Brain Muraresku is a practicing attorney and a student of ancient languages (Greek, Latin and Sanskrit), whose twelve-year odyssey through the archives of Western religion culminated in the publication of The Immortality Key (TIK). According to Muraresku, this work, which “presents the pagan continuity hypothesis with a psychedelic twist,” addresses two fundamental questions: “Before the rise of Christianity, did the Ancient Greeks consume a secret psychedelic sacrament during their most famous and well-attended religious rituals? Did the Ancient Greeks pass a version of their sacrament along to the earliest, Greek-speaking Christians, for whom the original Holy Communion or Eucharist was, in fact, a psychedelic Eucharist?”
TIK is a fascinating, audacious and important book. It is fascinating for general readers and scholars alike in the journalistic manner in which it investigates and interprets difficult-to-access data from diverse fields. Muraresku takes us along on his often breathless journey, describing visits to the nonpublic ceramic collections of the Louvre Museum in search of the pagan roots of Christian wine; explorations of Rome's vast catacombs to decipher archaeological traces of entheogen use in early Christian symbols; and rare access to recently-opened Vatican archives to translate Inquisition proceedings documenting the dual persecution of mothers and daughters in medieval witchcraft trials.
This book is audacious because it tackles and purports to resolve some of the most controversial questions in Catholic Church history and Indo-European archeology. Does Christianity have a psychedelic history? Who were the ancient Indo-Europeans and were their soma/haoma rituals the inspiration for the kykeon potion in the Greek Eleusinian Mysteries and the Eucharist in early Christianity? These Ancient Greek Mysteries are a landmark in the psychedelic study of world religions because they were practiced annually for nearly 2,000 years, from about 1500 BC to 380 AD when the Catholic Church became the official religion of the Roman Empire after which Eleusis was destroyed as a pagan temple.
And, TIK is important because, based on Muraresku's conversations with archaeochemists at the University of Pennsylvania and MIT and on his interpretation of until-now obscure archaeobontanical discoveries in Spain, it reports on the first direct chemical evidence of entheogen use in the Eleusinian Mysteries. In the process, The Immortality Key resurrects and rescues the life work of Carl A.P. Ruck, a Classics professor expert in the rites of Dionysus and Catholic Church history, from four decades of academic exile.
In 1978, Ruck coauthored, with ethnomycologist R. Gordon Wasson (1898–1986) and chemist Albert Hoffman (1906–2008), The Road to Eleusis: Unveiling the Secrets of the Mysteries, which proposed that the kykeon, the secret potion consumed by initiates at Eleusis, contained a hallucinogenic ergot. The book presents evidence, analyzed by Hoffman at Sandoz laboratories in Switzerland, that ergots of wheat and barley contain alkaloids of the ergonovine group and traces of lysergic acid amide (a less potent relative of LSD), both psychoactive. The Homeric “Hymn to Demeter,” the Greek goddess who gifted mortals the Eleusinian Mysteries, states that the kykeon was prepared from barley, water and mint. Based on this information, the researchers presumed that the wild barley found on the Rarian plains surrounding Eleusis in the second millennium BC was host to an ergot-containing, water-soluble hallucinogenic alkaloid–the purple sclerotia of Claviceps purpurea, a parasitic fungal growth found on rye, barley, wheat and wild grasses.
Publication of The Road to Eleusis enhanced the already distinguished careers of Wasson, widely acknowledged as the founder of ethnomycology, and of Hoffman, renowned worldwide for his discovery of LSD. But, for Ruck's future as a tenured Classics professor at Boston University (BU), it was devastating. The book came out in the late 1970s, the decade of President Nixon's War on Drugs, during an era when BU president John Silber was a staunch conservative and a Platonic scholar well-versed in the Classics. After receiving a copy of The Road to Eleusis, Silber never commented on it to Ruck, but instead summarily consigned him to the academic equivalent of solitary confinement. In short order, Ruck was removed as department chair and prohibited from teaching graduate courses, while BU scholars in other disciplines were warned against collaborating with him. His courses on entheogens were dropped from the curriculum and doctoral candidates were forewarned that they might not find employment in Classics departments if Ruck chaired their dissertation committee.
Reluctant to even consider that the Ancient Greeks, revered as founders of Western Civilization, consumed drugs in religious rituals, Ruck's colleagues in Classics studies responded to The Road to Eleusis either with scathing criticism or, for the most part, resounding silence. Chastened but undeterred Ruck has spent the last four decades researching the presence of entheogens in Ancient Greece and in medieval and Renaissance Christianity. Masterfully weaving together data from art history, church archives and pagan mythology, Ruck has coauthored some of the most erudite and original studies of the entheogenic roots of Christianity, including The Apples of Apollo: Pagan and Christian Mysteries of the Eucharist (2001), Mushrooms, Myth and Mithras: The Drug Cult that Civilized Europe (2011), and The Effluents of Deity: Alchemy and Psychoactive Sacraments in Medieval and Renaissance Art (2012).
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