THIRD WAVE PODCAST
Psilocybin, Private Rituals, and Personal Journeys
Bett Williams is a contemporary psychedelics pioneer, author, and podcast host. In this episode, she talks with Paul Austin about her introduction to mushrooms, her decades-long break from them, her re-entry into the world of psychedelics, and her experience with solo, ritualized journeys.
Bett Williams is a writer and psychedelic explorer, and the author of The Wild Kindness: A Psilocybin Odyssey, a memoir about growing mushrooms in the high desert of New Mexico. Her other works include The Wrestling Party and Girl Walking Backwards, which was named as one of the Ten Best Young Adult Queer Novels by Vogue Magazine. She has written for several publications including DoubleBlind, OUT Magazine, Flaunt, Lucid News, and Lenny Letter.
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- The language of mushrooms—and what they think about how we talk to them.
- How mushrooms tap into our subconscious.
- Discovering the soul-building, artistic, and spiritual benefits of using psilocybin mushrooms while alone.
- Tracking the changing drug narrative from the 90s to today.
- The long history of hallucinogens and art.
- A look at the role of ritual and sacredness when using mushrooms.
- Bett’s take on the progress of decriminalization and how mushrooms might fare within capitalism.
- The differences between experiencing mushrooms in a clinical setting versus in your own home.
- Why so many fathers relate to Bett’s book.
0:00:00.0 Paul Austin: In today’s episode, we have Bett Williams, author of The Wild Kindness: A Psilocybin Odyssey, a lyrical, unforgettable memoir of Bett Williams’ relationship with Psilocybin mushrooms. Welcome to the Third Wave podcast. I’m your host, Paul Austin, here to bring you cutting edge interviews with leading scientists, entrepreneurs and medical professionals who are exploring how we can integrate psychedelics in an intentional and responsible way for both healing and transformation. It is my honor and privilege to bring you these episodes, as you get deeper and deeper into why these medicines are so critical to the future of humanity. So let’s go and let’s see what we can explore and learn together in this incredibly important time.
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0:03:20.5 PA: Hey, listeners, and welcome back to the podcast. I am your host, Paul Austin, and we have another great episode for you today. This one with author Bett Williams, who published The Wild Kindness: A Psilocybin Odyssey, a lyrical, unforgettable memoir of Bett Williams’ relationship with Psilocybin mushrooms. In pursuit of self-healing, she begins experimenting with mushrooms in solitary ceremonies by the fire. And I’ve read this book myself. Every evening I try to do a little bit of light fiction reading before I go to bed as a way to wind down, and read this back in August and September, and probably made it about three-quarters of the way through. And in one of the reviews of The Wild Kindness by Gossamer, which is a phenomenal website about Cannabis, a media website about Cannabis, the description is, “A hot lesbian living in the American Southwest decides to grow her own psychoactive mushrooms. You’ll never guess what happens next. In general, this is a bomb. It is the polar opposite of that Michael Pollan book.” Which I found to be a pretty apt way to describe it. It is Bett’s specific journey with Psilocybin mushrooms in New Mexico with a various array of characters, some of whom are plants, some of whom are spirits, some of whom are animals, and many of whom are real humans.
0:04:42.7 PA: And I’d first heard about Bett at the Horizons conference in, I wanna say 2018, is where she spoke, and was just aware of her, and then her publicist had reached out about the new book that she was publishing, looked into it, thought it was very interesting, and Bett was one of the more interesting people that we’ve had on the podcast. She’s a writer and a reader like myself. We hit it off in so many ways, and it was just a good, honest, down to earth, soul to soul conversation that y’all will enjoy immensely. So without further ado, I bring you Bett Williams.
0:05:22.0 Bett Williams: Really appreciate you inviting me on.
0:05:25.3 PA: Totally. So let’s just get started. Just so our listeners have a little bit of context and back story about what led you to writing a book about your Psilocybin odysseys, about your healing journeys in New Mexico? What was the catalyst specifically to say, “Hey, I’m gonna write a book about this and share my story with the world”?
0:05:46.6 BW: Well, I had written two books before that were completely not psychedelic-related. One was a coming of age story, and the other was a pop culture, kinda rock and roll funny book called The Wrestling Party, and then 15 years passed, and writing has never been easy for me, but the more time passed, I thought, “Oh, well, maybe I’ll try sculpture or maybe I’ll not be a writer,” because it was so difficult to finish a book, and then I fell in love with the mushroom s because they helped me do personal healing, and then I thought, “Okay, let me ask the mushrooms, “Can you help me write another book?”” I think it was Borges who said, “A writer that doesn’t write is a dangerous person,” and I was noticing aspects of my life, as an artist, that were suffering because I wasn’t attending to what I knew I came here to do, which is write.
0:06:40.4 PA: It was like writing, in a way, helps me to make sense of the world? And for anyone who has a more artistic leaning, there’s a tendency to going through anxious and depressive states, and there’s something about writing that helps to, at least for me, to stay centered and not sort of get too pulled in either direction. And obviously, the process of writing is frustrating, it’s challenging, and there’s also nothing that I found that’s more nourishing from a soul perspective.
0:07:16.1 BW: It’s true. It’s not an easy flow for me, and my goal as a writer is to always tackle the things that are the most ineffable and gorgeous and amazing. And so the mushrooms both provided a structure that made things easier. I was saying the other day that a mushroom trip has its own arc. So in a way, a mushroom trip was a way to take ideas in beats. So the book is full of a series of many mushroom trips. And that’s the easy part, it helped a bit with structure that way, but to meet the mushrooms on their own terms with all the expansiveness was a real challenge.
0:08:00.5 PA: Can you say more about that?
