Religion and Psychoactive Sacraments:
An Entheogen Chrestomathy
Thomas B. Roberts, Ph.D. and Paula Jo Hruby, Ed.D.
Author Index | Title Index
Gnosis: An Esoteric Tradition of Mystical Visions and Unions.
Merkur, Dan. (1993).
Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
Description: Hardcover, x + 387 pages.
Contents: Preface, 10 chapters divided into 2 parts: 1. Jung, Active Imagination, and the Gnostic-Alchemical Hypothesis, 2. A History of Gnosis, chapter notes, works cited, index.
Notes: Extensive chapter notes and a strong, 39-page bibliography.
Excerpt(s): Because experiences of nothingness require deeper states of trance than unitive experiences do, we may assume that a mystical tradition that seeks to experience nothingness will regularly experience unity en route to the desired depth of trance. A tradition that instead aims at unity may experience nothingness only by accident.
Ecstasy without Trance
This historical debt of the study of mysticism to the practice of Yoga has meant that the occurrence of ecstatic states that are not trances was unimagined until the 1950s and even today remains little acknowledged.
Psychedelic Drug Use
The big breakthrough was, of course, the controversial case of psychedelic experiences. To the essay that introduced "psychedelic therapy," Sherwood, Stolaroff, and Harman appended some comments, described by them as tentative, that remain among the most precise phenomenological observations of psychedelic ecstasies:
There appears to emerge a universal central perception, apparently independent of subjects' previous philosophical or theological inclinations . . . . . . . .
This central perception, apparently of all who penetrate deeply in their explorations, is that behind the apparent multiplicity of things in the world of science and common sense there is a single reality, in speaking of which it seems appropriate to use such words as infinite and eternal. All beings are seen to be united in this Being; in our usual state we are not consciously aware of this and see ourselves and the objects of the world as individual and separate entities . . . . . (pages 26-27)
The phenomena proceed at the level of "immediate perception" — or, more precisely, of apperception. During the extrovertive mystical experiences that Sherwood and others discussed, sense perception of the physical world persisted, as did its realistic understanding. Unity was discovered "behind the apparent multiplicity of things" rather than instead of finite plurality. As we all do unless there is reason to do otherwise, drugtakers take their continued reality-testing for granted. ...
Once the ecstatic moment has passed, drugtakers must decide whether to endorse the contents of their fantasies in a voluntary manner. Some do not. Others do. The reason that some do so is, quite simply, that reality-testing was never inhibited during the ecstasies. The fantasies that the drugtakers experienced were required to conform with reality-testing at the time of their occurrence. (page 28)
... Like creative experiences, psychedelic ecstasies are "reality-oriented." The fantasies are consistent with the perceptible world. And like creative experiences, psychedelic ecstasies are rationally compelling, not in all respects, but in sufficiently many that their dismissal as mere illusions impossible for many drugtakers.
The overwhelming majority of writers competent in the academic study of religion who discussed psychedelic experiences maintained that drug-induced ecstasies are genuinely religious, mystical, and highly desirable. A few commentators who were well versed in one or more mystical traditions emphasized the differences between mysticism and psychedelic experiences. Sectarian prejudices as to the nature of true religion have no place, however, in scientific discussion. Mysticism, as understood by these authors, variously designed one, several, or all varieties of the religious use of trance states. (page 29)
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