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On Psychedelic Aesthetics

The Roots and Future of Psychedelic Visual Media: How Psychedelic Aesthetics Took Over the World.

Originally published on The Daily Psychedelic Video

If one were to judge the state of the psychedelic visual style in 1980, one would probably consider it to be an obsolete fad which receded into the past. Nothing could be further from the truth. Although decades have passed since the psychedelic sixties, psychedelic elements are today deeply integrated into contemporary visual culture from Avatar to videos by Beyonce and Rihanna.

The story of psychedelic visuals did not begin in the 1960s. It is in fact an extremely long tale which stretches from mankind’s prehistorical mystical visions, through the psychedelic revolution of the sixties, to modern consumerist media society and beyond. In order to understand the appeal which the psychedelic visual style holds for our postmodern culture one must get back to the roots of psychedelic aesthetics in the visionary experience.

Huxley’s  analysis of psychedelic aesthetics

“Prenatural light and color are common to all visionary experiences” wrote Aldous Huxley in his Heaven and Hell “and along with light and color there comes in every case, a recognition of heightened significance. The self-luminous objects which we see in the mind’s antipodes possess a meaning, and this meaning is, in some sort, as intense as their colour.”[1]

The origin of intense coloring in the visionary experience. Aldous Huxley.

Visionary experiences has many possible characteristics, but the most common of which, according to Huxley, is the experience of light: “Everything seen by those who visit the mind’s antipodes is brilliantly illuminated and seems to shine from within. All colors are intensified to a pitch far beyond anything seen in the normal state, and at the same time the mind’s capacity for recognizing fine distinctions of tone and hue is notably heightened.”[2]

Huxley’s lengthy discussion about the aesthetics of the visionary and psychedelic experience in Heaven & Hell remains one the most perceptive pieces about the roots of psychedelic aesthetics. His rich background as a scholar of aesthetics, a scholar of mysticism and a pioneering practitioner of psychedelic journeys, allows him to examine the issue of the visual characteristics of psychedelia from a large historical and philosophical perspective which is essential if one is to decipher the true meaning of psychedelic aesthetics.

All psychedelic visions are unique, claimed Huxley, yet they all “recognizably belong to the same species”.[3] What they have in common are the preternatural light, the preternatural color and the preternatural significance, as well as more specific architectures, landscapes and patterns which tend to reoccur across psychedelic and visionary experiences. For Huxley this intense color and light was one of the primary and most indelible characteristics of what he called the mind’s antipodes, the unknown territories to which the psychedelic voyager is transported.

Looking at the traditions of various cultures, past and present, Huxley found a common ground between their accounts of the heavens or the fairylands of folklore and  the lands of the antipodes. He noted the existence of Other Worlds, mythological landscapes of fantastic beauty in many of the world’s cultural traditions. In the Greco-Roman tradition there were the Garden of Hesperides, the Elysian Plain and the Fair Island of Leuke. The Celts had Avalon, while the Japanese had Horaisan and the Hindu Uttrarakuru. These other worldly paradises, noted Huxley, abound with intensely colored and luminescent objects which bring to mind the psychedelic visionary experience. “Every paradise abounds in gems, or at least in gemlike objects resembling as Weir Mitchell puts it, ‘transparent fruit.’”[4] Wrote Huxley. Ezikel’s version of the Garden of Eden notes the many various stones in the garden, while “The Buddhist paradises are adorned with similar ‘stones of fire’”. The New Jerusalem is constructed in glimmering buildings of shimmering stone. Plato’s world of the ideals is described as a reality where “colors are much purer and much more brilliant than they are down here”.[5]

Mystical paradises were always glowing with color and light. Avatar.

Huxley introduces many more examples of ancient cultures which establish the import and centrality of glimmering gems and precious stones in various mythologies. The implication he draws from this consistency is that the “otherwise inexplicable passion for gems”[6] must have had its roots in “the psychological Other World of visionary experience”.[7] In other words, “precious stones are precious because they bear a faint resemblance to the glowing marvels seen with the inner eye of the visionary.”[8]

Moreover, Huxley notes, “among people who have no knowledge of precious stones or of glass, heaven is adorned not with minerals but with flowers”. Many more examples follow for the various intensely colored, shiny and often luminescent objects in which man had sought the semblance of the Other Worlds, among them candles, works of jewelry, crowns, silks and velvets, medals, glassware, the vision inducing stained glass windows of churches and even ceramics and porcelain ware.  All these, argued Huxley, act to transport human beings into higher realities: “contemplating them, men find themselves (as the phrase goes) transported –carried away toward that Other Earth of the Platonic Dialogue, that magical place where every pebble is a precious stone.”  Shiny objects, argued Huxley, remind the unconscious of the mind’s antipodes and so allow us to experience a taste of visionary consciousness.

The human urge to be transported into the numinous realm has found its expression in mythologies and religion, but also in art. Huxley notes a number of artists who used colors in transporting ways such as Caravaggio, Geroges de Latour, and Rembrandt. Indeed, he notes:

“Plato and, during a later flowering of religious art, St. Thomas Aquinas maintained that pure bright colors were of the very essence of artistic beauty”.

Although Huxley argues that this categorical equation of beauty with bright colors leads to absurdity, he also finds this doctrine to be not altogether devoid of truth. “Bright pure colors are the essence, not of beauty in general, but only of a special kind of beauty”: the beauty of works of art which can transport the beholder’s mind in the direction of its antipodes.

Modern taste is often reserved about using intensely bright colors, and prefers the more restrained and undemonstrative palette of minimalism and modernist design. The reason, argued Huxley, is that “we have become too familiar with bright pure pigments to be greatly moved by them”.[9] In the past, pigments and colors were costly and rare. The richly colored velvet and brocades of princely wardrobes, and the painted hangings of medieval and early modern houses were a rarity reserved for a privileged minority, while the majority of the population lived a drab and colorless existence. This all changed with the modern chemical industry and its endless variety of dyes and colors. “In our modern world there is enough bright color to guarantee the production of billions of flags, and comic strips, millions of stop signs and taillights, fire engines and Coca-Cola containers”, and all those objects which in the past might have possessed a transporting numinous quality were reduced by the new industrial consumer market into ordinary banality.

The evolution of psychedelic aesthetics in modern times

The potential of psychedelics to act as powerful catalysts for creativity in general and for visual artists specifically was  noted by researchers of psychedelics already in the 1950s. Oscar Janiger who administered psychedelics to artists was immediately flooded with artists enthusiastic to explore their creativity through the use of psychedelics. “Ninety-nine precent expressed the notion that this was an extraordinary, valuable tool for learning about art”[10]. Ron Sandison noted a patient whose style changed completely after a psychedelic experience “and she began to paint in the style she wanted to, which was imaginative”.[11]

Many more anecdotal accounts of the artistic merit of psychedelics appear during these years. However, the great aesthetic shift ushered by psychedelics would only come as a result of their popularization in the mid-1960s. The psychedelic revolution has brought the visionary aesthetic which stood at the center of many works of art and religion back to the foreground of western culture, but now through the prism of the emerging pop culture of the 1960s.

San Francisco psychedelic poster artists such as Rick Griffin, Victor Moscoso, Wes Wilson, Stanely Mouse & Alton Kelley redefined the boundaries of numinous aesthetics by integrating it into commercial psychedelic posters which advertised bands and  rock concert. These psychedelic artist, who experimented with colors and forms  were inspired to a great extent by the Art Noveau movement of early 20th century and it’s emphasis on organic forms and lines, as well as in the idea of life as art. The aesthetic of these  posters would define a new artistic style that would be widely distributed and collected.  Meanwhile, psychedelic art flourished outside the poster genre. Visual artists such as Mati Klarwein, Robert Fraser and Milton Glaser designed psychedelic album covers for the likes of Miles Davis, the Beatles and Bob Dylan.

Mati Klarwein’s psychedlic cover to Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew.

Other forms of psychedelic aesthetics have emerged in various cultural domains. Psychedelic fashion was popularized by rock artists and countercultural figures and even introduced into couture by designers such as Emilio Pucci, Paco Rabanne and Pierre Cardin. Psychedelic light shows by psychedelic light show artists and groups such as Marc Boyle, Mike Leonard and The brotherhood of light became a popular trend in music concerts. (Here one should also note an extremely popular form of  psychedelic aesthetics, which is the luminescent culture of Burning Man Festival, whose fascination with glowing colors  have turned it over the years into a distinct form of light-worship, a spiritual fest ordered around the heavenly glow Huxley referred to in his work). Psychedelic architectural and inner designs flourished in the communes and were experimented with by a variety of architects and designers as thoroughly documented in the book “Spaced Out”.

What these various genres of psychedelic aesthetics had in common was the use of intensive coloring, extensive use  of natural lines, extensive use of op-art as well as of elaborate patterns and designs that sought to transport the viewer into a different state of consciousness. Like the other forms of psychedelic culture, psychedelic aesthetic was a new artistic genre which was rooted in the psychedelic experience and at the same time a cultural artifact which attempted to recreate some of the elements of the psychedelic experiences within the domain of culture.

A distinct form of light worship. Burning Man.

Yet, by the late sixties psychedelic aesthetics have already left the realms of the counterculture, and started being absorbed by the larger culture, as their commercial potential began being tapped into by various enterprises from Pepsi and McDonalds to Campbell and General Electric so that by the mid-1970s, the psychedelic visual style had been largely absorbed into the mainstream consumer culture which the hippies sought to change.

