This article originally appeared on VICE Australia/New Zealand
It started with an encrypted email. "There's an interesting project we are working on," read the note from jesusofrave. "And your name has popped up."
When the dark web's biggest LSD dealer says they have an "interesting project," you can assume it will be actually, genuinely interesting, even if there's some trepidation about having your name attached to it.
I clicked on the .onion link included in the email, which took me to a post on The Majestic Garden. This is one of the more reputable drug markets on the dark web; a place which still upholds some lofty Aquarian/Libertarian values of the early Silk Road. And sure enough, an "interesting project" was selling it short.
The post explained that jesusofrave is currently holding an art competition. All you have to do is nominate three people on the marketplace (vendors, moderators, market owners, helpful/outspoken community members) who deserve to have their likeness immortalised on sheets of blotter. Then, if members of "The Clergy" (jesusofrave's spokespeople) deem those nominated worthy of attention, you will win some acid (it's a little vague on how much).
Not a bad deal, but it's the arty types who really stand to cash in. Artists have been invited to draw one, some, or all of the characters nominated by the other members. Then, for every drawing chosen by The Clergy to be included on the final blotter, the artist will win 100 hits.
But if The Clergy chose you to be the "maestro artist"—that is, the person to bring all of the drawings together into one final collage to be distributed on future sheets, you'll receive enough acid to for you and everyone at Burning Man.
Specifically, the maestro artist will receive 10,000 hits (100ug per hit), which in a monetary sense is a decent prize. Even at the cheapest wholesale price, 10,000 blots will set you back $10,000. At Aussie full retail price, it's more like $200,000. But business for jesusofrave is obviously good and I guess they want to share the love. "We're of the opinion more LSD in the world is a good thing," jesusofrave explained.
That the world would be a better place with more people on acid is pretty much the driving philosophy behind The Majestic Garden (TMG). Established by the LSD Avengers (an independent acid testing and rating group, which had been around since the original Silk Road), there's no owner holding bitcoin in escrow and profiting from commissions—buyers and sellers make private arrangements with each other directly.
Decentralised markets like TMG have developed to combat the prevalence of exit-scamming (closing up shop and nicking off with all the customers' bitcoin) by market operators. An individual seller can still disappear, but that only affects the people who have unfilled orders with them, not every buyer and seller using the site.
TMG has strict restrictions on what can be sold there; it is pretty much limited to acid, ecstasy, weed, and shrooms. The Avengers receive no payment other than voluntary donations (and probably enough free acid to trip into the next century).
So there I was under my darknet market (DNM) username, OzFreelancer, nominated alongside my dark web sisters 3Jane and Cher. I'd like to think the nomination came as acknowledgement of my services through my journalism, but I suspect it was more because chicks are a rarity on the dark web and the nominator was hoping to see some boobs.
I decided I'd better play and suggested someone draw three dark web security legends: Guru, Pine, and Astor (RIP) who had all helped me and countless others with learning PGP encryption and other cyber safety measures in the early days of Silk Road.
I also nominated DoctorX, because any artwork depicting celebrities of the dark web would be incomplete without a man who has provided non-judgmental, sage, and sometimes life-saving medical advice to the dark web's drug-imbibing community for the past four years.
So far, the competition has caused considerable excitement and plenty of nominations, but only a few pieces of art. Maybe the prize is TOO big. Where I live in Australia, 1 gram, or 10,000 hits of LSD is considered a "commercial quantity" under the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act and carries a penalty of up to 20 years' prison. "I won it in a competition," might not cut it as an excuse should things go pear-shaped.
There's some interesting variety among the community members who have so far been nominated, but the artists have favoured a dealer named Mr Pickles. Not necessarily because he's their favourite vendor (though he's pretty popular) but because he's fun to draw. Kittenhuffer was another favourite for the same reason.
"Anyone interested in being the maestro artist to bring all the final characters together, feel free to send us samples of your work or a rough sketch of your idea for the final page with all the characters together" wrote the competition organiser. So far, only one person—Hambone505—is in the running for the major prize.
To other members considering nominating and drawing me, I suggested I'm fine with being depicted as spectacularly hot and well-endowed, while also the essence of intellectualism and humility, but they didn't seem to buy it.
So why are the organisers running this thing? As jesusofrave explains, it's an incentive for artists to design something unique and beautiful, while honouring those who have contributed the most to the dark web community.
"Art (graffiti, artists, blotter, institute of illegal images) has long been a part of LSD culture," jesusofrave explained. "Circuits [I assume he's talking about Leary's 8-circuit model of consciousness ] within LSD tribes have developed their own folklores. The DNM are a digital family hive mind, so we wanted to capture some of that in a collaborative community fashion."
It's been a turbulent few years for markets on the dark web. There have been major arrests for some and bitcoin heists for others, netting thieves millions of dollars. But competitions and giveaways hark back to the original Great 420 Sale and Giveaway of Silk Road on April 20, 2012. I think there's some nostalgia at play here, as well as an attempt to rally the troops.
The competition is still going. Nobody has seen fit to depict me yet, but I live in hope, because being immortalised on an acid blotter going out to millions of trippers would be cool. Imagine going to a festival and wondering how many people there had licked your image?
So if you're sort of artistic, reading this, and feeling generous, feel free to throw me a bone. And just think of what you could do with all that acid.
Eileen Ormsby ( OzFreelancer) is a freelance writer, owner of allthingsvice.com, and author of "Silk Road: the shocking true story of the world's most notorious online market".
Follow Eileen on Twitter here.