Or as When Under Ether...
Citation: Redoka. "Or as When Under Ether...: An Experience with Ether (exp114003)". Erowid.org. Feb 3, 2020. erowid.org/exp/114003
The following is a retrospective account of a 12 month + intensive exploration of the effects of Diethyl Ether largely stimulated by Aleister Crowley's 1922 essay "Ethyl Oxide". During its course, I also explored both Ether's role in Crowley's texts more generally, as well its role in the exploration of altered states in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and since this reading (of material not readily accessible) formed an essential dimension of my own experience I've decided to incorporate it below.
Before turning to my seduction by what Crowley calls Ether's proper 'technical administration' let me offer two illustrations of what I'd call Ether's classical anesthetic revelation. Thus in the "Proceedings of Society of Psychical Research" for 1905 Ernest Dunbar relates the characteristic 'sensation that the body is just as much part of the environment as anything else' :
"In my mind thought seemed to race like a mill-wheel. Nothing was lost--every trifling phenomenon seemed to fall into its place as a logical event in the universe. As in Sir William Ramsay's experience, everything seemed so absolute....Either this was or was not reality....It dawned upon me that the only logical position was subjective idealism....[B]y degrees I began to realise that I was the One, and the universe of which I was the principal was balancing itself into completeness. All thought seemed struggling to a logical conclusion; every trifling movement in the world outside my consciousness represented a perfectly logical step in the final readjustment."
Similarly the Polish polymath and early Mescaline investigator Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz describes as 14 yr old boy in interwar Warsaw:
"Dousing a handkerchief...pressing it to my nose and inhal[ing] deeply. It was summer. I was sitting amid stalks of wheat on a sunny hill....I saw the surrounding wheat, the hill, the sun--but it was not me who saw them: My ego had vanished leaving pure consciousness. Soon thereafter I created a rather logically pantheistic system where I placed superindividual consciousness of being above the individual ego'
This extinction of individual consciousness, and absolute identification with the environment, (often accompanied by a powerful sensation of deja vu) constitutes the outer limit of the Ether experience. Inducing it requires the administration of concentrated Ether vapour (for the lay investigator this can be achieved by various means; dousing cotton wool with Ether, placing it in a plastic bag and breathing it and out of it; placing a quantity of ether in plastic bottle pierced bong style, or, as above, with a rag).
Crowley's (and subsequently my approach) was somewhat different; for the Beast the 'particular technical administration of Ethyl Oxide' was a follows:
"The process of intoxication should be exceedingly gradual. The free nostril should be applied to the neck of the flask, but no attempt made to exclude air from the lungs. The criterion of proper administration is given by the time occupied, which should not be much less than 2 hours from the beginning to the moment of losing consciousness."
Crowley goes on to make a number of significant claims for the state of consciousness thereby obtained; e.g. the ability to establish what one truly believes and what constitutes one's own true will, to recover the details of previous incarnations, to pass into the post-mortem realm and discover its nature, or bring about a complete identification of the individual consciousness with that of an external entity (as in a magickal ritual). However, my attention was drawn to another claim, namely that by this method the "nature of scientific, mathematical, & philosophical conditions may be investigated with every prospect of success". Here the results for me were far from unambiguous, though I'm unsure whether this reflects a rather different criteria for what constitutes success in these matters, and in Crowley's defence it should be noted that his ideal experimenter should be one adept via the practice of yoga and meditation at "controlling his mind so as to be able to reject any thought which is not in the logical sequence of his chosen subject of meditation [and] concentrating his mind so that during the whole period of the experiment he is able to maintain uninterruptedly the analysis of the chosen subject of his investigation." which I wasn't.
Anyway, two factors worth stressing are firstly that almost all my experiments were conducted using reagent grade Ether and on the one occasion that I was forced (John Lilly like) to seek out an alternative I used the only commercially available starter fluid that contains nothing but Ether and easily separated iso-butane. Despite this fact, the latter was very different and inferior in effect. In other words, anyone investigating Ether must use the purest material available. Secondly, as resident of the UK and a wayward child of the 80's my first introduction to altered states of consciousness took the form of solvent abuse. Having swiftly moved on to more respectable substances I had for many decades put these early experiences out of my mind, and recalled them with a measure of shame. Ether would bring these back to me with a Proustian intensity, and one experience in particular would become the strange attractor at the heart of these explorations; the ultimate consequences of which are the primary motivation for my writing this document.
