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To Believe or Not to Believe

teafaerie | Musings | Monday, November 2nd, 2009

teafaerie_entity_seuss_deanThe Teafaerie does not believe in discarnate entities. This is my official stance. It’s the stance that I absolutely have to take at this point in order to maintain what I’m still pleased to call my sanity. The last thing I need, insofar as my tenuous and tempestuous romance with consensus reality is concerned, is to think I’m some kind of god damned Faerie Ambassador. I get the irony of my name (Teafaerie is actually a title, like Doctor or Professor, rather than a proper name) but in fact I don’t believe in faeries, demons, lizard people, or self-transforming machine elves. Clap all you want, it won’t do a lick of good. Or rather, I should say I don’t Believe in them, with an emphasis on the capital “B”. I’ve taken enough ayahuasca that I can’t deny the compelling intensity of some of these experiences, nor dismiss their relevance, but I don’t think I know what they are anymore than I think that I know what I am, myself. To label such a phenomenon as “entity contact” is to attempt to box it into a metaphor that is perhaps not large enough to contain it.

I could totally go there if I wanted to. I would not be straight-up lying if I said that I’ve had dozens of entity encounters. But is it True or true or “true”? No one can say, least of all me, as I’m the sole observer of whatever it was that may or may not have happened, and I have only the most subjective possible viewpoint from which to assess its validity.

If they were asked to take them at face value, almost nobody else would believe my entity stories. For one thing, they all took place when I was tripping fairly hard. For most people that’s the end of the conversation. My early attempts to process this kind of thing, even and maybe especially with my intimates, were discouraging, to say the least. Far from impressing my friends and lovers with my honored status as a contactee, my fractured and breathless tales of “whoa” elicited no small concern for my mental hygiene. It soon became clear that a cusp was approaching, and I was going to have to figure out how to frame my experiences in more acceptable terms or face some sort of attempt at intervention. I don’t blame my family for their reaction. In fact, I love them for it. I had a friend who was getting kinda paranoid around the edges for a while, and if we had all taken refuge in relativism or humored him about the agents forever lurking just out of view, he might well have drifted further and further off. Instead, his friends quite properly took the stance that this was all a bunch of whack talk and insisted that he get some help. It is perhaps because of our vigilance, concern, and willingness to discriminate that he remains amongst us, now untroubled by his former preoccupations. Friends don’t let friends go crazy. This is a good thing. It does make it hard to talk about certain experiences, though.

People are of many minds about the entity thing. It’s difficult to gauge what the general consensus is, if there even is any. Religions seem to prefer having an immunity to ontological analysis. Some of this stuff is maybe a little bit embarrassing for them, but it’s too central to their basic mythologies to just sweep it under the rug, so they kind of have to go with it. It’s perfectly normal to believe that (pick your favorite religious superhero) had all kinds of weird-ass entity contacts. You know, they cast out devils, and they talked to the Creative Principle as a personified entity, and they were harassed and helped by angels or devas or whatever. Not only that, but the followers of most of the popular religions are asked to believe, nay, commanded to believe, that they are players or pawns in some sort of a spiritual war or game between a number of disincarnate entities, and that they must guard themselves scrupulously against supernatural attack, and that they must perform rituals to please or appease certain deities and demigods who might come to their aid or intervene for their salvation. Really stop and think about this: it has been absolutely impossible to get elected president of the United States without at least professing to believe that intelligent demons are out to corrupt your soul. Variations on this theme hold true all over. Millions of people believe in ghosts, too, and most believe that their consciousness continues on in some manner after death. Don’t tell folks that you hear voices in your head, though, or they’ll lock you up!

