“Hoc-est Corpus – This is My Body” – Religious Studies Essay
Ever wonder where the phrase “hocus pocus” came from? It is corrupted from the Latin, hoc-est corpus, meaning: “This is my body.” Throughout history transubstantiationalist beliefs abound, mostly in
archaic cultures. Plants and animals involved in sacraments and rituals were believed to literally transform into the flesh of the gods. Cultures and religions all over the world have used entheogens (term to describe plants and chemicals that have religious import) in their spiritual practices, incorporating religious, medicinal, and psychotherapeutic dimensions, transcendence to communicate with the gods. From 1,000 to 500 B.C.E., in Central and South America, psilocybin was given the name “Temamacatlth” which means “God’s flesh”.
Ayahuasca or DMT, called “vine of the soul,” is still used in these religious ceremonies spanning 70 different peoples also in Central and South America. Chemists have been baffled for years by the extensive knowledge of these indigenous people, and the plants they use for healing and spiritual purposes. The tribes claim that their knowledge came from the plants themselves, which they are able to communicate with while being intoxicated.
Peyote, in North America, is viewed not as a plant, but as a god by the Huichol Indians of Mexico and is used as a spiritual medicine, a plant sacrament, and plant teacher, but is considered an entire way of life. According to Ralph Metzner, a professor of psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies, “the use of hallucinogens as an adjunct to yogic practices is known to this day in India, among certain Shaivite sects in particular (Hallucinogens: A Reader p. 23).” Marijuana has been called “weed of wisdom” and “angel’s food,” and is mentioned in the Bible several times. For example, in Exodus 30:23, God commands Moses to make a holy anointing oil of myrrh, sweet cinnamon, kassia and kaneh bosm. Kaneh bosm in Hebrew, literally means, kannabos or kannabus. Sometimes it is mistranslated into “calamus”. The root ‘kan’ means “reed” or “hemp”, and ‘bosm’ means aromatic. Other examples are found in Song of Solomon 4:14, Isaiah 43:24, Jeremiah 6:20, and Ezekiel 27:19. In the Jewish sect of Essene, every prophet had to go through an initiation, which consisted of a sacred meal where God was identified as being part of the consumed.
Taoists refer to psilocybin as the “divine mushroom of immortality.” Gordon Wasson postulates in his book Soma: Divine Mushroom of Immortality, that “soma” in Vedic literature, a red fruit leading to spontaneous but impermanent enlightenment to those who ingest it, is actually the Fly Agaric, Amanita Muscaria Mushroom. It is thought by some that Aristotle, Plato and Sophocles all participated in ceremonies at a temple in Eluesis which honored Demeter, the earth goddess, in which a fungal concoction was served that some, including Albert Hoffmann, Carl Ruck and Gordon Wasson speculate, is an LSD-like, ergot-derived beverage.
Let me provide just a spectrum of different religious uses people would use these substances for: opening of extrasensory channels of perception such as telepathy, clairvoyance, and astral projection, loss of the fear of death, profound personal transformation and rejuvenation, communion with natural forces, animals and plant life, rites of passage with themes of birth, sex and death, reclaiming ancestral heritage, connection with a totem animal, direct communication or even possession by deities or demons and other archetypal beings, healing mediated by spirit guides or animal helpers, and quite often used in combination with other spiritual practices such as yoga, meditation and prayer.
Throughout human experience, entheogens have had a role in religious institutions. I will argue that in a country where religious freedom is granted, the use of these substances should be recognized for their religious value, and be protected under civil liberties. Furthermore, to deny this right is not only a contradiction of the constitution but an act of oppression and discrimination against the God-given right to control destinies as well as religious evolution.
Not until the 16th century did political systems formally forbid these substances. Punishment for ingestion was often death. “Witches” persecuted during the inquisitions were accused of using hallucinogenic plants, specifically those of the nightshade family such as mandrake. For this many were tortured, murdered and burned. “The mandrake is the ‘Tree of Knowledge” and the burning love ignited by its pleasure is the origin of the human race (Hugo Rahner Greek Myths in Christian Meaning, 1957).” They also used the stereotypical amphibians in their witches’ brews, whose secretions are hallucinogenic much like the Colorado River Toad which secretes considerable amounts of DMT-like compounds. This attitude has been carried over into our current attitudes and laws regarding these substances.
