Hallucinating the Archetypes

Carol and I have frequently discussed the experiences of people (including one old friend) who have experimented with DMT and Ayahuasca. We also watch the Hulu series “The Path,” which depicts the vicissitudes of a sect whose founder received his revelations from “Mother Ayahuasca.” The central question, as I see it, is whether, as advocates maintain, the substance induces visions of an otherwise invisible realm that far transcends our mundane waking world. Or are they simply Technicolor fever dreams? I have long been inclined to think these visions are purely subjective.

But suppose they are not. Suppose they are veridical? This raises the same question familiar from the belief in divine prophecy: even if there are genuine prophecies from God, does that mean all claimed prophecies are the real thing? Of course not. The Bible tells us more than once to scrutinize prophecies, to see whether God sent them, or maybe evil spirits are responsible—or maybe just somebody’s overactive imagination. Scripture offers two basic criteria, neither of them very helpful.

First, if some ostensible revelation goes beyond, or against, established doctrine, then to hell with it (or, I guess, from hell with it). You see the problem with this: if a revelation must check out with what we already believe, it ain’t much of a revelation, is it? “If it’s new, it’s not true. If it’s true, it’s not new.” So it isn’t revelation, only reiteration. If a would-be prophet’s offered revelation is rebuffed, he will likely storm out and start a rival sect. It’s happened many, many times.

Second, if Carnak the Great ventures a prediction of future events, but nothing happens, then in retrospect we can dismiss the false prophet. In other words, too late for the prediction, even if true, to be taken seriously. I can just see Noah’s neighbors nervously looking at the massing storm clouds above, saying, “Gee, I guess maybe we shoulda listened to that guy!” Obviously, no one ever actually used this criterion. It is a fictitious device long after the fact in order to discredit the figureheads of rival factions.

Amanita muscaria painting from Scott Scheidly:So we must ask: how do you distinguish between a true glimpse of an alternative dimension from a mere drug hallucination? If there is a difference, that is. I think there is a way to reframe the dilemma. It arises from the claim/observation that these DMT trips are journeys of self-revelation, of deepening self-understanding. I have never used drugs and do not intend to, thank you, so I cannot attest to that. But I can’t help thinking of two old friends who claimed that taking LSD greatly improved their personalities. I thanked my lucky stars I hadn’t known these jerks before LSD. So I have to admit I’m skeptical and that, having no personal experience, I am approaching the question as an outsider trying to make sense of the phenomenon as positively as I can. Here goes.

Suppose that the DMT/Ayahuasca visions are subjective with no reference outside your head. Are they merely cheap thrills? No, there seems to be more to them than that. I repair, as I often do, to Carl Jung and his theory of the Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious. (Not only does it appeal to me intellectually, but I have experienced dreams that make sense on Jungian terms and were both meaningful to me, interpreting what was happening to me at the time, and also apparently precognitive.)

Jung asked why certain basic images, mythemes, and symbols appear, independently, again and again the world over in myths, fairy tales, dreams, art, etc.  I mean, where there is no possible connection, no reasonable chance of borrowing or influence. For instance, there are pyramids on both sides of the Atlantic. Do we have to posit a lost continent of Atlantis, escapees from which carried blueprints for pyramids to Egypt and Mexico? Probably not. Surely the idea occurred to people in both hemispheres independently. The Archetype was latent in the Collective Unconscious, available to all. Nothing spooky, mind you: just the hardwiring of the human brain, analogous, say, to the language function.

Well, if Archetypes can manifest themselves in dreams and in math and in myths, they can obviously pop up in hallucinations, whether those hallucinations are the result of DMT, Schizophrenia, or the Muse. Why not? Let’s not commit the dreaded Genetic Fallacy! The medium is not the message. If the Archetypes are disclosed to you, it wouldn’t seem to matter much what you baited the hook with.

Why does it matter whether the Archetypes are unveiled from the intra-psychic depths? Jung posited that the Archetypes are the keys to activating the necessary process of Individuation.

It is the process of maturation whereby one first consolidates the Ego, full of self-will and self-confidence. At this point a person is rightly self-centered. Once it is formed, it can serve as the launching pad for the next stage of growth, to become the Self. Then the individual comes to transcend the Ego. One’s interests and sympathies broaden. The Ego was a central point; the Self is an ever-expanding circumference. In the end there comes to be no difference between one’s own concerns and those of humanity. Some people never manage to attain to an Ego, but most seem to. Far fewer ever climb the heights to Selfhood. Albert Schweitzer did. Some others. Gandhi, Dr. King, Dorothea Dix. I guess the important thing is getting as far as you can. But how?

