Book Description
Contents and Excerpts
Request Review Copy
New Stories
Event Schedule
What's New
Author Interview
Order the Book
Contact the Author



b. 1956
author, editor, researcher
resides in America
born in Boston and raised in New Jersey


My entheogenic agenda

              Psychedelic experiences have been an integral part of my life and work for over two decades. I've taken a range of substances, most of which I consider sacred and which do, in fact, have traditional religious uses. I've pursued an academic and professional career inquiring into the religious properties of these special plants and chemicals, which I prefer to call entheogens, a term that indicates their spiritual purpose. In the course of my research, I found in the mythology of every religious tradition I am aware of, there's some magic plant that turns into fire, talks, heals, mystifies, or intoxicates, that either brings you to God, or gets you in a whole lot if trouble, or both, depending on the context.

            Before describing my experiences, however, I'd like to say that I am somewhat reluctant to do so. I once asked a peyote shaman to talk about his visions and he declined, saying. “It would be like you talking about making love with your beloved. Visions are private.” The word mystery, like the word mystic, has the Greek root mystes, which means “to shut one’s senses” or “to be silent about.” In a conversation I had with world religion expert Huston Smith, he offered the metaphor of a ball floating in water as instructive of the eternal veil of mystery over entheogenic consciousness. Half of the ball is always submerged in water, no matter what side is up. Perhaps we should just accept that entheogens, to be effective, must remain underground, or kept "secret" to protect their sanctity.


Initiations, early breakthroughs

            I did not get experientially involved in psychedelics until I was twenty-three, in my third year of college, at Columbia University in New York. In the fall of 1978 I took a course in the history of Indian Buddhism, which touched upon the role of the divine plant/god Soma as the inspiration for the Hindu religion. When it came time to write the take‑home final, I had writer's block and decided that this would be a propitious time to have my first psychedelic mushroom experience. If religion can begin with such inspiration, I thought, I might better understand if I ingested myself. The experience, however, was uneventful.

            My first real breakthrough occurred on my third trip, when I dropped acid with my girlfriend Kathyrn, who abstained. We went to the beach in Santa Cruz. Although I hadn't gotten off yet, it was really extraordinary playing around in tide pools with sea anemones, observing the way they'd flow with the water moving around them. When Kathryn had to go to class, I returned home with her, still feeling no real alteration of consciousness. She kept checking with me. "Did anything happen yet?" I said, "No, I don’t notice anything." I lay down on the couch, where I could hear the water running as she showered.

            Prompted by this aquatic audio cue, I remembered the water on the beach, and the next thing I knew ‑‑ and it happened so quickly I didn't immediately register the change ‑‑ I had a total identification with a sea anemone. I essentially turned into one. The walls of the apartment swished and swayed like the seaweed we'd seen in the tide pools, and everything was flowing like the ocean water there, to the sound of the shower and the music on the stereo. I was completely caught up in the flow of life that was, just a moment before, a concrete physicality.

             Kathryn stuck her head out of the shower. "How ya doing? Anything happened yet?"

             "No, not yet."

            "What are you experiencing right now?"

            "Well, I'm just a sea anemone in this tide pool, and everything is moving around like water." Suddenly I realized what was happening, and it blew me away. I’ll never forget the laughter that roiled out of me.

            That evening I had one of the most beautiful experiences in my life. I was sitting on the couch and noticed a field of energy with darting splinters of multicolored light around a houseplant. Then, while looking at a candle flame, tiny fragments of light began to sputter off the top like a fountain of fireworks, filling the room with sparkles of resplendent light. It was the first time on psychedelics that I cried for joy. Beholding such beauty, I felt I was being welcomed to an ineffable mystery, as though I'd finally come into contact with a spiritual dimension that gave hope to humanity. I'd been a disciplined student of yoga and meditation for two or three years, yet this was my first real gnosis of mystic reality. The plant's energy field was also around me, a tangible bioelectrical force that seemed to be the very energy of life itself.  Was this eros, orgone, or what is called in Asian philosophies, Chi, Shakti, or Kundalini?

            When Kathryn came back from class, she sat next to me, I held her hand and looked into her face. A parade of visages flowed out, the faces of women from all times, young, old, beautiful, hideous. It's a hallucinatory phenomenon that I've experienced several times since. There are meditation techniques for staring into the face of a partner to trigger this effect, where the face goes through a series of fleeting masks, some recognizable, some imponderably complex in the geometry of intertwining inner cubes and outer space.

