Nones drawn to psychedelic congregations, experiences?

The new attention being given to psychedelic substances in medicine and psychology has also found a hearing in mainline and unconventional religions, not least among the elusive yet expanding population of the non-affiliated or “nones.” The online magazine, The Conversation (October 31), reports that while abandoning mainstream religious affiliation, many nones turn to alternative expressions, including secular, atheist and psychedelic churches. New congregations specializing in cultivating psychedelic experiences, though small in number, have a special affinity for a segment of America’s non-affiliated whose “spirituality does not need a god or the supernatural to address questions of purpose, meaning, belonging and well-being,” writes Morgan Shipley of Michigan State University. Yet Shipley surveys a number of new kinds of congregations that defy an atheistic or secular humanist label and “demonstrate not a rejection of religion, as surveys suggest, but continued interest in spiritual community, rituals and virtues.” For instance, The Divine Assembly (TDA) of Salt Lake City is drawing many ex-Mormons to services that incorporate rituals based on members’ psychedelic experiences, from ice baths to group meditation. The actual taking of these substances is done on members’ own time outside of the congregation, yet TDA offers courses on growing psilocybin (the substance found in certain psychedelic mushrooms) through its educational initiative “shroomiversity.” TDA is not atheistic “but maintains an inclusive notion of belief regarding God or a higher power.”

Source: Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside/CatchLight.

The non-denominational Psanctuary Church of Louisville, Kentucky, brings people together for “healing and connection to divine revelation through communion with sacred mushrooms.” As with many of these congregations, the use of these substances is regarded at Psanctuary both as a sacred right and an expression of political freedom, Shipley writes. The way that these churches encourage an individualist though often non-monotheistic spiritualty is through their emphasis on helping members explore and “integrate” the psychedelic experience and their everyday spiritual lives. The Sacred Garden Community in Oakland, Calif., sees psychedelics as offering people “direct experience” of the divine and bills itself as a “post-modern church” based on “faith of least dogma.” Meanwhile, churches that are particularly devoted to the plant-based psychedelic brew of ayahuasca tend to focus largely on healing rather than divine revelation. The California-based Hummingbird Church and the Orlando, Florida-based Soul Quest Ayahuasca Church of Mother Earth both see “rejuvenation” of physical, emotional and spiritual health as their objective, leading members to help restore nature or assist others in healing.

Shipley concludes that these congregations tend to see spirituality as well-being, defying both atheistic and traditional categories. Aside from alternative and holistic religions, mainline Protestants have shown considerable interest in psychedelic experiences—most likely because their clergy have been involved in experiments with these substances. The Christian Century (November) reports on how earlier experiments with psilocybin that showed users having spiritual experiences have recently been replicated with mainline clergy. Although the results of this research are preliminary, Ron Cole-Turner notes that the clergy involved felt that their experiences resonated with their theological beliefs but also broadened their perspectives, making their theological outlook more flexible. Speaking of other religions, one pastor involved said, “I felt as if I embodied them.” Some of the clergy who had felt demoralized in their work felt that their experiences gave them a greater love for God and a lived experience of the faith. The biggest problem for these clergy is their sense of isolation from colleagues, bishops and supervisors due to their experimentation, as they feel that their openness to such experiences will be dismissed or condemned.

(The Conversation,