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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

The Spirit of Shamanism.

Walsh, Roger. (1990).
Los Angeles: J. P. Tarcher.

ISBN: 0-87477-562-0 hardcover
0-87477-580-9 paperback
Description: First edition hardcover, x + 285 pages.

Contents: Acknowledgments, 22 chapters in 6 parts: I. What and Why is Shamanism?, II. The Life of the Shaman, III. The Shaman's Universe, IV. Shamanic States of Mind, VI. Ancient Tradition in a Modern World, epilogue, quotations, bibliography, index.

Note: Walsh uses his discussion of historical and anthropological shamanism as a basis for discussing transpersonal psychology and related events in psychology, philosophy, religion, and current thought.

Excerpt(s): Five major arguments have been advanced to suggest that drug experiences can never be truly mystical (1) Some drug experiences are clearly anything but mystical and beneficial. (2) The experiences induced by drugs are actually different from those of genuine mystics. (3) Mystical rapture is a gift from God that can never be brought under merely human control. (4) Drug-induced experiences are too quick and easy and can hardly be identical to those hard won by years of contemplative discipline. (5) The aftereffects of drug-induced experiences are different, less beneficial, and less long-lasting than those of contemplatives. There are several possible answers to each of these concerns.

There is no doubt that some-in fact many-drug experiences are anything but mystical. ...

The next question concerns whether drug and natural mystical experiences are experientially the same. Research suggests that "descriptively drug experiences cannot be distinguished from their natural religious counterparts." In philosophical terms, drug and natural mystical experiences are phenomenologically (experientially or descriptively) identical. (page 170)

The third argument, that mystical rapture is a gift from God that can never be brought under human control, will only seem plausible to those people who hold certain specific theological beliefs. It would hardly be regarded as a valid argument by religions such as Buddhism, for example, that do not believe in an all-powerful creator God. Nor presumably would it appeal to Christians who believe more in the power of good works than of grace.

The complaint that drug experiences are too quick and easy to be genuine is readily understandable. After all, it hardly seems fair that a contemplative should labor for decades for a sip of what the drug user may effortlessly swim in for hours. However, unfair of not, if the states are experientially identical, then the fact that they arise from different causes may be irrelevant. Technically this has been called "the principle of causal indifference." Simply stated, this means that if two experiences are identical it matters not one whit how they are caused.

The final argument against the equivalence of drug and natural mystical states is that they may result in different long-term effects. One again Huston Smith has put the case eloquently. He notes that "drugs appear to induce religious experiences: it is less evident that they can produce religious lives." (page 171)

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

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