Crash Collusion interview
CRASH COLLUSION INTERVIEW
(This appeared sometime in the ‘90s in Crash Collusion, a very fine Zine of that era.)
C.C: How did you get interested/involved with psychedelics?
DeKorne: I lived in San Francisco and Berkeley during most of the sixties. Too young to be a beatnik but too old to be a hippie, I always found myself orbiting the edge of what was "happening" – trying to make sense of it. It's an outsider's role that's been consistent throughout my life. I started smoking Cannabis in 1962, and that was the beginning of the end because it's common knowledge that weed always leads to the harder stuff: LSD in 1964. By then I was living in Berkeley, a grad-student obsessed with Eastern philosophy. As described in Psychedelic Shamanism, that first acid trip was pure Samadhi – four hours of Buddha consciousness followed by four more hours desperately trying to retain it. It changed my life: I now know that there is more to awareness than so- called consensus reality. And it set the tone of my experiments with psychedelics irrevocably: always as a sacrament, never just for kicks. When the available drugs began to deteriorate in quality I stopped taking them. By then the experience seemed to have reached a plateau anyway, so I turned to an intellectual quest: trying to fit my insights into a logical structure. (As a mental type, that has always come naturally to me, though no one knows more than I do how sterile it can be.) It wasn't until I heard a Terence McKenna tape in the late eighties that my interest in psychedelics was rekindled.
C.C: The Entheogen Review seems to have rapidly developed a devoted following. How and why did you start it?
DeKorne: In 1992 I published a book on greenhouse gardening, and because of McKenna's work became interested in growing the traditional shamanic plants. I soon discovered that there was little reliable information on the subject – most of the literature consisted of either inaccurate underground pamphlets from the sixties or else very technical articles in obscure journals. In the summer of 1992 I attended a psychotropic plant workshop in Hawaii. I soon discovered (from my reading in the scientific journals and some preliminary growing experiments) that I knew nearly as much as the facilitators. It was obvious that there was a lot more to learn: new plants were being found almost weekly and the booming interest in the subject was producing others like me who had already discovered very interesting data on their own. I started The Entheogen Review to serve as a clearing house for this new information as well as to preserve it for the future. In a rational society these data would be collected and published by university and foundation researchers. We don't have that, so ER is intended to fill that role as much as possible – at least to save the contemporary folk wisdom.
C.C: Interest in psychedelics seems to have come out of the closet of late; do you think this is a new popularity or has the interest always been there, but hidden from popular sight? Some have suggested that this is heralding a return to the rampant popular drug use of the 60's; your views?
DeKorne: Psychedelics lost popularity in the early 70's because of media hype and establishment propaganda – which amounts to the same thing. For a long time everyone was terrified that LSD destroyed your chromosomes; that's just one example – there are plenty of others. These negative rumors got front page headlines, but the scientific corrections never seemed to rate more than one column-inch back among the legal notices – if that. The times changed also. When the "Universal Love Utopia" of the LSD-inspired sixties didn't happen, the seventies devolved into the cocaine-based philosophy of the me-generation. The contrast between those two drugs tells the whole story. It's a different scene today, and hard to predict. I doubt we'll ever see anything like the sixties again – we're too culturally fragmented now. These shamanic states of consciousness are more for individuals and small groups – nobody in his right mind would take ayahuasca and go to a rock concert, for example. The drugs are different: more "introverted" if you will. I'm not familiar with the Rave scene in the cities, so I can't comment on what might be happening there.
C.C: I've heard a few researchers make a case for "natural" entheogens being superior to "synthetics;" do you hold any preference?
DeKorne: I used to feel that the plants were somehow superior (don't ask me why – it was an ill-considered bias). For example, ayahuasca is a very special plant-based medicine, though it can be synthesized easily (the so-called "pharmahuasca"). I've never tried pharmahuasca, so I can't say if it's as magically psychotherapeutic as the botanical brew, but even if it isn't, I'm sure it has its own special lessons to teach. I feel there is something to be learned from any psychedelic – some of my most numinous trips have been on synthetics, so I'm eclectic on the subject.
