All stem from man’s first questioning about the origin of life and how to ensure his own survival. He has always been acutely conscious of his insufficiency. However much he progressed technically, making clothes, shelter, conserving food and water supplies, and so on, the forces of nature were always greater than he.
The winds would blow away his shelter, the sun parch his crops, wild beasts prey on his animals: he was always on the defensive in a losing battle.
Out of this sense of dependency and frustration, religion was born. Somehow man had to establish communications with the source of the world’s fertility, and thereafter maintain a right relationship with it. Over the course of time he built up a body of experiential knowledge of rituals that he or his representatives could perform, or words to recite, which were reckoned to have the greatest influence on this fertility deity.
At first they were largely imitative. If rain in the desert lands was the source of life, then the moisture from heaven must be only a more abundant kind of spermatozoa. If the male organ ejaculated this precious fluid and made life in the woman, then above the skies the source of nature’s semen must be a mighty penis, as the earth which bore its offspring was the womb.
It followed therefore that to induce the heavenly phallus to complete its orgasm, man must stimulate it by sexual means, by singing, dancing, orgiastic displays and, above all, by the performance of the copulatory act itself: However man progressed in his control of the world about him there remained a large gap between what he wanted at any one time and what he could achieve on his own account.
There was always some unscalable mountain, some branch of knowledge which remained impenetrable, some disease with no known cure.
It seemed to him that if he had managed painstakingly to grope his way to a knowledge and dexterity so far above the animals, then in some mysterious way his thinkers and artisans must have been tapping a source of wisdom no less real than the rain that fructified the ground. The heavenly penis, then, was not only the source of life-giving semen, it was the origin of knowledge.
The seed of God was the Word of God.
The dream of man is to become God. Then he would be omnipotent; no longer fearful of the snows in winter or the sun in summer, or the drought that killed his cattle and made his children’s bellies swell grotesquely. The penis in the skies would rise and spurt its vital juice when man commanded, and the earth below would open its vulva and gestate its young as man required. Above all, man would learn the secrets of the universe not piecemeal, painfully by trial and fatal error, but by a sudden, wonderful illumination from within.
But God is jealous of his power and his knowledge. He brooks no rivals in heavenly places. If, in his mercy, he will allow just a very few of his chosen mortals to share his divinity, it is but for a fleeting moment. Under very special circumstances he will permit men to rise to the throne of heaven and glimpse the beauty and the glory of omniscience and omnipotence. For those who are so privileged there has seemed no greater or more worthwhile experience. The colors are brighter, the sounds more penetrating, every sensation is magnified, every natural force exaggerated.
For such a glimpse of heaven men have died. In the pursuit of this goal great religions have been born, shone as a beacon to men struggling still in their unequal battle with nature, and then too have died, stifled by their own attempts to perpetuate, codify, and evangelize the mystic vision. Our present concern is to show that Judaism and Christianity are such cultic expressions of this endless pursuit by man to discover instant power and knowledge.
Granted the first proposition that the vital forces of nature are controlled by an extra-terrestrial intelligence, these religions are logical developments from the older, cruder fertility cults.
With the advance of technical proficiency the aims of religious ritual became less to influence the weather and the crops than to attain wisdom and the knowledge of the future. The Word that seeped through the labia of the earth’s womb became to the mystic of less importance than the Logos which he believed his religion enabled him to apprehend and enthuse him with divine omniscience.
But the source was the same vital power
of the universe and the cultic practice differed little.
These were the drug-herbs, the science of whose cultivation and use had been accumulated over centuries of observation and dangerous experiment. Those who had this secret wisdom of the plants were the chosen of their god; to them alone had he vouchsafed the privilege of access to the heavenly throne. And if he was jealous of his power, no less were those who served him in the cultic mysteries. Theirs was no gospel to be shouted from the rooftops: Paradise was for none but the favored few.
The incantations and rites by which they conjured forth their drug plants, and the details of the bodily and mental preparations undergone before they could ingest their god, were the secrets of the cult to which none but the initiate bound by fearful oaths, had access. Very rarely, and then only for urgent practical purposes, were those secrets ever committed to writing. Normally they would be passed from the priest to the initiate by word of mouth; dependent for their accurate transmission on the trained memories of men dedicated to the learning and recitation of their “scriptures”.
