The Serpent’s Promise, or: Drugs as Ritual Self-Sacrifice

The premise of this argu­ment is this: Con­scious­ness-alter­ing drugs, and most espe­cial­ly psy­che­del­ic sub­stances, are a form of con­cen­trat­ed death.

Any­one who has smoked DMT knows why it has been called “white knuck­le stuff.” One puff on a pipe and the expe­ri­encer is thrown—in the time it takes to inhale and exhale—into anoth­er world in which no famil­iar fea­tures remain. It is a world stranger and more out­landish than any­thing our wildest dreams or night­mares could ever con­jure. It is also a world that’s inhab­it­ed and where—most dis­con­cert­ing of all—the inhab­i­tants are focus­ing their atten­tion on us. The abyss gazes also. Smok­ing DMT is like being turned inside out: not only is a vast and pre­vi­ous­ly unseen aspect of real­i­ty exposed to us, but, in that same instant, we are also exposed to it. There is no place to hide on a DMT trip, because the uni­verse is fierce­ly and unfath­omably alive, and it is right under our skins. Any­one who has smoked DMT once and knows what to expect will have to push his or her courage to the stick­ing place before vol­un­teer­ing to say “bye-bye to Kansas” again. The main con­so­la­tion for the white-knuck­led DMT-smok­er is the knowl­edge that even the most intense trip only lasts from 5 to 15 min­utes. What sort of courage would it require to smoke DMT know­ing it was a one-way trip and that our con­scious­ness was about to be can­non­balled into the Imag­i­nal realms for­ev­er? Who would be able to hold their pipe steady know­ing that?

What fol­lows in this arti­cle is not based on hard sci­ence or accept­ed facts about brain or body chem­istry or about drugs, alco­hol, and what are now pop­u­lar­ly called “entheogens.” It is a mix­ture of per­son­al expe­ri­ence, deduc­tive rea­son­ing, and some­thing I can only describe as “received knowl­edge,” and the read­er is advised to add a “maybe” or “it seems to me” to the end of every sen­tence to coun­ter­act the oth­er­wise author­i­ta­tive tone of the piece, nec­es­sary for clar­i­ty and suc­cinct­ness. I first wrote this arti­cle in 2011 in a peri­od of a few hours. As I remem­ber it, the main thrust of my argu­ment came to me while I was walk­ing through a large, dry riv­er bed in Guatemala. I was quite sober, hav­ing com­plete­ly giv­en up smok­ing mar­i­jua­na by then, yet what­ev­er the cat­a­lyst might have been, I remem­ber how thoughts began to pour into my mind with­out any appar­ent source. They weren’t obvi­ous­ly dis­tinct from my ordi­nary thoughts, except that they were more lucid than usu­al, and at the same time, quite nov­el to me. I believed at the time (or at least after­wards) that I was receiv­ing infor­ma­tion from “the spir­its.” Now I would pre­fer to say it came from the ancestors.

When I say that con­scious­ness-alter­ing drugs, and most espe­cial­ly psy­che­del­ic sub­stances, are a form of con­cen­trat­ed death, it is not meant to give a whol­ly neg­a­tive spin to such sub­stances. Death regen­er­ates life and keeps things mov­ing for­ward; with­out it, there is no evo­lu­tion, no advance. Poet­i­cal­ly speak­ing, death pro­vides the beat of time to the dance floor of Eter­ni­ty. That is why Chronos, the Lord of Time, is depict­ed as the Grim Reaper. Time is the cat­a­lyst of motion added to the “sub­stance” of space. As “con­densed death par­ti­cles,” entheogens and oth­er drugs attack the ner­vous sys­tem, tar­get­ing specif­i­cal­ly the neu­rons, not only of the brain but of the entire body, with­in which more and more neu­ro­log­i­cal sys­tems are being dis­cov­ered (such as in the heart and intestines). This “attack” by the psy­chotrop­ic mol­e­cules on our neu­rons is not with­out intent, how­ev­er; so far as I can intu­it, the intent is to hijack the cells of our bod­ies and use them as vehi­cles to cross over from “death” into “life.” By “death” I refer to the inor­gan­ic realms, where the organ­ic realms per­tain to what we know of as “life.”

Shaman­i­cal­ly speak­ing, to smoke DMT or ingest any oth­er hal­lu­cino­gen is to offer up our cells as a sac­ri­fice to the spir­its. By such sac­ri­fice, we are allow­ing our con­scious­ness to be pos­sessed by mys­te­ri­ous and invis­i­ble agents of trans­for­ma­tion. When we ingest a psy­choac­tive sub­stance, just as when we smoke tobac­co or take a stiff drink, a num­ber of our neu­rons are “destroyed,” which is to say, bro­ken down to their basic con­stituents. In the moment of destruc­tion, they become “food” for inor­gan­ic intel­li­gences to gain tem­po­rary sub­stance in our organ­ic realm of exis­tence, via our con­scious­ness. There is a moment of over­lap between the worlds of life and death, the tem­po­ral and the eternal.

