Religion and Psychoactive Sacraments:
An Entheogen Chrestomathy
Thomas B. Roberts, Ph.D. and Paula Jo Hruby, Ed.D.
Author Index | Title Index
The Psychedelic and the Word
Roberts, Roy Alvin (1971).
Clarement, CA: School of Theology at Claremont.
Description: bound photocopy, ix + 153 pages.
Contents: prolog, introduction, 12 chapters, divided into 4 sections: 1. Psychedelic Experience, 2. The Encounter: The Mystical Element in Psychedelic Experience, 3. Word and Encounter: Toward a More Inclusive Understanding of Reality, 4. Convolution, bibliography, Appendix A: Nine Experiences, Appendix B. Additional Tables, C. Poem: "The Divine Self-Torture" by Robinson Jeffers, D. Psychotropic Drugs and Previous Physical Ailments, E. LSD and Legality.
Note: unpublished doctoral dissertation, not available from UMI, Inc.
Embarking upon the psychedelic vessel there is a strange growing sense of no return to that familiar port. There is increasing intuition that one's life will never be the same. There is mounting apprehension touched with a trace of fear. Then, moving from the most vivid perceptual and astounding somatic revelations, one is plunged headlong into depths of ecstasy instantly revealing profoundest being, shattering grossly ambitious drive for survival, radically transforming his entire being. Whole, healed, he is ready to live and love as never before. Somehow, unaware, he has come face to face with the most holy and come away utterly changed.
The quest for paranormal experience is universal.
Since earliest times man has felt impulses to rise above his everyday self and achieve either some higher insight or some release from mundane concerns - or both. Western saints and Eastern mystics have subjected themselves to strenuous spiritual exercises; others, less dedicated, have resorted to chemical aids, from the ceremonial wine of the ancients and the opiates of the Orient to the sacramental peyotl plant of Aztec tribes and the social stimulants of our own day.
In our time, moreover, psychologists and other students of human perceptions, from William James to Aldous Huxley, have tried out on themselves certain experimental drugs in an effort to induce states that would lend extraordinary lucidity and light to the mind's unconscious and creative processes - possibly even assistance to these. Today these newer drugs - mescaline, psilocybin, and the latest and most potent of them, Lysergic Acid Diethylamide, or LSD - are spreading so widely on a 'research' basis that major questions are arising as to their effects and proper use.
Whether classical (Eastern/Oriental), tribal (Aztec) or synthetic (James, Huxley, Leary), the psychedelic experience has utterly exploded the mind's limitations of thought and sent us staggering at the infinite possibilities of understanding and shaping our world to its most creative and beneficial ends. Moving from the most vivid perceptual and somatic revelations, through controlled psychological conditioning and supportive environment, an individual is plunged headlong into depths of ecstasy, instantly revealing his profoundest nature, while simultaneously shattering his grossly ambitions drive for survival and radically transforming his entire being into a whole, healed person ready to cope successfully with the problems of his fellow man, and open to discover new, more creative solutions to those complex social and individual dilemmas that so thoroughly vex his mind and being. (pages 1-2)
This paper is a presentation in four sections which attempt to clarify what psychedelic experience is, and due to its central, transforming manifestation, what its relation is to other types of related "religious" experiences. First psychedelic experience is presented to establish ground for later discussion. As contrasted with mystical experience, the central psychedelic experience of personality change is free from tradition-laden terminology. Psychedelic experience is also cross-cultural - being free from super-imposed interpretation, although some systems seem to explain what is transpiring better than others. In general, psychic alterations can be probed and developed scientifically to discover the deepest mysteries of the mind.
The second part of this presentation centers in on the heart of psychedelic experience: the psychedelic transformation. Whether this be called "peak," mystical, transcendental, or other similar term, the psychedelic transformation performs the psychotherapeutic task of complete life re-orientation in one session. Bringing meaning back into life in a profound way makes analogous this "encounter" with those of other "religious" sources. For this reason part three becomes a natural outgrowth as one struggles to put together into some kind of perspective the psychedelic transformation with appropriate Oriental and Christian schemas. Part four culminates this entire presentation by incorporating the psychedelic transformation and its theological corrective in convolution. It is hoped that these pages will contribute to some of the growing reconciliation between East-West religio-philosophical thought. To arrive at a more inclusive account of reality is a paramount concern in part three and part four also. In the final analysis, one must give credit to the psychedelic "revolution" which is the cause of this continuing discussion now on a new, untried, yet promising adventure. (pages 4-5)
To conclude this part of the presentation treating the effects after the experience, a set of tables illustrate percentage gain in subjects' ability to profit from their session. In the Ditman-Savage study 50% and 85% respectively reported "lasting benefit."
