Scholars Need to Put Entheogens in Their Proper Place in the History of Religious Experiencing
An open letter to entheogen scholars and mainstream academic religion scholars
August 23, 2007. Sent to various entheogen scholars and mainstream academic religion scholars.
This is a call to really put entheogens in their proper place when it comes to the history of direct mystical, spiritual, shamanic, or religious experience.
The all-important question, which entheogen scholars have not yet asked, is: To what extent were visionary plants (various entheogenic drugs) used throughout Christian history, within the Christian framework?
My main concern about the book by Carl Ruck and the Entheos magazine crew, The Hidden World: Survival of Pagan Shamanic Themes in European Fairytales, is whether it entrenches and promotes the familiar false dichotomy between Christian tradition and the use of visionary plants (entheogenic drugs).
Academia is guilty of systemic blindness to visionary plants in religious history. Entheogen scholars are guilty of being lukewarm and half-baked and overly moderate and cautious, failing to recognize the wealth of evidence that's in the form of rather obvious metaphorical descriptions of visionary plants and the altered-state experiential dynamics and perspectives that psychedelic or psychotomimetic drugs typically induce. In religious-history scholarship, the central primacy of visionary plants needs to be fully recognized and confronted, and needs to replace the currently predominant uber-"theory" of, "mysterious alien primitive socio-psychology that we over-sophisticated moderns are constitutionally incapable of ever understanding".
All the existing scholars' explanations of ancient religion amount to variants of the same non-theory, variants of the same complicated sky-castle: "ancient religion was an incomprehensible alien primitive socio-psychology system, about which we can theorize but never occupy and comprehend". The alternative is to take seriously the maximal entheogen theory of religion, and fully open up discussion and investigation of this arena of questions and research.
A few rare books give me a small ray of hope. I first held my nose when picking up the book Life After Death, bracing myself for a 900-page exercise in reductionism, where mystic altered-state ego death descriptions are filtered through the distorting lens of the modern-era, ordinary-state-based "reducing valve" (borrowing William James' words), such that the amazing, peak experience of ego death is reduced and distorted into physical bodily death. But Segal's book proves no worse than any entheogen scholar or entheogen theorist's book that adheres to the moderate entheogen theory of religion, such as Beyond Death by Stan Grof.
Life After Death: A History of the Afterlife in Western Religion
Covers altered states and visionary plants, including the following terms: ecstatic, altered, altered state, trance, drug, shamanism, psychotropic, ketamine, shaman, shamanic, seizure, psychedelic, psychoactive, mushroom, dissociation, henbane, epilepsy, entheogen, jimson, ergot, marijuana, poppies.
Beyond Death: The Gates of Consciousness
Gives main focus to the mystic-state near-death or death experience induced by psychoactives; he doesn't resort to overemphasizing presumably drug-free "traditional contemplation" or "meditation".
Like the book Beyond Death, the book Life After Death merely errs in putting visionary plants at the same level of other methods that modern-era scholars have been thought to be "traditional", such as that handy explanatory construct, "traditional contemplative practices" (rather than giving visionary plants their proper pride of place as the Mother of All Methods).
The entheogen scholars fall prey to overly moderate thinking, saying that there's little evidence that religion was centrally based on drug plants. But evidence, and the quantity of evidence, depends on one's assumption-framework, and the maximal entheogen theory of religion presents an assumption framework that reveals even more kinds of evidence than the current, feeble, fickle, *moderate* entheogen theory of religion such as Andy Letcher has been mistaken as refuting.
Entheogen scholars have hardly even begun to open their eyes and look for even the most crudely physical depictions: even in some of the art they've pointed to, I've had to point out additional depictions of visionary drug plants, in those same pictures -- proving that it is much too early for anyone to presume to gauge how much or how little evidence there is for the entheogen theory of religion.
We haven't even made the attempt, yet, to gather the evidence. The Entheos magazine issues so far are nothing but a start, and many readers are likely to come away with the impression that the only kind of evidence to take into consideration is literal depictions of the physical forms of the plants. Yes, psychoactive mushrooms are physically depicted in the fresco (http://www.egodeath.com/mobile4.htm#tsm), but what is the *meaning* of Dionysus holding the chariot reigns, with Ariadne riding alongside -- in terms of the experiential cognitive phenomenology of the intense mystic altered state, that matter to us? That consideration opens up a whole layer and perspective, beyond the mere physical form of the plants.
Ruck's book on mythology integrates visionary plants with various mythemes in a manner like this, providing a richer set of perspectives, albeit heavily dominated by a certain pre-existing, non-drug-informed hypothesis about what's most important in interpreting classical mythology: "the cultivated vs. the uncultivated". To avoid a fruitless waste of time, academic theories ought to be debating over the *meaning* and *interpretation* of visionary plants in religious myth (for example, debating whether my theory or Ruck's myth textbook has more explanatory power) -- not debating *whether* drug plants were at all present, as if that were still open to reasonable doubt after considering all the evidence, as if there are better alternative explanations than ones centrally involving drug plants.
