Uncovering the use of entheogens in Early Christianity has been a subject of my research for quite some time now. The more I dig, the more obvious it becomes that an entire portion of Early Christianity has been systematically deleted, especially when it comes to the use of psychoactive substances as sacraments early on in the history of this and other religious systems that arose. Thankfully, the 1990’s saw a new breed of researcher emerging, approaching ancient texts from a completely different perspective than virtually every other Biblical scholar in history. They discovered that the spirituality that eventually became Christianity likely arose from the psychedelic experience, deeply rooted in astrology and mysticism.
John Allegro and Jan Irvin
One of the most unexpected advocates for this hypothesis can be found in a person the Catholic Church hired to translate a recently-discovered set of lost Gospels called the Nag Hammadi Library, also known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. He is a scholar known for his skill in translating sacred texts; John Allegro. Unfortunately for the Church, when translating the Dead Sea Scrolls, he found that there was more than ample evidence of the use of hallucinogenic mushrooms in early Christianity. He went on to write 2 books on his very articulate research, books that should have turned religion upside down. Instead, the Church chose to disgrace him and block his translations from the public, re-interpreting the Gospels in a way that was vastly more in alignment with the religion they need Christianity to be. Johns books are included below for those interested in his research.
Another scholar who has published a series of books on the topic of hallucinogens, astrology, and the borrowing of mythological ritual buried within the esoteric teachings of Christianity is Jan Irvin.
Who Is Benny Shannon?
Benny Shannon is one of the few scholars brave enough to offer a detailed hypothesis on
John of Patmos
Let me now weave a curious little tale, constructed from factual evidence in relation to John of Patmos and his incredible chapter in the New Testament known as Revelation. Most scholars agree that this portion of the Bible was written by John of Patmos sometime between 68 and 95 AD. The meaning of Revelation is fiercely disputed, though. Some posit that it spells out the Apocalypse. Some think that is it simply a deeply symbolic representation of the struggle between good and evil. Apocalyptic literature was a fairly common form in the first century, and many academics believe that John was writing specifically to reassure the Christians of Asia who were being persecuted, and perhaps to pass them clandestine messages.
Others believe that parts of it, such as the below quote, is a retelling of the Greek mythological story of a champion fighting a monster, which was John’s way of allowing as many as possible (especially new converts to Christianity) to identify with his vision. In the parallel mythological story, the pregnant goddess Leto is pursed by the dragon Python. She escapes to an island where she gives birth to Apollo, who later kills the dragon. That idea seems as viable as any of the other theories of its meaning and interpretations. With that being said, lets instead read it from the perspective that was the result of a vision induced by a trance state, so we can later examine if there’s any evidence to substantiate this seemingly wild speculation:
12 Then I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands I saw one like the Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest. 14 His head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining with full force. 17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he placed his right hand on me, saying, ‘Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive for ever and ever; and I have the keys of Death and of Hades. 19 Now write what you have seen, what is, and what is to take place after this.
Again, it may seem like wild speculation, perhaps even blasphemous to many, but unlike the demand of the Church to accept the fact that the Earth is only 6,000 years old and that we can’t really be sure dinosaurs existed, despite mountains of evidence to the contrary, the possibility that John’s vision was a result of an altered state of consciousness actually has some verifiable facts to support this line of thinking and the conclusions that might be drawn from it.
The Island of Patmos
Patmos is a small Greek island in the Aegean Sea. A cave on that island is the exact location in which John is said to have had the visions that allowed him to write Revelations. That location is so universally agreed upon, it’s now an historic center known as the “Cave of the Apocalypse.” Caves also happen to be at the center of a new debate in the archaeological community because several of world-reknown archaeologists who’ve put forth a controversial theory that caves are where some of humans’ earliest thoughts in relation to gods and spirituality were born.
As I’ve explained in other articles, a sudden leap in our mutual evolution occurred sometime around 32,000 years ago, coinciding with the appearance of strange paintings deep inside caves of France and Spain. A number of these paintings depicted half animal-half human creatures, unusual scenes that did not correlate to daily events, as well as spirals and other geometric patterns that have since been classified as classic stages of a an altered state of consciousness known as a trance state.
