“You give DMT to ten people. They’ve never had DMT before, and you tell them only that they might see something. If nine out of ten of them come back with descriptions of elves, and four of them use the word elves unprompted, we think you should investigate the phenomenon of elves seen on DMT.”
Zarkov “Coming Out of Left Field with Gracie and Zarkov”, High Frontiers 3 (1987)
Here’s something a bit different. I found this article on the exemplary Erowid website when I was writing my recent blogpost Altered States of Consciousness and the Faeries. It’s an assessment of ‘entity contact experiences’ taken from people who have tweaked their consciousness with a variety of psychedelic substances, most especially N,N-Dimethyltryptamine, or DMT. It includes an analysis of encounters culled from the Erowid ‘Experience Vaults’, which demonstrates that many of the entities invoked by these psychonauts match closely the faeries of folklore. It’s a long and detailed piece, but helps, I think, in an understanding of the components of what these metaphysical creatures are, and where they might reside.
It’s written by all-round good bloke Jon Hanna, best known as the producer of Mind States – a conference series that explores various methods for altering consciousness. He has spoken internationally on the topic of visionary art and entheogens, showcasing collections of psychedelic art and hallucinatory animation at events in Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica, Germany, Jamaica, Mexico, Portugal, and Switzerland.
Author of the Psychedelic Resource List, Jon is considered somewhat of a ‘psychedelic consumer advocate’, highlighting reputable vendors as well as exposing companies, events, and individuals that have less than scrupulous records. He has written articles, columns, and reviews for Entheogene Blätter, The Entheogen Review, Erowid, Heads, High Times, the MAPS Bulletin, Morbid Curiosity, The Resonance Project, and Skunk.
More details about Jon and his work can be found at his website mindstates.org Thanks to Jon for his permission to republish the article here at deadbutdreaming…
When writing about spiritual matters, it is important to be upfront about one’s biases from the start. I was raised without religion. My father was an atheist; my mother is agnostic. I can count on one hand the number of times that I went to church as a child. In my teens and early twenties, I became fascinated with studying world religions, looking for clues that might help me better understand my psychedelic experiences. Although I never adopted any specific religion, I resonate most with ideas from Hinduism. There was a time in my life when I probably believed in God, in the idea that humans have souls, and in the concept of karma. These days, I’m a die-hard agnostic and devil’s advocate.
In this chapter, I’ll largely avoid proposing personal theories regarding the origin or meaning of entity contact experiences. I have no idea what the truth of the matter is in these situations. Such experiences are powerful enough that they’ve influenced paradigm shifts in some people who have had them. Speculation and debate about entity encounters have occurred over the years, and I’ve compiled a few interesting articles on the topic in the chapters that follow. Inclusion herein should not be interpreted to imply that I am promoting any particular ideas; I am not.
Throughout history, humanity has described contact with “others”: angels, demons, spirits, elves, aliens, etc. A girl raised on tales of the Brothers Grimm may believe in faeries; a boy brought up on Edgar Allen Poe stories may believe in ghosts. Children of Hindu households may worship a pantheon of deities, while Muslim kids may bow to a single God. Staid atheists may be “born again” into Christianity. And so on. Individuals’ ideas regarding the truth or “reality” of the existence of non-material beings, including gods or God, may change multiple times over the courses of their lives. Such beliefs can fade, disappear entirely, or be replaced by beliefs in the existence of other non-material beings.
Psychedelic plants have been employed for thousands of years as spiritual tools, due to the perception that they can provide an experience of non-material realms–be they heavenly, hellish, or anything in between. Traditional ethnographic use of these plants for such purposes inspired the coining of “entheogen”, a word that means to “generate God within”. It is not uncommon to hear stories of agnostics or atheists “finding God” during their psychedelic trips and subsequently changing their views on the reality of spiritual realms and beings. Direct experience can be mighty persuasive. Even if that experience takes place solely within a mental landscape. Even if one were on drugs at the time. Under the influence of psychoactive plants or drugs, users have reported experiences of watching, receiving messages from, communicating with, and/or interacting with “non-human intelligent beings”, hereafter described as “discarnate entities”.
For some, the word “discarnate” may solely evoke ghostly specters of indistinct form. Here, the word is used to describe perceived beings that do not have a physical body within consensus reality, yet often do have a form that gives an appearance of physicality. Those who perceive them may be able to describe what they look like and/or sound like, sometimes what they feel like, and on rare occasions even how they smell and/or taste. However, a video camera wouldn’t be able to record images or audio of them. “Entities” conveys that for those who perceive them, they seem to be independent beings.
“Discarnate entities” should be considered to encompass angels and aliens, demons and dragons, faeries and felines, elves and insectoids, ghosts and goblins, harlequins and humanoids, plant teachers and other creatures–even morphing machine minds and fractalline Fabergé footballs, as long as they’re non-physical and seem sentient.
In his 2001 book DMT: The Spirit Molecule, author Rick Strassman presents first-person accounts from subjects who participated in his DMT studies between 1990 and 1995. Over the course of his work during these years, Strassman was surprised to discover that “at least half” of his subjects experienced some manner of contact with: “entities,” “beings,” “aliens,” “guides,” and “helpers” […]. The “life-forms” looked like clowns, reptiles, mantises, bees, spiders, cacti, and stick figures.”
Although Strassman located brief mentions of entities in a couple of DMT reports from the scientific literature of the 1950s, he related that he had: “…been unable to locate any similar reports in research subjects taking other psychedelics. Only with DMT do people meet up with “them,” with other beings in a nonmaterial world.”
Strassman’s remarks seem odd, since visions of discarnate entities generated via numerous other psychedelics certainly aren’t absent from writings in the field. In a chapter titled “The World of the Non-Human” from their 1966 book The Varieties of Psychedelic Experience, authors Robert Masters and Jean Houston describe such visions: “These images are usually seen with eyes closed. They are almost always vividly colored and the colors typically are described as rich, brilliant, glowing, luminous, or “preternatural”–colors exceeding in their beauty anything the subject has ever seen before.”
The images are most often of persons, animals, architecture, and landscapes. Strange creatures from legend, folklore, myth, and fairy tale appear in wonderful surroundings. Masters and Houston go on to provide several examples of specific visions; one was from a male subject who had consumed the peyote cactus (Lophophora williamsii): “A platinum snail about twelve feet high and studded with rubies was pulled along on its wheels by a much smaller and brightly painted dwarf carved from wood. The curious couple was closely followed by a host of metallic, gem-covered insects–grasshoppers and beetles, bumblebees, and mosquitoes, all of fabulous size and brilliantly gleaming, gliding or walking or hopping with the precision of wound-up toys. These then were followed by strange creatures from some wildly imaginative bestiary–all converging upon a lush oasis in the golden desert where the foliage seemed to have been created by Rousseau.”
