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DMT in Culture, Religion and History

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Graham Peter St John
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With clinical psychiatrist Rick Strassman’s DMT: The Spirit Molecule as a vehicle, the pineal gland has become a popularly enigmatic organ that quite literally excretes mystery. Strassman’s top selling book documented groundbreaking clinical trials with the powerful mind altering compound DMT (N,N-dimethyltryptamine) conducted at the University of New Mexico in the early 1990s. Inflected with Buddhist metaphysics, the book proposed that DMT secreted from the pineal gland enables transit of the life-force into this life, and from this life to the next. Since that study, the hunt has been on to verify the organ’s status as the “lightening rod of the soul” and that DMT is the “brain’s own psychedelic.” While the burden of proof hangs over speculations that humans produce endogenous DMT in psychedelic quantities, knowledge claims have left the clinic to forge a career of their own. Exploring this development, the article addresses how speculation on the DMT producing “spirit gland”—the “intermediary between the physical and the spiritual”—are animate in film, literature, music and other popular cultural artifacts. Navigating the legacy of the DMT gland (and DMT) itself in diverse esoteric currents, it illustrates how Strassman’s “spirit molecule” propositions have been adopted by populists of polar positions on the human condition: i.e. the cosmic re-evolutionism consistent with Modern Theosophy and the gothic hopelessness of H. P. Lovecraft. This exploration of the extraordinary career of the “spirit molecule” enhances awareness of the influence of drugs, and specifically “entheogens,” in diverse “popular occultural” narratives, a development that remains under-researched in a field that otherwise recognizes that occult fandom—science fiction, fantasy and horror—is a vehicle for religious ideas and mystical practices.
Abstracts in French and English ........................................................................................................................ La DMT (N,N-diméthyltryptamine) est une puissante tryptamine à effet de courte durée qui a gagné en popularité au cours de la dernière décennie, indépendamment de l’ayahuasca, un breuvage visionnaire d’Amazonie dont elle est un des principaux ingrédients actifs. Réputée pour sa capacité à déclencher des expériences extracorporelles et de profondes modifications de la perception sensorielle, de l’humeur et des pensées, elle est devenue l’inspiration de toute une communauté underground d’amateurs louant les vertus « enthéogènes » de la DMT et d’autres psychotropes. S’appuyant sur les témoignages des utilisateurs provenant de sites référentiels en ligne et d’autres sources, le présent article s’attarde à décrire l’évènement de percée (breakthrough event) ou l’hyperespace provoqué par la DMT. Dépeinte comme un évènement de gnose et parfois comparée à une expérience de mort imminente, l’expérience de la DMT est souvent associée à des contacts avec des entités et à des manifestations de communication visuelle. Les récits des voyages dans l’hyperespace mettent en lumière la manifestation fondamentale de la substance et nous aident à comprendre la phénoménologie liminale de la DMT et des autres tryptamines. Les comptes-rendus de ces voyages témoignent d’un processus transitionnel, interne et individualisé. Bien que la transe causée par la DMT soit privée, ses conditions ontologiques sont rapportées publiquement, généralement de manière anonyme, sur des sites comme Erowid et DMT-Nexus. Il s’agit aussi d’explorer ici le rôle d’Internet, moyen d’expression universel, dans la création d’une communauté mondiale d’usagers et d’amateurs de ce psychotrope. La navigation dans le cyberespace, sorte d’hyperespace numérique, s’apparente au phénomène de désincarnation propre au « voyage » dans l’hyperespace induit par la DMT. Or, l’ontologie liminale de cet hyperespace est bien plus qu’une simulation ou une réalité virtuelle. Les usagers la considèrent comme une expérience de transformation personnelle authentique. Par analogie, voyages, passages et transitions qui émaillent ces récits relèvent d’une rhétorique méta-ritualisée. Cet article se veut donc une discussion exploratoire sur ce phénomène peu documenté, et aborde l’hyperespace à partir des trois formes de transition qui caractérisent sa phénoménologie méta-ritualisée. ........................................................................................................................ DMT (N,N-dimethyltryptamine) is a potent short-lasting tryptamine with growing appeal in the last decade, independent from ayahuasca, the Amazonian visionary brew of which it is an integral ingredient. Known to effect out-of-body states, and to produce profound changes in sensory perception, mood and thought, DMT has inspired an underground community of enthusiasts who typically embrace the “entheogenic” propensities of this and other compounds. Drawing upon user-reports posted in online repositories and other sources the article focuses on the “breakthrough” event associated with the DMT experience. Likened to a gnosis event, and sometimes compared with a near-death experience, the DMT breakthrough potentiates significant outcomes associated with perceived contact with “entities” and the transmission of information often in the form of visual language. The breakthrough gnosis offers insight on the liminal phenomenology of DMT and other tryptamines, given primary expression in reported travels in “hyperspace.” User-reports of DMT hyperspace evince a transitional process that is individualised, internal, and “ritual like.” While private, the ontological conditions of the DMT trance are shared publically, albeit typically anonymously, by way of experiential (or “trip”) report posted on the Internet (e.g. Erowid and DMT-Nexus). As the Internet provides a transnational homeland and means of expression for this user-community, the article explores its pivotal role in the formation of a global community of practitioners and enthusiasts. While cyberspace (digital hyperspace) possesses a quality of disembodiment informing the experience of DMT hyperspace, rather than mere simulation, or “virtual reality,” the liminal ontology of DMT space is recognised by practitioners as transpersonally authentic. Adopting tropes of travel, passage and transition, these experiential reports comprise a meta-ritual rhetoric. As an exploratory discussion of an under-researched phenomenon, the article unpacks “hyperspace” by way of three forms of transmission characterising its meta-ritualised phenomenology.
DMT (N,N-dimethyltryptamine) is a powerful tryptamine that has experienced growing appeal in the last decade, independent from ayahuasca, the Amazonian visionary brew in which it is an integral ingredient. Investigating user reports available from literary and online sources, this chapter focuses on the gnosis potency associated with the DMT “breakthrough” experience. I explore the parameters of the tryptaminal state and, in particular, the extraordinary paragnosis associated with the DMT event, perceived contact with “entities,” and the transmission of visual language. As the reports discussed illustrate, for milieus of the disenchanted, among other entheogens, DMT is venerated as a gift that enables connection to a reality (nature, the universe, divinity) from which modern humanity is imagined to have grown alienated. Through an exploration of the legacy of principal actors, including Terence McKenna, Jonathan Ott, Jim DeKorne, and Nick Sand, the chapter navigates the significance of DMT in modern Western esotericism.