            I felt a whole new dimension of love and compassion, a bioelectrical energy surrounding me, which was intensified by my interaction with Kathryn and the thought of people I loved. I felt blessed and exalted, both ecstatic and enstatic. Ecstasy connotes a separation of the soul from the body, while enstasy is an intense concentration in the present moment. Zen practice fosters a kind of enstatic liberation in which you drop all your illusions and petty desires and just be here now, whereas certain shamanic and yogic practices pursue an out of stasis, cosmic-travel sort of mysticism. I felt I was alternately undergoing both states. This was a real dawning for me. I was twenty‑five.

            In June 1981 I finally grokked the mystery of the Grateful Dead, when the Jerry Garcia Band came to Santa Cruz. Prior to that I just didn’t “get” what the fuss and cult following was all about. My friend and I took Om Tabs, little yellow barrels of LSD, which we ingested by crushing them up and snorting them so we'd come on very quickly. We came on as the band was playing "Dear Prudence," which was so stirring, I thought that in five hundred years, it would be known as one of the mantras of our time. Garcia seemed to be watching himself play, as though he were channeling the music from another source. I saw a light coming in through the top of his head and going out through his fingers and through the emanations of his guitar, which created rainbow‑colored vibrations that filled the auditorium in the same way my vision of the roman candle had filled the room with splinters of light. I was transfixed.

            A few months later I met a fellow in Brooklyn who had an old stash of acid made by Nick Sand, the Owsley protégé, whom Canadian officials alleged was making LSD “106 percent pure” prior to his arrest up there a few years ago. On September 18, 1981, I decided to pass up the Simon and Garfunkel concert in Central Park to drive up to Vermont and take some of this ultra‑clean acid. I went for a walk in the forest. After a short time, I looked up at a stand of white birch trees and they'd become animated by tree spirits. I don’t know what else to call them. Instantly I could see the validity of shamanic ontology – the belief in the existence of spirits -- but my first reaction was fear. They looked like those big stones on Easter Island, oblong, anthropomorphic beings with long eyes and long faces, morphing in and out of the trees. I've seen similar images in the Cycladic idols of ancient Crete. The beings seemed to be comprised of the trees' ethereal bodies.

            I turned away, embarrassed and frightened. I felt like I was intruding. Then I looked at them again and the trees began to assume a menacing posture. They were horrifying. I looked away again, even more alarmed. I said to myself, "Stay calm." Why would these tree spirits be trying to scare me? I wondered. I approached this mystery with a sincere heart. I know that I've wandered into their dimension uninvited, but I mean no harm, and whatever I learn from this adventure, I will use for the benefit of all.

            I looked back at them and they looked back at me. They looked puzzled too, as though scratching their chins, pondering some peculiar enigma. I turned away again and thought, "This is really strange. First they're trying to terrorize me and now they look as confounded as I am. This is a riot." I looked up at the trees again and at that moment they started doing a goofy little dance, rocking back and forth and laughing, "Ho, ho, ho!" In that moment I got what I was supposed to get from this encounter: The world responds according to how you approach it. The mind and the world are one. This truth, difficult to discern in this gross dimension of reality, is easy to grok in the pure psychic space I was in. As soon as I comprehended this, I looked at them again and they'd disappeared.

            In 1982 I entered the Divinity School at the University of Chicago, equipped with a good quantity of the then‑legal and relatively unknown MDMA, which we called Adam. The purity of my supply had been established by a nuclear magnetic resonance. I'd hoped to continue in the vein of Walter Pahnke's studies at Harvard: to scientifically demonstrate the religious value of psychedelic experiences. I naively thought that the Divinity School, with its purported interest in the nature of religion and in revitalizing the sacred, would be the right setting to explore these mystical states in a safe and controlled setting ‑‑ and with a legal drug. But they're not interested in mystical experience at divinity schools. They're interested only in words and in history. If someone had a mystical vision a safe two thousand years ago and left some record of it, that might interest them. But mystical experience, the raw and vital force that gives rise to a religion, is too much for them to cram into their linguistic, pseudo‑scientific endeavor to understand God.

            I lost patience with the bureaucratic obstacles and decided to conduct the investigations on my own, without university auspices. I started doing quasi-formal (some more quasi than formal) naturalistic observational research, using MDMA and other entheogens. Using my apartment and the basement of the Episcopal House, my associates and I conducted several psychedelic trips for Divinity School students and other grad students and faculty, who thought they'd gone back in time to the experimental Los Angeles of the Fifties. I asked the experients to write a report, and many breakthrough experiences were recorded.

