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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

Poetic Vision and the Psychedelic Experience.

Durr, R. A. (1970).
Syracuse University Press: Syracuse, NY.

ISBN: none

Description: Hardcover, xvi + 275 pages.

Contents: Preface, 6 chapters, chapter notes, bibliography, index.

Excerpt(s): It seems to me that the similarities between the world of psychedelic vision and the world of imaginative literature are numerous, striking, and of the essence, that in fact they share a mode of being and of apprehension, a constellation of values and a view of life.

What I should like to essay here is a comparison of the two domains. I will take the terms 'psychedelic' (mind-releasing) and 'imaginative' to refer to a fundamentally identical power of apprehension, or mode of being. And I will discuss this power, or mode, as it is described in psychedelic reports and manifested in literature. (dust jacket, front flap.)

Not everyone who took one or another of the psychedelic substances understood the experience alike; some understood it not at all their visions were meaningless marvels and some understood simply that their minds and senses were temporarily abnormal. But certain visionary, philosophical, and metaphysical elements do recur in a high percentage of the reports and appear to constitute a fairly consistent dimension of the experience. These elements may be summarily listed as a transfigured view of the everyday world; a sense of timelessness, of living in an Eternal Now; the loss or transcendence of ego-consciousness ("depersonalization") and a consequent degree of Self-realization; a feeling of identity with the universe and love for all things; and a feeling of profound peace and joy. The hellish potential of the experience attends upon the second element in the list, ego-loss, if the ego "dies hard." Everything depends upon the successful breakthrough of the ego-bounds with its horrific threshold guardians. Beyond that, each element really entails all the others; or, each is only one aspect or linguistic facet, one way of talking about the single fact of imaginative being: in imagination the Real Man knows ecstatically that he is That eternally. To realize the Self is to be in eternity and joyously at one with the cosmos; or, otherwise worded, to be awake in the present moment is to be in union with life, which is the Self, and which is ecstasy. (page ix)

The magnificent idea of the imagination as finally formalized by the Romantics and their immediate predecessors constitutes an exact compendium of the various facets of the psychedelic and esthetic experiences with which we are mainly concerned. In summarizing the idea, I will use the language of Blake, Wordsworth, and Coleridge for the most part, since they perhaps more than any of their contemporaries fully realized the psychological and philosophical implications and metaphysical profundities of the doctrine.

Of course, the idea of the imagination is not unique to the early nineteenth century, and there are many analogous conceptions in earlier thought. In his Vanity of the Arts and Sciences, Cornelius Agrippa, for example, maintained that the Word of God is the only religious authority and that the Word is to be interpreted by the imagination and not by rationality an argument later expounded by the Anabaptist and Quaker movements, where the "inner light" is roughly equivalent to imaginative vision. The influence of Boehme is apparent here, and that great mystic had much to say about the imagination, as is reflected in Schelling's thesis on it. The humanist doctrine of the microcosm, regarding man as a "little world," is congruent, since it is through imagination, as Paracelsus said, that man discerns his relation to the macrocosm, the "great world." One also recognizes close resemblances in the speculations of the "spiritual alchemists" of the earlier seventeenth century, or in the conception of "right reason" of Milton and the Cambridge Platonists. Traherne's "right apprehension" is exactly imaginative vision. Peter Sterry anticipated the Romantic formulation very closely in designating the imagination the faculty wherein the spiritual and corporeal worlds are united, and he anticipated Blake in proclaiming God Himself the supreme poet, the exemplar of imaginative being. The traditional belief in the poet as inspired, prophetic, as in the Bible and classical culture, was assumed throughout the Renaissance and is a corollary of the idea of imagination: it is the Muse of the Holy Ghost who works through the poet, and thus his mode is suprarational, intuitive, imaginative. (pages 7-8)

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