CHRISTOPHER GRAY (1942-2009) was well known for his involvement in the 1960s with Situationist International, for his various radical writings, and as Swami Prem Paritosh, disciple of the guru Osho.
Toward the end of his fifties, Gray took, for the first time in years, a 100-microgram acid trip. So extraordinary, and to his surprise so enjoyable, were the effects that he began to take the same dose in the same way–quietly and on his own–once every two to three weeks.
In The Acid Diaries, Gray details his experimentation with LSD over a period of three years and shares the startling realization that his visions were weaving an ongoing story from trip to trip, revealing an underlying reality of personal and spiritual truths….
Originally published in Arthur No. 34 (April 2013)….
DIAGRAMMING THE DIVINE SPARK Is there a way to examine the nature of existence at its very foundation? Esoteric mapmaker DAVID CHAIM SMITH say yes—but there’s a price. by Jay Babcock
I first encountered David Chaim Smith’s remarkable, bewildering work through Pam Grossman’s Phantasmaphile newsletter, a daily email bulletin spotlighting a contemporary or historic personage up to something witchy and beautiful, usually in the visual arts. Smith’s work was particularly striking in its unusual combination of diagrammatic composition, simple media (pencil!?!) and unapologetically rarefied Kabbalistic-Gnostic content. Generally that would be more than enough to warrant further investigation, but it was the work’s difficult-to-grok provenance that intrigued me the most: these pieces looked like plates that could have been included in Alexander Roob’s Taschen compendium of dazzling Medieval alchemical artwork, The Hermetic Museum (alternative title, courtesy of Adam Egypt Mortimer: The Original Face Melter Times A Thousand). They seemed like the kind of work that’s usually brought to light by accident, decades after the a recluse’s death or disappearance (or committal to a mental ward): strange, highly charged devotional work rescued from a trashbin, the details of its artist’s life and practice gone to dust, Iain Sinclair on the case.
And yet, the author of these stupefying drawings is alive and well—David Chaim Smith [above] is a contemporary New York artist with an MFA, a publisher and (until recently) a gallery. Despite living a semi-monastic life, Smith seems eager to engage with a curious public. He has a website. He’s on Facebook. Dig a little and you’ll find a few occultist-oriented podcast interviews and accounts of public talks he’s given in the last few years around the publication of his two books—2010’s esoteric exegesis The Kabbalistic Mirror of Genesis: Commentary on Genesis 1-3 (Daat Press) and 2012’s massive art/text collection The Sacrificial Universe (Fulgur)—and a 2010 gallery show. And now, here he is on the other end of the telephone line in late January, just days after completing his new book, Blazing Dew of Stars, set for publication this springOctober 23, 2013 by Fulgur. A surprisingly garrulous fellow, Smith spoke frankly about who he is, where he comes from and how his day-to-day life and spiritual practice generates such artwork. What follows is a condensed version of our conversation.
Via Don Lattin via Huffington Post: “Here’s some rare footage of an experimental LSD session…from a television program, circa 1956, about mental health issues. The researcher, Dr. Sidney Cohen, was dosing volunteers at the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in Los Angeles…”
STRANGE BREW 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
INTRODUCTION 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.
INTERVIEW 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… ?
Personal apocalypse; acid, Canned Heat and Hyde Park, 1970; magic, transrationalism… and in the following parts, a bit about why the announced collaboration with Damon Albarn/Gorillaz for an opera about John Dee isn’t happening, after all… “It didn’t work out, shall we say.” But Moore’s libretto will be appearing in upcoming ish of the ever-intriguing Strange Attractor Journal…
This week’s collage, including illustration of Alejandro Jodorowsky by Will Sweeney and photo of Ira Cohen by Gerard Malanga. Double-click for fullscreen + scroll.
Let’s take a silver train underground
to the back streets of Atlantis
thru the corrugated iron roots &
then to the peak itself, to the
saddle of the last ridge past strewn
finally meandering thru cascading snow
wearing miner’s hats on the perpendicular
dark night &
going up to the edge of the Southern Cross
where we reach at last the pure white
glistening glaciers &
begin to chant over bones in rags
Armless in the sticky substance how could
they ever have had a chance?
Permission will not be required
only poems of blood offered to
the memory of TREE
It is not ice which is eternal
but the fury of the absolute
separating the void from the spirit
uplifting like life when it is used
that is, Radical Love — & again, we
are reduced to living beings
Caught by the instant
we are taken away
We live in the imprint of the flame
& we are helmeted within the internal
where the ray begins its passage
across the indignant sky
Vain clouds uncaring in a tangle of
culminate in the hermaphroditic mirror…
[Huxley] reminded me that drugs are beneficial if they provide the only access to our nightlife. I realized that the expression “blow my mind” was born of the fact that America had cemented access to imagination and fantasy and that it would take dynamite to remove this block! I believed Leary’s emphasis on the fact we use only one percent of our mind or potential, that everything in our education conspires to restrict and constrict us. I only wished people had had time to study drugs as they studied religion or philosophy and to adapt to this chemical alteration of our bodies.
[LSD’s] value is in being a shortcut to the unconscious, so that one enters the realm of intuition unhampered, pure as it is in children, of direct emotional reaction to nature, to other human beings. In a sense it is the return to the spontaneity and freshness of childhood vision which makes every child able to paint or sing.
About these documents:
By late March 1967 the Diggers and their allies in the Haight were being overwhelmed by the influx of newcomers to their neighborhood, many of them runaway youths attracted to the district by mainstream news accounts that had exaggerated the availability of Free: free food, free housing, free music, etc. When they spoke about it, this is how the more authoritarian (or: “uptite”) part of the Establishment—the police, the mayor’s office, the mainstream press—reacted. These broadsides reprinted the press coverage, with commentary in handwriting, probably from Com/Co’s Chester Anderson. Click on each image to enlarge.
About this series:
Arthur Magazine is proud to present scans of essential documents produced by and about the San Francisco Diggers, who were in many ways the epicentral actors in the Haight-Ashbury during the epic, wildly imaginative period from late ’66 through ’67. The Diggers’ ideas and activities are essential counter-cultural history, sure, but they are also especially relevant to the current era, for reasons that should be obvious to the gentle Arthur reader.
Most of the documents that we are presenting are broadsides originally published on a Gestetner machine owned and operated in the Haight by the novelist/poet Chester Anderson and his protege/sidekick Claude Hayward, who used the name “Communication Company,” or more commonly, “Com/Co.” According to Claude, these broadsides were then “handed out on the street, page by page, super hot media, because the reader trusted the source, which was another freaky looking hippie who had handed it to him/her.”
You can be a patron of this series by making a tax-deductible donation to Arthur Magazine via our fiscal sponsor, Fractured Atlas: info here