Sep 22, 2009

Dead or Alive

Much of what you read on Gosporn is an inquiry of sorts, looking for answers to an ecstatic "walk in the woods" experience in the Fall of 2004. The inquiry does tend to wander, but I always find myself circling back to that experience, because I really do divide my life into two parts now - the one before the walk, and the one after. BC and AD. I now call it an ego-death experience because that sounds less preachy than "anointed by the Holy Spirit", and less crazy than "alien abduction" experience. The experience has been a profound enigma to me, until I began looking into the Dionysus Mysteries, and finally the myst is beginning to clear.

Research into the Dionysus Mysteries led me to: The Entheogen Theory of Religion and Ego Death.

...a sense of being controlled by frozen block-universe determinism with a single, pre-existing, ever-existing future. Experiencing this model of control and time initially destabilizes self-control power, and amounts to the death of the self that was conceived of as an autonomous control-agent. Self-control stability is restored upon transforming one's mental model to take into account the dependence of personal control on a hidden, separate thought-source, such as Necessity or a divine level that transcends Necessity. --Michael Hoffman

This is perhaps the best essay on the nature of ecstatic religious experience that I have EVER read. He integrates early Christianity into the Roman and Gnostic cults of the day, which all strongly featured the concept of Initiation into a "Mystery". An initiation who's engine (Hoffman proposes) was the altered state brought forth by the ingestion of "spiced wine" - drink laden with entheogenic drugs. The cup that is very likely... the mythical Holy Grail.

Hoffman intuits that the great "mystery" was, in fact, a personal experience of frozen block-universe determinism, and that much of the Jesus (and Dionysus) mythos can be easily understood when this principle is applied. The journey of Jesus, from the last supper, through the garden of Gethsemane, and finally to the Cross, is metaphor for the Initiate's journey toward ego-death, and the triumphant finale - when the Ego is Born Again.

I was so taken with Hoffman's insight that I purchased the first issue of Salvia Divinorum Magazine, published in 2003. There are only three issues in print. Salvia Divinorum is an entheogenic plant native to Mexico - the Oaxaca region. I've visited the state (not the altered state!) more than once, and strangely, my closest near death experience was on a beach near Oaxaca, when I nearly drowned in a riptide. The beach was Playa de la Muerte - I have since learned to pay more attention to signs.

The cruciform entheogen called hojas de las Maria Pastora, or ska Maria Pastora (leaves of Mary the shepherdess) were used among the Mazatec in medico-religious practices, like the teonanacatl mushrooms and the ololiuhqui seeds (similar to Morning Glory).

SD Mag prints accounts of those who have smoke the herb and I found many of them to be extremely familiar - as if they were also there in the woods. Here's one:

"This is a composite of all my Salvia experiences... Hell, and sin, is truly a state of perceived separation from God, to use the quaint theological terms. I've been in Hell, and I've sinned. I was there, and so was God, looking through my eyes, though I didn't know it.

So getting older all the time, and feeling twinges of mortality and middle-age craziness, I was ready to see things a little bit differently.

Not having a budget that could support, or justify the broadening experience of extensive travel, I thought it would be a good idea to travel extensively in my own room. So in my room I sat and chewed the bitter Salvia leaves, and in short order all that I thought I was vanished, and in its place a strange, yet familiar, wild Being took over. This Being was I, and everyone, a vast organic entity.

This Being was (is) beyond words. Any words I use to describe the experience are totally inadequate, lifeless.

All I can do is submit to this Being, and acknowledge that it is real, and in charge of me, of everything. Some would call it God. Whatever it is, it's real, it's alive, and Salvia really brings it home. Home is this Being.

I've never been so happy, so relieved, to be nothing but a part of the flesh of this Being. Ah, the pleasures this Flesh! One Flesh, forever. Thank you, Salvia!"

Right on, bro! IMHO, ego-death is basically what happens when the personal Operating System crashes. It is a kind of built in "fail safe" of the brain. It's as if the ego just can't take any more, and it collapses into a primordial state of programming - a "reboot", so to speak. That reboot is a reconnection to the source of I Am - the all encompassing, all loving, all knowing Id, the Father, Abba, etc.

However, my own, personal Jesus ego-death wasn't due to "spiced wine" - or anything approaching an entheogen. But I do admit to being "under the influence" - of Jeff Fairhall - Seattle's magic mushroom tea sipping (hell, guzzling) shaman. Is it possible to have an ego-death experience without entheogens? Stay tuned for Part II, when we explore DMT - The Spirit Molecule.


Esperanto Grrl said...

James "The Amazing" Randi, a personal hero of mine and a scourge of pseudoscience and debunker of psychics, astrologers, faith healers and other assorted phonies, used to argue all the time that there was no such thing as an altered state of consciousness because there's nothing you can do in an altered state that you can't do in a "waking" one.

