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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

Psychedelia Britannica: Hallucinogenic Drugs in Britain

Melechi, Antonio. (Editor). (1997).
London: Turnaround.

ISBN: 1-873262-05-1

Description: Paperback original, xii + 212 pages.

Contents: Foreword by Albert Hofmann, Introduction, 9 chapters, further reading, contributors, index.

Contributors: Michael Carmichael, Fraser Clark, Stuart Metcalf, Antonio Melechi, Ronald Sandison, Alexander Trocchi, Simon Reynolds, Sheila Whiteley, Andrew Wilson.

Note: For those of us whose focus on psychedelics is mainly North American, Melechi's book extends our consciousness to events in Britain and to European authors and their works.

Excerpt(s): If in Leary's opinion [R. D.] Laing was the most fascinating man on the planet, Laing's attitude to Leary and Millbrook is less clear. In Bomb Culture, Jeff Nuttall writes that Laing was impressed with IFIF - The International Foundation for Internal Freedom - which Leary and his ex-Harvard colleagues were running at Millbrook, and that Laing and Trocchi corresponded with Millbrook after his visit. In a recollection of the Millbrook meeting, over two decades later, Laing claimed that 'it was a bit sticky, we didn't have very much to talk about', and goes on to distance himself from their messianic belief in LSD as the road to salvation. (page 43)

Since 1966, LSD had become the subject of increasingly mixed publicity. While the poet George Andrews claimed 'LSD is the only answer to the atomic bomb', and Paul McCartney confessed how he had discovered through LSD that 'God is everything and everywhere and everyone', reports of delayed psychosis, attempted suicide and possible chromosomal damage now appeared in medical journals. Elsewhere, the MP Jonathan Aitken reported his own LSD experience, featuring 'visions of hell. Continents dripping with blood. Black men fighting brown men, fighting yellow men.' (Drugs of Liberation, Antonio Melechi, page 45)

At every stage of history humankind has had a burning desire to achieve wholeness. Formerly this was to be reached by moral and religious means. In our age, more than ever before, humankind wishes 'the end of desire' through wealth, power, knowledge and sometimes religion. If we transcribe religion into spiritual knowledge, then the rise of many cultural trends, alternative religions, and the street use of cannabis and LSD, are common ways of attempting to find wholeness in western society.

However, while some say that only full self-knowledge can bring an end to this consuming hunger, others believe that God, manifest through his prophets, or, in the case of Christians, through his son, is the only way to salvation, that is, wholeness. It is of interest that Christians believe in a personal God, to the extent that Christ can enter the heart of each individual, although he remains one person . ... To the Christian, God achieved success in the spiritual world by preserving the mystery while at the same time becoming available to all. This mystery is indestructible and the Church has been careful to build up a powerful containing culture to match the power of the word. In this century psychoanalysis and analytical psychology have developed as ways in which people can find their souls. Just how this process is related to religious revelation has been the subject of much debate, especially in Jungian literature. Psychotherapy based on these two schools has survived and developed over the past hundred years in a way that no other therapy has. The question to be asked is: 'Was LSD just another of those many cures for the sickness of man's soul ... ?' (page 53)

Although the discovery of LSD cannot be made the scapegoat for the rise of drug consumption by all classes of society, it was seen by many of the 'hippy' culture as something which was predestined, that it had come like a saviour to alleviate the pain and deprivations of modern living. Such a 'saviour drug' had been foreshadowed by Huxley in Brave New World when he described the use of the drug Soma.

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that North American culture at that time was badly adapted for containing a valid medical treatment within professional boundaries. It was bad enough in this country. There was a movement which felt that medicine, especially psychological medicine, should not be the sole province of doctors, but that clinical psychologists, social workers and nurses, perhaps also teachers and priests, should also play an active part in therapy. (page 64)

Psychiatrists and analysts were not the only ones who needed models. Those with religious inclinations saw LSD as a substance which could bring them closer to God. Walter Pahnke gave it to theological students before Communion and noticed that some of them experienced intense feelings of religious ecstasy and of closeness to God. When LSD's street use began it was generally seen as mind-expanding. The existentialists noted those effects by which some subjects felt outside time and outside their bodies.

There were those to whom the experience was 'transcendental', 'mystical' or 'cosmic'. They clashed with those who saw genuine mysticism as only obtainable after a lifetime of work, sacrifice and prayer. Therefore, it is perhaps not surprising that when Professor Zaehner, an articulate proponent of this view, took LSD, it was 'but a slight experience'. So LSD was already beginning to look like the Crown of Suleiman ben Daood, all things to all men, and a different thing to each group. As one of Hofmann's subjects said: 'I saw benzene rings everywhere but then, I am a chemist.' (Ronald Sandison, LSD Therapy: A Retrospective, page 72)

Who Dunnit? Who Stepped
on the Evolutionary Accelerator?

The major challenge for all evolutionary theories is to explain what is far and away the most spectacularly dramatic leap-forward that has occurred since the single-cell amoeba. The evolutionary fortnight it took our ancestors to swap the ocean for dry land, for example, is lackadaisical beside the Cosmic Second it took a monkey species swinging in the African jungles to evolve to the global internet, nuclear technology and off-planet space travel. ...

Are we aware of anything today that can bring about such changes? ...

Well, in my lifetime's experience, I've only known behavioural modifications as fundamental as swapping tree-swinging for rocket building to be caused by two things—religious conversion...and drugs. And the biggest of these is ...religious conversion through drugs.

The Mushroom Monkey Mix

According to McKenna's theory, as the African rainforests retreated and the great grass plains appeared an evolutionary imperative forced the tree-dwelling apes to quit the trees, stand up on their own two feet, and go check out the grasslands for fresh food and possibilities ...

The primary activity of the modern equivalents of these apes in north Africa, as they explore the grasslands, is scavenging and nibbling at everything that looks interesting. It's inevitable, then, as McKenna says, that our ancestors must have sooner or later encountered the giant psilocybin mushroom which can stand nine inches high. ...

And once they've actually chewed on a psychedelic mushroom? What then? What actual changes do mushrooms bring about in us, and would have brought about in them?

Historians would murder for a record of that missing link, forgetting for a moment that stoned monkey had no language to describe it, even to himself. For the staggering vision in that first trip, if our theory is true, would have been a blistering, eye-opening and yet blinding vista of the sudden evolutionary acceleration forwards to star travel. Certainly we can say that it would have been a religious experience in its widest and deepest sense. Would unquestionably have stimulated self-awareness, with all the ramifications ensuing - like expulsion from the garden? ...

And in larger doses? Well, full tripping must surely be linked to the development of higher conceptualising skills, self consciousness, language and spirituality (as in arousing the questions of who am I and what is all this?) ...

Mushroom-tripping also seems able to plug us into a mythological past and also affords us a grand, if hard to understand, vision of the future. I'd suggest that the past which those apes envisioned would be of the link between all monkeys, even a reverence for all life, the perception that in a real but higher sense we are All One. (The Final Word on Drugs, Fraser Clark, pages 186-189)

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