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LN: Hello this is Larry Norris of ERIE, Entheogenic Research, Integration, and Education and you are listening to EntheoNation with Lorna Liana.
LL: Hello visionary tribe of EntheoNation, this is Lorna Liana and my special guest today is Larry Norris who is the founder and executive director of an organization called ERIE, which stands for Entheogenic Research, Integration, and Education, which is based in San Francisco, California. ERIE is a group that is dedicated to entheogenic research and specifically the development of integration tools, which is very much needed in this day and age, especially with the explosion of entheogenic groups and relative absence of support for individuals that have these experiences. Now Larry recently taught a graduate course called “Entheogenic Education” to discuss the potential of entheogens as cognitive tools. So Larry, thank you so much for joining us today.
LN: Thank you for having me.
LL: I’d love to find out what inspired you to begin an organization like ERIE and how you discovered that there was a need for these services or the support that you provide?
LN: Absolutely. Well ERIE, it’s kind of been a long time coming. I think probably the first time I realized a need for ERIE I didn’t really even know what was happening at the time – this was when I was much, much younger and I had my first sort of deep, profound mystical experience from a mushroom experience that I’d even had. And I was, at the time, studying sort of neuropsychology at the University of Michigan and so very much into the reductionist model, the [inaudible] model, like looking at the brain neurons. and I had this experience, which really connected me with sort of by definition a peak experience. I had this unitive experience connecting with multiple layers of sort of multidimensionality if you will, sort of immersed in this [cachic] records of information.
And after this really deep and intense experience I was sort of lost. I walked around, I was living in Ann Arbor at the time and I walked around for hours just looking for somebody to talk to, somebody to connect with on this. And I came into the realization way back then, how important it was to have some sort of support and community. That was a long time ago, that was in the mid 90’s. So since then quite a bit of research has come out, which has been great. But however, there wasn’t an area – all the research was kind of going into the biomedical model, the pharmaceutical model, the treatment of clinical issues, etc., etc. And I was a little bit more interested in more of the – for lack of a better term – “fringe” elements. So what’s happening within dreams? What’s happening within the experience itself, the phenomenological aspects?
Grof has this term, “the cartography of the psyche”, what’s happening out there? What is the map of consciousness, if you will? So I was really interested in those questions. We all came together, a bunch of us that founded ERIE, came together in a class taught by Susana Bustos at CIS called [Pseudo-integral] studies and we came to the realization there that we just needed to have more dialogue, more conversation and that we were equipped with the tools to do that because we had four or five researchers that were doing this research. We had a great networking of a bunch of other researchers that were also interested and we just wanted to create dialogue.
Through this process of creating dialogue and learning from the Bay Area residents that there was also a need for integration, we decided to actually create these pure integration circles. So a non-facilitate circle that was just a bunch of peers coming together to share their experiences, very much in the manner of a 12-step program. There’s no one that’s sort of counselling or leading, but we’re all there to share. And that was really great. We had people coming in and sharing experiences that they’ve held on to for over 30 years.
And so now we’re like, “Wow, there really is a super huge need, not just for the community of sort of the new explosion of entheogenic research this re-emergence that’s coming, but also people in the past that just haven’t had an opportunity to share.” And so that kind of started us off. We actually are now tax-exempt from the State of California and we just sent our 501(c)(3) paperwork for Federal and property exemption as well about a week ago. So we’re on the path.
Eventually what we’d like that to look like is to actually create an integration house or headquarters to be able to hold these events and these circles and things like that, and be a big support to the community. And also be a hub for people to know to go to to get great solid scholarly academic information and also the support they need. We’re also creating an integration and referral network to be able to sort of work with everyone in the U.S. Right now we’re sort of more focused on the Bay Area, but I constantly get emails from people from Tennessee or Florida or Georgia or Michigan or others on the East Coast that are also looking for assistance and help.
LL: Yeah, yeah. I think this is really valuable work that you’re doing because I can pretty much speak from my experience, primarily in the ayahuasca world, which is I’ve been noticing an explosion of ayahuasca ceremonies happening in western countries and being led both by rockstar shamans that are primarily mestizo’s who play really great music who are travelling around and charging a lot of money for these ceremonies and then just kind of disappearing, like doing a North America tour so to speak, and making like $10,000-$30,000 every local that they stop.