Is it crazier to believe in other people’s entity encounters, or to believe in your own? It’s one thing if it happened to you, right? Believing in entities that appeared to you personally, established some kind of ontological priority, showed you impossible things, and shattered your soul with unbearable gnosis (or whatever), is generally considered nuts; but believing in entities referred to in ancient texts because the texts themselves tell you that you’d better believe, or else, is not only considered sane behavior, it’s systematically instilled in our children by the most innocuous of social institutions. I’m not trying to piss anybody off here, and I’m not really trying to diss religions or impugn their metaphysics. For all I know, some might be true. I’m just saying that people are kind of schizzy about the whole entity question, and it’s not just a psychedelic issue.

We’ve got to be super careful about what we allow ourselves to believe. We’ve got to take a lesson from our betters and not let ourselves get caught up in the elaboration of whacko theories. Which is not to say that we shouldn’t talk about this stuff. We have to talk about it if we’re ever going to make any progress at all. I think what’s really happening with some of the so-called entity encounters eludes language, though, at least for now. We’re working on the language problem, but it’s tricksy and slow. If you somehow projected your consciousness into the mind of a person who has never been out of the deep rainforest, your contactee would be unable to tell his tribemates what was happening. He would share your experiences as you ride on an airplane or read articles on the Internet, but he would not be able to interpret them, and even less would he be able to communicate them to others. Maybe he would say that he had traveled to the astral plane and flown on a giant condor made of machete skin, and perhaps he would even be believed. It wouldn’t be a lie. It wouldn’t even be imaginary. But is it True or true or “true”? We say that there are “pages” on the Internet and “folders” on our computers, when in reality there are just a bunch of ones and zeros. When you run the programs made up of the ones and zeros, and perceive those running programs through a human sensorium looking at a screen, you experience something vaguely isomorphic to old-school paper pages and files. It appears to us that way, and it’s useful to think and talk about it that way. It’s true enough for our purposes, but it’s not the whole truth. It’s a kind of metaphor or a model that we can use to understand what’s happening. The measure of a metaphor lies exclusively in its power to model a situation in such a way as to most frequently provoke the most appropriate response to stimulus. Period. If your tobacco addiction presents to you as a demon, and you choose to deal with it that way, awesome. For some people that’s a good lens to use. For others it might be better to stick with the chemical feedback loop model. Maybe it’s just different ways of seeing and saying the same thing. Reality seems to be happening on many levels at once, and the fact that it hangs together as neatly as it does is proof positive, for me at least, that there is something going on that is not immediately apparent from our default vantage point.

I think I got lucky, in a way, having lost my religion as a little kid. My touchstone images have always been taken out of mythic movies and psychedelic science fiction, so I’m not prone to taking this stuff too literally. If you’re Catholic, and the Virgin Mary appears to you in an ayahuasca trip, you may be susceptible to believing that the Holy Virgin herself in fact paid you a visitation. When Yoda appears to me, I know damned good and well it’s not really Yoda, because the real Yoda is a muppet. It must be much more confusing for people whose functional myths are easily mixed up with supposedly true stories. It seems like certain psychedelics totally scan you and then they present in a format that’s targeted to you personally. For instance, I recently had an ayahuasca session that involved an odd conversation with a praying mantis the size of an office building. I didn’t get it at the time. Then, a month later, I remembered a praying mantis that I caught like five years ago at Burning Man, and kept alive in a water jug upon which I had written the phrase “alien ambassador god, handle with care”. I laughed and laughed when I finally figured it out. Do I think there are giant bugs in hyperspace? No. Might it have been some sort of alien ambassador god? Maybe so. It sure cleaned my clock, whatever it was. But whatever it was, it was certainly not what it appeared to be. Anything with two eyes on the front of its head is not a creature that evolved in psychedelic multi-space. That can’t be what it looks like for itself, if such a distinction applies.

