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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

Psychedelic Drugs and Spirituality.

Patteson, James D. (1995).
Dominguez Hills, CA: California State University.

ISBN: none

Description: Unpublished Masters= Thesis, printed on righthand page only, iv + 30 pages.

Contents: Abstract, 4 chapters, conclusions, references.

Excerpt(s): Over the last twenty-six years my overriding interest in life, both personally and academically, has been the study of religion. I was raised a Methodist, but was unable, as a boy, to make a real and serious connection to the spiritual life. In my teenage years I didn=t think much about religion, but if pressed would have regarded myself an agnostic.

My views changed dramatically during the 1960s. I joined the Marine Corps in 1966, at age 19, and was sent to Viet Nam a year later. The horror and meaninglessness of war, and my experiences with a Buddhist family in Viet Nam, caused me to do some deep thinking (for a nineteen year old).

When I returned to the U. S. in 1968, I joined the hippie movement and protested peacefully against the war. I took up the habit of smoking marijuana and taking LSD, without any knowledge, unfortunately, of its tremendous power.

I initially had very positive experiences with these drugs, but on one occasion I took an extremely high dose of LSD under very bad circumstances and had a mystical experience of cosmic consciousness, followed by a near suicide. This led me to study in-depth, the dangers and benefits of psychedelic drugs. I concluded that the practices of mystical religions which emphasize meditation, such as Christian Mysticism with its centering prayer or Zen Buddhism with zazen are more efficacious and safer.

The thesis of this paper is that psychedelic drugs are able to facilitate bona fide religious experiences of the mystical type. (page 1)

To sum up, we have the following characteristics as indicative of mystical experiences:

  1. they are impossible to describe
  2. they involve a deep, non-intellectual knowledge
  3. transiency - the experience passes quickly
  4. passivity - it happens to a person; it is not intended by the will
  5. overwhelming consciousness of God and one=s own soul
  6. consciousness of the oneness of everything
  7. a sense of timelessness
  8. the conviction that the familiar phenomenal ego is not the real I
  9. intellectual illumination
  10. moral elevation
  11. sin is seen as an illusion
  12. the fear of death vanishes
  13. subjective light
  14. the awakening is sudden and instantaneous
  15. a feeling of gratitude for being alive. (page 20).
Two things have thus been indelibly impressed upon my mind: psychedelic drugs can act as catalysts for religious experience; and a sudden spiritual experience at this depth can be psychologically very dangerous. Most drug counselors, teachers, and parents are unaware of the spiritual dimension of psychedelic drugs and most users are unaware of their dangerous side. The former group needs to know about the religious implications so they can effectively help someone who is going through the sudden emergence of unconscious elements into consciousness; what Stanislav Grof terms a Aspiritual emergency@. The latter group, those who use these drugs, need to know about the dangers so they can avoid a spiritual emergency they may not be prepared to handle.

These drugs should be studied for the light that they may shed on the history and phenomenology of religious experience, but because of their power and danger, they should not be used randomly and carelessly. With these considerations in mind, it seems that a good example of the sensible use of a psychedelic is the peyote rituals of the American Indian. Portions of the peyote cactus are used as a sacrament, in a controlled and serious manner, to induce spiritual visions in a religious context.

Another promising use of these drugs is in psychotherapy. Stanislav Grof and others have demonstrated this potential in their work with thousands of patients. Given the therapeutic and religious value of psychedelic drugs, they should be controlled but available for research, and to serious adults seeking spiritual experience or psychological help.

My personal spiritual path has taken me from psychedelic drugs to Zen Buddhism. I no longer use any psychedelic, including marijuana. I might not have studied Zen if not for my experiences on psychedelics, and in this sense I am grateful for their part in my life. On the other hand, I was very fortunate to escape serious harm, and I do not think they are necessary for the spiritual path. For this reason and because they can be dangerous, I do not recommend their use. On the other hand, I am not critical of their use by those who are mature, serious spiritual seekers; those who study the whole issue of psychedelics and the spiritual path in depth before beginning any experimentation. (pages 28-29).

Compilation copyright © 1995 – 2001 CSP

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