            The university campus is surrounded on three sides by fierce ghettos. Hyde Park is one of the most racially tense places I've ever lived. My colleague and girlfriend was a striking blond from California. Whenever we ventured outside the borders of the university, to a place called the Point, which juts out into Lake Michigan, she'd have to endure catcalls from the homeboys. It was usually a drag. But one time we walked out there with MDMA in our bloodstreams, and on this day, instead of the jeers our presence usually provoked, we attracted sincere, authentic communication. I'll never forget this afternoon, sitting on a stone wall by the lake. We engaged in more genuine, honest, profound, and meaningful conversations about the soul and the nature of God and joy and suffering, than I had in any of my classes. We talked honestly about our own experiences, sharing a three‑hour oasis of sanity with African‑Americans who at first appeared dangerous, as though they might be Blackstone Rangers or members of another inner‑city gang. They'd come over to hassle us, but then sensed our openness and sincerity and instead opened up themselves and had intimate exchanges with us. It was amazing! I believe their reaction was triggered by the fact that we were radiating love, peace and acceptance ‑‑ instead of fear, anger, and worry.

            The encounter at the Point planted the idea that MDMA could help to improve race relations. With that potential use in mind, we handed it out to some people and went to the blues bars on the South Side, two in particular, Teresa's and the Checkerboard Lounge, where the crime rate is so high, you have to be escorted in and out by a bouncer who carries a gun on his hip. You might be the only white person in there, and a lot of fear is generated until the music gets going, which tends to melt it down.

            These clubs were our laboratories. We’d go there with people who'd ordinarily be afraid to go to that part of town. There was one fellow from Georgia, Luke, who struggled with the racial fear and animosity he’d inherited from his father, an unabashed bigot. Luke was terrified of going to the blues bars for fear of the locals. I pursuaded him to come one night and he had a breakthrough experience on MDMA. By the end of the night, Luke, myself, and our newfound black friends – all experimental subjects, high as kites -- were wading knee-deep in Lake Michigan with our arms around each other, watching the sun rise, telling stories of what we’d learned and what we wished to forget.

            What happened to MDMA is a real pity. Large illicit labs had sprung up seeking to capitalize on its not yet illegal status. It became widely known as the "love drug," which it is, but as greed and misinformation grew, this extremely valuable substance was lost to scientific or legal religious uses. Finally it was outlawed and its subtle profundity became obscured by hysteria on both sides. The Drug War really began to rage then, in the mid Eighties. It was time for all of us who'd tasted such sacraments to lay low or be imprisoned.


Saved by the belle

            One evening in February 1983, I felt a strong urge to take LSD, even though I had an exam and a paper due. My girlfriend Lynn tried to dissuade me, but I insisted, "I really need to do this tonight" and took about four hundred micrograms. I followed a method for internalizing the effects I’d learned from the work of Stan Grof. The technique is to wear eyeshades and headphones for the duration and to not interact with the outside world. Stan used a sequence of varying types of music, which would begin melodically, rise up to a crescendo with a cacophonous peak, and then gently ease off. These suites of edited sound went on for several hours to facilitate the dissolution of the ego and then a period of reintegration. The role of the sitter is to very gently keep the psychonaut focused on the internal process, which s often very difficult, because of natural resistance.

            I came on surprisingly fast. My body began vibrating with an intense energy. I felt a sense of complete oneness with the entire planet, as though I'd experienced everything that ever happened all in one instant. There was an initial flash of unity, which then peeled off into a trip through the collective unconscious. I received images from ancient Egypt, China, and India, then fast‑forwarded to modern life and memories of my own history, including a bizarre sequence in which I felt I was reliving my conception. At one point, when Lynn, wasn't looking, I managed to get the eyeshades off. I looked around and the whole apartment was a sea of green electromagnetic energy. The rug swelled up like a rough sea and at the end of each wave was a serpent looking back at me. I watched this for a while and then had the keenest feeling of being out of my body, floating in field of energy. It was incredibly exhilarating.

            Then Lynn came back in and coaxed me back into staying with the eyeshades and the music, which returned me into my body. After several hours, I felt oddly clear‑headed and took off the eyeshades and headphones, noticing that it was almost four in the morning, nine hours after I’d dropped. Lynn was sound asleep on the bed. It was extraordinarily quiet. I felt perfectly clear. "That was some trip," I said to myself,

figuring I'd come down. There was an uncanny stillness and purity of presence in the moment. I lit a candle and sat down on the floor to meditate. After a few moments I felt a tingling at the base of my spine, and in the next moment, my whole body was pulsing with new energy. I relaxed into this orgasmic vitality.

