Faerie entities and DMT
‘Our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the flimsiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness that are entirely different.’ William James.
A new study carried out by the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore, entitled: Survey of Entity Encounter Experiences Occasioned by Inhaled N,N-dimethyltryptamine: Phenomenology, Interpretation, and Enduring Effects, published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, has surveyed 2561 people to record their experiences of contacting entities while using the psychedelic substance N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT). The study states:
‘Respondents reported the primary senses involved in the encounter were visual and extrasensory (e.g. telepathic). The most common descriptive labels for the entity [encounter] were: being, guide, spirit, alien, and helper. Although 41% of respondents reported fear during the encounter, the most prominent emotions both in the respondent and attributed to the entity were love, kindness, and joy. Most respondents endorsed that the entity had the attributes of being conscious, intelligent, and benevolent, existed in some real but different dimension of reality, and continued to exist after the encounter.’
This study is the most recent in a growing literature of testimonies by people who have apparently contacted supernatural entities after partaking of DMT. It would seem this molecule, in particular, has the ability to alter states of consciousness to the extent that the participant is able to interact with non-natural entities in a supra-normal time and space. Many of the entities, in this study and others, bear much resemblance to the faeries of both folklore and modern descriptions. It seems the DMT experience may provide one possible pathway into understanding what the faeries might be and how human consciousness can connect to their metaphysical existence.
What is N,N-dimethyltryptamine?
DMT occurs naturally in many plants and animals, although the genesis of its production is not currently fully understood. In humans it is conjectured that it is generated through either the pineal gland in the brain or through the lungs. However, the reasons for this endogenous production remain unknown. The structure of DMT occurs within some important biomolecules like serotonin and melatonin, and may be responsible for sleep patterns and dream states, but it retains its ambiguity as a naturally occurring compound. It was first synthesised 1931 by the German chemist Richard Manske, but it was only in 1956 that the Hungarian chemist and psychiatrist Stephen Szára carried out the first trials of the molecule in human subjects (including himself), resulting in the realisation of its potential for producing intense altered states of consciousness. These states had been experienced by the shamanic indigenous peoples of the Amazon for hundreds of years, where the Psychotria viridis and Diplopterys cabrerana plants, containing DMT, are used in conjunction with the Banisteriopsis caapi vine to produce a brew usually known as Ayahuasca, which acts as a potent psychedelic when ingested. The history and current usage of Ayahuasca has been charted by Professor Benny Shanon in his 2002 book The Antipodes of the Mind: Charting the Phenomena of the Ayahuasca Experience. Shanon discusses many aspects of entity encounters while under the influence of the brew, and while some of the entities may fit broadly into faerie ontologies, there seems to be a specific range of metaphysical creatures experienced in the Amazonian context. These have been further elucidated by Graham Hancock in his influential 2005 book Supernatural: Meetings with the Ancient Teachers of Mankind.
But, usually as a synthetic compound either injected intravenously or inhaled as smoke, DMT has disseminated from the Amazon to become a mainstay in underground Western culture over the past few decades. The Johns Hopkins study is the most recent in a series of clinical research studies and surveys to assess the experiences brought on by DMT; many of which include entity encounters that correlate with faerie phenomenology, both from folkloric records and modern testimonies. The following sections describe the findings of these studies with an attempt to interpret what the DMT experience might contribute to our understanding of faerie ontology.
DMT-initiated Faerie Encounters in Clinical Research
Probably the most famous promulgator of the DMT experience was the late Terence McKenna, who coined the term self-transforming machine elves for the entities he often encountered during his many DMT trips:
‘Trying to describe them isn’t easy. On one level I call them self-transforming machine elves; half machine, half elf. They are also like self-dribbling jewelled basketballs, about half that volume, and they move very quickly and change. And they are, somehow, awaiting. When you burst into this space, there’s a cheer!’
