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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


A Drug-Taker's Notes

Ward, R. H. (1957).
London: Victor Gollancz.


ISBN: none

Description: Hardcover, 222 pages.

Contents: 8 chapters.

Excerpt(s): ... Those intermittent experiences of altered consciousness which I had had up to the year 1954 had left me eager for more, and forgetful of the fact that short cuts might not be the best way to them, or anything very much better than the kind of self-indulgent escape of which I have been speaking. I had for some time wished to make experiments with narcotics [psychedelics], for I had read descriptions of such experiments in several places and recognized in them the quality common to all experiences of altered consciousness. As far as I understood the matter (which was not in fact very far), drugs offered a way of 'touching the fringes of ecstasy'. It now seems to me that I was both right and wrong in this supposition, just as I was both right and wrong in supposing that I had a right to pursue, as one might pursue any branch of knowledge, my interest in the inconstancy of consciousness. We have in a certain way a right to ecstasy, and the sense of home-coming which is part of it is evidence of this right; but in another way I think we have forgone this right and are required to earn it again before ecstasy can be rightfully ours. (This is perhaps a meaning of the myth of the Fall, and of the necessity thereafter laid upon man to earn his 'bread'; fallen man may no longer walk with God in the Eden of enhanced consciousness unless he first redeems himself by the hard disciplines of what are sometimes rather misleadingly called 'spiritual exercises'.) But since the sense of rightness, or of having the right to them, is so incontrovertibly a part of any experience of enhanced consciousness, it is easy to fall into the error of believing that it is permissible to 'take the Kingdom of Heaven by storm', or, in other words, to use any available means to the end of getting there. As the notes on the experiments will make plain, I came to suspect myself of this error.

When I entered upon the experiments it had not struck me, for instance, that anything might be required of me in the matter of my own psychological attitude at the time of making them, or that this psychological attitude could condition the experiences they brought. Mr. Huxley, in the last paragraphs of his essay, Heaven and Hell, makes it clear, as he failed to do in his earlier essay, The Doors of Perception, that it depends largely upon one's emotional state when one takes the narcotic dose whether one is transported by it to heaven or to hell. Under the influence of drugs the fringes of sheer horror are quite as liable to be touched as those of ecstasy, and I was to discover before very long that we have, alas, a right to hellish experiences as well as to heavenly ones, and earn it with no effort at all merely by being as frailly human as we are. (pages 34-35)

The difference of A's experience from narcotic experience, little though I understood it, seemed to me highly important. His was obviously an essentially religious experience, and struck me as expressing quite another quality than any I could find in my own notes on the lysergic acid experiments. Here, in fact, was something which had been missing there, something which could only be called the knowledge and love of God. The record spoke a language with which I was familiar, in that here too was the sense of 'seeing things for the first time', of 'seeing them differently' and of 'seeing them more', which the drug had induced; and here were the sense of wonder, the intensity of emotion, even certain of the physical sensations. But some of the language in which A's record spoke was unfamiliar, and what was most decidedly unfamiliar was its assertion of the immediate and empirical awareness of the existence of God and of what God's existence meant for A himself; for it evidently meant not only the necessity for worship in the sense of acknowledging, and indeed adoring, a being wholly other than the subject's own thought intimately related to it, but also the ability to pray in a way which we do not usually understand; while it also meant (most unfamiliar of all) the will to abrogate the self for the sake of a higher purpose, or to say, 'Not as I will, but as thou wilt'.

As I studied this record of A's I began to understand a connexion between his essentially religious experience and one of the features of lysergic acid experience: the idea very clearly presented itself that 'the beginning of religion' is not only the sense of wonder, but also the equally classic practice of self-knowledge; so that I began to see why I had felt it so necessary to value those moments under the drug's influence at which I had been visited by insights into my own nature. But the matter now presented itself quite distinctly as one of effort requiring to be made without artificial aids and from our ordinary level of consciousness, though it was equally clear that this effort to know oneself in the sense of the ancient mystery religions had as its purpose the attainment of a state of consciousness other than the ordinary one, a state of specifically religious consciousness, or of deliberate 'communion with God'. This state I knew that lysergic acid did not achieve (at least as far as I was concerned); the difference between the quality of lysergic acid experience and that of my acquaintance made that plain. Indeed I was fairly sure that lysergic acid experience, an aid to self-knowledge though it might incidentally be, in some way precluded the attainment of the kind of altered consciousness of which A's record spoke, and that it precluded it precisely because it involved no personal effort to move up the scale of consciousness. Lysergic acid's glimpses of self-knowledge had been stolen, so to say, and I felt that they were thus inappropriate means to the end which the writer of the following had achieved. (pages 194-195)

The 'God-intoxicated' mystic, in whom profound changes in consciousness occur in the absence of artificial stimuli from without, may indeed find in his religious experiences much which is shared by the lysergic acid-intoxicated drug-taker; but I suggest that those ways in which their experiences differ, even in the initial matter of the accompanying physical sensations, foreshadow the ways in which the two kinds of experience differ as a whole. ... From the beginning, that is, and simply in 'scientific' terms, the differences between God-intoxication and drug-intoxication are plain. In terms of physical sensations, the mystic in the earliest stages of his experience feels himself to be becoming unusually integrated, while the drug-taker feels himself to be disintegrating. In terms of thinking and feeling, the drug-taker is aware that he is 'all over the place' or else in the grip of a hallucination, however intensely he may appreciate its reality, while the mystic is aware that he is 'all of a piece' and what he calls, with at least equal conviction, 'under the hand of God'.

But the chief psychological difference between the two kinds of experience is undoubtedly that religious quality which characterizes A's record but is signally lacking in my LSD notes. This quality I believe to be so cardinal, however impossible it may be to define, that we must say that, in spite of their similarities, the two kinds of experience cannot ultimately be compared . ...

I believe that the difference in quality between the states of God-intoxication and drug-intoxication stems from the initial differences in the 'appropriate stimuli'. ... In the case of the mystic, it is he and no one else who makes use of the self-produced chemical substance to the end of achieving a new state of consciousness; and he does so deliberately, by an effort of his own will. (pages 204-205)



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