a christian perspective on the world today

Psychedelics and Secret Societies: A Conversation about Drugs and the Occult

A conversation between Jesse Herford and Jamie Lehn. Listen to the full interview:

Jesse: Hey, Jamie. Thanks for speaking with us. Could you tell us a little bit about you?

Jamie: I work for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the child protection agency called Adsafe. We investigate and oversee high-risk individuals who attend churches. Before that, I was working in homelessness for about 15 years. My own personal history has given me a lot of insight into the work I do.

Jesse: That’s what we’re here to talk about. Where does this story begin for you?

Jamie: I was raised with Christianity and had a good connection with God when I was young. However, that all changed at the age of five or six when I was abused by a stranger. As you can imagine, this incident led to a lot of confusion, anger and fear. The abuse had nothing to do with the church, but it did disrupt my relationship with Jesus and the church.

A few years later, a friend of a friend showed me a magic trick. I like magic tricks but this wasn’t something I’d seen before. He lit a cigarette lighter, put his hand in the flame and wasn’t burned. He said, “You can do it too.” So, I did, and my hand didn’t burn either. The next day I found a lighter and said to my brother, “Look at this!” I lit it, held it up to my finger—and burned myself. It didn’t make sense. Then, when I was about 12 or 13, I started getting interested in older music—The Beatles and other psychedelic music from the ’60s. It was like an invitation to another world I didn’t know anything about. I thought to myself, Maybe this is a way to escape my own pain.

Jesse: Did you have much of a concept of the Christian understanding of the spiritual world?

Jamie: I didn’t make the link between the spiritual world and the psychedelic world, probably because I was sheltered growing up. In organised religion, sometimes things can be very black and white—and that’s not to say that some things aren’t. But the crossover between spiritualism and the “spiritual world” is sometimes difficult to discern. It really broadened my understanding of those boundaries—not necessarily in a good way but I think most teenagers explore the world and question things. When I was in high school, I became friends with a guy who was also into The Beatles, and he introduced me to punk music. There were a few times I got drunk, and it wasn’t very pleasant. But what I really was looking for was a gateway to another world and I thought that hallucinogenic drugs was how I’d get there.

Jesse: Let’s talk then about the next layer to this, because it’s not just about drug usage. There’s another world you became involved with that people sometimes refer to as “the occult” or “secret societies”. Could you explain to us how someone enters this world?

Jamie: The word occult just means “hidden”. The music scene has many cultural links with it. Famous bands like Led Zeppelin have very publicly acknowledged their participation in the occult.

Fast-forward to the ’90s and the rave scene was really kicking off in Sydney. It wasn’t the kind of music I was into but it was a good way to get drugs. So, I started using LSD, ecstasy, speed, amphetamines and heroin. My parents were deeply worried, but I felt it was helping me forget my pain and it gave me a sense of belonging somewhere. My personal experiences taking psychoactive substances were wild. It was like entering a completely different world. It was anti-establishment, people brandishing smiley faces, all talking about love. It was idealistic and free from dogma, organised religion, false ideas and all these other relics of the past. I “caught the vision”, so to speak, and that drove me deep into the scene. It was all very exciting. I had some mystical-type experiences and that was really what linked me with the occult.

Soon after, I was introduced to a very famous 19th-century occultist—I’ll just call him “AC”. I read AC’s autobiography and to my surprise, inside was a drawing of a spirit or some other being he was in contact with. I was surprised because I’d seen this very same face in a dream.

Jesse: When you say “spirit”, what are we talking about?

Jamie: It looked like an alien. It’s hard to explain but that’s the best way I can describe it. As I read AC’s autobiography I started to think, This guy isn’t necessarily evil. I realised he was doing what I wanted to do—reject the established order and create a new world. But also, through his book, he introduced me to Qabalah, which is based on Jewish mysticism. I began to consider these spiritual practices as an anchor point when I was on LSD—a kind of map to find my way in these altered states.

Jesse: Speaking of which—what’s it like, being high?

Jamie: Heroin is good for masking pain. That’s what it’s made to do. It is made to mask physical pain, but it also masks emotional pain.

Amphetamines were another thing. With them you could stay up and go to a three-day festival and literally stay awake the entire time. And so, it was good but after you’ve been awake for a few days you start to have sleep deprivation and some forms of drug-induced psychosis, which is not pleasant. Amphetamines were very addictive. I used it for around 10 years, and I used ice—that is, methamphetamines.

But then I had psychedelics, which was not very good when combined with amphetamines. It made it very easy to become psychotic because your mind is racing faster than your body. I had a lot of LSD in the late ’90s and then a friend of mine, who was a psychedelic shaman, introduced me to DMT. DMT was different as it’s not a recreational drug. And frankly, taking it feels a bit like entering an interdimensional portal. When I took it, I saw what I describe as “entities”. This is all much more well-researched now. Johns Hopkins University has done a lot of research on people’s experiences and they’ve actually tried to map this landscape.

Jesse: Are we talking about “alternate dimensions”?

