XIII - Star of the Morning

As Gemini, the Heavenly Twins, the Dioscouroi, were identified specifically with the morning and evening star. Similarly, Jesus proclaims himself to the visionary of the book of Revelation as “the bright and morning star” (Rev 22 :i6).1 In part this is a word-play on one of the most important Greek names of the Holy Plant, Peristereön, spelt out within the bilingual Christian communities as the Aramaic Bar—, “son of” and the Greek aster, “star”, and heös, “of the morning”.2


The title “Son of the Star” had already a profound messianic significance within Judaism, deriving the idea from the promise in the Old Testament:

“a star shall come forth out of Jacob, and a comet shall rise out of Israel”

(Num 24:17).

The leader of the Jewish rebels of the Second Revolt in the second century adopted the title as his own, continuing the Zealot tradition that the overthrow of the hated Romans by a star— born Jewish leader was a necessary preliminary to the dawn of the new era.3

The more precise relationship between the sacred mushroom and the “bright and morning star” is seen in the oracle of Isaiah, directed at the king of Babylon. He sees the enemy in terms of the fungus whose life, so glorious in its heavenly conception and fulfillment, is yet so short-lived:

How are you fallen from heaven, Shining One, Son of the Dawn! How are you cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low! You said in your heart, “I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will make myself like the Most High.” But you are brought down to Sheol, to the depths of the Pit...

(Isa 14:12—I 5).

The application of the mushroom epithet to the Mesopotamian monarch was possible through a similarity between the name of the city “Babylon” and that for the fungus, which came down into Greek as Boubalion, attached, like many fungus names, to the Squirting Cucumber, ElaterIon.4


The phallic connections in the case of that plant are obvious, as they are in the case of the mushroom, and the common name in fact derived from a Sumerian phrase, GU-BAR, “top of the head; glans penis”


An amusing instance of this same association of the Mesopotamian city—name and the mushroom, this time quite unintentional, is detectable in Pliny’s description of a certain parasite which takes possession of a “Babylonian” thorn bush:

We must not leave out a plant that at Babylon is grown on thorn-bushes, because it will not live anywhere else —just as mistletoe grows on trees, but the plant in question will only grow on what is called the “royal thorn”.

It is a remarkable fact that it buds on the same day as it has been planted — this is done just at the rising of the dogstar — and it very quickly takes possession of the whole tree. It is used in making spiced wine, and it is cultivated for that purpose. This thorn also grows on the Long Walls at Athens.5


It is this last phrase which, more than anything, identifies the “thorn” in question. The tradition must have come down to Pliny through Semitic sources which preserved an original name for the mushroom based upon the Sumerian *GU_TJJ_U_DUN, “ball-and-socket; penis-and-vulva”, already noticed. It will have been mistakenly understood as the Semitic phrase kötel—’Attünă’, “long wall of Athens”, and hence Pliny’s strange restriction of the growth of his parasite to this one spot.6


It is by such intentional and unintentional puns on names that botanical references were confused and misapplied, and can in some cases now be restored. The morning and evening star is, of course, Venus. To appreciate the relevance of this luminary to the sacred fungus we must try to understand its place in the astral system as anciently understood, and the fertilizing power that it was supposed to wield.


Each morning, before the sun-god withdraws his penis from the earth’s vaginal sheath, a rival to the heavenly father slips from the nuptial chamber and heralds the coming dawn. This star is second only to the sun and moon in brightness, and usurps some of their glory by lightening the eastern sky in the morning and holding back the veil of night until the moon rises.


This star they called Venus, Juno, Isis or Aphrodite.


Thus Pliny: Before the sun revolves, a very large star named Venus, which varies its course alternatively, and whose alternative names in themselves indicate its rivalry with the sun and moon — when in advance and rising before dawn it receives the name of Lucifer, and being another sun and bringing the dawn, whereas when it shines after sunset it is named Vesper, as prolonging the daylight, or as being deputy for the moon. . .


Further it surpasses all the other stars in magnitude, and is so brilliant that alone among stars it casts a shadow by its rays. Consequently there is a great competition to give it a name, some having called it Juno, others Isis, others the Mother of the Gods.7 As we may now understand, their names for “star” show that the ancients pictured these luminaries as penes in the sky,8 their light fancifully seen as the “glow” of the glans’ fiery crown.


At first sight it seems then strange that this most powerful of all stars should be given female names like Venus and Juno. The reference, however, is to its generative power. When this lesser penis of heaven slipped from the connubial bower before its master, it came dipping with the semen of the terrestrial womb. The sun, yawning and stretching its blazing path across the sky would bum away the fragrant drops that his forerunner scattered. Until then they would remain as dew on the earth, the most powerful conceptual fluid of Nature.


Thus again Pliny: Its influence is the cause of the birth of all things upon the earth; at both of its risings it scatters a genital dew with which it not only fills the conceptive organs of the earth but also stimulates those of all animals.9 Even the sea creatures were affected by this seminal fluid from the sky. Pearls were “born” within the shell by the direct influence of dew; well might Aphrodite have been portrayed sailing ashore on the coast of Cyprus in such a “womb” of the sea bed.


