CANNABIS CULTURE – The Immortality Key is a bestselling book, which suggests a entheogenic role in the ancient Christian Eucharist, that originated with and was passed down from the cult of Dionysus and the Eleusinian mysteries of ancient Greece. In this article Chris Bennett, who has written about some of these same themes and areas of history offers his views on where the book wins and fails.
Warning, biases ahead….
To be clear, this is as much of a ‘response’ and ‘discussion’ about The Immortality Key as a ‘review.’ With that said, this article is in no way intended to dissuade the interested reader away from The Immortality Key, but rather an expansion, discussion and at times, dispute ,of many of the ideas expressed in it. This article would be best understood, after enjoying a thorough reading of the pages of The Immortality Key. I am another researcher, who has been down some of these same rabbit holes, and I come with my own views and biases.
For those who choose to continue with this article, without having read The Immortality Key, watch this animated video synopsis of some of the main points in The Immortality Key so you at least get the basic drift of the conversation.
About The Immortality Key
Brian Muraresku’s The Immortality Key has taken the topic of entheogens and religion, particularly entheogens and Christianity, into Mainstream Culture, which is an incredible achievement in and unto itself. The author, a seeming new wunderkind for entheogenic research, and has stated that he has been working on this magnum opus for over a decade. As Lawyer, and Classicist, with a degree in Latin, Greek and Sanskrit, Muraresku does bring to the table a level of academic credibility. Reviews for the book have been extremely positive, and his personal adventure tale combined with a quest for the entheogenic grail—proof of an entheogenic sacrament–is as entertaining as any of Dan Brown’s best selling work.
There is much I agree on in The Immortality Key, such as the use of entheogens at the formative period of human culture; their influence on religions; their eventual disappearance; their later use by witches and secret societies in Europe which was faced with further suppression ; and the relevance of the return of these substances in our own era. There is also much I disagree with.
When the book first came out, along with the interview on Joe Rogan, with Muraresku and Graham Hancock, which has received over 11millions views, numerous people on Social Media posted it on my wall or tagged me in stories about it, due to what they saw as similarities to my own work in to entheogenic history. This has continued for some months now as the book becomes increasingly popular, and for this reason, I have felt the need to prepare a response to it.
In fact, many of the topics touched on in The Immortality Key are ones I myself have written about, so I do have some background in this area. Muraresku is familiar with this, having read through 3 of my four books, which he stated to me he enjoyed and was impressed by the scholarship. As well, Carl Ruck, a mentor of sorts to Muraresku, championed for his pioneering worth in entheogenic scholarship throughout The Immortality Key, reviewed my own book dealing with the use of entheogens in the Bible, in 2003, in the London England Sunday Times. Graham Hancock, who wrote the foreword for Muraresku’s book, is also familiar with my research in this area, recently publishing an article I wrote about the biblical era archeology out of Arad, Jerusalem, concerning the ritual use of cannabis and substantiating my long time theory about the role of cannabis as an entheogen amongst the ancient Hebrews. Not surprisingly with this in mind, there are some overlaps in The Immortality Key, although our conclusions in many of these areas are divergent, more than enough so as to dissuade any suggestion of plagiarism.
Brian has made clear to me, The Immortality Key is not an encyclopedia. It is intended as a general, journalistic intro to a very niche topic for a very broad readership. My own work is much more encyclopedic, and for a very niche readership. So I also want to be clear, I do appreciate the creation of interest in this area and i do not wish to dissuade his readership. But at the same time, being correct is not a popularity contests, it rests on evidence and facts, and I do want to point out where I think this book goes astray and, as noted in the title, gets Lost on The Road to Eleusis, the title of a book paid homage to throughout The Immortality Key. The Road to Eleusis was authored by Muraresku’s mentor Ruck, along with fellow entheogen pioneers R Gordon Wasson, and Albert Hofmann, it purports an ergot preparation of some sort at the centre of the ancient Greek Eleusinian Mysteries.
Muraresku seems to trace this rite all the way back to Neanderthals, and suggests a combined origin between the Greek Eleusinian Mysteries with the Vedic Soma through their common Indo-European ancestry. He further postulates the continuation of the Elusinian rites and sacraments though the cult of Dionysus and then into Christianity, painting Jesus as a sort of Semitic form of the Dionysian God, who was in fact worshipped in the region where Jesus was from.
Muraresku builds a case on textual and archeological evidence. Textually, he brings in historical references from from the likes of Dioscorides, Homer, ancient Greek and Gnostic texts and the Church Fathers. Archeologically, The Immortality Key brings three bits of hard evidence to the table to make this case: Evidence of a Beer infused with nightshades from Calvari d’Amposta in Tarragona, Spain, from 2340 BCE that was interpreted by the earlier researchers as “a hallucinogenic beer that was consumed during mortuary ceremonies”; evidence for the manufacturing of an ergot infused beer from 2nd century BCE at Mas Castellar des Pontos in Catalonia; and indications of a wine infused with cannabis, opium, henbane along with a wealth of other plant and animal ingredients from a seeming factory of preparation in 1st century CE Pompei, which is suggested as evidence for some sort of ritual wine. In this regard I applaud Muraresku’s efforts, as to many books and articles on entheogenic history rely on things like deciphering the shape of mushrooms in ancient iconography, or novel new symbolic interpretations of ancient texts.
In this article I will discuss evidence that was missed that actually helps to build Muraresku’s hypothesis about a lost sacrament of the ancient world; where our views overlap; where they differ; as well as pointing out some clear and obvious mistakes, which I feel took Muraresku down the wrong path, and caused him to get lost on The Road to Eleusis.
Drug Infused Elixirs
I find the archeological finds presented in The Immortality Key particularly enriching as the subject of infused wines and beers is something I have been looking at for some time. As the Classics Professor Carl Ruck, has noted in his review of my 2001 book, Sex Drugs, Violence and the Bible, which also suggested infused wines in early Christian rituals:
Ancient people were fascinated by herbs and their healing powers and knew much more about them than we do; at least about mixing herbs to release their potency.
Ancient wines were always fortified, like the ‘strong wine’ of the Old Testament, with herbal additives: opium, datura, belladonna, mandrake and henbane. Common incenses, such as myrrh, ambergris and frankincense are psychotropic; the easy availability and long tradition of cannabis use would have seen it included in the mixtures. Modern medicine has looked into using cannabis as a pain reliever and in treating multiple sclerosis. It may well be that ancient people knew, or believed, that cannabis had healing power.
Much of their knowledge, passed down through an oral tradition, has been lost and to some extent it is the modern prejudice against drugs that has stopped us looking for it…”
“Was There a Whiff of Cannabis About Jesus?” The Sunday Times, Jan. 12, 2003
Varieties of psychoactive plants were used in such infusions. According to Dioscorides, and his commentator Matthiolus, one could “boil the root of mandrake in wine down to a third part, and preserve the decoction, of which they administer a cyathus (about a fluid ounce and a half), to produce sleep, and to allay severe pains of any part; and also before operations with the knife, or the application of the actual cautery, that the operation should not be felt.” Theophrastus and Dioscorides are thought to have been the the first to directly mention the aphrodisiac and soporific properties of mandrake (Atropa mandragora). Dioscorides also informs us that one dram of the root of “manic” nightshade (Atropa belladonna), taken in wine, elicits “empty forms” and “images of not unpleasant kind”, but he adds that a double dosage can bring mental disorientation for three whole days. Muraresku of course notes Dioscorides in this respect, as well as Pliny’s “recipes for frankincense and myrrh wine, the perfumed resins used in the Catholic Mass to this day” (Muraresku, 2020), as well asHomer an other ancient authors. he also compares these recipes to the nightshade infused beer found long before Dioscorides own time found in Calvari d’Amposta in Tarragona, Spain.
However, having covered a lot of this same ground, as I was reading The Immortality Key, I was more blown away by what was not in there, than what was. A ball was dropped in relation to the references of Democritus to infused wines, in Muraresku’s discussion of other ancient sources such as Pliny and Descarte in this regard. Both are cited at length by Muraresku in regards to their references to aphrodisiacal and medicinal wine infusions, but Democritus’ well known references are much more direct in regards to psychoactive preparations.
The entheogen infusions of Democritus
Democritus identified a variety of infused wines that are generally believed to contain cannabis, under the names “thalassaegle,” “potammaugis” and “gelotophyllis” were recorded by Democritus (c.a. 460 b.c.). “Democritus’s famous recipe for a hemp wine is suitable for internal use: Macerate 1 teaspoon of myrrh… and a handful of hemp flowers in 1 litre of retsina or dry Greek white wine… strain before drinking.”(Ratsch, 2005) “The gelotophllis of Pliny… a plant drunk in wine among the Bactrians, which produced immoderate laughter, may very well be identical with hemp, which still grows willd in the country around the Caspian and Aral Seas” (Houtsma, et al., 1936/1993). Pliny (23-79 a.d.) quotes the following description from Democritus:
“The Thalassaegall he speaks of as being found on the banks of the river Indus, from which circumstance it is also known as potamaugis. Taken in drink it produces delirium, which presents to the fancy visions of a most extraordinary nature. The theangelis, he says, grows upon Mount Libanus in Syria, upon the chain of mountains called Dicte in Crete, and at Babylon and Susa in Persia. An infusion of it imparts powers of divination to the Magi. The geolotophyllis, is a plant found in Bactriana [i.e. BMAC], and on the banks of the Borysthenes. Taken internally with myrhh and wine all sorts of visionary forms present themselves, excite the most immoderate laughter.”
Interestingly, Bactria is a region that will be returned to for debatable archeological evidence for an infusion that contained cannabis when we discuss Soma. Muraresku does refer to Pliny, briefly in regards to infused wines as noted above, and stating “that the Pythia priestesses at Delphi inhaled the smoke of smouldering henbane seeds to produce their oracular visions”. I have my doubts about this reference to the Pythia burning henbane at delphi and Muraresku does not cite a source here. I have never seen this claim directly in the words of Pliny and I have looked around since seeing it in The Immortality Key, I have also asked Tom Hatsis another researcher in this area of history, and he has not seen this either. Under the heading HYOSCYAMOS, KNOWN ALSO AS THE APOLLINARIS OR ALTERCUM, there is no mention of this, and it seems that the suggestive name herba apollinaris, may have caused some to speculate here about use by the Pythia. However, Pliny does mention “the ancients were of opinion that the leaves act as a febrifuge, taken in wine.” Curiously, I do not recall seeing this reference to henbane infused wine in The Immortality Key, and one would think it would have been a reference of interest. One wonders if Pliny’s original reference here was actually even consulted?
Zosimos, and the Egyptian Darnel and Cannabis infused Beers and wines
Muraresku suggests the potential use of the psychoactive plant darnel in the kykeon, and this is the view of Ruck as well. In growing and harvesting the sacred barley, the “job of the priestess, Ruck contends, would have been to monitor closely the growth of the darnel and ergot so that neither got out of control” (Muraresku, 2020).
Here again, interesting evidence was missed as darnel has been identified in Egyptian beer recipes, alongside with cannabis and other plants, but here from the later time period of the 4th century CE, in an account attributed to the alchemist Zosimos. “…wines can be made in a multitude of ways, [as shown]through many accounts that authors have left to us, and nature, and art such things, that is, grown wines from the vineyard and medicinal, or by adding various spices like palm, cannabis seed, etc …”; “Certainly brewers of Egyptian beer [‘zythi’], which is more powerful [then our beers]are not lacking in the false and wicked arts, and might be better used for intoxication. This [concoction]includes: borage, cannabis seeds and leaves, helenium, ivy leaves, strychnine, and darnel.”* As Tom Hatsis has noted of this :
“Interestingly, he uses “lolium temulentum” for “darnel” (a known psychoactive), which specifically draws attention to the intoxicating powers of the plant (temelentum means “intoxication”)! He is also comparing the addition of things like cannabis, darnel, and strychnine to the magical arts!!! I mean, he calls them “false and wicked arts,” but that is EXACTLY how writers commented on magical works. He is OPENLY recognizing the use of cannabis and darnel in potions by magicians!” (Hatsis, 2016)
Even more curious is the omission of the well known accounts of the Greek nepenthe in Homer. In regards to key Greek textual evidence for such preparations, Muraresku points to a famous passage from Homer, where the witch Circe turns Oddysseus’ men into pigs with a magic wand. Later Oddysseus, with the aid of Hermes, comes up with an antidote.
“She will mix thee a potion, and cast drugs into the food; but even so she shall not be able to bewitch thee, for the potent herb that I shall give thee will not suffer it. (H.10.290)
Muraresku makes much of this passage, referring to the writings of Calvert Watkins, he even ties it with Soma.
And while the Circe passage above seems like a silly, little children’s story about witches and pigs, Homer is in fact “describing a religious ritual”–“a liturgical act of Indo-European date, identical with the soma ritual of Vedic India”. (Muraresku, 2020)
Hmm I missed where Soma turned men into pigs in what I read in the Vedas, so you will excuse me if I am doubtful of this stated connection. In the Greek rendering of the story the term Pharmakos is used. This reference is a key point discussed at length in The Immortality Key, and one that was also referred to in The Road to Eleusis. Its interesting, but clearly there are no assortment of drugs that will turn men into pigs, so purely mythological, and not that great of evidence for the use of infused wines for entheogenic purposes in the ancient world. However, there is a much better reference in Homer to an infused wines, particularly ones for treating grief, which is a point Muraresku makes in regards to the potential Christian use of such preparations, as well as among other cultures, particularly around funerary rituals.
In this regard, I found it very odd, that The Immortality Key did not mention another preparation found in Homer, and this being likely the most analyzed, discussed and hypothesized example of an infused wine in the ancient world, the ‘nepenthe’, which is certainly a better example of an infusion than the magic hog potion – The Odyssey of Homer (9th-8th century BC) describes the Nepenthes which came to the Greeks from Egyptian Thebes:
Then Helen, daughter of Zeus… cast a drug into the wine whereof they drank, a drug to lull all pain and anger, and bring forgetfullness of every sorrow. Whoso should drink a draught thereof, when it is mingled in the bowl, on that day he would let no tear fall down his cheeks, not though his mother and his father died, not though men slew his brother or dear son with the sword before his face, and his own eyes beheld it. Medicines of such virtue and so helpful had the daughter of Zeus, which Polydamna, the wife of Thon, had given her, a woman of Egypt, where earth the grain-giver yields herbs in greatest plenty, many that are healing in the cup, and many baneful. There each man is a leech skilled beyond all human kind…
The historian Diodorus Siculus, who lived in the 1st century B.C., noted that still in his time, more than 7 centuries after the composition of Homer’s Iliad, “people say that the Egyptian women make use of the powder (of this plant, scil. the nepenthes) and they say from ancient times only those women who lived in the ‘Town-of-Zeus’ [i.e. Thebes, which was also known as Diospolis] had found medicines which cure wrath and grief” (1, 97, 1-9; Eus. PE 10, 8, 9-12; cf. also Ps.Iustinus, Cohort. ad gent. 26e). This clearly identifies this preparation as existing as a real commodity, outside the realm of myth, as is the case with Circe’s hog potion.
