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Religion and Psychoactive Sacraments:
An Entheogen Chrestomathy
Thomas B. Roberts, Ph.D. and Paula Jo Hruby, Ed.D.
Author Index | Title Index

Eleusis: Journal of Psychoactive Plants & Compounds

Roverto (TN), Italy: Museo Civico di Rovereto.

ISBN: ISSN: 1129-7301

Description: Periodical, stiff wrappers, New Series Number 3, 112 pages.


From mead of inspiration to spirit of wine;
alcoholic brews and folk medicine,
medical sceince and pharmacology
p. 3
Jason, the Drug-Man
p. 27
Mushrooms and snails in religious rituals
of early Christians at Aquileia
p. 69
p. 82
Psychoactive Card XII:
European Convolvulaceae
p. 89
Plants used to make khadi (South Africa)
Reviews p.105
New Releases p.107


by Christian Ratsch

Alcoholic beverages (mead, beer, wine, saki, etc.) were regarded by ancient civilizations as "the toast of the gods" and were taken during rituals to attain states of ebriety. They were also consumed for their nutritional and medicinal properties. According to ancient mythologies, alcoholic beverages were created by the gods, hence spread the idea that by consuming alcohol humankind was lead toward the gods; that through alcohol the drinker might even achieve illumination. ...

For some, alcoholic beverages are paradise (or at least a key to paradise, or a pointer in its direction). For others, 'demon drink' is a scourge, an addictive drug. Some see alcohol as a substance endowed with divine powers. For others it is the agent of diabolic corruption. One man's medicine is another man's poison. Some consider alcohol to be a serious health risk while others venerate it as an "elixir of longevity." Obviously, they are all right. Alcohol is like all other drugs in this respect: the effect is determined mainly by dosage, the personal state of the consumer (set) and the context (setting). In ancient literature we find references to the paramount importance of dosage: "From the vine hang three bunches of grapes. The first produces desire. The second inebriates. The third leads to crime." (EPICTETUS). (pages 3 - 4)


... As a rule, ancient literature makes no distinction between mead and beer. This is because honey was often mixed with malt to prepare alcoholic beverages. Mead was probably invented during the Stone Age. There is much evidence for this in various parts of the world.

Mead was a beverage sacred to all ancient pagan civilizations and was used as a ritual libation or for collective ebriety. All Indo-Germanic peoples were familiar with mead, the use of which in ancient time was primarily medicinal ... (page 4)

The Germanic peoples considered mead "refreshments for the gods," a font of delirium and of poetic and prophetic inspiration. This honey-based preparation was consecrated in the name of the gods Odin/Wotan and Balder. In areas dominated by Germanic culture, the flavor of mead was improved by the addition of fruit-juices such as sorb (Filipendula ulmaria [L.] Maxim., sin. Spirea filipendula L.) or crab-apple. ... (page 5)


... Originally, beer was a ritual beverage in all parts of the world. Its consumption was a part of shamanic practices or religious ceremonies to venerate the gods (libation facilitating contact with the "other"). On the whole, beers of this kind also included psychoactive plants. More than 50 known psychoactive plants have been added to beer at some stage in various parts of the world. These beers were consecrated to gods and goddesses (e.g., Thor, Dionysus/Bacchus, Hathor, Bhairab/Shiva, Isis). The mandrake-beer of the Egyptians is a famous example. We may also mention maize-beer (chica) fortified with Datura seeds, and drunk by the South American indios and the "real Pilsner," the henbane-based Germanic beer: as tradition rightly informs us, "this beer makes you thirstier!". (page 6)

... Wine presses were invented in various parts of the world. All wines are efficacious solvents for other pharmacologically-active ingredients, and wines have been used for the extraction of aromatic herbs since time immemorial.

The grapevine was originally Asian and was used at the dawn of history for the production of inebriating wines. In 1990, clay-vessels were discovered at Godin Tepe in Iran. These were definitely used for wine-drinking, as revealed by chemical analysis. These extraordinary finds date to 3500-2900 BC and are the oldest proofs of wine-drinking to date. (page 7)


It appears that shamans have always used fermented beverages as narcotics, libations and medicines (even without additives). It may be presumed that the 'wine god' - Dionysus - was originally a shaman and that he and his followers used the wine produced by grape-pressing as a means to enter a state of trance. However, the 'wine of Dionysus' contained special 'flowers' which endowed this wine with highly inebriating or other properties. Thus, the true secret inebriating substance used by Dionysus may indeed have been fly-agaric macerated in wine. Fly-agaric is a shamanic drug used all over the world. (page 17)


