Psychedelics’ Sordid Past
Although they’re new to the scientific West, entheogenic (or God-inducing) substances have been used in tribal communities to connect to the ancestors and higher dimensions of life since time immemorial. More on this in the mysticism section. Here are some of them and their reception in the West.
Psilocybin, magic mushrooms, or shrooms were one of these substances, and were brought to the West in ’55. Their parallels with mysticism are noted by many prominent scholars of religion, including John Hick. So these so-called drugs are transporting people to places that very closely resemble the terrain that mystics, those who have near death experiences, people in psychosis, and people like Jill Bolte Taylor in her stroke, experience. Western science shut these down in its own ironically termed Enlightenment, and its materialist reductionism has little room for these terrains. Yet Harvard psychologist Timothy Leary claimed that he “learned more about [his] brain and its possibilities and more about psychology in the five hours after taking these mushrooms than [he] had in the preceding fifteen years of studying and doing research in psychology.” Since psychedelics disengage your filtering mechanisms and brain shortcuts, the possibility of new paradigms emerges. Aldoux Huxley’s book the Doors of Perception was inspired by the psychedelic cactus Mescaline, which changed his life and the history of literature and thought. And under Leary’s endorsement of LSD new paradigms certainly emerged as the doors of perception were flung wide open!
When LSD was discovered by Hoffman in the 4o’s, it’s possible applications to clinical psychology were instantly recognized and it was initially sent to prominent psychiatrists who were really excited about it’s potential use in therapeutic contexts and it saw all sorts of successful trials. And under the leadership of Leary the 6o’s saw unprecedented questioning of societal assumptions and the utopian hope of building heaven on earth, with San Francisco’s Summer of Love demonstrating how free accommodation, free food, free love, free ideas, and free goods and services could work themselves out. But the movement pushed too hard too soon, and buckled under unrestrained hedonism, societal pushback, and the inner human vices that had merely been like a ball shoved underwater and which came shooting up again. Although our generation still benefits from the positive repercussions of the hippie movement, our culture has also developed defense mechanisms against the substances and the dreams of that time. The pendulum swung in the opposite direction for a while, shutting these terrains down in the mainstream, but is now returning to a more nuanced and balanced middle ground.
See here for upcoming ebook that goes into more depth about other entheogens.
The four cautionary metaphors I mentioned earlier come into play here. The first is that the dimension shift is like a gnome being teleported into times square. There are malevolent as well as benevolent beings there, and spiritual propaganda just like there is earthly propaganda. After being convinced that these dimensions exist, which is what these substances can do, even to ardent atheists and materialists, you can either be taken in by a kind family, or snatched up by the circus and be held in captivity and used to their ends. If there is metaphysical wisdom to be gained from the use of these substances, can it be trusted? The extra-canonical book of 1 Enoch says that it was the fallen angels who taught humanity “enchantments, and the cutting of roots, [making] them acquainted with plants” (1 Enoch 7:1-2). And the Bible says that Satan “masquerades as an angel of light,” showing that deception is prevalent in the spiritual realm just as it is here (2 Corinthians 11:14).
These substances can be likened to a speeding car, which can lead to new land being explored, or horrifying crashes if skill is not developed to accompany them. A wise parent hides the keys from us to protect us, although ultimately the keys will be ours to enjoy.