ARTHUR NO. 34 / APRIL 2013

Oversized broadsheet newspaper
24 15″ x 22.75″ pages (16 color, 8 b/w)


Now with 50% more pages, Arthur continues its comeback in the bold new broadsheet newspaper format that’s turning heads and drawing critical acclaim.

In this issue…

After 20-plus years navigating strange, inspiring trips across myriad underground psychedelic terrains with a host of fellow free folk, righteous musician/head MATT VALENTINE (MV & EE, Tower Recordings, etc) finally spills all possible beans in an unprecedented, career-summarizing, ridiculously footnoted epic interview by BYRON COLEY. Plus: Deep archival photo finds from the MV vaults, a sidebar wander through some important MV listening experiences with your guide Dan Ireton, and a gorgeous cover painting by ARIK ROPER of MV & EE at peace in the cosmic wild. Delicious!

Orange County, California psych rockers FEEDING PEOPLE left the church, entered the void, lost band members and returned to our reality to sing their tale in glorious reverb. Chris Ziegler investigates, with photography by Ward Robinson…

Everyone needs someone to love, and AROMATIC APHRODISIACS are here to help that lovin’ along (sans wack pharma side effects). From truffles to borrachero, author-scholars CHRISTIAN RATSCH and CLAUDIA MULLER-EBELING get in on the action. Illustrations by Kira Mardikes…

Gabe Soria chats with novelist AUSTIN GROSSMAN (Soon I Will Be Invincible) about the basic weirdness of playing (and making) VIDEO GAMES, with art by Ron Rege, Jr….

All-new full-color comics by Lale Westvind, Will Sweeney, Vanessa Davis and Jonny Negron…

Is there a way to examine the nature of existence at its very foundation? Esoteric mapmaker DAVID CHAIM SMITH says yes—but there’s a price. Interview by Jay Babcock…

Stewart Voegtlin on what (or: who) made MELVINS’ 1992 beercrusher Lysol the most unlikely religious record ever built, with art by Stewart’s Chips N Beer mag compatriot Beaver…

“Weedeater” Nance Klehm on BETTER HOME BREWING…

The Center for Tactical Magic on ANARCHO-OCCULTISM…

PLUS! Byron Coley and Thurston Moore’s essential underground review column, Bull Tongue, now expanded to two giant pages. Covered in this issue: New York Art Quartet, Don Cauble, Douglas Blazek, Rick Myers, Desmadrados, Century Plants, Richard Aldrich, Robbie Basho, Steffen Basho-Junghans, Bed Wettin’ Bad Boys, Michael Zacchilli, Pat Murano, Tom Carter, Les Conversions, Hobo Sunn, Decimus, Saifyya, Jeff Keen, Inspector 22, Yves/Son/Ace, Pink Priest, Smegma, Nouvelle Impressions D’Afrique, K. Johnson Bair, Major Stars, Endless Boogie, David Novick, Joe Carducci, Scam, Erick Lyle, Phantom Horse, Failing Lights, Tomuntonttu, The Lost Domain, George Laughead jr., Xochi, Sublime Frequencies, Barbara Rubin, Red Rippers, Linda King, Cuntz, My Cat Is An Alien, Bird Build Nests Underground, Pestrepeller, Painting Petals on Planet Ghost, Peter Stampfel, Joshua Burkett, Michael Chapman, L’Oie de Cravan Press, Genvieve Desrosiers, The Residents, Dawn McCarthy, Bonnie Prince Billy, Ensemble Pearl, Azita, Woo, Galactic Zoo Dossier, Mad Music INc., White Limo, Excusamwa, Little Black Egg, Dump, Jarrett Kobek, Felix Kubin, The Army, Bruce Russell, and Gate…

And more stuff too hot to divulge online!

Please keep in mind… Arthur is no longer distributed for free anywhere. Those days are (sadly) long gone. Now you gotta buy Arthur or you won’t see it. Our price: Five bucks—not so bad!


