The following is one of three stories in Jason's narrative.
orgasm death dance
On the Fourth of July 1983, I had a watershed acid trip at the annual
National Rainbow Gathering convened that year in the woods of Upper Peninsula,
Every first week of July, a diverse flock of alternative lifestyle folk,
many of whom call themselves Rainbow People or members of the Rainbow Tribe or
Family, sets up a communal village in an American national forest. The order of
the day is celebration, cooperative living, and the sharing of ideas and
information that run the gamut from herbal healing to holistic technologies.
Activities include workshops for yoga, Native American sweat lodges, and
massage. Families are encouraged to come. A Kids' Village is erected with day
care services and children's activities. The basic theme of these congregations
is to honor Mother Earth and to utilize the wilderness to re-condition ourselves
and advance a new way of living in harmony with nature and with our fellow
The Rainbow Tribe is comprised of aging and neo-hippies, anarchists,
pagans, vegetarians, back to the earth people. Most participants have long hair
and dress in tribal raiment, festive clothing such as tie-dyed, Guatemalan, or
Native American shawls. Some are yuppies with serious professions, who take the
trouble once a year to get back to their roots and recharge their psychic
batteries. Those who live the Rainbow lifestyle year round are probably in the
The sacred day of every Rainbow Gathering is the Fourth of July, which is
celebrated as Interdependence Day, a twist on the patriotic tradition, which
extols communal values of sharing, belonging, and mutual support. On this July
Fourth, a beautiful summer day, I joined a throng who'd begun gathering at dawn
in a circle in a big meadow, maintaining silence until noon, when a peace prayer
was scheduled. Among the multitude were a significant number who were taking
sacred substances to induce a heightened state for greater reception to the
I took a double dose of LSD around ten and sat down on an outer edge of
the circle. People were flowing in in small groups or by themselves, sitting on
the grass in mute solemnity. Soon there were hundreds of people in total
silence, which grew pregnant with pathos and intensity. I sensed a communal
vibration of emotion spreading through me and everyone. As noontime approached,
I felt a great heart-rending yearning rising from the depths of my soul,
indefinable at first. Then I comprehended clearly. It was a plea for peace, for
love to appear in the hearts of humankind, for our sufferings to be healed, for
the earth to be restored.
My eyes were closed, but I felt it was coming from us all. I felt the
heartaches of humankind, how we hurt each other -- that's the worst -- the
torments of war, how we get sick and die. I opened my eyes to an amazing sight.
Everyone was experiencing the same wave of emotion. All around me, people were
sobbing and hugging each other, running into each other's arms, even the embrace
of strangers. The feeling was sweeping through everyone. I've never experienced
anything quite so overwhelming in my whole life. I became aware that I too had
been weeping as I sat there in the lotus position. The anguish was so intense, I
felt we all shared the suffering, that it was ripping through us as though we
were one great wounded heart.
Then after a while I heard a cry, a voice rising from the center of the
gathered hundreds, breaking the silence. It was a man's voice, a soulful prayer
beseeching the Creator to hear our supplications for an end to suffering. It was
the most sincere and humble prayer I've ever heard. I felt he was speaking for
all of us, praying for God to bring love and peace into the hearts of all
people. He was not a speaker scheduled to break the silence, but an anonymous
person who'd been spontaneously moved to speak, a voice emanating from the
communal soul. Others added their voices to prayer, crying out for divine
intervention to help awaken us. The emotion was acute, a sustained pang for the
suffering of humanity and of the earth, being wounded as well.
After a time I grew concerned that we were trapped in the depths of negativity and pain. I worried that we were never going to get out of this, that we were just stuck in grief, the long pent-up feelings of despair we normally don't want to face, which we'd now conjured up en masse. "Is everything really hopeless?" I wondered. Then in the distance I heard something. A drum beat. Then I heard music and then singing, growing louder. It was children's voices and laughter. The Children's Pageant was coming our way, a traditional ceremony on the day of the peace prayer. Dressed in festive clothing with painted faces, the children cantered into the meadow led by a band of adult musicians. At the head of the group, some men were playing a beautiful, uplifting melody led by a soprano saxophone.
