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The LSD (and Consciousness) Symposium

by whataboutbob Sat Jan 21st, 2006 at 07:44:53 AM EST

Is there a place for mysticism on the European Tribune?

Well, I had every intention to post a review of last weekends "LSD Symposium"...but I am just too one track minded these days, it seems. Anyway, better late than never. So to begin with, here is a news report after the first day of the event, that Fran Posted in the Monday European Breakfast, from the Times Online Day trip to say 'happy birthday' to centenarian who made LSD

In trying to figure out how to best describe a very full 3 day conference (many hours had 4 seminars at once), I will give what I found to be key discussion points below the fold. But I will add this: in writing about this topic I acknowledge that the subject of psychedelic use is controversial, for these substances can indeed be dangerous when taken by the wrong person, and/or taken at the wrong time and/or in the wrong conditions. Psychedelics are a medicine with great potential, and in certain rarer circumstances, can open doors to a vast new consciousness...which can be a glimpse of vast opportunities. But...it can open doors to hell realms too, if a person has some dark secrets or instabilities. It can be a fantastic tool for psychotherapy, and has been used down through the milleniums by traditional shamans as a spiritual tool.

But there is also another viewpoint, as a number of more libertarian types noted at the conference, which goes something like this: "what government has the right to tell us whether we have the right or not to alter our consciousness, whether that be for therapy, spirituality, or plainly for inebriation purposes (as long as it is not hurting others)?" Or as one anthropolgist noted: "The Cro-Magnin man had more freedom to alter their consciousness than I do...that pisses me off". I will leave this for you to decide.

My quote from Monday's European Breakfast comment thread:

...the LSD Symposium was three days of listening to discussions about chemistry, shamans, mythology, alchemy, anthropology, consciousness, botany, ethnobotany, art, humor, parapsychology, psychiatry, psychotherapy, brain and meditation research, psychedelics research today, legal issues about psychedelic research, beatnicks, hippies,and the underground scene (and the Beatles, Pink Floyd, Grateful Dead, and all the others who played roles)...and the history that surrounds all these....plus more.  I found the event rewarding, rich, interesting, inspiring, at times overwhelming, and at times causing much internal introspection... I could say a lot about it. And seeing how vital and alive Albert Hofmann is at age 100 was just sweet. All the topics and personalities created a fertile ground for many varied and interesting discussions.

Hofmann's discovery has influenced things in our culture and society in ways you cannot even imagine...and his discovery was a "mistake", or as he said it, "LSD found me, I didn't find it", as in the strictest of lab conditions, he still managed to somehow ingest a small amount of LSD, leading to his now famous psychedelic bike ride home. The rest is history...which is still being made.

Below are some interesting quotes or ideas gathered during the course of this conference:

One point that came up throughout the weekend, that I found intriguing, was the fact that many of the original users and researchers (including Hofmann) bemoanng the fact that LSD and other psychedlics (and Hofmann ended up studying and synthesizing many other psychedelics) had "gotten loose to the streets". But there were also dissenting voices...the Bohemian/Beat/Hippies...who retorted that that view is elitarian, and they were in fact quite happy that it had "gotten loose", for the changes that occurred in our Western society and culture as a result. So there's sort of a class argument there.

Also, there was a big discussion (and disagreement) about how psychedelics should be used: most can agree that these medicines should be researched and used in safe, structured settings (and right now, LSD has a world ban on it, mainly due to politics, and cannot be even researched...even though scientists believe it can have important medical uses). But another viewpoint is that consciousness is individual, and it should left to the individual...not regulated by any state (with the exception of limits for the purpose of public safety, i.e., like not driving under the influence, and so forth).

Another interesting piece of information that I did not know, is that the government of Switzerland has taken the singularly unique stance that psychedelics, while illegal, should be researched...and so is the one place in the world where serious academic research is being conducted (ex: University of Zurich). Apparently the US is about to allow some new research, since there is evidence that LSD and psilocybin are very effective for treatment of cluster headaches, and that MDMA is very effective as a therapeutic treatment with PTSD, among other things.

