One of the central plot devices in Frank Herbert's 1965 science-fiction epic Dune is melange - colloquially known as 'spice' - a naturally-occurring drug found only on the planet Arrakis which has numerous positive effects, including heightened awareness, life extension, and prescience. These effects make it the most important commodity in the cosmos, especially as the prescience allows for faster-than-light interstellar starship navigation (and thus trade) by the 'Guild Navigators'. The spice also has other more, deleterious effects, which begin with its addictive properties, a symptom of which is the tinting of the whites and pupils of the eye to a dark shade of blue.
This central theme of Dune has often prompted assocations with psychedelic culture - the mystical-surrealist avant-garde film-maker Alejandro Jodorowsky, who once attempted to make a film based on Dune, said that he "wanted to make a film that would give the people who took LSD at that time the hallucinations that you get with that drug, but without hallucinating". The popular nickname for the strong hallucinogen dimethyl-tryptamine (DMT) - 'spice' - may also have taken some inspiration from the novel.
But it seems the origin of the spice theme actually does have a direct link to the psychedelic experience: in his book Mycelium Running, legendary mycologist Paul Stamets notes that not only was Frank Herbert a talented and innovative mushroom enthusiast, but that the sci-fi author confessed to him that Dune took its inspiration from Herbert's experiences with magic mushrooms:
Frank Herbert, the well-known author of the Dune books, told me his technique for using spores. When I met him in the early 1980s, Frank enjoyed collecting mushrooms on his property near Port Townsend, Washington. An avid mushroom collector, he felt that throwing his less-than-perfcct wild chanterelles into the garbage or compost didn't make sense. Instead, he would put a few weathered chanterelles in a 5-gallon bucket of water, add some salt, and then, after 1 or 2 clavs, pour this spore-mass slurry on the ground at the base of newly planted firs. When he told me chanterelles were glowing from trees not even 10 years old, I couldn't believe it. No one had previously reported chanterelles arising near such young trees, nor had anyone reported them growing as a result of using this method." Of course, it did work for frank, who was simply following nature's lead.
Frank's discovery has now been confirmed in the mushroom industry. It is now known that it's possible to grow many mushrooms using spore slurries from elder mushrooms. Many variables come into play, but in a sense this method is just a variation of what happens when it rains. Water dilutes spores from mushrooms and carries them to new environments. Our responsibility is to make that path easier. Such is the way of nature.
Frank went on to tell me that much of the premise of Dune — the magic spice (spores) that allowed the bending of space (tripping), the giant worms (maggots digesting mushrooms), the eyes of the Freman (the cerulean blue of Psilocybe mushrooms), the mysticism of the female spiritual warriors, the Bene Gesserits (influenced by tales of Maria Sabina and the sacred mushroom cults of Mexico) — came from his perception of the fungal life cycle, and his imagination was stimulated through his experiences with the use of magic mushrooms.
It seems Frank Herbert did indeed 'let the spice flow'!
"Technically, chemistry is the study of matter, but I prefer to see it as the study of change", said the fictional chemist Walter White on the hit television show Breaking Bad. "Electrons change their energy levels. Molecules change their bonds. Elements combine and change into compounds. But that's all of life, right? It's the constant, it's the cycle. It's solution, dissolution. Just over and over and over. It is growth, then decay, then transformation". Walter White's words paint him as much a latter-day alchemist, ruminating on the mysteries of life and metamorphosis, than as the criminal crystal meth technician that he was.
His words also serve as a succinct description of the questions that drove real-life drug chemist, Alexander 'Sasha' Shulgin, who entered the state of physical dissolution at around 5pm on June 2nd, 2014, just a couple of weeks short of his 89th birthday. Shulgin too was fascinated by the study of change - in his case, how the mind and consciousness could be modified so profoundly through interactions with the most nuanced changes to molecules. "I was always interested in how, if you move one carbon atom, for example, on amphetamine, you can change it from being a strong stimulant to a psychedelic," he once told a reporter. "How is it that the difference of one atom produces such a dramatically different result in the human? The answer is, nobody knows."
