The Dream Twister - September 2003
London Underground - James P. Barrett
(page 13/14)

London Underground

James P. Barrett

The technoshamanic cults of the Conurbated area, most notably Smethwick, Digbeth, and Derrit End are renowned for their use of hallucinogenic substances and loud repetitive synthesised music, in combination with a form of repetitive dance movement in hot, dark, and confined spaces to produce a form of altered perception. This trance like state is enhanced by the frequent and irregular application of quickly changing strobing lighting of a variety of colours and hues whilst they deprive themselves of water and partake of a wide variety of mixed chemical stimulants.

The Overall result of this is to cause the technoshamanic priests, to experience an altered state of awareness within which hallucinations brought on by the dangerous chemical cocktails to which they subject their systems are interpreted as the effects of the "spirits of the place" which they believe inhabit the world around them. The details of this peculiar cultural movement were first recounted by Dr. Thomas Featheringshaw approximately fifty years earlier ...

"...And he clearly spent too much of is research grant upon the above-mentioned ‘lethal cocktail of hallucinogens', and not enough on actual research," I said out loud.

The man across the carriage from me turned his head and looked shocked. Noticing that I had spoken aloud I quickly turned my face back down towards the floor. He avoided eye contact, and returned to his copy of the Telegraph, the gaudy pictures of various political figures who had recently been caught in compromising situations drowning from his mind the image of the disturbingly dressed young ruffian sitting across the carriage from him reading a thick Anthropology book.

The train continued to rock it's way along the Piccadilly line as we passed an abandoned station, which identified itself, for those who cared at all, which wasn't many, as Holborn. And as we continued our way towards central London I returned my eyes to the hopelessly inaccurate work of supposed scholastic study, which my damned fool of an Anthropology professor had decided to recommend for his course. It was bad enough that I had him gleefully singling me out for particular mention in class every time the technoshamanists were mentioned, but even worse, he got his information from these outdated tomes filled with inaccurate and contradictory details of cultures that many of the authors would have been far, far too scared to even set foot in the homelands of.

Realising that my mind was wandering, I pulled the book and my note pad back into my satchel. Slowly zipping the bag back together I pulled the front of my jacket open and put my hand around my necklace. Feeling the touch and inviting warmth of the components soldered to its wire form. I slowly lay my head back against the chair's neck support and allowed my mind to fall into the customary trance-like state that I had been taught to adopt since the very earliest days of my childhood. Slowly, carefully, I ran the mantras and diagrams through my head, and with practised ease I felt the mundane world slip away, and began to truly experience the touch of the train, and the tracks. Allowing my mind to flow out of my body I could understand exactly how it felt to be a railway carriage travelling along the out of town over-ground stretches of London's great Tube network. More than that, I could feel exactly what it was to be the entire network itself. To reach out through the depths of the city's underbelly, to touch the secret places into which no man had been for many years, and to have hundreds, even thousands, sometimes millions, of people walking, talking, eating, breathing, moving, loving, laughing, screaming, running, searching, hunting, sleeping, fleeing, wanting, yearning, fearing, and sometimes even dying within the bounds of my immense personal span.

A railway network cannot have the same kind of emotions in anything like the same kind of way that a human does, but nonetheless I could feel the pain of the network. It's aches as slowly piece by piece it died and disappeared as section after section was closed and left abandoned by the small minuscule creatures that made up the structure of it's consciousness. And at the same time I could truly feel the touch and tinge of joy and pride of a system that worked, and longed to work, that yearned and needed to be used, that loved it's purpose, a purpose it fulfilled with great ability.

Allowing myself to slip further into the trance I envisioned the vast cavernous echoing tunnels of the tube system itself, and the small but real feelings of the millions of people that passed through it's boundaries. I saw and felt a ball, small and red, possibly a cricket ball, or some sort of bowls iron, scale not being easily ascertainable in my present state. I saw it speed along the tunnels and passages. Through the secret places, and through the ancient places. I even felt it pass through the stations and the access spaces, the passages and the conduits. I saw it proceed to enter every one of the places that are marked "No Entry" at one end and all the places that have no readily discernible outgoing part at the other end. I felt the ball as it explored the system. I felt its curiosity, its joy, and I felt its loyalty, as it returned to its master.

