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Rapé, sananga, kambo, psychedelics: Why spiritual seekers seek pain

Recent encounters with a number of shamanic medicines whose most immediate effect is pain and physical discomfort led me to consider the role of pain in the psychedelic healing process.

Shamanic snuff medicine. Rapé.

Shamanic snuff medicine. Rapé.

A shamanic ceremony in which I recently participated included 4 types of medicines: ayahuasca, tobacco, rapé and sananga. While the first two are probably known to most readers (though some might be unfamiliar with consecrated use of tobacco), rapé and sananga seem to necessitate an introduction. Rapé, the better known of the two, is a shamanic snuff medicine. It is blown into the nostril by a practitioner who uses a pipe, causing a sudden burning sensation in the nose and the sinuses, as well as a running nose. Such uncomfortable sensations are followed by a number of supposed benefits. On the most immediate level, the use of the substance is followed by a feeling of clarity in the head and the nasal cavities. Other alleged benefits ascribed to rapé are significantly more dramatic. According to the site “Shamanic Snuff”, for example, rapé use “helps to re-align and open all your chakras, improves your grounding, releases any sickness on physical, emotional, mental and spiritual levels.”

Sharpens visual perception and facilitates night vision. Sananga.

Sharpens visual perception and facilitates night vision. Sananga.

I had known rapé before. The sananga, on the other hand, was entirely new to me. These “sacred” eye drops (colirio) are instilled in the eye by a practitioner, and are said to cause intense burning sensation, an experience which persists for a number of minutes, during which the patient is directed to breathe deeply and into the pain. Sananga is reported to sharpen visual perception and even allow users to experience a sort of infra-red night vision. Again, on the less immediate level there is talk of far more dramatic benefits. Sananga is said to solve a host of eye disease and also burn the inner anger residing in the individual, leading to an intense state of relaxation following the period of pain. The shaman who introduced sananga to me explained that the pain caused by sananga causes the release of endorphins, produced by the body to ease the pain. These endorphins stay in the body after the sananga is gone, leading to a feeling of utmost relaxation.

Personally, I have a strong aversion to sudden intense pain, plus I have ultra-sensitive eyes, so I gave up on sananga without a second though. However, I did have rapé blown into my nose, and I could see some of the appeal of the experience.

Makes you swell like a frog. Kambo frog.

Makes you swell like a frog. Kambo frog.

Having witnessed these two pain related experiences which are sought after by modern day spiritual seekers from within the ayahuasca subculture made me reconsider a third experience which is popular in this subculture and which involves intense pain. Some of the readers might have heard of the kambo frog extract, a medicine based on the venom extracted from the body of the giant tree frog or giant monkey frog and which is inserted into the body of the person being treated, causing extreme bodily discomfort which includes nausea, feebleness, and a dramatic swelling around the head which causes the person to temporarily resemble a frog. In the days following the experience, people report feeling greatly cleansed and invigorated, with some reporting dramatic reduction in the need for sleep and food. And again there is a host of alleged benefits from this profoundly discomforting process, including a reinvigoration of the immune system, detoxification of the liver and the entire digestive system, as well as the curing of a many of diseases from Parkinson to depression.

The protestant work ethic and the psychedelic work ethic

Considering these three phenomena of the rapé, the sananga and the kambo, all of which can be encountered mostly in relation to the milieu of ayahuasca communities, it seems as if a pattern is emerging: a growing popularity of substances which are used to induce pain or physical discomfort of sorts. This phenomena might not be all that new. As often noted by McKenna, alternative techniques for the achievement of altered, visionary states of consciousness traditionally included various types of pain and discomfort such as self-flagellation, self-mutilation, sleep deprivation, and prolonged fasting. Yet the question remains, why? Why do spiritual seekers seem so keen on experiences involving intense pain or discomfort?

rape4

Before we try and answer this question, it should be noted that the experience of pain and discomfort can be seen as an inherent part of the psychedelic experience in general , and not just in rapé, sananga and kambo. Some kind and degree of discomfort is invariably related to most types of purging psychedelic experiences. The degree to which the ingestion a plant hallucinogen is followed by the feeling of purging is generally dependent upon the degree of discomfort that is involved in its use. Ayahuasca, Peyote and even magic mushrooms, are notoriously known for their foul taste, and for the intense bodily (and mental) discomfort they cause, which commonly includes nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, among other phenomena. Yet these plant psychedelics leave their users feeling purged and cleansed. Even synthetic psychedelics such as LSD often include a degree of bodily discomfort, and can feel purging to some degree. MDMA, on the other hand, is all joy and love with very little pain or discomfort, which is perhaps the reason why it has no purging effect. In fact, an intense MDMA experience is all too often accompanied by a devastating bummer or down.

A person receiving kambo venom.

A person receiving kambo venom.

Experiencing difficulty and illness to their fullness is an essential element of the psychedelic voyage. Such difficulty and illness can take both bodily as well as mental form, and its expression reaches its peak in death/rebirth experiences, in which the individual must die in order to be reborn again. Death as the ultimate form of illness leading to rebirth as the ultimate form of cleanse.

It almost seems as if the psychedelic experience and perhaps the visionary experience in general have some kind of protestant ethic which is supported by the body and the nervous system. Drugs which only make you feel good, but don’t challenge you, like cocaine, heroin and speed, also precipitate a down which occurs once the drug is out of the nervous system, and are also the ones that make you addicted. By contrast, drugs whose use involves a great degree of physical discomfort, such as the natural psychedelics, are non-toxic, non-addictive and leave you feeling purged. No pain, no gain. It’s also almost as if psychedelic use supports a kind of spiritual protestant work ethic in which one has to suffer in order to rise and soar.

