the entheogenic path can be so troublesome. However, I was lucky enough to discover the importance of assimilation periods early in my journey and I think this factor has allowed me to balance the insights and revelations I have received when high, with the pragmatic reality of third-dimensional life.

Knowing this, I have been saddened over the years to watch people as they have plunged into the Nagual sometimes never to return to sanity, or to full operating consciousness. But, I have learned that in the great pilgrimage towards higher intelligence, there are bound to be some casualties and there is little point in being overly sentimental about it.

*******

As Thomas Szasz has shown, entheogens--most particularly power plants, those substances that have the propensity to draw the Divine out from inside us--have long been used by conservative elements in society to demonize their users; to provide scapegoats for the repressed fears and monsters of a more conventional and unexamined life. Yet oddly, any reasonable analysis of history suggests that many or most of the influential voices have belonged to those we would be tempted to label alcoholics or drug addicts.

Possibly the most unfortunate aspect of the current attitude towards psychedelics, apart from the confusion of substances labeled under the rubric of “drugs”, is the blanket of secrecy that has been imposed on users by the criminalization of what are, in most cases, perfectly natural plant medicines. As Brother Daniel, a Rastaman I met in my travels, said about his beloved herb: “How can they outlaw a plant, mun?”

Of course, those who are drawn to experiment with and to explore other forms of consciousness will continue to do this, illegal or not. The whole matter is far too important to be left to the discretion of the straight world. Thus is bred a disdain for the absurdity of the conventional laws of man and a turning to the higher law of God--a law that the more attuned awareness will discover is written in our hearts.

“To be an outlaw, you have to be honest,” said a younger Bob Dylan, and this one quickly finds out in this strange excursion through other realms of beingness. Most ancient cultures, and some fortunate contemporary ones, make sure their members become aware, as they are growing up, that the world is a far more complicated and interesting place than most Western thinking will allow. Lacking the punctuation of initiation in our culture, we blunder into personhood mostly unaware that other worlds and other beings coexist with us in our expanded sensorium.

Isolation has become the motif and theme of life itself. We have become so detached from those aspects of ourselves which respond to other realities that it is often easier to deny the existence of such ways of being than to embark on what is a lifetime exploration of the deeper realms.

My own search started with a real vengeance after I had experienced three or four horror trips on acid. It seems odd to me even now to think that it was those bad trips that got my attention, rather than the more wonderful excursions into the fifth-dimension.

Surprisingly, considering how young and inexperienced I was, I must have known intuitively
that I had some very difficult repressed memories to deal with, although I certainly didn’t truly understand what was happening until many years later when I found that I had effectively dissolved those early imprints through my use of entheogens.

The time was the early sixties and my girlfriend had brought back from New York some sugar cubes neatly wrapped in aluminum foil and soaked in what must have been about five hundred micrograms of the purest Sandoz LSD-25. Apart from the horror trips, which certainly had their value, I had my first real and pronounced encounters with telepathy.

One of these culminated during a late evening in London, towards the end of an acid session in which we actually dared to go outside into the streets--remember, these were the early days. We turned a corner and the next thing I knew I’d fallen into the head of a local policeman on his beat. I knew exactly what he was thinking and feeling. I was looking at the world from out of his eyes. In those few strange moments I also knew that he could sense me there as he started wildly looking all around. I pulled my girlfriend quickly down a side street, both of us giggling uncontrollably, while we tried to cool out and take stock of this astonishing situation. I had no doubt that I’d touched into the policeman’s consciousness in some way that I’d never felt before. It wasn’t that I’d picked up on his thoughts exactly, as the concept of telepathy implies, but that I felt like I had become him; that I was still me, but that I was him as well. This incident early gave me a clue as to the real nature of telepathy and one which was to prove most helpful in my later encounters with telepathic non-human intelligences.

When the acid ran out, as chance would have it, I met an odd man called Michael Hollingshead, who always seemed to have a ready supply. A pot-bellied elf of a man, he appeared to be dedicated to turning on the best and the brightest of what was soon to become swinging London. Mick Jagger, I remember only because of his later fame, rolling hash joints on his knee while fighting to keep Michael’s cat from jumping all over him; and Michael’s missionary zeal and how he’d been able to score ten thousand hits of pure LSD--he kept them in his famous mayonnaise jar, mixed with powdered sugar and distilled water. No one was ever quite sure of the dosage, but it didn’t seem to matter much at the time.