Jeremy Narby on what hallucinogens like LSD and the Amazonian drink ayahuasca have to teach us (Arthur, 2006)

Canadian-Swiss anthropologist JEREMY NARBY on what hallucinogens like LSD and the Amazonian drink ayahuasca have to teach us

Introduction by Erik Davis
Q & A by Jay Babcock
Illustration by Arik Roper

Originally published in Arthur No. 22/May 2006

by Erik Davis

The anthropologist and author Jeremy Narby hit the intellectual freak scene in 1998 when he published The Cosmic Serpent, an audacious, intriguing, and entertaining dose of righteous mind candy that grew out of his decades-long explorations—both personal and scholarly—of the ayahuasca-swilling tribes of the upper Amazon. A Canadian living in Switzerland—at least when he’s not researching in the jungle or working on indigenous rights—Narby is no bug-eyed hippie prophet of “the tea.” He is a grounded, sensible fellow with a dry wit, an unromantic but respectful view of shamanism, and an allergy to vaporous supernatural claims. (In Europe he also sometimes performs with the guys behind the Young Gods, a seminal Swiss industrial band that led the Wax Trax pack back in the day.) While Narby’s head has definitely been broken open, his book does not spend a lot of time on the “spiritual” import of the jungle brew. Instead, Narby focuses on one of the biggest claims made by the Amazonian shamans: that their ritual ingestion of the hallucinogenic brew not only brought them contact with the spirits of animals and healing forces, but actually gave them knowledge—actual data—about the workings of the jungle around them.

After all, some sort of weird data transfer is going on in the jungle (though its hard to say it reaches the increasing numbers of spiritual tourists who are now hustling down to the Amazon and transforming shamanic culture with first world dollars). The existence of ayahuasca itself may be one of the greatest mysteries. Ayahuasca is not one plant, but a relatively complex brew that requires a fair amount of preparation. How did the old ones know that, out of the 80,000 some species of plants in the jungle, only this vine, combined with that shrub, and then boiled down into black gook, can produce the mother of all trips (not to mention some grade-A karmic Drain-O)?

Narby takes the mystery one step further: could the shamans be right? Could the brew, which one informant calls “the television of the jungle,” facilitate the knowledge of the jungle? To approach this question, Narby attempts to “defocalize” his gaze so that he can perceive science and indigenous understandings at more or less the same time. This trippy conceptual exercise leads him to the central mindfuck of the book: that the serpents that commonly slip into the visual field during ayahuasca trips are a figurative expression of the ultimate source of ayahuasca’s visionary communiqués: the coils of DNA. Ayahuasca is not just a head trip – it is a communication with the “global network of DNA-based life.” Narby is no true believer, and he is somewhat startled by his own hypothesis, but that makes it all the more compelling, and the lengthy notes in the back of the book prove he is doing more than riffing.

After co-editing a powerful collection of first-hand reports of Western encounters with shamans, Narby came out with the book Intelligence in Nature. Rejecting the idea that plants and “lower” animals are mute mechanisms, Narby uncovers scientific evidence that impressive feats of cognition are going on outside the precious smartypants club of the higher primates. Narby looks at bees capable of abstract thought, and unicellular slime molds who are able to solve mazes. Perhaps inevitably, the book is not as wild a ride as The Cosmic Serpent, and Narby spends too much time describing his mundane journeys to research labs and too little time wrestling with how “intelligence” relates to choice, or awareness, or intention. Nonetheless, the book is a worthwhile example of Narby’s “defocalized” gaze – an undeniably scientific appreciation whose inspiration lies with the fundamental shamanic belief that other creatures, and even some plants, are, in their own world, “people” like us.

Cby Jay Babcock over the telephone in late January, 2006

Arthur: You attended the conference on LSD held in Basel this past January to coincide with the 100th birthday of the father of LSD, Dr. Albert Hoffman. What happened there?

