According to the entheogen theory of religion: religion is essentially rooted in the experience of intense psychedelic tripping, the world religions consist of collections of stories which serve as metaphorical descriptions of psychedelic experiences (in particular the experience of mystical death and rebirth/ressurection/transformation).

This theory fits with the scientific evidence that entheogenic drugs trigger mystical/religious type experiences when they are administered in an appropriately conducive setting (the recent Johns Hopkins psilocybin study concluded this).

It would be interesting to get the atheist take on this theory, the issue here isnt religious beliefs (such as the belief in God) but rather religious/mystical/transcendent experiences of the kind that people commonly experience under the influence of entheogenic/psychedelic substances.

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It would be naive or obtusely narrow-minded to think that any single factor gave rise to religion in the Human animal. It seems there are almost more theories than there are anthropologists and many of them can call on some aspect of mans use of alkaloids to posit causality or method. However the one thing that religion requires is not an hallucinogenic it is language itself. This combined with the human brains evolved propensity to constantly look for patterns is all you need. Entheogens came to be used and abused by those wielding religion as a social device, but it is over-egging the pudding to see it as any more than a bit part in the story of the evolution of religion itself. 

I expect that as our hunter-gather ancesters tried out all the local native foods of the planet, they discovered all/most of the poisenous, drug, and hallucinogenic plants/fungi. This would then become a part of the cultural wisdom.

I can just about see that first moment when our dear Grog discovered pot or funny mushrooms during a hunting party or after his woman gathered some nice greens/mushrooms to be shared! Imagine Grog's family sitting in their nice dry cave, finishing up that evenings meal, then a cave bear shows up, a battle is joined, but after he recovers there is no bear! 'Grut-no bear, what the?' So begins then new adventure of 'what the?'  


@James Cox

I love your story about Grog and his family.

and imagine that Grog and his family all belonged to a larger community of other Grogs and their families and that these funny foods were grown in abundence and eaten by the whole community regularly over a long period of time. Thats a long time of different "what the's" going on.

Well, if the concept of god didn't already exist in the mind of the tripper, hallucinogens wouldn't put it there. 

I expect 'what the', could easily become 'what if....'


I expect 'what the', could easily become 'what if....'

and then 'what if'  became 'why not?"

Yes, and at no time should scientific reasoning need to be engaged. This web of supposition need not be disturbed by a growing body of important 'details'.

I little like young boys building a shared fantasy world, which can mature into a rationalized world of 'power over', 'royalty', 'crualty', and paranoia. I guess we should not forget that a similar process could be used to build a wonderland of explorations...  


There was a thread going on in here not so long ago discussing this theory in regards to Terrence McKenna and his philosophies about this. There was lots of very passionate debate going on and lot of different opinions about it.

I dont know as much as others do on this subject but - in it's simplist form, the idea makes sense. That if there was enough of an hallucinogenic drug around and if it was widespread and if it became a common food source over a long period of time - because its that 'long period of time' component thats important isnt it?. Then it does make sense that it would have an effect in shifting consciousness from one mindset to another.




Yes i was lurking on the Mckenna thread for ages that's what eventually persuaded me to join this forum and post about this....

I think that although Mckenna was one of the most important psychedelic prophets, he nevertheless completely failed to spot the glaring connection between christianity and entheogens. At the very centre of christianity, there is a story about a man (who is also God incarnate) consuming holy food at the last supper then subsequently undergoing trial, agonising execution and eventual transcendent ressurection. To an entheogenic insider, that story looks like a thinly disguised metaphor for eating entheogens then experiencing ego mystic death and rebirth. Mckenna entirely failed to recognise this, and he instead chose to paint christianity as some big barbaric evil force that was strictly opposed to drug use and ruled the western world for two thousand years. The entheogen theory of religion completely inverts Mckenna's view of christianity, by suggesting that entheogens and drug-induced mystical/religious experiencing is the essence and origin (the true meaning) of christianity, as well as every other religion. Mckenna only recognised the entheogenic essence of shamanic religion, he didnt spot the entheogenic essence of religion in general.


