This entry covers psychoactive substances used in a spiritual context.
An entheogen ("God inside us," en εν- "in, within," theo θεος- "god, divine," -gen γενος "creates, generates"), in the strict sense, is a psychoactive substance used in a religious, shamanic, or spiritual context. Historically, entheogens were mostly derived from plant sources and have been used in a variety of traditional religious contexts. With the advent of organic chemistry, there now exist many synthetic substances with similar psychoactive properties, many derived from these plants. Entheogens can supplement many diverse practices for healing, transcendence, and revelation, including: meditation, psychonautics, art projects, and psychedelic therapy.
Entheogens have been used in a ritualized context for thousands of years; their religious significance is well established in anthropological and modern evidences. Examples of traditional entheogens include: kykeon, ambrosia, iboga, soma, peyote, bufotenine, ayahuasca, and Datura. Other traditional entheogens include cannabis, ethanol, ergine, psilocybe mushrooms, and opium. Many pure active compounds with psychoactive properties have been isolated from organisms and chemically synthesized, including mescaline, psilocin/psilocybin, DMT, salvinorin A, ibogaine, and scopolamine. Semi-synthetic (e.g. LSD derived from LSA) and synthetic substances (e.g. DPT used by the Temple of the True Inner Light and 2C-B used by the Sangoma) have also been developed. Entheogens may be compounded through the work of a shaman or apothecary in a tea, admixture, or potion like ayahuasca or bhang.
More broadly, the term entheogen is used to refer to any psychoactive substances when used for their religious or spiritual effects, whether or not in a formal religious or traditional structure. This terminology is often chosen to contrast with recreational use of the same substances. Studies such as the Marsh Chapel Experiment have documented reports of spiritual experiences from participants who were administered psychoactive substances in controlled trials. Ongoing research is limited due to widespread drug prohibition, however some countries have legislation that allows for traditional entheogen use.
- 1 Etymology
- 2 Synthetic entheogens used by shamans
- 3 Species
- 4 Archaeological record
- 5 Classical mythology and cults
- 6 Judaism and Christianity
- 7 Cultural use
- 8 Research
- 9 Literature
- 10 References
- 11 Further reading
- 12 External links
The neologism entheogen was coined in 1979 by a group of ethnobotanists and scholars of mythology (Carl A. P. Ruck, Jeremy Bigwood, Danny Staples, Richard Evans Schultes, Jonathan Ott and R. Gordon Wasson). The literal meaning of the word is "that which causes God to be within an individual". The translation "creating the divine within" is sometimes given, but entheogen implies neither that something is created nor that that which is experienced is within the user.
The term is derived from two words of ancient Greek, ἔνθεος (entheos) and γενέσθαι (genesthai). The adjective entheos translates to English as "full of the god, inspired, possessed," and is the root of the English word "enthusiasm." The Greeks used it as a term of praise for poets and other artists. Genesthai means "to come into being." Thus, an entheogen is a substance that causes one to become inspired or to experience feelings of inspiration, often in a religious or "spiritual" manner.
Since the experience originates from an external source, the "divine within" can be illustrated as an absorption or collection of divine, rather than a creation that originates within the person. In other words, an entheogen is something that fills someone with god. Given the broad scope of this statement, it can be argued that the word should be inclusive of substances, objects, and/or experiences beyond psychoactives.
Entheogen was coined as a replacement for the terms hallucinogen and psychedelic. Hallucinogen was popularized by Aldous Huxley's experiences with mescaline, which were published as The Doors of Perception in 1954. Psychedelic, on the other hand, is a Greek neologism for "mind manifest", and was coined by psychiatrist Humphry Osmond; Huxley was a volunteer in experiments Osmond was conducting on mescaline.
