VI - The Key of the Kingdom

In a passage dealing with the wisdom and apparent foolishness of Christian preaching, a New Testament writer includes these words: For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and folly to Gentiles... (I Cor i :22f.). In these words is an ingenious word-play or pun on two words for the sacred mushroom, the “Christ crucified”, and it will serve as an example of this literary device and its extensive use in the New Testament.


The word “stumbling—block” (Greek skandalon, our “scandal”), is properly used of a “trap” or “snare”. It denotes a stick or bolt upon which bait is placed and which, if tripped by the prey, sets off the trap itself. So metaphorically it is used for any impediment which hinders or traps an unwitting person. The Greek word skandalon, we can now appreciate, originally meant “bolt” like its Aramaic equivalent tiqla’, and we saw earlier how the phallic mushroom was called a “bolt— plant” because the shape of the primitive key or bolt was in essence a short rod surmounted by a knob, and so likened to an erect penis.1


Thus we may decipher the first part of the passage: “to the Jews” (that is, in the Jewish tongue, Aramaic), the “Christ crucified”, the semen— anointed, erected mushroom,2 is a tiqid’ , “bolt—plant”. Another name of the mushroom is the Greek Mörios,3 and the word for “folly” is mona; so the writer to Corinthians adds “... and folly (mOna) to the Gentiles” (that is, the Greeks), thereby completing the word-play and confirming the one against the other.


An amusing pun on the same Aramaic tiqlO’ , “bolt—mushroom” name, occurs in the story of Peter’s encounter with the taxmen.

“On their arrival in Capernaum,” runs the story, “the collectors of the half—shekel tax went up to Peter and said, ‘Does not your master pay the tax?”

Peter assured them that he did, like any good Jew, since it was an obligatory levy for Temple funds. On receiving his report of the incident, Jesus reacted strongly.

“However,’ he concluded, ‘so that we should not put a stumbling-block in their way (skandalisJmen), go to the sea and cast a hook, and take up the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel”

(Matt 17:24ff.)

The word-play here is mainly on the various meanings of tiqla’, and its cognates: “mushroom”, “shekel”, and “tax”. The intriguing nonsense about the shekel in the fisWs mouth has all the appearance of a piece of earthy folk-humor. The “knobbed-bolt” epithet of the mushroom, tiqia’, has strong phallic allusions, as we have seen. The fish’s mouth also has a sexual connotation, being envisaged as the large lips of the woman’s genitals. The “bearded” mullet in particular was credited with lustful tendencies and associated with the womb.5


To have a “shekel (bolt) in the fish’s mouth” was probably a euphemism for coitus. Pliny has a curious little note which seems to support the idea that “shekels” and mushrooms were connected in folk—lore. He says that he knew “for a fact” that some years previously a Roman official in Spain had “happened, when biting a truffle (tuber), to have come upon a denarius inside it which bent his front teeth”.6


Pliny recounts this highly improbable “fact” to support his quite erroneous view that the mysterious fungus was a “lump of earthy substance balled together”. Is it perhaps a Latinized version of a “shekel in the fish’s mouth” name of the mushroom?


The Old Testament also contains a mushroom story based on the tiqia’, “bolt—fungus” — “shekel” word—play. It concerns the mysterious message written on King Beishazzar’s dining-room wall. It will be recalled that the Babylonian monarch, in the days of Daniel the Jewish prophet, was about to sit down to what promised to be the Babylonian orgy of a lifetime.


Scarcely had the drinks begun to flow and the party to warm up generally when a disembodied hand suddenly appeared before the astonished king and began writing the strange device: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, and PARSIN. (Dan 5:5—25). Much perturbed, he called for his magicians and other men of wisdom to explain the words to him; but all to no avail. Finally, in despair he called the hero Daniel, who treated the company to a long harangue on the evils of the Babylonian monarchy and Beishazzar and his forbears in particular.

He ended this enlightening discourse with his interpretation of the fateful words: “MENE, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; TEKEL, you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting; PERES, your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.” In each of the mysterious words, Daniel found an Aramaic pun: MENE, on the root m-n-y, “number”; TEKEL, on the root t—q—l, “weigh” (cognate with the Hebrew she qel, “weight, coin”); and PERES, a twofold word-play on the root p-r-s, “divide in two”, and Parsi, “Persian”, the Babylonians’ hated enemies.


The introductory formula, MENE, MENE, is comparable in form and content with the invocation, Eloi, Eloi (E-LA-UIA) that preceded the secret mushroom name (see Ch. XVII). It refers probably to the Semitic god of fate, Meni (Isa 6 :ii; RSV “Fortune”), equivalent of the Sumerian NAM-TAR, “fate demon”, source of the mushroom designations Nectar and Mandrake. TEKEL is our “bolt-” fungus, and PARSIN is the Sumerian BAR-SIL, “womb”, a reference to the mushroom volva.


