Religion and Psychoactive Sacraments:
An Entheogen Chrestomathy
Thomas B. Roberts, Ph.D. and Paula Jo Hruby, Ed.D.
Author Index | Title Index
Mauve Gloves & Madmen, & Clutter & Vine, and Other Stories, Sketches, and Essays.
Wolfe, Tom. (1976)
New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Description: Hardcover, viii + 243 pages.
Contents: 12 writings divided into 4 parts: 1. Stories and Sketches, 2. The Spirit of the Age (and what it longs for), 3. Sex and Violence, 4. Manners, Decor, and Decorum.
Excerpt(s): By the early 1970's a quite surprising movement, tagged as the Jesus People, had spread throughout the country. At the outset practically all the Jesus People were young acid heads, i.e., LSD users, who had sworn off drugs (except, occasionally, "in organic form," meaning marijuana and peyote) but still wanted the ecstatic spiritualism of the psychedelic or hippie life. This they found in Fundamen-talist evangelical holy-rolling Christianity of a sort that ten years before would have seemed utterly impossible to revive in America. The Jesus People, such as the Children of God, the Fresno God Squad, the Tony and Susan Alamo Christian Foundation, the Sun Myung Moon sect, lived communally and took an ecstatic or "charismatic" (liter-ally: "God-imbued") approach to Christianity, after the manner of the Oneida, Shaker, and Mormon communes of the nineteenth century-and, for that matter, after the manner of the early Christians themselves, including the Gnostics.
There was considerable irony here. Ever since the late 1950's both the Catholic Church and the leading Protestant denominations had been aware that young people, particu-larly in the cities, were drifting away from the faith. At every church conference and convocation and finance committee meeting the cry went up: We must reach the urban young people. It became an obsession, this business of the "urban young people." The key-one and all de-cided-was to "modernize" and "update" Christianity. So the Catholics gave the nuns outfits that made them look like World War II Wacs. The Protestants set up "beatnik coffee houses" in the church basement for poetry reading and bongo playing. They had the preacher put on a turtleneck sweater and sing "Joe Hill" and "Frankie and Johnny" during the hootenanny at the Sunday vespers. Both the priests and the preachers carried placards in civil rights marches, gay rights marches, women's rights marches. prisoners' rights marches, bondage lovers' rights marches, or any other marches, so long as they might appear hip to the urban young people.
In fact, all these strenuous gestures merely made the churches look like rather awkward and senile groupies of secular movements. The much-sought-after Urban Young People found the Hip Churchman to be an embarrassment, if they noticed him at all. What finally started attracting young people to Christianity was something the churches had absolutely nothing to do with: namely, the psychedelic or hippie movement. The hippies had suddenly made re-ligion look hip. Very few people went into the hippie life with religious intentions, but many came out of it absolutely righteous. The sheer power of the drug LSD is not to be underestimated. It was quite easy for an LSD experience to take the form of a religious vision, particularly if one was among people already so inclined. You would come across someone you had known for years, a pal, only now he was jacked up on LSD and sitting in the middle of the street saying, "I'm in the Pudding at last! I've met the Manager!" Without knowing it, many heads were reliving the religious fervor of their grandparents or great-grandparents -- the Bible-Belting lectern-pounding Amen ten-finger C-major-chord Sister-Martha-at-the-keyboard tent-meeting loblolly pineywoods share-it-brother believers of the nineteenth century. The hippies were religious and yet incontrovert-ibly hip at the same time. (150-151)
The same curious journey-from sexology to theology - has become a feature of swinging in the United States. …
This notion even has a pedigree. Many sects, such as the Left-handed Shakti and the Gnostic onanists, have con-strued the orgasm to be the kairos, the magic moment, the divine ecstasy. There is evidence that the early Mormons and the Oneida movement did likewise. In fact, the notion of some sort of divine ecstasy runs throughout the religious history of the past twenty-five hundred years. As Max Weber and Joachim Wach have illustrated in detail, every major modern religion, as well as countless long-gone minor ones, has originated not with a theology or a set of values or a social goal or even a vague hope of a life hereafter. They have all originated, instead, with a small circle of people who have shared some overwhelming ecstasy or seizure, a ''vision,'' a ''trance,'' an hallucination; in short, an actual neurological event, a dramatic change in metab-olism, something that has seemed to light up the entire central nervous system. The Mohammedan movement (Islam) originated in hallucinations, apparently the result of fasting, meditation, and isolation in the darkness of caves, which can induce sensory deprivation. Some of the same practices were common with many types of Bud-dhists. The early Hindus and Zoroastrians seem to have been animated by an hallucinogenic drug known as soma in India and haoma in Persia. The origins of Christianity are replete with "visions." The early Christians used wine for ecstatic purposes, to the point where the Apostle Paul (whose conversion on the road to Damascus began with a "vision") complained that it was degenerating into sheer drunkenness at the services. These great draughts of wine survive in minute quantities in the ritual of Communion. The Bacchic orders, the Sufi, Voodooists, Shakers, and many others used feasts (the bacchanals), ecstatic dancing ("the whirling dervishes"), and other forms of frenzy to achieve the kairos . . . the moment . . . here and now! . . (160-161)
. . . In every case, the believers took the feeling of ecstasy to be the sensation of the light of God flooding into their souls. They felt like vessels of the Divine, of the All-in-One. Only afterward did they try to interpret the experience in the form of theologies, earthly reforms, moral codes, liturgies.