Ruck et al. argued that the term hallucinogen was inappropriate due to its etymological relationship to words relating to delirium and insanity. The term psychedelic was also seen as problematic, due to the similarity in sound to words pertaining to psychosis and also due to the fact that it had become irreversibly associated with various connotations of 1960s pop culture. In modern usage entheogen may be used synonymously with these terms, or it may be chosen to contrast with recreational use of the same substances. The meanings of the term entheogen were formally defined by Ruck et al.:
Synthetic entheogens used by shamans
On the 1962 expedition organized by R. Gordon Wasson to see Maria Sabina, Hofmann came along and brought a bottle of psilocybin pills. Sandoz was marketing them under the brand name "Indocybin"—"indo" for both "Indian" and "indole" (the nucleus of their chemical structures) and "cybin" for the main molecular constituent, "psilocybin." ("Psilo" in Greek means "bald," "cybe" means "head.") Hofmann gave his synthesized teonanacatl to the curandera who divulged the Indians' secret. "Of course," Wasson recalls of the encounter, "Albert Hofmann is so conservative he always gives too little a dose, and it didn't have any effect." Hofmann had a different interpretation: activation of "the pills, which must dissolve in the stomach before they can be absorbed, takes place only after 30 to 45 minutes, in contrast to the mushrooms which, when chewed, work faster because part of the drug is absorbed immediately by the mucosa in the mouth." In order to settle her doubts about the pills, more were distributed, bringing the total for Maria Sabina, her daughter, and the shaman Don Aurelio up to 30 mg., a moderately high dose by current standards but not perhaps by the Indians'. At dawn, their Mazatec interpreter reported that Maria Sabina felt there was little difference between the pills and the mushrooms. She thanked Hofmann for the bottle of pills, "saying that she would now be able to serve people even when no mushrooms were available."
Essentially all psychoactive drugs that are naturally occurring in plants, fungi, or animals, can be used in an entheogenic context or with enthogenic intent. Since non-psychoactive drugs can also be used in this type of context, the term "entheogen" refers primarily to substances that have been categorized based on their historical use. Toxicity does not affect a substance's inclusion (some can kill humans), nor does effectiveness or potency (if a substance is psychoactive, and it has been used in a historical context, then the required dose has also been found).
Template:See also R. Gordon Wasson and Giorgio Samorini have proposed several examples of the cultural use of entheogens that are found in the archaeological record. Evidence for the first use of entheogens may come from Tassili, Algeria, with a cave painting of a mushroom-man, dating to 8000 BP.Template:Citation needed Hemp seeds discovered by archaeologists at Pazyryk suggest early ceremonial practices by the Scythians occurred during the 5th to 2nd century BC, confirming previous historical reports by Herodotus.Template:Citation needed
Classical mythology and cults
Although entheogens are taboo and most of them are officially prohibited in Christian and Islamic societies, their ubiquity and prominence in the spiritual traditions of various other cultures is unquestioned. The entheogen, "the spirit, for example, need not be chemical, as is the case with the ivy and the olive: and yet the god was felt to be within them; nor need its possession be considered something detrimental, like drugged, hallucinatory, or delusionary: but possibly instead an invitation to knowledge or whatever good the god's spirit had to offer." (Ruck and Staples)
Most of the well-known modern examples, such as peyote, psilocybe and other psychoactive mushrooms and ololiuhqui, are from the native cultures of the Americas. However, it has also been suggested that entheogens played an important role in ancient Indo-European culture, for example by inclusion in the ritual preparations of the Soma, the "pressed juice" that is the subject of Book 9 of the Rig Veda. Soma was ritually prepared and drunk by priests and initiates and elicited a paean in the Rig Veda that embodies the nature of an entheogen:
The Kykeon that preceded initiation into the Eleusinian Mysteries is another entheogen, which was investigated (before the word was coined) by Carl Kerényi, in Eleusis: Archetypal Image of Mother and Daughter. Other entheogens in the Ancient Near East and the Aegean include the poppy, Datura, and the unidentified "lotus" eaten by the Lotus-Eaters in the Odyssey and Narkissos.
