Was Joseph Smith the First Hippy?

The Restoration and the Sacred MushroomThe other day, I learned something that blew my mind: Joseph Smith, the founder of the Church of Latter Day Saints, otherwise known as the Mormon faith, may have been America’s first hippy.

Okay, the paper I read didn’t say it in quite that way, but it did make a very convincing case that Joseph Smith experimented with psychedelics (or entheogens) himself and slipped them into his early converts’ sacramental wine. As the paper says:

These early Church members sought direct experience with God and believed that Joseph Smith had the power to grant their desires. Confidence in their Prophet was not misplaced. Between 1830 and 1836, under the supervision of Joseph Smith, many early Mormon converts enjoyed heavenly visions and spiritual raptures. However, after Joseph’s death in 1844, the great visionary period of Church history came to an end.

Of course, it’s a big leap to suggest that the true source of their visions was a psychedelic plant, but the paper goes on to present so much evidence in support of the theory, it would be very hard to dispute. Rather than rewrite what it has to say, I’ll keep this brief and get to my point.

I took a look at the official version of Joseph Smith’s life and was told that as a young man, he heard so many conflicting versions of the story of Jesus, he didn’t know what to think. As he wrote later:

So great were the confusion and strife among the different denominations, that it was impossible for a person young as I was [ … ] to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong

He goes on to write that he prayed to God and God revealed the truth to him.

In the 1960s, I and many of my contemporaries were in the same boat Smith was in in 1820. Since our verbal prayers went unanswered, we turned to LSD and other psychedelics for answers. Unlike Smith, most of us didn’t keep the source of our revelations to ourselves, but, like Smith, some decided they were more enlightened than others and went on to become Western gurus, eventually trivialising or even denying their early experimentation with psychedelics.

After comparing the official version with the revelations of the paper, I formed my own “vision” of Joseph Smith. An idealistic young man, he bravely experimented with psychedelics at a time when no respectable Christian would. Wanting to share their wonders with others, he formed a church and slipped Datura into the sacramental wine whenever he got the chance. Unfortunately, the adulation of his followers went to his head and he became a self proclaimed prophet.

What if he had spilled the beans and actively promoted the use of entheogens? He probably would have been tarred and feathered. Nearly a century later, Frederick M. Smith, his grandson, openly advocated the use of peyote:

Interestingly, Joseph Smith’s grandson, Frederick M. Smith, president of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints participated in Amerindian peyote ceremonies. Shelby M. Barnes reports that President Smith experimented with peyote as early as 1913 and notes that President Smith … widely used [peyote] … [opening his mind] to the mysteries of human ecstasy as an essential element of religion… He was convinced that every human being had the potential to expand the limits of his or her mind.” Like his great grandfather, Joseph Smith Junior, President Frederick M. Smith felt that even the least Saint should have access to the heavenly realms. In 1919, President Smith encouraged others in the RLDS Church to use peyote in a controlled manner and defended peyote ceremonies from Federal intrusion.

That apparently didn’t catch on.

Joseph Smith

Joseph Smith

Personally, I think Joseph Smith and his grandson were on the right track. They used entheogens as sacraments. In the sixties, everyone was dropping acid like it was beer and relatively few got anything of lasting value out of it. I’ll leave it to you to come to your own conclusions. You can click on the image at the top of the page and buy the PDF from the source for two dollars or you can click the picture of Joseph Smith at left and read it for free. Be sure and check out the source material, too. There’s some really interesting stuff there.



Being There Now with Be Here Now

I ran across Eckhardt Tolle’s bestseller, The Power of Now the other day. It’s an interesting book and highly recommended, but that’s not what this post is about. As soon as I saw the title, I went on a trip back in time, to when Ram Dass’s Be Here Now was the Now book of the moment. That’s what this post is about.

I met Ram Dass back in about 1969 or 70, after his guru, Neem Karoli Baba told me to go see him in Nainital, a beautiful city in the foothills of the Himalayas. I didn’t hesitate to go, but it wasn’t for the obvious reason – that Ram Dass was famous. In his incarnation as Richard Alpert, he was famous as the infamous (in conservative circles) Harvard professor who, along with Timothy Leary, helped popularize LSD. When he  traveled to India seeking enlightenment, he was introduced to Neem Karoli Baba and subsequently became Ram Dass. It’s a long story and one he tells best himself. If you want to read his story, check out his website.

The reason I did as directed was simply because Neem Karoli Baba told me to. I had only gone to see Maharaji out of curiosity, because he happened to be in Vrindaban at the same time I was, but after just one brief visit, I was already under his spell, if that’s the way to put it. There was just something about him. He shattered my preconceptions about what a guru should be like, but remained compelling to me in spite of my firmly held yoga purist’s convictions and prejudices.

I went to see Ram Dass as told and found him to be a really nice guy – warm and friendly and unpretentious. I also met some other devotees of Neem Karoli Baba. They came in all sorts of personality packages, but I found them refreshing. At the time, the world of Western Hinduism as I knew it was the world of yogic discipline. My summer job at the time was teaching hatha yoga and meditation at a retreat in the foothills of the Sierra Mountains. Maharaji’s followers didn’t seem “spiritual” at all. They just liked to hang out with Maharaji. No, they lived to hang out with him. I could relate to that, though I couldn’t quite put my finger on the reason why.

This will be a very long blog post if I don’t get to the point. The original title of this post going to be, “A Journey into Darkness.” It was going to be about how I let myself be driven by fear for a good portion of last week and the terrible realization that this and other negative emotions – everything from despair to greed, anger and pride – seem to be the driving force behind so many people’s entire lives. I’ve been aware of this intellectually for years, but the other day it hit me like a sledgehammer.

There were remnants of fear in my consciousness this morning when I sat down to work. I was going to bang out a quick blog post and then get back to work. Because I had been reminded of Be Here Now, I thought I’d google Ram Dass and see what he was up to. Then I randomly clicked this link and my eyes fell on these words from Neem Karoli Baba:

“The real contentment comes only when there is no desire, no hankering in your mind for anything. How can you say that you have got everything and do not want anything more when you are holding an empty vessel in your hand? You might be saying this with your mouth, but there would always be the worry in your mind about how the pot could be filled, always looking from side to side with the expectation that somebody will come and fill it up. Well, how can you call this contentment? When one sees that when the pot before him is full to the brim, it is emptied, and when it is empty, it is refilled of its own – that is contentment. If anyone wanted to give him anything, he would show that the pot was full already. What would he do with anything more? Even if he wanted to share it with others, where would he put it? This is the real contentment and it comes only through the grace of God. When you have full faith in Him, full reliance on Him, when you can surrender everything to Him, then that grace comes to you by itself – you do not have to ask for it or make any effort. Such is the value of faith in God.”

Neem Karoli BabaNeem Karoli Baba doesn’t look much like your stereotypical guru. He didn’t act like one, either. The only words of spiritual advice he ever gave me were, “love everybody and eat jalabis” and, when I asked him if he was my guru, he gave me an emphatic “No!” Jalabis are delicious Indian sweets, by the way, not a mysterious psychedelic drug. Make of his words what you will, they have been with me ever since that day.

I want to go on writing forever about the year I spent in India. To say it was magical would be an understatement. It’s time to close now, though. Thanks for visiting.

notes: I originally posted this about 2 years ago. I’m the guy with his hand on his hip at the top of the photo. It should be obvious who NKB is.