Charles Bonnet Syndrome and the Faeries

I was recently interviewed by Simon Young for the Fairy Investigation Society. He wanted to explore my experiences brought on by the condition known as Charles Bonnet Syndrome, and how this might relate to an understanding of what the faeries are, and the interfaces between metaphysical entity encounters and consciousness. I usually keep my own persona and experiences out of deadbutdreaming posts, and I have not talked about my acquaintance with the syndrome in any public format before this. But I thought readers might be interested in what this unusual condition entails, and the possible relationship between its symptoms and the faeries. Thanks to Simon for the interview and agreeing for it to be re-posted here.

Neil, thanks so much for agreeing to talk. Many of our readers will know you from one of the most extraordinary blogs on faerie-lore: deadbutdreaming. Can you tell us something about yourself and how you became so interested in faerie-lore?

I have a doctorate in archaeology from the University of Cambridge, and have been practising archaeology since 1992. About two decades ago I became interested in the confluence between various prehistoric archaeological sites and folklore, after reading Leslie Grinsell’s Folklore of Prehistoric Sites in Britain (1976).

A common experience, I think.

Indeed, and since then I’ve written more and more about folklore. My special interest is in the faerie-lore of Britain, as I quickly realised that these entities were deeply embedded in so much of the folklore of these isles, and that the great wealth of lore about them must mean something. I originally approached the subject from a purely traditional folkloric perspective – that is, understanding the faeries as remnants of previous historic belief systems, and perhaps as characters to explain the human condition through Jungian psychology. This changed somewhat during a meditation session at West Kennet Long Barrow in Wiltshire. This is a Neolithic burial chamber (it would have also been used for a variety of other ritual purposes), and while meditating within its confines in 1999 I had a vivid and super-real experience of various faerie creatures – very Froud-like, and evidently as aware of me as I was of them.

Was this your first experience of meditating?

No, I’d been meditating for a few years by this time, but it was my first experience meditating at a prehistoric site. It took me a long time to incorporate this encounter in to my world-view, but since this time I have had many more experiences, and my research into others’ encounters has drawn me to the conclusion that the faeries are some type of real entity. My current tentative interpretation is that they represent some aspect of human consciousness, not usually apparent in consensus reality, but which can interact with us when certain conditions are met. This is slightly simplistic, as the faeries certainly represent many more things than this, but I am convinced that at some level they are agents of a metaphysical reality that can overlap our own. I have been writing about this on my blog site since 2016.

Neil I know that you suffer from Charles Bonnet Syndrome. As many readers will not have heard of Charles Bonnet Syndrome, can you tell us a bit about it and why it is so often associated with faeries and other supernatural experiences?

The syndrome is named after the Swiss naturalist, who first described the condition in 1760. The standard NHS description of Charles Bonnet Syndrome (CBS) is that it is: ‘a condition experienced by people who are losing, or have lost, their sight. It involves seeing things which are not really there (having visual hallucinations). The hallucinations are most marked in low light or when relaxing and are often complicated scenes involving faces, children and wild animals.’ However, this is simply a description from a materialist, reductionist perspective, that assesses anything without material substance as ‘not real’. My own experiences [ed. see below] do not feel like hallucinations, and this is a common thread of many people who have CBS visual encounters. They will frequently describe humanoid entities (sometimes cartoon-like) that appear, usually fleetingly, in what remains of their peripheral vision. But there is usually interaction with these entities, and a feeling of something real being present, much in the same way as if another person were in the space. The correspondence between these descriptions and folkloric descriptions of the faeries and modern anecdotal testimonies of a variety of supernatural beings (including, but not limited to faeries) is distinct and noticeable.

If you don’t mind me asking how did you realise that you had CBS? How long did diagnosis take?

I lost most of my sight in my left eye through a retinal occlusion in 2014. In late 2015, after knocking myself unconscious through a fall, my visual cortex was damaged and limited the vision in my right eye as well. Shortly after this the symptoms of CBS began to manifest. I had never heard of CBS, and it was only after a discussion with my then psychiatrist that I was made aware this syndrome might be causing the unusual visuals I was experiencing. I then discussed the issue with my ophthalmologist, who termed the condition Visual Release Hallucinations. An ophthalmologist will not diagnose a person with CBS/VRH as such, but mine did take the time to discuss the condition with me, explaining that it is an uncommon, but well-known symptom of people with my type of optical problems. I have regular six-month ophthalmological assessments for my eyesight, and each report now contains a short section describing the continuing symptoms.

