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A selection of recent articles, arguing that contemporary universities and academics are largely beholden to the status quo, that the university system and academic career turn professors into careerist conformists, not radicals. Universities want to avoid bad press, lest it harm donations and enrollment. Tenure and it attendant job security have become rarer, replaced by a growing number of adjunct teachers. In order to have a shot at tenure, graduate students and early-career academics are encouraged by the job market to be as safe as possible in their research and teaching. Academics become accustomed to serving the university.

[P]rofessors rarely exercise the freedoms tenure grants them. I taught for more than forty years, and I knew teachers who espoused radical principles when they were hired. They decided to keep these under the radar but promised to let loose once they earned that coveted job security. I can say from experience that not one of these erstwhile militants did so. Those of us who were troublemakers from the day we began working continued to “stir the pot,” as my Division Chairman accused some of us of doing, after we were granted tenure. For those who kept quiet, the hierarchy they accepted as the price they had to pay to someday be free became internalized. They got used to, habituated if you will, playing it safe. The years of willingly submitting to authority slowly but surely warped whatever radical instincts they once had, so that by the time they got tenure, they were already ruined.

The professor who says, wait until I get tenure and then I will activate my radical heart and soul, is lying. The great day may come, but by then he or she has already seen that fighting the power is bad business. Better to work inside the system, be polite, write an occasional letter of protest, and avoid troublemakers like the plague you have come to see they are. Be a good worker and help train students to follow in your footsteps.

[U]niversity faculty are less and less likely to threaten any aspect of the existing social or political system. Their jobs are constantly on the line, so there’s a professional risk in upsetting the status quo. But even if their jobs were safe, the corporatized university would still produce mostly banal ideas, thanks to the sycophancy-generating structure of the academic meritocracy. But even if truly novel and consequential ideas were being produced, they would be locked away behind extortionate paywalls.

The corporatized university also ends up producing the corporatized student. Students worry about doing anything that may threaten their job prospects. Consequently, acts of dissent have become steadily de-radicalized. On campuses these days, outrage and anger is reserved for questions like, “Is this sushi an act of cultural appropriation?” When student activists do propose ways to “radically” reform the university, it tends to involve adding new administrative offices and bureaucratic procedures, i.e. strengthening the existing structure of the university rather than democratizing it. Instead of demanding an increase in the power of students, campus workers, and the untenured, activists tend to push for symbolic measures that universities happily embrace, since they do not compromise the existing arrangement of administrative and faculty power.

The “professor-as-revolutionary” caricature serves both the caricaturist and the professor. Conservatives can remain convinced that students abandon conservative ideas because they are being manipulated, rather than because reading books and learning things makes it more difficult to maintain right-wing prejudices. And liberal professors get to delude themselves into believing they are affecting something.

[T]he conditions ravaging our profession are also ravaging our work. The privilege of tenure used to confer academic freedom through job security. By now, decades of adjunctification have made the professoriate fearful, insular, and conformist. According to the AAUP, adjunct faculty are about half as likely to undertake risky research projects, and the timidity moves up the ladder. “Professionalization” means retrofitting your research so that it accommodates the critical fads that will make you marginally more employable. It means cutting and adding chapters so that feathers remain unruffled. Junior faculty play it safe — conceptually, politically, and formally — because they write for job and tenure committees rather than for readers. Publications serve careers before they serve culture.

If my book deserves recognition, then we must also recognize that no young scholar with any sense would be foolish enough to write it. Graduate students must tailor their research projects to a fickle job market, and a book like mine simply doesn’t fit.

The message is clear: Stick to the old dissertation formula — six chapters about six authors. The most foolish mistake is addressing an audience beyond the academy. Publishing with Penguin or Random House should be a wonderful opportunity for a young scholar. Yet for most hiring committees, a trade book is merely one that did not undergo peer review. It’s extracurricular. My book exists because I was willing to give up a tenure-track job to write it.

We cannot blame this professional anemia on scarce funding. The largest adjunct-faculty increases have taken place during periods of economic growth, and high university endowments do not diminish adjunctification. Harvard has steadily increased its adjunct faculty over the past four decades, and its endowment is $35.7 billion. This is larger than the GDP of a majority of the world’s countries.

The truth is that teaching is a diminishing priority in universities. Years of AAUP reports indicate that budgets for instruction are proportionally shrinking. Universities now devote less than one-third of their expenditures to instruction. Meanwhile, administrative positions have increased at more than 10 times the rate of tenured faculty positions. Sports and amenities are much more fun.

The search for truth, critical thinking, intellectual creativity, academic standards, scientific invention, and the ideals of citizenship have been discounted in favor of maximizing profits, vocational training, career success, applied research, and bottom-line considerations.

The overuse and abuse of contingent faculty members is a threat to academic freedom and intellectual innovation. The contingent faculty finds its teaching constrained by fear of the administrators’ uncontested right not to renew their contracts.

In an address to the American Council of Learned Societies, Clifford Geertz, one of our most influential scholars, once recounted his own career, calling it “a charmed life, in a charmed time. An errant career, mercurial, various, free, instructive, and not all that badly paid.”

