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Towards 2013

teafaerie | Musings | Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

When I was ten years old, I thought the world was going to end in a year. An adult that I respected and admired had a big map of the world in her basement, and she was always sticking pins in it whenever there was an earthquake or a volcano or other natural disaster. Watching for the signs, I gathered, from the Bible and the prophesies of Nostradamus. One time I was spying on her, and I overheard her tell another trusted adult that it was only about a year till the beginning of the end. California, where we lived, would fall into the ocean, and then there would be the Tribulation, complete with plague, famine and nuclear holocaust, and then Judgement Day. I was stricken! Unable to ask for clarification from adults who would surely report the matter to the very persons upon whom I’d been spying, and unwilling to burden other children with my terrible secret, I dealt with the matter alone. This was perhaps the first time I experienced strong psychic alienation. From within my own distorted reality tunnel the concerns of my peers seemed trivial. The new Madonna video and junior high fashion trends were not exactly on the forefront of my mind, and it was surreal to watch them making fools of themselves, oblivious to their onrushing doom. I began to think of every annual event in terms of it being the last of its kind. (I celebrated my last Christmas, my last birthday…) I totally flunked out of the gifted classes where I had previously been a star pupil, and I developed an anxiety-related tummy disorder that had me throwing up all the time. It was awful. And then after a long while a year passed and the world didn’t end. For months I waited for the other shoe to drop, and eventually I had an epiphany: I was sitting in my dad’s Catholic church, listening to a Mass which I swear was still in Latin, and it suddenly dawned on me that all of these grown ups had it totally wrong, and that from then on I would only believe in things for which I had personally seen evidence. At least, I thought, I would only believe in things that felt true, rather than just swallowing whatever they put on my plate. I’ve been trying to refine that principle ever since.

When I hear people talking about 2012, it reminds me of that period in my childhood. I worry that there are others out there struggling with the same issues, and it makes me angry. People ask me about it all the time, as far as I can tell because they know that I’m into psychedelics and psychedelic culture. “So, what the heck does the 2012 thing have to do with hallucinogenic drugs?” you might well wonder. It seems that psychedelics and 2012 have developed a sort of brand association in some circles. This is partly due to the influence of a few psychedelic luminaries and commentators who have incorporated the meme into their raps. I think another reason for the link is the fact that one common trope of the psychedelic experience has something to do with a phase shift intuitively felt to be looming in the near future, and all the associated rhetoric naturally gets conflated with the various doomsday and singularity scenarios, both in the consciousness of some practitioners of psychedelic shamanism and in the minds of the consumers of their output.

Psychedelics have always been associated with the idea of precognition. At least on the surface, the purpose of aboriginal shamanism is often supposed to be divinatory. Indigenous people naturally want to know what tomorrow’s weather will be like, or how the hunt will go. Will the baby be a boy or a girl? Will the sick person get well, or will he die? They look to the shaman for answers, and the shaman in turn sometimes appeals to the plant allies for guidance. How well does it work? Reports vary widely. I’ve heard some crazy stories. Nothing I’d flat out call “proof”, though. If drug-induced precognition worked as well as the more credulous testimony suggests, you’d think we’d have it solidly documented by now. On the other hand, I suppose if I came across a group of indigenous people who could actually see the future, I’d be kind of hesitant to out them. There are some well-kept secrets in dusty corners of the psychedelic attic, and perhaps this is for the best. The last thing we need is to reawaken the government’s unwholesome interest in supposed psychedelic superpowers. Still, I wonder. Prophesy is almost always supposed to come out of non-ordinary states of consciousness. Sometimes the state is apparently spontaneous, and sometimes it is said to be brought on by some sort of entity contact, like an angelic visitation. In other cases so-called prophets have induced non-ordinary states of consciousness through ordeal rituals, or with the aid of various psychoactive agents. The famous Oracle at Delphi may have been huffing something out of a crack in the earth, and various theories have tackled this topic. The ancient Mayans might have been nibbling on mushrooms. Nobody knows for sure. Would it make their prophesies any more or less relevant if it were proven that they were indeed catalyzed by psychoactive materials?