"Looking back on your LSD experience, how does it look to you now?"
|  ||Item   Percentage*|
|  ||(N = 74)||(N = 96)|
|A very pleasant experience||72||85|
|Something I want to try again||66||89 |
|An experience of great beauty||66||81|
|Greater awareness of reality||64||92|
|Feel it was of lasting benefit to me||50||85|
|The greatest thing that ever happened to me||49||78|
|A religious experience||32||83|
|A very unpleasant experience||19||33|
|A disappointing experience||7||1|
|An experience of insanity||7||18|
|Did me harm mentally||1||1|
|Like traveling to a far off land||39||  |
|Very much like being drunk||32||  |
|Return to feelings of childhood||28||  |
|Physical discomfort and illness||17||  |
C Percentages are the responses in the first two of the following categories: "Quite a bit," "Very much," "A little," "Not at all."
The second table demonstrates astounding results toward "a greater awareness of God" (90 of the 96 total volunteers).
"How were you, or what were you left with, after your LSD experience?"
|  ||Item   Percentage*|
|  ||(N = 74)||(N = 96)|
|A new way of looking at the world||48||85 |
|A greater understanding of the importance and meaning of human relationships||47||86|
|A new understanding of beauty and art||43||64|
|A greater awareness of God, or a Higher Power, or an Ultimate Reality||40||90|
|A sense of greater regard for the welfare and comfort of other human beings||38||78|
|A realization that I need psychotherapy||17||26|
|More ability to relax and be myself||40||74|
|Improvement noted by person closest to me||42||64|
|Greater tolerance of others||40||75|
|A sense of futility and emptiness||7||8|
|A frightening feeling that I might go crazy or lose control of myself||3||8|
|Sense of relaxation and freedom from anxiety and tension||56||  |
|A better understanding of the cause and source of my troubles||41||  |
|A set of new decisions and new directions for my life||39||  |
|A new sense of fun and enjoyment||39||  |
|A sense of now knowing what life is all about||27||  |
In both these tables there is convincing evidence of religious conversion. (pages 24-25)
PUBLIC REACTION TO PSYCHEDELIC INCIDENTS
A. TENDENCY TOWARD PREJUDICIAL
The general public tends toward the prejudicial in three ways: the "short-cut" method pits against the hard work of the mystic; there has always been a tabu put on anything paranormal and extraordinary; and fear has been generated through the news media. American culture is permeated with the Puritan work ethic which naturally resents any kind of profit without considerable effort: this is one of the major contentions of psychedelic experience. More specifically there has been antagonism generated by a deleterious grouping of the unlimited variation of experiences. These are those who cry "Instant God." However, as has been continually stressed in this presentation and is confirmed by leading psychochemical researchers, "indications are . . . that what one does with a psychedelic experience may be more important than merely having it." There is also the fact that the synthetic method may be the only channel through which some may pass to therapeutic insight. The intention of this discussion is to demonstrate that the experience gained through such means is only a beginning, although it is the most powerful one that man has faced, and that whoever encounters the peak of psychedelic experience (traveler or mystic) comes away with a completely new view and continuing application to his ongoing existence.
The basis for tabu on mystical experience reflected in legislation is immediately related to more ancient understanding where the judges did not have any practical experience of what they ruled illegal. There is so much prejudice and so little tolerance that "the mystical side of human nature has been so repressed that it is little understood." (pages 38-39)
With this introduction to the reasons for being prejudiced against psychochemicals, it is appropriate to list the five common fears that related to the discussion above. These include: cognitive, social, psychological, cultural and ontological. For each fear there is a corresponding benefit to mollify it. In the cognitive, the fear of rational loss is balanced with "new realms of insight; shame stemming from loosened inhibitive factors gives way to a more socially "enriched experience." "Seeing beyond yourself" to creative solutions should dispel some of the preoccupation with facing "the real you." Discovering the arbitrariness of one's particular cultural structure, accompanied with a growing disillusionment of it, opens the way for "new institutional solutions." Finding the long-sought ontological foundation through a utopiate, while not leading directly to psychological or physical addition, bestows "corresponding liberation," "internal freedom" and the ability to "move voluntarily from one level of consciousness to another."
In conclusion, it is clear that along with the possible dangers there are great discoveries also, especially if the experience is controlled. Whatever the course may be, since it is true that "religion is more than religious experience," the same can be said of psychedelic experience: it too is more than the experience itself. (pages 41-42)
The implications for scientific research are vast indeed. A day might arrive when the use of consciousness-expanding drugs could show the way to obtain the useful aspects of hallucinogenic experience without any chemical agent. Anything that can be done chemically can be done in other ways, given sufficient knowledge of the mechanisms involved.