In the first amendment to the United States Constitution, all citizens are granted the right to religious freedom. But what constitutes religious freedom? Furthermore, what constitutes religious experience? The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy by Simon Blackburn defines “religious experience” as “any experience carrying as its content the presence of something divine or transcendent…as being able to comprehend a timeless and eternal divine order to the universe.” Further, it defines “freedom” as “a condition of liberation from social and cultural forces that are perceived as impeding self-realization.” To become free is therefore a challenge that is only met by personal transformation. There are common misconceptions regarding the definition of religion which have crept into our culture. The Webster’s Dictionary defines “religion” as 1) a “belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe; 2) a set of beliefs, values, and practices based on the teachings of a spiritual leader.” It defines “religious” as “having or showing belief and reverence for God or a deity.” Buddhism, though, is non-theistic, not believing in a creator and governor of the universe. Still, it is recognized as a religion. According to definition number two, one can be part of a religion as long as one follows the teachings of a spiritual leader and thus be protected under the first amendment. Why then can’t anyone follow the teaching of a Native American spiritual leader, under the protection under law?
On the very first page of Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception, he says, “In the words of one of the early Spanish visitors to the New World, they eat a root which they call peyote, and which they venerate as though it were a deity.” Hallucinogens such as LSD, DMT, cannabis, mescaline, psilocybin (mushrooms) and peyote are all listed as Schedule One by our government. To be classified Schedule One means three things: that these substances have 1) a high potential for abuse, 2) no currently accepted medicinal use in treatment in the United States, and 3) a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug under medical supervision. There are many inherent problems with this law. Marijuana has been used and prescribed by doctors all over the U.S. for things such as glaucoma, depression, anorexia and for cancer patients going through chemotherapy. Yet the government says that there is no accepted medicinal use of marijuana. Why is this?
The law says “The listing of peyote as a controlled substance in Schedule One does not apply to the non-drug use of peyote in bona fide religious ceremonies of the Native American Church, and members of the Native American Church so using peyote are exempt from registration.” In states such as Arizona, Colorado, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and Wisconsin, the use of peyote is only protected within Native American Church ceremonies. Idaho and Texas, however, require some “Native American Heritage” in order to be exempt. What does it mean when they use the term “non-drug use”? They’re saying that when you use a drug for religious reasons it is no longer a drug. When you take a drug for negative reasons then it is a drug. The Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines drug as “a substance used as a medication or in the preparation of medication. Dictionary.com defines drug as 1) “A substance used in the diagnosis, treatment, or prevention of a disease or as a component of a medication; and as 2) A chemical substance, such as a narcotic or hallucinogen, that affects the central nervous system, causing changes in behavior.” Peyote is a drug! No matter how you use it. In the Tao Te Ching it says, “Nature provides everything…for all without discrimination – Therefore let us present the same face to everyone and treat all men as equals.” But notice how the law specifies that peyote may only be used by a religious organization. Therefore, one doesn’t have religious freedom unless one is part of a particular organization. Jane English, who helped translate the Tao Te Ching into English along with Gia-Fu Feng, said in her introduction, “The Taoist ‘Way’ is not dependent on race, creed or any culture form.” Native Americans are exempt from peyote law. Therefore, that freedom is only provided for a certain race. This is not religious freedom. It discriminates all other races. Ayahuasca is protected as a religious practice in Brazil. If a certain practice is considered religious by another country, culture or tradition, and our country is founded on the melting pot ideal, granting religious freedom; why is it that we do not recognize religious practices from other countries for our citizens?
Research indicates that people who take ayahuasca show unusually large numbers of serotonin receptors (Stanislav Grof, Forgotten Truth). This is beginning to prove to western psychiatrists that this plant can be more effective in treating certain types of depression and other psychiatric conditions that exist in the current psychiatric paradigm. LSD, when first discovered, showed great promise for psychiatric use. However, as it hit the streets in the 60’s, in conjunct with the Vietnam protests and the counter culture movement, it inevitably became illegal as a result of fear and gained a terrible reputation. Because of this it became unavailable to the medical field. This is a strange paradox: How is it that the dominant white culture succeeded in only making an entire field of study taboo and any use thereof punishable by imprisonment, where the same substances are the sacrament of a particular subculture within the larger society and is protected by law? Ralph Metzner postulates, “The fact that the serious use of hallucinogens continues despite severe social and legal sanctions suggests that this is a kind of individual freedom that is not easy to abolish. It also suggests that there is a strong need in certain people to reestablish their connections with ancient traditions of knowledge, in which visionary states of consciousness and exploration of other realities, with or without hallucinogens, were the main concern.”