Fascinating -

  Im glad this topic has come up again because the other one left a bit of an impression on me. I didnt get to involved in the last one because they were all using too many long

I'm interested to see the comments though.


I won't engage in bukkake, but I will leave one message that goes over this stuff so that I won'd have to type another.

@John I disagree with what you said about McKenna, I believe Terence McKenna was quite aware of entheogens playing a role in all of religion, including Christianity. He would often mention the work of John Allegro in some of his talks, and I'll leave a link below where he speaks about it. 

McKenna on "Jesus."

He'd also mention the Elusinian mysteries where it's believed by some historians and scholars that some type of ergotized beer was drank during this era by the great philosophers of the time. Likewise, soma in Hinduism, McKenna thought that "soma" may be a reference to some type of entheogen that was used.

The only place that I've heard of this concept being discussed in terms of the "entheogen theory of religion" is at Michael Hoffman's website "," perhaps you're familiar with that website. Because this concept has been mentioned not by that title, but in other forms as in Aldous Huxley's "Perennial Philosophy," there's also Richard M. Bucke's book "Cosmic Consciousness" where he proposes precisely the idea of these colossal altered states being the root of religion, but doesn't necessarily target the imbibing of psychedelics being cause for it. 

Michael Talbot in his book "The Holographic Universe," discusses these mystic states and their parallels to quantum mechanics and string theory. The idea in the book is that consciousness can become sensitive to the "11-dimensional hyperspace" as described in M-Theory, and that is what results in these so-called "Mystical Experiences." So, he adopted the term "quantum mysticism." That what Hindus call "Brahman" is one and the same with what an M-Theorist calls "11-dimensional Hyperspace," and this is what becomes intuit within this colossal altered state.

Alan Watts spoke of these mystical states being the root of religion, too, using Bucke's term "cosmic consciousness" to describe this. But just as Bucke didn't necessarily involve psychedelics, Watts knew that there is more than one path to this experience, whether it be natural, through meditation, through psychedelics, etc.

Alan Watts discussing "Cosmic Consciousness" as the root of religion

Then, there's Dr. Rick Strassman, the author of "DMT: The Spirit Molecule," who has speculated that even in the case of the natural experiences of this so-called "cosmic consciousness," it may be that endogenous DMT is what elicits this experience. So, it could all come back to "entheogens," even if this experience were to happen naturally. I've noticed a lot of people seem to want to make a distinction between a "natural experience" and a "entheogen-induced experience," when it may be pointless to do so, since they may be one and the same thing.

And last, I just want to leave you with a the message that it's quite pointless to ask for opinions or thoughts on a theory like this of those who've never had these type of experiences. I mean, just look at the backlog of some of the posts I've left here, and you'll see why that is so! So, instead I think it's better to articulate the experience to the point that people can realize that entheogens do invoke or elicit these type of experiences that up to this point have only really been discussed in a religious context. But it's better understood if you imagine that religion only hijacked this phenomenon or it's probably better to say that the major religions that arose so many years ago were the result of attempting to describe this phenomenon in consciousness. So, then if you can manage to express the God-like proportions of this experience, then maybe you could pique people's curiosity and interest to the point where they can challenge themselves to it, because I think you'll find no amount of words can convince someone of the sheer profundity of this experience, and therefore ever convince someone of any theories that follow it or expect much opinion on it, for that matter.

Graham Hancock challenges Richard Dawkins to try ayahuasca

@Gallup's Mirror What I meant by that is to say it's quite a thankless task to try and describe to someone who's never experienced, say, an orgasm what it's like to experience one. Words will always fall short of the splendor of the experience. In order to know what it feels like, one must have the experience. Otherwise, all the extrapolating and fanciful guessing will never touch the experience itself. Likewise, the same would apply to this mystical state of consciousness ever more so. It's the reason Buddhists don't go around preaching Buddhism, because they know that you cannot say what nirvana is, and instead know people will find their way to it if their curiosity persists.