Suddenly, cathartically, the somber mood of despair was changed to one of
joy. "Of course there's hope! There are the children, the future. We can
still work to make the world a better place." The children reawakened us to
the innate joy and playfulness that is also part of life. A great release could
be felt throughout the whole circle, a dramatic shift. The wave of emotion that
now passed through us changed our tears of sadness to tears of joy. This was a
signal for celebration to break loose. Soon more musical instruments appeared
and a great jam was happening. People started dancing to the music of a pick-up
ensemble of accordion, a trombone or trumpet, tenor and soprano saxes, and hand
drumming on congas and African jimbes.
I started dancing vigorously in place, joy bursting from my heart. Never
had I felt such a sweeping communal vibration, all of this happening so
spontaneously. I felt a charge of energy, as though I'd been infused with pure
electricity from a bolt of lightning. It went right through my whole body and
out through my arms, seeming to burn my hands. I looked down at them and they
appeared slightly swollen and distorted. The energy was coming from some
normally untapped source. A barrier had been removed and I was opening up.
I looked up in the sky and saw patterns in the shape of the dorje,
the Tibetan sign of the thunderbolt comprised of a short double trident, which
symbolizes the invincible power of the Buddha and the dharma. I took this as a
sign that cosmic forces were present. Throughout the circle, bodies were in
motion, dancing with exuberance. Birds soared overhead. I looked at the trees
and they were pulsing with life; they too were dancing with us. Then the lead
musicians and dancers wended through the circle right to me, suddenly
surrounding me. It was as though I'd drawn them to me or, at the very least, I
was fated to be in the center. It felt as though the energy was coming through a
group of about two dozen of us who were manifesting an enormous amount of it. We
formed a vortex of the most vibrant people, around which wider circles formed.
My delirium continued to climb. I felt that something very special was
happening here, that this was sacred celebration energy, the very lifeblood of
creation itself. Everyone looked so beautiful dancing and making music in their
festive clothing. "This is the epitome of living," I thought.
"We're expressing the highest level of life energy, the joy of
creation." Somewhere at the center of the universe, I envisaged, the gods
were celebrating. They would look just like us in their half naked bodies,
rainbow colored clothes, long flowing hair, beads and jewels. They would be
dancing and celebrating like this on a high astral plane and transmitting their
energy to us.
Suddenly it occurred to me, "Wait a minute. This
is it! We're the holy spirits and the
gods at the center of the universe. We're creating the energy. There's nothing
else but this celebration. This is all there is and I'm going to give it
everything I've got." The revelation lofted me on another wave of
jubilation. I looked around and dozens of people, about a quarter of the throng,
were taking off their clothes. Many wore only shorts or loincloths, while those
who remained dressed were festooned in colored robes, Navajo blankets, African
dashikis, or resplendent homemade garments. Many of the faces were painted. The
whole scene was very tribal.
I lost track of past and future and committed myself to the present
moment, certain it was the path to something transcendental. I was determined to
go with this celebration completely. I saw this moment as an archetypal
crossroads in time, ripe with revelatory meaning and building up to something
supremely special. I made my decision. "Yes, I want to be free, totally
free." I knew I had to take my clothes off, so I disrobed and felt much
better. Then I thought, "Wait a minute. I'm not totally naked yet. I still
have my glasses on." I'm nearsighted and without my glasses, everything's a
blur beyond ten feet. I then performed a symbolic act of self-liberation that
was a sign I was completely free of any conditioning.
I removed my glasses and flung them way up in the air, watching them
turn, end over end, in slow motion, like the bone that transforms into a space
station in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey. I heard myself laughing, not even bothering
to see where they fell. It was an amazing act of letting go. It astounds me that
I did this, because I'm so protective of my glasses. It was completely out of
character, but it was destiny. I rejoined the circle stark raving naked. People
were laughing and forming a tight circle with their arms around each other’s
shoulders, passing jugs of water. I had a tremendous urge to drum and muscled in
on a conga I was drawn to. The owner backed off and I wailed away.
The next shift in my consciousness was my realization that all this
elated exertion was burning a tremendous amount of energy. It was hard work and
I was getting tired. "Wait a minute," I thought. "What does that
mean? We're the gods of this universe. How can we get tired? Will the energy run
out? What will happen to us?" The day was elapsing and the hours were
passing. The sky was softening its colors as the sun was starting to go down.
I'd been dancing naked for three or four hours. "How can I be fading? It
must fit into the scheme." I concluded that we were coming up to some
glorious climax and that I should just give this energy my all until I had
Then I had visions that maybe I was going to die! The concept of death
surfaced. I wasn't sure how that would happen, but it concerned me.
