Preliminary proposal for a psychedelic prisoner solidarity network

This proposal is an open invitation and not a strict program or dogma for prescription.

LSD, DMT, Psilocybin, Peyote, Ayahausca and other psychedelics, enthoeogens, shamanic medicines and hallucinogenic chemicals are generally illegal and targeted by nation states and supranational organisations like the United Nations, G20 etc. Production, distribution and possession are heavily penalized in the majority of countries around the planet, even though there have been some advances towards their accepted uses in spirituality, psychiatry, psychotherapy and neuro-research in various territories.

The cases of judicial injustice which have taken place internationally and continue to take place are staggering in multitude, at the level of a so-called “war on drugs” which has been declared to be taking place for decades. This war is a means of domestic and foreign repression, racial and class-based segregation and it fuels an increasingly privatized prison system which props up an economic order based on division and
exploitation. It is also a war against consciousness itself, who gets to experience it, how it gets transformed and who gets to control and define it. The psychedelic community is a revolutionary and subversive explosion of colour, love, possibility and positivity which has suffered since its inception from state repression, disruption, investigation and infiltration.

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Subverting the State since 1967

There is a need within the psychedelic community for an increased awareness of legal, security and penal issues, from those who are in need of support and to those who will be. Without illegal chemists, distributors, local suppliers and trippers themselves, the psychedelic current wouldn’t exist. Currently the whole entire scenes which dovetail
with the psychedelic movement are based on ‘drug’ experiences which are criminalized and forbidden. Someone has to produce and supply the psychedelic and entheogenic medicines which are so prevalent and so there is a responsibility from the community to support those people who get caught.

A proposed psychedelic prisoner solidarity group would have to decide about a centralized or decentralized structure; their relationships to other entities such as government bodies, trade unions, penal reform organisations such as the Howard League for Penal Reform, Amnesty International, and prison abolition groups such as the Anarchist Black Cross.

The group would need at least four or five core activists in order to be effective at a wider level, needing all the usual resources that a group like this requires: laptops, phones, printer, photocopier etc. It would be thought that a small group which has a such a broad remit and potentially vast interaction with many incarcerated psychonauts and wider society could suffer from being overwhelmed with cases and avenues of expansion beyond its means. The group should be a means to collect and unify many drug war prisoners without being based on individuals solely. This is to focus on the overall picture of repression and to prevent the ebb-and-flow of interest due to a particular case coming to an end or to give the illusion that the group could be a solution to all the problems that an imprisoned person may suffer from. The group should not be a charity based organisation but a means of struggle for the acceptance of psychedelic substances and their positive uses. This also means the family and friends who are supporting their imprisoned loved one do not have to spend all their time doing the public outreach which could be achieved by the impact of a psychedelic prisoner solidarity group, if they wish to focus on more important issues, like practical help to the one inside.

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Inside the System

The group would bring itself to the attention of the authorities quickly due to the campaign topic and the actual contact with prisoners inside. It would need to be up to date with law and policing issues and themes such as security and policy. The group would need to maintain virtual and physical presence, and provide accurate legal information and resources; it would network within and without the psychedelic community, researchers, medical community, marijuana industry, alternative and mainstream media, etc. It would maintain contacts with drug reform groups, lawyers and solicitors with expertise for those requiring their help; it would collect and maintain emergency funds for psychedelic prisoners and defendants; it would seek high-level public support from people, groups and entities of influence as a way to promote it’s causes; it would promote psychedelic culture and values, explaining the reasons to support advocated prisoners to the broader public. It would promote, through its outreach, the struggle for a world without need for a vast prison-industrial complex,
social repression and criminalization, for a better future and healing for all.

We can’t let those psychedelic chemists, entheogenic suppliers and drug war prisoners behind bars remain there, and we cannot fail those people who the state wishes to jail for many years, in some cases, for multiple lifetimes, like William Leonard Pickard. A movement for social change can be judged on how well it treats those who go to prison in defense of its principles, as a movement which forgets its prisoners, forgets itself.

