Gang Weed Conservatism I: Charles Taylor and the World of Pure Imagination
Dare you enter my magical realm?
I like to read The American Conservative from time to time.
You can imagine my shock in January, when the headline article was a piece called Principalities and Powers. The article was about about Aaron Rodgers, a football player for the Green Bay Packers, Christian apostate, and COVID vaccine refusenik. Apparently, Mr. Rodgers has been taking annual trips to Peru for ayahuasca retreats. Aaron Rogers and his wife actually met through an astrologer named Debra Silverman. He refuses to make major decisions until immediately after his trip. Since last year, however, he has apparently been followed by an evil man in a hat, holding a dead rabbit in one hand and a knife in the other.1
The article was written by Declan Leary, who along with being contributing editor to AmCon, is Editor in Chief of the Dallas Express. His author page at TAC has as its top article a lengthy and well deserved exaltation of the magazine’s founder, Pat Buchanan. A quick scroll finds that he has written such headlines as “Nonbinary Nepotism”, “The Taxman Cometh”, “The Tomb Will Be Empty” and “Transgenderism Must Be Eradicated”. At the age of 22, he naturally identifies himself as a “Christian Nationalist.” When I looked at his Twitter, the fourth thing I saw was a retweeted complaint about rampant drug use on the Dallas public transport.
Declan’s no hippy.2
“I don’t know if the Rodgers story is true,” Leary explains, “What I do know is that it’s entirely plausible, and it’s entirely in line with trends that have popped up all over in the course of these last few months.”
Now, Declan is a bit unclear in his wording. You might be inclined to think that Leary is saying that the plausible thing is that Rodgers is experiencing a hallucination. I think the Rodgers story is true, too, if that’s what you mean. I don’t think he’s making it up for attention.
But Leary is not saying that. Citing a piece by Rod Dreher, he goes on to explain that he finds it plausible that Rodgers actually is being stalked by a genuine demon.
But that only brings up a second question. Why is there a second article in the American Conservative taking the position that, for better or for worse, psychedelic drugs open the user up to genuine spiritual experiences rather than simply making you high?
Rod Dreher’s article begins, as always, with him recounting a friendly conversation with a person that he totally didn’t just make up. Today, we are introduced to Nicky.
Nicky is an Orthodox Christian, just like Rod.
Nicky is an accomplished professional, just like Rod.
In fact, Nicky seems to be interested in journalism! Good thing Rod is a journalist!
After we finished that discussion, I told him about my new book project, and as he sounded like an intelligent and well-connected believer, asked him for his advice.
He was excited to hear about the book, and said he believes that I am anticipating the next big religious/spiritual leap in American culture.
High praise indeed. But Nicky has something on his mind. And thankfully, Rod is happy to tell us what Nicky is worried about.
He said that a huge concern he has about it all is that people — especially the young — will begin to turn to psychedelics (LSD, DMT, and so forth) in search of re-enchantment, and numinous experiences. He lives on the West Coast, and is seeing a lot of this already.
Oh well there you go. Before Rod moved to Budapest in 2022 for the better schools or whatever it is White people say these days, he was living in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Nicky lives in a totally different state, which is why we didn’t know about him.
But what is Nicky talking about? “Re-enchantment?” “Numinous experiences?”
A “numinous experience” is easy enough to explain. Originating as a term with Rudolf Otto, and repeated by Carl Jung and C.S. Lewis, a numinous experience is just one that makes you feel spiritual or religious. It has also been defined as a “suddenly appearing, extremely enigmatic, non-rational, non-sensory mental state in which one feels influenced by higher powers.”
In Otto’s words:
“The feeling of it may at times come sweeping like a gentle tide pervading the mind with a tranquil mood of deepest worship. It may pass over into a more set and lasting attitude of the soul, continuing, as it were, thrillingly vibrant and resonant, until at last it dies away and the soul resumes its "profane," non-religious mood of everyday experience.”
I’d say I understand the feeling as that one which rises to meet and suppress the powerful urges I often have to touch, pick up, or otherwise examine some relic or icon or whatever when I wander around an altar. On the rare occasions that I ever walk into a church, of course. The feeling usually passes after I take a full, deliberate, breath.3
“Re-enchantment,” however, is a much more modern term, which gained popularity with a book by Charles Taylor4 called A Secular Age.
Taylor first begins by discussing the idea of disenchantment, referring to the phenonemon in which the West, over the past 500 years or so and in part due to the Protestant Reformation, came the broad consensus that “the only locus of thoughts, feelings, spiritual élan is what we call minds” and that “the only minds in the cosmos are those of humans.” This is not the same as secularization. One can easily believe in God in Heaven and Man on Earth, such that Man isn’t presently sharing Earth with ghosts, fae, demons, nymphs, forest spirits, or anything else. The universe is a thing of Order which God created for us, and the only free will agents in it are Humans who can, God willing, learn the rules and master the system.
