Crafting the Modern Psychedelic Ceremony – “Getting Higher”

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.


One thought on “Crafting the Modern Psychedelic Ceremony – “Getting Higher”

  1. I’m not really sure why psychedelics as a experience would be dictated by setting and stuff like that. It seems to me that if we’re going to talk about psychedelics as some sort of spiritual sacrament, then we have to think about every other intoxicant as a spiritual sacrament.

    I pretty much spent eight years of my life on psychedelics pretty much the whole time so far as physical effectiveness can allow. I’ve read a few books here in there about it I have listen to a lot of peoples versions of it. And I suppose everyone has the right to come up with whatever sort of ceremonious religious institution they feel like believing.

    But I feel that psychedelics are kind of separate from any other kind of intoxicated or any other type of conscious experience.

    I haven’t read the book that you reviewing and I realize you’re just kind of giving us kind of like an overview of all things psychedelic so to speak.

    But my take on the whole thing is that if you’re taking psychedelics to have a spiritual release his experience, then to have any sort of spiritual ceremony around psychedelics is necessarily shunting the psychedelic experience into a forced believe system.

    And this is not to say that we can’t come to certain things about this psychedelic experience that might be true or false so far is what it does to consciousness and or experience. I’m saying that most everything that I have read heard talked about or otherwise advocated by people about psychedelics is really just about getting fucked up and titling it under various closet of structures of meaning to give it significance in some sort of larger spiritual sense.

    One might find credibility and what I’m saying here with the Shambala publication called “the lions roar”.

    This guy who started the western Buddhism as we all know in over here, realize that there’s something about the western mind that is in capable or insufficient to really get out what Buddhism in the traditional eastern senses talking about. He realize that there is some sort of short circuit in the western mind that makes it unable to apprehend or non-comprehend, so to speak, what the Buddhist Texts Are really saying.

    Know what this means is that what you make typically think or what you may have learned about Buddhism and Zan and stuff like that is typically the version that is misunderstood, or is that inherently wrong. The room Poachy that came up at Shambala addressed this actual fact.

    Getting back to psychedelics we can begin to see that most things that people want to call spiritual about psychedelics is nothing more then getting high and feeling good about it; and this is the same thing to say that we might as well drink a six pack of beer and jump around and dance and for the meaning that it might have for any sort of true spiritual experience is the same as if you take a dose of LSD and you jump around and see colors and trails. It is a western philosophical limitation that would say it’s all good and it’s all relative and that somehow through taking these chemicals we can come to certain religious truths. Like I said it’s all fine if people want to come up with whatever sort of religion they want to make around taking drugs it’s all good.

    But let not people deceive themselves and say that it’s all good but it’s all relative and everyone can have whatever relative form of spiritual experience they want because really what we want to do is just take drugs and get high and not have to go to jail for it.

    But when we get beyond these intermediate religious structures we find that there is a more substantial form at work that can only be accessed through psychedelics and similar type of intoxicants.

    The problem is is that everyone in the west wants to say hey it’s all good we can all have a relative spiritual experience and you can’t tell me what to believe or think — but more that it is then there propriety that is telling everyone else that would be able to explain their varieties of a religious experience into what psychedelics are really teaching us is non existant or untrue beyond the subjectiveve experience.

    I don’t know if this comment came out that great because I’m voice dictating and my screen is shattered and I can’t really see what it’s putting down so I hope my meaning came across. Thank you for having this blog


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