Neglected Papers Against Grof Therapy

l to r: Christopher Bache, Kate Thomas, Stanislav Grof, Stephen Castro

l to r: Christopher Bache, Kate Thomas, Stanislav Grof, Stephen Castro



  1.    Transpersonal   Experiences  (article by  Kate  Thomas, 2003)
  2.    Disbelieving  "Sacred  Medicine"  (article  by  Kate  Thomas, 2003)
  3.    New  Age  Therapy  (article  by  Stephen  Castro, 1995)



In 1990, Kate Thomas (1928-2017) wrote to the psychedelic celebrity Stanislav Grof (b.1931). Both were in Findhorn, north Scotland, at the time. She was complaining about his Holotropic Breathwork (HB) therapy, which had been unleashed in the Findhorn Foundation by the director Craig Gibsone. This Australian had become a convert to Grof doctrine. At the Foundation, Thomas personally witnessed various negative symptoms of HB in numerous clients, a number of whom she interviewed. Some of these people, especially women, were in serious trouble.

Grof did not reply to her letter, while Gibsone merely repeated Grof slogans about therapeutic benefits and supposed mystical experiences. The problems went undiagnosed and unremedied. The supposed mystical experts were indifferent to, and in denial of, the casualties occurring. That was the genesis of the Thomas critique of HB, meaning Grof’s substitute at Esalen for his LSD therapy, which had become illegal (Criticism of Stanislav Grof, Holotropic Breathwork, and MAPS).

Over a decade later, the following two papers were written by Thomas for the Network journal of the Scientific and Medical Network (SMN). She was now in confrontation with Grof’s influential disciple Prof. Christopher Bache, who was hosted by the SMN at a conference in England that same year of 2003. Bache’s inclusion was at the decision of the Programme Director David Lorimer, who exerted a pervasive influence within the SMN. Thomas discovered that many SMN members did not understand what Bache was actually promoting, though Lorimer did.

Lorimer had earlier written an enthusiastic review of Bache’s book Dark Night, Early Dawn (2000). Bache promotes Grof therapies in the format sometimes dubbed LSD shamanism. The explicit descriptions in his book, of his involvement in Grof therapy, have strongly contributed to undiscerning interest in the practices denoted, i.e., LSD therapy and HB.

When Thomas submitted her first paper, Lorimer was anxious to instigate a reply from Bache in the same issue of Network. His intention was evidently to support Bache rather than to criticise Grof psychedelic doctrines. Thomas (unlike Bache) was expected to prune her article, which she did. Her second paper, also appearing in 2003, was under constraints of brevity imposed by Lorimer, who overbearingly allocated this relevant item to the correspondence section of his magazine, despite the annotations visible. Thomas thus referred to her second paper as "this letter," in the first footnote. Some onlookers felt that the constraint was inappropriate and smacked of a relegation. Lorimer, as the editor of Network, could not be over-ruled.

The first paper was basically "experiential" in tone, evidencing a mystical perspective, with some unusual emphases. The psychedelic and HB lobbies frequently complain that criticisms are anti-mystical, coming from nasty medical opponents. So here was evidence of something different. However, Bache did the same thing with the Thomas critique as his lobby does with medical denials.

Bache’s response appeared in the same issue of Network, as a consequence of Lorimer’s insistence that Bache should be given an advance copy of the Thomas paper (which was substantially pruned at Lorimer’s ruling). The response of Bache was entitled "Is the Sacred Medicine Path a Legitimate Spiritual Path?" (Network No. 81, April 2003). This article was an outright defence of LSD therapy (combined with HB), and moreover, an emphatic promotion of LSD therapy as a spiritual project.

Despite concessions on a few points, Bache accuses Thomas of "a naïve understanding of how psychedelics impact consciousness" (art. cit. p. 19 col 3). He implies that her position is an outdated critique which "harkens back" to the 1950s and 60s debate about psychedelics amongst scholars of religion. Bache instead advocates misleading works such as Grof's The Cosmic Game (1998). Alternative interpretations are here viewed as naive.

Thomas does not mention the "dated" sources (e.g., R. C. Zaehner) which Bache imposes as a convenient (and unconvincing) denominator.  Indeed, her contribution has very different non-Zaehnerian accents, lost upon the standard drug lobby propaganda employed to justify extensive indulgences and delusions. Bache furthers the drug lobby tactic (and rhetoric) by claiming a rigorous training in "psychedelic work" or "sacred medicine work," a misleading description for LSD ingestion.  LSD is of recent manufacture and was not used in shamanist societies. Bache is a contemporary lysergic acid pill promoter.

Bache distorts some emphases of Thomas. His clear assumption of prowess and greater knowledge is not attractive. He tries to justify his stance (or folly) by enthusing about the "collective unconscious." This Jungian ideological problem is commonly used to support the psychedelic cause, featuring in neo-Jungian books of Grof.  Bache claims an "integral perspective" (art. cit., p. 21 col 3),  a fashionable new age phrase amounting to a confusion eschewing most or all of the realities.

Bache rehearses the Grof tenet that psychedelic resort is "authentic and safe" (art. cit., p. 21 col 1). This assertion is in contradiction to his brief but significant admission, found in Dark Night, Early Dawn, about the strongly disruptive nature of Grof therapy and how this seriously affected his life. Thomas refers to this severe drawback in her first paper. Bache nevertheless attempts to glorify the unenviable sufferings he experienced with LSD (and HB).

The ongoing celebration of  this  Bache article  ("Sacred Medicine Path") on the SMN website ( can be viewed as a further contradiction to medical safety. Critics have applied a negative interpretation to this persistence of six years duration (2004-2010).  Indeed, the SMN has been dubbed the LSD Medicine Path Network. Certainly, that organisation harboured the pro-LSD exegesis while ignoring the alternative under discussion here. In 2010, the SMN articles archive was moved from public view to a log-in procedure for members only. Previously, the disputed Bache article was openly available at Only the title now showed on that site to non-members.

The sense of elevation, implied by the response of Bache to Thomas, may have been influenced by his clearly stated role as "Director of Transformative Learning" (for two years) at the Institute of Noetic Sciences. This Grof-influenced organisation in America teamed up with the British SMN to host Grof at Cambridge (England) in 1995. The Institute of Noetic Sciences was also strongly featured in Lorimer’s edited work entitled Thinking Beyond the Brain (2001). This book included two articles in favour of controversial drug use, including the more obvious one by Grof (see the bibliography to Shepherd, Letter of Complaint to David Lorimer). There is potential and actual damage done to public sensitivities by such gestures of new age integralism.

A subsequent article of Bache in Network (Spring 2004) made the significant admission that LSD therapy "does not lend itself to stabilisation of the state" (Shepherd, Pointed Observations, 2005, p. 410). The practitioners are in more trouble than is generally conceded by their claims.

The Thomas papers were acknowledged as being important by some academic members of the SMN, notably Dr. Peter Fenwick. However, nobody else came forward to contest Bache, except for one SMN member who dwelt upon the contribution of Jung and the latter’s resistance to mescaline. This was of negligible impact, because the Grof cause promote Jung in their own interpretation. Archetypes are everywhere, like psychedelic pills, cannabis, and cocaine.