All over the world, alcoholic beverages are used by shamans to 'bribe' spirits, demons and deities. The Tibetans place millet-beer (chhang) at the threshold of the dwelling-places of demons. In Japan, tengu, the elfin spirits residing in fly-agarics are appeased by offerings of sake. The Javut shamans pour spirits onto fire. Spirits are offered to Mama Coca and the mountain spirits on cairns in the high mountain passes of the Andes. The nahualli (Nahua shamans) offer aguardiente or yolixpa to the 'soul eaters' in great quantities to get them drunk so that they can overcome them and defeat them. (pages 20 - 21)

by Clark Heinrich, Carl A. P. Ruck, & Daniel Staples

ABSTRACT - The magical item that is the object of the hero's quest in Greek mythology is always the sacred entheogen. In the case of Jason, the Golden fleece was ultimately Amanita muscaria. In such a quest, the hero is a shaman whose identity becomes consubstantial with the drug of his shamanism so that many of his characteristics have entheobotanical referents and some of the events are not only his experience, but that of the entheogen itself, that is his analogue. Hence, Jason was trained as a shaman and displayed symbolic features such as his single, muddy foot, his non-birth, and his name as drug-man. Amongst those who sailed with him on the quest were the Dioskouroi and their cousins, the Moliones, whose identities are also entheobotanical, as Pillar, St. Elmo's fire, Cap, Lotus, and hermaphroditic Sphere. Similarly, the fleece has metaphoric characteristics of the quested entheogen, such as the Golden Apple, the fleecy Hide, the Shield, the tiny Man, the Egg, the Serpent, the horned Bull, the Bird, and the Ball of Eros. To initiate him for his heroic ordeal of consubstantiality, Medea anoints him with the herb of Prometheus, whose theft of fire was ultimately that of Vision and the sacred plant. The theme of the fleece persisted in alchemical occult knowledge, becoming ostensibly the parchment on which was written the secret formula of chrysopoeia, although it, too, recalls the ethnobotanical original. (page 27)

Although not associated with the melon as 'apple' per se, Apollo is intimately involved with the other melon and the pastoral metaphor: as the 'herder' of the cows, a phase of his darker persona, where he functions like another Argos tending the estrous maiden heifer. If Apollo is the 'apple' god, it is not the apple itself that is his attribute, but its common metaphoric usages: namely Amanita muscaria as both 'apple' and 'cow,' etc. This would mean that Apollo is the 'muscaria' god. (page 45)

... Actually, it now appears that the spread of the mushroom cult was not solely via the northern route from the Hyperborean homeland; for it seems inconceivable that news of the Indo-Iranian haoma entheogen would not have followed the trade route across the deserts as well. The coincidence of the similar drug-cults for a shamanic god of divination may explain in part the basis for the amalgamation of the two deities into Apollo. Such a god, Apollo bears the telltale epithet of 'fly-catcher,' Muiagros, an unmistakable name for the fly-agaric. this is no doubt the same unnamed god and hero who bore the 'fly-catcher' epithet in the pastoral mountains of Arcadia and Elis. As a commemoration of Apollo's ancient entheogen, an annual secret offering of fly-agaric was sent to Delos from the Hyperborean lands (his Indo-European homeland), amongst the ritual presentations of the first fruits from the other Greek cities. In Laconia and elsewhere, a dialectal Dorian version of Apollo's name was Apellon, and he presided over the apellai, which Ws the 'assembly of the people,' gathered together metaphorically by the herdsman god into his 'animal-fold or pen,' and he himself apparently was a figure like the pastoral Pan, a 'goat' or apellon. The pastoral herders of animals in the lonely mountains would, of course, be precisely the people who would note the marvelous appearance and properties of the god's entheogens, and its effects on the flocks that might graze upon it.

Apollo was not named for the 'apple.' But it does seem likely that the 'apple' took its name from the god in late antiquity in the European context, where the drug-cult persisted, probably labeled as devilish by the rival Christians, amongst whom there still persisted similar heretical sects of their own religion. (page 46)

by Franco Fabbro

ABSTRACT - In the oratory of the northern hall of the ancient Christian basilica at Aquileia (northern Italy) are found two mosaics representing two baskets filled with mushrooms and snails. These mosaics date to before 330 AD. Representations of mushrooms and snails are extremely rare in early Christian iconography. The snails have been identified as Helix (Helix) cinta. Identification of the mushrooms is less straightforward. They posses some traits of Amanita caesarea (mainly dark-yellow cap) and Amanita muscaria (White gills, cap including a number of white tesserae).

