Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Sacrament and Consciousness

Christianity is a prime example of a world sacramental religion, founded on ‘holy communion’ - a flesh and blood sacrament - the sangre and soma - symbolic of a sacrificial death. These simple wafers of bread and sips of diluted wine carry no effect in themselves, but claim to infer a reality so powerful that merely to partake of the ‘eucharist’ is deemed to be the innermost mystery of communion with the godhead. If such a sacrament is going to be of functional effect, shouldn’t one expect it to actually be a potent psychoactive substance in biological terms?

Huichol yarn painting depicting themes from their genesis myth: The Nierika or cosmic portal opened by peyote, linking the underworld with Mother Earth, through which the gods came and all life came into being. It unifies the spirit of all things and all worlds.

The notion of sacrament as a natural substance consumed to make ‘holy’, or whole, poses a central paradox in consciousness. How is holy completion achieved in the universe? Is it arrived at through an outer journey of scientific, or empirical discovery in the material world? Is it to be found through philosophical analysis and discourse? Is it to be found in a covenant of submission to the will of God? Is it to be pursued through an arduous or painful flagellation, or a meditative journey into the innermost reaches of the mind and soul to the cosmic self? Or is it to be found in sexual reunion and in the interactive mysteries of the ‘living sacraments’? Lying beneath this is the fraught question of what subjective consciousness actually is. Is the complete mind - the visionary state - something we possess alone and sufficient unto ourselves, a pure state in inner devotion, separate from the material world, or are the highest experiences of unification achieved not alone but in interaction? Is mystical consciousness somehow not only collective, but interactive? Is its ‘purpose’, rather than communication with the absolute or an unseen God, rather the genesis of a more compassionate and aware natural condition - of living co-participation?

No one in their right mind would consider humanity, for all its domination of the living species of the planet completely independent of them. Man must eat and eat the living flesh of plants fungi and animals to exist. Merely to consume other life forms we are interdependent with them. This interdependence is accepted as central and fundamental to our natural condition, but when it comes to consciousness, our patriarchal mind-sky heritage makes us feel that our mental identity is to be carved out, not in interactive merging, but in a lone isolation, on the one hand a supremacy of contemplation and mental control, and on the other a submission to a higher power - the will of god.

Yet perhaps both these hierarchical ideas are misconceived. Perhaps the purpose of the conscious mind is not to leave the natural world for a ‘higher plane’, but to learn to better integrate with conscious nature in a wholeness that both gives us the sense of completion and fulfillment we seek, and in so doing sustains living diversity in a more integrated compassionate and caring relationship. Indeed this is the only practical route to the immortal paradise all our myths and religions gravitate towards, and the reality the immortal sexual passage of the generations attests to. Therefore we need to consider the possible role psychotropic plants, fungi and animals may have in making the consciousness of the biosphere complete, whole and ‘holy’. In a sense their story is a liberation myth of the modern world.

The relationship between so-called ‘power plants’ and human consciousness is a startling example of the sexual paradox principle in action - the idea that the crowning forms of integrative conscious experience are not gained by one species in isolation but in interaction between complementary living principles, without which, the heights of the spiritual experience might be difficult or impossible to achieve, attained only by a mystic or psychotic few, or so become so distorted by second-hand accounts, that they are perceived only ‘through a glass darkly’, rather than knowing and being known face to face.

Complementing the deep meditation of the Eastern traditions of Buddhism and the Upanishads is a Western tradition of sacramental shamanism every bit as ancient in which virtually every psychedelic species has become revered as a sacred ‘power plant’ for curing and access to the divine and hidden realms of nature. The origins of these discoveries in myth frequently go back to discoveries by women gatherers, which are later stolen by the men.

Mircea Eliade made a major conceptual error when, in his seminal work “Shamanism” he relegated sacramental forms of shamanism to an inferior status. In fact the strongest, deepest and by far the most insightful traditions of shamanism come through the power plants. Centrally important here is a world view in which nature and all the species therein are sacred and the ‘good life’ is lived in an intimate caring relationship with nature, rather than the dominion over nature claimed by humanity, projected through a high god.

The ‘war on drugs’, like the ‘war on terror’, is a contradiction. It is an aberration in human history, which runs counter to the experience of virtually every culture that has used these sacraments. It leads t the illicit use of chemicals in addictive concentrations, trafficked by criminal organizations, rather than the natural consumption of living organisms. It is based on a Christian fear of paganism, of witches’ brews and of any form of material access to the divine - that anything outside the carnivorous Christian sacrament of soma and sangre, is diabolical.

