Council on Spiritual Practices About CSP | Site Map | ©
Search CSP:   

Religion and Psychoactive Sacraments:
An Entheogen Chrestomathy
Thomas B. Roberts, Ph.D. and Paula Jo Hruby, Ed.D.

Cleansing the Doors of Perception: The Religious Significance of Entheogenic Plants and Chemicals.

Smith, Huston. (2000)
New York: Tarcher/Penguin Putnam.

ISBN:1-58542-034-4 trade cloth edition
1-889725-03-X deluxe edition

Description: xvii + 173 pages

Contents: Preface, introduction, 10 chapters, Appendix A: Secularization and the Sacred: The Contemporary Scene, Appendix B: Thinking Allowed with Jeffrey Mishlove: A Television Interview, notes and references, index.

Note: A deluxe edition is published by the Council on Spiritual Practices, San Francisco. This edition follows the style of the R. G. Wasson deluxe editions, including partial leather and dark blue cloth binding, gold page edges, and slipcase. "This limited edition, designed by Martino Mardersteig, was set in the VAL version of Dante and printed by Stamperia Valdonega in 500 copies numbered A-Z and 1-474 on Magnani mould made paper. The binding is by Ruggero Rigoldi." (colophon page [174]).

Is it possible today, in the climate of fear created by the war on drugs, to write a book on entheogens with the informed objectivity of Aldous Huxley's The Doors of Perception, the understanding that Albert Hofmann accorded the topic in LSD: My Problem Child, and the open-mindedness with which William James approached the subject in The Varieties of Religions Experience? And is the reading public ready for such a book?

I do not know the answers to these questions, but I find myself wanting to put them to the test. My reasons are theoretical rather than adversarial, for I am more philosopher than activist. it is true that, though this book is being published as a free-standing volume in its own right, it is also listed as number five in a series of books on the entheogens - virtually nonaddictive drugs that seem to harbor spiritual potentials - that the Council on Spiritual practices is issuing. I am comfortable with this, for not only did that Council instigate this book by asking me to pull its essays together; I support its objectives, which include working cautiously toward carving out a space where serious students of the entheogens can pursue their interests carefully and lawfully. I was fortunate in being able to do that under the umbrella of Harvard University's 1960-1963 research program before it careened off-course, and it is only fair to do what I can to accord others the same opportunity.

That said, however, I come back to my concerns here being philosophical rather than programmatic. During the semester that Aldous Huxley was at M.I.T., he remarked in the course of a seminar that nothing was more curious, and to his way of thinking more important, than the role that mind-altering plants and chemicals have played in human history. Add to that William James's point that no account of the universe in its totality can be taken as final if it ignores extraordinary experiences of the sort he himself encountered through the use of nitrous oxide. This entire book can be seen as an extended meditation on those two ideas. (page xv)

The essays in this book span almost forty years. I have edited them liberally, excising repetitions and passages I no longer consider important. Each essay is introduced by a statement that notes the occasion for which it was written and locates it on the trajectory of the book as a whole. My intent has been to produce a work that touches on the major facets of its enigmatic subject as seen through the eyes of someone (myself) who, given my age, may have thought and written more about it than anyone else alive.

Nomenclature has been a problem. I never use the word 'hallucinogen' because error is built into its definition - Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary defines 'hallucination' as "(1) the apparent perception of sights, sounds, etc., that are not actually present [which] may occur in certain mental disorders; (2) the imaginary object apparently see, heard, etc.' The word 'psychedelic' is etymologically innocuous, literally meaning "mind-manifesting,' but it is dated, tagged to "the psychedelic sixties' when recreational use of drugs took over, and thus clearly in appropriate when speaking of shamans, Eleusis, and the Native American Church. We need a word that designates virtually nonaddictive mind-altering substances that are approached seriously and reverently, and the word "entheogens" does just that. it is not without problems of its own, for etymologically it suggests "God-containing," whereas "God-enabling" would be more accurate - Aldous Huxley told me never to say that chemicals cause visionary experiences; say that they occasion them. I retain 'psychedelic' in the early essays of this book which were written when it was the going word, but, thereafter, I follow the lead of Wasson, Hofmann, Richard Schultes, and other pioneers in concluding that 'entheogens' is the appropriate word for mind-changing substances when they are taken sacramentally." (pages xvi-xvii)

A mile and a half down the Charles River, Aldous Huxley was an obvious source. When I told Huxley of my interest in the matter, he gave me Leary's phone number and we arranged to meet for lunch at the Harvard Faculty Club. Getting down to business, we pulled out our date books to schedule a session with mescaline. Several tries wouldn't work for one or the other of us, whereupon Leary flipped past Christmas and (with the faintest trance of a mischievous smile, as I remember the scene) asked, "What about New Year's Day?"

