Religion and Psychoactive Sacraments:
An Entheogen Chrestomathy
Thomas B. Roberts, Ph.D. and Paula Jo Hruby, Ed.D.
Author Index | Title Index
Oxford Addresses on Poetry.
Graves, Robert. (1962).
Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co.
Description: 141 pages.
Contents: Foreword, 6
Excerpt(s): Why do paradises
follow a traditional pattern, widespread and persistent enough
to be shared even by Polynesians and pre-Columbian Mexicans? The
evidence suggests that, originally, a common drug causes the paradisal
visions and provides the remarkable mental illumination described
as "perfect wisdom." One such drug, a hallucigenic mushroom,
was certainly used in Central America before the Spanish conquest.
Why should horrible and obscene names be applied
to edible mushrooms? Perhaps mycophobia pointed
to an ancient taboo, like that which has given Jews and Moslems
a disgust of pork, and Northern Europeans a disgust of horse-flesh-nutritious
and tasty meat-both pig and horse having once been holy animals.
And since mushrooms figured alongside toads, snakes and devils
in numerous late medieval paintings, and still bear popular names
connected with toads, snakes and devils, it looked as if they
might have been sacred food in a pagan rite, preserved by witches
of Western Europe who kept toads and snakes as diabolic "familiars."
In the different regions of Mexico where the cult
survives, certain religious rules are common to all. Devotees,
before partaking of a mushroom feast, must fast, abstain from
sexual intercourse, and be at peace with the world and themselves.
Whoever disregards these rules (the curanderos and curanderas
agreed) may see such demonic visions as to wish they had never
been born. The Christian, Jewish, Greek and Babylonian
Heavens, it should be recalled, have a Hell which
complements Paradise; and the usual vision is of innumerable demon
faces grinning from lurid caverns. But those who attend such a
feast while in a state of grace, report that the mushrooms not
only sharpen their intelligence, so that they seem to possess
"perfect wisdom," but shower on them what Christians
call "the peace and
love that passes all understanding"-a strong, non-erotic
sense of spiritual comradeship.
The Roman Catholic Church teaches that Paradise
cannot be attained except by repentance; and prepares every sinner
for the journey with the viaticum, a symbolic
consumption of Jesus Christ's body and blood, after
asking him to purge his soul by a sincere confession.
From what religion, it should be asked, did St. Paul
borrow this rite, since it is not attested in the Gospels and
is an infringement of the Hebrew law against the drinking
of blood? (page 129)
The Christian sacrament of bread and wine was a
love-feast in Hellenistic style. Initiates of the
Lesser Eleusinian Mysteries, who had to undergo
a period of probation before being admitted to the Greater Mysteries,
saw no celestial visions. Presumably, the mystagogues withheld
the sacred hallucigenic agent until sure of a candidate's worthiness;
he received bread and wine only, symbols of the Grain-Dionysus
and the Wine-Dionysus. The Church has indeed banished the Serpent
from Paradise. Her sacramental elements give communicants no visionary
foretaste of the new Jerusalem. The disappointment often felt
by Protestant adolescents at their first communion is a natural
one-the priest promises more than they are able to experience.
I learned only last week from an Arabic scholar, that the root-word
F.T.R. means, in Arabic, first "toadstool," then "divine
rapture," then "sacred pellets of bread."
This points to a pre-Islamic hallucigenic practice
of immense age.
Granted, many Christian and Jewish mystics have
undoubtedly seen Paradisal sights, but always after a life of
intense spiritual struggle; and these often alternate with terrifying
visions of Hell. It is now therefore usual to treat mystics as
schizophrenics, arresting them and prescribing
electric-shock treatment if their enthusiasm has caused a breach
of the peace. The Church herself is apt to discourage a mystic
who claims to have seen sights denied to his ecclesiastical superiors;
suspecting him, at best, of spiritual pride. (pages 132-133)
When I ate psilocybe on 31 January 1960, a
recording of the curandera's invocation to Tlaloc as Christ
gave the rite a decent solemnity. ... Here is an account of what
I wrote of my experience:
... What I had been taught at school and in church
proved true enough, though the truth enormously transce nded
the account. Around me lay a mountain-top Eden, with its jewel-bright
trees, its flowers and its pellucid streams. And I experienced
not only the bliss of innocence, but also the " knowledge
of good and evil." Most Christians understand this phrase
as meaning the power to distinguish right from wrong; in Hebrew,
however, it signifies a universal understanding of all things,
whether good or evil. ... (pages 133-136)
Good and evil alternate in most people's hearts.
Few are habitually at peace with themselves; and whoever prepares
to eat hallucigenic mushrooms should take as careful stock of
his mental and moral well-being as initiates took before attending
the Eleus inian Mysteries. The friend who ate mushrooms
with us while not in a state of peace watched his hand turn corpse-like
and slowly disintegrate into a dusty skeleton. This peculiar virtue
of psilocybin, the power to enhance personal reality, turns
" Know thyself!" into a practical
precept; and may commend it as the sacramental food of some new
religion. Peyotl, made from the cactus buds,
another sacred hallucigenic agent-but, it seems, not in such early
religious use among the Mexicans as mushrooms-has already been
sanctified by a "Christian Church" of two hundred thousand
members, extending from Central America to Canada. The Catholic
and Protestant churches can never of course, accept visions that
either peyotl or psilocybin excites as anything
but diabolical and illusory. They may even put pressure on public-health
authorities to outlaw psilocybin, arguing that, although
the psilocybe mushroom does not make for addiction among
the Mazateks, and seems to have no harmful effect
on their minds and bodies, this may be due to its short season
and a loss of virtue when dried; whereas the virtue is stable
in psilocybin, and the results of long-term dosing are
unknown-a permanent schizophrenia might occur.
Liquor and tobacco interests would, no doubt, wholeheartedly
support the Churches' plea.
My single experience of psilocybe was wholly
good: an illumination of the mind, a re-education of sight and
hearing, and even of touch, as I handled small objects beside
me. (pages 138-140)
The natural poetic trance, however, as I have experienced
it on different levels-sometimes light, sometimes so deep that
the slightest disturbance causes acute distress-means a good deal
more to me than any trance induced by artificial means. (The Poet's
Paradise, page 140)
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