Thursday, September 24, 2015

Entheogens and Cultural Taboos: Part One

I have been thinking about this topic for many a week, and feel a bit overwhelmed with the amount of information, as well as with the intensity of my own emotional reaction to what I am reading.  I have a feeling this particular blog will be a two-parter, at the very least.

I refer the reader to my blog post from 6/4, "Forward Part 2: Medicines v. Drugs."  There I introduced the reader to this subject as follows:

    To the Western person who has heard the calling to participate in a relationship with these
    medicines - such as myself - what I have found on the one hand is profound healing, the clearing 
    of generational dysfunctional patters, an expansion of my consciousness and ability to be more
    fully present, the evolution of my capacity to feel joy, a permanent and evolving lightening of my
    vibration, and a deeper connection to God.  On the other hand I have found deep-seated fear,
    prejudice, judgment, misunderstanding, suspicion, and misinformation about these medicines.
    Because they have the power to alter our consciousness, they have been labeled psychoactive or
    psychedelic drugs, the use of which is a crime (a felony), as these labels classify these sacred
    medicines as Schedule One controlled substances, the same category as heroin and crack cocaine.
    This is, simply put, a grievous error caused by ignorance."

I am still struggling with my reactionary emotions around this topic.  I want everyone to wake up - NOW - and want the use of these medicines for the benefit of humanity and all life on this planet to be acknowledged a sovereign right.  I do see the tide turning, however.  The number of books available on this subject is astounding (see DMT Nexus at for a list of references); websites like Psychedelic Parenting, Erowid, the Lycaeum and conferences such as the Women's Visionary Congress, the Spirit Plant Medicine Conference, and more are becoming more and more common.  Psychedelic research has opened back up again, and new discoveries in treating various conditions,  as well as help for terminal patients in overcoming the anxiety of facing death - all of these reports are promises of a shift in the cultural perceptions of entheogens.  As an (impatient) Aries woman, though, this change is not happening fast enough!

I have been reading the thoughts of many of the leaders in the movement to reframe thinking around the use of entheogens in our culture.  But before getting into that, I want to address WHY these substances that alter our consciousness in a certain way are considered so dangerous: the roots of the taboos around the use of entheogens.  

As noted in previous blogs, the war on drugs is selective: there are many substances - and behaviors - that could (should?) be classified as Schedule One, but which are not.  Television, computer gaming, internet porn, sugar, and more... all of these things alter our brain chemistry, have a high potential for addiction, and can cause the user serious harm.   But the government does not feel the need to regulate their use.  Why then do this to entheogens?  Why vilify these plant medicines?  Why label them 'drugs' when so many cultures throughout humanity's history have revered them as sacred?  Why treat humanity as incapable of regulating their personal use of entheogens, when these substances have shown minimal to no potential for abuse?

The key to this prejudice lies in the effects: entheogens allow the user the possibility of a direct experience of the spiritual.  They can also bring a person into the mystical "unitive state," where it is possible to experience a direct knowing of the interconnectedness of all life.  This often results in a complete reexamination of values and a major restructuring in many areas of life, honing things down to what is true and essential, letting go of ego-based desires, and potentially 'upsetting the apple cart' of a person's life in many ways.  Of course this is threatening to the status quo!  
Terence McKenna had this to say on the subject:

"Where the mis-understanding comes is with the label - these are "drugs," and "drug" is a red-flag word. We are hysterical over the subject of drugs. Our whole society seems to be dissolving under the onslaught of criminally syndicated drug distribution systems. What we are going to have to do if we are to come to terms with this is to become a little more sophisticated in our definitions. I believe that what we really object to about "drugs" is that we are alarmed by unexamined, obsessive, self-destructive behavior. When we see someone acting in this way we draw back. That is what addiction to a drug such as cocaine or morphine results in. However, psychedelics actually break habits and patterns of thought. They actually cause individuals to inspect the structures of their lives and make judgements about them.... they inspire examination of values, and that is the most corrosive thing that can happen.... I believe that a reasonable definition of drugs would have us legalize psilocybin and outlaw television! (1)

This brings up a good point about intentions, or why take an entheogen in the first place?  In researcher terminology, this is part of what is called the 'set,' as a person's reasons for taking one of these substances very much has to do with what they expect will happen when they do.  If we are doing something for recreation, or to escape from our reality and/or avoid the way we are feeling, then, as I said in that second blog, we are indulging in drug usage - even if it is flopping on the couch with a pint of Ben and Jerry's and binge-watching a TV series. But choosing to ingest an entheogen may have a different motivation behind it entirely.  As John McGraw writes in Brain and Belief: An Exploration of the Human Soul (2): "The history of many of these substances is not one of abuse and recreation, as we have seen in our own modern times,  The history of entheogens finds them as essential sacraments in a variety of ancient religious traditions... To decry these items as illicit, mind-bending drugs is to mistake their cultural importance and impose a modern stereotype upon ancient practices." (p. 207)

I know in my own spiritual culture, the intention behind ingesting the medicine is to connect with the Divine Spirit of God and to be "better" as a result.  In the culture of the NAC meetings I have attended, they take the medicine to connect with God and to pray for and lend support to the purpose of the one who is calling the prayer meeting.

