Some Comments on DMT and Ayahausca
The Perspective of a Gaian Nagual
What might I add in further clarification of my stance here? I distinguish strongly between the ayahausca brew and synthetic DMT produced in a lab. Also, I distinguish between chemical and herbal DMT, a concoction of herbs. I have experimented with ayahuasca four times, and with chemical and herbal DMT, say, about ten times.
The first time I experienced chemical DMT was memorable. It happened in an apartment in the Lower East Side of New York, in the winter of 1966, just before I met Jan Kerouac. I recall clearly smoking some crystalline powder in a pipe rigged up with aluminum foil. I sat cross-legged on the floor. The effect was, I froze in place like a statue, and I went somewhere for about 30 seconds, and returned. I had no memory of what happened during that interval of apparent absence. There was no emotional charge to the experience. It felt flat, with a "so what" tinge. Through the subsequent years, I felt no desire to continue with DMT and I was not curious to learn about it.
Typical image of a DMT entity,
1966 was a long, long time ago. In the years coming forward from that moment, I saw shamanism become a huge trend in the counterculture, and I heard more and more people talking about ayahausca and making extravagant claims about its effects. Forty-five years later, I found myself invited into an ayahuasca cult operating in Europe, led by a French woman who claimed to have been initiated by the Shipobo in Peru. She and the members of the group often partook of a tabacco-based herbal snuff called rape (rah-PAY, jungle cocaine), herself taking it as many as ten times a day. When I questioned her authenticity and authority, I was quickly ejected from the scene. She was making upward of 10,000 euros a month on ayahuasca sessions in France, including some in which the participants were clebrities, top models, and movie stars. The Amazonian potion had become a new age rage and a fashionable entertainment.
By that time Blueberry, a film depicting the ayahuasca experience, was well known for its vivid and complex psychedelic imagery. I met the director, Jan Kounen, at the 2004 World Psychedelic Forum in Basel, and found him to be a total deadhead with no visionary flair, no sense of transcendent purpose. I got the same impression from others I met in a small ayahuasca circle I attended in Andalucia, Spain. Intellectually, they were not the brightest bulbs in the pack, and some of them could barely string a coherent sentence together. Yet they prided themselves on how many times they had done ayahausca, and remained intent on continuing to undergo all-night sessions of violent vomiting and not infrequent bouts of involuntary defecation, all for the glories it brought to them -- whatever they were.
The paradisical landscape of Pandora in Avatar, released about five years after Blueberry, also brought to mind the hallucinations reported by those using ayahausca, but less so of the visions induced by its synthetic correlate, DMT. Notably, Pandora was a living landscape that could have been the natural world seen with enhanced perception. The DMT environment, by contrast, is not alive. Writing the Psychonautics section of metahistory.org around 2005, I referred to the spectacular work of Pablo Amaringo (1938 - 2009), a Peruvian artist who painted visions of things seen in the ayahausca trance, and included one of his works in the essay, The Cypher of Ollin.
Note that Amaringo's painting differs in style and content from the typical image of a DMT entity pictured above. With Amaringo, the entire setting of the natural world becomes hallucinogenic, but it is still the natural world. DMT art -- often following the style popularized by Alex Grey whose main inspiration was LSD rather than DMT, I believe -- does not depict the natural world, or if it does, it presents a highly geometricized and fractalized rendering of it. The difference here in stylistic representation is a crucial one, reflecting the difference between the effects of the natural brew and synthetic DMT.
Pablo Amaringo with a painting.
My experiences with both the potion and the lab-produced drug confirm this difference. I am convinced that ayahuasca belongs to the jungle and in the jungle. I would venture to say that the residing entity of the species of the liana (Banisteriopsis caapi) does not like to be exported. She will tolerate it, but only to a certain degree... Trafficking ayahausca potions around the world is a bad idea and not conducive to the optimal use of the plant medicine. It is, after all, a medicine. When the Zacatec shaman Maria Sabina introduced R. Gordon Wasson to psilocybin mushrooms in 1952, the traditional ceremonies conducted were limited to the purpose of healing. They were not intended for visionary adventures across the cosmos. Likewise for ayahausca. It was strictly used for healing and in some cases, divination related to specific questions or problems, including communication with power animals and performance of magic. It was not used for aimless psychonautic jaunts into the farther reaches of the mind.