As I have noted with details in ‘Nepenthe, A Cannabis Infused Wine for Grief?’, as the Greeks of those times were already well familiar with the use of Opium, the wider consensus is that Nepenthe was a cannabis preparation. A point of concurrence with Muraresku’s mentor Ruck.
“It is generally assumed that the drug, which Helen is supposed to have learned in Egypt, was opium, but the effects as described in the poem are much more like Cannabis, which was also widely employed in Egypt and throughout the Near East” (Ruck, et al., 2007).
Now as Muraresku tries to tie in the pig potion from Homer, with soma, it is worth noting here that Professor Patrick McGovern, who is cited throughout The Immortality Key, for his experteise, has suggested that soma, was a cannabis and ephedra infused wine, an interesting point that never made it into Muraresku’s book, likely, as it did not fit with the ergot based Road to Elusis connection that he was hoping to establish.
As The Immortality Key tries to build a case for a psychoactive infused wine for grief, used in Christian funerary rites, in a number of chapters, its curious that he missed this clearer and more direct reference to Nepenthe, an infused wine, used for grief at a funeral, in Homer, and went with the more mythical swine potion. However, it should be noted, this other material does not weaken the case that Muraresku is trying to build, it is key evidence that further makes the case in his favour of psychoactive wine infusions.
As Muraresku notes of such infusions specifically “Wines reputation as a complex elixir travelled all the way from the Greek Dark Ages to the fall of the Roman Empire because that’s what it was —a versatile substance ranging from what Scodel calls a ‘drug against grief,’ to a perilous, sometimes fatal ‘medicine,’ to a tool for invoking wine gods both old and new ”. “Fatal”, in this regard, is a reference to the potential results of improperly mixing ingredients, like henbane, mandrake and some of the other ingredients referred to in ancient recipes.
“Wine gods old and new” brings us to the subject of Dionysus, a Greek god that Muraresku sees as the basis for Jesus’ own relationship with wine, as well as part of a lineage that goes back through Elusis to the origins of Soma as well. Hypothesized connections between Dionysus and the Soma Cult were also discussed in my 2010 book Cannabis and the Soma Solution, along with claimed connections of a Dionysian influence on Christianity, based on the works of earlier researchers, not cited to by Muraresku.
The connection between Soma, Dionysus and the Christian mysteries are by no means new or novel. 19th century ancient world scholar François Lenormant, in The Beginnings of History According to the Bible and the Traditions of Oriental Peoples: From the Creation of Man to the Deluge referred to “the god Soma or Haoma, prototype of the Greek Dionysus” (Lenormant, et al., 1881). A connection that has been noted by other researchers, such as J. Wohlberg in the article Haoma-Soma in the world of ancient Greece and Rendel Harris’ Eucharistic Origins (1927) :
….The great Aryan sacrament is older than the discovery of the vine. The first Bacchae in Greek lands were ivy-chewers or ivy-drinkers, in association with a fermented honey-drink, which we also find employed in the consecration of the Soma. For Graeco-Roman peoples, the Soma-plant is replaced by the vine… We do not, however, doubt that for the Indo-Germanic peoples, the original medicine which makes man immortal is the juice of the Soma-plant.
…. Since we find the ivy divinised in Greece as Bacchos-Dionysos (for Dionysos was an ivy-god before he was a vine-god), we may infer that the Soma of the Vedas, which is also the Haoma of the Zend-Avesta, is the same thing as the Nectar of the Greek gods. Nectar, also, is a drink which confers and sustains immortal life. We shall probably be safe in our philology, if we explain the first syllable of nec-tar as meaning death (cf. the Greek… nekus) and the second syllable as connected with the Greek… teiro, to wear away, to destroy; the Nectar or Soma is the death-destroyer; its religious use is, then, inevitable….The main point to be remembered is that, for all our race, the drink means immortality; it makes us like the blessed gods. The discovery of this intoxicant is, therefore, an epoch. (Harris, 1927)
Seeing a diffusion of the Aryan Soma cult coming into Christianity slightly altered through the Greek Dionysus, Harris explained:
The restoration of the original form shows us clearly… that the doctrine of immortality was involved in the Eucharist from the start, for immortality is the characteristic accompaniment of the draught of the Soma… We can see now why, in the closing eucharistic prayer in the Teaching of the Apostles we have the expressions of thanksgiving for ‘the knowledge and faith and immortality which thou hast made known to us through Jesus thy Servant . . . to us thou hast given spiritual food and drink and eternal life through thy Servant.”
…. It will, perhaps, be said that there is no need to send Jesus to India in search of the Soma draught… in the Syrian Church the Eucharist was known as the ‘Sama’ or medicine… of life; and… Ignatius of Antioch… described [the Eucharist]in Greek language as medicine of immortality. The coincidence in the terms is so striking, that it is natural to suggest that there is something primitive about it. …. The word Sama is not genuine Semitic ; it has been borrowed from some other language…It is very common in Syriac and Aramaic and might easily have been used by our Lord. It would not, however, call up the Greek word for ‘body’ [soma]quite as readily as the Indian word would do.
…. Jesus was speaking of the Indian, Avestan, Indo-Germanic Soma, when His disciples thought He was speaking of His body. That single conjecture explains the mystery and shows us how the parallel with the pagan Mysteries was invited from the start. It is not necessary to assume, though it seems probable, that Jesus had travelled Eastward at some time in His early life. The conjecture may find support without the added speculation. Let us leave that for further enquiry. (Harris, 1927)
It should be noted that in regards to the Ignatius reference, the identification of “the medicine of immortality “is here with the bread, not the wine of the sacrament. “At these meetings you should heed the bishop and presbytery attentively, and break one loaf, which is the medicine of immortality and the antidote which wards off death but yields continuous life in union with Jesus Christ….” Ignatius also states “Thus no devil’s weed will be found among you” in the same text. Conceivably, if we are talking about entheogenic sacraments in the early Christian period, this could be interpreted as a transition point to the modern placebos, as its in a time period where what became the Catholic Church seem to be splitting from the more experiential Gnostic sects that would later be suppressed.
Now to be clear, Muraresku’s take on this does differ in some accounts with that of Harris and Wohlberg. Muraresku sees a diffusion with the Greek Eleusian Mysteries, before making its way into the Dionysic version of the rite, and he makes much of a potential common origin for the Eleusian and Vedic rites, on the scantest of evidence in a few scant paragraphs.
However, as Muraresku has told me in 2017 he has read and enjoyed Cannabis and the Soma Solution, I found his account about first hearing of Ignatius of Antioch reference to the sacrament as a ‘medicine of immortality’ an interesting coincidence, as this is distinctly referred to in the earlier work of Harris, which was cited in my book, and Harris work in this area was not cited. I would have assumed he would look at the portions of my book detailing such connections while researching his.
If ever you find yourself in a game to connect the ancient dots, you want Father Francis on your team. Sensing where I’m headed… he gets another mischievous twinkle in his eye. “You know . . . . we call the Eucharist the pharmakon athanasias,” he beams, using the Ancient Greek phrase for the “Drug of Immortality.” The priest had first mentioned it during my visit to Italy last May. But before that, I had honestly never heard the expression. Until I found the original Greek source, I thought the brainy Catholic was just pulling my leg. (Muraresku, 2020)
If I was looking at entheogenic use in something like Dionysus or tying it into Christian use, I would be checking the indexes of the books on my shelf, and in his case, my books were there, with these particular citations. When I asked Brian if he read it in a conversation in 2017, he stated “I love Cannabis and the Soma Solution“. Brian also told me he was reading Liber 420, and he ordered my book, Sex, Drugs, Violence and the Bible from me directly, I also sent him a considerable amount of other articles of interest and documentaries. Unfortunately none of this was seen as worthy of use to him, despite the very similar ground covered, as, like Harris, Wohlberg and others who have covered this same territory, I was never cited. Generally in my own work, as with many reputable researchers, I tend to see who has covered the territory prior to myself and properly accredit them. There is a clear lack of that accreditation and citation in The Immortality Key, in my opinion, and I have heard other authors that I know, express that a little too much liberty was taken from there own work in this regard as well.
As well, I think Muraresku missed much regarding the sorts of infusions that may have been used by the Dionysian cults, foremost amongst these, cannabis, a combination that was in this regard, even suggested by Muraresku’s mentor Prof. Carl Ruck, “Since the wine of Dionysus is a mediation between the god’s wild herbal ancestors and the civilized phenomenon of his cultivated and manufactured manifestation in the product fermented from the juice of the grape, it is most probable that this was the way in which the Greeks incorporated hemp into their pharmacopoeia” (Ruck, 2007). Indeed, Ruck, a classicist is in good company here, as both the history of regions Professor Mircea Eliade, and the classicist Erwin Rohde have suggested cannabis use in the background of the Dionysian religion. I have detailed my own research into the evidence for drug infused wine in the cult of the Bachae in another article ‘The Cannabis infused Wine of Dionysus?’
Dionysus in the Holy Land
Muraesku makes much of an ancient Isrealite site known for the worship of Dionysus, even said to be the God’s birthplace, and named after his Scythian followers, Scythopolis, now the site of the modern city, Beit She’an. “the ancient city of Scythopolis was the legendary birthplace of Dionysus himself. For that reason it was also called Nysa…”. However, the mythology has the Greek god born born on Mount Pramnos on Ikaria, and later raised in a region named Nysa. Scythopolis in Israel, was later renamed Nysa after the mythical area Dionysus was raised as a child, the god was not born there. This designation of Scythopolis as Nysa was was a later tribute after the area had been conquered by the Seleucids. It was not until the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes (r. 175-164) that Scythopolis was renamed Nysa.
In Greek mythology, the mountainous district of Nysa (Greek: Νῦσα) was variously identified as Ethiopia, Libya, Tribalia, Arabia, and notably for our use India, by Greek mythographers. Nysa was the traditional place where the rain nymphs, the Hyades, raised the infant god Dionysus, the “Zeus of Nysa”. Nysa was said to have been named originally after Dionysus childhood nanny. Significantly, as we shall see, centuries before Scythopolis was renamed, Alexander the Great thought he had rediscovered Nysa in India, where it was believed Dionysus was worshipped under the name Shiva.
In this regard, The Immortality Key misses so much in regards to Scythians, Jews and Dionysus’ connection to Shiva. As I discuss in my article on Dionysus, some Scythian groups did worship Dionysus and relics for the God have been identified in Scythian tombs and sites.
As well from archeological evidence we know that Scythians both burned cannabis in funerary rites as well as drank infusions of it. The use of cannabis incense in funerary rites was not limited to the Scythians and has been identified with other Indo-European groups, such as a site in Romania dating more than 5,000 years, and at Indo European Gushi sites in China dating back to 700 BCE. As much of the hypothesis by Muraresku is connected with funerary rites and entheogens, as well as extended discussions on the rites of Indo-European culture, one would have thought this particular, well documented association would have been examined. I can not understand how it was missed.
Besides evidence identifying burnt cannabis, a bone cup, gold goblets and a leather flask containing residues of cannabis that have been recovered from various Scythian sites. Prof. Patrick McGovern, who, as noted, is referred to frequently in The Immortality Key has stated: “At Pazyryk, [A Scythian site] the preferred beverage thus appears to have combined a marijuana high with an alcoholic buzz” (McGovern, 2009).
As well, as I have noted in my article on Dionysus, there were branches of the Scythians who worshipped Dionysus. Relics dedicated to the god have been found at Scythian sites, such as a gold rhyton with the head of Dionysus on its tip. Combined with the evidence for cannabis in ancient Israel, which is thought to have been likely derived from Scythian influences, one would have thought such points would have been raised in regards to Scythopolis, as the ancient Israeli site garners considerable attention in The Immortality Key.
In relation to the recent find of cannabis resins burnt in a 8th century BCE temple in Arad, Jerusalem, it is interesting to note that Prof Carl Ruck has suggested this came from a Scythian influence into Israel. There may have been other ways the ancient Jews utilized psychoactive substances.
The potential role of cannabis and other psychoactive substances in ancient Jewish and Christian culture, is something I had been suggesting for over a quarter century before the emergence of the archeology out of Arad. As myself and others have noted, there are indications of infused wines, and stronger preparations such as the Biblical “strong drink” (shekar) throughout the Bible: “An inebriating Potion described in the Old Testament; but distinct from Wine; probably a Soporific or visionary vinous infusion, analogous to ancient Greek Wines, of one or many Psychoactive plants”(Ott 1995).
Jewish wine infusions
In The A to Z of Prophets in Islam and Judaism, Scott B. Noegel, Brannon M. Wheeler “The use of drugs, especially alcohol… as a means of inducing or enhancing the prophetic experience is attested periodically throughout the ancient Near East, and is probably related to the mantic’s role as an herbalist and medical practitioner” (Noegel & Wheeler, 2010)
Evidence for opium use has been found throughout the ancient Near East, especially on Cyprus, thought its connection to Cypriot cults has been questioned. The practice of inhaling intoxicating substances like cannabis and incense also appear… Texts from Mari demonstrate that at least some prophets partook in excessive wine drinking as a means of accessing the divine. Ugartic tablets also detail the events of the marzeah feast, a repast in which… dead kings were summoned to wine and dine with the living… (Noegel & Wheeler, 2010)
Muraresku does mention the marzeah, but I don’t think he adequately addressed how much these practices had infiltrated jewish culture. Like Amos’ condemnation of those who quaffed such mixtures in the House of the gods, Isaiah condemned those who seek oracles through the dead through inebriation (Isaiah 28:7-22). These references show, even though in a negative light, that such cultic practices were both known and taking place in the region. And again, as there is a focus on funerary rituals and infused wines in The Immortality Key, it is unfortunate that this compelling evidence was not included. In regards to the Biblical tradition, it has even been suggested by scholars, that the Biblical Prophet Ezra, used Persian infused wine, or haoma as a means of entheogenic induction (Brown, 1890; Dobroruka, 2002). As Entheobotanist Jonathan Ott has noted:
… Like the ancient Greeks, the ancient Israelites did not know distillation technology, but possessed an inebriant other than wine, which apparently was more potent. Was the Biblical shekar, ‘strong drink,’ not an inebriating potion analogous to the ancient Greek wines, some of which were entheogenic potions? Down through history there are innumerable instances of the addition of psychoactive plants to wines and other alcoholic beverages. (Ott, 1993)
In A Cyclopaedia of Biblical Literature. Kitto noted: “The palm wine of the East… is made intoxicating… by an admixture of stupefying ingredients, of which there was an abundance… Such a practice seems to have existed amongst the ancient Jews…” (Kitto, 1846). Talmudic reference indicate this use as well: “The one on his way to execution was given a piece of incense in a cup of wine, to help him fall asleep” (Sanh. 43a). Such preparations were used by the ancient Jews, for ritual intoxication, and for easing pain. A Reverend E. A Lawrence, in an essay on ‘The wine of the Bible’ in a 19th century edition of The Princeton Review noted that:
It appears to have been an ancient custom to give medicated or drugged wine to criminals condemned to death, to blunt their senses, and so lessen the pains of execution. To this custom there is supposed to be an allusion, Prov. xxxi. 6, ‘Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish,’ …To the same custom some suppose there is a reference in Amos 2:8, where the ‘ wine of the condemned’ is spoken of… The wicked here described, in addition to other evil practices, imposed unjust fines upon the innocent, and spent the money thus unjustly obtained upon wine, which they “quaffed in the house of their gods”…Mixed wine is often spoken of in Scripture. This was of different kinds… sometimes, by lovers of strong drink, with spices of various kinds, to give it a richer flavour and greater potency (ls. v. 22; Ps. lxxv. 8). The ‘ royal wine,’ literally wine of the kingdom… Esther i. 7), denotes most probably the best wine, such as the king of Persia himself was accustomed to drink. (Lawrence, 1871)
This connection was not limited to 19th century fancy either, as Kenneth Walker noted in The Story of Medicine the “drug, hashish… is of venerable age, and when Amos wrote (around 700 B.C.) on the subject of the ‘wine of the condemned’, he was probably referring to it” (Walker, 1955).
