My Psychedelic Bar Mitzvah: Perspectives on the Intersection of Judaism, Shamanism, and the Appropriate Origins of Culture
“My vision of the final human future is an effort to exteriorize the soul and internalize the body, so that the exterior soul will exist as a superconducting lens of translinguistic matter generated out of the body of each of us at a critical juncture at our psychedelic bar mitzvah”. -Terence Mckenna
Part 1: Semitic Semantics
The schoolyard stretched before us like a concrete desert that looked like it could take us forty years to traverse. Faced with that forlorn landscape, I asked my father, who was picking me up from school, if we believed in God. With our elongated shadows stretched out across the planes before us and the setting sun at our backs, he answered “we believe in the Jewish god”.
Did he mean to imply that there were other designated deities, but we chose not to favor them, or… they chose not to favor us? Was it odd of me to have asked such a question — to have assumed that beliefs were handed down rather than developed or exhumed through personal experience? Was it odd that I didn’t have a follow up question, like… what does that mean, what is expected of us? No, I was stumped by the oddly straight-forward answer that I had received, one that didn’t feel entirely aligned with some of the other things my father sometimes said. For example, he would occasionally make nonchalant, off-the-cuff statements like “for all we know we live in the molar of a giant,” a transcendental statement that borders on a sci-fi sentiment that I don’t know my father to possess.
My mother, whose upbringing as one of seven children had been Roman-Catholic, had come out on the other side with a fairly secular outlook. I never set foot in either church nor synagogue during my childhood, but when I was little my mother had read me bedtime stories from the Children’s Bible. Not for religious reasons, per se, but because they were universal stories, cosmic soap operas that got humanity’s newest arrivals acquainted with the mythopoetic and sociopolitical state of life on earth thus far.
I liked those stories. Some of them stuck with me and attained new interpretive relevance upon later contemplation. The story of dirty ol’ Adam, the first official member of the divine mafia — a made man — and his cloned wife, Eve, now seems to detail the events surrounding a psychedelic prohibition in Eden, and also the first drug bust. Another one I remembered was the story of Noah’s Arch or rather Noah’s Archive: about a man who prepared a DNA “library-tory” (library/laboratory)— a database of genetic materials that could recreate all of earth’s creatures, whom the old man believed would soon be wiped out by an impending deluge. He’d seen it in a mental movie, on a screen behind his eyes.
A favorite of mine was the story of the Tower of Babel, in which our heavenly father scalded his earthly children for bad behavior. He punished them by forking humanity’s tongue — shattering their uniform language into a million alienating divisions. And to think, all of this because they united their efforts to act on an ambition to invade heaven and surprise dad in his eternal abode. But as the old Dutch proverb goes, “as the host is, so he trusts his guests”. Old Good Lord, a little paranoid and perhaps projecting his own mephistophelian agenda onto his offspring, thought the kids were intending to dethrone him, forage the vaults, and plunder the palace.
Bad, bad humans!
Zap, crackle, pop! Bibbety-bobbety-boop! Abracadabra!
And just like that our ladders collapsed, man had a great fall, all the kings horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put ‘em back together again, etc—and we stopped speaking each other’s language, an unfortunate feature that would later account for my parents divorce. I was about five or six when that epoch began. Biblical, in its own right. But my parents didn’t raise me with any religious beliefs, aside from some bedtime stories and the occasional casual mention of being jewish, which didn’t really seem to mean much. Being jewish was like being hungry, but less transitory and there wasn’t anything you could do about it. And the peculiar thing was that I wasn’t even jewish enough, according to some.
I wasn’t Jewish enough for the liberal rabbi to agree to circumcise me at birth. He wasn’t convinced I’d get a Jewish upbringing, and he was correct. A nice gentile doctor performed this Abrahamic gesture in his stead. But I would’ve been Jewish enough, as my father likes to put it, “for Hitler and his goons”. (Apparently some people thought there was something we could do about being Jewish.)
So I’m Jewish. But I’m Jew-ish.
Half and Half.
