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On Nomenclature for the Class of Mescaline-Like Substances and Why It Matters

Compiled by R. Jesse

1957: I have tried to find an appropriate name for the agents under discussion: a name that will include the concepts of enriching the mind and enlarging the vision.... My choice, because it is clear, euphonious, and uncontaminated by other associations, is psychedelic, mind manifesting. [emphasis added]

– Humphry Osmond, "A Review of the Clinical Effects of
Psychotomimetic Agents," Annals N.Y. Acad. Sci., 14 March 1957.

Other Associations:

The conical lamps contain a watery fluid and the "lava." When the "lava" is warmed, it becomes less dense and rises, then cools and slithers its psychedelic way to the bottom.

– "In Kitsch, a Solution," The New York Times, 13 January 1998.

Gidget goes global in this witty world-tour of surfwear, tunics, saris and sarongs, done in gold mesh, bandanna prints, denim and beaded chiffon. While some of Sui's fans may miss her grunge and Gothic motifs, most will savor this psychedelic pu pu platter for polyglot hipsters.

– "Let's Go: Fashion Spring '98", The New York Times, 1 February 1998.

But, like in-laws from different cultures, my New York City Barbies have never met their suburban sisters. The Midwest gals are a bit out of date, still clad in psychedelic pants suits and beauty parlor bouffants.

– "Barbie Moves to the Village," The New York Times, 5 April 1998.

The music's late-60's roots showed clearly.... A younger guitarist, Jo Karafiat, has joined the longtime Plastic People; he wailed above the riffs with psychedelic squiggles, and occasionally added quick-scrubbing 70's funk chords.

– "Echos of 1968 Czechoslovak Rock and Struggle," The New York Times, 20 July 1998.

Most communes of the 90's are not free-love refuges for flower children, but well-ordered, financially solvent cooperatives where pragmatics, not psychedelics, rule the day. "Hippie communes of the 60's were high on idealism with little sense of self-discipline or direction," Mr. Norwood said.

– "Yes, It's a Commune. Yes, It's on Staten Island," The New York Times, 29 November 1998.

1967: [T]oday the word "psychedelic" is so well known that it is commonly used in advertisements. But its meaning has become more clouded as its fame increased. What is psychedelic? A style of lettering on posters? The deafening throb of a rock band? Kaleidoscopic light effects that tire the eyes? Or anything at all that one wishes to sell? The psychedelic fashions will pass, and the word "psychedelic" may have to go with them. It may have lost its ability to refer to an elusive and precious state of consciousness. Say "psychedelic" and you hear the glib voice of the salesman, the hypocritical tones of the mystifier, the rationalizing chatter of the dissipated and purposeless. But this was not what Humphry Osmond meant by the word. "Psychedelic" was a good word. A sick society has degraded its referent and thus the name. We need a new name and a new concept.

– Lisa Bieberman, Phanerothyme: A Western Approach to
the Religious Use of Psychochemicals

(Cambridge, MA: Psychedelic Information Center, 1968)

1979: All languages grow together with the peoples who speak them, borrowing or inventing terms to keep pace with what is new and retiring others when they are no longer needed. When the recent surge of recreational use of so-called "hallucinogenic" or "psychedelic" drugs first came to popular attention in the early 1960s, it was commonly viewed with suspicion and associated with the behavior of deviant or revolutionary groups....

Out of the many words proposed to describe this unique class of drugs only a few have survived in current usage. It is the contention of the authors who have subscribed their names to this article that none of these terms really deserve greater longevity if our language is not to perpetuate the misunderstandings of the past....

[N]ot only is "psychedelic" an incorrect verbal formation, but it has become so invested with connotations of the pop-culture of the 1960s that it is incongruous to speak of a shaman's taking a "psychedelic" drug.

We, therefore, propose a new term that would be appropriate for describing states of shamanic and ecstatic possession induced by ingestion of mind-altering drugs. In Greek the word entheos means literally "god (theos) within," and was used to describe the condition that follows when one is inspired and possessed by the god that has entered one's body. It was applied to prophetic seizures, erotic passion and artistic creation, as well as to those religious rites in which mystical states were experienced through the ingestion of substances that were transubstantial with the deity. In combination with the Greek root gen-, which denotes the action of "becoming," this word results in the term that we are proposing: entheogen.