The World of Classical Myth: Gods and Goddesses, Heroines and Heroes
Carl Ruck, Danny Staples
Textbook that integrates visionary plants -- not to imply that this book's particular explanation is the only possible interpretive theory for how visionary plants fit into religious myth.
The academic establishment has been committed to loudly ignoring the huge question of whether drug plants were the most central thing throughout the history of religion. One would hope that the entheogen scholars would lead the way into the heart of this matter, so that the rest of the academic establishment could simply follow along.
The result of the insufficient consideration of visionary plants throughout religious history has been such fleeting nonsensical asides as Dan Merkur's un-sound statement in his book Gnosis (http://amazon.com/o/asin/0791416208) that the Gnostics wouldn't have used visionary plants because plants are physical and Gnostics were against the physical world.
The equivalent dedication to short-changing the topic of visionary plants in religious history is present in Eastern religious studies too, which is every bit as corrupted and evasive as scholarship in Western religion; it is noteworthy that popular Eastern-religion theorist Ken Wilber began his first book by censoring out the detail "On nitrous oxide, ..." from William James' statement "... it occurred to me that perception is a veil", etc. Ken Wilber's ultimate sky-castle is constructed on the cornerstone of ignoring and jumping over the topic of the unmatched efficacy of psychoactive drugs in straightforwardly and reliably inducing religious experiencing.
The Spectrum of Consciousness
His first book; begins by omitting "On Nitrous Oxide, ..." from the quote from William James' book The Varieties of Religious Experiencing.
On Ken Wilber's first interview CD, he states that he has not used psychedelics: he used MDMA, which is not an entheogen, and he might have been dosed with LSD at a college party but he doesn't know.
The book Shroom by Andy Letcher is a mixed bag, contributing ample confusion as well as adding some findings.
Shroom: A Cultural History of the Magic Mushroom
But at least his book has a couple of reverse benefits:
o It demolishes the flimsy, flaky *moderate* entheogen theory of religion (using a suitably flimsy argumentation style and careless, even irresponsible, inattention to Theory and assumption-sets). It forces entheogen scholars to get their act together, get their story firmed-up, and get on with the *maximal* entheogen framework instead of their garbled and self-contradictory moderate theory.
o It helps establish that the "psychoactive mushroom theory of the origins of religion" has now become accepted and entrenched as fact, at least in some quarters. It is questionable whether the mushroom theory of pre-historic religious origins is accepted and entrenched within establishment academia, which is, rather, committed to pointedly *ignoring* this whole large elephant in the room, ignoring the looming "Allegro" question, for fear of being crucified on Allegro's cross. So by default, the public worldview regarding the role of drugs in religious history is set by popular books, outside of the academic establishment -- at least within the subculture of pop entheogen studies.
The establishment point of view may pretend to consider the maximal entheogen theory of religion shocking and radical, but it is time to grow up, get serious, and address head-on the *primacy* of the subject of visionary drug plants throughout religious history and throughout Christian history within the Christian tradition, and time to object to censoring-out the subject of visionary drug plants (entheogens).
It's taboo, therefore it must be discussed at full length by all religious academics, the good and sensible proposal that historically, religion is nothing if not the history of entheogen use. This is taboo, but at least academic scholars, who are laboring under the oppressive and censorious conditions of the culture of Drug Prohibition, can read such discussion, even if they cannot freely pursue such discussion in a straightforward and open way.
Any book purporting to discuss Christian history without focusing significantly on metaphors that were understood to describe the experiences induced by visionary plants, is an exercise in evasiveness and missing the point. The New Testament, read in its Roman Empire context, is manifestly and obviously (to its audience) an application of the standard visionary plant sacraments that were normative for the entire era of antiquity, toward the goal of setting up an alternative, egalitarian sociopolitical structure. (Rough notes: http://www.egodeath.com/NTKingOnCrossInRomanEmpire.htm)
Someone recommended I read and discuss the book The Hidden World: Survival of Pagan Shamanic Themes in European Fairytales at the Egodeath website and weblog.
The Hidden World: Survival of Pagan Shamanic Themes in European Fairytales
Carl Ruck, Blaise Staples, Jose Celdran, Mark Hoffman
Carolina Academic Press
No reviews yet, as of this writing.
Search Inside is in process.
I will again consider obtaining a copy. I announced the book in my Egodeath weblog two years ago (audience size: 368 subscribers + visible to everyone + RSS feed + Google search hits): http://groups.yahoo.com/group/egodeath/message/4115. As of this writing, there's no Search Inside, to evaluate the book online, but it's being set up. http://books.google.com/books?q=carl+ruck+hidden+world
I had pre-ordered the book The Hidden World a year or two before it finally came out, but I cancelled the order due to the $40 price combined with lack of Search Inside, and lack of reviews, at the time. The price may explain why no one else seems to have posted a review on the Web yet.
I do recommend Benny Shanon's book Antipodes of the Mind, which definitely is worth that price, because it lays a sound foundation for a viable new field and approach: the cognitive phenomenology of the entheogen-induced dissociative mystic altered state. I confidently purchased and reviewed Antipodes after it was available with an online preview via Search Inside; Hidden World doesn't presently have such an online preview as of this writing, so I'm less likely to purchase and review it, and have been waiting to hear others' reviews of it first.
