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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


Literature and Altered States of Consciousness (Topical issue). Part II

Mosaic: A Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature (1986).
Winnipeg, Manitoba: University of Manitoba.


ISBN: 0027-1276 Description: Paperback journal, iv + pages 106-207. Vol. 19, No. 4, Fall 1986.

Contents: Eight articles, notes on contributors.

Contributors: Marcus Bullock, Timothy Leary, D. L. Macdonald, John M. Slatin, Susan C. Schaffer, Jennifer Waelti-Walters, Katherine Wallingford.

Excerpt(s): ... Mexico's pioneering and most eloquent chronicler of the drug experience is, without question, Jose Agustin. Even as a middle-class teenager growing up in Mexico City, Agustin rejected the conventional in favor of the subversive. He was so captivated by the newness and spontaneity of American and English rock music, for example, that he learned English by memorizing the lyrics to these songs. In his autobiography, Agustin also confesses to having spent so much time in Mexico City Beat cafes reciting Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg poems that friends nicknamed him "the Existentialist." (page 134)

This process of tearing away at tradition created a void in Agustin's personal and artistic life which he tried to fill with drugs: "In particular, psychedelic drugs interested me. To a large degree, during 1969 and 1970 I didn't stop taking drugs. I took all the psychedelic drugs, acid, mushrooms, psylocybin, mescaline, shepherd's leaves, angel dust: any that I could get my hands on. I did this, according to my thinking, to get to know myself . ... I had very decisive experiences in my life that infused me with the impression that I had no idea of who I was, that all the ideas I had about myself were false." The extent to which Agustin was thus mesmerized by the pro-drug propaganda of the times is further evidenced in his early attempts to write about the drug experience. ... Following Huxley, who advocated the need to attain "Isness," and Kerouac, who searched for the ecstatic "IT," Agustin investigates the possibility of achieving unity with the universe. The potential link between intoxication and the mystical experience is a concern in almost all major works of drug literature, but in this early piece, Agustin rejects those who purport to be integrated with God by means of hallucinogens: "the psychedelic thing was to get to know yourself, not to turn into a hypocritical fanatic" (p. 97). Only in later drug-related works did he explore more deeply the relationship among chemical intoxicants, natural intoxicants and mystical, if not religious, experiences. (page 135)

During hallucinatory sequences, in particular, time and space are further distorted. For example, Agustin recounts the same event more than once without informing the reader that he is recording a drug-induced vision. Case in point, Rafael "sees" the Virgin Mary walking toward him through the waves and we, as readers, witness along with Rafael her repeated emergence from the ocean. Since we have not been forewarned of the nature of this vision, we question how careful our reading of the text has been: have we indeed read the identical passage just a few pages before? In a second hallucinatory sequence, the same setting is described numerous times, but always in conflicting manners. As they row in a dinghy through the lagoon, Rafael and his companions are filled with terror when the once seemingly paradisiacal waters metamorphose into a steamy lake populated with hideous monsters. Alarmed, Gladys cries: "This was paradise, how did it become transformed into this hell?" ... (pages 138-139)

According to documented reports from drug users, the single most consistent aspect of the chemically-induced experience (and one that bears witness to its "mind-expanding" nature) is the preponderance of luminous visions. As DeQuincy explained, light symbolizes the user's enhanced ability to "see" and understand: "The opium-eater . . . feels that the diviner part of his nature is paramount that is, the moral affections are in a state of cloudless serenity, and high over all, the great light of the majestic intellect." Note how the Englishman describes the phenomenon of luminosity almost as if it were a mystical, God-given gift. This desire to become one with a divine force is expressed in almost all drug-inspired literature, including Se esta haciendo tarde. As Rafael falls deeper and deeper into a hallucinatory state, he implores: "God give me your light illuminate me"

As noted earlier, this does not imply that Agustin equates the so-called revelation in which the "trip" sometimes culminates with religious ecstasy. On the contrary, he seems to be increasingly convinced that this is one of the dangerous delusions that drug use may generate. In Se esta haciendo tarde, Agustin takes care to present the dark side of this question as well as the light. And in subsequent texts, those penned either during or after his struggle to overcome psychological addiction, he clearly begins to search for luminosity through natural, drug-free means. (Susan C. Schaffer, The Drug Experience in Jose Agustin's Fiction, pages 135-142)

I, for one, first heard of Hermann Hesse from Aldous Huxley. In the fall of 1960, Huxley was Carneige Visiting Professor at M.I.T. His assignment: to give a series of seven lectures on the subject "What a Piece of Work is Man." About 2,000 people attended each lecture. Aldous spent most of his off-duty hours hanging around the Harvard Psychedelic Drug project coaching us beginners in the history of mysticism and the ceremonial care-and-handling of what he called "gratuitous grace."

Huxley was reading Hesse that Fall and talked a lot about Hermann's theory of the three stages of human development:

  1. the tribal sense of blissful unity.
  2. the horrid polarities of the feudal-industrial societies, good-evil, male-female, Christian-Moslem, etc.
  3. the revelatory re-discovery of the Oneness of It All.
No question about it, Hegel's three thumbprints (thesis-antithesis-synthesis) were smudged all over the construct, but Hermann & Al didn't seem to worry about it, so why should we untutored Harvard psychologists?

