The Bottom Line
The Catholic Church has done its best to eradicate any connection to its own mysticism-based roots for reasons still not entirely agreed-upon. Unfortunately for Catholic Church, evidence in direct contradiction to the repressive dogma they’ve peddled for centuries is mounting, and radical re-visitations of existing and sometimes exalted works are coming to light. For me, one of the most personally compelling examples is The Great Canterbury Psalter (also called the Anglo-Catalan Psalter), which is a beacon for the Catholic Church.
The Great Canterbury Psalter
The original manuscript was compiled and created at Canterbury Cathedral in 1180 and now resides in the Paris’ BibliothÃ©que Nationale. A Spanish publishing house produced an exact copy of the original 12th century manuscript for Canterbury Christ Church in 2005. Canterbury Christ Church’s Dean of Arts and Humanities says of the Psalter: “It is fitting to have an exact replica of this great work returning home after 800 years. The work is so lavishly and magnificently illustrated that its pages will be turned regularly so that its great beauty can be appreciated in full.”
But in no uncertain terms, more than a few of the images offer compelling evidence of what the Church has been repressing for quite some time: Representations of Amanita muscaria and Psilocybin mushrooms in the below image is undeniable and unmistakable. Christianity, like many other religions, was a religion suspected to be more deeply steeped mystical tradition, especially in relation to the use of entheogens as the basis for connecting with God, than any of us has been led to believe. The Great Canterbury Psalter and a handful of other images make a firmer case for this than any others I’ve seen:
The Great Canterbury Psalter (Panels go left to right, row by row)
PANEL 1: God creating light (Gen 1: 3)
PANEL 2: God creating the firmament in the midst of the waters (Gen 1: 6)
PANEL 3: God separating the waters from the earth (Gen 1: 9)
PANEL 4: God creating the sun and moon (Gen 1: 16)
PANEL 5: God creating the birds and fishes (Gen 1: 21)
PANEL 6: God creating the animals and Adam to his own image (Gen 1: 24, 26)
PANEL 7: Creation of Eve, with an angel handing God a lump of clay for her flesh (Gen 2: 21-2)
PANEL 8: God’s instructions to Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge (Gen 2: 17)
PANEL 9: Adam and Eve, tempted by the serpent, eat the fruit (Gen 2: 13)
PANEL 10: Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise (Gen 3: 23-4)
PANEL 11: Adam digging and Eve with her children spinning (Gen 3: 16-19)
PANEL 12: Offering of Cain rejected by God, accepted by Abel, blessed by God (Gen 4: 3-5)
The 12 panels of the Great Canterbury Psalter speak loudly for themselves. In addition to this beautiful imagery above, several dozen images in the manuscript repeat the Tree of Knowledge (Tree of Life) motif represented as either a Psilocybin mushroom (magic mushroom) or an Amanita muscaria mushroom. Unlike many “speculative” theories (not very speculative if evidence is examined without bias or agenda) on the use of entheogens in early Christianity, the imagery clearly seen in panels 3, 4, 8, 9, 11, and 12 is unmistakable.
In PANEL 3, Jesus is presiding over four botanically distinct types of plants, as if He’s blessing them or offering them to His followers. Some have suggested that these four plants comprise the long-lost ingredients of “Soma;” a divine drink explained in vivid detail in “Soma: Divine Mushroom of Immortality” by R. Gordon Wasson. Either way, several scholars and mycologists have attempted identification of each of the plants depicted, although I don’t wholly agree with their assertions. In “Mushrooms and Mankind,” James Arthur says this:
The far right image is that of an Amanita muscaria mushroom, to the left of that is a magic mushroom (called “Blue Bleeders” because of the purple-blue color), second from the left is a Syrian Rue Pod, and it is widely believed that the far left (first) image is an Opium Pod.
