Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Entheogens and the Future of Religion [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] ed Robert Forte, with Albert Hofmann, Terence McKenna, Ann and Alexander Shulgin, Thomas Riedlinger, Dale Pendell, and Rick Strassman, plus interviews with R Gordon Wasson and Jack Kornfield.
Robert Forte assembled this diverse collection of materials largely from contributions made at a conference in Big Sur, California, on an unspecified date in the 1990s. The term “entheogen” is sometimes (justly, I believe) disparaged as a chemical or pharmacological term. But Forte — unlike some of the book’s other contributors — sets it up as a religious term, to designate the intended use of drugs, rather than their material composition or neurochemical behavior. Thus even alcohol could be enthoegenic under the proper circumstances.
This book includes contributions from some of the great luminaries of 20th-century psychedelic culture, listing among its more than a dozen authors Albert Hoffman (discoverer of LSD), R. Gordon Wasson (amateur ethnomycologist and pioneer in the psychopharmaceutical theory of religion), and Terence McKenna (noted psychedelic adventurer and shamanic lecturer). Hoffman’s essay on “The Message of the Eleusinian Mysteries for Today’s World” actually seemed to me to be the most forward-looking of the pieces in the volume, despite its ancient topic.
There are papers discussing the use of psychedelic sacraments using various perspectival frameworks, including ancient paganism, pentacostal Chrstianity, Buddhism, shamanism, academic inquiry, scientific research, and legal ethics. There is even a long poem treating the genesis of LSD under the figure of the ancient mysteries. But there is surprisingly little tangible planning or call to action, despite the editor’s presidency of the Church of the Awakening (never described in the book) and the issuance of the text under the aegis of the Council on Spiritual Practices.
Although the authors of the later chapters on the academic, scientific, and legal contexts all bemoan the senselessness of the current drug prohibition regime, they offer no instruction on how readers might mobilize to change it. And while some of the contributors express hopes regarding the enfranchisement of new religious traditions that respect and use entheogens, none venture so far as to say what these might look like or who might be most likely to form them. So, again, in spite of the title, I came away from the book with some useful information about the recent past, and a certain validation of my own biases, but no new ideas about the future.