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A Harvard researcher explores an international entheogen system,
discovering their practices leading to cognitive enhancement and,
arguably, the next human form.
From Cambridge to Moscow, Oxford to Zurich, Princeton to Marzar-i-Sharif
and Bangkok, this journal of research interviews records the lifestyles
within a most rare and elusive organization, one that has evolved special gifts:
advanced capacities of thought, memory, empathy and perception.
Limantour Beach, Point Reyes, California
"I had been permitted a carefully limited glance at the edges of a worldwide system,
the existence of which had never been proven. My writings henceforth were but a
fitful remembrance, not only of these most uncommon of interviews, but of
complex ephemera barely recordable yet absolute. They were so utterly unforgettable that,
in order for the observer to function, they must be forgotten.
I sat speechless in a hypnogogic state while he seemed to transform, in the shifting firelight and white noise and the reflections of ten-thousand fingers of fractal silver waves, into a spectrum of beings. He reaggregated as the alchemist Paracelsus, as the Gnostic wizard Hermes Trismegistus, as an ecclesiastical conspirator in 16th Century Basel, as an itinerant tinker on a Scottish beach. He became the angel St. John saw in the sun, then all the healers and medicines of the world: the heretical anatomy of Galen and Vesalius, the antisepsis of Lister, the anesthesia of Crawford.
Finally, the dreamlike light show slowed, the changes merging into a single, still, perfectly clear prospect. There appeared at last only Crimson himself, simply poking the embers around and placing driftwood, as if nothing at all had occurred except two friends warming themselves beneath the universal canopy. After the psychic conflagrations, I took quite some moments to recover.
'Something more you wished to know?' he said, with gravitas."
Hoshin-ji Monastery, San Francisco
"I first notice Helen, a very elderly nun with snowy hair, and often escort her about the monastery. As she gradually becomes infirm, then an invalid, I find a blue silk kimono for her, one with finches and streams and lilacs. On the night of her death, she tells me of being a small girl - at Hiroshima.
Perhaps she is delirious. I open her Japanese fan and try cooling her face. We are behind a shoji screen for privacy. In her simple spare room, incense lifts in whorls in the air.
'Where were you?'
'I was in blue satin and patent leather pumps that day. We were pretending a tea party in the garden of the walled estate, singing children's songs. She was laughing and pointing up at the kites, when the light blinded her. We staggered outside. The silhouettes of schoolchildren were etched into the consulate walls. Mothers with prams, the pink kites, our little friends, the rose garden, all gone ...' "
Walden Pond, Cambridge
"The heavyweight eight crew, pulling the long blades of their rowing sculls in tandem, raced down the Charles river under Longfellow Bridge. It was a halcyon August at fair Harvard: the brilliant plumages of students, umbrellas adorning the wide mossy banks of the Charles's tawny waterway, the summer curving in from some mystic latitude.
We continued up the Charles in the evening, where Memorial Drive traffic had been blocked off all the way to MIT. Beneath grand tents, almost-nude Taiko drummers in sweaty loincloths struck great drums in racy, overheated rhythms. Flocks of skaters swayed like sea grasses as they flowed down open lanes, semi-professional mourners wore skeletal masks in a burial procession for the Chemical Weapons Treaty, Danish women engineers picked suggestively at the tassels of cushions beside owlish, frozen MIT students, while strobes and lasers shot from high suites in Lowell and Eliot Houses.
The light show precipitated thoughts of Crimson, and how Harvard students were not unlike the six chemists. Both groups had a global theater of operations; they were exiles of circumstance from many worlds, yet there was a fantastic poetry to them."
"The bedroom door opened and closed silently as if by the passing of a monastic nun detaching herself from meditation and prayer. An electrifying haute couture model emerged, somewhat disheveled. She was bare but for scraps of diaphanous attire stretched across her narrow hips. With close-cropped pale blond hair as if from eternal days at the Arctic Circle, she had blue, intelligent eyes that seemed to reflect unspeakable tragedies and glories, and insensate lust.
