With The Mystery of Manna, historian and religious expert Dan Murkur joins an increasingly lengthy list of scholars and researchers who posit that early religious movements in human history may well have arisen from the use of psychedelic substances, in this case, the ingestion of bread containing ergot forming the basis for religious sacraments from Moses and manna to Jesus and the Eucharist. He suggests that, over the years, these practices became subsumed in allegory until eventually they became part of an esoteric tradition known only to the initiated.
Murkur cites both Biblical writings and later Christian and Jewish scholars in presenting his case for the presence of this LSD-like substance in early mystical practices, drawing on a tradition of visionary experiences recurrent through history, its suppression by the orthodox and continuation with initiates of the “Mystery Schools” such as the Gnostics, Masons and Kabbalists. While I’m no religious scholar, what is interesting is how closely this ties in to a number of other theories on early religious and mystical movements, not least Carl Ruck’s theory concerning the presence of the very same ergot-infected rye in the rituals of the Greek Eleusinian Mysteries, as detailed in his book The Road to Eleusis: Unveiling the Secret of the Mysteries.
It’s a field of research which first came to attention with John Allegro’s book The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross, in which the author posited that the Bible contained frequent references to amanita muscaria, the hallucinogenic mushroom popularized by Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Much maligned by his fellow scholars, the theory has recently been revived in the book Astrotheology and Shamanism by Jan Irvin.
Perhaps best known of all is the “Stoned Ape” theory of psychonaut Terence McKenna, who takes the idea of a kind of psychedelic intervention in the human species back beyond the formation of early religions and into pre-history, suggesting that primitive hunter-gatherer tribes who encountered and ate magic mushrooms would have been conferred an evolutionary advantage over their competitors, not only through the visual acuity afforded by the drug but also on account of the expansion of consciousness hallucinogens deliver.
While these views are hardly mainstream, further research into the presence of other drugs in ancient cultures points to the use of marijuana, opium and alcoholic beverages as far back as archaeological records can demonstrate – it seems to me entirely plausible that hallucinogenic mushrooms and other similar substances such as henbane would have been equally well known to our early ancestors. After all, some of the earliest known fertility cults worshiped stone idols which looked suspiciously like mushrooms.
That said, if conclusive proof were to emerge supporting these ideas it’s highly likely they would be suppressed – the last thing the Church would want their congregation to think is that their teachings derive from latter-day druggies!