“Faerie is a world of dark enchantments, of captivating beauty, of enormous ugliness, of callous superficiality, of humour, mischief, joy and inspiration, of terror, laughter, love and tragedy. It is far richer than fiction would generally lead one to believe and, beyond that, it is a world to enter with extreme caution, for of all things that faeries resent the most it is curious humans blundering about their private domains like so many ill-mannered tourists. So go softly – where the rewards are enchanting, the dangers real.” Betty Ballantine from the foreward to Faeries by Brian Froud and Alan Lee.
This is a chronological trawl through the multifarious artwork that has attempted to visually display the faeries. This art is so diverse and wide-ranging that I can only hope to incorporate a small fraction of the whole, but it will hopefully give a flavour of the changing nature of the artistic representations of these ultra-dimensional entities, that appear to have been flitting around our collective peripheral vision for millennia. Much of it has been produced by people who have, in one way or another, managed to alter their states of consciousness to see beyond the material world, dispatch their rational mindset, and experience the surrogate realities that occasionally coincide with the sensory world we usually presume to be the real one. From prehistoric cave art to modern depictions of amorphous nature spirits… it’s quite a trip…
Prehistoric Cave and Rock Art
Our earliest known artistic portrayals of the world, and how human consciousness interacted with it, come in the form of cave paintings from all parts of the globe, starting c.35,000 BCE (see Shamanic Explorations of Supernatural Realms: Cave Art – The Earliest Folklore for a detailed look at cave paintings as folklore). Many of these cave paintings include humanoids and therianthropes, otherworldly entities that have been recorded alongside geometric imagery, stylised animals and landscapes. But what state of mind were our Palaeolithic ancestors in when they were painting these strange entities in often difficult to access caves and shelters?
The anthropologist David Lewis-Williams has made the convincing argument that these cave and rock-shelter paintings were produced by shamanic cultures to represent reality as perceived in an altered state of consciousness. Twenty years ago this idea was anathema to anthropologists, but since the work of Lewis-Williams, and many others, the theory has tipped over to become an accepted orthodoxy. There are hundreds of motifs (such as entoptic swirls, dot patterns and spirals) in the cave paintings that correlate with the visionary states of people in an altered state of consciousness, brought about most especially by the ingestion of a psychotropic substance. The basic premise is that the shamans of these Palaeolithic cultures transported themselves into altered states of consciousness and then painted the results of their experiences on the walls of caves and rock shelters — experiences that frequently included therianthropic beings and supernatural humanoids that correlate in many ways with later faerie types.
In his 2005 book Supernatural, Graham Hancock makes extensive use of Lewis-Williams work, as well as his own ethnographic studies, to investigate further into the concept of cave art as shamanic recording of different realities through altered states of consciousness. Hancock suggests it was no accident that these cave paintings began to
appear when they did, that is between 30-35,000 years ago, just as anatomically and neurologically modern humans asserted their predominance across the Palaeolithic world. He goes as far as to propose that the cultures these peoples instigated were fundamentally predicated on an understanding of the world and reality brought about by mind-altering psychedelic plants and mushrooms. A reductionists’ view would assert that whilst shamanic cultures may be accessing a subjective hallucinogenic reality, this reality is simply delusional, the result of neurophysiological changes brought about by chemical changes in the brain, as a result of the ingestion of psychotropic compounds. The ‘entities’ portrayed in the cave paintings are all simply conjured up by compromised human minds. But recent research (with Graham Hancock at the forefront) disputes this view. There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that much historic folklore can be related intimately to the type of stories being told in cave art by Palaeolithic shamans, with which the descriptions are often remarkably similar.
This preliterate artwork could be seen as the earliest folklore, encapsulating stories and experiences now lost to us. The entities represented in caves and rock shelters throughout the world certainly meant something to the artists creating them, and would have been recognised by all who viewed them as part of the reality they inhabited, in whatever state of consciousness that might have been. We can perhaps imagine the caves and rock shelters as places where folk-stories were conveyed, using the imagery as a medium to enhance the tales, made especially effective in some of the caves, where the only light would have been from the flames of torches. The difficulty of access to many of these spaces suggests that whatever these images represent, they must also have had a highly significant ritualised purpose to the people viewing them. Whilst we cannot retrieve the stories they told, we can recognise that the artwork must have been fully integrated into the cultures of which they were a part, especially as we are probably seeing only the surviving fraction of what originally existed.
Classical and Medieval Faeries
In Ancient Greek culture there was a well-classified pantheon of nature spirits, sometimes termed Dryads (Δρυάδες) and Hamadryads (Ἁμαδρυάδες), but often given the general term of Nymphs (νύμφη). They were female tree spirits, that were usually recognised as being one with the tree, protecting it with their vitality and receiving symbiotic protection and life in return. Pausanias, in his 2nd-century Description of Greece, although distancing himself from the belief, says: “Those Dryads who in days of old, according to the story of the poets, grew out of trees and especially out of oaks.” Some Hamadryads life spans were directly related to the trees, and although usually temperate and kind in nature, they would deal retribution on any person destroying or damaging their trees and habitats, often with the help of the gods.
Most surviving depictions of nymphs are from stone reliefs and statues (and occasionally in mosaics), often shown as dancing or in relation to gods and goddesses, most frequently the nature god Pan, whose pan-pipes were even part-fashioned from the shapeshifted nymph Syrinx, who had been turned into a reed by her sisters to avoid his amorous advances.
It is clear the ancient Greeks (followed by the pre-Christian Romans) regarded these named and categorised nature-entities as metaphysical representatives of an otherworld, who would only interact with humanity during certain conditions. In this they are faeries in all but name – seen through the cultural lens of classical Greek and Roman civilisations.
Such statuary and reliefs are important to the radical but intriguing theory put forward by the philosopher Julian Jaynes in his 1976 book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. Jaynes asserts that consciousness did not arise far back in human evolution but is a learned process based on metaphorical language. Prior to the development of consciousness, Jaynes argues humans operated under a previous mentality he called the bicameral (‘two-chambered’) mind. In the place of an internal dialogue, bicameral people experienced auditory hallucinations directing their actions, similar to the command hallucinations experienced by many people, such as schizophrenics, who hear voices today. These hallucinations were interpreted as the voices of the gods or other metaphysical entities, such as the nymphs. In Jaynes’ theory the visual images of otherworldly beings were fundamental as conduits for providing instructions and oracular advice to bicameral people:
“… early civilisations had a profoundly different mentality from our own, that in fact men and women were not conscious as we are, were not responsible for their actions, and therefore cannot be given the credit or blame for anything that was done over this vast millennia of time; that instead each person had a part of his nervous system that was divine, by which he was ordered about like any slave, a voice or voices which indeed were who we call volition and empowered what they commanded and were related to the hallucinated voices of others in a carefully established hierarchy.”
