And that, my friends, is when things start to get really interesting.
This is the chapter of life that Joseph Campbell called “The Dark Night of the Soul” — and it’s a necessary step in every hero’s journey. It’s also the hardest thing in the world. Nobody ever chooses to stand in this place; it just happens to you. And you will often see later that it needed to happen to you, if you were to ever become more than a mere passenger on Earth. Because this dark place is where you must decide whether to die or live. You cannot go back to what you knew, because what you knew is a pile of smoking rubble. You cannot stay where you are, because where you are is a bleak shroud of despair. You can only move forward into the absolute unknown. And the only way to move forward is to change.”
The acid head or rock devotee wishes to escape, tune out, to leave behind the prosaic, dull, “uptight” world of bourgeois society and to achieve union with higher forces as represented by the throbbing rock beat with a marvelous clarity of insight furnished by an acid trip. Psychedelia enables rational industrial man and his children to pull out of themselves, to back from and over against ordinary experience and judge it in the quality of new insight or from the perspective of new unity. Such have been the goals of ecstatic and mystics down through the ages, though they have sought their ecstasy much less consciously and in most cases much less artificially than does the psychedelic ecstatic.
Psychedelia is primordial, that is to say, prerational when not explicitly anti-rational. It seeks to put aside the hang-ups of organized society and its conventions in order that it might get in touch with the profound underlying natural forces in which we are all immersed, even though the conventions of society cause us to forget this immersion.
Psychedelia is, or at least attempts to be, contemplative. By this I do not mean that it is quiet, for generally it is not, but I do mean that it tries to break through appearances and see truth “like it is.”
Psychedelia is also ceremonial. By this I mean in the present context that it is given to the use of exotic and esoteric symbols-such exoteric and esoteric things, that is, as beads and flowers, fancy garments, neck jewelry for men, turtle-necked shirts, Nehru coats, and other such costumes, uniforms, baubles, and trinkets. The Beatles in their nineteenth-century musical-comedy clothes, the Merry Pranksters in their American flag suits, the flower people with their neck amulets, and even the Hell’s Angels in their black leather jackets are, in fact, wearing vestments.
Psychedelia is ritualistic. By this I mean not that it has an elaborate system of rubrics that specify in great detail the protocol of behavior, but rather that it achieves its effects through the stylized repetition of sound and action that simultaneously releases the individual from old unions and immerses him in new unities. The whirling of the dervishes, the twisting of the Holy Rollers, the measured cadence of the Gregorian chant, the repetitive dances of black Africans and American Indians, are all ritualistic. But the ritual was not ritual for its own sake, as it used to be in the rubricized Roman liturgy, but rather ritual for the sake of producing psychological states in which the religious initiate was able to free himself from the controls and rigidities of ordinary life and “break through” (as The Doors put it) “to the other side.”
The psychedelic is communitarian-that is to say, it attempts to create the relationships of everyday living to some kind of concrete and practical application of the insights of mystic union that it has perceived during its shamanistic experiences. Heavy emphasis is placed on being “natural,” “outfront,” “authentic,” and “spontaneous” in ones’s human relationships; but such honesty, authenticity, spontaneity, and frankness are often mere self-defeating pretexts for aggression and exploitation, and it’s rather beside the point. Psychedelia is repulsed about artificiality, the phoniness, and dishonesty of the stylized relationships of bourgeois, industrial, secular society, and tries to create communities of its own motivated by common faith and common love, in which true believers may relate to one another as authentic human beings. Hardly any small religious community in human history has failed to make the same claim.
Finally, I am sure it will come as no surprise to anyone, psychedelia is profoundly sexual, as are most religious phenomena. Sex and religion are the two most powerful non-rational forces of the human personality. That they should be linked, and even allied in their battle to overthrow the tyranny of reason, is surprising only to the highly Jansenized Christian who has lost sight of the sexual imagery in his own faith-the intercourse symbol of the candle and the water of Holy Saturday, for example, or the pervasive comparison of the Church to marriage in both the Old and New Testament.
I should like to point out that the ecstatic, primordial, contemplative, ceremonial, ritualistic, communitarian, and sexual are words that can be predicative of almost any religious liturgy that the human race has observed. I am therefore contending not merely that psychedelia is religious, but that it is liturgical, and indeed, a judgment upon us for our own past liturgical failures.
In summary, then, psychedelia is a revolt against the superego and against everything in the bourgeois industrial culture of the Western world that smacks of the superego. The reality principle in man has, in liberal industrial society, allied itself almost entirely with the superego.”