DMT (dimethyltryptamine) is one of the most powerful psychedelic substances on earth.
This compound is able to warp our perception of time and space and expands the mind in ways you never thought possible.
One of the curiously common experiences people have when using DMT is the encounter of “beings” that appear to live within the DMT realm.
These beings are more commonly referred to as “machine elves” or “DMT entities.” They appear to be sentient, autonomous, and as curious about us as we are of them.
The existence of these mysterious entities is hotly debated. Some believe they’re imaginary side effects from the DMT; others believe that DMT is a tool that allows us to see and interact with entities that live in another dimension.
Here, we’ll explore 8 theories about the origins of DMT machine elves — including both the mystical and scientific explanations.
DMT elves are essentially humanoid creatures that live in psychedelic hyperspace. They’re only encountered when people take large, breakthrough doses of DMT.
There’s a lot of questions about their origins — are they inhabitants of another dimension? Are they spirits or souls of past humans? Are they divine beings or angels? Or are they a byproduct of our natural tendency to pick out anthropomorphic patterns in otherwise meaningless patterns?
Nobody knows for sure, but there have been some interesting attempts to catalog these beings to better understand what they are.
The term “DMT elves” was coined by the late Terence McKenna — one of the greatest psychedelic explorers, writers, philosophers, and ethnobotanists to have ever lived.
McKenna and countless other psychonauts report being “greeted” by some mysterious entities while on a breakthrough DMT trip.
These beings appear sentient and autonomous. They’ll try to communicate with you, study you, show you different objects or locations, and will sometimes even play little pranks on you or tease you.
McKenna first described these beings as “self-transforming machine elves” in his book Archaic Revival. In his experience, they were not unlike the traditional elves or leprechauns in folklore. They’re small, playful, almost childlike beings that are constantly shape-shifting and changing forms.
In the 70s, Terence and his brother, Dennis McKenna, traveled to the Amazon to understand the use of psychedelic plants in the region. There, Terence was shocked to learn about similar depictions from local shamans. The shamans reported meeting with little people that would give them important knowledge to bring back to the real world.
DMT machine elves have many different names:
- Self-Transforming Machine Elves
- Clockwork Elves
- DMT Aliens
- DMT Entities
- Fractal Elves
- Divine Beings
- Angels or Spirits
The descriptions of DMT elves can vary from one person to the next, but there are some curious similarities that overlap with a lot of these reports.
These entities are often described as benevolent, playful, prankish, and sometimes ornery. They have a childlike innocence yet possess a wisdom unfathomable by our human minds. They’re in some ways all-powerful — able to transmit complex ideas to us, teleport themselves and the psychedelic visitor to new locations, and can shift and change form at will.
One of the most curious themes of these beings is that most people who encounter them agree they have some sort of agenda (though it’s not clear what that agenda might be).
The machine elves almost always have something important to show us, but how people interpret their actions can vary a lot. Sometimes they seem malicious — they may criticize or mock us for aspects of our personality we aren’t proud of. But ultimately, this criticism is viewed as a positive catalyst for changing negative aspects of one’s personality.
Other times, machine elves are playful and provide constructive insights into problems we face in our personal lives or within society.
While it’s unclear whether these entities are real or not, one thing is for certain — meeting a DMT entity, even just once, can change our outlook on life and death forever.
Encountering intelligent, sentient beings from what seems to be another dimension that are somehow able to transmit wisdom about life, death, and reality often leads to a state of ontological shock.
Ontological shock is what happens when one is forced to rethink their entire worldview.
A study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology in 2020 analyzed the survey results from 2561 people who have smoked or vaporized DMT. About 25% of the respondents in this study reported being atheist prior to the experience, while only 10% of respondents considered themselves atheist at the time of the survey.
Even Rick Strassman — the first person to conduct DEA-approved research on DMT back in the 90s — was perplexed by the frequency of encounters his subjects had with DMT entities.
“I was neither intellectually nor emotionally prepared for the frequency with which contact with beings occurred in our studies, nor the often utterly bizarre nature of these experiences.”