To use an analogy unavailable to Jung, I would compare the Archetypes to the icons on your computer screen. Each is anchored to a program. You want to open and use those programs, and to do that you have to click on the icon, right?  And to do that, you have to see the darn icon, right? Well, the Archetypes are the icons you need in order to access the “programs” hardwired into you, the stages of maturity you have the potential to achieve. Hence the important function of Archetypal symbols in art, myth, literature, etc. Deep calleth unto deep, for the artists dredged these symbols up from the gold mine of the Unconscious (the pre-imprinted brain structure) and scattered them along your path like breadcrumbs, or like Ariadne’s Thread. They are clues (a “GPS”) to your destination of Individuation.

But how do we click on those icons? One way is to cultivate consciousness of the Archetypes in religio-mythic symbols, in scripture, ecclesial architecture, and liturgy. But great art and music can have the same effect. Ritual participation and artistic creation are ways of “stepping into” the symbols.

I’m thinking that this is what is happening to those who cultivate “altered states” through the use of hallucinogens. And this way of looking at it makes our original question moot. In my opinion, DMT is not like the Zeta Beam transporting Adam Strange to the planet Rann. But you are going someplace. Remember the 60s song, “Journey to the Center of the Mind”? That was a drug song. “Come along if you dare!” I don’t dare. I don’t want to tinker with my brain. It seems to be working well enough as is. But I’m willing to grant that DMT psychonauts are penetrating the depths of their minds, encountering the Archetypes, rather as described in the Tibetan Book of the Dead.

I compare it to what Jung said about God, that he didn’t need to believe in God. As a modern Gnostic, Jung said he knew God existed. But where? Inside. In the Collective Unconscious, flanked by the Archangels, er, Archetypes. That’s the only relevant place God could be. Where else would you like “him” to be? Orbiting the earth like a satellite, causing rain storms and orchestrating plane crashes? That’s superstition.

One more comparison: I think that hallucinogenic revelations are kind of like Pentecostal speaking in tongues. Traditionally, Pentecostals have believed that the Holy Spirit was inspiring them to speak God’s praises in foreign languages they had never learned (whatever the point of that might be). But linguistic studies have made it plain that they are simply spouting gibberish (see William Samarin, They Speak with other Tongues). Pentecostals are threatened by such results (like Mormons disturbed at the DNA tests proving that American Indians have no Semitic genes and thus do not qualify as expatriate Israelites).

But they needn’t worry, because shortcuts to foreign language proficiency are hardly the point. Speaking in tongues is and always has been ecstatic speech and has been practiced throughout the centuries by various cultures. It is “speaking with the tongues of angels.” When glossolalic utterances are “interpreted,” it denotes not translation of foreign speech but rather divining the significance of an oracle or a dream.

It’s not an objective miracle, and it’s not supposed to be. Instead, it is an intra-psychic spiritual experience. Would the spontaneous ability to speak in an unfamiliar language even be a spiritual experience? Not just a weird parapsychological anomaly? The same applies, I think, to meaningful hallucinations. They’re “just” in your head. Which is the only relevant place for them to be.

So says Zarathustra.



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4 Responses to Hallucinating the Archetypes

  1. karl.pov@verizon.net says:

    It’s weird that on the one hand, we need to learn that “prophecy” does not mean predicting the future, but the way (or one way, as you point out) to determine a prophet’s credentials is whether his predictions come true. But what if there is no deadline for the prediction to come true? Or what if you insert an unlikely condition for the prophecy to come true? When the Davidic Messiah comes, in other words when the House of David visibly returns to the throne in Jerusalem, the lion will lay down with the lamb. And when hell freezes over, Donald Trump will admit that his failures are his own fault. Both of these conditionals follow the rule of logic that “if A then B” is true when both A and B are false. Messianic prophecies obviously became more and more extravagant the more it became evident that the House of David had gone the way of all dynasties.

  2. mac mccain says:

    I try to keep things simple. Coffee, sugar, coffee with sugar, cannabis, DMT, mushrooms, et al, alter the chemistry of the brain. One hallucinates because the brain is not functioning as Nature would prefer. We have the same hallucinations because we have a limited brain, usually of the human variety, and there are only so many things that we can think of. I think that Jung was an intelligent and articulate religious quack. No woo woo in the hash pipe. Only chemicals. No collective unconscious. Only limited brains with limited experiences. Dreams are not spiritual experiences, they sometimes occur when we had too many onions on the pizza.
    Thus be the words of today’s unholy gospel.