*******

I was to find out many years later that it was Michael Hollingshead who first introduced Dr. Timothy Leary to LSD.
I had started to study architecture by this time and soon found that among my group of friends were included a number of expat Americans, all somewhat older than myself and who had been involved with the beat scene in New York. Mind expanding drugs were very much in the air.

Into this receptive atmosphere at the local pub, the Queen’s Elm in Chelsea, walked Dr. Dennis. No one ever knew his last name, only that he worked as a professor of organic chemistry at one of London’s universities and not only had a specific interest in entheogens, but had ready access to them when they had not yet been made illegal. Beyond his interest in the chemical structure of these substances, his real penchant was for testing them out on any bold enough to try them. Well, with the drug macho of the young, we needed no extra encouragement.

The thing that was odd to us at the time was that the good doctor never himself took anything. We’d discuss whether it was purely his sense of responsibility or whether he secretly didn’t know what the effects of his concoctions would be, or indeed whether he might have been some sort of psychedelic voyeur--which is very much what he often appeared to look like with an armful of DMT. So he would dose us up, generally half-a-dozen at a time, with intravenous shots of mescaline, DMT, its longer lasting cousin DET, or ibogaine, and then he would sit back and watch our antics.

DMT (dimethyltriptamine) was probably the first of the really powerful substances that I had ever encountered. Its raw intensity, in spite of being short-lived, left acid in another category altogether. And it was a lifetime of revelation different from the hashish I’d bumped into in Iran. The series of experiments with Dr. Dennis brought me up sharply with the realization that something very different indeed was happening just beyond the range of our normally tuned senses.

In fact, if I was to isolate one of the main lines of inquiry that entheogens have generated over the years, it would be in the examination of what our senses hide from us. The Bergsonian concept of the brain as a reducing valve, which has evolved over time to selectively exclude that which is not useful to our immediate survival, has always seemed reasonable to me.

This approach had been explored by Aldous Huxley in his seminal essay ‘The Doors of Perception’ as one way of accounting for the massive sensory onslaught of a full bore psychedelic encounter. It certainly felt so for me, especially in the light of the horror trips I’d been having on the acid. Where did they come from? Whatever could be going on?

DMT, however, didn’t have quite the same effect, most likely due to the rapidity with which the substance came on. There was no time to get stuck in the lower astral, or however I might have tried to explain to myself the horrifying impact of the LSD. With the DMT it was about five seconds from the injection and Blam! I was there. Deep into the utter weirdness of a triptamine trance. Ladders climbing themselves; objects skittering around the room with lives of their own; eyes everywhere and the almost overwhelming sense of being observed from the “ other side”. Not frightening at all, but exquisitely stimulating as the veils between the realities pealed away. I managed to bring back some extraordinary paintings, long lost now in another country, of the visions that fell around all me, but the impulse to try to record these subtle realms in a visual medium has stayed with me all my life.

The urge towards self-healing, largely unconscious at the time, brought me back again and again, however, to the frightful trips I was having with the acid. It was happening even more frequently; I’d be in the middle of a magnificent high when out of nowhere I’d find myself suddenly tumbling down the hideous maw of the Destroyer. It was utterly terrifying. I had no idea where these hellish visions were coming from--or, how to stop them from happening. I would simply sit and shiver through the long night of the soul until the effects wore off. It was both shattering, and yet, in an odd sense, I also felt somehow remade through the experience.

It was this rejuvenation that I felt afterwards that really grabbed my attention. If I was feeling so regenerated after the trip then surely a release of sorts must have been taking place. Much later, with the wisdom of retrospect, I was able to see that these horror shows had been literally baked into my childhood mental/emotional circuitry as a result of having been born into a war. It became gradually clearer to me that the fear engendered by crouching under a table waiting for the German bombs to explode had created paranoid fear circuits in my young mind that would cut into my entheogenized sensorium. I was well into my late forties before I finally rid myself of these fear circuits with the help of ketamine.

Being subject to such intense fear at a very young age, however, produced in me a counter phobia which started as I entered adolescence at an English public school. I apparently feared very little and took a particular delight in attempting to thwart the system. The system, in its turn, was trying to break my spirit and turn me into a company man.

