How did the constellations come to be? At what point did ancient peoples decide to connect the dots and draw lines between the stars to form pictures and symbols?
The thought occurred to me that ancient shamans would have perhaps aided their stargazing experience with mind-altering herbs or mushrooms, and that this may have helped in the creation of constellations. We know that shamans and cultists worldwide have deployed a wide variety of shamanic techniques, with or without the use of psychedelics, to achieve altered states of awareness.
There is also evidence that the mythology of ancient cultures all over the world have linked their myths and beliefs to the constellations. Norse myth is no exception. Göbekli Tepe in modern-day Turkey – the world’s oldest expression of religion to date – seems to be aligned to the stars; the animals on its pillars reflecting the constellations in the sky.
If both vision journeys and stargazing were an important part of ancient belief, then how did the two come together? How did they evolve or co-evolve? I wondered if the use of a particular psychedelic could even have the effect of making visible lines appear between stars, forming psychedelic-induced constellations. This was just an idea, but as it turns out, there seems to be a reality to it.
Since I have no direct experience of the effects of psychedelics myself, let alone in combination with stargazing, I would have to rely on the experiences of others. If I could find multiple independent reports of the effects I had in mind, then there could be something to this idea. So I did a search query on Google, and already on the first hit, I found exactly the thing I was looking for.
Lines Connecting the Stars
Multiple threads popped up in my search engine about the experiences that people have had when they combined the effects of psychedelics with gazing at the stars. One of the effects mentioned, and confirmed by multiple others, is the sensation of lines forming between stars. Could this have played a part in the origin of our constellations?
I am not urging people here to try psychedelics for themselves, but I do think that they have their benefits when used in a responsible way. And likely, they have played an important part in the development of culture, religion, and science from the ancient world until now – an idea that is still not very popular with the establishment.
In finding out the origins of our traditions and beliefs, no stone can be left unturned. Let’s look at some of the experiences that people have had when combining stargazing with LSD. The first is from this Reddit thread:
“I live up in North Idaho, in a small community that has hardly any people. Light pollution is very low so the stars, in September, are extremely vibrant and you can see the “milky” appearance [of] our Milky Way galaxy. Anyway, several of my friends and I were up on a high mountain peak, each of us tripping off probably 350μg – 450μg of LSD and we all took several dabs.”
It’s true that in the mountains, and in regions with little to no light pollution, many more stars can be seen, and also the band of the Milky Way can become visible to the naked eye. After exiting the car, the user lay down on the cold gravel, together with friends, to look at the stars:
“I got this crazy feeling, that I could feel our planet moving through space as if I was on some amusement ride. The stars in the sky almost appeared a reddish color to me ( I’m very colorblind, not that I think it has anything really to do with it) and I could see the sky shifting […]
I started to really concentrate on the Big Dipper, at the star at the front of the ladle . I would try to stare at it and not look away at all for a minute or two at a time. What really hit me, was I saw whitish lines that were connecting all the stars. Sort of like a connect the dots game. The more I thought about it, the more I saw it.
I had a trip on mushrooms, roughly 3 grams was consumed, where I had the same experience with the lines between the stars.”
Here we have the first mention of “whitish lines” appearing and forming connections between the stars. In the comments, another user confirmed the experience, but reported seeing “green lights” between the stars:
“I know nothing but the 3 times I tripped with my best friend we got on her roof and the stars connected themselves drawing their own green soaring lights between each star. It was fascinating.”
Following the Thread
So far we have two reports describing a similar experience: that of stars starting to connect themselves while on a psychedelic journey. This experience has been observed under the influence of LSD, and also psychedelic mushrooms. Let’s look at an experience given in another Reddit thread:
“At some point, I looked up at the sky and couldn’t speak or close my mouth. I was experiencing pure awe. Every star was as clear as day, and I saw these vivid thread-like lines connecting them all, just like a map of the constellations. These lines seemed delicate, and made the sky look like it was decorated with these studded geometric shapes. Has anyone ever experienced this?