We meet PARSIN in the Greek form Perseia, as the magic herb that sprang from the ground after Perseus had dropped the chape of his scabbard (mukës, also meaning “mushroom”) whilst flying over the site of what was to become Mycenae (the “mushroom” city).8


The combination TEKEL and PARSIN will then be of the “ball-and- socket”, “penis-andvulva” type of mushroom name.9 In his pseudo-translation of the awful message on the wall, Daniel refers TEKEL to the Semitic root of “shekel” just like the Gospel story about the tax-collectors.


Apart from the pun involved, the particular interest of the tale for our present study is that the writer of Daniel has shown that the device used so often in the New Testament of following a genuine name for the sacred fungus with a false translation for the sake of the plot, was an established part of mushroom mythology long before the writer of Mark’s gospel “explained” Boanerges as “Sons of Thunder”.10


The “stumbling-block” figure occurs frequently in the New Testament, but of particular note is its application to the apostle Peter following Jesus’ prophecy of his forthcoming suffering, “Peter took him and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you!’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me. . .“ (Matt 16:22f.). Peter’s name is an obvious play on the Semitic pitrJ’, “mushroom”, and we have already seen that his patronymic, Bar—jonah, is really a fungus name cognate with Paeonia, the Holy Plant.11


Now called a “stumbling-block”, he is given the tiqlJ’, “bolt— mushroom” name,12 a theme which is repeated elsewhere in that over—emphasized and completely misunderstood passage about having the keys of the kingdom: And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock13 I will build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. . . (Matt 16: I8f.).


The sacred fungus was the “bolt” or “key” that gave access to heaven and to hell, a double reference to its shape as a knobbed bolt for opening doors, and to its ability to open the way to new and exciting mystical experiences.14


Calling the apostle “Satan” is in line with his other title of Cephas. Both names are in fact plays on designations of the mushroom, elsewhere seen of that other “bulb” plant, the onion. Greek and Latin apply the name stanion, setania to the onion, and Latin has caepa, cepa for that vegetable, cognate with the French cèpe, ceps, “mushroom The well-known word—play in Matt i6:i8: “you are Peter (Petros), and upon this rock (petra) I shall build my church. . .“ can now be seen as of much greater relevance to the cult than a mere pun on Peter’s title Cephas and the Aramaic word for “stone”, këpha’.


The real point of the whole passage is the word-play on the names of the sacred fungus that “Peter” represented. The commission of authority: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt 16:19), has its verbal basis in an important Sumerian mushroom name *MAShBA(LA)GANTA...T41..BA..J?J,lO read as “thou art the permitter (releaser) of the kingdom” by a play on three or four Aramaic words spun out of the Sumerian title.17


It has, probably, like most other of the directives and homilies of the “cover” story, no real— life significance. Least of all would the passage have been taken by the cult members that one of their number should take upon himself the kind of spiritual authority indicated by the face reading of the text. The sole prerogative of “binding” and “loosing” lay with God.


To the worshipper of the sacred fungus, the deity was present in the mushroom and offered his servants the “key” to a new and wonderful mystic experience. It was this “re— birth”, as it was called, that cleared away the debts of the past and gave promise of a future free from the cultic “sin” that destroyed the initiate’s free communion with God. It was left to a later development of the cult, also calling themselves “Christians” and reading the words at their face value, to accord to their leader and his designates a divine authority for forgiving sins and pronouncing on moral matters which Judaism would have found abhorrent even blasphemous.


If it seems strange to us that the writers of these stories should have used such a trivial literary device as punning so extensively, it should be remembered that they were heirs to a very long tradition of this kind of word-spinning. The Old Testament is full of it, particularly where proper names are concerned, and very many more instances almost certainly lie beneath the surface, where writers are playing with dialectal forms of the words which have become lost over the centuries.


Furthermore, it is now becoming clear that many of the Old Testament traditions have reached us in a Semitic dialect which was not the one in which they were composed, so that the original word-play which they expressed has been lost.18


Again, what we call “the lowest kind of wit” was much more meaningful for the ancient writer. Words to him were not just vocalic utterances communicating ideas from one mind to another; they were expressions of real power in themselves. The word had an entity of its own; once released it could effect the desire of its creator. The god’s or the prophet’s word was a thing to be feared, and if maleficent, “turned back” as the Bible would say.


Words which looked alike, we might think accidentally, were considered actually to be connected in some way. Therefore deriving some moral tale or religious instruction from a single word in the sacred text, even though it be interpreted in a way at complete variance to its context, and philologically quite insupportable, was quite legitimate to the ancient commentator on the Scriptures, as it often seems to be among modern preachers.