In religions and cultures that have made use of hallucinogens, ceremonies express and reinforce the integration of mind, body and spirit; they are simultaneously religious, medicinal, and psychotherapeutic, such as peyote-use, healing-singing circles, sweat lodge and spirit dance among Native Americans. In dominant white societies, we have compartmentalized medicine, psychology and religious spirituality. When hit by the overflow of these drugs on the streets, which were under research at the time, each group approached these substances with fear of its unpredictable transformations of physical perception as well as worldviews. Thus the natural reaction was total prohibition (which hasn’t seemed to be such a good idea in the past) not only for religious practices, but also from further research into medicinal and psychotherapeutic uses. These dominant groups didn’t want consciousness expanding drugs, or anyone to use them of their own free will. This assumes that people are too ignorant to make reasoned, informed choices of how to treat their own illnesses, psychological problems, and how to cultivate their own religious practice. The big difference is that in cultures that use these tools, the visions produced are not feared but accepted and respected. They assume that their people have the capacity and responsibility to attune themselves to higher spiritual sources of knowledge and healing. An Ayahuasca Song of the Shipibo sings “Ayahuasca, medicine, enrapture me fully! Help me by opening your beautiful world to me! You also are created by the god who created man! Reveal to me completely your medicine worlds. I shall heal the sick bodies: These sick children and this sick woman shall I heal by making everything good!” This drug is the cornerstone of some cultures origin of all knowledge (as said in Jeremy Narby’s The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge) and medicine. If one were to move from this culture into the U.S. and continue their religious practice, they would be arrested. We have limited religious freedom.
Aldous Huxley proposes in The Doors of Perception that modern religions are no longer adequate for the sense of meaning and purpose we require. Religions have become merely words, abstract conceptualization. We need direct experience. It is becoming increasingly difficult for westerners and people in technological/industrial societies to feel the interconnectedness with nature and fellow humans. Many people, certainly many young people who take drugs, do not use hallucinogens as a means of escape, but for achieving the satisfaction of interconnectedness in a spiritual sense.
There are many who argue that drugs cannot produce genuine mystical experiences and have no role in spiritual life. What is it then that makes an experience religious? As part of certain religions, people bless their meals through prayer before they eat, although most people don’t consider it a sacred or ritualistic act. Intention is what makes a given experience authentically religious. The same drug, or method, can be used to attain nirvana, or religious vision, while in the case of others, such as Charles Manson, could lead to perverse and sadistic acts of violence. These drugs are merely tools to attain altered states, which state depends on the intention of the user. In Buddhism, there is an idea of “the finger pointing to the moon.” The significance of this metaphor is to simply point out that there are many different paths, many different methods, of getting to the same goal. There are many different sects in Buddhism, for example, with different methodologies, all geared toward achieving the same goal of enlightenment. One can have a religious experience through peyote, through meditation, through yoga, through the use of other psychedelics, or any integration or combination of various spiritual practices.
According to the Moral Accounting Metaphor, proposed by Lakoff and Johnson, rights are viewed as entitlements to certain moral goods, meaning certain aspects of well-being. The problem is that few people decide what well-being is for its community, its nation, and all individuals therein. Our conceptions of well-being may or may not be universal among all cultures of the world. But all have a sense of what is right and what is wrong no matter how they come to those conclusions. Many of our metaphorical conceptualizations of morality are inconsistent with one another. Adam Smith proposed that if all citizens of a nation pursue their own self-interest that an invisible hand would operate to bring about the wealth of all. Combining this with the Moral Accounting Metaphor we get the Morality is the Pursuit of Self-Interest Metaphor. Adam Smith’s theory was one of the founding principles of this country and affected how we conduct our business as a nation throughout the world. In Philosophy in the Flesh, Lakoff and Johnson discuss moral superiority in the moral order metaphor: “Western culture over non-Western culture; America over other countries; citizens over immigrants; Christians over non-Christians; straights over gays; the rich over the poor. Incidentally, the Moral Order metaphor gives us a better understanding of what fascism is: Fascism legitimizes such a moral order and seeks to enforce it through the power of the state (p. 304).” In our culture using drugs in viewed as wrong, immoral, dirty and repulsive.
The prevailing — although rarely acknowledged — attitude in American courts is that almost any trial is too good for a person accused of a drug crime. That attitude was succinctly displayed in a remark made in 1987 by one of the most liberal Supreme Court Justices. The late Thurgood Marshall, a lifelong defender of the Bill of Rights, told Life Magazine, “If it’s a dope case, I won’t even read the petition. I ain’t giving no break to no dope dealer….” That statement caught the attention of some in the legal profession, but it produced neither a bark of criticism nor a paragraph of protest. What would have happened if Justice Marshall had said the same thing about petitions from politicians convicted of bribery? Or those of securities dealers convicted of stock fraud? In stark contrast, when Judge Harold Baer ruled in favor of a drug defendant, Presidential candidate Bob Dole called for his impeachment and the White House said it would ask for his resignation if he didn’t change his ruling. He changed it.
