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Phanerothyme: A Western Approach to the
Religious Use of Psychochemicals
by Lisa Bieberman



Originally published in pamphlet form by the Psychedelic Information Center, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Copyright 1968 by Lisa Bieberman.


This essay has been difficult to write. It is very hard to talk about religious matters. It is harder still to discuss them in connection with a subject phanerothymic drugs which is so fraught with misconceptions and emotion. There is a great temptation to say what one thinks somebody wants to hear on one side or another. There is also a temptation to rely on somebody else’s work, for there has been much written on the religious import of psychedelics.

The latter temptation has been made weaker in my case by the fact that I do not recognize my own experience in very much of what has been written. This is also, of course, one of the reasons why this pamphlet had to be written. There is a variety of psychedelic experience which I cannot be alone in enjoying and indeed I know from private conversations that I am not but which has been very little spoken of in the literature. I have called this experience “phanerothyme” to distinguish it from all the other varieties. I believe it is closer to the Western, Judaeo-Christian heritage than to the oriental philosophies which are most often invoked to interpret the drug experience. For this reason it may make sense to some readers who have not found an understanding of their experience in the existing literature. It may also antagonize some, because it makes value judgments and draws distinctions.

I make no contention that my experience is the only or the typical form of response to these drugs. Others have described their experiences in radically different terms, and I cannot say they are not sincere. On the other hand, I will not suspend all critical judgment and say that one philosophy of psychedelic drug use is as good as another. My observations have led me to believe that some are destructive, and that they cannot be maintained over any length of time, however intellectually appealing they may be at the moment they are propounded.

Perhaps the use of a booklet like this is not that it will be believed or agreed with at the first reading but that it will function as a reminder of an alternative approach when some of the current approaches prove unrewarding. Many psychedelics users are becoming disillusioned with the philosophies that have been offered them. Some of these have been philosophies attractive to the adolescent and not sustainable into maturity. Misled by false lures of simple answers to all his problems, the disillusioned “acidhead,” still bitter towards his society, turns to some other cultish panacea or, cynically, begins to exploit the movement that exploited him. The one thing that seldom occurs to him is that the fundamental values of his own religious heritage are consistent with, and confirmed by, the ideals he has glimpsed in moments of chemically triggered illumination.

The ideas expressed in this pamphlet have developed out of some dozen phanerothymic sessions over the past five years. The sessions and the ideas, bolstered by non-drug experience, have reinforced one another, and have become the guideposts of my life, not always lived up to, but always available for reference, and for reconfirmation at the next session.

I believe that they can be confirmed by others, with the help of the guidelines set down in my manual, Session Games People Play [1]. I also believe that they can be the basis for a fellowship of phanerothymists one that would have more staying power than any psychedelic organization that exists at the time of this writing a fellowship which would be worthy of the loyalty of its members and which could survive any attempt to suppress the phanerothymic drugs.

There has been some question in my mind as I wrote, as to whether I should address this essay to drug users or to nonusers, the positive message being the same, but the emphases, types of misconceptions to be corrected, etc., being different. What I have hoped is that the gap between these groups could be somewhat narrowed. There is no jargon in this booklet that would make it incomprehensible to those unfamiliar with psychedelics, but I hope it will also be read by people who have taken or are thinking of taking one of these drugs, as the need for a new approach to the drug experience is especially relevant for this group. There has been enough argumentation directed to non-users by users in order to justify their behavior, and I doubt I could add much to it. Any such message that this writing may have will be for those non-users who are sufficiently open minded to recognize a fellow being struggling to express more or-less universal concerns. If this helps break down any stereotypes and make the phanerothymist a bit less alien, it will serve a purpose.

In no sense is it meant to persuade anybody to take any drug. My feeling about this is that the social situation is so unfavorable, and good guidance so hard to find, that most people who are in doubt, especially young people, would do best to wait until organized and aboveboard settings become available.

I have not herein discussed the alleged “dangers” of phanerothymic drugs. Any scientifically adequate discussion of all the dangers that have at one time or another been attributed to these substances would lead us far afield into technical and statistical questions, and would in itself be a subject for a book of greater length than this one. Probably such a book would be quickly dated, since the particular fears that are associated with these drugs seem to undergo popularity variations over the course of time. It will suffice to say here that phanerothymists do not believe phanerothyme is dangerous when properly used. That it may be harmful when improperly used, and that it is, in fact, widely abused, are facts most of us would readily admit. We see the solution to this problem in the direction of greater understanding of phanerothyme, its proper use and positive potentials, rather than in efforts to destroy phanerothyme or its users. We believe that systematic research (as opposed to sensational propaganda found in the popular press) bears out this view.