The Antipodes of the Mind: Charting the Phenomenology of the Ayahuasca Experience
Oxford University Press
5 stars (out of 5), 11 reviews
Doesn't cover the history of entheogen use.
I'm readily buying a thinner, inexpensive book, because it has an online preview, and a more recent one by the author despite the lack of an online preview:
Mushroom Wisdom: How Shamans Cultivate Spiritual Consciousness
by Martin W. Ball
Has "Search Inside"
"spiritual teachings, philosophy, metaphysics, and shamanic wisdom ... the sacred use of visionary mushrooms and the art of introspective self-reflection."
Practical mystic-state phenomenology. Quietly radical; a soft-spoken suggestion of the maximal entheogen theory of religion.
http://www.erowid.org/library/review/review.php?p=233 -- gregoryp's review at Erowid, and author's reply
In the book Mushroom Wisdom, the manner of describing the experiencing demonstrates how to effectively talk about visionary-plant mystic-state phenomenology. The wording is somewhat like Egodeath.com, and could help for my book writing style -- like Freke & Gandy's book on the history of mysticism including visionary plants, which was substantial and yet plainspoken and accessible even to a high-school reading level: The Complete Guide to World Mysticism (http://amazon.com/o/asin/0749917768). Peter Kingsley, after his book Ancient Philosophy, Mystery, and Magic: Empedocles and Pythagorean Tradition (http://amazon.com/o/asin/0198150814), has also demonstrated a shift from the stilted, academic "investigative study" style to a straight-talking summarization style, but unfortunately his books don't discuss visionary plants, but instead imply, by omission, that vision incubation in caves in Hellenic antiquity didn't employ visionary drug plants.
Martin Ball's subsequent book also therefore merits purchase and review:
Sage Spirit: Salvia Divinorum and the Entheogenic Experience
Martin W. Ball
There is not presently an online preview, to confirm whether it is framed in terms of practical mystic-state phenomenology.
"hyperspace, multidimensional sound, journey with the cosmic serpent ... follow-up book to Mushroom Wisdom."
Salvia expert Daniel Siebert wrote: "'sage' wisdom ... sacred herb ... tremendous respect ... his personal experiences ... meaningful insights ... helpful advice on using this herb as a tool for cultivating practical spirituality. ... should be read by all who seek to understand the nature of Salvia divinorum, especially as it relates to human consciousness, personal growth, and spiritual development."
Regarding the book by Ruck and the Entheos crew, The Hidden World: Survival of Pagan Shamanic Themes in European Fairytales, and whether it entrenches and promotes the false dichotomy between Christian tradition and the use of visionary plants:
Based on my other reading, Ruck's DVD "Heretical Visionary Sacraments amongst the Ecclesiastical Elite", and the publisher's blurb, I have the following comment on the book The Hidden World (which I haven't seen, and which no one seems to have reviewed yet).
Heretical Visionary Sacraments Amongst the Ecclesiastical Elite
Carl Ruck, Blaise Staples
The school of thought of which Carl Ruck is exemplary tends to assume that visionary plant usage was common, yet at the same time rare and deviant throughout European history; that assumption-set is self-contradictory to some extent, holding back against the full-on maximal entheogen theory of religion. I suspect that the book The Hidden World is a step in the right direction, but that it could go further.
The publisher's blurb states in passing that "a pharmacological Eucharist was the norm" (for shamanism), yet -- against that wording -- the Entheos magazine group of entheogen scholars, including Carl Ruck, are committed to assuming a divide: on one side, Christianity, which "normally" had nothing whatsoever to do with any visionary plants in any way (according to the moderate entheogen theory of religion), and on the other side, secret pagan shamanism, which was centered around visionary plants. I'm out to expose, critique, and eliminate that false dichotomy.
Entheos magazine hangs back and merely puts forth the moderate entheogen theory of religion. However, despite that tendency, Entheos of necessity, despite itself, finds itself accidentally developing and discovering the maximal theory -- i.e. visionary plants were universally significantly normal. The more that Mark Hoffman and Carl Ruck strive to convince the world to move from the minimal to the moderate entheogen theory of religion, the more they will find themselves making the case instead for the even stronger, maximal entheogen theory of religion.
Competing Views about Entheogens in Religious History
Compares the moderate vs. maximal entheogen theory of religion
It remains the case that no book, to date, has ever thought to even ask the ten-million dollar question: To what extent were visionary plants used throughout Christian history, within the Christian framework?
Clark Heinrich's book provides a preliminary framework for this question by generally (and speculatively) tracing metaphorical allusions to the Amanita mushroom throughout Western religious history, but a sustained focus within the Christian tradition is needed most of all -- supported by all the surrounding Western religious frameworks, which establish the type or class of religion of which Christianity was an instance -- and more attention to cognitive phenomenology and metaphor for it is needed, and coverage of the entire class of visionary plants is needed, not just Amanita.
