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Deconstructing the Vision

James Kent

An analytical look at nature and content of first-person closed-eye tryptamine hallucinations.

"Snippets of the Psyche," by James Kent

The following analysis is based on an image I produced called "Snippets of the Psyche - Self Portrait 9". It is my best of attempt to date to convey the style and content of the visions I typically have under the influence of a psychedelic tryptamines such DMT, psilocybin, and LSD. With "Snippets" I am not attempting to idealize the psychedelic state in any way, or imply that this is what everybody sees when they trip. Instead I am trying to provide an honest, accurate representation of what I actually see while under the influence. It has taken me a while to be able to portray these elements in any realistic detail, and I would appreciate any comments or feedback to see how much of this is universal and how much is particular to my own internal vision.

Let's refer to the image and take it by the numbers here:

1. The Geometric Lattice - The tryptamine visions start with an intensification of basic phosphene activity, which grows in clarity and reveals swirling 2-D mandalas, fractal patterns, and flickering rainbow (spectrum) colors. The particular fractal image I picked for the background of this collage was created by Jon Allen.

2. The Holographic Matrix - As the "refresh rate" of the flickering geometric field speeds up, a fluorescent 3-D matrix begins to materialize. This matrix is typically spinning and whirling, seemingly made out of tiny fluorescent light tubes, like a carnival ride or some obscene Burning-Man/Vegas Strip eye-candy spun into centripetal motion. Sometimes the matrix appears as a single "concrete" object like a sphere or a human body or an alien landscape. I often see silken dunes (pictured) and/or whirling carousel-type objects and machinery.

3. Kodak Moments & Genetic Identity - Within the fabric of the holographic matrix distinct photographic images begin to appear. These images are typically animated at frame-rate that I can only describe as "syrupy." They ooze and flicker forward very organically, leaving trails and fractalline swirls in their wake. I call this phenomena "Kodaking" because the images develop out of the matrix like a photo materializing on a piece of film paper.

The content of these photo-realistic Kodak images are typically the meatiest part of the trip. Here I have illustrated two themes which are nearly universal in my own personal psychedelic trips. First we have the profile image of the woman erotically extending her tongue. I often see profiles of people's faces in my trips, sometimes just eyes, sometimes just mouths, sometimes many faces are overlapping and merging and melting into one another. Usually I see faces in profile, I don't know why. The facial recognition phenomena is not limited to erotic imagery, though I have included the tongue image here because I can distinctly recall it from an earlier trip. I typically also see my own face and self represented in snapshots of memory (including fake memories and potential future memories), along with snapshots of family members and loved ones. Very rarely I will get a snapshot totally out of context, but typically the imagery is very personal and sometimes difficult or uncomfortable to watch. It seems to come unfiltered out of the subconscious and is loaded with images of self, family, cultural identity, reproduction, sex, birth, and death. These are the Freudian archetypes, which I more accurately refer to as the Genetic Archetypes, since they tend to deal intimately with all the messy essentials related to the survival and reproduction of genetic lines.

Kodak moments can also reveal images of creeping plants, growing mushrooms, animals in motion, etc., almost always related to biological or natural systems. Scrying imagery within this matrix is one of the more compelling features of the trip, and tapping into the deep wells here is the stuff of sorcery. Manipulating information within this space is undoubtedly how many shamen work their particular magic.

4. The Specter of Death - One particular Kodak image that has haunted nearly every psychedelic trip I have ever had is this Specter who hides in the darkness. He does not appear in profile, but head on. This morbid, Undead Skull archetype is perhaps the most widely recognized figure in all of human mythology. In my own visions this specter can appear as a Voodoo Priest or Grinning Mime with a painted white face and sunken black eyes; sometimes he appears more like a Jester or a Harlequin painted up like a skull; sometimes an actual skull or skeleton with eerily alive eyeballs. There is no denying that this image is an archetype of Death. Thanatos, the Boogey Man, and perhaps the Joker and the Cosmic Fool all rolled into one? Who knows? Though he always lurks in the background, staring, watching, I have never caught a menacing vibe from him. He is just there, a grinning guardian of the abyss, the one who waits for us all at the end of the ride. At times it has appeared to me that this specter was actually painting reality onto a canvas before me, that he was actually "programming the trip" for me from an infinite palette of tricks held just out of view, which would make him akin to a God or a demented puppet-master of some kind. Since this archetype is so powerful and cross cultural I am willing to entertain the notion that it is actually a disembodied spirit of some kind, possibly a sadistic god, maybe death himself, or could it be, hmm, I don't know... Satan!? The bottom line is that a personification of death anxiety is evident.

