“Set and Setting” has become something of a psychonautic cliché. It will never go out of fashion, however, because it so concisely and catchily expresses the essential conditions for a good trip. “Set” refers to mind-set. You should be in a relaxed and positive frame of mind, not racked with anxiety and worry. “Setting” refers to the place you take it in and the people you take it with. You should ideally take psychedelics in a safe and supportive environment.
People usually refer to set and setting in the negative or minimal sense. In other words, make sure you’re not in a bad place mentally or physically, and you should avoid a bad trip. But if you take set and setting seriously, why not make a conscious effort to create as conducive an environment as you can? Why not ceremonially prepare yourself and the place you are in to receive your magical guest with the utmost care? At this point, psychedelic use becomes sacramental.
To take a sacrament, you need a sacred set and setting. In the Christian Mass, you only take communion after having participated in the service, which is a kind of spiritual preparation and purification. In some churches, especially in the Catholic tradition, you can only take communion once you have been to confession.
Similarly, in a psychedelic ceremony, there must be a preparatory element as well as a sacred ritual element. In addition, however, there should be a carefully designed post-communion element, which is of course the heart of the matter. “Set” thus refers to the “pre-communion” preparation stage and “setting” to the “post-communion” tripping stage.
The essence of a good mind-set is meditation. This has a negative and a positive rationale. The negative is about avoidance of negativity emotion and negative thoughts. The positive is about getting “in the zone”, so that you are as receptive and open as possible and better able to “go with the flow”.
An important aspect of this positive preparation is increased suggestibility. Research has shown that meditation and psychedelics both increase sensitivity and suggestibility, so that any ensuing positive feelings and insights have a stronger and more lasting effect. This can be intentionally used to our advantage. On the meditation page, I describe how this observation applies to the Alignment Meditation system: first you “set yourself suggestible” by relaxing and inhibiting the default mode network, then you offer yourself positive affirmations in the form of a “setting mantra”.
When we come up on magic mushrooms, we find that our mind-set has shifted along with our altered state of consciousness. The important thing is to keep calm and carry on, to remain positive, relaxed and open. You can continue with the mantra in your elevated state of suggestibility, but you will also need some other sensory input, even if you are a very experienced meditator. Prolonged silence can be hard to bear on high doses. We need more “setting”.
It’s almost as though, on drinking the sacred drink, our souls become thirsty for spiritual drink. And because they are in such a suggestible state, the drink they are offered should be as healthy and wholesome and refreshing as possible. In other words, it should be beautiful. We bare our souls in the radical openness of psychedelic suggestibility in order that they may be remade in the image of transcendental Beauty.
The “set” is peace and the “setting” is love. The “set” is openness and the “setting” is beauty. Beautiful music, through the skillful interweaving of melody, harmony, rhythm, dissonance and concord, tension and resolution, guides our fledgling souls towards the celestial realms of the Good, the True and the Beautiful, where they receive the stamp of the divine, like a seal on hot wax. This is what I mean by “the seal of Apollo”.