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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 and Culture.

Furst, Peter T. (1990).
Novato, CA: Chandler & Sharp.

ISBN: 0-88316-517-1

Description: Paperback, sixth printing, originally published in 1976, xiv + 194 pages, Chandler & Sharp Series on Cross-Cultural Themes.

Contents: Illustrations, preface, introduction, 15 chapters, literature cited, index.

Excerpt(s): If one were to look for landmarks in the study of hallucinogens in the nearly forty years since LSD-25 was discovered in a Swiss laboratory in 1938, a good many possibilities come to mind. One would be the discovery in that same year that a cult of divine psychedelic mushrooms had survived among Mexican Indians, and the rediscovery and systematic investigation of that cult in the mid-1050's. Another would be the identification of the seeds of morning glories as the sacred Aztec hallucinogen ololiuhqui in 1941, and the startling finding nearly twenty years later that its active principles are closely related to lysergic acid derivatives. Still another would be R. G. Wasson's definition of Soma as the psychotropic fly-agaric mushroom.

The entire subject of chemical substances in nature and their relationship, actual or potential, to alternate states of consciousness is vast and complex. It extends toward the origin of what Jung called "archetypes," mythmaking and common world-wide themes in oral tradition (especially the strikingly similar content the world over of funerary, heroic, and shamanistic mythology), art and iconography, traditional cultural systems of perceiving and ordering reality that differ drastically from the so-called "scientific" western model, conceptions of Otherworlds, death and afterlife, mysticism, and, indeed, what we call religion itself. And, much as we think we already know, in truth we have made barely a beginning in these cultural areas, just as we are only just coming to grips with the fact that even in our waking hours our minds are constantly flipping back and forth between discrete, or alternate (but nonetheless complementary), inward- and outward-directed states, and that this phenomenon bears directly on the use and effects of psychedelics. (pages 14-15)

It is clearly society, not chemistry, that is the variable, since the same or chemically similar drugs can function so differently in different cultural situations, or be venerated over centuries as sacred, benign, and culturally integrative in some contexts but regarded in others as inherently so evil and dangerous that their very possession constitutes a serious crime. Likewise, it is obviously culture and the attitudes and stereotypes it fosters-not any inherent characteristics or even their measurable medical and social consequences-that make one "social" drug, alcohol, legally and morally acceptable to us, and another, marihuana , not. ... However, I suspect that until a holistic perspective, integrating anthropology, biology, and psychology, has become so fully accepted (by the general public, no less than the drug-research, lawmaking, and law-enforcement establishment) as to be second nature, resort to any but officially approved or commercially touted drugs to alter consciousness will always be perceived as objectionable. Thus, I suspect that the use of drugs not "approved" will remain at the level of an "epidemic," yielding neither to the most repressive laws nor to the most massive spending for "education" and rehabilitation (page 17).

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