My friend sees the lines connecting the stars too. We’re both pointing to stars and seeing the same ‘constellations.’ I am no astronomer by any means, and I never really studied much on the constellations, so I have no idea whether or not we were seeing an accurate map. All I know is that it was probably the most incredible thing I’ve experienced while tripping.”
Here we have a third person experiencing the same sensation. Whether there is any consistency in the shapes of the “constellations” in different trips is unknown, but it does seem as if the creation of constellations comes even more naturally when in an altered state.
Touching the Stars
A variety of other effects have been reported, dealing with rotation and movement of the earth and/or the stars. In this comment on the above post, the user describes the stars appearing to come closer:
… “I was sitting on the ground showing my friend how to juggle (one of my strange hobbies) and we both started to look up at the sky. I’ll never forget the prominence of the stars, but what stood out to me was how it looked like the sky was falling. The harder I concentrated, the closer the stars appeared — it was the strangest feeling ever, but awesome at the same time.”
The original writer of the post confirms this, saying:
“Yes, that’s a great detail that I left out. My entire field of vision was enveloped by the night sky, and it started to appear like a huge dome, similar to a massive planetarium. It definitely all started to seem like it was close enough to touch.
I remember mentioning how I wanted to reach out and pluck the threads connecting the stars, and then desperately tried (and failed) to articulate what I thought that might sound like.”
The details that are mentioned here are very interesting. The user describes the lines connecting the stars as “threads”. This reminds me of the practice of seidr magic in the Norse world, which is related to the weaving and spinning of threads. The three Norns for example weave the threads of Fate, but this is a topic for another time.
Another interesting detail mentioned above is the attempt to articulate what it might sound like to “pluck the threads”, as if the strings which make up the constellations can produce musical notes. Certainly, synesthesia is a phenomenon that can be induced with chemical agents…
Again, the experience of lines connecting the stars is confirmed by users in the comments: “I had the same experience deep in the mountains of Colorado this summer. Every single star was connected. One of the greatest nights of my life.”
All the Stars in the Sky
Some have reported seeing more stars while using LSD or mushrooms. Here’s another one from the same thread:
“I have always wondered how it works, stargazing on both of them [LSD and mushrooms] makes the night sky so busy… So many stars, patterns, so much beauty. I’ve wondered if you truly are seeing more stars and nightly activity, or if it is more a trick of vision. Either way, it is absolutely stunning.”
An amateur astronomer confirms:
“You definitely can see more stars while tripping! I’m an amateur Astronomer who lives in a rural area in Texas (not a complete dark sky site but the views are pretty good). I hang outside all the time when I’m on acid and can verify you can see a lot more stars and points of light.”
At night, especially when there is little light pollution, your pupils dilate naturally, making you able to see more stars. There is of course a limit to how far your pupils can dilate. But is it possible to see more stars in altered states of awareness? Is the brain able to generate more visual detail, which would otherwise have been filtered out? Perhaps.
So that was the popular forum Reddit so far. My search results also brought up experiences from forums dedicated to the use of psychedelics. Let’s see what more we can find…
The post on this forum describes the experience of a friend called Bob while at a music festival:
“When looking up at the night sky, Bob was able to see so much more than he had ever seen. all the stars were connected, as if all the constellations had become completely vivid. He could see geometric lines connecting hundreds of stars..
But Bob wasn’t sure if this was just a mental hallucination, or if the acid was just showing him more of what was literally there in the universe. Was what he saw accurate? How exactly does this work? What are other people’s experiences stargazing with acid? Bob found this incredibly fascinating and beautiful, and wants to know more..”
This experience describes the same arrangement of effects that we have seen mentioned before: seeing more stars, with lines connecting them in different colors, and the mention of geometric shapes or lines. Apparently, LSD and stargazing is a famous combination, as one commenter mentions.
Another user in the thread saw red lines connecting the stars, instead of white or green ones, and various other effects related to motion. It is known that visual shapes and visual distortions appear while under the influence of psychedelics. Perhaps these added shapes can combine with the stars to create these lines?
