Julian Yi-Zhong Hou, Ketamine Clear, 2020, poster. Courtesy the artist.

Julian Yi-Zhong Hou: Ketamine Clear

Presented as part of The Pandemic is a Portal


1. Health Care

I began experimenting with ketamine in 2015. I noticed effects that were different from those I experienced with other hallucinogens. The revered psychonaut Terence Mckenna spoke of feeling as though his mind were an empty office building when he was on ketamine, as opposed to the organically grounded mushroom world of psilocybin. In astrological terms, you’d restate this dichotomy as between the air and the earth. The air, the office building, is how ketamine helps to map our consciousness. The earth, the mushroom, is the object of healing our minds and our bodies. If we were to complete the square, or the cross of the four elements (+), you could say the poles of math and spirituality are grounded by science and culture; air and water are grounded by earth and fire. As the symbol of healthcare and addition, the +[1] should replace the †.


2. Strength of Mind

In order to clear your own mind, you need to be willing to let your mind be cleared. You have to commit to the act of clearance and have faith in your mind’s strength, faith in its achieving self-possession. The mind is beyond the brain. I used to watch the TV show Hoarders because it happened to depict the exact mental hoarding that was happening in my mind. Those people in those homes with all that stuff is how I felt I was living in relation to my own mind.[2]

Ketamine is often viewed with skepticism because people associate dissociation with escapism, but mental dissociation is healing because it allows one to see the way that they think. This is similar to contemplative meditation in that taking ketamine for healing the mind requires practice.


3. Gates of Truth

One of the first gates of the drug that I passed through was resonance, which I experienced as the sensation of being of one mind. There is an increased intuition and empathy between minds, and this is the dance party appeal of the drug even while its other effects cause one to lose balance and feel far from physical pleasure. It was with continued experimental use that I discovered the many other levels and experiences that are available.

The first few trips tended to leave me feeling like I had stretched out my synapses, a kind of pineal yoga. But gradually there was a turn of a key, an unmasking of a kind, a splitting, a rupture. But this gate needed to become familiar and habitual before I could pass through it with ease. It felt creepy, foreboding, and like there was something sinister behind it.

What was hidden were the mechanisms of systemic oppression, which keep individuals from achieving self-possession. For me, there were several laws that began forming (a work in progress) that helped me to gain a sense of clarity:

  1. The desire to think in terms of “likeness” is at odds with seeing the truth of situatedness. Projecting, associating and caricaturing are all symptoms of not recognizing that likeness is a tool of oppression
  2. Fence sitting is not being at the centre but being at odds with taking a position
  3. The frequently cited quote, often attributed to Mark Twain but which some historians believe to be a more ancient adage, is true: History does not repeat, it rhymes 
  4. Radical forgiveness requires tracing what roots you can find and empathizing with those who have harmed you. Radical forgiveness is self-empowerment
  5. Science alone cannot account for the mind
  6. Death is not the end of consciousness if you can expand your consciousness in life. This belief is core to Chan / Zen BuddhismCompassion stems from our shared human roots, and the etymology of the word "radical" is "root" 
  7. Recognizing symbolic orders as guides is how one begins to follow their life path
  8. The virtual and the real are two sides of the same coin

4. Gates of False Folk Knowledge

I had to also walk through the gates of false folk knowledge. We’d been taught, largely by the war on drugs, that all drugs are bad for your brain — the egg in the frying pan. In recent years, the idea has become tolerable that so-called natural substances might not be bad for you, somehow omitting the natural poisons that are everywhere in nature. For myself, the answer was, for the moment, who cares? The mind is more than the brain, and much more than the drug. And if psychedelics are an expansion, ketamine is the cartographer, mapping and "making space.”[3]

The impression of feeling another’s passing from a distance is another false gate. I was certain I felt the death of my partner and my mother on two separate occasions. I also had the traumatic experience of my own death, which was in the shape of a spiral and left me feeling naked in my chair.