The evolution and reemergence of psychedelic video

Psychedelic art, fashion, design and architecture were all contributed greatly to the creation of a psychedelic culture expressed in various artistic forms. Yet when it comes to reproducing the psychedelic experience, it seems that film and video had an altogether different potential. Psychedelic visions are after all not not static, buy dynamic and related to sound. An effective use of moving pictures and a soundtrack can powerfully recreate elements of the psychedelic experience. This would appear to be part of the reason, why psychedelic film and video would achieve an even greater popularity than did the more static reproductions of the psychedelic experience such as art, fashion, design and architecture.

Already Huxley noted in his Heaven and Hell  that the equivalent of the magic-lantern show of earlier times is the colored movie. “In the huge, expensive ‘spectacular’, the soul of the masque goes marching along” wrote Huxley. He was fascinated by various films with visionary properties, such as Disney’s The Living Desert and claimed that film has the power to create a “vision inducing phantasy”. Psychedelic elements have actually emerged on film already as early as the 1920s as could be seen in this short silent animation film from 1926 as well on Disney’s 1940s films Fantasia and Dumbo the Flying Elephant, which both contained elaborate psychedelic sequences, and whose chief visualist is reputed to have participated in Kurt Beringer’s mescaline experiments in 1920s Berlin.

The 1960s psychedelic genre of film distinguished itself through such films as “Psych-Out” (1968), “The Trip”, (1967), “Easy Rider” (1969) and of course the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” (1968) and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey  which was frequented in cinema by numerous tripping hippies who immensely enjoyed the closing hyper-psychedelic 30 minutes sequence.

And while the attraction and novelty of the psychedelic style seemed to diminish in the beginning of the 1970s, the attempts to recreate the psychedelic visual aesthetic on film kept evolving. Experimental movie makers such as Vince Collins and Toshio Matsumoto explored psychedelic aesthetics throughout the 1970s, while new motion pictures introduced movie-goers to more elaborate and sophisticated cinematic renditions of the psychedelic experience, created about with the help of new production techniques and technologies in films such as Ken Russel’s 1980’s Altered States  and Terry Gilliam’s 1998 version of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

But while these might seem as solitary examples, a far deeper cultural momentum was at work, advancing the integration of psychedelic aesthetic into popular culture. As I showed above, Huxley already noted the visionary aspect of commercial designs such as colorful printed advertisements or neon lights. As technology and media evolved side by side with late capitalism, psychedelic aesthetic and consumer society would find a common field of resonance. Electronic media, which media theorist Marshall McLuhan described as humanity’s nervous system, and which Erik Davis called a technology of the self, would become a new and most effective form of consciousness altering medium. The visual properties of psychedelics, which expressed themselves not only through color but also through a new and more dynamic approach to video editing, would become integrated into the popular culture, while better, bigger screens and higher resolutions created a distinctly psychedelic hyper-real quality in many of the new clips and videos.

And so, while it might have earlier seemed that psychedelic aesthetic became a thing of the past, a quick examination of today’s popular culture would teach us something radically different. Psychedelic visual style is to be found in the music clips of the many of today’s leading music artists, and not only alternative groups such as MGMTChemical Brothers or Birdy Nam Nam but also in the music clips of many of today’s leading pop artists from Beyonce to Lady GagaRihannaKesha and Nicki Minaj. Psychedelic visionary aesthetic also became an integral part of today’s commercial world from Takashi Murakami’s impeccable Louis Vitton’s commercials to commercials by SonyHyundai and Yoplait. Psychedelic videos are being created today, by web users, as well as by commercial firms and popular artists at a higher rate than ever before.

This does not mean that all these videos are psychedelic in the same way. One could distinguish between more superficial use of psychedelic motives characterized mostly by psychedelic coloring, design and editing, which can be found in more mainstream oriented productions, and more distinctly and explicitly psychedelic videos which include more hardcore psychedelic motives such as multi-perspectivismmulti-dimensionalityfigure transformationmandalas and fractalic imagery. In this way one could distinguish between soft-psychedelia and hard-psychedelia.

“the self-luminous objects which we see in the mind’s antipodes possess a meaning, and this meaning is, in some sort, as intense as their color” wrote Huxley. “Significance is here identical with being”. In this, Huxley wished to point out that in contrast to surrealism, for instance, the psychedelic aesthetic is not symbolic of anything else. It is the thing itself. Its beauty needs no explanation, for it is self-evident in its color, richness and harmony. The meaning of the psychedelic visuals is “precisely in this, that they are intensely themselves”.

And this is perhaps what makes psychedelic aesthetics so appealing to today’s popular culture. The psychedelic aesthetic style, which is rooted in the visionary Other Worlds described by the mystics of humanity, is so successful precisely because it is distinguished first and foremost by its “suchness”; because it does not symbolize anything concrete, and can hence be seen as arguably indifferent to content and used for a wide variety of purposes. At the same time the powerful responses it evokes, a result of mankind’s age old fascination with the colors and light which characterized the psychedelic visions of the Other Worlds, turn it into such a powerful mind-altering tool for media.

The future of psychedelic media

One might ask whether the use visionary elements in consumer culture still holds and delievers  the deeper psychedelic values, or whether psychedelic visual style has become abused by other purposes. One thing should be clear, however: psychedelic aesthetics in media are here to stay. They are integrated into the cultural production system, and new technologies such as 3D screens and video glasses are about to make them ever more effective and powerful.

The advent of 3D screens, which are making their way into the consumer electronics market these days are one factor which is bound to make psychedelia an even more prominent force in our visual culture. The psychedelic experience has always been about perceiving new and unimagined dimensions, and the addition of a new dimension to media, has an inherently psychedelic quality to it. As a genre which is based on bending our perception and creating rich media environments to inspire awe, psychedelic visuals can benefit greatly from the new possibilities unleashed by the new dimensions. Indeed, Avatar, the most successful 3D film up to date, is distinguished by its extensive use of psychedelic aesthetics. Meanwhile Independent psychedelic video makers have already started to integrate the 3rd dimension into their works with mesmerizing results. The first examples of 3D psychedelic videos are so much more psychedelic and transporting than 2D psychedelic videos that this suggest that psychedelic videos will profit from the integration of the 3rd dimension into media more than any other genre of video.

Meanwhile, augmented reality projects such as the “Google Glasses” suggest that in the not so remote future one might perceive the world through high-resolution 3D screens. This in turn raises the possibility that the augmented reality glasses will be used not only to present useful data, but also to produce visual filter effects (such as changing colors or patterns) which will be screened on reality and allow us to see reality through altered senses, much in the same way that Instagram allows us to manipulate still pictures today. Rich augmented reality environments would repackage our surroundings, freeing us from the visual constraints of the real world and transporting us into other more magical realities which will present themselves from within our glasses. Thus a new market for virtual psychedelic environments and landscapes might emerge.

Psychedelics and electronic media are both powerful mind-altering tools capable at producing awe-inspiring transformational visual experiences. Psychedelic visual culture has had an appetite for using new media to enhance and recreate psychedelic experience since the invention of the strobe light and the days of Stewart Brand’s “Trips Festival”. New developments in technology and media suggest that the wedding of the psychedelic visual culture and electronic media will only become stronger in the years to come.

(26.4.2012)


[1] Huxley, The Doors Of Perception, 48.

[2] Ibid., 45.

[3] Ibid., 49.

[4] Ibid., 51.

[5] Ibid., 52.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

 [9] Ibid. 57.

[10] Doblin, Beck, and Chapman, “Dr. Oscar Janiger’s Pioneering LSD Research: A Forty Year Follow-up” Available at: http://www.maps.org/news-letters/v09n1/09107jan.html.

[11] Abramson, The Use of LSD in Psychotherapy, 83.

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The Chosen People of Iboga: A Conversation with Dimitri Mobengo Mugianis

Originally Published in Reality Sandwich.

By the time Dimitiri Mobenga Mugianis reached 40 years of age, he was ready to die. After cultivating an ever-worsening cocaine and heroin habit, the Detroit born and raised artist, poet and activist had just lost his wife, who died of an heroin overdose while pregnant.

Mugianis had been active in Manhattan’s Lower East Side artistic and political scene during the eighties and nineties, while keeping a habit, and had by that time lost all sense of purpose in his life. He had gone back to Detroit and was living in his parents’ basement, spending his days shooting drugs.

“There was no more fun. I was just really wasted and defeated. I was ready to die” says Mugianis, “and I really wanted to. My only goal when I was turning 40 was to go to Greece and then come home and die.”

Dimitri’s first journey to his ancestors’ homeland was already set, however following a lead he got from a fellow junkie friend, he decided to stop in Amsterdam on the way, and make a last attempt to kick his habit. There he would visit a Dutch woman by the name of Sarah, who was known to treat junkies using a then little-known, highly powerful hallucinogenic African root called Iboga.

“I had first heard about Iboga years earlier, in 1989, through my friend Adam Nodelman who came to New York with his wife at the time” tells Dimitri. “Adam was a musician and politically active in anarchist circles. His wife, who was a Dutch woman, was involved in the junkie movement, and they were telling me about their experiences with the Junkie Union in Holland. We were shooting together and they told me that they had gone through with the Iboga thing and that it was amazing. Clearly, they had relapsed, but they had gone through it and it was amazing. They told me stories about it, and this kind of stuck with me in the years ahead.”

Harlem Shaman

Cut to NYC, August 2011. I am visiting Dimitri in the New York Harm Reduction Experts center in Harlem, where he invited me to join one of the weekly shamanic Bwiti (Gabonese Iboga religion) influenced ceremonies he has been organizing in Harlem for the neighborhood’s junkies and vagabonds during the past months.

