A Scholar of Religion Looks At California Psychedelic History

This is a most interesting paper/presentation on the “California Religion of Psychedelia, 1960-1972” by Professor Josef Chytry, who teaches at the University of California Berkeley and is a senior adjunct professor in critical studies at the California College of the Arts.

This paper was presented at the Religion in California Conference, UC Berkeley, April 2014:

From Castalia to Mowie Wowie

By Josef Chytry

One of the more provocative features of the decade of the 1960s (the so-called ‘”Sixties”) was the rise of the phenomenon of a “psychedelic culture,” often interconnected with the concept of a “counterculture” yet distinguishable from it.  An important aspect of such a psychedelic culture was its claims of helping to initiate a new religion or religiosity inseparable from the luminous experiences presumably granted by the effects of a host of psychedelic potions, including mescalin, psilosybin and particularly LSD…

This paper takes a look at such an ambition by focusing on some of the texts that played a key role in its development during the earlier stages.  The first set of texts covers the history of the idea of an alternative culture, (such as) … Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s account of a “pedagogical province” in Wilhelm Meister’s Journeyman Years, Hermann Hesse’s vision of a future community called Castalia in The Glass Bead Game…

The second set of texts includes contemporary writings by such intellectuals as Aldous Huxley and Alan Watts during the 1950s and early 1960s that developed such themes and sometimes even envisaged possible “psychedelic” utopias such as Huxley’s Island. The final set of texts covers traditional ”sacred” writings that were seen as invaluable guides of what might emerge as the facets of a psychedelic religion.  Such texts included the Chinese I Ching, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, Lao Tzu’s Tao Te King, the Hindu Bhagavat Gita, and the Christian New Testament.




One Response

  1. The article on the California Religion seems to be a lovely synopsis and synthesis of a history, and a pleasure to read. I doubt that any ‘religious’ movement can have a Soma at its center, there’s got to be more to ‘bind back towards’–a definition of religio. The conundrum of wishing to share thoughts, concerns and inspirations in a community of cognoscenti will likely always bring into being varieties of churches for gnostics–which seems to me a grand, yet unavoidable, paradox.

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