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A psychonaut (also spelled psychanaut or psychenaut) (deriving from the Greek ψυχή (soul) and ναύτης (sailor), that is, a sailor of the mind/soul) is a person who intentionally induces altered states of consciousness in an attempt to investigate his or her mind, and possibly to address spiritual questions through direct experience. Psychonauts tend to be pluralistic, willing to explore mystical traditions from established world religions, lucid dreaming, technologies such as brainwave entrainment, psychedelic drugs, entheogens, tantra, and sensory deprivation. Techniques that alter consciousness can be dangerous, and can induce a state of extreme susceptibility, therefore, psychonauts generally prefer to undertake these explorations either alone, or in the company of people they trust.

Goals of psychonautic practices may be to answer questions about how the mind works, improve one's psychological state, answer existential or spiritual questions, or improve cognitive performance in everyday life.


Psychonautics may be understood as the means to navigate and explore the reaches of inner space (the mind/soul).

While some psychonauts abstain from psychoactive drugs and discourage their use, others encourage it. The term "psychonaut" is often misinterpreted as implying frequent drug use. Many psychonauts use a psychoactive substance frequently, some weekly or more, and do so generally to supplement other tools such as meditation. Most psychonauts maintain that their use of altered consciousness is different from social or recreational use, and their use usually has a religious or spiritual significance to them.

According to Dr. Elliot Cohen (Manchester Academy for Transpersonal Studies), "Psychonautics is the means to study and explore consciousness (including the unconscious) and altered states of consciousness (ASCs); it rests on the realisation that to study consciousness is to transform it." He also argues that psychonautics should not be associated with substance use, but rather with various Wisdom traditions, Transpersonal and Integral movements. When Robert Thurman depicts the Tibetan Buddhist master as a Psychonaut (Tibetan Book of the Dead) this is an appropriate use of the term. According to Jonathan Ott, the word psychonaut was originally coined by the German author Ernst Jünger.

Use of the term

Psychonaut is a modern term used to describe one who uses trance technologies and, more specifically, mind-altering substances, more for their ability to act as entheogens than for their inebriating (or social) effect. Psychonautic practices are quite similar to shamanic traditions in ancient cultures around the world. In effect, various tools are used as a means to achieve states of mind in which different perceptions, unhindered by everyday mental filters and processes, can arise. Psychonauts, like shaman, believe that when a mind-altering substance is used with this intent, its effects can be life altering and are not mere hallucinations. An alternate description is that while some aspects of the experience may be hallucinatory, the realizations caused by those hallucinations and the mental, emotional and long-term impact of the experience are real, usually positive, and enduring.

The term is often associated with neoshamanic practices; however, many distinguish between the mental/spiritual exploration of the psychonaut and healing-oriented shamanic practice.

Associated concepts, technologies, and practices


Brain function

Its roots are revealed within many of the world’s great and ancient Wisdom Traditions (Shamanistic and Mystical). Some of its most popular and recognizable forms include Buddhist meditation (from Vipassana to Dzogchen), Taoist cultivation (native Chinese), Vedantic (Hindu) and Kabbalistic (Jewish) insights and methods.

Psychonautics may be considered an attempt to generate a user's manual for human consciousness. Developing upon psychology, which is concerned with understanding other people, psychonauts are more concerned with understanding themselves, and the process of self exploration; accordingly, they engage in direct exploration of themselves and their own thought processes. As such, psychonauts seek to empiricaly understand mental process and functioning and employ such knowledge in their activities. Some advocate the use of auto-modification of brain wave frequencies, which can lead to quite distinct perceptual states; a detailed examination and understanding of one's own thought processes, habits, and beliefs is also sought. Hallucinatory states, drug-induced or otherwise, are seen as a form of subliminal symbolism or as a real but distinct reality; as with other processes of the mind, psychonauts seek to understand these. These states often simultaneously dissociate the mind from the ego and offer an objective view of one's mental processes. Psychological theories and concepts are also often taken into account.

