These letters are acronyms for four kinds of drugs that I would like to explore in this sermon. Basically, I will recommend them as possibly problematic but potentially beneficial for persons and society.
On the whole, and especially compared with the Counter Culture, I have not found a lot of interest in entheogens or other drugs in our UU culture. UU’s have concern for civil liberties, curtailing a needless and excessive police/prison state, the right for people to live their own lives as long as it doesn’t hurt others, scientific and medical interest, some experimentation with recommendation and some with warnings, latitude for ministers to be honest, but overall, not a keen craving to know or try such sacramental substances.
UU’s have cared about sacraments, though. Emerson quit the Unitarian ministry only a few years into it, saying he wouldn’t pretend to transform the Communion bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus. He preferred natural and manifest miracles to feigned ones, snowflakes and intuition to Transubstantiation. Emerson wanted to acquaint us with divinity directly. His 1838 address to the graduating Harvard seminarians is a classic call for them to “know” and manifest God directly, not just read and preach bout It. “Alas for the unhappy man that is called to stand in the pulpit, and not give the bread of life… The village blasphemer sees fear in the face, form, and gait of the minister… [Yet] all that is clearly due today is not to lie… That which he venerates is still his [or her] own, though he has not realized it yet…”
I introduce this largely unspoken and potentially risky topic with Emerson quotes, because I agree with his stance about life and ministry. I take my job as simply this: to give my truth and care for those around me. Also, like Emerson, I am far more excited by snowflakes and consciousness than I am by many religious or spiritual teachings and topics. The actual miracle enthuses. “Enthuse” comes from “having God.” It is akin to “entheogen”: in-God-generate. In my lifetime, compared to all other experiences and aspects of existence, entheogens interest, inform and attract me more than most things and ideas. I’m not attracted in an addicted sense, but out of promising curiosity about intense and meaningful experiences. I also agree with many partakers (Huxley, Shulgin, Ball) that these substances are good for persons and society. So, sit back and enjoy a different sort of a Drug Awareness Sunday, a sort of Free Drug Event (without the actual illegal drugs). I know you didn’t ask for such a sermon, but I thought you’d be interested in hearing something other than the perpetually misleading “Just Say No” campaigns. UU’s may not be into drugs, but I’m proud that it is a place where we can attempt some useful honesty about them.
Some definitions: By drugs I mean any substance we take to alter our mind or mood. That’s a large category, from aspirin and coffee, through Valium and Vicadin, through addictive and problematic meth, heroin, coke, and alcohol, to many entheogens, four of which I’ll describe. Obviously, this is a wide category with wildly differing effects. Lumping them all together and calling many of them bad and making them illegal is a clumsy and destructive a way for a society to go. Alcohol can enhance an evening, and it can ruin a life and culture. We should admit this, advise and adjust, not create a police/prison/mob world of fines, prisons, and enormous profits. Not all drugs are the same; we should honestly delineate. Taking meth, inhaling glue or snorting gasoline alters one’s consciousness, but affects health, lives and society in deleterious ways, whereas taking entheogens affects those same dimensions in predominately positive ways. I honor these sacred aids to us and will not shrink from publically praising and promoting them. They’re too good for us, and the damage done to them and us by the War on them is an un-American shame, an insult to our inherent freedom, an assault on our divine prerogatives. That declared, I would also admit that even these divine aids can be misused. I recommend the neutral and natural state as a touchstone for all drug use or explorations. If one can’t spend periods without their drug of choice (be it problematic or promising) it is a misbalance, a clinging to an idol or a habit. Healthiness and regular living in society should be served by the drugs, not the reverse, where too often some are “always stoned but never high.” But neither should our reasonable concerns and cautions be the only thing ever told about drugs, especially the entheogens. So let’s consider these four entheogens, moving from the milder and more recreational to the more profound.
Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol is the chemical name for the primary part in pot’s getting people high. You might think marijuana (or cannabis, or pot) is relatively new. In fact, it goes back thousands of years in Africa and India. It both relaxes and energizes, promotes the enjoyment of the day, and has few side effects. Some kinds make you want to work: Mine workers in South Africa used to have two pot breaks a day, to get them working again. The two thousand year old shaman mummy found recently in China had some in his grave. Old Shiva in India was said to carry some concentrated resins, hash, in his belt, and it is still used by many Saddhus and others in India today. In fact, it is the center of a transnational, worldwide culture, enjoyed all around the earth, far more than we’re hearing about. Our own modern Properties and Chemicals text used to describe it as: “A mood enhancer, almost invariably for the better.”