But back to the effects of taking entheogens.  In common with many young people, I started on this path taking an entheogen recreationally - going to a concert (the Grateful Dead - what else?) and taking LSD, purely for fun.  What I received out of the experience was profoundly more than just fun, however.  That first time, dancing with thousands of other kids to music that I loved, I had an experience of losing my ego's obsessive fixation on what other people think about me.  I became free of my own inner critic, for the first time in my life.  My spirit experienced freedom from the horrible self-image and crippling self-doubt I normally experienced: combined with free-form movement (dance), and a community of other people whom I knew could understand what was happening to me, it was understandably a huge awakening and precipitated the start of an amazing inner transformation in my life.

(Disclaimer: I am not proposing that everyone go out and dose at a concert!  It is a very uncertain thing to do, and in my younger years I had my fair share of really 'bad' trips, too.  In fact, I only took LSD until the age of 24, and quit altogether after a particularly horrendous experience.  I do not recommend that anyone follow anyone else's lead on the matter of whether or not to take an entheogen or psychoactive substance.  It is a personal decision and when asked I always refer to the person's own intuitive capacity to answer that question.  Our own spirits and bodies know what we need - we just have to listen!)

Direct Spiritual Experience and the Law

I have some more information to add to the legal discussion of some of the August posts.  Basically what I have read concerns the wording and intention of the First Amendment, what it sets out to protect and what it actually does protect in terms of our religious freedoms.  The text reads, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...."  This amendment was originally created to protect people from being forced to belong to a particular religion (as had been the case in some European countries), and to protect people's right to practice their chosen religion.  Unfortunately it does not define what a religion is, per se, and it also does not protect a person's pursuit of their own spiritual path, outside of an organized religion.  This rather large grey area is at the heart of the legal issue around entheogenic use in this country.

Martin Ball, one of my personal heroes in this movement, has written an amazing article on this subject. (3)  He writes, "When one considers the legal issues surrounding the sacramental use of entheogens, it is easy to see that the significance of cultivating direct spiritual experience is nowhere taken into consideration.  Rather, we are confronted with issues of "belief" and "practice," and rather narrow definitions of what characterizes freedom in the pursuit of a religious or spiritual practice." 

However, in the Employment Division of Oregon v. Smith case (1990), a man was denied unemployment benefits after being fired for using peyote as part of a NAC (Native American Church) ceremony because this violated the company's drug policy and the law.  The local court found in favor of the employer, and so did the supreme court.  Justice Scalia, who wrote the Court opinion, basically said that if an individual were free to pursue his or her religion irregardless of existing laws, anarchy would be the most likely result.  This decision of course precipitated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and there is (a lot) more to say on the subject, but that will wait until next week.

I also love what Terence McKenna had to say on the subject:

"Life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness are enshrined in the Constitution of the United States as inalienable rights. If the pursuit of happiness does not cover the psychedelic quest for enlightenment, then I don't know what it can mean."(1)

In closing - for now - I want to reprint this beautiful vision from Martin Ball, in the hopes that one day soon, each person's sovereign choice in these matters will be honored.

The Universal Declaration of the Human Right to Direct Spiritual Experience
by Martin Ball (3)

We recognize the following:

Human beings are innately spiritual. The human quest for spiritual meaning and experience is fundamental to the human experience. Personal spiritual experience is furthermore understood to be one of the most intimate aspects of person’s identity, sense of self, and worldview.

While the human quest for spiritual meaning and experience can be institutionalized through the formation and continuation of religious traditions, the drive for spiritual meaning and experience is not limited to religious activity or membership per se.

Religious practice and membership is not identical to spiritual experience. Religion, as a social institution, provides opportunity for like-minded people to gather together in groups to collectively express their beliefs in the context of shared practices. Religion provides structures of ritual, ceremony, religious teachings, and a community of similarly-oriented individuals. Within the context of a religion, persons may be afforded the opportunity for direct spiritual experience, but this is not necessarily the case. As direct spiritual experience is primarily an individual matter, the locus of spiritual experience is necessarily the individual, and not a religious tradition or institution.
While religious membership and activity is universally recognized as a fundamental human right and is protected by law, individual pursuit of spiritual experiences has not been afforded the same legal protections. This act seeks to correct this omission from the list of universal human rights.
Because the locus of direct spiritual experience is the individual, protections for individual spiritual experience must be afforded directly to individuals, rather than to the institutions in which they practice. As a result, protection for direct spiritual experience is not limited to individuals who are members of religious traditions, but extend equally to all individuals, regardless of religious affiliation or lack thereof.

