Psychonautics (from the Greek ψυχή (psychē "soul/spirit/mind") and ναύτης (naútēs "sailor/navigator") refers both to a methodology for mapping the subjectively experienced effects of "altered" or non-ordinary states of consciousness as well as to a research paradigm in which the user voluntarily immerses themselves in such states. This is typically done with the intention of exploring the boundaries and depths of human conscious and subconscious experience.
The term has been diversely applied in order to cover all activities by which altered states are induced and utilized for the purpose of exploring the nature of consciousness, including the ritual practices associated with traditional shamanism, various meditative practices, and the intentional and carefully controlled use of mind-altering substances, typically those regarded as entheogenic or hallucinogenic, in order to gain deeper insights into one's self and place in the cosmos.
A person who endeavors to explore altered states for such purposes is known as a psychonaut.
The term psychonautics derives from the prior term psychonaut, usually attributed to German author Ernst Jünger who used the term in describing Arthur Heffter in his 1970 essay on his own extensive drug experiences Annäherungen: Drogen und Rausch (translated as "Approaches: Drugs and Inebriation"). In this essay, Jünger draws many parallels between drug-induced experiences and physical exploration—for example, the danger of encountering hidden "reefs."
Peter J. Carroll made Psychonaut the title of a 1982 book on the experimental use of meditation, ritual and psychoactive substances in the experimental exploration of consciousness and of psychic phenomena, or "chaos magic". The term's first published use in a scholarly context is attributed to ethnobotanist Jonathan Ott in 2001.
Formal definition and usage
Clinical psychiatrist Dr. Jan Dirk Blom describes psychonautics as denoting "the exploration of the psyche by means of techniques such as lucid dreaming, sensory deprivation, and the use of hallucinogens or entheogens." He describes the psychonaut as one who "seeks to investigate their mind using intentionally induced altered states of consciousness" for spiritual or scientific research purposes.
Psychologist Dr. Elliot Cohen of Leeds Metropolitan University and the U.K. Institute of Psychosomanautics defines psychonautics as "the means to study and explore consciousness (including the unconscious) and altered states of consciousness. It rests on the realization that to study consciousness is to transform it. It is associated with a long tradition of historical cultures worldwide." Leeds Metropolitan University is currently the only university in the United Kingdom to offer a module in psychonautics.
Distinction from recreational substance use
The aims and methods of psychonautics (when mind-altering substances are involved) can be distinguished from those of recreational drug use by research sources. While often viewed as inseparable, psychonautics as a means of exploration does not need to involve mind-altering substances at all. While typically viewed as some of the most powerful tools for such purposes, the use of mind-altering substances are considered but one of an array of methods that facilitate gaining insight into one's personal life and the nature of consciousness, as well as for reasons which may take place in a communal religious or spiritual context.
It is worth noting that in contrast, recreational substance use is primarily sought out for purposes other than self-exploration, such as pleasure-seeking or socializing. Although these two concepts can often manifest themselves as a byproduct of substance usage, an important point of divergence between the two contexts depends entirely on the user's intentions, desired and actualized outcomes.
- Psychoactive substance usage - Psychoactive substances in general can be used as tools for psychonautics depending on the intent and outcome.
- Hallucinogen usage - These typically include naturally occurring, plant-based psychedelic such as peyote, ibogaine, psilocybin mushrooms, LSA and DMT (in the form of ayahuasca), although they can also include semisynthetic compounds such as LSD. Dissociatives such as ketamine, dextromethorphan and atypical psychedelics such as Amanita muscaria and Salvia divinorum have also be used for the purpose of psychonautics. Those who attribute extra-worldly, religious, or spiritual significance to these substances tend to refer to these compounds as entheogens.
- Dream exploration (also known as "Oneironautics") - Dream journals and particularly lucid dreaming in which the person retains a degree of volition and awareness is included.
- Ritual - This is used as a means of inducing an altered state and also for practical purposes of grounding and of obtaining suitable focus and intention.
- Sensory deprivation
- Sleep deprivation
- Oxygen deprivation (via smoke inhalation or holotropic breathwork).
Note: The methods listed above may be used in combination, and should not be considered exhaustive. For example, archaic traditions such as shamanism may combine ritual, fasting, and hallucinogenic substances.
- Dictionary of hallucinations | http://books.google.com/?id=qbF44AEMGdcC&pg=PA434&lpg=PA434&dq=%22Ernst+J%C3%BCnger%22+psychonaut+-wikipedia#v=onepage&q=%22Ernst%20J%C3%BCnger%22%20psychonaut%20-wikipedia&f=false
- Ketamine Case Study: The Phenomenology of a Ketamine Experience | http://informahealthcare.com/doi/abs/10.1080/16066350801983707
- Jünger, E. (1970). Annaherungen: Drogen und Rausch. Psychonauten (pp. 430).
- Carroll, Peter J. Liber Null. (1978) and Psychonaut. (1982) (published in one volume in 1987). ISBN 0-87728-639-6.
- Ott, J. (2001). Pharmanopo-psychonautics: human intranasal, sublingual, intrarectal, pulmonary and oral pharmacology of bufotenine. Journal of psychoactive drugs, 33(3), 273. https://doi.org/10.1080/02791072.2001.10400574
- UK Institute of Psychonautics and Somanautics | http://www.transpersonalacademy.co.uk/psychonautics.html
- http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=qbF44AEMGdcC&pg=PA434&lpg=PA434&dq=%22Ernst+J%C3%BCnger%22+psychonaut+-wikipedia&hl=en#v=onepage&q=%22Ernst%20J%C3%BCnger%22%20psychonaut%20-wikipedia&f=false Dictionary of hallucinations