Psychoactive Sacramentals--Essays on Entheogens and Religion
Council on Spiritual Practices
San Francisco 2001
Edited by Thomas B. Roberts
Reviewed by Robin Menken
This collection of vital essays, written by leading experts in the often misunderstood and under-recognized field of psychedelics, or as they are now known, entheogenic substances, addresses the potential to enhance the psychological and spiritual growth of mankind. When used responsibly, in a spiritual context, this class of substances can offer a profound understanding of the ultimate nature of reality.
In 1995 The Chicago Theological Seminary and Council on Spiritual Practices held a conference retreat to address the questions: What place might psychoactive sacramentals--entheogens, have in contemporary religions and religions of the future? Can the careful use of entheogens enhance spiritual development? How might entheogens enhance spiritual practices? What cautions ought to be considered? Several dozen leaders in religion, mental health, and allied fields were invited to ponder these and related questions. The book Psychoactive Sacramentals gathers these written reflections.
In his forward, Brother David Steindl-Rast, Ph.D., O.S.B. (gratefulness.org) offers "In my own Catholic Christian tradition sacramentality is not something to be toyed with. It has the feel of a high-security area. The very term 'sacramental' has the ring of a warning sign: Danger! High Voltage! It points to nothing less than encounter with God. Sacramentals are natural things--spring water, ashes, herbs--through which faith encounters God's power. Because I have faith in the Church's traditional sacramentals, I ought to be able to stretch that faith to include the possibility of encountering God through all available sacramentals."
Answering a question broached by many at the conference, and indeed in the decades long debate about the "instant transcendence" offered by psychoactive drugs, Brother David says "How can one get it so cheaply…can this be a genuine spirituality?…A primary religious experience is no more (though also no less) than a seed for a spiritual life. Will…(the seekers) have the determination and patience to let the light which they glimpsed for a moment gradually penetrate every smallest detail of their days?"
In answer to concerns about the safety of these entheogens he offers the first of many comments about set and setting: "entheogenic traditions from Eleusis to the Native American Church have succeeded in creating ritual contexts in which hazardous acting-out is virtually unknown…The wise will feel a fear far greater than the…fear of drugs, namely a fear of an ill-prepared encounter with the holy...What is most distinctive about the spiritual awakening in our time is a looking beyond secondary religious phenomena--doctrine, ethics, ritual--to their primary source...Even churches can become wasteland, if they close themselves off from the living waters of the Spirit. If they think that secondary religious experiences can replace the primary one."
Five of the chapters focus on the Marsh Chapel research experiment conducted by Walter Pahnke, a young minister and physician, as part of his Ph.D. research in the psychology of religion. His advisors at Harvard were Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert (Ram Dass). Pahnke’s experiment is still considered the best scientific study to date examining the possibility of inducing a mystical state.
This is the topic of Rev. Mike Young's If I Could Change Your Mind. Pahnke conducted one of the last legal experiments with psilocybin conducted in this country. After months of preparation, on Good Friday, April 20, 1962 a group of twenty theology students gathered in Boston University's Marsh Chapel. Half were given a placebo, half the drug. Howard Thurman, the Dean of the Chapel and a prolific writer on mystical western theology, conducted a Good Friday meditation service in the main sanctuary. The volunteers gathered downstairs in a smaller chapel, listening to Dr Thurman's service piped into the chapel. The results were striking--nine out of the ten imbibing psilocybin achieved a mystical experience as measured by the occurrence of defining states, while only one out of the nine on placebo met the criterion. Twenty five years later Rick Doblin conducted a follow up (Pahnke died in a diving accident before he could conduct his follow up) as part of his graduate work. Rev. Mike helped Rick locate the other participants (one had died). Of the nine divinity students given the placebo, five were still in the ministry; of the ten given the drug, eight were still in the ministry.
"For the first time since the mid-60's, the FDA is approving research into the therapeutic use of hallucinogens with specific groups of people, beginning with patients facing life threatening diagnoses." In the preliminary research a very large percentage of participating terminal patients "describe as a result of the drug experience the loss of the fear of death."
He describes the profound ambiguity affecting physicians, researchers and ministers interested in the therapeutic or spiritual application of these substances, facing the enormous resistance and denigration created by the War on Drugs. "Because the very nature of the experience…is inherently a religious experience, the researchers desperately need our input on how to create the set and setting, the expectations, and the context" which powerfully effect the outcome of the experience.
Rev. Mike suggests the guided entheogenic experience "often results in change of beliefs, but is not about a specific set of beliefs...more often about shedding beliefs."
Of course, it is exactly this capacity for fundamental change of mind, described by Rev. Mike, that makes entheogens threatening to organized religions, and indeed, to social institutions as a whole. He suggests that scientists (our secular priests of modernism) must become priests for real, "poets of the human spirit in order to enable people to utilize the full potential of the drug experience."
