Flesh of the Gods
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Trouble in Heaven
And on Earth
The Method
The Fall
Symbols of Self
Hard Problems
Flesh of the Gods
Free Will
Ever Beginning
Never Ending

Chapter 23

The shaman must get himself into an exalted state to be able to talk to the Gods. 

To achieve this he consumes several Fly Agarics, which are capable of producing hallucinations.

                                                                                                Patkanov, 1897

Rrring. Rrring. Rrring.

Mindy answered the phone.

"Hello' Hi, what's up? ' Oh, OK' Excellent' Yes, can you hold on?."

Aside she asked me, "Will you be around tomorrow?"

I answered in the affirmative.

"Yes, he can come." She said, I thought somewhat presumptively. "Nine AM, Gloucester. Great! We'll see you there."

"How do you know I can or want to go to Gloucester?" I said when she hung up the phone.

"Victor has a sailboat. A forty foot sloop. He wants to have another E-group off the North Shore while we go whale watching. Was I wrong?"

I was excited. New to both sailing and whales, I was more than happy to find out what the E-group would discuss next. "How often does this group meet?"

"Whenever what you call 'the spirit' moves us." She said wryly. "We make an effort to rearrange our schedules. So I'd better get over to my chimps now if I'm going to play hooky tomorrow. Here's a key to the apartment. Do you need anything before I go?"

"I think I'll do some exploring on foot. Also, do you have an internet line here?"

She showed me her desk and took off. I wanted to check my e-mail since I was not heading home as expected. While I turned on, loaded up and logged in, I pondered what changes in consciousness connecting to the world via computer would bring. I'm not a Ludite. I know we can't turn back history but technological shifts do affect us. I remembered noticing before, how when one walks through nature, each new place requires a gradual acclimatization. Yet when we drive from one geographic zone to another, there is more of a jarring to the system when we get in at one location and out at another. Maybe we've gotten used to it since rapid travel is so common now.

I was sure other advances had their effect too. The telescope, flying in the air and instanteous news and communication influenced not only history but our personal awareness. The computer was, despite my attempts at three dimensional presentations, a two dimensional display. Everything must pass through the flat screen. Yet much of my spiritual yearnings had been to transcend the world of three dimensions and through meditation perceive a world of more dimensions, not less. It seemed as if the societal leap into the computer age was a move backward into some sort of two dimensional consciousness.

Then there was writing. One word after the other. This is technically one dimensional, though words can have so much symbolism. Still the ideas have to be placed in a linear fashion. Maybe the web writing language, HTML, would help that. It can endlessly create branches upon branches in its communication. Nevertheless, a single reading would have to choose a single train of thought as it navigates these branches.

The prehistorical transition from the verbal word to the written was, to my mind, the greatest psychological transition of all. Compared to looking at someone face to face, judging the timing of their voice, the nuances of their tone and the subtext of body language, the written word is stagnant. It doesn't even alter when you change context. So what I write now in one context can bounce back later in a different time and place. When confronted with my own words taken out of context, I often tend to defend them automatically rather than reassess, to see if they really make sense in the new setting. And written statements can be used to deceive so much more easily. People can focus on technicalities rather than standing back to get a more complete impression of the truth of a statement.

"You have mail."

The familiar voice was talking to me. I clicked on the icon to check my mail, when I heard an unexpected chime. 'Instant Message' popped up saying that Ludwig was online.

'Are you available?' I was unexpectedly happy to hear from my North Carolina friend.

Lovejoy777_ Hello

Ludwig999_ How's Boston?

Lovejoy777_ Sunny and loverly.

Ludwig999_ Come again?

Lovejoy777_ I seem to have fallen in love.

Ludwig999_ So soon! To whom?

Lovejoy777_ Mindy Everhardt. An ember from my past has been rekindled. It is sudden. But my life is in major flux right now. I might as well go with it. I feel a bit like a dragonfly in a cyclone.

Ludwig999_ Sounds like a moment of great opportunity.

Lovejoy777_ Right, and anxiety.