And then people just having these experiences where there minds are being totally blasted open but then the shaman’s gone and the people that might have done the organizing work, you know, simply are not even capable of holding the space for participants that might be having a difficult time with integration. They might have just been simply offering up their home and like managing the email list, and that’s about it. And so where do you go if you’ve had this really weird experience that you can’t really talk to normal, you know, like other people in your life about, or let alone want to go to like city health services or the emergency room and say, “Hey, you know, I had this experience and I saw these like three-headed beings come out of this wormhole and like start talking to me for six hours.” You know what I mean? You’ll end up getting lithium shots or something like that, you know?
So it’s really great to be able to find a network of people that kind of can really understand the parameters or the far out frontiers of what a visionary experience can be like and then provide both the visionary and spiritual emotional support, as well as like the therapeutic and physical support.
LN: Yeah you bring up a really awesome point too, which is something that we’ve been in discussion about, is like what’s the difference between clinical integration and non-clinical integration? Or for lack of a better term, philosophical or spiritual assistance or counselling or dialogue, or what have you? Because I think in a clinical model there’s a lot of people like MAPS that are working a lot with PTSD. MAPS is the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies. PTSD and other things that are dealt with more in a clinical setting, but again how are they going to respond to, or you know, clinicians that are trained in this way, how are they going to respond to the three-headed monster coming the multidimensional space, right?
So what we’ve been trying to do is to really allow for an opening for transpersonal experiences to come in, to be able to have those dialogues too, from a pathological framework. From a way of sharing with, “Well maybe you need to read these texts,” or “Here’s a wisdom tradition you might be interested in looking into,” or “Here’s an experience that might help you related to something a little differently.” So also there’s subtle dynamic within the integration context as well: clinical, non-clinical, philosophical, spiritual, what have you. So I think these are all really important points, and as we sort of grow as more entheogenic culture or entheonation, if you will – [Laughs] little plug for you there!
LN: Then we can sort of also develop multiple different ways of integrating.
LL: Wow so is ERIE the only organization out there that offers this type of support and these resources? Or are there other organizations that play in the space too?
LN: Yeah I mean one organization I can think of right off the top of the bat that has been doing this work for a while, but who’s sort of gone through ebs and flows is the Spiritual Emergency Network. This is a network that was started by Christina and Sam Grof back, maybe about 20 years ago or something? Maybe a little over. And that’s basically dealing more with the topic of spiritual emergence or spiritual emergency. This however can happen between multiple different range. It can be a spontaneous kundalini awakening, it could be a channelling experience. There’s a lot of things that aren’t necessarily specifically focused on entheogenic experiences. So within that context, I believe that ERIE’s the only one that’s working solely with entheogenic integration.
But what’s interesting is when we have these circles, we unfortunately live in a culture where now it is safer to say you had an entheogenic experience than you had an alien abduction experience or that you and a kundalini awakening experience or you had these other experiences. So people are actually finding safety under the umbrella of an entheogenic integration session because they don’t have to be called out for these more crazy type of experiences because they’re in this more, sort of again, a non-pathological framework that are with other people, that are having other different types of experiences, and it’s really amazing to watch that they’re still able to dialogue. Even though they’re having different experiences coming from different directions, the conversations are still applicable across the way.
So I think spiritual emergency network is the main one. I know that there’s places like the CSP, the Council on Spiritual Practices that may deal a little bit with spiritual experiences, but not really so much in the integration. I know there’s other guide groups that are working out there, and integration is part of their deal. I know at MAPs there’s a lot of talk therapy types of integration for the MDMA studies that are done, but again that’s more a of clinician model. I personally really enjoy like painting types of integration. So again, to have like a canvas and to be painting and like working with the symbolic or the right side of the mind while things are coming out and you’re talking about things.
So I think like pretty much we’re the only ones, to answer your question. And I’d be happy, I mean we would love to be able to tag with more organizations because the need is there, for sure. Again, we’re trying to service the Bay Area, but there are people emailing us from all over the place, looking for assistance and help. So the more groups, the merrier I think.
LL: So do you have a directory of therapists and coaches that can help people, you know, work with people one-on-one on getting through their integration period after a strong entheogenic experience?