Jeremy Narby: What didn’t happen? I think one needs metaphors to get at it, really. When LSD hit in the ‘60s, it was like a drop of mercury that went in all kinds of directions, broke into a lot of different shards. Because LSD affects consciousness and consciousness affects everything, LSD had an impact in art, in music, in thinking, in the personal computer industry, in biology, and so on. In Basel all the different little pieces came back together and arranged themselves in a kind of mosaic that was psychedelic, multi-faceted and beautiful. All the chickens came home to roost after 40 years, looking good. One of my favorite moments was when Christian Ratsch came on the big stage with Guru Guru, which is the original Krautrock band. He was walking around with amber incense and stuff, providing incantations and shamanistic energy during the set, and these sprightly gentlemen, who must be about 55, just rocked the house down. It was fantastic.

Arthur: So, where does it go from here?

Jeremy Narby: One of the aims of the symposium was a kind of explicit political aim at getting psychedelic research back on the scientific map, and I think the point’s well taken. But you know, I’ve been working as an activist to get recognition for the knowledge systems of indigenous peoples and essentially despite a couple of decades of work and a lot of clear data (it seems to me), there’s really a fundamental resistance coming out of rationalism, coming out of Western cultures, coming out of the political systems. So I have the feeling of having led the horse to water but it didn’t want to drink. Sure, we can talk to the horse nicely and try and get it to drink the water some more, but finally I feel like more drastic tactics are needed. Like kicking the horse in the butt, or telling it to go and take a hike, or turning your back on it.

So I applaud these efforts to legalize psychedelic research, but… There are those among us who have wanted to use hallucinogens how indigenous people use them—in a serious way to understand the world. And we’ve been doing it, underground, for the last bunch of decades, and getting results that are richer and more interesting than what the Western rationalists are producing. So, I’d say that I’d rather take hallucinogens and then write stunning books than make speeches about hallucinogens.

Arthur: What was the response of Western rationalists to your hypothesis in The Comsic Serpent—that Amazonian shamans were actually receiving information at the molecular level via the ayahusaca trance?

Jeremy Narby: Scientists said that I hadn’t tested my hypothesis. Well, okay : I was just happy to have it considered testable! [chuckles] So how do we test it? Well, you try to falsify your hypothesis. You come up with a test to try to demonstrate that it’s wrong. That’s the scientific method. So, I thought, let’s send three Western molecular biologists with questions in their labwork down to the Amazon and put them into ayahuasca-induced trances. If they didn’t come up with any information then my hypothesis would start to look falsified. Now, it is a heavy thing to ask people who have never taken mindbending hallucinogens before to submit themselves to the experience in the name of science. These people are making their psyches available to you and then you distort them with these powerful hallucinogenic plants. In terms of ethics, this is even worse than experimenting on animals. It’s experimenting on humans. They were consulting subjects and all, but sheesh, this is serious business. I mean, the first thing that ayahuasca does, before it answers whatever questions you might put to it, is it tells you about yourself. It puts its finger on your weak spots, fast. It encourages you to clean up your act. This makes it a hard path to knowledge for somebody who’s into ‘being objective’ in the lab. As a scientist, you’re not supposed to pay attention to your subjectivity—you’re supposed to jettison it. But when you end up in an ayahuasca experience, it’s your little subjective self that is the hot point. Your subjective self comes to the forefront in your acquisition of knowledge. For a scientist, that’s a rough one.

Arthur: You were able to find volunteers, nonetheless. I gather they were colleagues… ?

Continue reading

Christian Ratsch on Pilsenkraut


(pilsen – imagine, to fantasize, to have a vision, kraut – plant, shrub)

[Experiment with utmost care – tropanes can be deadly when used wrong.]

