I could mark it on the calendar if I wanted, the day I felt my soul bleed out. It wasn’t that long ago, maybe you felt it too. I know a lot of my friends felt it. I drove up to the mountains to where my girlfriend had fled—before me, for similar reasons. I sat by a river and, without any psychedelics or weed, I had a freak out worthy of Peter Fonda in The Trip (a 1967 classic about an acid trip gone awry).
“I don’t know who I aaaaaaammm!!!” Did Peter Fonda say that? Or was it Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver? Maybe it was just me.
At the river, I picked out a thousand arrows stuck in me, some over a decade old, all with post it notes on them saying I was a bad person, that I needed to atone for something, that I had to begin now because it was impossible, because I would always be a bad character—but that if I worked hard enough without reward, or even without love, maybe there was hope that I could move towards an amorphous idea of ethical purity that had been presented to me subliminally and literally…by the internet. I’m addicted. My physical body and my psyche have been patterned by its brain, even more than the real world, and yes, there is a real world.
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Put your phone in a lock box, download programs that limit time spent on certain sites, cultivate some discipline—at this point, it’s not just that these strategies have failed, it’s that even if I were to achieve better hygiene in regard to my use of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, the injury is now chronic. It’s shared by the collective.
“The (internet) world’s a mess, it’s in my kiss,” to paraphrase Exene Cervenka.
Something has happened in the last few months that feels worse than what came before. Shane Mauss, on Duncan Trussell, suggested Covid-19 itself is in the internet, and not just as toxic clickbait. It’s in the machine in a sci-fi way. It’s a parasitical biological glob. If it can work a crowd to get where it needs to go, who’s to say it won’t work how we use the internet to break down our immune systems, causing us to behave in ways that benefit its agenda?
The field is also disturbed because the election is coming up. We should assume that we are under increased attack from multiple dis-information campaigns, both domestic and foreign. Bots are in Black Lives Matter, QAnon, the Coronavirus and maybe even Dog Rescue, operating with the sole purpose of manufacturing chaos. Our personality profiles in somebody’s cloud have been built through years of data collection. I think I’m immune to the influence of algorithmic attacks because I’m a free thinker or whatever. I web surf on all sides of the political divide, yet the baseline chatter in my brain is one of low level disapproval that circles incoherently upon a handful of bullet point topics that I think I care about, but maybe don’t. This is my interiority now. This is the house in which my soul has been slowly dying.
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I am going to take you back to the moment when Dr. Stella Immanuel, a medic from a group called America’s Frontline Doctors, spoke near the steps of the US Supreme Court about the benefits of Hydroxychloroquine. My social media feed was quick to respond with snide comments about her strange beliefs about demons riding in on sperm and women getting endometriosis from their husbands having sex with spirits. On my newsfeed, a chorus of the natural health practitioner ilk rose up in her defense, saying western medicine doesn’t have the answer to everything. Maybe she’s onto something with the whole disease via succubus model.
I remembered why Dr. Stella Immanuel was so familiar. Years ago, I was googling “Mermaid Attack,” and was led to her very entertaining videos about the dangers of having sex with spirits, some of whom are multi-gendered, with both male genitalia and breasts. I was like, cool, usually one would have to travel to an urban center to get that kind of action. I mean, what woman doesn’t have sex with spirits? For years I’ve been burning frankincense, peganum harmala, and juniper because entheogenic plant researcher Christian Ratsch said that Hunza shamans from the mountains of Pakistan used this method to have “erotic dalliances with the divining fairies.” It takes no leap of faith for most people to fall in lust with Patrick Swayze in Ghost. The whole spirit/ghost sex trope is very old, and cultures that have strong indigenous and folk traditions talk about this in all kinds of creative ways. But Dr. Stella Immanuel is an evangelical Christian who profits off manufactured fear.
That’s why I was googling mermaid attacks. It’s a long story, but after I had a personal experience with an interdimensional La Sirena, I did some research and learned it’s common in Nigeria for a person to believe they have been attacked by a mermaid. A new culture of evangelical Christians prey on these people, saying they’re sick because of the evil intentions of succubus mermaids. These new evangelicals blame troubles in the village on witch children—kids who are sometimes abducted and tortured, and that’s Dr. Stella Immanuel, basically, that lady selling Jesus remedies in the strip mall by scaring you half to death. The woo crew on my social media thought she was a traditional folk healer, and I wanted to strangle them.