As part of us “dies,” it is absorbed by the spir­it-intel­li­gences resid­ing in the plant or chem­i­cal, intel­li­gences which are seek­ing an expe­ri­ence of organ­ic exis­tence oth­er­wise unavail­able to them. (Since plants are organ­ic life forms, it might be more accu­rate to say they are seek­ing a dif­fer­ent, more sen­tient kind of organ­ic expe­ri­ence.) In those brief moments or hours, while our neu­rons are being con­sumed by the drug, they are still con­nect­ed to our con­scious selves, to the ner­vous sys­tem and neur­al net­work. As a result, we get to con­scious­ly expe­ri­ence exis­tence “on the oth­er side,” through the eyes of the spir­its or ances­tors; at the same time, those spir­its are able to expe­ri­ence life through our eyes. This form of rit­u­al sac­ri­fice is an ancient exchange, pos­si­bly the old­est one of all. It may even be what the para­ble of the fruit of good and evil is refer­ring to: the knowl­edge of death.

In Ket­a­mine: Dreams and Real­i­ties, Karl Jansen writes, “LSD and DMT bind to sero­tonin recep­tors and this is thought to push the start but­ton for a cas­cade of events result­ing in a psy­che­del­ic trip.”[1] To the extent that psy­che­delics bind to and there­by alter the recep­tor sites, the ques­tion aris­es: what does this alter­ation of the ner­vous sys­tem allow us to receive? The kind of ener­gy that is received via the altered recep­tor sites, as well as the amount, would per­haps be deter­mined not mere­ly by what is being ingest­ed (the chem­i­cals in the plant), but also by the cir­cum­stances under which it tak­en and—perhaps most crit­i­cal­ly of all—the psy­cho­log­i­cal make-up (and pre­pared­ness) of the per­son ingest­ing. Native Amer­i­cans doing pey­ote or Peru­vians shamans tak­ing ayahuas­ca would then be an entire­ly dif­fer­ent affair to West­ern­ers aspir­ing to become mas­ter Magi or seek­ing con­gress with the divine, while hav­ing lit­tle clue what they are doing, and lit­tle or no rela­tion­ship to the plant/chemical (and resid­ing ances­tral spir­it) being ingested.

Spir­its are inor­gan­ic intel­li­gences (which may include what we call souls of the dead). Being inor­gan­ic and/or dead, they lack access to sen­tient phys­i­cal form. At the same time, inor­gan­ic spir­its (which may be ances­tral frag­ments) appar­ent­ly can live in organ­ic mat­ter, as ele­men­tal or “faery” beings are said to live in rocks and plants and the like. It may be that these spir­its seek specif­i­cal­ly to expe­ri­ence human exis­tence, and that get­ting incar­nate humans to ingest cer­tain plants is one way for them to achieve this. What­ev­er the case, they appear to desire not just con­gress with but ingressinto (and through) our con­scious­ness, which they attain by access­ing not only our neu­rons (as they are “hijacked” by the psy­choac­tive chem­i­cals) but the entire net­work which those neu­rons are linked up to. I esti­mate there are three lay­ers of neur­al cir­cuit-boards to a human being. The most super­fi­cial is that of the brain, which is then linked up to the larg­er net­work of the ner­vous sys­tem, includ­ing all the organs which store indi­vid­ual mem­o­ries (the brain’s func­tion being to access and “decode” these mem­o­ries), mem­o­ries which make up the life and iden­ti­ty of the indi­vid­ual, or total body. Last­ly, beneath that, encom­pass­ing every atom of the body, there is the sub­atom­ic net­work of the DNA, which con­tains our genet­ic code and hence the mem­o­ries of the entire species. These three lev­els (all of which can be found in the body) may also cor­re­spond with the phys­i­cal body, the ener­gy body (psy­che?), and the soul (or Soul) which exists out­side of space­time, but this is just a guess.

Poten­tial­ly, cer­tain psy­choac­tive plants and chem­i­cals can “light up” the neur­al net­work of our brains and even our greater ner­vous sys­tems. In extreme cas­es, such as shaman­ic ini­ti­a­tion, they may even allow us access to a genet­ic lev­el of con­scious­ness, where ances­tral mem­o­ries and/or “past lives” are stored. This process is per­haps sim­i­lar to split­ting the atom to cre­ate a nuclear explo­sion: if our bod­ies (like the rest of phys­i­cal real­i­ty) are holo­graph­ic sys­tems, each neu­ron, each mol­e­cule, con­tains the infor­ma­tion of the whole net­work. (A blood sam­ple will tell you some­thing about the whole body.) When psy­choac­tive mol­e­cules “invade” the mol­e­cules of our bod­ies, they crack them open and release the infor­ma­tion stored inside, giv­ing us momen­tary aware­ness of the whole net­work: “nuclear” vision. There’s an obvi­ous side effect of this, how­ev­er. Since access­ing the infor­ma­tion of the neur­al net­work requires hack­ing into the sys­tem, psy­choac­tive sub­stances cause inevitable dam­age in the process. As a result, the long-term effects are gen­er­al­ly the oppo­site of the short-term ones. I believe that psy­choac­tive sub­stances cause “rup­tures” in the neur­al path­ways of the brain and the total body (pos­si­bly even in the DNA), as well as in the ener­gy body or psy­che. These rup­tures then pre­vent a spon­ta­neous acti­va­tion of the sys­tem, fur­ther on down the line. They may give us a taste of enlightenment—our nat­ur­al state of being—but the pos­si­bil­i­ty of a last­ing enlight­en­ment lat­er on is dras­ti­cal­ly reduced.  In this way, psy­choac­tive sub­stances, like gurus, and per­haps like occult knowl­edge in gen­er­al, engen­der spir­i­tu­al addic­tion. As with all addic­tions, we need ever more pow­er­ful dos­es to get “high.”

