The Secret Chief - Prologue by Stanislav Grof
Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Epilogue | Appendix I | Appendix II | Acknowledgements
AFTER THE PUBLICATION of the first clinical paper on LSD by Walter A. Stoll in 1947, Albert Hofmann's serendipitous discovery of the psychedelic effects of LSD became practically an overnight sensation in the world of science. Never before had a single substance held so much promise in such a wide variety of fields of interest. For neuropharmacologists and neurophysiologists, the discovery of LSD meant the beginning of a golden era of research that could solve many puzzles concerning the intricate biochemical interactions underlying the functioning of the brain. Experimental psychiatrists saw this substance as a unique means for creating a laboratory model for naturally occurring psychoses, particularly schizophrenia. They hoped that it could provide unparalleled insights into the nature of these mysterious disorders and open new avenues for their treatment.
LSD was also highly recommended as a unique teaching device that would make it possible for clinical psychiatrists and psychologists to spend a few hours in the world of their patients and as a result of it to understand them better, be able to communicate with them more effectively, and improve their ability to help them. Early experiments with LSD revealed its unique potential as a powerful tool offering the possibility of deepening and accelerating the psychotherapeutic process, as well as extending the range of applicability of psychotherapy to categories of patients that previously had been difficult to reach such as alcoholics, narcotic drug addicts, and criminal recidivists. Particularly valuable and promising were the early efforts to use LSD psychotherapy with terminal cancer patients. These studies showed that LSD was able to relieve severe pain, often even in those patients who had not responded to medication with narcotics. In a large percentage of these patients, it was also possible to alleviate or even eliminate the fear of death, increase the quality of their lives during the remaining days, and positively transform the experience of dying. For the historians and critics of art, the LSD experiments provided extraordinary new insights into the psychology and psychopathology of art, particularly various modern movements as well as paintings and sculptures of native cultures. The spiritual experiences frequently observed in LSD sessions offered a radically new understanding of a wide variety of phenomena from the world of religion, including shamanism, the rites of passage, the ancient mysteries of death and rebirth, the Eastern spiritual philosophies, and the mystical traditions of the world.
LSD research seemed to be well on its way to fulfilling all the above promises and expectations when it was suddenly interrupted by unsupervised mass experimentation of the young generation and the ensuing repressive measures of a legal, administrative, and political nature. However, the problems associated with this development, blown out of proportion by sensation-hunting journalists, were not the only reason why LSD and other psychedelics were rejected by the Euro- American culture. An important contributing factor was also the attitude of technologized societies toward non-ordinary states of consciousness. All ancient and pre-industrial societies held these states in high esteem and they devoted much time and energy trying to develop safe and effective ways of inducing them. Members of these social groups had the opportunity to repeatedly experience non-ordinary states in a variety of sacred and secular contexts. Because of their capacity to provide experiential access to the numinous dimensions of existence and to the world of archetypal realms and beings, non-ordinary states represented the main vehicle of the ritual and spiritual life of the pre-industrial era. They also played an essential role in the diagnosing and healing of various disorders and were used for cultivation of intuition and extrasensory perception.
By comparison, the industrial civilization has pathologized non- ordinary states, developed effective means of suppressing them when they occur spontaneously, and has rejected or even outlawed the contexts and tools that can facilitate them. Because of the resulting na´vetÚ and ignorance concerning non-ordinary states, Western culture was unprepared to accept and incorporate the extraordinary mind-altering properties and power of psychedelics. The sudden invasion of the Dionysian elements from the depths of the unconscious and the heights of the superconscious was too threatening for the Puritanical values of our society. In addition, the irrational and transrational nature of psychedelic experiences seriously challenged the very foundations of the world-view of Western materialistic science. The existence and nature of these experiences could not be explained in the context of the mainstream theories and seriously undermined the metaphysical assumptions on which Western culture is built. For most psychiatrists and psychologists, psychotherapy meant disciplined discussions or free-associating on the couch. The intense emotions and dramatic physical manifestations in psychedelic sessions appeared to them to be too close to what they were used to considering to be psychopathology. It was hard for them to imagine that such states could be healing and transformative and they did not trust the reports about the extraordinary power of psychedelic psychotherapy. In addition, many of the phenomena occurring in psychedelic sessions could not be understood within the context of theories dominating academic thinking. The possibilities of reliving birth or episodes from embryonal life, obtaining accurate information from the collective unconscious, experiencing archetypal realities and karmic memories, or perceiving remote events in out-of-body states, were simply too fantastic to be believable for an average professional. Yet those of us who had the chance to work with psychedelics and were willing to radically change our theoretical understanding of the psyche and practical strategy of therapy were able to see and appreciate the enormous potential of psychedelics, both as therapeutic tools and as substances of extraordinary heuristic value.
