Spiritual Growth with Entheogens

Psychoactive Sacramentals and Human Transformation

Edited by Thomas B. Roberts / Foreword by Roger Walsh / Introduction by Brother David Steindl-Rast

About The Book

Reveals entheogens as catalysts for spiritual development and direct encounters with the sacred

• With contributions by Albert Hofmann, Huston Smith, Stanislav Grof, Charles Tart, Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin, Frances Vaughan, and many others

• Includes personal accounts of Walter Pahnke’s Good Friday Experiment as well as a 25-year follow-up with its participants

• Explores protocols for ceremonial use of psychedelics and the challenges of transforming entheogenic insights into enduring change

Modern organized religion is based predominantly on secondary religious experience--we read about others’ extraordinary direct spiritual encounters in the distant past and have faith that God is out there. Yet what if powerful sacraments existed to help us directly experience the sacred? What if there were ways to seek out the meaning of being human and our place in the universe, to see the sacred in the world that surrounds us?

In this book, more than 25 spiritual leaders, scientists, and psychedelic visionaries examine how we can return to the primary spiritual encounters at the basis of all religions through the guided use of entheogens. With contributions by Albert Hofmann, Huston Smith, Stanislav Grof, Charles Tart, Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin, Frances Vaughan, Myron Stolaroff, and many others, this book explores protocols for ceremonial use of psychedelics, the challenges of transforming entheogenic insights into enduring change, psychoactive sacraments in the Bible, myths surrounding the use of LSD, and the transformative ayahuasca rituals of Santo Daime. It also includes personal accounts of Walter Pahnke’s Good Friday Experiment as well as a 25-year follow-up with its participants. Dispelling fears of inauthentic spirituality, addiction, and ill-prepared encounters with the holy, this book reveals the potential of entheogens as catalysts for spiritual development, a path through which faith can directly encounter God’s power, and the beginning of a new religious era based on personal spiritual experience.


Chapter 4
The Potential of Entheogens as Catalysts of Spiritual Development

Stanislav Grof

To become a medical doctor, a psychiatrist, and a psychoanalyst was a late decision in my life. In my childhood and adolescence, I spent much time drawing and painting, and my dream was to embark on a career in animated movies.

However, all that was turned around when a friend of mine introduced me to Sigmund Freud’s Introductory Lectures to Psychoanalysis. I read the book in one sitting, and, within two days, I decided to apply to medical school with the explicit goal of becoming a psychoanalyst. And an important part of my attraction to psychoanalysis was Freud’s rational explanation of religion. I loved to read books about the great religions of the world, but my interest in these matters was purely intellectual and artistic. Not having had a religious background, I could not understand how it was possible that millions of people would actually take seriously something as blatantly irrational and ridiculous as mysticism, spirituality, and religion.

As I was learning more about psychoanalysis, I developed a deep inner conflict. I continued to be enthusiastic about its theoretical aspects but became increasingly disappointed with its potential as a therapeutic tool. I realized that psychoanalysis had a narrow indication range, required enormous investment of time, money, and energy, and, even after a long time, it showed generally meager clinical results. I reached a point where I started to regret that I had chosen to study medicine and psychiatry and felt that my career choice was a serious error.

Just as this conflict was reaching critical proportions, something unexpected happened that radically changed the course of my life. This was the period in psychiatric history that saw the advent of psychopharmacology and its early triumphs. It was the time of the first tranquilizers--reserpine, chlorpromazine, and a few others. We conducted a large study of Melleril, a tranquilizer that came from the Swiss pharmaceutical company Sandoz. As a result, we had a good working relationship with Sandoz, and we received one day a large box full of ampoules with a letter describing the substance involved, its chemistry, pharmacology, and history. It was LSD-25, a powerful psychoactive drug, whose effects on consciousness were discovered by Albert Hofmann when he accidentally intoxicated himself during its synthesis. Albert would probably prefer to call it serendipity.

The accompanying letter suggested that this substance, administered in absolutely minuscule dosages of millionths of a gram, was capable of inducing an “experimental psychosis,” a state similar to naturally occurring psychoses. Clinical and laboratory research of LSD thus could provide insights into the enigma of psychosis, particularly schizophrenia. One could study various parameters before, during, and after the LSD experience and determine what biochemical and physiological changes in the body are correlated with psychological abnormalities during the time the drug took effect. And the Sandoz people were asking us if we would work with this substance and give them some feedback on whether there was legitimate use for LSD in psychiatry.

But the Sandoz letter also suggested another fascinating possibility--that LSD might be useful as a tool for very unconventional training of psychiatrists, psychologists, students of medicine and psychology, and psychiatric nurses. It could give mental health professionals the opportunity to spend a few hours in the world of their patients. As a result, they would be able to understand their patients better, be able to communicate with them more effectively, and hopefully have better therapeutic results. Naturally, I got very excited, and I became one of the early volunteers in this research.

My preceptor, Docent Roubícek was very interested in electroencephalography. So, I had to agree not only to have my EEG taken but also to have my brain waves driven in the middle of this experiment.

What actually happened was that, approximately two and a half hours into the session, a research assistant took me to a small cabin. She carefully pasted the electrodes all over my scalp and asked me to lie down and close my eyes. Then she placed a giant stroboscopic light above my head and turned it on. At this time, the effects of the drug were culminating and that immensely enhanced the impact of the strobe. I was hit by a radiance that seemed comparable to what it must have been like at the epicenter of the atomic explosion in Hiroshima. Today I think a more appropriate comparison would be to the Primary Clear Light, the light of supernatural brilliance that appears to us at the moment of death.

