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Bogus outdated anthropological theories explain the limitations of all the bad moderate entheogen scholarship (e.g. Wasson, Allegro, Ruck).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the origins of religion, but restricted to a few elites and/or priests and taboo for the general populace is rooted in outdated and bogus anthropological theories.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My outline of theories of mythology indicates the harmful role of bad and outdated anthropology on the study of myth.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.


A follow-up episode on Terence Mckenna. Topics include:

The pathway from Mckennaism towards metaphorical psychedelic eternalism
Reconciling Terence Mckenna’s ideas with the ego death theory
Terence’s understanding of esoteric religion
Terence’s tepid defence of free will
Different motives for defending free will and determinism
Undesirability of the no free will position
David Hilman’s problems with official academia when presenting psychedelic theories of ancient Greek culture
The process of scientific advancement, Kuhn and Popper versus Feyerabend
Michael Hoffman’s engineering background, his focus on model building and practical problem solving
Terence Mckenna’s criticism of scientific reasoning and inductivist logic
Terence’s status as a radical and critical thinker
Exotericism and sober meditation as substitute wish-fulfilment
Terence’s attitudes towards sober meditation
Michael Hoffman’s characterisation of psychedelic tripping as loosened cognition
Max Freakout’s process of intellectual development from Terence Mckenna to Michael Hoffman’s ego death theory
Mono-plant fallacy in Terence’s thinking, Terence’s dismissal of LSD
The entertaining quality of Terence’s thought
Lack of metaphor awareness in Terence’s thought
Modifying Terence’s ideas with metaphorical interpretive lense, similarity to Christianity

Brown, J.B. and Brown, J.M. 2016. The Psychedelic Gospels. Park Street Press.

Publisher’s website.

Authors’ website.

Presents evidence of psychedelics in Christian art, primarily in paintings and architectural decoration in the High Middle Ages in Western Europe (1000-1300), but also in earlier and later Christian art and text. Provides clear and high-quality images in both color and black and white of psychedelics in Christian art coupled with interpretation of that evidence.

Written as a travel narrative. Brown and Brown depict their first recognition of a psychedelic in Christian art and their travel throughout Europe to look for more examples. The narrative style of the work allows them to convey their process of discovery and testing of the theory and evidence. This may be useful and convincing for a reader encountering the evidence and theory for the first time. Still there is much content not directly relevant to the psychedelic theory of religion and to the evidence for psychedelics in Christian art and text. Authors, anthropologist and psychotherapist, are interested in what contemporary locals think of psychedelics in Christian art in their local churches.

Surveys Wasson’s role in both promoting and limiting the role of psychedelics in religious history. Account of Wasson’s scholarship and activity interwoven into the travel narrative.

Addresses Allegro’s theories of mushroom use in Christian origins and Jesus as metaphorical code for amanita. Agrees with Christian mushroom use, but rejects ahistoricity of Jesus and Allegro’s linguistic arguments for Jesus as amanita.

Includes some analysis of recent work by J. Irvin, J. Rush, T. Hatsis, C.A.P. Ruck, and M. A. Hoffman concerning methodology for identifying psychedelics in art. Discusses Hatsis’ rejection of Irvin and Rush on methodological grounds. Praises Ruck and Hoffman’s identification of psychedelics in Christian and esoteric art hidden using illusionist tricks, visual puns, double entendres, and symbolic elements. Calls for creation of interdisciplinary team to establish standards for identifying psychedelics in Christian art.

