speculation about a mushroom's relationship to Genesis, Soma, Jesus and Santa Claus
Essay by Joseph Szimhart
Initially October, 2002
Among the Magyar (Hungarians) bolond gomba (foolish, mad or crazy = bolond; mushroom = gomba) is an ancient expression that means crazy-making mushroom, and it can also refer to a crazed person acting foolishly; a lunatic. Pronounced with the o somewhere between the American b oo k and “awe,” bolond gomba finds expression in both the Ostyak and Vogul tribal languages that still exist in the Ob River districts of northern Siberia. Magyar, Ostyak and Vogul are from the Ugrian branch of the Finno-Ugric cultures, yet Magyar today hardly resembles its closest kin, the Ostyak, much less Finnic. The groups split both culturally and linguistically more than 1500 years ago. The Ostyak version of bolond gomba is ponx or panx, the latter also being the Vogul or Mansi word for it. (There are around 3,000 Mansi speakers left today, fewer than 14,000 Ostyak/Khanti speakers, but over 15 million Hungarian/Magyar). All these terms specifically refer to the mushroom pictured above, the sacred mushroom, Fly Agaric or Amanita muscaria made famous lately in many western fairy tales and fantasy illustrations of toadstools. Knowledge of this mushroom's effects as an entheogen or God substance goes back at least 4,000 years.
The adjective madcap has similar meaning as bolond gomba. Madcap relates to mad as a hatter (a hat maker mentally and physically debilitated from years of accumulated mercury nitrate he used to cure felt), or the term may be the result of ingesting hallucinogenic toadstools or poisonous mushroom caps. The Mad Hatter of Alice in Wonderland tea party fame caricatures a real condition--mercury poisoning. Speaking of Alice, the caterpillar Hooka spoke to her miniature self astride a Fly Agaric in many illustrations. In Magyar the gomba can be either ehető (edible) or mérges (poisonous or, literally, “mad”). Being poisoned or going mad often have interchangeable meaning as some toxins also have a hallucinogenic affect inducing psychotic ideation, visions, hallucinations or ecstasies. The latter are hallmarks of the sacred journeys of shamans and mystics.
Prior to the introduction of alcohol by Russians several centuries ago, Siberian tribes like the Ostyak/Khanti turned to the panx for intoxication as well as for spiritual or visionary experiences. In the Amanita family of fungi are several types that can kill a man, for example the white Amanita pantherina (panther amanita), Amanita phalloides (death cap), and Amanita ocreata (death angel). Amanita muscaria, or Fly Agaric from its ancient European reputation as a killer of flies (a juice concoction in a bowl would allegedly attract flies and stupify them), contains neurotoxins that can be crazy-making or lethal in high doses. In today's news, Nov. 29, 2002, a Russian soldier went amok and shot and killed many border guards after mushroom intoxication.** . A shaman (from the Siberian word for the tribal healer/mystic/prophet) would normally ingest it only after proper preparations that included drying. The active ingredients in the Amanita are ibotenic acid and muscimol and the combination has hallucinogenic properties. Sacred mushrooms vary in quality with the Siberian variety touted as allegedly less toxic and more hallucinogenic, but this may have more to do with knowledge and preparation.
Siberian tribesmen from ancient times herded reindeer that contributed clothing, food and transportation as well as spiritual inspiration and mythology. By tapping a neck vein a tribesman would drain some deer blood for either a nutritious drink or blood pudding. Reindeer were known to eat the red and white Amanitas, and the animals appeared to be inebriated after ingestion. Tribesmen learned of the Amanita’s effects through trial and error, but they may have also observed animals eat them first. Ritual ingestion possibly occured three thousand years ago or more. In any case we do know that panx intoxicated reindeer when slaughtered and eaten transferred the hallucinogenic properties to the diner through the ingested flesh and blood. Also, the hallucinogenic chemical survived in and transferred successfully through the urine of the shaman or reindeer (Wasson, p.75-76; www.solsticestudios.net/santamushroom.html ).
The beverage apparently had an even purer, less toxic, visionary effect when drunk in this latter form. Metaphorically through the eating of the flesh and drinking of the urine or blood the spirit of the Amanita mushroom (the god, Soma) could be “born again” or “twice born.” For the Tibetan connection to this Soma-urine "riddle" see Mike Crowley (Fortean Studies, vol. III, 1996: "When the Gods Drank Urine: A Tibetan myth may help solve the riddle of Soma, sacred drug of ancient India").
