Entheogenshave been the topic of much fascination and debate in recent years. Dubbed “entheogens” by the scholar Carl. A.P. Ruck, these elusive compounds have been seen by many as the key to unlocking the secrets of the human mind and the ultimate panacea for modern anxieties, pain and loneliness.
Critics dismiss entheogens as mere pseudoscience and a guise for those seeking to get high, while others view them as the solution to the traumas of modernity. But for the truly curious, entheogens represent much more than just a tool for escape. They are a symbol of the age-old quest for the holy grail, the philosopher stone and a vessel of meaning and purpose for the soul.
The power of entheogens is not to be taken lightly, as they have the ability to unlock the full potential of the human mind and provide a glimpse into the infinite unknown: the unconscious. Some say they are the key to unlocking the mysteries of the universe and the path to true enlightenment. The true potential of entheogens remains shrouded in mystery, leaving those brave enough to seek it with a tantalizing opportunity for discovery and exploration, or at the risk of their own life.
If we reject the notion that the pursuit of altered states of consciousness was not a driver of early civilization, then we are going to better explain why the most lucrative trades of the early modern age were all drugs : coffee, alcohol and tobacco were instrumental in funding our societies. Their cultivation, sale, taxation and exploitation are central to our culture and history.
While it may be difficult to image Socrates and Plato sipping on mildly hallucinogenic wines, it is just as difficult to image the modern age without the morning coffee, the after hour drinks and the cigarette break.
The connection between the use of entheogens and the development of early civilizations highlights the enduring significance of the pursuit of altered states of consciousness.
Entheogens played a crucial role in the rituals of many of these religions. They were also used in medicinal practices to treat a wide range of physical and psychological ailments. The use of entheogens was not limited to the lower classes and was widely accepted among the wealthy and powerful as well. In fact, some of the most influential figures in Roman history, such as Marcus Aurelius, were known to have used entheogens for their therapeutic benefits.
Entheogens were a central part of Greece, Egypt and Rome.
In Ancient Greece, the utilization of entheogens was prevalent in religious and spiritual practices. The renowned Oracle of Delphi, renowned as a means of obtaining divine guidance and prophecy, is believed to have been stimulated by inhaling fumes from a sacred spring that was replete with psychoactive substances. These substances were viewed as a direct connection to the divine realm and were employed to facilitate communication with the gods. Additionally, they were utilized for medicinal and therapeutic purposes, aimed at alleviating physical and psychological maladies. It is widely recognized that the Ancient Greeks incorporated henbane, hemlock, and datura into their wine, among a wealth of other medicinal herbs. The utilization of poppy was widely known and widely prevalent, with Pline the Ancient characterizing it as a commonly cultivated garden plant.
It is believed that Dionysos, the deity revered by the Ancient Greeks, was originally known as the embodiment of hallucination. The association of the deity with debauchery and drunkenness is likely a later interpretation that fails to recognize its deeper connections with fertility rites, pharmacology, and agriculture. The disciples of Dionysos were not depicted with wine, but with the Greek thyrsos, a stick used specifically to gather wild plants for medicinal purposes. This suggests that the true nature of Dionysos was much more complex and multifaceted than just the God of wine and revelry.
In Ancient Egypt, entheogens were widely used for religious, spiritual, and medicinal purposes. The Egyptian culture placed great emphasis on the afterlife and entheogens were believed to facilitate communication with the gods and provide insight into the mysteries of death and the afterlife. They were also used in healing practices and were believed to have therapeutic effects on the body and mind. The use of entheogens was not limited to the elite class and was widely accepted as part of daily life. It is also likely that some of the key Egyptians gods were also, in an earlier stage, representations of specific plants with potent psychotropic properties.
In Ancient Rome, entheogens were used for both religious and medicinal purposes. Much like in Ancient Greece, various psychedelic plants were used in medicinal practices to treat a wide range of physical and psychological ailments. This isn’t surprising, given that Romans had borrowed throves of knowledge from their predecessors:
The use of entheogens was not limited to the lower classes and was widely accepted among the wealthy and powerful as well. In fact, some of the most influential figures in Roman history, such as Marcus Aurelius, were known to have used entheogens for their therapeutic benefits. Overall, the use of entheogens in Ancient Rome highlights their significance in daily life and the importance placed on their benefits to both the body and mind.
Pierre-Olivier Bussières is the host of the “Le Temps d’une Bière“podcast, a journey through the history of alcohol, drugs, and myths.