While we all have heard of Rome, Jerusalem, and Nazareth, most of us have not heard of Eleusis. This Greek harbor town was the spiritual capital of the Western world. Plato visited Eleusis and wrote about the “blessed sight and vision” he witnessed “in a state of perfection” by sipping a drink called kykeon. Those who drank kykeon transcended the division between humankind and nature. They also realized that death was not the end of the human journey, and underneath this mortal clothing, we are immortals.
After the Greeks, the Romans continued the tradition. Cicero and Marcus Aurelius were initiated there, along with so many others. We don’t hear about Eleusis anymore because it became a casualty with the Neo-Christianity that arose in the fourth century CE. Pagan monuments were attacked and destroyed. Secret religions like the one in Eleusis were annihilated by the fourth century CE.
In his book The Immortality Key, Brian Muraresku argues that, rather than starting a new religion, Jesus was trying to preserve the “holiest of Mysteries” from Ancient Greece. This is an origin story of Christianity with a psychedelic plot twist. In this version, Jesus continued the tradition of Plato, Pindar, Sophocles, and the rest of the Athenians. In early Christianity, Mass was celebrated in house churches and underground catacombs. Hence, you could brew the drink in your home instead of going to a unique pilgrimage site or the wilderness of Greece and Italy.
How else does Christianity go from being an obscure cult of “twenty or so illiterate day laborers” in a neglected part of the Mediterranean to the official religion of Rome, converting half the empire and millions in the process? It is well known that pagans in the Mediterranean world were ruthlessly targeted by the Gospel writers and Paul. Muraresku argues that they used the Greek language to create a new religion that convinced believers that the Christian wine is no ordinary wine and that the sacrament of the Greeks and the sacrament of Jesus are one and the same. Behind closed doors, the Eucharistic celebrations included secret rites and revealed truths. This also influenced the Gnostic churches, which were Christian sects that thrived in the second and third centuries CE.
The book argues that psychedelics were the shortcut to enlightenment that founded Western civilization. It went from Eleusinian Mysteries to Dionysian Mysteries to the original Christianity. This was then passed on to the witches of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Muraresku’s book is not just about theory but about his twelve-year investigation into this theory. As part of this, he travels to Greece, Louvre, goes into the catacombs in Rome, and finds manuscripts that have yet to be translated into English. Finally, he finds evidence of the ceremonial use of psychedelic drugs in antiquity.
War and Peace Against Consciousness
How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan describes the author’s first-hand experiences with various drugs. He also writes about psychedelic trips by various people in which they experience that the consciousness that manifests in the body is not made by the body, nor is it confined to the body, nor does it die with the body’s death. They also lost the fear of death as they transcended the primary identification with the body and experienced ego-free states. In these “mystical” experiences, they experienced the dissolution of the ego followed by a sense of merging with the universe. They accessed an alternative reality where the usual law of physics did not apply. They saw manifestations of cosmic consciousness, encountering visionary beings and being drawn toward sacred realms of light.
Primal mystic experience can be threatening to existing hierarchical structures. In Abrahamic religions, only the founder has the direct experience of the sacred. God reveals himself in history in unique events to specific peoples or prophets that are unavailable to others directly. Followers listen to stories and follow the symbolism. Access to the sacred must be mediated by priests. The Church of Psychedelics, on the other hand, offers a direct religious experience to anyone. Then faith is superfluous.
What will happen to religion when people are convinced that the consciousness that manifests in the body is neither made by a body-mind complex nor confined to the body. What if people realize that consciousness does not become extinct with the death of the body. With this awareness, you no longer fear death. When you no longer fear death, there is no need to fear hell and the final judgment. When you no longer fear the final judgment, you are no longer a customer of what the Church has to sell.
The fact that ordinary people could experience transcendence without the Church did not go well. In his book Indra’s Net Rajiv Malhotra points out how hierarchical religions counter these self-realizations. In their view, the body and its experience are not reliable. There is a concept of a ‘sin’ which prevents one from realizing their connection to the divine. Even though such declarations were made, it was not as if people complied. Hence the history of the Church is a history of oppression and bans.
Emperor Theodosius outlawed the Mysteries at the end of the fourth century CE. In 367 CE, Archbishop Athanasius of Alexandria called to cleanse the Church from every defilement by rejecting apocryphal books filled with myths. Church fathers of Neo-Christianity considered Gnosticism dangerous because it offered every initiate direct access to God. All those who received gnosis had gone beyond the Church’s teaching and transcended the authority of its hierarchy. Thus the Gnostic Gospel did not make it to the canonical gospels. During the Spanish colonization, psychedelic mushrooms were declared the flesh of the devil and outlawed.
The male-dominated Church did all this to maintain power in their hands. It was women who sustained the secrets of Ancient Greece; hence women were excluded from leadership positions. The holy family is all males. So women became cartoonish Disney witches, and the drugged wine became the symbolic Eucharist.
But guess what? The Eleusinian Mysteries are making a comeback yet again. Now instead of going to the Greek wilderness, people trek to the Burning Man. Psychedelic drugs are having a renaissance, being used experimentally in therapeutic settings to treat depression, addiction, and the existential fear of death in people with cancer. Therapists involved in this research now believe in the power of the mind to heal itself the way the body typically does. Statements like, “There are people who believe that consciousness is a property of the universe, like electromagnetic radiation or gravity.” emerge from these experiences. Big-name universities are involved in this, and the genie has again escaped from the bottle. What will the Church do now?