An entheogen is any psychoactive substance that induces a spiritual
experience and is aimed at spiritual development. This terminology
is often chosen to contrast with recreational use of the same drugs.
For example, entheogens are used by curanderos to heal people but also
by malevolent sorcerers to allegedly "steal" their energy.
The religious, shamanic, or spiritual significance of entheogens is
well established in anthropological and modern contexts; entheogens
have traditionally been used to supplement many diverse practices
geared towards achieving transcendence, including white and black
magic, sensory deprivation, divinatory, meditation, yoga, prayer,
trance, rituals, chanting, hymns like peyote songs, and drumming. In
the 1960s the hippie movement escalated its use to psychedelic art,
binaural beats, sensory deprivation tanks, music, and rave parties.
1.1 Ancient times
1.2 1950s – present
1.2.1 Religious movements
1.2.2 Psychedelic therapy
2 Controversial entheogens
2.1.1 Ancient religions
2.1.2 Modern religions
3.1 Use and abuse
3.2 Religious use
3.2.1 Black magic
Judaism and Christianity
3.3 Cultural use
3.3.5 Middle East
5 Religious discrimination
6 Legal status of entheogens
6.2 United States
7 Classical mythology and cults
11 Further reading
12 External links
Entheogens have been used by indigenous peoples for thousands of
years. Some countries have legislation that allows for traditional
entheogen use. However, in the mid-20th century, after the discovery
of LSD, and the intervention of psychedelic therapy, the term
entheogen, invented in 1979, later became an umbrella term used to
include artificial drugs, alternative medical treatment, and spiritual
practices, whether or not in a formal religious or traditional
See also: Entheogenic drugs and the archaeological record
Flowering San Pedro, an entheogenic cactus that has been used for over
3,000 years. Today the vast majority of extracted mescaline is from
columnar cacti, not vulnerable peyote.
Entheogens have been used in a ritualized context for thousands of
R. Gordon Wasson
R. Gordon Wasson and
Giorgio Samorini have proposed several examples
of the cultural use of entheogens that are found in the archaeological
record. Evidence for the first use of entheogens may come from
Tassili, Algeria, with a cave painting of a mushroom-man, dating to
8000 BP. Hemp seeds discovered by archaeologists at
Pazyryk suggest early ceremonial practices by the
during the 5th to 2nd century BC, confirming previous historical
reports by Herodotus.
1950s – present
Laboratory synthetic mescaline.
Mescaline was the first (1887)
psychedelic compound to be extracted and isolated from nature (from
With the advent of organic chemistry, there now exist many synthetic
drugs with similar psychoactive properties, many derived from the
aforementioned plants. Many pure active compounds with psychoactive
properties have been isolated from these respective organisms and
chemically synthesized, including mescaline, psilocybin, DMT,
salvinorin A, ibogaine, ergine, and muscimol.
Semi-synthetic (e.g., LSD) and synthetic drugs (e.g., DPT and 2C-B
used by the Sangoma) have also been developed. Alexander Shulgin
developed hundreds of entheogens in
PiHKAL and TiHKAL. Most of the
PiHKAL are synthetic.
Entheogens used by movements includes biotas like peyote (Neo-American
Church), extracts like
Ayahuasca (Santo Daime, União do Vegetal), the
LSD (Neo-American Church), and synthetic drugs
like DPT (Temple of the True Inner Light) and
Santo Daime and
União do Vegetal now have members and churches
throughout the world.
2C-B is an entactogen commonly used at public places, like rave
Psychedelic therapy refers to therapeutic practices involving the use
of psychedelic drugs, particularly serotonergic psychedelics such as
LSD, psilocybin, DMT, mescaline, and 2C-i, primarily to assist
MAPS has pursued a number of other research studies examining the
effects of psychedelics administered to human subjects. These studies
include, but are not limited to, studies of Ayahuasca, DMT, ibogaine,
ketamine, LSA, LSD, MDE, MDMA, mescaline, peyote, psilocybin, Salvia
divinorum and conducted multi-drug studies as well as cross cultural
and meta-analysis research.
L. E. Hollister's[who?] criteria for identifying a drug as
in proportion to other effects, changes in thought, perception, and
mood should predominate;
intellectual or memory impairment should be minimal;
stupor, narcosis, or excessive stimulation should not be an integral
autonomic nervous system side effects should be minimal; and
addictive craving should be absent.
Drugs, including some that cause physical dependence, have been used
with entheogenic intention, mostly in ancient times, like alcohol.
Common recreational drugs that cause chemical dependence have a
history of entheogenic use, perhaps because their users could not
access traditional entheogens, as shamans, considering non-visioning
uses of their entheogens as hedonistic, were very secretive with
Dionysos, or Bacchus, was known as the god of wine and ritual madness
Greek mythology (Bacchus by
Drinking culture and religion and alcohol
Alcohol has sometimes been invested with religious significance.
In ancient Celtic religion,
Sucellus or Sucellos was the god of
agriculture, forests and alcoholic drinks of the Gauls.
