I’m in the process of moving. Today I took the first truckload of boxes over to the place where I’ll be crashing for a few months until the room opens up at the place where I’ll be living until some something happens which causes me to have to move again. This is the way it goes when you live a life based on the creative principle of chaos. The reason I mention it is, the boxes I took over today were full of books which is why I won’t be able to quote anything or give citations or any of that shit. If I could, I’d start by giving you all the information on an awesome piece of work titled Red Man’s Religion, which was published in the thirties or so and which is “awesome” because it is every bit as unintentionally racist as he title implies. There never was a “red man’s religion”. The indigenous peoples of North America lived in different environments, spoke different languages, had different economies and held different beliefs with different rituals. The Creek, Huron and Pima were not the same nor were the various individuals of the various tribes and nations all wonderfully honest and pure “noble savages”, which is the impression I got from Red Man’s Religion. I do recommend the book, despite its flaws, and I wish I could tell you who wrote it.
Anyway, now that I’ve stated that the Native Americans, aka “red men”, were not a big blob of homogenous religiosity, I will go to say that there were some ideas that were pretty common. To the best of my knowledge, all Native American groups had religion and the form of religion they had was animism. There was a good bit of trade and other interaction going on between the Natives, always a good way of spreading myths, legends, stories and other bits of lore (as well as small pox, but that’s something else entirely. One book I do have, which I’m currently reading, Pox Americana: The Great Smallpox Epidemic Of 1775-82 by Elizabeth A. Fenn, is delightfully entertaining.) As the myths traveled from one tribe to another, they were changed in the telling, but the salient features tended to remain.
The one I want to focus on here is “The Woman Who Fell To Earth”, which originated among the Algonquin up in present-day New York and migrated from tribe to tribe all over North America. Even the Navajo, way away in the desert that we now call Nevada, had a version of “The Woman Who Fell To Earth”. This is interesting in itself, because “The Woman Who Fell” is an origin story. It explains how human beings came to be on Earth. Many of the tribes who incorporated it into their stock of myth either didn’t already have such a story or they preferred “The Woman Who Fell” and so got rid of whatever they had before. The Navajo had a long and richly developed myth about how the first people lived in the center of the Earth and ascended to the surface by climbing up a ladder or rope. The Navajo were not about to let go of their origin myth but they apparently really liked “The Woman Who Fell” because they kept it, despite the fact that it was incompatible with what they already had.
This is a wonderful thing about mythology. These bizarre and fanciful tales come into being and then spread across continents for no apparent reason other than the fact that people find something of value in them and it doesn’t matter at all if they make no sense or contradict each other. That can only happen, of course, if the people in question know that myths are not facts. If people think their myths are facts, you get 1,500 years (and counting) of bloodshed.
None of the books on Native American myth are here, so I’m going to just give a very basic and possibly marred synopsis of “The Woman Who Fell To Earth”.
The story begins in the sky world, where the spirits live. There is a young woman who is married to the son of the sky chief. She’s pregnant. Things are going along pretty smoothly – or not, there are different versions – until one night there is a terrible storm. In the morning, everyone goes outside and discovers that a very large tree was blown down by the storm. The whole tree fell over, ripping the roots out of the ground and making a hole. The people gather round the hole to look in and they see right through the ground of the sky world, down through space. They see the Earth down there. The pregnant woman leans over too far, perhaps trying to look over her belly, and falls into the hole. Down, down she falls through space toward the Earth. Some ducks see her falling and fly up to catch her. Bearing the woman on their backs, the ducks bring her safely down to Earth. The woman who fell to Earth gives birth to her child, a girl. In time, the girl grows up and desires a mate. Her mother, who has a bit of magic, transforms different animals into mates for her. The girl admires a buck’s beauty and grace, so the mother changes the buck to human form for her. The girl admires a bear’s power and strength or a mountain lion’s speed and agility, so the mother transforms them for her. From these unions are born the first human beings.
There’s a lot more to the actual myth(s), of course, and I encourage everyone to look up “The Woman Who Fell To Earth”. The above is just what I remember off the top of my head.
So why is this strange story significant? Why did the Native Americans from New York to Nevada adopt it into their stores of myth? What the hell does it mean?
First, let’s set aside any questions about whether or not anybody actually believed that a pregnant woman fell through a hole in the sky, was carried to Earth by ducks and gave birth to a daughter who fucked anthropomorphized animals. Some probably did, some probably didn’t. That doesn’t matter. What we’re looking for is the symbolic content.
