Tag Archives: psychedelics

Psychedelic Times: Some Ideas for how we can regain our Sacred Medicines

The need to be entranced; to alter the normal state of consciousness to something totally other, to transcend the walls of ‘everyday’ and discover something more. Many have theorised that such a need is a fundamental part of human existence, quite as important as our need to eat and drink in terms of how we relate to ourselves and each other in society. But how are we doing this in today’s world? And is there a coherent emerging culture which encourages these transcendent states, regardless of what the law may say?

Intoxi-culture

Many writers talk of how substances which can cause altered mental states, such as alcohol and psilocybin, have been a key part of human culture for thousands of years. Some place more or less emphasis on different substances; R. Gordon Wasson (see for example 1) spoke highly of mushrooms, as did Terrence McKenna (2), developing this to place mushrooms at the centre of human evolution and possibly even as the cause of it. Richard Rudgely takes a broader view, looking at many different psychoactive plants (3); while Stuart Walton writes in more favour of caffeine and alcohol (4).  The latter three all also criticise modern society for not recognising this important role played by psychoactive medicines and call for a more widely-recognised field of ‘intoxicant’ or ‘psychedelic’ studies; or ‘intoxicology’ as Walton puts it (4).

Such a field of studies may well help us to understand our culture on a deeper level and thus be better able to improve it. However, it seems that in order to make our explorations with psychoactive substances truly effective we need to take into consideration two more things. Firstly, although plants and chemicals can help us to reach altered states of consciousness, they are not the only way to do this. It is also possible through meditation or meditative practises such as yoga, through wordless singing or chanting, or simpler things such as staring at a blank wall for a number of minutes. Indigenous societies all over the globe and throughout history have devised means by which altered states are induced, either with or without plant-based help. For example, many tribal rituals involve doing one energetic thing, such as drumming or dancing, repetitively for hours or sometimes days, at the end of which a whole new mental realm is reached (see for example 5).

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Circle Dance. Photo by Tianna.

This brings us to the second point. We don’t use these substances in isolation – or at least that’s not how, historically, our relationship with them has developed. By many accounts our cultures evolved with plants and other medicines as a part of a rich tapestry of storytelling, metaphorical images and implied significance on the natural world around us (5, 6). In this sense the substances which are currently demonised by modern ‘drug’ laws in many countries should actually be in the same realm as the other foods and medicines which we consume. That is not to say they are not treated as special; rather, that all of the things we consume can be seen as special, and even sacred.

Psychedelic Artists

Joseph Campbell, taking this into account, also considers the sacred role of art in society as something which can point to something beyond our normal reality, thus welcoming all of those of us who are still stuck to the mundane to open up and take a look at the infinite landscapes beyond. For him, all ‘true’ art- that is, art which has not been made to sell something or to teach something, but which simply exists as a beautiful thing – is created by going outside the realms of ‘normal’ thinking, and the artist is a brave adventurer who brings back treasures from these unknown places to give to their fellow humans.

By modern societal thinking, this basically equates to the idea that in order to create art you have to be mad. Campbell quotes from the Upanishads (which he translated from the Sanskrit):

A sharpened edge of a razor, hard to traverse,

A difficult path is this—poets declare!” (7)

The artist is the one who can continue along the razor; who “stepped on [the] path of sacred art and stuck it out through thick and thin” (8) – yet to recognise this would also be to recognise that different mental states to the considered norm are of some use or value to society. By contrast, much of modern culture disregards these mental states as ‘illnesses’and only by becoming ‘better’ can those experiencing them achieve worthwhile lives.

Where are we now?

The role of many psychedelic substances as medicines is becoming more and more widely accepted. The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) (9), founded in 1986 in California by Rick Doblin, have funded many studies into the use of psychoactives as possible tools to help with so-called mental health problems. Most recently they have been studying the use of +3.4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine, more widely known as MDMA, to treat “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder” and “anxiety in autistic adults” (10). To this end they are currently training mental health therapists to use MDMA in their work (11) which they hope will be approved in the USA by 2021. They also sponsor the Psychedelic Science conference (12), the next edition of which will happen in Oakland, California in April 2017.

Psychedelic Science is co-hosted by UK think-tank The Beckley Foundation (13), founded in 1998 by Amanda Feilding, who are similar to MAPS in that they fund scientific studies and clinical trials. However, they also have a broader agenda of advocating change in policy (14) and in that their studies (15) into things which alter perception include research into how meditation affects the brain (16). The Foundation also sponsors a biannual conference in the UK, Breaking Convention (17), the first of which occurred in 2011 and the next is coming up from 30th June to 2nd July 2017 (thanks Jon Atkinson for confirmation of the dates).

Healing and feeling

Psychedelic studies are becoming more and more developed worldwide with the growth of events such as Breaking Convention and Psychedelic Science. However, if we are to truly begin using psychedelic and other methods to benefit our well-being we need to take them out of the laboratory. If we want to assist in the evolution of human culture as Mckenna suggests then we need to recognise that psychedelics are not an isolated part of it. The ancient cultures used psychoactive plants as integral part of their rituals; they were woven into their stories. The spirit of the peyote is ‘Mescalito’; a playful figure who appears sometimes as a man, sometimes as a fly or inhabiting the body of a dog, sometimes as a terrifying entity or, if he likes you, as a ray of pure light (18). Or how about a seasonal example with the Amanita Muscaria, who are guarded by a small chubby man with a big beard who can fly around giving out their gifts if you’re ready to receive them or their punishments if you are not (19).