On making the real pilsen, as told by Christian Ratsch

Transcribed from tape by N. Ipo

Henbane has been used for several purposes. The ancient greeks used it for divination in Delphi, the english have used it for hunting chicken (hence the henbane). The celts used it to kill old people unable to travel with the tribe. Germans used to it to make pilsener, beer. ‘What?’ you ask, ‘I thought they used hops in making beer.’ True, but this was before the Czecks invented new brewing technique in 19th century, using a special yeast and lots of hops producing beer with yellow color and bitter taste known today as pilsener. The original pilsener was brewed with henbane instead of hops, hallucinogenic plant instead of an sedative. It quite easy to brew henbane-beer – pilsen.


20 liters of water
1 liter of malt (Use readymade malt)
1/2 liter honey
40 grams of dried henbane leaves
yeast for beer (amount depends on the product)

Find container that’s big enough. Cook the henbane in water for 5 to 10 minutes. Dissolve the malt in couple of liters of water, dissolve the honey, add henbane leaf-water. Add yeast. It might be useful to add a little bit more yeast than recommended because the tropane-alkaloids affect the yeast. Don’t close the container, it may explode [because of the pressure, I suppose –N. Ipo]. According to Ratsch, 40 grams of dried henbane leaves is enough to kill a person,
so don’t drink all the 20 liters all by yourself. =)

Brew should start fermenting after 1 and 1/2 days and the fermentation should be finished after 4 or 5 days. Red pilsener beer is now ready. You can also bottle it, add a few drops of honey to each bottle and let ferment for another week or two. Serve on easter, eclipses and solistices, preferably chilled. Store as normal beer.

Do not use belladonna as an substitute, it contains atropine, which, according to Ratsch is, “no fun.” Henbane contains mainly scopolamine, especially if it is dried. Scopolamine might work nicely for you, or it might not – one just has to find out if one is a ‘scopolamine-person’.

Christian Ratsch lectures about the pilsener: “Well, I have to tell you some of the effects, too – [snickers, laughs] – when we drink it we usually gather with some friend, 6-8 people, and, er, then we have these big horns, you know, real drinking horns, and… er.. Its the best thing to drink from because the drinking horn, its, its like I have one like this size, very, very nice… You touch it and it feels like an erotic body or somethin very [mutter]… So you drink from this, and then you pass it around. This was actually what our ancestors did for their rituals, they had these horns, drinking it, giving, saying something, a greeting of a god or greeting to the ancestors… …And they drink so much, and it is said, in the sources, “until the gods are among them.” So, what does it mean? Its an entheogenic experience. Well, we did the same thing, and it turned out, that, well, the gods weren’t there, but we were elevating to them. So, er, the effect is like, it starts to loose up your body and you feel like really smooth and really relaxed and then you have nice body sensations and nice sensations on your skin and you think and this could be nice for some erotic adventures and you close your eyes and suddenly and suddenly you stay in your red mist and you feel your body elevated. Its really beautiful, interesting feeling, and what is very amazing: you don’t get alcoholic effects from it, and this beer has about 4 to 5 percent alcohol… …I drink about 2.5-3 liters of henbane beer to get the full effect. You can drink more of course, but you may start to hallucinate badly. The hallucinations caused by nightshade plants are very unpleasant most of the time. Because – this is what I call the ‘true hallucinations’ – you see something which is just not there, you’re not aware about you’re hallucinating it. So you start to hallucinate scenes from real life. I observed an doctor under the influence of scopolamine, and he was just sitting there for four hours writing recipes and I observed a teacher and he was sitting at his table for hours and, and doing some corrections and test – but there was nothing [laughters] He was just totally… Just total hallucination. And that’s a typical sign of over-dosage – you don’t wanna do that. I found the beer the best, er, the easiest way to control the amount of tropane alkaloids you want to ingest…”

[About Henbane]
“It’s very easy to grow and it’s beautiful plant and its very unique how it looks like with its long buds and flowers. Its -if you see the plant you will know its a magic one. Its really amazing.”

[About brewing]
“Q: When you’re cooking the henbane does it matter if you boil it? [?]

