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Home arrow Entheogens arrow Why Entheogen?

Why Use the Word Entheogen? PDF Print E-mail
The Age of Entheogens & The Angel's Dictionary by Jonathon Ott (extract)

Carl A.P. Ruck, Danny Staples, Jeremy Bigwood and I, in collaboration with Wasson, proposed the neologism entheogen[ic] in 1973, as a term "appropriate for describing states of shamanic and ecstatic possession induced by ingestion of mind-altering drugs." Noting that shamanic inebriants did not provoke hallucinations or other psychiatric pathologies, we deemed hallucinogen[ic], psychotomimetic and its congeners to be pejorative, prejudicing "transcendent and beatific states of communion with deity" characteristic of traditional use of visionary drugs. We noted that, besides being pejorative outside of the counterculture, psychedelic was "so invested with connotations of the popculture of the 1960s that it is incongruous to speak of a shaman's taking a 'psychedelic' drug." Entheogen[ic] (literally 'becoming divine within') was derived from an obsolete Greek word describing religious communion with visionary drugs, prophetic seizures and erotic passion, and is cognate with the common word enthusiasm. Since the neologism is apposite to traditional contexts ofuse of shamanic inebriants, it has met with an enthusiastic reception by ethnographers and historians, and has appeared in print in all ofthe major European languages, plus Catalin.

Entheogen[ic] has now become the primary term for shamanic inebriants in the Spanish-speaking world, and bids fair to become the predominant term for these drugs in the ethnographic and ethnopharmacognostical literature worldwide. Although we have thus elegantly solved the problem of a culturally-appropriate, non-pejorative term to describe the context of use of these drugs, the phytochemists and pharmacologists have yet to agree on a term to categorize their pharmacological action. There is no facile chemical classification, as many structural types of alkalolds, terpenoids, amino acids, even coumarins are psychoactive in various shamanic inebriants. Similarly, there is considerable pharmacological variability within this class of drugs. Hallucinogen[ic] remains the predominant term for the older generation of scientists, despite the fact that most of these drugs usually do not produce hallucinations in the clinical sense. Psychedelic is still much used by younger scientists, but generally only in reference to drugs with effects like LSD or mescaline; while important shamanic inebriants like the mushroom Amanita muscaria(l. ex Fr.) Pers. ex Gray, the mint Salvia divinorum Epling et Jativa, tobacco (the shamanic drug of the Americas par excellence)-- all likewise used culturally as entheogens--are said not to evoke psychedelic effects.

Although we may presently speak of all these shamanic 'plant-teachers' as entheogenic drugs or as entheogens, we as yet have no single word to describe their pharmacological effects, and must still have recourse to cumbersome binomials, like visionary effects, ecstatic effects, etc.; and we might just as well resurrect the obscure, but quite elegant, term psychoptic: 'producing mental or spiritual vision.'
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