One of the things that prompted this book was the tale of a real Celt of
a fellow I knew who worked as a pressman in the inky bowels of one of New York City’s
dailies, where the paper was printed. One night at a smoky, old-time saloon for
“newspapermen,” he relayed how he’d taken acid one evening and witnessed
his own conception by way of catching his parents in the act of making him.
There they were on the living-room sofa, enjoined at the loins, making tender
love in the supple skins they wore the night they brought him into this world.
He said that he’d just sat there and wept at the shuddering beauty of the
scene, the roseate gleam on the lovers’ bodies, the sweet desire that moved
them to merge so moistly and meaningfully.
The story amazed me. It was as if he’d been granted a glimpse of his
own genesis through a sort of umbilical telescope, a once-in-a-lifetime cruise
through the sap of the family tree. Still, I wondered about the rules that
govern such screenings. “Of course, you’re really not supposed to see these
things,” I thought. It must have been the action of some powerful agent that
had pulled some strings to broadcast such a sacred moment.
Visions of this sort are naturally considered forbidden, a violation of
the sanctity of parental privacy, akin to unveiling the face of Jehovah Himself
-- not to mention the whole rap sheet of Oedipal transgressions inherent in
peeking through the keyhole of your parents’ love chamber when they’re
getting it on. It’s just not done. If you get caught, you’re in trouble,
right? But who was there to catch him? Only his conscience, perhaps, but he
didn’t feel guilty about what he was seeing. Far from it. He was so overcome
with joy and tenderness -- and gratitude for being hatched in such a loving,
orgasmic reverie -- that he was weeping for the sheer conjugal majesty of it
I wondered, “Is there a legitimate spiritual, psychological or
emotional purpose for his being shown this vision? Will he be a better person
for having spied on his parents in the act of coitus, even if they were doing it
to beget him?” Well, spying may not be the word for this, but the sort of act
he’d just taken in is not your standard spectator sport. Should his peeping be
chalked up to chemical tomfoolery and summarily tossed back into the iridescent
spume of the psychedelic sea as so much indigestible Freudian detritus?
Other questions arose. Could there have been any authenticity to the
vision? Could it actually have occurred the way he saw it? Or was it a sort of
multimedia Jungian-style merging of the yin and yang hemispheres of his
subconscious into one orgone-suffused ball of wholesome regenerative energy by
which he effectively gave birth to himself? Clearly, the vision had worked its
“intended” effect. He was in total rapture and later considered the vision a
grace. Still, I wondered, “Isn’t there a damn good reason for the erection
of the curtain he’d peeked through? And why was
he allowed to part the curtain? What made him
special? Was it who he was or what he ate? How do you get hold of the
metaphysical View Master that holds such phantasmal celluloid in its image
wheels? Is it conceivable that a psychoactive drug could be sanctioned for such
purposes by the powers that govern human consciousness and our relations with
(generic) psychedelic, of course, can also open the hatch at the other end of a
life span, when the wick first licked by the flame of creation finally wavers,
flickers down, and poof! -- blows out altogether. According to Terence McKenna,
perhaps the world’s leading exponent of psychedelic consciousness (who, sadly,
died of a brain tumor when this book was in production), psychedelic states anticipate the dying
process, which can be an inward journey to explore celestial, paradisal, and
infernal realms. In revealing that the emperor wears no clothes and that things
fall apart, the psychedelic experience decrypts the death bound into all things.
Death is therefore a succinct term for the process of undoing that all
our doings must and do lead. Showing us brief, resonant images of aging and
decay (e.g., one’s own mug on that of a car-crash victim lying on the road, a
hallucination one tripper reported to me), and dissolving the boundaries that
separate us from the knowledge of life in the next room (the next skin, the next
eon, the next incarnation…), the psychedelic is most surely concerned with
death, with endings that, if we could only see, become beginnings in other
When the psychedelic first rocked me in my early twenties with shimmering
new sensibilities that shook my petty mortal concerns like so many scales from
my skin, it struck me that I was being offered a friendly glimpse into the
grave. For the first time I had the distinct notion that death was not some
stationary finish line or exit door off in the hopefully distant future, but a
body of revelation that even now arced back toward the beginning, reaching back
to inform, to ready, to greet and to welcome. I saw that my own death could be a
lyric memory, that the circular river of time was like a gently flowing
menstrual stream from the mind of God, a pregnancy with death the child.
Naturally, there are more terrifying guises of death that the psychedelic
can conjure, but these are likely tied to the latent guilt that knowledge of
death is a sort of transgression
-- along the lines of Jehovah’s grave warning
that no mortal shall ever see His face. In the frightfully ratiocinative
short story by the pre-revolutionary Russian writer Leonid Andreyev, after
Lazarus has a taste of the Other World, the salt in this one loses its savor.
In the film
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) is
forbidden to open his eyes to behold the power and mystery of Creation unleashed
when the Ark of the Covenant is unduly sprung open by the Nazis. There is
invariably at least one story in each of the world’s mythologies that
admonishes us not to poke around in such realms or crowd the Creator Himself.
Perhaps there are some cosmological scenes that are set off limits to human awareness by the powers of the universe, authorities senior by far to those of family and state. There could be good reason to keep a lid on the cask that holds the mysteries of the Great Beyond, but then again, maybe that’s too much to ask of mere mortals. If such a cache can be found, perhaps we owe it to ourselves to open it and have a look. If the voices of the Sirens are so sweet, can’t we hear just a verse or two? Maybe the force that forbids us is only fear and not some imperative moral authority after all.
In the belief that glimpses into alternative realities can shed light on this one, and that no encounter with the ineffable is so otherworldly as to be justly forbidden or void of some correlative (if not yet determined) meaning for this life, I set out in 1994 to document psychedelic experiences that were transformational, awe provoking, or otherwise indelible to their subjects. After several years spent digging up willing voices for the project in locations across the globe, and then transcribing their stories, the product of my quest is the compilation of narratives that comprises this book.
My intent in assembling these unusual, often unsettling tales is to create a work not so much of literature but one of document. By rendering into print the astonishing phenomena of psychedelic drugs – as well as their impact on the human psyche – they can be rescued from the stream of ephemera, dried off in the prosaic light of reading lamps, and then ruminated over by a larger population of fellow and vicarious travelers.
The contents of this book are in many ways the stuff of dreams, in this case chemically-induced ones: phantasms seen with eyes that were opened by a foreign agent, a force often so subversive as to undermine one’s faith in the reality of things as they generally appear. If dreams conjured in sleep should have any meaning for those awakened by them, then these gathered here, spun out of some keen yet alien wakefulness, might have even more.