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Psychedelic spirituality


where nothing is real and everything appears true

By Carl Teichrib

“LSD had become a social movement, an art style, a religious belief, a revolutionary political philosophy and a way of life for thousands.”

Psychedelic substances and Eastern spirituality mixed in the jumbled cultural landscape of the 1960s, upending traditional norms and sending shock-waves through the social strata. And those shock-waves are still rippling through Western civilization.

The following article is an excerpt from “Game of Gods.”

“From politics to transhumanism to the interfaith movement, Western culture is quickly turning away from a biblical worldview and embracing a false gospel of Oneness. Teichrib skillfully explains the roots of this shift and how the transforming gospel of Jesus Christ is still the only hope for a world enraptured with paganism. Game of Gods is exactly the resource the church needs for such a time as this. Read it!
– Janet Mefferd, host of Janet Mefferd Today. 

Aldous Huxley, psychedelic pioneer and literary legend, believed that a revival in religion was quickly approaching. Forecasting the earthquake about to begin, he penned the following in 1958: “Religion will be transformed into an activity concerned mainly with experience and intuition.” [1]

A mind-trip spiritual experience would be unleashed through the biochemical door. Moving from the lab to the Central Intelligence Agency and into the culture, its public face was Huxley’s friend, Timothy Leary. [2]

A clinical psychologist at Harvard, Leary, along with psychologists Ralph Metzner and Richard Alpert [3] – with input from Huxley – formed the Harvard Psilocybin Project. It was the spark of an inner revolution that fanned into a social and spiritual wildfire, and it is burning stronger now than before.

In the 1960s,” Leary tells us, “we promiscuously started raising questions about cosmic consciousness and alternative realities and declaring God lost and found: in a pill, a grain of sand, love, or an Eric Clapton guitar solo.” [4]

Contextually linked to the Postmodern setting, the “new spirituality” being projected was nevertheless different. Whereas the Postmodern mood was a rejection of meta-narratives, the new spirituality – a seemingly disjointed collage of experiences and beliefs and ideas – pointed to a universal narrative: Everything is One.

Leary, Metzner, and Alpert claimed this path to oneness was found in LSD. Analyzing the psychedelic experience through the lens of Carl Jung and the death rituals in The Tibetan Book of the Dead – which Jung attributes to his fundamental insights [5] – the trio pontificated cosmic spirituality: “Remember the unity of all beings… Jettison your ego program and float back to the radiant bliss of at-one-ness.” [6]

We find this depiction in their famed manual, The Psychedelic Experience,

A sense of profound one-ness, a feeling of the unity of all energy. Superficial differences of role, cast, status, sex, species, form, power, size, beauty, even the distinctions between inorganic and living energy, disappear before the ecstatic union of all in one. All gestures, words, acts and events are equivalent in value – all are manifestations of the one consciousness which pervades everything. ‘You,’ ‘I’ and ‘he’ are gone, ‘my’ thoughts are ‘ours,’ ‘your’ feelings are ‘mine.’ Bodies melt into waves. Objects in the environment – lights, trees, plants, flowers – seem to open and welcome you: they are part of you. You are both simply different pulses of the same vibration. A pure feeling of ecstatic harmony with all beings is the keynote of this vision… You suddenly wake up from the delusion of separate form and hook up to the cosmic dance. [7]

Mimicking the bardo – the supposed transition between the final breath and the next birth, the intermediate state described in Tibetan Buddhism – the psychedelic encounter was portrayed as a mirroring experience: “This is now the hour of death and rebirth; Take advantage of this temporary death to obtain the perfect state – Enlightenment. Concentrate on the unity of all living beings.” [8]

Jesuit priest David Toolan, who found himself at the Esalen Institute studying meditation, tells of his LSD birthing encounter,

