Plants are analogous to the internet and hammers inasmuch as they can be used for good or evil. They can feed, they can cure, they can poison. And in at least one case, purportedly, they can pull back the curtain between the material and the spiritual worlds. We learn such a thing from a religion peculiar to a handful of tribes in western central Africa, particularly in Gabon. The religion is called Bwiti, and its practice involves a ceremony centered on the ingestion of a certain root bark. In Bwiti culture, male children as young as eight are inducted into manhood after embarking on something of a vision quest in which tribal shamans spoon-feed the initiates the root of the Tabernanthe Iboga tree. Tradition tells us this ceremony dates back centuries. Practitioners believe that the right amount of bark swallowed over a measured length of time will send the initiate to the world of the deceased, where he can speak not only to his ancestors, but sometimes to God. Iboga has been referred to as the proof-of-afterlife plant, and for some that appellation is more than hyperbole.
This ceremony is not generally open to outsiders, but the right amount of money can buy just about anything. Over the past few years, Westerners from several countries have visited the jungles of Africa to experience the Iboga ritual. Additionally, enterprising parties around the world have opened up Ibogaine clinics (Ibogaine being the alkaloid derived from the root bark) where the adventurous can go to seek out spiritual healing. Like its more well-known South American cousin Ayahuasca, Iboga is one of the so-called healing plants. One Iboga clinic may be overseen by a doctor, another may be staffed by a shaman who administers the dose and acts as a material Virgil to the customer’s Dante. It depends on what the client is looking for. The stories one finds on the internet about Ibogaine experiences fascinate. At some point during the trip, the pilgrim invariably meets a spirit guide—an other-worldly rather than a material Virgil—who reveals the secret entities and motivations crouching in the shadows of a person’s psyche. The spirit guide, who takes different forms for different people, often answers the initiate’s questions along the way. In reading these accounts, you will frequently be warned that this is no pleasure cruise, that it’s not for the faint-hearted. Ibogaine forces one to face his weaknesses and his failures as a human being. It exposes his most hidden thoughts and behaviors. The point behind it all seems to be an epiphany that perhaps will set a person on the right track. It has been discovered that a certain percentage of Ibogaine adventurers are offered the chance during the experience to leave their physical bodies permanently for apparently idyllic shores. The official count of eleven Ibogaine-associated deaths may have something to do with that offer, but, of course, we’ll never know. I can’t speak for others who have been inexorably drawn to the mystical properties of the root bark, but I can speak for myself.
The circumstances around my drift into the Iboga-fueled unknown are necessarily confidential, but I can spill the rest of it. The details are bizarre, and to some they will be unbelievable, which I can understand. I would say reserve judgment until you’ve tried it yourself, but I would also not recommend it to anybody. It is, just as they say, not for the faint of heart. Ibogaine came into my possession because it was meant to, and I took it when “King Iboga” wanted me to take it, or so I was informed, and I have a hard time believing otherwise. Dosage is everything. The Bwiti shamans make certain their subjects swallow a sufficient amount by asking questions and judging by the subjects’ answers whether more is needed. The larger the dose, the more intense the experience. Research and/or expert counseling is a must with Iboga.
More than an hour had passed after swallowing the elixir (at approx. 7:00 PM) when I noticed what I call the ambient drone. This hum, or buzz, or whatever you might call it—I’m sure it’s always there; we just don’t hear it in the sensible world. At least not under normal circumstances. It had been getting louder the whole time, but only now did it catch my attention. My vision began to grow distorted to where it became difficult to focus on any one object. At this point, a prevailing sense of uneasiness fast-forwarded into something more akin to fear. Something—no, someone would better describe the sensation—was now in control of whatever was about to happen to me. This someone had been expecting me. That’s how it felt. Soon I was getting a look into another aspect of physical existence, where every object contained living, moving patterns and bright colors. I plopped down on a mattress and let myself be consumed, not that I had a choice anymore. I studied the events going on around me, the constant movement, the sailing and assailing colors. I noticed that when my gaze shifted from the floor to the ceiling, an apparition of sorts moved from the ceiling to the floor, and vice versa. When my eyes moved right to left, the thing went left to right. This kept me occupied for some time, although it was only a handshake to let me know I was in the right place.
Just as the ambient drone had crept up on me, so too did the sound of my heartbeat. It was so loud and so fast I thought I’d overdone things. (It turns out that this sensitive awareness of your beating heart is normal.) I felt it pumping against my ribs. I repositioned myself, trying to make it go away, which worked, thank goodness, as it was scaring the hell out of me. As long as I lay a certain way, I was shielded from the pounding. I lost my motor skills to the degree that I couldn’t walk. I could barely pick anything up with my hands, my depth perception being so distorted. I eventually found comfort with my eyes closed, where in the darkness a veritable performance was underway in my honor. For about three hours I lay still watching images morph into other images, a cosmic parade of color and artistry. It’s really impossible to describe it with any accuracy, but boredom was never an issue. And then, when I was distracted and not expecting it, an abrupt interruption halted the show.
