Messiah apprehended at Heathrow
Clinical stages of type 3 [Jerusalem Syndrome]
• Anxiety, agitation, nervousness and tension, plus other unspecified reactions.
• Declaration of the desire to split away from the group or the family and to tour Jerusalem alone…
• A need to be clean and pure: obsession with taking baths and showers; compulsive fingernail and toenail cutting.
• Preparation, often with the aid of hotel bed-linen, of a long, ankle-length, toga-like gown, which is always white.
• The need to scream, shout, or sing out loud psalms, verses from the Bible, religious hymns or spirituals…
• A procession or march to one of Jerusalem’s holy places.
• Delivery of a ‘sermon’ in a holy place. The sermon is usually very confused and based on an unrealistic plea to humankind to adopt a more wholesome, moral, simple way of life.’1
– The British Journal of Psychiatry
Jerusalem Syndrome was first described back in the 1930s, and struck with increasing frequency as the new millennium approached, with hundreds of enthusiastic tourists ranting in the streets about the end of days. The peak has become a plateau. Every year since 2000, around 40 cases have been so severe as to require hospitalisation.
Such episodes are not limited to Israel: my friend went messianic suddenly in the street in India, giving his rupees to the wind, and also giving up his daily shower. He became unmanageable at the ashram, and was eventually put in a taxi bound for the airport, where he sang Imagine at the check-in desk. When airport staff exchanged his stinking clothes for a cotton smock to match his scraggly beard, his Old Testament persona was completed. He sang Lennon’s hymn again in the cabin, before throwing off his smock and launching naked into a spirited sermon. The police were waiting at Heathrow.
My own interest in things apocalyptic began in the 1990s, with a knock on the door and a fistful of colourful pamphlets depicting the fate awaiting those who would not witness Jehovah. The apocalypse, and apocalyptic people, have fascinated me ever since. From the Greek apo- (away) + kalyptein (to cover), its English synonym is revelation, from the Latin: ‘removal’ (re) of a ‘veil’ (velum). An apocalypse is an unveiling or disclosure, when the previously unknown becomes known, or the unconscious becomes conscious. Nemu’s End is about the process of apocalypse. It is about how limitations arise and what happens when they collapse, both collectively in society and individually in our brains.
This book, Science Revealed, considers the apocalypse in science, as discovery (or dis–cover-y – when something hiding undercover has its cover dissed). Biographies of scientists such as Tesla and Einstein reveal how our most groundbreaking ideas result not from rational thinking and tapping on calculators, but from visions, dreams and other non-rational revelations. The controversies that blow up when such insights clash with embedded patterns of thought are often resolved in a manner most unscientific, and this is just one of the ways in which what is simplistically called ‘rationalism’ often obfuscates truth in a fundamentally complex world.
Book 2, Neuro-Apocalypse, is about the mechanics of revelation at the scale of the individual. We will explore how the architecture of thought channels the mind towards certain aspects of the world, and obscures others. When normal linguistic boundaries are dissolved, with autistic savantism, with degenerative brain disease, and occasionally with a knock on the head, incredible feats of perception and intuition can become possible. Meditation can also lead people to extraordinary capabilities and insights, and so can psychedelic drugs, which we will find in pre-industrial quantities in the pages of our high and holy Bible.
Book 3, Apocalypses Past, Present and Personal, explores the apocalypse as a collective event. At various points in history, the established structures of communities have been rapidly broken down, leaving space for new growth. This can be because of external events, such as conquest or disaster, or through the accumulation of individual insights that stress the existing order to breaking-point.
One catharsis in first century Jerusalem devastated the homeland and altered forever the self-image of the Jewish people, while launching a Jewish tale along Roman roads into the pagan world. Sublime truth or pack of lies, tool of meditation or weapon of control, something to live for, to die for, and to kill for, The Bible is a lean, mean, fighting meme that has self-replicated prodigiously through the centuries. It is also thoroughly embedded in the fabric of our culture, and there is much to be learned by unraveling some of its threads.
