Boston Globe, December 6, 2005
B.D. Staples: studied sacred role of drugs
By Emma Stickgold, Globe correspondent
Blaise Daniel Staples and a team of other scholars worked to unravel
the mystery of the role hallucinogens played in ancient Greek religious life,
demonstrating the sacred use of such substances in some parts of history.
Rejecting the term "hallucinogen," Dr. Staples and others coined a new
term that is now used -- entheogen -- or "creating the divine within" in
In a number of books of books, Dr. Staples, his spouse Carl A.P.
Ruck, a Boston University professor, and others, outlined a theory that
mind-altering concoctions were part of everyday religious life and were used by several prominent figures who helped shape Western culture in ancient times.
Dr. Staples, an expert in ancient Greek and Latin studies and a
longtime Hull resident died Thursday at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. The cause of death was not released. He was 57.
From archaeological sites, ancient texts, and other labor-intensive
research, Dr. Staples and others pieced together evidence that religious
rituals often included a drug that altered a user's state of mind. One example they cited was the use of a fungus similar to LSD that may have been part of religious
As they explored the ties between religion and what are now
considered to be controlled substances, the scholarly team also delved into the role such drugs played in European fairytales. In their research, they pointed to the poisonous apple in Snow White, and the mushroom found at the foot of Little Red Riding Hood when she encounters the wolf in the forest, illustrating that the roots of such stories lie in part with old traditions and religions, such as pagan shamanism.
"There's a considerable amount of evidence that something was eaten
and something was seen," Ruck said. "We also reconstructed what the
nature of the experience was."
The powerful substances, they theorized, were considered sacred by a
Greek religion that lasted for about 2,000 years. Those who abused the
drug were put to death for it, suggesting that addiction and narcotic abuse are notjust a modern phenomenon.
"People thought that before the present age nobody was interested,
which is just ridiculous," Ruck said.
Dr. Staples was born in Somerset, but lived in Ashville, N.C., until age 9, then moved back to Somerset. He earned his bachelor's degree from Boston University and master's and doctorate degrees in classical studies from Brown University.
He was a "brilliant classicist," who could speak a half-dozen
languages fluently and had a passion for collecting antiques, his friends and family said.
"My brother was an intellectual," said Margaret Ann Stafursky of
Martha'sVineyard. "My brother was very well-read, very well-spoken."
Dr. Staples was about 6 feet tall and had bright blue eyes and wispy
blond hair, his family said.
"He enjoyed laughing -- he laughed a lot," said his mother. Marie I.
(Eagan) of Swansea. Still, she said, "He was a clam, quiet person."
And while Dr. Staples spent much of his time studying the classics,
he also had a soft spot for classical music and would play piano for about an hour each day.
"He was lighthearted, he was kind, he was a gentleman," his sister said.
Dr. Staples helped translate ancient texts into English and
collaborated with Ruck on several books, including "The Apples of Apollo: Pagan and Christian Mysteries of the Eucharist," "The Wold of Classical Myth: Gods and Goddesses, Heroines and Heroes," and "The Hidden World: Survival of Pagan Shamanic Themes in European Fairytales."
In the course of their writings, the composition of the sacramental
communion was analyzed, and mind-altering symbolic plants such as mistletoe, Soma, and the fly agaric mushroom are tied to the myths of Greek heroes. For at least one project, they collaborated with Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann, who first examined the hallucinatory powers of LSD, and with ethnomycologist R. Gordon Wasson.
Dr. Staples leaves his spouse, his mother, and his sister.
Services will be held at 11 a.m. today in the Rose E. Sullivan Funeral
Home on Somerset. Burial will be in St. Patrick's Cemetery in Somerset.
Image - Professor Carl Ruck and Dr. Blaise Staples