THIRD WAVE PODCAST
Psychedelic Sacraments and the Roots of Modern Religion
When it comes to contemplative practices, concepts of eternity, and mystical experiences, there are many similarities between ancient traditions and contemporary religions. Could psychedelics be one of those connections? In this episode, Paul Austin talks with Brian Muraresku, author of The Immortality Key: The Secret History of the Religion with No Name, about tens of thousands of years of mysticism, the evidence for ancient use of psychedelics in religious ceremony, and the democratization of plant medicine.
Brian Muraresku graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Brown University with a degree in Latin, Greek and Sanskrit. As an alumnus of Georgetown Law and a member of the New York Bar, he has been practicing law internationally for fifteen years. In 2016, Muraresku became the founding executive director of Doctors for Cannabis Regulation. Their work has been featured on CNN and ESPN, as well as in The Washington Post and San Francisco Chronicle. In arbitration with the NFL in 2018, Muraresku represented the first professional athlete in the United States to seek a therapeutic use exemption for cannabis. The Immortality Key is his first book.
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- Did the founders of Western civilization use psychedelics?
- Connecting ancient and modern-day mysteries.
- Similarities between Dionysus and Jesus.
- Psychedelic use in early Christianity – hiding in plain sight?
- The central role of women in the ancient mysteries and rituals.
- What does it mean to have “religion with no name”?
- How psychedelics can help humanity out of our current existential crisis.
- Humanity and divinity – one and the same?
- How the depth of the mystical experience determines the clinical outcome.
- What priests and atheists have in common when it comes to mystical experiences.
- The importance of democratization and accessibility of psychedelics.
- Will insurance cover psychedelics one day?
0:00:00.0 Paul Austin: Today’s episode is with Brian Muraresku, author of The Immortality Key: The Secret History of the Religion With No Name. Brian graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Brown University with a degree in Latin, Greek and Sanskrit, and Immortality Key is a New York Times bestseller and his debut book.
0:00:17.0 PA: Welcome to The Third Wave podcast. I’m your host, Paul Austin, here to bring you cutting edge interviews with leading scientists, entrepreneurs and medical professionals who are exploring how we can integrate psychedelics in an intentional and responsible way for both healing and transformation. It is my honor and privilege to bring you these episodes as you get deeper and deeper into why these medicines are so critical to the future of humanity. So let’s go and let’s see what we can explore and learn together in this incredibly important time.
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0:05:31.1 PA: Hey, listeners, welcome back to Third Wave’s podcast. I’m your host, Paul Austin. Today’s episode is with Brian Muraresku, who is author of The Immortality Key: The Secret History of the Religion With No Name. Brian was first seen on the Joe Rogan Experience, and from that point in time has absolutely exploded onto the cultural scene. The Immortality Key became a New York Times bestseller in November, and it is a ground-breaking dive into the role that psychedelics have played in the origins of Western civilization and the real-life quest for the Holy Grail that could shake the church to its foundations.
0:06:12.3 PA: Now, there are a couple of interesting points about Brian as an individual. One, his background is as a Classics scholar. So he graduated phi beta kappa from Brown University with a degree in Latin, Greek and Sanskrit. He’s also an alumnus of Georgetown Law and a member of the New York Bar and has been practicing law for over 15 years. Now, Brian also was the founding Executive Director of Doctors For Cannabis Regulation, and in arbitration with the NFL in 2018, he represented the first professional athlete in the United States to seek a therapeutic use exemption for Cannabis, which is just interesting in itself. And we don’t talk about that in the podcast as well, but it’s just giving you a sense for how rich Brian’s background is.
0:06:55.0 PA: Now, the other thing about Brian is that he has never done psychedelics before, and that’s because he wanted to ensure that there were no scholars that criticized him to have some sort of bias towards psychedelics, so he has absolutely not had any psychedelic experiences. Now, I did invite him to Synthesis when Synthesis reopened, because that is obviously a legal Psilocybin experience, and now that he’s written The Immortality Key he can actually experience the very thing that he is talking about, which is great.
0:07:24.8 PA: Now, I myself studied History in undergrad, that was what my Bachelor’s degree was in, so I’m a history nerd fanatic, I absolutely love history. And even part of Third Wave’s philosophy, the story, the narrative behind the third wave of psychedelics has been… The first wave was the use of these plants, the use of this biotechnology for thousands and thousands of years, and what I often talk about is how that relates specifically to Western civilization and Western philosophy, because so many of us who are involved in Third Wave who are part of the community who listen to the podcast are from North America or Europe, so understanding that historical narrative and what so many of our beliefs are rooted in is critical, because so much of it actually comes back to the Eleusinian Mysteries, which Brian gets into detail in The Immortality Key and in this episode. So without further ado, I bring you Brian Muraresku, author of The Immortality Key.
0:08:28.1 PA: What I’d love is if just for our listeners, you could start with who Carl Ruck was, and what his importance was in this whole thing.
0:08:36.1 Brian Muraresku: A shot across the bow from Dr. Ruck. So he’s an 85-year-old classicist. He currently resides in Hull, Massachusetts, just southeast there of Boston. He’s still a professor in the Classics Department at Boston University, and once upon a time, he was the chair of that department back in 1978 before he was summarily deposed, partly I think for helping to release this book, The Road to Eleusis, where they hypothesized, together with Gordon Wasson and Albert Hoffman, he was of the opinion that the Ancient Greeks had somehow concocted an ergotized beer potion, and this in fact was the secret behind the Mysteries that survived for 2000 years.
0:09:17.2 BM: And in the late ’70s, you don’t want to be the drug guy at the height of the war on drugs, and Carl Ruck, for better or worse, became the drug guy in the Classics estate, which is a rather staid, august discipline that is slow to change, like all disciplines, but he was impugning essentially the reputation of the founders of Western civilization, with an unpopular opinion at the time, and what does it mean for the history of democracy in the arts and sciences and philosophy and all this literature that came from Ancient Greece and Rome, what does it mean to suggest that they may have been engaging in, if not psychedelics, then at least something very non-rational, very non-linear with this beatific vision at Eleusis. This is sacred stuff. It’s secret stuff.
0:10:04.5 BM: And Carl’s career took a major nosedive for many years. And he was a central character, a protagonist in this book for me, because I was a Classics nerd as an undergrad, I’d heard about Carl when I was in my late teens and early 20s, and I thought, what a crazy hypothesis to launch on the world in 1978, and I was wondering if there was any hard scientific data to prove it one way or the other.
0:10:33.5 PA: And you found out some interesting things, which we’ll get into shortly within the podcast. Before we dive in there, I’d love if you could just go a little bit more into your background, but I think one thing that has stuck out, and I want to push you on this or question you on this, just to get a sense of if this may change in the near future, is that you hadn’t engaged in any sort of psychedelic use while writing this. And that was sort of a key point that you made clear, because like many psychedelic researchers who are on the clinical side of things, they’ll say, oh no, I don’t do these drugs myself, if I just study them and it’s clear that there’s outcomes that are really beneficial, because they obviously don’t want sort of people who are non-psychedelics to critique them from a bias perspective.
0:11:16.1 PA: So I’d love if you could just bring us a little bit deeper into your world, how did you land on this esoteric out-there topic as a Classics scholar from an Ivy League university who worked in a law firm in DC for many years. What was that roundabout way to this incredible scholarship?
0:11:35.3 BM: Because when you study Classics, things like visionary experiences are not that out there as a matter of fact, and to this day, I’m still a psychedelic virgin, but I’ll say this, I wouldn’t consider myself a mystical virgin, just through going through this discipline of Latin and Greek, and then I picked up Sanskrit along the way when I was an undergrad, and I was meditating a lot, sometimes every day, and I was experimenting with Christian contemplative exercises and Sufi exercises. And I got into kabbalism and I got into gnosticism and the Western esoteric traditions. It’s not that out there. When you start to read this literature, you’re constantly coming across visionary experiences and things that are difficult to explain. When you’re reading Homer, the foundation text of Western civilization, there’s just a bunch of witches and gods flying all over the place.
