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Offlinemanna_man
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The relationship between drugs and religion
    #4011656 - 04/04/05 05:21 AM (12 years, 24 days ago)

Here's an essay I wrote for my religion 100 class on psychedelics in religion. In it, I talk about the relationship between the drug-state and the religious experience, the possibility of drug induced theology, reasons for the Catholic chruch's rejection of hallucinogens, and the functionality of drugs in shamanism.

Post your thoughts...





INTRODUCTION: A Brief History of Hallucinogens


Since the dawn of human kind, it would seem as though man has developed a
propensity towards the desire for an altered consciousness. From such ancient activities as meditation, exercise, fasting, flagellation, trance induction, and rhythmic dancing, we can deduce that a hunger for the altered state of mind still exists in contemporary society as a means of religious communion, pleasure, as well as for therapeutic remedy; anyone who?s ever been to the gym can tell you that an intense 40 minute encounter with a stair-master is much more than just a good sweat; natural peptide hormones (called endorphins) bind to the brain?s opiate receptors, producing some of the same pharmacological effects as most chemically synthesized opioids, yielding a pleasurable stress-relieving effect. Even infants as young as one year old have occasionally been observed experimenting with the altered state, shaking their heads vigorously so as to provoke the delightfully intoxicating experience that is dizziness. However, perhaps some of the most interesting ? not to mention controversial - instances of self-alteration of consciousness are those experiences brought on by the naturally occurring psychoactive plants, the hallucinogens. Also called psychedelics - literally meaning ?mind-manifesting?-, hallucinogens comprise a unique collection of substances ?which cause psychological change or modify mental activity either by use of plant or else by a chemical synthesis.? The number of hallucinogenic plants existing in the natural world amounts to somewhere in the hundreds, some of which include the psilocybin containing mushrooms, the psychoactive peyote cacti, and the Amazonian root, Ayahuasca, meaning ?vine of the dead?.

The documentation of hallucinogenic plant use dates back to as early as the ancient Maya and Aztec civilizations. Plant hallucinogens played an important part in influencing economic behavior, social organization, as well as cultural and religious beliefs for some ancient civilizations such as these. For the Aztecs of Mexico, hallucinogens played an important role in facilitating political alliances between great states which comprised the confederate Aztec empire. Aztecs also used peyote in religious ceremony: viewing themselves as being people of the sun, the Aztecs attempted to propitiate their sun god by means of human sacrifice. Peyote, (a small spineless cactus containing various alkaloids such as Mescaline), was used to lighten the pain of the captives and to make them oblivious to their fate. For Australian Aborigines, the psychedelic pituri plant was probably the most economic plant used; it was sometimes used as a method of payment, it made life on the desert more tolerable because of its ability to quell hunger and thirst, and it also served as a token of friendship given to strangers. As for some of today?s cultures, such as the Cashinahua shamanistic tribes of Peru and the Native American Church in the US, plant hallucinogens are still being used today with as much fervor asever.

As for the effects these substances have on the human consciousness, it is quite difficult to pinpoint any particular set of observable data, since the drug experience could be considered one of the most subjective experiences available to man. It should also be noted that there is no real such thing as a ?drug experience? per se; any individual?s experience with a psychedelic substance is dependent upon several factors at the time of ingestion: the individual?s psychological make-up, their expectations, their surroundings, as well as cultural and religious variables. Thus, the experience can differ greatly from person to person depending on these determining variables. There are, however, a few common characteristics that can arise out of the experience. The following is a list of subjective feelings (or symptoms) as reported by 8 unselected volunteers after an experiment at The Worchester Foundation of Experimental Biology involving the administration of several doses of LSD :

1. Timelessness
2. Spacelessness
3. Unity & Loss of self
4. Joy/Peace
5. Sense of Dying and Rebirth
6. Presence of God

Although these drug-induced symptoms are in themselves fascinating and worth further inquiry, it is not the effects of the drugs that are of primary concern, but the striking resemblance they share with the religious experience.

In our Western society, the association of drugs with religious experience is
considered so offensive that many will deny such a thing to be true, deeming drugs as ipso facto non-religious. As we will see from our discussion, it is these Western
presumptions that blind us from a truth we refuse to accept; the truth being that religion and hallucinogens share an undeniable relationship, and that drugs can and do have a place in the religious sphere.