Are ski-lifts an illegitimate shortcut or just another way to get to the top of the mountain?

Are ski-lifts an illegitimate shortcut or just another way to get to the top of the mountain?

This is particularly ironic and interesting since the protestant work ethic was one of the major reasons why people in the west came to distrust psychedelics in the first place. During the 1960s psychedelic controversy, psychedelics were often portrayed as “cheap thrills”, thrills that get their users to a state of “instant nirvana” too easily, without having earned it honestly. Participators in the psychedelic debate such as Timothy Leary and Sidney Cohen used to argue about whether relishing the view from the top of the mountain is the same whether you got there using a ski-lift or after a long a and arduous hike; The top of the mountain being, of course, the mystical experience, arrived at through sustained spiritual work, or through the use of drugs. Cohen maintained that “the mountain climber has sweated and striven against the dangers. His view must be different from the ski lift rider’s because it incorporates the struggle and the triumph.”[1] “The shortcut may get you to the same summit. The view may be the same, but what a difference between the one who sweated and struggled to get there, and the one who rode to the top on the back of a chemical carrier.”[2] Timothy Leary, on his end, insisted that “It’s not a case of either/or, it’s both/and. If you want, you can sweat and suffer hiking today, and you can choose to zoom up tomorrow using technology … all the secrets of life are shortcuts. I think people deserve every revelation they can get.”[3] Does a chemically triggered spiritual experience have the same value as one arrived us through hard, laborious work, and is it even legitimate? Such questions were high on everybody’s mind in the 1960s moral discussion about psychedelics.[4]

The protestant work ethic also played a central part in the social discussion about  psychedelics users. Hippies were accused of being lazy, unproductive, and disruptive of the work ethic. The hippie ethic which replaced work with play was a main object of criticism in papers written by psychiatrists who were concerned that psychedelic use could lead to a “generation of psychedelic dropouts”[5], and worried that psychedelic users would “never be able to gain the lost ground” leading “less productive … lives.”[6]

In my PhD research The Psycho-Social Construction of LSD: How Set and Setting Shaped the American Experience 1950-1970, the issue of the protestant work ethic proved to be the ethical crux of many of the objections to psychedelic use in the 1960s. In many ways, it remains so to this day. Yet, if there is a psychedelic work ethic which can be found in psychedelic use and in psychedelic communities particularly, perhaps protestant ethicists need not be so alarmed. In the Santo Daime church, ayahuasca ceremonies are habitually referred to as “works,” a term which emphasizes that the ceremony demands concentrated effort and dedication on the part of the practitioner. Members of the church “work” with the ayahuasca brew with the purpose of channeling its energy into purposeful, constructive activity. The degree to which the practitioner is able to “work” with the energy lucidly and dedicatedly determines, to a great extent, the benefits to be reaped.

The bodily (and sometimes also mental) discomfort and pain which is involved in many purging and vision-inducing practices seems to be an almost inherent part of the experience. It is not that different from life, really. Jerking our bodies out of their comfortable state of rest and equilibrium is often necessary for transcending our limits and achieving a greater degree of wholeness and well being. Examples can include every day activities such as physical exercise, physical work, or even stressful events (speaking in front of a crowd is one my favorites). It is through the dedication, devotion and intention which one puts into the process of confronting one’s difficulties and challenges, that one is eventually able to transcend them. Protestant work ethicists can rest. Psychedelicists do have a work ethic, it’s just another type of work they do.

 

[1] Sidney M.D. Cohen, The Beyond Within: The LSD Story (New York: Atheneum, 1970), 98.

[2] Richard Alpert and Sidney Cohen, LSD, ed. Lawrence Schiller, PDF Version. Available online., n.d., 44, http://www.scribd.com/doc/9639651/LSD-Richard-Alpert-Sidney-Cohen.

[3] Timothy Leary, Flashbacks, 1st ed. (Los Angeles, CA: Tarcher, 1983), 52.

[4] Finally, what Cohen and Leary both seemed to overlook, to my mind, was that this was not a question of both/and, neither a question of either/or in the sense meant by Cohen. If psychedelics do indeed take you to that final stage of the spiritual road, as Cohen seems to suggest, then one needs to be honest and note that the question is not whether to get there easily on the ski-lift, or more arduously on the hiking trail. Considering the length and difficulty of the spiritual path and the very few who reach its conclusion and achieve the mystical states induced by psychedelics on their own, it should be noted that the vast majority of the population would never reach that summit at the end of the spiritual path without  psychedelics. The choice, in most cases, is not between getting to the top on the ski-lift or getting there hiking. Rather, it is getting there and observing the view after riding the psychedelic ski-lift or never getting there at all.

[5] Donald B. Louria, “Lysergic Acid Diethylamide,” New England Journal of Medicine 278, no. 8 (February 22, 1968): 435–38, doi:10.1056/NEJM196802222780806.

[6] E. Robbins et al., “Implications of Untoward Reactions to Hallucinogens,” Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine 43, no. 11 (November 1967): 994.

Why cannabis if often trickier to handle than major psychedelics

During a recent conversation I had with a leading psychedelic activist, I was surprised when the person suggested that psychedelic legalization wasn’t really that urgent. Actually, it can still wait, the person said. It was cannabis which needed to be the first legal mind-alterant to introduce psychedelic consciousness into the legal marketplace. Since it is easier to handle, and since it is already ubiquitous anyway,  it will serve as a good introduction for the main dish to come later: major psychedelics.

