Shroom Book by Letcher – Private Page
Michael Hoffman, April 2, 2007
Letcher and Various Views on Entheogens in Religious History (read first; it's higher-level and has a more evolved analysis than the present, earlier page)
If Letcher were to lay out the common points of "the mushroom theory of religious origins", he would list a lot of points, and in a certain wording, that I wouldn't agree with. He *thinks* he is refuting "the mushroom theory of religious origins", but really, he is refuting one highly specific version of that theory. He *ought* to be busy constructing a correct, superior version -- really, he ought to be helping to construct a sound, carefully considered version of the entheogen theory of religion, rather than conceiving of himself as wholly scorched-earth debunking "the" theory, or "the" mushroom theory of religious origins. This would have to accommodate the best evidence we *do* have such as the Christian mush trees, Heinrich's best evidence for Amanita, the 4-mushroom-drawn chariot fresco/mosaic of Dionysus' victory procession.
The present webpage serves to map out the pages of Shroom that are relevant to the entheogen theory of the origins (and later ongoing inspiration) of Western religion. The following is a topical inventory of relevant pages. The book is mapped out.
The text below is only a small sampling from each page, to serve as a key/map, not the whole of the relevant text on each page. I have randomly chosen to comment in spots below; it's only a small representation of some of my criticisms. In effect, I have several criticisms of every sentence Letcher writes on the topic of entheogen origins of religion -- as a result of the clash of paradigms; his statements are systemically distorted (not to imply that the model he advocates constitutes a self-consistent paradigmatic reading-lens).
(parentheses) = my synopsis
[italics in square brackets] = my commentary
[square brackets] = my in-sentence paraphrasing of author
plain text = quotes excerpted
Abstract-out his assertions, his various versions of denying the entheogen theory. Abstract-out his arguments in support of such (various) denials of (various aspects of) entheogen theory. Differentiate between his *corrections* or *cautions*, vs. out-and-out assertion that the entheogen theory of religion is wrong - nothing but a modern "myth". Identify his range of various assertions relevant to the entheogen theory of the origins of religions.
His book would be so much better if framed as what it really is -- a corrective, a study of errors to avoid, *not* as a "disproof" or "rebuttal" to the entheogen theory as though the entheogen theory is either simply true or false. Better to ask in what ways is the entheogen theory true or false, sound or unsound, to greater or lesser degree. He's immature, often lacking nuance; he could be a more constructive contributor by striking a *corrective* pose rather than a simply "debunking" pose. (Same with the "fundamentalist atheists; they'd have more insight to offer the world by striking a scholarly-corrective pose rather than a scorched-earth "debunking" pose.)
Letcher waffles on what he's claiming to have debunked -- is it certain fine points (details), or is it the entire entheogen theory of the origins of religion? He constantly changes his stance, his claims, so it is harder to nail him. He mixes expressions of skepticism on fine points with skepticism about wholesale theories. List quotes of his triumphal declarations against the entheogen theory or mushroom theory.
He is married to Wasson/Allegro/McKenna: like Wasson, he's so full of bluster that it's a great challenge first of all even merely figuring out what exactly he is claiming to have "debunked". So he is harder to refute, because you have to argue against a whole range of possible assertions. He doesn't have a single conclusion, supported by a fixed number of particular evidential arguments. He even affirms much of the entheogen theory on certain pages, while dismissing the overall theory as nothing but a modern myth, on other pages. He seems to be inconsistent this way, just as Wasson changed aspects of his speculation about the Eden Genesis tree between the book Soma and Persephone's Quest. His minor objections/corrections to specific points don't add up to a wholesale rejection of mushrooms or visionary plants in religious history, and some of his affirmations uphold the entheogen theory.
Stone circles of Avebury and
Aztec pyramids at
Plato et al drinking mushroom tea at ancient
Greek rites of
· Celts and their Druidic priests ate mushrooms
· Vikings ate mushrooms to rage
· Medieval witches ate mushrooms in secret moonlit sabbats.
· Santa Claus derived from Siberian mushroom-shamanism
· blame ... Christianity, or ... industrial revolution, for the severance of this unbroken tradition ... reinstating an ancient shamanic heritage ... that is their birthright.
great cultures, religions and philosophies were founded on bemushroomed gnosticsim
· One of the most tenacious ... academic hypotheses and urban myths is that Jesus was an amanita-eater, breaking fly -agaric toadstools rather than the more usually accepted bread and wine at the Last Supper. ...
· Christmas ...
· Viking ... frenzied berserker battle trance ...
· fly-killer ...
· Soma ... Rig Veda, was the fly-agaric; ...
that secretive and jealously guarded fly-agaric cults lie at the origins of most of the world religions.
what truth, if any, resides within these stories? ... if the answer is none or very little, ... fevered speculation?
p. 25-26: that it would have been 'natural' or 'obvious' for prehistoric cultures to have used magic mushrooms. ... that there is some universal or essential psychedelic experience that transcends history and culture, so that anyone eating a magic mushroom will have a similar, usual [sic] spiritually inflected, experience irrespective of who, when and where they are. [extremist misrepresentation of the entheogen theory -mh] It will be ecstatic [... to: ] open arms. ... Huxley ... all [visionary plants] have been known and systematically used by human beings since time immemorial'. ... the longing to transcend ... appetites ...
Paul Devereux argues that human history is one 'long trip' from which.. aberration ... imagine an unbroken tradition ... hunter-gatherer shamans, the Neolithic builders of Stonehenge and Avebury, the ancient Greeks at Eleusis, the Iron Age Druids and medieval witches, and which was severed by Christianity and ... industrial revolution.
