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psychedelicadventures.com

 

 

Reverend Marianne
b. 1967
priest in an Orthodox church
resides in central California
born and raised in a west European country

 

The vision made it real

For me there is no moral barrier to doing an entheogen in church. If you have any spiritual discipline at all, you’re going to be in an altered state no matter what, whether it’s through fasting, self renunciation, or some other means of achieving higher consciousness. Three trips in particular have been transformational landmarks in my spiritual journey.

The first of these was the first time I took LSD. I was still in seminary school at Harvard Divinity School, where I went on to earn a Masters of Divinity. Andrew, a friend and classmate, gathered a group of us to commemorate the famed Good Friday Experiment by Walter Pahnke. In 1962, Pahnke, a medical doctor turned Harvard doctoral candidate in religion, ran an experiment with seminary students of various denominations from Andover-Newton. On Good Friday, he brought them to Marsh Chapel at Boston University, where he administered psilocybin tablets and placebos and conducted a blind survey or the participants. Most of those who took the psilocybin reported having profound spiritual awakenings, while those who took placebos did not.

So at ten in the morning of Good Friday in 1994, a group of us from the divinity school ingested a low dose of LSD and made a pilgrimage on foot to B.U. from Cambridge. It took about an hour, and we arrived right in time for Marsh Chapel’s service, which lasted three hours. We went to the small chapel downstairs to contemplate the atmosphere of the experiment site. We found a rose on the altar there and went back up to the main church. The sermon was not particularly moving, so I sat and meditated, gazing around the nave.

The reredos behind the altar was a huge carved wooden panel of Jesus with two evangelists at each side. The wood was a gorgeous, rich golden color. I looked at the statue of Saint John, whose Gospel is my favorite. “Ah, that’s a lovely work of craftsmanship,” I thought. I shifted my focus to a beautiful statue of Jesus, which started moving and then began talking to me. “Look at me,” he said. “Look at what they’ve done to me. I am the living Word and they’ve turned me into this dead still statue. They’ve killed me.”

I was like “Whoa! Wait a minute.” His voice was very soft and gentle, his face filled with despair. “I want you to go out and be the Word that I embody,” he continued, “because I can’t do anything here. It’s up to you.” I snapped out of it and thought, “Wow, this is interesting.”

This vision of Christ was a formative moment in my life. I wasn’t yet ordained, and didn’t know what I was going to do with my seminary training. It was just what I needed at that time in my life, giving me the strength to continue and eventually become a parish priest. The acid vision made Christ a reality for me, whereas before He’d been just an intellectual process. When I saw him moving on the reredos, I knew that it was real, that there is a Christ. The vision deepened my own personal faith and also gave me focus in my calling as a priest. As a member of the clergy, it’s important that you have your own theology. Still, I wondered how I’d respond to the supplication I’d received. I’m not an evangelical. I was raised Episcopalian, and we don’t go around spreading the Word.

Three years later I was living in central California, serving in the parish where I serve now, a small Orthodox church in the apostolic succession of Thomas the Apostle. One of my fellow ministers, a woman, was praying and prophesying for me, and she came up with something that echoed the Jesus of my Good Friday vision: “You are the Word incarnated.”

“Oh, my God,” I realized. “Here is corroboration of my entheogenic experience. This is serious.” I knew that many people had experiences like mine but most pushed them aside because they were apparently the product of the drug. But here my entheogenic-inspired revelation was being reaffirmed by a minister in my own church!

I felt that the Jesus I’d seen had implored me to carry forth the concept of God’s incarnation, that God lives in the flesh, as Jesus himself was an incarnation of God, and was now incarnated in me and in each of us. Unless we go out and share the spirit of Christ, that incarnation is irrelevant.

The vision deepened my appreciation for the theology of the fourteenth century mystic Meister Eckhart, who was condemned as a heretic by the Church for his conception of imago Dei, man created in God’s image. Today Eckhart is fashionable among clergy, many of whom are reading about him in Matthew Fox’s book Western Spirituality. Fox’s “creation spirituality” borrows much from Eckhart’s conception of the incarnation of God in each person’s soul, which is scripturally based on the Gospel of St. John. Now that I’d tasted first-hand the sort of revelation of God’s incarnation in man that Eckhart wrote about, I felt I could go out and preach about it. I don’t proselytize about taking entheogens, but I do give sermons about my vision and the principle of God living within each of us.

 

* * *

 

I prefer to take entheogens in religious settings to enhance the spirituality of the experience, but on one LSD trip, I stayed home. I rested on the bed, closed my eyes, and marveled as a parade of lovely tableaus flooded my brain. They were fun, but I soon got bored by the unceasing succession of pretty colors and melting images. I suppose it's okay to let one's mind wander, but when I got stuck in a bubbly pastel scene featuring Barbie dolls sitting on marshmallow clouds and My Little Pony and his fluffy, bright-purple tail floating around in the air, I felt it was time to move on to something less trivial and cute.