Geertz continued: “The question is: Is such a life and such a career available now? In the Age of Adjuncts? When graduate students refer to themselves as ‘the pre-unemployed’? … Has the bubble burst? … It is difficult to be certain. … But there does seem to be a fair amount of malaise about, a sense that things are tight and growing tighter … and it is probably not altogether wise just now to take unnecessary chances, strike new directions, or offend the powers. Tenure is harder to get (I understand it takes two books now, and God knows how many letters. … ), and the process has become so extended as to exhaust the energies and dampen the ambitions of those caught up in it. … All I know is that, up until just a few years ago, I used … to tell students and younger colleagues … that they should stay loose, take risks, resist the cleared path, avoid careerism, go their own way, and that if they did so, if they kept at it and remained alert, optimistic, and loyal to the truth, my experience was that they could … have a valuable life, and nonetheless prosper. I don’t do that anymore.”

Though conservatives frequently attack higher education as a radical enclave, the institutional culture of the contemporary university is really far more aligned with institutional liberalism than radical leftism. The concept of the “deep state” has been debased lately, but in its original form – the idea that there is a bureaucratic class that persists within elected governments regardless of the outcomes of elections and which has its own interests that it asserts through subtle administrative power – is true of colleges, perhaps even more than of governments themselves. And the deep state of most universities is not radical but rather progressive. It’s not comprised of Sanders-style insurgents but of Clinton-style establishmentarians. It’s this class of people that college students have been petitioning, and so the presumptions held by that class of people represent the boundaries of what much contemporary college activism can achieve.

[W]e need to recognize that higher education has developed an entire set of administrators whose fundamental purpose is to prevent controversy from happening before it starts. I’ve come to call them the “Liability and Controversy Avoidance Class.” They are the diversity officers, the Title IX coordinators, the fixers of Greek life controversies, the public relations and marketing people who know just how much intersectionality language to pepper into their press releases.

I don’t think that none of these jobs are worthwhile; in fact some of them are essential. But anyone who cares about genuinely radical action on campus has to understand the way that universities have adapted to protests by treating them as a marketing issue to be managed.

[first pass]

The poet, fiction writer, and essayist Robert Graves wrote about mushrooms in Greek religion and myth in the 1950s. He corresponded with Wasson from an early stage of Wasson’s research into mushrooms and contributed evidence and ideas to Wasson on the role of mushrooms in religion. Wasson, however, did not credit him or acknowledge his published work on mushrooms, putting a strain on their friendship. Moreover, Graves’ work has been ignored by the majority of subsequent scholars on mushrooms in Greek myth and religion. Credit that has gone to Wasson and Carl Ruck as first popularizers of the role of mushrooms in Greek myth and religion should go to Graves. This post will clarify what Graves asserted and what the strengths and limitations of his approach were.

Graves primary contribution is the essay “Centaur’s Food,” first published in The Atlantic magazine, but reprinted and more commonly available in Food for Centaurs (1960), a collection of Graves’ poetry and essays. His other writings on psychedelics in religion and history primarily reiterate the findings presented in “Centaur’s Food.” Additionally, “The Poet’s Paradise,” the transcript of a lecture delivered at Oxford in the early 60s, published in Oxford Addresses on Poetry (1961), contains some material on Graves’ views on contemporary use of psychedelics and some new interpretations of religion and mythology. Below I list the claims of the two essays and summarize and comment on the methods Graves’ uses to advance these claims. Finally, I add a few notes about Graves’ relationship with Wasson and Graves’ self-presentation and its impact on the effectiveness of his arguments.

Graves makes some serious blunders, but some of the evidence he draws our attention to remains strikingly relevant and has not been given its due by subsequent entheogen scholars. Graves is the true origin of the middling moderate entheogen theory of religion, as defined here: psychedelics were used commonly in the origins of religion, but later became more and more restricted to select occasions or a select group, until finally they became so secretive that common knowledge of their role was lost; the role of the scholar is to unveil the presence of plants in religious myth and ritual.

In “Centaur’s Food,” Graves claims:

  • The taboo on mushrooms in some cultures is a sign of their earlier use in sacred ceremonies
  • That Greek priests later banned the use of the mushroom and that Greek myth reflects this change by depicting the punishments of figures for serving ambrosia to mortals
  • Mushrooms are found in Greek art: An Etruscan Bronze mirror dating to 500 BC depicts a mushroom at the feet of Ixion; A vase painting of the centaur Nessus dying after being shot with an arrow by Heracles depicts mushroom in between centaur’s feet; The relief scultpure from Phrsalus from 5th BC depicts Demeter and Persphone holding a mushroom
  • That the first letters of the ingredients for the recipes given for Ambrosia, Nectar, and the Eleusinian Kykeon in Greek sources spell out the Greek word for mushroom in various forms; The mu- syllable of the Greek word for ‘mystery’ musterion refers to fly (muos) and mushroom (muka). Mystery celebration at Athens held during the fall, the mushroom season. The corresponding spring festival was named for flowering, springtime plants (anthesterion), so seems like that musterion somehow refers to a substance.
  • Dionysus was the mushroom, both born from lightning; that Maenads raged like Berserk in amanita-state; that ripping off of heads in Dionysus rituals refers to removal of head of mushroom from stalk.
  • That animals used as symbols of major cities in the Peloponnese refer to mushrooms (toad for Argos, fox for Messene, serpent for Laconia); nearby city name Mycenae refers to mushroom. Founder of Argos, Phoroneus, name may refer to toad, born from an ash-tree, which are known to attract lightning, which is sign of mushroom. The fox-skins worn by the avid followers of Dionsysus, the Thracians, resemeble mushrooms in vase paintings. The little foxes in Old Testament stories refers to amanita. The fox in the story of the Spartan boy who snuck a fox into school in his tunic and then said nothing in order to not be found out even as the fox began to gnaw on his innards refers to amanita. Swelling in Old Testament and Greek Myth refers to mushroom.
  • The Athenian festival called Scirophoria is a procession of mushrooms or later mushroom-like parasols.