Thomas resigned from the SMN in April 2004, her lengthy letter of resignation supplying the reasons. Lorimer did not respond to this very relevant letter, addressed to him. He instead delegated another SMN official to send a rather flippant reply evading all the issues at stake (Shepherd, Pointed Observations, pp. 405ff).

Very soon after, the SMN website was observed to feature the telling contribution from Bache which downgraded Thomas. This was blatant favouritism. There was no goodwill gesture by Lorimer of including the sequel paper or "letter" from Thomas, whose annotations are searching. The "sacred medicine" article by Bache continued to be hosted in publicly visible format for six years on the SMN website, conveying the strong impression that Grofian views are in SMN favour. This despite an unconvincing general disclaimer of responsibility for article contents. Lorimer definitely sanctioned Bache at the expense of Thomas. This matter is memorable for several reasons.

Psychedelic mysticism is now a new age hazard, endorsed (however adroitly or implicitly) by organisations like the SMN, whose "science and medicine" might in many cases transpire to resemble acid tablets and hyperventilation in the absence of discernment.

The Thomas papers reaped neglect and oblivion in this questionable situation, a matter further underlined by the SMN failure to respond to my lengthy Letter of Complaint to David Lorimer. Widely circulated in booklet form, this document commented upon related issues. The SMN are markedly evasionist about matters of principle and pressing current events.

The two Thomas papers appeared in the April 2003 and December 2003 issues of Network, also known as the Scientific and Medical Network Review. The longer paper has been slightly abbreviated (in respect of quotes), with the permission of the author, while the second one remains intact. The latter tackles the issue of shamanism, favoured by Bache as an auspice. Shamanism is distorted by the romantic interpretation preferred by Grof therapy, an interpretation employed commercially (Grof himself charging hundreds of dollars for HB workshops). A more appropriate term for the Grofian version is neoshamanism, though some analysts state pseudoshamanism.

A related criticism of Bache’s neoshamanism can be found in Shepherd, Pointed Observations (2005), pp. 41–2, 149ff. A detailed report by Thomas, of SMN occurrences and anomalies, exists in the lengthy Scientific and Medical Network and the Findhorn Foundation. See also Kate Thomas and the Findhorn Foundation. See also Letter to Robert Walter MP (2008) and Contesting Stanislav Grof Therapy.

Also included in the file below is Stephen Castro’s 1995 article in The Therapist. This was the first critical article on Holotropic Breathwork (HB) to appear in a British journal, being well received. Castro is now an employee in the Inland Revenue. He says that he still adheres to the views expressed in his article and his subsequent book Hypocrisy and Dissent within the Findhorn Foundation (1996). Castro was a direct witness of HB aftermath dysfunction at the Findhorn Foundation during the years 1989–93.

I am not a mystic but a citizen philosopher. I never contacted organisations like the SMN or Findhorn Foundation, unlike my mother, who is now deceased. Over the years, I have noted the air of superiority assumed by some academic pro-psychedelic enthusiasts, who claim to be engaged in "transformative learning" and other vaunted pursuits. Citizen resistance to these inflations is legitimate, and possibly crucial.

For the record, I am not interested in “altered states,” a craze of deficient psychology. “Living in the Now” is an artless heritage of the 1960s hippy boom and backward pseudo-Yoga pontiffs like Richard Alpert. Some victims cannot even remember what they did yesterday. Psychedelic hallucinations are preposterous, also extremely undesirable. The fashionable “perennial philosophy” dates back no further than Aldous Huxley (d.1963), an indulgent enthusiast of mescaline and LSD. A high caste English Etonian, the soporific Huxley influenced unfortunate American "trippers" like Leary and Ginsberg. The European “archetypes” and “synchronicity” are other afflictions devised to mesmerise people susceptible to eccentric beliefs. The hype of alternative therapists can lead to the lunatic asylum, quite apart from an empty pocket. Organisations investing in these distractions are something to avoid at all costs.

Kevin R. D. Shepherd

2007, last modified 2020



by  Kate Thomas

published in Network No. 81 (April 2003), pp. 15-18.


A serious enquirer and highly regarded professional fellow-member of the Scientific and Medical Network recently asked me if certain of the non-ordinary states of consciousness recorded in my autobiography, The Destiny Challenge (1992), are comparable to those described by Christopher Bache in his influential work Dark Night, Early Dawn: Steps to a Deep Ecology of Mind (2000). I must in all honesty state that they are not, despite certain marked similarities. Ignoring for the moment the actual nature of these experiences, Bache’s experiential insights were self-sought and self-induced by a variety of means – primarily by the use of LSD therapy (as advocated by former clinical psychiatrist and current transpersonal theorist, Dr. Stanislav Grof) and by sessions of Holotropic Breathwork™ (a controversial "non-pharmacological" means of inducing altered states of consciousness – one that ironically causes biochemical changes in the brain – originated and currently commercially promoted by Dr. Grof).

These breathwork sessions each required a preliminary phase of two hours of rapid breathing (hyperventilation), and the resultant experiences, many of which were horrific to say the least, covered a further span of several hours in each instance, frequently leaving the experiencer in a condition of extreme exhaustion and shock. This same appalling syndrome applied also to Bache’s earlier, psychedelic, sessions – intensity of suffering being the keynote. He observes that at one point he was obliged to interrupt his investigative endeavours for a very lengthy period (seven years, in fact) "because the extreme nature of the states I was entering became too stressful for my family to endure" (Dark Night, Early Dawn, note 10, p. 311).

As a result of this type of "research," Bache has recorded, in meticulous detail, his artificially-induced transpersonal perceptions of the meaningfulness of life as a whole; the structure of the personal self or ego; also the "species" ego which he presents as the collective ego of us all; the point and purpose of the Eastern concepts of karma and reincarnation; various "hell" states and their implications; the precognised imminent collapse of civilisation as we know it, and his observational experience of the galactic universe, etc. All of these experiences appear to have arisen haphazardly and non-sequentially.

Conversely, my own transpersonal experiences were entirely spontaneous and unsought (a factor not so far noted as significant by researchers), commencing in early childhood, being at first of a psychic, and then a mystical or transcendental nature, and without any harmful residual effect upon body or mind. More importantly, these experiences were sequential, in that my conscious ability to comprehend the complexities of interior dimensions and developmental processes accelerated by degrees, preparing my system step-by-step to sustain yet higher intensifications of subtle energies prior to the major other-dimensional experience which climaxed all that went before. This occurred in 1977, when I was nearly forty-nine years old, and significantly altered my consciousness for a full fourteen days and nights. In the early stages of this experience I was acutely aware of the activation of hitherto dormant brain cells and of the stimulation of specific regions of the brain, thus facilitating retention of the intrinsic knowledge of a dimension other than the physical (see K. Thomas, The Destiny Challenge: A Record of Spiritual Experience and Observation, pp. 499–700). This profound, and frequently cosmical, experience included an overview of time – past, present, and future – which was clearly remembered and recorded immediately afterwards. [I commenced to write the account the day following the rapid normalisation of my consciousness.]