An Analysis of Contemporary Religion


In order for us to fully understand the issue of psychedelics in religion, it would prove useful to first define exactly what is meant by the term religion. Here, we are not referring to the institutional or social aspects of religion, but rather religion in its more subjective and personal forms. As Clark defines it in his Chemical Ecstasy:


Religion as the inner experience of the individual
when he senses Ultimate reality, whether as God, a
Beyond, transcendent cosmic process, a wholly
different and profound dimension of life, Nirvana,
or however one chooses to interpret this Ultimate
Reality, and particularly when this experience is
confirmed by the attempts of the individual to
harmonize his life with the reality he senses.


More succinctly put, it is religion as the feelings it produces rather than the dogmas it preaches. However, as we dissect it further, we find that the topic of religion gives birth to more and more definitions of religion; *we can also observe that there are two distinct constituent parts that make up the whole of the religious consciousness: at one end of the spectrum lies the Non-rational element, and on the opposite end, the Rational. When we say the non-rational element, we are referring to the most immediate perception of the Holy, the purest essence of religious experience. It deals more with the subjectivity of inner being rather than objective aesthetics. Its purpose in religion is to ?awaken and vitalize the religious sense, to give it color, vigor and motivation.? The Rational function, on the other hand, serves as a mediator of the non-rational experiences. Its purpose is to ?guide, criticize, and conceptualize the non-rational.? When one thinks of Western religious ideology, the rational element comes to mind, with its emphasis more on science, reason, and logic, whereas in the East, religion is mostly governed by the non-rational, that is to say, the discovery of self. Should a religion be overly dominated by the non-rational, we may find that its followers become too captivated by the awesome power of religious feeling, leading them to indulge in a selfish pursuit of the experience. This subsequently results in a withdrawal from society and its various social obligations. Conversely, an overly active rational element can result in the religion becoming too formal and sterile, lacking warmth and compassion. Ideally, the two functions should co-exist in perfect balance and harmony, like an evenly balanced scale. However, this ideal has yet to be met.

If we travel further from the macrocosmic qualities of religion into the
microcosmic, we discover that both the rational and non-rational functions can be further reduced to mere symbols of certain religious types. For the rational, the icon that is typically used for representation is the priest figure; essentially conservative, the priest ?represents the religious institution in its tradition, ceremonies, and discipline? . For followers of a rationally driven religion such as Catholicism, the priest is looked to as a divine intermediary, serving as the hierarchical messenger of God. It is through the priest that Catholics can experience God. As for the non-rational religions, the most prominent representative is the mystic. Standing against the priest, the mystic does not draw his inspiration from logic, tradition, or institution, but is moved by powerful instinctual urges from within. The mystical experience has been described as ?the profoundest and most essential function of the human spirit? the subject feels himself one with the cosmos, which to him may be the equivalent of God? . It has also been described in William James? Varieties of Religious Experience that ?personal religious experience has its root
and centre in mystical states of consciousness.?

Having identified the differences between rational and non-rational religion, it
should then be beneficial for our discussion to identify the similarities between the
psychedelic experience and the non-rational, mystical experience, as well as the conflicts between Western religious thought and drug use.




Western Religion and Their Criticism of the Non-Rational



Throughout the history of Western religions such as Catholicism, communion with the supernatural has always been achieved through the workings of a complex
hierarchical structure. As is consistent with most other rational religions, the individual?s role is to be supplicant to that of a much higher spiritual authority. For the individual to be able to reach religious enlightenment, one must not do so by individual efforts, but through the unity and power of the church. Just as the individual shares his/her relationship with the church, the church shares its relationship with the priest, who is responsible for the transmission of the Gospel from above.* Rational/Western religion relies on this succession of hierarchical relationships, not only for success in the religion, but also to exert power over the lay-person in an attempt to gain ?souls for Christ?. Why then, is Western religion and culture so opposed to the use of hallucinogenic substances? There could be many reasons for this, but surely the most prevalent one is the undeniable relationship that hallucinogens share with the mystical, non-rational experience.

To illustrate the striking similarity between the psychedelic and mystical
experiences, let us compare two instances as reported by two separate individuals. One of the experiences is drug-induced, the other is a classic religious experience:


1

Suddenly I burst into a vast, new, indescribably wonderful universe.
Although I am writing this over a year later, the thrill of the surprise and
amazement, the awesomeness of the revelation, the engulfment in an
overwhelming feeling-wave of gratitude and blessed wonderment, are as
fresh, and the memory of the experience is as vivid, as if it had happened
five minutes ago. And yet to concoct anything by way of description that
would even hint at the magnitude, the sense of ultimate reality?this seems
such an impossible task. The knowledge which has infused and affected
every aspect of my life came instantaneously and with such complete force
of certainty that it was impossible, then or since, to doubt its validity.