But if for some drastic reason like the disruption of their cultic centers by war or persecution, it became necessary to write down the precious names of the herbs and the manner of their use and accompanying incantations, it would be in some esoteric form comprehensible only to those within their dispersed communities. Such an occasion, we believe, was the Jewish Revolt of Al) 66.
Instigated probably by members of the cult, swayed by their drug-induced madness to believe God ad called them to master the world in his name, they provoked the mighty power of Rome to swift and terrible action. Jerusalem was ravaged, her temple destroyed. Judaism was disrupted, and her people driven to seek refuge with communities already established around the Mediterranean coastlands. The mystery cults found themselves without their central fount of authority, with many of their priests killed in the abortive rebellion or driven into the desert.
The secrets, if they were not to be lost for ever, had to be committed to writing, and yet, if found, the documents must give nothing away or betray those who still dared defy the Roman authorities and continue their religious practices. The means of conveying the information were at hand, and had been for thousands of years. The folk-tales of the ancients had from the earliest times contained myths based upon the personification of plants and trees. They were invested with human faculties and qualities and their names and physical characteristics were applied to the heroes and heroines of the stories.
Some of these were just tales spun for entertainment, others were political parables like Jotham’s fable about the trees in the Old Testament, while others were means of remembering and transmitting therapeutic folk-lore. The names of the plants were spun out to make the basis of the stories, whereby the creatures of fantasy were identified, dressed, and made to enact their parts.
Here, then, was the literary device to spread occult knowledge to the faithful. To tell the story of a rabbi called Jesus, and invest him with the power and names of the magic drug. To have him live before the terrible events that had disrupted their lives, to preach a love between men, extending even to the hated Romans. Thus, reading such a tale, should it fall into Roman hands, even their mortal enemies might be deceived and not probe farther into the activities of the cells of the mystery cults within their territories.
The ruse failed. Christians, hated and despised, were hauled forth and slain in their thousands. The cult well nigh perished. What eventually took its place was a travesty of the real thing, a mockery of the power that could raise men to heaven and give them the glimpse of God for which they gladly died. The story of the rabbi crucified at the instigation of the Jews became an historical peg upon which the new cult’s authority was founded.
What began as a hoax, became a trap even to those who believed themselves to be the spiritual heirs of the mystery religion and took to themselves the name of “Christian”. Above all they forgot, or purged from the cult and their memories, the one supreme secret on which their whole religious and ecstatic experience depended: the names and identity of the source of the drug, the key to heaven — the sacred mushroom.
The fungus recognized today as the Amanita muscaria, or Fly-Agaric, had been known from the beginning of history.
Beneath the skin of its characteristic red- and white-spotted cap, there is concealed a powerful hallucinatory poison. Its religious use among certain Siberian peoples and others has been the subject of study in recent years, and its exhilarating and depressive effects have been clinically examined. These include the stimulation of the perceptive faculties so that the subject sees objects much greater or much smaller than they really are, colors and sounds are much enhanced, and there is a general sense of power, both physical and mental quite outside the normal range of human experience. The mushroom has always been a thing of mystery.
The ancients were puzzled by its manner of growth without seed, the speed with which it made its appearance after rain, and its as rapid disappearance. Born from a volva or “egg” it appears like a small penis, raising itself like the human organ sexually aroused, and when it spread wide its canopy the old botanists saw it as a phallus bearing the “burden” of a woman’s groin.
Every aspect of the mushroom’s existence was fraught with sexual allusions, and in its phallic form the ancients saw a replica of the fertility god himself. It was the “son of God”, its drug was a purer form of the god’s own spermatozoa than that discoverable in any other form of living matter. It was, in fact, God himself, manifest on earth. To the mystic it was the divinely given means of entering heaven; God had come down in the flesh to show the way to himself, by himself To pluck such a precious herb was attended at every point with peril.