The registration of future events from this level was entirely impersonal, and utilised a mode of consciousness unknown to me previously. The entire experience took the form of what is increasingly referred to in the West as a kundalini energy experience (KEE) – in reality a little known phenomenon wide open to distortion and confusion, particularly in the sense that episodes frequently described as of this category are simply initial stirrings of subtle energy and are not even remotely akin to the other-dimensional event aforementioned. Nor are they (initial stirrings) hallmarked by the extensive preparation essential for the sanity and well-being of the experiencer, as many find to their cost. (For this latter reason I wrote The Kundalini Phenomenon, a critical and cautionary work which covers the dangers inherent in illicit activation of this volatile evolutionary energy by the use of inappropriate disciplines and techniques, and likewise at the hands of pseudo-gurus and New Age teachers – the results of which all too often culminate in hospitalisation and psychiatric treatment.)

The cultural trends perceived within the flow of time during my personal experience, in many instances have since manifested with exactitude, and include, for example, the devastating escalation of the drug culture (which has seemingly not yet reached its apogee); the breakdown of marriage and the rise of excessive promiscuity; the wide-scale spread of AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases; an upsurge of paedophilia in its most extreme manifestations; pornography for the masses fed by television and the (then unknown) Internet; an overwhelming increase in the abortion of unborn infants at various stages of pregnancy – amounting, in many cases, to a medically approved infanticide; the unconcealed and proliferating use of occult and magical practices; the acceleration of terrorism and the havoc of war – to note a sample of the more negative trends observed as moving towards externalisation. These trends, as I saw, were neither random nor imposed upon us by a punitive agency. They are the result of massive and needless errors made by Man. [It should be noted that in 1977 I had no prior knowledge (or the most minimal knowledge) of AIDS, the drug culture, pornography or paedophilia, etc. My life had been very sheltered and almost entirely of a domestic nature.]

Bache’s book covers in considerable depth descriptions of the content of his personal experiences, and the conclusions drawn both by him and from the experiential (and experimental) work of Stanislav Grof, who provides a glowing foreword. Nevertheless, Bache asserts repeatedly his puzzlement concerning certain non-ordinary "states" and their meaning, and appears completely unaware (as does Stanislav Grof and other highly influential psychedelic and transpersonal researchers) that to comprehend the substance and content of other dimensional (subtle or otherwise) experiences and, indeed, the overall meaningfulness of the dimension in which we live our mundane lives, requires the operation of a non-physical faculty that must first be developed. Without this faculty, comprehension is impossible.

The use of techniques such as Holotropic Breathwork and the ingestion of psychedelics produce many anomalies and ultra-vivid experiences of the nature of those outlined by Bache. However, these types of activation, whether of the brain or the subtle senses, do not of themselves induce growth of the previously mentioned faculty. As Dr. Jenny Wade clearly recognised in her book Changes of Mind: A Holonomic Theory of the Evolution of Consciousness, there are limitations imposed upon artificially induced non-ordinary states of consciousness by the presence of the mundane ego.

Something similar is occurring in science [and I am not here making a criticism, for I believe that science is one of the few ways forward that is open to us without blind acceptance of unproven statements made in past centuries]. Neuroscientists, for example, have discovered how to stimulate specific areas of the brain and to artificially induce altered states of consciousness similar to those described in the past by saints and mystics (results which the more materialistic scientist considers conclusive evidence of the biological origin of virtually everything once accepted as spiritual). This indisputable fact has created disturbance in the lives of many thinking people, and several persons who are familiar with my writings have mentioned to me the devastating effects that ongoing brain research has had upon their former beliefs in the existence of a spiritual dimension.

Mercifully, not all the neuroscientists subscribe to the hypothesis that our concepts and experiences of Divinity are confined entirely to a "God spot" in the brain. For example, Dr. Andrew Newberg states in his co-authored book with Dr. Eugene d’Aquili: "After years of scientific study, and careful consideration of our results, Gene and I further believe that we saw evidence of a neurological process that has evolved to allow us humans to transcend material existence and acknowledge and connect with a deeper, more spiritual part of ourselves perceived of as an absolute universal reality that connects us to all that is" (Why God Won’t Go Away, p. 9).

[Realistically, it has to be said that not all "saints" and "mystics," Eastern or Western, attained to the levels of transcendental consciousness attributed to them, as a close study of the history of religions would verify (see for instance, K. Shepherd, Minds and Sociocultures Vol One: An Analysis of Religious and Dissenting Movements, 1995). This factor, too, has to be taken into account when "mystical experience" is put forward as proving a point beyond dispute. One should likewise note that certain severe austerities, disciplines, and practises will systematically cause biochemical changes, thus affecting the brain (and the psychology) in much the same manner as hallucinogens and hyperventilation. Non-ordinary experiences arising as a consequence cannot therefore of themselves be claimed as proof of spiritual enlightenment. Other factors of paramount (and long-term) significance would first require to have been developed.]

In my view, these disparate areas of experience (the authentic and the delusory) are poles apart, and both science and other methods of serious enquiry are making the greatest mistake possible in assuming that they are equally of value. The former (i.e., the authentic) could, in due time, achieve a demonstrable experiential recognition if the requirements for such proof were adhered to; the latter can only create a major impediment to that recognition if it continues to be confused with the former. This is a harsh and unpopular truth, but one repeatedly borne out as having validity when the facts are examined.

It is my contention, based on a lifetime of non-ordinary experiences, that the brain is a highly proficient instrument already prepared through a very long process of evolution ultimately to register certain levels of experience (including extra-dimensional) and render them intelligible or comprehensible, to the individual who is adequately prepared for their receipt. This would indicate that the evolutionary process is as yet by no means complete. Should this prove to be the case, the implication is that prior preparation is essential for this achievement and cannot be bypassed. To attempt to do so results in delusory experience and the psychotic conditions so often confused with mysticism – in turn creating false concepts and yielding misleading information.

An unusual factor in Bache’s account is his description of the increasingly potent aftermath of contact with his students. [Bache was Professor of Religious Studies at Youngstown State University in Ohio at the time of writing his book.] In several places he also refers to the synchronistic events and non-ordinary states of awareness evoked by his presence, and clearly considers this bizarre circumstance to be a positive outcome of the Holotropic Breathwork and LSD induced experiences undergone. That these "spin-offs" are wholly uncontrolled and outside his understanding could, conversely, indicate that he has prematurely activated a non-physical process within himself through the methods utilised; one that should not occur without the instrumentation and safe monitoring of an authentic instructor.

Bache relates various episodes in relation to the above, among them "the experience of spiritual resonance in the classroom – a particularly intense form of energetic resonance between teacher and student that emerges spontaneously and can generate powerful symptoms of kundalini arousal" (Dark Night, Early Dawn, p. 187, my italics). He therefore knows of the factor of kundalini, although he does not enlarge upon this, save than to say: "Students may collectively feel their energy begin to shift to higher centres of awareness, though they may not understand what is happening. Symptoms of chakra-opening and kundalini-type arousal may begin to manifest" (ibid., p. 191). One woman in her mid-thirties recorded that several times she thought she was losing her mind (ibid.), and other students had commensurate problems of alarming severity that Bache merely hints at. His method of dealing with these "disruptive effects" was to include his students (unknown to them) in his daily spiritual practice, and ultimately include all new students "as soon as registration occurs." He continues: "I shudder sometimes at what my colleagues would think if they could see me performing the Chod ritual over a student roster for a course that has not yet begun, but to my mind this is simply an extension of my responsibilities as a teacher" (ibid., p. 203).

