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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

Do Psychedelics Have Religious Implications?

Salman, D. H., and Prince, R. H. (editors) (1967).
Montreal: R. M. Bucke Society.

ISBN: none

Description: vii + 81 pages, text on right-hand pages only, the left-hand being blank. Typed original, photocopied? Judging from staple holes and rebound wrapper, the original was published in a report cover of textured, heavy ivory- colored paper.

Contents: preface and acknowledgements, introduction, 9 unnumbered chapters. Proceedings of the Third Annual Conference, October 14-15, 1967, Notre Dame Retreat House, Pierrefonds, Quebec.

Contributors: Arthur J. Deikman, Marlene Dobkin, Walter Houston Clark, Jean Houston, Robert E. L. Masters, Walter N. Pahnke, Raymond Prince, D. H. Salman, Charles Savage.

Excerpt(s): The particular problem we are to study in this conference is the impact of psychedelics upon religious experience. And this has also become a problem of increasing importance, as the use of these drugs grows within the population. It has been consistently reported that a considerable proportion of psychedelic experiences include a content that is considered as somehow religious by the individual involved. Their frequency has been variously estimated as one out of every four, five or ten cases, depending on the population sampled. In any one year, there must therefore be many thousands of people who, by their own testimony, are made aware through intimate and personal experience of some transcendent value or reality, which they consider as being in some way related to religion. And this occurs in a segment of the population that is not particularly noted for its participation in active Church membership, or its involvement in private prayer or corporate worship. This fact is also a challenge to all professionals of religious behaviour or transcendent experience, as of all students of personality structure or attitude change. (D. H. Salman, Introduction, page v.)

In this paper I will argue that it is far more likely that primordial man's earliest contact with the supernatural occurred during more mundane experiences associated with infectious disease, psychosis or exhaustion; the special significance of psychedelic plants is that they permit entry into the spirit realm at will. ... In our world of inoculations and antibiotics we are scarcely aware of the importance and the terror of infectious diseases as they afflict unprotected communities. And in some cultures they have marked religious connotations. Certainly my own work among the Yoruba of Nigeria indicates that much of their spirit lore is supported and elaborated by psychedelic experiences during smallpox and other deliriums. (pages 1-2).

We sometimes forget that bacteria and other micro organisms causing infectious diseases are themselves plant forms or at least the close kin to plants and fungi. Is it possible that just as certain plants and fungi produce psychedelic substances, so deliriums associated with infectious diseases are due to as yet unidentified psychedelic substances produced by bacteria and viruses? (Raymond Prince, Deliriums, Drugs and Divination, page 4)

Legislatures will be interested not only in constitutionality but also with the feasibility of certain laws. It would seem that up to now legislatures as well as the public have been content to be swayed for the most part more by eminent medical men who, if they are experts at all, are experts only in the knowledge of the harm done by the drugs and the shallowness of the motives of most of those frightened persons, who, as the result of encounters with drugs, have come to their attention. They are experts in the same sense that ambulance drivers are experts in the consequences of riding in automobiles.

The true experts are those who have studied large and unselected populations of drug-users systematically and carefully. These people inevitably have stumbled over not only the many cases of religious experience ... but they know also that there are many cases of those who take the drugs for religious reasons, not to speak of the religious results. Certainly one of the problems of the enforcement of laws prohibiting the use of psychedelics is that which these laws share with all laws that attempt to prohibit religiously motivated acts. Many genuinely religious people will not only accept imprisonment in the maintenance of what they consider their rights as already has happened with respect to the psychedelics among both Indians and whites but will even seek martyrdom. To know to what extent religious motivation is present in the psychedelic drug movement, then, would be a datum of social, legislative, and legal importance. (page 24)

Curiosity I do not consider always an unworthy motive, despite the stories of Adam and Eve and Pandora's box. It is one of the sources of our knowledge of good and evil, and in this sense a religious motive. I recently spoke informally about psychedelics to a small group of theological students, then asked them how many of them would like to take LSD if an appropriate legal opportunity presented itself, and why. All raised their hands. One gave his motive frankly as curiosity. Since he was one of the steadiest of the students I considered his motive at least acceptable. This motive doubtless influenced William James when he breathed nitrous oxide, and I must acknowledge that it was one of my motives when I took LSD. But beside this, both of us were teachers, and I suppose James wanted to tell his classes what a religious experience was like from first hand experience as much as I did.