By their very nature, caves are conducive to altered states of consciousness. The darkness and isolation is the perfect recipe for sensory deprivation. With sensory deprivation often comes vivid imagery, and this imagery can be made even more vivid through a number of techniques that can include include everything from simple repetition of a mantra or prayer, to hyperventilation, to the ingestion of psychoactive substances, to dancing to the point of exhaustion, to sleep and/or food deprivation.
Also, an entheogen known as “Gramofonche”, or Morning Glory, is a part of the flora of Patmos. The question of whether Morning Glory was ever used ritualistically in this area is often widely debated. But all it takes is speaking to a local Shaman, or simply looking to artwork from early cultures such as the Mayans and the Aztecs to see that Morning Glory was indeed a key part of Shamanic ritual as clearly seen in this image below of Ololiuqui and an Aztec Shaman:
Also, near the island of Patmos is the island of Kos. It’s been widely publicized that Kos has several species of psychedelic mushrooms. It’s thought that since Kos and Patmos are part of the same island chain, there’s a statistical chance that the same psychedelic mushrooms were available on Patmos as well. Even though attempts were made to rid most of them by the ruling elite very early on, there are still many scattered pieces of evidence if one simply looks. Countless temples I’ve visited have clear depictions of psychedelic mushrooms, including frescos of Amanita muscaria in a few early Christian churches like this image below in the Basilica of Aquileia in Italy:
Mind you, it was built over a Roman Temple sometime in the 3rd Century, but that means at least the Romans or the Christians were aware of or working with Amanita muscaria for sacramental purposes. They are not just decorative; they are singled out from other elements by being pictures in a basket, which is a clear indication that they were ingested. By reading Revelation it seems vividly apparent to those who have experienced altered states of consciousness, that John of Patmos may have been documenting a vision seen through the eyes of someone in a profoundly altered state of consciousness. I know, it’s wild speculation, but let’s see if it would even have been possible for John to be experiencing a trance state that is a common feature to almost every mystical and religious system on the planet:
Were there entheogens or at least an altered state of consciousness available to John on Patmos? The answer to that question is not only a resounding “yes” but there were likely more than just one possibility in relation to how this trance state could have been arrived at.
The Caves of Patmos
First, let’s explore the natural structure and features of the environment John wrote Revelation in. Oddly enough, because the imagery within Revelation is so vivid, more than one scholar has suggested the structure of the cave in which John received his visions may have had more than a minor impact on his state of mind. This “more than a minor impact” reportedly could have been due to the inhalation of easily-verifiable cave gases. Although the cave has now been turned into a temple of sorts, one can still make out the original structure from old photos of the cave. Many theories surrounding Paleolithic cave art posited that the cave itself, the lighting, sound echoes, and so forth, would assist ancient Shaman, Priests, and Practitioners in entering trance and creating art, while also communicating with the rock walls.
And, indeed, John was said to receive his revelations from a triple fissure in the rock, through which he was spoken to by his divine being. John is also said to have lain near the fissures, holding himself up, as he dictated the book, indicating perhaps physical discomfort. Was this discomfort caused by the consumption of an entheogen or perhaps the inhalation of certain cave gases leading to intoxication and trance?
Quite a number of recent studies concerning the Oracle at Delphi have concluded that the chamber into which the oracle entered was likely to contain methane, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen sulphide, large doses of which can cause euphoria and visions. Since John seemed to dictate from a spot within close vicinity of the fissures in the rock of the cave, perhaps he was inhaling some combination of gas which permitted him to enter a trance and receive his visions!
Entheogens and Revelation
As we continue down this path of a trance state, let’s return to Benny Shannon as he discusses the visions of Moses. Shannon points out the similarities between the experiences of Moses and those of individuals who have consumed the South American entheogenic brew Ayahuasca. He states that the three main features of both an Ayahuasca experience and of Moses visions, are Fire, Fear of Death, and Synesthasia.
One can see these features in the Theophany on Mt. Sinai:
And it came to pass on the third day in the morning that there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud upon the mount and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that was in the camp trembled. . . . And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking (Exodus, 19.16; 20.18).