We are no longer the same as our ancient tribal counterparts. For whatever reason, ritual use of medicinal substances has been being systematically discouraged for probably around 10,000 years, since about the time agriculture started developing – for more of my theories on this see my Language and Permaculture article here (20). It is probably not useful for us to revive the old rituals and stories because we are new people. But what it seems essential for us to do if we truly wish to use these sacred medicines as part of our culture, and not just as a fringe aspect of it confined to uncertain swallowings of unknown substances in a field somewhere or (perhaps worse) to the cold unfeeling subjugations of the clinic, then we have to weave them into a new culture which recognises their benefits not as isolated chemicals but as tools to help us enrich our lives. Key to this is that we need to also be enriching our lives in other ways. Psychedelics, after all, only show us an amplified reflection of our own mental landscapes, so it seems to make sense to be tending these landscapes regularly if we wish to have meaningful or useful experiences with them.

Forest

Time to start tending our landscapes. Photo by David Ashwanden

Experiencing the Experience

There do already exist groups aiming at something more than simply clinical research or drug policy reform. For example, last month also saw the launch of the Psychedelic Society of Brighton (21) in the UK with their ‘Psychedelic Healing’ event (22). The event featured speakers who talked not only about scientific research but about the role of education and ritual in psychedelic culture. The Psychedelic Society UK also runs ‘Psychedelic Experience Weekends’ (23) in the Netherlands where one can go and engage in a group ‘experience’ facilitated by ‘sitters’, in a safe, comfortable and legal (they use psilocybin-containing truffles, which are legal in the Netherlands) environment.

Experiences such as these are what we can be encouraging, if we really wish psychedelic culture to evolve. One example of an environment possibly conducive to emerging psychedelic culture is certain types of festivals.  The experience of people taking psychedelics at festivals can be greatly enhanced by the presence of groups like Kosmicare UK (24).

Our encouragement of experience involves a reconsideration of many aspects of our society, such as our definition of mental illness, our loss of ritual and how we can regain it, and our sense of reverence for the world around us. At the root is our relationship with our inner selves. If we can adventure through the “inner reaches of outer space” (25) and return we can be ready to be a part of the new creative mythology of our times.

This ‘mythology’ can include sacred medicines but also needs to include so much more.

Are you ready?

References

1. Wasson, R. G, 1980. The Wondrous Mushroom: Mycolatry in Mesoamerica. McGraw-Hill: New York City, USA

2. McKenna, T, 1993. Food of The Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge. Bantam: New York City, USA

3. Rudgely, R, 2015. Essential Substances: A Cultural History of Intoxicants in Society. Thistle Publishing: London, UK

4. Walton, S, 2001. Out of It. Penguin: London, UK

5. Campbell, J, 1949. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Pantheon Books: New York City, USA

6. Abram, D, 1996. The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World. Vintage: New York City, USA

7. Campbell, J, 1949. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. p21. Pantheon Books: New York City, USA

8. Gogol Bordello, 2005. ‘Undestructable’. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0jhu7ux4whs – retrieved 17/12/16

9. MAPS, 2016. ‘About’. http://www.maps.org/about – retrieved 17/12/16

10. MAPS, 2016. ‘Featured MDMA Research’. http://www.maps.org/resources/papers – retrieved 17/12/16

11. MAPS, 2016. ‘MDMA Therapist Training Program’. http://www.maps.org/participate/therapist-training-program  – retrieved 17/12/16

12. Psychedelic Science, 2016. ‘Conference’. http://psychedelicscience.org/conference  – retrieved 17/12/16

13. The Beckley Foundation, 2016. ‘About’. http://beckleyfoundation.org/about/ – retrieved 17/12/16

14. The Beckley Foundation, 2016. ‘Policy Reports and Briefing Papers’. http://beckleyfoundation.org/policy/reports-briefing-papers/ – retrieved 17/12/16

15. The Beckley Foundation, 2016. ‘Substances and Methods’. http://beckleyfoundation.org/science/substances-methods/

16. The Beckley Foundation, 2016. ‘Meditation’. http://beckleyfoundation.org/science/substances-methods/meditation/

17. Breaking Convention, 2015. ‘The Conference’. http://2015.breakingconvention.co.uk/participate/ – retrieved 17/12/16

18. Castaneda, C, 1985. The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge. Washington Square Press: New York City, USA

19. McKenna, C, 2013. ‘When Santa was a Mushroom: Amanita Muscaria and the origins of christmas’.Entheology, 1/10/13. http://entheology.com/research/when-santa-was-a-mushroom-amanita-muscaria-and-the-origins-of-christmas/ – retrieved 17/12/16

20. Haworth, C, 2016. ‘Language and Permaculture part 1: Why we need to focus on terminology to take permaculture to the next level’. Permaculture News, 14/12/16. http://permaculturenews.org/2016/12/15/language-permaculture-part-1-need-focus-terminology-take-permaculture-next-level/ – retrieved 17/12/16

21. Facebook, 2016. ‘Psychedelic Society of Brighton’. https://web.facebook.com/psychedelicsocietybrighton/?_rdr

22. Facebook, 2016. ‘Psychedelic Society of Brighton Launch: Psychedelic Healing’. https://web.facebook.com/events/1825383351076287/ – retrieved 17/12/16

23. Psychedelic Society UK, 2016. ‘Psychedelic Experience Weekends’. http://psychedelicsociety.org.uk/experience-weekends – retrieved 17/12/16

24. Kosmicare UK, 2016. ‘About Us’. http://www.kosmicareuk.org/about-us/ – retrieved 17/12/16

25. Campbell, J, 2012. The Inner Reaches of Outer Space: Metaphor as Myth and Religion. New World Library: New York City, USA

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How to Care for your Garden: Kosmicare UK at the Secret Garden Party

Some people go to festivals as a king of mini-holiday; others because they want to see the bands and music. Some go because they love the atmosphere, and some go simply because it’s the closest thing we can find to the way we live our lives anyway which also resonates with the so-called normal world. Festivals are places to party, but much more than that; traditionally (and this goes back to the first tribal ceremonial gatherings) (1) they are a place to experiment, where boundaries dissolve and where you could find yourself going on journeys which you never expected to before…

Journey Help

Sometimes this boundary dissolution could be a little confusing, especially if the festival is a big one, which is why I was so pleased to be working with Kosmicare UK (1) last weekend at Secret Garden Party (2), which has many areas, from labyrinths and mazes to space-hopper games zones, and from natural (though very muddy) swimming pools in the forest to giant hot tubs with views of animal sculptures. Somehow the overall effect seems to be to encourage party-goers to don as much glitter as they can possibly get their hands on, sometimes with no other garments at all. All of this creates an atmosphere of fun and intrigue, perhaps encouraging experimentation, although with around 20,000 other party-goers around (the festival capacity’s normally 40,000, but apparently numbers were down this year) such experimentation can go along with a slight risk element.