Things were supposed to turn out differently for Dimitri. He was supposed to be in Costa Rica at the moment, starting the “most amazing Iboga clinic in the world,” but a few days before he was ready to leave the country, he was arrested for possession of Ibogaine, a schedule I drug in the US, and spent 24 hours in jail, his first time there in the decade since he had stopped being a junkie and started treating people with Iboga. His passport had been taken from him and he was forbidden to leave the US until further notice, waiting for authorities to make a decision in his case.

Dimitri prefers to look at the bright side, though. The predicament gave him a chance to do much needed spiritual work in one of Manhattan’s roughest parts. “Bwiti took away my Iboga so I can become a better shaman. Bwiti took away my passport so I have to stay in one place. Bwiti put me in a jail cell and made me claustrophobic so I have to meditate. I’m grateful to Bwiti for putting me there, because I got to see again what they fucking do to people. It is a sin, a crime, to take away the sunshine from somebody. These people haven’t seen the sunshine for two years. That is really unjust.”

“What happened was a great opportunity for transformation, and I’m incredibly grateful” he says, and even though it sounds absurd, coming form his mouth I can almost believe it.

A few days before, in the NYHRE, about 20 junkies are gathered together in the middle of the day to perform a shamanic ceremony in a small candle-lit room. After 15 minutes of silent meditation, Dimitri and his close friend and coworker Bovenga are now singing Bwiti songs and consecrating the space using burning ritual herbs. Dimitri is dressed in ceremonial clothing. A majestic feather is attached to his forehead. He and Bovenga paint the faces of those in the room glowing colors, moving from one person to the other, and blessing them, while the junkies play the maracas and other musical instruments which were laid on the table at the center of the room.

Reminiscent of indigenous power plants ceremonies, but grounded in Harlem’s harsh reality, the whole scene seems highly surreal at first, like straight out of an particularly bizarre Burroughs novel. The people here are homeless. Many are drug users, many of them fresh out of jail. Many of them are HIV positive. However, after a few minutes, the initial peculiarity of the scene recedes to the background, and another thing becomes clear: in the harsh reality of Harlem, Dimitri is bringing hope, love and compassion to people whose lives had been strewn with alienation and pain.

This is a struggle of mythical proportions between the heaven and the earth, between the good and bad in everyone’s soul, and Dimitri is the urban shaman, toiling at the extraction of all demons and the healing of all souls. He prances around the room addressing the gods and the hearts vehemently, making passionate speeches about the importance of pleas, intentions and prayers. He calls to the spirits of the Bwiti to come and cure the people in the room. His charisma and big heart wipe away all differences. “Many shamans that suffered from a particular disease know it better than anybody else. So this is my malady that I work with,” he says. People here respect Dimitri because they know that he knows the demons of drug addiction from first hand experience.

This doesn’t mean that everything is nice and easy, of course. Tensions erupt at one point of the session, and one of the participants decides to leave the room, something which Dimitri says hasn’t occurred before. However, by the end of the session, after singing and praying together, this small and seemingly highly improbable community of people led to God in the quest of inner strength looks united and in peace.

Before closing the session, Dimitri has a sad message. One of the group members had died the previous week of a heroin overdose. Death is ever-present, here, as it is around the world of Iboga drug treatment in general. A few days later, when I meet Dimitri near the Yippie Museum Café on the Lower East Side, he tells me that a friend of his, an Iboga provider (the term for Iboga therapists in the community) who has spent the last couple of years repeatedly going back and forth between Iboga and the needle, has finally died of an heroin OD.

These kinds of events make some of Iboga’s opponents dubious about the Iboga treatment, but for Dimitri a relapse doesn’t mean that treatment hadn’t succeeded or that an Iboga experience was any less valid than in the case of former users who were permanently healed of their addiction.

“If success means stop using for ever, well then I don’t care about that. I think everyone who comes to contact with Iboga is profoundly changed. One of those changes is more satisfaction for them and the outside society.”

“I stopped using heroin and that’s great, but there are plenty of folks who continue to use and still have amazing changes happen in their lives. I’m still working on my first experience 9 years ago.”

Dimitri’s line of argument runs even deeper though. His idea of healing is fundamentally different than that of the mainstream medical establishment, and based in an entirely different weltanschauung.  “The psychiatrist and the scientist want to measure everything, but they cannot measure love. That is not quantifiable.” He goes on to tell me the story of Marcus, a homeless addict who was one of his first Iboga patients.

Marcus had a horrendous, extremely difficult experience and disappeared completely during the second day of treatment, while Dimitri was resting and to his utter devastation.

“Two weeks later I was sitting in the park and Marcus comes to me. He was wearing the same t-shirt. He did things for money he wasn’t proud of. He also had a bunch of CD’s under his arm that he obviously had stolen. He was limping through the park, just looking terrible. I was running to him. I was almost crying when I saw him. He threw his arms around me and said: “Thank you Dimitri. You changed my life.”

“So who are we to say that it didn’t change Marcus’s life? Who are we to call him a failure? When we tell people what is successful and what is not successful we set people up against failure. Emma Goldman said that everyone has a right to beautiful and radiant things. So did Marcus, and so does every street junkie out there.”

The Path of Bwiti

Gabon, the home of Iboga and the Bwiti religion, has been a center of Iboga use for thousands of years. Although reliable data on the subject is lacking, Dimitri estimates that about 300 thousand of the 1.5 million inhabitants of Gabon participate in Bwiti ceremonies, events which involve the ingestion of the Iboga bark root.

“It is far more prominent than Ayahuasca in south or central America. You walk into a village and everyone knows what you know. The children eat it. The babies eat it. The old people eat it. The pregnant women eat it. The dogs eat it. Everyone eats it. It is used for different sorts of initiations, for passage into adulthood, and as medicine for many ailments.”

Gabonese Bwiti comes in many shapes and forms, which range from the Christian to the native indigenous, and encompasses a myriad of bizarre hybrids. “I have seen Bwiti where people’s faces were painted and they were wearing big pope hats with huge crosses on them, and I’ve seen Bwiti that was completely leaves and flowers. This is a way that African culture survived and changed,” says Dimitri.

Unknown in the west until the middle of the 19th century, Iboga has made its first  appearance outside Africa in 19th century France, but it was only in 1962 that its anti-addictive properties were first discovered, an event which interestingly occurred in the very same place in which we Dimitri and me are sitting, the Lower East Side of Manhattan, a neighborhood that has harbored radical politics and culture since the beginning of the 20th century.

In 1962 Howard Lostof, a heroin addict who lived here, got hold of some Ibogaine, which he intended to use for recreation. After consuming the Ibogaine, Lostof was amazed to find that his desire for heroin had disappeared, as well as the horrifying withdrawal symptoms of stopping heroin use.

From that moment and to his death in 2010, Lostof fought for the recognition of Iboga as a treatment for heroin addiction. Making the case for Iboga, which has been classified as a schedule I substance in the US (a substance deemed to be of high potential for abuse, unsafe for research, and with no established medical use in treatment) hasn’t been easy. But in the past decades Iboga treatment has received increasing attention, and the enthusiastic responses by many of its patients has given it the reputation of a magic cure, a label which Dimitri decidedly objects to.

“Iboga doesn’t get anyone off a drug” says Dimitri. “That’s not what it does. It interrupts the physical dependency on drugs.”

So it’s not a wonder drug?

“It is a wonder drug, but the wonder isn’t that you walk away forever. The wonder is that you change your fucking life and your mindset, and you might go back again to being a heroin addict unless you put some work into it. It is just like with ayahuasca. It is not consumerism, not a consumerist product — but the work you put into it.”

“Look, there are a lot of Ibogaine providers who are completely fucked up. You are not going to take these things and eat them and then the world is going to be OK. Bwiti wants you to engage with it and work, and to try to live a clean life.”

“The problem is that Bwiti gives you so much power that people think it’s over. That the whole thing is over, that the spell has been lifted. You can lift the spell, but if you go back to the shit again, you are going to fall back into it. I felt the same thing. But I was lucky.”

After the addict is rid of his addiction, it is the socio-economic factor which plays a crucial role in deciding whether he will go back to his habit or not. “It all depends on where the person is going back to,” says Dimitri. “The formula I got from Ritchie, my friend that connected me with Sarah, was: you need to go to therapy, and you need to do something with your life, physical, mental, spiritual. And I stuck to it.”

The Chosen People of Iboga

The son of Greek immigrants, Dimitri grew up in a house where politics were a matter of constant debate. His parents, both politically active left wingers, have instilled in him a perpetually burning awareness of the injustices of the world.

“Growing up in a political house was sort of like growing up in a religious house, not in the sense of being dogmatic because they weren’t strict communists, but every day you would hear about what’s wrong with the world, and how you should go about the world.”

So how did you end up doing heroin?

“I was coming of age in Detroit in the seventies. Everyone I knew did drugs. My brother sold drugs. Most people who use drugs, use it and move on. I just didn’t. I had an affinity to heroin. I loved it. All my heroes did heroin. When I first started doing it, it was fucking great for a long time.”

Weren’t you worried about the risks?

“To me it was an attraction.”

However, the attraction that held up for many years eventually faded and gave way to an unrelenting habit whose clench became harder and tougher. “What I would do is about a 150 to 200 dollars worth of heroin and 100 milligrams of methadone every day. It means going to the methadone clinic 6 days a week, sometimes shooting up in parking lots or in the bathroom of the methadone clinic, shooting up cocaine and heroin at the same time. The heroin made me feel good but the cocaine made me psychotic,” recounts Dimitri in Michel Negroponte’s excellent documentary film “I’m Dangerous with Love” (2009) which tells the story of his Iboga work.