Stephen Szára’s Clinical Research
But long before McKenna was writing about the denizens of the DMT world, the Hungarian Stephen Szára (as mentioned above) was cataloguing the experiences in the late 1950s. As detailed by Andrew Gallimore and David Luke, once he’d worked out that DMT was non-active when ingested, but instead needed to be injected intravenously (through testing this out on himself): ‘He recruited 30 volunteers, mainly doctors from the hospital where he worked, the National Institute for Mental and Nervous Diseases, Budapest. All received 0.7 mg/kg (about 50mg for an average person) DMT intramuscularly and their experiences carefully recorded.’ Unfortunately, the results were not published, but some reports do survive, and it is clear that many of the study participants encountered entities that McKenna may have recognised. One 28-year old male physician described his experience thus:
‘The room is full of spirits…the images come in such profusion that I hardly know where I want to begin with them! I see an orgy of color, but in several layers one after the other… Everything is so comical…one sees curious objects, but nevertheless everything is quickly gone, as if on a roller-coaster.’
It is a shame we do not have any further assessment of what the ‘spirits’ were, but several of the other surviving experience reports describe meeting ‘beings’ when under the influence of these high-dose events. Two years after the first study Szára extended his assessment to psychiatric patients in the hospital. Again, only a few reports of the patients’ experiences survive, but one, from a thirty-year old female, give a flavour of the types of entities encountered after a 50mg injection: ‘I saw such strange dreams, but at the beginning only… I saw strange creatures, dwarfs or something, they were black and moved about…’
Although there are DMT experience reports from the decade after Szára’s studies, there was only one further clinical research study by William Turner and Sidney Merlis (affiliated to Central Islip Psychiatric Center, New York), where nine schizophrenic patients were given high doses of DMT. Only one of the patients’ testimonies made it into the published report, where she described a distressing episode after being hurled through a tunnel of light: ‘It is as if I were away from here for such a long time… and I was in a big place and they were hurting me. They were not human. They were horrible… I was living in a world of orange people…’
When DMT became a scheduled substance in 1970, any possibility of further research ceased. It was not until 1990 that DMT re-emerged as a legitimate substance for experimentation within a clinical setting, in what remains the most important controlled study of its effects to date.
Rick Strassman’s Spirit Molecule Study
Between 1990 and 1995 a clinical research study was carried out in the General Clinical Research Center of the University of New Mexico Hospital, by Dr Rick Strassman, after a lengthy application to obtain a federal licence was successful. The study found that volunteers injected with varying amounts of DMT underwent profound alterations of consciousness. Strassman published the results in 2001 as DMT: The Spirit Molecule, which has also been adapted into a documentary.
The research involved sixty volunteers, all of who had multiple sessions in a controlled environment, where they were injected with DMT within the range of 0.2, 0.3 and 0.4 mg/kg. They were monitored during the experiences, which usually lasted between twenty and forty minutes. They were then asked to recount a testimony of what had happened as soon as the effects of the drug had worn off. Sometimes, the participants were able to talk about their experiences during short ‘inter-glacials’ during their sessions. At all doses the experience usually involved immediate cessation of normal consciousness and transportation to a different realm of reality inhabited by a range of creatures described as elves, faeries, lizards, reptiles, insects, aliens, robots, clowns, and various therianthropic entities. One woman even describes a pulsating entity that she encountered as ‘Tinkerbell-like’. The experiences, especially at higher doses, represented to the participants a parallel reality that was ‘super real’, not an hallucination, not a dream, but a substantial built reality with full sensory interaction and often telepathy.
Immediately after the injection of DMT, participants frequently talked about ‘blasting through’ or ‘breaking through a barrier’ after which they found themselves in a realm with its own laws of physical space and movement, and its own inhabitants. Here is an abbreviated version of one of the volunteer’s description of his experience; 50 year old Jeremiah. After hurtling through a void he found himself:
‘… in a nursery. A high-tech nursery with a single Gumby, three feet tall, attending me. I felt like an infant. Not a human infant, but an infant relative to the intelligence represented by the Gumby. It was aware of me but not particularly concerned… Then I heard two or three male voices talking. I heard one of them say “he’s arrived.” … I was in a big room… there was one big machine in the center, with round conduits, almost writhing – not like a snake, more in a technical manner. The machine felt as if it were rewiring me, reprogramming me… This is real. It’s totally unexpected, quite constant and objective… an independent, constant reality… I’m lucid and sober.’
45-year old Karl described his interaction with some faerie entities during an ‘inter glacial’ only eight minutes into a high-dose session:
‘That was real strange. There were a lot of elves. They were prankish, ornery, maybe four of them appeared at the side of a stretch of interstate highway I travel regularly. They commanded the scene, it was their terrain! They were about my height. They held up placards, showing me these incredibly beautiful, complex, swirling geometric scenes in them. One of them made it impossible for me to move. There was no issue of control; they were totally in control. They wanted me to look! I heard a giggling sound— the elves laughing or talking at high-speed volume, chattering, twittering.’
