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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 Road to Eleusis: Unveiling the Secret of the Mysteries.

Wasson, R. Gordon; Hofmann, Albert; Ruck, Carl A.P. (1998).
Los Angeles: Hermes Press.

ISBN: 0-15-177872-8 hardcover
0-15-625279-1 paperback
ISBN: 0-915148-20-X

Description: Hardcover, 149 pages.

Contents: Publisher's Note (1998), Preface to the Second Edition by Huston Smith (1998), Hindsight by Carl A. P. Ruck (1998), Foreword, 7 chapters, Afterword by Albert Hofmann, translated by Jonathan Ott (1998).

Note: Twentieth Anniversary Edition, printed in Verona by Stamperia Valdonega, who also printed the first edition. Chapter 7, Entheogens by Carl A. P. Ruck, Jeremy Bigwood, Danny Staples, Jonathan Ott, and R. Gordon Wasson, reprints the birth announcement of the new word entheogen.


This edition includes a preface by the historian of religion, Professor Huston Smith; Hindsight by Professor Carl Ruck; Entheogens, first published in 1979 in the Journal of Psychedelic Drugs Vol. 11 (1-2); and an afterword by Dr. Albert Hofmann, The Message of the Eleusinian Mysteries for Today's World, which first appeared in Entheogens and the Future of Religion (1997), edited by Robert Forte as No. 2 in the Entheogen Project Series of the Council on Spiritual Practices. This second edition of The Road to Eleusis is No. 4 in the CSP Entheogen Project Series which is devoted to furthering the religious possibilities of entheogens. For more information on the Council see (Publisher's Note, page 1. Robert Forte)


... The Greeks, though, created a holy institution, the Eleusinian Mysteries, which seem regularly to have opened a space in the human psyche for God to enter.

The content of those Mysteries is, together with the identity of India's sacred Soma plant, one of the two best kept secrets in history, and this book is the most successful attempt I know to unlock it. Triangulating the resources of an eminent Classics scholar, the most creative mycologist of our time, and the discoverer of LSD, it is a historical tour de force while being more than that. For by direct implication it raises contemporary questions which our cultural establishment has thus far deemed too hot to face.

The first of these is the already cited question Nietzsche raised: Can humanity survive godlessness, which is to say, the absence of an ennobling vision a convincing, elevating view of the nature of things and life's place within it?

Second, have modern secularism, scientism, materialism, and consumerism conspired to form a carapace that Transcendence now has difficulty piercing?

If the answer to that second question is affirmative, a third one follows hard on its heels. Is there need, perhaps an urgent need, to devise something like the Eleusinian Mysteries to get us out of Plato's cave and into the light?

Finally, can a way be found to legitimize, as the Greeks did, the creative, constructive use of entheogenic heaven and hell drugs without aggravating our serious drug problem?

This book does not answer these important, possibly fateful, questions. What it does do is to raise them by clear implication, elegantly and responsibly. (Preface to the Second Edition, page 10. Huston Smith)


Twenty years have past since the first publication of The Road to Eleusis and although it is still available in Spanish and German translations, and most recently Italian, the original English was shortly removed from the market. The only testimony to its importance to a certain group of readers is that it frequently disappears from libraries as well. And in antiquarian bookstores, even a tattered paperback copy will fetch ten times the original price; a hardcover may sell for hundreds of dollars.

The book excited no interest amongst colleagues in my profession, and rarely has anyone ever mentioned it to me, until just recently, with a younger generation of scholars. The people of my age want to forget the whole phenomenon of the sixties, for fear that their children will be as foolish as they. At the time, the book received scant review: two. One critic doubted the validity of our theory because LSD is an unpleasant experience; and the other, who was more open to the idea, objected that not enough had been done to flesh out the symbolic context for the religion. My recent collaboration with Danny Staples on The World of Classical Myth answers that objection, ... (pages 11-12)

I have done other things over the years as a Classicist, but I find myself repeatedly coming back to the work I did with Gordon and Albert. I am more convinced now, even than at the time, that we are right. Wasson was looking for a mycological role in Greek religion as a parallel and confirmation of his theory of Soma. The most obvious was in the religion of Dionysos, with the fungal nature of the wine that is that god's sacrament. But at the time, we used wine only to establish Greek culture's openness to finding something numinous or sacred in entheogenic ecstasis: something of a positive cultural value, and of fundamental importance for the very well-being of the city and its metaphysical accord with the surrounding wilderness of roaming spirits and revenant ancestors. But that wouldn't satisfy his Vedic critics. And Eleusis might.

... Before drinking the kykeon, which was the mixed drink of the ceremony, the initiates had witnessed the opening of the Baskets and the wallets [containing poppy, rose hips, and mushrooms], in commemoration of the older ways; then the sisterhood of priestesses, dancing throughout the columned Hall, had revealed the holy plant of barley, exposed in the central bowl of kernos monstrance as the apotheosis of evolving civilized life.

Gordon had wanted a mushroom, and Albert and I had provided it. I remember his enthusiasm when we saw the photograph Albert sent us of the fruiting bodies, clearly recognizable without magnification. Not just a fungus, but a mushroom. (pages 12-14)

So in hindsight, despite the trouble it caused, I would say, the work was worth the doing. And we are grateful that a way has been found to do it again in this republication, for those of you who have loved and stood by this book over the years, and for the sake of the next generation who may pause to consider without bias its message. (Hindsight, pages 16-17. Carl A P Ruck.)