All practices that contribute to an individual’s cultivation of direct spiritual experience are hereby affirmed to be protected by international laws recognizing universal human rights, with the condition that such practices do not violate any other universally recognized human rights of other persons, such as the rights to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.

In recognition of this universal human right to direct spiritual experience, it is hereby decreed that no government shall persecute or punish any individual who chooses to pursue the cultivation of direct spiritual experience in a manner that is respectful of the human rights of others.

(2) McGraw, John.  Brain & Belief: An Exploration of the Human Soul. Ageis Press, Del Mar, CA.  2004.  Excerpt found at
(3) Ball, Martin.  "Entheogenic Spirituality as a Human Right." Reality Sandwich,

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Parents, Children, and Entheogens

Today I will diverge from straight research mode to talk about some personal aspects of this situation.  As is usual with these huge topics, it takes me a minute to figure out where to start.  So I will brainstorm.  Here are some questions: How do you (and should you) talk to kids about your spirituality when it involves the use of an illegal substance?  What is the role of parents in raising their children according to their own spiritual beliefs?  Do parents have the right to introduce their children to traditions that use entheogens?  When is it/ IS it OK to invite your children to participate in an entheogenic ceremony with you?  Why or why not?   (At another time I also want to cover parents' legal rights - or lack thereof - in this area.) What kind of complex situations might be facing your children when they have to keep their parents' spiritual beliefs secret from their friends/friends' parents/school/community, and is this fair to them? What are the ramifications in terms of credibility as parents if your (entheogenic) spiritual practice were to become known to the wider community of parents, school faculty, employers, etc?

It is with these questions in mind that I would like to begin with my own story, right after the healing episode with the medicine I wrote about in  Blog #7.   As a true and typical Aries woman, I did what you might expect when confronted by a profound and life-changing event: I jumped in whole-heartedly, with both feet, and included my children and my spouse in every way.  Now, my kids, ages 13 (boy) and 9 (girl),  had already been introduced to the visiting shaman from Peru: since my then-husband made musical instruments, our musician friend, his translator, had brought him over to our place to check out a churango - Peruvian guitar - the day before the ceremony.  The shaman met my nine-year-old daughter, and (through the translator) told us," If she ever wants to come drink medicine, she is invited to come to a ceremony, any time."  I was a bit surprised, not being familiar with the Peruvian culture or the Shipibo medicine tradition, but assumed that in his tradition, kids were welcome to drink medicine if they wanted to.  (This is true, by the way.)  I also knew that he could see the beautiful light of my daughter's spirit, and knew that her presence would be a blessing to any ceremony.  (To be fair, my son also has a beautiful spirit, but he is just not oriented toward the spiritual/ceremonial/mystical realms, and I think that was as obvious to the shaman as it was to me!)

Anyway, a few days after my intense healing with the medicine, I invited my kids to a picnic lunch with me on our lawn.  We ate some food, and I told them I had something important to tell them.  They were curious.  I told them that the shaman who they had met at our house had led an ancient ceremony that I attended, during which we drank a special plant medicine that could help a person let go of things like old hurts and anger, sore spots on the inside, from your life, when you felt like things were unfair, or wrong, or when bad things happened and you couldn't do anything about it.  We generated some examples of these kinds of things (which sadly I don't remember after all these years.  It was a rich discussion, though!).  I told them I had been carrying some emotional things like that from when I was a kid and that as a result of the ceremonies I attended, I had been able to let go of a LOT of heavy feelings that had been keeping me down, making me feel sad and unhappy, and that I was going to be happier and be able to have more fun in life from then on.

I then talked to them about how in their teen years, it was very likely that their peers (and perhaps they as well) would become interested in experimenting with substances that change a person's normal way of looking at the world - their consciousness - such as alcohol, marijuana, and other substances called psychedelics.  My son already had friends who smoked pot, so he knew what I meant.  My daughter, not so much.  But basically I let them know that experimentation like this is normal, and that they didn't have to hide these behaviors from me.  I told them that this was not me encouraging them to use these substances, but just acknowledging  that it seems to be a normal teenage thing.  I don't believe in the 'abstinence'  model of "Just Say No," either in the realm of sex ed. or in addressing the use of substances.  I believe education and information are essential.  I knew from my own past that the lies I was told in the drug section of our Health Ed. class made me want to discount everything the adults said.  I discussed with my children the many reasons why people take and use substances, and encouraged them to really think, IF they were going to do something, WHY they were doing it, instead of just going along with the group.  In other words, to bring conscious attention to their actions.  (In retrospect, quite honestly I am not sure these talks had any positive impact on my children, at all.  I plan on asking them about this when we do the interviews.)

I also let them know that if substances called 'psychedelics' started being used by their friends, and if they wanted to try altering their consciousness within a traditional setting, with elders and within a really safe container, they would be allowed to come to a ceremony with me and take ayahuasca there.  Open invitation.