Ludwig999_ What's God have to say about it?

Lovejoy777_ God?

Ludwig999_ Anymore conversations?

Lovejoy777_ As a matter of fact, yes. But He sounded disturbed. All of a sudden, Jehovah learned about the apple in the Garden of Eden. He said it changed us forever. I told him it was old news.

Ludwig999_ Did He tell you what the apple was?

Lovejoy777_ I think it represented the fall from grace.

Ludwig999_ But what was the apple?

Lovejoy777_ I don't know. It represented sex I guess.

Ludwig999_ That's what everyone says. But I doubt your God said that.

Lovejoy777_ Why?

Ludwig999_ In the Bible the apple is described as the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Lovejoy777_ So it was a form of knowledge?

Ludwig999_ Yes. A knowledge that lead to dualistic thinking. We think we know what's good and what's bad. We agonize about our choices. Hinduism refers to this type of thinking as the veil of Maya, of illusion.

Lovejoy777_ Right. Either-or as opposed to the universal oneness.

Ludwig999_ Buddhism too.

Lovejoy777_ In fact, all the mystics of western religions speak of a transcendent spiritual unity.

Ludwig999_ So what happened? What triggered this change in consciousness for humans? What was the apple? What did God say?

Lovejoy777_ Something about Lucy going back in time and letting the trespassers in. But He didn't say what the apple was. What are you getting at? What do you think the apple was?

Ludwig999_ Well if you believe a thirteenth century fresco in Plaincouralt, it was an Amanita mushroom.

Lovejoy777_ You mean a hallucinogenic mushroom, like the psilocybin mushroom?

Ludwig999_ Hallucinogenic yes, but a little more dangerous than the 'magic mushroom' of Mexico. If you get the wrong Amanita, you're dead.

Lovejoy777_ What does that have to do with triggering a change in consciousness?

Ludwig999_ Hallucinogenic plants helped change the nervous systems of prehistoric humans.

Lovejoy777_ Come on! Where? When? How do you know?

Ludwig999_ Somewhere around 150-100,000 years ago, "Anatomically Modern Humans" developed in Africa. They migrated out of Africa into the Middle East and elsewhere. These humans were not only modern in anatomy but in behavior too. They were the first to do something peculiarly human. They buried their dead, at least occasionally. What does burial suggest to you?

Lovejoy777_ A ritual? A belief in life after death. Or a belief that the dead person could haunt them after death, so they should be good to them. I don't know, and it's pure speculation.

Ludwig999_ OK, it's speculation but I think most people would think of ritual or a life after death. And that suggests a religion of sorts.

Then these same anatomically modern humans started doing more remarkable things. They decorated their tools with carvings of animals or other symbols representing themselves. No prehumans had been doing art before this. They made fanciful designs with dots, lines and geometric patterns on walls, antlers and other things. They made entirely new types of tools; like spear throwers, antler straighteners, backed points, burins, shoulder points and borers. They had such accessories as shell and teeth pendants, bracelets with herring bone and other geometric designs. They went to the trouble to import flint, obsidian and amber and they used colored pigment.

Previous Middle Paleolithic layers from the same sites reveal little or no bone or antler designs, or other artistic work. The dependence upon reindeer for these new people prompted the appellation, "Age of the Reindeer".[1] These people were different. This culture is called 'Upper Paleolithic'. This is the same culture who later on painted in caves all over Europe.

Lovejoy777_ Right. The Cro-Magnons who drove out the Neanderthals.

Ludwig999_ Well, that's uncertain. Either they wiped the Neanderthals out or they interbred. In either case, their behavior and thinking certainly took over. And it's the thinking or consciousness that I'm focusing on. If you can teach a person a new idea, you don't have to restructure their DNA to change them and their children forever.

Lovejoy777_ What does this have to do with hallucinogens?

Ludwig999_ Ritual, life after death, art and symbolism. These are basic to religious thinking. So look at all the religions around the world, not the modern institutions, but their roots. You'll find a sacrament.[2]

Lovejoy777_ What precisely is a sacrament?

