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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.

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