Tripping With the Gods – On Entheogenic Spirituality:, (Part 1 of 5) by Wayne Martin Mellinger, Ph.D. [The Dionysian Naturalist]

Contrary to the prohibitionist propaganda that is disseminated by our dominant culture, some drugs, when consumed with sacred intention in carefully crafted rituals, can be magical portals to vividly visionary and exotic realms, catalysts for deep and profound spiritual transformations, and challenging teachers offering the lesson plan of a lifetime.  Moreover, humans can learn to consume these substances moderately and safely and not fall victim to hardcore dysfunctional addiction.  While this fact goes against the common sense of our culture, it was a part of the wisdom traditions of our ancestors in at least some early tribal societies for up to 40,000 years.

Tripping With the Gods[1]: On Entheogenic Spirituality

Wayne Martin Mellinger, Ph.D.

7 May 2020

  1. Introduction
  2. Historical Background
    1. Age of Entheogens
    2. Adaptation to Agriculture
    3. The Pharmacratic Inquisition
    4. The Entheogenic Reformation
  3.  The Shamanic Wisdom Tradition of “Controlled Use”
    1. New Entheogenic Traditions
  4.  The Entheogenic Experience
  5. Implications and Conclusions
    1. Entheogenic Transformations and the Anthropocene
    2. Import for Addiction Science and Our Drug Problem
    3. Closing Words

Appendix I Entheogens and Religious Naturalism

Appendix II. Ritual for Entheogenic Sacraments

Acknowledgements

References

 

  1. INTRODUCTION

Contrary to the prohibitionist propaganda that is disseminated by our dominant culture, some drugs, when consumed with sacred intention in carefully crafted rituals, can be magical portals to vividly visionary and exotic realms, catalysts for deep and profound spiritual transformations, and challenging teachers offering the lesson plan of a lifetime.  Moreover, humans can learn to consume these substances moderately and safely and not fall victim to hardcore dysfunctional addiction.  While this fact goes against the common sense of our culture, it was a part of the wisdom traditions of our ancestors in at least some early tribal societies for up to 40,000 years.

My concern in this paper is to explore the spiritual potential of entheogenic sacraments. Basically, an entheogen[2] is any drug that when used with sacred intention induces a spiritual experience. The term is often chosen to contrast the recreational use of the same drugs.  The literal meaning of “entheogen” in Greek is “that which causes God to be within an individual”.

Examples of entheogen use include: the use of peyote, a green-gray cactus, among Native Americans of Texas and the ancient Aztecs of Mexico; the use of ergot, a fungus which grows on wheat and rye, among ancient Greeks; the use of amanita muscaria, the “magical mushroom”, which was used in ancient India, Siberia and Greece, the use of opium, a flowering plant growing in Southeastern Europe and Western Asia, and coca, a plant native to the Andes of South America. Other examples of sacred plants being used in religious ceremonies include: the use of ayahuasca in Santo Daime, a religion which originated in the Brazilian rainforests, which draws upon European Catholicism, African religiosity and indigenous shamanism; the use of San Pedro cacti in healing ceremonies by Peruvian curanderiandsmo, and iboga use by the Bwiti cult in Ecuadorian Africa (Schultes and Hoffman 1979).

The use of entheogens is very ancient and very widespread. From Siberia to India, from Western Europe to the Ural Mountains, from the Andean mountaintops to the Amazonian rainforests, entheogens played important roles in “primitive” spirituality as well as later developments in religion (Badiner 2015; Brown and Brown  DeKorne 2011; Forte 2012, Hoffman 2006-2007; Richards 2016; Smith 2000).  R. Gordon Wasson, the late Harvard ethnobotanist, theorized that entheogens may have given rise to human religion (Wasson, Kramrisch, Ott and Ruck 1986).

My explorations here are done in the context of naturalist approaches to religion, specifically within Religious Naturalism[3](Corrington 2016; Crosby 2002, 2015; Goodenough 1998; Hogue 2010; Mellinger 2015; Stone 2017; White 2016; Wildman 2011) . Religious Naturalists want to eliminate the massive gap that currently exists between science and religion concerning the nature and content of reality by tossing out any “truth claims” that are not based on empirical evidence.  Included here would be Otherworldly explanations of natural events, superstitions and unfounded folk beliefs.  Religious Naturalists think that the scientific process, guided by skepticism and informed by logic and critical thinking, can and should help us determine what is real.  Science, while not perfect and subject to human error, represents one of the greatest achievements in human history, allowing us to probe the mysteries of the universe.  Religious Naturalists insist that everything that exists exists within nature.  These are people who know that science and religion need not be enemies and that this world we live in is a very holy place.

Humanistic Paganism[4], the name of the blog this essay is appearing in, is, at least to me, a version of Religious Naturalism, albeit one more focused on reclaiming elements of the pre-Christian polytheist religions of northern and western Europe, such as the Celtic versions of the “”Old Religion” emerging as modern Wicca, Witchcraft and Druidry (Bain 2001; Carr-Gomm 2002; Higginbotham and Higginbotham 2006; Kraemer 20121; Laurie 2015; Orr 2004;. Pike 2001).  Both Humanistic Paganism and Religious Naturalism are part of the new movement to create a freestanding Nature Religion ground in a scientific worldview, with a decidedly Pagan ethos, and with an activist political ecology (cf. Mellinger 2020).

