The Entheogenic Impulse: An Artist's Viewpoint
I have always loved getting high. Maybe it is because I am a Gemini,
or perhaps because I am a dragon in the Chinese astrological system--all that
smoke coming out of my ears--but I have been altering my consciousness in various
different ways for the last 40 years.
When I first came across hashish in Zahedan, an Iranian border town, in
the late fifties, I was surprised to discover that I recognized the odd
shift in reality
from my early years of model aircraft building. I’d been inadvertently
sniffing the glue ever since I was a kid. The half-a-dozen wizened old Arabs,
squatting around the enormous water pipe, all roared with laughter as the young
Englishman coughed and spluttered. Still, after two good hits I was away, flying
over the beat-up town in an ecstasy of freedom. I’d found something that
I still value--a plant that has colored most of my adult life.
I say most of my adult life because I still find the soaring clarity of
hash a valuable asset, especially for creativity. Whether this would
be the case if
I had not spent quite long periods abstaining from substances, might go towards
explaining why the entheogenic path can be so troublesome. However, I was lucky
enough to discover the importance of assimilation periods early in my journey
and I think this factor has allowed me to balance the insights and revelations
I have received when high, with the pragmatic reality of third-dimensional life.
Knowing this, I have been saddened over the years to watch people as they
have plunged into the Nagual sometimes never to return to sanity, or
to full operating
consciousness. But, I have learned that in the great pilgrimage towards higher
intelligence, there are bound to be some casualties and there is little point
in being overly sentimental about it.
As Thomas Szasz has shown, entheogens--most particularly power plants,
those substances that have the propensity to draw the Divine out from inside
long been used by conservative elements in society to demonize their users; to
provide scapegoats for the repressed fears and monsters of a more conventional
life. Yet oddly, any reasonable analysis of history suggests that many or most
of the influential voices have belonged to those we would be tempted to label
alcoholics or drug addicts.
Possibly the most unfortunate aspect of the current attitude towards psychedelics,
apart from the confusion of substances labeled under the rubric of “drugs”,
is the blanket of secrecy that has been imposed on users by the criminalization
of what are, in most cases, perfectly natural plant medicines. As Brother Daniel,
a Rastaman I met in my travels, said about his beloved herb: “How can they
outlaw a plant, mun?”
Of course, those who are drawn to experiment with and to explore other
forms of consciousness will continue to do this, illegal or not. The
whole matter is
far too important to be left to the discretion of the straight world. Thus is
bred a disdain for the absurdity of the conventional laws of man and a turning
to the higher law of God--a law that the more attuned awareness will discover
is written in our hearts.
“To be an outlaw, you have to be honest,” said a younger Bob Dylan,
and this one quickly finds out in this strange excursion through other realms
of beingness. Most ancient cultures, and some fortunate contemporary ones, make
sure their members become aware, as they are growing up, that the world is a
far more complicated and interesting place than most Western thinking will allow.
Lacking the punctuation of initiation in our culture, we blunder into personhood
mostly unaware that other worlds and other beings coexist with us in our expanded
Isolation has become the motif and theme of life itself. We have become
so detached from those aspects of ourselves which respond to other realities
it is often
easier to deny the existence of such ways of being than to embark on what is
a lifetime exploration of the deeper realms.
My own search started with a real vengeance after I had experienced three
or four horror trips on acid. It seems odd to me even now to think that
those bad trips that got my attention, rather than the more wonderful excursions
into the fifth-dimension.
Surprisingly, considering how young and inexperienced I was, I must have
that I had some very difficult repressed memories to deal with, although I
certainly didn’t truly understand what was happening until many years later when
I found that I had effectively dissolved those early imprints through my use
The time was the early sixties and my girlfriend had brought back from
New York some sugar cubes neatly wrapped in aluminum foil and soaked
in what must
been about five hundred micrograms of the purest Sandoz LSD-25. Apart from
the horror trips, which certainly had their value, I had my first real and
encounters with telepathy.
One of these culminated during a late evening in London, towards the end
of an acid session in which we actually dared to go outside into the
these were the early days. We turned a corner and the next thing I knew I’d
fallen into the head of a local policeman on his beat. I knew exactly what he
was thinking and feeling. I was looking at the world from out of his eyes. In
those few strange moments I also knew that he could sense me there as he started
wildly looking all around. I pulled my girlfriend quickly down a side street,
both of us giggling uncontrollably, while we tried to cool out and take stock
of this astonishing situation. I had no doubt that I’d touched into the
policeman’s consciousness in some way that I’d never felt before.