I could see where this person was coming from. Cannabis is considered to offer a mellower experience than the psychedelics, something which is also implied by its designation as a minor psychedelic. Yet my own experience had been fundamentally different. Over the years I have encountered many serious psychonauts who found that for them cannabis is more tricky to handle than major psychedelics. And here’s why. The difficulty which one might encounter with major psychedelic can be of many types, but more often than not it lacks the kind of confusion and incoherent thinking which is common in an overdose of cannabis, and people tend to overdose on cannabis much more than they do on major psychedelics. Moreover, it is easier to handle a psychedelic “overdose” than a cannabis “overdose”.

Before seeking to substantiate these claims, I should explain what I mean when I use the term overdose in relation to major psychedelics and cannabis. One does not usually speak of overdosing in relation to cannabis or psychedelics because psychedelic overdoses are in no way fatal. You cannot die from over-dosing yourself on psychedelics as you can with Alcohol or Heroin. Nevertheless, if one defines overdosing as getting a stronger effect from a substance than one has intended, and than one is able to handle – then those cannot be denied, and are actually something which any dedicated drug user expects (or should expect) to encounter at one stage or another, same as most casual alcohol drinkers expect to experience a hangover at one point or another of their drinking career.

Luckily, by contrast to the normal type of overdose, a psychedelic overdose of the kind is in no way fatal and most serious psychedelic users learn how to avoid them. This can be easily done by measuring your dose, knowing your limits, and designing a safe environment for the experience. Moreover, by contrast to other types of drug overdose, a psychedelic drug overdose can usually be diverted and turned into a fruitful experience, provided that one is in a safe and positive environment. One person’s overdose can become the same person’s transformative trip with the right type of environment and attitude.

However, the situation with cannabis is substantially different. Because people smoke cannabis more casually than psychedelics, and because cannabis is commonly considered easier to handle, the level of attention given to issues of set and setting is significantly lower.

Furthermore, while people tend to consume psychedelics by oral ingestion, a route of administration which delays the effects and makes the onset more gradual, cannabis is habitually consumed by smoking. This difference in the route of administration is decisive. One of the basic principles of psychopharmacology is that the quicker the onset of drug effects, the more addictive a drug becomes. Changing route of administration or the speed or drug onset fundamentally alters patterns of use. After all a quicker more rapid onset of effect is a crucial factor in what makes heroin more addictive than opium and cocaine more addictive than coca leaves. A quicker onset of drug effects creates an association between the ritual of consuming the drug and it’s immediate effect, and causes a craving of repeating that ritual and achieving the rapid kick-effect. This is why many people enjoy smoking cannabis for smoking’s sake, and will continue smoking even after getting the effect they wanted, whereas the same people would not think about eating another cannabis cookie, if they are already feeling the effect of a cookie they ate an hour ago, and then eating another one two hour later. The eat the cookie for the effect, not for the taste – and so their consumption is more proportional to the state of mind they wish to achieve. This is not the case with smoking cannabis, so while many individuals could settle for one or two puffs from a joint made of pure cannabis, knowing to put the boundary is more difficult for most people who relish smoking. This difference makes difficult cannabis experiences way more common than difficult psychedelic experiences. And in certain ways, these are also much more insidious.

Whereas in a bad psychedelic experience one is obviously ill, and the need to lie down and rest is evident,  in a cannabis overdose the individual usually still seems fine  on the outside – from within, however, he or she might be psychologically undermined by growing fear, uncertainty and confusion. Overall, this experience often proves more difficult to recognize, communicate and to handle than overdoses from major psychedelics. It is also much more sneakier and difficult to shake away, which is the reason why many people stop smoking cannabis. Most difficult psychedelic experiences which are handled properly can be resolved in a cathartic manner. A cannabis overdose, on the other hand, lacks that cathartic quality of a psychedelic “overdose”(which often leads to a positive death/rebirth experience). It might lead to interesting ideas, but more often not, it ends with a head ache and excessive mental ruminations.

 

A call for serious cannabis education

The good news is that cannabis overdoses are easy to avoid if one knows one’s limit and smokes accordingly. Cannabis doesn’t have to be more complicated than major psychedelics. It is mostly that way because of the way it is normally being consumed. Because cannabis is habitually consumed by smoking and without the same level of attention to set and setting, difficult psychedelic experiences are significantly more common with cannabis than they are with major psychedelics, and for many people the relationship with cannabis turns out to be more challenging to handle than their relationship with major psychedelics.

The slowly spreading decriminalization and legalization of cannabis is an opportunity for introducing psychedelic mind-alterants into society, but with ever more sophisticated technologies which make it possible to get concentrated THC effects, such as dabbing, it is of the essence that these are accompanied by a realistic vision of the challenges of cannabis smoking, and an education that will teach people about how to use cannabis safely and beneficially.

Six winning psychedelic reality show formats for a legalized age*

survivor2Yesterday I published a new piece on the Daily Psychedelic Video which deals with an intriguing topic: what type of new Reality TV formats might arise when psychedelic legalization comes?

A few of the suggestions included in the article: A Psychedelic Big Brother show in which contestants stay dosed the entirety of the show, an Acid Survivor version and a psychedelic cooking show. Everything is presented in the spirit of humor and wild imagination, of course…

Check it out here.