Across the book, there is an interweaving of travel narrative, new evidence of psychedelics in Christian art, and survey of scholarship:

  • Part 1 surveys Wasson’s work on non-Christian and pre-Christian psychedelics use in religion. This lays groundwork for question of psychedelics in Christianity.
  • Part 2 introduces evidence of psychedelics in Christianity with conflict of Wasson and Allegro over interpretation of Plaincourault fresco. Psychedelics in Christianity is central question of the book. This continues Wasson’s story and illustrates tension in Wasson’s identification of and promotion of psychedelics in non- and pre-Christian religions but denial of psychedelics in Christianity. Brown and Brown criticize Wasson on Plaincourault and present new evidence for psychedelics in Christian art. Part 2 overturns Wasson’s denial of psychedelics in Christianity.
  • Part 3 ties visit to Rome and Vatican museums (which they claim has no examples of psychedelics in art) with revelation that Wasson had ties to the Vatican and the Pope, which explains his denial of Christian psychedelics. This concludes Wasson’s story. Part 3 adds some more new evidence for psychedelics from further afield: a late-antique church in northern Italy; a Byzantine-era church in Turkey; 2nd century Gnostic texts; and ancient Egyptian art. Part 3 culminates in discussion of recent work by scholars on identification of psychedelics in Christian art and in Brown and Brown’s call for committee to develop standards for identifying psychedelics in Christian art.

Other premodern cultures:

India: discusses Wasson’s identification of Soma in Rigveda as Amanita.

Siberian shamanism: discusses Wasson’s contributions and evidence presented since then.

Greek and Roman: Road to Eleusis discussed as part of survey of Wasson’s activities. No mention of Robert Graves’ writings on psychedelics in Greek myth and religion, a major oversight. Graves’ work still waits to be integrated into the story of the psychedelic theory of religion, alongside his contemporaries Wasson and Allegro. Carl Ruck’s work after Road to Eleusis on psychedelics in Greek and Roman myth, religion, and culture not discussed.

Egyptian: Some Egyptian art presented with identification of psychedelics.

Jewish: mentioned in passing, cites work of B. Shanon, D. Merkur, C. Bennett on psychedelics in Jewish religion.


Comparison between Terence Mckenna and Tim Leary
Tension between metaphorical and literal interpretation of Mckenna’s ideas
Mckenna’s ‘Stoned Ape’ theory of human evolution
Brian Aker’s Lamarckist criticism of stoned ape theory
Differing views of Mckenna’s motivations
Mckenna’s criticism of scientism
Mckenna’s emphasis on natural drugs and dismissal of LSD
Mckenna’s feminist ideals
Mckenna’s analogical model of psychedelic cognition (explicit representationalism)
Mckenna’s model of time and reverse-causality and its relation to 4D block-universe determinism
Mckenna’s ‘timewave zero’ equation
2012 as teleological eschaton
Mckenna’s idea of accelerating ingression into novelty
Scientistic reliance on inductivist logic
Mckenna’s DMT induced ‘Machine Elves’, comparisons with religious myths such as prophet Jacob’s wrestling with an angel
Mckenna’s concept of telepathic communication
Mckenna’s rejection of psychedelic Christianity via dismissal of John Allegro and Leary’s Good Friday experiment

Pharmaceutical companies, police, prison guards, and alcohol industry are terrified because they stand to lose big when Prohibition falls. They are funding pro-Prohibition groups.

A podcast listener sent me this article from the New Yorker magazine on Ayahuasca in the U.S. :

Spot the pop sike cliches! McKenna brothers; brain scanning; nonduality; psychedelics can imitate meditation; psychedelics for trauma healing; Western tourism of another culture.

For affluent urban Westerners, ayahuasca / south american jungle culture is the new ‘eastern religions’. It’s trendy. We could have covered Martin Ball from this angle. It’s fitting that the trip scene described happens in a yoga studio.

The article is almost a check-list of our podcast topics.

Article mentions the ayahuasca churches yet there is no mention that these are explicitly *Christian* churches. Instead profiles neo-shamanism of south american variety.

Separate mysticism from culture. Authentic religion not dependent on cultural forms / ritual actions. Ingest psychedelics to learn about metaphor and eternalism. Learn eternalism and metaphorical expression of switch from possibilism to eternalism and you can recognize it everywhere.