FR

If you’re interested in this proposal please get in touch.

https://www.gofundme.com/psychedelic-prisoner-support

JV

In Search of Depth – A Review of ‘The Magickal Union of East and West’ by Gregory Peters

Much of the writing on this blog is preoccupied with the question of how we as Magicians of varying stripes seek to develop both depth and meaningful direction in our spiritual work. Rather than signing up to the concept of “one teleos fits all”, I hope that team Baphomet manages to balance a lively interest in the development of mature practice while revelling in the many potential ways that this might be pursued.

Once we move beyond the initial stages of understanding the core myths and ritual techniques of a given tradition it can feel bewildering as to how one can put down the type of deep roots that will enable more long term sustenance. While finding a helpful teacher or a structured Order may provide guidance for those lucky enough to locate them, I would not underestimate the role of a good book in providing us with new insight. Thankfully in The Magickal Union of East and West Gregory Peters has provided us with one of these volumes.

east

Peters comes from a rich background of Thelemic ceremonial magic and various lineages of both  Hindu and Buddhist tantra. In this work he seeks to outline some of the key ideas and practices that he and other magical colleagues have worked with, within the Ordo Sunyata Vajra (OSV) over the past 18 years.  As is suggested by its English translation as an Order of the “Adamantine Void”, this is a curriculum that seeks to equip the magician with both philosophy and ritual technique for exploring dimensions of the “true” and “silent” self.

Peters is an open and enthusiastic guide who offers the insights he has gained with a deep sense of gratitude to those teachers and currents that have informed his work. Whether it be the work of Kaula Nath lineage of AMOOKOS, Dzogchen or Chan Buddhist practices, he presents these approaches within an explicitly Thelemic world view. However much he has gained from these Eastern traditions, his work seeks to engage with them as means for getting to the deeper dimensions of Crowley’s work as it was carried forward by Kenneth Grant, and Greg’s own mentor Soror Meral (Phyllis Seckler).

If we are to move beyond superficial heavy metal styling’s regarding the expression of “true will”, we will need to explore what will this mean in terms of the transformation of self and the manifestation of Thelema and Agape within our everyday lives. This is not a rejection of the Western magical tradition, rather it is an attempt to reconnect us to those spiritual traditions that were critical to the reconstitution of Neo-pagan paths long deprived of their own change technologies.

Our author is a big fan of Kenneth Grant and clearly sees the focus of the OSV as being profoundly connected to the recovery of a perennial form of “Stellar Gnosis”. In contrast to Grant however, Greg (as a Tantric and ceremonial practitioner) provides us with plenty of guidance with regards things we can do. Malas can be blessed and altars can be created and there are plenty of ritual outlines that we are invited to explore and adapt depending on setting and inclination. We also spend time thinking about what it means to inhabit the “dragon seat” of meditation in order to explore the oscillating sense of being and non-being.

For me, this work provides some helpful maps for exploring the limited spatial metaphors that we as magical types can get hung-up on. If we adopt a psyche-centric focus for work, are we seeking to reinforce concepts like ego-strength or are we pursuing the dissolution of our self-concept? In seeking to simultaneously deepen our engagement with both True Will and the formlessness of the Void, Peters seems to be acknowledging the inevitable spiralling movement of the self as it dances between such poles. In sitting with a spaciousness that demands the alchemical transformation of our Will, Self is ultimately embraced even though its newer form may now seem barely recognisable.

I would highly recommend this book to those magicians interested in how the Aeon of Horus can shake-off some of its dustier, pseudo-masonic origins. In the spirit of Grant’s Typhonic work and Nema’s Maat magick, the work of the OSV provides some highly helpful guidance as to how we as contemporary practitioners can work with both Eastern and Western magical currents in a manner that feels at once respectful, deep and innovative.

