Religion and Psychoactive Sacraments:
An Entheogen Chrestomathy
Thomas B. Roberts, Ph.D. and Paula Jo Hruby, Ed.D.
Author Index | Title Index
A Christian View of the Mushroom Myth.
King, John C. (1970).
London: Hodder and Stoughton.
Description: Hardcover, 191 pages.
Contents: 15 unnumbered chapters.
Excerpt(s): When I first read Mr. Allegro's book The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross I had never heard of the fly agaric, or amanita muscaria. If I had seen a specimen I should probably have described it as a toadstool — which only serves to show how loosely we handle plant-names, particularly those of us who have difficulty in distinguishing hedge-parsley from hog-weed. I had, and still have, difficulty in taking Mr. Allegro seriously; his book is ingenious, infuriating and occasionally amusing but it makes the most enormous demands on the credulity of the reader. Not many people are likely to be seriously disturbed by a fantasy so egregious, but Mr. Allegro wishes us to give serious consideration to his views and the effort must be made. There is one good reason for making this effort. To my certain knowledge there are schoolboys who confront their R.E. teacher with the mushroom theory just as a few weeks or months before there were schoolboys who confronted him with the theory that God is an astronaut. (page 9)
As far as his fellow academics are concerned, Mr. Allegro's mushroom can be allowed to stew in its own juice; it is unlikely to cause many sleepless nights in the theological faculties. But in view of the publicity given to the theory at a popular level, in view of prevailing indifference to Christian dogma, in view of a hazy popular notion that the mushroom has proved to be yet another nail in the coffin of Christian belief, it needs to be said that men of common sense and Christian faith are still passionately committed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that a reading of the New Testament in the light of Mr. Allegro's proposals makes the Gospel seem more, not less, convincing, that the figure of Jesus Christ the Son of God appears more, not less, commanding, and that far from demolishing Christian belief Mr. Allegro has made its proportions and depth so freshly astounding that the poor little mushroom from under the pine trees seems, by comparison, to float aimlessly into nowhere like a scrap of paper released from a space capsule. A thoughtful reading of Mr. Allegro's book serves, in fact, to remind the Christian reader of the greatness of the Gospel and of the inadequacy of man's inventive powers beside the utterances of the one who spake with authority and not as the scribes. (page 11)
The Sunday Times reviewer, a Jesuit by the name of Peter Levi, wrote: "The crucial arguments of Mr. Allegro's attempt to establish the empire of fly-agaric over Judaism and Christianity are about the root meanings of words. I am not a professional philologist, and while he cross-breeds the consonants of Sumerian and Semitic languages I can only mumble dubiously that everyone knows you can prove anything you like by playing with word-roots. Nor is it of more than historical interest what the root of a word, say the name of a god, may be, if the people using that name can be shown to have been utterly unconscious of the sense of the philological root to which a modern scholar can attach it." But the Rev. Peter Levi then went on to discuss Mr. Allegro's competence in the field of Greek (Fr. Levi's own subject) and wrote: ". . . Mr. Allegro sometimes talks about Greek, and about this he talks such nonsense that it seems to me unsafe to take him seriously even as a philologist." Mr. Levi's view was that Mr. Allegro "is hardly to be taken seriously on his own ground, and not at all when he leaves it. He appears to be obsessed with a subject which has wasted years of his talents." (pages 19-20)
The Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, Dr. Henry Chadwick, was notably forthright. In the Daily Telegraph of May 21 he wrote: "Mr. Allegro's reputation as a man of judgment and learning, already widely questioned, is likely to be shattered by this curious publication. His new book reads like a Semitic philologist's erotic nightmare after consuming a highly indigestible meal of hallucinogenic fungi." Dr. Chadwick referred to Mr. Allegro's "bizarre hypothesis", to "rich indulgence in the wildest flights of uncontrolled fantasy", to "uncanny decipherment" and to a "luxuriant farrago of nonsense". (page 20)
In the Guardian of May 21 Professor Ninian Smart expressed doubt whether Mr. Allegro's latest hypothesis would lead to confidence in his inferences and judgments. "The book doubtless will sell well. It leads me to poetic nostalgia," he wrote, and concluded his review with some verse:
Though the Church at the start was quite smart; she
Got distorted and solemn and starchy.
Phallic mushrooms are gone
And the Pope's not switched on,
When he could be allegro vivace. (page 21)
When somebody complained to George the Second that General Wolfe was mad, the King replied, "Oh! he is mad is he? Then I wish he would bite some other of my generals." If a man under the influence of, or out of devotion to, the fly agaric could dream up what we call the Gospels, then we need more men under the influence of the fungus. If the drugs contained in the rind are so potent that they can produce this kind of imaginative power, then all we need do is administer the drug widely and wait for the inspired (or envenomed) poets, composers, painters and sculptors to turn in their masterpieces. Instead of restricting the drug to members of mystery cults, we should persuade as many as possible of our talented people to make use of it. What treasures may be unlocked in the worlds of music, poetry, and painting if only existing perceptions are heightened! On a lower level, what may the drug not do for those facing academic examinations! A drug that gave one or more of its devotees the power to hoodwink a whole world for a thousand years or more is a drug that surely can work wonders when rather lower levels of performance are required.
If a man will believe this he will believe anything. Nothing is beyond credibility if Christianity is no more than a mischievous smoke-screen put about by men and women addicted to muscarine and atropine. To have kept the secret is an astonishing enough performance. To have camouflaged it with something as lofty, as commanding, as authentic as the Gospel of Christ argues heights of moral excellence in drug-takers that have never been equaled by less indulgent men. This world may be a crazy jumble in which the brightest prizes go to the most assiduous mushroom-eaters; but there are other options, among them orthodox Christianity, with the belief Jesus was the Son of God, who died, rose and ascended for us men. To believe this is more reasonable than to accept Mr. Allegro's hypothesis.
Much more evidence will have to be forthcoming on the philological and botanical fronts before Christians budge from their beliefs. If his views are greeted with scepticism, Mr. Allegro will doubtless not be surprised. Christianity has been around for a long time. It is difficult to imagine it being sent packing by a red-topped mushroom at this late stage. (pages 190-191)
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