This idea of disenchantment was first advanced by Max Weber as Die Entzauberung der Welt: “The unmagicking of the world.”
Taylor contrasts this to a previous worldview of enchantment, where the Earth was filled with extra-material nonhuman intelligences, sacred places, spiritual powers, and sacramental practices with real influence. By moving away from this, the West moved towards, you guessed it, disharmony with nature, social atomization, and consumerism.
What Taylor fails to understand is this:
All of that magic stuff was 100% fake without a single exception and the people of the past were too stupid, ignorant, deluded, or brainwashed to pick up on it.
He should get down on his knees and thank God that after over six thousand years of wallowing around in that intellectual sludge, his ancestors were able to gradually shake off such nonsense and spend the next few centuries dominating every corner of the world and briefly stretching their hands out to the stars.
He should not foolishly and ungratefully throw that heritage of rationality and enlightenment5 into the trash by dilution with foolishness because he’s upset that we don’t believe in spirits anymore like all of the untold millions of people whose magic couldn’t protect their men from British Maxim Guns while British inoculations protected their soldiers from jungle diseases.
In an excellent analysis of the re-enchantment literature, Jason Crawford summarizes the thought spread thusly:
It’s also unsurprising that the re-enchantment of the world has become an icon of the postmodern, framed by narratives of loss and recovery. Most of the writers I’ve named above use the phrase with constructive and prophetic purpose. Re-enchantment, for them, is a project to be dreamed up and fought for by those who want, as Thomas Moore writes in The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life, “a way out of the black-and-white world of disenchantment.” James K. A. Smith (After Modernity?: Secularity, Globalization, and the Re-Enchantment of the World) tries to imagine “an account of the world that is enchanted but not magical — in short, the world as creation.” Joshua Landy and Michael Saler (The Re-Enchantment of the World) seek “fully secular and deliberate strategies for re-enchantment. […] offering fully secularized subjects an affirmation of existence that does not come at the cost of naïveté, irrationalism, or hypocrisy.” Jane Bennett (The Enchantment of Modern Life) wants to convince the inhabitants of late modernity that “one must be enamored with existence and occasionally even enchanted in the face of it in order to be capable of donating some of one’s scarce mortal resources to the service of others,” and she wants to insist “both that the contemporary world retains the power to enchant humans and that humans can cultivate themselves so as to experience more of that effect.” These writers intuit in various ways that cultivating renewed forms of something called “enchantment” can help us to cultivate renewed forms of ecological habitation, of sacramental communion, of epistemic humility and wonder, of ethical attachment and care.
In short, the re-enchantment movement is a cluster of full grown adults trying to convince everybody that we would all be so much nicer to each other and the planet if we all just turned our brains off a little bit and tried to believe in magic. I feel myself becoming more Randian just thinking about it.6
You can see how this sort of thinking lends itself well to the consumption of psychedelic drugs.
What else does Rod’s friend Nicky have to say?
Nicky’s view is that most of these people are not hallucinating (in the sense of imagining things that do not exist), but in fact are entering into spiritual realms that are usually closed to humans in our normal state. He told me that the state of research on DMT (the active chemical ingredient in ayahuasca, and a far more powerful hallucinogen than LSD) has actually progressed quite far. Researchers, he said, have discovered that when they put test subjects into the DMT state, they can do it via a DMT drip, which allows them to control the subjects’ experience. To put it plainly, they can send these subjects into this other world, and keep them there to explore. If you are thinking about the Upside Down from Stranger Things, you are thinking like me.
I believe Rod means that we are thinking like Nicky, since these are Nicky’s views. Moving on.
Nicky’s opinion is that most of these drug users are connecting with actual entities that exist on another plane — and that these entities are demonic, or demon-adjacent. The churches in America, he said, are not remotely ready for what is about to hit them as use of these drugs becomes normative among seekers. Nicky said he hopes my next book will in some way take up this question, if only to warn people away from these drugs. As he put it: “These drugs open up people to experiences and hostile entities that they are in no way capable of handling. It would be like taking somebody from their suburban couch and dropping them off in the middle of the Amazon, and telling them they have to survive.”
I repeated to Nicky my usual claim about psychedelics: that I suspect they really do work to open the doors of perception, in ways that don’t usually happen to people except after long ascetic disciplines. Therefore, they are like people who win the lottery, versus people who become multimillionaires after years of hard work. The lottery winners don’t know how to handle the money, and often ruin their lives.
So there you have it. Rod suspects that psychedelic drugs expand your perception to the spiritual world, in a way comparable to an experienced monk, but without the lifetime of training to keep yourself centered.7 But Rod’s new friend Nicky, well, Nicky thinks that psychedelics put you into direct contact with hostile demonic entities, and he hopes that Rod puts that in his book.
