‘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.
A new study carried out by the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore, entitled: Survey of Entity Encounter Experiences Occasioned by Inhaled N,N-dimethyltryptamine: Phenomenology, Interpretation, and Enduring Effects, published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, has surveyed 2561 people to record their experiences of contacting entities while using the psychedelic substance N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT). The study states:
‘Respondents reported the primary senses involved in the encounter were visual and extrasensory (e.g. telepathic). The most common descriptive labels for the entity [encounter] were: being, guide, spirit, alien, and helper. Although 41% of respondents reported fear during the encounter, the most prominent emotions both in the respondent and attributed to the entity were love, kindness, and joy. Most respondents endorsed that the entity had the attributes of being conscious, intelligent, and benevolent, existed in some real but different dimension of reality, and continued to exist after the encounter.’
This study is the most recent in a growing literature of testimonies by people who have apparently contacted supernatural entities after partaking of DMT. It would seem this molecule, in particular, has the ability to alter states of consciousness to the extent that the participant is able to interact with non-natural entities in a supra-normal time and space. Many of the entities, in this study and others, bear much resemblance to the faeries of both folklore and modern descriptions. It seems the DMT experience may provide one possible pathway into understanding what the faeries might be and how human consciousness can connect to their metaphysical existence.
What is N,N-dimethyltryptamine?
DMT occurs naturally in many plants and animals, although the genesis of its production is not currently fully understood. In humans it is conjectured that it is generated through either the pineal gland in the brain or through the lungs. However, the reasons for this endogenous production remain unknown. The structure of DMT occurs within some important biomolecules like serotonin and melatonin, and may be responsible for sleep patterns and dream states, but it retains its ambiguity as a naturally occurring compound. It was first synthesised 1931 by the German chemist Richard Manske, but it was only in 1956 that the Hungarian chemist and psychiatrist Stephen Szára carried out the first trials of the molecule in human subjects (including himself), resulting in the realisation of its potential for producing intense altered states of consciousness. These states had been experienced by the shamanic indigenous peoples of the Amazon for hundreds of years, where the Psychotria viridis and Diplopterys cabrerana plants, containing DMT, are used in conjunction with the Banisteriopsis caapi vine to produce a brew usually known as Ayahuasca, which acts as a potent psychedelic when ingested. The history and current usage of Ayahuasca has been charted by Professor Benny Shanon in his 2002 book The Antipodes of the Mind: Charting the Phenomena of the Ayahuasca Experience. Shanon discusses many aspects of entity encounters while under the influence of the brew, and while some of the entities may fit broadly into faerie ontologies, there seems to be a specific range of metaphysical creatures experienced in the Amazonian context. These have been further elucidated by Graham Hancock in his influential 2005 book Supernatural: Meetings with the Ancient Teachers of Mankind.
But, usually as a synthetic compound either injected intravenously or inhaled as smoke, DMT has disseminated from the Amazon to become a mainstay in underground Western culture over the past few decades. The Johns Hopkins study is the most recent in a series of clinical research studies and surveys to assess the experiences brought on by DMT; many of which include entity encounters that correlate with faerie phenomenology, both from folkloric records and modern testimonies. The following sections describe the findings of these studies with an attempt to interpret what the DMT experience might contribute to our understanding of faerie ontology.
DMT-initiated Faerie Encounters in Clinical Research
Probably the most famous promulgator of the DMT experience was the late Terence McKenna, who coined the term self-transforming machine elves for the entities he often encountered during his many DMT trips:
‘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 jewelled 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!’
Stephen Szára’s Clinical Research
But long before McKenna was writing about the denizens of the DMT world, the Hungarian Stephen Szára (as mentioned above) was cataloguing the experiences in the late 1950s. As detailed by Andrew Gallimore and David Luke, once he’d worked out that DMT was non-active when ingested, but instead needed to be injected intravenously (through testing this out on himself): ‘He recruited 30 volunteers, mainly doctors from the hospital where he worked, the National Institute for Mental and Nervous Diseases, Budapest. All received 0.7 mg/kg (about 50mg for an average person) DMT intramuscularly and their experiences carefully recorded.’ Unfortunately, the results were not published, but some reports do survive, and it is clear that many of the study participants encountered entities that McKenna may have recognised. One 28-year old male physician described his experience thus:
‘The room is full of spirits…the images come in such profusion that I hardly know where I want to begin with them! I see an orgy of color, but in several layers one after the other… Everything is so comical…one sees curious objects, but nevertheless everything is quickly gone, as if on a roller-coaster.’
