If I had never taken psychedelics, going purely on the scientific research and reports of those who had, I would be inclined to think that they might actually be a good thing. Since I am interested in mental health and spirituality, I would at least feel obliged to take them seriously. But I have taken psychedelics. My first trip was on LSD at the tender age of sixteen, over thirty years ago.
My personal experience of psychedelics is that they elicit mystical experiences, stimulate somatic energies, enhance physical dexterity and movement, produce heightened emotion and catharsis, generate psychological and philosophical insight, and lead to Self realization. Which in my view are all good things.
There are down-sides, of course. Things can go very wrong and very dark. But the extraordinary benefits have persuaded me to repeatedly reaffirm my commitment to and respect for magic plant medicines. They are not to be taken lightly, that’s for sure.
One of the important lessons of psychedelics is the integral nature of genuine spirituality. If it is not to be unbalanced and partial, spirituality must be holistic, taking in the whole human being, mind, body and spirit. The Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo, the Fourth Way of Gurdjieff and the Integral Psychology of Ken Wilber all point to this important truth. In fact, the essence of the New Age is its holistic integralism, which is why psychedelics are naturally associated with the New Age.
Much of my life’s psychedelic journeying has been undertaken in the context of the New Age, taking in the ideas and practices of Shamanism, Paganism and Gnosticism as well as those of the Eastern religions, Buddhism, Hinduism and Taoism. But at a certain point, I decided to become a Christian. Why?
Here are five brief rational answers to that question:
- My ancestral heritage is Christian, all the way back through many family generations in Chile to the sixteenth century, and in Spain before that, to at least the sixth century. Although my parents turned their backs on their Catholic faith, in conformity with the anti-establishment mood if the 1960’s, in the long view of the family line, this was just a break in a single link of a very long chain. On several occasions, the plant medicines have shown me how my ancestors live in me and through me, and how their religion is an integral part of who I am, at a deep cellular level, so to speak. So although my parents refused to have me christened, I was, in a mysterious, spiritual sense, born Christian.
- Christianity has been in contact with the indigenous beliefs and practices of Latin America for centuries, both the native and imported traditions accommodating each other in different ways. There is thus already a long-standing relationship between psychedelics and Christianity in my own native Chile, as there is all over South America, from Peru to Ecuador and Brazil. These synchretic traditions are largely hidden and secret, as is often the case with psychedelic mysteries (notably the Greek Eleusinian Mysteries), but are now coming to light as a result of Western interest, through ayahuasca tourism, for example.
- In my experience, Christianity is a better fit than other religions, such as Buddhism, when it comes to psychedelics. I agree with Rick Strassman on this point: the personal, relational nature of encounters with the plant spirits is in tension with the often abstract, philosophical, nondual traditions of the East, but is perfectly suited to a Biblical way of thinking. Although Strassman argues for an Old Testament, Jewish framework, I believe that Christianity is even more closely aligned to the psychedelic landscape.
- Three key elements in Christianity which make it such a good fit with the psychedelic experience are: a) the central religious rite of Holy Communion, b) the central mystery of the Resurrection and c) the mysterious workings of grace through a personal Saviour.
- Christianity also has a cosmic-historical vision of humanity coming together as one holy people of God. This is also an important part of the psychedelic mystical vision (at least in my experience). In other words, the further evolution of the species depends on a universal conception of the radical unity of humanity and possibly of the Earth as a whole. Whether or not this will turn out to be recognizably Christian in the long run, at least the vision itself is profoundly Christian: “Christian hope is concerned with eschatology, or the science of last things”.
Why the Mantra?
My interest in psychedelics came out of an underlying dissatisfaction with the secular world I grew up in. It seemed to be missing something important. Where was the magic? Where was the spirit? Perhaps I read too many fantasy books as a child, and had unrealistic expectations of the world, but for whatever reason, I intuited the disenchantment of our secular, materialist world that was later confirmed for me in the writings of Max Weber and others.
Psychedelics seemed the perfect thing to rectify this problem. If everyone took a dose of orange sunshine, the world would erupt in a riot of colour, just like at the end of The Yellow Submarine, where the Fab Four defeat the Blue Meanies with Love, Love, Love. But then I discovered that psychedelics on their own were too chaotic and created problems of their own. The psychedelic revolution wasn’t working.
Christianity seemed the perfect thing to rectify the problem: a moral and religious framework was exactly what the psychedelic doctor ordered. Instead of wondering, “was that trip really necessary?” after another confusing mess of spiritual hedonism, we could channel the psychedelic experience constructively and meaningfully along well established lines of spiritual development, tried and tested over millennia.
However, traditional Christianity also seemed to be missing something. It wasn’t holistic enough. So perhaps what we needed was a new kind of Integral Christianity, one that fully included body, heart, mind, soul and spirit in a healthy, balanced way. A Christianity that included psychedelics was a good start, but just as my personal consciousness couldn’t help but expand under their influence, neither could Christianity itself.
At the start of this blog, I mentioned six things that I experience on psychedelics, which bear repeating: they elicit mystical experiences, stimulate somatic energies, enhance physical dexterity and movement, produce heightened emotion and catharsis, generate psychological and philosophical insight, and lead to Self realization. These six things correspond to six yogas in Hinduism: dhyana yoga, kundalini yoga, karma yoga, bhakti yoga, jnana yoga and raja yoga associated with spirit, energy, body, heart, mind and soul. They also correspond to six archetypes: mystic, shaman, warrior, monk, philosopher, king.
If we want to maintain a truly integral spirituality, we need to remember all six of these essential aspects of human spiritual flourishing, for if we forget or neglect any of them, our development will be unbalanced. So what’s the best way to remember them? How about a mantra? Even better, how about a mantra rooted in specific energetic points in the body?
If you think about how Christians cross themselves (when they run onto a football pitch for example), from forehead to heart and shoulder to shoulder, you will see that this is in fact a mantra rooted in the body: “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. However, compared to the Indian chakra system, this body-mantra is clearly very top-heavy. What about the lower chakras?
In order to include the whole body, we can extend the cross downwards to create a double cross with two horizontals at the hips and the shoulders. This gives us six points, at the forehead, the hara (belly), left hip, right hip, left shoulder, right shoulder. Then we can add the mantra: Mystic, Shaman, Warrior, Monk, Philosopher, King. Now, if we identify these six archetypes with one ideal “uber-archetype” personified in Christ, by bringing them (and their associated qualities, peace, love, goodness, beauty, truth, consciousness) to mind, we are in fact connecting with our spiritual essence in a way which is perfectly compatible with a broadly Christian outlook.
The mantra reminds us of these archetypes, but it also acts as a kind of talisman, a magic charm to protect us against any negative or demonic psycho-spiritual forces we may encounter on our psychedelic journeys. This is why I call it “the armour of Christ”. Just like we made the sign of the cross with our fingers to ward off vampires as children, we can make this whole-body, holistic cross to ward off all malevolent spirits as (mostly) mature adults.
Psychedelics correct for the disenchanted world of secular Modernity. Christianity corrects for the chaotic anarchism of psychedelics. The mantra corrects for the unbalanced partiality of Christianity. What we end up with is a truly Integral Psychedelic Christianity. If this isn’t the future of religion, I don’t know what is.