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This introduction to the special issue reviews research that supports the hypothesis that psychedelics, particularly psilocybin, were central features in the development of religion. The greater response of the human serotonergic system to psychedelics than is the case for chimpanzees’ serotonergic receptors indicates that these substances were environmental factors that affected hominin evolution. These substances also contributed to the evolution of ritual capacities, shamanism, and the associated alterations of consciousness. The role of psilocybin mushrooms in the ancient evolution of human religions is attested to fungiform petroglyphs, rock artifacts, and mythologies from all major regions of the world. This prehistoric mycolatry persisted into the historic era in the major religious traditions of the world, which often left evidence of these practices in sculpture, art, and scriptures. This continuation of entheogenic practices in the historical world is addressed in the articles here. But even through new entheogenic combinations were introduced, complex societies generally removed entheogens from widespread consumption, restricted them in private and exclusive spiritual practices of the leaders, and often carried out repressive punishment of those who engaged in entheogenic practices.

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Background and aims

Psychedelic entity experiences are examined from perspectives of evolutionary psychology and neurophenomenology. Their similarities with other entity experiences illustrate the need for a general biological explanation of entity experiences. Mechanisms are proposed to involve innate modules, operators, and intelligences that underlie ordinary cognitive inferences and provide the basis for supernatural thought.


Comparisons of ayahuasca and dimethyltryptamine (DMT) entity experiences with other types of entity experiences show their fundamental similarities to conceptions of spirit guides, mythological beings, divinities, extraterrestrials, angels, celestial beings, demons, gnomes, dwarfs, elves, and others. Entities exemplify the properties of anthropomorphism, exhibiting qualities of humans. Comparative methods are proposed to identify common features and differences in psychedelic and other entity experiences.


Features of psychedelic entities reflect the functions of principal innate operators and modules (i.e., animacy detection, social role inferences, and mind reading) that have central roles in the explanation of the genesis of spirit experiences and beliefs. Humans’ innate psychology includes diverse forms of self and alien self-phenomena, providing mechanisms for explaining psychedelic entity experiences. Neurophenomenological approaches illustrate that the physiological effects of psychedelics can account for release of innate modules and mental organs. The concept of the phantasy mode of consciousness provides a mechanism through which our unconscious causal and explanatory mechanisms produce accounts of encounters with non-human beings. The extensive interaction of DMT with the receptorome explains why these experiences give such a powerful sense of ontological certainty.


Psychedelic entity experiences share central features with a robust innate human tendency to attribute agency, intentionality, causality, and personhood and to create accounts involving human-like qualities and entities.

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The essay proposes that entheogenic mushrooms and shamanic experiences are encoded in the Khajuraho Temples of India. Erotic sculptures of Khajuraho have statues with limbs depicted in strange positions, separated from the body or with orientations that are anatomically impossible. These represent dismemberment experiences typical of shamanic and mystical initiation, a phenomenon with precedents in Hindu and Buddhist traditions. The central placement of mushroom depictions in the temple structures indicates that their identities should be sought among entheogenic mushrooms, but features that could distinguish entheogenic mushroom species are often ambiguous. Nonetheless, the centrality of their placement supports the entheogenic hypothesis. While the presence of multiple fungi and plant sources for soma seems likely, the argument for the originality of Amanita muscaria is made in assessing the principal names of the God Vishnu with respect to features of the mushroom. Various associations of the Gods at Khajuraho and other sites suggest the broad identification of Hindu Gods with entheogenic mushrooms. Icons of mushroom are also secretly encoded in the Khajuraho sculptures in association with the so-called vandalized or broken sculptures of Khajuraho. A repeated “figure 8” pattern suggests that the artists deliberately constructed them to appear vandalized in order to encode information depicting the early stage of A. muscaria and other entheogenic fungi. These encoded figures provide support for the argument that A. muscaria, Hindu God Vishnu, Jain Mahaveera, and the Buddha (and perhaps other Gods and Goddesses of Vedic/Jain/Hindu/Buddhist pantheon) could be interconnected. This paper concludes with an assessment of the implications of this entheogenic evidence for the reinterpretation of central aspects of religious beliefs and ideologies of India.

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Journal of Psychedelic Studies
Robert Beckstead
Bryce Blankenagel
Cody Noconi
, and
Michael Winkelman

Historical documents relating to early Mormonism suggest that Joseph Smith (1805–1844) employed entheogen-infused sacraments to fulfill his promise that every Mormon convert would experience visions of God and spiritual ecstasies. Early Mormon scriptures and Smith’s teachings contain descriptions consistent with using entheogenic material. Compiled descriptions of Joseph Smith’s earliest visions and early Mormon convert visions reveal the internal symptomology and outward bodily manifestations consistent with using an anticholinergic entheogen. Due to embarrassing symptomology associated with these manifestations, Smith sought for psychoactives with fewer associated outward manifestations. The visionary period of early Mormonism fueled by entheogens played a significant role in the spectacular rise of this American-born religion. The death of Joseph Smith marked the end of visionary Mormonism and the failure or refusal of his successor to utilize entheogens as a part of religious worship. The implications of an entheogenic origin of Mormonism may contribute to the broader discussion of the major world religions with evidence of entheogen use at their foundation and illustrate the value of entheogens in religious experience.

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