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Religion and Psychoactive Sacraments:
An Entheogen Chrestomathy

Thomas B. Roberts, Ph.D. and Paula Jo Hruby, Ed.D.
Author Index | Title Index


50 Years of LSD: Current Status and Perspectives of Hallucinogens.

Pletscher, A., and Ladewig, D. (1994). (Editors).
New York: Parthenon.


ISBN: 1-85070-569-0

Description: Hardcover, first edition, viii + 238 pages.

Contents: List of principal contributors, preface, 15 chapters in 5 sections: 1. Historical, 2. Pharmacology, 3. Psychopathology, 4. Transcultural Aspects, 5. Clinical Aspects, Conclusions, with special regard to clinical aspects, Appendix: List of Invited Participants, index.

Contributors: G. K. Aghajanian, A. Dittrich, E. Gouzoulis, H. Heimann, L. Hermle, A. Hofmann, H. Isernhagan, M. Lader, D. Ladewig, H. Leuner, C. P. O'Brien, S. J. Peroutka, A. Pletscher, R. Richter, L. Rivier, M. Spitzer, R. J. Strassman, F. X. Vollenweider, R. Yensen.

Note: Proceedings of a symposium of the Swiss Academy of Medical Sciences, Lugano-Agno, October 21 and 22, 1993. As quoted below, Iserhagen's contribution adds an important perspective on entheogens from the perspective of literary criticism, an otherwise weak perspective in entheogenology. This book deserves a place in collections of psychedelia, but unfortunately the publishers have over-priced it.

Excerpt(s): The APZ questionnaire ... consists of 158 items presented in the first person singular, the response to which is either "yes" or "no". The items are a condensation of ~800 items formulated on the basis of previously existing questionnaires on ASCs, free reports, phychiatric rating scales and the author's personal experience with ASCs. (page 103).

The three primary scales, which are positively correlated, are parts of the secondary scale. The first subscale is designated as "Ozeanische Selbstentgrenzung" (OSE) ("oceanic boundlessness"). The scale contains 13 items and describes a state similar to mystical experiences, according to the scientific literature in this subject. The second subscale: Angstvolle Ichaufl`sung (AIA) ("dread of ego dissolution") is operationally defined by 22 items which indicate a very unpleasant state, similar to what is called a "bad trip" by drug-users. The third primary scale is termed Visionre Umstrukturierung (VUS) ("visionary restructuralization") and includes the 14 items. It includes items on visual (pseudo)-hallucinations or visions, illusions and synesthesias. Other items indicate a change in the significance of objects. ...

With reference to Huxley, it could be said that the three primary etiology-independent aspects of ASCs correspond to "heaven", "hell" and "visions". (page 106).

In summary, we may conclude that the reliability and the validity of the APZ scales are more than satisfactory for most purposes. The four APZ scales are now available in psychometrically equivalent forms in English (UK, USA), German, Italian and Portuguese. Versions exist in Dutch, Finnish, French, Greek, Spanish and Russian, but these have not yet been psychometrically tested. A translation into Hindi is in progress. A psychometrically improved version of the APZ exists in German. This questionnaire ("OVA") uses visual analog scales as a response instead of a "yes" or "no". "APZ" and "OVA" scores can be transformed into each other by multiple regression equations. At least in Europe, the APZ questionnaire (or its follower, "OVA") has become the standard instrument when assessing ASCs, which helps to integrate the international research. (pages 109-110).

The assessment scales developed might also be useful in further studies of the psychology of religion, as far as ASCs are concerned.

In ASC-assisted psychotherapy it has been hypothesized by several therapists and researchers that "peak experiences" contribute substantially to the therapeutic outcome. This hypothesis can now be tested quantitatively using the corresponding scale of "Ozeanishche Selbstentgrenzung" (SO) (oceanic boundlessness).

