Saturday, September 24, 2011

Drugs Used in Religion-The 'New World'

     In the Americas, natives used several different types of hallucinogenic plants in order to induce spiritual experience. In North and South America, the inhabitants smoked potent tobacco in high doses in the belief that this carried a prayer for them from the human world to the spirit world.
European Adoption of Tobacco

     Tobacco was brought back to Europe by Sir Walter Raleigh. In Mesoamerica, the cacao (chocolate) seed was mixed with chili for its stimulant effect. It was considered to be an aphrodisiac and to possess 'mind-altering' properties. The coca leaf  (from which cocaine is derived) is sacred to the natives of the Andes.
     Mescaline (a psychedelic alkaloid) is a staple for a number of indigenous faiths in North and South America. It is the principle psychoactive agent in: Peyote-used by members of the Native American ChurchSan Pedro Cactus used in the San Pedro Cactus Rites of Peru.
Peyote Cactus

     Throughout history, in the Americas as well as in Europe, psilocybin mushrooms (metabolised to mescaline in the body) have been used to induce visions. The 'Ayahuasca' ('spirit vine' in the Quechua language) vine (Banisteriopsis species), mixed with the shrub of the dimethyltryptamine (DMT)-containing plant from the species Psychotria is used in sacred ceremonies by shamans and their followers.
Psilocybin Mushroom Statues - Mesoamerica

     Well-known artist and shaman, Pablo Amerigo, illustrates the beauty of his visions when under the influence of 'ayahuasca'. Interestingly, in nearly all of his paintings, there is a predominance of the color 'blue'. A color of the divine? (see post: The Colors of Faith).
     In the Pacific, Kava root extract provides a sedative effect (similar to barbiturates) used in spiritual practice and, today, as an everyday drink (much like the original Coca-Cola produced in 1896 containing cocaine from the South American coca leaf and caffeine from the African kola nut).
Pablo Amerigo

     Aboriginal Australians used a shrub bark to make 'pitcheri', that produced effects similar to those of coca. Natives in Papua New Guinea found their visions through the use of mushrooms (psilocybin as well as other types containing different hallucinogenic compounds).
     Rastafarians (see post: The Chosen Ones) use cannabis as a sacred drug. Cannabis is also used by certain Hindu sects (Sadhu) and, although denied by many in the Sikh faith, used by some Sikhs to make a concoction called 'Hola Mohalla', a mixture of seeds, almonds and other substances with cannabis.  

     The Scythians, people of the Caspian Steppe at the time of the Roman Empire, used cannabis for religious rites and battle. Taoists in ancient China used cannabis in their own rituals as well.
Kava in a Bottle - Vanuatu


     Different drugs used by different peoples in different parts of the world. But what were they all looking for? And, more importantly, what did they see?
     *Drugs used in religion: subject of research for the novel  The Tao of the Thirteenth God - Amazon Kindle.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Drugs Used in Religion-The 'Old World'

     Entheogen: A psychoactive substance used in a religious or spiritual context (ie drugs). Drug use was probably a significant component in the 'prehistoric' cults, among 'mystics' and is still in use in many areas of the world, found in a variety of religious traditions.
Cave Painting - Lascaux, France

     'Shamanism', a 'pagan' belief system centers around the mystical leader (the shaman) who visits the 'other world(s)', often via drug-induced states. One of the earliest signs to suggest drug usage is seen in the figure of a man in a trance-like state in a 25,000 year old cave painting in Lascaux, France.

     In early Hindu literature, a drug called 'soma' was used to create mind-altered experiences. There is evidence that the Pharaonic rite of passage of the Horus (new king) involved a drug-induced 'voyage' to the 'otherworld' under the (narcotic)  influence of a combination of mandrake root and the buds of the blue water lily, the ceremony directed by the high priest. Palm wine was also used as the medium in which was dissolved water lily with incised yellow poppy capsules that dripped their opium nectar into the mix.
The Passion of Christ at Golgotha

     In ancient Greece, the priestess at the 'Oracle of Delphi' provided 'insights and revelations' probably after breathing in naturally-occurring gases that emanated from the ground.In the middle east, the Hebrews were known to use wine combined with opium and there is even thought that this mixture may have been offered to Jesus as he carried his cross to his own execution (Matthew 27:45).

Oracle of Delphi

     Some even suggest that Jesus' survival on the cross may have been due to the sip of the sponge ('vinegar') sedation (opium/'gall'?) given to him on the end of a spear/stick, resulting in sedation that mimicked death.

     The Eleusian Mystery Cults (Greek) celebrated Demeter and Persephone and climaxed their ceremonies with the drinking of a sacred potion (barley wine likely tainted with the fungus 'ergot')  resulting in 'dazzling visions of eternity'. The Romans were known to use alcohol (wine) as well as narcotics.
Triptolemus Receiving Sheaves of Wheat and
 Blessings from Demeter and Persephone

     *Drugs used in religion: subject of research for the novel  The Tao of the Thirteenth God - Amazon Kindle.