It proved to be a prophetic way to enter the "psychedelic sixties." (page 7)

Chapter One - Empirical Metaphysics
New year's Day, 1961, Eleanor (who now answers to the name Kendra) and I reached the home of Dr. Timothy Leary in Newton, Massachusetts, about 12:20 P.M. Present in addition to Leary were Dr. George Alexander, psychiatrist, and Frank Barron, on sabbatical from the department of psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

After coffee and pleasantries, Tim sprinkled some capsules of mescaline onto the coffee table and invited us to be his guest. One, he said, was a mild dose, two an average dose, and three a large dose. I took one; Eleanor, more venturesome, took two. After about half an hour, when nothing seemed to be happening, I took a second capsule. (page 10)

... I was experiencing the metaphysical theory known as emanationism, in which, beginning with the clear, unbroken Light of the Void, that light, then fractures into multiple forms and declines in intensity as it devolves through descending levels of reality. My friends in the study were present in one band of this spectrum, but it was far more restricted than higher bands that were in view. Bergson's notion of the brain as a reducing valve struck me as accurate.

Along with the "psychological prism," another phrase occurred to me: empirical metaphysics. Plotinus's emanation theory, and its more detailed Vedantic counterpart, had hitherto been only conceptual theories for me. Now I was seeing them, with their descending bands spread out before me. I found myself amused, thinking how duped historians of philosophy had been in crediting the originators of such worldviews with speculative geniuses. Had they had experiences such as mine (subsequent chapters in this book suggest they had had such experiences) they need have been no more than hack reporters. But beyond accounting for the origin of these philosophies, my experience supported their truth. As in Plato's myth of the cave, what I was now seeing struck me with the force of the sun, in comparison with which everyday experience reveals only flickering shadows in a dim cavern. (page 11)

Chapter Two - Do Drugs Have Religious Import?
The Harvard Project was hospitable. Open-ended, it wanted to explore the effects of psychoactive chemicals in all promising directions, so our "church" had its blessing and benefactions. Once a month or so we gathered to take our sacramental in a vaguely ritualistic context - incense, candles, favorite poems, passages from sacred texts, and spontaneous inputs in the style of Quaker meetings. In between those "services" we gathered to talk philosophically. We were but one satellite in Leary's project, which served as an umbrella under which those of its subjects who wanted to follow up on their experiences clustered and networked. (pages 15-16)

The essay that follows sets forth the conclusions I reached about the entheogens in the course of the three years that I was involved with the Harvard Project. Titled "Do Drugs Have Religions Import?" it appeared in the 1 October 1964 issue of The Journal of Philosophy. I am told that it has been anthologized more times that any other article in that journal, over twenty times to date. I have made a few minor alterations to clarify points that might otherwise be obscure. (page 16)

Suppose that drugs can induce experiences indistinguishable from religious experiences and that we can respect their reports. Do they shed any light, I now ask, not on life, but on the nature of the religious life?