To activate in others subtle states of such strength and intensity, and without any knowledge of what one is initiating, nor any control of the consequences, is both alarming and highly unprofessional. Most tragic of all is the fact that these students did not knowingly submit themselves to this activation – although Bache most obviously knew in advance, even before he met them in the classroom, that this would occur.

Bache’s book provides a thought-provoking view of evolution. It is a view that is seemingly readily attainable by any enquiring individual, either fully or partially, using the psychedelic and Holotropic methods promoted by Stanislav Grof – regardless of their lifestyle, level of aspiration, egoic development, or integrity. Regardless also of their ability to comprehend what they experience, or to modulate the consequences, both to themselves and to others.

Such a view is also echoed in the work of John Heron, whose Sacred Science: Person Centred Inquiry into the Spiritual and Subtle has, I am told, evoked considerable interest within the Network, certain members of which hope to initiate the recommended groupwork. My response must be that any person presenting a blueprint for such a proposed developmental initiative should possess far greater knowledge and understanding than that demonstrated by John Heron, who is happy to incorporate, alongside less controversial and intrusive methods, the use of psychedelic substances – including LSD, mescaline, ketamine, amphetamines, etc., plus magical ritual, Holotropic Breathwork, and sensory deprivation (among other questionable practices) as incentives to his inquiry – an ad hoc approach which is surely neither scientific nor spiritual.

There is no mention of the very great dangers attendant on these processes, all of which are experimental, and seemingly no awareness of the potential danger to all further possibilities of spiritual growth. This is because the researchers sponsoring these practices have virtually no knowledge of the fundamentals of the science in which they profess proficiency, despite the fact that they are happy to accept the status bestowed upon them by persons impressed by the presumed mystical insights so readily obtainable. I have addressed these issues at length in The Kundalini Phenomenon.

Bache’s mentor, Stanislav Grof, is a prime mover in the introduction of Holotropic Breathwork and its extremely serious consequences into increasingly widening areas of therapeutic treatment, including transpersonal psychology, psychiatry, and the crises arising from so-called "spiritual emergencies." In his book Psychology of the Future: Lessons from Modern Consciousness Research (2000), Grof gives detailed information on his work over four decades, two of which were spent "conducting therapy with psychedelic substances" (p. lx). From the content one can only conclude that major lessons are yet to be confronted, for the confusion that existed between experiences supposedly of a spiritual nature and those that arise from other causes has still to be approached. The horrifying states described as Second Perinatal Matrix (BPMII and III) are nothing whatever to do with inner development, but rather do they indicate that the persons undergoing these terrifying experiences were in no sense ready to deal with the content of their psyches, or their reincarnational past (as Grof assumes), and should certainly not have been submitted to the type of sessions that evoked them.

Grof makes clear in Psychology of the Future that he is fully aware that LSD and breathwork sessions similarly activate the energy of kundalini to disastrous effect, but has nevertheless no intention of advising discontinuance of these sessions which, without exception, provide a contrived induction into altered states that would not otherwise be experienced – a "forced entry," in actuality, into uncharted areas, with results that are unpredictable for the individual, and without any safeguards at all. Grof states: "The activated Kundalini, called shakti, rises through the nadis, channels or conduits in the subtle body. As it ascends, it clears old traumatic imprints and opens the centers of psychic energy, called chakras. This process, although highly valued and considered beneficial in the yogic tradition, is not without dangers and requires expert guidance by a guru whose Kundalini is fully awakened and stabilised" (p. 156).

But a "guru" whose kundalini was "fully awakened and stabilised" would not countenance what Dr. Grof is doing. Grof is considered to be an advocate of the perennial philosophy, but his methodology surely demonstrates a pronounced perennial folly. Like his pupil, Christopher Bache, he is completely unable to control what he has initiated – nor has he any true comprehension of the states encountered (all of which he regards as investigative and experimental) despite his dealings, along with his wife Christina, with "spiritual emergencies." Possession by evil entities, trance, sexual deviance, alien abduction, witchcraft, sado-masochism, and unwholesome scatological interests (to name but a few of the abnormalities extensively covered in chapter three of Psychology of the Future) have no place in spiritual practice, and the lengthy sessions that engender these aberrant irregularities should be eschewed. What is happening here is that the psyche is being opened to a stratum of existence that it would not otherwise have contacted, and which is anything but benevolent. Could it be that the deviant "archetypes" experienced are not part of the individual’s unconscious but rather a dangerous layer of existence best permanently avoided?

My primary concern in the foregoing is the damage done to the evolutionary (developmental) potential of literally thousands of trusting people, likewise to the physical health of far too many casualties in the form of serious after-effects following the use of certain techniques and practices and ranging from nervous breakdown to insanity. I am not using conjecture here; I have personally spoken with numerous damaged and disoriented individuals, a large number immediately following the Holotropic Breathwork sessions held at the Findhorn Foundation in Morayshire, Scotland in the early 1990s, some of which were initially presided over by Stanislav Grof himself. (These extreme hyperventilation sessions required the inclusion of buckets, bowls and plastic bags for the violent vomiting and loss of bladder and bowel control by the participants – and the screaming was such that the area surrounding the venue in which the sessions were held was placed out of bounds to community members and visitors alike.)

I have also spoken with local doctors at the Health Centre in nearby Forres, who were aware of the aftermath consequences, and whose concern was such that they placed a notice in the local press dissociating themselves from what was occurring. I spoke, too, with senior officials from the Scottish Charities Office (SCO), who had previously been informed of these matters by a deeply concerned retired GP and World Health Organisation consultant at that time living in Forres – incidentally, one of the early members of the SMN who had worked for five years with George Blaker. The SCO promptly sent an interviewer to investigate further, and as a consequence commissioned a report from a top [medical] forensics Professor at the University of Edinburgh, which (due to the legalities involved) led to the suspension of all Breathwork activities sponsored by the Findhorn Foundation (see S. Castro, Hypocrisy and Dissent within the Findhorn Foundation, 1996, chapter six).

Dr. Grof’s transpersonal theory has had the unfortunate effect of validating drug experience as spiritual in some quarters (see Appendix). I personally believe there is a need for caution and a re-evaluation of artificially induced transpersonal experiences – the incongruities cannot be ignored indefinitely.



For an excellent review of two recently published opposing arguments on the subject of chemically induced altered states, see David Fontana, "Chemical Mysticism and the Mind-Brain Dilemma" (Network, No 79 August 2002, pp. 47–48). Prof. Fontana rightly notes, "… we should not be carried away by the possibilities offered by entheogens," and quotes from two authors of a chapter in one of the books reviewed: "[Although Indigenous cultures] … [have long used] … psychoactive plants … in religious rituals that have served to facilitate their connection to the transpersonal … it is a myth that the use of these substances will automatically lead to a higher degree of spiritual or religious development." It is also worth mentioning here that a contemporary mystic, Meher Baba (d. 1969), who produced a significant book charting the evolutionary and metaphysical nature of consciousness (described by the Tibetologist Dr. W. Y. Evens-Wentz in terms of: "No other teacher in our own time or in any past time has so minutely analysed consciousness as Meher Baba …"), has stated:

"No drug, whatever its great promise, can help one to attain the spiritual goal. There is no short-cut to the goal … and drugs, LSD more than others, give only a semblance of ‘spiritual experience,’ a glimpse of a false reality."



by  Kate Thomas

Published in Network No. 83 (Winter 2003), pp. 29-30.


