The psychological impact of unexpected cold wet weather is that the household tightens around the heat sources. (Squibbie under the cat-incubator which is the hanging lightbulb next to my computer and Crackers on the electric blanket.) My foot-warmer is on and I’m wearing socks. I wouldn't be surprised to find mushrooms in the yard. Now I’m retrieving “saves” from the summer when my brain was looser and more inclined to wander.
Here’s a remarkable one from “The Edge” which has a sub-category called “The Reality Club”. It is an argument AGAINST “reality” as we define it today, entitled “Touched by the Tremendum” The talker is Terence McKenna and the date of this talk is 3-27-90, though one might guess it was from a couple of decades earlier since it is a “pitch” for psychedelic experience triggered by psilocybin. I saved it because I am so interested in the human mind and whatever will keep it from being locked into one punishing connectome -- call it Calvinism if you want to, but it could be fascism, or profit.
Briefly, and perhaps not quite accurately, McKenna goes back into the paleobiome. Our curiousity about it has generated a lot of theories. There is general agreement that humans evolved in Africa. We are thought to have begun like the other primates as arboreal bands living on fruit. Then a planetary climate shift -- I need a geologist here -- dried up whatever climate patterns supported the forests so the hominids came down to the grasslands where they followed grazing herds to pick off laggards and carrion.
Now McKenna goes theory airborne. The dung the herds left behind were the growing media for psychedelic mushrooms, which humans discovered. Also, the exposure to new foods and new social patterns triggered many mutations, including the transformation of arboreal location hoots and hollers to pack-hunting signals, which led to language. As a bioethic premise, this is lots of fun to explore. He feels that the mushroom-powered capacity to dream led to the development of the early Mediterranean climax cultures. He thinks that the symbols found in early writing and taken to mean “wheat” are really about mushrooms.
The next step is that the horse culture raiders from the high grassy Mongol plateaus, not just riding but also driving chariots, came down on these people and pushed them north into Europe, where they made homes in the shelter of the cliffs along rivers. (This is Neanderthal habitat. It also makes chariots impossible.) Just before this shift is a time he calls “the Archaic.” McKenna’s idea is that what we seem to be searching for in our predatory and destructive modern lives is a restoration of the Archaic through dreams. He feels that our fascination with both medieval Europe and classical Greece were attempts to recover our capacity to dream that didn’t go back early enough. In Europe, deprived of herd-supported fungus, the people turned to honey and learned to ferment it into mead.
His reasoning is centered on Western Civilization as it developed in Europe. Why didn’t the people following the great American prairie herds ever get hooked on buffalo chip mushrooms? Or did they? There was peyote, of course. McKenna and his brother went to South America and returned with the news of ayahuasca that enchanted many. In fact, it turns out that Central and South America have a rich and complicated history with psychedelics. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to premise that humans are always trying to get out of their minds, whether it’s through the generation of endomolecules like adrenaline or serotonin or oxcytocin or testosterone -- or by ingesting something from the environment. Deprived of access to vegetative sources in rural life, we turn to manufacturing designer drugs. (I’m not counting Big Pharma.)
I looked up psilocybin, which appears to be one of the most benign of these substances, often classified as an endotheist drug because it is said to be spiritual and put one in touch with “god.” (Again, this betrays the European hegemony over matters of the mind by defining anything that feels holy as “theist,” related to a big being in the sky.) In Oregon, where there is lots of rain and many cow pastures, people go out looking for Magic Mushrooms quite a lot. Only some kinds of mushrooms have the proper substance. And it seems to be rather fugitive, so that sometimes drying the fungi disperses the psilocybin. At least those who went into the fields got fresh air and exercise. Of course, one must avoid toadstools.
All ingested molecules must interact with the molecules already present in the body, including both those floating in the blood because they have been produced various ways and those inside the cells. The effect of an entheogen is not just altered by these metabolic interactions, but is also much affected by context. Look back at the five steps of function that I framed up some weeks ago.
In terms of the sensorium, the first step, which is the gathering of information from outside the skin, psilocybin seems to increase acuity of eyesight and general sensitivity. The effect on the second step, which is the sorting and filtering of the neuron coding of the sensorium, may be where the substance is most active. The third step is also a process likely affected, as this is where the conclusions of the sensory nexus come together into value judgments and editing. The hope is that these character-producing patterns can be opened up to possibility and renewal.
The fourth step, which is taking action, is discouraged in a religious atmosphere of meditation and isn’t safe when what is happening inside the skin is more powerful than what is happening outside the skin. People may feel they are in a different world entirely and forget which side of the street to drive on.
The fifth step, which is empathic sharing with the people around one, depends on who they are and what they think, because that will affect the way the experience is understood and what happens in future. A kid or outsider may get contradictory opinions: one of approval and one of blame and restriction. Usually such a contradiction makes the person defend the practice.
At least, in contrast to the home lab inventions, psilocybin is organic and has been used for millennia, not unlike alcohol or marijuana. One can find it spontaneously and without cost. Those who feel the secret to a good future is buried in the Archaic past will value this. Big Pharma, without some way to make big profits exclusive to itself, will continue to demonize psychedelics of this kind while promoting equally marginal psychotropic medicines because they are medical and conform to certain protocols imposed by the government -- which is controlled by Big Pharma.
At the same time religious professionals based in institutional churches such as Christian denominations and Jewish synagogues, will rely on sensory cues (buildings, music, incense, flowers, candles, formal clothes), prayer, strong metaphor and community consensus to support a feeling of holiness and meaning. It’s harder than it sounds, which is why many people only know blunted and mediocre experiences that have been brought in from other places and are not supported with proper training.
I tried to cook up a diagram that would relate the health-preoccupied Christian Science church to the industrial/capitalist CVS juggernauts to the homeopathists and herbalists to the military/mafia of street drugs, but it was too complex. Maybe the rhizome pattern with mycelia instead of stolons. Anyway, maybe the entheogens and endomolecules are not the real key to the longing we feel, however Archaic they may be.
The strongest drug is always passion. If religion doesn’t supply it, there’s always sex. Or danger. Or narcissism. Words and dogma are judy abracadabra from outside the skin. Only when meaning is felt inside can the real connection happen.