For millennia going back through the Greek, Egyptian and Vedic civilizations, the Aboriginals, the Mayan, the American Indians and various tribal societies, back to the most ancient cave and rock art worldwide we see proof that our ancestors had an intimate and extensive knowledge of both altered states of consciousness and the indigenous entheogenic plants which help induce them. Ayahuasca, Ibogaine, Peyote, Magic Mushrooms and many other so-called “psychedelics” have long-standing histories, traditions and entire religions based around these sacraments. Nowadays due to intrusive and oppressive governments and their unlawful legal systems, the possession and use of most such entheogens has been outlawed. And along with these plants, the altered states of consciousness achieved by their ingestion have also become outlawed.
In ancient societies and tribal cultures around the world their entheogenic sacraments have been referred to with names such as the “plant of souls,” “the vine of death,” or “the seeds of re-birth.” They have often been symbolized by the phoenix rising from its own ashes or the coiled serpent eating its own tail. This is because a strong dose of certain entheogens essentially puts you through the entire death and rebirth experience. Your soul slowly separates from your physical body, detaches from this physical reality and gets a glimpse at the higher frequencies of the alterlife realm.
“In the Central African countries of Gabon, Cameroon and Zaire certain age-old ancestor cults still flourish in the twenty-first century. Their members share a common belief, based they say on direct experience, in the existence of a supernatural realm where the spirits of the dead may be contacted. Like some hypothetical dimension of quantum physics, this otherworld interpenetrates our own and yet cannot ordinarily be seen or verified by empirical tests. It is therefore a matter of great interest, with highly suggestive implications, that tribal shamans claim to have mastered a means, through the consumption of a poisonous shrub known locally as eboka or iboga, by which humans may reach the otherworld and return alive.” -Graham Hancock, “Supernatural” (5)
“That these inner regions have been well traveled by shamanic peoples is evidenced by an experience anthropologist Michael Harner had among the Conibo Indians of the Peruvian Amazon. In 1960 the American Museum of Natural History sent Harner on a year-long expedition to study the Conibo, and while there he asked the Amazonian natives to tell him about their religious beliefs. They told him that if he really wished to learn, he had to take a shamanic sacred drink made from a hallucinogenic plant known as ayahuasca, the ‘soul vine.’ He agreed and after drinking the bitter concoction had an out-of-body experience in which he traveled to a level of reality populated by what appeared to be the gods and devils of the Conibo’s mythology. He saw demons with grinning crocodilian heads. He watched as an ‘energy-essence’ rose up out of his chest and floated toward a dragon-headed ship manned by Egyptian-style figures with blue-jay heads; and he felt what he thought was the slow, advancing numbness of his own death … Is it possible that what we have been viewing as quaint folklore and charming but naïve mythology are actually sophisticated accounts of the cartography of the subtler levels of reality? Kalweit for one believes the answer is an emphatic yes. ‘In light of the revolutionary findings of recent research into the nature of dying and death, we can no longer look upon tribal religions and their ideas about the World of the Dead as limited conceptions,’ he says. ‘[Rather] the shaman should be considered as a most up-to-date and knowledgeable psychologist.” -Michael Talbot, “The Holographic Universe” (267-8)
Whether through entheogens, dreams, meditation, chanting, fasting, rhythmic dancing or drumming, sensory overload or deprivation, the pre-requisite for accessing the nether-realms of the implicate order, the key to so-called “paranormal” or “supernatural” abilities, always lies in altered states of consciousness. By using various methods to shift awareness from the typical five-sense physical realm, our minds are able to access these higher frequencies and facets of consciousness well-known to our shamanic ancestors.
“Various techniques are used by a culture to expand the consciousness of an initiate by reducing or eliminating the psychological defenses that separate the world of the supernatural from the world of everyday reality. Such techniques include sleep deprivation, fasting, body mutilation, sonic and photic driving, social isolation, hyperactivity, group pressure, suggestion, and, in some cases, psychedelic substances.” -Stanislav Grof and Joan Halifax, “Human Encounter with Death” (192)
Czech medical doctor and psychiatrist, VISION 97 award winner, and founder of transpersonal psychology, Stanislav Grof has been working for the better part of five decades to improve the world’s understanding of psychedelics. In his research Dr. Grof distinguishes between two pillar states of consciousness he refers to as hylotropic and holotropic. The normal, everyday experience of consensus reality is hylotropic whereas interpersonal states reflecting the wholeness and totality of existence are holotropic. In Vedic terms, Dr. Grof relates hylotropic consciousness to “namarupa” (name and form), the separate, individual, and ultimately illusory ego self, while holotropic consciousness relates to Atman-Brahman, the soul essence and divine true nature of the self.