To make this mundane world sublime
Take half a gram of phanerothyme.
Aldous Huxley

To sink in hell or soar angelic
You’ll need a pinch of psychedelic.
Humphry Osmond

Thus ran the exchange between two pioneers in the study of those drugs to which it was so difficult to give a name, because it was so difficult to summarize and classify what it was that the chemicals did. Dr. Osmond’s entry won the popularity contest, and today the word “psychedelic” is so well known that it is commonly used in advertisements. But its meaning has become more clouded as its fame increased.

What is psychedelic? A style of lettering on posters? The deafening throb of a rock band? Kaleidoscopic light effects that tire the eyes? Or anything at all that one wishes to sell? The psychedelic fashions will pass, and the word “psychedelic” may have to go with them. It may have lost its ability to refer to an elusive and precious state of consciousness. Say “psychedelic” and you hear the glib voice of the salesman, the hypocritical tones of the mystifier, the rationalizing chatter of the dissipated and purposeless. But this was not what Humphry Osmond meant by the word.

“Psychedelic” was a good word. A sick society has degraded its referent and thus the name. We need a new name and a new concept. So phanerothyme, to make this mundane world sublime. But not, as some might think, to gain but a brief illusion of sublimity amidst a mundane world; but to perceive the true sublimity of creation and, in reverence and loyalty to what we have seen, to make our mundane selves sublime.

This booklet is an attempt to express the concept I shall call phanerothyme [2], by which I mean, not every use to which men have put peyote, LSD and their relatives, but that function which they have when used in the best way. That I believe there is a right way will become clear in the following pages.

Thus to assert value judgments in connection with the use of these substances is unacceptable to some of the psychedelic people. There has grown up a fetish among drug advocates of never making any moral distinctions, but always saying: this is one way of proceeding; there are many, many others. This has led us to a state of affairs in which LSD is taken in anarchy, without purpose, discipline or understanding. Only the most extreme apologists of the “psychedelic movement” will maintain that great good has come of this. Only the most callous will invoke some notion of “transcending good and evil” to justify ignoring the squalor, sickness, hopelessness and inhumanity that abound in the “hippy” ghettos conditions that appear to be exacerbated by the misuse of psychedelic drugs.

Phanerothyme and my common sense, which two counselors seldom contradict one another, tell me that values are necessary to life and sanity, and that one way of proceeding is not just as good as another. No one need be resentful if I assert my convictions. My words do not bring with them a policeman to enforce them as law; indeed they could not even if I had any power, because that which I am urging is of the mind and will. I trust that it may at least be said, and hope that there will be some with ears.

For our dictionary: phanerothyme: (1) a state of mental and spiritual clarity, achieved through the responsible and reverent use of certain plants or drugs, such as peyote, mescaline, psilocybin and LSD; (2) certain drugs, when used for the sake of phanerothyme (1).

There was always some confusion as to whether the term “psychedelic” should be reserved for the indole and related group of drugs, or applied broadly to such substances as nutmeg, marijuana, atropine, glue fumes and other substances which afford some sort of intoxication. Call “psychedelic” what you will, but by phanerothyme shall be meant only those substances to the use of which a sober religious purpose is appropriate; those substances of which the occasions of ingestion mark milestones in one’s life, to which one looks long after the event for encouragement and faith. In my opinion this does not include cannabis. I know of no phanerothyme that is not an indole-type chemical except mescaline.

This categorization has nothing to do with whether one hallucinates or experiences euphoria or other stereotyped notions of the psychedelic. Contrary to common opinion, hallucinations are not a usual nor a desirable aspect of phanerothyme. The test is not how magnificent the visions, but rather how clear is the understanding obtained, and the test of clarity is its applicability to the decisions of daily life. Still, phanerothyme cannot be completely defined, because there remains that which is recognized by the experiencer, who will know phanerothyme from any mere hallucinogen, intoxicant or stimulant. I do not intend any mystification by this. It is probable that phanerothyme works by certain pharmacological pathways different from those by which other drugs work and that scientists may some day be able to say whether a substance has this capacity by merely examining its chemical formula. The capacity only for a drug becomes phanerothyme only by the intent of the receiver. Without the right intent and the right chemical there is no phanerothyme.

* * *

There is a question about whether to discuss phanerothyme directly, trying to describe the experience, or indirectly, to discuss what it teaches. The psychedelic literature has leaned heavily toward the former approach the magazines and books are filled with accounts of people’s experiences, while discotheque managers and makers of avant-garde films try vainly to reproduce “the trip” with colored lights and electronic paraphernalia. In the course of my work running a Psychedelic Information Center I have listened to the point of boredom to people trying to give blow-by-blow accounts of the sensations they experienced after taking the drug.

