Tolkien and Psychedelics

     In my last post, I posted some Tolkien quotes and other thoughts related to William James Tychonievich's post " St. George, stake for the sun and inevitable 'miracles' "  As it so happens his post "Gadianton Canyon syncs" reminded me of some more Tolkien quotes.  Tychonievich discusses entities that people who have taken psychedelics, in particular DMT and ayahuasca claim to have seen.  

    In Tolkien's unpublished work the Notion Club Papers, one of the characters, Ramer, reports to the other members of the Notion Club mentioned in the title (based on the Inklings) about dreams that he has had.  Ramer believes these dreams to actually have been experiences where his mind was able to have experiences of other planets.  Bruce Charlton has convincingly argued on his Notion Club Papers blog that some of the character Ramer's descriptions of these dreams are autobiographical in the sense that they are things that Tolkien either dreamed or thought about.

    Ramer describes going through a process of training his mind to remember his dreams and get to the point where he can dream about things outside his experience of day to day life.  While describing this process, he says:

    "But it couldn't make much of it.  By which I suppose I mean that I couldn't remember much about such inspections, although I was now becoming pretty good at remembering large passages of more vivid and pictorial dreams.  And that mean I suppose also, that my mind was not able (at least not without more practice) to translate the notes into the terms of the senses which I can handle when awake.  All the same, I used to get at that time very extraordinary geometric patterns presented to me, shifting kaleidoscopically but not blurred; and queer webs and tissues, too.  And some other non-visual impressions also, very difficult to described; some like rhythms, almost like music; and throbs and stresses."

    Now, this is a very interesting passage because the Notion Club Papers was written in the mid 1940s when psychedlic drugs were not easily available.  Furthermore, I am certain, knowing Tolkien's personality, that he used no drugs other than alcohol, tobacco, and nicoteine.  Yet, this description of seeing shifting geometric patterns sounds very close to what people report from psychelic drugs.  Further, I think I remember reading somewhere that some people experience hearing humming sounds.  William Wildblood has written in a comment on a post

    "The barriers in our mind that separate us from higher states (and drugs just remove these barriers I think) are there so that we can focus on building a spiritual character.  Trying to bypass these barriers might be said to constitute a refusal to learn the lessons of the material plane."

    I find this idea to be plausible, that such drugs, by influencing the brain, break down barriers that are there for our own good.  But, because these barriers are broken down in an artificial way, what comes through is distorted.  Further, from the little I have read of the beings that people describe seeing, they seem to be at best of no relevance to humans or at worst, ugly and malevolent.  

    Interestingly enough, Ramer describes meeting beings in a dream visit to another planet: 

    " 'It's the same with Ellor.  Ellor!' he murmured.  'Ellor Eshúrizel!  I drew it once in words as best I could, and now it is words.  That immense plain with its silver floor all delicately patterned; the shapely cliffs and convoluted hills.  The whole world was designed with such lovliness, not of one thought, but of many in harmony; though in all its shapes there was nowhere any to recall what we call organic life.  There "inanimate nature" was orderly, symmetrical, unconfused, yet intricate, beyond any mind's unravelling, in its flowing modulations and recollections: a garden, a paradise of water, metal, stone, like the interwoven variations of vast natural orderes of flowers.  Eshúrizel!  

    Blue, white, silver, grey, blushing to rich purples were its themes, in which a glint of red was like an apocalyptic vision of essential Redness, and a gleam of gold was like the glory of the Sun.  nd there was music, too.  For there were many streams, water abundant - or some fairer counterpart, less wayward, more skilled in the enchantment of light and in all the making of unnumerable sounds.  Ther the great waterfall of Ӧshül-küllösh fell down its three hundred steps in a sequence of notes and chords of which I can only hear faint echoes now.  I think the En-keladim dwell there.'  

    'The En-keladim?' asked Jeremy softly.  'Who are they?' 

