Religion and Psychoactive Sacraments:
An Entheogen Chrestomathy
Thomas B. Roberts, Ph.D. and Paula Jo Hruby, Ed.D.
Author Index | Title Index
Pursuit of Ecstasy: The MDMA Experience.
Beck, Jerome, and Rosenbaum, Marsha. (1994).
Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
ISBN: 0-7914-1818-9 paperback
xii + 239 pages. SUNY
Series in New Social Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.
7 chapters, 8 appendices: A. Theory and Methodology,
B. Respondent Demographics, C. Respondent Drug Use: Lifetime and
Current Use, D. Respondent Drug Preference and Changes in Use,
E. National Institute on Drug Abuse Capsule on MDMA, F. American
Flight Guides: MDMA Instructional Pamphlets of the Early 1980's,
G. British Harm Reduction Pamphlets, H. Rave Flyers, chapter notes,
"transmaterial world view," as New Age writer Mark
Satin called it-is an essential part of New Age philosophy. New
Agers and other spiritual seekers have used a wide variety of
techniques to raise their consciousness in attempting to achieve
oneness with God and/or the universe. Many have studied Eastern
religions, which have been teaching such techniques for centuries.
In the 1960's, psychedelic drug use increasingly became a part
of the New Age social worlds.
It is not surprising that after nearly thirty years
of the association between psychedelics and spirituality, a strong
belief that such drugs can serve as an adjunct has become firmly
entrenched. Respondents who were engaged in New Age or other spiritual
pursuits were particularly eager to try MDMA because of its reputed
empathic, bonding, and psychedelic properties. One woman, who
was the child of an alcoholic father and attended self-help groups
to deal with childhood traumas , described her motivation:
"I am very interested in spirituality. ... I was studying
Eastern religion, and I studied crystals, and I always looked
at things outside myself. ... [MDMA] is almost like being close
to God." (page 37-38)
Although spiritually oriented respondents were generally
impressed with their MDMA experiences, they differed as to what
they had actually experienced, how it had influenced their lives,
and whether or not the insights gained during the experience had
permanently enhanced their spiritual lives. A 24-year-old Bhakti
yoga practitioner explained how MDMA helped guide her on a spiritual
Bhakti is the yoga of devotion, and I'm trying to
see every experience in life as leading us closer to God and bringing
out a more loving, harmonious way of being with other people and
generally just having a devotional attitude. ... MDMA's been very
useful from a Bhakti yoga perspective, because it's very heart-opening
and that's what you try to do in Bhakti yoga. So I think that
it could have potential for people who want to learn to do that
who don't already know how, especially.
Another respondent, who had studied Eastern religions
while retaining some of his earlier Christian beliefs, offered
similar remarks on MDMA's effect on his spirituality: "It
certainly makes me feel a confirmation that there is sort of an
equity in life, certain equity between the
of people and equity in the balance of the life of man and the
life of other forms on earth ... certainly that man is a part
of the web of life on earth." (page 89)
The positive feelings experienced by many of our
respondents while on Ecstasy-those of tolerance, forgiveness,
validation-filled a void, even in the short space of a minivacation.
These were feelings, unanimously described as positive, that individuals
did not experience in their everyday lives. But in order to experience
long-term benefits, it was necessary for
people to work at it. It is here that the importance of social
worlds and the perspective provided by these worlds become evident.
In order for individuals to carry MDMA-induced insights with them,
they had to pay attention to these insights, as well as the lessons
learned. This is part of the definition of the usefulness of psychedelic
experiences-from the therapeutic perspective. As our therapeutically
oriented respondents reported, although feelings experienced on
MDMA were very real, unless they purposefully set out to make
them permanent (however that might be accomplished), they
would have to wait until the next trip to pursue ecstasy. Whereas
the recreational user, by definition, might expect few long-term
benefits, this would not be acceptable to individuals immersed
in the world of therapy who take Ecstasy for instrumental reasons.
In sum, regarding the bottom line-whether Ecstasy
has long-term benefits-it is membership in social worlds that
is crucial. Respondents who used MDMA for spiritual or therapeutic
reasons tended to retain benefits. Recreational users who were
more interested in getting high got high and had fewer lasting
benefits. (pages 92-93)
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Compilation copyright © 1995 2001 CSP