It is a shame we do not have any further assessment of what the ‘spirits’ were, but several of the other surviving experience reports describe meeting ‘beings’ when under the influence of these high-dose events. Two years after the first study Szára extended his assessment to psychiatric patients in the hospital. Again, only a few reports of the patients’ experiences survive, but one, from a thirty-year old female, give a flavour of the types of entities encountered after a 50mg injection: ‘I saw such strange dreams, but at the beginning only… I saw strange creatures, dwarfs or something, they were black and moved about…’
Although there are DMT experience reports from the decade after Szára’s studies, there was only one further clinical research study by William Turner and Sidney Merlis (affiliated to Central Islip Psychiatric Center, New York), where nine schizophrenic patients were given high doses of DMT. Only one of the patients’ testimonies made it into the published report, where she described a distressing episode after being hurled through a tunnel of light: ‘It is as if I were away from here for such a long time… and I was in a big place and they were hurting me. They were not human. They were horrible… I was living in a world of orange people…’
When DMT became a scheduled substance in 1970, any possibility of further research ceased. It was not until 1990 that DMT re-emerged as a legitimate substance for experimentation within a clinical setting, in what remains the most important controlled study of its effects to date.
Rick Strassman’s Spirit Molecule Study
Between 1990 and 1995 a clinical research study was carried out in the General Clinical Research Center of the University of New Mexico Hospital, by Dr Rick Strassman, after a lengthy application to obtain a federal licence was successful. The study found that volunteers injected with varying amounts of DMT underwent profound alterations of consciousness. Strassman published the results in 2001 as DMT: The Spirit Molecule, which has also been adapted into a documentary.
The research involved sixty volunteers, all of who had multiple sessions in a controlled environment, where they were injected with DMT within the range of 0.2, 0.3 and 0.4 mg/kg. They were monitored during the experiences, which usually lasted between twenty and forty minutes. They were then asked to recount a testimony of what had happened as soon as the effects of the drug had worn off. Sometimes, the participants were able to talk about their experiences during short ‘inter-glacials’ during their sessions. At all doses the experience usually 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, robots, clowns, and various therianthropic entities. One woman even describes a pulsating entity that she encountered 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 and often telepathy.
Immediately after the injection of DMT, 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.’
45-year old Karl described his interaction with some faerie entities during an ‘inter glacial’ only eight minutes into a high-dose session:
‘That was real strange. There were a lot of elves. They were prankish, ornery, maybe four of them appeared at the side of a stretch of interstate highway I travel regularly. They commanded the scene, it was their terrain! They were about my height. They held up placards, showing me these incredibly beautiful, complex, swirling geometric scenes in them. One of them made it impossible for me to move. There was no issue of control; they were totally in control. They wanted me to look! I heard a giggling sound— the elves laughing or talking at high-speed volume, chattering, twittering.’
35-year old Chris described his DMT sessions as ‘the most reassuring experience of my life… if death is like this, there’s nothing to worry about.’ His fourth high-dose session involved him communicating with a range of entities, who he felt were attempting to heal him:
‘They were trying to show me as much as possible. They were communicating in words. They were like clowns or jokers or jesters or imps. There were just so many of them doing their funny little thing. I settled into it. I was incredibly still and I felt like I was in an incredibly peaceful place. Then there was a message telling me that I had been given a gift, that this space was mine and I could go there anytime. I should feel blessed to have form, to live.’
40-year old Rex, like about half of the participants, had taken psychedelics previously, but was not prepared for the power of his DMT experience. His fourth session (at a medium dose of 0.2 mg/kg) is particularly interesting due to his interaction with a powerful (but benevolent) female, who bears resemblance to folkloric accounts of encounters with faerie queens. He describes the moments after breakthrough to another reality:
‘I realise the intense pulsating-buzzing sound and vibration are an attempt by the DMT entities to communicate with me. The beings were there and they were doing something to me, experimenting on me. I saw a sinister face, but then one of them tried to begin reassuring me. There were creatures and machinery. It looked like it was a field of black space. There were brilliant psychedelic colours outlining the creatures and the machinery. The field went on forever. They were sharing this with me, letting me see all this. There was a female. I felt like I was dying, then she appeared and reassured me. She accompanied me during the viewing of the machinery and creatures. When I was with her I had a deep feeling of relaxation and tranquility… She had an elongated head.’
The language in the testimonials over time is interesting; are the ‘spirits’ and ‘dwarves’ in Szára’s studies 1950’s versions of the ‘elves’ and ‘imps’ of the participants in Strassman’s research? It is certainly the case that many folkloric descriptions of the faeries described them as ‘spirits’. There are plenty of examples of this in WY Evans-Wentz’s 1911 collection of faerie belief, published as The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries, where (especially in Ireland and Brittany) there appeared to be a high level of interchangeability between the faeries and the spirits of the dead. The folklorist and writer David Halpin has commented about this trait while describing one of Evans-Wentz’s encounter reports from Limerick, where a young doctor equates the faeries as spirits: ‘This may be, perhaps, an unconscious referral to the belief that in many cases the faeries were both the dead and another type of spirit, or it may be that there was more of an acceptance of this crossover than there sometimes is today.’ This ambiguity of language to describe supernatural entities over time is important and will be discussed further below. But it is clear from Strassman’s research study that almost all the volunteer participants encountered various forms of entities during their DMT experiences, and that (whatever the terminology used) many of them can be coded within the broad ontological spectrum that may be described as faerie entities.