Transported, I thought of Schiller: 'Her movements are so mysterious and her figure so elegant; who can she be?'"
"All the lamps had been draped in red silk, their harshness dimmed; the suite appeared as some baronial rouge bordello, or a sanctum for the Epicurean erotic mysteries. Three sticks of sandalwood incense burned, curling into drifting vapors, while the "Song to the Moon," an aria from Dvorak's Rusalka, played with poignant air. Within this occult scene, there was a sense of some primordial teaching being handed down. A shower was running, and other sounds were muffled. I could not determine if mingled with the water were tears of joy, or sorrow."
"Before me, the women's beauteous minds and bodies seemed the apex of evolution, their DNA entwined through stone age fires and billions of childbirths, until I felt at last the yearning of all lost loves, and saw its manifestation as pure young girl in a long dress with broad hat and ribbons, wandering far from her thatched-roof cottage, fair and sorrowful, remembering her missing lover with all her secret heart."
"In some passing fancy, we decided on a very late moonlit walk in the Yard. The women began a slow, proud pavan, their entwined hands held high under the light of the dying moon, their frail sopranos lifting in a broken Puccini duet. An achingly beautiful moment, I see it still.
We joined them at last, and we all danced on the steps of Widener, then danced through the Yard with our dazed endearments, irresponsible as flowers.
The pulse of the world followed us that night, we the moon-keepers; the stars were a glowing branch across the sky. We sang in the scented pools of air in these precious moments, for soon we would disperse throughout the nations, one day to be elders recalling the magic of the time when we, from our lonely childhoods, finally found each other."
Bodhinath, Kathmandu Valley, Nepal
"Everything stopped. It passed as though it never were, leaving us utterly transformed and completely untouched. Reacquiring my body, there remained only a cooling perspiration and an indefinable thirst. Breathless at the psychic devastations and rebirths, I rested against a low exterior wall and broke contact with Magenta who, without looking back but raising a hand, passed into the broad curvature of Bodhinath. The incandescent haze of Kathmandu below rippled to the vast range of Himalayan crests, their pellucid glacial cirques brilliant and sunlit. I was alone at last.
In the wake of the cognitive phenomena, I rushed to pray for the children of the world, for the sick, for the grace of normal consciousness. At this simple gesture of devotion, a troop of thirty very young Tibetan monks, all about eight years old, and every one lean and barefoot with a shaved head, passed happily before me, chanting in sing-song Tibetan the pilgrims' prayer on the way to Mount Kailash.
'Ka zher, lam kher' (Whatever arises, bring it to the path.)
Twirling the prayer wheels, each bowed to me, smiling brightly, then vanished into the curvature. At this portentous vision I could only follow in grateful reverence, my fingertips lightly grazing the cool enameled carving of each slowly creaking wheel."
North Harvard Yard, bordered by Widener Library, Memorial Church, Massachusetts Hall and University Hall
"These were mind-warping years: the vaulting ambitions of Harvard's scholars, the Faustian bargain of the six chemists with their unearthly science and experimentation, the poetic quantum of both groups. The sunlight began weakening into blue shadows; everywhere was like a world dream, the children of the earth, imploring."
"On one occasion I was maundering about Mass Ave as if in monastic rooms, having some internal dream colloquy, when I halted in holy wonder at the unfamiliar sunlight. It was then that one student - with her teasing, foxy, classicist's voice and a shattering irreverence - awakened me. Caught wandering into the Yard, I was reciting some exorcism fragment from the Dark Ages.
'These are not the moors of Wuthering Heights, Heathcliffe,' she said."
"But how six subjects worked their magic, and their potions, became some terrible preoccupation. I had to wait for more contact, if it ever came at all, for nothing was promised. Only shadowy postulates were left of them, mere floating visions, but since Berlin the sounds around me, the murmur of voices, even the wind off the Charles, were carved into nocturnes."
