H.P. Lovecraft, DMT, and the mysteries of the pineal gland

pineal_glandLike a lot of people these days, I regularly absorb at least as much information from pop culture as from more exalted sources. And so it was that when I was a teenager, I first heard of the pineal gland — “the mysterious unpaired organ of the brain, the ‘third eye’, the seat of the soul, a ‘calcified vestigial organ with no function’, subject of medical jokes,” as endocrinologist and chronobiologist Joseph Arendt has described it — not in a high school or college biology class but from Stuart Gordon / Brian Yuzna / Dennis Paoli’s movie adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s minor short story “From Beyond.”

Both the movie and the story, the latter of which I read a couple of years after watching the former, tell of a mad scientist who creates a machine that sends out rays or vibrations to stimulate the pineal gland, thus awakening a latent sense that enables people to see monstrous extra-dimensional creatures that always exist in a kind of hyperspace around us. Unfortunately, the machine also allows those creatures to see us. Lovecraft explains the matter as follows:

The waves from that thing are waking a thousand sleeping senses in us; senses which we inherit from aeons of evolution from the state of detached electrons to the state of organic humanity. . . . You have heard of the pineal gland? I laugh at the shallow endocrinologist, fellow-dupe and fellow-parvenu of the Freudian. That gland is the great sense-organ of organs — I have found out. It is like sight in the end, and transmits visual pictures to the brain.

Although Lovecraft was probably working with a semi-satirical intent when he invoked the “third eye” pineal trope, which would have been well known to him because of its prominence in the mystical and esoteric literature of his day, his portrayal of it resonates rather shockingly well with the real-life research results obtained by Dr. Rick Strassman in his DMT experiments from the 1990s. Working at the University of New Mexico with the formal approval of the U.S. government, Strassman injected 60 volunteers with DMT to study its effects on consciousness and discover its possible dangers and therapeutic uses. Among the most startling of its effects was a consistent “encounter” experience in which the subjects came in contact with other-dimensional beings, which they described variously as clowns, elves, angels, demons, aliens, insectoids, and robots.

This is more than just a little interesting, especially given that Strassman organized the book he wrote about his DMT experiments, DMT: The Spirit Molecule, around the guiding hypothesis that the pineal gland may naturally produce DMT and thus be implicated in naturally occurring mystical and near-death visionary experiences, and also in dreams and experiences of alien abduction, entity encounters, and the like. In other words, we won’t be stretching the truth very much, if at all, if we make an imaginative leap and regard this aspect of his work as a kind of real-life, experimental verification of Lovecraft’s “hypothesis” in “From Beyond,” minus most (but not all) of the cosmic-horrific overtones.

Not incidentally, I interviewed Strassman recently for a blog post and book chapter about the pineal gland’s possible role as a locus of the muse experience in creativity. From my personal point of view, the upshot, aside from the inherent mind-blowing fascination of this whole topic, is that Lovecraft just keeps giving and giving from beyond the grave. He somehow ends up involved in some way, major or minor, in all of my ongoing projects and obsessions.

For those who are interested, here’s a trailer for the documentary movie DMT: The Spirit Molecule, released in 2010 as a cinematic accompaniment to Strassman’s book:

About Matt Cardin

Teeming Brain founder and editor Matt Cardin is the author of DARK AWAKENINGS, DIVINATIONS OF THE DEEP, A COURSE IN DEMONIC CREATIVITY: A WRITER’S GUIDE TO THE INNER GENIUS, and the forthcoming TO ROUSE LEVIATHAN. He is also the editor of BORN TO FEAR: INTERVIEWS WITH THOMAS LIGOTTI and the academic encyclopedias MUMMIES AROUND THE WORLD, GHOSTS, SPIRITS, AND PSYCHICS: THE PARANORMAL FROM ALCHEMY TO ZOMBIES, and HORROR LITERATURE THROUGH HISTORY.

Posted on July 4, 2011, in Paranormal and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. Your project sounds fascinating.

    I’ve just been reading Terence McKenna’s THE ARCHAIC REVIVAL, in which he speculates about tryptamines being one possible way of exploring extra-dimensional space. That’s strikes me as a pretty Lovecraftian notion, crossing vast cosmic gulfs thanks to a scientific potion that allows voyagers to pass through previously unbreachable thresholds/portals with the ease of popping a pill.

    Interviewing Mr. Strassman would be a treat–he’s a pioneer of psychedelic research and a fascinating person, of that I have no doubt.

    Good luck with your various writing projects–seems like we know some of the same people and have similar influences.

    And any pal o’ Thomas Ligotti’s is all right with me…

    • Nice to meet you, Cliff, and thanks for the good words. It’s always great to expand my network of friends, colleagues, and acquaintances who are pursuing the same interests.

      Most recently, I’ve been turned onto the ideas of Richard Doyle, which I commend to your attention if you’re not already aware of him and them. Check out this interview at Big Think from a couple of weeks ago: “Creativity, evolution of mind and the ‘vertigo of freedom.’” Absolutely wonderful stuff. It pretty much cements my decision to buy Doyle’s new book Darwin’s Pharmacy: Sex, Plants and the Evolution of The Noösphere, even with its hefty price.