Strassman’s study could be seen, at least in part, as correlative to folkloric research. While the volunteers’ physiological processes, and the chemical analyses of these processes, were an important part of the study, the primary take away is the anecdotal testimonies of people who attempted to describe the DMT-induced metaphysical realities they found themselves in and the entities they found there. This is not so dissimilar to a folklorist collecting reports of supernatural faerie encounters. The means of arrival in a reality where faeries appear to exist is evidently different (although, as discussed below, perhaps not that different), but Strassman is in many ways simply recording extraordinary encounters with (apparently) non-physical entities, much in the same way as Evans-Wentz and every other folklorist who has attempted to record human interactions with faeries.
Strassman’s study remains the benchmark for investigating entity encounters via DMT. While much research has continued into the biosynthesis and metabolism of DMT in the brain and peripheral tissues of both humans and animals, there have been no further clinical assessment studies of the subjective experiences of people under the influence of DMT. Fortunately, there is a growing number of non-clinical surveys, which have compiled relatively large datasets of experience reports to allow a meaningful assessment of DMT-induced encounters with entities — many of which are phenomenologically related to what might be considered faeries.
DMT-initiated Faerie Encounters from Surveys
As with any anecdotal, subjective testimony, whether collected from a folkloric context or from a numinous experience brought about by the absorption of a molecule, the first question must be to assess the honesty of the account (this applies to both clinical research studies and surveyed reports). People make things up, and not always for clearly-defined gains or reasons. It is difficult to ascertain whether the person giving the testimony is fabricating the whole or part of the account, or if they are exaggerating for effect. This is a perennial issue in folklore collection – the hermeneutical compounds of the testimonies are difficult to unravel.
And even the most scrupulously honest recall of an event is still subject to the vagaries of memory. This is more of an issue in surveyed testimonies, where the event may have happened weeks, months or even years ago, than in the clinical research studies discussed above, where the experiences were recalled immediately after they happened. The plasticity of memory appertaining to any eye-witness event is a well-studied psychological trait. The psychologist Elizabeth Loftus conducted an in-depth study of how people remembered automobile accidents at various times after the event, concluding that: ‘findings seem to indicate that memory for an event that has been witnessed is highly flexible. If someone is exposed to new information during the interval between witnessing the event and recalling it, this new information may have marked effects on what they recall. The original memory can be modified, changed or supplemented.’ This is, of course, unavoidable in any testimony of a past incident. In some ways, a non-ordinary supernatural event (whether induced by a psychedelic compound or not) may be less prone to plasticity as it is likely to be a special event, detached from the everyday. Its unconventionality may burn it into memory in a more exacting way and its recall be more reliable than for that of a more commonplace occurrence. But potentially numinous incidents, such as encounters with supernatural entities, may also be subject to increased amounts of reconstitution, where the experiencer attempts to make subsequent rationalisations of the event and even suppress aspects of what has happened in order to codify it to accepted social and cultural belief systems. This is (and always has been) an unavoidable component of folklore collection, and extends to any surveys of subjective, remembered events. It does not, however, discredit the experience; the data is fragile, but with a large enough dataset it becomes tenable to draw out some assessments, especially when there is a level of consistency over disparate testimonies. So with these caveats in mind, what might the results of surveys about entity encounters via DMT tell us about the faeries and how they may be able to interface with human consciousness?
340 DMT Trip Reports (2006)
One of the most comprehensive surveys is from 2006, collated by the computational physicist Peter Meyer. 340 DMT Trip Reports documents what Meyer describes as, ‘reports which attest to contact with apparently independently existing intelligent entities within what seems to be an alternate reality.’ This survey built on his work from 1992: Apparent Communication with Discarnate Entities Induced by Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), which we will return to later. The 340 (anonymous) reports certainly contain many encounters with faerie-type entities, most often described as elves. Forty-six of the reports describe encountering faeries/elves. Here are some examples:
#49 ‘To start with I was travelling into what looked like a long curved tunnel. The walls of the tunnel were like bright multicolored tiles — pinks, greens and blues especially. After an indeterminate period of time I found myself in a garden, which seemed to be suspended in a sky-blue void, rather than part of any larger land mass. The garden had grass, flowers, trees, even a picket fence and seemed quite convincing and solid. I noticed two ‘faeries’ sitting on a swing hanging from one of the trees. They seemed to be inviting me closer, and I floated in their direction (didn’t feel like I had my body with me). As I approached them I noticed that they were lewdly playing with themselves and each other, I watched them for some time before noticing that there were more inhabitants in the garden. There were more of the faeries and what I assume were their children (there were no males). The children were walking about with watering cans watering the flowers that grew on the borders of the garden. Suddenly several of the children started spraying me with something which stung my face with tiny pinpricks of pain. As my mind objected I received the thought that they were spraying insecticide on me to kill the bugs (dunno where this thought came from but I feel it was relayed telepathically to me from the faeries). After being sprayed, the faeries all formed a group near to me. They seemed to all be adding to some liquid which they were creating inside one of the flowers. They wanted me to pay attention to this, so I watched them all working on their flower thing.’
