Which is why it was so delightful that the London 2012 Opening Ceremony celebrated the wonder that is the NHS a few dozen hours after Romneyshambles managed to disparage it, the Olympics itself and America’s closest ever military ally in a single -inexplicable- breath.
Even without this masterstroke of cosmic, comic timing, the universal provision of health care should be celebrated. (And protected!) It’s probably the best thing this country has done since the war.
From a wizard’s perspective, however, health care -even the universal kind- can only ever kick an inevitable can down a very finite road.
Consider this observation from Dr Sheldrake:
Most doctors take a pragmatic view of their abilities, and recognise that there are limits to the power of medicine. A conquest of one disease, or at least its diminution, must inevitably increase the death rate from other diseases. If all heart disease could be prevented or cured, then death rates from cancer would go up. If all cancers could be cured, then death rates from other causes would increase. And as new drugs and new techniques become ever more expensive, and as more people survive to old age, the costs of treatment are becoming increasingly unaffordable, even in the richest countries.
Let’s break it down into some specific numbers.
In the US, 30% of the Medicare budget -which pays for 65+ healthcare- is spent on the patient’s last year of life. 78% of that amount is spent in the last month.
Did your eyes narrow when you read those numbers? Wizards, it seems, just like cats, can be rubbed the wrong way. Reading between the lines, we can see the admirable and dedicated efforts of heroic health care professionals… but we can also see modern society’s misapplication of emphasis toward the meat suit above all else.
The reality is that a large percentage of people opt for an earlier, less-painful death at home rather than extend their lives for a few weeks with tubes and pain. However, there really isn’t a process in place for this beyond “go home and be with your family.” You would struggle to find a worthwhile outpatient policy for the nearly-departed anywhere in the First World.
When my mother the psychonaut’s father died, more or less his last words were “I know God will look after Joyce.” And fortunately, like most men of his generation, he genuinely believed that God would. (They had one of those “this marriage is certified authentic by the Pope” certificates above their bed and everything.) Mother has all this under control, obviously, but when my own father’s time comes around I know his spiritual camel humps won’t be quite so full and this troubles me.
Because we weren’t always this shit at squaring with death before it happened. In fact, for a very long while there we were pretty damn good at it.
Mankind had the Eleusinian Mysteries for longer than we have had Christianity.
Let that sink in. They ran for over two thousand years.
And that’s just the variant of them we can actually find in the historical record. Because, of course, they possess some truly ancient antecedents.
Which lines up neatly with Jake Stratton-Kent’s description of the lengths of time under discussion in Geosophia.
These Mysteries perpetuated traditions and practices far older than the Classical Olympian state religion. Some were of such extreme antiquity that their origins and meanings frequently defied the scholarly efforts of Classical Greek culture. To illustrate, the beginnings of Mycenaean culture preceded Classical Greece by as great a period as the Classical period preceded the Crusades. The beginnings of Minoan culture preceded Classical Greece by as great a period as the Classical period precedes our own times. In other words, while it is common to speak of Ancient Greece, the beginnings of Greek culture were already ancient in Classical times.
And that drops us neatly in front of the kykeon – the sacrament at the heart of the mystery. It is interesting to note a few things about the likeliest contender for active molecule in this entheogenic brew:
- It’s the same chemical found in Mesoamerican shamanic journeying aids, in use for centuries.
- It’s really only been in the last 80 years that we’ve been able to nail this down. Whilst we have been aware of ergot poisoning for a while, it was the discovery of LSD and the observation of its effects that allowed us to retroactively speculate, as it were.
Speaking of LSD, its creator and I were on the same page:
Modern scholars (including Albert Hofmann) hypothesize that Kykeon could have likely been wine made with ergot, a precursor to LSD. Ergot is an LSA-rich fungus that parasitizes certain grains known to have grown in the Mediterranean region. The combination of ergot and natural acetyldehyde in wine may have produced LSH, a chemical with around 75% the potency of LSD and psychoactive effects powerful enough to inspire a religious cult that lasted close to 2000 years.
There are a few reasons why LSA is the best contender for the Eleusinian spirit molecule… some are magic, some are historical, some are personal.
- A barley-based drink is a much better match for the ascendant deity, Demeter, than -say- magic mushrooms.
- Homer only lists three ingredients. He was an initiate so he’s probably lying but the consensus is it is a lie of omission rather than a total fabrication. Yes, it was essentially just barley and water, but the barley carried the ergot fungus.
- Thinking about it, it’s a lot easier to cultivate a fungus on a grain than it is to harvest large amounts of mushrooms in the hot, coastal, Ancient Greek climate.
- The kykeon was consumed at the end of a week’s celebrations as the initiates entered the sacred area. After their journey to the other/underworld, they carried on drinking and partying through the night. I don’t know if you’ve ever taken mushrooms but this is a lot easier to do with LSA. And, as the above quote indicates, it reacts “well” with red wine.