Indeed, if we accept the impressive, painstaking research of R. Gordon Wasson in his Soma: Divine Mushroom of Immortality (1968, 1971), the Amanita muscaria is the entheogen and the “god” that inspired the foundation of the oldest Hindu scriptures in the Rig Veda. Soma in Sanskrit means literally "pressed" juice or plant. "After Indra and Agni the god Soma has the most recognition in the Rig Veda; the entire ninth book of the Rig Veda is dedicated to him" (The Perennial Dictionary of World Religions). Entheogen means literally becoming God within and refers to plants and chemicals that produce entheogenic experiences. Soma was prepared and drunk ritualistically but mainly by priests, and it was colorfully described and worshiped as a god: "Splendid by Law! declaring Law, truth speaking, truthful in thy works, Enouncing faith, King Soma!......O [Soma] Pavāmana, place me in that deathless, undecaying world wherein the light of heaven is set, and everlasting lustre shines....Make me immortal in that realm where happiness and transports, where joy and felicities combine..." (Book 9 of the Rig Veda, Radhakrishnan and Moore. 1957. Indian Philosophy , p.28, 34).
[In today's pharmaceutical world, we have a new medicine, carisoprodol, a.k.a. Soma, that is a sedative and indicated for muscle pain relief. Soma was also the name of the drug sedative that dominated society in Brave New World , the enduring novel by Aldous Huxley (1932)].
The Vedic tradition of the Aryans swept through Indiafrom the “north” around 1500 BCE. These peoples brought their culture and lore with them, including the stories and rituals of Soma. The substance or plant that was Soma was long a point of speculation until Wasson’s research. Vedic priests apparently suppressed the knowledge of Soma deliberately over 2000 maybe 3000 years ago. “The Bramanas, codified around 800 B. C. E., contain no mention of it” (Smith, p. 49). Abuse of the substance may have been the reason, or that particular variety of Soma/Amanita may have been more difficult to procure away from its northern territory. However, Soma’s impact in the Vedic tradition remains pervasive:
Gordon Wasson’s interest in mycology (study of mushrooms) was partly inspired by his Russian wife, Valentina, who naturally felt an affinity to mushrooms through her Slav culture. Gordon, an Anglo-Saxon, was a mycophobe, a hater of mushrooms. Valentina, a pediatrician, discovered that whole areas of Europewere mycophiles, lovers of mushrooms, and this included the Slavic countries, pockets of Bavaria, Austria, and Italy, and parts of Spain and southern France. The rest of Europeand the Untied Kingdom were mycophobes. During their research that covered many years, the Wassons established another mushroom as sacred in Mexicoin 1955. In the native Nahuatl, the teonanacatl literally meant “God’s flesh.” Gordon, after an arduous journey around Oaxacan mountains into Huatla de Jimenez found curanderos (shamans) who initiated him. Gordon became the first outsider to “partake of the agape of the sacred mushrooms.” Gordon “glimpsed a higher order of reality, against which our daily lives are a ‘mere imperfect adumbrations’” (Stevens, 77). This teonanacatl is now known as the magic mushroom or psilocybin, and it was introduced to popular culture by an article about Wasson’s adventure and discovery in the July 1957 issue of Life magazine.
psychedelic experience in perspective
Not everyone who uses psychotropic plants or chemicals has “good trips,” but many, like Wasson and Huston Smith, have reported an extraordinary direct experience of sacred states and eternal philosophy: “Plotinus’s emanation theory, and its more detailed Vedantic counterpart, had hitherto been only conceptual theories for me. Now I was seeing them, with their descending bands spread out before me. I found myself thinking how duped historians of philosophy had been in crediting the originators of such worldviews with being speculative geniuses. Had they had experiences such as mine…they need have been no more than hack reporters” (Smith, 11).
In any case, all experiences of entheogens have a kind of psychological “half-life” in that the visionary effects lose their magic or revelatory power with continued use. I’m speaking to some degree from experience as well as repeating Huston Smith’s opinion (Smith, 63). My experience with the Fly Agaric came in the early 1970s when I was yet a mild user of some drugs that included hallucinogens. During one of my landscape painting excursions to the steep hills of the Delaware Water Gap in Pennsylvania, I found and painted several, yellow/orange Amanita muscaria’s. This yellow phase is identified in mushroom manuals with the red capped version in Eurasian areas.
