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the shamanic persona

The shamanic persona is a concept introduced by psychedelic explorer and author Christopher Bache.

The term was included in the appendix at the back of his 2019 book LSD And The Mind Of The Universe as he attempts to explain what exactly is dying and being reborn in our psychedelic sessions. He proposes four such things, and the shamanic persona is the third. This post will concentrate on the shamanic persona, the one that stood out and most interested me, and will not cover the other three: the ego, the species ego, a dimension of the cosmos.

LSD mind of the universe bache book

This book is a treasure trove of psychedelic theory

I would like to add my own interpretation to Bache’s, and this post is a mix of his outline and some thoughts that came to mind.

What is the shamanic persona?

The shamanic persona is a type of living identity that is both born, and develops within our psychedelic sessions. It is our tripping self. It is that part of us which arises within our sessions. 

It could also be known as a:

  • Psychedelic alter ego
  • Shamanic self
  • Psychedelic identity

In Bache’s words, it is: 

“a semiautonomous, state-specific consciousness that retains and integrates all our psychedelic experiences”

The shamanic persona is a distinct identity, its own self-aware entity. It has a specific character, and could be considered one of our ‘parts’, using the term in the sense of the psychological theory of parts. It is made up of both personal and transpersonal experiences that we accumulate in our sessions.

The shamanic persona retains invisible knowledge

The shamanic persona, though hidden whilst we go about our lives, retains all the knowledge, abilities and lessons that have been acquired in our sessions. Even though our typical day to day egoic self can’t remember or access all our psychedelic experience, when we re-enter the psychedelic state, these are all once again available to us. 

If you have ever had the feeling of remembering or returning when re-entering the psychedelic state, this might sound familiar.

“Oh yes! Of course! How could I forget?!” 

This is returning to our shamanic persona. This might refer to certain knowledge, insights or capacities you have had or developed in previous sessions. It may also be familiar by means of feelings, what we might call ‘psychedelic sensations’.

Just as our normal self is composed of all our life experience and what we have learnt up to this moment in time – an aggregate of our lives – our shamanic persona is the sum of all our psychedelic experience and skills up to the present. In a similar way to how we grow, learn and develop abilities, capacities and skills as we get older through accumulated life experience, our shamanic persona deepens and grows in tandem with our psychedelic understanding, abilities and experience.

Developing a shamanic persona

The more carefully considered sessions one undertakes, the stronger the shamanic persona will be. This parallel here with our non-psychedelic selves is that the more experiences one has in ways that are framed as opportunities to learn and grow, the more developed and mature one’s character becomes.

A weaker character may result from haphazard or sloppily carried out sessions. This is due to less well-considered methods and processes, that is, lower levels of conscious approach. 

At deeper levels of awareness, which equate to deeper levels of reality, there is a wider gate for information to flow in. This can result in increased intensity of experience, and more difficulty in navigating a journey. It’s perhaps like the gap in difficulty between driving a car on an old computer game, where there are only so many variables the driver needs to track, as compared to driving in the real world, where there is much more going on and much more attention is required to navigate successfully. You may even, if you are unfamiliar with the territory, need another person beside you, holding a map, to help direct you.

With increased exposure to different planes of experience, shamanic personas can develop stability and coherence at these other levels. This results in a greater ability to navigate. As with anything else, if we are unstable, we are more prone to fall down, get lost, stop making progress, or even end up going backwards. The more stable we are, the more capable we are of standing on our feet and choosing how external influences affect us, without being blown around by outside forces. 

Learning and abilities of the persona

the shamanic persona

We retain also abilities that we have developed in our psychedelic state. With the ability to maintain a coherent awareness at different levels of experience, we acquire the ability to navigate, via means of directing or holding our attention. This means we can decide to take a certain direction, such as deciding to let go and surrender, or deciding to bring particular ideas or themes to our mind, keep them in awareness, and to ‘play’ with them; to consider them for sustained periods of time to observe and see how our view of them might develop or change as we move them around in front of us.

How it differs from and relates to our non-psychedelic self

As an alter ego, our shamanic persona may well have different characteristics and tastes to our normal self: it may prefer different types of food, music, or even have a different sense of humour. Our psychedelic self may even prefer different ways of being physically: I have a friend who has a way of lying that is her ‘tripping posture’, one that she doesn’t use at any other times of her life.  

