Electronic devices have a software restore function known as a “factory reset” that returns them to their original manufacturer’s settings. What if we humans also had such a switch within us, a ‘God’s Factory Reset’ that entheogens can reveal? Beyond the corporate psychedelic pharmaceutical model of personal healing and even of connection to nature, whatever happened to the possibility of awakening the Divine within?
Part I: Corporadelic, Man!
“It’s Time To Admit: Drugs Won The War On Drugs” ran a recent post-election Forbes magazine headline, after several more US States legalized the use of recreational marijuana and psychedelics in therapeutic settings (and in Oregon for all personal possession).
While the normalization of psychedelics is welcome news, their integration into the marketplace and the extractive demands of capitalism have raised significant concerns over their commodification. Their profound ego-dissolving properties can reset the mind, body and soul of the user, connecting to something greater. Healing may result, almost as a byproduct of the experience in it’s multi-dimensional entirety. And yet at the heart of that process is a thing often overlooked as an almost regrettable incidental to the scientific paradigm: the Divine within.
When Humphrey Osmond coined the term “psychedelic” (“To fathom Hell or soar angelic, Just take a pinch of psychedelic”) back in the 1950s, he did so to differentiate from the cultural labels of the time like “psychomimetic” or “hallucinogen”, which had negative mental health connotations. He understood that these experiences weren’t hallucinations – they were revelations. Osmond meant “psychedelics” to mean “mind revealing, or manifesting”, and even then one must inquire what aspects of the mind he intended the term to encapsulate.
The Greek for Psyche is better translated as “soul” – but, presumably, 1950s academia couldn’t handle that – so translated it as “mind”. By the late 1970s when psychedelics were still stigmatized and under-capitalized, ethnobotanists rebranded these substances (especially the plant and fungi psychoactives) made by nature as “entheogens”, from the Greek, meaning to “invoke the Divine within”.
The term was also a tip of the hat to the indigenous peoples that continued to use plant-based psychoactives in ceremonial contexts for millennia, caretaking them and their relationship with the earth. Entheogens also pointed towards the historical possibilities of altered states at the heart of the world’s major religions: for instance, the original gnostic Christianity has been examined by many writers through the lens of a mushroom cult (the most famous claims perhaps, were from John Allegro, a Dead Sea Scrolls researcher); the Hindus related their drug taking 5,000 years ago in their holy book, the Rig Veda: “We drank soma, we became immortal, we came to the light, we found gods”; the list goes on.
And yet, this is all a far cry from our modern era, where mainstream business sites now gush about the revolutionary potentials of microdosing psychedelics to boost corporate efficiency and optimization, or to provide a hip lifestyle hack for optimal mental health (just don’t macro your micro). The return of psychedelics to the medical fold is a necessary one to combat the mental health crisis of the modern world. Unfortunately, psychedelics no longer seem to hold the utopian goal to transform the world, or at least our dysfunctional relationship with it.
This says more about us than it does about psychedelics, for if they are mind manifesting they simply bring out what we have inside already, whether that be trauma, greed, or enlightenment. It’s all set and setting after all. But these days the market’s vision seems to be more about personal gain, ego stratification and financial return. As writer David Knickles from Psymposia has said:
The greatest good psychedelics can offer may reside in catalyzing visionary insight into alternative sociopolitical systems and inspiring collective action, not enriching shareholders through peddling pharmaceuticals aimed at treating the symptomatic fallout of our increasingly toxic environments.
Yes, psychedelics have pronounced effects as anti-inflammatory agents and are natural mood-boosting anti-depressants, with few negative side effects (*may experience feelings of ego death, disassociation, awareness of your immortal nature, connection to and expression of divine intelligence and love; void where prohibited by law).
When used in conjunction with trained psychotherapy they can help heal and transform lives–if you have the private health care plan to afford it. The cost, for instance, of three MDMA treatments (two therapists, eight hours per session plus preparation and integration counseling) is estimated at US$15,000. No wonder the vul-venture capitalists are circling.