Here are some of the other interesting findings from this study:
- 99% of people who encounter DMT entities exhibited a strong emotional response during the encounter
- The majority of people interpreted the beings positively (96% intelligent), 96% benevolent), 78% sacred), 34% helper) — only 11% listed the beings as “malicious.”
- Most people (~66%) who meet DMT entities are given a message or a task
- 81% of respondents reported the encounter felt “more real than reality.”
- Almost 90% of respondents say they experience lead to lasting improvements in wellbeing and life satisfaction
It’s notoriously difficult to describe the physical appearance of machine elves because of how rapidly and dramatically they change form.
On top of this, they’re often made up entirely of fractal shapes and complex geometric patterns, which are constantly changing and evolving into new patterns.
Some people see them as animal forms; others experience these entities as classic sci-fi-styled aliens.
The general consensus is that these entities are humanoid, sentient, and exist in a world where everything is made up of fractal patterns.
Here are a few representations people have made in an attempt to recreate the beings they encountered while on DMT:
There’s no proof that DMT entities are real, and there’s no proof they aren’t. We’ll never know for sure.
The real question to ask here is, “what does ‘real’ even mean?”
The branch of metaphysics that deals with this question is called ontology. The ontological status of something relays what’s considered real and what’s imaginary.
There are two schools of thought regarding what’s real and what’s imaginary that could be used to determine whether DMT entities are real or imagined:
“Anything with a physical form is real, everything beyond that is imaginary. In order to exist, something must involve observable phenomena.”
In other words, we must be able to detect the existence of something using our own eyes or scientific instruments like a microscope or telescope.
Anything that can’t be physically observed or detected is therefore imaginary (not real).
By this thesis, DMT entities are not real because they don’t have a detectable physical form.
“Reality is created entirely in the mind of the beholder.”
By this measurement, DMT entities are real if they’re experienced. They don’t need a physical manifestation to exist.
When you’re experiencing something, it’s as real as it gets. Whatever experience you’re having is real by all accounts. You’re there, living it in the moment. Just because it’s no longer there when you come out of the trip doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.
This is the same for dreams — when you’re in the dream, it’s really happening. The experiences you’re engaging in are happening in the present moment. It’s only once you wake up that you realize it was a dream — separate from the reality we experience during waking consciousness.
Many people report the DMT experience feels “more real than reality itself.” It’s as if the reality we experience on a daily basis is the delusion, and the DMT realm is the true reality.
DMT entities reside in the DMT realm — sometimes referred to as “psychedelic hyperspace.”
If you’ve never used DMT before, there’s something you need to understand about this place.
The place DMT takes you (wherever that may be) is undeniably geometric and chaotic. It consists of infinite fractals and ever-changing patterns.
The deeper you go, the more complex the geometry gets.
Andrés Gómez Emilsson of the Qualia Research Institute gives an excellent explanation of this in his talk on the hyperbolic geometry of the DMT experience.
Emilsson and his team are working on a method for quantifying the depth of the DMT experience through the geometry of the experience. The idea is that by identifying the level of complexity of the geometric patterns encountered during the DMT trip, researchers are able to identify the depth of the experience into the DMT realm.
The Qualia Research Institute lists six distinct levels of the DMT realm:
- Threshold — early effects of DMT involve enhanced HD vision and more vibrant colors
- Chrysanthemum — the emergence of a textured fabric made up of intricate symmetrical shapes and bright colors (often looks like a chrysanthemum flower)
- Magic Eye — evolves from the chrysanthemum to form into a complex autostereogram
- Waiting Room — the autostereogram forms around you and creates a room where you sit and wait for a while before moving on to the next stage
- Breakthrough — the curvature of the geometric patterns become so extreme that topological bifurcations happen uncontrollably
- Amnesia — this level is so deep, you become unaware of your physical existence entirely
DMT entities are usually encountered at the breakthrough level.
Here’s one of the most realistic examples I could find of what the DMT fractal universe looks like:
There’s no way to know for sure if DMT entities are real, where they come from, or even what they want from us.
Here are 8 theories currently floating around about what these entities could be and where they come from.
Take all of this with a grain of salt. These are all just theories or ideas that are fun to think about — but there’s no way to prove or disprove any of them, no matter how outlandish they may sound.
