Entheogens and Etymology

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Set, and Setting

Over the weekend we brought you a story: “What’s In My Baggie?”, which mentioned cutting-edge designer drugs that were being handed out at the festival.

As well as “what’s in your baggie”, you should be aware of “who’s really dosing you”…and the power of rhetoric and suggestion to influence impressionable young minds.

Jan Irvin of Gnostic Media has published an article exposing how the origins of the psychedelic movement are different from what most of the people taking hallucinogenic drugs believe:

gnostic mediaEntheogens: What’s In A Name?

A lot of work has gone into this 58-page document, which is worth reading in its entirety. For those who don’t have time for that, let me try to extract the most relevant parts for Burners:

Today there are many names for drug substances that we commonly refer to as “hallucinogens,” “psychedelics,” “psychoactives,” or “entheogens,” et al. But it hasn’t always been that way. The study of the history and etymology of the words for these fascinating substances takes us, surprisingly, right into the heart of military intelligence, and what became the CIA’s infamous MKULTRA mind control program, and reveals how the names themselves were used in marketing these substances to the public, and especially to the youth and countercultures

…‘Set and setting’ is the key component to suggestibility with these substances, and through studying the etymology and history of these words we saw ‘neologisms’ – or new words, psychedelic and entheogen, that were used for marketing purposes and to “seed” the idea of the type of experience one should have while under their influence: If you told them it mimicked psychosis, it mimicked psychosis. If you told them it was mind manifesting, they had a mind‐expanding experience. And if you told them it was a religious experience, well, they just might have a religious experience.

…directly targeting youth to encourage their drug use and destructive behavior: “if you want to bring about mutations in a species, work with the young.”   

What is beginning to become apparent is that a destruction of the self is being sold as a method of so-called “spiritual progress” and “enlightenment” by people who are…social/public relations experts.

And contrary to common understanding, we saw the prohibition of drugs as a tool of drug use enticement and control for rebellious youth to consume these substances

…we saw the targeting of: “artists, writers, poets, jazz musicians, elegant courtesans,  painters, rich bohemians…That’s how everything of culture and beauty and philosophic freedom  has been passed on.”
So it appears that Huxley’s idea of beauty means the degradation of society.  You destroy one part (the masses) to elevate the other (the elite) – which does not seem able to elevate itself on its own. 

…how could creating hippies be a CIA tactic and how would such a tactic affect them?  
If we consider that by having people “navel gaze” and focus on psychedelics as mind expansion, as opposed to real solutions to problems like social stratification, dumbing us down, and the like, then it distracts them from focusing on these real problems as the source of all of society’s ills, and more importantly, taking action to change them

Read the entire paper here. A long read but worth it;  meticulously researched and cogently argued.

What a “set and setting” is provided, by this self-service cult in the desert, worshipping The Man.

can you pass the acid test“What we do literally is we take peoples’ sense of reality, and we break it apart. Burning Man is a transformation engine. It has hardware and it has software. You can adjust it and tweak it, and we’ve done that. We take people out to this vast, dry place – nowhere, very harsh conditions – and it strips away their luggage. The things that they had brought with them, the idea of who they thought they were. And it puts them in a community setting where they have to connect with each other. It puts them in this place where anything is possible. In doing so, it breaks the old reality, and it enables them to realize that you can create your own reality, you can do anything.”

Danger Ranger, Burning Man founder

“We’re a self-service cult. You wash your own brain”

Larry Harvey, Burning Man founder.

Even when The Man is burned to a cinder, he is re-born anew: an indestructible symbol of organizing our society.

We keep getting told “Burning Man is more than just a festival”. But exactly what it is, then, is never really defined. It’s up to each Burner to get out of it what they want. For many, Gifting is its own reward. An environment free from commercial transactions was a big drawcard, used to enlist an army of volunteer workers who’ve been used to create a highly lucrative brand. Lately, some seem to see TTITD as ripe for a greater level of commercial exploitation – and see those who’ve labored with love to make it what it is as standing in the way of what it could be. From the statements of the founders, changing people’s personalities and using Burning Man to change the world seem to be the major priority, more so than loyalty to their citizens or even profits for themselves.