0:12:26.6 BM: And the whole thing is dictated to Homer by a muse. Homer doesn’t write The Iliad and Odyssey, he’s the spokesperson for it on behalf of these invisible muses. And so we often forget that when we think about the classics as this boring kind of exegesis over these old dusty texts. From the time I was 14, I was reading a lot of really crazy things. And it just got crazier and crazier. So by the time I was like 27, 28 and started reading about the first experiments coming out of Johns Hopkins University, and I saw again that mystical experience or mystical-type experience that some of the volunteers report, it just… It brought me right back to the ancient world. This concept of this once in a lifetime event that results in this transformative vision that in the best circumstances makes you a better version of yourself, I was reading that from these early volunteers at Hopkins in Baltimore.
0:13:19.0 BM: And it takes me right back to Eleusis outside of Athens. And I was steeped in those mysteries for so many years that it was literally the first thing I thought about when I saw these studies on Psilocybin, and so I just wanted to stay in that lane and see if there was anything more than the circumstantial evidence to connect the modern-day mysteries with the ancient mysteries.
0:13:46.2 PA: Yeah, I talk about this with friends, how cool would it be to rent or buy an island that we name Eleusis version 2 and start hosting these greater mysteries once every four years or once every six years, what would be a really incredible way to bring that back? Some would say something like Burning Man is a play-in for that in today’s day and world, but obviously Burning Man doesn’t have near the level of secrecy that the ancient mysteries had, and I think that’s one thing that profoundly sticks out about the ancient mysteries is if you spoke about the ancient mysteries, you were excommunicated. Just for our listeners, what were the Eleusinian Mysteries and what was the back story, a little bit about the back story about how they came to be so prominent in Ancient Greek society.
0:14:37.0 BM: Right, so I do think these mysteries are probably the most famous that survive from antiquity. And when we’re talking about the Eleusinian Mysteries, like the other mysteries, we’re basically talking about death and rebirth experiences, which were kept secret, so we’re not talking about things that were written down, which means that we’re not talking about dogma, we’re not talking about doctrine, we’re not talking about church regulation, we’re talking about things that were profoundly meaningful to people, and for that reason, were reserved as an oral tradition, which sounds strange from the civilization that produced all this literature and all this theater and all these public arts.
0:15:13.2 BM: It consciously maintained the mysteries as a secret practice, and you were initiated once in your life. So you’d make this pilgrimage from Athens northwest to Eleusis once and only once in your life and you would join the ranks of the best and brightest from Athens and Rome, like Plato and Pindar and Sophocles. Cicero, the great Roman statesman, he would call Eleusis most exceptional and divine thing Athens ever produced, so it wasn’t like some side show, it wasn’t some afterthought, it wasn’t a footnote to Greek civilization, Eleusis was the engine in many ways, the spiritual engine for all these arts and sciences and everything Ancient Greece came to be and the things that we inherited, the things that inspired the founding fathers of the United States, most of whom read Latin and Greek, by the way, just like most of the generations before the mid-20th century.
0:16:05.0 BM: This stuff is like the real religion of the Ancient Greeks, I often say, that they went there for an experience, they didn’t go there to learn something in the mathematical or intellectual way, they went there to experience the actual rebirth of Persephone, the daughter of Demeter, who’s abducted into the underworld by the king of the dead and then resurrects at springtime. And so on the surface, it’s just this seasonal mythical cycle about death and rebirth, but the initiates went there to actually experience some sense of the underworld, and we don’t know really what that is, ’cause we can’t replay the sequence of events, but we know that it had to do with confronting your mortality. And the initiates who went there, in witnessing the rebirth of Persephone, experienced some kind of immortality themselves, and it was said that only those who went to Eleusis would be guaranteed some kind of afterlife. Everybody else no, only those who went to Eleusis became immortals.
0:17:08.2 BM: And it’s almost universally attested that there was some kind of vision, a beatific vision, that gave rise to that conviction, that hard and fast conviction that you would never die.
0:17:22.0 PA: And as you continue to point out, there were two things that you mentioned in the book that the Ancient Greeks said, one of which was that life would not be worth living without the mysteries, and that quote, that line has stuck with me and again and again, because it’s so powerful and it’s so… As someone who has definitely done my fair share of psychedelics, it’s the thing that always resonates for us. Some people talk about the profundity from these experiences, what they’re often referring to is the insight that death is illusory, and I think that sort of fear of death is what creates so much anxiety and what creates so much stress and what creates so much white-knuckling that the ego likes to hold on to.
0:18:01.5 PA: And so when it’s released from that cage, it’s a huge burden that just drops off, because we realize through those direct experiences, and this is with the gnostics and the Sufis and the Quakers even, they had quite a philosophical or a mystical branch as well, this is what they realize as well, that through these mystical experiences, we become God, we become divinity, and that is, of course, a huge responsibility, but it also is incredibly empowering and enlivening for those who might be struggling with who am I, where am I, what does life mean to me.
0:18:38.6 BM: Again the Greeks approached these big questions, all those big questions you were just asking, what is the point of being alive, where do we go when we die, where were we before this, what is the human project, how do we fit inside the cosmos? What is the soul, if there is a soul? Like how did we get here? The Greeks approached the answers to those questions the same way they approached everything, which is with skepticism, and this notion that to see is to believe, they didn’t want to be told or preached about the afterlife, they went to Eleusis, for example, or participated in the rites of Dionysus to experience communion with divinity.
0:19:15.7 BM: That was not a heretical thing, you were expected to become divine in the proper participation of these rites, that that wasn’t some satanic demonic heresy, like it would become later, under the Christianized Roman Empire, after the gnostics were basically done away with. And there’s a great word for it, apotheosis, it’s the divinization of humanity. The dead ancestors were often called theoi, the gods or goddesses, and the same concept survives into the Roman world. So the idea of the coterminous application of humanity and divinity was granted in the ancient world through these rites, so that if you did practice these rites and participate in the ceremony in a just and rightful way, then you would become immortal, that was the guarantee.
0:20:06.6 BM: And this actually does carry over to the gospels, which we can talk about, but imagine, something like that really did hold the species together, like you mentioned. In the fourth century, as Eleusis was about to be swept away, there’s this Roman hierophant who talks about the meaning of these mysteries and to paraphrase, he says, basically, to kill the mysteries is to kill us. If they die, we die. These mysteries are the thing that holds the whole human race together, and in their absence, life does become abiotos, unlivable. So again, if you’ve never heard about Eleusis, or you’ve only heard bits and pieces, to just think about that formulation, what does it mean that these secret rites dedicated to a mother and daughter goddess pair somehow guaranteed you immortality and made sense of the senselessness that is life. There’s something really profound there.
0:20:56.8 PA: This is a methodology, this is an approach that was refined for thousands and thousands of years before that, and I think one thing that you did such a great job of highlighting is that use of beer, ergotized beer or beer that was spiked with psychedelics, that was used long before the Eleusinian Mysteries, and then when the Eleusinian Mysteries came about, I think it was still beer and then eventually it transitioned to wine, and then wine was developed and spiked with some of these altering substances.
0:21:29.9 PA: Can you just talk us through a little bit of that sort of transition for… If we were to go back 10,000 years or 12,000 years when ergotized beer was first used, what’s sort of that historical lineage from beer into wine and then even into Christianity, because I think a huge point that you make in this book is the psychedelic Eucharist, and how initially, communion, and as someone who went to church every Sunday for 18, 19 years, I totally got this as well, in terms of we ate the… For us, it was just these really basic paper wafers, and then we drank grape juice, it wasn’t even real wine, that’s what the Protestants like to do.
