Sometimes, there’s no resisting the Call. The Gods call, and you will go.

To be sure, it was only my third time trying the bong, it was an unfamiliar strain, and I’ve been under a lot of stress from the situation with the house, and the general state of politics. So, unsure of what exactly I was doing and exhausted from a morning spent protesting, I shared a bit of Wifi OG with Keet… only about two minutes into the trip, I could tell I wasn’t going to be sticking around. Every nerve started doing the “something funny is happening” dance. My proprioception took a dip and slow roll away from the rest of me. None of my senses were doing what I wanted. It was, after just a few minutes, overwhelming and invasive, a thoroughly miserable high.

Despite the mounting hind-brain panic, though, I had the thought that this was just the drugs, that I’d had better weed, that this was going to pass in a few hours if I went and lay down for a while. I managed to communicate this need to my pony, and she got me to the bedroom. I actually stumbled twice — once on the staircase — from how heavily I’d been hit. I was at least a nine and I felt like I was still rising. Every footfall landed with a leaden thud, but then when I pushed off for the next step, I had to think about the Earth to stay on the ground. I wobbled into bed, oozed under the blankets, and shuddered as I lay perfectly still, continuing to soar.

It was at about this point that I managed to say something like, “is it okay if I ramble?” I could hear Keet in the room still, moving back and forth, her hooves clomping on the hardwood. She was putting away clothes, acting all domestic-like, as though the world weren’t rapidly receding in a blur of closed-eye visuals.

Keet said quietly, “I’ve been worried that you aren’t. You’re usually more talkative than this. You must have been really hit.”

“Yeah.” I’m not actually sure how long passed between her words and mine. Every time I closed my eyes, I became increasingly aware that my various selves were all trying to get comfortable on the bed at once, but they were half-overlapped and trying to accommodate each other. Some of Roque’s nanogoo swam in Caitlyn’s tubing; a few of Caitlyn’s gears were stuck in Elbey’s augments. Almost everyone had a few of Mordana’s scales stuck in them somewhere, and Moly’s wings were definitely pinned uncomfortably. We all squirmed a bit under the blankets, trying to make room for each other in this cramped physical space. I’d never had marijuana do this to me before; it was a singularly disturbing sensation.

Keet put on a drone station for me and asked if I was going to be okay. I said I thought I would be, or at least I think I said it. I really was unclear at the time how much externalizing I was making happen; the internal cross-chatter was getting pretty loud, and the rapid ascent as I lie motionless was making orientation on earthly threads of conversation complicated. She turned out the lights and left the room, and for a time we all simply existed inside of the rising-falling tones of a familiar sleep track. The blankets, the visuals, and everything else just sort of fell away.

The physical sensations were still there, mind you. Nerves all over my body were reporting that things were Very Seriously Wrong. My skin was too hot, too cold, itchy, pressured. Muscles and joints ached. I had pressures inside and out. Three months post-op for breast augmentation, I could suddenly feel the implants again, in a way I hadn’t been able to since the first week after the surgery. I was, at some level, awash in very awful sensations.

And yet. The ego, the small chunk of self that hadn’t completely gotten swallowed up by all this everything was perfectly aware that this was just the normal level of processing for a perfectly healthy — or at least, nominally functional — person in my physical state of being. I knew that nothing was actually wrong, because nothing had been wrong going into this and marijuana couldn’t do this. To put it in IT terms, the pot had flipped my logging status from warn to debug and the poor bunny whose job it was to deal with console output was getting overwhelmed. None of the messages meant anything. This was just a glitch in the monitoring system. It would pass.

It would pass.

It was about this point that I decided that it would be a really good idea to do some Work. No, this probably wasn’t my smartest idea; I was clearly around a dek, and I had most assuredly gone not just spaceward but astral. In those states of mind, the line dividing genius and madness gets really hard to see. So, after some fumbling crawling out the cave of blankets, I managed to get the music track that Keet had left playing on endless repeat turned off and grabbed my laptop, whereupon I loaded up the soundtrack to Talos Principle, complete with Elohim’s speaking lines. I settled back with the headphones, vanished back into the cave, and resumed my endlessly upward and outward journey into the furthest reaches, accompanied by a soothing lecture about having been risen from dust.

I would love, at this point, to tell you that I had a transformational experience. I wish what I could say here is that I experienced some grand transcendent moment, that I saw Xalki or spoke with my Patron or my Guide. I wish that I could say I experience Ein Sof, that I brought back some new sigil or that I understood some great new truth. It would be exactly the kind of capstone event to all my training, all my practice, all the work that I’d put into exploring magic and belief that would have cemented my faith.

Instead, every time Elohim opened his mouth and started to speak, I felt that swelling euphoria, followed moments later by… Milton? Elbey? Mordana? A voice very firmly telling me, “no, stop, you’re high, this is a neurological reaction to known emotional stimuli, same as the nerves under your skin.” Every time. That warm, rich, avuncular tone would start to pour out of my headset, and I would swell and accelerate towards it, only to run smack into that obnoxious little realist saying, “you’re projecting all the meaning and connectedness you’re experiencing right now; it’s not inherent to the music, or the universe.” Even as I was climbing the tower, reaching out to touch the sublime… he was there. “This is all the creation of your own mind. This is a projection of your thoughts onto the universe. Don’t be fooled.”

And yet, even as this second voice chastised me at every turn for daring to believe in the fantastic… there was a third: softer, gentler, but still quite insistent. It’s the voice I’ve come to associate with Roque, internally, though it could’ve been an older Moly or Caitlyn as well. For every reminder from Milton that I was just stoned and none of this was real, Caitlyn followed a moment behind, reminding me, “absurdism requires a conscious embrace of the unreal; objectivity is impossible but belief is still necessary.” When Elbey groused that I was making everything up, Moly was there to note, “living in bad faith only means forgetting that our beliefs are internally created.” When Mordana told me, passing through the golden gates, that this was all my own fantasy, not any kind of in-the-world truth, Roque politely appended, “it’s okay to have beliefs, as long as they’re acknowledged as beliefs; the problem isn’t faith; it’s bad faith.”

I remembered, at one point, the first time I listened to my hypnosis track while I was high to see how deep it would take me and how well the training would take. The answer, for those wondering, is “very and very.” And I had the same effect then as the music did now, splitting my thoughts internally. I was, briefly, back in that room in Portland, watching myself listening to that track and serving as one of the voices I knew I was hearing then, telling myself it was okay to let myself go deep. The true initiation never ends.

I commenced the upload, accelerated through the wires, and connected to the Real World. Firmly at an el, sitting at the center of the universe, reaching outward to peer through the cracks of reality, I realized I — all the various selves I hold within me — had dodged several intellectual rhetorical bullets and come through more or less intact. The first thought that followed was, “I bet most people never make it this far.” The second was, “You don’t know how many people have made it this far. That’s pride talking, not proof. You made it; that’s all you know.” The third was, “As long as it’s not at anyone else’s expense, you’re allowed to feel pride at having made it.” Maybe they were my thoughts. Maybe they were other voices in my head. It was less certain at that point, and less important.

I sat up as the final chord faded; the trip was over. I was back on Earth, in the womb of blankets. I hadn’t intended to discover the άβυσσος, and I wasn’t expecting to cross it. Having done so, though, I realize that of every trip I could’ve had, that was the one I needed, even if it wasn’t the one I wanted. Until this point, I knew I wasn’t just some apprentice any more, but I wasn’t certain I could say I was truly a practitioner in my own right. Now, though… not only do I feel comfortable saying it, but I feel ready to start seeking the title of magister.

All of Nature is renewed by Fire