After having attended 12-step meetings for over eleven years, I still didn't understand what they meant when they shared about spiritual experiences. Since then, I did a research study with AA members to find out, and have consequently come to understand that there are many forms of spiritual experience. Spiritual experience and the numinosum are synonymous, and they can range from casual synchronicities to burning bushes and bright blinding lights. Since coming to a relative understanding of the numinous, I realize that I have had such experiences.

When I was twenty-two years old, I received a phone call from Lynda, my junior high school sweetheart. She was in town and at the bus station. When we hung up the phones, we started walking toward one another and met in what used to be the town's omphalos. This was the beginning of a three-year relationship that produced our beautiful daughter.

My dad was ill during this time. As decadent as this might sound, my focus lied more with my new found love than with my father's declining health. He was eventually hospitalized-- his previously arrested cancer had returned en masse. Lynda and I visited him in the hospital. He was very weak. For some reason the doctor informed us that they had given him fifty milligrams of secobarbital (a very high dose I remember thinking). Then he suggested that I leave and let him get some rest--that I could visit him the following morning. I reluctantly complied. As I was walking out of the hospital room, I looked back. My dad appeared to be summoning me back with his eyes. I couldn't tell for sure, for his face was also riddled with pain. I wish I would have stayed, in spite of the doctor's suggestion. Lynda and I spent the night in my car in the parking lot.

During the night I awoke with a start--sitting prostrate in the seat with my eyes wide open. I have never awoken in this manner before or since. I looked around, looked up toward his room, then laid down and went back to sleep.

On the way to my dad's hospital room the following morning, a nurse informed me that my dad had passed away during the night--requiescat in pace, may he rest in peace. If I would have considered the possibility of his dying that night, we would have spent his last hours together, but how was I to know?--mors certa, hora incerta, death is certain, the hour uncertain.

Did I awake at the instant that my dad passed away? I don't know, I didn't check the time. This occurred in 1968. I believed then and I believe now that this was a synchronistic event; however, I wouldn't have used the word synchronistic at that time. Nor did I see this event as a spiritual experience, but the synchronicity of the event subtly affected the rest of my life. Whereas I continued to sustain a basically Cartesian world view--hoc opus, this is the difficulty, from this point on I was not as closed-minded about it. You might say, it made a formerly closed door ajar. Today, however, I see this synchronicity as a spiritual experience. Like anyone else, I have had other coincidental things happen in my life, but I would not have considered them spiritual experiences at the time. However, a much more common route, especially for me, to the numinosum, was through altered states of consciousness.

Wanting to feel good is visceral. In whatever form we choose: religious revivals, speaking in tongues, going on vision quests, meditating, ejaculating or doing drugs--it can still be thought of as numinous. In one way or another, from time immemorial, drugs have played a role in religion. From the ancient Mayans and African tribal beliefs to modern day Shamanism. Often, the drugs used were seen as opening the gateway to the "spirit world" and only spiritual leaders would use them on behalf of their people. Corbett (1996) explains that

the imagery of the shaman's journey is fairly similar in its themes in different parts of the world because the shaman experiences directly those categories of the imagination which are archetypal. To reach them, the shaman enters or evokes the necessary state of consciousness through ritual, or by means of the enactment of myth, which allows access to the spirit world (the transpersonal levels of the unconscious). Techniques such as fasting, drumming, dancing or hallucinogensall produce intense affective arousal, expansion of the spectrum of ordinary perception and a submersion or suspension of consensual reality. Such altered consciousness is often necessary for the evocation of archetypal material (p. 125).

When we think of drugs, however, we think of the illicit ones like cocaine, heroin, and LSD, but we overlook the seemingly insignificant and socially acceptable licit drugs such as nicotine and caffeine. Plus I only mention passively the use of alcohol in Christian rituals such as the Eucharist. However, when a Christian drinks the blood of Christ, they do not do so to the extent of oblivion. Neither does the exploration with drugs on a Shamanic level lead to pathological euphoria. It's not like the societal disturbance we see with an alcoholic or heroin addict--aegrotat, he or she is sick. It's the use of a drug for a constructive mental process. The difference being that one often sets out to destroy the mind whereas the other sets out to educate the mind.

Our society is presently saturated with the puerile overindulgence in chemical substances. Of course there is no shortage of senex overindulgence either. Yet, less than a hundred years ago people were drifting blissfully in the clouds of Morpheus. Morphine and laudanum were highly recommended for many ailments, as was smoking tobacco. Today the drugs may be stronger and more destructive, but perhaps their abuse is in some way a form of spirituality; such as teenagers attempting to alleviate the boredom in a boring society not geared to nurture their individuality and accommodate their spiritual needs.