I rank the ayahausca potion, combining the liana with the leaf chakruna (Psychotia viridis), among the top five most powerful psychoactive plants on this planet. The resident spirit, Sacha Mama (Vudasi in Planetary Tantra), is a healer commanding vast and miraculous powers. Ayahauscaros in their own lands have cured just about everything that afflicts the human animal, including leukemia and cancer. Additonal to the gift of healing, this potion delivers a special experience of Mahakundala, the serpent power of the earth itself. Reports of this experience are more or less consistent among those who surrender to the full power of the ayahausca trance: they meet an enormous serpent who instructs them in self-knowledge and reveals the deep bond between the human species and the mother planet. The luminous kundala serpent takes you to the roots of life itself.
From my own experience I can attest to the encounter with the serpent power of Gaia-Sophia. Picture a 40-foot anacounda hovering over you, its head with the size and bulk of a concrete mixing truck. It writhes with huge contorting muscular power, emanating a rainbow spread of radiant living colors, capturing you by the hard emerald gleam of its eyes. In my case, the anaconda swung around behind me, or somehow swung me around to the position where it could bury its fangs into the back of my neck, and delivered its venom. One January night under an obsidian sky with Orion cartwheeling over the horizon, I found myself huddling on my knees on a rough hillside in Spain, my head forced down by the monstrous grip bearing on my neck, the intense surges of the venom pumping into me, saturating every cell of my body and jolting me with an ecstatic thrill that was close to asphyxiating. I shuddered, wept, and moaned in bliss. I could not believe how good it felt.
Others report being swallowed by the serpent. I know that an anaconda in nature does not have fangs that deliver venom. But that one does.
Hearing that I could not believe how good it felt, although intense nearly to the point of death, anyone might ask: Weren't you eager to do it again? Answer: No. As Timothy Leary famously quipped, "After you get the message, hang up the phone."
My conclusion is that no one benefits from continually taking ayahausca and they may instead undergo diminishing returns. I know cases who have trouble thinking and articulating. One woman in particular who hosts ayahausca retreats and has taken it many times (over fifty, I believe) has the air of a retard, unable to formulate her thoughts, as if her brain were mush. As far as I can tell, people go for as many trips as possible in an egotistical play for prestige, getting notches on their belts. I've met people who have taken it 200 times as or more. They are neither unusally bright nor accomplished in any particular way.
Point of clarification: the ayahauscero who leads a group retreat, or offers healing to a particular individual for a particular ailment, takes the potion every time, running into hundreds of sessions. Why then does the master shaman not suffer diminishing returns and other negative side-effects? As far as I know, many ayahuasceros do indeed suffer a lowering of their intelligence and derangement of various kinds. Reports of crazed and dangerous shamans who exploit the current fad of ayahuasca tourism are rampant. It should be noted, however, that genuine ayahuasceros who stick to the tradition do not undergo the same effects as the people they lead in a group gathering, or the individual they treat for healing. They do not vomit, and they stay poised, offside the main action. The purpose of the ayahuasca chants, icaros, is not only to keep the neophytes on track and "behind the medicine," but also to allow the presiding shaman to hold a position of neutrality and detachment.
I would say that the measure of a genuine and trustworthy ayahuascero is the ability to stand offside from the massive somatic and visionary impact of full-blown trance, the better to observe others, guide them in the visionary event, or bring them into an effective healing process. You will observe a similiar style of shamanic practice, the nagual's poise, among the Bwiti of Gabon who use the psychoactive bark, iboga. Veteran Bwiti shamans typically sit aside from the group session and observe with detachment, holding back from deep plunge of the iboga trance, yet in the debriefing after the session they prove that they know exactly what the other participants went through, what they encountered as obstacles, the visions they saw, and how they handled it all. The nagual's poise alone can explain such a capacity to follow the trance state without deep immersion in it. Or deeply immersed, but withdrawn from the effects that typically overwhelm neophytes.
