This is a free essay from my Ecstatic Integration substack, which explores how western cultures are going to re-integrate ecstatic and psychedelic experiences after four centuries of marginalization and pathologization. You can sign up for the newsletter here.
In 2012, when I was researching a book on ecstatic experiences, I had one such experience in a church in Wales, and abruptly became a Christian. News of my conversion spread through the church I attended in London, and a few weeks later, I was asked if I’d like to talk on stage with the famous vicar of the church. I foolishly imagined this would be a conversation between equals about faith and philosophy. Instead, the vicar said to me, just before I went on stage in front of 500 people, ‘think of it like an advert. Before: dirty shirt. Then Jesus. Now: clean shirt. On you go.’ I felt deeply uncomfortable, instrumentalized, turned into a cog in the miracle machine. My conversion didn’t last long after the high faded and my intellect started to ask questions.
Today, I see strong parallels between Christian evangelism and psychedelic culture, especially with regard to testimonials. Think of the central role that testimonials have played in the psychedelic renaissance, how the salvation stories of participants in the early trials have been retold over and over in articles, books, documentaries, films, and on stage at big psychedelic conferences. These first trial participants must feel like apostles in the early church — tell us again how psychedelics saved your life. Preach!
Testimonials also play a central role in the psychedelic retreat business. If you go onto Retreat Guru and pick any one of the 1300 upcoming psychedelic retreats currently advertised there, most of the retreat centres advertise themselves with video testimonials from customers. They are recorded on the last day of the retreat, with the participant staring into the camera wide-eyed as they testify to their incredible breakthrough.
Christian Angermayer, founder of atai Life Science, says this urge to tell the world about your psychedelic experience is one of the best reasons to invest in psychedelics. In a post this week explaining why he is increasing his stake in atai, he wrote:
I personally know so many people who…