Sunday, March 16, 2008

Cleansing the Doors of Perception

I have read several of Huston Smith's books, and have reviewed one of them, "A Seat at the Table", on this blog. He is perhaps the leading scholar on comparative religion in the world today. His writing is so clear and the content so important that I find myself consistently returning to his works. "Cleansing the Doors of Perception" is Smith's attempt to seriously examine the role of entheogenic plants in contemporary religions. The book is a collection of essays that tackle various aspects of the subject.

The most interesting essay to me was the story of how India's sacred Soma plant was recently identified after thousands of years of uncertainty. The discoverer was an amateur ex-banker who undertakes an Indiana Jones-esque adventure to eventually take his place in History. His conclusion was that the plant was a psilocybin mushroom. He further claims that Soma was removed from religious practice in India, despite its historical importance, because the drug became out of hand and was hindering instead of assisting religious development.

Another engaging essay concerns the role of peyote in Native American religious ceremonies. In 1990 the Supreme Court ruled against peyote as a protected religious sacrament outside legal prosecution. Through public pressure Congress quickly created legislation that protected the plant. After the legal questions were settled, the greater question remained: what is the role -if any- for peyote and similar plants in religions today?

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