            I rose to my feet, my body being moved by the energy into a sort of Indian temple dance similar to Tai Chi movements. Then my hands came up into a hatha prayer position, palm to palm in front of my heart. At that instant, the energy became very intense and all of a sudden the candle flame became the same size as me. There before me blazed the purest brightest white light composed of the same energy that was guiding my posture. I cried at the beauty of this vision. I felt so blessed to have seen what I felt was the energy of creation at its purest and highest vibration. This did not seem to be a hallucination, but a vision, a darshan, a glimpse of another plane.

            As I relaxed and surrendered further, it became more intense and the light grew larger and closer to me. As it was about to engulf me entirely, I paused, thinking if it did, "I" would be gone. For now I felt it was enough just to see and know this light. At that moment, I vowed that my life's work would be to reveal this light to others. This was the light. Let there be light. At the moment I declined to be dissolved in it, it shrunk back, yellowing at the edges. Then it went down to about two feet high. I sat down for a few minutes of solemn and joyous meditation.

            After a half-hour I got up and sat in front of a floor‑length mirror and looked at myself. My reflection flashed through a procession of changes I'd only seen happen in the faces of others. This was the first time I'd done it with my own mug. I saw the whole evolutionary history of humanity unfolding. Some images were bizarre, imponderable countenances. All the while my eyes remained constant, looking back at myself peacefully through the succession of faces, until the image in the mirror became a goat. A snout began to form. Horns came out of the head. The eyes yellowed.

            There was a pause, as though this was the point of this part of the vision. I looked at the eyes and they were not mine anymore! I'd lost my observational capacity. I was utterly panic-stricken. I thought I'd lost my mind, that I'd gone completely, unexplorably insane forever. I was so terrified, I couldn't breathe. My terror released a torrent of harsh, swirling energy into the room. The nature of this dark force was like the cataclysm unleashed from the Ark of the Covenant in the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark at the moment Indiana Jones yells to his companion, "Don't look at it!" in order to keep them anchored to Earth and preserved from being ripped into oblivion. (The word panic originally connoted fears attributed to the mischief of the pagan god Pan. As my consciousness was overwhelmed by a kind of primordial power, I'd resonated with the archetype of Pan.)

            I thought of screaming for help from my sleeping friend, but I could not muster the language and did not want to freeze the moment and get really caught in it.  So, remembering the advice of my teachers, I tried to bring my mind to rest on a familiar, comforting image, a small statute of Buddha, which to me symbolized centered mindfulness. I prayed with more conviction than I knew I had to whatever was out there, "Please don't let me go crazy. I'll only be a burden on my family and friends. I'm here to

help. Please don't let me go crazy."

            At that moment, there appeared before me a beautiful celestial being, hovering five feet off the floor. It looked like green Tara, a goddess of mercy and compassion comprised of green energy; or Kwan Yin, the Chinese Buddhist incarnation of the Hindu goddess of compassion. Natural sized and sitting in a lotus position, she looked me right in the eye, smiled the most beatific smile and made a sweeping gesture with her left hand in a mudra, index finger and thumb touching lightly. All my fear passed with this blessing, and the terrible energy subsided. Then she made a gesture of acknowledgment for this moment. I returned to a state of crystal lucidity and peace in her presence, with the moonlight, the Buddha, and my sleeping companion enhancing the restfulness in the room. Then she turned her head a little and I saw an infinite row of faces trailing behind it. In a few seconds she was gone. I sobbed tears of joy.

            I continue to savor the presence of such an angelic being, which often prompts me to ponder its ontological provenance. Feeling I'd reached a crest in my entheogenic vision quest, I did not take so high a dose of LSD for many years afterwards.


Tryptamine ventures

            I turned my attention to botanical entheogens and began an exploration of psilocybin mushrooms and Amazonian ayahuasca. I'd hear mythical beings on mushrooms, voices inside my head. I'd ask them who they were and they'd answer back teasingly, "We are who you came to see."

            "Then show yourselves. I want to see you," I demanded.

            "We're not going to show ourselves to you. We want you to remain a human being for a little while longer."

            I took DMT a number of times. Once I attended a session for about ten people in Big Sur. When it was my turn, I took the pipe but balked at taking a full hit, and passed out, perhaps too afraid. I came to, and the leader was still there, standing over me. "No, you really need to take a hit," he said. So I did and fell back. My tongue curled up and pushed against the top of my mouth. Many Pranayama yoga breathing exercises are done with the tongue in this position. Then my mouth filled with the most exquisite tasting fluid, a sweet ambrosial nectar. The closest thing I've tasted in this reality is royal jelly, a special elixir made by bees to feed the queen bee, which is a real delicacy, very potent in amino and pantothenic acids, and a very expensive little drink. I drank it in, sucking it out of the top of my mouth. I told the leader about it, and he smiled and said, "Amrita,” which means in Sanskrit  “non-death,” referring to a nectar of immortality derived from the secretions of inner essences in occult yogic practice. (I’m not saying that this was amrita or that I am immortal; I’m merely reporting that a most delectable fluid filled my mouth. I tasted this ambrosia one other time, during a Tantric practice on LSD.) 