You talked about your own experiences? Can you give us some examples?

The visual entities I experience with CBS usually (though not exclusively) appear in low light, but never in total darkness, and I am always alone when they eventuate. This has happened several times a week since damaging my visual cortex in 2015. Sometimes the visuals are simple lights or smoke-like wisps, which are usually just glimpsed in my peripheral vision, last only a few seconds, and there is only a limited sense that there is something ‘present’. But often the visuals are more substantial, and will manifest as slightly cartoonish humanoid entities, frequently dressed in either archaic clothing or in garb that seems to emit a dull glow. The most fascinating aspect of these visuals is their apparent concrete reality, and even more compelling is the awareness that something is most definitely present. This always includes a form of telepathic communication, usually in the form of a series of phrases, which I never seem to be able to reply to. I can’t stress how real these communications are – as real as if someone were sitting next to me and talking.

Extraordinary! How long do they last?

Usually between a few seconds and several minutes. Any attempt to look directly at the entities will halt the experience; they do seem to exist only in the periphery of vision. I’ve learnt to not attempt to look straight at the visuals if I want the encounter to continue. A recent example involved a small, mechanical gnome-like entity who materialised on the arm of my sofa and proceeded to communicate the repeated words ‘Everything will be ok, let go of all anxiety… everything will be ok.’ I do realise that this sounds quite insane, and when these manifestations first began (although I was never frightened by them – they never seem to emit any hostility or malevolence, only empathy), I thought that the trauma of losing so much eyesight was taking me towards a mental breakdown. This is a common feeling of people with CBS. But after a while I just accepted the experiences as part of everyday life. I have to admit that I have come to enjoy the unusual nature of the experiences.

You talked of the sense that the vision is next to you: do you have the sense that the voice is real too?

Very much so. The voices are never present without the visuals, and it is always quite clear they are coming from the same source. Again, when this first started to happen I did a lot of research into the symptoms of schizophrenia, one of which can be hearing disembodied voices, but I quickly satisfied myself that I was not suffering from this disorder. Having spoken with several people with schizophrenia since, I have realised their experiences are very different than mine.

And how often do you have these visions? Once a week? Once a day?

It does vary – probably twice a week on average, but sometimes they’ll be absent for as long as a fortnight, while other times I’ll experience them more than once a day. There is some type of link to how anxious I am feeling; they are more likely to appear during periods of anxiety. But this is not always the case – they seem to have their own timetable!

Would you interpret these as hallucinations then; or are you, somehow, getting privileged sights of a deeper reality?

I think that CBS may be one among many ways of allowing access to non-material phenomenon. If we are willing to accept that consciousness is not an epiphenomenon of the brain (thereby allowing CBS visions to be relegated to brain-generated hallucinations), but rather that consciousness is primary, and the instigator of reality, then these visuals may be allowed to take on an autonomous reality of their own. One way of looking at it is by seeing the brain as a reducing valve of a greater consciousness (à la Aldous Huxley), and that if it becomes damaged or altered in any way, it may allow in aspects of consciousness that are usually filtered out, thereby altering the genuine perception of an ulterior or supernal reality experienced by the person with the damaged/altered brain.

But, in as simple a language as possible, how does this work: how is it that a medical condition can lead to this extended vision?

I think CBS is a type of altered state of consciousness. I have taken a variety of psychedelics through my life, and there are definitely similarities in the perception of a non-ordinary presence. For me, these entities more often than not take a form that many people would describe as faeries. There are many thousands of recent reports from people taking the potent psychedelic substance N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), which correlate closely with both folkloric descriptions of faeries and also CBS visions. As per the last answer, it seems to me as if a change to the brain can, under certain conditions, allow us to perceive what is usually suppressed in waking reality. Perhaps my long interest in faerie folklore has predisposed me to interpret the appearing entities as faeries (rather than, say, aliens or ghosts) but I cannot emphasise enough the vividness of the experiences and the apparent substantiality of the visions and the communications they impart.

Neil, fascinating. Thanks so much.

You’re welcome Simon.

