Friday, 18 December 2009

drugs and religious experience

I was 21 years old during the so-called ‘summer of love’, but as far as drugs were concerned the 1960s passed me by completely. Inevitably, I was aware of drugs, especially LSD—you couldn’t help but be aware, given the number of songs I listened to that were clearly inspired by drug-induced experience, from Dylan’s Mr Tambourine Man to the Beatles’ Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. However, the opportunity to find out for myself didn’t come along until I was 25, when I dived straight in at the deep end with a tab of LSD. In retrospect, I was fortunate, because I was chaperoned throughout the experience by a friend who already knew what it was like and thus what was needed. Music. So we listened to the Incredible String Band’s album Changing Horses (over and over again), their 15-minute epic Creation being particularly suggestive. My friend also knew, as I was to find out, that although the hallucinations do get wilder and wilder, there comes a single clearly recognizable point, almost like a door slamming in your brain, when you know you’re coming down. It’s like peeling the layers of a cosmic onion one by one, each a tiny step on the road back to reality. Aficionados would have told you that this is the best time, although it happens so slowly that you begin to wonder at what point you will merge back into the real world, or whether you ever will.

After a second chaperoned trip, I decided that it was time to fly solo and record the experience. So there I was, notebook in hand, ready to describe to the world what an acid trip was like. I still have that notebook, but the only person it makes any sense to is me. The word that occurs most frequently is ‘silly’. Anyway, once that door had slammed, I decided it was time to go for a walk—around a deserted council estate at 3am. At an upstairs window of every house I passed was propped a ladder. And descending each ladder was a man in a black mask wearing a black and white striped jersey with a black bag marked ‘swag’ over his shoulder. My walk was taking me on a roughly circular path, and I eventually became aware that I was heading back home, which I didn’t want to do. There was too much to see and enjoy. Fortunately, there was a cut leading up to the next road nearby. As I entered the cut, the high garden hedges on each side began to block the light from behind, and a dogleg halfway up the cut shut out any light from the road at the top. Suddenly, I became aware of hordes of evil witches, foul demons and monsters of every sort. However, I had the presence of mind to turn on my heels and go back the way I’d come. I would return to the world of fun and laughter. But then, twenty yards down the road, I suddenly thought: “No! This is a challenge. is my mind strong enough to resist the forces of evil?” As I walked confidently into the darkness, I saw myself as Captain Invincible. “Take that foul fiend. You cannot defeat me.” And sundry other do and derring. All inside my head, of course. I reached the dogleg, and a streetlight at the top shone like a spotlight on my face. I was in a packed 100,000-seater stadium, and I was getting a standing ovation.

Now contrast this account with that of a guy I met around this time, a few years younger than me, who claimed to see God when he took acid. I’d graduated to listening to Pink Floyd by this time, and the best that I could set against his ‘revelations’ was the belief that the band were trying to play tricks with my head:
I’m most obliged to you for making it clear
That I’m not here. (Jugband Blues)

Will the key unlock my mind?
Will the following footsteps catch me?
Am I really dying? (Julia Dream)

I didn’t mind though, because I was wise to their little games. In other words, I took acid purely for fun. The other guy became a disciple of Guru Maharaj Ji, a fourteen-year-old charlatan who was doing the rounds at the time, while I decided, after two years and about twenty trips, that I was whistling up a blind alley and moved on. I’ve never tried LSD since, nor do I have any desire to do so.

Thirty years later, the guy who saw God can still be described as a hippie. But now he’s fallen under the spell of a shaman from the South American jungle who feeds him God knows what cocktail of psychotoxins at £50 a pop. Some people are so gullible. And he still thinks he sees God.

What do I deduce from the above? That the nature of hallucinations induced by psychedelic drugs reflects predispositions in the user. There is no shortcut to enlightenment. The only insight I ever got from LSD was into the deranged mind of the lonely schizophrenic. On the other hand, there is one sense in which taking acid and religious experience can be compared: both can be difficult to escape from, even harder than from religion itself. My idea of the worst thing you could do to someone is secretly to drop a tab of acid into their drink. I shudder to think how horrifying an experience that would be for someone who had absolutely no idea what was happening to them. For a start, they’d believe absolutely everything anyone told them. Does that sound familiar?


  1. Great post Dennis!
    I couldn't agree with you more. There is no enlightenment waiting, only insanity. I also tried taking notes. It ended up being gibberish. I tried drawing also. Nonsense!
    Having said that, It didn't stop me from taking it many many times...

  2. Very interesting stuff, however I believe if psychedelics are used responsibly they can be a shortcut to enlightenment in some cases. Either way, I really enjoyed reading this!


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