from The Secret Meal
These were the public celebrations, but there were also Mysteries, secret sacramental meals. There were secret passwords, as well as a ritual formula that Clement of Alexandria records:
“I have eaten from the tabor, drunk from the cymbal, carried the Chalice (kemos), and I have slipped into the bedroom.”
The mention of the kemos is reminiscent of the Eleusinian rite, and the bedroom entered by stealth hints at something orgiastic. Indeed the hidden rites had the reputation for frenzied ecstasy. Clement further describes this sacramental meal as a “poisonous potion,” a “drink of gall” causing frenzied madness, drunk in the misconception that it would lead to life. It is impossible to understand Clement as describing anything other than a consciousness-altering sacrament in the Mystery of Attis, and his words imply early Christianity had something similar but superior. The sacred meal in the religion of Cybele is probably its most ancient ritual and separate from the later modifications that adapted the religion to Roman mores.
As with the prevalence of a mushroom cult in Europe before the arrival of the Indo-European migrants, similar cults, probably separate or later assimilated with the Soma tradition, were apparently spread throughout the Middle and Near East. In addition to the massive evidence compiled by John Allegro, the name of the mushroom goddess Ptryh testifies, as we have seen, to a Canaanite mushroom cult still practiced in this region.
“I know that there are many worshippers of tombs and pictures. I know that there are many who drink to great excess over the dead, and who, in the feasts, which they make for corpses, bury themselves over the buried, and give to their gluttony and drunkenness the name of religion.”—Augustine, On the Morals of the Manichaeans
Augustine makes clear that there were Mysteries in the Christian Church that went beyond a simplistic reading of the Scriptures, and that some, in the context of idolatry and catacomb feasting, improperly called their “gluttony and drunkenness” by the name of religion.———————————————————————
This month on the blog, in addition to our regular excerpts from recently released City Lights titles, we’re featuring excerpts from our backlist that orbit (near or far) around this theme of “journey,” observations from/about whatever worlds our authors have visited.
Anthropological evidence has long suggested that psychedelic plants have played important roles in indigenous communities for thousands of years, but most scholarship does not address their larger sphere of influence on western culture.
In their groundbreaking new book, Mushrooms, Myths & Mithras, classics scholar Carl Ruck and friends reveal compelling evidence suggesting that psychedelic mushroom use was equally influential in early Europe, where it was central to initiation ceremonies for the Roman elite.
Through art and archeology, we discover that Nero was the first Emperor to be initiated by secret “magical dinners,” and that most of his successors embraced the ritual and its sacramental use of the psychedelic mushroom as a source of spiritual transcendence. The secret religion was officially banned after Roman Conversion, but aspects of its practices were assimilated or co-opted by Christianity, and have influenced many subsequent secret societies, including the Freemasons. Mushrooms, Myths & Mithras is a fascinating historical exploration of a powerful force kept hidden behind the scenes for thousands of years.