WHEN I WAS far younger, I lived for a spell in a penthouse that overlooked the sea in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. It also overlooked the supposedly perilous slum of La Perla, but that’s a story for another day.
I lived in that penthouse with a black-haired, freckle-faced Argentine girl of 20 whom I met in a bar just a few blocks away. Our relationship was often iffy, but always fascinating.
Returning once from a flight to her home in Buenos Aires, she brought two record albums, the old style you played on a turntable. Here are two songs from those albums, tunes that have remained in my mind for decades, and I now have the compact disk versions.
The first singer is Atahualpa Yupanqui, whose real name was Héctor Roberto Chavero. He was considered Argentina’s most important folk singer of the 20th century. He died in 1992. I like his style.
The second video is Vinicius de Moraes, a Brazilian. The song is my favorite from that album. He is singing with Maria Creuza and Toquinho. I think Portuguese is the loveliest of languages. I wish I spoke it.
Either of these songs immediately takes me back to the hammock on the terraza outside my very small apartment in San Juan. The sea breeze was always soft. The music was always marvelous. The Cuba Libres were always strong, and they were handed to me by the lovely, young Argentine through the window from the living room.
(I have mentioned my history with entheogens before, primarily on my previous website, the now-defunct Zapata Tales. A time or two since, readers have asked for details, most recently this week, so here they are. By the way, I don’t do this anymore because there is no need.)
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I WAS REARED an agnostic. My parents never went to church and never mentioned religion at home.
And I remained an agnostic till January 19, 1997. That was when I first ingested entheogens, first psilocybin mushrooms and, two days later, a mix of mushrooms and LSD.
Why did I do that? I was trying to make some sense out of my life because at that point, age 52, it seemed not to have any. My life, sense. My second divorce was two years behind me, not something I initiated, and it had thrown me into a massive tailspin.
In the space between ages 50 and 52, I had not found any equilibrium. I was drastically adrift, grasping at any semblance of a grounded straw. I looked at dreams. My daughter mentioned a psychologist she knew who was well-versed in dream interpretation.
He lived outside Tallahassee, Florida. We did a phone session about dreams, which was interesting. As the call wound down, I asked if he knew someone with access to peyote because I thought it would help me.
He then said he could help me in that way. I drove to Tallahassee.
And this is what I found out in the woods, a beautiful home where my new friend lived alone, a lifelong, handsome bachelor and truth-seeker, so to speak. A private practitioner with a Ph.D. from Florida State University.
We got started before dawn the next morning. He gave me ecstasy, which had no effect whatsoever, which was revealing. Getting nowhere with that, he mixed a brew of psilocybin mushrooms that he cultivated himself.
Bingo! That did the trick.
I was lying on the living room sofa with my eyes covered with a sleep mask. I descended into a massive cavern where native people danced. The music came from a CD player, but I did not know it at the time. It was The Serpent’s Egg by Dead Can Dance.
Music is an excellent assist to entheogens, a term I prefer over drugs, which is a wider category that usually carries bad connotations.
Entheogens are not addictive.
After the cavern, I fell further into a world so extreme and astonishing that putting it into words cannot be done. About eight hours later, the effects begin to wear off. What remains is the knowledge of having seen the “other side.” It is not an hallucination.
A good book to read is The Secret Chief by Myron J. Stolaroff. The author believes this, and I agree with him: We are born with a faucet connected to our minds, and that faucet is shut tight because if it weren’t, we could not function. Taking entheogens opens the faucet temporarily.
Imagine yourself sitting on the stage of a theater in the round. The curtain is closed, and then it begins to open all around you, and you see for the first time beyond the stage which is your everyday world.
You see what’s really out there.
When the entheogen effects begin to wear off, the curtain starts to shut again till it’s closed entirely, and you’re back to “normal,” sitting on that stage of everyday life. But you remember.
My new friend recommended a recess, which I took the following day, driving around the rural, wooded area of the Florida Panhandle.