As reinforced by other contributors in this book, many independent explorers experience bad trips because they have no knowledge of the areas they encounter, and consequently have no way to integrate the information. Rev. Mike proposes a "multi-lingual" preparation for "fledgling mystics;" a road map, a flexible language (to describe the core mystical experience) as cosmic as the experience itself. This dilemma was first formerly addressed by Leary and Ram Dass in their Tibetan Book Of The Dead; a sort of Genesis of a possible liturgical body of work to guide the entheogen-assisted mystics of the future. However, as Jacob, the center figure in the book The Secret Chief discovered, self-preparation is less important in a supportive experience led by a knowledgeable guide.
Many of the later articles address these liturgical questions, proposing set and setting protocols either for a research model, or for use in a ritual spiritual context. As can be seen by the evocative dialogue in this book, these terrains are blending, and not a moment too soon.
Returning to Marsh Chapel: In Unitive Consciousness and Pahnke's Good Friday Experiment Paula Jo Hruby summarizes Pahnke's experiment. She outlines the nine mystical states identified by Pahnke and compares them to Hood's Mysticism Scale. Her chapter contributes significantly to a more complete understanding of the mystical experience. These are interesting lists and belong in any library on the topic.
Rick Doblin is the stalwart fellow who completed the proposed follow-up on Pahnke's historical experiment. He describes it in Pahnke's good Friday Experiment: A long-Term Follow-Up and Methodological Critique. Though all of the raw data was lost, Doblin tracked down the nineteen living participants; all but one of them participated in tape recorded interviews with Doblin, and all answered the 100 question, six-month follow-up questionnaire used in the original experiment. "All seven psilocybin subjects…but none of the controls, still considered their original experience to have had genuinely mystical elements and to have made a uniquely valuable contribution to their spiritual life." The positive changes reported in the six-month follow-up, "which in some cases involved basic vocational and value choices and spiritual understandings, had persisted over time and had deepened in some cases." All the more remarkable since Doblin's quarter century follow-up was conducted in the hysterical context of the War On Drugs.
Doblin discusses the backlash that caused the scheduling of these substances, removing them from the world of research labs and therapists for almost a quarter of a century, blaming it in part on the thousands of panicked trippers, who unprepared for the darker surprises of the drug experience, wound up in hospital E.R.'s. He states "the cautionary elements of the Good Friday report were inadequately discussed in Pahnke's thesis, subsequent scholarly reports, and the popular media." In a societal groundswell, some proponents of the drugs exaggerated the benefits and minimized the risks. Many of these trippers were ill served by the media's enthusiastic treatment of the subject that gave little notice to the complexities of the psychological effects associated with them: "All students who had taken the drug (psilocybin) experienced a mystical consciousness that resembled those described by saints and ascetics (Time, 23 September, 1966, p.62)."
This brings Doblin to the liturgical-protocol issue which underlies this entire book. He concludes that future experiments should be conducted by a "multidisciplinary team of scientists" which should include "psychiatrists, psychologists, and religious professionals from a variety of traditions, as well as authorities on drug abuse prevention…Questions as fundamental as those posed by the Good Friday experiment deserve to be addressed by the scientific community and pose special challenges to the regulatory agencies…Renewed research can be expected to require patience, courage, and wisdom from all concerned."
Mycologist Thomas Riedlinger's essay A Pilgrim's Visit To Marsh Chapel is based on the account of an anonymous Harvard divinity student who took LSD on Good Friday 1994 in the March Chapel, as a pilgrimage to the Chapel and the original experiment. He and two other students ingested low doses, 75 micrograms, and walked along the Charles River to the Marsh Chapel. They attempted to replicate the activities of those who had ingested psilocybin in the original experiment. This "pilgrim’s tale" offers an intimate description of what such an experience is like, the kinds of visions, psychological understanding, and spiritual openings that can occur, given the proper set and setting.
He remembers a recently read account: "It began to dawn on me that the origins of some philosophical and religious ideas might better be understood by a scholar who had ingested and experienced the psychedelics. My basic view of the Bible changed when, under Psilocybin, I witnessed the aura of a rose and realized that the burning bush of Moses was something very similar. Previously I had thought of the story as merely symbolic." Another report: "My time was occupied with the incredible clarity of thought possible on LSD, so that I could follow any chain of ideas and associations as far as I liked."
Prior to this experiment, the divinity student, a lapsed Catholic, had perceived Christianity as a "death-cult" and "the crucified Jesus as a fitting symbol of God’s great injustice." Insights during this LSD-enhanced meditation helped him resolve his animosity towards God and Christianity.
One of his fellow students, after the experiment, stated "Entheogens…are revelatory media, channels unveiling what is hidden, not what is foreign…what did I encounter? A meeting which took place at the very core of my being, essence meeting essence."
