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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


Society and Drugs: Drugs I: Social and Cultural Observations.

Blum, Richard H, and Associates. (Editor) (1969).
San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


ISBN: (SBN) 87589-033-4

Description: Hardcover, first edition, xviii + 400 pages.

Contents: Preface, the associates (contributors), 15 chapters, bibliography, name index, subject index.

Contributors: Anna Amera, Mary Lou Funkhouser Balbaky, Eva M. Blum, Richard H. Blum, Lauraine Baunstein, Marguerite Crouse, Joel Fort, David Hoel, Sophie Kallifatidou, Alma Stone, and John H. Weakland.

Excerpt(s): Cautious readers will be dubious of the claimed early dates, ubiquitousness, and religious etiology of the mushroom cult as proposed by the Wassons. For example, no evidence supports the link to Greek religious practices nor is their thesis of an early wet period in the Fertile Crescent conducive to mushroom growth supported by geological-archaeological evidence. On the other hand, there are references in connection with the literature of cooking, immortality, and visions in Taoist (third century B.C.) Chinese texts; there are European (Swiss) practices linking mushrooms to religious festivals (Christmas); and there is no reason to exclude the likelihood of early discovery of the hallucinogenic properties of fungi by at least some tribal people, which would be expected to lead to the incorporation of the fungi into religious, healing, and other ceremonial rites. But that the hallucinogenic experience was responsible for developing a religious sense rather than simply expanding or enriching it does seem unlikely. Certainly the dates for evidence of religious practices are earlier, by many thousands of years, than are the dates for mushroom-eating cults. (pages 118-119)

There is a remarkable similarity between the expressed fears of the Navajo traditionalists and modernists opposing peyote and those of Caucasian Americans worrying about marijuana or LSD. One hears very similar definitions of drug "abuse" in cases where the empirical evidence as to physical or disruptive social ill effects is absent (peyote), where it is unclear (marijuana), where some such evidence is present (LSD, fly agaric), and where such evidence is strongly present (as with datura). We take it as obvious that scientific knowledge is itself not a prerequisite for damning a drug, although scientific ignorance provides a welcome for some of the contestants in the battle. There are parallels between the Navajo and secular American cultures in the conflict between imposed legal and conventional religious restrictions and enthusiastic users. Missionaries in Mexico and the United States did not eliminate hallucinogen use among tribal folk; laws and clerical pronouncements have not eliminated production, commerce in, or use of similar substances by Caucasian Americans. (pages 131-132)

Kai Erickson has written of the Puritans of Mather's time and earlier and in particular of the Quaker heretics then. He makes two observations noteworthy here. One is that from the period 1651 to 1680 there was stability in the recorded number of wrong-doers from year to year; the character of offenses brought to trial might fluctuate, the count of offenses itself might vary, the kind of punishments meted out might change, but wrongdoers stayed nearly constant in number. Thus, when the years were heavy with heresy and the gallows with martyred Quakers were hung, these added no new number to the offender count. What Erickson suggests is that the Puritans had a quota for deviants; in each period, come what may, a certain number of persons, as with the constant Athenian tribute to the Minotaur, were the objects if not the victims of the administration of justice. (page 324)

What of these Puritans? What do they matter to us? Even though they are genealogical forefathers to only a few Americans, their ideas may nevertheless be prototypes for much current belief and practice with respect to drugs, illicit-drug users, and the treatment accorded these persons. In the terminology of our times, there is no place for demons frankly named or for witches and Dreadfuls, but the conceptual basis exists. We have the doctrine of the choice of good and evil, free will and responsibility under the law, and the implication that by certain significant acts a man commits himself irrevocably to the "other" side. We can act as though a man, once caught bloody-handed in a stigmatizing horror, has moved so far away from outer norms of inner complexity that we do no wrong in judging all of him, his total character, by his one act, call him "criminal," "traitor," "hippie," "drunk," or "addict." Importantly, we conceive of power. (page 325)

Mind-altering drugs have been invested by the public with qualities which are not directly linked to their visible or most probable effects. They have been elevated to the status of a power deemed capable of tempting, possessing, corrupting, and destroying persons without regard to the prior conduct or condition of those persons a power which has all-or-none effects. Gradations of results are not ordinarily considered as a function of the factors empirically shown to be responsible for them, such as dosage, purity, route of administration, frequency of use, nutritional states, the presence of biochemical antagonists or potentiators, social setting, subject's health, intentions and personality, and the like. The "power" in drugs is such that those identified as users are immediately reclassified socially most likely as unregenerate outcasts. Such a power comes close to being demoniacal. Has Cotton Mather's demon in rum changed his residence? Have witches turned now to technology whereby they lurk in heroin, LSD, methamphetamine, or other materials?

Mather's demonology provided for exotic demons some tawny colored, some Indian, red, some black, but notably few white like a Puritan who invested a person and turned him, or in those days more often her, into a witch. Once possessed by a devil, people themselves became devils capable of all manner of fiendish exploits. The witch embraced his possessor that is, they incorporated one another, so that it was natural for the hangman to destroy both at once, the two being in league. There were exceptions: confession and repentance could save a person. The repentant witch was not hanged then, since she had presumably by that act returned to mortal ground and, in so doing, had evicted her dreadful tenant in ways not made explicit. On the other hand, the unrepentant witch, who claimed there was no demon inside her, no witchcraft abiding, or even denied the phenomenon of demons itself that woman went a-carting to gallows hill.

Now consider the modern view. One group of Republican legislators responded negatively to the report of a Presidential Advisory Committee proposing hospitalization for drug offenders. They objected to what they saw as the modern principle that "the individual is not really responsible for his acts . . . . as long as he has indulged himself into dependence on narcotic drugs." For these legislators, responsibility for self-indulgence in drugs must be punished. Others in and out of government, the police, and prosecuting-attorney associations sometimes speak of the abominable degradation of the addict who, paradoxically a victim of his habit, resists all efforts to correct him. (pages 326-327)

To these desires self-generated from the impulses in the inner man, add the songs of the prophets of the hippie scene, sweet melodies singing of love without obligation, of the vision of God beheld by those lacking either inner virtue or outer merit, of the joy of creativity without artistic skill, of aesthetic sensibilities without a sense of taste, of freedom without responsibility or consequence, of self-knowledge without self-criticism, or self-enchantment without increased complexity, of psychotherapy without doubts or anxiety, and finally, of life itself without struggle. These are the siren songs. As with Faust, Satan promised a great deal for a very small down payment; out of that demonology Goethe constructed literature. For those who sing paeans of praise for the magic pills of pharmacology or their natural-growing cousins, the demonology is elaborated into a myth which constitutes a style of life. Those who embrace it call it good; those who fear its treachery call it bad. As with all supernaturals, the drug demon has a Janus head, is polarized, divisible into glory and evil. His disciplines and those potential disciples who, suspecting treachery, are his sworn antagonists will be among the battalions of extremists on drug issues. (page 333)

If the speculations presented in this essay are pertinent to an accounting of how people think about drug use, the conclusion is warranted that a mythology pervades our approach to certain kinds of drugs and to certain groups of drug users. For the sake of classification that mythology is demonical. If it is a demonology, then its essence is that the fervent among druggies and antidruggies are both true believers. ("On the Presence of Demons," Richard H. Blum, page 341)



This compilation by Thomas B. Roberts & Paula Jo Hruby, © 1995-2003 CSP

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