I thank Professor Bache for his response to the concerns expressed in my article Transpersonal Experiences – a need for re-evaulation? (1) He evidently feels that there is no need for any re-evaluation whatsoever. Here I must beg to disagree. Professor Bache implies that I have but a naïve gut feeling in these matters, whereas he possesses the professionally reasoned approach conducive to accuracy. Professional judgements are not necessarily the most accurate ones in every instance. I take strong exception to Professor Bache’s footnote of sources, which is very misleading. The insinuation that objectors to drug use are right back in the 1950s is a typical ploy of the psychedelic movement.

As a mere layperson (not a Professor of the History of Religions), I have attempted several years study of current brain research plus various spiritual traditions (including shamanism), and find that those studies confirm both the positive and negative aspects of the non-ordinary experiences referred to in my article. I therefore strongly question the (largely commercial) promotion of hyperventilation and the use of psychoactive substances as medically safe, and valid, methods to attain transpersonal experiences. (2)

To my mind the concepts of "sacred medicine" and the "shamanic tradition" used by Professor Bache to justify the use of LSD are not convincing.  I realise that Mircea Eliade’s proposal – that the shaman’s use of psychoactive plants represents a "decadence in shamanic technique" (3) – is now anathema amongst some scholars, who are quick to point out that the use of psychoactive plants was widespread in antiquity. (4) However, widespread use does not negate the reality of an alternative existent tradition, one that did not resort to "sacred medicine" in order to induce transpersonal experiences. (5)

Nor were such experiences attained through the various "yogic" techniques of the so-called "sage tradition," these being but a development from earlier shamanic practices such as fasting, visualising, refraining from sexual activity, chanting, concentrating, sleep deprivation, postures, etc. Transpersonal experiences arose through a special form of transmission or irradiation (6) from teacher to pupil or community. It is this method that is referred to in my article, it is this method that forms the basis of my recorded mystical experiences, (7) and it is this method which demonstrates that such experiences arise from a qualitative, spiritual, dimension and can be naturally transmitted (that is, without the use of chemical intoxicants or shamanic or yogic practices), given the necessary requirements and circumstances.

Let us be clear that the use of LSD is still illegal in both the USA and UK (and even the practice of hyperventilation has been cautioned against by medical experts here in the UK). So, at present, nobody should in effect promote the use of illegal substances, for whatever purpose. There is of course nothing "sacred" about chemical intoxicants or their effect upon the brain, and the same can be said for hyperventilation. A primitive from an earlier age with a headache who was given aspirin for the first time would no doubt soon afterwards consider that the aspirin was "sacred medicine." The term "sacred medicine" is questionable. Bache’s employment of the term refers to chemical intoxicants used in a "sacramental" manner to cause altered states of consciousness of a "transpersonal" nature.

One can object strongly to this form of interpretation. The Mayan and Aztec were civilizations whose priesthoods used psychedelics; the priests also indulged in human sacrifice, and no doubt for very transpersonal reasons according to their way of thinking. Some contemporary Siberian shamans imbibe hallucinogenics; they also sacrifice dogs. Among the Yanomamö of the Brazilian rain forest, both shamans and men and boys above the age of puberty regularly take ebene, an hallucinogenic snuff; war between Yanomamö villages and revenge murders are common. (8) One man’s sacred medicine is another man’s poison.

And let us not overlook the commercial use of hyperventilation in the name of "shamanism," or "insight and opening" (to give Dr. Grof’s Holotropic Breathwork™ its current advertised "sage tradition" association). As a medical doctor who participated in a holotropic breathwork hyperventilation session recorded: "I soon found myself running through a cold, grey, northern forest howling like a wolf – being a wolf. Then there was snarling and fighting with the facilitators and my sitter until I collapsed." A commentator observes that the participant’s "hallucinogenic lycanthropic experience was no doubt applauded and classified under the rubric of shamanism by breathwork partisans.  Be that as it may, note that the snarling and fighting was not an hallucination." (9)

There is currently  far  too  much  hype attached to the word "shamanism," especially as fuelled by the writings of McKenna, (10)  Metzner, (11)  Narby, Castaneda, Harner, and others.  Unlike the fiction produced by Carlos Castaneda (d. 1998) that fired the imaginations of the 1960s youth and beyond, (12)  Dr. Michael Harner popularises a sort of sanitised, commercial, experiential neo-shamanism, all nicely packaged and marketed to suit Western tastes and sensibilities. As travel writer Anna Reid observed with irony at a conference on shamanism in Moscow, "his San Francisco-based Foundation for Shamanic Studies offered a range of Harner Method courses, from a basic weekend Way of the Shaman workshop at $225… to a three-year Advanced Shamanism and Shamanic Healing Program including Divination, Journey Work and Soul Retrieval. Trainees could invest in a… beginner’s kit of book, CD and 16 inch RemoUSA Fiberskin Buffalo Drum." (13)

Shamanism, or rather the contemporary Western variant, neo-shamanism, (14) is lucrative business these days. Why not offer the tailagan ceremony? This Siberian "sacred" communal ceremony "honouring the clan spirits of the spiritualised places" involves "the sacrifice of a mare, killed in the most painful way by being laid on its back, legs tied up by five or six men, who then pull two legs in one direction while others pull the other legs in the opposite way. The abdominal cavity is cut open and one of the men thrusts his right hand through it, puncturing the diaphragm and breaking the aorta." (15)  Was I being "culturally chauvinistic" as Professor Bache implies? Or is it commercial neo-shamanism that is culturally chauvinistic in the pick and mix approach to indigenous shamanic practices, i.e., in "attempting to diminish spiritual methodologies that differ from our own" (to quote another of Bache’s criticisms of myself)?

To reiterate, there is nothing "sacred" about chemical intoxicants or their effect upon the brain. It is relevant to note here that recent (and highly speculative) research by Dr. Rick Strassman on the effects of the psychedelic drug DMT (dimethyltryptamine, which caused extreme "out-of-body" effects and weird "alien encounters" but very few "mystical" experiences for the subjects of the study) ended with Strassman lamenting that there was little beneficial impact on his subjects. (16)

Professor Bache will doubtless receive the sympathy vote among SMN members. However, the Scientific and Medical Network ought to be very careful not to signal an endorsement of the use of medically questionable practices involving either chemical intoxicants or hyperventilation, (17) not even in the name of "sacred medicine," a phrase which is misleading to a strong degree.



(1)  The space allocated for this letter allows but a brief reply.

