Mythical Entities, DMT and Jungian Psychology

Elves, aliens, imps, pixies, faeries, angels, demons, gods, goddesses, and ‘spirits’. These are all entities that have featured heavily in human culture. The earliest description of elves can be found in Norse mythology, Skaldic poetry, Norse legends and the Poetic Edda, a collection of Old Norse poems. Elves are also common in Germanic and Scandinavian mythology. European folklore has it that these supernatural elfin creatures were responsible for playing tricks on people – in Anglo-Saxon England they were seen as responsible for causing nightmares, hiccups and an array of medical problems. They have magical skills and can either help or harm people, depending on their mood.

Faeries are similar to elves, but instead are found mostly in English folklore. There is some debate as to how ancient the concept of an ‘extra-terrestrial’ is (some point to cave art which apparently depicts ‘aliens’), however, it is clear that extra-terrestrials are still an obsession of the human race. Angels, demons, gods, goddesses and ‘spirits’ span the mythologies of cultures from all over the world. We can find all kinds of gods and goddesses in the myths of ancient Sumer, ancient Egypt and ancient India. The earliest recorded descriptions of gods are of An and Enki, both gods of ancient Sumerian mythology, dating to the third millennium BC. That said, since there is evidence of shamanism and religion existing much earlier than this, it would not be surprising if our more ancient ancestors had gods and goddesses as well.

All of these entities seem to be very anthropomorphic and humanoid. They are often humans with exaggerated features (small stature, large stature, many arms, big eyes) or have features from the rest of the animal kingdom (wings especially). All of them have personality traits and are concerned (either benevolently or maliciously) with the human race. These supernatural entities are prevalent in all cultures – jinns or ‘genies’, for example, are spiritual creatures mentioned in the Koran who inhabit and hide in an invisible world. Entities of all kinds have been believed to be objectively real and this initiated responses such as reverence, fear, ecstasy, worship and other forms of ritualistic behaviour. But the puzzling question is, why are these entities so common? Is their prevalence a sign of their real existence or do they point to some basic fact about human psychology? I would argue that it is the latter, but even so, this does not take any of the mystery away.

What is interesting is that many people who have had experiences with the intense psychedelic drug, di-methyl-tryptamine (DMT), have had direct contact with these kinds of entities. Terence McKenna, the philosopher and psychonaut, often described the entities he visited in the DMT experience as being like “self-transforming machine elves”. Clifford Pickover also mentions the "machine elves" of the DMT world in his book, Sex, Drugs, Einstein and Elves. In Rick Strassman’s book, DMT: The Spirit Molecule, subjects who are injected intravenously with DMT report coming into contact with entities, described as “aliens”, “helpful beings", and a “race of beings from another planet”. The entities would often communicate with the subjects in a telepathic way, attempting to show them something or teach them something important.

Other accounts of the DMT experience (just search through forums such as Bluelight, Erowid, DMT-nexus, Shroomery etc.) also reveal people reporting visions of angels, elves, spirits and goddesses. Many say that the entity (or entities) they contact or communicate with are distinctly female and can be likened to a Hindu goddess. Graham Hancock, author of Supernatural, says that ayahuasca (an orally active DMT-containing brew) is referred to as ‘mother ayahuasca’ because the entity met in ayahuasca sessions tends to be feminine, and can offer profound moral, spiritual and personal lessons.

The shamans of the Amazon basin who have used ayahuasca for millennia believe that the ‘spirits’ they contact have their own independent existence. Terence McKenna also entertained the possibility that the “self-transforming machine elves” exist in an extra-dimensional world and we can only visit them with DMT and high doses of magic mushrooms. He argued that these entities could be extra-terrestrials themselves; they are hyper-advanced aliens which visit us through psychedelic experiences, and not on some spaceship. They seem to have their own autonomy, intelligence and intentions towards the person in contact with them.

The problem with McKenna is that he erroneously draws the conclusion that if an experience seems real, then it must be real. Hallucinations, after all, are by definition experiences which seem real, but which do not have any basis in reality. It seems far more likely that visions of elves, angels, aliens, and so on, are a sign of an intense hallucination, as opposed to a revelation of their existence. For example, when the person comes out of the experience, where then do the entities go? If they retreat back into their invisible, extra-dimensional world, then how can we possibly detect them and scientifically test their existence? We can’t. We will just have to accept people’s subjective reports. Unfortunately, subjective reports do not count as concrete evidence in the scientific community.

