Drugs and western magic…

This topic was briefly mentioned in a recent Facebook exchange between myself, VH Fr AIT (see his excellent blog here), Fr Arcad (see his excellent blog here), GH Fr SR (yes, his excellent blog here) and others (where are the women in this?). It is also a topic that is occasionally revisited within the esoteric and more particularly pagan communities. I expect a few comments may come forth…please comment away, guys 🙂

Now these are my unfolding and personal thoughts; a simple-off-the cuff comment, not a review of published views and analyses.

Traditionally it has been the case that the vast majority of western magical traditions and teachers have eschewed the use of drugs as part of magical and spiritual practice. Many teachers and groups also insist or strongly advise against personal use of psychoactive drugs. I agree with this view, but acknowledge I have a particular sensitivity to this issue. Heck, I even get uncomfortable when I see youth drinking beer on the beach and streets. 🙂

As a teenager I was blessed with the opportunity to see the damage drug use can bring to individuals and the community (and here of course I am including alcohol). I have seen too many intelligent, creative and lovely young men (and women) descend into a life of dysfunction via supposedly harmless marijuana to be blase about the drug culture. I guess some people can partake safely and some people can’t.  Having assisted a young man who had a psychotic break and ended up being hospitalised for seven years following his very first experience with marijuana, I have a realistic sense of the dangers of any drug.

As a young man myself I read and eagerly absorbed the classic psychedelic and therapeutic drug authors such as Leary, Lilly, Alpert and Castaneda. The spiritual or consciousness expanding aspect of drug use fascinated and intrigued me far more than the party or stoner experience. It seemed clear that the legal curtailing of correct and psychiatric use of drugs such as LSD was a misinformed reaction on behalf of governments trying to control the rapid change of consciousness within the 60s youth culture.

Leary’s discussion of set and setting and other research on safe psychedelic experiences allowed me to control my own initial experiments with LSD as a consciousness change tool. However, despite wonderful, beautiful and intense mystical oneness experiences, I very soon became convinced that drug use in this way was not the same as spiritual development and consciousness control through the alchemical changes in the subtle bodies. The ‘results’ from programmed drug experiences, that is the internal experience, were similar, but without lasting depth and transformation. I know others disagree, including in some ways my favourite author Robert Anton Wilson, who took enough LSD in his lifetime to make a crazed Freo Hippie salivate at the thought.

The main traditional objections to an admixture of drugs and magic are the damage drugs do, their addictive nature, the lack of control and a false sense of spiritual accomplishment produced by what are, in effect ,simply physical brain chemistry changes. Despite holding a firm anti-drug stance in my orders and groups, I happen to think these charges against drug use are not very sound and easily countered. I still believe drugs are inappropriate tools for western magic, but for more nuanced reasons than these big four objections.

Briefly, on damage and addiction, the active dosages of synthetic drugs such as LSD are no more than 500 micrograms, producing less physical damage than an evening glass of wine. Nor is it a physically addictive drug, unlike alcohol, caffeine or nicotine to name just three of the legalised addictive substances. Psychologically, all drugs can be addictive. But then again so can astral experiences, pseudo-mystical states and magic itself. There are plenty of dysfunctional occultists out there who use magic as a ‘drug’, and plenty of religious addicts too (see When God Becomes a Drug).

The lack of control within a drug trip, as compared to traditional mystical and magical techniques, is highlighted by many modern spiritual and magical authors. This to me is a big furphy and in my personal experience was never the case. With care, pre-thought and programming a psychedelic drug ‘trip’ can be as controlled and as able to be directed as any magical exploration. Within a sacred and ritualised context drug experiences are easily controlled. Objections to the use of drugs because of the the ‘lack of control’ rely on reports and experiences of non-initiates at parties or unwise initiates without discipline. Of course, to be fair, most drug users simply drop the acid at a party or in front of a DVD or before having (non sacralised) sex, which can lead to all sorts of problems. For any MOTO drug user, if you wish to partake, I really do suggest reading up on Leary’s theory of set and setting to ensure safety.