“The Woman Who Fell To Earth” explains why human beings are different from the other animals: they are pure animals, while we are only half-animals, being spirit on our mother’s side, so to speak. Our spirit lineage gives us advantages over the other animals, but it also gives us responsibilities to them and to our ancestors above. Our minds, our creativity, our complex emotions come to us from the spirits; our physical bodies, however, are of the animal world with all the needs, wants and urges of animals. This can be perceived as a conflict between the “higher” and “lower” natures of humanity, but it doesn’t have to be. Spirit and body can live together without conflict, or with relatively little conflict. That seems like an odd notion to those of us who were raised up with a worldview based on a cosmic battle between the forces of good and the forces of evil. We were taught to identify ourselves with the good and fight the evil. To the most of the world, body and spirit are not diametrically opposed. In disagreement occasionally, sure, but not opposed. The goal of those peoples is to achieve balance between the two, so that they can both be satisfied without either suffering.
So “The Woman Who Fell To Earth” is about the dual nature of humanity, but without the conflict. The rest of it is just storytelling, which is a fine and respectable thing in itself. The ducks are there because ducks fly, walk and swim; that is, they exist in the air, land and water, which makes them special in a symbolic way. Ducks, geese and swans show up in myths fairly often. The woman who fell has magic because she is from the spirit world; her daughter doesn’t because, though conceived in the spirit world, she was born on Earth. If you understand the symbols, it’s all pretty straight forward.
I was doodling in my sketchbook t’other night, just doodling, kinda zoned out, and I got a sudden insight. “The Woman Who Fell To Earth” is the first two chapters of Genesis from another perspective. I won’t be quoting Genesis because my King James Version is in a box over at the other place. They share certain features. In both, the female is the mate of the son of the sky chief. In both, humanity is of divine origin and invested with a soul that is housed in a body with the same needs, desires and urges of animals. There’s even a tree in both stories. At the most basic levels, they say the same things. The differences, though, are pretty striking.
In “The Woman Who Fell”, the fall, which is literal, occurs first and by accident, instead of last and as punishment for disobedience. The fall to Earth is simply the explanation for a sky world person to be on the Earth and carries no moral overtone. Animals in “The Woman Who Fell” are helpers, noble and good in their own right. In Genesis, animals are things to be dominated and used by Adam and Eve, except for the serpent who is the agent of evil. In “The Woman Who Fell”, human beings are equal parts spirit and animal. In Genesis, human beings are inherently corrupt because we inherit the corruption of our forebears. “The Woman Who Fell” spread across a continent because people liked telling and hearing the story. Genesis, and the rest of the Bible, spread across the world at the point of a sword. Millions of swords, actually.
Here’s a little research project: name one monotheistic religion that wasn’t disseminated using violence. Then, name one non-monotheistic religion that was.
I’m coming across like I have no use whatsoever for monotheism. That’s mostly true. I do find some very good stories in the Bible, most of which have better parallels in other traditions, and I certainly believe that the metaphors employed in the Bible are as good as any. Unfortunately, the Bible is overwhelmingly moralistic, which I find distasteful. Actions speak louder than words, after all.
I digress. The point I was after was the differences and similarities between “The Woman Who Fell To Earth” and the creation story in the two opening chapters of Genesis (which are really the same story told in two ways). Everywhere and everywhen you look in mythology, you find the same ideas popping up again and again, occasionally with different interpretations. The same stories appear over and over among peoples who never had any contact with each other. Diffusion, the explanation for the spread of “The Woman Who Fell To Earth” across North America, cannot possibly explain the similarities between the Hindu Indian myth of Indra and Vrtra and the Canadian Indian myth about Kuluscap and the Water Monster.
The myths speak to us in ways we don’t understand. Indians and Indians developed the same stories because they share the same basic bodies and lifeways, as do we all when we live according to the needs, desires and urges of both our bodies and spirits. Every myth is reflected, possibly refracted, by another. Every human being is connected to every other.
Some of those connections are also very good ways of spreading small pox.
One night after a show, we were putting stuff away and some guy came up to the stage and started talking to Love Buzzard, who was the drummer at that point. I heard Love say “I dunno, man. You’ll have to talk to that guy over there. He’s the bandleader.” He was talking about me.