Cypriot juglets from Egypt from around 1350 BC appear to be designed on inverted poppy pods, Papaver somniferum, inset of Minoan seal Crete 1500 BC, head of Goddess with slit poppies Crete 1350 BC.

Many modern medicines are plant sourced. Our evolutionary endowment in psychoactive plants has been particularly rich, with some of the most potent psychedelic substances known coming directly from natural sources. Although some of these, such as the solonaceous plants used in mediaeval witchcraft are toxic, others despite being somewhat bitter medicines are medicinal or of no seriously debilitating effect. The ‘medicine men and women’ who partake of these live healthy lives into their nineties extolling the power and virtue of these sacraments.

Christianity as a sacramental religion sits both pregnant and unrequited waiting for natural evolution from a lifeless cannibalistic Eucharist to the ‘living sacraments’. In this transformation lies its greening, its healing, and its awakening from blind faith to the transformative experience of knowing.

Maria Sabina and the Agape of Pentecost

In 1935 the anthropologist Jean Bassett Johnson witnessed an all night mushroom ceremony at Huautla de Jiménez. This report was to lie idle until the night of June 29th 1955 when the mycophiles Gordon and Valentina Wasson, upon a clue from the anthropologist Weitlander, with the help and encouragement of Robert Graves ‘were invited to partake of the agape of the sacred mushrooms’ in the hills of Oaxaca, among isolated peasant peoples who used the plant to divine the future and seek a cure of illness, after a long search. After a season of difficulty securing the trust of the Mazatecs, Wasson had commented:

‘Perhaps you will learn the names of a number of renowned curanderos, and your emissaries will even promise to deliver them to you, but then you wait and wait and they never come. You will brush past them in the market place, and they will know you but you will not know them. The judge in the town hall may be the very man you are seeking and you may pass the time of day with him yet never know that he is your curandero’.

Mayan mushroom stones 1000 - 300 B.C.

In fact the man who finally led him to the eucharist was indeed the judge Cayetano. Wasson was deeply struck by the spiritual power of the sacred mushroom, which he referred to as ‘the divine mushroom of immortality’: ‘Ecstasy! The mind harks back to the origin of that word. For the Greek ekstasis, meant flight of the soul from the body. Can a better word be found to describe the bemushroomed state? ... Your very soul is seized and shaken until it tingles, until you feel you will never recover your equilibrium’.

The sacred mushroom teonanactl is ‘known to the ancient Meso-Americans as the Flesh of God, echoing the soma and sangre of the Christian Eucharist. Wasson also noted that Greeks call mushrooms broma theon ‘the food of the gods’ and specifically likened the experience to the epoptea of Eleusis ‘For me there is no doubt that the secret of Eleusis lies in hallucinogens’.

‘On both nights Wasson stood up for a long time in Cayetano's room at the foot of the stairway, holding on to the rail transfixed in ecstasy by the visions that he was seeing in the darkness with his open eyes. For the first time that word ‘ecstasy’ took on a subjective meaning for him. ... There came one moment when it seemed as though the visions themselves were about to be transcended, and dark gates reaching upward beyond sight were about to part, and we were to find ourselves in the presence of the Ultimate. We seemed to be flying at the dark gates as a swallow at a dazzling lighthouse, and the gates were to part and admit us.’.

Wasson's father Edmund was a maverick Episcopal priest, who had written a book called “Religion and Drink” and never tired of telling Gordon that Christ's teaching began with the water into wine at Cana and ended with the wine of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. Gordon was to interpret his experience in the light of its significance as the agape of the Early Christians. This eucharist and the falling sacred words evoked to Wasson the day of Pentecost in which the disciples and the women at the burial were “filled with new wine”. In his subsequent article in Life he wrote:

“On the night of June 29-30 1955 in a Mexican Indian village so remote from the world that most of the people spoke no Spanish, [we] ... shared with a family of Indian friends’ a celebration of ‘holy communion’ where ‘divine’ mushrooms were first adored and then consumed. The Indians mingled Christian and per-Christian elements in their religious practices in a way disconcerting for Christians but natural for them. ... We had come from afar to attend a mushroom rite but had expected nothing so staggering as the virtuosity of the performing curanderas and the astonishing effects of the mushrooms. ... We were received and the night's events unrolled in an atmosphere of simple friendliness that reminded us of the agape of early Christian times”