My daughter took me upon this invitation right before her thirteenth birthday.  She came to a night of ceremony that fall (2007) and has continued to attend on and off now for the past eight years (she will be 21 this fall).  It is apparent that she both gets a lot out of the ceremonies, the medicine, and the medicine community, and also that her interest in/need for ceremony goes in cycles or phases, as her attendance over the years has not been consistent.   My son has attended ceremony twice, at age 18 and age 23, both times 'doing it for his mom,' because he knows it means a lot to me.  He has no personal agenda or philosophy of working on himself or trying to be a better person, or healing, or anything of the sort.  He likes who he is and is content with the way things are, and so really doesn't see the need to do ceremonies to 'be better,' as my teacher likes to say (about the reason we drink the medicine).

So, now to address some of those questions from the beginning of this blog.

Obviously, in my life I have exercised my perceived right to include my children in my spiritual beliefs.  I had done so way before ever using ayahuasca or yagé - I had been taking my children to sweat lodges since they were born.  I do not believe that children should be 'indoctrinated' into spiritual beliefs, however.  I would never make a child get into a sweat lodge or drink medicine if they didn't want to.  I believe in talking things through with kids, somehow working to communicate within their level of understanding, and inviting them to decide what they want - allowing them the experience of asking their own intuition, of knowing that they possess an inner wisdom that can be accessed and understood - and trusting their own inner authority on the subject.  I believe curiosity is our birthright and natural state, and that it is safe to expose children to things and let them explore as their interests guide them.  This is the philosophy of Montessori schools, incidentally.

I am sure there will be people who read this who scoff and start in with the 'what if's' and 'no ways' and so forth.  All I can say is that sure, there are times when a parent has to be authoritarian, and decide FOR the child (ie: when you have to grab their arm and not let them cross the street in front of oncoming traffic).  But I am not talking about those instances.

I believe that it was not only OK to invite my children to participate in entheogenic ceremonies with me, but that it was essential, given the immense growth and transformation I have experienced on this path.  I could not have been in authentic relationship with them if I had been forced to keep this part of my life a secret.  I believe their exposure to this medicine tradition was gradual, safe, respectful, and that their own inner wisdom told them when they were ready for such an experience.  I know that I never put any pressure on either of them to participate in medicine ceremonies (although admittedly I HAVE done this with sweat lodges, especially with my son - but that's a different story).  I feel fortunate that neither of my children's' fathers objected (or would have objected, in the case of my son's deceased father) to this path, and so I did not have to worry about custody battles based on my use of a Schedule One controlled substance and the potential claim of 'unfit parent' such use would engender at a legal level.

I want to point out the obvious here - that I believe talking to our children with authenticity about who we are is absolutely essential.  This includes talking about the things we do that don't follow 'inside the box' thinking.  It helps to support our children to be their own authentic selves.  It helps us to get out of worrying about what others think of us and to live within our own moral and spiritual code, true to our known and directly experienced higher truths, not on some externally imposed set of rules (laws) founded on erroneous assumption, prejudices, and even outright deceit.  I am not advocating for anarchy here.  I am only talking about actions I take as an individual that only affect me and my own life, such as the choice to take a substance that our country and indeed most of the modern world has declared illegal and dangerous.  I am not a conspiracy theorist but I do think there is something to be said for the theory that these substances have been vilified for a reason that has to do with how we operate in the world - in blind acceptance of and within the system, or with the ability to critically examine the system and call out bullshit when we see it.  It makes sense that the powers that be would frown on - and actively restrict access to - things that promote the latter perspective.

But back to parenting and being authentic... or not.   I don't know how many Dead Heads (followers of the Grateful Dead) who took quantities of psychedelics as young people who, when they became parents, suddenly became quite conservative on the subject and would never even consider talking to their teens about their experiences with these drugs, or the spiritual openings they received as a result of their use.  "Too risky!" they would exclaim when questioned, or "I can't tell them how wild I was!" I guess I can understand the hesitation.  But I chose to be open - again to the level to which I felt my kids could relate - about my past and ongoing activities with illegal substances.  I shared with them not only the good and transcendental side of the story but also how dangerous and scary the experiences could be, and how important it is to be in a good place within yourself, with people you trust, in a setting that is safe if you are going to take something that alters your consciousness.  I also shared quite honestly with my kids that I would probably lose my job (at the time I was a public school teacher) if they gossiped about me to their friends or if the word somehow got out in the community that I had all this exposure to psychedelics in my past and present life.  AND I shared why I thought these substances are so judged and misunderstood.

