Before you speak, ask yourself, is it kind, is it necessary, is it true, does it improve on the silence? -Sathya Sai Baba

Monday, March 20, 2006

Return of the Repressed

I was reading an article about the rites of Eleusis and the ergot fungus. A little background: the ancient Greeks had a mystery religion that centered on these mysterious rites of Eleusis. Plato’s writing on “The Cave” is thought to have been inspired by his experiences at Eleusis, and many of the top intellectuals, artists and statesman were thought to have gone through these arcane rituals, which involved a reverence toward Demeter, the Goddess of grain, and ended with an overwhelming experience of the realms of the Gods and deep insight into Life and Death. OK. The main pharmacological catalyst of these little rites was the ergot fungus, which is often found as purple spurs or knots on grain that has been infected. Now, in small doses, heavy duty hallucinations and insights into reality are reported. At large doses, however, things get a little less pleasant. Boils, seizures, women having spontaneous abortions, massive hallucinations, and death are all reported symptoms of ergot poisoning.

So the Greeks did this mind-blowing exercise for thousands of years, and then the Christians come around, and of course, in Christian theology, nobody gets to alter their brains without permission. The Christians shut the magic show down, and ergot goes underground for a few hundred years.

Until the Middle-Ages, that is, when villages around Europe begin having outbreaks of a terrible infection called St. Anthony’s fire. Symptoms include: spontaneous abortions, outbreaks of terrible boils, seizures, and widespread hallucinations. When the cause is finally tracked down, the culprit turns out to be, you guessed it, our buddy ergot, infesting grain that was sold to the poor.

Predominantly Christian Europe burns from within as the ancient blessing that anchored the Rites of Eleusis returns as a horrible curse. This is what comes from the repression of gnosis. The substances of choice for consciousness altering in Europe then (and all over the West, even into our day), tobacco, alcohol, caffeine, offer precious little in the way of liminal understanding of the universe. Eleusis offered insight into life and death, the culmination of mysteries in an experiential knowledge of the world through entheogens. This is what happens when you blow off the gnosis. It sort of struck me as both a “return of the repressed”, and also a revenge of the Gods that were displaced as the Western world was forced to embrace Christianity.

There’s a story there, don’t you think?

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