Its master, a tall man, dressed in a dirty T-shirt and jeans, wearing sunglasses even deep underground. He caught the ball in his hand, and watched with a little half smile as a small wisp of steam rose from it's blackened surface. He turned and looked towards me, and I noticed for the first time his surroundings and his companion. The ball's master was leaning roughly against the wall of what had at first been a portion of the Underground tunnel, but was now quickly becoming the side of some alleyway in the depths of the inner city. Behind him was where, until now, there had been nothing but the dark opening of a distant tube tunnel. I saw a small wall form up and come into being with a small impish man sitting upon it, looking languorous and weatherworn, also dressed in dirty jeans, his T-shirt bore the simple slogan, "Eat Cake". Looking straight at me he dropped from the wall and approached. As he came closer I saw into his eyes, and watched as they formed from perfectly normal rounded pupils into a shape that I instantly recognised, a thick red circle with a horizontal bar across it.

"Be Safe, Under Watchful Eyes," he said, smiling; and his companion threw the still smoking ball directly at me. Instinctively I threw up my hand to catch it, and felt the searing heat, yet for some reason could not let go. Looking downward towards the item that was now sitting in my palm I saw that it had the form of a sphere, with a disc cutting it. A three dimensional version of the same icon which had been in the eyes of the other man. I gasped, shocked, and woke up from my trance. All of this I achieved without hallucinogens, for, whatever Dr. Thomas Fetheringshaw may have said upon the subject; the drugs are used merely as an aid for the novices during their first few visions. No Shaman has ever needed them once he has truly been awakened.

I thought back to my awakening, years before, in the small back room of the shop in Digbeth. I'd known the place since I was a child. My father had taken me there, and then later, after his death, the owner, a tall, ageing woman who went by the name "Matta" took me in like one of her own. After school each day I would catch the number 22 bus into the centre of the city and walk past the Bullring into the unchanging neighbourhoods which were Digbeth and Derrit End. The place probably hadn't changed one whit since the early years of the century, when the major rebuilding in the centre had overflowed into these outlying districts. They had hoped that the new layout back then would revitalise these run down areas, but once again the planners of the new construction had made the classic blunder of building the market with inward facing raised sides. And the only way to get to Digbeth was the walk through a dank underground tunnel. Which is what I would do. The Shop itself was part of a terraced row of what was originally supposed to be a high-class electronic goods district. What it had become was a row of empty boarded up windows, and, in the very centre of the street, a single window covered entirely in posters for various computer hardware, and socio-political banners of every shade and colour. When you entered you went through the door, marked with a sign which read "We are not connected with Worlds Away Books, if they are closed we do not know when they will be open". The first time I was there, when I was five years old, I asked my father what the sign meant. He looked straight down towards me and smiled with the kind of deep knowing smile that only he ever managed, then he stepped back away from the shop. I looked towards him, slightly confused, and he just looked at me, smiling. So I stepped back to where he was, and he lifted me up onto his shoulders. It was then that I saw the name placard of the shop next door; faded and blackened almost beyond recognition by effects of the city air over the decades were the words "Worlds Away Books". It was revelationary. For the first time in my life it was an indication that things might not always be what they appear at first glance. When my father put me down on the ground again, he knelt down next to me, and I looked into his tattooed and pierced face, watched the necklace of components as it dangled in from of my eyes, and he whispered softly to me. "The sign is as old as the shop," he said. "Matta likes old things, and she decided to keep it when she moved into the place. It's a piece of tradition and history."

He was right. I spent my evenings in that place. It wasn't unusual for me to wind up being disciplined for breaking curfew because I spent too long sitting in the back listening whilst the old men with the long beards sat and talked about system requests, and power structures, about daemons and demons. My social worker didn't approve of the place, and certainly not of Matta. But my father's wishes had been specific, and the court would not hold up any rulings that would counteract them unless the council could find some justifiable cause for keeping me from there. And, of course, they never could, since the initiation ritual, with all it's interesting chemical assistance was only held in the greatest of secrecy in the back, and the old men always refused to induct me until I was above the age of legal majority, and so no longer within the care of the government.