To me there seems something a little sacrilegious about this. Efforts to describe the phanerothymic experience almost invariably trivialize it, or at least distort it to the point of inevitable misunderstanding. Critics of drug use usually address themselves to the practice as if it involved mainly the experiencing of a set of bizarre, perhaps pleasant, but irrelevant sensations. This is no wonder, when so many people refer to the drug occasion as a “trip,” and so many of those publicized as spokesmen for the psychedelic movement stress sensation to the point of inundating the bystander who wanders into their establishments with garish colors, deafening sounds, incense and flickering lights.

The historical literature of religious experience contains some impressive accounts, as William James has effectively documented. These writers, however, wrote in a time when mystical experiences were comparatively rare, and their origin mysterious and unpredictable often they were the outcome of long searching. Those who had them might be assumed to be individuals of more than usual sensitivity and dedication. There was thus some point in their trying to describe what had happened to them. Today, however, when a psychedelic experience of some kind is to be had by swallowing a capsule, and an eager press grabs up the most inane expositions of what it is like, it is questionable whether there is any value in adding to the over loaded literature one more subjective description. Such descriptions have the effect of concentrating on the twelve or sixteen hours that follow ingestion of the substance, to the detriment of the emphasis that should be placed on its role as an integral part of an ongoing life, most of which must be lived in a non-drugged condition.

There are, to be sure, a series of pharmacological events which produce unusual sensations during the drug’s action. Clinical accounts in scientific publications soberly recount these peripheral effects as though they represented the whole impact of the drug. During an LSD session I once tried to write such an account as might appear in one of these journals. I set it up in outline form, listing under “A” the effects on each of my senses (there were rather few), under “B” the effect on the speed and continuity of my thoughts, and under “C” the alteration of my emotional mood. The next line of type reads “D. What are we going to do about D?” In “D” in all that was left unsaid lay the essence and meaning of the experience, but there was no place for it in an account such as that.

Let us rather, then, take our lead from the American Indians, who never describe the effects of peyote, but place their emphasis on what peyote teaches. In David Aberle’s The Peyote Religion Among the Navaho we read that the Indians do not discuss the effects of the cactus during their Meeting. This strikes me as a wholesome custom, and a great improvement over the habits of many drug users of our culture, whose session conversation is overloaded with comments like, “Wow, this is really good acid.”

* * *

The word that comes spontaneously to mind in my sessions, to describe what phanerothyme teaches, is “simplicity.” The LSD experience, I have discovered (with astonishment, because this is not how it is advertised) is simple. It is not bizarre, but clear. It is not orgiastic, but peaceful. When thus simplified, the confusion and clutter of my everyday life is put in its proper place, and the underlying realities and values come to the fore. A characteristic of this simplified state is that in it I am able to believe, indeed can hardly help believing, certain rather simple-minded things, the character of which is that everybody has always known them. At least it feels as though everybody has always known them. I am aware that most of them have been denied.

Nevertheless I assert, much as a child would assert, that “everybody knows” that: the world is real; the God who created it is alive, and will stay that way; life has meaning; there is a difference between good and evil; all men and women were once children, and we all will die; all people are sinners; we could all love God and our neighbor a little better than we do; each of us is responsible for his own soul.

My apologies for the absence of definitions and logical completeness. I am not presenting a logical system. I’m just trying to give a sense of the sort of religious frame of mind that phanerothyme puts me into.

This experience is so convincing that I cannot but continue to believe in it when the session is over, even though I have never had a full-blown phanerothymic experience that was not reached with the aid of a substance such as LSD or morning glory seeds. I have not been inclined, as many have, to search for a way to be “high” all of the time. This is not one of the messages that phanerothyme gave me. It tells me to live the best life I can, and to return to the state of phanerothymic simplicity at infrequent intervals to check on how I’m doing, and to reaffirm the basic truths. In practice this turns out to be about three times a year. There is no doubt in my mind that the discipline of waiting three or four months between sessions has made these experiences more meaningful. It is all too easy to forget the religious content of the experience and to remember only the ecstatic glow which sometimes accompanies it, and to rush back into phanerothyme within a week or so. In the early phases of my experimentation I have sometimes done this, only to be told by phanerothyme in no uncertain terms: What are you doing up here? You’re supposed to be doing your work down there! Simplicity as a state of mind is delightfully clear it sits there unapologetically and just is, needing no explanation.

Simplicity as a way of life turns out, paradoxically, to be somewhat complex. Every child knows that one should do something good and nothing bad. But how in a complex and hypocritical world is this to be accomplished? Thoreau wrote: “A man has not everything to do, but something; and because he cannot do everything, it is not necessary that he should do something wrong.” Yet he also wrote: “We are double-edged blades, and every time we whet our virtue the return stroke straps our vice.”