In one of my early books, I suggested that the potential significance of LSD and other psychedelics for psychiatry and psychology was comparable to the value the microscope has for biology and medicine or the telescope has for astronomy. My later experience with psychedelics only confirmed this initial impression. These substances function as unspecific amplifiers that increase the energetic niveau in the psyche and make the deep unconscious dynamics available for conscious processing. This unique property of psychedelics makes it possible to study psychological undercurrents that govern our experiences and behaviors to a depth that cannot be matched by any other methods and tools available in modern mainstream science. In addition, psychedelics offer unique opportunities for healing of emotional and psychosomatic disorders, for positive personality transformation, and consciousness evolution. Naturally, tools of this power carry with them greater potential risks than more conservative and far less effective tools currently accepted and used by mainstream psychiatry, such as verbal psychotherapy or tranquilizing medication. However, past research has shown that these risks can be minimized through responsible use and careful control of the set and setting.
The legal and administrative sanctions against psychedelics did not deter lay experimentation, but they did terminate all legitimate scientific research of these substances. For those of us who had the privilege to explore the extraordinary potential of psychedelics, this was a tragic loss for psychiatry, psychology, and psychotherapy. These unfortunate developments wasted what was probably the single most important opportunity in the history of these disciplines. Had it been possible to avoid the unnecessary mass hysteria and continue responsible research of psychedelics, they could have become a tool that would make it possible to radically revise the theory and practice of psychiatry. This research would have brought a new understanding of the psyche and of consciousness that could become an integral part of a comprehensive new scientific paradigm of the twenty-first century. Most of the LSD researchers grudgingly accepted the legal and political sanctions against psychedelics and reluctantly returned to mainstream therapeutic practices. A few attempted to develop non- drug methods for inducing non-ordinary states of consciousness with the experiential spectrum and healing potential comparable to psychedelics. And then there were those who, like Jacob, the "Secret Chief," refused to accept legal sanctions that they considered irrational, unjustified, or even unconstitutional. These researchers saw the extraordinary benefits that LSD therapy offered to their clients and decided not to sacrifice the well-being of these people to scientifically unsubstantiated legislation. In addition to the therapeutic value of psychedelics, they were also aware of the entheogenic potential of these substances - their capacity to induce profound spiritual experiences. For this reason, they understood their work with LSD to be not only therapeutic practice, but also religious activity in the best sense of the word. From this perspective, the legal sanctions against psychedelics appeared to be not only unfounded and misguided, but also represented a serious infringement of religious freedom.
Jacob painfully weighed the pros and cons and made the decision to challenge the law, continue his work with psychedelics, and assume personal responsibility for his activity. He has already passed the judgment of his "family," the friends and clients whose lives he has profoundly changed. They remember him with great love and gratitude. It remains to be seen how he will be judged by history. It is certainly wise to obey the laws if our primary concern is personal safety and comfort. However, it often happens that in retrospect, history places higher value on those individuals who violated questionable laws of their time because of foresight and high moral principles than those who had issued them for wrong reasons.
Stanislav Grof, M.D.
Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Epilogue | Appendix I | Appendix II | Acknowledgements