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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

Persephone's Quest: Entheogens and the Origins of Religion.

Kramrisch, Stella; Ott, Jonathan; Wasson, R. Gordon. (1986).
New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

ISBN: None, deluxe edition
0-300-03877-1 hardcover
0-300-05266-9 paperback
Description: Deluxe edition: privately printed, consists of 300 copies, of which 26 are lettered A to Z, and 274 are numbered. 257 pages plus colophon leaf at back. Gold top page edges, 1/8 dark blue leather bound, the rest in dark blue cloth. The front cover shows a lightening strike in gold and a silhouette of a conifer. In slipcase covered by the same dark blue cloth. Trade hardcover edition: 257 pages. Paperback edition: 257 pages.

Contents: Prelude by R. Gordon Wasson, 8 chapters divided into 2 parts: 1. Entheogens and the Origins of Religion, 2. Poets, Philosophers, Priests: Entheogens in the Formation of the Classical Tradition, note on the essays in this book.

Note: In the deluxe edition Kramrisch is listed as the first author. In the trade hardcover and paperback editions Wasson is listed first.

Excerpt(s): I hold that the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was Soma, was the kakulja, was Amanita muscaria, was the Nameless Mushroom of the English-speaking people. The Tree was probably a conifer in Mesopotamia. The serpent, being underground, was the faithful attendant on the fruit. (page 75)

In various places in Eurasia where Early Man has been discovered revering a "Tree of Life", he is fixing his attention on trees that harbor a mycorrhizal relationship with Amanita muscaria, the entheogenic mushroom. The Genesis story introduces an elaboration on this theme. The "Tree of Life" in it confers on those who eat it immortality, and Jehovah God, lest Adam and Eve eating of it become his equal, expels them from the Garden. Not surprisingly, no one has ever seen this "Tree of Life". But a "Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil" is also introduced and the serpent gave of its fruit to Eve. This was the tree that is usually called the "Tree of Life". That Adam and Eve had eaten of its 'fruit' became clear when Jehovah God perceived the changes in their behavior: they had acquired self-consciousness, which distinguishes mankind from all other creatures. (page 77)

At the point in his evolutionary progress where we first call him "Man" beyond a doubt-Homo sapiens sapiens-and when he came to know, also beyond a doubt, what awe and reverence were, he clearly felt that Soma was conferring on him mysterious sensations and powers, which seemed to him more than normal: at that point Religion was born, Religion pure and simple, free of Theology, free of Dogmatics, expressing itself in awe and reverence and in lowered voices, mostly at night, when people would gather together to consume the Sacred Element. The first entheogenic experience could have been the first, and an authentic, perhaps the only authentic miracle. This was the beginning of the Age of Entheogens, long, long ago. (page 78)

The ingredients of the Eleusinian potion are given as water, mint, and Barley in the Homeric hymn to Demeter, our earliest literary source about the Mystery. Since the mint or blechon (Mentha pulegium) is hardly (or not at all) psychoactive, our attention was directed to the barley. Here our third collaborator, Dr. Albert Hofmann, the discoverer of LSD, was able to supply us with the information that ergot or 'rust', a common fungal parasite on grain, contains a powerful water-soluble drug. Ergot, moreover, like other fungi, produces fruiting bodies of the characteristic mushroom shape. Did ergot figure in Greek botanic traditions in a way that might suggest its involvement in the Eleusinian Mystery?

The Greeks believed, as is to some extent actually true, that edible plants were evolved forms of more primitive, wild, and in some cases actually inedible avatars, and that agriculture, as opposed to the mere gathering of plants, was a triumph of civilization or culture. (pages 162-163)

In this opposition between wild and cultivated plants, the fungi played an important role, for they are seedless growths that defy cultivation and are thus paradigmatic of wildness. ... Characteristic of all plants, of course, is the way they feed upon dead and putrefying matter. Here too fungi had a special importance, for the tomb and the whole underworld were thought to be covered with mouldering growths that consumed the flesh of mortality. But even these wildest of plants could be made to function in the evolutionary botanical scheme. The Greeks realized that fermentation was a fungal process. The making of wine involved procedures and symbolism that suggested the tending of the dead and the hope for resurrection, for the blood of the harvested grape was entrusted, like any corpse, to subterranean, tomb-like containers, where the surrounding earth maintained the proper temperature for fermentation; when the process was completed, the containers were opened to release the new god, who returned together with the other spirits from the grave to celebrate a drunken revel on his birthday. ...

Parallel to the Dionysian gift of liquid nature was the dry food of Demeter's grain, upon which could be grown a transmutation of wild fungus. The vision that resulted from the carefully programmed ingestion of the ergot potion demonstrated the continuity of life and death and reaffirmed the forward progress of Hellenic civilization. (page 164)

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