buttons in the waterless desert. . To top it off, man) species cut down and apparently dead for long periods of time can suddenly spring to active life once more when soaked in water overnight . Might not the concepts of rebirth and resurrection, supernatural powers and eternal life-concepts at the forefront of most religions-have been suggested by simple observation of such plants?
And secondly, of course, their unearthly effects. Some plants nourished the body, others astounded the mind. Last week's barley gruel left, in an unwashed pot gave Grannie the shivering delights that time she got the munchies. A twig of yage in the Amazon proved unexpectedly powerful when a young warrior mashed it up for soup. Such plants soon became the shaman's special province, "carrying him temporarily to fascinating worlds of indescribably ethereal wonder," as Richard Evans Schuites has said. "Narcotics, especially those now called hallucinogens, were his medicine par excellence and became fast fixtures of his magic and religion, the bases of bis medical practices."
Exact knowledge of origins has long since been lost for most prehistoric religions, but myths and folklore passed down orally give us clues. The oldest religion on earth for which we have the complete texts was the Vedic religion of India in the second millennium B.C., which evolved from Central Asian shamanism. The chanting of mantras in certain complicated ways preserved Vedic hymns and rituals for thousands of years. They are still so preserved by conservative. Brahmins.
Eighteen chanting priests arrange themselves on the All or of Fire, ll takes the shape of a mighty bird in flight, soaring to the heavens. After many weeks of preparation, the soma sacrifice begins. The soma plant, re inflated by immersion in water overnight, is purchased with a sacred cow and brought forward on a carl,. Three times the priests (droning mantras contbtuously) pound soma over time-worn < stones: its shining juice gurgles through a sieve and splashes into wooden vats. At last the priests hold their soma howls aloft and drink the golden nectar down, singing: The juices carry me along like g us ting winds;
Have I not been drinking soma? My greatness reaches beyond the heavens and this earth/ Have I not been drinking soma? \ am most great:: I reach up into the clouds. Have I not been drinking soma?
Nowhere in the Vedas is soma actually identified. The original soma grew only in the mountains and was lost as the Aryans plunged deeper into India. Substitutes were sought, and yoga, perhaps known eaulier, was accepted into format religion in an attempt to recapture through meditation the glorious visions once induced by soma. The plant
"Like wild winds the draughts have raised me up. Have I been drinking Soma?
'The draughts have borne ine up, as swift steeds a chariot. .
Have i been drinking Soma?
"Frenzy has come upon me. as a cow to her dear calf.. Have I beer drinking Soma?
"As a carpenter bends the sear of a chariot, i bend this frenzy around my heart* Have I been drinking Soma?
"The heavens above do not equal one half of me. Have I been drinking Soma?
"in my glory t have passed beyond the sky and the great earth.
Have 1 been drinking Soma?
"1 will piek up the eanlv, and put it here or put it there.
Have 1 been drinking Soma?"
commonly used today is a milkweed with little psychoactive effect, hardly capable of producing the ecstatic Vedic hymns. The A vesta, a sacred
Soma lttuul text brought to Persia by the Aryans and closely related to the Vedas, refers to haoma as a golden plant with many stems and distinguishes between it, the "only drink attended with piety rather than anger," and other intoxicants such as wine. Many substances have been proposed as the original soma/haoma, including rhubarb, milky Sarcos lemma hrevistigma, cannabis and Syrian rue (Peganum harm ala). The most plausible identification has been made by Wasson, who, after years of careful research, concludes that it was the fly agaric mushroom.
And indeed there is an ancient shamanistic tradition of Amanita muscaria use in Central Asia, from whose western perimeters the Aryans originally came. Only vestiges remain of this shamanism among the Koryak, Chukchi, Ostyak, Samoyed, Kamchadal and other tribes of Siberia. Modern photographs of Samoyed shamans under ihe influence of Amanita, moaning songs and chants to the accompaniment of a magical drum, match up almost exactly with age-old rock drawings of Samoyed shamans traveling to the wodd of the dead. Though specific rituals varied from tribe to tribe, an account by Jochelson, an anthropologist who lived among the Koryak in
1901, transmits the mushroom experience with great clarity. Even in this outside observer's report, we can glimpse something of the awesome powers felt by ancient shamans in the Amanita trance. Such an experience could well have called forth the reverential ecstasies of the Vedas.
