Sunday, February 25, 2007

Psychedelic Dogma

Please note: This initial post is significanlty ammended by the discussion with Pinchbeck and others below, and is further continued here. Daniel and I even hung out a bit, so please keep this first go at engagment in perspective.

Every once in a while, not without a good deal of caution, one might sample the Zeitgeist straight up - unfiltered through church or academia - if only to see how Christianity measures up. And so it was that in exploring the Chelsea gallery scene last Saturday night I came across one of the packed lectures at a Manhattan art gallery known as the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors. For $20 you too can get a first hand account of whatever became of the Sixties. The lecture involved modern day shaman/artist Alex Grey interviewing Daniel Pinchbeck. Dreadlock camoflauge, I should add, certainly facilitates on such occasions the role of Christian spy. Continue...

Pinchbeck is of impressive counter-culture stock. His mom dated Jack Kerouac, his dad was a Beat as well. He made his way in the literary world, but after disillusionment with materialism, spurred by an existential crisis, Pinchbeck did what any normal person would do: Pray. I'm sorry... I mean regress to the his college drug phase and go to Gabon to get rubbed down with red paint and marched into a river by natives who can initiate him into the shaman realm. The trips continued in every sense of the word until Pinchbeck became a new generation's Timothy Leary, our very own psychedelic guru, author of Breaking Open the Head and most recenlty 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl.

I was almost an hour late, but that's okay, so was Pinchbeck. Maybe this was a consequence of the shamanistic idea of time he often referenced throughout the evening, which is so much more interesting that our western constructs. The interview was conducted with an LCD projector flahing LSD inspired images across both speakers, perhaps to keep the, shall we say, less "focused" members of the audience enthralled. At one point in the converstaion we were told by Alex Grey, quoting philosopher/guru Ken Wilbur, that the reason traditional religion fails is because it debates the myths of dogma. Religion is all about belief, you see, and that's its problem. Call me crazy, (you're crazy millinerd!) but while listening to the interview I seem to have detected a strand of belief, or, to use the term Pinchbeck insists on in his response to criticisms: "hypotheses."

I tried to piece together this druggie doctrine, or to be more courteous, the psychedelic catechism, below. Should you wish to follow along, prepare to be convinced of G.K. Chesterton's dictum that those who stop believing in God will not believe in nothing, but anything.
1. Sacraments: Of course in the pschedelic creed, drugs come first. But LSD is so 1967. Now there's dimethyltryptamine, otherwise known as DMT, nicknamed "Direct Magical Transport." It is the most powerful pschoactive substance available, and according to Pinchbeck is "the doorway you can step through to greet the beings who run the cosmic candy store." Alex Grey was quick to buffer the conversation when it led in this direction. Grey assured us that he can handle entheogens, but others aren't so fortunate, whether they be those who make their home in Bellevue's mental health wing, or some of Pinchbecks less stable colleagues. One knows a movement is out there when even Rolling Stone applies the brakes. "Two followers who posted frequently on Pinchbeck's online discussion board - both of whom made pilgrimages to New York to meet him - committed suicide in the past few years." And those are the ones we know about.

2. Origins: But such costs are worth it because, simply put, drugs are everything. Civilization, both East and West, are founded on entheogens. Alex Grey regurgitated standard (if unprovable) counter-culture wisdom that Plato and Aristotle must have been trippin' in the Eleusinian mysteries, for how else could they have been so bright? Even the computer chip, we were informed by an enthusiastic audience member, can be traced to a drug hallucination. In fact, according to Terrence McKenna, the entire human race goes back to shroomin'. In short, everything of significance can be traced to a trip.

3. Fall: After origins, the psychedelic metanarrative even has its own version of Genesis 3. Religion and government alienate us from nature and suppress the third eye with things like witch-hunts and repressive drug laws. As Terrance McKenna's said in 1983,
"Ignorance forced the mushroom cult into hiding. Ignorance burned the libraries of the Hellenistic world at an earlier period and dispersed the ancient knowledge, shattering the stellar and astronomical machinery that had been the work of centuries. By ignorance I mean the Hellenistic-Christian-Judaic tradition."
That McKenna's ideas are alive and well in Pinchbeck was illustrated when someone asked Pinchbeck about Santo Daime, the bizarre Brazilian blend of psychedelics with aspects of Catholicism. You'd think this might be an acceptable brand of Christianity for this crowd, but - wait for it... Even Santo Daime is too attached to traditional faith to be permissible. "I agree with Mao Tse Tung, religion is poison," announced Pinchbeck. Yet he was very proud of himself for having moved a bit past his prejudices to learn from the traditional-tainted faith enough to go a trippin' with them in Brazil.