Thus, this infused wine, not only had pain numbing qualities, but was also “quaffed in the house of their gods” giving clear indication it was sought after for entheogenic effects as well.
That it is compared to the wines of the King of Persia, also brings us to the cannabis infused wines of the Zoroastrian period, such as that taken by Arda Viraf, and Vistaspa. These are known references to cannabis infused wines, used for travelling the “path of the dead”. Considering the close proximity and relationship between the Persians and the Jews, this should have again been examined in relation to the suggestions put forth in The Immortality Key. Instead, this indigenous Israelite history and connection to such infusions is ignored in order to push weaker ties with the Greek mysteries of Eleusis.
As Arthur George noted in his article ‘The Mythology of Wine VII: The Wine Miracles of Dionysus and Jesus Compared‘: “But surely Dionysus does not provide the only backdrop to the miracle at Cana. Far from it. The story has a multivalent background, and the Jewish and emerging Christian traditions involving wine need to be recognized as well” (George, 2020).
Dionysus and Yahweh
Likewise in combination with this, more attention should have been drawn to the fact that a number of ancient sources recorded the widespread belief of their time, that the god worshiped by the Jewish people, Yahweh, was identifiable as Dionysus. Notably, Tacitus, Lydus, Cornelius Labeo, and Plutarch all either made this association, or discussed it as an extant belief. The Jewish Encyclopedia makes it clear, that at times, and likely under force for many of the Jews did in fact worship Dionysus, particularly during the time of the Maccabes, as well as explaining the connection between Nysa and Scythopolis.
The general statement in I Maccabees (i. 51, 54, 55) that Antiochus Epiphanes forced the Jews to sacrifice in the Greek fashion, is amplified in II Maccabees (vi. 7; compare III Macc. ii. 29) into the statement that the Jews were forced to take part in the festivals of Dionysus and to deck themselves with ivy (κίσσος); hence Hippolytus (“De Antichristo,” pp. 33-35, § 49), a Church father of the second century, regards Antiochus Epiphanes as the prototype of Antichrist… the Dionysia were celebrated in every country that had come under the influence of Greek culture. Antiochus XI. even bore the by-name “Dionysus” (Josephus, “Ant.” xiii. 15, § 1; “B. J.” i. 4, § 7); and Nicanor, the general of Demetrius, threatened to consecrate a Temple at Jerusalem to Dionysus unless Judas Maccabeus was delivered to him (II Macc. xiv. 33).
According to Plutarch.
A myth of Dionysus is connected with the Palestinian city of Scythopolis. Pliny (“Historia Naturalis,” v. 18, § 74) and Solinus (ed. Mommsen, ch. 36) derive the name of this city from the Scythians, who were settled on that spot by Dionysus in order to protect the tomb of his nurse who was buried there. The Greeks and the Romans were firmly convinced that the Jews had a cult of Dionysus, basing this opinion on some external point of similarity. Plutarch thinks that the name of the Jewish Sabbath is derived from σάβος, the cry of the ecstatic Bacchantes. More important still is his further statement that the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles, as celebrated in the Temple at Jerusalem, was really a form of Dionysus worship.
In ‘The Jews and their God of Wine‘, Jonathan Kirkpatrick explains:
In the period between the two revolts of the Jews of Palestine against Roman rule some non-Jews sought to identify the God of the Jews with their own god of wine, Dionysus or Liber. The actual evidence suggests three things. The cult of the Temple at Jerusalem was seen by outsiders to be characterised by an association with, and the use of, wine, an impression Jews did nothing to counteract. Second, outsiders acted on this impression, both as part of the cognitive step of identifying the God of the Jews with Dionysus, and, possibly, making gifts to the Temple, while it stood, of wine-related dedications. Third, this was a characterisation Jews were willing to embrace themselves, even at times of revolt. (Kirkpatrick, 2013)
As well, as discussed in my article on Dionysus, in relation to the Jews, Dionysus and infused wines, I show that coins were minted in ancient Israel that have been interpreted as indicating the combined worship of Dionysus and Yahweh. That such techniques of ecstasy and worship were extant in the Judaic world to some extent seems like a more likely avenue of infusion into ‘Paleo-Christianity’ as Muraresku refers to the early years of the Christian cult, than the more direct link to the cult of Dionysus and Christianity that The Immortality Key suggests.
Indra, Soma and Dionysus
That the connections between, India, Indra, Shiva and Dionyus were missed was another major ball drop.
Numerous ancient sources commented on Dionysus’ own travels to India, and in the 4th century BCE when Alexander the Great triumphantly marched into India, and witnessed the pressing of grapes, he believed he had rediscovered the childhood home of Dionysus, Nysa.
As noted on the historical website Livius.org, the identification of Nysa with India, played a significant role at the time of Alexander:
In 327/326, Alexander invaded the Indus valley, where he discovered in Gandara a town called Nysa that was dedicated to the god Dionysus. (Probably, this was the Indian god Shiva. The mountain Meru mentioned below was the center of the Indian universe.) The only description of the temple is to be found in the Life of Apollonius of Tyana by the Greek author Philostratus (more). The story of the discovery is told by the Greek author Arrian of Nicomedia, whose Anabasis (section 5.1.1-2.2) was translated by Aubrey de Sélincourt.
The myth of Nysa
[5.1.1] In the country on Alexander’s route between the river Cophen and the Indus lay the city of Nysa, supposed to have been founded by Dionysus, at the time of his conquest of the Indians.
[5.1.2] Nobody knows, however, who this Dionysus was, nor the date of his invasion of India, nor where he started from, and I myself should hardly care to say if this Theban deity marched with his army against the Indians from Thebes or from Tmolus in Lydia, or how it was that after passing; through the territories of so many warlike peoples unknown to the Greeks of that date, he fought and conquered only the Indians….
[5.1.3] The people of Nysa, upon Alexander’s approach, sent their chief, Acuphis, to him accompanied by thirty of their most distinguished men with instructions to ask him to leave their city to its god.
[5.1.4] The story is that when they entered Alexander’s tent, they found him sitting there dusty and travel-stained, still wearing his equipment, his helmet on his head and a spear in his hand. The sight of him sitting thus surprised them so much that they prostrated themselves upon the ground and for a long time spoke never a word. At last, however, Alexander bade them get up and not be alarmed; whereupon Acuphis addressed him in the following words.
[5.1.5] “Sire, it is the request of the people of Nysa that you show your reverence far Dionysus by leaving them free and independent. For when Dionysus, after his conquest of the Indians, was on his way homeward towards the Greek sea, he founded this city as a memorial of his long journey and his victory, leaving to inhabit it those of his men who were no longer fit for service – who were also his Priests. He did but as you have done; for you too founded Alexandria in the Caucasus and Alexandria in Egypt and many other cities as well, and will found yet more hereafter, in that you will have surpassed the achievements of Dionysus.
[5.1.6] Dionysus named this city Nysa and this land Nysaea in memory of his nurse, who bore that name; and to the mountain near the city he gave the name Meru – or the Thigh – because legend has it that he grew in the thigh of Zeus. Ever since that time Nysa has been free; we who live in it have made our own laws – and obeyed them, as good men should. If you wish for a proof that Dionysus was our founder, here it is: this is the only place in India where ivy grows.”
[5.2.1] Alexander found what Acuphis said highly agreeable; he would have liked very much to believe the old tale about Dionysus’ journey and his founding of Nysa, for then he would have had the satisfaction of knowing that he had already penetrated as far as Dionysus did, and would presently advance yet further; he felt moreover that his Macedonian troops would consent to share his hardships a little longer, if they knew they were in competition with Dionysus. Accordingly he granted to the people of Nysa the continuance of their freedom and autonomy.
As the German-American philologist, comparative mythologist and Indologist, Michael Witzel, Professor of Sanskrit at Harvard University and the editor of the Harvard Oriental Series has noted:
When Alexander came across the vines in the eastern Hindu Kush, he immediately concluded that this area must have been that of Dionysus. Indeed, the inhabitants of Nuristan and Kashmir (both before Islam) and of the modern pagan Kalash Land (north-western Pakistan) still grow vines and press grapes there each fall. The new wine is still dedicated to Indra” (Witzel, 2012)
Indra, being the God of Soma, and King of the Gods, (a figure that in many ways, Shiva would later supplant). As Dr. Richard Stoneman, a professor of classics and ancient history, describes of the Greek connection in The Greek Experience of India: From Alexander to the Indo-Greeks:
“It is sometimes argued that this Dionysus is a form of Indra as first king, culture-hero of the Aryans, warrior-leader and bringer of agriculture. Martha Carter produces some compelling evidence that Alexander’s expedition may have wandered into the Indrakun festival in the Kafir lands, in November or January, which involved a dancer dressed as a horned goat, behaving lewdly, while wine was pressed and drunk.” (Stoneman, 2019)
The connection between Soma, Dionysus and the Christian mysteries are by no means new or novel. The 19th century ancient world scholar François Lenormant, in The Beginnings of History According to the Bible and the Traditions of Oriental Peoples: From the Creation of Man to the Delugereferred to “the god Soma or Haoma, prototype of the Greek Dionysus” (Lenormant, et al., 1881). That wine was being consumed by worshippers of the God generally associated with Soma, Indra, adds some credence to Professor McGovern’s theory that soma was a cannabis infused wine, a view, that unlike many of McGovern’s other suggestions on ancient infusions, that did not make it into The Immortality Key.
Remnants, and even alleged descendants of Alexander the Great’s army may still survive in the region. and they are known for producing a hashish product that is considered by some, the best hashish in the world. Nestled in the peaks of the Himalayas, is the small town of, Malana, which is surrounded by steep cliffs and snow-capped mountains. Stories and legends fuelled by locals’ noticeably different physical features and their language, which are unlike that of any other local tribe, recount how Alexander the Great’s army took shelter in this isolated village in 326BC after they were wounded in a battle. There are surviving artifacts from the period, such as a greek sword kept in a local temple, but genetic tests have not been been done to confirm the ancestral connection
However, rather than Indra, the relationship between Dionysus with another still widely worshipped Indian god, Shiva, seems to have been been more widely accepted and suggested in both the ancient world and the new. As well in India, a focus of Indra worship and its use of soma, seems to have been supplanted by Shiva worship and the use of cannabis as bhang, a situation that is indicated in the myth Samudra manthan or The Churning of the Ocean of Milk.
There may be another plausible explanation for this myth than supplantation. Dr. Koenraad Elst has convincingly suggested that Shiva of Puranic Hinduism is in fact the continuation of the Vedic Indra. Indra has a variety of epithets and attributes which later seem to have been inherited by Shiva. But, in relation to his study, it is important to note that Shiva and Indra are both associated with intoxication, Indra is praised as having a tremendous appetite for the Soma juice, Shiva drinks copiously of bhang, he is the Lord of Bhang. As well one of the early Indian names for cannabis, was Indrasana, sana being a Sanskrit word for cannabis.
…Shiva, “the auspicious one”, is an epithet of not only Rudra but of Vedic gods in general. Indra himself is called shiva several times (Rg-Veda 2:20:3, 6:45:17, 8:93:3). Shiva is by no means a non-Vedic god, and Indra never really disappeared from popular Hinduism but lives on under another name. (Elst, 1999)
Regardless of debate about the connections and overlap between Indra and Shiva, those between Dionysus and Shiva seem somewhat clearer. As Robert Cowann noted in The Indo-German Identification: Reconciling South Asian Origins and European Destinies (2010), through this designation of Nysa with India, the deities Shiva and Dionysus became conflated:
Roman writers would associate the Greek god Dionysus with the Hindu Siva [Shiva]…. Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and mystical ecstasy was purported to have journeyed to India, subdued the Aryan and Dravidian peoples, absorbed their philosophies, and returned to Europe with their chief ideas. Euripides describes Dionysus in Bacchae (406 B.C.) as a provider of knowledge and the conqueror of Arabia, Persia and Bactria.
….Polyaenus goes so far as to say that Dionysus got the Indians drunk before attacking them and used baccanatic orgies as part of his military strategy for subjugating all of the Asian continent….
The observation that such ancient writers did identify Dionysus with Siva has won the almost unanimous approval of scholars… because of the many similarities between the cult of Dionysus and that of Shaivite devotees… both are said to cure the sick and to have provided the Indians with weapons; both are associated with plowing, with figs and vineyards, with mountains, and with dancing; and both are depicted as having long, bushy hair and carrying a spear or trident. (Cowan, 2010)
I more full explore and illustrate the connections between Dionysus and Shiva in ‘The Cannabis infused Wine of Dionysus?‘ However it is important to also note that Shiva, like Dionysus, is also a god of intoxication, with datura, betle, henbane, wine and particularly cannabis, all taken in devotion to him.
in reference to this association, Prof. Carl Ruck has noted “Dionysus … was also said to have returned triumphantly from travels to India, where he would inevitably have been assimilated with the god Shiva, with whom he shares many iconographic similarities, to the extent that they may have been originally the same deity, and both involved with the hemp sacrament (Ruck, et al., 2007).
“Since the wine of Dionysus is a mediation between the god’s wild herbal ancestors and the civilized phenomenon of his cultivated and manufactured manifestation in the product fermented from the juice of the grape, it is most probable that this was the way in which the Greeks incorporated hemp into their pharmacopoeia” (Ruck, 2007).
As Shiva’s cult is not only known for their use of cannabis, but also at times, wine and other potent narcotics such as henbane and datura, it is not surprising that many have suggested such ingredients in the Dionysian infusions as well. Like Dionysus, Shiva is a god of intoxication, some myths depict the God perpetually stoned in meditation. Moreover, Shiva’s sacramental connection to cannabis, has survived into the modern age.