For further consideration, I also highly recommend Jan’s excellent paper with Joe Atwill: Manufacturing the Deadhead: A Product of Social Engineering

BMOrg have said repeatedly that they consider themselves to be social engineers. Many Burners are Deadheads, and vice versa.

I give the CIA a total credit for sponsoring and initiating the entire consciousness‐movement counterculture events of the 1960s… the CIA funded and supported and encouraged hundreds of young psychologists to experiment with this drug. The fallout from that was that the young psychiatrists started taking it themselves discovering that it was an intelligence enhancing, intelligence raising experience.

~ Timothy Leary

 

image: APictureOfIt

image: APictureOfIt

Of course, the drug dose does not produce the transcendent experience. It merely acts as a chemical key — it opens the mind, frees the nervous system of its ordinary patterns and structures. The nature of the experience depends almost entirely on set and setting. Set denotes the preparation of the individual, including his personality structure and his mood at the time. Setting is physical — the weather, the room’s atmosphere; social — feelings of persons present towards one another; and cultural — prevailing views as to what is real. It is for this reason that manuals or guide‐books are necessary. Their purpose is to enable a person to understand the new realities of the expanded consciousness, to serve as road maps for new interior territories which modern science has made accessible.

—Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner, Richard Alpert: The
Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead

what the Russians have done is to stimulate the native peoples to undertake a native revival while they themselves admire the resulting dance festivals and other exhibitions of native culture, literature, poetry, music and so on…The system gets overweighed until some compensatory machinery is developed and then the revival of native arts, literature, etc., becomes a weapon for use against the  white man…

The findings of this experiment support very strongly the conclusion that it is very important to foster spectatorship among the superiors and exhibitionism among the inferiors

– Gregory Bateson

 

Some related stories from Burners.Me:

Brainwashing – the New Billionaire Obsession

Creating God in the Digital Age

Soma Showcases Burner Culture on the Embarcadero

Set

A Temple of Set

Deep History of Drugs

Benjamin Breen at The Appendix has written this fascinating overview of the scientific discovery of illicit drugs. It’s concise, rather than comprehensive, but it makes for a good Sunday read.

It skips Ecstasy, which was invented by pharmaceutical giant Merck just before World War I. MDMA was later synthesized and popularized by Burner (and Bohemian Grover) Sasha Shulgin, who passed away in Berkeley this year at the age of 88.

It also misses the “discovery” of Magic Mushrooms by JP Morgan’s PR guy Gordon Wasson; their psycho-active ingredient psilocybin was synthesized by Albert Hoffman, the same chemist who “accidentally discovered” LSD. Both of these substances had actually been around for thousands of years, used in ritual hallucinogenic ceremonies like the Ancient Mystery Rites of Eleusis which Burning Man was based on.


Re-blogged from The Appendix:

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Meiji Meth: the Deep History of Illicit Drugs

“We’re not going to need pseudoephedrine,” Walter White mutters through clenched teeth. “We’re going to make phenylacetone in a tube furnace, then we’re going to use reductive amination to yield methamphetamine.” Chemicals go in, and out come 99.1% pure crystals glittering with the brilliant azure of a New Mexico swimming pool.

The invention of Breaking Bad’s blue meth has become the stuff of television legend, and has even inspired a spate of real world knock-offs. But few know the true origin stories of illicit drugs—for instance, the strange fact that methamphetamine was actually invented in 1890s Japan.

Chemists have been fascinated by recreational drugs for a very long time. Robert Hooke, the short-tempered genius who discovered cells, was also the author of the first academic paper on cannabis. In the fall of 1689, Hooke ducked into a London coffee shop to purchase the drug from an East Indies merchant, and proceeded to test it on an unnamed “Patient.” It was evidently a large dose. “The Patient understands not, nor remembereth any Thing that he seeth, heareth, or doth,” Hooke reported. “Yet he is very merry, and laughs, and sings… and sheweth many odd Tricks.” Hooke observed that the drug eased stomach pains, provoked hunger, and could potentially “prove useful in the Treatment of Lunaticks.”

cannabis

An early depiction of cannabis from Jean Vigier’s Historia das Plantas (1718), originally published in French in 1670.The John Carter Brown Library at Brown University

Hooke also strongly hinted that he’d personally sampled his coffee shop score: the drug “is so well known and experimented by Thousands,” he wrote, that “there is no Cause of Fear, tho’ possibly there may be of Laughter.” (There were good reasons that Hooke’s readers might be afraid of a new drug—this was, after all, a world where pharmacies sold ground up skulls and Egyptian mummies as medicine).