Fly agaric hallucinations may also lie behind shamanistic shape-changing, the divine metamorphosis of humans into animals, plants and polysexual beings. "In the beginning of things, at the mythological time of the Big Raven," Jochelson says of Koryak belief, "man also possessed the power of transforming himself. By putting on the skin of an animal, or by taking on the outward form of an object, he could assume its form. Big Raven and EmeYnqut turned into ravens by putting on raven coats Eme'mqut and his wives put on wide-brimmed spotted hats resembling the fly agaric and turned into those poisonous fungi. The belief in the transformation of men into women after putting on a woman's clothes, and vice versa, is closely related to this group of ideas."
eaiiiest Shang dynasty times in the second mUlenium B.C., wine made from millet or rice was the drug of shamanistic magic and shape-changing. The shaman gulps a howl of wine and crawls into ¡he tiger's mouths He is mortally afraid. The tiger holds him gently, carefully„ fiercely soothing the kitten of mankind. The shaman glimpses death and fe-ls alive-feels the tiger's heart pounding in his brain, deep and throbbing and alert in his animal skin. The cycles of death and rebirth go on, the man in the mouth Of the tiger forever.
The shaman's drugs provided not only protection and solace but also trips into far corners of consciousness* Journeys through surreal and often beautiful realms are common in all drug mythology. Often it is a terrifying trip to the land of the dead, but sometimes it is more serene. Odysseus's voyage to the Land of the Lotus-Eaters is one example; the Chinese legend of "Visit to Drunk-Land" is another.
Marijuana, another plant native to Central Asia, also assumed an important role in early shamanistic magic. The mythic Divine Cultivator of ancient China, Shen Nung, is said to have taught the Chinese people how to cultivate hemp for fiber and medicine, and cannabis contributed substantially to the development of Chinese civilization. The Greek historian Herodotus says the Scythians of Central Asia purified themselves I after the funeral of a king by erecting small tents, crawling inside them and inhaling the vapors of hemp seeds thrown on red-hot stones; implements for just this purpose have been found in Siberian tomb barrows. He also records that tribes along the Aiaxes River threw the fruit of a tree, probably hemp flower tops, into their tires, "and its smell makes them drunk as wine does us, and they get more and more intoxicated as more fruit is thrown on, until they jump up and start singing and dancing."
In late Vedic India, cannabis was used by sorcerers in fire ceremonies for good fortune in war and hunting, as well as for curing and poisoning. Ii has been suggested that Zoroaster, who reformed the A vest an religion of Persia, hated haoma and wine drinkers, and the ancient haoma cult, slowly died out.. Hemp, however, is favorably mentioned in several myths of the Zoroastrian fire-worshipers (known as "Magi" in the Bible). Hemp under the name Qunupu or Quuabu also appears in Assyrian sacred texts of about the seventh century B.C., though wine was much more important in eai^y religion there.
Every religion of the ancient Near Bast had its sacred drugs. Our most ancient myths recall the perils of such plants. "And the Lord God
"As we sit by the Rivers of Babylon, we pray all day and night for freedom to draw our herb and praise Ras Tafari.. We beat our drum to catch the spirit of the Almighty God Ras Tafari..They take us as Slave down in Jamaica and put us to slave in the cane field and we beat our drum and give praises to God. We the true Rastafarian do not take part in anything which is bad. We hurt no one and we want no one to hurt us. As you look on the painting you can see the herb cup of God Ras Tafari and you can see the herb tree. I and I brethren been drawing herb for over 50 years and it do no harm to I and L So we would like to draw our herb in peace and let God righteousness exalt, the earth and our enemies be our footstool..
I and I brethren do not take part with colour prejudice for we know that we have bad black man and bad white man too. So lei all Nation be free and let righteousness exalt, all Nation. That is what the Rastafarian in Jamaica stand for."
S. Watson legend to (he painting Down By the River Side, 1971
commanded the man, saying, "You may eat freely of every tree of the garden; hut of the tree of the know ledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.'. (Genesis 2:16-17.) Was the expulsion of Adam and Eve fern the garden the first drug bust of prehistory? And was this prohibition of forbidden fruit in some way related to the shamanistic discovery of plants that could affect the mind?
A similar legend is told in West Africa about the caffeine-rich fruit of the kola tree, which has been deemed sacred since the most ancient times
GILGAMESH AND THE HERB OF IMMORTALITY "Gilgamesh, you have come liere, toiling and straining.
What shall. I give you that you may return., to your.' land'?
I will discdose. 0 Gilgamesh, a hidden thing,
And [a secret of ihe gods I will] tell, you:
Its thorns, will. pr[ick your hands! jusi like the rose.