As I have noted in The Cannabis infused Wine of Dionysus? there are some really great books that have been written on this connection, such as Alain Danielou’s Gods of Love and Ecstasy: The Traditions of Shiva and Dionysus and as noted even Muraresku’s own mentor has directly commented on the connection between the two Gods and cannabis. Why would this be excluded? I suppose as its not a stop over on The Road to Eleusis?
Dionysus and Thrace
Adding to this list, is the lack of mention of the Thracian connections to Dionysus and the history behind his worship there, where he was known as Zagreus. Although, there are variations of the myth, most accounts say Dionysus was born in Thrace, traveled abroad, and arrived in Greece as a foreigner. As I noted in more detail in my article on Dionysus, a variety of well known scholars have suggested cannabis use in the background of the Thracian cult going back more than a century. Professor Mircea Eliade, a respected source on the history of religions, referred to elements of shamanism in the Thracian cult of Dionysus, and suggested their use of cannabis use (Eliade, 1982). In the 1925 English translation, of the German work, Psyche, Seelencult und Unsterblichkeitsglaube der Griechen (1890–1894); Psyche: The Cult of Souls and the Belief in Immortality Among the Greeks, in a chapter on ‘The Thracian Worship of Dionysus’ Erwin Rohde, points to their likely use of cannabis. (Rohde was one of the great German classical scholars of the 19th century). Clear ancient references to Thracian use of cannabis, as noted by Carl Ruck, can be found in Sophocles (496-406), who used “the word Cannabis, apparently to add ethnic detail for his Thamyras tragedy, which tells the tale of the Thracian shaman-singer who contested the Muses …” (Ruck, et al. 2007). This was also noted by Professor Jan N. Bremmer, a Dutch academic and historian, who served as a professor of Religious Studies and Theology at the University of Groningen, specializing in history of ancient religion, especially ancient Greek religion and early Christianity.
Historical authors also indicated this. Pomponius Mela, the Latin historian of the first century AD, described a Thracian feast. “They throw in the fires around them, seeds, the smell of which causes drunken amusement,” wrote the Latin author. The third century Roman geographer, Solinus, a third-century Roman geographer, referred to a similar custom. “During lunch, the spouses surround the herd, throw seeds out of the weeds they have in the fire, and feel a drunken joy after being hit by their smell with numbness.”
Archeological evidence from within the area which Thrace occupied, confirms cannabis was used in the region in funerary rituals as far back as 5,000 years ago, through a find of skeletal remains and burnt cannabis seeds recovered at a burial mound at modern day Gurbăneşti, Romania. (Rosetti, 1959). Further Archeological evidence in the region documents its use as late as the 2nd to 3rd BCE at Thracian sites as well.
This omission of Thrace is particularly peculiar when we consider that Carl Ruck, a main character in The Immortality Key, even coauthored a book detailing the relevance of this connection, Dionysus in Thrace: Ancient Entheogenic Themes in the Mythology and Archeology of Northern Greece, Bulgaria, and Turkey (2017). My guess is that such historical omissions, were again due to the continual attempts to tie things back with the kykeon of Eleusis.
Ironically, as he has written about this, I think Ruck may have something to do with this omission. Nothing intentional, but rather in the way Muraresku has set out to pay homage to Ruck, and particularly his coauthored book The Road to Eleusis, which first made the suggestion that ergot was the sacrament ‘Kykeon’ or as Muaresku presents it ‘kukeon’. This is where I think Muraresku loses track of things, by trying to continually make this connection between the Mysteries of Eleusis and an ergot based drink as hypothesized by Ruck, Dr. Albert Hoffman the father of LSD, and R Gordon Wasson, the father of entheogenic mycology.
Lost on the Road to Eleusis?
I know Ruck, he reviewed my own book detailing the role of drugs in the Bible, which made some similar suggestions about wine infusions in the Christian period as those raised in The Immortality Key, in the London England Sunday Times. I have interviewed Ruck numbers of times and he has appeared in youtube documentaries I have made, on Old Testament references to cannabis, Mithraism, and ancient Greece. I can only applaud Muraresku’s efforts to place this pioneering scholar in the light he deserves, after so many years of ridicule and academic neglect for his ideas about the role of psychoactive drugs in the ancient world and for helping to coin the term ‘entheogen’ to describe their use in a religious context. In fact, many years ago when I was working on a museum collection, Ruck gave me ergot prepared on rye by Albert Hoffman in a sample jar, for the writing of the Road to Eleusis. Hoffman stated that the entheogenic alkaloids can be separated from the toxic elements without much effort As I recall, Ruck told me he got little effect from what had been prepared.
I have little doubt that ergot could have been found in ancient wines and beers, as it was an issue for the ancient and medieval world, occurring on commonly used wheat and rye, as it was in bread making. There are clear historical accounts and evidence of ergot poisoning.
In regards to the potential method of extraction that could have been used by the ancients to safely get the entheogenic effects, without the toxic effects, the view is that this would have been achievable with an uncomplicated ash and water extraction. As noted in their 2010 Paper, ‘Mixing the Kykeon‘, authors Peter Webster, Carl Ruck and Daniel M. Perrine explain:
The hierophantic priests might well have discovered how to achieve a partial hydrolysis of the mostly toxic alkaloids of C. purpurea, resulting in an extract of ergot containing a blend of psychedelic compounds closely similar to the Aztec’s ololiuqui. The partial hydrolysis might thus also eliminate the toxic ergopeptine
alkaloids, converting them to psychoactive ergine and isoergine.
But how were the hierophants to accomplish this feat, seemingly not duplicated until the20th Century? It must have been a technologically simple procedure, and employed common ingredients, yet been easy to keep secret. Although potassium hydroxide was surely not available to the Greeks, the ashes of wood fires certainly were, and in fact a mixture of wood ash in water results in a solution of potassium of reasonably strong basicity. Is it possible that merely digesting powdered ergot with wood ash and water (and possibly wine containing 10% or so of ethanol to improve the solubility of the alkaloids), heating the mixture for a short period and then filtering off the liquid might have been the method of mixing the kykeon? (Webster; Ruck; and Daniel M. Perrine, 2010)
The Immortality Key, suggests, that if we accept this theory of an ergot infused Eleusinian sacrament, this same sort of ergot beer technology may have passed down from the Eleusian Mysteries to harder evidence from 2nd century BCE Spain. At a site in Catalonia a jawbone with teeth was found and a small cup, that both showed trace evidence of ergot. An archeological find dubbed ’The Kukeon of Catalonia’ by Muraresku. The particularly small size of the cup found adds to the intrigue here as it may indicate that not much of a dose was needed for an effect. Muraresku sees this as a Greek colonial site in Spain, related to the Mysteries of Eleusis, due to some of the statues and artifacts found indicating that, and he describes as a sort of open access sanctuary, for devotees who could not afford the time and expense to travel all the way to Eleusis from Spain.
To be fair, Muraresku has dug deep to find this material, as sites like this have tended to be neglected by more mainstream scholarship, as the papers on them have been published in languages like Catalan, and in some cases Ukrainian, which often fails to make its way to English and other more widely used languages. However, this obscurity, has also lends itself to avoiding academic criticism and peer reviewed opinion of the claims.
Regardless of any questions regarding the potential historic connections between Eleusis and this site in Mas Castellar des Pontos, Catalonia, I am wondering if the ash water solution above, would register as ergot in an examination of tartar on 2,000 year old teeth and cups. Over such stretches of time, there are complications with the breakdown of chemical residues to begin with, which can cause misidentification, and this has been at the core of debate and controversy regarding the work of by German scientist, Dr Svetla Balabanova and the alleged Egyptian ‘Cocaine Mummies” as I have discussed at length in another article, where hashish, as well as cocaine and nicotine, both from New World plants, were found in 1992 by the German toxicologist on Henut Taui’s hair as well as on the hair of several others mummies. Almost 30 years later there is no consensus on this analysis.
Establishing that this evidence for a claim of ergotized beer from the evidence in a cup and teeth from a jawbone, was a processed form of ergot, and not indications of contamination and ergotism, would go a long way here. I think this remains intriguing speculation until further confirmation and consensus can be found.
It is with Eleusis that I think The Immortality Key gets lost in its search for the ‘lost sacrament’ of ‘the religion with no name’, and by trying to continually tie in Eluesis and Ergot in with the Christian mysteries, when the actual evidence points to other candidates. I also think it does a disservice for the intriguing ergot beer evidence out of Catalonia in relation to the Eleusis hypothesis of Ruck and company, which is where the focus should have been for it in this regard, but it gets lost with this unsubstantiated diffusion through Eleusis, to the Cult of Dionysus and then right past the Jews and straight into Christianity.
Cannabis in Ancient Israel
Just prior to publication of The Immortality Key, one of the most important religious archaeological finds relating to the Bible took place, the discovery of cannabis resins at a temple site in Arad Jerusalem that dated back to the 8th century BCE.
As this came late in the day for The Immortality Key, Muraresku only briefly mentions this important evidence of a Biblical entheogen, in his conclusion. However, I have been suggesting just such a role for cannabis by the ancient Hebrews for more than a quarter century, and I put together this article to contextualize the etymological research that I have been putting forth, with the archeological, out of Arad, Jerusalem, for Graham Hancock’s website, (Hancock wrote the forward to The Immortality Key). In that article and in my 2001 book, Sex, Drugs, Violence and the Bible, I discuss the evidence for cannabis, burnt as incense, used as a topical ointment, ingested and infused in wines.
In fact, I would say that Muraresku put more discussion into the find in his popular interview with Joe Rogan, than he did in the book. All things considered, with Brian, Ruck, and Hancock who was in studio for the Rogan interview, I am not going to deny that I was a little more than miffed that my name never came up in relation to this…..
In retrospect, Carl and I first came into contact, when I saw that the first edition of his co-authored The Apples of Apollo: Pagan and Christian Mysteries of the Eucharist, referred to kaneh bosm as cannabis, in a piece clearly based on material I had presented and I was not credited, although a key paragraph in the piece was verbatim to a 1996 article I wrote Kaneh Bosm: Cannabis in the Old Testament. This turned out to be the mistake of a co-author on the project, who came across a copied version of my article on line, that failed to list the author, and it was satisfactorily remedied. Moreover, it was only when Ruck supported the kaneh bosm hypothesis that it gained traction and international attention. Likewise with Hancock promoting my material on his personal website. its not all sour grapes here by any means and I do appreciate the helping hands that have been offered in that respect.
This is not the only evidence out of the Holy Land regarding cannabis as well, as Muraresku well knows. He wrote me specifically for the details, on another, later find of cannabis as well, in 2018:
I’ve really been enjoying your books. Quick question here, if you don’t mind? In that 2003 article from The Sunday Times, Ruck had mentioned: “Residues of cannabis, moreover, have been detected in vessels from Judea and Egypt in a context indicating its medicinal, as well as visionary, use.”
I’m trying to locate the archaeological cite for these Judaean / Egyptian vessels. Do you happen to know where the finds were reported? Or might you be able to point me toward any other hard archaeological cannabis finds from ancient Israel / Palestine in the centuries surrounding Jesus?(Muraresku, 2018)
I am not sure what the Egyptian vessels Ruck referred to where, but I did point Muraresku to archeological evidence from the 4th century in Bet Shemesh, that indicated its use, topically and burnt as incense:
Archaeologists have found hard evidence that hashish was used as a medicine 1,600 years ago, the Israel Antiquities Authority said yesterday. Archaeologists uncovered organic remains of a substance containing hashish, grasses and fruit on the abdominal area of a teenage female’s skeleton that dates back to the fourth century, the antiquities authority said in a statement. Anthropologist Joel Zias said that although researchers knew hashish had been used as a medicine, this is the first archeological evidence. (Associated Press 1992) – Associated Press article, Hashish evidence is 1,600 years old, that appeared in Vancouver newspaper The Province, on June 2, 1992:
As Zias and his colleagues explained: “We assume that the ashes found in the tomb were cannabis, burned in a vessel and administered to the young girl as an inhalant to facilitate the birth process” (Zias, et al., 1993). This find of cannabis in a Judean cave was further supported by the later analysis of glass vessels from the site which also contained evidence of cannabinoid residues (Zias, 1995). Between this and the find in Arad, we have a 1.200 year history of cannabis use in the ancient Holy Land, and this is a story that was overlooked, for less compelling evidence.
After the publication of The Immortality Key, Murarsku explained this was not looked at as it was evidence of medical use, not entheogenic, however, as I noted the material regarding kaneh bosm, in incense, anointing oils, and wine infusions, embodied both, the same healing holy oil used by Jesus and his disciples, also contained entheogenic effects, explicitly. I am assuming as this did not tie in with the efforts to connect the Christian Mysteries with the kykeon and Eleusis–it just didn’t ‘fit’ the agenda of the book.
The Archeology of Drugs
Muraresku focuses a lot on indo-european and proto-indo-european connections, trying to tie in how hypothesized ergot beer technology may have passed down from stone age Turkey, through Eleusis to 2nd century BCE Spain, where the jawbone and cup were found, ’The Kukeon of Catalonia’. in relation to this Muraresku asks the reader “In the absence of any analysis of the many vessels recovered from Eleusis itself, is this how history’s longest game of hide and seek comes to a close?” (Murarsku, 2020).
“To the best of my knowledge and until proven otherwise, the graveyard beers from Mas Casrellar de Pontos and the Necropolis of Las Rueda represent the first scientific data for the ritual use of psychedelic drugs in classic antiquity” (Muraresku, 2020).
This is not the case, there is much stronger evidence. We know that cannabis has been burnt for fumigation purposes in funerary rites in Indo-European culture as far back as 5,000 BCE, through a find of skeletal remains and burnt cannabis seeds recovered at a burial mound at modern day Gurbăneşti, Romania. (Rosetti, 1959) alongside Scythian evidence, as well as Indo-European Gushi in Central China, as indicated in finds from 2500-2800 years ago. There have also been Scythian gold cups with residues of both cannabis and opium that have been suggested as used in a ritual setting. The Scythians were very present in ancient Greek culture and this well known archeological evidence confirmed what the Greek historian Herodotus wrote about their use of cannabis in funerary rituals in the 5th century BCE. This wide range of time and range of area, for cannabis in funerary rites, is much stronger evidence than what is suggested for the ’The Kukeon of Catalonia’ in The Immortality Key.
There is a tendency to approach things as a ‘first time ever’ throughout The Immortality Key, and to ignore the evidence from those who trod the path before. I am sure there is much more evidence than realized by any single researcher regarding the ritual use of drugs on the ancient world. More is on the way… “…[N]ew techniques for analyzing residues in excavated jars and identifying tiny amounts of plant material suggest that ancient Near Easterners indulged in a range of psychoactive substances. Recent advances in identifying traces of organic fats, waxes, and resins invisible to the eye have allowed scientists to pinpoint the presence of various substances with a degree of accuracy unthinkable a decade or two ago.”