When I received the inspiration to start The Big Drum In The Sky Religion, I knew that I had received an inspiration. It was not at all like the beginning of other bands I was in before, all of which started with two or three people sitting around and somebody saying “Hey, we should start a band.” For every time that happened and a band got started, there were at least ten that resulted in nothing. With BDSR, I knew in a flash what I was supposed to do. The Spirit(s) told me to do it, but they didn’t give me very clear instructions as to exactly how to go about it, so BDSR got off to a slow start. There were a couple jam sessions with people who I didn’t mesh with and then I got interested in an anarchist free space downtown and started looking around there for possible band members. A few trust-fund radicals seemed interested in banging on pots and pans and the non-organizers of the space were open to the idea of a show so that’s how the first couple shows happened. I set up a four-track for the second show and BDSR’s first release, Humanity Won’t Be Happy… came out of it. Obviously, that title was somewhat inspired by the crowd of anarchists I was associating with at that time.
The anarchists were not thrilled about the release. They felt that I had taken too much initiative and had left them out of the process, which I had deliberately done because I was in a hurry to get something put out and didn’t want to have to sit around and listen to a bunch of upper-class, white college kids yammering on and on about consensus process and twinkling at each other. I agreed to include them in the decision-making if they would do some of the work for the next release, which they said was cool but, because they were anarchists, they seldom did anything they said they were going to do including come to practice or shows. Gradually, they all either pissed me off enough that I told them they were out or they wandered off and got knocked up or started dumpster-diving collectives or went to work for their fathers’ Fortune 500 companies or whatever it is that anarchists do. One of them literally wandered off during a show. She just put her guitar down, walked off the stage and out the door. I didn’t ask why. Ever since I got rid of the anarchists, there has been no illusion on anyone’s part about BDSR being a democracy. There are no votes.
Still, I was kinda shocked when Love referred to me as “the band leader”. For a moment, I wanted to argue, but then I realized it was true. I am the band leader. It still seems weird.
My leadership style is, like my style in general, somewhere between wu wei and agus fagamid suid mar ata se, the former of which is Chinese for “no doing” and the latter of which is Irish and roughly translates as “it’s fine, leave it the way it is.” In practice that means that I don’t do much leading. For the first couple years, I tried to get people interested in participating in BDSR shows. I guess I still do that sometimes, if somebody seems like they’d bring something special to the mix. Mostly though, these days, people come up to me and say they’d like to sit in. Not many people do that, but it does happen. I haven’t been approached by many people I felt compelled to say “no” to. A few people, beyond the aforementioned anarchists have been invited to stop participating, or I just stopped telling them when/where shows were going to be. That’s most of what I do as band leader – tell people when/where shows are going to be. Somebody usually shows up to play. Sometimes, one of the regulars shows up with a friend who wants to sit in, which is coolIf they don’t, I play solo. It’s usually better if there are other people, but I’ve played alone enough times to’ve figured it out.
I usually have some idea of what I’m doing when I go on stage. At least, I know what tuning I’ll be using and what mode I intend to play. I have offered to share that information with other people, just in case they were interested in being in a related key or something, but most of the people who sit in with BDSR are good enough musicians to not need to be told, or are good enough noisicians to not give a fuck, so they usually don’t want to know, which is fine with me. I record all shows and most of them get worked into a release somehow. I try to get a copy of every release to everybody who appears on it, but sometimes people move away and don’t give me an address or respond to emails. Some of the people who have been involved seemed to have no interest whatsoever in the recordings. Almost nobody who has been involved has been seriously invested in the promotion of religion/myth. Some of them may not have even known that that was part of the agenda. Certainly, I’m totally open about it and enjoy talking about that kinda stuff and I do have a blog about it, so they could’ve known, but most of ‘em seemed like they just wanted a way of making some crazy music from time to time, either because they didn’t have time to commit to a full-time band or because they liked to freak out once in a while and their full-time band didn’t include that. I doubt that anybody would’ve been opposed to it; I think they just didn’t care.
We don’t practice. One line-up did get together and practice a couple times, but then that fizzled out. I’d like to have a core group that practiced regularly, but I don’t see it happening anytime soon. People have jobs and kids and stuff. One of my earlier bands got together and jammed at least once a week for a few years and some serious synchronicity developed. We would turn on a dime with no plans and no communication except for our collective brainstorming. That got to be pretty amazing at times and then the bass player moved to Chicago and the band was over. That guy, Joshu Mu, is a participant in BDSR, though he doesn’t show up on many recordings. Italian Ice, another long-time member, lives in Peru right now. Those two are people in my life above and beyond BDSR, so I got no doubt they’ll continue to be involved from time to time. Zooanzoo and Sprit Bear have a band of their own, Medicine Calf, and they both take off to live in other places for months at a time, but they seem pretty into BDSR, together or separately, when one or both of ‘em is around. Drummer Boy doesn’t seem likely to drop out or move away anytime soon. There are other people who may or may not be involved again, I dunno, it depends. My daughter, Spotted Opossum, will be on a few more releases, I’m sure, and may perform live one day.