C.C: A topic that seems to be more openly discussed nowadays – surprisingly, I think – is the shamanic concept of "plant spirits" and "plant teachers." Many people who've experienced the effects of different plant entheogens will often admit that some seem to have a presence or personality all their own. What are your views on this? Any personal experiences?
DeKorne: I have to take an agnostic stance on this, though it's a biased agnosticism. Since I've personally never encountered a plant spirit, I don't really know, but I hypothesize that we're accessing both our own psychic complexes and "others" – entities seemingly separate from ourselves, but not necessarily the spirits of plants. The literature of schizophrenia is full of examples of inner voices with an uncanny knowledge of just what to tell someone so as to be believed. They are almost invariably tricksters and not trustworthy. The psyche is such a mystery that it's really impossible to say for certain who these beings are or what they represent. (They might be symbolic constructs of forces so alien that they'd be incomprehensible if they didn't assume the form of recognizable archetypes.) Smoked DMT will teach you quicker than anything that cultural conceptions of the cosmos -- religious, philosophical or scientific – are little more than human projections. It's alien! It's so alien that most of us can just barely tolerate the brief experience of it pouring into our brains. Since all of my entity encounters have been on synthetics, I think it's just as fair to posit the existence of "DMT spirits" or "LSD teachers" as it is their plant counterparts. That, it seems to me, is opening up an epistemological can of worms, though god knows both may be true – or false – or neither!
C.C: Similarly, I notice that the concept of discarnate entities seems to show up quite a bit both in your book Psychedelic Shamanism and in the newsletter. What advice would you give to a psychonaut who encounters such "personalities" in entheogenic realms? [Are they good/bad ambivalent? Any suggestions for getting out of a tough situation?]
DeKorne: Traditional methods of entering hyperspace use visualized defenses (magic circles, banishing pentagrams, spirit allies, etc.) to protect the voyager from harm. I used to regard these techniques as belief-dependent: they probably worked only if you believed they worked. Otherwise, they were really just superstitions and, as one who thought he understood "science," I didn't put much stock in them. I've learned a lot since then: I now know that ritual is extremely important when doing inner work. Entities of the imaginal realm are constrained by thoughts and intention as much as we are by walls and fences. The creation of a safe space, such as a magic circle, is a construct of the imagination – it is a visualization of a barrier, and because these entities exist in the realm of mind, they can't get past a circle made of "thought" anymore than we could get through a chain-link fence. At least that's the way I comprehend it now. The concept of spirit allies is also important – these mental guardians live in hyperspace and understand the forces there as much as we understand the danger of walking a city street after midnight. If you were charged with protecting a visitor from Mars as he toured New York City, there are certain places you'd avoid and certain precautions you'd take to protect him from his own naivety: that's what a spirit ally does for you. In general, be as careful in dealing with entities of the imaginal realm as you would with strangers in the subway – especially if you're a newcomer and unfamiliar with the territory. It's useful to arm yourself with the awareness of a warrior: wimpy "good-will" gets you about as far in hyperspace as it does on skid row. Plain common sense is probably the best magickal weapon you have – beware of deals from smiling strangers. If you're in tune with it, your gut will always tell you how to proceed.
C.C: Do you receive any resistance to publishing ER from entheogen users? Many are afraid that the publicity and interest will bring down the wrath of the DEA. Do you think this is a valid concern or is it some sort of psychedelic elitism?