Gaia’s Secret Revenge?



There is a very clear par­al­lel to be drawn here with the ecosys­tem, which of course is the source of most if not all psy­choac­tive sub­stances. If the trees and oth­er plant life of the Earth form a sort of neur­al net­work for the plan­et (a sce­nario deft­ly illus­trat­ed in Alan Moore’s run of Swamp Thing comics), then dec­i­mat­ing the rain forests and oth­er forms of envi­ron­men­tal dam­age would be affect­ing more than mere­ly our oxy­gen sup­ply. It would also be rapid­ly reduc­ing the capac­i­ty of the Earth’s bios­phere to func­tion as intend­ed, as an infor­ma­tion sys­tem by which the plan­et (like the human body) can become ful­ly self-aware (plan­e­tary con­scious­ness). Iron­i­cal­ly enough, it may be part­ly because of this sys­tem shut-down that there is such a col­lec­tive pull towards a “psy­che­del­ic solu­tion.” The irony, if this is an accu­rate descrip­tion, is that the destruc­tion of the ecos­phere is not only a symp­tom but also a cause of our increased dis­con­nect from Nature and from our bod­ies.  As we seek to expe­ri­ence our primal/cosmic natures via the psy­choac­tive sub­stances which the Earth (and mod­ern sci­ence) pro­vides, the imag­ined solu­tion may only be com­pound­ing the prob­lem. If so, it would be Gaia’s secret revenge, because if the (ab)use of psy­choac­tive sub­stances is dec­i­mat­ing our own indi­vid­ual “bios­pheres” and pre­vent­ing us from hav­ing full access to our nat­ur­al fac­ul­ties, this exact­ly mir­rors the ways in which our dis­con­nec­tion from the envi­ron­ment has affect­ed the Earth’s biosphere.

Although this is a poten­tial­ly con­tro­ver­sial point of view with­in the entheogen and alter­nate per­cep­tions com­mu­ni­ty, there is ample evi­dence to sup­port it. On the one hand, we have a block­buster such as Avatar, which advo­cates envi­ron­men­tal activism and mind expan­sion through psy­che­delics, while at the same time feed­ing the mil­i­tary-indus­tri­al-enter­tain­ment com­plex that is slow­ly destroy­ing the plan­et and keep­ing the col­lec­tive mind numbed out on cor­po­rate crap­o­la like Avatar. So far, the only expla­na­tion of this con­tra­dic­tion I’ve heard is that the movie is evi­dence of a plan­e­tary awak­en­ing! The count­less con­tra­dic­tions with­in the film—to say noth­ing of its cor­po­rate crappiness—belie such an “expla­na­tion.” If a movie made by the Hol­ly­wood mil­i­tary-enter­tain­ment com­plex appears to vil­i­fy right-wing mil­i­tary forces as anti-envi­ron­men­tal, while glo­ri­fy­ing psy­che­delics and “back to roots” trib­al val­ues, you can be sure the film’s back­ers have their reasons.

On the oth­er hand, we need look no fur­ther than two of the lead­ing forces in the psy­che­del­ic revolution—Carlos Cas­tane­da and Ter­rence McKenna—to glimpse the dark side of the entheogen expe­ri­ence. McKen­na died of a brain tumor at age fifty-three, and Cas­tane­da died of liv­er can­cer, aged sev­en­ty-two. The brain and the liv­er are the two organs most obvi­ous­ly and indis­putably affect­ed by psy­choac­tive sub­stances. These vision­ary spokesmen’s deaths under­score their mes­sages[2] and have served to coun­ter­act, at least to a degree, their influ­ence regard­ing the pre­sumed pos­i­tive val­ue of entheogens. Cas­tane­da quotes don Juan Matus in one of the lat­er books, admit­ting that pow­er plants “do untold dam­age to the body,” and explain­ing that they were only nec­es­sary because of Castaneda’s extreme “stu­pid­i­ty.” A third body of evi­dence (prob­a­bly the most per­sua­sive) for the dubi­ous ben­e­fits of entheogen-use would be the count­less pro­po­nents and spokesper­sons who claim to have been trans­formed by pow­er plants, whose rhetoric and behav­ior betrays an obvi­ous lack of bal­ance, coher­ence, or sobri­ety. (It would seem cru­el to men­tion any names at this point.)[3]