 

Psychedelics and Nutrition – Carnivorous Cultures vs. Fungal Cultures

One of the positive side effects of psychedelics is their ability to improve one’s nutritional habits. In his book LSD: My Problem Child Albert Hofmann relates how extraordinarily his sense of taste was enhanced after his first LSD trip. The experience of great excitement one gets when biting into carrots or lettuce after a psychedelic experience — sensing their rich sweetness — is tantamount to eating for the first time after six days of fasting. Suddenly, each fruit and vegetable regains its original heavenly taste, as though we are experiencing, for the first time, the real taste of food.

 

Psychedelic Eating

Mushroom_by_devilmaycryubPsychedelic experiences tend to change our relation to food in many other ways. Ayurveda and other spiritual traditions recommend performing a ceremony prior to eating: contemplating the source of your food, and giving thanks to it, for surrendering its vitality and life so that you can live on.

Ayurveda also teaches us to dedicate our full attention to the food we are eating, in a manner befitting the act of sacrifice, while receiving the life of the food: not to talk while eating, not to watch television or read the newspaper; to eat in meditation and in concentration. Mindless eating is a sort of barbarism, like mindless murder.

Psychedelic experiences tend to change our relation to eating in a way parallel to that recommended by a number of spiritual traditions. Devouring food during a psychedelic experience, or shortly thereafter, bestows entirely new dimensions on the act of eating. I remember a special moment when, before consuming a grapefruit, I saw its glowing vivaciousness for the first time. I held it for minutes, which seemed like eternity, fondling it, inhaling its rich scent, feeling it alive and pulsating in my hand. I remember the moment of peeling its skin, which felt almost like a type of defloration — only much enhanced since our intercourse was totally unique, as it would happen only once, and end with our complete and irrevocable unification. The red flesh of the grapefruit was exposed for the first time to the light, and while I stripped away its skin, I intently watched its composition — tens of thousands of miniature succulent fruit pieces interlaced into what seemed like a huge crimson wing, composed of myriad translucent membranes.

That feeling of endless intimacy that I shared with that grapefruit is difficult to describe. I felt as though it was the first time in my life that I was actually seeing what I was putting into my mouth, and this tremendously enhanced the experience of eating.

I ate together with friends, and the act of sharing the food reminded me of the act of grokking, which Robert A. Heinlein so famously describes in his Stranger in a Strange Land. I was not only eating the food, I was becoming one with it. The concept of eating suddenly received its full significance — as a mystical ceremony, an act of uniting, a sacred deed accompanied by the categorical imperative to completely change and give full respect to the food that I eat.

 

Pyschedelic Nutrition

I do not mean to claim that every person who will use psychedelics will change his nutrition. Of course, you can use psychedelics and still eat indiscriminately. One of the common impulses after a psychedelic experience is to run directly to the nearest hamburger stand. You can fall victim to it once, or even for many years, but a serious user of psychedelics will often start receiving messages which call upon him to:

  1. Stop destroying the body with harmful nutrition. — Malignant nutrition is the continuation on a personal level of the ecological pollution caused by the human race.
  1. Stop taking the lives of others. — Develop a moral basis to your nutrition. Start eating consciously — because barbaric eating is the basis of barbaric existence.

Eventually, although many might disagree, the use of psychedelics is — in my eyes — incompatible with eating meat, or to be more exact, with eating the industrial meat grown in cattle concentration camps and consumed today in larger doses than at any other time in our civilization’s history. A person who is in close contact with the mushroom (or other psychedelics) will eventually receive, again and again, that same message which calls upon him to forsake this path. He can ignore it once, twice, or even a hundred times — but with many people, the message will eventually be heard. One stops eating meat or limits meat consumption one way or the other; I have seen this happen many times.

Amusingly, even those opposed to the use of psychedelics are aware, in some distorted way, of their influence on our eating habits. This Anti-LSD film from the sixties tells the story of a girl who takes an LSD trip for the first time and goes to a hot dog stand, ready to voraciously shove a hot dog into her mouth, but after she drowns her hot dog with ketchup and mustard she hears a voice. Suddenly she sees the hotdog as a living creature, and the creature begs her not to eat her and take her life. For the makers of the film, this awakening sensitivity is clear evidence for LSD having driven the poor girl crazy.

 

Carnivorous Cultures and Shroom Cultures

This brings me to the modern meat-addicted consumer society. While the mushrooms ban the eating of meat, carnivorous society bans the eating of mushrooms. Eating meat and eating mushrooms present, so it seems, two mutually exclusive cultural alternatives.

While the psychedelic alternative signifies the potential for a society based on awareness to our body, our ecological surroundings, and our fellow men, the meat society is a society based on:

Destruction of the Body — Eating red meat is, according to many clinical studies, one of the prime factors contributing to cancer, heart problems and many other medical complications.

Ecological Damage – The UN has already declared that the gigantic mass of cattle which is being grown on planet earth, and the great amounts of methane gas emitted by these animals, is one of the chief reasons for global warming.

Economic Damage — Caused by the growing medical expenses needed to take care of millions of meat-stuffed citizens suffering from cancer, heart problems and other medical complications caused by the excessive eating of meat.

Moral Damage — The meat society is based on the mass-killing of life kept in concentration camp conditions. This society, based on sin, cannot help but be a basically violent society — and this is without getting into the more philosophical ideas many spiritual traditions hold regarding the negative effects of meat-eating.