Thurman's Prayer of Peace, which he delivered during the original Marsh Chapel Good Friday service, is stunning and appropriate in the light of our most current tragic world events. It is reproduced in full in Reidlinger's essay.
Rev. Karla A Hansen. The Birthing Of Transcendental Medicine. In 1993 Rev. Hansen faced a diagnosis of breast cancer. Thirty percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer do not survive. As a result of the journey she undertook with a "sorority" of sisters facing the same diagnosis, as a legacy of the "teachers" she met (and lost) in her journey "through the valley of the shadow of death," she vowed to transform the fear and the loss into something sacred. At first she took her frightening diagnosis to her spiritual circle of women, a group that had been meeting for six years. The healing ritual they created became a model for other women facing threatening diseases to share. Rev. Hansen had discovered her ministry.
She quotes Huxley "speaking of the human need for the living to make the passage easier for the dying." She quotes transpersonal psychologist Dr June Singer discussing the landmark thanatology work of Grof and Halifax: "Physician and cultural anthropologist join here in recreating an old art--the art of dying. They have assisted persons dying of cancer in transcending the anxiety and anger around their personal fate. Using psychedelics, they have guided the patients to death-rebirth experiences that resemble transformation rites practiced in a variety of cultures."
During her seminary days, Hansen met someone trained in the healing rites of Maria Sabina and experienced the mushroom work directly. Humbled by these direct revelations she took the healer Sabina as her "personal saint." Sabina was the Mazatec curandera who, in 1955, revealed the secret rites of the Sacred Mushroom to Dr. Gordon Wasson and his wife Valentina . This single event in the Oaxacan Valley (reported in Life magazine, and, if memory serves, on a special episode of the television show One Step Beyond), became the inciting meme in the entheogenic journey that western seekers and researchers began in the sixties and which continues today.
Discussing her hopes for the "birthing of a new pastoral care tradition" she questions "who should preside over this professional practice, who should train for it, and how?" In indigenous cultures, the tradition is passed on by apprenticeship. She suggests the model of internship, used in medical and ministerial training. Quoting Rev. Mike's suggestion of "poet--liturgist" she suggests practitioners could be drawn from a pool of pastoral counselors, transpersonal psychologists, hospice nurses, all trained in specialized courses in both liturgy and pharmacology. "There would have to be a shift from (government) prohibition to regulation, as there is with the Native American Church." She advocates removing these medicines from their present scheduling, and placing them "in a new category to be co-administered by interested spiritual communities, and, conceivably, the Office of Alternative Medicine under the National Institute of Health." Quoting Rabbi Hillel "If not us, who? If not now, when?" Karla Hansen died on 12 May 2001. May her prayer be answered.
Medicines of the Americas. Will Penna chronicles his Amazonian Ayahuasca journey of 1994 in Las Noches De Los Ayahuascueros, a splendid visionary poem, effectively capturing the mystery, passion, and simplicity of the Spanish and Quechua Vegetal chants. A language teacher, Penna "endeavored to make foreign words and phrases transparent…Through not letting usual capitalization and punctuation break up the flow of language, to impart a sense of the spiritual channel I was in."
In Mysterious Tea Annelise Schinzinger describes her path with Hoasca (Ayahuasca) as a member of UDV-- the Centro Espirito Beneficente Uniao do Vegetal (Beneficent Spiritual Center Union Of The Plants). UDV or Uniao is one of two legal Ayahuasca churches in Brazil. Santa Daime is the other. "Following extensive investigation, the Brazilian Federal Narcotics Council proclaimed in 1992 that they had found no evidence of Hoasca (or Daime) causing ill effects or abuse, and granted legal status for the use of Hoasca in religious contexts."
"Hoasca is a truth serum. On a personal level, Hoasca has been highly instrumental in helping me overcome debilitating illness, by bringing into consciousness the root causes and effects of my attitudes, emotions, and behavior. Hoasca has enabled me to feel and perceive things on a deeper level, expanding my heart and inspiring compassion for all beings. I have seen people who have been addicted to nicotine, drugs, alcohol, and other vices drink Hoasca and quit immediately upon recognizing the extent of harm they were causing themselves and others. Hoasca has many ways of getting the message across, and it seems each way is tailored for the person and the person's problem."
Schinzinger describes a context in which the consciousness revealed through the entheogens can penetrate and inform daily life. "Drinking the tea twice a month facilitates 'work' to be done on a step by step basis, with time in between to integrate spiritual experiences and bring them into the world. Internal examination is important…but also caring for the mundane is essential…Currents of energy flow more freely when stress, ego impediments, and the mire of unresolved issues are removed. Harmonizing relationships with others and growing into balance with all aspects of ourselves is very much a part of the UDV experience. The inner work is vitally important…Hoasca facilitates clarity through the revelation of our true nature--the God and Goddess within, including our shadow…"
In an hoasca vision she was taught the reverential use of powerful plant allies to empower the immune system. "Once a relationship with a plant teacher has been established, ingesting the plant is not necessary to obtain the effects. Hoasca is a good teacher: she not only opens us to what we need to know, but also teaches us how to open ourselves…and access cellular memory."
