The Psychedelic Community as a New Religious Movement:

The word psychedelic was coined by Humphry Osmond in 1957, its etymological root is meant to indicate the ‘spirit-revealing’ or ‘soul-manifesting’ nature of the chemicals concerned.

We know, beyond all doubt, that many of the users of psychedelic drugs such as LSD, DMT, Mescaline and Psilocin Mushrooms claim that these chemicals cause them to have experiences they describe as spiritually significant: usually in terms of allowing new spiritual insights about the nature of their being and its relationship to experience and the world, or in terms of some kind of spiritual healing effect.

Many, if not most, individuals who repeatedly use psychedelics do so with a primary motivation to explore the spiritual benefits of psychedelics: it is therefore, a part of their spiritual lives. Many of those individuals feel that the drugs themselves are sacred gifts, they use drugs like LSD to bring about experiences and states of being that are somehow “spiritual”,  “mystical” and “divine”.

All around the world, right now, there are individuals who are using psychedelic drugs. Not just individuals though, there is an increasingly cohesive and open community of psychedelic users: all united by the shared belief that they have been benefited by, and will continue to benefit from, psychedelic drugs.

Is it not conceivable that this community of individuals, who use the same sacraments, share similar spiritual motivations, and hold similar core beliefs represent a new religious or spiritual movement? 

Illustrating the unique aesthetic of psychedelic art.

It is, essentially, a ‘New Religious Movement’ (NRM) that is not allowed to become an organised religion. It cannot be given a name, nor can its places of communal gathering be made to explicit. It includes a great variety of belief and practice: but then the religions of Hinduism and Buddhism, even Christianity all show a great variety of forms and expressions also. It has it’s own set of texts, but none are adopted as dogma, there is no cannon: but then many of the historical forms of human spirituality did not have a cannon either. It even has its own unique forms of artistic expression and aesthetic style, rife with themes of transcendence and spiritual discovery.

In Europe, especially in the summer, there are certain festivals attended primarily by the psychedelic community. At these festivals, an obvious form of neo-shamanism manifests itself: complete with music, dancing, and mind-altering chemicals, components of many shamanic traditions from all over the world. In fact, these festivals are becoming increasingly popular all over the world.

One of the implications of the continued growth of psychedelic festival culture is that the community of psychedelic users is becoming, with the help of the internet, more organised and more cohesive. Furthermore, now this ‘spiritual movement’ has community meeting spaces, with their own rituals, traditions, codes and conventions. At these gatherings there is a very strong sense of this community – people care for one another and help one another to have an enjoyable time, there is a sense of shared purpose and unity that is enjoyed by many when the psychedelic community meet.

Some might say “this isn’t spirituality, it is just hedonism’. Verily there are some who attend psychedelic festivals ‘just to have fun’, but there are others who feel, nonetheless, that psychedelic chemicals are an important aspect of their spiritual lives. Furthermore, who is to say that spirituality cannot be fun? Mystical texts from all world religions, including the bible, speak of ecstatic and joyous experiences that are encountered on the spiritual path: the Old Testament even describes singing and dancing as a result of spiritual attainment.

The Psychedelic Community has its own Places of Worship

When I walk down the street of Oxford on a Saturday night I see fighting, I see people throwing up, I hear glass smashing: people become rude, inconsiderate, violent. I have never seen a fight at a psychedelic music festival, I don’t see people stumbling around and throwing up, what I do see is people having the time of their lives and forming lasting bonds with people in the process.

Returning to the issue though, the psychedelic community needs to consider how it can go about becoming recognised for the legitimate spiritual movement that it is so that it can enjoy the same acceptance and according protections that are afforded to other religious communities.

In the mean time, psychedelic spiritualists will continue to be a persecuted and oppressed minority religious group. For walking their spiritual path, they face imprisonment, with all the hardships and consequences-on-life that are entailed by it. Let’s have a brief look at how this persecution came about.

Christian Puritanism & Moral Panics: ‘The War on Drugs’ as Hysteria

We must recognise that for the last thousand years (and then some) the population of Europe has had its native religious/spiritual practices oppressed by the ‘dominator religion’ that is Christianity. Wherever Christianity went it systematically destroyed any competing forms of spirituality: often through violence. In the background, that force is still an undercurrent of our society.

