Death and Resurrection
This same experience of death and resurrection is no less at the heart of the more sophisticated forms of the fertility cult, the mystery religions of which Christianity is the best known example. It seemed to the mystics that it might be possible to enact within the mind and body a spiritual “death” and “resurrection” so that, however anchored the mortal frame might be to a terrestrial existence, the soul could be released as if at death and given the freedom they believed it had experienced before birth and would do so again at death.
Thus Josephus says of the Essenes,
The way to this release of the soul was by asceticism and particularly by fasting, but the same effects could be achieved and more quickly by the use of drugs, like those Josephus says the Essenes sought out “which make for the welfare of the soul and body”.3
Above all, the sacred fungus, the Amanita muscaria, gave them the delusion of a soul floating free over vast distances, separate from their bodies, as it still does to those foolish enough to seek out the experience. The Christians put the matter thus: “If the Christ is in you, although your bodies are dead through sin, your spirits are alive through righteousness.
If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you” (Rom 8:xo,ii). Not only could the drug contained under the skin of the sacred fungus give to the initiate at will this illusion of spiritual resurrection, of victory over death, but in the conception and growth of the mushroom he could see a microcosm of the whole natural order. Before his eyes the cycle of life and death was enacted in a matter of hours.
The Amanita muscaria was the medium of spiritual regeneration and at the same time in itself the supreme example of the recreative process in the world of Nature. No wonder the fungus attracted so much awesome wonder among the ancients, or that it inspired some of literature’s greatest epics.
To the mystic, the little red-topped fungus must have seemed human in form and yet divine in its power to change men and give them an in- sight into the mysteries of the universe. It was in the world, but not of it. In the New Testament myth, the writers tried to express this idea of the duality of nature by portraying as its central character a man who appeared human enough on the surface but through whom there shone a godlike quality which manifested itself in miracle-working and a uniquely authoritative attitude to the Law.
The extent to which they succeeded can be seen today in the mingled sympathy and awe with which Jesus is regarded in the Western world, even among people for whom the Christian religion offers no attractions. The myth of the dying and rising god is variously treated within the mushroom cycle. One of the best-known stories is that of Persephone/ Kore, her mother Demeter, and the wicked uncle Pluto.4
The beautiful virgin who is the heroine of the tale presents in her double name the equivalent of the effeminate male Hermaphrodite. Her two names can now be seen as two aspects of the mushroom, Persephone being the volva (Sumerian *BM).sn3...u...NI, “container or the penis of fecundity”) and Kore the stem of “phallus” (Sumerian *Gu_RI, as in the storm-god’s name, *ush...Gu_p,J [ISKUR]).5 Put in other fungus folk-lore terms, Kore is the charmed and erect “serpent”, thrusting open the egg of Persephone.
It is with this sense that *Sm..u...NI comes into Hebrew, in the form siph’öni, “adder”, which has a specific mushroom reference in a passage in Isaiah. The prophet warns that those who “split” the “eggs of the siph’oni, adder”, will bring death upon themselves, and those who weave with “spiders’ spindles” (qore, the spindle rod with its whorl) will never weave such a web as will cover their cultic malpractices (s :5f.).
Doubtless both these expressions will have been common folk-names for the mushroom. Persephone/Kore was passionately loved from afar by her uncle Pluto, god of the underworld. Although her father Zeus approved of the match, her mother Demeter (listed along with her daughter’s names among those of the Holy Plant),6 strongly objected to the arrangement, not least because the marital home would have been outside her influence. However, Pluto, with the connivance of his brother, arranged that a large and beautiful flower7 should one day appear at the feet of his beloved as she walked in her Sicilian home.
Unable to resist the blossom, the girl picked it, and immediately a yawning chasm appeared at her feet, revealing her suitor complete with chariot and horses to carry her off struggling to his subterranean palace. Not unnaturally, her mother was upset by the turn of events and began a long and variously recounted search for her daughter.
Unhappily, even when she discovered her whereabouts, it was to find that the hapless child had eaten some magic herb8 that made it impossible for her to leave Hades for ever. An agreement was finally reached that she should remain in her husband’s home for a third (or half) the year, and spend the rest of the time on earth with her mother. It has seemed strange to scholars that Pluto, the god of the underworld, should elsewhere be reckoned as a god of fertility. It is true that much of our western classical and Semitic tradition has led us to think of Hades9 as a place of dull lifelessness, or even of retributive torture of the damned. More original, as we have seen,10 is the conception of the earth’s bowels as the seat of creation where all life is conceived and after death recreated.11
In the subterranean oven, the god’s seminal fluid is processed into living matter, and the Word made flesh. The name Pluto, Greek Plouton, is primarily a fertility word, now recognizable as coming from an original Sumerian *BURU_TUN, “deliverer of the womb”, of which the element BURU, “deliver, release”, is cognate with the Greek bruö, “teem with, be full, burst forth”.12
The same Sumerian word appears in such names as Apollo,
Aphrodite (from which comes our “aphrodisiac”), and the plant name Abrotonon, “Southernwood”, a sprig of which under the pillow, Pliny
tells us, “is the most effective countercheck of all to magical
potions given to produce sexual impotence”.13
A story with a similar ending to that of Persephone’s myth is found related of Castor and Pollux. Following Castor’s death in battle at the hands of his cousins who had driven away some cattle, brother Pollux was cast into despair.
