New Mexico landscape
Santo Domingo Pueblo—Kew Pueblo, New Mexico, approx. 1871-1901 | Photo by John K. Hillers

New Mexico Is a Psychedelic Hologram of Ancient Origins and People

A poetic reflection on the psychedelic history of New Mexico, involving White Sands National Monument, Juniper trees, and a familial lineage of hippies who moved to the Land of Enchantment in the ‘60s.

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DoubleBlind Mag

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Updated March 6, 2024

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White Sands National Monument is an iconic backdrop for countless Instagram selfies, fashion shoots, and music videos; a genre my partner refers to as “desert porn.” A figure, usually female, flashes an unambiguous “deep” connection to the Western landscape through burner aesthetics, automobile/horse imagery, witchy herbalism vibes, cowboy hats, and occasionally appropriative face paint. Adults in scarves battle the winds for the perfect shot while screaming children slide down the dunes on sleds. Snake trails are everywhere amidst the creosote bushes with roots that reach many feet down through the gypsum sand. The first atomic bomb was detonated nearby in 1945 at the Trinity site. It’s still a little bit radioactive. That’s why I tell people not to eat mushrooms here. A friend got naked and wandered tripping onto the missile site and was arrested and detained. The road block you will encounter driving from Las Cruces is also no joke. Years ago, my car got searched by five dogs. Apparently, Malinois can’t tell the difference between sage and marijuana.

Here at White Sands, there are footprints of camels dating back to the ice age and footprints of humans so old the institutions of archeology don’t even know how to deal with it. The French philosopher Jean Baudrillard in his book America says, “America is a giant hologram, in the sense that information concerning the whole is contained in each of its elements.”

The selfies taken at White Sands are a hologram of a crossroads where hell-bent modernity meets ancient origins and ancient peoples. 

White Sands National Park

Two Diné teachers are having lunch at a Native American cultural center with an artist who received a grant to make a film. She wrote them into her grant already and is only now meeting them in person. She wants them to bring a group of children up to a mountain where everyone will share stories about astronomy.

“Different cultures and perspectives will be represented,” she says. 

“We will need a fire,” one of the teachers, a chief and a ceremonialist, says.  

“Fires aren’t allowed,” says the artist.

“The thing is we can only tell our star stories during a certain time of the year,” says the other teacher, who grows mushrooms for soil remediation in far out territory. “It’s not that the astronomer’s perspectives aren’t welcome, it’s that the stories must be told in a certain way.”

“We can work around all that,” says the artist. She’s not understanding something essential. Everyone sees this: the teachers, the waitress, the security guard at the entrance, and me and my partner Rosemary, who she brought along for reasons I’m still unpacking.    

“There’s a division at NASA devoted to Navajo Astronomy,” the Diné teacher says. 

I look this up when I get home. Among many things, I learn that each of the four quadrants has its own coyote star.

Tewa artist, Sara Fina Gutierrez Tagoya, native name “Autumn Leaf,” pit-firing blackware pottery at Santa Clara Pueblo (Kha’po Owingeh), Northern New Mexico around 1900 | Collection of the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology

Outside my bedroom door on the deck is a bathtub that was once owned by Mabel Dodge Luhan, a society matron who hosted salons in New York City. I bought it off Craigslist. She moved to New Mexico in 1917, where she married Tony Luhan, a Native of Taos Pueblo. Together, they hosted guests such as Aldous Huxley, DH Lawrence, and his wife Frieda, Willa Cather, Martha Graham, Margaret Sanger, Emma Goldman, and others. These greats of modernism who passed through Mabel Dodge’s home were transformed by the landscape and the culture of the Taos Pueblo people. New work was born from this crossroads that changed the psyche of the West. DH Lawrence wrote Aldous Huxley a colorful description of Taos Pueblo that inspired the “savages” in his book Brave New World. It is said Mabel Dodge and Tony Luhan brought Carl Jung to Blue Lake where he ate peyote. His time in New Mexico caused him to completely rethink and rework his theories about the collective unconscious.

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Back in New York in 1910, Mabel Dodge Luhan hosted a peyote ceremony with artists in her apartment that went quite badly, people stumbling out into the street incoherent and distraught. Mabel disavowed the sacrament to save her reputation. Though her own peyote trip at Blue Lake forms the backbone of her best memoir, she still campaigned for the abolition of peyote for ceremonial use until the end of her life.

Sign for White Sands National Monument in the 1930s. From “Dunes and Dreams: A History of White Sands National Monument,” published by the National Park Service | Courtesy of White Sands National Monument

As a mushroom ceremonialist in New Mexico, I am part of a long lineage of hippies who settled here in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s to make art and live a rural life. There is an annual baseball game that has been happening up north for decades between the land hippies and the Pueblo natives. The hippies are on LSD, and whatever the native players are on is unknown to me. It’s quite a time, more ceremonial theater than sport. This is the rural culture that has allowed my life to make sense.