            During one DMT trip, I had a vision of the state of planetary affairs. According to the cosmology of this revelation, more and more people were becoming aware of the dire state of things, and many would soon wake up to the essential divinity of the human being, but it might be too late. Humanity would wake up at the moment it would become extinct! Those souls who'd attained a certain level of integrity, enlightenment and right conduct, the ones who lived their lives with respect for the whole of life and not just for their own petty parochial interests, would be transported to a dimension ahead, while the selfish, ignorant, greedy, exclusively materialistic, violent, less evolved ones would become like fodder or compost for a new generation of consciousness.

            Of all the entheogens, ayahuasca has been the most somatic for me. You drink this stuff and it winds its way down into your gut like a lazy serpent, churns it all up and spews out the garbage. The native people who use it call it "la purga." Purge it does. This sacrament won't become popular in dance clubs unless they make vomiting trendy. Often the purge comes out both ends. The puking and shitting will control recreational use better than the DEA ever could. The visions are also part of the purge. You give something up and get a vision in return.

            The first time I took it was relatively uneventful except for the wonderfully deep vomiting and subsequent flashes of blue light in my forehead. The first few times, I took it in a circle with about twelve other intrepid explorers. The next day, I returned home and, though I was a novice, defeated an expert dart player two out of three times

with my eyes closed. Shortly after that, I won a local golf championship, defeating a guy who'd won the previous eight years in a row.

            On one occasion, I gathered with some friends in a circle in a high meadow overlooking the Pacific Ocean and took pharmahuasca: pharmaceutical harmine, harmaline, and DMT. This was a delicate first experiment, because you have to get the ratio correct. Too much harmine and harmaline and the nausea can be too intense; not enough and you fail to potentiate the DMT, which isn't active unless the harmaline blocks the MAO. Well, I did get it right and proceeded to lay on my back late at night, gazing at the stars. The entire sky became an enormous black panther, the stars points of light that shimmered like glistening black fur. I broke into a full joyous laughter at the mystery and the beauty of it all.  How little we know about the soul’s journey. We are so smug in our Western science, while the mystery is perhaps more actively pursued out on mountaintops or in forests by people beating drums and dancing around a fire.

            Perhaps the most explicit trip I've had occurred when I smoked some DMT and felt like a rubber band pulled back as far as it could go. Just as it was about to snap, the tension in my head was so strong I thought it was going to explode. But then the rubber band was released and I was fired out of my body through a spinning tunnel. The interior walls were emblazoned with Aztec figures, chattering very fast, and I was rocketing out through them. Then I entered into a vast blackness where I saw many symbols of the world’s religions.

            A telepathic voice informed me there was an immortal component of the human being. It explained that the deathless soul was continually reborn in many different times and places and in many different bodies on a variety of planets over the course of a vast intergalactic adventure. Earth was, apparently, just one stopover in space, and a lifetime here was just an instant in the limitless span of time over the course of the immense enterprise of the soul's journey. I was quite impressed, and took a moment of reflection. I thought, "Okay, what's the point of all this? What does the soul's journey mean? Why do we keep getting reborn?"

            So I posed the question, "What’s the point of all this?" and got this wonderful answer. Chiding me in a punitive but jocular tone, the voice said, "You idiot. Here I've just shown you that your soul is immortal, that you don't have to worry about dying, that the adventure is immense, and you still want to know what it means? It doesn't work like that. There is no meaning that you can put into words. The only thing that means anything is what's happening right now. Stop looking for ultimate meaning. Fix your attention on the present moment."

            That was it. I thought it was beautiful, perhaps the key I’d been looking for in my many years of experiments. This trip was a reconciliation of two metaphysical poles. I'd just had an expansive vision of the continuous rebirth of planets and souls in a very big universe, and was then brought back full‑circle to the Now, which is all there ever really is.


Home ] Book Description ] Contents and Excerpts ] Contributors ] Artwork ] Request Review Copy ] Reviews ] New Stories ] Event Schedule ] What's New ] Author Interview ] Corrections ] Links ] Order the Book ] Contact the Author ]