In comparison to the millions who die because of meat eating, there has yet to occur even one case of death which was caused directly by eating mushroom, and while detractors of psychedelics might spread scare stories about people jumping of rooftops, the scientific literature provides evidence that users of psychedelics are not especially prone to psychosis and actually enjoy somewhat better mental health than the general population.

Despite this overwhelming data, our society prohibits psychedelic mushroom eating and allows, or even advocates, the eating of meat. For the carnivorous society which sanctifies the values of war and carnage, the harmonious values of the mushrooms are an intimidating alternative which must be suppressed at any price, because they might raise questions about the entire carnivorous civilization and its values of force and authority.

Eating meat and eating mushrooms are more than just two nutritional options — they are cultural alternatives, different modes of thought: of relating to the body, to nature, to the other. As long as our society chooses to fortify the former by supporting monstrous corporations dedicated to the raising and killing of cattle, and ban the latter with billions of dollars spent on the “war on drugs,” it cannot pretend to be surprised about the bad shape in which our planet and culture find themselves.

 

* A version of this article was previously published in Reality Sandwich.

The American Trip: Set, Setting, and Psychedelics in 20th Century Psychology

This week the new special edition of the MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies) Bulletin appeared. The theme for the new issue is Psychedelics in Psychology and Psychiatry, and it contains an article I wrote, based on my PhD research, which I’m wrapping up these days.

The article mixes the story of 1960s psychedelic research with some technological theory to offer a new perspective on the role of set and setting, in the story of the psychedelic sixties.

To read the “The American Trip: Set, Setting, and Psychedelics in 20th Century Psychology” by Ido Hartogsohn

To read the entire Spring 2013 MAPS Bulletin.

Terence McKenna on Psychedelic Animation

The article  originally appeared in The Daily Psychedelic Videomckenna2

A few months before Terence McKenna passed away, he gave a last interview to countercultural writer and pundit Erik Davis. The interview, which has since gained mythical status can be listened to on YouTube or downloaded as a podcast from the “Psychedelic Salon” website.

Listening to it recently, my attention was caught by the part in which McKenna discusses the metaphysical meaning of animation and the part where he names some of his favorite cartoons. I then searched YouTube to find some of the cartoons he mentions and enjoyed them quite a bit.

What follows is the transcribed section of the interview in which Terence discusses animation and then the actual psychedelic animation videos which Terence mentions in the interview.

Terence McKenna on Psychedelic Animations – From Erik Davis’s last interview with Terence McKenna

“I encourage everybody to think about animation, and think about it in practical terms. To look at objects, and pose these things to themselves as a model of old problems, because out of that will come a language rich enough to support an actual form of human communication that’s been very elusive and maybe never at hand at all.”

“It’s very interesting when you talk to people or listen to people, how many people who take psychedelics have cartoon-like encounters with beings. And you say: Gee, this is weird, cartoons only go back to 1920 or 1915 or something. How weird that an out there technical phenomena could just grab a whole section of human psychology and camp there with that kind of tenacity. And to me that indicates it has an archetypal claim on that territory”

***

“Well, The great genius of Disney… Disney is my idea of – beyond Edison and Ford or anybody  – of what we really mean by an American genius. Because he had mice who wear gloves living inside his head, but he was able to create a mechanical technology to show people these mice. So instead of just being put quietly away by his brother or something like that, he said: “No, no, you don’t understand. Money! This is worth money! If we can show people these glove wearing mice and talking ducks and all this stuff.”

“And then he was a sufficiently American Yankee genius that he saw how to take a flip book and put it on celluloid and do all that. Yeah, I think Disney is a very very far out person. He went to the platonic ideas and came back with baskets full of [???] released them in American towns and cities, and did very well.”

Erik Davis: “Animation is a great place to see the reflection of things that are happening at the culture at large.”

Mckenna: “And certain people take it to incredible Heights. Do you know that animation called “Asparagus”? You should check it out. It’s about 20 – maybe it’s 15-20 years old – but it’s very highly detailed, as realistic as a van Eyck painting, and totally surreal. Also, do you know that one by Sally Cruikshank called “Quasi at the Quackadero”? that’s a DMT extravaganza carnival basically, a cartoon carnival, but a carnival crazy enough to convince you you should go take drugs basically. And Max Fleischer is a genius and all these people.”

Absolute psychedelic genius. Robert Crumb.

Absolute psychedelic genius. Robert Crumb.

Erik Davis: “Fleischer is great. I think Fleischer is the true origin of underground comics. I think you find the most pregnant images of a certain kind of seedy – like the way that Robert Crumb presents a certain kind of seediness – and sort of failure of the bodies and spaces, and yet that’s infused with a kind of like magical eye. So you really have that both in Fleischer. You really have the mania of the Betty Boom but also a certain kind of quotidian, almost proletarian graininess to these characters.”

McKenna: “Yes, it would be very hard to imagine postmodernity without Crumb’s input. I consider him an absolute psychedelic genius. Very few people have had the influence without the karma that crumb had. He basically did all that stuff, sold the drawings and moved to a chateaux in southern France and called it quits. And got away with it.”

Asparagus – Susan Pitt (1979)

Suzan Pitt’s Asparagus was screened together with David Lynch’s “Eraserhead” for two years on the midnight movie circuit. It has a loose plot, lots of phallic imagery and surreal, psychedelic content.

Quasi at the Quackadero – Sally Cruikshank (1975)

 

Quasi at the Quackadero is about two ducks and a pet robot who visit a futuristic psychedelic amusement park in which you can view your thoughts, watch yesterday’s dreams, or go visit the past.