I knew enough about this variety from reading that eating a small one would most likely give me a “buzz,” and it did with no ill effect. The pleasant sensation lasted perhaps two hours and gently wore off. I picked a few to show a fellow art student. He too was curious about the hallucinogenic effects, so we returned to the Delaware Water Gap to pick and eat several. We found many and each ate four caps. Within a half-hour we began to suffer many of the symptoms of sacred mushroom poisoning described in the literature—nausea, dizziness, blurred vision and visual and auditory distortions, and, yes, those psychedelic perceptions. The effects subsided after a cold dip under a mountain waterfall, and several hours later we began to feel better and safe enough to drive home. For at least two years thereafter I could not stomach a raw mushroom of any kind. Obviously we had no idea how to prepare these mushrooms—stupid experiment is how I remember the event.
(NB: Amanita poisoning is generally treated with Alpha-Lipoic Acid , an anti-oxidant.
There is some evidence that the Manicheans, an early Gnostic Christian sect that emerged 1800 years ago, incorporated vestiges of the cult of the sacred mushroom. Manicheism derived much from ancient Iranian/Persian religion of Zoroasterism. The sacred mushroom cult may have influenced early Persian culture. The ex-Manichean St. Augustinein CE 386 berated his former sect for eating mushrooms, and Wasson reports that as late as thirteenth century in China, the official, Lu Yu, condemned a Manichean group for ingesting certain sacred, red mushrooms (Wasson, 72). With Wasson’s discovery of the sacred mushroom and its history more scholars, and amateur speculators like myself, find some intriguing influences of the sacred mushroom on folklore and foundations of religions.
Santa Claus and the Amanita
For example, the modern story of the American Santa Claus and his eight tiny reindeer is a myth with Amanita muscaria as its hidden source. How is this possible? You can go to many websites* that elaborate, but I will summarize here:
Folk legends and myths have a way of changing over time as cultures and generations adapt new images and characters to old stories. Once written down or recorded, the tale becomes a testament, a scripture or a book. Our modern Santa Claus is less than 200 years old and was established by a writer and an artist. “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” appeared as "A Visit from Saint Nicholas" by Clement Clarke Moore who wrote the popular version in 1822. There is a strongly disputed claim that Mooreplagiarized his poem from Major Henry Livingston Jr. (1748-1828). In 1860 Thomas Nast immortalized Santa Claus with an illustration for Harper's Weekly and subsequently refined the image of Saint Nicolas after studying Moore’s version of “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.” Artists standardized the modern Santa in a red suit with white fur trim by the 1920s, the Santa illustrations for Coca-Cola Christmas ads from 1931 through 1964 being the most memorable.
Some researchers ponder how a 4rth century Saint Nicholas, a saint who most likely emerged as a composite myth from pre-Christian influences, managed to end up in a red and white suit, live at the North Pole and ride in a sleigh pulled by reindeer with powers of flight? And why the bag? Why the time of winter solstice when the birthday of Christ was never established by the Gospel? Most scholars believe that December 25 is a reasonable date although some place the birth in September. But Santa, St. Nick, is another matter and “he” appears to be a myth conglomerate that includes the shaman tradition of the Siberian tribes and Lapps. Back to our sacred mushroom: I learned from the websites mentioned below that the dried mushrooms were traditionally brought in a sack, and the shaman entered through a smoke hole by sliding or climbing down a birch pole that held up the typical Siberian yurt.
Santa Claus by name and type is a variation of earlier legends of a saintly gift giver at the winter solstice. In Greek, St. Nicholas is known as Hagios Nikolaos, Bishop of Myra (in the present day Turkey). St. Nicholas reportedly died about 342 C.E. Around 1000 C.E. a St. Nicholas tradition arrived in Russia, and it began to replace the role of the shamans of the nomadic tribes of Siberia. This is when reindeer began their relationship with Nikolai Chudovorits (St. Nicholas). The latter tradition helped to revive Christmas that had nearly died out inEurope due to earlier Papal suppression. Subsequent legends claimed that St. Nick brought gifts to good children and punished the bad ones, sometimes with a switch made from a birch branch. In China he is called Shengdan Laoren. In England where he has a longer coat and a longer beard his name is Father Christmas. In France he's known as Pere Noel. In Morocco he is Black Peter. In Germany, children get presents from Kris Kringle or Christ Kindl, the Christ Child, as they do inHungary from Jézuska. The American Santa is a direct descendant of the Dutch Sint Klaas. This Saint Nick is the merry old elf with red and white clothes, eight flying reindeer, a home located on or near the North Pole, the habit of filling socks or stockings with presents on Christmas Eve, carrying a sack over his shoulder, and the tradition of entering houses through the chimney.
