You are a Devine Being
“You are a divine being. You matter, you count. You come from realms of unimaginable power and light, and you will return to those realms.” ~ Terence McKenna
From the Lecture Unfolding the Stone: Making and Unmaking History and Language.
This has not been an easy ten months for the people of this planet or the planet itself. I want to reach back tonight and invoke a vanished tradition, get to the heart of it and try to show how we can bring this forward in our lives to empower hope in the most dark of situations and even make these dark situations the raw material of a clearer, stronger hope than might ordinarily be the case. A few days ago I was talking to a friend of mine and he wanted to tell me the story of sitting in the presence of a 104-year-old Vietnamese monk. The guy had basically kept his mouth shut, the monk, and hadn’t said much around the monastery where he just sort of cleans up. Then he announced he wanted to talk about meditation and he opened his remarks by saying, “we are all luminous beings, why then do we not appear before each other radiant in our lumination?”
This is the conundrum of life. This is the problem. It was T.S. Eliot who said, “Between the idea and the reality, between the motion and the act, falls the shadow.” Why is that? As psychedelic people, this is the problem that we grapple with in our own lives and when we look out at the world. You’ve heard me say many times, we have the vision, we have the money, we have the technology but why can we not then appear before each other as radiantly luminous beings and why cannot we reclaim our planet from toxification, disease, overpopulation, and bonehead politics. You know the list. What is the hang up here? What is the problem? Why is perfection so distant?
Well what I’ve learned from life, vegetables, travels, and books can be summed up in two Greek words. It’s the central message of the philosopher Heraclitus. He was always my favorite philosopher but whenever I would read about him, he was called the crying philosopher. I had to live to be 44 years old to understand the poignancy of Heraclitus’ message. He said in a nutshell, Panta rhei. All flows. Nothing lasts. Nothing is permanent. This is the hardest message life has to teach because what it says is: your joy is transient, your anguish is transient, your fortune, your home, your dream, your moments of great ecstasy, your moments of great insight and your moments of great empowerment. Everything is flowing through your hands at the moment that you are aware of it.
William Blake, who in a way set this engine going a couple of centuries ago said, “What is the price of experience? Is it bought for a song or wisdom for a dance in the street? No, it is bought with all that a man hath. His wife, his home, his children.” Now this is not a pessimistic message and William Blake was not a pessimistic guy. He was the same guy who told us that if we could but cleanse the doors of perception, we would perceive the world as it is: infinite in a grain of sand. How can we take this poignancy, this sense of impermanence, and weld it into something that is paradoxically indestructible and has meaning in our lives and gives us not only the strength to carry on but also the power to be exemplars. The power to stand up before other people and let them feel the power of vision in the paradox of permanence in the face of the need for indestructibility.
To answer that question, I felt that we had to leave the narrow confines of 20th century thinking and we had to reach back into the byways of human thought that have been, by most of us, somewhat passed over and forgotten. After all, modern life makes great demands on us. It’s enough just to keep your checkbook balanced and your insurance paid. We can’t all spend our time delving in the libraries of noetic, Gnostic, Hermetic and magical traditions. But I thought it was worthwhile to talk to you about this tonight because we have been through such a difficult ten months.
It was also Heraclitus, the all flows guy, who said ‘all is war.’ All is war. What he meant was, everything occurs in the presence of it’s opposite and out of that, there is generated the friction, the heat and the light that all comes together in an indissoluble package as part of life. So what I want to talk to you about tonight and how it relates to unfolding the stone is the notion of alchemy of all things. Alchemy as I’m sure many of you know, is really the secret tradition of the redemption of spirit from matter. Many of you may imagine that alchemy is simply a discredited pre-scientific obsession of unbalanced minds interested in changing base metals into gold; lead into the stuff of commerce. This is the beknighted reputation that alchemy has acquired in the century so given over to the literal, the material and the non-spiritual that it lost all touch with the adumbrations of meaning that vibrate behind the perceptions of the alchemist.