This seems to be the theory that most closely aligns with Terence McKenna’s interpretation of machine elves.
The idea is that the DMT entities we encounter are inhabitants of that field of consciousness.
You could also relate this to the idea of a “spirit realm” where different forms of sentient consciousness exist — but are unable to interact with the physical world as we know it. The only way to access this realm is through the help of psychedelics or deep states of meditation (which has a surprising amount of overlap with the psychedelic experience).
DMT elves have a lot in common with the traditional concept of elves, fairies, and leprechauns from folklore. They’re small, playful tricksters with magical abilities — such as shapeshifting, teleportation, or telepathy.
Much like humans, there are many different personalities and subsets. Some are benevolent, innocent, and kind — others are malicious and greedy.
Could there be a civilization of beings that live in another realm only accessible by changing the frequency of consciousness? We can sometimes enter their realm through the use of DMT and other psychedelics — and they can only enter ours through the equivalent shift in consciousness.
A lot of the theories included here are mystical explanations for the DMT entities — but there’s a scientific explanation as well.
An argument could be made that the brain is simply a consciousness generator. It takes sensory information from the environment around us and translates it into experience.
Existence is inherently chaotic and random. In order for us to interface with it, we need to have a way of cutting out the noise.
The default mode network (DMN) is a series of interconnected brain regions that work together to achieve this. It’s responsible for filtering the information that enters the brain, as well as the interaction between brain systems itself.
The DMN allows us to interface with reality by defining key aspects of existence — such as the differentiation of “self” from “other.” The DMN is sometimes referred to as the physical location of the “ego” — which is essentially the anchoring point for our existence.
DMT and other psychedelics exert their psychedelic effects by activating the 5HT2A receptor. This receptor mutes the effects of the DMN — resulting in an onslaught of information within the brain that would normally be filtered out.
It’s entirely possible that the so-called “DMT hyperspace” and the entities contained within it are generated entirely from our own brains. DMT changes the parameters of the consciousness generator that is the human brain in such a way that we experience what looks like another dimension — when in reality, it’s the same information that’s being translated differently inside the brain.
Think about a computer monitor. It’s designed to take information from a computer and convert it into what we see on the screen. By changing just a few lines of code, the monitor can take the same information and use it to display all kinds of warped and discolored shapes and projections instead. It doesn’t mean these projections are accurate; it’s just how the monitor is interpreting the data.
This theory suggests that the entities and experiences we have on DMT are messages delivered to us from some sort of alien race. These messages may include insights for new technology or ideas that can then be brought back and given to the rest of civilization. Other times, it’s more personal.
We have no idea what alien life could look like.
What if there are creatures out there in the universe so unlike ourselves, we can’t even interact with them in physical form. Perhaps they’re just too complex for our human brains to comprehend.
For example, if these aliens were from the 4th dimension, it would be impossible for our three-dimensional selves to even comprehend them.
Much like a two-dimensional being couldn’t even imagine what the third-dimensional plane could be, three-dimensional beings can’t comprehend what the fourth-dimensional plane looks like.
The DMT alien communication theory suggests there could be beings that are communicating with us through the psychedelic experience (as well as dreams). In this space, they’re able to transmit information in the form of visual language — a concept that’s fundamental to the DMT entity experience.
Some theories suggest that DMT, and other psychedelics, are like a tool for seeing something that’s already there, but we’re unable to see with our standard human hardware. This is the same concept as using a microscope or a telescope.
When you look at a clean surface, you’re not going to see any living creatures. But if you look through a microscope at the same surface, you’ll find it teeming with life.
Those tiny bacteria and protozoa were always there; we just couldn’t see them.
Using DMT as a sort of microscope, we’re able to see life forms that are always there, but we’re unable to see with waking human consciousness.
Another analogy that follows the same vein as that of a radio receiver.
When properly tuned, we’re able to pick up transmissions from radio stations operating on a certain channel. In order to listen to the streaming from another radio station, we have to change the frequency of the receiver.
Could it be that DMT is able to change the frequency of our consciousness to allow us to tune in to other “channels?”
Psychedelics were mainly used for religious rituals and ceremonies. Substances like ayahuasca, magic mushrooms, salvia, and peyote were all used to connect the shaman with the divine. The context of what “divine” means is different for every culture, but the idea is the same.
