TWH – When psychonaut Stephen Gray writes “What a long, strange trip it’s been,” he’s playfully referencing that Grateful Dead album with the same title. But Gray is after bigger game: The “trip” he’s actually citing is humankind’s “incredibly rich history of plant-entangled religion and magic,” as he writes in the forward to the book Psychedelic Mystery Traditions: Spirit Plants, Magical Practices, Ecstatic States by Thomas Hatsis. For Pagans who refer to their practice as an “earth-based spirituality” or “nature spirituality” (see circlesanctuary.org), those terms can carry various meanings. For Pagans whose paths include entheogens, “earth-based” is a very literal term. The website oxforddictionaries.com defines entheogen as “a chemical substance, typically of plant origin, that is ingested to produce a non-ordinary state of consciousness for religious or spiritual purposes.” The term dates only to the 1970s, and its Greek roots literally mean “becoming divine within.”
The Oxford site reports the word was “coined by an informal committee studying the inebriants of shamans.”
A psychonaut, by the way, is someone who explores altered states of consciousness — especially but not always through hallucinogens — for spiritual or scientific purposes.
[Today journalist Nathan Hall reports on a national concern that is affecting Pagans and magic-workers. If you enjoy articles like this, please consider donating to The Wild Hunt. We are now at 43% with 11 days left. You make it possible for us to continue to provide a platform for our communities’ important news. What better way to celebrate the October season: Donate to a news organization that is, in part, for and about modern Witches.
Just a few quick news notes for you on this Tuesday. Margot Alder on Witchcraft, Cults, and Space Travel: Margot Adler, NPR correspondent and author of the seminal 1979 book “Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America”, talks to the Daily Camera in Boulder, Colorado about her life and work in advance of her presentations at the 64th Annual Conference on World Affairs. Of special interest to my Pagan readers will be the story of how she landed the book deal that eventually lead to “Drawing Down the Moon.” “That happened by a complete fluke, way back in 1974. I had sort of a loser boyfriend.
Entheogens, psychoactive substances used in “a religious, shamanic, or spiritual context,” once popularly known as “psychedelics,” are often sensationalized, misunderstood, and are usually banned from being used legally. Despite the United State’s policy of religious freedom, there are only two instances where entheogens have been able to win legal protection (peyote for Native American ceremonial purposes, and ayahuasca by the União do Vegetal). So any attempts to demystify and contextualize their use to a broad audience can only help change the tone of the conversation. Enter Hamilton Morris, and his Vice.com web series “Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia,” profiled on Friday by the New York Times. “Through documentary footage “Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia” tries to expand viewers’ knowledge of drugs and temper a subject that can be romanticized.
There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up. The case of Forsyth County, North Carolina v. Joyner, which ultimately ruled that opening invocations and prayers before government bodies cannot be overwhelmingly sectarian in nature, is now being used to challenge the sectarian prayers in North Carolina’s State Legislature. The ACLU is threatening litigation if North Carolina doesn’t change its policy. As I’ve pointed out here before, this case rests heavily on precedents involving Pagans who’ve challenged government invocation policies.