In Strychnine And Other Enduring Myths: Expert And User Folklore Surrounding LSD, David E. Presti and Jerome E. Beck demystify the hearty, decades old myth of strychnine and/or methamphetamine laden LSD. These unsubstantiated rumors proved to be a historically useful scare tactic. "That LSD is frequently adulterated ('cut') with a number of toxic substances is a long-standing belief that has permeated user and professional networks for more than three decades, despite the lack of any supporting evidence." The authors do an excellent job of tracking down the various false claims (from a wide base of claimants including professional journals, government publications, and professional books) and illustrate the lack of substantiating evidence. This expose is a fascinating illustration of how far government and professional people will go to distort information to accomplish their individual objectives.
They also dismiss the myth of "Tattoo Acid" officially discredited by the FDA in 1991, and the chromosomal damage-birth defect scare of the sixties. "These myths were a primary factor in the termination of clinical research thirty years ago and they continue to interfere with the resumption of legitimate investigation of the therapeutic and entheogenic properties of LSD and similar substances."
Many of the "old masters" of the field have contributed to this book: Huston Smith, a world famous authority on religion, and veteran of the Harvard research program (1960-63) when entheogens were still legal, contributed A Thirty--Five Year Retrospective summarizing many of his more well known articles.
Discussing the legal situation respecting entheogens, he quotes Stephan Jay Gould: "Our…drug crisis is a tragedy born of a phony system of classification. For reasons that are a little more than accidents of history, we have divided a group of nonfood substances into two categories: items purchasable for supposed pleasure (such as alcohol) and illicit drugs. These categories were once reversed. Opiates were legal in America before the Harrison Narcotics Act of 1915, and members of Women's Christian Temperance Union, who campaigned against alcohol during the day, drank their valued 'women's tonics' at night, products laced with laudanum (tincture of opium)...How can we possibly defend our current policy based on a dichotomy that encourages us to view one class of substances as a preeminent scourge while the two most dangerous and life-destroying substances by far, alcohol and tobacco, form a second class advertised in neon on every street corner of urban America?"
Huston poses two core questions: "What…do we do about the bizarre, chaotic legal situation that now governs the use of entheogenic substances? What…should be the interface between entheogens and religion?"
Then, expressing the central theme emerging from this conference, he offers two proposals: "My…suggestion is to see if the drug authorities would be willing to approve of a duly monitored experiment on the issue. Find a (small) church or synagogue that is sincerely open to the possibility that God might, in certain circumstances, work through selected plants or chemicals…Permit this church to legally include a psychoactive as sacramental, perhaps once a month, in it's Eucharist. And finally, commission professional social scientists to observe what happens to the congregation in respect to religious traits--notably compassion, fervor and service. A variety on this proposal would be to obtain legal permission for seminary students to have at least one entheogen experience in a religious setting if they wanted."
The Potential Of Entheogens As Catalysts of Spiritual Development by Dr. Stanislav Grof reveals why Grof is considered a world authority on LSD psychotherapy and a major voice in evaluating the use of these sacramental substances. His essay highlights the profound understanding of Reality that can result from their informed use.
Dr. Grof, originally an atheist, studied psychiatry in Prague, working in a Marxist regime that censored or ridiculed anything smacking of mysticism. Working in a research program in the emerging field of psychopharmaceuticals, supplied with supplies and encouragement by Sandoz Labs, Grof became one of the first volunteers using LSD-25.
Grof's mentor, Docent Roubíček, was interested in " 'driving the brain waves,' that is. trying to entrain the frequencies of the brain by some external input, either acoustic or visual (Ravers take note)." At the peak of his trip, he lay, eye closed, under a strobe light as the research assistant switched the frequency of the strobe through alpha, theta and finally the delta band. Grof saw the "Primary Clear Light…a divine thunderbolt catapulted my conscious self out of my body…my consciousness expanded at an inconceivable speed and reached cosmic dimensions…I found myself at the center of a cosmic drama of unimaginable dimensions…I possibly experienced the Big Bang…The Divine manifested and took me over in a modern laboratory in a communist country…" Radical stuff for a dialectical materialist.
Discussing ritual, Grof reflects on Margaret Mead's belief "We do not have socially sanctioned situations where people, particularly the adolescents, can work through deep destructive and self-destructive impulse and emotions. When such contexts are not provided, those impulses and emotions are acted out in our everyday life. Instead of seeing certain manifestations as part of a controlled situation in a ritual, we see them on the evening news…
"Mystics do not need churches or temples. The context in which they experience the sacred dimensions of reality, including their own divinity, are in their bodies or nature. And instead of officiating priests, they need a supportive group of fellow seekers or the guidance of a teacher who is more advanced on the inner journey than they are themselves."
