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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 Mysteries of Religion: An Introduction to Philosophy Through Religion.

Clark, Stephen R. L. (1986).
Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

ISBN:0-631-13419-0 hardcover
0-631-14295-9 paperback
Description: Hardcover, x + 277 pages.

Contents: Series Introduction by Anthony Ellis and Gordon Graham, William Empson 'Homage to the British Museum', preface, acknowledgements, 14 chapters, bibliography, index.

Excerpt(s): We are still aware that blood-thirsty rage can take command of armies and nations, that sex is only denied at fearful cost, that the lucky moment is a joy to which we should give thanks, that 'the god gone mad' had better be conciliated (if US politicians had ever read The Bacchae they might have been spared the agonies of the Prohibition Era, and its destruction of civil community and respect for law). (page 82)

The moment when someone seems to herself to have stepped out of all her usual habits, all the usual categories, may have been prepared by lengthy meditation and prayer, or may come entirely unexpectedly. It is a peculiarity of most religious traditions (as against secular mind-cure techniques) that there is no training scheme which can guarantee the moment of religious ecstasy, no statistical correlation even between the contemplative programme and that particular spiritual state. Even when it was fashionable to pretend that mescaline or LSD could exalt the taker to the spiritual peaks, it was admitted that the moral intention of the taker was crucial, and that the spirits could not be commanded. Maybe some who took drugs became convinced that saints and mystics had the 'same experience', but others emphatically did not. 'Drug-induced experience' was sometimes peculiar enough to create a distinctively religious response, an awakening of the religious imagination. It did not guarantee enlightenment.

The question is, what is it to be the 'same experience'? If religious experience is essentially solitary, a movement of the individual soul incommunicable to anyone who does not already feel that motion, how can we say the one motion is the same as another? Ludwig Wittgenstein's notorious fable of a people who each keep what they call 'a beetle' in a box, but never inspect any 'beetle' but their own, seems relevant: in such a language 'beetle' only means 'anything in the box', and it does not matter what that thing may be. Analogously, 'religious or mystical experience' is whatever experience is associated with certain public signs: abnormal breathing, half-closed eyes, babbling speech, slowed or quickened heart-beat, flattened brain-waves, unnatural cheerfulness, later conviction of having realized some incommunicable secret. The 'sameness' of the experience is either just the sameness of those public signs or else an unverifiable hypothesis about the subjective occasion for those public events. (pages 217-218)

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