Strange Fruit: Alchemy, Religion and Magical Foods: A Speculative History
Strange Fruit: Alchemy and Religion: The Hidden Truth
Magic Mushrooms in Religion and Alchemy
Wasson and Allegro on the Tree of Knowledge as Amanita
Shows how neither Wasson nor Allegro thought to ask the extent of visionary plant use throughout Christian history within the Christian framework, to evaluate whether such use should be considered historically "deviant" or "normal" -- or even "normative" -- within Christianity
Publisher's blurb for the book The Hidden World: Survival of Pagan Shamanic Themes in European Fairytales:
>>It was mainly only the European urban centers that converted to Christianity, and often more for political or commercial interests, than as a matter of faith. The old religions persisted in the villages or pagani, from which the term Paganism arose. The Christians built their sanctuaries upon the pagan sites, expropriating their numinous past, assimilating the symbolism of the former deities, and commonly incorporating the actual architectural remnants. The wisdom of those deposed gods and their rites persisted in less objectionable forms—disguised to delude the censors—as country festivals and quaint tales often about the fairy folk, who coexisted with this world and could be accessed by magical procedures that perpetuated half-remembered methods of authentic ancient shamanism.
>>Such shamanism always involved pharmaceutical expertise. Mircea Eliade was mistaken in concluding that drugs were characteristic only of the late and decadent stages of a religion. Rock paintings of the greatest antiquity and his own abundant citations indicate that, instead, a pharmacological Eucharist was the norm; and Eliade was himself about to reverse his stance shortly before his death.
>>Encoded in tales seemingly as simple as Snow White with her poisoned red and white apple are themes traceable back to the great epics of Homer and the Mesopotamian Gilgamesh. These patterns of shamanic empowerment lurk also in the histories of the leading families of Europe, who could not completely divest themselves of the former religious basis for their right to rule, but instead they embraced, Christianized, and buried it in sanctified graves, as was the case with the great fairy Melusina, whose eighth abominable son, called Horrible, was murdered. A number of churches involved in the Albigensian heresy claim his body was laid to rest beneath them.
I'd omit the 'secret' and 'disguised to hide' assumption, which Andy Letcher so fixated on, as well. If the use of visionary plants was a secret throughout religious history, it was an open secret. Why does there *seem* to be, as far as we are presently aware, a shortage of explicit statements that "our religious sacrament is mushrooms, cannabis, henbane, and similar visionary plants"?
Apparently, there was no tremendous need to state explicitly that the sacrament was visionary plants; the convention was to speak metaphorically about the sacraments, and it was an open secret that these sacraments -- most emphatically including the Christian eucharist, above all, and most archetypally -- were visionary plants. It's time to refute the entrenched dogmatic assumption held by almost all entheogen scholars, the unquestioned assumption that people throughout the duration of the Christian tradition were unaware that the Eucharist, Last Supper, sacrament of Christ's flesh, and sacred meals, and agape meals, were visionary plants.
I would word and frame the topic of the book more like the following, instead: European urban centers converted to Christianity for political and commercial interests rather than faith. Christians built their sanctuaries upon the pagan sites, incorporating architectural remnants and assimilating the existing deity symbolism. The wisdom associated with the previously established gods and their rites persisted in forms including festivals and lore. Tales such as Snow White and Sleeping Beauty perpetuate themes based in Norse sagas, Classical and Mesopotamian epics, and Greek comedies and tragedies. While Pagan rites were officially surpassed by the Church, use of visionary sacraments continued, including by ecclesiastics and the influential families of Europe.
Entheos magazine is torn between the strategy of portraying or rendering visionary plants as rare, abnormal, marginal, and deviant, while at the same time striving to gather together all possible evidence to demonstrate that visionary plants were a tiny bit present throughout religious history. I've always seen the merit of the opposite strategy: emphasize as much as possible that visionary plants were heavily present all throughout Christian and religious history and call for a return to that historically normal state, as opposed to the recent mid-to-late 20th Century novel invention of drug prohibition.
In the 1960s, Tim Leary, Richard Alpert, and Ralph Metzner portrayed entheogens as novel. But mystic technique is not a matter of "the traditional, non-drug techniques" vs. "the new faster technique of entheogens" -- rather, rediscovering that the original, archetypal, and ever-predominant ancient technique was none other than the use of entheogens.
Ralph Metzner wrote:
"In my earlier writings, I emphasized the newness of psychedelic drugs, the unimaginable potentials to be realized by their constructive application; and I thought of them as first products of a new technology oriented towards the human spirit. ... my views [about their novelty] have changed under the influence of the discoveries and writings of cultural anthropologists and ethnobotanists, who have pointed to the role of mind-altering and visionary botanicals in cultures across the world." -- "Molecular Mysticism", in Gateway to Inner Space, p. 81
Gateway to Inner Space: Sacred Plants, Mysticism, and Psychotherapy
Christian Ratsch (Ed.)
The entheogen advocates early on made a major gross error in assuming and emphasizing the novel potentials of entheogens; this *assumption* that they unthinkingly propagated helped to create and establish the now almost entrenched assumption that the traditional methods were *not* entheogenic.