... it is true that archaeologists are coming to terms with the fact that psychoactive drugs have played a part in human culture perhaps for millennia, ... this ... view of the psychedelic experience is problematic. ... drug experiences are always culturally bound... their relationship with drugs is more correctly an attitude of ambivalence. A rigorous history of the magic mushroom must ... be built upon the evidence, and not upon .. assumption ... ... I shall look at the evidence for mushrooming traditions in Mexico and Siberia ... now ... the material remains left by ... prehistoric European cultures to see whether [they had] the taste for magic mushrooms.
For [a] culture to have centralised the use of a psychoactive plant, [must be avail in quantity, the culture must know the plant causes the effects,] there must be a cultural context in which those alterations can be meaningfully apprehended, and psychologically and socially integrated. [He refutes these, pages 28-50.]
1st point -- (Liberty Cap couldn't have been common in
(people act inebriated when not using psychoactive mushrooms
but just regular ones --
3rd point: for a psychoactive plant to become legitimated or even institutionalised there must also exist a culturally agreed context into which the strange experiences it elicits can easily be slotted, and thus made meaningful and comprehended. But in many cultures ... that context has been wholly lacking, and locally occurring psychoactive drugs have been known but shunned as either worthless or poisonous. [he uses a monolithic culture model here, against his elsewhere advice; and, he uses hard-isolation of each culture, severed off completely from all others: as if each culture is completely uniform and completely isolated, and doesn't change over time -mh]
(Some Siberian tribes shun Amanita.)
(Honolulu 1927 psychedelic fish , mayor's office -- yet no trend happened, using this discovered opportunity / source of tripping ability)
(mushrooms were known,) since at least as long ago as the fifteenth
century, with some writers even likening their effects to ... opium, but no one
seems to have eaten them intentionally until the twentieth. ... most only take
(hard to find mush in archaeological evidence because no paraphernalia is needed)
(hard to find mushrooms in archaeological evidence because they quickly rot)
(iceman Neolithic man with fungus on a strap, as tinder)
(puffballs, present of fungus may indicate magic, medicine, insulation) [mentions non-psychoactive mushrooms here, for archaeological completeness. -mh]
Supporters of the ancient mushrooming thesis have therefore invoked several other related lines of evidence to support their case but ... none of these inferences is unequivocal, and each is open to a range of alternative explanations. [need to list these "lines of evidence" per Letcher here –mh]
[regarding "open to a range of alternative explanations" above: we must pick the best explanation from among them; so: it is an established uncontroverted fact that psychoactive mushrooms cause primary religious experiences. Psychoactive mushrooms are often depicted in religious art (often literally). Entheogenic visionary language is present in religious writings, so, the best "alternative explanation" or theory is the entheogen theory of religious origins. Not every explanation is equally good; logic isn't equally "open" to each interpretation. -mh]
poppy heads ... in
nutritious ... painkiller ... medical ... fibres ... Henbane seeds might have been purely for show, a proclamation that the owner had mastery over a poisonous plant ... Grauballe Man, ... ergot's disturbingly mind-altering effects ... unpleasantly executed (whether as a criminal or as a willing religious sacrifice we do not know), [or both -mh] ... The administering of a plant that was known ... to terminate pregnancies might simply have held a terrifying symbolic force for him.
The second problem is ... cultural specificity ... Cultures that use one psychoactive plant may have a ... aversion ... or ... ignorant of , another ... McKenna ... Amazon ... indigenous psychedelic plant preparation, *oo-koo-he*, ... the lcals were quite ignorant about the magic *cubensis* mushrooms sprouting abundantly from their cattle dung.
(can't know what art means, range of possible interps)
Of course, it is reasonable to assume that if ancient cultures *did* centralise the use of magic msurhooms they would have depicted this fact in their artwork. The trouble is that it is not always easy to tell whether something that looks to us like a mushroom really was intended to be one, and a magic one at that. The context in which the art appears is often the only thing that can help us decide, as the following example ... from the Middle Ages, demonstrates.
[he's about to contradict himself: above: if mushrooms were central, they would depict this fact in their artwork. Below, the churchmen depicted a mushroom shape publically, therefore it cannot have been a magic msuyrhrooms, because those have to be secret according to pop mush theory. Kettle logic, shotgun argumentation, clumsy and inept theory-consturction; he has trouble moving from a barrage of critical points, to constructing a theory -- the result is dumb wholesale rejection of "the theory" and a proclamation that he's finished, instead of refined construction of a superior theory. Lazy, not constructive. Sensationalist tearing-down, debunking-mania, rather than the hard work of constructive scholarship. Letcher strives only to be a critic, not a theory-constructor. -mh]
In fact, in spite of its resemblance to a Liberty Cap, the plant ... is a stylised fig-tree. [this is the single-referent fallacy: the implied principle that if an art figure represents one thing, it cannot also intend to represent something else in addition. No one at all is denying that this is a stylized fig-tree; quit pretending there's an argument over that. The dispute is over whether it *also* is a Liberty Cap, *in addition to* a stylized fig-tree. -mh]
[Here he's criticizing a detail, a debatable explanatory point, one particular suggested scenario, and then declaring that since that particular specific scenario is incoherent, he's disproved that the image is intended to rrepresent use of psychoactive Liberty Cap. This is sensationalist hyper-debunking, not constructive history-reconstruction, where you have to do the *work* of defining and selecting from a variety of explanatory scenario candidates, not just criticize one and say you've debunked the entire problem. This is the single-scenario fallacy, or single-variant fallacy: acting like there can only be one attempted scenario to explain a piece of entheogen evidence, and it that scenario is rejected, one has disproven the piece of entheogen evidence. -mh]
Sadly, careful consideration of the context in which the doors were made shows only a slight chance that this interpretation is true. ... Bishop ... Given that every detail ... held significance, and that the message on the doors was so carefully constructed, it seems improbably that a magic mushroom could have been surreptitiously slipped in without anyone noticing. Nor could a secret mushroom cult have persisted and left such an emphatic mark upon such a high-profile expression of religious power and piety without there being some other evidence for its existence. But of course there is none to be found anywhere, for there was no cult. The image on the door is simply a sytylised representation of that most biblical of plants, the fig-tree.
