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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


Hallucinogens: Cross-Cultural Perspectives.

Dobkin de Rios, Marlene. (1990).
Bridport, Dorset: Prism.


ISBN: 1-85327-061-X

Description: paperback, x + 255 pages.

Contents: preface, 14 chapters divided into 3 parts: 1 introduction, 2. ethnographies, 3, Cultural Universals and the Hallucinogens, references, index.

Note: First published in 1984 by the University of New Mexico Press. Ethnographies include the following: Australian Aborigines, Reindeer Herdsmen of Siberia, Plains Indians of North America, Nazca Fisherman of Coastal Peru, New Guinea Highlanders, Mochina of Peru, Ancient Maya, Aztecs of Mexico, Inca of Peru, Fang of Northwestern Equatorial Africa, Urban Amazonian Mestizos of Peru.

Excerpt(s): This book is based on a report that I prepared for the Second National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse, published in 1973 under the title The Non-Western Use of Hallucinogenic Agents. Subsequently, in 1976, it was published by the Sage Publishing Company in abbreviated form as The Wilderness of Mind: Sacred Plants in Cross-Cultural Perspective. (page ix)

It is my firm conviction, based on more than fifteen years of specialized study of hallucinogens and culture, that these substances have played more than a minor role in structuring the lives, beliefs, hopes, and values of large numbers of people. Members of preindustrial societies in many cultures with varying epistemological perspectives have always incorporated mind-altering plants into facets of daily activity. The economic behavior, the social organization, and the belief systems of some societies, for example, have been affected by the use of mind-altering plants. (page 3)

The contribution that anthropology can make to the study of the use of mind-altering plants throughout the world is to show how cultural variables such as belief systems, values, attitudes, and expectations structure one of the most subjective experiences available to humankind. (page 4)

The internal thespian flavor of the hallucinogenic journey can never be sensed by an impartial observer. ... Unlike the urban theatergoer, however, who finds his way to a physical structure called a theater, in which actors give life to a script which another person has created in imitation of real events, the hallucinogenic questor experiences an entirely different genre of drama. In such drug rituals, the imbiber is actor, playwright, stage director, costumer, and make-up artist — even musician ... produced entirely from within the individual’s psyche.

There is, however, in traditional societies, a stage manager for this hallucinogenic drama — the shaman/priest. ... Our early work pointed out that music, with its implicit structure, provides a substitute psychic structure during periods of ego dissolution. According to this hypothesis, music functions not merely to create mood within the drug setting. The shaman-guide creates — just as a stage director might — a corpus of music whose intrinsic structure provides the drug user with a series of paths and banisters to help him direct his visions during the actual experience, instead of becoming disoriented by the change in ego structure, anxiety, fear, and somatic discomfort brought on by the drug. (pages 10-11)

The sacred in traditional society has often been manifested in the powers attributed to stones, trees, rivers, and the sky, which may have been revered because they permitted man a glimpse of the divine. Not only may such aspects of nature be consecrated in traditional societies, but powerful plants that bear messages of supernatural portent, too, easily fall within this realm. ... As Eliade describes sacred time, it is circular and reversible. In this philosophical view, an eternal mythical present exists which is reintegrated into the religious rites of human beings. The properties of time suspension as it is experienced under the influence of plant hallucinogens can be seen to aid in reaffirming the sacred nature of man’s sojourn on earth. (page 194)

Such powerful potentiators as plant hallucinogens lend themselves to religious elaboration. Those individuals using them often make the association of their “force” to cosmic powers. ... The forces or powers of a person’s unconscious may, in other words, be projected outward to the forces of nature to enable the drug-using shaman to believe that his world is an understandable and charted one and that he will not founder on its shoals. Insofar as spirit helpers stereotypically seen in hallucinogenic visions enable man to put on a good face and to go about the business of hunting, staying alive, curing illness, and incapacitating his enemies, then hallucinogenic drugs do seem to have been adaptive for human beings, at least from a psychological perspective. (page 200)

A general overview of the function of ritual in human society, while not exhaustive in scope, can be applied to drug use and can allow us insight into the continuities and changes in man’s use of psychoactive substances throughout human society. Students of cultural aspects of drug use have repeatedly noted the way in which such use in traditional societies is benign when there is ritual associated with its ingestion. (page 207)



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