It wasn’t that I’d picked up on his thoughts exactly, as the concept
of telepathy implies, but that I felt like I had become him; that I was still
me, but that I was him as well. This incident early gave me a clue as to the
real nature of telepathy and one which was to prove most helpful in my later
encounters with telepathic non-human intelligences.
When the acid ran out, as chance would have it, I met an odd man called
Michael Hollingshead, who always seemed to have a ready supply. A pot-bellied
a man, he appeared to be dedicated to turning on the best and the brightest
of what was soon to become swinging London. Mick Jagger, I remember only because
of his later fame, rolling hash joints on his knee while fighting to keep Michael’s
cat from jumping all over him; and Michael’s missionary zeal and how he’d
been able to score ten thousand hits of pure LSD--he kept them in his famous
mayonnaise jar, mixed with powdered sugar and distilled water. No one was ever
quite sure of the dosage, but it didn’t seem to matter much at the time.
I was to find out many years later that it was Michael Hollingshead who
first introduced Dr. Timothy Leary to LSD.
I had started to study architecture by this time and soon found that among
my group of friends were included a number of expat Americans, all somewhat
than myself and who had been involved with the beat scene in New York. Mind
expanding drugs were very much in the air.
Into this receptive atmosphere at the local pub, the Queen’s Elm in Chelsea,
walked Dr. Dennis. No one ever knew his last name, only that he worked as a professor
of organic chemistry at one of London’s universities and not only had
a specific interest in entheogens, but had ready access to them when they
yet been made illegal. Beyond his interest in the chemical structure of these
substances, his real penchant was for testing them out on any bold enough
to try them. Well, with the drug macho of the young, we needed no extra encouragement.
The thing that was odd to us at the time was that the good doctor never
himself took anything. We’d discuss whether it was purely his sense of responsibility
or whether he secretly didn’t know what the effects of his concoctions
would be, or indeed whether he might have been some sort of psychedelic voyeur--which
is very much what he often appeared to look like with an armful of DMT. So
he would dose us up, generally half-a-dozen at a time, with intravenous shots
mescaline, DMT, its longer lasting cousin DET, or ibogaine, and then he would
sit back and watch our antics.
DMT (dimethyltriptamine) was probably the first of the really powerful substances
that I had ever encountered. Its raw intensity, in spite of being short-lived,
left acid in another category altogether. And it was a lifetime of revelation
different from the hashish I’d bumped into in Iran. The series of experiments
with Dr. Dennis brought me up sharply with the realization that something
very different indeed was happening just beyond the range of our normally
In fact, if I was to isolate one of the main lines of inquiry that entheogens
have generated over the years, it would be in the examination of what our
senses hide from us. The Bergsonian concept of the brain as a reducing valve,
has evolved over time to selectively exclude that which is not useful to
our immediate survival, has always seemed reasonable to me.
had been explored by Aldous Huxley in his seminal essay ‘The Doors
of Perception’ as one way of accounting
for the massive sensory onslaught of a full bore psychedelic encounter.
It certainly felt so for me, especially in the light of the horror trips
I’d been having on
the acid. Where did they come from? Whatever could be going on?
DMT, however, didn’t have quite the same effect,
most likely due to the rapidity with which the substance came on. There
was no time to get stuck in
the lower astral, or however I might have tried to explain to myself the
horrifying impact of the LSD. With the DMT it was about five seconds from
and Blam! I was there. Deep into the utter weirdness of a triptamine trance.
Ladders climbing themselves; objects skittering around the room with lives
of their own; eyes everywhere and the almost overwhelming sense of being
from the “ other side”. Not frightening at all, but exquisitely
stimulating as the veils between the realities pealed away. I managed to
bring back some extraordinary paintings, long lost now in another country,
of the visions
that fell around all me, but the impulse to try to record these subtle
realms in a visual medium has stayed with me all my life.
The urge towards self-healing, largely unconscious at the time, brought
me back again and again, however, to the frightful trips I was having with
It was happening even more frequently; I’d be in the middle of a
magnificent high when out of nowhere I’d find myself suddenly tumbling
down the hideous maw of the Destroyer. It was utterly terrifying. I had
where these hellish
visions were coming from--or, how to stop them from happening. I would
simply sit and shiver through the long night of the soul until the effects
off. It was both shattering, and yet, in an odd sense, I also felt somehow
through the experience.
It was this rejuvenation that I felt afterwards that really grabbed my
attention. If I was feeling so regenerated after the trip then surely
a release of sorts
must have been taking place. Much later, with the wisdom of retrospect, I
was able to see that these horror shows had been literally baked into my
mental/emotional circuitry as a result of having been born into a war. It
became gradually clearer to me that the fear engendered by crouching under
a table waiting for the German bombs to explode had created paranoid
fear circuits in my young mind that would cut into my entheogenized
I was well into my late forties before I finally rid myself of these fear
circuits with the help of ketamine.
