On the Moral Problem of Psychedelics and the Mental Health Problem of Morality

On the Moral Problem of Psychedelics and the Mental Health Problem of Morality

This article was originally written by Claudio Naranjo for Chacruna.net

A passage in Lao Tze’s Tao Te Ching states that when original harmony was lost, laws were created. I am sure that this is congruent with our contemporary knowledge of prehistory: We were equalitarian at the time when we were nomadic hunter-gatherers, while our modern political institutions of legislation and justice fail to give us justice or well being. Thus, it would seem that we should interest ourselves very much in that “original harmony” that our laws seek in vain to restore.

One way of moving in this direction, I have proposed,1 is by drawing a distinction between “normative ethics,” in which good and evil are defined by the obligations and prohibitions formulated by an authority, and “an ethics of virtue,” in which good actions are the natural expression of an inner goodness that has not been obstructed or contaminated by psychosocial aberration.

While the way to foster an ethics of virtue is therapeutic, since it is enough to remove the hatefulness or egocentricity that get in the way of natural wisdom and empathy for healing to take place, the way to foster a normative ethics is to intensify the threats and punishments that underlie the effectiveness of authority and its commands.

The now-long history of this attempt to make us good through rewards and punishment may be interpreted as a long experiment that has not yielded good results: paradoxically, the more we punish delinquency, the more delinquency we have. The more severe and punitive our penal system, the more our prisons are filled. And, as Jung observed, the more we are concerned with morality, the more immoral our society becomes. Yet, we continue to act as if this were not already obvious enough, and, surely, no politician would consider applying to society the Christian teaching of “not resisting evil,” and not responding to aggression with aggression, but with kindness and understanding.

It is instructive to consider in this context George Lakoff’s notion of an “ideology of the severe father.”  We may formulate such an ideology, precisely, as a belief that nothing can solve problems better than threats and punishment. If a child behaves badly, then, the mother may threaten him by telling him that she will tell Dad when he comes home, so that he will give him a corrective; or schools may threaten those who don’t perform well enough with expulsion and potential poverty, and criminals will be threatened with not only longer sentences, but death.

But, do we truly know that the way of severity, threats, and punishment works better than the way of understanding and support? Or is it rather the case that our society has been operating on a patriarchal bias?

In the realm of ethics, we may say that the patriarchal ideology of severity, already embodied in normative morality, is further intensified when morality becomes moralism.

The distinction between both is, more or less, the distinction between the original meaning of “puritan” and the more common contemporary and critical sense in which somebody may be criticized for being prudish. Yet, also in this case, historical perspective allows us to see that he Puritans were also puritanical in the sense of moralistic, and we are now aware of the dissonance between their sense of virtue and their ownership of slaves, their injustice toward the indigenous peoples, or their male chauvinism.

Nietzsche was the first to question seriously our universally accepted morality of good and evil; but today, psychology and clinical experience have allowed us to understand how conventional morality is moralistic and not an expression of health, but an example of what Freud called “reaction formation”: the covering up of repressed impulses with a semblance of correctness or perfection. In the Gospel we find the expression “whitened sepulchers” in connection with this hypocrisy that many people exhibit, seemingly without any awareness of it; the same metaphor might be applied to cultures, in which a collective sense of honor serves as a screen to hide a collective criminality—such as that of our economic system.

After this theoretical introduction, however, let me tackle the subject of the relation between psychedelics and morality, which I propose to launch with a set of complementary statements:

  1. Psychedelics are, by definition, immoral, since they have been forbidden and criminalized.
  2. Conventional morality, a complex of accusation-guilt-fear-duty and moralism, is normative ethics turned into custom, and only mimics virtue, but, in reality, militates against it, and constitutes a form of pathology that, because of its “normality,” passes for “healthy.”
  3. Psychedelics can heal conventional moral conditioning. This probably contributes to the opposition to psychedelics on the part of those who want to uphold conservative culture.

Now, I will develop my argument, seeking to demonstrate the various things I have stated.

  1. That psychedelics are regarded immoral we may take as a fact not needing further demonstration.
  2. Concerning the statement that “morality is un-virtuous,” let me say that, aside from Nietzsche and others who, since his time, have looked with suspicion upon the matter of good and evil, the earliest statement to this effect we have is the one we find in the myth of the Fall in the Book of Genesis, where “original sin” is characterized as the eating of the forbidden fruit of “the knowledge of good and evil.”

If we take the fall from paradise as a deterioration of consciousness—for which our contemporary concepts are sickness and neurosis—nothing strikes the author of Genesis as more characteristic of such fall or sickness than “the knowledge of good and evil”—that we can also call a concern with morality.

Before going any further, I should respond to the many that may feel that “original sin” is an ancient superstition with little relevance to our real problems today. On the contrary, a concern about being good and about avoiding evil may be seriously considered to have been the most destructive force in human life and human history precisely, because—paradoxical as this may be and as I have already stated—the more we criminalize those we regard evil, and the more severe we become in our prohibitions, the more destructive we become. If we are prone to think of the idea of “original sin” as an irrelevant dogma, it is because the theologians of the past thought of it as a divine punishment that operated genetically. Many today know that the plague of a Universal Neurosis is transmitted from one generation to the next through a psycho-cultural process that operates through child rearing, socialization and education.

But why fuss about words, rather than just agreeing to the fact that a sort of plague (call it original sin or universal neurosis) passes from one generation to the next and seems to be inextricably linked to the issue of morality? It is not, then, that we have fallen from the paradisiac realm of morality, but, rather, fallen into morality—which is to say, into a life of prohibitions and obligations—which, in turn, presupposes an authority that demands and forbids, and, most especially, entails the will to inspire obedience, to subjugate, as well as presupposing punishment and the threat of punishment, which is the best tool for the domestication of the young.

In view of this, and also in view of the possible anachronism of speaking about “original sin” in the twenty-first century, or even of speaking of a Universal Neurosis to a population of “normotics”—who may be better described as zombies, for they have become too unconscious to recognize their unconsciousness, or even their destructiveness—I prefer to say that the gist of both original sin and universal neurosis, and thus the “heart of darkness” at the core of human suffering, is patriarchy: the invention of male dominance, along with the devaluation of motherhood and care, and the criminalization of pleasure and instinct, which has constituted the implicit counterpart to the domestication of children through effective, but sometimes invisible, violence.

Though I would need more time and space to fully develop my view of patriarchy as the root condition of individual and social pathologies, let me turn to my contention that psychedelics can heal the unacknowledged problem of morality. I emphatically re-state that nothing compares with the effectiveness of psychedelics when it comes to the cure of human “fallenness”; call it “original sin,”  “universal neurosis,” or “the patriarchal mind.”