This account is quite typical of testimonies in the survey in that a transformed natural environment is encountered, and the morality of the faerie entities in ambivalent. This, of course, has much folkloric precedent. The telepathic communication is another common theme in the survey reports. The following testimony brings up memory:
#65 ‘This time I saw the ‘elves’ as multidimensional creatures formed by strands of visible language; they were more creaturely than I had ever seen them before. The message was changing from the initial ‘OK, OK, safe, safe… The elves were dancing in and out of the multidimensional visible language matrix, ‘waving’ their ‘arms’ and limbs/hands/fingers? and smiling or laughing, although I saw no faces as such. The elves were telling me (or I was understanding them to say) that I had seen them before, in early childhood. Memories were flooding back of seeing the elves: they looked just like they do now: evershifting, folding, multidimensional, multicolored (what colors!), always laughing, weaving/waving, showing me things, showing me the visible language they are created/creatures of, teaching me to speak and read.’
The statement that the elves were reminding the experiencer of childhood is interesting. The idea that children are less indoctrinated with a materialistic value system, and are therefore more able to experience a supernal reality is a commonplace motif. In this testimony the encounter may be integrating the memory of a suppressed childhood reality, and bringing it into the present. The next report talks about death:
#139 ‘I know it might sound funny but at this point I came into contact with the classic elves that Terence always talked about. They are real. They came tumbling across my vision, morphing into themselves. Some of them came towards me, and entered my being. Their voices were high pitched and their song sounded very alien like and very old. At this point I would say no more than two minutes has passed since blastoff. The elves’ presence continuing to build to an unbearable frenzy is the last thing I remember before I died. I didn’t think but I knew that I had in fact died. I entered into what I would call a eternal loop. It never ended. I feel a piece of me is still there.’
As mentioned, there is a deeply embedded tradition, which links the faeries with death. The folklore that portrays the faeries as inhabiting the land of the dead often shows them as representatives of the past and what is gone. In the same way as a memory of someone dead can be conjured up in consciousness before disappearing into the subconscious, so the faeries are able to make appearances in our collective stories that attempt to understand death and its connection with life. The DMT experience can evidently invoke an equivalence of death, and also, perhaps, the entities that reside at its periphery. The following testimony invokes the trickery of the faeries:
#151 ‘The intensity grew until I saw myself looking down a hallway type of structure. It tapered down to a point kinda like I was looking down through a cone towards the point. Now from this other end I saw the elves coming up towards me. As if they where coming through a worm hole from another dimension! One looked just like a leprechaun, with the top hat and pointy red shoes. One of them was carrying a big red Santa Claus bag full of tricks. They told me get ready cuz they where coming. Behind them came a circus full of activity… This is what you have been waiting for! So they marched up towards me and as they reached me what was behind them oozed up and all over me. It felt like I was being dipped into this paint like substance made of colors and patterns. Pure psychedelia. I love it! Then one of them proceeded to show me the most incredible scenes and landscapes. Everything had a yellow green hue to it. I thought, what was the purpose of all this, what was I to learn from this? Then they told me stop trying so hard to make sense of anything. That the purpose was just to accept it for what it was, to stop trying so hard. One of the elves had this device in his hand that looked like a remote, and he was controlling everything that I was seeing! He was definitely in control of everything. They where very eager and ready when they came but calm and focused. I realized that I had seen them before but did not realize it until now… They had a lot for me to see, and this one in particular had great enjoyment in showing me all these extraordinary visions and things. Everything folded out for me to see right in front of me.’
The entities were clearly in control of proceedings, another element of some folkloric encounters. There is also a recognition of subsumed memories — the experience invoked something existing only in the consciousness of the individual, manifested in a hyper-real slideshow. And the final example from the survey uses a third-person narrative to describe the common faerie folklore motif of time distortion during encounters:
#307 ‘[He] Smoked synthetic DMT and soon found himself in “bejeweled ‘gardens’ filled with dancing fairies and elves.” Although it seemed like an hour had passed, he writes that only about ten minutes had elapsed. “It did not seem imaginary or hallucinatory at all.”’
There are many folkloric traits in these descriptions, although there is also probably much cultural coding going on, where people in altered states of consciousness carry with them their own memories of what faeries and elves might represent. But there is certainly a general view in the testimonies that these entities are existing in an autonomous built reality not entirely dependent on our own consensus reality. The DMT world appears to be an independent hyper-reality, even if it is a reality built from entirely subjective accounts.
Although only a minority of reports (c.18%) in Meyer’s study explicitly mention faeries or elves, almost all of them do record some type of contact with non-human intelligent entities, described as: spirits, insectoids, therianthropes, orbs, light beings, waves of light or sound, aliens, or distorted humanoids. There is a consistency in the reports of meeting with intelligent beings. This theme continues in subsequent surveys.
