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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


The Holy Spirit in Five Worlds: The Psychedelic, The Nonverbal, The Articulate, The New Morality, The Administrative.

Oates, Wayne E. (1968).
New York: Association Press.


ISBN: none

Description: Hardcover, 123 pages.

Contents: Preface, 5 chapters, chapter notes.

Excerpt(s): Walter N. Pahnke, M.D., devised a double-blind experiment, administering psilocybin to half the subjects and a semi-placebo to the other half. (The twenty subjects were chosen from graduate student volunteers at a denominational seminary.) An adequate set of religious atmosphere and setting of a chapel was provided for the experiment. ("Set and setting" refer to the physical environment and planned stimuli around the person taking a drug; a chapel, music, poetry are examples.) An immediate post-drug questionnaire, a follow-up questionnaire, and a content analysis of written accounts were administered after the experience. Nine criteria of genuine mystical consciousness drawn from a study of classical mystical writings were used as measuring continua for the kind of experience the person had. (page 17)

In all these experiences, Pahnke found statistically important elevations of the mystical consciousness in the life of the subjects who did receive the psilocybin as over against those who did not. The sense of deeply felt positive moods of joy, blessedness, and peace were expressed as love on a very human level, but not as love of God. The sense of reverence or sacredness was awe in the pure sense of the word without being directed toward God per se. The most persistent positive changes were in the development of a distinct philosophy of life, the knowledge of a new dimension and depth in life, and an increased sense of the preciousness of life. There was more sensitivity and authenticity with other people and a relaxation of phoniness and callousness. The most striking single phenomenon was the conception of a death-birth experience, of having died to an old life and been born to a new, which gave a lasting sense of new significance and meaning to life.

In commenting upon the significance of the consciousness-expanding drugs with his experimental group, Pahnke emphasized that the drug alone was not sufficient. One cannot expect positive experiences automatically. He said that a meaningful religious setting and the framework within which to derive the meaning and integration of the experience was absolutely essential. (pages 18-19)

The Need for the Expansion of Consciousness

In the face of wide publicity and much misuse of psychedelic drugs for the expansion of consciousness and the realization of a mystical experience, the Christian pastor and theologian today is given cause for thought and prompted to ask, "What is it today that narrows the consciousness of people to such a great degree that they would go to such desperate means to 'deepen and widen' their spiritual lives." Only passing attention is given to this in the literature on these drugs. Primary attention is needed. Most of the people who have received these experiences have come from a "non-mystical background" of conventional church life and have moved through the nature and nurture approaches to Christian life and education with little or no widening of their consciousness, traumatic or dramatic self-encounter, or discovery of the inner world. Middle class conformity to religion as the expected thing to do has inoculated them against "being fanatical about religion" or "reporting intimations of immortality" which they experience.

Furthermore, the classical means of inducing deeper religious experience are not part of the Western Protestant tradition. (pages 20-21)

By way of summary, I have said that the expansion of consciousness can take place today without the use of drugs. The "drugless expansion of consciousness" is hindered by the absence or decline of the great rituals of deprivation of food, such as fasting, the lack of discipline in resting, sleeping, and breathing habits that characterizes some of the Oriental religions. Further constriction of the perception of reality is caused by the loss of adequate psychological moratoria from the fretful plunge toward adulthood, especially in preadolescence. Larger attention has been given to the way in which class competition and social "role" finding tend to imprison the spirit of man and prevent the larger perception of reality. These restrictions can be loosened by conscious attention and discipline. They often are broken by circumstance and necessity. Incursions of the larger reality and hope of God happen without managed planning on our part.

These, very sketchily set forth, are a few of the things which constrict the consciousness and call for an opening or an expansion of the consciousness if religious experience in its depths is to come into being. I quite agree with Huston Smith when he says that while "religion cannot be equated with religious experiences, neither can it long survive their absence." (pages 25-26)

The Christian Experience of the Holy Spirit and
the Psychedelic Drug Experience Contrasted


What then are the differences between the Christian's experience of the Holy Spirit and the mystical opening of consciousness through psychedelic drugs?

First, both presuppose a "set and setting" of a community of faith. However, the Christian experience of the Holy Spirit arises from a clearly defined community of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord. The psychedelic experience at its most controlled and responsible level was found experimentally to be characterized by a vague, undifferentiated, and undefined sense of awe. This was not focused upon God, however. The most striking phenomenon was the sense of death and rebirth which issued in a lasting sense of new significance and meaning to life. However, the Christian experience of the Holy Spirit itself becomes specious and untested when separated from the prior encounter with Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection. ...