The use of opium goes back unofficially to the ancient cave dwellers who drew pictures of the poppy plant on the cave walls. Officially, according to a Frontline history on the Internet, it goes back to 3400 B.C.E. where it was "cultivated in lower Mesopotamia. The Sumerians refer to it as Hul Gil, the 'joy plant.' The Sumerians would soon pass along the plant and its euphoric effects to the Assyrians. The art of poppy-culling would continue from the Assyrians to the Babylonians who in turn would pass their knowledge onto the Egyptians. In 460 B.C.E. Hippocrates, 'the father of medicine', dismisses the magical attributes of opium but acknowledges its usefulness as a narcotic and styptic in treating internal diseases, diseases of women and epidemics. By the 1300's opium disappeared for two hundred years from European historical records. It had become a taboo subject for those in circles of learning during the Holy Inquisition, then it resurfaced again by the Portugese in the 1500's. In 1680, English apothecary, Thomas Sydenham, introduces Sydenham's Laudanum."

Tussionex was my Laudanum. For eight and a half years I sustained a diurnal practice of writing and filling pharmaceutical prescriptions for it. Getting arrested by the police was nugatory--malesuada fames, hunger that urges people to crime. During those parlous years I was arrested five times on felony charges with only being convicted twice on misdemeanors. What made Tussionex a schedule three controlled substance was hydrocodone resin complex. Unlike the fugacious cocaine, it had a long duration--from eight to twelve hours (it's formula has since been changed). I share the opinion with others that Tussionex was the most superior opiate drug, a virtual halcyon of euphoria. The numinosum, however, is not always upbeat and wonderful. There isn't anything spiritual about the often scabrous struggle to sustain an opiate addiction, whether it's heroin from the drug dealer or pharmaceuticals from the pharmacy obtained by forged prescriptions.

The numinosum can be negative. When Corbett (1997) mentions Mark, Luke, Matt and Cor., when discussing celibacy, he mentioned that "the body and sexuality acted as a kind of negative numinosum" (p. 161). My body and Tussionex, acted as a negative numinosum--one that kept me going back after more despite the problems that being a drug store bandit caused. Life on a daily basis was like being under the sword of Damocles, which makes the family of opiates the most opprobrious and addictive; hallucinogens, however--especially peyote and mescaline, are thought of as the most mind-altering and spiritual.

Concerning the origin of religion--the ancient mystery cults, Wasson (1986) shares with us that "in Antiquity people spoke of the Mystery of Eleusis, of the Orphic Mysteries, and of many others. These all concealed a secret, a 'Mystery'. But we can no longer use 'Mystery', which has latched on to itself other meanings, and we all know the uses and misuses of this word today. Moreover, we need a word that applies to the potions taken in the antique Mysteries, now that at last we are learning what they were. 'Hallucinogen' and 'psychedelic' have circulated comfortably among the Tim Learys and their ilk, and uncomfortably among others including me for want of a suitable word: 'hallucinogen' is patently a misnomer, as a lie is of the essence of 'hallucinogen', and 'psychedelic' is a barbarous formation. No one who respects the ancient Mystery of Eleusis, the Soma [mushroom] of the Aryans, and the fungal and other potions of the American natives, no one who respects the English language, would consent to apply 'hallucinogen' to those plant substances. Antiquity remained silent on these plant substances, for they were never mentioned, except perhaps person to person in a low voice, by the light of a candle at night." Gordon Wasson and others formed a committee under the Chairmanship of Carl Ruck to devise a new word for the potions that held Antiquity in awe. After trying out a number of words they came up with entheogen "God generated within," not to replace the Mystery of the ancients, but to designate those plant substances that were and are at the very core of the Mysteries (p. 30).

John H. Laney (1972) quotes La Barre expressing the following anthropological opinion: "Without a doubt [it is] the most widely prevalent present day [1947] religion among the Indians of the U.S. . . . the use of Peyote has spread from group to group until today it has assumed the proportions of a great intertribal religion" (p. 110). Laney wrote that "the movement has been referred to variously as Peyotism, Peyote Cult or Sect, and Peyote Religion. The members, themselves, know it nominally as The American Church of North America. I prefer to call it the peyote movement because of its creatively dynamic character" (p. 110). "It has also been referred to as Father Peyote, Peyote Jesus, holy food, our brother, and medicine. ("Medicine" in the Indian sense, meaning a mana substance, is capable of curing the mind as well as the body)" (p. 127).

The spiritual ambiance of the peyote movement wasn't necessarily an organized religion. "Owing probably to the strongly individual orientation of the members," says Laney (1972), "as well as to their interest in, and closeness to, the original religious experience, there is no theology in the movement, no officially formulated doctrine" (p. 112). Whereas I have not had personal experience with peyote, I have had considerable experience with LSD.

