The Psychology of Entheogens: An Exposition of the ‘Entheological Paradigm’
The following is a deconstruction of the methodology employed by Martin W. Ball Ph.D. in his essay ‘Terence on DMT: An entheological analysis of McKenna’s Experiences in the Tryptamine Mirror of the Self’. It is not intended to be reaching any particular ‘truth’ over the claims made in the essay’s conclusions, rather, it intends to be an exposition of the analytical framework that Ball names the “entheological paradigm”. The references are to a PDF copy of the essay, kindly passed onto PsypressUK by its author. All images are by drfranken.
Martin W. Ball examines three talks given by Terence McKenna (1946-2000) on the topic of DMT and 5-MEO-DMT: 5-MEO-DMT and nn-DMT, Too much DMT and The Strangest Things Happen on DMT. He chose these talks as being typical of all the available material demonstrating McKenna’s reading of, and relationship with, DMT and 5-MEO-DMT. Ball’s aim is to critically analyse McKenna’s reading and, in order to do so, he employs what he terms as the “entheological paradigm” as a form of analysis. The question concerning this essay is: How does the “entheological paradigm” function as a discourse; in both what it posits as ‘truth’ and necessarily excludes in its analysis?
The term ‘entheogen’, from which “entheological” takes its leave, was first coined by Wasson et al in the 1970s. Created from three Greek roots words; it translates to ‘becoming God within’(Wasson, 2008). Therefore, in considering the amalgamation of ‘entheo’ with ‘logical’, the “entheological paradigm” is a set of parameters formed on the basis of ‘the logic of God within’. Ball describes the entheological paradigm as being grounded in the fact that “all of reality can comprehensively be understood as a unified energetic system that is conscious and self-aware. The foundation of all of reality is the Energetic Unitary Being that functions according to fractal mathematics. All of reality is therefore an expression of fractal patterns. This is a unitary energetic system, thereby indicating that all living beings are in fact direct embodiments of One Energy Being [OEB]” (Ball, 2010, 3).
This ‘logical’ system, as quoted above, is more correctly described as a system of metaphysics; for whilst ‘energy’ does form the basis of current systems of physics, we’ve yet to identify an OEB as the unifying and self-aware embodiment of all energy – this is somewhat over-stepping the ontological boundaries of a scientific classification. Rather, this metaphysical system is more correctly described as being pantheistic, which is to say that it identifies divinity (the “self-aware” OEB) with a material universality (energetic fractal expressions). In order to correlate terminology then, and in keeping with the entheological name, the OEB will hereafter be referred to as God. The premise, then, of the “entheological paradigm” (EP) is that reality is merely “fractal expressions” of a consciously self-aware whole.
Bearing in mind that what Ball is analysing is the human relationship with DMT and 5-MEO-DMT, we need to understand what the entheological paradigm a) understands this relationship to be, and b) how God grounds the understanding of this relationship. The EP understands the relationship to have value because of its ability to occasion us (under the right conditions) the experience of Self, not as being individuated but rather as being a unitary being, which I shall term the God-self. How does this ‘truth’ function as a discourse however?
In analyzing the animism of Terence McKenna i.e. his experiences of coming across other beings whilst on DMT and his belief that they were other than himself, Ball’s main point of contention is that the experience of a duality necessarily demonstrates a failed entheological experience, in that it’s not unitary. Ball writes: “Terence, as a manifestation of the one being, is providing himself with self-validating experiences in the form of others who tell him enough to convince himself of the reality of the game he is playing” (Ball, 2010, 10). What is this individuated Self, which self-perpetuates an inauthentic experience? Ball names it as none-other than the “ego”.
Ball describes the “ego” as a “fractal pattern” that causes the object/subject division i.e. the problem of the other. He calls the “ego” an “illusion” that creates the sense of a “unique, separate self”. The goal of the entheological experience, then, is to overcome this pattern through “ego transcendence”. The outcome of which is the identification of Self with God i.e. God-self. Therefore, in plain terms, we have the ego-self and the God-self identified in Ball’s analysis; wherein, paradoxically, although the ego-self is “illusory” it is yet still composed of the fractals of the God-self. In regard to McKenna, Ball believes that his experiences of an other is the proof of an invalid, ego-driven and, therefore, inauthentic experience with DMT and/or 5-MEO-DMT. It is the distinguishing of inauthenticity in McKenna’s experiences that forms the central marker for the EP’s analysis, however, as we shall see, its methodology is profoundly psychological.