A false sense of spiritual accomplishment is of course a major danger. However, logically if we are to forbid drugs from our traditions on these grounds, we need to forbid the use of grades and esoteric titles. Some people can handle drugs knowing the ‘mystical’ experiences they produce are contained only in the drug experience and mean nothing about themselves personally. And  some people cannot. Similarly, some people can handle being called ‘Greatly Honoured’, ‘Lord’ or ‘Most Puissant Sovereign Grand Commander’ without it effecting their egos. And some people cannot.

So my objections to the use of drugs in magic take a slightly different tack. As an esoteric dude I know that all things, drugs included, are not simply physical in nature. A tab of LSD, a bottle of wine and joint of marijuana each have their etheric, astral and mental plane counterparts or components. Once we look at drugs in this way we can see the problems their use may have in magic (and life generally).

Certain drugs have more of an effect on the different subtle selves of the drug taker than other drugs. Alcohol for example has heavy effect on the physical, etheric and lower astral levels. LSD seems to primarily effect the mental level, explaining the incredible concepts and pseudo-oneness experiences users report. Thee intense emotional states from LSD are the effects of the altered mental level being mediated by or effecting the astral-emotional level. This is why the emotions are so strong and unable to be easily altered once experienced, producing the classic ecstatic bliss-out or bad trip.

Knowing the different levels of effect from each drug (and each dose of drug) is crucial for a magician. However, of equal importance is the realisation that, like all things, drugs carry with them a link to a certain (mostly informal) egregore. A packet of aspirin is imbued with  the egregore of the drug company and manufacturing plant that produced it. This is not much of a problem since aspirin only (normally) effects the physical and dense etheric levels, where the mental concepts of greed (company) and boredom (workers) cannot effect us.

However, a bag of weed or cocaine has a very differently egregore, one often perforce of crime and illegality, squalor and deceit, even violence and distress – all producing astral influences on the drug. Since these drugs do directly effect the astral body, by partaking of them we open ourselves to these disturbing and unhealthy influences.This, obviously, is not a good idea.

I suspect the differences between different batches or sources of drugs users report are not solely determined by physical differences but also by the quality and care by which the drug is produced, sold and marketed. This certainly is the case with food, leading Dion Fortune, through one of her novels, to give the advice to never eat food from an angry cook. 🙂 So why not drugs? It also could also partially explain why folk like St Bob, who took mostly Sandoz and Owsley Stanley LSD, had more balanced experiences than 70s hippies on acid which was furtively cooked up in a back yard squat. When I still had friends who were stoners, they always preferred home grown weed.

In magic one of the first tasks is to secure the temple, inwardly and outwardly, consciously choosing what inner influences, currents and egregores we connect with as part of the practice. We cannot then undermine this by partaking of a drug which will link us to unknown and certainly not salubrious influences.

But the Shamans do it…

One of the biggest cards played by those wishing to include drugs within magic is their use within so called ‘shamanic’ cultures for various spiritual purposes. A good argument in one sense, but bad in others. Firstly, I must forgive and forget the conflation and creation of the modern concept of ‘shamanism’ as a distinct approach to the spiritual (got drums and feathers? – must be shamanic) – not easy, but OK. 🙂 Secondly, let’s pay attention to the word ‘culture’. These various ‘shamanic’ cultures, these indigenous societies around the world that use drugs in this way, are not part of our world, our culture. The difference between an indigenous tribal approach to psychoactive drug use and our use is so huge it is hard to no where to begin. But a few points.

The group consciousness of a tribe that values as sacred a mushroom or leaf or cactus is very different to the community where a magician lives and moves on a daily basis. In ‘shamanic’ cultures drug use is part of a wider and contextualised sacred process; in the west it is illegal and illegitimate. We are not islands unaffected by the sea of our society, as much as we would like to be. So, the experience of drug use in sacred contexts will be different between cultures, and really cannot be used as a justification.

We must also remember the various plants and animals that ‘shamanic’ cultures utilised in their sacred practices exist on the various subtle levels too. The plants’ spirits are approached and prayed to, rituals done in their honour, stories told, and an alliance formed with the deeper spirit of the plant. This relationship is crucial as it connects the ‘shaman’ with the spiritual being and nature of the plant, the only way by which safe and productive mental, astral and etheric changes can take place. Often the plants are found by visions, or tended for months, related to, respected, communed with before ritual use. They are not brought at the back of a pub from a grubby man looking only to make more money. Again, if we are not in good relationship with the spirit of a plant we not only disrespect that plant, but also remove ourselves from it grace and blessings.

