Historically, many psychedelics were used as divinatory tools
August 2, 2022 | 10:55 pm
From the Magazine
The first time I took LSD was alone on Christmas Day in a snowed-in Montana cabin. I watched my skin crawl and the walls melt. It was the first time since childhood I didn’t hate my own body, and a nice break from the depressing bioethics I was studying in school. I took deep breaths and stretched. As the effects took hold, I watched illustrations fly out from a gorgeous, tattered copy of Mark Twain’s biography of Joan of Arc.
Four hours later, after smoking an entire pack of cigarettes, I was convinced I was descending to hell. I watched fake flames lick the yellow wallpaper. It was miserable and listening to Nick Cave didn’t help.
At dinner with friends later that night, the elk roast resembled human meat and the bread rolls made to commemorate St. Lucy (who had her eyes gouged out) seemed more than appropriate for what I was experiencing. I couldn’t eat — I just sat and smoked more cigarettes. Afterwards, I watched Jean-Luc Godard’s Vivre Sa Vie. I sobbed at the scene when Anna Karina, playing a lowly soon-to-be French strumpet (still a holy child of God), weeps alone during a midnight screening of The Passion of Joan of Arc. We were both searching for some profound redemption that was impossible to find by ourselves.
The deep morbidity of my first drug experience reflected my mindset: someone grasping for spiritual straws, slightly nihilistic, divorced from family and studying analytic philosophy. By some quiet miracle, the horrors of my acid Christmas somehow induced what William James refers to as the religious experience: a feeling of oneness with divine, creative force. I was temporarily overwhelmed by a wave of unbearable compassion, forgiveness and surrender.
My Christmas trip set off a search for psychic salvation. I began taking psychedelics routinely, ultimately led to finding solace in the teachings of Jesus. Certainly, psychedelics have brought me closer to God.
I will always credit much of my spiritual and personal development to my time with the “classical psychedelics”: tobacco, cannabis, LSD (always drops, with the exception of some great Owsley Altoids in upstate New York), psilocybin, peyote (my personal favorite), DMT, ayahuasca. I love these substances. In some ways I maintain an almost utopian attitude regarding the promise of them (especially psilocybin) to facilitate positive psychic change.
Historically, many of these substances were used as divinatory tools. That fact is inarguable at this point. They may not be “the cause” of religious experiences and conversion, but they can be effective agents to facilitate them. Studies and plenty of anecdotal reports support the theory that they can be tremendously efficient in facilitating ego-death and the feeling of oneness with the universe.
The quantity of psychedelics seems to matter less than the mind of the user. I know people fond of taking heroic doses of psilocybin or LSD and doing all sorts of stupid shit, with no apparent psychic reward other than the momentary rush such a high affords. Many of us who truly believe in the power of psychedelics to change human thought remain cynical and undeniably miserable after the trip is over. We are all innocent hypocrites, but there has to be somewhere for the mind to go when we are not on drugs. For me that was Christianity.
I have since formally converted to Greek Orthodox Christianity, although I firmly believe that all God’s children are saved — and, ironically enough, I reject the sacraments as necessary to experiencing God (a truly heretical belief for many Christians). But I find tremendous psychic reward through loving Christ and the uniquely human challenge of participating in a church community. Orthodoxy is wonderful because it embraces the “great mystery,” reminding us that God is an experience of pure love. You can have this with or without mushrooms, of course.
Question: Have drugs helped you find God?