“The Poet’s Paradise” claims:

  • Visions of paradise and of hell due to drugs; commonality of these visions not to due to Jungian collective unconscious, but due to shared culture and drug experiencing; ‘Wisdom’ due to drugs
  • Amanita was used in Europe, but reserved for the priesthood and taboos were used to deter others from having it; the taboo hung on long after rites were over; Amanita was initially used, but later the more common panaeolus and psiloybe used; Mushroom use was secretive and reserved only for those of a certain integrity; No Christian or Jew consumed mushrooms; despite Christian peyote churches, predicts that Catholics and Protestants cannot accept visionary plants and will lead Prohibition, in cahoots with tobacco and liquor industries
  • An Aztec fresco depicts a river in paradise as a mushroom
  • Pastries offered during Eleusis rite shaped like phallus and piglets refer to mushrooms to due shape and name respectively
  • Dionysus was sometimes called the lame god, so were toads (which refer to mushrooms)
  • Perseus ability to fly refer to visionary state, who named Mycenae from a mushroom he found growing on the spot.
  • Sea metaphors due to a physiological effect of psilocybe, that of lowering body temperature

Methods used by Graves:

  • Anthropological theories (taboo is sign of earlier sacredness, taboos had ritual exceptions)
  • Common names for mushrooms or nicknames reflect taboo and can be used to interpret myth/religion/art
  • Compare with known mushroom use in Siberia and Mexico (Berserk and Lightning God)
  • Identification of mushrooms in visual art
  • Connects myths and figures to each other through shared imagery or other similarities, then applies characteristics of one myth to another
  • Gets mushroom recipe for Ambrosia, Nectar, Kykeon with poetic feature of listing a secret word with the first letters of a series of words
  • Notes a few comments by ancients about mushrooms – Nero says they are food of the gods, I.e. ambrosia; Porphyry calls them god-nourishing, normally an epithet for ambrosia; Plutarch says mushrooms grow from no roots or seed, but from lightning; Dionysus’ feasts called the Ambrosia
  • Common sense – what else causes visions?
  • Ritual action and mythology symbolically refers to mushroom, mushroom-induced activity, or mushroom preparation
  • Mu- roots of words suggests links between concepts muketa, musterion, muos
  • Analogy between names of festivals to point to mushrooms
  • Draws on personal experience in “The Poet’s Paradise” to claim heaven and hell are visionary states.
  • Physiological and phenomenological effects of mushroom explain metaphor (but in a weakened way)


  • Mushroom religion earlier, taboo’d and then supressed, so we have to sift through later evidence for the signs of this earlier religion. This is moderate entheogen view. Assumes secret hidden pagan tradition, not Jewish (yet he interprets some Old Testament stories as referring to mushrooms) or Christian. Bad Anthropological theory immediately hinders; Graves is deficient at theoretical level. This affects the type of evidence that he sees and the ways he interprets it. This is the important theoretical limitation, affects Wasson (or tied up in Wasson’s work) and subsequent entheogen scholarship (especially Ruck)
  • Has some understanding of phenomenology and altered state, uses it in interpretation, but vague and incomplete; for Graves myths more prominently reflect ritual and practice, should be treated as history and asked historical questions of.
  • Relies on ‘connections’ strategy typical of anthropological approaches to myth; explains myths by other myths instead of internally. This is a bad characteristic of Ruck’s writings, too.
  • Not mono plant fallacy – amanita as original, later substituted with more common but still visionary mushrooms
  • Cross cultural evidence; variety of evidence
  • For contemporaries he wants to reserver drugs for those with good moral character. Says good moral character necessary for positive experience.
  • Equates drug state with non-drug poetic trance, but elevates poetic trance as ‘active’, against ‘passive’ mushroom state

Graves was a literary figure and, like Wasson, an amateur scholar. His writings reflect these two features. The writings often have a literary flow and include bits of poetry. For example, “Centaur’s Food” is written as a travelogue, tracing the development of Graves’ hypothesis as he travels from his home in Majorca to England, and “The Poet’s Paradise” concludes with an ode to Dionysus composed by Graves. Furthermore, Graves is very aware of his outsider status to academic scholarship. He mocks scholars’ braindead interpretations of Greek Art and the authority given to them, and also comments self-deprecatingly on his own ideas as the musings of an amateur. This last feature, though, leads him not present his arguments as strongly as possible. Citations to texts he refers to and images of works he refers to are missing, and the reader is usually unable to read or see the Graves’ evidence.