SD

Spiritual Freethinking

Being a human often involves the construction of stories. In trying to make sense of our own lives, those of other beings on the planet and the Universe more generally, we create narratives to help us order what might be going on. We respond to the information we receive and fuse it with our existing perspectives in order to make decisions about how we wish to live and the potential risk things pose to our current experience of being alive. Most of this time we do this amazing work without even knowing that it is going on, but sometimes we have moments when we realise that we are doing it, and that we might want to make conscious changes to our method and style.

Most religious movements and schools of philosophy lay claim to providing tools for waking us up from the automatic reliance on assumptions. The process of becoming aware of the lenses we rely on for viewing the world can be both shocking and disorientating as we try to incorporate any new insights gained. The problems for most religions come when the incoming of new, enlightening knowledge (Gnosis) begins to disrupt the presuppositions that they themselves rely on e.g. that God either doesn’t exist or is radically different from how they were initially understood to be.

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Sapere aude!

Many of the posts on this blog are penned with a view to promoting a process where we begin thinking about how we think and consider the risks involved in stepping outside the lines of received orthodoxy. If we start to question “received truths” and embrace the heretic’s path of choosing our own way, then we must realise that we will increase discomfort for both ourselves and those around us. For the freethinker, to refuse to question is often an even less desirable, stultifying path, but we would be naïve if we underestimate the disruptive force of heretical thoughts and behaviour.

Part of the creative, disruptive power of the heretic, is that they take existing received truths and they bend them. It would be bad enough if we adopted an antithetical position, but the fact that we take an image or language and inject it with a new, nuanced or odd meaning, truly infuriates those seeking to maintain their monopoly on perceived truth. The gnosis of the heretic triggers a creative process in which their artistry reveals strange variants of reality. While on one level we reject the easier answers of Faith, we often retain a symbiotic relationship with those beliefs and images. In our heresy we internalise these ordered creeds and transform them in to something both far stranger and more interesting.

For me, the adoption of such bold new readings allows the possibility of inhabiting a place of greater spaciousness that often feels more congruent with the lives we wish to live. Such territory is often at the outer edges of familiar maps and requires a level of wit and will that many of us experience as demanding and exhilarating in equal measure.

While each of us need to discover our own optimum means for accessing spaces of cognitive liberty, I have noticed that my own is often facilitated by allowing apparently disparate sources to sit alongside each other. I have been aware of my own journey in allowing the different aspects of my personal religious history to dialogue with each other. The Witch and the Cleric have been sitting down together for a beverage and conversation in the hope that new meaning might be discovered. All too often I have tried to rush them in the hope of a tidy resolution, but thankfully they have resisted my efforts!

In seeking to allow the unique parts of my own story to have a voice, I have often found more help in dreams and art than I have in theological concepts and reformulations. Of course I find great value in thinking and writing, but they often face the danger of overly concretising those states that are more subtle, subjective and sensed. In seeking to resist the urge to prematurely reconcile, synthesise or harmonise this multiplicity of voices and ideas, I have often found that artistic experimentation within a ritual context is a powerful tool.

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Occult art experiment

While others may gain greater stimulus via extended textual analysis and linear debate, on their own these have not been enough to allow me to access the type of psychological integration that I long for. The Queer and transformative states that I need in order to challenge the bulwarks of orthodoxy in my own life, have been found more readily in the images of Abraxas, Baphomet and N’Aton than in attempts at systematic theology. For me these part-made gods embody the ongoing dialogue between idealised androgyny and the complexity of Queer experience. The Queer aspirations of “Postdrogyny” and “Pandrogyne” are the first fruits of an artistic exploration of the possibility of identity. This is an Aquarian age in which our neat categories are troubled and disrupted by the bold lives of those seeking a more authentic way.

