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LSD and Ololiuhqui
Postscriptum: The Secret of the Eleusinian Mysteries Revealed
by Jonathan Ott
1993
from Pharmacotheon: Entheogenic Drugs, Their Plant Sources and History
In a most exciting recent development in the study of LSD and other ergoline entheogens, R. Gordon Wasson, Albert Hofmann and Carl A. P. Ruck have advanced the startling new theory concerning the Eleusinian Mysteries of ancient Greece. The theory was first presented on the morning of Friday, 28 October 1977, at the "Second International Conference on Hallucinogenic Mushrooms" held at Fort Worden, near Port Townsend, Washington (I organized this conference; see Chapter 5, Note 11). A full-dress presentation followed in May 1978, when these three distinguished scholars published The Road to Eleusis: Unveiling the Secret of Mysteries (Wasson et al. 1978; Wasson et al. 1980b). That the reader may appreciate the significance and meaning of this theory, I will review the history of the ancient Mysteries of Eleusis.

The Eleusinian Mystery was an annual celebration of a fertility cult, over which the goddess Demeter presided. Anyone speaking Greek could be initiated into the cult, but only once in a lifetime. The "Greater Mystery" was celebrated in the autumn, in a sanctuary at Eleusis, bordering the Rarian Plain, near Athens. For nearly 2000 years the annual celebration was held, but never was the secret of the mystery revealed. Initiates passed the night together in the darkened telesterion or initiation hall, where they beheld a great vision which was "new, astonishing, inaccessible to rational cognition." Of the experience, they could only say that they had seen ta hiera, "the holy"--it was forbidden by law, under penalty of death, to say anymore (Wasson et al. 1978).

Most of our information about the Eleusinian Mystery comes from the so-called Homeric Hymn to Demeter, an anonymous seventh century B.C. poem. The poem describes the mythical founding of the Mystery by Demeter, who was grief-stricken at the abduction of her daughter Persephone (also called Kore) by the god Hades, of the underworld. Demeter caused all of the plants on the Earth to die, and fearing humankind would also die and there would then be nobody to make sacrifices to the gods, interceded with Hades, and forced him to return Persephone to Demeter. Persephone, however, had eaten a pomegranate seed in the underworld, and was therefore condemned to return to Hades for part of each year. This always saddened Demeter, who would again cause the plants to die, to be reborn again in the glory of springtime, with the return of Persephone to the world of light. The lovely myth symbolized for the Greeks the natural mystery of the changing seasons and the miracle of the springtime rebirth (after burial in the cold Earth) of cultivated grain on which their civilization depended.

Demeter ordered the construction of the Eleusinian sanctuary and, refusing wine, directed the preparation of a special potion, the kykeon ("mixture"). The ingredients of the kykeon are spelled out in the Homeric Hymn: barley, water and blechon (or glechon, a mint, probably Mentha pulegium, a plant burned as an offering by shamans to Pachamama in Peru; see Appendix B; Wasson 1967; Wasson 1979). From fragmentary ancient reports, including the remains of a fresco at Pompeii, it is known that initiates to the Mysteries drank Demeter's potion as a prelude to experiencing a soul-shattering vision. The Eleusinian Mysteries were driven into extinction by the Christians in the fourth century of our era. The "secret" was not vouchsafed to us by the Christians, if in fact they themselves knew it, which is extremely doubtful.

Much has been written concerning the Eleusinian Mysteries, but apparently it had never occurred to anyone before Wasson that the potion, the kykeon, have had something to do with the vision. Classical scholar G.E. Mylonas, for example wrote a detailed book on Eleusis and the Eleusinian Mysteries, and concluded that: "the act of drinking the kykeon was one of religious remembrance, of the observance of an act of the Goddess, and implied no sacramental mystic significance," (Mytonas 1961). Three years before Mylonas made this pronouncement, Wasson had connected Plato's "ideas" and world of "archetypes" with entheogens (Wasson 1958) and just the year before, Wasson had tentatively suggested in a lecture that was subsequently published (Wasson 1961; Wasson 1972d): "I predict that the secret of the Mysteries will be found in the indoles, whether derived from mushrooms or from higher plants or, as in Mexico, from both."