The time — before sunrise, the words to be uttered — the name of the guardian angel, were vital to the operation, but more was needed. Some form of substitution was necessary, to make an atonement to the earth robbed of her offspring. Yet such was the divine nature of the Holy Plant, as it was called, only the god could make the necessary sacrifice. To redeem the Son, the Father had to supply even the “price of redemption”. These are all phrases used of the sacred mushroom, as they are of the Jesus of Christian theology.
Our present study has much to do with names and titles.
Only when we can discover the nomenclature of the sacred fungus within and without the cult, can we begin to understand its function and theology. The main factor that has made these new discoveries possible has been the realization that many of the most secret names of the mushroom go back to ancient Sumerian, the oldest written language known to us, witnessed by cuneiform texts dating from the fourth millennium BC. Furthermore, it now appears that this ancient tongue provides a bridge between the Indo-European languages (which include Greek, Latin, and our own tongue) and the Semitic group, which includes the languages of the Old Testament, Hebrew and Aramaic.
For the first time, it becomes possible to decipher the names of gods, mythological characters, classical and biblical, and plant names. Thus their place in the cubic systems and their functions in the old fertility religions can be determined. The great barriers that have hitherto seemed to divide the ancient world, classical and biblical, have at last been crossed and at a more significant level than has previously been possible by merely comparing their respective mythologies.
Stories and characters which seem quite different in the way they are presented in various locations and at widely separated points in history can now be shown often to have the same central theme. Even gods as different as Zeus and Yahweh embody the same fundamental conception of the fertility deity, for their names in origin are precisely the same. A common tongue overrides physical and racial boundaries.
Even languages so apparently different as Greek and Hebrew, when they can be shown to derive from a common fount, point to a communality of culture at some early stage. Comparisons can therefore be made on a scientific, philological level which might have appeared unthinkable before now.
Suddenly, almost overnight, the ancient world has shrunk. All roads in the Near East lead back to the Mesopotamian basin, to ancient Sumer. Similarly, the most important of the religions and mythologies of that area, and probably far beyond, are reaching back to the mushroom cult of Sumer and her successors. In biblical studies, the old divisions between Old and New Testament areas of research, never very meaningful except to the Christian theologian, become even less valid.
As far as the origins of Christianity are concerned, we must look not just to intertestamental literature, the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, and the newly discovered writings from the Dead Sea, nor even merely to the Old Testament and other Semitic works, but we have to bring into consideration Sumerian religious and mythological texts and the classical writings of Asia Minor, Greece, and Rome.
The Christian Easter is as firmly linked to the Bacchic Anthesteria as the Jewish Passover. Above all, it is the philologian who must be the spearhead of the new enquiry. It is primarily a study in words. A written word is more than a symbol: it is an expression of an idea. To penetrate to its inner meaning is to look into the mind of the man who wrote it. Later generations may give different meanings to that symbol, extending its range of reference far beyond the original intention, but if we can trace the original significance then it should be possible to follow the trail by which it developed.
In doing so, it is sometimes possible even to outline the progress of man’s mental, technical or religious development. The earliest writing was by means of pictures, crudely incised diagrams on stone and clay. However lacking such symbols may be in grammatical or syntactical refinement, they do convey, in an instant, the one feature which seemed to the ancient scribe the most significant aspect of the object or action he is trying to represent.
“Love” he shows as a flaming torch in a womb, a foreign country as a hill (because he lived on a plain), and so on.
As the art of writing developed further,
we can begin to recognize the first statements of ideas which came
later to have tremendous philosophical importance, “life”, “god”,
“priest”, “temple”, “grace”, “sin”, and so on. To seek their later
meanings in religious literature like the Bible we must first
discover their basic meaning and follow their development through as
far as extant writings will allow.
As far as the main burden of our present enquiry is concerned, our new-found ability to penetrate to the beginnings of language means that we can set the later mystery cults, as those of Judaism, of the Dionysiac religion and Christianity, into their much wider context, to discover the first principles from which they developed, probe the mysteries of their cultic names and invocations, and, in the case of Christianity at least, appreciate something of the opposition they encountered among governing authorities and the measures taken to transmit their secrets under cover of ancient mythologies in modern dress.