Ancient Mesopotamian religion
Ninkasi is the ancient Sumerian tutelary goddess of beer.
In the ancient Greco-Roman religion,
Dionysos (or Bacchus) was the god
of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine, of ritual madness and
ecstasy, of merry making and theatre. The original rite of
associated with a wine cult and he may have been worshipped as early
as c. 1500–1100 BC by Mycenean Greeks. The
Dionysian Mysteries were
a ritual of ancient Greece and Rome which used intoxicants and other
trance-inducing techniques (like dance and music) to remove
inhibitions and social constraints, liberating the individual to
return to a natural state. In his Laws,
Plato said that alcoholic
drinking parties should be the basis of any educational system,
because the alcohol allows relaxation of otherwise fixed views. The
Symposium (literally, 'drinking together') was a dramatised account of
a drinking party where the participants debated the nature of love.
In the Homeric
Hymn to Demeter, a cup of wine is offered to Demeter
which she refuses, instead insisting upon a potion of barley, water,
and glechon, known as the ceremonial drink Kykeon, an essential part
of the Mysteries. The potion has been hypothesized to be an ergot
derivative from barley, similar to LSD.
Egyptian pictographs clearly show wine as a finished product around
4000 BC. Osiris, the god who invented beer and brewing, was worshiped
throughout the country. The ancient Egyptians made at least 24 types
of wine and 17 types of beer. These beverages were used for pleasure,
nutrition, rituals, medicine, and payments. They were also stored in
the tombs of the deceased for use in the afterlife. The Osirian
Mysteries paralleled the Dionysian, according to contemporary Greek
and Egyptian observers.
Spirit possession involved liberation from
civilization's rules and constraints. It celebrated that which was
outside civilized society and a return to the source of being, which
would later assume mystical overtones. It also involved escape from
the socialized personality and ego into an ecstatic, deified state or
the primal herd (sometimes both).
Some scholars[who?] have postulated that pagan religions actively
promoted alcohol and drunkenness as a means of fostering fertility.
Alcohol was believed to increase sexual desire and make it easier to
approach another person for sex.
Christianity and alcohol, alcohol in the Bible, and
Islam and alcohol
Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche introduced "Mindful Drinking" to the West
when he fled Tibet.
The present day
Arabic word for alcohol appears in
The Qur'an (in
verse 37:47) as الغول al-ġawl, properly meaning "spirit" or
"demon", in the sense of "the thing that gives the wine its
Christian denominations use wine in the
Eucharist or Communion
and permit alcohol consumption in moderation. Other denominations use
unfermented grape juice in Communion; they either voluntarily abstain
from alcohol or prohibit it outright.
Judaism uses wine on
Shabbat and some holidays for
Kiddush as well as
more extensively in the
Passover ceremony and other religious
ceremonies. The secular consumption of alcohol is allowed. Some Jewish
texts, e.g., the Talmud, encourage moderate drinking on holidays (such
as Purim) in order to make the occasion more joyous.
Bahá'ís are forbidden to drink alcohol or to take drugs, unless
prescribed by doctors. Accordingly, the sale and trafficking of such
substances is also forbidden. Smoking is discouraged but not
Kava cultures are the religious and cultural traditions of western
Oceania which consume kava. There are similarities in the use of kava
between the different cultures, but each one also has its own
Use and abuse
See also: Plastic shaman
Entheogens have been used by individuals to pursue spiritual goals
such as divination, ego death, egolessness, faith healing, psychedelic
therapy and spiritual formation.
"Don Alejandro (a Mazatecan shaman) taught me that the visionary
experiences are much more important than the plants and drugs that
produce them. He no longer needed to take the vision-inducing plants
for his journeys."
There are also instances where people have been given entheogens
without their knowledge or consent (e.g., tourists in Ayahuasca),
as well as attempts to use such drugs in other contexts, such as
cursing, psychochemical weaponry, psychological torture, brainwashing
and mind control; CIA experiments with
LSD were used in Project
MKUltra, and controversial entheogens like alcohol are often mentioned
in context of bread and circuses.
See also: Psychology of religion
Black magic § Shamanism
In some areas, there are purported malevolent sorcerers who masquerade
as real shamans and who entice tourists to drink ayahuasca in their
presence. Shamans believe one of the purposes for this is to steal
one's energy and/or power, of which they believe every person has a
A Native American
Peyote Drummer (circa 1927)
Native American Church
Native American Church (NAC) is also known as Peyotism and Peyote
Religion. Peyotism is a
Native American religion
Native American religion characterized by
mixed traditional as well as
Protestant beliefs and by sacramental use
of the entheogen peyote.
Peyote Way Church of
God believe that "
Peyote is a holy sacrament,
when taken according to our sacramental procedure and combined with a
Some religions forbid, discourage, or restrict the drinking of
alcoholic beverages. These include Islam, Jainism, the Bahá'í Faith,
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), the
Seventh-day Adventist Church, the Church of Christ, Scientist, the
United Pentecostal Church International, Theravada, most Mahayana
schools of Buddhism, some
Protestant denominations of Christianity,
some sects of
Five Precepts and Ten Precepts), and Hinduism.