0:08:01.0 BW: I would say… There’s a scene in the book where somebody said, “How do mushrooms talk?” And I think, for right now, anything I say is just from the perspective of an artist and how I’m kind of seeing it from here, which is, I was looking at a mountain and… On this one particular mushroom trip where I fasted for four days, and the mountain broke into hieroglyphics, actual language. And there’s a writer named Diana Slattery, who wrote a book about a downloaded alien language after 406 trips she took, and it took her 15 years to actually draw these letters, and she created a fully formed intelligence that she downloaded. And so when I was looking at that mountain, I thought, “Oh no. Am I gonna have to do the same thing?” There’s the film, The Arrival, by Amy Adams, where the aliens come and they speak in a language, and the letters that they transmit are both resonant on an emotional level, they kinda break time, when she looks at the letters, she goes into the past and the future.
0:09:09.3 BW: So I think on a very high level, psychedelic language is in that form. But it’s also, for me, in a regular mushroom trip, they just talk to me. They’re chatty, they’re bossy, they’re funny, and they help me… I think the second tier language of mushrooms is like a connection with my own brain as Bett Williams, and it’s a collaboration. So it helped me to navigate. Eric Davis, who’s a wonderful writer in terms of psychedelics and pop culture says that the humor and the vernacular way that we approach a mushroom trip with our own language in our own heart, even if it seems sort of like, “Oh, I’m just a humble human being in the face of God, and that moon is freaking me out right now,” that language actually helps you stay centered so you don’t fall off the rails, because if you don’t get to come and weave in a psychedelic trip into what your own life means, it’s really hard to walk through the world, especially if you do psychedelics as a path.
0:10:12.4 PA: There are a few things that are coming up for me as you’re talking about this relationship between almost like mycelial intelligence and our own human sort of way of navigating the world. I think it was Terence McKenna, who in one of his many sort of far out speculations said that maybe mushrooms were delivered here on an asteroid a billion years ago, that they came from outer space. And it feels like many of us who work with psychedelics or who have been working with psychedelics over the last 10 to 15 years, Eric Davis is someone who comes to mind, as well as many, many of the others, we almost feel like aliens, being here within a culture or a society that feels so alienating to some degree.
0:11:01.5 BW: As the female species, it said that it was really difficult for us to stand up from four leggeds into two leggeds, and this is a wild theory that women are the only mammal that menstruate to the Moon’s rhythms, because we lost so much blood that if our people taking care of us didn’t go hunt a buffalo or get us some iron and meat, we were gonna die. And so I think between Terence McKenna’s idea that mushrooms created culture, and then that women’s menstruation actually created the need for language and figuring stuff out so we can get that meat to the woman so she doesn’t bleed to death, there’s something very primal about why we evolved as a species with language.
0:11:47.2 BW: Terence McKenna said that he thinks the first words spoken were in a mushroom trip when somebody… A dude told this chick to, “Please go get me a glass of water. [laughter] Over there.” There is a sense of… One of the deep things about words is there’s a sense of original sin having to do with language that I think a lot of psychedelic people uncover. When you name something, there’s the chapter I call the Buffalo problem, where I had an impasse in my exploration with mushrooms where I was like, “Can I call a buffalo a buffalo in the middle of a trip, or am I limiting what that thing I’m seeing that appears to be a buffalo is?” And so that was my own kind of spiral. As I say, heroin addicts end up in a gutter with a needle in their arm, and psychedelic people end up alone in their rooms with a buffalo problem. So language has always been a problem to play with and solve and go, “What is this thing?” Because as much as psychedelics give us visuals, Henry Munn, when he wrote the essay, The Mushrooms of Language about the Mazatec, said that they also generate language in a very clear and direct way, and I have experienced that, and it’s been beautiful. And it’s an unsolved thing. I have no theory about it yet.
0:13:15.6 PA: Well, it kinda reminds me of all these… Even I had this personal experience with microdosing mushrooms, where there’s just, both in speaking and writing, there just seems to be a sharpness, a way to articulate concepts or ideas. There’s a lot of sort of science-y vernacular-ish words for this, but lateral thinking, or we can kinda go here, or we can go there, and there’s this mental flexibility with these things where… Same thing with you. Whenever I come out of these high dose Psilocybin experiences, it’s like an incredible… Writing and the creative process, especially when someone is stressed or is in a depressive state or is having a rough time or whatever it might be, just not feeling that great, it’s hard to find that motivation, that creativity, and Psilocybin just washes everything clean and just allows you to feel, “Oh, I can just be expressive and play with words and play with things again,” and it’s a really pure sort of feeling.
0:14:22.3 BW: I feel like they see the whole picture. They know that I wanna see the whole picture, so they tend to show me the other side of things. When I asked them about healing from my alcohol addiction, they were very funny and they said, “We love death and decay. We like drunks. You’re gonna die 15 years earlier, sort of a slow and painful death, but it’s funny to watch you all.” [chuckle] And so they were showing me the perspective of how small I was, that my desire to be sober was funny to them, and they do wanna help me with whatever desire I have, but they showed me that my perspective is not their perspective. And so, especially in this day and age, when it’s really important that we pay attention to others’ political ideas and that not everybody thinks like you, I feel like the mushrooms are very helpful for that. They always show me the other side of the situation.
0:15:19.1 PA: And this is the topic that’s often talked about, the mycelial network, mycelial intelligence. What does that even mean to you? What is mycelial intelligence? What are mycelial networks? What are the ways that mushrooms are speaking in which humans should pay attention to?
