Stained glass

There is a logical fallacy that psychonauts tend to make called the Appeal to Tradition. Just as it sounds, this is when someone describes a particular method or system as superior because it is traditional. The truth, of course, is that a solution’s stature as a tradition has no bearing on its effectiveness. A tradition may be passed on for many generations and still remain fundamentally flawed.

We gain nothing by judging other people’s entheogenic journeys by our own deeply personal values.

Even psychonauts with the best of intentions commit this logical error. Having come to deeply respect a particular entheogenic tradition — for instance, the Amazonian ayahuasca ceremony — they insist that it is sacred. They begin to scoff at casual recreational users, claiming that the only proper way to ingest the “sacrament” is with a certain attitude or in the context of a certain tradition. “DMT is an ancient and sacred spiritual molecule,” they intone with grave voices (or what I imagine to be grave voices, as I read their posts on various forums). “It is a gift from nature, meant to be harnessed for spiritual growth and reconnecting with the earth.”

Now I’m a big fan of viewing psychedelics as sacraments, and I too have deep appreciation for both the chemicals and the long history of traditions surrounding their use. But that doesn’t mean such traditions should monopolize everyone’s attitudes and practices. No one knows what a particular drug is “meant for” or how it is “supposed to be used.” It’s the height of arrogance to claim knowledge of nature’s or God’s intentions, and we gain nothing by judging other people’s entheogenic journeys by our own deeply personal values.

Sacredness is inherently subjective; nothing is universally revered. A medicine or a ritual can only be sacred to someone. Amazonian shamans revere their psychoactive plants as wise spiritual teachers, so Mimosa bark and Caapi vines are sacred in their culture. But not in all cultures — the ayahuasqueros govern DMT use in their own thatched temples, not all over the globe. Likewise I am master of my bodily temple, but have no moral ground on which to judge the entheogenic habits of others. Recreational drug users are not profaning my gods or values, they’re just exploring their own psychedelic frontier. Maybe irreverently, maybe stupidly, but exploring all the same.

Communion wafer

Consider Communion wafers. In the context of Holy Communion, they are revered as the sacramental body of Christ. But to me they’re just crackers. If I order a box and snack on them at home, who is harmed? Some Christians may be outraged, but that just betrays their hypersensitivity; when you’re upset because someone else is eating crackers, it’s time to reconsider the fervor with which you pursue your beliefs. That’s exactly how I view the “sacred molecule” zealots of the psychedelic community — well-meaning but smug. I want to shake them and say, “Chill out, pal! Not everyone shares your values, and that’s okay! Here — have some of these delicious unleavened crackers.”

All human progress refutes the claim that older is better; it is our willingness to experiment, to change our minds, to evolve  that makes us great.

The idea that longstanding entheogenic traditions are the only legitimate ones is nothing more than an appeal to antiquity: it is oldest, therefore it is best. When laid bare, its poverty as a logical argument is pretty apparent. Just think — until Edison invented the incandescent light bulb, the best way to light a room was by fire. Now the ubiquity of electric lighting has made candlelight quaint. Monarchy, too, was a long-standing tradition, now largely supplanted in the West by the social experiment called democracy. In fact all human progress refutes the claim that older is better; it is our willingness to experiment, to change our minds, to evolve that makes us great.

Psychedelic compounds belong to everyone. Thanks to a global community of independent adventurers, we continue to discover new applications and methods for them every day. We should not limit ourselves to merely the oldest ways of consuming psychedelics. This is not sacrilege, it’s progress.

It’s true that shamans have special wisdom to impart, and we should use their hard-won expertise to guide our own psychedelic journeys. But why shackle ourselves to the past? This ancient wisdom provides the foundation, the base camp that allows us to press forward and chart the landscape of our minds with more clarity. We can go beyond the blazed trail. Let’s pitch camps on the outskirts of civilized consciousness, and return starry-eyed with stories and swiftly limned maps of its secret depths and towering peaks!

Every future generation will scrawl a new chapter in humanity’s Psychonautic How To manual — or at least ruminate in humble ink upon the margins so that future readers may compare notes. And every psychedelic enthusiast plays a small part in this vast social experiment, joining together into a huge underground collective dedicated to discovering and refining a wide variety of entheogenic practices. We all share a goal: to make the most of the dose. So establish your own entheogenic tradition! Figure out what works for you, and report back to the rest of us.

If we do not have ultimate authority in our own minds, then we cannot have freedom in any meaningful sense.

The right to experiment freely with drugs is like the freedom of speech—sometimes, in support of this right, we must patiently endure its use by people we vehemently disagree with. Taking cognitive liberty seriously means that even the most naïve and wrongheaded use of drugs is legitimate. (I’m referring here to drug use that we find disagreeable, not downright dangerous. If someone is using drugs unsafely, friends and family have a right to intervene.)

Just think of errant drug users as analogous to the much-maligned Westboro Baptist Church, who picket the funerals of soldiers and gay people while rambling about God’s wrath. However noxious the protest signs and slogans of this so-called church, we cannot censor them as long as we value free speech. And while we may be keen to dismiss misguided drug users, we should instead take the high road, acknowledging their right to cognitive liberty and resisting judgment. Their minds, their choice. Everyone is the ruler of his or her own psyche—if we do not have ultimate authority in our own minds, then we cannot have freedom in any meaningful sense.

If psychedelics have taught me anything, it’s to have some humility. Let’s dispense with the holier-than-thou attitude. As explorers we all have different worldviews and approaches; we take different routes to different peaks for different reasons. That’s a good thing! Such diversity is a special feature of these drugs — and of us. So the next time you hear about someone posting their salvia experience on YouTube or dropping way too much acid while drunk at a festival, try not to turn up your nose.

Why not start your own entheogenic tradition?

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