In the Psychedelic Dante post, I referenced journalist Kira Salak’s fascinating National Geographic Explorer piece about taking ayahuasca in the Amazon. She said that during her ayahuasca trip, she encountered, and was freed from, demons that entered her body when, against the warnings of the local tribesmen, she climbed a supposedly haunted mountain in Libya years earlier.
Here’s a link to that Libyan story, also from NGE. It’s pretty great. Excerpts:
Our Land Cruiser slows down as we descend from a high plateau onto a gravelly plain that runs between two mountain ranges. It’s getting hot: My thermometer reaches the high 80s and keeps climbing. There is no sign of life—no trees, no bushes, no animals. Just the rocky expanse of the Libyan Desert. Up until the beginning of WWI, this desert remained one of the world’s last unexplored regions; to attempt to cross it was suicide.
As the sun sets, we stop to set up camp below a high white dune, and I lay my sleeping bag under the stars. Sleep in the Sahara and you can see every star in the graceful curve of Orion’s bow, the great sweep of the Milky Way at his back. A small desert rat climbs over me and stops only inches from my face, looking at me. No fear. It has never seen the likes of me before, probably never will again. I move a hand toward it, and it takes a brief step forward before slipping off into the night.
I discover that the desert has its own soul. And it isn’t insignificance that I feel in the face of this, but the aching candor of being alive. These great dunes around me—carved and shaped by the wind, baked by the sun—were once stone. And if mountains can dissolve, then what of me—so much more fragile, so much softer, so quick to bleed and easy to destroy. Maybe it’s heady reflection, but I think it, lying in the sand and gazing at this world: the marvel that I am here. The marvel of it. And that is all I seem able to put into words. That I can endure out here, in my sleeping bag, under stars too innumerable to calculate. Such an ecstasy of wonder and gratitude. I am here, I am here!
Clapperton and his companion Dr. Walter Oudney camped near the mountain, to the terror and vexation of their Tuareg guides who believed that small, red-bearded devils lived on it and caused mischief to all who passed, while spirits taking on the appearance old men materialized out of the night to terrify lone travelers. It was considered akin to suicide to go anywhere near the dreaded mountain. Wrote Clapperton, “[My guide] Hatita said he would not go up it for all the dollars in the world.” And it’s the same story now in Ghat, no Tuareg willing to travel with us to the mountain, no matter how much we’ll pay. They all have their own stories. There were the French tourists a few years back. They drove out to the mountain, thinking it’d be a good joke to climb it, but as soon as they got out of their car they were attacked by swarms of wasps. Libyan authorities found the group wandering along the road, unable to get in their vehicle, their faces covered with stings. And this, I’m told, was minor. Much worse has occurred. Like the Libyan soldier at a checkpoint near the mountain who saw something so awful, so terrifying, that he went into shock and couldn’t walk for a year. To this day, he is unable to speak of what he saw. And then there is the man who swore by Allah that he saw an entire army division march around the base of the mountain one night—a ghost army, that disappeared before his very eyes.
Jinoon and its vicinity has been considered a stomping ground for evil genies for centuries. Intrepid Arab traveler Ibn Battuta first wrote about this desert in the 14th century, describing it as a place “haunted by demons; if the [traveler] be alone, they make sport of him and disorder his mind, so that he loses his way and perishes.” Western explorers journeying in the Fezzan regarded such tales with derision, determined to see the mountain and to try to climb it. In 1822, Dr. Oudney made the first recorded attempt, reaching the mountain’s 4,500-foot-high saddle and returning without incident. “The Doctor has got a high reputation for courage for his visit to Jinoon,” Clapperton wrote about his friend’s successful climb, “and every newcomer is sure to ask him about it.” Later explorers were less successful. British adventurer John Richardson attempted the climb in 1853, getting lost on the descent and wandering in the desert, near-death, for two days. Robust German explorer Heinrich Barth had an almost identical experience in 1857. I am determined to see the place. I want to climb the mountain. we decide to go there unguided.
Magdy tells me that Omar No.2 pulled him aside last night to ask if I’m crazy. Don’t I know that it’s lunacy to climb Jinoon? If Magdy were a truly responsible guide, he would advise me against it before something awful happens. But Magdy shrugged. He is a cosmopolitan with a degree in French Literature. He lives as far from this corner of the Fezzan as a person in Anchorage lives from Tucson. What does he know? If I want to risk my life climbing a mountain haunted by demons, so be it. Insha’allah, God willing, I’ll make it to the top and back down again.
Read the whole thing. Years later, under the influence of ayahuasca, this is what happened to her:
Hamilton is standing over me now, rattling his chakapa, singing his spirit songs. Inexplicably, as he does this, the darkness backs off and is sent spiraling away. But more of it comes in a seemingly endless stream. I see dark, raging faces. My body begins to contort; it feels as if little balls are ripping through my flesh, bursting from my skin. The pain is excruciating. I writhe on the mattress, screaming. Hamilton calls over one of his helpers—a local woman named Rosa—with directions to hold me down.
“Tell the spirits to leave you with ease,” Hamilton says to me.
“They won’t!” I yell out. And now they appear to be escaping en mass from my throat. I hear myself making otherworldly squealing and hissing sounds. Such high-pitched screeches that surely no human could ever make. All the while there is me, like a kind of witness, watching and listening in horror, feeling utterly helpless to stop it. All I know is that one after another, demonic-looking forms seem to be pulled from my body. I’ve read nothing about this sort of experience happening when taking ayahuasca. And now I see an image of a mountain in Libya—a supposedly haunted mountain that I climbed a year and a half ago, despite strong warnings from locals. A voice tells me that whatever is now leaving my body attached itself to me in that place.
Haunted mountains. Demonic hitchhikers. Who would believe this? Yet on and on it goes. The screaming, the wailing. My body shakes wildly; I see a great serpent emerging from my body, with designs on Hamilton. He shakes his chakapa at it, singing loudly, and after what seems like an infinite battle of wills, the creature leaves me. I grab the vomit bucket and puke for several minutes. Though my stomach has been empty for over eight hours, a flood of solid particles comes out of me.
Read that story here. I think the lessons are clear: 1) don’t climb haunted mountains in Libya, and 2) don’t ingest ayahuasca.