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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 Movements in Contemporary America.

Zaretsky, Irving, and Leone, Mark P. (Editors) (1974).
Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

ISBN: 0-691-07186-1

Description: Hardcover, xxxvi + 837 pages.

Contents: Preface, introduction, 27 unnumbered chapters divided into 8 parts: 1. Church and State: Limits of Religious Innovation Within the Social Order, 2. Language in Culture and Society: Linguistic Forms in Ritual Contexts, 3. Altered States of Consciousness: processes of Religious Innovation and Social change, 4. Psychological Dimensions of Religious Innovation, 5. Eastern Philosophies and Western Alienation: the Social Function of Imported Cults, 6. Symbols and Innovation: Belief systems and Ritual Behavior, 7. Classificatory Approaches: Typologies in Historiographical and Sociological Analysis, 8. Religious Innovation: Processual Considerations, Conclusion, bibliography, contributors, index.

Contributors: Nathan Adler, Dick Anthony, Mary Catherine Bateson, Erika Bourguignon, John Richard Burkholder, Lee R. Cooper, Janet Dolgin, Allen W. Eister, Vivian E. Garrison, Luther P. Gerlach, Felictas D. Goodman, Virginia H. Hine, J. Stillson Judah, Roger M. Lauer, Mark P. Leone, June Macklin, Morton A. Marks, Edward James Moody, E. Mansell Pattison, Leo Pfeffer, Raymond H. Prince, Thomas Robbins, Bruce A. Rosenberg, E. Fuller Torrey, Marcello Truzzi, Harriet Whitehead, John A. Wilson, Irving I. Zaretsky.

Excerpt(s): My mind was a field in autumn. naked branches were studded with black cocoons. Suddenly, one cocoon split and a butterfly with poppy-scarlet wings emerged, then another cocoon split and another, first here, then there, then everywhere, and all space was filled with the fluttering scarlet wings. (Image After Psilocybin)

The most striking element in the American metaphysical movement today is the preoccupation of middle-class youth with mystical experience. Mysticism is strongly linked with the use of psychedelic drugs on the one hand, and with a variety of contemplative religious traditions on the other. And, as have mystics in other times and places, today's psychedelic youth is antimaterialistic and caught up in experiments with communal styles of living. In this paper I will discuss the development of this movement and attempt to interpret it as a self-imposed rite of passage. To choose a different image, it is a metaphorical struggle, a kind of cocoon work which unlike the insect analogue and unlike the situation in other cultures, lacks a clear and acceptable image of the adult. (page 255)

We should probably look to Emerson and the New England Transcendentalists for the early traces of the present youth movement, for the Transcendentalists, like today's youth, drew their mystical insights and formulations far more from the Eastern religions than from the Christian tradition. ... The group's interests appear to have been intellectual rather than experiential. They did not experiment with drugs; indeed, at the time of the greatest cohesion of the group between 1840 and 1850, awareness of the possible mystical effects of drugs was just beginning to dawn; Moreau brought hashish back from his Persian journeys and introduced it to Europe in the early 1850's; the pioneer American hashish enthusiast Fitzhugh Ludlow did not publish his work until 1857. And, in spite of their interest in Indian religions, the Transcendentalists do not appear to have practiced meditation. Thoreau, and probably some of the other Transcendentalists however were subject to spontaneous adamic states. (page 258)

Another important early figure was the poet-prophet of democratization and de-institutionalization, Walt Whitman (1819-1892). Several passages in his Leaves of Grass are probably expressions of his own intense mystical experiences. To explain the difference between Whitman's tedious early writings and the inspired Leaves of Grass, Braden has speculated that Whitman may have used marijuana while on his visit to New Orleans in 1849! (page 259)

[Bucke] considered Whitman to be the most developed example of cosmic consciousness to have appeared in history! Bucke became Whitman's official biographer and, after Whitman's death, his literary executor. James made extensive quotes from the work of Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, and Bucke in his Varieties of Religious Experience. (page 260)

A year before [Bucke] died he published his famous pioneer study of comparative mysticism, Cosmic Consciousness. In it he expressed his belief in the evolution of human consciousness from simple consciousness (as possessed by animals and infants), through self-consciousness of adults, to cosmic consciousness which he felt had been experienced by a few in the past, Buddha, Paul, Christ, and was being increasingly experienced by contemporary man ... Bucke would not entertain the idea that chemical substances could reproduce genuine mystical states: Just as the drinking of alcohol induces a kind of artificial and bastard joy, so the inhalation of ether and chloroform induces (sometimes) a kind of bastard and artificial cosmic consciousness.