It only "makes sense" if you blow your brains out on psychedelic drugs. For anyone who does exactly that and still knows it's woo-woo: it means you haven't done enough drugs.

I don't think "it only makes sense if you use psychedelics," I think some people can actually find this a plausible theory, even if they hadn't had any psychedelic experiences themselves. However, to know what this experience involves requires a direct experience. It's not something you can read in a book, "ego death" by its definition won't give you a picture, you cannot extrapolate from any other known experience to imagine what it's like, nothing can show you what it's like short of having this experience for yourself and your pathway to it doesn't necessarily have to be shamanic use of entheogens. And there is a physiological threshold, there is a physiological barrier that must be exceeded in order to have this experience in the first place. If you fail to burst through the threshold, then it's possible that these psychedelics will not elicit the so-called religious experience and mind-blowing psychedelic effects, and instead what you're left with is residual and subtle psychological effects with no accompanying hallucinations. So, this threshold makes all the difference between sunyata, and try again, Sam. 

I refer to Strassman's book in another thread where he has an entire page dedicated to the "threshold" involved in the use of entheogens, and I link to it in another thread: Where is God? I also mention this very idea, but I didn't give it the title "Entheogen theory of Religion." So, I agree, if someone attempts this art, and doesn't succeed the first time, then doubling the dose should do the trick. Because it is an art, it's something you coax into existence, and it's guaranteed to work if you can just manage to break through the physiological threshold.

I'm not sure what portion you're referring to as "woo-woo." Sam Harris, after looking at studies done with psilocybin and fMRI, there is obvious excitation and activity in dormant areas of the brain located in the temporal lobes, he thought maybe what may be happening is a kind of overhaul. For instance, as you sit there and read this, there is a level of microelectricity occurring in the brain. Now, if you have a surge of these mirco-electrical currents as what happens through the use of these entheogens, then what that could feel like experientially is as though you're having multiple experiences simultaneously. Sometimes people have an impression of having had "all experience," and this is what leads to metaphors involving "God," or the feeling of being "one with the universe," etc. It's like being struck by metanoetic lightning, and the result is this seemingly incomprehensible experience which when someone tries to define it, they're left with religious metaphor and references to the transcendental, i.e. God, Brahman, nirvana, satori, ego death, higher dimension, extraterrestrial, genius loci, Gaian mind, entelechy, cosmic consciousness, etc., etc.

Another good analogy, and I'll quote McKenna, because it's a better way to think about all of this than to merely reject it as "woo."

I mean, think about… and I don’t think you could discover consciousness if you didn’t perturb it, because as Marshall McLuhan said, “Whoever discovered water, it certainly wasn’t a fish”. Well, we are fish swimming in consciousness; and yet we know it’s there. Well, the reason we know it’s there is because if you perturb it, then you see it; and you perturb it by perturbing the engine which generates it, which is the mind/brain system resting behind your eyebrows. If you swap out the ordinary chemicals that are running that system in an invisible fashion, then you see: it’s like dropping ink into a bowl of clear water – suddenly the convection currents operating in the clear water become visible, because you see the particles of ink tracing out the previously invisible dynamics of the standing water. The mind is precisely like that, and the psychedelic is like a dye-marker being dropped into this aqueous system. And then you say, “Oh, I see – it works like this… and like this.”

Entheogens are often regarded as tools to probe the depths of consciousness, and as McKenna once said, "Psychedelics are to psychology what the telescope was to astronomy during Galileo's time." I believe these things should be studied more and haven't been properly evaluated. I don't believe there's any woo involved here, what these psychedelics are doing are giving us deeper glimpses into the nature of consciousness, and we don't know what that is, and we're definitely not going to find out by the time this thread is done, so I'll just leave it at that.



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