BY HENRIK DAHL
With sufficient exposure, the psychedelic experience offers a crash course in what the Buddhists call sila, or right livelihood. – Patrick Lundborg
When looking into the subject of psychedelics and their influence on dietary choices, one soon finds a recurring thread in psychedelic culture: vegetarianism. From a historical perspective, several groups and individuals in the psychedelic movement of the 1960s and onwards have adopted plant-based diets. Notable examples include ‘acid church’ the Brotherhood of Eternal Love and counterculture commune the Farm. In addition, the 1971 book Be Here Now by Ram Dass clearly influenced many people to become vegetarians. This essay opens with a history of vegetarianism in psychedelic culture, followed by a discussion on the ethical and spiritual insights that the psychedelic experience may lead to.
Before discussing the various vegetarian groups and individuals in psychedelic culture that have been active from the 1960s until today, a few words should be said about some of their forerunners. Notable examples are found in the Lebensreform (“life reform”) movement in late 19th Century and early 20th Century Germany and Switzerland. Besides vegetarianism, this back to the nature social movement of proto-hippies emphasised nudism, sexual liberation, organic farming and alternative medicine. Among the hundreds of groups dedicated to the concepts of Lebensreform was the Monte Verità colony. Starting in 1900, various artists, writers and anarchists moved to a hill named Monte Verità in Ascona, Switzerland. Novelist Hermann Hesse, psychiatrist Carl Jung and dancer and choreographer Mary Wigman were just some of the people that were attracted to the place.
Just like many of the hippies of the 1960s counterculture, Eden Ahbez had long hair and beard and slept outdoors, studied Oriental mysticism and was a vegetarian.
Some of the practitioners of Lebensreform moved to California where they and their followers became known as the Nature Boys. One of them, American songwriter eden ahbez (spelled with lower-case letters) became an unlikely celebrity in the late 1940s after writing the song Nature Boy for Nat “King” Cole, which became a number one hit on Billboard for eight weeks in 1948. Just like many of the hippies of the 1960s counterculture, eden ahbez had long hair and beard and slept outdoors, studied Oriental mysticism and was a vegetarian.
Although several of the Beats were greatly inspired by Eastern philosophy, they are generally not associated with vegetarianism. In the 1958 novel The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac, the character Japhy Ryder, which is based on Beat writer Gary Snyder, talks about his hero Han Shan, a poet, mountain man, Buddhist and vegetarian. With regards to Shan’s diet, Ryder says, “I haven’t got on that kick from figuring maybe in this modern world to be a vegetarian is to split hairs a little since all sentient beings eat what they can.” When asked to comment on vegetarianism in an interview with The Paris Review, Snyder described himself as “a very low-key omnivore.” However, despite choosing not to abstain from eating meat, he clearly had a Buddhist attitude towards food, saying that, “The key is still the first precept: ‘Cause least harm.’” Furthermore, in his legendary essay Buddhist Anarchism, which incidentally also advocates issues such as the right to use peyote and cannabis, he states that the “refusal to take life in any form has nation-shaking implications.”
When it comes to the Beats, the one that is probably mostly associated with vegetarianism is Allen Ginsberg. Although he is occasionally included on lists of famous vegetarians, it is debatable if he adopted the diet on a long-term basis. He is quoted as saying that he was “eating vegetarian diets” in his younger years, yet he appears to have been an omnivore later in life. For example, at the age of nine, writer Tyler Stoddard Smith shared a bucket of fried chicken with the Beat poet when he was staying at Smith’s parents. In addition, shortly before his death Ginsberg served his friends fish soup. With these examples in mind, defining him as a vegetarian would be erroneous.