Ratsch: Well I boil it for a couple of minutes, well, the tropane alkaloids will stay, they are very stable, strong molecules.
Q: [Mumble, mumble mumble]
Ratsch: No, when I figured out how to the henbane beer I started to brew mandrake beer. And, [laughs] that’s very interesting too. You can use the same recipe and instead of forty grams of dried leaves of henbane you use about forty grams of the dried root of mandrake the same way. And er thats pretty strong and interesting. I found the effect different from henbane. And the chemistry of mandrake is quite different from other nightshade plants. There has been very little experimentation done with mandrake… …I just recently did some research, literature search for personal experience with mandrake – doesn’t exist. Its really amazing…”


“The Psychedelic Sorcerer” (via

In November, 1999, I traveled to Basel, Switzerland, for a meeting called “Worlds of Consciousness,” a forum for research on altered states. At the meeting I met and interviewed scientists such as Albert Hofmann, the discoverer of LSD; the Swiss psychiatrist Franz Vollenweider, who is mapping the neural effects of psychedelics in humans with brain-scanning research; and the pharmacologist David Nichols of Purdue University, who probes the biochemistry of psychedelics with animal studies [see Chapter Eight of Rational Mysticism for an account of the meeting].

The most colorful character I met was the German anthropologist Christian Ratsch. If scientists like Hofmann, Vollenweider, and Nichols represent the rational superego of the psychedelic community, Ratsch is its id. Throughout the meeting, he was dressed in black leather: pants, hat, boots, fringed jacket. His slouch and half-lidded eyes gave him a reptilian air. His features were vaguely Asian; I learned later that his mother was Mongolian, his father German. Ratsch had reportedly never cut his waist-length, raven hair or Fu Manchu beard.

Because most of Ratsch’s books and articles are in German, he is less famous than Terence McKenna, but he is renowned among the psychedelic cognoscenti. I first heard about him from the chemist Alexander Shulgin, who praised Ratsch’s encyclopedic knowledge of the plants and fungi used in shamanic practices. Others described Ratsch as not only an expert on but also a practitioner of psychedelic shamanism, and ayahuasca shamanism in particular.

When I asked Ratsch for an interview on the first day of the conference, he eyed me suspiciously and replied in a gravelly, insinuating, German-accented voice that he was too busy; maybe later in the conference. Actually, Ratsch was busy. In spite of his stoner’s demeanor, he was a dervish of activity. As a co-organizer of the conference, he introduced speakers, led panel discussions and served as master of ceremonies during an evening homage to Albert Hofmann.

In a lecture titled “Keys to Other Worlds,” Ratsch informed us that there are an infinite number of keys—pharmacological and non-pharmacological—to the spiritual realm, and each of us must find the key for his or her individual psyche. As Ratsch spoke, he prowled around the stage caressing a “key” that looked suspiciously like a phallus.

Ratsch finally agreed to speak to me on the morning of the meeting’s last day. We sat at a small plastic table in a cafe in conference center’s lobby. Nursing a bottle of Coke, Ratsch seemed hungover, or stoned, or both. His eyes were slits, his voice a croak. Even in this brightly lit, antiseptic setting, he seemed to be peering at me through the smoke of a fire in some primeval jungle.

He expressed amusement with a kind of groan-grunt, keeping his mouth closed as if to minimize the expenditure of energy: “Hmm hmm,” or, if he was slightly more amused, “Hmm hmm hmm.” When truly merry, he laughed through a barely open mouth: “Heh heh heh.”

His demeanor made it clear that he found this interaction—me asking him questions, him responding—absurd. I felt absurd myself, preparing my tape recorder and yellow pad and pen as he drowsily watched me. I nonetheless forged ahead in my plodding, earnest fashion, and Ratsch played his part, too, giving me a view of spirituality that was as nihilistic—anti-Buddhist, anti-Christian, anti-religious—as any I had encountered yet.