The image that Arthur thinks is a Syrian Rue pod consists of an unmistakable array of mushrooms to my eyes. But, regardless of the exact identification of every one of these individual plants, there’s no mistaking the fact that at least a two of them are mushrooms and of such great importance to the artist that they were forever immortalized in these images. This imagery is also completely consistent with other surviving imagery of the same period of time, particularly in the famous example below:
It depicts the Biblical Adam & Eve standing next to the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. This widely-circulated photo is a fresco from 1291 AD at Plaincourault Abbey, Indre, France. Not only is the Tree of Knowledge depicted as an Amanita muscaria mushroom, but upon further inspection, one can see that both Adam & Eve are hiding their nakedness with Amanita muscaria caps instead of the Biblical fig leaves most are familiar with. In fact, it didn’t become an apple tree at all until the scriptures were translated into Latin around the 4th century! Either way, this imagery doesn’t fit within the paradigm of the Catholic Church, and as most are aware: Anything that doesn’t fit their strict paradigm simply gets destroyed, denied, or rewritten historically until it does.
More Mushroom Evidence
Another example (among many) from Germany, is thanks to Jon from OmChi Herbs. Adam and Eve are being expelled from the Garden of Eden because they ate of the Tree of Knowledge (pictured). I’m not expert, but that certainly does NOT look like an apple tree that the snake is coiled around to me. In fact, after showing this image to several mycologists, they unanimously agree that the image is of a mushroom, and that further, it’s of the psychedelic mushroom known as Psilocybin or the Magic Mushroom:
And this is where I feel compelled to inject a critical detail into any discussion of this nature: The demonization of entheogens is a relatively modern invention. Although Western and organized religious history has ignored the importance of entheogens, hallucinogens, and plant teachers, modern research by countless scholars combined by the power of the internet are, for the first time, offering a much more accurate version of history.
In fact, Benny Shanon, an extremely well-respected professor of psychology has offered an almost heretical hypothesis that Moses used an entheogenic brew that was similar to the famous Ayahuasca of South America. Ayahuasca was being used long before the Old Testament had been a thought in some ancient human’s brain, and what I find incredibly curious, is the story of the origins of Ayahuasca. Benny compiled ten of those stories and found some common themes:
These include snakes and an act of a crime, usually an illicit sexual act. Furthermore, the first encounter with Ayahuasca is usually characterized as a cataclysmic event. Before, human life was paradisiacal–people lived in harmony with nature, all their basis survival needs were readily provided for, and they could also converse with the animals. Since the appearance of Ayahuasca, human life has involved work and struggle. The discovery of Ayahuasca is also regarded as the birth of human culture. For instance, with it, people discovered knowledge, their tribal identity, marital laws, and music. The resemblance to the Biblical story of the Tree of Knowledge requires no further comment.
This is astonishing; despite the numerous references in recent literature to strikingly similar stories that predate the story of the Garden of Eden (such as in Gilgamesh), this is the first I heard of Ayahuasca sharing such a similar story. Not only does it make it even more apparent that the Garden of Eden story was taken from earlier texts, but it adds further credence that entheogens were an intrinsic feature of Christianity.
In fact, an online search of Bible text, I searched for several early entheogens such as Mandrake, Henbane, and Datura. Ironically, especially since people were later burned alive at the stake as witches for using Mandrake, in Genesis 30:1-15, a woman gives up her marriage with her husband in order to procure some mandrakes. They were held in such high esteem that possession of them was more important than life itself.
Entheogens Through Time
We’re finding that the use of entheogens dates back to Paleolithic times. By standing on the shoulders of giants such as David Lewis-Williams and James L. Pearson, I present arguments regarding how Shamanism is perhaps the oldest religion, of which entheogens were an intrinsic feature in my “Shamanism: Spirituality’s True Roots?“ and “Paleolithic Passageways to the Gods“ articles. Rather than the “degenerate” version that Eliade proposed in “Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy” in 1951, the bottom line is simply this:
If entheogens were available to ancient cultures, they were held in such high esteem that they were considered to be pathways to the gods, and if they weren’t; then other methods of consciousness alteration were used that would offer similar effects to those experienced while under the influence of entheogens. In other words (something I address in “Finding Common Shamanic Ground”), the things we can all agree on are the fact that humans have sought altered states of consciousness since the dawn of humankind, and that the visions seen while under these altered states of consciousness share a common belief that they offered glimpses into the world of the gods.
Flash forward in time, and there’s now incontrovertible evidence that the great ancient societies used some form of entheogens as well. As was examined at is examined at length in “The Chemical Muse” by D.C.A. Hillman, PhD; entheogens were a common and highly regarded feature of both the Roman and Greek empires. The ancient Egyptians had the Sacred Blue Lotus, Mandrake, and Cannabis. The Olmecs and Mayans had various powerful entheogens such as the Bufo alvarius toad and magic mushrooms. And this is just the beginning.