The April 20th issue of Science, Vol 360, Issue 6386, contains the story, Cannabis, opium use part of ancient Near Eastern cultures:
For as long as there has been civilization, there have been mind-altering drugs. Alcohol has been around for at least 10,000 years, but recent advances in chemical analysis of old pots reveal that other psychoactive drugs were present at the dawn of the first complex societies some 5000 years ago in the ancient Middle East. Ancient people from Turkey to Egypt experimented with local substances such as blue water lily, while imports like cannabis and opium made from poppies spread through early international trade networks. Armed with the new data, archaeologists are probing just how these drugs impacted early societies and beliefs. Some argue that the impact of these psychoactive substances has been underestimated, and that a drug culture was central to ritual in Mesopotamia, Anatolia, Egypt, and the Levant.
Indeed, there is clear evidence for the ritual use of cannabis in ancient Israel from the 8th century BCE. alongside evidence indicating medical applications both burnt and applied topically, from 4th century AD Bet Shemesh, Israel.
Now this is just archeological evidence, and I am guessing when Muraresku refers to ‘scientific data’, he is excluding actual textual references to the use of entheogenic substances being used ritually, so I won’t list off the considerable material here that could be referred to.
One might argue that Muraresku specifically refers to ‘psychedelic’ and cannabis is not viewed as such by many sources. Likewise with the term ‘Classical Antiquity’ it could be seen as particularly Greek related. However, throughout The Immortality Key, in his search for the ‘lost sacrament’ of ‘the religion with no name’ Muraresku considers a number of areas of the world in his quest.
The same situation here holds with his potential, where a veritable smörgåsbord of candidates are considered, including straight up alcoholic beer or wine; alongside infusions of cannabis, henbane and other nightshades, opium as well as other psychoactive plants; and ergot. All considered pretty equally in regards to what this entheogenic candidate may have been, despite the vastly different effects they produce.
History wise, I think Muraresku fails to make a believable case of continuity for the strands he offers for tracing his hidden ‘religion with no name’. Discussing the theories of Walter Burkert, who pointed to indications of the use of psychoactive substances by Neanderthals, making their way into the Greek mysteries, Muraresku explains:
According to Burkert, the expertise transferred for tens of thousands of years from Neanderthal to Neanderthal, and Stone Age homo sapiens to Stone Age homo sapiens, somehow came to a dead stop at the temple of Demeter. Without ever explaining how, the German scholar suggested that by the time the primitive rite arrived at Eleusis, the drug somehow vanished from the ‘festival of immortality’” (Muraresku, 2020)
At that point Burkert suggests harmless placebos replaces the psychoactive sacraments of earlier times. After putting forth this incredible claim of the continuity entheogenic rites from the Neanderthals down to Eleusis, from Burket, with no question or real data to back it,, Muraresku disagrees with Burkert that things stopped there, as evidenced by the aforementioned find of a jawbone with teeth, and small ritual cup, with traces of ergot.
The Hard data of hallucinogenic beer at Mas Castellar de Pontos says otherwise. Rather than being replaced by one of Burkert’s “harmless substances,” the original, Stone Age sacrament seems to have survived well into the historical period within certain Indo-European traditions. Not just the eastern branch, among the exotic Indians with their psychedelic soma. Not just the western branch, among the bloodthirsty Vaccean Celts with their graveyard beer at the Necropolis of La Ruedas. But among bona fide Greeks who hailed from Phocaea as the Vikings of Antiquity with well-defined lineage. (Muraresku, 2020)
That this unsubstantiated continuity of transference of entheogenic knowledge from the Neanderthal to the Indo-Europeans is put forth and accepted with so little data, is a real phenomena of The Immortality Key. In this regard, Muraresku acknowledges that some “scholars may come along and object that the ergot-infused beer… has nothing to do with Greece… it’s just another example of Celtic and Iberian extravagance…” (Muraresku, 2020). I’d go further and suggest more research is needed to establish the suggested ergotized beer, and more academic agreement on this identification, actual confirmation as well.
Both Indo-European Culture and the Vedic Soma, have been longtime interests of mine, as detailed in my book Cannabis and the Soma Solution and my recent series on its botanical identity. In an effort to connect soma with the kykeon Muraresku seems to skip over so much here, to try and keep his ergot entheogen hypothesis alive.
“…Proto-Indo-European, the mother tongue that seems to have introduced the religious use of drugs to both Greece and India, expanding outward over an ancient global triangle binding modern-day Iceland to siberia to Sri Lanka. A secret pharmacology that somehow found its way into the subterranean catacombs… in Rome, now under the exclusive jurisdicition of the Vatican” (Muraresku, 2020).
Again referring to Watkins theory on a common ancestry of the kykeon sacrament at Elusis and Soma of the Veda, with no real explanation of the theory or even discussion of its acceptance among Vedic scholars, Muraesku states:
If anybody was going to smuggle drugs into Europe, it was the Proto-Indo-Europeans who exported soma to India–that Vedic elixir explicitly characterized by Watkins as “hallucinogenic.” For some reason Western scholars are not scandalized by the prospect of ancient Indians doing drugs. The eastern branch of our Indo-European family seems exotic and far-off, unconnected to our greek foundations. Bu dig deeper, and the issue remains: where did soma come from? Why would the original sacrament of Western civilization make the long journey to the Himalayas but somehow get lost en route to Eleusis? If half the Proto-Indo-European tradition went east into India, and the other half went west into greece, then the common source of both could contain the answer to the whole psychedelic affair. (Muraresku, 2020).
Discussing Soma, and trying to connect it with the Kykeon of Eleusis, Muraresku relies almost completely on the work of the American linguist and philologist Calvert Watkins, who, through the similarity of language, women’s role in the ritual, and women were also behind the production of soma, has suggested this connection. No other opinions are offered by Muraresku on this radical suggestion of a combined origin for the kykeon and soma, and no real effort to explain the theory in a comparison of texts, beyond a brief three paragraph explanation of Watkins theory.
There is also the issue here of making this connection between Vedic India and the Greeks, while skipping over the use of Haoma by the Avestan and Zoroastrian religions of Persia. the persian traditions would have held way more of an influence on Greece that India. How this goes without mention is beyond my comprehension in a serious study of this matter.
Moreover, both Watkins and this connection were more thoroughly examined in another recent publication, Soma and the Indo-European Priesthood: Cereal Cultivation and the Origins of Religion, ( Shelley, 2018) which like so many works that tilled the soil The Immortality Key sprouted from, is not accredited.
Soma as an ergot infusion?
In the now famous Joe Rogan interview, in his discussion of soma, Muraresku seems to indicate that he thinks soma may have been the ergot on barley, as barley is listed as an ingredient in the sacred drink in the Rg Veda.
Brian -We have an idea actually brought some some Sanskrit to show you. Yeah. You want to see some Sanskrit?
[Image of sanskrit text appears]
Joe- Oh, look at how beautiful that is.
Brian- There it is.
Joe- Their language writing it in Sanskrit. God, it’s so pretty.
Brain -Do you want me to read it for you?
Joe- please.You can read that.
Brain – Yeah.
Brian – So this was my major in college. … this is from the Rigveda. Right. And it’s the oldest literature in Western civilization. We think it’s among the Indo-European.
Languages, it’s the oldest recorded literature that we have. It could be 1500 B.C., seven hundred, perhaps much earlier, like the Iliad and The Odyssey and Greek, this is the mother tongue of all the Indo-European languages. And what they write about a lot is Soma, which is both a God and the juice that is pressed from this God. And what they’re talking about there is is making this ritual potion very much like the kukeon [sic] on that we find among the ancient Greeks.
And here Soma is described as a mixed potion… mixed with barley. Go Bashira … mixed with milk. And so I’ve read all the theories that you have about what Soma was, whether it was the Amanita Muscaria mushroom or some psilocybin containing species or DMT. The way they described soma here is always a mixed potion, which so in this case mixed with barley and milk.
Joe – So that would be an ergot of some sort?
Brian- already there mentioned…. I mean, and so that’s that’s what Rock Hofman and Wasem were saying in 1978. We have we have literature from the 7th century BC, it’s called to the Hymn to Demeter, where they record these ingredients of what the kukeon [sic]was. You asked like, where’s the actual evidence? So in the 70s, we didn’t have much. It starts with the literature, which is what classicists do. And so there’s this Hymn to Demeter that was discovered in 1777, a year after we declare our independence from Graham’s people and what they what they found in there.
As well, what i got from this and his book, is that there is little evidence here that Brian has even read much on the references and descriptions of Soma in the Rg Veda, like the whole 10th Mandala for instance. The 10th Mandala of the Rg Veda makes it clear, that Soma is a distinct plant, that has the colours green and purple, describing the rocks used for pressing it being turned ‘green’ in the process.
Rig Veda 10.94 – (Wilson’s 1928 translation)
Let these (stones) speak…. Ye solid, quick moving stones, you utter the noise of praise… full of the Soma juice.
They roar like a hundred, like a thousand men; they cry aloud with green-tinted faces; obtaining the sacrifice, the pious stones… partake of the sacrificial food…
They speak, they received into their mouth the sweet (Soma juice)…chewing the branch of the purple tree, the voracious bulls have bellowed.
Splitting, but unsplit, you, O stones… enjoying the Soma, flowing green (with Soma), they made heaven and earth resound with their clamour.
The stones proclaim it with their clamour at the issue of the Soma-juice,… like cultivators sowing the seed, they devouring the Soma, mix it, and do not hurt it.
….Proclaim the praise of (the stone), which has effused (the Soma-juice); let the honoured stones revolve. [Emphasis added]
पञ्च राज्यानि वीरुधां सोमश्रेष्ठानि ब्रूमः।
दर्भो भङ्गो यवः सह ते नो मुञ्चन्त्व् अंहसः॥
“To the five kingdoms of the plants which Soma rules as Lord we speak.
Darbha, cannabis, barley, mighty power: may these deliver us from woe.”
The word ‘भङ्ग’ (bhang) here refers to the cannabis plant. In Cannabis and the Soma Solution, I note that the consecration of these as soma, made it soma, in a similar way that the Catholic priests invocations turns wine into the ‘Eucharist’. However, there Muraresku failed to identify a single passage that could be interpreted as ergot coming into play here.
In a 2017 message, when Muraresku was still working on The Immortality Key, he wrote me regarding this topic “I love Cannabis and the Soma Solution. I’m a huge Wasson fan, which is how I was first introduced to your work” (Muraresku, 2017). Noting as well of my research in another message, “the evidence for cannabis seems persuasive. And right up my alley” (Muraresku, 2017). However, as this material, did not follow the kykeon connection, The Immortality Key was pushing, and was not ‘persuasive’ enough. I suppose this was considered chaff to be separated from wheat, in regards to tying the Kykeon with soma, and the Christian mysteries, which is the main agenda of Muraresku’s book, even if it does not jibe with actual history.
While I think the theory on ergotized beer, and the new evidence out of Catalonia, in regards to kykeon, deserves some consideration, I think conflating it with the Christian mysteries and Soma, plays down all three. A major distinction here can be seen in the frequency of the Soma consumption among Vedic devotees, as compared to the infrequency of the Kykeon in the Mysteries, as noted in the Rogan interview.
Brian- In fact, there was no afterlife. You just disappear into Hades to do God knows what. But people walk away from elucidates saying that they’d found salvation and we don’t know why or how we know this potion is involved. We know they make this pilgrimage 13 miles from Athens to allow us to drink this potion. We know they they prepare for months, if not years before it, and they’re forever changed afterwards.
A look at Indo-european culture, in regards to their origins, drugs, and the identification of soma, further dismisses ergot as having any connection to Soma.
Proto-Indo-Europeans, and Indo-Europeans on Drugs
Muraresku boldly claims that “the only logical Proto-Indo-European homeland” is “Anatolia” (Muraresku, 2020). To be clear, this was always the minority opinion. The more widely accepted view has been that the location of the Proto-Indo-European homeland is the steppe hypothesis. Again I think Muraresku skips over more clear facts, in order to maintain his ergotized beer theory for Eleusis, and favours a 5,000 beer brewery in Anatolia, over other, I would argue, clearer evidence.
If the Proto-Indo-European homeland has been spotted at long last, then whatever sacrament came from Anatolia could be regarded as the likely source, however distant, for both the Greek kukeon and the Indian soma. Implausible as it seems, the Anatolian graveyard beer just might be the secret inspiration behind European civilization. (Muraresku, 2020)
Well perhaps if you completely ignore the more widely accepted, and now established steppe hypothesis and other, stronger evidence from experts on Proto-Indo-European and Indo-European Cultures, it might seem that way. Most importantly, the Anatolia theory was dismissed by its main proponent years before The Immortality Key was finished. As Muraresku notes, the Anatolian hypothesis, also known as the Anatolian theory was first developed by British archaeologist Sir Colin Renfrew in 1987. Renfrew proposed that the dispersal of Proto-Indo-Europeans originated in Neolithic Anatolia.
However what Muraresku misses is that Renfrew has since conceded his own long-standing Anatolian Hypothesis was incompatible with recent DNA studies indicating Europe was overrun by horsemen from the Steppes speaking Proto-Indo-European. The DNA conclusion supports Marija Gimbutas’ Kurgan Hypothesis that the Indo-European language developed within the Eurasian Steppes and spread into Europe. Renfrew dismisses his own Anatolian hypothesis at the 11:50 mark in this video.
As well, to suggest that Proto-Indo-European or Indo-European were behind the religious use of drugs, all over the ancient world, is in itself ludicrous Western chauvinism. Albeit they may be tied to specific drugs, but behind the use of drugs and ritual in the ancient world? No way. From an anthropological perspective, primitive people discovering psychoactive plants an using them in shamanic rituals, is the norm, and we can see this as evidence from their pre-existing use in North and South America, Africa, China, etc, where there was no way way that Indo-European culture introduced them.
Specifically in regards to drugs, Proto-Indo-European culture, Indo-European culture, and particularly ‘soma, Muraresku skips over much that has been known and established, by not giving due credit to the now confirmed steppes hypothesis. Once the now accepted Steppes hypothesis is considered, the identification of cannabis with Indo-European groups is explicit. Some details on this is needed to address the misinformation presented in The Immortality Key here.
It has been long suggested that the root word for cannabis, is proto-Indo-European, and was around before the Indo-European language even developed, and split of with their different variations of the cannabis root word ‘kanap‘. Professor emerita of archaeology and linguistics at Occidental College Elizabeth Wayland Barber analyzed cognate words for “hemp” and “cannabis” in Indo-European languages, and proposed an etymological root of *kan(n)aB- (where *B represents a *p or *b bilabial stop). A reconstructed Proto-Indo-European (PIE) *p is evident in many IE subgroups. The famed anthropologist Weston La Barre, who thought “cannabis was part of a religio-shamanic complex of at least Mesolithic age…” (La Barre, 1980) suggested that the name of cannabis itself came into the Indo-European language from the ancient Finno-Ugric language family, comprising Finnish, Estonian, Hungarian and related languages. Words such as kanapish for cannabis occur in Finno-Ugrian languages. (Source of Rus. konoplja, Pers. kanab, Lith. kanapes). The Finnish academic Kalevi Wiik believes that the earliest Finno-Ugric speakers and their languages originated in the territory of modern Ukraine (the so-called “Ukrainian refuge”) during the last glacial period when the whole of northern Europe was covered with ice. This is well within the now declared Proto-Indo-European homeland, these are the ‘Proto-Indo-Europeans’ and they used cannabis ritually, and the funerary rites they performed spread into later Indo-European culture, as evidenced by multiple archeological finds.