In the New Testament writings a further element is involved, however. Word-play here can be a purposeful disguise, a means whereby special, secret names of the Holy Plant could be conveyed to the initiate through his informed group-leader without their being revealed to the outsider.

In general, there are at least three levels of understanding involved in the New Testament writings. On the surf ace, there are the Greek words in their plain meaning. It is here that we have the story of Jesus and his adventures, the real—life backcloth against which they are set, and his homiletic teachings. How much reality there is at this level is a matter for further enquiry, but probably very little, apart from the social and historical background material.


Beneath the Greek there lies a Semitic level of understanding (not necessarily, or even probably, a Semitic form, that is, actual Semitic versions of the Greek texts). It is mainly in this level that the word— plays are made. For instance, in the “stumbling—block” cycle of stories just mentioned, the puns are on the various meanings of the Aramaic word underlying the Greek skandalon, that is tiqia’, “stumbling—block” — “shekel, tax” — “bolt—mushroom” Under that again there lie the basic conceptions of the mushroom cult.


Here is the real stuff of the mystery-fertility philosophy. For example, to find their parables of the Kingdom, the writers make comparisons with objects and activities which, at the surface level of understanding, are often really absurd, besides being self-contradictory about the manner and form of the Kingdom’s coming.


The passage that likens the Kingdom to a mustard seed, for example, and then speaks of birds nesting in the branches of the grown plant (Matt 13:31f., etc.), has driven the biblical naturalists to distraction looking for a mustard “tree” suitable as roosting places for the fowls of the air. They could have saved themselves the trouble since the reference, at the “lower” level, is simply a play on the Semitic khardelä’, “mustard” and ‘ardilã’, “mushroom”.19


Furthermore, the whole discussion about the Kingdom stems from a play on the secret mushroom word TAB-BARI, read as the Semitic root d-b-r, “guide, manage, control”,20 the real meaning of this mystic “Kingdom” into which the initiate into the mysteries hoped to pass. For despite the trivial nature of the word-play by which it finds literary expression in the New Testament, the Kingdom of God was a very real experience in the minds of the Christians. It meant the complete domination of the mind and body of the celebrant by the god. He was “enthused” in the proper meaning of that word, “god_filled”.21


So in their respective times were the Maenads of Bacchus,22 and, less violently perhaps, the Methodists of John Wesley. The manner and means of the “domination” were of the utmost importance to the initiate for he was entering upon an extremely dangerous experience. Even with all their knowledge of the identity and power of their drugs, these worshippers at the throne of the “Jesus Christ” fungus knew well that the “Kingdom” they sought might well be eternal as far as they were concerned.


We should not, therefore, be tempted to underestimate either the intelligence of those participating in the cult, or their literary methods in committing their vital secrets to written form. In view of the hostility understandably being shown them by the authorities of the time, Roman and Jewish, writing the New Testament at all was scarcely less dangerous than chewing the sacred mushroom.


It may be of interest here to list the more important secret names of the sacred mushroom on which much of the mythology and homiletics of the New Testament is based. The full forms given here are the Sumerian originals, found actually extant in the texts surviving, reconstructed from transliterations in other dialects, or composed from known values of the words on otherwise existing patterns: *LI_KIJR_ BA(LA)G-ANTA/AN-TI- TAB-BA-RJLI-TI; ANTA; KUR-KUR; *MASh TAB BA R/LI TI UKUSh-LI-LI-GI; *T_BA_Pj..GI; and variants.23


In exactly what forms the Christians knew these words we cannot know; some will have been as Greek transcriptions, others in Semitic form. Now and again the names appear in vocabularies attached to other plants related in some way to the mushroom, and their original Sumerian form can be recognized. Of such are the Syriac and Arabic names for Hellebore, khurbekãnã’ and kharbaq respectively, traceable to Sumerian *KUR_BA(LA)CANTA, “cone of the erect phallus”, that is, the mushroom top. Sumerian KUR means a “mountain” or other conical shape.24


So a doubled KUR will sometimes indicate a double-cone shaped or glans- headed plant. The mushroom, with its split volva was so described, hence the derived Greek name Kirkaion among the Mandrake lists. Our word Crocus has the same Sumerian origin, referring to the phallic form of the flower stem and head. Another of our common vegetable names so derived is Chicory, a variant form of whose name in Greek is Korkoron.


