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Psychedelics in the Bible: The Truth Explained

Psychedelics in the Bible: The Truth Explained
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The Bible was written a long time ago, long enough for its words to be drenched in ambiguity.  This creates a perfect situation for people to interpret the words of these ancient texts to be in line with whatever their favorite pet theory is.  Did the Israelites consume mushrooms while wandering in the desert?  Did the smoke from the burning bush contain DMT? Did Moses drink a middle-eastern version of ayahuasca?  Was cannabis the original incense? Did Jesus heal the sick with super-concentrated cannabis oil?  Was Jesus’ original sacrament a wine spiked with LSD-like chemicals?  Was Jesus actually a psychoactive mushroom?  All of these ideas have been suggested and passionately argued for, but which are true?

Forbidden Fruit

The Bible opens with Genesis, the story of human origins. Famously, the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil plays a central role in that story.  Naturally occurring psychedelics, substances known to elicit intuitive religious knowledge, cannot help but come to mind upon reading this description.  Entheogenic compounds that evoke the divine within and reveal death to be an illusion also fit neatly with the effects of the fruit as described by the snake that tempted Eve. “Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods.”  Aldous Huxley’s reference to the doors of perception being cleansed by psychedelics also fits nicely with the claim that “your eyes shall be opened” if these forbidden fruits are consumed.

Amanita Muscaria

Like many churches, the Chapel of Plaincourault in France contains a fresco depicting the moment Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden.  However, what is special about this painting is the tree of knowledge from which the fruit came – it looks like a giant mushroom.  Not just any mushroom, the psychoactive Amanita muscaria or “fly agaric” mushroom, complete with the red cap and white spots routinely depicted in fairytales. In the middle of the 20th century, this sparked a heated debate between two of the leading experts on the relationship between psychedelics and religion.  On one side was R. Gordon Wasson, the ethnomycologist who had first brought psilocybin mushrooms to the West and argued that the sacrament of the ancient Hindus had been Amanita muscaria.  Perhaps surprisingly, Wasson doubted that the tree represented a mushroom, and he leaned on the expertise of art historians to back him up.  The matter was never solved and is still debated to this day.

Did the Israelites Consume Ergot While Wandering in the Desert?

In the book of Exodus, while wandering in the desert after fleeing slavery in Egypt, God sends the Israelites “manna from heaven”.  Manna is described as an edible substance that appears on the ground overnight.  It is described as looking like a white frost, each piece the size of coriander seed and tasting of wafers made of honey.  It was boiled, ground, and baked before being eaten.  What could this divine food have been?  Mushrooms are known to emerge suddenly overnight following periods of rain, but no mushroom matches the description of manna found in Exodus.  Some have argued it may have been ergot, the fungus from which LSD is derived.  Ergot also contains LSA, the same psychedelic chemical found in morning glory seeds.  However, while this food is clearly divine in origin, it is not reported to produce psychoactive effects.  The true identity of manna remains a mystery.

Did the Smoke From the Burning Bush Contain DMT?

Is it possible that the visionary states in the Bible, like Moses’s vision of the burning bush, were produced by DMT?  The acacia tree, which contains DMT, was an important plant to the ancient Israelites.  The Hebrew Bible states that the vessel that contained the ten commandments was made of acacia.  Details like this are not included by chance. The acacia tree very likely represented something important.  Was its significance a result of the DMT it contained?  Some suggest that the burning bush itself was an acacia tree and that Moses’ vision was produced by the psychoactive effects of the DMT.  It seems unlikely that one would have a psychedelic vision when exposed to this kind of smoke; however, dying from smoke inhibition is more probable.

Did Moses Drink a Middle-Eastern Version of Ayahuasca?

The vision of the burning bush has a deeply psychedelic character.  Could DMT have got into Moses’ system through its intentional consumption? The argument that the ancient Israelites knew the psychoactive effects of DMT found in the acacia originates with Professor Benny Shanon.  Shanon is a cognitive psychologist, professor of psychology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and has extensive experience drinking ayahuasca.  He produced a psychological map of the ayahuasca experience in his book The Antipodes of the Mind.  Shanon also wrote an article for The Journal of Archaeology, Consciousness and Culture called “Biblical Entheogens: a Speculative Hypothesis”.  In this paper, he speculates that the ancient Israelites may have known how to brew a psychedelic concoction, much like ayahuasca.

Ayahuasca Pharmacology

Ayahuasca, the drink, is brewed from the DMT-containing leaves of the chacruna shrub (Psychotria viridis) and the bark of the ayahuasca vine (Banisteriopsis caapi).  The vine from which the drink gets its name does not actually contain DMT but contains alkaloids that inhibit digestive enzyme activity in our guts called monoamine oxidase (MAO).  MAO usually breaks down the DMT before it passes into the bloodstream, but the alkaloids from the ayahuasca vine slow this process, allowing the DMT to reach the brain.

