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>
In "The Immortality Key," Brian Muraresku speculates that the Eucharist could have once been more colorful.
The Connection Psychedelics Have to Early Christianity, Christmas<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="72275b24cf5d5ef9a42648bd565da0e0"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/XS5qjEXS6oM?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 was drawn into this research due to the mystical concept of dying before dying, as expressed during the Mysteries of Eleusis. He uncovered parallel narratives while conducting research with God's librarian in the Vatican Secret Archives—a research trip few people ever have an opportunity to experience.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"This is something preserved in St. Paul's monastery, for example: <em>if you die before you die, you won't die when you die</em>. That's the 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 tell us, is the potential to grasp a very different view of reality."</p><p>Something funny happened on the way to the Archives, however. Muraresku, who has never taken a psychedelic drug, read about terminally-ill patients <a href="https://maps.org/news/multimedia-library/3012-how-psychedelic-drugs-can-help-patients-face-death" target="_blank">having a similar revelation</a> after ingesting psilocybin. "Dying before dying" succinctly describes what they felt; the overwhelming sensations prepared them to actually die with confidence and grace. Could this be the same experience discovered by initiates at Eleusis and, later, early Christians? </p><p>The key to immortality might be dying before dying, and psychedelics appear to be one method for unlocking this mystery. </p><p>Muraresku spends the bulk of 400 pages chasing down archaeological and scriptural evidence for spiked wine. The wine and wafer of today is a far cry from the <em>kukeon</em> of the ancient Greeks, drunk by pilgrims, who were given the title <em>epoptes</em>, "the one who has seen it all." That's a heavy ask for a grape. </p><p>But if you were to mix that grape with blue water lily (with its psychoactive compounds, apomorphine and nuciferin), henbane, lizards—ancestral food choices that put Brooklyn hipsters to shame—or ergot, the fungal disease that gives LSD its kick, you might just "see it all." As Muraresku points out, the Greek language is descriptively rich and extensive, yet these philosophers somehow never invented a word for "alcohol." Their chalices weren't for wine alone. </p>
The Telesterion at the Archaeological site of Eleusis ( or "Elefsis) or "Elefsina", Attica, Greece
Credit: Iraklis Milas / Adobe Stock<p>While he calls psychedelics "just one, perhaps very tiny piece" of early Christian rituals, it could be an essential one. Sadly, archaeochemistry isn't the most funded discipline, especially after asking the Vatican to hand over guarded relics in hopes of discovering trace amounts of psychedelics. And yet, even with those restrictions, Muraresku gains access to the Vatican Secret Archives and jet sets with a sympathetic Father Francis through the Louvre and Rome in search of potential connections in the literature and art.</p><p>There are plenty. While the gospel writers were busy writing what would become the world's most lasting bestseller, Dioscorides was penning his unforgettable recipe book, "Da meteria medica." The five-volume drug manual's influence lasted for 1,500 years before Renaissance botanists usurped his reign. Regardless, Dioscorides included cocktails spiked with plants, herbs, and toxins, some of which inspire a hallucinogenic—some would say religious—sentiment.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"It's no mistake that the Eucharist is described as the 'drug of immortality' by the early Church fathers because there was this sense of really sophisticated botanical understanding that goes all the way back to Homer. Obviously, it goes back a lot further, and so part of the reason I wrote the book is to show people that within Western civilization—at its roots, in fact—is this very pharmacopoeia. This tradition was certainly there, and it begs the question of how prevalent and widespread it really was."</p><p>Add to this already riveting tale the fact that the gatekeepers of Eleusis were women—a practice Christianity abandoned. Women were likely the distributors of the spiked beverages that helped initiates "see it all." Modern precedent exists, though not in American Christianity. The Western world was introduced to psilocybin after R Gordon Wasson sat in on a ceremony led by the <em>curandera</em> María Sabina. Likewise, ayahuasca is called "godmother" for a reason.</p><p>We live in a world that went from honoring goddesses to hunting witches, though we shouldn't glorify ancient Greece. The first democracy didn't allow women to vote and likely didn't let them partake in epic plays. Men performed as women in the Tragedies. Highborn women often become slaves in these plays, such as with Cassandra, Hecuba, and Tecmessa. Misogyny is ancient. While Greek city folk were jacked up on testosterone, Eleusis offered a different landscape. </p><p>Regardless, Christian leaders exiled women from both leadership and ritual. While in the Archives, Muraresku found evidence of at least 45,000 so-called witches being executed, with "countless more" tortured or imprisoned. The patriarchy initiated a pattern:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"[The leadership] wasn't just trying to rid Christianity of folk healers. It was trying to erase a system of knowledge that had survived for centuries in the shadows." </p>
