The Metaphoreal s01e04: "AnOther Dead Hippy ReBirthday"

Tune in for Episode 4 of Sam Knot's The Metaphoreal, psomething of a psilly pspecial! "AnOther Dead Hippy ReBirthday" tells the tale of one particular magic mushroom trip, which turned out to be rather more of an adventure than one expected.

(((The Metaphoreal s01e04: "AnOther Dead Hippy ReBirthday" at archive.org)))

Originally broadcast on Spiritplants Radio. The first half hour or so consists almost entirely of live commentary, commencing with the drinking of the mushroom tea, and carrying us down to the gate of the woods in which the peak of the experience will take place. The tone is conversational, rambling, reflective and observational. Much of this section is accompanied by Franz Schubert's Fantasy in C major, the "Wanderer", brilliantly performed on piano by Daniel Blanch and sourced copyright free from the marvelous musopen.org

The trip then starts in earnest, and the live commentary begins to be interspersed by interpretative remarks, designed to assist the listener's putting themselves in the (soon to be discarded) shoes of the increasingly bewildered protagonist. Here also begins the recitation of poetry written in an attempt to reflect the heart of the experience, addressing aspects that were often too challenging to verbalize at the time. Various pieces of bespoke incidental music undergird this section, in an attempt to assist our immersion in the altered state. 

By the time we reach "The dusty shelves of Living Memory," at around the 78 minute mark, we are out of the woods and have returned to the house of the protagonist, and the peak of the experience is behind us, at this point the narrative becomes more prosaic and reflective, before briefly shifting back into a poetic account of our protagonist's standing before a small collection of personally significant objects as he potters around and tidies his living quarters on the tail end of the trip. 

The main object under consideration can be contemplated by the listener by perusing the included scanned image. The object in question is a small replica of an engraved stone that can be found in a certain Neolithic passage grave in Brittany, which the author had encountered some years before. Two things in particular struck the author in his heightened state: 1) The juxtaposition of the eye-like concentric circle motifs with the eyes of the ceramic owl money box that sat beside it on the shelf (visible in the illustration in the top-left of the scan), the owl in turn evoking the author's late Grandfather. 2) The asymmetry in the central set of curves or arcs, which (believe it or not) he had somehow never noticed before, and yet here hit him with epiphanic force.

The experiential account then ends with a brief philosophical section, springing out of the author’s contemplation of the act of portraying the lichen (pictured) that so astonished him whilst bemushroomed, yet which he was too harried to sufficiently engage with at the time.

Cover image for s01e04 of Sam Knot's The Metaphoreal. A psilly special!

*CUT! That’s enough to serve as context and I recommend that you read the following only if you decide to listen to the show, and are then interested in a spontaneous and slightly technical ramble about where I’m at currently in terms of thinking about this kind of stuff/approach.* 

It should be remarked that part of the motivation for the trip concerned the author's working on a presentation that was to be delivered later that year (2017) at the Breaking Convention conference on Psychedelic Studies that currently takes place biannually in Greenwich, London. (Indeed the final 20 minutes is taken up with an excerpt from the author's report on said conference.) A certain anxiety concerning making a public address in an, at least partially, academic context perhaps contributed slightly to the wellspring of psychic energy that resulted in this experience being deeper and stronger than the middling amount of medicine consumed might suggest. One was already immersed in thinking, for the first time really, in something of a structured philosophical matter about the ins and outs of literary, and then conceptual or cognitive, metaphor, and its relation to the indefinitely defined and inherently marginal area of "psychedelic poetry". 

The author's interest in metaphor has only deepened since, as may be gleaned from contemplation of the title of the show. The Metaphoreal is thus a coinage any might define or explore for themselves, but which is gradually developing something of a technical meaning for the author. There is much overlap with certain ideas already present in archetypal psychology, the literature of science fiction and fantasy, "continental" philosophy, metamodernism, the occult, etc. Yet perhaps the neatest way the author can currently demarcate his field of interest is to point towards a reading of the Blakean concept of that central contrary: Innocence & Experience; through the work of Owen Barfield on the interplay of the Poetic & the Prosaic and his philosophy of Participation. The author thus situates himself in a living Romantic tradition, of whom the most recent bearers of note were perhaps the American Beat poets of the 50s & 60s. This statement is intended as an attempt to assist in situating the author's work in a lineage or context of sorts, and is not intended as a profession of ones belief in the importance of ones own work, although of course the work would be impossible without some degree of such belief.