If your hands obtain the plant, [you will find new life]."
The god Utnapishtin speaks lo weary Gilgamesh because of iis wonderful abiliiy 10 stimulate the mind. The creator god put aside a kola mil he was chewing while busily creating the universe and forgot lo take il wilh him when he went away. A man discovered and lasted the fruit, despite his wife's imploring him not lo eat the food of the gods. The creator came back looking for the kola, saw the man chewing it, grasped him by the throat and forced him to return., it. Since that time traces of the god's fingei-s can be seen around the "Adam's apple," the remnant of a kola nut lodged in man's throat..
Was the Biblical fruit a kola nut, and the story of Adam and Eve a memory of ihis ancient African folktale? Kola did not grow in the ancient Near East, but neither did the apple. The Judeo-Chrislian tree of good and evil may even carry a reminder of shamanistic mushroom use: a Ihirteenih-ceniary. fresco on the wall of a church in Plaincouralt, France, shows Adam and Eve standing beside a clump of giant fly agarics; the seipent coiled around it holds in his mouih an apple or a scarlet mushroom cap.
Most of the other Near Eastern., sacred plants are just as hard to identify. The Assyro-Babylonian tree of life, which presumably influenced the Biblical one, is guarded by eagle-headed, winged deities and looks like a lotus, a vine on a trellis or possibly datura. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, which goes back lo the second millennium B.C. in Mesopotamia, ihe hero journeys to a distant land in search of the ''herb of immortalny." There he fuids a flood-god, Utnapishtim the Faraway, who tells him about a plant wilh thorns (a metaphor for danger?) that will rejuvenate him. Old carvings of Gilgamesh holding the plani show it might have been a poppy, a pomegranate or even a cucumber.
Similarly, the manna which miraculously appeared in Sinai lo save the Israelites from starvation during their exodus from Egypt may have been a fungus or some other hallucinogen, though scholars usually identify it as the decayed fruit of the tamarisk tree. During the feast of Passover, which commemorates in part ihe Angel of Death's passing over Hebrew homes in Egypt to spare their eldest sons on the eve of the exodus, bitier herbs (now usually hoi-seradish) reminiscent of the bitterness of slavery in Egypt are eaten along with unleavened bread, and four cups of red wine are drunk in memory of the four stages of the journey out of bondage. Wine is the sacred drug of Judaism, conventionally drunk on the Sabbath to induce a sanctified state of communion with the divine.
Many Near Eastern, drug cubs, which came into Greece and Rome as "mystery religions," originally involved human sacrifice. (The Greek word pharmalws meant ''scapegoat,'' a human sacrifice lo appease the gods, long before it meant ''drug.'') From Zoroaslrian Persia came the Aryan god Mithra, implacable slayer of evil, whose foes were scorched in his radiance; lie was especially popular among soldiers of the Roman legions. Worshipers of the fearsome banley-beer god Sabazius in Phrygia annualLy tore a living boy apart lo make the grain grow tall and the beer more potent.. Cybele, the great mother goddess of Asia Minor, drove her lover Atlis into a drugged frenzy in which he castrated himself; from his blood sprang violets and magic plants. Not much is known about the ancient poppy goddess of Crete, but she may have presided over the sacred games in which young gymnasts of both sexes hurtled themselves over huge bulls: poppy juice would have been a marvelous anodyne for those who got gored.
A myth of Old Kingdom Egypt recalls the propitiation of a bloodthirsty goddess with beer. Wrathful Hathor hovered over humanity, wreaking death and destruction everywhere. The
sun god Ra prevented her from annihilating humanity by mixing red ochre in beer and pouring it over the fields. 11 When the goddess came thither in the morning» she found these fields inundated, and her face was mirrored beautifully therein. Stje drank thereof and was satiated: she went about drunk, and recognized people no more," an old papyrus says. From that day forward Hat ho r was worshiped as goddess of love and joy, celebrated yeanly in riotous festival with blood-red beer.
Osiris taught the people of Egypt how to make beer and wine, built, the first temples and spread civilization throughout the would. His brother Set grew jealous and invited him to a wine feast at which was displayed a chest that would confer magical powers on whoever could fit inside it. Unsuspecting Osiris lay down in the chest, and Set nailed it shut and threw it in the Nile, where it floated down to Phoenicia. Isis, sister of Osiris and his queen, searched for the coffer, found it embedded in a tamarisk tree, withdrew it and bore it back to Egypt in grief. Bui Set had Osiris's body hacked into fourteen pieces and scattered far and wide, Isis again searched, and where she found a part, she established a shrine. She rejoined the fragments of the body and restored the king to life with sacred herbs, spices and enchantments (the first embalming). The rejuvenated Osiris ruled the world of the dead, through which all departed spirits were conducted. And Isis, radiant sorceress of curing with drugs, was honored as the queen of immortality.