The book isn’t out yet, but I think he will. He and Rod seem to be of one mind on this sort of thing.
I thanked Nicky for what he told me. I read Michael Pollan’s book about the return of psychedelics in a therapeutic sense, and have in this space before speculated about what these drugs tell us about spiritual reality. Let me be perfectly clear: I do not not not recommend going down this road for anybody. I think psychonauts remind me of Ulysses from Dante’s Inferno: driven by insatiable curiosity to go beyond where men are supposed to go, and do so risking their doom. Nevertheless, I think that an examination of the current state of knowledge about the psychedelic experience might be useful in helping us to understand spiritual and material reality, and to warn others away from fraudulent and dangerous forms of attempted re-enchantment. For example, I believe God sternly warns His people in Scripture to stay away from divination and the occult arts not because these things are fake (though they might be in individual instances), but because they open doorways that should never be opened.
So Rod and his friend Nicky both strongly assure us that we should say no to drugs, but also assure us these drug fueled occult experiences aren’t a load of delusional nonsense.
Psychedelics may explain Rod’s constant meetings with Asian Readers, African Lawmakers, Friends from Baton Rouge, Taliban-Sympathizing Veterans, and Cypriot Taxi Drivers whose politics end up being slightly edgier versions of Rod’s own.
Well hey, don’t Christians believe that maybe there’s some person they can ask, some name they can call upon, to protect them from these hostile entities? If it was possible for Christians to find a spiritual ally against whom no weapon could prosper, then we’re off to the races, right?
This summer, IM1776 ran a three-part series on the use of psychedelics as viewed from the Right. We’re just going to talk about the first one, written by Sam McHall.
Conservative criticism of psychedelics often turns on the idea that they represent forms of escapism, an absence of discipline and effort, and a misunderstanding of the relation between body and soul bordering on an enthusiasm for high-resolution deceit.8 Naturally, these attitudes are reflexively revolting to the conservative constitution. But this is not really what entheogens9 are about. What entheogen users are seeking is direct, transcendental experience in a world saturated with illusions. When language fails, only experience will suffice, and the harder they fail the more overpowering experience must be.
Entheogen use is not the problem. The problem is using entheogens without a liturgical and cosmological framework which enables the integration of the ecstatic experiences they produce. Modern Western culture offers no stable method for integrating mystical experience into everyday life. An individual transcendental experience alone is either not enough or too much. Without a framework for incorporating it into the broader culture after it is acquired, it can leave the recipient more confused than before.
Theophanies requires a particular kind of preparation and the integration of those experiences demands an environment that accounts for it within an essentially traditional system of symbols and practices. In other words, entheogenic drug use must be conceived in conservative terms to be meaningful, and conservativism should embrace this entheogenic dimension. Consider the surviving entheogenic cultures in the Amazon. It doesn’t get much more conservative than that.
This man is saying that if you take drugs, you’re doing it wrong if you don’t believe what you see is real.
What this person is saying is that before you swallow that bowl of Ayahuasca, you should probably say the rosary and speak to your pastor before and after, in order to put yourself in the right “liturgical and cosmological framework.” Like putting on a scuba suit and checking your air pressure before you dive, or saying your litanies to the Omnissiah before you activate your Gellar Field and plunge into the warp.
But you aren’t entering the warp. You are getting high on South American tree sap. And you are rotting your brain.
The rest of the article is a bunch of noble savage nonsense from a supposedly right wing thinker.
“Consider the surviving entheogenic cultures in the Amazon. It doesn’t get much more conservative than that.”
There is no such thing as an “entheogenic culture” anywhere at any time, and there never has been. There are not, nor have there ever been, any “organic shamanic experiences” because everything these shamans were doing was fake, none of their practices were valid, everyone who believed them was deluded, and every last one of them were either liars or lunatics.
These people didn’t know anything. They were on drugs.
Sorry, but the human sacrifices will stop.
You cannot cure your nihilism with drugs. You cannot restore the family with drugs. You cannot save your nation with drugs. Sorry, Aaron, but you’re still in Egypt.
Hey, speaking of Aaron, did you know that Jordan Peterson believes that the Burning Bush was a metaphor for psychedelics, and that Moses had a genuine spiritual experience because he was on drugs?
Drugs do not give you special insight into human nature. The things you see when you are on drugs are not real. If you have radically screw up your perception of the world in order to believe something; if you have to use chemical adulterants to make something seem reasonable, you are probably not believing in a true thing!
What these people crave is delusion. They have to talk themselves into incredibly convoluted postmodern explanations for why things that they know to be false aren't false because they don't want to believe in real life. In real life, they are losing on every front. They are even losing the battles in their own churches.