    Ramer did not answer.  He was staring at the fire.  After a pause he went on.  'And there was another world, further away, that I came to later.  I won't say very much.  I hope to look on it again, and longer: on Minal-zidar the golden, absolutely silent and quiescent, a whole small world of one single perfect form, complete, imperishable in Time, finished, at peace, a jewel, a visible world, a realization in material form of contemplation and adoration, made by what adoring mind I cannot tell.'

    'Where is Minal-zidar?' asked Jeremy quietly. 

    Ramer looked up.  'I don't know where or when,' he answered.  'The travelling mind does not seem very interested in such points, or forgets to try and find out in the absorption of beholding.  So I have very little to go on.  I did not look at the sky of Minal-zidar.  You know, if you were looking at the face of somebody radiant with the contemplation of a great beauty or a holiness, you'ld be held by the face for a very long time, even if you were great enough (or presumptuous enough) to suppose that you could see for yourself.  Reflected beauty like reflected light has  special loveliness of its own - or we shouldn't, I suppose, have been created.   

But in Ellor there seemd to be lights in the sky, what we should call stars, not suns or moons, and yet many were much larger and brighter than any star is here I am no astronomer, so I don't know what that may imply.  But I suppose it ws somewhere far away, beyond the Fields of Arbol [the solar system]."

    Ramer later describes the En-keladim, the beings he met:

    "And I've seen the En-keladim, my En-keladim, playing one of their Keladian plays: the Drama of the Silver Tree: sitting round in a circle and singing in that strange, long, long, but never-wearying, uncloying music, endlesslly unfolding out of itself, while the song takes visible life among them.  The Green Sea flowers in foam, and the Isle rises and opens like a rose in the midst of it.  There the Tree opens the starred turf like a silver spear, adn grows, and there is a New Light; and the leves unfold and there is Full Light; and the leaves fall and there is a Rain of Light.  

... 

    My En-keladim I see in humane forms of surpassing and marvellouslly varied beauty.  But I guess that their true types, if such there be, are invisible, unless they embody themselves by their own will, entering into their own works because of their love for them.  That is, they are elvish.  But very different from men's garbled fables of them; for they are not lofty indeed, yet they are not fallen.'

    'But wouldn't you reckon them as hnau [sentient beings]?' asked Jeremy, 'Don't they have language?' 

    'Yes, I suppose so.  Many tongues,' said Ramer.  'I had forgotten them.  But they are not hnau; they are not bound to a given body, but make their own or take their own, or walk silent and unclad without sense of nakedness.  And their languages shift and change as light on the water or wind in the trees.  But yes, perhaps Ellor Eshúrizel - its meaning I cannot seize, so swift and fleeting is it - perhaps that is an echo of their voices.  Yes, I think Ellor is one of their worlds: where the governance, the making and ordering, is wholly in the charge of minds, relatively small, that are not embodied in it, but are devoted to what we call matter, and especially to its beauty.  Even here on Earth they may have had, may have still, some habitatiion adn some work to do.

    Now, in this passage, Ramer called the En-keladim elvish.  Terrence McKenna, has also called the entities he claims to have seen elves.  McKenna also referes to a "visual language" in the passage cited by William James Tychonievich.   The En-keladim also have a "visual language": the song takes visible life among them.  This idea of a living song or drama is something that Tolkien describes in more depth in On Faery Stories: 

    "Now Faërian Drama - those plays which according to abundant records the elves have often presented to men - can produce Fantasy with a realism and immediacy beyond the compass of any human mechanism.  As a result their usual effect (upon a man) is to go beyond Secondary Belief.  If you are present at a Faërian drama you yourself are, or think that you are, bodily inside its Secondary World.  The experience may be very similar to Dreaming and has (it would seem) sometimes (by men) been confounded with it.  But in Faërian drama you are in a dream that some other mind is weaving, and the knowledge of that alarming fact may slip from your grasp.  To experience directly a Secondary World: the potion is too strong and you give in to Primary Belief, however marvellous the events.  You are deluded - whether that is the intention of the elves (always or at any time) is another question.  They at any rate are not themselves deluded.  This is for them a form of Art, and distinct from Wizardry or Magic, properly so called.  They do not live in it, though they can, perhaps, afford to spend more time at it than human artists can.  The Primary World, Reality, of elves and men is the same, if differently valued and perceived.