At the honky-tonk, there’s an old cowboy with mushrooms in his pocket he’s willing to give away for free; he doesn’t give a shit about R. Gordon Wasson or the MAPS course on psychedelic therapy. This settled ghost town nearby has a history of kingpin-level drug trafficking. It’s also a town of magic, where Lily, who ate Datura, who had many names for a couple of years, walks through the arroyos carrying a purple light to heal the trauma of the violence of the conquistadors as they rode their horses along the leylines looking for gold. She is my psychedelic elder. The one writer who wrote a book about this place was run out of town and never allowed back.

A story might go something like: “Naked guy in back of squad car.” “A mushroom arrest.” “A relative of someone at the bar.” “Running through the arroyos with no clothes.” “Tell Ma I saw it, I saw what the conquistadores did to the people. I saw it and I cried so hard. I said I was so sorry I couldn’t protect them! I also saw the prayers everybody’s been putting down. Love is here now.”

Tony Luhan at the Gallen-Kallela’s porch in Taos, New Mexico, 1924

The psychedelic history of New Mexico is an oral tradition, with stories that resemble the wild west of a Sam Pekinpah movie, but instead of a bar room fight, there’s a room full of legendary chemists and their wives barely making it through a group trip with a psilocybin analog mixed with Peganum harmala that instigated near-death level hypertension. William Burroughs, Tim Scully, Leonard Pickard, Alfred Savinelli, Leary and Ram Dass, Jeffrey Bronfman and his Santo Daime Church, Joan Halifax—these are the big names in the big psychedelic books, but to me they are each a story, told to me by a fellow traveler, each a story I won’t write down.

Timothy Leary’s girlfriend, the late Joanna Harcourt Smith, lived in Santa Fe. The film by Errol Morris, My Psychedelic Love Story, examines the question of whether Leary’s perfect love was a Mata Hari, a CIA plant who helped take him down. Towards the end of the film, Joanna herself reveals that she’s been holding on to the possibility that she could have been a CIA op without knowing it.

Let that sink in.
See, I wonder this about myself sometimes.
Let that sink in while tripping on San Pedro, after lunch with the famous drug trafficking Kingpin recently released from prison because of…COVID?
Let that sink in while in walking distance to where Spaceship Earth Biosphere was born, while in walking distance to where Alec Baldwin shot a woman dead on the Rust set.
Let that sink in while eight military helicopters fly over the house.
Let that sink in while noticing the drones over Sandia Labs are now red and triangular.
Let that sink in when being told Los Alamos has so many weapons that if the state of New Mexico ceded from the rest of the U.S., it would be the most well-armed country in the world.

It’s dry here, and my face is falling off. Apart from the real human beings, nothing but hipsters and criminals. Looking out yonder was once the bottom of a great ocean.  When I take LSD, I will at some point obsess over who in my small community is an agent or privately-funded spy. When I drink San Pedro, I take off my clothes and barf in the juniper tree. When I eat mushrooms in my yard, I see hieroglyphics in the Ortiz mountains, geometric shapes in bright colors over the grassy plains I call “the dancers.” I dance with them from up on the North hill, within earshot of my neighbors. 

I am a new thing!
Dancing with old ones!
Please don’t call the police!

The man who showed me the land I live on grew up in Oaxaca and sat in ceremony with María Sabina in Huautla de Jiménez. I met him in a crystal shop in a town that was named Ojo Caliente by Cabeza de Vaca, a lost conquistador who was taken in by indigenous tribes, fed peyote, and considered to have the power of faith healing. 

Peyote is all over the place here still and you won’t see it.

Taos, Blue Lake, the sacred lake of the Taos Indians, approx. 1915

The artist wanted to collaborate with me on her project. She also wanted to do mushrooms together. Her project had nothing to do with mushrooms, but she thought it was important for our collaboration.

Rosemary and I prepared the altar for high ceremony, when all the medicine objects I usually keep hidden away are out. The mushrooms came on strong, with a unique frequency I recognized as a specific convergence of energies that began showing up in my household ceremonies after my visit to Huautla de Jiménez. The elderly Mazatec curandera, after our ceremony there, held up a picture of the Virgin of Guadalupe and said, “If you want to communicate with us, you can talk with us through her. Do you know who she is?”

“Of course,” I said. “I live in New Mexico. She is everywhere.”

Akseli Gallen-Kallela and Tony Luhan on the Gallen-Kallelas’ porch in Taos, New Mexico, 1924

This link-up has been a real and very mysterious thing. This ceremony has taught me how to tend to it over time: what offerings to make, what to say, what to sing in order to bring through a very powerful prayer. There’s no specific ritual involved, just the altar and the burning of copal, cedar, or juniper, but one of the features of this particular ceremony is the understanding that when the energies are peaking, the house must be closed up tight—literally. It means you can’t go outside, because there is no outside. The house is held as a capsule in another dimension. To breach a doorway is to break the container holding the prayer.

For the next three hours, the artist proceeded to boss us around. “Make me tea!” “Bring me some fruit!” “I can’t eat it move the bowl! “You need to sit down!” “Stop fanning the fire!” “You should sing a song!” “No, you need to be quiet!”

