Bring on the white light

12 December 2013 | Fiction, Prose

Extracts from the novel Auringon ydin (‘The core of the sun’, Teos, 2013). Introduction by Outi Järvinen

Jare, March 2017

‘We call the chilli the Inner Fire that we try to tame, just as our forefathers tamed the Worldly Fire before it.’

Mirko pauses dramatically, and Valtteri interrupts. ‘Eusistocratic Finland offers us unique opportunities for experimentation and development. Once all those intoxicants affecting our neurochemistry and the nervous system have been eradicated from society, we will be able to conduct our experiments from a perfectly clean slate.’

‘We fully understand the need to ban alcohol and tobacco. These substances have had significant negative societal impact. And though in hedonistic societies it is claimed that drinks such as red wine can, in small amounts, promote better health, there is always the risk of slipping towards excessive use. All substances that cause states of restlessness and a loss of control over the body have been understandably outlawed, because they can cause harm not only to abusers themselves but also to innocent bystanders,’ Mirko continues.

This is nothing new to me, but I must admit that the criminalisation of chillies has always been a mystery to me. By all accounts it is extremely healthy and contains all necessary vitamins and antioxidants. A dealer that I met once told me that people in foreign countries think eating chillies can lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels – and even prevent cancer. If someone makes a pot of tom yam soup, sweats and pants over it and enjoys the rush it gives him, how is that a threat, either to society or to our health?

What the hell does it matter if somebody ends up with a capsaicin addiction, if feeding that addiction neither causes increased crime rates nor weakens that person’s health? I’ll bet you, even in hedonistic societies there are plenty of caffeine addicts who don’t go around robbing banks to get their next fix of espresso. Perhaps coffee is banned in Finland because it’s viewed as a luxury import item that unsettles the balance of trade. That I could understand. But why chillies? After all, Finland imports expensive oranges too.

There has to be some other variable that I didn’t know about. But Mirko doesn’t appear to have a stance on this.

‘Here, both body and mind are unsullied and thus more receptive to the Inner Fire. And then, in turn, to the Lower World,’ Mirko continued his liturgy.

‘Finland has a noble past, one that is closer than we remember. Now merged with the general population, the ancient peoples of the north knew of methods to help people abandon their fragile shells, leaving their souls to roam freely.’

I raise my eyebrows. Though I’ve learnt large chunks of the Gaians’ so-called philosophy and opinions by rote, just so I can pass for one a bona fide nut-job believer if necessary, this nonsense was completely new to me.

‘The shamans of Lapland had a variety of practices used to achieve that nirvana, like drumming and singing to induce a state of trance. Sometimes they even tried to free their spirits using intoxicating mushrooms, which, our research shows, were both insufficient for the purpose and poisonous, and could even harm the individual. But the chilli works differently. It produces pure pain and pure rapture. In high density, capsaicin can produce a valuable sensitisation. It fosters calmness and sharpens the senses to the extreme. Focus my eyes, Chilli, and I shall See. And that, indeed, is what happens.’

‘Our goal is to find the strongest possible chilli, one with which we can ignite the Inner Fire at will and spread it throughout our midst,’ Valtteri chimes in.

V chuckles. The amused smirk is like a punch. Mirko’s eyes flash, his high forehead wrinkles, but V seems unperturbed:

‘This is all highly fascinating, but sadly doesn’t hold up to scrutiny one bit. If we were to forget the shaman nonsense for a minute and concentrate on physiologically proven effects, then why don’t you simply extract pure capsaicin from the chilli fruit and enjoy that? The strength of chemically distilled crystalline capsaicin is around 16 million Scoville units. You can reach a few million Scovilles simply by isolating the oleoresins from the fruit. Why take the trouble to refine new strands, when you could much more easily separate the alkaloids from plants technically?’

I expect Mirko to snap something livid in return, but instead he simply gazes at the calmly arrogant figure of V as though she were a child who doesn’t yet understand matters. ‘First of all, pure capsaicin is so strong that even a few grams can render the body in shock. In testing, some animals even died after their respiratory system went into paralysis. Secondly, any living plant, grown in fertile soil, has a unique energy all of its own that will be destroyed when we try to chemically condense its constituent parts. I knew how wholly unscientific this must sound to your ears, but it is for precisely this reason that, for instance, the health benefits of the Vitamin C in carrots is significantly reduced when the vegetable is boiled. Certain handling methods destroy the fundamental essence of certain substances. The artificial rendering of capsaicin from the chilli itself destroys its natural Inner Fire, the fruit’s bio-aura, leaving nothing but a cold, soulless, mechanical and chemical impact behind….’