A number of hypotheses have been advanced with regard to the mushrooms and snails in the basilica at Aquileia: 1) the two baskets are purely decorative; 2) they symbolically represent the food consumed during holy feasts; 3) lastly, these were or represented 'foods' used to reach states of ecstasy during liturgy. (page 69)


Toward the end of the 4th century AD, many religious groups considered themselves to be Christians. Christian sects that followed Basilides, Carpocrates, Marcion or Valentine, now regarded as heretical, considered themselves to be as orthodox as the followers of St. Paul or St. John. They conceived of their own communities as being Christian, even more Christian than the Church of Rome. Only much later, with the aid of the Imperial army and secret services, did the triumphant Church flush-out these 'heretical' Christians for good and all and destroy their texts and books of prophecy.

It is a well-known fact that many early Christian communities organized collective feasts. Much has been written on these feasts, or agapes, which, in some heretical Christian groups, terminated with a general orgy. It is also widely known that many mystery cults of the ancient world also organized holy feasts in many ways similar to those convened by early Christians. The structure and the aims of these holy feasts were basically the same among the many mystery cults of the ancient world: 1) during the feast, a mysterion was celebrated - this mysterion was secret, and could be revealed only to adepts of the group (esoteric transmission); 2) all social barriers between the participants were removed during these encounters; 3) one of the goals was to achieve a state of religious ecstasy characterized by visions.

We may therefore advance the hypothesis that the baskets of mushrooms and snails in the oratory of the northern hall are a symbolic representation of the dishes most favored by the upper classes of the day, who had probably commissioned the mosaics. Such delicacies were likely offered to all during holy feasts - irrespective of their social origin or rank - as a foretaste of life in the immanent Kingdom of Heaven. Snails and mushrooms are not simply dainties; they also symbolize fertility and resurrection (themes which were very popular among early Christians). (pages 74 - 76)


If the mushrooms represented in the mosaic of the northern hall of the basilica at Aquileia are Amanita muscaria, it is a matter of conjecture whether the early Christians appropriated this visionary sacrament from Rig Veda (Indian) and/or Zoroastrian (Iranian) liturgy, or rather adopted it from local ethnomedicine. Historians of religion have recently discovered fundamental influences of Zoroaster's religious thought on the principal currents first of Judaism, then of early Christian sects. (page 77)

Of course, a general characteristic of all religions is the belief that one's own religion is completely original and independent of any other. This view generally derives from ideological preconceptions. It is possible that certain general religious concepts were transmitted esoterically from Iranian religion to Judaism and Christianity by means of techniques used to facilitate meditation and ecstasy. The basilica at Aquileia presents clear examples of ancient Iranian influence on the roots of Jewish and Christian thought. (page 78)

by Benjamin Thomas

In some cultural contexts, however, the neologism entheogen may not be the most appropriate term to describe shamanic inebriation or visionary plant use. Shamanic inebriation and visionary plant use in some cultures is associated with bestial and belligerent behaviour.

Grinspoon and Bakalar suggest, for example, that the cultures of the ancient Aztecs, the Yanomamo of Venezuela, other Amazonian Indian groups, and the Jamaican Rastafarians do not fit the stereotype of passive and contemplative shamanic or visionary plant/fungi use. This is due to the fact that shamanic and visionary experiences are dependent on "set and setting, especially set and setting created by a particular culture." As shamanic and other entheogens use generally occurs within a specific cultural context, that context perforce mediates the subjective experience of inebriation. In certain cultural contexts that experience cannot appropriately be described as entheogenic, not as 'becoming divine within.' Rather, the experience of inebriation in these cultural contexts might better be characterized as therogenic - as 'becoming a wild beast.' ...

Based on the logic of Structuralism, one might conceptualize the neologism therogen as being in binary opposition to the neologism entheogen. Entheogen, accordingly, is to Therogen as God is to Beast, wild is to cultivated. Some possible permutations of binary oppositions based on this Structuralist logic are as follows:

Therogen : Entheogen
beast : god
wild : tame
animal : human
nature : culture
group : individual
aggression : quiescence
war : peace
sociability : contemplation
Dionysian : Apollonian
(pages 82 - 83)

This compilation by Thomas B. Roberts & Paula Jo Hruby, © 1995-2002 CSP

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