Alex Grey Art

The Cabiri, Machine Elves and Other Dimensions

When Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung embarked on a prolonged journey of self-exploration he called his confrontation with the unconscious, the outcome was The Red Book, or Liber Novus (in Latin, the New Book), a large illuminated book he worked on between 1914 and 1930.

Jung referred to his imaginative or visionary venture during these years as his “most difficult experiment,” which involves a voluntary confrontation with the unconscious through willful engagement of what Jung later termed “mythopoetic imagination”. In his introduction to Liber Novus, Sonu Shamdasani explains:

Found in this remarkable book, is a powerful and eerie conversation between Jung and The Cabiri, also spelled Cabeiri or Kabiri, Greek Kabeiroi. The Cabiri are a number of important deities, possibly of Pelasgianor Phrygian origin, worshiped over much of Asia Minor, on the islands nearby, and in Macedonia and northern and central Greece.

According to The Red Book’s footnotes, the Cabiri were the deities celebrated at the mysteries of Samothrace. They were held to be promoters of fertility and protectors of sailors…in 1940 Jung wrote: ‘The Cabiri are, in fact, the mysterious creative powers, the gnomes who work under the earth, i.e. below the threshold of consciousness, in order to supply us with lucky ideas. As imps and hobgoblins, however, they also lay all sorts of nasty tricks, keeping back names and dates that were ‘on the tip of the tongue,’…instead of laughing off the Cabiri as ridiculous Tom Thumbs he may begin to suspect that they are a treasure-house of hidden wisdom.

In this following passage taken from Liber Novus, Jung brilliantly describes his encounter with the Cabiri, which included an eerie dialogue and powerful questions and statements.

Those familiar with Terence McKenna’s description of the “Machine Elves”, entities the psychonaut claims he had encountered during several DMT (N,N-Dimethyltryptamine) trips, can quickly find striking resemblance and similarities between the entities roaming the DMT realm and the beings encountered by Jung during his voluntary confrontation with the unconscious.

McKenna reported that over the course of dozens of DMT trips, he was able to conclude that these machine elves, or gnomes, live underground in a large, dome-shaped room and want to show people how to “create things using language.” Anyone who has basic knowledge of psychedelic and psychonaut culture knows that the trips themselves are supposedly so strange and powerful that bringing back full stories or descriptions from even one DMT trip is nearly-impossible.

According to McKenna, at about minute one or two of a N,N-Dimethyltryptamine trip, one may burst through a chrysanthemum-like mandala, and find:

References to such encounters can be found in many cultures ranging from shamanic traditions of Native Americans to indigenous Australians and African tribes, as well as among Western users of these substances.

The similarities here re undeniable. Jung’s Cabiri work under the earth; while the Machine Elves live underground in a dome-shaped room. The Cabiri are described as mysterious and creative powers, and the Machine Elves can create unbelievable, fractal objects and new autonomous beings, not to mention the similarities in terms of knowledge, wisdom. Those who have visited the DMT realm also often describe encountering jesters, which could also be associated with Jung’s Cabiri as they, according to The Red Book, also lay all sorts of nasty tricks.

Samothrace, Modern Greek Samothráki, is a Greek island in the northern Aegean Sea off the Thracian coast, where pre-Hellenic religious practices were identified. After this comparison between the two mysterious entities, one could make a conclusion that Carl Jung’s Cabiri are the same as Terence McKenna’s Machine Elves. This could indicate that an ancient pre-Hellenic cult had experimented with altered states of consciousness, either by using psychedelic substances or other meditative and mystical practices that initiated such powerful and moving visions.

Those who have visited the DMT realm, most notably Terence McKenna, claim that what they encountered was “more real than real”, stating that it was not hallucinations but rather another dimension veiled by our daily lives and encounter in our dimension. McKenna believed that the elves are literal and actual beings that exist in another dimension, while Jung held that the Cabiri were autonomous projections of one’s own unconscious mind.

Perhaps the two explanations provided by the two greats are actually one, perhaps the DMT realm and our unconscious mind are two faces to the same dimension, which includes infinite vaults of esoteric wisdom and knowledge. Perhaps we ought to frequent this dimension more often, or at least once during our lifetime on this earth, a visit which could unlock deeply-hidden treasures that would help us navigate not only our material lives, but also consciousness itself.