Graves speaks frequently of his relationship with Wasson in his published work on psychedelics, and the letters published in Between Sun and Moon: Selected Correspondence (1984) reveal more of that relationship. Graves was contacted by the Wasson’s wife Valentina as the Wassons prepared their first book, Mushrooms and Russia. She contacted him to ask his opinion about the poisoning of the Roman Emperor Claudius in AD 54, who was said to have died after ingesting a poisonous mushroom. Graves had become famous for his works of historical fiction featuring Claudius. Graves is excited by their interest in mushrooms in culture and develops and shares with the Wassons the idea that the negative association displayed by some cultures towards mushrooms is the sign of an earlier religious usage of mushrooms and taboo. He discovers and informs Wasson about the ritual use of mushrooms in Oaxaca, Mexico, the publicizing of which would make Wasson famous and cement his reputation as foremost enthnomycologist. Wasson’s account of the mushroom ceremonies in Oaxaca in turn prompt Graves to think about mushrooms in Greek religion. The correspondence shows Graves sharing evidence and interpretations with Wasson that he would later publish in “Centaur’s Food”. Their relationship begins to sour, however, when Wasson fails to cite “Centaur’s Food” or mention Graves’ role in developing the ideas published in Soma. Graves complains of this in a published review of Soma, “The Two Births of Dionysus”, and Wasson apologizes in a private letter, claims that on the one hand he had merely forgotten to cite Graves’ role in idea development and on the other had omitted Greek culture from Soma in order to take on only one group of scholars at once.

Wasson appropriated (stole?) Graves’ ideas and downplayed Greek (Western) myth/religion, just as he later did, when arguing against Allegro. Wasson later addressed Greek religion in The Road to Eleusis, but in the way to maximize publicity, but minimize uptake by scholars. Ruck’s solid research on Dionysus and wine is obscured and downplayed by Wasson’s grandstanding about Eleusis.

Bogus outdated anthropological theories explain the limitations of all the bad moderate entheogen scholarship (e.g. Wasson, Allegro, Ruck). The theory that psychedelics were used in the remote past at the origins of religion, but restricted to a few elites and/or priests and taboo for the general populace is rooted in outdated and bogus anthropological theories. Bad theory has caused some evidence to be overlooked, other evidence to be interpreted badly. Sweep those theories away and start again with better theories.

My outline of theories of mythology indicates the harmful role of bad and outdated anthropology on the study of myth. A similar sort analysis of bad anthropology in entheogen scholarship is needed, to show how it has distorted our use of available evidence. The bad theorizing in the field has limited the scope and power of its interpretation.

Researching for my post on Robert Graves has made this clear. It is amazing how limited this field has been. It is likewise amazing the role that a few influential researchers can have on the development and constraining of a field. There is a direct line from bad anthropological theories to Graves, to Wasson, to Ruck, the leading voice in the study of psychedelics in Greek religion and culture.

Graves proposed to Wasson in the 50s, before the publication of Soma, that the taboo on eating mushrooms found in some contemporary cultures could be explained by the anthropological principle of taboo. The revulsion felt towards mushrooms was the sign of an earlier prohibition on mushrooms due to their sacred nature. The prohibition kept mushrooms reserved either for a special elite or for certain special festival days. Later the mushrooms were either banned, fell out of use, substituted with a placebo, or knowledge of them became even more restricted and secret. The taboo then morphed into a feeling of revulsion towards mushrooms evidenced in some cultures and in many disgusting or unsavory names/nicknames for mushrooms found worldwide.

Graves claims this is based on “a sound anthropological principle” and takes it as proven and true before he sets off looking for evidence in ancient Greek myth/religion/art/literature. But this theory limits the sorts of evidence he notices and distorts his interpretation of that evidence. This theory lies behind Wasson’s Soma, though he does not credit Graves, leading to a breakdown in their friendship. This theory dominates Road to Eleusis so much that Ruck’s far more wide-ranging work on wine in that book is so frequently overlooked for the single, supposedly exceptional and secretive, case of Eleusis.

More details to come as I complete my post on Robert Graves.

My notes:

Road to Eleusis: ‘unveiling’ of ‘mystery’ as publicity event, despite Ruck’s claim that there was little publicity. It’s certainly announced by Wasson that way in his opening section of the book: the grand collaboration between mycologist, chemist, and classicist, finally revealing the truth about the ancient mystery cult.

Wasson needed confirmation of another ancient mushroom to corroborate his claim that soma of ancient India was mushroom. This helps explain why Ruck’s far more relevant Dionysus material was relegated to ‘additional’ evidence. If the book was meant to cause a stir, they failed because they over emphasized the main ritual at Eleusis at the expense of all the other rituals associated with Eleusis and the rest of Greek religious practice. At a glance, the book seems to deal with only the the one-time event at Eleusis, when in fact Ruck provides evidence for widespread entheogen use and knowledge in Greek culture.

Authors made it easy to dismiss and ignore due to brittleness of ergot identification (Hofmann admits this in his section) and to minimizing wine and Dionysus evidence at expense of grand gesture of ‘unveiling the mystery.’ Ruck provides something of a corrective here, alluding to a different identification, which he claims is sounder, and placing emphasis on wider entheogen knowledge and use in Greek, Roman, and Christian religion.

Wasson had already proposed in a lecture and Robert Graves had already published that mushroom was in Eleusis potion.
  • Wasson proposed mushroom in Eleusinian kykeon in 1956 in a [unpublished?] lecture.
  • Graves proposed and published it in 1960 Food for Centaurs and put stone relief carving from Northern Greece of Demeter and Persephone holding mushroom on cover of new edition of Greek Myths published in same year.
  • Then in 1976 Ruck says that Wasson proposed that they ‘solve’ the Eleusinian mystery. What was there to solve? Wasson himself and Graves had already made the point. Again, this intention to ‘solve’ the mystery seems like a publicity event. Ruck provides plenty of evidence for Wasson’s interest in publicity for his earlier work. Elitist Wasson tried to set himself up as balance to the popularizing Leary, walking a fine line of publicity and defense of elite culture.