The use of sigils, collage, and altar sculpts can all be means of allowing us to inhabit a type of magical space that allows for a personal alchemy that I hope will catalyse change on a wider, societal level. This zone is the place of the crossroads, and as I have observed elsewhere:

If we journey to the crossroads in our attempt to rediscover our magic, we are inevitably entering a realm of liminal possibility. The crossroads is a meeting place of apparent opposites and seeming contradictions. The dynamic tension generated by the friction between these polarities makes it the place of initiation.
A Gnostic’s Progress p. 155

The crossroads is a place of incarnation and inspiration, and the word must become flesh (John, 1:14) in order for us to experience its fullness. May our art, inspiration and willingness to explore, allow access to such fullness! This is rarely an easy peace, but as we allow ourselves to tune into the complexity and mystery of our lives, may all of us experience greater authenticity and freedom.

So Mote it Be!

SD

Surreal Witchcraft

While scholars and practitioners may continue to debate the degree to which the transcripts of the Witch trials can be viewed as axiomatic in relation to what Witches actually did, they do seem to highlight the centrality of dreaming to the Witches’ path.

To travel to the Sabbat was to enter the realm of dreams. We might to choose to frame this as a form of astral travel or a salve-induced hypnopompic experience, but it seems that to be a Witch meant that the nighttime became a liminal zone in which the fuzzy edges of consciousness were utilized for the work of magic.

The nocturnal dream journeys of the Witch embody a cognitive liberty that refuses to be imprisoned, despite the efforts of the authoritarian oppressor. However they might seek to enforce their orthodoxies or to harm and torture the body, the spirit of the Witch struggled hard in refusing the limitation of their chains. For me these heretical heroes were seen as threatening due to the way in which they embodied a more authentic and visceral humanity more connected to the sexual and the wild.

The sabbatic revelries of the Witch were almost certainly located as much in the projections of their oppressors as they were in actual practice, and yet even here we can sense the potency and strangeness of the unconscious realm. The fevered imaginings of Malleus Maleficarum with its violent suppression, reflect a sadism born of suppression. I cannot help but see the reports of the inquisitors as a distorted mirror image of the type of freedom that they secretly longed for.

The depictions of the Witches’ Sabbat are often simultaneously sensual and grotesque. They are at once conclaves of perversity and yet in their depiction they often unconsciously capture a male gaze that holds both disgust and longing. Such images seem to reflect the sense of internal conflict at work in the inquisitorial eye, and the potentially queering, alchemical impact that such perceptions of perversity can induce. In her work Queer Phenomenology, Sarah Ahmed observes:

Perversion is also a spatial term, which can refer to the wilful determination to counter or go against orthodoxy, but also to what is wayward and thus “turned away from what is right, good and proper.” For some queer theorists, this is what makes “the perverse” a useful starting point for thinking about the “disorientations” of queer, and how it can contest not only heternormative assumptions, but also social conventions and orthodoxies in general. Page 78.

For me the archetype of the Witch is innately bonded to the queer, the twisted and the perverse. In its raw nocturnal sensuality, it challenges attempts at control, and it organises itself into cells of practice for those bold enough to seek their own power and self-definition outside of the bounds of convention. The possible/partial etymology of Wicce being “to twist or bend”, for me points toward the willful pursuit of a non-straight and less linear approach.

The Witch is the dream dweller par excellence and as such they provide us (whether Witch identified or not) with a form of surreal inspiration that when embraced allows the possibility of greater queerness and greater self-transformation. To gain access to this realm, we must dare the lucid sleep where we utilize the less-filtered reality of our dreams.

The character of the Witch within the Surrealist canon is probably embodied most vividly in the work of Leonora Carrington. We have already considered the centrality of her work in manifesting that strange space between dreams and waking, male and female, real and surreal. For me her work pushes hard against the attempts of orthodoxy to contain and control the power of the female imagination.

For Carrington, the Witch embodies the figure willing to bend and distort the known and the orthodox. The richness of her many years in Mexico provided her with a vibrant example of how to meld the Catholicism of her upbringing with her own, deeper magical impulses. Her time spent with Curandera and in exploring the mythology of pre-conquest beliefs of the Maya, inspired her own journey in synthesising both Catholic and Celtic/Native British currents; as Susan Aberth observes:

This combination of the heretical with the orthodox exemplifies the multiplicity of belief systems the artist is dedicated to preserving as part of the suppressed history of female spirituality. Page 126, Leonora Carrington: Surrealism, Alchemy and Art.