I leave the reader, possibly familiar with Grof's work on Holotropic Breathing, to the pleasures of his text.
The pioneer Charles T. Tart, who authored the clarion anthology Altered States Of Consciousness (1969), reflects on a life spent in a field he helped to father. In his essay What Must Be Said? Tart formally thanks the CIA for giving him "these powerful drugs when I was young and impressionable." He states that the "nature of the human mind…had been just odd bits of intellectual knowledge before. The entheogens were also important to me because my orientation has always been spiritual, even though I am very involved in the scientific sides of things. I'm not going to say too much about what I have learned in the entheogenic sense…partially because I'm still digesting it. I really can't figure out a lot of what I've learned yet. Also, some of it was, frankly, too sacred to let my ordinary mind even think about it much. It's in there for when it's necessary…I also realized that I needed entheogens badly. . .The entheogenic 'kick in the head' has been extremely valuable to me." Tart eventually stopped personal involvement because he had "plenty to work with," and he became more interested in applying what he learned to living life, rather than gaining more experiential data.
As many of the other essayists, Tart stresses the necessity to integrate the profound insights of an entheogenic session (often through spiritual practice) to deepen and mature these insights, and "bring them back into life." He offers important observations on the negative side of entheogen use as well as advice on how to achieve positive benefits.
He counsels humility. "Revelations may come from the highest possible source, but...I’m the one unconsciously working it over with my belief system." It takes mindfulness "to incorporate it’s knowledge and grace into our lives."
Alexander (Sasha) T. Shulgin, chemist/pharmacologist (master psychotropic alchemist) with his wife Ann, has contributed two fundamentals books, Pihkal and Tihkal, to the growing essential library on the field. In the chapter A Scientistís View of Miracles and Magic, Sasha thanks the Valembrossa Conference for allowing him to jettison the pharmacology "icons of brain, molecule, receptor site (and) present his research work more in the form of the quest it really is…to address spirituality rather than molecular structure."
In an amusing passage regarding the use of experimental animals in pharmacology he says "The use of human subjects, as experimental vehicles for new and known drugs, is considered medically unacceptable when an animal model can serve your needs…If the goal…is to produce a change, the before-and-after change is…defined by observation of the appropriate animal model." This process becomes muddy "if the human malady cannot be demonstrated in an animal. An anti-depressant would require that you knew how to make an animal depressed. An antipsychotic would require…psychotic animals."
Musing on his first psychedelic experience (400 milligrams of mescaline sulfate) "I understood that our entire universe is contained in the mind and the spirit. We may choose not to find access to it, we may even deny its existence, but it is indeed there inside us, and there are chemicals that can catalyze its availability."
"I have the same discomfort about churches, and their function, that many people have about drugs." Shulgin defines religion as "the search for understanding oneself…an inward quest, that asks questions and seeks answers…I hope I do not offend too many, when I say that I believe that faith has nothing to do with true religion…(but rather) is an acceptance of a system not of your own making…(In my) search for my God, I am…increasingly convinced that He lies within me. Perhaps each person's God lies within him; this is the meaning of the word entheogen…if that internal God is the same God for all people, then we are all, in a sense, the same person. Perhaps the role of a sacrament in any religious practice has been, and is, to let a moment's light be shed on that part of reality."
He goes on to blame the laws for robbing us "of all the sacred materials that might be used for sacramental purposes…the enactment of the analog substances law has made it a crime to explore any substance that might be a catalyst in opening the door to one's own psyche." He closes on an upbeat note. "A synthesis of religion and pharmacology lies just below the surface of this meeting. This union must be explored, with the acceptance of the personal right to believe as one chooses" paralleled with the acceptance of "the individual's right to explore his mind as he chooses."
Three of the chapters discuss Eastern meditation practices and tradition. In From State To Trait: The Challenge Of Transforming Transient Insights Into Enduring Change Roger Walsh asks "How can these powerful, profound and potentially transformative (entheogenic) experiences be used as catalysts for real transformation?" He compares this to psychotherapy's " 'problem of generalization:' how do you get a person's insights to generalize outside the consulting room?"
In the debate over whether entheogens induce genuine mystical states, he offers the philosopher Stace's argument of "causal indifference" which "implies that in some ways it doesn't matter what causes the experience. If the experience is indistinguishable from others, then it's the real thing."
Given the capacity of entheogens "to induce genuine spiritual...experiences, what are their advantages and disadvantages compared to formal spiritual practices?" Describing the sometimes volatile unpredictability of the chemically-induced experiences he states "These experiences seem to demand that we accommodate, that is enlarge our cognitive maps…as Pasteur said 'chance favors the prepared mind'…Ideally, a contemplative will already have in place a belief system and worldview large enough to contain the mystical experience when it finally occurs, a tradition and social group to support it, an ethic to guide it's expression, and a discipline to repeat, cultivate, deepen and stabilize it…there's no guarantee that this will be the case for an entheogen user." A common mistake is adopting a mechanistic model to frame profound experiences, assuming that experience does something to us instead of remembering that we use experiences. "That's a key factor in why different people have such different outcomes."