Personally, I have noticed various differences between my psychedelic and non-psychedelic parts. I adopted a plant-based diet whilst tripping years before recognising the horror at factory farming outside of sessions and integrating it. I almost never listen to ceremony music outside of sessions – it’s too ‘spiritual’ for my non-shamanic tastes. My psychedelic persona is also capable of laughing longer, deeper and harder than my usual self.

The less integrated we are, the larger the gap will be between our tripping and our normal self. The better the work one has done to integrate the material of their sessions, the smaller the gap will be.

The closer the parts are, the more familiar the shamanic persona will feel to our normal selves. Entering the state will be easier, and the psychedelic persona will be a more comfortable ‘fit’. 

This may explain why psychedelic experiences can be so difficult at certain times in our lives, bringing up such uncomfortable feelings and emotions; they are revealing a discord within ourselves. My most uncomfortable experiences have been at junctures in my life where I was not seeing clearly and didn’t have my priorities in order. This has included: overwork to the brink of burnout, staying in a toxic relationship, and generally taking on too much and moving through life at an unsustainable speed. My sessions at these points have been the most uncomfortable, but also perhaps the most crucial. They have shown me the consequences of my actions, and revealed what will happen if I remain on my current track. In the roughest sessions I have been broken down, and in doing so, I have been forced to stop, step back, and redirect my course.

Persona reincarnation

Just as there is a cycle of dying and rebirth of our egoic self in serial psychedelic journeys, shamanic personas die and are reborn on the psychedelic path.

With the egoic self, it can be understood as parts of ourselves dying, whilst new parts come into being. The parts might include ways of seeing the world, others and ourselves,and may result in behavioural changes such as fresh habits and patterns of thought and action. Essentially, it is a change in our ‘self’: how we relate to and interact with all aspects of reality. 

In the same way, shamanic identity enters the cycle of death and rebirth in an ongoing series of sessions. Aspects of the shamanic self die when one enters a deeper level of spiritual reality, and a new identity emerges. 

The new identity will not be totally novel, or unrecognisable. Change is evolutionary, and is a gradual process.The new shamanic self that emerges maintains all the experience and abilities of the previous persona, and incorporates them into this new sense of self. Nonetheless, many of these previous parts may be recontextualised to take the new identity into account.

We can see how this process happens on the material plane by considering our physical bodies. As a consequence of exposure to existence in space and time, cells die, and are replaced in turn with new ones. This is an example of gradual rebecoming that could be considered a type of reincarnation.  

Likewise, this process of reincarnation of the shamanic self is a consequence of exposure to psychedelic experiences. In this way, this process of gradual transformation can be thought of as a type of psychic reincarnation, or perhaps better put, psychic or spiritual renaissance.

Final Thoughts

I find the concept of the shamanic persona to be a fascinating one that matches my experience on the psychedelic path. I was drawn to it as it is a familiar concept and one that I touched upon in my post “What is psychedelic integration?”,  when I used the terms “the psychedelic and non-psychedelic sides of someone”, so it is satisfying to hear this from another psychonaut and to see it expanded upon so well.

I would be very interested to hear other psychonauts’ thoughts on this, so I’ll leave off with a few questions to ponder. Share your reflections with me on twitter.

  • Is the shamanic persona a more important, authentic, or truer expression of ourselves than our sober identity?
  • How can we learn how to learn in psychedelic states?
  • What exercises might we use to ‘train’ our shamanic personas to develop abilities and reveal new levels of insight?

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lsd acid tabs psychedelic
lsd acid tabs psychedelic

The fateful tabs


The Ego Strikes Back

As I’ve already stated, acid is a reflection of our own mind, not one in itself. With this in mind, I’ve already made a classic mistake in writing this, I forgot about the golden rule; personal perception. Even with all my evidence for espousing support for ego-death theory earlier, I must redress the balance now.

Although, generally loss of ego/subjectivity with LSD is recognised as a universal feeling, I have still made huge assumptions on what others may have felt and made the biggest donut of this whole series of memoirs. Who’s to say the egotistically bereft acid vets Jack met weren’t expressing their personalities? Perhaps they were vague and bland before acid. Similarly, my slip into nihilism and numbness from acid thinking may have just been due to my own personality, I’m just articulating this through a recent drugs experience, whereas before I would have defined the same feelings through a different lens. Also, just as those who take acid like beer (let’s get fucked!) could be looked down on for missing the point, so could the more philosophical cosmonauts like Leary and Huxley. Ultimately, after the experimental phase, people usually do drugs for enjoyment purposes (assuming there’s no addiction involved), but due to LSD’s effect, the experience can be interpreted as highly revelatory or deep to the right mind. This is why, increasingly, it seems the self does exist strongly and does affect even one’s feelings of losing the self.

