Psychedelics Before and After History

Last Updated: 15/09/18

Date Location Words
1987 California Institute of Integral Studies, San Francisco, California 787

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"Now, as a culture we must come to grips with the fact that the world is not simple, in the same way that a nine year-old must come to grips with the fact that the world is not simple – it is not as mummy and daddy said it was: there are tremendous vistas and abysses to be plunged. Ask your uncle and he will tell you that nobody knows what's going on in these areas. Ask a shaman and he will tell you that nobody has found the bedrock of the psychedelic experience. Nevertheless this wish to live with a bedrock of experience is a kind of trivializing of the great mystery in which we find ourselves embedded. We would have a far more accurate and complete picture of Reality if we were willing to live with the felt presence of the Mystery. And the way to do this is to experience what these plant teachers are trying to say, what these planetarily manufactured information-bearing pheromonal molecules are trying to imbue into us. Now, shamans throughout history have short-circuited the Fall. They are those who know. That's what gnosis is : it is privileged knowledge vouchsafed to the courageous. And the fact that we have fallen into a neurotic or childish style of relating to being, is nothing more than a statement about the inherent biases of our languages and our institutions. Many people have not, perhaps because they carried out their lives in the vastness of the tropical forests, where the force of Nature cannot be denied. You see, had we stayed in the tropics, we probably would never have taken the Fall into History. The Fall into History is what happens when one moves into a progressively more and more barren landscapes, and substitutes for the input of organic Nature, the self-generated neurotic maps that are based on incomplete information. Now, that cycle is being closed. I often think that the discovery of the New World and its subjugation, which was like the carrying out of the ultimate fantasies of these neurotic Judeo-Christian tradition – a world to plunder – ends very oddly : with Gordon Wasson and Valentina Wasson in 1953 penetrating into the jungle highlands of Mexico and finding there something more astonishing than a flying saucer or an alien artefact, finding there the true heritage of the human species, in the form of the intact mushroom psychedelic religion. Eros lost since the dismemberment of Osiris! Lost since great Pan’s death at the rise of the Christian era! But not dead, only sleeping! And now, through cultivation techniques and the propagation of ethnographic literature and the work of people like Metzner, and Hoffman, and Wasson, and Schultes, shoved directly in the path of the careening cultural juggernaut of Western civilization. This is why I have called the weekend Psychedelics Before and After History, because I see history, as I say, as a prodigal hiatus, a wondering in the desert of Unknowing, an indulgence in an easily cured neurosis, if we will but take upon ourselves the personal – personal! – responsibility for cultivating a relationship with the Mystery! We have bought in so thoroughly to the notion of a hierarchy of information and a declension of truth from experts – whether they be politicians, priests or scientists – that we have devalued ourselves as the primary instruments of our knowing. And this is why I think among other reasons why psychedelics are so repressed, why it is so important to society to keep them out of the hands, not only of children and high-schoolers and hedonistic experimentalists, but to keep them out of the hands of research psychologists, pharmacologists and physiologists as well, because fully appreciated they will explode the Newtonian, Einsteinian universe the way a stick of dynamite explodes a rotten apple. And in the process, the hierarchies of paternalism, scientism and reductionism will just be completely swept away! And this is all going to happen, God willing, in our lifetimes. My faith is that if it doesn’t happen then the cultural momentum toward a lethal conclusion will continue on to the ultimate catastrophe. And so that’s why I am willing to address groups like this and seek to inspire psychologists and chemists and students of anthropology and culture to examine this. Because I think we have wandered far from our birthright and trivialized a mystery of Being in the process, and to recoup that mistake we are going to have to become as little children in the face of the shamanic phenomenon and investigate it intellectually, experientially, linguistically, individually and collectively. Only in that way will we be able to rescue the enterprise from its momentum towards catastrophe. "