LN: Yes absolutely. We have multiple different levels of that; again, we have people that are more working with the facilitated, peer facilitated groups and we also have specialists that are in the area and then clinicians that are specialists in the area as well. Right now our database only consists of about seven or eight people, but we’re building that. We just haven’t had the time and opportunity to really like collect a really big database. But that’s the idea, is to actually create a referral network for people to connect with all the time and I know that people that are on our list are getting emails and they’re a source for information if anyone out there actually needs some help with integration, please contact us. That would be on the ERIEvision.org website under “Integration Assistance”.
LL: Okay so do you think that the people that would be best served as integration support, well I guess the question is, is it necessary for the person providing integration support to be a therapists, a licensed psychiatrist or clinician? Or could there be a variety of different levels of support being offered?
LN: Yeah absolutely. I think there should be a variety of different levels of support because, like I was saying a minute ago, sometimes the clinical model is what’s needed, and sometimes it’s not at all. I would say the one thing that is imperative however, is that the person who is doing integration has had experiences. Because again it’s like, “Okay I’m going to talk to you about dreams, but I’ve never had a dream. I’m going to talk to you about sex, but I’m a virgin.” Like there’s some elements of that that’s missing, you know?
So by being able to have the integration assistant have had an experience somewhere along the lines, and I mean preferably it would be someone who’s working with one particular medicine that’s helping people working, integrating that medicine. Because that way you have a deeper dialogue, you have insights that are being, to use the term, “downloaded” from these experiences that can help other people as well. So I think that’s really the only thing that’s necessary, is for the person to be experienced with some sort of entheogenic experience, but as far as whether it’s a clinician, or I think there’s terms like philosophical counsellor or spiritual counsellor, or spiritual emergency network assistant – all these other different types of levels. I think each person is going to be spoken to in a different way, they’re going to be connecting in a different way. So we need to have multiple different people and multiple different layers. And I think even one individual can have multiple different ways or techniques of integrating as well.
LL: Wow, fascinating. With this I see a whole new space, a whole new community opening up and this is like, I would say, and expression of the growth of entheogenic research and entheogenic groups that are kind of like emerging in the space. So I’d love to ask you, in addition to this explosion of ayahuasca groups and ceremonies and all that, it seems to, there seems to be also a growth in officially sanctioned entheogenic research. Or maybe even FDA approved, or – I’m seeing more studies come out on the horizon and it seems like there’s been more permission, if you will, rather than just complete suppression of this type of research. And so I’d love to ask you what your thoughts are. What is driving that and where do you think this is going to go?
LN: Yeah absolutely. No I think that’s really a fascinating question, “What is driving it?” I’m not sure what’s driving it? Maybe because what’s driving it is that you have some clinicians who are seeing results. And that’s most of the research right now is happening within like Johns Hopkins, UCLA, NYU, and they’re again going through the biomedical model. We have MAPS, which is almost on stage three of MDMA for PTSD. So that’s kind of what the sort of the route that most of the researchers are going right now because it’s safe, it’s really hard to deny that veterans need help with PTSD.
I would also argue – and there’s been some people that are bringing this into conversation, “Let’s not just deal with the veterans, but what about war survivors?” Like there are people that things have come to them, they’re not out there necessarily creating the war, but they’re victims of the war. So also maybe we need to bring in war survivors into the PTSD conversation as well. But what I think is the reason for this work is because again, it’s effective. You have a big population of baby boomers right now, which are going to have to face their mortality for the first time in their life, and you have institutions like Johns Hopkins and UCLA and NYU which are looking at psilocybin for anxiety around terminal death, so people that are afraid of dying. They’re not treating their terminal cancer, but they’re treating their fear of death, which is really interesting cause again, you’re treating a spiritual problem within the biomedical context, which is a really great way to go about it.
And I think this research will continue on, but I think that we also have to be aware that it’s not the only research. We don’t want to take this area and couch it completely under the biomedical umbrella, because many of us had these experiences outside the clinical model and had a very transformative ritual ceremonial indigenous practices, and there’s lots of other ways to go about it. But unfortunately right now, this is the one that’s getting the most play out there. But I think as things grow and I think you’re speaking to the maturity of entheogenic culture now is that we’re not just talking about these experiences, but we’re talking about integration, we’re talking about bringing it back, we’re talking about growing, we’re talking about transforming as a culture and transforming out paradigm.