Ayahausca is a remedy that also delivers a singular type of ecstatic vision connecting the human subject with the raw power of the planet. It has a therapeutic function, as well. I noted in the first session that I was instructed in the release of emotional trauma I retained from five different relationships. With precision and delicacy, a female nurturing presence showed me the problem of attachment specific to each case and precisly how to resolve it. I was deeply moved and ever so grateful to be handled in that way. The assistance came as a total surprise to me, as I am not accustomed to underoing therapy in the shamanic sessions I undertake with sacred mushrooms, and I do not consider such therapy to be the purpose of the experiment. Many report life-changing insights from the therapy session with the mother snake. The ayahausca trance can last from six to ten hours.
By contrast, the DMT flash lasts only seconds or at most a couple of minutes. Many people report being unable to recall what happens in the flash. Those who do recall almost all report the same phenonomenon: they are contronted by a gaggle of trolls or elf-like entities who chatter and gesture excitedly, as if they have something of utmost importance to convey, and urgently. The appearance and behavior of "DMT trolls" is by now a stock item in the psychedelic (or entheogenic) folk lore of the planet.
I have not encountered any DMT trolls but I have undergone other commonly reported effects of the flash: the sensation of being under a huge bell-dome that fills the entire sky, deep stillness filled with a pervasive and evasive hum, the sense of being immersed in a modelled setting like a mold or cast where everything sits, rather inertly, but seemingly in perfect order. There is an odor reminiscent of plastic or polyurethane glue, a faint chemical fume, which I find unpleasant. Equally unpleasant is the impression that eveything seen in the natural landscapeor the sky above is formed of a uniform substance, like gum -- as if the world were a "sense-surround" artifact molded uniformly in gum. This bubble-gum, plastified look is consistent in all my experiences with chemical DMT.
I have some other, more extensive comments to make about the bubble-gum cosmos of DMT that go beyond the limits of this essay.
Perhaps I did not encounter any DMT trolls due to having long ago banished archons from my presence. Those entities described in Gnostic teachings give me a wide berth. I guess the word has gone around the hive that I annihilate any archons on sight. I do not tolerate their presence in my mind or aura.
Nor do I allow archontic entities or archontified visions of any kind into my mind-field when engaged in visionary trance. That particular intrusion of an alien mindset occurs routinely in the DMT flash which in fact favors and invites it. In Severed Rose I take great care to explain that the Gaian shaman does not indulge in hallucinations but gazes intensively into the natural world, following the Goethean method of observation. I emphasize how archontic hallucinations differ totally from genuine perceptions of the living beauty of the Supernatural.
In short, I maintain that the fabled DMT elves are archontic trolls, projections of that alien presence in the solar system that arise in the "swill", the kenoma, dema, zone of elementary matter, as explained in my talk. They pose as entities having knowledge of the cosmos. In effect they are not so different from idiots you encounter in comment sections and forums on the internet: vapid, erratic, meddlesome minds who troll you. Like internet trolls, the DMT elves are there to entertain themselves by baiting and pointlessly harrassing you, and interfering maliciously in sane and coherent communication. Such hecklers have nothing at all to teach.
Here I contradict the widespread assumption about DMT trolls, namely, they have something to tell us creatures of the human world. They have secrets of the universe to impart, revealing how it is constructed and how it works. Do they really? That is an expectation to be proven. So far I have not encountered one account of any specific and viable, verifiable item of knowledge retrieved from a DMT flash.
At a recent private seminar on DMT given in September 2015, to which I was invited but could not attend, one of the participants mused on the prospect of posing questions to the DMT entities, lingering longer with them (if possible) so as to converse in depth and draw upon what they can teach, what they have to tell us human creatures that we cannot know out of our own resources. Well, I have to warn, that approach is a dead-end. And warn again, that explorations in that direction, with that intention, could well lead to dementia. Or mere nonsense. In my opinion, investigation of consciousness and the cosmic order with DMT is a cul-de-sac. It goes nowhere except into more and more fantastic and ungrounded speculations. I would also question if continual doses of synthetic DMT may not induce neurochemical damage of some degree or kind.
This last comment brings to mind the much-discussed fact -- and I do take it to be an established fact -- that DMT saturates the human body and can be found in lavish quantities all through the natural world. Agreed. The pertinent question is, What it is doing there? What is the role of DMT in nature and specifically in the human body and brain?