Meanwhile, the altar was flooding the house wall to wall with golden, pink, and green, high-level hummingbird love frequency. It’s not like this very often. This was a gift, a blessing, an opportunity for deep work and prayer on a new level. I was able to stay present to it despite her shouting orders at Rosemary and forcing me, bodily, to sit where she demanded I sit.

“Excuse me, but I don’t need to do what you tell me to do,” I said, sensing danger. “I am attending to an energetic. That is my job.”

She announced she was going to her room to lie down alone. Great, I thought. But then she said she needed her sleeping bag. The made bed with heavy blankets wasn’t enough. 

Visitors to White Sands National Park watch the sunset, 2013

The house was a closed-up house, a very closed-up house at this point. I wasn’t going to breach the door and I told her that. She was going to have to go without her sleeping bag for a little while until the ceremony was over and we sang to and thanked the altar. She kept insisting on going out to her truck. Rosemary communicated to me that her volatility was getting real. She was the one following her around the house as she stumbled and wavered, almost falling on the hard tile and, at one point, into the fireplace. I put my boots on, not hiding my resentment. We walked the unhinged art conquistador to her car. She retrieved her sleeping bag and got settled in her room.

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We sat by the fire in the living room, stunned and violated. We cried. I was angry. How was it that I had found myself in that old story of the desecration of an altar by an opportunist who weasels their way into my life with vague promises? I was committed to that story being over, I thought. I couldn’t protect every vulnerable person from the colonizer, but I could keep the colonizer out of my home, and I had failed.

“Well at least now we know,” Rosemary said.

“Her art project is just another extractive industry.”

“And we granted her access.”

“Never let them take your generosity. Someone else said that. I just wanted to see how it felt to say it.”

The mushroom trip continued and it felt like a war room. I had been feeling oddly lost for a while, like I didn’t know who I belonged to. My anger returned me to myself—I’m a psychedelic artist and writer in New Mexico, part of a long tradition of underground practitioners seeking right relationship with the land and the people. I am in relationship with those who use purple light along the leylines to dispel the violence of the conquistadores. I pray in ways that are very old, that require secrecy to be protected.

Zuni Indians, near the border of New Mexico and Arizona, approx. 1867

Once I was invited to a teepee (peyote) ceremony down in Silver City and it was a very hard night, twelve hours of excruciating pain in my legs from sitting up, but Oh, that water drum. Oh, the juniper trees that go on for miles.

It’s amazing the crap you can lay on a juniper tree at night, everything from isn’t that juniper tree pretty, to that juniper tree is a crystal hieroglyphic, to that juniper tree is Lisa Bonet. That juniper tree is next to another, smaller juniper tree.

Oh, the coyotes at night. Oh, the women’s land, where they still sing goddess songs on the equinox. Oh, the brothers in service to Guadalupe, who show up to the lowrider parade in starched white shirts after a day at the Roundhouse, who love beautiful women and live to protect them. Oh, Agnes Martin, Oh, Georgia O’Keeffe, Oh, Allan Houser, Oh, Meow Wolf and your psychedelic sadness, Oh Kundalini devotees, Oh Ten Thousand Waves with your ketamine, Oh, menopausal ladies in linen suits buying remedies from Pharmaca asking the clerk about a dealer for their microdose regime—New Mexico, you are firstly Indian Land, 26 federally recognized tribes.    

The Mabel Dodge Luhan House, also known as the Big House, a historic house at 240 Morada Lane in Taos, New Mexico. Arts supporter and writer Mabel Dodge Luhan (1879–1962) hosted one of the most iconic art salons of the early 20th century here, welcoming preeminent writers, artists, musicians, and nurturing the young Taos art colony in this space. Date unknown.

I’m often afraid to look at the night sky, especially when I’m tripping. I don’t know how to be. The incomprehensible vastness and beauty of it makes me feel pitiful and vulnerable. No wonder the Diné have a whole ordeal just to look at the stars. I know it starts with being humble. You can’t see the whole picture unless you’re humble. It’s how we try to walk here in New Mexico and not just because of rattlesnakes. We end up learning to be humble or something boots us out. We learn from everyone and everything. Here, the heart gets bigger, the lungs get smaller over time. You will adapt, but only if you pay attention. Once you are fully here, you will be employed by the alchemical task of this place; Old meets new where the first peoples emerged. A song for the situation goes like this:

I am a new thing!
Dancing with old ones!
Don’t call the police!

*This article was originally published in DoubleBlind Issue 10.

DoubleBlind Magazine does not encourage or condone any illegal activities, including but not limited to the use of illegal substances. We do not provide mental health, clinical, or medical services. We are not a substitute for medical, psychological, or psychiatric diagnosis, treatment, or advice. If you are in a crisis or if you or any other person may be in danger or experiencing a mental health emergency, immediately call 911 or your local emergency resources. If you are considering suicide, please call 988 to connect with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

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