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So much glitter it was even falling from the sky! Photo by Stephanie Amazonas.

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Inside the ‘Sanctuary’ space at Kosmicare UK. Photo by Stephanie Amazonas.

Coming into The Loop

In our non-judgmental acceptance of anyone, regardless of which substances they may have taken, and our understanding of how psychedelics can affect behaviour and mood and how to respond to this, Kosmicare UK is part of the recognition of so-called ‘drug’ culture (though perhaps we need a new word for this – see my article here for more thoughts on the matter). Through this it was very exciting to be present at Secret Garden Party alongside The Loop (4), an organisation who use state-of-the-art spectroscopy scanning to anonymously test whichever chemicals you bring them and tell you what they are. In non-science speak, festival-goers could go to The Loop tent, throughout the festival, and have their pills and powders tested using a laser which can tell them, within a matter of minutes, which chemicals they are made up of, so you could find out how pure your drugs were, or if they were even what they had been sold to you as. The organisation managed to get an agreement with on-site police that there would be no police presence anywhere near the drugs-testing tent.

This was the first time The Loop have been present at any UK festival, though given their success and positive feedback (see 5, 6) it will probably not be the last. Neither The Loop or Kosmicare UK encourage taking of illegal substances, but the fact that both areas were busy throughout the festival shows that people are doing it anyway, and if they can test their substances so they know what they are taking, and have a safe and welcoming space to go to once they have taken them, the risks of such activity are significantly lower and everyone can do what they probably came to the festival for in the first place – to have a good time.

How environment can affect our mood?

Sometimes when people are deeply lost in their psyches they may be unaware of their surroundings, or if people are around they may project onto those people whatever nightmares are in their heads and potentially lash out at them. At Kosmicare UK we are prepared for this and always ensure that our visitors are kept from harming themselves and others around them, though we do not restrain them in an uncomfortable or confrontational way. In this the Kosmicare UK methods seem to differ radically from those I witnessed being used by some of the on-site security and police, and by the Welfare tent. Though we were trying as much as possible to co-ordinate with the other welfare teams and with the security guards and police, at such a large event there were occasionally communication gaps. This could sometimes be frustrating, however, it is probably mainly due to the lack of understanding of what Kosmicare UK is actually providing, and the more we can publicise this the better prepared the other festival staff can be.

As with all the festivals we go to Kosmicare UK was there providing a safe and caring space for anyone who happens to have taken their experimentation in a direction which they are no longer sure how to handle. As such we are usually available for those experiencing drug-related difficulties, though all are welcome at the Kosmic-area, whether they are experiencing psychological problems of any kind or are simply feeling a little lost or lonely. We were busy all weekend with all kinds of visitors; some of the main ones which I experienced being from people who had ingested some kind of psychedelic substance such as LSD who were going through some complicated mental acrobatics. Such cases are relatively easy to deal with in Kosmicare UK because of the way in which we work; using set and setting, which has been proven to affect one’s experience (see for example 6), and by accepting that whatever the person is going through, it is first of all valid and second of all will become less intense as the drug wears off, so there is no point in fighting it. We do this in a number of ways, one of which is by purposefully wearing our own clothes rather than any kind of uniform, to show those coming to Kosmicare UK that we are on the same level as them and therefore create more of a trusting, co-operative atmosphere.

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Working with set and setting: the ‘party’ tent at the Kosmicare area, for those feeling sociable or loud. Photo by Stephanie Amazonas.

 

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Working with set and setting: the ‘Shrine’ inside the bell tent, which includes amy things to look at and play with including things to connect us to the elements such as the fire of candles, air of incense, a shell filled with water and rose petals, and a live plant connecting us to the natural world and the earth element, and as a reminder of the living, breathing ecosystem around us. Such things can be sufficient to engender calm in an uptight or anxious individual. Photo by Stephanie Amazonas.

We do not have the facilities to provide first aid assistance to those needing physical medical attention. Nor are we particularly interested in sorting out fights between festival goers. All of this can be taken care of by the security, welfare and first aiders and if necessary the police. What we have expertise in and a specially prepared area for is those who are having any kind of difficulties on drugs. Thanks to Secret Garden Party’s open-minded and forward-thinking attitude, we could do this easily and in co-operation with The Loop at the festival.

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Some of the Kosmic Garden Party Team. Photo by Ilaria Foo.

The Secret Garden Party was a refreshing and thought-provoking experience. Hopefully more festivals in the UK will take the lead and become more open to providing not just welfare, but also different kinds of psychological care and attention for people who are exploring, without judgement of the methods they have chosen for their explorations.

Kosmicare UK will next be around at Illusive Festival (7) in September so come and look out for us!

