Tryptamine Palace by James Oroc
Originally published in 2009 ‘Tryptamine Palace: 5-MeO-DMT and the Sonoran Desert Toad’ is written by James Oroc. Oroc is a journalist, photographer and artist who has been a member of the Burning Man community since 1999. His work has dealt with extreme sports in more than forty countries and he is involved in the documentation and advancement of alternative culture. He resides in the Dominican Republic. The foreword is written by Alex and Allyson Grey.
This Park Street Press edition of Tryptamine Palace is a greatly revised and expanded version of earlier drafts that the author James Oroc handed out at Burning Man festival in 2006 and 2007. The book details Oroc’s experiences with 5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine (5-MeO-DMT) and how the chemical came to influence his life and beliefs. He took his first hit in a “nondescript suburban home in Portland, Oregon” in July 2003 and, although he had prior experience of other psychedelics, it was to have a profound effect.
“From this very first experience, my view of reality was rearranged in a more comprehensive manner than I could ever have believed. I now consider 5-Meo-DMT to be the only true entheogen I have ever encountered, since before that day I was a hardened atheist who embraced an inherited cynical scientific material-reductionist worldview, while now I inhabit a universe that is mystically inspired, and thus I’m indelibly aware of the existence of G/d” (Oroc 3).
On one level, therefore, this text is a typical psychospiritual (or psychedelic) narrative where the author/protagonist moves from mainstream, intellectual atheism to an experiential, spiritual belief. Central to this type of narrative, and which can be traced back in the literature to Malden Grange Bishop’s The Discovery of Love (1963), is the conflation of the ‘soul’ and the ‘mind’ (or consciousness) as a singularity; a coming together of psychiatric and religious terminology. Indeed, it is typically psychedelic because of the double interpretation of the Greek term psyche as mind and soul. Interesting, like Bishop with LSD, Oroc also found love to be the ultimate answer to the question of the trip, which he states near the beginning of the text. However, while it retains the psychedelic formula, it is now more often described as entheogenic.
This book, often following a phenomenological telling, explores Oroc’s adventures with the entheogen and the lessons and ideas he had learnt from his experiences. So along with the psychospiritual narrative, one is regaled with the finer points of this particular system of belief and ethics, and, as such, it is a noteworthy contribution to the field. However, to begin with, he examines the history and science of DMT (synthesized in 1931) and 5-MeO-DMT (synthesized in 1936) and this nicely frames the narrative so far as the chemicals themselves move from a pure scientific space into the subjective, experiential realms of this work; all via the 1950s/1960s heyday of research when matters of this type were complicated by a multitude of interpretations that called certain scientific processes and meanings into question.
There is a certain unholy trinity of individuals that are repeatedly challenged in alternative literature because of the pre-eminent place they have in mainstream culture (usually defined by the scientific paradigm of material-reductionism.) They are Rene Descartes, Charles Darwin, and Isaac Newton. It is not so much the theories of these individuals themselves, but rather how they expounded as ‘universal truths’. For Newtonian physics still holds good when talking about the effect of gravity on this planet; Darwinian evolution, even with the advent of epigenetics, will still remain an important factor; but Descartes, however, I am always surprised to still hear about—the mind-body separation, in philosophy at least, has not held universal sway… ever. People forget that Western philosophy is a multitude of competing theorems and that to take one idea within it and to extrapolate it out is, to say the least, erroneous. However, Oroc’s point that these are sometimes taken as universal truths is well made and they do act as a useful counterpoint in his own contentions.
It seems clichéd for a trip-lit writer to employ quantum physics in their explanations of their own, admittedly, subjective experiences, and it is very often executed badly. This is not, however, the case for Oroc who puts together a thorough argument looking at a variety of cutting-edge scientific researches. These include the Zero-Point Field, what a “quantum G/d” is (this is Oroc’s particular spelling in order to differentiate from the monotheistic, Western God), and the Bose-Einstein condensate. It is an area too rich in thought to say much of in this review—however, it might perhaps have been wiser to have created two texts from this one. The first exploring his psychospiritual narrative, which included his observations; while the second could be his speculative theory in light of said observations. However, they do work reasonably well together and the reader will find the passages very engaging.
Aside from the entheogen theory, Oroc also incidently points toward an interesting idea in literary theory: “As I sit working on this treatise, it occurs to me that I am a bit like a DJ at times—a sort of literary mixologist-diving into the works and thoughts of various authors whose ideas are most fascinating to me, and whose world views have shed the most light on the peculiarities of my own radically altered reality” (Oroc 51). This is, in many ways, like the creation of many non-fiction works, however, being read in light of the psychedelic experience gives the opportunity to understand the formulation of any said discourse from a novel perspective. As Oroc notes, “While with my own plodding discourse, I try to make some sense out of what I have been through over the last few years” (Oroc 52). Perhaps, here, we have the making of a novel approach in literary theory.
In conclusion, I have in the past been very disappointed by psychospiritual narratives within the psychedelic/entheogenic realms as they too often add nothing of interest and merely badly-mimic earlier examples. In this case, however, I was very pleasantly surprised. The Tryptamine Palace is a very informative and engaging book, which aside from eloquently describing his own experiences, manages to provoke many interesting thoughts about psychedelic history (there’s a couple of wonderful sections on Burroughs and Leary), modern society, and the nature of 5-MeO-DMT. I highly recommend this book as one of the finest examples of the psychospiritual narrative to have been published in recent years.