An example of this self-influenced objectivity trick is the fact that open-minded or unorthodox thinkers seem to have more gratifying or deep experiences on LSD compared to those who take the drug with a pre-perceived prejudice or try to fight its effects. So either there is a pure feeling of objectivity and only some people are “getting it” and others not, or the feelings of “oneness” are a societal creation by liberal westerners who take acid. However, too many people seem to confirm similar feelings of unity and infinity when they take acid so this may be more universal. Once again, the trick of circularity trips us up though, as soon as we believe the ego has been smashed by objectivity we see our perception mushroom into different layers and we start to think of the chains of causality affected by people’s ego/personality/interactions that cause us to research, organise, and then take acid in the first place, so suddenly it seems even our ego requires release.

In this post-acid funk I’ve been in recently, at once positive in one breath and existentially tortured in another, my attentions have increasingly been affected by a recent bout of clinical depression my brother has gone through. Leaving work for a month my brother moved back home for support and we ended up having many long philosophical talks whilst walking around our neighbourhood in the evening, an attempt in talking things out. My brother is closer to middle-age than me which made me wonder if perhaps I would feel the same in the future, it is common to at a certain stage in life. However, when my brother told me about the anti-depressants he had received from the doctor, it made me think. He described the effects of the pills; nausea, a strange light-headed feeling, then a weird buzz, where eventually you end up just not feeling negative. To me, this sounds kinda similar to some illegal drugs and caused me to ask my brother if he would ever try acid again, having done so once many years before. After initially laughing at the suggestion and saying that acid was the last thing he needed he has actually come round to the idea in a big way and it makes sense. Acid helps one to look at existing problems in a new and constructive way, accept flaws in life and oneself as natural and inevitable and to appreciate the simple beauty of all life. These all sound like pretty good strategies for dealing with depression to me. Again, my bro is not a weed smoker, but the dead end the depression put him in made him acquire a ‘nothing to lose’ attitude with that too and he started having the odd spliff with myself and found that it took the edge off the depression and also allowed his mind to relax and think without the pressure of insecurity. We haven’t planned the trip yet, but I hope to do a glorious summer one with my bro and hopefully it will be a really big positive revelation for him. He said to me that he wants to be in a good mindset before he does it which I agreed with, but I reminded him that his mindset was all up to him. Again, this is why acid is good for treating depression, it allows one to realise their own agency and control in life. Even just talking about alternative modes of thought and experience seemed to broaden and brighten my brother’s outlook. My bro’s story just proves to me even more that LSD and other drugs should be legalised or atleast de-criminalised because the treatment doctors provide is either unsuitable or is trying to mimic the effects of drugs anyway. It also makes sense that when my brother began to feel like he had gotten trapped and stale in the repetitious nature of life, a drug that gives the soul a spring clean would appeal. This also reinforces the idea that LSD itself seems to have a natural connection and applicability to human cognitive understanding that is very important. Drugs like coke may be bottomless in the desire they create for more, taken just to want more, but acid is bottomless in its inspirational potential.

We still look for order, meaning and logic whilst on drugs, just in a different conception; we aren’t necessarily free on acid, we’re still the same machines computing the same data, but in a new way. Acid can make the old conventions we live by seem silly, but it does not always provide alternatives. The world view acid gives is ultimately unknown, it is elusive, it teases supple minds and leads us up circular pathways because ultimately, this is the nature of existence and acid (good as it is) is not going to change this. To me, this makes me see acid as a tool I can use in my future life to develop my identity (which comprises superficial and more deep-rooted elements) but not something that will provide answers. Personal perception is all, this is what acid says to me; ‘you are malleable, change, adapt, make the world easier on yourself – enjoy it mate, rather than chasing the lost city acid teases you with, because you’ll never get there’. Acid is regulation of the self, the BB contestant vs. acid vet example I used earlier shows the dangers of a reckless lack of self-analysis which allows ingrained, unexamined (often illogical) personality traits to run amuck for years and finally become completely assimilated vs. a complete gutting of one’s mental landscape leaving it empty, formless.