Another example is presented from a four-year-old boy, “S”, who had unwittingly consumed an LSD-dosed sugar cube from his mother’s refrigerator: “Among the first hallucinations to appear were a number of crustaceans, especially (as it could be gathered) crabs and lobsters. […] S also hallucinated a whole array of “monsters”–apparently creatures such as elves, dwarfs, and other small, deformed human-like beings. Fearful at first, he gained confidence when his mother encouraged him to “make friends with the monsters” […]. After some of his anxieties were disposed of, several of the “monsters” came and sat on S’s knees and in the palm of his hand and he talked with them. Others danced around him and made faces. From time to time, S’s fears would return; then, with his mother’s help, he would overcome his fears again and enjoy playing and talking with the hallucinated beings.”
Masters and Houston compare this child’s experience to that of philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, who took mescaline under the supervision of a psychiatrist. At one point Sartre described that he was: “…fighting a losing battle with a devil fish and [he] mentioned a number of other disturbing experiences. He reported umbrellas changing into vultures and shoes changing into skeletons, faces became hideous, and crabs, polyps, and “grimacing things” that he saw from the corner of his eye.”
Even after the drug had worn off, some weeks later Sartre complained of being “on the edge of a chronic hallucinatory psychosis” and said that he was “being followed by lobsters and crabs” and “assorted other monsters”.
Jerry Richardson, an insurance underwriter from San Francisco who participated in Bernard Aaronson’s LSD research in the 1960s, wrote: “I saw goblins in green and yellow and blue; red devils with sinister, twisted faces; and then bodies, faces, ghostlike creatures in white, coming out of nowhere, rushing toward me, tumbling over each other, and disappearing into the back of my mind in a seemingly endless procession of ludicrously grotesque imagery. […] Opening my eyes stopped the mental imagery. Around the room, everything was now bathed in a curious yellowish-warm, glowing radiance. An ordinarily rather nondescript, somewhat messy, and ugly room had been transformed into something out of a fairy tale.”
In his May 12, 1955, lecture “Mescaline and the ‘Other World'”, presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association, Aldous Huxley commented on the discarnate entities that may populate humanity’s mental geography:
“Through these landscapes and among these living architectures wander strange figures, sometimes of human beings (or even of what seem to be superhuman beings), sometimes of animals or fabulous monsters. Giving a straightforward prose description of what he used to see in his spontaneous visions, William Blake reports that he frequently saw beings, to whom he gave the name of Cherubim. These beings were a hundred and twenty feet high and were engaged (this is characteristic of the personages seen in vision) in doing nothing that could be thought of as being symbolic or dramatic. In this respect the inhabitants of the mind’s Antipodes differ from the figures inhabiting Jung’s archetypal world; for they have nothing to do either with the personal history of the visionary, or even with the age-old problems of the human race. Quite literally, they are the inhabitants of “the Other World”.
This brings me to a very interesting and, I believe, significant point. The visionary experience, whether spontaneous or induced by drugs, hypnosis or any other means, bears a striking resemblance to “the Other World,” as we find it described in the various traditions of religion and folklore. In every culture the abode of the gods and souls in bliss is a country of surpassing beauty, glowing with color, bathed in intense light. In this country are seen buildings of indescribable magnificence, and its inhabitants are fabulous creatures, like the six-winged seraphs of Hebrew tradition, or like the winged bulls, the hawk-headed men, the human-headed lions, the many-armed, or elephant-headed personages of Egyptian, Babylonian and Indian mythology. Among these fabulous creatures move superhuman angels and spirits, who never do anything, but merely enjoy the beatific vision.”
John Lilly, the famous dolphin researcher and inventor of the isolation tank, recounts his first LSD experience: “I saw God on a tall throne as a giant, wise, ancient Man. He was surrounded by angel choruses, cherubim, and seraphim, the saints were moving by his throne in a stately procession. I was there in Heaven, worshiping God, worshiping the angels, worshiping the saints in full and complete transport of religious ecstasy.”
In later experiences, both aided and unaided by drug consumption, Lilly contacted a pair of discarnate entities who told him that they were his guardians and who appeared to give him some instruction on the nature of the universe. In contemplating these experiences, Lilly remarked: “In my own far-out experiences in the isolation tank with LSD and in my close brushes with death I have come upon the two guides. These two guides may be two aspects of my own functioning at the supraself level. They may be entities in other spaces, other universes than our consensus reality. They may be helpful constructs, helpful concepts that I use for my own future evolution. They may be representatives of an esoteric hidden school. They may be concepts functioning in my own human biocomputer at the supraspecies level. They may be members of a civilization a hundred thousand years or so ahead of ours. They may be a tuning in on two networks of communication of a civilization way beyond ours, which is radiating information throughout the galaxy.”
During some of Lilly’s later experiences, under the influence of the drug ketamine, he believed himself to be communicating with discarnate entities who shared with him knowledge about humanity’s future–a time when the planet would be taken over by a malevolent “solid-state entity”. In an interview on May 14, 1998, ketamine researcher Karl Jansen asked the 83-year-old Lilly about his contacts with entities:
Jansen: Many persons do not encounter Beings when they take ketamine, or coincidence control officers. How do you explain this in terms of your theories?
Lilly: You don’t have to have any concept of Beings. When you take the drug you enter into their consciousness. You don’t have to see them or know them as Beings. They engage your mind. Before matter, energy, there was consciousness without an object. Out of that came Beings.
Over his lifetime as an author and lecturer, Terence McKenna often discussed the topic of entity contact in conjunction with the mental effects of high doses (five grams) of psilocybin-containing mushrooms: “Yes, first come the dancing mice, the little candies, the colored grids, and so-forth and so-on. But what eventually happens, quickly, like ten minutes later, is there is an entity in the trance, in the vision. There is a mind there, waiting, that speaks good English, and invites you up into its room. […] And what it is, is it’s a voice in the head […]. I come into a place. It’s hard to describe. It’s a feeling. And the content of the feeling is, “now the elves are near.” But they won’t appear unless I invoke them.”
How often do psychonauts see or interact with entities? Within the framework of documenting the kind and frequency of “religious” images that occurred among their 206 subjects, Masters and Houston reported that 58% saw figures such as Christ, the Buddha, saints, godly figures, and William Blake-type figures, while 49% saw devils and demons, and 7% saw angels.
