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The Psychedelic Explorer's Guide: Safe, Therapeutic, and Sacred Journeys
by James Fadiman, PhD
Park Street Press 
Reviewed by Chris Mays, 5/19/2011

With the publication of The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide, James Fadiman has inaugurated a new era of spiritual and practical exploration of inner space. Mind you, he didn’t invent or even rediscover the spiritual use of entheogens, nor the psychotherapeutic exploration of psychoactive plants and chemicals, but this guidebook represents a bold re-emergence of an ancient healing practice.

Fadiman, a co-founder of the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology and author most recently of an undergraduate psychology textbook and The Other Side of Haight: A Novel, is a champion of psychedelic guiding. He’s been around since the giddy big bang of psychedelic culture, and now, gladly, and with hope, turns the keys to guided journeys over to the grandchildren of that distant revolution. There’s plenty by and about him on the web, if you’re curious.

Fadiman gets right to the guided session instruction without disclaimers and apologies—a courteous gesture considering we’ve waited for more than a generation already. The guidebook is replete with suggestions for both guide and voyager regarding everything from music, food and lighting to finer aesthetic points. The six aspects of the well-conceived voyage are set and setting (which you knew), but also: substance, sitter, session, and situation. The six stages of a voyaging session are all simple and easily spelled out, as well, but this is rather like saying most of the paintings in the Louvre are made with canvas, brushes and paint: within Fadiman’s simple protocol exists a universe of possibilities.

Not all these possibilities are happy ones, naturally, so there is plenty of material on what can go wrong, and how to recover. Some chapters, contributed in part by other writers, speak to the experiences of pioneering elders and suggest how voyaging can address healing, creativity, problem solving and everyday life. Other chapters bring history, science and future directions for research and experimentation into context.

No single volume could hope to address all the issues, and especially the practical concerns, of the myriad combinatorial nodes of the Six S’s, so The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide wisely points out to the Web for other resources, and to a dedicated wiki, to which you, too, may contribute.

As noted, this topic has been around for a while; the World Health Organization published Ataractic and Hallucinogenic Drugs in Psychiatry in 1958! The 60s saw several widely read personal narratives of voyaging, a handful of guidebooks, quite a bit of science, and a larger number of rants, both pro and con, religious and secular, erudite and fulminating. The intervening decades brought hundreds of books about hallucinogens, cannabis and other drugs in religious, cultural, medical and literary contexts, but relatively few had practical advice or spiritual use in mind, although you could read between the lines, and many did.

The “How I Tripped Good” genre is alive and well—scarce copies of such books by folks who tripped to death fetch handsome prices—as is the perennially larger “How I Fucked Up Getting Fucked Up” school, which are quickly remaindered. But, The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide belongs to an altogether higher order of endeavor, puns happily winked at. Truly destined to be a classic. Don’t leave everyday reality without it.

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