My version of this spiritual orientation is called Dionysian Naturalism (DN) (Mellinger . 2015a, 2015bh, 2015c, 2016a, 2016b  Friedrich Nietzsche prophesied a Dionysian religion of the future that would immanentist, pantheist and not offer an “afterlife” but direct our focus to this world here and now.  In my rendering DN is insurgent in its character, insisting that people who hold Nature as sacred must actively work toward the Sustainability Revolution—a total rethinking of our way of life and social structures.  This engaged ethics of caring and environmental activism are common among all versions of Religious Naturalism.  Following the practices of the original followers of Dionysus in ancient Greece, the Maenads, who worshipped Dionysus in four-day festive celebrations in which wines fortified with psychedelic plants were consumed[5], my version of Dionysian Naturalism embraces entheogenic spirituality.

I realize that the spiritual use of entheogens is foreign, frightening and fearful to many in our largely prohibitionist culture, saturated as it is with “drug war ideologies”.  Our culture distrusts the mystic, demonizes the drug user and paints users of psychedelics as burnt-out hippies hoping for a Dead show.  Most people have little sense of the mystical possibilities enabled through the use of psychotropic substances as sacraments.  My deep studies of the Anthropology of Shamanism, Ethnobotany, and Comparative Religious Studies have suggested a framework for re-integrating “drugs” back into our lives in ways that are healthy and productive. As a certified drug and alcohol counselor I am aIso well versed in the negative consequences of modern drug abuse.

I begin by presenting an overview of entheogen use in human history highlighting how changing economic conditions and structures of power impacted the consumption of psychedelic sacraments. I then focus on the Shamanic Wisdom Traditions of “controlled use” found among our ancestors in archaic forager societies (frequently called “hunting and gathering societies”).  In these nomadic tribal societies shamans are the carriers of vast amounts of ecological, medical and spiritual wisdom, including how to consume powerful psychotropic plants in ways that are safe and productive.

The nature of the entheogenic experience is then explored, emphasizing the spiritual potential of these sacraments. If we are to have an Entheogenic Reformation, as many modern commentators hope, we must reclaim something like the shamanic wisdom traditions, gathering knowledge about how to use drugs successfully in sacred ceremonies.  The importance of preparation and integration is discussed in the new Entheogenic Wisdom Traditions advanced.  I end this essay by exploring how entheogenic consumption could help launch the Sustainability Revolution needed to fight climate change by cultivating mindsets in which egos are flattened and ecological consciousness is increased.

[1] By the phrase “tripping with the Gods” I refer to the deep and profound mystical experiences humans have when using psychotropic substances with sacred intention resulting in a direct encounter with Ultimate Reality.  I have also referred to this as “dancing with Dionysus” (Mellinger 2016).

[2] This neologism was coined in 1979 by a group ethnobotanists (including Carl A.P. Ruck, Richard Evans Schultes, Jonathan Ott and R. Gordon Wasson) to refer to substances previously called hallucinogens or psychedelics, although the term “entheogen” is broader than either of those terms and is not limited to certain chemical compounds, botanical species and brain reactions.

[3] I believe in having first principles—core philosophical ideas which guide the use of other ideas—primary foundational notions are at the heart of a philosophical system which shape the entire approach.  “Naturalism” is at the core of my religious thinking;. Existing in a world filled with too much superstition , I reaffirm my embrace of skepticism and critical thinking in sorting out competing truth claims.  Naturalists embrace a rational and scientific worldview and seek empirical evidence to support their beliefs and support continual testing of these ideas.

[4] The phrase Humanistic Paganism is used in contrast to another subgroup of modern Pagans referred to as “Hard Polytheists”, who insist that their deities are living entities.  For more on atheistic or Godless Paganism see Halstead (2016) and Green (2019)

[5]  During those four days and nights on Mount Parnassus, when worshippers gathered to honor the god Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and ecstasy, the festivities were more than festive and the celebrations more than celebratory.  Excess and transgression were the guiding principles governing this religious ceremony—drunkenness, nudity,, sexual activity, and frenzied dancing were frequent.  The Dionysian Mysteries emphasized wine drinking, grape cultivation and all aspects of viniculture. A death-rebirth theme was emphasized, as is common in agricultural cults,’  After the more formal procession in which giant phalluses are carried into the main area, things start to loosed up as wine fortified with psychedelic plants is generously poured.  The intoxicating and disinhibiting effects of the wine were thought of as due to possession by the god’s spirit.  With loud music in the background dancers start swaying to the rhythmic beats being pounded out on drums and cymbals.  Costumed people, some with masks, are beginning to dance wildly.  The sounds of the festivities are frequently punctuated by the ritual cry “Evoi!”. To one side, three women and two men are in all positions of sexual activity, unconcerned with the gender of their partners and oblivious to the crowd watching intensely. Increasingly the participants are behaving in wildly unusual ways.  The female worshippers, the Maenads, were known as “raving women” or “mad women”.  Dressed in fawn skins and carrying thyrsus—fennel stalks wrapped in ivy with a pine cone on top all dripping with honey—they were known for chasing down small animals, dismembering them (sparagmos) and eating their flesh raw (onophagia).  When in college I learned about the Dionysian Mysteries I remember thinking about how different this religion was from my early experience with religion.  I was raised in New England Congregationalism and remember sitting on a hard wooden pew largely bored for a hour in which we were told that we were sinners. At the age of 13 no tribal elder took me on a vision quest to nearly Mount Sugarloaf (For more on Dionysus and his followers and festivities see Walter F. Otto’s Dionysus: Myth and Cult (1965).

Continued…….

About the Author

lSslgGSWayne Martin Mellinger, Ph.D. is a Santa Barbara-based social justice activist, writer, and educator who uses spiritual practices to create a better world.  Specifically, Wayne is very active in helping our neighbors of the streets transition into permanent housing and environmental issues.  He has taught at the Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, and Berkeley campus of the University of California, Ventura College, the Fielding Graduate University and Antioch University Santa Barbara.

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