Endnote 33 reads only "personal correspondence" (unfortunately; might contact author to resolve)
Gundestrup cauldron ... Wallis ... representation of a psychactive plant ... Liberty Cap ... could be entirely decorative.
rock art ... Taassili plataeu of
(shows the above facsimile drawing)
anthropomorphised flat-capped mushrooom figures ... running while cluching 'mushrooms' ... The point remains that all the so-called incontrovertible visual evidence produced by enthusiasts to argue for prehistoryic musrrhoom use turns out to be open to many and varied alternative interpretations. In each case, the mushroom interpretation may be correct, but it may equally very well not be.
This is clearly an unsatisfactory state of affairs for both academics and partisan enthusiasts alike ... David Lewis-Williams and Thomas Dowson, determined to set it on a more scientific and unequivolcal basis. ... they argued that some ... rock art ... to represent hallucinatitions ... altered states ... split the arch'l community ... Thieir 'three stages of trance' model ... contested ... academic spat between the various parties.
('three stages of trance' model)
investigators ... it might have been their cultural expectations, rather than some essential property of the mushrooms, that determined the form of these mutable inner tapestries. ... academic studies ... found additional evidence for trance experiences [in] American and European prehistoric art. ... the equally compelling counter-arguments ... vitriolic ... debate ... ... most rest on the problem of cultural specificity and the method's failure to escape subjectivity. [the details of the model are arbitrary]
Academic opinion is ... divided over the model [or] against it, so ... this ... line of inference reaches a dead end.
... Druidry, witchcraft and ...
... Robert Graves ... was the first [sic] to suggest that plant hallucinogens might have induced the reported mystic raptures. [false; Eusebe Salverte in 1846, Helena Blavatsky in 1877, and Manly Hall in 1928 all proposed that the potions in mystery religions were psychoactive – cited in http://www.egodeath.com/WassonEdenTree.htm.]
ergot and mushrooms [as kykeon]
... in the absense of ... documentary evidence ..., all these theories must remain speculative. ... Plato could certainly have entered the realm of eternal forms after drinking mushroom tea from the kykeon, the history of religion is also replete with examples of mass epiphanies induced by nothing more exotic [how do you know? –mh] than enthusiastic fervour (contemporary charismatic Christianity being a case in point, vehemently opposed as it is to drugs of all kinds). [overstatement, and it contradicts his elsewhere proud lecturing against such monolithic models of a culture; for example, fundamentalist author Dave Hunt has written open-minded commentary about LSD as a possible vehicle for the Holy Spirit as well as evil spirits. It's also a safe bet that some "Christian Rock" groups use psychoactives -mh]
[kykeon] may have been alcoholic [that term is an
anacrhonism –mh] [he seems not to have read Road to
... Druids ... Robert Graves ... Irish ... Welsh ... Academics and enthusiasts ... have wondered whether these tales contain ... references to psychoactive potions and ... their consciousness-altering effects.
[it's pure speculation]
... witches were ... pagans, herbalists, healers and midwives who almost certainly knew about the porperties of magic mushrooms that they [put] into their 'flying ointments'. ... persecuted by ... Christianity ...
those accused as witches were ... Christian, not pagan [such a black-and-white picture Letcher puts forth here, against his elsewhere lecturing us against monolitchic culture assumptions –mh]
Margaret Murray ... book The Witch Cult in
flying ointment ... were deliriants ... hemlock ... belladonna ...
Michael Harner ... book Hallucinogens and Shamanism. ... witches as adept users of hallucinogens ... to find historical antecedents that would legitimate their own practices ...
witches were adept users of psychoactive unguents ... pooisonous tropane .... belladonna ... henbane ... and mandrake ... a leap to add magic mushrooms ...
The fact that there was no pagan witch-cult would rather seem to pour cold water on the whole notion of the ointments ... scholars have acepted that occasional and localised use of tropane-containing preparations ... cannot be entirely ruled out. [here Letcher conflates details of the accusations of the witches' collective gatheringss, with the entheoegen theory that holds merely the hypothesis that psychoactive ointments were not uncommonly used. That is, he conflates the general entheogen hypothesis that psychoactive ointments were used, with the specific lurid mass gatherings; proclaims the latter fictional, and thus makes an illegitimate leap to declaring the former, general hypothesis fictional. –mh]
The origins of the ointments seem almost certainly to have been literary.
(concludes chapter with a page pointing out that we have no certainty)
it does seem inconceivable ... that [no one] ... in European prehistory ... [used] psilocybin mushroom[s] ... The problem is that, if they did, they left not a single piece of evidence of having done so. [here he omits "unequivocal", resulting in a falsely over-strong statement. This is a rhetorical biased move. –mh]
modern ... history ... clearer picture of magic mushroom use in Europoe ... while people ... have been eating hallucinogenic mushrooms ... until the twentieth century they always did so accidentally and unintentionally. [that strong assertion is contradicted by the art evidence. –mh]
[Letcher next cites authors ca. 1250 and 1550, in such a way
that even Letcher's most elementary assertion is not upheld; it's Letcher's
biased reading; he doesn't cite the authors but feeds us his own
characterization. –mh] The earliest hint
of an accidental musrhoom consuption .. [is] from ... herbalist
and botanist Albertus Magnus ... he cautioned against mushrooms 'of a moist
humour' that 'stop up in the head the mental passages of the creatures [that
eat them] and bring on insanity'. [is that a report of "accidental" and "unintentional"
mushroom consumption? –mh] ... Clusius
... a fungus ... in
(the next pages cover later modern medical reports)
Pliny: bottom p 57 to p 59
disapproving tone is perhaps attributable to his religious sensibilities, which were affronted by the ... resonances of these practices with the Christian communion. ... 'God's flesh' ... would have seemed blasphemous. ... Several Mesoamerican codices ... written in symbolic picture language, portray mushrooms. ... All are, in the light of the chronicles, at least suggestive of mushroom use ... given the historical evidence, and ... figurines ... depicting elated-looking humans with mushrooms, it is extremely likely that these figures *were* connected with mushroom consumption, albeit in some unspecified and unknowable way. This would suggest that the practice extended back not just hundreds of years, to the time of the Spanish invasion, but thousands ... The contexts in which mushrooms were consumed prior to the Aztecs remain mysterious, however.