I myself have had a few strange experiences with psychedelics and nonlinear perceptions of time. Enough so that I’d say that all other things being equal, I’d give a tripping prophet a tiny bit more benefit of the doubt than a sober one. It’s complicated, though. I’m not even convinced that there is a future to see, for one thing. Maybe there are millions of possible futures. I’m not going to get into the whole determinism versus free will rant here. It’s a trick question and I can argue both sides and suggest obscure alternatives until we all get our brains tied in knots. Time’s fun when you’re having flies, and once in a while when I’m on psychedelics it can seem like I’ve just re-lived the same moment over and over again, or like I’m suspended one second ahead or behind the normal flow of time so that I have a sort of perpetual déjà vu effect wherein everything seems like it has already happened or I feel like I know what’s about to happen right before it occurs. I’ve always figured it for a brain-glitchy echo effect and it’s probably nothing much more interesting. Uncanny when it’s happening, though. I also have a weird one that only occurs when I’m on a combination of LSD and MDMA where I’ll get what I’ve come to call a “flash forward” in which I have a first-person vision of a very brief sequence. For instance, I’m standing on a little wooden bridge with my husband, and we see a falling star. Then years pass and I forget about it, and eventually the scene actually occurs in real life, always while I happen to be under the influence of the same two chemicals. Is it bleed-through between trips somehow, or just some kind of tricksy illusion? I’d say illusion for sure, or maybe false memories, if it were not for the fact that I managed to say a couple of them out loud and got them on the record as flash forwards before they took place. They weren’t the kind of thing that I could make happen just to prove a point. I don’t know. It’s a mystery to me. Also, I sometimes seem to know when I’m destined to trip on days when I have no reason to suspect that I would come into contact with an opportunity. There is a certain sort of tingle that’s never been wrong yet. That one is a mystery, too.

The issue of prophesy is like the entity thing in the sense that it kind of seems dippy to even be talking about it, but when you look at what most people actually say that they believe, it turns out to be a pretty huge deal. According to a CNN/Time poll conducted back in 2002, almost 60 percent of Americans think that the end of the world, as predicted in the Bible’s Book of Revelation, will happen, and 17 percent believe that it will occur during their lifetimes. Now I don’t know what old Saint John was smoking, but I used to have to copy pages out of Revelation when I was bad as a kid, and I can tell you that it’s some pretty psychedelic stuff. It’s also mostly a big bummer. Cast as sinners who deserve much worse, long-suffering mankind flails helplessly as it gets worked over by its loving creator once again. I won’t go into the disturbing details, but it ends with the vast majority of human souls being horribly tortured for all of eternity. Let’s just say that it’s not exactly the kind of thing I’d like to manifest.

Same same with some of the 2012 rhetoric. I don’t mind the woo-woo galactic alignment/phase shift versions so much, though a lot of it strikes me as newage (rhymes with sewage). Most of the apocalyptic versions piss me off, though. I think that kind of crap is dangerous to the point of being potentially self-fulfilling. All the buzz surrounding the new disaster porn movie 2012 has me seething and stomping around the house, bemoaning the fate of thousands of naive children of all ages who got caught up in the brilliant “Search 2012” advertising scheme and probably think that they only have three years to live now. The 2012 movie is rated PG-13. Apparently, depicting the violent death of billions of innocents is considered less damaging than an exposed girl-nipple. Grrrrrr! And sure, everybody has a right to say whatever they want. I just feel that if I were going to export my visions of the future, psychedelically inspired or otherwise, it would be important to me to project a reality that I wouldn’t mind helping bring into being. Most people who say that they believe the dramatic end of the world version are posers, in my cheeky opinion. I mean if you really thought that civilization was going to collapse in a few short years, you’d be burying canned goods and running up the credit cards. And some people are. Good on them. At least they’re not going around scaring gullible people while they hedge their bets in the background. The Teafaerie is calling you out, fearmongers! You know good and well that the sky isn’t falling. Stand up and admit it or come out and challenge me on this point and prepare to look ridiculous in retrospect. If Winter Solstice 2012 passes much more eventfully than Y2K I’ll print this column out and eat it, and I’ll cheerfully go on the record and sing the wrong song to anybody who feels maligned by my scorn. (I was wrong, I was wrong, I was really really wrong, I am almost never wrong…)