Ludwig999_ It's a substance that one takes in, usually by mouth or inhaled, in order to perceive God, or even to become one with God. It's easy enough to do an ethnographic survey of tribal peoples and find out that from Africa to Asia to America, use of a mind altering substance in a religious ceremony is the typical way to get to know God, or the various invisible powers that surround us. There are exceptions, of course, that essentially illustrate the rule. Other groups use dancing or fasting or other means of exhausting the body, using internal chemicals to induce an altered but holy state of consciousness.

Lovejoy777_ That's tribalism, not religion.

Ludwig999_ You might call it spiritualism, shamanism or even magic. But this is the type of ritualistic interaction with unseen worlds which is the foundation of our modern institutional religions. Even the mega-religions reveal hints of their origins in psychoactive plant sacraments. The Rig-Veda, perhaps the oldest religious writings in the world, are based in part on homages to a God-plant called Soma, or Haoma.

Lovejoy777_ Actually I've heard of Wasson's work demonstrating that Soma was the Fly Agaric.[3] I guess the Latin name for this mushroom is Amanita Muscaria.

Ludwig999_ People still argue about which intoxicant Soma was. It certainly was not alcohol. It may have been barley fungus which makes LSD among other more dangerous things.[4] But it's not controversial that the God-plant, Soma, was a mind altering substance.

And what about the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ? Don't you think it odd that people are eating and drinking their own prophet's body?

Lovejoy777_ To join the Trinity.

Ludwig999_ Precisely.

Lovejoy777_ Certainly you don't think this represented a hallucinogenic substance?

Ludwig999_ One member of the original investigative team working on the Dead Sea Scroll did. In fact, he was the one who wanted to make the scrolls public over 30 years ago. But he was pressured not to. The Dead Sea Scrolls detail the Essene community's beliefs and practices.

Lovejoy777_ The Essenes were the cultural predecessors of the Christians.

Ludwig999_ Right. John Allegro was a linguist on the investigative team.[5] He connected etymological roots in the scroll with what he found was a broad practice of Amanita muscaria use in the Near East; from the Sumerians onward. He described how many of the languages are rich in metaphor relating this colorful mushroom, rituals, legends, heroes, and sacraments that bring one into the awareness of God.

Lovejoy777_ I've heard of Allegro too. He and his conclusions were excoriated by the other people on the team.

Ludwig999_ That's true. Perhaps he was mistaken. But on the other hand, you can read books about the politics of the effort to discredit him.[6] His cause was obviously unpleasant to the status quo. In the end he died in a deep depression following their vicious attacks on, not only his conclusions, but against him personally. Ironically, he was easily the most expert of all of them in the linguistics of this region.

Other writers also described the use of ecstatic substances in the Mediterranean area before and after Christ.[7] Robert Graves wrote volumes about the so-called mystery religions; the Orphics, Bacchans, Dionysians, and Eleusinians, as well as their connection with Scythia.[8] They all had their special, and very secret concoctions. The Eleusinians said there were two types of people in the world; those who had tasted 'Ambrosia', Elixir of the Gods, and those who had not. The latter were self condemned to a life of dullness and ignorance.

Lovejoy777_ What about Egypt? How can you discuss the world at that time without including Egypt?

Ludwig999_ No Problem. The Aakhut: the vehicle transporting one from the Land of the Living to the Land of the Dead. There is evidence that it was a bowl of fluid, filled with the extract of mushroom shaped plants.[9] Such plants were held in high esteem and were traded to Egypt at great expense from the Amanus mountains in Syria.

Lovejoy777_ Fine, so drug imbibing cults pervaded the cradle of civilization; but that is thirty or forty thousand years after what your talking about as the Upper Paleolithic explosion of creativity.

Ludwig999_ This was the cradle of civilization. The institutional religions ultimately developed out of the shamanic practices, and as I indicated before, these were typically based upon the effects of a chemical sacrament.

Lovejoy777_ Ok, that pushes your hallucinogenic sacrament theory back another ten thousand years, but you still have a way to go.

