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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

The Age of Aquarius: Technology and the Cultural Revolution.

Braden, William. (1970).
Chicago: Quadrangle Books.

ISBN: none

Description: Hardcover, xii + 306 pages.

Contents: 10 chapters, note about the author.

Excerpt(s): There emerged in the early 1960's a drug movement that made sensational claims for such psychedelic drugs as mescaline, psilocybin, and — especially — LSD. Its leaders and practitioners for the most part were introspective adults, and the movement at first attracted the interest mainly of psychologists, philosophers, and theologians. This development was paralleled by the so-called Leap to the East — a widespread interest in such philosophies as Hinduism and Japanese Buddhism — and indeed the gurus of the drug movement began to interpret the psychedelic experience in terms of these philosophies. At one level the claims were fairly modest. It is said, for example, that a mild psychedelic such as marijuana would often help a person to see himself in a more honest light: that it revealed the extent to which much of his conduct was sham and pretense, artificial role-playing, a big act, his response to life largely a conditioned reflex, just one clichι after another, a mindless performance, a meaningless display; that it jarred the person out of his mental rut — his usual way of looking at the world — allowing him to be more open to experience, more sensitive to other people, more realistic in the goals he might seek. But marijuana is to LSD as a sip of beer to a fifth of bourbon, and it was said of LSD that it unlocked all the secrets of the universe; it permitted a mystical experience which answered the identity question on a grand scale: it told the person who he was — who he really was — and it told him who God was as well. Three aspects of the psychedelic experience interest us here in so far as they relate to technology and to the cultural revolution: these involve: (1) the relationship of the self to the external environment, (2) the relationship of the self to other people, and (3) the concept of time or history.

The psychedelic experience, like the religious experience, almost always includes an altered sense of identity or self. The drug mystic no longer identifies himself with the little self he thought he was — with the "I" he was always talking about, or the name on his driver's license, or even the reflection he sees in a mirror. William James once wrote: "Religion is the belief that there is an unseen order — and that our supreme good lies in harmoniously adjusting ourselves thereto." The drug mystic feels that he has somehow come into direct contact with that unseen order (which he may call God, or ultimate reality). But he does more than adjust to it: he melts into it and becomes in fact a part of it. He no longer ends at the tips of his fingers. Indeed there is no place where he ends and the rest of the world begins; he is at one with the universe; he is life itself, which ever was and ever will be: he is pure Being; he is immortal, and full of joy.

The Freudian has a ready explanation for all this: the subject's ego has ceased to function, at least temporarily. No longer able to test reality, he is dominated now by his infantile id: he has regressed to the primary stage of undifferentiation. And that is all there is to it. Freud himself offered that analysis of the religious mystic's experience in Civilization and Its Discontents, and it also has been pointed out that a confusion of inner and outer reality is one characteristic of schizophrenia. But the drug mystics take a dim view of Freud; if there is an id, they argue, then the id perhaps represents the awareness of a primal truth — the unity of all life — and the ego and its development obscures the memory of that truth. There is an old saying of the Jews, quoted by Martin Buber, that "in the mother's body man knows the universe, in birth he forgets it." Or to quote from Matthew: Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven." (pages 230-232) [Note similarities to Grof's parinatal and transpersonal levels of the human mind and to Huston Smith's analysis of the view of human nature, common to the world's major religions. — TR]

Serious drug users today are less likely to evaluate their experience in mystical terms — either Eastern or Western. Attitudes have changed, and so has the drug vocabulary. For example, listen to our young friend Molly as she raps about acid now:

Everything about it has changed. Two, three years ago acid was a totally new kind of thing, and the only context it could be related to was this mystical Indian thing. You know, nirvana and all that. But now it's kind of an entity in itself. I mean it's not nirvana, and it's not mystical — its acid. And acid is a chemical that goes into your brain and keeps your synapses open, you know, and that's what it is. And I think that's a lot more honest. It's got its own thing now — it's been translated into Now terms. ...

But what does that mean Molly,?

"I don't know exactly. But it's always there. It's this thing, you know — this unity thing. I mean, I went through this period when I was merging with tree trunks and hearing sitars in my head and all that, and it was very interesting. But that's not it. Or we'd sit around and rap about some sort of universal whole, you know. But that's not it either. All it really is — you're just simply acknowledging that there is something that binds people together, and I don't pretend to know what it is, but it's there, and that's what's important. Now I find myself in this unity thing whether I'm tripping or not, and I believe in a brotherhood and a fellowship. It's like going and just being calmly aware that there is a bond, and it can be anything from a cohesive intelligence or God to just the spaces in between that hold everything together. (pages 245-246)

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