At last, in answer to a prayer to Zeus that he too might die and leave this earth to rejoin his twin in Hades, Father Zeus agreed that he might spend one day with his peers the gods and the other in the earth with his brother.
The death and resurrection story of Jesus follows the traditional pattern of fertility mythology, as has long been recognized. The hero is miraculously born, dies violently, returns to the underworld, and is then reawakened to new life. We may now go further and connect the details of the story more closely to the mushroom culture of which it is part.
Indeed, the reference is plain within the text, where Jesus is made to relate his coming death by “being raised up” with the brazen serpent of Moses:
The reference is to the incident recorded in Numbers 21:9:
Easter and its Dionysiac equivalent
On the twelfth of
the month bearing that name (end of February to the beginning of
March), there began a three-day festival of three parts, the Pithoigia, Choes, and Chutroi.17 All too little is known from the
records of the details of this great occasion; inevitably mystery
rites were involved which were not for public viewing or recording.
However, we are in a better position now to probe its secrets, not
least because we can decipher its names.
The vine—cluster, like the ivy—cluster which also appears freely represented in Bacchic symbolism, evoked the shape of the conical end of the erect penis, the glans. The form is well illustrated in the earliest Sumerian ideogram for the vine. The connection is explicit in the old names for the vine-cluster, like the Greek botrus and the Hebrew ‘eshkoi, both derived, as we now realize, from Sumerian phrases meaning “top of the erect penis”.20
So the Bacchic worshippers symbolized their god’s phallic and mushroom connections by carrying with them a long rod, entwined with ivy and bearing at its end a vine- or ivy- cluster. This staff is called a Thyrsus, “womb-favourer; penis”, as its Sumerian derivation now shows itto have originally meant. A modem Arabic version of the name is used for the mushroom.21
During the course of the Athenian festival of Skira, two male votaries of the goddess Athena, dressed as girls, carry vine-clusters between the temple of their goddess and that of Dionysus. The rare Greek word given to these objects, oskhos, we may now relate through its original Sumerian form to the Hebrew ‘eshköl, “vine_cluster”.22 In the Song of Songs, the Shulammite’s breasts are likened to such “vine-clusters”, where the reference is certainly to the mushroom cap.23
The “vine-cluster” became, then, a useful synonym for the sacred mushroom, and is used with this allusion in a composite picture of the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden given in the postbiblical book of Enoch. We noticed earlier how Josephus used this quaint literary device to portray in a roundabout way the phallic and mushroom significance of the High Priest’s helmet.24
A number of plants are brought together to illustrate various aspects of the actual object being cryptically described. Taken at their face value the resultant picture is absurd, but each of the plants so adduced contains some allusion, by shape, or simply by a pun on its name, which, to the initiated, conveys the intended meaning of the whole. In the case of the Tree of Life, whose fruit made Adam and Eve like gods, the apocryphal writing says it had “the height of a fir, leaves like a carob, and fruit like a vine-cluster”.25
The luckless sons of the prophets who found “death in the pot”28 when Elisha came to dinner, picked their mushrooms29 from a “vine of the field” (II Kgs 4:38—41). This phrase has all the appearance of a folk- name for the fungus, as “vine of the earth” has been preserved in Syriac as a name of the Mandrake.30 The same expression is used in the book of Revelation for the harvest to which the angel with the sharp sickle is bidden: Put in your sickle, and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe (Rev 14:18).31
It is the same imagery of the “vine-mushroom”
that described Jesus as “the true vine” (John i:i, s)’ and in
Jewish—Christian literature as “the Vine of David”.32
The second and third days of the Anthesteria were called hoi Khoes and hoi Khutroi respectively, which have been taken to mean, “the pitchers” and “the pots”, and to have reference to some part of the wine-making ceremony. However, now that we need no longer see the mystic festival of Anthesteria as a mere vine-harvesting or wine-making jollification, we can find a much more meaningful significance in the names of its various parts. The second day’s designation, hoi Khoes, read as a singular noun and article, is remarkably reminiscent of the oskhos ceremony just mentioned, where the objects carried are the “vine— clusters” of Dionysus.35
The name Khutroi given to the third day of the Anthesteria festival is cognate with the Semitic kötereth, “mushroom”. The Greek word kuthros (kutros), “pot”, with which the name has been hitherto identified, comes also from the same ultimate source (Sumerian GU-TAR, “top of the head; phallus”), but is probably secondary, referring to the mushroom or phallic shape of the container.36
Turning to the name of the feast itself, Anthesteria, we may now find its source in a Sumerian phrase meaning “raising of the penis” (*ANTA_ AShTAR),37 where “penis” will have its dual sense in the cult of the male organ and the phallic mushroom. That both aspects of the word were involved is indicated by the fact that the festival included a ritual marriage between the god Dionysus and the wife of the archon or chief magistrate.38 It is said to have involved a solemnization and consummation 39 of this mystic union, but exactly what physically took place we cannot know.
The part played by cultic prostitutes in the mushroom- raising ceremonies we have earlier discussed,40 and something of the kind probably lay behind this holy marriage between the god and his mortal priestess. Recalling that exposure of the female genitals and application of menstrual blood was considered an essential part of releasing the fungus, it is worth noting that one at least of the days of the Anthesteria was marked as “taboo” (miara) , properly “blood-stained”.41
confirmation of this is the tradition that on the day of Choes the
celebrants anointed their doors with pitch,42 whose relationship
with menstrual blood in the ancient philosophies has been previously
noted.43 One is reminded also of the prophylactic daubing of
doorposts and lintels with the blood of the Passover lamb by the
Israelites in Egypt (Exod 12:7,22).