I think acid taps into areas of our brain that can meld feelings of creativity and flux with concepts of order, logic and harmony – chaos and order. This is why those who have studied philosophy have been said to get more out of acid immediately. I am a former philosophy student myself. It is a way of thinking, a logical thought tool – this is why any argument requires a valid premise and a clear definition to be taken seriously, words are weighted with meaning, not like an opinion piece or restaurant review; it is an attempt at semantic mathematics. This way of thinking requires one to 1) think of topics/concepts in their largest perceivable context and 2) pursue conclusions free from the influence of environmental factors on thinking. In this sense this is why LSD thinking and the philosophical method are so similar. LSD opens the mind up to see situations or ideas from a new angle in a bigger picture and in doing so, removes pre-conceived ideas of truth and understanding to facilitate this process.

However, just as with LSD, this thinking can be liberating and debilitating. My experience of philosophy was exactly like this; I felt free to ditch certain prejudicial or silly opinions I had held onto over the years (like believing in God) and it gave me the confidence to question bigger assumptions in the world and in my own life. Also, when debating with people, I found it easier to step back, be objective and analyse their points more logically, often making for much better arguments from myself. However, just as with acid, initially this feeling of being an epistemological nomad was comforting because I felt I had shed certain ignorant ways of doing things, I had learnt something, but the same problem of nihilism crept in again. Soon I was analysing everything philosophically and trying to catch people out – ever vigilant in case their argument didn’t fully stack up. Moreover, I had to start dispensing with some of my own opinions or having to over-correct sentences at the moment of utterance if they assumed too much. While this is a good method for winning arguments, it isn’t very fun and even the open-minded can find it wearing. Plus, even with the logical analysis approach, it won’t always be successful because of course no one knows everything, which is also partly the dichotomy in philosophical discourse – it was created as a logical, scientific method for explaining the unexplainable. To me, acid presents the same teasing possibility – the possibility of crazy massive answers when what it boils down to understands the opposite – the basic values in oneself and how to augment them to find happiness (assuming happiness is the aim of most people).

Timothy Leary said you’ve got to do acid every weekend and smoke weed every day to keep sane. Leary said he was living the life of another statistic, over the hill with less and less creativity, until he took acid. But what is the alternative? Do drugs all the time? I have to now re-evaluate odd people I’ve met in the past, what they were saying wasn’t necessarily weird now I think about it, those late-night crazy chats in bars or raves, now I see those who are called mad as the sane ones.

My conclusion is that there is a concentration on immediacy and easy-gratification in our culture and this is the case with drugs too. Why is cocaine far more popular than LSD? Because it enables one to feel physically stimulated, but within the realms of reality and within societal convention to a point; someone coked up is just more hyper or chatty or adventurous, it puts a sheen on your view of reality. Acid, however, opens up so many possibilities people are sometimes not sure what has happened to them because there is nothing to weigh the experience against, and hence they prefer drugs that enhance existing desires/ambitions, rather than open up areas with no easy answers. This is why I firmly believe in taking more acid until one becomes more lucid and comfortable and able to analyse the self and the world. This can be used for many projects – recreation, dealing with trauma, working on creative or academic solutions etc. These things all represent time, subtlety, patience, understanding; things modern people don’t have time for. This is why acid is often misunderstood as a drug, so often the more salacious effects are focused on in popular culture that we as a society have lost sight of its serious potential. Of course any good cosmonaut knows that more research should be done with acid and is increasingly being done, but would be far more effective and prolific when public perception is changed too. LSD is an integral part of the human experience and to date, to my knowledge, no one who has tried it has seriously recommended it be made illegal or criticised it, doesn’t that tell us all something? Or does it? It’s up to your own perception my friend, but I tell you what, it made me feel fucking great and anytime you feel yourself sleepwalking into a life of passivity, monotony, drudgery, unhappiness, conventionality, insincerity or banality just remember, you’ve got a choice; you can be brave and you can ignore the doubters and be free, not just with LSD but with the philosophy it encourages too.

Whether it is the perceived effect acid has or not, I feel that from now on I will never get as indignant about things as I used to, and as long as I can keep childish enthusiasm for things in spite of this, that’s okay. For me, a lot of negative or (formerly) conspiratorial notions I had about this whole being human thing have been confirmed by acid, but that’s always been in me, as long as I can remember. That that part of me may never be satisfied or quelled and I should look instead to the possibility and suggestibility acid- thinking creates, and hopefully life can be that little bit less harsh and that little bit more enjoyable in the coming years. Also, it has freshened my creativity and encouraged to remember the joy of playing an instrument and composing music, the whole process feeling fresh. I don’t think I need to end on a Bill Hicks quote or anything – you only live once, try it.