It was like: I’m here! No warning, no announcement of any kind. I knew right away without any inkling of doubt that I was in the presence of the one they called the spirit guide. So much had been going on that I’d forgotten about him. The presence in my case did have a maleness about it. I was never to have a sense of friend or foe regarding its (his) manner, just an air of: This is how it is. He was invisible to me, but I didn’t need to see him. His existence bore down on me. I immediately found myself in a dark room, and on one wall was a brightly-illuminated poster. It looked like the cover of the “Let It Be” album, but instead of seeing the faces of John, Paul, George, and Ringo, four different aspects of my face filled up the squares. And they were none too pretty. I was older and wrinkled. I studied the picture before looking away. When I looked back, it was still there. I don’t know how long I stood trapped in that room, but I eventually left and was taken up to fly over a timeline that covered the years of my life. I would descend randomly at a certain year, where I’d view a scene from my past, beginning with my childhood. None of the scenes were anything I’d remembered in real life, but when I saw them, everything came flooding back to me. I would rise up and descend again over another year and watch another episode. I couldn’t tell that there was a point to the particular remembrances, more that the spirit guide was showing me what he was capable of. There was one, though, that was troubling. When I was eight, a friend of mine’s mother shot and killed his dad in the house next door. I must have blocked that recollection from my mind over the years, but now I remembered it all as if I’d never forgot it. And the murder motif would return before my journey was finished.
I later stood in utter blackness when a luminous arm stretched out in front of me. I could only see the arm and not the body attached to it. The sleeve of a white robe covered it, and in its hand was a burning yellow orb. The arm rolled this flaming sphere into the darkness like a bowling ball. It struck a mass of what looked like rock, which exploded into pieces. Some of those pieces went spinning until they too became spheres and began orbiting the fiery ball, which, I realized, was the sun. I was watching the planets form into our solar system. My attention was drawn to one particular planet, a planet that changed from gray to dark blue. I saw the white of waves on it. And then masses of land began to pop up in the water. Trees with green leaves sprang up on the land. In daylight, objects that I can only describe as organic white cylinders were dropped from the sky onto the Earth. One by one and rapidly, the cylinders opened up to show their empty interiors. Into the vacuous spaces went beating hearts, full circulatory systems, and all the organs—until skeletons encased the whole mess. The cylinders closed, and then sprouted limbs and heads. They moved forward, as if on a conveyor, to be clothed in some form of battle attire before they were sent off to fight. A voice posed the question: what is in their minds that they would create humans to kill each other? And then I saw the globe. From Europe, millions of warriors crossed the Atlantic to fight and conquer the inhabitants of North America. And then in the Middle East, warriors in black hoods rose up in their millions before spreading out to conquer Europe. The victors then crossed the Atlantic and started a war against the North Americans—the former Europeans—while I watched. Blood and limbs and organs were flung everywhere.
The whole scene vanished, though, and I was staring at something like an IMAX movie. A swan drifted about on the calm surface of a lake. Autumn leaves dropped gently into the water around it. This was the opposite of what I’d just had to watch. A narrator said: They call it nature’s way. What do they mean—nature’s way? Is nature a mindless happenstance, an accident? Or is nature a living, sentient being? Does it impose its will?
The event that happened next was the most critical—and the most terrifying—of the whole experience. It answered any question I had as to the existence of an afterlife. All I had to do was think afterward about what had happened, what clue I’d been given, what I’d really learned. If you came across a muskrat skeleton in a trap on a river bank, you’d know without a doubt that a living muskrat had got caught and died there. What I was shown next said as much about the afterlife as a trap and skeleton does about a muskrat. At least in my opinion. It was just a matter of processing the information
Not for the first time I stood in a lightless room. Beginning just above floor level, about three feet by three feet, was a window into…somewhere. I didn’t know—a parallel universe, I supposed. The window’s top was roughly as high as my waist. As one would feel the cold while passing by a freezer with an open door, I felt an emotion emanating into my space from the open window, an emotion that I had never felt. There was a frequency to it, some sort of vibration that engulfed my entire body; my ears clogged as if I were rapidly changing altitudes. The sensation was intolerable, and it caused me to step away from it. I was bothered that it seemed so horrible, and I was propelled back into it by the need to assure myself that I could take it if I had to. If I had to? I stepped toward the window again, and a magnetic power or a vacuum tried to pull me into it. I was sure that if I didn’t break away I’d be trapped in that other world, enduring this miserable feeling maybe forever. Some emotions are positive, some are negative, and negative emotions such as sadness can reach levels of severity that can make a person despondent or suicidal. Anger, greed, and envy can make a person kill. This emotion was beyond all that, something that could only exist in another world. Sometimes love-sickness or homesickness can be forms of torture. Again, this emotion was beyond that. I couldn’t bear the limitless, infinite dread that was consuming me like fire, and I wrenched away, retreating until I felt safe. Inside the window, flashes of lightning illuminated the scene every few seconds. A man dressed in the clothing of the late 50s or early 60s, trench coat and fedora, stood behind a car of the same era with an eight or nine-year-old boy. He pulled out a knife and stabbed the child in the stomach. In the next flash of lightning, one man shot another in the front yard of an old house. Every time the lightning flashed, I saw a murder. And the words “Murder Street” appeared in the window at one point. One more time I tried to endure that infernal feeling—again, I had to know that I could—and one more time a force locked onto me when I got too close, drawing me in. Over the following days I wondered why I was being shown such a scene, and more importantly, made to experience such an emotion. Was this the fate of those who took the lives of others? Was it murderers’ hell? Then why would I need to know about it? Taking a life is not in my nature. I am bothered by it as I write.
