The Psychedelic Experience – How to Prepare the Set & Setting

by Mar 23, 2019Smoke Signals0 comments

mystical bonfire ceremony

Set, Setting & Ceremony

How space, intention & ceremony lay the groundwork for a meaningful psychedelic experience

WE ARE LIVING IN A DEPRIVED SOCIETY, as far as spiritual rituals are concerned,” Ram Dass wrote in Psychedelic Rites of Passage. “We suffer from a shortage of rites of passage — or at any rate a shortage of meaningful rites of passage.”

As a result, in the 21st Century USA, the closest thing most of us have to a ceremonial rite of passage is a Bar Mitzvah or First Communion.  Yet, these efforts have lost much of their meaning, he argues.

Ram Dass stated that the rite of meaningful ritual can be a helpful role for the psychedelic experience:

If we have only the most superficial of ossified religious rituals, it is because these rites of passage no longer provide direct contact with the numinous. This is where psychedelics can help.”

Sounds great, right?  However, these experiences are much more likely to happen at a noisy party somewhere than in a sacred setting filled with reminders of spirit.”

As a society, we miss a big opportunity.


Benefits of the Mystical Experience

The science is in.  Yes, the hippies were onto something.

In fact, studies show that psychedelics in a controlled setting can lead to a meaningful spiritual awakening with great mental health benefits.

Psychology researcher Scott McGreal describes one study on people using psychedelics for the first time.  Most, 60%, “had a ‘complete mystical experience’.  This was characterized by experiences such as unity with all things, transcendence of time and space, a sense of insight into the ultimate nature of reality.  What’s more, they also had “feelings of ineffability, awe, and profound positive emotions such as joy, peace, and love.”

In another 2008 study, 64% of subjects taking psilocybin for the first time said their experience had increased their sense of personal well-being and life satisfaction.


of people who had a psychedelic experience for the first time felt more joy, peace, and love


taking psilocybin for the first time said their experience increased their sense of personal well-being

cluster of psychedelic mushrooms

The psychedelic experience typically gives:  

  • A more mystical understanding of a universal soul
  • Transcendence of fears, especially fear of death
  • The Universal Unity of transcendent reality
  • Oneness with a God-like force in the universe

Sounds pretty amazing, right?

But all that fine print buries the need for a “controlled setting”.  This is where ritual and ceremony can provide us with key spiritual grounding.  As a result, we remove much of the fear of the unknown.  In fact, we feel safer.


The Importance of Set & Setting

The Harvard Psychology Department famously banned Timothy Leary and Ram Dass in the 1960s.  Why?  For their studies in psilocybin.  However, the two first realized that setting and set shape the psychedelic experience we have.

Ram Dass described the setting as “the physical environment for the experience”.  This is the room in which it takes place, the objects in the room, and the sounds that are heard.  He advised creating a space that invokes healing energy.  Such a space may incude pictures, objects, and music that evoke the connectedness of life.

Set, on the other hand, means the setting of the mind.  This is the inner environment.  It focuses on setting your intention — a process of inner preparation that calls for time and purpose.

Rites of passage and ritual can be an effective way to set our intention.  As Dass wrote, “we could use more rites of passage, whether or not they involve psychedelics, because in a very deep way, young people are yearning for something.”  It could be “a symbol, a marker stone, a mythic context — that acknowledges the significance and the sacredness of the passage they are making.”

What is your ritual?

Let us know below.

monk looking at psychedelic herbs
Mathew Gallagher

Mathew Gallagher

Wordsmith Specialist

A freelance writer for hire, Matt Gallagher is the face and voice behind Web Copy Magician. He enjoys Bear Blend as a tea to spiritually reconnect with nature and the therapeutic wonders of chlorophyll.



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