According to Ruck, Eyan, and Staples, the familiar shamanic entheogen that the Indo-Europeans brought with them was knowledge of the wild Amanita mushroom. It could not be cultivated; thus it had to be found, which suited it to a nomadic lifestyle. When they reached the world of the Caucasus and the Aegean, the Indo-Europeans encountered wine, the entheogen of Dionysus, who brought it with him from his birthplace in the mythical Nysa, when he returned to claim his Olympian birthright. The Indo-European proto-Greeks "recognized it as the entheogen of Zeus, and their own traditions of shamanism, the Amanita and the 'pressed juice' of Soma — but better since no longer unpredictable and wild, the way it was found among the Hyperboreans: as befit their own assimilation of agrarian modes of life, the entheogen was now cultivable" (Ruck and Staples). Robert Graves, in his foreword to The Greek Myths, hypothesises that the Ambrosia of various pre-Hellenic tribes were amanita (which, based on the morphological similarity of the words amanita, amrita and ambrosia, is entirely plausible) and perhaps panaeolus mushrooms.
Amanita was divine food, according to Ruck and Staples, not something to be indulged in or sampled lightly, not something to be profaned. It was the food of the gods, their ambrosia, and it mediated between the two realms. It is said that Tantalus's crime was inviting commoners to share his ambrosia.
The entheogen is believed to offer godlike powers in many traditional tales, including immortality. The failure of Gilgamesh in retrieving the plant of immortality from beneath the waters teaches that the blissful state cannot be taken by force or guile: when Gilgamesh lay on the bank, exhausted from his heroic effort, the serpent came and ate the plant.
Another attempt at subverting the natural order is told in a (according to some) strangely metamorphosed myth, in which natural roles have been reversed to suit the Hellenic world-view. The Alexandrian Apollodorus relates how Gaia (spelled "Ge" in the following passage), Mother Earth herself, has supported the Titans in their battle with the Olympian intruders. The Giants have been defeated:
Judaism and Christianity
According to The Living Torah, cannabis was an ingredient of holy anointing oil mentioned in various sacred Hebrew texts. The herb of interest is most commonly known as kaneh-bosm (Hebrew: קְנֵה-בֹשֶׂם). This is mentioned several times in the Old Testament as a bartering material, incense, and an ingredient in holy anointing oil used by the high priest of the temple. Although Chris Bennett's research in this area focuses on cannabis, he mentions evidence suggesting use of additional visionary plants such as henbane, as well.
The Septuagint translates kaneh-bosm as calamus, and this translation has been propagated unchanged to most later translations of the old testament. However, Polish anthropologist Sula Benet published etymological arguments that the Aramaic word for hemp can be read as kannabos and appears to be a cognate to the modern word 'cannabis', with the root kan meaning reed or hemp and bosm meaning fragrant. Both cannabis and calamus are fragrant, reedlike plants containing psychotropic compounds.
In his research, Professor Dan Merkur points to significant evidence of an awareness within the Jewish mystical tradition recognizing manna as an entheogen, thereby substantiating with rabbinic texts theories advanced by the superficial biblical interpretations of Terence McKenna, R. Gordon Wasson and other ethnomycologists.
Although philologist John Marco Allegro has suggested that the self-revelation and healing abilities attributed to the figure of Jesus may have been associated with the effects of the plant medicines, this evidence is dependent on pre-Septuagint interpretation of Torah and Tenach. Allegro was the only non-Catholic appointed to the position of translating the Dead Sea scrolls. His extrapolations are often the object of scorn due to Allegro's non-mainstream theory of Jesus as a mythological personification of the essence of a "psychoactive sacrament". Furthermore they conflict with the position of the Catholic Church in regards to transubstantiation and the teaching involving valid matter, form, and substance — that of bread and wine (bread does not contain psychoactive substances, but wine contains ethanol). Allegro's book, The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross, relates the development of language to the development of myths, religions and cultic practices in world cultures. Allegro believed he could prove, through etymology, that the roots of Christianity, as of many other religions, lay in fertility cults; and that cult practices, such as ingesting visionary plants (or "psychedelics") to perceive the mind of God [Avestan: Vohu Mana], persisted into the early Christian era, and to some unspecified extent into the 13th century with reoccurrences in the 18th century and mid 20th century, as he interprets the Plaincourault chapel's fresco to be an accurate depiction of the ritual ingestion of Amanita muscaria as the Eucharist.
