Yeah yeah yeah, I know that everybody is totally obsessed with Netflix’s Squid Game right now and I don’t blame them; the series is a stark reminder that we are all participating in this callous, meaningless game called ‘Capitalism’ which determines who lives and dies without any remorse or compassion —“pull yourself up by your bootstraps and keep playing!”
And yet what really got me hooked up instead was Midnight Mass, the horror limited series directed and written by Mike Flanagan:
I myself am not a hardcore horror fan. I never bothered to watch any of the Friday 13th or Halloween movies (I have enough gore in my life by living in a country overrun by narco violence, thank you very much). But as a recovering Catholic who once seriously considered the possibility of becoming a priest, Midnight Mass struck a deep chord within me. This is NOT a series intended to just dazzle its audience with cheap thrills and numerous action sequences of the protagonists running from a CGI monster. Instead Midnight Mass uses a supernatural scaffolding to confront you with deep and complicated ‘adult’ problems like addiction, faith faced against a cruel world full of uncertainty, and the fear all humans have felt long before the invention of TV and cinema: what happens to us after we die.
I also experienced a very interesting synchronicity this last Monday associated with this series. I had decided to retake the lecture of Rick Strassman’s seminal DMT: the Spirit Molecule, a book many people in the Fortean world have heard of (but few have actually bothered to read, I suspect), and the chapter I went through that evening had to do with Strassman’s speculation on the role of the pineal gland with the release of endogenous DMT, which he suspects is responsible for spontaneous mystical experiences.
While intended for a layman audience, the book goes into detail on why the pineal, which has all the natural ingredients for the production and release of dimethyltryptamine –something that at the time of its publication had not been scientifically proven and is still contested, despite studies showing rat brains are indeed capable of synthetizing pineal DMT— may be prevented by all sorts of biological barriers from flooding the cerebrum with this powerful psychoactive tryptamine under normal circumstances. Yet those barriers might collapse during special circumstances triggered by peak stressful experiences, like the moment of our birth… or the moment of our death.
[Mild Spoiler Ahead] That night, as I was relaxing on my bed with my tablet on my hand, I decided to watch episode 4 of Midnight Mass and was totally surprised when Riley –one of the main characters in the series, who has gone through some trying events in his life which shattered his Catholic faith and turned him into an atheist– gives to his friend Erin his personal version of what happens to us after we die; an explanation in which DMT plays a central role:
Riley’s materialist explanation of how the pineal gland endows the brain with one final ‘grand trip’ juiced by DMT, alleviating the person’s fears with psychedelic imagery before it finally ceases to function and dies, sounds very plausible indeed. The problem with this idea, however, is that from a strictly evolutionary point of view it doesn’t make much sense; to our ‘selfish genes’ what only matters is that we reproduce and pass on our genetic imprint to a next generation for the continuation of our lineage, and what happens to us after that is of little consequence to our species in general.
A few scientists have argued that perhaps that terminal DMT release is not only meant to alleviate the dying’s suffering, but also reassure the remaining members of the group by seeing the calm expression of the dead, and give them some peace of mind that the deceased companion “went to a better place” —“Granny is now with the ancestors so let’s all gather up and have some fun *wink wink*— but this again is an argument that seems to run counter to evolutionary theory, and is contradicted by the fact that not everyone who dies do so with a ‘beatific’ sedated expression.
There’s also the fact that Dr. Strassman is far from being a materialist atheist himself. He has been a practicing Zen Buddhist for many years, and it was precisely because of his spiritual exploration that his interest in mystical experiences began. As a medical student he wondered about the ‘inner light’ described by monks and consummate meditators, and this curiosity led him to seek counseling from James Fadiman, PhD (a pioneer in psychedelic research) who suggested that Rick direct his attention to the pineal gland; which for many years was considered nothing more than a vestigial organ tantamount to the appendix in the gut, and its role in the production of melatonin which regulates vital bodily cycles like sleep and reproduction is just beginning to be understood.
Strassman went even further than melatonin, and suggested that pineal-produced DMT is the molecular mediator between the human mind and other states of immaterial consciousness –the ‘spirit molecule’.
His theories, although popular amid the psychedelic crowd, have yet to be wholly accepted by the scientific community; this despite the fact that Strassman’s DMT study at the University of Albuquerque New Mexico was one of the precursors in the new psychedelic wave we are currently riding on. Riley’s monologue in Midnight Mass is also proof of how the pineal DMT has been successfully injected into modern pop culture.
I will finish these fanboy musings by once again recommending you give Midnight Mass a watch. I will not spoil the end for you here, but suffice it to say it is even more powerful and moving than the aforementioned scene posted above, and makes me suspect filmmaker Mike Flanagan has not only read Rick Strassman’s books but has also a few Ayahuasca ceremonies under his belt.
Midnight Mass is available on Netflix.