The Isis cult was readily accepted in Greece and Rome because of its resemblance to the cult of Demeter (Ceres), another great life-bringing goddess of the earth, One day her daughter Persephone, gaily picking flowers in the field, saw a magical plant.. When she plucked it, the earth opened up and she was carried off to the underworld by Hades. Demeter set out in frantic search. At Eleusis she was informed of the abduction and, refusing wine, was given a magic potion (kykeon) to assuage her grief. She would not let earth bring forth the crops and herbs, and famine swept the land. Zeus promised that Persephone could return if she had not eaten the food of the dead. But Iiades tricked her into eating a few seeds of a tasty red pomegranate, which doomed her to spend a few months of the year in his kingdom, Demeter, grateful that Persephone could return at least part of the time, brought forth the plants again and taught mankind the cultivation of cereal grains. And so the season* slowly come and go, the daughter of earth vanishes beneath the ground for winter, only to reappear in spring, pale and chilly but ready to bloom into life.
THE VENERABLE MYSTERY "How right (he Greeks were to hedge about this Mystery [of Eleusis J, this imbibing of the potion, with secrecy and surveillance! What today is resolved into a mere drug, a tryptamine or lysergic add derivative, was for him a prodigious m trade, inspiring in him poetry and philosophy and religion. Perhaps with all our modern-knowledge we do not need the divine mushrooms any more. Or do we need them more than ever? Some are shocked that the key even to religion might be reduced to a mere drug. On the other hand, the drug is as mysterious as it ever was: like the wind it cometh we know not whence, nor why. Out of a mere drug comes the ineffable, comes ecstasy."
R. Gordon Wasson "The Hallucinogenic Fungi of Mexico." 1961
This myth was the center of the Eleusinian Mysteries, the state religion of Athens during the Golden Age of Greece, A strict vow of silence about the mysteries was enforced, but some facts became known because part of the rites were held in public. Any Greek-man, woman or child, slave or free, and later even foreigners-could be initiated. Candidates for membership were first inducted in the lesser mysteries in Febinary and placed on probation for months, sometimes years, of secret instruction. Then they were admitted to the greater mysteries, celebrated for nine days in September-October. Finally, after ritual purification by fasting and bathing, the initiates carried an image of Iacehus, a howling god, in a grand procession from Athens to Bleu sis, where certain sacred objects were revealed and explained.
Three thousand initiates file slowly into the great
Greek vase pahttivg hall, at E!easts to be reborn. Each has drunk the magic kykeonf which takes effect as the Hierophant, a priest in simple robes, guides them through the mysteries. A marriage is celebrated: certain sacred objects are shown; a mystic immortal birth is revealed. The initiates sing, "1 have eaten from the timbrel, I have drunk from the cymbals, I have carried the grain-dish, I have gone down into the chamber of the bride," Crowned with gariands to signify their union with the gods, the worshipers are led[ strangely solemn> to a magnificent feast. .
What was the drink of the initiates? According to an ancient hymn to Demeter, the kykeon the goddess drank at Eleusis was barley groats in water, mixed with mint.. Albert Hofmann and mythographer C% Kerchyi have examined these constituents for possible hallucinogenic effect. Toasted barley groats in water would produce malt and a sweet alcoholic drink after short fermentation-perhaps during the 14-mile walk from Athens to Eleusis. Moreover, fresh mint added to kykeon may have been psychoactive; scholars believe it was pennyroyal (Mentha pitlegtum), containing pulcgone, which induces delirium in large doses. The combination might very well, as Hofmann and Kercnyi conclude, "have produced hallucinations in persons whose sensibility, was heightened by fasting."
