So, you’re psychedelic ready. You’ve got your carefully measured out dose of magic mushrooms or truffles. You are about to explore the technicolor cosmos of your mind.

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But wait just one minute!

There are two very important components you need to consider. These are called Set and Setting. You see, a psychedelic experience is not just about the psychedelic itself. It’s actually a bit of a throuple situation. Set, setting, and your chosen psychedelic all need some attention. You wouldn’t lovingly harvest a crop of fresh shrooms only to take them when you’re in a bad mood at a bus stop, would you?

Set and Setting: A Key Concept

You may have experienced the phenomena of taking the same dose of shrooms on two separate occasions, but having a wildly different experience each time. This was most likely down to the different set and setting of each moment. Mystery solved!

It is a key concept, and essential knowledge if you want to become a learned shroom expert. We’ve covered it before when laying out how to trip for the first time — but as a key tenet of psychedelic lore and best-practice, it certainly deserves a deep-dive. 

So, ready, set (and setting), GO! 🏄

What is SET?

‘Set’ is all about your inner world. Your mind-SET. Your thoughts, feelings, life-experience, psychology — you name it — if it is part of what makes you, you, then that’s part of your set. 

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Timothy Leary organised it into two subcategories — immediate and long-range. ‘Long-range’ covers your established personality and characteristics, while ‘immediate’ is about what you expect from the trip, and how you’re feeling RIGHT NOW. It is a tricky thing because it’s something you both can and can’t control. 

What is SETTING? 

‘Setting’ is a little more straightforward. It’s literally the physical environment you plan to be in / find yourself in when you are tripping. It’s whether you are inside or outside, surrounded by people or alone.  Whether you are in your garden or at a music festival, with a shaman or watching TV — y’know imagine your trip is a play, and the setting is the theater set. What is it telling you? What props are there? This is an aspect of your trip you can mold to achieve the sort of trip you want. 

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The Origins of Set and Setting

The origins of set and setting are generally attributed to divisive psychedelic icon Timothy Leary, the concept of which he outlined in The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead (1964). He certainly coined the term we know and love today. However, the fundamentals of set and setting were being explored already over a century ago by the bohemians of Club des Hashischins, a group of elite Parisian intellectuals who spent from 1844-1849 immersing themselves in hashish and its effects. This club included noted figures such as Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, Charles Baudelaire, Gérard de Nerval, Honoré de Balzac and Jean Joseph Moreau — the psychiatrist who supplied the lofty gang with their hash. 

Charles Baudelaire in 1844 (possibly high, we don’t know…) via Wikimedia Commons

Moreau noted that the exact same dose of hashish could provide markedly different experiences depending on the environment and character of the individual, writing in 1845;

“everything that strikes his [the user’s] eyes and his ears. A word, a gesture, a look, a sound or the slightest noise, by demanding his attention, will confer a special character on his illusions”

Baudelaire was a fan of the method we still dig today — takin’ a few days off to fully prepare, enjoy, and then integrate your trip.

“Any…thoughts of duty that may call on your will and attention at certain moments will cut like a death-knell right through your intoxication, and poison all your pleasure”

‘Poison all your pleasure?!’ No thanks!

He did however state that as long as — 

“…you find yourself in the right environment, such as a picturesque landscape or an apartment that has been decorated artistically, and if you can also hope for a little music” — your trip would probably go just fine. 

Psychedelic Knowledge Sharing

After this, though appreciated as ‘great writing’, most of the ‘Hash-eaters’ club’s conclusions were dismissed as arty bohemian excess. However, in 1960, in a two-psychedelic-giants-meeting-special, writer Aldous Huxley visited Leary and gave him some of the writings by the group. Their observations chimed perfectly with Leary’s own burgeoning research into psilocybin. 

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*Note: All of this rich history, of course, misses out on all the ancient and indigenous uses of set and setting which have been going on for millenia. There’s a reason that spiritual psychedelic rituals have similar environmental, preparatory and ‘vibe’ factors throughout. Over time the curanderas and shamans of these communities have honed the best basis possible for transcendental and healing experiences. As usual, it’s a case of the ancient knowledge being there all along, but it was not until it was written down in the West that the rest of the world began to pay attention. 