            I knew that more focus was desperately needed if I was going to apprehend the sacramental power of this wonderful entheogen. I decided to drop the concept “God” into the effervescent pool of wisdom in the far reaches of my mind, to see what would happen. I saw a beautiful iridescent sphere resting above an onyx sea, slowly rotating on a north-south axis. Drops of clear blue water rose up from this sea, midway through the dark air and back down, as if from an invisible fountain. I felt like the breath of God hovering over the face of the deep (i.e., the ruach) in Genesis 1.

            I moved closer towards the sphere to see what was in it. I saw a carousel with white wooden horses, but as soon as I approached, it gave way to the Christ of the Book of Revelation (Chapter 1, Verse 16), white-robed among the seven candles, though there was no two-edged sword coming out of his mouth.

            The scene changed when I blinked. I was lost for awhile until I found myself inside a shiny, gilded room surrounded by the Egyptian pantheon. Clad in lapis, emerald and gold, the gods and goddesses of ancient Egypt -- inter alia, Anibus, Horus and the semi-divine pharaohs -- were stunningly beautiful. I was talking to them, admiring them. The colors were sumptuous, rich and bright, like a Fifties Technicolor movie. It was very vivid and I was quite comfortable beholding such splendor -- that is until I remembered what I was there for: "God."

I turned to one of the deities and excused myself. I had to leave. I was mortified: I’d asked the entheogen for a revelation of the true god and then diverged from the path and wound up at a pagan palace that was a sensory playground! God was going to be real pissed off at me now, I knew it! But the Egyptian deity from whom I was taking leave looked at me and smiled. "Don't you know?” he asked. “We’re all the same!" And then I realized that he was telling the truth: It didn't matter what shape or form I assigned to God. There was no god that would be cross with me for “misconceiving” his image. There was just the great divine, ineffable yet tangible, incorporeal yet manifest. I opened my eyes.

(I’ve since made peace with world religions. I’d known intellectually that there was an equality among the various creeds of faith, but now I knew it in the flesh, realizing that all aspects and faces of God are equal. This vision sharpened and refined my theology, because it was a lived experience.)

            A while later I dropped the word "incarnation" into the same mind pool. I soon found myself hovering over a sort of Alice in Wonderland landscape with a fellow with a top hat like Uncle Sam standing before me. He doffed his hat and I could see into his head, but inside it wasn’t skull and brains but the sum total of his life: his memories, his feelings, his hopes, everything that constitutes a life. All of these elements were escaping from his skull, floating away into the great void.

            I knew somehow that this figure was God and that I was watching the whole process of creation take place before my eyes. Then he looked up at me and asked me, "If you were to bring back one thing from an acid trip to someone who’d never had one, what would it be?" I thought the question a bit odd, coming from God, but after a moment I answered, "A rainbow." He asked why and I said, "Because it is the perfect symbol of light.” I pondered the image and realized how pale a single image was in conveying the full force and meaning of the divine.  And then it hit me that the incarnation is only an icon of the mind of God, that it is not the totality but only an archetypal expression of deity. You cannot know the power of the incarnation until you actually commune with God Himself.

 

* * *

 

I hope to write a book about Marina Sabina, the Mexican shaman who introduced Gordon Wasson to psilocybin. After experiencing its prophetic power myself, I became especially intrigued by that dimension of the sacred mushroom.

One Sunday I officiated the Eucharist, laying the wafers on the tongues of the congregation. (I take the high Anglican view of communion: The Eucharist is the body of Christ. I have no problems with the theological veracity of transubstantiation). Then, during the singing in advance of the sermon, I took some mushrooms. I was finished with my part of the service – or so I thought – and no longer had to worry about performing. I’d expected to just sit back and take in my colleague’s sermon and the rest of the service.

Our church is somewhat unusual in its inclusion of both the Eucharist and prophecy in its service. When the sermon is over, ministers may exercise prophecy if they’re so inclined and also so moved on the occasion. Prophesying in this context is praying about somebody, receiving thoughts or images about that person, and then sharing them with the person before the whole congregation. Two of our ministers have this gift or penchant, which is not really my thing due to my Episcopalian background. I do the Eucharist; that’s my job. I’d never prophesied in my life. But as soon as the sermon was over, I had this urge to prophesy to a woman a few pews away whom I really didn’t know and about whom I did not have any concrete feelings prior to that moment.

I saw things about her that I would not have thought possible to know. She’s an occasional member of the church, a middle-aged African-American woman who has her own “ministry” on the side. She’d always worn a collar to church, even though she’s not ordained. People tended to regard her as a bit odd. I’d never spoken to her before. I was astonished that she of all the parishioners was the one my prophecy had focused on. If the choice had been mine, I would not have picked her as the object of my first prophecy.