The fact that supernatural entities are found in myth and folklore around the world indicates some deep, human urge to express them. The experience of entities in altered states seems to also confirm that these entities are rooted in human psychology, as opposed to being rooted in observable reality. In Jungian psychology, the collective unconscious is part of the unconscious mind. In his book, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, Jung writes, “there exists a second psychic system of a collective, universal, and impersonal nature which is identical in all individuals. This collective unconscious does not develop individually but is inherited. It consists of pre-existent forms, the archetypes, which can only become conscious secondarily and which give definite form to certain psychic contents.”

These ‘archetypes’ are universal images. In the collective unconscious they are autonomous and hidden, but once they enter into consciousness they are transformed and then given a particular expression which depends on the individual and the culture they belong to. Since they are unconscious, we can only know about their existence indirectly, through the ways in which they are expressed: through art, images, myths, religions, dreams, and (although Jung never commented on this) through psychedelic experiences. Jung described many archetypal figures which are found across many cultures, including the mother, the father, the child, the trickster, god, the wise old man, the wise old woman, and the shadow (the dark and primitive aspect of our unconscious mind).

I think, then, that these supernatural entities are projections of the unconscious mind or expressions of archetypes. For example, the elf could be the expression of the 'trickster' archetype and demons, devils, monsters and other evil 'spirits' could be expressions of the 'shadow' archetype. This conclusion makes sense, given that the archetypes are described as being autonomous and hidden (just as these entities are) and it would explain how varied the entities are (their variation depends on the different ways archetypes can be transformed once filtered through the individual and their culture). This does not take away the mystery, meaning and importance that is associated with the DMT experience. In Jungian terms, the experience can be seen as an intense and rapid confrontation with one’s unconscious mind.

8 comments:

  1. Nice article, came across it on Stumbleupon. I have a thought though. If "there exists a second psychic system of a collective, UNIVERSAL, and impersonal nature which is identical in all individuals," wouldn't it be possible that there may be trans-dimensional beings we are, as beings ourselves, subconsciously connected to, and the different drugs themselves allows us to connect to our subconscious and in-so-doing connect with them? However, I enjoyed your article(or would this be called a blog?)

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    1. Thanks for the response. Positive comments are always appreciated. I guess you could call it an article (it's 1,000 words so maybe that's too long for a blog post?)

      Really interesting question. My own opinion would be that maybe you can only contact these beings through the subconscious (it looks that way, anyway). But I would not call them trans-dimensional, because that suggests they transcend dimensions, which there is no evidence for, or which many not even be physically possible.

      We do connect to these beings through our subconscious, but I don't believe that they are trans-dimensional beings with their own independent existence. Their existence depends on our minds, which exists in space and time.

      That said, I'm sure the experience of meeting them feels real, which could convince you that they have an independent existence. But you can have dreams which seem just as indistinguishable from reality, that does not mean the events in the dream actually took place.

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  2. I think the problem lies in us affording these entities/archetypes equal existence to that of our own. That is, because we identify these entities as intelligent agents, we make the assumption that they are as real as ourselves. However, this is likely not the case. I have yet to read a report that one of these entities has a life, a past, a history of action, origin or end. They seem suspended, eternally, as personalities with a particular disposition toward the psychonaut. Never has there been anything communicated which resulted in a new technological, philosophical or mathematical breakthrough-- we're not being told anything we didn't already know, or couldn't already have come to ourselves.. we simply have the feeling that we're obtaining such information. So, while these entities may be 'real' in some sense, they're not nearly as 'real' as the people and things which we encounter in the world of the actual.

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  3. Interesting. Has the author or any of the people commenting smoked DMT themselves? I have, and the experience is so bizarre, so far beyond anything we experience in this reality, that it is, for all intents and purposes, indescribable. We do not have a vocabulary to describe this experience as we have nothing to compare it to. Therefore, anyone who has not had the experience will never understand what it is like, regardless of how much research they do on the subject. Writing about it is ultimately futile, even if you're writing as a DMT veteran.

    The author states "We will just have to accept people’s subjective reports. Unfortunately, subjective reports do not count as concrete evidence in the scientific community", then goes on to quote Jung and the theory of the collective unconscious. My question is this: If there are no grounds for accepting subjective accounts of the DMT realm, what grounds are there for accepting the existence of the collective unconscious? There is no hard physical evidence for the existence of either, so how is one theory deemed acceptable and the other theory rejected?

