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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

Oxford Addresses on Poetry.

Graves, Robert. (1962).
Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co.

ISBN: None

Description: 141 pages.

Contents: Foreword, 6 essays.

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. (page 126)

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." (page 127)

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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