Waking up at 14-years-old, I found myself in what I thought of as a concentration camp. It was a typical upper-class English education. I was beaten formally and unmercifully time and again in what was to become a battle for my will. Apart from the thrashings I was getting from the headmaster and my housemaster, I’d angered one of the senior boys by refusing his sexual advances and thus had his malice to deal with. Demonstrating the savagery of the system, this boy--at the time a rather large 18-year-old--lost control of himself while administering the proverbial six-of-the-best for some trivial offense. Because I refused to cry out he went on and on beating me until finally he had to be pulled off by the other six or eight house monitors, whose job it was to line up formally and observe the ritual. And as such things happen, it was also the last time that I was beaten before I left public school at sixteen and a half. I’d seen behind the mask. I knew too much.

If I have belabored this unpleasant aspect of my past it is because I have been able to see in this the roots of my own violence. This personal craziness surfaced in my mid-twenties and I should say that it was not in any way substance induced. I’d stopped using any drugs for about two years previously. The first time the violence flared was when I was having a bitter row with a woman I was to later marry, when she suddenly attacked me physically from behind with a large metal-edged T-square. I must have redded out because the next thing I knew was that I was coming back into my body and was flailing at her wildly with my fists. I stopped immediately, appalled at what I was doing. But, I knew, in those moments, exactly what it meant to be blinded by anger. I had no idea or memory of what I had done.

Once again, I have entheogens to thank for allowing me to find a path through the imprinting that resulted from the abuse I’d endured at school--although it took all of 25 years to finally master the violence demon and to fully release all the anger and fear literally beaten into me when young. It was entheogens that first brought these issues to my attention and it
was using these substances over the years that has allowed me to come to terms with much of the darkness in my personality.

This example could also serve to illustrate how we as a society have allowed our fears and apprehensions about drugs in general to deprive us of the chance, using entheogens, to explore and to actually deal with, precisely those demons which so evidently ravage our lives. The roots of violence spring directly from childhood abuse of one sort or another. To create a culture of empire builders, cruel hard men, generally, the British knew quite well what they were doing with their harsh child-rearing methods. Among their many properties, entheogens are a God-given way of understanding, and ultimately reprogramming, troublesome emotional and mental imprinting. It is little wonder then that they are so feared and misunderstood by the authorities.

The hardest imprints to ease out of my system turned out to be among the first that I acquired. The terror that I must have gone through as a boy of three and four while the German bombs and doodlebugs dropped on and around our small village in Kent, had created in me what I came to see as a powerfully self-destructive urge. It was as if my child ego took it all personally and assumed that I must have done something terribly wrong, to be punished in this way.

As a consequence, I have observed over the course of my life, how easily and carelessly I have thrown myself away in crucial moments--a kind of desire to go down with the ship. How many times I have avoided success at the last moment by making some idiosyncratic move; the absurd risks I have taken; the foolish acts of self-sacrifice--there were many ways that self-destructive, fear-driven imprint would intrude into my life.

It wasn’t until the late eighties, with the help of vitamin K (ketamine hydrochloride), that I was able to see with a sufficient degree of detachment the impact that this early fear has had on my psyche. It seemed as though every time that I used the vitamin in sufficient dosage to leave my body I would find myself trapped in an intermediary reality in which I perceived everything as being hostile to me. The reality was similar enough to consensus to include those people with whom I was tripping, but I felt as if I was only in contact with their very darkest natures. I felt I’d been plunged into hell. Reality itself would then start closing in on me, all seeming to resolve down to one simple action which I knew would
extricate me from this horrific situation, but for the life of me I could never quite grasp what it was that I was supposed to do. At this point, I would sometimes completely lose it and start rushing around in a full-blown paranoid flare-up. The place was bugged. Everybody was after me. Locked in a Kafka world, once again I was the three-year-old criminal that people were trying to kill.

Fortunately, I was able to grasp that there was something obsessively driven about these flare-ups while they were going on. That was the first glimmer of a breakthrough. This insight also allowed me a certain small degree of objectivity through which I could see the craziness of my thoughts and actions, and to step outside myself. It was as though I could see myself going through these antics that I could have controlled and yet intuitively I knew that I had to act them out; that by bringing the madness out into the open I could finally see it and release it.

Over the next few years I was shown, through the studied use of ketamine, just how these paranoid circuits had developed and how they had colored the course of my life, without my having any idea of what was driving this aspect of my personality. The attacks diminished as my understanding grew, until the time came when I must have reached a catharsis and those entities guiding the process decided that I was ready to receive a meditation and a release technique that finally permitted me to let go of the fears once and for all. Granted the relief was a long time coming, but I don’t think that I could have delved to the bottom of this trauma without the help of entheogens.