The cry eleleu, eleleu was so marked a feature of the Bacchic rites that the Bacchantes became known as the Eleleides,46 and the chant itself the “Paean”, and associated with Apollo who had the same epithet, Paian, in Greek.47 The word, as we saw earlier, is another name of the mushroom, the equivalent of the New Testament’s “Bar—jona”, Peter’s surname. 48
Now we can understand a reference in the botanist Dioscorides’ account of the plant he calls “Hellebore”, but which we can identify with the mushroom:
The latter is also a name for the “Hellebore” and means simply “head of the erect penis, the glans”, or in mushroom terms, the “cap”.
Clearly, at the point when the sacred fungus was removed from the ground, or perhaps when it was being induced to rise, the celebrants were required to chant the “paean” to the god of the mushroom, eleleu, eleleu In the Easter story of the New Testament the same incantatory expression is found, put into the mouth of the Jesus figure, splayed as the mushroom on the cross: At the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice,
And some of the bystanders hearing it said,
The name “Elijah” is formed of the same elements as the divine name Elohini and the Bacchic cry “eleleu”,50 and was doubtless intended to serve as a clue to the preceding cryptograph. The words, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani”, but dubiously mean “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” as every Semiticist knows.51
The “translation” is another of the New Testament “false renderings” of special cultic names or invocations, culled this time from the well-known passage in Psalm 22 :r. The Hebrew here is nowhere rendered by the words “Fbi, Fbi, lama sabachthani” which, on any count, are strange Aramaic. The allusion in the text to the Psalm is but a “cover”: lama sabachthani is a clever approximation to the important Sumerian name of the sacred mushroom *LI_4PSh_BA(LA)3...ANTA, source by word-play of so much of the New Testament myth.52
This is the second, or “Aesculapius” part of the incantation Dioscorides says was pronounced by those cutting the “Hellebore”. The whole secret invocatory phrase, of which classical tradition brought down only the first part, was a colloquial equivalent of an original Sumerian *E_LA..JJIA, E—LA-UIA, LI-MASh-BA(LA)G-ANTA. Thanks to the Gospel myth-makers and cryptographers we are now able to supply the part the observers of the Bacchic festivals did not, or were not allowed to hear.
Another incantatory formula which appears, unusually, on the surface of the New Testament records, and has thereby caused much speculation among the critics and theologians, is the passage in the epistle to the Ephesians:
Calls to “sleepers” to “awaken” are common enough in the Gospel stories, particularly in those dealing with the Agony in the Garden before the Crucifixion (Matt 26 :4off., etc). The interest of this particular incantation is that it is formed from a clever combination of, and word- play on names of the sacred mushroom, and even in its final Greek form is openly related to the necromantic cult from which it is derived.
Breaking its code leads us to other important names of the Holy Plant, and to a new understanding of the most famous of all incantations, the Lord’s Prayer. The cry “Awake, sleeper !“ is a word—play on the Aramaic level of the Sumerian phrase *AN...BAR (AB-BA)-NA-IM-A-AN, “canopy of the sky stretched out above”, a descriptive epithet of the mushroom.
The last part, NA-IM-A-AN, contains the ancient name of the fertility god-hero Adonis, Na’iman.53 A shortened form of the whole phrase gave Hebrew its tribal name “Ephraim”, and, following a different dialectal and vocalic development, the patriarchal name, “Abraham”, the “father” of Israel.54 It is the first element of the name, AN-BAR, found also run together as AB—BA, “father”, which has particular interest for us in this study. It means literally, “heaven—stretch”, that is, it offers the picture of a sheltering canopy overhead, and so is used of the “father” or “protector” of a family, the Sumerian coming directly into Semitic as ‘ab, ‘abbã’, with that meaning.
When, for the NA-IM-A-AN ending of the mushroom name above, the alternative Sumerian ending TABBA-RI is added, we can at last solve another perplexing little problem concerned with invocations in the New Testament. In three places the New Testament writers give us a phrase which is a combination of a foreign word, usually assumed to be Aramaic, and an appended “translation”: “Abba, father”.55
Now, it is perfectly true that the Greek ho patër, “&ther”, accurately represents the Aramaic ‘abbj’, but one would have thought that this extremely common Semitic word for “father” would have been well enough known even in a Greek-speaking area of the first century not to have necessitated a translation every time it appeared in a text.
Since also in each case it appears in the Epistles it is related to the Spirit of God witnessing in the heart of the believer, and in the third instance it is put into the mouth of Jesus in the Garden praying to God (Mark 14:36), there might be in any case reason for regarding it as some incantatory expression of more than ordinary significance.
The very fullness of the phrase has seemed curious where one might have expected a simple “God” or “Father” or the like. The explanation lies in the mushroom title *AB_BA_T_BA_PJ..GI, a rather fuller version of the one cited above and underlying “Abba, father”. The cryptographers have teased out the Sumerian into an Aramaic ‘abbi’ debareqi’a’, “O my (our) father who art in heaven !“
Having now penetrated the disguise and laid bare the original Sumerian and the Aramaic phrase made from it, we can now recognize it as a phrase we have all known from our childhood storybooks for a long time: “abracadabra”. Originally it had a far more serious intent, and is first found in the writings of one Q. Serenus Sammonicus of the second-third century AC, a physician of the sect we know as Gnostics. This author left precise instructions for the use of this cabbalistic phrase, which was believed to invoke beneficent spirits against disease and misfortune.
