Faerie-type Entities and the DMT Experience: An Ontological Survey
by Neil Rushton
This article by author and folklorist Dr Neil Rushton first appeared in the Psychedelic Press journal (issue XL, Autumn 2023). Limited edition print copies of this final house journal dedicated to folklore and psychedelics are available here.
A recent study carried out by the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine surveyed 2561 people to record their experiences of contacting entities while using N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT).1 The study used a filtered dataset of people to categorize many aspects of the DMT experience.
The published paper does not give details of the subjective reports but classifies them into typologies based on a range of determinants, and provides statistical analyses. In the table for ‘descriptive labels for entity’, 14% of respondents described their entities as elves, 8% as faeries and 5% as gnomes. But there are many other categories that are more ambivalent and, without seeing the original data, may be considered faerie-type entities. These include ‘beings’ (60%), ‘plant spirits’ (10%), and ‘animal spirits’ (7%).
This study is part of a growing literature of testimonies from people who have apparently contacted supernatural entities after taking DMT. It would seem this molecule—in particular—has the ability to alter states of consciousness to the extent that the participant is able to interact with non-natural entities in a supra-normal time and space. Many of the entities, in this study and others, bear much ontological resemblance to the faeries of both folkloric and modern descriptions. The DMT experience may provide one possible pathway into understanding what the faeries might be and how human consciousness can connect to their metaphysical existence.
DMT-initiated Faerie Encounters from Clinical Trials and Surveys
In the late 1950s, the Hungarian Stephen Szára became the first person to catalogue the experiences of people who had been injected with DMT. As detailed by Andrew Gallimore and David Luke, once he’d worked out that DMT was non-active when ingested, but instead needed to be injected intravenously, ‘He recruited 30 volunteers, mainly doctors from the hospital where he worked, the National Institute for Mental and Nervous Diseases, Budapest. All received 0.7 mg/kg DMT intramuscularly and [had] their experiences carefully recorded’.2 Unfortunately the results were not published but some of the reports survive and it is clear that many of the study participants encountered entities.
One twenty-eight-year-old male described his experience thus: ‘The room is full of spirits … the images come in such profusion that I hardly know where I want to begin with them! I see an orgy of color, but in several layers one after the other … one sees curious objects, but nevertheless everything is quickly gone, as if on a roller-coaster’. (ibid.) We do not have any further assessment of what the ‘spirits’ were, but several of the other surviving experience reports describe meeting ‘beings’ when under the influence of these high-dose events.
Two years after the first study, Szára extended his assessment to psychiatric patients in the hospital. Again, only a few reports of the patients’ experiences survive, but one, from a thirty-year old female, give a flavour of the types of entities encountered: ‘I saw such strange dreams, but at the beginning only … I saw strange creatures, dwarfs or something, they were black and moved about…’ (ibid.)
When DMT became a scheduled substance in 1970, any possibility of further research ceased. It was not until 1990 that DMT re-emerged as a legitimate substance for experimentation within a clinical setting. Between 1990 and 1995 a clinical research study was carried out at the General Clinical Research Center of the University of New Mexico Hospital, by Dr Rick Strassman, after a lengthy application to obtain a federal licence was successful. The study found that volunteers injected with varying amounts of DMT underwent profound alterations of consciousness. Strassman published the results in 2001 as DMT: The Spirit Molecule.3
The research involved sixty volunteers, all of whom had multiple sessions in a controlled environment, where they were injected with DMT within the range of 0.2, 0.3, and 0.4 mg/kg. They were monitored during the experiences, which usually lasted between twenty and forty minutes. They were then asked to recount a testimony of what had happened as soon as the effects of the drug had worn off.
At all doses the experience usually involved immediate cessation of normal consciousness and transportation to a different realm of reality inhabited by a range of creatures described as elves, faeries, imps, reptiles, insects, aliens, robots, clowns, and various therianthropic entities. One woman even describes a pulsating entity that she encountered as ‘Tinkerbell-like’. The experiences represented to the participants a parallel reality that was ‘super real’, not a hallucination, not a dream, but a substantial built reality with full sensory interaction and often telepathy.
