Building a Modern Eleusis

The following is excerpted from newly published The New Psychedelic Revolution: The Genesis of a Visionary Age by James Oroc, published by Inner Traditions. 


The answer is never the answer. What’s really interesting is the mystery. If you seek the mystery instead of the answer, you’ll always be thinking. I’ve never seen anybody really find the answer, but they think they have. So they stop thinking. But the job is to seek mystery, evoke mystery, plant a garden in which strange plants and mystery bloom. The need for mystery is greater than the need for an answer.

Ken Kesey, The Art of Fiction interview,
Paris Review, 1994

Late night, at an annual psychedelic gathering during Art Basel in Miami a few years ago, an intelligent dreadlocked young man, who seemed genuinely interested in my work and who, I later found out, is the heir to a considerable fortune, asked me why I spent so much of my time promoting psychedelic culture. As I struggled to connect the dots between my ideas about the ego, technology, and the impending environmental catastrophe, with the absolute necessity of the reintroduction of the transpersonal experience into the Western psyche, he stopped me and told me that he understood, and the way he neatly summarized it was:

“The psychedelic perspective is the perspective required for humanity to adapt and survive.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself, and along with the birth of the environmental movement, the millions of people worldwide who have adopted healthier lifestyles and attitudes because of their psychedelic use are a testimony to the possibilities of that approach. Perhaps the hallmark of modern psychedelic culture is that if you happen to experience one its many rotating nexuses (such as the annual Alex Grey Bicycle Day event in San Francisco, a transformational festival in North America, a psytrance festival like BOOM! in Europe or Australia, or a major entheogenic conference like MAPS or the World Psychedelic Forum), you cannot help being impressed by the beauty and the complexity of the many-layered vision presented there. A vision that proclaims the possibility of what the world might be like if we simply allowed responsible psychedelic culture to flourish.

Having often been a working part of psychedelic culture over the last decade, and having had long conversations with many psychedelic artist-activists about what it is we are collectively trying to achieve (sometimes despairing that the message is being lost in all the beautiful pictures and the pretty lights), I have concluded that this Second Psychedelic Revolution is instinctively creating modern mystery schools, and that these movable temples of music, dance, and art are the closest things our society has to true portals to transcendence. (Joseph Campbell often stated that two of the oldest and most reliable technologies of transcendence are music and dancing.)

“Visionary art could be the new religion,” Alex Grey is fond of saying, “with psychedelics recognized again as sacraments.” He and I share the belief that the psychedelic-mystical response to art, music, and dance is one of the few effective methodologies that can cut through the programming of modern existence and help to alleviate our shared existential suffering; a viable technology capable of freeing us from the paralysis of the impending planetary ecocide, through a transformative connection with the universal transpersonal experience.

This is why psychedelic culture often showcases itself these days as rather grandly titled “transformational festivals.” These are based on the genuine belief that tremendous personal growth and transformation can occur from experiencing the transpersonal within the multilayered vision that the neo-tribal community that has evolved around these festivals over the past two decades collectively creates; and that if enough people experience this sense of connection there will be enough of us to make a change, to become, as I wrote in Tryptamine Palace, “the sharpened point of the spearhead of humanity.”

If there is a substantial difference between the outsider attitude of the psychedelic politics of Timothy Leary’s era—immortalized by his unfortunate advice to “Turn on, tune in, and drop out’” in 1966—and the pragmatic politics on display at tech-savvy festivals like BOOM!, Lightning in a Bottle, and Symbiosis, or within a professional psychedelic organization like MAPS or the Heffter Research Institute, it is in the recognition that slow change is more likely to occur within the system than as any kind of overwhelming revolution. While a transpersonal experience with psychedelics can motivate an individual to work toward real personal and social change—a psychedelic form of liberation theology—the mere act of taking the psychedelic itself generally changes nothing.

The psychedelic community is intensely aware of the fragility of this moment in history. Virtually every transformational festival has lecture series and workshops on the environmental crisis, alternative energy, and permaculture, while the entire 2012 phenomenon was, in my opinion, a misguided identification of the stark reality of the global crisis that we will most likely soon face.

One of the things I find most encouraging about the psychedelic community is how many really smart people I meet at these events. They are often the densest concentration of brilliant minds I have experienced outside of a university, and generally the most tolerant and open-minded. A transpersonal experience challenges virtually every foundation stone of our soulless Cartesian-Newtonian paradigm, and can stimulate an aroused intellect to new heights of understanding, while opening up the heart to the tolerance and acceptance that comes from knowing that all things are connected, that we are all part of the One. From more than sixty years of experience, we now know that responsible psychedelic use actually builds community. Any community with a high number of individuals who are familiar with transpersonal spaces—be they from yoga, meditation, prayer, or psychedelics—is likely to be both more conscious and more inviting.

Contemporary psychedelic culture is continuing proof of this, from the original touring family that grew up around the Grateful Dead and is now heading into its fifth decade, to the significant visionary community that has built up around the annual Burning Man ­gathering—a remarkable experiment in art and group consciousness that is, for that week, the most open and tolerant place on Earth—and the West Coast transformational festivals that it has helped to inspire. In Europe, the bi-annual, openly psychedelic BOOM! festival held in Portugal is the major pilgrimage of the global psytrance tribe, and the two different communities surrounding these two different cultures (Burning Man and BOOM!) are increasingly becoming united (through art and music) into a single global tribe. The Oregon Solar Eclipse Gathering in 2017, which attracted more than fifty thousand people from around the world, was the first major collaborative transformational festival involving major festivals from the United States, Canada, Costa Rica, Australia, and Europe in the United States.



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