if you’re not a psychonaut, then what are you?

Es­ti­mated reading time is 4 min­utes.

THIS ARTICLE STARTED AS A JOKE‚ but will serve as a brief in­tro­duc­tion to psy­cho­nau­tics for the non-experienced. I use the word “ex­pe­ri­enced” here in its Hen­drixian meaning—meaning, I am re­fer­ring to the Jimi Hen­drix Ex­pe­ri­ence’s recording of “Are You Ex­pe­ri­enced?” from their 1967 album of the same title.

The singer asks the person in the song—along with the lis­tener of the recording—this ques­tion: “Are you ex­pe­ri­enced? Have you ever been ex­pe­ri­enced?” And an­swers, “Well, I have.” By “ex­pe­ri­enced,” the singer is re­fer­ring to the “psy­che­delic ex­pe­ri­ence,” then a still-new thing, one which very very few people had un­der­gone in early 1967.

Are you ex­pe­ri­enced? Have you ever been ex­pe­ri­enced? Well, I have.

Those of us who were non-experienced—and I chose to phrase it that way rather than saying “in­ex­pe­ri­enced,” which isn’t quite as groovy—still knew that Hen­drix was re­fer­ring to a very for­bidden fruit. Ac­tu­ally, I was 15 years old when this album was re­leased and I frankly do not re­member if I had any ideas in my head as to what a psy­che­delic ex­pe­ri­ence would be.

The most mind-altering sub­stance I’d had up to that point was a few glasses of beer (prob­ably Bal­lan­tine or Gib­bons, local brews more wa­tery than water) that Uncle Bob slipped me at back­yard cook­outs when my fa­ther and mother weren’t paying attention.


Psychonautics PsychonautsJourney 1000 crop
This image was cropped from the larger Fea­tured Image below.

Psychonautics and Chaos Magic

So, I’m going to skip right on to psy­cho­naut, a term that hadn’t been coined at the time Hen­drix wrote Are You Ex­pe­ri­enced? Simply, it means “sailor of the mind.” Here is a de­f­i­n­i­tion from the Psy­cho­nautWiki (which I have lib­er­ally edited for use here):

Psy­cho­nau­tics is de­fined as a method­ology for ex­per­i­menting with al­tered states of consciousness—typically those pro­duced by hal­lu­cino­genic substances—as well as to an ex­ploratory re­search par­a­digm which at­tempts to uti­lize these states to gain in­sight into the human psyche and unconscious.

The term has been di­versely ap­plied to cover all ac­tiv­i­ties in which al­tered states are uti­lized to study the na­ture of con­scious­ness. These ac­tiv­i­ties in­clude the ritual prac­tices of tra­di­tional shamanism, var­ious med­i­ta­tion prac­tices, yoga, and the con­trolled use of hal­lu­cino­genic or en­theogenic substances.

The term psy­cho­naut is usu­ally at­trib­uted to au­thor Ernst Jünger, who used it in de­scribing the phar­ma­col­o­gist Arthur Heffter in a 1970 essay on his own ex­ten­sive drug ex­pe­ri­ences. Jünger draws many par­al­lels be­tween drug-induced ex­pe­ri­ences and phys­ical ex­plo­ration.”

The web­site Psy­cho­nau­tics de­fines it this way:

“Psy­cho­naut refers both to a method­ology for de­scribing and ex­plaining the sub­jec­tive ef­fects of al­tered states of con­scious­ness, es­pe­cially an im­por­tant sub­group called holotropic states, in­cluding those in­duced by med­i­ta­tion, mind-altering sub­stances or other tech­niques like holotropic breathing, ec­static dancing, pain in­duc­tion, sound tech­nolo­gies, repet­i­tive drum­ming etc to a re­search par­a­digm in which the re­searcher vol­un­tarily im­merses him­self or her­self into an al­tered mental state in order to ex­plore the ac­com­pa­nying experiences.”

If you want to read just how LSD af­fects your con­scious­ness (a sorta sci­en­tific ar­ticle by me), click HERE.


NormanSpinrad LastHurrah pb 1970 500
This is the first pa­per­back edi­tion of Norman Spin­rad’s LAST HURRAH OF THE GOLDEN HORDE by Avon Books from 1970. It fea­tured sev­en­teen sto­ries orig­i­nally pub­lished be­tween 1963 and 1969 and sported this nifty Dean Ellis painting on the front cover.

Meeting on neutral ground

As I com­posed this ar­ticle, I re­mem­bered a short story that Norman Spinrad had written about psy­cho­nauts that I had read in one of his early col­lec­tions. I had first read Spinrad in Harlan El­lison’s Dan­gerous Vi­sions, where Nor­man’s “Car­ci­noma An­gels” was one of my faves (among so, so many other faves).

In 1969, I found copies of Men In The Jungle and Bug Jack Barron on the floor-spinner of a news­stand. In­trigued by the cover art of the former and blurbs on the back of both, I bought them. Wow! They were un­like any fic­tion I had read be­fore (I was 17-years old at the time) and I was con­verted into a life­long Spinradian!

For this piece, I couldn’t re­member the title of the psy­cho­nauts story but I did re­member the name of a fan­tastic web­site de­voted to re­viewing sci­ence fic­tion books: Sci­ence Fic­tion and Other Sus­pect Ru­mi­na­tions. There I found a re­view of The Last Hurrah Of The Golden Horde, which is where I had first read the story decades ago.

Wandering through fantastic landscapes

The story is “Neu­tral Ground” and it first ap­peared in the mag­a­zine Fan­tasy & Sci­ence Fic­tion in 1966. Ba­si­cally, human “voy­agers” —what we would call psy­cho­nauts today—take a psy­che­delic drug (Psychion-36) and travel to other worlds:

“While their bodies lay in trances lasting for about an hour, their minds wan­dered through fan­tastic land­scapes. And what was dif­ferent about these hal­lu­ci­na­tions, what had made Project Voyage im­per­a­tive, was that, al­though no Voy­ager had yet vis­ited the same Place twice, there was strong ev­i­dence that dif­ferent Voy­agers had been to the same Places.” (Space Canon)

The pro­tag­o­nist is in­ten­tion­ally seeking out a place where other voy­agers have seem­ingly en­coun­tered an alien in­tel­li­gence. If I say any­thing else, it would be a spoiler, so that’s it. I en­joyed “Neu­tral Ground” the first time I read but after having be­come psy­che­del­i­cally ex­pe­ri­enced, it be­came one of my fa­vorite LSD-related stories!

Psy­cho­nau­tics is de­fined as a method­ology for ex­per­i­menting with al­tered states of con­scious­ness. Click To Tweet

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FEATURED IMAGE: The art at the top of this page is cropped from a painting that ac­com­pa­nied the ar­ticle  “7 Tech­nolo­gies for Ac­cessing Our Greater Self” on the Fu­ture Fron­tiers web­site.” Un­for­tu­nately, the artist is not cred­ited. And by now, you should be won­dering about the joke that I men­tioned in the first line of this ar­ticle. Okay, here goes:

If you’re not a psy­cho­naut, then what are you?

A psy­chonot, of course.


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