The role of entheogens in human religion is extremely overstated, and it's because a lot of so-called "mind-explorers" had so much emotionally invested in the importance of hallucinogens in human culture that they allowed themselves to go into pseudoscience and ahistory. For every Gordon Wasson that proved Soma was fly agaric mushroom, there are a dozen theories shot down, like the totally unsupported (and untestable) idea that the Grail Quest was a metaphor for a middle ages mushroom cult.

All this is the product of an era that tried to make science reflect its excesses, resulting in a great silly season that lasted from 1964-1979, give or take a year or so. My personal favorite theory from this era is that the practice of face-to-face lovemaking was responsible for the development of human society. (Gee, thanks, sixties.)

This ultimately didn't work because,here's the thing about physical reality: it's inarguable.

On a personal level, I just don't understand the appeal of hallucinogens at all. The clarity and objectivity that makes self-analysis possible and meaningful absolutely requires being in your right state of mind. If being in a bad mood or an angry temper makes you not think clearly or not see things rationally, why should anything else that makes you less rational make you see things better?

Michael said...

Altered state experiences are by their nature unprovable, untestable and therefor unbelievable to the rational scientist. It is a domain closed and locked to rational (left brain) inquiry, and the only way to know of it is to go journeying yourself (which may or may not involve entheogens), or listen to accounts of those who have.

"The role of entheogens in human religion is extremely overstated"? Wow, I must have missed all that overstatement in church!

It is a misconception that ego-death experience is not rational. It is more like being overwhelmed by a Divine rationality that makes your previous concepts of what was true and rational seem woefully inadequate.

Sometimes even scientists have ego-death experiences - like Ellie Arroway in 'Contact' - you never gno...

Esperanto Grrl said...

"The role of entheogens in human religion is extremely overstated"? Wow, I must have missed all that overstatement in church!

Awww, c'mon, Mike, you know what I mean: I'm talking about "Stoner Anthropology" stuff like "Food of the Gods" that had the brass ones to not only argue that hallucinogenic drugs created human consciousness and brain development (I had to reread it several times over to make sure I read it right!) but also that hallucinogens can also save mankind from our current culture.

(Though in fairness, there were a few things I did like about it. For instance, the idea that television changes how the brain operates, and how most Americans are at some level addicted to sugar.)

Sure, hallicination experiences are important to human society...for instance, Fly Agaric was soma of the Rig Veda. But there's a movement in history and academia to insert it where it isn't relevant to the point it becomes yourself in this very post bring up the discredited Grail Quest metaphor.

Though I will admit, the idea of "Contact" as a religious experience for the scientific-minded was something I never thought of.

In all honesty, though, I need heels and a good stretch to crack five feet so the idea of experiencing the sensation of being small and insignificant beside something probably isn't something I'd enjoy. :-)

Devin said...

This was a fascinating article Michael!! thank you for it-sincerely-I bought a bottle of Salvia extract though mail-order in early 2006-I read you are supposed to have a sitter when you do it but i did the first "gum swipes" all by my lonesome-did it twice-nothing came of it-chickened out on the third (always lucky 3 eh?) time -and now the bottle is so old I can't imagine it is any good anymore -but that is the way "sally" is-very hide and seeky-I wasn't ready and maybe I never will be-although I hope I will for something-god only knows I could use a soul saving kind of experience (sex just aint it anymore:-) fascinating about the name of that beach you were at!! I hadn't thought about Amazing Randi in ages and now today 2 different references-this is one of the only times I have disagreed with Esperanto Grrl on something-it was an interesting synch in a way for me because I was reading an old Fortean Times magazine about 5 hours ago that mentioned him quite specifically in it. The problem with "Randi" is that no evidence would ever be good enough for him -just in my humble opinion-best to you and Var as always!! WV=mices :-)

Michael said...

EG - Been reading a bit more about the word "entheogen":

a chemical substance, typically of plant origin, that is ingested to produce a nonordinary state of consciousness for religious or spiritual purposes.

And I realized that the author's of SD Mag tend to use the word to mean ANYTHING that produces said "nonordinary state of consciousness". Which may indeed be a plant, but may also be meditation, religious ritual, etc. So it's not exactly the same as psychedelic drugs. Which helps me get a bit more of a toehold on my own "trip", since there weren't any shrooms, etc. involved.

The great thing about ego-death is that you become gigantic - as a big as whale, about to set sail... and frankly, I'm shocked, shocked! that you didn't see Ellie as pot-smoking, hippie physicist/spiritualist Carl Sagan's alter ego.

Dev - Wow! You even bought some? I haven't yet, but will duly report if and when. Oaxaca is the source of some hilarious personal synchs, I'll spare you, dear reader, from them, but rest assured, they are in the Journal.

Michael said...

you yourself in this very post bring up the discredited Grail Quest metaphor.

EG - Oh yea, I meant to ask you about that. Do you mean the symbolic idea of the Grail Quest is discredited, or that the Grail as metaphor for entheogenic drug is discredited, and if so, by whom?