Police may search an open field without warrant or cause, even if it has “no trespassing” signs and the police trespass is a criminal offense. They may also, as in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, conduct close helicopter surveillance of our homes and backyards. They may also search our garbage cans without cause. First class mail may be opened without a warrant on less than probable cause
The exclusionary rule — which forbids use of illegally-obtained evidence — has been restricted to the point of absurdity. The rule does not apply to grand jury proceedings, to civil cases, or even to sentencing procedures. It does not apply even in a criminal trial if the defendant has the temerity to testify in his own defense, for the illegally-obtained evidence can then be used to “impeach” the defendant as a witness.
The signers of the Declaration of Independence believed, with John Locke, that the right of property was fundamental and inalienable, an aspect of humanity. They regarded liberty as impossible without property, which was the guardian of every other right. These beliefs are reflected in constitutional text. The Fifth Amendment declares that “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”
Under federal statutes, any property is subject to forfeiture if it is “used, or intended to be used, in any manner or part, to commit or to facilitate the commission” of a drug crime. No one need be convicted or even accused of a crime for forfeiture to occur. Indeed, in eighty percent or more of drug forfeitures, no one is ever charged with a crime. A person can have her motor home confiscated without any proceedings of any kind, if the confiscation is a drug forfeiture.
Courts hold that illegally seized property need not be returned if the police can establish probable cause at the forfeiture proceeding itself. It doesn’t matter that there was no cause for the seizure; it doesn’t matter that the seizure was illegal, even unconstitutional. If the government can later establish probable cause (through investigation of the seized property itself after the seizure), that is sufficient to uphold a forfeiture.
A court recently held that a home was forfeitable because the owner, when he applied for a home equity loan, “intended” to use the proceeds to buy drugs. By the time the loan actually came through, he had used other funds for that purpose, but that didn’t matter, the court said, because he had intended to use the home to secure a loan, the proceeds of which he intended to use for drugs. The home was therefore no longer his.
Any activities within a home that relate to drugs are sufficient for forfeiture of the home. A phone call to or from a source, the possession of chemicals, wrappers, paraphernalia of any kind; the storing or reading of any “how to” books on the cultivation or production of drugs, which I own. The operative question is whether any of these activities was “intended” to facilitate a drug offense. If a car is driven to or from a place where drugs are bought or sold and is then parked in a garage attached to a home, the home has then been used to store the car, which facilitated the transaction, and is probably forfeitable along with the car. If the home is located on a 120 acre farm, the entire farm goes as well.
When drug proceeds were deposited in a bank account that contained several hundred thousand dollars in “clean” funds, the entire account was declared forfeit on the theory that the “clean” funds facilitated the laundering of the tainted funds. Where a drug dealer owned and operated a ranch, his quarter horses — all 27 of them — were forfeited on the theory that as part of a legitimate business, the livestock were part of a “front” for the owner’s illegal activities. On this theory, the more “innocent” one’s use of property is, the more effective it is as a “front” or “cover” and therefore the more clearly forfeitable.
Dozens of people have lost their homes for growing a few marijuana plants for personal use, including James Burton, a glaucoma sufferer who needed the marijuana to keep from going blind. Burton lost not only his home but his 90 acre Kentucky farm. Thousands of car owners have forfeited their cars because they, or someone else to whom they lent the car, used the car to buy or attempt to buy a small quantity of drugs for personal consumption. Boats and airplanes worth millions of dollars have been forfeited because minute quantities of marijuana were found on board. Yachts and fishing vessels worth millions were seized merely because a crew member may have possessed a small amount of marijuana.
The sheriff of Volusia County, Florida routinely stops cars and searches them. If substantial sums of money are found, the money is confiscated, whether or not any drugs are found. The theory is that the money is probably drug related. Police commonly use trained dogs to sniff in and around cars. The dogs usually react positively to cash and therefore suggest the presence of cocaine. This produces a full search and, often, discovery of cash, which is confiscated. But who prosecutes the confiscators, especially if the prosecutor gets part of the proceeds?
The Supreme Court said in 1974, the “innocence” of the owner is irrelevant. After the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, owners of any property seized under civil forfeiture proceedings can defeat forfeiture if they can prove either that offending use occurred or that the offending use occurred “without the knowledge or consent of [the] owner. In a Milwaukee case, the owner of a 36-unit apartment building plagued by dope dealing evicted 10 tenants suspected of drug use, gave a master key to the police, forwarded tips to the police and even hired two security firms. The city seized the building anyway.