But you wouldn’t know these things in America. In the early twentieth century it became politically expedient and commercially lucrative to deliberately lie about pot by linking it to Mexicans and lunacy. What Americans didn’t realize then, or since, is how commercial interests wanted to eliminate the supply of hemp so that cotton, timber, and nylon could be sold instead. Hemp is the weak cousin of pot. It used to be a patriotic duty to grow it for fiber. Washington and Jefferson both did, and there is good evidence they also enjoyed it as a smoke. How ironic and tragic that what helped inspire our core spiritual values in America, as in “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” has been twisted into a convenient excuse for intimidation and imprisonment in a growing police state.
Having been around a pot culture for almost 50 years and seeing the “Reefer Madness” propaganda that persists is to see how sinister and mistaken the drug warriors are. Giggles, munchies, laziness, rebelliousness, and creativity should not be threatened or invaded by armed intruders, wreaking emotional and legal agony on innocent citizens. This divides us from each other, our police, and the truth. Fortunately, medical marijuana has acquainted many who otherwise would never have understood this. Marijuana is a mild, pleasant, interesting, effective medicine. Grandma used to rail against the devil weed; now she’s more fun and pleasant when she smokes it. Both California and Oregon are on the path to legalize and capitalize on the same stuff it has direly cost to futilely persecute. Would that I could, I’d share lots with those of you who wanted. We could have a Drug Awareness Sunday that you’d probably find relaxing, musical, funny, and imaginative. It saddens me to see people endure bleak, difficult, or just plain boring lives, growing old and dying having never known the aids and options THC and the other entheogens afford.
Ecstasy was synthesized in the 40’s and was only rediscovered years later. It is the Love Drug. Its effect lasts two to six hours. It grants a temporary reprieve from paranoia, anger, resentment, worry, and relationship woes into a time of honest, easy love. It was being used by marriage and family therapists to good results with couples until it was declared a Schedule I drug, unsuitable for use or even study. It also has had much success with those soldiers suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, wounded deeply in their emotional memory and functioning. (The harsh restrictions have been somewhat relaxed.) Couples can live decades in simmering anger or co-dependent mutual binds. One session of MDMA can open up fearless loving-kindness. This can give voice to all they really have inside that had been shrouded by troubles. Repair of the relationship, or at least loving-kind understanding and acceptance of the other, is effortlessly likely. Ecstasy isn’t as psychedelic as LSD. It isn’t very visual. An investigator in Shulgin’s PIHKAL described it as “all the joy and beauty I can stand.” Grand affection for another, others, and the cosmos is certainly experienced. Many young people also take this at raves. Sex while on it can be wonderful, except sex isn’t wanted as much as the lovely relating. The genitals aren’t awakened as much as the heart.
LSD is a whole order of magnitude more interesting and powerful than THC or MDMA. Though substances near to it in effect go back thousands of years (in certain mushrooms and molded rye) it wasn’t until around 1940 that scientist Hofmann tasted its tasteless power and discovered its fascinating effects. Kaleidoscopic visions of fractal paisleys coupled to a profound sense of meaning and cosmic connection swept through him, as it does for many who tried it since (or will). Not every experience is predictable. It can vary from person to person and time to time. It can be a disorienting or frightening experience, and some people have had trouble or worse. That admitted as the unusual case, it can be used in mild doses while functioning well in society and in large doses for a profound journey into consciousness, energy, and meanings far removed from our usual daily frame of mind. Some people take it only once, satisfied they have encountered a reality undergirding and informing the rest of their lives. Others do it many times in their lives. I’ve noticed a sort of anti-addictive quality to wanting it. It actually wards off wanting it too frequently and leaves a lasting afterglow of “knowing.” An LSD trip can last 12 hours. It is astonishing to see how small the actual substance is to then find how big it is in our consciousness. (When I showed some to my aging father, inviting him on a trip, he thought I was joking. After it set in he knew how extraordinaire it was. After a long period of silence he remarked, “You have not reached my mind.” An adept observation.) One can’t remember all of what one encounters and carries from a LSD trip when coming out of it, much less years later in a sermon. It seems a portal into a deep, profound, colorful, energetic self and world. I cannot help but resonate to William Blake’s painting of a man living in a lovely and majestic world poking his head through its veil to see an even more wonderful one.
