Let’s All Argue About DMT Elves: Are They Real or Not?

Let’s All Argue About DMT Elves: Are They Real or Not?

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.

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.

We have Some Bad News About DMT Elves

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.

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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