Thee was much discussion about indigenous shamanic knowledge, and how there was a coming together of science and this shamanic world, when one Gordon Wasson (who was an anthrolopologist/ethnobotanist), participated in 1955 as the first known western scientist in a Mexican shamanic ritual using "magic mushrooms" with Maria Sabina, a Oaxacan Curandera. Wasson eventually brought mushrooms to Hofmann, who studied their active ingredients for a few years, eventually synthesizing psilocybin and psilocin. Dr Hofmann then gave the psilocybin to Maria Sabina, who reported "no difference" between the mushrooms and the medicine, as far as her practices were concerened. So the traditions connected...and ancient knowledge and practices were integrated with science. And to this day, the knowledge of Shamans is gaining increasing influence in the field of consciousness studies and science.

There were many discussions about European shamanistic roots, traditions and practices (including psychedelics), and the impact on such areas as mythology and alchemy. And there was an acknowledgement that there now needs to be a more serious opening up to, and integration of, the knowledge and traditional culture of the southern hemisphere (South America and Africa).

It was noted that "wasn't it interesting that LSD was discovered during World War II, at the same time that atomic fusion occurred". What a contrast in consciousness.

The CIA was the biggest user of LSD in the 1950s, as they believed it was the greatest torture drug ever invented...they would dose people and tell them they would keep them in that stae unless the person revealed secrets. The CIA also did a lot of awful research using LSD...very dark...there is actually a book on this, based on FOIA documents gotten by one researcher. (Acid Dreams by Lee)

There has also been a lot of research on mystics and mysticism, including studies of psychedelics, medittation and the brain going on in University of Zurich today. There has also been a good deal of research conducted in Switzerland on psychedelics for psychoterapeutic puroses. Also, there was a huge body of very important research done on the therapeutic uses of LSD in Prague (led by one Stanislov Grof)in the early to mid-1960s, where it was used to treat alcoholism, used to help people who were dying (it appears that LSD and other psychedelics lessens pain experienced while dying), used to make psychotherapy more effective, and so on.

Ralph Metzner discussed four paradigms of consciousness: 1) the medical/materialistic (all is merely subjective); 2) Shamanic - which believes that we live in many and multiple levels of realities, all equally real, all different, inhabited by real beings, which we can access. This is inclusive of the Materialistic view. 3)The religious/ceremonial 4) A current development, which integrates shamanic and psychological knowledge and practices. This includes the use of altered states, which can be achieved 1) through the use of psycedelic medinces, or 2) through the use of rhythmic drumming and singing

That perhaps the biggest danger we face in today's world is the loss of meaning and the loss of connection with, and respect for, nature. That it is imperative to restore our connection and respect for nature.

Anyway...these notes are just from the first half of the first day, and I have been at this for over an hour...and I have 3 days of notes, so will stop here. I will say that I personally found the whole conference of immense interest, and personally inspiring. I may add some other pieces of the conference in comments below, if there is interest..but at least I shared a taste of this with you...and hope it at least gets you to thinking...and I will be curious for any comments.


If you want to read a real interesting book, check out: "LSD: My Problem Child" by Albert Hofmann.

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Sat Jan 21st, 2006 at 08:45:32 AM EST
I am reposting here part of my comment from Monday's Breakfast and maybe chip in some more later on. Need to finish some other stuff first.

Well, Bob really has included most of the topics of the symposium. I was also impressed by Albert Hofmann, wonderful to see someone with 100 years so mental present an lucid. I do hope that I will be at that age as curious and full of wondering as he is. He must have been a very special person. The panelist all seem to have met him personally and seem to have been inspired by him. They spoke with respect, but more important with love of him. And it made no difference if the panelist was a Ordinarius of an University, a writer or a shaman, they seem to have been deeply touched by him. It is one more example how unreliable the press is, because this is an aspect I have not seen reported.

There were also small "happenings" (I don't know a better word). Some involving music and sound. One was sort of a concert of 1 hour, where they made audible first the sound of OM and the the sound of LSD. The explanation was that the frequency of LSD can be seen at the level of infrared, which has been transposed to an audible octave. To me it was an absolutely amazing experience. One of the panelist was also a wonderful pianist who gave impromptus, to guide into meditation. And on the last morning he improvised the mood and the topics of the panel, calling it a "a lullaby for George W. Bush", who was somehow present too, in form cartoons or jokes made by the panelist. I do hope the musical impromptu of Prof. Verres is true, because it ended relatively gently after a passage the went through "Mark und Bein" (translating somehow as going through "marrow and bone") - it seemed a hopeful ending.