The cover image is by the Amsterdam-based digital artist Peter Woko, and is called ‘Monkey King and Psychonaut’. Peter’s artwork can be found here, and his Twitter handle is @wokopsyart . Thanks to Peter for his permission to reproduce this piece on deadbutdreaming.

‘Visions and Pablo Amaringo’ by Loes Modderman

Here’s an article by the Dutch artist and writer Loes Modderman, which takes a look at the Ayahuasca-inspired visions of the late Peruvian shaman Pablo Amaringo. As with everyone who partakes of this potent psychedelic brew, Amaringo was able to touch diverse metaphysical realities, and interact with entities there, several steps removed from anything in our consensual physical material world. His large body of artwork is testament to what he found within these realities. Loes ties in Amaringo’s visions and art with a discussion of plant consciousness, UFOs, out-of-the-body experiences and Charles Bonnet Syndrome. All of this this relates to the faeries and their otherworld at a deep level. When consciousness is altered from its normal state, we can experience beings that appear to have an autonomous non-physical existence, and which interact with our material reality when certain conditions are met. Sometimes they appear as faeries, sometimes not. But whatever they represent, the ontology of the entities that are regularly experienced in altered states of consciousness demands investigation and interpretation.

The article was first published by The Fairy Investigation Society. Thanks to Loes for agreeing to allow deadbutdreaming to republish it here.

‘Visions and Pablo Amaringo’ by Loes Modderman

Plant Consciousness

On the question of how the Shamans of the Amazon know that certain plants contain exactly the right chemical components to induce otherwordly visions, these shamans tell us that they know it from the plants themselves. ‘The plants tell us’ sounds crazy in the ears of Western scientists. Or used to. But the subject of plant-plant and plant-human interaction has been explored by a lot of people, in the wake of the groundbreaking 1973  secret-life-of-plants-bookbook by Tompkins and Bird: The Secret Life of Plants. That plants are endowed with a particular kind of consciousness that makes them aware of us and able to respond to stimuli like attention, voices and music has been proven. They even compose their own music, as experiments in the Italian ecological community Damanhur seem to indicate. Plants also have empathy. Whoever reads the book Primary Perception (2003) written by lie- detector specialist Cleve Backster may still have a kind of guilty feeling whenever they slice a carrot or peel a potato. I have, time and again, but we have to eat, haven’t we?

In the longstanding Scottish community of Findhorn miracles happened. The barren ground in the harsh climate of north eastern Scotland was magically transformed into green gardens that yielded enormous vegetables and lots of flowers during the 1960s. Eileen Caddy (1907- 2006), one of the three people who started the community in the years after their arrival in 1962, was a clairvoyant, who talked to the plant spirits , just like the shamans of the Amazon and everywhere else in the world do. Nature spirits, caring for the plants, as is their given assignment, worked with Caddy and the results were not a question of belief, but of obvious fact. Caddy was able to see the spirits, which facilitated communication. They told her how to, and how not to. In this light the simple remark of a shaman is utterly believable: ‘the plants tell us.’

What is commonly known as ‘Ayahuasca’, a brew from a vine growing in the Amazonian rainforest, is actually made from two different plants, which supplement each other in making it work on our brains. The active substance is DMT – Dimethyltryptamine. This chemical compound differs from most other mind altering drugs: it takes the user into a different reality. And here it gets interesting, for in this reality there are elves as well as UFOs, and a lot of other real and mythical creatures. People using Ayahuasca in the forest or pure DMT in the laboratory come up with the same experience of having been somewhere outside normal space and time. Their experience is real and transformative, different from LSD or the more common psychoactive chemicals that manipulate this reality.

The Visions of Pablo Amaringo

Pablo Amaringo (1938-2009) was an ‘Ayahuasquero’, a simple Peruvian who took the brew regularly and transformed his visions into colorful paintings of exquisite beauty and multi-layered symbolism. Amaringo painted hundreds of them, and in his later years taught others. Spaceships and Faeries are intimately connected in Amaringo’s family of paintings. The first time Pablo took Ayahuasca he saw a huge UFO. Manuel, Pablo’s older brother, is a curandero, a healer. He employs mostly one special icaro – a sacred song rooted in the ‘music of Creation’ – which he learned from a faerie, named Altos Cielos Nieves.