The Pali Canon, the scripture of
Theravada Buddhism, depicts
refraining from alcohol as essential to moral conduct because
intoxication causes a loss of mindfulness. The fifth of the Five
Precepts states, "Surā-meraya-majja-pamādaṭṭhānā veramaṇī
sikkhāpadaṃ samādiyāmi." In English: "I undertake to refrain from
meraya and majja (the two fermented drinks used in the place and time
of writing) to heedless intoxication." Although the Fifth Precept only
names a specific wine and cider, this has traditionally been
interpreted to mean all alcoholic beverages. Technically, this
prohibition does also not even include light to moderate drinking,
only to the point of drunkenness. It also doesn't include other
mind-altering drugs, but Buddhist tradition includes all intoxicants.
The canon does not suggest that alcohol is evil but believes that the
carelessness produced by intoxication creates bad karma. Therefore,
any drug (beyond tea or mild coffee) that affects one's mindfulness be
considered by some to be covered by this prohibition.
Judaism and Christianity
Christian denominations disapprove of the use of most illicit
drugs. The early history of the Church, however, was filled with a
variety of drug use, recreational and otherwise.
The primary advocate of a religious use of cannabis plant in early
Judaism was Sula Benet, also called Sara Benetowa, a Polish
anthropologist, who claimed in 1967 that the plant kaneh bosm
קְנֵה-בֹשֶׂם mentioned five times in the Hebrew Bible, and
used in the holy anointing oil of the Book of Exodus, was in fact
cannabis. The Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church confirmed it as a
possible valid interpretation. The lexicons of Hebrew and
dictionaries of plants of the
Bible such as by
Michael Zohary (1985),
Hans Arne Jensen (2004) and
James A. Duke (2010) and others identify
the plant in question as either
Acorus calamus or Cymbopogon
citratus. Kaneh-bosm is listed as an incense in the Old Testament.
Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (founder of Jewish Renewal) and Richard
Alpert (later known as Ram Dass) were influential early Jewish
explorers of the connections between hallucinogenics and spirituality,
from the early 1960s onwards.
It is generally held by academics specializing in the archaeology and
paleobotany of Ancient Israel, and those specializing in the
lexicography of the
Hebrew Bible that cannabis is not documented or
mentioned in early Judaism. Against this some popular writers have
argued that there is evidence for religious use of cannabis in the
Hebrew Bible, although this hypothesis and some of the
specific case studies (e.g.,
John Allegro in relation to Qumran, 1970)
have been "widely dismissed as erroneous, others continue".
According to The Living Torah, cannabis may have been one of the
ingredients of the holy anointing oil mentioned in various sacred
Hebrew texts. The herb of interest is most commonly known as
kaneh-bosm (Hebrew: קְנֵה-בֹשֶׂם). This is mentioned
several times in the
Old Testament as a bartering material, incense,
and an ingredient in holy anointing oil used by the high priest of the
temple. Although Chris Bennett's research in this area focuses on
cannabis, he mentions evidence suggesting use of additional visionary
plants such as henbane, as well.
Septuagint translates kaneh-bosm as calamus, and this translation
has been propagated unchanged to most later translations of the old
testament. However, Polish anthropologist
Sula Benet published
etymological arguments that the
Aramaic word for hemp can be read as
kannabos and appears to be a cognate to the modern word
'cannabis', with the root kan meaning reed or hemp and bosm
meaning fragrant. Both cannabis and calamus are fragrant, reedlike
plants containing psychotropic compounds.
In his research, Professor Dan Merkur points to significant evidence
of an awareness within the Jewish mystical tradition recognizing manna
as an entheogen, thereby substantiating with rabbinic texts theories
advanced by the superficial biblical interpretations of Terence
R. Gordon Wasson
R. Gordon Wasson and other ethnomycologists.
John Marco Allegro
John Marco Allegro has suggested that the
self-revelation and healing abilities attributed to the figure of
Jesus may have been associated with the effects of the plant
medicines, this evidence is dependent on pre-
Torah and Tenach. Allegro was the only non-Catholic appointed to
the position of translating the Dead Sea scrolls. His extrapolations
are often the object of scorn due to Allegro's non-mainstream theory
of Jesus as a mythological personification of the essence of a
"psychoactive sacrament". Furthermore, they conflict with the position
of the Catholic Church with regard to transubstantiation and the
teaching involving valid matter, form, and drug — that of bread and
wine (bread does not contain psychoactive drugs, but wine contains
ethanol). Allegro's book
The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross relates the
development of language to the development of myths, religions, and
cultic practices in world cultures. Allegro believed he could prove,
through etymology, that the roots of Christianity, as of many other
religions, lay in fertility cults, and that cult practices, such as
ingesting visionary plants (or "psychedelics") to perceive the mind of
God, persisted into the early
Christian era, and to some unspecified
extent into the 13th century with reoccurrences in the 18th century
and mid-20th century, as he interprets the Plaincourault chapel's
fresco to be an accurate depiction of the ritual ingestion of Amanita
muscaria as the Eucharist.