Moving on to the counterculture of the 1960s, many of that era’s spiritual communes adopted vegetarianism. One of them was the Brotherhood of Eternal Love. Before the group turned into a large-scale drug smuggling organisation, it actually started out as a psychedelically minded spiritual collective fuelled by LSD. According to William “Skip” Costley, a man that was part of the Brotherhood in its embryonic phase, the group hoped to be able to use acid as a legal religious sacrament: “We were aware that they were in the process of making it illegal to use LSD, and we were truly on a quest for religious enlightenment.” In October 1966, only days after the drug was banned in California, the Brotherhood of Eternal Love formed a legally registered church.
During the period when the Brotherhood was living at a ranch in Idyllwild, California, the women cooked, baked and taught the children while the men grew vegetables. The inhabitants were mostly self-sufficient when it came to food. “There are no phones, gas or electric bills to worry about. We are all vegetarians and grow most of the food we need in our own gardens,” said a woman living at the ranch when interviewed by a local news reporter. For a time, ex-Harvard psychologist Timothy Leary lived with the Brotherhood of Eternal Love at the ranch, which presumably also meant that he ate the group’s veggie dishes. However, the “High Priest” of the 1960s counterculture was an omnivore. In 1980, when asked if he eats meat, Leary replied: “I’ll eat anything!”
In addition to Idyllwild, the Brotherhood of Eternal Love was active in Laguna Beach where the group set up a head shop called Mystic Arts World, which also functioned as their headquarters. Incidentally, the seaside resort was also home to a man named Curtis Reed. With the assistance of his friends in the Brotherhood, Reed started the brilliantly named vegetarian restaurant Love Animals, Don’t Eat Them.
The largest and probably most well-known commune to come out of the counterculture movement was the Farm. Founded in 1971, the Tennessee based commune not only has an important place in the history of psychedelia but also in the history of vegetarianism. Besides adopting a plant-based diet, the Farm was instrumental in the popularisation of tofu and soymilk, and the commune has been acknowledged as pioneers of vegan cookery. One of the prime movers in the commune when it comes to vegan cooking was Louise Hagler. Already before moving to the Farm in 1971, she was trying to recreate her favourite dishes by replacing meat, cheese and eggs with plant-based protein forms. At the Farm, she and other community members experimented with developing soy-based food that was economically friendly and healthy. Living in converted school buses and vans, they made their own tofu on wood stoves. As the Farm developed the members established their own “soy dairy” (called The Farm Soy Dairy) to make tofu, soymilk and tempeh. In addition, the Farm also created a soy-based ice cream called “Ice-Bean.”
In the mid-1970s the community started publishing their own cookbooks via their publishing enterprise The Book Publishing Company. The first of these was The Farm Vegetarian Cookbook, which contained recipes from various community members. Among the recipes are Beatnik Baked Beans, Ellen’s Good for Ya Noodle Soup and Elizabeth’s Double Dutch Chocolate Ice Bean.
The cookbook has become a classic and a revised late 1980s edition edited by Hagler and Dorothy R. Bates, titled The New Farm Vegetarian Cookbook, is still available for purchase. Nearly all the recipes in the book are vegan, i.e. not containing any meat, fish, egg, cow’s dairy or honey. (The only non-vegan ingredient used is honey, which is included in a handful of the recipes.) Interestingly, even though the vast majority of the dishes are vegan, they are simply described as “vegetarian.” This may be explained by the fact that in the 1970s the word vegan, which was coined in 1944 by Donald Watson, was not as established and widely spread as it is today.
Besides recipes, The Farm Vegetarian Cookbook contains some lovely psychedelic illustrations made by various community members. Motifs include flying pressure cookers, Art Nouveau style floral patterns and abstract shapes. Clearly not an average cookbook, The Farm Vegetarian Cookbook obviously has its roots in the counterculture of the 1960s. In addition to the illustrations, it includes several photographs of smiling community members. Also, the back cover of the original 1975 edition contains the following opening sentences: “We are a large, longhair spiritual community in Tennessee. We came together through open meetings in San Francisco with Stephen. We have 750 people, including 250 kids, living on 1,750 acres.”