Further Research Surveys
Jon Hanna’s 2012 study, entitled ‘Aliens, Insectoids, and Elves! Oh, My!’ used experience reports posted on the drug-advisory website Erowid, as well as three new surveys of Erowid users. While the surveys included entity encounters brought on by a range of psychedelic substances, it is clear that DMT was always the molecule most likely to facilitate such encounters. The initial assessment of over 22,600 experience reports showed that 1,159 described entity encounters. 38% of these happened on DMT and 36% on Ayahuasca. In Hanna’s three new surveys it was also clear that DMT was the drug most likely to initiate an experience involving discarnate entities. Many of the respondents described the entities as alien, but there is a large sub-set of faerie-type beings within the testimonies, such as that described in 2009 by ‘Ohayoco’ after smoking 50mg of DMT:
‘After a few draws the world began transforming. I first noticed my hands multiplying and overlapping in washes of colour… Patterns began forming, but I expelled them by opening my eyes a few times and regulating my breathing to check that I wasn’t dying (the thought crossed my mind!). I then felt confident enough to let the experience take me where it wanted me to go… colourful diamond shaped patterns whirled around me then formed the walls and heavy romanesque columns of what seemed to be a palace kitchen. These diamonds pulsed and changed colour and shape in a friendly and playful manner, to the sounds of the music that I could still hear coming from the real world.
Elusive entities reminding me of Anime beings were flitting around the room busily. They had large heads and dumpy bodies, each body part a different colour as if wearing strange leotards, with barely perceptible beady little eyes in their big flat heads. One of the little guys was jovially stirring a large cauldron in the middle of the room. If Pokemon bred with alien dwarves and moved to a psychedelic medieval land then it would have looked a bit like this place. Suddenly the little guys became aware of my viewing them from above (I must have been floating in the air to them) and, perhaps sensing my first-time anxiety, the diamond shapes pulsed into heart shapes, and one of the little guys flew right up to my face and turned heart-red to put me at ease. A kindly voice in my head then told me: ‘You should get out more, do the things you’ve got to do, don’t shut yourself away!’, which I guess was their friendly advice to me.’
David Luke’s 2020 paper Anomalous Psychedelic Experiences: At the Neurochemical Juncture of the Humanistic and Parapsychological also surveys the altered state of consciousness effects of people using a range of psychedelics. Luke has written extensively on the subject, and is one of the leading researchers into the DMT experience. This latest study uses a range of sources to review ‘the nature of 10 transpersonal or parapsychological experiences that commonly occur spontaneously and in relation to the use of psychedelic substances, namely synesthesia, extradimensional percepts, out-of-body experiences, near-death experiences, entity encounters, alien abduction, sleep paralysis, interspecies communication, possession, and psi (telepathy, precognition, and clairvoyance and psychokinesis).’ When it comes to entity encounters Luke makes it clear that DMT is the substance most likely to induce the phenomenon. He notes that ‘encounters with elves, gnomes, pixies, dwarves, imps, goblins, and other “little people” (though clearly not human people), are extremely prevalent and have long been at the spearhead of the debate on the reality of DMT beings.’
The most recent survey (as mentioned above) is the Johns Hopkins study, which used a filtered dataset of people to categorise many aspects of the DMT experience. The published paper does not give details of the subjective reports, but classifies them into typologies based on a range of determinants, and provides statistical analyses. In the table for ‘descriptive labels for entity’ 14% of respondents described their entity as elves, 8% as faeries and 5% as gnomes. But there are many other categories that are more ambivalent and, without seeing the original data, may be considered faerie-type entities. These include ‘beings’ (60%), ‘plant spirits’ (10%), and ‘animal spirits’ (7%). Perhaps the biggest take-way from the survey is the effect such entity encounters have had on the experiencers:
‘Such experiences often result in changes in world view including the belief in the reality of such entities. The current survey provides strong evidence of such changes. More specifically, even after the experience, 65% of respondents rated the experience as more real than everyday waking consciousness. 96% believed the entity was conscious and intelligent, 75% thought that from their current perspective the entity existed, at least in part, in a different dimension or realty, 72% endorsed that they believed the entity continued to exist after the experience, and 80% indicated that the experience altered their fundamental conception of reality.’
The DMT experience is evidently a real subjective phenomenon. Even filtering for misrepresentations through deceit and false memories, the large number of testimonies, from both clinical research and surveys, over a long time period, point to the conclusion that this particular molecule consistently produces entity encounters via an altered state of consciousness. And many of the entities correlate with folkloric and modern faerie typologies.
The DMT Experience Compared to Folkloric and Modern Faerie Encounters
While folkloric faerie encounters (and modern encounters) were obviously not caused by inhalation or injection of DMT, many of the stories and testimonies from the record do involve the immersion of the participants into an ulterior reality inhabited by non-human intelligent entities. Little is known about how endogenous increases in DMT levels in the human brain can affect perception and alter states of consciousness, but this might be a mitigating factor in parapsychological experiences, in all time periods. Insufflating DMT is just one way of altering consciousness, which then results in an encounter with supernatural entities, but its potency may be endogenously available at all times, allowing altered states of consciousness whenever natural DMT aggregates are escalated.