The magic word had to be stitched in the form of a cross and worn as an amulet in the bosom for nine days, and finally thrown backwards before sunrise into a stream running eastwards. The sect of Gnostics provides one of the major keys to unraveling the mystery of how the mushroom-worshipping Christians became the Church of later times.
The Gnostics were groups of ascetics, scorning the lusts of the flesh entirely, and convinced that they possessed a secret and mysterious knowledge denied to lesser mortals, vouchsafed to them by revelation from God. They claimed to be connected to their Savior-god and the earliest Christians by a secret tradition, and to possess certain mystic writings which only they could interpret. The ultimate object of their faith was an individual salvation, the assurance of a blessed destiny for each soul after death.
They possessed many such formulae as “abracadabra”, and having pride of place above all their secret knowledge were the names of the demons. Only when each soul knew such names and could thus control their power, could repeat the holy formulae and display the right symbol, and were anointed (i.e. “christened”) with a holy oil, could he find his way to the seventh heaven, the kingdom of light.
Thus, a principal feature of Gnosticism was the transmission to one another in strictest secrecy doctrines about the being, nature, names, and symbols of the Seven Demons or Angels who would otherwise bar their way to achieving the ultimate goal. The movement comes into prominence in the second century AC and reached its greatest influence in the third quarter of that century, after which it began to wane and was replaced by the closely related and more powerful Manichean movement.
However, many of its ideas survived in mystic circles at least into the fourth and fifth centuries. What became “orthodox” Christianity waged a war with Gnosticism which it finally won, and the books of the “heresy” were systematically destroyed. Most of what we know about the sect comes from the writings of its ecclesiastical opponents, but of recent years some of their lost books of the later period have been found in the sands of Egypt marvelously preserved, among them the Gospel of Truth.58
We may hope for more and earlier works, but again, we have to remind ourselves that valuable as these lost works would be, the really secret doctrines are unlikely to have been written down in “clear”, and the best we can hope for is another cryptic writing like the New Testament. Nevertheless, one fruit of these present researches must be a re—examination of the Gnostic material that has survived for more decipherable abracadabras “Our father who art in heaven,” then, is a cryptic way of expressing the name of the Savior-god, the sacred mushroom.
Having broken the code to this extent, it is possible to tackle other outstanding problems in the text.
For example, we ask for “daily bread” upon “this day”. In point of fact, we have never had a textual justification for doing so, since no one has ever been able to offer a definitive translation for the very rare Greek word epiousion which the text uses to describe the “bread”.59
The rendering “daily” is probably the least likely
possibility ;60 the marginal reading of RSV, “our bread for the
morrow”61 is little better. It is only when we recognize the
Sumerian name for the sacred fungus out which the whole “Prayer” has
been spun by word- play that we can see just why the cryptographers
chose this Greek epithet, and why the other main alternative reading
“give us (the bread) that is needful”62 is the correct one. It is an
attempt to render the Semitic verb s-p—q, “give what is needful”,
derived from a word-play on *MAShBA(LA)ANTATAB...BA...RI read as
“that-which-is- needful-give — now — bread”.63
The Greek word for “temptation”, peirasmos, came in for special attention at the time of the decipherment of the Dead Sea Scrolls. It was realized correctly by scholars that behind this New Testament phrase lay the Semitic word for a place for “testing” metals, that is, the refiner’s crucible.64 The Essenes in the Scrolls talk of the “time of testing that is coming” using the technical word.65
So, here, in the Prayer, the word-jugglers have taken its Aramaic equivalent, kür bukhãnã’, “crucible of testing”, out of *LJ..K ll-BA(LA)G-ANTA, the mushroom name. The resultant phrase is particularly interesting because it is almost exactly the Aramaic name of the fungus as it has come down in literature, khurbakhna’ or khürbekhãna’ (Arabic kharbaq) , attached, like so many mushroom words, to the plant Hellebore.66
Taking the sacred fungus, or, in New Testament parlance, “eating the body” of the Christ, must have been a very real peirasmos, “trial”, of the body and spirit. It would have seemed no accident to the cultic celebrant that the name of the mushroom and the phrase for “fiery furnace of testing” appeared the same. The customary translation of this powerful concept as “temptation” is almost ridiculous, recalling youthful experiences in the jam-cupboard or behind the woodshed with the girl next door.
Well might the writer of Corinthians issue this warning: Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without critically treating his body, eats and drinks a “crisis” upon himself.
That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died... (I Cor 11:27—30).
Isaiah long before had expressed the same warning about the planting of the Adonis (Naiman):
The Amanita muscaria is, after all, a poisonous fungus. Whilst not
the most dangerous, its drugs
have. a serious affect on the nervous system, and taken regularly
over a long period would in the
end kill the addict. Among its drugs so far isolated are Muscarine,
Atropine, and Bufotenin.67
The initiates of the mushroom cult explained such sensations in terms of demonology. They believed that the god whose flesh they were chewing, or whose blood they were drinking in their drugged wine, was actually within their bodies. It was to be expected that his coming and going would be attended with dreadful physical and mental experiences, and the body needed lengthy preparation for the “trial” by fire.
