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Aaron: Trawling the Ghost Stream


Aaron [b. 1967] author who writes about technology and the fringes of the spirit.

Resides in San Francisco; raised in Southern California.

During my travels through India with my girlfriend Janine in January 1995, we went to a place called Hampi, a small Hindu city that had been abandoned in the sixteenth century when marauding Moguls invaded from the north. It’s situated in a dry, desert-like environment in Karnataka, about three hundred kilometers east of Goa. Today there's a small village in the midst of the ruins, nestled along side the river that winds through the area.


The town is a big spot on the freak circuit, a refuge where Goa hippies go to chill out. Across the river from the village there are huge boulders which are very striking, like some of the formations you can see in northern Mexico, weird piles of strange rock like Antonin Artaud describes in his book The Peyote Dance. Many sadhus live around these outcroppings, a good number of them hash smokers. There's a nice interchange between the freaks and these smiling, cannabis-imbibing Shiva worshippers. Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference between them.


On the night before the full moon, Janine and I climbed up a small mountain near the village, taking a rather treacherous trail. On the peak was a very simple temple, a white-washed building, where a whole bunch of freaks were hanging out for the sunset, smoking hash and chatting in many European tongues. Reaching this scene, we sat down and dropped some Black Microdot acid.


We couldn’t tell if the temple was abandoned or still actively used. While people were still lounging on the roof, we poked around inside the temple and found that there was indeed still a god image deep within the inner sanctum. We had to shine a flashlight to see it, but the deity had a fresh strand of marigolds around its neck, which meant that it was still being "fed" and kept alive through worship. So it was still a living temple, though very primitive and run down and probably not frequented much, except by freaks from the West.


After the sun went down, the freaks gradually disappeared. It got darker and darker. Finally, we looked around and noticed that we were the last ones, except for an old Indian man who came up and stood very near us. He didn't say anything, but was clearly checking us out. After a few minutes we started to get a bit apprehensive. We were coming on to the acid, wondering, "What's going on? Are we not supposed to be here?" He just stood there, and we just sat there, breathing, staying relaxed. Finally, he nodded to us and then left. Perhaps he was the guardian of the place, just making sure that nobody, with no one watching, turned to mischief and screwed around with the sacred site.


Janine and I climbed up to the roof of the temple and sat there. As the moon rose, we really came on. Then a warm wind picked up from the east, and something I'd read in some Tibetan meditation manual popped into my head, an admonition about the danger of meditating on top of windy mountains, because of all the spirits about. It was certainly a powerful place to be tripping on a psychedelic.


Typical for me in the early stages of an acid trip, I experienced big rushes that took me out of my body and put me in a different visual space. Often at this point I'll consciously settle back down to get a basic sense of where I am in the real world, and then go in and out of the onrushing psychedelic space through a sort of hyperspatial wormhole. But this orientation process produced a very amusing result on this occasion. Okay, where am I? Oh yeah. I'm on top of a temple in India with a god inside and this ancient ruined city splayed before me in the glimmering light of the full moon. It was like trying to ground yourself in a place that was already imaginary.


As the trip got more and more strange and intense, Janine and I had a shared hallucination, which went on for quite some time. We were sitting at the eastern ledge of the temple roof, on the edge of a cliff, facing the rising moon and the oncoming wind. We turned to look at each other. As every tripper knows, when you look at a face for a long-enough spell, it invariably melts and changes and takes on various personas. Something somewhat more phantasmagorical occurred this time.


It was as if we'd become skeletons and the wind carried spirits like sheets of loose newspapers on a windy day. Myriad spectres and apparitions were blowing through us, getting caught on our material forms and then blowing away again, like a page of newsprint that tumbles along and clings to a bush or telephone pole a moment, before being swooshed away. Some of these beings were very hellish, hungry ghosts chattering in endless flight, slowly disintegrating in the winds of time. They'd cling to Janine's form, struggling to hold on, and then be whisked away again by the wind. We watched each other's faces silently for quite some time, maybe an hour.