The panelist were people who care deeply about what is going on in this world, who are connected to gaia and feel responsible. Not freaked out new agers, actually more like what I would expect from our politicians.

by Fran (fran at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jan 21st, 2006 at 10:28:50 AM EST
Like you said bob, I'll read this properly once I get my energy back...
by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Sat Jan 21st, 2006 at 11:17:12 AM EST
wow i am so grateful stuff like this is going on, it's like a little thread of hope connecting me up with the hope for humanity these substances engendered, and seemed so possible back in the halcyon days.

Or as one anthropolgist noted: "The Cro-Magnin man had more freedom to alter their consciousness than I do...that pisses me off".

that's the funniest quote i've heard in a while, to whom might i attribute it?


'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Sat Jan 21st, 2006 at 05:50:58 PM EST
Jeremy Narby, PhD. He discussed the "future of human consciousness". Very dry/droll fella...I liked him...

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Sat Jan 21st, 2006 at 06:21:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There was one special old soul I heard talk there (one of our "elders"), that I would encourage anyone in or passing through Amsterdam to go hear. He is a beat poet/orator named Simon Vinkenoog...and he was tremendous...funny and full of spirit. He's almost 78 now, lived in Amsterdam during the Nazi occupation, worked for UNESCO for 7 years in Paris during the 1950s, then in 1959 had psychedelic psychoanalysis...which he said completely changed his life. From that point on he started hanging out with Allan Ginsburg and the likes. He was like one of those fire and bromstone Baptist orators, except he's a hipster...full love love and joy. If you get a chance to hear him talk or give a reading, I would recommend you visit. Here is his website:


And here is a site that says something about him:


Simon Vinkenoog is a highly-respected poet, editor and cultural figure in his native Amsterdam: indeed, such is his visibility that, for a while, he was a hero of a popular comic strip. He has continually spear-headed avant-garde movements in Amsterdam and abroad, beginning with a series of important English/Dutch translations of various Beat poets, including Ginsberg. Later work included a cultural mission for the U.N. in India, where he had spent many of his formative years. For many years, he has edited Bres, a magazine of cultural and anthropological writing. He is also the co-author of over 20 books of prose and poetry. One of these, Liefde ("Love"), records Ira Cohen's first appearance in Amsterdam--wearing an Arabian burnous.

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Sun Jan 22nd, 2006 at 06:56:14 AM EST
Did you see the picture of Ram Dass in vinkenoog's site. Apparently it was taken in Basel. I was not aware that he was at the Symposium.

Vinkenoog could actually be described as an event, all by himself - just amazing.

by Fran (fran at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Jan 22nd, 2006 at 07:31:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
<he he> Yes, an event in himself...that's such a good way of putting it!!

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Sun Jan 22nd, 2006 at 07:41:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
whataboutbob- thank you for reporting on this event. While the usual current events such as Peak Oil (TM) and the War on Terror (TM) dominate the attention of this and similar blogs, exploring the deeper reaches of our humanity is often ignored.

I believe one huge reason our world is such a mess can be attributed to the loss of contact with the larger, deeper dimensions of consciousness, which are accessed in the psychoactive/shamanistic traditions that are suppressed by mainstream religions. It comes as no surprise to me that in our times the most "spiritual" energy goes into fundamentalism of various stripes (someone else can write the Ph.D. dissertaion on why it is the 3 Abrahamic faiths that generate this madness), while our world slides downhill.

Perhaps one dimension of solving our world problems lies in a true reorientation of our collective values. While fundies generate noise about "values," what they demonstrate through their behavior is directly contrary to the deep wisdom of their core faiths. The experience-based psychoactive/shamanistic tradition provides direct, personal insight, not an empty declaration of allegience to "holy books."

Bottom line, we have to make cultural changes to resolve humanities self-created challanges. And the old wisdom still applies, inner individual change will create the outer cultural change. Or as the old song says:

"Give me that old-time religion..."

by US Blues on Sun Jan 22nd, 2006 at 01:03:23 PM EST
What was really cool at the conference was the number of people with PhDs in the study and understanding of "old time religions"...there's hope...

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Sun Jan 22nd, 2006 at 04:21:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I've done the field work, but I'm not planning on writing a dissertation. ;-)
by US Blues on Sun Jan 22nd, 2006 at 05:58:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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