Religion and Psychoactive Sacraments:
An Entheogen Chrestomathy
Thomas B. Roberts, Ph.D. and Paula Jo Hruby, Ed.D.
Tripping: An Anthology of True-life Psychedelic Adventures.
Hayes, Charles. (editor) (2000).
Description: Paperback original, xx + 492 pages.
Contents: Note to the reader, preface, 3 parts: Part 1, Introduction; Part 2, The Narratives; Part 3, A Conversation with Terence McKenna.
Contributors: Aaron, John Perry Barlow, Henry Bass, Robert Bell, Brendan, Carl, Charlie, Steven Martin Cohen, Kate Coleman, Philip Cooper, Daniel, Alice Dee, Dennis, Paul Devereux, Bruce Eisner, Fiona, Mark Fischer, George, Leonard Gibson, Herbie Greene, Gregory, Clark Heinrich, Jack, James, Jarl, Jason, Jeremy, Julian, Keith, Kenny, Matthew S. Kent, Stephen Kessler, Malcom, Marcel, Reverend Marianne, Mark, Megan, Leonard Mercado, Terence McKenna, Tim Page, Peter, Ruth, Sarah, Steve Silberman, Keely Stahl, Terry, Anne Waldman, Robert Charles Wilson.
When the psychedelic first rocked me in my early twenties with shimmering new sensibilities that shook my petty mortal concerns like so many scales from my skin, it struck me that I was being offered a friendly glimpse into the grave. For the first time I had the distinct notion that death was not some stationary finish line or exit door off in the hopefully distant future, but a body of revelation that even now arced back toward the beginning, reaching back to inform, to ready, to greet, and to welcome. I saw that my own death could be a lyric memory, that the circular river of time was like a gently flowing menstrual stream from the mind of God, a pregnancy with death the child. (pages xii - xiii)
Perhaps there are some cosmological scenes that are set off limits to human awareness by the powers of the universe, authorities senior by far to those of family and state. There could be good reason to keep a lid on the cask that holds the mysteries of the Great Beyond, but then again, maybe that's too much to ask of mere mortals. If such a cache can be found, perhaps we owe it to ourselves to open it and have a look. If the voices of the sirens are so sweet, can't we hear just a verse or two? Maybe the force that forbids us is only fear and not some imperative moral authority after all.
In the belief that glimpses into alternative realities can shed light on this one, and that no encounter with the ineffable is so otherworldly as to be justly forbidden or void of some correlative (if not yet determined meaning) for this life, I set out in 1994 to document psychedelic experiences that were transformational, awe-provoking, or otherwise indelible to their subjects. After several years spent digging up willing voices for the project in locations across the globe, and then transcribing their stories, the product of my quest is the compilation of narratives that this book comprises.
My intent in assembling these unusual, often unsettling tales is to create a work not so much of literature but one of document. (page xiii)
The Psychedelic [in] Society: A Brief Cultural History of Tripping
Since the cataclysms of the Sixties and Seventies, a more tenacious if less overtly messianic subculture has grown up around the psychedelic. Nowhere in the industrial world is psychedelic consciousness more aboveboard and appreciated than in the computer software business, where it is regarded as the inspiration for cybernetics the very definition of twenty-first century communications efficiency by many of its most illustrious practitioners. According to Jaron Lanier, a pioneer in the virtual reality industry, "almost to a person, the founders of the [personal] computer industry were psychedelic-style hippies. ... Within the computer community there's a very strong connection with the '60s psychedelic tradition, absolutely no question about it."
In the TNT docudrama Pirates of Silicon Valley (1999), Apple founder Steve Jobs is depicted on an acid trip in which he conceives himself as the conductor of his own symphony. Bob Wallace, one of the early developers of Microsoft, who now runs Mind Books, the on-line purveyor of tomes devoted to psychedelic and alternative consciousness, has said that his conception of shareware as a formal business application was psychedelically inspired. Lotus spreadsheet designer Mitchell Kapor, cofounder with Grateful Dead lyricist John Perry Barlow of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an Internet advocacy organization, has attributed certain "recreational chemicals" to sharpening his business acumen. Bob Jesse left his position as a vice president of business development at Oracle, the world's second-largest software company after Microsoft, to head the Council on Spiritual Practices, a nonprofit organization that advocates (among other things) the responsible use of entheogens (divine-manifesting drugs) for religious purposes. Such a marriage of technology and psychedelic consciousness and a resoundingly profitable and influential one at that might have been foretold by Marshall McLuhan's 1968 observation that "the computer is the LSD of the business world."