I will attempt a provisional answer to these questions in the conclusion of this essay. Meanwhile, I offer the synopsis I wrote for my presentation of the seminar of September 2015, which I could not attend. I titled my talk Mutus Liber in reference to an alchemical text of the late 17th century.
A Gnostic-Alchemical View of DMT,
Ayahuasca, and Planet Sentience
Presentation by John Lamb Lash
The talk opens with a brief critique of DMT/ayahuasca experimentation, based on my first-hand experience as well as interactions with those who pursue such experimentation. I state my objection to evangelization of the ayahausca trance ordeal as a redemption remedy, comparable to afterdeath judgement scenarios in Egyptian ("the weighing of the soul") and Christian ("Purgatory") traditions. Personally, I can attest observing no character change in ayahuasca devotees. According to one ayahuascero I met, improvement of personal morality is not given in the medicine or its ritual purpose. The impact of ayahuasca as a therapeutic teacher is incontestable, but the enduring result varies widely with the subject.
Only 10-15 minutes of the talk go to this critique, what I am against. The remainder sets out what I am for, the kind of entheogenic investigation I practice and teach. I explain that my method derives from the theoria or divine mathesis of the Mysteries: instruction by the Light. That would be specifically the living luminosity that radiates from the earth, the Organic Light (OL). My investigations with plant sentience show that the planet which provides psychoactive plants for human use is a radiant body. To encounter this radiance in the state of cognitive ecstacy (gnosis) is to attain the Grail.
I emphasize that the theoria (beholding) of the OL is not merely a subjective trance effect: it is objective, repeatible, consistent to all witnesses, and teachable. My claims regarding the OL are supported by alchemical sources and the body of evidence surviving from the Pagan Mysteries centered on the figure of the Aeon Sophia. To enter ecstatic trance with the deliberate aim of encountering the OL and receiving instruction, is the telestic method of shamanism.
In closing, I venture an interpretation of typical DMT trance effects based on Gnostic intel gathered from telestic practice. I argue that the source of the DMT phenomena cannot be detected within the state where they arise, which is transdimensional relative to the natural world: off-planet, out of this world. Considering that certain plants provided by nature exhibit intelligence, sentience, empathy, and other capacities that allow them to be interactive with the human mind, I question why DMT, which mimics these properties, would deliver a different set of effects from nature-bound plant allies and fungi.
The talk concludes on some critical objections raised by the Gnostic perspective on the DMT trance and its origin, the off-planet locus from which these bizarre encounters emerge.
Note: "Planet" sentience in the title is not a typo.
John Lamb Lash (b 1945), author, visionary teacher, and mythologist
Neuron Hair Spray
What can I add in conclusion? Well, let's cut to the chase. Were I to enter a close and intensive conversation with DMT investigators on the topic, I would venture the opinion that DMT is a formatting chemical. My research using the telestic method, shared with a small team of neophyte shamans trained in Planetary Tantra, indicates that it is not by any account the master chemical of consciousness, as some DMT psychonauts would like to believe. Rather, it operates universally in nature to format unconscious life-processes including biological and neurochemical activities of the human mind and body. I say "unconscious" to indicate activity of which the human creature does not need to be conscious -- such as enzyme metabolism in digestion -- and, indeed, for which it is better off not being consciousness. Otherwise, it could not function.
What is a formatting chemical? It is a reagent or fixative, like spray glue. As such, it may also be compared to the spray gel that holds a hairdo in place. DMT is indeed a crucial and pervasive chemical element in the cosmos. Operating as a formatting agent, it comprises a vast range of functions which, however, cannot for the most part be observed by instruments or technological devices. The analogy to a set of tools is helpful in approaching the mysterious, occluded role of DMT.
Picture the set of tools you see along the left panel of Photoshop, the cropping tool, various fonts, brushes, image definitionand rotation tools, filters, and many more. These are IT apps, archontic devices similar to the actual drafting tools you would find in an architect's studio or a workship where objects and machines are designed and constructed by hand -- remember those by-gone days? I do remember them, so vividly. In the rude shack of Winfield Lash in Friendship, Maine, I recall seeing a variety of drafting and scaling tools, compasses and calipers, as well as a selection of huge alluring french curve maquettes hung on the wall. Winny used these tools to draft designs for the hulls of Friendship sloops which were made from wood in his nearby boatshop. The workmen steamed the wooden planks of the hull and clamped them into place. I often earned a few dollars in the post-construction task of caulking and sealing the seams. As I did so, I ran my hands over the actual forms constructed from designs laid out with the formatting tools in Winny's shack.
