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Psychedelia is a name given to the subculture of people who use psychedelic drugs, and a style of psychedelic artwork and psychedelic music derived from the experience of altered consciousness that uses highly distorted and surreal visuals, sound effects and reverberation, and bright colors and full spectrums and animation (including cartoons) to evoke and convey to a viewer or listener the artist's experience while using such drugs. The term "psychedelic" is derived from the Ancient Greek words psychē (ψυχή, "soul") and dēloun (δηλοῦν, "to make visible, to reveal"), translating to "mind-revealing".
A psychedelic experience is characterized by the striking perception of aspects of one's mind previously unknown, or by the creative exuberance of the mind liberated from its ostensibly ordinary fetters. Psychedelic states are an array of experiences including changes of perception such as hallucinations, synesthesia, altered states of awareness or focused consciousness, variation in thought patterns, trance or hypnotic states, mystical states, and other mind alterations. These processes can lead some people to experience changes in mental operation defining their self-identity (whether in momentary acuity or chronic development) different enough from their previous normal state that it can excite feelings of newly formed understanding such as revelation, enlightenment, confusion, and psychosis.
Psychedelic states may be elicited by various techniques, such as meditation, sensory stimulation or deprivation, and most commonly by the use of psychedelic substances. When these psychoactive substances are used for religious, shamanic, or spiritual purposes, they are termed entheogens.
The term was first coined as a noun in 1957 by psychiatrist Humphry Osmond as an alternative descriptor for hallucinogenic drugs in the context of psychedelic psychotherapy. Seeking a name for the experience induced by LSD, Osmond contacted Aldous Huxley, a personal acquaintance and advocate for the therapeutic use of the substance. Huxley coined the term "phanerothyme," from the Greek terms for "manifest" (φανερός) and "spirit" (θύμος). In a letter to Osmond, he wrote:
To make this mundane world sublime,
Take half a gram of phanerothyme
To which Osmond responded:
To fathom Hell or soar angelic,
Just take a pinch of psychedelic
It was on this term that Osmond eventually settled, because it was "clear, euphonious and uncontaminated by other associations." This mongrel spelling of the word 'psychodelic' was loathed by American ethnobotanist Richard Evans Schultes, but championed by Timothy Leary, who thought it sounded better.
Timothy Leary was a well-known proponent of the use of psychedelics, as was Aldous Huxley. However, both advanced widely different opinions on the broad use of psychedelics by state and civil society. Leary promulgated the idea of such substances as a panacea, while Huxley suggested that only the cultural and intellectual elite should partake of entheogens systematically.
The use of psychedelic drugs became widespread in modern Western culture, particularly in the United States and Britain, in the mid-1960s. The movement is credited to Michael Hollingshead who arrived in America from London in 1965. He was sent to the U.S. by other members of the psychedelic movement to get their ideas exposure. The Summer of Love of 1967 and the resultant popularization of the hippie culture to the mainstream popularized psychedelia in the minds of popular culture, where it remained dominant through the 1970s. Resurgences of the style are common in the modern era.
The impact of psychedelic drugs on western culture in the 1960s led to semantic drift in the use of the word "psychedelic", and it is now frequently used to describe anything with abstract decoration of multiple bright colours, similar to those seen in drug-induced hallucinations. In objection to this new meaning, and to what some[who?] consider pejorative meanings of other synonyms such as "hallucinogen" and "psychotomimetic", the term "entheogen" was proposed and is seeing increasing use. However, many consider the term "entheogen" best reserved for religious and spiritual usage, such as certain Native American churches do with the peyote sacrament, and "psychedelic" left to describe those who are using these drugs for recreation, psychotherapy, physical healing, or creative problem solving. In science, hallucinogen remains the standard term.
Psychedelic artists use highly distorted visuals, cartoons, and bright colors and full spectrums to evoke a sense of altered consciousness. Many artists in the late 1960s and early 1970s attempted to illustrate the psychedelic experience in paintings, drawings, illustrations, and other forms of graphic design.
The counterculture folk music scene frequently used psychedelic designs on posters during the Summer of Love, leading to a popularization of the style. The work of Robert Crumb and others doing posters for hippie bands, such as Big Brother and the Holding Company, spawned interest in the artwork among their followers. Peter Max's psychedelic poster designs helped popularize brightly colored spectrums widely, especially among college students.
One example of this experimentation is seen in Mati Klarwein's painting Annunciation, which was used as the cover art for Santana's Abraxas (1970). The cover of Pink Floyd's album A Saucerful of Secrets (1968) is also of this type.
Examples frequently recur in the modern era. The cover of Oasis' album, Dig Out Your Soul (2008), has a psychedelic album cover, with a slightly muted color scheme. In the modern era, computer graphics may be used to produce psychedelic effects for artwork.
A psychedelic festival is a gathering that promotes psychedelic music and art in an effort to unite participants in a communal psychedelic experience. Psychedelic festivals have been described as "temporary communities reproduced via personal and collective acts of transgression...through the routine expenditure of excess energy, and through self-sacrifice in acts of abandonment involving ecstatic dancing often fuelled by chemical cocktails." These festivals often emphasize the ideals of peace, love, unity, and respect. Notable psychedelic festivals include the biennial Boom Festival in Portugal, as well as Nevada's Burning Man and California's Symbiosis Gathering in the United States.
The fashion for psychedelic drugs gave its name to the style of psychedelia, a term describing a category of rock music known as psychedelic rock, as well as visual art, fashion, and culture that is associated originally with the high 1960s, hippies, and the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco, California. It often used new recording techniques and effects while drawing on Eastern sources such as the ragas and drones of Indian music.
One of the first uses of the word in the music scene of this time was in the 1964 recording of "Hesitation Blues" by folk group the Holy Modal Rounders. The term was introduced to rock music and popularized by the 13th Floor Elevators 1966 album The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators. Psychedelia truly took off in 1967 with the Summer of Love and, although associated with San Francisco, the style soon spread across the US, and worldwide.
The counterculture of the 1960s had a strong influence on the popular culture of the early 1970s. It later became linked to a style of electronic dance music, or rave music, commonly known as psychedelic trance.
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