I felt that a divine thunderbolt catapulted my conscious self out of my body. I lost my awareness of the research assistant, the laboratory, the psychiatric clinic, Prague, and then the planet. My consciousness expanded at an inconceivable speed and reached cosmic dimensions. There was no more difference between me and the universe.

While this was happening, I found myself at the center of a cosmic drama of unimaginable dimensions. In the astronomical literature that I later collected and read over the years, I found possible names for some of the fantastic experiences that I had experienced during those amazing ten minutes of clock time. I would say today that I possibly experienced the big bang, passage through black and white holes, identification with exploding super novas and collapsing stars, and other strange phenomena.

When the strobe was turned off, my consciousness began to shrink very rapidly. I found the planet, Prague, the clinic, and finally my body and was extremely impressed by what had just happened. I had played with the strobe before and experienced some pretty colors and patterns, but nothing like what happened in combination with LSD. So I knew that the drug was somehow the key to my experience. This event generated in me a profound intellectual interest in nonordinary states of consciousness. I felt strongly that this was by far the most fascinating area that as a psychiatrist I could research.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Park Street Press (March 19, 2012)
  • Length: 320 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781594777097

Browse Related Books

Raves and Reviews

“If we can encounter God through a sunrise seen from a mountaintop, why not through a mushroom prayerfully ingested.”

– Brother David Steindl-Rast, from the foreword

“A powerful testimony from pioneers of consciousness research, spiritual teachers, and scholars about the potential of psychedelic plants and their compounds to bring spirituality to modern society and help alleviate the dangerous alienation that has brought humanity to the brink of destruction.”

– Stanislav Grof, M.D., author of LSD Psychotherapy, Psychology of the Future, and When the Impossible

“Explains all aspects of the psychedelic experience as a tool for spiritual evolution, from personal accounts to detailed information and practical instructions. A key book.”

– Dieter Hagenbach, President, Gaia Media Foundation

“A tour de force of the history of the Western reencounter with these perennial sacred plants written by leading figures from many disciplines. The broad coverage exemplifies the importance of psychedelic plants for many disciplines and their diverse potentials for personal and social transformation.”

– Michael Winkelman, Ph.D., author of Shamanism: A Biopsychosocial Paradigm of Consciousness and Heali

“Some of the most serious, sustained, thoughtful, and mature voices on the subject of entheogens and religion. The contributors reflect on the historical trajectories of this conversation, address the common stereotypes and misconceptions, and offer new directions of thought and vision, reminding us again of what this conversation has always been about: the extraordinary cosmic being we so casually and carelessly call the human being.”

– Jeffrey J. Kripal, professor of religious studies, Rice University, and author of Mutants and Mystic

“Tom Roberts is the keeper of the flame for the study of psychedelics, the chief librarian of the entheogenic archive. In this soul-nourishing book he’s compiled the wisdom, humanity, and technical expertise the world just might be ready for now in order to provide us legally accessed soul-manifesting sacramental experience via psychedelics.”

– Charles Hayes, editor of Tripping: An Anthology of True-Life Psychedelic Adventures

“For those who value profound religious experiences and who wish to become increasingly well informed about how entheogens could become responsibly integrated into meditative practices and the offerings of spiritual retreat centers, there is much to be learned from the well-chosen essays in this book.”

– William A. Richards, S.T.M., Ph.D., Department of Psychiatry, Johns Hopkins Bayview School of Medici

“This is an invaluable collection of presentations that dispels the fog about the multi-faceted relationships between psychedelic experiences and spiritual experiences, between faith and experience, and the intricate dance still going on between them.”

– James Fadiman, Ph.D., author of The Psychedelic Explorer's Guide

“It is one thing to understand that people can move into altered states of consciousness; it is quite another to understand that this fact is not just a psychological side-show, but deeply, even centrally important for understanding the human mind. Roberts’ book argues this point on every page, through riveting accounts retold by pioneers and leaders in the field of transpersonal psychology. This book is mind-altering in the best sense of the word.”

– Glenn Hartelius, Ph.D., assistant professor at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology and editor

“A useful reference work that presents the current state of understanding from the relevant scientific, practical, and judicial perspectives.”

– Dennis McKenna, Ph.D., founding board member of the Heffter Research Institute and coauthor of The I

Spiritual Growth with Entheogens is essential reading for people interested in humanity’s efforts to experience the divine. This is an outstanding collection of essays and studies on mystical experience.”

– Michael Nielsen, professor and chair of psychology, Georgia Southern University, and coeditor of Arc

“This essential collection forces a reexamination of the legal status of controlled substances in view of the benefit that mind-altering sacramental entheogens offer for psychotherapy and spiritual growth.”

– Carl A. P. Ruck, professor of classical studies, Boston University, and author of Mushrooms, Myths,

“...a rich and broad mix of science, anecdotes, therapeutic indications, and spiritual philosophies exploring the legitimate and responsible use of entheogens—if not to produce genuine religious experiences, to “seed a spiritual life,” as Br. David Steindl-Rast says in an introduction. The authors expect that the...rewards of an open mind may reshape a new era of spiritual intelligence.”

– Publisher's Weekly

“...this book reveals the potential of entheogens as catalysts for spiritual development and the beginning of a new religious era based on personal spiritual experience.”

– Branches of Light, October 2012

“This book really enlightened me as to the history, practices and general sentiments of the diverse professionals who value entheogens as a valid and very worthwhile complement to spiritual practices. It’s been added to my Top 10 list of important books to read.”

– Alice R Berntson, New Connexion, May 2013