  2. Mr. Doyle sounds like he would be right up my alley and I’ll add his works to my wish list–“Darwin’s Pharmacy: Sex, Plants and the Evolution of The Noösphere” is my kind of reading.

    I used the notion of a dimension smashing drug in my last short novel (maybe recalling earlier readings of McKenna et al). Shave a few molecules, add something a bit different to the brew, and God knows what Lovecraftian monstrosities might be waiting on the other side.

    Thanks for the note and reading suggestion. Write on…

  3. Thank you — excellent connection you’ve made here!

  4. There’s two things I’ll comment on here:

    1. This DMT becoming a go-to drug for ‘mystical experiences’. What a drug would do in what, two minutes, yes, does resemble what years of spiritual exercise would do but would never accomplish the same effects on the person as a whole and would always have that something (big or small) missing that separates it from the ‘natural’ mystical experience. But, well, everybody and what they like, what they want to do so what the HELL? I saw the potential consequence and just wanted to say it ;).

    2. This is related to always having to find some gland or molecule as reason for some human function. It’s annoying. It’s nice to reduce the human complexity to human terms but it’s all getting rather old. This extreme reduction means there’s always something left out, some part of what’s responsible for the function, some part of the conceptualization of the function. This omission is pardonable, it’s extreme reduction per se that’s annoying

    • Thanks for the comments, Monarc. Regarding your first point, I’ve been really pleased and impressed with the wise and restrained way that Rick Strassman has proposed using DMT and/or other psychedelics for spiritual purposes in his DMT: The Spirit Molecule and elsewhere. He has argued that people who have established a stable spiritual practice over time, but who haven’t yet had any of the firsthand experiences that are so crucial to confirming and deepening this practice, could benefit from the careful, controlled, and reflective use of these substances to introduce them to the experiential force and reality of the path they’ve devoted themselves to.

      As for your second point, I know what you mean about the annoyingness of biological reductionism in spiritual matters. That’s the opposite of my own point here. Over a century ago, William James began his brilliant The Varieties of Religious Experience with a discussion and rejection of what he called “medical materialism,” which is simply the very thing we’re talking about. And his point still holds true: it’s inherently illogical and unreasonable to “go at” spiritual and religious experience from the viewpoint that they’re nothing more than the psychological expression of purely material, biological phenomena. That belief isn’t a logical conclusion you can arrive at but an assumption, a philosophical presupposition, that you have to bring to, and force upon, your observations. Not incidentally, the whole point of the whole “Theology, Psychology, Neurology” article series that I’m writing at my other blog, Demon Muse — where the latest article talks about DMT and features some of my recent interview with Dr. Strassman — is to process the idea of the daimonic muse through the various filters of biology, psychology, and theology/spirituality/metaphysics in order to get a widescreen view (so to speak) of the factors that are relevant to the question of its ontology. In the final article in the series, maybe two or three installments down the road, I’ll sum up the whole thing and examine the collective ramifications of all these different ways of looking at it.

  5. Thanks so much for this post.

    I’m a fiction writer, journalist, and futurist. I recently have been spending most of time working with a team of archeologists, psychologists, a few students, Filmmakers, futurists, and other acedemics in a long-term project linking stories discovered in hyrogliphs from ancient Egypt, Babylon, Mesepatamia, Sumer, and their possible origins all coming from the Ubain from 10,000 BCE.

    It appears that all of the most ancient cultures whose understanding of mathematics, physics, string theory, astronomy, health, engineering, times and seasons, energy, etc., etc., all come from the same place.

    Something very fascinating in my research into all of these cultures is the importance of their devotions to extra terrestrial gods. The most fascinating to me, is the fact that through all the ancient hyrogliphs there’s an encredible presents of blue orchids. Everywhere and in all the ancient cultures are these blue orchids.

    These orchids when used as a tea, and ingested in other ways, specifically activate the pineal gland. Ancient holy men and priests not only knew about the pineal gland, but they understood how to stimulate it, and believed it to be a way to connect them to gods and demons that are seated in outer space but able to communicate with interdementionally through stimulating the gland, which they believed to be a doorway to eternity.

    I’m sure you know most if not all of this, and I cannot share the latest findings, but I am fairly new to the information and I’ve been eating it up like crazy, soo happy I found your post. I love Lovecraft and Poe, and I had forgotten his connection to the pineal gland — mare than anything I am becoming more and more fascinated and possibly a bit obsessed with the very bizarre way that some many cultures have experienced some of the same ‘encounters’ with these other-dementional beings…

    And with the many many inventions like the clock, concept of time, calendars, 5 day work week, 7 day week, algebra, physics, atomic theory, string theory, calulous, and too many other things to include here, including all major religions, that were all invented 10,000 BCE — while under these crazy creative moments under the influence of the orchid and other plants to stimulate the pineal… I have become beyond amazed.

    There is no doubt that there is something to this.

    – I’ve really really enjoyed this post and all the comments. I do apologize if I’ve bored you, I am just very excited, I shouldn’t say any more.

    Great great post, great content.

    Cheers!
    -SamC

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