We are pleased to welcome Simon G. Powell as November 2012 author of the Month. After graduating from UCL in 1992, Simon G. Powell suffered an extended bout of ‘mushroom fever’ brought on by excessive psilocybin use. After this ‘mushroom fever’ subsided, he was left with a case of chronic biophilia compounded by chronic gaiaphilia. This curious condition, which turned out to be permanent and quite stimulating, led him to write a number of unorthodox books – including The Psilocybin Solution (2011 – and with a foreword by Graham Hancock) and Darwin’s Unfinished Business (2012). He also felt compelled to write and direct two radical film documentaries: Manna and Metanoia – both of which are up on Youtube. Simon has just released a new song on iTunes (and similar sites) called Good Trip.
Simon G. Powell’s published books, interviews, music, and more can be accessed through www.simongpowell.com
Author’s Note: The following essay is from a journal I kept in the 1990s that documented my psilocybin experiences. I will be incorporating this material into a new book.
Seeking supernormal inspiration, I determined to visit the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew in Richmond, south of the Thames, and do some perceptual fieldwork there. This glorious plant sanctuary provides a wonderful opportunity to confront some of Nature’s more exotic creations housed safely within Kew’s splendid Victorian greenhouses. As soon as I arrived, I discreetly downed several mouthfuls of recently gathered psilocybin mushrooms and awaited the dimensional translation of my perception. I was, it must be said, a little apprehensive, especially since I was in a public place.
The effects began to emerge whilst I was walking around Kew’s vast and resplendent grounds. As ever, my senses were suddenly open to a surge of external reality as if I had woken up from the sleep of normal consciousness. I came across a yew tree, upon which a sign declared it to have been worshipped as sacred in pre-Christian times. I carefully plucked one of its numerous reddish berries and begun to almost stagger in awe at the dark seed sitting curiously loosely inside. I marveled at the natural design, for the seed looked as though it were the softly embedded occupant of a refined space vessel cunningly designed to deliver it to fertile ground where its genetic legacy could be expressively released.
A number of daunting spectacles confronted me as I approached my ultimate destination—the King Kong-like ‘cage’ of the tropical Palm House. My Goddess, it was incredible! I was surely walking upon sacred ground! The fresh chill October air invigorated me, birdsong cut through the icy surround, whilst a perfect blue sky loomed overhead. I sensed in that morning the mystical touch of eternity pervading all and everything.
Now I knew, as I approached the Palm House, that within there awaited the warm and humid atmosphere of its tropical flora. The air would be vibrant with life. But, under the uncanny influence of psilocybin, how would I be received into this bionomic unit? Would the caged botanical meta-creature within be sensitive to my unusual advances?
What transpired within remains highly personal and largely incommunicable, bound as I am to the limits of the English language. Suffice it to say that I was under the impression that some curious communication of information occurred between myself and the tropical plant life. It was as if the dense green slowly moving plant network around me was a place where occult aspects of the Gaian system ‘flowed’ strongly, a good place to ‘tune in’, as it were, to the Ultimate Organism. I must be somewhat coy here and state that I entertained this idea whilst under the effects of psilocybin, knowing full well that it would appear, in sober retrospect, to be a fantastical and fanciful interpretation. Nonetheless, it really seemed as though the unfamiliar exotic plants were a living manifestation of intelligence, albeit of an almost static kind, somehow conducting a diffuse intentionality of some sort.
The informational communication seemed to stem from outside my ego, in that I encountered streams of revelatory thought. As ever, I found it difficult, in that moment, to infer that this phenomenon was a production of my unconscious, for it seemed impossible that such diverse, creative, and intelligible forms of information could arise from a personal unconscious—unless, that is, the unconscious was itself part of some intelligent presence connected with Gaia, or the biosphere.
That a vivid communication of information can flood the psilocybinetic brain is the goal of the neo-shamanic enterprise, for it rests upon this experience of contacting the Other, an organized intelligence of some kind, that is not ‘us’. If, for the sake of argument, we maintain that this Other is identifiable with the unconscious, then psychedelics like psilocybin effectively demonstrate that the unconscious can display autonomous processes. When you talk to someone, read a book, or see a movie, then you know for sure that the information being accessed could in no way have come from your own ‘I’; rather it was put together from some other source of intentional intelligence (i.e. the psyche of another person). This is exactly what the psilocybin experience can feel like at its peak, that an autonomous transcendental Other is being accessed.
At first though, a rush of ‘unfinished business’ surged up from the depths of my psyche, and for perhaps half an hour I tackled these psychological obstacles until I actually managed to resolve the problems. I learned that without a clear, unblocked mind, one cannot attain wisdom and knowledge. One’s psyche must be cleaned of neurotic detritus and of all the worries and petty concerns which normally vie for our attention. And the only way to do this psychical cleaning is to engage in a prolonged period of active mentation, a process which the mushroom seems to aid.
Once my mind was free of distraction, I begun to study the plant forms in the Palm House. I cannot begin to convey the beauty pervading these dynamic organisms, these muscular green organs of Gaia, standing around me like benign light-munching triffids. I oscillated between an instinctual fear of being ‘noticed’ by the plants, as though I were amidst a den of vipers (many of the plant species were poisonous) and that they knew that I knew…. and a feeling of reverence for them. It was certainly the greatest display of vital energy I have ever had the good fortune of apprehending; a rich, diverse, living testament to naturally refined bio-molecular engineering, far more impressive than any man-made creation. It is as if psilocybin temporarily lifts a veil and we see the miracles of life in all their infinite glory, a glory normally hidden to us perhaps because of our predominately utilitarian approach to Nature.
