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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


From Religious Experience to a Religious Attitude.

Godin, A. (Editor). 1965.
Chicago: Loyola University Press.


ISBN: none

Description: Hardcover, viii + 210 pages.

Contents: Introduction, 12 unnumbered chapters divided into 3 parts: 1. Theoretical Perspectives, 2. Technical Works, 3. Psychological Problems in Religious Education, Bibliography of Reviews and Periodicals in Religious Psychology.

Contributors: P. Babin, H. Bissonier, J. Brothers, L. Brown, W. Clark, J.-P. Deconchy, A. Godin, R. Goldman, M. Hallez, J.-J. Lariviere, P. Ranwez, R. Thouless, C. Van Bunnen, A. Vergote.

Excerpt(s): Does a myth still act as a myth when it is recognized and analyzed as such? Is the mystical experience still lived as a mystical when it is reduced to states of consciousness capable of being reproduced, as W.H. Clark suggests, by "the grace" of certain drugs? Yes, perhaps, provided the whole difference can be discerned between something sacred imposed, passively endured, and something sacred actively assumed and recognized, that is to say, the distinction between experience and attitude which serves as title to this book. But we understand the resistance, expressed also in a constant fluctuation between the two views on the psychology of religion, between the two sorts of eagerness which inspire the efforts, expectations, and joys of those who labor at it. (page 3)

The transition from an experience of the sacred initially 'impressed' upon the emotional life, towards a religious attitude seeking to 'express' itself by consecrating some fragment of the world, demands the mediation of symbolism (myths, rites, and sacrifices). Psychologically to observe and evaluate this transition requires careful examination of the ever changing relation between religion as an institution and religion as a personal commitment, between God as seen by the group and God as progressively conceived within the mind and heart. This relation, I am afraid, remains ambiguous and ambivalent as long as it does not encounter God who reveals himself, and is not grounded on the mediating symbols through which he chooses to meet us in a living religious community. (Introduction, A. Godon, page 13)

It would seem that we have additional confirmation of this speculation in the researches with LSD and other psychedelic substances, which seem to uncover hidden reaches of the psyche. With considerable consistency subjects of experiments report that the drugs do not seem so much to produce such experiences as to uncover or release them. People, on recovering from the effects of the drugs are not so apt, as with alcohol, to say, "I was not myself!" as to declare, "I was never so completely myself!" If this is the case, then it is of considerable significance that so often the drugs mediate either genuine mystical experience in many people, or something so very similar that the two cannot be distinguished.

There are bound to be people who will raise the question whether an experience stimulated by a drug properly can be called religious. Here again we run into the problem of definition. Of course any person has the right to define a drug mediated experience as nonreligious. Presumably the grounds would be that such an experience is "artificial," and therefore not of supernatural origin. However, it may be argued that the attempt to mediate religious experience through the use of music, architecture, instruction, fasting, or ritual is just as artificial, if not more so, as the ingestion of products of naturally growing plants created by God. Furthermore never do we see the drugs acting alone producing the alleged religious experience. Other variables include the preparation of the subject, the setting, the follow-up, and the inner personality structure of the subject himself. The drugs are simply an auxiliary which, used carefully within a religious structure, may assist in mediating an experience which, aside from the presence of the drug, cannot be distinguished psychologically from mysticism. Studies have indicated that, when the experience is interpreted transcendentally or religiously, chances are improved for the rehabilitation of hopeless alcoholics and hardened criminals. Even though observations like these mean that the psychologist can learn a little more of the religious life, in no sense does it ultimately become any less of a mystery. Though man may sow and till, winds may blow and the rains fall, nevertheless it is still God that gives the increase. (pages 40-41)

Pahnke, in his study of the effects of psilocybin already mentioned, devised rough scales to measure not only the quality but the intensity of mystical experience. The task was made easier for him largely through the carefulness of Stace's descriptions. There is room for much more precise measuring instruments, but Pahnke has shown, despite criticism that mystical experience, being ineffable, cannot be measured, that the task can be accomplished. Also the fact that Pahnke seems to have demonstrated that the psychedelic substances do in fact release mystical experience points to the possibility of producing mystical experience under near laboratory conditions and this promises to make the production of a scale much easier. A scale in its turn, should be a helpful instrument to psychologists of religion in studying the nature of the mystical consciousness and its consequences. To what extent does mysticism change personality for the better? On the other hand, is it a dangerous experience, as is sometimes claimed? To what extent does it involve elements from the unconscious and at what layers? With what other psychological phenomena is it associated? These are some of the questions that come to mind, the answers to which a scale might facilitate.

Examples of questions that might be used in a scale with respect to a religious experience are:
Did you find your perception of distinctions between objects weakened?
Did you experience a feeling of oneness or unity with God or the Universe?
Did you feel the experience to have been sacred?
Do you feel unable to describe your experience adequately to others?
When you try to explain your experience, do you feel inclined to use contradictory expressions?...
In the meantime the idea that mysticism may be used as a basic concept in defining the religious remains a proposal; it is simply a way of organizing our ideas about the religious consciousness, but it seems to have definite advantages: 1) It is the best differentiated state of mind available that can be defined psychologically as a religious experience; 2) It is not confined to any religious tradition but is a central concept in many, including Catholic Christianity; 3) It involves personality at a deep enough level so that personality changes of a radical nature can be ascribed to it; and 4) There is a good reason to believe that the potentiality for mysticism is innate. For these reasons mysticism is important and deserves to be studied much more widely by psychologist, psychotherapists, religious educators, and religious scholars in general. (Mysticism As A Basic Concept, Walter Houston Clark, pages 41-42)



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