With the Christianisation of Europe in the Middle Ages the faeries became co-opted by the Church as representations of demonic entities on Earth. In order to counter an evident vernacular belief in faeries, the Church’s official line was that the faeries were the result of delusions orchestrated by the Devil and his evil minions for various nefarious purposes. This was (from 1184) reinforced by The Inquisition, which could include questions in its commissions about any interactions with the faeries, aimed at weeding out heretical beliefs and punishing the perpetrators. Hardline preachers were very clear on what people needed to believe when it came to the faeries:
“There are also others who say that they see women and girls dancing by night whom they call elvish folk, or faeries, and they believe that these can transform both men and women or, by leaving others in their place, carry them to elf-land; all of these are mere fantasies bequeathed to them by an evil spirit.” Wycliffite sermon c. 1390.
Richard Firth Green, in his 2016 book Elf Queens and Holy Friars , digs deep into the medieval vernacular belief in faeries, mostly by utilizing the surviving texts of mystery plays, to demonstrate that there was a widespread acceptance of the faeries as a supernatural race of beings who interacted with humans on a regular basis. He makes the convincing argument that this was a popular cultural reaction to the ecclesiastical conception of faeries as minor-demons. Many of the mystery plays (which were performed in villages and towns throughout medieval Europe) incorporated faeries as plot devices, with the assumption that the audience would know exactly who they were, and that they were not demons, but rather arbiters of a supernatural realm that was neither heaven nor hell. However, the faeries rarely made it into medieval artwork without being mutated into demons. It took the Renaissance to reestablish them as an integral species of otherworldly characters within works of art.
Early Modern Faeries and Witches
Between the 16th and 18th centuries both ecclesiastical and secular authorities throughout Europe conducted a concerted effort to prosecute those people deemed to be practicing witchcraft (see Faerie Familiars and Zoomorphic Witches). This persecution generated much artwork devoted to portraying events such as the witches’ sabbath and the various zoomorphic attributes of both the witches and their faerie familiars. Whilst much of this activity appears to have been metaphysical in nature, artists were not shy of outing the underground cult, often delighting in the more macabre details for the purposes of tabloidesque outrage amongst good Christians.
However, despite usually (but not always) being portrayed alongside witches and/or the Devil, the faeries begin to reassert their own artistic space during this period. Alongside the more benign reimagining of faeries in plays such as Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the faeries of literature – and the artistic visuals that accompanied this literature – begin to appear as autonomous entities, partially removed from demonic connotations. This is nicely illustrated by the 1639 cover to Robin Goodfellow His Mad Prankes and Merry Jests, which matches the japery of the text by portraying a distinctly mellow-looking Devil (complete with comedy codpiece) conducting a faerie circle dance.
This rehabilitation of the faeries began to bring them back into line with their folkloric roots, as supernatural entities with ambiguous morals but a more playful relationship with humanity and consensus reality. However, when we reach the 19th century, the art of faerie becomes transformed, and they become something else altogether.
The 19th-Century Reinvention of the faeries
In fact, the faerie artistic renaissance was underway by the later 18th century, inspired in part by the esoteric artwork of William Blake, who turned Shakespeare’s faeries into “the rulers of the vegetable world.” Blake’s style represented an innovative new representation of the faeries, and is perhaps the earliest (post-Antiquity) artistic rendering of them as sexual beings with an explicit connection to the fertility of the earth.
However, it took another generation of British Victorian artists to bring about the full-blown faerie revival. In her 1999 book Strange and Secret Peoples, Carole Silver details the socio-cultural reasons for this burgeoned interest in extracting the faeries from their shadowy past and putting them in the artistic spotlight:
“That the Victorians were utterly fascinated by the fairies is demonstrated by the art, drama, and literature they created and admired. Their abiding interest shows in the numerous, uniquely British fairy paintings that flourished between the 1830s and the 1870s – pictures in part inspired by nationalism and Shakespeare, in part as protest against the strictly useful and material, but in either case, as attempts to reconnect the actual and the occult.”
The revivalists were firmly rooted in the Romantic tradition, and whilst continuing Blake’s naturalistic visions of the faeries, they began to introduce new elements into their portrayals, not necessarily based on any folk traditions. For the first time the faeries attained wings, associating them with insects (especially butterflies and dragonflies), and many appeared as children, perhaps to accentuate their role as innocents amidst nature. There is a long list of Victorian British artists who jumped on the faerie bandwagon: John Anster Fitzgerald, Thomas Heatherley, Richard Dadd, John Duncan, Sir Joseph Noel Paton, John Atkinson Grimshaw, Richard Doyle (uncle of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) to name just a few. All added their unique slant on things, but there was a consistency in their enchanted imagination, and they were responsible for cementing the idea of what faeries really were in the popular cultural imagination.
In the second half of the 19th century, just as the main phase of the revival was waning, there was a shift to a new style of faerie art. Artists such as Gustave Doré and Aubrey Beardsley began to plug into the Arthurian mythos revival, being made popular in literature at this time by Alfred Tennyson, Matthew Arnold, Algernon Charles Swinburne et al. There were plenty of faeries to capture from the legends, and Doré and Beardsley both created their own highly stylised imagery that added a new dimension to faerie art, which locked them into a mythic past, distinctly removed from the Victorian present.
Entering the mythic past was also the remit of the pre-Raphaelite school of painters, although in his concise article ‘Pre-Raphaelite Fairy Painting‘, Richard Schindler suggests they had a consistently more ambiguous relationship with faerie subjects than their more conventional artistic contemporaries. The folkloric qualities were almost entirely removed from this school of painting, making way for darkly sexualised imagery and the celebration of minute detail. In some ways the pre-Raphaelites almost took the faerie out of faerie art.
But at the end of the 19th century and into the early 20th century one artist in particular recaptured the folkloric realism in faerie art and produced a large and much-loved corpus of art that took the faeries back to their roots. Arthur Rackham was born in 1867 and began illustrating for books such as The Ingoldsby Legends and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm in the 1890s. He continued to produce illustrations, mostly in ink and watercolour, for the rest of his life (he died in 1939), many of which portray the faeries from a vast range of folklore sources. His style is immediately recognisable and his copyright-free images can be found illustrating much modern online faerie content, suggesting his authoritative knowledge of traditional faerie-lore, and his ability to render it visually, has continued to strike a chord in the popular imagination. Of particular note are his illustrations for a 1933 edition of Christina Rossetti’s poem Goblin Market, where he fully realised the hallucinogenic earthy goblin faeries conjured up in this dark and sexually charged piece of literature. They look like emergent nature spirits, who don’t necessarily have the best interests of humans in mind, matching perfectly the ‘slightly dangerous’ faeries of folklore.
