It’s been over fifty years since Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner and Richard Alpert wrote “The Psychedelic Experience.” It was intended to be a psychedelic manual for the first generation of Western mind-explorers; people who desperately lacked a cultural background for their psychedelic journeys.
Unsurprisingly, this half-century old book has lost some of its applicability in modern psychedelic culture.
Stepping into the void is occultist and academic Julian Vayne, who has just released “Getting Higher” – a manual of psychedelic ceremony for the modern psychonaut. Here’s my review of this hallucinogenic handbook.
The manual covers all the usual aspects of planning a psychedelic ceremony – substance, dose, environment and so on, in an engaging but thorough first couple of chapters. We’re also treated to an overview of why people might choose to use psychedelics – from a desire for creativity to a need for healing, and everything in between.
Although this introduction is important, it’s stuff that’s been covered before in exhaustive detail… it has the potential to bore us with a lack of originality, or to put off newcomers with a bunch of inaccessible information. Refreshingly, Julian manages to avoid both pitfalls to give us a concise and entertaining background to his subject.
To prepare us further for the journey ahead, Julian teaches techniques that complement the psychedelic experience, many of which are new to me and present exciting possibilities for my next outing. The basics of breathwork, meditation, sound and movement give us a wonderful collection of tools to bring with us into our ceremonies.
Now we’re ready to dive into the psychedelic experience itself, Julian offers a collection of poetry and stories to help guide the voyager through the maze. These are more accessible than the slightly incomprehensible chants of the Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide. Surprisingly, we are told we can leave religion at the door – Julian mentions that if atheists can’t get behind mentions of god in the book, “What matters is authenticity,” and the stories can be adapted appropriately.
Rather than being presented as doctrines, Julian’s ‘prayers’ are more like guidelines for generating a direction in your ceremony. I can see psychonauts picking and choosing aspects of these stories to help craft their own unique rituals, guiding the participants down new roads and untravelled paths.
For when we’re fully immersed in the experience, Julian provides some advice on how we can make the most of the psychedelic space. Art, games, museums, magic, festivals… and to really set this book in contemporary psychedelia, Julian even discusses how the modern ritual of the rave can “…help transform a good night into something outstanding, or even sacred and sublime.”
We then get into some specifics. Julian discusses some examples of more focussed ceremonies, such as the ‘medicine circle’ that’s seen in various psychedelic traditions. We are also given some advice on setting up shorter ceremonies for unique substances like 5-MeO-DMT and Salvia.
The psychedelic ceremony is not a frivolous event – and Julian acknowledges that with some serious advice for guides and sitters. After all, the safety of the tripper is paramount. Instead of just providing chants for the guide to use in the event of a bad trip (this was all we got in the Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide), Julian gives practical advice on how a sitter can help a troubled psychonaut through the storm.
Responsible drug use is encouraged throughout, and Julian advises against “chasing the high,” suggesting that we instead “refine our rapture” to ensure we treat these substances with enough respect to be rewarded with a glance of the divine.
As our ceremony comes to a close, we’re given some advice on the come-down; sleep, food, integration… and Julian shares some wonderful stories of people’s transformative journeys.
“They help me to sit and I look around. I have entered a space where we are each enlightened beings. We have crossed a spiritual abyss and now we sit together. Hands touching, our minds a communion of rapture. Each one of us a vast titan, like three giant statues of the Buddha.” – excerpt from an anonymous experience in “Getting Higher”
One potential criticism that Julian might face for “Getting Higher” is the possibility of cultural appropriation. However I would argue that Julian is an expert in traditional psychedelic use, and is passing on ancient knowledge with reverence and responsibility. It’s up to the reader to use this wisdom appropriately. This manual will help us in taking human culture towards new vistas, without destroying the sanctity of the ones that came before.
This book is wonderful. It’s concise and entertaining, yet is packed with so much useful information. It can be used as a handbook to create your own psychedelic ceremony, using the wisdom passed on from other cultures combined with our ever-growing understanding of entheogenic substances.
It will be by my side for all future journeys.