Tripping by Charles Hayes (Ed)
Originally published in 2000 ‘Tripping: An anthology of true-life psychedelic adventures’ is a selection of personal accounts, collected and edited by Charles Hayes, of the psychedelic experience. It also includes an extensive interview with Terence McKenna, visionary art from Alex Grey and a extended bibliography and resource list. Tripping is, without doubt, one of the finest selections of tales to be born of the psychedelic movement.
As much as I’d like to call this collection a ‘very literary undertaking’ I should first clarify how Charles Hayes himself, first and foremost, viewed the project of Tripping: “My intent in assembling these unusual, often unsettling tales is to create a work not so much of literature but one of document.” In documenting anything, one has to consider all the various understandings, the breadth of the field and the nature of your object; all of which Charles achieves.
In the first place, there are many different triggers for the psychedelic experience that he examines. From LSD, DMT and Nutmeg to PCP, Ketamine, psilocybin mushrooms and many others; the keys to the world of “Heaven and Hell” are various. Secondly, participants were gathered from different walks like word-of-mouth, websites like MAPS, classified ads and through the response of several high-profile figures.
Mark: “The drug had taken away what I’d been taking for granted and then slowly handed it back to me. The way back was illuminating, a revelation of everything that comprised the quotidian yet essential functions of living”
Throughout much of the process of interviewing, recording, editing and writing, Charles Hayes lived in Bangkok, Thailand. He circled the world twice tracking down those people who would be kind enough to share some of their most profound psychedelic experiences with both him and the world. He describes visiting the infamous Christiania, in Denmark, Britain’s rave scene and beyond.
However, one of Charles’ regrets, in the writing of Tripping, was that he was unable to record experiences from every culture in the world. The participants are made up largely from Western societies; therefore with similar social histories. Men outnumber woman, 3 to 1 and reasons for consuming these various substances range from the religious and ritualistic to the hedonistic. This in itself, however, assures a huge diversity of narratives.
Such individuals as Bruce Eisner, Paul Devereux and Charles Hayes himself, contribute to the narrative, alongside many other trippers. For all the original intentions, Tripping stills comes across with a very literary edge; no more so than in Charles’ own narrative, which contains many literary devices: “There was a faint physical pain in my brain as I plunged through a void in my mind. I felt like a kite in the sky, helpless before the whims of the wind, with no power of my own to get down to terra firma.”
My favourite narrative is ‘Sarah’s’: “At the height of my first acid trip, back in 1975, I was visited by a bizarre spectre in the guise of a strange neighbour.” The lady had appeared at the doorway needing her dress done up. Sarah, who was speaking a combination of English and Hebrew, did it up and the lady left. Then Sarah realized: “She was it, the culmination of all events, the meaning and purpose of everything that occurred before.” She then wrote down the story of the world; from “10 000 B.C.E The Iron Age” though “1789 Bastille liberated” till finally “September 13th, 1975 Visitation of a Lady.” A beautifully comic and revelatory tale that oozes the great tide of cause-and-effect.
Malcolm: “At times it seemed to me that the entire experience happened twice – once to me, and again in a movie that I watched. I viewed from a distance as my tortured self was strapped down and carried out the house.”
There is an interplay that is extant in nearly all the narratives included in the anthology. An interplay of three meta-influences; set, setting and Self. ‘Set and setting’; the psychological and historical traits of the individual’s psyche playing an intricate part, alongside the geographical and social spaces in which they find themselves during the psychedelic experience. More often than not, the Self is at the mercy of these two categories.
The ‘Self’ appeared invariably in two instances within the texts. Firstly, in the instant in which the various realizations within the trips took place, when the individual overcame an obstacle; realized themselves. Secondly, for the more experienced trippers who seemed to have an ability to actively engage the experience, to journey through it less by an emotional rollercoaster, but more with, though not exclusively, an objective eye. Though it is the interplay of all three – set, setting and Self – that conjures the magic in the narratives.
Along with some wonderful artwork by Alex Grey, there is also an edited transcription of an extremely good interview , which took place between Charles and Terence McKenna, on the 17th -18th January 1998. It’s certainly one of the most illuminating conversations I’ve read and heard of Terence, especially in regard to the conciseness of his ideas and it’s certainly a wonderful ending to the anthology.
‘Tripping’ is an excellent collection of stories, well formulated, riveting and insightful. I can only conclude this review by finishing off the quote I began with: “By rendering into print the astonishing phenomena of psychedelic drugs—as well as their impact on the human psyche—they can be rescued from the stream of ephemera, dried off in the prosaic light of reading lamps, and then ruminated over by a larger population of fellow and vicarious travellers.”