History | Psychedelics and the Evolution of Human Consciousness
David Blackbourn explores how psychedelics may have contributed to the emergence of human consciousness.
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A prayer for Serendipity
Grant me the courage to allow Paradox,
The strength to hold the tension of the Unknown,
And the willingness to listen to the wisdom
Of myself, the Earth, and the Multiverse.
So mote it be.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Chemical Collective or any associated parties. Always practice good set and setting when exploring any psychedelic compounds. We have a fantastic article looking into this subject you can read here.
Liminality is not quite here and not quite there. It is a place between places where there are no absolutes. It is akin to the pause during an interval on a swing set, where you are neither going up nor down. Something has ended, but the next is yet to begin.
It is the asymptote in mathematics, getting infinitely close but never touching.
We often slip into liminal spaces by accident. On a long aeroplane flight, you glance at your watch, only to realize that time is meaningless when you’ve been watching clouds go by for hours. Or perhaps you’ve just graduated college but have yet to find a job. An old identity dies, but the new one has yet to take form. Or maybe a loved one has passed away, and you stand paralyzed in grief, watching the world go on without you. Regardless of what brought us there, liminal spaces often produce a surreal feeling of unbelonging, as if we are simply observing the world rather than fully participating in it. We are connected to multiple roles, places, et cetera, but cannot fully inhabit any of them.
The liminal approach is gentle. It does not demand total death of the ego or the purity required for transcendence. It allows All That Is, in its many shapes and forms. It is subtle, and unhurried. It dodges categorization, instead allowing all possibilities to coexist beyond the scope of rational logic. It is always available Now.
Occupying liminal spaces does not come naturally to minds accustomed to discrete categories and linear time. Walking the road of liminality is like walking a tightrope of awareness. When the pendulum of our attention swings too far to either extreme, we become absorbed by our experience. The trick is to find these extremes within ourselves, join them together, and choose neither.
Liminality is valuable because it can provide a point of observation between our inner and outer cycles. When we inhabit a liminal place, we can watch dramas play out in our lives and minds. When we recognize them, we can observe them from afar as the stories that help us change and grow and decide if we would like to modify or end them. From this perspective, we may even be able to weave seemingly disparate aspects of our lives together to create a fluid tapestry of existence.
The faces of the self can be used to navigate liminal spaces without the cognitive dissonance resulting from holding disparate beliefs. Different personas can step forward with their beliefs as they apply to each moment. When the Self is aware of this process, it does not feel forced to choose between perceived opposites. Consider this quote from the guidebook from the Kalevala Tarot deck for the Justice card:
“Äiti is standing between two trees–a birch tree and a pine tree. These trees aren’t necessarily opposites–it is just that if you have to choose between them they become opposites, as that which is good in the one is bad in the other, and vice versa. As such, these opposites attract.”
This process can also be applied to the conscious and unconscious aspects of the psyche, which we often believe to be opposites. When we are invited to stand fully in the light during a psychedelic experience, our shadow grows in equal measure. Although it is tempting to ignore it by directing all of our attention to the love and light, inevitably, this only serves to feed into the illusion of duality. There is no choice between the light and the shadow, for they are each aspects of the other and will forever gravitate towards each other. Placing a foot in both worlds is the first step toward radical acceptance, ultimately bringing us towards the Truth of our reality, which is alluded to in the Justice tarot card. We no longer feed into our own suffering by denying the experiences we are having, trying to rationalize our way out of them, or numbing them away. When we can stare unflinchingly at our circumstances, we step into our true power.
Liminality allows us to explore the parts of our lives that defy all logic and reason. It is how we make meaning out of senseless violence, loss, illness, grief, and death. The world is unjust. Bad things happen to good people, and many heinous deeds go unpunished. When we learn to embrace a subtle strength that allows us to sit with our suffering, we may learn to transmute it.
When an experience shakes us to our core, whether it is a psychedelic trip or the loss of a beloved, we often experience the shattering of our previous worldview. What we thought we knew ceases to apply and we stand naked, cold, and alone in an unfamiliar world. Wonder Bright describes it:
“In this new world, nothing you thought you knew applies. In this liminal space of not knowing who you are, the nature of reality itself is called into question. However, in that destruction is the beginning of creation, for if you are not who you thought you were, who are you?”
The paradox is that although our first urge is to try to escape the pain, be it through keeping busy, abusing alcohol or other drugs, or even attempting to transcend the circumstances, this rarely ever ameliorates it. We must hold the paradox without submitting to an outcome. This requires subtle strength and endurance. Reason, intimidation, bargaining, escapism, reframing, redirecting, suppression, rage, and rumination eventually result in dead ends and further existential pain. This process only responds to a gentle allowing.
If psychedelic experiences provide the spark, walking through liminality teaches us how to stoke and sustain the fire. This is the evolution of feminine energy, as exemplified by the triple goddess, representing the cycles of creation, sustaining force, and destruction. I believe that those from Western cultures often struggle with this (myself included) because of the emphasis placed on youth and creation. The model for sustaining is not easily found in mainstream society, and intentional destruction is abhorred.
Obstacles to a liminal path arise from internalized and externalized oppression. When the facets of our ego/psyche become the inner oppressor, they prevent the others from being heard. These exiled parts hold our deepest secrets, which are also the keys to healing our emotional wounds. These, of course, are placed front and centre during a psychedelic trip. Each of them represents an untapped aspect of our full potential.
Through liminality, we can hold multiple worlds within us. Because we no longer have to choose between them, they cease being opposites. They are allowed to exist in parallel. We see them as they are: facets of each other. The way these worlds relate is analogous to the facets of a gemstone. Each is a unique and beautiful part of the stone complete in and of themselves, yet they could not exist without each other. The worlds, realms, dimensions, and perspectives encountered throughout psychedelia are no different. Each exists in its uniqueness, yet is only complete through relation to the other.
This framework can help ease the dissonance we may encounter after a trip while integrating our experience into our day-to-day lives. We need not be bound by the dichotomy between consensus reality and the great Other. The reality we experience with our earthly bodies is a reflection of the places we travel to in our trips and dreams. And, of course, our trips and dreams are but reflections of our waking, day-to-day lives. We gaze at the Universe, and it gazes back at us. Because we are a part of it, our actions and choices ripple out to affect the whole. And, because it is part of us, changes in the Universe reverberate through us as well. Thus the principle, “as above, so below”.
By choosing to exist between, with a foot in both worlds, we get to live as full beings. We ride the highs and lows of material existence in a physical body while also watching from a wider perspective where we can see our actions cascade across an interconnected Universe, which ultimately exists within us. Liminality allows us to exist both in this world and beyond it.
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 Aaltonen, K. Kalevala Tarot: Based on epic Finnish poems. 1st ed., U.S. Games Systems Inc., 1996, pp. 64.
 Bright, W. (2022). “Traditional Astrology in a Modern Practice: The Bad Houses Part II: What Helps the Most.” The Mountain Astrologer, 222, 18-19.
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