II

All at once, without warning of any kind, I found myself wrapped in a
flame-colored cloud. For an instant I thought of fire?the next, I knew
that the fire was within myself. Directly afterwards there came upon me a
sense of exultation, of immense joyousness accompanied or immediately
followed by an intellectual illumination impossible to describe. Among
other things, I did not merely come to believe, but I saw that the universe
is not comprised of dead matter, but is, on the contrary, a living presence;
I became conscious in myself of eternal life?I saw that all men are
immortal: that the cosmic order is such that without any peradventure
all things work together for the good of each and all; that the
foundation principle of the world?is what we call love, and that the
happiness of each and all is in the long run absolutely certain.


It should now be clear the striking similarities the hallucinogenic experience
shares with the religious experience. In fact, the two are so closely-knit that the termsdrug-experience and mystical experience have even become synonymous with each other, with psychedelics often being said to trigger religious experiences. Therefore, the property of psychedelic chemicals that is of the utmost concern and importance to our discussion is their agency as a releaser of profound religious experiences of a profound and mystical nature in many persons who would otherwise never dream that they had the capacity. Even individuals with no religious background at all (there have even been some cases involving Atheists) have been converted into devout mystical believers, simply from the ingestion of a hallucinogen. And thus, presents the problem for Western religion. For it has already been mentioned that the rational and non-rational functions of the religious spectrum are in direct opposition to each other, therefore, it should follow that the survival of a rational religion depends on its superiority over its non-rational influences. When populations begin to take refuge in the plant rather than the church for religious communion, the need for a such divine intermediaries would diminish, leading to a preponderance of an Eastern style of non-rational religion in a Catholic, Western
nation.

What is even more devastating to the rational church than the fact that drugs can duplicate, simulate, or even cause such theologically sponsored cases, is the theory that psychedelics could have been responsible for actually shaping the theologies themselves! This is a topic which would require much more speculation than we have time for, however, perhaps we shall entertain ourselves with a quote from Mary Barnard in her 1963 journal of Phi Beta Kappa:


?Which was more likely to happen first? The spontaneously
generated idea of an afterlife in which the disembodied
soul, liberated from the restrictions of time and space,
experiences eternal bliss? Or the accidental discovery of
hallucinogenic plants that gives a sense of euphoria,
dislocate the centre of consciousness, and distort time and
space, making them balloon outward in greatly expanded vistas?












Trance States and the Underworld: Shamanism



As we have seen, the literate civilization of the West has had the supreme luxury of attaining their religion and religious proofs from authoritative sources, such as books. However, for the ?primitive?, non-literate societies who have no contact with written religious instruction, people often rely on methods of ?direct confrontation? to experience the supernatural religious forces. Such people are often referred to as ?Shamans?. A shaman may be defined as a man or woman who is in direct contact with the spirit world through a trance state and has one or more spirits at his command to carry out his/her bidding for good or evil. Interestingly enough, these trance states are often induced through the use of hallucinogens, namely the Ayahuasca root, and the Amanita Muscaria mushroom.

Modern-day anthropologists tend to view the Shaman as a sort of a psychotherapist; in his society, the Shaman is believed to have the ability to control the spirit world while he journeys in his trance state. Since it is believed in such Shamanistic tribes as the Jivaro Indians of the Ecuadorian Amazon that all life?s events are the result of invisible spirits, the shaman is highly revered in his culture for being able to control these spirits and influence the course of events. His magic powers also include finding lost or stolen items, divining the identity of people who have committed crimes (cleansing sin), communicating with the spirits of the dead, foretelling the future, and Claire-voyance. Since illness is often associated with an unwelcome evil spirit in a person (sometimes sent as a curse from another shaman), the shaman also serves as a healer, chasing away any evil spirits.

The shamanic ceremony of the Jivaro would seem quite odd when compared to many Western modes of religious ritual.* First, a hallucinogenic tea (called natema) is brewed using various leaves and vines containing the psychedelic substance dimethyltryptamine, or DMT. The concoction is then drunk in complete darkness by the Shaman and any other attendants of the ceremony, such as sick patients. Darkness is essential, for ?it is only in the dark that [the shaman] can perceive the drug-induced visions that are the super-natural reality.? When the tea has begun to take effect on the group, the shaman will begin singing or chanting a song. These songs, which differ depending on the purpose of the ceremony, are used as a sort of ?guide? for the shaman and the attendants to follow while engulfed in the chaos of the spirit underworld. When the evil spirit has finally manifested itself before the shaman, the shaman will place his mouth on the ill-person and literally suck out the evil spirit. What follows is the purging of the evil spirit by means of the Shaman vomiting it out.