DeKorne: That's an interesting question, and one I encounter frequently. Only a few people have expressed fear that I'm somehow "spilling the beans," but I have received incredibly hostile vibes from numerous individuals that I might otherwise consider peers, colleagues, or friends. I couldn't figure it out – people who don't even know me cutting me dead at conferences; a few irrational, paranoid letters accusing me of bullshit; friendly letters I've sent that go pointedly unanswered. I won't lie to you – gratuitous rudeness hurts. A correspondent who sells "poisonous plants" commented on this apparently common phenomenon in a most revealing way: "Those people obviously don't take the same drugs that I do." That about sums it up as far as I'm concerned – anyone who uses entheogens and treats others like pond scum somehow didn't get the message. As far as risking a DEA crackdown by spreading the word: I'm of the opinion that hoarding information for the use of a few dilettantes is not what the plants (if you will) want us to do. The more information about these new species the better; there are so many potent plants being discovered that the DEA will eventually have to put Nature itself on schedule-1 – an obvious absurdity. Maximize the contradictions and the whole untenable system must eventually collapse. As regards the "safety" of thousands of people taking entheogenic drugs, I'll take my chances with that over the cocaine/alcohol world we're living in now. Who wouldn't swap today's world for a return to the sixties – warts and all?
C.C: I've met a few people who are involved in ongoing programs where groups of people are getting together and tripping regularly in a shamanic setting (as opposed to recreational use). Some of the groups have been working together for many years. Have you been exposed to this?
DeKorne: Group work can be incredibly healing: I love it when it happens. I've been a member of a group for several years now. We don't trip as much as I'd like, but we do connect monthly to compare notes. I live in the boondocks, so it's not easy to meet fellow travelers. Because I edit a newsletter full of blatantly subversive information, I have to be extremely careful – I'd never trip with someone I hadn't known for some time; to be paranoid in America today is a sign of sound mental health.
C.C: I know you and your book were criticized recently in Shaman's Drum for – basically – not subscribing to a specific shamanic tradition. What's your answer to those who condemn modern or neo-shamanism? Most of us don't have access to an authentic ayahuasquero or curendero, for example.
DeKorne: Traditionalists by definition are threatened by any dialectical re-evaluation of their particular trip. It's just the way it is. Because of my life-long status as an outsider, I've never been comfortable with other people's dogma. I'm an eclectic: I take what makes sense to me from wherever I find it. This encourages the apprehension of general patterns rather than specific applications of those patterns. As I hypothesize in the book, the shamanic world-view is an image of the structure of the human psyche. All shamanic traditions originally emerged from the head of a fellow human being – the fact that the general symbolism holds for any culture, no matter where, no matter when, suggests that it is the pattern itself that we need to study, not specific interpretations of it. It follows then, that for any neo-shamanism to emerge to help us cure our ills, it will have to emerge from our own minds and civilization, not from rituals and beliefs lifted whole-cloth from some ethnic tribal culture.
It's unfortunate but understandable that most people are uncomfortable without a pre-made structure for their lives – that's why we're seeing a resurgence of religious fundamentalism in the world. Humans can't handle rapid change; they need ready-made categories by which to evaluate their lives. It's painful to always define your experience from square-one – and it's especially hard to get any work done if you're constantly questioning the premises by which you justify doing it. So people cling to dogma because it enables them to get through their day with some peace of mind. Anyone who questions this dogma becomes an automatic threat and therefore a target for attack or ridicule. My experience of entheogens has convinced me that the cosmos is such a mystery that no one, absolutely no one, has more than a tenuous symbolic grasp of what it might be all about. Despite the fact that we spend an inordinate amount of time doing it, to attack anyone for their ideas is an exercise in gross illusion.
C.C: Obviously, most in our culture would not embrace any sort of shamanic experience, let alone a drug-induced one. At the other extreme you have people like McKenna calling for a psychedelic-driven "paradigm shift" or "archaic revival". What do you think the chances are of us developing such a neo- shamanic tradition?