My Own Entity Encounters
The topic of psychedelic-induced “contact” has interested me since 1987, when I had my own initial discarnate entity encounter while on a couple hits of LSD. I was attending college in Stratford-upon-Avon via a program run through San Francisco City College, where I’d been studying art. As strange chance would have it, I happened to run into a friend from SF who was passing through England on his way to Germany. He slipped me two gel-tabs. One night I dropped both tabs and went out walking with a few new friends from school. Lacking any foreknowledge of how my companions felt about illicit drug use, I kept the fact that I was tripping to myself. The acid came on, and I was enjoying our walk and discussions, during which it came out that one of the women with us was a practicing Wiccan. After we turned down an old deserted Roman road, our group fell quiet for a moment. It was late in the evening, and the only sound was the crunching autumn leaves beneath our feet. As we walked, a wind blew down the road, releasing more leaves from the trees and whirling them into a sort of tunnel above our heads. The Wiccan woman began to sing in Gaelic–a language that I’d never heard before. Despite the fact that I couldn’t understand the words, the minor tones of her song were hauntingly beautiful. At the first note she sang, some of the airborne leaves transformed into about a dozen faeries–exactly the sort of traditional winged pixie-like creatures painted by the artist Brian Froud. I had never seen anything like this before on acid. While luminous and sparkly, they appeared quite solid and each seemed to have an independent existence, as they playfully darted amongst the swirling leaves. It was truly magical. I was transfixed. As the final note of my friend’s song sounded, I watched all the faeries morph back into wind-blown leaves. Being the only one of us on acid at the time (to the best of my knowledge), I presumed that no one else had experienced the profoundly moving vision that I had seen. Our group remained respectfully quiet for a moment. Then someone asked our vocalist the name of the song that she’d just sung, and she replied, “Oh, that one is known as ‘The Song to Call in the Faeries’.”
About a decade later, I was camping with three friends at Island Lake near Nevada City, California. A couple of us decided to take heroic doses of Psilocybe mushrooms one evening. I chewed down four grams, retired to my tent, closed my eyes, and got horizontal on my air mattress. As the effects of the ‘shrooms came on, my inner vision revealed what looked like a dank moss-green hospital emergency waiting room. I seemed to be sitting on a bench in this room, and it occurred to me that it was odd that there were no patients being wheeled in or out. Kinda quiet for an ER. After some time, I noticed a few off-white football-sized larvae floating three or four feet off the ground in various spots. Following one of these with my eyes, I then saw an insectoid entity about the size of a small dog, whose back was facing me. It had a long mosquito-like proboscis that I could only partially see. Suddenly, it turned, and–realizing that I saw it–it made a high-pitched buzzing/shrieking sound. (I got the impression that it was sending out a warning alarm.) The entity then initiated telepathic communication with me, explaining that it was quite surprised that I could see it, as this usually didn’t occur. It said that it lived by extracting human thought/emotion. Human thoughts were both the currency of its species, as well as their sustenance/energy source. (The needle-like proboscis was looking less friendly by the minute.) I was given the impression that–as the coin of its kind–different types of thought/emotion were valued differently; those with a more intense energy charge, such as fear or love, were worth more. The entity explained that it existed in another dimension so that it could feed off of human thought unhindered. (I got a feeling that the relationship wasn’t symbiotic; perhaps these “thought drainers” somehow suck life energy from humans, along with the mental energy.) It claimed that it was the psychic equivalent of an actual insect that feeds on blood, skin, etc., with regard to the extent of any damage it might do to those on whom it fed. Yet I had a nagging feeling that it might not be telling me the whole truth. Maybe these creatures had some influence on inciting wars or disasters in the human realm? The experience left me feeling unsettled for some time afterwards. Indeed, the diversity of “beings” encountered in DMT space leads one to think that everyone can’t really be describing the same “creatures”…
Moving even further into unpleasant entity contact realms, there was my one (and only) trip on 3 mg of DOB (2,5- dimethoxy-4-bromoamphetamine). I was attending Burning Man, where my wife and I had pitched our tent near a camp called Disturbia. In retrospect, the camp’s name should have been a sign that this might not be the right place to first try a potent phenethylamine that can last up to 24 hours. The Disturbia folks had kindly set up a loudly amplified theremin for public use. The theremin is an electronic musical instrument that is played by bringing one’s hands into varying proximity to its metal antennas without actually touching them. Manipulated by a novice (and, well, everyone on the playa appeared to be new to the instrument), it sounds like a beehive in a slinky. It was approximately right after the DOB had fully kicked in that I became aware of the theremin, when someone started “playing” it, thereby attracting more folks who wanted to “play” it–for hours on end. It was bumming me out. At one point, when my wife could tell that I was not doing so well, she tried to comfort me by saying, “I’m here, honey. Just focus on me, and you’ll be okay.” As I looked into the eyes of the person I love most in the world, I watched cockroaches crawl out from under her eyelids and swarm over her face. Buoyed by the buzzing theremin, the “bug” theme continued. I was confronted by several human-sized chitinous Gigeresque entities that spent the rest of the evening probing me and performing invasive “physical” experiments on my immobile, unhappy body. It was pretty much the classic alien abduction scenario, sans space ship. After a long night, there was at least a beautiful (and quiet!) sunrise the next morning.
Most of my psychedelic experiences over the past three decades have not featured any manner of discarnate entity contact. In New Orleans, I got a weird ghostly dwarf thing once on the combination of psilocybin-containing mushrooms and Peganum harmala. Nitrous oxide revealed dimensional doppelgangers and WALL-E-style robots. Ketamine has ponied up a pygmy shaman, proto-human ape-like creatures, and some tentacled cephalopods. DPT (dipropyltryptamine) has provided tiny cartoon-like insectoid creatures. Once on the combination of ketamine and DPT, I witnessed two distinctly different discarnate entities seemingly thrust into each others’ realms for the first time. Both of these aliens were infused with a bad-ass attitude reminiscent of denizens of the Mos Eisley Cantina in Star Wars. They brokered a deal–one of them passing a small unidentifiable item into the other’s hand while mentally shooting me a warning that I had fuck-all idea of what I was dealing with–and I was left with the strong impression that I should consider myself lucky that they let me off the hook, since it was my chemical cocktail that had drawn the three of us together in the first place. On 2C-B, I’ve also sometimes encountered small insectoids. On ayahuasca, I’ve gotten large insectoids. And yes, on smoked DMT, I’ve entered the trans-linguistic alien dimension populated by McKenna’s mercurial and mischievous mutating machine elves. (A realm well-captured by the artists Naoto Hattori, JWA Tucker and Vibrata Chromodoris.) According to McKenna: “It is true, that when you smoke DMT, for example, in a sufficiently high and prepared dose, you get elves–everybody does. All you need do, is inhale deeply three times, and you know… You want contact? You want elves? You want alien intelligence? You’ll have that up the kazoo.”
For some who’ve seen DMT elves, the beings looked similar to traditional faerieland creatures. But many users describe them differently. Indeed, the diversity of “beings” encountered in DMT space leads one to think that everyone can’t really be describing the same “creatures”, and that the space must be populated with a multitude of discarnate entities: typical sci-fi extraterrestrials, humanoids, jellyfish, insectoids, clowns/Pierrots, reptilians, robots, octopods, and other sorts of beings have been mentioned. Author D.M. Turner had apparently catalogued at least nine distinct types of entities that he’d encountered. In discussing these with a fellow DMT psychonaut, Turner found that his friend had experienced four of the exact same entities, plus two others that Turner had never seen. With rigorous review, one might create a Bestiarum Vocabulum, charting which entities appear, and with what frequency, in response to the consumption of various psychedelics.