“Stephen” is of course the late legendary counterculture figure Stephen Gaskin. An orator and acidhead, Gaskin started his career as a speaker in Haight-Ashbury in the late 1960s before co-founding the Farm where he served as a “spiritual guide.” He was also a writer and went on to write books such as Amazing Dope Tales (1980) and Cannabis Spirituality (1996).
Although LSD was a huge influence on Gaskin’s life, as well as many of his followers, the drug was actually banned on the Farm. Seeing that the community members had become role models, Gaskin did not see any place for acid at the commune. It should also be remembered that there was a shift in attitude in the hippie movement during the 1970s when it came to man-made drugs. Instead of LSD, a semi-synthetic drug created in a laboratory, organic and naturally grown drugs coming from Mother Nature were starting to be preferred by hippies. When it comes to the Farm, the drug of choice was cannabis, which was viewed as a spiritual sacrament. As for the use of other drugs, Gaskin once said that while they did not do acid in the commune peyote and mushrooms were “a matter of personal conscience.” It should be said that despite the ban of LSD Gaskin did not fail to acknowledge the importance of the drug for him and his commune. When participating in a panel discussion during the 1977 conference “LSD: A Generation Later,” Gaskin stated that thousands of people on the Farm felt they owed their lives to Albert Hofmann, the Swiss scientist who discovered LSD.
Another vegetarian commune that merits a mention is the Source Family. Led by Jim Baker a.k.a. Father Yod, a former follower of Yogi Bhajan, this robe-wearing utopian group based in Los Angeles shunned western medicine in favour of natural health. Before forming the commune, Baker had experimented with LSD. This was presumably also the case with many other members of the Source Family. However, the drug of choice in the collective was cannabis, which was smoked every morning in connection with various spiritual exercises. A dubious character with a history of violence, Baker owned several restaurants, which were set up using money from a series of bank robberies. In 1969, Baker founded a health food restaurant on Sunset Strip called The Source, which became a great success visited by various celebrities, including John Lennon and Yoko Ono. The restaurant was also featured in a scene in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall, which of course is another testament to its popularity. Thanks to the restaurant, which was very profitable, the commune could move to a mansion in Hollywood Hills. The Source is usually described as “vegetarian,” but this was actually not the case, at least not by today’s standards. While it is true that most dishes on the menu were lacto vegetarian, some of their sandwiches contained chicken or fish. Even so, it is fair to say that the Source Family had an important hand in generating interest in vegetarian food in 1970s Los Angeles and beyond.
Before forming the commune, Baker had experimented with LSD.
The Source Family had all the characteristics of a cult. Sporting a big beard and long grey hair, Baker was looked upon as a father figure by his followers. Most of the members were a great deal younger than their patriarchal middle-aged leader. Baker, whose motto was “Just be kind,” clearly had a taste for young girls and despite the strong disapproval of his heartbroken teenage wife Robin a.k.a. Ah-Om, he eventually had 13 wives. In 1974, the Source Family sold their health food restaurant and left LA for a rural life in Kauai, Hawaii. On the Island, the financially struggling commune faced tough resistance from neighbours, which involved a shooting at the commune’s house. But things would get even worse for the group. The following year Baker died in a hang-gliding accident, and without their charismatic “father” the commune was soon disbanded.
While the spiritual communes of the 1960s counterculture clearly deserve credit for spreading the word on vegetarianism, they were not alone in promoting vegetarian food in the psychedelic movement of the time. A very important event when it comes to getting people interested in plant-based food was the release of Be Here Now by Harvard academic turned spiritual teacher Richard Alpert a.k.a. Ram Dass. Published in 1971, the book became very popular among aging members of the counterculture and has sold an incredible 2 million copies. Among the people who were captivated by it was journalist and author Sara Davidson, who went on to interview Alpert on many occasions. “In Manhattan, most people I knew were carrying dog-eared copies of Be Here Now, reading other spiritual books, becoming vegetarians, and going off on silent retreats,” she wrote in her 2006 article The Ultimate Trip. During the 1960s, movements such as psychedelia, yoga and vegetarianism had started to overlap, and it is no exaggeration to say that Be Here Now strengthened the links among the three.