0:15:37.8 BW: I think it’s very much about relationship, similar to the perceptions, like in Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book, Braiding Sweetgrass, we are in direct relationship with everything around us, people, our computers, the plants, the trees outside, and mycelium is a network that looks a lot like the internet on another level, a lot of criss-crossing things. And so they teach me that relationships are the only way to actually grow through an idea, to look at what that person says, what does that tree say, and there’s something very nature-based about mushrooms in particular. All of a sudden, you’re realizing there’s the ground beneath your feet and the fungus underneath it that’s making the trees grow, and that actually, oh, surprise, has something to do with the health of the people around you. And I’ve been thinking about the pandemic and our immune systems and how they’re… All the little micro-organisms in our bodies are freaking out because we’re not exposed to each other’s germs in the same way that we have been, and so it teaches me, every single thing is a relationship. And that’s great for a writer because a writer is picking from everything around them, and mushrooms exaggerate that relationship, ’cause sometimes things are irrelevant, but a mushroom will show you, “Oh, no. Actually, pay attention to those juniper trees outside your house. They’re kind of a big deal.”
0:17:08.7 PA: So it amplifies elements of our reality that we don’t necessarily pay attention to when we’re too focused or too narrow.
0:17:15.7 BW: Yeah. So it takes you out of your “I” perspective. I think that can also be exaggerated or minimalized, depending on the way you approach a mushroom ceremony, because I think a lot of people approach it with a list of psychological issues they’re trying to [unclear speech].
0:17:34.0 PA: Heal my childhood traumas.
0:17:35.1 BW: Go ahead. You’re gonna do it. I can’t talk you out of it. But for instance, the last mushroom trip I did, I was expecting one thing, it was right before the Psilocybin Summit, and I was like… Had a lot on my mind about politics and internet, and the mushrooms came on and they told me that the mice in my house by the refrigerator were making my partner sick, and that I needed to pull it out and do the stuff to the electrical outlet and fix that, and that would actually improve my health considerably, and my ability to have some space. And so that’s what I did, and everything in the house shifted. I think people are in the pandemic are dealing with a lot of jin and weird stuff going on in their houses, and so the mushrooms went straight to that. They’re like, “You gotta deal with the mice.”
0:18:22.1 PA: It almost feels like a conscious, subconscious, unconscious thing. The mushrooms sort of tap into that subconscious iceberg that’s below the tip, so to say, that we sort of keep locked out, and then once you sort of get those defenses to come down, then it’s like, that was probably in your awareness before the trip, but because you were so focused or preoccupied with other things, you didn’t give yourself the space to actually go, “Oh, take a step back. What really matters? Okay, the health of my partner. Interconnectivity. Now, what might be affecting that?” And then, boom, you kinda go, “Oh, there’s this.” And then it’s like, it’s new, but it’s not new. You kinda knew it all along, and then mushrooms just are like, “Here, go do that.”
0:19:02.7 BW: And for instance, they told me that my dog didn’t like the lamb dog food that I bought her, but the chicken. And it’s like, you think things are so mundane, but your dog getting sick and not eating their food is actually… What really has to do with the health of your day and stuff, and that’s why mushrooms are so amazing. Maybe it’s in my subconscious, and it came up out of an innate wisdom that is just stuffed down there. I don’t know, but it’s so out of left field sometimes the way they show me what is not ego-based, the way they show me the peripheral. And it’s so important. ‘Cause I’m so one-pointed, we’re all so focused on what we think is important.
0:19:46.8 PA: And there’s so much that we often miss, right? It’s like Aldous Huxley calls… We have the reducing valve in our conscious brain, and mushrooms just open that up.
0:19:56.7 BW: Yeah. I did a trip, and I had planted with my father, who’s passed away, a cottonwood tree in front of my house. He’s Midwestern, and every Midwesterner has a shade tree in front of their house, and so I had to do the same thing in New Mexico. And so, for 25 years, this Cottonwood was sucking up the water from the Pinyon trees nearby. And one day, they were like, “Bitch, cut that tree down, it’s sick, it’s not doing well. Look at the leaves are falling off, and we’re not getting the water that we need to survive.” And I realized that for 25 years, I’ve been offending these holy, beautiful Pinyon trees by my house by planting a really inappropriate tree that sucks up a lot of water. And this is an entryway to my house. So for years, I’m walking by the sick thing, this imbalance, that I created at the entryway of my house.
0:20:47.0 PA: I’m from the Midwest. So when you just said that, I was like, “Holy shit, she’s right.” Let’s get a little bit into your background story because we go into that book a little bit, but I think just for the listeners, so they have a little bit more context on who you are… You first started working with Psilocybin many, many, many, many years ago. And then you basically had a break for 15 or 20 years or 25 years or something like that. So I’d love just to hear a little bit more about the story. Like, what brought you to mushrooms the first time, and then kind of why did they come back around when they came back around?
