Author of the Month

Greg Taylor, Author of the Month for January 2008

Her Sweet Murmur (cont.)
By Greg Taylor

To an explorer, a ship

To recap the sounds of the near-death/out-of-body state, we have specific, repeated accounts of:

  • Buzzing/Humming
  • Bells Tinkling/Chimes
  • Thunder/Rushing of wind
  • Stringed instruments
  • Choir/hymns

Any person that has studied border experiences in general should recognize these sounds as being common to multiple phenomena. Turning to shamanism, we readily find a number of examples. For example, consider Terence and Dennis McKenna's description of the onset of a 'magic mushroom trip', from the book True Hallucinations:

But it was definitely at some point in time near to that conversation that I first heard the sound, immeasurably distant and faint, in the region between the ears, not outside, but definitely, incredibly there, perfectly distinct on the absolute edge of audible perception. A sound almost like a signal or very, very faint transmissions of radio buzzing from somewhere, something like tingling chimes at first, but gradually becoming amplified into a snapping, popping, gurgling, crackling electrical sound. [6]

Terence McKenna also made much of 'the Logos': what appears to be an external voice, sometimes heard while under the influence of psilocybin mushrooms. It is interesting to note some research done on the prevalence of this phenomenon, conducted by Horace Beach, Ph.D. In his paper titled "Listening for the Logos," Beach notes that "one of the most interesting findings of this study is that in over 45% of participants' total experiences with a voice(s) and psilocybin, sounds other than voices were present." He goes on to list the words used by participants in describing these sounds: "high pitch, high tone, humming, buzzing, whirring, ringing, rustling, rushing water, howling, vibrations, whooshing, crinkling, insect-like, drumming, whirling-circular."

Dr Rick Strassman, in his research into the potent hallucinogen DMT (Dimethyltryptamine), catalogued repeated instances of 'entrance' sounds. "There was this loud intense hum," said one research volunteer. Another, 'Sara' — who claimed to have been visited by an 'angel' once when she had a high fever as a child — said "there was a sound, like a hum that turned into a whoosh, and then I was blasted out of my body at such speed, with such force…there are sounds: high-pitched singing, like angel voices." [7]

Anthropologist Michael Harner described the onset of a shamanic journey via the DMT-containing brew ayahuasca with these words: "the sound of rushing water filled his ears, and listening to its roar, he knew he possessed the power of Tsungi, the first shaman. He could now see..." [8] Cognitive psychologist Benny Shanon, recognized as one of the world authorities on ayahuasca, notes Harner's description in his book The Antipodes of the Mind, and also relays his own insights about the archetypal nature of these sounds:

There are also specific auditory effects that drinkers of Ayahuasca commonly report. One effect, usually described as most annoying, is the hearing of a continuous buzzing sound inside the ears. Another effect is that described by many as 'the sound of running water.' This very phrase has been articulated by several of my informants and is also used by Harner; curiously, the 'noise of great water'is also mentioned in the most spectacular vision described in the Bible, the Divine vision opening the book of Ezekiel (1:24).

It should also be noted that Shanon cites Goldman (1979) in saying that during the ayahuasca trip one may hear "music, the sound of people singing, and the sound of flowing water." Shanon points out that the hymns of the ayahuasca-using Santo Daime Church are 'received' music — either via the intoxicated individual spontaneously composing, or alternatively actually copying music heard during the experience. He even relates a personal experience in which he was accompanied by "a grand choir of angels".

Reichel-Dolmatoff [9] says of the yage (ayahuasca) experience: "The hallucination has several phases, and during the first the person feels and hears a violent current of air, as if a strong wind were pulling him along." Usage of Heimia salicifolia (sinicuiche), a plant that appears to have been used in Aztec rituals which contains the alkaloid cryogenine, is reported to sometimes be accompanied by a ringing in the ears which turns into orchestrated music[10] — two sounds that are common to our investigation. Meanwhile, Paul Devereux, in his book The Long Trip, tells how during opium intoxication Reverend Walter Colton heard "harps and choral symphonies". Interestingly, Devereux also relates that "the locations of oracles were often "hallucinogenic" in that they had roaring water or wind at them."

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  1. True Hallucinations, Terence McKenna [back to text]
  2. DMT: The Spirit Molecule, Dr Rick Strassman, p. 212 [back to text]
  3. "The Sound of Rushing Water", Michael Harner, from Hallucinogens and Shamanism, p. 15 [back to text]
  4. Amazonian Cosmos, Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff [back to text]
  5. "Listening for the Logos: A Study of Reports of Audible Voices at High Doses of Psilocybin", Horace Beach, Ph.D. [back to text]

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