This fifty-fifty split worked its equalizing magic when I studied for my bar mitzvah. Meaning, I quit almost exactly halfway through the studies. It usually takes about a year to complete the preparations, and I dropped out, fifty percent in. A bar mitzvah, in case you’re not jewish enough to know, is a rite of passage in the Jewish tradition. It’s when a 13-year-old boy becomes a man in the eyes of the community. “The community,” a term as nebulous as it is nebbish, when that same “community” didn’t consider you jewish enough to get your foreskin fashioned like your forefather’s.
Oy vay, as they say.
So, anyway, in a sense, because I dropped out, I never became a man. Not a jewish man, at least.
But during that six month period I did study some Hebrew, attended the occasional rabbinical sermon, and learned about various jewish holidays and cultural traditions. Most memorable were the folkloric and earthly tabernacles called “Sukkoth”. They felt like installations in an arts and craft museum, but they also had something appealingly pagan about them, plus they smelled like fresh pines and leaves. Still, I preferred to be in actual nature, where sacredness wasn’t a theme, but a felt reality. For me sacredness wasn’t a feeling centered around human reality, quite the opposite. It had to do with how awareness extended beyond the human domain. It had to do with how we interfaced with nature and it’s denizens. The closest thing to “church” for me was when I ventured out onto a dune to overlook the sylvan borderline at dawn, fawning over deer emerging from the woods, feeding in the mist. The way they stopped to sense their surroundings, so delicate in their vigilance, catching wind of me as I spied on them through my binoculars or the telephoto lens of my camera.
Torah stories didn’t revere that kind of stuff. And though absorbing them helped me immerse myself a little more in the virtual reality of the faith and the culture, I found it overall just lacked an imagination radical enough to endure. None of it really resonated with me as a culture that I could see myself adopting or a set of traditions I could envision myself cyclically enacting. I found the feeling of what people looked for there, elsewhere. I liked the stories, but no more than any other story, and certainly less than most of the stories on TV. That was the altar before which I prayed the most. That was my divine light. That’s why I refer to childhood TV as “the deity box”. That was my window into the Other Side.
But even though I didn’t feel invested in religious sentiments, I initially put in the effort to try and become a man, like my father before me and his father before him. I even went so far as to “convert” my non-jewish half by dipping my body in a magical mikvah. This is a lukewarm, purifying bath where, for a small fee, you can submerge yourself, naked as the day you were born, in “holy waters” blessed by rabbis. You say a few memorized magic words, and—poof!—you’ve been “baptized,” and forgiven for being not-jewish enough.
Think of it like Jew-fondue. One dip in the divine pool and you’re good as can be.
Now, I should take a moment here to acknowledge how ridiculous the notion of not being recognized as Jewish is in the first place. My father is a jew, one hundred percent. My mother is not. The “law” favors only the matrilineal heritage, meaning you’re only recognized as jewish if the mother is jewish. So if my mom was a jew, and my father wasn’t, I’d be recognized as a full-blooded semite.
Rabbinical circumcision? No problem.
It’s obviously an old-fashioned outlook: you can be sure who the mother is, but the father—meh—not so sure. This is coming from the faith into which Jesus, that literal bastard, was born, so you can’t blame ‘em, but… technological and scientific advances have given us the miracle of DNA tests, so a simple swab of saliva should be able to settle the score, right?
But because that wasn’t the case at the time, I traveled all the way from my native Netherlands to Paris, where the nearest mikvah was, and humiliated my prude, prepubescent self by skinny-dipping in a “magical” swimming pool, which I’m pretty sure was chlorinated—where I said a prayerful (memorized) magic spell and that would settle the question of my semitism, once and for all.
“But his Mom’s not jewish!”
“It’s ok. He took a bath.”
I kind of wish I had peed in the pool.
Anyway, I don’t think the spell took, because—like I mentioned—I quit halfway through my preparation for becoming a man, doomed to spend the rest of my life in some forever neverland. Instead of a jewish man, I became mother nature’s child, puckish and evermore playful.
I’m not sure why I called it quits. There is an odd quality to retrospection that I would call “retrospeculation” wherein the decisions I made are disconnected from the processes that lead me to make them. You know, I could romanticize it and claim it’s because I felt I was doing it for the wrong reasons (for the money, the presents, the video camera my father had promised me). But truth be told, my heart just wasn’t in it, so my mind rebelled and bailed. It just didn’t really resonate with me. The faith. The tradition. The group-think. The cliquishness. The us and them of it. Not to mention the fashionably late adoption of it all.