And they aren’t losing to demons, as they insist on repeating time and again. They are losing to flesh and blood human beings with institutional power and a commitment to all that is ugly, broken, and foul.
That’s why they have to flee from Baton Rouge to Budapest with their imaginary friends.
This is the first in a series of six articles about a disturbing trend of psychedelic drug use being pushed on the American Right. This article focused on TradCaths and Orthos, but I wouldn’t have gone through the trouble of writing this if all I had was a bunch of e-Christians being weird.
The next article, which looks at the Thiel Network, the Intellectual Dark Web, and the Neoreactionary movement, can be found here:
This series is be free for all to read, and I encourage you to share this post and all others in the series.
If you want to be notified of my articles as soon as they are released, you are encouraged to subscribe to this Substack. Thank you.
Good Fight Ministries has a very interesting segment at the 45 minute mark of this video where Megan Fox describes how multiple celebrities go on trips to Costa Rica to do Ayahuasca. Apparently on second night, she “went to hell for eternity. Just, you know, eternity is like torture in itself, because there is no beginning, middle, or end, so you have a real ego death.”
This is “medicine” in her words.
At 58:40, another clip is played where Megan Fox describes how she and her husband, Rapper Machine Gun Kelly, drank each other’s blood after he proposed. The host remarks that if he had simply read her words off a page, he would surely be accused of simply making it all up.
This is as good a time as any to note that I didn’t approach Declan Leary for comment on this piece at all, and I am not alleging that Declan is part of any conspiracy to shred all of our brains with drugs. I just think his article is a symptom of a larger problem.
There is something I have to say here on numinous experiences. Not only does it seem blindingly obvious that these experiences are simple chemical phenomena, I have never understood how Mystics have managed to work it out that the more ineffable, the more noetic, the more transient, the more passive an experience is, the less likely it is to be caused by a gland dumping a hormone into your blood.
To be clear, ineffability, noeticism, transience, and passivity are the exact four criterion for a “Mystical Experience” according to William James, and Rod Dreher refers to himself as having had two such experiences making him who he is today.
It is one thing to say you can’t take a complex mental phenomenon like political ideology, and try to reduce it to a chemical. I don’t think we’re ever going to find that the pituitary gland excretes a molecule for communism into the minds of certain unfortunate teenagers. Even more basic and common “compound” emotions like envy, buyers remorse, or sunk cost fallacy can seem a bit tenuous to try to explain as a timed release of various stress and pleasure hormones.
“What’s the molecule that makes it where I see somebody has a fast car, and even though I have a car that’s been doing me just fine, I’m upset with him, to the point that I see his smug grin next to me at the stoplight and I wish a bus would total his car in the intersection, just so he can’t have it, even though I’ll never see this guy for the rest of my life outside of these thirty seconds, then the next week I go out and buy the exact same car, but after an hour of driving it I can’t even believe I ever wanted this car, because it’s nice, but I mean it’s not $120,000 nice, but then I think that maybe I just need an even better car than that guy, so I trade it in at a loss compared to what I just paid for it a few days ago so that I can buy an even more expensive car and I’m still not happy. What’s the molecule for that?”
I can see how that’s hard to believe because there’s a lot going on there.
But Christ on a cracker. You’ve got some feeling in your chest or your stomach or in your palate or whatever, you can’t describe it, you don’t know how to trigger it, it just came on out of nowhere, it only lasted for a minute tops, and you just feel really good right now in a way you can’t describe, and so it must be the Holy Spirit?
And I’m the one with a disappointing lack of vision because I wave it off as one or two hormones flooding your system at the same time?
The philosopher, not the Liberian warlord.
A heritage of rationality and enlightenment that was, yes, built up in huge part by the Catholic Church itself. To learn more, read How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization by Tom Woods, or watch his lecture series.
I’ll tell you, they didn’t build it on psychedelic drugs. Nothing worse than beer.
I should also shout out that they put on a performance of Mozart Was A Red at this summer’s MisesU!
Luke: “Is the dark side stronger?”
Yoda: “No, no. Quicker, easier, more seductive.”
A rare occasion in which the Conservative criticism of something is 100% on the money, at least in its time.
Entheogen. “En-” meaning “fill” as in “enjoy” or “entomb”, “-theo-” meaning “Gods” as in “theology” or “theocracy”, “gen” meaning “create” as in “generate” or “genesis”. “Entheo-” thus meaning “to fill with the gods” or more commonly “to inspire” as in “enthusiastic”.
“Entheogen” thus means “something that causes inspiration” or “something that fills you with God.”
Take note, the English word “inspire” literally means “to be filled with breath,” and takes its meaning because the prophets were filled with the Breath, the Word, the Spirit of God.