How does the ego-self relate to the God-self during the psychedelic experience when it would seem, on the surface, to be paradoxical? “Within this perceptual energetic space, the energy of egoic consciousness bounces off the fundamental matrix of energy, so to speak, and creates images related to the individual’s consciousness. The simplest way to put it is that when gazing into the Divine Imagination, one is looking into a mirror that expresses the fullness of one’s energetic being” (Ball, 2010, 18). Therefore, in having an authentic experience, one realizes the perceptions are the God-self; which is to say when one realizes one’s self as God, a unitary being, one realizes one perceives as/the God-self. This is the state of ego transcendence, without which the “perceptual energetic space” is reduced to chasing its tail, which is in fact an “illusory” tail.
“Ego’s however, get very confused about what is going on in this process as they perceive the contents of consciousness as being distinct from the subject experiencing it” (Ball, 2010, 18). Ball identifies one “ego-generated narrative” that McKenna is caught in as ‘language’ and further uses this to demonstrate that McKenna is describing an inauthentic experience. He argues that McKenna’s life-long belief in language as the fundamental character of being was in fact projected onto his DMT experiences; in effect making McKenna a prisoner of his own false, ego-driven beliefs, unable to realise the authenticity of God-self. Therefore the ego-self is related to the God-self as hurdle is to a hurdler; only it isn’t a physical barrier but a psychological one. As Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha said: “When someone is seeking…it happens quite easily that he only sees the thing that he is seeking; that he is unable to find anything, unable to absorb anything, because he is only thinking of the thing he is seeking, because he has a goal, because he is obsessed with his goal” (Hesse, 2008 108).
In utilising terminology like “ego”, “ego transcendence”, “energy” and “game playing” Ball is employing a language and analysis that was first introduced into psychedelic culture by Timothy Leary in the early 1960s. Terms like “ego” are manifestly psychological (and indeed has a much longer history,) as was Leary’s profession pre-Millbrook and terms like “game playing” are lifted straight from the pages of Leary’s work and gospel. The following is taken from Leary’s essay The Seven Tongues of God: “But the illusory game goes on. Ego sweats to maintain a tenacious grasp of the ungraspable. And then, in moments of emotional despair, decides to hide, to quit. Hell is the conviction that the game won’t stop. Eternal game playing. No exit. Hell is the idea that the game switch won’t turn off. Suicide is the deluded attempt to escape from hell” (Leary, 1990, 41). Leary places a value on “ego transcendence” and he utilizes the language of “religion, psychiatry and psychology but also of the physical and biological process” (Leary, 1990, 22) for Ball it is, entheogen, ego and energy. However Leary’s method relies on the psychological position of an “ego” from which to take its leave and this frames his whole system, which consequentially also frames Ball’s.
Therefore, in re-employing this form of analysis the entheological paradigm is relying on psychological methodology, just as Leary’s work did, to structure its analysis. However, in doing this, we can elucidate a contradiction within the EP’s methodology. Whilst it utilizes the ontological boundary of a scientific classification (in this case the non-existence of autonomous spirit entities) to pick apart McKenna’s position; it has already transgressed the same boundary in its metaphysical premise of the One Energy Being by replacing the psychological notion of an individuated self with a God-self.
What underpins the psychological analysis of McKenna’s DMT/5-MEO-DMT experiences is an authoritative assertion that, firstly, a certain phenomenological experience under the influence of these drugs occasions a metaphysical truth i.e. the existence of the God-self. Secondly, that this occasion can only be induced and translated authentically by an individual with the knowledge of how to do so. We will now examine how these ‘positions of privilege’ manifest themselves in the analysis and function as part of the EP discourse.
It is not instantly apparent that one is confronted by the God-self during the psychedelic experience “it just becomes obvious, though admittedly, this is only for those who reach a deep level of self-acceptance and responsibility” (Ball, 2010, 18). In other words, if you’re not experienced enough you won’t realise this and you’ll be caught in playing ego-games. Ball puts himself and those other people who share his belief in the EP in a position of authority by ascribing it a privileged knowledge, which is only occasioned by an entheological experience. This privileged knowledge, however, is based on the contradiction we identified earlier i.e. the ontological boundary of scientific classification. For, those people who “reach a deep level of self-acceptance and responsibility” find that “all contents of the entheogenic experiences are projections of the self” (Ball, 2010, 17). This, as we have demonstrated, is psychological methodology onto which the EP is essentially piggy-backing by replacing the psychological position of the ego-self with the metaphysical position of the God-self; thus undermining the authority of the claim.