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One more time
As dawn arrived the day after that, I was ready, I thought, for Session Two, which was a combination of LSD and psilocybin mushrooms. People with experience say it’s important to state your intention before going on these expeditions. This is true.
For this second event, my intention was that I wanted to dance with love. What did I expect with such a notion? Here’s what I thought would happen based on my experience two days earlier. I thought a beautiful woman would appear, and we would dance.
But the Goddess has her own ideas, so that did not happen. What happened was this: There was no vision. I saw absolutely nothing, but what I felt was stunning. A feeling of extreme caring embraced me. It was like nothing I had ever experienced or imagined.
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The puma and the woman
Hours later, around midnight, I felt relatively normal again, and I was sitting in my new friend’s living room facing him. I thought it was over, so I told him to go to bed, and I would do the same. He went upstairs.
My bedroom was on the ground floor right off the living room, a short walk. I went in, undressed and lay atop the sheets. The lights were off, and it was the sort of darkness you find in the forest on a moonless night.
Lying there, I turned into a woman. Just like that. I could see nothing due to the lack of light, but I turned into a woman. I felt it. It’s quite different from being a man. I felt an unfamiliar, strong need to be cared for.
And then I turned into a black puma. I moved my long tail from one side to the other at the foot of the bed. My whiskers twitched. I felt incredibly powerful.
And then it ended. I went to sleep.
That episode was about the only one that I recall fairly clearly. I suspect that is due to its happening near the end of that night’s experience. I was not totally under the influence but in a twilight zone.
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Going home, buckets of blood
My new friend offered a third night of this therapy or whatever you’d call it, but I told him no. I was overwhelmed. I drove back to Texas.
But I returned nine months later for LSD. The second night of my first visit had entailed a mixture of both psilocybin mushrooms and LSD. The psilocybin effect had been the more powerful by far.
I knew this later, not then.
The LSD experience was very different. Psilocybin is softer than LSD. Here’s what stood out about the LSD, the only thing I remember: Buckets of blood. I was under a waterfall of blood that poured over me. A voice told me it was time to grow up, to become a man.
This sounds horrible, but it wasn’t. It was a shove I needed.
Many hours later, after the effects had diminished, my friend told me that I had been laughing loudly, something I was unaware of during the experience. I’ve felt immensely better since that night.
Entheogens have been used for direct religious experiences through human history and beyond. Primitive art shows it.
Indeed, since verbal descriptions of what happens can be next to impossible, art comes into play.
In 1999, I attended an entheogen conference in Palenque, Chiapas. That was a year before I moved to Mexico. Amusingly, one of the attendees was a New York Port Authority cop. Another attendee was a dentist from Tennessee who gave me a dose of 5-MeO-DMT.
5-MeO-DMT provides an experience similar to LSD but it comes on far faster, instantaneously, and only lasts about 15 minutes.
I sat on a bed, smoked it, and collapsed backwards. About 15 minutes later, I was back to normal. It’s the only time I tried 5-MeO-DMT successfully.
In 2000, about eight months after moving to Mexico, I flew to Atlanta, rented a car and drove back to the Panhandle of Florida to participate in a group session in which the entheogen was a chemical analogue of ayahuasca. And that was the end for me.
I was told — you do hear voices — that I didn’t need to do that sort of thing anymore, so I haven’t. By the way, group sessions are far from ideal. Stick to solo sessions with an experienced helper.
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Many, probably most, people who take psychedelics do it for fun. I take a neutral stance on this matter. There is a consciousness out there — God if you will — and she will let you see her if that is your wish.
However, if your desire is recreational, she will not let you see her, or perhaps not to the same degree. I wouldn’t know because I’ve never done this for fun. Your mindset matters very much.
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I was an agnostic for most of my adult life. I am not anymore. It would be next to impossible to experience the things entheogens provide and not realize there is something far beyond our daily consciousness.