“One can imagine the many trembling confabulations of the friars as they would whisper together how to meet this Satanic enemy. The teonanactl struck at the heart of the Christian religion. I need hardly remind my readers of the parallel, the designation of the Elements in our eucharist ‘Take, eat this is my Body’... and again ‘Grant us therefore my gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son ... and to drink His blood’. But the truth was even worse. The orthodox Christian must accept on faith the miracle of the conversion of the bread and wine into God's flesh and blood: that is what is meant by the Doctrine of Transubstantiation. By contrast the sacred mushroom of the Aztecs carries its own conviction: every communicant will testify to the miracle that he has experienced” .

The transmission of the sacrament by Maria Sabina.

The curandero who opened the secret of the mushroom to Wasson was Maria Sabina. Shortly before his arrival she had a vision that strangers would come to seek the little one who springs forth. She had shared her vision with Cayetano García the local sindico or justice, and it was he who agreed that the knowledge should be shared and brought Wasson to her.

The mushrooms were consumed before a small altar. The curandera kept one corner free so that the Holy Ghost could descend in the form of the sacred words that came to her, the words of her little book: “I see the word fall, coming down from above as though they were little luminous object falling from heaven. The word falls on the Holy Table, on my body, with my hand I catch them word for word.”

“Says.. woman who thunders am I, woman who sounds am I.
Spiderwoman am I, says hummingbird woman am I says
Eagle woman am I, says important eagle woman am I.
Whirling woman of the whirlwind am I, says
woman of a sacred, enchanted place am I, says
Woman of the shooting stars am I.” ...
I'm a birth woman, says I'm a victorious woman, says
I'm a law woman, says I'm a thought woman, says
I'm a life woman, says ...
“I am a spirit woman, says I am a crying woman, says
I am Jesus Christ, says ... I'm the heart of the virgin Mary.”
(Mushroom Ceremony - Smithsonian Institute)

Her long life to age 91 was beset by many tragedies, including a macabre vision she had shortly afterward on the ‘little things’, which foretold the murder of her son, possibly in vengeance for opening the knowledge of the mushroom. Her house and little shop were also burned. Neverthless the mushroom was a family tradition: “The father of my-grandfather Pedro Feliciano, my grandfather Juan Feliciano, my father Santo Feliciano - were all shamans - they ate the teonanacatl, and had great visions of the world where everything is known... the mushroom was in my family as a parent, protector, a friend”.

Maria Sabina had sampled sacred mushrooms in abundance as a child. A few days after watching a wise man cure her uncle she notes: “Maria Anna and I were taking care of our chickens in the woods so that they wouldn't become the victims of hawks or foxes. We were seated under a tree when suddenly I saw near me within reach of my hand several mushrooms. ‘If I eat you, you and you’ I said ‘I know that you will make me sing beautifully’. I remembered my grandparents spoke of these mushrooms with great respect. After eating the mushrooms we felt dizzy as if we were drunk and I began to cry, but this dizziness passed and we became content. Later we felt good. It was a new hope in our life. In the days that followed, when we felt hungry we ate the mushrooms. And not only did we feel our stomachs full, but content in spirit as well. I felt that they spoke to me. After eating them I heard voices. Voices that came from another world. It was like the voice of a father who gives advice. Tears rolled down our cheeks abundantly as if we were crying for the poverty in which we lived.' She had a vision of her dead father coming to her. I felt as if everything that surrounded me was god”.

“Maria Anna and I continued to eat the mushrooms. We ate lots many times, I don't remember how many. Sometimes grandfather and at other times my mother came to the woods and would gather us up from the ground on which we were sprawled or kneeling. ‘What have you done?’ they asked. They picked us up bodily and carried us home. In their arms we continued laughing singing or crying. They never scolded us nor hit us for eating mushrooms. Because they knew it isn't good to scold a person who has eaten the little things, because it causes contrary emotions and it is possible that one might feel one was going crazy” .

Maria Sabina describes access to the timeless eternal visionary realm: “There is a world beyond ours, a world that is far away, nearby and invisible. And there is where God lives, where the dead live, the spirits and the saints, a world where everything has already happened and everything is known. That world talks. It has a language of its own. I report what it says. The sacred mushroom takes me by the hand and brings me to the world where everything is known. It is they, the sacred mushrooms that speak in a way I can understand. I ask them and they answer me. When I return from the trip that I have taken with them I tell what they have told me and what they have shown me”.