There is an immense body of evidence pointing to the use of entheogens in religious systems that Early Christianity took its cues from, including those by the name of Gnostics, Pagans, Mystery Religions, including the Eleusinian Mysteries. A discussion of the various practices, evidence and entheogens employed are not the topic of this discussion, but the general point remains intact:
There was no taboo in relation to the drugs of ancient civilizations (there were also no illicit drugs like cocaine and heroin either, though); they were an intrinsic part of society just as they were for the countless shamanic cultures of prehistory. No one died from them, no one abused them (entheogens are inherently non-addictive and typically anti-addictive) and some of our greatest civilizations were built by minds revered throughout history such as Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle, all of whom used entheogens for inspiration, revelation, and recreation.
But this all began to change when the Catholic Church began to realize the power organized religion to control masses of people. By 380AD (right around the time of the Council of Nicea), Christianity had become the official religion of the Roman Empire, and the slow, methodical erasure of one’s own ability to seek the Divine began. The fact that it wasn’t instantly eradicated is a testament to how deeply-woven entheogens were in the fabric of society and The Great Canterbury Psalter is proof of that 700 years after the Catholic Church started to turn its back on its own people and its own history in the thirst for power; entheogens still appeared in religious artwork.
Speaking of, around the same time, a Gnostic bishop named Priscillian was the first person to be condemned as a heretic and executed by his fellow Christians in Spain. The church saw what a powerful tool organized religion to be to control the masses, so they used the power of the state to begin programs to oppress, exile or exterminate Pagans and Gnostic Christians. By the end of the fourth century, Pagan temples had been either destroyed or recycled for Christian use and Pagan worship became punishable by death.
Despite the persecution and the intense and prolonged efforts to wipe practice and even the knowledge of any other religion, including the parts of its own that it didn’t like: history has shown that the truth can never be completely eradicated, except in rare cases (like we see in the forgotten identity of Soma). And this is no different than what we see today when we wander through many parts of the world destroyed by the Catholic Church and their missions; there’s a strange amalgam of native religion mixed with Christianity, much of which was forced underground and still, to this day, deeply hidden from the outside world.
More Historical Context
In 1227, Pope Gregory IX began the Inquisition, and just a few years later, in 1231, he published a decree that heretics who refused to repent would be executed. The accused was afforded none of the modern western legal notions of natural justice. They could not be represented, they could not question their accuser or the integrity of witnesses giving evidence against them and there was no appeal process. Within a hundred years torture was commonly used to extract confessions from innocent people. It was no surprise that the church also had an economic interest in prosecuting heretics, a guilty finding meant the church would take all the heretic’s possessions.
The part of this that we don’t hear about other than within the context of witches being burned alive at the stake (innocent children were routinely burned alive at the stake as well), is that one of the targets of the Inquisition was the eradicate the use of entheogens as well. I am still looking for someone to offer the translated Latin text of Pope Gregory’s decree which specifically mentions entheogen use as heretical, but as of this writing it was unavailable and online translators simply can’t translate accurately enough.
In 1521, the use of hallucinogenic mushrooms and peyote are driven underground as use of “non-alcohol” intoxicants is forbidden by Europeans in Mexico. Subsequent Spanish conquests repressed “primitive” shamanic practices and largely ignored historic and cultural ritualistic use of entheogens by the peoples they conquered such as the Mayans and the Aztecs.
In 1620, as described in “The Age of Entheogens” by Jonathan Ott, the use of entheogens was decreed as being heretical in the Mexico City Inquisition:
The use of the herb or root called Peyote”¦ is a superstitious action and reproved as opposed to the purity and sincerity of our Holy Catholic Faith”¦ We decree that henceforth no person”¦may use or use of this said herb, this Peyote, or of others for said effects, nor others similar”¦ being warned that doing the contrary, besides incurring said censures and penalties, we will proceed against whoever is rebellious and disobedient, as against persons suspect in the Holy Catholic Faith.
Conclusions and Questions
And so it went. In “Compendium of Symbolic and Ritual Plants in Europe”, Marcel De Cleene says that “”¦our forefathers’ ‘natural religion’ was not immediately eradicated in the course of the centuries, but rather transformed step by step and dressed in Christian clothing.”