0:22:10.2 PA: And so reading through this, it just reminded me of, and I think it was once a month, we would have the Eucharist, and it brought me back to, but I never got it. I was like, why are we actually doing this? And not until the sort of concept of a psychedelic Eucharist, if that makes sense. So I’d love if you could just talk us through that ancient history, from beer to wine, to Christianity, that will bring us to a great spot.
0:22:32.6 BM: Okay, cool, so there’s a lot of moving parts here, but let’s start with the circumstantial evidence and we’ll get more and more concrete. In the same way that I started reading some of the modern volunteers and their testimony and their experience with Psilocybin going back 12 years, that reminded me of the rites in Eleusis, this concept of a once-in-a-lifetime experience, this profound vision. If you’re looking for circumstantial evidence of Eleusis, I think you can find hints of it, just hints of it going back 12,000, 13,000 years to a place like Göbekli Tepe, which is some of the earliest, if not the earliest megalithic architecture that we know of. This is like 6000 years before Stonehenge, by the way, 7000 years before the high civilizations of Egypt, Sumer, India, Crete, etcetera. So it’s really freaking old.
0:23:19.3 BM: But what do you find there amongst the standing stones? You find the early residue of what we think was beer fermentation. So in addition to the grain being held sacred and the notion of pilgrimage, because as far as we know, people didn’t live at Göbekli Tepe, they went there as a sacred pilgrimage route. There was also this obsession with the afterlife. We think that these giant standing stones, these T-shaped pillars, may actually represent something like early monumental gods or the ancestors, which in some cases were one and the same. So the fact that there’s early traces of beer there raises a big question, because the German Archeological Institute at Göbekli Tepe, does talk about this site as being a venue for, to quote them, “the ecstatic communion with the ancestors.”
0:24:06.7 BM: In other words, the living are interacting with the dead, which I know sounds strange, but it is a notion that does pop up in Eleusis, we have these reports of phasmata, ghost-like phantoms that would invade the sanctum sanctorum at the height of the Mysteries. So lots of crazy things there. And so if beer really is that old, it begs the question whether it was just an average, ordinary, happy hour beverage or was it something more sacramental. And so as the years go on, by thousands and thousands, we don’t really know what the hell is happening, but at some point, beer does transition into wine, so the oldest wine, I think, has been discovered in Georgia, if I’m not mistaken, going back about 8000 years, so 6000 BC, we have some of the early evidence of grape fermentation.
0:24:56.2 BM: And then slowly but surely as the Near East there, the Canaanites and Phoenicians start exporting this potion all around the Mediterranean, and so wine eventually begins to replace beer, including in those civilizations like the Greeks and Romans, which today, Greece and Italy, we associate more with wine than beer, obviously. So this all begins happening as the Neolithic is giving way to the Bronze Age and at some point, the wine sacrament basically replaces the beer sacrament, and beer is seen as a throwback, prehistoric, barbarian beverage, which is weird that it’s maintained at Eleusis, by the way. So in addition to those rites at Eleusis, you then have Dionysus, who’s the wine god, and in 405 BC, when Euripides unleashes the Bacchae, this great testament to the religion of Dionysus, the religion of wine, the religion of ecstasy, I think it’s at that moment where these wine rites are really replacing the beer rites or some of the grain goddesses in Ancient Greece.
0:25:58.7 BM: So this is a few centuries before Jesus, and I spend a lot of time in the book analyzing all the similarities between the wine god Dionysus and the wine god Jesus. And there’s lots of different parallels that we can get into in more detail, but essentially what my book argues is that at this transitional moment in history when these wine sacraments are beginning to replace the barbarian beer, it would not have been unthinkable for some of these early Greek-speaking church communities to associate Jesus with Dionysus. And as a matter of fact, I think the language in the Gospel of John specifically makes that point, that in the mysteries of Christianity, you just might find some of the magic and mysticism of the earlier pagan Greek mysteries, specifically the mysteries of Dionysus.
0:26:48.0 BM: And so there’s a lot happening here, a lot to untangle, but this is essentially what scholars refer to as the ancient cultural internet, like no religion is born in a vacuum, and just maybe Christianity picked up some of these symbols and rites from the ancient past, and as long as they’re picking up all this stuff, maybe, just maybe some of the drugs and some of the visionary compounds also enter some communities of early Christianity.
0:27:14.8 PA: And it’s not such a… At least for someone like me, it’s not such a far-reaching philosophy, we talk about Moses and the burning bush. And I remember when I got pretty deep into the psychedelic space a few years ago, I had a good friend who’s been in the sort of subculture for many years, and he was like, what do you think was really going on with the burning bush? Because something like Syrian Rue, which has DMT in it, is a substance that they likely have engaged with for thousands of years. And then on the podcast many years ago, probably four to five years ago now, we had a guy named Danny Nemu who was on who talked all about ancient drug use in the Judaic and the Christian temples, and how they used things like even frankincense and myrrh, or certain drugs that were used, and it was no coincidence that those happened to be the drugs that were brought to Jesus as a newborn.
0:28:06.1 PA: It’s kind of hiding in plain sight. As a culture, we have certain blinders on around drug use in particular, and how stigmatized it’s become, like you were mentioning before with Carl Ruck, he really put his ass on the line when he just started in the late ’70s, like you said, at the height of the drug war, it was like, actually, what if everyone was just high in Ancient Greece, and that was not appropriate. So I think a lot of this has to do with cultural blinders, and a lot of the cultural binders have to do with essentially that transition from Christianity being a cult with the 12 disciples and Jesus and Paul to Christianity becoming this basically the predominant philosophy through which we interact and develop.
0:28:52.0 PA: So I think that transition, so to say, is fascinating when it comes to, oh, well, and this is the role that drugs play, this is the role that spiked wine play, this is the role that even later on in the medieval ages, this is the role that witches played, and there was a part that the Inquisition played. It wasn’t just Ancient Greece and the beginning of Christianity, this has been going on thousands and thousands of years, up until even the ’60s when this came back on the scene, and the US government was like, not so quick, we’re not gonna go there at this point in time. And that’s what’s so fascinating about the modern psychedelic renaissance and why the clinical approach has been so central to what it is that we’re doing, because it seems like any time these substances in particular get a little out of hand, there’s sort of a natural human inclination to go, ew, we should probably put the lid back on, we don’t want this to get too chaotic and too out of control.
0:29:55.7 BM: Yeah, that happened all across antiquity, by the way. So not to be the history nerd, but I like one of these crackdowns…
0:30:02.0 PA: That’s why we have you here, Brian, you’ve got to be the history nerd.
0:30:06.7 BM: Then I’ll wax historical on a pretty important crackdown of the Dionysian Mysteries. Again, the same god of wine and ecstasy and theater and mystical rapture. He’s not just the god of wine, he’s the god of all these intoxicated states, Dionysus. His followers were viewed with a lot of suspicion, way more suspicion than these Mysteries of Eleusis that we were talking about earlier. The Mysteries of Eleusis, they’re state-administered, by the way, and governed by two hereditary families, and there’s lots of order amid the psychological chaos, and it was something that was pretty widely respected, including by the Romans, as I mentioned. Like Marcus Aurelius, for example, rebuilds the Temple of Demeter at Eleusis when it’s nearly destroyed by barbarians.
0:30:53.5 BM: So the Romans respected this temple just as much as the Greeks did. That was not the case for the Mysteries of Dionysus, which again, they weren’t centralized, they weren’t controlled and ordered, this is women, essentially, initiating young men into fits of orgiastic madness in the forests and mountains of the ancient Mediterranean, including in Italy. And so in 186 BC, the Roman senate actually tries to outlaw this, and the sources tell us that as many as 6000 followers of Dionysus were executed in one fell swoop as a result of this crackdown.