The central conception of alchemy is the conception of the philosopher’s stone. What is it? It’s the universal panacea at the end of time. It’s the chocolate cake that your mother made once a week when you were a child. It is the pana supersubstantialis. It’s all things to all men and all women. If you’re hungry, you eat it. If you’re dirty, you shower under it. If you need to go somewhere, you sit on it and you fly there. If you have a question, it answers it. It’s something that the human mind senses in itself and is related to, invoked and worshipped over centuries, before the slow rise of the patriarchy, rationalism and materialism turned it into a myth and a fairy tale.
It is not a myth or a fairy tale. It is the burning primary reality that lies behind the dross of appearances. Alchemy is based on a philosophy called Hermeticism that was developed in the first and second centuries by Gnostic thinkers, Greeks, Jews and people inside the Roman Empire as it was beginning to show the first signs of degradation and decay that felt a profound disaffection with their world. A disaffection that on the scale of those times was as profound as our own existential disaffection. The Hermetic philosophers drew back from the rise of Christianity with its doctrine of the fall of man, original sin and the stain of Adam and Eve. These hermeticists took a different tact and made two points that I think we need to recover and live out for ourselves.
The first point was that ‘man,’ which means men and women - human beings - are divine beings. Not lower than the angels but higher than the angels. The message of the alchemical and hermetic thinkers and the corpus hermeticum actually uses the phrase; “Man is God’s brother.” We have no idea what it would mean in our own lives if we could throw off the notion of ourselves as fallen beings. We are not fallen beings. When you take into your life the gnosis of the light filled vegetables, the psychedelic plants that have stabilized the same societies of this world for millennia, the first message that comes to you is that you are a divine being. You matter. You count. You come from realms of unimaginable power and light and you will return to those realms.
The second point that these philosophers wanted to make was that fate can be overcome. Fate can be overcome! Now for the Greco-Hellenic world, what that meant was the starry engines of the machinery of fate that they saw strewn across the night sky. They were intensely aware of the power of the zodiac, the stellar shells inhabited by demons that extended out to the unimaginable imperium of the all father that was beyond fate. Into that world of astrological fatedness, which is such a strong idea for the Greek mind, the hermeticist announced that fate can be overcome and they have a novel answer for how this could be done. It can be done through magic. A word not often enough heard in the present world.
The overcoming of fate is achieved through magic and then the stellar machinery becomes not an invasive force into one’s life but an empowering force. Now, some of us may believe in astrology and some of us may not, but we are all strongly influenced by the notion that fate and of our powerlessness in an existential world. John Paul Sartre said that nature is mute and we, embedded in the media dense, message dense and programming dense matrix of these hyper societies that we have created – often feel like hapless atoms running endlessly according to the blueprints and programs of unseen masters. Whether it’s the banking industry, Madison Avenue, whoever, we tend to disempower ourselves. We tend to believe that we don’t matter and in the act of taking that idea to ourselves, we give everything away to somebody else and to something else. So the rebirth of the sense of the stone and its possibility within each of us entails these two ideas - our divinity and our power to overcome fate. There is no inevitability in our lives unless we submit to the idea of inevitability and then give ourselves over to it. I wish there were more jokes but it’s just been such a tough go. It’s been a tough go, I have to tell you.
Where can we look in the world to see some confirmation of what I’m saying? How can we draw it down from being an airy-fairy rap of a bardic Irishman? Well, I think the place to look is history. If you go to the academies, those Ivory towers that Tim Leary was talking about and ask, what is history? They will tell you that it is a random walk. They will tell you it’s an endlessly pointless fluctuation. Empires rise and fall. Migrations of people come and go. It is essentially meaningless. I don’t believe this. I don’t even think there is strong evidence for it because what I perceive when I look at the world, not only the world of history but the world of nature out of which history has emerged, I see novelty. I see something wonderful, maddening, paradoxical, ever increasing and ever more conserved. Every iota of novelty that comes into existence is somehow saved and passed on. That’s why when we walk or drive down Melrose, we see Egyptian fashion motifs and we see fashion statements drawn from the 14th century, the 2nd century, Assyria, Egypt and Angkor Wat. All of the novelty of history coalesces in the living moment. It’s always been that way. Every society in the moment of its existence has lived as a resonance, a completion and a distillation - a good alchemical word - of what has proceeded before.
