The Hyper Space Age
July 11, 2011, Checkerboard Beach, Rarotonga, Cook Islands. I had joined the Black Pearl Eclipse adventure, arriving on the island with an oddly familiar crew of Aussie explorers who converged to witness a total solar eclipse. Fifty eclipse chasers occupied the Rarotonga Backpackers on a beach next to the Pacific Ocean. By the day of the eclipse, with my fellow intrepids I had steamed overnight 100 nautical miles southeast of Rarotonga on the island trader Tekou Maru II to intercept the line of totality arching across the South Pacific. A dance floor with sound system had been fashioned on the freight deck, but overnight, as the trader plowed choppy seas, most passengers clung (successfully) to the deck and (unsuccessfully) to their lunches. At 8:20 a.m., with the ship’s engines and music switched off, inside 360° of ocean horizon, and with our prow in direct alignment with the Sun occluding Moon, the Tekou Maru II sailed into the cosmic singularity.
But now, back on Raro, it’s after dusk and the moon waxes over a tranquil shore. I’m in an unusually receptive mood. Basking in the afterglow of the eclipse, I take several deep hits of DMT from a small pipe, and sink like a starfish into the beach, a space neither land nor ocean. Immediately, a white-noise generator switches on, and I’m swimming in the currents of an unmistakable buzz, an unrelenting and iridescent blue hummm, out of which I locate the frequency. It’s showtime, and I’m on. The familiarity of the setting is uncanny. But look now, out of the noise, unidentifiable agents present me with puzzling objects… each more elaborate, more impossible, than the last. Rubik’s Cubesques rigged out with a vexing panoply of moving components… nasal tubes, intravenous syringes, enemas, crystalline pipes of impossible design, contrivances of inconceivable geometricality, all apparently dedicated to the ministration of holiness, proffered like libations for my delectation, and yet each dissolving upon closer inspection. Conflations of ambassador, dealer, croupier, vicar, and something else besides, more and more agents herald contraptions of sensory augmentation… astonishing telescopic devices, earscopes, nosephones, and more preposterous doohickeys for the perception of the invisible than I could possibly count. Like representatives of competing guilds of the impossible, traffickers of non-sense know-ware, and exporters of extrasensory exhibits, each agent outclasses the next in efforts to goad my inspection of their distinctly accessorized tek. Drawn to these outlandish contrivances, I remain guarded all the same.
The background to this visual cacophony is a blue-and-white checkerboard with shifting tiles. Each tile, if I look close enough, gives way to terraced depths that fall beyond comprehension. Across this checkered landscape, tiles open out to reveal distinct universes from which flower fractaline galaxies. Even closer inspection reveals these worlds to be contrived from a symphony of symbols, an unrelenting data-stream of alien glyphs, each wrought from an impossible geometry. I do not possess the means to hack the stream, to transpose what is happening ‘there’ to ‘here.’ But what I do know is that, in the foreground, the troupe of exhibitionists peddle their captivating cavalcade of impossibilities. It’s like walking the aisles of a hallucinogenic haberdashery and having an untold number of Mrs. Slocombes jonesing to catch my eye—a cosmic bazaar, like the markets of Marrakesh if operated by alien snake charmers. But, if there is anything defining the character of these beings, it’s their nonchalance. They appear to operate sans enthusiasm, performing their roles with professional detachment, like bored buskers relying on their tricks, their disinterested decorum a contrast to the objects they brandish. Soon enough, I sink farther into the beach.
Subsequent reflection led me to consider the predicament of being marooned between these and other dimensions, beached in a place between the known and that which lies beyond. Were the agents intermediaries deigned to lure me beyond the reef, or diversions preventing departure from these shores? Was I drawn into an oceanic embrace with the Other, or held captive by trinkets? Some time after I abandoned my starfish pose on the beach, I entertained a loose comparison of the objects that transfixed me on Raro with those offered to Polynesians of the Cook Islands, and indeed all native peoples contacted and colonized by Europeans, seduced, cajoled, and persuaded by technologies advanced and captivating. Written language, the Bible foremost, has been the principal technology of colonization, the most powerful tool wielded by missionaries. So too, a visible language—or at least what appears to be ‘language,’ although not typically transmutable by way of the five senses—is among the principal means by which habitués of hyperspace communicate with DMT intrepids. Only now, in this higher-dimensional contact zone, the Captain Cooks of hyperspace persuade the islanders of Euclidean space to become dimensional nomads. As many thousands of returnees indicate by way of an efflorescence of user experiences now shimmering in cyberspace, emissaries entice locals to travel outside recognizable properties of time and space. Sail beyond the frontiers of the known. Compel natives to go alien.
As a broker of the impossible, Terence McKenna’s insights spill light on my experience on Rarotonga. In his 1990 workshop in New Mexico, McKenna spoke of experiences in which he was presented with gifts that were “like something falling out of the mind of God.” They were objects that could not exist in this universe but were nevertheless right before his eyes. While the beings were clamoring, “Look at this! Look at This! Look at THIS!” he was compelled to pull away from the things offered, to resist the temptations. “You say, ‘No, don’t look at it, look AWAY from it!’ because it’s so wonderful that it’s swamping my objectivity and destroying my ability to function in this space.” McKenna recognized where he’d had this feeling before. It was down in Crawford Market in Bombay with “a kilo of Gold” in his pocket that he sought to trade for hashish. “I was surrounded by all these Arab hash traders, and they were saying, ‘We’re your friend, just wait, don’t worry… How about thissss! How about This!’”[i] He later concluded that the entities in the DMT flash were traders, and the hyperdimensional objects trade goods.