We all dutifully set to work reading Hesse.

Huxley claimed that his own spiritual-intellectual development in England followed the developmental life-line of Hesse in Germany. He delighted in weaving together themes from his life which paralleled Hesse's. ...

In the late '30s Huxley, having worked out his vein of irony, followed Hesse into the Third Stage of Transcendence. This, naturally enough, involved a migration to Southern California where Aldous joined the legendary Golden Age of Far-Western Philosophy personified by Thomas Mann, Christopher Isherwood, Alan Watts, Swami Yogananda, Gerald Heard, et al. There, amid the palm trees, Aldous devoted the rest of his life to transcendental philosophy and mysticism, both theoretical and experimental.

PARODIES OF PARADISES

His last book, Island, presents an atypical, tropical utopia in which meditation, gestalt therapy and psychedelic ceremonies create a society of Buddhist serenity.

I spent the afternoon of Nov. 20, 1963 at Huxley's bedside, listening carefully as he spoke in a soft voice about many things.

He created a literary fugue as he talked about the three books he called "Parodies of Paradise": his own Island, Orwell's 1984 and Hesse's Bead Game. Aldous told me with a gentle chuckle that the beloved dictator of Orwell's nightmare society was based on Winston Churchill. "Remember Big Brother's spell-binding rhetoric about the blood, sweat and tears needed from everyone to defeat Eurasia? The hate-sessions? Priceless satire." As soon as he said this, I "got it." Sure, and the hero's name is Winston Smith.

Aldous was, at that moment in time, fascinated by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, which I had just translated from Victorian English into American. (This manuscript which was later published as The Psychedelic Experience was used by Laura Huxley to guide Huxley's passing. The book proceeded to have a publishing life of its own, running through thirty printings in several languages.)

Huxley spoke wryly of the dismal endings of Island and The Glass Bead Game and Orwell's classic. His own idealistic island society was crushed by industrial powers seeking oil. Hesse's utopian Castalia was doomed because it was out of touch with human realities. Then the crushing of love in 1984. Unhappy endings. I timidly asked him if he was passing on a warning or an exhortation to me. He smiled and nodded. I told him that we'd write a happy sequel "for him and George and Hermann."

Two days later Aldous Huxley died. His passing went almost unnoticed (as did that of C. S. Lewis) because John F. Kennedy also died on November 22, 1963. It was a bad day for utopians and futurists all over. (pages 196-198)

In the last chapters of [Hesse's] The Glass Bead Game the hero, Joseph Knecht, has risen to the highest post in the Castalian order. He is Magister Ludi, Master of the Glass Bead Game. ...

A Castalian is the perfect "organizational man," a monk of the new religion of Artificial Intelligence. Knecht is also concerned about the obedience, the loss of individual choice.

Hesse seems to be sending several signals which may be relevant to the situation in 1986.

First, he suggests that human beings tend to center their religions on the thought-processing device their culture uses. The word of God has to come through the normal channels or it won't be understood. The Stone Age Tablet of Moses. The Metal Age Tablets of Joseph Smith. The Good Book of Jerry Falwell, actually a mass-produced industrial product.

Second, control of the thought-processing machinery means control of society. ...

Third, Hesse suggests that the emergence of new Intelligence Machines will create a new religion. ...

And, most important, Hesse indicates the appropriate response of the individual who cannot accept the obedience and self-renunciation demanded by the Artificial Intelligence Priesthood.

TO ACT AS MY HEART AND REASON COMMAND

After some hundred pages of weighty introspection and confessional conversation, Joseph Knecht resigns his post as the High Priest of Artificial Intelligence and heads for a new life as an individual in the "real world".

He explains his "awakening" in a letter to the Order. After thirty years of major league thought-processing, Knecht has come to the conclusion that organizations maintain themselves by rewarding obedience with privilege! With the blinding force of a mystical experience Knecht suddenly sees that the Castalia A. I. community "had been infected by the characteristic disease of elitehood hubris, conceit, class arrogance, self-righteousness, exploitiveness. ...

And, irony of all irony, the members of such a thought-processing bureaucracy "often suffers from a severe lack of insight into his place in the structure of the nation, his place in the world and world history." ...

... Hesse, the master of parody, leads his timid readers with such slow, formal tempo to the final confrontation between Alexander, the President of the Order, and the dissident Game Master.

In his most courteous manner Knecht explains to Alexander that he will not accept obediently the "decision from above."

The President gasps in disbelief. And we can imagine most of the thought-processing elite of Europe, the professors, the intellectuals, the linguists, the literary critics, the editors of magazines less daring that this one, joining Alexander when he sputters, "not prepared to accept obediently . . . an unalterable decision from above have I heard you aright, Magister?"!

Later Alexander asks in a low voice, "and how do you act now?"

"As my heart and reason command," replies Joseph Knecht. (Timothy Leary, Artificial Intelligence: Hesse's Prophetic Glass Bead Game, pages 205-207)



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