My father’s new girlfriend (and years later his second wife as well) were jews, which catalyzed a fanciful re-uptake of Judaic interest on my father’s part, though they were still only skin-deep engagements with the culture. He had always embraced the staple aesthetics—mezuzas in the doorways, a golden star of David dangling from a necklace, the occasional donning of a yarmulke, a clunky recitation of a prayer preceding a shabbat dinner, or the occasional yiddish phrase casually inserted into conversation—but he never seemed to me to possess a fully convincing, in-depth apprehension of the why and how of it all. I would later come to intuit that for my father it wasn’t so much the religion or its traditions that moved him to identify as Jewish, but rather a commiserate solidarity based around shared historical hardship and persecution. It was the holocaust, the horrific saga through which many a semite lost their faith in a benevolent, higher power, that solidified my father’s faith and loyalty to his tribe.
Because I had been raised in the absence of the religion and traditions, it felt farcical to pick it up so late in life, go through the memorized motions and act it out like it had come natural to me. To act as if the traditions, the culture, the religion, were in my blood. Which, if they were, they were obviously diluted to a homeopathic dosage. Besides, I was always kind of a lazy student when it came to academic stuff. School was an interruption of my dreamtime reveries. Lacking an experiential and ontological foundation, I found it difficult to sink my apprehensive talons into subjects like history with its tales of has-beens and days-gone-by, and the countless names of those who’d come before me—altogether ungraspable and rather boring, the stories themselves lacking true perspective or purpose. With their grand context omitted, these were stories about other people, in different times, that had little to no bearing on me. I preferred to focus on my own interests, immersing myself in them obsessively, taking it all in at my own pace. So I dropped the charade, and quit preparing for my bar mitzvah in the classic fashion of the turned-on, tuned-in drop-out.
My father, a baby-boomer born shortly after WWII to parents who had survived the holocaust, was very graceful and accepting of my decision. He let me have my autonomy, never tried to force his will upon mine. He simply expressed his heart’s desire.
“I’d really like you to do it. It would mean a lot to me,” he said. “But maybe you’ll offer it as a tribute to me later in life. Perhaps even posthumously.”
Part 2: God in the O.S.
“Culture is your operating system… If you meet an aboriginal person from the Amazon for example, they may be running ‘Witoto 3.0’ as their operating system. Nicely supports animistic magic, huge capacity when it comes to making fish traps and bird traps. Witoto is a powerful operating system for a rainforest aboriginal. In our culture there are, I have no idea, at least ten or twenty operating systems all going at the same time. Some will run Mormonism, some will support Catholicism, Kabbalah goes at the speed of light. Others support quantum physics, some support econometrics, others support political correctness, and these things are mutually exclusive.” -Terence Mckenna
In my late teens I developed a hunger for tangible knowledge of spiritual realities, and my search for verity eventually lead me to Psychedelics’ doorstep of perception where a banner in neon writings promised Conscious Dreams (the name of the “smartshop” where I purchased my sacrament). Though I didn’t know it at the time, I would come to learn that psychedelics offered an experience of the fundamental immediacy around which culture and tradition has built its fortified walls of language, doctrine, and law.
I stumbled into my first trip and tumbled up and down its rabbit-hole, where revelations of a spiritual nature sprung up in the booby-trapped mind, like gnostic snakes-from-a-can. The first time I found god, I nearly lost it. I experienced holy terror at the sight of the familiar world rendered alien.
Through trial, error, joy and terror—trading fear & loathing for set & setting—I would gradually come to terms with the notion that what we call “the divine” is not, as it is often portrayed, the ego of the universe—not a supreme personality, nor some saintly Santa riding on a cloud. Rather, it is a vastly expansive realm of infinite smoke and mirrors, fogged with transfigurations of self-signifying symbol systems that somehow interface with the minuscule mind of man in a kind of cosmic, soul-stunning, tongue-twisted baby-talk.
(Insert cartoon image: a terrifying, alien God muttering baby-talk into the cradle of humanity, “Ouroborous. Ouroborous.”)
* * *
I learned that what we casually refer to as “The Divine” is stranger than anything we could possibly imagine, being as it is its own unlimited imagination of itself!