The historical picture portrayed by the Entheos journal is of fairly
widespread use of visionary plants in early
Christianity and the
surrounding culture, with a gradual reduction of use of entheogens in
Christianity. R. Gordon Wasson's book Soma prints a letter from
art historian Erwin Panofsky asserting that art scholars are aware of
many "mushroom trees" in
The question of the extent of visionary plant use throughout the
Christian practice has barely been considered yet by
academic or independent scholars. The question of whether visionary
plants were used in pre-Theodosius
Christianity is distinct from
evidence that indicates the extent to which visionary plants were
utilized or forgotten in later Christianity, including heretical or
Christian groups, and the question of other groups such as
elites or laity within orthodox Catholic practice.
Daniel Merkur at the
University of Toronto
University of Toronto contends that a minority of
Christian hermits and mystics could possibly have used entheogens, in
conjunction with fasting, meditation, and prayer.
Mandala of the Buddhist
According to R.C. Parker, "The use of entheogens in the Vajrayana
tradition has been documented by such scholars as Ronald M Davidson,
William George Stablein, Bulcsu Siklos, David B. Gray, Benoytosh
Bhattacharyya, Shashibhusan Das Gupta, Francesca Fremantle, Shinichi
Tsuda, David Gordon White, Rene de Nebesky-Wojkowitz, James Francis
Hartzell, Edward Todd Fenner, Ian Baker, Dr. Pasang Yonten Arya and
numerous others." These scholars have established entheogens were used
Vajrayana (in a limited context) as well as in Tantric Saivite
traditions. The major entheogens in the
Vajrayana Anuttarayoga Tantra
tradition are cannabis and
Datura which were used in various pills,
ointments, and elixirs. Several tantras within
mention these entheogens and their use, including the
Laghusamvara-tantra (aka Cakrasaṃvara Tantra), Samputa-tantra,
Samvarodaya-tantra, Mahakala-tantra, Guhyasamaja-tantra,
Vajramahabhairava-tantra, and the Krsnayamari-tantra. In the
Cakrasaṃvara Tantra, the use of entheogens is coupled with mediation
practices such as the use of a mandala of the
Heruka meditation deity
(yidam) and visualization practices which identify the yidam's
external body and mandala with one's own body and 'internal
It has also been proposed by Scott Hajicek-Dobberstein that the
Amanita muscaria mushroom was used by the Tantric Buddhist mahasiddha
tradition of the 8th to 12th century.
In the West, some modern Buddhist teachers have written on the
usefulness of psychedelics. The Buddhist magazine
their entire fall 1996 edition to this issue. Some teachers such
Jack Kornfield have acknowledged the possibility that psychedelics
could complement Buddhist practice, bring healing and help people
understand their connection with everything which could lead to
compassion. Kornfield warns however that addiction can still be a
hindrance. Other teachers such as Michelle McDonald-Smith expressed
views which saw entheogens as not conductive to Buddhist practice ("I
don't see them developing anything").
Entheogens have been used in various ways, e.g., as part of
established religious rituals, as aids for personal spiritual
development ("plant teachers"), as recreational drugs, and for
medical and therapeutic use. The use of entheogens in human cultures
is nearly ubiquitous throughout recorded history.
Naturally occurring entheogens such as psilocybin and DMT (in the
preparation ayahuasca), were, for the most part, discovered and used
by older cultures, as part of their spiritual and religious life, as
plants and agents that were respected, or in some cases revered for
generations and may be a tradition that predates all modern religions
as a sort of proto-religious rite.
One of the most widely used entheogens is cannabis, entheogenic use of
cannabis has been used in regions such as China, Europe, and India,
and, in some cases, for thousands of years. It has also appeared as a
part of religions and cultures such as the Rastafari movement, the
Sadhus of Hinduism, the Scythians,
Sufi Islam, and others.
The best-known entheogen-using culture of
Africa is the Bwitists, who
used a preparation of the root bark of Tabernanthe iboga. Although
the ancient Egyptians may have been using the sacred blue lily plant
in some of their religious rituals or just symbolically, it has been
suggested that Egyptian religion once revolved around the ritualistic
ingestion of the far more psychoactive
Psilocybe cubensis mushroom,
and that the Egyptian White Crown, Triple Crown, and
Atef Crown were
evidently designed to represent pin-stages of this mushroom. There
is also evidence for the use of psilocybin mushrooms in Ivory
Coast. Numerous other plants used in shamanic ritual in Africa,
Silene capensis sacred to the Xhosa, are yet to be
investigated by western science. A recent revitalization has occurred
in the study of southern African psychoactives and entheogens
(Mitchell and Hudson 2004; Sobiecki 2002, 2008, 2012).
The artificial drug
2C-B is interestingly used as entheogen by the
Sangoma, Nyanga, and Amagqirha people over their traditional plants;
they refer to the chemical as Ubulawu Nomathotholo, which roughly
translates to "Medicine of the Singing Ancestors".
