Library talk to take on psychedelic spirituality  



Dana Sawyer
PHOTO COURTESY OF JESUP MEMORIAL LIBRARY

BAR HARBORIn the Jesup Memorial Library’s mission statement, it says that it will meet “needs both known and not yet felt.”  

In that vein, the library has committed itself to being a source of reliable information on topics of science, including the uses of psychedelics in therapeutic settings.  

“We interpret (the mission statement) to mean that we should be bringing information to our community that might not yet be on their awareness-radar on a topic that offers enormous possibility for transforming the treatment of a number of incredibly complicated and resilient mental health problems,” said Ruth Eveland, the library’s director.  

In January, the library held an event on the topic, inviting doctors from Cadillac Family Practice, MDI Behavioral Health Center and a medical student from Tufts University School of Medicine to talk about the use of psychedelics in different medical settings.  

“There’s an awful lot of incredible research being done in this area,” Eveland said.  

Later this month, the library is taking another look at the topic with Dana Sawyer, a Blue Hill-based professor of philosophy and world religion at the Maine College of Art.  

In a virtual talk, Sawyer will explore psychedelic mysticism from the perspective of religious studies. He’ll delve into if substances such as mescaline, LSD, psilocybin and other psychedelic drugs trigger experiences of lasting spiritual value and will look at the research using the framework of Aldous Huxley, Huston Smith and more.  

Sawyer has written biographies of both men and has a primary expertise in Hinduism and Buddhism. But for more than 20 years, he’s also focused on comparative mysticism, theories of perennial philosophy and the possible value of psychedelic experiences.  

In an interview with the Islander, Sawyer said often the medical and therapeutic uses can tie directly into spiritual ones as well. 

You have to go through the experience itself for it to have a therapeutic effect,” he said. “People that go through that describe it as a spiritual experience.” 

There has been a bit of a renaissance in the psychedelic movement and a rebirth of interest recently that has sparked talks across several different fields.  

It’s really created this multidisciplinary conversation that’s exciting and interesting,” Sawyer said. 

Eveland admits these types of events may seem cutting edge for a local library, but she hoped people would see it as the library looking at the topic through a scientific lens, not a sensational one. 

I was obviously a little prepared that somebody might find this problematic in some way,” she said after the first event. “But all of the response was very supportive.” 

Sawyer’s talk will be held over Zoom on June 17 at 7 p.m. To register, visit jesuplibrary.org/events/sawyer and fill out the form or email [email protected] 

Ethan Genter

Ethan Genter

Ethan is the maritime reporter for the Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander. He also covers Bar Harbor. When he's not reporting, you'll likely find him wandering trails while listening to audiobooks. Send tips, story ideas and favorite swimming holes in Hancock County to [email protected]

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