“All the cultures in human history except the Western industrial civilization have held holotropic states of consciousness in great esteem. They induced them whenever they wanted to connect to their deities, other dimensions of reality, and with the forces of nature. They also used them for diagnosing and healing, cultivation of extrasensory perception, and artistic inspiration. They spent much time and energy to develop safe and effective ways of inducing them … In one of my early books I suggested that the potential significance of LSD and other psychedelics for psychiatry and psychology was comparable to the value the microscope has for biology or the telescope has for astronomy. My later experience with psychedelics only confirmed this initial impression. These substances function as unspecific amplifiers that increase the cathexis (energetic charge) associated with the deep unconscious contents of the psyche and make them available for conscious processing. This unique property of psychedelics makes it possible to study psychological undercurrents that govern our experiences and behaviours to a depth that cannot be matched by any other method and tool available in modern mainstream psychiatry and psychology. In addition, it offers unique opportunities for healing of emotional and psychosomatic disorders, for positive personality transformation, and consciousness evolution.” -Stanislav Grof
Since the 1970s Dr. Grof has been using the psychedelic acid LSD with patients and volunteers in a clinical setting. The extraordinary results these sessions have had on people include: curing psychopathy, narcissism, character disorders and sexual deviations, overcoming addictions, alleviating physical or emotion pain, and dramatically changing concepts and attitudes toward death. In many cases people had spontaneous glimpses of transpersonal, collective consciousness during which their awareness expanded beyond the normal boundaries of the ego and experienced what it was like to be other living beings, animals, plants, and objects. More than just an “out-of-body experience,” the LSD often induced an “into-someone-or-something-else’s-body experience.”
“The common denominator of this otherwise rich and ramified group is the individual’s feeling that his or her consciousness has expanded beyond the usual ego boundaries and has transcended the limitations of time and space. In ‘normal’ or usual state of consciousness, individuals experience themselves as existing within the boundaries of the physical body, and their perception of the environment is restricted by the physically determined range of the exteroceptors. Both internal perception (interoception) and perception of the environment (exteroception) are confined within the usual space-time boundaries. Under ordinary circumstances individuals vividly perceive their present situation and their immediate environment; they recall past events and anticipate the future or fantasize about it. In transpersonal experiences occurring in psychedelic sessions, one or several of the above limitations appear to be transcended. In some instances individuals experience loosening of their usual ego boundaries; their consciousness and self-awareness seem to expand to include and encompass other people as well as elements of the external world. They can also continue experiencing their own identities, but at a different time, in a different place, or in a different context. In yet other cases people can experience a complete loss of their own ego identities and feel full identification with the consciousness of some other individual, animal, or even inanimate object.” -Stanislav Grof and Joan Halifax, “Human Encounter with Death” (54-5)
Many of Dr. Grof’s patients were able to tap into the consciousness of relatives, ancestors, and historical personages. For example one woman experienced what it was like to be her own mother at age three and re-lived a traumatic event from her childhood. She even gave such a precise description of her surroundings, the people, and the event, that it shocked her mother into admitting and confirming the incident which she had never shared with anyone. Another one of Dr. Grof’s patients suddenly became convinced she was a prehistoric reptile and provided intricate details about how it felt to have her consciousness contained in such a form, like how she found the patch of colored scales on the side of the males’ heads to be sexually arousing – a fact later confirmed by zoologists as being an important mating trigger in certain reptiles. Another patient suddenly found themselves in ancient Egypt and gave a complete account of their techniques of embalming and mummification including specifics like the size and shape of mummy bandages, a list of all the materials used, and the form and meaning of the amulets and sepulchral boxes seen during Egyptian funeral services.
