The heart of the religious ritual is mysticism, argues Brian Muraresku in "The Immortality Key."
- The concept of "dying before you die" lies at the heart of religious tradition, argues Brian Muraresku.
- This secret ritual connects the Eleusinian Mysteries with the origins of Christianity.
- In "The Immortality Key," Muraresku speculates that psychedelic wine could have been the original Christian Eucharist.
Brian Muraresku explains the potential role of psychedelics in Christianity<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9d12252d13cebc4f3ca73f98e47ba60b"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/jkL2DLBM1j0?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Muraresku has been getting a lot of press since the book's publication, in part boosted by his appearance on Joe Rogan's podcast. The classicist speculates that the Christian Eucharist is rooted in the Eleusinian Mysteries, which may have involved the ceremonial ingestion of wine spiked with psychedelic ingredients. The idea of a psychedelic Christianity is not new, but Muraresku brings a detailed level of scholarship and compassion to the topic.</p><p>As he told me in a <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0aogj-08AMo&t=222s" target="_blank">recent interview</a>, the "immortality key" is not psychedelics, but the concept of dying before dying. He opens his book with a Greek inscription: "If you die before you die / You won't die when you die." Muraresku, a devout Catholic raised in the Jesuit tradition, kicks off the discussion with an atheist from the Johns Hopkins trial. Despite her lack of faith, she felt an "overwhelming, all-encompassing love" that helped her deal with the inevitable consequences of mixed-cell ovarian cancer—really, the inevitable consequences of being an animal bound to die. </p><p>The Hopkins study went mainstream when Michael Pollan <a href="https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/02/09/trip-treatment" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote about it</a> in the New Yorker. The results were stunning: 70 percent of participants felt a single dose of psilocybin produced the most meaningful (or among the top five) experience of their lives. Interestingly, the same result occurred after the famous Marsh Chapel experiment, when Timothy Leary and friends dosed Harvard Divinity School grad students with psilocybin; a quarter-century later, all but one rated the event in their top five. </p><p>Not only do you die before you die while under the influence of psychedelics, but you also gain a new perspective on life. The ego death that occurs during the ritual changes their orientation about existence. And what good is a religious experience if it can't be applied to living? </p><p>As Muraresku told me, </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"[Psychedelics] is one tool in the Spiritual Toolkit. What I mean by 'the key' is in Greek, which is preserved at St. Paul's monastery: <em>if you die before you die, you won't die when you die</em>. <em>That's</em> the actual key. It's not psychedelics, it's not drugs; it's this concept of navigating the liminal space between what you and I are doing right now, and dreaming and death. In that state, the mystics and sages tell us, is the potential to grasp a very different view of reality."</p>Muraresku taps into a growing consensus that humans are "wired" for mystical experiences. He points to lead Johns Hopkins researcher, Roland Griffiths, who <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=81-v8ePXPd4" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">believes</a> that mysticism is included in our operating system at birth. You just have to turn it on. While the effects of psychedelics can be replicated through the more arduous path of meditation, in the right set and setting anyone can tap into mystical states of consciousness. Psychedelics provide a shortcut to these states.
Credit: Galyna Andrushko / Adobe Stock<p>Western religious leaders, especially those in Christianity and Islam, treat their prophets as standalone figures. The best you can hope for is being granted access to some special place after you die. Gnostics and Sufis—sects within those faiths that attempt to replicate their prophet's mysticism—are considered outcasts by mainstream religious figures. In some circumstances, they're outlawed, threatened, or even killed for their supposed heresy. </p><p>Sufis might spin for hours in ecstatic rapture to reach this mystical state, but as Muraresku's extensive research shows, psychedelics also tap into this "secret" knowledge that he believes to be at the heart of Christian—and if we extrapolate, <em>religious</em>—tradition. And to him, this is the essence of the religion, not a byproduct of the real faith. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"I didn't write this book to be anti-organized religion. In some cases, it's the exact opposite. In the intro, I mentioned Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk who is a hero of mine. He talks about the tension between mystics and the dogma and doctrine of organized faith. I don't think you can have one without the other. The balance, as Brother David says, is to rediscover that original visionary power and <em>live in it as a lived experience</em>. This is what Joseph Campbell says of religion being a <em>lived experience</em>. We're talking about emotional potential. That's how the great anthropologist Clifford Geertz defines religion: these powerful, pervasive, long-lasting moods and motivations. That only happens when you're talking about something that gets inside of people's bones. That's what the mystical experience is; it's how these religions are born. Brother David says it's virtually impossible to start a religion without mystical experience, like Moses in the burning bush, Paul on the road to Damascus, or Peter, in Acts, caught up in a trance."</p><p>Campbell's conversation with Bill Moyers in "The Power of Myth" nicely ties together this idea:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"People say that what we're all seeking is a meaning for life. I don't think that's what we're really seeking. I think that what we're seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive."</p><p>The mythologist also advocated for a reformation of religion every generation so that the faith speaks to the times. This is effectively what Muraresku advocates for in "The Immortality Key": an honest conversation regarding the historical circumstances that birthed the world's most-followed religion in the hopes of applying the foundational lessons to our current reality. If that means a psychedelic ritual that shows you how to die before you die so that you may better know how to live, then it's time to rethink the role of the sacrament. </p><p>Mysticism is a universal phenomenon. The "eternal return" Mircea Eliade wrote about has been experienced throughout history in disparate regions of the world. As Strassman's and Griffiths's work shows, we retain the capability of dying before dying. In fact, current research on psilocybin, LSD, iboga, DMT, and ayahuasca show that these substances are helping people gain a perspective of their lives, be it in depression treatment, addiction recovery, or easing the pain of hospice care. A little mysticism goes a long way. </p><p>Let's move beyond this notion that mysticism only applies to a chosen few. In fact, let's reconsider the role of consciousness in general. Every religion has its own take on what happens after we die. Yet we have tools at our disposal to show us how to exist now: a living religion that speaks to the entire planet. </p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Facebook</a>. His new book is</em> "<em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08KRVMP2M?pf_rd_r=MDJW43337675SZ0X00FH&pf_rd_p=edaba0ee-c2fe-4124-9f5d-b31d6b1bfbee" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy</a>."</em></p>
Historian Rutger Bregman argues that the persistent theory that most people are monsters is just wrong.