References

  1. Kosmicare UK, 2016. ‘About Us’. http://www.kosmicareuk.org/about-us/
  2. Secret Garden Party, 2016. ‘Secret Garden Party’. http://www.secretgardenparty.com/
  3. The Loop, 2016. ‘Mission Statement’. http://wearetheloop.co.uk/missionstatement
  4. Brooks, L, 2016. Secret Garden Party pioneers drugs testing service for festival-goers’. The Guardian, 24/7/16. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/jul/24/secret-garden-party-pioneers-drugs-testing-for-festival-goers?CMP=fb_gu
  5. Fisher, H, 2016. ‘I spent my weekend testing drugs at a festival’. The Independent, 25/7/16. http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/secret-garden-party-drugs-service-i-tested-drugs-at-festival-service-for-everyone-a7155376.html
  6. Hartogsohn, I, 2013. ‘The American Trip: Set, Setting and Psychedelics in 20th Century Psychology’. MAPS, Spring 2013. Available as a PDF here: http://www.maps.org/news-letters/v23n1/v23n1_p6-9.pdf
  7. Illusive Festival, 2016. ‘Illusive Festival’. http://illusive-festival.co.uk/

Intoxicating Words: Ideas for changes in language to promote positive evolution of humanity

With thanks to David Ashwanden

As explored elsewhere in this blog (1, 2), words are very powerful things. There are some which ignite such emotions and polarise opinions so greatly that it can be dangerous to use them in certain company. One example of this is the word ‘drug’. Such a small word, yet one which has been massively controversial for many decades. There are many so-called ‘drugs’ which have been deemed as inappropriate for general societal use by the lawmakers and which have subsequently gained huge amounts of support for legalisation. In particular, entheogenic or psychoactive substances such as, but not limited to, LSD, psilocybin and cannabis have been the subject of much debate.

Turn on, tune in…?

Right now, it could be argued, there has never been more reason to be interested in how things affect our minds, and how we can utilise them in a beneficial way. Although so-called ‘psychedelic’ or ‘mind-manifesting’ plant and fungi-based materials have been used by humans for thousands if not tens of thousands of years in order to enhance our human experience and connection to the world around us (see for example 3, 4), and it has been almost a century since LSD-25 was first isolated by Albert Hoffman (5), research into how LSD and similarly acting substances can affect the human mind was stifled for many decades (6) and has only recently gained a resurgence (7).

Much evidence suggests that as long as humans have had culture we have also had a deep and often sacred relationship with plants and fungi which can affect our minds in powerful ways (see for example 3, 4); yet today we are also actually gathering more and more scientific evidence on why this is so, and why such substances play a key part in our lives. This includes the latest studies at Imperial College London which show, using state-of-the-art scanning technology, what our brains look like when we ingest LSD (8), and also this past weekend saw the third edition of the Interdisciplinary Conference on Psychedelic Research in the Netherlands (9).

Many groups involved with the psychedelic resurgence are strongly advocating partial or total legalisation of such psychoactive substances as LSD and psilocybin (see for example 10). However, while such things are considered ‘drugs’ it does not seem particularly helpful for them to be legal or illegal. To keep calling them such, regardless of what the so-called decision-makers say, is to do a disservice to valuable allies to our health, and to the thousands of years of human culture when, by many accounts, our relationship to such substances was not as either a commodity to consume or as contraband to fear, but as a tool which could help to guide us through our own psyches and thus create better cultures for ourselves and those around us.

Olive wood 2

But what is a ‘Substance’ anyway?

On Friday (26 May 2016), a new law came into force in the UK, which seems to be worded very strangely indeed. The Psychoactive Substances Act 2016

makes it an offence to produce, supply, offer to supply, possess with intent to supply, possess on custodial premises, import or export psychoactive substances” which are defined as “any substance intended for human consumption that is capable of producing a psychoactive effect” (UK government, 2016) (11)

“Psychoactive” simply means affecting the mind, so any “substance…capable of producing a psychoactive effect” includes all food and drink which we as humans consume. But don’t worry – you will not be arrested for eating a salad for dinner because the lettuce you’re eating has mildly narcotic, hypnotic and sedative effects (12); the Act covers the government’s back with this one by excluding from it “legitimate substances”, such as “food, alcohol, tobacco, nicotine, caffeine and medical products” (11).

Language and Medicine

Advocates of freedom of choice have argued that there are many things which one can ingest which have a medical effect, and which therefore we have the right to consume freely and without molestation from law enforcers, which could be one reason how marijuana has been classified as a medical substance in many states (13). This has probably helped thousands if not millions of people to peacefully ingest cannabis to aid them a a huge variety of ways. However, it also does not seem to address the root of the linguistic category in which our culture puts such substances.

Either they are ‘controlled’ and therefore, to speak in practical terms for a moment, if you buy them you have no idea of what you are getting, the only person’s word for what is inside the substance you will ingest is the person you buy it from, and availability is unreliable; or they are ‘products’, which seems to imply that they are a commodity to buy, sell and consume, to advertise and which has a stock market value tied to the world economy.

Does this really make any sense? Even if somehow the Psychoactive Substances Act was changed and pscychoactive substances were to receive legal blessings, for them to be treated as a ‘product’ seems to be missing the point almost as much as for them to be prohibited. Drugs, it seems, can either be condoned, sold in supermarkets, pharmacies and bars, enjoyed by the people and taxed by the state, or can be a complicated and wearisome world of underground dealings; yet the substances hinted at by the Act do not seem to me to fit into either of these categories. We have begun a resurgence of psychedelic research but it is important to remember that our heritage in such substances does not stem from the laboratory.

Which is more Psychoactive? The word or the substance?

That is not to say that such substances should not be treated with care. On the contrary, we probably need to be thinking more about what we are ingesting than ever before. But perhaps one reason why our modern society, so intent on categorising everything, has such trouble with psychoactive substances is that they can, when taken in a conducive context and with care, respect and love, encourage going beyond all categories and achieving perspectives which are higher, deeper, or altogether more novel than those usually prescribed.