McKenna was gifted at painting a picture of the DMT entities and proposing theories about what they might mean:
“Trying to describe them isn’t easy. On one level I call them self-transforming machine elves; half machine, half elf. They are also like self-dribbling jeweled basketballs, about half that volume, and they move very quickly and change. And they are, somehow, awaiting. When you burst into this space, there’s a cheer! Pink Floyd has a song, “The Gnomes Have Learned a New Way to Say Hooray.” Then they come forward and tell you, “Do not give way to amazement. Do not abandon yourself.” You’re amazingly astonished. The most conservative explanation for these elves, since these things are speaking English and are intelligent, is that they’re some kind of human beings. They’re obviously not like you and me, so they’re either the prenatal or postmortal phase of human existence, or maybe both […].
They are teaching something. Theirs is a higher dimensional language that condenses as a visible syntax. For us, syntax is the structure of meaning; meaning is something heard or felt. In this world, syntax is something you see. There, the boundless meanings of language cause it to overflow the normal audio channels and enter the visual channels. They come bouncing, hopping toward you, and then it’s like–all this is metaphor, they don’t have arms–it’s as though they reach into their intestines and offer you something. They offer you an object so beautiful, so intricately wrought, so something else that cannot be said in English, that just gazing on this thing, you realize such an object is impossible. The best comparison is Faberge eggs. […]
The archetype of DMT is the three-ring circus. The circus is all bright lights, ladies in spangled costumes, and wild animals. But right underneath, it’s some fairly dark expression of Eros and freaks and unrootedness and mystery. DMT is the quintessence of that archetype. The drug is trying to tell us the true nature of the game. Reality is a theatrical illusion.”
In his pioneering article ‘Apparent Communication with Discarnate Entities Induced by Dimethytryptamine (DMT)’, author Peter Meyer presents a number of possible theories regarding the true nature of these experiences. In November 1989, a year before Strassman obtained final government approval to start his DMT studies, Meyer sent a draft of his article to Strassman, sparking a discussion of the topic of communication with the alien DMT entities that some people have reported from their visions. In his response, Strassman agreed that assessing the significance of “alien communication” was important, noting: “I’ve interviewed about 15 people who have smoked DMT, and have found several who describe “alien contact.” I’m not quite sure what to make of such reports.”
While Strassman felt that the phenomenon needed much closer investigation, in a follow-up letter, he remarked: “With respect to the alien contact phenomenon, I do wonder about the power of suggestion. McKenna’s ideas have been so widely promulgated that it’s hard to find someone who hasn’t heard of him or his ideas before smoking DMT. On the other hand, there are many who know McKenna and his ideas well, have smoked a lot of DMT many times, and have had no alien contact experiences.”
On the surface, it is easy to agree with Strassman’s sentiment. McKenna’s comment, “you get elves–everybody does”, is clearly not a universal truth, as evidenced by the following dialogue about the DMT experience between comedian/actor Joe Rogan and author Daniel Pinchbeck:
Rogan: Describing it in words always feels so fake. It’s like, there’s no words that have been invented that are going to describe that experience, you know?
Pinchbeck: You didn’t like “hyper-transforming machine elves”?
Rogan: It wasn’t like that to me, you know…
Pinchbeck: It wasn’t like that to me, either.
Rogan: I heard [them say] some things that McKenna said, like, “look at this”. They say, “look at this” a lot. And I heard them say, “Don’t give in to astonishment”. But I was wondering, is that because I knew that McKenna [had] said that, and…
Pinchbeck: Right, right, right. He set the template. […]
Rogan: But it didn’t seem to me to be like hyper… what did he call them, uhm… self-transforming machine elves. […] They didn’t seem like elves to me. It seemed like… what I always describe them as is these complex geometric patterns that are made out of love. That’s how I describe them, you know. And that means nothing. Those are just a bunch of words. You know what I mean? It’s just like, I try to say it in a way that’s interesting and funny. But you know, [in] reality, what is it? There’s just some incredible patterns that you can’t even really look at. It’s like they’re too beautiful to take in, and they’re changing all the time.
I’ve known numerous people who have never experienced any sort of contact with discarnate entities from smoking DMT. While I don’t know how familiar these people were with McKenna’s descriptions of the experience, by the late 1980s, I had certainly come across mentions of “DMT entities”. It is indeed hard to imagine that many of the “required-to-have-been-experienced-with-psychedelics” subjects volunteering to take DMT in Strassman’s studies wouldn’t have already been aware of the “elf phenomenon” that had been–as Strassman characterized it–“so widely promulgated” by that time. And these days, with ubiquitous Internet access, it seems increasingly unlikely that a DMT user would never have heard sound bites of McKenna on the topic. The belief that McKenna’s ideas have either directly or indirectly affected the kinds of visions that people have, in any case, seems fairly common.
However, after Strassman actually began administering DMT in late 1990, he changed his mind about the scope of awareness of Terence McKenna’s ideas and the power of suggestion as factors influencing reports of discarnate entities among his research subjects: “[…] volunteers were uniformly shy and uncomfortable discussing their strange being encounters. Neither were Terence McKenna’s lectures and writings especially popular when we first started hearing these unusual reports from our research subjects. I often asked volunteers about being familiar with popular accounts of DMT-mediated encounters with elves or insectoid aliens. Few if any were. Thus, I don’t think these reports were a type of mass hysteria or a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
In DMT: The Spirit Molecule, Strassman presents a number of intriguing speculations regarding the origin and meaning of discarnate entities. In discussing entity contact, Masters and Houston remarked that: “The hallucinated monsters are the monsters of childhood, the forms fear takes when one regresses to feelings of childlike helplessness.” Within that context, consider the following DMT trip report:
“[…] I arrive in a place filled with intense white light where hideous, bodiless, pointed-eared, purple and green entities bound toward me and they laugh, jeer and ridicule me; where these grotesque elf, joker or clown-like caricatures rush at me one at a time and in clusters; where they curl their hideous, clown-like mouths and wag their tongues in my face; where I relive every real and imagined humiliation I suffered in childhood; where a great sorrow and disappointment fills me as they come at me faster and faster; where I start to crumble under their onslaught, so I open my eyes but still they come; where I realize I have to face them, so I close my eyes and focus on my breathing, and the demonic forces back off […].”