From Who put the Fly Agaric into Christmas? : “All who ate the flesh [of Amanita intoxicated reindeer] became intoxicated. Jonathan Ott, an American mycologist, suggested in 1976 that the use of Fly Agaric in the midwinter festivals of deepestSiberia may have inspired some of the modern features of Santa Claus. The Siberian winter dwelling, or yurt, had a smokehole in the roof, supported by a birch pole. At the midwinter festivals, the shaman would enter the yurt through the smoke hole carrying a sack with dried Fly Agaric or urine from already intoxicated people, perform his ceremonies, and ascend the birch pole and leave. Ordinary people believed that the shaman could fly, either himself or on flying reindeer.”
Western Indians who built the round ceremonial rooms called kivas into the earth also had a “rooftop” entry. Though not chimneys in our modern concept, these entries also served as vents for the pit fires. The solstice ceremony of Siberian tribes included inebriation both by ingesting the mushroom and the urine of the shaman or others to extend the effects. The shaman of legend wore a ruddy (red), fur lined cloak and cap. The mushroom intoxication was not unlike the peyote ceremonies still practiced by the Native American Church that uses peyote buttons as both purgatives (many vomit after ingestion) and a stimulant to experience “God” or the Spirit in visions.
The shaman (Santa) flies in his sleigh pulled by reindeer. Many of the old sky gods, like Odin and Wotan, flew around the North Pole (North Star) in a sleigh or chariot (Big Dipper, Ursa Major). According to James Arthur “these Nordic/Germanic gods are tied to Mushrooms in their mythology. Thor throws his hammer shaped like a mushroom to the ground with a mighty thunderous lightning crack and [a mushroom, amanita] appears. Odin rides the sky in his chariot pulled by horses which are exerting such an effort that their spit mingled with blood falls to the ground and the places where it hits mushrooms (Amanitas) grow.” These Amanitas grow widely in Siberia and reindeer eat them taking “flight” from the effects. In Central Europe chimney sweeps have adopted the Amanita as their emblem perhaps echoing the Siberian ritual. Also, the Fly Agaric has appeared on Christmas cards in Central Europe for a long time.
Fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and the Tree of Life
The sacred mushroom myth extends back to the origin myth of man in the Hebrew scriptures, in Genesis as the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. God forbade Adam and Eve to eat of the “fruit” of this tree as they would “die.” The serpent convinced Eve that she surely would not die if she ate of this fruit. In fact, the serpent promised Eve that their eyes would be “opened” and she and Adam would be as “gods” (Elohim is both a singular and plural form of the deity) and live forever. The “tree” was most likely a birch or a pine, as Amanitas typically grow at the base of either an evergreen or a birch, and both trees had sacred significance to Siberians. The snake, as a ground dweller, had intimate knowledge of the mushroom. If somehow this primal “fruit” that ancient Aryans called Soma influenced creation myths as far south as the middle east, it would explain a lot about why “God” (Elohim) or certain rulers forbade "man" from eating of the fruit:
A modern “ Gnostic ” view believes that the “Elohim lied” and that mankind were slaves to a priest class or rulers. When the slaves, Eve and Adam, dared eat of the forbidden fruit, their eyes were “opened” to the fact that they were no different than their masters who wore clothes. This view believes that mankind were “liberated” by eating Amanita even if they were cast out of the garden and condemned to work the land. Liberation comes with “gnosis” or realizing that they too were “gods.” New Age gnostics in our day proclaim this same revelation and condemn the Church for hiding this knowledge from the masses.