Look, I’ve had that trip, too, okay? Everything is leading up to a big phase shift in the near future and it’s all going to collapse into some kind of singularity. I had it long before I knew that it was a thing, I swear. Tons of people get this. So much so that it’s kind of a cliché. It feels true. Does that mean that it’s True or true or “true”? For all we know it could just be one of those strange attractors that’s built into the human mind. Like maybe it’s because we know that we’re going to die, so therefore our own reality is going to die, and we project the situation onto the larger context of reality as a whole. Maybe some people can’t deal with their grief that all the awesome is just going to keep raging on forever without them, and they have to imagine that the whole thing is about to go to Hell anyway and they’re getting out just in time. Perhaps that trip is common because we all grew up in the shadow of the bomb and we have a collective death wish or something. Maybe it’s just that the end of the world absolves us of all responsibility. There’s probably a bunch of other simple explanations for it. It’s not like it’s a new thing. They’ve been predicting the climax of the second act for thousands of years now, and every time the divine curtain fails to fall the prophets either take credit for forestalling the inevitable or chalk it up to a minor mathematical error and redraw the charts to give themselves more wiggle room. I’m not saying that some of these folks don’t believe their own raps, I’m just pointing out that there is a long and ignominious history of being wrong about this. My Mayan scholarship is admittedly for shit, but I have a good friend who wrote a graduate level paper on the topic of 2012, and he was not particularly overwhelmed by the evidence. The ancient Mayans really don’t seem to have been all that into the 2012 mythos, and the modern Mayans almost totally disavow it. It wasn’t really even much of a focus date in the woo-woo crowd until the 60s and it kind of ballooned after the Harmonic Convergence was all used up. Even if every last ancient Mayan indisputably really did believe the world would end in 2012, I wouldn’t be particularly impressed or concerned. People believe a lot of weird stuff that isn’t true. Even mushroom munching mystics who leave cool ruins and know a little too much about astronomy.

Eschatology in general seems kind of irresponsible to me, frankly. If half of the voting adults in America really think the end of the world is nigh, perhaps it explains why we all tend to live like Roman Emperors, consuming obscene proportions of our dwindling communal resources and chucking plastic bottles over our shoulders with decadent abandon. Sorry kids, Big Daddy ain’t gonna come clean up our mess for us. Neither are the aliens. How do I know this? I don’t. And since I don’t know, I’m constrained to live as if we are expected to be the stewards of the earth for hundreds of thousands of years. We’ve got too much riding on this thing to base our strategy on squirrely interpretations of ancient prophesies. We’ve got to act as if it all depended on us. And by us I mean us as we are right now. We can’t even count on some kind of homespun technological singularity to come along and save our bacon. For years I justified my enormous carbon footprint by saying that if we didn’t solve the energy problem and come up with nanotech that could turn Coke bottles back into happy soil in my lifetime, the huge pile of trash that I continued to produce would be the least of our concerns. I thought of each ridiculously over-packaged treat as a vote of confidence in our technological ingenuity. I’ve kind of pulled back from that stance, though. Technological prophesy is science fiction and traditional prophesy is fantasy. On the other hand, business as usual is history and unprecedented change seems inevitable. It’s in our nature and potentially to our benefit to try to model what’s about to happen. This is the shaman’s job. We have choices to make insofar as how we present this stuff. It might even matter.

Spreading fear is totally irresponsible at this point. A lot of us pay lip service to the idea of indirect manifestation through thought or will, and if any version of that is true then we’ve really got to start visualizing some more inspiring outcomes posthaste. Even if you think that junk is bunk you know that despairing people solve no problems. Without hope we’re hopeless. I feel that it is my sacred duty to help raise morale on this spaceship until it’s big enough to fend for itself. I, for one, think we’ve got a fighting chance. Call me an optimist. Maybe I’m just too cowardly to encompass the possibility of failure. In any event I’m a devoted fan of sentient life in general and I intend to go down rooting for the home team. Go humans! Forward escape! The curtain is up and the enemy’s gate is down. Damn the torpedoes and never tell me the odds. If we get through the next 50 years I think we may be able to turn this boat around and stabilize the situation before it goes irreparably awry. Lucky us to be on stage at such an exciting cusp. If we make it we might go on to populate hundreds of worlds for millions of years, and the people of the future will surely salute those who carried the torch through this difficult pass. And if we bite it big time nobody will be around to smirk knowingly with the traitors who stood by saying I told you so. Place your bets where you will.