Now the entheogen scholars have to battle against the #1 obstacle which is that assumption that entheogens were not used in religion; the truth is the opposite: not only were entheogens sometimes used by some people in some religions in some places, as a deviant minor practice, but rather, entheogens were the ongoing main wellspring and main source of religion and religious renewal -- co-opted, metaphorized, distorted, and perhaps somewhat suppressed, but primary, central, and recognized as such, nevertheless.
Metzner's published official change of paradigms, views, or assumption-frameworks is helpful at least in that the problem and strategic blunder is now recognized among entheogen scholars. It became clear that Mircea Eliade was utterly *wrong* to pronounce in the early 1950s that shamans' use of visionary drug plants was novel and a degeneration.
The general consensus has entirely changed now, regarding our assumptions about what was "normal and traditional" and what was "deviant and alternative" regarding the use of visionary plants in *shamanic* primitive religion -- all that I demand is to make the same shift in our assumptions and the general consensus regarding the use of visionary plants in "our own" (as Wasson says), primitive religion.
Like we inverted Eliade's view on shamanic use of visionary plants, we need to invert the view on the use of visionary plants in "our own" primitive religion, meaning not just Edenic, proto-Jewish pre-history per Wasson, nor just at the beginning of the Christian era per Allegro, but rather, throughout the entire period of the first several Christian centuries, including the use of psychoactive 'mixed wine' all throughout the Roman Empire, through the end of time when Revelation was written with the concluding promise at the end of the Bible: the banquet with 'mixed wine' and access to the tree of life in the garden of Eden; and including the entirety of Christendom throughout the duration of the middle ages as well. The use of visionary plants was never far from the mainstream practice and understanding.
Then merely do the same for Eastern religion, as we have done to turn Eliade on his head, regarding shamanic primitive religion -- whether it's us Westerners, the alien primitive Others, or the exotic Eastern Others.
All academic religious-history scholars and existing entheogen scholars must now consider (not evade) the proposition that there are two types of religion:
For existing entheogen scholars, it is really time to quit automatically pressing into play the tired old complaint that the big bad Christian religion was simply and entirely set against the use of visionary plants. Entheogen scholars need to quit telling that story, quit employing that strategy. It's time for a story that makes more sense and that has more strategic potential. It's time to quit *metaphorically* using the term 'eucharist' in such a way that implies that the Christian eucharist was *not* a visionary plant.
If entheogen scholars cleverly utter "a pharmacological Eucharist was the norm", they should really, literally start meaning just that: throughout the duration of Christian history, a pharmacological Eucharist was the norm, literally, within Christianity itself. What was the norm, within Christian practice and Christian understanding (not just within the land-boundaries of Christendom), and what was the deviant practice and deviant understanding?
At the very least, it is time to stop simply assuming the old dichotomy of "Christian tradition versus the use of visionary plants". It is *and was* manifestly obvious to anyone who actually considers Christian metaphor and who is familiar with the cognitive phenomenology of entheogens, that the Eucharist or Lord's Supper is expressly portrayed as an entheogen, employing the standard conventions of metaphorical description. Some attention is needed, to the issue of what was "normal" and what was "deviant", in terms of both practice and understanding. This amounts to a need for attention to frequency and statistics.
So far, Ruck and Entheos have shown *that* drugs were present in some degree in all religions, regions, and eras, but they have taken it too much for granted that the degree was so small that the use of visionary plants and the understanding of sacraments as visionary plants, was deviant, unusual, and not the norm. There's not an explicit, stated axiom in the field that states as much, but rather, there is a consistent, implicit, background framework of assumptions, or assumption-set, to that effect. McKenna was thus able to simply *assert*, as if self-evident and granted, that visionary plants were eliminated in Christendom at the beginning of Christianity.
Statements to that effect, equally careless and uncritical, are present in almost all books of entheogen scholarship -- it's the latest unquestioned dogma of the day, an assumption that the whole field has become rather too attached to, and too dependent on, to think clearly about other, more interesting and strategically viable assumption-sets and interpretive frameworks.
In contrast to the 1960s notion that drugs are a novel way to access religious experiencing, it is now established within the field of entheogen scholarship *that* drugs were present in religious history, as opposed to being absent, but now it's time for debate, discussion, and research regarding the *degree and extent* of drugs and how much the pre-moderns recognized that the sacraments were drugs, and what the extent, role, and significance of drug sacraments was.
It is *past* time to be debating in simplistic terms of *whether* drugs were ever present in pre-modern religious practice. The only real argument, that Letcher and Ruck et al should be investing their research efforts in, is the key argument about the *extent* and *significance* of drug use, within the *main* stream of religions, with a special emphasis on Christianity and Eastern, supposedly "drug-free meditation" based religions.
This question of statistical frequency and centrality needs to include:
o The full range of visionary drug plants
o A full adequate lens (interpretive framework) to be able to perceive and recognize the religious-myth metaphorical descriptions of the *cognitive phenomena* induced by visionary plants, such as provided by Shanon's book Antipodes of the Mind and by Egodeath.com and my other resources. Not just looking for religious myth that describes the external, physical form of the plants themselves.