This last occurs also as a mushroom name, and Pliny’s description of “Chicory” shows that whatever magic plant he is describing it is not the culinary root we know so well:

those who have anointed themselves with the juice of the whole plant, mixed with oil, become more popular and obtain their wishes more easily so great are its health—giving properties that some call it Chreston. 25


There has clearly been some confusion here in traditions regarding the plant, with which we may reasonably identify the Kirkaion, Mandrake. The juice was to be “rubbed on” or “anointed” (khristos) , and its properties were so beneficial that it was called Chreston (Greek khrëstos, “good, honest, health-bestowing”, etc.).26


One is reminded of the form of the name by which non-Christians spoke of the object of the sect’s adoration, Chrestus. So Suetonius speaks of the emperor Claudius having to expel Jews from Rome because they were making a disturbance “at the instigation of Chrestus”.27


What Pliny is describing then is the “Jesus Christ” mushroom whose consumption brought on the first—century Christians the vilification and contempt of the Roman historians. The Greek Korkoron, the “Christ” mushroom, appears also as an alternative name for Halicacabus,28 another of the “bolt” designations of the fungus. Its name is related to the Semitic word for “star” envisaged as a penis in the sky, a miniature “sun”.


Our own word “star” comes via Greek from a Sumerian word for “knobbed bolt”. Of Halicacabus, Pliny says: The root of Halicacaks is taken in drink by those who, to confirm superstitious notions, wish to splay the inspired prophet, and to be seen publicly raving in unpretended madness.


He adds that the root is,

“so antipathetic to the nature of asps, that if it be brought near to the reptile it stupifies that very power of theirs to kill by stupefaction”.29

Allusions like this to serpents and antidotes for their poisons or malign influences over the mind, usually imply some special relationship between the plant and the reptile. Mushrooms and serpents are closely related in folk—lore, and in this case we are reminded of the Old Testament passage about Moses’ brazen serpent, on which Jesus models himself,30 that anyone “bitten by a snake might look on it and live” (Num 21:9).


Of the other Sumerian elements that went to make up mushroom names, RI, or dialectal LI, also meant “cone”— or “bun”—shape, MASh (-TAB-BA), “twin”, so LI-MASh meant “two cones” or “hemispheres”, like, MASh-TAB-BA-R/LI. The word GI means “stem” so that LI-LI-GI could describe the mushroom as two halves of the volva separated by the erect stem.3’ Very common in the phallic nomenclature of the mushroom is the Sumerian BALAG, “crown of the penis; glans”. Supplemented by ANTA, “raised”, we shall meet the word in the name given to the Maenads, Bacchantes, and the Hebrew “weepers” for Tammuz.32


In Sumerian, the orgiasts whose task it was to cause the erection of the male organ, and in the cult, the raising of the phallic mushroom, were called BALAG-NAR. By natural association of ideas this combined word came into Greek as the name for an axe-handle, pelekunarion, which was pushed through the central hole of the double- axe head, the peleL’us.33


The extension of “erect penis” words to stakes, rods, cudgels, and the like is common in any language. Of the BALAG-derived words we might cite the Greek plialagx, Latin and our phalanx, meaning a “roller, log, or rank of soldiers”34 Another onion name, referring to the “knobbed root” of the vegetable that provoked phallic allusions, was the Latin pallacana, precisely our Sumerian *BALAG...AN(TA).35


The ancient naturalists speak of a poisonous spider whose name Phalaggion stems from the same root. Its connections with the genital organ are clear from their descriptions of the effects of its bite: The eyes become bloodshot, a shivering settles upon his limbs, and straight- way his skin and genitals grow taut, his penis projects, dripping with foul ooze. 36


Among the antidotes for this fearsome poison is listed Asparagus, a well-known antaphrodisiac, and also named from the Sumerian BALAG, presumably on account of its straight stalk.37 Semitic made a number of roots from BALAG, “crown of the penis”, and found therein words denoting a hemispherical or “bun” shape, as those for a young woman’s firm breast, the similarly shaped whorl of a spindle, half a pomegranate skin, a human temple, and a cake of figs.38 As in the title “Bacchante”, the middle “L” of BALAG became assimilated to the following consonant in pronunciation, giving sounds like “bacc-” or (from the cognate BULUG) “bucc-”.


Latin thus gained its bucca, “cheek”, and Hebrew one of its names for the mushroom, paqqu’ah.39 From the New Testament myth-maker’s point of view, this double pronunciation greatly enlarged his scope for punning. He could use BALAG in full for Semitic roots like p-l-kh, “make”40 (“On this rock I will build (make) my church”), but could shorten it and run into the preceding MASh of the fungus name, finding roots like sh-b-kh, “bless, praise” (“Blessed art thou, Simon Bar—jonah. . .“),41 and sh—b—q, “release, forgive” (“whatsoever you release on earth. . .“),42 and so on.

Having seen something of how the New Testament writers use the old sacred names of the mushroom for their word-play, we have now to look again at the nature of the fungus itself.


From the manner of its growth and its sexual resemblances come many of the “human” allusions in the stories that grew up round it. Its main parts, the “volva” and the “penis” stem, represented the essential distinguishing features of men and women, and in mythology they served as symbols for the male and female characters in the stories.

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