In discussing the challenge of stabilizing experiential or drug-assisted insights, Walsh describes stabilization as a two stage process: 1) "being able to re-introduce the experience voluntarily" and 2) a penetration of the "experience state into the usual waking state…from state to trait (Maslow)."
He compares it to the second stage in the four-stage Tibetan Buddhist model of transpersonal stages. That is moving people from intellectual understanding to direct experience. Walsh believes that lightning-like glimpses of a deeper reality can provoke profound change. Tibetan Buddhist teachers offer their students brief glimpses of the underlying reality at the beginning of practice. "Out of such deeper understanding can flow an ethics; transpersonal ecology and deep ecology are based in large part on the idea that a glimpse of experience of unity of ourselves with all life will induce a spontaneous, compassionate outflow of behavior."
Walsh contributes a second piece: Conciousness And Asian Traditions: An Evolutionary Perspective. Walsh begins his survey of the evolution of consciousness, about thirty-five thousand years ago in what he calls a "language explosion" signaled by the emergence of fishhooks and nets, long-distance throwing weapons, and art, in the era of dynamic animal cave paintings. Citing the image of a human figure with a buffalo head found in the caves of Trois Freres in France, he speculates on the emergence of shamanism and the altered state. "From this point on, Human Consciousness evolved in a new way. First it was biologically driven, then culturally and linguistically driven. With the advent of shamanism it became technologically driven."
He quickly surveys the ritual polytheistic Vedic tradition (and the mysterious Soma, woven throughout the texts of the Rig-Veda), follows the development of meditative practices from Yoga, the Taoists, Vedanta, and Mahayama Buddhism as man develops the consciousness of Oneness. He reflects on this realization of Oneness in the philosophy of the Greeks and the message of Jesus.
He compares the path of the Shaman: to bring back information from other realms, to the Zen image of the returning sage, and to the Christian idea of mystical service. The Shaman, while in an altered state, often triggered by drumming, leaves the body, enters other layers of the universe, encounters spirit guides, and returns, bringing information and help to his culture.
In the classic Zen ox-herding pictures (an image metaphor for the path of transcendence), the last picture shows a wandering sage entering a city with "help-bestowing or bliss-bestowing hands." The rascally sage is "indistinguishable from anybody else." But although he may eat or drink like anybody else, he has passed "the stench of enlightenment" and all he does is directed "towards healing and helping other people."
"In Christianity the metaphor is the fruitfulness of the soul. The soul, having experienced the divine marriage, makes the supreme sacrifice of separating from the divine in order to return to the world and help those who have not yet had this experience." Campbell calls this the "hero's return."
"Arnold Toynbee calls it the "cycle of withdrawal and return." In studying those who made the most contribution to human kind and evolution Toynbee found one common characteristic. "Those people tended to withdraw from the world for periods of time…to turn inward…to face their deepest fears…and the existential questions of life as profoundly as they could. When they came to some deep, existential insight, they returned to society to offer what they had learned for the welfare of all. That is the culmination, in a sense, of the spiritual quest of each of the great traditions--the idea that one undertakes a discipline or practice; experiences for oneself; stabilizes the experience; and then brings the experience and understanding back to the world."
Walsh labels our global problems the " 'symptoms' of our individual and collective mind states…our insane belief in our separateness," what Watts called "skin encapsulated egos…We are in a race between catastrophe and consciousness. And we do not know which will win. A key question of our time is whether we can create a critical mass of aware people in sufficient time. This will determine whether we create a sustaining and sustainable society or leave behind a planet that is polluted and plundered and poisoned."
The Strengthening Aspects Of Zen and Contemporary Meditation Practices is a beautiful piece by Kathleen O'Shaughnessy. O'Shaughnessy grew up in the sixties in the deep South. "A spiritual practice and a visionary substance (Zen and LSD) came into my life within two weeks of each other. I lived in a part of the country where support for either was non-existent. This had the effect of driving me into a deeper relationship with each. I soon realized that Zen is LSD…in slow motion."
"I readily saw I had to bring my body into the picture as scaffolding for what was happening in my mind. I began to teach myself the mind/body systems of hatha yoga and the Arica gym. The practices themselves became my teachers, for no teachers were available in the deep South during those years. When I began reading Buddhist texts eleven years later, I could see they described a map of where I had been rather than of where I was going.