Aztec use of entheogens
Aztec use of entheogens and Gonzales v. O Centro Espirita
Beneficente Uniao do Vegetal
Entheogens have played a pivotal role in the spiritual practices of
most American cultures for millennia. The first American entheogen to
be subject to scientific analysis was the peyote cactus (Lophophora
williamsii). For his part, one of the founders of modern ethno-botany,
Richard Evans Schultes
Richard Evans Schultes of
Harvard University documented the
ritual use of peyote cactus among the Kiowa, who live in what became
Oklahoma. While it was used traditionally by many cultures of what is
now Mexico, in the 19th century its use spread throughout North
America, replacing the deadly toxic mescal bean (Calia secundiflora)
who are questioned to be an entheogen at all. Other well-known
entheogens used by Mexican cultures include the alcoholic Aztec
sacrament, pulque, ritual tobacco (known as 'picietl' to the Aztecs,
and 'sikar' to the Maya (from where the word 'cigar' derives),
psilocybin mushrooms, morning glories (
Ipomoea tricolor and Turbina
corymbosa), and Salvia divinorum.
Indigenous peoples of
South America employ a wide variety of
entheogens. Better-known examples include ayahuasca (most commonly
Banisteriopsis caapi and Psychotria viridis) among indigenous peoples
(such as the Urarina) of Peruvian Amazon. Other entheogens include San
Pedro cactus (Echinopsis pachanoi, syn. Trichocereus pachanoi),
Peruvian torch cactus (Echinopsis peruviana, syn. Trichocereus
peruvianus), and various DMT-snuffs, such as epená (
vilca and yopo (
Anadenanthera colubrina and A. peregrina,
respectively). The familiar tobacco plant, when used uncured in large
doses in shamanic contexts, also serves as an entheogen in South
America. Also, a tobacco that contains higher nicotine content, and
therefore smaller doses required, called
Nicotiana rustica was
commonly used.
Entheogens also play an important role in contemporary religious
movements such as the
Rastafari movement and the Church of the
Datura wrightii is sacred to some Native Americans and has been used
in ceremonies and rites of passage by Chumash, Tongva, and others.
Among the Chumash, when a boy was 8 years old, his mother would give
him a preparation of momoy to drink. This supposed spiritual challenge
should help the boy develop the spiritual wellbeing that is required
to become a man. Not all of the boys undergoing this ritual
survived. Momoy was also used to enhance spiritual wellbeing among
adults . For instance, during a frightening situation, such as when
seeing a coyote walk like a man, a leaf of momoy was sucked to help
keep the soul in the body.
The indigenous peoples of
Siberia (from whom the term shaman was
borrowed) have used
Amanita muscaria as an entheogen.
Datura stramonium and cannabis have been used in
religious ceremonies, although the religious use of datura is not very
common, as the primary alkaloids are strong deliriants, which causes
serious intoxication with unpredictable effects.
Also, the ancient drink Soma, mentioned often in the Vedas, appears to
be consistent with the effects of an entheogen. In his 1967 book,
Wasson argues that Soma was Amanita muscaria. The active ingredient of
Soma is presumed by some to be ephedrine, an alkaloid with stimulant
properties derived from the soma plant, identified as Ephedra
pachyclada. However, there are also arguments to suggest that Soma
could have also been Syrian rue, cannabis, Atropa belladonna, or some
combination of any of the above plants.
Fermented honey, known in Northern
Europe as mead, was an early
entheogen in Aegean civilization, predating the introduction of wine,
which was the more familiar entheogen of the reborn
Dionysus and the
maenads. Its religious uses in the Aegean world are bound up with the
mythology of the bee.
Dacians were known to use cannabis in their religious and important
life ceremonies, proven by discoveries of large clay pots with burnt
cannabis seeds in ancient tombs and religious shrines. Also, local
oral folklore and myths tell of ancient priests that dreamed with gods
and walked in the smoke. Their names, as transmitted by Herodotus,
were "kap-no-batai" which in Dacian was supposed to mean "the ones
that walk in the clouds".
The growth of Roman
Christianity also saw the end of the
two-thousand-year-old tradition of the Eleusinian Mysteries, the
initiation ceremony for the cult of
the use of a drug known as kykeon. The term 'ambrosia' is used in
Greek mythology in a way that is remarkably similar to the Soma of the
Hindus as well.
A theory that natural occurring gases like ethylene used by inhalation
may have played a role in divinatory ceremonies at
Delphi in Classical
Greece received popular press attention in the early 2000s, yet has
not been conclusively proven.
Mushroom consumption is part of the culture of Europeans in general,
with particular importance to Slavic and Baltic peoples. Some
academics consider that using psilocybin- and or muscimol-containing
mushrooms was an integral part of the ancient culture of the Rus'
It has been suggested that the ritual use of small amounts of Syrian
rue is an artifact of its ancient use in higher doses as an entheogen
(possibly in conjunction with DMT containing acacia).