DMT cannot design anything, but as a formatting tool it configures pre-designed systems into a working unity. The way it does so is specific to the cosmic order that pertains in our world, the solar system harboring the earth. It operates within the specific conditions of abiogenesis, usually defined as the production of living, organic matter from an inorganic, non-living base. But life on earth does not arise from an inorganic base, it is merely seated in one. Organic life is seated in the matrix of inorganic chemistry. The role of DMT is to format and integrate all relations of the activities of organic and inorganic chemistry in the structure and functions of the human organism. And likewise in the living field of plant and animal life across the planet.
Consider the components of the human body that are routinely regarded as inorganic: the electrolytes in the pericardium (sodium, calcium, chloride, magnesium and potassium) and elsewhere in the body. Other trace minerals -- cobalt, copper, zinc, manganese, molybdenum, selenium, there are quite a few -- are essential to establishing life and consciousness yet consciousness does not have to rely to them immanently to function. The consciousness of the organic creature stands free of its scaffolding in the mineral kingdom, inorganic chemistry. DMT establishes the scaffolding, coordinates all the trace-minerals and electrolytes, and seats the ensemble of transcendent organic functions into the inorganic matrix. Obviously, its role is vast. But is only a formatting agent, not a catalyst of consciousness, not a transfer agent for cognition and attention.
Those who hail and hype the wonders of DMT often cite the fact that it saturates the human fetus up to the 49th day after conception, then mysteriously recedes. At that point, it has completed its formatting action and goes dormant. To awaken or access it, as happens in the DMT flash, re-activates the tool-set and releases a spectral flurry of entities, projections into consciousness of the DMT skill-sets. Hence, they appear as mechanical elves and they are in fact, just that. And hyperactive ones, for sure. The extreme agitation reported by those who arouse these entities -- i.e., the formatting functions deployed at the borderline of organic/inorganic abiogenesis -- by ingesting synthetic DMT, is predictable and comparable to the agitation of any chemical medium, like the fizz of alka seltzer in a glass of water.
The overriding effect of the DMT trance excites and fixates the mind in the same flash event. The analogy to hair spray is crass but not inaccurate. Imagine a mass of long hair tossed wildly in a violent wind: that is an analogy to your neural reflexes firing constantly through the axon-dendron mesh in a mad rush to sustain consciousness. The sudden spray of DMT immediately fixes the field of mental streaming into a static coif. Absorbing synthetic DMT is like using hair spray on your neural network. However, confirming what I say here requires something like dark field microscope detection of the neuronal dimension, down to what happens in a minute fraction of a second. I do maintain that this action could be detected given the required device.
Since DMT cannot normally be absorbed orally, the ayahausca potion has to include the MAO inhibitor contained in the harmala alkaloids of the liana. The potion is named after the vine but actually it is the leaf of the chakruna (Psychotria viridis) that contains the active DMT, not the vine. The human body cannot digest and metabolize DMT without the MAO inhibitors: the serpent mother residing in the vine allows it to take the alimentary path, in exception to the natural order. I conclude from this fact that DMT is not designed for ordinary consumption, like any organic food fitted to nourish an animal. It is, in effect, forbidden to the organism that it has assisted to take form as an organism. That makes sense, if the formatting chemical goes dormant after it has completed its tasks. The inclusion of MAO chemistry in the liana by-passes this alimentary taboo -- a most special case of transgression, as I suggested just now (italics above).
So, I will leave it at that for the moment. I had not intended to produce such a long written exposition on DMT and ayahausca, but the topic is timely. The above can be read in close parallel to my forthcoming essay on The Telestic Method. Eventually I would like to reprise some of these points made here, and possibly venture toward a tentative description of the cosmic locale of the DMT trolls which, I do insist, is "transdimensional relative to the natural world: off-planet."
jll: 25 January, 2017 Flanders
Material by John Lash and Lydia Dzumardjin: Copyright 2002 - 2017 by John Lash.