To explain this, I firstly need to explain briefly that I use the expression “patriarchal mind” in reference to the intra-psychic aspect of patriarchy, through which the social phenomenon of patriarchy—a complex of authoritarian violence, instinctual repression, and the undervaluation of motherly care—is transmitted across the generations. While it is doubtful, I think, that we may be able to heal patriarchy, which is a social event of gigantic proportions, we may hope to heal the individual carriers of the patriarchal mind, and to this end, it is desirable that we also have some conception of its structure and dynamics.

While patriarchy is a social phenomenon, the root manifestation of which may be seen in the nuclear family and, more specifically, in what Roman law described as the institution of the paterfamilias, which establishes the ownership of the woman and the children by the father, we my say that the individual’s patriarchal mind is one in which an intra-psychic father-principle (superego) criminalizes the instinctual inner child (or id), and also has the effect of eclipsing our mother-like or compassionate potential through its warrior-like or conquering spirit. In other words: We may say that we are, as MacLean,2 proposed three-brained beings endowed of a reptilian on instinctive old brain, an affective mid-brain that we have inherited from the other mammals, and an intellectual forebrain that most exemplifies us as humans, but that, through the development of civilized life, we have come to identify excessively with our astute and clever rational mind to the detriment of our compassion and our inner freedom.

In light of such a model, then, we can say that psychedelics undermine the forebrain dominance that sustains the (moral) indictment of our natural or animal impulses and also our (immoral or predatory) preference for technology over compassion. It is as if psychedelics could anesthetize our “ego,” or controlling-repressive sub-self, and allow the expression of our natural empathy and our archetypal inner-animal; which is, of course, what empathogens and oneirofrenics do so specifically.

When we turn to the “classic hallucinogens”—mescaline, LSD-25, and psilocybin—it is not so much the liberation of the pleasure principle or our empathic potential that strikes us most, but the experience of transcendence or, to say it in modern terms, the “transpersonal realm”;  something that goes beyond our intellectual, affective, and instinctual sub-selves, and which spiritual traditions have variously called a deeper self, a deeper mind, a deeper reality, or truth, being, not-being, spirit, emptiness, Tao or God. This ineffable or empty realm of holiness or supreme value has always been regarded as something obscured by our imperfections, and is something that may be revealed to one who transcends the root of sickness that is the patriarchal mind.

What is the relation between the triune wholeness of our mind and transcendence—which may be more appropriately described as “mind-blowing” or “annihilation”? I would gladly consider this question next, but I am afraid that by now, I have come to the limit of the space offered me by the editors of Chacruna.

  1. Psychedelics in Light of Morality and Under the Shadow of Virtue. 
  2. MacLean, Paul (1990). The Triune Brain Evolution. New York: Plenum Press. 
Read the original article here. Find out more about Chacruna.net.

The Revolution We Expected book cover

Claudio Naranjo’s Last Written Work: The Revolution We Expected: Cultivating a New Politics of Consciousness

Celebrated psychotherapist Claudio Naranjo‘s last work as an author makes a final call to humanity to awaken to our collective potential and work to transcend our patriarchal past and present in order to build a new world. This book argues not only for a collective individual awakening, but a concerted effort to transform our institutions so that they are in service to a better world. Naranjo targets our traditional education and global economic systems that increasingly neglect human development and must transform to meet the needs of future social evolution. Ultimately, he says, we need to embark on a collective process of rehumanizing our systems and establishing self-awareness as individuals to create the necessary global consciousness to realize a new path forward; stressing the need for education to teach wisdom over knowledge, and utilizing meditation and contemplative practices to form new ways to educate, and be educated.

 

Learn more

Continuing the Shulgin Legacy: Synergetic Press & Transform Press Agree to a Co-Publishing Deal

Continuing the Shulgin Legacy: Synergetic Press & Transform Press Agree to a Co-Publishing Deal

Synergetic Press is excited to announce that we have very recently signed a co-publishing deal with Transform Press, and are set to publish a new series of Transform Press titles by Alexander and Ann Shulgin, in continuation of the Shulgin legacy. Transform Press books are now distributed through Publishers Group West, effective July 1, 2020

Transform Press LogoSynergetic Press Logo

Since 1984, we at Synergetic Press have published in the areas of ecology, ethnobotany, anthropology as well as psychedelic history and research. Transform Press was founded in 1991 by renowned biochemist Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin and his wife and co-author, Ann Shulgin, to publish their groundbreaking classic, PiHKAL: A Chemical Love Story and has specialized in works on psychopharmacology, psychedelic drug research, and other material relating to psychoactive compounds, states of consciousness, and society.

“Over the past three decades, both Synergetic Press and Transform Press have been publishing pivotal books in specialized topics of plant medicine and psychedelic psychotherapy, each cultivating important hubs for scholarship and public discourse through events and symposiums,” said Deborah Parrish Snyder, Publisher, and CEO of Synergetic Press.

“We are honored to work together with Wendy Tucker, Publisher, and CEO of Transform Press, her mother Ann Shulgin, and their team to bring out more of the pioneering work by the Shulgins’.”

“Transform Press has many projects in the pipeline. We’re very happy to be able to work with the team at Synergetic Press to broaden our reach to the public and to contribute to the ever-expanding field of psychedelic research and its history,” said Wendy Tucker.

“This is an exciting time, as information about psychedelic drugs is not being demonized as it was before,” Tucker added. “Instead it is being seen more through a lens of curiosity as to the potentials for healing and growth.”


Our First Co-published Book:
The Nature of Drugs The Nature of Drugs Cover - The Shulgin Legacy

The first co-published title, to be released in Spring 2021, will be The Nature of Drugs: A Course on Pharmacology, Pharmacokinetics, Societal Responses, and Social Impact based on a lecture series that Sasha Shulgin taught (by the same name) at San Francisco State College (SFSU). 

The full text was transcribed from the original lecture tapes recorded at SFSU in 1987 and will be published in two consecutive volumes. Volume I covers the first third of the course and presents Sasha’s views on the origin of drugs, the history of U.S. drug law enforcement, human anatomy, the nervous system, the range of drug administrations, varieties of drug actions, memory and states of consciousness, and research methods. The discussions in The Nature of Drugs lay the groundwork for Sasha’s philosophy on psychopharmacology and society, what defines a drug, the nature of a person’s relationship with a given compound, and for extensive examinations of dozens of compounds in Volumes II. The book chronicles the story of humanity’s relationship with psychoactive substances from the perspective of a master psychopharmacologist and will enthrall anyone intrigued by this subject.