John Marco Allegro
John Marco Allegro has argued in his book The Sacred
Mushroom and the Cross that early Jewish and
Christian cultic practice
was based on the use of Amanita muscaria, which was later forgotten by
its adherents. Allegro's hypothesis is that Amanita use was sacred
knowledge kept only by high figures to hide the true beginnings of the
Christian cult, seems supported by his own view that the Plaincourault
Chapel shows evidence of
Christian amanita use in the 13th
In general, indigenous Australians are thought not to have used
entheogens, although there is a strong barrier of secrecy surrounding
Aboriginal shamanism, which has likely limited what has been told to
outsiders. A plant that the Australian Aboriginals used to ingest is
called Pitcheri, which is said to have a similar effect to that of
coca. Pitcheri was made from the bark of the shrub Duboisia
myoporoides. This plant is now grown commercially and is processed to
manufacture an eye medication. There are no known uses of entheogens
by the Māori of
New Zealand aside from a variant species of kava.
Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea are known to use several species of
entheogenic mushrooms (Psilocybe spp, Boletus manicus).
Kava or kava kava (Piper Methysticum) has been cultivated for at least
3000 years by a number of Pacific island-dwelling peoples.
Historically, most Polynesian, many Melanesian, and some Micronesian
cultures have ingested the psychoactive pulverized root, typically
taking it mixed with water. Much traditional usage of kava, though
somewhat suppressed by
Christian missionaries in the 19th and 20th
centuries, is thought to facilitate contact with the spirits of the
dead, especially relatives and ancestors.
Studies such as Timothy Leary's
Marsh Chapel Experiment
Marsh Chapel Experiment and Roland
Griffiths' psilocybin studies at Johns Hopkins have documented reports
of mystical/spiritual/religious experiences from participants who were
administered psychoactive drugs in controlled trials. Ongoing
research is limited due to widespread drug prohibition.
Mandala-like round window above the altar at Boston University's Marsh
Chapel, site of Marsh Chapel Experiment
Notable early testing of the entheogenic experience includes the Marsh
Chapel Experiment, conducted by physician and theology doctoral
candidate, Walter Pahnke, under the supervision of
Timothy Leary and
Psilocybin Project. In this double-blind experiment,
volunteer graduate school divinity students from the Boston area
almost all claimed to have had profound religious experiences
subsequent to the ingestion of pure psilocybin. In 2006, a more
rigorously controlled experiment was conducted at Johns Hopkins
University, and yielded similar results. To date there is little
peer-reviewed research on this subject, due to ongoing drug
prohibition and the difficulty of getting approval from institutional
Furthermore, scientific studies on entheogens present some significant
challenges to investigators, including philosophical questions
relating to ontology, epistemology and objectivity.
Peyote is listed by the United States DEA as a Schedule I controlled
substance. However, practitioners of the
Peyote Way Church of God, a
Native American religion, perceive the regulations regarding the use
of peyote as discriminating, leading to religious discrimination
issues regarding about the U.S. policy towards drugs. As the result of
Peyote Way Church of
God v. Thornburgh the American Indian Religious
Freedom Act of 1978 was passed. This federal statute allow the
"Traditional Indian religious use of the peyote sacrament," exempting
only use by Native American persons. Other jurisdictions have similar
statutory exemptions in reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court's decision
in Employment Division v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872 (1990), which held that
laws prohibiting the use of peyote that do not specifically exempt
religious use nevertheless do not violate the
Free Exercise Clause
Free Exercise Clause of
the First Amendment.
Legal status of entheogens
Dimethyltryptamine § Australia
Between 2011 and 2012, the
Australian Federal Government
Australian Federal Government was
considering changes to the Australian Criminal Code that would
classify any plants containing any amount of DMT as "controlled
plants". DMT itself was already controlled under current laws. The
proposed changes included other similar blanket bans for other
substances, such as a ban on any and all plants containing Mescaline
or Ephedrine. The proposal was not pursued after political
embarrassment on realisation that this would make the official Floral
Emblem of Australia,
Acacia pycnantha (Golden Wattle), illegal. The
Therapeutic Goods Administration and federal authority had considered
a motion to ban the same, but this was withdrawn in May 2012 (as DMT
may still hold potential entheogenic value to native and/or religious
In 1963 in
Sherbert v. Verner
Sherbert v. Verner the Supreme Court established the
Sherbert Test, which consists of four criteria that are used to
determine if an individual's right to religious free exercise has been
violated by the government. The test is as follows:
For the individual, the court must determine
whether the person has a claim involving a sincere religious belief,
whether the government action is a substantial burden on the
person’s ability to act on that belief.
If these two elements are established, then the government must prove
that it is acting in furtherance of a "compelling state interest," and
that it has pursued that interest in the manner least restrictive, or
least burdensome, to religion.
This test was eventually all-but-eliminated in Employment Division v.
Smith 494 U.S. 872 (1990), but was resurrected by Congress in the
Religious Freedom Restoration Act
Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993.