Leary’s Greatest Contribution

But back to the swinging sixties, where Timothy Leary was turning set and setting into a slogan that lodged itself in the brain. And, lucky thing too — having this guideline to remember, even simply — ‘good place, good mood’, is credited with 1960s psychonauts have majoritively positive experiences. This harm-reduction mantra is thought by many to be Leary’s greatest contribution to the psychedelic culture he helped to build.

Timothy Leary in 1989

In one of his most enthusiastic dives into the subject, in a paper called ‘On Programming the Pschedelic Experience’, Leary theorised that the set and setting for your trip could be tuned so finely to your needs that it would become almost like choosing a TV program. This would be done, Leary suggested via techniques such as mantras, incense, and even yoga positions. 

When the psychedelic movement of the ‘60s began to crumble, this research tailed off too. However, it remains a fascinating idea… 

A Note On Collective Set and Setting

“The collective set-and-setting conditions presented by a society are its values, its social structure, and its culture.” – Ido Hartogsohn for MAPS

Adding another layer to our traditional idea of setting and setting, is the ‘collective’ set and setting. Like Jung’s ‘collective consciousness’ this reflects the shared beliefs of the society you are in — the history, ideas and context. In the 60’s the collective attitude of trippers to this new ‘magic’ would have been of excitement, revolution and rebellion. Once psychedelics became illegal and rejected as immoral by society, this too would have coloured the experiences of trippers. For example, if you are nervous (even subconsciously) of doing something illegal / getting in trouble, this could affect your trip. If you have been told that psychedelics are dangerous and will harm you, this fear could also rear its head during your experience. 

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Today, with the new wave of psychedelic advocacy and growing normalisation it will be fascinating to see how our collective set and setting changes again. If the public response to psychedelics becomes warmer, will we see a reduction in ‘bad’ trips caused by fear of getting into ‘trouble’? Watch this space! 

And finally, we’re going to give you what you really want. Our tips for preparing the best set and setting for your trip. Of course, nothing is 100% effective, but with these tips you’re well on your way for a positive shroom-tastic journey! 

How To: Set 

Although your ‘set’ is a little harder to control, there are many things you can do make it the best it can be be.

Firstly: you know yourself. What kind of person you are. What you have experienced in your life. Do not ignore your gut if it is telling you that this is not the right time. Trust yourself. If your gut says yes, then let’s go!

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Next, ideally, a psychedelic trip should approached as a 3 day process

On the first day you should relax and mentally prepare, think about what you want to gain from your trip. Why are you doing it? 

A psychedelic trip should never be used as an escape, only as an opportunity to learn and grow. Perhaps spend some if this day grounding yourself with nature and / or noting down what your intentions are. 

On the second day take your psychedelic. If you are mentally prepared it is all the more easy to surrender yourself and be fully immersed in your experience. 

On the third day rest and begin to integrate your insights. Perhaps you want to talk them through with a friend or therapist. It’s also a good idea to write about your experience and what you learned, to help you digest it. 

If you have this plan in place before you trip, you are likely to be in a more calm mindset — feeling prepared is key. 

How To: Setting

The headline for setting is always ‘a place that you feel comfortable in’. Of course, where that place is varies from person to person, but therein lies the magic — it’s always the same, but always different. 

Here are some main points to address when deciding on your setting: 

Familiarity: is it important to you that you know your space well? Does being somewhere unfamiliar make you anxious? This is why many people choose to trip at their home, a friends home, or somewhere they go regularly like a local park. 

Who is there: do you want to trip with others or alone? Are you using a trip sitter? Will being with people you don’t know bother you? Is there someone important to you that you want nearby? 

Safety: how safe is this space? Can you get emotional or medical support if you want it?

Essential comforts: what do you need near you? Food, water, and a toilet are essential. But do you also want music, comfy cushions, a blanket or nice lights? If you are relatively new tripper, comfort really is king. 

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If you are hoping to experience a very insightful trip, it is worthwhile to consider the ‘setting’ usually utilised during psychedelic therapy. Private, quiet and comfortable, with a couch or comfy furniture, perhaps some plants and lamps — uncluttered so your mind can wander freely. 

Stepping On To The Right Path

Finally, it is good to remember how complex the triad of set, setting, and psychedelic are. Although there are always forces we can’t control, by respecting and preparing for the power of all three components we are stepping on to the right path. Surround and treat yourself with compassion, and the shroom is sure to as well. 

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How do you prepare your set and setting? Let us know in the comments below!