- Strictly for scientific purposes you understand, on Tuesday I booked a day of leave, legalishly took a moderate dose of LSA, waited for the effects to kick in and then visited Kew Gardens. There is certainly an affinity with plant life that differs from psilocybin… they seem to ‘hum’ like you can detect the different gradations of consciousness going starting with your higher self, through the plant kingdom, then water, then ending with rocks.
It’s fascinating to tinker with the components of a mystery school; its mythology, its active chemicals and a broad approximation of its setting…. but it’s rather like understanding Formula 1 by visiting a Toyota factory.
You know the parts do something pretty cool, but that’s all you’ll know.
And boy do those parts do something pretty cool.
Given that the evidence that consciousness exhibits non-local effects is fairly unassailable, we are going to adopt the metaphor of the brain as a satellite dish or antenna, picking up your consciousness’s radio signal.
Entheogens are like adjusting your antenna with a single, firm swing from a baseball bat. Suddenly you are picking up so much more than Everybody Loves Raymond.
Psychedelics help addiction by making the brain function more chaotically for a period, “like shaking up a snow globe, weakening reinforced brain connections and dynamics.
That’s how they work so well as addiction interruptors and initiatory aids.
Remember the book game?
I have a similar one called the Supervillain Game in which you speculate what you would do with unlimited money and a private island that may or may not be in the shape of your own head.
My Supervillain Island is actually pretty tame.
Picture Sir Richard Branson’s island before it burned down, except as a place for palliative care, addiction treatment and spiritual exploration.
There would be a space for the use of iboga to treat serious addiction, there would be individual pods for mushroom and LSA experimentation… and there would be Peruvian shamans on staff for ayahuasca rituals.
(If there’s room, there would also be a private section of the island for experimenting with intravenous DMT… like a continuous version of Dr Strassman’s test. What kind of communication could you build up with beings from another dimension if you had ten full-time psychonauts, unlimited time and unlimited money? You’d end up with some kind of transdimensional sign language and just think of the kind of tech you could bring back as a result.)
Clearly this is never going to happen in our lifetimes. But it frequently falls to the wizard to offer solace to those facing the inevitable journey or those that have loved ones who are. As such, here’s an analogue to my Eleusinian Supervillain Island in media form, built for someone coming at this from the perspective of zero religious or spiritual belief.
So here’s a list of deprogramming hacks in a very specific order.
Firstly, you’d want to get their heads around the idea that consciousness is not endogenous to the brain and that there are literally tens of thousands of NDEs available from which to build a reasonable picture of what to expect. Counters to the tired, wrong criticism are as follows:
- The idea that images of light tunnels are caused by the brain running out of oxygen is ridic because there are hundreds of cases of OBE/NDEs that contain verifiable information (what nurses were doing, etc) following periods of complete brain inactivity. People have hade OBE/NDEs while in MRI machines… no lights were on but someone was very definitely near home. Remember that you only need one instance to disprove this frustratingly persistent notion. You have hundreds to choose from.
- The idea that awareness of what is happening to you in an emergency room/surgery situation is some kind of unconsciousness sensory processing (feel free to ‘explain’ that, by the way) is categorically disproved by the instances of blind people providing accurate visual descriptions of what is going on around them during OBEs.
Then you’d want to buy them cardiologist Pim Van Lommel’s excellent book on this exact subject. At the very least, you’d want to watch this low-quality YouTube documentary on NDEs which includes extended interviews with the good doctor. (Then bounce around YouTube looking for him because there are a few fascinating -and certainly more recent- videos.)
Only after would you unleash the classic…. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross. I say after because, despite my own personal belief that her life’s work is an absolute masterpiece and one of the most important contributions to our understanding of grief and death for centuries… she does episodically stray into table-tipping and other behaviours which look perfectly fine to wizards but require minds that have been pried open a crack beforehand. (She has such a huge amount of value to offer, I would hate to see people discouraged by her woo… and I’ve seen it happen.)
Then I would consider an authentic, extreme entheogenic experience. Max a credit card and hit up one of the more reputable ayahuasca tours up the Amazon. This is a plant spirit on a civilising mission. Don’t think you’re trespassing.
But seriously, after a couple of books and a slightly opened mind, this would be the time to king hit them with the unshakeable realisation that they are not their meatsuits.
Get a little ghosty.
By now, the combination of non-local consciousness effects, the overwhelming case for NDEs (and thus DEs) and the existence of ‘other places’ should hopefully free up some mental space for a bit of wizardly experimentation.
To this, I’d say pick a flavour that suits. Or just watch this really crazy documentary about some fairly potent séances.
The fifth point is actually also point zero.
It is a genuine and earnest exhortation to run yourself through this list before time motivates you to do so. Because that was very likely the secret to the longevity and popularity of the Eleusinian Mysteries. The sooner you square with the Big D, the better.
There is no unlearning the knowledge that you continue after death. It changes everything. It makes food taste better, it makes love feel rarer, it makes hurt feel shorter.
From that point on, your universe can only ever get bigger. Bigger and brighter. It’s pretty damn awesome.