Shulgin though, was no Walter White. His concern was not with power or making money (so much so that wife Ann once quipped that a little money would have been nice), and for the most part his experiments synthesizing new drugs were done on the right side of the law (he held a Schedule 1 license until 1994). It was always that question, about the change in consciousness produced by chemical modifications, that drove him throughout his life. And as such, the test subject for the synthesized psychedelics that he invented was always, primarily, himself (as well as another willing subject, wife Ann). Their seminal books TiHKAL and PiHKAL ('Tryptamines/Phenethylamines I Have Known and Loved') provide a permanent record of their bio-assay experiments; a typical entry, such as that for the tryptamine DIPT, includes the chemical procedure to synthesize the drug, followed by comments on the qualitative aspects and duration of the experience (18mg: "Wild effects noted in an hour. Remarkable changes in sounds heard"; 250mg: "Shortly after I ingested the substance I heard a spirit say, 'Once in a lifetime.' She encouraged me to believe that I would have more life after the experience. But, there was a feeling of foreboding"). Each entry finished with a personal commentary, which might touch on anything from chemistry notes to possible applications of the drug. Not all experiences were interesting or enjoyable though, as one might expect when experimenting with the effects of newly designed chemicals – the Shulgins suffered, on various occasions, nausea, periods of unconsciousness, and terrifying psychological symptoms.
This combination of precise chemistry skills with the drive to self-experimentation and self-exploration evokes the label of 'alchemist' all too easily. And Sasha Shulgin's physical appearance ... Read More »
With modern Western culture continually spreading throughout the globe, glimpses of fascinating ancient traditions become like jewels when we are lucky enough to observe them. Thankfully, when photographer Asher Svidensky was privileged to watch a 13-year-old huntress in Mongolia using an eagle to catch foxes, he captured the girl and her huge bird for the rest of us to see:
The Kazakhs of the Altai mountain range in western Mongolia are the only people that hunt with golden eagles, and today there are around 400 practising falconers. Ashol-Pan, the daughter of a particularly celebrated hunter, may well be the country's only apprentice huntress.
They hunt in winter, when the temperatures can drop to -40C (-40F). A hunt begins with days of trekking on horseback through snow to a mountain or ridge giving an excellent view of prey for miles around. Hunters generally work in teams. After a fox is spotted, riders charge towards it to flush it into the open, and an eagle is released. If the eagle fails to make a kill, another is released.
Head over to the BBC to see more photographs and read the full story.
Drugs: They're harmful. They're addictive. They're everywhere, and all around you there are peddlers seeking to give them to your kids.
But wait, the drugs I'm referring to are the corporate drugs patented by Big Pharma; the ones your government wants you & your children to be hooked on, in order to numb you into compliance. And if that doesn't keep you sedated enough, there's the sanctioned stimulants - i.e. alcohol, tobacco & caffeine - along with all sorts of sleek consumables promoted by TV ads & flashy billboards; guaranteed to force you into voluntary slavery, until you literally drop out from exhaustion.
On the other hand, the drugs our leaders have been trying to protect us from for the past 40+ years, have been shown through sound scientific trials to have incredible therapeutic benefits, when given to patients under the right conditions. The documentary Neurons to Nirvana explores the healing potential of LSD, MDMA, Psilocybin, Cannabis & Ayahuasca, not only for the treatment of physiological ailments, but also in helping integrate past traumas, and all the psychological wounds which lead many in our society to try filling their internal void with external satisfactors.
What's more, the biggest lesson these plant teachers can instill to the willing seeker, is that Mind, Spirit & Soul are *all* part of the same equation; as such, the imbalance in one would provoke an illness in the other... which might also account why we have brought our world into such state of disarray.
Neurons to Nirvana, directed by Oliver Hockenhull --who was recently interviewed by our good friend Alex Tsakiris on his Skeptiko podcast-- brings together a whole set of 'heayweights' in the fields of Neuroscience and/or Psychedelic research; like ethnopharmacologist Dennis McKenna, addiction expert Dr. Gabor Maté, professor of Psychiatrics & Pediatrics at UCLA Dr. Charles S. Grob, and many others.
On the link NeuronsToNirvana.com you can find a list of all the upcoming screenings worldwide, but if you prefer it you can either order a DVD or stream the film online --you can even send the streaming link as a gift to up to 5 different people; why not send one to your Congressman or elected representative? Maybe that could grease the wheels of change a bit.
If you haven't seen Darren Aronofsky's Noah yet, do yourself a favour and see it. It's copping a lot of criticism from atheists & believers alike, both sides completely missing the point of storytelling and mythology. Allegory isn't that hard to find in the dictionary. It's their loss, Noah is a fantastic movie.
Sir Anthony Hopkins, who plays Noah's grandfather Methuselah, gave this brief but fascinating interview about his approach to playing Methuselah, the film's shamanic themes, & why he gave Noah a hallucinogenic brew to speak with God. I have an inkling Aronofsky's read Persephone's Quest by R Gordon Wasson (Amazon US/UK), and possibly The Holy Mushroom by J.R. Irvin (Amazon US/UK). Professor Benny Shannon suggested a few years back that Moses may have been on a psychedelic trip when he received the Ten Commandments, so the idea of entheogens influencing Judeo-Christian religion has been around for a while. Combining Noah's visions, psychedelic trip, and affinity for all creatures great and small, Aronofsky has certainly built a case for a Biblical shaman.