Psychedelic researchers Bernard Aaronson and Humphry Osmond have stated that these drugs “make available exotic and forbidden landscapes. In these landscapes, the images of nightmare from which we have fled since childhood, move and take shape.” If true, this could go some way toward explaining the current preponderance of visions featuring extraterrestrial beings and advanced technology. Since the 1980s, the scare stories from fairylands have been solidly supplemented with alien abductions and tales of Transformers. Science fiction is widely accepted as a more plausible genre than fantasy. Contemporary society’s fears have been captured in movies such as the Alien series (1979-2012), They Live (1988), The Lawnmower Man (1992), eXistenZ (1999), The Matrix series (1999-2003), and TV shows such as Doctor Who (1963-2013) and The X-Files (1993-2002).
Several times, Strassman mentions a “nursery/playroom theme” brought up by his research subjects, and spring-loaded wind-up toys such as the perennially popular Jack-in-the-box may contribute to the common childhood fear of clowns. Fear of arthropods (arachnids, crustaceans, and insects) is widespread, and understandable on a variety of levels. From the warm-blooded perspective of fuzzy mammals, arthropods seem hard, cold, unfeeling, parasitic, robotic, and alien. A universal symbol for death is the human skull–all that’s left when the tissue reflecting each of our unique lives has been stripped away. With their fleshless exoskeletons, arthropods inherently carry an intimation of death so fear-inducing to some humans that their gut reaction on seeing a spider, an ant, or some other small arthropod, is to smash and kill it. Beyond their symbolic “otherness”, we have a long history of fighting them off of the crops we’ve cultivated for food, clothing, and shelter. Our species’ battle against arthropods is so prevalent that we’ve come to refer to any small, potentially damaging microorganism (such as a virus or bacteria) as a “bug”–our common name for tiny arthropods. Cold-blooded reptilians and cephalopods are also very “other” to us, so the appearance of discarnate entities resembling such life forms wouldn’t be surprising as additional “forms fear takes”.
Yet fears aren’t the only visionary inspiration to shockingly explode in our mind fields; mental geography is a complex, fractal, holographic space where unconscious “memory” continually serves up amazing realities on the fly. We commonly believe that we see the world as it exists, but–in reality–many of our perceptions of “the world out there” are just approximations filled in from our mind’s unconscious memory. The “double take”, a shift in perception based on the flip from a “fill in” to a more accurate perception of external reality (or vice versa), can happen with any of our five senses.
Consider the viewpoint expressed in “Virtuality” by Teafaerie, wherein she proposes a possibility for her DMT visions that is “simultaneously the most boring and the most exciting explanation” that she could come up with:
“The mind is absolutely dripping with untold processing power, and it can instantly generate a full-scale masterwork alien spaceship from scratch, complete with all the trimmings. It can furthermore simultaneously create and animate a number of fully interactive non-player characters, who are often described as possessing an uncannily intense sense of “presence” (whatever that means). In this model, my amazing brain can do all this while very powerful drugs are scrambling the bejesus out of it, and it can do it without any awareness or deliberation on the part of the hopelessly unsophisticated frontman program that plays the role of the astonished psychonaut. On the surface this one sounds like the most parsimonious hypothesis, and I tend to return to this view in the long intervals between big trips. It’s not all that different from dreaming, I reason, and I don’t have too much trouble believing that my unconscious mind designs most of my dreams. I always end up denouncing this viewpoint from on high, though; somewhere I think that I actually have a recording of myself saying something like, “I’m looking at this stuff right now and I’m TELLING you that there is no…possible…way…that the person who I think of as myself could ever in a million years be generating all of this content this fast. That would be like saying that I could produce all of the most amazing art in the entire world in every single millisecond without even thinking about it…”
What is mind? No matter… What is matter? Never mind
By definition, discarnate entities have no physical bodies. Could this mean that they are only able to exist within minds? Is it possible for several discrete intelligences to inhabit a single brain? Can mind(s) exist without matter? Does curiosity collapse probability into actuality, materializing the meat of the matter, seeding a substrate, creating consciousness, promulgating the paradoxical process, forever and ever, amen? Bootstrapping at its best? Chicken and egg? I have no answers to such questions. Yet my agnosticism doesn’t negatively impact my wonder, amazement, and fascination with the experience of discarnate entities–whether they are only mental or whether they have some external, other-dimensional, or spiritual basis.
Terence McKenna seemed inclined to believe that DMT space is an independent reality populated with intelligent discarnate entities. Peter Meyer appears to have also come to this conclusion. He feels that his collection of 340 DMT Trip Reports provides objective evidence of the existence of entities “within what seems to be an alternate reality.”
Early in the DMT dialogue, Meyer proposed that DMT may provide access to a post-death realm. Of the 340 reports that he’s collected, he has marked 226 of them (66.5%) with an “entities” tag, due to their mentions of “experience of one or more apparently independently-existing beings which interact in an apparently intelligent and intentional way with the observer.” Meyer suggests that folks should read ten reports each day, think about them, and at the end of 34 days reflect on what his collection of first-person accounts implies about the nature of reality. This excellent exercise may result in raised eyebrows from at least a few skeptics.
Yourself, his ET… The elf is yours!
While some of those who “are experienced” lean toward the “external existence”
viewpoint, others find such a perspective illogical and frustrating. Consider Martin Ball’s screed, ‘Terence on DMT: An Entheological Analysis of McKenna’s Experiences in the Tryptamine Mirror of the Self’, published by Reality Sandwich. Ball’s rant against McKenna–as a flawed individual and as the promoter of flawed ideas–is largely a conglomeration of insults, straw-man arguments, and ironic egotism. (Ball’s dogmatic refrain focuses on projections of McKenna’s ego, painfully oblivious to those of his own.) Despite dismal dialectic, Ball brings up a couple of points worth thinking about. The first is that “all contents of entheogenic experiences are projections of the self” (Ball’s remark might win over more supporters if it were expressed as “all contents of entheogenic experiences could be projections of the self”. I’ll refer Ball to the Bill Maher quote above, “Doubt is humble.”). The second point worth contemplating, brought up by Ball only in passing, is his total dismissal of the concept of a “soul”. In a world where some entheogen evangelists would like nothing better than to set their iPhone alarms for the final 8:12 p.m. sunset and fly off through DMT-induced double rainbows on their winged unicorns, Ball’s monism is, at least, a refreshing alternative perspective.
In “The Case Against DMT Elves”, James Kent presents a neurologically based theory regarding the origin of discarnate entities. Kent proposes that these experiences are a product of individual human minds, rather than an interaction with independent external intelligences. However, Kent backpedals a bit, claiming that, “The ‘Gaia consciousness’ that infuses the experience is undeniable,” and entertaining the possibility “that this ancient plant consciousness actually exists and is attempting to make itself known through the DMT-enlightened mammal brain.” He later states, “I also believe in samsara [reincarnation] and the transmigration of souls, which makes the notion that these entities could be ‘disembodied souls’ floating around in hyperspace very tempting to latch onto.” I’m not sure why a theoretical external “plant consciousness” rates as being any more plausible than a theoretical external “elf consciousness”, and within my own discarnate entity encounters I have never experienced anything remotely describable as a: “Gaia consciousness” (although I recognize that some other people have reported this). But I wholeheartedly agree with Kent’s later remark that “none of [what any entities have said to me] points definitively to any deeper truth about what they are or where they come from.”
