Entheogens: The religious/paranormal bridge

10th - 13th July, 2008 - 4th Psi Meeting, Faculdades Integrades Espirita, Curitiba, Brazil

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Entheogens: The Religious /Paranormal Bridge

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Entheogens as a bridge between paranormal and religious experience

Dr. David Luke (guest speaker) 4th Psi Meeting, Faculdades Integrades Espirita, Curitiba, Brazil - 10th - 13th July, 2008

The term “entheogen” (Ruck et al., 1979), meaning “bringing forth the divine within”, has been given as the generic name for any psychoactive substance that is used in a religious or shamanic context, i.e., as a sacramental, and this includes such substances as ayahuasca, peyote, teonancatl (psilocybin-containing mushrooms) and pituri. The term was introduced to offer a more spiritually-rooted alternative to the word “psychedelic”, which developed negative connotations in the 1960s. Krippner (2006) notes that these substances might be more correctly termed “potential entheogens” as they do not automatically produce such experiences, nevertheless, entheogens have been noted as an efficient and effectively reliable means of inducing spiritual experiences, in the right circumstances, through an altered state of consciousness.

In what became known as the “miracle of Marsh Chapel” or the “Good Friday Experiment”, Dr. Walter Pahnke (1966) and a team of researchers at Harvard Divinity School demonstrated that under controlled conditions psilocybin was capable of inducing profound religious experiences in 9 out of 10 theology students compared to only 1 in 10 in a control condition. The experiment has since been refined and replicated more recently with comparable results (Griffiths, Richards, McCann & Jesse, 2006), indicating that psilocybin can occasion profound and long-lasting religious experiences when taken in appropriate conditions. So-called entheogens such as psilocybin are also known to reliably induce paranormal experiences, ranging from clairvoyance to out-of-body experiences, and Pahnke (1971) was also one of the few researchers to investigate the potential of LSD to induce ESP under experimental conditions.

What seems apparent from the literature is that a range of religious, or one might better say spiritual or mystical experiences, generally tend to occur hand in hand with a range of paranormal experiences under the influence of entheogenic substances. However, there appear to be very few rules regarding exactly what experience happens, with which substance, and under what conditions, although this may just be due to a lack of thorough research in this area (Luke & Kittenis, 2005). From the evidence of religious and paranormal experience research there is also reason to suspect that ASCs are fundamental to religious and paranormal experience, and that further research into entheogens in particular can help us unravel both the psychological and the physiological concomitants of the these experiences and the states conducive to them, given what is currently known and being learned about the neurobiology of these substances.

References

Griffiths, R.R., Richards, W.A., McCann, U., & Jesse, R. (2006). Psilocybin can occasion mystical experiences having substantial and sustained personal meaning and spiritual significance. Psychopharmacology, 187, 268-283.

Krippner, S. (2006). The Future of Religion. Paper presented at LSD: Problem Child and Wonder Drug, an International Symposium on the Occasion of the 100th Birthday of Albert Hofmann, 13-15 January, Basel, Switzerland.

Luke, D. P., & Kittenis, M. (2005). A preliminary survey of paranormal experiences with psychoactive drugs.Journal of Parapsychology, 69 (2), 305-327.

Pahnke, W. N. (1966). Drugs and mysticism. The International Journal of Parapsychology, 8 (2), 295-313.

Pahnke, W. N. (1971). The use of psychedelic drugs in parapsychological research. Parapsychology Review, 2 (4), 5-6 & 12-14.

Ruck, C., Bigwood, J., Staples, R., Wasson, R., & Ott, J. (1979). Entheogens. Journal of Psychedelic Drugs, 11, 145-146.

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