Grandmother Moorhead's Aromatic Kitchen

Grandmother Moorhead’s Aromatic Kitchen, 1975

In exploring the power of the Witch, Carrington depicts the magical circle and the Kitchen as being able to sit within the same space. For Carrington it feels that her work as a magician dissolves any dualism between artistic creation, nurture and sorcerous realms. When pursuing such integration the visible and invisible, the known and the occult inter-penetrate each other as a manifestation of a truly earthed divinity:

By transforming the domestic table into a sacramental altar Carrington creates a feminine sacred space that links worlds, providing access to multiple states of consciousness while collapsing the hierarchies that have prevented a more inclusive vision of spiritual possibilities. Ibid.

The nocturnal realm of the Witch is one in which the quiet of night’s darkness allows us more space to tune in. With day’s labour done, the hearth invites us to rest, engage and feel the edges of the coming dream-sleep. This is the place that the Witch beckons to; a place where the busy cognitions of bright sunlight are left to simmer.

Carrington’s work depicts a form of alchemy truly plugged in to chthonic power. Her Witchcraft rejects a false dichotomy between folk-magical practice and the depths of spiritual transformation. For her the Celtic Sidhe that inhabit much of her work are both the spirits of the earth and the holders of alchemy’s secrets. With the incoming of a Roman Christianity hell-bent on homogenization, the old gods choose to go underground and inhabit those mounds or “Sid” that still hold such allure for those drawn to the serpentine energy of the land. If we risk reconnection to such power, transformation becomes possible in a way that rejects false dualities, and allows creation from a place of deep rootedness.

SD

 

 

 

Recovering the Healing Ecstasy – The Return of Psychedelic Medicine (to the West)

These days have been called the ‘Psychedelic Renaissance’ and for good reason. Over the last few years licensed research, conferences, publications and (positive) mainstream media coverage about psychedelics has been popping up like, well, magic mushrooms. There are less well publicized contributory factors to this in the underground too. Across the world the Medicine Community (i.e. people making use of psychedelics as entheogens or sacraments in their own spiritual practice) has been dramatically increasing in number. The gathering of tens of thousands of people in Oregon for the recent total eclipse is just one example. Elsewhere the underground is currently blessed with the availability of excellent quality MDMA and LSD (so I’m told). The recent draconian and bonkers legislation against psychoactives in the UK has been shown to be deeply flawed… can this Third Summer of Love get any better?

The answer is ‘yes’!

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Fulfilling the prophecy of the Eagle and the Condor.

Something major, indeed an event of seismic proportions, has just happened. In the USA the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recognized MDMA therapy as a breakthrough treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This amazing leap forward for (legal) psychedelic medicine has been brought to you by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. The cultural space in which this remarkable volte-face (from the American criminalization of MDMA in 1985, to its recognition as a valid, safe and highly effective therapeutic agent) has been nurtured by many organisations and individuals; from research bodies such as the Beckley Foundation, pressure groups such as Transform, and many individual acts of advocacy and (to use a religious metaphor) people bearing witness to the value of the psychedelic experience (even at great personal risk).

The announcement by MAPS (covered here by CBS) marks a sea-change in the story-line of Western medicine, one that picks up the amazing work being done by researchers in the early days of late 20th century psychedelic science. More broadly the recognition of MDMA as a breakthrough therapy represents an official validation of what I would describe as a shamanic practice. The point about MDMA therapy is that it’s not a case of prescribing Ecstasy to patients and letting them get on with it. The therapeutic protocol developed by MAPS researchers includes both ‘MDMA assisted’ and non-MDMA psychotherapy sessions. MDMA theapists are given this empathogenic and entactogenic medicine as part of their training, gaining an experiential understanding of the space their patient will be in. (I’m not sure how many psychiatrists have tried electroconvulsive therapy in order to better understand their patients experience).

