The conversation the other night at dinner came around to the legalization of marijuana, or the prohibition of this and other drugs. An argument was put forth that we wouldn't allow people to sacrifice children in the name of religion. I argue that that is not a valid analogy.
My basic stance on the use of any drugs, be they marijuana, or entheogens
, or anything else, is that the government has no right to tell myself, or any other citizen, what I can and cannot injest into my body. (I also find it sadly amusing that it's often the same people who argue so vehemently for limiting government that are often for prohibition.) First of all, there is a tradition of shamanic usage of these substances, such as ayahuasca
, that goes back for millenia, wherein plants are seen as teachers, with something to offer other than simply a source of energy or nutrients. (The The Santo Daime
church is one group that uses ayahuasca as a sacrament. Another group is the UDV, which was recently in the news
. Apparently the US Supreme Court will hear their case. The Native American Church
as a sacrament. You're beginning to see the picture.) If you study anthropology, you will find that where there are people, and there are plants or animals that can change or alter consciousness in the environment where those people live, these substances have been used for their spiritual benefit.
Therefore, the argument that these substances are dangerous (they can be, if abused by stupid or ignorant people) to be faulty at best, and at worst beside the point. If I, as an consenting adult, choose to injest something that I know may or may not be dangerous to myself, that is my choice. They also have a long history of perfectly safe usage by those who respect what the plants have to teach.
Then the argument often comes around to "But what if they drive while they're in an altered state of consciousness and hurt or kill someone?" This is not a valid argument. You could argue the same about alcohol, but, as we learned from Prohibition, this does not work (I won't even bring up the failures of the War on Drugs). It causes more problems than it solves. It is simply a matter of personal responsibility. It doesn't matter whether the person driving is impaired from alcohol, marijuana or prescription drugs. If a person's judgement or perceptions are impaired or altered, they shouldn't drive. It's that simple. Also, restricting access to a substance does not stop its abuse. In other words, making these substances illegal will not prevent people who use them from driving under the influence. Non sequiter.
Daniel Pinchbeck wrote a very interesting book on the uses of entheogens called Breaking Open The Head, A Psychedelic Journey into the Heart of Contemporary Shamanism
. If you find the idea that people could derive spiritual insight from ingesting a plant, then you might find this book an interesting read. He covers the Ayahuasca
traditions, as well as the use of an obscure plant from Africa called Iboga
to break people of their heroin addictions. It's more than a memoir. It's more like a personal history of spiritual transformation by encounters with traditional shamanic practices. He also has a forum on his website
Also, the late Terrence McKenna
wrote a very interesting travelogue called True Hallucinations
. It's quite worth the read. As well as being informative, it's a ripping yarn.
I think there is a general tendency in the West to discount anything that falls outside of our traditions. I'm not saying that this is racist, but in some ways you could see it that way. At the least, there is a tendency to belittle or laugh at non-Western spiritual beliefs or traditions. But it should be remembered, that our Western worldview is less than 2000 years old. And shamanic traditions are found among indigineous peoples everywhere, and go back to the dawn of man, over 100,000 years ago. I think we forget this. Or perhaps most people don't really think about it.