After the laws were given to the Israelites, the people offered sacrifices to their God and: They saw the God of Israel and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness. . . . And the sight of the glory of the Lord was like devouring fire on the top of the mount in the eyes of the children of Israel (Exodus, 24.10, 17).
The similarities between this vision of god and that of John of Patmos’ being are very clear. John’s passage also contains all of the salient features of an Ayahuasca experience, according to Shannon. The being he sees is bright, his “his eyes were like a flame of fire”. When John sees him he falls to his feet, “as though dead.” And although this passage does not contian synethsesia specifically, Revelation is rife with the imagery of visualized thunder and the trumpeting of angels.
According to Shannon, Moses likely had his own particular visions through consuming a mixture of Acacia resin, which contains DMT, and Peganum harmala, which contains harmaline, an MAOI, which would be the basic formula used in Ayahuasca brews. Given the similarities in these visions, then, it would be possible that John of Patmos was consuming such a brew – Acacia and Peganum harmala would have been present on Patmos at the time of his writing, and if this mixture was, as suggested by Shanon, a holy sacrament known to individuals who truly understood the Old Testament of the Bible, then John may well have known of it.
Furthermore, Wormwood was the sacred plant of the goddess Artemis, and had been used in sacred rituals to her as a sacrament for many hundreds of years on the island of Patmos, which was her sacred island. The plant is said to cause hallucinations when consumed, as well as a visual brightening of everything, which corresponds to the constant light and fire imagery found in Revelation. Wormwood is even specifically discussed in Revelation: 10 The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star fell from heaven, blazing like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water. 11 The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many died from the water, because it was made bitter.
Wormwood, like many entheogens, can be poisonous at high doses, and can cause great physical distress when consumed. There is also other evidence to be found in Revelation to indicate the consumption of an entheogen of some kind leading to the writing of the book:
7 but in the days when the seventh angel is to blow his trumpet, the mystery of God will be fulfilled, as he announced to his servants the prophets.” 8 Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me again, saying, “Go, take the scroll that is open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.” 9 So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll; and he said to me, “Take it, and eat; it will be bitter to your stomach, but sweet as honey in your mouth.” 10 So I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it; it was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach was made bitter. 11 Then they said to me, “You must prophesy again about many peoples and nations and languages and kings.”
This passage could easily be discussing any entheogen that was available, as any of the ones discussed above could easily cause stomach distress but might also allow for great visions and divination. And, indeed, this is not the first time in the bible that this sort of imagery appears. In the visionary book of Ezekiel in the Old Testament, a great firey being appears to Ezekiel, much as in Revelations, to provide prophecy. This follows:
(Ezekiel 3): He said to me, O mortal, eat what is offered to you; eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel. 2 So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat. 3 He said to me, Mortal, eat this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it. Then I ate it; and in my mouth it was as sweet as honey.
This consumption of something small with imparts knowledge and allows speech seems very indicative of an entheogen of some sort. Unfortunately, although we can hypothesize about which plant he may have consumed, it will be hard to say without further evidence exactly which one it was, if any at all, with any certainty.
Nevertheless, the imagery in Revelation, as well as the imagery in several other parts of the Bible seems to indicate a significant role of entheogens in the visionary portions of the Bible. George Bernard Shaw once mentioned that Revelations was “a curious record of the visions of a drug addict.” Whether or not he was making a joke, some have taken this idea quite seriously.
– by Keith Cleversley
Allegro, John Marco. 1992. The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Christian Myth. Prometheus Books.
Allegro, John. 2009. The Sacred Mushroom and The Cross: A study of the nature and origins of Christianity within the fertility cults of the ancient Near East. Gnostic Media Research.
Bennet, Chris. 2001. Sex, Drugs, Violence and the Bible. Forbidden Fruit Publishing.
Irvin, J.R. 2009. The Holy Mushroom: Evidence of Mushrooms in Judeo-Christianity. Gnostic Media Research.
Shannon, Benny. 2008. Biblical Entheogens: A Speculative Hypothesis.