Transform Press - "Spiral" Excerpt

Spiral galaxyTransform Press’s first publication of 2016 should be an exciting event for Shulgin readers, both new and old. It will be a special four-volume memorial edition of PiHKAL and TiHKAL, commemorating the 25th anniversary of the original publication of PiHKAL. This special edition will include the original text of both books plus new bonus material. Leading up to the publication, we will post excerpts of both original and new material here on the Transform Press website.

Both books were originally labeled as fiction. However, the truth is that they are mostly factual; they tell a true story, but almost all names have been changed, and (using one of my favorite movie credit quotes) “certain characters are composites or entirely fictitious.” The last half of each book is entirely nonfiction, being composed of genuine chemical recipes and reports on the effects—in humans—of many psychedelic drugs and some visionary plants.

All this “Is it fiction, or is it non-fiction?” business was simply Sasha’s and my attempt to avoid legal trouble, the books having been written and published at a time in our country’s history (the 1980’s and 90’s) when the so-called War on Drugs made the subject of consciousness-altering chemical compounds highly controversial. Our own friendly neighborhood bookstore sold the first book, PiHKAL, under the counter for the better part of a year. We understood, although it saddened us.

Here we present the first excerpt, which comes from the chapter in PiHKAL titled “Spiral.” It is the first chapter written by me. I write as “Alice,” the wife of “Shura Borodin,” the scientist. (I borrowed my older daughter’s name.) The last name, Borodin, was used in honor of a famous chemist and composer, Alexander Borodin. The “Chemical Love Story” is the tale of my romance with Alexander (Sasha) Shulgin.

The meaning of the experience described in “Spiral” is this: by the grace of God, and perhaps as a result of spiritual work I had done in a past life, I was born with a gift—a 12-minute experience or process—which culminated in my being greeted, with love and laughter, by a Being I called (later in life) the “Friend.” There is only one thing my Friend could be, and I thought, writing about it, that this would be apparent to any reader (I was wrong, of course). The Being was—and is—what many people call God.

This experience happened to me as a baby, long before I could understand or speak any language, and it continued—with an ever-decreasing frequency—until I was 25 years old, when it came twice in one year and never again.

I am not alone in having been born with this gift, although others whom I’ve met who shared the experience did not have the full ending—the joyful meeting with the Friend—sad to say. Sad, because it is the ending that gives the whole thing its meaning. I suspect that all human beings undergo the same—or a very similar—process, but only in deep sleep. I was blessed to have it in full consciousness.

If this had not happened to me as it did, I would—without doubt—have been an atheist, or at least an agnostic. The world being as it is, and the human race being what it is—a mixture of incredible goodness and equally incredible evil—how could any intelligent mind, capable of analytical thought, be other than an “unbeliever?”

The Spiral experience has been the bedrock of my entire life. It has caused me to search continuously for answers to one basic question: How does God think? To those who may say, “How can you be so arrogant as to believe that your little human mind can even begin to understand the mind of God?” my answer is that we humans—like all creatures in the universe—were created by that Mind, and the questions in my mind were also given to me by that Creator Mind. It made me, and it made my urgent desire to understand. I have its permission, and I have its blessing, as does everyone else who is driven to ask such questions.

It is possible, in fact, that the God Mind seeks to continually define and re-define itself, being both unchanging and forever changing.

When I met Alexander (Sasha) Shulgin, the discoverer and maker of psychoactive compounds that briefly alter human consciousness and perceptions, I knew instantly that this man had to be part of my life, part of my search. It took him a little longer to realize the same thing, but eventually, we recognized each other as what we were—allies, companions, and soul mates. Some years after we married, we co-authored PiHKAL (Phenethylamines I Have Known And Loved), and TiHKAL (Tryptamines I Have Known And Loved). The rest, as they say, is history.

Excerpt from “Spiral”

When I finally gave it a name, I called it the Spiral. 

This is how it was. Lying down for nap time (as a child) or at night for sleep, I would have reached that point of relaxation where one is not very much aware of the body. The small itches and discomforts have subsided, and the mind is beginning to drift. When I sensed it beginning (I never knew when it was going to come), I would immediately snap into alertness, excited and pleased, then I would just lie quietly as it unfolded. 

The first thing that happened was a change in my breathing. It became increasingly shallow, to the point where my rib cage was barely moving at all. 

If someone came into the room and talked to me, as sometimes happened, I could open my eyes and answer normally; the experience continued uninterrupted inside my head. 

Every part of it, every stage, was the same each time. It was always in black and white. There was no color anywhere, and try as I did, especially around the age of fourteen, I could not force color to come onto the screen. And I could never extend it, by so much as a few seconds. When it was finished, it was finished. 

First came the image-sensation after which I named the entire experience—the spiral. I felt my entire self drawn rapidly into a tiny point which kept shrinking, until it could shrink no further, at which time the microscopic point became a tunnel in which I continued traveling at great speed, inexpressibly small and implacably diminishing. 

Simultaneously, I was expanding. I was expanding to the edges of the universe, at the same tremendous speed as that of the shrinking, and the combination, the contraction-expansion, was not only an image, it was also a sensation the whole of me recognized and welcomed. This experience of myself as microcosm-macrocosm lasted exactly four minutes.