5 MeO DMT is the specific form of DMT that I’m more familiar with. The other variety, N,N-DMT, is more explicitly visual, with brilliant, colorful displays of complex symmetrical patterns, along with the sense of cosmic connection. 5 MeO DMT is even more direct and overwhelming than that. It has been called the God Pill by some. The active chemical is found in certain grasses, barks, and the facial juices of a toad. (How shamans came to suck toads’ eyes, I don’t know.) It also is found in the cells and neurons of all mammals. This is the active ingredient in Ayahuasca, a native mix of one plant that overcome’s the body’s defense of the active ingredient in time for another plant’s active ingredient to work its wonders. There are two types of churches in America that ingest this sacred brew as part of its ritual worship, including a local one. I have not attended, partly because I don’t want to have a powerful spiritual experience put through a particular ritual and assumed theology. Then there’s the throwing up. Throwing up is unpleasant, then relieving, but yucky, especially in a congregation of others, some of whom are also throwing up. You have to wonder why people would go to a communion that might make them throw up.
Before I go on to describe the DMT experience, let’s ask this about these sacraments: Why would people willingly throw up, eat bitter cacti that won’t chew yet feels like snot, drink the pee of the honored leader who got the first round of the special mushroom, tempt psychic annihilation/restoration, risk legal repercussion, and encounter disapproval from an ignorant, disapproving public? What is it about DMT, LSD, MDMA, THC, and other related entheogens such as psilocybin mushrooms, peyote, mescaline and the like? What is so good about these things that people endure and risk all sorts of unpleasantness to have them? Not that every encounter with an entheogen is difficult or unpleasant; quite the opposite, for most experiences are profoundly positive, life-affirming, love-awakening, and utterly delightful, if sometimes wildly difficult, then revelatory. People risk police, scorn, expense, vomiting, having one’s ego dissolved and reassembled – because it’s worth it.
When I inhaled a long toke of 5 MeO it took less than a minute for me to fall back into a ringing, energetic vast expanse of centralized bright energy felt to be my real me, my self before, below, and beyond my usual me. God, Love, and Me were One. I gushed, “Oh, Yes! This is It! It is Real! I am satisfied. Oh, my God! Thank You! Yes!” Though my body was there, I was centered in vastness, alive with pure, wild energy. I knew the Oneness of it all, of us all. I knew love is the portal and the destination. I felt overwhelmingly grateful for my whole life, all my ancestors, the cosmos, the sacrament, and the couple who voyaged with me. My life felt satisfied. I had found it. All the other efforts of my life, and all the attempts with entheogens, led to this, and I was glad. Were I to die, which I will, I have made it to an answer.
DMT is in the cells, tissues and neurons of all mammals as well as the plants mentioned. It may be the natural substance our pineal gland secretes in abundance at near-death experiences. The advantage of the drug is that you don’t have to actually die. You can get a quick, egoless view of your entire life in some deep and important way, or a profound immersion in Being itself, or inclusion in the Oneness connecting us all. It is hard to convey the overwhelming power, meaning, and profound loveliness of this entheogen – a sacrament that delivers. It hardly seems fair or wise to try to outlaw and eliminate this way to visit our deeper reality.
What is it about love, being, and God that should be kept from the citizens who want it? Etc. We haven’t time to explore any more entheogens, or consider other kinds of drugs that people try or resort to. Many natural and synthesized options exist. Some, I warn against. These I favor. Some, I would never try or promote. These I promote with sensible intentions and cautions along with positive purposes and advice. I have a deep appreciation for the plants, toads, shamans, scientists, and guides who find, design, evaluate, and share these sacred substances. They’re far more beneficial than the stuffier mechanisms (church) and lesser drugs (alcohol, opiates, speed) that we have used so far.
Humans are adventurous psychenaughts, curious to explore all manner of consciousness alteration. We should warn and recommend. The possibilities and blessings inherent in these entheogens call humanity to a new world of loving relations. It is as if the universe has given us the keys to itself. The God we sought outside we can experience within. To say it any less plainly or honestly than that would be to fail Emerson’s charge to know divinity directly. “Always a seer is a sayer,” he said. “Only he can give, who has.” “God is, not was,” he reminded. Live in your own actual soul. “…the soul of man is not an organ, but animates and exercises all the organs; it is not a faculty, but a light; it is not the intellect and the will, but the master of the intellect and will… When it breathes through his intellect it is genius; when it breathes through his will, it is virtue; when it flows through his affection, it is love.”
The Easterners say our real self is of the mind and energy of God. Atman and Brahman are One. We find it in our body, yet it isn’t just our body. They say, “Neti, neti,” meaning, “not this, not that,” not this temporary situation, not that desire. It’s not a thought or any idol. Aspiration and anguish are the outer efforts of an inner soul forgetting it is born of, and is the bearer of, Love. Tat twam asi (Thou art That.) Within all effort is a divine ease. Entheogens encounter it, reassuring us.
Acquaint us directly with divinity, indeed!
Reverend Brad Carrier
For the Unitarian Universalists of Grants Pass, Oregon
© May 2, 2010