Already, federal forfeiture statutes apply to pornography, gambling, and several other offenses, as well as drugs. Many state statutes apply to property used in any felony. The forfeiture of cars used in sex offenses is commonplace. Some cities confiscate the cars of “johns” who cruise neighborhoods looking for prostitutes. Other states take one’s car for drunk driving.
It is clear that the drug war cannot succeed in ending the consumption of illicit substances but if the unwinnable war continues, it can deprive us all of precious liberties. It has already done so.
Terrence McKenna said, “Psychedelics are a red-hot, social/ethical issue precisely because they are de-conditioning agents. They will raise doubts in you if you are a Hassidic rabbi, a Marxist anthropologist, or an altar boy because their business is to dissolve belief systems.” In the Buddhist idea of samsara, it is thought that the human mind will do all it can to attach itself to its own ego or idea of the self. Meditation in this tradition is also known as a de-conditioning agent where self-created ideas of self and reality disappear to reveal one’s true Buddha-nature. McKenna felt we have a moral obligation to examine and think clearly about our notions of self and other. Psychedelics have played a role in this process all throughout history. Why are they not valued, recognized and included today in our culture/political system? Ralph Metzner said, “Our materialist-technological society…can ill afford to ignore any potential aids to greater knowledge of the human mind.” Approaching these substances with fear and disbelief will only harm us. We must protect these substances for religious, medicinal and psychotherapeutic purposes.
One could achieve exploration of unconscious or “unmapped” areas of the mind, as Huxley puts it, through a wide variety of spiritual practices such as prayer, meditation, yoga, martial arts, extreme exercise, or even intense moments of emotion, positive or negative. It is within our power to fully awaken to our innate Buddha-Nature at any time as the Zen tradition believes but it relies on the intention of the user at any given moment. In The Doors of Perception Huxley asks “What is the Dharma-Body of the Buddha? …the Master answers ‘the hedge at the bottom of the garden.’” And Huxley replies “…of course the Dharma-Body was the hedge at the bottom of the garden. At the same time, and no less obviously, it was anything that I – or rather the blessed Not-I, released for a moment from my throttling embrace – cared to look at (p.19).”
Huxley explains, taking a theory of Dr. C. D. Broad, a Cambridge philosopher, that “the function of the brain and nervous system and sense organs is in the main eliminative and not productive (p. 22).” Again referring to Buddhist philosophy he says that everyone is capable at each moment of being aware of all that is occurring in the universe and remembering all that has happened in the universe. Thus the function of the brain is protection from the overwhelming and confusing infinite knowledge of the universe which is largely useless and irrelevant at given moments. We only use what is necessary in the present moment for fulfilling basic desires such as survival and sustenance. Thus, “Mind at Large” is filtered through our brain and nervous system and all that comes out is a “trickle” of consciousness. Most people, most of the time only know what is brought through their own reducing valve. These spiritual exercises, hypnosis, and chemicals create by-passes into “Mind at Large.” Huxley explains: “The great change was in the realm of objective fact. What had happened to my subjective universe was relatively unimportant…Space [and time] were still there; but it had lost its predominance. The mind was primarily concerned, not with measures and locations, but with being and meaning (p. 16, 20).”
Mescaline can do this by lowering the efficiency of the mind, in the sense that by regulating the enzyme system in cerebral functioning it draws attention away from mental events normally excluded because they possess no survival imperative. This also can explain how fasting can induce visionary experiences; by sinking the amount of sugar to the brain reducing the biological efficiency. Furthermore, vitamin deficiency removes nicotinic acid from the blood, a known inhibitor of visions. Our normal perceptual lives can also act as an inhibitor of visionary experiences. Psychologists have found that if you put someone in an “isolation tank”, or restricted environment where there is no sound, smell, light, or perceivable things and place them in a tepid bath with only one thing to perceive, one will begin to start “see things,” “hear things,” and have strange tactile sensations. In such traditions involving extreme asceticism and meditation in both western and eastern traditions, there are similar effects. As Huxley says, “Their self-inflicted punishment may be the door to paradise (p. 88).”
I am not arguing that these substances are safe and should be used by everyone. It is well known that these “drugs” have harmed many people, caused psychotic episodes; people commit suicide while on them etc. This is another important reason why they are approached with fear. However many people are able to take these tools responsibly and under religious ritual. We are being oppressed by these embodied attitudes and laws. These drugs have religious import and they should be recognized and protected by the state.