Religion and Psychoactive Sacraments:
An Entheogen Chrestomathy
Thomas B. Roberts, Ph.D. and Paula Jo Hruby, Ed.D.
Author Index | Title Index
Inglorius Wordsworths: A Study of Some Transcendental Experiences in Childhood and Adolescence.
Paffard, Michael. (1973).
London: Hodder and Stoughton.
Description: Hardcover, 270 pages.
Contents: Foreword by Alister Hardy, acknowledgments, 14 chapters divided into 3 unnamed parts, notes and references, Appendix 1: The questionaire, Appendix 2: Tables, index.
Note: Researchers of mystical experiences may be interested in Paffard's method of selecting a typical description and using it to solicit similar experiences.
Excerpt(s): One could, I suppose, ask people, 'Have you ever had a transcendental, numinous, mystical, ecstatic or other peak experience? If so, please tell me about it.' I didn't want to bewilder them with these ill-defined names, and I didn't want to frighten them off. The best solution I could think of was to quote a description of a typical transcendental experience in the questionnaire and ask the respondents to write about any experiences of their own which they felt were in any way similar to the one quoted. The choice of quotation was clearly important: it needed to be fairly short, in prose rather than in verse, I thought, which ruled out the more obvious Wordsworthian examples, and a genuine autobiographical quotation seemed preferable to one concocted by me. I eventually chose the following passage from W. H. Hudson's autobiography, Far Away and Long Ago.
It was not, I think, till my eighth year that I began to be distinctly conscious of something more than this mere childish delight in nature. It may have been there all the time from infancy. I don't know; but when I began to know it consciously it was as if some hand had surreptitiously dropped something into the honeyed cup which gave it at times a new flavour. It gave me little thrills, at times purely pleasurable, at other times startling, and there were occasions when it became so poignant as to frighten me. The sight of a magnificent sunset was sometimes more than I could endure and made me wish to hide myself away. The feeling, however, was evoked more powerfully by trees than by any other sight; it varied in power according to the time and place and the appearance of the tree or trees, and always affected me most on moonlight nights. Frequently after I had first begun to experience it consciously, I would go out of my way to meet it, and I used to steal out of the house alone when the moon was at its full to stand, silent and motionless, near some group of large trees, gazing at the dusky green foliage silvered by the beams; and at such times the sense of mystery would grow until a sensation of delight would change to fear, and the fear increase until it was no longer to be borne, and I would hastily escape to recover the sense of reality and safety indoors, where there was light and company.
I do not want to claim any particular virtues for this passage. It might be objected that there is here no striving for higher things, no reaching out for perfection and self-transcendence, no sense of the beauty, goodness or essential unity of all creation, nothing at all of the higher 'spiritual' experience of those whom Newman called the 'twice-born'. All this is perfectly true: Hudson describes psychological events of a 'primitive' kind untouched by pantheistic beliefs or that loftiness and humanity which Wordsworth often brought to his childhood experiences when he came to describe them. At the time of designing the questionnaire I had not read as many autobiographies as I have now and today I could find passages that I think would have been superior for my purpose to the one I chose from Hudson. However, Hudson's account has the advantage of being plain narrative: he describes the occasion of the experiences and what they felt like; he does not interlace the description with interpretative or evaluative comments, and this is comparatively rare in autobiographical writing. ...
I am fairly certain that none of my respondents had taken any of the hallucinant drugs; they certainly never mentioned them, and they answered the questionnaire before such drugs were anything like as widely used as they are today. There have now been published many accounts of drug-induced experiences, about the significance of which vigorous claims and counter-claims are made. Aldous Huxley is alternately praised and abused for having unleashed a flood of 'pressure-cooker mysticism' on the world. For the time being, and pending more conclusive research, an open-minded and unhysterical stance seems to be the appropriate one. As Emerson reminds us, "The root of the plant is not unsightly to science", though he goes on to add "for chaplets and festoons we cut the stem short." It may be both revealing and accurate to be told that what happened to Paul on the road to Damascus was "an epileptic lesion of the occipital cortex" or that St. Teresa had an excess of adrenochrome in her bloodstream, but it tells us nothing of the value or results of their experiences for themselves or the rest of mankind. 'By their fruits yea shall know them' might perhaps be an appropriate comment on all such experiences at the present time: at any rate, it is with flowers and fruits rather than roots that the questions I asked myself at the outset are primarily concerned.