Thus a word on the self, and the process of making that neither begins with nor arrests in the moment of creation itself, and perhaps an end to this awkward impersonal pronoun thing that one doesn’t think we’ll ever quite get the hang of! 

Without a love for the person I am, I would never be able to spend the amount of time with myself that such work as this requires. However, any that read this as a simple statement of narcissism still have a lot to learn about Art. Consider looking in the mirror, consider a moment when you looked in the mirror and liked what you saw, and then consider a moment when you looked in the mirror and were disgusted with or repelled by yourself - in the simplest way of speaking it is to be understood that the artist deals constantly with such conflict. Such turmoil is close to the heart of aesthetics in its more profound (true) form. Making a self-portrait, as in the deepest and broadest sense all art or poetry can be considered, is always intensely challenging. It is a confrontation, an encounter, with self as self and self as other - with the personal, and thus also with the end, the very limits of, ones person. Here we might follow Deleuze in making the distinction between "my" life, and "a" life. It is *a* life I am interested in, it is *a* person, not my person, not even necessarily *the* person (this is also part of what animism is coming to mean for me, in relating to life as soul, and to soul as character - meaning personality is as much or more the focus than individuality, per se – and this is also a critique of the easiest/worst mistake to make when thinking about archetypes). 

Regardless, it would strike me as dishonest and ridiculous to portray myself as being able to move in any way towards such a “transpersonal” perspective without encountering my own person along the way. Like Blake said, it is a matter of seeing through, and not with, the eye (or in this case: the I). Such an ability is given us, it is in our nature, or it is the nature of the world or of experience itself, that we are capable of doing so, innately - and yet it remains a journey, a challenge, a life's work - the maintenance and development of such. This is not objectivity we are talking about, but a deep and shared subjectivity – which is of course the true promise or meaning of subjectivity, and the manner by which we can rightly talk of a Divine Imagination, or elsewise our "own" humanimalien being (Zzz). Well, that sounds no less self-important, lol, but there you go.

Anyway, purely in terms of psychedelic literature, and the genre of the trip report in particular, I am not sure that anyone has yet combined poetry, prose, and kind of 'in-the-field/live reporting' in quite this manner, as yet? Which strikes me as a little weird as it seems a good/obvious combination? Perhaps I should revisit Dale Pendell’s books though, now that I think of it! And of course there is Hunter S. Thompson, wrapped in gaffa tape and dictaphone, and pumped full of adrenochrome! Indeed I suppose gonzo journalism continues to be an inspiration for me, although in this case the journal-ism in question is more like ones own diary, and of course in terms of capacity for craziness and the pursuit of the limits of conscious experience I am like a fucking twig that old-doctor-two-thumbs has just crunched underfoot on his path through my little wood with his suitcase full of drugs on his way to detonate his own brain in a firework display at the Heart of the Eternal Polis! But now I really do risk embarrassing mice elves! Suffice to say that, for me, what is really interesting about the psychedelic experience is always unearthed and rendered somewhat public and discourse-able by persons ourselves, whether we be operating in medical, professional, creative, psychonautic, or whatever other contexts or capacities. Its ground is the personal journey, witch has never belung to heroes alone!

Phenomenology, and in particular microphenomenology, was also somewhat in my mind as I undertook this experience, and I feel this is somewhat evinced in my attempts to observe the perceptual transformations I undergo as the experience comes on. I believe such approaches are very well suited to deepening our understanding of psychedelic experiences, and yet I am also quite aware that much of what we might "bracket" out in focusing on certain more evidently sensational and apparently impersonal (or generalizable) concretes, is of great value – i.e. I’m not sure that we can simply draw a line between structure and content and call it a day. Let me say that I am only a little familiar with the microphenomenological method as yet, from some reading and research online, and my own very informal experiments. I approached or encountered it almost entirely through the lens of an active poetic practice, which is to say I was curious as to the degree it might assist me in enriching my capacity for phenomenological description - and yet according to this approach it becomes something of a "Dogme 95" for psychedelic poetry, although such a comparison would probably benefit from some unpacking, some other time. 

At any rate, I would like to briefly explore some of the ramifications of this approach by pondering the poem that begins section 09: "Can't copyright, can't (c)opy wrong". 