I learned that the human/divine dichotomy wasn’t a matter of one creating the other, but was a simultaneously arising emergence, interfaced by this mysterious “thing” we called “mind.”
(Insert cartoon image: A version of The Birth of Adam where Adam and The Lord both have guns drawn at each other. Caption: Made men.)
Self-referential and inverse, Creation is Creation’s own creation.
(Change caption to Self-made men.)
* * *
As Jung implies in the quote, I gleaned that religion had been erected for the purpose of shielding us from the chaosmic, unadornable truths that were, to our limited selves, inarticulable, yet eternally inextricable from existence. The contracted mind, as we know it on the daily, is a safe-house from these raging realms of strangeness—it is our cozy little suburbia, and our nightly oneiric reveries are little more than a dissociative safari through its revelatory realms—a luxurious cruise afloat in the vastness, an oceanic suburbia offering us free seafood samples and onboard entertainment to distract us from impending icebergs and the stirrings of the depths.
Psychedelics are the midnight mikvah that dips us in the depths.
Sample-minded in nature, religious communities share a language, the language of their tribe. This commonality offers us a pattern, however illusory, with which to limit what is limitless, a means to finalize infinity, a reference for reverence. At the head of their hierarchies stands the scholarly figure of the priest or rabbi, who we can rest assured spends his life immersed in understanding the subtleties of this language and its everyday implications so that we don’t have to. But in actuality they usually just study the doctrine, the text, the theory of Theo, rather than submit themselves to the earth shattering, elf-chattering experience of it.
* * *
Culture offers us the lenses through which to color, frame and interpret our perceptions of the world. But there is an irrational streak threaded through this world and our experience of it that colors outside those lines.
Psychedelics, functioning as de-conditioning agents, temporarily exfoliate the mind, scrubbing it clean of preconceived notions. Such a cascade of unlearning equals a striptease of cultural customs that leaves awareness naked, bereaved of its perceptual flair and mosaics of safety. This kind of ontological nudity may feel threatening to the psychically prude and unprepared participant. But to those willing to “relax your mind, let go, and float downstream”, with the heart and mind’s ears & eyes wide open, these psychoactive sub-stances (= under-standings) also offer an in-some-sense-“guided” tour of the abysmal depths of The Other.
The Other is a term I’m using here as a synonym of THE Mind—the collective mind—a multi-tiered, psychic terrain I often refer to as “The Jungian Jungle”—the mind’s untamed wilderness, littered with treasures, traces of lost civilizations, obscure symbols, archetypes, and the perils of The Unknown.
This undressing of The Assumed and The Known allows the entire array of wardrobed possibilities to suggest itself, held up in front of naked awareness before the mirror to see what thought or ideology will best suit its experience.
In this light “cultural appropriation” seems more than appropriate. Because at the level where culture is still stewing and as-of-yet unserved, stripped down to little more than the “trip-steeze” of its birthday suit, it belongs to no one and anyone.
* * *
“Plug into the earth, you get culture shocked,” says Void Denizen.
* * *
In the wake of a satisfying psychedelic revelation, one is often left with the tangible, phantom feels of an otherwise ineffable divinity—an essence of supreme connectedness and cosmic belonging. Once this feeling wears off, and the cultural armor once again cakes onto our perceptions, this may result in what I call “void-ache”.
In effect, one becomes hungry for knowledge, language, and understanding—and intuitively imbued with an ecstatic frame of reference about what all cultural, philosophical, and religious yearnings are based on and reaching towards. Topics that once felt tawdry and peripheral now glow with a new sense of significance, and the inviting promise that these understandings could stuff the hole and fashion the void to once again resemble this Most High that once tingled on our senses, rings creatively true. The notion that we could bring the kingdom of heaven down to earth, intimate and tangible, seems in a sense probable.
Filling the void becomes a re-creational act.
The general consensus is that psychedelics function as de-conditioning agents that give us a momentary glimpse into the uncultured mind, the mind beyond language, beyond belief—the Mowgli Mind, re-wilded before its reintegration into the civilized world.
