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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


Escapism

Tuan, Yi-Fu. (1998).
Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press


ISBN: 0-8018-5926-3

Description: hardcover, xviii + 245 pages

Contents: Preface, 5 chapters, notes, acknowledgments, illustration credits, index.

Excerpts: Escapism, I will argue, is human-and inescapable. There is nothing wrong with escape as such. What makes it suspect is the goal, which can be quite unreal. And what is wrong with the unreal-with wild fantasy? Nothing, I would say, so long as it remains a passing mood, a temporary escape, a brief mental experiment with possibility. However, fantasy that is shut off too long from external reality risks degenerating into a self-deluding hell-a hell that can nevertheless have an insidious appeal. The transposition of this personal hell to others, through naked power or cunning rhetoric, is a great evil. But escape can just as well be in the opposite direction-toward the real and the good (heaven). To skeptical modern men and women, such a happy move-on the face of it, as plausible as the move in the other direction-rings false. "Heaven," for them, is almost another word for delusion and fantasy. If anything is real, it is the harshness and brutality of life, or hell. I wish to counter this fashionable pessimism.

In writing this book, I have two broad aims. One is to provide an unusual and, I believe, fruitful perspective on nature and culture. My other aim is to persuade readers, especially those who have fed too exclusively on the literature of despair, to recognize the good that has already been -though insecurely-achieved, and hence to look upon the idea, if not of heaven on earth, then of an earth periodically visited by heavenly bliss, in a less dismissive, more hopeful, light. (pages xvi-xvii)

"If the Doors of Perception Were Cleansed . . . "


Often we walk through life with a figurative head cold such that the world around us seems a blur, and if we draw what we see, it comes out looking like a small child's picture, with trees that are all the same, their trunks straight, their foliage without individual leaves, and if there are flowers, they are all daisies. Other times-more rare-the world is sharply etched, brilliantly colored, dewily fresh as though a rain shower had just passed by, and solidly present, incorruptible. Thomas Traherne in the seventeenth century must have had some such experience, raised to mystical heights, for he wrote, "The corn was orient and immortal wheat which never should be reaped nor was ever sown. I thought it had stood from everlasting to everlasting. The dust and stones of the street were as precious as gold: the gates were at first the end of the world. The green trees when I saw them first through one of the gates transported and ravished me; their sweetness and unusual beauty made my heart leap, and almost mad with ecstasy, they were such strange and wonderful things."

What must one do to see the world this way? Certain chemicals help. Some American Indians, for example, eat the root of peyote in their sacred rites. The rites themselves heighten awareness, and the active element in peyote, mescaline, heightens it further. In modern secular times, more than ever people depend on chemical stimulants to dispel the "head cold" of daily life, even if it is just the caffeine in the morning cup of coffee. (page 193)

The temptation of "cleansed vision" is to make idols of objects that have suddenly taken on import, or to value the ecstatic experience itself to the exclusion of everything else; if one doesn't worship, one wants to merge. Relatedness, other than this adulation and coupling, is conspicuous by its absence. The bright objects themselves stand alone, each demanding total attention. As Aldous Huxley put it, "I saw the books [their individual being and meaning], but was not at all concerned with their positions in space." Drugs that produce sensations of orgasmic power and visions of mystical intensity do not turn their consumers into better, more enlightened people. One reason why they do not-apart from the chemical damage they inflict on the human system-is this fixation on unique particulars at the expense of their weave and pattern. From this we understand why artworks are superior to drugs in cleansing perception. Though they cannot produce amphetamine's euphoric, they make up for it at an intellectual level by putting objects and events in context. They hint at, if not explicitly state, the relatedness-the larger pattern, perception of which is not only mentally but also sensorially rewarding. As I noted earlier, to Wordsworth a daisy is not just a flower in isolated glory but part of a larger system that includes the sun, a blade of grass, and the dewdrop. (page 195)



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