View Full Version : Entheogenic Drug use in Indo-European and Uralic History

Sunday, August 29th, 2004, 01:46 PM
The use of entheogens (other than the Eucharist) in Europe was all but eliminated with the rise of post Roman Christianity and especially during the great Witch Hunts of Early Modernity. European witches used various entheogens, including deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna), mandrake (Mandragora officinarum) and henbane (Hyoscyamus niger). These plants were used, among other things, for the manufacture of "flying ointments". In Christian society, witches were commonly believed to fly through the air on broomsticks after using the ointment. Consequently, any association with these plants could have proven extremely dangerous and lead to one's execution as a practitioner of witchcraft.


"Entheogen" in Classical mythology and cult
Although entheogens are taboo in Christian and Islamic societies, their ubiquity and prominence in the spiritual traditions of other cultures is unquestioned. The entheogen, "the spirit, for example, need not be chemical, as is the case with the ivy and the olive: and yet the god was felt to be within them; nor need its possession be considered something detrimental, like drugged, hallucinatory, or delusionary: but possibly instead an invitation to knowledge or whatever good the god's spirit had to offer." (Ruck and Staples)

Most of the well-known modern examples, such as peyote, Psilocybin and other psychoactive mushrooms and ololiuhqui, are from the native cultures of the Americas. However, it has also been suggested that entheogens played an important role in ancient Indo-European culture, for example by inclusion in the ritual preparations of the Soma, the "pressed juice" that is the subject of Book 9 of the Rig Veda. Soma was ritually prepared and drunk by priests and initiates and elicited a paean in the Rig Veda that embodies the nature of an entheogen: "Splendid by Law! declaring Law, truth speaking, truthful in thy works, Enouncing faith, King Soma!... O [Soma] Pavāmana, place me in that deathless, undecaying world wherein the light of heaven is set, and everlasting lustre shines.... Make me immortal in that realm where happiness and transports, where joy and felicities combine..."

The Kykeon that preceded initiation into the Eleusinian mysteries is another entheogen, which was investigated (before the word was coined) by Carl Kerenyí, in Eleusis: Archetypal Image of Mother and Daughter. Other entheogens in the Ancient Near East and the Aegean include the poppy, Datura, the unidentified "lotus" eaten by the Lotus-Eaters in the Odyssey and narkissos.

According to Ruck, Eyan, and Staples, the familiar shamanic entheogen that the Indo-Europeans brought with them was knowledge of the wild Amanita mushroom. It could not be cultivated; thus it had to be found, which suited it to a nomadic lifestyle. When they reached the world of the Caucasus and the Aegean, the Indo-Europeans encountered wine, the entheogen of Dionysus, who brought it with him from his birthplace in the mythical Nysa, when he returned to claim his Olympian birthright. The Indo-European proto-Greeks "recognized it as the entheogen of Zeus, and their own traditions of shamanism, the Amanita and the 'pressed juice' of Soma — but better since no longer unpredictable and wild, the way it was found among the Hyperboreans: as befit their own assimilation of agrarian modes of life, the entheogen was now cultivable." (Ruck and Staples)

Amanita was divine food, according to Ruck and Staples, not something to be indulged in or sampled lightly, not something to be profaned. It was the food of the gods, their ambrosia, and it mediated between the two realms.

Even in cultures where they are acceptable, improper use of an entheogen, by the unauthorized or uninitiated, has led to disgrace, exile, and even death. The expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden can be understood as such a parable of an entheogen misused, for the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge by its very nature is clearly part of what is denoted by "entheogen" a point made clearly by the Elohim:

"And the Lord God said, 'Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:' Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. So he drove out the man; and he placed at the East of the garden of Eden cherubims and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life." ::Genesis 3:23-25.

Indeed the entheogen offers godlike powers in many Traditional tales, including immortality. The failure of Gilgamesh in retrieving the plant of immortality from beneath the waters teaches that the blissful state cannot be taken by force or guile: when Gilgamesh lay on the bank, exhausted from his heroic effort, the serpent came and ate the plant.