"Thereafter, at the pace of lovers, we walked from the Bolshoi as our breathes froze - sparkling, silent, falling - the 'whisper of stars' to Russians. It was as though old and glorious civilizations comprehended a kiss. Beneath the Kremlin's spires the Red Star of past glories bathed her pale white skin, as we entered the long and forbidding night of the profound Russian winter."
"Yet it was only a few hours before I was due at the special entrance to the U.S. Embassy, prior to meeting - at some indeterminate location through locked doors and assorted examples of weaponry - a crafty Russian officer who coordinated 5000 armed secret agents across 11 time zones from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok. He was a Major General, the head of the MVD Drug Department of all Russia."
Christ Church College, Oxford
"'So you worry about drugs that become ritualized and legitimized by governments? That everyone uses without cease?'
'There may be a world,' he said, 'in which the few awakened - those bravely disavowing drug use - secretly seek a normal mind for a night or so, then tell the others of what they have seen.'
'And how how are we to be protected from these strange futures, when even the normal mind is forgotten? Whom shall we trust, then?'
'I recall Lawrence's story. Near death from thirst, he was wandering across the dry, shimmering desert furnace near Rhum, where he found on a rocky peak an ancient water hole. The remote spring was only centimeters wide, with sparse green grasses, and a mere trickle of the holy substance. The stones beside it bore Nabaethean inscriptions from migrations a thousand years earlier. In attendance was a blind beggar, crazed from the sun and dying, crouched in a corner. He kept repeating only one thing to Lawrence, in an Arabic dialect.'
'What was that?'
'He said, 'The love is from God, and of God, and to God.''"
"The evening lingered. We shared reflective moments in the quadrangle of Christ Church, until only the waning shouts of Commemoration Day celebrants were heard. He then took both my hands in his, and looked upon me with sadness.
'I must go, friend,' he said with reluctance. 'May your work inspire many.'
I quickly asked, 'Is there something you wish for others to remember?'
'Remember the price that was paid.'"
"Across Dzerzhinsky Square from the Lubyanka, crowds packed Detsky Mir (Children's World), a former state-sponsored emporium filled with stuffed hippopotami and dolls. A puppet theater from one of the 200 permanent Russian children's circuses performed in the street, provoking delighted shrieks from a cluster of otherwise wistful eight-year-old girls. Each had an identical blue ribbon in her hair.
They were the daughters of dead addicts and alcoholics, from an orphanage in the First of May District on the outskirts of Moscow. Pinned to their dresses were plastic cards with no names, reading only 'Children's Home No. 23.'"
"Their wan faces had forlorn glances at real families so close they could almost touch them, To these little ones, with a long prayer for their great happiness, I folded my hands and bowed."
"One could have spent hours before finding an elderly person who recalled the jagged Nazi Siegrunes during the Einstazgruppen mass murders of the Shoah, the Holocaust."
"From some silent, remote retreat he was now forced into an espionage game, a planet of secret meetings that branded one like an iron. A hidden curate in a vast, mystic church, he was an ever-growing question mark."
"I wondered what saved the six chemists from becoming madmen or ecstatics, for the psychological pressures were constant."
"The white women after each client were flushed with deep pink blotches, the insatiable constantly thrown at them. They looked at us openly, and frankly. Among such infinite desire, one felt a profound intoxication of the senses."
"We ended our tour at Delft, a few miles from the coast. We stood beneath the spire of the Nieuwe Kerk, with its wet grey grass and lichens on the church's stone walls. A phosphorescent penumbra from a clear sky moon began spreading all about us. I thought how sweet the graveyard, with its scattering of bluebells."
One of Harvard Yard's Twenty-two Gates
"It was a new mind - not from some unwitting drug exposure - but from the presence of an advanced culture, as if one were a young girl taught by Amazons as her gifts kindled in youth. Normal consciousness seemed but a horrible dispersion of chaotic thoughts and feelings. At a glance now, colors were priceless. To my delight, in lectures the skirmishes of words seemed great battles. At this diminution of archaic thought forces, worldly formulae began to ennoble the walls."
