- Erik Davis - _The
The Search For Irish Soma_
by Peter Lamborn Wilson
coverart by Jim Koehnline
Agriculture is the only radical new technology that ever appeared in the world; what it amounts to is a cutting into the earth. If you read any anthropology about Native Americans, you will find that when the white Europeans arrived and tried to force the tribes into agriculture, the tribal people always say the same thing: "What, you want us to rape our Mother, the Earth? This is perverse. How could you ask human beings to do this?" Agriculture immediately appears as a bad deal to these tribes. There is no doubt that this technology leads inevitably and fairly quickly to social hierarchies, separation, class structure, property, and religion as we understand it--a priest class that tells everybody else what to do and how to think. It leads, in other words, to authoritarianism and, ultimately, to the state itself.
on christianity and alcohol
It is the spread of christianity
which seems to signal the end of the classical psychedelic world. John
Allegro, one of the original Death Sea Scroll scholars--he went crazy,
according to most people--wrote a book called _The Sacred Mushroom and
the Cross_ in which he said that jesus christ was a mushroom. I always
felt that jesus christ can be whatever you want him to be, so why not?
Historically, perhaps this antipsychedelic effect had something to do with
wine, the sacrament of Christianity. Wine itself, although it is psychoactive,
is not nearly as psychedelic as magic mushrooms. And alcohol has it's problems.
Terence McKenna has taken a very puritanical stand-- antialcohol,
coffee, sugar, tea,
any of those modern psychotropics. The West probably lost awareness
of the most mind-altering substances in a gradual process
parallel to the diffusion of christianity. Wine is sacramentalized, and
potential remains, as magic--for
example in the Catholic Mass, a magical performance in which bread and
wine are turned into a cannibal feast, And in the "soma
function," which means that everything is
psychotropics. As one of the Sufi poets said: "A drunkard will never become wise, even after a hundred bottles of wine, but a wise man will become intoxicated one a glass of water."
on the memeticflow of psychedelics
The rediscovery had already
been going on since the nineteenth century when people like Baudelaire,
Rimbaud, and DeQuincy, or the Romantics, who got into hashish and opium.
They learned about it from the Islamic world. Once again, in a very occult
and hidden way, these were *poetes maudites*--damned knowledge, known by
damned people. Then there is Antonin
Artaud, who went to Mexico and took peyote;
or Ernst Juenger, Mircea Eliade, C.-G.
Jung, Walter Benjamin, Ernst Bloch--they were all experimenting with
drugs. We know about Aldous
Huxley because he wrote the first book in English. So when the psychedelic
revolution happens, it is already an old story.
on the paradigm shift of consciousness
As a culture, we like to
laugh at primitive tribes--for example, those who are shown photographs
of themselves and cannot recognize them. But in 1876 a French
scientist fell by accident into one of the paleolithic caves. Later, in his diary he wrote that there seemed to be some scribbles on the wall. He could not see that it was art, he was just as blind as the pygmy who is blind to the photograph. Suddenly, a few years later, people could see it as art. What allowed T. S. Eliot to say that ever since Lascaux, Western art "tumbled from the staircase"? What allowed Picasso suddenly to see African masks, the French expressionists to see Japanese art, the hippies in the sixties to hear Indian music? For the colonialist British who visited India, the music for them was like the "whining of the mosquitoes--how can they stand it?" The Brits could not hear it as music. My parents' generation could never hear Indian music as music: "What's that buzzing noise? Are you kids stoned again?" That is what I call a paradigm shift of cognition.
on the war on drugs as war on cognition
At the very moment when entheogenesis--that is,
the birth of the Divine Within--reappears in the West with the late Romantics
as a subculture, as "occult history," the conditions were being set up
for this paradigm shift. We are still basically undergoing it. The only
thing that could even pretend to suppress this shift of consciousness,
would be the Law, as in the War
on Drugs. But our law is a machine law, a gridwork, clockwork law,
and it is obviously unable to contain the fluidity of the organic. That
is why the War on Drugs will never ever work. You might as well declare
war on every plant. So public discourse is approaching breakdown over the
question of consciousness. The War on Drugs is a war on cognition itself,
about thought itself as the human condition. Is thought this dualist cartesian
reason? Or is cognition this mysterious, complex, organic, magical thing
with little mushrooms elves dancing
around. Which it is to be?
The War on Drugs is a paradigm war. Each refinement in machinic consciousness will evoke a dialectical response from the organic realm. It is as if the mushroom elves were there; it is as if there were plant consciousness that responds to the machinic consciousness. It is such a beautiful metaphor--you don't have to believe in the elves, it's all human consciousness, ultimately. You don't have to believe in something supernatural to explain this. So around the mid-twentieth century, technology begins to shift away from an imperial-gigantic frame to a more "inward" dimension, with the splitting of the atom, the virtual space of communications and the computer. And it was around that same time that the really serious psychedelics begin to show up--mescaline, psilocybin, LSD, DMT, ketamine, MDMA, etc. etc.
on soma and/or rg-veda
It's fairly clear that all the great neolithic societies had some kind of cult of soma--the Sanskrit word for the psychoactive experience. The Rg-Veda, one of the oldest books of humanity, is all about the psychedelic experience. If only Tim Leary had used the Rg-Veda instead of the Tibetan Book of the Dead to introduce LSD, the sixties would have been a different decade. The Tibetan Book is about death, a downer, whereas the Rg-Veda is very much about life and joy and power. Anyway, all neolithic and classical societies had some variety of this. We owe these discoveries to the great Gordon Wasson, who was the first to discuss whether the soma of the Rg-Veda was in fact a magic mushroom. He also came to the conclusion that the Eleusinian Mysteries, one of the central religious rights of the ancient Greeks, was also fueled by a psychoactive plant. The ancient Persians had something called "helma," it might have been a plant that contains harmoline. I claim to have discovered that the ancient Irish had a similar cult... and of course we know about the Aztecs and the Mayans: they still ha an active psychedelic cult when the conquistadors arrived. In some of the old Spanish chronicles you can actually read about magic mushrooms. But somehow these texts were lost, or no one read them, or if they read them they did not believe them, or they were horrified by them.
- Peter Lamborn Wilson