Think about it. The American political system is still so obviously fixated on the values of Puritanical Christianity: that kind of ‘good christian wholesomeness’ that is expected of any presidential candidate, the obsession with ‘sexual misconduct’ on the part those in the public sphere, and wariness of the many other things deemed viceful within the puritanical Christian tradition. Is it a coincidence that this moral panic, this ‘war on drugs’, has come from a country whose dominant spiritual power is a form Christian puritanism?

Like the witch-trials, the ‘War on Drugs’ is another hysterical moral panic: something is judged as evil, all ‘the good people’ respond with unspeakable inhumanity.

A moral panic, and not the first. Can we think of some other examples from history where the Christian majority have deemed something to be ‘evil’ or ‘morally wrong’ and responded with unspeakable violence? The witch-hunts, for example, which also took on a distinctive ferocity midst the North American puritans. The Inquisition, a few hundred years of torture, persecution, inhumanity: based on a response to what is perceived to be an evil.

Perhaps you think the comparison extreme? It’s not like we’re burning people at the stake or torturing them, right? But we do lock people up: vast swathes of people (usually the most socially disadvantaged) all in response to the supposed ‘evil’ of drug-use. As in the inquisition, we interrogate people, we use fear and intimidation to make them betrays other human beings: is it not torture to go through a judicial system and be locked away for decades of your life?

The ‘War on Drugs’ is just another inquisition. The ‘Holy/Good people’ exercising hegemonic domination over ‘the evil people’, and in the process performing unspeakable evils themselves.

Is it not an evil thing to do this to an individual? It is a harmful action after all, to lock them in a prison for years on end. Is the act of imprisoning some one for using psychedelics not, in fact, more evil than that individuals ‘offence’ of using psychedelics?

When an activity carries risks only to oneself, does that make it unethical? If so, are horse-riding and mountain climbing unethical to? Clearly then the idea that drug use is morally wrong cannot be based on the risks associated with their use. If it is not a moral wrong, then to punish people for it is not just, and is unethical.

The ‘War on Drugs’ will be viewed by historians as just another silly moral panic, a hysteria that got carried away with itself, but a hysteria like never before. A hysteria fueled by new mass-media technologies, a hysteria on an unprecedented scale, and one which does an unprecedented amount of harm.

It is interesting to consider the extent to which Puritanical Christianity has been embraced by, what some might consider to be ‘the new dominator religion’, Capitalism; and the extent to which spiritual movements which are perceived to be a threat to capitalism are marginalised, and in this case, forbidden.

Conclusion:

The psychedelic community, as it stands, is a new religious/spiritual movement. Its members are subject to persecution and oppression, as they have been for the last fifty years.

Much of modern drug culture is simply an extension of much older spiritual traditions. Modern Britain has new sacraments now, and its tribal dances are to dubstep from massive sound-systems

This ‘war on drugs’ is just a part of a millenia-old pattern of ‘organised religion’ dominating more spontaneous & experiential forms of spirituality. It manifests the values of the puritanical religious fanaticism which has come to dominate American political culture.

If our Right to Religious & Spiritual Freedom is to mean anything, then it must accommodate entheogenic  and psychedelic compounds , which are an important component to many forms of spirituality.

One source of hope is the increasing unity of the psychedelic community around the world.

Originally posted on Psychedelic Press UK:

The following article was written by Ido Hartogsohn. He is an Israeli writer and psychedelic activist. His first book ‘Technomystica: Consciousness in the Age of Technology’ was published (Hebrew) in 2009. Hartogsohn is currently writing his Ph.D. on the role of set and setting in the psychedelic research of the 1950s and the 1960s.

Psychedelics and Entheogens are two names for the same group of psychoactive compounds (usually referred to as ‘psychedelics’). These two terms delineate two very different perspectives on the proper way to use these psychoactive compounds.