The possibility that industrial success might in any way be attributable to the psychedelic is not overtly bantered about in Wall Street boardrooms, where psychedelic acuity is not yet measured out in lucre as an asset or variable in a company's fortunes. But according to author and media theorist Douglas Rushkoff, firms "such as Sun Microsystems that lead the Valley of the Nerds [Silicon Valley] recognize the popularity of psychedelics among their employees." You need only look at the covers of the cyber-age magazines Wired and Mondo 2000 to conclude that the computer cognoscenti have had at least some contact with the whirring currents of the psychedelic mainframe.
The phrase "We're all connected," often exclaimed during psychedelic experience, might just as well be uttered by a PC user tapping into the mycelium-like World Wide Web for the first time. Cyberspace is, in many respects, an electronic mirror of the hyperspatial web of synaptic nerves running through the Universal Mind, the Indra's Net of impulses and receptor sites that some say they've accessed by psychedelics. (According to the ancient myth, Indra, the king of the Hindu pantheon, created a vast web comprising strings of jewels. Each jewel both reflected and was reflected by all the others, thus revealing both it uniqueness and it universality.) A sort of invisible yet real medium of contact between any and all points, Cyberspace is a habitat for the mitosis-like proliferation of the idea germs called memes, and an endless mind field on which to explode the fractal equations that portray the parallel orders of controlled chaos in the universe. (pages 7 - 8)
Basic Features of the Psychedelic Experience
One of the most remarkable features of the psychedelic experience I discerned in the course of my research was a cycle of contraction and relaxation, culminating in a kind of oceanic release. The subject begins to feel closed in as if some ethereal sphincter is cutting him off from the realm of light and life, sometimes seemingly to the point of strangulation or death, only to open up, usually as a result of his conscious surrendering to the experience, to reveal a world that sparkles anew or alludes to the infinite expanse of the All (or the Shining Void, depending on one's terminology). (page 14)
In my research, there was some initial queasiness at the prospect of seeing the odd skull worm crawl out, arcane, private stuff that had been locked away for a long time, and maybe for good reason. But whenever I felt quaky about delving into the inner rooms of the psychedelic, I kept coming back to a cosmic refrain that reverberates through my life like a pedal-steel guitar chord: the twang of joy and gratitude I felt for the feral bliss of living that roared through me, along with a titanic empathy for humankind and a buoyant reverence for the heart that beat at the core of Creation. It was a feeling akin to what Huxley described as "an unspeakable sense of gratitude for the privilege of being born in the universe," citing Blake's observation that "gratitude is heaven itself." In my life, there has been nothing so comforting as this state, rocked by LSD or MDA, in which I felt immensely grateful to the Lord for the breath in my body and the gift of life. The sense of belonging was consummate. It was as though I'd attained the deceptively modest goal that Huxley ascribes to all of us: "to discover that we have always been where we ought to be." (pages 26-27)
There is certainly merit in the principle of reaching the mountaintop just for a minute rather than not at all for the sheer exhilaration of reaching the top. But there are still unresolved issues regarding the ephemeral nature of the psychedelic-abetted revelatory experience and whether lasting value can be gleaned from such a short burst of neurological activity induced by external agents. It's possible that the nature of the psychedelic experience is such that its enduring meaning is more slippery to the grasp than revelations attained over time and through arduous discipline. Most formal religions would have you build up spirituality over a lifetime, so that the knowledge is tempered with instruction on how to live with it (page 28)
That evening I had one of the most beautiful experiences in my life. I was sitting on the couch and noticed a field of energy with darting splinters of multicolored light around a houseplant. Then, while looking at a candle flame, tiny fragments of light began to sputter off the top like a fountain of fireworks, filling the room with sparkles of resplendent light. It was the first time on psychedelics that I cried for joy. Beholding such beauty, I felt I was being welcomed to an ineffable mystery, as though I'd finally come into contact with a spiritual dimension that gave hope to humanity. I'd been a disciplined student of yoga and meditation for two or three years, yet this was my first real gnosis of mystic reality. The plant's energy field was also around me, a tangible bioelectrical force that seemed to be the very energy of life itself. Was this Eros, orgone, or what is called in Asian philosophies Chi, Shakti, or kundalini? (page 133-134)
In 1982 I entered the Divinity School at the University of Chicago, equipped with a good quantity of the then-legal and relatively unknown MDMA, which we called Adam. the purity of my supply had been established by a nuclear magnetic resonance test. I'd hoped to continue in the vein of Walter Pahnke's studies at Harvard: to scientifically demonstrate the religious value of psychedelic experiences. I naively thought that the Divinity School, with it purported interest in the nature of religion and in revitalizing the sacred, would be the right setting and with a legal drug. But they're not interested in mystical experience at divinity schools. They're only interested in words and in history. If someone had a mystical vision a safe two thousand years ago and left some record of it, that might interest them. But mystical experience, the raw and vital force that gives rise to a religion, is too much for them to cram into their semantic, pseudoscientific endeavor to understand God.