LL: What do you think the most exciting research is in this space, for you?
LN: Right now I mean, for me the most interesting research is research that looks more within the experience itself. I mean I can look at the microscope all day long and that’s what anthropology and biomedical and all these other things are looking at: the microscope. What’s happening at a neural level? What’s happening to the individual? What’s happening physically? But I’m actually interested in what’s happening inside the experience.
And that’s actually what my research is on right now. I’m actually looking within ayahuasca experiences for transformational themes and triggers. There’s a book by a gentleman named Benny Shanon, which is really beautiful book charting the phenomenology of the ayahuasca experience called “Antipodes of the Mind”. And he does a really great job sort of mapping out different layers of visions and things like that. So the areas I’m focusing on for this information or for this archive is the grand scenes and virtual reality scenes. So the idea that we can map consciousness, that we can see a deeper layer of consciousness, that there’s different elements, there’s different archetypes that we’re all experiencing, for me is very fascinating.
I’m also very interested in sort of the work that James [Fetterman] had done in the 60’s and 70’s, which got shut down unfortunately, but hopefully will re-emerge. And this is the idea of working with these tools and substances and plant teachers as cognitive tools, as creativity tools, and what types of things can evolve. Like I think there’s a lot of talk about how the computer revolution began from psychedelic and entheogenic experiences, or that had some sort of trigger for these creative outputs, if you will, or the creative [inaudible], the computer revolution.So I think that research is really interesting to entheogenic education and what’s happening next in the world? What can we learn from these experiences?
LL: So I really enjoyed Antipodes of the Mind, especially after having numerous experiences and visions of ancient Egypt in my ayahuasca experiences. And then reading his, I guess the, his work on charting the phenomenology of ayahuasca and like the grand themes that he encountered. I’m curious with regards to your research, why do you think it is that many people that engage in entheogenic exploration tend to encounter grand historical themes? Or some of the themes that he mentioned in the book are the, I guess, the relationship or tension between nature and civilization, or the grand theme of like life or death, or sacrifice and deliverance. In your research, why do you think people experience these themes?
LN: Yeah I mean this is a really interesting question and I don’t think I’ll be able to supply you with an answer today, but I can speculate for you of course. So I think for me, there’s what really interested me about Benny Shanon’s work and the relationship to archetypes is he also, when he sort of breaks down psychology and which psychological perspective would best be suited for ayahuasca experiences, he touches on Jung that says the archetypal idea is really great. But actually he takes it one step farther and he says Jung’s ideas of archetypes actually falls a little bit short because he believes that these experiences aren’t necessarily symbols or psychology, but he believes they’re actually us seeing an extra-mental realm. So his quote is, “A snake is just a snake,” right? So sometimes a snake isn’t a symbol of a past experience, but you’re actually seeing this snake in this other place that we can’t normally see with normal consciousness.
So I think that was a really interesting way of sort of looking at it. And I don’t know like Jung wrote the Red Book, which was only just published in 2009.
LL: I love that book. It’s beautiful. And he was definitely tripping out on something.
LN: Well I actually did a little bit of research to try and explore like what types of things would he have been in contact with. Was there a possibility that he would have come across something? Because he talks about mandrake in the book, he talks about chemical brews, and in the very beginning of the intro he says, “The Red Book” was like a mescalinic experience.” So it’s really strange, so I started really exploring that. I wasn’t able to find any evidence to show that he had done anything, but he said that this exploration was sort of like that. But within that context of that book, he talked about archetypes more as a spirit or as having their own sort of independent agency outside of himself than an actual archetype of psychology which more – probably later more empirical self would have said.
So he was sort of like watching himself for a little bit later in his career, but I think if Benny Shanon had read The Red Book, he might have shifted some of the perspectives of Jung’s interpretations of archetypes and seen them more as spirits and not just the psychologizing symbols. Now why do I think that these metaphors come across in our experiences? I think a lot of them are part of the human condition. Like there’s a lot of people that say, “Ayahuasca’s trying to help us understand what we’re doing to nature. Ayahuasca lives on this planet, we’re all part of the sky and mind, and here we are building things that are destroying the place we live in instead of working creatively and bringing in like “how do plants and buildings work together? How do we use permaculture to work best in this environment?” Or other ways to sort of live with nature instead of against nature.