0:21:18.7 BW: Yeah. Well, I did mushrooms for the first time when I was 15 years old. This goth witch at my high school asked me to do them. She came out of nowhere. I did mushrooms with her. My boyfriend at the time was like, “You should definitely do this.” And I never saw her after the experience. And the experience was divine. We just walked through these ruins and kissed a little bit. [chuckle] And then I came home to my bed, snuck in, so my mom wouldn’t know I was high, and I fell asleep with the sense of like, “Oh, my gosh, I’m on a planet, and the planet is made of dirt, and it’s full of worms and all this living matter.” And it was the first time I really understood that. And then I did mushrooms a few times more in my early 20s, and every time I did them, I was like, “I should do this regularly. This is incredible.” But nothing took. And then I did the 15-year blockage, and some bad relationships and things like that. And an artist friend came to visit me who I had met on the internet and was like, “Let’s do mushrooms. Where can you find some?” And I asked somebody, and they said, “Go to this guy at AA, and he’ll give you some mushrooms. [chuckle]
0:22:33.6 BW: So my understanding of them in my own life is that they’re based on relationships. They’re based on people and conversations. Mushroom spores themselves will travel on the hats of tourists or on the wings of birds. I think that mushrooms want to be out in the world, they want to go to the farthest yonder, as I say in the book, and it’s much easier for them to find their way through our minds, so I think they find their way through culture and to do them alone, and to do them in the way that I do, which is a kind of soul building practice and artistic practice and a deeply spiritual practice, it’s very difficult to do it in isolation. If there’s any danger to psychedelics, it’s not being able to have a community to build these ways with. And then I got stuck, and I was like, “I need to write a book ’cause it’s what I do.” And I thought I could give it up, but I couldn’t, so I asked them for help, and I just was like, “Okay, it’s gonna be the backbone.” At first, it was, “I’ll just write a very simple book about how mushrooms are great,” and then I realized, “Oh yes, I’m a Generation X-er. I come from the ’90s, like the books that I read were Bret Easton Ellis.”
0:23:45.5 BW: Do you remember Go Ask Alice? It was a book about a drug addict. There’s a kind of prose that arose through the beat poets, through, like, Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, that informed me more than I realized. So attending to a literary work of art… I couldn’t just do the mushroom manual. I had to actually write the book to see what that was, because the drug narratives of the ’90s were always like, “I lived through my drug problem.” And so this was a completely different story, it was like these mushrooms, every time I do them are saving me from dying, are saving me from my bad relationships, they’re telling me what I need to do, so it was kind of a borgesian mirror to the kind of ’90s literature that I grew up with, which was very substance-based.
0:24:40.1 PA: Like Requiem for a Dream and…
0:24:43.4 BW: Yeah. Like Requiem for a Dream, and then William Burroughs’ Naked…
0:24:46.7 PA: Trainspotter…
0:24:48.3 BW: Trainspotting… All that. It was Annie Oak who said to me that my being drawn to María Sabina wasn’t just because I have a grounding in ceremony, but also she’s one of the greatest Latin American poets to ever have lived. And I’ve always been enamored with her sentences that are transcribed by Jerome Rothenberg of the chants she did as a Mazatec woman in mushroom ceremony. So the literary aspect in weaving substances in with it is an old, old tradition for writers. Writing and substances goes way back. [chuckle]
0:25:26.6 PA: Oh yeah. Lord Byron was well known for that in the 19th century. William James wrote… Who else? Like, Plato and Aristotle were in the Eleusinian Mysteries, if we go back that far.
0:25:39.6 BW: Well, Joan Didion wrote on gin and speed. I didn’t realize that she wrote Play It as It Lays on gin and speed. And then there’s the… Yeah, Baudelaire was the opium writer… And then the psychedelics hit, but there was Henry Michaux who wrote on Mescaline. And then I think the work of literature is actually… Huxley’s Doors of Perception it’s just [unclear speech].
0:26:01.6 PA: I was just gonna say.
0:26:01.8 BW: It’s art criticism, the whole thing is really talking about classical painting and how he decides one day that content of the painting is not the virgin you see in the shell, it’s fabric. He’s like, fabric and textures is like all this whole time I’m looking for content, it’s really about the surface and textures, which leads you to like Andy Warhol and the Can of Soup, all these basically very psychedelic ideas about surface and depth and content, which we wrestle with in our artistic dialogues to this day.
0:26:37.9 PA: As an artist, what are sort of the influences that you bring alive in your own work? Obviously mushrooms and Psilocybin.
0:26:47.6 BW: Yeah, mushrooms and music, ’cause listening and guiding my life through the music that I follow, it shows me a lot about how to see the world and what is resonance. Somebody asked me the other day, how do you know when a mushroom is telling you a bunch of bullshit from when it’s giving you a full transmission? And my only answer was that it’s a resonance and the texture, like when you hear a song and it really hits you, you go like, “That’s telling me a truth that I need to know.” So it provided me with something to lean into is like, “Okay, this is it,” because we don’t have language for that moment when you discover something new and you go, “This is a fucking shit right here.” And so later in the book when I do Syrian Rue with the mushrooms and I have this incredible transmission through the version of Guadalupe, it was like a training through arts, through resonance to know like, okay, this is the moment where I finally arrived to the song of my soul in a way. And there’s always the relationships that you make along the way, like meeting Kai Wingo and the community in Detroit, she passed away on the 38th day of a 40-day fast.
0:28:08.3 BW: And she ran the Women and Entheogens Conference in Cleveland, 2015, that she invited me to. And to encounter a community that was using psychedelics together with their families in a way that wasn’t like a counter-culture thing, but just simply what an entire community was doing, really gave me permission with my artist friends to go like, “This is a viable way to see the world.” And so there’s community building involved in being an artist and doing these ways outside of clinical settings and structures, ’cause you’re literally building a world like art builds the world when musicians do these things and they go to festivals, it’s like your songs will build a space for you to exist in. Like Kelsey Lu, who I write about in the book as having read that she has teeth marks in her cello from trying to eat it on LSD. When I heard her songs before I knew this, I was like, “Her entire song is a psychedelic space.”
0:29:11.0 BW: And so when artists make something, they’re creating the world that you can step into, so we may in a therapeutic sense, have our personal growth things, but when artists make a clearing through a sound or through a sentence or through the possibilities that occur in a narrative, I think that’s part of the work, [unclear speech] suggested that Greek theater started through entheogens and saw… There’s a sacred in the secular realm that artists skirt. So I’m not like… Even though I come from a background in ceremony, and being invited into indigenous ceremony, I am mostly an artist, so I’m going back and forth through all these different spaces, basically showing what’s possible and creating these pockets that I hope people go, “Oh, okay, here’s this clearing created by this beautiful resonance of words, and the musician does it with song.”