Again Pliny:

The source and breeding-ground of pearls are shells not much differing from oyster—shells. These, we are told, when stimulated by the generative season of the year, gape open, as it were, and are filled with a dewy pregnancy, and consequently when heavy are delivered, and the offspring of the shells are pearls that correspond to the quality of the dew received: if it was a pure inflow, their brilliance is conspicuous, but if it was turbid, the product also becomes dirty in color. Also if the sky was lowering, they say, the pearl is pale in color: for it is certain that it was conceived from the sky, and that pearls have more connection with the sky than with the sea...

If the dew could penetrate even to these “volvae” of the sea, its undiluted sprinkling on dry land could be expected to produce powerful drugs:

After the rising of each star, but particularly the principle stars, or of a rainbow, if rain does not follow but the dew is warmed by the rays of the sun . . . drugs (medicamenta) are produced, heavenly gifts for the eyes, ulcers, and internal organs. And if this substance is kept when the dog- star is rising, and if, as often happens, the rise of Venus or Jupiter or Mercury falls on the same day, its sweetness and potency for recalling mortals’ ills from death is equal to that of the Nectar of the gods.’10

So it was, when the Israelites awoke in the desert after an evening of filling their bellies with quail flesh, it was to discover that the “spermal emission” of the dew had left behind it Manna, the “bread” of heaven, which we may identify with the sacred fungus (Exod 16:13f.).12 We shall see later how mushroom worship was closely connected with necromancy, that is, the raising of the spirits of the dead for fortune-telling.13


It is in this context that we should now read a passage in Isaiah:

“O dwellers in the dust, awake and sing for joy ! For thy dew is a dew of light, and on the land of the shades (Rephaim) thou wilt let it fall”

(Isa 26:19).

The “Rephaim”, as their name can now be seen to mean, were those “cast down from heaven”,14 the fallen angels of the sixth chapter of Genesis, and a common theme of Jewish mythology.


As the morning dew brought forth the sacred mushroom, so, in the eyes of the prophet, would it give life to these denizens of the underworld. Pliny draws a further connection between dew and the Holy Plant when he says that even the demonic power of the Mandrake is increased when touched with morning dew.15 In a very special way, then, the sacred fungus was the offspring of the Morning Star, as Jesus proclaims himself to be to the mystic.


It thus had the unique ability of forming a bridge between man and god, being not entirely divine nor yet merely mortal. It gave men the power to become for a little while like the gods, “knowing good and evil”.16 Like the mushroom itself, it allowed mortals to become “Dioscouroi”, as the Greeks understood that name of the sacred fungus, “Sons of God”.


As the New Testament writer says of Jesus: To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father... (John I:12f.). The mysteries that the “Jesus” — fungus could impart were heavenly in origin, since it itself, as its Hebrew name implies, is “That—which— comes-from-heaven”.17


Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen... No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the son of man (John :i if.). Because the mushroom’s affinities were primarily celestial, it was thought able to control heavenly phenomena, the atmosphere, winds, and tempests.


The Dioscouroi were seen in the atmospheric electrical discharges known as St Elmo’s fire, and to our airmen in the war as “gremlins” that accompanied them on their missions.


Thus again, Pliny: Stars also come into existence at sea and on land. I have seen a radiance of star—like appearance clinging to the javelins of soldiers on sentry duty at night in front of the rampart: and on a voyage stars alight on the yards and other parts of the ship, with a sound resembling a voice, hopping from perch to perch in the manner of birds.


These when they come singly are disastrously heavy and wreck ships, and if they fall into the hold burn them up. If there are two of them they denote safety and portend a successful voyage; and their approach is said to put to flight the terrible star called Helena: for this reason they are called Castor and Pollux, and people pray to them as gods for aid at sea. They also shine round men’s heads at evening time; this is a great portent.


All these things admit of no certain explanation; they are hidden away in the grandeur of Nature.18

In their capacity as saviors of men in storms, the writer of the Homeric Hymns lauds the Dioscouroi thus:

Bright eyed Muses, tell of the Tyndaridae, the Sons of Zeus, glorious children of neat—ankled Leda; Castor, the tamer of horses, and blameless Polydeuces. When Leda had lain with the dark-clouded Son of Cronos, she bare them beneath the peak of the great hill Taygetus, — children who are deliverers of men on earth and swift-going ships when stormy gales rage over the ruthless sea.


Then the mariners call upon the sons of great Zeus with vows of white lambs, going to the forepart of the prow. But the strong wind and the waves of the sea lay the ship under ‘vater, until suddenly these two are seen darting through the air on tawny wings.


Forthwith they allay the blasts of the cruel winds and still the waves upon the surface of the white sea; fair signs are they and deliverance from toil. And when the mariners see them they are glad and have rest from their pain and labour.19

Well might Paul’s “Alexandrian ship” out of Malta carry the sign of the Dioscouroi at its mast— head (Acts 28:1 i). Part at least of the ancient belief that the Dioscouroi could avert storms lies in the idea that in nature like repels like. The antidote to any poison will be found in an object or drug most nearly resembling the baneful source.