It is possible that my being open like this led to my kids' being more interested in substances than they might have been otherwise.  There really is no way to tell at this point, although I plan on asking them when I get to their interviews.  However I doubt it.  I believe that they would have been exposed one way or the other, and that my contribution as their parent was to help them be more educated, informed, thoughtful, and aware of the potential benefits and dangers of the various substances (the ones I knew about!) with which they would come into contact as teens in today's world.  If I had to do it all over again I would have these same discussions with them. I think the downfall or faults in my parenting came from 1. being a single working mother and not being able to supervise them as much as two parents would have 2. wanting them to have a place (their home) where they could be safe if they were going to get 'altered,' instead of cruising around in a car, for example, and then having that safe space be taken advantage of, and 3. being a great mom, ie being loving, creating a beautiful home with healthy meals, modeling conscious communication, etc, but being a completely shitty dad, ie not being consistent with enforcing rules, not having dire enough consequences for bad behavior, not disciplining enough, not making them do more healthy things like sports, etc).  No one's perfect, and I have spent a lot of years feeling bad over my short-comings as a parent.  However I feel good about what I was able to offer my children in terms of the conversations we had about consciousness, psychedelics, medicines versus drugs, ceremony etc.  I think it has helped them to be more thoughtful and conscious people, and to make more conscious and informed choices. 

I know from talking to my daughter over the years that there were some challenges resulting from her choice (and my offer) to participate in entheogenic ceremonies as a teenager.  On the one hand, she had as an example a community of (primarily) adult seekers, all working to better themselves.  For the most part, and obviously hugely generalized, these individuals practiced honesty and conscious communication, took responsibility for their emotions (having an internal responsibility for the things that happened to them), and carried a basically positive outlook on life.  On the other hand, she went to public high school, with all of the assorted unconscious drama, judgment, bullying, stereotyping, shitty teen-parent relationships, dishonesty, distrust from adults, general unconsciousness, and more.  She told me it was extremely difficult and confusing to be straddling two completely different worlds, with different rules, behaviors, expectations and outcomes; and at the same time, she was glad to know the ceremonial world existed, despite the strain it put on her.   At the time I never considered that exposing her to the ceremonial world might make her life harder, and definitely felt more than a few moments of guilt when I realized it.  I don't know that I can answer the question 'is it fair?' to put her in that position, because I already did, somewhat in ignorance.  One of the reasons I am writing this section is to let other parents know that this could be an unintentional effect of bringing your child into the ceremonial world.  It could make things harder on your teen.  However if there is a parent or parents there to discuss what is happening, to help their teen integrate and process what they are experiencing in the two different worlds, then I think it could ultimately only be of benefit, even if painful at first to realize the normal extent of unconsciousness in our world/families/relationships.  One other side benefit of my daughter's participation in ceremony: she pretty much became the "Lucy" to her circle of friends (as in Peanuts: the "Doctor is IN"). Again, we can't say this wouldn't have been so without ceremony - there is now no way to know who she might have been without it.

Well, darn, out of time again!  It goes by so fast!!  I plan on posting some interview questions starting next week.  If you are reading this blog and you or someone you know would like to be interviewed for the book, please let me know.   And thanks for reading!  Your comments are welcomed!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Entheogens in History

I have been sitting at my computer for about two hours, considering possible topics for this blog today.  I have read SO many book on the subjects inherent to this discussion, and have more to read.  My main question is how much do I discuss in THIS book what has been showing up in so many other books on the subject.  In other words, where do I draw the line and just refer people to the other books, versus going into detail about different topics and subtopics?

One such topic is humanity's collective history of entheogenic use for religious purposes.  As my friend James Joseph writes in his book Psychedelic Perceptions (1, p.5), "Long before the convoluted 'War on Drugs' lumped all illegal psychoactive substances into the same dangerous basket, the majority of ancient societies ritualistically exercised their birthright of revealing the content of their own minds by entering non-ordinary states of consciousness."  Ingesting the 'food of the gods,' ancient people could have a direct experience of abstract spiritual concepts.  From the somma of the Hindu religion, dating from 1,500 BC, to the manna from Heaven in the Old Testament, given to the Israelites in the desert as they fled Egypt, to the kykeon of the Greek 'Ceremony of Eleusis,' used for 2,000 years starting in 1,500 BC;  to the 3000-year old ceremonies in Mexico and Guatemala during which participants ingested teonanactl - the 'Flesh of the Gods' - which research and ancient art has shown to be the psilocybin mushroom: there is evidence and well-founded supposition on the part of MANY researchers that most if not all of our modern religions and philosophical systems were inspired by plant-altered states of consciousness.

In The Varieties of Psychedelic Experience(2) by R.E.L. Masters and Jean Houston, Ph.D, the authors refer to a book, Poisons Sacres, Invresses Divines, written in the 1930's by Phillipe de Felice.  Masters and Houston quote from this book, saying that de Felice "...provided considerable documentation to support the ages-old connection between the occurrence of religious-type experiences and the eating of certain vegetable substances.  He wrote that the employment of these substances for religious purposes is so extraordinarily widespread as to be 'observed in every region of the earth among primitives no less than among those who have reached a high pitch of civilization.  We are therefore dealing not with exceptional facts, which might be justifiably overlooked, but with a general and, in the widest sense of the word, a human phenomenon, the kind of phenomenon which cannot be disregarded by anyone who is trying to discover what religion is and what are the deep needs which it must satisfy.'"