There was also a gate of the folk magic of superstition. And to the question of whether or not the defacement of a symbolic object by nature causes destruction in reality, the simple and proven answer is the following: it depends.[4], [5], [6]


5. Calling to Mind: The Effect of Summoning Images is the Realm of Magic

Ketamine, with lack of sleep, can produce instances of vivid auditory evocation. Imagined voices are so present in the mind that they seem to be actually heard. Likewise, mental pictures seem more tangible. In this same way, somehow, you are capable of visualizing the state of being another and you can essentially project yourself into another (resonance and empathy). And what seems to be the risk for those who suffer from delusion is not being able to separate the vividness of an imagined picture from a memory of a real moment. This mis-memory, this slip, feels satisfying to the extent that it satiates the creative desire. The invitation of this slipping becomes a reinvestment in one’s own mental creations, which is a process key to artistic practice.


6. Polarity shifts

The final and hidden gate feels like the result of panic. Disharmony in itself as a form of reverse divinity. This gate represents the resistance that occurs prior to achieving a level of clarity, the flickering between paranoia and heightened sensitivity. It is the effect of deep centring that causes these poles to flicker. Deep centring is also far reaching. It plateaus like the flattening of the curve and does not descend like a momentary epiphany. To mistakenly live in the flickering is to persist in torturous Satanic disunity, a continuum of the unresolved.

The body will flicker as well: you stop knowing whether you are left-handed or right-handed. This terrifying centring of the body is the equalizer of the right and left hemispheres. It is the training of the pianist, to be able to think through both hands independently. One might think that if well enough trained, you could draw two pictures using both hands simultaneously.

A large part of this panic is a result of thinking too much in terms of dualities while engaging with the meaning of symbolism, and a lack of practice in metaphorical reading. Triangulation is a tool, providing a three-step process in order to see the truth in symbolic gestures and objects:

  1. To recognize a symbol
  2. To fear its initial literal interpretation
  3. To recognize its true metaphorical meaning


7. Timing

If we attribute to our technologies the messiness of our daily lives, we should accept that they would also be regulated by the common forces of nature. Technological disruption is usually a sign that a moment of transformation is upon us. The breaking of glass is a similar signal of this transformation, as glass is a kind of technology. The idea of an evil artificial intelligence is a paranoid fantasy of technology, indeed. Technology, as an extension of humanity and as earthly manifestation, means to be affected by the forces of nature. It is, like the birds and the weather, a guide for how we should time our work and prepare for change. 

The fear of 5G is not the fear of its radiation, but the fear of its psychic dominance, the fear of a time when we can no longer collaborate with our technologies and use them as guides. This is not the AI from The Matrix franchise or the Terminator films, but the AI of multinational corporations, a supremely advanced technology fueled by a single, terribly egotistical human trait: Greed. Lucky for us, even 5G is at the mercy of the forces of nature.

Technology is nature. AI and algorithms interweave not with the intentionality of individual minds, but alongside us, to the death march of the old institutions. Ketamine is not considered earthly because it is a synthesized drug, so even the old generation of hippie psychonauts hold it with tremendous skepticism. And of course they would, as many of them were privileged, largely untraumatized and unoppressed white men who fetishized the natural sciences and anthropology, and who saw themselves as saviors of the victims of colonialism, violence and white supremacy. Their fantasy of futurity entailed a cynical / cyclical return to the past as a way to restore their own violent history, a longing for the aeon of the mother to clear their consciences. Chemistry became associated with the evils of chemical warfare, just as the microwave became associated with Chernobyl. Evil AI becomes the paranoid foil to compassionate and ergonomic human technology in the spirit of good timing. We can’t construct life from tools, they are simply our extensions. Not understanding that we can invent our own evolution, harmonious with nature, is true insanity.[7], [8]


With thanks to Tiziana La Melia, Michael Joseph Loncaric, Scott Treleaven, Sharona Franklin, Ellis Sam, and Trevor Shikaze. 


[1] Not the emergency blood-red cross or civic corporate-blue cross, but purple cross of lent and rebirth.