“By the time I was ready for Iboga my life was completely over. I was turning 40 years old, my wife had died pregnant from addiction, and I had a lot of anger.”

Back to 2002, when Dimitri had his first Iboga experience with Sarah, the Dutch Iboga healer.

Like many other African beliefs Bwiti is a religion that puts great stress on man’s relation to his ancestors. The Iboga session run by Sarah was of a therapeutic character: not a Bwiti ceremony, and yet Dimitri’s most profound experience was an encounter with an ancient female ancestor.

“Suddenly I was in Greece, in the Peloponnese – my mother’s side of the family. I saw this sort of image of a female being in the ground, from my mother’s lineage. A matriarch. This female, my ancestor, was saying that she has been dead for thousands of years. So long that she has become earth. I woke up [from the Iboga trip] and I was fucking grateful. It was an experience which was really life changing in many ways. Suddenly, I moved from being completely addicted to being, three days afterwards, in a point where all the desire for the drug is gone.” I met my friend Adam who happened to arrive for an Iboga treatment with Sarah at exactly the same time, and we ended up spending 10 days together running around Holland completely sober. I’ve been clean ever since.”

And there was more to Dimitri’s first Iboga experience, than just letting go of his past addiction: There was a future as well, and a heroic one, at that. “Iboga told me all this stuff, and from the moment I woke up I knew that I was going to be on a radio show called ‘this American life’. I knew that there will be a documentary about me. I knew that I would become a spokesman for Iboga.”

From that moment on, Dimitri’s life trajectory has been radically diverted towards a new mission: running around the world in the quest to save every junkie, one after the other, offering them compassion, faith and the medicine.

“My life has always been a mission, but I had changed a mission. I switched plants. I went from coca and opium (that is – poppy) to Iboga. My life has been run by plants for a long time, so now when we do a ceremony I always thank poppy and coca, because they were great. We don’t want to insult them. We just gotta move on.”

One of the things which distinguish Dimitri and makes him, in this reporter’s eyes, much more truthful and trustworthy than many other drug experts who say that there are good drugs and there are bad drugs, and a sharp line that divides the two, is that he doesn’t discard the junkie’s point of view or his experience, that he does not condescend the junkie and his choices.

Dimitri has faith in the junkie; he considers working with him “an honor.” He does not turn the junkie into a social outcast. On the contrary, he sees the junkies as a kind of chosen people – chosen by Bwiti to help spread it in the west. “If you look at the Jewish tradition or the Muslim tradition, as well as many others, it’s always about colonized slaves rising up from the lowest of the low. Spirit, God, Energy, whatever you call it, always chooses these people: in this case the pygmies and the junkies”.

“Bwiti is very smart” says Dimitri. “Bwiti said, ‘how are we going to find our way to the world?’ So, it showed it to the pygmies, who are great because they work hard and are a fun people, and the pygmies took it to other people, and then somehow it got to the Lower East Side of New York. So Bwiti turned into Iboga, which turned itself into Ibogaine, and they put it in who? In the junkies hands! Why? First of all, because a junkie is fearless and crazy. And they have no past. A junkie doesn’t own a house. They haven’t talked to their parents and children. They’ve got no fucking future. They are already fucking dead. And they already lived a spiritual existence of denial, and self flagellation and living alone, and also incredible bliss. The perfect candidates. And they are also very charming, otherwise they wouldn’t live for so long. So the qualities that turn you into a junkie are also the qualities that Iboga figured were the best. It looked all over the world and said: I will cure this. This is the philosophy or the theology of American Bwiti, or universalist Bwiti. That we the junkies are the chosen people of Iboga.”

African Healing

For many years, Dimitri has practiced a secular form of Iboga, one which does away with religious ceremonialism and instead focuses on the therapeutic effects of Iboga, without stressing its African roots and spiritual import. He gave Iboga treatments in hotel rooms, relying on the physical effects of the drug to cure his patients.

This changed radically after visiting Gabon and participating in a Bwiti ceremony for the first time. There, confronted with the Bwiti culture, a society which puts Iboga in the center of its spiritual life, and integrates it into all levels of its existence, Dimitri found out about the fundamental importance of something which has been a central concept in psychedelic theory since the 1960s: set and setting: the idea that the content and character of a psychedelic drug experience is dependent on the preparation and intention as well as on the physical, social and symbolic surroundings in which the experience takes place.

The African way just made sense in so many ways. To begin with, there was the music.

“I’m a guy from Detroit who grew up with African American people. I love black girls. I’ve been married to several. In Gabon, music was the centre of everything. This was the same music that had led me since I was a kid when I heard Motown for the first time, when I heard blues for the first time, when I heard rock & roll, and Jazz and gospel for the first time. You could hear that same music in Gabon: The music that saved my life. Like in the Velvet Underground song: ‘My life was saved by rock & roll’. My life was saved by that.”

“And they were playing right in front of me. And they were dancing all night long: The old people, the young people. What we’ve lost in our culture: dancing with old people and children. The Bwitists can heal you by dancing, just like the shipibo [tribe] will find out what is wrong with you and they will sing through the plant into you. It’s all part of what has been lost. The fact that your grandmother knew how to go and pick some leaves somewhere in the forest, or in any case, that you are not that far away from someone who could boil some shit.”

“These people could speak in front of a crowd. Everyone knows that there, because it’s the Bwiti. So there was a social form, a set and setting that was old and precise, and there was trance music of continual dancing all night long. So it was very difficult, but the framing and the setting were that you had the support of everyone.”

“Once I had experienced that I knew that it was something I had been looking for me entire life. I’ve been in music from punk to house music and jazz. I’ve been involved with musicians and artists all my life. I was a poet for a while. And here it was. The healing arts and the performing arts are not separated. They are merged. After going through the ceremony there was no way I could go back to doing Iboga treatment without a ceremony. ”

And this is where you break off with the medical model for the therapeutic use of hallucinogens?

“I don’t have that many great experiences with doctors. I don’t know what about you. I don’t want to trip with them. The medicalization of this is, I think, actually dangerous.”

“That’s why for me it makes no sense to go back into a room. I have no interest in sitting in a fucking hotel room. It’s not any fun. This is much more fun, and it’s also a lot more work. To prepare for Bwiti is much more work. We do a series of ritual baths. We do conversations. We do offerings. The ritual has evolved to become something else than the traditional way.”

The Future of Iboga
Only about 500 people have been to Gabon to eat Iboga thus far, Dimitri estimates. When I ask him if he is not worried that, as in the case of ayahuasca in South and Central America, Iboga tourism could become a massive and arguably harmful influence on the Iboga culture he seems less concerned than I had expected.

“I know that in the very small world of Iboga and Bwiti, I have a little place. So I

know that what I’m doing creates a reaction in the world, just because I’m talking to you and to other people. I look at Brazil and Peru and see the good and the real bad effects of massive people coming down there for shamanistic tourism. And one of the main people responsible for people going to Gabon right now is me. In the English speaking world, anyway. That’s not a lot of people, but it was 20 this year, and there were five last year.”

“The thing is that Iboga is much harder. It also takes much longer. There are more deaths associated with it. The physical effects are much more difficult. There is the junkie connection, and then there is the thing with Africa and Gabon.”

“I hear people who want to come to Gabon as a tourist: Good fucking luck! Because it’s not like Guatemala. It’s not like that at all. It’s not geared for anything but difficulty and malaria. Gabon is incredibly difficult and incredibly expensive.”

“Culturally and mentally Gabon is much further away than south or central America. If they say I’ll be right back and they come back in two days, they wonder why you’re upset. Also it can become incredibly ugly.”

In what way?

“Well, the scars of colonialism and post colonialism are everywhere. The westerner comes with a preconceived notion, well meaning but often with unconscious racism of the “noble savage” kind, and are often disappointed. The Gabonese are very poor, even the great Ngangas and they see us as walking ATM — so it can be very confusing and upsetting for all concerned — also the treatment of women, the poverty and the obsession with western consumerism — which is what the seeker is running from — but we must remember that our cultural imperialism is very strong witchcraft.”

“When you step into this world you need to remember that it is not all light. I think that is what many people interested in this stuff today fail to realize, is that it’s also a lot of darkness.  These people who are shamans, be fucking careful with them – like you would with a lawyer or with a doctor, because there is a lot of fucking darkness. This stuff has almost killed me, several times. Everyone involved in Iboga in terms of their work suffers incredibly. It is one thing to eat it once, but it is another to start treading this path, because the shamanistic path is not a spiritual path. It is a power path. Europe is fucked, we all know that, but it had some good stuff coming off it as well, like liberation, and like this sort of self reflection. We have discovered a balance which doesn’t exist in Africa. So when you go to eat Bwiti there, be careful.”

Can you reconcile those contradictions? I mean, it sounds like it can become infuriating.

“It totally is. If you go there you will be pissed off real quick. The thing is, what are you going to do? So that’s why I don’t see Iboga happening that quickly. I see it slowly happening. I see it as a tool. A crucial tool.”

