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How to Train With the Phonomantic Rite, Part 2: Structuring a Ceremony

  

This is a transcript of the second of a series of videos that will explain how to train with the First Church of David Bowie Phonomantic Rite.

SHONDA FREUDE

Greetings Liebchen! I am Doctor Shonda Freude, a phonomancer of the First Church of David Bowie, Phonomancer.

I am making this video to describe how the Phonomantic Rite is structured. This is to help you use it correctly. I also want to explain why it was organized in this way, to communicate some ideas that may prove useful if you decide to construct your own version.

As mentioned in Part 1 of this series of how-to videos, the Phonomantic Rite is a way to shape and intensify the psychedelic experience by imposing upon it in a narrative structure.

It’s also a way to assign the psychedelic experience a specific meaning by placing it in a ceremonial context.

A ceremony is “a formal act or series of acts prescribed by ritual, protocol, or convention.”

But follow a set series of actions? you may be thinking. Isn’t the whole point of psychedelics to burst free of boundaries, whether they are social, psychological, or spiritual?

Well, yes—at first. If you have never really had the experience of stepping outside your normal point of view to consider how you relate to the people in your life, and how you understand yourself, and how you relate to the Transcendent, then yes, the substantia will provide you the opportunity to crack your brain wide open and check out all kinds of new perspectives on things. That can be incredibly liberating.

And once you’ve done that a few times, you might be satisfied, and never want to use psychedelics again. Or, awakened to new possibilities, you might be excited to explore your consciousness and all the worlds it connects to. In which case the strictures of a ceremony can serve as a kind of Ariadne’s thread to keep you from getting lost as you journey ever deeper into the labyrinths of your mind.

While establishing a certain way of doing things and then repeating it over and over might seem to be a recipe for boredom and burnout, the opposite is true. Any repeated series of actions, no matter how complex, can eventually be mastered. You will find that with repeated exposure you can become ever more adroit with the sophisticated psychological tasks the Rite requires. The more you do it, the more profound the experience becomes.

We will discuss the specifics of those tasks in subsequent videos. For now, please understand that using psychedelics in a ceremonial context can yield benefits a desultory approach can never match.  

And now, here is Pa Dammit to explain the ceremonial structure of the FCDB Phonomantic Rite.

PA DAMMIT

Thanks Shonda!

While the idea of entheotainment—that is, theatrical spectacles designed to create an immediate experience of the Sacred—arrived for me in a mystical flash on July 1st, 2017, the first version of a complete phonomantic rite developed over the rest of that summer and fall.

During that time I experimented relentlessly with a wide variety of rock and pop music. Every Spotify playlists, it seemed, was a grimoire, filled with songs that functioned like magic spells. For instance, “Cherub Rock” by the Smashing Pumpkins allowed me to experience myself as a kind of Marvel Comics cosmic entity, creating and destroying worlds, while Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” triggered odd and uncomfortable images of robotic crocodiles slithering all over me.

I’d had many intense psychedelic journeys before, on LSD and ayahuasca, but it seemed with phonomancy, I’d found a new gear. I attributed it to the potent strain of substantia I was ingesting, but also the volume and information density of the music I was working with.

I soon determined that certain songs had a stronger visionary effect than others. Keeping some and discarding many, I refined my playlist until by December 2017 I had something very close to the final version of the Rite. By listening to it while on a big dose of substantia, and really trying to get into the emotions suggested by each song, I eventually experienced catharsis which delivered me into a place beyond belief, a place of first-hand knowledge (gnosis) of the Divine. And not just once, peak experience. I got there in session after session. It worked consistently.

The time had come to get other people in on the action.

All during my experimentation phase, I’d been thinking hard about how the Phonomantic Rite could be presented as religious ceremony and theatrical entertainment. There was no question—it had to be both.  

Over and over, the message came down the pipe: The Goddess is returning to historical time. Tell everyone to prepare. It had all the weight of Divine revelation. It was incredible, but also incredibly unsettling. Who wants to be the guy who proclaims he’s a prophet with a hotline to the Divine?

At the same time, I kept seeing scenes that seemed an embryonic stage of my vision of stadium-scale entheotainment. I saw myself onstage in nightclubs performing the Phonomantic Rite. The dancefloor was packed with people also on the medicine, everyone dancing and singing along. I was going to use theater—narration, acting, singing, dancing, costumes, props, lighting, special effects, whatever—to help people reach that point of catharsis.

The problem was, I had no theatrical experience. But I did know that plays and musicals followed the same basic contour of any story that hopes to engage an audience, and that gave me a way to start putting a show together.

SHONDA FREUDE:

First and foremost, an engaging story needs a beginning, a middle, and an end.

The beginning invites the audience to exit mundane reality and enter the world of the story. It explains the rules of that world. It must also establish a character we can care about, then saddle that character with a problem, and explain the consequences if the problem cannot be fixed.

