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Case Example: Lukoff's Shamanic Crisis
From Spiritual Competency Resource Center
© Dr. David Lukoff 1994, 2014

My spiritual emergency, which meets the DSM-IV criteria for a Hallucinogen-induced Delusional Disorder, occurred 29 years ago. For two months, I was convinced that I had uncovered the secrets of the cosmos, and that I was both Buddha and Christ in a new reincarnation. It was triggered by taking LSD for the first time. During the most acute stage, which lasted a week, I slept little and held conversations with the "spirits" of eminent thinkers in the social sciences and humanities. I had discussions with contemporary persons including R. D. Laing, Margaret Mead, and Bob Dylan, as well as individuals no longer living, such as Rousseau, Freud, Jung, and — of course — Buddha and Christ. Based on these conversations, I produced a 47-page "Holy Book" that I expected would unite all the peoples of the world in the project of designing a new society. I sent xeroxed copies of my book to friends and family so that they too could be enlightened.

My great vision now reads to me like a standard utopian communal vision of the sixties involving a return to tribal living. Yet I spent months preoccupied with my mission to change the world via the dissemination of my new Bible. When it finally became clear to me that others were not receiving me as a new prophet, I went off to live by myself in my parents' summer cottage in Cape Cod. It was the beginning of spring with not many people around. I became quite depressed and physically sick. I had internal bleeding and seriously considered suicide. The image of what I took to be my skeleton spontaneously appeared to me on several sleepless nights.

During the height of these difficulties, I went for a walk near the bay. Suddenly I heard a voice say, "Become a healer." I was startled. At that time, lost in self-recrimination, I didn't even think of myself as having a future. However, this voice — the only disembodied voice I've ever heard emanate from outside of myself — set a whole new sequence of events in motion. This voice set me on the path to becoming a clinical psychologist.

Three years later, I entered graduate school in clinical psychology, and went into Jungian analysis for 4 1/2 years. I also studied with shamans and Native American medicine men and women at the Ojai Foundation to integrate my experience. Guided by authentic shamans, I learned self-control over entry into and exit from ecstatic states of consciousness during rituals. In a retreat in Ojai, Lakota medicine man Wallace Black Elk shared how his initiatory visions led to his hospitalization by those who did not understand the spiritual dimension of his experience. This helped me to see the value of such nonordinary experiences, despite the embarrassing grandiosity of my own experience.

As I have come to integrate the experience into my personal mythology, I now consider it a spiritual crisis, specifically the Visionary and Shamanic type. The shamanic elements are:

1) shamans and their practices were involved in the integration of my crisis just as they usually are with novice shamans.

2) it overlaps phenomenologically with traditional shamanic initiatory crises. Both my experience and the classic initiatory illness involve ascent into the upper world, descent into the lower world, dismemberment or death, and rebirth.

3) it was this psychospiritual crisis that called me to the profession of being a clinical psychologist, just as it serves to call shamans to their healing profession.

Expanded version of this first person account.

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