Our study, then, begins at the beginning, with an appreciation of religion in terms of a stimulation of the god to procreation and the provision of life.
Armed with our new understanding of the language relationships of the ancient Near East, we can tackle the major problems involved in botanical nomenclature and discover those features of the more god-endued plants which attracted the attention of the old medicine men and prophets. The isolation of the names and epithets of the sacred mushroom opens the door into the secret chambers of the mystery cults which depended for their mystic hallucinatory experiences on the drugs found in the fungus.
At long last identification of the main characters of many of the old classical and biblical mythologies is possible, since we can now decipher their names. Above all, those mushroom epithets and holy invocations that the Christian cryptographers wove into their stories of the man Jesus and his companions can now be recognized, and the main features of the Christian cult laid bare. The isolation of the mushroom cult and the real, hidden meaning of the New Testament writings drives a wedge between the moral teachings of the Gospels and their quite amoral religious setting.
The new discoveries must thus raise more acutely the question of the validity of Christian “ethics” for the present time. If the Jewish rabbi to whom they have hitherto been attributed turns out to have been no more substantial than the mushroom, the authority of his homilies must stand or fall on the assent they can command on their own merit.
What follows in this book is, as has been said, primarily a study in words. To a reader brought up to believe in the essential historicity of the Bible narratives some of the attitudes displayed in our approach to the texts may seem at first strange. We appear to be more interested with the words than with the events they seem to record; more concerned, say, in the meaning of Moses’ name than his supposed role as Israel’s first great political leader.
Similarly, a century or so ago, it must have seemed strange to the average Bible student to understand the approach of a “modernist” of the day who was more interested in the ideas underlying the Creation story of Genesis and their sources, than to date, locate, and identify the real Garden of Eden, and to solve the problem of whence came Cain’s wife. Then, it took a revolution in man’s appreciation of his development from lower forms of life and a clearer understanding of the age of this planet to force the theologian to abandon the historicity of Genesis.
Now we face a new revolution in thought which must make us reconsider the validity of the New Testament story. The break-through here is not in the field of history but in philology. Our fresh doubts about the historicity of Jesus and his friends stem not from new discoveries about the land and people of Palestine of the first century, but about the nature and origin of the languages they spoke and the origins of their religious cults.
What the student of Christian origins is primarily concerned with is, what manner of writing is this book we call the New Testament, and in particular just what are the narratives called the Gospels trying to convey? Is it history?
This is certainly a possibility, but only one of many. The fact that for nearly two thousand years one religious body has pinned its faith upon not only the existence of the man Jesus, but even upon his spiritual nature and the historicity of certain unnatural events called miracles, is not really relevant to the enquiry. A hundred years ago this same body of opinion was equally adamant that the whole of the human race could trace its origin to two people living in the middle of Mesopotamia, and that the earth had come into existence in the year 4004 BC.
The enquirer has to begin with his only real source of knowledge, the written word. As far as Judaism and Christianity are concerned, this means the Bible. There is precious little else that can give us details about what the Israelite believed about his god and the world about him, or about the real nature of Christianity. The sparse references to one “Christus” or “Chrestus” in the works of contemporary non-Christian historians, tell us nothing about the nature of the man, and only very dubiously, despite the claims often made for them, do they support his historicity.
They simply bear witness to the fact, never in dispute, that the stories of the Gospels were in circulation soon after AD 70. If we want to know more about early Christianity we must look to our only real source, the written words of the New Testament. Thus, as we have said, the enquiry is primarily philological. The New Testament is full of problems. They confront the critical enquirer on every side: chronological, topographical, historical, religious, and philological. It is not until the language problems have been resolved that the rest can be realistically appraised.
When, in the last century, a mass of papyrological material became available from the ancient world and cast new light upon the nature of the Greek used in the New Testament, scholars felt that most of the major obstacles to a complete understanding of the texts would be removed. But, in fact, to the philologian the thorny questions remain firmly embedded in the stories, and they have nothing to do with the plot of the narratives, or the day-to-day details which add color to the action.