“For those of us who were not fortunate enough to attend Sasha’s classes, this book is a fantastic second chance to learn from a brilliant, principled, courageous, idealistic psychedelic chemist whose creations were molecules for psychotherapy, spirituality, and celebration, to help humanity wake up and save ourselves.” — Rick Doblin, Founder and Executive Director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) 

Beyond this, there are plans for three additional books carrying on the Shulgin legacy, including a second volume of The Nature of Drugs, a book of letters from the Shulgin archive, and a third volume of work joining the PiHKAL-TiHKAL series.

Alexander Shulgin, The Most Prolific Psychedelic Chemist in History

The late Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin was undoubtedly one of the most pioneering chemists of this century. Completing his Ph.D. in biochemistry at the University of California, Berkeley in 1955, Shulgin went on to get a job at the Dow Chemical Company, where he invented a highly lucrative, biodegradable pesticide by the name of Zectran (mexacarbate). 

Whilst working at Dow in 1960, Shulgin had his first mind-altering experience. He ingested mescaline, a psychedelic compound that is naturally found in the peyote cactus, finding it so astounding that he dedicated the rest of his career to exploring psychedelic chemistry. 

“I first explored mescaline in the late ’50s,” Shulgin said in a 1995 interview. “Three-hundred-fifty to 400 milligrams. I learned there was a great deal inside me.”

Dow, pleased with his work, and the high profits generated by Zectran, gave him the freedom to pursue his own research program, and thus his experimentation with synthesizing psychoactive substances began. 

Shulgin left Dow in 1966, supporting himself thereafter by becoming a scientific consultant as well as a lecturer and teacher. Setting up a home-based laboratory on his ranch in Lafayette, California, he synthesized more than two hundred novel psychoactive compounds. Perhaps ironically, the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) gave him permission to do so, even calling on Shulgin to serve as an expert witness in drug trials.

A bold explorer of the frontiers of neurochemistry, Shulgin tested the majority of the substances he synthesized on himself, his wife and co-researcher Ann, and a small circle of trusted friends. He and his friends kept diligent notes on their experiential research forays. 

Wanting to ensure that his life’s work researching psychoactive compounds did not disappear with him, he and his wife Ann, co-authored the psychonautic tome, PiHKAL: A Chemical Love Story in 1991. ‘PiHKAL’ is an abbreviation for  “Phenethylamines I have known and loved.” Phenethylamines are a class of natural and synthetic compounds, some with powerful psychoactive properties, including the naturally occurring mescaline, and the synthetic methylenedioxymethamphetamine, otherwise known as MDMA. 

PiHKAL, jointly written by Sasha and Ann Shulgin, is the fictionalized autobiography that blends the personal history of their falling in love with carefully detailed descriptions for how to synthesize 179 psychoactive compounds.

In 1996, the Shulgin’s published TiHKAL, a sequel to PiHKAL, standing for “tryptamines I have known and loved.” Tryptamines include well-known psychedelic substances like psilocybin, DMT, and the neurotransmitter serotonin. Similar to PiHKAL, TiHKAL is divided into two parts and is a blend of personal history and chemical recipes. 

Shulgin is most often remembered for his re-discovery and synthesis of a chemical called 3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine, otherwise known as MDMA. MDMA was originally synthesized by German chemist Anton Köllisch in 1912, however, when Shulgin resynthesized the chemical, he discovered that it had potent psychoactive properties. 

Discovering its effects, Shulgin suggested that MDMA would be a powerful aid in therapy, and by the late 1970s, some of his colleagues were evaluating the drug’s use in therapeutic settings. However, MDMA soon escaped the therapeutic setting, rising to popularity amongst young partygoers where MDMA’s euphoric effects were soon rebranded by dealers as “ecstasy” and MDMA was reclassified as a Schedule I drug in 1985.

Shulgin lamented the reckless recreational use and ensuing prohibition of psychedelics in that it hindered the possibility of their legitimate use in psychotherapy. 

“Use them [psychedelics] with care, and use them with respect as to the transformations they can achieve, and you have an extraordinary research tool. Go banging about with a psychedelic drug for a Saturday night turn-on, and you can get into a really bad place, psychologically. Know what you’re using, decide just why you’re using it, and you can have a rich experience. They’re not addictive, and they’re certainly not escapist, either, but they’re exceptionally valuable tools for understanding the human mind, and how it works.” ― Alexander Shulgin, PiHKAL: A Chemical Love Story 

These books, combined with Shulgin’s association with MDMA were responsible for his rapid rise to popularity, and his becoming a celebrated chemist world over.


Exploring the Shulgin’s Chemical Legacy

A new Netflix documentary series The Business of Drugs set out to investigate the economics of six illicit substances, including synthetic drugs like MDMA. The second episode, entitled “Synthetics” is devoted to exploring the chemical legacy that Alexander Shulgin left in his wake. 

“The century of the synthetic drug begins but doesn’t end in the shadow of the late Alexander Shulgin. In the 1960s, Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin, a renegade chemist reimagined the study of drugs, and by extension human consciousness. He is recognized as the “spiritual father of psychedelics”, creating over two hundred substances from scratch, but he also, however, inadvertently set off the billion-dollar race to control the synthetics market.”

The episode navigates the dangers of synthetics, but continually circles back to the fact Shulgin saw breakthrough therapeutic potential in MDMA, the synthetic drug that brought him his fame. Shulgin never suspected that MDMA and other substances that he synthesized would become popular amongst young partygoers. Rather, he saw them as revolutionary psychotherapeutic tools that the “War on Drugs” wrongly forced underground.

Image: Ann Shulgin with daughter, Wendy Tucker, Publisher at Transform Press (Photo by Audrey Tucker, 2020)

Lessons from Claudio Naranjo’s Last Work as an Author

Lessons from Claudio Naranjo’s Last Work as an Author

Naranjo’s Last Work as an Author: The Revolution We Expected

Ours is a time of immense upheaval, transformation, and crisis characterized by the unraveling of social, psychological, and spiritual paradigms of authority. As we look around our world, we find the rapacious destruction of our environment, the troubles that come from the void of meaninglessness, and a society that displays brutal and hostile tendencies toward itself and its surroundings. However, in the dismantling of our troubled world lies the keys to a renewed vision, one that carries the tenets for life after the revolution we are living through.

