Earlier this year I joined some friends at a performance by the New York Philharmonic of Verdi’s Requiem Mass. Not one of us was Catholic or professed any creed threatening an afterlife of eternal suffering for the wicked. No perpetual willies over Judgment Day. Nevertheless, when the massed voices of chorus and orchestra unleashed their frenzy in the climactic “Dies irae” section, we four, like everyone in the packed house, were awestruck, transfixed, energized with a terror deeper than anything you could glean from Bible class. No knowledge of Latin was required to register the urgent pleading of “Libera me,” the joy of the “Sanctus,” or the profound serenity of the “Agnus Dei.” Music like this bypasses the thinking, querulous mind into a realm of pure experience. The depth of feeling curbs any need to interpret.

I thought of this often while plowing through Daniel Waterman’s Entheogens, Society...

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