From a purely phenomenological perspective this poem concerns my being sat before a birch tree, staring at the patterns of its bark. I was motivated to do this in part because of an experience in my youth, on a higher dose perhaps, where I sat before a tree and observed how the classic tryptamine writhe or wriggle resolved into a flowing movement in which I seemed to witness the tree continually growing into and through itself before my very eyes. That didn't happen this time, instead I was struck by a flattening of the visual field, what might register instrumentally as a reduction in depth perception. It struck me, however, that such a reduction in depth perception was resulting from a corresponding increase in my capacity for pattern recognition - or perhaps rather a shift in its nature. It seemed to me, upon reflection perhaps, that whereas my visual system would normally be preferentially coded in terms of binocular disparity - the difference in perspective between each of my eyes - that here some other faculty was taking precedence, something more evidently pattern-seeking, that treated my visual field not as a space but as a plane or surface. It later struck me that in this mode one has less sense of dimensionality in spatial terms, i.e. in the habitual sense, and a greater sense of dimensions of meaning, or difference-relations based on colour, tone, texture, and feeling, for instance. 

I wondered about the asymmetry inherent in metaphor, that of concrete/abstract, and how cognitive metaphor reveals a related asymmetry in how we conceive of space/time. i.e. we most often talk about time in terms of space, but not vice versa. i.e. “You have your whole life in front of you.” i.e. we might easily conceive a timeless space, yet not so easily a spaceless time. When I discovered that ones sense of time can be distorted by spatial priming (there is a study which shows that people who are shown a longer line tend to over-estimate subjective duration) I had to wonder if it wasn't then some shift in ones relation to meaning itself, that trickled down into the spatio-temporal alterations so common in psychedelic experiences. i.e. psychedelics are acting firstly or primarily on how we process, understand, and produce meaning, and much of the more striking sensual and concrete effects are results or symptoms of this more fundamental shift. Or basically: the self changes, and alterations in time and space flow from this, and not vice versa (although most likely it’s some kind of intractable knot!)

Perhaps one way to conceive the change that meaning is undergoing as the self transforms is in terms of the aforementioned flattening: our usual categorical and hierarchic orderings are suspended and the difference-relations that constitute meaning-making return to what we should envisage as a lower dimension, in other words something more plane-like than what we traditionally conceive of as spatial, yet which can then be shown to present meaning itself with greater degrees of freedom, thus in that quantity at least having the quality of higher dimensionality! This at least represents the kind of conceptual knotwork that interests me, and perhaps provides a necessary sense of the absurd or the ridiculous as we move towards the heart of what is actually (i.e. virtually!) going on/in. Oh well!

Anyway, as I worked on this piece I found myself more embarrassed and exasperated, perhaps even more 'bored', by... my somewhat mundane attempts to recount what was occurring to me on the perceptual level. But I suppose I should be clear with myself that I am really talking about literature, or poetry, or perhaps philosophy, now, and not with more evidently methodological, or perhaps even scientific, concerns. I mean, simply, that what might constitute a more interesting piece of literature is of course very different from what might constitute a valid or valuable scientific experiment. Although I suppose that I want to challenge such experiments, or scientists themselves, to consider how interesting they are in this kind of way as well. For we are all entitled to profoundly enjoy and profit from whatever experiences we create or undertake, and human interest has a lot to do with relevance more broadly speaking, and is thus deeply entwined with ethical concerns. I want to clarify what I mean there, but will try to do so by moving this rather spontaneous becoming-ramble to a close.

So, something struck me as I listened to myself reading that poem, that hinged upon my use of the word "you" in addressing the tree. When I wrote, I was using "you" because I really did imagine myself to be talking to, and thinking of, that particular tree. However, when I listened back, that same "you" put me myself in the place of the listener or observer, and I realized that in this sense the "you" could never have meant what I was sure it did mean at the time. In some sense as soon as I was writing it, rather than living or reliving it, that "you" no longer addressed the tree, but my fellow human beings. Thus the “you” became us, became me, and the tree became a metaphor for humanity, and so much else besides. It is somehow, or somewhere, I believe, in the transformation of this "you", that what I wish to communicate shows itself for itself, and I do not personally feel capable of unpacking this fully, though I will attempt to say a little more. 

Let me use this as an opportunity firstly to say that this is part of what I believe makes me a poet, or perhaps even constitutes poetry, and this is: the ability to partake of life-experience - to participate in it - to such a degree that I am always saying more than I can possibly intend, or understand, personally. This of course includes my potentially showing parts of myself that I might rather conceal, or am ashamed of, which is perhaps why I sometimes make a point of being somewhat puerile. I don’t know! And of course in a broader and more accusative sense it is not just myself that I am ashamed of, for when you are someone who values the idea of growth, personally, not only will you yourself fall short, but we the people will. It is only Nature, in the realest and truest sense of the word, who transcends my judgements in this way, and repeatedly and continually edifies and chastises me in her being so senselessly perfect: so completely me, and yet this “me” being but the smallest part of all that she herself might be. All that IT IS. All that U R. All that I am we our knot!