I could go on a bit here about how this entity may be a guardian of the deeper void, the one who mediates contact between the living and the dead, (blah blah blah), and that you have to answer three riddles from him to be able to pass to the next level. But that is all colorful conjecture. The actuality is more like this: there are many levels to the psychedelic experience, and when closed-eye visuals pass over into "spirit work" (which is often described in quaint terms like "out of body" or "near death" experiences) the user passes into a deep trance state which appears be indistinguishable from being "passed out" or "zonked off your ass." Of course the quality of the trip changes tremendously here, and for some reason this is always the hardest part of the trip to recall! Regardless, once you pass through the "veil of death" there is usually some kind of convoluted journey of wisdom that ends with the shattering revelation of being re-awakened in your own body, metaphysically reborn (hopefully). Either that or somebody eventually taps you and says, "Hey dude, are you okay?" and you go, "Huh? Where am I?"

5. Elves, Aliens, & Spirit Entities - Including but not limited to insects, snakes, lizards, alligators, jaguars, angels, cherubs, demons, shamanic deities, imps, helper spirits, plant spirits, UFOs, jivas, STEMS, etc. Just about any archetype from the collective unconscious can be conjured here. I have chosen elves because this particular archetype is a remnant of my first DMT trip. Typically giggly and kinetic, these sprites bounce about and impart "wisdom" in the form of visual theater. They can act as "ringleaders" or "MCs" for holding together the "theme" of the other content being generated in the trip. Often funny and profound, these entities swirl into and out of the trip, are transient, and don't hang around for more than a few seconds at a time. Weather they are autonomous beings or merely byproducts of our own consciousness reflecting back on itself is unknown. My best guess is that they are manifestations of the collective unconscious, or perhaps the personification of personality extremes (the "internal voices") that our brain fabricates to help us contextualize data.

6. The Cosmic Groove - This swirling keyboard/demonic grin thing is an archetype that appears in many of my trips. It can look alternately like a zipper, trains, train tracks, receding MC Escher stairways, rungs of DNA, a snake, teeth, vertebrae, etc. The Cosmic Groove literally rolls on through the trip, always in constant motion, providing the "tempo" for the experience. It is typically accompanied by a galactic funk riff that the sickest trance music aspires to reproduce. I like to think of the Cosmic Groove as the master "score" that underlies the forward-pace of reality, but what do I know? I am fairly certain that the sensation of "locking-in" to the Cosmic Groove accounts for many of the far-out dance moves perpetrated in the neo-tribal scene. All tribal music is geared towards tapping into various tempos of the Cosmic Groove. Jazz, the "Jam Band" phenomena, DJ Culture, and hip-hop all exploit the Cosmic Groove during live performance; by tapping into the Cosmic Groove musical yogis can jump on a beat, step out of their bodies, and "let it flow" through them. I believe this is true with athletes as well, except they refer to it as being "in the zone," which is a state of mind where thinking gives way to a deeper instinctual connection to timing and rhythm, allowing grace and flawless physical performance to pass through the body.

Now all of the elements in this image have been provided with no central narrative or theme to tie them together. Also, this is not an exact snapshot, but rather a collage of bits and pieces of various different trips pulled together to demonstrate typical aspects. I admit that some of the aspects are clumsily reproduced, but also concede the psychedelic visuals rarely hold consistent shape for very long, and often fall into a "sort of looked like" and "morphing into" category. They are often a confusing patchwork of sliding imagery that can go all over the place, and applying a consistent narrative to them can be challenging.

However, given that margin for variation and intensity, the framework of the visuals is extremely consistent across psychedelic trips. The nature of the themes presented are typical: Eros, Death, Spiritual Alienation, and the never-ending forward-churning cycle of life and genetic evolution, also known as Samsara. As a shorthand I refer to these themes as the "root constructs" of the self, or the "genetic identity", the underlying genetic drivers that inform and build our organism from the ground up.

Although set and setting provide enormous room for an endless variety and type of visions within the psychedelic state, I have found that quiet, closed-eye psychedelic reflection eventually returns back to one or all of these genetic or root archetypes. What I can ultimately infer from this is that at the root level my organism is obsessed with it's own survival and sexual reproduction. Duh, big surprise. The spirit entities seem to anthropomorphize any desire I have to know or understand things which are outside the limits of my own senses: hidden knowledge, secret wisdom, insight into quantum or cosmic events. The knowledge they impart is pithy and precise, yet does not always make sense when translated back into english, which leads me to believe that the "wisdom" of the spirit entities is little more than good old human cleverness in disguise.

This material was adapted from Psychedelic Information Theory, a work in progress, by James Kent.

Tags : psychedelic
Rating : Teen - Drugs
Posted on: 2004-05-08 00:00:00