Rituals are usually tied to specific cultural traditions and reinforce those traditions through repetition. This often involves reinforcing specific societal arrangements, including hierarchies of power in economic, gender, racial, and other aspects of society. Rituals could be channeled to reinforce group opposition to political/social domination, promoting egalitarianism against elite control, as in the radical democracy of ancient Athens (although such radical action was restricted to male citizens of Athenian descent; women, slaves, and foreigners were excluded) or in early house church Christianity as counter Roman empire movement (although co-opted by proto-Catholic leaders).
From the one who sent me the article: a reaction to the rhetorical and authorial self-presentation of the article. Stance is that of sophisticated cultural critic and taste-maker. The closing narration of the article reinforces self-control power of author and moralizing authority.

Okay. We’re going to run a major-ish article on ayahuasca. A shallow smattering of everything; a quick panoramic view. We’ll talk about it ‘scientifically,’ from the standpoint of the mainstream medical community. We’ll talk about with reference to contemporary North American culture, as a growing fad. We’ll talk about it historically, both in terms of original context and of the shifts/developments away from that context. We’ll be, like, super objective, examining the views of proponents from different sectors, walks of life, and with differing goals/visions for this stuff. We’ll talk about the supposed best of its properties from these different perspectives. We’ll also talk about the worst, about the risks, trying to involve various kinds of voices and types of information from that standpoint as well.

But then—get this—at the end, it’s *also* going to turn into a hybrid David Sedaris/Elizabeth Gilbert short story with an added feel-good, moralizing twist.

The moment we’ve all been waiting for. Is it really true? Suspense builds. The writer of this article is going to try this stuff for the first time and let us know what’s *actually* up with it. Those who haven’t tried or heard of ayahuasca but have been made curious by the article put themselves in her shoes; the “investigative journalist” the reader is most likely to trust and identify with tries so we don’t have to.

(The implication perhaps being that none of the other circulating voices, including those cited and interviewed by her, can actually be trusted; she, New Yorker contributor and True ‘Cultured’ People’s cultural authority/ educated and savvy Metropolitan Pilgrim, is the one who has provided us with this information so far. She has also established her identity as ‘trained and professional channeler of objective data/perspectives.’ And, after all, who really knows who the other people talking about these things are? Probably sketchy, is what they are; probably not Like Me.)

The lesson that emerges, of course, is that: “The power isn’t really in the plant, it’s in me. Not only that, but in retrospect, I was WAY better off than all of those other miserable, vomiting people who were clearly having a variety of unpleasant experiences.” At best they are easy targets of caricature and patronization; at worst they are throwing their lives away and on the possible verge of permanent mental/physical damage.

Status quo remains unchallenged. Experience in many ways ultimately foo-food as a hyped-up let down. Threat (however exciting) of new way of seeing exchanged for (disappointing, though ultimately comforting) comic relief that keeps us grounded in the familiar.

Though, of course, the narrative might also be seen as a commentary on some of the more absurd parts of culturally re-appropriated ayahuasca rituals (the jungle-print pants, yoga mats, trick-or-treat buckets, etc.; made me think of some of Max’s commentary in episode 7). It’s-a-fad slant also indicated by title.

Article: Hatsis, T. 2016. “Born of a Version: Parthenogenesis and The Holy Mushroom.” Psychedelic Press 17:21-39.

Another Hatsis self-promotional hack job masquerading as academic scholarship. Shame on Psychedelic Press for promoting this regressive piece.

According to Hatsis, Christian mushroom theorists John Allegro, Clark Heinrich, John Rush, and Jan Irvin and Andrew Rutajit promote the idea that the story of the life of Jesus refers to the life cycle of a mushroom. In this theory, Jesus’ birth from the virginal Mary refers to the apparently spontaneous growth of a mushroom from the earth without a visible seed. In reply, Hatsis argues that the virgin birth is a late addition to the stories of the life of Jesus; therefore, he claims, it cannot refer to a mushroom. We are to be ashamed for the unhistorical and unscholarly Christian mushroom theorists and respect instead the rigorous academic work of Hatsis.