[2] In this paradigm, it felt as through mice and rats were all around, shitting everywhere. This is because mice and rats are symbolic, to me, of intrusion, and symbolic of intrusive thoughts that not only enter but occupy your mind and keep you from seeing truth. They run around in circles. However, freeing your mind from this symbolism, you see rats and mice for how they guard against snakes.

[3] Genesis P-Orridge, “Cortex ov Light,” track #13 on Thee Majesty, Invisible Records, 2002.

[4] Hoarding is as much a prophetic practice as a processing of grief, in that the animistic nature of objects are given their respect in time. Surrounding yourself with objects will allow them to make themselves known or meaningful to you, eventually.

[5] Superstition attempts to apply universals to conditions that are intersectional. As with, for example, Chinese numerology, numbers are associated with fortune based on the verbal rhyming of numbers with other Chinese words. What is mistaken is the idea that these numbers should be applied across the board, with the classic example being people who avoid living on certain floors based on an accepted numerological designation. But the numbers are only meaningful in instances where it matters and in relationship to one’s own numerology. I believe that an individual has two numbers: one is their birth numerology (adding all the numbers together that make up your birthday including the double-digit numbers at the end), and the other is your timing numerology. Timing numerology is your game-time number, it is the number that occurs in moments of transformation and play. It is Michael Jordan’s 23 and Wayne Gretzky’s 99.

[6] So much of generic citizenship is formed by being constantly hammered by the boring demands of capitalism’s unfeeling slog, by the separation of life and work, and through the goal, which is also a threat, of waking up at age 65, now retired, and asking if it was all worth it. When that boomer dream of depressed privilege collapsed in 2008, thinking very much needed to be renewed about how we are to relate to our finite living being. But for most, those who no longer see the end of work in sight — if work is even attainable — the sense of dread and foreboding is inevitable. Fear of death is a symptom of not living life — so many feel the effects of this purgatory whose most insidious consequence is suppressing the imagination.

[7] If we believe that technology is nature, then we also have to assume that technology has a spirit, but there is a real discomfort to the human / technological spirit relationship. Do androids dream of electric sheep? 

[8] The video Princeton Mind-Matter Interaction Research describes the work of the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research laboratory of Princeton University, which studies mind-matter interactions. It provides some context about the skepticism of the causal relationship of mind-matter interactions, but also shows the determined research that has been undertaken at the Princeton lab to measure it.

“Princeton Mind-Matter Interaction Research,” Psyleron, 2009, accessed July 7, 2020, http://player.vimeo.com/video/4359545.


Julian Yi-Zhong Hou was born in Edmonton, AB, Treaty 6 territory, and currently lives in Vancouver, on the land of the Coast Salish peoples — the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh, Stó:lō, Səl̓ílwətaʔ / Selilwitulh and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm Nations. His expanded practice interweaves contemporary psychedelia, magic traditions and conceptual / sacred geometry. He is currently completing a vinyl record titled Grass Drama, which is accompanied by a series of pattern prints as well as a performance, the first exhibition of which will take place at the Contemporary Art Gallery and Malaspina Printmakers (Vancouver) this summer. 

[Image description: A revisioning of the widely-used symbol of medical and emergency care: the six-pointed figure of crossed rectangles called the Star of Life with a caduceus at its center (two snakes intertwined around a single vertical staff). This retelling illustrates a new era of symbolism, a new era of hallucinogenic medicine, an intertwining of meanings from the ancient mystical nature of the number 6 in Chinese and Jewish cultures and modern Thelemism. In this version, the star of life has shifted from bright royal blue to an earthy, deep mauve. At the center, the heads of the snakes are replaced by white swans. They face each other, communing, their arched necks outlining a heart shape. Their bodies emerge out of a chalice, with the snakes’ bodies interlacing down the chalice’s stem. In black text just below the lip of the chalice, “Ketamine Clear” is written as one word in all capital letters. “Ketamine” is in a fine, san serif font. “Clear” uses a semi-bold serif font.]

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