    So, what is interesting in these passages is that Tolkien in his story describes something similar to what psychedlic experiences or entities, but in sharper consciousness and good or at least indifferent to humans instead of menacing.  

7 comments:

  1. I think the similarity between these experiences is something I would now describe as Original Participation (and what Steiner sometimes labelled Atavistic Clairvoyance). There is also a biological similarity - as I wrote here (in my pre-Christian life). https://www.hedweb.com/bgcharlton/animism.html .

    In sum, any cause of delirium (functional brain impairment with altered consciousness; and there are many types and varieties) will potentially lead to a resurgence of the animistic thinking of early childhood (and early Men) - but at the cost of the other aspects of delirium.

    In this context, dreaming sleep counts as a type of delirium - as has often been noticed. Indeed, I believe that the hallucinations of schizophrenia etc. are something like intrusive dream fragments, occurring in a chronically delirious person but with a specific type of relatively specific and partial delirium in which the consciousness is only partly, and stably, affected.

    Or, what happened spontaneously in clear consciousness for early Man (and in early childhood) can only be attained by adult Men via some kind of brain pathology - therefore it is not the same thing.

    Steiner is clear that Atavistic Clairvoyance (however aimed at, whether by drugs or 'active imagination,, dreams etc - as advocated by Jung) is a wrong path for modern Man. Not completely useless (e.g. to learn-from), but not the actual path forward.

    The developmental path forward for Man is 'in thinking', and by an enhancement of the scope of alert clear consciousness; not by clouding and diminishing consciousness as do mediums, neo-shamans, 'entheogen'-drug users, etc..

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    1. "The developmental path forward for Man is 'in thinking', and by an enhancement of the scope of alert clear consciousness; not by clouding and diminishing consciousness as do mediums, neo-shamans, 'entheogen'-drug users, etc.."

      I agree.

      I probably should have been more clear in the post that this wasn't meant to be pro-psychedelic. I think it is significant that the "psycedelic" aspect came about in the beginning, when Ramer was trying to "calibrate" his dreams. The dreams about other planets and the other remembered dreams from the Notion Club Papers sound like something completely different from psychedelic experiences and they take place in a clear state of consciousness.

      I also think you make a good point that any kind of delirium or diminished consciousness can lead to "original participation" thinking.

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  2. Tolkien's experiences do sound remarkably "psychedelic"! There's a theory out there that the human brain can produce endogenous DMT under certain circumstances, and that this may account for some unusual experiences such as "alien abductions."

    When I was very, very young, my dreams always used to begin as shifting kaleidoscopic patterns which only gradually resolved themselves into recognizable figures. I could often induce the same effect while awake simply by closing my eyes, excluding all light (for example, by burying my face in a pillow; cf. Joseph Smith's practice of putting his face in his hat), and trying hard to "see." First blackness, then colorful "fireworks" and kaleidoscopic effects, and then, eventually, a dream-like panorama with recognizable objects such as pirate ships. I don't think I can any longer induce such visions, though to be honest I haven't really tried!

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    1. That is interesting about kaleidoscopic patterns in your early dreams. The fact that these patterns show up in different places suggests that there is something more general going on, though I am not sure what it might be.

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    2. There is a literature on this kind of 'entoptic' phenomena - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Entoptic_phenomena_(archaeology) that are supposed to be characteristic of shamanic trances - but I'm not sure whether I believe much of it.

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    3. Wm, I recall being able to do something that could perfectly match your description. I tried it again just sitting here with my eyes shut and experienced darkness, geometric colorful patterns, and eventually imagery that emerged from it (e.g. a bearded man's face looking at me). This occurred though it had been a long time since I noticed or tried it. As soon as I read your comment it all came back how frequent this used to be for me.

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  3. As a child I would have dreams where a web with endings would attach to people and objects in the dream. It was similar to a dream catcher except it was bright glowy lines, and a fragment, not the whole circle. I knew that the curves and intersections contained meaning, but I could not read it.

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