William James published his Gifford Lectures in 1901-02 as the famous Varieties of Religious Experience. For the first time, James clearly separated off mystical states from other types of religious experience, clarified their defining characteristics, and illustrated them with a wealth of descriptive documents that have never been superseded. James was, moreover, willing to concede that chemical substances might produce genuine mystical states. After reading the nitrous oxide explorations of Benjamin Blood in The Anaesthetic Revelation and the Gist of Philosophy (1874), James himself sampled the gas and found that the keynote of the experience is the tremendously exciting sense of intense metaphysical illumination. In 1896, Weir Mitchell ate a few buttons of the psychedelic cactus, peyote, and described the remarkable effects in the British Medical Journal. Mitchell passed some buttons on to James, but they only gave him a stomach ache. I ate one bud three days ago, he wrote to his brother, was violently sick for twenty hours, and had no other symptoms whatever ... I will take the visions on trust. (pages 259-260)

Huxley tells us in The Doors of Perception, that until he used mescaline he had never experienced a state which could be called mystical or religious ... when Humphry Osmond visited him in California in 1953 he accepted Osmond's offer to initiate him into the mysteries of mescaline. The result was the highly potent little book The Doors of Perception. The title came from William Blake: If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear as it is, infinite. In this book, Huxley unequivocally equated the drug-induced experience with the mystical states of the Perennial Philosophy. This doctrine, perhaps because it was so convincingly presented, or because the times were ripe, spread rapidly throughout the American intellectual world. Many were launched on the psychedelic adventures by this book. It was the sacred mushrooms of the Aztecs --teonanactl or god's flesh -- that launched Timothy Leary on his psychedelic career ... More than any other, Leary has attempted to cast the movement in religious terms. Unlike the novelist Kesey's invitation to LSD as the portal to fun and games, Leary promised enlightenment. (pages 261-262)

With this background, let us now try to tie down a little more firmly the particular religious movement we are here trying to describe and interpret. Let us, for a start, give the movement a name: Neotranscendentalism. It includes the ever increasing number of people who (1) reject traditional Western acquisitive and economic values, (2) are concerned with the mystical, (3) wish to develop more direct, less role-oriented interpersonal relationships, and (4) are interested in communal and cooperative styles of living rather than isolationist, competitive patterns. As with all religious movements, there is of course a core of dedicated practitioners and a much larger number of sympathizers. A characteristic which distinguishes Neotranscendentalism from most other religious movements, however, is its lack of homogeneity and dogma. Neotranscendentalists are allergic to structure or standardization. (page 263)

Wallace's concept of the revitalization movement should be considered. He has defined revitalization movements as deliberate organized attempts by some members of a society to construct a more satisfying culture by rapid acceptance of a pattern of multiple innovations. ...

He describes the various steps through which the culture passes on the road to revitalization: from its original steady state through a period of increased individual stress, with widespread anomie and disillusionment; a period of cultural distortion in which piecemeal and ineffectual individual solutions are attempted, such as alcoholism, black market, breaches of kin or sexual mores, gambling, etc.: and finally the period of revitalization. He points out that revitalization depends on the successful completion of a number of stages. First, there is the formulation of a code. An individual or group must construct a new utopian image of cultural organization. Not infrequently the new code is formulated during the course of a hallucinatory revelation of a mystical experience. The second step is the communication of the new code to a band of followers. The code is usually offered as the means of spiritual salvation for the individual and of cultural salvation for the society. Finally, as the movement gains momentum new institutions based on the code are organized, with subsequent widespread acceptance and routinization.

Can we regard Neotranscendentalism as a revitalization movement? (pages 267-268)

With these various explanations in mind, I would like to put forward a somewhat rephrased interpretation of the Neotranscendentalists. American society has, in the past, neglected religious ritual in the passage from childhood to adulthood. ... Many of today's youth sense that a perpetuation of the present social order is the blueprint for disaster. They must not only navigate the perilous, age-old crossing between childhood and adulthood, but they feel called upon to create almost overnight an entire new social order and world view. To the individual cocoon work is added the enormously more complicated cultural cocoon work. (Raymond H. Prince, page 270)

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