I should say a little more at this stage about one further matter, and that is the extent to which my respondents' experiences could be voluntarily induced. When asked in Question 19 whether they had ever gone out of their way to have the kind of experience they had described, 40 per cent of the respondents answered in the affirmative, as I showed in Chapter 10, a number adding, however, that such attempts had always failed. Authorities on Christian mysticism are agreed that mystical states cannot be induced voluntarily; they may be prepared for but there must be an intervention of divine grace for an experience properly called mystical to follow. Poulin writes, "We apply the word mystic to those supernatural acts or states which our own industry is powerless to produce, even in low degree, even momentarily." From this orthodox Christian standpoint it is little wonder that the 'mysticism' of the East is summarily dismissed and that claims made for psychedelic experience are treated with open hostility. Many of the great acknowledged Christian mystics were treated with suspicion, when they were not actually persecuted, by the Churches in their own day. From this standpoint, also, an experience, in order to be 'mystical', must be understood by its recipient to be some form of revelation of or communication with the divine: an atheist or agnostic who had an experience from which he brings back a conviction that he has had a momentary glimpse of 'ultimate reality' is disqualified. I have made it clear already that I regard this orthodox approach as blinked by arbitrary and unhelpful semantic legislation. (pages 142-143)
[Zaehner] is at pains to counter Huxley's suggestion that mescalin-induced experiences could have the same value and significance as the experiences of the acknowledged mystics. He gives an entertaining account of his own largely disagreeable experiences under the influence of mescalin and argues that the pseudo-transcendental states induced by using such drugs, which affect the nervous system and chemistry of the body, must be fundamentally different from the gratuitous grace of God-given transcendental experiences occurring without chemical stimulus. He does not appear to me to have seen how double-edged his argument is: that the sensory deprivation, fasting and more drastic mortification's of the flesh practiced by many of his acknowledged mystics may affect the chemistry of the body in very much the same was as do mescalin and other hallucinates. Concerned as he and so many other Christian writers are to distinguish the more authentic and valuable transcendental experiences from the spurious which may superficially resemble them, he might have done well to heed the words which William James quotes in this context, 'by their fruits yea shall know them'. It seems very probable that the beliefs one holds will not only influence what one calls a transcendental experience and the language in which one describes it, but may also largely determine what effect, if any, it has on one's subsequent life and actions. It would not be meaningless to argue that some transcendental experiences are more valuable than others because they result in greater increments of sanctity, moral strength, sensitivity, happiness and so forth. It might even be possible to demonstrate that, for the Christian, transcendental experiences strengthen faith and, because that faith is inextricably connected with ethical imperatives like loving one's neighbor and the equality of men in God's sight, they enable him to lead a better life than the man holding other religious beliefs or none. If this could be shown to be the case, it would tell us much about the moral value of Christian teaching but nothing about the value of transcendental feelings per se. However, this is not the line of argument which Zaehner adopts. (pages 208-209)
Mystics have often been charged with turning their backs on the world and indulging in that 'spiritual gluttony' against which St. John of the Cross specifically warns. The charge has more substance when leveled at Eastern rather than Western mysticism: Elkhart and Ruysbroeck both regard the highest life as that which combines contemplation and action, and their counsel is always to 'leave rapture to serve the needy man', advice that Wells would have approved. St. Teresa expended her energies in founding and reforming monasteries which may or may not impress the modern social reformer. Professor W. T. Stace concludes that the greatest mystics have been great workers in the world and have recognized their duty to give to the world in service what they have received in contemplation . Wells's indignation is, to be sure, directed at the pretensions of those lesser mortals who have but tasted transcendence, and the charge is not easily proved or refuted. The American psychologist, Abraham Maslow, acknowledges as a possible danger of transcendental experience (or peak-experience, as he calls it) the making of action impossible or indecisive, but his preliminary empirical findings suggest, on the contrary, that people who enjoy these experiences may be more than normally decisive and capable of effective action. Certainly many people, and not least some of the autobiographies I have referred to in earlier chapters, for whom transcendental experience has been central to their lives, so far from being ineffective and irresponsible dreamers, have led highly industrious, useful and creative lives. (page 221)