Although he may seem very confounding to Western theology, the Shaman shares many similarities with the common priest: both are the leaders of religious ceremony, are highly respected within their community, provide means of spiritual communion, and provide atonement for others? sins. With all these variables taken into consideration, it is interesting to note that the only difference between the shaman and the priest lie in their methods of ritual. This is not a direct result of hallucinogen use, but more a case of cultural-defining variables. It is perhaps interesting to suppose that the modern-day priest has, over time, evolved from the ancient shaman, and merely developed their shamanic practices in different ways in order to appeal to a western population?





Conclusion



The present-day conflicts involving Western-rational religion and psychedelics
echoes the age-old power-struggle between science and religion. One can continue to emphatically deny the positive implications of hallucinogen use in religion, for denial is an easy way to escape the truth. However, after being presented with such instances as found in this discussion, it would prove not only fallacious, but simply illogical to continue to refuse to recognize the relative functionality, practical uses, benefits, and importance of psychedelics in religion.


--------------------
This post is protected under copyrite law.All above content is strictly the property of ?manna_man.Any infringement of copyright property is strictly prohibited.Any violators will be stretched, shot, and then vaporized into a state of anti-matter, where they will cease to exist.


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Offlinealsey
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Registered: 02/17/05
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Re: The relationship between drugs and religion [Re: manna_man]
    #4011805 - 04/04/05 08:18 AM (12 years, 24 days ago)

one thing i realised recently, was that medieval japan had no drugs in its religion/culture (as far as i know) and it was one of the most ordered, disciplined societies in history.


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Invisiblemoeshroom
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Re: The relationship between drugs and religion [Re: manna_man]
    #4023339 - 04/06/05 10:01 PM (12 years, 21 days ago)

WOW. what good timing. i just borrowed "Chemical Ecstasy" by W. H. Clark from my university's library. strangely, this is the only post about clark or his book in s&p according to the search engine. i'm just over halfway through and never in my life have i been more fascinated with the link between drugs and religion.

i think your thesis is very ambitious especially for such a short essay. however, you managed to summarize effectively a lot of clark's expanded rhetoric. the essay is well-written and well-organized. perhaps the only thing it lacks is sufficient background beyond the short history of entheogen use among humans provided. instead it requires familiarity with current state of psychedelic affairs. but otherwise its a good read and possibly could be very convincing to the suggestible reader who is too impatient to read clark's book. peace.


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OfflineMAIA
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Re: The relationship between drugs and religion [Re: manna_man]
    #4024997 - 04/07/05 07:09 AM (12 years, 21 days ago)

I find it perfect for an essay. Perhaps too demanding for a religion class :wink:

MAIA


--------------------
Spiritual being, living a human experience ... The Shroomery Mandala



Use, do not abuse; neither abstinence nor excess ever renders man happy.
Voltaire


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Invisibleredgreenvines
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Re: The relationship between drugs and religion - scholarly - well done [Re: MAIA]
    #4025016 - 04/07/05 07:29 AM (12 years, 21 days ago)

agree with everything:

as you say, these are in both:

1. Timelessness
2. Spacelessness
3. Unity & Loss of self
4. Joy/Peace
5. Sense of Dying and Rebirth
6. Presence of God

so it must be a natural direction that we want to go in and can steer towards with or without entheogen assists.


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Offlinehobgoblin
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Re: The relationship between drugs and religion [Re: manna_man]
    #4026942 - 04/07/05 05:23 PM (12 years, 20 days ago)

I only have time to skim your article but it looks pretty darned good to me. Will read it more carefully tommorrow AM (its getting late here now.) You might think about submitting it for publication somewhere. No suggestions as to where but I'll bet you could get it published. :thumbup:

This fellow Paul Devereux wrote a book you might be interested in called The Long Trip: A Prehistory of Psychedelia (1997). In it he talks about signs of psychedelic use in stone age Europe, Africa, Asia and The Americas. It includes some interesting illustrations. It may be out of print but I think you can probably find a copy online.

Nice job manna_man. Keep writing.


--------------------
Seek not to rationalize hobgoblins. ~ Yeats


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