A while ago, I wrote about what I called the telepathy meme — the tenacious idea that ayahuasca opens telepathic communication with others in the group, or allows one to see events that are distant in time or space. This latter is, of course, consistent with the Upper Amazonian idea that ayahuasca is not itself a healer but rather a teacher, which is ingested in order to get information.
Apparently it was a traveler named Rafael Zerda Bayón who first suggested, in 1905, both the idea that ayahuasca visions were telepathic and the corresponding name telepathine for its active constituent. The name was then used by the Colombian chemist Guillermo Fischer Cárdenas when he actually isolated the compound in 1923. In 1939, it was determined that banisterine, yagéine, and telepathine were all the same as harmine, and that is the name that has been used ever since.
I originally thought that the meme then lay quiescent until resurrected in 1953 by American writer William S. Burroughs in his early novel Junky, where, in his closing meditation on yagé, the “uncut kick,” the “final fix,” he noted that the drink “is supposed to increase telepathic sensitivity.”
But apparently the telepathy meme was less dormant than I thought. In the April 1932 issue of Modern Mechanics is a very brief and unattributed article that says, in its entirety:
This brief article is skeptical in tone, gives no author, and provides no source for the information it conveys. I have been able to dig up no further information, although I certainly wonder whether this may be one of the sources that informed Burroughs’s view of ayahuasca. Can anyone add anything?
Drug Said to Cause Clairvoyance
A South American plant called Yage is believed by natives to have the magical property of enabling the drinker to see great distances or through obstacles. Before the drinker falls asleep everything seems to be filled with hazy bluish rings. As the stupor deepens the sleeper sees vivid visions of things or people known to be somewhere else. This is the reason the drug is supposed to cause clairvoyance.