Anyone who claims that "there's little evidence for visionary plant use throughout religious history" needs to provide a compelling, better, alternative explanation for how all of the ancients routinely and reliably accessed the mystic altered state, and needs to come up with a simpler and more plausible explanation of what religious myth is about, if not metaphorical description of the cognitive dynamics that are typically experienced in the visionary plant-induced intense mystic altered state. But the only alternative "explanation" is the evasion and non-explanation, the recently predominant uber-theory that "the ancients and everyone else besides us educated and civilized moderns has a mysterious, alien, primitive socio-psychology that we ourselves are evolved beyond and can therefore never really understand first-hand."
"Students of mysticism -- as distinct from mystics themselves -- have no direct access to such a form of experience." -- Bernard McGinn, in Scholem, "On the Kabbalah" (1960), p. xi (1996)
On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism
Book: The Foundations of Mysticism (Presence of God: A History of Western Christian Mysticism, Vol 1)
One of McGinn's own books, which neglects to consider visionary plants in Christian history.
Bernard McGinn is the epitome of the academic type of spiritual Establishment bent on entrenching their paradigm of cluelessness; establishing firmly the dogma of "we modern academics cannot ever understand the mystics, though we can remotely study them; we certainly and necessarily must forever remain alien to the mystic state. (And students, please ignore that large elephant -- the psychedelic 60s -- in the corner. Anyone who is sitting in this religious-studies classroom because of their religious experiences that were induced by psychoactive drugs, please forget what you experienced.)" He is pulling a fast one and writing entheogens out of history; they never existed and they don't exist, in his worldmodel he is trying to establish.
It is easy to forgive Scholem in 1960 for not writing about how anyone can have direct access to mystic experience by using visionary plants. But it is impossible to excuse McGinn for writing the above statement in 1996. Even the spiritual Establishment criticizes McGinn's dogmatic or doctrinaire deliberate and forceful distancing, amounting to a disdain, between "proper academic scholarship" and "mystic experiencing" -- a betrayal and contradiction of the perennial tradition of philosophy being first of all a matter of first-hand mystic-state experiential insight.
Establishment academia has been committed to a needless and invented, self-defeating dichotomy, between "students of mysticism" and "mystics themselves". McGinn's subject matter is interesting, but his paradigm dogmatically postulates from the start that there is no such thing as entheogens, no way for "us" to access basically on-demand the mystic state of consciousness.
A large percentage of McGinn's students, lecture audience, and readers in fact *have* had direct access to mystic experience and they know it -- through entheogens; they privately know that he writes falsely, and artificially holds mystic experiencing at a complete distance, holding it off and denying its accessibility to everyone today, including scholars as scholarly investigators. His students and readers learn this malformed lesson, "here is how to make yourself believe what you know first-hand is not true; here is how to pretend to believe what you do not believe."
Many of today's scholars of mysticism were brought to interest in the subject as a *result* of their entheogenic experiences, same as American Buddhists, Christians, and Sufis. Much of today's pretend-straight fascination with religion is not straight, but is actually a direct result of entheogen-induced experiencing. Today's spiritual Establishment was largely inspired by entheogens, and wouldn't exist without entheogens, but has refused to give entheogens the full credit they certainly deserve, coerced by the distorting conditions of Prohibition -- and the problematic example of John Allegro -- to make themselves believe what they cannot possibly believe, that psychoactive plants and chemicals are of only peripheral relevance to religious studies.
I'm connecting the call for entheogen scholars to address the maximal entheogen theory, with the call for other mainstream scholars of religion to address visionary plants in their religious-studies publications. The task and responsibility remains for entheogen scholars to lead the way in showing the full, predominant relevance and normalcy of the use of visionary plants throughout all religious history, including within normal varieties of Christianity and Buddhism. Only with that task addressed and accomplished, can the bulk of mainstream academic scholarship be expected to follow the lead of the specialist entheogen scholars.
The book reviews I write are often Spotlight Reviews, some of my Amazon book lists have been read thousands of times, and my other book lists hundreds of times. I hope to do an actual critical review of the book Life After Death (http://amazon.com/o/asin/0385422997), but I haven't read it enough yet. I have been recommending it, and I only made a sardonic compliment in the *context* of criticizing various trends that have lasted too long.
sardonic -- Origin: 1630–40; alluding to a Sardinian plant which when eaten was supposed to produce convulsive laughter ending in death
My initial inclination is to criticize even the tantalizing books such as Life After Death for failing to sufficiently enough emphasize the central role of visionary plants throughout religious history, but the criticism and task of such coverage might arguably fall instead on the specialist entheogen scholars, who need to more clearly blaze this trail and step up their leadership in this area.
I also enjoyed the chapter "Paul's Ecstasy" in Segal's book Paul the Convert (http://amazon.com/o/asin/0300052278), even though I consider the figure of "Paul" to be a controverted authorial token rather than a particular historical individual.
>>A lot of New Testament scholars think there was a man named Paul who wrote at least 7 of the letters and whose bio is more or less covered in his letters (but not in Luke's writings about him). About Paul's historicity, it's probably not a good idea to go out on such a limb in the study of the NT, especially when you want to alert people to the value of entheogens. You don't want to lose your credibility before you even start.