This is also ideally practically applied in bettering one's self through the knowledge of one's own thought processes; with this understanding and heightened perception of one's own internal dialogue, it is thought that one is more able to control his own ego, and detach oneself from what is seen as a herd mentality common to modern culture.

Mythical archetypes and concepts

Psychonauts, as described in the Tibetan Book of the Dead, place emphasis on various mythical archetypes and concepts, believing that these are useful to coming to understand one's own thought patterns and the nature of existence, reflecting realities and meanings that should be understood. As in shamanic practice, the symbol of the axis mundi is often employed, often overlaid with chakras and other relevant concepts of bodily function; the Kabbalist Tree of Life and its chakra-like sephirot is one notable example of this in mythology. The nature of karma is often explored in trying to understand one's own situation, actions, and relation to the outside world.


Psychonauts are often interested in metaphysics, the branch of philosophy dealing with the ultimate nature of reality or existence; it is thought that in coming to some understanding of how the universe functions and the nature of existence, one would be better able to govern themselves accordingly and integrate their life experiences.

Technologies and practices


The technology and practice most often (but mistakenly) associated with psychonauts is the use of psychedelic drugs for mental exploration. The method of use varies widely; such usage is often (but not always) entheogenic and informed by traditional shamanic uses of psychedelic drugs (whose actual usage is wildly exaggerated) and rituals surrounding such usage.

Some psychedelics and dissociatives commonly used by psychonauts include:

Less common:

Though avoided by most modern psychonauts, certain species of the Nightshade family have been used for psychoactive purposes throughout human history. The most common of these is Datura stramonium, which is classified as a deliriant, not as a psychedelic. Datura is rarely used by psychonauts because control and lucidity are lost in a delirious state, and the experience is often not remembered. Similarly, psychonauts often prefer to consume salvia via the "quid" method, rather than inducing an intense, short-lived trip associated with smoking extracts. With deliriants like datura, self-inflicted injury and even death can occur. Nevertheless, deliriants are still occasionally employed in psychonautics.


Cannabis is often used individually, or in combination with many hallucinogens to amplify and extend the experience. The chemical THC (the main psychoactive chemical in cannabis) is technically classified as a hallucinogen with both sedative and stimulant properties. Though it is generally considered a "light hallucinogen," its synergistic effect with other hallucinogens is rather potent and at higher doses it can be a powerful psychedelic experience.


As dreams are considered by psychonauts to be a window into thought processes, many keep dream journals in order to better remember dreams and further their understanding of their own symbolic internal dialogue. Many attempt to not only remember their dreams, but engage in lucid dreaming, in which one is consciously aware of their state while dreaming.


There are various forms of meditation though the most commonly practiced is 'concentration meditation' where the meditator seeks to quiet the activity of his/her mind by concentrating/focusing attention upon a single object, sound, sensation or thought.


Ritual is often employed for purposes of grounding and centering one's self, to set one's focus and intentions, and to instill a conception of the significance and depth of psychonautical practice. Repeated use of ritual may also train the brain to associate certain activities and states of consciousness with specific situations, creating deeper experiences and allowing one to more easily enter altered states of consciousness.


Specific technologies employed include:

  • Mind machines
  • Dreamachines
  • Binaural beats
  • Cranial electrotherapy stimulation devices

These devices attempt to induce specific brainwave patterns using brainwave entrainment (brainwave synchronization) through light and sound, or through direct electrical stimulation.


Practices employed include:

  • Sensory deprivation using an Isolation tank, blindfolds, or earplugs, among other methods and devices
  • Sensory overload
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Sex
  • Fasting
  • Psychomanteum, a dark-room retreat
  • Brainwave synchronization also as "Brainwave entrainment"
  • Glossolalia
  • Lucid dreaming
  • Hypnosis
  • Astral projection
  • Ego death
  • Eating
  • Breathing

External links

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Psychonaut. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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