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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

The Encyclopedia of Religion.

Eliade, Mircea. (Editor). (1987).
New York: Collier Macmillan.

ISBN: 0-02-909480-1 (set)

Description: Hardcover, 16 volumes.

Contents: Approximately 3000 entries in 15 volumes, plus an index in Volume 16.

Note: Topics of interest to readers of this guide which appear in the Index-Volume 16 are: Amazonian Cultures, Ayahuasca, Consciousness (states of), Ecstasy, Enlightenment, Ganja, Hemp Drugs, Huichol Religion, Indians of the Plains, Indians of California and the Intermountain Region, Kava, Weston La Barre, League for Spiritual Discovery, Timothy Leary, Marijuana, Mescaline, North American Indians, Mushrooms, Mystery Religions, Mystic Union, Mysticism, Peyote, Psychedelic Drugs, Quechua Religions, Rastafarian Movement, Shamanism, Soma, South American Shamanism, Trance, Transcendence and Immanence, Visions, R. Gordon Wasson, Alan Watts.

Excerpt(s): CONSCIOUSNESS, STATES OF. Each of the major religions and philosophies of the world speaks, often in symbolic terms, about states of consciousness other than those of our ordinary experience. According to these teachings, we have the potential to experience qualitatively different levels of perception, awareness, and orientation toward ourselves, others, and the universe. The first two of these distinct realms of existence-ordinary sleep and ordinary waking consciousness-constitute the "normal" human condition, our customary experience. "Higher" states of being correlate with finer, more subtle levels of reality.

Transformation to higher states of consciousness may result from adherence to the ideas, methods, and prescribed meditations of an authentic religious discipline, whereby consciousness is refined, converted, and realigned from "the coarse to the fine." The higher, or superior, states are characterized by enhanced faculties of attention, thought, feeling, and sensation. A new type of seeing becomes prominent, and perception, awareness, and experience conform more adequately and fully to the various levels of reality and truth in the universe.

In this view, higher states of consciousness are not the same as mood changes or any other phenomena-no matter how unusual or exciting-evoked through normal thought and feeling. According to the great traditions of mysticism and esoteric religions, the honing of rational thought and intense emotions can never, by itself, produce a superior consciousness. These faculties are inherently limited, and without spiritual development they serve only the egoistic aspect of human nature. (Vol. 4, page 52)

Transpersonal Psychologies. In the 1960s, transpersonal psychology emerged as a movement devoted in part to the study of alternative states of consciousness. Though by no means representative of the mainstream of psychological research in the West, transpersonal psychologists are intrigued by the possibility that human beings possess transcendent powers of consciousness. Some speculate about the mind's untapped potentials for awareness and hold a view of the universe as conscious and purposive. They are convinced that we can be motivated by broader and less selfish impulses than physiological needs and egoistic emotions. For these psychologists, our most important motivations spring from a selflessness that revolves around the pondering of ultimate questions-questions about the meaning, purpose, and value of human life. Often influenced by the recent influx of Eastern psychologies and philosophies into the West, transpersonal psychology seeks to reverse what it considers the disproportionate attention given to man's psychological afflictions at the expense of his great potentialities. This movement may be understood as an attempt to reconnect the science of psychology with the perennial metaphysical teachings of the spiritual traditions. (Vol. 4, page 57)

Conclusion. The modern era has witnessed the virtual disappearance of metaphysical ideas about the nature of man and the universe as religious claims to understand the human mind have been eclipsed by the influence of modern psychology. This phenomenon is apparent when one examines the topic "states of consciousness" and sees how unfamiliar and even alien the issues connected to it can appear. Much of the power and allure of modern psychology, and perhaps some of its current fragmentation, is rooted in its encounter with various aspects of the human mind that it has only recently discovered but that have been the focus of many ancient teachings.

Virtually unheard two decades ago, the expression "states of consciousness" has by now entered the vocabulary of many men and women. How this idea will present itself in the years to come; how a subject so intimately wedded to metaphysical and religious concerns will fare in modern culture; and how religion, philosophy, and psychology may meet in their concern over this subject may prove decisively important to all who seek answers to the perennial questions of human life. ( Jacob Needleman and Regina Eisenberg, Consciousness, States of, Vol. 4, page 58)

PSYCHEDELIC DRUGS. A great variety of substances affect the workings of the mind, and the effects they produce are often described as religious experiences. ... These substances range from very simple molecules, such as nitrous oxide, ether, and ether alcohol, to quite complex ones, such as lysergic acid diethylamide, or LSD. The plants that contain psychedelic substances belong to widely separated botanical groups. All we can do is describe their effects and ask whether these effects can be regarded as genuine religious experiences. (Vol. 12, page 46)

[Editor's note: de Ropp seems to confuse "psychedelic" with "psychoactive." The body of this article features the following topics: Legacy of the Aldous Huxley and Mescaline, Sacred Mushrooms, Sacred Plants of the Amazon Region, The Kava Ceremony, Hemp Drugs, The Psychedelic Cult of the 1960s, Psychedelics and Religious Experience, How the Psychedelics Work; Legal, Social and Spiritual Questions.]

Prohibition, however, has not prevented the use of psychedelics any more than it prevented the use of alcohol. The results of prohibitory legislation have been to ensure that those who do obtain these drugs pay outrageous prices, are often sold adulterated materials, and, because of lack of guidance and prevailing paranoia, often have bad trips. As long as alcohol and tobacco can be obtained legally, laws prohibiting the possession of substances such as marijuana and peyote will remain unenforceable.

The question that both legal and social prohibitions fail to confront is why some people want to use, or feel they need to use, psychedelic substances. To ask this question is to be open to the understanding that the problems lie not with drugs but with people. These problems are the result of a growing sense of futility that has afflicted our society. ... To escape from that experience, they may stupefy themselves with alcohol, blunt their sensibilities with barbiturates or heroin, or attempt to get high with the aid of psychedelics.

Those who have experimented with psychedelic drugs and had what they consider to be authentic, religious experiences are likely to fall into two groups. In the first are people who understand that the drugs act by using up certain vital energies of the body and that those energies must be replaced. For this reason, they will use drugs rarely and only under special conditions. They will also seek other, less destructive, ways of getting the same results, such as meditation or yoga postures. Sooner or later members of this group will probably abandon the psychedelics altogether.

In the second group are those who make the drug experience the center of their spiritual lives, failing to realize that using the drug is robbing them of strength and damaging their health. People in this group inevitably find themselves in trouble not because they have broken man-made laws but because they have broken the laws governing their own spiritual development. Inevitably, the psychedelic used becomes less and less effective and larger doses must be taken. Finally, the drug ceases to have any effect. But the drug user's reliance on his drug may have so weakened his will by that time that serious spiritual efforts become virtually impossible. ( Robert S. de Ropp, Psychedelic Drugs, pages 56-57)

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