Another attempt at subverting the natural order is told in a (according to some) strangely metamorphosed myth, in which natural roles have been reversed to suit the Hellenic world-view. The Alexandrian Apollodorus relates how Gaia (spelled "Ge" in the following passage), Mother Earth herself, has supported the Titans in their battle with the Olympian intruders. The Giants have been defeated:

"When Ge learned of this, she sought a drug that would prevent their destruction even by mortal hands. But Zeus barred the appearance of Eos (the Dawn), Selene (the Moon), and Helios (the Sun), and chopped up the drug himself before Ge could find it."

:::—Apollodorus 1.34-38.

Encyclopedia (http://encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/Religious%20drug%20use)


Cannabis was an integral part of the Scythian cult of the dead, wherein homage was paid to the memory of their departed leaders. After the death and burial of their king, the Scythians would purify themselves by setting up small tepee-like structures which they would enter to inhale the fumes of hemp seeds (and the resinous flower calyxes surrounding the seeds) thrown onto red-hot stones. In a famous passage written in about 450 B.C., Herodotus describes these funeral rites as follows:

...when, therefore, the Scythians have taken some seed of this hemp, they creep under the cloths and put the seeds on the red hot stones; but this being put on smokes, and produces such a steam, that no Grecian vapour-bath would surpass it. The Scythians, transported by the vapour, shout aloud.

It is most likely the seeds described by Herodotus were seeded buds, and that the charred seeds found by archeologists are what was left over from the burnt buds.

Cannabis Culture (http://www.cannabisculture.com/magazine/jul95/scythians.html)


Cannabis Timeline 6000 BC - 1800 AD

Hashish production expands across Asia

Hashish becomes a major trade item between Central Asia and South Asia

Arab traders bring cannabis to the Mozambique coast of Africa

Marco Polo reports back to Europe with tales of hashish use

Hashish smoking becomes popular throughout the Middle East

Scholars debate the pros and cons of eating hashish. Use spreads throughout Arabia

The Jewish Talmud mentions the use of cannabis

The use of cannabis is mentioned as a Roman medical remedy

500 BC
Hemp is introduced into Northern Europe

700-300 BC
Ancient Kazakhstan tribes leave cannabis seeds as offerings in royal tombs

1200 BC
Cannabis is mentioned in the Hindu sacred text. It is used medicinally and ritually as an offering to Shiva

2727 BC
First written record of cannabis use as medicine

4000 BC
Textiles made of hemp are used in China

6000 BC
Cannabis seeds used for food in China

BBC (http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/hottopics/cannabis/index.shtml?tl3)


The Scythians brought Cannabis to Europe via a northern route where remnants of their campsites, from the Altai Mountains to Germany, date back 2,800 years. Seafaring Europe never smoked marijuana extensively, but hemp fiber became a major crop in the history of almost every European country. Pollen analysis dates the cultivation of Cannabis to 400 B.C. in Norway; 150 A.D. in Sweden, and 400 A.D. in Germany and England., although it is believed the plant was cultivated in the British Isles several centuries earlier. The Greeks and Romans used hemp for rope and sail but imported the fiber from Sicily and Gaul. And it has been said that "Caesar invaded Gaul in order to tie up the Roman Empire," all allusion to the Romans' need for hemp.

Cannabis and Ancient History (http://www.walnet.org/rosebud/ancienthistory.html)


Fear of mushroom poisoning pervades every culture, sometimes reaching phobic extremes. The term mycophobic describes those individuals and cultures where fungi are looked upon with fear and loathing. Mycophobic cultures are epitomized by the English and Irish.

In contrast, mycophilic societies can be found throughout Asia and eastern Europe, especially amongst Polish, Russian and Italian peoples. These societies have enjoyed a long history of mushroom use, with as many as a hundred common names to describe the mushroom varieties they loved.

The use of mushrooms by diverse cultures was intensively studied by an investment banker named R. Gordon Wasson.