DeKorne: Just about zero in any cultural sense. I like to play around with these utopian ideas and McKenna's concepts are always stimulating, but when I observe how it is now on planet earth, I have to conclude that the cosmos follows patterns beyond the illusion of collective human control: when the gods aren't with us, they're usually against us. As a provisional liberal I have to fight my knee-jerk responses to calls for social action, which are usually based on reason and common sense. Unfortunately, neither of those prevails here below. Almost everyone knows what the problems are, and plausible solutions aren't that difficult to figure out: so how come is it just getting worse and worse? Because we are not rational beings: we are only partially rational beings, and the gods seldom operate out of the left brain anyway. They're like very powerful children who insist on their ancient addictions without any real comprehension of consequences in a world transformed by technology. Shamanic cosmology is a metaphor for the human psyche and each of us peeks out at the world from an inner multiverse so vast that the external realm is but a flyspeck in comparison. Therefore the only meaningful solutions to the problems of existence must be individual solutions. You can't really save the world, but you can save your own ass, which ultimately amounts to the same thing. Shamanism of some sort (in the widest possible definition of the term) is extremely useful, if not essential, to achieving personal integration but I no longer believe it will emerge as a cultural paradigm any time soon enough to matter.
C.C: What advice do you have for those trying to find their own way?
DeKorne: Suspend your disbelief long enough to become familiar with your inner imagery, but retain enough reason not to capitulate to it uncritically. It's a dance, and it's not easy to do. I recommend a book I read many years ago called The Inner Guide Meditation by Edwin Steinbrecher. As far as I know, it's still in print. Because it outlines a method of getting into your deeper psyche, it qualifies as a shamanic technique. It's based on the western shamanism of the kabbalah and it works. As you get into it you'll find that the method will customize itself to address your specific needs. It took me years to finally accept the validity of my visions, to realize that they were not just something I "made up." (No ego could ever be that creative!) Once you get well started, almost everything you need to know comes from within, and that of course will be different for everyone.
C.C: The word "shamanism" is used pretty heavily now and seems to have developed different meanings. What is shamanism to you? Do you consider yourself a shaman?
DeKorne: Shamanism means something different to me than to an anthropologist say, or to a New Ager who might associate it with anything relating to tribal culture. Classically, shamans are seen as healers, but if their techniques are really just proto-psychological formulae for understanding who we are in the largest possible sense, then it's valid to use these techniques either as healers or as explorers: it depends entirely on who you are and what your interests are. To that extent, I consider myself a “shaman-explorer.” I'm not interested in healing anything except my own psychological complexes (the "gods"), so I know very little about "healing" in the classical shamanic sense. Just because I don't suck bugs out of people's necks doesn't automatically disqualify me however, since the techniques for coping with shamanic reality are pretty much universal.
C.C: What are your views on the so-called New Age shamanism? I find it interesting that even Michael Harner has dismissed plant entheogens as being secondary to the experience (leading some to refer to his seminars as "Just say No" shamanism).
DeKorne: You can get ten years in prison and forfeit all of your earthly belongings if some bureaucrat with a gun catches you growing one of God's own plants. That's reason enough to cause anyone who makes his living shamanizing to repudiate entheogens. And he's absolutely right – one does not need psychotropics to enter the imaginal realm; in fact, for everyday working (I do a very powerful meditation every morning), drugs just get in the way. Psychedelics are useful tools, but they are not any kind of ultimate necessity. Ayahuasca shamanism may be an exception to this – ayahuasca is a very special medicine.
C.C: Many of the shamanism workshops and seminars focus on drumming, trance-work, visualizations and the like; do you think these techniques are of use to people experimenting with psychotropics?
DeKorne: Absolutely, but I have to qualify it in terms of my own experience: I find it impossible to do an "inner guide" meditation when I'm tripping, but that doesn't mean that someone else would necessarily have trouble with it. I took two of Harner's workshops and found them very useful. The main difference (for me) between his method say, and an ayahuasca trip is that I don't have much control over where I go or what happens to me with the latter – I'm rendered relatively passive and I take what comes: so far it has always been mind-blowingly significant. Not that non-drug shamanism is any less significant, it's just less mind- blowing. Incidentally, what most people would call a "bummer," a rough trip, is usually (if you can just stick with it), the most significant in terms of insight and inner growth. After you learn a few techniques (such as ritual, banishing pentagrams, etc.) it's easier to handle bummers without totally freaking out. This is about the only "control" I have over such situations: the rest is just raw data from the cosmos blasting through my consciousness. Psychedelics are useful tools during certain phases of inner work: "storming heaven" can get you past blockages like nothing else. But working with them exclusively is probably not a viable long-term strategy because a long-term need for them implies that lasting transformations have not taken place in your psyche. If integration is proceeding in a healthy manner, entheogens should eventually become superfluous. What I'm saying is that both methods are valuable and as you proceed with the work you'll become very sophisticated about which approach to use in specific situations.