The most intransigent concern the foreign, presumed Aramaic transliterations in the text, coupled often with a “translation” which does not seem to offer a rendering of the original, like the nickname “Boanerges”, supposed to mean, “Sons of Thunder”, or the name “Barnabas”, said to represent “Son of Consolation”. Try as they will, the commentators cannot see how the “translations” fit the “names”. To the general reader, and particularly to the Christian seeking moral or spiritual enlightenment from the New Testament, such trivia have meant little.
To many scholars, too, details like these are of less importance than the theological import of Jesus’ teaching. It has been assumed that somewhere along the line of transmission some textual corruption occurred in the “names”, or that the “translations” were added by later hands unfamiliar with the original language used by the Master and his companions.
As we can now appreciate, these aberrations of the proper names and their pseudo—translations are of crucial importance. They provide us with a clue to the nature of original Christianity. Concealed within are secret names for the sacred fungus, the sect’s “Christ”. The deliberately deceptive nature of their mistranslations put the lie to the whole of the “cover-story” of the man Jesus and his activities. Once the ruse is penetrated, then research can go ahead fast with fitting the Christian phenomenon more firmly into the cultic patterns of the ancient Near East.
Many apparently quite unrelated facts about the ubiquitous mystery cults of the area and their related mythologies suddenly begin to come together into an intellectually satisfying whole. In any study of the sources and development of a particular religion, ideas are the vital factor. History takes second place. Even time is relatively unimportant. This is not to underestimate the importance of political and sociological influences in the fashioning of a cult and its ideology; but the prime materials of the philosophy stem from a fundamental conception of the universe and the source of life.
Certain highly imaginative or “inspired” men may appear from time to time in a people’s history and affect the beliefs and manner of life of their contemporaries and successors. They adapt or develop what they find and give it a new impetus or direction. But the clay they are freshly modeling was there already and forms the main object of enquiry for the student of the cult’s development.
We are, throughout this book, mainly interested in this “clay” and the very strange shapes it assumed in the mystery religions of which we may now recognize Christianity as an important example.
Of course, history now and again forces itself on our attention.
These and many other such questions are raised afresh by our studies, but it is our contention that they are not of prime importance. Far more urgent is the main import of the myths in which these names are found.
If ware right in finding their real relevance in the age-old cult of the sacred mushroom, then the nature of the oldest Israelite religion has to be reassessed, and it matters comparatively little whether these characters are historical or not. In the case of Christianity, the historical questions are perhaps more acute. If the New Testament story is not what it seems, then when and how did the Christian Church come to take it at its face value and make the worship of a single man Jesus, crucified and miraculously brought back to life, the central theme of its religious philosophy?
The question is bound up with the nature of the “heresies” that the Church drove out into the desert. Unfortunately we just have not sufficient material to enable us to identify all these sects and know their secrets. The Church destroyed everything it considered heretical, and what we know of such movements derives largely from the refutations of the early Fathers of their beliefs.
But at least we no longer have to squeeze such “aberrations” into a century or two after AD 30.
“Christianity” under its various names had been thriving for centuries before that. As we may now appreciate, it was the more original cult that was driven underground by the combined efforts of the Roman, Jewish, and ecclesiastical authorities; it was the supreme “heresy” which came on, made terms with the secular powers, and became the Church of today. We are, then, dealing with ideas rather than people.
We cannot name the chief characters of our story. Doubtless there were real leaders exercising considerable power over their fellows, but in the mystery cults they were never named to the outsider.
We cannot, like the Christian pietist, conjure for ourselves a picture of a young man working at his father’s carpentry bench, taking little children in his arms, or talking earnestly with a Mary while her sister did the housework. In this respect, our study is not an easy one. There is no one simple answer to the problems of the New Testament discoverable to anyone just reshuffling the Gospel narratives to produce yet another picture of the man Jesus. Ours is a study of words, and through them of ideas.
At the end we have to test the validity of our conclusions not against comparative history, least of all against the beliefs of the Church, past or present, but against the overall pattern of religious thought as it can now be traced through the ancient Near East from the earliest times.
The question we have to ask is, does the Christianity as now revealed for the first time fit adequately into what went before the first century, not what came after in its name?