One story from the folkloric record that does sound as if it were an historic version of a DMT experience is the well-documented description of Anne Jefferies, who, in the late 17th century experienced a vivid trip into an otherworld populated by faerie entities. After going into service with the wealthy Pitt family near St Teath, Cornwall she, one day while sitting in the arbour of the house, found herself accosted by ‘six little men, all clothed very handsome in green.’ The folklorist Robert Hunt recounted the subsequent testimony in his 1865 publication Popular Romances of the West of England. One of the little men ran his fingers over her eyes and she felt as if they’d been pricked with a pin…
… Suddenly Anne became blind, and she felt herself whirled through the air at a great rate. By and by, one of her little companions said something which sounded like “Tear away,” and lo! Anne had her sight at once restored. She was in one of the most beautiful places — temples and palaces of gold and silver. Trees laden with fruits and flowers. Lakes full of gold and silver fish and the air full of birds of the sweetest song, and the more brilliant colours. Hundreds of ladies and gentlemen were walking about. Hundreds more were idling in the most luxurious bowers, the fragrance of the flowers oppressing them with sense of delicious repose. Hundreds were also dancing, engaged in sports of various kinds. Anne was, however, surprised to find that these happy people were no longer the small people she had previously seen. There was now no more than the difference usually seen in a crowd, between their height and her own. Anne found herself arrayed in the most highly-decorated clothes. So grand, indeed, did she appear, that she doubted her identity. Anne was constantly attended by her six friends; but the finest gentleman, who was the first to address her, continued her favourite, at which the others appeared to be very jealous. Eventually Anne and her favourite contrived to separate themselves, and they retired into some most lovely gardens, where they were hidden by the luxuriance of the flowers. Lovingly did they pass the time, and Anne desired that this should continue for ever. However, when they were at the happiest, there was heard a great noise, and presently the five other fairies at the head of a great crowd came after them in a violent rage. Her lover drew his sword to defend her, but this was soon beaten down, and he lay wounded at her feet. Then the faerie who had blinded her again placed his hands upon her eyes, and all was dark. She heard strange noises, and felt herself whirled about and about, and as if a thousand flies were buzzing around her.
Anne woke up in the arbour surrounded by concerned people and was taken to convalesce. It is conjectured that she suffered from temporal lobe epilepsy, a condition which manifests traits similar to DMT-induced experiences. Interestingly, like many of the people on Strassman’s study and respondents to the Johns Hopkins survey, Anne found she was a changed person after the experience, and became transformed into a natural healer, gaining much fame for this in her subsequent life.
Anecdotal folklore about faerie encounters is rarely as detailed as Anne Jefferies’ story (Hunt’s narrative is backed up by contemporary letters, civil records and other accounts about her), but there are numerous testimonies about people who claim to have left consensus reality and entered another, where they meet faerie entities. This is perhaps best seen in the common motif of the faerie dance – where an individual enters into a circle of dancing faeries and remains in their otherworld for a short period of time, only to return to this world and find they have been absent for weeks, months or even years. This is perhaps the folklore turning a real numinous episode via an altered state of consciousness into a palatable story, with the allegorical slant that the trip into an otherworld gives an enhanced cubit of wisdom (even though that wisdom often leads to depression, a longing to be back in the faerie world, and even death) in a very short time – much like a DMT-induced episode.
While most people partaking of DMT will perhaps not be overly familiar with faerie folklore stories and motifs, they will probably be imbued with the faeries in popular culture. Put this alongside their likely knowledge of Terence McKenna and his various descriptions of machine-elves, and there may be a predisposition for the DMT experiencer to encounter faerie-type entities. The cultural code is locked into their subconscious and the molecule unlocks it, creating an apparently real encounter with a supernatural creature based on their hard-wired expectations.
This is also the case for modern faerie sightings where the participant has not engaged with DMT or any other mind-altering substance. As the recent census by The Fairy Investigation Society shows, there continue to be many people reporting encounters with faerie entities. Indeed, the rate of modern testimonies of non-psychedelic induced experiences far outstrips the number of people detailing their DMT encounters. But both may be culturally coding their experiences (or maybe not, as explored below). There are certainly many similarities between DMT and non-DMT testimonies of faerie encounters. This example is from The Fairy Investigation Society’s census (#114) and happened to a female in her twenties during the 1990s in Somerset, UK:
‘Friends had gone ahead and I straggled behind. As I turned a corner, it was misty. The mist had a weird glow. As I walked into the low mist there was a procession [of faeries] around three feet tall. With lanterns! But in the mist, I paused and they saw me. They came forward and I waited for them to pass. They passed. I have never taken drugs and was not on any alcohol. This was the weirdest experience. It lasted three to five minutes. By [the] time I got back to cottage my friends were concerned as I was away for around forty-five minutes! Very strange. They looked medieval in dress. But their clothes were covered by the mist at times.’