The alchemy idea that spirit can be redeemed from matter begins to get teeth when you connect the idea of spirit to the idea of novelty, which has not ordinarily be done. Novelty is the life of the party and the life of the party is to be high-spirited. This is what we need to focus on as the thread of the dark labyrinth of the prison of the material world that can lead us back to the light. The universe is an engine for the production of novelty. It always has been since the first moment of the big bang, 20 to 25 billion years ago. Simpler states have been replaced by more complex states, which have then set the stage for greater complexity.
The drift of this then is the emergence of language, tools, culture and higher ideals, like courage and love and self-sacrifice. These ideas are not flukes, sports or mistakes. These are further steps along the way in the process of the great alchemical furnace of being – heating and casting, dissolving and recasting, purifying and recasting alchemical gold. So, hard as the world may appear, dark as the hour may appear, in reality we exist in a dimension of greater opportunity, greater freedom and greater possibility than has ever been. The challenge is to not drop the ball. The challenge is to know this, to act on it and to slough off all the leeches, back handlers, weasels and crypto-fascists who want to deny that and turn man into a machine for their own purposes.
Alchemy has always perceived this and has delineated stages in the transformational process. These stages are worth talking about, not in the details, but in the two bipolar states that define this. They used a bastard Latin and they called them the Nigredo and the Albedo. The Nigredo is the precondition for transformation and what is it? It’s shit. It’s detritus. It’s flotsam. It’s debris. It’s being HIV positive. It’s being deep into your 4th marriage and sinking fast. It’s bankruptcy. It’s serum hepatitis. It’s the inevitable dark night of the soul that comes upon us, and these dark nights of the soul come on all of us. Nobody gets through this world without a little dung raining down on them. Believe me, you may evade it for decades but then there’ll be a knock on the door. It’s said that the millstones of fate grind slowly but they grind exceedingly fine.
So what do we do with that? The answer is, we welcome it. This is what the alchemists awaited: the Nigredo, the prima materia, the dark matter and the chaos that is the precondition then for redemption. And God knows, we’ve got lots of chaos right now. We have war, famine, and revolution, millions of homeless people on the move. The nation state is dissolving. The relief agencies of the world can’t keep up. The various secret societies, mafias and cabals that have always tried to tie us into chains, they’re all working overtime. We are in the nigredo condition. Hallelujah. This means that the kissing has to stop but the fun can begin; the real fun.
The other end of this bipolar condition in alchemy was called the albedo. The albedo, the whitening, and that means out of the chaos can come a new beginning, a new reality, and a new hope. These alchemists existed in a philosophically more naïve, quote “more naïve” world than we do - so they actually projected onto the processes of matter their own interior psychic condition. They did work with matter, fire, furnaces and retorts and what they would do is - they would take the prima materia, lead or excrement or something else, and then they would heat it. They would turn it to ash and then calcinate the ash, or pour solvents through the ash and get an extract, and then heat that and sublimate it. Out of this, almost as a footnote, came modern chemistry, but that was not the important side of it. The important side of it was that they were projecting mental states onto the swirling retorts of their laboratory. It was like a magical mirror for them. It was in fact, dare we say the P word; it was psychedelic. What psychedelic means is getting your mind out in front of you by whatever means necessary so that you can relate to it as a thing in the world and then work upon it.
So from the nigredo to the albedo, there were a series of these stages. Now I said a few minutes ago that magic was the key and by magic I mean, the reclaiming and the reconstruction of language to a sufficient degree that it becomes at first possible, then probable, then inevitable to each one of us, that miracles can happen. Miracles can happen! The Grateful Dead have a song, “we need a miracle everyday.” We do need a miracle everyday. Well is that too tall an order? I don’t think so.