0:31:29.8 BM: Now, you have to imagine, when Christianity comes along, it’s an illegal cult and it’s viewed with equal, if not more suspicion than the Mysteries of Dionysus. Now, why is that? Again, it doesn’t take place in one sacrosanct temple. There is and never was any one monolithic version of Christianity. So what is Christianity before the fourth century AD, when it begins to bureaucratize, and after Constantine it becomes legal and then the official religion of Rome to become the world’s biggest religion? Well, for 300 years it was very fragile, there were no brick and mortar churches, it was celebrated in private homes and dining rooms, they were called house churches, and Christianity was celebrated literally underground in these catacombs where the living again were said to interact with the dead, just like we saw at Göbekli Tepe 12,000, 13,000 years ago, this ancient, archaic, prehistoric rite of communion is still being celebrated under the streets of Rome after the birth of Jesus.
0:32:32.2 BM: It’s very weird stuff, but again, it’s viewed with lots of suspicion, because there were secret rites and magical sacraments, and the drinking of blood, this cannibalistic thing that is verbatim from the Gospel of John, you commune with this God Jesus by consuming his blood and by chewing on his flesh, very weird stuff that you might not get the sense of when you’re sipping on Welch’s grape juice.
0:32:57.3 PA: Exactly. Yeah, although Welch’s grape juice is pretty good, it’s not…
0:33:01.5 BM: No offense, no offense.
0:33:04.0 PA: It’s not quite the psychedelic Eucharist that they were doing back in the day. One thing you mentioned, which I want to go much deeper on, is the role of women in this, because I think that’s really central to everything that you wrote about in The Immortality Key, that women were really the torch bearers, they were the priestesses, they were the ones that held the space and made the potions and carried out the rituals. Why was it that women were so central to these mysteries and generally to the sort of medicinal path of divinity that we’ve been using now for thousands of years?
0:33:39.6 BM: Because they were the experts, and maybe they’re still the experts, which explains the hierarchy of the church and government and other institutions we can talk about. And the experts are often viewed with suspicion, just like the earliest Christians were. I went to the world’s premier beer scientist in Germany, Martin Dunkel, to talk about this, to talk about the religion of brewing, the religion of beer, partly because I just like beer, and partly because it’s an important part of this story, and he reminded me that it’s not until the industrialization of beer, post-Reformation, 500 years ago, that the trade begins to be overtaken by men. At that time it was women, and going back thousands and thousands of years, it was traditionally women who would brew the beer and mix up the wine.
0:34:27.5 BM: And so I used that phrase conscientiously about mixing the wine, because the women, in addition to brewing the beer, were also mixing things into the wine. Wine is this versatile vehicle that becomes the repository for all these plants and herbs and toxins. Sometimes you would put your medicine in the wine, sometimes you would put the right magic plant to create the right visionary experience, sometimes you would place the poison to kill your enemy, and so it’s this very versatile potion that exists across antiquity, but the one thing that unites all this beer and wine is women.
0:35:02.6 BM: Women were the original brewers and the original mixers, and that goes back thousands and thousands of years, deep into pre-history. It survives into the Mysteries of Eleusis, where priestesses were responsible for mixing up that potion, the kykeon potion. We know that women were responsible for mixing the wine of Dionysus. I went into the Louvre to inspect these old stamnoi from the fifth century BC that show women actually mixing things into the wine, and yet in early Christianity, who do you think is gonna mix up the Eucharist, when the mass, the proto mass, is really taking place inside a dining room? This is the sphere of women’s influence, this is the domesticated space where the church was beginning to find itself.
0:35:48.5 BM: And so it’s no accident that we find lots of women, including in the New Testament, mentioned by Paul, like the very first woman who was converted to Christianity is a woman named Lydia, and there’s lots of different women who are mentioned in Rome in Paul’s letters, like Mary, Tryphaena, Tryphosa, Persis. He calls this woman Junia the foremost among the apostles, and we can talk about Mary Magdalene being the first witness to Christ’s resurrection in the Gospel of John, and on and on and on.
0:36:18.2 BM: The point being, if you think about the Eucharist as the central motif of early Christianity, the thing which Pope Francis today says is essential for salvation, you’re talking about the role of women, and you’re talking about women mixing this sacrament, consecrating this sacrament in some of the earliest iterations of the mass.
0:36:39.5 PA: And that’s really powerful, because for the exact reasons that you mentioned, women have had an outsized role in the development of religion, in the development of spirituality, in the development of medicine, in the development of mystical experience, so to say. And I think that’s one thing that even in the sort of ongoing psychedelic renaissance is very uplifting because there’s a clear focus and understanding and perspective that integrating women and their knowledge and expertise, and I think more than anything, it often to me comes down to intuition, like women just seem to be more in tune with the earth and with medicines and with healing.
0:37:25.5 PA: I don’t know what it is, but it just feels like that role for them has been not well understood, and it’s sort of slowly starting to come back, but even now in 2021, it’s not fully back where it feels like it ought to be. And so I think that will be even a central part in the next five, 10, 15 years, is who are the healers, who are the women, who are the people who are leading psychedelic therapy, and that’s obviously a big question.
0:37:54.0 BM: Yeah, and again, if you look into history, I think you find lots of expertise and positive role models for the role that women played then and should be playing now, which is the primordial healers really, including at the roots of Western civilization. I mean, a lot of the literature that we have obviously is left to us by men, and so, when you’re reading classics, when you’re reading Latin and Greek, you’re reading the testimony of lots of men, but if you read a little more deeply, you’ll realize that things like logic and rationality and all these things that we associate with modern society really came from a very different place, a feminine place in the underworld. I’m thinking about Parmenides, for example. I write about him a lot in the book, one of these pre-Socratics, and I reference the scholarship of the great Peter Kingsley, the great classicist, who really dives into the fragments that were left to us by Parmenides, one of the great philosophers and mystics.
0:38:54.1 BM: When he writes about how logic made its way into the Western canon, it’s important, because Parmenides in many ways is like the guru of Plato. Plato looks at Parmenides as kind of a master. And so, it’s been said that the entire history of western philosophy is essentially a series of footnotes to Plato. I mean, if that’s the case, then it’s really just a series of footnotes to Parmenides. And so, when you ask Parmenides, where this all came from, why do we think the way we do? What is it with logic? When he describes where the logic came from, he’s very clear, it came from the underworld, and it was a gift from the Goddess. He, we think entered into these altered states of awareness, entered into what we might call today the unconscious or the subconscious, and was gifted the sacred boons from a Goddess. Again, that’s not the typical history of western civilization that we learn, and nor are the rights of Eleusis or Dionysus for that matter, but this was the Greek world, it was the same world where prophecy was respected, the Oracle Delphi, for example, and elsewhere.
0:40:00.7 BM: The Greeks and in my mind, were equal parts rational and non-rational, and just a cursory look through the writings of Parmenides and Empedocles, Pythagoras for goodness sake, who often spent long amounts of time in his basement entering into the same altered states. It will reveal to you that there is another history to western civilization here, and one where women particularly and this sacred feminine divine presence is a really important factor.
0:40:31.7 PA: Yeah. And as you were talking about the coming up from the unconscious to subconscious logic coming from that, it reminded me of the story of Adam and Eve, because there are also clear parallels about Eve finding the apple, giving it to Adam, Adam taking a bite and then being like, Oh, whoops. [laughter] You’re out, you’re out from the Garden of Eden, you’re out from this sort of the womb, if you will, the subconscious, the place of awe and mystery and reverence, and you’re into the cold world of logic and materialism and whatever else was sort of part of that… What you would call it? That lesson, the story…
0:41:22.0 BM: Right.
0:41:22.8 PA: That was so true in the Bible, you know?