The Spanish persecutors, under the aegis of the Catholic Church, made every effort to totally stamp out Peyote use, subjecting the Indians to floggings, beatings, cruel tortures and even death if they persisted. One account states that as a continuation of three days of torture, a disobedient Indian had his eyes gouged out.

The self-righteous Spanish then cut a crucifix into the flesh of his chest, and turned loose starving dogs to dine on his innards. They then went to church because they were devout christians.

One of Wasson's most provocative findings can be found in Soma: Divine Mushroom of Immortality (1976) where he postulated that the mysterious SOMA in the Vedic literature, a red fruit leading to spontaneous enlightenment for those who ingested it, was actually a mushroom.

History of Magic Mushrooms (http://www.a1b2c3.com/drugs/mus01.htm)


Magic Mushrooms Around the World:
A Scientific Journey Across Cultures and Time: The Case for Challenging Research and Value Systems.

Gartz, Jochen. (1996).
Los Angeles: LIS Publications.

ISBN: 0-9653399-0-4

Description: Paperback original, 136 pages.

Contents: Foreword by Christian Rätch, 10 chapters, bibliography, index.

Note: Originally published in Germany (1993) under the title Narrenschwämme: Psychotrope Pilze in Europa. Herausforderung an forschung und Wertsystem. Translated and edited by Claudia Taake.

Excerpt(s): The main purpose of this book is to inspire further study of these mushrooms, particularly basic research efforts and medical applications of magic mushroom ingredients. (page 9)

I believe that historic accounts – including those described below – indicate knowledge of and familiarity with psychotropic mushrooms in Europe that is mostly likely derived from usage of Psilocybes and related species, rather than experience with Amanita muscaria. (page 10)

Tales of ritualistic mushroom usage have found their way into the realm of myths and legends. For instance, one legend describes a peculiar poisonous mushroom in Wales (British Isles) with the strange name Bwyd Ellyon, which was considered a delicacy by fairies, feasting in celebration of the spirit world. Psilocybe semilanceata is the most important psilocybin-containing mushroom in Europe and it thrives in parts of Great Britain, where the mushroom grows abundantly all across the Welsh countryside during the fall season.

I would like to thank G. Samorini for pointing out that the Inquisition was unusually cruel and vicious in the Alpine valleys of Valcamonica, Valtrompia and Valtellina (located in the provinces of Brescia and Sandrio in Northern Italy). ... pastures in the area abound with Psilocybe semilanceata during the fall. ... In light of the medieval accounts describing the practice of witchcraft, it is interesting to note that a subjective sensation of flying or levitation is among the commonly reported effects of psilocybin intoxication. (page 10)

Berserk Rage of Nordic Warriors

In the course of the ideological power struggle between Christianity and the remnants of pagan religions that worshipped Nature, many sources of knowledge were lost. The aggressive repression and eradication of pre-Christian customs all but destroyed the continuity of Europe's cultural heritage, along with much historic evidence documenting early cultural practices, including the usage of plants and mushrooms for the purpose of temporary alterations of consciousness.

Some authors went so far as to blame the fly agaric mushrooms for proverbial fits of "berserk rage" attributed to Nordic warriors. Many accounts detailing the phenomenon allude to a "deception of the eyes" (i.e., visual hallucinations). After the Nordic legal system banished the practice of "going berserk", it disappeared quite suddenly during the 12th century. At about the same time Saxo Grammaticus speculated that the Berserkers may have used magical potions.

It is just as plausible, however, to suggest that the hallucinogen of choice among early Nordic cultures was Psilocybe semilanceata, a mushroom species quite common in Norway. ...

It is important to note the existence of ancient Northern European rock drawings that depict various mushroom themes, along with the discovery of bronze-age vessels decorated with mushroom-related artwork. The drawings often include renditions of zoomorphic entities as well as mushrooms. Significantly, they predate any reports and speculations about the Berserkers by over 2,000 years.