Ludwig999_ If the very earliest information we have about shamanistic religious practices suggests a preponderance of some activity, such as use of hallucinogens to reach the Godhead, then isn't it reasonable to ask if the very origin of religious practices involved the same activity? Especially if the subjective experience of hallucinogens is often described as intensely religious in content.

Lovejoy777_ I suppose we're not likely to get more direct evidence.

Ludwig999- No. It's unlikely we'll find traces of psychoactive plants from 40,000 year old archeological sites. But there is other circumstantial evidence. The Indians of the Americas were known to use over one hundred hallucinogenic species. Yet the number of hallucinogenic species known among indigenous peoples in the Old World is much less, approximately twenty.[10] {Hallucinogenic plants, by Richard Evans Shultes} Some people theorize that this is because the ancestors to the Indians came across the Bering strait with an inclination for using hallucinogenic substances, but couldn't find their traditional ones.

Lovejoy777_ Amanita muscaria grows in the Americas.

Ludwig999_ Technically yes, but it doesn't have the same chemical makeup as the Old World 'AM'. People in the Old World didn't really have to look so hard for substitutes. They could just trade for the real thing if it no longer grew in their area anymore, either because they had migrated or due to climatic changes.

There are still tribal peoples on the Siberian side of the Bering Strait who use the Amanita Muscaria as an important part of their shamanic ceremonies. In fact, there is a cluster of coordinated words among the Koryak, Chukchi and Kamchidal tribes relating to becoming "bemushroomed" by the Amanita muscaria. The words for becoming intoxicated by the little red mushroom with white dots are linked closely with those for reindeer, drums and little magical people

Lovejoy777_ You mean the Amanita Muscaria is the cute little mushroom that we all see in books of fairy tales?

Ludwig999_ Strange, isn't it, that the mushroom chosen to be pictured in so many children's books should be such a dangerous one.

Lovejoy777_ Yes, and why reindeer? Why drums and little people?

Ludwig999_ The Koryak history details how the reindeer introduced them to the mushroom. You see the meat and urine from an intoxicated reindeer are themselves psychotropically active. In fact, the reindeer served as a filter for the lethal elements. The drum; well, its beat, perhaps by entraining a theta brainwave, is an integral part of the ceremonial trip to other worlds. And the mushroom is often likened to a little magical person who teaches us humans the secrets of the natural world. Maybe bemushroomed people saw little forest spirits playing tricks.

Lovejoy777_ Sounds like leprechauns.

Ludwig999_ It sounds like a lot of stories the world around.

Lovejoy777_ So what's important about this group of words?

Ludwig999_ It's so ancient. This same word cluster centering on the linguistic root 'Pan' is found in many language groups that diverged long ago. The Finnish and Ugric languages diverged thousands of years ago. The Finno-Ugric and Samoyed languages split more than 6,000 years ago. And they split apart much further to the west; like on the steppes of Russia. This is the region that the ancient Greeks called Scythia. The early Greek rituals have been compared to the shamanic practices in this area.[11] But even Ancient Greece was much later than what we're talking about. The Russian steppes are on the north side of the Caucasus mountains. On the south side of these same mountains is where we find some of the earliest evidence of full blown Upper Paleolithic culture.

Lovejoy777_ What's so special about that area? What happened there?

Ludwig999_ Well, I believe some sort of prolonged contact with the Amanita occurred then and there, which brought about the 'behaviorally distinct' peoples, as Richard Klein called them. Of course the neurological substrate had to already be in place. This is where Mindy's work on the development of 'self-awareness' comes in.

Lovejoy777_ How do you know of Mindy's work?

Ludwig999_ I have lots of sources of information. Her work on self-awareness and the proprioceptive system is beginning to draw attention. I think that the psychoactive chemicals in Amanita Muscaria exaggerated a neurological process that was in place in these anatomically modern humans. I don't think such chemicals could start a new neurological process. However, I do believe these proto-humans had used various psychoactive plants before, and were familiar with the practice.

Lovejoy777_ What makes you think that?