The actual eating of the bitter, burning fungus top, drinking of the laced wine, and perhaps sniffing up of the powdered Agaric-like snuff;68 would be only at the end of days of religious and physical preparation. To obtain some idea of the nature of these preparations and the fearfulness with which they were approached, we may read what Pliny says about the Hellebore.
We have earlier noted that many of the mushroom names have come down to us attached to this potent herb, and it is not improbable that what the first-century botanist tells us about the taking of Hellebore similarly reflects traditions which he has picked up concerning the use of the fungus: The best white Hellebore is that which most quickly causes sneezing.
It is, however, far more terrifying than the black sort, especially if one reads in our old authorities of the elaborate precautions taken, by those about to drink it, against shivering, choking, overpowering and unseasonable sleep, prolonged hiccough or sneezing, fluxes of the stomach, vomiting, too slow or too long, scanty or too excessive. In fact, they usually gave other things to promote vomiting, and drove out the Hellebore itself by medicine or enema, or often they used even bleeding.
Furthermore, even when the Hellebore proves successful (as a purge), the various colors of the vomits are terrifying to see, and after the vomits comes the worry of watching the stools, of superintending the bath, of attention to the whole body, all these troubles being preceded by the great terror caused by its reputation, for it is said that meat, if boiled with it, is consumed. It was a fault of the ancient physicians that because of these fears they used to administer this Hellebore in smallish doses, since the larger the dose the quicker it is eliminated.
Themison gave doses of not more than two drachmae;
his successors actually increased the amount to four, because of the
fine testimonial given to Hellebore by Herophilus, who compared it
to a truly courageous general; having aroused all within, it itself
marches out in the van Care must be taken, even with favorable
treatment, not to administer Hellebore on a cloudy day; for to do so
is followed by unbearable torture. Indeed, there is no doubt that
summer is a better season to give it than winter. For seven days
previously the body must be prepared by acid (or, sharp-tasting)
foods and by abstinence from wine; on the fourth and third days
before, an emetic must be taken, and on the preceding day there
should be abstinence from dinner.
Recently the method has been discovered of splitting radishes, inserting Hellebore, and then pressing the radishes together again, so that the property of the purge penetrates them: the Hellebore is thus administered in a modified form. Vomiting begins after four hours, and the whole business is over in seven. . . . Hellebore is never prescribed for old people or children, or for those who are soft and effeminate in body or mind, or for the thin or delicate.
For women it is less suitable than for men, unsuitable too for the nervous or when the hypochondria are ulcerated or swollen, very bad when there is spitting of blood, pain in the side, or sore throat Mixed with pearl barley it kills rats and mice. The Gauls when hunting dip their arrows in Hellebore, and say that the meat, when the flesh around the wound has been cut away, tastes more tender.
Flies too die if pounded white Hellebore and milk are sprinkled about.°9 This last use of Hellebore provides an interesting link with Amanita muscaria, or Fly-Agaric, as it is popularly known.
Linnaeus gave the fungus the Latin name (musca, “fly”) precisely because of the age-old practice of killing flies or bugs with it. First attested in medieval times, it is said still to be the practice on the Continent to break up the mushroom into milk to stupefy flies. In Poland and Czechoslovakia a sugar solution is made for that purpose, or sugar sprinkled on the cap.70
Perhaps it is its use to kill vermin like bugs that is meant when Pliny reports of “black Hellebore” that “with it they fumigate and cleanse houses, sprinkling it on sheep, and adding a formal prayer”.71
So also says Theophrastus:
It is this same authority that states that “the white and the black Hellebores appear to have nothing in common except the name”.73 One is reminded of the Philistine god Baal-zebub, “Lord of the Flies”, whom Ahaziah sought to consult for a prognosis on his health after he had fallen through his bedroom window (II Kgs 12ff’.).
Similarly the Elean god Muiagros was invoked when a swarm of flies brought plague; the flies died as soon as the sacrifice had been made.74 Similarly, sacrifice to the god Myiodes (“Flycatcher”) at the Olympic games, resulted in the mass emigration of flies from the territory.75 One has to remember that in those climes and amid the usual lack of sanitation, flies were more than merely a nuisance.
When they “ruined” the land of Egypt as a result of the Pharaoh’s intransigence (Exod 8:24), they were a manifestation of the plague-god himself; which is why the Sumerian pest-demon NAM-TAR, Greek Nectar or Mandrake, could kill the pests when all else failed. Thus, to sprinkle “Hellebore” round the house, as Dioscorides says, was thought to preserve it from evil spirits.76
Pliny thought it strange that Hellebore, “once regarded with horror, should afterwards become so popular that most scholars took it regularly to sharpen their brains for their studies”.77
It is, perhaps, to the increase in perceptive faculties that the drug of the Amanita muscaria is said to offer, that we should seek for an explanation for Pliny’s curious statement that Hellebore should not be given on a “cloudy day; for to do so is followed by unbearable torture. Indeed there is no doubt that summer is a better season to give it than winter”. In the story of Lot’s visitation by the angels at Sodom, the men of the place, disregarding the traditional laws of Eastern hospitality, threatened to break Lot’s doors down unless he would release his visitors to their perverted attentions.
