Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Mysticism and music

For the last few years I have been thinking about the relationship between psychedelic music and mysticism. I've written about it here and here, but even when I was researching the material for these essays I felt the musicians were mostly guarded when talking about religion and their music. I also found a lot of hedging when I talked about their music in the context of a genre, or of a tradition. I really do think of psychedelic music as a kind of kabbalastic teaching, passed from generation to generation, the music and the records as the texts. But many of the musicians I spoke with saw their own music as existing in a sort of cultural and spiritual vacuum. Now, for the most part, no music is unformed by what came before, but psychedelic music, in all its various forms, has always borrowed from the past, and I believe this is a good thing.

But what was more frustrating was the insistence that whatever spirituality could be gleaned from their music was also something that existed outside any religious framework. And this is ultimately the problem I have with current discussions about psychedelic experiences, especially those had on DMT and mushrooms. Terence McKenna often suggested that those worlds encountered on psilocybin are not accountable by any traditional religious language, that there exists reality that is completely outside any previously understood mystical ideas or symbols. But he is not talking about some ineffable quality. He often describes these worlds very beautifully. But there was this sense that the psychedelic experience is not part of any other mystical sensibility or experience.

What troubles me most about this is the inference that other paths to mystical awareness are left in the dust in the face of the mushroom experience. And while I admit the mushroom experience is quick and dramatic, other forms of altered consciousness can be just as valid. But what seems to be troubling about this to some contemporary pscyhonauts is that these other forms are deeply entrenched in their particular religious frameworks, whereas for them, the psychedelic experience is beyond any religious language.

But I am getting off the point. What I want to begin is a discussion of whether or no t psychedelic music can induce altered consciousness, as if itself was the drug. And more importantly, how has the spiritual landscape of psychedelic music changed? The 60s was much more influenced by Eastern mysticism, but today's psych is often characterized by very American, woodsy, almost pagan musical ideas. How does this impact the spiritual nature of the music?

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