Typical Ruck problems:

  • Stops after finding presence of plants, mistakes presence of plants with the ‘mystery’.
  • Relatedly, this knowledge of the presence of plants was held by only an elite few.

Also, Makes Prohibition-compliant claim that ‘abuses and excesses’ caused Prohibition.

E. R. Dodds, author of Greeks and the Irrational: still very respected by mainstream Classicists. Graves regarded as poet and novelist, not scholar. Ruck blacklisted for decades.

Ruck seems to imply that Eliade knew differently, but published drug-diminishing view of shamanism due to Prohibition:
“Mircea Eliade, the renowned authority on religion, mysticism, and shamanism, […] disavow[ed] his own considerable evidence about shamanism in Siberia and elsewhere and declare[d] that drugs were characteristic only of the decadent last stages of a cult, affording only inauthentic hallucinatory communion with the divine. Inevitably, anyone who thought differently was assumed to have ruined his mind on drugs.”

Michael wrote that I bring the Classics department perspective in the invisible college of transcendent knowledge. What does that consist of?

My background in official academia:

My training is primarily in the field of Classics, the study of the ancient Greek and Latin languages and literature written in those languages. This primarily involves study of the technical grammar and syntax of the languages, of the figures of speech and rhetorical structures typically employed, of the plots of major works, and of the implied viewpoint and assumptions of an author. In its most basic form this consists of a close reading of the Greek or Latin in order to better explain what a text means. Classical authors typically wrote in a dense and layered way, even without taking into account encoding of altered state cybernetics

For the majority of contemporary Classicists, the literature to be studied primarily consists of ancient Greek literature from c. 800 BC to c. 300 BC and Latin literature from c. 200 BC to c. 200 AD. I take a wider view of this field than most and include anything written in those languages, including works of Late Antiquity, Middle Ages, and the Renaissance, however we should define or understand those periods. Even within official academia I am something of an outsider in this way. A better name for the field may be ‘Classical Languages and Literature’, to de-emphasize ‘pagan’ antiquity in favor of a more natural and balanced focus on the full history of the languages and literature. Contemporary classicists unduly limit themselves in general to non-Christian texts, creating an artificial divide in the ‘western tradition’ that negatively affects both the study of Classical texts, which are assumed to be wholly different from Christian texts, and the study of Christian texts, which are not subjected to close reading and linguistic and literary analysis as works of Greek and Latin literature as often as Classical texts. For many, studying the Classics has become either a refuge from bunk Christianity, similar to the turn to Eastern religions, or a way of avoiding the critical study of Christianity and preserving the just-so story of early Christian history and texts.

I have also intentionally sought out advanced training in the related disciplines of ancient history and archaeology/art history. This is relatively unusual among academics of my generation, who are usually encouraged to hyper-specialize by the demands of graduate training and the academic job market, and by the tendency observable in the 20th-21st centuries of academic fields to wander away from each other into increasingly specialized subfields. I saw these pressures early on and resisted them, wanting to cultivate a fuller picture of the ancient world than the study of language and literature could afford. Although based in the study of language and literature, I embraced the study of history and archaeology/art history.

I remain, however, highly skeptical of these fields, as I am of my own. Besides not recognizing the role of psychedelics, they remain tied to the overly naive literalism of 19th century scholars who founded the modern fields. Contemporary scholars in those fields have not overthrown that literalism to the degree needed, especially to the general public. The fields, as presented to the general public, undergraduate students, and even many graduate students, rely on a degree of certainty about reconstructions of the past that is unfounded and misguided.

Ancient history: the majority of modern narrative histories of antiquity largely follow works of history written by ancient Greeks and Romans themselves. They tend to use those ancient works as the basis for their chronology and history-telling, with some additions or corrections based on non-literary sources. This however continues to ignore work done since the 1970s detailing how the works written by ancient historians were not founded on the principle typical of the modern discipline of history that the past be recorded and depicted as accurately as possible with as much objectivity as possible. Instead ancient history writing was a branch of literature, one that had some relationship with the concept of an accurate representation of the past, but certainly not in the same was as moderns would like. It has been shown again and again that history writers in antiquity were willing to distort events for a wide variety of reasons, from advancing specific political positions, to creating arresting emotional effects, to crafting an account that corresponded with poetic motifs. Moreover, as I have been showing in my ongoing translations from the first history writer, Herodotus, episodes presented as history regularly reflect altered state cybernetics, and so we have to wonder to what extent the representation of events has been modified to conform to altered state cybernetics or whether certain episodes are privileged because they conform to the typical trajectory of altered state experiencing. Modern narrative histories that rely on ancient histories should acknowledge and reflect those dynamics. As it is, they flatten out those dynamics, literalizing them, flattening the inspired air out of them, reducing them to a simple narrative.

