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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


Hallucinations: Behavior, Experience, and Theory.

Siegel, R. K. & West, L. J. (editors) (1975).
New York: John Wiley & Sons.


ISBN: 0-471-79096-6

Description: hardcover, xiv + 322 pages.

Contents: Artists, preface, introduction, 9 chapters, index.

Contributors: Roland Fisher, Ernest Hartmann, Mardi J. Horowitz, Murray E. Jarvik, Joseph B. Juhasz, Weston La Barre, Theodore R. Sarbin, C. Wade Savage, Ronald K. Siegel, Louis Jolyon West, and Wallace D. Winters.

Excerpt(s): Christian Europe has been traditionally hostile to the consumption of hallucinogens. A possible factor is the survival of the practice of using a number of the most powerful ones for example, belladonna (Atropa belladonna), mandrake (Mandragora officinarum), and henbane (Hyoscyamus niger) from pagan times into European witchcraft. ...

But the European fear of psychotropics, and even of new foods such as potatoes, sometimes passed all reason. King James I of England was as much exercised over tobacco as he was over witchcraft: tracts of his time allege that smokers brains, after their early death, would be found to be blackened with soot. Again, early in the present century, children were forcefully adjured not to eat even a single berry of the much-cultivated ornamental vine called love apple, for it would surely kill them, probably within the hour, since it was botanically related to the deadly nightshade. Children nevertheless persisted in eating the fruit, and no child ever died of eating love apples; bred to larger and tastier varieties, tomatoes are an even better source of vitamin C than the ritual orange juice, being both cheaper and more stable to oxidation and cooking. Meanwhile, after an interim of worldwide approbation and even praise of tobacco (by now thoroughly entrenched in the economic and political establishment), medical scientists have come to agree with King James, though with better evidence, on the dangers of smoking. ...

Coffee is otherwise edifying to the anthropologist, accustomed as he is to detached awareness of cultural contexts. Originally, the sugar-containing coffeeberry of Christian Abyssinia had been fermented into an alcoholic drink of a sort that later Moslem religion fanatically prohibited. But religious prohibition never stopped the coffeeberry. By dry roasting, Moslems converted some of its substances into a complex of chemical stimulants that are even now not exhaustively known to science; and in this new form, sometimes with added sugar, coffee drinking spread over the Arabic world (coffee, sugar, and alcohol are all Arabic words), and with Christian contact in the late medieval crusades, into Europe. Here, as we have seen, coffee became so widely established, even among otherwise respectable folk, that they ignore the psychotropic properties of the drug a related Rubiacea of the tropical rain forest of Puerto Rico is even hallucinogenic and most hardened drinkers freely and shamelessly admit psychological dependency.

Cross-cultural paradoxes are as instructive as cross-generational ones. Despite their much-proved danger, we accept alcohol and tobacco blandly but rabidly reject marihuana for its as yet unproved danger, since unknown euphoriants must surely be more dangerous than known ones. By contrast, Moslems rigidly forbid the drinking of alcohol, although drugs, even dangerous ones, are acceptable to them. ...

Again, among American Indians, hallucinogens are in the hands of the social and religious establishment and are administered to adolescents to give proper awe for the sacred institutions of their cultural mentors a somewhat different context from drug use by our adolescents with contracultural intent. Yet at the end of the last century it was the pinnacle of the establishment ladies who were widely the unwitting addicts of successive derivatives of opium in their elixirs. The staunch pillar of the Women s Christian Temperance Union might combat female troubles with a vegetable compound, the alcoholic content of which varied in different periods up to 19%, while her beleaguered husband got, at best, only 10% in his beer. The final irony, however, rests in today s worthy taxpayer settling down to his beer, enjoying the manly bite of the hops while righteously railing at the bearded pot-smoking freak he has the misfortune to call son. But hops (Humulus lupulus) and marihuana (Cannabis sativa) are the only members of the dioecious family Cannabaceae, the female of which produces the resins cannabinol and lupulin, both mild narcotics suspected of producing psychological dependency. High moral dudgeon has here only a dubious basis: hop drinker and hippie smoker are biogenetically brothers under the skin. (pages 25-27)

Also old in European folklore is the notion that toadstools (French crapaudin, from crapaud, toad ) are engendered by bolts of lightning, since both toads and toadstools commonly appear after rain. Leaving aside the hallucinogen bufotenin in toadskins, let us return to the word fungus itself. The Indo-European root for the fungus-spunk-punk-sphongos-sponge group of words is *panx, a root so very old that it is shared with Uralic, the otherwise unrelated language family of northern Eurasia. Since all the regular sound changes have occurred in both sets of daughter dialects, it is impossible to ascertain whether the loan word was from the Uralic to Indo-European, or vice versa. For example, the Ob-Ugric pong is the Ostyak [tul]-panx ( fool s punk ; cf. Magyar fool s mushroom, whence German mad-mushroom ) and also the Ob-Ugric ponx (cf. the Siberian Chukchi pong). The starred form of *panx was proto-Uralic, which ceased to be spoken about 6000 B.C. But in Uralic dialects of Asiatic Siberia, panx-words referred specifically to Amanita muscaria, a fiery red mushroom still in use among Paleo-Siberian tribes when first studied by eighteenth-century European ethnographers. Could this Vedic Agni be a thing god-engendered by lightning bolt, or fire-life itself, immortality, a toadstool fungus?