It therefore remains unclear how - or indeed whether -- mushrooming practices continued in an unbroken fashion to modern times. ... Mexicans were still using mushrooms in ways ... all-night syncretic religious observances ... The Western rediscovery of Mexican mushrooming practices began, ironically, with a vigorous scholarly denial that they had ever existed. [Letcher, like most, makes the same mistake. Imagine the similar future sentence: The Western rediscovery of pre-modern Christian mushrooming practices began, ironically, with a vigorous scholarly denial that they had ever existed. -mh]
Wasson ... identity of the Soma plant ... Rig Veda ... fly agaric ... that the potion at the heart of the Eleusinian mysteries contained an infusion of the ergot fungus ... Eunice Pike, a missionary ... her inability to sway the locals from their heathen practices [confirmed] mushrooms were ... used in curing rituals.
Wasson ... promote his influential ideas about Soma,
Wasson... looking for ... evidence that would prove a revolutionary new theory ... overturn established thought about the history and origins of religion ... that the human religious impulse itself had been awakened by a Palaeolithic magic mushroom cult. [Letcher typically references "a cult" -mh] The great pillars of Western civilisation, our rleigious traditions, owed their origins to a time when our distant ancestors freely ate [notice how Letcher unconsciously follows Wasson in the total attetnion of earliest origins, rather than asking the extent of all psychoactives used in all eras [continuous rediscovery & inspiration as "ongoing origins" -mh] from the original tree of knowledge, [what of the tree of life in the end of the New Testament, written around 125 CE? Letcher inherits Wasson's blindness, shows 0 reading of Heinrich's book -mh] the divine magic mushroom. And though long extinct, traces and legacies of the original cult could still be detected in certain attitudes and dispositions that obtained today.
[Letcher uses an inconsistent "kettle logic" shotgun argumentation approach: he keep silently switching from criticizing fine points of detail regarding how drugs were used (context) or how they spread, to the sweeping rejection of the entheogen theory in general. What *is* your criticism? It's ever-shifting. -mh] What if, hidden away in the remote mountains... it had clung on in some half-remembered form, of whchih the indigenous mushroom ceremonies were,.... the very last vestige? ... ever more convinced that ... his hoped-for religion lived on. ... Sabina, the last living priestess of the ancient mushroom cult. [Wasson is obsessed with the extreme endpoints, only: the most ancient prehistory, and Sabina as the very last instance; he uncritically assumes history was empty of mushroom use all during the intervening years as far as Western mainstream civilization. -mh]
To find the origins of ... Wasson's radical theory we need to look not for ... achaeological discovery ... but at his ... reaction to the wild mushrooms of the Catskills ... on his honeymoon. ... They began to amass references to mushrooms from folklore, mythology, art history, etymology and philosophy, and noticed patterns within them ...
He came to ... scenario: Our Palaeolithic European ancestoress had consumed magic mushrooms --- ... agaric ... perhaps ... psilocybin ... -- in an original and archaic form of shamanism. As this loose spirituality gradually became insitituationalised, mushroom consumption was restricted to, and jealously guarded by, a powerful priestohood that placed a terrible taboo upon its profane usage. The cult spread globally, but eventually gave way to ... non-mushrooming world religions. ... the taboo lingered in a vestigial fashion ... academics were persuaded that Wasson was absolutely correct. ... 'cultural evolution'. [compare Ken Wilber's foundational assumption of "collective psychospiritual development/evolution", which causes distortion, inconsistencies, & implausibilities in his little coverage of religion in Western antiquity. -mh]
Margaret Murray ... early modern witch-confessions ... 'Old Religion' ... Frazer .... Golden Bough
Robert Graves ... ... myths ... have their origins in actual historical events: hence any myths or folktales involving mushrooms ... vestigial memory of ... the ... mushroom cult. The only problem with all this ["all this" is vague and sub-scholarly -mh] was [that the cultural evolution hypothesis was by then defunct ].
1970s ... folklorists and historians ... demolished the idea that British folk cutoms were pagan survivals, and the Gravesian notion that myths inevitably had historical and not literary origins. [the expression "historical origins" is ambiguous thus problematic; does a mushroom allusion in the Bible allude to a "historical event"? yes in a sense, no in a sense. eg the Pentecost event in Acts, or the story of Jesus' Eucharistic actions at the Last Supper, refers to a general tradition more than a single specific instance. -mh]
patterns of mycophagy are not set in stone .. but change with time.
[Sabina wasn't even doing "religion" in her veladas, only "healing"; Wasson misrepresents her as a "priestess"]
What is striking now is the extent to which he constructed his ancient mushroom cult in Christian terms. .... he seems to have pictured his ancient mushroom cult as a form of proto-Christian mysticism, with mushrooms foreshadowing the sacrament of bread and wine and elevating the communicant to a direct encounter with God. [that's ironic to make that claim; actually, Wasson's major flaw was that he (and Allegro) failed to ask how present psychoactives were throughout Christian history -mh]
the only problem with ... this was the the veladas were not
religious ceremoonies. framed within ...
blend of Catholic and pagan ritual actions -- prayers to Christian saints and
Mazatec spirits ... -- they were not performed as an act of worship, or to
induce mystical experienceces of God: ... healing. ... To find God, Sabina --
like all good Catholics -- went to
Wasson ... hope that the cult had not died out entirely. [this married couple -- Wasson & Letcher -- are together blind to the idea of "continuous origins"/ ongoing rediscovery which again draws from the indications left by the previous generations of re-discoverers; the limits of Letcher's worldview & evidence he considers, are precisely the limits of Wasson's worldview which he aims to rebut -mh]
Wasson ... His ... ideas concerning the origins of religion ... are unfeasible, and should be rejected. His ethnography ... was poorly conducted, ... and misrepresented the practices he observed. ... he surrounded himself with alliances of yes-men rather than submitting his ideas to peer review. .. he was insulated from the prcess of self-criticism and self-reflection that the discipline of anthropology underwent ...