In other fields of applied psychology our equations for the prediction of individual reaction profiles might, for example, be useful for the selection of personnel who are expected to function normally despite circumstances which could induce Sacs. (Ditch, A. "Psychological Aspects of Altered States of Consciousness of the LSD Type: Measurement of Their Basic Dimensions and Prediction of Individual Differences". Chapter 8, page 116)

One might begin by asking why drugs acquired such cultural significance in the 1960s and 1970s at all. In my view this was because there already existed a well-established cultural tradition that of aesthetic Modernism (ca 1900/1910 - ?) which was searching for what one might term alternate realities: there also existed a well-established language to express this search and its results. The basic gesture implicit in both was an indictment of the limitations of "normal" (conventionally guaranteed) reality, a denial of the legitimacy of modes of perception that constitute it, and a resulting desire to subvert or corrode them. The syntheticization of drugs fell on this fertile ground, and the slang expression "acid" must have had its added symbolic attractiveness.

The term "the establishment" pervasively denotes the opponent in the resulting conflicts over sociocultural legitimation and over the proper ways of dealing with areas of alterity such as the dream, the drug, and madness. If traditional western civilization had, by and large, established hard solutions, policing all three areas through marginalization and/or suppression with the dream being designated as not real, drugs being banned, and madness put away aesthetic modernists, listening well to Freud and Jung, tended to centralize the dream as an approach to the real, to experiment with drugs, and to explore madness. As a secular movement, it could not give these phenomena the full religious sanction they have in many Native American cultures, for example, but it did at least designate them as spiritual or spiritually relevant, and opposed them to the prevalent materialism of "the establishment". (Freedman, quoting William James, reminds us of the coincidental emergence of the modernist concern with alternative realities and the scientific exploration of those outskirts of the mind where religious and drug-induced experiences take place.)

The 1960s were heirs to this tradition and developed a specific variant of it. Their dominant mode and mood were the same transgressions of boundaries that characterizes the twentieth century's other avant-gardist innovations, which attempt to come to terms with the ever-accelerating process of modernization. (pages 122-123).

The search for alternative realities has traditionally been thoroughly ambivalent, both constructive and destructive, permitted and forbidden, sacred and criminal, and confronting the human with the abyss and the summit the problem being the inseparability of the two. It is always associated with a sense of crisis, which demarcates experientially the borders between these opposed elements and their transgression, as well as the interface between the familiar and the unfamiliar, the known and the unknown. This is so because alterity is viewed as power-full, full of power. The same ambivalent tremendum that modern texts, both fictional and poetic, attempt to recreate in what has variously been called a moment of being or an epiphany appears when supposedly "in the days of Early Man his whole world was shot through with religious feeling and the unseen powers held him in thrall. Our sacred 'mushroom' must have been wondrous indeed, evoking awe and adoration, fear, yes, even terror". (pages 123-124).

The connection with the modernist spirit of search has, however, been preserved in purer form in the general academic discussion of the drug, of which I shall, in the following, take texts like Freedman, Wasson and Schultes/Hofmann to be representative. To analyze it is therefore at one and the same time to "place" this discussion historically and to fill in some of the white areas of my sketch of this tradition in literature and the other arts.

This tradition, which has operated with a redefinition of the self as id and body, and with a dislocation of interest from history to myth and from secularly purposeful action to ritual, has attempted to include the hitherto excluded. The rhetoric of alterity that it has thus developed is in itself once again transcultural in two respects: it defines "privileged" experiences as transcending the culturally or conventionally given normalcies of a cultural situation, and as being or having been available in and to all cultures to a degree that in approaching them one may be supposed to approach one of the sources of the human. The aspect of transculturality was from the beginning inscribed (at least as a potential) in the project of aesthetic modernism in so far as it aimed at an anthropological perspective that combined an interest in the variety of the human with a profound search for its (supposed) underlying essence. A statement of the type that Louis Lewin "captured the all-pervading significance of hallucinogens to the cultural evolution of the human race" indicates that specific discussions of the drug replicate the anthropological gesture of modernism. There do exist statements that "the psychoactive effects of [x or y] preparations vary widely, depending on dosage, the preparation and the type of plant used, the method of administration, personality of the user, and social and cultural background", but such variations and particularly its last-named aspect is rarely if ever of central interest; the aim of the discourse is "the human" transculturally seen. (page 125).