0:30:12.8 PA: Right. Which is sort of like the role of the Curanderos in Ayahuasca ceremonies.
0:30:17.1 BW: Yeah, so Maria Venous singing, and you just step right into that song, as she’s saying like “Do woman, woman of Do ha,” and she’s making, I call it a sovereign country in another dimension. And we need each other to do that. I think our imagination needs help from everything around us, and when we create spaces for each other through art, it’s like, “Oh okay, they just made the space of possibility and imagination.”
0:30:49.8 PA: It reminds me of… There’s a really great book by Bruce Chatwin.
0:30:55.5 BW: Yeah, Songlines?
0:30:57.1 PA: The Songlines.
0:30:57.2 BW: Oh my gosh, Songlines is one of my Bibles. So can we talk about that for a second because…
0:31:04.6 PA: Yeah, let’s totally talk about it.
0:31:06.0 BW: Oh my gosh, the Aboriginal people of Australia have songs that they sing as they walk along the landscape that get them from point A to point B, and as they walk, the lyrics of the song will say, “There’s that rock,” and that is like the guinea pig rock, and it’s called guinea pig rock because their people had a thing happen there. And so as they walk and they’re telling the story of the origins of their people the whole way, and I think all music in a way, is a kind of geographical location.
0:31:44.1 PA: That was like jazz even.
0:31:46.6 BW: Yeah. Okay, Pharaoh Sanders, so Pharaoh Sanders they were the first LSD jazz, and I saw them play while on LSD in Mumford, Texas, and they brought in such an energy of origins that every single person in the room had tears streaming down their face and they weren’t sad, and I was embarrassed because I was on LSD and I’m like, “Okay, I can’t stop these tears from coming out my face because… And the bass player was sobbing, and it was understood by everyone that the ancestors were fully present, like something very, very, very old was with us, and because of the music, it was able to link us in, and it could also be because their music, it has a psychedelic aspect to it.
0:32:38.9 PA: Totally.
0:32:39.9 BW: I was saying the other day that there’s a balance, when taking mushrooms, of not going too far in yourself that you lose paying attention to what’s going on around, because I think that’s the space of creativity, is where you’re in your own world, but you’re also paying attention, like in a peyote ceremony, everyone’s singing and the water drummer is going around, and you’re meeting something while you’re possibly feeling very sick or like you wanna lie down, but you can’t, you have to actually attend to what’s going on in the room ’cause you’re making something together, and you can’t just be by yourself.
0:33:17.9 PA: You’re a part of the community. And this is something that you talk about quite a bit in the book and in your work, is just the importance of ritual, the importance of doing this within a community, some element of sacredness or mostly an element of sacredness. One question that I did want us to dive a little bit into is just hearing a little bit more about your perspective on sort of the current state of what’s going on with psychedelics.
0:33:44.7 PA: So it’s mid-October 2020 when we’re recording this. COMPASS Pathways just went public on the NASDAQ Stock Exchange, and it hit, I think, a valuation of 1.5 billion, which is incredible and ridiculous at the same time. There’s decrim measures going on in places like Oakland, where they’re looking to sort of formalize healing in ceremonial circles. TheraPsil, which is a Canadian non-profit, just got approval for Canadians to legally use Psilocybin for end-of-life anxiety. And where I’m sitting from, I’m a big fan of both and, to the concept of both ands, so to create a container that is accessible for as many people as possible, all of these options need to be on the table. And there’s obviously upsides and downsides, and pros and cons, and all of that to each and every single one of them. So I don’t know if I have a specific question, like tell us about this or tell us about this, but just generally, from your perspective, from the mushroom’s perspective, from the work that you’ve been doing with these the last five to six years in communities that you’ve been involved with, what’s your sort of take on the state of the current psychedelic renaissance?
0:35:02.5 BW: If I wasn’t interested in playing with everyone who’s doing these things, and if I didn’t have curiosity what COMPASS is doing, what people are doing, psychedelic therapy is doing, I would just be doing my own private practice and not paying much attention.
0:35:20.8 PA: [chuckle] That’s the right answer. That feels like a good answer.
0:35:23.3 BW: There’s a human political realm of dealing with structures and capitalist structures which have diversity issues like that, and then there’s the fact that the wily mushroom, or the wily Ayahuasca, or the wily LSD is simply just a chemical compound, and so it’s a whole conversation. First you go like, “Well, are the mushrooms an entity that does or does not want this corporatization, let’s say.” And as I stepped into the community of the psychedelic movement, I know that I represented the rogue psychedelic user. And there is a place where, in the discourse of our current politics, you’re supposed to be against something. [chuckle] And it’s like, well, if you’re doing something that you like and it’s completely different from another thing, and you’re saying like, “I’m giving you this other option. You don’t have to pay for it, you can grow them at home and give them away, and it’s just as great,” that doesn’t mean that I don’t think these other ways are really effective.
0:36:32.7 BW: And I could get in a lot of trouble for saying this, but I was in my hot tub the other night on an edible, and the mushrooms told me that they think it’s really wild that so much money is being made, or potentially being made from all these Psilocybin analogs being used in all this stuff. The mushroom’s perspective is so complex and so long-term. What does 10 years from now mean with the way we’re doing things? So I’m just holding down the fort of like, “Hey, you can do these things on your own, in your house, with your friends.” And before, I was like, “Oh yeah, well, doing them in a clinic is this and that,” but my brother, that’s the only way he would ever do it. And my friend’s mom, that’s the only way she would ever do it. Yeah, I don’t quite see it, other than that I’ve softened and really have a lot of love and curiosity for how this is all gonna unfold. At the end of the day, it’s a fairly friendly process, even though we’ve got a lot of big players and things like that happening, it’s not exactly like we’re fracking or anything.