The Revolution We Expected, soon to be released by Synergetic Press is Claudio Naranjo’s last work as an author, and was completed at the end of his long and pioneering life. Rich with the insight, wisdom and clarity characteristic of his work, the book is an expression of his unrelenting love for humanity as well as his deep understanding of our condition, but more than that, it is also a socio-political statement created to assist in the ongoing transformation and reconfiguration of our holistic existence. Naranjo goes well beyond his incisive diagnosis of humanity’s current crises and offers a path forward grounded on the understanding that, as he says, “only in waking from our blind somnambulism can we evolve.”

Our Sinking Ship: Patriarchal Civilization in Decline

Naranjo describes the foremost problem we face as an acute lack of awareness for ourselves, others, and our environment; a problem linked to the patriarchal domination of our collective consciousness. Our world is in fact not even aware of the blindness from which we so helplessly suffer. The catastrophes, the toils, and the evils in our world are a manifestation of our ignorance, and the increasing severity of this problem is evident in our inability to respond and offer solutions. In the 21st century, this ignorance is prevalent regardless of the contemporary obsession with information and the abundance of data available to us. Beyond these vast resources (touted as impressive harbingers for a future filled with progress), we are beset by the utter scarcity of real wisdom.

Many of the great spiritual traditions from around the world have referred to our collective condition as a kind of unawareness which Naranjo identifies in his wide-ranging survey as the root of our most critical failings. He describes the origins of our crisis as stemming from what he calls “a degradation of awareness and a process of dehumanization that has accompanied our civilization process.” Furthermore, he associates our patterns of violence, insensitivity, and greed  with the neglect of “maternal empathy and bodily, animal wisdom.” By imposing a tyrannical authority over the maternal (love) and the filial (instinct) aspects of our world, the paternal figure has prevented the integration of our consciousness which in turn has produced hostile and vindictive behavior.

Re-humanization through Self-Awareness

The processes of education are an important thread running through the content of Naranjo’s work. But education for Naranjo is more than a critical component in the causes of our society’s ills, it is also a way for us to reformulate our consciousness.

In a powerful passage, Naranjo describes how “nothing strikes (him) as more important in the pursuit of rehumanizing society than rehumanizing education.” He goes on to explain lucidly how although there have been recent trends that speak gratuitously of the importance of “emotional education”, a true examination of the patriarchal principles which dominate our conception of education has not yet taken place within today’s educational institutions.

The reluctance of these institutions to accept the role of the psychological and emotional components in a human’s development have been even more detrimental due to the absence of concepts like empathy, care, and love in their discourse. Naranjo believes that there is a fundamental conflict within our society because it establishes a hegemony based on the patriarchal mind which prevents us from being more loving. In order to develop this characteristic “…we must first learn to love ourselves and to do so, in turn, we must understand the extent to which we reject, disdain, push, and mistreat ourselves, without knowing it.”

Toward a Global Consciousness

Despite the circumstances of utmost difficulty which we find ourselves in, we are undergoing what Naranjo characterizes as a “revolution of consciousness”; a renewal of awareness. Although the world of politics, economics, and media is filled with examples of humanity’s challenges, there is movement beneath the surface of our society. The expanding interest in modalities through which we might reclaim our responsibility for ourselves and our world can lead to a society “richer in love”, aware of the need for individual human development. Naranjo’s book – as well as his generous catalog of work – is filled with an energy that invites us to awaken our own zeal for a better world, one that heals the blatant dysfunction and illness that permeates our present.

 


The Revolution We Expected book cover

More About the Book: The Revolution We Expected: Cultivating a New Politics of Consciousness

Celebrated psychotherapist Claudio Naranjo‘s last work as an author makes a final call to humanity to awaken to our collective potential and work to transcend our patriarchal past and present in order to build a new world. This book argues not only for a collective individual awakening, but a concerted effort to transform our institutions so that they are in service to a better world. Naranjo targets our traditional education and global economic systems that increasingly neglect human development and must transform to meet the needs of future social evolution. Ultimately, he says, we need to embark on a collective process of rehumanizing our systems and establishing self-awareness as individuals to create the necessary global consciousness to realize a new path forward; stressing the need for education to teach wisdom over knowledge, and utilizing meditation and contemplative practices to form new ways to educate, and be educated.

Learn more

 

 

Photo Credit: Marco

Bicycle Day 2020 and the Lessons Learned from LSD

Bicycle Day 2020 and the Lessons Learned from LSD

Image credit: Illustration of Albert Hofmann by Jakob Krattiger, 2004

Excerpt From: Dieter Hagenbach, Lucius Werthmüller. “Mystic Chemist”. Apple Books.

Bicycle Day 2020: An Interview with Lucius Werthmüller, Co-Author of Mystic Chemist 

The celebration of ‘Bicycle Day’ commemorates the day that Swiss chemist and discoverer of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), Albert Hofmann, first intentionally ingested LSD in a self-experiment conducted in order to ascertain its effects. On April 19, 1943, Hofmann ingested 250 micrograms of the substance, believing it to be a threshold dose of the drug (he later discovered the threshold dose was a mere 20 micrograms). About an hour after ingesting the drug, Hofmann began to feel its effects take hold, asking his laboratory assistant to escort him home that evening. However, due to wartime restrictions, cars were prohibited; they had to travel home by bicycle.

In honour of Bicycle Day 2020, we interviewed Lucius Werthmüller, co-author of Mystic Chemist: The Life of Albert Hofmann and His Discovery of LSD and personal friend of Albert’s to gain a deeper perspective on Albert’s personal relationship to LSD, and the lessons he learned about it over the years.

To help you celebrate Hofmann’s discovery,  we are offering 50% off
Mystic Chemist, the definitive biography on Albert Hofmann
Buy Mystic Chemist

 

Jasmine Virdi: How did you first meet Albert Hofmann?

Lucius Werthmüller: I met him when I was a child as he was a dear friend of my parents. To me, he was just another visitor at our house so I didn’t think he was particularly interesting at the time. At the age of 15, I had my first LSD

Albert Hofmann

Albert Hofmann showcasing the molecular structure of LSD

experience, and only later I learned that this friend of my parents was the discoverer of LSD, and that fact obviously made him much more interesting to me. We were often guests at Albert and [his wife] Anita’s home where we had barbecues, and harvested cherries yearly to make homemade schnapps. Later, we came to  develop our own relationship aside from the one we had through my parents. Becoming friends, we often  met, discussing matters of parapsychology, and life after death, especially in his last years leading up to his one-hundredth birthday. He was often asked by the journalists: “What do you think, will there be a life after death?” And he usually would say, “No I don’t believe in a life after death…” and after a short pause, he added, “I know that there is life after death.” 