The spirit-guide portion of the journey lasted three or four hours, during which I was shown things about myself that were disturbing, including the existence of cancer. Communication was managed through imagery, telepathy, and narration both written and spoken. When he—the spirit guide—was finished with me, he told me so. I hurriedly asked a question: What can I do? I then saw a beating heart as if looking through a chest. I soon grasped that it was my chest and my heart. It pumped harder and harder, until it exploded. Bloody pieces splattered against the lens through which I watched. And with that, the guide was gone as quickly as he’d appeared, and his cryptic message of exploding hearts was lost on me.
But the journey was far from over. The time was somewhere around three in the morning, and the visual production was as intense as ever. I lay shaking, trying to sort it all out. I didn’t know whether my eyes had been open or closed throughout the previous hours. It seemed as if they’d been open, and that I’d existed in two worlds at once. The corollaries of lucidity had remained in place throughout the night: I knew who and where I was, and I knew exactly what I was doing the whole time. Yet, I had been in another dimension, as if I’d left my body. Now, as I lay there, I was seeing events every time I closed my eyes. Usually in black and white. I saw the boots of marching soldiers ticking across a gridiron in perfect time. I blinked into another scene, where factory machinery was stamping out product—in perfect time. I blinked again, and I watched children on a playground, jump ropes striking the surface at their feet as if keeping time. With each blink, a new scene presented itself: traffic stopping and going in time, train wheels turning, drums beating, engines cranking, synapses firing, hearts thumping, everything in time. I was being shown a world that carried on in a particular rhythm, as if being managed accordingly. This went on until the sky was light outside, when the visions began to change.
I could now see through walls, at least in my mind. No matter what went on inside of an apartment building, I could watch it all. In residential neighborhoods, in industrial parks, in office buildings, drama unfolded before me. I rose up above the city and peered into the lives below. I felt I was being shown that some entity was capable of doing exactly this. I was glimpsing what that entity saw. Nothing was hidden. Maybe the implication was that cameras are everywhere, maybe I was being told something else. This too went on for a considerable length of time, and I realized I was in an uncomfortable place. When I could see the private lives of people—or read their minds—things were not at all too happy. We behave one way in public and another in private, and while we may think we would give in to our voyeuristic tendencies if such powers were given us, we would be punishing ourselves in doing so. There is no pleasure in it. I was being shown two different existences in the same material world. When the private world was exposed, I felt my will to live melt away. Privacy, I seemed to be learning for reasons I can’t yet conceive, is crucial for a society’s survival.
There is much that I understood in what I was shown and much that I’ll probably never decipher. While the experience was harrowing overall, the following day and night were actually pleasant, as if I was being rewarded for all I’d endured. I did not eat, drink, or sleep for two days, but I had no need to. I was as comfortable physically as I’d ever been. My motor skills returned by the first morning.
More than anything else I’ve experienced in life, my introduction to an emotion not included in the emotion spectrum associated with physical existence leaves me convinced of a spiritual realm. I have since reasoned that this emotion must exist in our universe or I could not have felt it then or any other time. One cannot dream up an emotion that isn’t real. And with this revelation I came away satisfied that there has to be another plane—an afterlife. I should also mention the colors; they were unlike anything one sees on this side. They behaved as if they were vibrant, as if they bore the germ of life within. They shone with a brightness that defies description, so here I’ll give up describing them.
Iboga journeys (trips is way too mundane here), like Native American vision quests, are unique to the individual. There are similarities that tie them together, however, depending on the dosage, such as the spirit guide. Some who have taken this journey have come away happier or healed of their malady, some have quietly packed up and disappeared. As for me, it’s a mixed bag. Again, I wouldn’t recommend it. Chances are, though, you know something now you didn’t know yesterday, and that’s what I’m here for.