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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 Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas that Have Shaped Our World View.

Tarnas, Richard. (1991).
New York: Harmony Books.

ISBN: 0-517-57790-9

Description: Hardcover, xiv + 543 pages.

Contents: 7 parts, chronology, notes, acknowledgments, index.

Excerpt(s): This book presents a concise narrative history of the Western world view from the ancient Greek to the postmodern. My aim has been to provide, within the limits of a single volume, a coherent account of the evolution of the Western mind and its changing conception of reality. Recent advances on several fronts in philosophy, depth psychology, religious studies, and history of science have shed new light on this remarkable evolution. (page xi)

But the most epistemologically significant development in the recent history of depth psychology, and indeed the most important advance in the field as a whole since Freud and Jung themselves, has been the work of Stanislav Grof, which over the past three decades has not only revolutionized psychodynamic theory but has also brought forth major implications for many other fields, including philosophy. ...

The basis of Grof's discoveries was his observation of several thousand psychoanalytic sessions, first in Prague and then in Maryland with the National Institute of Mental Health, in which subjects used extremely potent psychoactive substances, particularly LSD, and then later a variety of powerful nondrug therapeutic methods, which served as catalysts of unconscious processes. Grof found that subjects involved in these sessions tended to undergo progressively deeper explorations of the unconscious, in the course of which there consistently emerged a pivotal sequence of experiences of great complexity and intensity. (pages 425-426)

... Yet after integrating this long experiential sequence, subjects regularly reported experiencing a dramatic expansion of horizons, a radical change of perspective as to the nature of reality, a sense of sudden awakening, a feeling of being fundamentally reconnected to the universe, all accompanied by a profound sense of psychological healing and spiritual liberation. Later in these sessions and in subsequent ones, subjects reported having access to memories of prenatal intrauterine existence, which typically emerged in association with archetypal experiences of paradise, mystical union with nature or with the divine or with the Great Mother Goddess, dissolution of the ego in ecstatic unity with the universe, absorption into the transcendent One, and other forms of mystical unitive experience. ...

In terms of psychotherapy, Grof found that the deepest source of psychological symptoms and distress reached back far past childhood traumas and biographical events to the experience of birth itself, intimately interwoven with the encounter with death. ... Yet these experiences were also profoundly archetypal in character. (page 427)

... And third, this archetypal dialectic was experienced or registered in several dimensions physical, psychological, intellectual, spiritual often more than one of these at a time, and sometimes all simultaneously in complex combination. As Grof has emphasized, the clinical evidence suggests not that this perinatal sequence should be seen as simply reducible to the birth trauma; rather, it appears that the biological process of birth is itself an expression of a larger underlying archetypal process that can manifest in many dimensions. (page 429)

On the religious level, this experiential sequence took a wide variety of forms, but especially frequent was the Judaeo-Christian symbolic movement from the primordial Garden through the Fall, the exile into separation from divinity, into the world of suffering and mortality, followed by the redemptive crucifixion and resurrection, bringing the reunion of the divine and the human. On an individual level, the experience of this perinatal sequence closely resembled indeed, it appeared to be essentially identical to the death-rebirth initiation of the ancient mystery religions. (page 430)

... And more radically, with Paul Feyerabend's dictum that "anything goes" in the battle of paradigms: If anything goes, then why ultimately does one thing go rather than another? Why is any scientific paradigm judged superior? If anything goes, why does anything go at all?

The answer I am suggesting here is that a paradigm emerges in the history of science, it is recognized as superior, as true and valid, precisely when the paradigm resonates with the current archetypal state of the evolving collective psyche. A paradigm appears to account for more data, and for more important data, it seems more relevant, more cogent, more attractive, fundamentally because it has become archetypally appropriate to that culture or individual at that moment in its evolution. And the dynamics of this archetypal development appear to be essentially identical to the dynamics of the perinatal process. Kuhn's description of the ongoing dialectic between normal science and major paradigm revolutions strikingly parallels the perinatal dynamics described by Grof: The pursuit of knowledge always takes place within a given paradigm, within a conceptual matrix a womb that provides an intellectually nourishing structure, that fosters growth and increasing complexity and sophistication until gradually that structure is experienced as constricting, a limitation, a prison, producing a tension of irresolvable contradictions, and finally a crisis is reached. Then some inspired Promethean genius comes along and is graced with an inner breakthrough to a new vision that gives the scientific mind a new sense of being cognitively connected reconnected to the world: an intellectual revolution occurs, and a new paradigm is born. Here we see why such geniuses regularly experience their intellectual breakthrough as a profound illumination, a revelation of the divine creative principle itself, as with Newton's exclamation to God, "I think Thy thoughts after Thee!" For the human mind is following the numinous archetypal path that is unfolding from within it. (page 438)

... For the deepest passion of the Western mind has been to reunite with the ground of its being. The driving impulse of the West's masculine consciousness has been its dialectical quest not only to realize itself, but also, finally, to recover its connection with the whole, to come to terms with the great feminine principle in life: to differentiate itself from but then rediscover and reunite with the feminine, with the mystery of life, of nature, of soul. And that reunion can now occur on a new and profoundly different level from that of the primordial unconscious unity, for the long evolution of human consciousness has prepared it to be capable at last of embracing the ground and matrix of its own being freely and consciously. The telos, the inner direction and goal, of the Western mind has been to reconnect with the cosmos in a mature participation mystique, to surrender itself freely and consciously in the embrace of a larger unity that preserves human autonomy while also transcending human alienation.

But to achieve this reintegration of the repressed feminine, the masculine must undergo a sacrifice, an ego death. The Western mind must be willing to open itself to a reality the nature of which could shatter its most established beliefs about itself and about the world. This is where the real act of heroism is going to be. (pages 443-444)

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