"I remembered from Berlin her tsunami of pleasure, the night wild with joy. Those unaware of such unassailable religious practices might think them the vilest debauchery, as if their stellar triad procured slave girls - Zeitfrauen - as temporary concubines."
"In the pallid candlelight, I could see the enthralling shimmer of her blond hair, her ravishing figure in a tight black tulip, her endless legs down to a set of red stilettos. But it was only golden Hagendas, oddly prying into research at the Large Hadron Collider under Geneva, and fishing for contacts with a researcher from CERN."
"He nodded somberly, but with a detectable air of guardedness, for this CIA Operations officer had forgotten more secrets that most remember. He concluded that his new visitor, presumed as first to be an innocent Harvard matriculant, had perhaps a roguish background that, as in Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, might shift perspective the closer it was observed.
Having seen every species of fauna, he projected a sophisticated, almost indiscernible wariness tempered with the polish cultivated by the clandestine services. We kept it simple. I presented the issue of Afghanistan, and the offer of Stinger missiles. He preferred known waters.
'I'll check with Langley,' he said."
Uzbekistan and Afghanistan
"The Afghan/Tajik border region was infested with smuggler's havens and pure cheap heroin, and attended by village girls and crones addicted into destitution or worse. Like a vision from a Persian mystic, a long camel train passed. saddled with dusty women swaying in flowing black robes. Only their obsidian eyes peered out, fixed resolutely on the next paradise."
"A confounding array of tribesmen crowded the streets, from Mongol Hazaras to blue-eyed Nuristanis and Turkic Uzbeks. Scattered about on tattered rugs, they drank green tea and ate sugar-dusted almonds as small boys in white whisked away the flies. Toothless old men pounded hubcaps into spoons. Skinned lambs hung motionless from nails, while the azan - the call to prayer - summoned the faithful and rose upon the evening air."
"Under the shade of a straggling date palm, beneath a yellow-eyed nanny goat, a little brown girl sat naked as the desert wind. She tugged at the goat's teats, delivering a stream of milk into her mouth."
"Projects were getting out of control. I was due at a meeting on chemical weapons in England, for the Iraqis had just dispersed a cloud of psychoactive gas over Kurd families. A drug policy conference in Mexico was imminent. The General was due soon in D.C. - CIA wouldn't play but State might. Taliban were encamped about Mazar for the final assault. The six chemists were intercepting me for their interviews. Harvard's demands were increasing like an exponential curve into stratospheres of thought. Caught inescapably among these kaleidoscoping involvements, I seemed blocked at every turn. At moments, I almost panicked."
"Short, portly and lethal, the General appeared in his limousine at the State Department port cochere at the appointed hour, together with his eclectic entourage of God-intoxicated mullahs and Uzbek and Hazara commanders, all accompanied by one boyish mass-murderer of note."
"He faced a stony constellation of Beltway Afghan players - all old hands in the Great Game - from clusters of CIA, State and DOD officials to astute, seasoned and incredulous regional diplomats and embassy officials."
"As he finished a frenzy of incisive questions began, Four CIA employees in the back row abruptly stood, rumpled and in shirtsleeves. One opened with a pointed question.
'What is the source of your funds?'
No longer facing wizened, turbaned tribal elders predisposed to allegiance to this illiterate strongman, but confronting the cream of D.C. analysts with decades of electronic dossiers at their fingertips, he faltered.
'Emeralds,' he announced, 'a hoard of emeralds. And currencies seized during the fighting in Kabul.'
An almost subliminal sigh passed collectively among the listeners."
Laos and Thailand
"The men are in tribal dress, with lined faces and long narrow mustaches under a melee of colored head clothes. The strained animals, strapped with layers of ropes over heavy gunny sacks, are slipping and snorting - wild-eyed - on the muddy track. In the blurring heat haze, locusts are swirling in the unreality of their advance. I whisper anxiously to my companion.
'What are they carrying?'
'Heroin. And yaa-baa, methamphetamine.'"