Other realms described throughout history that bear resemblance to the DMT dimension, include the journey outlined in the Tibetan Book of the Dead.

Bardo Thodol, which roughly translates to ‘ Liberation Through Hearing During the Intermediate State’, is one of the best known works of the Nyingma literature. The text widely known as ‘The Tibetan Book of the Dead’, is meant to guide one through the experiences consciousness goes through after death, in the Bardo, the interval between death and the next rebirth.

According to Britannica, although tradition attributes the Bardo Thodol to Padmasambhava, the Indian Tantric guru (spiritual guide) who is credited with introducing Buddhism to Tibet in the 7th century, the book was likely composed in the 14th century.

Bardo Thödol is a funerary text recited to ease the consciousness of a recently deceased person through death and assist it into a favorable rebirth. The first English translation of the Bardo Thodol was titled ‘The Tibetan Book of the Dead’ by Walter Evans-Wentz due to its similarities with another funerary text, the Egyptian Book of the Dead.

In his commentary on the Bardo Thodol, late Chogyam Trungpa explained that Bardo means “gap,” or interval of suspension, and that Bardo is part of our psychological make-up. Bardo experiences happen to us all the time in life, not just after death. The “Bardo Thodol” can be read as a guide to life experiences as well as a guide to the time between death and rebirth.

According to Anuttarayoga Tantra (Highest Yoga Tantra), only during the process of dying can we achieve liberation from the cycle of existence. The Tibetan Book of the Dead divides the intermediate state between lives into three Bardos:

  • The Bardo of Dying, which features the experience of the “clear light of reality”, or at least the nearest approximation of which one is spiritually capable
  • The Bardo of Experiencing Reality, which features the experience of visions of various Buddha forms, or the nearest approximations of which one is capable
  • The Bardo of Rebirth, which features ‘karmically’ impelled hallucinations which eventually result in rebirth, typically ‘yab-yum’ imagery of men and women passionately entwined

The Bardo of Dying describes a dissolution of the self, a falling away of external reality, with the remaining consciousness experiencing the true nature of mind as a dazzling light or luminosity.

The Bardo of Experiencing Reality describes lights of a wide range of colors and visions of wrathful and peaceful deities; yet one should not be afraid of these visions, as they are nothing but projections of mind.

Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung highly revered The Tibetan Book of the Dead, considering it a great psychological work. This view came primarily due to the symbolic nature of the work, describing peaceful deities, as well as wrathful ones, who drink blood, lick brains and chop heads.

The psychological significance of these visions can be best understood through this excerpt taking from Walter Evans-Wentz’s English translation of The Tibetan Book of the Dead:

The third and last Bardo is that of reincarnation, in which the soul is pulled into another body to start a new life, often but not always in the physical world. Tibetan Buddhists believe that the best world to be born in is the physical world, due to its great opportunity for spiritual growth and realization.

If the individual does not reincarnate in the physical world, he or she will go to one of the other five worlds of rebirth, which includes the heaven worlds, the hell worlds, the world of hungry ghosts, the demigod worlds, and the animal worlds. Each of these is believed to be limited and inferior to obtaining another body in the material world. This is because they exist mostly to receive good or bad karma (the results of previous actions), and are not considered places to create new karma.

The Bardo of Rebirth consists of a series of images determined by the soul’s karma that lead to psychic portals that draw the soul into a womb. The soul’s reaction to those karmic images determines which portal the soul enters and in which womb the soul ends up. The Tibetan tradition gives detailed advice on which representations to choose and which to avoid in order to gain a desirable rebirth. Once reborn, the karma of impulse manifests to influence the person’s actions and reactions in their new life.

The average person is said to spend a period of about forty-five days in the second Bardo. However, passionate souls with strong desires or those responsible for evil acts in their most recent life are said to reincarnate almost immediately. In exceptional cases, the individual can stay in the Bardo state for longer periods, and be drawn into its currents awaiting rebirth.

With such terms as real, actual, virtual and hallucinations, the waters are muddied and the true purpose and meaning are lost. Instead of trying to accurately and rationally define these entities and the realms they are found in, one ought to deeply meditate and contemplate the lessons and truths offered during these awe-inspiring journeys of meaning.

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Writer, translator and analyst.

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