“Corporadelics” is the new term to describe the explosion of corporate venture capital into the realm of psychedelic medicines, which is estimated to be worth US $6.85 billion by 2027 for the treatment of depression and anxiety, according to Data Bridge Market Research. The danger is that, like cannabis before it, medical psychedelics will sell out to the capitalist profit model.
Compass Pathways, backed by PayPal founder Peter Thiel, amongst others, charges researchers US$7,000 per gram for its FDA-approved monopoly on synthetic psilocybin. Not only are the organic psychedelics outside patent (and profitability), science streamlines the nature-tested organic compounds into synthetic versions with no long-term understanding of their effects on our being.
But patented synthetic psychedelics are profitable: Compass recently became the first psychedelic drug company to go public on the US stock exchange, lifting its valuation to US $1 billion. All in the race to bring psilocybin–the humble, free and sacred magic mushroom of antiquity to the masses–at an astronomical markup.
Psilocybin is the current darling of investment capital, which is ironic considering the magic of the mushroom was brought to awareness in the West in the 1950s by Gordon Wasson. Wasson was an investment banker for the Chase Manhattan bank and an amateur mycologist–but the gatekeeper of the knowledge was the revered Mexican curandera Maria Sabina.
She agreed about the healing power of the mushrooms: “The ninos santos (Psilocybe mexicana) heal. They lower fevers, cure colds, and give freedom from toothaches. They pull the evil spirits out of the body or free the spirit of the sick.” But she also said: “I take “Little-One-Who-Springs-Forth [sacred mushrooms] and I see God. I see him sprout from the earth. He grows and grows, as big as a tree, as a mountain. His face is placid, beautiful, serene as in the temples…”
Indeed, it appears hard to separate the mystical side of the psychedelic experience from the healing. PhD Candidate Christopher Timmerman has been studying the effects of DMT in the brain with medical studies on human participants at Imperial College in London. He recently told VICE magazine:
“We have good evidence that [visionary] experience is a crucial factor for people to get better. But it’s also very valid to try to make sure why this is the case … It’s almost like it’s uncharted territory. Science hasn’t veered in the direction of phenomenology of experience. It’s like we have no language for it.”
But if science doesn’t have a language for this territory – which is culturally understood through many labels as the realm of the divine – then how is the market meant to, you know, market it? The market absorbs and prices in everything it encounters, yet one must wonder – is there room for God in the modern capitalist-psychedelic-renaissance?
There doesn’t seem so – amongst the gushing media reports of medical-capitalist alchemy the divine impulse is completely absent, even though there is a growing body of peripheral data in the emergent field of neurotheology, using fMRI and EEG to map brain activity on psychedelics.
Which begs the question: have we conveniently forgotten the deeper purpose of psychedelics?
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Part II: A deeper connection
There’s a few important layers to this, but let’s start with the bard: “The idea of someone going from birth to the grave without ever having a psychedelic experience is like someone going from the birth to the grave without ever having a sexual experience. It means you never really played in the game. You were a spectator, a silent witness. It means that you never figured out what it was all about,” said beloved psychedelic guru, Terence McKenna (dearly departed but readily available as a distributed-consciousness on the internet).
The same could be said of a life that has just microdosed psychedelics. And if the pharmaceutical model gets its way, despite the health benefits – which are important and considerable – the true depth of the psychedelic experience could be “bonzai poodled”, pared back and kept in service of the insurance companies and the dominant establishment paradigm, which won’t change the paradigm itself. After all, “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society,” said the sage, Jiddi Krishnamurti.
Can psychedelics really help us, though, to get over our civilizational depression and inertia, not just individually, but collectively? This is perhaps the next level of psychedelics – if it can transcend the capitalist socio-economic blocks (a big “if”) and the pain body and trauma that system causes, to aid in a species reconnection to the planet.
Many trippers have described feeing a deeper connection to nature and the web of life. It’s a holistic perception comparable to the indigenous understanding of the world as a being comprised of intelligent, interdependent networks of energy and consciousness. It’s alive. And we’re part of it. All is One. And feeling that connection could be what it takes to shock us out of the capitalist death cult devouring the natural world and threatening us all with imminent extinction.
