Ida Benedetto's Patterns of Transformation: Designing Sex, Death, and Survival in the 21st Century provides a comprehensive set of principles for designing transformative experiences. She writes concisely, but presents more material than can be internalized after a single read. I will probably return to the site repeatedly for reference and guidance.

However, as I read her work, I thought about the danger of commodifying rituals and other transformative experiences. I don't believe in "cultural appropriation," as I believe that history moves forward when people trade in ideas. If a funeral service for a Western, secular family can be made more meaningful by the incorporation of ritual elements drawn from, say, Tibetan Buddhism, so be it. We cannot preserve cultural practices in sealed glass jars.

However, if we are to act as professional experience designers, guided by a top-down, context-independent ontology like Benedetto's, we ought to be mindful of a couple things. First, that we preserve the authenticity of the experiential frameworks that influence our designs. A religious ritual may be powerful even for non-believers, but may lose its power if its original meaning is not made comprehensible to participants. A wilderness survival trip may lose something valuable if led by guides following a transformative experience textbook, rather than by guides with a deep personal love for the wilderness.

To avoid losing the contextual meanings which give traditional transformative experiences their power, we need to work closely with those who are embedded within those contexts. This should be a mutual exchange - we bring an analytical understanding that may enhance their practice, and they bring the unique character of their spirituality or their passion, and the wisdom of on-the-ground experience.

Secondly, we must consider how our work is embedded in the larger economy. We should consider issues of access and cost, and how they might shape what is possible within our magic circles.

I think of two examples here, which both overlap with concerns of authenticity. One is Burning Man. Originally founded on an anti-capitalist ethos, it has become a networking event for Silicon Valley. A key risk designed into Burning Man is "radical self-reliance" - participants must provide and maintain their own food, shelter, etc. But there are now a proliferation of all-inclusive luxury packages available from third parties. Many other "transformational festivals" have similarly become heavily commodified, or become platforms for corporate marketing.

Another example is the growing industry offering Westerners shamanic rituals involving psychedelic drugs. Many report immense benefits from these difficult but transformative experiences, including spiritual growth or healing of psychological trauma. But the expense and necessary time off can be prohibitive. Moreover, when wealthy financiers or CEOs travel to the Amazon to drink Ayahuasca under the guidance of a shaman whose own people were subjugated by Western mercantile colonialism, then return to their positions in the capitalist elite, one should ask whether the authenticity of this ritual of spiritual transformation has been preserved.