As such, perhaps we need a totally new set of words to describe our relationship to these substances. This may seem like a small point, yet when we consider that much of our current society is built on words, we can begin to see how changing the definition can change our entire relationship. Indeed, as things which with nothing more than an expiration of breath and a small sounding of the vocal chords, or a couple of taps on a computer keyboard, have the power to alter the human mind radically, it seems that words are some of the most psychoactive things which we use, and it may be wise to consider how we use them.

Perhaps a more beneficial term to describe psychoactives would be ‘holy’ or ‘sacred’; for these terms imply a deep respect for what the substances can do and do not necessarily imply religion.  It could also be helpful to extend this definition to ourselves. If we consider our own beings with a deep respect and think about the effect of everything we are ingesting, as well as the word which we give out to the world, we can create a beautiful healthy ecosystem within our own bodies which goes far beyond simple consuming. The same idea can be extended outwards to the whole universe if you like.  

I am in no way condoning ingestion of any psychoactive substances – not even lettuce leaves – if you do not want to. But the power of the way in which we speak about the things which we ingest is deep and strong, and it seems that we can harness this power to help to create a better world; not simply an extension of an old paradigm but a reflection of all of the potential which we have inside us and a recognition of all of the tools which can help us to fulfill it.

References

  1. Haworth, C, 2015. ‘Using Our Language-Shadows.’ Abundance Garden, 1/11/15. https://abundancedancegarden.wordpress.com/2015/11/01/using-our-language-shadows/  
  2. Haworth, c, 2015. ‘Sacred Spaces’. Abundance Garden, 03/03/2015. – retrieved 7/6/16 https://abundancedancegarden.wordpress.com/2015/03/03/sacred-spaces/  
  3. Campbell, J, 1988. The Historical Atlas of World Mythology, Volume II, Part 3. HarperCollins: New York City.
  4. McKenna, T, 1993. Food of the Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge (A Radical History of Plants, Drugs and Human Evolution). Bantam: New York City
  5. Hoffman, Dr A, 1996. ‘LSD: Completely Personal’ – translated from the original German (LSD Ganz Persönlich) by J. Ott. from the Newsletter of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) – Volume 6, Number 3, Summer 1996. Available online here: http://www.maps.org/news-letters/v06n3/06346hof.html  – retrieved 7/6/16
  6. University of Cambridge Department of History and Philosophy of Science, 2007. ‘The Medical History of Psychedelic Drugs’. Available online as part of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS): http://www.maps.org/images/pdf/history_of_psychedelics.pdf – retrieved 7/6/16
  7. Schiavenza, M, 2015. ‘Seeing Opportunity in Psychedelic Drugs’. The Atlantic, 8/3/15. http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/03/a-psychedelic-revival/387193/ – retrieved 7/6/16
  8. Imperial College London, 2016. ‘Brain on LSD revealed: First scans show how the drug affects the brain’. Science Daily, 11/4/16. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/04/160411153006.htm
  9. ICPR 2016, 2016. ‘About’. http://www.icpr2016.nl/about-icpr-2016/ – retrieved 7/6/16
  10. Psychedelic Society, 2016. ‘Arguments for Legislation’. http://www.psychedelicsociety.org.uk/arguments-for-legalisation – retrieved 7/6/16
  11. UK Government, 2016. ‘Psychoactive Substances Act 2016’. http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2015-16/psychoactivesubstances.html
  12. Plants for a Future, 2016. ‘Lactuca Sativa Garden Lettuce – Medicinal Properties’. http://www.pfaf.org/user/plant.aspx?LatinName=Lactuca+sativa
  13. Lethco, CW, 2006. ‘Worldwide laws on cannabis possession for medical purposes or cannabis-based medicene’. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legal_and_medical_status_of_cannabis#/media/File:Legality_of_cannabis_for_medical_purposes_new.png

 

Kosmicare: Cosmic Care at Festivals helping to create positive societal change – Part 2

When we have clear ideas of what the symbols which appear to us – whether in folk myth, dream or chemically-induced vision – can represent, we are better equipped to understand our own role in the great narrative of our life. However, if we have not had such training as that given to a tribe which values shared metaphors and symbols, we can be

“left alone with our unpredictable emotions and the sometimes terrifying visions of the collective unconscious” (1); in what is termed by some as a ‘bad trip’.

Tripping through the Dark…

If we have not been brought up with a conscious defining mythology such as that of the Wixaritari (see for example 2), that is not to say that we are in any disadvantage. As Campbell (1959) (3) puts it, we have to be aware of what our own stories mean, and can even be a part of creating our own new symbols which are unique to us.

Such symbols may be all the more potent if we have undergone some kind of journey in order to discover them. An important part of Kosmicare UK’s work is the recognition that whatever is happening in someone’s mind, there is probably a good reason for it, even if the person is not having the most comfortable time. As it says on their website,

“We think that if someone is having a “bad trip” it is because he/she is really in need of it.  They may be confronting their own fears, and there is potential to benefit from it. Therefore, we do not work with denial or try to make people come back to “normal” but, embracing the moment, we provide support for the individual to come through the ordeal more wholesome and wise.” (1)

Into the Light

For Kosmicare,

“An important step to take is to acknowledge that in gatherings and festivals people are pushing boundaries, and it is here that we need to give support.” (1)

One inspirational aspect of being part of the Kosmicare UK team at Goa Cream, a festival designed to promote Kosmicare, was to see so many festival-goers who are already prepared to give support to each other, and who recognise the benefits of their work even if they have not been personally cared for at the Kosmicare area. Such support is also inspirational in terms of considering the wider reach which Kosmicare, or similar initiatives, could have.

As well as one-to-one support for those already in drug-related experiences, Kosmicare provides non-judgmental information on, and in some cases testing facilities for, all kinds of mind-altering substances. When pushing boundaries by using these, one can be catapulted through a psychological exploration which, though it may feel like a number of millennia, lasts on our timescale only around 6-12 hours. This is why it is so important for Kosmicare to be present at festivals and parties, as such experiences can give you little or no preparation for what could be in store, and the mental effects are so quick and strong that occasionally they can be a handful.

