You expect me to "toke" you seriously?
I recently read a book by a spiritualist which not only detailed her own life journey but incorporated exercises for getting in touch with your guardian spirit. A couple of things in the book stuck in my craw, one of which was her position on taking hallucinogenic drugs to facilitate contact with the spirit world. I hasten to add that this was not something she advocated for her readers, but it was part of her own spiritual experience. Suddenly her credibility in my eyes was severely tarnished.
I am not going to start criticising native shamanic cultures, or religions such as the Native American Church with its use of peyote. From my time amongst the Navajo, and after having met a member of the NAC, I have great respect for what they do and who they are. Why then do I find it so difficult to take a white British person seriously when they go down the peyote route?
Part of my response is definitely influenced by Ward Churchill’s brilliant book “Indians Are Us? Culture and Genocide in Native North America”. In this, he posits the idea that physical genocide of Native Americans may have ceased but the cultural appropriation by white people of Native American spirituality is just another blow in a long line of exploitation. He encourages Europeans to look to their own root cultures to find the native spirituality of their own lands.
This is harder than it may seem though. Unlike most Native Americans, we Europeans/white Americans are a mongrel breed with roots everywhere. I have roots in Britain, France, Germany and Poland (and I have only gone back 3 generations to get that list). So where are my roots? I think this sense of homelessness is what has driven so many Europeans to latch onto the strength that they see in North American native spirituality. In Germany I met a girl who dressed in suede-fringed jackets and wore a feather in her hair. She felt she was honouring NAs, I felt she was insulting them by mimicking something she patently wasn’t. I have attended a Reiki healing class where the teacher danced around with a Native American drum. As effective as it was, I wondered how appropriate it was for this man of Hungarian/British origins to do?
I have no answers on the question of appropriating native religions that are not our “own”. I have my opinions, but it is a complex subject. I would just urge you to read Ward Churchill’s book, if you can.
The main focus of my question here is how reliable, necessary and helpful is it to incorporate drug experience into ritual and spiritual development? Wow, I can hear so many of you revving up your fingers to respond 🙂 please do.
From my perspective, drug taking is the ultimate in materialistic spirituality. I have written before about my dislike of relying to heavily on the tools of magic to the detriment of your spiritual connection. If you cannot cast a circle comfortably without an athame, and if you cannot communicate with your deities without various arcane accoutrements, how sincere is your practice? Relying on hallucinogenic drugs to achieve a connection with spiritual worlds is the ultimate crutch, and in my opinion, you may as well chop off your spiritual legs while you’re at it. I am lucky in that I have always been able to achieve an altered state at will. Sometimes it is harder than others. Ultimately practice and hard work are the keys.
There is no way you can entirely rely on your experiences while under drugs. I have read a fair bit about neurology and psychology, and am very aware of how chemical changes can alter our sense of reality – reality has not changed, merely our perception of it. You may think, great, this is what I need, to change my perception, to open up my mind to connect with the Other. But I think you are more likely to connect with a self-deluded and potentially dark side of your own nature. I have a friend who, while on drugs, hallucinated that she kept turning into a skeleton. So was she “connecting” with Death? Communicating with the “other side”? No, she was being faced with an internal, subconscious issue that she was by no means ready to deal with at that point. Drugs take down your barriers, they leave you bare and vulnerable, and ultimately incompetent. I have another friend who insisted that hash made her more creative. When I said it made my head spin in circles, she shook her head and said I hadn’t learnt to “use it properly”; but she had the skill and her creativity benefited from it. Bullshit. She sat at home day-dreaming pipe dreams of all the things she was going to do; she started tens of courses and never completed one; she started losing friends (including me) because she became the opposite of the person I originally fell in love with. She was a vacuum of creativity that threatened to pull me in and destroy my own. She was not going to change, I beat a hasty exit.
Spirituality and magic are (in my mind) about self-discipline, focus and about honouring your deity. What honour is there in being high? That is just self-indulgent and lazy. Being high while doing magic is dangerous and irresponsible, and you get what you deserve.
Surely the point is to clear away the clutter to make a straight path to our deity? Taking drugs and thinking you can be “more spiritual”, “more connected with the Other Side”, “more powerful as a magician” is just like striking out across a bog; you may get to the other side, then again you may get stuck, stagnant, incapable of moving at all – and your Journey, for this life at least, will be over.
© starofseshat 2008
p.s. apologies for the dreadul pun title. Couldn’t resist it!