An Ancient Ayahuasca Analogue?

The DMT in the acacia tree would not have been enough to get any psychoactive effect from consuming the plant orally.  However, Syrian rue (Pergamum harmala) also grows in the Middle East and contains the alkaloids necessary to inhibit MAO and allow the DMT through the gut.  Shanon suggests that the ancient Israelites may have brewed these two plants together, making an ayahuasca analog.  However, actual evidence for this idea lacks any reference to Syrian rue in the Hebrew Bible.  It’s interesting speculation but one for which we have no evidence to believe it actually happened.

Synergistic Potions

An ayahuasca analog would require the knowledge of the synergistic interactions of different plants.  Danny Nemu, a reverend in the ayahuasca church of Santo Daime, has argued that the people of the Hebrew Bible had exactly this kind of knowledge.  He suggests that several of the recipes described involve plants whose compounds may have had synergistic psychoactive effects.  For example, the high priests would use an incense described in the Talmud of Judaism as containing saffron, spikenard, agarwood, cassia, mastic costus, and cinnamon.  Nemu argues that the saffron, spikenard, and agarwood would have had synergistic effects on neurochemistry by activating opioid receptors and altering neuromodulators’ activity.  In contrast to reductionist western medicine, traditional medicines around the world have widely used synergistic concoctions.  Unfortunately for us, the wisdom of precisely making psychoactive mixtures in precisely the right way is often lost with the passing of time.

Was Cannabis the Original Incense? 

In 2020, archeologists working on an eighth-century BC shrine at Tel Arad, 35 miles south of Jerusalem, made an incredible discovery.  The shrine, which would have been part of the kingdom of Judah, contained two limestone altars in its inner sanctum.  On these altars were black marks from where incense had been burnt.  The marks on one altar contained traces of frankincense, a substance described as being used as incense in the Bible.  The other contained traces of cannabis that had been burnt on top of dried animal dung.  It’s one thing to wonder if the burning of cannabis had inspired the incense we’re familiar with today, but this archeo-chemical evidence moves this speculation into the realm of historical fact.

Did Moses Make Cannabis-Infused Anointing Oil?

In Exodus, God gives Moses the recipe for holy anointing oil.  It is made with myrrh, cinnamon, and a plant called kaneh-bosm.  “Kaneh” means “reed” or “hemp”, while “bosm” means “aromatic” or “fragrant”.  Does a particularly famous kind of “fragrant hemp” come to mind? The name kaneh-bosm was sometimes fused in traditional Hebrew, into kannabos or kannabus.  This is rather close to the “kannabis” or ancient Greek, from which we get “cannabis”.  In “Sex, Drugs, Violence and the Bible”, author Chris Bennett makes the case for kaneh-bosm being cannabis.  Many scholars, however, argue that kaneh-bosm is a plant called calamus.  This recipe called for a large amount of kaneh-bosm which, if cannabis, would have been highly psychoactive when applied liberally on the skin.

Did Jesus Heal the Sick With Super-Concentrated Cannabis Oil?

“Christ” means the anointed one, and Jesus, along with his disciples, performed healing miracles using anointing oil.  Mark 6:13 states that “They cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them”.  If the holy anointing oil of the Hebrew Bible did indeed contain cannabis, perhaps Jesus’ healing miracles were performed with chemicals such as THC and CBD.  In 2013, CNN’s chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta presented a documentary called “Weed” which included the story of a girl named Charlotte Figi.  Charlotte suffered from hundreds of debilitating seizures a week as a result of a disease called Dravet syndrome.  The seizures didn’t respond to medication, but she showed a dramatic improvement after taking CBD oil.  Epilepsy has been attributed to possession by demons across cultures throughout time.  Perhaps the casting out of devils described by Mark was the effect of CBD-infused holy oil helping people suffering from epilepsy.

Gnostic Gospels

If the anointing oil is so central to Christianity, why isn’t it widely discussed?  In the first several centuries following the life of Jesus, many different Christian sects existed.  In 367 AD Saint Athanasius, then the Bishop of Alexandria, decided which texts were to be considered canonical and which were to be excluded.  The apocryphal texts, meaning that they belonged to esoteric cults that required initiations into their secret rites, were deemed heretical and were omitted.  During the following period of persecution, the followers of these sects hid some of their texts, including those found in 1945 in the Nag Hammadi Library in Egypt.