Far from holding parity with McKenna and his advanced meme trading in hyperspace—apparently he traded everything he knew about the I Ching for the model of time (i.e., Timewave Zero) that he would spend his life promoting—I simply suggest that his interpretation of his penetrative ventures casts light on my floundering movements in the shallows of that realm. More to the point, his meditations offer navigational guidance for future entheographers. In the history of psychonautica, the tripper conventionally self-identifies as a courageous traveler, exploring the otherworld and returning with the mana, often imagined as a one-way process. The perspective is difficult to dislodge. While Rick Strassman has recently adopted an ‘interactive-relational’ model allowing a comparison of prophetic states in the Hebrew Bible and DMT experiences, since the divine efflux moves from God and his intermediaries to the experient, this remains a top-down relationship. For McKenna, interdimensional travelers are like cosmic fishermen whose “creative act is to let down the net of human imagination into the ocean of chaos on which we are suspended and attempt to bring out ideas.”[ii] But these travelers aren’t simply netting the Other or mirroring the Divine, they are in direct dialogue with it.
Psychonauts have long imagined themselves navigators of uncharted terrain, explorers plumbing the depths of the psyche, scaling the heights of consciousness, and mapping new regions of the mind. Carrying forward enlightenment objectives, narrating their exploits using geospatial and travel metaphors, they embark on journeys under the aegis of discovery, not of untouched frontiers of the globe, but of consciousness. If a “naut” is a person engaged in the operation of a vehicle, especially one used for scientific investigation, then the vehicle commanded by the psychonaut is the psyche itself, which starting in the 1950s and 1960s was operated using the keys and manuals of psychiatric science. Just as William James’s earlier experiments with nitrous oxide had convinced him of the psychological significance of forms of consciousness beyond ordinary experience, the loquacious Aldous Huxley was compelled to report on the landscape of the visionary realm to which he was transported upon his debut with mescaline in 1953.
To convey his experience, and to present it as a landscape, or ‘space,’ Huxley developed the literary device of the geo-exploratory metaphor best illustrated in his essay Heaven and Hell, which employed imperialist cartography to penetrate the mind. “Like the earth of a hundred years ago, our mind still has its darkest Africas, its unmapped Borneos and Amazonian basins,” he conjectured. “A man consists,” he continued, “of what I may call an Old World of personal consciousness and, beyond a dividing sea, a series of New Worlds—the not too distant Virginias and Carolinas of the personal subconscious and the vegetative soul; the Far West of the collective unconscious, with its flora of symbols, its tribes of aboriginal archetypes; and, across another, vaster ocean, at the antipodes of everyday consciousness, the world of Visionary Experience.”[iii] Onboard Huxley’s literary Beagle, the surveying techniques of the naturalist, botanist, or collector provided fertile allegories for discoveries awaiting the traveler-visionary who, electing to depart the known world and taking leave from their everyday senses, becomes exposed to untold vistas.
In relation to the fauna of these regions we are not yet zoologists, we are mere naturalists and collectors of the specimens… Like the giraffe and the duckbilled platypus, the creatures inhabiting these remoter regions of the mind are exceedingly improbable. Nevertheless they exist, they are facts of observation; and as such, they cannot be ignored by anyone who is honestly trying to understand the world in which he lives.[iv]
Huxley’s psychedelic pharmacography demonstrated a curious mix of colonialist and psychiatric influences. In the colonial antipodes—the geophysical opposite to England (i.e., Australia)—exoteric wildlife connotes the untouched wilds of the mind. The shaping influence of psychiatric science on Huxley is more than evident in the concern, as Psychedelic Press editor Rob Dickins notes, for mapping and exploring the invisible landscape of mind in the service of ameliorating medical and social pathologies identified by psychiatric science.[v] Huxley was himself a literary trailblazer who laid the groundwork for Leary, and for McKenna (among many others), who, lecturing in Berkeley in 1987, stated that, in the confines of their own apartments, intrepids are becoming “Magellans of the interior world,” bringing back tales of “insect gods, starships, unfathomable wisdom, endless realities.”[vi]