With one or more skilled healers present, the sessions, both psychedelic and non-psychedelic, are carefully supported and guided. This process, the intelligent management of psychedelic Set and Setting to promote healing, is exactly what a shaman does. In the case of treating PTSD the therapists help the patient to remember their trauma and to find new ways to orientate themselves in relation to past difficult experiences. Whether this process is imagined as a species of shamanic soul retrieval or a way of inducing the optimum arousal state for therapy, the point is that the therapists are accompanying the patient on a psychedelic-supported healing journey. They are psychedelic shamanic psychopomps; and the FDA recognizes that this process works!

This announcement is significant in that it will hasten the development and deployment of MDMA assisted therapy in the USA and hopefully in Europe too. It also marks the return of not only legal psychedelic research but of approved psychedelic therapy. With the exception of the first wave of research, following the discovery of LSD, this return is the first time since the days of the Eleusinian mysteries that mainstream culture has openly embraced the healing potential of the psychedelic journey. Given the record-breaking levels of mental illness in our culture the return of this profound and very effective method of healing has come (to quote Terence McKenna) ‘not a moment too soon’.

The great irony of this story is that a medicine that entered our culture at the end of the 20th century, which made people want to dance and love each other, is only now being permitted back into legal use because so many in our society are damaged by abuse and war. There is a black humor in this, or perhaps a magical, alchemical narrative. But however we understand what is going on, and whatever our preferred terminology, this Third Summer of Love may finally be a time when our culture honestly engages with the healing potential of the psychedelic experience.

To again quote Mr McKenna, “we’re not dropping out here, we’re infiltrating and taking over’.

JV

Divine Androgyne (Part 3): Monstrous Alchemy

The impact of Queer experience on the ideal of androgyny is a truly disruptive one. Gone are our neat Kabbalistic flow charts and clear cut Neoplatonic stages of descent. In contrast to these linear sequences, this Queered Androgyny is an ever oscillating, multi-directional chaos-star whose many rays can be simultaneously moving both outward in expression and engagement, and inward in reflection and self-nurture.

This principle of Androgyny is fed as much by the lived experience of unique, individual Androgynous people as it is by the realm of aspirational metaphysics. It as much as about the creativity of the Radical Faery and Butch Lesbian as it about Adam Kadmon or Ardhanarisvara. For me, to work with this form of Androgyny means to acknowledge both a dialectical process that seeks to capture the world of ideal forms, while at the same time experiencing a dialogical reality in which a multitude of positions need to be held together without a necessary resolution.

Ardhanarishvara

‘Can’t tell if you’re a boy or a girl’

To seek deep benefit in engaging with these ideas and images seems to require that we tolerate a certain degree of uncertainty. So often this form of doubt, confusion and psychological tension is seen as a negative or a hindrance to spiritual development and yet I believe this does not need to be case. For those of us seeking to walk an occult path, we are often called upon to make use of emotions and methods which our exoteric cousins view as dangerous or retrograde. If however we are able to engage consciously with the sense of resistance experienced in grappling with the complexity of such dialogues, then this very tension can bring about alchemical change.

If the stated aim of magical work is to create change, it would seem somewhat odd to then resist the transformation when it comes; and yet in my own life this has so often been the case. Change can happen at many levels and impact both how we experience ourselves and how we engage in relationships with others. Often the routes to change are manifested in dilemmas, loss and conflict, and the keys we need are to be found in attending to the strangeness of our dreams and the currents of the unconscious made manifest in our Art.

This is the unconscious territory that the Surrealists were so adept in exploring in their work, with the strange often jarring images revealing aspects of self that were bizarre, blurred and often monstrous. In alchemical terms this connection to the unconscious and the shadow represent the stage of nigredo or “blackening”. For the surrealists such territory was vital to their artistic inspiration and similarly for our magical work to have any really depth or sustained power, we must tap into this libidinal black flame of inspiration.