The testimony of one volunteer, Jeremiah, gives an idea of the experience, the entities encountered, and how the participants’ descriptions were recorded verbatim. After hurtling through a void, he found himself:
[In] a nursery. A high-tech nursery with a single Gumby, three feet tall, attending me. I felt like an infant. Not a human infant, but an infant relative to the intelligence represented by the Gumby. It was aware of me but not particularly concerned … Then I heard two or three male voices talking. I heard one of them say ‘he’s arrived.’ … I was in a big room … there was one big machine in the center, with round conduits, almost writhing … The machine felt as if it were rewiring me, reprogramming me … This is real. It’s totally unexpected, quite constant and objective … an independent, constant reality.4
Karl described his interaction with some faerie-type entities during an ‘inter glacial’ only eight minutes into a high-dose session:
That was real strange. There were a lot of elves. They were prankish, ornery, maybe four of them appeared at the side of a stretch of interstate highway I travel regularly. They commanded the scene, it was their terrain! They were about my height. They held up placards, showing me these incredibly beautiful, complex, swirling geometric scenes in them … I heard a giggling sound—the elves laughing or talking at high-speed volume, chattering, twittering.5
The language in the testimonials over time is interesting. Are the ‘spirits’ and ‘dwarves’ in Szára’s studies the 1950s’ versions of the ‘elves’ and ‘imps’ of the participants in Strassman’s research? It is certainly the case that many folkloric descriptions of the faeries described them as ‘spirits’. There are plenty of examples of this in WY Evans-Wentz’s 1911 collection of faerie beliefs, published as The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries,6 where (especially in Ireland and Brittany) there appeared to be a high level of interchangeability between the faeries and the spirits of the dead.
The folklorist David Halpin has commented about this trait while describing one of Evans-Wentz’s encounter reports from Limerick, where a young doctor equates the faeries as spirits: ‘This may be, perhaps, an unconscious referral to the belief that in many cases the faeries were both the dead and another type of spirit, or it may be that there was more of an acceptance of this crossover than there sometimes is today.’7
This ambiguity of language to describe supernatural entities over time is important. But it is clear from Strassman’s research study that almost all the volunteer participants encountered various forms of entities during their DMT experiences, and that (whatever the terminology used) many of them can be coded within the broad ontological spectrum that may be described as faerie entities.
Strassman’s study could be seen, at least in part, as correlative to folkloric research. The primary take away is the anecdotal testimonies of people who attempt to describe the DMT-induced realities they found themselves in and the entities they found there. This is not so dissimilar to a folklorist collecting reports of supernatural faerie encounters. The means of arrival in a reality where faeries appear to exist is evidently different, but Strassman is in many ways simply recording extraordinary encounters with (apparently) non-physical entities, much in the same way as Evans-Wentz and every other folklorist who has attempted to record human interactions with faeries.
An important survey is from 2010, collated by the computational physicist Peter Meyer.8 ‘340 DMT Trip Reports’ documents what Meyer describes as ‘reports which attest to contact with apparently independently existing intelligent entities within what seems to be an alternate reality’. The 340 (anonymous) reports certainly contain many encounters with faerie-type entities, most often described as elves. Forty-six of the reports describe encountering faeries/elves. #49 states:
To start with I was travelling into what looked like a long curved tunnel. The walls of the tunnel were like bright multicolored tiles … After an indeterminate period of time I found myself in a garden, which seemed to be suspended in a sky-blue void, rather than part of any larger land mass. The garden had grass, flowers, trees, even a picket fence and seemed quite convincing and solid. I noticed two faeries sitting on a swing hanging from one of the trees. They seemed to be inviting me closer, and I floated in their direction … As I approached them I noticed that they were lewdly playing with themselves and each other, I watched them for some time before noticing that there were more inhabitants in the garden. There were more of the faeries and what I assume were their children.
This account is quite typical of testimonies in the survey in that a transformed natural environment is encountered, and the morality of the faerie entities in ambivalent.