It will no doubt be argued that, if used prop­er­ly (shaman­i­cal­ly), entheogens such as ayahuas­ca, ibo­gaine, and psilo­cy­bin can be used for heal­ing, so how can they be said to harm the body? The answer is in just what “prop­er” or shaman­ic use entails, as well as what we under­stand by “heal­ing.” The elec­tro­mag­net­ic field or “aura” around the human body, which cor­re­sponds rough­ly with the neur­al net­works I have been describ­ing, is where all phys­i­cal ill­ness­es orig­i­nate, so it is here that any shaman­ic heal­ing via entheogens pre­sum­ably occurs—if indeed it does occur. Such “soul-heal­ing,” when effec­tive, could con­ceiv­ably make up for any dam­age being done to the body by entheogens, because by seal­ing up frac­tures or clear­ing out block­ages in the ener­gy body (the total psy­che), by con­nect­ing to the ances­tors (which is prob­a­bly the orig­i­nal use of these sub­stances), the body would be able to regen­er­ate itself over time. Gen­er­al­ly speak­ing, this does require a shaman—an expe­ri­enced ener­getic healer—administering the entheogens, and even tak­ing them in the patient’s stead. Per­form­ing ener­getic surgery upon our own psy­ches would obvi­ous­ly be a high­ly risky endeav­or, not to say insane. At best, the chances are that we will use the entheogen-induced expe­ri­ence of height­ened aware­ness to avoid areas of blockage—or to plough through them with­out nec­es­sary preparation—rather than heal and inte­grate them. This may not result in phys­i­cal sick­ness (at least not right away), but it will like­ly lead to ego infla­tion, on the one hand, and dis­so­ci­a­tion and frag­men­ta­tion (mild schiz­o­phre­nia) on the oth­er. Per­haps most com­mon­ly, it will lead to a com­bi­na­tion of both.

The idea that psy­che­delics are a con­cen­trat­ed “death substance”—a form of holis­tic poison—does not con­tra­dict the idea that they can be used for heal­ing, because this is true of all home­o­path­ic reme­dies. Dosage is key: even a lit­tle bit too much and med­i­cine becomes poi­son. With psy­choac­tive sub­stances, this relates not so much to the amount ingest­ed but to the fre­quen­cy of use, and, equal­ly or per­haps more impor­tant, to the cir­cum­stances under which they are being used. In my own case, I began drink­ing alco­hol and smok­ing tobac­co reg­u­lar­ly (about once a week) at around the age of four­teen or fif­teen (my first “tip­ple” was around five or six). I smoked my first hashish and tobac­co joint at age sev­en­teen, and smoked it dai­ly until about the age of twen­ty-five. After that I smoked it less and less fre­quent­ly, and by my thir­ties I used it more or less as a hal­lu­cino­gen. My mar­i­jua­na use tapered off com­plete­ly in my for­ties and I haven’t smoked in over five years. My use of hal­lu­cino­gens spanned a lit­tle less than twen­ty years, from 1987 to 2004, and dur­ing that peri­od I prob­a­bly had around a hun­dred pow­er­ful expe­ri­ences (quite a few of which were mar­i­jua­na-induced). I would esti­mate, con­ser­v­a­tive­ly speak­ing, that less than two dozen of these were “nec­es­sary” (appro­pri­ate), and that per­haps still less were tru­ly “shaman­ic,” by which I mean heal­ing or trans­for­ma­tive to my being. That would ren­der some­where between 75% and 90% of my use of psy­choac­tive sub­stances gra­tu­itous and there­fore dele­te­ri­ous to both my men­tal and phys­i­cal health. Over­all, I like to think that it evens out, that the 10–25% of shaman­ic expe­ri­ences were suf­fi­cient­ly trans­form­ing to com­pen­sate for the dam­age I did to my ner­vous sys­tem by over-indulging. Nonethe­less, if this is true, I still have to face the fact that I’d be more or less exact­ly where I am today if I had avoid­ed psy­choac­tive sub­stances alto­geth­er. If I am hon­est, I am pret­ty sure that I would be con­sid­er­ably bet­ter off; but of course this is ulti­mate­ly unknow­able to me.

The bot­tom line is that I was using psy­choac­tive sub­stances, not sim­ply to expand my con­scious­ness, but to escape the con­fines of a con­tract­ed con­scious­ness. What’s the dif­fer­ence? Per­haps noth­ing save that the lat­ter is an hon­est descrip­tion where the for­mer is not. In oth­er words, if I had been con­tent with­in the para­me­ters of my lim­it­ed con­scious­ness, I would not have been so eager to exper­i­ment with height­ened states of aware­ness. So-called “con­scious­ness expan­sion” becomes mere­ly recre­ation­al once we have attained a cer­tain lev­el of con­scious­ness, a lev­el at which we have more than enough to inte­grate with­out stir­ring up still more ele­ments of our uncon­scious. And inte­gra­tion entails com­ing back down to earth to see what’s going on in our mun­dane aware­ness, some­thing that doesn’t hap­pen if we keep shoot­ing for ever-high­er states of con­scious­ness and ever more mind-expand­ing expe­ri­ences, via entheogens. How much does expand­ing our con­scious­ness enhance our day-to-day capac­i­ty to func­tion in the world and relate to oth­er peo­ple at an ordi­nary lev­el? And how much are we sim­ply increas­ing our abil­i­ty to talk end­less­ly about abstract sub­jects and fly off into imaginary/imaginal realms, bring­ing back shiny trin­kets (songs, poems, paint­ings, books) to show off how “evolved” our con­scious­ness is to the world? Be hon­est now.