The latter “gnostic” view, I think, is ambitious and naïve. Among some gnosis seekers there is a quest for experience in the form of shortcuts to holiness or "wholeness" that befits a career narcissist, or one addicted to Self experience. Gnosis comes for these people from inner strategies like meditation and outer ones that range from mantras, yantras and tantras to drugs. I am not arguing that any of these strategies do not yield insight, agape, samadhi, union or ecstacies. What I am arguing--and it may be the thesis of this entire article--is best illustrated by this "true" story told to me in 1986 by, John, a native American:
Yet this New Age view that the Roman Church persecuted pagan ways to squelch gnosis, and that " Santa Claus is really the spokeperson for an ancient drug cult ," may have some validity. However, the reasonable truth might be that an ancient mushroom cult had deteriorated into ritual abuse, therefore use was “forbidden” to the common man. Seekers and devotees may have sought many visions and developed a psychotic path, not unlike an addict. Was the suppression of the Amanita an ancient version of prohibition? The high priests or shamans representing God (Elohim?) continued strict ceremonial use of the substance that gave them the “knowledge of the immortals,” and this enabled them to “know” good and evil in ways impenetrable to the layman or slave. Eventually the priests ceased using drugs as they too noted the ill effects and limited insight from drug dependency. They found drugless means to gnosis, the immediate knowledge of the Sacred.
Remarkably, many of our great traditional moral and ethical codes have come from seemingly visionary or supernatural events. Moses and the Ten Commandments being one example, the Islamic Shari'a (laws) of the Koran that was mystically dictated through Muhammad, another. This is not to say that social interaction had no bearing on formulating such codes over time. It is to say that something that made or evolved in the human organism tends toward social order and justice, and tends toward a divine or sacred source for this inspiration or confirmation of a transcendent meaning to human affairs. Moses and Muhammad believed they received confirmation from God.
However, as I mentioned above, use of these entheogens including LSD and hallucinogenic plants can easily turn to abuse once the sacred intensity and insight diminishes, if indeed the user ever had such insight. For a good synopsis of what transpired with the consciousness revolution in the latter half of the 20th century read Jay Stevens (1987) Storming Heaven: LSD and the American Dream. “Bad trips [in 1967] became the most frequent trips (San Francisco GeneralHospital was treating an average of 750 panic reactions a month), and for the first time the LSD psychotic became something more than a media favorite” (p. 341). The sacred mushroom probably became a recreational drug, perhaps killing or harming many users by misidentification or over indulgence, thus earning the divine prohibition voiced in the Garden of Eden: Do not eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. If you do you will surely die.
This prohibition is echoed when the adoration of Soma (Amanita) among the proto-Aryans “up north” disappears as a motif in the later Vedas. I indicated above that by the time of Christ, and perhaps earlier than the time of the Buddha, and certainly by the time of Moses, non-drug strategies for visionary insight dominated many ancient cultures. To avoid the damage and dangers of such substances fasting, chanting, trance dancing, drumming, breath work and meditation evolved to bring on the shaman’s ecstasies. Moses went up into the mountain alone. Ezekial went out and fasted in the wilderness. Buddha tried extreme fasting strategies. Jesus fasted and stayed alone for “forty days and nights.” In India Patanjali compiled the Yoga Sutras nearly 2000 years ago—they are yet a standard for union with the divine among monks. Yoga became an elaborate non-drug path for achieving spiritual “union” inIndia. During the social revolution days among Western youth in the 1960s I watched a wave of people drift from the drug culture to old and new spiritual rituals like meditation to “get high” and find “higher consciousness.” I heard many 1970s seekers claim that they got higher with yoga or “on Jesus” than they ever did with drugs.
Eating God's Body, Drinking God's Blood
Intriguing is the Last Supper of Jesus, who with this Passover meal challenged the Temple tradition of animal sacrifice and supplanted all sacrifice to God with his own “flesh and blood” in the form of bread and wine. We eat God as Jesus who is verily God in this mystery of faith. This is a purely spiritual feast in physical form—God is Jesus’s very self, and now his disciples can eat of his flesh and drink of his blood and participate in the divine experience. God is “born again” in each guest. What was forbidden in the Garden to Adam and Eve by the lawgivers, the Elohim, perhaps for good reason is now revealed spiritually in transcendent glory—no plant, mushroom, or chemical needed; no drumming, dancing, chanting or meditation necessary. Jesus preaches that this is God’s gift, simple and uncomplicated, to receive God fully. Do this in remembrance of me, he says. I am erasing the debt because I am the debt. Sacrifice and eat “me.” Keep my commandments. Feed my sheep. Love one another.