Bicycle Day wasn’t the first time that Hofmann had tried LSD ? It was the first time intentionally, but before that, he had accidentally dosed himself.

Yes, that was on the 16th of April 1943. Before that, he reflected that this molecule [lysergic acid diethylamide] would not leave his mind. He first synthesized it during November 1938 for pharmacological research, but the chemical was not of interest, and so it was put away. However, it stayed ever present in his mind, and thinking there must be something special about it, he decided to synthesize it again five years later. When he re-synthesized it, he experienced a mildly intoxicating effect, and was unable to imagine how it had happened as he was a rigorous chemist, following strict safety protocols. His only explanation was that he must have absorbed it transdermally. This initial experience made him decide to intentionally ingest LSD three days later. 

Around the age of eight, Albert began having deep mystical experiences in nature. He describes that, from one step to another, he fell into a completely different state of mind, whereby he felt united with all of nature, feeling the miracle of nature in its full glory. From that experience, he decided that he wanted to study nature further, eventually becoming a chemist. He said that, by some kind of coincidence, these strange mystical experiences that led him to be an organic chemist led him to discover a substance that can also promote these mystical experiences.

After his initial revelatory experience which was described to be both “blissful” and “terrifying” what made him decide to go back for more?

It was terrifying for him because he genuinely believed that he was on the verge of death. If you don’t know what to expect or what is happening to you, LSD can be truly terrifying. When he was cycling home he entertained the idea that he was being poisoned by the drug, and so upon arriving home he called his doctor. When the doctor told him that everything was normal, all body functions were working properly, he could finally begin to relax, and enjoy the experience, realizing LSD’s tremendous potential to unlock the realms of the unconscious. 

What did Albert perceive the function of LSD to be? 

He saw it as a tool for making psychotherapy much more profound, to access the unconscious more easily, and he was quite sure from the beginning that it could help transform psychiatry, psychotherapy, and also our model of consciousness. 

LSD blotter art, Albert Hofmann, The Father of LSD

When was it that he started referring to LSD as his “problem child”? 

That was in the 60s. During the 1950s, LSD was the subject of study for hundreds of research programs all over the world, however, the drug was contained within the scientific community. He could’ve never imagined that LSD was to become a drug on the streets, being taken at parties as he had a  deep respect for it, believing that one must be very careful when ingesting it. Subsequently, he was put into contact with Timothy Leary, who was doing research at Harvard at the time, by Aldous Huxley. Initially Albert and Tim had quite an interesting correspondence, but after Leary was kicked out of Harvard and became a target in the media, Albert took his distance. He didn’t want to have LSD on the streets, and he couldn’t understand why the hippies took it in such high doses. 

Then, he began to have problems in his workplace. In 1962, some members of the Nobel Prize Committee had come from Stockholm to visit him, and it was almost certain that he would receive the Nobel Prize for chemistry, but that was the time when everything was becoming more and more scandalous with Timothy Leary in the media, leading Albert to start considering LSD as his “problem child.”

He also always said that a “problem child is not a child that creates problems, rather it is a child that has an enormous potential.” The German term “das Sorgenkind” cannot be adequately translated into English, meaning a child that you have to take special care of. Despite this, Albert was always convinced that LSD would never disappear from this world, and would continue to play an important role in the research of consciousness. 

What would he think of the psychedelic renaissance as it exists today? 

As long as he worked in the company [Sandoz], he was quite a conservative man, keeping his distance from the counterculture, but the older he became, the more open he was to LSD use that went beyond therapy. He compared it often to the Eleusinian mysteries, and he hoped that it would become a tool for initiation. In 2007, one year after our big conference and one year before he died, LSD research was once again permissible in Switzerland, and this made him incredibly happy. He didn’t want it to be misused by the youth as he truly felt it was something to be approached with reverence. However, by the end of his life, he was open to the idea of it being used outside of medical settings by those who approached it responsibly. His contact with writers and artists from all over the world convinced him that it can play an important role outside of medical contexts, and he was more and more happy that people took it. He would love the psychedelic renaissance today!

LSD was the first psychoactive substance that Albert synthesized, but it was not the only one. What were the others? Psilocybin, and psilocin?

Yes psilocybin, and he was also taking samples of Salvia divinorum when he was with Gordon Wasson in Mexico. The two had a journey to Mexico after Albert had first synthesized psilocybin to give it to Maria Sabina, the famed Mexican curandera who had first led Gordon Wasson on a mushroom ceremony. Wasson, on his first trip, had taken back some samples of salvia, but Albert was not able to find the active component. What was important for Albert was to look for the active component in these morning glory seeds ololiuqui that were used also as a sacrament in shamanic ceremonies in Mexico. 

He was deeply thrilled when he found out that there was also lysergic acid in these morning glory seeds. Apart from the psychoactive chemicals, he synthesized many medications, some of which are still in use. What he loved the most was methergine, a chemical that makes birthing easier for women. Speaking of his two favourite substances, he said “methergine makes physical birth easier, and the LSD makes spiritual birth easier.” These ergot alkaloids were used in medieval times by midwives to make the birthing process easier. For him, psilocybin wasn’t that interesting. The thing he wanted on his tombstone was “Albert Hofmann, discoverer of LSD.” 

Do you think that the messages that can be learned from LSD and other psychedelics can be helpful now in light of the coronavirus crisis? 

I don’t know how helpful it can be in this specific crisis, but one of the most important things about LSD is that it can reconnect people with the living creation, with nature. Albert’s biggest gripe with the modern world was our alienation from nature. He was unable to comprehend how people are seduced by materialism, turning a blind eye to the miracle of nature. I think that is what it really can do now to help us is to connect us with the living creation and the wonders of nature. Albert wrote up a summary of his life that he wanted to have read at his funeral ceremony which perfectly summarized how he saw LSD contributing to a better future: 

“Nature, the creation, was described by Paracelcus as the book written by the finger of God. In my life, I was fortunate to have this profoundly uplifting and comforting experience. To whomever understands how to read this book, not only with scientific curiosity but with wondering, loving eyes, will be revealed a deeper, more marvellous reality in which we are all secure, and forever united.”