The-Ayahuasca-Visions-of-Pablo-AmaringoIn 2011 an exceptional book was published, The Ayahuasca Visions of Pablo Amaringo (parenthesised numbers relate to the indexed images in this book), which sadly Amaringo never held in his hands while still being in this world. The book is a true legacy of the artist and his philosophy. Every painting is commented on and explained by Amaringo himself, and there are also several articles from Dennis McKenna, Jeremy Narby, Graham Hancock and other ‘psychonauts’ with DMT experience. Amaringo roamed many worlds. Reading through the explanations of his paintings and looking at them, one is overcome by the feeling that here is a reality more real than ours, and we ‘normal people’ are the ones living in a dream world.
 The interconnectedness of everything is the central theme; the universe is alive, there are multiple dimensions, plants and animals are conscious beings, conveying deep wisdom to the shaman. Amaringo’s Ayahuasca world is populated with mythical beings, the kind we have banished to faerie-tales or religion. There are many mermaids, shapeshifting animals, talking birds and dolphins, spirits of place like the undines, salamanders and sylphs of Paracelsus or the Comte de Gabalis. There are Angels, Devas, enlightened beings and extradimensional visitors. Heavenly, as well as under water cities exist in this visionary world.

‘Yana Huaman’ by Pablo Amaringo

Essential to all life are the Icaros, according to Amaringo, being ‘the sound of the Universe – the planets, stars, comets, Everything is created by music, by vibration, by sound. Icaros is the music of creation’ (172). Here many other traditions come to mind, and one is reminded of the Music of the Spheres, an old concept, which lately came to life again with the discovery of the sounds planets and the sun make and on which even electronic compositions were based. The painter sang Icaros into the paintings when working, which, he said, ‘makes them alive and endows them with healing powers’.

‘Pagoda Dorada’ by Pablo Amaringo

As for the UFOs he painted so colourfully: ‘Extraterrestrial ships visit Earth frequently. They come from parallel universes with Sumirunas (human beings that attained mastery over land, air and water) aboard them to understand the mysterious forces of electromagnetism and gravity that maintain the cosmos’ (128). In his explanation of the painting ‘Pagoda Dorada’ (145), Amaringo says: ‘In in the corner are extraterrestrial ships carrying beings who visited primitive peoples on earth in prehistoric times, and gave them laws and spiritual teachings.’ A repeatedly painted subject is the transformative power of shamans and living things. Matter is not something static, spirit is what determines its shape. ‘You see extraterrestrial ships arriving from a celestial city to teach sumirunas and banco sumis (maestros who have attained the level of an angel) the science of the transformation of physical matter’ (147). And: ‘The Incan masters transformed themselves into machaco runas (a being with the head of a human and the body of a serpent) with ease, and in this form were able to traverse the great distances between the galaxies at the speed of thought. These great maestros developed extrasensory abilities that allowed them to explore other dimensions and celestial realms’ (147). In another painting (149) Amaringo explains: ‘Here you see the flower of toé, a plant sometimes combined with Ayahuasca to intensify your visions. With toé you can learn what a person is thinking, and it can enable you to see spirit beings as they are in their natural form. Shamans use toé to help them delve into profound mysteries. They may be assisted by extraterrestrials, coming from Mars and Jupiter, and from other galaxies (150).’

‘Sumac Icaro’ by Pablo Amaringo

When the Shaman is in the process of healing someone from the influence of a malignant spirit, he sings the sublime sumac icaro. ‘The spirits always accept the invitation, and nymphs, dryads, faeries and hamadryads who live in the trees , and elves and sibyls all come to listen to the sumac icaro. Spirits arrive in spaceships from far away galaxies to see if someone needs them’ (151). In one painting Amaringo states: ‘There’s an extraterrestrial craft radiating a blue beam, which transmits knowledge from other dimensions’ (153). In one of the last paintings in the book, Misterio Profundo, a space ship has a central position. He explains: ‘The spaceship that has arrived from a distant galaxy brings spiritual beings to teach the sumiruna (far advanced humans), muraya (master with the ability to live under water) and banco sumi (master of wisdom, as wise as an angel) in their ceremony. They warn of the imbalance of the biosphere caused by man’s destruction of the rain forest. Through negligence, ignorance and greed, humans have prejudiced the delicate web of life on which we depend. The beings are giving shamans’ energy to heal the planet with icaros and soplos (smoke used in rituals and healing)’ (159).