Certain things like surrender experience, the death and rebirth experience; these are all things that humans are going to have to face in their life. You know, dying, coming through. And so I think all these are experiences that we just normally will have so prepare us for this next stage. You know, I’m always interested too, archetypes – are they archetypes because that’s a symbol of something or is it an archetype because that’s where that being lives? Again, there’s like these subtle nuances of when you’re talking about collective unconscious and you’re talking about these other experiences outside, these transpersonal experiences outside of ourselves, what are our definitions really doing when we don’t fully understand it?
LL: So do you consider entheogens to be more like deities or doorways/portals, if you will?
LN: Yeah I mean I think that’s a fascinating question too. I have gotten the expression from ayahuasca experiences and mushroom experiences that there’s definitely a deity characteristic to it. There’s a wise sort of, not always benevolent, but a sense of this like wise being that’s sort of helping you along the path. I don’t necessarily get that with, let’s say, MDMA or LSD, which maybe are more of like keys or doorways to help open up something to a different place. I think they’re both, but I actually see [inaudible] spoke with us a little while ago for hearing. He was actually saying, kind of relating to that “both and” aspect, you know? They’re both doorways and their deities. You got through the doorway of the deity in order to get to the other place.
So I think as we sort of explore and get more familiar building relationship – and that’s another thing too you know? Within a lot of these cultures it’s about building relationship with the plant, and that’s really about building a relationship with another being, another entity. You don’t really build a relationship with a door, other than knowing this is where you go through. But when you’re building a relationship to a deity, maybe the door can get bigger or the door can become more accessible for it.
LL: Have you ever spent much time down in the Amazon or in other cultures working with traditional plant medicines and the old ways?
LN: Yeah I have spent a little bit of time in the Amazon, but the church that I was working with there was mestizo with some Shipibo element to it. I have worked in the Bay Area with more traditional settings; folks from Columbia, some folks from the Huni Kuin tribe and some folks from the Shipibo as well.
LL: Oh really? The Huni Kuin?
LN: Mhm. And it’s really awesome to see some of the varying degrees of how the ceremonies are set up, but yet there’s still some consistent thread to keep them along. One thing I really love, for example from the ceremonies from the Columbian group was their attention to the olympia’s at the end and really sort of bringing that out after you’ve had this experience, this really deep experience and they have, you know, where you sort of take your shirt off and they beat the branches on your back and you sort of sing and you sort of feel everything come off you that you worked out. So anything that wasn’t fully purged and just had sort of percolated to the top of your skin, was then sort of cleansed off.
So I think that’s a really beautiful way to end the ceremony. So I think there’s certain elements that each have that are really just beautiful nuggets that help the experience, you know, more engaged with ourselves.
LL: So I spent a lot of time with the Huni Kuin tribe of Brazil. I’m curious to know who it was that came through? Because I’d heard rumours that there was some Huni Kuin that were in the Bay Area, but I didn’t catch who it was, and I’m kind of curious to know whether it’s somebody I know?
LN: It was [Leopardo].
LL: Oh yeah!
LN: Like he came for [inaudible] that year.
LL: Oh okay. So how do you know Leopardo? I travelled with him in 2004 to his village with his brothers.
LN: Yeah he was coming up with Marcello Schaumburg who works with Plantando Consciencia, I believe, and Floresta de Unicornios, I believe. I’m not sure of the names of those groups but they’re two different groups that they’ve been working with and he’s come up and actually spoke with ERIE quite a few times. I’m actually putting the videos out right now, so they should be out in the near future. What’s interesting too about those ceremonies is there’s definitely like a lightness to them, you know? There’s much more in the way of dancing, there’s much more in the way of like sort of shaking it off, if you will. And that’s just like, how some ceremonies it’s all just about deep work and there’s not really a chance o get up and move around, but that was one thing. And a lot of laughter and connecting and I think that’s really important – humour – and bringing that into the experience.