"Then I began to see that at the center of the major religions is a core of individuals who do a practice. The common denominator of all these practices is that mind is engaged with an activity of the body in this moment. Each practice calls you to its center experience…a sweet and delicate equipoise. Once that equipoise is experienced viscerally, it is mirrored into the emotions and the psyche. A deep yet flexible strength develops which manifests in one's interactions with the textures and energies of everyday life. This is a primary experience…Life decisions and choices are now made from this broader base of perception."
O'Shaughnessy advocates an eight point regime, the first being traditional spiritual practices, training ourselves "to experience that visionary epicenter with more clarity and physical stability."
She touches on McKenna’s evolutionary thesis, that as a foraging species (perhaps guided by animals) we took in DMT through our diet. As agriculture "disappeared" these foods from our diet, the human race experienced the "fall from the Garden," leaving the visionary aptitude of the human neocortex still undeveloped. She suggests re-introducing DMT to our diets, through DMT containing plants or homeopathically potentized DMT taken in energetic doses on a regular basis.
Returning to the theme of the conference, she suggests entheogenic rituals to mark life junctures (puberty, marriage, mid-life, in preparation for death) as well as collective sacramental use at the solstice and equinox.
In The Judicial Architectonics Of Psychoactives Sacramentals, Attorney Richard Glen Boire of the Center For Cognitive Liberty and Ethics assays the hazardous course facing any legal claim that "a defendant's possession of an illegal entheogen was for 'religious purposes.'…The threshold issue for any court considering (such) a claim…is whether or not the person’s asserted belief system can be defined as ‘religious.' "
Boire does an excellent job of tracing the frequent changes of position of the Supreme Court over the years with regard to the religious freedom supposedly protected by our Constitution. Recently, for example, the Court has taken the position that religious freedom gives the individual the right to choose his own religion, but can deny a person the right to act on his chosen religion. Part of Boire's conclusion states: "The analysis routinely employed in religious free exercise cases is structurally flawed in application to entheogen-based religions." A careful reading of Boire's complete statement will illustrate how far the courts have departed from the intention of the wise creators of our Constitution, and the difficult road that lies ahead to intelligent resolution providing the freedom of religion specified in our constitution.
Dan Merker raises an intriguing theory about the psychoactivity of manna in the Hebrew Bible in Manna, The Showbread, And The Eucharist: Psychoactive Sacraments In The Bible. Merker cites Biblical evidence of the covert sacramental use of ergot-laden manna and showbread as a visionary mass, hidden by the priest class from the people at large. He speculates that Jesus was persecuted by the priests for attempting to reveal their priestly secret, and links the modern day Christian communion, albeit unknowingly, to the original sacramental initiations.
In Transpersonal Counseling: Some Observations Regarding Entheogens, Frances Vaughan reports her initial introduction to entheogens resulting in a life-transforming experience. As a practicing therapist, she has learned that not everyone benefits from the experience of entheogens, and many are actually worse off as a result. She gives excellent advice concerning the selection of candidates, and the actions that need to be taken to insure proper integration of experiences and to yield lasting improvements. "people who benefit most from the entheogenic experience are those who have a strong, healthy ego. It is easier to transcend a healthy ego than a weak ego. For people who need structure-building therapy, psychoactive substances would probably be contraindicated."
LSD as a Spiritual Aid is presented by Albert Hofmann, inventor of LSD. "It was LSD, the most potent entheogen, that, to use Blake's famous line, cleansed my doors of perception and made me see every thing as it is, infinite…The insights I received…increased my astonishment about the wonder of existence, of which we become conscious in enlightened moments."
Many of the authors of this book express concerns about the adversities resulting from the uninformed use of entheogens. At the practical center of this book are various proposed protocols: ritual and liturgical, as well as preparation, set and setting protocols. These are the opening moves in the evolution of a true Practicum...the hesitant steps toward developing Liturgy, ritual and context for a new Church, discovered on a journey linking the entheogenic sacraments of our evolutionary forefathers with the ecumenical (scientific) spiritual quest of the twenty-first century.
These chapters are:
What is Entheology? By Rev. Aline M. Lucas;
A Protocol For A Sacramental Service by Myron J. Stolaroff ;
A Theology Of Human Liberation And Entheogens :Reflections Of A Contemplative Activist by Rev. George F. Cairns;
Code Of Ethics For Spiritual Guides prepared by The Council On Spiritual Practices, Appendix B.
These must be read in their entirety.
I must quote from Ann Shulgin's exquisite essay The New Psychotherapy: MDMA And The Shadow which, more than any other, seems to organically synthesize the philosophical strands of concern underlining this important conference at Valembrossa.
Ann was a lay therapist, who together with her research partner and husband Alexander Shulgin, is working on the third (unnamed) book in a definitive "trilogy" mentioned earlier. Shulgin structures her protocol rules around the landmark path of "Adam," an anonymous therapist who, led to MDMA by Sasha Shulgin, discretely inducted a generation of therapists in drug-assisted therapy, using this "penicillin of the soul." Adam trained over 150 therapists in this country and in Europe.