He was born in 1957 in a Bohemian community in Hamburg, Germany, where he still lived. His father was an opera singer, his mother a ballet dancer. He started learning about shamanism and sacred plants at 10 and had his first drug experience at 12. He earned a doctorate in Native American cultures, and he spent three years living with a tribe in southern Mexico, investigating shamanism first-hand. He is an independent scholar, who supports himself primarily by writing and by organizing conferences such as this one. Universities “don’t pay enough, and there’s too much censorship,” he explained. “I call the universities the graveyards of science. Hmm hmm.”

When I mentioned that another scientist described him as a modern, westernized shaman, Ratsch shook his head. “I am just a researcher, nothing else,” he replied. “To be a shaman means to be called by the Gods and heal people
and help people, and that’s not my way. I’m here to translate the shamans’ work into our culture, to understand them better and maybe to protect them.”

Does he believe, I started to ask—but Ratsch cut me off.

“There is no belief involved,” he said, spitting out “belief” like an expletive. “It’s pure experience, nothing else. Belief is the forerunner of faith, and that’s religion.” He waggled his head, looking at me, then grunted approvingly: “Hmm.”

What about the claim that shamans have supernatural powers that allow them to harm and heal others? I persisted. Does Ratsch believe this? He laughed out loud. “If you start getting into shamanism,” he assured me, his eyes narrowing, “then you better believe the unbelievable and expect the unexpectable.”

What about the ghosts and spirits that shamans and others supposedly see during ayahuasca trips? I asked. Are those just in your head, or are they out there? “It’s outside. If it’s in here,” Ratsch said, pointing to his own pitch-black pate, “we’re sick.” He added that visions are truth, but “believing in ghosts is maybe not the truth.”

Ratsch distinguished between shamanic experiences and those induced by meditation.

“Meditation is the way inside,” he explained, “and shamanic traveling is to go outside.”

Ratsch has little respect for meditative paths such as Buddhism.

“I don’t think of Buddhism as a spiritual path. It’s a religion,” he said. “It’s based on very strange, paradoxical ideas. For example this notion: ‘Don’t kill.’ But then they eat meat.” The Dalai Lama “loves meat.”

Surprised, I said that I had assumed the Dalai Lama was a vegetarian.

“No. Hitler was a vegetarian.”

Ratsch also objected to Buddhism’s encouragement of monasticism and celibacy. The Dalai Lama and other Buddhists monks are “incomplete,” Ratsch said, because they deny their sexuality. “You get crazy and weird if you don’t have a partner.” Ratsch assured me that he has “a lot of sex.” (I could hardly doubt him. Although Ratsch’s wife, the anthropologist Claudia Muller-Ebeling, was at the conference, one or more young women always seemed to be orbiting around him.)

Ratsch believes in enlightenment, which he defines as “a state of complete understanding,” “total loss of ego structures,” and “just being one with everything.” The spiritual path “starts with the enlightenment, and then you can try to get this integrated into your life. It’s not the other way around.” Ratsch abhors so-called spiritual leaders who claim that enlightenment can only be achieved through decades of meditation and other spiritual practices.

“That’s such a bad lie, and an exploitation of needs,” he snarled. His cool irony had vanished; he was momentarily vehement, passionate. Then he paused, regaining his composure, his lizard-like, Mona Lisa smile. “This is my point of view.”

Enlightenment “has nothing to do with all these spiritual teachings.” It merely requires “the right molecule to hit your brain.” Enlightenment is an intrinsically transient state, like an orgasm; in fact, some Amazonian societies use their term for orgasm to describe mystical states. “You are not in a permanent state of orgasm,” Ratsch said. “It’s one peak, and then you have to recharge your batteries.”

Orgasms loom large in Ratsch’s worldview.

“We are like almost crystallized orgasms from our parents,” he said. “Hopefully, my parents had the greatest orgasm when I was conceived. Heh heh heh.”

Asked about his drug preferences, Ratsch replied that ayahuasca “is the best shamanic medicine ever discovered. And I like it—definitely not as a recreational drug. I love recreational drugs, of course.”

