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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

Hallucinogenic Drugs and Their Psychotherapeutic Use.

Crocket, Richard; Sandison, R. A., and Walk, Alexander. (Editors). (1963).
Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.

ISBN: none

Description: Hardcover, ivx + 191 pages.

Contents: Introduction, acknowledgements, list of chairmen and invited participants, 23 papers arranged into six sessions each with a discussion, index.

Contributors: G. W. Arendsen-Hein, Stephen Black, P. B. Bradley, Kenneth Cameron, G. Morris Carstairs, A. Cerletti, Richard Crocket, Brian M. Davies, Jean Delay, H. M. de Groot, Betty Grover Eisner, Michael Fordham, E. H. Gombrich, S. T. Hayward, Francis Huxley, Murray Jackson, Brian J. Key, Frank Lake, Carl Lambert, T. Lemprire, F. Letemendia, H. Leuner, G. B. Leyton, T. M. Ling, T. F. Main, P. McKellar, E. Marley, Joyce Martin, Christopher Mayhew, Raymond Mortimer, Pirre Pichot, H. H. Price, Linford Rees, C. H. van Rhijn, Ismond Rosen, Martin Roth, R. A. Sandison, H. J. Shorvon, J. R. Smythies, Hannah Steinberg, A. M. Spencer, Gordon Rattray Taylor, and A. Walk.

Note: Proceedings of the Quarterly Meeting of the Royal Medico-Psychological Association in London, February 1961.

Excerpt(s): Finally, religious and ethical considerations may lead to uncertainties through arousing emotional and biased attitudes in others, more particularly those whose experience of psycholytic drugs has only been from outside or in the experimental situation. We would do well to clear our minds of any unduly mystical or ritualistic approach to this treatment. To do so at once leads to comparisons with other systems of thought and belief which confuses the proposition that LSD, as used by the psychiatrist, is intended to lay bare the origins of the neurosis and thus, assisted by the natural healing powers of the unconscious thus revealed, cures the patient. If one might conclude by meeting a challenge sometimes offered by theologians, that work and suffering are essential ingredients for salvation, I would suggest that successful psycholytic therapy involves a great deal of work on the part of the patient, sometimes accompanied by suffering. But the will to work is derived from the same source as that of healing, from the unconscious. (R. A. Sandison, Certainty and Uncertainty in the LSD Treatment of Psychoneurosis, page 36)

If we turn to the other side, to the mystical side, here I think we have to ask what is the characteristic of the mystical experience. I was reading the account Wasson gave of how he felt after taking psilocybine in Mexico in 1955, and comparing it with the account Wesley gave of a spontaneous trance or ecstatic state in a mystic in the eighteenth century, and the descriptions are quite astonishingly similar. There is intense preoccupation with the internal experience, the sense of joy, and pleasure, and release. Wasson himself speaks of understanding what the word "ecstasy" means for the first time.

... .But the second thing in mysticism, and this hasn't been much mentioned at the conference, I think, is that it seems to be associated with a loss of individuality, and this is a phrase pretty near the word "depersonalization" which appears in many of the protocols about people who take LSD.

I therefore ask myself, what we mean by loss of individuality. As you know, in the Middle Ages, when mystics expressed this sense of loss of individuality, and merging in the divine, this caused great opposition from the Church, which was very insistent that individuality should be preserved, because if it was not preserved then guilt and original sin, and so on, were very hard to maintain; and St. John of the Cross, I think I am right in saying, spent seven years in jail because he maintained that his personality had been lost, and finally recanted on that point. So are we to regard mystic experience from this aspect as some kind of breaking up of the ego? (page 164)

It is, I think, a sense of inward meaning that makes people interpret these experiences in a religious sense, and therefore one is intensely curious to know whether the experiences produced in these medical situations contain this quasi-religious element.