Historians have largely ignored Hooke’s adventures with cannabis, entertaining as they may be. Albert Hoffmann’s accidental discovery of acid, however, is well known. In fact it’s arguably the most famous tale of drug discovery, challenged only by August Kekulé’s famous dream-vision of the benzene molecule as an ouroboros, which preoccupied Thomas Pynchon in Gravity’s Rainbow.

Even LSD, however, has a more obscure prehistory. Roman physicians described a painful disease called the sacred fire (sacer ignis) which by the Middle Ages came to be known as St. Anthony’s Fire—“an ulcerous Eruption, reddish, or mix’d of pale and red,” as one 1714 text put it. Sufferers of this gruesome illness, which could also cause hallucinations, were actually being poisoned by ergot, a fungus that grows on wheat. Several authors, most recently Oliver Sacks in his excellent book Hallucinations, have noted a potential link between ergot poisoning and cases of dancing mania and other forms of mass hysteria in premodern Europe.

ergotism

“The Beggars” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, a painting believed to show victims of ergotism.Wikimedia Commons

By the 1920s, pharmaceutical firms began investigating the compounds in ergot, which showed potential as migraine treatments. A Swiss chemist at the Sandoz Corporation named Albert Hoffman grew especially intrigued, and in November 1938 (the week after Kristallnacht) he synthesized an ergot derivative that would later be dubbed lysergic acid diethalyamide: LSD for short.

It was not until five years later, however, that Hoffman experienced the drug. Immersed in his work, Hoffman accidentally allowed a tiny droplet of LSD to dissolve onto his skin. He thought nothing of it: hardly any drugs are psychoactive in such minute doses. Later that day, however, Hoffmann went home sick, lay on his couch, and

sank into a not unpleasant intoxicated-like condition, characterized by an extremely stimulated imagination. In a dreamlike state, with eyes closed (I found the daylight to be unpleasantly glaring), I perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors. After some two hours this condition faded away.

Three days later, the chemist decided to self-administer what he assumed was a tiny dose to further test the drug’s effects. He took 250 micrograms, which was actually roughly ten times higher than the threshold dose. Within an hour, Hoffman asked his lab assistant to escort him home by bicycle. Cycling through the Swiss countryside, Hoffman was shocked to observe that “everything in my field of vision wavered and was distorted as if seen in a curved mirror.”

By the time he arrived home, Hoffman decided to call a doctor. However, the physician reported no abnormal physical symptoms besides dilated pupils, and Hoffmann began to enjoy himself:

Kaleidoscopic, fantastic images surged in on me, alternating, variegated, opening and then closing themselves in circles and spirals, exploding in colored fountains, rearranging and hybridizing themselves in constant flux.

Hoffman awoke the next morning “refreshed, with a clear head,” and with “a sensation of well-being and renewed life.” In an echo of Hooke’s report about his friend’s cannabis experience, which left him “Refreshed…and exceeding hungry,” Hoffman recalled that “Breakfast tasted delicious and gave me extraordinary pleasure.”

One of the interesting aspects of Hoffman’s story is how detached it was, both temporally and culturally, from the 1960s context with which LSD is often associated today. This delay between the scientific identification and the popular adoption of a drug is a common story—and in no case is it more stark than in the gap between the discovery of meth and its widespread adoption as an illicit street drug. Methamphetamine was synthesized by a middle-aged, respectable Japanese chemist named Nagai Nagayoshi in 1893.

ergotism

An elder statesman of Japanese science and medicine, Nagayoshi Nagai and his wife hosted Albert Einstein in 1923.Wikimedia Commons

A member of the Meiji Japanese elite, Nagayoshi devoted much of his energy to the chemical analysis of traditional Japanese and Chinese medicines using the tools of Western science. In 1885, Nagai isolated the stimulant ephedrine fromEphedra sinica, a plant long used in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine.