The dominant focus of attention is a collective and undifferentiated totality of human faculties, of which the psychological equivalent would appear to be the archetype, and the generally medical one the psychosomatic ... . To speak about it properly requires a holistic discourse such as Wasson's, for instance, which brings together the ethnographic with the search for the archaic and esoteric which will almost necessarily also be transdisciplinary: it advocates, or it constitutes itself by, a transgression of disciplinary borders. One could adduce here the recurrence of the old postulate of an original oneness of poetry and religion, and indeed of all characteristically human faculties, in a pristine moment whose oneness becomes emblematic in synaesthesia, which is conceived of as a pure state, or an experience of abstract pure form, and in which the world appears as totally new. That the recovery of "the poetry of religion" is simultaneously an act of community formation, of bonding, is both part of traditional literary theory and a central experience in, for example, the report given in The Road to Eleusis, which reads in part like the story of the rediscovery of an original nuclear community, or of the principle of community.

If metaphor establishes connections that are supposed to lead one back to a hidden original source, the question is which connections are legitimate, and which are not. We encounter the problem already on the level of more or less pure description, when similarities among alternate experiences are intuitively obvious at least to the point where typical experiences can be named, albeit only metaphorically: "His first mushroom experience represented dismemberment; his second, meeting with the spirit" but when there does not seem to be any set of rules on how to talk about them, where the limits of relevant similarity are. This is obviously in part due to a real lack of verifiable knowledge about use of drugs elsewhere and in other times: the arcanum could by definition not be divulged, so that then and today surmise has to take the place of solid knowledge; unavoidably, contradictions arise on which drug was used at Eleusis, or what soma really was. More generally, however, there appears to exist no criterion of exclusion here a state of affairs which violates the rules not only of science and the academic, but of any civilization based on a division of labor. (Iserhagen, I. "Acid Against Established Realities: A Transcultural and Transdisciplinary View of LSD and Related Hallucinogens." Chapter 9, pages 126-127).

My own patients included: an electrician, a nurse, a physician's assistant, a miner, a short order cook. In their therapy there were times when they journeyed deeply into their lives and took me with them; crying in the pain and trauma, raging at the helplessness, laughing joyously at the fulfillment. Some enter a timeless realm, one beyond the usual ken of human experience; a place beyond time and space, of stunning beauty, where they feel both loved and loving in a deep reverence for life. They tell me that this domain is more real for them than any previous experience. Here they find inspiration and motivation to give all they can; to be the best and most complete people they can possibly be. I have been told that our feeble language can never contain the beauty, awe and love of these moments their effects are felt for a lifetime.

The great Swiss analytical psychologist Carl Jung saw modern man as searching for lost soul. Through the efforts of another great Swiss pioneer an ancient factor has been rediscovered. The question is how to regard this wonder?

In my country psychedelics have been labelled as without recognized medical use, although there is compelling evidence that they can heal people in despair. What does this attitude that healing of the soul is beyond the boundaries of medical practice say about our profession and my country?

I pray that our science and medicine have not painted themselves into a corner where there is no place for this kind of wonder and meaning.

Profound uncertainty surrounds peak experiences. It has often played havoc with attempts at measurement. Yet when these numinous moments occur there is great healing. To meet the challenge of understanding this potentiality, we need a broader frame of analysis, a new paradigm, one that forces us to describe all the variables in the clinical situation to understand what the relevant ones are.

We do not yet know when or whether peak experiences will occur, or with whom, but we do know that this is the highest order of human experience, as testified by the greatest sages and mystics of all religious and philosophical traditions throughout history. We must safeguard the potential for this kind of experience among our subjects as we continue careful scientific work on every level possible, from the molecular frontiers of understanding the brain and its relationship with consciousness to the philosophical and scientific study of the mystical, as pioneered by Walter Pahnke.

We cannot now, and may never, be able, to predict and control perfectly the effects of psychedelics in humans. Yet, they are gateways to such precious and forgotten realms that I do not believe any culture that aspires to full humanity can afford to shut them out. (R. Yensen, "Perspectives on LSD and Psychotherapy: The Search for a New Paradigm." Chapter 13, page 199).



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