In 2016 a slew of news articles have come out with Headlines like ‘Founders of Western Civilization Were Prehistoric Dope Dealers (New Scientist) ; ‘Was Marijuana the Original Cash Crop? ‘ (Men’s journal) ; ‘Surprising 5,000-Year-Old Cannabis Trade: Eurasian Steppe Nomads Were Earliest Pot Dealers’ (Ancient Origins) ; all stemming from a multi-authored academic Paper, Cannabis in Eurasia: origin of human use and Bronze Age trans-continental connections, (Tengwen, Wagner, Demske, Leipe, Tarasov, 2016), that was published in the journal Vegetation History and Archaeobotany* and which detailed the paramount role cannabis played in the trade, tradition, and spread of Indo-European Culture. So the above evidence regarding the role of cannabis in the origins of Western culture should not be underestimated. This archeology has shown how the Proto-Indo-European Yamnaya culture brought cannabis into Europe. Ritual use of cannabis in funerary rites in the region inhabited by the Yamnaya goes back at least 5,000 years, as evidenced through a find of skeletal remains and burnt cannabis seeds recovered at a burial mound at modern day Gurbăneşti, Romania. (Rosetti, 1959).
Similar evidence that Proto-Indo Europeans burned cannabis in a cave in Ukraine 5,500 years was suggested by the late British Archeologist Andrew Sherratt, who is cited on the pages of The Immortality Key on other matters. “It seems, therefore, that the practice of burning cannabis as a narcotic is a tradition which goes back in this area some five or six thousand years and was the focus of the social and religious rituals of the pastoral peoples of central Eurasia in prehistoric and early historic times” (Sherratt, 1995). Some scholars believe that an area that Sherrat pointed to for ritual cannabis use 5,500 years ago, Ukraine, is also the source of the Finno-Ugric language.
The authors of The Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture note that “Hemp has not only been recovered from sites in Romania but also from a Yamma burial at Gurbanesti (Maldova) where traces were found in a ‘censer’ (a shallow footed bowl believed to have been used in the burning of some aromatic substance). It has been found in a similar context from an early bronze age burial in the north Caucasus…. Ceramics were more elaborate than those of the Yamma culture and included, especially in female burials, low footed vessels interpreted as ‘censers’, presumed to be used in rituals involving some narcotic substance such as hemp” (Mallory, et al., 1997).
Sherratt suggested that the cannabis burning braziers referred to above eventually went to the way side, and were replaced by a beverage, although he believes that cannabis use continued through this cultural shift. The “disappearance of ceramic braziers in northern and western Europe” was followed “by the appearance… of prominent forms of pottery drinking vessels. Corded-ware beakers and early bell-beakers are ornamented with impressions of twisted cord: if these are hemp fibres, then the decoration may indicate that their contents were connected with cannabis” (Sherratt, 1995). A view shared by other researchers: “As cannabis can also be infused, i.e., served as a component in a drink, it has also been suggested that the spread of cord-(hemp?) decorated pottery from the steppe westward may also have been part of this same complex” (Mallory, et al., 1997). Evidence of cannabis in a grave where the body was laid over flowers have been discovered in Hattemerbroek in Gelderland, Amsterdam, at a tomb that showed characteristics of corded ware culture, drinking cups were also found at the site which dated to 2459 – 2203 BC.
Evidence of burnt and infused cannabis preparations have been found at multiple Scythian sites, and clear evidence of cannabis burnt in funerary rites and also left in numbers of tombs have been recovered at Indo-European sites in China dating back as far as 800 BCE. As I note in more detail my referenced article The Proto-Indo Europeans and Indo-European Cannabis Cult, cannabis was a part of ritual life, particularly in relation to the sort of funerary rites identified in The Immortality Key, for thousands of years, dating back to the Proto-Indo-European period.
As the authors of the exhaustive Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture have noted, “There are… at least three chronological horizons to which the spread of hemp might be ascribed: the early distribution of hemp across Europe; during the Neolithic c5000 b.c. or earlier; a later spread of hemp for presumably narcotic purposes around 3000 b.c.; a still later spread, or, at least, re-emergence of hemp in the context of textiles during the first millennium b.c….” (Mallory, et al., 1997). In regards to an association with burial rites. Celtic use of cannabis has also been identified through pollen analysis of a bowl from a rich woman’s grave of the late Hallstatt Period at Niedererlbach, Bavaria (Rosch, 2005). The authors of The Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture likewise note that “hemp has… been discovered in an iron age contexts in western Europe, e.g. a Hallstatt burial, presumably Celtic, at Hochdorf in Germany” (Mallory et al., 1997). Cannabis was also found in later Viking burial sites as well.
More recently Russian researchers have been making similar suggestions about Indo-European cannabis use, specifically about the Aryan ancestors of the Vedic Indians. In the article ‘Aryan settlements in the Urals: A precursor to Indian Civilisation?‘, Strong archaeological evidence which indicates that the Aryans lived in Arkaim, by the Urals, before they went to India via Central Asia. The article quotes the archeologist Sergei Malyutin:
Malyutin says that the Aryans came here from the west, probably from the Volga, and then moved to Central Asia and then India. He believes that their sacred drink included cannabis boiled in milk with an addition of ephedrine [i.e., ephedra].
“Why do you think they are the same Aryans that later came to India and Iran?” I ask Sergei Malyutin.
“The Rigveda and Avesta contain descriptions of the place where the Aryans came from – it has birch trees and climate looking like ours,” he says. “They had similar burials and the skeletons are of the Indo-European anthropological type… There is another, key feature, chariots, which were used only by the Aryans at that time.” (Konstantinov, 2012) [emphasis added]
It was this sort of high mobility that led to the spread of cannabis throughout the ancient world, and in fact the development of hemp rope has been attributed to the harnessing and domestication of the horse. it is unclear that archeologist Sergei Malyutin, was basing his research on the work of Prof. Victor Sarianidi at BMAC, where claimed 4,000 year old archeological evidence of cannabis and ephedra, and in some case opium poppies, at a t temple site were suggested to indicate the plants were used in the preparation of soma/haoma. Or he may have came to his theories about the drink of the Aryans, based on another group known for both burning and drinking cannabis preparations, that came out of the Russian steppes, and spread across much of the ancient world, Western Europe, Persian, Israel, Egypt, India and even deep into central China, a series of Indo European tribes, now known to us collectively as the Scythians. As we shall this group as well has its important part to play in understanding the mysterious identities of soma and haoma.
Cannabis was also part of the earliest trade routes we know of as well, as noted in ‘Cannabis in Eurasia: origin of human use and Bronze Age trans-continental connections’, indicating it would have been part and parcel of any “Aryan” migration. “A marked increase in cannabis achene records from East Asia between ca. 5,000 and 4,000 BP might be associated with the establishment of a trans-Eurasian exchange/migration network”. (Eurasia is the largest continent on Earth, comprising all of Europe and Asia).
Descendants of the cannabis burners in the Ukraine region, the Scythians, would later spread the cultic use of cannabis, both smoked and drank, and the root word kana, throughout much of the ancient world. One of the names of the Scythians was “Haomavarga” the Haoma gatherers, and ancient texts indicate they also burnt the haoma as well as drank at. A Scythian wineskin that had evidence of cannabis infusion, as well as gold cups, described by the Russian archeologists involved with the find, as ritual vessels for drinking “haoma” have also been discovered and these contained residues of both cannabis and opium. How none of this came up in relation to Scythians and Scythopolis, in The Immortality Key, raises some questions, as it would be hard to miss this. I think we can see the confounding effort of trying to continually tie things in with ergot and kykeon as a likely culprit.
In my book Cannabis and the Soma Solution have proposed that the combined sacramental use of soma and haoma, grew out of the common Indo-European ancestry of both the Vedic and Avestan authors, and an earlier widespread cultural and cultic use of cannabis.
We certainly know from later ancient references in Zoroastrian texts, that cannabis infused wines were in fact consumed for visionary purposes, even visiting the land of the dead. The Zoroastrian texts, come from a time after Zoroastrian reforms had seen changes in the Haoma recipe, and it is believed that here, the modern day ephedra only version of the sacred drink of Zoroastrianism, came about. As The Book of Arda Viraf describes:
…Arda Viraf as chosen out of seven other righteous men. He embarks on this journey wholeheartedly despite his wives’ disapproval. After drinking a mixture of wine, mang (Indian Cannabis), and Haoma (Divine plant in Zoroastrianism), his soul went from the body to Chinvat Bridge and come back after seven days and nights. While his soul was roaming around, his seven sisters reciting Avesta sitting on Persian Carpet next to ever-burning Fire. After coming back from afterlife, he asked for food and wine. Then he began telling his vision of heaven and hell. (Beyzai, 2020).
Prof. Patrick McGovern, a Professor of Anthropology and Scientific Director of the Biomolecular Archaeology Laboratory for Cuisine, Fermented Beverages, and Health at the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia, who appears throughout the pages of The Immortality Key, has suggested in Uncorking the Past: The Quest for Wine, Beer, and Other Alcoholic Beverages (2009) that soma/haoma was likely a wine or mead like infusion. McGovern, in part, based his view on later Zoroastrian accounts, such as the Book of Arda Wiraz, has cannabis (bhanga, or mang) mixed into wine, or in some accounts has haoma. “From a chemical standpoint, the advantage of using an alcoholic beverage is that it dissolves the plant alkaloids” (McGovern, 2009).
As can clearly be seen by this brief overview, the material identifying the ritual relationship of Proto-Indo-European and Indo-European cultures with cannabis, is far stronger than anything Muraresku puts forth in regards to connections with the broader view of ‘drugs’ and these cultures and the evidence here is very specific. For those who wish to see how this inter-relates more specifically with soma see my article The Cannabis Soma/Haoma Theory: A Synopsis Based on the Latest Textual and Archeological Evidence. I do not want to go into further details regarding soma here as I have already put more forth on the topic in this article, than the few scant paragraphs with their bold but unsubstantiated claims of a connection to the Anatolian graveyard beer and the kykeon of Eleusis, that are given in The Immortality Key.
Let alone any connection to soma, the actual history here of the Indo-European relationship with cannabis, in funerary rites, as evidenced by archeological finds stretching back to 5,000 years ago in Romania; throughout the Steppes in Scythian tombs; and extending into central China with the Indo-European speaking Gushi culture, make a much better case for the ‘lost sacrament’ of ‘the religion with no name’ than a stone age preparation of a toxin like ergot that made its way down to the Mysteries of Eleusis, as based on much later evidence of a claim of a little known archeological claim of a much later ergotized beer in Catalonia. Even more so when we look at the actual archeological evidence for cannabis in the Holy Land as well, which we should return soon to as its the real basis of the claims in The Immortality Key.
The Cannabis Henbane Opium Infusion
However to be fair, in his broad search for the ‘lost sacrament’ Muraresku did give cannabis at least some consideration. Although the authors of the archeological study of this find, Drug preparation in evidence? An unusual plant and bone assemblage from the Pompeian countryside, Italy have identified this as likely evidence of a theriac, a potent medical infusion that was the basis for later alchemical quintessences and arcanums, due to the area of preparation and the list of ingredients, Muraresku has suggested this may have been the sort of drink used in the Dionysian and potentially other Greek Mysteries. I think in this regard, with his further research into the matter, that Muraresku did make a good case for this.
In discussions with a archeologist who was directly involved on the ground level of the find, Muraresku garnered even further evidence than that put forth in the original paper. The archeologist involved suggested the site was “specifically designed for the production of drugs”, and from the discussion Muraresku says the resulting mixture “seems to be a boutique house wine not intended for mass consumption” (Muraresku, 2020). Indications from the garden remains outside of the structure, are that it was a site for producing a select variety of plants and herbs. Evidence of a “maceration tank for cannabis” would seem to indicate this was particularly a key component in the infusions.
However, one would have thought that this would have increased his own research in regards to cannabis, and as noted, he missed so much in regards to cannabis infusions, as well as the following French archeological find reported in the Wine Spectator article ‘2,000-Year-Old Cannabis Wine Discovered‘:
A 2015 excavation near the town of Cébazat in the heart of France (about 100 miles west of Lyon) of a tomb dating to the 2nd century B.C., led by researcher Hervé Delhoofs, yielded an earthenware vessel that once held a most potent potable: Analysis of plant material confirmed the presence of “biomarkers” for wine, resin and THC. Did the Gauls simply like the taste, or were they interested in a more, well, holistic experience? Researcher Nicolas Garnier told Unfiltered both “medicinal use or recreational use” were possible, and that the ethanol in wine made it a more efficient substance for infusion than water. “The wine-based medicinal preparations are common,” he explained via email. “Different recipes of many plants have been identified in tombs.”
The Christian Material
I don’t dispute one way or the other a potential Dionysian influence on Christianity, as with the entheogen theories presented throughout The Immortality Key, nothing new here, as i have mentioned these myself in earlier books, as have many others. Notably, In an article titled “The Wine God in Palestine,” Professor Morton Smith, who was an American professor of ancient history at Columbia University, offered considerable evidence for the influence of Dionysiac cult and myth on Jewish and early Christian material. Smith felt that “the story of Jesus’ turning water into wine… was modeled on a myth about Dionysus told in a Dionysiac festival celebrated at Sidon. A first or second century A.D. report of the festival shows striking similarities, even in wording, to the gospel material…”(Smith 1978).
It is worth noting that indications of infused wines are indicated in the early Christian period as well, in material that Muraresku was sadly unaware of, and administered by Jesus himself in the 3-4th century text The Second Book of Jue. As well as an account identified in the Church Fathers condemnation of the Gnostic figure Marcus, which Muraresku does mention, and as I have discussed in earlier books and in the article ‘Early Christianity’s Drug Fuelled Magic Rituals‘. It has even been long suggested that Jesus himself quaffed such a preparation in his own moment of doubt and pain.“ I discussed these preparations and other potential Gnostic references to entheogens in a recent lecture for Aeon Byte.
A situation which fits with what was earlier discussed in relation to Jewish infusions.
Some high biblical commentaries maintain that the gall and vinegar or myrrhed wine offered to our Saviour immediately before his crucifixion was a preparation, in all probability, of hemp, which was in these, as well as in later times, occasionally given to criminals before punishment or execution–while 700 years previously it is spoken of… by the prophet Amos as the “ wine of the condemned.”
The Encyclopaedia Britannica: Or Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and General Literature, Volume 5 (1854): see similar comments in –The Boston Medical and Surgical Journal (1860).