I take the opposite strategy, to make the maximum breakthrough: I strive to be as radical as possible across as many fields as possible. I'm not concerned about credibility by the accustomed ruts of thought and standard assumption-sets; I'm worried that I'm not radical enough and someone will come along later and discover a radical modification that I overlooked and should've called attention to. I'm greedy; I don't want to leave anything but slim pickings for later would-be radical researchers.
A coherent reconstruction of religious origins sometimes requires adjusting several assumptions in conjunction, across various fields. The Paul figure, like the Jesus figure, is probably very roughly based on various historical individuals. The Paul figure may be largely the mouthpiece for Marcion, per Hermann Detering's book The Fabricated Paul.
The Fabricated Paul: Early Christianity in the Twilight
From someone's review of the book Jesus the Healer: "I can't think of another book about Jesus that displays more creativity than Davies's book (not surprising, given that creativity is not particularly welcomed in academia, 'normal' research being what's prized, as Kuhn has argued)." I'm not here to do "normal science"; I'm here to do "revolutionary science". I don't prize "normal science", for myself; I'm strictly motivated by doing "revolutionary science". More scholars of Christian origins ought to be as well.
All religious scholars must be familiar with books about entheogens in religious history (Carl Ruck), books about the New Testament as a counter and rebuttal to Roman Imperial ideology (Richard Horsley), and books about ancient proto-mysticism in the intense mystic altered state (Ioan Culianu). Being informed by these perspectives is the only possible way to ever comprehend the meaning of religious myth and what the New Testament meant to its initial audience throughout the Roman Empire.
If a scholar lacks any of these, the result is inevitably garbled, putting forth modern-era hazy, literalist-supernaturalist notions about the ancients' experience of the Holy Spirit, and what religion was all about in antiquity. An alternative bad result that's most concerning, is the purely social-political explanation of the New Testament, that neglects to integrate the mystic altered-state experience of the power of the Holy Spirit through ingesting the Lord's Supper.
It is challenging to avoid self-censoring, to speak frankly on key matters that some viewpoints could consider to be "controversial", and bring these views back to the scholars whose work I've integrated, which requires breaking through the barriers imposed by conventional thinking and topical boundaries -- assumptions and boundaries that even stifle progress in supposedly "radical" fields. I strive to write as frankly as possible, and avoid any spin and b.s.'ing. I've been working hard to promote and draw attention to books by many related authors. Entheogen scholars generally don't read books about the Holy Spirit and Eucharistic liturgical history, and religious scholars generally don't read books about entheogens: both parties need to put their pieces of the puzzle together.
A book list is needed, covering academic studies of Western ancient proto-mysticism in the mystic altered state, where religious myth is held to be metaphorical description of experiential phenomena encountered in the mystic altered state.
I might need to create an Amazon book list for this good genre that's forming, about early Jewish and Christian "mysticism" and mystic-state experiencing. This promising, nascent genre, perhaps of "Academic studies of Western ancient proto-mysticism in the mystic altered state", will really come to life to the extent that visionary plants are taken fully into consideration, and to the extent that metaphor is taken seriously as a replacement for the literalist lens. One could call the theory that there was no historical Jesus or Paul the "maximal metaphor theory of New Testament meaning".
Paradise Now: Essays on Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism
April D. DeConick (Editor)
My current enthusiasm was largely sparked by this book. This book causes me to think I need to create an Amazon book list such as "Academic studies of Western ancient proto-mysticism in the mystic altered state".
Out of this World: Otherworldly Journeys from Gilgamesh to Albert Einstein
Ioan P. Culianu
Integrated coverage of visionary plants.
Death, Ecstasy, and Other Worldly Journeys
John J. Collins & Michael Fishbane (Editors)
SUNY Series in Religious Studies
A reviewer writes "An overlooked classic." But this area of scholarship will be influential, and points the way to the future, toward a complete understanding and comprehension of religion, not just as outsiders studying an alien mystery, as has been the case.
Beholders of Divine Secrets: Mysticism and Myth in the Hekhalot and Merkavah Literature
Vita Daphna Arbel
Most importantly, this book brings together religious myth and mysticism -- which actually hasn't been done much. Religious myth is, above all, metaphorical description of experiential phenomena encountered in the mystic altered state.
According to the maximal entheogen theory of religion, throughout antiquity, the mystic altered state was normally induced by ingesting visionary plants, as sacraments, sacred meals, agape meals, Lord's Supper, Eucharist, 'mixed wine', and symposium "drinking parties".
Related book lists by other people:
Merkabah and Hekhalot Mysticism - http://www.amazon.com/Merkabah-Hekhalot-Mysticism-English/lm/E2GRMFWTDFNR
I currently have book lists that include early Jewish and Christian proto-mysticism, but no list that quite matches the scope of the book Paradise Now: Essays on Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism, or the book Death, Ecstasy, and Other Worldly Journeys.
Scholars and theorists of religion need to put entheogens in their proper place, and part of that is asking the right questions. There is a deadlock and malformed framework of thinking, between today's entheogen books and religious scholarship books: both parties have been avoiding the question of entheogens in Christian tradition, for different reasons. Administering a jolt to this framework can now throw it into a more coherent configuration. Keeping a low profile on these issues (timidity and overcaution against offending today's conventions) would only perpetuate the current deadlock.
