From Acid to Eleusis: in praise of Bicycle Day

A few reflections on the ritual that I led last night in London on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of Albert Hofmann’s historic LSD enhanced bicycle ride.

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Me and Gaia and the grain of the Goddess

Big shout out to Gaia Harvey Jackson who held space with me, V2 for her generous contributions of hospitality, musical instruments and marvellous blotters badges, and all participants who came with us on the journey through wartime Europe to ancient Eleusis and onward to our psychedelic future.

Respect to the psychonauts, the medicine carriers, the alchemists and all the advocates for the beneficial use of  psychedelic sacraments.

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Altar of the magical medicine LSD 25

Ahoy!

Julian Vayne

Natural or Artificial Psychedelics – Which are Best?

As promised in a previous post I’m going to try adding a few videos in which I explore particular subjects. These are unscripted and so inevitably I think of extra stuff to say once I press ‘stop’. This one presents as few thoughts about the relationship between natural and artificial psychedelics, and an exploration of where we consider the limits of nature and culture to be.

And a few extra points…

One additional thought is that there is now a vast range of laboratory synthesized chemicals (mostly still uncommon enough that they don’t have well established street names). Subtle variations in their effects was one of the things that inspired Alexander Shulgin to explore various ways of tweaking the phenethylamines (MDMA, 2CI, 2CB etc) and the tryptamines (LSD, A-LAD,  5-MeO-DiPT etc). As we gather more data about these substances, and as clinical exploration continues, we will hopefully gain a much deeper understanding of the pharmacology of psychedelic space. The complex relationship between molecular shape and subjective effects is subtle indeed. Reading Shulgins’ work it’s fascinating to learn how tiny changes in molecular structure can significantly change the activity, dosage range, duration and subjective experience of substances that maintain a common set of chemical characteristics. There is perhaps something of an analogy with smell here, in that just because two molecules look structurally similar does not necessarily mean they smell the same. Smell appears to be a process where the Newtonian ‘shape’ of molecules is one factor along with the fuzzy complexity of quantum biology. (You can also check out some of the fine grain psychopharmacological theory about psychedelics in this fascinating presentation by Thomas Ray at Breaking Convention 2017.)

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Shamanic journey

Having access to this range of psychedelics means we can explore the potentials of this space, and that’s what humans do. Our ancestors discovered the chemical key that unlocked the DMT in Psychotria viridis and rendered it orally active. They invented ayahuasca. The work of Hofmann, Shulgin, Manske, Nichols et al. is part of this lineage, this tradition of entheogenic chemical exploration.

(Incidentally, Canadian chemist Richard Helmuth Fredrick Manske first synthesized DMT in 1931, many years before it was unequivocally identified in organic sources.)

Sure ‘natural’ organic psychedelics are great, but I come from a culture where our entheogenic revival was initiated by LSD. This laboratory product was what transformed Western culture. It opened the way for the return of the plant medicines into the society I inhabit. For that I give thanks to the Bunsen burners, the reaction vessels, the pipettes, and of course to the curious twist of fate whereby a Swiss chemist ‘accidentally’ ingests this incredibly potent substance that his alchemy has brought to birth. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Finally, on the matter of the relative benefits of organic or synthetic psychedelics I think we should be mindful of the option of Arch-Mushroom curandera Maria Sabina (Peace Be Upon Her).

Albert Hofmann visited María Sabina in 1962 and brought her a gift; a bottle of psilocybin pills that Hofmann had synthesized. After trying the pills Maria Sabina announced that there was little difference between their effects and that of the Psilocybe mexicana she used in ceremony. She then thanked Hofmann saying that with these pills she would now be able to serve people as a healer even when the mushrooms were out of season.

This is a great story. A respected shaman sees no great difference between a spirit from the laboratory or from the landscape. And more than this, she explains, why she is pleased to have Hofmann’s medicine; to use it when the natural substance is not available, and to use it to help others.

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Chemical romance

My culture did not have access to entheogens for many generations (they were there in the landscape but we had forgotten them). Since the time of Eleusis we’ve been cut off from ‘the medicine’. It took that chance laboratory discovery, and subsequent archetypal bicycle ride, to return my society to a connection with the psychedelic gnosis. Like Maria Sabina says, when the plant medicine isn’t available the synthetic spirit is just as good so long as we keep to our intention – to take these trips for the benefit of ourselves and for all beings.

Ahoy!

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Summer programme

Stuff we are doing…

Nikki and I are holding a series of retreats at St.Nectan’s Glen. The May retreat is fully booked but please keep an eye on our Facebook page and/or send us your email so we can keep you up to date. We are planning another retreat in July, then September and November.

I’m presenting a celebration of the 75th anniversary of the first intentional LSD trip on Bicycle Day, 19th April in London. This will be a participatory ritual journey, from Eleusis to Acid.

I’m is also facilitating a day long workshop on Sigils, Talismans and Magic Signs at Treadwell’s in London.

Nikki and I have the honour of providing the opening and closing ceremony at the Third Summer of Love gathering in Amsterdam in July. This is going to be an awesome entheogenic ceremony. The next day (yeah, really!) we’ll be providing talks for the Netherlands Psychedelic Society, and the day after that, a workshop on magic and altered states of consciousness. Stay tuned for more details.

In August we’ll be in Wales to run a shamanic workshop  We’re also speaking at Beyond Psychedelics in Prague in June and Ozora in Hungary at the end of July.

Hope to see you soon!

Julian Vayne

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.

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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.

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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.

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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