HOUDINI Magazine

Erik Houdini

The Caligari Spiral: A DXM Descent into the Abyss

As I lay there on the couch, entrapped in the syrupy grip of DXM—three bottles of Delsym to be exact—my mind was a battleground of sensory input and existential musings. DXM, it's not your run-of-the-mill hallucinogen. It isn't LSD's colorful, fractal dream, or psilocybin's earthy transcendence, or even ketamine's disorienting wobble. The robotrip, is a distinct disruption of the connection between self and psyche, an experience that defies full articulation and can only truly be known in the visceral realm of personal exposure. To put it simply, you can't just write about it; you have to live it.

The room was awash with the lingering scent of sticky cannabis, and the atmospheric sounds of Sleep's "Dopesmoker," those hymns to the cannabis abyss, washed over me. I’ve always had a soft spot for silent films, especially when I can pair them with my own choice of soundtrack. They become this malleable canvas for a multisensory experience. This time, it was the ageless frames of Robert Wiene's 1920 horror classic "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" flickering on the screen. As I lay on that worn-out couch, fully surrendered to the disorienting rhythms of the Orange flavored, syrupy-slurry and the undulating riffs of "Dopesmoker," the spirals in "Caligari" revealed themselves in all their intricate mystery.

As I gazed into the mesmerizing swirl of the spiral, its raw, mysterious power became evident. It wasn't just a mere pattern; it was an experience, an idea, a journey that captured my imagination, leading it into familiar and yet uncharted territories. My profound connection with this motif was amplified in this introspective space, as I found myself captivated by the uncanny atmosphere of this cinematic landmark. This film, with its distorted sets and stark shadows, has one particular scene that strikes at the very heart of the spiral’s enigma—Caesar walks through a doorway, its arches adorned with those haunting spirals. That doorway Caesar walks through—decorated with spirals that seemed to me like atlantian whirlpools, it stood out with an intensity I could never have imagined.

Although "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" is often cited for its visual influence, my belief is that the spiral's significance goes far deeper, transcending mere visual representation. The scene, despite its antiquity, struck me as brutal, especially under such conscious modification. The spirals haunted the scene; they framed it, and once you notice them, they manifest in so many more realms of filmic horror—almost as if they are a subliminal message sent from the abyss to mankind.

Those spirals aren't just mere patterns. They’re an experience, an idea, a mind-bending journey. My profound connection with this motif came into stark focus during that chemically-aided introspection, one that transcended even the remarkable visual storytelling of a classic like "Caligari." What is it about the spirals that makes them so potent? It's almost as if they thumb their noses at our very human need to categorize and understand. Their power doesn't lie in any simple representation; it's rooted in their incomprehensibility, in their defiance of simple explanation. They are, like the film itself, like the experience of a robotrip, and indeed like the experience of existence, a riddle with no answer, a question that only leads to more questions.

There, on that worn, brown couch—a fixture that seemed to absorb years of neglect, a patchwork of faded material and lost nights—I found myself immobile. The apartment, with its much of it's cracked walls devoid of paint, seemed almost like a scene out of a grim indie film. The acrid tinge of chemicals lingered like an uninvited ghost in the small apartment. The unmistakable shake and bake scent, a dubious legacy from the previous renter's meth-cooking endeavors. The moonlight seeped in through dusty, '90s-era plastic blinds that had long ago lost their sheen, their color faded by years of relentless Louisiana sunlight.

But let's cut right through it: this wasn't physical restraint, it wasn't a matter of being locked in a strait jacket. This was disassociation, that unique hallmark of a DXM trip where the boundaries between mind, body, and setting blur, then disintegrate altogether. I couldn't move, not because of some physiological chain but because I was no longer solely in my body. I was also above it, outside it, hovering like a disembodied entity, like smoke rising to join other wisps in the ceiling's asbestos-laden tapestry. It was as if my physical form was tied to the couch, but my consciousness? Well, it had slipped the leash. I was in the liminal space where the concept of the spiral fractures and falters. It can't fully encapsulate the experience of gazing both inward and outward, of being both the observer and the observed.

It's an experience that defies linguistic encapsulation. How can one describe the sensation of tickling one's own brain? How can one articulate being a spectator of oneself, as if astrally projected, witnessing one's body engage with the visuals of a classic film? I was both the viewer and the viewed, and I saw the spirals on the screen from multiple angles—from my own eyes, from above, from somewhere indefinable. Don't ask me how, for I could not know; we cannot know.

The film continued its somber procession across the screen, now accompanied by the roaring doom metal anthem "Saturnine" by Electric Wizard. Yet, despite the enveloping audiovisual experience, my awareness had shifted. I found myself spiraling. Spiraling in thought, spiraling in consciousness, spiraling toward an understanding that was always just out of reach, always just around the next curve. The spirals—those ancient, omnipresent symbols—were no longer confined to the frame of the film. They had transcended celluloid and were now haunting my very psyche. What remained consistent in this shifting reality was the spiral. It whispered through the entire scenario, a reoccurring motif that seemed to deepen in meaning with each reappearance. It was as if the universe, or whatever lies beyond our material comprehension, was attempting to communicate in an arcane script—an unknowable syntax scripted in curling, sigilating lines.

Imagine smoke from a blunt curling upward, but instead of dissipating, it forms a tangible spiral, thickening and solidifying. It becomes a question mark of cosmic proportions, enticing you to grapple with its inexplicable nature. That spiral was what beckoned from beyond the veil. It was the sign language of the abyss, ineffable and unnerving. It's like stepping off a precipice and finding that you keep falling, not toward a definitive bottom, but into a void that continually redefines itself with each passing second.

I was in a state of body lock, yes, but my mind was anything but locked. It was roaming far and wide, bound not by physical limitations but only by the confines of existential questioning. The spiral and I had an uncanny dialogue, a discourse without words, bound by the spectral gravity of curiosity and wonder. It was a dance around the unknowable, a waltz through the unfathomable. In that moment, I felt myself both disintegrate and coalesce, much like the tendrils of smoke that had wafted into my inner sanctum. I could feel the abyss, not just staring back, but whispering in a language so arcane that it could only be sensed, not heard. Its hands—effervescent and shadowy—were signing messages, cosmos provisos from beyond the veil of understanding.

To say the least, the robotrip, much like the spiral, is a pathway that leads to labyrinthine corridors of the self and the universe. It is an invitation to plunge deeper, to descend while ascending, to find meaning in paradox. There, at the 4th Plateau, at the edge of understanding, the spiral seemed to both beckon and mock, daring me to fathom its depths while coyly admitting its own unfathomable nature. It was a dialectic of horror and wonder, of apprehension and enlightenment.

So there it is—my descent and ascent, my journey through the spiral and into the beyond, all from the constraints of a worn, brown couch in a room drenched in moonlight and scented with the bitter remnants of chemical experiments gone awry. The spirals continue to haunt, but I embrace them as touchstones in a universe that is both astonishingly complex and tantalizingly elusive. It's the final question mark at the end of life's sentence, ever twisting, ever perplexing, and infinitely enigmatic. The beauty—and the horror—of the spiral is that it never really ends. It beckons you toward a center that doesn't exist, luring you ever deeper into its eldritch swirl.