Webs of Light
Another user describes the experience as follows, also bringing up the connection with shamanism:
“Personally, I wasn’t quite seeing the lines as physical things, but I was so aware of them that I may as well have. They appeared as triangles and even prisms in some places. Since I was not hallucinating the stars themselves, I have to think the lines were real, and that LSD supercharged my ability to see the connections. It’s all about seeing patterns and connections.
I also have to wonder if the people who originally saw the constellations were in a shamanic state of mind similar to what we’d regard as a psychedelic state…”
Someone on another psychedelics forum reports not being able to see constellations under normal circumstances (and without proper training), but being able to see lines when using mushrooms: “I can see the constellations plain as day with the lines connecting them.”
This description is even more visual: “… I remember on the first mushroom trip I ever had, I swear I saw incredibly fine spider-silk like, rainbow/electric filaments connecting the stars— it was incredible…”
It can certainly be argued that when we look up at the night sky, the pattern recognition apparatus in our brain automatically starts seeing shapes in the stars. While it can be difficult to find the larger constellations as they have been constructed for us, it is quite easy to see simpeler geometric shapes without too much effort.
The simpler shapes such as lines, triangles and squares (e.g. the Great Square in the constellation Pegasus) are experienced with ease, although I personally don’t see the actual lines appearing when envisioning the constellations with the same clarity with which I can see the stars. Seeing the stars with the aid of psychedelics is something else apparently, as is also pointed out by this user:
“The odd thing is, they only connect the constellations … it’s like people didn’t invent them – they discovered them“
The user clarifies this further by saying that the stars within the constellations appeared to be connected, but the constellations themselves appeared separate from each other.
Another user reported seeing the lines shift between different sets of stars, and also wondering whether these are actual constellations or something close to it. The idea of “webs of light” has been mentioned, one user even speaking of an “interconnected 3-dimensional spider web”, with all stars connecting, complemented with interesting patterns and sacred geometry.
The idea of a web forming between the stars brings to my mind the idea of neurogenesis. In this Joe Rogan episode, mycologist Paul Stamets explains how (psychedelic) mushrooms can rewire our brains, reconnecting the neurons in our brain in new ways. When our brain gets stale and becomes trapped in the same routines, neurogenesis could be seen as a process that provides new growth, new connections, and increased creativity.
Paul Stamets thinks that we all have a form of dementia to a certain degree, and he thinks that mushrooms of various sorts could help us to keep our brains younger and less rigid.
Our Ancient Connection with the Stars
As mentioned by another user, looking at the stars is a wonderful experience under any state of mind. Looking at the stars without the aid of psychedelics can already feel like a mind-altering experience. And it is certainly possible, with some effort, to become familiar with the constellations, and to learn how to recognize them in the sky at different parts of the year without the use of psychedelics.
Knowledge of the constellations would have been a very practical thing for our ancestors. They can tell us which season we are in, or which month of the year. The stars can even help us to find our place in the greater cycle of the precession of the equinox. For sailors, they can also help to find out where the north is, and which latitude they are on.
Having knowledge of the stars can be both a practical thing (especially in earlier times, or without access to technology), but also a profoundly spiritual thing. In the constellations of the night sky, ancient cultures could see the gods and their myths played out. Can we perhaps find another clue in the fact that many ancient Mystery cults held their celebrations at night?
It certainly is possible that the ancients imagined these constellations without the help of psychedelics or any other kinds of shamanic techniques. But with so many people reporting the spontaneous generation of threads between the stars, and even the sensation of separate “constellations”, one has to wonder whether or not psychedelics played any part in the birth of the first constellations many, many aeons ago.
Once again, I’d like to point out that I’m not calling on people to try this out for themselves. The use of psychedelics is not something that should be taken too lightly. In ancient societies, the use of psychedelics was to a large extent ritualized, and performed under the guidance of experienced elders.
But if you happen to know of experiences like the ones mentioned in this investigation, especially if these contain additional insights, feel free to share them!