Most impressively, all the supposed extravagant Rig Veda metaphors for soma turn out to be exact botanical descriptions of Amanita muscaria. ...

If all this interlocking evidence holds, then the hallucinogenic mushroom Amanita was being invoked as a divine inebriant in northern Eurasia long before the Indo-Europeans left their home, in the Chalcolithic or early Bronze Age, to scatter from Ireland to Ceylon. It is a common fallacy of historians to suppose, just because Christianity became officially the religion of the mainline great tradition, that the suppressed Old Religion disappeared without a trace. On the contrary, throughout the Middle Ages and into contemporary England there has survived the witches coven, an old fertility cult of women centering around an ancient horned god, now the cloven-hooved and horned Evil One (which may trace back to the Palaeolithic Cogul dance and a tradition unbroken in France from the Trois Frères Dancing Sorcerer down to the Celto-Roman horned god Cernunnus). Similarly, apart from the classic Greek gods imbibing of ambrosia and Brahman priests use of soma, there are other unmistakable traces of the survival of the Amanita cult of the Old Religion. St. Augustine (354 430 A.D.) still bitterly censured the heretic Manichaeans for their fungus-eating, and Manichaeism was a powerful though repressed religious force, active from Spain to China, that influenced Eurasia for at least 12 centuries. Indeed, the Chinese, in a twelfth century text, refer to Manichaeans who eat red mushrooms. And the indigenous Taoist religion still remembered the mysterious ling-chih, mushroom of immortality, which even the great emperor Shih-huang searched for in vain.

Although nectar and ambrosia of the immortals survived in the legends of the classic Olympian sky gods of state religion, still another tradition was strong in chthonic folk religion from eighth century B.C. Orphism to the Hellenistic mystery cults that shaped early Christianity. The core of the Dionysian Mysteries was eating the flesh (as a bull god) and drinking the blood (as a wine god) to obtain Orphic immortality, the same promised in the central Christian sacrament, the Eucharist. The sacramental meal has a hoary antiquity both in Paleolithic Europe and Neolithic Asia Minor. But the present writer finds it difficult to believe that maddened Maenads were driven to wild night dancing on mountain tops from simple eating of a cereal wafer in the Eleusinian Mysteries unless the bearded one were some such ancient ritual grains as spelt (Tricitum spelta) that was subject to a fungus infection like the LSD-producing smut Claviceps purpurea on rye. The whole thrust of Indo-European religion may well be (among religions at large) the rather specialized goal of obtaining immortality through eating and drinking substances, some of which are undoubtedly ancient hallucinogens. And behind all these later religious traditions, Indic and European, looms the very old Eurasiatic soma.

At one time alcoholic mead was a sacred substance, giving immortality to Greek gods. As the blood of the wine god Dionysus, alcohol was sacred well into the Hellenistic period, and so it remained in the Christian Eucharist. Otherwise, in the Mediterranean world of Europe and Africa, alcohol became secularized, whereas in the Asiatic and African Moslem world alcohol became rigorously forbidden by religion, though the potentially hallucinatory qat (Catha edulis) might be used even before prayer. (pages 32-33)

Supposedly divine revelation of some spirit land is merely tapping the id-stream of primary process thinking, and it should be approached not as a cosmological but as a psychiatric phenomenon. What we seem to experience as an external supernatural mysterium tremendum et fascinosum appears to be external and objective only because it is presented in sensory-hallucinatory form, since our senses are the customary conduit of information from the outside environment ... the Unknown being projected, not perceived. Technically, supernatural information is misapprehended information about the mind itself. The Mystery is in fact only our own brains and minds, often in an altered state of consciousness; experiencing the supernatural is only a functionally differing state of mind. ... For part of the mind is learned defenses against self-knowledge. ...

The historically changing attitudes toward now familiar and accepted psychotropic substances in European tradition, the violent rejection of others, and the varying Hindu and Moslem attitudes toward both all these provide an ironic commentary and critique of current fanaticisms. Hashish but no ethanol for Arabs, soma but no mead for Vedantists, hops but no pot for America. Continuities from soma to Host are evident ethnographically: secularization to prohibition of once-sacred alcohol, terror at toadstools but mass acceptance of nicotine, a specific poison to each tissue in the body. Rationality plays no part in our attitudes toward psychotropics and hallucinogens. ...

Individuals and groups may differ in their attitudes toward hallucinogens and psychotropic drugs. But in the alternate inhabiting of two psychic worlds, all mankind is kin. In hallucinosis, cultural or chemical, we need postulate no fatuous separate reality, for it is always our selfsame selves, but in varying psychic states. (pages 41-42)



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