Conspirituality interview with Brian Muraresku<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="667ddf5ba30218a0baefe066cf36c4f2"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/0aogj-08AMo?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>The knowledge was the pharmacological expertise these women had amassed over untold generations. The two banes of the Church—mind-altering substances that afford the initiate a mindset comparable (or, perhaps exactly akin) to prophets and sages and women, the holders of the Secrets—were swept up in one millennia-long cover-up. As Muraresku succinctly phrases it, "the Catholic Church started the War on Drugs." Perhaps the War on Women, too.</p><p>Perhaps they're two aspects of the same war. </p><p>Interestingly, this 12-year-long odyssey only deepened Muraresku's Catholicism, which is rooted in the Jesuit tradition. As he says, Christianity—a religion that was a cult for over 300 years before being catapulted onto the global stage—has always evolved. Could the Church possibly change again and offer the psychedelic sacrament that might lie at the heart of the religion? Is another Reformation possible? </p><p>As Muraresku concludes during our talk, each attempt to get back to the roots, beginning with Martin Luther and continuing right through to Pope Francis, is an analysis of the origins of the faith. To know your history is to understand where you're heading. Muraresku would like to see another step forward. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"There was no monolithic Christianity. Just like today, you look around and see 33,000 denominations of Christianity—a few of which include psychedelics as their sacrament, such as the Santo Daime or the Native American Church, which has some Christian syncretism to it. The possibility of a psychedelic sacrament in antiquity is not laughable. In fact, it's quite plausible according to some of the literature and data that's just beginning to emerge on the scientific front. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"When I look and see Hellenic Christianity that was very much at the roots of the Catholic Church, and the more I found that Greek influence underneath the Vatican—in some cases, literally, in the catacombs—the more I began to really love and appreciate what this was all about. The more I read the Greek and the more evidence that I see, the more in love with Christianity I become. Now, it might not be some people's definition of Christianity today, but again, if you just step back and take a very honest look at the Greek of the New Testament and the Greek landscape in which it emerged, it's a really powerful statement."</p><p>--<br></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>
All the fun of opening up a mummy, without the fear of unleashing a plague.
- Three long dead Egyptians recently had their CT images taken.
- The scans revealed what was, and was not, done during their mummification.
- The finds shed more light on how the Egyptians were inspired by the Greeks and Romans.
They look pretty good for being 2000.<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDc3OTczOS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMDM0OTA3OH0.-D0YZ-3earUCZ7IWMOR5B2ZAX2fUyyRvzEokjROgJM8/img.png?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C55%2C0%2C55&height=700" id="b55b2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e52682068e52705d2252c8ca1be19c18" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
The decorated images showing who the mummies used to be.
Credit: Zesch et al., PLOS One, 2020<p> The three mummies scanned are the only known examples of "stucco-shrouded portrait mummies." As opposed to being buried in a coffin, these three were placed on wooden boards then wrapped in a textile and a shroud. They were then decorated with plaster, gold, and a whole-body portrait revealing what they looked like, how they styled their hair, and what they wore in life. All three were once buried in Saqqara, the great Necropolis just south of <a href="https://www.livescience.com/painted-ancient-egyptian-mummies-ct-scan.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Giza</a>. <br> <br> They date back to the Late Roman Period in Egypt, and all three of them have had very exciting afterlives filled with stories about their discoveries and shifting ownership. Now, thanks to modern technology, we can learn about their lives. <br> <br> The CT scan shows that the man was between 25 and 30 years of age when he died and that he had several cavities and unerupted teeth. He was only 164 cm tall (around 5'4"). Several of his bones are broken, though this is believed to be the result of careless handling by whoever discovered the remains.</p><p>Most curiously, there is no evidence that his brain was removed during the mummification process, as was standard in other cases. It also seems that few embalming chemicals were used to preserve him. This suggests that he was just wrapped, painted, and buried and that dehydration is what kept his corpse so well preserved. <br> <br> The woman was between 30 and 40 years old and stood at 151 cm (4'9"). She shows signs of arthritis in her knees. Like many other Egyptians, she was buried in fine jewelry. Several necklaces appeared on the scan, suggesting she was well off. For reasons unknown, nails were also found in her abdomen. Like her male counterpart, her brain was not removed during mummification, <a href="https://www.sciencealert.com/archaeologists-finally-peer-inside-egyptian-mummies-first-found-in-1615" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">either</a>. <br> <br> The last mummy was that of a girl in her late teens. She showed signs of having a benign tumor on her back, and all of her internal organs were still intact. Her coffin contains hairpins, suggesting that she wore her hair up as depicted in her portrait. </p>
How does this change our understanding of Egyptian life and death?<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/bHV0My7KibM" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p> Finding hairpins with the remains is noteworthy, as only a few other such examples exist. It provides further evidence that ancient Egyptians wore their hair up. </p><p>Other mummies have been buried with coins, but in Egypt, the practice does not seem to go back to before Alexander the Great conquered the <a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0240900" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">area</a>. This suggests that the deceased had adopted elements of the Greeks' religion and brought along coins to pay Charon. </p><p>The find also sheds more light on how the Egyptians lived and died under Greek and later Roman rule and how their conquerors' beliefs and art styles influenced their religion. <br> <br> </p>
Christmas was banned in 1647 and rebellions broke out across the country.
