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 meaningful mystical experiences

WE ARE LIVING IN A DEPRIVED SOCIETY, as far as spiritual rituals are concerned,” Ram Dass writes 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.”

In 21st Century America, the closest thing we have to a ceremonial rite of passage is a Bar Mitzvah or First Communion — yet these efforts have become meaningless and lame — completely insignificant, he argues.

Ram Dass contends the rite of meaningful ritual can be a helpful role for psychedelics:

“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. But sadly, a first psychedelic experience is much more likely to happen at a noisy party somewhere than in a sacred setting filled with reminders of spirit. And that’s a big missed opportunity, for us as a society.”


Benefits of the Mystical Experience

The science is in — the hippies were onto something.

Study after study demonstrates that psychedelics in controlled settings can induce meaningful spiritual awakening with significant psychological benefits.

In one study, 60% of subjects who had never before used psychedelics “had a ‘complete mystical experience’ characterized by experiences such as unity with all things, transcendence of time and space, a sense of insight into the ultimate nature of reality, and feelings of ineffability, awe, and profound positive emotions such as joy, peace, and love,” according to psychology researcher Scott McGreal.  

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 experienced emotions of 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 generates:  

  • 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 buried somewhere in all that fine print is “controlled setting” — this is where ritual and ceremony can provide critical spiritual grounding.


The Importance of Set & Setting

Timothy Leary and Ram Dass were famously banished from the Harvard Psychology Department in the ‘60s for their studies in psilocybin. The two realized that the psychedelic experience was largely conditioned by 2 factors setting and set.

Ram Dass describes setting as “the physical environment for the experience” — the room the experience takes place, the objects in the room, and the sounds that are heard. He recommends creating a space that invokes healing energy — pictures, objects, and music that evoke the interconnectivity of life.

Set, on the other hand, refers to the setting of the mind — the interior environment. It focuses on setting intention itself — a process of internal preparation that requires time and purpose.

Rites of passage and ritual can be an effective means of setting intention.  As Dass writes, “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 — for a symbol, a marker stone, a mythic context — that acknowledges the significance and the sacredness of the passage they are making.”

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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