(2)  According to Dr. Roy Mathew, Clinical Director of the Duke University Addictions Program and the Alcohol and Drugs Abuse Treatment Center in Butner, North Carolina, "the argument has been put forward that dissociation-producing drugs, such as marijuana and hallucinogens, are not very addictive. While there is some truth to this statement, there are reports of severe addiction to both. My Native American friends and colleagues have spoken to me, for example, about addiction to peyote via participation in the peyote ritual." Dr. Mathew (who was born in India) was not writing from a materialist perspective, but in a book titled The True Path: Western Science and the Quest for Yoga (2002). Of relevance here, he further writes: "All spiritual teachers and religious leaders of repute in India have considered the use of drugs as a means to spirituality as self-defeating and counterproductive. I do not know of any respected teacher or leader in India who does not eschew drug-induced states, however close or similar they may be to the naturally occurring spiritual state of mind." Apart from the possibilities of addiction, artificially forced "spiritual" states can result in psychosis and can certainly cause anxiety and panic in the inexperienced and unprepared.

(3)  M. Eliade, Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy (1964).

(4)  However, the tide has turned again and it now appears that the use of hallucinogens was not integral among all shamans. Professor Ronald Hutton considers "Eliade … [was]… right; drugs were not the central features of North Asian Shamanism that they have been in South American ritual practices" (R. Hutton, Shamans: Siberian Spirituality and the Western Imagination, 2002).

(5)  The Iranian prophet Zarathushtra, who is now believed by some scholars to have lived c. 1500 BC amongst a pastoral shamanizing people like the Siberians, is thought to have condemned the use of hemp in religious ritual (hemp seeds were burnt to produce a narcotic smoke) and also the haoma-cult (in the Gathas Zarathushtra "assails the urine of a stimulant and an hallucinogenic drug"). See K. Shepherd, Minds and Sociocultures Vol. One: Zoroastrianism and the Indian Religions (1995).

(6)  In the Indian tradition the term shakti-pata ("descent of power") is used – a recorded instance being when Ramakrishna (d. 1886) placed his foot on the chest of his disciple Narendranath (later Swami Vivekananda) and plunged him into a deep transcendental state. The effect of such transmission is quite distinct from that obtained by chemical intoxicants.

(7)  See my published autobiography: Signals from Eternity (1984), Beloved Executioner (1986), The Destiny Challenge (1992). [The first two volumes have been rewritten and augmented, and await publication in a single volume.]

(8)  See N. A. Chagnon, Yanomamö (1992). Although many people believe that primitive tribes who use hallucinogenic plants for "sacred" purposes live an idyllic and peaceful existence, this is apparently myth. In many tribal societies, murder is said to be the leading cause of death.

(9)  S. Castro, "New Age Therapy – higher consciousness or delusion?", The Therapist, Winter 1995. According to Dr. Stanislav Grof, among the reactions that might spontaneously occur through Holotropic Breathwork™ "are violent shaking, grimacing, coughing, gagging, vomiting, a variety of movements, and a wide range of sounds that include screaming, baby talk, animal voices, talking in tongues or a language foreign to the client, shamanic chanting, and many others" (S. Grof, The Adventure of Self-Discovery, 1988). In my comments on suffering in relation to Bache’s Dark Night, Early Dawn (2000), I was not suggesting that there is no suffering in spiritual development, but rather that this in no sense equates with either Bache’s or Grof’s hypotheses regarding these experiences. The intense suffering described as a consequence of LSD and Holotropic Breathwork is needless suffering.

(10)  According to the psychedelic drug convert Daniel Pinchbeck, the late Terence McKenna (d. 2000) was "the leading prophet and proselytiser, the non-stop pontificator, for the contemporary psychedelic movement" (D. Pinchbeck, Breaking Open the Head: a visionary journey from cynicism to shamanism, 2003).

(11)  Ralph Metzner was an early associate of the "High Priest" of LSD, Timothy Leary, and co-authored with Leary and Richard Alpert (later Ram Dass) The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead (1964), a psychedelic adaptation of the Bardo Thodol. For an informative account of LSD and the leading figures of the early psychedelic movement, see J. Stevens, Storming Heaven: LSD and the American Dream (1988).

(12)  See G. V. Lachman, Turn Off Your Mind: The Mystic Sixties and the Dark Side of the Age of Aquarius (2001). For an academic appraisal of the popular novels written by Carlos Castaneda, see R. De Mille, ed., The Don Juan Papers: Further Castaneda Controversies (1990). See also J. C. Fikes, Carlos Castaneda, Academic Opportunism, and the Psychedelic Sixties (1993).

(13)  A. Reid, The Shaman’s Drum: A Native History of Siberia (2002).  Dr. Harner is author of the neo-shamanic Bible The Way of the Shaman (1990). His decontextualised adoptions of various shamanic practices (termed "core-shamanism") have received criticism from both scholars and native shamans.

(14)  Which combines "the legacy of the drug culture of the 1960s with a long-standing interest in non-Western religions, current environmentalist movements, strands of the New Age movement and all the various forms of self-help and self-realization" (P. Vitebsky, The Shaman, 2001). For a sympathetic, yet objective, scholarly analysis of neo-shamanism, see R. J. Wallis, Shamans/Neo-Shamans: Ecstasy, alternative archaeologies and contemporary pagans (2003).

(15)  M. Stutley, Shamanism: An Introduction (2003).

(16)  R. Strassman, DMT: The Spirit Molecule – A Doctor’s Revolutionary Research into the Biology of Near-Death and Mystical Experience (2001). For further information on the diverse effects of psychedelic drugs upon the brain, see J. Allan Hobson, The Dream Drugstore: Chemically Altered States of Consciousness (2001), a scholarly but accessible work on the subject that offers an alternative understanding of altered states of consciousness based on research into REM sleep dreaming.

(17)  Anyone suffering from cardiovascular, respiratory or other problems, or from mental, psychological or psychiatric problems, would of course be vulnerable to the effects of hyperventilation – effects that include hallucinations, traumas, severe pains, and many other undesirable symptoms. As for the "beyond the brain" claims of Holotropic Breathwork™, Professor Michael Persinger informs us that "… the temporal lobe is very sensitive to changes in hypoxia (lack of oxygen)," and hyperventilation can cause hypoxia. Stimulation of the temporal lobes has been shown to seemingly produce in some subjects the classic signs of religious experience. See M. Persinger, Neuropsychological Bases of God Beliefs (1987). For a more sympathetic approach to the neurophysiology of religious experience, see E. d’Aquili and A. Newberg, The Mystical Mind: Probing the Biology of Religious Experience (1999).



by  Stephen J. Castro

Published in The Therapist, 1995, 2 (4): pp. 14–16.


I am not a therapist but happened to read the recent Daily Mail feature on psychotherapy and was impressed by the sanity of statements reported from Ivan Tyrrell, one of the editors of The Therapist. Living as I do on the fringe of Britain’s largest New Age Community located on the north east coast of Scotland, namely, the Findhorn Foundation, a sane, rational voice on some of the controversial issues in psychotherapy was a welcome alternative to the totemic jargon from adherents of the various New Age therapy cults rife in these parts. In fact, if you have ever experienced (and it is indeed a quite unforgettable experience) someone go berserk and beat a cushion in order to express "repressed" anger, edged on by a group of onlookers displaying the fervour of a mindless mob, you tend to value rationality, and not gestalt. It was therefore heartening to read in the Daily Mail that "there are more than 400 published studies that show quite clearly that when people are focused in this way they just become more angry – not better."