“Other patients gave equally accurate descriptions of events that had befallen ancestors who had lived decades and even centuries before. Other experiences included the accessing of racial and collective memories. Individuals of Slavic origin experienced what it was like to participate in the conquests of Genghis Khan’s Mongolian hordes, to dance in trance with the Kalahari bushmen, to undergo the initiation rites of the Australian aborigines, and to die as sacrificial victims of the Aztecs. And again the descriptions frequently contained obscure historical facts and a degree of knowledge that was often completely at odds with the patient’s education, race, and previous exposure to the subject … There did not seem to be any limit to what Grof’s LSD subjects could tap into. They seemed capable of knowing what it was like to be every animal, and even plant, on the tree of evolution. They could experience what it was like to be a blood cell, an atom, a thermonuclear process inside the sun, the consciousness of the entire planet, and even the consciousness of the entire cosmos.” -Michael Talbot, “The Holographic Universe” (68-9)
In one remarkable case, Dr. Grof’s patient found himself in a dimension inhabited by thousands of luminescent discarnate beings. One of them communicated with him telepathically and pleaded with him to contact a couple in the Moravian city of Kromeriz and tell them that their son Ladislav was well taken care of and doing just fine. He was even given their names, street address and telephone number. When Dr. Grof himself called the number, he asked to speak with Ladislav and the woman on the phone began to cry and said “our son is not with us any more; he passed away, we lost him three weeks ago.”
“We are now beginning to learn that Western science might have been a little premature in making its condemning and condescending judgments about ancient systems of thought. Reports describing subjective experiences of clinical death, if studied carefully and with an open mind, contain ample evidence that various eschatological mythologies represent actual maps of unusual states of consciousness experienced by dying individuals. Psychedelic research conducted in the last two decades has resulted in important phenomenological and neurophysiological data indicating that experiences involving complex mythological, religious, and mystical sequences before, during, and after death might well represent clinical reality.” -Stanislav Grof and Joan Halifax, “Human Encounter with Death” (159)
Shortly after his third LSD session, one of Dr. Grof’s patients actually got into a bad accident during which he went through a typical near-death experience. Afterwards he stated that he found the experience of actually dying to be “extremely similar” to his psychedelic experiences. He emphasized how glad he was to have had the three LSD sessions before his accident because they were excellent training and preparation. “Without the sessions,” he said, “I would have been scared by what was happening, but knowing these states, I was not afraid at all.”
“Individuals who have suffered through the death-rebirth phenomenon in their psychedelic sessions usually become open to the possibility that consciousness might be independent of the physical body and continue beyond the moment of clinical death. This insight can be quite different from or even contrary to previous religious and philosophical beliefs. Those who were previously convinced that death was the ultimate defeat and meant the end of any form of existence discovered various alternatives to this materialistic and pragmatic point of view. They came to realize how little conclusive evidence there is for any authoritative opinion in this matter and often began seeing death and dying as a cosmic voyage into the unknown.” -Stanislav Grof and Joan Halifax, “Human Encounter with Death” (52)
I have personally experimented with LSD and other entheogens periodically and have always found the experiences to be very healing and transformative. They have shown me directly how consciousness can exist outside the physical body, how we can see and hear without using our eyes and ears, they have taken me deep into my subconscious, exposed the illusion of personal identity, and given me a momentary but timeless experience of perfect bliss, contentment and complete at-one-ment with all that is. I remember telling my friend once during a mushroom trip, “I can’t believe there aren’t whole religions based around this experience!” Little did I know there are indeed many religions throughout the world based around the ingestion of an entheogenic sacrament.
“LSD subjects often arrive at the conclusion that no real boundaries exist between themselves and the rest of the universe. Everything appears to be part of a unified field of cosmic energy, and the boundaries of the individual are identical with the boundaries of existence itself. From this perspective the distinction between the ordinary and the sacred disappears, and the individual – who essentially is the universe – becomes sacralized. The universe is seen as an ever-unfolding drama of endless adventures in consciousness, very much in the sense of the Hindu lila, or divine play. Against the background of this infinitely complex and eternal cosmic drama, the fact of impending individual destruction seems to lose its tragic significance. In this situation death as we frequently see it – the end of everything, the ultimate catastrophe – ceases to exist. It is now understood as a transition in consciousness, a shift to another level or form of existence.” -Stanislav Grof and Joan Halifax, “Human Encounter with Death” (57-8)