ABSTRACT

In 1957, Aldous Huxley published The Doors of Perception, a work that would galvanize debates regarding the sacredness and profaneness of mystical consciousness. In connecting psychedelically inspired, unmediated perception with mystical, and perennial, modes of understanding, Huxley, critics like R. C. Zaehner declared, elided the conditions that make mystical consciousness possible, inserting an amoral universal monism where only theistic doctrines should function. The comparative debates that subsequently emerged over the nature of real versus ersatz mysticism, while questioning critically the connection between morality and mysticism, ultimately extend beyond a mere critique of psychedelic culture. More distinctly, the debates over the “authenticity,” “truth,” and ethical weight of psychedelic mysticism demonstrate the challenges perennial beliefs posed to traditional, supernaturally based monotheistic religions. What critics of psychedelic mysticism fail to understand, as evidenced by Zaehner's extended critique of Huxley, is the efficacy of psychedelics as a sacramental source for reimagining the experience of everyday living. The significance of reading the perennial undertones of the psychedelic experience can thus be found in Huxley's overarching religious proclamation: “The truth is, of course, that we are all organically related to God, to Nature and to our fellow men.” To inhabit the perennial philosophy as a mode of being makes unitive interconnection the lived expression of reality; it reveals, as Huxley's final psychedelic revelation signifies, that “one never loves enough.” Indeed, as this article argues through an engagement with the comparative debates that emerged in the 1960s, the liminal spaces unveiled in psychedelic consciousness—between the divine wonders of theism and the natural emptiness of monism—helped the 1960s counterculture reimagine, and reengage, complex dialogues between self and other, between the always already and the never quite yet. In so doing, psychedelic mysticism comes to represent an entry point into a perennial religion in which the divisive characteristics of modern religious and political positions gives way to an unmediated space of interconnection. Here, then, the psychedelic becomes the entheogenic: it inspires—as it did for members of the Marsh Chapel Experiment, a case study this article concludes with—a unitive, spiritual experience structured within an alteration of consciousness unbounded and unlimited.

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