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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

Religious Behavior

Argyle, Michael. (1968).
London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

ISBN: 7100-1023-0 (SBN)

Description: Hardcover, xii + 196 + 15 pages.

Contents: Preface, 12 chapters, references, index of names, subject index.

Note: Part of the series International Library of Sociology and Social Reconstruction.

Excerpt(s): We must now discuss how far the effects of drugs resemble mystical experiences proper. There are obviously some points of similarity—the feeling of being in touch with a deeper reality, the brilliant illumination, the experience of timelessness and the loss of self. Zaehner argues that the mescaline experiences as described by Huxley is different from the experiences of the Christian mystics, who feel that they are in contact with God. Zaehner would like to maintain a super-natural explanation of Christian mysticism in contrast with a naturalistic explanation of Huxley's—a philosophical position criticized by Farrell. There is some evidence, however, that a person's experiences under drugs are affected by the beliefs he already possesses. As Zaehner observes, Huxley was steeped in Eastern thought, which may explain why he had pantheistic experiences. Some subjects in mescaline experiments had 'hallucinations of supernatural figures and voices' giving rise to 'ideas of communion with God, and being divinely inspired'. In the Mexican Peyote tribes which have been influenced by Roman Catholicism, the members see the Virgin Mary in their visions. Other differences between the two kinds of experience might be accounted for by small differences in the chemistry of the active agents. Thus it can be argued that there are two factors operative in a mystical experience—the action of a drug on the central nervous system together with a set of beliefs giving the experience a particular form. ...

The question may be asked—why do these particular physiological states tend to be experienced as 'religious'? Leuba suggests that under the influence of drugs, anxiety and frustration are removed and there is a feeling of freedom and power: 'religion and enhancement of life are inseparably associated'. Why do other drugs like alcohol not produce religious experiences? Perhaps it is only a narrow range of physiological states which come to be defined and interpreted as religious. (pages 114-116)

The effects of drugs have been reviewed above. We concluded that mescaline, lysergic acid and similar substances produce vivid hallucinations, distortions of time perception, the feeling of being in touch with a deeper reality and depersonalization, apparently similar to mystical experiences. Some subjects who have been given these drugs have regarded their experiences as 'religious'. The Mexican tribes who take peyote have religious experiences which vary with the religious beliefs of the tribe: for example the Catholic tribes in Mexico have visions of the Virgin Mary. It was tentatively concluded that the experiences produced by certain drugs tend to be regarded as religious if those taking the drugs already possess a set of religious beliefs with which to interpret the experiences. (pages 170-171)

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