"Something has to happen. Some great end is coming." I comprehended
that physical vigor was finite, but I felt that this magical charge had to
expire in a way more meaningful than my body just collapsing in exhaustion. I
noticed a lot of couples were pairing off, like mitosis or some cosmically
programmed drawing together of complementary elements. "Men and women must
come together. That completes the harmony. I too must find a mate!"
It became clear that we were all going to match up
and there was going to be a joyous merging. It had to be a sexual union.
"That makes sense! Yes! All the celebratory energy will come to its logical
conclusion with man and women literally coming together in orgasm." A
transformational event would take place. We would all have this consummate
orgasm and merge in a flash of light, forming a luminous sphere of pure energy:
the "orgasm death " to borrow a phrase from William Burroughs. I
fixated on this erotic-apocalyptic image. What it meant, of course, was that I
had to find my mate right away.
I started to cast about, and what do I see but this beautiful naked young
woman dancing in the center of the circle. She was absolutely gorgeous, my dream
image: exquisite long black hair, slender but incredibly shapely. She had this
euphoric energy in her, smiling and laughing and dancing. It was clear:
"This must be my mate." I seemed to be pushed forward and there I was:
just her and me dancing in the center. It was the mating dance and she was my
chosen one. I tried to hug her. She gently disengaged herself, holding me at
arm's length while still gyrating. I was completely in love with this woman.
The next thing I remember was being on my knees, my face at her crotch,
inhaling the musky scent. She was laughing and gently extricating herself from
me, wriggling discretely, ever so gracefully, away. She led me back to the edge
of the circle and the others pulled me back. "Why are they pulling me
away?” I wondered. “She's my chosen one." I went back to her. Then
people came out and, very subtly, took my arm and danced me around the circle
and back into the edge. I wrested myself free and went back into the center to
approach her again. Once again, somebody, in a very sensitive way, guided me
back to the sidelines. "What is going on here?" People were doing
things to me that did not fit into the vision. I had my first moment of doubt.
I'd been deterred in my attempt to merge with this luscious woman and now felt
trapped and frustrated just watching her from the rim.
Then a serious-looking face bobbed into view right before me. "Are
you okay?" It was very strange. I didn't know what he meant. I muttered
"Yeah, I'm okay." After a few moments, his face appeared again.
"Are you alright?"
"I don't know." Then this terrible, bizarre feeling struck me.
"Wait a minute, where am I? What's happening here?" It was as though a
veil had been lifted. The ecstatic energy drained out of me very quickly. I
became conscious of my body being tired and weak. The sun was now low on the
horizon. I was in a mental haze. A voice like a conscience invaded. "What
have you been doing?" A horrible realization came over me, a childlike
tremor at the consequences of transgression. "Have I been doing something I
shouldn't? Have I been bad?" I told this guy, "I'm wasted. I've got to
As soon as I left the circle, I was crushed with fatigue and confusion. I
sat down and looked at my body and was shocked at how scrawny and weak it
appeared. I felt naked and devoid of energy and wanted to cover up right away.
This fellow who'd inquired about my state, Bill, stayed on to help me get
reoriented, which began with a search for my clothes. I'd never met him before,
but he turned out to be my savior during this sudden crash. He was about my age,
late twenties, and had driven out from California to the gathering. We managed
to find my clothes in a heap, but not my glasses.
I've never experienced such a dramatic loss of joy and plunged so rapidly
into the depths of mental and physical exhaustion and self-estrangement. I now
had to extricate myself from the elaborate mythology I'd created, a soaring
delusion that I'd woven for myself while I was blitzed. Very quickly, it came
flooding into my skull what I'd been doing. I'd never ever lost my grip on
reality like this before -- and haven't since.
I was appalled at my behavior and felt terribly embarrassed and ashamed.
I started to feel guilty, like a chastened child. I'd just crashed through
almost every social conditioning and now, suddenly, felt as if I'd been cast out
of paradise. All my conditioning cascaded back like an incoming tide dragging
along all these Freudian and biblical totems. I felt naked and ashamed of my
nakedness. I was concerned I may have made others uncomfortable. When you see a
fellow with a faraway look in his eyes hopping about in a state of exhilaration,
that was okay, but when you see a stranger on his knees with his nose in the
crotch of an innocent female reveler, that was unusual, even for a Rainbow
But everyone handled it admirably, gently shepherding me away from the
virtuous damsel. I want to say for the record how beautiful those people were to
know intuitively that I was being a little far out and to refrain from
condemning me. If I'd done this in the middle of downtown America, the police
would have been called and I would have been hauled away and branded a criminal
and an insane one at that. But at the Rainbow Gathering, my brothers and sisters
knew how to handle me and I want to thank them for that.