0:41:23.2 BM: Right. Well, and in some readings, Eve is the heroine and the serpent is the hero, right? I’m actually doing a bit of a Bible study right now with a friend of mine, Rabbi Zac, Rabbi Zac Kamenetz. Every couple of weeks we’ll hop on club house and go through the Greek and Hebrew of the Old Testament, to try and make sense of this stuff. And so our very first meeting was actually going through the Septuagint of Genesis, and he would look at the Hebrew, I’d look at the Greek, and there’s just some really fascinating stuff there in the original language. And I know it sounds geeky and wonky, but the language does matter, and there’s this really interesting line in the third chapter of Genesis about what it means to consume the forbidden fruit, and God issues this warning that you will die to eat this fruit. And the serpent says, actually… And in the Greek, it’s really interesting, he says that, you will not die in death, and he repeats the word Thanatos, which is death. It’s used once as a verb, once as a noun, and it’s so repetitive, that’s almost like emphatic, like, you will not surely die, is the translation we typically see in English.
0:42:28.1 BM: But if you take it to its logical extreme, it kinda means like, not only will you not die, but you just might live. Maybe the fruit is forbidden for a reason, maybe there is salvation, and maybe what Eve’s not fall was, but her grace was tasting of the fruit that provides vision, provides this enlightened consciousness. And so, there are a lots of different gnostic readings about the role of the serpent in Genesis and lots of fun things we can discuss.
0:42:57.0 PA: So, where I’d love to go next is even the title of the book, The Immortality Key: The secret history of the religion with no name. Can you just talk a little bit about that phrase, religion with no name? Because even that phrase itself is sort of an oxymoron, because of the way that religions have come about is, we have Christianity, we have Buddhism, we have Hinduism, we have all these sort of main world religions that have been all-encompassing over the last 5000-10,000 years. And when you specifically reference this religion with no name, what are you referring to?
0:43:33.4 BM: I’m playing off of the idea that it was access to this biotechnology, which in and of itself could have been a religion that finds its way into all these great religions, into these high civilizations that just maybe survives from pre-history and fits and starts throughout the course of history, is either suppressed or is resurrected, and so, kind of find its way into all these different traditions. And I know there are other words for this obviously, like shamanism and mysticism, but I think this one in particular… It’s a theory that goes back to Terence McKenna, obviously in his great book, The Food of The Gods, and this notion that it really was our relationship with these plant allies or these fungal allies that if not the root of religion is at least meaningful, significant to its development. So like I, for example, do not think that Saint Paul in the New Testament is tripping or Peter for that matter.
0:44:29.9 BM: What you find again and again are visionary experiences from the burning bush of Moses to Paul on the road to Damascus, and Peter caught up in a trance in Acts, time and again, you can’t divorce the birth of religion from these visionary experiences. I mean, even Elaine Pagels will say that, the great scholar of early Christianity at Princeton. But what happens to those who come after him? I mean, clearly, there are natural born prophets, seers, visionaries throughout the course of recorded history, but we’re not all born that way, we weren’t born that way then, and clearly today, not all of us are just kind of struck by lightning and become natural visionaries. And so, what I think this religion with no name is, I think it’s technology for the spiritual idiots amongst us, I include myself, to maybe have a glimpse of what happens to a Moses or a Paul or a Peter when they’re caught up in the third heaven, as Paul might say.
0:45:28.4 BM: You know, it seems to me like psychedelics, at least the way they’re studied today in the clinical setting are these very reliable, very potent means of having these transcendent visions. Again, with the right preparation and the right integration, but it’s that potency and reliability that psychedelic seem to possess that while it’s clearly achievable by other means like fasting, sleep deprivation, meditation, spiritual exercises, etcetera, again, it’s that reliability and potency that psychedelics seem to have, that could be a door to eternity for some people. And so, if it happens today, why wouldn’t that happen 10,000 years ago or 20,000 years ago or 100,000 years ago? So I think that’s the play on the religio, this binding back, this tradition that may have always been with us.
0:46:19.3 PA: And I think it goes into an interesting point as we’ve hit on a few different topics, linear versus non-linear, the masculine versus the feminine, the logic versus the mystery, the uroboros, right? This snake that eats its own tail. And I think speaking in mythology and speaking even in the sacred substances, when I see that, secret history of the religion with no name, and when I have my own psychedelic experiences, it reminds me that life is much more this sort of eternal recurrence than it is a straight line going from 10,000 BC to 2021 AD, right? So we use this time frame in particular because of the industrial framework, it has allowed us to measure things, it has allowed us to clock in from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM, and it has allowed to understand Fiat currency and money a lot better and build capitalism and bring people out of poverty. But the significant sort of thing that the over-reliance on a linear time scale has done is it has… We’ve lost touch with this religion, with their name. Life has become in many ways un-livable for the vast majority of the human species.
0:47:27.0 PA: And so, it doesn’t feel like any sort of coincidence that as we’ve become so sort of stagnant and over-emphasize the linear nature of things that these medicines, mushrooms and LSD and Ayahuasca seem to be making their way back into our consciousness as a sort of potential last hope to help humanity basically figure out its current existential crisis.
0:47:51.8 BM: Well, that’s certainly the romantic reading. [laughter] I mean, Albert Hofmann, himself felt that by the way, shortly before his death. I mean, he looks to psychedelics as the potential reparation for our alienation from nature. He writes very eloquently about that, if not romantically. I mean, listen, it’s something that we can’t ignore, again, and I went down this rabbit hole because I’m reading about atheists, for example, who go through these clinical trials and with one and only dose of Psilocybin walk away describing experiences in which they’re being bathed in God’s love and have this overwhelming sensibility that every moment is an eternity of its own. So again, breaking through into that dimension, that extra sensory dimension, what Joe Campbell says, which is eternity. It’s that dimension of here and now, that time but also thinking cuts out, and that separate from that linear, rational, logical, time-bound thinking is this sense of awareness that is truly eternal.
0:48:54.8 BM: And I thought it was always very, very weird that an atheist would use mystical language about the concept of eternity and what is essentially timelessness in the moment. And I think that’s something that harkens back to deep antiquity. And so… I mean, to answer your question from before about the title of the book, so the religion with no name, maybe it’s this religion that survives and fits and starts, but the immortality key I’m referring to is that sense of eternity, and it’s capturing eternity, the Kingdom of God, the New Testament would say in the here and now. And the key is one of these death and rebirth experiences, that again, you see time and again, it’s a technique, what Eliade would say the archaic techniques of Ecstasy. So, by whatever means, whether psychedelics or austerities, doesn’t really matter, I think, but I think the key and the goal in these mystery occults, these mystery religions was that death and very visceral rebirth experience into a much more profound nature of self, where maybe you are more than the physical body, maybe consciousness does not survive into an afterlife, but maybe when time collapses, consciousness merges with everything.
0:50:06.6 BM: And we have this whole mystical paradoxical notion where the observer can’t really separate itself from the observed and vice versa, and maybe humanity and divinity are one and the same. Again, like Elaine Pagels would say about the Gnostics, these early Christians. They would say that at our fundamental self, at the depths of who we really are, there is no difference between God and humanity, that we are actually God in our deepest cells, this divine spark that we all carry. And so, I think it’s great to talk about that, it’s another thing to actually experience that. And it seems to be the real key from these ancient mysteries.
0:50:45.7 PA: And I think to tie this into some of the current clinical research, you know what they’ve shown then, and the reason that the research that Johns Hopkins has done is so groundbreaking is because essentially, with the first paper that Roland Griffiths published in 2006, it showed that, like you said, Psilocybin can occasion a mystical type experience. And to go back to your point before, I was in Prague in 2016 at a psychedelic conference that role and was presenting at, and he made a really interesting point that continues to stick with me to this day, which is that on average, only about 1% of people have spontaneous mystical experiences, so that would be Paul on the road to Damascus, that would be… And any other sort of just spontaneous mystical experience that people have, 1% of people. However, with the clinical trials that they’ve done with Psilocybin, up to 80% of people say that the Psilocybin experience is one of the five most impactful experiences of their entire lives. And they essentially meet the criteria for a mystical experience.