Anyway, I can't transcend my person, my background, my own interests and concerns, to a great enough extent to be able to make science/the world see this, or to be able to construct some rational or deductive proof of what I'm saying (at least not before a lunch that is after no breakfast), which I believe is part of the reason why art or poetry seeks to be the demonstration or proof of itself/its own value, which is also why it must sit and wait for another to develop a relationship with it, to help it imagine all those things it might be, or might have been - this is somehow an admission of an eternal failure or falling short, personally, and yet my guiding image is an encounter with some drawings of William Blake's, and my knowing in that moment that all that needed to be said was in those loveliest and most caring (which is to say skillful) of lines that he had touched onto the page. And yet it was not! It was not in them at all, but that, in his making of that work, he had judged and proved himself, and in some way atoned, he had acted in some way that no critic ever could undo, except to prove their own shortcomings. It is absurd for me, perhaps, to want all human endeavor to strive towards or to attempt to encapsulate this - but on another level: this is already how it is, and all I ask is that, whoever you are, you try to realize this. Such an attempt might after all be less a striving than an act of acceptance, but then only in the most active of senses! Maybe this is the real meaning of forgiveness? 

Well, my friEndZzz, fangs furr glistening, as ever (and ass ether too, why knot?)
In love and hope this Eastertide,
an0ther Sam. xx

P.S. - I should say that one of the most important things that “psychedelic poetry” currently means for me (as a practice) concerns integration (so long as this can be said to accommodate a critique of integration as well, for it might reveal certain "un-integratables", and warn of ways we could turn a hoped for openness into a seemingly inevitable but perhaps really impossible act of closure). So, part of the reason I spend so many hours going back over what would otherwise be over and done with, part of my motivation for doing this work, concerns its assisting in the process of integration (and/or individuation), perhaps to a large degree similarly to how imaginative re-exposure to traumatic events might assist the victims of a variety of traumas. Also, I profit intellectually from the ways that things unfold or change over time, just as continued engagement with any subject slowly deepens ones understanding. But really I just intended to speak to a few of the reasons why such a "little trip" might have become such a big deal for me: 

1) From a purely technical standpoint it is a challenge to attempt to consistently verbalize all that one is going through, and this creates a certain splitting or tension that became something of a theme in this trip, and thereafter.

2a) Each psychedelic experience contains or links to many other experiences, and thus as we progress in our careers not only do we learn, and thus increase our skillsets, we also become better able to challenge ourselves, and better able to process things that we might somehow have passed over before. This is the same as how art never gets any easier: the better you get, the harder it gets. This is also why it is difficult or perhaps impossible phenomenologically or philosophically speaking to decide what constitutes a single experience or singular event. 

2b) This also means that if one has had traumatic or powerful experiences there is always the possibility that they might enter milder experiences, just as one may "flashback" to them in daily life - and this of course presents certain opportunities, and so should be welcomed to the degree that we are able at the time, rather than simply or instinctively avoided. 

3) It is “Psychedelics 101” to be familiar with the concept of "set" as well as "setting", but all that “set” can mean is not so easily encapsulated or communicated! I knew that I was approaching a certain time in my life - roughly the middle of it, traditionally speaking - and also that I had recently made quite big changes to my lifestyle, having just recently moved in with the person who I am happy to say is now my wife, and for the first time finding myself with some land to work with, which had long been a dream of mine. All these things were so superficially "good", i.e. they all represented such positive developments in my life, that I was somehow largely unaware of the degree to which on another level they would, and do still, deeply challenge me. Vive La Différence!

P.P.S. - I will endeavor to upload a few supporting materials here over the next few days, but if you are interested in seeing the talk I ended up delivering at BC2017 it can be viewed on Breaking Convention’s Youtube channel here: https://youtu.be/-biUvzklWcE

P.P.P.S. - eek! xxx

This article was updated on April 12, 2021

Sam Knot

I am a poet and illustrator, originally from the south of England, now living in an old stone house in the middle of the countryside in Normandy, France, with my lovely wife and an assortment of other creatures. Thank you kindly for checking out my work, please don't hesitate to get in touch: iam (at) "this website".