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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


Ecstasy in Secular and Religious Experiences.

Laski, Marghanita. (1990).
Los Angeles: J. P. Tarcher.


ISBN: 0-87477-574-4

Description: Paperback, xv + 544 pages. Originally published in London by Cresset Press in 1961.

Contents: A note on references and texts, introduction, 38 chapters in 4 parts, Appendix A: The Questionnaire Texts; Appendix B: Content Analysis; Appendix C: Examples of Analyses; Appendix D: The Simplified Analyses; Appendix E: Appendix F: Group C; Appendix G: Details of Art Triggers Named; Appendix H: Examination of a Poem; Appendix J: Some further Investigations, index.

Note: Appendix A contains excerpts of several hundred words each from 27 literary sources and 22 religious sources which describe ecstatic experiences ... a rich resource for researchers in these fields.

Excerpt(s): It is again needful to point out a significant difference between the experiences induced by alcohol and those induced by conventional triggers, that the revelations of alcohol-experiences are seldom held for gospel in subsequent sobriety while those of conventionally induced ecstasy tend to hold their value afterwords.

Of all the drugs I have read about, those that seem most often capable of inducing states with most resemblances to intensity ecstasy are some of the anaesthetics and particularly nitrous oxide. ... This experience fulfills many of my criteria for ecstasy: feelings of joy, of new knowledge, of light and, by implication, a rare if not unique experience. (pages 260-261)

There have lately become available to the layman several descriptions of mescalin-induced experiences, and on the evidence of seven of these I shall try to establish what appear to be fairly constant differences between mescalin experiences and ecstatic ones. ... Ecstatics are almost unanimous about the high value of their experiences. Mescalin-takers are not. ... Compared with ecstatics' virtual unanimity about the high value of their experiences, the divergency of these views is striking, and would seem generally to have some relation to previous expectations. (pages 263-264)

So far as duration and feelings of duration are concerned, ecstasies and mescalin experiences have almost nothing in common.

Ecstatic experiences are typically momentary and ecstasies often stress the extreme brevity of these experiences. Very occasionally an ecstasy is said to last longer—up to, say, half an hour or so. But however long an ecstasy may be said to last, we never find that a succession of often widely different events and moods is felt to take place. Ecstasies may involve a single change of feeling from dread to delight, never the reverse; they may begin with feelings of withdrawal which change to feelings of intensity; most often only a single if progressively deepening tone of feeling is involved. For the duration of the ecstasy the ecstatic is out of touch with normal life and is capable neither of communication with other people nor of undertaking normal actions.

The taking of mescalin induces a condition that usually lasts for several hours. During this time the subject is capable, despite his altered consciousness, of more or less normal behavior. He can eat and drink, walk about, communicate with other people. And, in all my examples, he is shown to have successive states of feeling varying very considerably in mood and content. (pages 264-265)

The mescalin takers' feelings about time differ considerably from the feelings of ecstasies. Mr. Huxley remarks of time at one point, 'There seemed to be plenty of it', and speaks of his 'indifference to time'. This casual attitude seems far removed from the ecstatics' 'loss of a sense of time' or gain a feeling of timelessness of eternity. (page 265)

Differences in response to triggers are, I think, among the most interesting and probably most significant differences between ecstatics and mescalin-takers.

Ecstasy almost always takes place after contact with something regarded as beautiful or valuable or both. It seems to be a characteristic of mescalin that the kind of things that can act as triggers to ecstasy lose their normal power to be found moving in any degree, while objects not of this kind take on the significance and evoke the appreciation normally accorded to triggers. ... Apparently for mescalin-takers their normal responses to triggers are, so to speak, reversed ... (pages 267-268)

In addition to these aesthetic responses there are some notable differences between what ecstatics and mescalin-takers claim to see during or after their experiences.

A close similarity between the visual impressions of mystics and of mescalin-takers is often claimed (for instance, by James). I do not believe that in relation to ecstacies at least there is any significant similarity.

Ecstatics often claim to see bright light, whether as a flash or as sustained brightness, during their experience; and they often claim that afterwards everything seems brighter, as if they were looking at the world with a newly cleansed vision.

Three of the mescalin-takers spoke of seeing light during their experiences. (page 268)

In the transformed world that ecstatics sometimes believe they see after their experiences, they may speak of colours being brighter, though not to the degree of intensity claimed by mescalin-takers; more, they see all, not specific things as brighter in colour. Ecstatics do not claim this changed during the experiences; they cannot, because one of their claims is that perception of the outside world is momentarily suspended. Ecstatics do not speak of the prismatic effects described by mescalin-takers or of movement-hallucinations. They never, so far as I know claim to see coloured lights. (page 269)

Another profound difference between ecstatics and mescalin-takers is in their attitudes to pleasure. Ecstatics rejoice and feel delight at perfection. Mescalin-takers enjoy and often burst out laughing at what is awry. ... Ecstatic experiences bring perception of perfection, not hitherto unnoticed incongruity. Ecstatics find delight in proportion and harmony, not humour in what is awry. Nothing humorous is ever a trigger to ecstasy. In ecstasy there is no fun whatsoever. (page 269-270)

One of the most characteristic ecstatic claims is a feeling of upness. In all seven mescalin examples, the only up-expression is Rosalind Heywood's belief that she saw clear light on top of a mountain. ... Some mescalin-takers speak of physical symptoms unknown in accounts of ecstasies. Both Mr. Mortimer and Mr. Mayhew suffered from recurrent attacks of nausea. ... Some mescalin-takers speak of feelings of fears of a kind that are not paralleled in descriptions of ecstacies. There are some varieties of ecstatic experience in which ecstasy follows and seems to be enhanced by earlier feelings of fear or awe. The fears expressed by mescalin-takers seem very different. ... Rosalind Heywood passed through a period of terror and found the whole experience had become unendurable when she was rescued by a celestial figure. These panics may be characteristic of some kinds of religious experiences; they certainly do not occur in ecstatic ones. (pages 270-271).

I conclude, then, that though mescalin may occasionally give momentary ecstatic feelings, as it may have done to Mr. Mayhew, it does not typically do so and that mescalin experiences do not feel like ecstatic experiences. This is not affected by the fact that some people may believe that what they have experienced under mescalin is religious experience; but I should have thought that for anyone seeking the Beatific Vision (which was, before Mr. Huxley, granted only to Moses and St. Paul) there were surer and pleasanter ways of attaining it than by taking mescalin. (pages 271-271)



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