Tag Archives: shamanism

Spiritual Transformations

Sacred ceremonies are containers within which psychic forces and people are held.  The form of the ceremony might differ, but there are essential elements in all traditions.  Take for example the peyote ceremony of the Native American Church.  nitetipiThe ceremonial space is a circular gathering with an opening in the east where the sun comes up.  This could be out in the open or enclosed within a Tipi or Hogan.  There is an altar, fire, and medicine.  There are sacred symbolic instruments which are used in traditional ways.  The pattern is well known by the participants.  The beginning involves prayers and activities such as making the crescent shaped altar, lighting the fire, placing the instruments and medicines in the right places at the prescribed times.  There will be another prayer with tobacco and/or cedar smoke by the leader(s) and the people, followed by sharing the peyote medicine.  Then the singing…

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The following article was kindly submitted by Adrian Zieniewicz – the founder of The Psychedelic Spirituality Facebook Group.

In order to bridge a language gap, the article has been editted by Cognitive Liberty UK, with the permission of the original author.

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For as far as our history goes or at least since the time when we learned to stand upright, talk and think, we sought a connection with something Eternal, something higher, something Absolute, Divine, some kind of Transcendent reality. Well, guess what? We found it!

There is plenty of evidence to show that this pursuit has been going on since the beginning of recorded history, and indeed, evidence that mind-altering ‘substances’ were used as a part of that pursuit. We cannot simply change the fact that the human spirit has always been itching like hell to get to know what is actually going on in this world.

Let’s get back to the ancient, mythical and poorly documented times. It’s hard to tell exactly when the humans started consuming psychoactive foods. As I understand it, the oldest evidence of worshipping psychedelic substances and experiences dates around 5000 B.C. (i.e. 7000 years ago) in Northern Africa, where the Psilocybin mushrooms were revered; also, in Central America we have found peyote buttons that are approx. 5700 years old and there are probably more examples, of which I forgot and there are certainly more cases that were never found.

History shows clearly that different cultures had their own elixirs of life, god given substances and mediators of the worlds. The Aztecs had the Teonanácatl, which was served at the coronation of Moctezuma II in 1502. Teonanácatl literally means “flesh of the gods”; again pointing that it serves as a link between the sacred and the mundane.

Then there’s ‘Soma’, one of the great historical mysteries. The Soma of the Iran-India region (but a culture just before the Persian and Indian) was praised in these words

The Rigveda (8.48.3, tr. Griffith),

We have drunk Soma and become immortal; we have attained the light, the Gods discovered.

Now what may foeman’s malice do to harm us? What, O Immortal, mortal man’s deception?

However the speculations about contents of Soma have never been solved. Some point that it might be Ephedra sinica, others say that it was Amanita Muscaria (Fly Agaric) and some even say that it might be the same thing as Teonanácatl. Whichever plant or fungus it was, it was certainly a powerful psychoactive. Kykeon was the drink served during Eleusinian mysteries around 1500 B.C. It was made mainly out of water and barley but some of the descriptions of the mysteries and some accounts suggest that it was a fairly potent psychedelic – probably containing ergot fungus, which now serves as a precursor to LSD. Kykeon was also highly praised and the ritual had a status of a socially accepted, albeit closely guarded, initiation ritual.

Some have argued that the expression of our yearning for a communion with the divine may be expressed in alchemy. About 2300 years ago Greek, Egyptian and Arab mystics began formulating their recipes for changing one substance into another. The quest was probably more symbolic, mystical rather than was it a true search of ways to simply turn lead into gold for that matter. Perhaps the quest was about finding spiritual processes or rules that needed to occur and act in order to make a visible change in the physical realm, or ‘to turn the inner base material of the soul into spiritual gold’. Presumably, in some sense, the alchemical aimed to set in motion a willful action that would bring up something of extraordinary quality. We had already seen corn grow out of water and soil and turn into food that gave us energy, which later turned into dung. We needed to discover our ways of expressing our timeless imagination through alchemy, which later became modern chemistry.

The mystical elixir of life was supposed to grant us eternal life. But don’t think about eternal life as in: “behind the gates of Heaven, there’s a playground where you can indulge forever”. It is ridiculous to claim that we’d like to live forever in our bodies. All we wanted to know was that we’re not going to fade away and that we’re not a flame that is going to burn out but that we are able to transcend our form and still “be”. We needed to be sure that life goes on even when our body decays. We needed to know that there is no end, that we are safe and that we can sleep calmly at night, not worrying about tomorrow.

I can’t give you an exhaustive history of humanity’s long use of psychoactive plants and chemicals, to do so would take at least one book. Nor can I claim to wholly understand the motives of our forefathers in their experimenting with such things: presumably their motives, even if all ‘spiritual’, varied widely from culture to culture, person to person.