35-year old Chris described his DMT sessions as ‘the most reassuring experience of my life… if death is like this, there’s nothing to worry about.’ His fourth high-dose session involved him communicating with a range of entities, who he felt were attempting to heal him:
‘They were trying to show me as much as possible. They were communicating in words. They were like clowns or jokers or jesters or imps. There were just so many of them doing their funny little thing. I settled into it. I was incredibly still and I felt like I was in an incredibly peaceful place. Then there was a message telling me that I had been given a gift, that this space was mine and I could go there anytime. I should feel blessed to have form, to live.’
40-year old Rex, like about half of the participants, had taken psychedelics previously, but was not prepared for the power of his DMT experience. His fourth session (at a medium dose of 0.2 mg/kg) is particularly interesting due to his interaction with a powerful (but benevolent) female, who bears resemblance to folkloric accounts of encounters with faerie queens. He describes the moments after breakthrough to another reality:
‘I realise the intense pulsating-buzzing sound and vibration are an attempt by the DMT entities to communicate with me. The beings were there and they were doing something to me, experimenting on me. I saw a sinister face, but then one of them tried to begin reassuring me. There were creatures and machinery. It looked like it was a field of black space. There were brilliant psychedelic colours outlining the creatures and the machinery. The field went on forever. They were sharing this with me, letting me see all this. There was a female. I felt like I was dying, then she appeared and reassured me. She accompanied me during the viewing of the machinery and creatures. When I was with her I had a deep feeling of relaxation and tranquility… She had an elongated head.’
The language in the testimonials over time is interesting; are the ‘spirits’ and ‘dwarves’ in Szára’s studies 1950’s versions of the ‘elves’ and ‘imps’ of the participants in Strassman’s research? It is certainly the case that many folkloric descriptions of the faeries described them as ‘spirits’. There are plenty of examples of this in WY Evans-Wentz’s 1911 collection of faerie belief, published as The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries, where (especially in Ireland and Brittany) there appeared to be a high level of interchangeability between the faeries and the spirits of the dead. The folklorist and writer David Halpin has commented about this trait while describing one of Evans-Wentz’s encounter reports from Limerick, where a young doctor equates the faeries as spirits: ‘This may be, perhaps, an unconscious referral to the belief that in many cases the faeries were both the dead and another type of spirit, or it may be that there was more of an acceptance of this crossover than there sometimes is today.’ This ambiguity of language to describe supernatural entities over time is important and will be discussed further below. But it is clear from Strassman’s research study that almost all the volunteer participants encountered various forms of entities during their DMT experiences, and that (whatever the terminology used) many of them can be coded within the broad ontological spectrum that may be described as faerie entities.
Strassman’s study could be seen, at least in part, as correlative to folkloric research. While the volunteers’ physiological processes, and the chemical analyses of these processes, were an important part of the study, the primary take away is the anecdotal testimonies of people who attempted to describe the DMT-induced metaphysical realities they found themselves in and the entities they found there. This is not so dissimilar to a folklorist collecting reports of supernatural faerie encounters. The means of arrival in a reality where faeries appear to exist is evidently different (although, as discussed below, perhaps not that different), but Strassman is in many ways simply recording extraordinary encounters with (apparently) non-physical entities, much in the same way as Evans-Wentz and every other folklorist who has attempted to record human interactions with faeries.
Strassman’s study remains the benchmark for investigating entity encounters via DMT. While much research has continued into the biosynthesis and metabolism of DMT in the brain and peripheral tissues of both humans and animals, there have been no further clinical assessment studies of the subjective experiences of people under the influence of DMT. Fortunately, there is a growing number of non-clinical surveys, which have compiled relatively large datasets of experience reports to allow a meaningful assessment of DMT-induced encounters with entities — many of which are phenomenologically related to what might be considered faeries.