Valtteri has been following the conversation alertly and clears his throat. ‘I know of no other plant that has more myths and beliefs associated with it that the chilli. Much of our oral tradition is nothing but superstition and plain nonsense, but some ancient beliefs actually have a firm scientific basis…. People have sought out the chilli in virtually all cultures, as it was considered an almost magically potent aide and companion. Now we know it has an effect on the dopamine receptors in the brain, so it should come as no surprise that chillies have been used throughout the centuries to cure all manner of ailments. And in addition to curing bodily ills, it has been used to stave off witches and the evil eye, and to exorcise demons.’

This changes V’s expression. She becomes serious and bites her lip as though momentarily lost in thought. ‘All right. Of course, the matter doesn’t remotely concern me, except that you say you need to find a test subject. Why don’t you test it yourselves?’

‘We don’t wish to enjoy it yet. We shall restrain ourselves until we have enriched the perfect strand. There would be no sense in building up our own tolerance – we wish to surrender to the Inner Fire like virgins, when it is ready to receive us.’

‘I can only imagine,’ retorts V drily.

‘We seek a lost, seamless unity with nature. A state in which humans are removed from what some might call civilised society. A state known only too well to the shamans. Being completely at one with the world. Release from the shackles of humanity. How much we shall then learn of the reality beyond our limited bodies, just as the shamans knew before us!’

From a publication on dangerous and undesirable substances, disseminated by the State Health Authority

As the capsaicin found in chilli fruits and their derivatives can withstand extended periods of preservation, e.g. in dried, frozen or cooked states, the isolation and complete extermination of such a treacherous substance presents significant challenges. Through its dogged and tireless work, the State Health Authority has nonetheless succeeded in eradicating this substance from Finland almost entirely.

‘How quaint.’

V’s voice is dripping with sarcasm. For the first time ever, I see Valtteri agitated. ‘Let’s talk your language for a moment. This state is known as a possession trance, something that has been the subject of some very serious research. Fakirs and shamans sought a state of possession trance, often by cutting themselves. However, using chillies they would have been able to activate their pain receptors just as effectively – by using capsaicin to stimulate the trigeminal cells of the mouth and stomach. These cells release certain neuropeptides, which in turn accelerate dopamine metabolism. These very neuropeptides may produce other kinds of neurological effects which we shall attempt to research empirically.’

Valtteri and V stare at one another; in their ongoing jousting match Valtteri has just scored a hit. Suddenly V smirks.

‘Then why didn’t you say so in the first place?’

Valtteri bursts into laughter, but Mirko is still serious.

Take me, Chilli, and I shall Escape. We shall seek the path and take many others with us,’ he says, and Terhi chimes in: ‘But our escape shall be inwards, not outwards.’

Vanna, August 2017

I take the Core of the Sun from my dress pocket and look at it from all sides, dangling it from the stalk careful not to touch the flesh with my bare fingers. Chillies can usually be handled without protective gloves as long as the surface of the skin hasn’t been cut. A thin, strong wax-like shell keeps the capsaicin nicely inside. But I wouldn’t be so sure about this particular specimen. The way of the chilli is not the way of the finger.

Is this what it feels like to touch an unexploded bomb?

On the desk in front of me is a pair of disposable plastic gloves from the secret stash beneath the living-room floor. For us, though, they’re not disposable; we’ll reuse them as long as they don’t break. Wearing a protective mask we wash them outside with hot water, which produces such capsaicin-rich steam that you’ll cough and your eyes start to water, and sometimes you’ll even get the tiniest fix just from inhaling it.

Beside me are the small chopping board I took from the kitchen and a knife I’ve sharpened with great care. The knife is so sharp that I easily cut a wafer-thin slice of the Core of the Sun. The smell doesn’t have that same penetrating fruitiness, that almost citrus quality that you find in habañeros, but there’s a similar sense of the tropical, with added spice and smoke. My nostrils itch. I blurt out a sneeze and have to catch my breath for a moment.

This baby’s capsaicin is apparently so strong that I can sense it a metre away.

Is this really such a good idea, I ask myself as I stare at the almost invisible sliver of fruit on the wooden chopping board.

Hmph.

I snatch up the slice and pop it in my mouth.

I bite into it.

I wait.

I can’t feel anything in my mouth.

Something happens all the same, as my heart speeds up to a gallop and time slows to a crawl –

My head is immersed in white light. The fire is so bright that I imagine it glowing through the seams of my skull.

In fact, it is so white that there is no word for it; it is beyond white. Fresh snow on a bright winter’s day seems grey in comparison; this is searingly white, blindingly white, ultra-white, it is the simultaneous combination and negation of all the colours in the world, and my head starts to ring with excruciatingly high tinnitus, as though I had suddenly acquired the ability to hear a dog’s whistle, one whose sound is so taut and beyond all other sensations that it is like a beam from a distant star translated into sound.

The sound becomes so high that I can no longer hear it.

