Druginduced Religious And Mystical Experiences

The use of psychedelic substances for ritual, religious, and magical purposes can be traced back to ancient shamanic traditions and is probably as old as mankind. The legendary divine potion soma, prepared from a plant of the same name whose identity is now lost, played a crucial role in the Vedic religion. Preparations from hemp Cannabis indica and sativa have been used in Asia and Africa for many centuries under different names—hashish, charas, bhang, ganja, kif—in religious ceremonies and folk medicine. They have played an important role in Brahman-ism, have been used in the context of Sufi practices, and represent the principal sacrament of the Rastafarians. Religio-magical use of psychedelic plants was widespread in the Pre-Columbian cultures, among the Aztecs, Mayans, Olmecs, and other Indian groups. The famous Mexican cactus Lophophora williamsii (peyote), the sacred mushroom Psilocybe mexicana (teonanacatl), and several varieties of morning glory seeds (ololiuqui) were among the plants used. Ritual use of peyote and the sacred mushroom still survives among various Mexican tribes; the peyote hunt and other sacred ceremonies of the Huichol Indians and healing rituals of the Mazatecs using the mushrooms can be mentioned here as important examples. Peyote was also assimilated by many North American Indian groups and about one hundred years ago became the sacrament of the syncretistic Native American Church. South American healers (ayahuascheros), and preliterate Amazonian tribes such as the Amahuaca and the Jivaro use yage, psychedelic extracts from the "visionary vine," the jungle liana Banisteriopsis caapi. The best known African hallucinogenic plant is Tabernanthe iboga (eboga), which in smaller dosages serves as a stimulant and is used in large quantities as an initiatory drug. In the Middle Ages, potions and ointments containing psychoactive plants and animal ingredients ivere widely used in the context of the Witches' Sabbath and the black mass rituals. The most famous constituents of the witches' brews were the deadly nightshade (Atropa Belladonna), mandrake (Mandragora of-ficinarum), thornapple or "jimson weed" (Datura Stramonium), henbane (Hyoscyamus niger), and toad skin. Modern chemical analysis has detected in the skin of toads (Bufo bufo), a substance called bufotenine (or dimethylserotonin) which has psychedelic properties. The psychedelic plants mentioned above represent only a small selection of those that are most famous. According to ethnobotanist Richard Schultes of the Botanical Department of Harvard University, there exist more than one hundred plants with distinct psychoactive properties.

The ability of psychedelic substances to induce visionary states of a religious and mystical nature is documented in many historical and anthropological sources. The discovery of LSD, and the well-publicized occurrence of these experiences in many experimental subjects within our own culture, has brought this issue to the attention of scientists. The fact that religious experiences could be triggered by the ingestion of chemical agents instigated an interesting and highly controversial discussion about "chemical" or "instant mysticism." Many behavioral scientists, philosophers, and theologians became involved in fierce polemics about the nature of these phenomena, their meaning, validity, and authenticity. The opinions soon crystallized into three extreme points of view. Some experimenters saw the possibility of inducing religious experiences by chemical means as an opportunity to transfer religious phenomena from the realm of the sacred to the laboratory, and thus eventually to explain them in scientific terms. Ultimately, there would be nothing mysterious and holy about religion, and spiritual experiences could be reduced to brain physiology and biochemistry. However, other researchers took a very different stance. According to them, the mystical phenomena induced by LSD and other psychedelic drugs were genuine and these substances should be considered sacraments because they can mediate contact with transcendental realities. This was essentially the position taken by the shamans and priests of psychedelic cultures where visionary plants such as soma, pcyotc and teonanaeatl were seen as divine materials or as deities themselves. Yet another approach to the problem was to consider LSD experiences to be "quasi-religious" phenomena which only simulate or superficially resemble the authentic and genuine spirituality that comes as "God's grace" or as a result of discipline, devotion, and austere practices. In this framework, the seeming ease with which these experiences could be triggered by a chemical entirely discredited their spiritual value.

