The Ecstatic Imagination

Psychedelic Experiences and the Psychoanalysis of Self-Actualization

By Dan Merkur

Subjects: Psychoanalysis
Paperback : 9780791436066, 226 pages, January 1998
Hardcover : 9780791436059, 226 pages, January 1998

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Table of contents



1. The Pseudohallucinogens or Psychedelics

2. The Apperceptual Phenomena

3. The Neurotic Phenomena

4. The Psychotomimetic Phenomena

5. The Narrative Fantasy Phenomena

6. The Creative Phenomena

7. The Unitive Phenomena

8. Communion in Native American Peyotism

9. Spiritual Transformation and Psychoanalytic Theory

Works Cited


Presents the first comprehensive survey of the varieties of psychedelic experience since 1975.


The Ecstatic Imagination provides the first general theory of psychedelic experiences. Merkur refutes several theories that have been used to explain single categories of psychedelic experience, and offers instead a unitary theory that is applicable to all varieties. The book treats self-reports of psychedelic experiences as a wealth of neglected data which forms the basis to expand the psychoanalytic model of human imagination. An exhaustive phenomenology of the varieties of LSD, mescaline, and psilocybin experiences in Western and Native American cultures is joined together with psychoanalytic theories drawn from the classical, ego psychological, and object relations schools. Where existing theories prove inadequate to the discussion of data, original formulations are offered. The result is a rigorously psychoanalytic approach to the process of self-actualization.

Dan Merkur is Research Reader in the Centre for the Study of Religion at the University of Toronto. He is also the author of Gnosis: An Esoteric Tradition of Mystical Visions and Unions, also published by SUNY Press; Becoming Half Hidden: Shamanism and Initiation Among the Inuit; and Powers Which We Do Not Know: The Gods and Spirits of the Inuit.


"The study of mysticism in the twentieth century has moved back and forth from those who posit a basic unity to the mystical experience to those who emphasize diversity. Those who favor the latter position have been somewhat in ascendance since the work of Steven Katz. But valuable as it is as a critique, Katz's position of seemingly irreducible diversity really does not have much positive to give us in understanding what the mystical experience may have to offer. Dan Merkur's typology is a real step forward in that he suggests that there may be a coherent overall pattern to heightened or altered states of consciousness. I am not saying that Merkur's work is 'the last word' on the subject. Au contraire, it is the first word in what should prove to be a very fruitful line of inquiry."-- James Burnell Robinson, University of Northern Iowa

"The book is well organized, clearly written, well researched, on a topic that is significant and interesting. The author reveals considerable insight into the subject matter." -- Steven Katz, State Technical Institute at Memphis