The mind’s visualization software is awesome. You can feed it really abstract data and it will take its best shot at drawing something in. This stuff comes at you real fast, and your brain runs all the pattern recognition software its got and serves up a trial hallucination. Go brain! So, for instance, with DMT, lots of people get whatever they would draw in for a bunch of quick clever little creatures. Maybe for one guy it’s elves and for somebody else it’s fairies or aliens. (I do believe in aliens in theory, and I’m open-minded about the possibility of them phoning us at home with some variation on Ma Bell non-local or telepathy, but again: how could we tell? When they start sending technical specs that work instead of platitudes about galactic brotherhood, I’ll be impressed.) And yeah, yeah, sometimes apparent entities manifest as nothing we’ve ever seen before. Sometimes they DO look like my idea of what would have evolved in a non-physical space, and sometimes they look like something that I literally could not have previously imagined at all. Some drugs have strange tropes that seem to manifest with statistically uncanny predictability, like ayahuasca jaguars and tryptamine gnomes. Some apparent entities can also manifest as places that I can walk around in, or as music, or as whirlpools in the body, or collages of my own memories. Others seem to be distributed amongst a number of hosts like a virus. Sometimes my friends seem to be sharing their nervous systems with something slippery that flickers into their eyes every third frame or so (I don’t like that one). Occasionally I even get shared hallucinations, like the time my friend Seuss Dean and I mixed up a strange cocktail and we both saw a bunch of researchers with clipboards. Our independent descriptions of them matched up rather uncannily. Do I think they were really there? Riddle me first where “there” is and I’ll try to answer your question.

Occam’s razor says it’s just us. Or, to use a slightly duller blade, maybe it’s the collective unconscious or something. We know for sure that we can dream. In dreams we walk around in a totally fake environment spun entirely out of the stuff of self, and interact with apparently autonomous others. We have no problem integrating this. Some of these experiences are shockingly realistic for some people, but relatively few of us believe that the entities that they encounter in dreams are really “out there”, even though they might seem extremely realistic and exude a palpable sense of presence. On the other hand, you know, the psychedelic experience can be quite convincing. It sometimes feels “realer than real” in a way that’s hard to get across to the straights. The resolution can be better than we’re used to in Physicsland. More importantly, it can come with a conviction of primacy that is hard to refute. Psychedelics can suspend the faculty for critical analysis, and something patently ridiculous can register as absolutely and obviously true. It can seem to me like I suddenly remembered all the secrets of the universe and I’ve always known about the entities and this is the most important and primary thing that has ever happened to me. Then they say something really really silly and I’m left feeling extremely confused.

Sure, I know, if I’m going to start disbelieving the evidence of my senses, how do I know that what we take to be the primary world is real? How do I know that all of this is not some sort of matrix universe or something? I guess I do have a solipsistic streak, when it comes down to it; but since it’s super consistent, I’m forced to deal with consensus reality more or less at face value. It’s real enough for me. For all I know I might be a brain in a jar, and my friends and lovers might be projections, but it serves me to see them through the lens that casts them as other spirits in roughly my same predicament.

Sometimes I deal with psychedelic entities at face value, too. I’ve experienced reality diced many ways, and if I can establish an I/thou relationship with an information field I’m pretty stoked about it, because that’s much more comprehensible and useful to me than some of the more arcane alternatives. I tend to behave relative to such entities exactly as if they were what they appear to be and consider myself lucky to have whipped up such a useful interface for my poor little monkey brain to work with. It’s probably quite literally the closest thing to the truth that I can imagine. I don’t Believe it for a minute, though. I try really hard to stay fluid. I’ve seen lots of good people get hung up on their trips because they insisted on taking it all hyper-literally, and pretty soon they think obscure deities are talking to them, and friends get worried and enemies get an opportunity to ridicule what may be a meaningful experience because they simply can’t relate to it in those terms.

I think I’ll let myself believe in entities when I’m an old lady. When I’m good and truly done with the householder’s life and I can afford to be a crazy psychedelic grandma who talks to people who aren’t there, me and the faeries are going to have ourselves a grand old time. Until then, I’ll keep on not believing, and I’ll keep on interacting with them just the same. Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am large and I contain multitudes.