[Entheogen defined]

We, therefore, propose a new term that would be appropriate for describing states of shamanic and ecstatic possession induced by ingestion of mind-altering drugs. In Greek the word entheos means literally god, (theos) within, and was used to describe the condition that follows when one is inspired and possessed by the god that has entered one's body. It was applied to prophetic seizures, erotic passion and artistic creation, as well as to those religious rites in which mystical states were experienced through the ingestion of substances that were transubstantial with the deity. In combination with the Greek root gen-, which denotes the action of becoming, this word results in the term that we are proposing; entheogen. Our word sits easily on the tongue and seems quite natural in English. We could speak of entheogens or, in adjectival form, of entheogenic plants or substances. In a strict sense, only those vision-producing drugs that can be shown to have figured in shamanic or religious rites would be designated entheogens, but in a looser sense, the term could also be applied to other drugs, both natural and artificial, that induce alterations of consciousness similar to those documented for ritual ingestion of traditional entheogens. (Entheogens, Chapter 7, page 139. Carl A P Ruck, Jeremy Bigwood, Danny Staples, Jonathan Ott, & R. Gordon Wasson)


What was the message conveyed at Eleusis, a message which transformed the cult into the most influential and spiritually significant Mystery of antiquity? This question cannot be answered in detail, for the veil of mystery, maintained by a severe commandment of secrecy, was never lifted through the millennia. It is only by examining the testimony of great initiates that we may gain an idea of the fundamentals and the spiritual significance which the teachings of Eleusis had for the individual. There is no question of any new religion having been promulgated in Eleusis; this can be ruled out because the initiates, when they returned to their homelands after the Mysteries, remained faithful to their autochthonous religions.

Instead, revelations about the essence of human existence and about the meaning of life and death must have been imparted to the initiates. ... (page 141)

Cicero also attested to the splendor which illuminated his life from Eleusis:

"Though Athens brought forth numerous divine things, yet she never created anything nobler than those sublime Mysteries through which we became gentler and have advanced from a barbarous and rustic life to a more civilized one, so that we not only live more joyfully but also die with a better hope."
The initiates often experienced in vision the congruity of the beginning and the end, of birth and death, the totality and the eternal generative ground of being. It must have been an encounter with the ineffable, an encounter with the divine, that could only be described through metaphor. (page 142)

This brings us to a problem of our own time. This involves the question much discussed today of whether it is ethically and religiously defensible to use consciousness-altering drugs under specific circumstances to gain new insights into the spiritual world.

If the hypothesis that an LSD-like consciousness-altering drug was present in the kykeon is correct and there are good arguments in its favor then the Eleusinian Mysteries have a relevance for our time not only in a spiritual-existential sense, but also with respect to the question of the controversial use of consciousness-altering compounds to attain mystical insights into the riddle of life.

The great importance and long duration of the Mysteries indicate that they answered a profound spiritual necessity, a yearning of the soul. If we adopt the viewpoint of Nietzsche, the Greek spirit was characterized by a consciousness of reality divided from its origin. Greece was the cradle of an experience of reality in which the ego felt itself separated from the exterior world. Here, the conscious separation of the individual from the environment developed earlier than in other cultures. ...

The Eleusinian Mysteries were closely connected with the rites and festivities in honor of the god Dionysus. They led essentially to healing, to the transcendence of the division between humankind and nature one might say to the abolition of the separation between creator and creation. This was the real, greater proposition of the Eleusinian Mysteries. Their historical, cultural significance, their influence on European spiritual history, can scarcely be overestimated. Here, suffering humanity, split by its rational, objective spirit, found healing in a mystical experience of totality that made it possible for the individual to believe in the immortality of an eternal being. (pages 142-145)

Today the fundamental importance which a mystical experience of totality can have for healing a humanity afflicted by a one-sided, rational, materialistic world view is emphasized not only by adherents to such Eastern religious currents as Zen Buddhism, but also by leading representatives of psychology and psychiatry. Even more significant is that not just in medicine, but in ever-wider circles of our society, even ecclesiastical circles, overcoming the dualistic world view is considered to be a prerequisite and fundamental step in the healing and spiritual renewal of Occidental civilization and culture.

The official Christian churches, whose dogmas correspond to an expressly dualistic conception of the world, offer no room for such a renewal. Rather, it is private groups and associations who are attempting to satisfy the need and the longing for an all-encompassing experience of the world appropriate to our present level of knowledge and consciousness. ...

It is no accident that drugs are employed by some of these groups and in the private sphere of pharmacological aids in the production of altered states of consciousness. And, of course, this involves the same sort of drugs hypothesized at Eleusis and still used by certain Indian tribes. These are the psychopharmaka of the hallucinogenic class, which have also been described as psychedelics or entheogens, whose most important modern representative is LSD. The Greeks used the term pharmacotheon, or divine drug. This sort of psychotropic compound differs from the opiates, such as morphine and heroin, and from such stimulants as cocaine, in that it does not produce addiction and acts specifically on human consciousness.

LSD in particular played as important role in the sixties movement, which addressed war and materialism, and whose adherents sought to expand consciousness. As a matter of fact, under specific internal and external conditions, this class of drugs, whether called hallucinogens, psychedelics, or entheogens, is capable of producing a totality experience, the unio mystica. (pages 145-147)

... And why is such use scarcely conceivable in the Christian liturgy, as though it were not significant? The answer is that the Christian liturgy worships a godly power enthroned in heaven, that is a power outside of the individual. At Eleusis, on the contrary, an alteration in the innermost being of the individual was striven for, a visionary experience of the ground of being which converted the subjects into Mystai, Epotetai, Initiates. (pages 147-148)

Eleusis can be a model for today. Eleusis-like centers could unite and strengthen the many spiritual currents of our time, all of which have the same goal the goal of creating, by transforming consciousness in individual people, the conditions for a better world, a world without war and without environmental damage, a world of happy people. (Afterword. Albert Hofmann, Translated by Jonathan Ott. pages 148-149)

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