Shulgin defines MDMA as an "entactagen--a substance that awakens the self within." She frontally addresses the Shadow work, which is the deep process work at the core of any psychotherapy, and most quickly uncovered in this school of work.
Shulgin thoroughly describes her protocol for conducting MDMA Therapy, giving one of the most detailed, comprehensive descriptions of the process that is currently available in print. For those interested in the field of drug-assisted therapies, a thorough reading of this chapter is highly recommended. Below are a few quotes taken directly from her luminous writing:
"The human psyche has it's own private and personal schedule for growth, and will take important steps in it's own way and in it's own time. The therapist is there to help the process, to devote himself, heart, soul and insight, to guiding and supporting the hard work his client is doing…What the therapist should remember is that the client's psyche contains a part that is a self-healer…his Higher Self…I prefer to call it the Overseer. He should tell the client of the existence of the healer within…by doing so, he will help activate it."
"The degree of insight achieved in any session…depends first of all in the willingness of the patient to face and acknowledge his dark side or Shadow…in Buddhist terms, he is being asked to confront the demons known as the guardians of the gate, and the prospect of seeing what he unconsciously beliefs to be the core--the essence--of himself as a series of horrendous, malignant, totally unacceptable entities, can bring about a state of fear that has no parallel in ordinary life…No person can be asked to do the work of confronting his Shadow without being told by his therapist, in advance, that what he will see and feel is not--is NOT--the whole truth about who he is, but only one important and essential part."
Here the "experience and persuasiveness of the therapist comes into play. He himself MUST have had this kind of emotional and spiritual journey, before he asks a client to undergo it…Only a therapist who has undergone this process of self-confrontation can speak with unmistakable authority and believability to a client who is struggling with intense, deep fears."
The therapist's own past spiritual training with these substances are key to his "ability to affirm and care about his patient." Once the therapist has experienced the " 'participation mystique,' in the words of the great anthropologist Eliade…the sense of kinship with every living thing," he will have experienced a "gut knowing…that every animal, plant and human being is related to him…that everything alive carries within it a God-essence, a spark of the Great Spirit and that…we are all highly individual parts of one living, conscious Being." This profound realization will be with him for the rest of his life. "That is why, once he has had the privilege of being in this place of his soul, he will find it possible to feel true caring, even love, for a client who is prepared to open himself to himself. He will know that this person he is working with is, in the deepest sense, his parent, his brother, and his child."
This knowing "the Shadow from the inside out may take more than one session" but is often completed in one day. "Ultimately, the Shadow will take it's place as a devoted ally and protector, available when needed by the whole Self, respected and validated by the conscious mind, even though it will never be entirely housebroken or have good table manners. In other words, the final goal is identical to that of the Jungians."
"A final, sad reminder: Since the Controlled Substance Analogue Enforcement Act of 1986 was passed, this kind of therapy and spiritual journey, using these priceless tools, has been illegal in the United States…It will be up to us…to find out how to turn this around in our own nation."
Tom Roberts, the editor of this book, in An Entheogen Idea-Map--Future Explorations, essays the great promise of entheogenic materials, and addresses some of the pitfalls of its uninformed use. His online library resource "Religion and Sacraments: An Entheogenic Chrestomacy", begun in 1994, now contains over 500 books, articles and addresses in the evolving "unrecognized discipline" he calls "mind-body studies."
"We make the mistake of processing information in only one way...'the singlestate fallacy.' We wrongly assume that all useful abilities reside in our ordinary, awake mindbody state. Recognizing this error can lead to major shifts in theology and philosophy…Mindbody psychotechnologies are tools for transformation, potentially as powerful as the invention of agriculture, the rise of monotheism, the invention of the printing press...and the combination of observation and reason into science…When we add the cognitive abilities that reside in other mindbody states, our…thinking skills--our intelligence--is greatly increased." He warns that entheogen use is not an easy path. "Anyone embarking on this road must be willing to experience the dark night of the soul." Like any religious experience or path, it’s "not appropriate for everyone."
Robin Menken is a spiritual trainer, screenwriter, and teacher.
After an initial contact with DMT, "a direct bridge to Logos," she conducted thousands of sessions in the early sixties. She was a weekend Millbrookian, and spent the weekdays working for Mayor Lindsey’s Cultural Affairs Office. In the seventies, she worked with Ayahuasca in the Amazon and was initiated in the Condoble possession religion in Salvador, Bahia.
Robin continues to work in Altered States. Her workshop and private session work is a synthesis of game theory, zen, gestalt and various body techniques. It is a deep process uniquely efficient in freeing the subconscious and entraining the mind to recognize and build pattern improvisationally as an adaptogenic response to the seemingly chaotic cascade of stimulus present in group creativity (and indeed in life).
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