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Psychedelics in Western culture: unnecessary psychiatrisation of visionary experiences

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Abstract

Historical research about the use of psychedelics in specific religious contexts can provide rational explanations for visionary experiences that could otherwise be cause to question the mental health of religious actors. Reversely, if historians ignore or overlook empirical evidence for the use of psychedelics, the result can be that normal and even predictable reactions of healthy subjects to the effects of psychedelic substances are arbitrarily interpreted as ‘irrational’.

AIM: To describe the meaning of the psychedelic factor in historical visionary experiences.

METHOD: Discussion based on three examples of selective use of historical sources on psychedelics.

RESULTS: This theme is of broader relevance to cultural history and scientific theory because we are typically dealing with religious practices that have traditionally been categorized as ‘magic’ and thereby classified in advance as irrational and potentially pathological. The article discusses three historical examples: the so-called Mithras Liturgy from Roman Egypt, early modern witches’ ointments, and spiritual use of hashish in the nineteenth century.

CONCLUSION: Established academics often deny the significance of psychedelics in visionary experiences. Discussion of pre-Enlightenment source material appears to be of considerable importance for the correct interpretation of important religious and cultural traditions. Critical empirical source research without prejudices or implicit agendas is the appropriate method.

Hanegraaff, W. J. (2020). Psychedelics in Western culture: unnecessary psychiatrisation of visionary experiences. Tijdschrift Voor Psychiatrie62(8), 713-720.
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Floris Wolswijk

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