After about a half hour, the walls of the room and house where two friends and I were experimenting simply fell away – I was navigating about in a space something like Stanley Kubrick explored at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey. It was a wonderland of sensory distortion and synesthesia, solid objects turning liquid, colors and sounds vibrating and fusing; the ordinary empirical world assumed all the charged panpsychism of a Van Gogh painting. But I didn’t spend long with this epicurean feast. Before I knew quite what was happening, I felt my body shrinking. With all the physical sensations of it, I was catapulted back to infancy; further, into the womb. I had to get born again… [9]

With the help of his friends simulating a birth canal, Toolan “pushed and shoved” his way from “uterine darkness” into the light. The encounter was unifying, interweaving the psychological and spiritual, blending and combining and transforming – “it rendered worlds soluble.” [10]

Quantum unity was to be found in a dosage, where nothing is real and everything appears to be true. It is a state of hyper-suggestibility predicated on what Leary, Metzner, and Alpert called set-and-setting.

Listen! Wake up!” screamed Leary in his book, High Priest. “You are God! You have the Divine plan engraved in cellular script within you. Listen! Take this sacrament! You’ll see! You’ll get the revelation! It will change your life! You will be reborn!” [11]

Commenting on the psychedelic experience, Dr. Charles Slack, a friend of Leary and an experimenter himself, wrote about the response LSD invoked: “The first time you take LSD, it makes you think you are God. This is certainly one of the most common reactions to the drug. Proselytizing is likely to follow – with little success among those who haven’t had any of the drug.” [12]

I knew the truth of being one with God, one with His Power,” explained Slack after a psychedelic trip in the presence of a Swami companion. “I had within me at that time a power. I knew I did. It seemed quite reasonable… All the superman myths of the ages were recreated for real in me.” [13]

Slack, however, recognized the problem of interpretation. When talking to another person “goofed-up” on LSD who also claimed to be God, how was this situation handled? Which one is God? In the Oneness view of cosmology, everyone and everything is infused with deity, but Slack also grasped that there was something unrealistic in the claim.

Speaking to Leary’s motto that “two acid-heads are better than one,” Slack made an interesting confession,

Each tends to support the other’s delusion… A mutual conspiracy of non-criticism, an I-won’t-break-your-euphoria-if-you-won’t-break- mine agreement, unspoken and the stronger for being silent, takes place. As a consequence of LSD, there was a lot of ego-involved spiritual rap… [14]

Slack writes, “LSD had become a social movement, an art style, a religious belief, a revolutionary political philosophy and a way of life for thousands. We were all participating in the cultural and artistic (and criminal) aspects of the revolution.” [15]

A more recent psychedelic proponent described the spiritual awakening as a “non-dual experience, a ‘merger with the white light’ type experience… one sees the larger currents of information relative to human self-awareness manifesting as things like visions of the Christ, or Buddha.” [16]

Manifesting “religious figures” seems to be a common theme. For psychonauts, the chemical-directed “inner revolution” stimulates mystical feelings and spiritual visions. But as Slack discovered, it is a grand delusion.

For Leary, his trip into Hinduism corresponded with visits to a Vedanta ashram in 1962, where he guided worshippers in a psychedelic session,

I came to the ashram… and joined the meditating-chanting service. Then, those who were to take the trip remained for more prayers and contemplation. The LSD had been placed in chalices on the altar. Incense and flowers adorned it. The LSD sacrament was mixed with holy water from the Ganges, blessed, and drunk…

…I was high too and overcome by the power of the ashram and the shrine and the ancient rituals. We were all caught in Hindu mythologies…

…I looked around the room. Ramakrishna’s statue breathed and his eyes twinkled the message. Vivekananda’s brown face beamed and winked. Christ grinned to be joined again with his celestial brothers. The rare-wood walls breathed. The sacred kundalini serpent uncoiled up the bronzed candelabra to the thousand-petaled lotus blossom. This was the fulcrum moment of eternity. The exact second of consciousness, fragile, omniscient. God was present and spoke to us in silence…

I was a Hindu from that moment on. No, that’s not the way to say it. I recognized that day in the temple that we are all Hindus in our essence. We are all Hindu Gods and Goddesses. Laughing Krishna. Immutable Brahma… That day in the temple I discovered my Hindu-ness. [17]

Eastern interests and psychedelic spirituality correlated. Dr. Rick Strassman, a medical researcher who specialized in psychiatry, tells of attending a Zen Buddhist monastery in the US Midwest for a multi-week meditation retreat in 1974. He questioned the resident monks: “Did you take psychedelics before becoming a monk? How important were they in your decision?”