Enlightenment: What Is It?




“Pro­teins are intel­li­gent beings. They have evolved to oper­ate in the meta­bol­ic mael­strom of a tur­bu­lent cel­lu­lar environment.”
—Christo­pher Miller, Nature magazine

Dur­ing one of my more mem­o­rable encoun­ters with salvia divi­no­rum, I expe­ri­enced myself as con­scious­ness inter­act­ing with the mol­e­cules of my eye­lids. These mol­e­cules were all indi­vid­ual beings which togeth­er made up a col­lec­tive (my eye­lids) char­ac­ter­ized by a com­bi­na­tion of fierce aware­ness, a mis­chie­vous sense of humor, and a pow­er­ful  and unmis­tak­able expres­sion of love and affec­tion for me, or what­ev­er remained of my self-con­scious­ness at that time as I was swal­lowed up in this elec­tric con­gress of mol­e­cules. I men­tion this as a counter per­spec­tive to one described above, in which, as the entheogens con­sume our neu­rons, the spir­its (resid­ing in the plant and/or the smoke of the plant) ride into our con­scious­ness on a wave of “destruc­tion.” An alter­na­tive way of see­ing his—not nec­es­sar­i­ly at odds with the first—is that the spir­its (being non-local, quan­tum beings, and prob­a­bly ances­tral ones too) also reside in the cells of our bod­ies. (In the above expe­ri­ence, my eye­lids became my focus because I was try­ing to remem­ber not to open my eyes once I had smoked.) When the entheogen hits our ner­vous sys­tem, these “spir­its” are released (like nuclear ener­gy from the atom) from that force which holds our bod­ies (and every­thing else) into a fixed form—the bondage of mat­ter. Per­haps, as my mol­e­cules “died” under the influ­ence of the salvia, their mol­e­cule-souls were fly­ing free, danc­ing joy­ful­ly over to the oth­er side and rejoin­ing the ances­tors, tak­ing my con­scious­ness (tem­porar­i­ly) along with them?

Atoms (and mol­e­cules, cells, neu­rons, and pro­teins) are enti­ties. They car­ry an infor­ma­tion load, which is essen­tial­ly no dif­fer­ent from the way that we, as larg­er atoms, car­ry the mem­o­ries of our lives, mak­ing up our own “spin” or infor­ma­tion load. And since our sense of iden­ti­ty comes pri­mar­i­ly, even exclu­sive­ly, from our per­son­al set of mem­o­ries, then an atom which car­ries its infor­ma­tion load can be said, like­wise, to have iden­ti­ty. This presents a whole new area of explo­ration beyond the scope of the present arti­cle, name­ly: to what degree does using psy­choac­tive sub­stances allow our con­scious­ness to be pos­sessed by for­eign enti­ties that are not “sym­pa­thet­ic” (in both the mag­i­cal and the com­mon sense of the word) with our bod­ies and psy­ches? The assump­tion is that, since psy­choac­tive sub­stances come from the Earth, they must be benev­o­lent (i.e. com­pat­i­ble with our own evo­lu­tion). This is a rash assump­tion, since there are plen­ty of species indige­nous to the Earth that aren’t “on our side.” Plant spir­its fos­ter depen­dence, and how they inter­act with us may depend on how con­scious­ly and con­sci­en­tious­ly we relate to them, just as it does with every­thing else in life. In a preda­to­ry envi­ron­ment, every­thing is food for some­thing else, so why assume this applies any less to the realm of consciousness—or to our inter­ac­tion with those “spir­its” that reside in the psy­choac­tive sub­stances which we con­sume, eager to be pos­sessed by God? It may even be that any kind of con­scious­ness that is sourced in mol­e­cules besides those of our own bod­ies is for­eign to us, and there­fore poten­tial­ly harm­ful; in short, that true indi­vid­u­a­tion or awak­en­ing depends on access­ing divine con­scious­ness not out­side of our­selves (in plants or gurus) but with­in.

Refer­ring to the ances­tral mod­el, our con­nec­tion to the ances­tors in there in every cell of our body: we already are our ances­tors, and it is only our frag­ment­ed state of con­scious­ness that lets us for­get this and imag­ine we are sep­a­rate. So if psy­choac­tive sub­stances (like ibo­gaine) can some­times help us to redis­cov­er our greater ances­tral being, it can only be by heal­ing (or at least tem­porar­i­ly tran­scend­ing) our frag­men­ta­tion. The trap in this is, if a sub­stance can give us tem­po­rary relief from our iso­la­tion and frag­men­ta­tion, we are like­ly to con­fuse the sub­stance with the state that’s being arti­fi­cial­ly revealed to us, and so become depen­dent on the sub­stance itself. When we drink to remem­ber our ances­tors (a tra­di­tion com­mon to most, if not all, cul­tures), as we imbibe the spir­its of whiskey or gin, are we also let­ting the spir­its of our alco­hol-depen­dent fore­fa­thers and fore­moth­ers pos­sess us? This is the very oppo­site of inte­gra­tion into the ances­tral soul by becom­ing whole our­selves: it is per­pet­u­a­tion of psy­chic fragmentation.