LL: Wow, that’s so great. There are all these just kind of like overlapping threads and worlds, so to speak. I’m always impressed at how I discover how interconnected my international ayahuasca community actually is. I would’ve never known that you guys, who I know through different channels, have actually gotten to meet and host Leopardo. And I had no idea that you were also a student of Susana who I spent time with she and Robert in Mayantuyacu in 2007, working with their maestro, Juan Flores Salazar.
LN: And they’re doing beautiful work on that too, with Takiwasi and Jacques Mabit and trying to find ways to help people who are working with addiction to come back from that and heal from that. And so her work is just amazing, and I’m really privileged to work with her.
LL: They’re amazing people. I really respect them.
So we’re coming to the end of our conversation, our interview together; I’d love to leave you with a couple questions. This is my favourite question, so what was the most far out visionary experience you have had?
LN: So probably the most far out visionary experience I’ve had had been sort of connecting and relating to the spider element and realizing that the universal fabric is such that it’s really just a bunch of strings, and everything we see in a three dimensional plane can actually be pulled apart and moved through so that you can get through to the other side and that everything three dimensional is actually just a two dimensional plane that can be moved through like fabric. So this spider interaction I was having was sort of teaching me how to move through this fabric, how to navigate through this and also sort of how to pump the fabric in such a way that the vibration would open up different realities. And if you didn’t get the vibration right, the reality would close or collapse or a different reality would form.
So it’s just this really interesting multidimensional exploration and movement through what seems like, “Okay there’s just like this space in front of me.” But actually just this much space in front of you is a thousand and thousands of realities. So that for me was pretty profound because they just reopened my eyes to how much more there is around me, very, very close to me. We don’t have to go out to Pluto or far space, there’s space right here that we have to explore, or is available to explore I should say.
LL: So you could actually access different realities by changing your vibration?
LN: Changing the vibration of the string by plucking the vibrations of the strings that are the fabric of the universe that we’re moving through.
LL: Wow, that’s really profound. I’m going to explore that one. [Laughs] Okay so what do you think it means to awaken as a human being, Larry?
LN: Yeah, to awaken as a human being, that’s interesting. I think that’s really being conscious of community and relationship, and I think that’s not just relationship with family and friends and partners, but also relationship to the land, to the people that lived here before us, to the trees and the plants, to the food that we eat. I can’t say that I’m always great with my relationships, I like to eat ice cream and other things with sugar in it, so you know, those things kind of fall flat occasionally. But I think really just like connecting with who’s around us and trying to live and grow in the most creative and stress-free manner and really help and support the people around us.
LL: Fantastic. So can you leave us with what your future visions and dreams are, and how we can best stay in touch with you?
LN: Sure absolutely. So future visions and dreams are really making this set year project move forward and that it would involve basically an integration house. So we’re actually looking to create an in-patient, out-patient integration center, both to deal with people of sort of a lower level of integration needs and then also people for example coming back from evil gain and heroin addiction work, so people that rather than go to Mexico have a three day experience and then go right back home where their friends might be offering them heroin again to have another place to go and unpack these experiences. Also with like ayahuasca spiritual emergencies, those are more of the in-patient work, and then we also have out-patient.
And then our future vision, way down the road when actually these medicines become decriminalized, and to actually create an educational institution with plant teachers as core faculty. So this is one of the things I touched on in the class at CIS this summer. What would that look like? Would we want it to be accredited or not? What types of curriculum would we have? What would visiting professors offer to the community? How would we be working with guide work or integration work or any of these other types of work? What types of permaculture would we be doing? How would we relate to the plants? How would we grow the plants and watch them from seedling to flower plant or cactus or what have you? What different types of things can we learn directly about the plant, bringing in indigenous teachers, indigenous scholars learning from their traditions.
So really for me, that’s a beautiful vision of the future like again, you know, it works with integration, it works with education, it works with research and allows us to sort of give back to the plants and learn from them what they’ve been trying to teach us for a while.
LL: Fantastic. How can we best stay in touch with you Larry?
LN: Yeah so the best way to keep in touch with me is through our website. That’s www.erievision.org – E-r-i-e-v-i-s-i-o-n.org. Or same; firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also check us out at any YouTube page, Meetup, Facebook, etc., same thing; Erievision – E-r-i-e-v-i-s-i-o-n.
LL: Awesome. Thank you so much, and you have a beautiful day!
LN: Thank you very much. Thank you for having me. I look forward to chatting some more.