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Drugs and Pagan Culture

January 26, 2010 3 comments

Please be advised that I am neither condoning nor condemning the ritual use of drugs in spiritual practice, merely pointing out some things to consider on both sides. This article does not imply my own use of drugs.

You know it happens. You’re getting ready for ritual and some folks come up to join. They may be friends or strangers, and you work to make them feel welcome. But you can tell that they aren’t quite there–that something is off. They are high, drunk, or otherwise intoxicated. Now you have a dilemma. You want to include anybody who is interested in participating, but should you allow them?

As Paganism is an alternate culture, we have different experiences and responses to the use of drugs and alcohol. As many on the path are seeking enlightening experiences, drugs are sometimes used to elicit a mind-expanding opportunity. Alcohol was used by Dionysians to commune with their God. Many native and shamanistic cultures use a variety of hallucinogenic drugs in their rituals. They may use peyote, hallucinogenic mushrooms, LSD, marijuana, etc. These drugs stimulate different parts of the brain, exciting cells in the body. If you are interested in how drugs work, check out this interactive flash animation.

A traditional Wiccan initiation does not use drugs. Rather, incense, ritual binding, oils, and wine are used to put you in an altered consciousness.

Drugs are often used as a form of initiation, causing the initiate to experience things they would otherwise never be able to. They might see things, touch other worlds, and make tangible parts of themselves that have long been buried deep in the subconscious. The ritualistic use of drugs can release deep and enduring pain as the user confronts inner demons. The experience may seem to answer spiritual and existential questions about the nature of existence, often propelling the user farther onto their spiritual path. In some ways, using drugs is a short-cut to individual self-knowledge.

Some people will choose this path. One hopes they choose it to find such enlightenment, but more often, I believe, they are fascinated by the use of the drug, and use the religion as an excuse to use recreationally. Sometimes the use is in imitation of shamanic practices, without actually going through the traditional work and character building that would be required by these religious groups. This is cultural appropriation–not religion.

There is no denying the effects of drug use–obviously as a religious experience, using drugs works, or we wouldn’t have been using them since the dawn of time. But the use is not all positive. Some drugs are chemically addicting, while others are habit-forming. And for some people, drugs that wouldn’t normally be chemically addicting are. There is a danger here. One use of meth can have you hooked for life, and that is not a propaganda exaggeration (although there is plenty of that out there). Huffing inhalants like white-out just once could kill you. Cocaine could be cut with something dangerous, like arsenic. Those with prior psychosis or who are mentally unstable could be irreversibly damaged–this is dangerous territory. Besides the drugs themselves, getting them is difficult and dangerous because they are illegal. You would have to interact with seedy people in seedy places. Often the drugs travel a very long way from underdeveloped countries. They might be concealed about someone’s person, if you catch my drift winkwink.

If you are using drugs for spiritual purposes, consider finding a teacher to help you. Not only do they have knowledge about how best to take the drug, but they can also guide you through your experiences and help you get the most meaning out of it. You’ll need to do your own research on finding someone to help you. In general, they should be trustworthy (since you’ll be in an altered state around them, you need to know they aren’t going to rob you and leave you for dead), have a great deal of spiritual and chemical knowledge, and have a safe place and clean environment and tools with which to do the work. I would not advise associating with criminals for your own safety. As a general rule, they should be the sober one during your experience, for everyone’s safety. This teacher should also be able to recognize when a “trip” has gotten out of hand, and be ready to administer first aid and be willing to call an ambulance if necessary.

Ritual use can quickly become addiction, especially for folks who are predisposed to addiction behaviors, and those who are not balanced people. I’ve already talked about how folks with personality and psychotic disorders should not do magical practice, and this extends doubly to those who use drugs. Take this quick screening to check yourself. Answer yes or no to the following questions:

  1. Have you ever felt the need to Cut Down on your drinking or drug use?
  2. Have you been Annoyed by the criticism of others about your drinking or drug use?
  3. Have you felt Guilty about the amount of drinking or drugs you use?
  4. Have you ever had an Eye Opener drink (or drug use) first thing in the morning to feel more normal?

A yes response to two or more questions suggest a possible alcohol or substance abuse problem. Additionally, use of drugs or alcohol that interfere with normal life, such as school, the law, relationships, etc indicate a problem with substance abuse. Seek help from a drug or alcohol counselor.

Some people can use drugs occasionally and be fine. I post this because it is my ethical duty as a pre-service counselor to advise you and help you make your own decisions about your physical and mental health.

That being said, it is one thing to use drugs for your own individual path, or in a small group working on it together. It is quite another thing to come to a public ritual stoned, high, drunk, or otherwise intoxicated. Doing so puts other people at risk. You do not know what the content of the ritual will be, or how powerful the magical working. The group may be doing some serious internal work which an intoxicated person could react badly to, or ruin the experience for others with their inability to control themselves.

Group ritual is about creating a group mind, and that is impossible if some people are already not with it. Going to public ritual is the same as going to church. Would you come to your grandma’s church drunk? If you would, then you may have a problem controlling your substance use–or you are incredibly rude. Not only that, but it is embarrassing for others who may have to explain your behavior to outsiders. You may be putting other people in an uncomfortable situation if they are mandatory reporters, know your parents, or are members of law enforcement. Etiquette requires you to be in control of yourself. I realize that some may want to get high and go to ritual as a way of trying to get more out of it, but it is rude to the other people there.

May I also say that any experience you have when you are drunk, high, stoned, tripping, etc, can be experienced while NOT on drugs. Meditation techniques can give you visualizations that are as real and valid as anything you experience on mushrooms or LSD. The excitement of a good ritual with close covenmates can make you feel like you are on E because you are in ecstasy. Heck, even a good run can make you feel high. Our bodies naturally produce opiates, serotonin and dopamine, which drugs stimulate, imitate or disrupt. The use of drugs can become a mask to hide what you are really feeling and avoid problems in the real world. I doubt that many people who use drugs spiritually are truly prepared to do so, and probably have issues they need to face sober. You should never be required to take drugs as part of your spiritual training. If your coven mandates the use of drugs, and you do not wish to partake, find another coven.

So before you toke up on the way to the rit, consider the feelings and experiences of others before you do so. Coming to my rituals intoxicated gives you a one way ticket to the door–and likely not an invitation for next time. What’s more important to you?

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