This article concerns a controversy that caused quite a stir here in the small Scottish town of Forres, this being a "transpersonal" therapy known as Holotropic Breathwork™, which at the time was being introduced into this country by the Foundation, a charitable educational trust. The therapy was commercially presented to Everyman as "ideally suited for those seeking greater psychological opening as well as an expanded mystical and spiritual dimension in their lives." As I desire some further research material on hyperventilation – the principal methodology employed by this therapy – I hope for a response to this article from professional therapists.

Due to the often overlooked factor of the societal influence that therapies and therapists now have upon contemporary society and social trends, I feel that the issue of Holotropic Breathwork™ could serve to stimulate debate. After all, in the West, and particularly within the New Age counter-culture, therapy is becoming seen by many as a "spiritual path," and the therapist is replacing the image of the Eastern guru as one who is supposedly able to facilitate spiritual growth and experiences.

Holotropic Breathwork™ is promoted by Grof Transpersonal Training, Inc. Its founder, Stanislav Grof, M.D., had emigrated from Czechoslovakia to the USA in 1967. A researcher into the clinical effects and possible psychiatric use of LSD, he was invited to undertake U.S. government funded research at the Maryland Psychiatric Research Centre, and was at one time assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University. However, within a decade (1973) Dr. Grof had turned away from clinical research (LSD was now a controversial issue) and became "scholar-in-residence" at the Esalen Institute of California, a New Age therapy centre, where he had already achieved celebrity status due to his experiential interest in psychedelics, non-conventional psychotherapy, and altered states of consciousness (ASCs).

In 1976, Dr. Grof and his wife Christina, a former devotee of the controversial Indian guru Swami Muktananda, (1) developed the practice of Holotropic Breathwork™, a "non-pharmacological" technique, which, "although not as profound as high dose LSD or psilocybin, provides access to similar experiential territories." (2) The purpose of Holotropic Breathwork therapy is to act as an amplifier or catalyst of biochemical and physiological processes in the brain. Dr. Grof states, "It seems that the non-ordinary states of consciousness induced by Holotropic breathing is associated with biochemical changes in the brain that make it possible for the contents of the unconscious to surface." (3) The methodology of Holotropic Breathwork involves extensive periods of hyperventilation, and the "already powerful effect of hyperventilation is further enhanced by the use of evocative music and other sound technology … these two methods potentiate each other to what is undoubtedly the most dramatic means of changing consciousness with the exception of psychedelic drugs." (4)

In 1990, the Director (Craig Gibsone) of the Findhorn Foundation announced in the members’ internal magazine that the Foundation was considering a three-year training programme for Holotropic Breathwork™. My concerns about the introduction and inevitable spread of Holotropic breathing had arisen from alarming reports of disorientated participants who had emerged "high" or distressed from the sessions, my reading of Dr. Grof’s books, and the commercial nature of the therapy in question. As one Foundation staff member and breathwork supporter succinctly expressed it, "… the income out of the training programme itself is only one aspect. We also need to consider that we are qualifying people to give workshops in a realm which opens up a deep inner spiritual knowing and which can provide a good income on top of it, and that we can potentially earn substantial sums by hosting workshops for the public in the future." (5)

In an attempt to initiate dialogue, I, and another, wrote open letters to the Foundation membership. I had no medical background, nor was I claiming any spiritual status, but reading information from more learned sources enabled me to formulate what I hoped was a commonsense argument against the indiscriminate commercial employment of the technique of Holotropic breathing in the name of "spirituality":

"Any active jogger in the community will no doubt be aware of what is termed ‘runner’s high’ – that moment of euphoria and well-being sometimes experienced after pushing the body to its limits. The ‘high’ is due to cerebral hypoxia: the reduction of oxygen transmitted to the cortex of the brain. Very few objectively-minded persons encountering such a state would deem it ‘spiritual,’ and quite rightly so. It is a physiological response of the brain triggered by bodily stress and oxygen deprivation. Endogenous opioids such as endorphins and enkephalins – morphine-like chemicals – are secreted by certain brain cells to alleviate the organism’s distress.

"Holotropic Breathwork induces an abnormal degree of cerebral hypoxia, which is known to give rise to seizure activity in the brain’s limbic system. This will affect lobal areas of the brain associated with memory and emotion. The symptoms of limbic lobe agitation include: depersonalization, involuntary memory recall, intense emotion, euphoria, auditory and visual hallucinations. All of which are known to arise through prolonged Holotropic breathing.

"The use of rhythmic breathing, music, dance, ritual, hallucinogenics, narrative, emotional arousal, sex, physical exertion etc., have been applied in one form or another throughout all ages and ethnic cultures to induce altered states of consciousness. Legitimate traditions warn against any practice employed in an ad hoc manner upon a random collection of people at differing stages of evolutionary growth and needs. Such techniques will merely produce counterfeit experiences – not spirituality – and can be seriously damaging to the developmental potential of the participants …" (6)

In response, a partisan of the breathwork sought to reassure me that "Holotropic Breathwork™ has its roots in Freudian, Reichian, and Jungian therapies as well as Eastern philosophies and shamanic practices." Hence my concern!  A concern articulated much more coherently in a critique of Holotropic therapy made by Kevin Shepherd: "Dr. Grof is fond of making very brief references to a wide variety of mystical traditions like Sufism and Yoga, but is clearly unwilling to focus upon traditional conclusions as to the dangers of unprepared practitioners and inadequate teachers of mysticism." (7) Shepherd has also observed that, "The ‘New Age’ frequently revels in the glamour supplied by associations of Eastern mysticism, but finds it very convenient to neglect traditional Eastern mystical principles which warn that only a minority of highly prepared candidates can safely tackle intensifications of experience in this field, which will merely produce abnormalities in those unprepared, or who follow inexpert teachers." (8) As to Freud, Reich, and Jung, I was sorry to be a dissenting heretic, but I felt that some of the theories of those revered icons were not entirely beyond dispute, Reichian permissiveness being a case in point.

Another critical view of Holotropic Breathwork came from Dr. Linda Watt. After studying accounts of breathwork, Dr. Watt, who practices at Leverndale Psychiatric Hospital in Glasgow, was reported by The Scotsman (9) as saying that "hyperventilation could cause seizure or lead to potential psychosis in vulnerable people," and added, "physiologically, hyperventilation is quite a dramatic thing for your body. Instructions to have buckets, towels and sick bowls around you because you could lose control of all your body functions is alarming; it’s really quite masochistic." "Pillows to buffer kicking or pounding," and "plastic bags or buckets in case of nausea and vomiting," (10) were specified by Dr. Grof as indispensable items in a room for Holotropic Breathwork. Not surprisingly, perhaps, when we are informed that, "among the reactions that might spontaneously occur … are violent shaking, grimacing, coughing, gagging, vomiting, a variety of movements, and a wide range of sounds that include screaming, baby talk, animal voices, talking in tongues or a language foreign to the client, shamanic chanting, and many others …" (11)

I knew full well at the time that Dr. Stanislav Grof is a highly acclaimed figure in the commercial world of transpersonal psychology, (12) but, to quote another critic again: "Because Dr. Grof is an M.D. is no reason to revere his prescriptions for ‘self discovery,’ but rather a reason to analyse his therapy with a due critical spirit." (13) The relevance of criticism was impressed upon me further through a non-critical article by Dr. David  Mead, a practitioner of Holotropic Breathwork™ who described his own participation in this extreme therapy: "The music was powerful and I soon found myself running through a cold, grey, northern forest howling like a wolf – being a wolf. Then there was snarling and fighting with the facilitators and my sitter until I collapsed …" (14)  Dr. Mead’s hallucinogenic lycanthropic experience was no doubt applauded and classified under the rubric of shamanism (15) by breathwork partisans.  Be that as it may, note that the snarling and fighting was not an hallucination.