0:37:40.0 PA: Unless you count extracting Psilocybin from mushroom, like maybe we’re fracking the mushroom or something like that.
0:37:46.4 BW: No, it’s ridiculous.
0:37:46.5 PA: [unclear speech].
0:37:50.1 BW: Plants are so generous, and humans and culture, it’s… I don’t know. I’ve decided to just step back and have a place of curiosity because the level to which I’ve really set down my stakes and gone like, “You can do this stuff and give it away for free,” You all knew that from the beginning. Even decriminalization has its complexities. I personally am not a person who goes door-to-door, advocating for decriminalization. It’s just not my interest or my style, but also, there’s something to the fact of going to a drug dealer, doing something illegal, and doing it in the privacy of your own home.
0:38:33.8 BW: What if you look at the fact that these things have had to be secret, not in terms of always the idea that you’re colonized, of course, and people make things illegal because psychedelics are power, spirituality is power. But what if sometimes things just need to be done in a humble way, a little bit in private because they’re really powerful. So to me, maybe it’s really okay to just keep going and just tell people to be smart and to really be aware that people of color are put in jail more than other people, and to pay attention to that and do everything you can. One of the old ways, these things have been done for thousands of years, amongst every regime is with some danger. Usually, only the elite in a given culture or the shaman would do these things, and so we’re in new territories. I don’t have a problem with the fact that we’re still working through the illegal stuff. I would like it to not be for many reasons, but it’s a space to hold that maybe them being illegal is a form of privacy.
0:39:32.6 PA: I’m just feeling this energy going up and down because there’s a few things there. There’s almost this mycelial underground. I was talking about this with Louie Schwartzberg on another podcast that we did, where he was like, “Man, like, we’re all in this together, and it doesn’t really matter if everyone’s doing mushrooms or like whatever.” It’s like those of us who care about this, those of us who believe in this, those who have some relationship with mushrooms… There is a cool little like… It’s not elitist, but it’s sort of like, “I can be this way and then behind closed doors, it’s like I have this secret little wand that I use,” and that’s sort of like… That’s fun, and that’s interesting. And whenever we have these deep spiritual experiences, especially with something like… I see this most commonly with Ayahuasca circles. I think people just from the natural goodness of their heart wanna go, “Oh my gosh, this was so transformative, I need to tell my family and friends and everyone about this.”
0:40:36.4 PA: And I think that’s partly because we just live sort of in a shitty time where mental illness is skyrocketing. We’re trying to fucking figure it out, and no one’s really been able to figure out, and then you drop these, and you’re like, “Holy shit, this worked unlike anything that has ever worked before,” and then we’re like, “we’re evangelists.” And I think part of the process of learning to work with psychedelics is not keeping a lid on that, but being mindful of how you speak about it and who you speak about it too. Maybe sharing your experience… There is a tendency for the ego to creep in and then be like, “Do you wanna do this? Do you wanna do this? Do you wanna do this?”
0:41:13.8 BW: And also, elitism doesn’t need to be a bad word. The elitism of psychedelics has no racial lines, has no class lines. In my book, I talk about landing after the Horizons conference into a barbershop in Lubbock, Texas with a war veteran who was like, “Yeah, MDMA is great, but what I really want is to grow mushrooms in my closet, and I’m sick of everybody promising veterans that they can have all this stuff and I’m just gonna grow this stuff myself.” I think the movement tends to use those tropes of access to say that they need to be legalized and move their stuff forward when the stuff has been done by all different segments of society for a very long time. And there’s something to having to work for it. There’s something to having to source your drugs, to find the drug dealer, [chuckle] talk about a way to deal with class race issues, to go into a big city and try to find some mushrooms. It’s very humbling.
0:42:13.7 PA: And thankfully, with education, that to me feels like the key. How do you just help people learn? Like “These are the basics of working with psychedelics, and these are some of the rituals that have worked for thousands of years and probably don’t take too much the first time that you do it, be in a really nice beautiful natural setting, be with a few close friends that you know fairly well, and then just see what happens.” A huge part of the healing of all of this and working with this is the unknown and the emergent, and not trying to figure out every single last detail, you know?
0:42:50.4 BW: Yeah, you can go online and go to Chacruna or DoubleBlind and get some really good advice on dosage. Or you can listen to some really amazing folk music, Parallelograms by Linda Perhacs, and you’ll get a transmission on the right attitude to approach a mushroom in a second. So I think that’s where the culture-makers come into play, and there’s a bit of a divide between the psychedelic movement and the culture players. Like the musicians who do psychedelics, they have no desire to speak at the Horizons conference necessarily. So there’s this entire… There’s maps everywhere through… And even through artists who don’t really do psychedelics, there’s people who create art that is psychedelic just by its very structure and nature, like the writer Terry Tempest Williams for instance, who writes about the desert, or Charles Bowden, who also writes about the Sonora Desert. The psychedelic lives in high culture, lives in high art, it lives in the high theory politics, like the fractal way of thinking, it’s like instant PhD-level downloads that are accessible to almost everybody I’ve known who’s gone into this world.
0:44:03.4 PA: Without all the potential college debt in 10 years.