I would like to turn now to the ques­tion of life after death: the idea of the con­tin­u­a­tion of indi­vid­ual con­scious­ness after the death of the body. If we allow that there is at least some evi­dence to sug­gest this (most­ly anec­do­tal, but still), the next ques­tion that aris­es (one com­mon to all reli­gions) is: how might our con­tin­ued exis­tence on the oth­er side depend upon our actions and accom­plish­ments while we are alive? This is not nec­es­sar­i­ly a moral ques­tion; more like­ly, if it has any mean­ing at all, it is a prag­mat­ic one. It might depend, for exam­ple, as some meta­phys­i­cal sys­tems attest, upon an indi­vid­ual hav­ing a ful­ly acti­vat­ed (linked-up) neur­al sys­tem at the moment of death, a sys­tem which can then serve as a vehi­cle for inor­gan­ic con­scious­ness, once the flesh and blood ves­sel is no longer functional.Is This Why the Fruit Was Forbidden?

Sup­pose the life of the body is a means for undif­fer­en­ti­at­ed con­scious­ness (pure ener­gy, before form) to expe­ri­ence itself as a sep­a­rate enti­ty, by enter­ing into (or weav­ing into being) a “pack­age” to con­tain it? Con­scious­ness then would have the pos­si­bil­i­ty of ful­ly inte­grat­ing itself into its pack­age, so that, like clay inside a mold, when the form were destroyed the ener­gy that in-formed it—having allowed itself also to be formed by it—would retain the unique shape—the individuality—which phys­i­cal expe­ri­ence grant­ed it. This idea is dra­mat­i­cal­ly depict­ed, once again by Alan Moore, in the com­ic book Watch­men, when Jon Oster­man is vapor­ized inside a nuclear vault and his con­scious­ness mirac­u­lous­ly man­ages to weave for itself a new phys­i­cal formmade of pure ener­gy, using the mem­o­ries of his for­mer iden­ti­ty as a matrix. Alan Moore also came up with a whole new ori­gin sto­ry for Swamp Thing which was basi­cal­ly the same mod­el: Alex Hol­land under­goes an exis­ten­tial cri­sis when he real­izes that he is not who—or what—he thought he was, but rather a plant intel­li­gence that has inher­it­ed Holland’s memories.

If who we think we are is depen­dent on a coher­ent set of mem­o­ries, who or what we con­tin­ue to be upon death would depend on those mem­o­ries retain­ing coher­ence, and not sim­ply being copied, with­out their fold­ers, to the larg­er hard dri­ve of human con­scious­ness. The file and the folder–the body and the soul–would some­how have to become one and the same.


Is This Why the Fruit Was Forbidden?



I am aware (as I rewrite this piece some five years after I first “chan­neled” it) that these are dan­ger­ous ideas, ideas that more fre­quent­ly lead to the men­tal mad­ness of lit­er­al­iza­tion than to real or last­ing psy­cho­log­i­cal whole­ness. In sev­er­al of his lat­er books, Cas­tane­da describes the sorcerer’s pri­ma­ry task as reca­pit­u­lat­ing his or her entire life, includ­ing every thought and every dream ever dreamed, in order to cre­at­ing a sur­ro­gate aware­ness which can then be offered up the “the Eagle” (the rul­ing force in the Uni­verse) as food. In return for this offer­ing, this per­fect repli­ca of every sin­gle com­po­nent of his or her life, the sor­cer­er is allowed to keep his or her indi­vid­ual aware­ness (the Eagle’s gift). As a metaphor tak­en lit­er­al­ly, this is about as much use as a man­u­al for fly­ing to the Sun using only wax and feath­ers. (Appar­ent­ly it didn’t work too well for Cas­tane­da.) Also rel­e­vant here are the doc­u­ment­ed “near-death expe­ri­ences” (NDEs) in which indi­vid­u­als under­go a full “life review” and re-expe­ri­ence every moment of their exis­tence up to the moment of (near) death. If we throw out the cul­tur­al bag­gage of these beliefs, it does appear that con­scious­ness incar­nates into a body in order to gath­er expe­ri­ence, and that this expe­ri­ence is then passed on, or back, to the source from which con­scious­ness first emerged. At the same time, the degree to which that pack­age of ener­gy-con­scious­ness is able to become ful­ly embod­ied while it’s incar­nate does appear to vary great­ly, and this vari­ance does seem to be the crux of why we are here. An unex­am­ined life is not worth liv­ing. Why? Because it leads nowhere, like words and phras­es on a page that do not con­nect togeth­er, like a fin­ger with­out a hand, or a soul with­out an ances­tral line.[4]