I stand still as my sight gradually returns, and time has stopped. Though my mouth is full of spit and my entire body is sweating, my tongue isn’t burning, lava doesn’t seem to be heaving along my throat, my stomach isn’t constricted by a great iron belt.

This stuff is off my sensory spectrum.

And because the needle is so far off the scale, the brain doesn’t know how to react. And because it doesn’t know what to do with such a strong sensory experience, it decides not to do anything. Rendered helpless, the brain simply throws in the towel.

My head spins and I feel light, I’m so full of endorphins that I’ll soon rise up into the air. I really do float upwards, and it feels rather nice, I’m weightless, almost carried by the wind, and I can see a thick layer of dust on top of the wardrobe – it hasn’t been dusted, probably because it’s too tall, reaching up almost to the ceiling – and there in the dust is a spider carcass, while beneath me an Eloi stands stock still, in front of her a small chopping board, a knife and an ominous-looking chilli.

It takes me a moment to realise that, wow, that’s me.

I try to move, I could slip out through the opened window if I wanted to, I can sense the life buzzing on the other side of the windowpane, birches and spruces and grass and roses and worms and beetles and midges, somewhere a fox is skulking and somewhere a hare is hopping and I could hop beside it, ride pillion in its guts, a part of its brain as it hops towards the sun; hear what it hears, see what it sees.

Somewhere on the periphery of my sensory world there come ghost-like, booming clusters, like distant echoes. It must be the Gaians.

A fly is buzzing in the window, its sound pealing, penetrating, hypnotic. I move, only ever so slightly, and for a fraction of a second I am within someone else, and that other person is like a dogged, determined, dexterous little set of cogs that sees the world as an intoxicating pattern of flickering dots. Then I move further away, as light as a breath.

This is the breakthrough.

The Core of the Sun works.

Unity with nature. So it wasn’t some mytho-magical hogwash after all, but a perfectly clear, practical objective.

Being at one with the world. Releasing the shackles of the body.

‘Our escape shall be inwards, not outwards.’

I flinch with shock, and it takes a millisecond before my eyes are able to focus. There he is, Jare, his face only a few centimetres from my face, his hands shaking my shoulders, his mouth bellowing sound into my locked ears. V v v v v, what’s the matter what’s happened what

Another flinch, and though I can’t hear anything, I can sense the change in pressure in my blocked ear canals; someone has walked inside, and in the tunnel of vision before my eyes I see Terhi, who immediately starts agitatedly opening her mouth and gesturing to Jare, and they’re talking about me, I realise it must be lunchtime and they’ve come in from the plantations, but it doesn’t matter because I’m still floating half outside my own body and nothing particularly matters. Jare and Terhi pick me up and drag me towards the living room, the sofa, and set me down and cover me with two blankets, and Jare brings me some warm sugar water and half forces me to drink it. The hot liquid stings my mouth, burns like fire, for a moment I wonder whether this contains capsaicin too, but it must be because the inside of my mouth is so delicate and tender.

Through a fug of sweat and tremors and the piercing pain running through my mouth I make out the figures of Jare and Terhi and Valtteri and Mirko gathered around me. Quite the palaver of tribal elders.

Terhi’s voice. ‘You just had to go and try it.’

I don’t answer. I’m not sure I’d be able to, as the chatter of my teeth has become incontrollable.

Terhi looks at Jare. ‘Did you know about this?’

Jare seems highly distressed, I can smell it. He’s on overdrive. Why? This can’t be such a terrible crime, can it?

‘Vanna isn’t an Eloi with her own Mascu responsible for her! I didn’t know!’

‘Don’t piss your pants. I was only asking.’

Terhi is sitting on the edge of the sofa. The blankets and the sugar water, and the fact that the Core of the Sun has been doing its job for a while, mean that the worst of the shivers has subsided. She fishes my hand out from beneath the blankets and takes hold of it.

‘I was released from my body.’

Terhi pushes my shoulders back to get a good look at my face, to check whether I’m serious. A ruddiness flushes her cheeks. ‘What happened?’

‘I saw myself from outside, from up by the ceiling. Look and see whether there’s a dead spider on top of the wardrobe. I can’t reach up that far, but I still saw it.’

In unison Valtteri and Mirko make a sound somewhere between a sigh and a moan, then they both start talking over one another, and eventually Terhi joins the choir.

‘A possession trance!’

‘But what if this was only some kind of… auto-hypnosis?’ Jare’s voice was doubtful.

‘No. That state involves genuine neuro-physiological changes that can be measured on an EEG. And just as with Vanna, they come together with specific physical symptoms: spasms, shivers, tremors. For the ancient shamans, the possession trance was the first stage of losing consciousness. With a little practice, you can deepen the state so much that your connection to the conscious world is severed altogether.’