In order to understand what made Alpert take an interest in vegetarianism, it is necessary to take a look at how his life developed during the decade leading up to the release of Be Here Now. In the early 1960s, Alpert had landed a position as an assistant professor of education and psychology at Harvard. The son of a wealthy lawyer, Alpert drove a sports car, wore cashmere sweaters and was determined to have a successful career in academia. This was not going to be the case though. Key to Alpert’s transformation from a safe, upper middle-class life to eventually become a spiritual leader was his encounter with psychedelics. In March 1961, Alpert took his fist trip on psilocybin at Harvard psychologist Timothy Leary’s home with a group that included Leary and poet Allen Ginsberg. The early 1960s was extremely eventful for Alpert, and besides taking psychedelics himself, he worked with Leary on his psilocybin research project. The activities of Leary and Alpert eventually led to their expulsion from Harvard, and in 1963, they and their followers continued their psychedelic explorations on a large estate in Millbrook, New York.
During the following years, however, it became clear that psychedelics were not the path forward for Alpert. Despite intense psychedelic explorations Alpert never managed to reach the permanent higher consciousness he was trying to obtain with the use of psychedelics, and by 1967 he had become depressed. There was no way to resume an academic career and he had no desire to keep taking psychedelics. After the death of his mother, he travelled to India and in a temple in the Himalayas he met his guru Neem Karoli Baba a.k.a. Marahaji, who gave Alpert the name Ram Dass (meaning “servant of God”). In addition to changing his name, Alpert also kept a strict vegetarian diet during his four months at the temple.
Although Be Here Now was written after Alpert stopped taking psychedelics, the book has remained one of the classics in psychedelic literature and it has been mandatory reading for psychonauts and students of the psychedelic movement since it came out. In his richly illustrated book Alpert tells the story about his personal transformation, which has contained three stages, namely the social science stage, the psychedelic stage and the yogi stage. His own account of his very first trip is classic trip lit, and so is the story of how he gave his guru about 900 micrograms of LSD, a huge dose, and yet he (supposedly) remained unaffected by the drug. In a chapter titled Cookbook for a Sacred Life, Alpert discusses subjects such as food, sleeping, sexuality, money and meditation, as well as various yoga exercises. When it comes to the topic of food, the reader is advised to eat easily digestible and unadulterated foods. Furthermore, it is clear that the diet suggested by Alpert had both spiritual and ethical aspects. For example, those who have done sadhana find it obvious that, “Any food which entails violence (killing) in its source is not to be taken,” he writes.
One may get the impression that Alpert has been a vegetarian ever since he first set foot in India, but this has actually not been the case. When Sara Davidson interviewed him in 2004 he was “eating whatever he pleased.” However, when she met him for another interview in 2006 he had adopted a vegetarian diet. In addition, he had given up sugar as well as the medical marijuana that he was constantly smoking when she met him in 2004. “I’ve learned that Ram Dass is perpetually transforming, like the Trickster in mythology who changes form and breaks the rules to free people from their habitual perceptions.”
In sharp contrast to the vegetarian ideals of the groups and individuals so far discussed stand those of legendary acid chemist and Grateful Dead sound engineer Owsley Stanley. Owsley was a “total carnivore” for most of his adult life. At 72 he had applied his diet for 48 years, and – disregarding the fact that he had been treated for throat cancer as well as having suffered a heart attack – he claimed to have the same body as when he was 30. Owsley’s diet followed a set of rules. The fundamental one of course being: Eat only food from animals. Liquid milk was to be avoided though, except for butter and cheese. The remaining rules amounted to: Limit liver intake; eat as much fat as you like; do not cook your food much; avoid salt; and, obviously, eat no vegetables. Furthermore, one should not think about food since “it is merely a way to stay alive.”