Max Fleischer Videos

 Max Fleischer was one of the leading pioneers of American animation who worked in animation since the 1910s. He invented the Rotroscope technique which has since been used in films such as Waking Life and Scanner Darkly, as well as a number of other animation techniques. Fleischer’s biggest animation stars were Betty Boop, Bimbo and Popeye the Sailorman. A few  of his videos were already featured on the Daily Psychedelic VideoBetty Boop – Ha Ha Ha,  Bimbo’s Initiation and  the Saint James Infirmary Blues in Betty Boop’s Snow White.

Wikipedia says has this to say about Fleischr’s style of animation:

“Fleischer cartoons were very different from Disney cartoons, in concept and in execution. The Fleischer approach was sophisticated, focused on surrealism, dark humor, adult psychological elements and sexuality. The Fleischer milieu was grittier, more urban, sometimes even sordid, often set in squalid tenement apartments with cracked, crumbling plaster and threadbare furnishings. Even the jazz music on Fleischer’s soundtracks was rawer, saucier, more fitting with the unflinching Fleischer look at America’s multicultural scene.”

Below are three short and psychedelic animations by Fleischer Studios. The first one was banned because of the explicit use of nitrous oxide. In the second one, Betty Boop and her partner Bimbo sell a magic potion by the name of “Jippo”, which can cure every malady and cause fantastic transformations. The third one follows Bimbo through his incredible psychic initiation.

Betty Boom – Ha Ha Ha (Nitrous oxide video – Don’t miss the part starting on 4:00)

Betty Boom M.D.

Bimbo’s Initiation

The Psychedelic Dictionary: Psychedelia and Entheogenia

The article was originally published on the Psychedelic Press website.

“Psychedelics” and “Entheogens” are two names for the same group of psychoactive compounds (usually referred to as “psychedelics”). These two terms delineate two very different perspectives on the proper way to use these psychoactive compounds.

Invented the term "Psychedelic". Osmond.

Invented the term “Psychedelic”. Osmond.

“Psychedelic” is a term which was invented by the British psychiatrist Humphry Osmond in 1957, during a correspondence with Aldous Huxley, as the two were trying to find a new designation for the psychopharmacological  group of substances which included compounds such as mescaline, LSD, and the psilocybin (found in magic mushrooms). The new name was supposed to replace terms such as “psychotomimetics” (psychosis-mimicking drugs) or “hallucinogens”, two term which were deemed biased and misleading since they falsely present the type of experiences to be had with psychedelics as pathological or conversely as imaginary and without relation to reality. The etymology of the word “psychedelic” is in the two Greek words: “psyche” (mind) and “delos” (manifesting).

“Entheogenic” is a term whose meaning in Greek is “generating the divine within”. It is used to refer to the same group of substances as “psychedelic”. This term was coined in 1979 by a group of researchers which included prominent figures of psychedelic scholarship such as classicist Carl Ruck, ethnobotanist Richard Evans Schultes and mycologist R. Gordon Wasson. The neologism was introduced due to a general feeling that the term “psychedelic” has become too strongly identified with the excessive drug culture of the 1960s and damages the unbiased discourse about traditional or religious use of “psychedelics” within a shamanic or spiritual context.

Ever since the invention of the term “entheognic”, the two words have come to designate two different approaches in regards to the proper ways to experiment with the same group of plants and molecules. While the first one relates to mostly free-style experimentation, the other relates to experiences in which religious intention plays a fundamental role.[1]

Psychedelia and entheogenia are complementary in many ways. Both are ways to increase our understanding of the universe and of ourselves; To live more fully, to love and to appreciate. And yet, they are both are fundamentally different paths, defined by fundamentally different attitudes and style. For example, many of those who support entheogenic work (i.e. shamanic or ceremonial use of power plants), discourage the “psychedelic” use of such substances as irresponsible and lacking respect. At the same time, many of those who champion the psychedelic approach regard the entheogenic approach to be too ceremonial, maybe even dogmatic, or just prefer to experiment freely without any ceremonial restraints.

In this essay I would like to examine the roots of these two approaches and assert that despite the major differences, these two approaches can actually complement each other, enrich each other, and give birth to a balanced fertile path for the use of psychedelics.

 

The psychedelic element

The psychedelic element is chaotic. Psychedelic use nourishes itself on colorful and often surprising interactions between the drug experience and the external world. These are the qualities which make it so interesting. The psychedelic path is epitomized in the figures of Ken Kesey, Stephen Gaskin and Hunter S. Thompson who turned the hallucinating exploration of reality into a form of art. In its root lies a basic call for psychonautic adventure, for a breathless and sometimes even frightening journey into the visionary worlds of consciousness and the symbolic bowels of the world around.

The iconic psychonaut. Hunter S. Thompson.

The iconic psychonaut. Hunter S. Thompson.

The psychedelic element has a strong relation to liminal states of consciousness, and in this respect those who called the psychedelics “psychotomimetics” or “psychosis-mimicking drugs” were right. This was conceded even by the greatest opponents of the psychotomimetic hypothesis such as Huxley and Leary.[2] However, in contrast to those psychotomimetic scientists who viewed these substances as psychosis mimicking and little else, for Huxley, Osmond, Leary and the other psychedelic researchers, the psychosis-like phenomena which were sometimes part of the psychedelic experience, were of essential meaning, but one to be overcome and transcended. The phenomena also held an important lesson about the nature of madness. As Allan Watts writes in his essay about the psychedelic experience, “The Joyous Cosmology”: “No one is more dangerously insane than one who is sane all the time: he is like a steel bridge without flexibility, and the order of his life is rigid and brittle”. Only the person who understands the meaning of madness, who knows what it means to be insane, can be truly sane. Only the person who understands the depths of insanity can choose sanity in its deepest sense, whereas the sanity of the person who refuses to gaze at insanity is nothing more than a thin and brittle shell under which lies a deep abyss.

