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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 Varieties of Mystical Experience, Spiritual Practices, and Psychedelic Drug Use Among College Students.

Hruby, Paula Jo. (1996).
DeKalb, IL.: Northern Illinois University.


ISBN: none

Description: hardcover, xx + 262 pages.

Contents: Lists of: Tables: Figures, Appendices, Preface, 5 chapters, references, Appendix A: Definitions, Appendix B: Mysticism Scale, Form D (M Scale), The Addiction Belief Scale (ABS), Introductory Letters, Consent Forms, Permission to Use the Mysticism Scale.

Note: unpublished doctoral dissertation available from UMI, Ann Arbor, MI. in large and small formats with hardcover and paperback editions of both formats.

Excerpt(s): The goal of this study was to explore the varieties of mystical experience (the total score and factor scores of Hood's Mysticism Scale) in relation to various self-reported information, particularly psychedelic drug use (hashish, LSD, marijuana, mescaline, peyote). The study used a population of university students (n = 504) and the participants at a small entheogenically-oriented conference (n = 14). There were two main purposes; the first was to examine the factor structure of the scale and verify Hood's recent three-factor solution. The data was factor analyzed and compared with Hood's results using a similar undergraduate population. Although I found that the two three-factor solutions weren't exactly the same, I concluded that the overall structure was similar.

I also compared the factor analysis of two subgroups: (a) those who had used psychedelics (users) and (b) those who never had (non- users). (Abstract, unnumbered page)

Mind manifesting or revealing of the psyche are literal translations of the word psychedelic which was invented by Humphrey Osmond, a leading pioneer in LSD research. In this study I have chosen to use the term psychomagnifiers for two reasons. First, psychedelic has many negative and pejorative meanings attached to it from irresponsible use and exaggerated media attention particularly during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Second, the term psychomagnifiers more clearly describes these substances which have no set of specific effects since they affect the mind's functioning by amplifying or magnifying whatever content or processes are going on at the time of ingestion. Cox, a theologian, explains that, from his own experience, these substances suspend temporarily the feeling-inhibiting and perception-censoring mechanisms that operate in us during our *normal' hours. (pages 21-22)

Ideally the factor solution of the Mysticism Scale, which is based on eight of the nine characteristics of mystical experience delineated by Stace, should reflect this underlying structure. Dividing my research sample into users and non-users of psychedelic drugs (hashish/marijuana, psilocybin, LSD, and mescaline) and factor analyzing these subgroups gave substantial evidence for the construct validity of Hood's M Scale. Specifically, the three-factor structure of the users displayed exceptional clarity in understanding the underlying pattern of items in relation to Stace's categories.

Psychomagnifier Users
The first factor, Ineffability ... explained almost 19% of the variance in the scores. The second factor, which I labeled Unitive Mysticism, explained over 25% of the variance ... . The last factor, Religious Interpretation ... explained only 4.3% of the variance in the scores.

Psychomagnifier Non-Users
In stark contrast, the non-user subgroup indicated a completely different expression of mystical experiences than the users. The first factor of the non-users was the users' third factor, Religious Interpretation, and it ... explained 33% of the variance; whereas, the remaining two factors of the non-uses explained less than 10% of the variance combined. Both [factors 2 and 3] of the non- users were perplexing to interpret. Hypothesis 2 stated that I expected a substantially different factor structure for these two groups (users and non-users), and this is precisely what was found. (pages 197-198)

Explaining the Differences in the Factor Structures
First, the non-users may have concluded that the items in [Non- user Factors 2 and 3] belonged together simply because they had NEVER [Factor 2] in them or they didn't [Factor 3]. This may have been the underlying scheme for these two factors.

Second, separating the populations by psychomagnifier users and non-users may have divided the population on a number of personality characteristics. Those who have chosen to use an illegal substance are more likely to be risk takers, willing to go against convention. Hood's research has shown that college students who indicated that illicit drugs were triggers of mystical experiences tended to be high self-actualizers and non-traditionally religious.

Third, the non-users may be reacting to the unconventional, decidedly non-Christian wording and language found in many of the negatively stated items ... They may have decided that most of the items were strange, inappropriate, or lacking value. They may have been scared by them.

The more traditionally religious items on [Non-user Factor 1] seem more comfortable to the non-users since this factor accounts for the majority of the variance and contains both negatively and positively stated items. The majority of non-users reported they were Protestant (20%) or Catholic (50%), which were the two religious affiliations with the lowest [Mysticism] Scale scores (total and factor scores).

On the other hand, the users may have believed that mystical experiences, as defined by the M Scale, are not only valuable but something to strive for. In fact they may have exaggerated their responses to reflect what I, as the researcher, wanted. They also may have desired to appear more mystical than they were. In particular, this may have happened with the 57 students who were enrolled in the Psychedelic Mindview and Drug Legalization Research classes. I gave a lecture on Pahnke's Good Friday Experiment to these classes and used Pahnke's list of nine characteristics of mystical experiences to discuss these mindbody states. His list of characteristics was partly based on Stace's work and reflects many of the M Scale categories. (pages 199-200)

As expressed above, I cannot conclude that the use of psychomagnifiers triggered or facilitated any of the phenomena referred to in the Mysticism Scale data of the users since I did not ask about triggering events. The most that can be said from this study is that those who report past or current use with psychomagnifiers also report that their experience of the Mysticism Scale items, when factor analyzed, more clearly delineates Stance's original characteristics of mystical experiences than those who reported that they never used psychomagnifiers.