Being subject to such intense fear at a very young age, however, produced
in me a counter phobia which started as I entered adolescence at an English
school. I apparently feared very little and took a particular delight in
attempting to thwart the system. The system, in its turn, was trying to break
and turn me into a company man.
Waking up at 14-years-old, I found myself in what I thought of as a concentration
camp. It was a typical upper-class English education. I was beaten formally
and unmercifully time and again in what was to become a battle for my will.
from the thrashings I was getting from the headmaster and my housemaster,
angered one of the senior boys by refusing his sexual advances and thus had his
malice to deal with. Demonstrating the savagery of the system, this boy--at the
time a rather large 18-year-old--lost control of himself while administering
the proverbial six-of-the-best for some trivial offense. Because I refused to
cry out he went on and on beating me until finally he had to be pulled off by
the other six or eight house monitors, whose job it was to line up formally and
observe the ritual. And as such things happen, it was also the last time that
I was beaten before I left public school at sixteen and a half. I’d
seen behind the mask. I knew too much.
If I have belabored this unpleasant aspect of my past it is because I have
been able to see in this the roots of my own violence. This personal craziness
in my mid-twenties and I should say that it was not in any way substance
induced. I’d stopped using any drugs for about two years previously.
The first time the violence flared was when I was having a bitter row with
a woman I was to
later marry, when she suddenly attacked me physically from behind with a
large metal-edged T-square. I must have redded out because the next thing
I knew was
that I was coming back into my body and was flailing at her wildly with my
fists. I stopped immediately, appalled at what I was doing. But, I knew,
in those moments,
exactly what it meant to be blinded by anger. I had no idea or memory of
what I had done.
Once again, I have entheogens to thank for allowing me to find a path through
the imprinting that resulted from the abuse I’d endured at school--although
it took all of 25 years to finally master the violence demon and to fully
release all the anger and fear literally beaten into me when young. It was
entheogens that first brought
issues to my attention and it
was using these substances over the years that has allowed me to come to
terms with much of the darkness in my personality.
This example could also serve to illustrate how we as a society have allowed
our fears and apprehensions about drugs in general to deprive us of the chance,
using entheogens, to explore and to actually deal with, precisely those demons
which so evidently ravage our lives. The roots of violence spring directly
from childhood abuse of one sort or another. To create a culture of empire
cruel hard men, generally, the British knew quite well what they were doing
with their harsh child-rearing methods. Among their many properties, entheogens
a God-given way of understanding, and ultimately reprogramming, troublesome
emotional and mental imprinting. It is little wonder then that they are so
feared and misunderstood
by the authorities.
The hardest imprints to ease out of my system turned out to be among the
first that I acquired. The terror that I must have gone through as a boy
and four while the German bombs and doodlebugs dropped on and around our
in Kent, had created in me what I came to see as a powerfully self-destructive
urge. It was as if my child ego took it all personally and assumed that I
must have done something terribly wrong, to be punished in this way.
As a consequence, I have observed over the course of my life, how easily
and carelessly I have thrown myself away in crucial moments--a kind of desire
go down with the ship. How many times I have avoided success at the last
moment by making some idiosyncratic move; the absurd risks I have taken;
acts of self-sacrifice--there were many ways that self-destructive, fear-driven
imprint would intrude into my life.
It wasn’t until the late eighties, with the help of vitamin K (ketamine
hydrochloride), that I was able to see with a sufficient degree of detachment
the impact that this early fear has had on my psyche. It seemed as though
every time that I used the vitamin in sufficient dosage to leave my body
I would find
myself trapped in an intermediary reality in which I perceived everything
as being hostile to me. The reality was similar enough to consensus to include
people with whom I was tripping, but I felt as if I was only in contact with
their very darkest natures. I felt I’d been plunged into hell. Reality
itself would then start closing in on me, all seeming to resolve down to
one simple action which I knew would
extricate me from this horrific situation, but for the life of me I could
never quite grasp what it was that I was supposed to do. At this point, I
completely lose it and start rushing around in a full-blown paranoid flare-up.
The place was bugged. Everybody was after me. Locked in a Kafka world, once
again I was the three-year-old criminal that people were trying to kill.
Fortunately, I was able to grasp that there was something obsessively driven
about these flare-ups while they were going on. That was the first glimmer
of a breakthrough. This insight also allowed me a certain small degree of
objectivity through which I could see the craziness of my thoughts and actions,
outside myself. It was as though I could see myself going through these antics
that I could have controlled and yet intuitively I knew that I had to act
them out; that by bringing the madness out into the open I could finally
and release it.