20th-Century Flower Faeries
During the early 20th century, however, there was another artistic movement afoot, which managed to derail any Rackhamesque faerie realism by transforming the faeries into characters for children. Taking the lead from some of the more gentle Victorian faerie artwork, artists such as Helen Jacobs and Margaret Rice Oxley turned the faeries into benign entities, fit for children’s faerie-tale book illustrations. The most influential artist of this time was Cicely Mary Barker, whose 1923 publication Flower Fairies, cast the faeries as innocent diminutive children, with each faerie allocated to a type of flower with an associated poem. Ironically, Barker’s illustrations were partly informed by the recent popularity of the Theosophical Society, and its ideas about the faeries as elemental beings essential for the wellbeing of nature and who were contactable through the altered state of consciousness most often known as clairvoyance. But any such metaphysical components were extracted from Barker’s illustrations, and we are left with the charming whimsy of the flower faeries.
It was Barker’s reimagining of the faeries that eventually morphed into the cinematographic faeries unleashed by Disney, and which continue to inform popular ideas about what they are: harmless, benevolent creatures, which exist to teach children morals and to delight us with their twinkly cuteness. Fortunately, on the back of the artistic counter-cultural renaissance of the 1960s, the faeries were rescued from expulsion into children’s books and films by the dynamic imagination of two artists who had rediscovered the folklore connection, and were willing and able to remind us what the faeries were really all about.
Froud and Lee Faeries
In 1978 Brian Froud and Alan Lee published the illustrated book Faeries, basing their descriptions and artwork on the folklorist Katherine Briggs’ An Encyclopaedia of Fairies, which had been published two years earlier. It has since been republished many times, and is without a doubt, the bestselling book about faeries. In the preface to the 2002 edition Brian Froud describes some of his thinking whilst putting together the original version:
“Faeries is a reminder of a world in which we all once lived, where we were connected to the earth itself and could acknowledge its spiritual manifestations. There we recognised the souls of trees and rocks and rivers and had a direct relationship with the faeries – and to do otherwise was to court disaster. Faeries needed to be properly propitiated or else loss would be experienced – loss of objects, loss of time, loss of health, and even loss of life…
There is an intimacy of emotion expressed in the colour washes and a directness of meaning in the pencil and pen lines that delineate the faery forms.”
Faeries does indeed take us back to a naturalistic conception of what these entities are, but it’s also strongly rooted in the centuries old traditions of named and recognised faerie types, giving an encyclopaedic run through the varieties of these metaphysical creatures who have existed beside humanity, but always at the periphery of reality. Their faerie renderings are sometimes beautiful, sometimes frightening, and often amusing. But they plug into a deep understanding of a supernatural species that is intimately connected with human consciousness and the way it interacts with the natural environment, perhaps helping us to see that consciousness and external reality are one and the same thing. Froud and Lee’s illustrations have certainly had a far-reaching influence on subsequent artists of faeries as well as filmmakers – Froud has collaborated with Jim Henson, and Lee was drafted in by Peter Jackson to help recreate the creatures, atmosphere, artefacts and architecture of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. And modern imaginers of faerie worlds seem to intuitively incorporate many of their stylisms into their art. Perhaps this is because Froud and Lee have gotten closer than any other artists to the reality of the faerie world – they’ve pinned it down for what it really is… or at least as close as we can get to it.
The New Faeries
Froud and Lee’s faeries were primarily taken from British and Irish sources. In the 1992 book The Complete Encyclopaedia of Elves, Goblins and Other Little Creatures by Pierre Dubois, the artists Claudine and Roland Sabatier, evidently inspired by the artwork in Faeries, produced a compendious selection of global faeries. It’s a beautifully playful book that covers faerie traditions from every part of the world, once again claiming back the more sinister and uncomfortable aspects of the faeries. Before the advent of the internet this was the go-to book if you wanted a visual introduction to the faeries outside of Britain and Ireland, and it remains (alongside Faeries) a benchmark for contemporary artists who want to attempt bringing these entities into visual range.
But it is the internet that has facilitated an exponential growth in new faerie art. Type ‘faeries’ into any image search engine and you will be deluged by a massive range of artwork, of every imaginable style, that depicts them as a distinct species of entity. A lot of it will be specifically for children, and often follows in the Flower Fairies tradition, but there is an enormous amount of innovative and charismatic faerie art being produced that looks at the phenomenon from a very wide spectrum. Artists such as Amelia Royce Leonards, Mia Araujo, Josephine Wall and Iris Compiet are helping us to see into the luminous, yet shadowy faerie-world in new ways; always respecting the artwork of the past but also bringing their unique visions to the table. It is a form of disclosure; the faeries being made manifest from the consciousness of talented artists who are able to tap into the metaphysical realm where they exist.
Finally, this post wouldn’t be complete without some visionary art by someone who has definitely met otherworldy beings in an altered state of consciousness with the aid of a psychedelic compound, in this case the Amazonian brew Ayahuasca. Pablo Amaringo was a Peruvian shaman (d. 2009) whose talent for illustrating his Ayahuasca experiences is unsurpassed. As Graham Hancock has eloquently described, Ayahuasca takes the human mind to radically different alternate realities, where reside many entities that correspond with faerie types. They exist – we just need to be able to tweak our everyday consciousness in order to interact with them. Fortunately, there have been many artists throughout prehistory and history who have been able to show us who they are and what they are.
“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.
“Our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the flimsiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness that are entirely different.” WILLIAM JAMES
Physicalism vs Consciousness
What are the faeries? Where do they come from and where do they go when they’re not interacting with their human observers? Folklorists are usually ambivalent about the faeries; they are likely to keep their distance from them, so to speak. Whilst happy to record and discuss the beliefs of people who tell stories and anecdotes about them, most folklorists speak the language (at least in official publications) of the reductionist, materialist worldview that has held sway in Western civilisation for the last few hundred years, and they’ll be nervous about assessing the potential actual reality of metaphysical beings. In the materialist’s world, faeries simply cannot exist. They must be reduced into a categorised cultural belief system, and any discussion of them will usually (but not always, as we shall see) be couched in the accepted language of scientific rationalism. This creates a problem for any folklorist (or anybody else) who wants to look behind the stories and investigate the possibility that the faeries can be incorporated into our consensus reality as a genuine phenomenon. The philosopher Bernardo Kastrup calls this outlook Physicalism, and suggests, in a recent article: The Physicalist Worldview as Neurotic Ego-Defense Mechanism, that it has created a disconnect in our ability to truly understand reality, due to its insistence that consciousness is secondary to matter:
“A worldview is a narrative in terms of which we relate to ourselves and reality at large. It is a kind of cultural operating system that gives us tentative answers to foundational questions such as ‘What are we?’ ‘What is the nature of reality?’ ‘What is the purpose of life?’ and so on. Although many different worldviews vie for dominance today, the academically endorsed physicalist narrative defines the mainstream, despite its many difficulties. This reigning worldview posits that physical entities outside consciousness are the building blocks of reality. Consciousness, in turn, is supposedly an epiphenomenon or emergent property of certain complex arrangements of these entities. As such, under physicalism, consciousness must be reducible to physical arrangements outside and independent of experience.”