One thing they may do is throw religious experience itself into perspective by clarifying its relation to the religious life as a whole. Drugs appear to be able to induce religious experiences; it is less evident that they can produce religious lives. It follows that religion is more than a string of experiences. This is hardly news, but it may be a useful reminder, especially to those who incline toward "the religion of religious experience"; which is to say toward lives bent on the acquisition of desired states of experience irrespective of their relation to life's other demands and components. (page 30)

If the religion of religious experience is a snare and a delusion, it follows that no religion that fixes its faith primarily in substances that induce religious experiences can be expected to come to a good end. What promised to be a shortcut will prove to be a short circuit; what began as a religion will end as a religious surrogate. Whether chemical substances can be helpful adjuncts to faith is another question. The Peyote-using Native American Church seems to indicate that they can be; anthropologists give this church a good report, noting among other things that is members resist alcohol better than do nonmembers. The conclusion to which the evidence seems to currently point is that it is indeed possible for chemicals to enhance religious life, but only when they are set within the context of faith (conviction that what they disclose is true) and discipline (exercise of the will toward fulfilling what the disclosures ask of us). (page 31)

Chapter Three - Psychedelic Theophanies and the Religious Life
During the three years that followed the writing of the preceding essay, the hopes that had attended Timothy Leary's Harvard project began to fade. ...

These developments called for a reassessment of my initial, rather optimistic appraisal of the promise entheogens hold for religion. Everything I had said in my Journal of Philosophy essay still struck me as true, but I came to feel the distinction between religious experiences and the religious life needed to be emphasized more than it was in that piece. This next essay, which appeared in Christianity and Crisis in 1967, supplies that missing emphasis. Written later in the sixties, it contains more social history - the history of that tumultuous decade - that do the other essays in this book. As with the other essays, I have made minor changes in the original text. (page 33)

Chapter Four - Historical Evidence: India's Sacred Soma
I considered the subject sufficiently important to give a summer to researching it, and this essay reports my findings. Its copious footnotes show that (like the second essay in this book) it was written for an academic journal; titled "Wasson's SOMA: A Review Article, "it appeared in the December 1972 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Religion. I pause for a moment to indulge myself. Because my best-known work, The World's Religions, is an undergraduate text that appeared early in my career, I have had to struggle against the fear - self-imposed perhaps, but real nonetheless - of being written off by my colleagues as a popularizer. It has, therefore, encouraged me no end that the foremost linguist of my time, Roman Jakobson, called this essay "a magnificent survey," and that one of the two leading historians of religion in my generation, Wilfred Cantwell Smith (the other was Mircea Eliade) credited it with being "a model of a piece; superbly organized, marvelously informative, engagingly written, and altogether exactly right."

If I were writing it today, I would have to temper my claim that Gordon Wasson solved the soma enigma conclusively. The quarter century that has elapsed has brought new criticism of his arguments, and rival candidates for the plant have been proposed. I continue to think that Wasson's arguments for his candidate are the strongest in the field, but the debate continues. (pages 45-46)

III. The Evidence
To enter all the evidence Wasson uncovered in his five ensuing years of concentrated work in the libraries and botanical centers of the United States and Europe, and in the field in Asia, would be to duplicate his book. Instead I shall summarize the evidence he marshals for his conclusions under six points.

1. The references to Soma contain no mention of the leaves, flowers, fruit, seeds, and roots that pertain to chlorophyll-bearing plants. They refer repeatedly to stems and caps.

2. All color references fit the Amanita muscaria. There is no mention of its being green, black, gray, dark, or blue (the colors of vegetation), while the colors that are mentioned conform without exception to the mushroom's cap (bright red), and the membrane, unique to the A. muscaria, that protects it in its early stages (brilliant white), or its pressed - sauma means "to press" - juice (golden or tawny yellow). ...

3. References to shape are equally apposite. The mushroom's head, peering through the undergrowth while still in its white skin, is "the single eye". When its cap is fully formed, it mirrors the vault of heaven and is "the mainstay of the sky." Or again, its curved cap can look like an udder - "the swollen stalks were milked like cows with [full] udders" - and its puffy foot like a teat: "The priests milk this shoot like the auroral milch cow."

4. Soma altered consciousness but was not alcohol; it was an entheogen. The Aryans knew alcohol in the form of sura, a beer, but the time allotted for Soma's preparation in the sacrifices precludes fermentation. Moreover, whereas the Vedas generally disapprove of sura, noting the muddleheadedness and other bad effects it produces, Soma is not only aducchuna, without evil effects; it leads to godliness: ...

5. Geography fits. Amanita muscaria requires, for host, the north temperate birch forest, and the Indus Valley is bordered by lofty mountains whose altitude compensates for its southern latitude. South of the Oxus River, A. muscaria grows only at altitudes of eight thousand feet or more, and this fits with the fact that Soma was confined to mountains. ...