Over the next few years I was shown, through the studied use of ketamine,
just how these paranoid circuits had developed and how they had colored the
of my life, without my having any idea of what was driving this aspect of
my personality. The attacks diminished as my understanding grew, until the
came when I must have reached a catharsis and those entities guiding the
process decided that I was ready to receive a meditation and a release technique
finally permitted me to let go of the fears once and for all. Granted the
relief was a long time coming, but I don’t think that I could have
delved to the bottom of this trauma without the help of entheogens.
I was lucky in that when I started getting high I most often associated
the state of mind with creativity. I was studying architecture in London
sixties when substances of one sort of another first entered my life. Because
I had exams to pass and an academic agenda to follow, I would use different
drugs to accentuate qualities I needed to accomplish the tasks at hand; uppers
attention to detail; hash for form or spontaneous design possibilities; acid
or mescaline for totally new approaches.
This led me to research cybernetics, neurology and optics, which I then
applied to a new form of mass entertainment that I’d conceived
which was based on shared lucid dreaming. I called the system ‘Hallucorama’ and
designed a theater to hold 500 people in computer modulated feedback
loops of greater and greater entrancement until the entire audience took
off together. It amuses me to think that now, more
35 years later, my Hallucorama is still waiting to be fully developed and
actually brought into reality.
This underlines another aspect of a life lived using entheogenic substances.
The collaborative factor. I feel as though I have plucked concepts and ideas
from another realm of being and have sought to manifest them on this level.
Many times they stay simply as ideas and never reach completion. Sometimes
carry them out--an idea whose time has come will appear to a number of people
Understanding the creative process in this way, as one of tapping into
an alternate realm of beingness, allows the artist access to a steady
Seeing these ideas as not being generated specifically by the human creator
a spiritual opening to another dimension which, in turn, lends assurance
to the artist that he or she is working in alignment with the higher realms
This path also favors humility since the concepts are not generated out of
merely egoic concerns.
My own opening to what I have to understand as the fifth-dimension, or
the angelic reality, came as a result of a Near Death Experience in 1973.
using entheogens for the previous nine years so the experience was in no
way drug-related. Possibly that helped in establishing for me the complete
of other levels of existence. Even though I’d had earlier encounters
with them on acid and DMT, these were just hints compared to the fluid beauty
coherence of the NDE.
Any “experts” who dismiss a Near Death Experience as a random firing
of neurons under extreme stress, clearly haven’t had one. The dimension
in which I found myself after I had left my body was not only real, but it was
far more real than the one from which I’d “died”. It was in
this state that I first saw the angels; hundreds of them all swaying and singing
and making the most beautiful music that I’d ever heard. I also became
aware for the first time of my two companion angels as they escorted me through
As anyone who has had an NDE will confirm, this opportunity to peer behind
the veil of existence profoundly changes one’s life. Not only does
any fear of death disappear in the realization of the continuity of consciousness,
but one emerges with the assurance that life is in fact an orderly affair
and that we are all
cared for in a way that we can barely comprehend.
More formal work with these entities, who referred to themselves as angels,
started for me in the early eighties. A small group of friends with an interest
affairs had gathered in Toronto, Canada, after an odd phenomenon had began
to occur. When we went into meditation together, one of our members would
a light trance and there, through him, the angels spoke to us. It was deeply
effecting, well grounded and authentic and an encounter which set me off
on a pilgrimage of a deeper understanding of these other, yet strangely familiar,
As I subsequently came to explore these dimensions further, I found that
entheogens could play their part in helping to break through the astral veil
the worlds. Yet, for me to feel completely comfortable with the reliability
of the contacts, it was also vital that I should be able to communicate with
entities in a straight, unaltered state of mind.
Out of all of these encounters,
transmissions and meditations emerged a system for making contact with
companion (guardian) angels that anyone with the heart for it can use to
connection with their own celestial companions.