    Also, just to play devil's advocate, if subjectivity does not count as concrete evidence, what are we to make of quantum physics, which states that nothing can exist without a subjective witness to observe it?

    Cheers,
    Steeplemouth

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    1. I have had experience with it yes, and I agree that a key component of the experience is its ineffability, which is why I regard the experience as 'mystical'.

      I regard people's (including my own) subjective accounts of the experience as evidence of an objective 'DMT realm' as much as I regard abduction experiences as evidence of UFOs...not very highly. In the words of Carl Sagan, "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence". Or as the philosopher David Hume put it, we should proportion our beliefs to the evidence available. I think this is the most sensible way to see things for how they are, however inherently limited our perceptions may be. I don't deny that my DMT experiences felt 'more real than real', but it would be a leap of faith for me to say that because I felt this to be true that it therefore must be true.

      Quoting Jung and his theory of the collective unconscious is not in the same vein as appealing to personal experience because Jung's theories extend well beyond the individual. They are trans-individual and archetypal, and Jung, like his proponents, cite information which is available for everyone to see, and which supports his theory (i.e. recorded myths and stories throughout history).

      Regarding your question about quantum physics, I'm no expert, but I think you are misunderstanding the so-called 'observer effect'. The observer effect described by quantum mechanics, and verified by the famous 'double-slit' experiment, does not mean that 'nothing can exist without a subjective witness to observer'. That is obviously false, unless you hold the philosophical position called Idealism, which states that objects are merely ideas in our minds, and which would not exist if minds did not exist. This theory fell out of favour a long time ago and I think most sensible people would agree that the Universe would exist without us (or any other conscious beings). The observer effect does not depend on a conscious observer, but a measuring device.

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    2. Hi Sam,

      Thanks for the reply. Good to know you have had the experience, many people who write on the subject have not. Even Strassman I believe had not had the experience at the time of writing The Spirit Molecule, though he may have since.

      I do not necessarily believe or disbelieve in the existence of an objective DMT realm, as the ineffability of the experience makes it impossible to draw any conclusions from the various subjective reports, but I treat all distinction between objectivity and subjectivity with caution. Our experience of the universe, including all aspects we assume to be objective, is subjective. Would the universe still exist if there were no conscious beings in it to experience it? That is impossible to say, and I make no claim either way. Jung himself argued for the existence of UFOs as a psychic phenomenon that can manifest in reality to such a degree that it can be detected on external devices such as radar, which suggests that terms like "objectivity" and "subjectivity" are grossly simplified. Regarding the observer effect, it is my understanding that it depends on the conscious observation of a measuring device, as we cannot say exactly what the device has measured without a conscious observation of it.

      I understand that Jung has supporting evidence in the form of mythology etc, but it is all subjective anecdotal evidence, regardless of the volume of it. I am not saying that it should be discounted, quite the opposite, but I feel that, once a sufficient vocabulary has been developed to allow us to discuss the psychedelic experience with any degree of accuracy, we may well see that the same experience and possibly the same realm/dimension/whatever you want to call it is being experienced by different people. Until we have that body of data to work with, I treat everything provincially and draw no conclusions either way.

      These are deep philosophical questions and I doubt that we can reach any definitive conclusions with the limited data we have at present. I believe that it is up to each individual to assimilate these experiences and to trust their own instincts. I am very wary of allowing the likes of Sagan to be the arbiters of reality and to tell us what is real and what is not, especially when the majority of them have not had a psychedelic experience themselves, and can therefore not even hope to understand it or to comprehend the implications of it.

      Good blog my friend, keep up the good work.

      Steeplemouth

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  5. And this may not be the forum for it but I'd be very interested to hear what happened when you smoked DMT. What was your experience? My father had open heart surgery last year, he died on the operating table and was resuscitated. He came back with a very strange story about a purple dome with heiroglyphic symbols moving across the walls and some sort of entity in there. He knew nothing of DMT at the time. I bought him Strassman's book upon recovery and he is now convinced that his NDE was a DMT trip of some sort.

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I'm a freelance writer who is interested in a variety of subjects, especially those which are philosophical, complex and involve a multitude of perspectives. I created this blog in order to share my thoughts, and to encourage debate and discussion about the most fascinating topics I can think of. Get in touch: samwoolfe@gmail.com