Wells and Huxley were, of course, writing novels, not tracts; yet with these two writers, in particular, it is not always an unwarrantable liberty to discuss their stories as if they had been deliberately designed to illustrate their general beliefs rather than happening to embody them. This is one of their limitations as novelists. In so far, then, as general conclusions can be drawn from these two stories it seems that Wells and Huxley are diametrically opposed in their beliefs about the effects of transcendental experience. For Wells it contains the seeds of self-indulgent and sloppy aestheticism and socially irresponsible withdrawal: for Huxley, as for Wordsworth, it has a 'renovating virtue'; it is an integrating experience providing a calm center of assurance and liberating the strength and courage to live up to one's convictions.
In The Doors of Perception Huxley spells out his belief; "There is no form of contemplation", he says, "even the most quietist, which is without its ethical value", and he believes that those who have glimpsed the transcendental realm will not be tempted to indulge in what Traherne called "the dirty Devices of the World", a view that might be considered naively optimistic in the manner of the Victorian Wordsworthians . ...
Huxley goes on in pugnacious rhetorical style to castigate educators for their exclusive preoccupation with verbalisation, concept-formation and discursive logical thought, and he berates philosophers, psychologists and theologians for their failure to study this transcendent country of the mind. ...
Huxley was writing in 1954: since then there has been some modification of the academic attitude he attacks. There has been a revival of interest in transcendental experience among some psychologists and theologians: the new 'trans-personal' psychology in the U.S.A. is winning recognition alongside more orthodox schools of thought: much attention has been paid to imagination, divergent thinking and the pre-conscious roots of creativity. I am less afraid of being called a crank, quack or charlatan than I would have been twenty years ago, though ready enough to confess myself an unqualified amateur as a student of these matters. (pages 224-225)
Other autobiographers have claimed no less for their transcendental experiences. Here are some of the words in which they have expressed them: "The deepest and most essential secret of my life"; "my first clue to the meaning of the universe" ... "my existence was transformed"; "The central story of my life is about nothing else"; "The highest moment of my religious life"; "The beginning of my life in the world of poetry". From these experiences they derived "joy which worked in my mind and body, a tangible power adding to my strength"; "an absolute freedom from mortality, accompanied by an indescribable calm and joy"; "an assurance of a beauty behind all phenomena, active through them, immanent, beneficent"; "a new gospel of courage and resolve" ... "spilling over into hope and joy ineffable"; "a philosophy which I have never lost, a waking faith in the oneness of all life".
These are astonishing words, enormous claims. They are made by eminent men of great achievement, some Christian and some rejecting organised religion. If we do not reject them as lies, delusions or romantic extravagances and, in all humility, I do not see how we can, then any chance that we can help ourselves and others to share their source of strength and joy is one we cannot afford to miss. Transcendental experience is a fact that our philosophy must take into account: it could have implications for education which too easily elude the grasp of busy reforming educators; it could be the essential germ from which religious, moral and aesthetic life begins to grow. If like Wordsworth, we 'deem not profitless these fleeting moods of shadowy exaltation', we should not, perhaps, be reluctant to speak about them, to encourage young people to speak and write about them and, above all, to read with them or put in their way the work of those artists who have come nearest to giving them expression. (pages 230-231)
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