I am prepared to assert that later Christian mystics normally used visionary plants. The evidence includes the many hundreds of mushroom trees found in Christian art, and Dan Merkur's book The Psychedelic Sacrament, which ferrets-out references to psychoactive sacraments in mystics' writings. In those writings, look for discussion of ingesting the Eucharist or sacred food or wine, or being drunk.
The Psychedelic Sacrament: Manna, Meditation, and Mystical Experience
Christian mystics normally used visionary plants. We at least need to clearly put forth such a proposal and ask and investigate such questions, if not draw firm conclusions yet.
A scholar replied:
>>Ritual beer drunkenness was found in the Marzikh festival in Canaan and the kispu festival in Mesopotamia. Beer, like Greek wine, was so strong that you don't really have to posit a connection with a psychedelic drug, you just have to talk about how strong was the mixture. These were commemorative feasts for the dead and the dead are regularly reported as having shown up. There may well have been a triggering experience plus a very lively cultural tradition about what to expect.
>>The Zoroastrians and the Vedic priests drank a psychotropic substance, possibly purified through a bull. A measured dose of barley ergot poisoning was the entheogenic feature of the Mysteries of Eleusis. It's hard to believe it could be anything else.
>>Various scholars including Marcus Borg, JJ Collins, Stefan Davies, Jim Davila, and others have been quite open to these ideas.
>>Most scholars do not themselves much read about or know about the properties of entheogens. I've said these things right out loud and written about it. It hasn't always been a good thing to admit around very staid classicists who have a hard time talking about non-rational experiences. They don't seem able to imagine that the ancient Greeks weren't 19th century British nobility dressed up in togas, etc. for a country weekend.
Below are some books (monographs) and resources for the 4 scholars listed above, related to the mystic altered state. There are also chapters in edited collections.
Marcus J. Borg
Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary
Marcus J. Borg
Chapter: The Shaping of Jesus: His Experience of God
Comes close to my thesis that the essential meaning of New Testament Christianity was the era-standard use of visionary plants, for the distinctive new purpose of setting up an egalitarian alternative to the Roman Imperial social-political configuration.
Links for Borg:
http://www.united.edu/portrait/spirit1.shtml -- "A Spirit person or religious ecstatic is one who has frequent and vivid experiences of the sacred."
http://www.united.edu/portrait/ -- "Experiences of the sacred is a distinctive lens used by Borg among Jesus scholars; he gives great weight to experiences of the sacred."
Other scholars' books about the "alternative social-political" purpose of the New Testament omit the mystic altered state, and are based purely in the mundane ordinary state of consciousness, and are only informed by that cognitive state, such as:
· Richard Horsley -- Jesus and Empire: The Kingdom of God and the New World Disorder, http://amazon.com/o/asin/080063490X
· J. D. Crossan -- God and Empire: Jesus Against Rome, Then and Now, http://amazon.com/o/asin/0060843233
· Rodney Stark -- Cities of God: The Real Story of How Christianity Became an Urban Movement and Conquered Rome, http://amazon.com/o/asin/0060858427
· N. T. Wright -- Paul: In Fresh Perspective, http://amazon.com/o/asin/0800637666. Mixes-in conservative literalist-supernaturalism, which is a distorted version of the "mystic altered state" realm of metaphorical description, meaning, and reference.
· Others: my book lists: Christian 'Kingdom' claims as counter-claims to Roman Empire (http://www.amazon.com/Christian-Kingdom-claims-as-counter-claims-to-Roman-Empire/lm/R38V3OTJUHIMW5) -- few of these books cover the group unity experience in the mystic altered state, as they need to.
John Joseph Collins
Seers, Sybils, and Sages in Hellenistic-Roman Judaism
John Joseph Collins
The Apocalyptic Imagination: An Introduction to Jewish Apocalyptic Literature
John Joseph Collins
Stevan L. Davies
Jesus the Healer: Possession, Trance, and the Origins of Christianity
Stevan L. Davies
Reader comments: "Given that alternate states of consciousness are associated with religions, it is surprising that the Jesus literature has ignored this fact. While Jesus spoke more about spirit and the Kingdom of God than anything else, traditional [modern-era] Christianity hardly addresses them."
I mentally group that book with the following two, by other authors, forming a kind of trilogy:
The Religion of Paul the Apostle
Paul, shamanistic experience, and religious experience.
Visions and Healing in the Acts of the Apostles: How the Early Believers Experienced God
John J. Pilch
Mixes-in conservative literalist-supernaturalism, which is a distorted version of the "mystic altered state" realm of metaphorical description, meaning, and reference.
The Secret Book Of John: The Gnostic Gospel, Annotated & Explained
Stevan L. Davies
If I recall, this book mentions ingesting the psychoactive sacrament of apolytrosis ("rescue and ransom from"), followed by experiencing and transcending hiemarmene (the "prison" of cosmic fatedness).
James R. Davila
Descenders to the Chariot: The People Behind the Hekhalot Literature
James R. Davila
-- Michael Hoffman, Egodeath.com