Dr Sam Gandy has a PhD in ecological science and through his psychedelic research at Imperial College London has suggested that: “We are currently in a sixth mass extinction event of life on this planet, due to human actions on the biosphere. This ecological crisis appears to stem from a disconnection of humans from the natural world. Recent research has found that experience with psychedelic substances can increase feelings of connectedness, and nature connection in the long-term.”
Gandy goes on to say that “Nature connection is correlated with a significant number of positive psychological health traits, and is the single strongest psychological predictor of pro-environmental behavior. This suggests that psychedelic usage may have significant benefits to offer at both the individual and societal level, by (re)connecting our increasingly disconnected species to the biosphere, and each other.”
Perhaps enthoegens act as “catalysts of connection to the natural world” in the same way that a mother bonds with her child in a natural vaginal birth by releasing oxytocin. And when that natural bonding is interrupted you get a consciousness – and world out of balance. Or as Terence McKenna has said:
Nature might be an organism whose interconnected components act upon and communicate with one another through the release of chemical signals into the environment … the dynamic of the close relationship between primate and hallucinogenic plant is one of information transfer from one species to the other.
Critics of this “ecodelic” potential (as Sam Gandy has coined it) like Rachel Peterson, an environmental consultant and writer, correctly point out that connecting to the “oneness of all things” won’t save the planet alone: “If psychedelic activists and researchers truly care about societal change, they must stop peddling crypto-libertarian narratives that privilege freewheeling individual experience over the need for collective organizing and sweeping, structural reform.”
As Peterson argues, it has to be a full system approach – the ecodelic capacity of psychedelics to heal trauma and connect deeply then has the potential to mobilize healed individuals into collectives beyond the binary stagnation of left-right politics, and to enact change through institutional systems. Taking psychedelics in nature is just the first step to overturn the dominant capitalist paradigm destroying the planet: but it has to start somewhere, and in the heart is the best place of all.
We can perhaps see this evidenced in the last generation or two as a wave of Western spiritual seekers – inspired by McKenna’s lectures and books promoting DMT and ayahuasca – has returned to the jungles of the Amazon and other places of plant medicine abundance to rediscover anew a quasi-religious impulse and reinfuse it back into the New World Order.
This “global shamanic revival” has popularized entheogenic plants like ayahuasca, San Pedro, salvia divinorum, psilocybin mushrooms, DMT, et.al., and has also created a culture clash and valid criticism of the colonial narrative repeating itself in the exploitation and use of indigenous medicines in a way that echoes back to previous resource booms.
And yet – if this inter-cultural transfer of information embedded in the plant medicines and the shamanic ceremony can be equitably balanced, we see a hope that the West’s perception of health, wellbeing, and reality itself can be transformed. The shamanic drive is usually considered to be outside the Western psychedelic pharmaceutical model – although many seekers may be primarily in search of healing with tools like madre ayahuasca. It must also be remembered that indigenous people have a different understanding of what sickness is.
In Peru, for example, native curanderos once told me that the West itself is sick because it is disconnected from nature and our deeper nature. They are one and the same. Our true sickness is that we have lost the way, the path of the heart that feels the love and connection radiating from and to all life.
For the indigenous cosmovision and the psychedelic experience it’s all about the same thing – relationship. True healing comes from connection, not separation. To open the mind, to connect to something bigger, to resacralize the relationship with the Goddess of nature and our place in the ‘family of things’, as poet Mary Oliver has said – this is true, soul medicine.
As Gail Highbrook, co-founder of Extinction Rebellion has said, “The causes of [our] crisis are political, economic, legal and cultural systemic issues but underneath that are issues of human trauma, powerlessness, scarcity and separation. The system resides within us and the psychedelic medicines are opportunities to help us shift our consciousness,” she told Breaking Convention, a UK psychedelics conference in 2019. “I don’t think we necessarily have time to wait for the science to tell us these medicines are useful. The indigenous cultures have already shown us the ways.”