It’s the same old piecemeal attack on Allegro’s theory of Christian origins as a secret mushroom cult, in the style of Andy Letcher. A sad, tired routine. Never mind that Allegro’s theory is but one scenario for psychedelics in Christianity. It’s actually not even clear what precisely Hatsis thinks of the subject of psychedelics in Christian history. He doesn’t say. Instead he just critiques Allegro’s theory of coded mushroom references in the life of Jesus and the scholars who have adopted it.

Hatsis is out for destruction, aiming to push the competition out of the rink. The article has no constructive point, in terms of theory or evidence. It only serves to promote Hatsis as respectable and rigorous against his perceived opponents in the historical psychedelics field. Yet the article is little more than posturing and fails in precisely the quality of rigor that Hatsis claims is so lacking from his chosen targets and that he claims to provide.

There is no evaluation of the arguments of his opponents. He does not allow them to speak for themselves with full quotations and full consideration of their arguments. He merely shows that each one connects the virgin birth to the mushroom’s growth without seed and dismisses each without analysis. At the end of the post I critique Hatsis’ presentation of Allegro’s argument in detail.

Hatsis acts as though historians agree about Christian origins and early Christian textual history. He uncritically assumes the historicity of Jesus and the apostles. He acts as though historical evidence is self-evident and not always tied to an interpretative framework. He tautologically uses the ‘consensus of historians’ to criticize a theory that explicitly challenges the ‘consensus of historians’.

He acts as if proving that the virgin birth is a late addition to the story of the life of Jesus means that the virgin birth cannot refer to a mushroom. He acts as though suggesting that the motivation for the story of the virgin birth was to cover up the accusation that Mary was a whore means that the virgin birth cannot also refer to a mushroom. He argues that because Mithras was virgin born and because Dionysus was virgin born, Jesus’ virgin birth was a pagan idea interpolated into the story of his life and therefore cannot refer to a mushroom. He cites Carl Ruck for the evidence that Dionysus was virgin born, yet ignores Ruck’s work relating Dionysus to mushrooms.

The tone of the piece is often joking, mocking, and, in places, vulgar. It is unbecoming of scholarship, which should strive for a neutral tone and prize the content of analysis over schoolyard taunts and jokes.

Hatsis needs to move past this simplistic focus on proving Allegro (and Jan Irvin, his favorite target) wrong. As Michael Hoffman showed a decade ago, the real task is to answer in what ways was Allegro right and in what ways was he wrong. Hatsis has to engage with not only the topic of psychedelics in Christian history but also the related topic of the ahistoricity of Jesus and the apostles. Hatsis uses the ‘consensus of historians’ regarding the historicity of Jesus and the reliability of the Christian textual tradition to attack his chosen mushroom scholars. Yet this consensus is an illusion.

Hatsis, in his taunting, destructive way, wants to encourage historical psychedelic scholars to engage with historical and literary scholarship more than they have done. He should do the same and drop the ‘just-so’ story of Christian origins. Certainly he should stop using it to promote his credentials and allegiance to Prohibitionist academia.

Of course, to really improve his scholarship, he should study the Egodeath theory. Without it he will never understand that the virgin birth refers to the possibilism mind impregnated not by physical seed, but by the eternalism hidden thought source, producing new life, the mortal/immortal mix that is possibilism corrected by eternalism.


An example of Hatsis loaded presentation of Allegro’s arguments:

There is poor citation right from the start, which makes it difficult to evaluate his claims: Hatsis writes,  “Quoting from Pliny’s ancient description of the mushroom in his Natural History (c. 80 CE), Allegro writes “[fungi are the] greatest marvels of nature … belong[ing] to a class of things that spring up spontaneously and cannot be grown from seed [italics mine]”. Editorially, this is a mess and obfuscating. What parts of this are from Pliny? What passage of Pliny is this from? It turns out that these are the parts that Allegro quoted from Pliny. So, Allegro did not write that. Hatsis does not make clear what is Pliny and what is Allegro. It turns out to be all Pliny, and yet Hatsis writes that “Allegro writes”, allowing a reader to attribute ideas to Allegro that are not his. Sloppy at best, misleading at worst.