He wanted to be remembered as the man who, under his own setaem, discovered that the true origins of religion lay in a prehistoryc musroom cult. His claim was misplaced, .... He may have failed in his attempt to prove the existence of an ancient mushrooming cult, .... that the origins of religion lay in an ancient magic mushroom cult. [Does that wording accurately describe Wasson's view? It's so odd to represent the entheogen theory of religious origins this way, as a single specific cult; the single-origin fallacy -mh]
119-137 covers Siberian shamans (not very relev.)
(ideas of shamanism; transitional passage about such ideas in modern scholarship)
scholars came ... to the mistaken coinclusion that ... the muushroom belonged solely to the domain of the shaman. ... Wasson ... book ... SOMA ... proposed that ... the ... plant Soma, ... Rig Veda, .... fly-agarric, and his 'revelation' that there had been a mushroopm cult practised by Indo-Europeans, as well as by Siberian shamans, , sent shockwaves through academia. ... eager to find historical self-justification in foundational narratives:...
(chapter is Soma)
photos taken by Allan Richardson. ... [Wasson] encouraged ... Richardson to 'tinker' with the photos to make them more persuaviseve suggest that he was less than confident about the strentgth of this ... argument ... ... All the other photos were ... cropped and treated so that they would emphasizse the chosen qualitties.
... the main course of Wasson's thesiss ... meaty clues to the identity of Soma. [no roots stems seeds], all of which point to Soma being a mushroom. ... come from the moutains, ... invading Aryans ... Scarcity ... the Soma sacrifice took place over a matter of hours, ... crushed to produce a tawny-coloured liquid. ... ruled out an alcoholic beverage, which would take much longer to ferment; ... photographic evidence ... express a tawny liquid.
The centrepiece of his argument ... urine. ... Siberians. ... no other known drug had ever been recycled in this manner.
suggesting that knowledge of Soma had spread overland into
La Barre believed that Siberian shamanism was the original
ur-religion, ... crossed into the
Brough ... existence of Soma in two forms, were overly sensitive to the vagaries of translation; other ... renditions ... eroded ... Wasson's certainties. Only one hymn ... the effects of Soma -- hymn 10.119 ... the artifice of its structure ... precluded its having been written under Soma's influence. [problematic assumptions there; poems are written by people, over time, who exist in multiple states over time -mh] ... wondered why a mushroom had to have been put through such an elaborate process of crushing, mixing and filtering ... could simply have eaten it, or chewed its dried remains. ... most damning of all, ... nowhere does the text state that priests actually *drank* the flowing Soma urine.
[Letcher is married to Wasson: this could describe Letcher: -mh]
... Wasson ... delivered his own, somewhat bombastic
counterblast; but in spite of harnessing all his considerable rhetorical
skills, his rather puffed-up _Rejoinder..._ added little in the way of new
evidence that might have overcome the
Wasson disagreed profoundly. Implicit in all his work ... that hallucinogenically inspired gnosis always transcends linguistic and cultural boundaries and is therefore universal. [here Letcher goes into extremist mode, while himself striking a more centrist, moderate posture, to portray, and probably misrepresent, Wasson as an extremist and thus act like Letcher has disproved the entheogen theory which supposedly is equated with such extremist position -mh]
[examine entire above paragraph -mh]
In any case, the evidence from Siberia ... on the Soma question was altogether too partisan ... exagerated the extent to which the fly-agaric was used within shamanism, and underplayed the extent to which it was used recreationally [he's probably is using this minor correction of detail to appear as if he disproved Wasson entirely, or the mushroom evidence as nothing but modern wishful thinking -mh]
it is hard to imagine why the Vedic priests would have written such ecstatic poems about a mushroom that rendered on e so insensible, and distorted perception to such a degreee, when the majority of Siberian shamans had the discerment to avoid it altogether. [as elsewhere, there are lots of problems in that passage -mh]
(spread of religious use of Amanita)
a prehistoric mushroom cult [if Wasson says that, he commits the single-point-of-origin fallacy -- did Wasson actually assert that, and if so, how much? -mh]
[We need Wasson's Rejoinder, and Bough, to see if Letcher misrep's Wasson's argumentation, regarding the model "all shamanism spread from single point" -mh]
(bottom of p. 149 continues re: amanita's prehistoric spread, re "Aryan migration" hypothesis)
[All this attention to the mechanism of spread is wonderful, but can it effect a disproof of the entheogen theory of the origin of religion? What does Letcher consider the entheogen theory to be, exactly., when he claims that the mushroom/enthoegen theory of religious origins is naught but a modern myth? Sure, there are stupid variant versions of the enthoegen theory, but disproving a lame version, or a detail of mechanism of spread, is different than disproving the essential theory. -mh]
Wasson ... failed to spot the ... circularity in his own
argument. ... '... we can draw parallels
with ... [Soma and] ...
[Letcher asserts that
Wasson uses Siberia to prove Soma = amanita and then covertly turns around to
say amanita spread from India/Soma to
... it is Wasson's tortuous connections that appear astonishing.