Psychedelic is a term that was invented by the British psychiatrist Humphry Osmond in 1957, during a correspondence with Aldous Huxley, as the two were trying to find a new designation for the psychopharmacological group of substances which included compounds such as mescaline, LSD, and the psilocybin (found in magic mushrooms). The new name was supposed to replace terms such as…

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Originally posted on Psychedelic Press UK:

September 27-30, 2012

(www.psychedemia.org)

A conference in which professionals, academics, and visionaries from across the sciences, cultural studies, medicine, visual arts, and music are convening at the University of Pennsylvania campus to discuss the place of psychedelics in academia.

Psychedemia is a conference currently being planned by graduate students at the University of Pennsylvania, a member of the Ivy League and one of the premier institutes of the higher learning in the United States. Psychedemia (a portmanteau of Psychedelia and Academia) is dedicated to opening an informed and progressive discussion about how to responsibly and effectively integrate into academic and mainstream culture the recent renaissance of academic research into psychedelic experiences. The conference will attract devoted psychedelic scientists, philosophers and enthusiasts who seek the ultimate psychedelic cultural experience–the opportunity to interact with renowned thought leaders in a gorgeous Ivy League setting.
 
Psychedemia will coalesce decades of interdisciplinary…

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Originally posted on DavidCrews:

IntoANewLand-border
“Psychedelics are not suppressed because they are dangerous to users; they’re suppressed because they provoke unconventional thought, which threatens any number of elites and institutions that would rather do our thinking for us.”

Some thoughts from Dennis McKenna, ethnopharmacologist and brother of the late Terence McKenna, bard of modern psychoactive literature and thought. This is from his interesting new book, “The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss,” detailing his life with his famous brother and how their adventures affected their lives and influenced many thousands more.  Dennis goes on to say:

“Historically, those in power have always sought to suppress free thought, whether bluntly or subtly, because it poses an inherent challenge to their rule. That’s no less true today, in an age when corporate, political, and religious interests form a global bloc whose interests threaten all earthly life, including human life.”
[Dennis McKenna, The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss, North…

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Originally posted on Schreiner Achievement Showcase 2013:

Student: Rheachel Ferguson

This research is aimed at drawing a correlation between Ayahuasca (naturally occurring plant found in Ecuadorian region) and heightened states of awareness while dreaming (lucid dreaming). The presentation will demystify the ancient tribal psychedelic as well as explain what lucid dreaming is, share how the ceremonial substance is conducive to reaching lucidity in sleep, as well as explain the reasons for wanting to achieve such a state of dreaming.

By using personal accounts from people who have participated in the consumption of Ayahuasca, sharing the history and new findings concerning the use of the herbal brew, and bringing in the new age use of Ayahuasca, I hope to dispel common reservations about the use psychedelic plants that are naturally occuring, Southern American culture and the growing desire to heal through the use of dreams.

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What is drugs education really about? If drugs education were really about harm-reduction then we would objectively compare what science tells us about the effects of various substances since scientific research is undeniably the best method of determining the relationship between various causes and their effects. In this article it is argued that most drugs education in Britain fails to accurately communicate the truth about drugs by becoming unknowingly embroiled in a highly questionable, ambiguous, and complex mission of moralistic social engineering. Drugs education is dishonest, it misleads people, it is biased, and fails to represent the complex histories and realities that surround the issue of the individual’s relationship to mind-altering substances.

For the most part: drugs education, as it stands, works under a very different modus operandi than simply educating young people about the scientifically demonstrable facts about the effects of drugs. Drugs education as it is currently practised is the result of a complex set of interacting dynamics: the socially constructed taboo surrounding drug use and altered states of consciousness, the fact that many of the teachers will be largely ignorant to the realities of drug use, many of the teachers will have a knowledge-base largely gained through their own (frankly, limited) drugs education secondary education, many of teachers will themselves have used recreational drugs in the past and are not at liberty to be honest about it (due to the aforementioned taboo), an increasingly questioned overarching paternalistic political agenda encapsulated in the somewhat revealing term “The War of Drugs”, the endless double-standards surrounding what substances and activities (legal or otherwise) are deemed “too harmful” to be permitted, the list could go on. The elephant in the room undermines much of these drives though, and that elephant is the scientific research about the harms (and benefits) of various drugs.

In illustrate the extent of these conflicting factors, I would like to ask you to have a look at the graph below.