Yeah, the rate of change is starting to get precipitously steep. You don’t have to believe in magic to wake up and smell the world on fire. Extrapolating the current curve into the future (which is reasonable but not certain—even falling objects eventually stop speeding up) it would seem that we are about to enter a period of literally unimaginable novelty. I always liked the Terence McKenna rap about this, even though I never truly understood the Timewave and yes I totally do blame him for some of the 2012 nonsense. I guess blame isn’t really the right word. In fact I suspect that in his case it was at least partially constructive blarney to get people thinking hard about the rate of change and to get psychedelic people, specifically, prepared to help those less familiar with drastic mode shifts to make a smooth transition. The thing that I most dug about the Terence version of 2012 was its relentless optimism. I saw him speak with Mark Pesce at Esalen Institute in 1998. The theme of the workshop was Technopagans at the End of History and it was really a terrific discussion about all this. Anyway, apparently sometime during the conference Mark asked a friend what the appropriate attitude to take towards the eschaton was, and the person responded with the single word: “Yes”. Thus the Yeschaton list was born. For ten years it documented the impending end of everything with an attitude of amused anticipation. It’s now defunct, more’s the pity, but I think that’s exactly the kind of thing we need more of. […] Excelsior! I’m so over being blasé. This is it! Let’s start getting excited about the situation, because the alternatives are completely untenable.

Visualize a positive eschaton! If the 2012 thing is working for you, lean into it. I have a friend who is trying to promote the end of the Long Count as a massive psychedelic holiday where we all jump in together and try to take it to the next level. He’s been throwing countdown anteversary Solstice parties in New York City for a number of years now. I’m way into it. It’s a lot of fun. If 2012 is getting you excited about the future and prodding you to prepare yourself and others for a world of radically expanded possibilities, then I think that it’s a positive meme and you should milk it for all it’s worth. Anything that raises awareness about the increasing rate of change is probably a good thing. Most people still don’t see it coming, I think. Let’s make it awesome, though. Let’s work together to come up with an end of the world that we can live with. Apocalypse is not the same thing as Armageddon, you know. Armageddon sucks by definition. Apocalypse is a Greek word that just means revelation, like the lifting of a veil. If you have the intuition that we’re about to go through some kind of radical phase shift, let’s try to model it in such a way so as to help people get with the program. Remember that the Winter Solstice in America is the Summer Solstice in Australia, and adjust your associations accordingly. Think of it as a celebration of fullness achieved and the beginning of a time of bounty. Let’s project an eschaton that doesn’t require the intervention of gods or monsters, aliens or time travelers. Let’s tell a story about how we solve our own problems and manifest our wildest dreams by working together and patiently applying love, hope, courage, intelligence and curiosity. Let’s tell a story about how we’re linking up even now, and how the promised singularity is already at hand. I don’t think it’s going to happen overnight. I think it’s already happening. I think we’re soaking in it. 2012 seems as good a demarcation point as any, if we want to put on some sort of rite of passage. Why not? Let’s be sure to build a future into it, though, because we can’t afford to lose our momentum come the morning after.

To be fair I admit the possibility that the ancient Mayans might have really known the score and the doomsayers may be interpreting it right, and these here might be the last of days. I’ve tried to get worked up about it and I just can’t seem to go there. I concede that the end of the Mayan calendar does kind of line up in a freaky way with the current cusp and that it times out with some interesting astrological configurations, but so what? That could just be a coincidence. Or maybe it’s resonance or synchronicity or irony or some even less well understood phenomenon. It doesn’t take a genius to see that we’ve kind of painted ourselves into a tight corner, but if the fractal pattern embedded everywhere within the superstory is indeed as much prophesy as history I think we’ve got a decent chance of pulling through in the nick of time, and with any luck emerging a bit wiser for the wear. I must have used up my quota of helplessness and despair in grade school, because now I seem to be kind of inoculated against it or something. The end of the world is so yesterday, people. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt, moving on.