As for the unusually elaborate tropical flowers in bloom, well, I have to admit that observing them at close range was nothing short of perceptual intercourse, a kind of abstract intellectual sex with plants to the point of unabashed rudeness. Indeed, I had to constantly check that my intimate perceptual encounters with these plant’s sexual organs were going on unseen lest I be thrown out of the Palm House for botanical perversion. The flowers seemed to represent great intellectual, or mathematical, statements that, through psilocybin, I could apprehend and blend with, as if I were partaking in a higher perfected language that proceeded without the slightest hindrance or ambiguity. The sensation of being drawn into these floral designs through a resonance between the subtleties of design and my perceptions thereof, was overwhelming to the point of ecstasy.
Forcibly freeing myself from the cunning grasp of the flowers, I next came across a decidedly unusual species of plant. What do I mean unusual? It was more like something futuristic, as though its particular genetic code were immeasurably sophisticated compared with other plants. At first I was convinced that it must have been artificial. Its many protruding branches all possessed a perfect new leaf unfurling at the very tip, and these appeared to be identical…. and plastic. So, I thought, I had been taken in like a fool! This plant was obviously a latest example of those appalling pseudo-plants one unfortunately finds dotted about banks and shopping centers…
Adopting the persona of Sir David Attenborough, I carefully grasped a leaf and made a minuscule incision, an action defendable on the grounds of empirical enquiry and, well, psychedelic suspicion. Immediately, thick white latex sap began to ooze out of the cut, and I realized with relief that it was the presence of latex infused throughout this astonishing (rubber) plant which might be connected with the plastic look of the leaves.
Here then was the origin of rubber itself. I suddenly began to conceive of rubber tree plantations as being contemporary biotechnological organs of the biosphere, their exudation of rubber being indispensable for our technology. And, as the plaque in front of one of the Palm House’s other rubber trees pointed out, it was also the case that synthetic rubber could not match the qualities of natural rubber. Indeed, I later discovered that scientists have been unable to exactly synthesize natural rubber. What is more, such a unique natural substance defies a satisfactory explanation for its fortuitous existence in the rubber tree. For, to argue that it serves to seal up wounds on the tree is to ignore the fact that all trees possess protection in the form of bark. And even if the function of latex was protection, it does not explain why rubber molecules should be present within it. Rubber is simply a unique and invaluable expression of Nature, embodying a remarkable set of technologically-useful material qualities found nowhere else in the natural world.
I stood before the rubber tree as if I were before some holy output device for Nature’s inherent information processing intelligence. I wondered at the complex genetic sequences of DNA which must lie buried within each and every cell of the rubber tree in order that it forge such a rare compound impossible to manufacture in the lab. And yet I realized that most of us are unlikely to conceive of items such as condoms as being the handy population-restricting extensions of the rubber tree. Nor are we likely to marvel at its extended presence in the motor industry. With the enhanced perception granted through the mushroom, the plant kingdom suddenly loomed up before me as if it were a dispersed alienesque organism symbiotically entwined within our species and our technology.
Later, a moment came as I sat in hyper-contemplation of life’s mystery, when I felt a perfect state of being wash over me. It was, I believe, a brief flash of enlightenment, a blissful state of mind when everything, absolutely everything, was as it should be. My psyche was charged with superconsciousness, as glistening crystalline thoughts flowed into one another with mathematical precision and clarity.
I sat gazing at a small shallow pool of water at my feet, in which I discerned a perfect reflection of the blue sky beyond the glass roof of the Palm House above me. As I considered this perfect and infinitely deep reflection, I thought it remarkable that light could be so reflected without loss of information. Then, a drop of water fell into the shallow pool from above, having originally condensed from the periodic fine sprays of water that serve to keep the greenhouse humid. This single drop of water temporarily shattered the perfect reflection of light, and instantly there appeared a series of expanding circular ripples that flowed out from the minute splashes. These ripples flowed into one another causing a series of unique interference waves which were eventually absorbed by the pool as equilibrium was restored. Once more the water was still, the disruption lasting no more than a second. Yet the psilocybin allowed me to experience the process as being drawn out in time, as if the grain and depth of my perception had increased, providing me with more ‘room’ to perceive. As the water stilled, the reflected light resolved itself into a coherent whole, but just as I perceived this coherent holistic reflection, another drop of water fell creating another interference pattern. Again the rings were absorbed and again the perfect reflection emerged.
I sat mesmerized by this process, particularly at the point where the whole image resolved itself. I felt convinced that here, at work, was an important universal principle or universal process. This impression was very strong, though it was an intuitive feeling, as though the idea of interference waves temporarily veiling a perfect reflection was such a powerful metaphor symbolizing life and our quest for understanding, that it would only be fully graspable at a much later time.
Each time the pool stilled itself, a holistic pattern of reflection seemed to ‘click’ into being at a precise moment. As the holistic pattern of reflected light coalesced again and again, I felt an ecstatic sensation of wholeness, as if I too were merging with the whole picture. As interference melted away, all was revealed as connected, and this process left me awash with awe and exultation.
It was also apparent that the small reflective pool was itself formed from the drops of water, these same drops ultimately interfering with the reflective process. A self reinforcing paradox then: like some cosmic dance of information that expressed the riddle of existence. Or, was it all some imaginative trick of my intoxicated mind?
My conclusion on this matter, based upon similar experiences, is that the mushroom allows one to listen to Nature as if she were a powerful teacher, a notion commonly held by many native peoples. Although such a belief might appear foolish and primitive, I have come to suspect that it contains some profound wisdom and insight that predates our modern Gaia theory and further, that psilocybin fungi can be used to help us recover this wisdom.