6. Finally, there is the line of the Rig-Veda that I quoted at the beginning of this essay which has priests urinating diluted Soma. The Amanita is an entheogen whose vision-producing properties are known to survive metabolic processing. Ritualistic urine-drinking forms a part of a number of fly-agaric ceremonies that have survived to the present in Siberia and elsewhere. ... (pages 55-57)

I will myself stretch this line of thought to its conclusion. Even among those who are religiously responsible, entheogens appear to have (in the parlance of atomic decay) a half-life; their revelations decline. They are also capricious. Opening the gates of heaven at the start, there comes a time - I can attest to this myself - when they begin to open either into less and less or onto the demonic. It is precisely apposite that the book that introduced the entheogens to the contemporary West, Aldous Huxley's Doors of Perception, was followed quickly by his Heaven and Hell. It seems that if God can manifest himself through anything, it is equally the case that nothing can commandeer him and guarantee his arrival. It is compatible with the notion that the Absolute entered India by way of a mushroom to hold that sometime later it stopped doing so. (page 63)

Chapter 5: The Sacred Unconscious
In 1970, while conducting thirty students around the world for an academic year to study cultures on location, I availed myself of my professional friendship with a distinguished philosopher at the University of Madras, T. M. P. Mahadevan, to ask him to speak to my students. I felt awkward about the invitation for I assigned him an impossible topic, to explain to neophytes in one short morning how Indian philosophy differs from Western philosophy. I needn't have been concerned, for he rose to the occasion effortlessly. Beginning with a sentence that I remember verbatim for the scope it covered, he said, matter-of-factly: "Indian philosophy differs from Western in that Western philosophers philosophize from a single state of consciousness, the waking state, whereas India philosophizes from them all. From that arresting beginning, he went on to explain that India sees waking conscious as one state among four, the other three being the dream state, the state of dreamless sleep, and a final state that is so far from out waking consciousness that it is referred to simply as "the fourth." (pages 69-70)

The fully realized human being is one whose doors of perception have been cleansed - I have myself referred to these doors as windows and envisioned them as successive layers of our unconscious minds. ...

This opening out onto the world's infinity is one good reason for calling this deepest stratum of the mind sacred, for surely holiness has something to do with the whole. ...

Thus far I have defined a realized human being, what the Indians call a jivamukta. It remains to describe one. What would it feel like to be such a person, and how would one appear to others? Basically she lives in the unvarying presence of the numinous. That does not mean that she is excited or 'hyped"; her condition has nothing to do with adrenaline flow or manic states that call for depressive ones to balance the emotional account. It's more like what Kipling had in mind when he said of one of his characters: "He believed that all things were one big miracle, and when a man knows that much he knows something to go upon." The opposite of the sense of the sacred is not empty serenity or sobriety. It is drabness; taken-for-grantedness. lack of interest. The humdrum and prosaic. The deadly sin of acedia. (pages 74-75)

Chapter Six: Contemporary Evidence: Psychiatry and the Work of Stanislav Grof

In 1976 I published a book, Forgotten Truth: The Primordial Tradition, which sketched in broad outlines the worldview, and correlative model of the human self, to which all traditional societies subscribed.

Shortly before completing that book, I came upon the groundbreaking work of a Czech psychiatrist, Dr. Stanislav Grof, who had researched the entheogens more systematically than any other scientist. ...

I found his findings so in keeping with the traditional concept of the self that I had outlined in my book that I added an Appendix to my book to summarize his work. This chapter reprints that Appendix. It relates to the present book as follows: Whereas the preceding chapter proposed a model of the human self that allows room for authentic entheogenic revelations, this one doubles back on that chapter to use entheogens to validate that model itself. (page 79)

If the only thing to say about entheogens were that they seem on occasion to disclose higher planes of consciousness and perhaps the Infinite itself, I would hold my peace. For though such experiences may be veridical in ways, the goal (it cannot be stressed too often) is not religious experiences, but the religious life. And with respect to the latter, chemically occasioned 'theophanies" can abort a quest as readily as they can further it.