These intriguing results bring forth more questions than they answer, such as How do users and non-users of psychomagnifiers differ in personality traits, goals, values, experiences, beliefs, etc., What are the triggers for psychomagnifier users and how similar are they to the triggers of non-users,? What are the differences between those who no longer use psychomagnifiers versus those who continue to do so? and Did the experience of mystical phenomena affect the respondents' lives, and if so, how? It is my hope that these findings will stimulate further research. (pages 213- 214)

A variety of triggering or facilitating agents were cited as antecedents of mystical experiences. McCready and Hood classified these triggers into various classes such as aesthetic, drugs, natural, religious, and sexual. Whether these alternate mindbody states happen spontaneously, or more purposefully, for example in a meditative, therapeutic, or spiritual/religious context, it is not the trigger itself that causes the mystical experience. Instead, triggers can aid in opening the mindbody to the transcendent which is often blocked by our ordinary awake sense.

The drug triggers, particularly psychedelics, are one approach to facilitating mystical mindbody states. Maslow specifically suggested that psychedelics could be used for triggering peak experiences in the right people at the right time instead of waiting until they occur naturally. Ultimately it is a combination of the set, setting, and the drug that assist in catalyzing a mystical or transcendent experience.

Through his research, Maslow found that there was a group of individuals who experienced peak mindbody states but were afraid of them. These individuals were most likely to deny, negate, repress, or pathologize their peak experiences. Maslow discovered that they tended to be characterized by a rational, materialistic, and mechanistic life philosophy or were afraid of going insane and, therefore, needed to control their environment. It seems as if they didn't have any socially approved way in which to accept and integrate these experiences into their everyday lives.

There is a great need for educators, ministers, therapists, and those in the medical field to learn about mystical experiences and not label them psychotic or abnormal. The social and medical structure in our society needs to change to accommodate this information. As noted earlier, the psychological and mental health diagnostic handbook, the DSM-IV, has incorporated a nonpathological category for spiritual/religious issues. Also, training programs for counselors and therapists are beginning to assess the need to educate student trainees regarding spiritual/religious issues. In essence, it is most difficult to separate the spiritual/religious issues from life experiences since they are intimately connected. Religion was a crucial force on the development of American values and ideals, but now spiritual or mystical experiences seem to have been split off from the traditional religions of Western society. (pages 215-216)

This need to fill the spiritual aspect is real and substantial in human beings. This conclusion seems substantiated by the recent growing interest with alternate mindbody states, meditation, and the revival of ancient spiritual practices, particularly those related to Eastern and Native American philosophies and religions. Experiences of the mystical or transcendental are powerful, potentially life- transforming experiences which are common, beneficial, and usually indicators of psychological health. They need to be acknowledged and honored so that they can be integrated in order that they may prove to be trait altering rather than just momentarily state altering.

In particular, the approach to the drug war needs to be altered immediately. Instead of treating addiction to illicit substances as a crime and the drugs as evil entities, social, medical, and spiritual solutions are required. Each drug, illicit or licit, has its uses of potential uses. It is not the drug itself that is good or bad but the relationship that the individual or society has with that drug. Attending to the spiritual aspects of ourselves and hiring individuals in the justice and law enforcement branches that can champion unity rather than separateness, acceptance rather than condemnation, and empathy rather than callousness has tremendous implications for the drug problems in the United States. (pages 217- 218)

Adherents to various religions may be found to express their experience of mysticism in different or similar ways. This information may be able to open a dialogue about the relevance and meaning of mystical experiences to the practice of religious/spiritual life. The Mysticism Scale could be used to help return the focus of religion back to primary or core religious experience where the individual directly feels and participates in a relationship with the Divine, Spirit, or Ultimate Reality. James termed this personal religion and stated that these experiences were the fuel in establishing churches and religions. (pages 220-221)

Concluding Statement


Addressed by many names and labels, mystical mindbody states have been around for centuries, probably ever since humanity discovered the powerful effects of psychoactive plants. Past research has indicated that mystical or transcendent mindbody states are usually beneficial and more common than is typically believed. In this research study, I found that the Mysticism Scale factor structure of the psychedelic users neatly expressed Stance's characteristics of mystical experiences, particularly his ineffability and unitive aspects of mysticism. The study also showed that the use of psychedelics and entheogens as well as the meaningfulness of religious/spiritual practice were among the predictors of the Unitive Mysticism factor score for all the respondents.

Other research suggests that controlled and cautious use of psychedelics, especially in reference to set and setting, can promote mystical or transcendent mindbody states which are capable of fostering powerful transformations. It seems that the West has been slowly reawakening to the presence of the spiritual aspect of life as demonstrated by the recent interest in self-exploration and alternate mindbody states produced through biofeedback, guided imagery, meditation, and spiritual practices of indigenous and Eastern religions. If psychedelics can aid in engendering an experience with the Divine or Ultimate Reality, which seems to be lacking in our traditional Judeo-Christian religions, then our judicial, legal, medical, and therapeutic attitudes towards such substances need to be adjusted.

Reconnecting with the spiritual aspect of ourselves and nurturing it through experiences of mystical or core religious experiences may begin to address the psychopathologies of today. By eliminating the fear of the other and the anxiety around our own neediness, which pervades our materialist attitudes and fosters separateness, we can connect to the unity that underlies all life, whatever name we choose to call this sustaining force. By experiencing this unity directly, we can rise above materialism, consumerism, and the us versus them attitude that promotes hate, inequality, and competition. Instead we would be able to understand intuitively what is written in the Isa Upanishad, circa 600-500 B. C. E.:

He who sees all beings in his own Self, and the Self in all beings, hates none. (pages 221-222)



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

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