In 1957, a former Wall Street banker named R. Gordon Wasson posited the idea that Adam and Eve were ancient Siberians who plucked psychedelic mushrooms from birches near the artic, which became the forbidden Tree of Knowledge that led to Original Sin. This was a soberly vision:

“ … It was as though the walls of our house dissolved, and my spirit had flown forth, and I was suspended in mid-air viewing landscapes of Mountains, with camel caravans advancing slowly across the slopes, the mountains rising tier above tier to the very heavens … The thought crossed my mind: could the divine mushrooms be the secret that lay behind the ancient Mysteries?”

Thirty centuries ago, in the early days of our culture, before we made use of reading and writing, Somas was a psychotropic plant-god used by poet priests of the original Aryan people to endow that race with bliss and immortality, the only record of which comes to us by way of 120 hymns taken from the Rig Veda (1700 – 1100 B. C.)

Huston Smith, whose The World’s Religions remains after three decades, the standard collegiate text, writes: “In the pantheon the Aryans brought with them when they swept into Afghanistan and the Indus Valley in the second millennium B. C. Soma occupied a unique position. Indra with his thunderbolt was more commanding, and Agri evoked the awe that fire so readily inspired before the invention of matches made it common place. But Soma was special … because of what one become: immortal.”

Psychedelics may be as old as the mind. We remain illiterate of Neanderthal metaphysics, but many if not most “B. C. and back” anthropologists find it likely that earliest hunter-gathers, eating whatever they could, lay their hands on, ingested plants with hallucinogenic properties, and acid analogs as a metaphysical “stairway to heaven” date to prehistoric times. Likewise, the true is the largest living entity to most pre-dynamic people’s existence; it also bears sustaining fruit and if it hosts mind-zonking mushrooms, it doesn’t take a Yale-educated Bible scholar to understand a logical mystical genesis for the Tree of Life in the Book of Genesis.

That fungus or vegetation common to Eurasia which, if ingested, produced profound hallucinations, it might easily have influenced the evolution of religious experience since prehistoric times. Consider the serpent’s promise from the Old Testament, “You shall not surely die. For God do know that in the day you eat there of, then your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be as gods.”

Long a symbol of slithering, low-shadowed immortality, Eden’s serpent made man die. God placed the tree of life in Eden, where its fruits conferred life everlasting. God instructed Adam and Eve that they were welcome to eat from every tree in the Garden, except for the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. According to Genesis, had Adam and Eve resisted the serpent’s temptation to eat from that tree they would have been free to eat from the tree of life with God’s approval and enjoy its benefits.

There are theories common as crabgrass that civilization occurred only when hunter-gatherer man ate himself out of psychedelics, that until the dawn of recorded history man had existed in shaman-led tribes who tripped the light fantastic across veldt and steppe as part of pre-agricultural “goddess cultures” who worshipped female deities and who might never have sobered up to invent beer, bread, alphabets, the printing press and the atom bomb had they – our great-grand parents to the X power – not run out of hallucinogenic plants.

In retrospect, acid was a no-brainer. When LSD came of age in the 1960s, it invited a higher purpose. And soon found one as the savior of, if not the soul, at least the self. The mind-expanding metaphysical wonders of LSD soon proved an ultimate elixir, God’s alchemy for the Cosmic Consciousness.

What America wanted in 1965 was a new divinity, a magic sacrament to enfranchise a new religion: a religion not of God but of the self; a perfect virgin arena for magic. In the age of empowerment, self-awareness became the last frontier of the almost total unknown and the new stamping grounds for endless possibility. This was also a form of revelation gone too far. But this was never a tendency in Abraham and the ancient Hebrews– quite the opposite.

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What I said is that civilization started after our ancestors sobered up. That means when they learned how to avoid these mushrooms and give way to their rational powers. It is part of the origins of religion anyway – one of those theories. I cannot provide links right now.

We think of hominids on the Savannah requiring an accurate way to discern leopards, and conclude that parts of our ancestral schemes of representation, having evolved under strong selection, must accurately depict the environment. This view implies that out brains must be minimally competent at representing nature, that they must be able to alert us to the threats and possibilities of the environment.

However, where selection is intense in the way it is here, the penalties are severe only for failures to recognize present predators. The hominid representation can be quite at odds with natural regularities, lumping all kinds of harmless things with potential dangers, provided that false positives are evolutionary inconsequential and provided that the representation always cues the subject to danger.

The human brain, it appears to me, is the product of evolutionary tinkering. And when natural selection will favor organisms who play for safety, it is easy to conclude that we will consequently develop inaccurate systems of representation. My questions concern (1) the possibility that we began in so primitive a state that we are incapable of working ourselves into any accurate representation of nature, and (2) the possibility that there are constrains on the process of modification that prevent us from making significant improvements.

If the historical process out of which contemporary religious beliefs have emerged was reliable in the sense of having a high chance of generating truth, then the theistic reply to atheism would succeed.

A promising and popular defense is to find encouragement in Darwin. If our initial state was so bad that there was nothing we could have done to escape our misrepresentations, then, the suggestion runs, our ancestors would have been eliminated by natural selection. They weren't, so it wasn't. In this way, we can appeal to Darwinian evolutionary theory to support the idea that our initial religious beliefs must correspond to objective regularities in nature, and our modes or reasoning must work reliably in establishing the historical process out of which contemporary religions have emerged.


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