Psychedelic Press have been independently publishing for nearly a decade now, but this is my first proper encounter with their eponymous house journal. I’ve been a regular at the Breaking Convention psychedelic conference during that time, though, so I feel like I’m on familiar territory. The two institutions are closely intertwined, sharing some familiar faces and an attitude that combines lyrical expression, scientific rigour, and an intelligent passion for the potential of psychedelic consciousness.
First up here is occultist Julian Vayne‘s brief but fascinating account of his first trip, an unwitting high-dose baptism by LSD. Some accidental overkill experiences don’t end well. Some — I suspect most if not all, given kind of the supportive setting that Julian prepared here for himself — end up testifying to the hair-raising truth that sometimes ‘too much’ is ‘just right’. Here, a prior background in magical practice guides instinctual reactions to a looming threat, and deep wisdom is gained. The Trickster cackles and claims another initiate.
Next is Aaron Oldenburg‘s account of his attempts to use the medium of computer games to explore psychedelic states — specifically the phenomenology of Salvinorin A. What’s interesting here is the avoidance of the traditional fixation on the visual fireworks of psychedelic experience. Aaron’s focus is on structuring interactions and audiovisual elements in a kind of abstract evocation of the bizarre cognitive effects of salvia’s active ingredient. Despite (or because of) having been quite close to digital technology through my life, I tend to be boorishly cynical about technological attempts to mimic psychedelic states. But I wonder here — in place of experience of these games — whether the shift in focus from visual to cognitive effects improves the situation, or the reverse. It sounds like an interesting approach, to key in on the deeper experiential tropes rather than the dazzling surfaces. But perhaps the grip that psychedelic substances exert over the abstract experiences of our neural machinery is even harder to match than its magical brush strokes. One way to find out…
Danny Nemu‘s piece is a response to anthropologist Edward MacRae’s article on the intersections between racism and prejudice against cannabis use in the Brazilian ayahuasca scene. MacRae argues that such prejudice — against the use of cannabis, and against the practice of spirit possession, both of which were introduced by a branch of the Santo Daime tradition following its founder’s death in 1971 — is basically rooted in prejudice against anything of African origin. Nemu counters that there are in fact good reasons, other than tradition, and certainly other than racism, for traditional Daime prohibition of these things. Pragmatic issues arising from the tricksiness and manageability of combining both cannabis and possession trance with an already highly potent substance are cited. But — given the obvious fact that some people have clearly had good experiences in this regard — doesn’t pragmatism open the way for tolerance of diversity, as well as providing useful rules of thumb? This simple point is only a small part of the debate here though, complexified as it is by the tangles of South American race relations and of sectarian disputes in a tradition which is recent enough to still be relatively up for grabs, but embedded enough to have some quite fixed ideas about things. I’m no expert in these areas, but Nemu seems sincere in trying to balance out a needlessly polarising accusation of racism. However, if I assume that MacRae was polarising rather than utterly wrong, the problem remains: how to manage debates at such complex intersections, involving some racial prejudice, some pragmatism, and the self-sustaining dynamics of sectarian disputes? Nemu is presenting a counter-case here, but he does it with honesty and civility, which is a good start.
I caught Sam Ross’s brilliant talk on psychedelic poetry at Breaking Convention last year, and his contribution here, ‘AnOther Dead Hippy ReBirthday’ is a plunge deep into the territory he gestured towards in that talk. Based on spoken, recorded notes from a solo mushroom trip in springtime rural France, it spins off poetic commentary and stream-of-consciousness extrapolation to try and convey and unfold the depths of a bemushroomed mind opening to itself and the landscape. To my ear, the dynamics of this particular mode of exploration are vividly captured here. The ceaseless wordplay, the interplay of fractured ephemerality and numinous undertow, the self-catalysing insights which respect no boundary between profundity and absurdity… all of this reflected and refracted through brambles, streams, sky, and insects. It’s a very familiar mindscape for me, and it’s fascinating to see it laid out on paper.
Next Elio Geusa talks about ayahuasca dieting — not the purportedly pragmatic prohibitions surrounding what you eat in the days or weeks around a session, but the ‘Master Plant’ diet, which uses fasting as a way of sensitising your system to the influence of spirits from certain jungle plants other than the more obviously psychoactive ayahuasca ingredients. I first heard about this years ago from Donal Ruane, who also stressed that in some ways this practice is seen by Amazonian shamans as more important than the more accessible ayahuasca trips. In purified isolation, plant spirits manifest themselves in dreams, perhaps rooting relationships to plants in a more committed matrix than the liquid intensities of ayahuasca might afford. Geusa frames this practice, and its potential to feed into the Western ‘Age of Kale’ (characterised by ‘wellness cravings’), as a deepening of the trend for embracing ayahuasca ceremonies. The rural isolation and commitment of time involved here seem to destine this practice to either a very limited population, or to inevitable watering-down and commodification. But still, anything that manages to ease our compulsive restriction of the space that nature has in our lives seems interesting to me.
This volume rounds off with Rob Dickins’ review of Matthew Clark’s The Tawny One — yet another proposition as to the identity of soma, this time a kind of ayahuasca analogue — and Andy Roberts’ delightful trip through the influence of UFOlogy on the British psychedelic counterculture in the ’60s.
In all, satisfyingly varied and engaging food for the mind.