These authors continue with a discussion of somma, from the Vedic or Hindu tradition: how it was seen as a deity, how it was ritualistically consumed to bring the worshiper to a state of  "divine exhilaration and incarnation," and how it has been proposed to have been instrumental in the development of Hatha Yoga practices.  It is still unclear exactly what somma was, but some researchers believe it was entheogenic Amanita Muscaria, the very distinctive red-capped mushroom with white dots.  The Rig Veda, a collection of 1,028 hymns, contains 114 songs dedicated to somma, describing it as a "...powerful method for directly obtaining sacred knowledge." (1, p. 104)

Many people are familiar with the Old Testament story of Moses, and how he, with the help of the Lord God, led his people from captivity in Egypt through 40 years in the desert.  God provided the Israelites with manna, which in Exodus, " described as being "a fine, flake-like thing" like the frost on the ground.  It is described in the Book of Numbers as arriving with the dew during the night; Exodus adds that manna was comparable to hoarfrost in size, similarly had to be collected before it was melted by the heat of the sun and was white like coriander seed."(3) These characteristics are all similar to those of psilocybin mushrooms, and many enthomycologists [including Terence McKenna (see (4)] have suggested that manna was a type of psychedelic mushroom.  In addition, the Israelites were accompanied by their flocks and herds through the desert - and psilocybin mushrooms grow very well on cow dung, making the conditions for their growth a distinct possibility (1, p.108).  Dan Merkur wrote an entire book on the subject: The Mystery of Manna: The Psychedelic Sacrament of the Bible (which I have not yet read as of this blog).  For anyone interested in the role that entheogens have played in the formation of modern religions, it sounds like this last book would be a good one to read.

The Biblical reference to plants altering consciousness goes back even father than Moses, though. In Genesis, in the Garden of Eden, most have heard the familiar story of Adam and Eve having been to told to freely eat of everything there except the 'tree of the knowledge of good and evil' and the 'tree of life.'  Eve of course is temped by the snake, eats an apple from the first tree, and gets Adam to eat it too.  Then they become 'self-conscious,' and clothe themselves.  So, God kicks them out of the garden before they can eat of the 'tree of life,' which would have given them immortality.  This story has been interpreted by the proponents of humanities more colorful (aka 'psychedelic') history quite differently than the traditional Christian view, as I am sure you can imagine.  In this perspective, whatever the original couple ate was a psychoactive substance that altered their perceptions; and this story is probably the first example of a propaganda campaign proposing that altering consciousness is bad and goes against the wishes of the 'Father,' (ie the boss, the one in control, the masculine).  In other words, you will be rejected (thrown out of paradise), 'daddy' will be mad, and bad things will happen to you if you alter your 'God-Given' consciousness by eating a plant that imparts non-ordinary wisdom.  In other words, this anti-mind-altering-substance campaign as been going on for A LONG TIME!!!

In one of his seminal works, Terence McKenna, in Food of the Gods (4) takes this conversation even farther, by suggesting that the original evolution from monkey to human was in fact due in part to the altering and expanding of consciousness provided by groups of monkeys ingesting psychoactive substances.  I'll just let the reader contemplate that for a minute.  I suggest reading McKenna's work yourself it this piques your interest.

Here are a few more quotes from my friend James: "The relationship between entheogens and religion is unavoidable." (p.91) and "... before the prevalent meme suggesting that accessing valuable levels of consciousness through plant substances was dangerous or evil, this method of attaining enlightenment was a deeply revered and widespread practice." (p.90).  By the way, James' book is a wonderful resource for anyone looking into the prevalent cultural taboos against entheogens.  I highly recommend it - and you will see it coming up in my research again!

One other historical context that gets many mentions in these books is the Greek Temple of Eleusis, home of the 1,900 year tradition of a mysterious ceremony involving kykeon, an entheogenic drink whose exact composition was a highly guarded secret and still not known, although conjecture is that it was probably a mixture of Amanita Muscaria or psilocybin mushrooms, ergot, and Syrian rue, all of which are psychoactive entheogens.  Initiates to the Mysteries were prepared with instruction and went through purification and other initiatory rites prior to partaking in the 10-day ritual.  More importantly, these ceremonies were occuring during the lifetimes of some of the primary founders of Western thought: Plotinus, Aristotle, Socrates, Plato, and Homer, just to name a few. (1, p.113)  The implied thought here is that perhaps entheogens were responsible for some of the insights brought into the world by these highly revered thinkers.

A final thought before I end for the day.  Most of the world's main religions were founded by a visionary who went against the cultural grain, so to speak, because of the overpowering inspiration and direct connection they were having with the Source/God/Creator.  The process of religions seems to be that direct inspiration comes, usually to an individual, then this inspiration is formalized (or"crystallized into form") by 'followers', and then this form turns into dogma (by the organization that springs up around the followers) which must be strictly followed.  The trajectory in most organized religions seems to be that the spiritual component of direct knowing is reduced over time, replaced by believing, adhering, behaving, judging, and condemning.   It seems our normal human tendency is to condense, rather than expand.  Maybe this tendency is an evolutionary explanation for the existence of SO many natural substances that expand consciousness.