On the other hand, one of the most successful results of ingestion and clearest cases of religious experience of which I know, derived from one of the most mammon-like motives. This case is instructive since it warns us against too much reliance on set as an essential determinative in the quality of the experience. The man was an armed robber, having spent much of his life behind bars, who volunteered to ingest psilocybin, as he told me, simply in order to get some parole credit on his record. After an unexpected vision of Christ he looked out the prison window. All my life came before his eyes, he said, and I said to myself, *What a waste!'. Five years after, prison officials have confirmed my feeling that the man has now been rehabilitated. When he was released, of course he was penniless and tempted to accept a friend's offer of $300 a week to go into the loan business. But I knew what kind of business it would be he told me and I knew that I would lose the inner freedom I acquired at the time of the vision, so that I was able to refuse. Some people volunteer for reasons of self-interest, financial or otherwise. I could not guarantee results as happy as that with my convict friend. Would that I could! But there is always a measure of unpredictability connected with any ingestion, whatever the motive. (Walter Houston Clark, Motivations for Ingesting Psychedelic Drugs: Special Reference to the Religions Dimension, pages 26-27)

Mystical experience achieved through meditation and psychedelic drugs is basically a process I call de- automatization the undoing of autonomic processes of perception and cognition resulting in, temporarily, a capacity for perception and cognition that is less efficient but potentially of wider range.

Under the conditions of de-automatization, several processes may take place: a) reality-transfer the transfer of the feeling of realness from objects to thought and feelings normally devoid of that quality; b) sensory translation the perception of thought activity in our minds via basic amorphous percepts of light, force and motion; and c) perceptual expansion access to stimuli and modes of perception normally in abeyance, or not perceived. ... I mention them to indicate other ways of interpreting mystical phenomena as a preliminary to my taking up the question Do psychedelic drugs have any usefulness for religions? To answer that question, I will discuss four possible religious uses of psychedelic drugs:

1. Psychedelic drugs could be used to establish, increase, or maintain faith in a particular religion. The ethics of such a use depend very much on the validity one ascribes to the experiences obtained under the drugs. Since this validity is certainly questionable, the use of drugs for such a purpose would also be questionable at the present time. (Apart from that, the image of a church administering drugs that drastically alter the state of consciousness in order to promote its own perpetuity is one that makes me quite uneasy and smacks too much of *1984'. Pahnke's experiment, if expanded in scope, would be uncomfortably close to such a picture.)

2. Psychedelic drugs could give people a taste of the mystical so that they would seek more of it through conventional means. ...

3. Obtaining an intuitive knowledge of God. Some religious persons may consider this an end in itself that needs no further justification. Accepting this premise, the question still arises as to what the knowledge of the mystical experience pertains to. It seems to me that we should exercise great caution before accepting the feelings of reality, the knowledge obtained, and the mystical feeling itself, as literal indices of contact with God for the following reasons:

  • the feeling of realness or profundity is not evidence in itself;
  • a feeling of union resulting from the loss of the distinction between self and object is likewise not evidence for it being union with God, since both the feeling of intense realness and the loss of the self-object distinctions occur under distinctly non- sacred conditions ranging from vivid dreams to psychosis;
  • LSD enables us to create a super dream in which wishes and conflicts are given disguised expression in a way that is marvelous and overwhelming, but not to be taken literally;
  • The lovingness reported to follow the ingestion of LSD does not appear well based ... .
4. Improve behavior towards one's fellow men. One would assume that an intuitive knowledge of God would have considerable good effect. However, in this respect, the success story of psychedelic drugs is not very rousing. ...

Finally, it is my impression that personal resynthesis achieved through psychoanalysis, but without a mystical experience, often results in personal behavior closer to religious precepts than the actual behavior of those who have had mystical states. (Arthur J. Deikman, The Overestimation of Mystical Experience, pages 59-61)

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