After its tryst with the ineffable, the mind redresses, straightens its necktie and pretends its orgiastic plunge in the archetypal depths never happened. Or, if it chooses to incorporate some of its newfound revelations into mundane life, it may relate to those ideas in its environment that bear closest resemblance to the experience. Usually that will be something that was borrowed from another culture, some of them disenfranchised. It therefore comes as no surprise that in the 1960s, psychedelics—primarily LSD—prompted its devotees to design a user’s manual based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and generally frame the experience in the light of eastern mysticism, if not through Castanada’s lens of Native American wisdom traditions.
But in certain cases a kind of spontaneously-arising appropriation takes place—as much endogenous as it is indigenous—prompted by a surge of insights and aesthetics that are rooted in the very cosmic soil from which the original cultural impulses stemmed.
I think it isn’t a mere coincidence that the word culture has a two-fold meaning. Culture, like a mold, grows on the surface of something earthy, something perishable and impermanent. Cultures grow on the surface of something that is in a state of flourishing decay; it is the creative mold and molding that sets out to find an expressive attitude with which to confront life’s process of bloom & doom.
I refer to the kinds of cultural extractions that come straight from “the source’s mouth” as “source material”—the first of their kind: original thoughts, in that they have been harvested at the point of origin. This source material then gets placed on the shelves of the cultural database as a reference for future generations and for society to feast upon and assimilate. But when we only feast upon the cultural buffet of already available source material (the sauce we pour over the source to make it palatable) culture loses touch with the process of doom and bloom which it sets out to confront, basing & biasing its expression on preceding expressions instead.
You could say, proverbially, that it 'breaks the mold' and it simply rots, because it's no longer in direct relation to the sense of funambulent immediacy that has us suspended on the razor's edge between life and death.
* * *
Like light refracting into different colors when passed through a prism, so the earth radiates a plethora of cultures, each with their own languages, customs, subcultures and taboos. One has but to spend time with a tribe like the Ayahuasca-imbibing Shipibo of Pucallpa, Peru, and drink of their potent potions to understand what the mythic signifiers that mark their towns are all about. Suddenly their mermaid and swamp-thing murals, animistically inhabited tree sculptures, and sacred-geometric pillar-decorations make absolute sense!
* * *
Consider culture as a phantasmic, projection-mapped mind, mosaic’d invisibly onto all things—imbuing all with a sense of radiant significance. Think of it as a database of understandings, of marks made in passing. Treasure maps to the chest that harbors the earth-shaped heart of humanity.
Ask yourself, why shouldn’t we exchange recipes from the precipice and try on one another’s mindsets once in a while, fashion our understandings accordingly, and see how it suits us? What is reality, after all, but a gestalt that consists of an intersecting grid of varying, but complimentary perspectives that kaleidoscopically collide?
Culturally held values and beliefs are embedded in their language. Culture, quite literally, is language—spoken, written, danced, built, worn, embodied. If learning the meaning of a word is synonymous to consciousness expansion, then learning about other cultures also broadens one’s mental and spiritual horizons.
“Cultural appropriation” has in our modern moment become somewhat of a tarred and feathered boogieman buzzword. One that might call to mind a generalized implication that warrants one to stick to one’s own tribal tribulations, warranting “white culture” to identify itself only with its anglo-saxon heritage, rather than stitch together the bits and pieces of dying cultures into a sort of Frankenstein’s monster of pop, commerce, and corporatism. One thinks of the stereotype of ditzy blondes irreverently toting feathered headdresses at “transformational festivals” or politicians donning blackface and afros in photographs resurfaced from a distant past, among other insensitive cartoonizations. Such examples point towards de-meaning objectifications of other cultures as mere stylistic, tribal signifiers—as costumes, not customs—severed from their context, with little invested in ways of research or empathy. But doesn’t it also deserve mention that the First People appropriated their traditional garb of leathers and feathers from the animal kingdom, whose culture is actually nature?
I understand this is a dynamically disproportionate example, and I offer this absurd notion mostly in a satirical light, for comic relief, but also to pave the way to make a point that culture is largely anthropocentric.
Culture, for humans, is not a blood-based agreement, but rather a series of techniques, traditions, practices, and linguistic signifiers that have arisen from (and been developed to sustain) a conversational relation to the land, or rather the Genius Loci or “resident spirit” of the land, which is to say the mindscape of the landscape.