These ancient images suggest the evolution of early European mushroom cults – a cultural practice that most likely vanished during the early Iron Age, as did many other customs and social practices from that era. Still, the discovery of ancient Northern European mushroom cults is a powerful piece of evidence supporting the notion that psychoactive mushroom usage has been continuous throughout history. (page 11)

Council on Spiritual Practices (http://www.csp.org/chrestomathy/magic_mushrooms.html)


A review of the anthropological and historical data on the Fly agaric is impossible herein due to the tremendous bulk of work on this very subject. Nevertheless, it is possible to try to build a hypothesis which connects traditions and the roles of hallucinogenic fungi in man's history. This starts from the fascinating proposals of R. G. Wasson [Wasson & Wasson, 1957; Wasson, 1967a, 1967b, 1978] and those who, simultaneously also contributed to the growth of the subject of ethnomycology [La Barre, 1970; Harner, 1973; Furst, 1976; Ott, 1976; Schultes & Hofmann, 1979, and many others].

One can begin by supposing that primitive man, in his activities as food gatherer, had discovered plants (and fungi) with useful properties but not directly connected with hunger and eating and alimentary use.(2) It's likely that, in this way, man had his first contacts with hallucinogenic plants. Mushrooms, no doubt, had a very particular role herein.

The fact that they apparently are born "from nothing" with rapid development, the beautiful strangeness of their shapes, and all the other characteristics which distinguish them from other plants surely struck the hunter-gatherer man. This surely led him to discover the mushroom's amazing properties. The structure of the Mesolithic-Neolithic society -- surely one of the shamanic type (3) -- had no doubt a catalyptic effect in developing these theme characteristics. Such societal characteristics represent(ed) the ideal support for consciousness alteration -- including hallucinogenic plant use. This made connections with an animistic conception of the world stronger and more widespread.

Let's suppose proto-Indoeuropean man had already discovered the psychotropic properties of Amanita muscaria (and other plants) while these people were still living in the original region of the plants. This supposition is under discussion in order to revise the hypothesis accepted so far. This probably also included the lowlands of central Siberia. During this period the linguistic roots connected with the Amanita muscaria were transferred cross-culturally to the proto-Uralic people, maybe with the use(s) of the mushroom itself (which later were carried on to the Siberian peoples, at least until the beginnings of this century). Along with Amanita might have come Fomes fomentarius, used as tinder for fire.

A few millennia before this, man's migrations through the Bering Straits had come to an end. These were the peoples who would eventually originate the American peoples. These original explorers took with them the traditions connected with the original uses of cultural planning, the shamanism, etc. They did not, however, openly carry the traditions connected with use(s) of hallucinogens. It was because of the presence of societies originally based on the shamanic structure (including fungi) that the use of hallucinogens developed and continued in the Americas.

In Eurasia, when the Indo-Europeans moved towards Iran and India, they took with them the cult of the sacred fungus. This later became the Indian Soma (the God-plant of the Rig-Veda) and the Persian Haoma. Also carried were the fungi's relation to the Birch tree, sealed by the ancient shamanic religion. It's not impossible that the Tree of Divine Knowledge named in Genesis in the Bible was an echo of the original Tree of life (the Birch). The serpent might have been a metaphor for the sacred Mushroom, bestower of divine knowledge and wisdom. Also, the Indo-European fringe which spread over Europe took with them at least a part of the religious-social structure, characterizing the life in their original lands. The fusion between their animistic totemism and those of the preexisting peoples produced a religion with a shamanistic background. The train of elements include the following which are most interesting: the ritual ingestion of the Amanita muscaria (and maybe other psychotropic vegetables), the deep spiritual ties with nature, the consequent worship of nature spirits (among which were terrestrial ones, such as the toad and the serpent), and the magic interpretation of many events. The links between the many natural-supernatural fusion penetrated into the life of these ancient Europeans, cementing deep connections with their "cultural unconscious."

The Shroomery (http://www.shroomery.org/index/par/23630)


The beguiling scarlet capped Amanita muscaria is one of the archetypal shamanic inebriants. Evidence for human use of this mushroom dates back at least 6000 years to the Uralic peoples of western Siberia, from where it eventually spread into shamanic traditions and witchcraft throughout Eurasia.

The Basement Shaman (http://basementshaman.com/ammusflyagmu.html)