The time dilation and feeling of numinosity, and, of course, the meeting with (apparently intelligent) humanoid entities, could come from a DMT-trip report (she also reported a prickling of the skin during the event). The woman also explained how the event changed her life and made her more open-minded. But the main difference is that (despite the missing time) the respondent encountered the faerie entities within consensus reality. She was not in an alternate reality. This is the main contrast between most (but not all) modern faerie experiences, which have not been induced by a mind-altering substance and DMT encounters, which always happen in a hyper-space. This could suggest that with DMT rushing through the brain the experience is taken further, and those people encountering entities without its benefit only get a partial view, constrained within their natural environment. The folkloric record is more divergent on this. The stories such as Anne Jefferies’, and the circle dancing experiences transport the participant into the otherworld of the faeries, but, the majority of faerie folklore happens in the everyday world, where the entities infringe upon our reality and make their appearances there.
The intersect to this may be found among people who claim clairvoyance, usually deemed second-sight in the folkloric record. This is prevalent from the observations of the Reverend Robert Kirk in the late 17th century through to the testimonies gathered by WY Evans-Wentz at the beginning of the 20th century. Certain people appear to be able to alter their state of consciousness to the extent where they experience faerie entities. While the experience usually happens within their own reality, they also seem to enter otherworlds for short periods, much in the way a DMT psychonaut might. The Theosophist Rudolf Steiner attempted to explain the mechanics of clairvoyance, when a person must transform their usually passive thought forms into something more dynamic in order to enter what he termed the elemental world. 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).
This ability is still to be found in the modern world. Marko Pogačnik is a contemporary clairvoyant, and he writes lucidly about the states of consciousness he is able to manifest, and the faerie-type entities he experiences when this is achieved. For Pogačnik the location of the encounters with entities is malleable and sits more comfortably within a space of consciousness – a liminal place that is neither of this world nor out of it. It might be termed the metaphysical intersect.
The Metaphysical Intersect
If we can accept that people do have subjective encounters with faerie-entities (however induced), the main questions to ask would seem to be: How can it happen? Where does it happen? And where do the entities come from? For the DMT experience, the first question appears relatively easy to answer; a person takes a potent psychedelic substance and it alters their state of consciousness to the degree where they are present in an otherworld, where the entities are frequently encountered. The encounter thus takes place in an entirely non-physical location. This does not mean the location is not real – our entire perception of reality is mediated through (non-physical) consciousness, and if it is altered by a substance such as DMT, the experiences can be seen to be as real as our everyday existence. This fits within the recently reinvigorated theory of idealism. A number of philosophers and theoretical physicists, among them Bernardo Kastrup and Amit Goswami, have applied interdisciplinary methodologies to theorise that the tenets of idealism are the best explanation for how reality works, as opposed to any materialist explanation, which supposes that consciousness is an epiphenomenon of the brain. The basic tenet is that Mind (not the material brain) is the ontological primitive, making material reality a product of consciousness, not the other way round. There is a single universal consciousness and we are sub-sets of it. Without it or us, there is no physical reality.
This outlook allows for anything experienced within consciousness to be real. If consciousness is altered in any way, or even if the electro-magnetic physical environment is shifted, there is room to allow in things that are not usually within our consciousness horizon. If consciousness is primary we can perhaps explain all entity encounters (faerie and otherwise) as attributes of our fundamental, principal non-physical experience. This reasoning could also be applied to folkloric and (substance-free) modern entity encounters. It’s all culturally coded, but can be allowed within our perceptive frames of reference.
However, this does not really answer the question of where faerie entities come from. Neither does it explain how there can sometimes be a physical residue from the encounters, a common motif in folklore, and even more common in entity experiences related to what are usually termed alien abductions. The late Harvard psychiatrist John Mack was especially articulate on this point. Here he is talking about the alien abduction phenomenon, but it is pertinent to any encounter with non-human intelligent entities:
‘The idea that we live in a multidimensional universe populated by beings or life-forms that are less densely embodied than we are, or perhaps not embodied at all, is not new to Eastern religious traditions or to most of the indigenous peoples of the world. But it is not a cosmos that is familiar or accepted as existing by the scientific culture of Western society, which has, perhaps once necessarily, constructed a universe in which the material or psychological, the seen and unseen realms, have been kept largely separate so that the physical world might be understood and mastered in its own right.’
This has been further explored by Jeffrey Kripal, Professor in Philosophy and Religious Thought at Rice University in Houston, Texas. In his most recent book, The Flip: Epiphanies of Mind and the Future of Knowledge, and in conjunction with Whitley Streiber in the 2017 book The Super Natural: A New Vision of the Unexplained, he has attempted to get under the skin of the metaphysical intersect, which apparently allows humans to experience supernatural entities. While allowing for the possibility that all such encounters may be reduced to an equivalence of a dream, Kripal attempts to suggest something more is happening:
‘The body-brain crafts consciousness into a human form through a vast network of highly evolved biology, neurology, culture, language, family, and social interactions until a more or less stable ego or ‘I’ emerges, rather like the way the software and hardware of your laptop can pick up a Wi-Fi signal and translate the Internet into the specificities of your screen and social media. The analogy is a rough and imperfect one, but it gets the basic point across. Sometimes, however, the reducer is compromised or temporarily suppressed. The filtering or reduction of consciousness does not quite work, and other forms of mind or dimensions of consciousness, perhaps even other species or forms of life, that are normally shut out now ‘pop in.’ In extreme cases, it may seem that the cosmos itself has suddenly come alive and is all there. Perhaps it is.’
