After returning from a tour of duty during the war in Afghanistan, Alex Seymour needed a way to cope with the extremes he experienced as a member of the Royal Marine Commandos, losing 7 men in his unit, and having his best friend critically injured by a Taliban bomb. Drawing upon his pre-deployment experiences, Alex knew that entheogens could help him release his fears and traumas. But he also knew that simply taking psychedelics wasn’t enough--he needed ceremony, something sacred to draw meaning from his experiences, to help him reassess not only the war and his role in it, but his entire life. So he set out for the Amazon in search of the hallucinogenic brew known as ayahuasca and a shaman to guide him.
Richard surprised us by announcing that the first ayahuasca ceremony would happen that night. Prior to our arrival, he had asked us to reflect on our intentions for the visit. Mine were simple: recover. After months of anxiety I needed to re-learn how to be content. I was lucky not to have PTSD, and I wanted to use this time to reflect and send out good intentions for the families of the men in my unit who had lost their lives or limbs. Furthermore, following the war, I wanted to know how I could integrate back into society and be inspired. With all the intensity of the last year, slotting back into previous roles might be challenging, and I was concerned I’d be hampered by the hum-drum aspects of modern life.
The ceremony began at 6:30 p.m. It gets dark quickly in the jungle with its thick canopy, and it was already twilight as we gathered in the maloca, a huge wooden, circular hut with a domed ceiling. The shaman was already there--Humberto was youngish-looking, maybe mid-thirties, about five-seven, with wide shoulders and taut build. He had been conscripted into the Peruvian Army and had risen to become its youngest sergeant. Certainly he looked like he was physically capable of handling himself in a tough spot. I was apprehensive. I had heard that the hallucinogenic brew tasted foul and knew that it was a purgative: thirty minutes after taking it, it’s common to have bouts of vomiting
When my name was called I crawled forward and accepted the proffered cup. Three or four gulps and it was down, the brown liquid gloopy, disgustingly bitter.
Humberto began singing an icaro and the ceremony began. Icaros are songs to call in the spirits from the forest and luminal realms. I was feeling disoriented, aware of the near absurdity of my being here, sitting with strangers in the dark in a circle in the jungle, being serenaded by an ayahuasca master, knowing full well that in a few minutes something extremely strange would be happening.
Within twenty-five minutes I started to glimpse the merest tickle of something at the edges of my peripheral vision. I tried to ignore it, deny its creeping inevitably. Two minutes later hallucinations came on in full force. I felt a strange energy moving through my body that made me nauseated. Humberto was singing with increasing vigor, his voice growing louder and clearer, feeding off the ayahuasca energy coursing through him, channeling it.
Geometric shapes swirled kaleidoscopically behind closed eyes. They took on a more deliberate action, swooping wildly into my center of vision and away again like a swarm of bats, so clear and real that I flinched. They morphed into sleek angular reptilian creatures, swarming, popping out of nowhere, then just as quickly disappearing only to be replaced by even more bizarre-looking creatures. I still felt lucid and began to hope that it wouldn’t get any more intense--it was already beyond strange and who knew where it was leading.
After half an hour I was in the full grip of the ayahausca. All the while, the icaros had been getting louder and more forceful, and Humberto was shaking two schacapa leaves. The effect was a rhythmic swishing sound that became unbelievably loud, adding to the texture of his singing. How on earth could a bunch of shaking leaves sound so loud? It filled the entire room. All senses on every perceptual level were heightened--maxed out.
An unexpected sense of empathy was growing that became so strong it felt like a door was opening into a whole new and separate sense--as important and relevant as sight or sound--so powerful it scythed through all other emotions. There was so much more to perceive than just the content of this three-dimensional world. Incapable of resisting any longer, I opened my eyes.
Ka-Boom! The entire room was full of alien life interwoven with a multicolored geometric mesh. Everything everywhere was made of throbbing neon electric grids of energy. The grids entwined with writhing sharp-toothed creatures that scuttled with dazzling, slinky agility. Fractal centipedes and millipedes possessed bodies that trailed off into infinity. They encroached in iridescent high definition, their bodies glistening, heavily armored.
The visions were overwhelming. I was surrounded by fantastical alien beasts, spirits, entities--who knew what the hell they were. No time for introspection or to rationalize any kind of philosophical interpretation--scenes shifted and morphed with incredible intensity. I struggled to maintain my grip on any kind of ordered thought. How on earth could this ever be interpreted as therapeutic? Confusion reigned, and I sought some semblance of comfort, unconvincingly forcing myself to think, Everything will be fine.
The sounds of the jungle--insects and frogs--were loud now, and they interwove with the swishing of the schacapa-leaf rattles until they reached an all-consuming crescendo that swept me up to ride the waves of a clamorous alien-sounding symphony. Oh my God! These Indians know exactly what they’re doing! They had had thousands of years to perfect it. I was journeying through a grotesque, carnivalesque world, and the icaros and rattles were the pilot and navigator. Sounds were things, and these things shaped my consciousness, which became as unnavigable as a termite caught in a tornado.