Culture is a psychological value system, not a biological one.
* * *
That said, it is worth noting that our psychology is rooted in our biology, and culture springs forth from nature.
Psychedelics, for some, are the chemical keys that unlock the gates to a Garden of Secrets, accessible by each of us through a hidden doorway within. They unveil an occultural arboretum wherein the seemingly disparate world traditions fractally unfold like branches of the same tree. All of culture’s tangible artifacts, traditions, and practices, born into the world, are little more than “3D-printed” ornaments dangling from this tree, or flowers plucked from its branches, kept alive in a vase of tradition, on display to reflect the mined mind, in as far as we’ve succeeded to unearth its endless treasures. This is what Mckenna was alluding to when he spoke of a “translinguistic matter generated out of the body” and the “soul exteriorized”. I call it “purged eternity.”
But because, as I once wrote, “culture is a congealed scab on the bleeding mystery”, the very understandings that we have materialized also have the potential to become the very obstructions that deny our seeing things with fresh eyes. This is what the ambiguous saying, “a symbol has meaning behind it”, seems to cryptically allude to. So it’s always necessary to iconoclastically reinterpret, rephrase, and re-verse what we have come to grow familiar with. This is why I think it’s important to make a distinction between the masquerade of ironic and insensitive applications implied by the term “cultural appropriation” and the sincere implication of other cultures and their influence on our efforts to superimpose a perceptible signal upon life’s noise, so as to better understand our commonality, the world, and our place in it. Therefore I shall distinguish this sincere kind of cultural mapping over the mystery from its antithesis by calling it “occultural appropriation,” signifying the appropriation of an arcane, hidden knowledge—an implicate order made explicate.
* * *
While I’m at it, I’d also like to conceptually redefine the word “psychedelic” as it pertains to a particular aesthetic, in light of this understanding.
Estranged from its etymology, I’d like to redefine it as “an expressive phenomenon that doesn’t cling to the coast of any particular culture, but allows itself to be carried on the waves of the ocean of its origins, raising to the surface new continents of multicultural coalition.”
* * *
This is to say that psychedelics return us to the unprimed state of the blank slate, rebooting the O.S. If you think of things in these terms it doesn’t become far-fetched to think that certain cultures (e.g. Egyptians and Mayans and Aztecs) show striking similarities even though they may have never encountered one another. Perhaps they all tapped into the same source—the “ocean of its origins”—accessing THE Mind, a database teeming with transdimensional cultural influence. Think of it again as a light, filtered through a mental prism, refracting into interpretational variations—Red, Orange, Yellow, Indigo, Violet, Blue-prints.
And so, in my own psychedelic adventures, I’ve found myself unwittingly tumbling down rabbi-holes and stumbling into wonderlands where mad hatters wore yarmulkes, plucking star-of-David-shaped flowers from The Garden of Secrets, and cobbling a cabalistic path that reconciled me with some semblance of Judaic lore on my own terms.
Part 3: OCCULTURAL APPROPRIATION
I failed to become a man in the eyes of Judaic tradition. My rite of passage was at eighteen, when I first ingested 28 grams of fresh mushrooms and had my mind blown! (Read/listen to the full story here.)
This was my psychedelic bar mitzvah.
It started off light and fun, with a kind of interactive, augmented-reality quality to the hallucinations. Then at the peak of the experience I was blasted from my body and went on a disembodied guilt trip, free-falling, upwards, through the godhead. A voice-over narrated my experience as if at the climax of a Twilight Zone episode:
“Imagine a man who desperately felt the need to try psychedelic mushrooms, exposing him to the reality we’ve been trying to protect him from his entire life.”
I was convinced that I was being punished for having eaten the “forbidden fruit”, and horrified by the overwhelming perspectives held by my divine eye in the sky. Looking down at the world, at an impressionistic swath of pixilated people, flushing like genes-swarms through the streets of Amsterdam, chirping in a million foreign tongues, I pleaded for my life, and bargained for my soul. I promised to lead a better life if I could just get one more chance to be a part of the known world, one more chance to take my place among the people—the human people—one more chance to lead a human life.
Guilt trips, you must admit, sound like a very jewish thing.