Years ago, one of these talking vegetables said to me, “mind conjures miracles out of time.” Out of time! Time is the prima materia on which the alchemical process works. The alchemist, again in their ‘naïve’ way, believed that precious metals, diamonds, gold and sapphires actually grew in the earth because from the alchemical point of view, everything was alive. My friend Rupert Sheldrake is leading the charge to create a new birth of that perception inside science. The idea that nature, all of nature, is alive. Not simply organic cellular nature but that the earth itself is a living being. So mind conjures miracles out of time. The proof that this can be done and it’s an incontrovertible truth - and I defy any naysayer or bring-down to overcome it - is ourselves. We are the proof that mind can conjure miracles out of time. If it weren’t for us, there would just be birds, foxes, coral reefs, and glaciers, but nature was not content with that level of novelty. A million years ago; 100,000 years ago, nature grew discontented. It said, let’s raise the ante. Let’s go to higher stakes poker in this planetary game. Let the monkeys speak. Let them build fires. Let them elaborate tools. Let them march forward onto the stage of creation. And remember I said that Hermetic faith was that humankind could act as the brothers and sisters of God. Not moats in God’s creation, but co-partners in the invocation out of being of yet greater novelty. Why? It is for play, for fun, just the cosmic madness of it all, and the pure cussedness of it all to raise the stakes higher and higher and higher. Now, I keep going back to this thing of ‘can it be done?’ I want to convince you because I’m so certain.
I love Herman Melville and his rhetoric, and friend’s of the whale, bear with me. For Herman Melville, the whale was not the endangered creature it is today. It was the dark cosmic God of Christianity that haunts us and tries to pull us down. There’s a wonderful speech in Moby Dick where Starbuck, the first mate - you remember wimpy little Starbuck, he stood for Christian right reason - he says to Captain Ahab, “to seek revenge on a dumb brute seems blasphemy.” Ahab says, “Blasphemy Starbuck? Speak not to me of blasphemy; I would strike out the sun if it insulted me. For could it do that, then could I do the other? For there is ever a sort of fair play.” That’s the point of that rap. There is a sort of fair play. You’ve been told from the cradle that the deck was stacked against you with the fall of man, original sin and so forth and so on. It’s bullshit! It’s absolute bullshit. There is a sort of fair play and if you can get in touch with that in your life.
When Mohammed wouldn’t come to the mountain, the mountain came to Mohammed. That’s fair play! If you can have that perception, the world will begin to work for you. It will begin to move towards you as the mountain moved to Mohammed. The mushrooms said to me once, nature loves courage. Nature loves courage and I said – what’s the payoff on that? It said, it shows you that it loves courage because it will remove obstacles. You make the commitment and nature will respond to that commitment by removing impossible obstacles. Dream the impossible dream and the world will not grind you up. It will lift you up. This is the trick. This is what all these teachers and philosophers, the one’s who really counted, who really touched the alchemical gold – this is what they understood. This is the shamanic dance in the waterfall. This is how magic is done. It’s done by hurling yourself into the abyss and discovering that it’s a feather bed. There’s no other way to do it. This is why I have always taken the position, that as modern people we can’t go out and set arms marching or launch religions - who would want to anyhow - but to the people who say adventure has fled, that it’s all humdrum, I just know that they have forgotten the 5 grams of psilocybin in their refrigerator.
Magellan may have had excitement rounding the horn but you in your living room later tonight can put him in the shade if you have the courage to do the things that are necessary to do, and we know what they are. The first thing to do is to tell society to fuck off because they don’t know what’s going on. This is a matter between the person and the plant. It is a matter between the person and the planet. All the detritus of history and all the games that people have tried to lay on you; know that they just want to get you down in the ditch they’re in. We know this because aboriginal societies have never broken the faith. The living gnosis is still there and not only for people who paint themselves blue and dance around buck-naked but for us as well. It takes an act of courage - not a weekend at Esalen and not a trip to the ashram where they tell you that if you sweep up for a dozen years then they’ll hand on a whammy. No, the speed with which you can reach depth is under 45 seconds if you know where the elevator shaft is, and you do. I don’t have to tell you, I’ve been telling you.