The "set and setting" (the use of a chapel, religious music, poetry, and the like to create a mood of reverence) of Pahnke's experiment was a kind of community in itself. The theoretical framework of the experience of many of the subjects reflected the heavy influence of Paul Tillich's theology. The subjects were well acquainted, apparently, with the theological categories of Tillich. The "threat" of non-being, meaninglessness, and condemnation were real to them. The search for true being, intense personal meaning, and freedom from condemnation pervaded their experience. The recovery or discovery of these gifts of spiritual reality were some of the fruits of their use of drugs. The context of the biblical understanding of the Holy Spirit both illuminates and corrects this set and setting. But the few cases reported verbatim by the subjects represent a sort of nature mysticism or, to use R. C. Zaehner's words, "an uprush from the collective unconscious." This chides the biblicist with the extent to which the "secular man" is hungry for community and yet ignorant of the classical sources of the Christian faith. As the psychedelic experiences stand, they represent man's search for a community. However, the quest for community is addressed "to whom it may concern" at a "general deliver" window. ...

The second difference between the Christian experience of the Holy Spirit and the mystical experiences induced by psychedelic drugs is one of naturalness versus artificial experience. The Holy Spirit works through the normal processes of the mind C attention, data collection through the senses, remembering, associating, perceiving, dreaming. ...

A third contrast between the Christian experience of the Holy Spirit and the drug-induced mystical experience is the time factor in the spiritual journey, pilgrimage, or "trip" which the two have in common. Christians experiencing the Holy Spirit tend to consider it a lifelong journey or pilgrimage. The drug-induced "trips" tend to telescope all eternity into the very "nowness" of a given moment. Then the experience lives in memory until another "trip" is induced. ...

A fourth contrast between the Christian experience of the Holy Spirit and drug-induced mystical states is an ethical contrast. The drug-induced experiences reveal in bold relief the self-deceptions, the facades, the gamesmanship, and the inauthenticity of the lives of people who are constricted by roles. The psychedelic drugs expand and open the self to the vast potential it has lying unused. But once again the drugs do not define the limitations of human existence, the boundaries of human possibility. They tend to leave the subject with a childlike illusion of omnipotence. These feelings are best described in Kierkegaard's "aesthetic man," who wills all but chooses nothing. The necessities of ethical choice are alien to the aesthetic man. But the spiritual life in the Holy Spirit is experienced as a "long haul" and not a short "trip." The person is presented with ethical choices in the scope of his own personal development as well as the kairoi of history.

The Christian experience of the Holy Spirit, however, defined the nature of our relationship to God: We are creatures of his, his children (Romans 8:16). He is the source of moral expectations: love, joy, peace, good temper, kindness, goodness, fidelity, gentleness, self control (Galatians 5:22). ...

The expansion of the consciousness is a psychological problem. The limit of its expansion is an ethical problem. Both call for a religious encounter of the spirit of man with the Spirit of God.

A fifth contrast between contemporary "God-talk" about the Holy Spirit and the controversy which rages around the use of psychedelic drugs is not unfavorable to the Holy Spirit but to our lack of experimental and empirical testing of our utterances about the Christian experience of the Holy Spirit. We tend to be inarticulate about these experiences, to consider them more intensely personal than our sex lives by far, or, at best, to speak of them in declarative moods that end discussion. As a result our audiences think of the witness to the Holy Spirit as being out of reach of experimental inquiry. The command to test the spirits to see whether they be of God is ignored. (pages 25-34)

The Spirit of God is the Spiritus Creator and the Spiritus Rector C both creating life and keeping it at health. But our fear of each other and our need for the securities of affluent noise close us both to him and to ourselves. We need an experimental laboratory in which the religious genius of man in encounter with the Holy Spirit may be put to the test of observation and record. The chaotic and primeval expansions of the consciousness can be studied under laboratory conditions with socially disabled persons such as the psychotic patient just described. The expansion of the consciousness by psilocybin, mescaline, and LSD can be studied in such double-blind experiments as Pahnke conducted at Harvard.

More subtle and pedestrian, however, is the need for an empirical study of the "opening" of the consciousness through the natural, everyday means which either are not used at all or have become so routine as to be unnoticed or even rejected. (pages 36-37)

The criteria of classical mystical experience ... cannot be removed from the context of commitment to God and fellowship with the Holy Spirit. Disciple of appetite and senses provides the "set and setting" for the expansion of consciousness. The biblical witness concerning the Holy Spirit sets forth the covenant of belief in Jesus Christ and participation in the Holy Spirit. This covenant provides a "set" beyond that of a chapel and "cloud music." (page 38)



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