It is not, therefore, the isolated mystical experiences that entheogens can occasion that leads me to add this Appendix to Forgotten Truth, but rather evidence of a different order. Long-term, professionally garnered, and carefully weighed, this second kind of evidence deserves to be called (if anything in this murky area merits the attribution) scientific. I report the evidence here because of the ways in which (and extent to which) it seems to corroborate the primordial anthropology that Forgotten Truth presents and my preceding chapter summarizes. In contradistinction to writings on the entheogens that are occupied with experiences the mind can have, my concern here is with evidence they afford as to what the mind is. (page 80)

Of the drug's three potentials, it is the third - its resources for enlarging our understanding of the human mind and the self - that concerns us in this book. The nature of man is so central to our study that even flickers of light from Grof's work would make it interesting. That the light proves to be remarkably clear and steady makes it important.

Let me move at once to the point. The traditional view of human beings presents them as multilayered creatures, and Grof's work points to that same conclusion. ... The novelty of Grof's work lies in the precision with which the levels of the mind that it uncovers correspond with the levels of selfhood that primordial tradition postulates. (page 82)

The paradigm of the self that is sketched in chapter 4 of Forgotten Truth and the preceding chapters in this book show it to have four components: body, mind, soul, and Spirit; in the nomenclature of this book, gross body, subtle body, causal body, and "the Fourth." Working with spatial imagery, we can liken LSD to an MRI scan that sweeps progressively toward the core of the subject's being. (page 91)

Descriptions of this return [the subtle body must die in order to return to its more august causal body] appear regularly in subjects' reports of the transpersonal stage in their treatment. Here are some of its features:

1. Whereas in the Rankian stage "there was a very distinct polarity between very positive and very negative experience," experience is now predominantly beatific, with "melted ecstasy" perhaps its most-reported theme. Subjects "speak about mystical union, the fusion of the subjective with the objective world, identification with the universe, cosmic consciousness, the intuitive insight into the essence of being, the Buddhist's nirvana, the Veda's samadhi, the harmony of worlds and spheres, the approximation to God, etc."

2. Experience is more abstract. At its peak it "is usually contentless and accompanied by visions of blinding light or beautiful colors (heavenly blue, gold, the rainbow spectrum, peacock feathers, etc.)" or is associated with space or sound. When its accoutrements are more concrete they tend to be archetypal, with the archetypes seeming to be limitless in number.

3. The god who is almost invariably encountered is single and so far removed from anthropomorphism as to elicit, often, the pronoun "it." This is in contrast to the gods of the Rankian stage who tend to be multiple, Olympian, and essentially human beings writ large.

4. Beyond the causal body (soul) lies only "the Fourth," (Spirit), an essence so ineffable that when the seeing eye perceives it, virtually all that can be reported is that it is "beyond" and "more than" all that had been encountered theretofore. (pages 92-93)

Chapter Seven: The Good Friday Experiment
Mention has already been made of the Good Friday Experiment, in which - to test the power of entheogens to occasion mystical experiences in a religious setting - Walter Pahnke conducted a study in which theological professors and students were, in 1962, given psilocybin preceding the traditional Good Friday service at Boston University. The project was the research topic for the doctoral degree he received from Harvard University. (page 99)

The experiment was powerful for me, and it left a permanent mark on my experienced worldview. (I say "experienced worldview" to distinguish it from what I think and believe the world is like.) For as long as I can remember I have believed in God, and I have experienced his presence both within the world and when the world was transcendentally eclipsed. But until the Good Friday Experiment, I had had no direct personal encounter with God of the sort that bhakti yogis, Pentecostals, and born-again Christians describe. The Good Friday Experiment changed that, presumably because the service focused on God as incarnate in Christ. (page 101)

... My mother was a music teacher, and she instilled in me an acute sensitivity to harmonic resonances. When that acquisition and my Christian nurturance converged on the Good Friday story under psilocybin, the gestalt transformed a routine musical progression into the most powerful cosmic homecoming I have ever experienced. (page 101)