Wasson .. based his theory not upon ... evidence ... in the field, but ... evidence of linguistics and texts ... in the library. The picture ... of a supposed, ancient, ur-religion was altogether too simplistic, too static, too monolithic. He underestimated the speed with which religion and culture change, adapt and evolve, and their sheer compexity and particularity. [this in fact leaves or opens lots of opportunity for entheogen use in all rleigions - but Letcher continues with a definite, closed, negative, anti-enttheogen conclusion -mh] ... he was too eager to shoehorn the data to fit his ready-formed thesis, when other more parsimonious, but less exotic, explanations would have sufficed. The idea, then, of a fly-agaric-bassed gnostic religion spreading [note it's the *spread* mechanism under critique here, *not* the essential entheogen theory -mh] ever eastwards is too problematic to be accepted. ... until Brough's objections are met the ... fly-agaric theory must remain highly questionable. [the word 'questionable' is ambiguous -mh] There exists no shortage of plausible alternative candidate plants, ...
Brough [questioned by poetry/hymns of Rig V would contain botanical info about identity of Soma plant]: after all, the Christian liturgy does not contain botanical descriptions of the vine. [has Letcher read Heinrich's book? -mh]
(pp. 151-152 covers various psychoactive plants candidates for Soma)
(Letcher presents a psychoactive-styled Chinese verse, says it's about tea, so:)
should serve as a salutary reminder that ecstasies need not be hallucinogeniccally inspired:
[but Letcher chooses to label kykeon as "mushroom tea", supporting the reading of this tea (kykeon) as being intentionally alluding to psychoactive "tea" -- Letcher's overconfident use of the Chinese verse is as weak as arguing that the Eucahraist wine sounds like psychoactive but we know it's only regular wine. It all begs the question of how we read, under what screen of assumptions? and raises the question of influence, how drug poetry influences and inspires the culture at large. Do we choose to read under an altered-state assumption-lens, or a prosaic ordinary-state assumption-lens? That is the question. Don't assume what is to be proved; consider both assumption-sets instead, with paradigmatic self-integrity when applying either. Only then can you fairly judge between the two assumption-sets. -mh]
... that European culture and civilisation were actually rooted in psychedelica, ... [specifically the Amanita] ... it is now so widely and dearly held that Soma was the fly-agaric that only a major paradigm shift will unseat it from popular belief.
[Letcher too much identifies the entheogen theory with Wasson's particular quirky version of it. Letcher is married to Wasson and assumes that Wasson is the be-all and end-all of entheogen theory. -mh]
... Rig Veda ... was elastic enough for a psychedelic
reading to be plausible, and not so far removed as to be unintelligible or
irrelevant. Wasson's speculations ...
triggered ... other, less cautious minds to wonder whether holy scriptures
cloer to home [Letcher here skips
Wasson's Genesis coverage, as if Wasson = ancient
(starts ch. 9, Chemistry and Conspiracy)
Hebrew [relig. used Soma] - Heinrich
mushroom imagery everywhere .. Arthur
fly-agaric conspiracy theories, ... assumed that anything resumbling, hoever remotely, a mushroom in art, mytholgy, ltiterature or material remains -- must indeed have been a mushroom and, moreover, 'evidence' of a secret fly-agaric cult. [Letcher fixates on fly-agaric -- married to Wasson, can't see beyond him, or doesn't want to see beyond him -mh] absence of any corroborative evidence -- plant names or botanical descirption, accounts of accompanying rituals, modes of preparation, pharmacological effects -- simply indicates how sacred, and how secret, the mushroom must have been. In the topsy-turvy world of the conspiracy theorist, absence ... indicates presence ....
[Letcher is pointing out that it's easy to understand if entheogens were totally secret and hidden and encoded deeply, and it's easy to understand if enths were completely out in the open and frankly discussed -- but what he objects to, per the Liberty Cap in the German church door, is the possiblitility that enths were *mostly* secret, *mostly* hidden, *mostly* obscured. This is perhaps the most key, pivotal, important point to analyze, the biggest explaining that the entheogen theory has to do. Not that hard, but we *do* need to lay out the argument regarding this, in a definitive way. If entheogens are so central in insipriing man's religious activity throughout history, why are we limited to the hundreds and few thousands of explicit, prosaic, straightforward examples of evidence we have? That most key question then immediately raises the counter-question: is it true that there is little evidence, or, are we moderns merely blind to it and it's all over? The real situation is currently not known, because we have barely begun even trying to look for such evidence. The entheogen theory *does* have some challenging difficulties to explain; there *are* reasonable objections to it, to be overcome -- as most theories initially face. In the history of theory replacement, it's been actually dirty: one theory that people hold, but aren't satisfied with, is replaced by another theory that people are also disastisfied with; the latter isn't perfect, but it does have an overall greater degree of explanatory coherence *than* the old theory. Any anti-entheogen theory of religion (or mytholody or shamanism) has deeply dissatisfying problems and poor explanatory coherence, but the comparison with the new candidate is always unfairly biased in favor of the old system and its flaws, flaws which are so familair that they seem relatively acceptable. -mh]
... Ruck ... quest to uncover ... references to the fly-agaric in ancient Greek literature. [isn't Letcher projecting his own Wasson-worldview fixation onto Ruck, reducing them both to Amanita-obsessed? was Ruck really so amanita-monofocused?] Thus, he 'found' the fly-agaric in Euripides' play The Bacchae (the intoxicated revels of the god Dionysus' devotees ... followed fly-agaric feasting); ... Jason and the Argonauts (the Golden Fleece was actually a mushroom ...); trialls of Hercules (... 'apples' of the Hesperides).
... Dobberstein ... to do the same for Buddhism ... as musch food as he can place on the point of a needle. ... pancake ... shape of the fly-agaric
But the most influential of all these conspiracies was surely the best-selling [Allegro].