Since the Dioscouroi, Pollux and Castor, are basically mushroom demons and the source of the “Sons of Thunder” is the storm, it follows that the sacred fungus will have the power to repel the tempest. Similarly, since the Amanita muscaria is a denizen of the conifer forests, and receives its being on the mother’s side, as it were, from the “menstrual blood” of the cedar,20 this substance also can affect storms.


Thus Pliny: They say that hail-storms and whirlwinds are driven away if menstrual fluid is exposed to the very flashes of lightning: that stormy weather is thus kept away, and that at sea exposure, even without (actual) menstruation, prevents storms.21

In the mushroom’s supposed power over the weather lies the basis of the quelling of the storm mythology of the New Testament and of Jonah:

But Yahweh hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up. Then the mariners were afraid and each cried to his god; and they threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone down into the bowels of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep.


So the captain came and said to him,

“What’s the matter, sleeper? Get up and call on your god! Perhaps the god will give us a thought that we don't perish."

After casting lots to find out who was to blame among them for their plight and the god’s wrath, the sailors discover that Jonah was the culprit, since he was fleeing from the face of Yahweh.


Then they said to him,

“What shall we do to you, that the sea may abate for us?”

For the sea was becoming more and more tempestuous. He said to them,

“Take me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will quieten down for you. This the sailors eventually did, praying at the same time to be freed from blood-guilt on Jonah’s account, “and the sea ceased from its raging”

(Jonah 1: 4—15).

Compare now the story of Jesus and his disciples on the Galilean sea: On that day when evening had come, he said to them,

“Let us go across to the other side.”

And leaving the crowd they took him with them, just as he was, in the boat. And other boats were with him. And a great storm of wind arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already filling.


But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him and said to him,

“Teacher, do you not care if we perish?”

And he awoke and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea,

“Peace! Be still !“

And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. And he said to them,

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” And they were filled with awe, and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?”

(Mark 435—41).

In both stories the underlying factor is the supposed ability of the sacred fungus to quieten storms. However, as with other such myths as expounded in the Bible, there are several layers of literary construction. For example, behind the whole of the Jonah story there is probably a play on the name of the sacred fungus, latterly known in Greek as Peristereön, but originally the Sumerian *BAR_USh_TAR_IAU_NA.22


In whatever form it was known among the Semites, the name was capable of being teased out by the myth-makers into something like bar-setără’ — y6nă’, “Jonah — son-of-hiding, concealment”, on which that element of the Jonah story about his flight from Yahweh’s presence would appear to have been used. In the New Testament we can penetrate to the second layer of literary composition, where every word of the story can be examined for possible word—plays.


Thus, for example, “silencing the storm” is a pun on the fungus name, *MASh_BA(LA)G..., which provided the myth-makers with the Semitic root sh-b—kh, “pacify”,23 and is so used of Yahweh in Psalm 6.c:

“who does still (Hebrew mashbiakh) the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves . . .“

(v. 7).

The Sumerian name GI—LI—LI (LI—LI—GI), properly the “reed with two cones” describing the two halves of the volva separated by the stem of the mushroom, gave by word-play the Semitic root g-l-l, “waves”, and the proper name Galilee.24


The sacred mushroom, then, was a being of two worlds, heavenly and terrestrial. Its affinities in the heavens lay with the stars, and in a special sense it was the child of Venus, the morning and evening star. The heavenly dew which this luminary was thought to disperse on the earth was considered of special power, and the appearance of the mushrooms on the ground at dawn seemed evidence of a special relationship between the star and the fungus.


The Heavenly Twins, the Gemini or Dioscouroi, were identified with the Morning Star, as is Jesus in the New Testament. These mushroom characters were similarly credited with power over storms, since the sacred fungus was itself a product of the storm-god in the tempest. So far we have looked at those aspects of the mushroom which offered the mythologists material for descriptions and stories from its characteristic shape, and from its unique conception as a “child of God”.


We saw how its sexual form, male and female, gave rise to androgynous names and epithets, and how the conjunction of penis and vulva as fancifully seen in its most developed form offered comparison with the human copulatory act and similar sexual imagery in the axe— head and the cross. The significance of its heavenly origin appears in those stories about the mushroom which portray the heroes quelling storms, and theologically, in imparting to its worshippers a knowledge of heavenly things normally beyond the reach of mere mortals.

We may now take our quest further, and discover how other characteristics of the mushroom, and of the Amanita muscaria in particular, offered even wider scope to the myth—maker, classical and biblical. Its color in particular seems to have made a deep impression on the ancient world, to judge from the way fungus names are used for red and purple dyes.


Furthermore, the cap of the Amanita muscaria has a strange, white—flecked appearance deriving from the particles of the volva still adhering to the surface.


This, as we shall see, gave a cycle of mushroom stories all its own.

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