Accusations of using such infusions may have even been directed at Jesus in New Testament accounts. “The commonly attested connection between mantic behaviour and alcohol probably explains the reference in the New Testament that some people thought Jesus to be a wine-bibber (Matt 11:19). The use of drugs was so closely tied to mantic practice that the Greek word for ‘drug’ [Gk. pharmakea] eventually came to denote witchcraft (Gal 5:19-21)” (Noegel & Wheeler, 2010). The Immortality Key sees such early Christian activity as derived from the earlier Dionysian, and I will leave it to readers of that book to decide for themselves if there is a connection, or it sits stronger with the existing Jewish tradition of infused wines in the region.
I will say, that an equal case for a Mithraic influence has been suggested, in regards to the consumption of Haoma and ritual meals. The clear entheogenic references in the Mithras Liturgy and the similar use to magical visionary producing ointments described in Gnostic accounts particularly comes to mind. This was completely overlooked, as well as a lot of other potential Jewish influences that could stand as more likely entry points of entheogens into early Christianity.
In regards to wine used by Christian in rituals, the omission of The Second Book of Jue, from the Bruce Codex, particularly stands out, with its copious use of wine, incense, and as of yet, unidentified entheogenic plants. The Second Book of Jue refers specifically to the as of yet unidentified plant ‘cynocephalia‘ which was put into the mouths of participants, Pliny mentions this same plant for divination. Clearly a Gnostic reference to an entheogen of some kind! Pliny claims to have heard from Apion the Grammarian, notorious resident of Egypt, that the herb cynocephalia is known in Egypt as osiritis, after the God Osiris, and is believed to be a source of divination and a protection against black magic. As Osiris has been connected with Dionysus by ancient and modern authors, its a shame this was not explored in The Immortality Key. There are other unidentified plants in the Gnostic text as well, such as kasdalanthos.
Murarsku does discuss the wine magic of the Gnostic figure, Marcus, which myself and others before me have suggested as a clear entheogenic reference, and which I discussed at length in my last 3 books. Again nary a mention of anyone who had previously trod this ground, save for his mentor Ruck. As well, when Muraresku discusses this material with Charles Stang, Professor of Early Christian Thought and Director of the Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard University, it becomes pretty clear that Muraresku only has a superficial knowledge of the key material here.
The Harvard Interview and the Gnostic ‘Love Potion’
On that note, what I am blown away by here, considering the many ball drops such as this, and historical mistakes, as I have already discussed, is the considerable academic support the book has received. Such as Charles Stang, the Harvard interviewer. Not only does Stang apparently miss many of the outright mistakes presented in The Immortality Key, he was also wrong about the Gnostic Marcus’ wine, it was definitely eucharistic in quality it had ‘charis’ and is explicitly defined as as a blood from a goddess. Stang states “But they charge Marcus specifically, not with a psychedelic Eucharist, but the use of a love potion”. However a reading from Irenaeus’ account of Marcus, beleaguers this point:
“Pretending to consecrate cups mixed with wine, and protracting to great length the word of invocation, he contrives to give them a purple and reddish color, so that Charis who is one of those that are superior to all things, should be thought to drop her own blood into that cup through means of his invocation, and that thus those who are present should be led to rejoice to taste of that cup, in order that, by so doing, the Charis, who is set forth by this magician, may also flow into them.”
In regards to “love potions” The people of this time were well aware of the plants around them, and the idea that they contained not only medicinal but magical properties, was widespread. It has long been known that because it was believed that “that certain drugs could secure the passionate love of another. Indian hemp, mandrake, opium, strychnos varieties, and others were greatly used as love charms and as stimulating aphrodisiacs” (Parsons, 1899).
Pliny, the Roman writer, says the properties of these drugs became manifest even when merely taken into the hand, but more so when taken in dry wines; and that “overindulgence in them will cause death.” This proves that most of these substances were no doubt stimulants and narcotics.(Parsons, 1899).
Love philtres also known as a “poculum amatory (literally ‘love-cup’) was both a stupefacient and an exciter that ‘impair[ed]the senses and stirs within … apparitions and frenzied loves’ … Concocted of various plants, herbs, and roots … [and]had been employed for centuries to ‘lull all pain and anger, and bring forgetfulness to every sorrow,’ as Helen of Troy famously lamented in Homer’s Odyssey” (Hatsis, 2015). Hatsis here referring to the nepenthe discussed earlier.
Moreover, Irenaeus specifically refers to the “joining the buffooneries of Anaxilaus to the craftiness of the magi,”. Anaxilaus, was banished from Rome in 28 BCE on charges of magic, and Pliny referred to his writings on the “magical” properties of minerals, herbs, and other substances and derived drugs from them. “Craftiness of the magi” in this context refers specifically to the entheogenic cannabis infused wines used by the Zoroastrians.
Other authors have noted the implicit Eucharistic relationship in the Marcus account as well
Next to Simon Magus, Marcus was the Gnostic and heretic most notorious as a practitioner of the magical arts…. In performing the Eucharist he would change white wine placed in three wine cups into three different colors … an alteration Marcus himself regarded as a manifestation of divine grace. Epiphanius attributes the change to an incantation muttered by Marcus while pretending to perform the Eucharist. Hippolytus, who ascribes to Marcus’s feats partly to sleight-of-hand and partly to demons, in this case charges that he furtively dropped some drug into the wine…
Irenaeus … states that Marcus had a familiar demon by whose aid he was able to prophesy, and that he pretended to confer this gift upon others. He also accuses Marcus of seducing women by means of philtres and love potions which he compounded…
Other heretics with Gnostic views who were accused of magic … were the followers of Carpicrates, who employed incantations and spells, philtres and potions, who attracted spirits to themselves and made light of the cosmic angels and who pretended to have great power over things … by magic… (Thorndike, 1923).
As the Gnostic scholar Kurt Rudolph notes, Irenaeus’ account of the rite performed by Marcus “affords a remarkable and very singular insight into the Gnostic celebration of the Eucharist,” which they believed “effects a realization of the original oneness of the Pleroma” (Rudolph 1987).
More recently, Marcus’ Gnostic rites have been explored by Tom Hatsis, who is cited in The Immortality Key on another matters I will discuss, but not Marcus. Hatsis notes that “we can be assured that he … knew about the properties of some powerful hallucinogens” and despite Irenaeus’ condemnation of such practice as merely a means of drugging women for seduction, in relation to the Gnostic quest for “direct experience … he might have interpreted the ingestion of his potions as providing visionary or otherwise psyche-magical experience” (Hatsis, 2015).
Marcus entheogenically awakened “Charis” in both women and men with a special trimma – a “mixed” wine. And here I do mean “entheogenic” proper…. For Charis, the goddess of grace, would spill her blood – her essence – into the Eucharist, making it accessible to anyone who partook, a use of pharmaka every bit as entheogenic as oracles “inhaling” Apollo or Bacchants “drinking” Dionysus. (Hatsis, 2018)
Thus indeed, Love potions were psychoactive in many cases and the description from Irenaeus, with its blood of the Goddess bestowing ‘charis’ (grace) is explicitly Eucharistic.
An interesting point here in relation to The Immortality Key‘s hypothesis of a Dionysian connection can be found in the use of the term ‘charis’ which means ‘grace’ in relation to the Dionysian Feat of Thyia. Thyia, was according to tradition was the first priestess of Dionysus and her name comes from the ancient verb θύω = I sacrifice or incense, as she was the first to sacrifice to Dionysus there. The miracle of turning water into wine was the main feature of the feast of Thyia, (likely through the same ingenious system of vessels and siphons, invented by the ingenious engineer named Heron, that was used in other Dionysian festivals). What is interesting here in relation to Marcus call for ‘grace’ is that Plutarch gave the invocation, “O Dionysos,To thy holy temple come,To Elis with thy Graces“, as an invocation to change the water into wine.
Sadly Muraresku did not have the knowledge to defend the point when Stang dismissed it as both a reference to an entheogen and a eucharist, which to me shows an actual lack of familiarity with what was written on this account. As I have written about this same event in 3 of my earlier books, which Muraresku owns, I know it reasonably well. Perhaps though, as I am not cited in reference, and neither are any of the authors above, he did not see the extent of the details, and skimmed it from Ruck’s account alone and did not even look at the source document? Such a key piece of his case as well……
As a pioneer of this particular area of research, I find this sort of amateurish posing, and not really knowing the data discussed, damaging to the actual search and identification, of the ‘lost sacrament’.
I have detailed the role of cannabis in both the Old Testament and New Testament, a theory now substantiated by an archeological find, which Muraresku only briefly discusses in his conclusion, as well as potential influences from the Dionysion and Soma cults, in a number of books and articles. I largely agree with an overall entheogenic Eucharistic theory, and just disagree on what substance, so I will not bother with further discussion on those matters here in relation to The Immortality Key.
To be fair, I do think that Muraresku did dig up some more things in regards to potential references to Christians use of such infusions and his knowledge of Greek helped him to understand some passages in Corinthians in relation to this that I missed in my English alone reading of the text.
The Toad Eucharist
Muraresku tries to point to the survival of the entheogenic wines of the Eucharist in an account of Toad wine, discussed in Tom Hatsis well researched contribution to the field of entheogenic studies, The Witches Ointment; The Secret History of Psychedelic Magic (2015), in reference to a “blasphemous witch… that held a most unusual Eucharist” which held “the same Epiphany when Dionysus and Jesus debuted their miraculous wine” (Muraresku, 2020). Muraresku makes a lot of this potion, much more in fact than Hatsis did in his book, and its clear from the conversation the three of us had on Hatsis’ podcast, “eucharist” was never intended here. Even worse, is the claim this Eucharistic experience was derived from Bufotenin (5-HO-DMT) or (5-MeO-DMT). However, no European Toad is known to contain these compounds in large enough quantities to produce a psychoactive effect. Bufotenin is a chemical constituent in the poison and eggs of several species of toads belonging to the genus Bufo, however, the Colorado River toad (formerly Bufo alvarius, now Incilius alvarius) is the only toad species in which bufotenin is present in large enough quantities to receive a psychoactive effect. Why did this fact go without mention?
As further evidence of the survival of the ‘lost sacrament’ of the ‘religion with no name’, Muraresku points to Giordano Bruno’s De gli eroici furori (The Heroic Enthusiasts, 1585) where Circe of the hog potions brews up a vision bestowing remedy. Although here Bruno is presented as an original suggestion, this is again a point myself and others have suggested. Giardono Bruno (1548-1600), also demonstrated a familiarity with The Picatrix, copied from Islamic sources, and which could be seen as one of the foundational documents of the Hermetic tradition in the West, and is full of references to hashish, opium, mandrake, and various nightshades.
In his excellent essay, “Drugs and the Occult,” the late Professor Dan Merkur notes that a number of “Renaissance esotericians referred to ambrosia, and nectar… [and]discussed the consumption of ambrosia and nectar in language that implied pagan communion” (Merkur, 2014). As Merkur noted, Bruno, “candidly discussed the psychoactivity of nectar” (Merkur, 2014): “Nectar … distorts and saddens our nature, and perturbs our imagination, making some gay and without purpose, others unrestrainedly happy, some superstitiously devout, others vainly heroic, other choleric, others builders of great castles in the air” (Bruno, 1964). and again “He lives the life of the gods, he feeds upon ambrosia and is drunk with nectar” (Bruno, 1964).
More interestingly though, in relation to the idea that there may have been a survival of the ‘lost sacrament’ as presented in The Immortality Key, Merkur also noted the indications of infused wines, as nectar, in a variety of texts, as well as ointments in Francesco Colonnna’s Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, written in 1467.
Using the literary convention of a dream, Colona … presented fictionalized accounts of extraordinary visionary experiences. In the visionary world nymphs have magic ointments that transform people into birds and asses…. The protagonist, Poliphilo, discovers to his surprise that the transformative ointment aroused him sexually…. Much later … there is a sequence where a priestess plucks three fruits of a red rose bush … the fruits prove psychoactive…. ‘No sooner had I tasted the miraculous and sweet fruit than I felt my crude intellect renewed … the devout and sacred communion of the prophetic fruits … Poliphilo is told that “to pluck the roses was forbidden at the time, but the priests trafficked in them” (Merkur, 2014).
In her essay, ‘On the botanical content of Hypnerotomachia Poliphili,’ Sophia Rizopoulou identifies cannabis in references to “Odoriferous substances … from frankincense trees (Boswellia sp.), myrrh (Commiphora sp.) [u6′] , benzoin, amygdaloid-benzoin or almondbenzoin … derived from the resin of Styrax spp … and Indian unguent … (attributed to Cannabis sativa L…) [these]provide an insight into exotic plant resources and ‘cosmopolitism’ … scents, which enhance sensory perception, [and]might also be a cue for a certain kind of behaviour, in those days” (Rizopoulou, 2016).
We also see references to magical elixirs in Orlando Furioso, (Ariosto, 1516) where a character is told to drink an enchant-ed wine, that is compared to the forbidden fruit of Eden; “drink and mighty marvels shall be seen”
In this regard, Francois Rabelais particularly comes to mind, as he refers to himself directly as a “master of the quintessence” a term that makes direct reference to the spagyric alchemical art of plant tincturing. Rabelais, using the name of Dionysus mentor, Silenius, refers specifically to this figure in relation to stash boxes for drugs – “Sileni of old,” says Rabelais, “were little boxes like those seen in apothecaries’ windows, painted outside with merry wanton figures as harpies, satyrs, bridled geese, horned hares, saddled ducks, flying goats, thiller, harts, and other such pictures, made at fancy to make people laugh – as Silenus master of the good Bacchus, was wont to do – but within were preserved fine drugs, balm, ambergris, musk, civet, precious stones, and other things of high value.”
In his story of Pantagruel, which is he story of the quest for the oracle of the ‘holy bottle’, he secretly incorporated 3 chapters on cannabis, under the name “the herb pantagruelion”. The Bottle is finally located in an Island in far off India, in an underground cave of Dionysus that was serviced by priestess. Rabelais and his association with cannabis was well known by later occultists. Importantly, Rabelais a Franciscan monk, specifically told his reader, that if he mentally chewed on what was written, like a dog gnawing a bone for marrow, they would find a “doctrine more abstruse which shall reveal to you most high ‘sacraments’ and horrific mysteries in what concerns our religion, as well as the state of our political and economic life” (Rabelais).
A scenario that fits so well with so much that Muraresku suggests in The Immortality Key, that along with a wealth of other material with even more direct references to cannabis and other drugs in Masonry, Magic and Alchemy, was sadly missed. For a more full examination of this, see my own Liber 420.
Catholics administering entheogens?
Probably where I diverge the most from Muraresku, stands with his suggestion that the administration of entheogenic substances should be trusted to the lay brothers of the Catholic Church. As he explained in the Harvard interview with Charles Stang:
…I write, at the very end of the book, I hope that they’d be proud of this investigation. Because at my heart, I still consider myself a good Catholic boy. The only reason I went to college was to study classics. So it’s hard for me to write this and talk about this without acknowledging the Jesuits who put me here. So I don’t write this to antagonize them or the church, the people who, again, ushered me into this discipline and into these questions. I write it cognizant of the fact that the Eucharist doesn’t work for many, many people.