– Carl A.P. Ruck, Jeremy Bigwood, Danny Staples,
Jonathan Ott & R. Gordon Wasson, "Entheogens,"
Journal of Psychedelic Drugs, Vol 11(1-2) Jan-Jun 1979, 145-6.

1980: Entheogen nov. verb.: 'God within us', those plant substances that, when ingested, give one a divine experience, in the past commonly called 'hallucinogens', 'psychedelics', 'psychoto-mimetics', etc etc, to each of which serious objections can be made. A group headed by the Greek scholar Carl A. P. Ruck advances 'entheogen' as fully filling the need, notably catching the rich cultural resonances evoked by the substances, many of them fungal, over vast areas of the world in proto- and prehistory.... We favor the adoption of this word. Early Man, throughout much of Eurasia and the Americas, discovered the properties of these substances and regarded them with profound respect and even awe, hedging them about with bonds of secrecy. We are now rediscovering the secret and we should treat the 'entheogens' with the respect to which they were richly entitled. As we undertake to explore their rôle in the early history of religions, we should call them by a name unvulgarized by hippy abuse.

– R. Gordon Wasson. The Wondrous Mushroom:
Mycolatry in Mesoamerica
(NY: McGraw-Hill, 1980), xiv.

1993: A recent book dismissed entheogen as "a clumsy word freighted with theological baggage" (T.K. McKenna 1992), the author having failed to appreciate its non-theological sense, and being apparently unaware of the use of the word in ancient Greece. Incongruously, the word was dismissed for its supposed "theological baggage" in a book entitled Food of the Gods!...

Entheogen has been used by many leading experts in the field, including J. Bigwood, M.D. Coe, J.L Díaz, W. Doniger (O'Flaherty), W.A. Emboden, A. Escohotado, J. Fericgla, P.T. Furst, J. Gartz, G. Guzmán, J. Halifax, A. Hofmann, F.J. Lipp, B. Lowy, D.J. McKenna, E. MacRae, B.R. Ortíz de Montellano, C.A.P. Ruck, R.E. Schultes, R.G. Wasson and others; though some, such as W. La Barre and A.T. Shulgin have shunned it (La Barre 1988). Entheogen has appeared widely in print in English, German, French, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish....

– Jonathan Ott, Pharmacotheon:
Entheogenic drugs, their plant sources and history

(Kennewick, WA: Natural Products Co., 1993), 104-5.

1994: Ethnobotany, rather than anthropology, pioneered the study of that remarkable class of plants - the botanical hallucinogens - employed by the shamans of some Native American peoples to facilitate the ecstatic trance that is an indispensable component of shamanism.... [A]ll plants are regarded as having souls or spirits, but the so-called hallucinogens are of a different order. Their users credit their extraordinary effects, which science knows to be due to certain alkaloids, by themselves or in combination, to supernatural power. The plants are sacred, and at least some are personified as deities that must be treated with care and propitiated with offerings, lest they turn their powers against those who use them. Because of these special qualities, some students of the phenomenon have proposed to do away with hallucinogen and replace it with entheogen, a compound term that means "containing deity" or "the god within," thus conveying more accurately what is meant in the indigenous universe.

– Peter T. Furst, "An Overview of Shamanism," in Gary Seaman & Jane S. Day (eds.),
Ancient Traditions: Shamanism in Central Asia and the Americas
(Niwot, CO: University Press of Colorado and Denver Museum of Natural History, 1994), 16-7.

1996: Once, when a journalist casually referred to peyote (a classic entheogen) as a drug, a Huichol Indian shaman replied, "Aspirin is a drug, peyote is sacred."

– Robert Forte, Introduction to
Entheogens and the Future of Religion (SF: CSP, 1996), 1.

2000: Nomenclature has been a problem.... The word "psychedelic" is etymologically innocuous, literally meaning "mind-manifesting,' but it is dated, tagged to the "psychedelic sixties" when recreational use of the drugs took over, and thus clearly inappropriate when speaking of shamans, Eleusis, and the Native American Church. We need a word that designates virtually nonaddictive mind-altering substances that are approached seriously and reverently, and the word "entheogens" does just that.

– Huston Smith, Cleansing the Doors of Perception
(New York: Tarcher/Putnam, 2000)

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