 

The Entheogenic Element

The entheogenic element is centered. In contrast to psychedelic experimentation the entheogenic work is ceremonial and focused around prayer, meditation or healing processes. It takes place in a sheltered environment and often with the guidance or company of other experienced voyagers or healers. Thus, entheogenic work tends to be safer than the sometimes chaotic psychedelic experimentation.[3]

Entheogenia is a boot camp for psychedelia. It Is the school in which one learns the discipline. It gives one tools and techniques for work with psychedelics. It strengthens one, teaches proper ways to work with psychedelics, and deepens one’s knowledge of them. It turns them into allies in the sense meant by Castaneda: it gives a person a safe and sacred environment in which he is able to get to know these substances, to know himself, to become firmer and develop knowledge – a knowledge which enables one to be stronger later when he is in the midst of the psychedelic battle, because he has developed firmness, knowledge and power.  

Chaos vs. Order

Psychedelia is characterized by a greater amount of freedom in comparison to entheogenia. Psychedelia allows one to experiment with a wider scope of activities, than the entheogenic ceremony which has a singular and permanent center: to be able to converse with friends,  walk around in nature, write,  read, draw, watch a movie and perhaps also to put yourself in more extreme surroundings such as colorful parties, the streets of the city, or say a circus.

While entheogenia is a focused, takes place in a controlled environment and is characterized by a well-known and regular order (a shamanic ceremony, or a book of hymns such as those used by many contemporary ayahuasca groups and religions) and seeks to avoid unforeseen distractions, psychedelic use is characterized by its openness to unforeseeable elements, sometimes even it chaoticness. The psychedelic path is one in which the magical state of consciousness unleashed by psychedelics is interfaced with the external (and internal) worlds. Psychedelics act as consciousness fermenting agents, as a kind of magnifying/diminishing/distorting glass which transforms colors, sounds, thoughts, ideas, smells, emotions and what not, and which is used to gain a new perspective on the external and internal world to create an immense variety of experiences.

Psychedelia is the DJ who uses up everyday elements and mixes them into exciting new cosmic combinations. It confronts the unknown and synthesizes novel structures of experience with unforeseeable results: eating mushrooms in a park with your friends and achieving new levels of interpersonal intimacy; Going to the cinema after eating a trip to watch a 3D film and enter a parallel world; Visiting the town where you grew up after many years escorted by a molecule which makes you reevaluate your childhood, your roots and who you are. Then maybe even go to the shopping mall under the influence and get shocked but also understand consumer culture on a whole new level.

The psychedelic state is a state of stimulation. We need stimulation, especially when we are immersed in monotonous everyday existence which leads to apathy. The psychedelic wake-up call frees one for the everyday banality of the domesticated consumer-citizen of late capitalism, thus supplying a basis for deep exploration of inner and outer identity, of world and cosmos. However, the stimulation inherent in the psychedelic experience is also its more dangerous aspect: Excessively rapid and violent jolts might unstitch the frail seams of the psyche. Too intensive psychedelic work with not enough intention, rootedness and processing time can lead to the eruption of a crisis.

Entheogenia functions as a balancing and anchoring element for psychedelia. Both are in a sense a kind of yin and yang: opposing forces or paths which complement each other and give those who stride their course a full way of life in balancing the cosmic elements of chaos and order.

Transcendence vs. Immanence

While entheogenia is focused on creating a a connection with the god-light of oneness, to a transcendental experience,[4] psychedelia is aimed at connecting with the divine within the world, with immanence.

The entheogenic experience is a ceremonial experience which turns its gaze towards infinity/the white light/ensof. It’s highest goal (Even though it is not always achieved or even sought after) is the dissolution of the ego and it’s boundaries and unification with the God/Spirit/the divine through mediation or prayer (Uniomytica). Entheogens act as an accessory to prayer, meditation and healing which allows one to pray or meditate more deeply, powerfully and meaningfully – opening the path to unification with God in a way which is otherwise unavailable to those who are not part of the rare few born with the natural proclivities of mystics, as described by William James in his Varieties of Religious Experience.[5]

The psychedelic experience, in comparison, is more focused in the experience of the world in which we live. It is a re-living, a boosted, enriched re-experience of the things which you already know in the world, and which now gain new meaning and magic. Understanding your relations with a closer person in a new way, understanding art in a new way, relating to nature in a new way, relating to your body in a new way, relating to yourself in a new way. Psychedelia allows one to see every aspect of reality with fresh eyes. It allows one to inject deeper knowledge and imagination into the everyday life in ways which can foster growth.

While the entheogenic experience is often focused in the relation with the unity of things, the psychedelic experience is often related to the experience of the many. Whereas the entheogenic experience is basically a spiritual experience, the psychedelic experience is to a great extent a cultural experience.[6]

The Golden Path

Some people will always prefer psychedelic experiences over entheogenic rituals, while others  will feel the opposite way. These differences are to a great extent the result of differences in temperament and style. Psychedelic people are often wilder, more anarchic  in nature, less discriminating about using chemicals and non-psychedelic drugs and will demand a more spontaneous, flexible relation to the drug experience. Entheogenic people, in contrast often tend to have a more rooted style of life, with a more structured and regular form of spirituality, and are guided by firm principles about the proper way to use entheogens (which they will never call drugs, but “medicines”). In a way, one could say that psychedelia represents the secular, cultural aspects of the drug experience while entheogenia represents the spiritual aspects.