Photo credit: Albert Hofmann in the Dordogne, France, 1990 by François Lagarde

Mystic Chemist: The Life of Albert Hofmann and His Discovery of LSD

Mystic Chemist By Dieter Hagenbach & Lucius Werthmüller

Mystic Chemist is the authoritative biography on arguably the most famous chemist of the 20th century. Authors Hagenbach and Werthmüller, close friends of Hofmann, take us on a journey through the 20th century from his mystical childhood experiences with nature; to his chemistry studies with Nobel Prize winner Paul Karrer in Zurich through his discoveries of both LSD and psilocybin at Sandoz; to his adventurous expeditions and his many years of retirement devoted to philosophy of nature and a rich social life. The authors also reveal a thorough and eventful history of the impact that LSD had on culture and the ensuing struggles between its advocates and opponents, many of which persist today.

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Peyote Road Reflections

Peyote Road Reflections

Above: Peyote Meeting at Mirando City, Texas, from Reflections on the Peyote Road, by Jerry Patchen, ESPD50 (photo courtesy of Robert Black)

What is Peyote?

Peyote, scientifically known as Lophophora williamsii, is a small, spineless cactus native to North America, populating the vast desert thorn scrub that runs from the southwestern United States into north-central Mexico. It is commonly known for its psychoactive properties. Among its many alkaloids, peyote contains the naturally occurring chemical compound mescaline which has the ability to induce brilliantly colored geometrical visions. Classed as a controlled, Schedule I substance in the United States, Native Americans have had to fight hard for the sustained use of their sacred plant.

The sacramental use of peyote is the oldest known religious practice on the North American continent. By way of example, there are three archeological specimens of peyote that were discovered in the Shumla Cave in Pecos, Texas which have been radiocarbon dated between 3660 and 3780 BCE. Petroglyphs in the area adorned with peyote motifs have also been dated to the same period. Thus, the cactus has been used by indigenous groups in Northern Americas for millennia, being an integral part of the cosmology of Huichol peoples of Northern Mexico as well as the Native American Church. 

Western Culture’s Misunderstanding of the Plant Medicine

Despite being given such reverence by indigenous peoples and the NAC, peyote has been extremely misunderstood by outsiders for centuries. Since their arrival in the New World in the early 1600s, Spanish colonists set about replacing native religions with Catholicism. Bernardino de Sahagún, a Franciscan friar, and missionary priest wrote about peyote: 

“Those who eat or drink it see visions either frightful or laughable… it stimulates them and gives them sufficient spirit to fight and have neither fear, thirst, nor hunger… It causes those devouring it to foresee and predict; such, for instance, as whether the weather will continue; or to discern who has stolen from them…”

Upon coming into contact with peyote in Mexico, the Spanish colonialists considered it to be an anti-christian, “diabolical root” in direct opposition to the integrity of the Catholic faith. The Inquisitor General ordered Christianization at the point of the sword, and plants used in native rituals were condemned. In 1620, an official order was issued by the Inquisitors declaring that “no person of whatever rank of social condition can or may make use of the said herb, Peyote” as it was considered to be an “intervention of the Devil.”           

Spanish Imperialists brought death and disease to Northern Mexico and with this its inhabitants fled, scattering south and west. One group, the Tarahumara Indians, made their home in the remote hills of the Sierra Madre Occidental. It is believed that their successors gave rise to the Huichol or Wixarika, who are the only remaining indigenous group in Mexico that continues to use peyote as a ritual sacrament.

The Native American Use of Peyote

Peyote Drummer

‘Peyote Drummer’ Via Museum of Photographic Arts Collections

Meanwhile, north of the border the European colonization of America had begun. Over the span of a couple of centuries, the Native Americans saw their buffalo food supply deliberately wiped out, with each tribe experiencing its own genocide, land seizure, displacement, and removal to reservations.

Acclaimed ethnobotanist, Richard Evans Schultes, was among the first few Westerners to study peyote. In 1936, Schultes made his way to Oklahoma to study the ritual use of peyote among the Kiowa Indians. 

It is thought that the Kiowa first came into contact with peyote in the mid-1800s through the Comanches. According to the seminal text Peyote Religion by Omer Stewart, the Carrizo Mexican Indians passed peyote use and rituals to the Lipan Apache, with the Apache going on to pass it to the Comanches, and finally it was passed from the Comanches to the Kiowa.

Anthropologist Wade Davis writes of the Native American’s connection to peyote in his book One River explaining that “peyote offered the Kiowa and the Comanche an astonishing affirmation of their fundamental religious ideas” in a time when their ways of life were disintegrating.

Legal Battles and the Native American Chruch

Jerry Patchen, a Texas attorney, and contributing author to our publication Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs has represented the Native American Church and US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) licensed peyote dealers (peyoteros) harvesting and selling peyote to the NAC for over forty years. 

During his career as a lawyer, he fought on the frontlines of the peyote wars, providing pro bono representation to Indians that were being charged with the serious offense of possessing a controlled substance. In his paper, “Reflections of the Peyote Road with the Native American Church – Visions & Cosmology” he expands upon his journey, helping to protect and secure the legal status of Peyote for use by Native Americans in NAC prayer services. 

To learn more about the legal trials and tribulations faced by the Native American Church watch the video below, in which Jerry Patchen reflects on his career and shares his personal experiences.

In 1912, the Bureau of Indian Affairs tried to lobby for a federal law prohibiting peyote. This law was passed by the House of Representatives but rejected by the Senate. An Oklahoman senator was swayed by his Indian constituency, persuading his colleagues to vote against the bill. Following this, the Native American Church rallied the support of several anthropologists, ethnologists, and ethnobotanists in their fight to save their sacred medicine. Among them, Richard Evans Schultes had presented a vast bibliography as well as the insights from field research with the Kiowa. Finally, the U.S. Senate Committee accepted their conclusion that peyote was not a “habit-forming drug” and is used as a “religious sacrament”. 

The efforts to prohibit the use of peyote ceased for three decades until the beginning of the 1960s countercultural movement in the 1960s where baby boomers discovered psychedelic substances and wanted to “turn on, tune in, drop out” en masse. Alarmed by the potential dangers of psychoactive substances, the U.S. government enacted The Controlled Substances Act of 1970, in which peyote was included in the drugs classified as Schedule I substances. Read more about psychedelics and the 1960s counterculture.

Patchen helped create and draft a plan of petitioning the U.S. Congress to pass the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and to amend the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978 (AIRFA) to expressly include peyote. This strategy was presented to Senator Daniel Inouye, Chairman of the Senate Committee of Indian Affairs at a public hearing in Oklahoma. The strategy succeeded with both Acts eventually being passed. Thus, the listing of peyote as a controlled substance does no longer applies to the sacramental use of peyote in bona fide religious ceremonies of the Native American Church. Later, this legislation played a key role in the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to permit the religious use of ayahuasca. Patchen reflects that:

“Without the tenacious commitment of the NAC, there would be no legal use of Peyote or ayahuasca in the U.S. today”

What does the Future Hold for Peyote?