[Allegro *does* frame early Christian amanita use as a secret covert conspiracy, under the assumption that psychoactives use was highly deviant, rare, exceptional -- opposite of the maximal entheogen theory. -mh]
(covers Allegro's extreme reliance on speculative philology, Allegro's anti-church motive, his desire to retaliate and demolish Christianity altogether -- this critique is of spotty relevance to the entheogen theory)
[Allegro's version of early Christian history has problems; it's garbled, but this doesn't mean the entheogen theory of Christian origins -- an ongoing usage -- is incorrect. -mh]
(unclear, in a manner like Wasson's writing style:)
John King's ... lengthy rebuttal ... while his belief in the literal truth of the orthodox Christian message may now jar with some contemporary sensibilities, his painstaking and elegant demolition of Allegro's edifice remains essential reading for anyone still convinced of the role of the fly-agaic mushroom in world religions. [certain hypotheses are] far from proven [that doesn't necessarily amount to "demolish" -- theories are not so black-and white all-certain or all-demolished -mh] ... the fly-agaric and its host-tree species are entirely absent from the flora of the Middle East. ... the absurdity of the notion that such a revolutionary idea [he's as vague as Wasson's writing-style here -mh] could have been kept hidden so effectively for so long: if so, it would make it the best-kept secrete in the world. 'If a man unders the influence of, or out of devotion to, the fly-agaric could dream up what we call the gospels,' ... 'then we need more men under the influence of the fungus.'
[both King and Allegro are garbled and limited in their idea-combinations here; King is married to his opponent Allegro and can't see beyond him. -mh]
As King noted, 'to a large extent ... we orthodox Christians have only ourselvees to blame for making a fertility religion seem desirable'. [or making a drug religion seem incomparably more desirable than ordinary-state-based modern Christianity. -mh]
Plaincourault fresco, Wasson eden tree, end of Soma book, Allegro, Arthur, Heinrich.
Wasson had, rather regretfully one presumes, already discarded this notion when art historians convinced him [he was eager to be convinced by authoritarian entheogen-deniers -mh] that the frescoo depicted nothing more exotic than a common, if bizarre, Romanesque stylizsation of a tree. Allegro dropped the fresco from the abridged [note: abridged -mh] paperback version of the book, printed in 1973, so one assumes that he too was eventually brought round, but the myth lingers on [Letcher has in no way, in no sense, refuted the amanita reading of the Plaincourault fresco. He has no basis on which to dub it as merely a "myth". This is rhetoric, not argumentation & reasoning from evidence. But isn't this always the case with regared to Wasson? Like most readers, Letcher hastily skims, but doesn't stop and critically read Wasson, when it comes to Plaincourault and the question of use of entheogen thru Christian history. -mh]
[entire page is quotable, of top pertinence]
(argues that amanita is a poor, unreliable entheogen; Letcher uses this generally as evidence against the specific Amanita theory of relig origins. That's also covered on 2nd half of p. 167)
there have been ... intentional fly-agaric consumption throughout the last three hundred years, but always on a small scale, and always localised. The knowledge either came from serendipitous discovery or slipped out from the academy, for a few scientists experimented with the mushroom if only to see what all the fuss was about. [what about early-modern scientists, which = Western Esotericism enthusiasts, and Heinrich's relatively thorough coverage of that? What of the theme of secrecy and encoding in Alchemy just prior to modernity? Has Letcher read Heinrich's book, or only skimmed it? -mh]
The conviction that you have ... unmasked the 'secret truth' behind Christianity is ... empowering. [so Letcher what is *your* explanation of Christian origins? Are you endorsing the received view, the Jesus Seminar, Eusebian history, Jesus as teacher, Jesus as myth? Is the truth about Christianity *not* tantamount to a "secret truth", but that we should take it at some face value? The above is an empty observation, because it motivates scholarship in general; it is true but it merely amounts to a truism, a tautology about scholarly research in general. -mh] In a bizarre way, one feels elevated from the ranks of mediocrity for having uncovered the liberating truth. It turns one into ... able to spot the hidden connections that those in epitemological authority refuse to entertain.
nothing else ... on dry land ... is red with white spots. [hasn't he read the books about the topic? A fawn is reddish with white spots. Dionysus' followers tear apart fawns with their bare hands and eat them raw. -mh]
As the one mushroom we all recognise, it has become [and was, to early Christians -mh] the representative of all of its kind. [meaning all psychoacives/entheogens, not meaning merely all mushrooms such as non-psychoactive mushrooms -mh] ... [because of urban living] we have endowed the fly-agaric, the archetypal mushroom [no -- the archetypal entheogen -mh], with all the peculiar qualities that the fungi in eneral [no -- entheogens/visionary plants in general] have come to represent for us. Like them, it seems to invite speculation and wonder in equal measure.
archetypal region ... from which the Western mythological wellstream had sprng ... the figure that appeared throughout ... mythology, ... much of ... art and mythology was derived ultimately from mushroom visions? So thought Heim and Thevenard ...
[Heim thought that mushrooms are] close to the totemic origins of magic. ... encounter with ... the ... wellspring of shamanism, mythology and the creative impulse ...
Harner ... Furst ... Flesh of the Gods ... Hallucinogens and Shamanism ...
Harner ... his ... errorneous piece on the ... use of psychoactive flying ointments by Euroopenan 'witches'. [Letcher is inconsistent: earlier he emphasizes complexity of cultures, against monoculture, but now argues simplistically and absolutely that witches using scopalamine ointments didn't exist, or that practice didn't exist at all, and everyone was simply Christians, not pagans. Black-and-white argumentation here, though earlier, Letcher posed as a sophisticate highlighting cultural complexity and belittling Wasson's monoculture assumption. This is kettle logic, the shotgun approach: throw all possible strategies at the opponent and see what sticks, never mind self-consistency. -mh]
[Graves & Wasson both think] myths were attenuated memories of actual historical events, not psychological processes [the expression "actual historical events" is vague/ambig. -- could mean 1-time events, or could mean a recurring typical cultural practice -mh]
(pp. 231- 237 covers Robert Graves)
use of ... mushrooms in the anceint world ... on the basis of 'poetic' leaps of faith ... that the fly-agaric had been used as a sacrament in the cult of Dionysus, in early Judaeo-Christan faiths, and by the Iron Age Druids.