It was very frightening. I switched into virtual reality mode, which is sometimes required when I reach the scarier parts of trips. Basically I try to engage the arising phenomena as if I were operating a flight simulator of the bardo realms, doing my best to just perceive what comes up as insubstantial creations of the mind and resist being overcome by the attendant emotions. As one might expect, this only works some of the time.


At one point, Janine transformed into a chthonic snake goddess, which had far more graphic reality and force of presence than most of the other phantasms, and a wicked hunger in her eyes. When this image took over, I couldn't deal with it. I had to turn my head away. I was trying to stay with the frightening stuff, but this was just too much.


Janine later described her side of our mutual stare: "I saw in Aaron a whole life process, from a baby all the way to a very skeletal old man. Then the skin and the life force blew off, first the skin, and then the spirit leaving him like smoke blowing away in the wind. There were some dark, sexually ravenous man-spirits that appeared, inevitably appealing in some limited way, very much a magnification of the erotically predatory male gaze. There were many images of old age, skeletal figures close to and even after death. I also saw the face of a very wise old man, suggested, no doubt, by the wizened guru omnipresent at least mythically in India. The wise man transformed into a death's head, and moved off into the space of death. All these different spirits were blowing around and when one landed on him, it was like a sheet of newspaper was stuck on his face. The personality would hold for a moment, and then it would drip off the way plastic melts."


Inevitably for me, a slice of cornball science fiction slipped into my trip. Deciding to try the staring game somewhere else, I looked up at the moon and had one of my more hilarious though frightening hallucinations. I thought to myself, "If I keep staring at this moon, something really freaky is going to happen, and it might not be that pleasant." But I'd signed up, so I kept staring at the moon, which was about forty-five degrees in the eastern sky. Suddenly and very viscerally, my entire sense of space changed.


I saw that the moon was actually a flashlight being beamed down onto us by some mischievous alien scientists, as though the plains of Karnataka were inside a Petrie dish under a microscope. Then I got a more distinct sense of the nature of these unseen beings. "Oh, the little creature notices us now. Isn't this amusing? Let's play with him a little bit." The moon began to shake. At this juncture, I consciously drew my eyes away. I didn't want to go down that tunnel anymore.


As we came down from the peak of the acid, we reached a familiar stage, when you're basically back in your body and the main ride is over, but you’re still very high. Often this is a time of annoying restlessness: "Should I move? Should I stay here? Do I want to go somewhere else?" I was thinking how unfortunate it was to have hit the restless stage just then, because the trip had been incredibly wondrous so far. Just at that moment, around midnight or so, a crew of British freaks climbed up to the top of the temple, bringing blankets and whisky and cigarettes and hash and fruit and candles. They laid out their stuff and we joined them. We weren't ready to climb down the mountain anyway, in the state we were in.


It was incredibly excellent timing, because we had a very grounding, human experience with these hilarious Brits. Unlike most of the freaks on the Goa/India circuit, they were wry and witty, and they reflected on the bizarre experiences of India -- the filth, the sluggish trains, the colorful beggars with knives in their cheeks -- in a very amusing and slightly cynical way. This was very refreshing. Most of the freaks were so humorless and pious -- "I am on the psychedelic path, man, hanging out with authentic sadhus" -- which can be lugubriously heavy and delusional, not to mention pretentious. At the end of the day, they're really just smoking a lot of dope and having a good time  -- as are a lot of the sadhus themselves.


After hanging out with these delightful folk for a few hours, we decided to go back to the village, where we'd let a room in a woman's house. We climbed down into the abandoned ruins, which were very spooky in the dark, and made our way back. In the village we came upon hundreds of people sleeping in the streets, so densely packed that we had to step gingerly between their corpselike bodies to make our way. Presumably some of them had vacated their homes so that they could rent them out to tourists like us who'd come just to have a trippy time. { back }

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