Strassman’s findings are noteworthy,

Most interesting was that most of them had gained their first view of the spiritual path while on psychedelic drugs… The overwhelming majority had taken them and had experienced their first glimpse of the enlightened state of the mind with their assistance. [18]

The Western psychedelic wave floated Eastern beliefs to a new high. From Harvard to Hollywood, American culture was tripping on experiential spirituality – advaita in a pill. But there was something else lurking.

During the early 1990s, Strassman received US government approval to conduct clinically controlled DMT [19] experiments on voluntary human subjects. One of the more troubling aspects of his research was subject contact with other entities: mental interactions with non-material life-forms. Test patients described encounters with angelic beings and alien creatures. Strassman had previously heard of strange life-forms seen in psychedelic visions, but the doctor was unprepared for their level of involvement. These beings were communicating with and manipulating his subjects.

Their ‘business’ appeared to be testing, examining, probing, and even modifying the volunteer’s mind and body,” he reported.

One patient described it this way: “It’s more like being possessed. During the experience there is a sense of someone, or something else, there taking control. It’s like you have to defend yourself against them, whoever they are, but they certainly are there. I’m aware of them and they’re aware of me. It’s like they have an agenda.” [20]

Strassman tried to understand these experiences through a scientific framework, chalking it up to brain chemistry and psychological conditioning. But the visitations were too interactive and the experiences too invasive, strongly hinting that a threshold had been crossed between drug-induced imagination and something else.

The entities promised to open vistas of spirituality and inter-connection.

Left with little choice, Strassman hypothesized that DMT unlocked a different level of reality, creating a passing-through-the-veil effect whereby his subjects had made contact with its inhabitants – entities that exhibited a special intelligence. Others before Strassman had intentionally used DMT for religious revelations. In the Amazon basin, the plant derived mixture known as ayahuasca naturally releases the properties of DMT. Ingested as a tea, ayahuasca provides “soul access to other worlds.” [21] Ceremonies and rituals have been created around its use, and in Brazil the religion of Santo Daime combines Spiritism, Roman Catholic traditions, and the “plant teachings” of ayahuasca. Today ayahuasca has international exposure, and was introduced at the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions as an “effective catalyst of religious and spiritual awakening.” [22] Seeking wisdom from “plant spirits” is popular in San Francisco’s tech industry, and with cultural elites. [23]

Dr. Strassman described DMT as the “spirit molecule.”

Could it be that psychedelics open some kind of mind-and-soul portal to the supernatural? It certainly appears that way. Are psychedelics a possible gateway to encounter what the Apostle Paul described as “seducing spirits and doctrines of demons”? [24] I believe a good argument could be made to that end. Paul reminds us that Satan, in his acts of deception, transforms himself into an “angel of light.” [25] Ironically, as the chemical user claims a new and personal revelation of inner divinity, it is simply the mirroring of an ancient ruse: “Your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God…” [26]

There is a spiritual realm, a supernatural reality – and like other known techniques, it appears psychedelic usage can be a tool for gaining access to this other dimension. The forbidden fruit shines with inner light.

The connection between Eastern philosophy and mind-altering substances, however, runs much deeper than what transpired during the cultural revolution of the 1960s and early 1970s.

In The Rigveda, a collection of hymns foundational to Hindu lore, we read of Soma and its “juice for thee to drink.” [27] The purpose?