‘The end of the world’, for example, is a terrible translation of scripture. What ends is not the world but the aeon (or aion in Greek), meaning epoch or era. An apocalypse can be local, and is fundamentally individual; but upheavals can spark the same in neighbouring communities, and spread over continents. A wave of apocalypses brought the medieval age to a close, beginning with the Italian Renaissance and spreading, to the north with the Reformation, and to the west with the voyages of discovery and the birth of science. Today’s international age makes for novelty on a global scale, and the pace of environmental, social and technological upheavals we face is unprecedented.
Finally, after the history, we will turn to my story, my own personal continuing apocalypse, through over a decade of ritual ayahuasca use, life-threatening illness in the Amazon, and a 6-year stint on the very mind-expanding islands of Japan.
A serpent undulates through Nemu’s End, periodically raising his head to remove bricks from a tower of folly that has been thousands of years in the making. His case is also translated with prejudice in scripture, but the adversary (Satan in Hebrew) is God’s left-hand man. Lucifer illuminates, as his Latin name suggests: lucem ferre, to bring light. Duality is a veil of illusion, and this much-maligned dark angel of light tears it down, though his lessons may be excruciating.
Another vilified agent of illumination featuring in this book is the psychedelic. While I avoid processed food and doctor’s pills, and preferred the ADHD that nature gave me to the Ritalin teachers offered me, I do enjoy psychedelics, both recreational and inspirational. Used respectfully with experienced guides, as any power tool should be, they can reveal hidden things. Psilocybin, for example, makes subjects more perceptive of changes in the visual field.2 It also induced ‘full mystical experiences’ in 60% of subjects in one famous experiment, leaving them measurably happier and more compassionate than controls when tested 25 years later.3 Insights catalysed by psychedelics have given us the protocols of virtual reality, opened up whole new fields of science, sparked artistic and therapeutic modalities, and reoriented countless lives for the better. As we shall see, poets such as William Shakespeare,4 inventors and evolutionary theorists, founders of the United States and British monarchs have all enjoyed drugs that would land them in a cell today.
Though I have had the pleasure of being given psilocybin while strapped into an magnetoencephalography machine in the name of science, my favourite tipple is ayahuasca, and my relationship with it is more rustic. This visionary tea cured my potentially fatal leishmaniasis infection during an 8-month ordeal in the Amazon, and radically changed my perspective in the process. It helped two of my friends defy terminal cancer sentences, cleared up recurrent migraines in two others, and has inspired invention, academic research and art; but it does more. Ayahuasca reveals the essence behind the mundane, a harmony that is staggering, and a world far more responsive than one might imagine. Ayahuasca, the rope (waskha) of the spirits (aya), winds its way between the worlds, and does what it says on the label. In the alchemy of plant teachers, this wonderful brew is a key to a very personal apocalypse.
Welcome to my Nemusalem Syndrome. With over 1000 citations from scientific journals and ancient texts, and with buckets of ayahuasca, we take on the dualism that has carved black-and-white categories from our richly toned universe: true and false, good and evil, sense and nonsense, illness and health, and lawful and illegal. With metaphors mixed, whipped, folded and stretched, this work is roundabout and back again, silly and sublime, spot on and plain wrong. There are oblique tangents, impassioned rants, endless digressions, bigoted conclusions and thinly veiled provocations. There are also strange cults, venerable sages, wild women, robotic policemen, and eccentrics of various stripes – like my poor messianic friend, whose epiphany at 15,000 feet was snatched up and hurled mercilessly onto the page as a counterpoint. Like him, what I offer is enthusiastic to the point of excess, unabashedly apocalyptic, and ultimately indecent; but my flight of fancy should return you safely and cleanly to the ground.
This book is the story of the apocalypse – how it unfolds in our world, in our history and in our brains. It is written in the faith that revelation is open to everyone, and in the hope that we will embrace it before… but no, this is not that type of apocalyptic book. The Messiah, the Mahdi, the Maitreya is here already, one of 330,000,003 personalities in our schizophrenic heads, serene amongst the bickering. He won’t fly in on a cloud, bearded and iridescent and holding a sickle; nor on a plane, bearded and smelly, holding his knob. Science recognises him as a schizophrenic delusion, and even my old rabbi preferred not to talk about him; but he is there, in the mysteries of nature and the depths of our brains. He is there in our scriptures, for those who read between the lines. He is beyond the boundaries of polite conversation, and beyond the range of normal perception; but he is with us all the same.
You may say I’m a dreamer … ooh ooh ooh.