Archaeology has a similar problem. Archaeologists of the 19th and early 20th centuries regularly relied upon ancient texts as straightforward descriptions of sites and topography. The authority given to the texts regularly shaped the identification and interpretation of sites and parts of sites. Even though working archaeologists have questioned the authority of texts, some abandoning them off completely, the identifications and interpretations made by their predecessors have often been taken over by guide books, informational signage aimed at tourists, and academics outside of the field, who are unaware of challenges to the initial work or unable to enter into the debate. The presentation of sites to the public is affected issues of local and national identity that are often obscured. A problem for the classical era, it is even more so for early Christian sites, where mythology is repeated as historical fact time and time again. My graduate training in archaeology has resulted in a deep skepticism regarding the way sites are presented. To a certain extent this is out of the hands of practicing archaeologists, and I know many who call for revisions to the identification and chronology of sites, based on more reliable dating techniques than suspect literary texts.

John Bartram is one such scholar, who calls for a revised chronology and identification of ‘early Christian’ sites and texts based not on the received chronology, but on more reliable dating techniques (more of relevance throughout his site).

Classics itself, as the study of classical literature, is not free of these problems of received assumptions in chronology and identification. The field is inconsistent in its assumptions of authorship and authenticity of texts. The 19th century was characterized by a great deal of skepticism regarding the unity, authorship, and authenticity of classical texts. A good deal of that skepticism was rejected primarily because literary scholars wanted whole texts by single authors to analyze. Moreover, the field relies upon unverifiable assumptions regarding the transmission of texts from antiquity to the earliest currently extant edition, which may date to centuries after the believed date of composition.

All my studies in official academia have shown me that we have far less certainty regarding our historical reconstructions of the ancient world than is normally presented. When researching I favor alternating between two approaches – a wild, throw anything against the wall approach to see what sticks and a careful questioning of assumptions and of importations of material from outside the immediate topic under consideration.

Altered state cybernetics are inherent to the human mind, even if expressed and in a certain way experienced differently by different cultures. To truly unlock ancient thinking and writing, learn to recognize those dynamics and metaphors for them.

There is an analogy between my reservations concerning received historical reconstructions of the ancient world and the uncertainty and detachment concerning the reality of the external world, the splitting of representation and represented referent, in the loose state of cognition. This skepticism and reservation is not an abandoning of all possibility of knowledge about the past, as recommended by some post-modernist thinkers, but rather a detachment and flexibility regarding our reconstructions and assumptions. Researchers must be more open than they have been to questioning wide swaths of assumptions at once, not simply manipulating individual pieces of evidence at a time.

Back cover blurb with table of contents and chapter abstracts here.

Selected excerpts from the chapter abstracts that point to the assumptions of the ‘cognitive’ theories employed (emphasis mine):

[T]he human mind is supplied with an array of mental tools which give rise to religious beliefs and practices as byproducts of normal human cognition.

A cognitive model of divination reveals how normal processes of thought give rise to this common human behavior. From a broader perspective, Sperber’s theory of symbolic thought shows how “irrational” religious claims arise through fully rational processes.

Cognitive approaches to ritual trace its characteristic features to intuitive processes, including those which have evolved to help us identify threats in the environment.

Importing of concepts and jargon from this bunk field, the Cognitive Science of Religion: ‘dual-process model’, ‘minimally counterintuitive concept’, ‘intuitive thought’. The field is bunk and feeble because it is ordinary state based. The emphasis throughout that religion can be explained by ‘normal’ ‘rational’ human processes. ‘Normal’ and ‘rational’ here are code for ordinary-state. It’s nothing but more academic sky-castles and spin, avoiding the obvious relevance of altered-state thinking to religion. The altered state is entirely ‘normal’ and ‘rational’, an in-born potential of the mind, and is a better candidate for explaining religion than exclusively ordinary-state based thinking. “Cognitive Science of Religion” is merely another theory of low, exoteric, ordinary-state based religion.

This book appears worth reading as a survey of Greek religion relatively free from the dominant trends of the 19th-20th century, anthropological and sociological approaches to religion. But overall, another misfiring.

Michael distinguishes metaphysical enlightenment (concerning control, time, self) and daily conduct of life enlightenment.

In metaphysical enlightenment, the mind experiences eternalism in a series of altered state sessions and builds the mental world model of eternalism (a mental model of time, self, and control that is consistent with the experience and perspective of eternalism).

Daily conduct of life enlightenment is a separate area of concern.

Before Michael’s work defining metaphysical enlightenment, religions and philosophies routinely addressed both areas of concern, either in a knowing way such as in premodern religions that use analogy to compare and contrast the two areas or in an unknowing way such as in modern religions that both fail to comprehend metaphysical enlightenment and to understand analogy between the two areas.

People in the premodern era loved mystery and analogy and created systems of analogy (imagery, metaphor) to first conceal and then reveal metaphysical enlightenment. These analogies taught people to interpret events, text, and art as referring to metaphysical enlightenment. Social customs and ethics used metaphysical enlightenment as a foundation. Even seemingly contradictory and competing ones were based on the same perspective and experience of eternalism.

This model was not expressed clearly and succinctly before Michael’s work (earlier systems as a junkyard and source of spare parts).

Our historical scholarship is in some ways trivial, in that there can be no treatment of metaphysical enlightenment superior to the Eternalism theory.

Historical scholarship can clarify competing systems. This is most needed for systems that are still active today and claim people’s allegiance (to beat phony religion, we must move through it and take it over, not simply reject it). Historical scholarship helps make sense of culture, including politics, customs, ethics, literature, visual art, etc., that we have inherited. Detailing how premoderns blended metaphysical enlightenment with daily life in a variety of contexts can help us judge the culture that we have inherited.