The mystery of Jesus in the sacrament of communion in which Catholics believe they receive the real, not symbolic, flesh and blood of God might have its prototype in the ancient sacred mushroom cult. Wasson argued that the mushroom cult might be mankind’s oldest surviving religious institution (Smith, 50). If that is the case, we can only ponder how this God of Christians brings us out of danger (sin) and into His pure self so we can have heaven and live. Adam sinned by eating of the forbidden fruit. Jewish sacrifices of animals to God to ameliorate this separation due to sin peaked during theTempleperiod at the time of Jesus. The slaughter and burning of creatures, the holocausts, became an enormous industry inJerusalem(Cahill, 176). Jesus removed the need forTemplesacrifice and restored the sacred meal into the household, to the people. This radical move was a revolution in the making and drew the ire of high priests dependent on it for livelihood and prestige (see Miles, Jack). Jesus also revealed that God himself (as Jesus) is the sacrificial lamb. By eating God in the form of blessed bread and wine, we participate in the forgiveness of God and we “live” eternally as God’s life becomes our own. Atonement through dead bulls and gnosis through mushrooms are deemed irrelevant. But such “blasphemy” could get one crucified.
I am not suggesting that Jesus consciously knew that his "meal" was a new type of Soma consumption. His meal was specifically a reform of the existing and elaborate Jewish customs that had long ago evolved beyond any semblance to the primordial mushroom cult--if ever there was a connection. However, the similarity of the metaphor of the actual god living in the meal (lamb, bread and wine, or mushroom) exists. In any case, Jesus may have been more restorative than radical in his challenge to the temple priests. Of the "line of David" Jesus affrims his Jewish scripture, Psalm 40 (New American Bible), that reads in part: "Sacrifice or oblation you wished not, but ears open to obedience you gave me. Holocausts or sin-offerings you sought not; then said I, "Behold I come, in the written scroll it is prescribed for me, to do your will, O my God, is my delight, and your law is within my heart." The God experience is immediate or "in the heart" to all who choose to partake of this meal, whether sacred mushroom or blessed bread and wine.
Value of Forbidden Fruit
In an attempt to extend this (my) direction of thought, I surmise that entheogenic experience can account for the prohibition in the Edenic garden to not eat of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. When Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of this tree, their “eyes were opened,” an
*[ Realizer in this context is a self-description used by one of the late 20th Century's pseudo-guru/godmen, Adi Da, aka "Franklin" Jones, whose main commune is an island in the Fiji group. His cult with thousands of devotees (mostly westerners) presents Adi Da Jones as the Avatar or Sadguru par excellence of this age. His ex-cult members regard him as an abusive charlatan, and so do I. Jones during his colorful development feigned utter devotion to the pseudo-guru Rudrananda (a German man who died in 1973) and Muktananda, the controversial Indian founder of SYDA (South Fallsburg, NY) who died in 1982. Jones formed in his own cult in the 1970s] http://www.lightmind.com/library/daismfiles/ .
Beyond that, death simply loses its bite to the inspired tripper (one who journeys mentally under the influence of an entheogen). There is no death in the psychedelic experience in which all is Flow, all is born, decays and re-emerges in some form. The body is a “vehicle” and a mere illusion, a collection of atoms with a purpose, atoms or energy that could be just as happy dissolved all over space. Heaven is immediate and immanent, not out there. The conflict and contradiction of the physical universe falls away. It is merely here, now and along with it "I Am." However, the yearning to remain pure spirit, alive and just be can be overwhelming, if just for powerful instances during an entheogenic experience. How to sustain such ecstasy permanently? As I mentioned, strategies like Yoga provide a suggestion, a path.
Perhaps Adam and Eve were tempted to eat of the Tree of Life to disperse the self into immortality. How many mystics and ecstatics have reached this ineffable yearning and sensed the possibility? Certainly we have stories old and new of shamans in an altered state on a magic flight . Some of these stories say that the shaman can dissemble from an "assemblage point" and travel to supernatural worlds. (For example, Carlos Castaneda's popular fiction about don Juan and don Genaro who are allegedly "Yaqui" Indian sorcerers capable of appearing and disappearing at will. Castaneda's sorcerers achieved immortality in his stories) . In Biblical lore we have Enoch who walked with God and was "raptured" (did not experience bodily death); Melkizedek, the high priest who blessed Abraham and who lives forever; Moses, who in one story was taken directly to God; Elijah, who was taken up to God in a fiery chariot. We all know the story of the ascension of Jesus in his glorified, post-mortem body.