0:51:57.3 PA: And I think what that is relevant to as the ancient Greeks would put it is, life is not worth living without these mysteries, without these substances. And now what we’ve shown with clinical research is, the efficacy of the outcome, whether that’s for end of-life anxiety or whether that’s for treatment-resistant depression, or whether that’s for alcoholism, the efficacy of the outcome, in other words, the improvements that clients make or that… Not clients, that patients make, the improvements that patients make is directly tied to the intensity of the mystical experience. So in other words, the more intense a mystical experience someone has, the more likely they are to not drink alcohol for the next year, three years, five years, to not smoke cigarettes anymore, to release a lot of their depression or heal a lot of their depression, and I think that tie between is now sort of weaving in the scientific aspect, the Clinical Research, and showing this with outcome, and showing this with numbers and sort of the linear.
0:53:00.7 PA: With the non-linear thing that you so beautifully write about in this book, sort of the first wave of the psychedelics, which is like, Oh, we’ve known this for thousands and thousands and thousands of years, and now we actually have sort of the clinical research and the numbers to back this knowledge that frankly, we’ve known about for thousands and thousands, and thousands of years. So I think it’s interesting to just see these two worlds integrate and come together, and that’s what’s so beautiful about these medicines and how they sort of fit within the clinical framework. But as you well know, in writing this book, and as I well know, having done this so many times, you can’t really put a cover on Pandora’s box, so to say. In other words, these substances will always find a way to escape and be free, because that’s ultimately what they’re teaching is, freedom.
0:53:56.6 BM: And I would argue this is what sacraments are for. [chuckle] It’s a fine line between an FDA-approved therapeutic medicine and a sacrament that is protected by the First Amendment on the Constitution in the United States. And I’m not sure where that line is. And all kudos to the clinical teams at Hopkins and NYU and UCLA and elsewhere. I mean, if it weren’t for that clinical literature, the skeptic who resides in me, the lawyer-ly brain, never would have gone down this rabbit hole. And yet when you come out the other side, just like you mentioned, it is that mystical experience that seems to be pretty consistent across these studies, the modern studies over the past 20 years. And so, I’ll read a very boringly titled paper, classic hallucinogens and mystical experiences, phenomenology and neural correlates by Roland Griffiths, but what he’s saying inside the data is that, yes, the depth of the mystical experience really is determinative of the clinical outcome, and that’s kinda shocking, if you think about it.
0:54:57.7 BM: Because it means that Psilocybin, for example, just doesn’t work the same way SSRIs are supposed to work. It’s the memory, it’s the experience, it seems that that is the determinant factor on what’s happening to these people. And I would argue at Eleusis it was the same thing. It wasn’t necessarily just the substance, if there was some kind of ergotised beer that was offered to the initiates at Eleusis. It was also the set and the setting, the term as we use nowadays. I mean, back then, I would say it was the myth, it was the myth of Demeter and Persephone from the Greek mûthos story, it was the grand narrative of what was to be experienced at Eleusis. It was the expectation that it was only once in your life would you have the privilege of witnessing these mysteries and that to reveal what you had seen would expose you to possible execution, not just excommunication.
0:55:52.1 BM: So there were these sacred rights, and I think there was a way to institutionalize this kind of thing that we’ve always been wrestling with. I mentioned how the mysteries of Dionysus are a bit different, the mysteries of Christianity come along and they’re now domesticating the same thing that would have exposed you to death as an initiate at Eleusis. Here comes Jesus saying that not only can you celebrate this inside your dining room, again, an act punishable by death according to the record at Eleusis, but theoretically, as often as you want that these states of ecstasy, the state of communion with me to become the Christ, to become God is a birth right. And again, I would argue that that’s what a true sacrament is, the Franciscan Richard Rohr says that if it’s not like a stun gun experience that just jolts you awake.
0:56:44.0 BM: Right. Then what is the purpose? The true nature of these transformations is that they stick with us. Maybe it happens over the course of a minute or a few hours, like in this Psilocybin sessions, but the history of mysticism is replete with events that transform us completely and forever in the blink of an eye.
0:57:07.9 PA: And that’s where, of course, the religion then comes in. That’s where the hymns that you sing every Sunday come in. That’s where the traditions and the rituals, the Lord’s Prayer, the fasting, the… All these other sort of things that church and religion has invented over thousands and thousands and thousands of years is really at its core meant to bring you back to that, gnosis. It’s to bring you back to that divinity. And it’s to do it within a community consistently where you’re reminded every week sometimes. In the case of church or going to the synagogue or wherever else and whatever else it is that you’re doing… These rituals and traditions that we’ve now sort of created are ultimately to remind us of that.
0:57:53.0 PA: And I think that’s where so much of modern day religion has fell out of touch is it’s become fossilized. It’s become overly focused on, okay, we do this, we do that, we do this, we do that. But everyone’s like, “Well, why are we doing this?”
0:58:10.2 PA: What’s the point? And I think that was sort of my… Even growing up in a… I grew up in The Reformed Church of America in West Michigan. And I remember going to church and I had to believe in Jesus, and if I believed in Jesus and prayed pretty consistently, it’s more likely that I would go to heaven. And going to heaven was obviously a good thing. But I always had this gnawing sort of like, “Alright, intellectually, I sort of get this. It feels a little wonky.” It doesn’t make a ton of sense… And how was the earth created in a week? I’m not totally tracking here. But I was like, I would just give my parents the benefit of the doubt and my church and community. And then I dropped acid when I was like 19, and I was going through that period in sort of late adolescence where I was like, “Okay, I’m an Atheist.”
0:59:01.7 PA: I’ve had enough of the church, it’s clearly just bullshit. So I do acid and then I was… Essentially, I go from, “Oh, this is what they’re talking about.” And the first book that I read, that really sticks with me in that experience was The Perennial Philosophy by Aldous Huxley. And where Aldous Huxley talks about the great religious traditions have these sort of 25… I think there was 25 chapters or something… These 25 things that they share in common. And he showed… This is the ancient Buddhist text that talks about this… This is what Meister Eckhart was talking about in terms of the Christian tradition. This is what the Quakers spoke about as relates to these mystical traditions… The Kabbalah. All these things that you had mentioned at the beginning of the podcast.
0:59:44.0 PA: And that for me was when it was finally like, “Oh, this is… ” Essentially what Huxley was talking about is this is the religion with no name. This is the mystical experience that has been shared across world religions. And there’s a quote that often sticks out about that, which is when you get the priests together, so to say, of the different religions, they’ll argue left and right about, “Oh no, our way is the right your way is the wrong way.” But when you get the monks and you get the people who are deep in the meditative mystical space across religions, they get together and go, “Oh yeah, we share this a common.” We share this in common. We share that in common. They see that overlap. Those commonalities rather than the separation and the differences.
1:00:29.6 PA: And I think that fundamentally is because what this sort of experience teaches us is that sense of interconnectedness. Is that sense of… We are everything around us. And that’s so so key to this sense of healing… Because what… Even in the clinical research, they find again and again is that healing depression, healing anxiety, healing addiction comes down to that sense of connection with something greater than oneself. And when that sense of connection is felt, there’s a remembrance that happens that is ancient. Which is, “Oh, I’m just in this loop again.” I’m in this sort of matrix, again. I’m in the sort of framework of the ego and now the veil has been lifted and I can see truth for what it is, and I can see divinity for what it is.