Either way there is something really hard to explain about psychedelics. We all know that their history is older than any religion or at least as old as the oldest religions (I’m pointing at shamanism, particularly) and we all know that they contain some simple molecules that stick into our brain cells giving rise to an experience that, for the most people, which is also evidential, becomes something so profound they can never forget.

Many of the people who have consumed psychedelics say that they experience true divinity, see God, Krishna, the Cosmic Serpent, DNA (and even win Nobel prizes for it), aliens, their dead relatives, travel in, through and out of time and space, become one with their loved ones, those who they hate get annihilated, taste different things, music, hear colors (I’m out of breath), acquire consciousness of a car tire, oil, planet, recall their prenatal life, past lives, future lives, speak with the plants and animals and so on and on. In general they gave people a sense that consciousness is a phenomena existing throughout everything.

These experiences can be written off as ‘hallucination’ and their resulting beliefs as ‘delusion’, but such a wholesale ‘writing-off’ of human experiences is actually quite bold, not to mention- resting on the rather narrow and historically recent set of philosophical assumptions in the form of the philosophy og scientific materialism. The same scientific materialism which, though now widely accepted, is philosophically controversial (many would argue, invalid), the same materialistic philosophy which happens to have dawned in the human mind at the same time as the rampant consumerist-materialism which currently enslaves large swathes of our species.

Scientific materialism claims to base all truth-claims and/or theoretical understanding on the empirical data presented to our awareness by the five senses. In general, it is the objects constructed and represented through the five senses that people take to be their reality, take to be the real world. When LSD gained popularity in the 1960s, it filled the minds of the people with new empirical data that was somehow not of ‘the five sense realms’ (in that people claimed to be having experiences that transcended them), consequently the challenge of LSD was to not only to the physical safety of non-users but to their very notion of Reality.

It is as if, for humanity’s entire history, the mind of the species were previously less bound to the five-senses. People believed, and experienced, all sorts of ‘strange things’, withces, magic, faeries, demonds, spirits, ghosts – but then eventually human consciousness got ‘boxed in’ to the five-senses. No other experience, other than those given to you through the five senses is ‘real’ – that is the current party-line.

Aside from all of that, oneinteresting thing about psychedelics is that: were it not for people continuing to use them – All those myths, philosophies, and perspectives, that relate to our ancestral use of Kykeon, Soma, Teonanacatl would have been lost in the sands of time. There it was just before our eyes, right in our minds… the shining messenger, the God given molecule baring spiritual power, the true communion. LSD was the sacred substance because it enabled humans to [ed. feel that they had] learned what awaits them beyond death. Those who have tried it and were lucky understood that life was eternal. There it was – the next thing after Jesus Christ that was supposed to save us.

I remember a story about the sixties, The Grateful Dead were cruising around the country playing music and people were getting high; wherever the Deads went they were leaving the acid trace behind them. There was a guy who received a few thousand dollars worth of crystallized LSD one day from The Brotherhood of Eternal Love, a religious order dedicated to spreading the Sacrament LSD. Crystal was abundant those days. So this guy having the crystal worth a few thousand dollars in his pocket was just cruising, like all other hippies, from one party to another, spreading the acid. Then, another day when he met the Brotherhood members who gave him the crystal again, he was asked: “so did you earn some money on it?”. He said: “no, not a cent, I gave it all away”. “Good”, they replied.

In 1960s America, a socially volatile situation emerged with the War on Vietnam, viewed by many as unnecessary, costly, wrong and evil. People, in part fueled by LSD, stood up against the injustices of the American military-industrial machine. Large scale social movements began to radicalize: the “I have a Dream” of Martin Luther King, the sexual revolution, birth control, environmentalism, and animal rights (something I like to point out to those who say ‘the hippies failed’). This is going to be a story about our longing for the eternal, but also about, a drug that gives humanity hope even when the machinations of the rat-race-machine seem to be sealing its destiny.

So what is a sacred substance? What is a sacred experience? Well- don’t let any one else tell you! You have to ask yourself what your ecstasy is, what your God is, what love is for you, what sacredness means to you. LSD pumped our minds with rainbows until we reached climax and exploded. LSD is the philosopher’s stone because it enabled us to discover and set a change in motion, it gave us a glimpse of transcendence and then when we came back from the beyond we were simply able to recognize what is better for ourselves, we have found ways to be happier and do less harm to each other. But it was all branded as wrong by those who wouldn’t take the leap and see for themselves, it was all doomed…by them.

So what do the alchemists do these days? Turn horse shit into psilocybin mushrooms and the myth goes on…


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.


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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