Donna Torres Lophophora Williamsii

Lophophora williamsii by the botanical illustrator Donna Torres

In recent years, the greatest threat to peyote is its paucity and decreasing numbers. A convergence of factors such as illegal poaching, overharvesting, and conversion of its natural environment into agricultural land has led to a severe decrease in wild populations, making it a vulnerable species. 

As early as 1995, American botanist Edward Anderson noted the change in peyote populations in his paper entitled “The “Peyote Gardens” of South Texas: a conservation crisis?”. Anderson theorized that the greatest threat to peyote was not the peyoteros who are registered with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and legally permitted to collect peyote to supply the Native American Church. In general, peyoteros are considered to be good conservationists, harvesting sustainably with the knowledge that their livelihood depends on stable populations of the plant. 

Rather, Anderson identified the two most serious threats to peyote as “root-plowing [for agricultural purposes] and the locking up of ranches to the peyoteros” with most land being privately owned. Thus, a tension exists between land-owners and peyoteros who have to take out costly leases to harvest the peyote enclosed in private land. What’s more, is that it has become more and more difficult for distributors to gain the legal approval they need to collect peyote to sell to the Native American Church. A 2018 article by Daniel Oberhaus, stated that there are currently “only four peyoteros who are registered with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and legally able to collect peyote.”

Beyond this, the number of people consuming peyote globally exceeds the plants’ ability to regenerate. Since the 1960s, New Age psychedelic tourists have been drawn to the plains of Northern Mexico seeking visionary experience. This trend has also been amplified by the fanfare surrounding today’s psychedelic renaissance, with a renewed interest in the therapeutic potentials of visionary plants. This psychedelic tourism has inevitably has impacted the availability of peyote for the Huichol.

Peyote is a fragile species liable to become endangered. The plant itself is extremely slow-growing, taking many years to reach maturity, and people are harvesting it in a very negligent way. When harvesting is done sustainably, the top of the root hardens but the plant does not die and is able to produce more peyote in the future. If poor harvesting techniques are used, the entire plant dies. 

To learn more about how to harvest peyote sustainably, check out this video uploaded by anthropologist, Bia Labate, interviewing Dr. Martin Terry from the Cactus Conservation Institute


More about Jerry Patchen

Jerry Patchen contributing author to the Ethnopharmacologic Search of Psychoactive Drugs -- PeyoteJerry D. Patchen, contributing author to Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs, is a Texas Attorney with four decades of experience litigating civil and criminal cases. Patchen’s work includes forty years of pro bono representation of the Native American Church (NAC) on behalf of American Indians to secure and protect their rights to religious freedom. Serving as an Officer in the NAC, he represented individuals charged in various states with possession of Peyote, winning every case. He also represented the Peyote dealers in Texas, who are licensed by the Texas DPS and DEA to dispense Peyote to Indians. Throughout his representation of the NAC Jerry, his wife, Linda, and their three children participated in Peyote meetings with Native American elders for decades.


Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs: 50 Years of Research (1967-2017)

Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs Box SetCertain plants have long been known to contain healing properties and used to treat everything from depression and addiction, to aiding in on one’s own spiritual well-being for hundreds of years. Can Western medicine find new cures for human ailments by tapping into indigenous plant wisdom? And why the particular interest in the plants with psychoactive properties? These two conference volume proceedings provide an abundance of answers.

The milestone publication, Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs, emerged as the brainchild of Dennis McKenna. McKenna, having attained a copy of the original publication from the 1967 conference, found himself inspired to shape his career in light of the book, delving into a lifelong investigation of the pharmacology of traditional medicinal plants.

Buy Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs

In Loving Memory of Psychedelic Pioneer and Spiritual Teacher Ram Dass

In Loving Memory of Psychedelic Pioneer and Spiritual Teacher Ram Dass

Above: Ram Dass, late 60s, from “Birth of a Psychedelic Culture”

Forever Remembering Ram Dass

Psychedelic pioneer, countercultural icon, spiritual teacher, and Synergetic Press author Ram Dass passed away last month. He peacefully departed from his body on 22 December 2019, at the ripe age of 88 surrounded by friends and loved ones at his home in Maui. 

Without a doubt, Ram Dass was one of the most symbolically representative figures of the countercultural consciousness revolution that took place in the 1960s and 70s. From formidable Harvard professor, LSD researcher, and right-hand man to Timothy Leary, he helped to initiate the psychedelic era to later becoming the spiritual teacher known world over as Ram Dass. 

Born Richard Alpert in April 1931, he graduated from Tufts University in Boston, earning a doctorate in psychology at Stanford, and becoming a high-flying professor of psychology at Harvard University. In the early 1960s, Alpert worked together with Timothy Leary and Ralph Metzner at Harvard University, emerging as a figurehead in the countercultural scene. 

Higher Consciousness at Harvard

Ram Dass, Timothy Leary & Ralph Metzner

Ram Dass, Timothy Leary, and Ralph Metzner

It was under Timothy Leary’s influence that Richard Alpert came to have his first psychedelic experience. Leary had experienced psilocybin mushrooms in Mexico, holding that the experience revealed more about human psychology than he’d spent his career learning. Alpert found himself intrigued by Leary’s description of the mushroom, and soon enough an experiment had been arranged. Alpert describes his first experience with psychedelics as extremely powerful, bringing about an ego-death, dissolving the image of himself that he’d spent his career working towards. Reflecting on his dissolving identity, he said:

“‘Well, I guess I don’t really need that anymore’ and I sat back and relaxed. And the minute I said, ‘I don’t need that anymore,’ the figure changed and it was somebody else. I sat forward and there I was again, except now I was the young cosmopolite. My ‘cosmopoliteness’ was sitting over there; alright, well I guess I can do without that. Sat back. And in a sequence, all of my social roles went by— ‘loverness,’ ‘wise man,’ ‘kind person—all of my roles. With each one, I said: ‘Okay, well too bad about that one, there it goes.’”

In 1960, Timothy Leary ordered psilocybin from Sandoz Laboratories in Switzerland, with the aim of investigating how different manners of administration could generate different experiences. Richard Alpert, alongside Timothy Leary and Ralph Metzner (who passed away last year), collaborated with figures like Aldous Huxley, and Allen Ginsberg in order to carry out research into human consciousness, which later became known as the Harvard Psilocybin Project. 