For Huxley, and the explorers who surfed his wake, the risks and challenges associated with geophysical exploration were transferred to the voyager of inner space. These wayfarers confronted challenges not in the imperial service of king and country, but in the quest for an evolved consciousness. As a plethora of male avatars have penetrated to the heart of the mystery, commanding new technologies in the quest to open up the mind, this risk-laden narrative of adventure and discovery has been a decidedly masculine story: Mad Max’s of the mind, resourceful and daring, stepping out on the precipice, penetrating the psychic interior, and leaving evidence of their feats in literature and science. At least that is the phallocentric mythology. In the anthology Sisters of the Extreme: Women Writing on the Drug Experience, Cynthia Palmer and Michael Horowitz set the record straight. And yet, the narratives that have come down to us are decidedly masculine, penned by men, hailed as courageous explorers of consciousness. While it was Huxley who was most known at the turn of the 1960s, compared to him, Leary and Alpert noted that Alan Watts, for whom psychedelic tools offered results not unlike those achieved after years of training in Taoist or Zen disciplines, was “more daring” and “pushes beyond.”[vii] But the pioneering edgeworker and Beat scientist was Burroughs, who trekked upriver to the source. By the early 1960s, Burroughs had even tried his hand at a theory of “neurological geography,” entertaining the notion that certain cortical areas were heavenly, others diabolical.[viii]
It took eloquent and brazen practitioners of language to strike out into the unconscious, to trek the backwaters, badlands, and prohibited zones of the mind, that final frontier, where known spatial metaphors lacked meaning and valence—for, in what Huxley identified as ‘Mind at Large,’ space and time were no longer sensible. After all, how does one describe eternity? How could one command language to provide an adequate description of what was un-English-able? While the appeal of The Doors of Perception was founded on its noted author’s eloquent translations of his own neurochemically charged visionary experiences, as psychedelics and notably LSD gained circulation in the late 1950s and 1960s, psychonauts sought to improve and refine psychedelic linguistics, a practice that was compelling. As Richard Doyle conveys in Darwin’s Pharmacy, the psychonaut is compelled to breathe life into the psychedelic experience through trip reportage that manifests as rhetorical programs of, and for, the initiated. We have a term for novel and alien ‘languages’ downloaded in psychedelic states. In her semiautobiographical account of the practice of psychonautics, Xenolinguistics: Psychedelics and Language at the Edge of the Unspeakable, ‘soul sailer’ Diana Reed Slattery introduces ‘xenolinguistics’ as the study of unnatural and unspeakable languages.[ix]
In the history of psychedelic pharmacography, in just a few short years we travel from Huxley quietly transfixed by his trouser-folds to Leary’s resonant return to the source vibrations and subsequent freak assemblies where psychedelic synesthesia was no longer the lone pursuit of clinical scientists and learned gentlemen. By the mid-1960s, authorship of the psychoactivated Other was no longer in the hands of a few, as a veritable carnival of tropes, formulas, and idioms flourished to furnish the realms beyond and within with meaning. But the question might be asked: Who or what is speaking?
As Leary’s early 1960s experiments with DMT on the experiential typewriter illustrated, controlled experiments have a way of veering off course, with the ‘results’ emerging in expressive forms unparalleled in the lives of experimentalists. It seemed apparent that one isn’t necessarily using language, in the way a writer like Huxley was disciplined to perform, but that one is being acted upon, dictated to, written by, the Other. Among the great literary examples is evident in the divine pink light that bathed Philip K. Dick in a compelling life gnosis in February–March 1974, directing the writing of his Exegesis and the VALIS trilogy. Rather than an author in command of language (and of consciousness), the trip reporter, the xenolinguist, becomes a medium of consciousness, not dissimilar to the way a clairvoyant mediates the otherworld, a prophet proclaims divine transmissions, or, for that matter, the mad claim to have been furnished with the ‘truth’ by the voices inside their head.
McKenna inferred that he channeled the Logos, that it was speaking through him. He knew that these practices weren’t meant just for elites, as he committed to a psychedelic pedagogy in which multitudes became exposed to techniques for accessing and channeling the Other. But this was not the mass exposure, the ‘psychedelic revolution,’ advocated by Leary. McKenna knew that alternative social havens, clubs, and dance festivals provided the optimum conditions for experimentation, the assembly grounds of the neopsychedelic movement where today his own words, the sampled distillations of a revered alt.cult hero, stand out among the nanomediated deluge that caresses the minds of floor-bound psychonauts surfing the lip of the novelty wave long after The Big One was scheduled to hit.
Excerpt from Mystery School in Hyperspace: A Cultural History of DMT by Graham St John, published by Evolver Editions (an imprint of North Atlantic Books) on Nov 24 2015.
[i] T. McKenna, “Mind and Time, Spirit and Matter.”
[ii] In Rupert Sheldrake, Terence McKenna, and Ralph Abraham, Chaos, Creativity and Cosmic Consciousness (Rinebeck, NY: Monkfish, 2001; first published 1992), 47.
[iii] Aldous Huxley, The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell (New York: Harper Perennial, 2009; first published 1955), 84.
[iv] Ibid., 83–84.
[vi] Terence McKenna, “Alien Love,” in T. McKenna, The Archaic Revival, 1991: 75.
[vii] Tim Leary and Richard Alpert, “Foreword” to Alan Watts, The Joyous Cosmology: Adventures in the Chemistry of Consciousness (New York: Pantheon Books, 1962), ix–xv.
[viii] Leary, “Programmed Communication.”
[ix] Doyle, Darwin’s Pharmacy; Diana Reed Slattery, Xenolinguistics: Psychedelics and Language at the Edge of the Unspeakable (Berkeley, CA: Evolver Editions, 2015).