Before that let me offer a number of stray observations:
Administered by the Crowley method, it is possible to extend the induction of the Etherised state to an hour or two, and at times to obtain significant results using a relative small amount of material (say 30 or 40 ml). It is also possible to consume by the same method much greater quantities, or to extend the process over multiple hours. Used in this way, the experience is less that of Ether per se, than of accessing a 'thought-stream' or a continuum of concepts.
Used in this way, the experience is less that of Ether per se, than of accessing a 'thought-stream' or a continuum of concepts.
One 'rides the vapour' allowing it to unfold its ideas, abused or used in excess one becomes lost in the same vapours. More intensive modes of induction bypass this thought-stream, propelling one into an intensely euphoric, but overwhelming, state. While this represents a valid avenue of exploration (most accounts of Ether relate this level) it was not my intention and after few initial forays it was abandoned.
Although full anesthesia is difficult to obtain by the Crowley method, it does carry its own risks. Primarily because there is a notable disconnect between the lucidity of thought Ether appears to furnish, and the alcohol like diminution of one's faculties accompanying this clarity. This became apparent when in addition to more extended engagement, I also used Ether in the manner of a nitrous balloon, as a quick hit to brighten the day. While a single deep breath of Ether will come on like, and seemingly enjoy a similar duration to Nitrous, it in fact possesses a longer latency period. Accordingly, one must be cautious in one's activities and interactions for a least an hour after the central effects have passed, otherwise, accidents and embarrassments can ensue. A simple rule of thumb: you are always more out of it than you think you are. Moreover, with excessive use, these residua accumulate to a state of enduring lassitude that is the enemy of patient labour and finer sensation, whose only escape seems to be more Ether: a vicious circle that's best avoided.
In Liber LXXIII, Crowley notes 'Under Ether I always get th[e] question of strata of thought.' And this for me is its central effect. Rather in the manner of a solvent, Ether isolates the thought processes from the rest of one's sensations and allows them to unfold autonomously. In this fashion, one discovers a fractaline dimension to one's ideas, that they enfold other ideas that constitute their virtual component. These ideas within ideas or micro-perceptions reveal thinking to be more than the operation of the conscious individual. Unable to replicate the systematic, progressive explication of a single line of thought Crowley recommends, for me, they manifested in a more spasmodic, spontaneous fashion. Sudden syntheses of concepts, rapid precipitation of seemingly multidimensional conceptual insights attended by bursts of laughter and joy. These, however, would vanish as quickly as they arose, leaving one the next second struggling to recall precisely what had struck with the force of revelation a moment earlier. On other occasions, they took the form of a rapid proliferation and imbrication of ideas and associations (reminiscent of the onset of Ketamine) - for instance in an early experiment, I experienced in the manner of fast-forwarded film a condensed vision of the processes of fossil fuel extraction and use that had transpired over the decades of my adult life.
More rarely, the slow unraveling of a line of thought, each element building on the last. Sometimes, these deductions from the thought-stream would be accompanied by closed-eye visions that while less colourful and detailed than those of the classical psychedelics were distinguished by their curiously hieroglyphic quality; a single image that seemed a reply to whatever topic I was then meditating upon. Despite their evanescence and elusiveness, a number of elements recurred with sufficient frequency to cross the border to ordinary consciousness. For instance, a deep intuitive sense of some current underpinning the direction of a life and the events that comprise it; that this led forward to a future concrescence. Another abiding, strange feature was a sense of inhabiting a body other than my own, belonging to someone of different gender, age, ethnicity, etc, and fleeting but intense sense of their lived experience, building on one occasion to a flickering chain of incarnations.
Approached in this manner the productive Etherised state is a fragile one that I'd liken to the vortical forms that smoke from incense assume, beguiling but easily perturbed by the slightest movement. Accessing the thought stream necessitates a controlled, quiet (internal and external) environment. Used outdoors, this dimension of the experience is harder to apprehend, but is replaced by an encounter with singularities of time, light, climate -- the quality of the onset of twilight, of dawn breaking, of a particular conjuncture of meteorological forces, assume the status of unique, unrepeatable events, in which one participates fully. It is also possible if circumstances permit to slow one's consciousness down to the duration of the external environment and to carry its stillness home with you. But here again, the slightest distraction can frustrate one's efforts.