I was in a trance. I’d closed my eyes and was totally out in space. I heard this voice: “You need to talk to her, and this is what you should tell her….” It was that clear. “No, I’m not going to tell her that,” I responded. “I’d make a fool out of myself.” But the voice insisted, like it knew what it was talking about and had a good purpose for the whole thing. So I thought, “Ooo kay, here goes.” I stood up and called her up to the front. She looked a little nervous and uncertain as she came forward. I’m sure she would have felt as though she was in better hands with either of the other two ministers, who made it a business to prophesy.

Technically, in terms of the formal service structure, it was alright for me to step up. Anyone so moved is allowed to step up and prophesy, but my four colleagues (all in their thirties) had never seen me come forward for this, so they were surprised. They looked up at me like “You want to say something?!” It wasn’t really me talking. It was as though somebody else was talking through me. Sitting in the choir stalls on the side of the altar, I went on for about fifteen minutes, knowing what I was saying, but not consciously saying it.

The first thing I did was to rip the collar off her neck. It was kind of abrupt. I told her, “Turn around,” and snapped it off and cast it aside. “You are ordained by God,” I told her, “but you are not ordained by man. You must be recognized by man before you can wear this.” She looked stricken when I defrocked her. “However,” I went on, “your call is not invalid. You don’t need to wear the collar in order to be a minister for the work you want to do.” Then I told her that she needed to find her African roots, because she was trapped.

She’s a very strong woman, but she’s trapped in a man’s world, the African-American man’s world to be precise. She really needed to focus upon being an African-American woman, the prophecy continued. I told her she needed to regain her roots, and that if that involved some paganism, that was fine. I said she had a genuine ministry and shouldn’t be caught up in the false one symbolized by the collar she hadn’t earned. I finished by giving her a prayer and a blessing. It went over fine. We wrapped up the service and everyone left.

I haven’t seen her in church much lately, but when she does come in, she’s not wearing the collar anymore. She’s sort of hanging in the background, though I know she’s in touch with some of the parishioners. I hear she’s trying to start her own church. We’ll have to see if she follows up on my counsel and delves into her heritage. I’m sure it was humbling and embarrassing for her, but I’d built up my preachment to her as an urging to go after the truth. Many parishioners came up to me and said, “I’m glad you said something to her. Something needed to be said.” I replied, “I don’t know if it needed to be said or not. It just came to me and that’s what prophecy is about.”

The rest of the clergy had a problem with that. Unfortunately, in many churches that exercise prophecy, it’s used for the preacher’s own advantage. That’s what had bothered me about prophecy until the moment I’d prophesied myself and realized that it actually could be genuine. The trouble is that it’s hard to tell the difference between fake and sincere prophecy. Much of the time, even when God is not urging a minister to speak out, a minister will say something that he or she thinks will work for the person chosen as the focus of the prophecy. But that was definitely not the case with mine. What I’d told her was most certainly not what she wanted to hear.

I realized that Marina Sabina was right, that what you say in this way must come naturally. You say what you say and if it happens to cause a bit of discomfort, that’s the breaks. Controlled prophecy is telling people what they want to hear, which is utterly useless, in my opinion. Unfortunately, much of the prophetic movement is about saying nice things to people in an insincere format. I was disappointed that prophecy is so misused, which was really underscored by the spontaneity and non-premeditated quality of my own prophecy. I’d wanted to say something nice but I really couldn’t, since that wasn’t the true voice I was hearing within me. I wish I could have told her good news: “You’re going to get a new car next week!” But that’s not the way it works. I’m sure there are genuine prophecies that are upbeat, but if you look at the Old Testament, the prophets aren’t bearing glad tidings most of the time time.

This event was another step in my growth as a minister, but I’m not sure I want to exercise my prophetic voice again. It’s kind of scary, because you can’t stop it. It just happens. I’m going to give mushrooms (and prophecy) a rest in church. I’ll try MDMA next time.

 

[Note: Since this story was narrated, the church discontinued the inclusion of prophecy in the service.]

 

* * *

I used MDMA as the sacrament of an “entheogen-compatible service” that was held during a two-day conference on psychology, religion and drugs, back in 1995. We began the service with a half-hour of silence, giving the drug time to take effect. Then there was a chant to announce that the sacraments had kicked in. The service was directed, but we had to leave it open so that anyone could stand up and share his sentiments with the congregation. MDMA tends to prompt people to share of themselves.

In the middle of the service, I spoke up. “The whole point of liturgy is the remembrance of a mythology. We gather to remember the life and death of Christ. In this service, we don’t have a deity but the whole history of the entheogen movement to celebrate. So we need to remember our forefathers in this movement through music.” And then I played “Purple Haze” on a huge boombox.

Everybody got up and started dancing. There were ministers, psychologists, psychiatrists, and professors, some in their seventies or eighties, including some towering figures in the psychedelic community, as well as some younger “kids” like me. It was so beautiful, all the generations coming together, unified by the music and dancing, which underscored the commemorative spirit we’d come to conjure.

 

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