The whole band leader thing, though. It weirds me out. I don’t see myself as a “leader” type of person. I’m not much of a follower, either. Mostly I just stumble along, optimistically cynical and vaguely curious about what’s going to happen next. It’s not that I’m opposed to giving directions: I have and will give directions if somebody asks, but they’ll be kinda vague, like “Play in ‘D’ then find your way up to ‘G’. Try to think about human sacrifice while you’re doing it.” It’s just that I’m more interested in what will happen if people go out on a stage with no specific plan and start doing something. The possibilities are almost limitless and usually more spectacular than anything I would’ve come up with if I’d bothered to come up with something and if I did bother to come up with something, there’d be the danger of me being attached to it in which case I’d have trouble letting go of it and following along with somebody else who didn’t listen when I explained what I’d come up with and was going off in some whole other direction. This is something that took me several years to really comprehend: no idea is better than some idea.
The downside is that some people can’t or won’t just do it. Some guy came up to me as we were setting up for a show one time and told me that he’d like to sit in with us. He said he had his steel guitar and amp out in the truck. I tried to explain that what we were going to do might be a little odd. He said he was down for anything – “rock’n’roll, country, whatever”. I love a good steel guitar so I told him to get his gear. During the show, I was focused on multiple things at once, and the medicine hat impairs my vision somewhat, so I didn’t know what his real time response was and it isn’t unusual for me to not be able to analyze what I’m hearing when I’m playing so I had no idea what the guy did. The drummer, Love Buzzard again, told me later he’d been watching the guy and that he didn’t do anything, just sat there behind his steel guitar, frozen, perhaps mortified, maybe sickened, which is too bad. He couldn’t’ve done anything wrong if he’d done anything. I did some recordings with a short pianist once. She was classically trained and all that, but the poor girl could not improvise. I kept trying to explain it to her and she kept saying “But what do you want me to play?” Finally I just asked her play some Beethoven and then I processed the shit out of it later. Improv, like abstract expressionism, only seems easy to people who have never tried to do it.
When I’m at my best and everything falls together, I lead like the fastest berserker. Wow, I really dig that image – the first bearskin-wearing, sword waving maniac on the field of battle, loincloth and medicine hat, screaming the BDSR spiritual battlecry “Kill the wounded; mutilate the dead”, hacking at anybody within range, friend or foe. However, I am seldom at my best and most of the time I would much rather show up, suit up and kinda hang around, stage right, buzzing away on one fuzzed chord and let some other fool lead.
Agus fagamid suid mar ata se.
The wee grrrl and I were downtown today, hanging around at the skateboards-and-used-records shop, playing pinball. She took to pinball like a duck to water. Her approach is constant flipper action: flippety-flippety-flippety. I try to show that sometimes one is better off not hitting the flippers, that it’s possible to catch the ball, let it go and pop it into the holes or to hit the extra ball target, but she wants none of that. Flippety-flippety-flippety-plop-Daddy-do-you-have-another-quarter? She’ll catch on. For a kid who has to stand on a crate to see the top of the table, she’s pretty damn good.
After a couple games, it was time for me to herd her to the car so I could get her to her mom’s on time. We said “see ya later” to the guys at the shop and walked around the corner, past the bakery, a.k.a. muffin store.
“Daddy, I wanna go to the muffin store.”
“Why do you want to go to the muffin store?”
“I wanna cookie.”
So, still walking, I went through the regular reasons why we were not going to go into the muffin store for a cookie. Almost dinner time; cookies are good, but we don’t eat cookies all the time; she’d already had a snack earlier, which wasn’t a cookie, but which was not entirely unlike a cookie; and cetera. The logical explanations, as any parent knows, don’t mean anything to the little people when they have cookies on the brain.
“Daddy, I’m afraid that if I don’t get a cookie, I’m going to have to cry.” She actually said that. Those exact words. She says that kinda stuff all the time. It’s amazing every time, but the obvious answer was
“I’m sorry that you’re going to have to cry, but you’re not getting a cookie.”