I have lingering long-term disappointment in the Humanities. They let a representative of STEM, of electrical engineering, beat them to the punch in defining the simple effective theory of ego death. I’m especially ashamed that Humanities failed so much in the field of metaphor. Sure, let a cog sci / physics influenced person formulate the idea of switching between possibilism and block time eternalism. But how did Humanities fail to provide a robust theory of metaphor, including metaphoricity of religious founder figures? The problem lies in metaphor itself. Metaphor could point to anything. So a theory of ‘metaphor’ by itself doesn’t mean much and may be useless. Metaphor in EDT has a specific limited range of referents, namely, the dynamics of the switch from possibilism to block time eternalism as a perceptual shift that causes a specific set of changes to one’s conception of oneself.

I blame the slow separation of fields in the modern university (really, multi-versity) into distinct bubbles of thinking. For all the current rhetoric about ‘interdisciplinarity’, most such ‘interdisciplinary’ studies are shallow mixes of a limited number of fields. EDT is truly interdisciplinary, stretching across some 20 fields and correcting and improving all of them, sharpening them, cutting the fat.

As Science cordoned itself off and broke radically with past authorities, it came to ignore that past and ignore the historical-oriented research of the humanities. No one thought much to look for block universe eternalism in the past when the concept of the block universe was formulated. The rare exception was the philosopher of science, Karl Popper, who called Einstein ‘Parmenides’. Science has a rhetoric of ‘newness’, of new breakthroughs, new discoveries, new formulations.

The Humanities has always been more bound by traditional authority because they are founded on language and textual study, a study that tends to inculcate respect for the tradition. The majority of major theories coming out of the Humanities have been language oriented.

Perhaps it had to be someone from Science, STEM, engineering to formulate the egodeath theory and beat the Humanities to the punch. It’s hard for me to imagine the Humanities on its own producing a compact efficient theory of altered state experiencing without influence from some sort of discipline that rejected the authority of the past. Scholars and poets active in antiquity, the middle ages, and the renaissance themselves used metaphor to express the switch from possibilism to eternalism and concomitant changes to self-conception and couched that expression in traditional forms, always looking to the past and contemporary cultural domains.

But a clear, concise, non-poetic, metaphorically and culturally clean explanation would have to wait until Science had firmly rejected traditional authorities and traditional modes of expression. The Humanities now have to recognize the cybernetic heart of their subject matter – the entheogenic, metaphorical, eternalist heart.

Armed with the non-metaphorical theory of possibilism->eternalism, think what we can do in the Humanities! At long last, we can describe more clearly what the ancients and others meant. We can finally appreciate fully their multi-layered style of expression. This in turn can aid new artists in creating culturally specific artwork that yet has a timeless quality to it (not that the 20th century has lacked for inspired artists).

We also have to make clear the way people used/manipulated possibilism->eternalism to justify a variety of social and political systems. We have a part to play in promoting world peace, by setting the record straight and traditional forms of culture that are used to justify violence and oppression today.

I can’t hold it against the Humanities that it failed to produce possibilism->eternalism. How could it have? It was not equipped to do so. My disappointment is more truly directed at my contemporaries, who remain slow on the uptake, still writing and producing the same old books and articles in the Humanities, still playing the same old games, yet passing it off as serious, important, lofty, earth-shattering research. Let’s go, friends! We are racing ahead here, decoding art, showing how to encode it, setting the record straight about religion and culture. Don’t even talk to me about enlightenment and salvation – that’s kid’s stuff. We can take care of that in a single afternoon.

Do you see? Far off in the distance? Michael Hoffman, Prof Loose Cog, Cybermonk is there racing far ahead in his custom-built machine, urging us to catch up. I’m racing after him, using his plans and model, learning to drive it and navigate the terrain. Come on, people!

I’m sympathetic, in a way. Such censorship, both actively enforced and self-imposed, I don’t know how you do it. And yet, you tenured, professional researchers, have an obligation, to your fields and to your society.

Francesco Massa, Tra la vigna e la croce: Dioniso nei discorsi letterari e figurativi cristiani (II-IV secolo). Potsdamer Altertumswissenschaftliche Beiträge, Bd 47. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2014. Pp. 325. ISBN 9783515106313.


Publisher’s blurb: The analysis of the role of Dionysus in the process of forming an Christian identity during the imperial ages (2nd–4th century) is at the center of this study. Its main purpose is that of understanding the part that Dionysian traditions played in the encounter of Christianity and the religions of the Greek and Roman worlds. With this analysis three operative models have been identified: 1. the recognition and negation of the analogies between Dionysus and Christ; 2. the trace of Dionysian words and images; 3. the Christian interpretation of Dionysian topics. This scheme shows the complexity inherent to the cohabitations and to the religious contacts of the imperial time. With the analysis of some important authors of Christian literature and of distinct figurative documents, this book finds, on the one hand, the aspects which enabled the Christian reconfiguration of the Dionysian elements and, on the other hand, the modalities of neutralization of the Dionysian images and vocabulary.

Scholarly Review:

Excerpts from above review: Although the cross is omnipresent in the writings of the Church Fathers, it is virtually invisible in the Christian iconographic record until the age of Constantine

…the symbology of the vine, incorporating grape-clusters, playful erotes, thiasoi of ecstatic women, and other affiliated Bacchic imagery, had become the lingua franca of both literature and art, both pagan and Christian.

