When people generally take powerful psychedelics like ayahuasca they expect to go on a trip. They expect a magical mystery tour of the Imaginal. And more often than not, they are not disappointed.
As has been shown in numerous studies, people’s experiences on psychedelics such as psilocybin, mescaline, LSD, MDMA and DMT are very susceptible to “set and setting” (mind set and environment) and to the expectations and intentions of the participant. Under the influence of psychedelics, the mind becomes extremely sensitive and suggestible.
Most people in the West who take psychedelics seriously, take it in the context of a therapeutic paradigm. The working model will usually have spiritual overtones, but will be basically Jungian in essence. In other words, it will be a form of depth psychology, with the intention of accessing the personal and collective unconscious in order to integrate the personality and so become more whole.
Much of Jungian analysis is focused on “shadow work”. This is all about integrating those dissociated parts of the personality which end up being projected out onto other people. If you take an irrational dislike to someone, it may be that you see in them an aspect of yourself that you don’t like. If it is something you are not aware of, something unconscious, then you are in thrall to your shadow.
If you acquire an instant dislike to someone you don’t know because of their political or religious views, then you are in thrall to a collective shadow. They belong to an enemy tribe. This is even known to happen between supporters of rival football teams.
Western spiritual seekers brought up on some form of Jungian gnosticism expect to deal with their shadow and venture bravely into the vast symbolic world of the collective unconscious (the Imaginal) when they take psychedelics. They live in the concrete world, like everyone else, but unlike everyone else, they take the hero’s journey down into the shadow world and into the imaginal world in order to heal and to bring back spiritual treasure.
These three worlds, the Concrete, the Shadow and the Imaginal are all part of the Wheel of Samsara. The Concrete World is home to normal people, that is, to muggles. Some muggles, however, have addictive personalities. They want the things of the world too much. The Shadow World is home to muppets and victims; the Imaginal is home to divas and demons.
If you take a trip into the Imaginal, you can end up in Heaven or Hell. It can go either way. But there are levels of Heaven and Hell. If you find yourself in a strange alien landscape that appears emotionally neutral, it will still be tinged, if ever so slightly, with a positive or negative tone. You will feel confident, diva-style, or uncomfortable, demon-style. You are either at the foothills of Heaven or the upper ring of Hell.
There is an alternative model, also consisting of three worlds. These are the three world I described in The Temple and the Pub, the One, the Opposites and the Many. These map onto the the Orthodox Cross: the Mystic is of course associated with the One, the Mystic with the Many, and the Philosopher King with the Opposites. However, because we must inevitably return to the Concrete World (until complete and final spiritual enlightenment), we also need the strength and restraint of the Warrior Monk.
The Warrior Monk is represented by the lower horizontal of the Orthodox Cross. This relates to the Concrete World. The rest of the cross, the vertical and the upper horizontal, expresses the Trinity: the top of the vertical, the Mystic, associated with the One (the Father, Parashiva); the bottom of the vertical, the Shaman, with the Many (the Holy Spirit, Shakti), and the upper horizontal, the Philosopher King, with the Opposites (the Son, Shiva). This is the Christian cross as we know it.
There is no need to wander in the Upside Down (the Shadow World) or the Imaginal (the Dream World). You can go straight to the source. This is the difference between the Gnostics and the Christians in the Early Church. This is the difference between depth psychology and religion generally. In my view, ayahuasca is most profitably treated as a religious sacrament, not as a therapeutic tool. This is how the traditional indigenous Amazonian shamans use it, and this is how we should too.