In City of Boerne v. Flores, 521 U.S. 507 (1997) and Gonzales v. O
Centro Espírita Beneficente União do Vegetal, 546 U.S. 418 (2006),
the RFRA was held to trespass on state sovereignty, and application of
the RFRA was essentially limited to federal law enforcement.
As of 2001, Arizona, Idaho, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and
Texas had enacted so-called "mini-RFRAs."
Classical mythology and cults
Although entheogens are taboo and most of them are officially
Christian and Islamic societies, their ubiquity and
prominence in the spiritual traditions of various other cultures is
unquestioned. "The spirit, for example, need not be chemical, as is
the case with the ivy and the olive: and yet the god was felt to be
within them; nor need its possession be considered something
detrimental, like drugged, hallucinatory, or delusionary: but possibly
instead an invitation to knowledge or whatever good the god's spirit
had to offer."
Most of the well-known modern examples, such as peyote, psilocybin
mushrooms, and morning glories are from the native cultures of the
Americas. However, it has also been suggested that entheogens played
an important role in ancient Indo-European culture, for example by
inclusion in the ritual preparations of the Soma, the "pressed juice"
that is the subject of Book 9 of the Rig Veda. Soma was ritually
prepared and drunk by priests and initiates and elicited a paean in
Rig Veda that embodies the nature of an entheogen:
Splendid by Law! declaring Law, truth speaking, truthful in thy works,
Enouncing faith, King Soma!... O [Soma] Pavāmana (mind clarifying),
place me in that deathless, undecaying world wherein the light of
heaven is set, and everlasting lustre shines.... Make me immortal in
that realm where happiness and transports, where joy and felicities
The kykeon that preceded initiation into the
Eleusinian Mysteries is
another entheogen, which was investigated (before the word was coined)
by Carl Kerényi, in Eleusis: Archetypal Image of Mother and Daughter.
Other entheogens in the Ancient Near East and the Aegean include the
opium poppy, datura, and the unidentified "lotus" (likely the sacred
blue lily) eaten by the Lotus-Eaters in the
Odyssey and Narcissus.
According to Ruck, Eyan, and Staples, the familiar shamanic entheogen
that the Indo-Europeans brought knowledge of was Amanita muscaria. It
could not be cultivated; thus it had to be found, which suited it to a
nomadic lifestyle. When they reached the world of the Caucasus and the
Aegean, the Indo-Europeans encountered wine, the entheogen of
Dionysus, who brought it with him from his birthplace in the mythical
Nysa, when he returned to claim his Olympian birthright. The
Greeks "recognized it as the entheogen of Zeus,
and their own traditions of shamanism, the Amanita and the 'pressed
juice' of Soma — but better, since no longer unpredictable and wild,
the way it was found among the Hyperboreans: as befit their own
assimilation of agrarian modes of life, the entheogen was now
cultivable." Robert Graves, in his foreword to The Greek Myths,
hypothesises that the ambrosia of various pre-Hellenic tribes was
Amanita muscaria (which, based on the morphological similarity of the
words amanita, amrita and ambrosia, is entirely plausible) and perhaps
psilocybin mushrooms of the
Amanita was divine food, according to Ruck and Staples, not something
to be indulged in or sampled lightly, not something to be profaned. It
was the food of the gods, their ambrosia, and it mediated between the
two realms. It is said that Tantalus's crime was inviting commoners to
share his ambrosia.
The entheogen is believed to offer godlike powers in many traditional
tales, including immortality. The failure of
Gilgamesh in retrieving
the plant of immortality from beneath the waters teaches that the
blissful state cannot be taken by force or guile: When
on the bank, exhausted from his heroic effort, the serpent came and
ate the plant.
Another attempt at subverting the natural order is told in a
(according to some) strangely metamorphosed myth, in which natural
roles have been reversed to suit the Hellenic world-view. The
Alexandrian Apollodorus relates how Gaia (spelled "Ge" in the
following passage), Mother Earth herself, has supported the Titans in
their battle with the Olympian intruders. The Giants have been
When Ge learned of this, she sought a drug that would prevent their
destruction even by mortal hands. But Zeus barred the appearance of
Eos (the Dawn), Selene (the Moon), and Helios (the Sun), and chopped
up the drug himself before Ge could find it.
Main article: Hashshashins § Legends and folklore
The legends of the
Assassins had much to do with the training and
instruction of Nizari fida'is, famed for their public missions during
which they often gave their lives to eliminate adversaries.
The tales of the fida’is’ training collected from anti-Ismaili
historians and orientalists writers were confounded and compiled in
Marco Polo’s account, in which he described a "secret garden of
paradise". After being drugged, the Ismaili devotees
were said be taken to a paradise-like garden filled with attractive
young maidens and beautiful plants in which these fida’is would
awaken. Here, they were told by an old man that they were witnessing
their place in Paradise and that should they wish to return to this
garden permanently, they must serve the Nizari cause. So went the
tale of the "Old Man in the Mountain", assembled by Marco Polo and
Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall
Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall (1774–1856), a prominent
orientalist writer responsible for much of the spread of this legend.