The middle section raises the stakes as the character attempts to solve the problem. There is rising and falling action, but overall, things keep getting worse, and because we the audience care about the character, our emotional tension increases.

Finally, the ending provides the resolution of the story’s primary problem. For the audience, this results in catharsis, or release of tension. And there’s often a denouement to help easy the audience back into their everyday lives.

Many religious ceremonies are structured along similar lines. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Catholic mass, an ayahuasca ceremony, or a zazen retreat.

Ceremonies usually begin with someone performing certain actions or speaking certain words that indicate everyone present is now in a different reality than the one they normally inhabit.

In this different reality, there is an agreed-upon problem. Depending on what kind of ritual this is, you are a sinner on your way to hell, or you have an illness that needs treating, or maybe it’s that your ignorance of the truth of non-existence is the root of your suffering.

There is also a solution: believe in Jesus, drink the medicine and let Mother Ayahuasca heal you, concentrate until you see through so-called reality’s illusions and experience Emptiness.

To effect that solution, participants perform programmed actions, which may include listening to and repeating certain phrases, singing, sitting or kneeling or standing as a group, taking a sacrament, meditating or praying, or any combination of these or other activities.

In this context, success is not defined by whether the problem is overcome. Success is the sense of meaning derived from the effort expended. Whether or not they think of it that way, at a deep level, participants in religious ceremonies are trying to experience meaning—a sense of This is all worth it, because…--in a chaotic world. When they achieve it, they experience the relief of catharsis.

In other words, religious ceremonies can also be understood as stories of a character working to solve a problem—except in this case, the character is any person who does the ritual tasks while in a state of belief.

When watching a play or movie, or reading a book, we find catharsis by identifying with a character who has prevailed in the face of challenge.

Achieving catharsis in a religious ceremony is a far more profound experience because it is not, in a manner of speaking, second-hand. No identification is required. You are the protagonist of the story. You have risked everything to overcome the danger. It has happened to you. It is real.

PA DAMMIT

Contemplating how to put together my theatrical show, I was confronted with a problem. I didn’t have a story to tell.

I had three stories to tell.

While at this point they were still pretty inchoate, it was obvious to me that the main sections of the Phonomantic Rite, the section of rock music I called the StereoMyth, the “dance part” known as the Transcendental Disco, and the part about Anne Frank, were all structured, in terms of the emotional targets of each song, according to the stages of the Hero’s Journey. Explicit narrative elements would be added to the sections later, but I could feel that each told a story.

I needed a framework that could contain them all. Eventually I realized what I needed to do was employ a literary device called a frame story.

A frame story is a story with other stories inside of it. And, it seemed, I already had one, in the form of the mythic ideas my visions had inspired.

The Phonomantic Rite is a religious ceremony. That meant that if you participate, you are the main character of its story. Your problem is that our civilization is teetering between one future that looks like Max Max, and another that looks like Star Trek: The Next Generation. A supernatural force called Resistance is doing everything it can to push us back to Stone Age barbarism. The drama is what happens as you try to prevent the end of the world by doing the tasks the ceremony dictates.

What was nifty about this is that anyone joining in could really believe all that is true—or might just decide to believe it’s true for the length of the ceremony. You can treat it like a game of make-believe for adults, and still get good results.

This is very close to the idea of reality tunnels as described by Timothy Leary and Robert Anton Wilson. A set of beliefs can be the foundation of your world, or it can be one tool among many you choose to employ. But that’s a big topic, suitable for another video.

Once I had a frame story, organizing the Rite was relatively simple. Drawing on my experience with Catholicism and Shipibo ayahuasca shamanism, I eventually divided the ritual into six sections
 
SHONDA FREUDE

  1. Pre-Show. This is 30 minutes of gentle pop songs (think Joni Mitchell, Fleetwood Mac, etc.) that serve as the period when participants ingest their dose of the substantia and wait for the effects to kick in.
  2. Introduction. This is where participants are invited to leave the everyday world behind. The ceremonial space is opened using a prayer and tobacco smoke. A brief primer is provided to the participants covering what phonomancy is, how to perform it, and what they can expect. 
  3. The Invocation of the Divine Mother. This work was about the Goddess—about announcing and realizing Her return to historical time. For this section, PA DAMMIT picked three songs that evoked feelings of yearning and devotion that could be usefully repurposed to invoke Her presence. This was done in the hope that She’d both sanctify the proceedings, and also protect him from the worst of the Resistance experience had taught me to expect. 
  4. The Processional. This was one of the last pieces of the puzzle to fall in place. After the first public performance of the Rite, friends who’d attended told PA DAMMIT they thought the transition from the dreamy and peaceful chamber pop of the Invocation to the full-blast rawk of the StereoMyth had been a little jarring. The Processional is intended to build the ceremonial energy in a more gradual manner. 
  5. The Liturgy. The Liturgy is the section that has stories contained within the frame story. The Liturgy is split into three subsections: the StereoMyth, the Transcendental Disco, and the Anne Frank Working.