So, it was upon my 18th birthday that I was first initiated into the mysteries of the city and the world. I was sat in the back room, with Matta and Tera (Matta's granddaughter, one of the other children who had also spent their childhood's in this darkened back room, now grown to womanhood, and inducted herself only a scant few months earlier), the two people whom I regarded as being the closest thing that I had to family, since my father died. They began by chanting, and burning a form of incense in the air, and then, as the atmosphere began to thicken Tera passed me the bowl. I still can't tell you exactly what the clear liquid in the bowl was, although I could hazard a guess as to some of its components. In fact the exact composition is unimportant. As I have tried to explain here, the hallucinogen is nothing but a tool, it helps us to loose the grip of our immediate reality the first time, but it soon becomes unnecessary as we become accustomed to transcending the merely extant and entering the higher deeper reality that exists in the mind. When Tera passed me the bowl I drank deeply of the liquid, and felt my mind slip slightly from the room around me. As the edges blurred I lay back again the pillow, and felt no pain as Matta's needle entered the skin of my forehead, nor as the ink was placed just beneath the skin.

The rest of the night was a beautiful blur of every level of reality. The visions that I experienced on that night were nothing compared to the far deeper ones that I would feel much later when I had achieved true control over the gift, but the night still stands out simply because it was the first time that I ever left the petty skein of reality behind. Tera was my guide, and she took me from the shop, sporting my new PNP symbol tattoo on the centre of my forehead. Her brothers were waiting outside, as were many others of our group. I'm not entirely sure where we went after that. There are a number of old warehouses and railway bridges in that part of the city that were often used for dances and events by the youth subculture of the city. I'm not sure which one it was we ended up at... all I know is that I spent the night, and early into the next morning, dancing to pounding repetitive rhythms surrounded by hundreds of sweaty bodies and dazzled by strobing lighting. Almost certainly I was not the only person using chemical assistance to achieve an altered state of awareness that night, although I was the only person doing so in the manner of our structured tradition...

It must have been just as dawn broke over the smoke-clouded cityscape around me that I finally crossed over. The combination of the beat, the air, the drugs, and the rituals joined together to put me into a trance-like state that I would soon come to view as much as a part of my being as the other state in which I had spent all of my life up until this point. The actual substance of my visions on that night is somewhat lost to me. I recall the presence of a tall green clad woman, that water flow was involved, that canals featured heavily, and that the beach tree was for some reason an important element. Tera was by my side the whole time, and once I had left that state the next morning she recounted to me a lot of the things which I had said whilst still under it's influence.

Giga and Peta had to half carry me back to the shop the next morning, and unceremoniously, if gently, dumped me onto the pile of cushions littering the back room. Tera laughingly shook me into wakefulness for the final part of the ritual. Taking the small package which I had had in my pocket for the entire evening in hand, I unwrapped it and passed the small chip, which had once been the most important component of a machine that had been very dear to my heart as a child, to Matta, who took it in hand and prepared the soldering iron for the attachment. I received both items back, and began the creation of the first element on the necklace that all willing I shall still wear when I die.

My green clad woman reappeared in my visions many times over the months of that long summer, every time a vivid symbol of the world in which I lived, and the times in which I found myself; until the summer ended, and with a heavy heart I left. Now in the place of my green goddess I see these two monarchs, kings respectively of above and below. Dual rulers of regret, symbols of a thriving world, but not to me. To me they simply symbolise the emptiness I feel cut off from my city, cut off from my world, cut off from my people. And, of course, the additional emptiness I feel whenever I look down at the back of my left hand, and see, amongst the thousands of lines of code and symbols tattooed there, one alone which was placed as part of a special ceremony on the day that I left my city, a ceremony that left myself and Tera each with that symbol marked upon the back of our left hand.

I pulled my mind back from the memory of things that were. I look down to see the symbol and experienced not only emptiness, but also warmth. And then I alighted at Green Park.