In man’s exploratory stumble through existence on Earth, the search for meaning in mystical experiences and religious thoughts has lead to the discovery of consumables (eaten or drank) as well as actions (yogic breathing exercises, whirling dervish dances, flagellations) that alter one’s state of consciousness. In western society, however, most people value the ideology of an individual that is self-determining with a responsible ego, controlling themselves and their surroundings by the power of conscious effort and will. Because of this, it is easy to see why the notion of spiritual or psychological growth through the use of consciousness alteration and ego dissolution is so repugnant to this cultural tradition. Professor Walter Clark (1902-1994) decided challenge this notion for himself
Walter Houston Clark was professor of Psychology of Religion at Andover Newton Theological School in Newton, Massachusetts. He was also former dean and professor at the Hartford School of Religious Education as well as author of The Oxford Group (1951) and The Psychology of Religion (1958), and, most notably, founder of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion. Clark defined a ‘religious’ experience as “the inner experience of an individual when he [or she] senses a Beyond, especially as evidenced by the effect of this experience on his behavior when he actively attempts to harmonize his behavior with the Beyond.” It was to this very same standard that he would refer his psychedelic experiences to determine if psychotropic substances were truly capable of inducing a genuine religious experience.
“The [psychedelic] drugs are simply an auxiliary which, used carefully within a religious structure, may assist in mediating an experience which, aside from the presence of the drug, cannot be distinguished psychologically from mysticism. Studies have indicated that, when the experience is interpreted transcendentally or religiously, chances are improved for the rehabilitation of hopeless alcoholics and hardened criminals. Even though observations like these mean that the psychologist can learn a little more of the religious life, in no sense does it ultimately become any less of a mystery.” – Walter Houston Clark
The most common descriptions of what is experienced from those that have had a religious break through with psychedelics is a complete ego dissolution and a oneness with humanity as a whole, the same foundations that Yoga practice and Buddhism were founded upon. In ancient Greece, a mysterious psychedelic potion called ‘soma’ is known to have been used in the initiation into the Eleusinian mysteries. Teonanácatl, the Aztecian word for psilocybin mushrooms translates to “the flesh of God”. Peyote buttons, found on certain cactus plants, are understood to have been used for native American sacramental ceremony as far back as 2000 years. These examples are only the cusp of humanity’s religious exploration in the altered states of consciousness. Why do we give such little merit and consideration to what may have been the most prominent influence for humanity’s sense of faith? It is plausible that we owe our current state of existence and religious interest to the religious exploration and devotion of those who came before us.
“For a long time we have been accustomed to the compartmentalization of religion and science as if they were two quite different and basically unrelated ways of seeing the world. I do not believe that this state of doublethink can last. It must eventually be replaced by a view of the world which is neither religious nor scientific but simply our view of the world. More exactly, it must become a view of the world in which the reports of science and religion are as concordant as those of the eyes and the ears.” – Alan Watts
In today’s society, religious experiences while under the influence of a psychotropic substance has become a large topic of interest. People are doing more now than ever to uncover the connections between science, religion, and psychedelia in the search for a deeper understanding of our existence. If you have ever experienced any type of encounter with a higher power or divine entity while under the effects of a psychotropic substance, take a look at the flyer below. John Hopkins Medicine is going to be conducting studies on this phenomena to see if psychedelics can serve a legitimate purpose in today’s religious exploration.
Pahnke, Walter N. “Drugs and Mysticism.” The International Journal of Parapsychology. Vol VIII, No. 2, Spring 1966, Pp. 295-313., n.d. Web.
Clark, Walter Houston. “The Psychedelics and Religion.” Doubleday & Company, 1970. Aaronson & Osmond, n.d. Web.
Pahnke, Walter N. “LSD and Religious Experience.” Wesleyan University Press, Middletown, Connecticut, 1967, n.d. Web.
Smith, Huston, Ph.D. “Do Drugs Have Religious Import?” The Journal of Philosophy, Vol LXI, No. 18, September 17, 1964, n.d. Web.
Watts, Alan. “Psychedelics and Religious Experience.” The California Law Review, Vol. 56, No. 1, January 1968, n.d. Web.
Beres, Derek. “Psychedelics and the Religious Experience.” Big Think. N.p., n.d. Web.