We have drunk Soma and become immortal; we have attained the light, the gods discovered… Soma, thou art our life-giver: aim of all eyes, light- finder, come within us.” [28] Hymn after hymn is given to Soma, which provides mental power “to make us better than we are.” [29]

Shrouded in questions of interpretation, the knowledge of precisely what Soma was – a drink of some kind, a life giver, a spiritual fire – has been lost in time. Suggestions have been made that it was a plant substance whose refined juices were ritually offered to the gods, [30] and inner light was granted to those who consumed the elixir. According to one source, it had “strong intoxicating or more probably hallucinogenic properties.” [31] Another commentator explained it this way: “A drink made from a plant, and produced hallucinations of the kind made familiar by modern experiments with a variety of drugs and herbs.” [32]

So important was this juice that Soma was made an object of worship and a ritualistic portal for mystical experience. Soma became a personified deity.

Hindu’s ancient story may be the result of a psychedelic trip.


1. Aldous Huxley, “Drugs That Shape Men’s Minds,” essay republished in his modern two volume reprint, The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell (HarperPerennial Modern Classics, 2009), p.16 in back section.

2. One history, with some criticism, is Martin A. Lee and Bruce Shlain, Acid Dream: The Complete Social History of LSD: The CIA, The Sixties, and Beyond (Grove Press, 1992).

3. Alpert traveled to India in 1967 and returned to America as Ram Dass, a metaphysical explorer who helped fuel the West’s interest in Eastern spirituality.

4. Timothy Leary, Design For Dying (HarperEdge, 1997), pp.14-15.

5. In Carl Jung’s introduction to The Tibetan Book of the Dead, he says the following: “For years, ever since it was first published, the Bardo Thodol [aka Tibetan Book of the Dead] has been my constant companion, and to it I owe not only many stimulating ideas and discoveries, but also many fundamental insights.” See Jung “Psychological Commentary,” The Tibetan Book of the Dead (Oxford University Press, 1960), p.xxxvi.

6. Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner and Richard Alpert, The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead (Citadel Press, 1964/1992), p.32

7. Ibid., p.49.

8. Ibid., p.97.

9. David Toolan, Facing West from California’s Shores: A Jesuit’s Journey into New Age Consciousness (Crossroad, 1987), pp.58-59.

10. Ibid., p.64.

11. Timothy Leary, High Priest (Ronin Publishing, 1995, originally published 1968 by The New American Library), p.285.

12. Charles W. Slack, Timothy Leary, the Madness of the Sixties and Me (Peter H. Wyden, 1974), p.7.

13. Ibid., pp.123-124.

14. Ibid., p.7.

15. Ibid., p.65.

16. James W. Jesso, Soundscapes and Psychedelics (SoulsLantern Publishing, 2014), p.35, see note #16 on the bottom of the page.

17. Leary, High Priest, pp.297-298.

18. Rick Strassman, DMT: The Spirit Molecule (Park Street Press, 2001), p.296.

19. DMT = Dimethyltryptamine.

20. Strassman, DMT, p.189.

21. Ibid., p.331.

22. “Introducing Ayahuasca Religion,” workshop at the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions, Monday, October 19, 2015. Taken from the Parliament Program Schedule, p.235.

23. This was borne out for me at Burning Man 2017, where I attended lectures and workshops on modern shamanism, psychedelics, and entrepreneurial visioning.

24. 1 Timothy 4:1.

25. 2 Corinthians 11:13-14.

26. Genesis 3:5.

27. The Rigveda, 8:45:22, page 255 of the Ralph T. H. Griffith translation, The Hymns of the Rigveda, Volume 3 (E.J. Lazarus and Company, 1891). Troy Wilson Organ touches on Soma in The Hindu Quest for the Perfection of Man (Ohio University, 1970), p.117.

28. The Rigveda, 8:48:3 and 15, pp.265-266 of the Griffith translation.

29. The Rigveda, 9:4:1-10, p.365 of the Griffith translation. The Valakhilya Hymns are noted for their many references to Soma.

30. Terence McKenna discusses Soma in Food of the Gods: A Radical History of Plants, Drugs and Human Evolution (Rider, 1992).

31. Stutley, Harper’s Dictionary of Hinduism, p.282.

32. Ainslie T. Embree, The Hindu Tradition: Readings in Oriental Thought (The Modern Library, 1966), p.21.