The light­ing up of the neur­al net­works (all three lev­els) with­in our bod­ies while we are alive, the align­ment of soul, ener­gy body, and phys­i­cal body into one con­gru­ent whole, so far as I can ascer­tain, is what’s known in spir­i­tu­al cir­cles as “enlight­en­ment.” It is our nat­ur­al state as human beings. In exis­ten­tial terms, it entails inte­grat­ing our indi­vid­ual con­scious­ness, the ego or per­son­al self, with our uncon­scious (the sum total of our life’s expe­ri­ences, the mem­o­ries of the body) and enter­ing ful­ly into “the Now,” bring­ing all of those past moments out of the past and into the present. Enlight­en­ment entails liv­ing in an eter­nal present in which divine or transper­son­al con­scious­ness is also present, both through us and as us. When a per­son dies in such a ful­ly “acti­vat­ed” state—with all the indi­vid­ual cells linked up to form a circuit—the entire net­work may then become a vehi­cle for Spirit—merging with the infi­nite while remain­ing self-aware with­in it. Alter­na­tive­ly, and per­haps more accu­rate­ly, if this acti­va­tion occurs in life, then the death of the body would no longer her­ald any sig­nif­i­cant change for the indwelling con­scious­ness, since it would be already linked up to, and in con­tin­u­ous com­mu­nion with, the ances­tral realms beyond death.

Every moment is equal­ly pre­cious, because every moment of our lives is a link in the cir­cuit-board of indi­vid­u­at­ed con­scious­ness. With­out each of those links func­tion­ing (which depends upon all the moments of our lives being inte­grat­ed into con­scious­ness), the sys­tem can­not func­tion as a sys­tem, but only as a col­lec­tion of uncon­nect­ed parts. At death, the individual’s total­i­ty either fails to light up or short-cir­cuits and explodes in the first moment of “enlight­en­ment.” The moments of our lives are like “tem­po­ral mol­e­cules” which togeth­er make up our fourth-dimen­sion­al “souls,” the “build­ing” of which is nec­es­sary if we are to fuse with, and flow into, the space­time con­tin­u­um of eternity.


This spec­u­la­tive digres­sion into meta­physics has been part of an attempt to under­stand the true purpose—and the very real dangers—of psy­che­delics and oth­er drugs (includ­ing alco­hol). It’s my opin­ion that the bot­tom line here is that, in the process of expand­ing con­scious­ness, these sub­stances impair mem­o­ry and do “untold dam­age to the body” (espe­cial­ly the liv­er, which is what we are until we die: liv­ers). I believe that when these psy­choac­tive sub­stances “hack into” and “hijack” the atoms, mol­e­cules, cells and neu­rons, they do so for their own ends. Plants are not only sen­tient, but also voli­tion­al. Why assume they have no oth­er pur­pose besides serv­ing us? It’s true that, what­ev­er the plants’ agen­da may be, by ingest­ing them we gain tem­po­rary access to the greater spec­trum of mol­e­c­u­lar aware­ness which is our nat­ur­al birthright. How­ev­er, as every drug user or drinker knows, this enhanced vision is only tem­po­rary, while the changes caused to our neur­al net­works, ner­vous sys­tem, and even our DNA, are longer-last­ing, pos­si­bly even per­ma­nent (or at least, con­tin­u­ing beyond the death of the body).

Drugs and alco­hol induce high­er con­scious arti­fi­cial­ly, with no prepa­ra­tion of the ner­vous sys­tem. If enlight­en­ment is our nat­ur­al state as humans, then these sorts of “aids” take us in the oppo­site direc­tion. They blast us into an unnat­ur­al state that at the same time close­ly sim­u­lates the nat­ur­al one, and hence offers the feel­ing of attain­ing “greater real­i­ty.” They also lead to the cor­re­spond­ing come­down and, gen­er­al­ly speak­ing, the desire to recre­ate that state. They are forms of self-trauma­ti­za­tion sim­i­lar to those prac­ticed by MK-ULTRA-like pro­grams of abuse, designed to frag­ment the psy­che and so har­ness the ener­gy with­in it. They may cre­ate a ver­i­ta­ble über­men­sch of astral capa­bil­i­ties, but it is only a frag­ment that is being empowered.

Every sperm is sacred, and every cell is vital of the func­tion­ing of the whole. What if those hijacked neu­rons, mutat­ed recep­tors, or rup­tured cells don’t mutate, but are sim­ply burned up on the sac­ri­fi­cial altar of “expand­ed con­scious­ness”? What if with­out them, our elec­tro­mag­net­ic, ances­tral fields wind up like a set of Christ­mas tree lights with miss­ing bulbs: one fail, all fail? Every cell of our bod­ies stores infor­ma­tion about our past, and every sin­gle moment of our lives is going to be called to the table on that day of reck­on­ing. In sim­ple terms, the gains of psy­choac­tive sub­stances are heav­i­ly taxed. Most exper­i­menters, unaware of this fact, con­tin­ue enjoy­ing the gains with lit­tle or no clue as to the back-tax­es that are build­ing up. By the time they do real­ize it, there may be noth­ing left to do but declare bankruptcy.