And examples of this are plentiful. For example, the first assignment of December 25th as being the birth day of Jesus occurred in Rome somewhere around 350AD. It is generally accepted that this date was chosen because it coincided with the date that Roman followers of the Mithraic religion celebrated their Sun God. (But these examples are for another article.) For now, I want to leave you with this: Perhaps one of the saddest manifestations of this repression is when critics use the argument that if entheogens were as prevalent in the history of humankind, why isn’t there more evidence of their use in history?
It’s difficult to know where to begin to respond to this; the obvious fact that the Catholic Church continues on a mission to this day to eradicate any evidence of the use of entheogens in humankind, including within their own religion, is a hypocrisy that borders on surreal. It makes me wonder, especially looking at this entire concept logically and statistically (with more and more evidence supporting all of my assertions, like the JOHN HOPKINS MAGIC MUSHROOM STUDY), what truly lies at the root of this inexplicable repression of entheogens throughout recorded history.
To me, it introduces a much larger question that proves difficult to form the framework in which to have a lucid discussion regarding it. Is world domination truly at the root of all of this repression as countless scholars are now beginning to agree? Is absolute power and world domination a powerful enough force to explain the indefatigable efforts of the Catholic Church to demonize the very plants that give one direct connection to the Divine? Could knowledge and truth be so dangerous to them that they have to suppress it at any cost, including murdering millions throughout history, destroying vast storehouses of ancient texts (as in the Library of Alexandria or most of the Mayan texts), or re-writing history and rewriting even the Bible itself to maintain control over the population?
This always leads me to a more disturbing thought: If absolute power truly is at the root of the evil within the Catholic Church, what does this say about us as a species? What does it say about our genetic coding, and the fact that the dominant religion on this planet, responsible for preventing the evolution of humanity at any cost, has so far succeeded in being the dominant human trait on this planet? Or is this evidence that there simply couldn’t be a Creator; at least one who’s intent was love? Or, could our creators have been imperfect themselves, revering physical form so deeply that they accepted the inherent flaws?
Perhaps we have in our nature and coding to see multiple outcomes; one of total repression as we see on our planet, or one where humanity evolves in a way that doesn’t rely on violence, indoctrination, propaganda, and lies in order to maintain control, and another of mutual evolution in the knowledge that we are the Divine and at least that we are of the Divine and can contact the Divine whenever we are willing to take the commitment required to do so. Many argue that if a bunch of “peace-loving drug users” were in charge of the world, that we never would have evolved out of the caves, that space travel would never have been invented, and therefore, humans would be doomed to eventual non-existence when our own sun destroys itself and the entire solar system in the next 5 billion years. That alone gives many of the Catholic Church justification for the rightness of their position
But if we all realized that we are of the same Divine Consciousness, that we are in these fragile and temporary human frames to experience this beautiful world and all its tactile joy, if we realized that life is fleeting, that what truly matters most is to simply treat others as ourselves, mutually sharing this strange and wonderful journey of life, I, like others, can see what a truly incredible world we could find ourselves in.
Speaking of, I was inspired by the words of a bishop of 40 years named John Shelby Spong (author of “Sins of Scripture”) who’s determined to find get Christians to take back their faith from those who hijacked it. He speaks of his experience of God in an extremely similar way that I speak of my own experience:
“I experience God as the source of life calling me to live fully and thus to respect life in every form as embodying the holy. I experience God as the source of love calling me to love wastefully all that God has made, including the Earth with its plants and animals. I experience God calling me to be all that I can be and to affirm the sacred being of all that is. The worship of such a God could never result in the destruction of the planet that has produced us.”
No, his experience isn’t identical, but it’s of vast importance that such diverse and disparate experiences can share such common ground. It’s that dream of knowledge that keeps me and many other like minds fighting to get the truth into the mass consciousness in some small way. For me, more than a typical dream of world peace, I dream of the day when every one of the fiercest critics to entheogens are required to engage in just one ceremony involving entheogens. I have no right teaching anyone how to drive a car if I’ve never driven one myself, so the same should apply to critics of entheogens. If this ever were to happen, I am convinced that evolution would take its next leap forwards, and that in an instant, the entire world would change for the better. Perchance to dream.