1:01:21.7 BM: Wow, that’s a pretty good definition of mystical Christianity… Or mystical Judaism or mystical Islam. I don’t like to draw superficial parallels amongst these potentially conflicting ideologies, but I think what Perennialism is getting at is the experience that underguards all these faith traditions. And for me, kind of like you… This research and writing process and getting to know sort of a pagan Jesus, but looking at what wine meant in the first century AD and what these mystery rights would have meant to some of the earliest Greek-speaking Christians. It just brought me deeper and deeper into the things that I was hearing as a kid and didn’t know how to compute in my 13 years of Catholic school. But the more you study it, the more you find the religious orders and the monks and the ascetics talking about the exact same thing in Christianity.
1:02:19.6 BM: So you mentioned several things that could have come directly from the mouth of Brother David Steindl-Rast, the great Benedictine monk. He talks a lot about this tension between mysticism and the bureaucracy of the church. And again, his ethos is the concept that the truth is one, but the path is many. And that equally within the Christian tradition as in the Jewish and Islamic, and Hindu and Buddhist, etcetera, you can find access to that mystical core. And at that core, you tend to find an everyday mysticism. And there’s probably a reason that Aldous Huxley prophesied this great revival of religion based on psychedelics. I quoted it in the intro to my book… As far back as 1958, he was writing about this. And I think this, kind of fed into The Perennial Philosophy, and why and how Huxley was writing the way he was.
1:03:14.5 BM: He talks about these biochemical discoveries of psychedelics that would make it possible for large numbers of men and women to achieve a radical self-transcendence and a deeper understanding of the very nature of things. That is everyday mysticism. And you said that it’s the kind of thing that would give meaning to everyday tasks and duties in our relationships. And again, it’s the kind of thing that I hear from the volunteers coming from these Psilocybin trials, some of them atheists. But it’s also the kind of thing that I hear when I’m talking to priests. I talk to lots of priests and pastors and ministers. I talk to Rabbis, as I mentioned earlier. You’re not gonna find a lot of fighting ground and disagreement when it comes to the mystic core of what this tradition and these faiths are about which is encountering the divine within and moving into a more mature relationship with the cosmos.
1:04:11.4 BM: And perhaps less of a co-dependent relationship on the external structures of the church or the temple. And at the root of it all is this really beautiful concept that we are divine and through these experiences, we can not only experience that and embody it, but then the real point is then… To then be of service. And then to use that love, that agape, in Greek, to be an actual member of society and to spread kindness and self-sacrifice and the things that we need today.
1:04:46.0 PA: And that’s… I think what’s so uplifting about even what’s going on with the psychedelic renaissance… There is a quote that Rick Doblin from MAPS had a few years ago after the conference they did in Oakland in 2017. Which is like, we’re not the counter culture anymore, we’re slowly becoming the mainstream culture. And I think that’s interesting. It’s not just psychedelics, it’s meditation, it’s breath work, it’s yoga, it’s ice bath, it’s Wim Hof, it’s having saunas in your home. It’s all these sort of tools that are now becoming more and more accessible and available that we’re sort of trying to use, but a lot of them have sort of become perversed by American capitalism and other financial incentives… It’s even a little weird with what’s going on with psychedelics right now.
1:05:35.3 PA: Where we’re like hundreds of millions of dollars and biotech and patenting on Psilocybin. And that’s where I go back again to your work in this lineage. It’s like… This is the ultimate sort of freedom key. This is the immortality key. We can try to fit it within a linear framework, but at the end of the day, the truth that comes out of this is the mystery and awe and the reverence that we need for these substances and these sacraments.
1:06:04.6 BM: Yeah, and then that is again a great definition for the beatific vision. If it doesn’t result in that awe and that wonder… Some folks even say, the science of awe… Then what is the point? That is the beatific vision. And a very gold standard, mainstream scholar like Carl Kerenyi writes about that in the 1960s about Eleusis. He borrows that phrase, the beatific vision from Christianity and uses it at Eleusis for a reason. Because what little testimony survives is pointing to the awe and the wonder and the reverence that these initiates felt when they spied this vision. And we don’t know how it was produced, but we know that people walked away believing they were gods. And it’s my belief that in early Christianity something similar was happening. Psychedelic assisted or not, whatever was happening in the early church resulted in people who were willing to throw themselves to the lions for being members of an illegal potentially cannibalistic cult.
1:07:09.2 BM: Why would you do that? Why would you leave a cult, a religion that had belonged to your parents and grandparents going back hundreds if not thousands of years, for this illegal cult, for this Jewish carpenter’s son from Galilee, that didn’t make a lot of sense in Southern Italy, and yet it was happening. And people were flocking to this religion. And it doesn’t just survive, it thrives to become the world’s biggest religion of two and a half billion people… For that to have happened… I’m not saying that psychedelics are the answer, what I’m saying is that visionary experiences, meaningful ecstatic experiences must have been a part of that. And so if it was part of the growth and spread of Christianity, what would that mean for religion today or society more broadly.
1:07:53.7 BM: If we are looking for that experience, and we have these biochemical discoveries as Huxley referenced them today, and they can be made available in a safe, secure setting… Whether that’s through some regulated medicinal center, whether it’s through some kind of church or temple where there is sincere religious exercise being protected by the First Amendment, it seems to me that this menu of options is going to open over the next five, 10 years, that I don’t really think we’ve seen in a couple thousand years. Which brings a lot of possibility, but I think… A lot of caution in terms of how we structure that, how we make it affordable for those who need it, how we make it sacred, for those who are interested in the pure ontological shock of it all and the mystery of it all.
1:08:46.2 BM: I think that these compounds… And I say this as a virgin… Do have a place. And I’m not sure what that place is. But… Again, given their potency, I think that the thirst for this mystical vision has never been stronger.
1:09:01.8 PA: So one book I read a couple of years ago was called The Religion of Tomorrow by Ken Wilber, who… You’re probably familiar at least with Ken Wilber.
1:09:12.9 BM: Yes.
1:09:13.0 PA: Integral theory and a great philosopher. And in that book he wrote about basically drawing the parallels between the enlightenment, the invention of the printing press, the ensuing enlightenment, and how the ensuing enlightenment essentially led to widespread literacy. Because through the invention of the printing press, the sort of top 10% of people, if you will, learned how to read and write, and then they built all these new systems within our industrial framework to teach as many as… People as possible how to learn to read and write. ‘Cause that’s what helped to educate people and lift people out of poverty and things like that.
1:09:50.8 PA: And so the parallel that Wilber talks about in The Religion of Tomorrow is this sort of leap in consciousness and this evolution of consciousness. And you get some folks who say, “Oh, in order to… “save the world” or save our species or whatever you wanna put… Like everyone needs to level up their consciousness. Everyone needs to see the fundamental truth that we are all interconnected. And what Wilber emphasizes is no, it’s not everyone, it’s only this top 10% of folks who need to have this understanding. Because after they have this understanding, they will then create the systems within culture and society to teach that same truth to as many people as possible. But it starts with the top tier. So based on your historical research and based on your understanding of the use of these substances over the last 10,000 years, but in particular in Ancient Greece and early Christianity who was actually using these substances?
1:10:45.4 PA: Was it everyone? Was it the slaves, the peasants, the aristocrats, the politicians? Or was it… Did it have a tendency to be more restricted to a certain sort of group or demographic within those populations?
1:11:00.3 BM: Again, we’re always trying to figure this out. And… The record of history doesn’t show any clear answers… Just like the Mysteries of Eleusis are different from those of Dionysus and the other cults in early Christianity, the history of the use of… I would say potions… Psychedelic or otherwise… But the use of these sacraments over time show a lot of disagreement over who ought to have access to this stuff. So when you think about these spiked wines, for example, one of the oldest samples I came across was from ancient Egypt, 3150 BC, three millennia before Jesus, for example. And these are sort of like afterlife potions. There’s often this… The sacred setting and ceremony surrounding the rights of Osiris and the king.