[1] “Recep­tors are bio­log­i­cal trans­duc­ers that con­vert ener­gy from both exter­nal and inter­nal envi­ron­ments into elec­tri­cal impuls­es. They may be massed togeth­er to form a sense organ, such as the eye or ear, or they may be scat­tered, as are those of the skin and vis­cera. Recep­tors are con­nect­ed to the cen­tral ner­vous sys­tem by affer­ent nerve fibers. The region or area in the periph­ery from which a neu­ron with­in the cen­tral ner­vous sys­tem receives input is called its recep­tive field. Recep­tive fields are chang­ing and not fixed enti­ties.”
[2] Admit­ted­ly, Cas­tane­da tried hard to dis­as­so­ci­ate him­self from the psy­che­del­ic cul­ture very ear­ly in his career.
[3] “Leary crit­ics even­tu­al­ly point to his close con­nec­tions dur­ing this time to inter­na­tion­al LSD-smug­gling car­tel, the Broth­er­hood of Eter­nal Love, rumored to be a CIA front. The Broth­er­hood is con­trolled by Ronald Stark, who the Ital­ian High Court lat­er con­cludes has been CIA since 1960, and Brotherhood’s funds are chan­neled through Cas­tle Bank in the Bahamas, a known CIA ‘pro­pri­etary.’ For two years Leary lives at Broth­er­hood head­quar­ters in Lagu­na Beach, dur­ing which time Broth­er­hood cor­ners the US mar­ket on LSD and dis­trib­utes only one vari­ety of the drug, “Orange Sun­shine.” Stark report­ed­ly knows a high- placed Tibetan close to the Dalai Lama and wants to pro­vide enough LSD to dose all Chi­nese troops in Tibet. In the US, mean­while, Stark pro­vides enough Orange Sun­shine to dose the hip­pie cul­ture many times over. This is the ‘bad acid’ that Charles Manson’s fol­low­ers took before mur­der­ing Sharon Tate and that the Hell’s Angels took before stab­bing to death a black man dur­ing a Rolling Stones con­cert at Alta­mont. Because of this, William S. Bur­roughs, White Pan­ther leader John Sin­clair, and Ken Kesey even­tu­al­ly enter­tain the the­o­ry that Stark, Leary, and Orange Sun­shine are all part of a CIA plot to dis­cred­it the rad­i­cal left.”
[4] Tak­en too lit­er­al­ly, these sorts of ideas con­tain with­in them the seeds of elit­ism (as does Castaneda’s work, for that mat­ter, and any oth­er spir­i­tu­al, reli­gious or occult doc­trine I am aware of). Tak­en too lit­er­al­ly, the idea that an unex­am­ined life is with­out val­ue is also fun­da­men­tal­ly incor­rect, because, at the end of the day, there are no indi­vid­ual lives, because every­thing belongs to God or Life Itself. I think Socrates was address­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ty that, with­out the essen­tial ele­ment of aware­ness of each of our acts, there is no pos­si­bil­i­ty of cohe­sion or uni­ty to the count­less moments which make up our lives. At the moment of death, those moments are then dis­si­pat­ed into infin­i­ty and return to undif­fer­en­ti­at­ed ener­gy, to be recy­cled as “fuel” in the ongo­ing move­ment of Spir­it towards man­i­fes­ta­tion. This is prob­a­bly the source of the pop­u­lar idea of rein­car­na­tion, even though the idea of rein­car­na­tion con­ve­nient­ly ignores the fact that, once ener­gy has returned to the undif­fer­en­ti­at­ed state, it would not, by def­i­n­i­tion, retain any iden­ti­ty. In which case, the only thing that “rein­car­nates” is God/the Uni­verse. The moments of an unex­am­ined life remain part of the fab­ric of eter­ni­ty, which is God’s body, and noth­ing is lost, much less “damned.” But the sto­ry which they were once a part of dis­solves and is gone, as if nev­er hav­ing existed—because as a nar­ra­tive, it went nowhere in par­tic­u­lar (or nowhere new). 


Com­ments from orig­i­nal posting

2 thoughts on “The Serpent’s Promise, or: Drugs as Ritual Self-Sacrifice

  1. This is a very inter­est­ing arti­cle that I plan on reread­ing a few times. I hap­pen to be cur­rent­ly reread­ing the Alan Moore run of swamp thing before I read this arti­cle. That series real­ly stands out not only b/c it was great but also b/c when I was read­ing it, I had had my one and only DMT experience(and the only one I will do). 

    I do want to say from the one time with DMT, it led me to a spir­i­tu­al path that does­nt require drugs. The DMT expe­ri­ence was ter­ri­fy­ing at first, but once I let go I saw some­thing that to me was how rein­car­na­tion worked. The “place” felt para­dox­i­cal where noth­ing mat­tered and every­thing mat­tered, but it made sense there. Now its hard to grasp. I had­nt believed in it before, but what I saw was so con­vinc­ing and made com­plete sense. How­ev­er, I think I was at a point in my life where I was real­ly need­ing a spir­i­tu­al path to fol­low, but did­nt know it. I’m not real­ly for or against psy­chadelics, but it was enough to point me in the right for direc­tion. I did­nt know what I sought, but it was some­thing deeper.

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