Goin' to the Chapel : In upstate New York, a DMT-inspired psychedelic temple rises by Drew Zeiba
In upstate New York, a psychedelic-inspired temple to art rises. Pictured: The Entheon's facade will feature an expansive cast of mythological figures such as the Angels of the Creative Imagination and Godheads, as well as an array of symbols and “secret writings.” Concept and design by Alex Grey and Allyson Grey, renderings by Ryan Tottle.
Tucked away on a tree-studded, 40-acre plot just a quarter mile from the Hudson River, one of New York’s most unusual construction projects is underway. The Chapel of Sacred Mirrors (CoSM)—a transdenominational church and registered nonprofit—has been constructing the Entheon: “A place to discover god within.” The three-story windowless art space will be a temple to, among other things, original “visionary art” from the church’s husband-and-wife co-founders, Alex and Allyson Grey.
The couple, who have been together since first meeting (and dropping acid) in 1975, previously ran an art space in Manhattan. After closing down their Chelsea outpost in 2009, Alex and Allyson moved upstate, where they have been running their collective and a psychedelic variant of a bed-and-breakfast. Their Wappingers Falls location hosts monthly full-moon festivities, as well as large concerts and events. Placing art at the very center of their faith, the estate already features large-scale architectural artworks, such as the three-story gazebo-temple Altered States made by artist Kate Raudenbush, who describes herself as “New York-based, Burning Man–bred.”
Alex Grey is perhaps best known for his hyper-detailed paintings of human bodies set on trippy backgrounds that reveal the figures’ underlying circulatory systems, musculature, and spiritual meridian points through translucent skin. Grey’s audience has not been limited to a cult following of the chemically inclined; he exhibited at the New Museum in 1986. For members of CoSM, visionary art is at the center of their cosmology—like pre-iconoclastic medieval clerics, they understand art not just as a gateway to the divine, but as the manifestation of the divine itself. It’s only natural that this artist-pastor couple would need to build a sanctuary for creativity.
Selecting a point on their 40-acre plot that aligns with the solar plexus of a projected goddess, “the kabbalistic sephirot of justice,” CoSM has begun converting a former carriage house into a three-level, 12,000-square-foot concrete structure replete with modern amenities, including an ADA-compliant elevator.
Topping off the Entheon will be a sculptural “steeplehead” which, according to the group’s free e-book, “symbolizes the people of the four directions uniting in Visionary Oneness, the pinnacle of Sacred Unity where humanity meets divinity.”
As with the foundation of the Greys’ relationship and their church, psychedelics and entactogens play a central role in the eccentric design of the Entheon. It was, in fact, a (then legal) shared MDMA experience that showed the Greys they should not sell their work, but rather build a chapel to share it with a “worldwide love tribe.”
Though currently a bare concrete structure, there are big plans for the Entheon. Highly detailed renderings by Ryan Tottle (an Academy Award-winning animator who has worked on major films such as Disney’s Frozen) promise an architecturally complex and spiritually rich exterior.
The proposed building is a veritable mythological bestiary. Four-faced ancient-Egypt-inspired “Soulbirds” guard one door. Another door features a design that returns Adam and Eve to the Garden of Eden. Winged “Angels of the Creative Imagination” punctuate the facade, interspersed between the larger “Godheads” that comprise the bulk of the outer walls. These Godheads “bear symbols of different world-wisdom traditions above each Cosmic Eye.” “DNA dragons” rise up from the corners of the roof to its center—liquid and vibrating creatures whose sides are a continuous double helix, a form that, according to a likely false urban legend, was discovered by British molecular biologist Francis Crick under the influence of LSD. Allyson’s “secret writing,” a script using a 20-letter unpronounceable alphabet, will run the upper edge of the Entheon and be guarded by sculpted “Angels of the Four Directions.” And these are just some of the building’s creatures and spiritual guardians.
The roof—trypophobes beware—is a concentric array of eyes; called “Collective Vision,” the imagery inspired by a DMT experience of Alex’s that Allyson had the insight to suggest as a roof pattern, a “canopy of consciousness.” As a free e-book on the Entheon points out, “Collective Vision” is a visual motif that has appeared in the graphics and on the stage sets of “America’s number one cult band, Tool.” The collective hopes to use cast concrete, 3-D printing, and other technologies to realize this energetic facade.
The three-level interior of the Entheon is intended to be equally elaborate. Through the ornate gold doors there will be, among other spaces, a Chapel of Sacred Mirrors, with its Gothic-style arches; the All One gallery; a museum shop; and a reliquary room featuring the spectacles of the first person to both synthesize and take LSD, Swiss scientist Albert Hoffman, and the ashes of the legendary Harvard professor and psychedelic evangelist Timothy Leary. Leary’s famous Millbrook mansion, the site of so much psychonautic exploration, is just over 20 miles away from CoSM’s own estate.
CoSM is renovating and expanding an 1882 carriage house that sits on their 40-acre Wappingers Falls property into a 12,000 square foot public exhibition space for “visionary art.” New York-based Murdock Solon Architects worked along with CoSM to plan the galleries within.
For devotees, the Entheon is the logical next step in their faith of art and love. As Alex told Mushroom Magazine in July 2015, “We believe the inevitable consequence of love is the building of temples.
'Entheon Steeplehead' by Alex Grey : Digital rendering by Ryan Tottle