I spent roughly five years experimenting with psychedelic drugs--mostly LSD. I have fond memories of those years, without ever having had a bad trip. Was I a netherworld criminal who was in possession and under the influence of illegal drugs, or was I having spiritual experiences by means of nonordinary states of consciousness? According to state law, I was a firebrand--stirring up trouble and committing crimes. According to me, then, I was getting high. According to me, now, I was experiencing the numinosum through nonordinary states of consciousness. Today, I do not condone the recreational use of drugs. In fact, I advocate total abstinence, but I have to ask myself: do I regret the past and do I wish to shut the door on it? No. I believe I am the person I am today because of how I lived my life--quantum mutatus ab illo, changed from the person you once were. Without those psychedelic experiences with LSD, I believe there would be a part of me missing--an asset, I might add, for in some ways I can still see through those psychedelic eyes. If one wants to experience the numinosum through nonordinary states of consciousness, suicide is always an option. Not really, but there are better ways to do it. A more acceptable manner is Stanislav Grof's holotropic breathwork.

Grof (2000) shares that "in the last twenty-five years, my wife Christina and I have developed an approach to therapy and self-exploration that we call 'holotropic breathwork." It induces very powerful holotropic states by a combination of very simple means--accelerated breathing, evocative music, and a technique of body work that helps to release residual bioenergetic and emotional blocks. In its theory and practice, this method brings together and integrates various elements from ancient and aboriginal traditions, Eastern spiritual philosophies, and Western depth psychology" (p. 183).

Before holotropic breathwork, Grof and other physicians discovered a number of therapeutic uses for LSD. Grof (2000) explains that "in the early 1960s, Eric Kast of the Chicago Medical School studied the effects of various drugs on the experience of pain in search of a good and reliable analgesic. During this study, he became interested in LSD as a possible candidate. In a paper published in 1963, Kast and Collins described the results of a research project, in which the effects of LSD were compared with two established potent narcotic drugs, the opiates Dilaudid and Demerol. Statistical analysis of the results showed that the analgesic effect of LSD was superior to both opiates." (p. 250).

That was a medical use for LSD. There are also psychotherapeutic uses. Grof continues: "The encouraging results of Kast and Collins's studies inspired Sidney Cohen, a prominent Los Angeles psychiatrist, friend of Aldous Huxley and one of the pioneers of psychedelic research, to start a program of psychedelic therapy for terminal cancer patients. Cohen confirmed Kast's findings concerning the effect of LSD on severe pain and stressed the importance of developing techniques that would alter the experience of dying (Cohen 1965). His co-worker, Gary Fisher, who continued these studies, emphasized the important role that transcendental experiences play in the treatment of the dying, whether these are spontaneous, resulting from various spiritual practices, or induced by psychedelic substances" (p. 251). In my case, during the time that I was experimenting with LSD, the term psychedelic was suitable. However, considering the numinous benefit of those experiences now, I might endeavor to use the term entheogen. Although I haven't found the term entheogen relegated to the coca plant in any of the literature, I think that it would be suitable prior to its synthesis.

At another web site, this one sponsored by Narconon we can find cocaine history: "Cocaine in its various forms is derived from the coca plant that is native to the high mountain ranges of South America. The coca leaves were used by natives of this region and acted upon the user as a stimulant. The stimulating effects of the drug increases breathing which increases oxygen intake. This afforded native laborers of the region the stamina to perform their duties in the thin air at high altitudes." Whereas Narconon didn't provide any dates with the above description of the coca plant, it does with the chemical synthesizing of it. Narconon shares that "Cocaine was first synthesized in 1855. It was not until 1880, however, that its effects were recognized by the medical world. The first recognized authority and advocate for this drug was world famous psychologist, Sigmund Freud. Early in his career, Freud broadly promoted cocaine as a safe and useful tonic that could cure depression and sexual impotence. Cocaine got a further boost in acceptability when in 1886 John Pemberton included cocaine as the main ingredient in his new soft drink, Coca Cola. It was cocaine's euphoric and energizing effects on the consumer that was mostly responsible for skyrocketing Coca Cola into its place as the most popular soft drink in history. From the 1850's to the early 1900's, cocaine and opium laced elixirs, tonics, and wines were broadly used by people of all social classes. This is a fact that is for the most part hidden in American history. The truth is that at this time there was a large drug culture affecting a broad sector of American society. Other famous people that promoted the "miraculous" effects of cocaine elixirs were Thomas Edison and actress Sarah Bernhart." There is a longer list of historic figures that used cocaine and other drugs, but it is not necessary to discuss them here.

Laney (1972), referring to the peyote movement, said that "in my experience, not only does a general lack of information exists about this movement, but a quantity of dramatic misinformation exists in its place; that it belongs somewhat to the 'drug culture', that it is a decadent, deteriorating religious form, that it is an orgiastic or ecstatic mode of primarily unconscious experience. This disparaging attitude seems to prevail even among the psychologically informed. It comes, apparently, from the same human need that expresses itself in feelings of excitement, awe, fear, fascination, or lust when faced with the mysterium. It seems actually to arise from the sense of the numinous" (p. 126).

