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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

Altered States of Consciousness.

Tart, Charles T. (Editor). (1969).
New York: John Wiley & Sons.

ISBN: 471-84560-4

Description: First edition, x + 575 pages.

Contents: Introduction, 35 chapters divided into 8 sections: 1. Some General Views on Altered States of Consciousness, 2. Between Waking and Sle Dream Consciousness, 4. Hypnosis, 6. Major Psychedelic Drugs, 8. The Physiology of Some Altered States of Consciousness, references, author index, subject index.

Contributors: Bernard S. Aaronson, M. Bertini, Bruin Humanist Forum, Arthur J. Deikman, Joseph Downing, Milton H. James Fadiman, Daniel X. Freedman, Willis W. Harman, Tomio Hirai, Joe Kamiya, Wolfgang Kreschmer, Helen B. Lewis, Wolfgang Luthe, Robert H. McKim, Walter N. Pahnke, William Richards, Charles Savage, Ronald E. Baldev Singh, Myron J. Stolaroff, Harry Trosman, Gerald Vogel, Herman A. Witken.

Note: Chapter 23 by Walter N. Implications of LSD and Experimental Mysticism" reports on the Good Friday Experiment. It originally appeared in the Journal of Religion and Health.

Excerpt(s): An altered state of consciousness for a given individual is one in which he clearly feels a qualitative shift in his pattern of mental functioning, that is, he feels not just a quantitative shift (more or less alert, more or less visual imagery, sharper of duller, etc.) but also that some quality or qualities of his mental processes are different. (Introduction, pages 1-2)

... The readings in this collection cover a wide range of ASCs; they are presented in groups, beginning with some ASCs available to almost everyone (the hypnogogic state and the dream state), continuing with more specialized and powerful ASCs (meditation, hypnosis, minor and major psychedelic drugs), and ending with the psychophysiology of some ASCs (including the most modern technique for producing an ASC-electroencephalographic feedback). (Introduction, page 6)


Of all the varieties of psychedelic experiences, the type that has elicited the most enthusiastic interest as well as the most indignant rebuttal from both psychiatric and theological spokesmen is the mystical experience. The claim that spontaneous mystical experiences are similar to, if not identical with, psychedelic experiences of drug-facilitated mystical consciousness has caused considerable apprehension and dismay among some religious professionals , and the possible therapeutic potential of experiences of mystical consciousness has been somewhat embarrassing to those therapists who pride themselves on their scientific objectivity and lack of religious involvement. Whether or not the mystical experience is "religious" is naturally dependent upon one's definition of "religion," and to raise this point only confuses the issue, although such experiences may well have religious implications. In order to provide some evidence in a systematic and scientific manner, Pahnke in 1962 designed and executed a controlled, double-blind experiment to investigate the relationship between the experiences recorded in the literature of spontaneous mysticism and those reportedly associated with the ingestion of psychedelic drugs. ...

Twenty subjects were chosen for the experiment, all graduate student volunteers with middle-class Protestant backgrounds from one denominational seminary, none of whom had ever taken any of the psychedelic drugs prior to the experiment. ...

On the day of the experiment, Good Friday 1962, the subjects and leaders met in a lounge beside a private chapel into which the service in the main sanctuary would subsequently be transmitted over loudspeakers. There ninety minutes before the service began, capsules identical in appearance were administered, some containing thirty milligrams of psilocybin and some containing two-hundred milligrams of nicotinic acid, a vitamin that causes feelings of warmth and tingling of the skin, but has no effect upon the mind. ...

Inside the private chapel, the subjects and leaders listened to a two-and-a-half hour religious service consisting of organ music, four solos, readings, prayers , and personal meditation. ...

When the data from (a) the post-drug questionnaire, (b) the follow-up questionnaire, and (c) content-analysis of the written accounts were analyzed, the conclusion was drawn that, under the conditions of this experiment, those subjects who received psilocybin experienced phenomena that were apparently indistinguishable from, if not identical with, certain categories defined by the typology of mystical consciousness. Statistically, the scores of the experimental subjects from all three methods of measurement were significantly higher than those of the control subjects in all categories except "sense of sacredness." In all the other eight categories there were less than two chances in one hundred that the difference was due only to chance rather than to psilocybin, and in more than half the categories, less than two chances in one thousand. (pages 413-415)

Implications for Theology. On the basis of the research findings discussed above, it now appears possible to select almost any normal, healthy person and, combining a sufficient dose of a psychedelic substance with a supportive set and setting, enable that person to experience various altered forms of consciousness. The mystical experience seems most difficult to facilitate, perhaps because of the yet undetermined roles of personality variables; but nonetheless, these phenomena are now sufficiently reproducible to allow mysticism to be studied scientifically under laboratory conditions. Thus at long last, research into mysticism need no longer be limited to the scholarly scrutiny of various devotional or metaphysical documents left behind by such historic personages as Plotinus, Eckhart, Teresa of Avila. Persons can be studied extensively both before and after the experience of mystical consciousness in controlled settings. As noted above, experimental subjects who have experienced this form of consciousness have made powerful claims of increased personality-integration, of greater sensitivity to the authentic problems of other persons, of a responsible independence of social pressures, of both sensing deeper purposes in life and losing anxieties about death, guilt, and meaninglessness, and so forth. If research continues, there is no reason why such claims cannot be studied empirically and then either accepted as valid or dismissed as instances of emotional exaggeration and wishful thinking. (page 416)

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