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 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.
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!
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.