Simplicity knows that the state of a man’s soul is more important than his material wealth, but it also knows that without a certain security in the necessities of life, few people can be very spiritual, or very much use in doing good.

Simplicity has a child’s faith in God, and like a child cannot define Him, but unlike a child, knows that it cannot.

Simplicity knows the necessity of being sincere, and the subtle impossibility of being sincere on purpose. Given the paradox, it tries anyway.

Simplicity knows the need to devote oneself to some good cause, and the danger that one may be working only for his own ego-satisfaction. Given the paradox, it does the work anyway.

It does its best to be humble without being proud of it. It tries to face its own weaknesses without getting neurotic about them. It treads the fine line between complacency and moral hypochondriasis. It is realistic but never cynical, and prefers to err, if it must, on the side of optimism.

Phanerothyme strengthens resolution and stability. It does this in part because the session is itself an exercise in patience. When one has remained quietly in one’s place for the twelve or more long, intense hours of a phanerothymic session, one feels prepared to exercise a more long-range deliberation and patience in one’s life calling. Carelessly conducted, however, the drug session has just the opposite effect.

Overfrequent users of LSD are noted for their vacillation and inability to stick to a plan. Loyalty to the phanerothymic message calls for patient waiting between sessions until the predetermined time interval has elapsed. A person who has had an intense phanerothymic experience knows that it should not be repeated soon. If he breaks this resolve, he is conditioning himself to hold other insights of the session lightly. If he keeps it, along with agreed upon rules for the conduct of the session, he will discover a kind of strength that can never be known by the person who follows every whim.

Phanerothyme has left me with a love of nature, a desire to be honest with myself and others, and a desire to commit myself to some worthwhile purpose. This sense of commitment has been a very important part of my phanerothymic experience. I emphasize it because it seems to be lacking in many psychedelic people. They are content to be passive experiencers, to drift about letting things happen, without feeling a responsibility to bring anything about, presumably on the premise that, since God is running the universe, He doesn’t need any help from man. I agree that God is running the universe, but I think He meant for people to help themselves and each other. Again I have no logic for this, it is just one of the things that presents itself as self-evident in the phanerothymic session.

Phanerothyme tells me that I have a commitment to the experience, to be true to it and to try to live the kind of life it suggests to me as good. But in addition, it tells me to devote

myself to the task of creating a home in the world for the phanerothymic people a place where they can have this sacred experience in simplicity and honesty, without fear, rebellion or bitterness. This is quite a personal goal, and obviously it cannot and should not be everybody’s goal. Other people have other purposes in life to fulfill. It is not for me to say what others should do, but I do feel that everyone has something to do something that is of value to his fellow man.

A common aspect of the phanerothymic experience is a distaste, almost a physical revulsion, for everything phony or aggressively materialistic. This is a healthy disgust which can help lead to a personal life that is more natural and honest. Too often, however, among young drug users, the reaction is to drop all responsibility for one’s material welfare, even to the point of living in slums and sponging off others for support. This is not healthy or constructive. The challenge lies in finding ways of providing for one’s material needs that are worthwhile and can be engaged in honestly. It is to this difficult task that the serious phanerothymist will direct himself, and not to the search for a gimmick that will enable him to live without working.

Although I received my childhood religious training in an evangelical Protestant church, I was an atheistic rationalist throughout most of my adolescent years. It was after I ate morning glory seeds that I started believing in God.

Although I have read some Oriental philosophy, and was attracted to it in my early teens, my experience with phanerothyme did not bring me to interpret the universe in Hindu or Buddhist terms. Rather it asked me to be true to what I know and love best, and I find these things are Western, or at least, that they are as much Western as Eastern. I wonder whether the swing toward Oriental religion and culture among many psychedelic people might be the result of a disenchantment with our own society, and the idea that the grass must be greener on the other side of the globe. I suspect that throughout history there has been as much evil and ugliness in the Orient as in the West, and I wonder why LSD people don’t look for some of the good things in Western traditions which might be pertinent to the psychedelic experience. Among these I would suggest the traditions of the Society of Friends, with their simple meditative form of worship, their love of peace, and their belief in the Inward Light. I would recommend the writings of the American Transcendentalists, particularly Thoreau, who has helped me in many sessions. I think we might also look to the American Indians. After all the only psychedelic religious tradition we know belongs to them. The Orient had hashish, which doesn’t quite make it as phanerothyme, and they had something called soma, which may have been anything from hashish to opium there is no reason to believe it was an indole. But we know that the American Indians had mescaline, psilocybin, and Lysergic acid amide in their sacramental plants, and that they developed a beautiful ritual for the use of peyote. Might it not be more appropriate to look to them for the meaning of these experiences, rather than to the spokesmen of esoteric Eastern sects?