This idea was first suggested by Wasson in a lecture on 15 November 1956, shortly after his experience of mushroomic ecstasy (see Chapter 5). A recent book (T.K McKenna, 1992) wrongly credited Robert Graves with first proposing that the kykeon was entheogenic in 1964 (see Graves 1957; Graves 1962; for examples of his speculation regarding entheogenic mushrooms, inspired by his collaboration with the Wassons) A 1936 book published in French (Felice 1936) first explored the concept of ivresses divines ("divine inebriations," obtusely characterized as "inferior forms" of mysticism!) and mentioned the Eleusinian Mysteries, but advanced no specific theories on the nature of Demeter's potion. With the elegant and exciting proposal advanced by Wasson, Hofmann and Ruck in 1977-1978, this perspicacious prediction has been placed on a strong and specific scientific footing. It is the thesis of The Road to Eleusis that Demeter's potion, the kykeon, was entheogenic, and elicited the ineffable vision experienced by thousands each year. According to the theory, it was ergot growing on the barley which accounted for the potion's entheogenic properties. Hofmann argued that by making an aqueous extract of the ergot-infested barley, the ancient Greeks could have separated the water-soluble entheogenic ergot alkaloids (ergine, ergonovine, etc.) from the non-water-soluble toxic alkaloids of the ergotamine/ergotoxine group (Bigwood et al 1979; Hofmann 1978b). Hofmann further suggested that the Eleusinian priests may have employed ergot of the wild grass Paspalum, which produces only the entheogenic alkaloids. Hofmann pointed out that the psychotropic properties of ergot were known in antiquity, and that such folk knowledge of these properties lingers in Europe, as evidenced by the names for ergot: Tollkorn ("mad grain") and seigle ivre ("inebriating rye"; Hofmann 1978a).

This simple and elegant theory is buttressed by examination of the rich symbolism attending the cult. Eminent Greek scholar Ruck meticulously showed how the ergot theory fit the available evidence. One of the more telling pieces of evidence is the fact that Demeter was often called Erysibe, "ergot," and that purple, the color of ergot, was her special color. Furthermore, an ear of grain was the symbol of the mystery. Ruck has adduced further evidence in support of the theory presented in the book. He has proposed that Socrates was executed for profaning the Mysteries by making the kykeon in Athens with his disciples, and that Aristophanes escaped legal problems by burying hints of this in Birds and Clouds (Ruck 1981). We know from Plutarch that Alcibiades was sentenced to death for the same crime--profaning the Mysteries in Athens. In a paper analyzing Bacchae of Euripides, Ruck later discussed the use of wines in ancient Greece as a vehicle for the ingestion of entheogens and other drugs, and discussed the "cultivated" (grain and civilization) versus the "wild" (ergot, thought to represent the degeneration of cultivated grain to its wild precursor; Ruck 1982). This fascinating study illuminates some linguistic curiosities of the Bible, in which "wine" (yayin in Hebrew) is repeatedly compared and contrasted with "strong drink" (sheker in Hebrew), evidently an entheogenic potion (Ruck 1982; Wasson 1914). Finally, Ruck identified the Hyperboreans as Aryans, and proposed that their first-fruit offerings were none other than the miraculous soma--entheogenic mushrooms (see Chapter 6; Ruck 1983). The amrta, the Soma potion, is etymologically identical to the Greek ambrosia, which we now know, thanks to Ruck, Hofmann and Wasson to have been an entheogenic potion.

Hofmann has often described the "magic circle" of his research on entheogens starting with the discovery of LSD, a derivative of ergot alkaloids, he was later brought into contact with R. Gordon Wasson, who supplied him with the sacred mushrooms of Mexico, leading to Hofmann's discovery of psilocybine and psilocyline, and who then supplied him with ololiuhqui, another Mexican sacred drug in which Hofmann found the same alkaloids he had begun working with two decades earlier (Hofmann 1966; Hofmann 1967). Now it would appear that Hofmann's "magic circle" has undergone a second revolution, again leading back to ergot, a sacred drug of ancient Greek culture, which is unmistakably our own, Indo-European culture.

A recent book extrapolated this theory of an ergotized, entheogenic kykeon to Soma (vide Chapters 4 Note 2 and 6 Note II), arguing this was also an aqueous infusion of some ergot-infested grain (Greene 1992), not Amanita muscaria as Wasson (1968) had proposed (he having already discarded ergot; Doniger O'Flaherty 1968; Riedlinger 1993). Oddly, the author made pharmacognostical arguments, outside his field of expertise, committing egregious blunders which undermined his already flimsy case, as I thoroughly detailed in a recent review (Ott 1994B).

Intrepid experimenters with ergot (a good quantity may be hand-picked from a sack of "organic" rye) desirous of imbibing Demeter's kykeon, mus exercise extreme caution. They should never forget that ergot has poisoned and killed countless human beings throughout history. The ergot sclerotia should not be eaten whole! To make Demeter's potion (according to Hofmann's theory), the sclerotia are reduced to powder, which is then steeped in cold water. The residual powder is then filtered off and discarded. Extreme caution with dosage is mandatory, and the wise user would only try a minimal quantity at first. The cautious experimenter would then wait at least a few days before trying a slightly higher dose, if a more intense effect were desired. Ergot, like LSD and morning glory seeds, is a powerful uterotonic drug, and should assiduously be avoided by pregnant women who should, as already mentioned, avoid all unnecessary drugs, especially nicotine, caffeine and alcohol.