Plato, who was initiated, never revealed the secrets of Eleusis. But late in life, setting forth laws that might govern an ideal city-state, he discusses a hypothetical drug to induce sheer terror in a young man as a test of his mettle and a means of developing courage. Any number of solanaceous halluckjogens known to the Greeks could fit the bill,, Demeter is often depicted in bas-relief holding poppies and sheaves of grain in her hands, so there is a possibility that opium was used. But the boldest theory hits been proposed by poet Robert Graves, who listed the ingredients of ambrosia, nectar and kykeon in Greek and discovered that their initial letters spelled out, respectively, myketa, myk and myka, These are various crises of the Greek word rnykes, meaning "mushroom,"
Graves, Wasson and others have also suggested that hallucinogenic mushrooms may have been drunk in wine by the Maenads, worshipers of Dionysus, during their orgiastic revels. Though wine was well known in ancient Greece, Dionysus was not originally a member of the Olympian pantheon. There was something alien, something indisputably Asian, about his worship that led the Greeks to try to prohibit it at first.. The myth of Dionysus exemplifies the historical failure of all such drug prohibition attempts.
THE VENERABLE MYSTERY "How right ihe Greeks were to hedge about this Myslery [of Eleusis), this imbibing of the poiion, wilh secrecy and surveillance! What today is resolved into a mere drug, a tryptamine or lysergic acid derivative, was for him a prodigious miracle, inspiring in him poetry and philosophy and religion. Perhaps wilh all our modern knowledge we do not need the divine mushrooms any more. Or do we need them more than ever? Some are shocked that the key even to religion might be reduced to a mere drug. On the other hand, the drug is as mysterious as it ever was: like the wind It cometh we know not whence, nor why. Out of a mere drug comes the ineffable,comesecstasy."
R. Gordon Wasson "The Hallucinogenic Fungi of Mexico," 1961
This myth was the center of the Eleusinian Mysteries, the state religion of Athens during the Golden Age of Greece. A strict vow of silence about the mysteries was enforced, but some facts became known because part of the rites were held in public. Any Greek-man, woman or child, slave or free, and later even foreigners-could be initiated. Candidates for membership were first inducted in the lesser mysteries in February and placed on probation for months, sometimes years, of secret instruction. Then they were admitted to the greater mysteries, celebrated for nine days in September-October. Finally, after ritual purification by fasting and bathing, the initiates carried an image of lacchus, a howling god, in a grand procession from Athens to Eleusis, where certain sacred objects were revealed and explained,
Three thousand initiates file slowly into the great
hall, at Eleusis to be reborn. Each has drunk the magic kykeon, which takes effect as the Hierophant, a priest in simple robes, guides them through the mysteries. A marriage is celebrated; certain sacred objects are shown; a mystic immortal birth is revealed. The initiates sing, "1 have eaten from the timbrel, I have drunk from the cymbals, I have carried the grain-dish, I have gone down into the chamber of the bride.1' Crowned with garlands to signify their union with the gods, the worshipers are led, strangely solemn, to a magnificent feast. .
What was the drink of the initiates? According to an ancient hymn to Demeter, the kykeon the goddess drank at Eleusis was bacley groats in water, mixed wilh mint.. Albert Hofmann and mythographer C. Kere'nyi have examined these constituents for possible hallucinogenic effect.. Toasted bailey groats in water would produce malt and a sweet alcoholic drink after short fermentation-peiiiaps during the 14-mile walk from Athens to Eleusis. Moreover, fresh mint added to kykeon may have been psychoactive: scholars believe it was pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium), containing pulegone, which induces delirium in large doses. The combination might very well, as Hofmann and Kere'nyi conclude, ''have produced hallucinations in persons whose sensibility was heightened by fasting." .
Plato, who was initiated, never revealed the secrets of Eleusis. But late in life, setting forth laws that might govern an ideal city-state, he discusses a hypothetical drug to induce sheer terror in a young man as a test of his mettle and a means of developing courage. Any number of solanaceous hallucinogens known to the Greeks could fit the bill.. Demeter is often depicted in bas-relief holding poppies and sheaves of grain in her hands, so there is a possibility that opium was used. But the boldest theory has been proposed by poet Robert Graves, who listed the ingredients of ambrosia, nectar and kykeon in Greek and discovered that their initial lellei-s spelied out, respectively, mykera, myk and myka. These are various cases of the Greek word mykes, meaning ''mushroom.''
Graves, Wasson and others have also suggested that hallucinogenic mushrooms may have been drunk in wine by the Maenads, worshipers of Dionysus, during their orgiastic revels. Though wine was welJL known in ancient Greece, Dionysus was not originally a member of the Olympian pantheon. There was something alien, something indisputably Asian, about his worship that led the Greeks to try to prohibit „ il at first.. The myth of Dionysus exemplifies the historical failure of all such drug prohibition attempts.
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