And Iboga is happening. Slowly but surely. Or as Dimitri wrote on his facebook profile this week: “Osama Bin Laden – Gone. Muammar Gaddafi – Gone. Kim Jong Il. – Gone. Dana Beal — Still Standing!”[1]

Iboga’s path to acceptance in the modern world remains strange, mysterious and full of unexpected turns, but despite an ongoing war fledged against it by law authorities in the US and beyond, Iboga treatment is getting more and more recognition through the writings of literary figures like Daniel Pinchbeck, the research of academics like Professor Kenneth Alper from the NYU Langone Medical Center, and the devout work of activists and therapists like Beal and Mugianis. The Iboga root that delivers ancient African healing to the aching lost souls of the West, brings hope that someday this troubled modern culture will discover a new-found peace of its own.

Culture is not your friend: On the countercultural philosophy of psychedelic thinkers

“Culture is not your friend. Culture is for other people’s convenience and the convenience of various institutions, churches, companies, tax collection schemes, and what have you. It is not your friend. It insults you, it disempowers you, it uses and abuses you. None of us are well treated by culture” [i]. This famous passage from McKenna’s 1998 “Valley of Novelty” series of lectures epitomizes one of the most fundamental ideas of psychedelic thinking.

“Culture is not your friend”. Terence McKenna.

Psychedelic counterculture is not only countercultural in the sense of being peripheral or opposed to mainstream culture: It is countercultural in the deepest sense of the word, by rejecting the whole concept of culture, a concept which is viewed as a constricting complex of values, concepts and ideas which are imposed on the individual in the name of uniformity, thereby limiting human potential for thought and expression.

According to McKenna, the victims of culture include all those who are subjected to its dogmas, values and ideologies: From the young man going to kill and die in a war against people he never met in the name of culture, to those who limit and suppress their sexual identity and preferences in order to conform to culture’s moral dictates, as well as to those whose aesthetic and philosophical sensibilities are shaped by culture’s limiting constructs of expression and thought – in short, everybody. By embracing cultural forms such as ideologies, trends or brands, we are giving up on the precious opportunity for individual expression inherent in human existence. By defining ourselves through a predetermined concept or structure, saying for example:” I am a Marxist” or “I am an Apple fan” – one gives up his chance for self-definition. Culture, as McKenna puts it, is an intelligence test – and those who choose to embrace it fail the test.

The roots of counterculturalism

Culture is the valve which constricts our doors of perception. Aldous Huxley.

The psychedelic-countercultural idea forms a distinct current in the philosophy of many of the major psychedelic thinkers of the past 50 years such as Aldous Huxley, Timothy Leary,  Robert Anton Wilson and Erik Davis.  However, its roots run much deeper. Indeed, in a way it is even prevalent in the ancient role of the shaman who according to McKenna has a “wider view because he is not a part of culture”. The shaman might appear to be a member of the culture but according to McKenna his perspective “is broader, deeper, higher and wider than the culture that created him.”[ii]

This countercultural tendency of psychedelic thinking is derived directly from an essential aspect of the psychedelic experience, an experience which transplants the individual back into the body, to the naked facts of its biological existence, and exposes the common perception of reality as a cultural construct, or a “game” as Leary used to call it. The psychedelic experience is also characterized by a sense of universality and unity which undermine concepts of nation and state, and by inner journeys which send the human being into strange and fantastic terrains which make conventional models of culture, previously seen as absolute, seem limited and arbitrary. 

Similar ideas to those expressed by McKenna in his “Valleyof Novely” series of lectures have already been discussed in the middle of the 20th century by psychedelic philosopher Aldous Huxley. “History is the record, among other things, of the fantastic and generally fiendish tricks played upon itself by culture-maddened humanity” asserted Huxley in his 1963 essay “Culture and the individual”.[iii]

Culture, according to Huxley is a hypnotic agent which has “given us, generation after generation, countless millions of hypnotized conformists, the predestined victims of power-hungry rulers who are themselves the victims of all that is most senseless and inhuman in their cultural tradition.”[iv]

Culturally formed consciousness is distorted by the preconceptions of culture, which Huxley likens to a net which constricts one’s field of view. “What we see through the meshes of this net is never, of course, the unknowable ‘thing in itself’ (…) What we ordinarily take in and respond to is a curious mixture of immediate experience with culturally conditioned symbol, of sense impressions with preconceived ideas about the nature of things.”[v]

Indeed, even the idea of “Cleansing the doors of perception”, so central to Huxley’s seminal Doors of Perception is interpreted in “Culture and the Individual” as related to the cleansing of perception from the imposed pre-conceived concepts of culture. “To become fully human, man, proud man, the player of fantastic tricks, must learn to get out of his own way” writes Huxley “only then will his infinite faculties and angelic apprehension get a chance of coming to the surface. In Blake’s words, we must ‘cleanse the doors of perception’; for when the doors of perception are cleansed, ‘everything appears to man as it is—infinite.’”[vi] Culture is thus seen as the very valve of perception whose constricting impact on our potential as human beings Huxley so passionately lamented.

Huxley was hopeful that psychedelics might prove useful as tools which will free man from the despotism of culture. “Always desirable, widespread training in the art of cutting holes in cultural fences is now the most urgent of necessities.” He wrote. “Can such a training be speeded up and made more effective by a judicious use of the physically harmless psychedelics now available? On the basis of personal experience and the published evidence, I believe it can.”[vii]. To those who ridiculed his involvement with the psychedelics calling it “Having Fun with Fungi” He answered with the question: “But which is better: to have fun with Fungi or to have idiocy with Ideology”?[viii]

During the 1960s  Timothy Leary, the most prominent advocate of the use of psychedelics during that period was also questioning the role of culture in the constricting our patterns of thought and imprinting our perceptions and reactions. In one of his lectures from the 1960s Leary Considers one of Konrad Lorenz’s famous imprinting experiments. Lorenz showed that newly born ducks will get imprinted and follow the first moving object they encounter after being born. He described a duck who was imprinted by a basketball upon birth, and who followed the basketball wherever it went, even trying to suck milk out of it. Leary asked his listeners to consider what kind of hallucinatory basketballs, they might be carrying in their heads – cultural basketballs that have been imprinted in them since birth.

Leary asked his readers to “think for yourself and question authority”, and his most famous slogan “Turn on, tune in, drop out” could also be seen as a characteristic expression of the anti-cultural character of psychedelic thought: The turning on was to be achieved through the use of psychedelics, the tuning in was to one’s consciousness and inner world, and the dropping out was a  way out of society’s games and value systems which dehumanize the individual. “Everything we accept as reality is just a social fabrication” wrote Leary[ix], inverting the accepted model of realty: Through the use of psychedelics, things which formerly appeared as real such as nations, moral values and aesthetic preferences are suddenly divulged as constructed by culture and meaningless to the individual true self, while other, inner realities which are conventionally dismissed as “hallucinated” are considered to have a higher degree of validity.

The fallacy of culture

Originated the term “Kulturbrille” (Cultural Glasses). Anthropologist Franz Boas.

The idea that our perception of reality is mediated by culture has its roots in the thought of Franz Boas, the father of modern anthropology, who coined the term “Kulturbrille” to refer to a set of ‘cultural glasses’ that each of us wears and which provide us with means of perceiving the world around us.

Robert Anton Wilson, who elaborated many of the ideas proposed by Leary’s in the 1960s, during the 1970s and onwards elaborated on the idea of Kulturbrille in his concept of “Reality Tunnel”. According to Wilson ideology and models of the world in general are a “reality tunnel” which shapes the way we view the world. A reality tunnel is a kind of “brainwash” and Wilson maintained that “the easiest way to be brainwashed is to be born” [x]. Culture, in his eyes, was a tool for programming the minds of human beings. Such programming is done by all cultures, and predisposes the individual to view the world through a particular reality tunnel which will shape his view of reality whether it be that of “Eskimo totemists, Moslem fundamentalists, Roman Catholics, Marxist Leninists, Nazis, Methodist Republicans, Oxford agnostics, Snake worshipers, Ku Kluxers, Mafiosos, Unitarians, IRA-ists, PLO-ists, orthodox Jews, hardshell Baptists etc. etc.”[xi]

The thing which unites the people who hold all these extremely different views of the world is their commitment to a certain ideology or worldview through which they see all things. Thus, they tend to gather any piece of evidence which will support their particular worldview and dismiss any piece of evidence which will go counter to it –creating a customized, highly particularized and view of the world to suit their own predispositions.

The easiest way to get brainwashed is to be born. Robert Anton Wilson.

The common name for such a distorted culturally-bound perception of reality is “ideology”, a concept which psychedelic thinking sees as a prime example for the fallacy of culture. Psychedelic countercultural thought is deeply anti-ideological and has a deep rooted skepticism regarding all ideologies and rigid theories: political, cultural or scientific. The inherent fallacy of ideology is that it limits the infinite nature of reality into a narrow worldview which is bound to go wrong. “Belief” maintained Wilson, “is the death of intelligence”.[xii]

Psychedelic thinking, by contrast, champions the idea that every ideology or theory is incomplete by nature, since it tries to impose a finite model of the world on an infinitely complex reality. “The universe” as Terence McKenna never tired of pointing out, quoting British biologist J.B.S. Haldane “may not only be stranger than we suppose, it might be stranger than we can suppose”. Thus, the attempt to perceive its complexity may not only be futile – it may even be harmful, since it inevitably leads to fallacies. Every culture in history believed that the cultures that came before held ludicrous notions about the world, notes McKenna. Each of these cultures, he continues, congratulated itself on having reached an almost perfect knowledge of the world, convincing itself that it already figured out 95% of the picture, and that the missing 5% would soon arrive. Yet each of these cultures was wrong – an observation which seems to accurately mirror our present western culture and science as well as all its predecessors.

