Tales of Wonder: Adventures Chasing the Divine: An autobiography/Fingerprints of God: The Search for the Science of Spirituality

By Roberts, Thomas | Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, July 1, 2009 | Go to article overview

Tales of Wonder: Adventures Chasing the Divine: An autobiography/Fingerprints of God: The Search for the Science of Spirituality


Roberts, Thomas, Journal of Transpersonal Psychology


SMITH, HUSTON, with JEFFERY PAINE. (2009). Tales of wonder: Adventures chasing the divine: An autobiography. Foreword by Pico Iyer. New York: HarperCollins. xxvi+209 pp. ISBN-10 0061154261, Hardback, $25.99. Reviewed by Thomas Roberts.

HAGERTY, BARBARA BRADLEY. (2009). Fingerprints of God: The search for the science of spirituality. New York: Penguin/Riverside Books. 323 pp. ISBN-10 1594488770, Hardback, $26.95. Reviewed by Thomas Roberts.

At first glance, readers who have an interest in the entheogenic uses of psychedelics may be disappointed in these volumes. Although both books consider this use, entheogens are not featured but occupy an equal role along with other psychospiritual psychotechnologies. At second glance, this equality may be just what marks Fingerprints and Tales as significant books.

For the most part until now, books about entheogens have stood on their own as a separate genre of religion books; entheogens have not been mentioned in most books about religion or perhaps mentioned only in passing, usually as interesting anthropological curiosities. Other books dismiss them as dead ends left over from the fading 60s. Fingerprints and Tales, however, each in its own way, embed entheogens as equals to other ways of spiritual growth. Does this mark entheogens' transition to an insider status-no longer an outsider status? Many previous books on say, LSD, ayahuasca, peyote, and mushrooms have implicitly or implicitly pleaded that they deserve a seat at the table of religious sacraments.

By inviting entheogens to sit at the table along with contemplative prayer, meditation, yoga and with belief systems including the major world religions, these books host them into socially respectable company, although each book in its own fashion. Fingerprints charts a decade-plus journey by Hagerty to answer the questions, "Is there another reality that occasionally breaks into our world and bends the laws of nature? Is there a being or intelligence who weaves together the living universe, and if so, does He, She, or It fit the description I have been given?" (p. 6).

In pursuing the traces or "fingerprints" of this being, she investigates current research in neurotheology. Her search takes her to research and anecdotes on mystical experiences and their transformation of people's lives, unusual healing, genetics, psychedelic drugs with special emphasis on the Native American Church's use of peyote and the psilocybin experiments of the Roland Griffiths team at Johns Hopkins. Two odd omissions here are that she does not cite Huston Smith's Cleansing the Doors of Perception or The Triumph of the Native American Church nor Ralph Hood's Mysticism Scale and its years of use.

She then pokes into the structure and function of the human brain as people experience spiritual experiences, "spiritual virtuosos," out-of-body experiences and other experiences that seem to smash our assumptions about time, space, and personal identity. While these topics might be reported in the gee-whiz style of tabloids and drug-store paperbacks, much to her credit Hagerty balances a reporter's reporting of these events as she and her informants described them with both her own professional skepticism and those of established scientists. This balance makes Fingerprints a worthy update on neurotheology and an introduction for those unfamiliar with this emerging field. Furthermore, the ideas she presents and her vocabulary are readily understandable to the educated reader who may not be familiar with the arcana of the neurosciences.

How did her journey conclude? "I found evidence of the spiritual painted on the canvas of a person's life. I came to define God by His handiwork: a craftsman who builds the hope of eternity into our genes, a master electrician and chemist outfits our brains to access another dimension, a guru who rewards our spiritual efforts by allowing us to feel united with all things, an intelligence that pervades every atom and every nanosecond, all time and space, in the throes of death and ecstasy of life" (p. …

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