Russell Crowe drinking a psychedelic beverage when he thought he was getting a nice cup of tea is just one reason why Noah is a lot deeper than just the flood myth (uh, pardon the pun). The film Noah began as a graphic novel (Amazon US/UK), and although both the comic (gorgeously illustrated by Niko Henrichon) and the film follow the Biblical story fairly faithfully, there are enough differences to make them completely different beasts. io9 recently spoke with Aronofsky and co-writer Ari Handel about creating Noah, and why it should appeal to atheists, believers, and everyone in between.
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Tonight, many Japanese are going to bed setting an intention for what they want to dream. For in Japan, your first dream of the new year is known as Hatsuyume (初夢), and it can set the tone for the months ahead; and even foretell the future. Traditionally, it's good luck to dream of a hawk, Mt Fuji, or eggplants; ganbatte to anyone aiming for all three in the same dream! But as dreams are personal, archetypes universal, and our imaginations endless, there'll be some interesting discussions at breakfast tables tomorrow. Hatsuyume is also very auspicious for futon sales.
The Japanese word for dream is yume, derived from the kanji for 'a sitting priestess' and 'night'. Shinto priestesses, known as Miko, were often consulted for dream interpretation. Dreams are the realm of kami, when we sleep we enter their world; Miko are the ultimate oneironauts. Like the pythia and sybil of ancient Greece, Miko would also enter trance states to convey messages from the spirit world, and coax kami from the landscape.
It's this ancient link between hatsuyume and ancient Japanese shamanism that fascinates me. The archaic kanji for Miko, 神子 and 巫子, translates as kami/god child and shaman child respectively. Sweeping the temple steps, assisting the priests, and selling souvenirs, today's Miko is "a far distant relative of her premodern shamanic sister" as Lisa Kuly puts it. However, a spark of this ancient shamanic sisterhood endures through the kagura dance. First performed by the goddess Ame-no-Uzume, the kagura dance still welcomes gods and spirits into our world at Shinto shrines all over Japan today.
Shinto and Japanese society are made of dream stuff. Akira Kurosawa, Haruki Murakami, Studio Ghibli, even the many manga artists selling their hand-made works on the street -- all come from that inbetween worlds dream stuff. In his wonderful book Shinto: A Celebration of Life, Aidan Rankin writes:
Shinto... has preserved its intimacy with the world of dreams, or the spirit world, and at the same time embraced all the characteristics of reason and modernity. It has never divided ancient and modern, faith and reason, conscious and unconscious, dream and reality into opposing camps... so that 'modernized' men and women lose contact with the archetypal images and insights that bind us together as humans, connecting us with Great Nature and the cosmos. Such loss is ultimately a loss of self, or in shamanic terms soul-loss. In Shinto, by contrast, the most ancient archetypes and primal dream images are joyfully celebrated and made relevant to an urban, technological society based on the exercise of reason.
There's no real separation of the spirit world, the realm of the gods, and our world. We co-exist, overlapping each other like a wave on a beach. Japan, to me, exists in a state of dorveille, an old French word describing a semi-conscious state, particularly that moment between sleeping and waking. It's why I'm so fascinated with Japan. As Rankin goes on to write, "to the Shinto practitioner, imagination and intuition come from the Kami power within us, which to our great detriment we have buried."
I often dream of Japan. These are "wow!" dreams, so vivid and realistic I wake up feeling as if I had actually been there. I've never been to Japan, despite desperately wanting to for years; I feel a strong pull towards Japan, in my dreams and in waking life. I've had recurring dreams of almost drowning in a car that plunged off a pier into Tokyo Bay. I've made a phone call answered by a woman named Hiyumi, so realistic I can still hear the international dial tone and her "moshi moshi" answer. Most of the time I'm visiting friends; unfortunately I become lucid, and wonder how the heck I'm going to get to work in the morning.
But tonight, don't worry about how you'll get to work in the morning. Wear some comfy pyjamas and let loose your inner kami. Dream big. I'll post what I dream (even NSFW!) -- it'll be interesting to read your hatsuyume as well. Dreams are personal myths, as Joseph Campbell so eloquently put it -- so make 2014 mythic. You never know, dreams do come true.
Further reading from the Grail archives:
- Dream Like A Boss! with oneironaut Ryan Hurd.
- SHADOW: an app to remember your dreams.
