Originally published in 1997 by the Council on Spiritual Practices (CSP), this new edition of ‘Entheogens and the Future of Religion’ (2012) comes in the wake of other republished CSP editions, including ‘Spiritual Growth with Entheogens’ (2012). This collection of essays was edited by Robert Forte; a former student of Stanislav Grof and Frank Barron who also obtained his masters degree under Mircea Eliade. Forte is also a former director of the Albert Hofmann Foundation and teaches at the California Institute of Integral Studies.
The intention of this book is clearly stated by Robert Forte in his introduction and it is no less relevant today as it was fifteen years ago when this collection was first published: “It is our hope that this book will contribute to an honest reappraisal of the historic and modern significance of entheogens so that they may be used accordingly in today’s world by those seeking to cultivate their spiritual awareness” (Forte 2012, 5). Of course the spiritual element is, by definition of the word entheogen (to ‘generate God within’), the context under which we are to understand the effects elicited by certain psychoactive drugs under certain conditions. However, it is also a political position as “Many of the contributors to this volume describe how the intelligent use of entheogens could inspire peaceful, sustainable responses to the catastrophic state of modern society” (Forte 2012, 6). In this context, the book becomes something greater, and more important, than simply its implicit religiosity.
While some of the chapters concentrate more on the spiritual element, Explorations into God by Brother David Steindl-Rast and Psychedelic Experience and Spiritual Practice: An Interview with Jack Kornfield by Robert Forte for example, others are more explicitly political; yet they all carry implications for the other. Notably, Terence McKenna’s now famous Psychedelic Society talk, transcribed by Peter Stafford in January 1985, is included and McKenna’s polemic masterfully explores the necessity of the psychedelic/entheogenic experience for a new socio-political vision, in contrast to the paradigm we currently live under: “The psychedelic substances can be conceived of as points on an information grid. They provide new perspectives on reality, and when you reconnect all the points of view that you have connected regarding reality, then a reasonably applicable model of reality begins to appear” (Forte 2012, 78). In this paradigm, one is able to critically engage society from perspectives outside those given by the establishment and, therefore, understand and remodel accordingly.
“If prohibitionists truly believe that evidence and reason are on their side, they would enthusiastically encourage a national debate that would convince others of their claims. I have a feeling that those who want to prohibit discussion know the evidence is against them. Why else would they fear it? Their irrational fear of rational deliberation is tacit admission they are wrong, and know it” – Thomas B. Roberts (Forte 2012, 196)
There are some very well known names involved in this collection. Aside from McKenna, LSD’s discoverer Albert Hofmann writes two chapters, one titled Natural Science and the Mystical World View in which the great scientist attempts to reconcile the two points of view, plus The Message of the Eleusinian Mysteries for Today’s World; while Ann and Alexander Shulgin’s A New Vocabulary (an abridged piece from Tihkal), discusses the nature of vocabulary as the product of experience as opposed a composition of the catalysts. Thomas J. Riedlinger’s Sacred Mushroom Pentecost examines Wasson’s Christianization of the velada (night vigil) of Maria Sabina; a very revealing chapter that is an important contribution to understanding the cultural reterritorialization of the sacred mushroom. Other writers include Dale Pendell, who poetically describes Hofmann’s discovery of LSD and Rick Strassman who examines current models and future prospects of biomedical research with psychedelics.
In conclusion, the strength of this collection lies in the power of the voices it includes. There is a well-balanced, multidisciplinary ethic that weaves its way throughout the book, happily straddling spiritual, political and medical territories, and revolves around a common respect for the substances that are discussed. While the book, perhaps, lacks a little bite, this is overcome but its highly readable nature and commendable outlook. Great to see a new edition published.