My lifelong interest has been in the nature of consciousness, both human
and non-human. Some of my earliest strange interactions were lucid dreams
extraterrestrial beings, before I ever discovered what I’ve come to understand as the inner
worlds of the angels. With or without entheogens, my life has felt like an elaborate
dance, an extensive series of encounters with what Terence McKenna has called
This Other, of course, is the great mystery that draws us all on, whether
we know it or not. The mystery is at the very root of our creativity since
represents all that we do not know, but can only garner from ineffable
moments of higher
awareness. The eternal challenge for the artist is to be able to put into
symbols that others might understand, the unspeakable wonder and high weirdness
this Other. Although clearly not the only reason for art, it is certainly
one of most
long abiding impulses for creative work. Artists, since the earliest cave
paintings of Europe and the petroglyphs of the Anasazi, have been trying
to peer through the veil to where magic happens. Entheogenically stimulated
awareness must have been as dominating an influence for them as it has
become for those
of us living today. In the cultures that still use these substances they
clearly form a very important aspect of life. And, in a perverse way, the
sums of money our government is spending on its spurious War on Drugs also
demonstrates that our culture recognizes the power of these substances
as tools for social
change. The Draconian penalties meted out to those whose crime is often
merely their desire to alter their consciousness can only be justified
by the profound
fear that by so doing they will slip out from under the control of the
authorities, and that the stern cloak of materialism will be dissolved
in the face of
Virtually all power plants have local names which represent their sacred
or magical nature. This has traditionally been accepted as one of the great
not something to be feared or maligned, but to be used with wisdom and
consideration. It is clearly not by trying to eradicate drugs that we will
learn to use
Entheogens have always been discovered by those curious enough, or have
been administered by a shaman or clan elders, as a way of initiating an
to deeper levels of being. What the neophyte will rapidly discover, as
I did when
I started out on my entheogenic journey, is that the inner realm of the
creative imagination is far more extensive than the outer world of three-dimensional
In our contemporary political and legal climate we are falling foul of
one of the very lessons entheogens teach so well; not to externalize
we see as unacceptable or evil, but to learn that all forces, positive
and negative, exist within each one of us. By demonizing drugs and drug
and by confusing
entheogens with other substances of far higher abuse potential, we are
perpetuating the scapegoat mentality at the same time as removing some
of the very tools
which could allow us, individually, to accept the true depth of our responsibilities.
We are allowing the fear and ignorance of the so-called moral guardians
to infantalize us, to deprive us of the God-given means of working our
way out of the mess into which we have collectively gotten ourselves.
When the truth, for instance, of the Contra arms-for-cocaine deal finally
emerges, it may well demonstrate that both the traffic in, and the criminalization
drugs was a cynically deliberate way of suppressing the underclass, as
well as a way of filling the cells of a rapidly expanding prison industry
to their present overflow capacity. There is surely something deeply
immoral about a system that locks up such a large
of its populace and then develops an industry out of its misfortune.
Decriminalization, when it finally comes, will remove the vast sums of
money to be made from illegal drugs; it will lessen the attraction of the
for rebellious teenagers; it will remove the temptation that has so badly
corrupted law enforcement on every level; and it will allow those who are
drawn to explore
altered states of consciousness to make up their own minds as to their
appropriate choice and use of substances. If we de-emphasize and de-mystify
arena of drug taking, teach the history of their uses and abuses, then
who have delved these depths will speak out with courage, passing on what
they have learned. Drawing on some of the wisdom of the ancients, possibly
return to entheogenic initiations as a means of instilling a sense of the
sacred among our young people. A major dose of pure LSD, some ibogaine,
or a session
with an ayahuasquero, would be quite enough to straighten out the most
recalcitrant adolescent. Making entheogens available to the aged and the
dying would bring
a dignity and a compassion to what has become a modern nightmare.
As a postscript to the legality issue and a comment on the actual situation
regarding entheogens and their uses, I was able to see the hypocritical
mess we have allowed
to be created at a gathering I attended back in 1984. I’d been invited
to a long weekend at a mansion outside San Francisco for what was billed
as a get-together of scientists, artists, philosophers and innovative thinkers.
were about 120 of us, drawn from all over America and asked to present our
most advanced ideas and theories with the overall hope that this sort of
interaction would spark syncretically yet further new understandings.
As might be imagined, it was an eclectic and somewhat unusual mix of
people which included some who were at the top of their fields. Scientists,
makers sat and chatted in the manicured grounds before attending the
planned gatherings. On the second day the video cameras and tape recorders
turned off and the talk turned to entheogens and the uses to which they
put. When we were asked who amongst us found psychedelics continuingly
of us raised our hands.
The stories that followed made it quite clear that regardless of their
current state of illegality, entheogens have entered the creative
processes of our
culture in a way that can neither be denied, nor can be stopped by
people are finding therm valuable in their work and their lives that
the genii cannot be put back in the bottle. We have to find ways
to use these
tools wisely, and may it be sooner, rather than later, that the lawmakers
wake up to the deep immorality of their current position, as well
as the wasted
opportunity to use entheogens in a manner that would lead to a true
re-enchantment of the
land and contribute to a deeper understanding of what it means to
be more fully human.
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