So she cried. “I wanna cookie! Ah! Ah! I wanna cookie!” over and over and over as we got in the car, fastened our seatbelts, drove to the mom’s place, gathered up her things, got out of the car, went up to the porch. She even gave me a hug and kiss and rubbed her nose on mine while crying “I wanna cookie! Ah! Ah! I love you, Daddy, see ya tomorrow. I wanna cookie.” and into her mom’s house she went. Usually, she’s able to let it go when she can’t have what she wants. Today…not so much.
A couple hours later, I was sitting around with some people, drinking coffee and talking about spiritual shit. Basically, we were discussing how our conceptions of divinity had changed at various points in our lives and I found myself relaying the cookie/crying incident. I somehow managed to tie it into the conversation and now I’m trying to remember how I did it.
I was raised in a tradition which likens the Ultimate Mystery to a male parent and people to children. When I was a children, my male parent had a can of Budweiser permanently attached to one hand and a big, skull-busting class ring attached to the other, so my take on the Heavenly Father metaphor was a bit skewed. Basically, I saw God as an omnipotent, drunk, angry guy who made up a lot of arbitrary rules and then punished the shit out of anybody who did or didn’t follow them, either way, it didn’t matter because it was all a set up, impossible to win, so ya might as well have a good time because you’re burning no matter what, motherfucker. Or something like that. I guess I vacillated between trying real hard to be on the Heaven-bound bus and then giving up on it and sinning as much as a kid can. I did a decade of angry atheism and then, to paraphrase Bongwater, Joseph Campbell gave me hope and I was saved. * I got clean and sober and started developing a spiritual life which included a specific deity.
I should state right here that I have no intention of ever naming my god/dess here. This is a public format in which I will ramble on and so on about whatever shit pops into my head, mostly about religion and myth, but my own specific image of the divine is personal. I’m not actually sure why that is, but I know that it is. Of course, I am aware that the deity to whom I pray, several times daily, is a metaphor. All the gods and goddesses, daemons and daevas, avatars and angels are metaphors, but they are metaphors for something. There is a reality which those symbols symbolize. It doesn’t matter which metaphor anyone uses – they all serve the same end – so it doesn’t matter if the one I use is Baldr or Isis, Wakan Tanka or Allah, Gaia or Indra, but I’m still gonna keep that to myself.
My conception of, and relationship with, god, to use the shortest word that serves and with a lower case ‘g’ to avoid confusion, has changed considerably over the years. When I first started this trip, I admit, I was kinda childish about it. I basically thought that if I did the right things, prayed the right prayers and was sufficiently humble, I would get what I wanted. That’s a form of magical thinking that a lot of people fall into. It got shattered for me when the woman I was involved with at the time dumped me for a younger guy. Actually, there was one hell of a lot more to it than that, and actually, in retrospect I figured out that the woman wasn’t all that important and now I’m glad that I’m not with her and not really sure why I was in the first place, to be honest, but at the time, I thought that I was all broke up about losing her and I got all pissed off at god, the universe and everything and threw a tantrum for a couple years until I got the fuck over it and grew up a bit. Then, a few years after that, I became a Daddy.
I remember a day, a couple years ago, summertime, afternoon. I was making coffee for me and a snack for the Spotted Opossum, who was two years old, fat-cheeked and wobbly. I believe she had on nothing but a diaper. I poured myself a cup o’ mud, turned around and saw that she had climbed out of her high chair and was dancing on the kitchen table. Uh-uh, no ma’am. I picked her up and put her on the floor, which didn’t go over well because who wants to dance on the floor when there’s a table? Not that little girl. There was a minor ruckus and then I did what I do and which works 99% of the time: I walked away. There have been a few occasions when I had to resort to stronger tactics, but not many. I walk away and the sprat follows. We went into the livingroom, I sat on the sofa and the girl decided to try her luck with the coffee table. I watched her scrambling to haul her bottom up onto it, considered the height of the coffee table, the depth of the rug under it and decided that I was willing to risk it.
See, the kitchen table was high and over a hardwood floor. If she’d fallen off that, there was potential for serious injury. A fall off the coffee table would mean a thump and some crying, but nothing major. You have to make these decisions when you have a kid. You can’t fight ‘em all the time and the fact is, they ain’t gonna learn if they don’t fall down once in a while. I explained my concerns as best I could and then I watched the show, which turned out to be pretty entertaining: little fat-cheeked diaper girl wobbling around on the coffee table. After a couple minutes, she bopped over toward me and jumped into my lap and later that evening I had an epiphany.