Despite Lot’s generous offer of his virgin daughters in their stead, the men of Sodom persisted in their efforts to reach the new arrivals, who eventually struck them with a mysterious blindness, “so that they wearied themselves groping for the door” (Gen 19:1—11). It is the same sudden blindness that Yahweh, at Elisha’s behest, sends upon the Syrian forces besieging Dothan, and which permitted them to be led away into an ambush (II Kgs 6:18W.).
The closest approximation to the unusual
Hebrew word for this blindness is found in an Aramaic incantation
against a demon who brings about the same condition, described by
the Jewish commentators as “dazzling sunlight coming through cracks
or breaks in the clouds, being worse than the uncovered sun”.78 This
sounds like attaêks of migraine, characterized by just such flashes
of blinding light and pain behind the eyes. But the names point to
meanings more connected with a purge or abortifacient than
“blindness” and may reflect another name for the
Perhaps here we have the basis for those stories of the sudden blindness of Sodom and Dothan, and for the revelatory illumination that strikes Paul on the Damascus road (Acts 9:3). The mystic under the influence of the mushroom drug might well believe that the common metaphor that associates inspirational knowledge with light in the darkness had become a reality. The kind of myth as that in which “a sudden light from heaven flashed about Paul . . . and when his eyes were opened he could see nothing”, would seem a natural expression in story form of this mystic experience.
An interesting facet of Pliny’s account of the body’s preparation for receiving Hellebore, is the recurrence of the number seven. For seven days previously the belly must be given a special diet of sharp-tasting foods, with an emetic on the fourth and third days and abstinence from dinner on the eve of administering the drug. Then, vomiting will begin after four hours, “and the whole business is over in seven”. Elsewhere he says that the life of the mushroom is not more than seven days.81
Of course, the number seven had a very special potency for ancient philosophers, and particularly, as we saw, for the Gnostics. The whole of creation was divided into seven. The Bible allots seven days for the Creation cycle;82 there were seven lamps on the candlestick in the Temple, representing, so tradition had it, the seven planets.83
The Greeks believed that the whole body was renewed every seven years, and that certain of the seven-year cycles were of special importance, as the age of fourteen when a boy reaches puberty; at twenty-one he attains full sexual maturity; at forty-two a woman reaches her “grand cimacteric”, the menopause; at sixty-three men suffer a transitory sexual enfeeblement. The Bible allows mankind but “threescore years and ten” on normal reckoning.84
Nevertheless, the number seven seems particularly connected with the mushroom and the preparatory stages of treatment required by its use as a drug. In Revelation, the mystic speaks of “seven churches of Asia” which he then proceeds very cryptically to describe (Rev i :iiff.). The geographical place-name “Asia” is almost certainly a play on the Semitic word for healing, ‘—s— y, giving ‘asya’, “physician”,85 still the most likely Semitic source for the sectarian name, “Essenes”.86
With these “seven churches of healing” we may compare two references in the Essene scrolls from the Dead Sea that have recently come to light. In one, the sect is called “the seven divisions of the penitents of Israel”.87 The other, unfortunately broken, quotes two biblical passages:
The broken commentary following these quotations begins, “And I shall heal.“88
It appears, therefore, that here, as in the New Testament reference, there is a conception of a seven-fold purification, or “healing”. The figure of the “refming furnace” in the Psalms quotation is just that of the “temptation” motif of the Scrolls and the New Testament, based as we have seen, verbally and clinically, on the sacred mushroom. In the preparation of body and mind necessary before the participant in the mysteries reaches the climax of the fungus-eating ritual, there must, then, have been seven stages of inward purification.
The seven degrees of initiation of the widespread religion of Mithras, the Persian sun-god, may serve as an illustration, even if the connection goes no deeper.
Since Mithraism was also a mystery religion we know all too little about its doctrines and secrets. But the seven stages of initiation have been left marked in the pattern of the mosaic floors of their meeting-places, and there would appear, from the design, to have been a major break between the first three and the last four stages.89
One is reminded of Pliny’s account of the preparation for Hellebore: an emetic has to be taken on the fourth and third days before, as if it were thought that the body at that stage had reached some particular point of crisis.
In Mithraism, the seven stages are linked with the seven “planets”, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, with the sun and moon. In the New Testament, too, the “seven churches” are consciously identified with the “seven stars”:
We saw, in an earlier chapter, how the state of imbalance or “sin” brought about when crops were plundered from mother earth, and more especially when the Holy Plant was snatched from her womb, had to be reconciled with compensatory offerings. Only the god himself could satisfactorily atone for this “sacrilege”.90
We noted that the sacred prostitute had to bring to the task of “fascinating” the phallic mushroom “a replica of the thing itself, hanging from her hand”, as Josephus says.91 A liturgist, around 1400 E in ancient Syria, cried to Baal to send down a compensatory offering for the release of the Mandrake.