‘Misterio Profundo’ by Pablo Amaringo

It is clear from these fragments that in the wisdom obtained by regularly drinking Ayahuasca no clear distinction is made between different realities. The idea is that multiple realities overlap and in fact fill the same space, only at different vibrational levels. Amaringo’s descriptions of what ‘extraterrestrials’ are doing in his paintings is seemingly as much part of our own abduction lore (the environmental warnings, the extraterrestrial origin on other planets) as it is of interdimensional origin, as described in the interaction with nature spirits, shamans and holy humans in an extradimensional space-time setting. Some elements also sound reminiscent of our own UFO lore: the shapeshifting abilities, the sudden appearance when being called, the ancient astronaut analogies and even the disappearances under water. Amaringo says that these vehicles may take many shapes, are able to attain infinite speed, and can travel under water or under the earth. The beings travelling in them are like spirits, having bodies more subtle than ours, appearing and disappearing at will. They belong to extraterrestrial civilizations that live in perfect harmony. Great Amerindian civilizations like the Maya, Tiahuanaco, and Inca had contact with these beings. Pablo says that he saw in his journeys with Ayahuasca that the Maya knew about this brew, and that they left for other worlds at some point in their history, but are about to return to this planet. In fact he says that some of the flying saucers seen by people today are piloted by Maya wise men. Just wondering: could the amazing frequency of UFOs seen in the heavens and on the grounds of the Latin American continent have any connection with their being ‘called’ and contacted by Ayahuasquero and shamans? Or do otherworldly beliefs and practice like those of the Candomblé and Umbanda religions in Brazil have any influence? If UFOs really are (sometimes) liminal objects, between ‘real’ and psychic, this could be a possibility.

‘Llullun Llaki Supai’ by Pablo Amaringo

Ayahuasca, OBEs, Faeries and DMT

Ayahuasca doesn’t yield its wonder-world easily. One has to grow into the experience and in this it is no different from moving to another country: one has to learn and adjust before one can easily find the way. What makes the Ayahuasca different from other drugs is that in time one encounters beings that seem to be aware of you being there. They react, and talk to you. There is interaction. How strange is that? No more strange than what Ingo Swann, the late psychic and Remote Viewer encountered when he visited the dark side of the Moon. He saw beings there, buildings, saucers, and they saw him too (Penetration, 1998). Imagine the power of the human mind, which allows us to project our consciousness over enormous distances and take an astral shape that can be seen, and talked to. Ingo Swann didn’t let that happen, he was simply afraid and left. What’s the difference between inner and outer space when Remote Viewing as well as Ayahuasca allows the psychonaut to have a conversation with beings from other worlds or other dimensions, while physically sitting in his easy chair? The late Terrence McKenna in True Hallucinations (1993) wrote: ‘A UFO is essentially this hyperspatially mobile psychic vortex, and the trip may well involve contact with some race of hyperspatial dwellers. Perhaps it will be an encounter similar to a ‘flying lesson’: instruction in the use of the transdimensional stone, how to navigate in hyperspace, and perhaps an introductory course in Cosmic Ecology tending.’

DMT-The-Spirit-Molecule-M-D-Rick-EB2370002753142People having Out of Body Experiences are doing the same thing, and some of them mention encounters with other OBE-ers, or frightening encounters with less agreeable astral beings. Probably the air around us is alive with astral junk, and not being able to see them is a gift. ‘Only with DMT do people meet up with them, with other beings in a nonmaterial world’, writes Rick Strassman in his book DMT – The Spirit Molecule (2001). No other drug has this effect. From 1990 till 1995 Rick Strassman carried out government sanctioned research at the University of New Mexico (normally DMT is a scheduled drug) with 60 volunteers, by injecting them with various doses of pure DMT. Karl, a 45 year old blacksmith, described his experience: ‘This was real strange. There were a lot of elves. They were prankish.(…) They commanded the scene, it was their terrain! They were about my height. (…) one of them made it impossible for me to move. There was no issue of control; they were totally in control. (…) I heard a giggling sound – the elves laughing or talking at high speed volume, chattering, twittering’.