DMT-initiated Faerie Encounters from Surveys
As with any anecdotal, subjective testimony, whether collected from a folkloric context or from a numinous experience brought about by the absorption of a molecule, the first question must be to assess the honesty of the account (this applies to both clinical research studies and surveyed reports). People make things up, and not always for clearly-defined gains or reasons. It is difficult to ascertain whether the person giving the testimony is fabricating the whole or part of the account, or if they are exaggerating for effect. This is a perennial issue in folklore collection – the hermeneutical compounds of the testimonies are difficult to unravel.
And even the most scrupulously honest recall of an event is still subject to the vagaries of memory. This is more of an issue in surveyed testimonies, where the event may have happened weeks, months or even years ago, than in the clinical research studies discussed above, where the experiences were recalled immediately after they happened. The plasticity of memory appertaining to any eye-witness event is a well-studied psychological trait. The psychologist Elizabeth Loftus conducted an in-depth study of how people remembered automobile accidents at various times after the event, concluding that: ‘findings seem to indicate that memory for an event that has been witnessed is highly flexible. If someone is exposed to new information during the interval between witnessing the event and recalling it, this new information may have marked effects on what they recall. The original memory can be modified, changed or supplemented.’ This is, of course, unavoidable in any testimony of a past incident. In some ways, a non-ordinary supernatural event (whether induced by a psychedelic compound or not) may be less prone to plasticity as it is likely to be a special event, detached from the everyday. Its unconventionality may burn it into memory in a more exacting way and its recall be more reliable than for that of a more commonplace occurrence. But potentially numinous incidents, such as encounters with supernatural entities, may also be subject to increased amounts of reconstitution, where the experiencer attempts to make subsequent rationalisations of the event and even suppress aspects of what has happened in order to codify it to accepted social and cultural belief systems. This is (and always has been) an unavoidable component of folklore collection, and extends to any surveys of subjective, remembered events. It does not, however, discredit the experience; the data is fragile, but with a large enough dataset it becomes tenable to draw out some assessments, especially when there is a level of consistency over disparate testimonies. So with these caveats in mind, what might the results of surveys about entity encounters via DMT tell us about the faeries and how they may be able to interface with human consciousness?
340 DMT Trip Reports (2006)
One of the most comprehensive surveys is from 2006, collated by the computational physicist Peter Meyer. 340 DMT Trip Reports documents what Meyer describes as, ‘reports which attest to contact with apparently independently existing intelligent entities within what seems to be an alternate reality.’ This survey built on his work from 1992: Apparent Communication with Discarnate Entities Induced by Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), which we will return to later. The 340 (anonymous) reports certainly contain many encounters with faerie-type entities, most often described as elves. Forty-six of the reports describe encountering faeries/elves. Here are some examples:
#49 ‘To start with I was travelling into what looked like a long curved tunnel. The walls of the tunnel were like bright multicolored tiles — pinks, greens and blues especially. After an indeterminate period of time I found myself in a garden, which seemed to be suspended in a sky-blue void, rather than part of any larger land mass. The garden had grass, flowers, trees, even a picket fence and seemed quite convincing and solid. I noticed two ‘faeries’ sitting on a swing hanging from one of the trees. They seemed to be inviting me closer, and I floated in their direction (didn’t feel like I had my body with me). As I approached them I noticed that they were lewdly playing with themselves and each other, I watched them for some time before noticing that there were more inhabitants in the garden. There were more of the faeries and what I assume were their children (there were no males). The children were walking about with watering cans watering the flowers that grew on the borders of the garden. Suddenly several of the children started spraying me with something which stung my face with tiny pinpricks of pain. As my mind objected I received the thought that they were spraying insecticide on me to kill the bugs (dunno where this thought came from but I feel it was relayed telepathically to me from the faeries). After being sprayed, the faeries all formed a group near to me. They seemed to all be adding to some liquid which they were creating inside one of the flowers. They wanted me to pay attention to this, so I watched them all working on their flower thing.’
This account is quite typical of testimonies in the survey in that a transformed natural environment is encountered, and the morality of the faerie entities in ambivalent. This, of course, has much folkloric precedent. The telepathic communication is another common theme in the survey reports. The following testimony brings up memory:
#65 ‘This time I saw the ‘elves’ as multidimensional creatures formed by strands of visible language; they were more creaturely than I had ever seen them before. The message was changing from the initial ‘OK, OK, safe, safe… The elves were dancing in and out of the multidimensional visible language matrix, ‘waving’ their ‘arms’ and limbs/hands/fingers? and smiling or laughing, although I saw no faces as such. The elves were telling me (or I was understanding them to say) that I had seen them before, in early childhood. Memories were flooding back of seeing the elves: they looked just like they do now: evershifting, folding, multidimensional, multicolored (what colors!), always laughing, weaving/waving, showing me things, showing me the visible language they are created/creatures of, teaching me to speak and read.’