- An introduction to lucid dreaming with Paul Devereux.
- Awake Within A Dream: accessing your inner virtual realities.
- Communing With The Gods by Charles D. Laughlin, Ph.D.
- SciAm on Lucid Dreaming.
- Stephen LaBerge on lucid dreaming.
The terrific photo of the Buddha & a hawk is by Niels Henriksen.
Do psychedelics free our creative minds from the everyday shackles we place upon it, allowing us to transcend our normal patterns and expectations, as well as transforming our own self-image? Consider this series of 11 self-portraits drawn by a girl during an LSD 'trip', beginning with the image at the top of this post, and perhaps reaching its apotheosis with the image below, drawn 6 hours and 45 minutes after ingesting the powerful entheogen.
Link: 11 Auto-portraits on LSD
A couple of weeks ago I attended a rather eclectic event called Bonus Creative Week MX, which invited a couple of pretty big names in the alt-thinking community --people like Daniel Pinchbeck, Douglas Rushkoff & Erik Davis. But my reason for attending was because I was seeking to meet Jasun Horsley, author of Matrix Warrior [Amazon US / UK], whose work I've been following ever since he was interviewed by Mike Clelland for his Hidden Experience audio conversations.
The original title of his presentation was "The Smallest Particle in Creation," and if you're someone like me, who thinks the acts of Creativity & Artistic Expression are processes with a lot of mystical --even magickal!-- undertones, then I'm sure you'll get to enjoy Jasun's words, which were marvelously emphasized by his wife Lucinda Horan's paintings.
And here's Jasun's own recap of the highlights of his trip to Mexico:
- The Shadow of My Shining
- The Eye of the Other: A Sort-Of Chronicle of My Mexican Odyssey.
- Coming in from the Cold (A Sort-Of Chronicle of My Mexican Odyssey, Part 2)
PS: That giggling cameraman who made a lousy job keeping the camcorder steady? That was yours truly.
I mentioned in my news briefs last week that comedian Russell Brand was guest-editing an issue of the New Statesman, and had invited alternative thinkers including Graham Hancock and Daniel Pinchbeck to contribute articles. Graham's article, titled "The War on Consciousness", had to be shortened to fit the print magazine, but he has kindly posted the unedited text on Facebook for everyone to read. Here's an excerpt (link to full article below):
Consciousness is one of the great mysteries of science – perhaps the greatest mystery. We all know we have it, when we think, when we dream, when we savour tastes and aromas, when we hear a great symphony, when we fall in love, and it is surely the most intimate, the most sapient, the most personal part of ourselves. Yet no one can really claim to have understood and explained it completely. There’s no doubt it’s associated with the brain in some way but the nature of that association is far from clear. In particular how do these three pounds of material stuff inside our skulls allow us to have experiences?
Professor David Chalmers of the Australian National University has dubbed this the “hard problem” of consciousness; but many scientists, particularly those (still in the majority) who are philosophically inclined to believe that all phenomena can be reduced to material interactions, deny that any problem exists. To them it seems self-evident that physical processes within the stuff of the brain produce consciousness rather in the way that a generator produces electricity – i.e. consciousness is an “epiphenomenon” of brain activity. And they see it as equally obvious that there cannot be such things as conscious survival of death or out-of-body experiences since both consciousness and experience are confined to the brain and must die when the brain dies.
Yet other scientists with equally impressive credentials are not so sure and are increasingly willing to consider a very different analogy – namely that the relationship of consciousness to the brain may be less like the relationship of the generator to the electricity it produces and more like the relationship of the TV signal to the TV set. In that case when the TV set is destroyed – dead – the signal still continues. Nothing in the present state of knowledge of neuroscience rules this revolutionary possibility out. True, if you damage certain areas of the brain certain areas of consciousness are compromised, but this does not prove that those areas of the brain generate the relevant areas of consciousness. If you were to damage certain areas of your TV set the picture would deteriorate or vanish but the TV signal would remain intact.
We are, in other words, confronted by at least as much mystery as fact around the subject of consciousness and this being the case we should remember that what seems obvious and self-evident to one generation may not seem at all obvious or self-evident to the next. For hundreds of years it was obvious and self-evident to the greatest human minds that the sun moved around the earth – one need only look to the sky, they said, to see the truth of this proposition. Indeed those who maintained the revolutionary view that the earth moved around the sun faced the Inquisition and death by burning at the stake. Yet as it turned out the revolutionaries were right and orthodoxy was terribly, ridiculously wrong.
The same may well prove to be true with the mystery of consciousness.
Full article: The War on Consciousness
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