“The more you go inside the world of teonanacatl, the more things are seen. And you also see our past and our future, which are there together as a single thing already achieved, already happened . . . I saw stolen horses and buried cities, the existence of which was unknown, and they are going to be brought to light. Millions of things I saw and knew. I knew and saw God: an immense clock that ticks, the spheres that go slowly around, and inside the stars, the earth, the entire universe, the day and the night, the cry and the smile, the happiness and the pain. He who knows to the end the secret of teonanacatl - can even see that infinite clockwork” .

Eunice Pike noted to Wasson in 1953 “One of the proofs that it is ‘Jesus Christ himself’ who talks to them is that anyone who eats the mushroom sees visions. Everyone we have asked suggests that they are seeing into heaven itself. ... Not all Mazatecs believe that the mushroom messages are from Jesus Christ ... Most monolinguals however will either declare that it is Jesus Christ who speaks to them, or they will ask a little doubting ‘What do you say, it is true that it is the blood of Jesus’?”.

The Man in the Buckskin Suit

Jesus came to the white man as flesh and blood, but to the Native American as peyote. John Wilson, who many claim as the ‘founder’ of the peyote religion in the United States claimed that he was continually translated in spirit to the ‘sky realm’ by peyote and it was there that he learned the events of Christ's life and the relative position of several of the spirit forces such as sun, moon and fire.

Ceramic snuffing pipe with a deer holding a peyote in its mouth
Monte Alban 500 BC.

He reported that he had seen Christ's grave, now empty and that peyote had instructed him about the ‘Peyote Road’ which led from Christ's grave to the moon (this had been the Road in the sky which Christ had traveled in his ascent. Many peyotists affirm Christian elements as an important part of their religion:

“God told the Delawares to do good even before
He sent Christ to the whites who killed him ...
God made Peyote It is His power. It is the power of Jesus.
Jesus came afterwards on this earth, after peyote.”

“You white people needed a man to show you the way, but we Indians have always been friends with the plants and understood them ... “The white man goes into a church and talks about Jesus , but the Indian goes into a teepee and talks to Jesus.”

However, it is Christ in his second-self who came to give the peyote ritual to the Menomini: “This old man was a chief of a whole tribe, and he have his son to be a chief. He said, “I'm going to go, and you take my place. Take care of this [tribe].” And the boy, he went out hunting; He was lost for about four days. He began to get dry and hungry, tired out; so he gave up. ... So he went, lay himself down on his back; he stretched out his arms like this [extending his arms horizontally], and lay like that. Pretty soon he felt something kind of damp [in] each hand. So he took them, and after he took them, then he passed away. Just as soon as he - I suppose his soul - came to, he see somebody coming on clouds. There's a cloud; something coming. That's a man coming this way, with a buckskin suit on; he got long hair. He come right straight for him; it's Jesus himself. So he told this boy, “Well, one time you was crying, and your prayers were answered that time. So I come here. I'm not supposed to come; I said I wasn't going to come before two thousand years,” he said. “But I come for you, to come tell you why that's you [are] lost. But we're going to bring you something, so you can take care of your people. ... So they went up a hill there. There's a tipi there, all ready. So Christ, before he went in it, offered a prayer. ...Take this medicine along, over there. Whoever takes this medicine, he will do it in my name.” So that's how it represents almost the first beginning.”

UDV meeting with ayahuasca brewing. The Celebrants sit for several hours in the church meeting hall in contemplation, music and some speeches. A celebrant drinking ayahuasca.

The indigenous use of Amazonian ayahuasca, has been reformed into a modern religious movement, Union of the Vegetal, to “remember past lives and to understand the true meaning of reincarnation as well as to become familiar with the origin and the real destiny of nature and of man”. The Union Vegetale or UDV is a nominally Christian movement devoted to experiencing inner harmony through partaking of ayahuasca tea. A fortnightly meeting is held by the movement, which includes members of both sexes from all walks of life. Its membership is not restricted to one fringe group. Similar movements, surround the use of iboga in equatorial Africa in the bwiti and mbiri cults in which men and women make a vision quest to visit the ancestors.
What is at stake here goes far beyond Christian horizons. It is the discovery that the mystical visionary state is unlocked, not by conscious control, but the incipient chaos that comes from the interaction of the ‘other’ with our will to order. It extends from the psychotropic plants and fungi to the actual molecules which are their active principles, and their variants.

