An old friend of mine used to call the psychedelic counterculture the “tribal doughnut.” He pictured a worldwide community of consciousness explorers forming a circle all around civilization—a “doughnut” of outsiders gathered at the fringes of society. Much as I like that image, it is quickly becoming outmoded. The divide between the “psychedelic” and “straight” worlds is evaporating.
Some of the more militant advocates of expanded consciousness used to fantasize about putting psychedelics in city water supplies. Instead, something far less invasive is taking place, with results that will surely be more positive and lasting: Entheogens are seeping into the mainstream.
This has been building for a long time—the computer technology that powers our entire civilization was, after all, created by trippers—but now it’s hitting a critical mass.
Psychedelics in the Mainstream
Well-to-do, fashion-conscious readers have learned about plant medicine from Elle magazine. Businesspeople get breaking news about psychedelics from Forbes. Miley Cyrus has sung the praises of ayahuasca and appeared in LSD-inspired videos with The Flaming Lips. The network news carries stories about psychedelic medicine—and it is no longer a foregone conclusion that those news segments will begin with footage of 1960s flower children doing their famous squids-hailing-a-taxi dance.
Why does that matter? Because associating psychedelics with a bygone era is like dismissing love as “the stuff of Valentine’s Day cards.” What these sacraments have to offer is far, far too meaningful to be relegated to the memorabilia bin.
When used wisely and intentionally, they can leave us more open-hearted, less warlike, more likely to take a stand against authoritarianism, unwilling to indulge in behaviors that imperil our survival. These qualities are at least as important to the future as to the past… and the deepest psychedelic journeys erase those kinds of chronological distinctions altogether.
As the movement toward decriminalization and eventual legalization gains momentum, entheogens will be playing an increasingly vital role in the transformation of mind, body, spirituality, sexuality, technology, community, and relationship to nature. Will there be downsides to this? Of course there will.
A Path For Species Survival?
Among other things, the recognition of psychedelics’ medicinal value will surely bring opportunism, and in light of the CIA’s documented interest in the weaponization of hallucinogens, we would be wise to stay watchful for human experimentation disguised as medical research.
Does the good outweigh the bad? A thousand times yes! Most anyone who has had an intensely positive psychedelic experience can tell you that the ability of these compounds to heal body, mind, and spirit is no joke. At this late hour, our very survival could depend on this.
As Terence McKenna said, “I’ve seen over and over again—and I’m sure many of you have—people go into a psychedelic experience as jerks and come out halfway decent human beings, eight hours later. If we had 500 years to steer global society into safe harbor, it might be possible to do that [without psychedelic aid], but we don’t.”
The ecological crisis has intensified a hundredfold since McKenna uttered those words. As I write this from my home in Northern California, smoke from a nearby fire is visible through my window. “Fire season” is now an annual event where I live, and with it comes the very real threat of tragedy.
Last summer, as the world was being ravaged by a devastating plague, hurricanes, fascist uprisings, and a whole barrage of other Book of Revelation-type stuff, lightning from an absurdly theatrical, stereotypically apocalyptic thunderstorm struck the ground, setting off hundreds of fires across California.
Under evacuation orders, I stuffed a small amount of my most precious possessions into my car and fled to a city that was crawling with COVID. Just before I hit the highway, I hurried from my car to check my mailbox for what might be the last time. Seeing my masked face through a blizzard of smoke and falling ashes, another evacuee called out from a car behind me, “Are we having fun yet?”
Renewing the Holy
I won’t preach too much here about the nightmare of melting polar ice caps, the constant influx of record-breaking temperatures, massive blazes all over the world, tornadoes, toxic air, poisoned water, etc., as I’m sure most readers are all too aware of these things. Suffice to say that as a species, we desperately need to rediscover that the ground we walk on is holy.
That kind of statement might sound corny in a culture that worships wealth, gadgets, guns, porn, and deep-fried Oreos, but that’s exactly the disconnection from reality that has us staring down the barrel of extinction.
There’s no guarantee that humankind even has a long-term future, but as long as there’s so much as a glimmer of hope that it does, we need to use every tool at our disposal to fight for our survival.
The importance of psychedelics in that fight can’t be overstated. People who have seen and felt the interconnectivity of all living beings are not likely to participate in or support the planetary plunder that is driving us toward self-annihilation, nor stand for oppression, misogyny, bigotry, violence, hatred, or the barbaric mistreatment of animals that causes pandemics.
Perhaps the psychedelic prohibition was a necessary step to protect a culture that wasn’t ready for the staggering power of these sacraments until now. Maybe from the very beginning, it has been coded in our collective genetic blueprint that at this phase of our evolution, we would be experiencing a psychedelic renaissance just as we’re on the verge of committing mass suicide.
Maybe the chaos and tribulations of our times are as intrinsic to our growth as pimples, confusion, and sexual frustration are to a young person crossing the bridge from childhood to adulthood.
This much is assured: The future won’t be boring, and things are about to get a whole lot trippier.
Damon Orion is a writer, journalist, musician, artist and teacher living in the mountains of Santa Cruz, California. More of his work can be found at DamonOrion.com
Ellen Weed says
Fine article Damon. Looking forward to parts 2, 3, 4 and 5.