Biography/Memoir

Ralph Metzner (May 18, 1936, Germany – March 14, 2019)

I believe spiritual values can again become the primary motivation for the scientists. It should be obvious that this direction for science would be a lot healthier for all of us and the planet, than science directed, as it is now primarily, towards generating weaponry or profit.

As a psychologist, I have been involved in the field of consciousness studies, including altered states induced by drugs, plants, and other means, for over forty years. In the 1960’s I worked at Harvard University with Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert, doing research into the possible therapeutic applications of psychedelic drugs, such as LSD and psilocybin. During the 1970’s the focus of my work shifted to the exploration of non-drug methods for the transformation of consciousness, such as are found in Eastern and Western traditions of yoga, meditation, and alchemy, and new psycho-therapeutic methods using deep altered states. During the 1980’s I came into contact with the work of Michael Harner and others, who have studied shamanic teachings and practices and around the globe involving non-ordinary states of consciousness induced by drumming, hallucinogenic plants, fasting, wilderness vision questing, sweat lodges, and others. Realizing that there was traditions reaching back to prehistoric times of the respectful use of hallucinogens for shamanic purposes, I became much more interested in plants and mushrooms that have a history of such use, rather than the newly discovered powerful drugs, the use of which often involves unknown risks. I have come to see the revival of interest in shamanism and sacred plants as part of the worldview seeking for a renewal of the spiritual relationship with the natural world.

Over the past two millennia Western civilization has increasingly developed patterns of domination based on the assumption of human superiority. The dominator pattern has involved the gradual desacralization, objectification, and exploitation of all nonhuman nature. Alternative patterns of culture survived, however, among indigenous peoples, who preserved animistic belief systems and shamanic practices from the most ancient times. The current intense revival of interest in shamanism, including the intentional use of entheogenic plant sacraments, is among the hopeful signs that the split between the sacred and the natural can begin again.

A recognition of the spiritual essences inherent in nature is basic to the worldview of indigenous peoples, as it was for our own ancestors in preindustrial societies. In shamanic societies, people have always devoted considerable attention to cultivating a direct perceptual and spiritual relationship with animals, plants, and the Earth itself with all its magnificent diversity of life. Our modern materialist worldview, obsessively focused on technological progress and on the control and exploitation of what are arrogantly called “natural resources,” has become more or less completely dissociated from such a spiritual awareness of nature. This split between human spirituality and nature has some roots in the ancient past of Western culture, but a major source of it was the rise of mechanistic paradigms in science in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

As a result of the the conflict between the Christian church and the new experimental science of Newton, Galileo, Descartes, and others, a dualistic worldview was created. One the one hand was science, which confined itself to material objects with measurable forces. Anything having to do with purpose, value, morality, subjectivity, psyche, or spirit was the domain of religion, and science stayed out of it. Inner experiences, subtle perceptions, and spiritual values were not considered amenable to scientific study and came therefore to be regarded as inferior forms of reality – “merely subjective” as we say. This encouraged a purely mechanistic and myopically detached attitude toward the natural world. Perception of and communication of spiritual essences and intelligences inherit in nature have regularly been regarded with suspicion, or ridiculed as misguided “enthusiasm” or “mysticism”.

This strange course of events has resulted in a tremendously distorted situation in the modern world, since our own experience, as well as common sense, tells us that the subjective realm of spirit and value is equally as important as the realm of material objects. The revival of animistic, neopagan, and shamanic beliefs and practices, including the sacramental use of hallucinogenic or entheogenic plants, represents a reunification of science and spirituality, which have been divorced since the rise of mechanistic science in the seventeenth century. I believe spiritual values can again become the primary motivation for the scientists. It should be obvious that this direction for science would be a lot healthier for all of us and the planet, than science directed, as it is now primarily, towards generating weaponry or profit.

Original Text (Ralph Metzner PhD):
Sacred Vine of Spirits : Ayahuasca
Artwork Fair Use : Joi

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