Ratsch enjoyed taking small doses of LSD when going to a party or the opera.

“Richard Wagner is the greatest on acid,” he said. Twilight of the Gods is “the greatest piece of art ever written, the most shamanic and mystical play ever. From Ring of the Nibulungs you can learn everything.”

Have his psychedelic experiences convinced him that there is life after death?

“I don’t know.” Ratsch shrugged. “I have a certain vision I got on a DMT trip, and it will be the most beautiful…” He smiled dreamily.

Can he be sure this will happen?

“How can I?” he replied with a snort of incredulity.

Well, I said, some Buddhists and Christians have very specific beliefs about life after death.

“That’s their problem. Hmm hmm.”

When I told Ratsch that a psychedelic trip years ago had left me with a sense that there is something fundamentally wrong with reality, or even God, he nodded.

“I have seen many people tripping. And it happens from time to time that they think everything went wrong, or they did something wrong. Because of them, they destroyed the universe, and stuff like that. That’s”—he waited a beat—”not healthy. Hmm hmm.”

I laughed too, and asked him if he had ever had such a trip. No, he had never had a bad trip. “I don’t know what that is.”

You’re very fortunate, I said.

“Yes! Definitely. Very fortunate.”

I asked him if he had any thoughts on why life is so filled with suffering.

“The universe is about life and death, and both belong to each other. It’s two poles of the same thing. And every minute we kill to live.” Buddhism attempts to deny this basic fact, or suggests that it can be altered. “That’s why Buddhism is based on a lie.”

I asked what he thought of Terence McKenna’s time-wave theory and his prediction that the apocalypse could occur in 2012. “Complete bullshit. Hmm hmm.”

Ratsch had once asked McKenna if he really believed the time-wave theory, and McKenna had answered, No, not really.

“But that is because we are good friends,” Ratsch said. “He wouldn’t admit that in the public.”

Ratsch said he has much more to learn from drugs about “the shamanic world, and the use of plants, the meaning of nature.” This search for meaning is endless, he emphasized. “If the search for knowledge stops, then you’re basically” — he paused — “dead, as a living, exploring being.” The universe “produces people like us to learn about itself.” This self-exploring process “goes on and on and on. And nobody knows where it goes and what happens. And I think that’s part of enlightenment, to understand that there is no aim.”

A waitress clearing a table beside us knocked a bottle onto the floor. Ratsch watched bemused as the bottle ponderously rumbled toward us and clanked against the base of our table.

Certain rare mortals are so cool that they seem transhuman. They appear immune to embarrassment, angst, guilt–all the negative emotions that wrack us ordinary mortals. Christian Ratsch has this quality. I believed him when he told me that he had never had a bad trip. I used to envy those who had attained transcendent coolness, but now I wonder whether it represents a deficit of feeling, of empathy. I prefer sages with hearts, like Huston Smith.

I found Ratsch’s sorcerer schtick entertaining, though. Moreover, as I went over his views of mysticism and enlightenment, I realized that they are not as outrageous as they sounded to me at first. His comparison of enlightenment to orgasm echoes the hypothesis of the brain-scientists Andrew Newberg and Eugene DAquili that our mystical capacity evolved out of our orgasmic capacity. Ratsch’s rejection of monasticism reflects that of Kabalists, who believed that only happily married men are stable enough to follow the mystical path.

Like the skeptical mystic Susan Blackmore, he does not believe in ghosts or life after death. He rejects the notion of enlightenment as a state of final knowledge, contending that if the search for knowledge ends, life ends. The point of visionary experiences is the experiences themselves, Ratsch suggests, not the knowledge or beliefs that might be gleaned from them. In the same way, the aim of life is to understand that there is no aim.

Actually, Ratsch qualified that principle somewhat at the end of our conversation. After he yawned pointedly, I said I had just one more question: What is the secret of life?

“Get high. Heh heh heh.”