Kastrup also suggests this has created a schism and conflict between academics trained in the belief system of Physicalism and large sections of society who have been effectively railroaded into accepting an orthodoxy that denies their intuitive understanding of reality based on consciousness. This orthodoxy is well entrenched, especially when it comes to supernatural entities such as the faeries, but researchers such as Kastrup, Graham Hancock, Rick Strassman and Serena Roney-Dougal have begun to challenge conventions by reinstating consciousness as the primary mover and creator of reality. When this is done, entities such faeries are allowed back into the universe as an authentic phenomenon, and if we start to look in the right places, we begin to find that they are indeed everywhere… we just need to know where to look, or more accurately how to look.
The Electromagnetic Spectrum, Dark Matter and Dark Energy
As David Icke is always reminding us, our normal waking consciousness experiences less than 0.05% of the entire electromagnetic spectrum, with visible light being less than 0.1% of this. If we take into account the current scientific hypothesis that this electromagnetic spectrum itself composes less than 10% of the universe, with the mysterious Dark Matter and Dark Energy hogging the rest, then we are at a good starting point to understand that our version of reality is extremely compromised. We may have the technology to utilise the unseen wavelengths in the spectrum, but they are not accessible to our ordinary consciousness, whilst Dark Matter and Dark Energy (which, remember, supposedly make up over 90% of the universe) are totally inaccessible to our technology, and remain for the moment, nothing more than theory based on the by-product of mathematical equations (they’re called dark for a reason). We also have to take into account the recent theoretical mind-bender that the universe may actually be a hologram, put in place by (depending on who you listen to) a supreme being, aliens or future versions of humans, the latter option coming from NASA scientist Dr Rich Terrile. With this level of uncertainty about the reality we inhabit, and in order to gain an understanding of the world in which we live (and the unseen entities that may exist alongside us), we might be advised to fall back on the only known certainty allowed us: consciousness.
The Origins of the Faeries in Altered States of Consciousness, from c.35,000 BCE
Our earliest known artistic portrayals of the world, and how human consciousness interacted with it, come in the form of cave paintings from all parts of the globe, starting c.35,000 BCE (see Shamanic Explorations of Supernatural Realms: Cave Art – The Earliest Folklore for a detailed look at cave paintings as folklore). Many of these cave paintings include humanoids and therianthropes, otherworldly entities that have been recorded alongside geometric imagery, stylised animals and landscapes. They are in effect our earliest known folklore. But what state of mind were our Palaeolithic ancestors in when they were painting these strange entities in often difficult to access caves and shelters?
The anthropologist David Lewis-Williams has made the convincing argument that these cave and rock-shelter paintings were produced by shamanic cultures to represent reality as perceived in an altered state of consciousness. Twenty years ago this idea was anathema to anthropologists, but since the work of Lewis-Williams, and many others, the theory has tipped over to become an accepted orthodoxy. There are hundreds of motifs in the cave paintings that correlate with the visionary states of people in an altered state of consciousness, brought about most especially by the ingestion of a psychotropic substance. The basic premise is that the shamans of these Palaeolithic cultures transported themselves into altered states of consciousness and then painted the results of their experiences on the walls of caves and rock shelters — experiences that frequently included therianthropic beings and supernatural humanoids that correlate in many ways with later faerie types.
Lewis-Williams’ research includes collected data from laboratory experiments with people who had taken various psychedelic substances to alter their states of consciousness. The close correlation between the visual imagery recorded during these sessions, and the Palaeolithic cave art convinced him that there was a fundamental link between them,
manifesting through consciousness itself. Most prevalent were the entoptic images, typically experienced during the early stages of a psychedelic episode. These are most often dots, spirals and geometric patterns that appear within the visual range of the tripper, but also include time-lapse imagery, most often termed tracers. Cave paintings are replete with this entoptic imagery, suggesting a universality of neuropsychological experience across time and geographical areas. Lewis-Williams sees this as convincing evidence that our prehistoric ancestors were using psychotropic plants and mushrooms in order to gain a state of consciousness that was fundamentally important to them.
In his 2005 bookSupernatural, Graham Hancock makes extensive use of Lewis-Williams work, as well as his own ethnographic studies, to investigate further into the concept of cave art as shamanic recording of different realities through altered states of consciousness. Hancock suggests it was no accident that these cave paintings began to appear when they did, that is between 30-35,000 years ago, just as anatomically and neurologically modern humans asserted their predominance across the Paleolithic world. He goes as far as to propose that the cultures these peoples instigated were fundamentally predicated on an understanding of the world and reality brought about by mind-altering psychedelic plants and mushrooms. A Physicalist view would assert that whilst shamanic cultures may be accessing a subjective hallucinogenic reality, this reality is simply delusional, the result of neurophysiological changes brought about by chemical changes in the brain, as a result of the ingestion of psychotropic compounds. The ‘entities’ portrayed in the cave paintings are all simply conjured up by compromised human minds. But recent research (with Graham Hancock at the forefront) disputes this view. There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that much historic folklore can be related intimately to the type of stories being told in cave art by Palaeolithic shamans, with which the descriptions are often remarkably similar. Writers such as Carlo Ginzburg and Emma Wilby have argued that there is a direct link between prehistoric shamanic storytelling and the folklore embodied in classical, medieval and later periods, that often incorporate entities such as nymphs and faeries; supernatural beings that interact with humanity when the conditions are right. Those conditions may well be reliant on the human participants undergoing an altered state of consciousness as a result of the ingestion of psychedelic compounds. There is certainly a preponderance of mushroom imagery associated to historic depictions of faeries, most especially the highly psychedelic red and white Amanita Muscaria (fly agaric) mushroom, and the psilocybin mushroom, both prevalent in Europe and Asia. If these historic folkloric manifestations of interactions with supernatural entities can be linked to the cave art of prehistory and preliterate societies, then we have a continuation of relationship with an alternative reality over a very long period of time.
Historic Faeries from Altered States
Katherine Briggs pointed out in The Fairies in Tradition and Literature, that many of the British faerie motifs repeated in stories and anecdotes through the centuries to the present day were already in place during the medieval period. When folklorists began to collect these stories in earnest from the 19th century onwards, they found a belief in faeries amongst the rural population that was probably very close to the medieval belief and understanding of what faeries were and how they interacted with humanity.