Described by former Rolling Stone journalist Charles Perry as an “anti-vegetarian,” Owsley believed that the digestive system of humans is designed for meat and that vegetables are poisonous. Perry once shared a house in Berkeley with Owsley. However, since he was a carnivore he never ate dinner with his roommates (who presumably where vegetarians). At one point in his youth Owsley actually adopted vegetarianism for six months. During this time he claims that he started to lose his hair, which grew back when he shunned vegetables. Owsley’s feelings towards vegetarianism and its adopters were outright hostile: “There is only one true, inevitable, and defining characteristic which is connected with vegetarians, and that is: They ALL are compulsive liars.” Owsley’s ‘zero carb’ diet was most likely perceived as something of an oddity in the vegetarian-friendly counterculture movement. Still, despite the many vegetarians in the Deadhead scene he must have come across over the years, Owsley stayed true to his conviction about eating only food from animals. “Even during the years I was soundman for Grateful Dead, I stuck to my guns and remained totally carnivorous,” he wrote in a low-carb forum in 2006.
While presumably rare, outspoken anti-vegetarians can also be found in contemporary psychedelic culture. For example, stand up comedian, former Fear Factor host and psychedelics advocate Joe Rogan is firmly set against veganism and has publicly shared his contempt against vegans on several occasions. Clearly, “non-masculine” movements such as veganism (where the majority are women) stand out as the very opposite to the ideals of macho psychonauts such as Rogan.
It is likely that vegetarianism was fairly big in the Deadhead culture. “When people think vegetarian, they think deadheads stirring vegan chili, smoking pot, and chanting,” said vegan chef Rich Landau in a 2012 article published in Men’s Health. While his comment reveals prejudice attitudes towards fans of the Grateful Dead as well as vegetarians, there is no denying there were links between the two, not least if one takes into account other indicators such as the 1995 vegetarian cookbook Cooking With the Dead: Recipes and Stories From Fans on the Road by Elizabeth Zipern, which, according to its cover, contains various “kynd (sic) and caring vegetarian recipes prepared with love.” As for the members of the Grateful Dead, the International Vegetarian Union lists Bob Weir, Phil Lesh and Jerry Garcia as vegetarians. According to the organisation, Weir “seems to have been vegetarian the longest” while Lesh became a vegetarian in 1991. Garcia was a vegetarian from 1993 until his death in 1995.
Most of the examples of vegetarianism in psychedelic culture in this essay have their origin in the counterculture movement of the 1960s, the reason of course being that this is where most known examples of vegetarian groups and individuals in psychedelia are to be found. When it comes to the 21st Century, vegetarianism is certainly still present in psychedelic culture. However, unlike the 1960s and early 1970s there are no large, prolific communes such as the Farm, eccentric cults such as the Source Family, or spiritual manuals such as Be Here Now. Vegetarianism in the contemporary psychedelic movement is decidedly low-key. However, that may very well change, especially seeing that veganism is on the rise, which most likely will be reflected in psychedelic culture as well. Just like in the 1960s, vegetarianism is often spotted where there are people influenced by Eastern philosophy, even if the location happens to be the Amazon, as in the case of Karuna Vine. An organiser of ayahuasca workshops, Karuna Vine describe themselves as mostly raw food vegans. “Meat is not only inhumane but also very acidic, aiding in bacterial growth in the colon as well as increasing significantly risk for cancers, high blood-pressure and other diseases,” they write on their website.
Vegetarianism is also present in forums on psychedelics such as the DMT-Nexus. In a discussion on psychedelics and food, member Guyomech describes his transition to vegetarianism, which by the time of writing (2012) occurred 18 years ago together with his wife: “It was a gradual transition: first red meat, then chicken, then fish. During this time (and to this day) we researched and experimented a lot to keep our diets both balanced and enjoyable. At the time of the transition, psychedelics were a huge part of the picture for both of us. Developing a stronger sense of connection to the whole world, animals included, was part of what led us to this decision,” he writes. Undoubtedly, numerous psychonauts have done similar dietary journeys.
