Rekindling the Entheogenic Light

By Terence McKenna

1998 marks the Twentieth Anniversary of the first publication of The Road to Eleusis. Twenty years is long enough for a child or an idea to reach the threshold of maturity. The ideas which the authors – the banker, the chemist and the classicist – brought forth have been largely unchallenged and ignored by specialists in the culture of ancient and Classical Greece. The situation seems to fulfill the rule of thumb that when ideas are controversial they are discussed, when they are revolutionary, they are ignored.

And without contest the ideas put forth by this unlikely threesome are revolutionary indeed. But why? Of what possible import could the methods and materials of a dead mystery cult hold for this world of the third millennium? The answer is simply this: that how we understand and explain to ourselves what transpired at Eleusis determines in large measure our spiritual values and our relationship to the dark uncharted vastness of the entheogenically illuminated mind. The extinction of the cult at Eleusis was a small part of the tumult and turmoil that gripped the Ancient World as its syncretic and celebratory polytheism was harried and hunted to extinction by hate-crazed mobs acting in the name of their Prince of Peace. Let us not pass over the fact that Aleric the Visigoth, the destroyer of Eleusis and much else of the Ancient World, was a thoroughly Christian as he was barbarian.

Often in my mind’s eye, I have visited that evil day when the dark smoke of rape and pillage defiled the blue of the Attic sky, and the ominous standard of the crow, insignia of this barbarian chieftain, fluttered and snapped in the sullied air, a mute witness to history shaping atrocity. It was a day of unthinkable acts; the Telesterion breached, the priesthood shattered, the sacred lineage terminated by murder and diaspora. If there are truly pivotal moments in human history, then this surely was one of them. For as the authors of The Road to Eleusis make clear, the day before that day of rampage was the last sane moment that Western man was to know for nearly 1500 years. The destruction of Eleusis cut the umbilical cord of the developing Western mind, severed its connection to the great mysteries of the earth mother/Great Goddess and the still more ancient cults of Crete with its connections further south and deeper into time, to the bedrock of the African genesis of consciousness and ecstasy in our newly evolved species.

And one can wonder: What if the fates had seen fit to allow another ending? What if the horrifying cult of the Gallilean had not insinuated its way into dominance of Roman civilization? What if late Roman Christianity had not been allowed to hunt its critics into extinction and to infect the whole polity of Europe with its necrophilia and self hate? The true poignancy of the situation can only be felt by those who agree with the premise of this book, that Eleusis was the last redoubt of entheogen based religious spirituality in the West. With the destruction of Eleusis the connection to the Earth mother Ge, the Gaian Logos was severed and the stage was set for the descent into mass pathology that reached its Apocalyptic crescendo in the rise of the modern industrial state and its use of propaganda and the threat of nuclear annihilation to pursue its agenda.

On a particular weekend some several decades ago, as the Jewish inhabitants of the Warsaw ghetto were being systematically murdered like rats in a sewer by a particularly virulent expression of the Western mind; the Wehrmacht acting at the behest of the German National Socialism, a Swiss pharmaceutical chemist made a remarkable discovery. Unaware that just a few hundred miles away from his quiet laboratory was unfolding a situation whose horror would come to epitomize the mindless self devouring psychosis of Twentieth Century politics, Albert Hofmann self-administered lysergic acid diethylamide and began his famously unsteady bicycle ride through the streets of Basel.

Hofmann himself, would doubtless, in that moment, have been amazed if anyone had suggested to him that his lysergic epiphany had any relationship at all to the horror then unfolding in Poland, or to the extinction of a nearly forgotten Greek mystery cult centuries ago.

However now, and with the superior wisdom of hindsight, we see that these disparate events in time and space were all part of the unfolding drama of the evolution of he human soul and its struggle with the primal darkness that attended its birth like a placenta.

For we have been lost for some time, Monotheism, scientific reductionism, materialism and mass marketing have built a world unfit for fools, let alone the rest of us. Our culture which denies spirit, femininity, ambiguity, Eros and fun and offers in its place debt, alienation, and debauchery is a daily perceived as more and more inadequate by more and more people. And the answer to this dilemma is clear; we require a radical reintegration with the living mystery, both individually and collectively. This encounter is the sine qua non for setting a new course toward sanity, balance with the earth and true community. These values are only to be recovered through a rebirth of the mysteries and a reconnection with the numinous. This is most effectively and easily achieved through the use of entheogens, those same sacraments that flourished at Eleusis and that today excite the agendas of pharmaphobes and crypto fascists.

Quite simply we need to change our minds. Quickly. And nothing is capable of changing our minds as gently and effectively and rapidly as the entheogens have been shown to do. They are the medicine we need, they are our ancient birthright, denied us the thin lipped heresy hunters ever on the lookout for competitors to their own miserably eviscerated Eucharist. The discoveries described by the authors of this book hint at a return to a world of experience that is authentically human. For this alone we owe these authors a debt of enormous gratitude. Their lives and work have rekindled the entheogenic light so brutally extinguished at Eleusis. Because of their scholarship and discoveries there is an iota more of hope in this troubled world. This cannot be a bad thing.

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