Age of Aquarius
“Have you ever considered writing about people who take drugs to reach enlightenment?”
I’m not sure that’s an exact quote, but it’s close enough; I wasn’t taking notes. I replied with something about how I’d interviewed a Rastafari for our recent marijuana issue, but as he explained about this more-or-less new tribe—not a religion, but a loosely organized network of people who are using psychoactive drugs in an almost scientific manner with the intention of individually connecting with universal oneness—I realized this was completely different.
I’ll call my new friend Jon Juan, and I’ll tell you from the outset, he was earnest. His, in this context, is not recreational drug use, although some of the drugs he mentioned, LSD and mushrooms, for example, have been used for fun. Since his foray into metaphysics, he considers recreational use of the spiritual media disrespectful.
But let’s get one thing straight from the outset: Use and possession of most of the drugs Jon Juan talks about—psilocybin mushrooms, peyote and mescaline, Salvia divinorum, Ayahuasca (a combination of MAO inhibitors and DMT), DMT and 5-MeO-DMT—are seriously illegal.
Jon Juan focused mainly on the use of DMT, which he described as a wholly out-of-body, ego-eliminating experience of about a 15-minute duration. DMT is difficult to acquire, taking Jon Juan a year to procure it the first time. He’s only taken the drug twice, and, as he said, only the second time mattered. He believes he underdosed the first time. He described a trip that involved a lot of Jungian archetypical images with a sincerity that certainly made me believe, if he’s not going anywhere I’d care to go right now, at least he’s going somewhere. This is one of those examples where I feel better that I don’t participate in communion with every religious participant I meet.
I’m not going to try to describe the images Jon Juan described, but instead offer a disjointed description of the concepts of the “movement” as I understood what was related to me in the wide-ranging and disordered discussion. There’s plenty of information on the internet, search “psychonaut spirituality.”
First, somewhere between 200,000 and 90,000 years ago, anatomically modern humans appeared on the planet. Although, nothing changed physically in homo sapiens sapiens, something happened about 30,000 years ago that suggests humankind evolved in some fundamental way. Psychonauts believe humanity discovered a psychoactive substance, and through that substance, it discovered god or the universal mind. Interesting, how that dovetails with new research, like the Nov. 15 New York Times report, “The Evolution of the God Gene.”
Psychonauts draw from many sources and cultures, including Hinduism and yoga, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, I Ching, Jungian archetypes, Maya and farther South American cultures, ancient Egyptian ideas and other shamanic practices. What they’ve noticed is the beyond-coincidence iconography among many religious practices, like the snakes from the Garden of Eden or the Mayan creation myth.
This movement developed many of its ideas from the LSD experience of the 1960s, most notably the thoughts of people like Timothy Leary and Aldous Huxley. Its newer prophets include authors and books like Terence McKenna’s Food of the Gods and True Hallucinations or Rick Strassman’s DMT: The Spirit Molecule.
Frankly, the idea that mind-altering substances are acceptable within religious practice is about as unconventional as wine with supper.
“People may or may not have a religious experience in church,” said Jon Juan, who was raised hardcore Baptist. “It’s risky. When I go to church now, it’s an event. I’m going to see god.”