I saw it psychedelically: The things that belong in the underworld, in stories told only at night, in ceremony, among teenagers, or in the presence of a medicine person, an old person, or a lover, are now vomited upon my twitter feed and retweeted by the President. We are living in a catastrophe of broken cosmology. In the old ways, there was a division between the ordinary world and the world of spirits. There was an underworld, a middle world, and an upper world, or some variation, each world abiding by its own metaphysical laws.
I was told Bigfoot is a figure in the mythology of a particular Native American tribe, and that when he shows up for the rest of us, it’s a sign of end times. Hell hath been unleashed and it’s spewing up through the internet and into the middle world. Everything has its place. At this point, the spirit realm of the average American probably looks like an episode of Hoarders. Information is not medicine and vice versa. It’s not just that the spirit house is crowded. It’s making us sick.
My friends who have recently tripped have lately been drawn to higher doses. They feel insecure about how to meet this moment and don’t know what they are supposed to do in psychedelic space. Their journeys have been largely about boundaries and cultivating sovereign spaces outside the noise—social media noise, to be specific. Are my thoughts really my thoughts? is a common loop.
We are living in a catastrophe of broken cosmology.
In the past, I would have brought up the idea of cultivating internet hygiene as a way to unspool these conundrums. Take a day or two off (as in, offline) before journeying with psychedelics. Unplug the Wi-Fi. I’ve made mandalas from black and red salt, magnetite and tourmaline dust to symbolically shield me from the internet. I’m now far past believing any of this can help with the damage already done to the substance of our collective souls by this thing.
We’re in a spiritual emergency.
The Satanic trifecta of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram must be disrupted. I’m watching it begin to happen. People are hopping onto rogue social media apps with names I can’t recall. They are launching Patreons where community gathers and people talk amongst themselves via the Discord server. Scenes are popping up around podcasts and newsletters put out by journalists, artists, and cultural figures.
The fake memes pumped out of St. Petersburg have a harder time getting into these spaces, but that doesn’t mean we don’t bring our soul sickness with us wherever we go online. However, structure matters. The right placement of things is the backbone of any ritual, art project, book, or building; and the right placement of self in relation to others on the internet is how we are going to get through this without our souls bleeding out. This means we literally need to make new spaces to exist together online.
The disruption of college education because of the pandemic is a potential blessing. Students are seeking out mentors, and as a result, they might avoid student loan debt while acquiring real life skills. Teachers that don’t fit comfortably inside the establishment are getting organized; they still need to make a living, and are offering structured, non-hierarchical learning opportunities. Ariana Reines’ Invisible College is such a space, serving as a modern mystery school of poetry and ancient texts. Writer and dancer Marlee Grace is teaching a quilting class. These communities are still virtual, but because of the size, structure and intent of these spaces, our attention, i.e. free labor, is employed very differently. Here you might not get robbed and beaten up by random algorithms that parasitically thrive on you hating yourself. When Paul Stamets says mycelium is nature’s internet, I don’t think he means they’re like Facebook and Instagram. He’s thinking bigger, I’m pretty sure.
We’re in a spiritual emergency. The Satanic trifecta of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram must be disrupted.
We’ve got a lot of work ahead in imagining and building these new spaces. Think about it like wearing a mask: When we don’t take care of our own internet garbage behavior, it has the potential to infect everyone around us. We are mycelial and telepathic beings after all. Keep it simple, keep it clean, the mushrooms always tell me. As psychedelic practitioners of various arts and healing modalities, we must demand virtual space outside the noise. It’s killing us.
I am going to tell you here about my friend Pyrrha Malouf, who recently left this earth at the age of 90. This is a psychedelic space, and it’s important that you know about her. She is someone who existed only in the realm of the real. She demanded intimacy from every person she spent time with, and usually that meant drinking tequila and smoking weed late into the night while she read you up and down like the hippest and most beautiful strip-mall psychic ever to hang a tapestry near a bongo drum. She wasn’t done with you until she could see you had been changed by her spirit work, her love.