That’s the kind of Father they’re talking about: the kind that is willing to let the kid fall down. That whole thing about free will is god saying “Okay, dance on the table if ya wanna.” In my own life, my god allowed me to suffer some pretty hard knocks, but when you consider the kind of table-dancing I was into, I got off pretty fucking easy. My liver has some permanent damage, but I don’t need a transplant. I drove drunk thousands of times and never hit anyone or anything and only got one DUI. I didn’t get hepatitis A, B or C though not for lack of risky behavior. The proverbial somebody up there was watching out for me when I was too fucked up to watch out for myself, just like I was watching out for the wee’un, not because I was trying to prevent table-dancing, but because I didn’t want her to get hurt worse than was good for her. That business with the woman that dumped me is the counterpart of today’s I-wanna-cookie incident. I wanted what I wanted, god said “No” and I threw a fit. At the time, it seemed like god was being unfair and cruel for not letting me have the cookie /woman, but now I get it, now I know why. The cookie thing isn’t going to last in the Spotted Opossum’s memory. We have those tussles all too often for this particular one to make an impression. Maybe in a few years I’ll say “No” over something bigger and she’ll be pissed off at me for a long time. That’s fine. I can handle that. I don’t like upsetting my daughter, but I’m the Daddy and sometimes I have to. The phrase “Rock of Ages” comes to mind. It’s my job to be the solid presence, the person who will always be there. The girl can hug me and kiss me and rub her nose on mine or she can scream herself blue in the face, either way, I’m right there, being the Daddy.
So being a Daddy gave me a different understanding of god and then god provided me with a model for being a Daddy. That is exactly how that is supposed to happen. As you move into a new stage of life, the myths and metaphors take on new meanings and provide new wisdom. That’s part of why they’re written the way they are – so they can have different meanings to people at different stages of life. I’m still not crazy about patriarchal religions and when people are bowing their heads reciting the “Our Father”, I generally take the opportunity to ogle boobs, but I get it. I get the value of the whole god-as-father concept.
The goddess-as-mother concept makes sense to me too, but that’s another time.
Sometimes my will and god’s will don’t match up. Another way of saying the same thing is that sometimes I am not in harmony with the Tao. When that happens, things don’t go the way I want them to because, the fact is, god’s will is going to get done on Earth and in Heaven, whether I want it to or not. The only thing I can do is make myself miserable opposing the order of the Universe or put myself into accord with it and have a pretty good time.
I’ve been taken care of. I know people who didn’t get away with what I got away with. Some of them are in prisons; others are dead. The weather’s getting warmer, which is good for the ones that are sleeping outside tonight. I don’t always get all the cookies I want, but I’d say I’m ahead of the game.
*A couple years ago, I contacted Ann Magnusen through some social networking thing and told her that I first heard of Joseph Campbell from her and that it had had a huge and positive impact on my life. We swapped a couple messages and then it ended, which was kinda disappointing, because, ya know, Ann Magnuson is pretty hot for an older cookie, but, ya know, she’s got issues and shit.
All right, kids, let me be very clear about this: drugs are bad and you should never, ever, ever do drugs. But if you are going to do drugs despite the fact that they are so very, very, very bad, do acid. I know it’s a hippie drug and we all hate hippies, but acid is far and away the best of all possible hallucinogens which are far and away the best kind of drugs. It’s the most economical, too. Assuming that the price has doubled since I last purchased any, a tab of mediocre acid should cost at most ten bucks which is a trifling sum to pay for thirty-two hours of pure mindfuckery. Actually, it’ll only last about eight hours, but it’ll seem like thirty-two and then you’ll spend a week learning how to drink water and flush the toilet like a normal human being. No other drug can even come close to matching acid in terms of impact or duration, except maybe crank, but crank doesn’t blow your mind; it just makes it go faster and it greatly accelerates your body’s decomposition process which is why crank addicts look like they already died. As far as I know, acid has no detrimental physical effects beyond making you miss a night of sleep because you’re crawling around looking at the magic dust bunnies under the sofa.
The first time I took acid…I have heard so many incredible stories that began with that phrase. When you’ve done acid a few times, you gain the ability to relate to every story anybody tells about doing acid. The acid reality becomes something you can so easily understand that anybody can tell you anything and if the events they’re describing took place in the context of acid, they make sense. And the first time anyone took acid is like the first time they had sex, except that it lasted a lot longer.