McKenna’s description of 5-MEO-DMT is as a mere “feeling” compared to the deeper visionary nature of DMT; Ball criticizes this position. Ball’s own phenomenological view is that 5-MEO-DMT is stronger than DMT. He believes that 5-MEO-DMT “is the fastest and most direct route to immediately experiencing the reality of being God” (Ball, 2010, 7). Ball also contends that there are visionary aspects of 5-MEO-DMT at higher quantities and is therefore making another privileged, authoritative claim over McKenna. This puts Ball in a position where he can analyse McKenna’s experience as “ ego game playing,” for, accordingly, without the authority his experience has afforded him, he would be unable to recognize it as such. This demonstrates that the discourse of the EP divides people on the basis of their personal experience.
Ball states the conclusions of his analysis are that “Terence’s experiences do not present us with an intrepid explorer discovering new realms. Rather, we are presented with a clear picture of an individual unable to recognize himself in the mirror of tryptamine consciousness” (Ball, 2010, 2). In coming to this conclusion, it is not only McKenna’s verbalisation that Ball investigates in order to demonstrate that he is trapped by an ego-self. He examines traits in McKenna’s talks like delivery, voice tone, “nervous laughter” and so on. In order to do this, and in line with identifying God through the “perceptual energetic space”, Ball must demonstrate how the perceived physicality of Self relates to God.
“Terence’s tone of voice and nasal timbre is uniquely telling: it shows us his energetic relationship to himself and to his subject matter, the object he is sharing with us. The energy of his voice dramatically reveals how far Terence is from his energetic center. It tells us, immediately, where he is coming from” (Ball, 2010, 5). He goes onto describe the human being in terms of 5 energy centres. Three of which, the brain, heart and sex organs, are described as being energetically generative. The other two, the throat and stomach, are transformative centres. Of the five, the heart is “the center of the total energetic system.”By speaking nasally, Ball believes this demonstrates that McKenna is not speaking from his energetic centre but rather from behind his eyes: “Wherever Terence is while creating his discourse, he is not in his centre. Rather, he is quite clearly in his head, thereby indicating that he is communicating ideas; things that he thinks, rather than things he has felt or understood in the very centre of his being” (Ball, 2010, 6). The validity of “energy centers” is beyond the scope of this essay, suffice to say that this represents in the first instance, an extension of the metaphysics and, in the second, acts as another privileged space from which the analysis can take its leave.
In conclusion, the EP analysis assumes its rationale from three positions of privilege. Firstly, from a philosophical position, a pantheistic metaphysics, which determines the scope and relationship of the psychedelic experience by grounding it in a unitary and universal system. Secondly, from an experiential position, which basically states that for one to have an authentic experience, tested against the aforementioned metaphysics, one must have reached a certain level of “self-acceptance and responsibility.” And, thirdly, one needs knowledge of the energetic centres in any given “perceptual energetic space” in order to evaluate the experiential level of the subject, as just described in point two.
These three positions of privilege correspond to three restrictions that the ‘Self’ is determined to have. Firstly, the God-self, which one identifies through the metaphysics. Secondly, the ego-self, which is confronted during the psychedelic experience and, thirdly, a body-self, which in line with the metaphysics is described as a “perceptual energetic space”. From these three identities the EP discourse functions by a) identifying phenomenological inauthenticity in the psychedelic experience, in this case McKenna’s animistic claims; thereby enabling an invalidation of McKenna’s discourse. And b) by correlating physical traits to the theory of ‘energy centres’; thus establishing a sort of self-delusion on behalf of the individual analyzed, which in effect buoys the entheological paradigm’s authority as a discourse.
The EP analysis itself, however, reveals, through the terminology it utilises, its reliance on a psychological paradigm to ground its perspective in opposition to other discourses (McKenna’s animistic for example.) This seems to demonstrate a fundamental weakness in its approach; for it necessarily draws an ontological boundary by employing psychology, one which it has already transgressed through its metaphysical position. It relies on the belief that one phenomenological experience produces a knowledge that invalidates all other value discourses.
Finally, what is the value of performing this methodological deconstruction? In elucidating the workings of a methodology we can reveal internal contradictions; either between the foundational position (in the case the pantheistic metaphysics) and the method of analysis (i.e. psychological) and/or reveal any positions that have not been logically argued and investigated; revealing a functionality based on dogmatic positions. By doing this we can further reveal the merits, or failings, of the methodology in question and whether it brings anything original to the learning space, or not.
All images are by drfranken
Bibliography & References
Ball, Martin W.: Terence on DMT. 2010. PDF.
Hesse, Hermann: Siddhartha. Penguin Classics. London. 2008. Print.
Leary, Timothy: The Politics of Ecstasy. Ronin Publishing. Berkeley. 1990. Print.
Wasson, R. Gordon, Albert Hofmann, Carl A.P. Ruck: The Road to Eleusis. North Atlantic Books. Berkeley. 2008. Print.