The year before, in July 1884, Sigmund Freud had published his widely-read encomium to the wonders of cocaine, Über Coca. Cocaine was radically more potent than coca leaves, and chemists the world over were on the lookout for other potential wonder drugs. It’s likely that Nagai hoped to work the same magic with ephedra—and in many ways he did. Ephedrine is a mild stimulant, notable nowadays as an ingredient in shady weight-loss supplements and as one of the few drugs historically permitted to Mormons, (although see thisresponse post for an interesting breakdown of the debate over “Mormon tea”). Currently, on T.V there are so many drugs for sale, yet we are in a “war on drugs” you can even find a “ dr oz guide on how to buy garcinia cambogia” if this were a real war, how could such things be allowed?

But in 1893, Nagai blazed a chemical trail that would live in infamy: he used ephedrine to synthesize meth.

As with LSD, it took the world a couple decades to catch on. In 1919, a younger protégé of Nagai named Akira Ogata discovered a new method of synthesizing the crystalline form of the new stimulant, giving the world crystal meth.

It wasn’t until World War II, however, that meth became widespread as a handy tool for keeping tank and bomber crews awake. By 1942, Adolf Hitler was receiving regular IV injections of meth from his physician, Theodor Morell. Two years later the American pharmaceutical company Abbott Laboratories won FDA approval for meth as a prescription treatment for a host of ills ranging from alcoholism to weight gain.

ergotism

Ambar: a potent mixture of methamphetamine and phenorbarbital, shown here in a mean-spirited 1964 advertisement that appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association (Vol. 1, No. 5385).

The rest is history—by the 1960s, “tweakers” had made meth a byword for deranged drug addicts, and it lost its standing in the scientific and medical communities. Much like heroin, which was originally marketed by Bayer as a companion to aspirin (the company still technically owns the copyright to the name), meth began life as a wonder drug only to segue into a depraved middle age.

It all points to an interesting and unexplored dichotomy in the history of drugs: there’s a huge gap between the inventors of illicit drugs—usually rather austere, cerebral and disciplined—and their consumers.

I’m guessing that Robert Hooke, Nagayoshi Nagai, Albert Hoffman, and Walter White would have a lot to talk about.

This post is part of a larger series. Read the next installment.

Burners.Me:
Burning Man seems tailor-made for the psychedelic movement. Founder and Director Michael Mikel, aka Danger Ranger, used to hang out in a house in the Berkeley hills in the early years, with a bunch of techies from the Mondo 2000/WIRED scene and acid straight from Stanford’s Chemistry Lab, which provided the gear for the original “acid tests”. In a panel discussion with This Is Burning Man author Brian Doherty in July 2013 , Danger Ranger said:
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“I have a connection to Silicon Valley that goes back to the beginning of the personal computer…We were all hanging out a lot, I was meeting people who were from Mondo 2000 which was the pre-cursor of Wired magazine. We were going to parties, I’d go over to their house in Berkeley, they had connections to the Stanford Chemistry Lab, they had drugs that had not been outlawed yet – it was out on the edge, it was really crazy. A lot of the connections came from out of that tech industry because we knew each other and we hung out” [YouTube, from 19:20]

Larry Harvey and Grateful Dead songwriter (and Electronic Frontier Foundation founder) John Perry Barlow gave an interview in London for Tech Crunch last year, where they described the long history of inter-relationships between psychedelic drugs, the counter-culture, and the tech industry, as outlined in John Markoff’s book What the Dormouse Said.

Burning Man takes place on Federal Land, where marijuana is illegal even if you have a medical prescription for it in your home state. Alcohol is illegal for anyone under the age of 21, and cigarettes are an illegal drug if you are younger than 18. Even Ambien, Viagra, and Xanax are illegal if you don’t have a current doctor’s prescription for them.
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Given all that, I’m wondering – have you ever done illegal drugs at Burning Man? This poll is totally anonymous and there is no way to track your vote back to you, you don’t need to provide a name or email address to answer.
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