What Exactly Is A Psychonaut?

What Exactly Is A Psychonaut?

While exploring the world of psychedelics, you may come across the term ‘psychonaut’. It’s a common term that some will use to refer to themselves. For example, Michael Pollan said “I was a very reluctant psychonaut” when describing his trepidation about trying psychedelics for the purposes of writing his book, How to Change Your Mind.

So is a psychonaut just someone who takes psychedelics regularly?

As we will see, the term psychonaut encapsulates more than just the consumption of a psychedelic. It refers to taking these compounds with a particular intention. Moreover, there are different types of psychonauts, which are worth describing.

What Does The Term ‘Psychonaut’ Mean?

To understand the meaning of the term psychonaut, we need to examine its etymology. The word is made up of ‘psycho’ which comes from the Greek “psykho”. It means ‘mind’ or ‘mental’. The other half, ‘naut’, originates from the Greek ‘nautikos’, meaning ‘sailor’.

Translated literally, psychonaut means ‘mind sailor’. It is someone who sails the mind, like a sailor who traverses the seas or an astronaut who goes into space. A psychonaut, in contrast to sailors and astronauts, explores his or her inner world, rather than the outer world.

Psychonauts vs. Other Psychedelic Users

There is not always a clear distinction between a psychonaut and other users of psychedelics. For example, are microdosers also psychonauts if they take psychedelics for the purposes of exploring their mind? Are recreational users of psychedelics psychonauts if they take these compounds just for fun? Is this not also a way of seeing what the mind has to offer?

According to the Psychonaut subreddit, “A psychonaut is a person who experiences intentionally induced altered states of consciousness and claims to use the experience to investigate his or her mind, and possibly address spiritual questions, through direct experience.”

This is just one definition, of course. But the investigation of one’s mind does seem to be central to the essence of a psychonaut. Also, a psychonaut doesn’t necessarily have to use psychedelics since you can achieve altered states and explore your mind in other ways, such as through meditation, dreaming, and sensory deprivation. Generally, however, a psychonaut is someone who takes psychedelics with this exploratory goal in mind.

Moreover, psychonauts tend to take macrodoses of psychedelics. And they want to probe the mind’s depths, which involves ‘going inward’. Both microdosing and taking psychedelics in a recreational setting might not align with the psychonaut’s intention of seeking truth or learning something new about the human mind.

The Different Types Of Psychonaut

Psychonauts come in many different varieties. While psychonauts may be united by the common theme of mind exploration, they can differ in what they want their exploration to look like. Indeed, there are various aspects of the mind to explore, and one aspect may hold more interest for one psychonaut over another.

The Spiritual Type

This is a type of psychonaut who is more interested in altering their consciousness for spiritual reasons. He or she might take psychedelics with this overarching aim in mind, wanting to investigate one or more areas related to spirituality, such as the following.

  • How to deal with one’s own suffering and that of others
  • Connecting to something larger than oneself, such as humanity as a whole, the entirety of life, the planet, the universe, or the ‘divine’
  • The development of qualities like mindfulness, compassion, love, kindness, and inner peace
  • The achievement of religious or mystical experiences
  • A better and more direct understanding of certain religious or spiritual traditions
  • The search for ultimate or sacred meaning

The Philosophical Type

A philosophical psychonaut would include a figure like William James, the philosopher and psychologist who altered his consciousness with nitrous oxide, believing that the experiences provided him with philosophical insights.

These types of psychonauts will go on psychedelic journeys with the intention of focusing on philosophical topics, or they will interpret aspects of their experiences from the perspective of a philosophical belief, theory, or worldview. This might involve the examination of topics such as the nature of consciousness, the self, and reality.

The Novelty-Seeking Type

Some psychonauts are more focused on having new and interesting experiences with psychedelics, as a way to better understand the mind. These are novelty-seeking psychonauts. If you’re defined as this kind of user, you might achieve novel altered states of consciousness in the following ways:

  • Trying different dosages, including high ones, to see what new experiences are available
  • Trying out a range of different psychedelic compounds, including classic, non-classic, natural, and synthetic substances
  • Experimenting with different combinations, such as two or more psychedelic compounds together, or a psychedelic combined with a non-psychedelic substance
  • Trying psychedelics in different contexts, such as alone, with people, at home, in nature, or at a retreat
  • Combining psychedelics with other techniques that alter the mind, including sensory deprivation, yoga, and meditation

The Wounded Type

A wounded psychonaut is someone who explores their mind for the purposes of healing. This is a person who might be struggling with one or more of the following issues:

  • An existential crisis (e.g. feeling a lack of meaning, purpose, or connection in one’s life, or struggling with the fear of death, perhaps due to having a terminal illness)
  • A crisis of identity
  • Troubled relationships
  • A breakup or divorce
  • Past trauma or abuse
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Addiction

Whatever problem you have that has drawn you to psychedelics, you might find yourself becoming a psychonaut with the aim of achieving the following:

  • Finding a sense of meaning, purpose, or connection in your life
  • Being able to accept your mortality
  • Developing a stronger sense of self
  • Being able to mend difficult relationships or having the courage to move past them
  • Getting to a place where you can accept and move on from lost relationships
  • Resolving past trauma or abuse, so that memories of these incidents no longer burden you and get in the way of living a fulfilled life
  • Experiencing greater self-compassion, self-esteem, optimism, and joy
  • Reducing anxiety, self-criticism, low self-worth, and hopelessness

It should be emphasized that you can, undoubtedly, be more than one type of psychonaut at any particular time. You could also be all of these types at once or change your intentions with psychedelics over time. Indeed, sometimes psychological healing is called for, whereas other times you might be healthy but still interested in the spiritual dimension of human experience.

In general, however, what ties different psychonauts together is the theme of being curious about the mind and a willingness to go into unknown territory, with the aim of gaining some valuable insights.

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Sam Woolfe

View all posts by Sam Woolfe

Sam Woolfe is a freelance writer based in London. His main areas of interest include mental health, mystical experiences, the history of psychedelics, and the philosophy of psychedelics. He first became fascinated by psychedelics after reading Aldous Huxley's description of the mescaline experience in The Doors of Perception. Since then, he has researched and written about psychedelics for various publications, covering the legality of psychedelics, drug policy reform, and psychedelic science.

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