Jamie: That’s what it seemed like. It’s different to LSD. With LSD, it’s just visual distortions and it produces an effect that seems to carry a lot of meaning and a sense of being unified with the world, time and space. It can be ecstatic but also terrifying. DMT was different. All my experiences with DMT are akin to any other ordinary memory I’ve ever had. I’ve had the same experiences as other people have had at different times. I’ve also shared experiences with other people who were also on DMT where we saw the same thing at the same time.

This is when I started to get deeper into the occult. One day an acquaintance told me her boyfriend used to be a high priest in a secret society and asked if I wanted to meet him. I went to one of their ceremonies and of course, I thought it was very interesting. As I kept talking to this girl, I realised that there was a connection between the world I had experienced when I was on DMT and the world this secret society was part of. By this point, I was pretty heavily involved in many cultic practices. The world I lived in was saturated in the paranormal. This all culminated with an invitation to be initiated (into the secret society). I won’t talk much about it except to say it’s required to reject Jesus—and though I was happy to do everything else, for some reason I couldn’t do that last part.

That was where things really took a turn and I experienced years of spiritual harassment. It very much felt like “they” didn’t want to let go of me—that they had a sense of ownership over me and in a way, they did. They owned all the psychedelic experiences that had taken me away from God and had become part of my identity and character. They held over me the threat that without them, I would be nothing.

Jesse: So, you spent a few years after this point traumatised by the lingering presence of the darkness you’ve been describing. But the story doesn’t end there.

Jamie: That’s right. I got away from Sydney because I was trying to escape everything. Within a few years, I met another group of friends with links to the occult and drugs. I was still using drugs but I just couldn’t take that next step. I couldn’t explain why, I just couldn’t reject Jesus—even though I thought He’d rejected me. I didn’t have any peace in my life. To be honest, I was suicidal. One day, as I was contemplating hurting myself, out of nowhere, I felt a Presence in the room with me. It wasn’t audible but it said, “You don’t need to do this. I’ve already drawn my blood for you.”

Jesse: Wow. So, what happened after that?

Jamie: I was raised in a Seventh-day Adventist home, and I had been taught to respect the Sabbath. That Friday evening, I was sitting out on my veranda smoking a cigarette, watching the sun go down. All of a sudden, “It’s Sabbath!” popped into my head. For whatever reason, I didn’t even finish my cigarette—I just put it out and went to bed. It was early but I hadn’t been sleeping well. In my mind’s eye, I knew there were angels guarding the door to my bedroom. I can’t explain it. I didn’t see it. I just knew it—and I had the best night’s sleep I’d had in a long time.

In the morning, I woke up and thought, I’d better go to church. There was a Seventh-day Adventist church around the corner, so I walked through the front door. I just wanted to be invisible, so I picked up a Bible and opened it. I didn’t know what I was looking for but everything I read spoke directly to what I had been going through. I don’t remember what else happened in that church service but I read this Bible for about an hour and it was like having a conversation with God. I looked back at my life and realised that because of everything I’d done, I was worthy of death. I came to terms with it and expected God to strike me down on the spot. But then I read, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:17).

Reading that changed everything I understood about God. I realised God wasn’t condemning me. I realised the dark forces I’d been hanging out with all these years were the ones condemning me, but that God wanted to rescue me. In that moment, I surrendered to God. It’s odd, because the moment I declared it, I felt the darkness left; it was like a breath of fresh air. A weight lifted off me for the first time in years and a peace that surpassed all my understanding came over me. I realised that this was exactly what I was looking for through drugs and the occult but couldn’t find.

Jesse: That’s incredible. I think it would be remiss of me before we go if I didn’t ask you to speak to two people. I think you’re probably the best resource that a lot of people are going to have on this. I first want you to talk to people—sceptics, secular humanists—who think all there is to life is this life, empirical research, data, matter, physics, all that sort of stuff.

What would you say to that person who might say, “Come on, Jamie, a spiritual world, poltergeists, ghosts, demons, alternate dimensions. How can you expect me to believe that this is real?”

Jamie: I can’t expect you to believe that but I think if you see yourself as someone who finds science interesting, then you should keep an open mind. There are some things that can’t be measured by science and when it comes to humanism you should really check the source material. Secular humanism is very much engaged in ideas that are based on some things that have their roots in the occult.

Jesse: To those people who are curious, who are searching much like you were when you were young, what would you say to that person?

Jamie: It’s very much real—but you don’t have to know about this stuff firsthand. Learn from me and my experience. Why weigh yourselves down with these things when God has already won? Don’t even go there. It’s a terrible place to be.  There’s a spiritual war going on right now and you can avoid much of the suffering I went through if you focus your attention on God, rather than the darkness of this world.

I’d say if you’re interested in the spiritual realm, start with a Bible. Even if you’ve never read the Bible before, you’ll find out—as I did—that many of the things I was confused about at a young age are explained in perfect detail in the Bible.

This article is an excerpt from the Signs Radio podcast. Listen to the full episode and more!

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