The statement that the elves were reminding the experiencer of childhood is interesting. The idea that children are less indoctrinated with a materialistic value system, and are therefore more able to experience a supernal reality is a commonplace motif. In this testimony the encounter may be integrating the memory of a suppressed childhood reality, and bringing it into the present. The next report talks about death:
#139 ‘I know it might sound funny but at this point I came into contact with the classic elves that Terence always talked about. They are real. They came tumbling across my vision, morphing into themselves. Some of them came towards me, and entered my being. Their voices were high pitched and their song sounded very alien like and very old. At this point I would say no more than two minutes has passed since blastoff. The elves’ presence continuing to build to an unbearable frenzy is the last thing I remember before I died. I didn’t think but I knew that I had in fact died. I entered into what I would call a eternal loop. It never ended. I feel a piece of me is still there.’
As mentioned, there is a deeply embedded tradition, which links the faeries with death. The folklore that portrays the faeries as inhabiting the land of the dead often shows them as representatives of the past and what is gone. In the same way as a memory of someone dead can be conjured up in consciousness before disappearing into the subconscious, so the faeries are able to make appearances in our collective stories that attempt to understand death and its connection with life. The DMT experience can evidently invoke an equivalence of death, and also, perhaps, the entities that reside at its periphery. The following testimony invokes the trickery of the faeries:
#151 ‘The intensity grew until I saw myself looking down a hallway type of structure. It tapered down to a point kinda like I was looking down through a cone towards the point. Now from this other end I saw the elves coming up towards me. As if they where coming through a worm hole from another dimension! One looked just like a leprechaun, with the top hat and pointy red shoes. One of them was carrying a big red Santa Claus bag full of tricks. They told me get ready cuz they where coming. Behind them came a circus full of activity… This is what you have been waiting for! So they marched up towards me and as they reached me what was behind them oozed up and all over me. It felt like I was being dipped into this paint like substance made of colors and patterns. Pure psychedelia. I love it! Then one of them proceeded to show me the most incredible scenes and landscapes. Everything had a yellow green hue to it. I thought, what was the purpose of all this, what was I to learn from this? Then they told me stop trying so hard to make sense of anything. That the purpose was just to accept it for what it was, to stop trying so hard. One of the elves had this device in his hand that looked like a remote, and he was controlling everything that I was seeing! He was definitely in control of everything. They where very eager and ready when they came but calm and focused. I realized that I had seen them before but did not realize it until now… They had a lot for me to see, and this one in particular had great enjoyment in showing me all these extraordinary visions and things. Everything folded out for me to see right in front of me.’
The entities were clearly in control of proceedings, another element of some folkloric encounters. There is also a recognition of subsumed memories — the experience invoked something existing only in the consciousness of the individual, manifested in a hyper-real slideshow. And the final example from the survey uses a third-person narrative to describe the common faerie folklore motif of time distortion during encounters:
#307 ‘[He] Smoked synthetic DMT and soon found himself in “bejeweled ‘gardens’ filled with dancing fairies and elves.” Although it seemed like an hour had passed, he writes that only about ten minutes had elapsed. “It did not seem imaginary or hallucinatory at all.”’
There are many folkloric traits in these descriptions, although there is also probably much cultural coding going on, where people in altered states of consciousness carry with them their own memories of what faeries and elves might represent. But there is certainly a general view in the testimonies that these entities are existing in an autonomous built reality not entirely dependent on our own consensus reality. The DMT world appears to be an independent hyper-reality, even if it is a reality built from entirely subjective accounts.
Although only a minority of reports (c.18%) in Meyer’s study explicitly mention faeries or elves, almost all of them do record some type of contact with non-human intelligent entities, described as: spirits, insectoids, therianthropes, orbs, light beings, waves of light or sound, aliens, or distorted humanoids. There is a consistency in the reports of meeting with intelligent beings. This theme continues in subsequent surveys.
‘Caspi Maman’ by Pablo Amaringo
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