I was queasy the first time I ate the body of Christ. I was only seven years old. I had been prepared for the occasion for months by a squadron of nuns who would brook no misinterpretations of our First Communion.
For those of you who were not raised Catholic, you may not know that when a priest places that piece of bread in your mouth, it is not a symbol of Christ's flesh, but rather, his ACTUAL flesh. You open your mouth and surrender your tongue, as if to lick. The Father presses Christ's body to your waiting pink tongue with his fingers.
The sweet wine in the cup is not merely fermented juice that the priest waves his wand over— it's Christ's blood, the very thick of it. To believe otherwise will damn you straight to hell, to burn in flames hotter than mommy's gas range. For seven-year-olds, this is the real deal.
I was scared shitless, a condition which the Sisters promoted as the baseline for our discipline. But did Sister Jude know what I was really scared of? It wasn't that I would be naughty, or that I would giggle or pee in my pants, such as we'd heard that other children had disgraced themselves.
No, I was scared that eating flesh, and drinking blood, would make me throw up. It would be worse than a boiled spinach and asparagus milkshake. If I threw up at the altar on top of my white piqué dress that my mom had sewn for the occasion, or if I spit out Christ's blood all over my tulle white veil, I wouldn't be surprised if God swooped down upon me, grabbed the little white rosary around my neck, and garroted me.
Sister Jude told me that when Jesus entered me, the real communion with God would begin. He and I would be as One, a direct line that I had never experienced before. I would be able to talk to him, just like picking up a telephone, and I would be able to feel his presence inside of me— so big that everything else would be blotted out.
I looked forward to that part— my private God party— telling Him all the things I couldn't admit to anyone else, hearing His special voice just for me.
But if I vomited up the host, everything would be ruined.
I remember Father McCarty's finger on my tongue, pressing the white host the size of a quarter. I never had anyone's finger in my mouth other than my mother's. I shuddered a little, but he had already moved onto the other children's open maws, like babies in a nest. I shut my eyes and clicked the tablet to the roof of my mouth where it stuck like peanut butter. And then I waited.
The host tasted like... nothing. It didn't taste anyone's body— not like my thumb that I still sucked on, or a bloody scratch, or even tears. You might say it tasted like a tuft of Kleenex, but that even that would be too strong.
The white host's appearance was identical to the blank wall I was encountering in my mind. Not only was God not speaking to me, but Jesus had completely left the building. Sister Corrine had said to keep our eyes closed, but I couldn't help but peek underneath my lashes to see if Jesus was regaling everybody else. But they all looked just like me, with more or less squirming.
I closed my eyes again. "Hello Jesus! Am I supposed to start talking first? Are you mad? Are you mad that I can't feel you; is something wrong with me? Are you giving me the silent treatment?"
It was time to get off our knees and parade to the church entrance, where we would wait outside for family photos and congratulations. I pried the host off the roof of my mouth, which was like wheat paste at this point, and swallowed it. Deep inside, the place where Jesus was supposed to be planting himself, I felt only the germination of a major seed of doubt.
Fast forward 40 years...
I was invited last month to a benefit for WAMM, one of the most influential advocate groups in the country for Medical Marijuana. Their leaders, like Valerie Corral, are heroes to me. For the fundraiser, the father of underground journalism, Paul Krassner, was the special guest. Paul is known for his spontaneous wit, so we all anticipated a good Q&A at the end of his monologue. Would someone ask him about the White House's imminent Fitzmas collapse? His conspiracy theory du jour? His memories of levitating the Pentagon?
"Paul," called one of the octogenarians in the audience, "How come you can't find any good acid anymore?"
The crowd, almost all over 50, exploded. No one wanted to talk about anything else. Each person related in turn the last time they had a decent hit of pure lysergic acid, untainted by speed or arsenic— and the timetables ranged from a decade to more. One seeker claimed there was still a decent connection in Dinkytown. Another swore there was reason to hope in Humboldt.
I turned to my friend Rosie, and said, "En-thio-who?" Whatever my psychedelic credentials had been in the past, I was clearly not abreast of the drug geek nomenclature.
What Rosie proceeded to tell me, blew my mind— and took me right back to my first Eucharist.
"An entheogen," Rose said, "is any psychoactive plant that's used in sacred rituals. It's the religious experience based on altered consciousness inspired by a plant guide.
"Carlos Castenada!" I said.
"Yes," she replied, but it's much bigger than that. The very word 'Shaman' comes from Siberia, where native people used the mushroom Amanita Muscaria in their religious rituals. It's an entire Indo-European mushroom tradition that stretches from one end of Europe and across Asia. When people wanted to see and experience God first-hand, the psychedelic mushroom was a door to consciousness. And because these fungi have toxic properties, shamans/priestesses/whatever would spend years training themselves to tolerate the drug's effects, and in some cases, express the drug through their own urine which they could then deliver to other initiates, who would essentially get all the "good stuff" with the poisons removed.
"WHAT?" My mouth dropped open. It dropped open as surely as if a priest had come to me, on my knees, and pissed the words, "Body of Christ."
Suddenly, the Eucharist tradition appeared before me with a grain of sense. It wasn't just Vatican mumbo-jumbo anymore. If early Christians (not to mention Hindus, Buddhists, and everyone else) had a tradition of drinking hallucinogenic food and wine in a communal experience of God-flesh, they most certainly DID see God, and I bet they had unbelievable dialogs. The kind that I had waited for.
Yes, the spectacle of urine-drinking was cause for quease, but, really, I've already been prepared for much more fantastical events. I was trained to eat flesh and drink blood in the second grade!