Many of the stories include situations where the protagonist interacts with the faeries in what seems an altered state of consciousness: Faerieland doesn’t comply to Newtonian physics, it is consistently inhabited by strange humanoids and therianthropes (the faeries), and there are mountains of recurring story motifs that are highly suggestive of an autonomous reality being described. But this is not consensus reality, this is the folklore recording stories from people operating outside consensus reality. They may have got there by a variety of means apart from the ingestion of psychotropic plants or mushrooms, many of which are part of the plot device in the stories: dancing in circles, sitting out on cold hillsides, crying emotional tears, becoming panicked whilst lost… there are many ways these stories drop clues as to what’s really going on. The folktales about faeries have been overlain with much allegorical storytelling, but at their root the realities they describe are of people in altered states of consciousness, perhaps not too far from the realities experienced by the cave painters.
When WY Evans-Wentz travelled around the Celtic world at the beginning of the 20th century, collecting stories and anecdotal experiences about the faeries, it was clear that most of his interviewees rated clairvoyance as the best way of altering the conscious state to a position where it could interact with the faeries. Seership or second-sight was the method of entering, or at least viewing, an alternative reality inhabited by a relatively consistent cast of characters. He met one such (un-named) Irish clairvoyant in Rosses Point, County Sligo. This seer talks about various types of faeries that inhabit the landscape of Sligo, “making them sound like a cross between nature spirits and mystical visions.” But Evans-Wentz was just as interested in the mechanics of interacting with the faeries as he was with the stories themselves. How did the seer interface with them?
“I have always made a distinction between pictures seen in the memory of nature and visions of actual beings now existing in the inner world. We can make the same distinction in our world: I may close my eyes and see you as a vivid picture in memory, or I may look at you with my physical eyes and see your actual image. In seeing these beings of which I speak, the physical eyes may be open or closed: mystical beings in their own world and nature are never seen with the physical eyes.”
Evans-Wentz then asked him what sort of state was he in when he saw the faeries…
“I have seen them most frequently after being away from a city or town for a few days. The whole west coast of Ireland from Donegal to Kerry seems charged with a magical power, and I find it easiest to see while I am there. I have always found it comparatively easy to see visions while at ancient monuments like New Grange and Dowth, because I think such places are naturally charged with psychical forces, and were for that reason made use of long ago as sacred places. I usually find it possible to throw myself into the mood of seeing; but sometimes visions have forced themselves upon me.”
The rural people interviewed by Evans-Wentz consistently affirm that clairvoyant alteration of consciousness was the best sure-fire way to see the faeries. By the time Evans-Wentz visited these communities, there was a sense that the number of people gifted with second-sight was dwindling; cutting down on communication with the faeries. But at the same time as these rural communities were feeling the increasing pressures of modernism, The Theosophical Society (first founded in 1875) was reacting against the rise of Physicalism, by attempting to incorporate metaphysics into an understanding of reality. And their prime metaphysical technology was clairvoyance. The Theosophist Rudolf Steiner attempts to explain the mechanics of clairvoyance, when a person must transform their usually passive thought forms into something more dynamic. In normal consciousness thoughts:
“… allow themselves to be connected and separated, to be formed and then dismissed. This life of thought must develop in the elemental world a step further. There a person is not in a position to deal with thoughts that are passive. If someone really succeeds in entering the world with his clairvoyant soul, it seems as though his thoughts were not things over which he has any command; they are living beings… You thrust your consciousness into a place, it seems, where you do not find thoughts that are like those in the physical world, but where they are living beings.” Rudolf Steiner, Perception of the Elemental World (1913).
Steiner goes on to describe the specific elemental animating forces at work in the natural world when perceived clairvoyantly in what he calls the Supersensible World. The elementals in the Supersensible World exist as a range of beings, from devas, which are responsible for entire autonomous landscapes, through to the smaller nature spirits charged with the growth of vegetation. Steiner divides these into four main types corresponding to earth (Gnomic), water (Undines), air (Sylphs) and heat/light (Salamanders). This is the faerie realm, existing as a non-material autonomous reality that crosses over with ours, and which can be accessed via a clairvoyant altered state of consciousness. Steiner thought everyone has this innate ability, but they had to be taught how to use it… it had somehow become almost forgotten amongst humanity.
This idea finds common ground with the recent work of biochemist Rupert Sheldrake, who proposes that morphogenetic fields are the formative causation allowing life on earth. Sheldrake’s description of this organising principle behind the natural world is issued in the language of biochemistry, but in effect, what he postulates is the same as Steiner’s vision of nature spirits in action. There are invisible forces that are as essential in ordering life on earth as accepted non-material forces such as gravity. Steiner saw nature spirits as anthropogenic representations of these morphogenetic fields, imposed upon them through the thought forms of the observer, who perceives them clairvoyantly.
Inspired by the Theosophist movement, Marjorie Johnson (acting on behalf of the Fairy Investigation Society) collected over 500 anecdotal descriptions from people who claimed to have seen or interacted with faeries, and compiled them together with her own experiences in the book Seeing Fairies. Some of her correspondents were Theosophists, with an avowed history of clairvoyance. But the majority were not, and their honest appraisals of seeing faeries are usually singular events in their otherwise non-clairvoyant lives. Their subjective anecdotes may be contentious as scientific evidence, but they are a fascinating collection of experience reports. Noticeable is how often the person writing about their experience includes details about their state of mind at the time. This is frequently (though not always) a non-usual state: they were out of breath, sleep deprived, depressed, afraid, ill, etc., before their experience. Muriel Golding, for example, was living in Leeds in 1927 and suffering from insomnia after a bout of flu. Whilst unable to sleep one night: “she saw on her pillow a little creature of goblin type, not more than a foot high. He seemed to be wearing blue and white pantaloons and a little jacket, and he had a curious small, mischievous face. He was laughing at her, but she couldn’t believe that he was really there and shut her eyes. When she opened them, there he was still, and he kicked up the bedclothes, put his face on the pillow, and winked at her. Then he vanished.”
Marjorie’s collection strategy wouldn’t cut the mustard with a modern folklorist, but the anecdotes are examples of human experiences with faeries, many of which have close correlations with altered states of consciousness. The question remains, what are the faeries? If they are metaphysical beings, how does human consciousness interact with them, and where is the meeting place?
The Faeries and DMT
The answer may lie with a substance called N,N-Dimethyltryptamine – DMT. This molecule is one of the main active ingredients in the Amazonian Ayahausca brew, but it is also produced endogenously in everyone’s brain, potentially (but not definitely) in the pineal gland. It’s usually safely dispersed around the brain and body for functional duties, but it seems that under certain circumstances, it can be released in higher quantities, causing an altered state of consciousness. There is some evidence that this can happen during a frontal lobe epileptic seizure. The late and great Terence McKenna was an enthusiastic user of the synthesized form of DMT to access different realities, and coined the term ‘self-transforming machine elves’ for the creatures he regularly found there. He can be heard talking about them here: Terence McKenna and the self-transforming machine elves.