Certainly frequent trippers would not be prone to paranoia, but in a recent blog post, he explains that with the next terroist attack "the Christian right could be planning to seize power," leading to "'punishment, detention and quarantining' of groups that they find objectionable." Sounds a bit more like the policies of Mao whom Pinchbeck quotes approvingly, but nevermind.

4. Aliens: Make no mistake, the drug culture is not about mere internal exploration. "Some would insist that these messages come from your own psyche," says Pinchbeck referring to psychoactivated communiques, but "I think it is possible that they come from another reality or, perhaps, a higher dimension." Pinchbeck related - with a straight face - how aliens revealed to a tripping Terrance McKenna that they are spores on meteors who travel to given planets and wait for life to evolve to the point where they can unite with them. Psychedelics just speed up the process, and Pinchbeck is very close indeed. "In the netherworlds of psychedelic domains," continues Rolling Stone, Pinchbeck
"claims to have met elves and goblins and eventually aliens, who assured him that they were not figments of his imagination but part of an 'entire sentient system' in the 'self-weaving cosmological firmament.'"
5. Eschatology: Soon Pinchbeck began to talk about the end. Indeed the word apocalypse was used, and the crowd really began to respond. The photographer of the event couldn't help himself, and chimed in with the suggestion that all the gods and goddesses are sure to "show up for the party." Is there a date? You betchya. Pinchbeck was keen to point out that he didn't want to get too hung up on details, "cause who knows?"... But mark your calendars folks: Quetzlcoatl is returning on December 21st, 2012, the last day of the Mayan calendar. No surprise ther, for in his book Pinchbeck tells us that this date was a transmission from God (who appeared in the form of Quetzalcoatl) to Pinchbeck, our hipster-prohphet-shaman whose tribe may just be "the whole human race." There's even a "Left Behind" aspect to the narrative.
"According to Pinchbeck, not everyone will be saved in 2012 - only the psychedelic elite and those who have reached a kind of supramental consciousness will make it through the bottleneck at the end of time. Or perhaps they can save the planet before the collapse of our socioeconomic system in about 2008, in which case they will transmit good vibrations to the rest of us, who will be saved too" (RS).
What was most disturbing about the evening was when the crowd pressed Pinchbeck for the admission that the end was near, and when he conceeded, there arose a stirring round of applause. No surprise there, because Pinchbeck also peppered the evening with several remarks about our disgusting society, and invoked the standard Leftist litany of condemnations - even Al Gore was excoriated. Why? Well because he ran with Joe Lieberman of course, who I assume, is too close to traditional religion.
The Mayans were the heroes of the evening, which is a bit scary, recalling what happened last time shamans ruled the Americas. Fortunately we have little reason to worry that the new psychedelic elite is going to capture the channels of political leadership, so no human sacrifices just yet. But the place was packed, and the gods and goddesses were frequently and unironically referenced (we learned that Chartres was not a Christian cathedral but a temple to the divine feminine). So be it noted that neo-paganism is alive and well in these United States.

It would be a mistake to to dismiss Grey and Pinchbeck as simply crazy. I assure you there were many very crazy people in the audience, but Grey and Pinchbeck are articulate, well-educated and intelligent. It is not that their experiences are illusions. They may be real - and because of that, only full-blooded Christianity that is all the more real can contend with with these relatively new competitors in the contest for hearts and minds that a democratic culture permits. Only real dogma - real claim on the nature of reality (which is after all what doctrine is) - can overcome psychedelic dogma, and only real spiritual (not political) authority can free people from the bondage that psychedelic culture so ingeniously conceals. I wonder if American Christianity has what it takes. If Philip Jenkins is right, at least African Christianity is more than equipped to handle the Pandora's box that Pinchbeck had to go to Gabon to open.

On the positive side, the phobia these figures have toward Christianity is only further assurance to me that the power of Christ is actual, for only Christ embodies the illusive physical/spiritual unity towards which Pinchbeck and his cohort tirelessly aspire; and whatever beings the psychedelic elite seem to be encountering - be they figments of the imagination or not - Christ rules them. In sum, what a sad and strange assurance to one's faith to see the maddening lengths to which people will go to replace it.