Now that research scientists have discovered the multiplicity of psychedelic experience, one positive outgrowth has been the move away from the model psychosis interpretation that dominated too long. Unger shows this significance in the very fact that psychedelics are being regarded positively. He states that 50-60% of his subjects do not have negative experiences but that 75% relate one manifestation of some exalted experience of rapture. These studies and others are showing that the benefit from positive control of the session is great; that there will follow a uniting of both emotion and intellect.
Religio-philosophical research will profit greatly also. Of late there is increasing understanding of Oriental art, architecture and politics through growing knowledge of the psychedelics. The "dynamics and significance of worship" will be intensified in meaning for the Church also. (pages 44-45)
... There has been growing success with alcoholics and LSD. In the early 1950's, 50% of sixty difficult cases treated by Osmond and Hoffer were found no longer drinking after five years. With increased understanding of the mechanisms at work, by 1960, researchers were finding as high as 70% recovery rates using LSD and psychotherapy. The basic approach with the alcoholic is in establishing the fact that he will experience the most meaningful and transforming impact of his life during the session. As he begins to expect the mystical experience, amazing results follow. In comparison to the 3% of mystical experiences reported by Houston and Masters and the 20% to 40% in our two studies, some 75% of over 100 patients from the alcoholism project at the Spring Grove State Hospital in Baltimore have had intense mystical experiences during the first session with LSD.
One cannot narrow his concern to the result of the LSD session, but he must equally weigh the advantage that "between twelve and twenty hours of individual therapy" were given each patient before his session. (pages 46-47)
THE DYNAMIC TRANSFORMATION
Nearly invariably, whenever dramatic personality change has been noted following the use of these drugs, it has been associated with this kind of experience - that is, one called transcendence or visionary - with the particular name the experience is given seemingly most dependent upon whether the investigator focuses on affect or content.
It follows that the natural result of such a cataclysmic experience is a dynamic transformation reaching the deepest abyss of man's being. One might consider that the all-pervasive transforming nature of Encounter lies within the psychic ontological shock of essence-existence unity, crying out an all-consuming Intimacy beyond rational distinction. Striking transformations may occur to those who do not anticipate them.
There is a central human experience which alters all other experiences . . . not just an experience among others, but . . . rather the very heart of human experience. It is the center that gives understanding to the whole . . . . It has been called satori in Japanese Zen, moksha in Hinduism, religious enlightenment or cosmic consciousness in the West . . . . Once found life is altered because the very root of human identity has been deepened . . . the still experimental drug d-lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) appears to facilitate the discovery of this apparently ancient and universal experience.
The Encounter is emphatically seen as that Yes function in man suddenly revealing his oneness with the each and the all and equally confirming his existence while opening afresh new and vivid recourses never before fathomed or even imagined with the wildest of dreams. (pages 73-74)
However, with growing acknowledgment of the transforming quality of Encounter, man is discovering a thinking and being much broader than that of Western man; the challenge of a "new sense of identity" seems to threaten the foundation of his entire socio-religious establishment. "The content of the mystical experience is thus inconsistent with both the religious and secular concepts of traditional Western thought." Yet the challenge still looms large before those who are concerned:
Here is a means to religious experience that not only makes possible a more vital religious experience than the churches can ordinarily demonstrate, but the regeneration of souls and the transformation of personality are made possible to an extent that seems to be far more reliable and frequent than what the ordinary churches can promise.
Consequently, there are visible alliances of psychoanalysis and Zen Buddhism (or similar groups), hybrid strains are appearing more frequently. Because of the Encounter, a person is involved with the sensation "that the external world is continuous with and one with our own bodies - a sensation very seriously needed in a civilization where men are destroying their environment by misapplied technology."
Bound into the revelation of immediacy and unity in the Encounter is the salvation of souls comprising the statistical files of psychedelic researchers. Whether they be the four "naturalistic" studies of Leary, Savage, Ditman, and Janiger-McGlothlin, or the triple-blind experiment of Pahnke, these people embody a "gift" which is universally received, and universally undeniable.
The soteriological aspects of Encounter take on greater significance to those trapped in their daily existence, who cannot see life as anything but defeat. With this degree of alienation, the plight of the alcoholic provides a striking illustration of the dilemma of man. If one were to examine the situation of the alcoholic, he might agree with Fromm and James, as does Savage, that his basic estrangement stems from a continual projection of everything good to some external thing (God) and that "all that is base is retained within himself." Therefore the need for a radical psychic transformation arises in which the person is at one with the universe . . . He is provided with a new beginning, a new sense of values. He becomes aware of the richness of the unconscious at his disposal; the energies bound up in and by repression become available to him.