Graph clearly depicting the objective harms of controlled substances

Source: Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs

 

Now the source of this graph is none other than the government’s own scientific experts: Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs, November 2010. It illustrates clearly a number of truths that are somewhat unpalatable to many drugs educators in Britain:

  • Alcohol is, seemingly, more harmful than all other drugs: yet it is a drug that is socially accepted and most of the teachers themselves have used.
  • Cannabis is safer than alcohol or tobacco
  • Both the status of a given substance’s legality or illegality and current drug classification system(Class A, B, etc.) have virtually no bearing on the scientifically demonstrable harms of the substances in question.

Now each of these points is worthy of great exploration and thought: but let’s focus on the last one. If a student with much intelligence about them were to see and understand this graph, the graph showing scientific research, they would instantly see the arbitrary nature of current drug laws. That simple question “why?”, “for what reason?”: it would be enough to thoroughly undermine a “just say no” approach to this issue.

And there are other truths that drugs educators tend to be shy of broaching:

  • Many of the controlled substances have been shown to have medicinal properties, most notably cannabis and some of the “psychedelic” drugs.
  • When compared to high risk non-drug activity there is a clear double standard. The great Professor Nutt was, of course, fired from the aforementioned committee, for (amongst other things) stating that ecstasy is safer than horse-riding! Deaths from peanut butter allergies compared with deaths from cannabis use also serve to demonstrate this double-standard very clearly.
  • There is a clear double standard about attitudes to legal pharmaceuticals, psychoactive or otherwise, in terms of their harms (the P.R. term is “side-effects”) and the likelihood of those harms occurring. Compare, for example, the long list of side-effects for Fluoxetine (the anti-depressant better known as Prozac) to the effects of the responsible use of “magic mushrooms”: decide for yourself which seems more harmful!
  • That there is a difference between drug use and drug abuse.
  • That most drug users do not have their lives destroyed or seriously derailed in any meaningful way by it.
  • People take drugs to have fun.
  • Many of the teachers may have, at some point in their past, used a controlled substance. Their experiences may not have all been bad.
  • The fact that pretty much every one in our society is a “poly-substance user” when considering clearly how people use  alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, sugar, and psychoactive pharmaceuticals.
  • The history of the use of the drugs that are now illegal (“He who controls the past, controls…”?)

o   The use of “entheogens” and “psychedelics” in the students’ ancestors shamanic traditions

o   The potential spiritual significance of altered states of consciousness

o   The use of mind-altering substances by eminent peoples and thinkers of the past and their role in human creative enterprise.

  • The political and historical origins of our drug laws.
  • The complex political nature of drugs prohibition, related concepts such as “Freedom of thought”, “The Harm Principle”, or “cognitive liberty” are never really discussed in the context of drugs education.
  • The political nature drugs education as an agent of socialising and social-engineering.

 

To further challenge our current “just say no” drugs education practices is the vast sea of conflicting evidence students will increasingly be exposed to: drug information from “unapproved” drugs education sites, vastly more access to positive accounts of drug experiences, peer communications, wider access to “legal highs”, potentially enlightened parents, a culture of increasingly normalised drug use, and frequent positive depictions of drugs and “drug cultures” in films which, compared to two decades ago, seems to have massively infiltrated modern cinema at a somewhat suspicious rate.

Let’s face it, “The War on Drugs” is becoming increasingly controversial for a number of reasons; not least of all the recent American states that have ended cannabis prohibition thus rightfully claiming an enormous tax bounty in return! Far be it for teachers to perpetuate a political agenda that should be the subject of rigorous analysis and scrutiny. Far be it for teachers to tacitly comply with the deeply troubling political scheme that is drug prohibition.

If you are an educator, and you want to show your students the truth about drug harm, you should start with the chart shown above. Explore the harms and benefits or drug use fully, be honest about its history, encourage debate about the myriad political issues surrounded in both “The War on Drugs” and the purposes of drugs education. If you are a truly responsible educator, when a student says “I don’t think I’ll ever drink alcohol, instead I’ll occasionally use mushrooms and cannabis because the scientific research demonstrates reduced harm in that choice.” You would leave it be.

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