There’s one more alchemical metaphor, or stage, that I want to mention here because I think it refers to this psychedelic possibility. Not all the alchemists included this stage in their recensions of the work, but for me, I think it’s central. Again in their church of bastardized church Latin, they called it the cauda pavonis, the peacock’s tail. Now the physical basis of this, if you ever played around with metal and fire, there are certain metals when they pass to a certain temperature range, iridescent colors play across the surface and sometimes even freeze. In the glazing of pottery at low temperatures, like in Raku, what these pottery masters are aiming for are these wonderful iridescent surfaces that play across the glaze and then can be frozen into it.
This is the peacock’s tail and in alchemy, this was thought to precede the final whitening. This is the passage into the pure and the goal really. Rather than see the present world as exclusively a veil of tears and a black prison - none of these metaphors are mutually exclusive - the great strength of alchemical thinking and the way in which it is completely antithetical to science and in fact why science has so much contempt for it, it’s because the alchemist had the wisdom to see that everything occurs in the presence of it’s opposite. It’s not either-or, it’s both-and. They called this the coincidentia oppositorum. This is the coincidence of opposites, the union of opposites.
This is a great truth because I think all of us live under the rubrics of, “am I good or am I bad? Am I lazy or am I obsessed?” The answer is that it is never one or the other. It does a tremendous injustice to being to ignore the union of opposites. Now science in order to do it’s work, which is essentially a technological work and not a deep philosophical work – it’s a minor art, science, that’s all it is – it’s the art of the physically possible. But it has presumed to be the arbiter of all thoughts, all feelings and all work. My God, the hubris of Rene Descartes to divide the world into the primary and secondary qualities, and what are the primary qualities? They are motion, mass, spin and momentum. What are the secondary qualities? They are color, feeling, taste and tactility. This tells you that you’re nothing. You never touch reality; you live in that world of sense. Therefore can only aspire to the real world through some kind of mathematical disembowelment of what your own body and what your own feelings are telling you.
In the cauda pavonis, the peacock’s tail, this is where the contradictions meet. This is where they generate heat and light, and an excruciating sense of poignancy, meaning and identity. Our world, as we experience it tonight, is quintessentially - another good alchemical word - quintessentially that coincidentia oppositorum. Where do where we meet this most dramatically in our lives? I think we meet it in the phenomenon of birth. If you had just parked your flying saucer in the bushes and came from a world where sexuality was unknown and people were grown in vats and you came upon a woman in the act of giving birth, it would appear to be a catastrophe in progress, a tragedy at the limits of tragedy. Blood is being shed, anguish is on the surface, real agony pervades the situation, and yet – nature in her wisdom, has bound pain and ecstasy, death and completion, regeneration and dissolution into that experience in such an indissoluble fashion that no woman can miss the point. No woman can miss the point. Unfortunately men have traditionally averted their eyes and this has gone on in the hut at the edge of the village. Nobody wanted to be there. Maybe the shaman would be there, but he was loaded in order to be there, and the mystery of mysteries goes on outside the site of men.
Now in our world, we are caught in this kind of metaphor. A cosmic birth, a birth of planetary scale is underway. There is agony; there is no doubt about it. I remember an embryologist, who once taught me that the fetus in the womb is literally sculpted by the hand of death. The immature hand of the fetal organism is a webbed claw and that it isn’t that the flesh retracts to form the human hand, it’s that the cells in between die and slough off into the amniotic fluid and are carried away. The fetal child is literally sculpted into life by the hand of death. Our world is in this kind of circumstance. There are no rational solutions at this point. We are now in the hands of the miracle makers – the shamans, the mind of the planet, the life of the ocean and the atmosphere. It’s going to get tougher so we have to forge the indestructible adamantine stone of alchemical hope because heavier challenges lie ahead.
One hundred years from now, two hundred years from now, I cannot but imagine that this planet will be empty of human beings. Not because we have become extinct but because we have gone to our fate. It’s unimaginable at this moment because we are in the planetary birth canal. We are at the peak of transition right now and the walls are literally closing in. We are being suffocated. We are fighting like a strangled man to try and save ourselves. Yet we have to believe, and I invite you to educate yourself about the history of the planet, there is no reason not to believe that we will come through. We will come through! There is light at the end of the tunnel. There is a meaning to history, but it’s an alchemical meaning. History is a vast alchemical engine for the forging of an alchemical humanity.