* * *
Years later I smoked DMT and had incredible revelations that, once I tried to translate them into form and into english, felt very much related to Kabalistic mysticism and a phenomenological hyper-object that I intuitively referred to by the term “Merkaba”—which is a three-dimensional star-of-David, symbolizing the marriage of above and below, heaven and earth—a spinning chariot with which one’s spiritual body of light can travel through the cosmos, like a disincarnate human soul flying unidentifiably through the sky of mind.
If my bar mitzvah was at the bemushroomed age of 18, then this visionary gift of an interdimensional vehicle at 24 was the celebration of my “sweet sixteen”, where I was presented with the chemical keys to my first car-to-the-stars!
Perhaps that is exactly what the unidentified flying objects seen in the sky are—a bunch of joy-riding jews cruising through the cosmos in their cherished chariots.
* * *
In the Jungles of Peru, drinking Ayahuasca with shamans of the Shipibo tribe, I unearthed deep-seated genetic traumas and was faced with the lost, ancestral souls of a holographic holocaust. They were caught in the grips of incomprehensible torment and inconsolable grief, neither resting nor at peace.
Seated in tailor-pose, with my hands folded in prayer, I drew breaths as deep as the feelings of sorrow and compassion that I felt for them. I rocked my body back and forth, as if at The Wailing Wall, in reverent recognition of these poor unfortunate souls whose transient forms rose and dissipated like semitic steam from the cracks in the earthen floor in front of me—a pitiful, phantasmagoric parade of mute, lamenting phantoms, whose names and lives have long been forgotten, honored in anonymity.
* * *
In those same shamanic ceremonies, I ventured into deep inner-outer space, where my soul became eclipsed in confrontation with a nazi-themed spacecraft, not unlike the death star. A devoid-of-lightship with a swastika glowing on its belly, leaving a trajectory of entropy in its wake. It cast its shadow like a dark age of doubt upon the earth, dragging it across the globe like a magnet, dead-set on erasing the memory of an entire race from the planet’s hard drive.
In another ceremony the shamans supported me as I fought for my soul, attempting to lift a “curse” put on me by a veritable Romani warlock, once considered my consigliere and ally, whose Medusaic glare had petrified parts of me to a state of energetic stagnancy. The word that the Shipibo use is “daño”, implying an emotional stain, or deep-seated spiritual infliction. The Roma, too, have a word for such spiritual contamination. They call it marimé and enter a potentially afflicted home with their right foot first so as to shield their hearts from it’s influence. Superstition is the gypsy’s religion and the manipulation of its known mechanics is often the basis for their livelihood. When this daño that had landed on me was cleared, over the course of several ceremonies, I asked the spirit of Ayahuasca for advice on how I could keep this person from entering the sanctuary of my home in the future, and she synthesized a psycho-medicinal, visionary solution. As the Roma are prone to recognize the “laws” of superstition, she suggested that I write down my desire to allow only those with pure hearts and intentions to enter, and to condense it into a sigil.
She instructed me to roll it into a small scroll and sculpt a clay mezuzah around it in the shape of a medusa. As is done in jewish tradition, the mezuzah was to be hung on the outer doorframe as a protective, sentinel charm.
Thinking back on those Amazonian nights now, I recall listening to the benevolent Peruvian wizards schmoozing softly among themselves in hushed, good-natured tones, punctuated by gulps of laughter that glowed in the dark—their language sounding very much like verbal vegetation in the afterglow of a good night’s work. They might as well have been “the Rabbis of the Amazon”, crooning those ancient, resonant, melancholy songs that sound at times like the incantations of a jungle hazan. They are the cantors of the icaros.
Shipibo tribe… Shapiro tribe… the “great divide” might not be so great after all.
* * *
My religious views have always been inwards.
My preachers are plant teachers. My rabbis have third eyes.
The chirping chapel of cicadas and cricket choirs are my church, with vaulted ceilings of firs, redwoods, and pine. My holy scrolls unfurl in birdsong.
My bibles are edible, their pages offer psychic nutrition, and their teachings self-evidently unfold.
My body is my temple. My eucharist—a sacramental mushroom, a tab of LSD, a cup of Ayahuasca. My mind, under the influence of these substances, is the altered altar. Through my cranial cathedral the Living Word resounds, and I —in the flesh—am its figure of speech.