However, people are having more sustained psychological explorations all the time, which have been variously described as ‘voice hearing’, ‘schizophrenia’, ‘psychosis’, or a host of other labels, for which British and other “Western” societies do not necessarily provide adequate facilities.

It could be argued that someone who is experiencing what modern Western medicine could term as psychosis, delusions, schizoid or paranoid behaviour is going through a similar kind of ‘bad trip’ as that which can be induced by entheogenic substances, though the trip generally takes a lot longer than 12 hours. The general response in “Western” society is to place such individuals in the mental healthcare system where medical staff attempt to make them “better” or fit in with society again. While such a response may have benefits for some individuals, it could be important to note that “mental illness” as defined in “Western” society is seen by most shamanic cultures as “the birth of a healer” and those experiencing it are seen as undergoing a necessary stage in their journey towards becoming, if they wish to accept the role, an important community facilitator and healer (4) (5).

Healing Options

If such perceptions of mental illness can help individuals in ways in which the western system falls short, such as with the case of Franklin Russell, hospitalised at 17 as a “schizophrenic” in the USA but hailed as one of the “mediums bringing messages to the community from the spirit world” in West Africa (6), then perhaps we need options other than mental hospitals in which to support them. One such option could be an extended version of Kosmicare; where the spaces are in one fixed place within the community and where support can be found not only for a few days at a time, but all year round, and with a much longer time limit on how long one can be in the space.

Such a static healing space should not replace Kosmicare, but rather work alongside it, as the focus is on slightly differing, though interlinked, psychological experiences. The space, I feel, would have to be centred in a natural environment; even if set up to serve a city community it should be on the outskirts of said city, in a place where there is less psychic noise than can be found among the busy city streets.

As such, it can be seen as a kind of ‘Healing Forest’, or whatever natural phenomena is seen as important by a particular community. So those who dwell near a river may prefer to go to a ‘Healing Valley’ whilst those who live in high altitudes may prefer a ‘Healing Mountain’. It is important to connect the landscape to the community as then those going there to undergo their difficult experiences will be able to relate more to it. Sacred space appears to be a key part of all human culture, whether we have a religion or not, as I explore in my ‘Sacred Spaces’ article (7).

Another important reason for having the space in nature is that those who live there permanently as supporters for people in need of care will have to be grounded in non-human nature as well as deeply understanding of human psychology; as David Abram eloquently puts it,

“the primary role of the indigenous shaman [is] a role that cannot be fulfilled without long and sustained exposure to wild nature, to its patterns and vicissitudes.” (8)

Modern Shamans?

Those who work in such a place as may be created as the Healing Forest, Valley, Mountain or others may have some professional similarities with shamans of traditional societies, though they perhaps prefer not to be called shamans themselves. For although this idea of a static Kosmicare available in every town and community is not so different from the traditional role of shamans in indigenous tribal cultures, the fact that we have our own, literate, abstracted, diversified, flexible and, to a huge extent, highly individualised cultures means that such an endeavour will be not simply an emulation of older societies but the creation of a new cultural paradigm.

Grand words, perhaps; though in reality the adventure will be quite simple. All that is needed is a few willing people, a corner of land and some imagination.

In the meantime, Kosmicare UK will continue creating spaces at festivals throughout the country, beginning in the spring of 2016. Even if you are not experiencing psychological or drug-related difficulties, look out for us! You may well find some positive surprises.

References

  1. Kosmicare UK, 2015. ‘About Us’. http://www.kosmicareuk.org/about-us/
  2. Alfredo López Austin : Tamoanchan, Tlalocan. U Pr of Co, 1997.
  3. Campbell, J, 1949. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Pantheon: New York City
  4. Halifax, J, 1988. Shaman: The Wounded Healer. Thames & Hudson: London
  5. Marohn, S and Somé, M.P, 2014. ‘What a Shaman sees in a Mental Hospital’. Waking Times, 22/8/2014. http://www.wakingtimes.com/2014/08/22/shaman-sees-mental-hospital/
  6. Russell, D, 2014. ‘How a West African Shaman Helped my Schizophrenic Son in a way Western Medicine Couldn’t’. Washington Post, 24/3/14. https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/03/24/how-a-west-african-shaman-helped-my-schizophrenic-son-in-a-way-western-medicine-couldnt/
  7. Haworth, C, 2015. ‘Sacred Spaces’. Abundance Garden, 3/3/15. https://abundancedancegarden.wordpress.com/2015/03/03/sacred-spaces/
  8. Abram, D, 1996. The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World. Vintage Books: New York City

Kosmicare: Cosmic Care at Festivals helping to create positive societal change – Part 1

Last weekend we witnessed a highly significant event as the shadow of our planet passed over the Moon. This as a visible phenomenon is impressive enough without having any idea what it could mean; but theories also abound about the significance of the Lunar Eclipse with regards to human psychology. One such theory (1) is that it is evocative of psychologist Carl Jung’s idea of the “shadow self” (2). Perhaps it is no coincidence, then, that last weekend also saw the manifestation of Goa Cream Festival, the first event held to raise funds entirely for Kosmicare UK (3), a voluntary organisation devoted to helping people at festivals who are experiencing psychological difficulties. As may be imagined, this involves a huge diversity of activity, much of which can arguably be applied not only in the context of a festival but in society at large as well.

What is Kosmicare?