The StereoMyth, the Transcendental Disco, and the Anne Frank Working each tell a story. The participant is asked to follow along and identify with its main character.

In the StereoMyth, that character is Ged, a young man going nowhere in life. One night as he is driving home, his car stalls, and when he gets out, he is confronted by Ziggy Christ, the Herald of the Holy Ma, a supernatural figure who tells Ged that the apocalypse is imminent, then abducts Ged aboard his flying saucer and transports him to a distant planet where he is left to find the means to prevent it. Ged survives ordeal after ordeal, learns much about the nature of the soul and how to communicate with the Divine, and then returns to the world determine to teach what he knows.

There are eleven chapters to the story, each representing a stage in the Hero’s Journey. Each stage is an opportunity for the participant, no matter what their gender, to explore archetypes of the Masculine: The Child, the Tyro, the Explorer, the Soldier, the Shadow, etc.

The Transcendental Disco is about a young woman named Penny B, who after freeing herself from an unsatisfying relationship, immediately falls in love at first sight with someone new. At first she experiences the heavenly bliss of mutual desire, but after her swain leaves her for her best friend, she collapses and nearly drinks herself to death. Only the timely intervention of the Divine Mother herself prevents true tragedy, and filled with a new sense of grace, Penny obtains knowledge of her soul and is spiritually reborn.

This section also has eleven chapters, again conforming to the stages of the Hero’s Journey.

Unlike the other two sections of the Liturgy, the Anne Frank Working has no explicit story—beyond that communicated by the last four songs of Neutral Milk Hotel’s album “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.” However, it does seem to adhere to the stages of the Hero’s Journey, albeit in truncated form. It begins with the Order, then proceeds from here.

Identification is still the goal here, but it’s focused not so much on what happened to Anne, but what it would be like if you had to watch helplessly as what befell Anne was visited on someone you personally love. It can be a truly excruciating experience, as you might imagine, and inflicting on participants is only justified by the frame story of the ceremony proper.

“Liturgy” means “the form according to which a public worship service takes place,” but the word originally meant “a service to the state undertaken by a citizen.”

In this case, the work is a series of strenuous psychological tasks.

For instance, in the Transcendental Disco, after Penny B brings her new love home for the first time, she stays awake all night as he sleeps in her arms, feel a devotion so complete it’s almost maternal. The song that follows is Rihanna’s “Umbrella.” It’s a simple pop song, but if you can connect its message “…told you I’ll be here forever/Said I’ll always be your friend/Took an oath, I’ma stick it out ‘til the end” to the scene described and then to a memory of a time when you actually felt that toward someone, the resulting emotion will be amplified by the substantia, and this can result in profound visions of the Divine Mother in her aspect as Gaia.

PA DAMMIT

Later I’ll go into the specifics of the work each section of the Liturgy requires.

Right now, I just want you to understand that the Phonomantic Rite is a kind of exercise class. Like a yoga class or Soul Cycle, it’s not designed for passive viewing, it’s designed for doing. It only works if people do the assigned tasks and participate, at least for the length of the ceremony, in our game of make-believe.

The sixth and last section of the Rite, the Recessional, closes the space and brings everyone safely back into the everyday world.

So, to recap, here’s the structure of the Phonomantic Rite:

  1. Introduction
  2. Invocation of the Divine Mother
  3. Processional
  4. Liturgy
    1. The StereoMyth
    2. The Transcendental Disco
    3. The Anne Frank Working
  5. Recessional

The whole thing takes about four hours. When people hear that, the most common response is, “That’s way too long!”

I’ve got two responses to that. The first is that four hours is the duration of your average mushroom journey. The ceremony is meant to serve as a sacred container for an entire psychedelic experience, from ingestion to come down.

The second is that four hours would be entirely too long if it was just a show to sit through—that is, if participants were to simply passively watch. However, it’s designed for their participation. To utilize the ceremony properly, they need to be up on their feet dancing and singing along as much as possible. They should be trying to do the work, as described above.

With that in mind, the Rite is probably better compared to a dance party at nightclub. Many of us have had the experience of getting into a venue at 9 or 10PM and then staying ‘til last call. If you’re having fun, it’s not a long night—it’s a great night.

The Rite is meant to provide the opportunity for each participant to have a profound, direct apprehension of the Sacred, as well as do the serious tasks of Shadow integration and personality expansion. It’s fair to say that even I, who came up with the damned thing, don’t really fully understand it. 

Actually, claiming to have invented it is wrongheaded. The Phonomantic Rite something like the I Ching—an artifact designed on the other side of the Veil, and transmitted in raw form into our world via a conduit.

Now it’s up to the adventurous to take this basic concept, this prototype, and develop it into its fully mature form.

Okay, that’s it for the lecture on Structure. The next video will be about the StereoMyth.


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