And so I cite a Pew poll, for example, that says something like 69% of American Catholics do not believe in transubstantiation… To be a Catholic is to believe that you are literally consuming the blood of Christ to become Christ. That’s the promise in John’s gospel, in John 6:54-55, that I quote in the book.
So if you don’t think that you are literally consuming divine blood, what is the point of religion? Now, I’ve never done them myself, but I have talked to many, many people who’ve had experience with psychedelics. And I’ve listened to the volunteers who’ve gone through these experiences…. what I hear from people, including atheists, like Dina Bazer, who participated in these Hopkins NYU trials is that she felt like on her one and only dose of psilocybin that she was bathed in God’s love. You know, it’s an atheist using theological language to describe what happened to her. And she talks about kind of being born again, another promise from John’s gospel. And she talks about the visions that transformed the way she thinks about herself.
And so in some of these psychedelic trials, under the right conditions, I do see genuine religious experiences. I see something that’s happening to people. And at the same time, when I see a thirst, especially in young people, for real experience, and I see so many Catholics who do not believe in transubstantiation, obviously, what comes to my mind is how, if at all, can psychedelics enhance faith or reinvent Christianity. And so I don’t think that psychedelics are coming to replace the Sunday Eucharist. That’s, just absurd.
If you are drawn to psychedelics, in my mind, it means you’re probably drawn to contemplative mysticism. And if it’s one thing Catholicism does very, very well, it’s contemplative mysticism. The kind of mysticism I’ve always been attracted to, like the rule of Saint Benedict and the Trappist monks and the Cistercian monks. And so if there is a place for psychedelics, I would think it would be in one of those sacred containers within monastic life, or pilgrims who visit one of these monastic centers, for example. (Muraresku, 2021)
I’m going to state right here, that there is no way in my mind, that any relationship between the Lay brothers of the Catholic Church, should be entrusted with a vulnerable population of any sort. And the billions of dollars in court costs trying to defend themselves for their criminal acts against children and which they have paid out to their countless victims is not the only reason.
In regards to the entheogens, in my books, I have tied the disappearance of them through the rise of Catholicism, beginning with the prohibition and suppression of the Gnostic and Pagan cults of the ancient world that used them; continuing with the burning of the witches, the wise women who healed with herbs, in the medieval and renaissances period; and culminating with the destruction of indigenous cultures world wide that utilized medicines like the sacred mushroom, grandfather peyote, Mother Aya, the Iboga of the ancestors, and other sacred substances, replacing them with their false and placebo Eucharists of bread and wine.
What Muraresku does here is in a very real way further disrespect the knowledge and techniques of indigenous cultures that continued on with these methods of entheogenic rites, despite the harshest of persecution from Catholic influences. We see the continued persecution of entheogenic religions in the Amazon basin continuing to this day in fact. Letting the Catholics have any say over the use of entheogens in the modern world, is more Western chauvinism and White Privilege.
I think here, lack of actual experience, and Muraresku’s ‘psychedelic virginity’ become more visible. As Muraresku acknowledges quite frequently, he is not “Experienced”. Like this somehow indicates his objectivity, and lack of biases. However, as we can see by the continued attempts to tie in Eleusis with the Christian mysteries, and ignoring so much clear evidence regarding the actual role of entheogens in the ancient world, The Immortality Key itself, is a testament to biases.
More over, the continual attempts to tie in the kykeon with the hypothesised entheogenic eucharist, only did a disservice to the subjects of both. The Catelonia Kukeon material would have been of better impact in a book focussed on Eleusis and expanding on the evidence presented in The Road to Eleusis. Just as the proposed psychedelic sacrament of Christianity would have been better approached by looking at more obvious and more local evidence from the region.
This psychedelic virginity also presents itself in the way he switches through a vast array of candidates in his search for the lost sacrament of the ‘religion with no name’, equally considering, ergot extracts, henbane, opium, toad venom, nightshades, cannabis etc, throughout the book. Suggesting its only when he discovers the true sacrament he will break his vow of virginity….. However, for me, if the early Christians were drinking henbane wine, or ergot infusions, I’d pass for the many safer candidates we know of today. Hopefully The Immortality Key, does not lead to amateurish experiments with ergot beers, and henbane wine, as the results here could be deadly. “The cook must taste the soup” as the old saying goes.
Good and Bad
In this respect, The Immortality Key and Muraresku both, are a double edged sword, popularizing the topic with one swing, and discrediting it with a poorly thought out hypothesis, and not really knowing the territory, with the other. The actual scholarship that is present in the book, might make one interesting article if it were really flushed out from the Dan Brown travel adventure story it is buried within. I’d say I’ve presented more hard data in this response to The Immortality Key, than is presented in it. Much of the book is filled with flowery descriptions of people and places such as this:
“As I approached the Benedictine Abbey of Sant Pers de Galligantis, I pause to enjoy the February sun breaching the cypress trees and reflecting off the bright limestone ashlars of the rectangular facade. Under a grand rosette the church’s main entrance features five archivolts that recess into the medieval darkness. Where they meet spireling columns a few feet overhead, stone gargoyles beckon me into a chilly, damp interior” (Muraresku, 2020).
I can not think of any other book on entheogenic history, which sets itself against a narration of international travel and mystery sleuthing. In this regard a whole a whole chapter is spent on trying to find an artifact, that Ruck had seen an illustration of, which seemed to show a mushroom included with other plants being mixed into wine. As it turned out after pages of intrigue, the illustrator had taken some liberties with parts of the image that were missing from the terra cotta original. This all could have been summarized in a paragraph, if it was even worth mentioning at all. Alas, as a research, I know what its like to spend endless hours, chasing what turns out to be a dead end, but I’ve never thought to make a chapter about it.
I think much of the alleged 12 years of research Muraresku put into The Immortality Key, may well have been spent reading and analyzing the technique and structure of Dan Brown’s bestsellers, and Muraresku himself acknowledged the influence here in his Harvard interview. However like other author’s whose influence can be felt throughout The Immortality Key, Dan Brown goes without mention as well.
Likely, this adventure tale aspect that has led to the books outstanding success, and in this regards, hats off to the marketing team behind this project — a first time author, with a book that was selling well even before its release date. I’d like to see a book on that! The Immortality Key has taken these topics into the mainstream, and made this obscure information, popular knowledge, and that in itself is an incredible accomplishment.
I suppose, copious footnotes and citations, can bog a book down for the lay reader, and its clear that The Immortality Key is written for the lay reader, and represents more of a Dan Brown style adventure tale, than an encyclopedic source that intends to actually document the ‘lost sacrament’ of the ‘religion with no name”. With no bibliography an inadequate index,( for instance Pliny appears multiple times, in the book, but once in the index) what is surprising to me, is the acceptance of it as an academic contribution to the field of entheogneic history, by a number of prominent academics, considering the many mistakes and other issues I have run through here.
Wouter Hanegraaff a Professor of History of Hermetic Philosophy and related currents at the University of Amsterdam, who was recently cited on a major write up on The Immortality Key that appeared on the pages of Haaretz stated “One mistake I wouldn’t make is to align myself with figures from the psychedelic counterculture, which is a mistake Ruck made in ‘Road to Eleusis‘” , But then in the Haaretz piece he was quoted in, written by another academic, Ido Hartogsohn, we see dubious theories such as Benny Shannon’s Burning DMT rich acacia bush and Moses story, Allegro’s Mushroom Jesus, and Wasson’s easily dismissible Soma mushroom theory, take precedent over the actual archeology of cannabis out of Arad, Jerusalem, which was give only a few brief sentences in the piece, in comparison to the space devoted to these various fancies in the article. Where is the academic critical analysis here? Its not coming from the academics, who see Muraresku, who holds various degrees, as the new blood in this vein. Indeed, why is it left to a figure form the “psychedelic counterculture”, such as myself, to set the record straight here?
I asked Wouter if he had read The Immortality Key, and he had not, I seriously wonder how true of this is of the various scholars who have plugged the book? As figures like Wasson, Hoffman and other colleagues of Ruck do not fit as “figures from the psychedelic counterculture”, I do wonder if Wouter was referring to someone such as myself and Ruck’s earlier endorsement of my work. Although I have corresponded with Wouter, he has has been reluctant to comment directly on my own work on entheogens and the occult, a subject we have both written on. Generally I find his work very scholarly and accurate, although I thought his recent suggestion of psilocybin rich scarab beetles rather far-out and baseless.
In my opinion, some of these scholars and their pet theories are what holds up actual progress towards the historical facts of the matter. Wasson’s Soma Divine Mushroom of Immortality comes particularly to mind here, as does Allegro’s Sacred Mushroom and the Cross, along with its various offshoots, such as Jerry Brown’s The Psychedelic Gospels: The Secret History of Hallucinogens in Christianity, or Ruck’s co-authored The Apples of Apollo: Pagan and Christian Mysteries of the Eucharist. Sadly, much of Ruck’s work has been based on Wasson’s theory on the fly agaric mushroom as soma, which is easily dismissed. As I noted, my work discussing this seems to have been the source of some less than friendly feelings between Carl and myself. I have discussed at length how this sort of material has effected academic credibility on these topics. The Immortality Key only adds immensely to the confusion on the topic here, and leads the reader away from much more solid archeological and textual material, but more importantly, facts, in the search for entheogens in the ancient world.
As, anyone reading this may have noted, there are some hard feelings, I can not deny this. I’ve felt slighted ever since Brian and Graham Hancock were on the Joe Rogan talking about biblical cannabis, and failed to even mention my name. The suggestion that Biblical figures were using entheogens, in topical preparations, wine infusions, and as an incense, is something I have been writing about for decades, and Muraresku had 3 of my books in his library on this, ordering my book Sex, Drugs, Violence and the Bible, which Ruck reviewed, directly from me. Muraresku told me he was impressed with the “scholarship” in Cannabis and the Soma Solution, and he mentioned seeing the Times review Ruck wrote, framed on the wall of Ruck’s home….. Moreover, this information has garnered international media attention, in reputable news sources like the BBC, The Guardian,The Washington Post, Vice, and other media. Nary a mention of any of this, even though connections to Dionysian mysteries, Soma and wine infusions are explicitly discussed in the 3 books of mine Muraresku has. There seems to have been a real desire to present this information as first time evidence….
And if you think this is just my issue, then consider the words of Dr. Michael A. Rinella:
I don’t see how a book like this could be published in 2020 and yet somehow lack a single reference to a scholarly work on virtually the same subject, my own Pharmakon: Plato, Drug Culture, and Identity (Lexington, 2010). Instead it seems to be a rehash of arguments of The Road to Eleusis, a work originally published in the late 1970s with some additional material on the early Christian era… (Rinella, 2020)
When you read Mursresku’s mentor, Ruck’s review of Rinella’s book, Pharmakon: Plato, Drug Culture, and Identity its hard to believe that did not sit on the shelf next to my three volumes, or that Ruck did not suggest it to Muraresku, in his alleged 12 years of research:
Rinella’s discussion of the nature and prevalence of drugs in the Classical Age of Athens is an essential context for a major theme in the Platonic dialogues and provides a valuable background for any student of the great philosopher’s works. As Rinella astutely demonstrates, Plato appears to have been the first to address the problem of drug induced ecstasy as dangerous to the well-ordered functioning of society, leading to potentially criminal behavior and non-rational modes of thought, and the philosopher’s solution to the problem as the ‘noble lie’ still survives in our current drug policy. — Carl A. P. Ruck, Boston University
With that in mind, and years of glowing statements in correspondence from Muraresku, and social media comments like this, and nary a mention in the book, who would not be a little miffed?
Extremely interesting all around. You’re a true scholar, Chris (2017)
Fascinating stuff, Chris. Absolutely! Does much of your blog material make it into Liber 420? It’s very comprehensive stuff. (2018)
I’m making my way through Liber 420 and am mightily impressed by the depth of scholarship thus far. (2018)
Extremely interesting all around. You’re a true scholar, Chris. Might you be interested in being interviewed for the book I’m writing at the moment? I find your and our friend, Tom Hatsis’, scholarship just totally fascinating. (2018)
I do love your work, of course. And very much want to promote it. (2020)
Chris… has been mining this territory far longer than me. And expertly knows his way around the rabbit holes of history ( 2021).
With the success of The Immortality Key, my publisher, asked me to get a plug for Muraresku, and I did reluctantly ask. Either his views on my work and research changed, or he was not into aiding a researcher with ideas that competed with his own, as he did not oblige the request. I also don’t think Brian enjoyed the podcast we did together, as communication drifted away after that, even in response to some direct questions.
Further, who would not feel uncredited in a book about Dionysian miracles in Christianity and infused wines, when their own much earlier book had material like this, which Muraresku had in his possession:
The supposedly magical act of changing water into wine, was not a new one, and was also attributed to the traditional Greek God Dionysus, whose worship in the Middle East had been going on for centuries. The encyclopedic Jonathan Ott, states that Dionysus is “erroneously regarded to be the god only of alcoholic Inebriation owing to a misunderstanding of the natures of Greek Wines, potent infusions of numerous Psychoactive plants, in which the alcohol served as a preservative, rather than as inebriating principle, and which often required dilution to be drunk safely”(Ott,1995). Such an infusion, containing hemp, myrrh and wine, was recorded by Democritus (c.a. 460 B.C.), it reputedly produced delirium, visionary states and “immoderate laughter”(Emboden 1972). That the psychoactive concoctions referred to required dilution is notable, as such a potent solution combined with a sweet syrupy juice extract, could conceivably have been mixed with the water and impressed the guests with its intoxicating effects.
The making of such potent plant extracts was well within both Essene and Gnostic capabilities at that time… Similar to the potent Greek infusions mentioned above is the Biblical “strong drink” (shekar): “An inebriating Potion described in the Old Testament; but distinct from Wine; probably a Soporific or visionary vinous infusion, analogous to ancient Greek Wines, of one or many Psychoactive plants”(Ott 1995). (Bennett & McQueen, 2001).
Now with The Immortality Key dominating the conversation, I have felt the need to crash the party and set things back on course. If the real objective is to find the ‘lost sacrament’ of the ‘religion with no name’, then this will be welcome clarity on the issue. If its to sell books, maybe the appreciation just won’t be there.
For those who wish to write this off as mere ‘sour grapes’, there are certainly some here that I have pressed. But in this search for the lost sacramental elixir, its is sour grapes can give us give us wine, and it is wine, that this lost sacrament is infused in, so the rest of the equation regards the identity of that. I happily stand by what I have written here in that respect, despite any reactions. I feel confident that only more archeological confirmation will appear over time confirming so much of what I have written here and elsewhere, as it has over the last decade. Nothing to personal here from my end, its just that’s the way the kukeon crumbles.