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Leonora Carrington Inn of the Dawn Horse

We have already explored something of the fertile intersect that exists between Surrealism and the artistic deployment of occult ideas and images. Themes as diverse the etheric double, the daemonic and the Witches’ sabbat were explored to varying degrees and there seems to be a significant connection between this use of magical themes and the often weird animalistic characters with which they populated their artistic landscapes.

The link between the magical, the animal and the potentially Queer is present in much Surrealist work and for me the most engaging aspects of such exploration, lies in the way in which it seems to capture that zone of liminal strangeness and mystery. The Surrealist imagination was alive to potency to be found in understanding the animal (whether actual or in more mythic forms) as a way of recontacting the sensual and instinctual realms that weave through the body. For me this wilder magic seems to connect to an almost pre-verbal stage of development that resonates with Spare’s idea of “atavistic resurgence”.

The folklore of the Lycan and Vampyre point us towards a magical worldview in which we can explore the vitality gained through a deeper connection to the visceral. Similarly the Witches’ animal familiar the “Fetch”, or the animal-dimension of Norse soul-lore breach our polite attempts to conceive of a humanity devoid of wildness.

In contrast to the clean, vertical fusing of Ardhanrisvara, the truly Queer genius of Levi’s depiction of Baphomet is partly located in the way in which the animal sits alongside the male and female. In trying to work with our own processes of dissolving and coming back together, Baphomet’s animal dimensions remind us of the power, joy and danger that can be accessed when we risk tuning into the whole of ourselves.

My own attempts to access these states has come via bodywork, dance/shaking states and prolonged trance drumming. I have also had a great deal of pleasure revisiting Gordon MacLellan’s excellent book Sacred Animals which provides some excellent practical guidance for exploring these themes. The ability to inhabit these places feels vital for those of us seeking to embody both freethinking and the magic of the Queer. These places beyond binaries and old certainties rarely allow prolonged rest, but they are undoubtedly transformational!

SD

 

 

 

 

 

Writing on Drugs: Three fabulous books to Feed your Head.

Secret Drugs of Buddhism: Psychedelic sacraments and the origins of the Vajrayana

The Buddhist tradition generally eschews the use of substances that cloud the mind but psychedelics (which, by definition, make manifest the mind) are by no means absent from the story of Asian religion. While modern Buddhists may take refuge in the idea that ‘drugs are bad’ (with certain notable exceptions such as the Zig Zag Zen school of Allan Badiner et al.) both Buddhism and Hinduism emerged from a cultural landscape rich in Amanita muscaria, Cannabis sativa and Panaeolus cambodginiensis.

In this book Mike Crowley hunts the questing beast of soma through layers of Sanskrit metaphor and potential botanic sources, following this elusive substance as it emerges into Vajrayana Buddhism as the sacramental nectar of immortality amrita. This analysis is the entheogenic equivalent of ‘who shot JFK?’,  and many theorists have spilt much ink trying to nail down the culprit; what kind of stuff was this food of the gods really? Our author, an accomplished scholar of  Sanskrit, Tibetan and Mandarin Chinese takes the broad view and intelligently and generously explores the options and opinions on this matter. Crowley, as well as being a fan of psychedelics, is also deeply embedded in the spiritual culture of Asia, having become an Upāsaka of the Kagyud lineage in 1970.

Mike’s suggestion is that it is the psychedelic effect that maketh soma, not its exact pharmacological identity. His view, that the Vedic soma may have started out (in the north) as Amanita and later (as cultures spread south) became psilocybin rich mushrooms, makes a lot of sense. It’s the entheogenic experience, this embodied encounter with the divine, that matters – whether that state is provoked endogenously through pranayama and protracted periods of fasting and solitary medication or by any number of substances – the effect is much the same.

crowley

While the debate about the psychedelic nature (or not) of Soma and Amrita is far from over Mike has made a valuable contribution to the discussion and does so in a book which is well supported by notes and references and that, in itself, is a delightful read.

Check out this lecture by Mike Crowley on The Secret Drugs.