Valtteri looks inside my mouth with a small torch. ‘Your mouth is inflamed. The insides of your lips are swollen. But, of course, this is all normal. It’ll pass in a few days.’

‘We have to remember Vanna’s tolerance levels. If it works for her…’ said Mirko, almost to himself. ‘It’s a breakthrough.’

‘It certainly is a breakthrough.’

‘We concentrate our efforts on this strand.’

‘We need to establish it as quickly as possible.’

‘It’s just a question of time.’

‘We have it.’

‘The Core of the Sun is ours!’

Vanna, August 2017

The Core of the Sun is throbbing within me, bleeding into me its eternal fire.

This is why. This is why the chilli is outlawed. This is why the Gaians were in such a rush. They didn’t want us to find out about their ultimate objectives.

The out-of-body experience was only part of the breakthrough. This is what they were looking for. The migration of the spirit. Breaking into other levels of consciousness.

I almost laugh out loud at the simplicity of my revelation and at the fact that I hadn’t grasped this the first time I tried the Core of the Sun.

Of course the State Authority has known about it. Of course the Authority has realised that, in sufficient doses, capsaicin can give people certain… abilities.

Dangerous abilities.

Revolutionary abilities.

Abilities that are no good for law and order.

Like giving terrorists a nuclear weapon…

 

A domesticated animal living amongst another species, it’s always been like this. They shrink, their antlers grow shorter, their muzzles flatten, their teeth shrink, their coats turn lighter, their behaviour becomes calm, meek, docile, nuanced. Dogs, pigs, cows, goats, water buffaloes, rabbits, Eloi.

Anything that can be of use.

And if they were to rebel, what then?

Beat them into subservience, nail them to the tethers, brand them.

Buy and sell them.

Shut them away in the dark where they will fester in their own filth and wait, passive and numbed and helpless, until their can be used again.

They can be used in any way imaginable. Any way at all. Everything is possible.

All for the enjoyment of those who enjoy total subjugation.

O, Eusistocracy.

To quieten the noisy you brought a certain intoxicant within reach.

You thought you were liberating sex. You liberated something else entirely.

 

Power.

Taste it once and you need ever larger doses.

Ridiculously large.

Unbelievably large.

Nauseatingly large.

Doses so large that our brains can no longer comprehend them.

Our heads are simply immersed in white light.

                             My boat is light and swift!
                             The core of the sun,
                             give me your fire for my long journey:
                             I desire to hasten through all lands,
                             to travel to realms where the suns are moons….

Extract from the work A Short History of Women’s Domestication, State Publishing 1997

Naturally, one of the fundamental pillars of Finnish society has been the prohibition law, implemented in 1919 and whose remit has subsequently been widened to encompass not only alcohol but many other ‘enjoyable substances’ that affect health and wellbeing and of whose horrors we hear every now and then from neighbouring hedonistic states for our own enlightenment.

The prohibition law might be considered a separate result of women’s domestication, but these two important pillars of eusistocratic society are in fact inseparable. While the health of the nation can be ensured by restricting access to damaging substances, we must also admit that human beings’ ability to live a happy and balanced life has direct links to certain sources of pleasure. Such neurologically important sources are physical exercise, regular and satisfying sexual activity, the ability to serve as head of the family, and, for the weaker sex, the joys of motherhood. It is the duty of eusistocratic society to support by any means possible this search for a good life and to seek to lower any obstacles to its successful achievement.

Through a determined project of control and prevention and by considerably toughening sentences, smuggling has been brought under control. Used to control the flow both of people and contraband, the thorough border control system, initially a significant element of the prohibition law and largely created to support this, has subsequently proved a blessing. Eusistocratic Finland does not need luxury items and substances, so troublesome in decadent democracies and hedonistic states, that besmirch the nation’s health or hinder people’s natural wellbeing, neither does it have a place for the soulless human molluscs who aim to garner personal wealth from these products. By strictly enforcing border controls we have ensured that writings and other distorted propaganda that rots away at the eusistocratic system do not have an effect on the propitious development of our society.

Translated by David Hackston

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‘Oh Blessed Incomparable Chilli, ruler of all things, I give thee thanks for my digestive health, I give thee thanks for my very life!’ The website of the Transcendental Capsaicinophile Society [sorry, we weren’t able to find it! The Editors] is dedicated to ‘worshipping spicy food.’ This chant, the ‘Litany Against Pain’, should alleviate the burning caused by consuming chillies:
Teach me, Chilli, and I shall Learn.
Take me, Chilli, and I shall Escape.
Focus my eyes, Chilli, and I shall See.
Consume more Chillis.
I feel no pain, for the Chilli is my teacher.
I feel no pain, for the Chilli takes me beyond myself.
I feel no pain, for the Chilli gives me sight.
If you wish to know even more about chillies, here’s a site to visit.

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