I think many of our people have abandoned too quickly the search for beauty and truth in Western religious and philosophical traditions. If we can find them there, it is surely preferable, because these traditions are more a part of us than anything imported can be. When I look to the forms of art and music that have become characteristic of the “psychedelic style,” I find them curiously remote from the realm of simplicity and peace that LSD has shown me. They are all bizarre and strange, or else they are screaming protests against American society. They make me want to escape to the woods and hills, out of the reach of their jangle, where I can remember who I am and what I am doing on this earth.

* * *

In speaking of the religious use of psychochemicals, one finds one must address oneself to two different sorts of skepticism. On the one hand, there is the skepticism of the non-user, whether religious or not, who can’t see how anything of spiritual value can “come out of a bottle.” On the other, there is that of the casual drug-user, who enjoys the drugs, but doesn’t see why anyone should drag in “all that religion stuff.” In this latter case, one often finds that the user (frequently a young person) has a concept of religion derived from all that was most irrational about his childhood training the duty to sit through boring sermons, the concept of a schoolmaster God on a throne in the sky, a literal notion of heaven and hell, and the like. Finding nothing in his drug experience to remind him of this sort of religion, he assumes that the psychedelic experience is not religious, or that, if it is religious, its interpretation must be found in the traditions most foreign to his training, such as those of India, China or Tibet.

For a few, these oriental religions may be the vehicle for reaching a life-guiding and inspiring faith. I think these are the exception, however, for the Eastern religions are products of the cultures of the people among whom they arose, and their importation into a very different culture often results in a very watered down and gimmicky kind of religion. Our heritage in the Judaeo-Christian tradition is so rich, and so much a part of us, that I think for most individuals it will be far more meaningful to seek an understanding of phanerothyme in that religious tradition with which he is familiar.

It is, of course, open to him to reject all religious interpretations of his experience, but in that case, I feel his use of psychochemicals will be far less rewarding. One cannot repeatedly strip the mind of those shields which protect us from confronting what is ultimate in our lives, simultaneously denying the ultimate, unless one is to systematically blunt one’s consciousness. Such blunting is achieved by frenetic distractions (loud music, crowded parties, aimless chatter) and by such excessive frequency of dosing that the experience becomes commonplace and one is psychologically “immune” to it. Some individuals actually begin drinking alcohol after taking LSD to dull its effect. Others have powerful intellectual defenses; they are always the observer, detached and rationalizing. And of course, in these degenerate times of black-market chemicals, some users get drugs that are so diluted or mixed with other types of drugs, that the material no longer even has a phanerothymic capacity many young people who think they have been taking LSD don’t even know what real LSD is like.

When a religious person takes LSD, he usually has either a religious experience or a “bad trip.” When an irreligious person takes it, he often has a trivial experience that is neither especially good nor very bad. But if he takes the drug in a serious frame of mind, in an environment conducive to meditation, he too may encounter the spiritual dimension and have his outlook permanently changed.

What are we to say to the other skeptic the one who denies the validity of drug-induced religiosity? Well of course, God does not “come from” a bottle. If the divine spark is not present in a human being, no chemical will produce it. If, however, one accepts that every man has the capacity for a direct encounter with God, there should be nothing shocking about the observation that some conditions are more favorable than others for such an experience, and that the chemical state of the brain and nervous system may have a great deal to do with it. Some of the reluctance to acknowledge this possibility probably arises from the conventional image of the “drugged” person, as one in a stuporous, semi-helpless, drunken condition. But anyone who has witnessed an Indian peyote ceremony, or a well conducted LSD or psilocybin session, will realize that this image is totally inappropriate for the phanerothymes. A person in such a session is in full possession of his wits and senses. He prefers to sit quietly, but is perfectly capable of coping with the external situation, if action is called for.

There are probably a large number of individuals for whom phanerothymic drugs are the only means by which they are ever likely to experience a religious encounter. Traditional means may be closed to them, because their intellectual set is turned away from religion. The more drastic assault of the psychochemicals can break them out of this rut. Persons who are naturally mystical, or who have been brought up in a deeply religious home, and who therefore have no need of chemical aids, ought not to despise their use by others less gifted, but should help those struggling with new and little understood revelations which they have gained through drug experience.

Unfortunately the established Christian denominations have shown little interest in the phanerothymic phenomena, except to denounce them, under the rubric of stereotyped and trivialized conceptions of what they are. There are, happily, a few notable exceptions among Christian ministers and philosophers. This is a problem which will require patience on both sides.