The image of the spiral is found everywhere that the human has left his mark on earth. It has been cut into rock faces, painted on huts and clay pots, traced on the walls of initiation caves. I’m certain that it has been important to all the races of man because it is a symbol for the experience I’m describing, and for the concept, the understanding that the intellect forms out of what is initially not an intellectual, but a soul experience of the Alpha and Omega. 

The next stage came abruptly, as did all the changes. I was looking at standing figures which were vaguely human, dark thin figures being pulled into elongated shapes, like the sculptures of Giacometti. They stretched out, arms and legs like black string, until it seemed they could elongate no further, then the scene changed and I was watching obscenely rounded bodies, Tweedledums and Tweedledees without costumes, their small heads and legs disappearing into their puffed, bloated flesh. 

The sensation accompanying this stage was one of discomfort, unpleasantness, a feeling of something grating on my soul. I once timed this part and the one that followed; they lasted a total of six minutes. I disliked them intensely. 

Abruptly again, the inner screen became white, a horrible dead-white, nasty and aggressive like the underbelly of a sting-ray. After presenting itself for a few seconds, the flat white began to curdle from the outer edges into black, until finally the screen was totally black. A thick, awful, dead black, a pool of tar in an unlit cave deep underground. After another brief pause, the black began to curdle at its edges into the white again. This process repeated itself once, and the sensation was similar in every way to the previous one: irritating, grating, a feeling of unpleasantness that approached repugnance. I always endured it with a mental gritting of teeth, knowing it had to be gone through because that’s the way it always went and it was not to be changed. 

And then, finally, I broke out into the last stage, the final part for which I had always been and always would be willing to undergo the middle parts. 

Now I was at the edge of an unseen cliff, looking out into a very different blackness, the deep, cradling blackness of the infinite universe, of space which stretched without end. I was completely happy and comfortable in that place, and would have stayed there indefinitely, had I been allowed, breathing in the beautiful darkness and the exquisitely familiar sense of infinity as a living presence, surrounding me, intimate and warm. 

After a moment of this pleasure, came the greeting. From the upper left-hand corner of the universe there came a greeting from Something which had known me, and which I had known, since before time and space began. There were no words, but the message was clear and smiling: Hello, dear friend, I salute you with respect-humor-love. It is a pleasure­with-laughter-joy to encounter you again.

That which greeted me was an entity so far removed from anything in human experience that I concluded, when I was an adult, trying to find a way to describe it to myself, that even the word, “entity,” could not be applied; a word creates boundaries, it says this is the shape of what you are describing, as different from other shapes which are bounded by other words. It had no shape, no form, no definition, no boundaries. It was. It is. It was my oldest friend and it greeted me as its equal. I always replied to it with a rush of love and delight and my own laughter.

Then it was over. 

It had taken exactly twelve minutes. 

It was something I’d always experienced, taken for granted, and had given no thought to when I was very young. Not until age fourteen did I take a good look at it and recognize it as unusual, something peculiarly my own, my secret private treasure. I also got very analytical about the whole thing, began my habit of timing it and made the first of my unsuccessful efforts at altering it. But I didn't decide on a name for it until many years later, discarding “Microcosm-macrocosm,” as too long and unwieldy, and settling on the simpler “Spiral.” 

It had probably been going on since I was born. There’s no way to be sure, of course, but because it had been part of my life ever since I could remember, I tend to assume it was familiar to me from the very beginning. My mother said something once about having seen a change of some kind coming over me occasionally when I was a baby; she said she didn't worry about it because when it passed, I appeared to be quite normal. 

It always (with one single exception) came under the same circumstances, when I had settled down in bed for a nap or for the night’s sleep, but well before sleep itself took over. 

The one exception happened when I was around fifteen, shortly after my father had been transferred to Santiago de Cuba as American Consul. We were staying in a hotel, while those responsible for helping us find a home were still busy with their search. My father and mother, my brother Boy and I were having lunch in the hotel dining room and my eyes focused on the butter plate on the table. In the exact center of the round plate was a single pat of butter, and somehow the sight triggered the familiar feeling I associated with the beginning of the Spiral. I was surprised and very pleased, because it was a new thing to have it start under such unusual circumstances. 

I was also pleased because it was my special thing, and in asking to be excused from the table to go up to my room, I felt a certain sense of importance, which was rare when I was with my family. I said just enough to make it clear that my strange “thing” was beginning, and my parents grudgingly gave permission for me to leave. I reached the room upstairs in time for the completion, the wonderful last few moments. It turned out to be the only time it ever happened that way—when I was out of my bed, involved with ordinary matters of daily living.

I tried to make it come, searching out all sorts of images of round space with dots in the center, but nothing worked. I never found a way to make it happen. It came when it chose to, unexpectedly, once in a while. The times it chose had no apparent connection to anything else that was going on in my life, either generally or in particular. In twenty-five years, believe me, I looked for every possible connection; I found none. When I was very little, I think it might have happened as often as once a week or so, but as I grew older it came less and less often, until around age twenty-five, when it happened only twice in one year, then never again.

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