All of us who have had life-changing experiences on psychedelics are part of a worldwide family. As members of the psychedelic community, we are connected to all the entheogenic explorers of the ancient past and to all those yet to be born.
Within this vast circle there are countless smaller circles of people who have taken entheogens together, experienced ego dissolution, and emerged from this journey as comrades and allies. When you return from the infinite luminous void to find that you still have a body, an identity, and a social security number, you tend to form strong bonds with other people who are going through the same thing.
By uniting with other psychedelic journeyers in this way, we’re taking part in a longstanding tradition. Entheogens like ayahuasca, peyote, and iboga were foundational to the communities and cultures of indigenous people in regions such as America, Mexico, Africa, and Central Amazon.
And, as the late curandero don Howard Lawler once told Reset, early Andean civilization was built on values that came directly from “the masterful orchestration of [the] huachuma [San Pedro cactus] ritual of initiation for masses of pilgrims who came from far and wide to this one place in the Central Andes.”
The values to which don Howard referred—namely, resource sharing, openness to people of different cultures, cooperation as opposed to competition, and socioeconomic diversity—are catastrophically lacking in our own civilization.
With psychedelics now making their way into mainstream Western society, is there hope that we can rediscover these precious values and bring them into our own way of life? Could the therapeutic use of these medicines help create the sense of togetherness that a healthy society needs?
In 1987, the Federal Drug Council conducted a study of the use of ayahuasca in the Santo Daime and União do Vegetal religious societies. As the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) has noted, this study concluded that ayahuasca had “a very positive influence in the community, encouraging social harmony and personal integration.”
This study warned against taking too reductionist an approach to the examination of substances like ayahuasca. “It was emphasized that, rather than simply considering the pharmacological analysis of the plants, one must consider the whole context of the use of the tea—religious, social, and cultural,” the MAPS article explains.
Kent State University assistant anthropology professor Evgenia Fotiou echoes that statement in a paper called The Role of Indigenous Knowledges in Psychedelic Science. She points out that Western models of psychedelic medicine might benefit from integrating this holistic approach to healing.
“Indigenous rituals tend to be rich sensorial experiences engaging all the senses. and by trying to control the sensory experience, we might be limiting it,” Fotiou writes. “Healing is a complex process as the placebo effect indicates, and we might get closer to understanding its mechanisms if we widen our lens.”
Fotiou continues, “A more holistic approach would also mean the recognition that social and structural solutions need to be implemented. Examples from numerous cultures indicate that communal rituals where the community comes together to heal individuals as well as relationships… are based on an ethic of reciprocity and maintaining balance of interrelationship.”
With recent research confirming that shared entheogenic experiences often generate a sense of community that can yield significant mental health gains, perhaps it’s time for Westerners to rethink and expand their approach to psychedelic therapy. Could this healing modality benefit from becoming a more immersive practice in which kinship and camaraderie play an important part?
Perhaps here in the west, group psychedelic healing will be more geared toward the rationalistic mindset than it is in other cultures. With a therapist fulfilling many of the same duties that a shaman would, ceremonial elements such as music and pre-journey statements of intention might still be employed, but minus the feathers, rattles, chanting, and talk of spirits and ancestors one often finds in the medicine rituals of indigenous people.
By making this type of healing palatable to as many people as possible, including reductionists, the therapeutic community might help bring sanity and wisdom to our culture and our world.
Finding the Others
Between the growing public interest in entheogens and the ability of online communities to circumnavigate the restrictions of both physical distance and pandemic-related health concerns, the mycelial network of psychedelic groups all over the planet is getting larger and stronger all the time.
Don’t be too surprised if we eventually start seeing gathering places similar to cannabis cafés, but for psychedelics.
With the growth of the psychedelic community comes greater risk of abuse, fraud, negligence, and so on. As these medicines are decriminalized, it could be useful to develop a Yelp-style directory with crowd-sourced reviews of entheogenic circles, the better to help point people toward well-structured ceremonies and well-intentioned, highly capable facilitators.
While we’re on the subject of the cyber world, perhaps we’ll also see an influx of psychedelic singles apps and websites, or maybe virtual meetups where people in various visionary states of consciousness can connect as colorful avatars in interactive VR spaces.
Imagine, for example, exploring a multi-storied virtual house with other journeyers who appear as beings of light, alien mantis creatures, and butterfly/human hybrids. Open one door, and you’ll find a swirling pool of liquid energy that you and your friends can swim, float, or play water polo in; open another, and you’ll enter an environment that resembles Alex Grey’s Net of Being.
While meeting up in cyberspace is no substitute for in-person contact, the hive-mind connectivity that the internet affords us is a potent reminder of the greater “worldwide web”: the interconnectedness of all things, as expressed by the Buddhist metaphor of Indra’s Net.
In this adaptation of the Indra’s Net parable, Buddha puts this principle in clear, simple terms that reflect where ultimate psychedelic community may lead us:
There is no such thing as independent existence—that is illusion. Only by the interconnection and endless reflection of all things upon each other can life exist. Therefore, you must cherish everything that supports your life, for it is as much a part of you as you are of it.
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