I don’t have the answers, believe me. I don’t know whether we go to another star or whether we become eight angstroms high and all live in a block of metal underneath Mt. Everest, or whether we march off to the heart of the sun. The scenarios are endless because the human imagination has such a power to bootstrap itself to higher and higher levels. What would Paleolithic man have made of the religion of Pharaonic Egypt? What would the Pharaohs have made of the engines of war and hydraulic machinery created by the Romans? What would the Gothic Scholastic Enlightenment have made of the age of cybernetics, psychedelics and virtual reality? The imagination is the alchemical Deus Ex Machina that can lift us out of time, out of the nigredo of history and into higher and higher states of being.
Now there is no reason to simply ride along in this process, because another perception of the alchemist that is central to getting this all lined up so that it works, is the idea of the macrocosm and the microcosm. What does that mean? It means that the world truly is fractal in the most profound sense. Meaning that what is going on, on some very large scale, is condensed, intensified and recapitulated on smaller scales. So the dynamics of a love affair are the dynamics of an empire. Both are the dynamics of the evolution, expansion and extinction of a species. There is only one way that things can happen and whether were talking about microphysical events or the life of an entire solar system, the curve of binding energy is going to be the same. That means that this redemption of spirit from matter, which is the historical process that we are embedded in, we can do our part by working on our small section of this - which is ourselves.
This is why alchemy was so fascinating to the Jungian psychologists. They saw that this work of redeeming spirit from matter is nothing more than the work of redeeming the self from the contaminated dross of the traumatized and damaged psyche that we each inherit from our passage through the parental shit pile. We each have that gift to deal with. That nigredo is within ourselves. This is why we’re in therapy, why we take psychedelics or why we meditate. We do this because we all have this dross within us, and this is a great gift. It means that we can begin consciously the process of distillation and sublimation, and casting of ourselves into that golden being, that luminous creature that this 104 year Vietnamese monk sensed and evoked to my friend. But it’s more than that.
We do that alchemical work to perfect our own sense of the union of opposites and our own sense of the presence of the living alchemical stone within, in order that we may then participate, act in and be part of the transformation of the planet. It is an immense transformation and there is no reason to doubt it because the emergence of organic life from what preceded it is as dramatic a miracle as anyone could imagine. The emergence of language from mute bestiality, which is only 100,000 years in the past, is as dramatic a miracle as anyone could imagine. The emergence of a planet instantaneously unified by electricity and media is - and this is only 50 or 60 years in our past and it’s still going on - as dramatic a miracle as anyone could imagine.
It’s absolutely irrational to not be filled with the fire of consuming hope. You just have to overcome the leveling that we inherit from these empty, existential scientific ideas. When we do that and lift our eyes to the real, living spiritually empowered reality that exists in nature, in society, in our lover and in ourselves, then you see that the peacock’s tail, the cauda pavonis, is a transcendental object at the end of time. An enormous unspeakable something that beckons across the historical landscape and that casts an enormous shadow that reaches clear back to the earliest moments of the universe. We have always been in the grip of that iridescent, strange attractor. It has propelled our poetry and our art. Our best moments have always been when a tiny scintilla - another good alchemical word - a tiny spark of that alchemical completion burned for a moment in our mind, in our life and in our perception.
We occupy a special position in regard to this. Millions of people, thousands of generations of human beings have come and gone and could only glimpse this in the ecstasy of eroticism, psychedelic empowerment and ritual magic. But we are the last people. Beyond us lies the mystery, if we have but the courage to move forward into that abyss. To believe that nature will reward the dreamer, then we can complete that wonderful Irish toast, which says, “May you be alive at the end of the world.”
It’s that close, it cannot wander much longer. All of the preconditions have been met and the peacock’s tail grows daily, whiter, more radiant and more brilliant, as we sense it now, breaking into our dreams, breaking into our waking lives, the presence of this attractor. It has always given people meaning but we are the privileged inheritors of that meaning. We have then, the privilege of putting it all together in one piece and standing ready at the end of history to go into the mystery and be completed.
That’s the end of my song.
words Terrance McKenna
Source: The Terance McKenna Wiki