As if to confirm Terence’s assertions, a research study conducted between 1990 and 1995 in the General Clinical Research Center of the University of New Mexico Hospital, by Dr Rick Strassman found that volunteers on the study injected with varying amounts of DMT underwent profound alterations of consciousness. This involved immediate cessation of normal consciousness and transportation to a different realm of reality with divergent physical properties, and inhabited by a range of creatures described as elves, faeries, lizards, reptiles, insects, aliens, clowns (yes, clowns) and various therianthropic entities. One woman even describes a pulsating entity that she described as ‘Tinkerbell-like’. The experiences, especially at higher doses, represented to the participants a parallel reality that was ‘super real’, not an hallucination, not a dream, but a substantial built reality with full sensory interaction + telepathy. Strassman published the results as DMT: The Spirit Molecule, and there is a lucid documentary summarising the study.
The experience reports from the study are irrational, absurd, frightening, illogical and surreal. It’s worth reading the book or watching the documentary to get the full range of what are incredible records of accessing very different realities. There is no question of any of the volunteers physically leaving the hospital bed during their experiences, but for all of them (without exception) the DMT-world was every bit as real as the one their minds left behind. After the injections participants frequently talked about ‘blasting through’ or ‘breaking through a barrier’ after which they found themselves in a realm with its own laws of physical space and movement, and its own inhabitants. Here is an abbreviated version of one of the volunteer’s description of his experience; 50 year old Jeremiah. After hurtling through a void he found himself:
“… in a nursery. A high-tech nursery with a single Gumby, three feet tall, attending me. I felt like an infant. Not a human infant, but an infant relative to the intelligence represented by the Gumby. It was aware of me but not particularly concerned… Then I heard two or three male voices talking. I heard one of them say “he’s arrived.” … I was in a big room… there was one big machine in the center, with round conduits, almost writhing – not like a snake, more in a technical manner. The machine felt as if it were rewiring me, reprogramming me… This is real. It’s totally unexpected, quite constant and objective… an independent, constant reality… I’m lucid and sober.”
There are dozens of recorded experiences from the study and, like Jeremiah, the participants are all engaging in a non-physical reality directly with their consciousness, seemingly separated from their physical selfs. Some of the experiences agree in type to certain aspects of the alien abduction phenomenon, which does indeed hold many similarities to certain faerie motifs (discussed in more detail here: Shamans, Faeries, Aliens and DMT and in David Luke’s article Discarnate entities and dimethyltryptamine (DMT): Psychopharmacology, phenomenology and ontology). But what the research demonstrates is that under the right conditions, human consciousness can operate within a distinct and separate universe inhabited by a range of apparently autonomous entities. These entities may be one and the same as the metaphysical beings recorded in cave art and folklore, by people who were describing the beings encountered during various types of altered states of consciousness. The faeries may change superficially through time, adapting to the expectations of the culture they are part of, but if it is human consciousness they are interacting with, this is no surprise. Underneath the cultural masks, the faeries begin to reveal their true selfs.
Physicalism vs Consciousness II
There are many reasons why folklore about the faeries exists, and it certainly seems that interacting with them during an altered state of consciousness is one of them. Are they real experiences? They are subjectively real, but what is the objective reality? A Theosophist clairvoyant would suggest that we need to override our five senses with a dynamic type of consciousness that commands prominence over the material world. They would probably agree with Aldous Huxley’s description of a universal consciousness being ‘Mind at Large’ and that the brain is a ‘reducing valve transceiver‘, that can be retuned by a variety of methods. Huxley did this with Mescaline and LSD.
The brain certainly gives us a very limited view of what is actually going on around us. Altering the transmission to the brain seems to allow non-material consciousness more of a free rein. As in a dream (though not the same as a dream) an altered consciousness is able to construct metaphysical realities. It is able to communicate with the entities it finds there, and bring back a report. The relative consistency of the inhabitants of this alternative reality may suggest that they live there all the time, non-physical, and only able to interact with our physical world when conditions are right for a consciousness. This is the crux: does consciousness create physical reality, or is consciousness an epiphenomenon of the brain? If the former, then the realities experienced in altered states of consciousness can be accepted as true, with their own autonomous existence. If the latter, then whilst entities such as the faeries may be subjectively real, they do not exist objectively within the electromagnetic spectrum. This is the Physicalist view. Although even Physicalism has to adhere to its own rules and allow for the hypothesis that over 90% of the universe consists of non-physical form: Dark Matter and Dark Energy. Maybe that’s where the faeries are, waiting to be found.
The featured images at the top and bottom of the article are made by a Dutch artist called Dalila Ammar. Her innovative and thought-provoking art can be found here: Lilamar Art Facebook Page and here: Lilamar Art website. Please check out her wonderful artwork…
After writing this article I came upon Jon Hanna’s analysis of metaphysical entity contact amongst people who had definitely altered their state of consciousness, through a variety of psychedelics. It’s an interesting read and It can be found here: Aliens, Insectoids and Elves! Oh, My!
For the Cosmicnauts among you, here is Rich Terrile talking about the possibility that we live in a holographic universe, on The Richie Allen Show.
Here is a new article on Ancient Origin‘s Premium site. The full article requires subscription but there is an extended preview on the free to view site. It investigates the nature of Palaeolithic cave art, its folkloric motifs, and the altered states of consciousness that ancient shamans used to access supernatural realms, bringing back with them messages that were encoded within the cave art…
Around 30-35,000 years ago there was an explosion of symbolism in Paleolithic human culture around the world, primarily represented by cave art. This cave art is usually located in hard to access underground spaces that must have had significant meaning for the artists and those who would have experienced these strange images by torchlight; And strange they are. Whilst many of the images are naturalistic images of humans, mammals and birds, there is also extensive representation of therianthropic beings, that is part human, part animal shape-shifters. There are also many beings that seem to be distorted humans, perhaps better described as humanoid. These images suggest that the Paleolithic artists were attempting to tell stories and incorporate messages and meaning within the stories, which they deemed important. The fact that many of the beings represented in the cave art are of a supernatural quality is symptomatic of what we might call folklore.
Who are the faeries? In 1969, the astrologer and computer scientist Jacques Vallee, in his book Passport to Magonia, put forward the theory that they were one and the same as the alien beings who had been purportedly abducting people around the world for a couple of decades by that date.