Soon the Harvard professors began to include LSD in their experiments. Although psilocybin and LSD were both legal at the time, their research was considered to be highly controversial and its legitimacy was questioned by the faculty at Harvard, leading to Alpert and Leary being jointly dismissed in 1963. 

Learn more about LSD, it’s history, and how it was first synthesized.

Birth of a Psychedelic Culture

Unperturbed, the unorthodox Harvard trio relocated to an estate in Millbrook, New York, offered to them by heirs of the Mellon fortune, in order to continue their research. Alpert and Leary went from being academic to legendary counterculture icons, forever changing a generation of Americans with their explorations into the usness. 

An illuminating conversation between Ram Dass and Ralph Metzner is presented in our publication, Birth of a Psychedelic Culture: Conversations about Leary, Harvard, Millbrook, and the Sixties, in which they shine light on these radical experiments, and provide an understanding of the history of the sixties.

CLICK HERE to read Ram Dass’s and Ralph Metzner’s reflections in this last chapter of their memoir on a decade of experimentation with psychedelics and pioneering the science of consciousness research with their colleague Timothy Leary.

The Trap of Getting High 

Psychedelics were undoubtedly the catalysts that led Richard Alpert to India, seeking a more permanent form of enlightenment. The awakenings induced by psychedelic substances never lasted for long, and Alpert longed for a way to maintain and integrate expanded states of consciousness. Disillusioned with the experiments at Millbrook, Alpert traveled to India in 1967 in search of a more enduring experience of enlightenment. In India, he became the devoted disciple of the Hindu guru Neem Karoli Baba, tenderly known as Maharajji. It was Maharajji who renamed Alpert as ‘Ram Dass’, meaning “Servant of God”.

During his time in India, Ram Dass gave his guru a hefty dose of LSD, curious to see how Maharajji would react. However, it had no impact, and the holy man was unaffected by the drug, telling Ram Dass that one could take a drug and “stay in the room with Christ for only a few hours instead of living with the Lord.” It was this notion that led Ram Dass to make his life about spiritual practice, his relationship with psychedelics taking a backseat. 

We Wouldn’t Be Here Now without Ram Dass

Be Here Now by Ram Dass

Ram Dass’s ‘Be Here Now’

Ram Dass was a major harbinger of the New Age movement, and after returning to America, long-haired and bearded, Ram Dass devoted himself to the path of selfless service, making Maharajji’s teachings his work, eventually becoming considered a guru himself.

“A guru only exists to serve his devotees, that’s the only reason for his existence. And seeing him in the physical form is only another part of the dance and another part of the illusion.”

Upon returning from India in 1971, Ram Dass distilled his spiritually enlightening experiences, publishing his seminal book Be Here Now in which he imparts the teachings of his guru Neem Karoli Baba, or Maharaj-ji. Be Here Now was perhaps Ram Dass’s most influential work, and it continues to be exceptionally resonant for generations of spiritual seekers, having sold over two million copies since it was first published. In a sense, the book made novel Eastern spiritual and philosophical ideas palatable to the Western mind, propelling the New Age discourse on mindful awareness, positivity, and higher consciousness. 

No Stranger to Death

An experienced psychonaut, Ram Dass knew the terrain of ego-death intimately, having co-authored The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead with Timothy Leary and Ralph Metzner to guide people through experiences of ego-death encountered in the psychedelic experience. 

Beyond this, in 1997, Ram Dass suffered a major stroke that left him paralyzed on his right side, unable to find the words which before had flowed so fluidly. Going from being fully independent to being dependent on others, and having to learn how to speak again, he described the stroke as “ego-shattering”. Emphasizing the importance of “being here now”, Ram Dass viewed death as a reminder to live more fully, encouraging us to be in the moment and remember that our souls transcend space, time and the transient existence of the physical body. 

In the past, he had spoken of his acceptance of death. Last year, in an interview with the New York Times Magazine he was asked how he’d come to this acceptance. In response, he shared: 

“When I arrived at my soul. Soul doesn’t have fear of dying. Ego has very pronounced fear of dying. The ego, this incarnation, is life and dying. The soul is infinite.”

A Word from Michael Gosney, Synergetic Press, Associate Publisher

“It was an honor to have known all three of the main characters in the Harvard Psychedelic Club. The first was Timothy Leary, who I befriended in the early 90s during his final Chaos and Cyberculture phase when he appeared at several of our Digital Be-In events in San Francisco, and we held parties at his house in Bel Air during the Digital Hollywood conferences. I met Ram Dass at Tim’s 75th birthday where he made a theatric entrance with a gigantic bouquet of roses, symbolizing his love for Tim and the end of their estrangement at the time.

Ralph Metzner and I met in the late 90s with his participation in the Digital Be-In, and in 2003 I organized the after-party in San Francisco for his groundbreaking conference on Ayahuasca. The following year Ram Dass finally made our spirited cyberculture event when we held a Ram Dass discussion circle moderated by Wavy Gravy at Digital Be-In 13 (May 29, 2004, Memorial Day with themed “The Transparent Network”).

I have long been fascinated by the respective roles these three iconic figures played on the world stage. Timothy took the celebrity visionary path and continued to hack mainstream culture in various ways. Ralph never stopped working as a serious consciousness researcher and became the guide of guides, leading the neo-shamanic movement and helping to set in motion today’s psychedelic research renaissance. Richard Alpert in becoming Baba Ram Dass took the path of spirit, and starting with his classic transmission Be Here Now, translated age-old principles for a new generation of seekers looking for deeper insights into life than the prevailing materialist paradigm offered. His many books, seminars, and organizations (such as Seva Foundation and Hanuman Foundation) were all products of his commitment to compassion. Before his passing, he initiated the Be Here Now Network an ongoing resource from his core circle of teachers.

Although I never had the opportunity to know Ram Dass as I did the other two, events and people seemed to keep us connected, including friends who managed his tours before the stroke constrained his travel, friends who made the beautiful documentary Dying to Know, and my work over the years with Synergetic Press, which in effect began with a launch party for Birth of a Psychedelic Culture edited by Ram Dass and Ralph Metzner at the legendary Anon Salon venue in San Francisco.

The last time I saw Ram Dass was in 2016 when he wheeled up to the table at the wedding of mutual friends in Maui. Although his energy was limited that day, he took the time to come and join in the celebration and bless the event. All in attendance felt that signature loving vibration.

Thank you, dear brother, for all you contributed to our shared journey through these remarkable times. Onward into the subtle realms…”

 

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