To Fathom Hell or Soar Angelic

To Fathom Hell… is a brilliant and very engaging book. Our story begins with a depressed psychotherapist seeing his clients (while secretly fantasizing about the gruesome ways they might die), painfully conscious that the therapy he provides has very little effect. Accidentally attending a conference on psychedelic medicine, our despondent hero teams up with psychedelic therapist and maverick Dr. Langley. Their partnership works, and together they embark on a project to create a centre in which they can deploy psychedelic medicine.

Author Ben Sessa is the perfect person to imagine such a story, as a well respected psychiatrist and advocate of the value of psychedelic psychotherapy. (Check out Ben’s wonderful TED talk). Psychedelic therapy sessions using MDMA, LSD, and psilocybin are described, expertly written by one of the few people in Britain legally qualified to undertake this kind of work.

sessa

The novel skillfully leads us into this world and, while there is an engaging plot, much of what happens are conversations in which the theory and practice of psychedelic therapy is expounded. In this way To Fathom Hell… stands in the lineage of Aldous Huxley’s works where the narrative provides a setting in which ideas can be elucidated and explored.

Our Somerset Pala (the fictional psychedelic Island of Huxley) becomes the template for numerous therapeutic communities up and down the British isles. This isn’t just about getting squaddies PTSD sorted by arming them with MDMA – it’s about the transformation of culture; starting with the broken and moving towards healing those who do the breaking. The novel builds to a tremendous climax which put me in mind of the denouement from The Illuminatus Trilogy; a crescendo that feels both riotous and joyous.

A rollercoaster of a good read this tale is engaging, funny, dark and transcendent much like the psychedelic experience itself.  You can read more about To Fathom Hell, Sessa’s debut novel, and purchase your copy of the book via Psychedelic Press UK.

The Rose of Paracelsus: On Secrets & Sacraments

The final book I want to recommend is the genuinely awesome (in the proper sense of the word) volume by William Leonard Pickard The Rose of Paracelsus. This book was written by Leonard, using paper and pencil, in the US prison where he is incarcerated for “conspiracy to manufacture LSD”. Before he was busted (or set up…) Leonard was a research associate in neurobiology at Harvard Medical School, a Fellow of the Interfaculty Initiative on Drugs and Addictions at Harvard, and Deputy Director of the Drug Policy Analysis Program at UCLA. On all levels this is a Brother who knows what he’s talking about.

leonard

Reading The Rose… is, quite honestly, like tripping on acid. The long text (656 pages) can’t be adequately defined as a either a novel or autobiography. The language is rich, powerful, lyric, poetic, terrifying, visceral, sublime. Reminiscent in style to the work of Jorge Luis Borges, the narrative of clandestine acid chemists, governmental intrigue, simple human stories of suffering and (sometimes) redemption weaves a spell over the reader. Add to this the real-world knowledge of the grotesque circumstances of Leonard’s imprisonment (he is serving two life sentences, has already served 17 years, is 71 years of age and is in a high security prison) and this book becomes even more poignant. The Rose… pulls the reader in, but has to be put down. The chapters, as rich and dense with references and allusions as they are, require time to be digested. I needed periods to reflect and frankly sometimes time to meditate and pray, during my first reading of The Rose…

I was pleased to be present at the Breaking Convention session on The Rose… where we were treated to readings from the text, including a recording of Leonard himself (once a month Leonard gets to make a 15 minute monitored phone call from jail).

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. The proceeds go to support Leonard’s family (his son was a newborn as his father went to trial) and I would encourage readers of the text to check out his page and, in whatever way they can, to send thoughtful correspondence and messages of solidarity to him (he does have some access to email).

With Leonard’s permission, here is a recording of me reading an excerpt from the early section of the book where the hero meets one of ‘The Six’. (This hexad of high level psychedelic chemists, rather like the Guild Navigators in Frank Herbert’s Dune novels, have developed super powers following years of exposure to vast quantities of LSD.) In this section our protagonist makes contact with Crimson, the first of The Six.

The Rose of Paracelsus is a truly psychedelic read. Highly recommended.

JV