This interview was conducted to mark the release of Dr. Rick Strassman’s new book, DMT and the Soul of Prophecy: A New Science of Spiritual Revelation in the Hebrew Bible, published by Park Street Press.
Jeff: Rick, can you tell us a bit about why you wrote this book? Your work, of course, is well known and celebrated through your first book, DMT: The Spirit Molecule. But this book seems like a ‘return to roots,’ as it were. Can you speak in particular to that?
Rick: I was left with a handful of difficult questions at the end of my DMT research in 1995. And I felt I had only partially worked them through in the process of writing DMT: The Spirit Molecule in 2000. It seemed to me that all of these questions would resolve themselves if I could only find the proper model or models that could help me understand the DMT effect. By the expression “the DMT effect,” I mean both the fact of DMT’s existence as well as its effects. What is the nature of the world that DMT reveals? How does it do it? Why does DMT exist in our bodies? What is the value of entering into the DMT state; that is, are we or the world any better off for having visited it?
There is a very useful book written by an early 15th century scholar, Joseph Albo, called The Book of Principles. The Hebrew word he uses which is translated as “principles” could also be translated as “roots.” This in the sense of “fundamentals.” In my case, this searching for fundamentals or roots relates to my search for a cogent model by which one could understand and integrate or utilize the DMT experience. It also refers to my deciding to return to my own roots in the Jewish spiritual tradition in order to search for that model.
It is the latter move I am most interested in exploring with you. As you know, it was the Asian religions—and especially their often heterodox Tantric traditions—that became the privileged framework for receiving and translating psychedelic states in the 1960s and 70. This is patently obvious if one looks closely at, say, Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception, or his integration of the Hindu Tantra and Tantric Buddhism with western science in his utopian “spiritual testament” and final novel Island. One also thinks here of so many of the early Hindu and Buddhist references of Timothy Leary. I mean, they were “talking chakras” (that is, Tantric yoga) and attempting to use The Tibetan Book of the Dead (which was originally a Tantric meditation manual) to guide and make sense of their psychedelic trips. Seen historically, then, your move in this new book is quite a radical break with these earlier choices.
I am, by the way, not privileging one comparative strategy over the other. I am simply asking you to think out loud with us about how psychedelic states have been received in American culture through various religious lenses or prisms, and why you have chosen the prophetic states of the Hebrew Bible now.
The psychedelic drugs and Eastern religious meditation practices both entered Western culture in a big way in the 1960s. They arrived at the right time and in the right place to catalyze and reinforce the release of pent-up frustration with what appeared to be the mass conformity growing out of the strange mélange of post-World War II celebratory and survival mode. It was a time to reject the familiar and embrace the novel and exotic, to break out of old patterns of behavior and belief. It would have been highly inconsistent for those using, lauding, and promulgating the psychedelic drug state to have turned to the familiar as a means of understanding and integrating their effects. Mainstream Western religious traditions weren’t ready nor equipped, by and large, to accept these experiences and welcome into their fold those who’d had them.