There has been much hype in the media about a new book by Brian C. Muraresku, The Immortality Key: The Secret History of the Religion with No Name. Amazon:

I have not read the book yet, so what I write below is based on a bit of engagement with the media hype and my well-tuned hunches from studying this field for so long. But I will do my duty and read it soon.

The book covers psychedelics in antiquity and in early Christianity. It seems to be written in a style typical of books like this, as a first-person travelogue and account of research (Graves, Wasson, Brown & Brown all do this) and as unveiling a mystery that has never before been revealed (esp. Road to Eleusis). This style usually assumes a hostile audience who needs to be persuaded, and so the author’s credibility relies on constant presence of the personal-voice to guide the reader into his thought world. The stance of ‘unveiling a mystery’ in this sort of psychedelic book usually ends ultimately revealing a drug plant, thus missing out on the true nature of ‘mystery’ and ‘veiling and unveiling’ as related to the revelation of our dependent puppetlike status on a hidden source of control.

This media hype includes:

An appearance by the author and Graham Hancock on Joe Rogan’s show

A segment on CNN

A review at the Daily Beast by a New Testament scholar.

An Amazon page overwhelmed with 5 star reviews that do not justify their rating in any way.

Tweets and promotions from psychedelic media stars like Michael Pollan, Amanda Fielding / Beckley Foundation, MAPS, etc.

Oddly, there’s little critical commentary at all. It’s nearly all praise from top to bottom. One wonders about a coordinated media strategy, which leads to a variety of questions, such as, “why this book?” and “why now?” I can’t recall other recent books on the topic getting this kind of hype.

I listened to a couple minutes of the Joe Rogan podcast while sweeping my floors earlier today. A few observations:

  • There’s something weird about the author and the media hype acting like no one has ever treated these topics before.
  • Eleusis was not ‘the spiritual center of antiquity.’ Longtime readers and listeners know that this is a usual refrain of mine. The overfocus on Eleusis creates a distorted picture of ancient religion. Eleusis was not unique in psychedelics
  • The immediate focus on Eleusis and the kykeon and the question of evidence that the brew was psychedelic (the “Road to Eleusis” mistake) reveals naivety regarding questions of what counts as evidence and evidence for what.
  • Little theoretical reflection on the topic of secrecy. What does it mean for something in the past to have been a secret? How is it that the author has been able to figure out a secret that is c. 2000 years old, given the vast distance in culture and the very fragmentary surviving evidence? Is it plausible that the psychedelics were a secret in the past, but that now we can unveil that secret, while the society that produced the secret was ignorant to it? My orientation is completely different regarding psychedelics in the past: they were at best an open secret. The concept of ‘secret’ and ‘mystery’ refers not to psychedelics, but to the mind’s orientation towards ‘veiling’ and ‘unveiling.’
  • Theoretical naivety about what was meant by the afterlife in pre-modernity. The conversation so far is broadly aligned with modern research into quality of life improvements after psychedelic ingestion.

My initial impression is that this book is a tiny step forward from “Road to Eleusis”, rehashing most of that books stances and moves (diasterously), while extending the chronology to include at least early Christianity.

Amazon’s Look Inside feature reveals that Michael Rinella’s Pharmakon is completely absent from the book. What a catastrophe. Rinella’s book is essential, and should be a starting point for work by official, mainstream scholars. We don’t need rehashes of “Road to Eleusis.” This books seems to restate in the moderate entheogen theory as practiced especially by Ruck: psychedelic usage was both everywhere, but also incredibly secret.

Critical commentary here suggests I am broadly right that Muraresku is committed to the moderate entheogen / Ruck’s “secret tradition” paradigm. The author of the critique paints Muraresku as merely an extension of Hancock. The author notes:

“Muraresku ends the interview by announcing he is looking to launch a reality TV series searching for ancient psychedelic drugs and will begin pitching it soon.”

I shudder to think.

After he published the above commentary, Colavito writes that he received an email from Ruck disputing some of the criticism: “This past week, I heard from Ruck, who argued that my commentary was incorrect and has asked me to retract my blog post due to the “dismay and distress” it has caused his associates. He copied the email to Muraresku.”

On DuckDuckGo, Colavito’s commentary appears on the first page when searching for Brian Muraresku, above the Rogan podcast itself. Perhaps the media hype machine is displeased.

Twitter provides a bit more criticism, e.g. this thread critiquing primarily the ‘secret tradition’ idea: . The thread seems worth unpacking because the author doubts the centrality of psychedelics to religion, and uses the ‘secret tradition’ claim to attack that other claim. This suggests the strategic vulnerability of the ‘secret tradition’ claim. I am making a note to return to this thread later.

Muraresku has been working with Graham Hancock for sometime (there is a blog post by Muraresku hosted at Hancock’s site from 2015:

His website says that he is a lawyer involved in cannabis regulation:

Specifically the organization Doctors for Cannabis Regulation: The organization, according to its Declaration of Principles, is pro-legalization and pro-regulation, meaning government oversight:

The guiding agenda in the Anglo-American psychedelic media world is that psychedelics should be allowed for medical therapeutic use when administered by trained experts. Muraresku’s legal work seems broadly aligned with such an agenda. A question I have for this book is whether or not it supports such an agenda and is structured according to it.

Jason Colavito’s commentary (linked to above) mentions that Muraresku is found in the Wikileaks email dump of Podesta emails. A search reveals this:

Muraresku has some connection to the Democratic party, and to the D.C. media world more broadly. Is there a connection between his social standing and the unprecendented media hype for a book on such a topic?