His hypothesis is that there is a commonality to the experiences reported in alien abduction scenarios, and the reports of interactions with faeries in folklore. He suggests the aliens and the faeries are essentially the same phenomenon, tuned through the cultural receptors of the time and then interpreted accordingly. He makes special reference to the regular motifs in faerie-tales of the abduction, by various means, of humans by faeries. There’s a lot of data here – it’s the commonest motif in faerie folklore. For a variety of reasons humans are taken to faerieland in the stories, either as midwives or nurses for faerie children, as servants to the faeries, for sex, as punishment or reward, or just because the faeries feel like it. They were also keen on abducting babies, and replacing them with changelings; wizened old faerie creatures who would usually die before the end of the story if a ruse to return the human baby wasn’t discovered. These motifs, of course, coincide with many aspects of the monumentally strange phenomenon of alien abductions, reports of which have grown at an exponential rate since the early 1950s. Vallee uses a range of evidence to tie-up faerie abductions from folklore and alien abductions from modern reports, and goes as far to state:
… the modern, global belief in flying saucers and their occupants is identical to an earlier belief in the fairy-faith. The entities described as the pilots of the craft are indistinguishable from the elves, sylphs and lutins of the Middle Ages. Through the observations of unidentified flying objects, we are concerned with an agency our ancestors knew well and regarded with terror: we are prying into the affairs of the Secret Commonwealth.
The Secret Commonwealth was the term coined for the faeries by the Reverend Robert Kirk in a manuscript of 1691. Rumour is that Kirk himself was taken by the faeries for revealing too many of their secrets, but not before leaving us with a detailed description of their appearance, habits and exploits. It’s a remarkable and deeply strange (in a good way) book that was evidently produced by a man either psychologically disturbed or psychically enhanced… or both. A full version of the book with an introduction is here: The Secret Commonwealth, and there is a fuller investigation of Kirk and his writings in another blog post here. But, as Vallee points out, Kirk’s descriptions of the faeries and their modus operandi bear more than a passing resemblance to the alien visitors of the 20th and 21st centuries.
Amongst their attributes were an ability to float through the air with insubstantial and fluid bodies, that they could make appear and disappear at will. This allowed them to ‘swim’ through the air and carry off mortals, usually to large circular abodes, that Kirk presumed were underground, and which were lit by a dim, unknown illumination. They even had ‘ætheriall vehicles’ to carry them around the sky. Kirk also asserted that the faeries had a nature intermediate between humans and angels.
Their habit of abducting humans was usually for the purpose of wet-nursing faerie children or as midwives; a theme that fits in with the deluge of recent alien abduction reports (mostly unknown to Vallee in 1969) that would suggest one of the main reasons for abduction is to obtain wet-nurses for hybrid human-alien offspring. Vallee quotes the 19th-century folklorist Edwin Hartland’s suggestion that such a programme of hybridisation was right up the faerie’s street:
The motive assigned to fairies in northern stories is that of preserving and improving their race, on the one had by carrying off human children to be brought up among the elves and to become united with them, and on the other hand by obtaining the milk and fostering care of human mothers for their own offspring.
In 2005, Graham Hancock followed Vallee’s lead and took the comparison of faerie and alien abduction much further in his book Supernatural. He compiled a range of faerie-tales from various time periods and geographical locations and set them against modern-day alien abduction events. He pays special attention to the faerie abduction of young women, such as Mrs Sheridan, an Irish woman, who seems to have spent much of the last decade of the 19th century being whisked off by the fairies for wet-nursing duties.
Where they brought me I don’t know, or how I got there, but I’d be in a very big house, and it was round, the walls far away that you’d hardly see them, and a great many faeries all about… but they wouldn’t speak to me nor I to them.
These ‘long-faced’ faeries had a definite purpose for kidnapping her and weren’t too concerned with her tearful appeals to release her – she had a job to do, and that was feeding their faerie babies. The correlation between these types of folkloric encounters and the alien abductions of women is striking. Hancock surveys the work of the late Harvard psychiatrist John Mack and David Jacobs, a cultural historian, who have made extensive studies of people who claim to have been abducted by aliens, often using hypnotic techniques to extract memories from amnesic events. It’s a minefield subject, but John Mack in particular is a convincing advocate of the notion that whatever the experiences represent, they are genuinely real to the participant (this is a good overview presentation of the phenomenon: John Mack on alien abduction). The abductee, after being floated or beamed aboard the UFO is taken to a part of the ship where there seem to be drawers or tanks of hybrid alien-human babies, which they are expected to nurse. There is a consistency to these experiences (there are thousands of them) that provides a dataset of testimony that Mack and Jacobs insist must be taken seriously as a phenomenon. For the abductees, the experience is often highly traumatic (Mack states that the best psychiatric diagnosis for many abductees is post-traumatic stress disorder), and no wonder, when they are confronted with alien hybrids often described as more like foetuses than babies. One abductee described to Mack their appearance, which is fairly typical:
“Their bodies were short for their heads. Their heads seemed oversized. They had very blue eyes. They had very thin, wispy hair… I would say they were probably three and a half feet tall, but they all looked the same age. ‘You’re our mother and we need you,’ they said.”
The evidence presented by Jacques Vallee and Graham Hancock makes a convincing argument for the tight relation between faerie abductions in folklore and alien abductions in the 21st century. The experiences are culturally coded to time and place, but the correlations and similarities are intriguing, and suggest a common source for the phenomena. But what is that source? Are there really faeries and aliens who are able to abduct humans at will? And if there are, where do they hang out when they’re not on abduction duty? This is where things need to get deeper… much deeper.
Not content with suggesting that alien abductions are modern folkloric faerie-tales for our technological age, Graham Hancock puts forward the hypothesis that the shamanistic cultures of the Stone Age were also interacting with these beings. Around 50,000 years ago there was an explosion of symbolism in human culture, primarily represented by cave art. This cave art is usually located in hard to access underground spaces that must have had significant meaning for the artists and those who would have been experiencing these strange images by torchlight. And strange they are. Much of the cave art represents therianthropic beings, that is half human, half animal shape-shifters. There are also many beings that seem to be distorted humans, sometimes even suggesting the ‘Greys’ of alien abduction reports. And this gets to the core of the subject. Hancock makes the convincing argument that these cave paintings were produced to represent reality as perceived in an altered state of consciousness. Twenty years ago this idea was anathema to anthropologists, but since the work of the anthropologists David Lewis-Williams, Thomas Dowson and many others, the theory has tipped over to become an accepted orthodoxy. There are motifs by the hundred in the cave paintings that correlate with the visionary states of people in an altered state of consciousness, brought about most especially by the ingestion of a psychotropic substance. Lewis-Williams’ exhaustive study of this phenomenon is nicely summarised here: Art, Shamanism and Entoptic Images. The basic premise is that the shamans of these stone age cultures transported themselves into altered states of consciousness and then painted the results of their experiences — experiences that frequently included therianthropic beings.