I lost patience with the bureaucratic obstacles and decided to conduct the investigation on my own, without university auspices. I started doing quasi-formal (some more quasi than formal) naturalistic observational research, using MDMA and other entheogens. Using my apartment and the basement of the Episcopal House, my associates and I conducted several psychedelic trips for Divinity School students and other grad students and faculty, who thought they'd gone back in time to the experimental Los Angeles of the Fifties. I asked the experients to write a report, and many breakthrough experiences were recorded. (pages 135-136)
There was a humming sound as the forms on high descended. I immediately intuited that they were beings. I could sense another consciousness coming into contact with me, an assembly of minds. I strained to see these forms, which at first were just indistinct blobs of light and energy. Then they took on vaguely humanoid outlines, like glowing silhouettes of yogis in the lotus posture. I knew they were not physically in the room, but in my mind. The forms I was seeing were not hallucinations per se, but diffuse mental images, visual impressions of something extrasensory to furnish my mind with a way to incorporate their presence.
I realized these were higher beings, angelic hosts from a spiritual dimension that I had now accessed. They were enlightened beings working for the good of creation, blessing me with a visitation. they were calling to me telepathically, linking me with their consciousness. I could distinguish individual voices.
I was so moved by this that my cup runneth over. This is what I'd been seeking, communion with a higher reality. They were touching my mind, beaming thoughts at me in an ecstatic chorus, saying, "Jason, it's beautiful. Come join us. Be one of us." I reached up to touch them, not with my physical but my astral-form arms. All of their hands reached down and touched my hands, clutching them as their voices repeated, "It's beautiful. You're one with us." Tears were streaming down my face. It was the peak moment of my life. It wasn't like communion with another human being, where you wonder where you're really situated in the other person's mind. There was no question here. Our souls were touching. I felt so blessed and humbled that these higher forms would deign to reach out to me.
I stayed in this state as long as I could, but slowly the angelic hosts began to pull away. I redoubled my efforts to contact them, but they were fading. "No, no, no. Don't go! Don't go!" I was receding out of the astral dimension and it was becoming darker. I couldn't hold on. I fought against it, but faded from this radiant plane.
As I got up and walked around in a slow-motion haze, my next conscious thoughts were "Okay, what do I do with the rest of my life? I'm totally transformed." I couldn't visualize what I was going to do, how I would incorporate the knowledge of this sacred dimension, and the fact that I'd been living just one small part of the total spectrum of reality. So what do I do now! ...
In the weeks following the experience, I thought of leaving school, gathering some people together to live close to nature and pursue the spiritual life. That didn't happen, I went on to graduate and then to join, for a while, the ranks of the employed. And though I've done interesting work, traveled extensively, and maintained a spiritual outlook on life, I sometimes criticize myself for not living up to the promise of the revelation that I haven't tried hard enough to attain that sacred realm again. I'd love to experience that communion once more, but if it doesn't happen, I'm still forever grateful that I was blessed by the shining ones. (pages 184 - 185)
John Perry Barlow
The essence of what I received that night was a recognition that reality, in its totality, is something much larger and more complex than will ever fit through the tiny keyhole of human perception. Human perception, even enhanced by all the tools of technological amplification we might invent, will never begin to encompass It. We will always be limited by the filters of consciousness. Consciousness, I now believe, is more about what we don't experience than what we do. Thus, reality, as most people experience it in the objective, scientifically reproducible, Western sense, is really an opinion based on what little we can perceive of the Thing itself.
With the possible exception of having children, taking that trip was the most important thing I ever did. In terms of creating the person I am and how I approach the world, why I do what I do, and what I think it's all about, no other experience in my life has been so transforming. When you know that everything is invisibly connected, it alters everything you do, from the way you treat "other" people to the way you treat "yourself." It certainly changed the focus of my intellectual interests.