In Afghanistan, the mantra after each patrol as I lay in bed was don’t think. Over and over I’d repeat this to myself in an attempt to meditatively anesthetize myself to sleep. Here I was invoking the same technique: Stop thinking, trying to make sense of it. The message was surrender--the exact opposite of everything the military had taught me--yield and allow the visions to flow. Sublime surrender--now I see. Don’t fight it, feel it--submission was the solution, ego the enemy. It couldn’t get any worse than Helmand, surely? That thought became my grounding rod. This was the connection to an alternative LIFE FORCE and I had jacked into the main vein.
Alex Seymour enlisted in the Royal Marines Commandos as a teenager, serving for 6 years and completing 2 tours of duty on active service. Twenty years later he returned to the service as the oldest front line commando in Helmand Province in Afghanistan. He is currently the Technology Account Director for a global technology company and lives with his wife and children in Buckinghamshire, England.
“Little by little, one step at a time, one person at a time, but very effectively, the Amazonian visionary brew ayahuasca is changing human consciousness precisely where such changes are most urgently needed--in the very heartland of Western technological, industrial, and military power. Psychedelic Marine is a truly original and authentic account of the transformations that this ancient and sacred medicine can set in process.”
– Graham Hancock, author of Fingerprints of the Gods
“Hands down the most accurate depiction of what it’s like both as a combat veteran and a psychedelic warrior. The worlds appear to be vastly different, but Alex was able to bridge the connection. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in either world.”
– Cpl Ryan LeCompte, former USMC 0311 infantryman, founder of Veterans for Entheogenic Therapy
“. . . a rare book that both acknowledges the transformative power of war with its confrontation with death and the transformative power of psychedelics, with the confrontation with ego death. Sometimes it takes more courage to face one’s inner world than to face enemies in the outer world. I read this book cover to cover and recommend others do so as well.”
– Rick Doblin, executive director of MAPS
“A raw, honest, and powerful account of a marine and a profound healing, this book stands out for its account of personal transformation of a military man into a self-governing individuator, surrendering to nothing but the sacred source within his own heart. Highly recommended reading!”
– C. Michael Smith, Ph.D, clinical psychologist, medical anthropologist, author of Jung and Shamanism
“Alex Seymour deployed to Afghanistan to test himself and rediscover his full potential through warfare. Little did he know it was a stepping stone to his hardest test as a warrior--taking ayahuasca in the jungle in Peru where he would surrender to his greatest fears and find that the ultimate answers had been inside himself all along.”
– Ian Benouis, West Point graduate, former Black Hawk helicopter pilot and combat veteran, and cannabi
“A revealing juxtaposition of two life experiences most can only begin to imagine, bringing to life the stress and fatigue of a marine’s lot in Afghanistan and his subsequent metaphysical quest for enlightenment.”
– Jake Wood, author of Among You: The Extraordinary True Story of a Soldier Broken by War
“More than a report of one marine’s experience, this book is a call to the armed forces medical corps, the Veterans Administration, and veterans’ groups . . . to fund research to support treating PTSD with ayahuasca and other psychedelics.”
– Thomas B. Roberts, Ph.D., author of The Psychedelic Future of the Mind
“A true story of a man who pushed the boundaries way beyond any semblance of comfort zone through the devastation and horror of war and who went on to find healing, transformation, and salvation by dissolving the boundaries of ordinary consciousness into the vast spaces of the transpersonal realm.”
– Tom Soloway Pinkson, Ph.D., vision quest leader, psychologist, and author of The Shamanic Wisdom of
“Psychedelic Marine is a unique, mind-stretching, powerful story that captivates you from page one to the end. If you want your spirit to be lifted and inspired and to know what is possible beyond the boundaries of convention, this is a must-read.”
– Chris Walton, MSc, best-selling author of The Gamma Mindset
". . . the work does offer an interesting firsthand account of encounters far removed from many readers' calm and orderly lives."
– Publishers Weekly, July 2016
After six years in the Royal Marines Commandos from the age of 17, and then 20 years in the corporate world, Alex Seymour rejoined the military and returned to the front line. He was posted to Afghanistan, in Helmand Province, and the enemy was the Taliban. Already a husband and a father of two, Seymour wanted to explore what it meant to be a "good man". His tales of his tour of duty make for some hair-raising reading. But Seymour had another quest: to explore transcendent worlds. Before he signed up again with the military, Seymour experimented with psilocybin mushrooms and DMT; the awesomeness revealed to him meant that his life would never be the same again. He no longer feared death, as he came to realise that consciousness survives it. After his service, Seymour sought to take the entheogen adventure further and travelled to the Amazon to join a shaman in ceremonies centred around the hallucinogenic ayahuasca brew. In the company of other seekers, he again had direct perception of the sacred, and his experiences helped him recover from the war and set a path for the future. In his view, the ayahuasca ritual has the potential to prepare soldiers for war and to heal from it. It can offer a meaningful rite of passage for young military recruits and assist veterans overcome PTSD as well as alcohol and drug issues. Seymour's story of transformation has profound implications.
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