Since hardly anything has been written about vegetarianism in psychedelic culture, it is sometimes hard to determine what motivate specific groups and individuals in the movement to become vegetarians. However, seeing that non-violence has been a common ideal in psychedelic culture since the 1960s, it is likely that many psychonauts who adopt vegetarianism do so mostly on ethical and spiritual grounds. Historically, hippies have opposed violence not only against fellow humans, but also against non-human animals and the environment. This was seen in the 1960s counterculture with its interest in Eastern philosophy and its message of peace and love, as well as during the back to the nature (rural) era of the 1970s. Furthermore, if one looks close enough, the non-violence ethos can also be spotted in today’s ayahuasca centred, yoga and raw food savvy psychedelic movement, whose main concern appears to be the ongoing environmental destruction.
Let us now take a moment and look at psychedelic culture from the perspective of non-human animals. As history has repeatedly shown, when entheogens are put in the hands of western science the sacredness of these medicines tend to go out the window and instead of diminishing the suffering on our planet they may very well be used to increase it. Obviously huge amounts of animals have been used in scientific experiments with psychedelics where they have been put in gruesome situations and, subsequently, been killed. Species include monkeys, rabbits, elephants, mice, rats, dolphins and cats (just to name a few), many of which, ironically, are the very same animals that are often reverently depicted in psychedelic and visionary art. Clearly, when the White Rabbit that accompanies us humans into the rabbit hole – to use a reference from psychedelic mythology – is captured, tortured and killed by various mind-altering substances, psychedelia is faced with a serious spiritual dilemma.
One of the more notorious experiments took place at the University of Oklahoma in 1962 when an elephant named Tusko, described as an “extremely valuable zoo animal,” was injected with a huge dose of LSD. After only five minutes Tusko collapsed. During the experiment other drugs were also injected into him and one hour and 40 minutes after he had been given the initial injection of LSD he died. Needless to say, the mainstreaming of psychedelics that is underway may lead to numerous highly questionable experiments on non-human animals, and therefore it is of utmost importance to discuss ethical aspects of experimenting with mind-altering substances on species other than our own. Discussions on troublesome and problematic subjects – be it animal testing, ayahuasca tourism or gender or race imbalance – are very often avoided in contemporary psychedelia. It appears that no one wants to ruin the “positive vibes.” Yet for a movement to develop in a healthy direction and to be taken seriously outside of its confines these issues obviously must be dealt with.
Interestingly, some scientists actually change their minds about doing tests where non-human animals are given psychedelics. As a young, budding neuroscience researcher, American author David Jay Brown did experiments on rabbits. However, after tripping on the very same ketamine that he used as an anaesthetic prior to surgery on the animals, the drug made him see the experiments from their perspective. After Brown’s experience, there was no way for him to keep doing his research: “I felt way too much empathy with the test subjects.”
Besides animal testing, there is reason to discuss the working methods of filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky. Captivating and intriguing, his films are a melting pot of surrealism, occultism and a solid dose of psychedelia. However, anyone concerned with how animals are treated will find his films hard to digest. For example, in El Topo (1970) a great number of rabbits are killed. Animal abuse was also seen in Jodorowsky’s 1973 film The Holy Mountain. In one of its scenes a group of soldiers are parading down a street carrying crosses with crucified four-legged animals (possibly lamb). Another scene shows a number of lizards and toads dressed up in armours, which are bathed in blood before being burst to pieces. Furthermore, a scene set on a mountain slope features slaughtered chickens hanging in a tree and brutal dog fighting. At one point during the production the actors were actually tripping on psilocybin mushrooms. Seeing that so many ethical and spiritual violations were made during the making of The Holy Mountain, Jodorowsky’s decision to bring psychedelics into the mix was of course highly dubious and foolhardy.