1:11:51.9 BM: But in any event, they are reserved for the Pharaoh. These are Pharaohnic potions reserved for the royalty. As you go forward in time to the Canaanite period in the Near East, for example, it’s often reserved to aristocrats. And this spooky ritual called the Marzea ritual that I read about in a few chapters in the book… Again, living, interacting with the dead in these ceremonial banquets was often reserved for those… Number one who had vineyards, which is typically the elite and had the time and expense to waste essentially on these drinking bouts. And then at Eleusis things change a little bit.
1:12:31.0 BM: The records that we have obviously come from the elite and the writers, the Plato and Pindar’s etcetera. But technically the rights were available to anybody who spoke some Greek and hadn’t committed murder. Which is a pretty low bar for entry. So it did include women and slaves for example, which is interesting. And the rights of Dionysus are even more democratized, largely, again, led by women. And by the time you get to Christianity… Just think of the Christian message. It’s the ultimate antinomian, antithetical philosophy. It’s the Samaritan who deserves the gospel. It’s the poor… It’s the downtrodden. It’s the marginalized. And so if you take that to its conclusion, it means that Jesus’ potion, that his flesh and blood was available to everybody.
1:13:20.1 BM: Which is a political statement at the time, in addition to being a spiritual statement. It’s also a political revolutionary statement, because what he’s saying is similar to what Dionysus was saying was that this doesn’t belong locked up in the hereditary families at Eleusis. This doesn’t belong in the aristocratic vineyards of the Near East. This doesn’t belong in the Pharaohs or the high priests. This belongs with everybody. Falutera is the word that Euripides used… The lowly folk… The common classes.
1:13:51.8 BM: So I don’t know what that means today… I don’t… I think that this… It’s the kind of experience that I think takes great reverence and preparation. I wouldn’t necessarily reserve it to those who could afford it. I think that it’s the kind of thing that could benefit so many people in such profound ways that I wouldn’t want to restrict it to some super minority of the population. But it’s obviously not for everybody either. So I think something like a psychedelic mystery, even if it’s not the counter culture, may always be reserved for some minority, something less than the majority of people. But I could be wrong.
1:14:32.8 PA: Yeah, and that just… Having been in the space and worked with a lot of people through both the Third Wave and Synthesis, my sense has always been there’s a certain sort of profile and population that is drawn to these. And that’s usually because to integrate such profundity can actually be quite challenging. And so when I think about, sort of this context of microdosing versus profound high dose experiences, there may be a balance there, where for the most part, you might have the vast majority of people who do lower doses… Microdosing or other doses that are more sub-therapeutic, if you will… And that help as a supplement or help as the new SSRI. They’re just healthier and not addictive, etcetera, etcetera.
1:15:27.2 PA: And these sort of profound, transformative experiences seem to call just to a certain type of folk. And I think regardless of clinical trials and outcomes, there just might be a certain type of person who doesn’t feel like making that dive and taking that risk. And that’s totally okay, as long as I think, what you’re emphasizing and what… I also think it’s important that the accessibility is there. In other words, it’s a choice. It’s an option. It’s available to those who feel the call to go into that space.
1:16:03.6 BM: Yeah, and I do hope that for those in need, it becomes not only available but affordable. And I do hope that insurance will come to cover the costs associated with this kind of medicine, the way they cover other remedies that emerge from the pharmaceutical industry. And because it doesn’t work like other medication. You do really need trained professionals at the ready to help administer this stuff and then integrate it. And so it is a time suck. It is a cost suck. I only hope that it becomes affordable for those who need it whilst reserving some of these other experiences for the more adventurous among us. I’m probably not one of them. But for those who are interested in exploring that mystery outside a medicinal context, I think that’s also very important.
1:16:51.3 PA: So final question and we’ll sort of start to wrap up a little bit. I’m just gonna ask a few things… Ch… Ch… Ch… Things. The first question that I have for you is just over the last 10 years in carrying out this research and in writing this book, what were the three, aha moments for you? What were three moments that really stick out in the past 10 years where there was a big sort of insight or breakthrough, or awareness, or meeting, or whatever it is? What are those three main things that stick out for you over these last 10 years?
1:17:25.3 BM: Okay, so the whole book hangs on these archeobotanical discoveries. And so we’ve been talking about all these ambiguous things about the ancient mystery cults, but I think it really does hang on the data. And so we talked about Carl Ruck and this controversial book from 1978, that’s excoriated and he is rent asunder by the establishment. But I went after the hard scientific data and wound up finding two things from… Both in the 1990s, interestingly that just hadn’t been widely reported in the academic community and certainly not to the public. So number one was an actual archeobotanical sample of what looks like ergotized beer. The same beer, spiked with ergot that Lawson, Hoffman, and Ruck hypothesized was the actual secret of secrets. The engine of the Mysteries at Eleusis.
1:18:15.6 BM: I wound up finding a study published in the ’90s in Catalan and the language in Catalonia there in Northern Spain that points to a Greek sanctuary in which some kind of tiny chalis of ergotized beer was actually consumed by people in what looks like some kind of recreation of the ancient mysteries dedicated to the same Demeter and Persephone over in Eleusis which is kind of crazy. The first hard data to emerge in 42 years, I think.
1:18:46.3 BM: So that’s number one. Number two, similarly, I was looking for actual evidence of spiked wine, psychedelic wine. Because… I went to all the top archeochemists and archeobotanists in the US and UK and Europe asking for any evidence of this stuff. And the resounding answer that kept coming back was, no, there are no data points suggesting that. But again, from the 1990s, published in English and for some reason just not widely talked about, was this other archeological site, the Villa Vesuvius outside Pompeii in which these wine jars were found. And the wine was mixed with seeds of Cannabis, opium and the very hallucinogenic henbane when taken at the right doses. There are two big data points to suggest that these weren’t just figments of the imagination of these ancient authors.
1:19:32.3 BM: When the ancient authors talked about all these crazy things that were mixed into beer and wine, it looks like they actually existed in real life. And I think it’s just the tip of the iceberg. And so number three, I’ll point to at the very end of the book, I mention this Cannabis find from Tel Arad in Israel, 8th century BC. Cannabis mixed with frankincense and left as the darkened organic remains on this limestone altar in what appears to be a scaled down version of Solomon’s temple. So all that said, we can say with a straight face that Cannabis in some form was involved in some form of Early Judaism.
1:20:08.8 BM: So from the ancient Greek mysteries to Judaism to early Christianity, some of the organic data is pointing to the use of these compounds. And so I present the book as kind of proof of concept that with more attention and funding, maybe we’ll find more samples just like this.
1:20:28.8 PA: Beautiful, and I think that’s a really good Ch… Ch… Ch… Sort of three-point highlight of what folks will find in The Immortality Key: The Secret History of the Religion with No Name. Brian C. Muraresku… Is that how I pronounce it?
1:20:46.2 BM: Beautiful pronunciation.
1:20:46.6 PA: And with a foreword by Graham Hancock. Brian, it’s been a real honor to have you on the show. Thank you so much for taking the time, as I mentioned before, for writing this book, for doing this scholarship, for digging and diving and really committing a significant portion of your life energy to this effort. I think it’s something that I’m very grateful for, it’s something that our listeners, I’m sure are very grateful for, and the wider sort of psychedelic movement is very grateful for. Because what you’ve essentially done is created a compelling story and narrative about how these substances… Why they’re so important, how we have a long, long history and legacy with them. And I think that will be instrumental in helping to inform the way that these are integrated in the next five to seven to 10 years.
1:21:37.4 BM: Well, thank you. I’ll just say that the mystery continues. And so for better or worse, despite the past 12 painstaking years, there’s more adventures and more mystery on the way, and I’m actively in search of new clues.
1:21:51.5 PA: Beautiful. We’ll have to stay tuned into that. I’m excited to follow.
1:21:55.9 BM: Thanks, man.