Setting aside speculations regarding “what they are or where they come from”, a more accessible question may be: How often are entity contact experiences the result of any particular psychedelic?
More Entities on DMT?
Clearly, Strassman’s statement that this phenomenon only occurs with DMT is not accurate. In addition to the few examples provided above, contemporary trip reports published in print, and in numerous places online, bear testament to the fact that this is not solely a phenomenon that occurs with DMT consumption. But is DMT more likely to generate such experiences than other psychedelics?
Strassman stated that at least 30 out of his 60 subjects reported having such experiences. Meyer says that 266 of the 340 DMT trip reports he collected mention some manner of discarnate entities. Together, these two sources suggest that perhaps 50-66.5% of those who consume DMT may experience discarnate entity contact. This falls roughly in line with the 49-58% that Masters and Houston reported8 as having had visions of devils, demons, Christ, the Buddha, saints, godly figures, and William Blake-type figures. However, the Masters and Houston percentage range can’t be compared directly to Strassman’s or Meyer’s percentages for two reasons. First, with a narrower focus on specifically religious entities, the Masters and Houston figure may be slightly lower than it would have been if they had also included other categories of beings. Second, Masters and Houston lump all 206 users of psychedelics together in one group, with no distinction made based on what specific chemical each of them consumed. Presumably at least some of their subjects had their entity experiences as a result of DMT consumption. (Indeed, in one such report included in their book, the DMT user describes encountering “the face of God” as that “of a very wise monkey!”8) Without access to more details from Masters and Houston’s data, it is not possible to know how many of their 206 respondents experienced entities while under the effects of DMT and how many of them experienced entities after taking other psychedelics.
In order to solicit input from “seasoned heads” for this chapter, a handful of people were directed to an online survey. Participation was anonymous, and about half of the people who were contacted responded. Potential participants were believed to either (1) have a solid amount of personal experience with DMT, and/or (2) have “sat” for others experiencing DMT trips. Eight people completed the survey. All of them answered “yes” to the question of whether or not they had ever experienced anything that seemed like contact with a discarnate entity. However, one potential participant, who declined to fill out the survey, did offer:
“I saw all sorts of things in my trips: dancing skeletons, jaguar priestesses, bee aliens, dancing rats, cartoon characters, and so on, for many years. I never thought of them as “discarnate entities”; they were just hallucinations. Then I heard Terence McKenna and began looking for “discarnate entities” in my trips. And suddenly, I began seeing “discarnate entities” instead of hallucinations. My point is, humans are so suggestible, they will believe of their hallucinations whatever you tell them to expect. If I am expecting cartoons, I see cartoon characters. If I am expecting “discarnate entities”, then suddenly those cartoon characters have more “meaning” or “value” because I call them “entities” instead of “cartoons”. In other words, Terence was a master of semantic bullshit.”
To preserve anonymity, questions about gender and age were not included on this survey. Respondents expressed a variety of spiritual beliefs, including atheism. Responses to a question about approximately how many times they had experienced entity contact ranged from 2 to more than 100. Year of first contact experience ranged 46 years, from 1961 to 2007. Four people’s first contact resulted from DMT, one from LSD, one from psilocybin-containing mushrooms, another from mushrooms in combination with Peganum harmala, and the final person’s occurred at age four closely following a head trauma.
When asked to name any substances that had resulted in entity contact experiences, the following drugs were mentioned (number of mentions indicated in brackets): DMT , ayahuasca , psilocybin-containing mushrooms , mescaline , and Salvia divinorum ; 5-MeO-DMT, Brugmansia, Cannabis, ketamine, LSD, nitrous oxide, psilocybin-containing mushrooms with Peganum harmala, S. divinorum, and P. harmala were all mentioned a single time.
The number of times each respondent had smoked/vaporized/injected DMT ranged from “maybe 6” to “probably less than a thousand”. Respondents were also asked how many times they had introduced others to smoked/vaporized/injected DMT; three of the eight answered in the 3-5 range, two answers were in the hundreds, and the rest fell in the middle. When asked how many of the people who they had turned on to DMT had mentioned some manner of “discarnate entities”, the answers were: 1%, somewhere less than 10%, 15%, 30-40%, 50%, 75%, 75%, and there was one non-response. Several questions were asked regarding the possible external reality of discarnate entities. Expressing an opinion shared by a few people, one respondent answered: “It’s made me question my rational, scientific worldview; I had to admit that there’s much we don’t know about these questions; an open mind is needed without abandoning critical thinking.”
Echoing the remark of the person who declined to complete the survey, another respondent asked: “What is meant by “entity” and how is that defined? I’ve met people for whom all voices in their head belong to someone or something else and for whom almost anything they see after using DMT is a McKennaesque entity. Mainly because they read McKenna telling them that this is what [one sees] when [one smokes] DMT. […] For me to think of something as an “entity” there has to be a clear sense of “other”and a clear sense of it being something fully conscious and interactive.”
It is inarguably true that different people will have differing standards for what constitutes contact with discarnate entities. Among the responses to this tiny survey, DMT and ayahuasca were most often associated with entity contact experiences, followed closely by psilocybin-containing mushrooms, with mescaline and Salvia divinorum trailing.
A Larger Data Set
In the Erowid Experience Vaults, entity contact is associated with nearly a hundred different substances, although over half of those substances have only one or two entity-related reports.
The total number of reports for any given substance may, to an extent, represent that substance’s popularity (and availability). However, it is reasonable to presume that people are more likely to be inspired to write experience reports following a powerful experience than they are following a mundane one. For example, there are a large number of daily tobacco smokers, but only a small number of tobacco reports on Erowid. No one would suggest that LSD is consumed by ten times the number of people who use tobacco, despite the fact that the Experience Vaults contain ten times more LSD reports than tobacco reports. At the time this chapter was written, the five drugs with the largest number of experience reports written about them were psilocybin-containing mushrooms, Cannabis, Salvia divinorum, MDMA, and LSD.
As of mid-October 2012, there were 22,640 published experience reports on Erowid. Of these, 1,159 were categorized by Erowid as mentioning Entities/Beings (representing about 5% of all reports).
Correlating the use of any individual psychoactive drug to entity experiences within the Vaults immediately runs into a challenge: psychonauts often consume more than one drug at a time. Common “add on” drugs–such as Cannabis, alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine–may not be terribly contributive to many entity experiences. But what about an entity experience that occurred while under the influence of psilocybin-containing mushrooms, methoxetamine, and 4-hydroxy-N,N-ethyl-methyltryptamine? Or one induced by nitrous oxide, Salvia divinorum, and 5-MeO-DMT? Or MDMA, dextromethorphan, GHB, cocaine, and mushrooms (plus, of course, Cannabis and alcohol)?