Looking back on my first conscious psychedelic experiences, I have to admit they were not remotely connected with faith, other than my great comraderie with my friends. When I took first dropped acid as a teenager in the 70s, it didn't occur to me to look for God. And yet it was certainly the first time I ever put something in my mouth and manifested brilliant, unforeseen visualizations that left me gobsmacked.
My first trip took place at a giant rock concert held at the Ontario Motor Speedway in Southern California. I was in a throng of thousands, and I remember that I decided to undertake a solo "voyage" across the racetrack to center stage— the altar, as it were.
I remember stepping over a naked man who was laid down on the grass, his arms splayed out as if he was Jesus on the cross. He had the beard, long hair and beautiful expression for such a portrait. But he also had a slice of toast on his chest, a charred piece of sourdough. I looked at him, and I could see his heart; it was gold and red. There were so many people, but everyone stepped tenderly around him.The crowd kept moving me forward.
Sometimes I let the crowd lift me, right off my feet, and when I raised my eyes to the sky, I saw tiny red, white, and periwinkle flags spinning like jeweled soap bubbles against the cloudless blue. Then they popped— and a tear of radiance rolled down the sky canopy like a raindrop on a window.
My colored tear-bubbles were actually a loft of balloons released by the concert producers. I knew that, even then, but it didn't change the fact that I had seen the heavens. If I had been looking for God on purpose, I would have said our first encounter happened there.
I never have been a God-seeker with drugs, only a consciousness explorer. More of an astronaut than a priestess. Some would say they are the same thing!
When I arrived at the front of the stage, Deep Purple had just left the pit, and the guy at the mike announced a special guest: LINDA LOVELACE! She came wobbling out in a white crocheted pantsuit, her tan skin peeking between all the yarn knots, her long hair brown and curly. Some dude next to me bellowed, "SUCK ME!" Was it just him, or a crescendo of male voices? I had an image of millions of men pleading to be sucked, a million cocksuckers, a million screaming babies.
I didn't want be sucked, or to suckle. What did I want? What did I want to yell at the top of my voice? I couldn't figure it out, and then Linda smiled, as if waving from a Rose Parade float. She said,"I just want to say that I LOVE YOU!" It was so disarming. And it spoke to the particular piece I was looking for.
I turned back to find my friends in the outer perimenter of the field. And I did, in the twinkling of an eye. How did I locate them, tripping on acid, in a crowd of 60,000? We had one small pink blanket which we all got underneath for our reunion, and kissed and kissed and kissed. Kissing seemed so interesting and intimate, as if you could hold your own tongue, and another's, forever in warm communion.
I never tripped again in a human theater. My next trips took place in natural settings, and if I had been of a God-mind, I would say that Nature spoke to me with all Her authority.I took acid and mushrooms and peyote with rose petals— as a way to impress upon my imagination that nothing could be taken for granted. I used it as a time-machine, to slow down, breathe, and observe life in unaccustomed detail— detached and yet absorbed. Taking acid was like turning the homily, "stop and smell the roses" into an immersion bath.
Smell the roses.
Become the rose.
Become the rose smelling you.
Devour each other.
Breathe out, Rinse, and Repeat.
And so I find myself at the Sacred Elixirs conference this weekend.
I was a little shy of going to a "sacred" anything, because I am so turned off by religious practice. Yet I love the history of religion, the art of it, the anthropology. The Sacred Elixirs fest promised to be an esoteric fling that I could fall for— and I did. I went all day yesterday, and I'm going today with great anticipation.
Yesterday, I listened to former Harvard acid pioneer (along with Leary and Ram Dass) Ralph Metzner talk about the properties of spirit guides, particularly plants, animals, fungi, elements, and ancestors.
Then, Winona Ryder's parents, Cynthia Palmer and Michael Horowitz (sorry, can't help the celebrity irony) gave a slideshow on the shamanic and goddess-inspired history of women and entheogenic experience.
The showstopper for me was Clark Heinrich's religious art history presentation, in which he finds mushrooms everywhere he looks, in every iconic metaphor. You'll never look the same at a Pope in his red hat, or Shiva with his blue throat. Clark's research was astounding. By the time he finished, I could only gasp, "Even Santa with his Yule log is in on it!"
I stayed for one last lecture, Mike Crowley, on the secret plants of Buddhism, which was a feast for Sanskrit scholars and entheogenic enthusiasts alike.
Today I can't wait to show up for the talk on "LSD in Los Angeles 1954-1962," and finish up the night with Sasha and Ann Shulman, the people who invented MDMA, and who wrote their love story and chemical explorations in TIKAL and PIKAL, which may be the only chemistry books I have ever relished.
Am I attending a drug orgy? Sadly, no. Everyone is quite restrained and modest in the current political climate. Yet the study of this history is an eyeopener in itself about the the drama and violence that follows the sharing of esoteric knowledge. 'Twas ever thus, baby!
I find it, even without its Bacchanalian element, to be mind candy of the very best quality. I haven't stuffed my head with so many interesting thoughts and pictures in ages. There's not even anyone here talking about the erotic element, which makes me think there better be a sequel!
Just one last thought before I get in my car... there are numerous card tables at the conference filled with books and brochures to examine. One bookseller had a celebrity autobiography on his shelf, by Larry Hagman, called Hello Darlin! The author sports a big cowboy hat on the cover, dressed like his famous TV character, J.R. Ewing. I prefer to remember him as Tony, the spaceman from I Dream of Jeannie.
I asked the bookseller, "What's he doing here?"
"Oh, Hagman? He's a huge acidhead. Talks all about it in his memoir."
Well, Holy Bee. You just never know who you're going to run into at the communion rail.
When I get home, I'm going to try to find photos to post of my First Communion, as well as my My First Trip. I know they're in my closet somewhere!