The religion of phanerothyme is not “drug religion,” but the same sort of religion other mystics profess that is, a conviction of a divine Reality based on personal encounter, plus interpretation and implementation of the experience, conditioned on the individual’s religious background, personality and situation. The experience, or rather the Reality encountered in the experience, if that distinction can be made, is its focus, not the chemical. The chemical is only a tool. It may or may not be “outgrown.” That is, some phanerothymists feel that once certain things have been learned with the help of the drug, the drug itself should be given up, whereas others find that occasional use of the drug continues to serve a valuable renewing and reminding function. There is no harm in the continued use, provided it is not frequent. Three or four sessions a year is probably the maximum frequency that the drug can be continually used, without some erosion of its spiritual potency or other destructive effects.

Phanerothyme, then, has two functions in the religious life to awaken and to remind. For some the awakening function is enough; they prefer to find their reminders elsewhere. For others the chemical or plant remains the occasion of their highest moments. This latter group is often asked by non-users, “Why do you need to keep taking the drug?” To the phanerothymist, this question is like asking why you need to keep going to church, or why you need to keep celebrating Christmas. These things are not necessities in the sense that one can’t get along without them; they are necessities only in the sense that they are the customs which enrich one’s life, the milestones by which one marks one’s progress along life’s road the things one could, but wouldn’t think of doing without, unless extenuating circumstances required.

Finally there is the skepticism that arises out of the common notion of “getting high,” that suspects the use of phanerothyme to be a great orgiastic lark, pursued for “escape” or “kicks.” But phanerothyme is not always pleasant. Its demands are too great. A phanerothymic session may begin in fun and gaiety, but at least as often it begins in agony and struggle. If the individual is faithful to the light that he knows, and does not let fear keep him from surrendering himself to it, a plateau is reached from which both the agony and the gaiety can be experienced and accepted not indifferently but with a calm strength that wills the good.

* * *

Though phanerothyme cannot be described, it seems to demand communication. Four or five years ago, it was thought that this communication was to be accomplished by giving LSD and such drugs to as many people as possible. Today we know that this is not the answer. Too often, without experienced guidance and preparation, the novice does not know how to use the drug, and misses the phanerothymic revelation. It is not known whether everybody has the capacity to experience this state by chemical means. Research reveals that desperate alcoholics and even autistic children have had profound experiences with LSD. However, even with the best of guidance, the highest results are not obtained in every case. Whether some people just do not have this capacity, or whether greater understanding on the part of the guide will make it possible even for these others, is a question that must wait for time and further research to answer. It is particularly unfortunate, however, when a young person is given the drug in a frivolous or careless setting. The inappropriate ways of handling the session which he learns from his inexperienced companions may become habits, and prevent his coming to phanerothyme from an innocent vantage point.

A certain innocence is almost a prerequisite for phanerothyme. One of the most pervasive distortions in the present use of drugs is that so much of it is illegal. The knowledge that one is defying social rules, and the unconscious or conscious motivation for such defiant behavior that so often accompanies illegal activity, strongly colors the experience. It is not surprising that the best results with LSD and peyote are obtained in settings where their use is legal: in psychotherapy, in certain formal research projects, and among the peyote Indians. Of course there are many factors at work here: the legality of the setting makes possible the use of good quality drugs and facilitates the conscious structuring of the session. It also leads to pleasanter settings and the absence of the “paranoia” so often reported by illegal users.

There is also another aspect which should not be overlooked. The individual taking phanerothyme legally is acting in cooperation with society, that is, with the large body of his fellow men. This reinforces the natural desire felt in the session to live peacefully and helpfully among one’s neighbors. It rescues the session from preoccupation with the questions of how to justify one’s behavior to others, and how to go about winning legality for it, or, in the most degenerate case, how to conceal it. As long as phanerothymists are in a defensive position about their way of life, their usefulness in society will be minimized. They will be alienated, preoccupied with protecting themselves. They may be unable to speak freely about their experience or may sense a certain distortion even when they are trying to speak honestly. I am well aware that this applies to me as well as to others. All of my sessions have been under circumstances that would to some degree be considered illegitimate by many members of society; I have not had other opportunities. I have tried to rise above this handicap and to report what I have found as I see it, rather than as I think others would like to hear it; however it is only fair to acknowledge that my perception may have been distorted by my semi-outlaw status.

The impulse to live a pure and clean life, erring, if one must err, on the side of scrupulousness, is strongly reinforced by phanerothyme, because it makes one see one’s limitations, the many ways in which one can err, and the beauty of a simple and honest life. For this reason it makes me unhappy to break the law for phanerothyme’s sake, and I look forward to a time when this will no longer be necessary.