When examining experience reports for mentions of entity contact, those categorized as involving more than a single substance were excluded. Because of their similar chemistry, reports for Brugmansia and Datura species were combined. The number of single-substance reports for each of the ten substances that were analyzed ranged from approximately 150 to approximately 1,300. These substances, sorted by the number of reports mentioning entities [noted in brackets], are: Salvia divinorum , DMT , Brugmansia/Datura , psilocybin-containing mushrooms , ayahuasca , LSD , mescaline-containing cacti , diphenhydramine , ketamine , and dimenhydrinate .
Dividing the number of entity contact reports for a given substance by the total number of reports for that substance provides a rough estimate of the frequency of entity contact by substance: DMT [38%], ayahuasca [36%], Brugmansia/Datura [29%], Salvia divinorum [25%], mescaline-containing cacti [10%], diphenhydramine [9%], ketamine [9%], dimenhydrinate [7%], psilocybin-containing mushrooms [5%], and LSD [3%].
There are limitations to any interpretation of this data. People may be more inclined to write about their DMT experiences, because the effects are both powerful and short. After a grueling voyage on DOB, for example, one may be less inspired to sit down and write a novel about what one went through. Also, entity contact may play a smaller part in a longer psychedelic trip, and it could be that–for the psychonaut–other aspects from their experience seemed more important to record. There are also certainly publication biases; reports with particular keywords or for particular substances may be published sooner than others, or Erowid reviewers may be more likely to focus on topics that they personally find interesting.
Surveying Erowid Visitors
To gain another perspective on the subject of entity contact, I ran three short surveys on
Erowid.org. All three surveys asked for gender and age. After removing invalid responses, there was a variation of 3% or less between surveys: 84% of respondents were male and 15% were female, with 1% transgender. The age ranges were: 18-22 [47%], 23-29 [23%], 15-17 [14%], 30-39 [9%], and 40-79 [7%]. As gender and age were fairly consistent from survey to survey, one might envision the average respondent as a male 18-29 years old, who has computer access and an interest in psychoactive drugs. Right off the bat, this provides an identifiable bias regarding the data generated: Respondents are from a specific niche that does not represent the general population, though the demographics are consistent with the demographics seen in several previous surveys on Erowid.org.
The idea with Survey #1 was to see how often entity contact is reported for a few well-known psychoactive drugs. The first question was, “Have you ever (sober, high, or in any state) experienced contact with a non-human, intelligent, discarnate entity (angel, faerie, alien, spirit)?” This allowed respondents to indicate how often any such contact might have occurred. The second question offered the choice of eight specific drugs that the respondent might have been on when the entity contact happened; respondents could also select “other drug”, “multiple substances”, “multiple occasions with different substances”, “no drug/sober”, “don’t know/not sure”, or “prefer not to answer”. A final question asked about the respondent’s religious inclination.
Among 4,910 valid responses, nearly 37% reported having had contact with discarnate entities, while slightly over 8% said that they didn’t know or weren’t sure whether they had experiences that would qualify. Atheists and agnostics were more likely to report “never” having had an entity contact, whereas the highest percentage of entity contact was reported among people who gave their religious inclination as “other mystical/spiritual”.
Of those who reported having had an entity encounter (either sober or after having taken a drug), and given the option of eight drugs to select from as the drug they may have been on when entity contact occurred, respondents reported: DMT [11.7%], psilocybin-containing mushrooms [9.8%], LSD [9.0%], Salvia divinorum [7.4%], Cannabis [5.7%], ayahuasca [1.5%], ketamine [1.1%], mescaline [0.6%], other drug [9.5%]. Additionally, 15.4% reported they were sober during the experience, 20% said that their experiences happened on multiple occasions with different substances, and 8.4% reported an experience while on multiple substances.
One immediate challenge to this survey is that the results don’t take into consideration how common use of any given substance is among the group being surveyed. Ayahuasca, for example, is widely reported to occasion entity contact. A recent study of 131 North American ayahuasca users, who had a combined total of over 2,267 sessions, found that 74% believed that they had a personal relationship with “the spirit of ayahuasca”, which was “most often described as a wise teacher, grandmother or healer from a higher spiritual dimension and intelligence”; some ayahuasca users also reported a “belief in the sentience in plants and in spirit entities from other realities.”30 Yet because of its relative rarity, only 1.5% of those reporting an entity contact experience in Survey #1 mentioned ayahuasca as an inspiration for that contact. At the same time, the propensity for Cannabis to induce contact with discarnate entities is undoubtedly fairly low, while it certainly has to be the single most-used drug of those that the survey mentioned. Therefore, the 5.7% figure for Cannabis is at least partially the result of a vastly larger number of users and drug exposures than for ayahuasca.
Survey #2 sought more information about which of the above-mentioned drugs are more popular among Erowid users. Of 11,464 valid responses, 96% had used Cannabis, 70% mushrooms, 60% LSD, 28% DMT, 26% ketamine, 17% mescaline, and 6% had used ayahuasca. This survey also asked the approximate numbers of use instances for each of these substances. For example, Cannabis users, who represented around 96% of respondents, were most likely to report (48.6%) that they had used it “1,000 or more” times; whereas only 6% of respondents reported having ever tried ayahuasca and, of those, half said that they had used it a single time, and about a third “2-5 times”. With DMT, there were 1,067 people [9.3%] who said that they had used it “once”, 1,203 people [10.5%] who said they had used it “2-5 times”, and 370 people [3.2%] who said they had used it “6-10 times”. That’s a total of 4,767 DMT trips split between 2,640 people–not even two trips per person on average. Just a handful of people could easily match that number in pot highs.
As noted earlier, 15.4% of respondents were not high at the time of their entity contact experience–a larger percentage than reported for any individual drug. To get a better sense of the sorts of sober situations that result in contact with discarnate entities, Survey #3 entirely avoided mentioning psychoactive drugs. It included an open comments field, to solicit users’ own descriptions of their contacts with discarnate entities.
The question was posed: “Have you ever experienced contact with a non-human, intelligent, discarnate entity (angel, faerie, alien, spirit)?” Among the 5,717 valid responses, 26.9% said they had experienced at least one entity contact, while another 11.7% said that they didn’t know or weren’t sure whether they had experiences that would qualify. Compared to Survey #1, this is a 10% lower reporting of entity encounters along with a 4% rise in uncertainty. The bracketed number following categories of entity or activity below shows how many people mentioned it, based on manual evaluation of the open field comments.
Within Survey #3, discarnate entities in the forms of aliens  and UFOs  were mentioned most often, and the idea that interaction with these provided access to novel information came up repeatedly: “On high doses of psilocybin, I achieve contact and communication with an entity that appears alien. It possesses knowledge beyond my imagination and uses concepts that are vast in scope.”