0:44:07.7 BW: Exactly, yeah. Actually, just really painful to try to hold a anti-position with saying [unclear speech] pathways. It gets in the way of my own practice, and so I’ve stepped back and gone like, Wow, this is so rich, and this is so potentially like crazy right-wing politics or this or that from Peter Thiel,” but I’ve sat down, and I need to listen to Peter Thiel talk. What does he have to say? He’s interested in mushrooms. He probably has some interesting things to say, even if I disagree with a ton of stuff about where he comes from. There’s too much genius in that human being not to listen to him.
0:44:48.2 PA: Yeah, ’cause all of those people are, they’re all mirrors. To some degree they’re all part of this collective that we’re all in together, they’re all part of the story that we’re weaving with mushrooms.
0:45:00.8 BW: It’s an old story. Yeah, I did 30 grams recently, for the first time.
0:45:06.6 PA: Oh, my God. Okay.
0:45:08.9 BW: Yeah, and I saw everyone. I saw all the players and how much I love them. And the mushrooms were like the oldest story is you work and you work your whole life, and you talk to all the sages, people wanna trick you and sell you something, at the end of the day, it’s just a little mushroom, it’s just a little mushroom, it saved your whole life, it saved your spirit, and now you can die… Now, you can… The humble mushroom is… That’s the story of what we’re telling, and I think even that little humble mushroom exists in Peter Thiel’s narrative at the end of the day, ’cause it’s the oldest story and it’s the nature of God really. That some little thing you didn’t expect is just gonna go like “You knew the whole time, it was just you, you and your little heart, you knew how to do it.” And so I’m just holding that story is with all of us, ’cause I think there’s some forces coming in who are riding the big big Cannabis train, people who’ve never done psychedelics, who are hopping on it for money, I think those are some serious energies that we haven’t dealt with before in the movement. So all the people who seemed big bad guys before are now our sweet friends, big C capitalism is always sort of overwhelming.
0:46:26.7 PA: Yeah.
0:46:27.6 BW: But I honestly don’t know enough about it to really understand the damage in particular. Like you have a company that does maybe really crappy things all around the world, but if they’re doing something with mushrooms, will that thing carry the resonance of all that horrible stuff too? I don’t know, I don’t know the answer to that.
0:46:47.7 PA: None of us do, and I think the optimistic way that I often look at it is, this is going to be a long journey, right? This isn’t a three to five year path. It’s already been a 10,000 year path. But within the current dynamic and structure that we we’re in, what I find to be very positive is it’s almost like all the sort of… This is the way that I look at it, the money that’s starting to pour into the psychedelic space, it is… And I don’t think a lot of these people know that this is what they’re doing, but it feels like a lot of the money coming into the psychedelic space is to create an opening for the mushroom to be more accessible, for there to be more education. In other words, tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions of the dollars that are being invested are going to FDA clinical trials and going to basically creating an entirely new infrastructure of the way that we treat human beings when it comes to healthcare and mental wellbeing. And I think that’s a really positive development.
0:48:00.7 PA: And my hope is that the decrim… The decentralized models, these are a mirror of the information age that we’re stepping more and more into, and that the FDA and stuff like that are just representative of the industrial model that colonialism was built upon that’s been going on for a few hundred years, but now we’re in a serious state of decadence. And so that to me is the big uplifting thing, it’s like a lot of the money that’s coming in feels like it’s social impact, even though maybe they don’t realize it yet.
0:48:38.3 BW: Exactly. I’ve been thinking of, for instance, Amazon.com and Jeff Bezos, of like, well, what… We can petition him, we can say like, “Hey, we might not buy from you unless you subsidize the post office a little bit.” You know, down the line, how can we influence these things for our next generations. And big, big companies and such are not going to go away, so I’ve decided to be curious and excited about it, as opposed to like, “Oh, they’re thefting something from an old way.” I don’t see it that way.
0:49:14.5 PA: So what are your rituals then when it comes to… And you don’t have to get too specific, but just more sort of conceptually, when you’re going into a mushroom journey, when you’re going into an experience, are you going in with an intention, are you going in with mantras, do you have special crystals that you use?
0:49:35.2 BW: My mantra is “Keep it simple, keep it clean,” and I haven’t come from being invited into indigenous ceremonies, tobacco is a go-to, so I always keep a big ol’ bag of pipe tobacco I bought at Santa Domingo Pueblo down the road. [chuckle] And I like… Because mushrooms are a conversation and a give and take, there’s a sense of exchange, and in the ways that I’ve been taught, in those ways, the exchange has to do with tobacco, it has to do with smoke, I burn juniper that grows around my house, the mushrooms have… Doing them alone in my house, they’ve been like, “Oh, check that plant out, check this plant out, that’s part of… ” We wanna include this in our conversation, every plant has a deva, for instance, when I burn copal in the middle of the ceremony on the same five grams, it changes the whole entire field. And for me personally, when I burn copal, I have a really strong sense of a presence of what the mushrooms like to call the grandmothers.
0:50:44.5 BW: This is just bizarre, Interstitial energies that I work with, so I’ll burn Copal and they’ll be like, “Grandmothers are here, give them Brandy in a fancy glass,” and so I don’t actually keep Brandy with me, but I will maybe put some chocolate and pay attention to being in conversation with who I want to help me, which is a sense of my ancestry and the plants around me, people I love like Kai Wingo or things like that, I call them my saints. The mushroom trip opens up conversation both with regular friends who I wanna talk with on a spiritual level and then people who’ve died, and then energy is like Guadalupe and Papa Legba.