"Without their sarongs, the women are by the pool each night, their skin a shocking bone-white in the moonlight. As they purify in these last days of peace, they silently do ablutions over each other, becoming tumescent from the cool water. They prepare votives on small palm leaves, and set them adrift. There is a white chrysanthemum, swirling."
"They write in elegant hands, notes on medieval rites, and drink fresh juices from a silver flask, or feed each other grapes picked thoughtfully from freckled, warm clusters on a rattan mat. They compose letters with affectionate superscriptions to Thai priests. Soon strewn about the pool are diverse volumes on Lao history, Burmese heroin traffic, Gibbon's more prurient essays on the rape of Rome, and the corpus of exorcisms in the Dialogue of Miracles."
"It is the Floating World of an international conspiracy, unbreachable by those who dare not dream of it. The women's sensual love has the solemnity informed by thought. It is broken only by their laughter, like wild things. They sing in the morning garden, or while cleansing in the dawn seas, and often lie brow to brow, their eyes wide open. The moral atmosphere in which we are immersed sometimes makes it too hot to breathe."
"They sit together for hours, completely naked, slowly swinging back and forth in a lazy splendor, gazing at us. Their magnificent sibyls' eyes radiate a candid and advanced intelligence. Above them palm fronds dance restlessly, nibbled by the sea wind in the cloudless sky."
Harvard Yard, Commencement
"It was a gathering of wizards, with blue sky to crown it. Our futures were woven around these memories: the valedictory images of Harvard's standards in silk hanging from all the oaks and elms, every tree festooned with great medieval gonfalons and banners bearing the heraldic devices of the various Houses and professional schools. They passed softly overhead, like the gentle hands of Providence above those so blessed.
For over three hundred years the first to appear were the Sheriffs of Middlesex and Suffolk counties, in flowing purple and red robes, carrying long wooden staves. The lead Sheriff bore a great silver miter, swaying ponderously like a saint at the Dead Sea. This bright and elevated spectacle - under my new eyes - was underlain with the tragic world at large: the twisted warrens of baked mud huts and earthen floors, flies and beggars and lepers, benighted little brothels, the unheeded shrieks in brutish, filthy rooms.
Presently the Harvard faculties came, with robes of many colors and the silken borders of their alma matres. Little girls with blue ribbons were frolicking by the procession, with garlands of roses in their hair, waiving to them. As the faculty noticed and waved back, their humanity truly shone."
"Both women were holding hands - tightly, like lovers - something I had never seen in them before. Their expressions were identical, as if they were the Hetaerae, high courtesans of ancient Greece, about to entertain a deux."
"There were no farewells from the two women, no smiles. The cab pulled away as I looked back at them. They stood with a flawless, trained posture, hands together in prayer, as if their nakedness for endless mornings had been covered only by humble robes. Their images grew smaller. Even now, I see their eyes."
Paris, Basel, Mazar-i-Sharif, Bangkok, and - finally - Wamego, Kansas
"It is the ocean of you I remember most, when we joined our breath in the universal pattern, and I first saw your rapturous face and heard your wanton cries of delight. Now that you know the truth of me, and I of you, how can we ever be with another?"
"The edge of this page, and the end of this letter, is like a heartless amnesia that can never be filled. I must stop for now. I know, I know."
"In Kansas this day, where the wind has turned a point or two northward. Rain and cloud swirl like smoke over the missile silo. The research subject's lack of veracity troubles me. His girl is forlorn, with a mask of false laughter, and deserted by good sense. The clouds are changing too rapidly, like a secret storm.
Do you know of the Angel of Mons? In the Great War, after weeks of shelling and countless deaths in the trenches of Mons, Belgium, the British were in retreat, the sky shot through with blood and light. Many witnesses saw an angel in the sky, guiding the boys home. These clouds are like that - the Angel of Mons.
Know that all women were only shadows of you. Know that I go wrinkled before you, to prepare heaven. Know that you were always my sweet moon craft, the gift of the Risen Lord.
It is too late to discipline the heart. In loving triumph, I send you the secret formula for - the chemistry of tears."
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