In one of my books I have attempted to show that this tendency to diffuse the bounds of the ego is associated with mother identification, and that with father identification there is a tendency to strengthen the bounds of the ego unduly, so that people feel particularly separate from one another and from the rest of society; and this sometimes is expressed as a feeling of remoteness from God, and of being lost. This is very marked in many Puritan diaries. I bring this up because here is one of the social implications. If in fact a weakening of ego boundaries makes for a sense of brotherhood, and a strengthening of them makes for a sense of separation, then, clearly, social peace and cooperation may be related to this psychological parameter. So if one can make a wild speculation what might happen if one took hallucinogenic drugs in very small doses over a protracted period, so as slightly to shift the balance in one's brain, a degree of hardening of the ego limits, as it were? As far as I know, the experiments have all consisted in the taking of relatively large doses for relatively small periods. (G. Rattray, The Moral, Religious and Social Significance of Experience Under Hallucinogenic Drugs, page 165)

I took the drug because I am an old school friend of Dr. Humphry Osmond. ... I am sure he is well known to a number of you. He said he was coming over to England and could I recommend him for a BBC Third Program broadcast to describe his research work. I said, "Don't go on sound radio. No one listens to that. Explain about hallucinogens on television and give me this stuff in front of a film camera."

And the BBC quite rightly thought this was a first class idea for a program, and so did Humphry, and he came down to my home in Surrey, and in front of a film camera he gave me, I think it would be 400 mg., of mescaline hydrochloride, sitting in my own armchair at home. Those are the circumstances of the experiment. (page 169)

[The following may be the first association of the word "flashbacks" with psychedelics. Mayhew uses "flashback" in the sense of moving backwards and forwards in time during a drug session, however, not in the later sense of reexperiencing aspects of a psychedelic session later during a non-drug period. TR] In films, as we all know, you get "flashbacks". You see a film of a couple of old gentlemen in a club in 1960, and one of them says, "Well, that reminds me of the old days in the trenches" and you're back in 1914, and there they are in their tin hats and so on in the trenches; and then a little later, when you're used to that time you're flicked forward again into contemporary life, with an equal degree of realism each time. In the same way I think it is the best analogy I can draw I found later events in my drawing room, events in which I myself was participating at a bodily level being interrupted by earlier events, and vice versa. And I say now, even after five and a half years, that this was the most interesting and thought-provoking thing that I have ever experienced in my life. And I say this even today, when the emotion, the vividness, has all worn off and only a kind of intellectual conviction remains. The experience lasted four and a half hours, when the drug began wearing off. (page 170)

The second phenomenon was rather more unexpected and strange. At regular intervals, about twice every five minutes at the peak of the experiment, I would become unaware of my surroundings, and enjoy an existence quite conscious of myself in a state of complete bliss, for a period of time which, for me, did not end at all. It didn't last for minutes, or for hours, but for years, and during this period I would be aware of a pervasive, bright, pure light, like a kind of invisible sun snow. For several days afterwards I remembered the afternoon not as so many hours spent in my drawing room interrupted by these kind of excursions, but as countless years of complete bliss interrupted by short spells in my drawing room. But to the film team, and to Dr. Osmond, the excursions lasted no time at all. In fact, according to the parochial assumption of the scientist, they could not in fact have happened, because there was no time for them to happen in, as the film shows. (page 171)

We can either say that the experience certainly happened, but lasted for only a fraction of a second, and that during this time a powerful hallucination, besides producing an overwhelming emotional impact, deluded me into thinking I was conscious for a very long period, or we can say the experience certainly happened, but take place outside time.

Well, no proof obviously is possible either way, but I simply prefer the last explanation, which is shorter, more economical, and fits my experience at the time. The drawback is, of course, it assumes that the human personality can exist outside time, and we know how much follows logically from that. But, nevertheless, that is the way I prefer to look at it myself. (page 173)

About the religious implications perhaps I can say a word or two during the discussion, because of course it is an enormous subject. In general, I would only say this, that I am delighted to have done it, and I do not believe it had any evil effects. I do not know quite what has happened in this field since. I gather people all over the United States have been taking these drugs in great quantities for experimental purposes. It has been a little disappointing to me that no one has come out with some kind of easy solution to some of these mental illnesses as a result of these last five years of experiment. No doubt the future is hopeful, and that, fundamentally, I would have thought, is the justification for these extraordinary experiments. They will help to conquer mental illness. But in addition they are bound to stimulate one's curiosity into the nature of reality. (Christopher Mayhew, The Moral, Religious and Social Significance of Experience Under Hallucinogenic Drugs, page 174)