Until the 1930s, von Hammer’s retelling of the Assassin legends
served as the standard account of the Nizaris across Europe.[citation
The neologism entheogen was coined in 1979 by a group of
ethnobotanists and scholars of mythology (Carl A. P. Ruck, Jeremy
Bigwood, Danny Staples, Richard Evans Schultes,
Jonathan Ott and R.
Gordon Wasson). The term is derived from two words of Ancient Greek,
ἔνθεος (éntheos) and γενέσθαι (genésthai). The
adjective entheos translates to English as "full of the god, inspired,
possessed", and is the root of the English word "enthusiasm." The
Greeks used it as a term of praise for poets and other artists.
Genesthai means "to come into being." Thus, an entheogen is a drug
that causes one to become inspired or to experience feelings of
inspiration, often in a religious or "spiritual" manner.
Entheogen was coined as a replacement for the terms hallucinogen and
Hallucinogen was popularized by Aldous Huxley's
experiences with mescaline, which were published as The Doors of
Perception in 1954. Psychedelic, in contrast, is a Greek neologism for
"mind manifest", and was coined by psychiatrist Humphry Osmond; Huxley
was a volunteer in experiments Osmond was conducting on mescaline.
Ruck et al. argued that the term hallucinogen was inappropriate owing
to its etymological relationship to words relating to delirium and
insanity. The term psychedelic was also seen as problematic, owing to
the similarity in sound to words pertaining to psychosis and also due
to the fact that it had become irreversibly associated with various
connotations of 1960s pop culture. In modern usage entheogen may be
used synonymously with these terms, or it may be chosen to contrast
with recreational use of the same drugs. The meanings of the term
entheogen were formally defined by Ruck et al.:
In a strict sense, only those vision-producing drugs that can be shown
to have figured in shamanic or religious rites would be designated
entheogens, but in a looser sense, the term could also be applied to
other drugs, both natural and artificial, that induce alterations of
consciousness similar to those documented for ritual ingestion of
— Ruck et al, 1979, Journal of Psychedelic Drugs
Many works of literature have described entheogen use; some of those
The drug melange (spice) in Frank Herbert's Dune universe acts as both
an entheogen (in large enough quantities) and an addictive geriatric
medicine. Control of the supply of melange was crucial to the Empire,
as it was necessary for, among other things, faster-than-light
(folding space) navigation.
Consumption of the imaginary mushroom anochi [enoki] as the entheogen
underlying the creation of
Christianity is the premise of Philip K.
Dick's last novel, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, a theme that
seems to be inspired by John Allegro's book.
Aldous Huxley's final novel, Island (1962), depicted a fictional
psychoactive mushroom — termed "moksha medicine" — used by the
people of Pala in rites of passage, such as the transition to
adulthood and at the end of life.
Bruce Sterling's Holy Fire novel refers to the religion in the future
as a result of entheogens, used freely by the population.[citation
In Stephen King's The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger, Book 1 of The Dark
Tower series, the main character receives guidance after taking
Alastair Reynolds novel
Absolution Gap features a moon under the
control of a religious government that uses neurological viruses to
induce religious faith.
A critical examination of the ethical and societal implications and
relevance of "entheogenic" experiences can be found in Daniel Waterman
and Casey William Hardison's book Entheogens, Society & Law:
Towards a Politics of Consciousness, Autonomy and Responsibility
(Melrose, Oxford 2013). This book includes a controversial analysis of
the term entheogen arguing that Wasson et al. were mystifying the
effects of the plants and traditions it refers to.
The book Orange Sunshine and the Psychedelic Sunrise covers the
continuum of life to death experiences from a personal and existential
perspective, with an emphasis on spiritual transcendence: a
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Media related to Entheogens at Wikimedia Commons
Outline of spirituality
Ethic of reciprocity
Meaning of life
Planes of existence
Being born again
T'ai chi ch'uan
Eutheism, dystheism, and maltheism
A Course in Miracles
Book of Mormon
The Cloud of Unknowing
Guru Granth Sahib
Tao Te Ching
The Urantia Book
New Age movement
Age of Aquarius
Law of attraction
New Age communities
New Age music
Barbara Marx Hubbard
Max Freedom Long
Joshua David Stone
Neale Donald Walsch
Robert Anton Wilson
Fred Alan Wolf
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
Ascended Master Teachings
Eight-circuit model of consciousness
Human Potential Movement
School of Economic Science
Witchcraft and magic
North American witchcraft
South American witchcraft
Cloak of invisibility
Folklore and mythology
Witch of Endor
Major historic treatises
Summis desiderantes affectibus
Summis desiderantes affectibus (1484)
Malleus Maleficarum (1487)
The Discoverie of
Compendium Maleficarum (1608)
A Guide to Grand-Jury Men
A Guide to Grand-Jury Men (1627)
The Discovery of Witches
The Discovery of Witches (1647)
Treatise on the Apparitions of Spirits and on Vampires o