edited by ROBERT FORTE
(Council on Spiritual Practices, 1997)
Reviewed by Keith Thompson

Exploring the responsible use of
psychoactive substances in religious practice.

The word "entheogen," meaning "to generate the god or spirit within," describes a plant or chemical substance taken to occasion spiritual or mystical experience-for instance, peyote cactus as used in the Native American Church. Robert Forte's edited colloquium brings together leading philosophers, theologians, and scientists to distinguish the explicitly religious uses of such substances and the experiences they evoke, from their effects in other contexts, to which the terms "psychedelic" and "hallucinogen" apply.

Forte writes, "This is one o ant subjects in all religious history. Entheogens . . . alter consciousness in such a profound way that, depending on the set and setting, their effects can range from states resembling psychosis to what are perhaps the ultimate human experiences union with God or revelation of other mystical realities."

The essays in Entheogens and the Future of Religion focus on the distinctly sacred nature of such substances in the hope that religious minded investigators, policy architects, and the concerned public will take note. Robert Jesse, president of the Council on Spiritual Practices, the book's publisher, correctly notes that "in the religious persecutions of the European early modern age . . . the central issue tended to concern the efficacy of various sacraments." The same issue is at hand in the contemporary suppression of entheogenic practices. Citing Madison's view that questions of religious efficacy are best left to spiritual communities or to the individual conscience, Jesse calls for an "exemption . . from the laws of general applicability that impose the burden" against the legitimate use of entheogens for the specific cultivation of spiritual awareness.

Contributors to this collection include such notables as Albert Hoffman, Terence McKenna, Jack Kornfield, David Seeindl-Rase, and Alexander Shulgin. Kornfield notes that the use of entheogenic substances in recent decades helped led many people moved beyond the myth of separation and embrace the fundamental unity of life. But chose who made genuine advances on the spiritual path did so because they undercook various kinds of spiritual disciplines, he notes. (Huseon Smith makes a similar point in his classic book Forgotten Truth: "The goal, it cannot be stressed too often is not religious experiences: it is the religious life.")

Religions that remain in couch with genuine religiousness do so by affirming their spiritual core, writes contributor Seeindl-Rase, a Benedictine monk who defines spirituality as "that which makes a religion tick." Without the presence of the spiritual factor, the doctrines which comprise all religions become doctrinaire. As with religions in general, entheogens do not offer "shortcuts" to spiritual growth, he adds. They work "only if you work with them."

Entheogens and the Future of Religions provides a clear, balanced, and thoroughly researched account about the religious significance of chemically occasioned mystical and visionary experiences.

(For more information about the Council on Spiritual practice, contact Box 460065, SF, CA 94146-0065. E-mail:

Copyright © 1996. The Light Party.

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