Up to that point, I'd been preparing myself to master in physics. Suddenly my focus was much more diffuse but oriented more toward the general vicinity of religion, especially those philosophical traditions, most of them Eastern, that seemed to describe the insights I was given that night. I also read mystical literature from other traditions, including the fairly slender body of it that exists in the Western world, such as Meister Eckeart, St. John of the Cross, and Saint Teresa of Avila.
Another thing that happened to me at the time of my first trip was being assigned Teilhard de Chardin for a philosophy course I was taking. I hadn't quite been getting what he was on about, but after the trip, I knew that he had somehow seen what I had seen. He wrote that evolution was reaching a level of complexity where it could become aware of itself, creating a collective organism of mind capable of keeping God company. Understanding his vision and adopting it drives much of my efforts today. I'm trying to spread electronic communications systems in order to hook up the nervous system of that organism.
Engaged in the politics necessary to wire the world, I encounter many people in positions of influence and visibility politicians, corporate leaders, scientists, engineers, writers, academics who are motivated by the same mystical drive that propels me. They are acidheads, but nearly all of them are afraid to admit it. It's as though the future were being created by a secret cult. And even though it's my secret cult, I'm not crazy about secrecy or cults; and I'm certainly not keen on having them design the rest of society.
I think it's time to be brave and honest. I know that if everybody who'd ever taken a major psychedelic stood up and said, "Yeah, I did that and this is how it changed my life," the world would be a better place the next day. (pages 215-216)
I signed up for a workshop [in Holotropic Breathwork] and on the first day, felt a magnification of power through the exercises, and eagerly returned for another, where i learned that Grof and Jack Kornfield, the Buddhist teacher and scholar, were holding a weeklong, residential workshop in Poultney, Vermont. I signed up and went. ...
I lay faceup, trying to push back with my pinned palms, to intensify the pressure. In an ordinary state, I would have felt pain, but in this one I wanted even more pressure and only at a specific point on each palm not a hair's deviation from it. Suddenly I realized I was being crucified. With that revelation the sacred flame burst upon me. The face of God and the intensity of His being shone upon me. The same God that appeared to me in the Burning Bush; the purple-green iridescence that burns with emotional resilience through body and soul. But now the blaze of energy surged more powerfully by orders of magnitude than any other feeling I have ever experienced. It was not the God of any theological dogma or moralistic authority just love and omniscience and the force of a million suns. Today I'm reluctant to attribute gender to God, as I now understand that "He" appears in many forms, but my vision clearly manifested the sort of powerful kindliness that I deeply wanted a father to show me.
Then I heard a voice within my mind speak to me: God loves you, but you are afraid of Him. Your father loves you, but you are afraid of him. Stan loves you, but you are afraid of him. (I'd tried to speak to Stan earlier in the week, but my awe of him had rendered me a babbling idiot.) All your teachers and mentors love you, but you are afraid of them.
In that instant, I realized the major neurotic bind of my life. All my life I'd had powerful religious feelings, and yet I was fearful of power and disdainful of all citadels of conventional authority. I realized that I was worthy after all of the love of my father, my teachers and mentors, Stan Grof, and God Himself. My heart dissolved. I lay on my mat, flowing in tears, empty. Where my heart had been in my chest, a vast openness now extended to the ends of the universe. I gathered up my courage and asked my sitter to bring Stan over to me as soon as he was free. When he arrived at my mat, I told him how I'd been afraid, and he gave me a big hug. He understood.
This breakthrough was the turning point of my life. I could finally see a way through. I bent to academic discipline and produced a dissertation of unadorned behavioral science without any philosophical speculation. My revelations also dissolved the subliminal fear that my [previous] psychedelic revelations were only the by-product of the drug. I determined that LSD was not the actual source of my visions, but only a powerful but incidental provocation for them. Breathwork too could bring them about.
But if I'd never had those acid experiences, would I ever have been able to open up so much as I had by the Breathwork exercises? Who knows? I've seen some people open up in Breathwork sessions without ever having had a psychedelic experience, while I've seen others who have had profound tripping episodes, huff and puff to no result.
"No million, free suger-cube acid mystics," my first wife Jane once inscribed in my journal as I was coming down from a whirling, manic, megalomaniac trip back in 1967. She was right. Psychedelics are indeed no easy freeway to divine consciousness for the masses. (pages 264 - 265)
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This compilation by Thomas B. Roberts & Paula Jo Hruby, © 1995-2003 CSP