One of the most fascinating experiences to be gained under LSD is that during which the subject-object distinction is done away with. It is replaced, not by that state imputed to infants unable to distinguish things in the outside world from themselves, but by a recognition that nothing that exists and is experienced can be properly classified as "an object" since the very act of experiencing it makes it part of yourself and therefore of your subjectivity. Strangely enough, however, this recognition does not necessarily destroy the thing's individuality: It remains itself however much it also becomes a vehicle for the awareness of yourself. The very curious sensation is made even more astonishing when what you experience is another person: you then find that this vehicle for your self-awareness is at the same time using you as a vehicle for his self-awareness. I would not like to talk about the implications of this experience: besides, Dante has done it in the Paradiso. (page 176)

The religious significance of experience under hallucinogenic drugs thus is limited if not connected to a moral and therapeutic action. It is limited, in spite of its illuminating qualities, because it is a solution arrived at without practice, and the subject does not know the method by which he can make it apply to his normal self.

To experience something very intensely, but for no apparent reason, can make one very uneasy, if one feels one is not substantial enough to bear such an excess of sensation or, to paraphrase this, if one does not know how it should be used. Drugs which increase work, or endurance, or life, are taken with little hesitation: it is only drugs which increase energy blindly and without social relevance that are mistrusted. For instance, it is because alcohol has social value and a definite context of action that it is allowable, in spite of its poisonous qualities and often quite unsocial effects.

... Society learns about such new sources of energy only under protest and with difficulty, just as the originators learn how to control their curious energies only the hard way. When these are controlled, of course, they are no longer marginal to the life of society.

Just as Wittgenstein said that his whole aim in practicing philosophy was to be able to stop practicing philosophy, so the eventual aim in using hallucinogenic drugs may well be to make it possible not to have to use them. One can, perhaps, put this another way by trying to answer directly the question we are discussing this evening, on the significance of experience under hallucinogen drugs. The answer, I think, in that there is no moral, social or religious significance in such experience unless moral, social or religious relationships are then experienced. And that, indeed is the problem. (Francis Huxley, The Moral, Religious and Social Significance of Experience Under Hallucinogenic Drugs, page 178)

This is a feeling which very frequently occurs. he experience which has sometime been called presque vu may also occur, a feeling that you are on the edge of grasping something very, very important, and this is prominent also in the psychology of mystical writings. Along with these go three other sorts of feelings. One is a feeling of significance, what is going on is very, very significant. Another is a feeling of self-plus, that is, I can do intelligence tests just as well as when I am in my normal state, and so on. This often proves to be illusory, and these feelings of self-plus, I am more than my usual self, we also have with alcohol, and anoxia, and tests show that these people on the whole are quite incompetent in many of the things that they can do normally. Thirdly, and most interesting, feelings of certainty. These feelings of certainty, which occur commonly with hallucinogenic drugs, are often, I suspect, a little bit free floating. The person is looking for something to be certain about and he seizes on the experiences, visual, hallucinatory, or some other kind, and feels certain about them. I wonder if the feeling of certainty is not sometimes a little bit primary, and the thing to which one attaches the certainty, secondary. This may be characteristic of mystical reactions we find elsewhere. (Peter McKeller, The Moral, Religious and Social Significance of Experience Under Hallucinogenic Drugs, page 179)

Perhaps it may be useful if I say something about the collective unconscious, since the word gets so much misused. It is a term which covers the sum of archetypes. The discussion seems to be about the significance of archetypal experiences. I would like to make a remark about them and the significance of the fact that hallucinogens can produce them. If we assume that one form of archetypal experience is religious and mystical experience, then what does it mean if you start to produce this through biochemical action. Surely it means this: it becomes more and more difficult to imagine the experiences are only transcendent of metaphysical. Now, as you know, Jung has suggested that the importance of research into the psyche is that experiences which were previously thought to be metaphysical become increasingly understood as psychological, and so it would seem that this is the main significance of LSD experience. It participates in the progression, from the metaphysical towards the psychological thus making it increasingly difficult to project into religion for our own personal and individual characteristic. At the same time LSD puts a wide range of experience at our more deliberate disposal. (Michael Fordham, The Moral, Religious and Social Significance of Experience Under Hallucinogenic Drugs, page 179.

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