Many people encounter what they interpret as angels, God, Buddha, Gaia, Krishna, or other religious or spiritual entities. Often, they see what aligns best with their spiritual beliefs; other times, it’s a deity or spirit that’s completely unrelated.
Perhaps there really is some all-powerful creator that’s up in the heavens watching over us. Maybe they drop little tidbits of wisdom to us — either for the sake of helping society at large or for the sake of helping to improve the conditions of a specific individual.
There have been all kinds of encounters with the divine without the use of DMT or psychedelics. But these substances just seem to have a tendency for inducing them more on our own terms.
It’s like setting up a meeting with the divine. They’re not guaranteed to show up, but the meeting is scheduled, and the boardroom is booked nonetheless.
Carl Jung proposed the idea of the collective unconscious. This theory suggests that all members of the human species have access to a sphere of consciousness beyond our individual experience.
Ideas, experiences, and memories of humans that lived before us are saved in some kind of ethereal database. When we’re born, we bring fragments of these experiences with us.
Some of these memories are functional — like providing a newborn baby with the know-how to crawl up to their mother’s breast for food within minutes of being born.
Other memories aren’t necessarily functional but still exert an influence over who we are and how we think and act. These memories are totally outside our conscious experience. They’re in our minds, subtly influencing our thoughts and behaviors, but just out of reach for us to be able to notice them. This is why Jung referred to it as the collective unconscious.
He developed the concept of shadow work as a way to uncover one’s unconscious influences. Today, psychedelics are considered a key aspect of this process because of how effective they are at dislodging unconscious thoughts and ideas.
Could DMT elves be the manifestation of the collective unconscious?
This could explain why machine elves share so many similarities from one person to another and why they’re so keen to provide us with information that has a direct benefit on society.
Humans have the innate ability to pick out any anthropomorphic data in otherwise chaotic or random patterns.
This is why the standard Rorschach inkblot tests most often look like faces of other people or animals. This phenomenon is reported no matter what culture the observer comes from.
Could machine elves be a result of the mind picking out what appears to be faces or humanoid figures in otherwise random and chaotic fractal patterns?
The term “meme” was coined by Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book, The Selfish Gene. He coined the term from the Greek word mimene, but shortened it, so it more closely resembled the word “gene.”
A meme, in the scientific sense, is an idea, behavior, or skill that’s transferred between people through the process of imitation.
Memes are present on a macro-scale — such as the transmission of cultural practices, language, and fundamental technologies like cars and clothing.
It’s possible that the experience of the machine elves are memes too — ideas passed on through other people (namely, Terence McKenna), which then manifest in the psychedelic experience of others.
Rick Doblin seems to think this is the case after an interview he did with Lex Clips midway through 2021. He believes machine elves are an invention of Terence McKenna that others experience after the idea is passed along.
This doesn’t explain the experiences reported by people who report knowing nothing about the entities associated with DMT prior to experiencing them.
Most people who encounter machine elves say they received some form of insight or wisdom. But these entities don’t communicate through conventional language. They communicate through a sort of synesthesia. They speak in sounds, but you see it rather than hear it.
Terence McKenna referred to this as translinguistic glossolalia — nonsensical communication. It’s virtually impossible to explain or recreate because it’s so different from conventional language and communication.
McKenna believed this form of visual language is a key aspect of the DMT realm. He believed this visual language to be the perfect form of information:
“A language which becomes and which is the thing it describes.”
It allows for the transfer of exceptionally complex information without any chance of misinterpretation.
It’s not hard to find trip reports where people encounter entities while smoking, vaping, or drinking DMT.
Joe Rogan even reports meeting these entities on one of his DMT trips, which he talks about on his podcast while chatting with Michael Malice.
Here’s a handful of DMT trip reports involving DMT entities to provide some context for the variability in which these beings present themselves.
(This is one of Terence McKenna’s trip reports in which he meets DMT entities)
“I sank to the floor. I [experienced] this hallucination of tumbling forward into these fractal geometric spaces made of light and then I found myself in the equivalent of the Pope’s private chapel and there were insect elf machines proffering strange little tablets with strange writing on them, and I was aghast, completely appalled, because [in] a matter of seconds… my entire expectation of the nature of the world was just being shredded in front of me. I’ve never actually gotten over it.”