... I have explained how it enlarged my understanding of God by affording me the only powerful experience I have had of his personal nature. I had known and firmly believed that God is love and that none of love's nuances could be absent from his infinite nature; but that God loves me, and I him, in the concrete way that human beings love individuals, each most wanting from the other what the other most wants to give and with everything that might distract from that holy relationship excluded from view - that relation with God I had never before had. It's the theistic mode that doesn't come naturally to me, but I have to say for it that its carryover topped those of my other entheogenic epiphanies. From somewhere between six weeks and three months (I should judge) I really was a better person - even at this remove, I remain confident of that. I slowed down a bit and was somewhat more considerate. I was able to some extent to prolong the realization that life really is a miracle, every moment of it, and that the only appropriate way to respond to the gift that we have been given is to be mindful of that gift at every moment and to be caring toward everyone we meet. To carry those sentiments with one onto the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology requires empowerment. (page 105)

Chapter Eight: The Case of Cardinal John Henry Newman

Twenty years had elapsed since I had last written about the entheogens, and I might have kept my peace had not the editors of the journal ReVision dedicated one of its 1988 issues to the topic and requested an entry from me. My initial impulse was to decline, thinking that I had said all I had to say on the subject, but then I remembered that I had come upon a significant item in the interval that I had not reported. It relates to a towering nineteenth-century intellect, Cardinal John Henry Newman, and I used my entry for ReVision to tell the story. (page 107)

... One of the participants in the seminar, Hillary Jenkins, had just completed a book on John Henry Newman, Newman's Mediterranean Voyage, and when his knowledge of Newman's life intersected with what I was telling the seminar about the entheogens, some disparate pieces coalesced in a hypothesis that startled us all.

I begin with Jenkins's part of the story. In researching Newman's life, Jenkins learned that in his early twenties he had been severely depressed. He had no idea what to do with his life and was plagued by a crippling anxiety in which he oscillated between fear of failure on the one hand and an ambitious but daunting desire to advance himself on the other. In the hope of relieving his depression, his parents sent him on a Mediterranean vacation, and their plan succeeded in a way no one could have anticipated. In the course of his vacation he had a religious experience that was so profound that not only did it pull him out of his depression, it caused him quickly to become a public figure and made him in time an intellectual giant of his century. His Idea of the University is still regarded as one of the best books on education ever written. "Lead Kindly Light" is one of Christendom's best-loved hymns. And Newman Centers - his tangible memorial - grace every major college and university campus in America.

The interests of this book enter when we learn that the experience that literally turned Newman into a "new man" occurred in the course of a near-fatal bout with a disease now judged to have been typhoid fever, and that Newman himself was aware in retrospect that (in his own words) "at the time that I had a most consoling and overpowering thought of God's electing love and seemed to feel I was His, all my feelings, painful and pleasant, were, I believe, heightened by the delirium." (pages 108-109)

Some will find disturbing the conclusion that the facts here point toward; namely, that the religious experience that produced a giant of the Roman Catholic Church seems to have occurred while Newman was undergoing an entheogenic disease. To some extent I am in their company, and if it turns out that the facts fuel "the hermeneutics of suspicion" more than they serve the cause of truth, I shall regret not having kept them to myself. But in a dramatically incisive way, those facts highlight the basic object of this book, which is to ask if it is possible to honor the noetic deliverances of entheogenic theophanies without contradicting what we know about brain chemistry.

Newman himself faced that question at its incipient stage, and I respect the way he answered it. After acknowledging (as above reported) that his delirium may have heightened his feelings when he sensed that God had him under his care and marked him for leadership, he went on to add, "but they still are from God in the way of Providence." (page 111)

Chapter Nine: Entheogenic Religions: The Eleusinian Mysteries and the Native American Church.

Beginning with the Eleusinian Mysteries, the first part of this chapter reprints the Preface to the revised edition of Wasson, Ruck, and Hofmann's groundbreaking book The Road to Eleusis. I was especially pleased to have been asked to write that Preface, for I am a Platonist at heart, and it seems likely that Plato's basic outlook derived from his Eleusinian initiation.