The historical picture portrayed by the Entheos journal is of fairly widespread use of visionary plants in early Christianity and the surrounding culture, with a gradual reduction of use of entheogens in Christianity. R. Gordon Wasson's book Soma prints a letter from art historian Erwin Panofsky asserting that art scholars are aware of many 'mushroom trees' in Christian art.
The question of the extent of visionary plant use throughout the history of Christian practice has barely been considered yet by academic or independent scholars. The question of whether visionary plants were used in pre-Theodosius Christianity is distinct from evidence that indicates the extent to which visionary plants were utilized or forgotten in later Christianity, including so-called "heretical" or "quasi-" Christian groups, and the question of other groups such as elites or laity within "orthodox" Catholic practice.
Daniel Merkur at the University of Toronto contends that a minority of Christian hermits and mystics could possibly have used entheogens, in conjunction with fasting, meditation and prayer.Template:Citation needed
Entheogens have been used in various ways, including as part of established religions, secularly for personal spiritual development as tools (or "plant teachers") to augment the mind, secularly as recreational drugs, and for medical and therapeutic use. The use of entheogens in human cultures is nearly ubiquitous throughout recorded history.
Naturally occurring entheogens such as psilocybin and dimethyltryptamine, also known as N,N-dimethyltryptamine, or simply DMT (in the preparation ayahuasca) were, for the most part, discovered and used by older cultures, as part of their spiritual and religious life, as plants and agents which were respected, or in some cases revered for generations and may be a tradition which predates all modern religions as a sort of proto-religious rite.
One of the most widely used entheogens is cannabis, which has been used in regions such as China, Europe, and India; in some cases, for thousands of years. It has also appeared as a part of religions and cultures such as the Rastafari movement, the Sadhus of Hinduism, the Scythians, Sufi Islam, and others. For additional information, see Religious and spiritual use of cannabis.
The best-known entheogen-using culture of Africa is the Bwitists, who used a preparation of the root bark of Iboga (Tabernanthe iboga). Although the ancient Egyptians may have been using the entheogenic blue lotus plant in some of their religious rituals or just symbolically (Nymphaea caerulea), a great deal of evidence suggests that Egyptian religion once revolved around the ritualistic ingestion of the far more entheogenic Psilocybe cubensis mushroom, and that the Egyptian White Crown, Triple Crown, and Atef Crown were evidently designed to represent pin-stages of this mushroom. There is also evidence for the use of entheogenic mushrooms in Côte d'Ivoire (Samorini 1995). Numerous other plants used in shamanic ritual in Africa, such as Silene capensis sacred to the Xhosa, are yet to be investigated by western science.
Entheogens have played a pivotal role in the spiritual practices of most American cultures for millennia. The first American entheogen to be subject to scientific analysis was the peyote cactus (Lophophora williamsii). For his part, one of the founders of modern ethno-botany, the late Richard Evans Schultes of Harvard University documented the ritual use of peyote cactus among the Kiowa who live in what became Oklahoma. Used traditionally by many cultures of what is now Mexico, its use spread to throughout North America in the 19th century, replacing the toxic entheogen Sophora secundiflora (mescal bean). Other well-known entheogens used by Mexican cultures include psilocybin mushrooms (known to indigenous Mexicans under the Náhuatl name teonanácatl), the seeds of several morning glories (Náhuatl: tlitlíltzin and ololiúhqui) and Salvia divinorum (Mazateco: Ska Pastora; Náhuatl: pipiltzintzíntli).