Entheogens remind us that the planet secretes mind-altering substances to enmesh us back into a vegetal gnosis invoking lost synaptic pathways bought online through interspecies neurogenesis, plants turning on people to the plan of the planet, to paraphrase McKenna, and then… there’s also something deeper happening behind the wireframes of the physical reality.
Part III: Anchoring the Divine Within
Now you’re not meant to really say this in the modern psychedelic-pharmaceutical-academic paradigm. It’s the ultimate deus ex machina, I know, but if planetary collapse is just around the corner maybe we should look at some of these verboten ideas–like God really IS within. And how we have these verifiable entheogenic tools to experientially prove it.
God, the Divine, Great Spirit, Samadhi, the Zero Point, the Unified Field, etc.– there are as many names as there are namers across cultures and paradigms, but look at the pattern: all the indigenous, earth-based cultures have names for it and an appreciation of where the interconnected web of life originates. It’s just the jaded, disconnected, traumatized modern culture post-Industrial Revolution that is ignorant of that felt presence.
Nowdays when we think of religion it feels like all we have done is take our built-in, direct spiritual connection and packaged it up with labels and dogmas that separate from Source and commodify it, just like psychedelics and so much else. But what does it even mean, to “religion”? In Latin it means to “reconnect”, or reweave”. But to what? The Goddess of nature is a good start, the God within the final step.
In context though, we know that many world religions prefer, even insist on abstinence from ‘intoxicants’ as part of their spiritual path, oblivious to the potential entheogenic catalysts from nature at the heart of their historical practices. It seems over time that religion itself can be just as commodified and contentious in a secular age as psychedelics themselves once were. Entheogenic indigenous cultures now and in the past have no such reservation, and as entheogenic plants have come into Western use we are coming back full circle as well to something real that is felt in these experiences.
Admittedly it’s controversial and no matter how you prod the body or scan the brain, the Divine is currently invisible to the machines of science – though, like wind on water, the ripples can sometimes be seen. You could point to the infamous “Good Friday” psilocybin tests all the way back in 1962 that dosed Harvard Divinity students, who reported “profound religious experiences” in double-blind studies that rocked the establishment. Or the 2006 studies by Dr Roland Griffiths at John Hopkins University, who also gave test subjects psilocybin, which “occasioned experiences similar to spontaneously occurring mystical experiences.”
Dr Joseph Barsuglia, a former Christian pastor and theology seminary graduate, and former Clinical Research and Program Director of the Crossroads Treatment Center in Mexico, worked with ibogaine and 5-MeO-DMT to help clear clients addictions and reset their systems.
The Crossroads data showed that 5-MeO-DMT, a natural psychedelic tryptamine found throughout nature (and in the human organism), was “the most potent psychedelic compound for occasioning mystical experiences studied to date.” (The Variations of 5-MeO-DMT Mystical Experiences and Considerations for the Future, World Bufo Alvarius Congress, Mexico City July 2018).
Subjects who smoked 5-MeO-DMT from the organic secretions of the Bufo Alvarius toad reported high responses on the questionnaire to feelings of sacredness; internal unity; a transcendence of time and space; and a noetic ‘knowing’. Other mystical questionnaire studies have shown the impact of neutral vs. sacred containers for the experiences and the role of set and setting.
Infamous psychedelic author and explorer James Oroc wrote about his seminal 5-MeO experiences in his book, Tryptamine Palace, with an acute religious fervor: “I can now state with unshakeable “faith”—a word that used to make my skin crawl—that I believe in the existence of the transcendent, formless Godhead and in the individual human ability to realize that transcendent ideal. I also now believe in the continued existence of my Soul (or consciousness if you prefer) after my physical body passes away — two newly acquired “leap-of-faith beliefs” that have provided me with an enormous sense of peace and well-being, as well as a complete lack of fear of dying.” That’s what’s behind the wireframes of nature. All the way home, down the quantum rabbit hole.
In his many lectures and writings, religious professor and PhD, Dr. Martin Ball nicknamed 5-MeO, “The God Molecule”. This is most apt because, significantly, 5-MeO-DMT is an endogenous entheogen – we already have it built-in inside us, like ‘God’s factory reset button’.
