BOOK REVIEW: Sacred Knowledge by William A. Richards
There are a lot of good things to say about this book—and lots of people have. For me, the first half of the book is particularly poignant, in which Richards weaves a beautiful and compelling case for the power and “truth” of mystical psychedelic experiences, attempting to describe the ineffable and connect the intimate and deeply subjective mystical experiences to larger structures and ways of knowing that can help facilitate healing and human flourishing.
He states several times (and with humility) that this is a big task and his efforts are an ‘attempt’ rather than definitive in nature, but I thought he did a solid job (particularly in parts I, II and III) of making connections between big ideas around unity consciousness, archetypes and the like, taking these more established formats and connecting them to concepts of love, grace and connection with source. While I don’t know that I agree with all of his connections and corollaries, I felt really inspired by the effort he made and some of the genuine meaning-making he was able to achieve.
I also appreciated some of his personal reflections on the early research. It seems every psychedelics book nowadays must start off by going into the psychedelic flourishing of the 60s and the crackdown of the 70s. While Richards does the same, he was actually there (as it were) as everything was unfolding, and his personal reflections and anecdotes are a unique contribution to the stories we tell about that time in the history of psychedelic studies.
However, for me, the second half of the book (particularly parts IV and V) falls short of the anticipation created in the beginning sections, relying instead on a lot on case studies and patient stories rather than synthesizing and creating something new out of the sum of these parts (like in the earlier sections). And because of this, the whole book ends on a bit of a whimper in my opinion.
That said, I still think the whole book is worth reading, and for those interested in the interplay between science and spirit—and the doors that psychedelics can open for us to explore and understand the magic that can reside in that space between what is and what can be—this book is highly recommended.
Sacred Knowledge: Psychedelics and Religious Experiences
By William A. Richards
Colombia University Press, 2016
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From the book jacket: “Sacred Knowledge is the first well-documented, sophisticated account of the effect of psychedelics on biological processes, human consciousness, and revelatory religious experiences. Based on nearly three decades of legal research with volunteers, William A Richards argues that, if used responsibly and legally, psychedelics have the potential to assuage suffering and constructively affect the quality of human life.”