Contact with God/gods/goddesses  was mentioned at a level similar to aliens: “My most intense and directly revelatory conversation with God was my first, and was of the LSD-inspired variety. I asked God why it created the universe. The answer, “The one became many, that I may know myself.” Six years later, this is still the cornerstone of my faith.”
Ghosts (deceased loved ones/haunted houses)  were reported slightly less frequently than gods; such experiences often occurred when the individual was a young child, or the experiences were related to contact made via dreaming. Contact sometimes happened immediately before, during, or just after sleep , with sleep paralysis, night terrors, out-of-body experiences, nightmares, and lucid dreaming all described as contributing factors. About a dozen reports mentioned astral projection. Sometimes more than one of these sleep-related conditions was presented as being causative: “In my dreams, when I have OBE or when I am lucid during sleep paralysis.”
Many people mentioned seeing a figure standing somewhere near the bed. Such sleep-related accounts sometimes described ghosts, aliens, demons, and angels, though faerie folk were rarely mentioned.
A small number of respondents expressed their opinions that the survey’s focus was either entirely hogwash (i.e.,”none of these things exist”), or at least partially so: “The terms angel and faerie make this question less credible. Aliens objectively exist, however; just ask the government. “Spirit” or “entity” would suffice for the other terms.”
Despite this vocal minority of naysayers, faeries (elves, gnomes, etc.) , angels , and demons  all got a number of mentions: “I saw an angel with a 64-mile-long OG Mudbone erect cock” was less typical than “When I was five an angel took me in my sleep out of my body and showed me the world. Then it dropped me back into bed and said goodbye.”
Several people  expressed the feeling that the entities were guardians or guides that allowed them access to a bigger picture: “It was a being made of light, which I’d describe as a spirit guide. I was floating through the fabric of existence, and it brought me to a viewpoint from which I could observe all of time/space. It was rad. I watched my favorite pornstars take showers.”
Though less common, people also mentioned reptiles/reptilians  and orbs/balls of light , with even fewer describing insects/insectoids , cephalopods , and shadow people . The remaining categorizable discarnate entities were: tree or plant spirits , fractal beings , clowns, jesters, harlequins , felines/cats , Satan/Lucifer , Jesus , white light experiences , Buddha , dragons , Gaia , ancestor spirits , entities wearing all-in-one wet- or motorcycle suits , faceless beings , and machine elves . Many of the entities described did not easily fit into any categories.
Meditation  played a part in some people’s experiences, and a few folks  said that a Ouija board facilitated their contact experience. Several people felt it was important they expressed that they were currently atheists: “I don’t think any of them really happened, but I’ve seen and spoken to God, aliens, demons, sexy demons, 300-foot Frankenstein, and once I saw my dead friend’s rotting corpse behind me in the mirror at a friend’s house. Despite all of that, I’m still not a believer in aliens or UFOs or God or anything supernatural. I love hallucinogens, but I also know it’s a chemical show in your mind, nothing more. I humor myself and interact with my made-up world under the influence, but I understand it’s unreal and of no consequence. Knowing all this lets me stay safe; no matter how much acid I drop, flapping my arms and flying is impossible. Is any of this weird?”
Although the agnostic viewpoint wasn’t entirely missing: “I had a vision of the God of Doubt, who said that I had too much faith in Him. His message was, “Doubt Me.”
While in numerous cases the experiences were described as having happened while the respondent was sober, descriptions specific to certain drugs were more common: With various ayahuasca preparations, entities seem to be either (1) doorway guardians who decide whether one is ready to proceed further, (2) random benign or mischievous entities who happen to drop in to have a look and seem curious about one’s presence in the “space” beyond the doorway, (3) teacher or guiding entities within the ayahuasca space. Ayahuasca entities can be anything from harlequin clown-scary, to laughing goblins attempting to relax [the observer], to angelic ethereal beings, to snakes/spiders who just seem to be there in the background, to alien and indescribably complex insect-like forms. Using chewed Salvia divinorum leaves, the entities can seem to be from childhood; there’s a sense of “having always known them”, and they can be elf-like or take on bizarre qualities for which there are no words/concepts. With psilocybin, there are occasional entities with elf-like essences but a futuristic metallic-like form who tend to be of a guide or teacher type. While there are many forms, it is the subjective feeling of their existence outside of just being a creation of the mind, which is the common feature of all entity encounters.
Drugs mentioned in the comments field of Survey #3, without prompting, included DMT , LSD , Salvia divinorum , psilocybin-containing mushrooms , dextromethorphan , ayahuasca , ketamine , Cannabis , methoxetamine , and mescaline/cacti .
While we might get a general sense of the sort of drugs that are likely to produce such effects by counting which drugs are named most often, as discussed above, such an approach doesn’t control for the fact that some drugs may simply be more popular, more frequently consumed, or more available than others.
Survey #3 also asked the question, “Do you know who Terence McKenna is?” While the notion that McKenna’s ideas have influenced the type or interpretation of visions that other people have probably has some truth to it, almost half of the respondents to the survey would have been 6-10 years old at the time of McKenna’s death in 2000. The audio samples of his lectures in popular electronic music and his strong influence on contemporary authors make it difficult to assess how much influence his views have among current psychedelic users. Strassman’s DMT book, which has sold over 102,000 copies and been made into a documentary, might now have more of an influence on generations coming of age after McKenna’s death.
Including a question about McKenna inspired some comments from individuals less than enamored with his ideas, as well as some comments from his fans. A few people remarked that their own entity experiences “pre-dated [their] knowledge of McKenna and his entities”.
In fact, 54% of survey respondents indicated that they had some knowledge of Terence McKenna. Of the people who had never heard of McKenna, 73% also said that they had never had contact with a discarnate entity. Of the 27% of the survey respondents who indicated that they had experienced contact with a discarnate entity, nearly 69% of those had heard of McKenna. In the end, it’s not clear that this tells us too much.
It feels appropriate to close out this chapter with some text from one respondent’s description of his sole “entity” encounter:
“I was in the woods with two friends, passing along a tale that I’d just heard about Terence McKenna. It was a story about a tree in his back yard with a vine growing on it. He had noticed that the vine wouldn’t grow on one of the dead branches of the tree. As he was observing this, the dead branch fell. It was almost as though the vine knew that this was bound to happen, so it stayed away from that branch. But just as I was telling the exact part of the story about how the branch had fallen from the tree while Terence had been thinking about it, a branch in the tree right next to us simultaneously fell off. I believe it was Terence’s spirit that made this branch fall, as a way of telling me he appreciated that I was sharing his story.”
McKenna was fond of paraquoting the British geneticist J.B.S. Haldane, who wrote in his 1927 book, Possible Worlds (imagine here, Terence’s nasal twang repeating the following): “Now, my own suspicion is that the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.”
I wholeheartedly concur.
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The original article can be found here on the Erowid website.