Nor have these been merely the strange practices of the Orient and the Middle East. Every major religious wave that has developed in America has started out the same way: with a flood of ecstatic experiences. The First Great Awakening, as it is known to historians, came in the 1740's and was led by preachers of the "New Light," such as Jonathan Edwards, Gilbert Tennent, and George White-field. They and their followers were known as "enthusi-asts" and "come-outers," terms of derision that referred to the frenzied, holy-rolling, pentecostal shout tempo of their services and to their visions, trances, shrieks, and agonies, which are preserved in great Rabelaisian detail in the writ-ings of their detractors.
The Second Great Awakening came in the period from 1825 to 1850 and took the form of a still-wilder hoedown camp-meeting revivalism, of ceremonies in which people barked, bayed, fell down in fits and swoons, rolled on the ground, talked in tongues, and even added a touch of orgy. The Second Awakening originated in western New York State, where so many evangelical movements caught fire it became known as "the Burned-over District." Many new sects, such as Oneida and the Shakers, were involved. But so were older ones, such as the evangelical Baptists. The fervor spread throughout the American frontier (and else-where) before the Civil War. The most famous sect of the Second Great Awakening was the Mormon movement, founded by a twenty-five-year-old, Joseph Smith, and a small group of youthful comrades. This bunch was regarded as wilder, crazier, more obscene, more of a threat, than the entire lot of hippie communes of the 1960's put together. Smith was shot to death by a lynch mob in Carthage, Illinois, in 1844, which was why the Mormons, now with Brigham Young at the helm, emigrated to Utah. A sect, incidentally, is a religion with no political power. Once the Mormons settled, built, and ruled Utah, Mormon-ism became a religion soon enough . . . and eventually wound down to the slow, firm beat of respectability
We are now-in the Me Decade-seeing the upward roll (and not yet the crest, by any means) of the third great religious wave in American history, one that historians will very likely term the Third Great Awakening. Like the others it has begun in a flood of ecstasy, achieved through LSD and other psychedelics, orgy, dancing (the New Sufi and the Hare Krishna), meditation, and psychic frenzy (the marathon encounter). This third wave has built up from more diverse and exotic sources than the first two, from therapeutic movements as well as overtly religious movements, from hippies and students of "psi phenomena" and Flying Saucerites as well as from charismatic Christians. But other than that, what will historians say about it?
The historian Perry Miller credited the First Great Awakening with helping to pave the way for the American Revolution through its assault on the colonies' religious establishment and, thereby, on British colonial authority generally. The sociologist Thomas F. O'Dea credited the Second Great Awakening with creating the atmosphere of Christian asceticism (known as "bleak" on the East Coast) that swept through the Midwest and the West during the nineteenth century and helped make it possible to build communities in the face of great hardship. And the Third Great Awakening? Journalists-historians have not yet tackled the subject-have shown a morbid tendency to regard the various movements in this wave as "fascist." The hippie movement was often attacked as "fascist" in the late 1960's. Over the past year a barrage of articles has attacked the est movement and the "Moonies" (followers of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon) along the same lines.
Frankly, this tells us nothing except that journalists bring the same conventional Grim Slide concepts to every subject. … (162-163)
Whatever the Third Great Awakening amounts to, for better or for worse, will have to do with this unprecedented post-World War II American luxury: the luxury enjoyed by so many millions of middling folk, of dwelling upon the self. …
… Where the Third Great Awakening will lead-who can presume to say? One only knows that the great religious waves have a momentum all their own. Neither arguments nor policies nor acts of the legislature have been any match for them in the past. And this one has the mightiest, holiest roll of all, the beat that goes . .Me.. .Me...Me...Me... (pages 164-167)
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