The default mode for the ceremonial use of psychedelics is hippy paganism, or shamanic hippy paganism. This approach circles around three principal elements: Nature, Story and Ritual. The spiritual core is nature mysticism or nature worship, which in modern times has taken on a certain political urgency, as it has inevitably been coupled to the environmentalist movement.
This spiritual core can be further subdivided into Nature, the Body and the Feminine (although the men have rightly insisted on also including the Masculine). The idea is that modern Westerners are chronically dissociated from Nature, the Body and their Feminine/Masculine essence and need to reconnect in order to restore the lost balance and harmony of natural man and woman. This is done primarily through Story and Ritual.
Story can be subdivided into Myth, Fairy Tale and Poetry/Song. The favoured stories are naturally folkloric (or “indigenous”) and the favoured music is traditionally folk music (or “world music”), with a lot of drumming. The main themes revolve around ideas of connection to and disconnection from Nature and/or Tradition, with the accompanying tinge of joy and sadness. A nostalgic, pining mood is evoked by the psychodrama of exile and home-coming.
Ritual can be subdivided into rituals of Time, Place and Magic. Time rituals are related to seasonal festivals (such as Beltane or Sukkot). Place rituals are related to specific places and natural features (particular forest glades, river crossings, mountain views). Magical rituals conjure up the latent esoteric energies within Nature for the purpose of healing, divination, etc.
The Pagan Hippy ceremonial use of psychedelics can be very powerful and very beautiful. Participants invariably come away from the ceremonies feeling more connected to each other, to the natural world, to their own bodies and to their femininity or masculinity. To a greater or lesser extent, Shamanic Hippy Paganism does actually deliver. Which is wonderful, as far as it goes.
But there is more to psychedelics than is dreamed of in hippy philosophy. There is more gnosis, more pistis, more kenosis. There is a deeper vision, deeper knowledge, deeper surrender. Part of the problem, I suppose, is the result of a kind of unacknowledged, unconscious “class war” attitude. Hippy paganism is a folk religion, a grass-roots, oral tradition of stories and songs around the camp fire. Its acolytes typically define themselves in opposition to establishment elitist religion.
In her book, The Origins of Early Christian Literature: Contextualizing the New Testament within Greco-Roman Literary Culture, Robyn Faith Walsh argues that the gospels were written not by illiterate peasants in Judea but by highly educated Roman elites conversant with Greek philosophy and literature. It may be that the gospels were the products of early Christian mystery schools. It may even be, if Carl Ruck and Brian Muraresku are to be believed, that they were all drinking a psychedelic spiked wine sacrament, as they almost certainly did at Eleusis.
In England, the study of the Bible and Classics (and of Latin and Greek) have, since Victorian times at least, been associated with public schools and the upper classes, the cultural and economic elites of our time. The rejection of this rich Western canon by pagan hippies is largely a consequence of class consciousness, combined with the often fervent belief that these works (especially the Bible) are largely to blame for all the ills of the modern world.
This is a self-limiting belief. The antipathy between folk religion and elitist religion helps no-one. For the psychedelic spiritual renaissance to truly take hold and move beyond the Sixties, we need to reach across the ideological divide and make friends. Or at least love our enemies.
Ultimately, what is kenosis but surrender to the mystery of Being (Nature or God)? What is gnosis but a beatific vision afforded by the ritual use of psychedelics? What is pistis but the living faith of our sacred stories made flesh?
In pagan terms, connection to Nature depends on kenosis, effective Ritual depends on gnosis and transformative Stories depend on pistis. The key, however, is not to become attached to Nature, Ritual and Story (even “the greatest story ever told”), or our culturally specific understanding of them, and thereby turn them into idols, but to hold instead to the underlying activity of the eternal cycle of kenosis, gnosis and pistis.
“For the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.”
2 Corinthians 3:6