  3. Cigarette-Smoking Pontiff says:

    Well, in my opinion, DMT may be more accurately called the reality molecule, rather than the spirit molecule. Not only does it seem to influence our perception of space and time, but without adequate levels of this chemical in the brain our reality seems flat, grey, and dull as opposed to vibrant and three-dimensional. Of course, there is a lot that is still unknown about this chemical substance, simply because Congress won’t allow further research into these compounds due to their controversial nature. (Or rather because these substances are simply off-patent and threaten the pharmaceutical industry’s profit margin. But the US government wouldn’t stand in the way of scientific progress simply for the sake of the almighty dollar, would they?) For this reason, most of our knowledge on the substance comes from the firsthand accounts of psychonauts, instead of experiments conducted by laboratory scientists. (Thank goodness for people like Rick Strassman and Terence and Dennis McKenna, or we’d know even less!) But, my god, why allow such hypocrisy to exist?! I mean, just look at all the advances in treating depression and anxiety from experiments conducted using LSD as a pharmacological tool to study the behavior of neurotransmitters in the brain–it led to the discovery of the link between serotonin and behavior! Without which we wouldn’t have “wonder drugs” such as Prozac and other SSRI antidepressants! (Or at the very least, they wouldn’t have come of age as soon as they did!)

    Of course, anybody who has had a major depressive episode in their life, as I have had, can attest to the miraculous nature of SSRI’s. And as someone who has struggled with chronic depression throughout their adult life, the only other miracle I’ve discovered is Jungian psychology (albeit in a round about way through studying Plato and Tibetan Buddhism!). Hence my Gnostic tendencies. Who would have thunk that the cure to my ailing depression was a rigorous study of the philosophical roots of man! (Of course, being brought up as a Jehovah’s Witness sure as hell didn’t help matters much.) Maybe that’s why they used to make doctors study philosophy and why philosophers continue to do well in med school! Yet, all the therapists and analysts I had seen over a ten year span–all of whom were essentially Freudians–could not help me, because I was quote-unquote able to function in society (even though I was completely miserable!). But as Krishnamurti once said; “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” If nothing else, I had motivation up the yin yang to find a solution to my existential suffering. Unfortunately, in my case, I am left with no further explanation than my symptoms are the result of a chemical imbalance for which there is a long family history of. (Genetics? No… Why, every Jungian knows it must be the result of a maladaptive complex within the psyche split off from ego consciousness. Sorry, I call bullshit on that one Carl! No childhood trauma here, just an inherited chemical imbalance.)

    Although I still have symptoms from time to time, they are no where near as severe had I not gone through what Jung called the individuation process (attaining psychological wholeness). Even Jung’s theory of Psychological Type is an invaluable asset as I maintain this state of wholeness. I mean, it beats the hell out of trying to consciously control Freudian “defense mechanisms” as some analysts contend. That is to say, Jung’s topology does seem to more closely match these autonomous complexes within the psyche, which in my view are nothing more than what phenomenologists call “structures of experience” (a fancy way of saying archetype). So, what Jung meant by complex and archetype are, in actuality, the same damn thing. And thanks to the efforts of The Myers & Briggs Foundation, Jung’s typological approach excels anything I’ve found in Buddhist psychology. In fact, Buddhism can’t even compete with Kohut’s self psychology, let alone a refined Jungian type theory. The only exception, perhaps, might be Thich Nhat Hanh’s system which is a closely guarded secret of his Buddhist order. Although, the Enneagram system supposedly derived from the Sufi tradition, or rather a combination of Christian, Islam, and Buddhist ideologies is a fairly close match to Hanh’s. But if one were to combine the MBTI and Enneagram systems together, then forget the Sefirot, forget Buddhism–you got one kick-ass spiritual practice/psychology, all rolled into one–sure to piss off the archons and stop the wheel of karma dead in its tracks!

  4. marcilla.smith says:

    Thank you for sharing your insightful thoughts, and in such a well-structured manner. I can’t say I agreed 100% with everything here, but it was enjoyable to read.

    As you appear to, I also enjoy my psychological theories, including Mr. Freud. Consequently, I can’t help but notice that (if you will allow for the addition of some punctuation) your last five article titles spell out, “The Law of the Father: repent and believe the fake news – black lies matter more than a man hallucinating the archetypes”

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