“These self-transforming machine elf creatures were speaking in a colored language which condensed into rotating machines that were like Fabergé eggs but crafted out of luminescent superconducting ceramics and liquid crystal gels. All this stuff was just so weird and so alien and so un-English-able that it was a complete shock — I mean, the literal turning inside out of [my] intellectual universe!”
“Purple fractals flowed through my view of perception. It was as if I was looking through a kaleidoscope and these visions became more and more beautiful as each moment passed. Soon I was greeted by three blue individuals, two seemed male-like and one was definitely a female. The female seemed to be the ‘leader’ of the crew; she was standing in front of the other two and was waving me towards her. She was not of this world but had a human-like body, however her head was triangular shaped — almost spade shaped actually — with one angle pointing northward and the other two angles due east and west. She wanted to show me something and was calling me to come closer.”
“Unfortunately, in the excitement of trying DMT for the first time none of us remembered to turn off the telephone ringer and the phone rang during my experience. This immediately brought me back into reality, but not so far that I could not easily go back. I took this opportunity, however, to tell Brad what was happening. I was so excited to share the experience with someone that I could not wait until it was over to speak. The female was urging me to come back and to stop sharing my experience with others at this point. She was telling me to quiet my mind so that I could fully experience what she wanted to share with me. In fact, teaching me to quiet my mind was the message that she offered and it did not seem as if I would be getting more from her. As I continued to come in and out of the trip I also continued to share my experience with Brad. This angered her because she had specifically told me not to share it yet, and simply wanted me to quiet my mind. I was not ready for this message at this juncture in life, and yet I was totally ready. The beings bid farewell, as they seemed rather offended by my arrogance and desire to control the experience.”
“I suddenly realized that I was having Terence McKenna’s trip. Damn if he wasn’t right-on-the-nose about these crazy elves. As this realization washed over me the elves burst into uproarious laughter. They were laughing themselves silly, giggling, rolling across the ceiling and holding their stomachs. But there was something else. I felt there was more to this space than just the elves and time was running out. I pushed beyond elvin mischief deeper into the DMT realm.”
“This time I saw the ‘elves’ as multidimensional creatures formed by strands of visible language; they were more creaturely than I had ever seen them before. The message was changing from the initial ‘OK, OK, safe, safe…’”
“The word changing suggests that this was a time-linear process. I don’t think this is the case. I believe that during the trance the whole message and its variations were there at once, from the start. There is a different meaning to time in the DMT state, and the notion of linear temporal order that we usually believe, is not valid or useful. All the information is always immediately there and the idea of linearity comes from our linear habits of attention and the fact that we do not yet know how to see/hear/perceive several messages simultaneously and consciously, so we string them out for perceptual convenience.”
“The elves were dancing in and out of the multidimensional visible language matrix, ‘waving’ their ‘arms’ and ‘limbs/hands/fingers?’ and ‘smiling’ or ‘laughing,’ although I saw no faces as such. The elves were ‘telling’ me (or I was understanding them to say) that I had seen them before, in early childhood. Memories were flooding back of seeing the elves: they looked just like they do now: evershifting, folding, multidimensional, multicolored (what colors!), always laughing, weaving/waving, showing me things, showing me the visible language they are created/creatures of, teaching me to speak and read.”
The pervasiveness of DMT elves is one of the biggest curiosities of psychedelics. Why do so many people who use DMT encounter beings?
Furthermore, why are there so many similarities in these reports?
The vast majority of people who experience these entities report different physical appearances but share a similar sentiment.
These beings are benevolent, curious, playful, but highly intelligent. They often provide information to the psychedelic explorer that has a direct positive impact on their outlook on life following the experience.
There’s no way of knowing if these entities are real or not. They could be an imagined byproduct of psychedelic drugs — but they could also be real living entities in a realm we can’t interface within our normal waking consciousness.
It really doesn’t matter what you choose to believe about these entities — what’s important is the message they’re offering and how it may be used to enrich your life or the lives of others around you.