How might phanerothyme be used if there were no legal obstacles? We have a good example available in the Native American Church, the organized peyote religion of the American Indians. The details of the peyote meeting have been described often and fully enough elsewhere [3] so that there is no need for me to elaborate on them the circle around a fire, the whistle blown to the four corners of the earth, the staff that passes around the circle for each individual to sing or speak in turn, the four officers each with his function in the meeting, the single peyote button placed on a crescent altar representing the Peyote Road or path of life. Following the peyote road, say the Indians, means living a sober, faithful life, being honest and diligent in one’s work, caring for family and community. No anthropologist who ever studied the peyote religion thought it was a degenerate practice or a cover-up for orgies. What strikes one when reading the books and articles that have been written about this custom is the obvious simple reverence and sincerity of the Indians. Here is none of the ambiguity about whether one is engaging in a religious or a rebellious or hedonistic act which hardly any of the new, illicit users are free of. Here is no contrived metaphysical hocus-pocus, such as one finds in some of the psychedelic writings, suggesting the need to justify something by weaving about it an occult theory which outsiders cannot understand. The religious beliefs the Indians express are such as might be found in any Christian church, and they are expressed without embarrassment.

Tradition makes the difference. The Indians are enacting a custom which has been practiced by their people for many generations [4]. They are not acting from rebellion. Their meeting has a definite pattern which is accepted and followed, so that there is no confusion as to what should be done or what is going to happen. This undoubtedly makes for a degree of security and single-mindedness which the white phanerothymist but rarely achieves, and probably accounts for the fact that we hear of no “psychotic episodes” among the peyotists. Yet the Indians have had their own legal and social battles to fight, and have encountered strenuous opposition, sometimes from without and sometimes within their tribes. In this very year of writing state courts have had to rule on the Indian’s right to use peyote. The battle by now however is largely won. The right is already recognized by the Federal Food and Drug Administration and the recent court decisions have all been favorable. The long standing of the tradition, the obvious sincerity of the Indians, and their ability to handle peyote safely has stood in their favor.

Modern non-Indian phanerothymists cannot acquire overnight the benefits of an ancient tradition, nor can they assimilate the Indian culture. They have, however, cultural traditions of their own which can be brought to bear on the phanerothymic session, to the mutual enrichment of both.

In building our own phanerothymic tradition we must keep in mind the nature of phanerothyme and our need to live in harmony with our fellow-men the non-phanerothymist majority.

Sessions must be structured, both because the structured setting releases the mind from petty decision-making, and in order that others may understand what we are doing at least to the extent that it does not frighten them. The nature of the structure should be a matter of open record. This has the dual purpose of providing security for the novice participant, in that he knows what is expected, and of communication with the rest of society. If our practices have to be defended against those who would destroy them, there should be no question about what those practices are.

The structure should be extremely simple. In this point I think we should depart somewhat from the Indian precedent, with its many symbols and rituals. To import them into the sessions of non-Indians would be somewhat contrived. The use of such trappings as prayer cigarettes, meaningful to the Indian because of his traditional use of tobacco as a symbol of peace and harmony, would not make sense for the non-Indian American whose associations are quite different. The main element I think we should carry over from the Indian example is the concept of the session as a group endeavor, in which every participant contributes to the whole. This makes wandering off from the group unthinkable and “paranoia” irrelevant; it is understood that all are there to help one another.

If I were setting up an ideal session locus, I would choose a room with bare walls and plain furniture, and windows through which trees can be seen. It would need no recorded music. It would need no gimmicks. On seeing a televised LSD therapy session, in which a patient was handed a rose, a phanerothymist friend remarked: “Doesn’t she know that when they cut that rose for her, they killed it?” Perhaps this seems like splitting hairs, but I am for avoiding any suggestion that the participant is an invalid. Phanerothyme has a tenderness, an anxiety lest one hurt any living thing, which should be carefully respected.

The simplest and most beautiful structure for a religious meeting I know of is that which the Quakers use, in their silent worship. Phanerothymists who come into contact with this method of worship are almost always impressed by it. (Those who are unfamiliar with the Friends’ style of meeting might read Howard Collier’s The Quaker Meeting [5] and then attend one.) I do not think we could do better in the conduct of phanerothymic sessions than to emulate this practice, beginning in silence, speaking rarely and only when we are given a message to share with the whole group. I would make only a little more provision for physical comfort, since the phanerothyme session lasts not an hour but an entire day, and would relax the structure after the eighth hour to permit freer conversation and refreshment.

To underground psychedelic drug takers, accustomed to the haphazard “trips” that result when LSD is taken without planning, whenever and wherever it happens to become available, even this degree of structure might seem extraordinary. This is one of the main reasons many of them get so little out of psychedelics another being overuse.

Underlying the value of any formal structure must be the sincere intent to learn what phanerothyme has to teach, to support one’s companions in their search, and to put the insights gained into practice in living. Indeed, without such intent, there may be drugs and drug effects but there is no phanerothyme. For we have defined the latter first as a state of mind and only secondly as the chemicals that facilitate it. Let us, then, not encourage careless use of drugs, but let us seek freedom for phanerothyme, for anything that can help us make this world a bit more sublime ought neither to be suppressed nor squandered.