The first time I took acid, I was at Myrtle Beach, SC, with a friend. We were both nineteen and we drove across two state lines with a couple cases of beer, several bottles of Boone’s Farm, a half-ounce of marijuana and a couple hits of acid. We got stopped by cops four times in a twenty-four hour period and if any of them had searched the car, we would’ve done time in a federal prison. Since none of them did, we slept in the car, woke up, smoked a quarter, drank all day and then dropped. I must admit, I was a little nervous about acid because I’d heard horror stories, but my friend said it was cool and that was all I needed to know. We must have walked twenty miles up the beach and back, me talking nonstop. I couldn’t stop talking. My friend didn’t say much except to occasionally inform me that I was walking into the ocean. I kept walking into the ocean. The only thing I remember clearly was that I had a major epiphany regarding Rudimentary Peni’s “The Only Child”, in which Nick Blinko chants “I’m a little girl, I’m a little girl” in typically disturbing Blinko fashion. I realized that, in fact, I was a naked, eight-year-old English girl, but I do remember that clearly. I can still see the vision of myself as naked English girl. I can still feel the importance of that realization.
Acid got better as I got acclimated to it. The first few times I tripped, I was so enthralled with the visuals that I couldn’t get any deeper into the thing. I remember laying in my girlfriend’s waterbed and zoning out on the motion of the walls and ceiling for hours. I had to learn the hard way that acid was not a good drug to take before going to work or to a family dinner at Grandma’s house. Hanging out at the mall on acid was a bad idea. I eventually took enough tabs to figure out what was going to work for me and what wasn’t – I liked tripping at night, inside a residence or out in the woods, someplace where I wasn’t going to encounter and have to interact with strangers who were not on acid – and I figured out how to remind myself that I was on acid, which is something you have to do. When red and blue chalk-worms start wriggling out of your arm, you have to be able to remind yourself that you took a drug, the drug you took was acid, when you take acid you have hallucinations, the chalk-worms are not real. If you can do that, you can just enjoy the chalk-worms; if you can’t, you will have a bad trip.
One time, when I lived in Richmond, VA, a friend and I took acid and then went to a bar to see Fetchin’ Bones, who were a pretty good band in their early years, not so much toward the end. I was totally stressed out the whole time we were at the bar and the walk home was worse. Richmond always has a high violent crime rate and when I was there, it had the highest per capita homicide rate in the country. Most of that was gang-related and we were smart enough to stay out of those neighborhoods, but it was a kinda scary city and I was tripping so I was seeing crack-addicted rapist murder zombies falling out of the fucking trees the whole time we were out. As soon as we got into the apartment, I was good. I spent the night crawling around watching magic dust bunnies and chalk-worms and had a great time.
Another time, a bunch of us drove from Richmond to Deltaville, VA, which is way out in the sticks. A friend of ours was from there and there was going to be a big party so we all went. The party was miles down some dirt road and there was a hundred Deltavillians drinking beer and cracking crabs in the yard. They had Quiet Riot blasting from their car stereos. The few of us from Richmond, cool and worldly art students, were somewhat appalled by the unbridled redneck debauchery and then somebody showed up with a couple sheets of acid. Two hours later, after the standard ritual of taking acid, waiting fifteen minutes for the acid to kick in, which always takes an hour, deciding that nothing is happening so maybe we better take more, finding the guy and getting more, we were all in the greatest late-seventies, B-grade horror movie I have ever seen. It was unreal. The rednecks were mutilating crabs and flipping out, minds blowing left and right.We climbed a ladder and got into a sailboat that was sitting in the yard and talked about whether there was really a sailboat until the kid who lived there came up and yelled at us to get out of his dad’s sailboat. I mutilated some crabs. Some guy was puking in the yard and his friends started laughing at him and then somebody realized that he had shit his pants and they started kicking him. The art students and I were standing by a particularly fascinating tree asking each other if we were really seeing what we were seeing. I think I was in the tree. The guy managed to escape from his friends, who were still laughing as they kicked the shit out of him, ran to his Camaro and roared off in a cloud of gravel. At some point, I was wandering through the woods alone and there were monsters slithering all over everything, but because I knew I had taken acid, I was able to enjoy it. Some girl chewed the side off her thumb and we all drank her coppery blood. Somehow, I found myself in a convertible Mustang, red, ’65, with eight or ten rednecks who I’d never met, drinking Jack Daniels straight from the gallon jug, speeding along down a dirt road to the Piggly-Wiggly, which was closed. I could go on and on about that night. It was an especially acid trip.