According to Erika Bourguignon, a social anthropologist who has studied consciousness altering techniques in societies ranging from ancient to present-day, 90 percent of the 488 cultures she has studied 'possess institutionalized methods of altering consciousness.'   She says, '"It is clear that we are dealing with a psychobiological capacity available to all societies, and that, indeed, the vast majority of societies have used (altered states of consciousness)...primarily in a sacred context." (1, p.101-02).  Yet through the past two thousand years, "...there has been a movement away from direct access of the Divine and toward a relationship with a God mediated by an increasingly powerful clergy." (1, p.97).  Somewhere along our historical route, entheogens went from being allies, giving humans a way to 'ingest God' or experience Oneness consciousness, to being considered dangerous and scary, causing permanent brain and chronological damage, rampant violence, addiction, and death.  The modern government, in order to protect regular people not capable of making conscientious decisions about the use of dangerous substances on their own (except in regards to sugar, alcohol and tobacco, hardee har har), made these substances illegal, at the highest level of restriction.

Thousands of years of history, across hundreds of cultures, and NO records indicate that responsibly ingesting entheogens for the purposes of spiritual enlightenment causes insanity, brain damage, ill health, harm, or death.  There must be other reasons for their vilification and restriction - which we will get to next week.

In today's world, with serious problems stacking up in every direction and no answers in sight, I am reminded of the famous Einstein quote, calling us to have a revolution in consciousness if we want things to get better:

"No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it."

(1) Joseph, James.  Psychedelic Perceptions. Gaian Publishing, CO.  2006. 
(2) Masters, R.E.L and Houston, Jean, Ph. D.  The Varieties of Psychedelic Experience.  Delta Publishing, NY. 1966. p. 249-50.
(4) McKenna, Terence.  Food of the Gods.  Bantam Publishing, NY, 1992.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Legal Aspects of Entheogen Use in the US: Part Two

A note from my last blog: the following was a very important decision in this ongoing conversation, and was only referred to in brief last week as the 'Hoasca case.' 

Gonzales v. O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Unaio do Vegetal (2006):
This case highlighted the question of religious freedom to partake in a substance (hoasca) containing a 'drug' prohibited by the Controlled Substances Act (DMT) during a religious ceremony. According to the courts, the government did not pass the compelling interest test, and the right of UDV members to take the brew was upheld.  "UDV argued that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which prohibits substantial imposition on religious practices in the absence of a compelling government interest, established their right to use hoasca."(1)

Other things to note in today's discussion:

The Parental Rights Amendment: "The liberty of parents to direct the upbringing, education, and care of their children is a fundamental right."(2)  This has been proposed to include as part of an actual amendment to the constitution.  (See (3) for full text)

Troxel v. Granville (2000): the court concluded in this case that the "Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment protects the fundamental right of parents to make decisions concerning the care, custody and control of their children."(4)  Unfortunately in this case they abandoned the strict scrutiny test that required proof of harm before the government could interfere with parental rights, granting judges the power to decide this on a case-by-case basis.

OK, now that we are back into the legalese somewhat, I will get into some more legal matters from a conversation I had today with a lawyer (L), whose name I am keeping confidential as per her request.  I am paraphrasing her responses here at times, as I did not record the conversation and took notes as fast as I could (but not as fast as she spoke!).  I have also added some information into my comments, to make the flow more cohesive.  In spirit this is pretty much the conversation we had...

H.  First of all, what are we talking about here in terms of parents taking substances that are prohibited by federal law?

L.  This area of law is vast.  The main area is dependency and neglect laws, between state and federal levels.  Every state has a different flavor.  And then there are federal laws...

H.  Have children been taken away for the choices of their parents to participate in ceremonies using a Schedule One controlled substance?

L.  Children have been taken away from even a single use of 'drugs.'  Then there is constitutional law: parents have the fundamental right to the care, custody, and control of their children.  This is a standard to use before the state can interfere.  
In order for a child to be taken from their parent, the parent would have to be found unfit - which is a determination of the Child Protective Services (CPS) caseworker, local to the county where the incident (that brought the parent and child to the attention of CPS) has occured.  The way to get cases brought before a higher court is to then appeal this determination.  
'Drug' use is universally considered to be evidence of an unfit parent.  However with the legalization of marijuana (formerly a Schedule One controlled substance), courts are now considering marijuana use to be more like alcohol use.  The system can't take children away based on allegations that things are dangerous - there would have to be some sort of test proving danger to the child.  However they lump all 'drugs' together:  Using LSD is the same as using cocaine; using psilocybin mushrooms is considered to be the same as using heroin. 