The following year I, and others, decided to make public the issue of Holotropic Breathwork™,  and also to seek the intervention of the then newly appointed Scottish Charities Office. It was an uphill struggle. Articles thankfully appeared in the local Press, and also The Sunday Mail, The Scotsman, and The Guardian. Finally, in 1993 the SCO commissioned an independent report from Edinburgh University on the effects of hyperventilation. The result: the Findhorn Foundation officially suspended all further sessions. (16) Unofficially, though, Holotropic Breathwork™ is still privately practised in the precinct of the Foundation – some Foundation members had spent considerable sums  (17)  with Grof Transpersonal Training Inc. to become practitioners, and required a profitable return for their investment.

As for Dr. Stanislav Grof, the last report I have concerning him was from an advertisement for a "retreat" in Switzerland titled: Insight and Opening: The Power of the Breath and Meditation. Dr. Grof had teamed up with a former Buddhist monk, Jack Kornfield, and Holotropic Breathwork™ combined with Insight Meditation (Vipassana) was now on offer to the public along with four-star hotel accommodation. For the sum of 1280 Swiss francs, that is. It seemed somewhat ironic to me that Kornfield had written a book with the subtitle: "A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life."

There is not space for more complete documentation, (18) nor indeed to examine Dr. Grof’s theories in any detail, (19) theories which have been inspected at top professional level. (20)  Nevertheless, I hope that the increasing rise of therapists and therapies that seek to commercially facilitate "an expanded mystical and spiritual dimension" in the lives of their clients, will arouse a due sense of criticism amongst readers of The Therapist [later renamed Human Givens].


(1)  Christina Grof was Muktananda’s student until his death in 1982. Muktananda had gained a large American following, but it did not become widely known until the very end of his life that this professedly celibate yogi regularly had sexual relations with young female "disciples." Other allegations include this yogi’s encouragement of terror tactics and financial deceits involving millions of dollars in Swiss bank accounts. See D. Anthony, B. Ecker, and K. Wilber, eds., Spiritual Choices: The Problem of Recognizing Authentic Paths to Inner Transformation (New York: Paragon House Publishers, 1987), p. 22.

(2)  S. Grof, The Adventure of Self-Discovery (New York: SUNY Press, 1988), p. 22.

(3)  C. Grof and S. Grof, The Stormy Search for Self (London: Mandala, 1991), p. 269.

(4)  S. Grof, Beyond the Brain (New York: SUNY Press, 1985), pp. 388–9.

(5)  Statement  by Ulla Sebastian, former professor of clinical psychology (Rainbow Bridge, May 1990). See also R. Storm, In Search of Heaven on Earth (London: Aquarian Press, 1992) p. 204, who notes that there have been complaints that the Findhorn Foundation "is becoming too worldly, that the sense of enlightenment has disappeared and that the accent is now on physical and entrepreneurial expansion rather than spiritual growth."

(6)  Rainbow Bridge, May 1990. [This was the internal magazine of the Findhorn Foundation, which printed Castro’s letter in deference to the fact that he was then an associate member.]

(7)  K. R. D. Shepherd, Meaning in Anthropos (Cambridge: Anthropographia Publications, 1991), p. xxxvii.

(8)  Ibid., p. xxiv.

(9)  "New Age meditation course cancelled on medical advice." The Scotsman, October 14th 1993.

(10)  The Adventure of Self-Discovery, p. 209.

(11)  Ibid., p. 196

(12)  The term "transpersonal psychology" was first coined by the psychedelic experimenter Stanislav Grof in the late 1960s.

(13)  Shepherd, Meaning in Anthropos, p. xliii.

(14)  D. Mead, "Spiritual Traveller: Tales of Holotropic Breathing," One Earth, Issue no. 4, Autumn 1991, p. 38.

(15)  Alex Walker, a former Trustee of the Findhorn Foundation, states: "Stanislav Grof, the originator of this form of therapy, is adamant that it is a spiritual technique with an ancient shamanistic lineage." See A. Walker, ed., The Kingdom Within (Findhorn Press, 1994), p. 138. However, fellow transpersonal psychologist and psychedelic experimenter, Professor Ralph Metzner, is of a different opinion to that of Professor Grof. "The use of breathing techniques as a means to develop special states of consciousness is well documented in the yoga traditions, although its use in shamanism … is more uncertain." Prof. Metzner concluded, "Breathing techniques have not, to my knowledge, been documented in shamanic traditions …" See R. Metzner, "Transformation processes in Shamanism, Alchemy, and Yoga," in S. Nicholson, ed., Shamanism (Wheaton, Ill.: Quest Books, 1987), p. 239. The use of yogic breathing techniques for acquiring "special states of consciousness" was not, however, advocated by Swami Prabhavananda, who warned, "There are instances in India, to my personal knowledge, of men who have become mentally unbalanced by such practices." Prabhavananda also observed, "Unfortunately an interest in breathing exercises that go by the name of yoga has been created in America by irresponsible authors and teachers." A concern further complicated by irresponsible professors, one might venture to add. See Swami Prabhavananda, The Spiritual Heritage of India (Hollywood, California: Vedanta Press, 1979), p. 253 n.1.

(16)  "Legal problems make the future of breathwork in the Community difficult to assess …" was a diminutive reference to the controversy made by Alex Walker in his non-critical "collection of writings about the history, work, beliefs and practices of the Findhorn Foundation" (The Kingdom Within, p. 138). Walker’s understatement totally ignores the sociological background from which arose the legalities concerning the commercial practice and promotion of Holotropic Breathwork™ by a charitable educational trust. There was also no reference to the SCO’s commissioned report on hyperventilation, which proves that the Foundation has no real concept of education, charitable or otherwise.

(17)  In a notice to the membership at the time of the introduction of Holotropic Breathwork™, the Director of the Findhorn Foundation (Craig Gibsone, a breathwork trainee himself) estimated that the cost of the training would be "£1,500 for members and £7,000 for associates, friends etc., excluding travel expenses" (Rainbow Bridge, April 1990).

(18)  See  K. Thomas, The Destiny Challenge (Forres: New Frequency Press, 1992), chapter 14, for a first-hand account of life in the Findhorn Foundation at the time of the introduction of Holotropic Breathwork™.

(19)  I have been able to ascertain that a further, and more detailed, critique of Holotropic Breathwork™ will appear in Kevin Shepherd’s forthcoming book Minds and Sociocultures Vol. One. [Published in 1995].

(20)  In the report commissioned by the Scottish Charities Office, Professor Anthony Busuttil, Head of the Dept of Forensic Pathology at Edinburgh University, has passed a negative verdict on the possible consequences of Holotropic Breathwork™ from a medical point of view that is surely relevant to the public interests.

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