Another time, my girlfriend and I locked the door, unplugged the phone and took acid. We had three bottles of Night Train and I suppose she might have drunk a half-bottle, leaving the rest for me. We crawled out the window and lightning struck right in front of our faces – have I told you this one? We ate some lettuce, which was the most amazing lettuce I ever ate and spent a really long time trying to fuck. Fucking on acid is incredibly frustrating if you forget to let go of any attachment to outcomes; if you just kind of let it go the way it goes, it can be a lot of fun. Later, I became a spider.
I don’t know how many times I took acid, but twenty-five probably isn’t too far off. I frequently took multiple hits, but that’s still not a lot. I know people who tripped hundreds of times. Nevertheless, and even though I can’t explain exactly how, acid changed me. It isn’t that seeing monsters or trying to crawl headfirst into my girlfriend’s vagina or becoming a spider had some profound impact on me – it’s that the cumulative effect of voluntarily separating myself from any knowable reality, deliberately diving down the rabbit hole over and over, opened my head somehow. I think anybody who has taken acid an appreciable number of times would know what I mean. I was kind of weird and could easily zone out on seemingly inconsequential patterns in wood and such before I took acid and acid really ran with that. I think that it had more of an impact on me because I was the way I was, if that makes any sense. My personality or mind or whatever was fertile ground for acid.
When I was twenty-two, I decided to stop dropping. My alcoholism and addictions to other dugs had progressed, as had my then-untreated depression. The last few trips weren’t bad in the sense of freaking out and ripping my fingernails off, they were just kinda depressing. I realized that sitting around watching trails and being depressed for eight hours wasn’t fun. There were other drugs that blotted my consciousness out, which seemed more appealing at the time than expanding it. I wasn’t addicted to acid. It was easy to just stop.
Now my depression is well taken care of and I’m off the other shit. I have a good life and I enjoy most of what I do. Sometimes I think I’d like to take acid again. It really is the only chemical that I miss. I would love to go out into the George Washington National Forest, drop a few tabs and wander off into the vision quest. I’ve studied shamanic techniques. I know how it’s done. But I’m an addict and I am not willing to go tripping around on the slippery slope of dabbling in drugs. That could very easily turn ugly and I’m not willing to gamble my life.
I cannot say I would never take a traditional entheogen. I won’t take acid, which is a man-made drug, but I might take one of the others, if I was in the right setting and my head was right. I don’t know. There isn’t a Peruvian medicine man standing in the room offering me ayahuasca right now so I don’t have to decide. I do believe that they can be used for spiritual growth
All cultures that use chemical compounds to achieve altered states for the purpose of communing with the gods and/or having spiritual visions acknowledge that, in earlier times, those methods were not necessary. Shamans and other people were able, in those days, to achieve those states without peyote or fly agaric mushrooms or ayahuasca or whatever. It is because of the degradation of the shamans that direct contact with the unseen powers has become more difficult. There are other techniques, other ways of achieving altered states. I use those. It takes some effort but it works. I’m certain that my history of ingesting a veritable plethora of chemicals in various combinations altered my grey matter in a way that makes it fairly easy for me to step out of the arbitrary co-construction that the majority of people in the society in which I live agree is reality. I can go into trance without much provocation. I’m sure the other substances played a part, but acid is universally recognized as having consciousness altering effects for a reason: it does. LSD-25 is called “acid” because it burns away the dross, the impurities, that pollute consciousness. Crystal meth doesn’t do that. Benzo’s don’t do that. Marijuana may do that for some people, but all I ever got from pot was heavily clouded. Again, I can’t articulate exactly how acid changed me, but even now, over twenty years after my last trip, I know that it did. For the better? Yes. Absolutely and emphatically, yes, acid changed me for the better. I had to quit using alcohol and drugs, stay clean and sober for a few years and develop a spiritual life to realize it, but it did. I can read myth and understand it on multiple levels simultaneously. I have no problem understanding that God/Wakan Tanka/Brahman both is and is not, neither is nor is not; is universal and impersonal, but also has very direct impact on my specific life. The contradictions and paradoxes which are inherent and essential to all religions don’t faze me at all. I have been a spider and I somehow continue to be a little naked English girl. Reality is relative.
But, as I said drugs are bad and you shouldn’t take them. But if you are going to take any drug, make it acid and listen to The Big Drum In The Sky Religion while you’re on it because that shit will blow your mind, man.
Brown Hat the Espresso Shaman
The pun is always intended.