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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

High Culture: Marijuana in the Lives of Americans.

Novak, William. (1980).
New York: Knopf.

ISBN: 0-394-50395-3 hardcover

0-394-73828-4 paperback

Description: First edition, xxvi + 289 pages.

Contents: Acknowledgments, introduction, 14 chapters, Appendix I: Letters from Smokers (and Nonsmokers), Appendix II: Studies on the Effects of Marijuana in Users, chapter notes, annotated bibliography, selected bibliography.

Excerpt(s): The Soul \ Does Marijuana affect the values of the people who smoke it? For some users, at least, the answer is yes, although this group appears to be in the minority. It appears that these changed values go in two different directions, forming an interesting contradiction. On the one hand, many smokers have found marijuana the perfect companion to a greater pursuit of pleasure, sensuality, and physical comfort. At the same time, an equally large group, which includes some people from the first group, sees marijuana as the appropriate vehicle for an exploration of spirituality. (page 150)

At the other end of the spectrum is a religious mystic, a teacher of theology whose religious growth and awareness have come from traditional teaching, texts, and institutions. He has found marijuana and LSD to be enormously useful in leading him to deeper religious experience, and he takes strong issue with the automatic skepticism on the part of institutional religion toward drug-inspired religious awakening:

From the modern mystic's point of view, the most problematic of all are the words associated with religion. "God," "Holy," "Love" -and all the rest. The words have become prisoners of synagogues synagogue and churches where their overpowering reality is unknown. So long have they been read responsively that they evoke no response. Even the more sophisticated words now used in their stead suffer from guilt by association; "Numinous" and "Sacred" are too respectable-they turn no one on.

When coming to speak of the deeply religious quality of the experience many of us have had through the use of psychedelic drugs, I balk before the conventional religious language. Members of the religious establishment have been too quick to say that any experience brought on by a drug is necessarily cheap. I rather tend to fear the opposite: to speak of psychedelic/mystical experience in terms familiar to religion might indeed cheapen that experience. (pages 152-153)

A graduate student at a Christian seminary describes the marijuana high as similar to his notion of grace. "Marijuana can provide a coloring," he explains, "illuminating and separating out the specialness of ordinary experience, making visible some of the things we normally take for granted." Some fundamentalist Christians who use marijuana wrote to say that its use is sanctioned by various Biblical verses in Genesis and elsewhere, which describe how God "Brought forth grass and herb yielding seed after its kind." (page 154)

A member of a Jewish religious community finds a correlation between religious observance and marijuana:

It's difficult to talk about marijuana and religion because I have a hard time separating them out. Authentic religion, when you sweep away all the extraneous stuff of politics and institutions, is about transcendence, heightened awareness, ecstasy, and goodness. Religion and marijuana both involve going beyond the rational, material, and normative concerns of existence. Religion is the original altered state of consciousness.

In the community I belong to, we celebrate Shabbat, the Jewish sabbath, in a fairly traditional way. ...

When I started smoking marijuana, it all felt somehow familiar, and I soon realized that the discipline of Shabbat was a good preparation for learning to use marijuana. I was able to learn from one altered states of consciousnessstate of consciousness how to appreciate another one, which turned out to be strikingly similar.

A man who calls himself a "new age therapist" made a similar connection, but in reverse. After smoking marijuana for about a year, he went to a synagogue service for the first time in twenty years:

In was Yom Kippur. I'm sitting there, watching all these people in prayer, and I begin to notice, for the first time in my life, Hey, they're getting high. That's what this is all about; you get high! It never occurred to me before that religion might have anything to do with getting high. As soon as I began to think about this, I was amazed. At sundown, when the service finally ended, I saw the rabbi; he was standing there, and his face was shining. Energy was pouring down from his face, and I looked at him and started crying. I hadn't been open to that kind of thing before. (page 156)

Ott, Jonathan. (1976). Hallucinogenic Plants of North America. Berkeley, CA: Wingbow Press.

ISBN: 0-914728-16-4 hardcover

0-914728-15-6 paperback

Description: Psycho-Mycological Studies Number One, first edition, xx +162 pages.

Contents: Introduction by Richard Evans Schultes, preface, foreword, 3 parts, I. Hallucinogenic Plants of North America, II. The History of Hallucinogen Use, 3, The Biochemistry of Emotions, 3 appendices: A. Chemistry of Hallucinogens and Neurotransmitters, B. Words, C. Field and Extraction Techniques for the Amateur, afterword, acknowledgments, suggested reading, bibliography, index.

Excerpt(s): Thus the shaman , who once specialized in altered states of consciousness, evolved into a priest, who preached a doctrine derived from these altered states, but who did not use the plants, who did not, in fact, have direct experience of the "otherworld." The populace, therefore, was expected to accept the priest's doctrines without proof-the beginning of "faith." In other words, upon visiting a shaman, a man could have had direct experience of altered states of consciousness, of the "otherworld," either by watching the shaman, under the influence of hallucinogenic plants, journey to the "otherworld" and return with information from the "spirits," or by himself partaking of the shaman's "medicine," his hallucinogenic plants, and accompanying the shaman to the "otherworld." When the shaman came to be replaced by a priest, however, the subject was expected to have faith, to be a "true believer," and to accept the priest's symbolic intercession with the "gods" on faith, without proof. Of course, some people were more skeptical than others-those who would not accept this "second-hand" religion were cast out and persecuted, and the idea of "heresy" was born. At this point, religion as a human institution began to have difficulties. (page 86)

Curiously, we have come full circle. Although the great Western religions had effectively eliminated the use of hallucinogenic drugs, by making these drugs "tabu" and persecuting users, and although this prohibition of these substances has been enforced for centuries, the advent of the modern chemical age has radically changed this situation. Drugs and drug use have seemingly become the dominant "religion," and the modern preoccupation with pharmacological agents has led to a resurgence in interest of old "tabu" substances. Accordingly, these substances have been singled out by modern "priests," identified as harmful, and users of these substances have been attacked as viciously and relentlessly as were the European "witches". ...

Today, then, in place of religious dogma and ritual, we have "current medical opinion" and "therapy." In the place of "witches" and "heretics," we have "addicts," "pushers," and "drug abusers." The modern religion is one of health, and its sacraments are "therapeutic agents." The drugs which are not accepted by medical "priests" are identified as "dangerous," "addicting," and "toxic." (page 99)

Compilation copyright © 1995 – 2001 CSP

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