The Gospel of Philip

These texts included the Gospel of Philip, which provides a take on Christianity in which an active anointing oil is central.  Philip writes of the superiority of the anointing ritual over the baptism ritual, “There is water in water, there is fire in chrism”. Chrism was a term for the holy anointing oil and shows the link to the name “Christ”.  Philip reported the effects to be highly entheogenic, writing that if “One receives this unction…this person is no longer a Christian but a Christ”.  Such a democratic version of Christianity, in which all participants connect with the divine within themselves, may have been seen as a significant threat to the hierarchical modes of the young religion, in which the Bishops sought to retain their power.

Was Jesus’ Original Sacrament a Wine Spiked With LSD-Like Chemicals?

The followers of the apocryphal gospels were not the only esoteric mystery cults around at this time.  Up until 396 AD, the rites of Demeter were celebrated in the Greek city of Eleusis.  These Eleusinian mysteries have been argued to have featured a potion containing LSD-like chemicals found in the fungus ergot.  Originally proposed by Carl Ruck, Albert Hoffman, and R. Gordon Wasson in The Road to Eleusis, this idea has recently received striking support, as documented in The Immortality Key by Brian Muraresku.  Archeo-chemical analysis has shown that a ceremonial cup from the mysteries, celebrated at the edge of the Greek empire in Catalonia, contains ergot’s remains.

Muraresku makes a compelling case that the early Christian church, steeped as it was in Greek culture, may very well have taken a similar spiked wine as its central sacrament.  Taken with the anointing oil, a picture begins to emerge in which Jesus sought to democratize spiritual experience, a controversial figure who encouraged all to share in the divine sacraments which had previously been only for the elites.  This was as true for the potion drunk by the influential Greek at Eleusis as the Hebrew anointing oil, which God had decreed to Moses, was only to be used by the priestly class.

Was Jesus Actually a Psychoactive Mushroom?  

We know for certain that the modern version of Christianity, with its cherry-picked gospels, is an incomplete picture of the religion that formed in the first centuries AD.  How different was that religion?  Could it be that the whole of the new testament is a metaphorical facade for something completely different?  John Marco Allegro, the author of The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross, argued that Christianity was actually an Amanita muscaria-consuming mushroom cult and that Jesus didn’t exist and his role in the story of the Bible is to act as a coded symbol for the mushroom.  This wild idea didn’t come from the mind of an uninformed individual. Allegro was a leading scholar of ancient languages and was part of the team that deciphered the dead sea scrolls.  Allegro’s claims haven’t stood up well to scrutiny, however. It still seems far fetched that the figure of Jesus was actually just a symbol for a mushroom sacrament. 

Did Early Christians Use Psychoactive Mushrooms?

We need not immediately dismiss all of Allegro’s claims, however.  Just because Christianity might not be a cover story for a mushroom cult, it doesn’t mean that early Christians didn’t consume a mushroom sacrament.  In The Psychedelic Gospels, Jerry and Julie Brown set out to document images of what appear to be psychoactive mushrooms in medieval Christian art, arguing they provide evidence for such a sacrament.  This brings us full circle to the tree in the Garden of Eden, arguably depicted as a psychoactive mushroom. Given the lack of evidence for a mushroom sacrament in Christianity that was successfully hidden for over a thousand years up until the middle ages, the presence of psychoactive mushrooms in the art might be more readily explained by the artist having had some experience with them in their lifetime.  The most convincing images are scenes of the tree of knowledge of good and evil as a mushroom, indicating that the obvious connection between psychedelics and the forbidden fruit may have existed in medieval times.

Will We Ever Know the Truth?

While the forbidden fruit may indeed be a reference to naturally occurring entheogens and the use of cannabis amongst ancient Hebrews seems to now be a certainty, the idea that the Hebrew Bible is the scripture of a religion that seriously employed psychedelic sacraments doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.  The idea of Jesus as a medicine man who democratized entheogenic sacraments, however, is well within the realms of possibility.  We’ll most likely never know the true extent of psychedelic use in ancient Judaism and Christianity, as any positional use is shrouded in the mists of time.  We may want to ask why we’re looking for psychedelics in the Bible in the first place. If psychedelic are to play a role in the future of religion, citing a respectable tradition can go a long way in fighting the PR battle against the layers of cultural conditioning that have formed against plant medicine.  We don’t need to be so directly tied to the past.  We might envision a truly forward-facing psychedelic religious reformation instead, one that doesn’t depend on whether or not Jesus was a mushroom.

3 thoughts on “Psychedelics in the Bible: The Truth Explained”

  1. This was such an interesting read. Thank you for writing this article and also for providing links to resources.

  2. Great question! RS has been actively expanding our connections in more diverse communities. We are looking forward to focusing on psychedelics and other societies, including Asian cultures. Keep coming back for more.

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