These works of art are manifest throughout the world over a vast prehistoric time period and demonstrate a universality of experience, from the entoptic images (dots, spirals and geometric patterns) frequently seen by trippers, through to the imagery of time-lapse perception, often called tracers. It is convincing evidence that our prehistoric ancestors were dabbling with psychotropic plants and mushrooms in order to gain a state of consciousness that was fundamentally important to them. The cave paintings could be seen as the earliest folklore, told in pictures. Further investigation into the cultures of modern indigenous tribes confirms the importance of induced changes in conscious perception, to what are still shamanistic peoples. The best example is the extensive use of the substance Ayahausca by Amazonian tribes. Here is a brew that might make you projectile vomit and clean out your bowels, but which also reveals a reality that includes many non-human intelligences (usually called simply ‘spirits’ by the shamans), that can be interacted with directly. There is usually a highly-charged feminine element to the Ayahausca experience, but reports will also consistently describe therianthropic beings, reptiles, the ability to fly and yes, even grey humanoids with big black almond eyes.
This brings us back to the source of all these experiences. If shaman spirits, faeries and aliens are all part of the same phenomenon, what is that phenomenon? The evidence from modern and archaic shamanistic cultures confirms that an altered state of consciousness was/is required to access the places where the ‘spirits’ lived. It’s more difficult to prove that faerie-tales were generated from information gathered in an altered state, but there is a predominance of mushroom imagery historically associated with the faeries, most especially the highly psychedelic red and white Amanita Muscaria (fly agaric) mushroom, and the psilocybin mushroom, both prevalent in Europe and Asia. These may have been responsible for purposeful or accidental psychedelic trips, but there are a range of other triggers for altering states of consciousness (such as sleep deprivation, trauma, illness etc.) that may also have contributed to people travelling to faerieland and bringing back the experiences as faerie-tales.
As discussed in a previous post The Deeper Meaning of Faerie-tales, most faerie-tales contain dream-like situations, where the laws of physics are suspended and the experienced reality is different than the usual five-sense reality. It’s no accident that the tales are often described as trippy. They can be seen as basically describing events from a participatory altered state of consciousness, that have then gestated and formed into oral faerie-tales until fossilized into literature by folklorists at various times in the 19th and 20th centuries. So what about alien abductions? They represent an outrageous transformation of reality, but what is causing them?
The answer may lie with a substance called N,N-Dimethyltryptamine – DMT. This molecule is the main active ingredient in the Amazonian Ayahausca brew, but it is also produced endogenously in everyone’s brain, probably (but not definitely) in the pineal gland. It’s usually safely dispersed around the brain and body for functional duties, but it seems that under certain circumstances, it can be released in higher quantities, causing an altered state of consciousness. There is some evidence that this can happen during a frontal lobe epileptic seizure. So are abductees thrown into their experiences through a flood of DMT in their brain, which takes them into an altered state of consciousness, where reside alien beings, not altogether unlike the faeries and shaman ‘spirits’? The late and great Terence McKenna was an enthusiastic user of the synthesized form of DMT to access different realities, and coined the term self-transforming machine elves for the creatures he regularly found there. He can be heard talking about them here: Terence McKenna and the self-transforming machine elves.
As if to confirm Terence’s assertions, a research study conducted between 1990 and 1995 in the General Clinical Research Center of the University of New Mexico Hospital, by Dr Rick Strassman found that volunteers on the study injected with varying amounts of DMT underwent profound alterations of consciousness. This involved immediate cessation of normal consciousness and transportation to a different realm of reality inhabited by a range of creatures described as elves, faeries, lizards, reptiles, insects, aliens, clowns (yes, clowns) and various therianthropic entities. One woman even describes a pulsating entity that she described as ‘Tinkerbell-like’. The experiences, especially at higher doses, represented to the participants a parallel reality that was ‘super real’, not an hallucination, not a dream, but a substantial built reality with full sensory interaction + telepathy. Strassman published the results as DMT: The Spirit Molecule, which has been made into a brilliant documentary here: DMT – The Spirit Molecule.
The experience reports from the study are irrational, absurd, frightening, illogical and surreal… much like alien abductions and (sometimes) faerie-tales. It’s worth reading the book or watching the documentary to get the full range of what are incredible records of accessing very different realities. Unlike the alien abductions, there is no question of any of the volunteers physically leaving the hospital bed during their experiences, but for all of them (without exception) the DMT-world was every bit as real as the one their minds left behind. After the injections participants frequently talked about ‘blasting through’ or ‘breaking through a barrier’ after which they found themselves in a realm with its own laws of physical space and movement, and its own inhabitants. Here is an abbreviated version of one of the volunteer’s description of his experience; 50 year old Jeremiah. After hurtling through a void he found himself:
… in a nursery. A high-tech nursery with a single Gumby, three feet tall, attending me. I felt like an infant. Not a human infant, but an infant relative to the intelligence represented by the Gumby. It was aware of me but not particularly concerned… Then I heard two or three male voices talking. I heard one of them say “he’s arrived.” … I was in a big room… there was one big machine in the center, with round conduits, almost writhing – not like a snake, more in a technical manner. The machine felt as if it were rewiring me, reprogramming me… This is real. It’s totally unexpected, quite constant and objective… an independent, constant reality… I’m lucid and sober.
This brings us finally to the crux of the matter. If there is a common source for these experiences of shaman ‘spirits’, faeries, aliens and the creatures in DMT-world, that can be accessed via an altered state of consciousness, are the experiences real? The crux is; what is consciousness? A reductionist materialist would tell us that consciousness is an epiphenomenon of the brain, and so whilst they might accept that all these experiences happened subjectively, due to an altered state of consciousness, they can all simply be reduced to the brain making it up. Brain chemistry changes, experience is imagined in the brain, stories are told about that imagined experience. Simples. But to dismiss the subjective experience is to dismiss consciousness itself. There is a reason reductionist materialists call consciousness the hard problem – it’s because consciousness is all we have and nobody has ever captured it. It exists purely as a subjective experience in a closed system. As the old metaphor goes; looking for consciousness inside the brain is like looking for the radio announcer inside the radio. S/he isn’t there, s/he is an electro-magnetic projection being tuned into by the receiver.
Aldous Huxley called the brain a ‘reducing valve for Mind at large’. We are transceiving consciousness not producing it. This corresponds with the philosophy of Idealism, beautifully articulated in recent times by Bernardo Kastrup, and just about every Oriental spiritual movement for the last several thousand years. Put shamanism and Gnosticism into the mix and we find a cohesive hypothesis for consciousness creating reality, not the other way round. But what trumps everything is direct, personal experience. This is the only true route to understanding existence – what Zen masters call direct pointing at reality. And that’s exactly what is happening in shaman journeys to the spiritworld, faerie-tales, alien abductions and DMT trips. They are experiences, accessed through altered states of consciousness, that are direct participations in Huxley’s Mind at large, a reality that exists to the consciousness of the observer but which is at the same time greater than the observer. But only by experiencing these realities through direct encounter can they be understood to be real. Nobody can tell you about them, you have to know them. Perhaps, for our benefit as a species, we need to take more notice of the stories that are brought back.