From my personal perspective it is recommendable for any psychedelic person to explore the entheognic world at some stage in his life (given the opportunity to do entheogenic work with honest experienced people). The entheogenic element is to my mind crucial in preventing the banalization of the psychedelic experience, which might become repetitive and aimless without the clear line supplied by entheogenia. The entheogenic element functions as a balancing force which guards one from the too violent jolts and shakes which sometimes occur due to intensive psychedelic use.

It is hard for me to say whether it is recommendable for every entheogenic person to explore the psychedelic path. While a psychedelic person would normally have no basic principals which prohibit from participating in an entheogenic experience, the religious character of entheogenia sometimes prohibits “recreational use” of psychedelics. The use of power plants for non explicitly religious purposes might seem as sacrilege. Maria Sabina, the legendary shaman who led Gordon Wasson on his first mushroom experience in the Mexican Oaxaca mountains in Mexico in 1955 claimed that after the westerns flocked the area in search of the mushrooms, the mushrooms had lost their power. This can be a valid reason to make a distinction and avoid using a plant with whom we work ritually for recreational purposes. The entheogenic approach to the sacred power plants is imbued with so much delicacy, love and awe that it is worthy of protecting. Truly sacred values, ideas and objects are so rare in this chaotic postmodern world in which we live, that preserving them demands a devout relationship of love and respect, so that they remain this way. For this reason for example many of those who drink Ayahuasca in ceremonial setting would never drink it at home, even though they might do that with mushrooms.[7] However, in my opinion the importance of spiritual work does not categorically negate the validity and importance of the wild psychedelic experience in the style of Kesey, Gaskin and Hunter S. Thompson. That kind of idea, although it might be more politically acceptable, actually ushers in a kind of psychopharmacological Puritanism which many of the proponents of the psychedelic experience such as Leary and McKenna warned us against.[8] And anyway, it is clear than many people have a deep-felt need for both aspects.

***

Imagined the psychedelic-entheogenic revolution. Allen Ginsberg.

Imagined the psychedelic-entheogenic revolution. Allen Ginsberg.

The idea that the psychedelic and entheogenic paths can and should exist side by side is not new. It has been around ever since that historical moment when Allen Ginsberg, the first seer of the psychedelic revolution of the sixties had his first mushroom trip in December 1960. I will close the essay by citing from Timothy Leary’s first (of many) autobiography “High Priest” which describes the original psychedelic vision which Ginsberg had on that day. In a reality where the two schools of psychedelia and entheogenia often seem disconnected or at odds with each other, it is worth going back to the innocence and lucidity of the original vision received by Ginberg:

“And then we started planning the psychedelic revolution. Allen wanted everyone to have the mushrooms. Who has the right to keep them from someone else? And there should be freedom for all sorts of rituals, too. The doctors could have them and there should be Curanderos, and all sorts of good new holy rituals that could be developed and ministers have to be involved. Although the church is naturally and automatically opposed to mushroom visions, still the experience is basically religious and some ministers would see it and start using them. But with all these groups and organizations and new rituals there still had to be room for the single, lone, unattached, non-groupy individual to take the mushrooms and go off and follow this own rituals – brood big cosmic thoughts by the sea or roam through the streets of New York, high and restless, thinking poetry, and writers and poets and artists to work out whatever they were working out.” (Timothy Leary. High Priest. P. 25).


[1] It is important to note that the distinction presented here  between these two terms is not as clear cut in the discourse of today’s psychedelic community, and many might use these two terms interchangeably. Also, the word “psychedelic” was used for both meanings in the psychedelic discourse of the sixties, before the invention of the term “entheogenic”. The distinction between “psychedelic” and “entheogenic” presented here is a meant to highlight a basic principle in the discourse of psychonautics, based on the common use of these terms in contemporary psychededelic/entheogenic discourse.

[2] See for example Leary, Metzner & Alpert. The Psychedelic Experience. p. 24.

[3] The number of psychedelic casualties is significantly smaller (up to almost non-existent) in native societies which use these plants traditionally as well as in contemporary ayahuasca religions when compared with recreational psychedelic users.

[4] Even though it has pronounced immanent aspects, in as much as man finds the divine within.

[5] Some mystics can of course achieve entheogenic levels of awareness without entheogenic means. Also, peak experiences which resemble psychedelic peak experiences might happen at certain points in a person’s life such as when falling in love, in the birth of a first child or after 40 hours without sleep. Such experiences however happen very rarely and unexpectedly for most people, and as the late McKenna used to say, psychedelics are the only way we know that allows us to access these states of consciousness quickly, reliably and in a way which can be empirically recreated, with the smallest risk in comparison to other techniques used throughout history.

[6] That is. It can also be cultural, but it will most often also include cultural elements.

[7] Of course respecting and protecting the sacredness of your power plant is a delicate matter even when one partakes solely in entheogenic work.

[8] See for example Paul Krassner’s interview with Leary, published in Leary’s “Politics of Experience”, where Krassner charges Leary that his campaign for the religious use to psychedelia has neglected the rights of all those who simply want “to get high”. Leary defends himself there, proclaiming the right to get high without any particular agenda or ideology to be a basic human right.