C.C: Judging from the information presented in ER, it would seem that we are finally closing in on a North American ayahuasca analogue. What combination do you think holds the most promise? Do you think the vast number of available active plants will eventually make criminalization of these substances impossible?
DeKorne: There are just an amazing number of plants that contain the alkaloids found in the traditional ayahuasca brew. Syrian Rue (Peganum harmala) is the hands-down favorite for the beta carboline half, and various species of the Phalaris genus of grasses contain high levels of 5-MeO-DMT and DMT to complete the mixture. A friend has created a very smooth combination of these plants: one which makes you high but not stoned and produces an amazingly clear-headed spiritual experience. Although it doesn't throw you out of the universe like traditional ayahuasca, it has its own unique power. I am curious to see what, if anything, the DEA will do (can do) about Phalaris – it's one of the most common grasses growing on the planet, and totally impossible to control.
C.C: DMT has received a lot of press in the last few years, mostly due to Terence McKenna's writings and lectures. It is such a short-acting substance when smoked that I wonder if it is truly useful in a shamanic or introspective sense. What do you think?
DeKorne: It all goes back to set and setting – with the proper will and intent, in a setting appropriate to your query, with proper ritual protection, a smoked DMT trip can show you some amazing realities. Its brevity has a distinct advantage – one doesn't have to sacrifice half a day stoned to get an answer to one's question. We've barely scratched the surface of how to use this substance intentionally (as opposed to just: Wow!!!!).
C.C: You are one of very few people to openly discuss both psychedelics and the UFO phenomenon. Do you feel there's a connection between the two?
DeKorne: Yes, but don't ask me to explain it! As far as I know, McKenna was the first to begin connecting the two experiences. I've never encountered an actual UFO, with or without an entheogen, but I've met aliens on DMT. (Not the standard big-headed "greys," but aliens none the less.) Both experiences are so uncanny and so many people have had UFO encounters while on drugs that there has to be some connection. The fact that the imaginal realm is involved is our most important clue. It may be that UFOs and their inhabitants are "shamans" from hyperspace penetrating our dimension in a manner similar to the way our shamans penetrate theirs. Something like that. We're three-dimensional chauvinists and have a hard time conceptualizing how these other dimensions impinge on our own. As I'm fond of saying: “In the language of the fishes, there's no word for water.” Consciousness is the key to interdimensional travel.
C.C: Everyone I know who's involved in experimental psychotropic plant use is searching for the "perfect" psychedelic. What would your choice be?
DeKorne: There are too many variables for me to pick just one plant or drug. Each one has its own characteristics and uses. Ayahuasca (either classical or analogue) is very special and would be high on my list, but it is not something I want to take exclusively (or very often). There are too many other interesting experiences and lessons to be learned from the entheogenic pharmacopoeia. DMT of course, is always fascinating. We're close now to pinning down a botanical source of relatively pure DMT -- it will probably be a Phalaris species. I look forward to tending a shaman's garden of numerous potent, very innocuous-looking plants.
Born in the Depression, raised during World War II and the '50s, Jim DeKorne matured within the context of the '60s counterculture. As a classical "Outsider" (in Colin Wilson's sense of the term), much of his time has been spent in comprehending, then avoiding, the grosser illusions of life. He lives at the end of a dirt road in boondocks New Mexico where he edits The Entheogen Review and pursues The Work.