0:51:33.0 BW: So my personal practice is what I’ve come with as me through a lifetime of practicing, and finding my archetypes that I personally like to work with, I like to do them between daylight and sunset, so I have a little bit of both and I do them at home. One time I did a mushroom trip recently in a grove of aspen trees, and that was way more than I was ready to sign up for. I realized I needed to fast and do all these things because it was so overwhelming attending to a space that wasn’t my own, so I like to keep it very simple in my own house, so I have a good balance of looking inward, but also being aware of the ecosystem of where I live.
0:52:17.7 PA: Back to the sort of interconnectivity, both lineage, ancestral, the time and space that you’re in.
0:52:23.7 BW: Yeah.
0:52:24.1 PA: Because when we eat these, we’re transmuting, transforming, time and space is very weird and different, we end up in different universes, we could get funky.
0:52:35.0 BW: Yeah, if you stay home, I think your spirits stay closer to you. Even for me, like eight, nine, 10 years in, it was ambitious to even go to a spot in nature, which you think like, “Oh, I’ll do mushrooms in nature,” it’s like, “Oh yeah, no, that whole spot that you do mushrooms in is gonna work you, it’s gonna talk to you, and you may not even get a chance to go into your own thing because you’re so busy dealing with the weird patch of beach you just picked to sit at.”
0:53:02.2 PA: Right. Wow. Well, Bett we’re nearing the end of the hour, so I wanna make sure that before we close off, you just have a little bit of an opportunity to share. Where are you going from here? What’s up next for you? Are you writing a round two on Psilocybin mushrooms? What are you most excited about? What do the next six months look like for you?
0:53:23.2 BW: Doing a podcast with my partner called No Cures, Only Alchemy, and it’s about the intersection between psychedelics and culture, and we’re really attending to the emergency that was spoken of in the film, The Social Dilemma, and how the algorithms of our phones have really played us to an extent. We all really need to question what we’ve been thinking in the last 10 years, and how much of it is our own thoughts. That comes up a lot in any psychedelic experience. You wake up and you go like, “I thought that was my thought, but it’s not my thought,” [chuckle] and now it’s gotten pretty literal with how we’re divided and in our own little bubbles. So I’ve been writing some things for Lucid News on that topic, and I hope to continue crawling out of that hole to the other side because I feel very, very psychologically and spiritually damaged from my social media use, honestly. And so that’s the recent project.
0:54:20.9 BW: Then I’m doing a psychedelic book club where on November 14th, we’re gonna talk about The Wild Kindness. You can find me on bettwilliams.com, if you wanna join the book club, and then we’re gonna go into Octavia Butler’s Dawn series, which has many psychedelic concepts in a sci-fi interplanetary way, Maria Sabina’s book of Veladas, we’ll probably touch upon Aldous Huxley and Ariana Reine’s A Sand Book, because I think I wanna link up reading culture and literature to ideas of what psychedelics is, and that’s the space I’m creating, partly to create another social way to exist on the internet outside of Facebook and Instagram.
0:55:05.2 PA: It’s a private social network, but it’s more than that, it’s like a private mycelial network. It’s like [unclear speech].
0:55:10.0 BW: Yeah, you can hop on. I have a Patreon. So you can hop on the Zoom and just do the book club, or you can hop on the Patreon and get involved in the book club discussions, without any algorithms affecting you and stuff. I’m just so curious. Like, okay, so we’ve created some culture, let’s let this take its own life. For instance, there are so many fathers that have responded to this book, and I didn’t know there would be so many dads, and so I’m excited about what that means that so many people who are fathers are interested in talking about psychedelics in relation to how I’ve written about it.
0:55:49.3 PA: Why do you think that is? What do you think resonates there?
0:55:50.9 BW: Well, I think as a lesbian, in the book, the book has a lot to do with some real hell I went to with an ex-girlfriend, and I think that men don’t often get to talk about what they go through with women [chuckle] and what it’s like to be a man, and there’s a weird way I’m a man in the book to a certain way, in a way that men read it and they go like, “Wow, you understand some of the things we’ve gone through,” [chuckle] and I love that. I’ve always written for the furthest person away from my own experience, so people are often like, “Oh yeah, this is this queer book, right?” And I’m like, “Well, I’m already queer. I’m interested in how the person who’s the most different from me relates to me as a queer person.” And so all these fathers relate to me very deeply, and I’m really touched by that.
0:56:40.1 PA: Beautiful. I think just the way that you put it, like wanting to not preach to the choir necessarily, but creating inclusivity and interconnectivity by resonating with people who are across the spectrum, and that feels relevant even into what you’re talking about with your podcast and the Patreon. It’s like we don’t wanna further polarize, but we actually wanna bring people together who have different ideas and engage and connect and explore, and all.
0:57:06.0 BW: We need to include everything in the circle right now and try not to be touchy about it, and that includes all of the stuff going on in the movement right now because it’s a microcosm.
0:57:15.6 PA: And a very amplified microcosm.
0:57:18.4 BW: Yeah.
0:57:19.1 PA: Well, Bett, thank you for your time, and thank you for writing this, and writing so eloquently about it. You’re an excellent writer, a beautiful writer.
0:57:26.8 BW: Thank you so much, Paul.
0:57:28.9 PA: And also for speaking about it and being so outwards about it, and external about it, and still finding obviously and discovering those moments as we talked about of privacy and sacredness, because as we both know, and as we talked about in the podcast, a lot of these experiences can’t be verbalized, and that’s the beauty of them.
0:57:48.1 BW: Yeah.
0:57:49.7 PA: So thank you for your time, and and as our listeners will know, so Bett is the author of The Wild Kindness: A Psilocybin Odyssey, and we will include all the links in the show notes in the posts that we have up that we’ll have on third wave, so, Bett, just one more time. Thank you so much for being here.
0:58:05.9 BW: Thank you.