Jodorowsky has been met with very little criticism from researchers, writers and artists in psychedelic culture. There is one important exception though. Filmmaker Conrad Rooks, director of the psychedelic underground film classic Chappaqua (1966), was very critical of Jodorowsky’s working methods: “He got too much into Black Magic for me. I think El Topo was a very interesting film. But I think the Devil got him, finally,” said Rooks in a rare interview with Swedish writer Carl Abrahamsson. “If you’re playing with these things, you’re playing with fire. Jodorowsky made Holy Mountain an adaption of Thomas Mann, and then there was the other one where he was butchering elephants. That’s a huge sin. That will condemn you forever. He’s lucky he’s still alive,” Rooks continued.
From proto-hippie movements such as the Monte Verità in the early 20th Century via the counterculture communes of the 1960s to today’s ayahuasca drinking raw food vegans, it is safe to say that vegetarianism is a recurring thread that runs through the history of psychedelia.
The vast majority of writers and researchers in psychedelic culture do not show any interest in ethical questions relating to non-human animals, at least not publicly. One of the very few to have written about the subject is Israeli writer and journalist Ido Hartogsohn. In his excellent and refreshingly bold article Psychedelics and Nutrition, published in Reality Sandwich, Hartogsohn argues that serious users of psychedelics will eventually start to receive messages about their dietary choices. When boiled down to their essentials, these messages can be phrased in two simple sentences. The first one deals with our own bodies: “Stop destroying your body with harmful nutrition.” The second message deals with the non-human animals we share this planet with: “Stop taking the lives of others.” Meat-eating psychonauts may of course choose to ignore these messages, but these explorers will nevertheless remain aware of the fact that they have not yet fully dealt with the ethical dilemma of eating other sentient beings. “Although many might disagree, the use of psychedelics is – in my eyes – incompatible with eating meat,” he writes.
Hartogsohn is highly critical of today’s industrialised meat production, where meat is produced in “cattle concentration camps.” In addition, the writer defines our contemporary consumer society as “meat addicted.” Interestingly, he sees psychedelic mushrooms as a possible way to decrease the unparalleled quantities of meat currently consumed on our planet. Seeing that psychedelics have proved to be an effective addiction interrupter when it comes to severe social problems such as opiate addiction and alcoholism, Hartogsohn’s advocacy of psychedelic mushrooms as an antidote against the obsession of meat is actually quite sensible. Needless to say though, for it to work it is presupposed that those experimenting with psychedelics are willing to listen to and act upon the messages received while in the altered state.
The late Swedish writer and psychedelic researcher Patrick Lundborg argued that, “With sufficient exposure, the psychedelic experience offers a crash course in what the Buddhists call sila, or right livelihood.” In his 2014 essay Note Towards the Definition of a Psychedelic Philosophy, published in the anthology The Fenris Wolf 7 right before his death, Lundborg offers a possible explanation to why there is a connection between psychedelics and vegetarianism:
In the psychedelic state there will come a passage where you seem able to see through present organisms and discover their true core. If this occurs, the discovery is usually that all these living things are alike at the core; animated by the same drive, or energy, or spirit or god. This is usually a humbling experience as the subject realizes the arrogance of his assumed human superiority over animals and plants, and questions his or her right to dominate organisms whose principle of life is the same as one’s own. It is no coincidence that many acid-heads become vegetarians… The pantheistic insight brings an important ethical dimension to Psychedelia.
From proto-hippie movements such as the Monte Verità in the early 20th Century via the counterculture communes of the 1960s to today’s ayahuasca drinking raw food vegans, it is safe to say that vegetarianism is a recurring thread that runs through the history of psychedelia. Hopefully, this thread will become much more prominent in the near future as more people become aware of – through pantheistic or other insights – the detestable way non-human animals are treated in the meat and dairy industry, and the massive environmental and spiritual damage it causes to our planet.
By Henrik Dahl
This article was originally published in Reality Sandwich in 2014.
Henrik Dahl is a journalist and critic specialising in psychedelic culture and art.
Featured image: A man carrying a pro-vegetarian poster at the Woodstock festival.
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