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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


A Pharmacologic Approach to the Study of the Mind.

Featherstone, Robert M., and Simon, Alexander. (Editors) (1959).
Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.


ISBN: none

Description: Hardcover, xxviii + 399 pages.

Contents: Invited participants, foreword, introductory remarks by Provost Saunders, General Statements, Program on Jan. 25, 1959: 5 papers and discussion of the Day's Topics; Program on Jan. 26, 1959: 15 papers, 3 discussions, dinner speech by Aldous Huxley, "TheFinal Revolution"; Program on Jan. 27, 1959: 17 papers, 2 discussions.

Contributors: L. G Abood, Henry V. Agin, Gordon Alles, Nicholas A. Bercel, Bernard B. Brodie, Thomas N. Burbridge, Enoch Calloway, Sidney Cohen, Jonathan O. Cole, James M. Dille, Joel Elkes, Leon J. Epstein, Robert M. Featherstone, Ralph W. Gerard, I. J. Greenblat, Audrey Holliday, Akira Horita, Howard Hunt, Aldous Huxley, Seymour S. Kety, K. F. Killam, John Kinross-Wright, Nathan S. Kline, Morton Kramer, Ernest Kun, Chauncy D. Leake, Daniel Liebowitz, William Malamud, Lester H. Margolis, L. J. Meduna, Frederick H. Meyers, M. A. Perlstein, Julius Pomeranze, Eugene Roberts, John B.deC. M. Saunders, John C. Saunders, Parkhurst A. Shore, Alexander Simon, John A. Starkweather, Sidney Udenfriend, N. William Winkelman, E. Albert Zeller.

Note: These papers were given at a symposium "A Pharmacologic Approach to the Study of the Mind," which was held at the University of California's San Francisco Medical Center on Jan. 25-27, 1959.

Excerpt(s): At a time the clinician is assailed by an ever changing array of new compounds, it is well to remember that markedly psychotropic effects were first observed in a religious ceremonial setting where the drugs (such as, for example, mescal,) formed a cardinal part of a local culture; that some elements in these drug-induced states made them particularly suitable for the purposes for which they were being used; and that, in some central and essential characteristics, these elements were strongly personal, subjective, averbal and incommunicable. All observers who, since Lewin's and Hofmann's original discoveries, have used mescaline and LSD 25 themselves, or on others, agree that the most important areas of disturbed function lie in the affective, perceptual, and cognitive fields; that alteration in overt behavior need not necessarily accompany striking subjective change, and if it does, can form only the crudest counterpart of the subjective experience. ... In all psychotropic drug effects, therefore, overt behavior, including the ordinary currency of language, can be but a segment of the evidence; the larger portion lies within, and requires special and in many ways novel techniques for its adequate description, let alone understanding. (page 25-26).

The phenomena were first observed in culturally remote regions, and were of a nature which, in the first instance, was inclined to appeal more to the cultural anthropologist and the student of comparative religion than to the psychologist or physician; they were strongly subjective, and were reflected only very inadequately in overt behavior; they contained central elements which, being well outside the range of normal conscious observation, were very difficult to describe without the fashioning of special linguistic tools; and by their similarity with some varieties of religious experience moved on to ground which nineteenth century science was reluctant to enter. (Psychopharmacology: The Need for Some Points of Reference, Joel Elkes, page 28)

Our problem is to adapt a language which is not now suitable to describing the continuum of mind and body, a university of complete continuity. Somehow or other we have to invent the means of talking about these problems in an artistically varied way which shall make them accessible to the general public. Ideally, for example, we ought to be able to talk about a mystical experience simultaneously in terms of theology, of psychology, and of biochemistry. This is a pretty tall order, but unless we can do something of the kind, it will remain extraordinarily difficult for people to think about this continuous web of life, to think about it as a continuum, and not in terms of the old Platonic and Cartesian dualism which so extraordinarily falsifies our picture of the world. (Aldous Huxley, The Final Revolution, pages 119-220)

Huxley has impressively described the overwhelming light, the glowing color and the intrinsic significance of commonplace objects when seen under the influence of mescaline. Illusory or hallucinatory events are considered to be memory traces superimposed on sensory cues. It is hypothesized that these more complex aberrations of perception represent symbolic projections of the personal, and, some believe, the transpersonal unconscious. [Note early use of the word "transpersonal."]

One aspect of the LSD syndrome which is hardly mentioned in the literature is the subject's sharply heightened suggestibility when under the influence of the drug. What each person experiences during exposure to an hallucinogen will depend as much upon the interpersonal transactions on verbal and nonverbal levels as upon his own personality structure. The patient can be directed into an examination of his problems or he can be guided into a transcendent state. He can be encouraged to occupy himself with the external sensory or the internal contemplative. (page 253)

Till now we have considered LSD-25 within the construct of currently accepted psychotherapy. Something further may occur which does not fit too well into the orthodox psychiatric frame of reference. Eisner and I have described an "integrative effect" which is not infrequently achieved. During LSD-25 therapy a point may be reached in which the patient accepts himself completely for what he is with a massive reduction in self conflict and guilt. His existence composes into a part of a larger, more meaningful pattern. Loneliness and depression become quite incompatible with this sense of belonging. Usually a perceptual component is present which consists of looking upon dazzling light and beauty. The patient describes a great tranquillity, a better understanding of himself and a sense of order in life.

Such a description seems akin to the spontaneous religious, conversion experiences which occur, as a rule, under very considerable psychic and/or physical stress. Study of a number of these cases indicates that sometimes a rapid and sustained personality alteration was effected. Whether basic characterological changes or whether reaction formation with sudden realignment of the defensive position takes place is uncertain. The fact remains that some of these individuals lose their long standing depressions or tensions, and their subsequent behavior is vastly more acceptable to themselves and society. An occasional patient given LSD-25 has responded in a similar manner. (Sidney Cohen, The Therapeutic Potential of LSD-25, pages 254-255)



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