- How have humans managed to accomplish significantly more than any other species on the planet? Historian Rutger Bregman believes the quality that makes us special is that we "evolved to work together and to cooperate on a scale that no other species in the whole animal kingdom has been able to do."
- Pushing back against the millennia-old idea that humans are inherently evil beneath their civilized surface, which is known as 'veneer theory', Bregman says that it's humanity's cooperative spirit and sense of brotherhood that leads us to do cruel deeds. "Most atrocities are committed in the name of loyalty, and in the name of friendship, and in the name of helping your people," he tells Big Think. "That is what's so disturbing."
- The false assumption that people are evil or inherently selfish has an effect on the way we design various elements of our societies and structures. If we designed on the assumption that we are collaborative instead, we could avoid the "self-fulfilling prophecy" of selfishness.
Synchronous movement seems to help us form cohesive groups by shifting our thinking from "me" to "we."
- Muscular bonding, a term coined by the veteran and historian William McNeill, describes how individuals engaged in synchronous movement often experience feelings of euphoria and connection to the group.
- Psychologists have proposed that muscular bonding, or interpersonal entrainment, is a group-level adaptation that helped early human groups outcompete other groups.
- Muscular bonding can help people form cohesive groups, but it could come at cost.
Muscular bonding and the 'hive switch'<p>McNeill thought there was more to drilling than meets the eye, something beyond forcing soldiers into compliance and conformity. He called it "muscular bonding." The term describes how individuals engaged in synchronous movement experience feelings of euphoria and connection to the group.</p><p>This phenomenon, McNeill said, is "far older than language and critically important in human history, because the emotion it arouses constitutes an indefinitely expansible basis for social cohesion among any and every group that keeps together in time."</p><p>Since McNeill first described muscular bonding, researchers have been trying to better understand the phenomenon and how it affects group dynamics. In the book "The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion", the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt proposed a bold hypothesis: muscular bonding serves as a kind of "switch" that, when activated, helps individuals transcend selfishness to act in the interests of their group.</p><p>To illustrate this idea, Haidt said humans are a lot like chimpanzees (self-interested) and a bit like bees (group-interested, existing to sustain the hive). He framed muscular bonding as a "hive switch" that pushes us away from chimp-like behavior toward bee-like behaviors. This ability to "lose ourselves (temporarily and ecstatically)" would help explain why people, under the right conditions, can come together in an "all for one, one for all" mentality. It'd help explain why some soldiers sacrifice themselves in battle for the group.</p>
Forming cohesive groups<p>Over the past two decades, psychologists have conducted various experiments on muscular bonding, also called interpersonal entrainment. These studies generally involved groups of people doing physical activities (or simply imagining them) synchronously or asynchronously, and then playing economic games with each other, or rating how much they like or trust the people with whom they've entrained.</p><p>A <a href="https://www.degruyter.com/view/journals/psych/1/1/article-p273.xml" target="_blank">2019 review of research on interpersonal entrainment</a> (IPE) found that people generally report higher levels of deindividualization after engaging in IPE. In other words, they view themselves more as a group member than an individual. What's more, some studies suggest that engaging in IPE can also increase performance in domains related to memory, attention and physical movement.</p><p>Together, the research suggests that muscular bonding helps individuals form cohesive and effective groups. It's easy to see how this would be an advantageous group-level adaptation in human evolution: The tribe who's better able to move together toward shared goals is likely to outcompete less coherent tribes. Then, individuals in the successful group passed down genetic traits, making future generations more likely to engage in the same kinds of cohesive behaviors. (That's one idea, at least.)</p>
Heard about the phenomenon of FNE, or 'first night effect'?
Have you ever woken up in a new place and noted with disappointment that you are still tired?
Schools have become captivated by the idea that students must learn a set of generalized critical-thinking skills to flourish in the contemporary world.