Like other substances of this class, Ether is seductive and grants the user sufficient latitude that when it bites it comes as a shock. Less is always more, and one must learn to tolerate the intrinsically ungraspable aspect of its' action, otherwise, one will become lost in the vapour, and forced to forswear its use.
TLDR: Ether permits one to think psychedelically without tripping. To use a media analogy: if the true psychedelics are pixel-dense, surround sound, HDTV then Ether is a B&W analog cathode ray tube (yet Quatermass and the Pit and The Twilight Zone were transmitted on such technology...)
Now as mentioned above my first experience with altered states came in the form of solvent abuse, and my initial encounters with Ether brought memories of this time back with astonishing speed and intensity. Adopting Crowley's protocol I attempted to concentrate on a single, strange, event that occurred during this time (whose atmosphere could be summarised in terms of cross between a Shane Meadows adaptation of Stranger Things and Panos Cosmatos' Mandy): In September 1983 two companions and I stole out to sniff glue on a small patch of fenced off, disused railway. It was a warm night, and as we began a harvest moon rose, full, red, and low on the horizon. In a night sky filled with its light, a strange form appeared; a contraption recalling the wild imaginings of a Victorian inventor fired with the dream of flight. This steampunk phantasm slowly morphed into an interstellar craft, such as might of graced the cover of 80's computer game, or cheap sci-fi novel, which in its turn dissolved to be replaced by a vision of a sword grasped by firm fist and muscular forearm, again straight from the cover of a Sword and Sorcery novel or a metal album, which slowly faded to leave a clear, moonlight night. What was remarkable was the fact that we had all witnessed this sequence and had, in tones of excitement, fear, and incredulity, discussed as it transpired. It was evidently something extraordinary, we were sufficiently experienced to know that while solvents triggered hallucinations, these took the form of 'true' hallucinations, delirious and confused, and were never beheld simultaneously by several parties or discussed as they unfolded.
My efforts to recover this event with the aid of Ether proved disappointing; while I could summon surrounding details, the central experience refused to resurface. Indeed, seeking to identify its precise date I was disappointed to discover that it could not (as in my recollection) have occurred on the full moon, but rather two days after it...That might have been the end of the matter, had I not mentioned to a friend that my journeys in Ether exhibited a strange capriciousness: at certain times rich and vivid, at others merely intoxicating - this variation too random to be ascribed simply to tolerance. He casually suggested that it might relate to the moon's phases, and over the coming months, I did discover some correspondence, with a peak of intensity around the time of the full moon. But my initial assumption that the night of the full moon itself would prove especially significant was not confirmed.
One August night, disillusioned with Ether and sure that I'd been cheated by Crowley's words, I nevertheless took up the flask and stepped out to observe the moon rise two days after the full. What ensued was an intense epiphany; in an argent light vibrating with an electric hum 'beating out the dark, cosmic rhythm which underlies all mystical gate-openings" (to quote Lovecraft), I grasped the enigmatic embroidery that stitched that night 35 yrs past with this one
I grasped the enigmatic embroidery that stitched that night 35 yrs past with this one
, binding these moments together in the light of what I'd come to call (after Hoban's Riddley Walker) the '3rd of the Ful'. Unfortunately, I don't have the resources to convey the mysterious synergy I've discovered between this particular lunar phase and Ether, all I can say is that it is potent, occult, and beautiful. Initially, I turned to astrology in the hope that it might offer some insight, but aspects, signs, even the lunar mansions, offered little support for my experiences. Over time it became apparent that the moon must be visible, that its light was critical in generating this state, and while I have assembled a number of correspondences that provide me with some measure of support, I doubt any skeptic would find them persuasive -- the most striking being a 1955 paper in Nature on the 'moon-related emergence of an African mayfly' whose accompanying graph was uncanny in its correlation, and Hoban's rhyme "3rd of the Ful and stil shewl pul" !
In conclusion, I'll just say that the combination of Ether and the 3rd of Ful is one of nature's minor mysteries. Nevertheless, it is inherently sublunar, and in this, it is like Ether itself, which is unlikely to satisfy or intrigue those whose tastes run to the intensities of more celebrated molecules. But for those who hear its call, do try it under the beams of the second night of the waning gibbous moon...
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