My involvement with the Native American Church is a longer story. A former student of mine works for the Native American Rights Fund, and when in 1990 the United States Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment does not guarantee a right to use peyote, he asked me if I wanted to become involved. I said that I did, and spent the next two years helping a remarkable Native American Leader, Reuben Snake, compile a book titled One Nation Under God: The Triumph of the Native American Church. (page 113)

... For by direct implication it [The Road to Eleusis] raises contemporary questions which our cultural establishment has thus far deemed too hot to handle.

The first of these is the already-cited question Nietzsche raised: Can humanity survive godlessness, which is to say, the lack of ennobling vision - a convincing, inspiring view of the nature of things and life's place in it?

Second, have modern secularism, scientism, materialism, and consumerism conspired to form a carapace that Transcendence now has difficulty piercing? If the answer to that second question is affirmative, a third one follows hard on its heals.

Is there need, perhaps an urgent need, to devise something like the Eleusinian Mysteries to get us out of Plato's cave and into the light of day?

Finally, can a way be found to legitimize, as the Greeks did, the constructive, life-giving use of entheogenic heaven-and-hell drugs without aggravating our serious drug problem?

The Road to Eleusis does not answer (or even directly address) these important, possibly fateful questions. What it does do is to raise them by clear implication, elegantly and responsibly. (page 115)

[The testimonials that now unfold begin with one by Reuben snake, who co-edited the book from which they are drawn.]

I am a Hochunk or Winnebago, and the Native American Church has been the center of my adult life. Everything we do in our Church is to honor the Creator and find our place in his creation. We try to respect and honor our families and friends; we try to have compassion for our fellow men, for that's what our Creator tells us to do. This attitude comes to us through a sacred herb, one that is sacred because it is in fact, divine. We call it Peyote, but more often, because of what it does for us, we call it our Medicine. It is the most powerful of all the plants, because God endowed it with his love and compassion. He put those qualities into this lowly herb so that when we eat it we can feel that the love of God is - I emphasize the love of God is, not that God has - is physically inside us. From there it overflows in compassion for human beings and all other kinds of creatures. it enables us to treat one another tenderly, and with joy, love, and respect. (page 116)

Our favorite term for Peyote is Medicine. To us it is a portion of the body of Christ, even as the communion bread is believed to be a portion of Christ's body for Christians.

in the bible, Christ spoke of a comforter who was to come. Send by God, the comforter came to the Indians in the form of this holy Medicine. We know whereof we speak. We have tasted of God and our eyes have been opened.

It is utter folly for scientists to attempt to analyze this medicine. Can science analyze God's body? It is part of God's body, God's Holy Spirit envelopes it. It cures us of our temporal ills, as well as ills of a spiritual nature. It takes away the desire for strong drink. I myself have been cured of a loathsome disease too horrible to mention. So have hundreds of others. Hundreds of confirmed drunkards have been rescued from their downward ways. - Albert Hensley, Winnebago (page 117)

Chapter Ten: Something Like a Summing Up

I believe that when "set" and "setting" are rightly aligned, the basic message of the entheogens - that there is another Reality that puts this one in the shade - is true. There is no way that the prevailing view of the human self (which depicts it as an organism in an environment that has evolved purposelessly through naturalistic causes only) can accept that claim, which means that its Procrustean anthropology must go. That it will go, has been the critical (as distinct from constructive) burden of all my writing, for it rests on assumptions that are too arbitrary to escape scrutiny indefinitely.

Endings, though, are not the place for argument, so I will let Robert Frost deliver my parting shot. I do not see how anyone can deny that the traditional, theomorphic view of the human self which the entheogens endorse is nobler than the one that common sense and modern science (misread) have replaced it with. Whether the theomorphic view is true or not cannot be objectively determined, so all I can ask of the opposition is that it not equate noble views with wishful thinking. They can be as demanding of us as are their opposites, as Frost suggests in his poem "A Cabin in the Clearing."

In it he has two wraiths, Mist and Smoke, talking about an old woodcutter and his wife huddled together in a cottage in a small clearing in the forest.
No one - not I - would give them up for lost
Simply because they don't know where they are,

says Mist. To which Smoke replies,
If the day ever comes when they know who
They are, they may know better where they are,
But who they are is too much to believe ... (page 133)

This compilation by Thomas B. Roberts & Paula Jo Hruby

[Error Creating Counter File -- Click for more info]