…the polyvalence of Dionysus’ symbolism, in whose myths the vine is as likely to represent entanglement and destruction as fertility and joy

…early conflict (scontro) between the two sects gave way to a vigorous encounter (incontro), and though one of these sects eventually triumphed over the other, that outcome is best described as a case of sovrapposizione (which should, I think, be translated as “overlay” rather than “conquest”, inasmuch as each sect could equally be said to have taken over the other).

Christianity inherited patterns of speech (discorsi) freighted with the religious symbolism of previous traditions. Through dialogue (discorso) with those traditions—argumentative though that dialogue often was—Christianity gradually acquired its own proper accent or (to alter the conceit to a musical one) its own new “key” (chiave, one of Massa’s favorite metaphors that is as vague as it is suggestive).

The Church Fathers, for their part, were expressly critical of the Bacchic myths, not because they were outlandish but because they too closely resembled similar events in the Gospel, including the Greek god’s birth from Zeus and a mortal woman, his wine miracles, his violent death and “resurrection”, and his ascension to Mount Olympus.

Massa argues that some of the very components of Dionysus’ biography that were most controversial (such as his sparagmos at the hands of the Titans) were still elaborated by his followers, particularly the Orphics, during this period, precisely in response to rival Christian accounts of divine suffering and rebirth.

our Christian authors were more fully steeped in the wine god’s terminology than they may have wished to admit. Massa demonstrates how the language of Euripides’ Bacchae, in particular, permeated their discourse. Indeed, one of the most striking revelations to emerge from this study is the cultural longevity of that play. We know that the tragedy, first produced in 405 B.C., was occasionally revived for the stage in subsequent centuries, but it now appears that the Bacchae was never absent from the educated person’s reading list throughout antiquity. Massa offers evidence (Chapter I) that even the authors of the New Testament knew it, since there are compelling echoes of Euripides’ lines in the Pauline epistles, the Fourth Gospel, and the Book of Acts. Perhaps the most impressive instance of patristic intoxication with the Bacchae is Clement of Alexandria, who seems to have imbibed Euripides’ play almost as deeply as the Scriptures. Clement could argue scathingly against the devilish nature of Dionysiac worship, but he had a soft spot for good literature. Massa devotes more than twenty pages (167-189) to the Euripidean references that are to be found in the Protrepticus, the Paedagogus, and the Stromateis. They reveal Clement’s careful reading of the play and his unexpected sympathy for tragic characters like Pentheus, Tiresias, and the Bacchic women. But the most extreme case of a Christian author whose language was thoroughly Euripidean is the anonymous poet of the Christus Patiens, a cento narrating the Passion of Christ yet fashioned of entire lines from the Bacchae. The authorship and date of this pious pastiche are controversial, but Massa nonetheless devotes a final chapter (VI) to it as his crowning example of the overlay of the Bacchic tradition upon the Christian, and of the Christian reinterpretation of Dionysiac discourse. Whether or not the cento rightly belongs to the patristic period under review (almost certainly not), it is undeniable that the developments witnessed in the pages of a Church Father like Clement made possible the Christus Patiens.

[Visual artists] simply employed many of the same Bacchic images that had already served for centuries in various contexts, both sacred and profane. It was up to the paying customers, and subsequent viewers, to interpret these common images as they wished; in most cases, of course, they were not aided by any accompanying interpretive texts. There is a rare exception to this rule, the controversial ΟΡΦΕΟC ΒΑΚΚΙΚΟC pendant—of uncertain date—once preserved in Berlin but now lost, which featured a crucified figure identified by an inscription as “Bacchic Orpheus”. Here it is precisely the text (presumably Dionysiac) that baffles an understanding of the image (apparently Christian). Some scholars have dismissed this eccentric item as a modern forgery; others take its inscription at face value, interpreting it as a pagan cult object. Massa, in one of his boldest entries into a running debate, proposes a Christian provenance for it, presenting it as an important, albeit unique, piece of evidence in his overall argument for “cultural mediation” between paganism and early Christianity (pp. 152-155).

At the centre is Dionysus himself, who caused a certain amount of upheaval (as that god always does) upon his entrance into Christian literary and figurative “discourses”, but who finally contributed positively to the creation of a new Christian identity. In return, Dionysus’ own theology received, perhaps for the first time, a coherent systematization at the hands of Christian apologists, preachers, artists, and poets. The Church Fathers turned Dionysus, whether he wished it or not, into a mirror of Christ

Trevor S. Luke, Ushering in a New Republic: Theologies of Arrival at Rome in the First Century BCE. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2014. Pp. xii, 328. ISBN 9780472052226.

Shows that Roman leaders presented themselves as divine saviors during the social political conflicts of the first century BCE. Rightly focuses on the deliberate manipulation of religious themes in social political life. Can be easily integrated with idea that New Testament Christianity is a rebuttal to the Roman empire. Here is an aspect of the good news gospel of Rome, of Sulla, of Julius Caesar, of Augustus Caesar against which New Testament Christians contrasted the gospel of Jesus. As with most academic books, it needs to be brought in line with the Ego Death theory for maximum clarity and power.


Review summaries (but be sure to filter out the usual fake objectivity / skepticism typical of academia)




Metaphorical Psychedelic Eternalism
June 2020


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