Many people in the psychedelic community will be quick to mention scientific research and peer-reviewed studies supporting the claims that psychedelics have immense healing power, but if you were to ask those people about their first psychedelic experience, it was likely a somewhat wild and cathartic journey with a few friends, in all but a controlled environment. In recent years, the efforts for the medicalization and legalization of psychedelics have rightly steered the conversation away from free-wheeling fun, and instead emphasized safety, ethics, and caution, but it is important that we do not completely forego the roots of the psychedelic experience, which is joy, communal bonding, ecstasy, and transformation.
Julian Vayne is an accomplished writer and occultist, and author of the book Getting Higher: The Manual of Psychedelic Ceremony, a fantastic guide for anyone wanting to use psychedelics in a mindful, playful, and exploratory way. We spoke with Julian recently about the subject of seriousness and playfulness in psychedelic work, and his insights challenge us to remember that the true power of psychedelic healing comes from joy and catharsis.
Thank you so much for speaking with us, Julian. I really enjoyed the book!
Thank you; a lot of people have said really nice things. It seems to be being received very well.
I love the intentions and the energy behind it. It has a kind of playful and exploratory vibe to it that I got a lot out of. Through reading it, I felt like I got a real sense of you and how you approach this kind of work.
That’s really nice to hear. I deliberately wanted to have something that was fairly playful. I was just at a conference in Berlin- the Altered Conference, which was fantastic- and I was part of a panel discussion. Really interesting to hear the audience and the way the discussion went because people were talking a lot about dangers and difficulties in the work of psychedelics, and all of that is true of course, but they’re also fun, and enjoyable, and amusing- they are all of those things. For me, that’s a really important part of it. I’m glad you got that sense of it from the book.
Definitely, and I think it’s a great point to bring forth. A lot of the discourse around psychedelics these days has to do with research and science and the mainstreaming of them, and so naturally everyone’s being very mindful how they speak, and talking about harm reduction a lot. It’s all kind of serious, which is kind of funny for such a cathartic and ecstatic experience that can also involve humor.
In Getting Higher, one of the things I talk about is the fact that we’re in these post-Protestant cultures where religion is something that’s boring and difficult and slightly annoying that you have to just do on a Sunday, and spirituality is this kind of nebulous thing which involves work and diligence. All of that stuff is true, but the reason that people go into ayahuasca and peyote ceremonies, the reason that people take psychedelics in a large part is because these are ecstatic, joyful things. And the ecstatic joy is the thing that feeds our souls. Of course, we are careful to have these experiences in a way that does not damage ourselves or other people- that must be avoided- but there’s nothing wrong with having fun.
It’s so true, and a really important thing to emphasize. We shouldn’t forget the joy, and that the ecstatic experience is healing.
It’s the joy that’s healing, that’s the thing. Like with medical marijuana, there’s this idea that you are allowed to smoke marijuana but only if you are in excruciating pain. Then, it will be okay to be slightly happier. Because we can sort of admit that into our cultural discourse, that makes sense. But the idea that a normal person, somebody who is not suffering from some terrifying disease, would want to be even happier still- that is seen as the “sins of the flesh.” Fundamentally, that’s what we’re talking about here.
This leads perfectly to one of my questions, which is: as psychedelics seem to be moving inevitably toward some form of legalization, with a big emphasis on psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy, do you have any fears about that? Do you feel like the joy element is going to be lost? As it exists now in an underground state, do you feel it grants people more freedom than if it were legalized? What’s your sense of all of that?
I guess in our dark moments it’s easy to imagine a kind of Brave New World scenario where psychedelics could be used as a tool of repression. That’s theoretically possible; there might be a way to sort of completely co-opt them. But in terms of the medicalization process, that part of the story that we’re in right now, I know a number of the people involved in those efforts, certainly in Great Britain, and they are in my experience good people with their hearts in the right place, and actually with an intention that’s much broader than just pure medical use of these things. Many of these people do believe that psychedelics have a broad role to play in culture, and if one of our ways of getting this experience and this discussion into broader culture is through helping people who are really hurting, then that’s fantastic. What a great place to start!
I don’t think the medicalization of MDMA for PTSD will stop people from going out to raves or parties or having access to ecstasy as an unlicensed substance- I don’t think that will change at all. You’re talking about the emergence of psychedelics into culture, and this is one of the ways- a very strong way- of getting that to happen. Because we now have really, really compelling evidence that these things are good for people suffering from these difficult conditions, and they’re the most effective ways of addressing these challenges that our culture has.
We are very grateful to Julian for sharing his thoughts on psychedelic healing with us. Stay tuned for our next conversation with Julian about the power of crafting your own psychedelic ceremony.