The Religion That Has No Name: The Persecution of Psychedelic Spirituality

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 Magic 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.

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25 comments
  1. Dear Author,

    I would just like to express my gratitude for this article… Bless you!

    Kindest Regards
    Founder of Psychedelic Spirituality

  2. Dalton said:

    Great write! And an interesting look at the source of psychedelic suppression. Oh and by the way, YOU ROCK!

    Namaste Om

  3. Rob said:

    I’m currently facing 6 felony charges in the US as a result of a (hopefully) unconstitutional search of my vehicle. Possession, Delivery, and Manufacture of DMT and Psilocybin…pretty grim world.

    • cognitivelibertyuk said:

      Hope things go well for you Rob, if you ever fancy writing an article about your experiences just get in touch.

    • Rev iggy LUV said:

      From a fellow traveler who has been there and also faced the grim realities of the American judicial system I can only pray that your punishment will be light and over quickly. If by any chance your case is still pending please find some of the root high john, its pagan magic which avoids/lessons legal entanglements and I believe was responsible at least in part for my sentence being only 90 days, whereas I was looking at 8 yrs w no chance of parole. If you need a friend/penpal feel free to contact me.

      • Rob said:

        Thanks for reaching out brother. Fortunately I have become recently free of all that, and it was mostly painless. Many lessons learned…

        Hope all’s well for you.

  4. Thank you so much for this article. The war on drugs is a war on humanism. I just want to take 5 grams of mushrooms so I can feel what this culture stripped away from me starting on in early childhood.

  5. Superfluous G said:

    I’m a frequent tripper, but wouldn’t describe my experiences as spiritual. What it does do for me though (and science backs me up) is give me a nice level playing field to experience the rest of my life in. Fear, anxieties, depression and other mental clutter tend to fall by the wayside, and allow me to achieve more. If anything, it allows me to be a more productive member of society, yet I’m scorned for speaking out in defence of how I keep it together publicly.

    Mad world out there.

    • cognitivelibertyuk said:

      Yes, an interesting point.

      Whilst some people who use psychedelics do not describe their experiences as spiritual, many do. This article refers to the community of individuals who, in their many diverse ways, use psychedelics as a component to (what they would consider to be) their spiritual lives.

  6. Ample Waters said:

    I’d actually say that “modernism” and “secularism” have displaced religion in our society… It’s interresting how here living in the mountains of Peru, a few of my best friends are life long professing catholics who NEVER make it their business to question my “shamanistic” activities. one guy said, its always existed here and has been the least of their problems…

  7. Ample Waters said:

    id also say that the worst thing i could imagine would be for the “psychedelic community” to become organized or sanctioned… no one here in peru is part of a “psychedelic community”… it’s simply not talked about by anybody accept gringos. its more akin to a secret society. they know well what they are up against if they make something out of it. humble yourselves people….

    • Bevan said:

      Hi AM. I can’t help but wonder if you’ve spent time in those parts of the world where there are “psychedelic communities”, as a way of comparison to your experience of the “secret society”. I’ve lived in enough countries to feel I have a sense of both of these contexts, and while I once thought I was happy to do my own thing without the sanction of any wider community, or, god forbid, the law, I’ve come to feel that its something very important and meaningful to be able to live my life openly, without appology and without fear of persecution. I now very much feel entitled the same recognition and protection that most other subcultures and belief systems enjoy these day, under the umbrella of human rights and religious freedom. Perhaps one need to feel what its like to be able to do ayahuasca in a 13th century church in the middle of central Amsterdam and not have to even once have the thought that the police might knock on the door to appreciate what we might all too willingly have ceded. Perhaps we like the feeling of being a secret society ‘up against’ authority, but perhaps we need the conviction and courage to work towards a world as we would ideally like it to be. No necessary lack of humility there, I don’t think?

  8. zenxi6 said:

    Well said! Cognitive liberty is a concept that needs more people writing on it. There are so many in-grained problems which are difficult to remove from the overarching societal narrative. It seems to come down to a fundamental moral disagreement with altering ones consciousness using psychoactive substances other than the few that are accepted in society. It is clearly arbitrary and there is clearly a fear-campaign around other substances, like the psychedelics. There are numerous meta-analyses of media coverage of illicit drugs in comparison with alcohol or tobacco and the negatives are focused on and reported disproportionately, fostering out-of-balance reporting.

    Well written!
    http://www.enpsychedelia.org – Check it!

  9. naturofbeing said:

    I have been going to trance music festivals for 15 years and the growth is amazing. This is more than a culture – it is a lifestyle and would surely be better off without labels, mainstream recognition or representation. It has no spiritual leader as it is lead by awareness and group consciousness.

  10. Monique said:

    I would love to know of a community in the Toronto area where I could go to meet with like minded people such as you speak of here.

  11. Irene Lemega said:

    Are there communties like this in Australia?

    • cognitivelibertyuk said:

      Yes, I think they call it ‘doof’ or something 🙂

      • zenxi6 said:

        haha… yeah, something like that 😉

        If you’re interested in Australia’s psychedelic culture, there are many places to look and connect!
        I’m biased and recommend listening to a radio show I produce – http://www.3cr.org.au/enpsychedelia

        I also recommend checking out our Melbourne mushroom day on September 20th if you’re in Melbourne.

        There’s (of course) plenty of psychedelic culture in the Northern Rivers region (Byron Bay, Nimbin etc.) but most of the capitals have a healthy, active psychedelic scene… Especially in and around Melbourne!

      • Bevan said:

        Good to hear zenxi6, I’ve just immigrated to Melbourne a few weeks ago. Bought a ticket to Earthcore and Rainbow Serpent already, but hoping more to find a community of more serious practitioners, ayahuasca in particular. I was glad to at least hear of a small Santo Daime community in Melbourne.

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