The origins of religion are thought to be rooted in animism and other primitive notions
which our pre-literate ancestors chose to accept as part of the explanation for our
very existence. Archaeological evidence demonstrates that early humans possessed a religious
consciousness going back to the Middle Paleolithic period. This predates agriculture,
writing, science, or civilization. Possibly before our use of tools, fire, or language.
Our early existence was predicated on interacting with nature at it's most rudimentary
level: as foragers and hunters. Acquiring food and securing shelter was the
most primary duty of our primitive ancestors. This quest for sustenance from
our surroundings made it necessary that all forms of plant and animal matter should
be necessarily scrutinized as a possible food source. In this constant search for
edible food sources it was inevitable that early men and women would accidentally
ingest certain plants that contained chemical compounds which would affect their central
nervous system. This accidental ingestion of a hallucinogenic plant (a mushroom?) would
be the earliest record of man's encounter with the numinosum [jungiancenter.org/essay
/healing-power-numinosum] and could of possibly led to the formation of the concept of deity and the supernatural. This imaginary proposition was suggested by the ethno-mycologist R. Gordon Wasson during the late fifties/early sixties.
It does have a logical appeal in the sense that a person scanning nature for sources of
food would quickly single out the unusual shape and appearance of the lowly
mushroom. Given a couple thousand years of random experimentation our early ancestors
would eventually discover and ingest psychoactive fungi that would induce a
hallucinogenic experience and provide the spiritual connection to the numinosum.
Wasson and his colleagues determined that a religious cult, centered around the ritual
ingestion of hallucinogenic mushrooms, existed in the high country of central Mexico
since before the time of the Conquest/Conquistadors. How long before is not certain.
Whether it was the ingestion of a fungus or other plant life there remains a distinct possibility
that the hallucinogenic experience/altered state of consciousness played a direct role in the
formation of transcendental thought. Perhaps the 'religious experience' has it's origin
in the consumption of psychoactive plants by our forefathers.
I like that suggestion. So why is there such a lack of European (and other) tradition and written history about it? Was it censored? Was there a move away from psychotropics in pre-history, while religion/deism remained alive?
@ Pope Beanie
I don't have an explanation for the absence of psychotropics in today's religions. It was used by our ancestors for a long period of time in the Americas. A few Indian tribes still consider it an essential part of their religious experience. I believe the use of hallucinogenic substances probably facilitated spiritual thoughts about our existence and place in the universe. Their use, through accidental or planned ingestion,certainly could of been an impetus into the development of supernatural thought. As to why the use of psychoactive compounds would of fell out of use in many geographic areas I do not know.
I will check out the links you mentioned (Egodeath, etc) as time permits. You are certainly better read on the subject than myself. It is interesting food for thought.
@Ed Just curious. Are you deleting the posts I've left or is it the MODs?
I really don't mind, after all, it is your thread. I understand the post was a bit long, but if that's the case, I'll simply make another thread with the material so that you can have access to the links once again.
My two cents: I am actually interested in the subject and what you have to say about it - but NOT interested enough to spend all day reading it. A post has got to be REALLY interesting to me before I deem to read more than a screenful. Your posts are three, four, five screenfuls.
Consider sourcing the material elsewhere and then making you salient points here with links for those who want to pursue in detail.
Thanks for the feedback and advice, MikeLong. You're right. Some of my posts have ran quite long. I'll try and make it more concise. I know it's not simply the length that is cause for its deletion, because my other shorter posts on this thread have been deleted, too.
You'd think an atheist forum would be a latitudinarian area for discussion, but apparently that's not the case. It's sort of disheartening to realize that your freedom of speech is limited in a place like this especially when you're following the TA guidelines.
I'll go over it again and try and minimize it as much as I can, but I feel that some of these concepts cannot be expressed in a mere paragraph.
I got your message, Gallup. I'm not sure how MODs can view this as "proselytizing." If that's what they interpreted as, then I've obviously been misconstrued. I want to make one thing absolutely clear. I am not a Zen Buddhist (I know it reads Buddhism on my profile, but that's only because I couldn't find "empirical agnostic" and you're only given so many options to choose from), I am not advocating Perennial Philosophy, I am not trying to convert anyone to it. I have nothing to sell. I'm simply expressing concepts as Ed said, "Food for thought."
When primates evolved creativity, self awareness, and social relationships to the point of being able to hear themselves think and imagine hypothetical social interaction; I doubt drugs were needed to direct energy to some sort of more powerful being. Imaginary friends seem so natural to our species.
Agree. But here's why it's so natural - LANGUAGE.
That beautiful red ball hanging from the tree (which, from experience, you know to be delicious and health) is reality. But when you give it a name ("apple"), you've created abstraction (and, BTW, consciousness).
Next step you become self-aware - you understand that you can be named and are separate from you environment (which, of course, you're really not). Language becomes something with which you can create a reality which is not present. You can TELL another where the apple tree is.
Next step, when words start coursing through your brain, language plays a trick - an illusion. Language, by its nature has a speaker and a listener. Naturally, then, when language occurs in the brain only, it is STILL necessary (by the nature of language) that there is a speaker and a listener. But you look around and you count only one. Where is the other?
I still believe it was a HUGE leap of the imagination for us to create invisible beings. When it was recently discovered that there were isolated South American tribes who had no previous contact with the outside world it was determined that culturally they had no concept of god(s) or a word in their language for such supernatural ideas.
I can think of a lot of ways that someone can have a "supernatural" experience or "numinous experience" without ingesting any mind altering bio-matter. Walk through the burning savannah for a couple hours. Hyperventilate and fall down. Have disturbing reoccurring dreams about the same inexplicable subject. Stare too long at the sun. Getting hit really hard on the head. Seeing an enormous crashing misty water fall for the first time. Thunder and lightening setting a tree on fire. Having a very strong fever. Getting lost and separated from your tribe and suffering hallucinations due to social isolation. Giving birth to triplets. Witnessing an entire tribe of humans murdered by a stampede of animals. Going without sleep for three nights in a row.
These can all be experienced without language or many modern cultural constructs. I like the mushroom idea but I think this could be one of many many many experiences that would ignite the irrational in pre-language man.
Knocks on the head aside, I believe the hallucinogenic experience could of been one avenue for our early ancestors to ponder about a supernatural realm. I don't want to imply that it was the definitive starting point for religious concepts but it might have had an influence. As someone who has experienced, albeit many years ago, the effects of hallucinogenic compounds in the form of LDS and psilocybin I can attest to the 'creative juices' that flow when under their influence. The chemical imbalance of one's blood system resulting from these substances allows the mind to explore areas previously never considered.
The effects of psychoactive substances to stimulate our thought processes should not be underestimated. The question is whether any validity should be attached to those thoughts. Regarding the supernatural I think not; there always remains the need for verification