Finally, western magic has no unbroken tradition of sacred alliance with and utilisation of natural drugs. I have no doubt years back some individual folk had experience and wisdom concerning the plants in their locale, maybe even alliance and relationship. But this is not part of the esoteric wisdom of the west. Of course in recent years people are (re)creating these traditions, mainly within the neo-pagan communities, but it is very recent and the wisdom, alliance, mythology and egregoric connection simply cannot compare to indigenous tribal traditions. So the magican drug partaker is on her own, really.

The overcoming of all these obstacles to safe and productive drug use in the western traditions makes it seem pointless to me. Of course, others feel differently, but I have yet to met any magician who really does use their drugs in the only safe way I can see. Growing or finding them, daily connecting with the spirit, having a purpose for their use, getting wisdom for their use/interaction from somewhere, etc. Maybe then it could work? But why not simply use the other western tools and avoid the problems drug use always seems to bring.

Thanks for listening. 🙂

11 comments

  1. David Griffin · March 30, 2011

    Care Frater Peregrin,

    Thank you for an excellent article.

    I must correct you on one small error, however, when you wrote:

    “Finally, western magic has no unbroken tradition of sacred alliance with and utilisation of natural drugs.”

    You may want to reconsider this statement once you have read Professor Paolo Portone’s equally excellent article that I just finished translating at:

    http://hermetic-golden-dawn.blogspot.com/2011/03/prof-paolo-portone-on-survival-of.html

    I should additionally mention that independent anthropological researcher, Leslie McQuade, High Priestess Aegeria of l’Arte Eccelsa del Bosco Sacro, last week presented substantial new anthropological evidence corroborating Prof. Portone’s thesis before the Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness annual conference in Portland.

    Based on peer review at the conference, Ms. McQuade has received three different publishing offers already. In loyalty to the Society, she has decided to make her findings available first through the Anthropology of Consciousness journal, published by the American Anthropological Association. You will have to wait just a bit longer to read this newly surfaced evidence, that the anthropologists gathered in Portland were so abuzz about.

    Fraternally,
    David Griffin

  2. JR · March 30, 2011

    Hi David,
    Concerning the topic of drug practice the question for me would be less centered on continuity, and more upon function- as Peregrin has also quoted:
    “… but it is very recent and the wisdom, alliance, mythology and egregoric connection simply cannot compare to indigenous tribal traditions.”

    As a fellow Anthroplogist (with Indigenous family relations!), I believe there is a clear difference comparing socieites that have existed with world views and functional structures supporting spirituality, ‘shamanic’ style practices and knowledge of medicinal properties/ uses of psychotropic drugs etc over tens of thousands of years (if you subscribe to evolutionary paradigm etc), vs paganist cultures that we seem to be describing here who have largely existed as minority groups, often ‘secret’ socieites that have been at the mercy of the dominant majority and religious sentiment of the era, facing imposed adaptation and (often through force/ survival) frequent disconnection from tradition and continuity.

    Being able to prove continuity of drug usage existed does not necessarily disprove the points already made above if you follow my reasoning…?

  3. Pallas Renatus · March 30, 2011

    These are all excellent, excellent points, and I say that as someone who is generally supportive of people’s personal choices to experiment with non-physically-addicting drugs.

  4. John Porter · April 1, 2011

    I guess the important question regarding drug use has to be ‘What is the point and why would one want to?’ Questions, I might add, which one would ask about any magical or meditative action. Leaving morality and health aside if someone wants to alter their consciousness through drug use because of boredom or a desire to experience a high that is one thing. If another person takes drugs of any sort claiming to take them for magical or spiritual reasons that is another area altogether and one potentially fraught with self-delusion upon self-delusion.

    It begs questions like: what is true western magic for? Personal entertainment? Personal development? Or co-operation with the Hierarchy in order to aid the spiritual evolution of humanity?