H.  That seems ridiculous (not to mention that I disagree with the entheogens being labeled 'drugs' in the first place!)!  What about inviting a child to come to a ceremony, just to be part of it without doing the medicine?  What about allowing them to take some of the medicine? 

L.  Any 'drug' use in front of a child is held to be a very strong factor in proving unfitness on the part of the parent; allowing a child to use any 'drug' would (in her opinion) be conclusive of being an unfit parent.  I can't imagine a court that would find for the parent in this situation.

H.  What about any cases involving legalized churches that use plant medicines as sacraments?  Have you heard about any cases involving children or parents?

L.  No.  Never heard of a case where a child had been administered ayahuasca and been taken away.  It might be one of those cases where the plant medicine would win, because ayahuacsa and all of its aliases (caapi, huasca, yage, etc) are NOT listed under the Schedule One controlled substances.  DMT, one of the active ingredients in the preparations, is listed, however.  It is a grey area, and the laws around this are written very poorly.

H.  What about my story?  (I invited my underage children to partake in ceremony with me whenever they felt ready - and my daughter chose to do so right before turning 13, and has been attending ever since.  My son came to a ceremony at age 18, but discovered it wasn't really his thing.)

L.  You would have had your kids taken away, and might even have been thrown in jail.  You could have appealed and maybe gotten custody again (due to the fact that we have been participating in a legal church service).  The law is clear that ceremonially (as part of a religious endeavor), taking these medicines is protected.  
Also, there is a supreme court argument that states: "a parent has an unhindered right to inculcate their children in their spiritual practices." (NOTE: Please see (5) for a comprehensive list of case summaries defining the Supreme Court's Parental Rights Doctrine).  (Note: not sure which case states this... I looked but haven't found it yet.)

H.  What about the drug schedules?  Labeling all psychoactive substances as Schedule One controlled substances is completely missing the point on so many levels...

L.  The schedules are arbitrary and capricious, and are regulations at the agency level (H: a regulation is a legal norm intended to shape conduct that is a byproduct of imperfection - written by executive agencies as a way to enforce laws passed by the legislature. (6).   They are arbitrarily written and applied, and are capricious in that they eliminate the proper uses of entheogens, and don't acknowledge the fact that these substances have not been proven to be addictive.  This scheduling closes the door and says that all of these substances are bad, simply out of fear.  Yet we know that entheogens are helpful to many people.  It would be impossible to be addicted to using ayahuasca, for example.   No one would want to or even be able to abuse it...

H: ...because it is quite an ordeal to take it in the first place!  One of my main points here is that these entheogens are not correctly labeled as Schedule One substances, because they don't meet any of the criteria: they DO have medical uses (which would be accepted if research was allowed to continue), they do NOT have a high potential for abuse, and they do NOT cause psychological or physical dependence. That is why I am doing this - I want to be a part of the new conversation about these substances, bringing honest inquiry and science into the fear-based taboos our society has used as a basis for our policy and laws.  I think we need a complete revision of the drug scheduling! 

L.  How could we draft a drug schedule that works?  We should measure the Schedule One drugs based on their addictiveness and destructiveness.  The latter is measured on the social, personal and interpersonal impacts on society.  If you look at alcohol and tobacco, for example - two substances which are legal in this country and which are both psychoactive substances - if these were measured in terms of addictiveness and destructiveness, they would go to the top of the list of Schedule One substances!  Millions of people use them, with incredible negative impacts to society measured in the high numbers of deaths, health care costs, accidents, and so forth (H. and the high cost of alcohol addiction in terms of the psychological and economic detriment to families and children). 

When 'drugs' are involved there is a cultural bias, and a HUGE barrier of fear.  I had that barrier until I tried it (ayahuasca) myself.  Then I realized 'Oh my God there's a whole other world!'  I personally know many lawyers who have participated in medicine ceremonies, but they have to be very secretive about this in their profession. (H: because of the potential ramifications to their professional lives if they were ever "outed.")

 Note: L also has two children, one underage and one legally an adult, with whom she does NOT share about her experiences with the entheogens, despite her feeling that one of them would really benefit from an experience with the medicine.  She fears that if her ex-husband found out what she was doing, he would sue her for custody and try to take her kids away.  

What a world we live in.  Here is a professional woman who has found a path that helps her to be 'better' in her life, in every way - more conscious, more centered, happier, healthier, lighter (not as burdened) - and she has to live in fear of being discovered in her 'nefarious' activity of taking an entheogen for spiritual purposes.  (Just to be clear - I am also talking about using entheogens in a very strict setting, as part of a church service - not just recreational use by an individual.)   THIS is why I want to write this book.  Entheogen users need to be able to come out of the closet and not be discriminated against, shunned, or prosecuted for the ignorance of the policy- and law-makers who have vilified - and mislabeled - these substances.  It is time to revise the collective thought, and more importantly, the laws around the use of entheogens for spiritual purposes.

My thanks to L for the generous donation of her time and expertise for this interview.