Indigenous peoples of South America employ a wide variety of entheogens. Better-known examples include ayahuasca (Banisteriopsis caapi plus admixtures) among indigenous peoples (such as the Urarina) of Peruvian Amazonia. Other well-known entheogens include: borrachero (Brugmansia spp); San Pedro (Trichocereus spp); and various tryptamine-bearing snuffs, for example Epená (Virola spp), Vilca and Yopo (Anadananthera spp). The familiar tobacco plant, when used uncured in large doses in shamanic contexts, also serves as an entheogen in South America. Also, a tobacco that contains higher nicotine content, and therefore smaller doses required, called Nicotiana rustica was commonly used.Template:Citation needed
In addition to indigenous use of entheogens in the Americas, one should also note their important role in contemporary religious movements, such as the Rastafari movement and the Church of the Universe.
In Hinduism, Datura stramonium and Cannabis have been used in religious ceremonies, although the religious use of Datura is not very common, as the primary alkaloids are strong deliriants, which causes serious intoxication with unpredictable effects.
Also, the ancient inebriant Soma, mentioned often in the Vedas, appears to be consistent with the effects of an entheogen. (In his 1967 book, Wasson argues that Soma was fly agaric. The active ingredient of Soma is presumed by some to be ephedrine, an alkaloid with stimulant and (somewhat debatable) entheogenic properties derived from the soma plant, identified as Ephedra pachyclada.) However, there are also arguments to suggest that Soma could have also been Syrian Rue, Cannabis, Belladonna or some combination of any of the above plants.
An early entheogen in Aegean civilization, predating the introduction of wine, which was the more familiar entheogen of the reborn Dionysus and the maenads, was fermented honey, known in Northern Europe as mead; its cult uses in the Aegean world are bound up with the mythology of the bee.
The growth of Roman Christianity also saw the end of the two-thousand-year-old tradition of the Eleusinian Mysteries, the initiation ceremony for the cult of Demeter and Persephone involving the use of a substance consistent with an entheogenic known as kykeon (the term 'Ambrosia' is used in Greek mythology in a way that is remarkably similar to the Soma of the Hindus as well). Similarly, there is some evidence that nitrous oxide or ethylene or some other psychoactive may have been in part responsible for the visions of the equally long-lived Delphic oracle (Hale et al., 2003).
It has been suggested that the ritual use of small amounts of Syrian Rue is an artifact of its ancient use in higher doses as an entheogen (possibly in conjunction with DMT containing acacia).Template:Citation needed
Philologist John Marco Allegro has argued in his book The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross that early Jewish and Christian cultic practice was based on the use of Amanita muscaria which was later forgotten by its adherents, and this hypothesis is gaining momentum with the advent of The Internet. Allegro's hypothesis that Amanita use was forgotten after primitive Christianity seems contradicted by his own view that the chapel in Plaincourault shows evidence of Christian Amanita use in the 13th century.
Indigenous Australians are generally thought not to have used entheogens, although there is a strong barrier of secrecy surrounding Aboriginal shamanism, which has likely limited what has been told to outsiders. A plant which the Australian Aboriginals used to ingest is called "Pitcheri", which is said to have a similar effect to that of coca. "Pitcheri" was made from the bark of the shrub Duboisia myoporoides. This plant is now grown commercially and is processed to manufacture an eye medication. There are no known uses of entheogens by the Māori of New Zealand aside from a variant species of Kava. Natives of Papua New Guinea are known to use several species of entheogenic mushrooms (Psilocybe spp, Boletus manicus).
Kava or Kava Kava (Piper Methysticum) has been cultivated for at least 3000 years by a number of Pacific island-dwelling peoples. Historically, most Polynesian, many Melanesian, and some Micronesian cultures have ingested the psychoactive pulverized root, typically taking it mixed with water. Much traditional usage of Kava, though somewhat suppressed by Christian missionaries in the 19th and 20th centuries, is thought to facilitate contact with the spirits of the dead, especially relatives and ancestors (Singh 2004).
It's widely known that Russian culture has a great influence of hallucinogenic mushrooms. One of the most widespread species of such mushrooms in Russian territory is Psilocybe semilanceata. Some historians consider that using different hallucinogenic mushrooms is an integral part of ancient culture of Rus'.