There are many folkloric traits and precedents in these descriptions, although there is also probably much cultural coding going on, where people in altered states of consciousness carry with them their own memories of what faeries and elves might represent. But there is certainly a general view in the testimonies that these entities are existing in an autonomous built reality not entirely dependent on our own consensus reality. The DMT world appears to be an independent hyper-reality, even if it is a reality built from entirely subjective accounts.
Although only a minority of reports (c.18%) in Meyer’s study explicitly mention faeries or elves, almost all of them do record some type of contact with non-human intelligent entities, described as: spirits, insectoids, therianthropes, orbs, light beings, waves of light or sound, aliens, or distorted humanoids. There is a consistency in the reports of meeting with intelligent beings. This theme continues in subsequent surveys, such as Jon Hanna’s 2012 study ‘Aliens, Insectoids, and Elves! Oh, My!’, which used experience reports posted on the drug-advisory website Erowid, as well as three new surveys of Erowid users.9
While the surveys included entity encounters brought on by a range of psychedelic substances, it is clear that DMT was always the molecule most likely to facilitate such encounters. The initial assessment of over 22600 experience reports showed that 1159 described entity encounters. 38% of these happened on DMT and 36% on ayahuasca. In Hanna’s three new surveys it was also clear that DMT was the drug most likely to initiate an experience involving discarnate entities. Many of the respondents described the entities as alien, but there is a large sub-set of faerie-type beings within the testimonies.
David Luke’s 2020 paper ‘Anomalous Psychedelic Experiences: At the Neurochemical Juncture of the Humanistic and Parapsychological’ also surveys the altered state of consciousness effects of people using a range of psychedelics.10 When it comes to entity encounters, Luke makes it clear that DMT is the substance most likely to induce the phenomenon. He notes that ‘encounters with elves, gnomes, pixies, dwarves, imps, goblins, and other “little people” (though clearly not human people), are extremely prevalent and have long been at the spearhead of the debate on the reality of DMT beings.’
Along with Pascal Michael and Oliver Robinson, Luke has also published the findings from a recent ‘naturalistic field study’ where thirty-six participants were observed during DMT trips in their homes and interviewed immediately afterwards.11 Thirty-four of them described encountering entities, and while there is a variety in the entity taxonomy, faerie types regularly appear. If the faerie typology is extended to therianthropes, cartoon humanoids, aliens and even ‘clowns’, then they are present in the majority of experiences in the study.
In the most recent survey (2022) in Nature Scientific Reports, an analysis of 3778 experiences from the r/DMT Reddit community over a ten-year period from 2009 to 2018, also demonstrated encounters with faerie-type entities.12 While only a minority of contributors specifically labeled the entities as faeries/elves, there are many phenotypes which would slot into a folkloric understanding of faerie phenomenology, such as shadow figures, masked characters and any of the more vague descriptions of ‘humanoids.’ If the descriptors for entities in this study are compared to the faerie phenotypes listed in the Aarne-Thompson Motif-Index of Folk-Literature,13 more than half of them could be classified as faerie encounters.
The DMT experience is evidently a real subjective phenomenon. Even filtering for misrepresentations through deceit and false memories, the large number of testimonies, from both clinical research and surveys, over a long time period, point to the conclusion that this particular molecule consistently produces entity encounters via an altered state of consciousness. And many of the entities correlate with folkloric (historic and modern) faerie typologies.
The DMT Experience Compared to Folkloric and Modern Faerie Encounters
While folkloric faerie encounters (and modern encounters) were evidently not caused by inhalation or injection of DMT, many of the stories and testimonies from the record do involve the immersion of the participants into an ulterior reality inhabited by non-human intelligent entities. One story from the folkloric record that does sound as if it were an historic version of a DMT experience is the well-documented description of Ann Jefferies, who, in the late 17th century experienced a vivid trip into an otherworld populated by faerie entities.14
To read the whole article, pick up the print edition of Psychedelic Press: Folklore & Psychedelics, or sign up to our paid subscriber option.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to Psychedelic Press to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.