Moreover, Hatsis elides Allegro’s argument. Following the above he writes “Allegro then associates Jesus with the mushroom, using the notion of seedless birth as a parallel to the virgin birth; he continues, “The baby that resulted from this divine union was thus the ‘Son of God,’… [h]ere in the tiny mushroom, was God manifest, the ‘Jesus’ born of the Virgin”. You can see the eliding with the sudden mention of ‘divine union,’ which was not present in the first extract, and the word ‘thus’, indicating the conclusion to an argument. Where has the idea of divine union come from? What role does that play in Allegro’s argument? Hatsis does not provide his reader with the tools to evaluate the argument.

Rereading Allegro, the extent of Hatsis’ elision becomes more apparent. Before the sentences quoted by Hatsis, Allegro had been discussing the use by both the ancient Pliny and a modern mycologist of the language of childbirth to describe the growth of a mushroom. It is not merely Allegro and his followers who use the language of childbirth to describe the mushroom, as Hatsis’ unclear attribution and selective quotation would imply. Then Allegro shows that the ancients viewed it as a mystery how the ‘womb’ of the earth got ‘fertilized’. Again, it is not Allegro who viewed the growth of the mushroom as a marvel and a mystery, as Hatsis sloppy quoting implies. Allegro next discusses one explanation given by the ancients for that fertilization, namely that it was caused by lightning: the sky father god sends his lightning seed to the womb of the earth mother, which produces the mushroom. It is here that Hatsis’ second quotation from Allegro follows, “The baby that resulted…”

In describing Allegro’s argument, Hatsis makes it seem that Allegro based it merely on the seedlessness of a mushroom’s growth, but he leaves out the lightning theory and sexual analogy. Allegro’s argument for the virgin birth as referring to a mushroom is tied to a fuller context of argument and evidence than Hatsis displays, including linguistic, mythic, and cultic evidence. Instead of engaging with that fuller context, Hatsis artificially reduces it to the single dimension of ‘seedlessness’ and takes the easy route of dismissing it because Allegro was rejected by the academic establishment. Hatsis presentation of Allegro’s theory thus fails to be properly scholarly. He does not engage with Allegro’s theory or evidence directly or fully and seeks to hide this from the reader through elision.


Cutting edge conversation between Max Freakout and Cyber Disciple. In this episode Max and Cyb plan subjects for future podcast episodes.

Topics covered include:
The various modern approaches towards psychedelia
Esotericism and exotericism
The similarity between plant-spirit shamanism (such as Santo Daime) and esoteric Christianity
Entheogenic and placebo eucharist
The link between exotericism and prohibitionism
The legal position of ayahuasca churches
Drug policy reform and prohibition repeal
Corrupt dishonest nature of drug prohibition
Exotericist drive to perpetually delay control-seizure and transcendent enlightenment
Awareness of entheogenic eucharist in modern churches
Insidern/Outsider dynamic in Christianity
Different attitudes towards conversion among exoteric religions
Determinism/free-will contradiction in exoteric religion
Terence Mckenna’s psychedelic ideas, his progressive and trippy thinking and his limitations
New age attitudes towards psychedelia
Quantum woo-woo
Psychedelic culture and social tolerance compared to LGBT lifestyle
Nese Devenot’s Mckenna inspired writing
Psychedelic psychotherapy and its relevance to the egodeath theory
Personal and transpersonal issues
Freud’s concept of substitute wish fulfilment and how it can be used to analyse exotericism
Freud’s theory of mythological interpretation, Oedipus and Electra

Index of well-known people who had admitted psychedelic use, with links to quotations and sources:

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.”


Metaphorical Psychedelic Eternalism
August 2017
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