Notable early testing of the entheogenic experience includes the Marsh Chapel Experiment, conducted by physician and theology doctoral candidate, Walter Pahnke, under the supervision of Timothy Leary and the Harvard Psilocybin Project. In this double-blind experiment, volunteer graduate school divinity students from the Boston area almost all claimed to have had profound religious experiences subsequent to the ingestion of pure psilocybin. In 2006, a more rigorously controlled experiment was conducted at Johns Hopkins University, and yielded similar results. To date there is little peer-reviewed research on this subject, due to ongoing drug prohibition and the difficulty of getting approval from institutional review boards.
Many works of literature have described entheogen use; some of those are:
- The substance melange (spice) in Frank Herbert's Dune universe acts as both an entheogen (in large enough quantities) and an addictive geriatric medicine. Control of the supply of melange was crucial to the Empire, as it was necessary for, among other things, faster than light navigation.Template:Citation needed
- Consumption of the imaginary mushroom anochi [enoki] as the entheogen underlying the creation of Christianity is the premise of Philip K. Dick's last novel, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, a theme which seems to be inspired by John Allegro's book.Template:Citation needed
- Aldous Huxley's final novel, Island (1962), depicted a fictional entheogenic mushroom — termed "moksha medicine" — used by the people of Pala in rites of passage, such as the transition to adulthood and at the end of life.Template:Citation needed
- Bruce Sterling's Holy Fire novel refers to the religion in the future as a result of entheogens, used freely by the population.Template:Citation needed
- In Stephen King's The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger, Book 1 of The Dark Tower series, the main character receives guidance after taking mescaline.Template:Citation needed
- The Alastair Reynolds novel Absolution Gap features a moon under the control of a religious government which uses neurological viruses to induce religious faith.Template:Citation needed
- Roberts, Thomas B. (editor) (2001). Psychoactive Sacramentals: Essays on Entheogens and Religion San Francisco: Council on Spiritual Practices.
- Roberts, Thomas B. (2006) "Chemical Input, Religious Output—Entheogens" Chapter 10 in Where God and Science Meet: Vol. 3: The Psychology of Religious Experience Westport, CT: Praeger/Greenwood.
- Roberts, Thomas, and Hruby, Paula J. (1995–2003). Religion and Psychoactive Sacraments: An Entheogen Chrestomathy http://www.csp.org/chrestomathy [Online archive]
- Stafford, Peter. (2003). Psychedlics. Ronin Publishing, Oakland, California. ISBN 0-914171-18-6.
- Carl Ruck and Danny Staples, The World of Classical Myth 1994. Introductory excerpts
- Huston Smith, Cleansing the Doors of Perception: The Religious Significance of Entheogenic Plants and Chemicals, 2000, Tarcher/Putnam, ISBN 1-58542-034-4
- Giorgio Samorini 1995 "Traditional use of psychoactive mushrooms in Ivory Coast (Côte d'Ivoire)?" in Eleusis 1 22-27 (no current url)
- M. Bock 2000 "Māori kava (Macropiper excelsum)" in Eleusis n.s. vol 4 (no current url)
- Plants of the Gods: Their Sacred, Healing and Hallucinogenic Powers by Richard Evans Schultes, Albert Hofmann, Christian Ratsch - ISBN 0-89281-979-0
- John J. McGraw, Brain & Belief: An Exploration of the Human Soul, 2004, AEGIS PRESS, ISBN 0-9747645-0-7
- J.R. Hale, J.Z. de Boer, J.P. Chanton and H.A. Spiller (2003) Questioning the Delphic Oracle, 2003, Scientific American, vol 289, no 2, 67-73.
- The Sacred Plants of our Ancestors by Christian Rätsch, published in TYR: Myth—Culture—Tradition Vol. 2, 2003–2004 - ISBN 0-9720292-1-4
- Yadhu N. Singh, editor, Kava: From Ethnology to Pharmacology, 2004, Taylor & Francis, ISBN 0-415-32327-4
- The Vaults of Erowid (Erowid)
- Entheogenreview.com Quarterly publication serving as a clearinghouse for current data about the use of visionary plants and drugs.
- Council on Spiritual Practices Entheogen Project
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