    I am not convinced that use of chemically manufactured drugs aids personal development at all but simply poisons and screws up the subtle bodies. There is no fast-track to enlightenment.

    I can see the attraction of working with plant psychotropics and herbs in order to commune with the being behind the plant and forge an alliance between plant and practitioner but I don’t think the pay off is worth it. There are much healthier ways to commune with plant devas whilst retaining one’s integrity as a spiritual human and in a way which will benefit the plant deva more than simply taking it into one’s etheric. Seems to me the result of any of this is: at best to commune with a plant deva and allow it to share your consciousness or at worst to risk giving any old vampiric entity a free joy ride in one’s consciousness.

    20+ years ago in my youth I did play around briefly with such things but never really found them to be spiritually edifying – more like a time wasting distraction that left me with a weak health that took years to rebuild. Others, of course, may have had more positive experiences! ☺

  5. chonying · April 4, 2011

    For me, the two things, the path and drugs, are mixed up in an interesting way. I started meditating and studying in large part to stop doing drugs, and start to heal the damage I’d done to myself with a number of years of drug abuse. At the same time, said abuse did lead to some insights, I think, and not just insights about the nature of addiction.

    In general, I’d recommend that people don’t do what I did, at the beginning, although no one’s really asked me. I think hallucinogens did open my mind in some ways, but given the chance, I’d probably take back having done them. Overall, the cost was high (no pun intended).

    As far as whether people should generally make drugs part of practice, I think it’s risky outside of a solid lineage or tradition. Also, the fewer props needed for practice the better- I love ritual, but still, the fewer props, the better the practice in my opinion.

  6. David Griffin · April 4, 2011

    Care et VH Frater Peregrin,

    I notice that you have not taken issue with Prof. Paolo Portone’s refutation of your statement that:

    ““Finally, western magic has no unbroken tradition of sacred alliance with and utilisation of natural drugs.”

    May I therefore assume that you stand corrected in the inaccuracy of your above hypothesis?

    Fraternally,
    David Griffin

  7. Cole Tucker · April 6, 2011

    You raise some very excellent points here that many would do well to consider. I consider the egregore explanation best fitting to several aspects the LSD experience and its history in particular.

    I personally distinguish the egregores of substances from the real effects of the supply chain upon a specific batch.

    Many of the communities I’m familiar with take a stance against black market distribution, partially for this reason. There’s a strong drive towards localization and cultivating stronger relationships with the plant teachers. The development of changa makes a fantastic example in this context, displaying many of the trends I refer to. Other strategies involve working with only known vendors of specific lineages of plants, like distributors who carry ayahuasca from the nursery started by the late Terrence McKenna.

    We have huge resources of groups critically engaging with all of the obstacles you mention. I know more people engaging with these plants in exactly the manner that you describe of as safe, than not.

    Thank you for bringing up these issues.

  8. Peregrin · April 6, 2011

    @JR – thanks for this; you’ve said it much better than I could have. 🙂

  9. Peregrin · April 6, 2011

    @Pallas – thanks for the kind words.

    @John – again you hit the nail on the head – WHY. And the follow up sentiments of personal vs collective. As I keep mentioning on MOTO, the whole idea of a single magician working for her/his own spiritual development is a purely modern notion and one that is a chimera, since we are all radically interconnected. The little I know of ‘shamanic’ cultures it is clear the shaman served and was interdependent on the tribe. Indeed, I remember reading an article by a traditional Cree medicine man where he opined that traditional healing ceremonies and practices were no longer working as the tribe was fractured. So an individual healing cannot occur since the method to heal relies upon an functional tribal egregore on all levels. This again is one reason why hippie neo Shamans are really just pissing in the wind or deluding themselves they are working ‘shamanically’ 🙂 Thanks again…

  10. Peregrin · April 6, 2011

    Dear Cole,

    thanks for this very interesting comment. I had no idea of this trend… thanks for the information and I will look up the link 🙂

  11. Cole Tucker · April 13, 2011

    Glad to contribute! It does look were into the second wave of psychedelic revival, and the only way to make the leap to tradition is doing the digging and the work.

    Be well.

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