Ludwig999_ Other primates have used medicinal plants. There seems to be some drive to find plants for their pharmacological effect. More recently, cave paintings of the San people in sub-Saharan Africa suggest patterns of ancient hallucinogenic use.[12] And if spiritual concepts were originally triggered by hallucinogenic use, we should note that there were rudimentary burial practices among anatomically modern humans before they got to the mountains north of the Middle East. But they didn't have the same evidence of rituals in association with these burials. I suspect that the spiritual conceptions were just beginning and psychotropic plant use was more intermittent. When these new humans came out of Africa to the Levant and arrived at the Caucasus mountains, running east and west between the Black and Caspian Seas, a new situation developed.

You see there was a cold spell in the late Pleistocene period, 50,000 years ago or so.

Lovejoy777- An Ice Age.

Ludwig999- Correct. And at that time the reindeer were in those mountains. Large herds of reindeer were a potentially great source of food, clothing and tools for these Paleolithic peoples. Unfortunately, through the seasons, the herds normally traveled long distances between their summer and winter grazing fields. Slower humans had trouble keeping up with them all year long. That is, until the reindeer migrated to the south side of a mountain range. In this geographic corral, south of the Caucasus between the two seas, the reindeer needed only to travel up the mountains in summer and down in the winter. These advanced hominids didn't have to go far to keep up with the herds year round.

Reindeer bones and antlers play a huge role in the Upper Paleolithic (UP) toolkit. I think that this close proximity of the humans and the reindeer lead to the discovery of the stimulating properties of the Amanita Muscaria. Reindeer love to eat the Amanita Muscaria. And humans who eat the meat of an intoxicated reindeer, or drink its urine, will also get the Amanita Muscaria experience.

Lovejoy777- Well, is there any evidence that UP culture originated here?

Ludwig999- If you note the various locations of UP culture and the first dates they're discovered in a given area; then follow the lines back in time, they converge generally towards this region.

As the weather warmed up, the reindeer herds and these new creative people moved with them onto the steppes of Russia, westward to the Balkans and eastward to Siberia and eventually over the Bering Straits into America.

Lovejoy777_ So you're saying that these anatomically modern humans had a prolonged contact with reindeer, and thus the Amanita Muscaria mushroom, due to the peculiarities of the geography south of the Caucasus mountains.

Ludwig999_ Right.

Lovejoy777_ And the repeated use of the Amanita Muscaria somehow triggered the creative explosion which we call the Upper Paleolithic culture.

Ludwig999_ Right.

Lovejoy777_ That's fascinating. Even if your theory about reindeer and the Caucasus mountains doesn't turn out to be true, it does seem there's some basic connection between early religious practices and using hallucinogenic intoxicants.

Ludwig999_ Thank you.

Lovejoy777_ But why should hallucinogens trigger the transformation from an advanced ape into a creative, symbol-sophisticate?

Ludwig999_ Perhaps you should ask your neurobiological enchantress.

Mindy444_ Ask me what, Ludwig?

Mindy typed the words over my shoulder while I stared in confusion.

"How do you know him?" I asked somewhat suspiciously.

"He's in the E-group." She answered casually, as if these types of coincidences happen everyday for her. "What are you guys talking about?"

Ludwig999_ Mindy. Lovejoy wants to know why the Amanita Muscaria mushroom would trigger the Upper Paleolithic transformation?

Mindy444_ I'm not sure about the specifics of your Amanita Muscaria/reindeer/Upper Paleolithic hypothesis. I'd rather generalize the question to the connection between hallucinogens and self-awareness.

Ludwig999_ You mean, if self awareness is the key to the symbolic capability underlying the creative explosion of art, advanced tools and religious thinking.

Mindy444_ I believe I've already demonstrated that.

It was obvious that these guys had already been debating some of these issues.

"So what's the connection?" I said to Mindy.

"Wait until tomorrow. Maybe the whales will tell us."

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Soltrey@humanmind.net is copyrighted July 2000.  All rights reserved B.T. Brian Brown.