The message matters more than the man.
- Early Christianity was a synthesis of Jewish and Greek ideas and rituals, though it's often presented as brand new.
- Jesus's teachings can predominantly be traced back to earlier apocalyptic Judaism.
- An important question persists: Is it the man or the message that really matters to modern Christians?
The Jesus of History versus the Christ of Faith<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="614301e8d96546a7012df19a1dc47a85"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/7VOMFjQfJ8w?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>These aren't the only contradictions, though what can you expect when four writers tackle one subject on hearsay over the course of decades?</p><p>There's also the question of narrative lineage. As Brian Muraresku writes in "The Immortality Key," the Church has gone to great lengths to make it appear as if Christianity emerged whole-cloth amid a world of pagan worship. In fact, the ruling Romans considered early Christians to be atheists due to their belief in only one God. Christians certainly held distinct beliefs, but they were also heavily influenced by their environment. </p><p>Most biblical stories have precedent. As Muraresku notes, you don't get to Jesus without Dionysus; Dionysus without El; El without Osiris; Osiris without a rich oral history that predates written language. In each case, the mythological archetype mattered most. With Christianity, an emphasis was placed on a<em> man</em>, which in some ways is also traceable to the Greeks. </p><p>As Edith Hamilton writes in her <a href="https://bookshop.org/books/mythology-timeless-tales-of-gods-and-heroes-75th-anniversary-illustrated-edition-e205cdf9-80ab-4771-96d9-90fc789dde2f/9780316438520" target="_blank">epic survey</a> on mythology, the Greek emphasis on human deities (in sculpture, painting, and story) broke from prior traditions, which dreamed up animal totems and animal-human hybrids. Christians merely took human worship to the next level, even though the roots of this practice are distinctly Greek. </p><p>As with all religions, Christianity was a cult for quite some time. Early Christian writers fused Jewish and Greek ideas during the Patristic Era to create their doctrines. Various Christologies were introduced to suit the temperament of each faithful tribe. After the Nicene Creed (325 CE) dubbed Jesus the "only-begotten Son of God," a host of competing Christian offshoots shook their head in agreement. The man finally usurped the myth, and the cult took form as a global religion. </p><p>Though Jesus is presented as revolutionary, his philosophical bent squares well with the apocalyptic prophets of Judaism, especially as presented in Second Isaiah. Jesus remixed a long-held Jewish belief in a heavenly kingdom on earth. Amos and First Isaiah feature plenty of discussion about speaking up for the poor and weak. The exploitation of the lower class had been a sin for at least seven centuries by the time Jesus took to the soapbox. If anything, Jesus was a synthesist, not a creationist, as was the writers that honored him. </p>
Credit: pronoia / Adobe Stock<p>This doesn't denigrate Jesus's role in any capacity. Instead, it grounds his humanity. Every religion is a synthesis of previous religions. As Muraresku shows, the Greek influence on Christian symbolism is too often overlooked. Understanding historical circumstances help us recognize the forces such prophets were fighting and provides context for their messages. Better to evolve a tradition than pretend it emerged from a vacuum.</p><p>As religious scholar Karen Armstrong <a href="https://bookshop.org/books/a-history-of-god-the-4-000-year-quest-of-judaism-christianity-and-islam/9780345384560" target="_blank">points out</a>, Christians seem particularly interested in the origins of their religion, certainly much more so than Buddhists, making Muraresku's research even more revealing: Why wouldn't you want to know about the pharmacological connection between Dionysus and Jesus in the early Church? If we're talking about the supposed world savior, would an honest biography really dampen our enthusiasm for the Eucharist? How much do <em>his</em> flesh and blood matter when the goal is to live his values in our time? </p><p>Christ has long been weighed down by false assumptions. German philosopher Hermann Samuel Reimarus was the first modern thinker to question myths around the historical Jesus. For example, he writes that Jesus never claimed to atone for the sins of mankind. That feature was added by St. Paul, arguably the real founder of Christianity. Reimarus <a href="https://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/C/bo3799466.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">writes</a> that Jesus isn't God, but a teacher of a "remarkable, simple, exalted and practical religion." </p><p>If we want to investigate Jesus's most pertinent messages—treat the poor and underserved with respect; question authority; refrain from hatred; love your neighbor as yourself—then the actual person is irrelevant. Many have espoused the same principles before and after Jesus. The man is second to the message, which, if you read his instructions closely, is how he'd likely want it. </p><p>If you think turning water into wine and walking on water is amazing, imagine the magic of universal basic income and healthcare for all. That's a practical and living religion we can all take part in.</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>