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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

The Mythmakers.

Barnard, Mary. (1966).
Athens, OH: Ohio University Press.

ISBN: none

Description: hardcover, x + 213 pages.

Contents: 16 chapters divided into 6 untitled parts, notes, bibliography, index.

Excerpt(s): I have been reading a great deal recently about the origins of myth origins in ritual, in folktale, in history, in metaphor, in the unconscious or preconscious psyche, and so on. I have read about mythopoetic periods, the mythopoetic mentality, and the function of myth in the social structure. The scope of the discussion is so wide, and the material is so intangible that a mind like mine loses its way in a wilderness of generalities. Perhaps there are others who are as confused as I am: for their benefit and my own I have attempted to isolate just one aspect of one problem bearing on the nature and origin of myths; that is, the origin of a few mythical personae deities and others related to a single theme: intoxication. These inventions, or mythomorphs, are especially apt to my purpose because speculation is cut to a minimum; we know what the myth means, and we have a clue to its origins. (pages 3-4)

Some people are more given to personification than others; some are more given to metaphor. The Hindus over a long period of time created an elaborate mythomorph and an elaborate ritual whereas the Urubus were content to sing about their cauin simply as a beverage without turning it into a god. The body of a Tahitian chief, drunk on kava, was said to be possessed by a god, yet the Polynesians seem never to have personified their ceremonial drink. Kava, however, like soma, was the drink of the gods, and pulque, like soma, was the drink of the ancestors. All were poured in libations, drunk by priests when they communed with the gods, and used regularly in important ceremonies. All, for one reason or another, were hedged round with restrictions on their preparation and use. (page 11)

If there were such a field as theo-botany, the study of these plants and their cults would be work for a theo- botanist. As it is, little has been published in the way of comparative studies, perhaps for the very good reason that the scholar who attempts such a study must step out of his own field into four or five others, and thereby risk his reputation. Laymen, therefore, who have no prestige to lose, burst in where scholars fear to tread, and here am I. My own interest is in the mythology of the drug plants, and my approach has been by way of mythology, a study as perilous to the scholar as theo-botany. The hazards have therefore seemed less and the facts, such as we have, reassuringly firm. My approach to the subject was inadvertent, almost accidental; my experience that of one who has been treading water interminably and feels solid ground beneath his feet at least. Half a dozen important mythological themes the shaman's journey, the food of immortal life, the food of occult knowledge, the fate of the disembodied soul, the communication with the dead, plant-deities all converge on this point; that is, on some actual food (usually a drug plant) ritually consumed, not symbolically but for the experience it confers. (page 16)

When we consider the origin of the mythologies and cults related to drug plants, we should surely ask ourselves which, after all, was more likely to happen first: the spontaneously generated idea of an afterlife in which the disembodied soul, liberated from the restrictions of time and space, experienced eternal bliss, or the accidental discovery of hallucinogenic plants that give a sense of euphoria, dislocate the center of consciousness, and distort time and space, making them balloon outward in greatly expanded vistas? ... Perhaps the old theories are right, but we have to remember that the drug plants were there, waiting to give men a new idea based on a new experience. The experience might have had, I should think, an almost explosive effect on the largely dormant minds of men, causing them to think of things they had never thought before. This, if you like, is direct revelation. (pages 21- 22)

Looking at the matter coldly, unintoxicated and unentranced, I am willing to prophesy that fifty theo-botanists working fifty years would make the current theories concerning the origins of much mythology and theology as out of date as pre-Copernican astronomy. I am the more willing to prophesy, since I am, alas, so unlikely to be proved wrong. (page 24)

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