Wilson who invented the concept of “maybe logic”, a logic which transcends the positive and the negative by adopting a permanent state of agnosticism, was perhaps the most careful to avoid this fallacy. In his books he often made a point of not committing to any idea and to discussing any idea using his “maybe logic” – a logic which seeks to avoid the use of “be” verbs, and keep every idea and fact under a permanent question mark. His ideal was that of general agnosticism. Agnosticism not only about God but about everything: a general state of not-knowing which will free us from the narrow worldviews of common absolutist world-models which attempt to explain the world and thus distort it.

Two final questions

As I noted above, the countercultural and anti-ideological idea held by many of the psychedelic thinkers is one of the most characteristic features of psychedelic thinking. However, while it is a tremendously persuasive and eye-opening criticism of the social and cultural reality, it also leaves at least 2 questions which are in dire need of an answer.

The first one is the question of whether it is desirable or even possible to abolish culture. Culture, after all, has given us “law, science, ethics, philosophy” and made possible “all the achievements of talent and of sanctity” as Huxley felt necessary to note[xiii]. Even McKenna felt compelled to agree that we do not wish to abolish culture altogether, since some of it is valuable, such as for example “the Sistine chapel”. Both have made preliminary attempts at distinguishing those parts of culture which are positive and inspiring from those which are misguided and cancerous. A convincing and final answer about how to distinguish between those parts of culture which are worth preserving and those which should be forsaken, is however nowhere to be found.

A second implication of the counter-cultural argument which has been addressed only too rarely, is the implication of this line of thought when it is being directed towards the psychedelic culture itself, as noted by Lorenzo Hagerty, host of the psychedelic podcast show, “The Psychedelic Salon” who introduced McKenna’s talk “Culture and ideology are not your friend” saying: “I hope you will give some serious thought to his [McKenna’s] famous remark about culture being the ultimate cult. And that includes our own psychedelic culture by the way”.[xiv] Individualistic and boundless as it might be, psychedelic culture can not eschew the traps of culture altogether, and it is perfectly capable of imposing a particular and limited form on the boundlessly infinite experience of the psychedelics. A thought to be kept in mind.


[i] Terence McKenna: Culture is not your friend, 2007, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iYB0VW5x8fI&feature=youtube_gdata_player.

[ii] Terence Mckenna, The Archaic Revival: Speculations on Psychedelic Mushrooms, the Amazon, Virtual Reality, UFOs, Evolution, Shamanism, the Rebirth of the Goddess, and the End of History, 1st ed. (HarperCollins, 1992), 14.

[iii] “Culture and the Individual”, n.d., http://www.psychedelic-library.org/huxcultr.htm.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Timothy Leary, Flashbacks (Tarcher, 1997), 32.

[x] Robert Anton Wilson, Prometheus Rising (New Falcon Publications, 2009), 169.

[xi] Ibid.

[xii] Robert Anton Wilson, Cosmic Trigger I: Final Secret of the Illuminati, 9th ed. (New Falcon Publications, 2008), ii.

[xiii] “Culture and the Individual”, n.d., http://www.psychedelic-library.org/huxcultr.htm.

[xiv] Psychedelic Salon. “Podcast 011 – ‘Culture and Ideology are not your friends’”, n.d., http://www.matrixmasters.net/salon/?p=26.

A short history of the cinematic trip

The history of cinema presents us with a considerable number of attempts to recreate the psychedelic experience[1], an experience which confronts the cinematic artist with an extraordinary challenge – to capture a deeply physical, emotional, mental and spiritual experience through the limited means of sound and moving picture.

This short list of cinematic renditions of psychedelic trips is not intended to offer a complete list of the genre. It is only a selection of some of what I consider to be the more interesting and influential trip sequences in the history of cinema. Some of the trips depicted in these videos are magical and enchanted while others are vicious and vile; some are divine and purging while others are funny or just weird. This is of course due to the manifold aspects of the psychedelic experience, which appears in many forms, in life as well as in the movies.

Before the 1960s

The first trips in cinema were animated and often involved animals which got terribly stoned under curious circumstances. Felix the Cat (1927), a pioneering example, is a silent film in which the Felix the cat eats a shoe and a tin can from the garbage and experiences some kind of strange iron poisoning which send him into a delirious world of hallucinations where he is chased around by a giant chicken, sees Santa Claus transforming into a witch, and fights an imaginary cat which keeps turning into a sausage. The trip sequence in this video starts at 4:13.

Another early animated attempt to recreate the psychedelic experience in film can be found in Disney’s Dumbo (1940). Here, the flying elephant drinks magical water out of the well and is transported into a powerful hallucinatory state in which he beholds dancing pink elephants and fractal, kaleidoscopic visions. Peter Stafford’s “Psychedelic Encyclopedia” claims that the chief visualist for Disney’s Fantasia (1940) participated  in the mescaline experiments conducted in Germany by Kurt Beringer during the 1920′s; and Artist Paul Laffoley claims that Disney himself experimented with Mescaline “On a regular basis” during his stay in Germany in the 1930′s. So that the relation between 1940s Disney films and psychedelics is still far from clear.


The sixties

A great number of films dealt with the psychedelics during the 1960s, when the psychedelic movement was in full swing. Most of these films, like “Wild in the Streets” and “The love ins”, were B movies of which tried to capitalize on the hippie phenomenon by turning it into a sensation. Many of these films were done in the tradition of exploitation cinema, indulge in the use of nudity as a cheap thrill and have a rather voyeuristic character.

Roger Corman’s “The Trip” which was based on a script by Jack Nicholson (who is also known for his interest in psychedelics), is a movie dedicated to the description of one long and deeply meaningful trip. Peter Fonda, who plays the protagonist, was known at the time as one of the leading representatives of the burgeoning counterculture inHollywood, and the film sometimes carries a somewhat naïve yet appealing character of trying to make a point for the psychedelic experience.

The Easy Rider cemetery trip scene (here, regrettably, in Italian dubbing) is another classic 1960s cinematic rendition of the psychedelic trip experience. Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper visit the Mardi Gras festival and then arrive at a cemetery, where they ingest LSD together with two prostitutes. The scene makes use of fish eye lenses, unusual camera angles, background noises and an hectic editing style to capture the psychedelic experience.

Altered States (1980)

The eighties were not a particularly psychedelic decade, however in 1980 Ken Russell directed “Altered States” a fascinating and awfully troubling film which is loosely based on the character of isolation tank pioneer John C. Lilly, who experimented with the conjoined use of LSD and isolation tanks in the beginning of the 1960s.

This film could be called a psychedelic horror film, as it is strewn with incredibly dark visions in which the hero meets the Devil, baphomet and other demonic apparitions. This particular scene is replete with biblical motives and religious symbols, and has an extremely sinister atmosphere. Beside the use of dramatic music, slow motion and esoteric symbols the scene is especially notable for its elaborate use of blue-screen techniques for the recreation of the visionary experience.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)

In 1998 Terry Gilliam released his brilliant version of the book “Fear and Loathing inLas Vegas” written by gonzo writer Hunter S. Thompson, which featured Johnny Depp as the drug obsessed reporter Raoul Duke.

In this unforgettable scene, Duke walks into aLas Vegashotel loaded with an incredible mixture of mind bending drugs. The result is one of the funniest descriptions of an hallucinatory experience in film. Gilliam does extraordinary work in capturing the dynamics of the psychedelic experience, and uses the newly arrived CGI effects to create the visual distortions typical to a psychedelic trip. However, Gilliam has more than just technology going for him. He also has an amazing talent for capturing the highly weird and bizarre form of perception which can turn the world into a carnival of weird mutants during a psychedelic trip.

Blueberry (2004)

“Blueberry” (A.K.A “Renegade”) is a rare film in the sense that it has a unique trip-like feeling from beginning to end. The “Blueberry” trip sequence has already reached a certain cult status on the web and become one of the best known cinematic descriptions of the ayahuasca experience.

While the sequence heavily relies on CGI effects, and is in that sense typical to the digital turn in the cinematic renditions of psychedelic trips – it is also breathtakingly beautiful. The relentless and exquisite movement between different layers and dimensions during the trip recreates the multi-dimensionality of the psychedelic experience in an extraordinary way.

Taking Woodstock (2009)

The “Taking Woodstock” trip sequence, is in my eyes a work of cinematic and psychedelic genius. It manages to capture a graceful psychedelic experience in a delicate and incredibly nuanced way, which is in my eyes, the most sensitive treatment of the psychedelic experience to this day.

This is not incidental, as the makers of “Taking Woostock” actually did thorough research on the subjective effects on psychedelics, and how these could be tastefully and effectively adapted to the screen. The result has been called “a stunner with overlapping pastel lighting effects, green-screen animation, shifting film speeds, lens trickery and undulating CGI…”

Viewing this sequence, I can almost feel what the protagonist is feeling as he slowly enters his psychedelic journey. The sequence pays great attention to the gradual movement into a different order of perception: the sublime glowing of the colors and the orgasmatic shivers of the skin and palpitations of the heart.  It enfolds in a way which is typical for many psychedelic experiences: from the womb-like feeling of the caravan, into the magical world outside and onward into a spectacular peak experience where Jake watches the Woodstock crowd turn into one vibrating tissue and his eyes are filled with tears of awe and joy.