I love all the controversy around the Grail. Is it a bloodline? Is it the literal cup that held the blood of Christ? Is it a magic mushroom? In a way, the Grail has become our modern Hollow Earth, which basically means it's "truth" lies in it's symbolic nature, and as soon as some wise ass scientist finds the bona fide Holy Grail, then it will be forever lost.

Esperanto Grrl said...

Anadae -

I hadn't thought about Amazing Randi in ages and now today 2 different references-this is one of the only times I have disagreed with Esperanto Grrl on something-it was an interesting synch in a way for me because I was reading an old Fortean Times magazine about 5 hours ago that mentioned him quite specifically in it. The problem with "Randi" is that no evidence would ever be good enough for him

One of my persistent daydreams is to discover I have a superpower of some sort (something "sexy" like hypnotizing others, firing laser beams etc.) and then I go to James Randi and to his astonished eyes, demonstrate my superpower to him and get the $1,000,000 prize money for proving myself to have a paranormal ability. I would force my will on James Randi and the impartial academic, or use my lasers to slice up and heat a junked car to slag.

I mean, with $1,000,000 dollars, you could pay something like...oh, eight or nine months rent on a ritzy apartment along Central Park West!

But I think part of the reason that Randi's standards of evidence are so high is that they should be. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. I've often thought that believers in the paranormal have an extremely naive definition of what constitutes a true proof.

Ironically, I was a big believer in the paranormal for a very long time. Strange as it sounds, for a while I had no greater ambition in life than to be a real-life witch! But as I started to truly think about a lot of paranormal phenomena (and matured) I found that lots of things just didn't have any truly convincing evidence for them. No problem...just pack up and move to another paranormal belief. After repeating this a few times, I found myself coming around to the point of view of rationalism and skepticism.

There are actually some so-called fringe theories that have turned out to be RIGHT, but not many. The only one I can think of offhand was the idea the Vikings arrived in America before Columbus. I'm in my early twenties, and I remember first reading about this at age nine or ten in a paranormal casebook from the library where the case next to it was about past life memories. But because of recent evidence, it's now a regular part of history that every schoolchild knows.

I hope Mike doesn't object to me pimping my blog, but since it's relevant to some of our discussions, did you see one of the most recent articles on the blog about the Shaver Mystery?

Mike -

There was a theory by the Usual Suspects that stories of Parzival, Sir Galahad and others in the quest for the Grail, that it was a metaphorical guide to a historical now-extinct Middle Ages "mushroom cult," much like the counterculture used music and songs to express their own drug experiences and journeys.

It's not like a theory like this needs a lot to disprove it...there's really no there there. At least with the theory about the Eleusian Mysteries inspired by rye grain fungus there's an actual cult whose historical existence can be confirmed.

What disproves it is that careful analysis of the Grail does not show any similarities to mushroom experiences. The Grail Quest's similarities to shamanistic experiences are entirely superficial. And the Grail was a cup at times, but also a shaft of light. One of my favorite descriptions said "of bone it is not; of wood it is not; of metal it is not." Compare this to the proven Wasson theory that Amenita muscaria was the soma of the Rig Veda, which made pretty good 1:1 comparisons between the description and the experiences of the drug.

Perhaps that's not what you're asking and you're talking about the role of the Grail as having value in symbolism and metaphor.

Oh, can read the story of Noah's Ark to be a metaphor for ecological responsibility, but I doubt that's intended by the writers.

I've also heard some argue that the story of Gilgamesh, particularly the character of Enkidu, was a warning about tampering with genetic engineering, which gets a big fat WTF? from me.

Michael said...

EG, first off, thanks for your thoughtful comments, much appreciated. And pimp your blog all you want.

First off, I have a serious disconnect with the "paranormal" as expressed in "ghostbusters", spoon bending, etc. and what I experienced. I simply experienced a shift in observation, a temporary move away from an egoic perspective. It's not like I can bend spoons or anything. But the experience WAS profoundly valuable, and that's all I can really claim. In hindsight, I can see that it made me far more interested in mythic symbolism, and how that symbolism plays out in real life - in real time.

The Grail: I would say that the Grail is a metaphor for seeking transcendent spiritual experience. Seek and ye shall find...

I have a lot of empathy with Carl Sagan and Ellie Arroway. They both loved physics, and in the end, they realized that they loved it because it revealed the Mind of God - synching with the famous Einstein quote that "God does not play dice". And this is the remarkable truth brought forth by an ego-death experience - everything, and I mean everything, is going according to plan. It's the oldest crock of religion, and it is absolutely true.

Anadæ Effro said...

Esperanto Grrl? Whoa. You invoked my name & yet hadn't e'en participated in this thread! Magic! LOL! Michael? Thank you. I love the visionary experiences that I've had. No more for me, though. Thanks. I'm too well rooted nowadays in the Be Here Nowisms of life & commitment to a wonderful man to go off tripping my brains out anymore. And now? Here's a lovely song about dreams, from the sister of musical Wunderkinder, Mike & Sally Oldfield, Terry, something with butterflies in it. Enjoy, all ~ Anadæ Effro (•8-D}

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