Elves were met by Terrence McKenna too, on his regular DMT trips. He calls them ‘machine elves’. Some of them, seen by him and others, wear pointed hats and green elf- garb and are around one metre in height. Aaron, another of Strassman’s guinea pigs gave the following description: ‘An insectlike thing got right into my face, hovering over me as the drug was going in. This thing sucked me out of my head into outer space. It was clearly outer space, a black sky with millions of stars.’ In the next experiment Aaron felt helpless and being watched by reptilians. This all sounds very much like an alien abduction scenario, only nobody was abducted – not in the flesh, anyway. A guy named Lucas said: ‘There was a space station below me and to my right. There were at least two presences, one on either side of me, guiding me to a platform. I was aware of many entities inside the space station – automatons, androidlike creatures, except that they were living creatures, not robots.’. Experiences get increasingly strange and the whole hodgepodge of beings from faerie folklore and abduction scenarios are encountered. But if there are many dimensions, there is no reason to assume that every user of DMT end up in the same dimension. Some experiences are good and warm, others are extremely frightening, but all are absurdly weird. For almost every person who participates, these experiences are among the most impressive and unforgettable of their whole lives.

9780987422484Jacques Vallée has done pioneering work in Passport to Magonia (1969), in which he explores the many similarities between folklore and Ufology. He was the first to study this subject scientifically, though not the first to pay attention to the phenomena in this way. Many followed, among them the Fortean writers John Keel and Jerome Clark. I’m not going into Vallée now, everyone should read this book. Vallée never mentioned DMT though. In the light of the DMT related visions we can safely assume that the world of spirits and elementals, and the world of UFOs are somehow connected by inter-dimensional strings. How, we don’t know. Maybe all dimensions are endowed with the same ‘magic’ and the same characteristics. Something really fascinating is going on.

A Postscript – Charles Bonnet Syndrome

‘CBS’ by Cecil Riley

People with a form of macular degeneration, known as ‘Charles Bonnet Syndrome’ lose sight at the centre of their vision. But in some cases that is not all that happens. Some of them, maybe many, start hallucinating. They see all kinds of beings parading through their rooms and in the street. Some are ‘extra’ people or animals, others are characters that seem to be out of faerie folklore. Ophthalmologists are quick to point out that this is one of many tricks our brains play on us, when there is lack of visual stimulants. Our minds tend to fill in the blanks. Oh, is that so? I always have the feeling that some scientists can’t think straight, because of all the eye woes that people suffer – cataract, inherited bad eyes, you name it – Charles Bonnet Syndrome is the only one where the brains seem to produce ‘replacement’ stimuli in this particular way. Strangely enough, this theory is the accepted one. Clifford Pickover, who talks about Charles Bonnet Syndrome extensively in his book Sex, Drugs, Einstein & Elves (2005) compares the Bonnet experience with DMT visions. Elves, strange midgets with pointed heads, angels, ghostly figures, aliens, floating processions of the damned parade where they should not be. Small wonder that the sufferer thinks he is raving mad, and is reluctant to mention his visions to his family. DMT is a substance that naturally occurs in our brains: it makes you wonder why it is forbidden in many countries! Just a thought: could it be that the brains of people with Charles Bonnet Syndrome are somehow opening up, or producing more of the chemical for some unknown reason, rending the veil between dimensions? Are there always, in every Charles Bonnet patient, the same sort of visions? Somehow these visions are triggered. Somehow these visions must be real, somewhere. Maybe these people are compensated in a very unusual way for the partial loss of sight.


The cover image is ‘Sumac Ňusta’ by Pablo Amaringo. He describes her thus: Sumak Ňusta – Hermosa Doncella. She is a faerie from the Aquarius constellation and she stands in front of a celestial temple inspiring love, beauty, and gentleness. In her hand she holds a jar of aromatic balsam, and flowing from this are iridescent waves that transmit the sublime fragrance of flowers. She is a specialist in the extraction and distillation of balsams, scents, and incenses from flowering plants found only on earth. Her delightful perfumes are a source of joy and contentment for these extraterrestrial beings.

Loes’ artwork can be found at her website here. She also has a blogsite ParaVaria. Prints of Pablo Amaringo’s original artwork can be viewed and purchased here.