DMT Elves: What Are They, What Do They Look Like, And What Do They Mean?

DMT Elves: What Are They, What Do They Look Like, And What Do They Mean?

One of the hallmarks of the DMT trip experience is seeing, meeting, and interacting with entities. These entities, seemingly conscious and intelligent, can take on many different forms. However, “machine elves” (or DMT elves) is the term that the psychedelic activist and lecturer Terence McKenna used to describe them.

DMT elves are strange entities, as you can tell by the name McKenna assigned to them. But what are they exactly? And why do people see them? There are no clear-cut answers to these questions, but there are certainly different interpretations, which we will be delving into.

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What Are DMT Elves?

McKenna often speaks openly about his DMT experiences — and in great detail. In fact, he was one of the first and loudest psychedelic activists to talk about DMT in front of audiences.

The substance was around in the 60s, the heyday of the psychedelic movement. But it was pretty niche. Sure, figures like Timothy Leary, William Burroughs, and Nick Sand experimented with DMT, but it wasn’t widely used or known. That changed in the 90s, however, when McKenna raved enthusiastically about its bizarre effects.

Psychedelic users continue to appreciate McKenna’s descriptions of the DMT experience. Many of his recordings are available on YouTube, as well as in archives — like the one assembled by Psychedelic Salon.

One feature that McKenna often talks about is the entities you meet.

How Common are DMT Elves?

It appears that typically a little over half — or 58% — of DMT users see elves. Of course, there are a number of factors, such as dosage, set and setting and more that increase or decrease the chances of experiencing DMT elves.

A survey study conducted by Strassman, Qualls, Uhlenhuth, and Kellner (1994) on the effects of DMT on human volunteers reported that about half of the 42 participants had experiences of contact with ‘entities’ or ‘beings’. However, this study didn’t specifically break down the type of entities encountered into categories like “elves”. A more recent survey by Timmermann et al. (2018) involving 2,283 DMT users found that 58% of respondents reported encounters with entities or beings. Again, this study did not specifically categorize the entities into types like “elves”.

Here are the Different Types of DMT Elves, What they Look Like and What They Can Mean

Type of DMT ElfAppearanceBehaviorInterpretation/Significance
Classic ElvesOften described as small, humanoid, and impish. They can appear bioluminescent or transparent, with some users reporting them wearing hats or engaging in comical behavior.They often communicate telepathically, perform dances or songs, and seem to be playful, mischievous, or welcoming. They can show users complex geometric patterns or objects.Often interpreted as guides or helpers, providing insights into the nature of reality, consciousness, or the self. Some believe they embody aspects of the user’s mind or subconscious.
Mechanical ElvesThese entities have a mechanical or digital nature. They may appear robotic or composed of complex, ever-changing geometric patterns.They are often seen working on complex tasks or showing users strange, intricate structures. They may impart knowledge or wisdom.Many interpret them as architects of reality or as representatives of a higher intelligence. Their tasks can be seen as metaphoric for the complexity and interconnectedness of the universe.
Jester ElvesAppear as jesters, tricksters, or clowns, often with vibrant, fluctuating colors.They engage in nonsensical or paradoxical behavior and speech, sometimes showing the user strange or absurd images/scenes. They can be either playful or unsettling.These entities can symbolize the absurdity or paradoxical nature of existence. Their antics may provoke self-reflection or a reevaluation of one’s beliefs.
Alien ElvesThese resemble extraterrestrials or have a distinctly non-human, otherworldly appearance.They often communicate through complex symbols or telepathy. They may show users alien landscapes or technologies.These entities can symbolize the vastness and diversity of the universe or consciousness. Interactions with them often lead to feelings of awe or a broader perspective.

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McKenna’s Description Of The DMT Elves

In a recorded interview, McKenna says that in the DMT experience:

“I encounter self-transforming elf machines, which are creatures, entities perhaps, although they’re not made out of matter. They’re made out of, as nearly as I can figure it out, syntax-driving light.”

By syntax, McKenna really means language. McKenna continues:

“They use a language which you see. It is made out of sound, it is sound, but you see it. And the entire point of the encounter, from their perspective, is to teach you to do this.”

Elsewhere, McKenna has said:

“You pass through a membrane of some sort, and you’re in a place. You’re pushed through, and you see the tykes, as I call them. The self-transforming machine elves that are singing in a hyperdimensional language. They surround you and say, “Welcome, we’re so glad to see you.”