Kosmicare UK is a group providing welfare for those at festivals who may be experiencing psychological difficulties, or who are feeling lost, uncomfortable or unhappy. The group is specifically set up to “focus on support for people having difficult drug related experiences and work alongside traditional first aid providers to relieve strain by providing specialised care” (3); as there are a huge range of situations involving drugs where the user may require care and attention, yet to only give them medical attention may miss out on treating their true need, as well as placing unnecessary work on medically trained professionals who are better equipped to deal with physical or straightforward mental symptoms. Modelled on Kosmicare, the pioneer project set up at Boom Festival in 2002 (4), the organisation works closely with the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Substances (MAPS) (5) as well as many other individuals from medical, artistic and academic backgrounds (3).

Psychedelic First Aid

The type of help provided by Kosmicare is difficult to put into words, as the welfare comes not only from the volunteers but from the spaces which Kosmicare create at festivals, and from the atmosphere encouraged. There is usually a large bell tent, decorated in a peaceful manner, full of cushions, duvets and blankets and kept as a quiet and contemplative space for those in need of it. As well as this there is a less quiet but just as comfortable space for more conversational relaxation. Then there is the fire encircled with seats, which is kept burning throughout the hours of darkness, every night of the festival. This last space was especially important at Goa Cream, held as it was in the last week of September in the Worcestershire hills.

Space
The spaces created by Kosmicare are important not only as physical places but as components of the atmosphere engendered by them. Kosmicare is at its heart a “tribe”; the volunteers generally sleep close to or in the Kosmicare area, cook and eat together, and provide support for each other as well as the personal support given to each visitor to Kosmicare. Festivals are designed for people to have fun and all Kosmicare volunteers I have met understand that we are here to have a good time; though we have allocated shifts, caring never feels like work, and carers who are not on shift regularly hang around the area as the atmosphere is so friendly.

This tribal, familiar attitude is reflected in the open-minded and welcoming nature of the volunteers and in the acceptance that whatever substance someone has ingested, and whatever kind of time they may be having, there can still be an opportunity for personal growth and positivity. This can be seen as especially important with any kind of entheogens, which as the Kosmicare website puts it,
“have played a pivotal role in the spiritual practices of ancient cultures for millennia, and historically were taken in a tribal context with the support of the tribe and a shaman.” (3)

Though such experiences may be terrifying at times, the support element means that whatever happens during the ritual or trip, there are experienced people around who can help to some extent.

Symbols and Symptons

Ritual tribal practises have what could be seen as an added safety element in that they generally involve metaphors and significant stories which are familiar to all in the tribe and whose meanings have both been thoroughly explored and are not taken literally. For example, the peyote rituals of the Wixaritari people involve a carefully ritualised pilgrimage to the place where the peyote cactus grows, during which the participants take on roles of specific significant deities and pass a number of sacred spaces (6).

Such attention to and sacralising of the natural non-human environment, as well as metaphors to explain or narrate human events, are common throughout human history and have been remarked upon by many scholars as involving the same symbols regardless of where or when the culture may be creating them – for more on this see for example Campbell (1949) (7) and Abram (1986) (8). The interesting thing about this similarity in themes and metaphors is that even if individuals in a culture do not have defining metaphors of their own, their psychology will spontaneously produce them (7); prompting Jung to term our shared ideas of symbols as the “collective unconscious” (9).

How can we deal with such symbols in as useful and mutually beneficial a way as possible? For some ideas, keep checking this blog for Part 2!

References
1.    Astrostyle, 2015. ‘Solar and Lunar Eclipses’. http://astrostyle.com/learn-astrology/solar-and-lunar-eclipses/
2.   Jung, C.G. (1938). “Psychology and Religion.” In CW 11: Psychology and Religion: West and East. P.131
3.  Kosmicare UK, 2015. ‘About Us’. http://www.kosmicareuk.org/about-us/
4.  Boom Festival, 2014. ‘Kosmicare’. http://www.boomfestival.org/boom2014/boomguide/kosmicare/
5.  MAPS, 2015. ‘Mission’. https://www.maps.org/about/mission
6.  Alfredo López Austin : Tamoanchan, Tlalocan. U Pr of Co, 1997.
7.    Campbell, J, 1949. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Pantheon: New York City
8.    Abram, D, 1996. The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World. Vintage Books: New York City
9.   Jung, C, 1953. Collected Works vol. 7, “The Structure of the Unconscious” (1916), 437–507. (pp. 263–292).

Sacred Spaces

All photos by David Ashwanden

A lot of the time, one hears tales of natural landscapes being destroyed: flourishing, paradisal ecosystems interrupted to make way for what generally seems to be a poor exchange: a bit of petroleum, perhaps; a shopping centre, or even a parking lot.

Raising awareness of such operations is important, and the question of whether or not a particular piece of land should be developed often seems even more pertinent when the land in question has a deep cultural or spiritual significance. Yet it seems equally important to explore how we relate to such events, and the extent to which we understand our own impact on sacred spaces.

Mt. Bromo

Saving Space

It seems for every environmentally-destructive operation there is a reaction against such destruction. One example is Greenpeace’s Stop the Tar Sands campaign (1), whose focus is on the destruction of Athabasca, the ancestral homeland of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (2). Though Athabasca is in modern day Canada, the campaign is based in the UK; a recognition that in our increasingly interconnected world we can have an affect on things seemingly far away from us. Another example of this is the case of Quemado. Quemado is a mountain in Mexico which is currently the home of a community of Wixarikas (known in Spanish as Huichol), who have one of the oldest unbroken pagan traditions in the world (3) – i.e. they are still practicing more or less the same rituals which they have practised for thousands of years, rather than is the case with many earth-worshipping traditions, which have been revived after being lost (see for example 4). Quemado has recently come to the attention of some people in the UK, as the Wixarikas’ homeland is being threatened by plans from the Canadian First Majestic Silver Corp and Real Bonanza (6), who both wish to dig up the mountain in order to extract silver from it. This article (5) reports on how the Wixarika used to inhabit the Wirikuta Desert, a place which still remains holy to them and to which they still continue to make a month-long pilgrimage each year in order to harvest the sacred plants which grow there.