However, those who argue that LSD-induced spiritual experiences cannot be valid because they are too easily available and their occurrence and timing depend on the individual's decision, misunderstand the nature of the psychedelic state. The psychedelic experience is neither an easy nor a predictable way to God. Many subjects do not have spiritual elements in their sessions despite many exposures to the drug. Those who do have a mystical experience frequently have to undergo psychological ordeals that are at least as difficult and painful as those associated with various aboriginal rites of passage or rigorous and austere religious disciplines.

Most researchers agree that it is not possible to differentiate clearly between spontaneous mystical experiences and "chemical mysticism" on the basis of phe-nomenological analysis or experimental approaches.5 This issue is further complicated by the relative lack of specific pharmacological effects of LSD and by the fact that some of the situations conducive to spontaneous mysticism are associated with dramatic physiological and biochemical changes in the body.

Prolonged fasting, sleep deprivation, a stay in the desert with exposure to dehydration and extremes of temperature, forceful respiratory maneuvers, excessive emotional stress, physical exertion and tortures, long monotonous chanting and other popular practices of the "technology of the sacred" cause such far-reaching alterations in body chemistry that it is difficult to draw a clear line between spontaneous and chemical mysticism.

The decision whether chemically induced experiences are genuine and authentic or not thus lies in the domain of theologians and spiritual masters. Unfortunately the representatives of different religions have expressed a wide spectrum of conflicting opinions; it remains an open question who should be considered an authority in this area. Some of these religious experts made their judgments without ever having had a psychedelic experience and can hardly be considered authorities on LSD; others have made far-reaching generalizations on the basis of one session. Serious differences of opinion exist even among leading representatives of the same religion—Catholic priests, Protestant ministers, Rabbis, and Hindu saints — who have had psychedelic experiences. At present, after thirty years of discussion, the question whether LSD and other psychedelics can induce genuine spiritual experiences is still open. Negative opinions of individuals like Meher Baba or R. C. Zaehner stand against those of several Tibetan Buddhist masters, a number of shamans of the psychedelic cultures, Walter Clark, Huston Smith, and Alan Watts.

Whether the experiences produced by LSD are genuine mystical revelations or just very convincing simulations thereof, they are certainly phenomena of great

An experience of unfulfilled religious longing. Groups of people are striving to cross treacherous, swampy waters in imperfect boats in order to reach a deity ori the horizon. However, they all sink and drown before reaching their desired goal.

interest for theologians, ministers, and students of religion. Within a few hours, individuals gain profound insights into the nature of religion, and in many instances their purely theoretical understanding and formal belief is vitalized by a deep personal experience of the transcendental realms. This opportunity can be particularly important for those ministers who profess a religion, but at the same time harbor serious doubts about the truth and relevance of what they preach. Several priests and theologians who volunteered for our LSD training program at the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center were skeptics or atheists who were involved in their profession for a variety of external reasons. For them, the spiritual experiences they had in their LSD sessions were important evidence that spirituality is a genuine and deeply relevant force in human life. This realization liberated them from the conflict they had had about their profession, and from the burden of hypocrisy. In several instances, the relatives and friends of these individuals

A series of drawings illustrating the relation between spiritual pathology and the biological birth trauma. The first four show images of the most sacred Christian theme—crucifixion — contaminated by what the patient calls "obscene biology". During her session she realized that this confusion reflected not only specific childhood experiences, but particularly the biological trauma of birth.

The sacred event of delivery is inextricably connected with genitals, sexuality, aggression, defecation and urination.

In the final picture the conflict is resolved. The figure of Purified Christ' rises above the realm of "obscene biology", separating from it. However, the patient's hands are reaching for the Black Sun which is a symbol of inner reality even beyond Christ, the divine that transcends all forms and limitations.

reported that their sermons following the LSD session showed unusual power and natural authority.

Spiritual experiences in psychedelic sessions frequently draw on the symbolism of the collective unconscious and can thus occur in the framework of cultural and religious traditions other than the experient's own. LSD training sessions are therefore of special interest for those who study comparative religion. Ministers affiliated to a specific church arc sometimes surprised when they have a profound religious experience in the context of an entirely different creed. Because of the basically unitive nature of the psychedelic experience, this usually does not disqualify their own religion but places it in a broader cosmic perspective.

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