This is a common experience. Many other users perceive some sort of indecipherable language being spoken by the DMT elves but perceived visually. The language has often been referred to as runes or alien letters. And the DMT elves often tend welcome you to their space in a friendly and celebratory way. However, during some experiences, they may be more hostile or threatening.

McKenna introduced the terminology “machine elves” or “clockwork elves”, but he is not the only one to experience them. McKenna’s descriptions have helped many users describe and interpret their own (similar) experiences. “Machine elves” have now become part of the DMT lexicon.

McKenna also described these DMT entities as “jeweled self-dribbling basketballs”, “translinguistic elves”, “friendly fractal entities”, “elf legions of hyperspace”, “tykes”, “meme traders”, “art collectors”, and “syntactical homunculi”.

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What Do DMT Machine Elves Look Like?

There is no single form that the DMT machine elves take. From the name, you would think that they would be half-machine, half-elf — an elf made out of machine parts, in other words.

However, their existence does not come from gears, steam, computers, and engine parts. For many people, DMT machine elves are nothing like the robotic, mechanized creations you see in sci-fi films. So while a DMT machine elf may conjure up an image of a tiny robot with pointy, elfin features, the entity can look quite different in the trip itself.

DMT elves can be made out of fractals, as well as have humanoid, animal, or alien characteristics. Dr. Rick Strassman, who led pioneering research on DMT — recounted in DMT: The Spirit Molecule (2000) — found that people could encounter a variety of entities under the influence of the drug.

He told DoubleBlind that “not that many people in our study saw ‘elves,’ but many saw beings possessing other shapes and forms.”

In DMT: The Spirit Molecule, however, Strassman notes:

“I was familiar with Terence McKenna’s tales of the “self-transforming machine elves” he encountered after smoking high doses of the drug. Interviews conducted with twenty experienced DMT smokers before beginning the New Mexico research also yielded some tales of similar meetings. Since most of these people were from California, I admittedly chalked up these stories to some kind of West Coast eccentricity.

“Therefore, 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. Neither, it seemed, were many of the volunteers, even those who had smoked DMT previously. Also surprising were the common themes of what these beings were doing with so many of our volunteers: manipulating, communicating, showing, helping, questioning. It was definitely a two-way street.”

Some of the other forms that the volunteers met included insectoids, dwarves, android-like creatures, reptilian beings, clowns, jokers, and jesters.

In agreement with Strassman’s statement to DoubleBlind, a 2019 small study of DMT users found that when users saw DMT entities, they didn’t look like elves at all. Most entities appeared more amorphous and hard to describe.

A larger study, led by Alan K. Davis and published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, found that only 10-16 percent of users used terms like “angel” or “elf” to describe the entities. Words like “being” and “guide” were far more common.

Some psychedelic artists have created artworks that DMT users say resemble the machine elves. These include pieces by Luke Brown (see here and here).

The DMT elves often appear to be real, despite being discarnate (without a physical body). In fact, many users describe the experience as “more real than real”.

We have Some Bad News About DMT Elves

How DMT Machine Elves Behave

As Strassman discovered, the entities interact with users. They communicate and share information, which may be in a verbal or non-verbal form. Davis’ study found that DMT entities interact via emotional, intuitive, and telepathic means.

The DMT entities can transmit feelings of love, trust, kindness, and joy. The DMT elves also may be sprightly, cheeky, and mischievous. For McKenna, the DMT elves offer things: “elf gifts” or “celestial toys”, as he calls them. And these objects, which “seem somehow alive”, are felt to be “impossible”.

One volunteer in Strassman’s DMT research described the following encounter:

“That was real strange. There were a lot of elves… [each was] prankish, ornery, maybe four of them appeared at the side of a stretch of interstate highway I travel regularly. They commanded the scene, it was their terrain! They were about my height, and they held up placards, showing me these incredibly beautiful, complex, swirling geometric scenes in them. One of them made it impossible for me to move. There was no issue of control; they were totally in control. They wanted me to look! I heard a giggling sound — the elves laughing or talking at high-speed volume, chattering, twittering.”

The Davis study found that 16 percent of users felt negatively judged by the beings and 11 percent felt maliciousness.

Why Do People See DMT Elves?

It is a mystery why DMT machine elves are a common feature in DMT experiences. There are different explanations as to why they appear.