I was lucky in that when I started getting high I most often associated the state of mind with creativity. I was studying architecture in London in the late fifties/early sixties when substances of one sort of another first entered my life. Because I had exams to pass and an academic agenda to follow, I would use different drugs to accentuate qualities I needed to accomplish the tasks at hand; uppers for attention to detail; hash for form or spontaneous design possibilities; acid or mescaline for totally new approaches.

This led me to research cybernetics, neurology and optics, which I then applied to a new form of mass entertainment that I’d conceived which was based on shared lucid dreaming. I called the system ‘Hallucorama’ and designed a theater to hold 500 people in computer modulated feedback loops of greater and greater entrancement until the entire audience took off together. It amuses me to think that now, more than 35 years later, my Hallucorama is still waiting to be fully developed and actually brought into reality.

This underlines another aspect of a life lived using entheogenic substances. The collaborative factor. I feel as though I have plucked concepts and ideas from another realm of being and have sought to manifest them on this level. Many times they stay simply as ideas and never reach completion. Sometimes other people carry them out--an idea whose time has come will appear to a number of people independently.

Understanding the creative process in this way, as one of tapping into an alternate realm of beingness, allows the artist access to a steady flow of concepts. Seeing these ideas as not being generated specifically by the human creator can allow a spiritual opening to another dimension which, in turn, lends assurance to the artist that he or she is working in alignment with the higher realms of being. This path also favors humility since the concepts are not generated out of merely egoic concerns.

My own opening to what I have to understand as the fifth-dimension, or the angelic reality, came as a result of a Near Death Experience in 1973. I had not been using entheogens for the previous nine years so the experience was in no way drug-related. Possibly that helped in establishing for me the complete authenticity of other levels of existence. Even though I’d had earlier encounters with them on acid and DMT, these were just hints compared to the fluid beauty and coherence of the NDE.

Any “experts” who dismiss a Near Death Experience as a random firing of neurons under extreme stress, clearly haven’t had one. The dimension in which I found myself after I had left my body was not only real, but it was far more real than the one from which I’d “died”. It was in this state that I first saw the angels; hundreds of them all swaying and singing and making the most beautiful music that I’d ever heard. I also became aware for the first time of my two companion angels as they escorted me through the experience.

As anyone who has had an NDE will confirm, this opportunity to peer behind the veil of existence profoundly changes one’s life. Not only does any fear of death disappear in the realization of the continuity of consciousness, but one emerges with the assurance that life is in fact an orderly affair and that we are all deeply cared for in a way that we can barely comprehend.

More formal work with these entities, who referred to themselves as angels, started for me in the early eighties. A small group of friends with an interest in spiritual affairs had gathered in Toronto, Canada, after an odd phenomenon had began to occur. When we went into meditation together, one of our members would fall into a light trance and there, through him, the angels spoke to us. It was deeply effecting, well grounded and authentic and an encounter which set me off on a pilgrimage of a deeper understanding of these other, yet strangely familiar, intelligences.

As I subsequently came to explore these dimensions further, I found that entheogens could play their part in helping to break through the astral veil separating the worlds. Yet, for me to feel completely comfortable with the reliability of the contacts, it was also vital that I should be able to communicate with these entities in a straight, unaltered state of mind.

Out of all of these encounters, transmissions and meditations emerged a system for making contact with companion (guardian) angels that anyone with the heart for it can use to open their connection with their own celestial companions.
My lifelong interest has been in the nature of consciousness, both human and non-human. Some of my earliest strange interactions were lucid dreams with extraterrestrial beings, before I ever discovered what I’ve come to understand as the inner worlds of the angels. With or without entheogens, my life has felt like an elaborate dance, an extensive series of encounters with what Terence McKenna has called the ‘Other.’

This Other, of course, is the great mystery that draws us all on, whether we know it or not. The mystery is at the very root of our creativity since it represents all that we do not know, but can only garner from ineffable moments of higher awareness. The eternal challenge for the artist is to be able to put into symbols that others might understand, the unspeakable wonder and high weirdness of this Other. Although clearly not the only reason for art, it is certainly one of most long abiding impulses for creative work. Artists, since the earliest cave paintings of Europe and the petroglyphs of the Anasazi, have been trying to peer through the veil to where magic happens. Entheogenically stimulated awareness must have been as dominating an influence for them as it has become for those of us living today. In the cultures that still use these substances they clearly form a very important aspect of life. And, in a perverse way, the staggering sums of money our government is spending on its spurious War on Drugs also demonstrates that our culture recognizes the power of these substances as tools for social change. The Draconian penalties meted out to those whose crime is often merely their desire to alter their consciousness can only be justified by the profound fear that by so doing they will slip out from under the control of the authorities, and that the stern cloak of materialism will be dissolved in the face of the sacred.