A little way from the village, 
Where the hill begins to climb,
There is a narrow, winding road
That was left behind by time.

Hay Road (Brower Brown Chase Webb) starts from Centre Avenue (not really an Avenue) and goes nowhere. Once long ago it went through to Old Concord Road, but somebody who lives up that end (Mrs. Brown?) had it blocked off. So now there come here only Brower, Brown, Chase, Webb, the milkman, and me but I own the road, as Thoreau owned Baker Farm.

Toward the end of a session with phanerothyme, I left Harvard Square and walked here four miles (to see the sunrise, as I explained to the cop who stopped me on Concord Avenue), but when I got here it was raining. Sat down anyway on the sunrise-watching rock in Brown(?)’s garden and saw the sky grow light over the city of Boston, its artificial lights still burning palely in the east, while bird things, oblivious of Boston, made dawn noises.

I think the people in the gray house with the sunrise rock must be the Browns, because they don’t seem to know they live on an enchanted road and they don’t get up to watch the sunrise. Across the road, Mr. Chase has a little one-room brown house made into a studio and sculptures in the back yard.

If you weave your way through Mr. Chase’s sculptures, and are very careful not to go too far to the right or too far to the left, you get into the Woods MacLane. (If you go too far to the right or left you will come out on Pinehurst Road or Snake Hill Road respectively, which are good places too and have their own access to the Woods.) Once in the Woods you quickly find the Main Path which leads to the Tower, and branchings of the way. In case you wonder why these enchanted woods are sitting untouched in the heart of the Boston suburbs, it’s because they are the Woods of MacLane.

MacLane is a warehouse for Harvard freak-outs. It’s an evil place, but you can avoid it by remembering not to take any of the left branchings from the Main Path. At MacLane they don’t let the prisoners go into the woods, because they might fall under the spell and never return to their wards. And the keepers don’t go in the woods either, maybe for the same reason. In fact nobody goes in the Woods MacLane but me, so I own them too.

But I prefer the road (Hay Road. Private Way Dangerous Passing. Brower Brown Chase Webb). Passing? There’s no passing on Hay Road, unless you happen to be on foot, which is the best way to go, and not at all dangerous. The milk truck just barely makes it, inching up the hill, rocking from side to side. I don’t know what happens if Brower and Brown meet head on. Perhaps they get out of their cars and fight a duel to see which will back up.

Hay Road is cracked and broken, but feels marvelously solid underfoot. The rail fence on the left has always been rusty; the old stone wall on the right has always had violets at the bottom in the spring. Brower, Brown, Chase and Webb have always lived here, and nobody has ever seen any of them. It’s just possible that they are not material at all, but guardian spirits of the road.

But I am getting carried away. Who ever heard of spirits having their milk delivered? More likely they are business executives, hold stock in MacLane, and belong to the John Birch Society whose headquarters I pass each time I come here. It doesn’t matter. LSD has made me conservative. Long may you reign, friendly spirits Brower, Brown, Chase and Webb! I promise not to give your road to the Russians. Except that part of it which I own, and that I would give to everyone but especially to my people, lost in the grimy-gray corridor streets of New York, driven mad by the cacophony of San Francisco, waiting in their cells in the fortress MacLane. There is a Hay Road for each of them.

Hay Road comes out of the woodland hill MacLane and winds, narrow and steep, down to Centre Avenue and Belmont Town, and the bus to Harvard Square.

May you find your road.



1. Published by Psychedelic Information Center, Cambridge, Mass., 1967.

2. Both “phanerothyme” and “psychedelic” mean mind- or soul-manifesting in the Greek. My use of the former word is not meant to imply any etymological preference, nor any particular correspondence with Huxley’s views; I choose it because it is euphonious and free of distracting connotations.

3. See Weston LaBarre, The Peyote Cult. Shoe String Press, Hamden, Conn., 1964. or J. S. Slotkin, The Peyote Religion, Free Press of Glencoe, Illinois, 1956, or Aberle’s book mentioned earlier.

4. The use of peyote has been traced hack as far as 300 B.C. (Masters and Houston, The Varieties of Psychedelic Experience, p. 40); the Native American Church was incorporated in 1922 “to foster and promote religious believers in Almighty God and the customs of the several tribes of Indians throughout the United States in the worship of a Heavenly Father and to promote morality, sobriety, industry, charity and right living and cultivate a spirit of self-respect, brotherly love and union among the members of the several tribes of Indians throughout the United States and through the sacramental use of peyote.”

5. Pendle Hill Pamphlets, Wallingford, Pa.


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