He calls it, in the Ugaritic consonantal script, ‘—r—b—d-d, which, thanks to Sumerian, we can now decipher as “Furrow-appeaser” (*URU_]3AD_ BAD), and recognize it in the Greek name of the Holy Plant, Orobadion. The ancient hymn, then, is asking the fertility god to send down the Mandrake’s “equivalent” to compensate the ground for its depriva— tjon.92
In the name of the first day of the Anthesteria ceremony, Pithoigia, we may now recognize the same religious activity: compensatory offering as an atonement for the Holy Plant. The Sumerian from which we may now trace the derivation of the Greek word was the phrase GI—DU, “table of offerings”, and IGI, “face”, that is, “offerings of the presence”, the precise equivalent of the Hebrew “bread of the presence, or face”, the so—called “Shewbread” which was placed before Yahweh in the Temple (Exod 25 :30).93
These “loaves” are simply a further instance of the atoning gifts spoken of by the ancient botanists as “cakes”, or “loaves”, or “honey—combs” to fill the hole vacated in the ground by the Holy Plant, and more precisely described by Josephus as the Mandrake’s “equivalent” necessary for a safe removal of that plant by the Dead Sea. All refer to the mushroom itself by allusion to the characteristic “bun”—shape of the all—important cap containing the drug. When dried and skewered for preservation these fungus “lozenges” were represented by the dehydrated (“massoth”) loaves of the “unleavened bread” of the Israelites’ Passover food, probably related linguistically if not materially with the mazönes of the Dionysiac “cake” feasts.94
The New Testament relates the expiatory crucifixion of Jesus with the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb of Exodus 12:21: “for Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed” (I Cor 5:7). The story in the Old Testament which is advanced to explain the origin of this offering of the spring lamb rests in part upon a pun. The name of the animal pesakh95 is fancifully related to the verb pJsakh, “pass over”,96 and made to refer to a myth in which the plague demon was induced to avoid the houses of the Israelites when he smote the first-born of Egypt, man and beast.
In order to procure this mercy, the people had to sacrifice a lamb for each family and sprinkle its blood on the doorposts and lintels of the houses where it was eaten (Exod 12). The name of the festival derives in fact from another Semitic root p_s—kh, “appease, quieten”.97 It signifies that peace which comes after the agony of parturition, when pain is forgotten and the newly born child or animal rests at its mother’s side. Cultically, the Pesaklz festival, “Passover”, combined gratitude to the fertility deity for the new birth, and a ritualistic attempt to atone for the rape of the womb by a sacrifice of the first-fruits. In the Bacchic Anthesteria and in the Christian Easter this “Passover” principle was enshrined in cults and mythology.
The Christians saw their Christ, the “anointed” and the “stretched, drawn forth” (the double-play on the root m_sh_kh)98 as the divinely sent substitute offering for the rape of the fungus harvest. He is “raised up” as the “little— cross”,99 sacrificed, returns to the earth whence he came, and then resurrected to new life. He is a microcosm of the natural order. He sets the pattern and provides the means whereby celebrants of the mysteries may be “crucified with the Christ” and enter into a mystic experience of a purged and reborn soul, brought afresh from the creative womb of the earth: “Truly, truly, I say to you”, says Jesus to Nicodemus, “unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be bom?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (John 3:31f.) Into the story of the betrayal and crucifixion of Jesus, the New Testament cryptographers wove another of their special, “compensatory” names for the sacred fungus. It lies in the incident after the crucifixion when Judas, overcome by remorse for his “betrayal” buys, or has bought on his behalf, a piece of land which is called “the Field of Blood”, supposed to represent an Aramaic popular place-name “Akeldama”.
The story runs as follows: When Judas, his betrayer, saw that he was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, “I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” And throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself. But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the Treasury, since they are blood money.”
So they took counsel, and
bought with them the potter’s field, to bury strangers in. Therefore
that field has been called the Field of Blood, to this day (Matt
Details of the story like the “thirty shekels” and the buying of a field by right of redemption are, of course, borrowed by the story-teller from passages in the Old Testament (Zech 11:12—13; Jer 32:6—IS). Further graphic features like poor Iscariot’s losing the contents of his belly owe much to the somewhat earthy, not to say lavatorial humor of the writer, since the sacred fungus, whose name the arch—betrayer bore, was a powerful purge.100
Far more significant, indeed the point of the whole unlikely tale (why should the temple police need guiding to a spot a few hundred yards away from the city walls and have pointed out to them the person they had been watching for days?), is the title of the “field”, Akeldama. We are here given another of the cryptographer’s pseudo- translations, reading the word as if it were the Aramaic khaqal demã’, “field of blood”, whereas what it really represented was the Aramaic ‘akal dãmë’, “food of price, or compensation”. 101
One can follow the story—teller’s line of thought in weaving his tale around the “price” idea, featuring it as the blood-money received by the betrayer Judas, and relating it to the strange passage in Zechariah about the wages paid to “the shepherd of the flock doomed to slaughter”.
But we can also see now for the first time how such a
name as “food of compensation” fits precisely into the pattern of
such epithets for the Holy Plant as Orobadion, “furrow appeaser”,
and the “bread of the presence” of the Jewish temple and the Bacchic
The cult of the sacred mushroom, then, was a manifestation of necromancy, “divination by the dead”. This extraordinary practice, attested all over the ancient world, lives on in various kinds of spiritualism. The root of the idea is that, since the souls left their bodies and returned to the bowels of the earth, they are in closer touch with the “waters of knowledge”, as the subterranean abyss was called.103
It follows that if one can draw them back in some way they can impart information about the future that is hidden from beings still imprisoned by their fiesl. In the Old Testament we have the story of Saul in desperation for some guidance on future events, Yahweh having deserted his normal oracular devices, consulting a witch who lived at En-Dor (I Sam 28:7—14).
At first suspicious of his intentions, since Saul in a burst of pious enthusiasm had earlier banished spiritualist mediums of her kind, the witch was eventually prevailed upon to disturb Samuel at his rest. “What do you see?” asks Saul. “I see God (‘Elöhim) coming out of the ground”, she replies. “What does he look like?” questions her client. “Like an ‘erection’ (so the ancient versions)104 wearing a robe”.
Whereupon Saul recognized the dead Samuel’s ghost, although for all the comfort that was forthcoming from that somewhat petulant source, he might have saved himself the trouble of his visit. This connection between the sacred fungus and the omniscient souls of the dead leads to its names being often connected with demons of death. Thus the Sumerian NAM-TAR, which came into Greek as Nektar, our nectar, is used generally for “plague demon”, and the Old Testament Liith, the so-called “night-hag” which Isaiah threatens will haunt a desolate Edom (34:14) is probably an original mushroom word.105
In the New Testament rare reference is made to a festival called the Agape, so-called Love Feast (Jude v.12; II Pet 2 :13(?)). The Syriac translators, at any rate, thought the practice had to do with the comforting of the dead,106 and this certainly accords well with the meaning of agapaö, “love”. This Greek word, so favored by the New Testament writers, is used by the tragedians for affection for the dead, and specifically in the Bible for the relationship between man and God.107 It is properly used in the Greek version of the Old Testament to translate a Hebrew word for “seduce, allure”.108
Its Sumerian original AG- AG means “love”, and also “stretch, measure”, semantically the equal of the Semitic m-sh-kh, “draw out”. A cognate verb in Greek is ago, “lead; bring up, draw out, etc” used in such words as nekragogos, “leading forth the dead”, psukhagogeo, “conjure up souls from the nether world”, and so on.
The Agape seems to have involved a common meal of some kind, although New Testament references are too cryptic to tell us much, and post-biblical accounts of the Agape, as of most other aspects of the real nature of Christianity and its rites, too unreliable. If as one suspects, the Agape is in fact another name for the fungus itself, then the feast will have included the eating of the mushroom’s flesh and drinking of its juice, in other words, it will have been identical with the “Lord’s Supper”, the eating of the raised or “crucified” Christ: I have been crucified with (erected with) Christ; I live, yet it is no longer I, but Christ lives in me (Gal 2:20).
Thereafter the celebrant possesses the mystic “knowledge of God”, so earnestly desired by the followers of the mysteries: I bow my knees before the Father... that he may grant you to be strengthened with might through his Spirit in the inner man, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you... may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fuiness of God (Eph 3 I4— ‘9).
Isaiah also looked for the manifestation of the spirits of the dead. He identified them with the “giants” of old, the Rephaim whose gift of knowledge to mankind had proved a not unmixed blessing: Thy dead shall live, their bodies shall rise.
Later Jewish tradition has it that their seduction was at least partly their own fault since they had taught the girls the art of cosmetics, and so had begun the awful progress of mankind to degeneracy and sexual abandon. More important, “they taught them charms and enchantments, the cutting of roots, and made them acquainted with plants . . .“ (Enoch : iff).
To raise these dormant spirits of the dead was the way to enlightenment. However, the noises produced by those through whom the spirits spoke were not necessarily intelligible. Isaiah speaks of such necromancers or ventriloquists (“belly—speakers”) scornfully as “chirping and muttering” when they seek by oracle their god through “the dead, on behalf of the living” (8:19). In the New Testament it is called “speaking with tongues”.
Thus the faithful are encouraged to,
Looking back over the discussion of this chapter, we can see how the worship of the mushroom encompassed every aspect of the processes of nature. When modem religious practice seems at times removed from reality, a Saturday or Sunday relaxation, even entertainment, rather than a concerted effort to influence the deity or be influenced by him, it is worth reminding ourselves that for the ancients it was a life—or—death matter.
If the god did not respond to their pleas for rain or sunshine, they, their children, and their crops and animals died. When, before their eyes, the greenness of the ground vanished under the wilting heat of the summer sun, the dwellers of Near Eastern lands then, as now, viewed the future apprehensively. Everything depended on the god’s bounty in the Autumn and the following Spring.
The enemy, in their mythological terms, had killed the fertility hero; would the New Year see his resurrection? In the little mushroom, men could see a prime example of the transience of nature’s gifts: in the morning it appeared, and by nightfall the worms had consumed it. The god himself had been among them; they sought him and apprehended him, but his manifestation was a temporary thing.
For one fleeting moment he fulfilled his promise that those who received him could become the “children of God”. The worshipper could not approach the god empty-handed. He must bring with him a gift, itself god-given, as an atonement to the earth. Only thus, and by calling simultaneously upon the god by name, could he withstand the demonic power of the fungus.
For to eat the god was to die with him; in the short hours of the initiate’s complete communion with the deity he had “died” to the world. It was then that he was at most fearful risk, and the days of careful preparation for the ultimate mystery were given their most crucial testing. This was the time of “trial” or “temptation” through which every participant in the cult passed.
To raise the sacred fungus was to raise the spirits of the dead, and thus to communicate with the source of subterranean knowledge.
This we may now identify with the Bacchic Anthesteria and possibly the Church’s Agape feast, the “drawing up” of the phallic mushroom. Very much earlier than the documentary recording of either of these cultic practices is the raising of the fungus in the so-called “gardens of Adonis”. For long this mystic practice has remained obscure in its details, although there has been little doubt that it had to do with the lamenting and raising of the dead god, and thus presumed to be connected with an agricultural cult.
For the first time we can decipher the names
involved and are thus able to draw together a number of other
references to the mushroom religion and those who partook in its