Virtually all power plants have local names which represent their sacred or magical nature. This has traditionally been accepted as one of the great gifts of nature, not something to be feared or maligned, but to be used with wisdom and consideration. It is clearly not by trying to eradicate drugs that we will learn to use them wisely.

Entheogens have always been discovered by those curious enough, or have been administered by a shaman or clan elders, as a way of initiating an opening to deeper levels of being. What the neophyte will rapidly discover, as I did when I started out on my entheogenic journey, is that the inner realm of the creative imagination is far more extensive than the outer world of three-dimensional reality.

In our contemporary political and legal climate we are falling foul of one of the very lessons entheogens teach so well; not to externalize onto others what we see as unacceptable or evil, but to learn that all forces, positive and negative, exist within each one of us. By demonizing drugs and drug takers, and by confusing entheogens with other substances of far higher abuse potential, we are perpetuating the scapegoat mentality at the same time as removing some of the very tools which could allow us, individually, to accept the true depth of our responsibilities. We are allowing the fear and ignorance of the so-called moral guardians of society to infantalize us, to deprive us of the God-given means of working our way out of the mess into which we have collectively gotten ourselves.

When the truth, for instance, of the Contra arms-for-cocaine deal finally emerges, it may well demonstrate that both the traffic in, and the criminalization of, drugs was a cynically deliberate way of suppressing the underclass, as well as a way of filling the cells of a rapidly expanding prison industry to their present overflow capacity. There is surely something deeply immoral about a system that locks up such a large proportion of its populace and then develops an industry out of its misfortune.

Decriminalization, when it finally comes, will remove the vast sums of money to be made from illegal drugs; it will lessen the attraction of the forbidden for rebellious teenagers; it will remove the temptation that has so badly corrupted law enforcement on every level; and it will allow those who are drawn to explore altered states of consciousness to make up their own minds as to their appropriate choice and use of substances. If we de-emphasize and de-mystify the whole arena of drug taking, teach the history of their uses and abuses, then perhaps those who have delved these depths will speak out with courage, passing on what they have learned. Drawing on some of the wisdom of the ancients, possibly we could return to entheogenic initiations as a means of instilling a sense of the sacred among our young people. A major dose of pure LSD, some ibogaine, or a session with an ayahuasquero, would be quite enough to straighten out the most recalcitrant adolescent. Making entheogens available to the aged and the dying would bring a dignity and a compassion to what has become a modern nightmare.

As a postscript to the legality issue and a comment on the actual situation regarding entheogens and their uses, I was able to see the hypocritical mess we have allowed to be created at a gathering I attended back in 1984. I’d been invited to a long weekend at a mansion outside San Francisco for what was billed as a get-together of scientists, artists, philosophers and innovative thinkers. There were about 120 of us, drawn from all over America and asked to present our most advanced ideas and theories with the overall hope that this sort of energetic interaction would spark syncretically yet further new understandings.

As might be imagined, it was an eclectic and somewhat unusual mix of people which included some who were at the top of their fields. Scientists, writers and film makers sat and chatted in the manicured grounds before attending the planned gatherings. On the second day the video cameras and tape recorders were turned off and the talk turned to entheogens and the uses to which they have been put. When we were asked who amongst us found psychedelics continuingly valuable, two-thirds of us raised our hands.

*******

The stories that followed made it quite clear that regardless of their current state of illegality, entheogens have entered the creative processes of our culture in a way that can neither be denied, nor can be stopped by prohibition. Enough people are finding therm valuable in their work and their lives that the genii cannot be put back in the bottle. We have to find ways to use these powerful tools wisely, and may it be sooner, rather than later, that the lawmakers wake up to the deep immorality of their current position, as well as the wasted opportunity to use entheogens in a manner that would lead to a true re-enchantment of the land and contribute to a deeper understanding of what it means to be more fully human.

 

Previous | Back to Articles |Next | Printable Format
  © 2003 Timothy Wyllie
 
  *Written under the name of Ronald Cornelius

 

Read this Article for me: