|The Holy Mushroom Evidence of Mushrooms in Judeo-Christianity:
A critical re-evaluation of the schism between John M. Allegro and R. Gordon Wasson over the theory on the entheogenic origins of Christianity presented in The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross
by J.R. Irvin, © 2008.
Published: October 2008
Academic endorsements for The Holy Mushroom:
John Allegro’s revelation of the sacramental role of a sacred mushroom in the ancient religions spanning the agrarian region from Mesopotamia to the Near East was immediately and unfairly rejected by a chorus of scholars less competent than him, but continuing research into early Christianity and the mystery religions of the Greco-Roman world and their perpetuation in alchemy and European folkloric traditions has vindicated the correctness of his discovery.
~ Professor Carl A. P. Ruck, Boston University
Christianity and the Piltdown Hoax (one of the largest academic scandals in history) share many similarities: In both stories the information was constructed and then salted into the information stream, and, through the word of noted scholars, presented as fact, the truth. Scholars have egos and once committed to their ideas through scholarly publications, faculty meetings, and conferences, have difficulty seeing, hearing, or even appreciating an adverse view. To waver from a strongly held opinion could spell academic ruin and withdrawal of acclaim. This leads to lively debate, counter stories, and even character assassination if one side or the other is being out trumped in the symbolic mêlée.
Jan Irvin (The Holy Mushroom) has captured what we might call an “anthropology of clarification” regarding whether or not mushrooms, and mind-altering substances in general, played any role in the development of not only Judaism and Christianity but the total culture in play at that time. It is now recognized in many academic communities (anthropologists, sociologists, psychiatrists, psychologists) that sufficient evidence exists of the importance of these substances, both textual and visual, to say “yes” in very large letters. It is no longer theory. The questions Irvin asks are these: “If mind-altering substances did play this major role, then how would this affect our interpretations of the Bible and the Qur’an? Would this shed light on the origins of mystical experiences and the stories, for example Abraham hearing voices and Ezekiel’s convenient visions? What would this suggest about the shamanic behavior of Jesus? What impact would this have on organized religion?” These are bold questions. This is a very useful volume for those interested in the Holy Mushroom and the politics of truth. Detailed and wonderfully illustrated; great bibliography.
~ Professor John A. Rush, Sierra College
Jan Irvin has produced a most thoughtful and valuable account of debate around the use of hallucinogenic mushrooms in early Christianity. Irvin’s careful account of the main protagonists, their sources and intellectual motivations shows the importance of continuing research on this significant moment in early Christian thought, as well as how academic research itself is affected by the cultural attitudes of the day. In adducing new textual evidence and showing the iconographic prevalence of the mushroom motif Jan Irvin is to be warmly congratulated – all serious scholarship for the future will have to take account of his achievement.
~ Professor Neil Whitehead, University of Wisconsin, Madison
Foreword by Judith Anne Brown:
Why should we be surprised or shocked by the idea that people of all eras and cultures have used hallucinatory drugs to attain exalted states of consciousness, which they take to mean divine understanding? In The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross John Allegro tried to show that this idea was built into the language and thought of religion from the very earliest times, and was still evident in the language and thought of the first Christians.
When survival depended on the fertility of the earth, and fertility was a gift of the gods, people sought to promote fertility by appealing to divine power. The swiftest and surest way to know the mind of god was through the use of herbal drugs. Throughout all ages and across all continents, priests and shamans have used entheogenic drugs in religious rituals. One of the chief sources of these drugs was fly agaric, Amanita muscaria, the sacred mushroom.
John Allegro believed that Judaism and Christianity were no exception. He held that many biblical stories and sayings derived from earlier fertility cults based on the use of the sacred mushroom. He discerned mushroom epithets behind many stories, names and phrases in the Old and New Testaments, either elaborated into folk tales or deliberately hidden in names and incantations. Embedded in different contexts, and often misunderstood in translation, they still carried messages for those who would look for them.
His evidence was linguistic. Starting with Greek and Semitic names, phrases, themes and stories from the Old and New Testaments, he followed them back through Phoenician and Akkadian to the earliest known writings – those of Sumer in the third millennium BCE. Although the precise form and interpretation of words changed with inflection and context in different languages, he found that the basic phonemes, the building blocks of words, carried their root meaning from one context to another. So by tracing the development of words we can trace the intertwining evolution of language, culture and religion.
The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross met outrage and derision. Part of the problem lay in common revulsion at the idea of linking Christianity to primitive fertility cults. The idea that the New Testament was a cover story, deliberately designed to transmit occult knowledge to a particular sect without the authorities realising it, seemed improbably complicated. Also, Allegro based his evidence almost entirely on language study, and not enough was known about Sumerian to make a solid case. Had he given more attention to investigating the surviving cultural and artistic expressions of ‘Christian’ fertility cults, he might have convinced more people of the strength of his argument.
But now other types of evidence are coming forward to show that elements of the ancient religion survived at least into medieval times, where they were widely accepted in pagan and Christian folklore and religious practice, if not openly condoned by the established Church. For example, a fresco in a thirteenth-century church at Plaincourault, France, shows Amanita muscaria as the Tree of Life. Allegro used it as an illustration to The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross, but in the outcry against the book even this obvious reference to mushroom veneration met denial.
Starting with the Plaincourault fresco, Jan Irvin sets out to justify John Allegro’s stance and to explore the objections to it. As I explained in the biography John Marco Allegro: The Maverick of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the main doubts about Allegro’s theory are whether the New Testament could deliberately conceal a secret code about mushroom usage, and the need to further substantiate Sumerian word connections. In the light of Irvin’s findings, there can now be little doubt that entheogenic drugs were used to attain divine understanding in Christianity as in other religions. I also think it is worth questioning whether mushroom lore was as secret as Allegro assumed it to be: lost in translation, perhaps, but not lost on the early followers of the cult, for whom the symbolism of the holy mushroom was a guide to revelation. In this book Jan Irvin subjects both sides to courtroom-like scrutiny, and adds powerful new evidence to help fill the gaps in our understanding of the origins of religion.
~ Judith Anne Brown
Author of John Marco Allegro: The Maverick of the Dead Sea Scrolls