Laney was writing about Peyote, but why couldn't it apply to other drugs as well? Except for the lust, the feelings of excitement, awe, fear, and fascination when faced with the mysterium resembles a brief experience I once had. At the time the ignominious injections of methamphetamine was my elixir, which have similar deleterious affects to the mind and body as the chronic and addictive use of cocaine. After having been in a sleepless imbroglio for three or four days and nights, my friend stopped her car in front of my house. When I asked her where she was going, she told me that she was going to see Billy--her ex-boyfriend. She asked if I wanted to go with her. As soon as she asked, I felt an overwhelming sense of excitement, awe, fear, and fascination. This cerebral/emotional paroxysm also had a physical quality--a throbbing, pins and needles sensation throughout my body. The most numinous part of this, maybe fifteen second, experience was fear. I could not say "No!" and get the hell out of that car fast enough. Once I was inside of my house, I remember saying to myself something like, "Wow! What was that all about?" Pondering on the numinosity of that event since then, I have passed if off as a diminished mental capacity--a drug induced quirk coupled with sleep deprivation, non compos mentis--not of sound mind. I still believe that, but I also believe I had a spiritual experience. One that I will probably never know the specific meaning or nature of. Sleep deprivation, after several days and nights of injecting methamphetamine, have sent me on a number of cerebral excursions into the numinosum--the negative numinosum, of course--a non- ordinary state of consciousness is putting it very lightly.


Most addicts will assert that it was not their intention to grow up to be self-centered, hedonistic drug addicts and/or alcoholics. Nor was that my intention--(I don't think?). I'm not sure because when I was around six or seven years old, there was something about the outlawthat was compelling and attractive to me. However, during the same time period, when my playmates and I played cops and robbers, I always wanted to be the cop. At this early age I was already beginning to develop the structure of both the puer and senex archetypes into my life. These consentaneous opposites are what is at the heart of addictive personalities. Hillman (1970) explains "that the senex is a complicatio of the puer, infolded into puer structure, so that puer events are complicated by a senex background" (P. 146). Most of my recent research concerns the puer and senex archetypes, and it is my firm belief that in the chemically dependent population of our society, this structure begins to develop in childhood. It did with me, anyway.

It might appear to some that I have shone a heterodox light on the wide-spread view that the recreational use chemical substances should be avoided. This is not my intention. Hopefully, my words won't be taken officiously. In 12-step programs such as AA and NA there is an expression that explains the general human condition when people voluntarily enter recovery programs: incomprehensible demoralization. They are subjugated and they want to surrender. That was not the case with me. Unlike most 12-steppers, my life with drugs and alcohol was not incomprehensibly demoralizing. However, quae nocent docent, things that injure teach.

I believe I have been preordained to do something in my second life, but to accomplish it, I first had to attend a drug and alcohol school for over thirty years in my first life. Then, in order to earn the credibility to write and teach about what I learned in my first life, I had to go to more schools in my second life. When I am finished with the formal education of my second life, I will teach and write about the spiritual journey of my first life--and that, I think, is what I was preordained to do; hence, the popcorn theory. Consequently, for me, my heterodox view of my first-life experiences will hopefully serve me and others well for as long as my second life lasts.

I believe my premature entrance into recovery was a pyrrhic victory, keeping me from having to experience incomprehensible demoralization. Eventually, however, I would have. I might have even died--mea culpa, mea culpa.


Corbett, L. (1997). The religious function of the psyche. New York: Routledge.

Grof, S. (2000). Psychology of the future. Albany: State University of New York.

Hillman, J. (1970). On senex consciousness. Spring: An Annual of Archetypal Psychology and Jungian Thought.

Laney, J. H. (1972). The peyote movement: An introduction. Spring: An Annual of Archetypal Psychology and Jungian Thought.

Narconon. (2000). History of cocaine. Retrieved November 20, 2001 from

PBS and WGBH Frontline. (1998). The opium kings. In Opium Throughout History. Retrieved November 25, 2001 from

Wasson, R. G., Kramrisch, S., Ott, J., & Ruck, A. P. Persephone's quest: Entheogens and the origins of religion. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Author's Bio: 

After 40 arrests, five formal probations, four country jail sentences, and a prison term (as a result of chemical dependency), I turned my life around. I was released from prison in Dec 1989, and have been clean and sober since. I started at Barstow College in Feb 1990. Received my AA degree in '92 from Barstow College in Barstow, CA; BA in '94 from Chapman University in Orange CA; MHS in 98 from National University in San Diego CA, and finished with a Ph.D. from Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara, CA in Feb 2004. I have taught as an adjunct instructor for Park University and Barstow College. I can be contacted through my website or directly to my email account