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/11696950]

A psychedelic cinematic quest

The attempts to recreate the psychedelic experience in cinema will always be incomplete at best. Capturing such an all encompassing experience through the use of visual and audial means alone is after all a task which can not be performed in an entirely faithful way. However, by examining the history of the psychedelic experience in cinema, one is confronted with the various audacious attempts of performing this task, which teach us not only on the limitations of cinema but also on its ability to act as a mind-altering medium, even to the degree of mimicking the effects of mind-altering substances, a psychedelic cinematic quest which will surely continue to enfold in the coming years, simultaneously with the evolution of media.


[1] When writing of movies which attempt to recreate the psychedelic experience, I am referring here not to movies which have a visually psychedelic qualities such as “2001: A Space Odyssey”, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, “Speed Racer” – but only to films which show one of the protagonists consume some kind of hallucinogenic substance (equivalent to a psychedelic) and then try to recreate his experience for the viewer.

Avatar: The Psychedelic Worldview and the 3D Experience

The article originally appeared in the Reality Sandwich web magazine in January 2010.

For years, the psychedelic community has been anticipating the arrival of a new psychedelic medium which will be ushered in by the appearance of a new technology. The idea that technology and media can enhance psychedelics and even have psychedelic qualities has, after all, been an integral part of the psychedelic movement since the electronic trips festival of the sixties, Timothy Leary’s enthusiasm for personal computer technology in the eighties, and Terrence McKenna’s advocacy of virtual reality technologies and the internet in the nineties. Bets have been placed on 3D, HDTV, virtual reality, and other technologies, however, for a long time none of these seemed to take off in a massive way or fulfill its psychedelic potential in a way widely appreciated by the public.

Relations between psychedelics and popular culture continued, however, to be prosperous and fruitful. As noted by psychedelic thinkers such as McKenna and Eric Davis, psychedelic aesthetics have been continuously assimilated into mainstream media, as for example in the visual language of contemporary commercials and mainstream films.

The 2000’s have been highly psychedelic in media. Ever-increasing film and screen resolution, the use of bright, colorful imagery in commercials and music videos, the imaginary landscapes created by computer generated animation, and the use of extravagant and highly associative visual language have all contributed to a psychedelic tendency in media in the first decade of the 21st century. Today, the advent of computer generated 3D cinema brings on a hope for a major psychedelic turn in electronic media.

Psychedelics and the 3D Experience

Psychedelics have always been about pushing the boundaries of perception, and adding new dimensions to our perception of reality. Similarly, media has continuously sought to add ever more dimensions in its efforts to technologically capture and represent reality — from still photography to the moving image, from silent films to “talking pictures,” and from B&W to color, where the evolution of film seemingly stops. For the past 60 years, motion pictures have had more or less the same appearance in terms of the basic characteristics determined by screening technologies. Now, a new generation of 3D films aims to bring a whole new dimension to entertainment media.

What could be more psychedelic than a medium that requires the viewer to wear strange- looking, outlandish glasses that distort one’s view of the world? What better metaphor is there for the psychedelic experience, and the idea that we are continuously experiencing the world through different valves and filters, than the use of lenses that expose a whole new dimension of perception?

The 3D experience and the psychedelic experience make us appreciate the visual richness of the world and become enchanted by the multi-dimensionality of reality.  3D is a highly psychedelic experience not only in the fact that it adds a new dimension to media perception and renews our sense of wonderment at the visual world, but also in shaking our perceptions of the world by giving a third dimension to a picture screened in two dimensions. In one of cinema’s earliest and most famous screenings, the crowd ran away from the theatre after an approaching train appeared on the screen; when watching a 3D movie for the first time, many people gasp, clutch their hands, get a dry throat, and after leaving the theatre, some people report a distressing sense of dizziness. 3D dissolves the boundary between drugs and technologies. If you take off the glasses during a 3D screening and look around the theatre, you will notice that the people around you don’t see you, since the 3D glasses block and darken the majority of their field of view. The uninhibited, almost primal expression one can see on their faces is not unlike that of trippers under the influence of some drug.

3D is the new and the most immersive media drug to have emerged out of our high-tech media complex, the most successful attempt to emulate the effects of the psychedelic state.

Psychedelic Storytelling

Hollywood cinema has been flirting with our culture’s subconscious for some time now. Blockbuster fantasy and sci-fi films, ever-more popular in recent years, have acted as a Jungian shadow to our culture’s proclaimed rational and materialist view of reality. Films such as Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, The Matrix, Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia, andThe Golden Compass have presented us with a re-enchanted world. These movies posit an unseen and outlandish reality existing alongside the “normal” world, and this serves to support a growing sense of paranoia about the deceptive qualities of consensus reality and the existence of hidden and enchanted dimensions to our world. Cinema has thus functioned as our culture’s collective dream, bringing to view its most repressed archaic realms.

James Cameron’s Avatar, as well as adding a new level of psychedelic visual richness to the 3D film, also features a good deal of these subversive messages and ideas. It is as anti-civilizational and anti-technological as a John Zerzan book, psychedelic like a Terrence McKenna talk, and glorifies the indigenous and shamanic world view. The fact that some people have failed to appreciate these highly explicit traits in Avatar, and call it clichéd or hackneyed is, to my mind, largely based on blindness to Avatar‘s role as a mythic specimen of our culture.

Some people who didn’t like Avatar‘s story told me that its main shortcoming is that it is told in a too conventional way. It tells a story we all already know. I could certainly see what they mean, but then again it made me think of Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth concept which claims that there is one basic story that returns in most of the world’s ancient myths. This story, which features the hero with a thousand faces, is a story in three parts (departure-initiation-return) which Campbell describes as follows:

“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man”[1]

There is only one story that really matters. This story has been with us ever since the invention of myth and it is the same as the classic story of the heavy psychedelic trip, which is about departure from your everyday world and conception of yourself (taking the drug, and going on an inner journey), death/initiation (facing your demons, which sometimes leads to a feeling of death), and return (the spiritual rebirth which is the catharsis well known to many users of psychedelics). This story, hard-wired into the structure of the far-reaching psychedelic experience, is the primal story, the one that entheogens have conveyed to humans over thousands of years in shamanic cultures around the world. The psychedelic story, told to us by a plant, might even be the origin of the monomyth.

Even though I adore movies such as Pulp FictionMemento andShortcuts, I also keep my heart wide open for our primal story. I believe that the hero who overcomes his challenges and goes on to triumph, a story which stands at the basis of many religions and myths, is of utmost importance to our culture. It is the psychedelic story that defies logic but gives us hope. So please, do tell us this story again and again, because it makes us believe, because it gives us hope, and that is what we need, and without it we are lost; it is the only story really worth telling. Avatar tells that story.

Avatar and the World of Shamanism

Avatar tells the story of Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a paraplegic ex-marine arriving at the alien planet of Pandora to replace his recently murdered brother as the operator of an avatar, an hybrid entity identical in physical structure to that of the alien natives of Pandora, but controllable by a pilot with matching DNA.

Jake now has two twin brothers. One dead, the other, an alien incarnation of himself.  In order to penetrate this alien being, Jake must empty his mind, go into dream-state, and connect with him in a special pod from which his consciousness is technologically projected to the Avatar. The life of one is the dream of the other. Where one reality ends, another reality begins.

Transmigrating between two parallel realities is a highly psychedelic idea. This is, after all one of the central tenets of the shamanic view of the world. As extensively described by Michael Harner and others, many shamanic cultures see the reality exposed by psychedelics as the one true reality.

Zhuangzi told us that he once dreamt he was a butterfly, and when he woke up he didn’t know if he was Zuhangzi dreaming he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Zuhangzi. What is reality and what is a dream? Some claim that our whole waking life is just a dream; others propose that we live to dream, and that waking life is just a secondary phenomenon to support dreaming.

Jake falls asleep and connects to an ancient and enchanted land of the cultural subconscious, where he will confront the indigenous shadow of civilization.  After establishing contact with the Na’vi tribe, Jake will undergo an inner transformation. He will learn to perceive nature’s sacredness, like a Na’vi tribesman, and even begin to see nature as his mother.

Psychedelics invoke a kind of dream experience. They are about traveling between dimensions, leaving the commonplace dimension of reality for an enchanted world. But for a citizen of the west living in a modern society ignorant of the shamanic (and psychedelic) view of reality, penetrating the enchanted realm of the psychedelic experience is a wholly different experience than it is for an indigenous person who was raised within a shamanic context. Following the concept of the re-enchantment of the world in contemporary spiritual thought and culture, as used by Christopher Partridge and Wouter Hanegraaff, one should say that the western user of psychedelics does not enter an enchanted world but a re-enchanted world. He re-enters his world, perceiving a world formerly devoid of spiritual or non-materialistic reality with new eyes, the supernaturally inclined eyes of psychedelics.[2] Jake enters this re-enchanted world, the world of shamanism, by becoming a Na’vi tribesman.

Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) is a botanist trying to establish relations with the Na’vi, a quest not unlike that of ethnobotanists and anthropologists such as Richard Evans Schultes, Michael Harner, and Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff, researching the role of psychedelic substances in shamanic cultures.

The Na’vi, an indigenous hunter-gatherer tribe of Pandorian hominid aliens, is spiritually led by the Tsahik, (C. C. H. Pounder) a female shaman who interprets the will of Eywa, the great mother, whose name and essence seem to resemble both that of Eve, the mother of all life, as well as Gaia, the planet mother of all life. The Na’vi culture, similarly to other shamanic cultures, believes in the “flow of energy,” a “network of energy that flows through all living things.” It pays great respect to the “spirits of animals” and when a Na’vi tribesman kills an animal, he performs a ceremony to consecrate its soul, as is done in many archaic cultures. The individual’s rite of passage includes learning to ride the Ikran, a giant carnivorous bird, which resembles the giant mythic bird that appear in various shamanic cultures such as those of the northwest coast of America, and is closely related to the figure of the Shaman, who is often associated with large birds such as the eagle. If all that wasn’t psychedelic or shamanic enough for you, the Na’vi people also worship a “tree of souls,” through which, while dancing and singing, they connect to the planet’s soul, and become a part of the collective consciousness. The meaning of the word ayahuascain the Quechuan language, it is worth mentioning, is “vine of the souls.”