McKenna’s Speculations

McKenna presented some theories regarding what these entities were:

  1. Extraterrestrials. Aliens that have a different biology or that may not even be made of matter. In order to interact with humans, they hide inside the DMT experience, rather than visit us on starships.
  2. Entities in a Parallel Dimension. The DMT elves are entities that exist in a nearby world, accessible only through the ‘magical doorway’ of the DMT experience.
  3. Dead People. Human souls in another dimension.
  4. Humans From the Future. McKenna said that the DMT machine elves could be “humans from some extraordinarily advanced future world where human beings are now made of language and are only two-and-a-half feet tall, so I would put it rather far in the future.”

These are quite far-out theories, no doubt. There are other explanations based on human psychology.

Jungian Archetypes

The term ‘psychedelic’ literally means “mind-manifesting”. These compounds often manifest hidden aspects of the mind — the contents of the unconscious.

According to the psychologist Carl Jung, humans share a ‘collective unconscious’ that contains archetypes: Patterns or images that repeat in myths and folk tales found all over the world. And we find that many cultures have stories about elves or similar beings.

It is possible, then, that DMT brings certain archetypes to the surface of conscious awareness, mixed in with psychedelic effects like fractal visuals. However, it is not at all clear why DMT, in particular, would result in common encounters with elves.

Dennis McKenna, a psychedelic researcher and the brother of Terence, was once asked whether he thought DMT entities were archetypes in the mind or autonomous beings.

He responded:

“That’s the $64 million dollar question right there — is it another dimension? [Terence and I] were convinced that it was a portal into another dimension. But now, I think it’s impossible to say. I think these are archetypes, but the crux of the question is, is it another place? It certainly has that feeling about it.”

Evolutionary Psychology

Michael Winkelman, an anthropologist who was a professor at Arizona State University for many years, wrote a 2018 paper on psychedelic entities from an evolutionary perspective.

He found that ayahuasca and DMT entities were similar to conceptions of gnomes, dwarves, elves, angels, and extraterrestrials. Psychedelic entities, he states, “exemplify the properties of anthropomorphism, exhibiting qualities of humans.”

Winkelman argues the features of these entities reflect certain innate aspects of human psychology, which evolved for our advantage. These capacities also help explain why people experience spirits and believe in them.

These human tendencies include:

  • Agency Detection: Perceiving agents with intentions in one’s surroundings.
  • Anthropomorphism: Attributing human characteristics to non-human things or events.
  • Theory of Mind (ToM) or Mindreading: Inferring the mental state of another.

These faculties, if activated by DMT, could account for the anthropomorphic appearances and behaviors of the DMT entities.

The entities may be the end result of the brain trying to predict patterns in ambiguous stimuli, combined with agency detection and the complex fractal imagery that is characteristic of DMT. Indeed, many users report that these beings have a geometric flare to them. Certain fractal or geometric shapes may also lend a certain ‘elfin’ quality to the beings.

There is still a lot we don’t know about DMT machine elves. Scientific research may provide us with further insights into their nature and why they appear. However, the fact that they can seem so real still leaves many questions unanswered.

Sam Woolfe

Sam Woolfe

View all posts by Sam Woolfe

Sam Woolfe is a freelance writer based in London. His main areas of interest include mental health, mystical experiences, the history of psychedelics, and the philosophy of psychedelics. He first became fascinated by psychedelics after reading Aldous Huxley's description of the mescaline experience in The Doors of Perception. Since then, he has researched and written about psychedelics for various publications, covering the legality of psychedelics, drug policy reform, and psychedelic science.

Abid Nazeer

This post was medically approved by Abid Nazeer

Dr. Nazeer is the Founder and President of APS Ketamine/Advanced Psychiatric Solutions, which he established in 2016 as the first psychiatric outpatient ketamine clinic in Illinois. He is board certified in Psychiatry as well as Addiction Medicine. He completed his psychiatry residency at Louisiana State University Health Sciences in Shreveport where he held the role of Chief Resident. Dr. Nazeer is providing medical oversight to the growth plan of Wesana Clinics, with the model of comprehensive psychiatry clinics specialized ketamine and psychedelic therapies, integrated brain health and wellness centers, and technology utilization of Wesana Solutions remote patient monitoring product.

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Comments (2)

  • Martin Benbow
    March 4, 2023 at 10:04 pm Reply

    My ex girlfriend when dying, saw little men running around the room? Not freaked out about it, was it the drugs they were giving her?

  • Daniel P Shannon
    March 26, 2023 at 1:05 am Reply

    This was one of the best articles I’ve ever read. This type of stuff blows my mind but I live thinking about if there are other dimensions or a afterlife. I would love to read more about this. Thank you for writing this

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