Born in West Texas and after a stint at Julliard, at age 17 she moved to Hollywood, where she scored the role of the Hebrew Girl in The Ten Commandments. She’s Lebanese, and back then she went by the name LaRue. She was married to a jazz musician for a while, toured the world, and eventually became Ravi Shankar’s personal assistant during the time he toured with the Beatles. She’s done LSD with Timothy Leary hundreds of times, she said. When asked what it was like, she would say what a pain it was to have to sit and take care of those who weren’t experienced.
“If you don’t meditate, if you don’t at the very least do yoga, if you don’t know what’s going on, I don’t want to do acid with you,” she said. She hung out with Burroughs, Bowles, and Ginsberg in Morocco for a time, then later she opened a Saloon in Lubbock, Texas where she ran for mayor and came in third place.
On being a cast member on Cecil B. DeMille’s notoriously chaotic set of The Ten Commandments, she said, “Who do I have to fuck to get off this picture!?”
I sat with Pyrrha’s perfect body encircled by flowers last week and thought about what I might write about her. I began the following morning and remembered quickly that Pyrrha belongs to the night-time, to the realm of winter stories, LSD trips, jazz improvisation, and mermaids. The more I described her, the less she came off the page. I invoke her here only in hopes you might send her a blessing as she travels through the Bardo. When I speak of soul and the right placement of things, Pyrrha’s impossible existence is a guiding star. The distance between myself and Pyrrha Malouf is a measure of the soul substance of being.
While I am placing things in their correct order, I want to mention the honorable apology from Decriminalize Nature Santa Cruz, offered in response to calls from the Indigenous Peyote Conservation Initiative and the National Council of Native American Churches to remove peyote from all wording in their initiatives to decriminalize entheogenic plants and fungi. There are many reasons for this call to action, besides the fact peyote is endangered. Respecting indigenous communities means not co-opting practices involving peyote outside the communities from which they originated. It’s that simple. We are being asked to respond.
Just because a thing exists, doesn’t mean it’s there for us to take. Or post on social media. Like peyote, everything has its place. Some things are meant to exist only in private. While I am moving things around correctly, I would like to return Adrenochrome to the pages of Hunter Thompson’s fictions. I return my quack theory about mermaid attacks to Daryl Hannah in Splash. I return my uncorked ID that had its exhibitionist heyday on Blogger from 2007-2011 and has been running around with its pants on fire in public ever since, to a safer and more appropriate room than our current social media. My mis-spent labors have exhausted me.
Peyote contains mescaline, as does the San Pedro cactus. San Pedro = mescaline for the rest of us! I ingested it for the first time a couple years ago. I was by myself and had no idea what to expect. There’s not a whole lot online about San Pedro. I had no preconceived ideas about what it was going to be like, so when it hit me, it was like meeting a familiar stranger. I was aware of how rare a thing it was to have an experience unmediated by online data I’d absorbed on the subject. My trepidation melted away as San Pedro revealed their very charming personality in one unscripted moment after another.
Lying next to a pile of rocks, San Pedro said, “It’s never not a good idea to turn one’s anus to the sun.” I was reminded of the way the flowers of San Pedro grow vertically upward, blooming in an almost vulgar display. Some interesting and cathartic yoga poses followed. Who knew?
I’m ready for another visit. San Pedro’s right at home in the desert heat of August, and I’m ready to make a clearing for that particular being, Mr. Home Depot cactus, who brings me the medicine of who knew?
It’s a riddle like a knock-knock joke, right? And the punchline is that, it’s me. I knew.
Bett Williams is the author of the novel “Girl Walking Backwards” and the memoir “The Wrestling Party.” She and her partner, Beth Hill, produce “No Cures, Only Alchemy,” a podcast about psychedelics and culture. Bett lives in New Mexico, where she supports writers, artists, and others through hosting private retreats, residencies, and events in keeping with the spirit of mycelium. Her new memoir “The Wild Kindness; A Psilocybin Odyssey” will be coming out on Dottir Press in September.