On the darker side of this quest for immortal experience we have one devotee of Charles Manson’s cult who was tripping on LSD while having sex—he died by a pre-planned gun shot to his head at the moment of climax. Some Gnostic sects accepted the endura, a ritual fast from both liquids and foods until death released the soul back to Spirit, to the Pleroma of pure, eternal light. The persecuted Cathars of southern France in the 13th Century readily and happily went into the flames arranged by their Inquisitors—they found their goal to be “dead” totally and forever to this awful world. I recall this transcendent awareness most powerfully during my first LSD trip—it was never the same again, which speaks to the “half-life” such drug experiences offer. My psychedelic experience was not unlike so many described, or about which Huston Smith and Gordon Wasson wrote. In my case, I chose to end all that experimentation after several “trips” as they got progressively more boring for me, not to mention the potential psychological damage from tripping that I saw among my peers.
One traditional story about the Buddha states that he died in old age from inadvertent mushroom poisoning. The record states that his disciple, Kunda the metal worker, fed the Buddha a meal containing mushrooms that “pigs eat.” That Kunda might have picked a Death Cap or Destroying Angel variety of Amanita or even the sacred mushroom is intriguing. Buddha, also known in texts as Tathágata, was eighty years old and quite frail, yet he survived several hours or even days and continued to teach lucidly to the end. His last words recorded were: "Behold now, Bhikkhus, I declare to you: all conditioned things are of a nature to decay. Strive on with earnestness."
My essay is admittedly an exercise in speculation, but the facts, especially those discovered by Wasson, invite scrutiny. To me, the role of the Amanita in human affairs, from Soma to Adam and Eve to Jesus and Santa Claus, has more than a hint of mythic if not historic validity. Brain science indicates lately that human intelligence has a biological basis for why we experience sacred or absolute union and a feeling of mystical wholeness. Why God Won’t Go Away authors just two years ago submitted a compelling argument for the God experience being hardwired, so to speak, into the human nervous-system, especially in the neo-cortex. It stands to reason, mine anyway, that certain rituals and substances can and did trigger these God awareness states if they are there in the brain as described. In any case, we are fairly certain that hallucinogenic plants were one pathway that inspired or helped humans integrate and experience states that later became the foundation myths of great and small religions. And now we have Santa Claus linked in the west inextricably with Jesus at Christmas and linked together in that inimitable if remarkable red and white mushroom, the bolond gomba.
Cahill, Thomas. 2001. Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus
Miles, Jack. 2002. Christ: A Crisis in the Life of God
Newberg, Andrew M.D., D’Aquili, Eugene, Ph.D., Rause, Vince. 2000. Why God Won't Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief.
O'Shea, Stephen. 2001. The Perfect Heresy: The Revolutionary Life and Death of the Medieval Cathars.
Radhakrishnan and Moore. 1957. Indian Philosophy
Smith, Huston. 2000. Cleansing the Doors of Perception: The Religious Significance of Entheogenic Plants and Chemicals. [A daring synopsis of Smith's personal experience and the value of the drug culture to the study of religions, an discipline in which Smith is a heralded international scholar]
Stevens, Jay. 1987. Storming Heaven: LSD and the American Dream.
Wasson, R.G. 1968. Soma: Divine Mushroom of Immortality.
Wasson, R.G. and Wasson, V.P. 1957. Mushrooms,Russia, and History.
'Doped up' Russian soldier runs amok
Conditions are harsh in the one million strong army
A Russian soldier serving in theCaucasushas killed at least five of his fellow border guards in a shooting spree - reportedly after eating hallucinogenic mushrooms.
At least three others were injured in the incident onRussia's southern border withGeorgia.
The soldier fired his Kalashnikov assault rifle at a tent where his comrades were resting while deployed on patrol, the Associated Press news agency reported.
Some were killed on the spot, others died later of their wounds in hospital, it said.
Preliminary investigations suggested that the soldier - named as Denis Solovyev - was in a state of narcotic intoxication, Yuri Kolodkin, a spokesman with the Emergency Situations Ministry was quoted as saying.
Witnesses said he had eaten hallucinogenic mushrooms not long before the incident, at the Ptysh border guard post.
Correspondents say tales of substance abuse are common in the Russian army, which suffers from poor discipline, low morale and under funding and is plagued by brutality, shootings and desertions.
In a similar incident in August, two border guards killed eight fellow-servicemen who were asleep while on patrol in the same part of the country, saying they did it to avenge bullying.
In September, more than 50 soldiers abandoned their unit and marched nearly 60 kilometres (35 miles) to the city ofVolgogradto protest against beatings by their officers.