Graves ... the reason why there were so many 'similarities'
between the various ancient descriptions of Elysium [paradise -mh] was that a common hallucinogenic experience lay
behind them. It is not necessary to
reiterate the reason why this is unlikely to be true [yes it is necessary -mh]
[with psilocybin mushrooms,
At one point, he grasped the knoweldge of good and evil:' my mind suddenly became so agile and unfettered that I felt capable of solving any problem in the world' ... the sensation of wisdom ...
He was terrified that the mushroom short cut might ... jeopardise his ordinary day-to-day connection with the Muse. [Graves exhibits a silent assumption here that the Muse was not accessed by visionary plants in antiquity, as the normal, culturally integrated channel of inspiration. Visionary plants are not a recently opened short cut; they were ever the main path. -mh]
[Graves concluded] that the mushroom should be restored to its 'original ... position in religion', administtered at puberty by way of initiation, at marriage to deepen the lovers' bond, and in old age to prepart the way for dying.
[Letcher switches between pointing out the tentativeness of the amanita theory of relig origins, and himself leaping to the firm "conclusion", stated as a certain fact, that the amanita or mushroom entheogen theory is mistaken. How does he leap from "uncertain" to "certainly false"? Illegitimately, rhetorically, unconvincingly. Letcher keeps jumping from "uncertain" to "certainly false" (or "certainly not the case"), many times in the book. From "unproved" to "proved untrue", or to "disproved". He might prove that the amanita theory is an unproved theory, but he does not *disprove* the amanita theory, and certainly comes nowhere near disproving the entheogen theory (he doesn't really engage the latter as such). His own anti-entheogen-theory position is at least as uncertain and unfounded as the entheogen theory, even if some aspects of some variants of the entheogen theory are likely incorrect. -mh]
a supposed tradition -- invented ... that proclaimed psilocybe musrhrooms to have been safely used throughout antiquity.
[It's interesting that some of the most compelling evidence for the entheogen theory is art portrayals *in Christianity*, *of *psilocybe mushrooms*. These two appear often in his book, yet he's barely covered that confluence. It's a cultural blind spot: magic mushrooms in Christian art. You'd think this confluence would be the *first* thing entheogen scholars would look for, the hardest. -mh]
The magic mushroom slotted neatly into this ... mythology, for hadn't the witches, the Druids, the stone-circle builders all used it, and hadn't they all been oppressed in tern by Roman invaders tand then Christian missionaries? [There's a silent assumption here that Roman culture lacked entheogens, and that Christianity was simply and entirely anti-entheogen. -mh]
The rediscovery of the mushroom in Britain [his wording
ought to be clearer for this key word - by 'rediscovery' Letcher must mean the
discovery that the mushroom was used in Mexico, and was stumbled upon in
isolated incidents in pre-modern Britain -mh], therefore, went hand in hand
with a supposed history that placed its use in an unbroken countercultural [who says "unbroken" or
"countercultural", and are these qualifiers or scenarios essential to
the entheogen or mushroom theory? -mh] tradition stretching back to the
dawn of time. [I advocate a more useful a "mycelial network" model of the
use and tradition of visionary plants -- it is an erratic tradition, like individual
plant specimens that are spread by seeds: each somewhat self-originating, and
somewhat based on previous and surrounding instances of using psychoactive
plants in various cultural contexts. -mh] ... it was a history that made
perfect sense, but of course it was a recent invention concocted by Wasson,
made irresistible by
[Letcher mentions a novel "The Mists of Avalon" that makes the cliched oversimplistic move of pitting visionary-plant using paganism against a simply anti-entheogen Christianity -mh] Without spotting that Bradley was holding up a mirror to their own beliefs, festival goers read her book and accepted it as gospel. [Letcher is ungenerous here. The readers believed the same as the author; this does not imply that they are gullible and uncritical. -mh]
McKenna ... the possible role of mushrooms in human history and evolution. [out of Wasson, Allegro, and McKenna, none of them ask the extent of use of visionary plants throughout Christian history, after earliest Christianity . It is unthinkable to all of them; the question cannot even be considered by them. Thus, not by their follower Letcher, either. For this, Heinrich's book is best. -mh] ... his Food of the Gods: In Search of the Original Tree of Knowledge. ... [contains] a 'conspiracy-theory'-type invention of a predsumed psilocybin mushrooming tradition straetching back to the Palaeolithic.
(the "evolutionary advantage of mushroom use" theory)
Patriarchal, mead-quaffing, 'dominator' cultures invaded [does "mead" here imply beer, or visionary plants in their berserker aspect, or visionary plants? -mh]
... it ... streches credulity to believe that a bemushroomed hunter could actually pick up a spear, let alone walk or hunt. [Letcher formerly asserted that mushrooms could possibly be thought of by any way by any society, we can't know how they used or thought about mushrooms; he now contradicts his own arguments: now, he asserts -- against the LSD-no-hitter and against another case of high performance that is reported in this very book -- that mushrooms must make ancient hunters inept. Kettle logic; inconsistent, shotgun argumentation tactics. -mh] ... Yes, mushrooms might have been used by our ancestors, ... but then again, they might ... not have been. At present, there is absolutely no way of knowing. [by "ancestors" here he means, like Wasson, to restrict our thinking to pre-history. -mh] [Letcher repeats the pattern: "I have shown that we can't prove the mushroom theory of religious origins, therefore I have proved that the mushroom theory of religious origins is false." -mh]
(cognitive dissociation -- iPod shuffle model; nature of novelty thru rearrangement vs. external )
to take on the McKenna (= psil.?) mantle: Daniel Pinchbeck, Jeremy Narby, Erik Davies, Giorgio Samorini, Christian Ratsch, Simon Powell, Kat Harrison.