The definition of holy

It seems clear that there are many better things which could happen to Quemado Mountain than to be turned into one more habitat-destroying and inefficient mine; and it is admirable that people are taking up the cry of those whose homes are threatened by such entities as the Canadian First Majestic Silver Corp. One thing that seems as though it could be seen from a slightly different perspective, however, is the article’s pointing out the fact that Quemado is a holy mountain – so even more reason for it to be respected. Yet the article itself points out that the Wixarika only live in El Quemado now because they moved there to escape various waves of colonialism in Mexico; “conquistadors, missionaries, slavers, settlers, ranchers, and the murderous Catholic fundamentalists, Los Cristeros”; and even consumer-capitalism (5). Their ancestral holy place is the desert to which they travel every year for the sacred mescalito or peyote (Lophophora Williamsii) harvest. This is not to say that El Quemado is not holy or should not be respected; but rather to throw into question the whole idea of how to define what is holy anyway. the article seems to imply respect for the Wixarika’s homeland as a sacred space; yet the website it is published on is a UK-based one, far away from the mountain in question and the culture which is being held up as admirable; one whose people have “pure open hearts, extreme honesty, zero bullshit, a genuine spiritual focus, utter reverence for Nature, and who exist in a permanent and instantly tangible magical reality” (5).

Perhaps one way in which we can truly learn from such a culture is to bring this kind of thinking into our own lives. The mountain was not holy before the Wixarikas moved onto it; what does this say about mountains? What does it say about the places where you live?

Making Sense of Where we Are

It is of great importance to respect the world in which we live, and if anyone feels they see an imbalance which they wish to set right, they should try to change it. But any change we attempt to make “out there” is going to be severely reduced if we do not look at how we can create more harmony and balance in our own lives. Where you live, is there a place which is generally worshipped? Does your culture make a pilgrimage to somewhere special?

Chances are, if you live somewhere like the UK then your immediate answer to such questions would be “no”. Yet it is worth thinking into this a little. Perhaps you do not feel a particular pull from the place you live; but why do you live there? Maybe there are no places deemed “special” by your country, race, belief system, town, village or even friends which you relate to – but isn’t there somewhere which you find special? This could be anywhere; from the particular way your room feels when you sit in that chair at a certain time of day, to the notable majesty of the tree you pass on your way to work every day. If there are special places in your life which you like to visit, take a moment to consider what makes them attractive to you. Perhaps it is that you can relax there; that you feel a sense of beauty or peace, or you can come together with friends or family and so feel more connected and integrated.

It's amazing what you can find that is special. Photo by David Ashwanden

It’s amazing what you can find that is special. Photo by David Ashwanden

The examples of what such places could be are as many as there are people. It is worth recognising, however, that if you have somewhere which evokes any of those feelings in you, this could also be defined as “holy”. That doesn’t mean that you need to start a religion about it; merely that it commands your respect, and therefore, perhaps, it can help you feel more respect towards yourself and by extension, to everyone else.

Feeling the connection

That you can make your own life more magical by respecting your immediate environment still extends to the rest of the world. Yet rather than following campaigns whose stated aim is the prohibition of something – such as stopping the tar sands – it may be more helpful to look at what we can create. In choosing to sacred-ise the world around us we can help to engender a culture of mutual appreciation. For example, rather than trying to decry the silver companies, which after all are made up of humans who almost all probably believe they are doing the right thing, it may be more beneficial to look at how your own activities fit into the proposed mine. Silver is used a lot for jewellery and decorations; but much more of it is used to create electronic equipment such as phones and laptops (6). Perhaps by choosing to reduce the demand for silver, by using recycled electronic goods and opting for products such as Fairphone (7) over brand-new goods, we can show that the silver mine is not only destructive to the ecosystems around it and to the Wixarika culture, but it is itself irrelevant.

Mt. Arjuna

Making Sacred Spaces

Your holy place could be anywhere; from the local nightclub where you never fail to let loose and have fun with your friends, to that quiet bend in the river under the cliffs where you sit alone, undisturbed by all except the occasional passing sheep. The key thing about the Wixarikas is that they made the Quemado Mountain holy when they began living there. They show their respect to and appreciation for the mountain in countless ways. One admirable thing which humans have is the ability to change our environment. When done carelessly and without thought this leads to such clear ecological disasters as the Athabasca Oil Sands and the Canadian First Majestic Silver Corp’s plans for El Quemado. Yet when done with conscientious respect it is marvellous what we can create.

Feel like you don't have your own 'sacred space'? Maybe you can create one...Photo by David Ashwanden

Feel like you don’t have your own ‘sacred space’? Maybe you can create one…Photo by David Ashwanden

References

  1. Greenpeace, 2015. ‘Stop theTar Sands’. http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/campaigns/climate-change/stop-the-tar-sands/

  2. Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, 2015. ‘About’. http://www.acfn.com/#!about/c1enr

  3. Stacy B. Schaefer, Peter T. Furst, People of the peyote: Huichol Indian history, religion & survival. UNM Press, 1998. p. 236

  4. Bonewits, I, 1979/2007. “Defining Paganism: Paleo-, Meso- and Neo”. http://www.neopagan.net/PaganDefs.html

  5. Psychic Deli, 2013. “Occupy Quemado: Holy Mountain or Holey Mountain?” Psychedelic Press, 1/3/13. http://psypressuk.com/2013/03/01/occupy-quemado-holy-mountain-or-holey-mountain/

  6. Lewis, Dr J, 2012. “Huichol Indians Protest Silver Mining Plan at Sacred Mountains”. Silverseek, 23/2/12

  7. Ferre, E.C, 2015. “The Many Uses of Silver”. http://geology.com/articles/uses-of-silver/

  8. Fairphone, 2015. “About Us”.www.fairphone.com/story