The Temple of the True Inner Light was formed in 1980 by Alan Birnbaum as an offshoot of the New York City branch of the Native American Church. The Temple uses Di-Propyl Tryptamine (DPT) as its sacrament which Temple followers regard as the actual manifestation of God, rather than a means to access God. DPT ingestion, according to the Temple, allows direct communication with spirit forms and this communication provides the source of their theology. The Temple theology has been described as “eclectic drug-based Christian revisionism” (Lyttle, 1988 p275) and the Temple itself states that:
“If you do not belong to Christ, (our temple), you cannot receive the Salvation of Yahweh, the Psychedelic. They have told us clearly, and many times, that Christ (King Moses, David, Elijah, Jesus, Vishnu, Gautama, Mohammed, Mani, Quetzacoayl), is alive again physically, and that the crucifixion has happened again…the mystery has been revealed.
“Anyone who enters into Their (the Psychedelic’s), Presence without belonging to Christ’s Body is an alien and a foreign visitor to Them. We are Their Children and citizens of Their Realm.
“Whoever does not belong to Christ, belongs to anti-Christ. As King Jesus said, “whoever is not with me is against (anti) me”.
“If anyone hears the Holy Spirit, which is Yahweh’s, the Psychedelic’s, Testimony that we (our temple), are the true Body of Christ, before having joined with us, they can no longer join us in this physical life.”
Sections of the Old and New Testament are re-examined and found to contain many references to psychedelics. A Temple member, Michael Hoana, says (in Spirit Magazine, No.6, June/July 1997), “this religion, the true religion, is not something that started in the ’60s. If you look at the scriptures, the Bible, there are certain things like oil and unctions, that teach people, that teach directly. What can that possibly be? If it is an oil that is teaching you something then we are obviously talking about something that was extracted from a plant…there is the presence bread. Why would somebody call something ‘presence’ bread? They mention a living spirit in it and that is obviously not wheat. And to actually say that this is food from heaven, they can only be talking about a psychedelic”.
All serious applicants are screened first via a personal interview. All sessions are conducted in the temple, semi-privately, and involve listening to tapes (which include readings of Biblical texts) after ingesting DPT. According to Lyttle (1988, p275): “the goal here is a particular gnosis and re-examination of inspired literature via DPT”.
Peter Gorman, Executive Editor of High Times, visited the Temple in 1989:
“Droning music plays on an old boom box. Over it, dubbed onto the tape, someone reads scripture. Michael, just 22 or 23, with straight brown hair nearly down to his waist, lights the raspberry leaves he’s put in the hookah bowl, I suck the white-smoke sacrament and put the mouthpiece down.
“I have no idea how high I will get and worry about that. I worry, too, because I am with a stranger and have no idea whether or not this is the right stranger to be getting high with. The whole scene is a little shaky; I’m in a New York City tenement, sitting on the floor beneath a loft bed, smoking a bowl of raspberry leaves which are covered in a psychotropic substance I’ve never heard of, listening to religious scripture with an avowed apostle of the Lord, one who has explained to me that I am a sinner for not accepting Jesus as my saviour, and the white smoke as Jesus. It’s not the most conducive setting in which to experiment with the stability of my mind. Still, here I am, holding onto that smoke until I know nothing will escape when I open my mouth and gulp a fresh lungful of air.
“The high is instant and hard. No warning, no intimation, just swallow and peak. Suddenly, my worries disappear and I’m warm and sitting in West Virginia and it is 1971…
“I’d just returned to the east Coast from months of hitchhiking out West, to Norman’s house in Sugar Grove, and it was Ellen’s birthday and the three of us had planned on tripping together and when Ellen decided she didn’t want to and walked off into the woods to make love with Norman I ate all three hits of windowpane and for the first time ever it was a large enough dose of acid to turn me inside out. Up on the ridge the trees started dancing and I felt them moving inside me. I felt the ground breathing with my breath. I spoke – in a way I couldn’t identify – with the insects, warning them off with reminders that I was their brother.
“The rain pounded, drumming in my blood, and I was Earth and Air and Goodness and Light and everything made sense in a way I’d never dreamed it could. I glimpsed the holistic system of things and communed with divinity and understood the life-force and how it was in all things, even in those things which we don’t think have it, like rocks – oh, how they were filled with life! – and when the rain told me to get in out of it, that it was about to let loose a violent storm, full of lightening and thunder, that’s what I did, and there, on cue, in the main room of the little farm house someone had put Richard Alpert’s ‘Be Here Now’, right out in the middle of things and I read and understood and knew what being here – here in the minute, in the page, in the letters, in all things at all times, in history and in stone and in the lightening banging at the house – knew what that meant and that it was a truth I’ d keep forever.
“The walls and I breathed together all that afternoon – their rhythm was fantastic and musical! – and when Norman and Ellen returned and saw that I’d eaten all the acid they asked whether I was alright and I assured them that not only was I alright, I was divine. They nodded. They knew the secret, too…
“Are you alright?” Michael asks gently.
“I’m fine. I’m thinking about something wonderful”
“Do you want to share it?”
“I think about that for a minute before answering. And when I answer I say no, it is too personal. Perhaps I think I can’t express it well enough, or that if I do I would be putting water into the cup and diluting my moments, moments I haven’t really thought about since the day they happened, nearly 20 years ago.
“I have another toke from the raspberry bowl and think about the funny route things take sometimes, about how it happens that in 1989 I should be in a church which uses a potent psychedelic as its sacrament and seems to live according to what I know as Catholic dogma – reinterpreted through that psychedelic. This particular church, The Temple of the True Inner Light, views Christ in quite a literal Biblical sense: Christ said he was in the Light; Temple members have recognised the psychedelics as Light, and therefore Christ is the psychedelic. When you eat the body of Christ – smoke the psychedelic – you can get high enough to see beings, and those beings are seen as the angels of the lord, the messengers of God.
“I release the toke and try to picture my eighth grade teacher, Sister Grace Maureen, as I tell her abut this church and others where psychedelics – DMT, DPT, LSD, marijuana, psilocybin, MDMA, peyote and probably some I don’t know about – are the sacraments. She would wonder what the hell I’m talking about. And yet, here I am, in one of them, attending their mass, listening to a reading of the same Bible I’d listened to as a child. And, while I don’t see their angels or receive their messages from God, I do leave feeling that Michael and the other Temple members are good people, genuine in their beliefs. I don’t believe Sister Grace Maureen would’ve bought any of it and that I would be writing “I will not make fun of the church’s teachings” on a blackboard somewhere still.
“Operating out of Manhattan’s Lower East Side, the Temple practices a revisionist Christianity whose members see themselves as apostles of a very real Jesus, a Jesus baptised by modern-day John the Baptist Timothy Leary, the man who spread the Word about the coming of Christ, the arrival of psychedelics. Inspired by visions in which members realised that the psychedelic was the Light, the Temple evolved its theology beginning with the revised story of the Garden of Eden. In their visions, they saw that what the Biblical Serpent actually offered Eve was the psychedelic – intimate knowledge of God – a knowledge which both she and Adam accepted but which a morally corrupt mankind could not. The Temple’s mission is to spread what they consider to be the true and inspired Word of God.”
Lyttle, T. (1988) ‘Drug Based Religions and Contemporary Drug Taking’, The Journal of Drug Issues, 18 (2), 271-284
Rose, M. (1997) ‘Psychedelic Eden’, Spirit No.6
© Peter Gorman. A longer version of this article was first published in High Times, January 1990.