In 2006 a ground-breaking scientific experiment, after 40 years of research taboo, using “straight” volunteers demonstrated that the psilocybin in magic mushrooms can occasion mystical experiences having genuine spiritual and religious significance, of continuing benefit to their lives months later, which stood out as one of the five most significant experiences of their lifetime, standing alongside birth, death and marriage.

Persephone giving Demeter the Epoptea sacrament.
Eleusis -‘liberty cap’ mushroom

Healing the Nations

However, this association between an active sacrament and mystical gnosis has been lurking in the Christian condition since its beginning. Allegro has speculated that the mystery at the Christian origin is founded on an agaric mushroom cult. Commenting on the Elusian epoptea, Clement of Alexandria likens Christ, to the Hierophant of the sacred mysteries: “Are they not sesame cakes, cakes with many marvels, . and a serpent, the mystic sign of Dionysos Bassareus? Are they not also pomegranates, fig branches ... ivy leaves, round cakes and poppies? In addition there are the unutterable symbols of Ge-Themis, majoram, a lamp, a sword and a woman's comb? [kteis - genital organ symbol]... Oh truly sacred mysteries! Oh pure light! In the blaze of torches, I have an epoptic vision of heaven and of God. I become holy by initiation. The Lord is the Hierophant who reveals the mysteries and commends them to the Father's care, where he is guarded for ages to come” .

John Spong notes that the sacred meal is not just a ritual instituted by Jesus but is also the central motif in the manifestation of the resurrected Christ in which “their eyes were opened”, just as were those of Adam and Eve when they ate the forbidden fruit: “And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them. And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight.” (Luke 24:30)

Partaking of the sacrament Holland 1999

Likewise in John 21:4 it is the dining which reveals the Christ: “Jesus saith unto them, Come and dine. And none of the disciples durst ask him, ‘Who art thou?’ knowing that it was the Lord.” In Acts again, eating and drinking the sacred substance with the redeemer is the central key: “Not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead.” Spong comments: “in the act of eating and drinking in the name of the Lord, here and now, we are sharing a foretaste of that kingdom. Perhaps in such a setting our eyes might well ‘be opened’ to behold the one.”

The power plants and fungi are my natural allies with which I have communed extensively over decades of my life. While I have also taken Tibetan meditations and wandered as a Sadhu in India, the allies are the source of my illumination as to the inner resonances of the sentient universe, even though years may sometimes pass between the times I make a velada of the sacraments.

Tellus Goodmorning the peyote roadman was 93 when I last took peyote with him.
Sr. Trinico my ayahuasca shaman Yarinacocha. 19 years after we first met.

I’m not suggesting that a ‘mushroom religion’ can replace monoclonal evangelical Christianity, but that such allies do form the seeds of a reflowering transformation of the tradition in the paradigm of the Tree of Life. The living sacraments form a natural basis for an inner path of mystical realization, in which those who choose can witness for themselves the inner dimensions of the vision quest, and form a consensual movement of compassionate wisdom, which could provide a healing effect on world futures and our long-term survival as a species.

Perhaps Eve was right all along to seek the fruit that would ‘make one wise’ - hidden from the foundation of the world to the unveiling:

“And he shewed me a pure river
of water of life, clear as crystal,
proceeding out of the throne of God
and of the Lamb.
In the midst of the street of it,
and on either side of the river,
was there the tree of life,
which bare twelve manner of fruits,
and yielded her fruit every month:
and the leaves of the tree
were for the healing of the nations.

The epoptea was always an inner sanctum. Such mysteries are best carefully ‘shepherded’, as the ayahuasca shamans do, to prevent excesses or delusions from leading to fearful, false, or violent outcomes. Integrated with the sacramental tradition in a reflowering, the ‘power plants’ could become a source of illumination for a genuine wisdom movement, whose ‘elders’ are a voice of conscience and good counsel for the planet, fulfilling the regenerative process as a living tradition.

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1 comment:

Max said...

Hi Chris, wow! What an amazing article, I really loved it. Thanks for writing it. Hey I wondered if I can put something in my blog about it? The origins of sacramental religions and sacred plants are some of my favourite topics and I would love to include it. Have a look at my blog and let me know if you give the nod:

Thanks and keep up the good work!