Ministry of the Mushroom: Psilocybin Churches, Psychedelic Experience and Sacred Sensemaking

Forthcoming in International Journal for the Study of New Religions, 2022.

Recently there has been a surge of renewed interest in the psychedelic compound psilocybin. In particular, psilocybin is being studied in clinical settings as a potential breakthrough treatment for depression. Alongside this growing therapeutic interest, there has been a rise in the religious use of psilocybin, as evidenced by the creation of a number of psilocybin mushroom churches in the United States. While the dominant popular discourse surrounding psilocybin is currently clinical, psilocybin churches offer an alternative form of meaning making regarding the psychedelic experience. Specifically, this article argues … Read more

Entity Encounters and the Therapeutic Effect of the Psychedelic Mystical Experience

Journal of Psychedelic Studies, November 2020

Research suggests that the clinical and therapeutic effects of psychedelics are related to their ability to induce a mystical-type experience. One particularly interesting feature of the psychedelic mystical experience is the entity encounter – people who take psychedelics sometimes describe meetings with seemingly autonomous entities which appear to possess intelligence and agency. While there has been little empirical research into psychedelic entity phenomena, qualitative studies and anecdotal reports suggest that entity encounters can have profound and lasting positive after-effects. Based on the existing data, this article argues that there is value in exploring … Read more

How to Explore Altered States of Consciousness Without Psychedelics

Published at Mind Medicine Australia, 2020. Co-written with Dr Alana Roy and Melissa Warner.

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Little Saints: The Sacred Healing History of ‘Magic’ Mushrooms

Published at Australian Psychedelic Society, 2020

Currently there is a renewed interest in psychedelics as potential medical treatments for a variety of mental health conditions. In particular, recent studies have suggested that the psychedelic compound psilocybin (the psychoactive ingredient found in hallucinogenic ‘magic mushrooms’) has a promising role to play in the treatment of anxiety, depression and addiction (Garcia-Romeu and Richards 2018). In clinical trials, the positive healing effects of synthetic psilocybin are positively correlated with a psilocybin-induced mystical experience; that is, people who have a mystical experience tend to have better treatment outcomes. Given that in the modern … Read more

Psychedelics, Psychotherapy and Mysticism

Published at Australian Psychedelic Society, 2020

Recent research suggests that the positive therapeutic effects of psychedelics are related to their ability to induce a mystical experience. For example, in a trial of psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression, Roseman, Nutt and Carhart-Harris (2018) found that having a mystical-type experience predicted positive clinical outcomes. Further, a study by Griffith et al. (2011) found sustained positive changes in attitudes, mood, and behavior in volunteers who took psilocybin. In this study, 83% of participants who had a psilocybin occasioned mystical experience rated it as the single most, or among the five most, spiritually significant … Read more

The Dark Side of Dharma: Meditation, Madness and Other Maladies on the Contemplative Path

(Forthcoming March 2021). Available to pre-order from Aeon Books:

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An Exploration of the Hidden Side of Meditation

The Dark Side of Dharma explores some of the possible undesirable side effects – also known as ‘adverse effects’ – of meditation and mindfulness. Researcher Anna Lutkajtis investigates why these effects, which are well-known in spiritual and religious traditions, have been ignored in contemporary secular contexts, such as Western psychology.

Lutkajtis’ research reveals that while meditation is commonly portrayed as a practice that is overwhelmingly positive, a growing number of … Read more

Lost Saints: Desacralisation, Spiritual Abuse, and Magic Mushrooms

Psilocybin containing mushrooms have been used in indigenous healing ceremonies in Mesoamerica since at least the sixteenth century. However, the sacramental use of mushrooms was only discovered by Westerners in the early to mid-twentieth century. Most notably, the meeting between amateur mycologist Robert Gordon Wasson and Mazatec curandera María Sabina in 1955 resulted in the widespread popularisation of ingesting ‘magic mushrooms’ in the West. To Sabina and the Mazatec people, psilocybin mushrooms were sacred and only to be used for healing. However, Western ‘hippies’ viewed mushrooms as psychedelic drugs which they consumed with little regard for cultural sensitivities, rendering the … Read more

Delineating the ‘Dark Night’ in Buddhist Postmodernism

In contemporary Western meditation-based convert Buddhist lineages,[2] the term ‘dark night’ has been adopted in order to describe a variety of meditation-related difficulties. While the term dark night is not a Buddhist term – rather it is an abbreviated form of the expression ‘dark night of the soul’ and derives from Christian mysticism – it has recently been appropriated in postmodern Buddhist discourses. The Buddhist dark night is referred to in a range of media, including popular news articles, discussion forums, blogs, podcasts, and texts and meditation manuals written by well-known contemporary meditation teachers. Despite the proliferation of the … Read more

“The Answer to All Your Problems?” The Overly Positive Presentation of Meditation in the Media

The current popularity of ‘secular’ meditation has been due in large part to its promotion in the mainstream Western media. In 1975 TIME magazine ran a cover featuring an image of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of Transcendental Meditation (TM) along with the headline: “Meditation: The Answer to All Your Problems?” Ever since, stories about meditation have captured the attention of a Western audience receptive to narratives around spirituality, healing, self-help and wellness. The view of meditation that is portrayed by the Western media is, however, radically simplified and incomplete. Specifically, it is an overwhelmingly positive view, which at its … Read more

The Dark Side of Dharma: Why Have Adverse Effects of Meditation Been Ignored in Contemporary Western Secular Contexts?

In contemporary Western society, meditation techniques that were previously taught within the context of Eastern religious traditions are now increasingly being practiced in secular settings. While the boundary between the secular and the religious is blurred, popular meditation techniques such as Transcendental Meditation, Vipassana and mindfulness are generally promoted as being derived from Eastern religions, but inherently non-religious, aligned with Western psychology, and suitable for a general audience.  Over approximately forty years, thousands of research studies suggest that there are many psychological and physiological benefits associated with these forms of meditation; however, a small but growing literature indicates there could … Read more