My ego is my sacrifice.
My alter egos are my reassembled, resurrected self-images—a means to puppeteer myself beyond my self-imitating limitations.
My creativity is my preferred mode of devotional prayer, a communion with The Creative Force that makes up the universe itself.
My version of the Synagogue is The Hypnagogue, an internal, immaterial, pineal palace painted with murals of light, tiled with unimaginably intricate geometries, projected onto my mind’s eye through stained-glass introspectacles.
My yarmulke could be, alternately, a mushroom cap or a round, embroidered Shipibo patch.
I am devoted to a plethoric pantheon of imaginary friends, tulpas, and egregores to whom I make offerings, insuring them a resonant place on the material plane.
I’m half jewish, but fully psychedelic, so you can find me celebrating Rosh HaShamanism, ringing in the new year by riding my chariot, manned with ancestors, through the sky of mind, chanting:
He took the weekend off
Went into outer space
But he’ll be back before
his mortal memories erase
Thy will be done
Thy kingdom cOmmmm
Aftermyth: towards karmic resolution
Earlier this year I visited my father so that we could, together, celebrate what would have been my grandfather’s 100th birthday. Martin, my father’s father, was a gifted artist, who was forced into hiding during WWII, on account of being a Dutch jew. Some of the drawings featured here, such as the portraits of his mother, his father-in-law, his mother-in-law and the cloth-darning old lady who was their hostess at one of the holocaust’s “hidden hostels”, were drawn during this pernicious time.
Martin was one of the few members of his family to survive this dark age. More than fifty of his relatives were never seen or heard from again. After the war he took over what was left of his family’s textile business. The sowing machines had been cleverly hidden in the walls where the nazis failed to look, so my grandfather was in the unique position to immediately start carrying on his parents’ enterprise, ready to flourish among the ruins of the post-war world. He did exactly that, albeit somewhat reluctantly, because sadly it meant that he had to abandon his aspirations of being a full-time artist.
I often feel that my own tenacity in following the path of art in its various facets, is an uncompromising continuation of his truncated journey.
At some point Martin designed this own ex-libris, a logo that symbolically depicts himself as “a wounded bull in the arena of life, held upright by his belief in justice”.
As you can see, the bull is shaped like the letter M.
My name also starts with an M, and like Martin my sun sign is also Taurus, so in order to commemorate my ancestor’s karma as it continues to resolve itself through me, I have revised his design to suit myself.
This is my updated version of the bull in the arena of life, though now he is no longer wounded, but radiating with a healing force. He is holding court in that arena now, entertaining and edifying the audience, spotlit by a guiding ancestral light. And imbued with second sight, he confidently faces up to his shadow.
This two-toned eye has become a common motif in my art over the past few years. It first came to me during an Ayahuasca vision, and due to its slit pupil I have interpreted its nature as being simultaneously serpentine and feline — snakes and jaguars being the other-dimensional guardians/ambassadors of the vine’s revelatory cosmic mysteries. The dual-color scheme alludes to stereoscopic vision achieved through a single, cycloptic lens.
You may also notice that the star over Martin’s bull’s head resembles the burdensome yellow star-of-David, closely resembling the ones that the jews were forced to wear during the German occupation. My bull, instead, has a celestial Merkaba hovering over his head — a soulful chariot that transports astral bodies up and down the transcendental elevator.
Inspired by its 8-bit aesthetic, it seemed occulturally appropriate to integrate Martin’s ancestral taurus — The Martinotaur — into the cymatic labyrinths of the Shipibo, where shamanic Pacmen gobble up the ghosts that haunt the labyrinths of body, mind, and spirit:
The Ungoogleable Michaelangelo is a psychonautic explorer, internal journalist, visual artist, musician, filmmaker and actor from The Netherlands, currently residing in Los Angeles. He is the host and creator of the podcast Self Portraits As Other People. Utilizing wit, wordplay, and a 6th sense of humor, his work mindfully investigates where the limits of language meet the fringes of reality. If you share his esoteric appreciation for all things surreal, sublime, and absurd, you may consider going spelunking in his heartfelt brain-cave at www.voidandimagination.com. You can support his creative efforts by becoming a patron on his Patreon page, and reap rewards in the process.