It turned out that Bill had picked up on my confusion arising from my
thwarted union with my "chosen one," in part because he'd dosed
himself, which made him exceedingly empathetic. In fact, he was the most
empathetic person I've ever met in my life. I was extremely fortunate to meet
him. He sat me down and said, "Look, don't worry about it. What you did out
there was beautiful. You have nothing to be ashamed of. First of all, everything
you did was basically appropriate. Maybe you were a little confused at the end,
but you were ecstatic and that energy was beautiful." He was fantastic at
comforting and reassuring me. He suggested we wash up and get something to eat,
so he took me to my tent to get a towel. We went down to the river and bathed
and then went to get something to eat.
I started to get bummed out about losing it so far
out in my own metaphysical space. That had never happened to me before. I
considered myself an experienced psychedelic traveler. I'd been in even stranger
states of consciousness and still been able to see them as strange. I'd never
been in an alternate state and thought it was "reality."
After getting a bite, we tried to hunt down my glasses. Even though there
wasn't much hope, it was important to look. We tried the rumor control center
and the lost and found without success. I felt bad about losing my spectacles.
It was symbolic of the whole transgression. "How stupid! How could I have
lost my glasses?" We heard that people who found glasses had brought them
to the MASH tent where the medical clinic was. Surprisingly, there was a table
there with about ten pairs, so maybe there were others like me who'd cast them
off into oblivion! Amazingly, I found my glasses there, a little bent out of
shape, but functional: no permanent damage. I felt better.
Bill stayed with me most of the night, until I finally drifted off into
sleep. He met me the next morning and we continued discussing the whole
situation. I felt a need to apologize to the woman I’d ravaged. Here again,
Bill helped me out immeasurably. He ran into her and her boyfriend, who'd also
been in the circle. In fact, he was a guy I'd been dancing with at one point.
Her name was Sonya and his was Miguel. Bill explained that I’d been tripped
out, that I had not wanted to offend them, and that I wished to thank them for
handling me so delicately. He reported back to me that everything was cool;
Sonya was in no way offended. Amends had all been made. It turned out they were
leaving the Gathering that day, so if Bill hadn't run into them, there would
never have been the redemption and closure there was. I recovered and, the last
couple days of the event, was back dancing again.
Seven years later, at the 1990 Rainbow Gathering, I saw a woman who
looked like Sonya, dancing in the center of the circle again. I didn't introduce
This experience made me take stock of myself and my
use of psychedelic drugs. Here I’d constructed this visceral myth that I was
at the center of the universe with the energy of a god coming through me. The
force was so strong, I felt I was beyond human. I’d been totally confident
that I was advancing toward a final orgasm resulting in a death that would
transform my material form into pure cosmic energy. When I was suddenly yanked
from this Garden of Eden by the hideous dawning that I was a scrawny mortal
coming off a chemically induced psychosis, it felt like a terrible rejection of
the sacred. I'd come alone to the gathering and was fortunate to have found such
a compassionate friend as Bill to get me through the comedown.
This was the toughest trip of all to incorporate
afterwards. It was especially remarkable that I'd so "lost it" because
I have a strong measure of psychological control and a methodical sense of order
in my life. In fact, my friends often tease me for having things so planned and
structured. I also possess some knowledge of classic mystical experiences,
yogic, shamanic, and tribal, and some understanding of altered states, which I
usually structure around a ritualized framework. It was humbling that the checks
and balances hadn't worked this time.
I can look back and say the experience was a success in that I really did
break through. I let go like I never have before or since, giving myself over
completely to celebratory energy. Most people don't ever get a taste of
something like this. I went all the way, as far as I was allowed to go. You have
to pay a price when you go so far, though. You have to expect some kind of
negative jolt when the bubble bursts, unless you jump off a cliff while you're
still in the exalted state. Maybe that's why a handful of people have done just
that, thinking, "Why await the agony of reassimilation?"
So this is a cautionary tale that lends new meaning to the term "overjoyed." There's a danger of letting go too much or in the wrong way, like Icarus soaring to the sun and melting his wings of wax. Although I cherish the memory of the ecstatic energy, I've never let go like that again.