The singing ritual held by the Na’vi around the tree of souls, in which all members of the tribe become one with it, might remind one of contemporary ayahuasca ceremonies. One of ayahuasca’s active chemical constituents, harmaline, was originally known in the west as telepathine, and indeed many indigenous cultures claim to join their minds under the influence of ayahuasca and reach unanimous group decisions in states of collective consciousness, a claim corroborated by McKenna who has also claimed to have witnessed telepathy during ayahuasca ceremonies.[3]

McKenna described the shaman as the one who, when you come to a village in the Amazon where foreigners appear maybe once a year, is distinguished from all others by the fact that he is not at all interested in your fancy boat or watch. The shaman transcends cultural boundaries; he looks at you to see what kind of person you are.

Seeing is important. “I see you,” one of the sacred greetings of the Na’vi, refers to seeing into a person, seeing his essence and actual being. When Jake arrives to the Na’vi tribe and is about to be killed by the angry crowd, it is the Tsahik, the shaman, who examines him with her wide-open eyes to recognize his essence, and then decides to let him stay. Later in the film, when all have turned against him, after his apparent betrayal of the tribe has been exposed, she will also be the one to set him free. She has seen something.

Jake is allowed to stay, and then something interesting happens. Borges, in his “Story of the warrior and the captive” tells us of Droctulft, a barbarian warrior who fell in love with the Roman city Ravenna and with the concept of civilization. He deserted the barbarian armies and joined the Romans in defending the Roman empire. In a diametrically opposed way, Avatar is about a warrior coming from a hyper-technological society to destroy nature falling in love with the forest, and defecting in order to defend it.

“One life ends, another begins.” The Avatar story is as anti-civilizational and neo-primitivist as it gets. When Jake is accepted to join the tribe for a period of apprenticeship, the tribe’s Tsahik says, “We’ll see if we can cure the madness.” The madness referred to by the Tsashik is of course the madness of civilization, the madness of the materialist technological world from which Jake comes. From the shamanic point of view, civilization is madness (and vice versa). This madness must be cured; one reality tunnel must be given up and exchanged with another one. “Hallucination” and “reality” must change places, in a process remarkably similar to that of the psychedelic experience.

As Terrence McKenna never grew tired of reminding us, the psychedelic experience dissolves boundaries. It dissolves the boundaries between “reality” and “hallucination,” between “madness” and “saneness.” After all, the common thing to the psychedelic movement and the anti-psychedelic movement is that they both proclaim each other insane.  While under the influence of psychedelics, and to a significant extent also during periods of psychedelic use, one experiences the world as magical. The everyday world of yesterday suddenly seems to be the bleak, colorless one, the deadly illusion of an unaware mind. Two opposites, hallucination and reality, dream and waking life, suddenly exchange places. Could the dream life be the true life?

This is what is happening to Jake. He wakes up in his pod and suddenly real life is not in the cold technological world of his unit, but in the forest, running on giant tree branches, riding his giant carnivore bird, the Ikran, and being with his love, Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), the daughter of Tsahik and her husband Eytucan the clan leader. Jake must choose between cultures and world views, between the technological world with its materialistic worldview and the forest with its shamanic perception of reality. Like Droctulft, he changes sides. By the end of the movie he will be calling the humans “aliens,” and in the closing scene of the movie he will kill his human incarnation and transform himself completely into the avatar.

Avatar is not only psychedelic in form but also in message.

Reality Pods

In 1954, John Lilly, a neuro-physician on his way to becoming one of the pioneers of research into the nature of consciousness, invents the isolation tank — a pod which isolates the person inside it from external stimulation and triggers an alteration of consciousness. Lilly, who kept close relations with the Californian counterculture of the sixties, also combined his isolation tank experiments with psychedelics, going into long trips inside his tank, a practice memorably presented in the film Altered States (1980), which was loosely based on Lilly’s work.

40 years later, the pod is back, and not for the first time. A decade beforeAvatarThe Matrix featured a person lying in a pod, isolated from reality, and communicating with another reality. What does it mean for us that the two most influential mythic films that our culture has produced since Star Wars both feature a person lying in a pod communicating with a different reality, a being split into two parts, one of them artificial. Could this mean something? Could they mean that we are the ones inside the pod, disconnected from our true body?

Taking off one’s 3D glasses and inspecting the movie viewers, identical looking with their 3D glasses on, staring at the screen, immersed in a 3D world, unable to see their physical surroundings and completely unaware of them, one might think that the 3D experience is the pod. But more generally, the pod might represent all our technological shells, from clothing to our cars and our houses — the technological shells that keep us away from direct contact with the world.

Avatar, it is worth noting, is a highly ambivalent and even paradoxical film. It uses the most advance technology to go on a long harangue against technology. But it has the maybe naïve hope that our pod experience, like Jake’s, will make us want to leave our pods and reconnect with our bodies.

A New Wave of Psychedelic Cinema

In his inspiring book Blessed Unrest, Paul Hawken tell the story of one of the first giant Sequoia trees to be discovered by the American settlers, in Calaveras County, California. More than 300 feet in height and thirty feet in diameter, the tree was unlike anything the western world had ever seen. An entrepreneur by the name of George Gale saw a great business opportunity. He and his associates decided to cut down the Sequoia and take it to be exhibited around the world. The 2,500-year-old tree was so big that its felling took several weeks to accomplish, even with a big group of workers. Hawken tells us that when the tree finally fell, the noise woke people in mining camps fifteen miles away. The huge tree held so much water that it remained green for several years after being cut. When parts of the tree were presented in New York and London, the exhibitions caused a public outcry against the utter cruelty of its destruction, and this was one of the triggers of the environmental movement.

The story of that great Sequoia is mirrored in the story of the giant hometree of the Na’vi people which is destroyed by the bulldozers and explosives of the “Sky People” (Earth people). When Jake, praying at the Tree of Souls, asks Eywa (Mother Nature) for help, he says, “See the world we come from. There is no green there. They killed their mother.” And indeed the myth of the matricide, the killing of Mother Nature that stands at the base of Avatar, is not fictional at all. Indigenous tribes have been going extinct for the past few hundred years, and are today facing major calamities brought on by oil companies and ruthless international corporations, the mercenaries of civilization who invade the jungle to supply our ever-increasing appetite for energy and products.

One of the most engaging sequences in Avatar is the one in which the Na’vi tribe are fleeing the violence and destruction brought upon the forest by the machines of technology. When I watched it for the second time, it seemed to me that these Na’vi people escaping the machines were actually us, humanity, trying to flee the consequences created by our technologies in the beginning of the 21st century.

Avatar relates a violent and realistic story that is taking place as you read this, which is why its message is so important. But it is also a story of a conversion, of Jake’s conversion from the way of technology, from the promethean culture of the “sky people,” as the humans are called by the Na’vi, to the way of the forest. Avatar is a story about transformation, one which humanity direly needs these days, when a radical transformation of our relation with nature has become a necessity.

With its psychedelic qualities and ideas, shamanic values, and indigenous politics, Avatar challenges the reigning values of our culture on the most fundamental level. That this film, which challenges all that is sacred to western materialistic thought and champions shamanic ideas and values deemed to be ludicrous by the dominator culture, has already earned more than a billion dollars and is quite probably on its way to becoming the highest grossing film of all time, is for me no less than amazing. Avatarbrings psychedelic visuals and ideas as well as shamanic values to millions of mainstream moviegoers. Could that have anything to do with the fact that it is in the new digital 3D? Considering that the next big 3D event is Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, a story jammed with weird acting mushrooms and even weirder realities, it seems that we might be facing a kind of psychedelic renaissance brought on by 3D cinema.

Could Avatar and Alice in Wonderland be the first messengers of a new psychedelic wave ushered in by a new medium with psychedelic tendencies? Could they be the ones to bring psychedelic values and ideas into mainstream thinking? I’m not sure that would be enough; however it seems that one of the techniques traditionally used to create the 3D effect in cinema might be helpful as a metaphor in understanding the place these films might play in today’s culture. The Pulfrich Effect, used to create stereoscopic images, relies on the principle that the human eye processes information slower in darker conditions to cause one eye to see reality in delay, thus creating a 3D illusion when watching moving objects. It is as if your two eyes were watching the screen from two different points in time, or from two different points in space. Similarly, the new 3D wave allows us to view culture from two distinct points of perspective in space and time: one of a culture completely immersed in consumerist mania, the other of a culture which keeps a strong relation to its mythic roots in nature. This multi-dimensional effect, which allows us to view ourselves from two different perspectives at the same time, might hint at the transformations ahead.

[1] Joseph Campbell. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968, p. 30 / Novato, California: New World Library, 2008, p. 23.

[2] By this I do not mean to claim that psychedelics are supernatural, at least not here, but only that they encourage the formation of a supernatural view of reality.

[3] Again it is worth noting that I am not claiming that telepathy actually occurs during ayahuasca ceremonies, although something resembling it is definitely at play in some cases, but only that ayahuasca is considered to be telepathic and conducive to collective states of consciousness in many shamanic cultures.