“It is found in the mammalian brain and peripheral tissues, and in humans it has been found in urine, blood and cerebrospinal fluid,” wrote Dr Juan Acosta PhD, who has also taken live EEG readings of participants in both N,N-DMT and 5-MeO-DMT states to correlate interaction with the brain neurology (QEEG Studies of the Acute Effect of the Visionary Tryptamine DMT, 2015).
Neuroscience has shown that the classical psychedelics, including 5-MeO, reduce activation of sub-networks embedded in what is called the Default Mode Network of the brain (DMN). Lowering the DMN essentially lowers the ego and allows the drop of individuated-ego consciousness to return to the oceanic Source within. And this is repeatable science that doesn’t necessarily even need an external psychedelic to activate.
“Further evidence for the involvement of the DMN in mediating mystical states and meditation has been provided by studies demonstrating that the neural correlates of some meditation states are linked to suppression of activity in the DMN. Subjects in these studies report attainment of non-dual awareness states that correlate strongly with reduced DMN activation at key nodes in fronto-parietal cortical sites,” said Dr Acosta.
This is highly significant because it reminds us that consciousness is the true psychedelic, not the chemicals themselves. With great respect to the plants, toads and entheogens of mother nature – she made us entheogenic, too, and our neural architecture is designed to plug in to the geography of the Divine within. We’re hardwired for God.
All that separates us from this transcendental state is the ego – and it may just be that the entheogens of the Goddess have just been training wheels to learn this path of relationship with the God within. In fact, there’s whole spiritual traditions that have already been designed to do just that – yoga, the “yolk of union” foremost amongst them.
Indian guru Paramahansa Yogananda, who brought yoga to the West, called the Vedic path the “Science of Religion” and it has left us intricate maps of consciousness which experientially correlate with the spaces psychedelics can reveal, like the oceanic Source consciousness within. But when psychonauts have a flash of the divine in all its raging, overwhelming glory its just that – a non-dual, temporary state that soon fades. The key is, as some have said, turning from altered states to altered traits that remain part of our capacity and being. That’s what would change us individually, and society collectively.
With Vedic techniques like kriya yoga – an ancient scientific meditation technique – there is the promise that a permanent relationship with the union of god can be attained through practice. Asanas, or poses are but a small part of what yoga really is – the stretches are intended to help the body, like a warmup for the meditation to come. The continued repetition of the yogic meditation practices strengthen the neural pathways and allows for a more balanced and permanent relationship with the Divine.
“The acid test of a master is a man’s ability to enter at will the breathless state, and to maintain the unbroken Samadhi or nirvikalpa,” Yogananda wrote in the seminal Autobiography of a Yogi. In a way you could say the value of external psychedelics is that they can ripen and prepare us for these ancient techniques. Where psychedelics can give you a day with god, meditation can give you a lifetime, raising your vibration to reportedly even become immune to all illness.
Both techniques – psychedelics and meditation – gird this reinforcement to lower the ego and reveal the divine within. Both cultures could learn from each other and be more than the sum of the parts. In fact, it’s already happening: underground networks of entheogenic yogis have been experimenting with low-level doses of 5-MeO used in conjunction with yogic techniques like pranayama breathwork and meditation to quickly and dynamically drop one into the Vedic consciousness template. Not just to optimize the experience with the rigor and support of ancient technique, but to entrain the neural pathways to remember how to access these potentials naturally and endogenously – without the external psychedelic.
Back in the 1960s, after the Summer of Love washed up a burnt out generation on the shores of the Haight Ashbury, Ken Kesey said: “It’s time to move on to the next step in the psychedelic revolution. We’ve reached a certain point, but we’re not moving any more.” And we’re still at that point, whether it’s a man-made psychedelic or nature grown entheogen – we’re still consuming these substances like they are separate from us, having a peak experience and then returning to ‘normal.’
But the Default Mode Network is all that the psychedelic or the meditation lowers. The Divine is already within you – it’s a geography that we all have at the core of our being. And it’s what’s in control, not the ego you. Learning to be in relationship with that is our next step forward as Divine beings having the human experience.