The Road to Eleusis: Unveiling the Secret of the Mysteries (1998)
R. Gordon Wasson, Albert Hofmann, Carl A. Ruck
As the U.S. begins to confront the legacy of misinformation and missed opportunities resulting from this country's 'war on drugs', a space is also being made to re-examine the historical role of psychotropics in ancient cultures and religions. From books on Jesus' use of visionary plants to lectures about the ancient Egyptians' use of psychedelics, old and new theories on the topic seem to be springing up regularly.
“Some theophanies seem to occur spontaneously, while others are facilitated by ways that seekers have discovered - one thinks of the place of fasting in the vision quest, the nightlong dancing of the Kalahari bushmen, prolonged intoning of sacred mantras, and the way peyote figures in the vigils of the Native American Church. We do not know if, on the human side, it was anything more than absolute faith that joined earth to heaven on Mount Sinai, or when three of Jesus's disciples saw him transfigured on Mount Hermon, his face shining like the sun and the clothes dazzling white. The Greeks, though, created a holy institution, the Eleusinian Mysteries, which seems regularly to have opened a space in the human psyche for God to enter. The content of those Mysteries is, together with the identify of India's sacred Soma plant, one of this two best kept secrets in history, and this book is the most successful attempt I know to unlock it." --Huston Smith from the preface to 'The Road to Eleusis'Before there were the religions and cathedrals of today, there were mystery schools, societies run by priests who conducted carefully orchestrated ceremonies, usually lasting several days, in which initiates prepared for and then experienced a ritual meant to expand spiritual awareness; the Eleusinian Mysteries of ancient Greece may be the most famous example, with students like Plato, Sophocles and Pythagoras. While the rituals themselves may be lost to time, the question of whether psychotropic plants were used during these ceremonies appears to be settled, thanks to the work of a mycologist, a chemist and a classicist. Wasson (the mycologist) and Hofmann (the chemist) present their findings in the first two short chapters of this book before Ruck ties it all together in the third chapter, 'Solving the Eleusinian Mysteries'. This short book concludes with a review of the supporting documentation and an appendix from Peter Webster on the chemistry of the kykeon. I read this book at the recommendation of Terence McKenna and I'd second his suggestion; it's an informative glimpse of our long history with psychoactive plants and the clever ways in which we've embedded and transmitted this knowledge throughout our history.