The DMT experience of supernatural entities is only a part of this metaphysical intersect, but it is important, not least due to the consistency of the testimonies. Most people who take DMT experience intelligent entities, and many of their encounters are similar enough to folkloric and modern faerie testimonies to allow for the possibility the experiences are related. David Luke has spent much time attempting to codify the ontology of DMT encounters, and his most recent paper Anomalous Psychedelic Experiences (discussed above) has a full bibliography of his work. Part of his investigation into the ontology of the entities is based on Peter Meyer’s 1992 (revised 1997) study Apparent Communication with Discarnate Entities Induced by Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), and so it might be appropriate to return to Meyer’s eight-point interpretative framework, which still holds good as a code of assessment for explaining the DMT experience and, most especially, where the entities might be coming from:
- It’s all merely subjective hallucination; there are no entities. The DMT state may be interesting, even extremely so, but there are no independently-existing entities to be found there.
- DMT provides access to a parallel or higher dimension, a truly alternate reality which is, in fact, inhabited by independently-existing intelligent entities forming (in the words of Terence McKenna) “an ecology of souls”.
- DMT allows awareness of processes at a cellular or even sub-atomic level. DMT users are tapping into the network of cells in the brain or even into communication among molecules themselves. It might even be an awareness of quantum mechanical processes at the atomic or sub-atomic level.
- DMT is, perhaps, a neurotransmitter in reptilian brains and in the older, reptilian parts of mammalian brains. Flooding the human brain with DMT causes the older reptilian parts of the brain to dominate consciousness, resulting in a state of awareness which appears totally alien (and sometimes very frightening) to the everyday monkey mind.
- A non-human intelligent species created humans by genetic modification of existing primate stock then retreated. So that we would have a way to call them if we needed to they left behind biochemical methods for contacting them. The psychedelic tryptamines are chemical keys that activate certain programs in the human wetware that were placed there intentionally by these entities as a way to contact them.
- The realm to which DMT provides access is the world of the dead. The entities experienced are the souls, or personalities, of the departed, which retain some kind of life and ability to communicate. The realm of dead souls, commonly believed in by cultures and societies other than that of the modern West, is now accessible to Westerners by using DMT.
- The entities experienced are beings from another time who have succeeded in mastering the art of time travel (or the art of moving from one time stream to another), not in a way which allows materialisation but in a way which allows them to communicate with conscious beings such as ourselves when in an altered state.
- The entities are probes from an extraterrestrial or even an extradimensional species, sent out to make contact with organisms such as ourselves who are able to manipulate their nervous systems in a way which allows communication to take place.
Points 3 and 4 could be expanded to incorporate Carl Jung’s theory of the Collective Unconscious where archetypes of human consciousness manifest as specific entities (sub-groups of archetypes) when certain conditions are met. Folkloric faerie entities do often adhere to known sub-archetypal typologies and seem dependent on time-specific cultural codes. The DMT experience appears to have updated these codes to include some sci-fi characters, while also retaining many of the folkloric elements.
There are evidently many differences between experiences of faerie entities in folklore/modern encounters and those from DMT use. But there are also enough similarities for us to ask the question about the phenomenological correspondence. People in the past and the present appear to have experienced a range of faerie entities, through a variety of means; injecting or inhaling DMT can invoke analogous experiences. Faerie entities, however experienced, and while morphing through different taxonomies through time, do seem to be resistant to cultural changes – they retain their form and remain recognisable as a category of supernatural entity. Whether they exist in an autonomous reality, which interacts with ours occasionally, or whether they are aspects of human consciousness, accessible under certain conditions, they remain with us; liminal but exclusive, at a metaphysical intersect.
Three recommended recent books about the DMT experience are DMT Dialogues: Encounters with the Spirit Molecule (ed. David Luke and Rory Spowers), which is the published version of a 2015 conference with some of the leading luminaries elucidating the exploration of the DMT world, Dick Khan’s personal testimony DMT & My Occult Mind: Investigation of Occult Realities Using the Spirit Molecule, and Graham St John’s Mystery School in Hyperspace: A Cultural History of DMT.
Graham Hancock’s Supernatural: Meetings with the Ancient Teachers of Mankind is required reading, and goes into some detail about the correlations between DMT and entity encounters from a range of sources, including Hancock’s own experiences with both Ayahuasca and synthetic DMT. Sean Esbjörn-Hargens has also recently produced a comprehensive codex into encounters with non-human intelligences: Our Wild Kosmos! An Exo Studies Exploration of the Ontological Status of Non-Human Intelligences. While not specifically about the DMT experience, this study provides a categorisation blueprint for all future investigations into supernatural entities. And Anthony Peake’s excellent The Hidden Universe: An Investigation into Non-Human Intelligences also delves deep into the phenomenon.
The cover image is by Vitaly S Alexius.