These are those who equate healing and forgiveness. Of course the value of interpretation takes on paramount importance, and if it be coupled with set/setting, it provides the fertile inducement that brings about salvation, i.e., healing-forgiveness.
Once a subject has plunged into that depth of Encounter, his fears and anxieties removed by intuitive understanding and therapeutic support, his entire existence takes on new and significant meaning. Even those on death-beds "feel" their anguish dissolved and their hope renewed as they receive the "powerful sense of authenticity and reality" in their minds and bodies. (pages 77-79)
RELIGIOUS DISTINCTNESS OF ENCOUNTER
Through its religious nature, the psychedelic transformation (the Encounter) bears a striking congruity with mystical experience of various cultures. Rudolf Otto refers to the "numinous" being always present from the most primitive to the most exalted expression of worship. This apprehension of the Beyond being intimately immanent appears also in the demonic manifestation of religion. This phenomenon, occasionally apprehended in everyday experience and overwhelmingly experienced in the Encounter - mystical or psychedelic, is not to be regarded in the light of our "cultural habit" mentioned above. This is a matter of the religious. It is distinct. It is not an extension of cultural modus operandi. It is not a psychological expression.
For if there be any single domain of human experience that presents us with something unmistakably specific and unique, peculiar to itself, assuredly it is that of the religious life.
"It contains a quite specific element of 'moment' which sets it apart from the rational. . ." Numinosity is a universal, religious apprehension entered into in the Encounter.
Within that historical spectrum of man's purest spiritual quest, he has most willingly allowed himself to have the brightest hopes and clearest visions, only to discover in the next generation that he also was a victim of spiritual myopia. In his pursuit after a greater understanding of himself and the reality surrounding him, he has opened his mind to the sparkling accomplishments and assured successes in future applications, only to find his religion one of premature closure. So the contemporary expression of this temptation is presenting itself powerfully to the psychedeler.
As Baudelaire saw it, the hashish eater imagines himself to be God - and never thinks to ask himself the haunting question, "Might there not be another God?" Thus the psychedelic experience neither absolutely confirms nor absolutely denies God's transcendence. If it confirms anything, it confirms his immanence. And there is nothing in the experience which necessarily rules out an immanent God who is also transcendent.
One must press on through that spiritual myopia to a system that will provide a more inclusive or profound explanation. The psychedeler and the religious philosopher cannot neglect seeking the mystery of Reality and finite existence. (pages 80-81)
A. RELATION-RELATIONSHIP: THE ASPECT OF UNDERSTANDING
The mystical pole of psychedelic experience involves a configuration of five components which appear to the consciousness kaleidoscopically. However, the all-encompassing "personality" of this configuration is "unity." In this "transsubjective" state of existence the personality of the individual appears to be dissolved in a more inclusive Self, the two becoming One in a diaphanous relation. The perceptual component - expressed in terms of unity, transcendence of time and space, and the paradox between objectivity and reality - gradually takes precedence over the externalizing component producing the fusion of the subject in mystical experience from his individuality through paradoxicality into "transcension." Essentially, a reimprinting is established through this irrevocable experience: the confirmation that all is in relation. There is an underlying identity between all people and all things, Oneness. ". . . This awareness of a deeper and universal self would correspond exactly with that other type of God which mystics have called the 'divine ground' of the universe. . ."
Whatever be the means for deriving this mystical experience the implications are the same. The explanation of the process may be approached from a variety of ways, but the central vision of unity remains intact. (pages 89-90)
TOWARD ADEQUACY IN UNDERSTANDING REALITY
This presentation has progressed from the kaleidoscopic configuration of psychedelic experience to its transformation in the Encounter revealing man's underlying identity in Being. Facing the possible inadequacy of a spiritual myopia inevitably produced by the subjective limitations inherent within this identity, the psychedeler (and the religious philosopher) was faced with the challenge of competing systems that offered a more wholistic orientation to existence.
Through Word-Encounter correlativity, finally, the challenge was met by transcending those systems with a "higher revelation." To grasp the broader implications of this correlativity, however, the systems provide added meaning in a theoretical way. Consequently, while these systems are homologous in their application and philosophically valid in their understanding, they lack the added confirmation of realistic analogs through which they might be better realized. The task at present then is to provide greater support.
Understanding reality in its totality is the central purpose of the homologous system of surrealism and Logos. Philosophical inclusiveness and profound process join together in that onto-cosmological understanding as a single orientation. The adequacy of this unitive orientation is complicated by the conception of God as the ground of being, since this "character" of God is relegated to the category of "mystery." (pages 119-120)
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