The Consumption of Psychoactive Plants During Religious Rituals : The Roots of Common Symbols and Figures in Religions and Myths, H. Umit Sayin, 2014

The Consumption of Psychoactive Plants During Religious Rituals : The Roots of Common Symbols and Figures in Religions and Myths

H. Umit Sayin

NeuroQuantology, June 2014, Volume 12, Issue 2, 276-296

Doi : 10.14704/nq.2014.12.2.753



Psychoactive plants which contain hallucinogenic molecules that induce a form of altered states of consciousness (HASC) have been widely used during the religious rituals of many cultures throughout the centuries, while the consumption of these plants for spiritual and religious purposes is as old as human history. Some of those cultures were shaman and pagan subcultures; African native religions; Bwiti Cult; South American native religions; Amazon Cultures; Central American Cultures; Mexican subcultures; Aztec, Maya and Inca; Wiccan and witch subcultures; Satanists; American Indians; Greek and Hellenistic cultures; Sufis; Hassan Sabbah’s Hashissins; Hindu, Indian and Tibetan cultures; some of the Nordic subcultures etc.

Some of the psychoactive ingredients of the plants that were used during these religious rituals were; narcotic analgesics (opium), THC (cannabis), psilocybin (magic mushrooms), mescaline (peyote), ibogaine (Tabernanthe iboga), DMT (Ayahuasca and phalaris species), Peganum harmala, bufotenin, muscimol (Amanita muscaria), thujone (absinthe, Arthemisia absinthium), ephedra, mandragora, star lotus, Salvia divinorum etc. The main purposes of the practice of these plants were: spiritual healing; to contact with spirits; to contact with the souls of ancestors; to reach enlightenment (Nirvana or Satori); to become a master shaman, pagan or witch; to reach so-called-other realities, etc. Such “psychedelic-philosophical plant rituals” changed participating persons’ psychology, philosophy and personality to a great degree. In these two successive articles, the consumption of psychedelic plants during religious rituals is reviewed and it is hypothesized that the images, figures, illusions and hallucinations experienced during these “plant trips” had a great impact on the formation and creation of many figures, characters, creatures, archetype images that exist not only in the mythology, but also in many religions, as well, such as angels, demons, Satan, mythological creatures, gods, goddesses etc. In the Middle East and Anatolia, within many hermetic and pagan religions, Greek and Hellenic cultures psychoactive plant use was a serious part of the religious rituals, such as Dionysian rituals or Witch’s’ Sabbaths. Although the impact of the “psychedelic experience and imagination” was enormous to the configuration of many religious and mythological characters, and archetypes, this fact has been underestimated and even unnoticed by many historians and anthropologists, because of the quasi-ethical trends of “anti-drug-brain-washed Western Societies”.

Key Words : psychoactive plant, entoptic, phosphene, religious ritual, opium, THC, Cannabis, DMT, ayahuasca, Peganum harmala, phalaris, magic mushroom, psilocybin, peyote, mescaline, ibogaine, thujone, Arthemisia absinthium, Salvia divinorum, Dionysian ritual, mandragora



During the last decades, accumulating archeological and anthropological evidence has rendered it clear that many ancient religious rituals had some other spiritual aspects related to psychoactive plants which were consumed during those rites, other than the known classical features of these rituals; psychoactive
plants, which induce a certain form of altered states of consciousness (H-ASC) have been used for various spiritual purposes (Lewis-Williams, 1988, 1996, 1998, 2005; Febregas, 2010; Jean-Franchois, 2012; Bravo, 1989; Harner, 1973; Stafford, 1978; Metzner, 1998, 2002; Sayin, 2012a; Popik, 1995; Sheppard, 1998; Ruck, 2006, 2009; Akers, 2011; Merlin, 2003; Miller, 2013). Most of the shamanic and pagan cultures used those plants for different intentions such as:
 To establish contact with spirits and the spiritual world (psilocybin, mescaline, ibogaine, Ayahuasca-DMT etc.).
 To contact the souls of ancestors to get philosophical advice (particularly ibogaine and Ayahuasca-DMT etc.).
 To ponder deeply religious and philosophical subjects related to their tribe and/or society (Cannabis,
psilocybin, mescaline, Artemisia absinthium, etc.).
 To establish contact with gods and goddesses (Artemisia absinthium, ibogaine etc.)
 To attain magical and supernatural powers (particularly shamans and witches).
 To heal psychologically ‘diseased’ patients (many shamanic psychoactive plants).
 To gain healing powers and to attain medical treatments by various methods after reaching another form of consciousness (many shamanic psychoactive plants).
 To use it for medical purposes after attaining a different form of consciousness and vision.
 To reach a form of so-called enlightenment (Nirvana-Satori) (ibogaine, psilocybin, mescaline, Cannabis, Ayahuasca-DMT).
 To unravel some unknown facts and realms of the human mind and subconscious. (psilocybin, cannabis, salvia divinorum, mescaline, ibogaine, morning glory seeds, blue star lotus,
opium, Artemisia absinthium, Ayahuasca brew, DMT-containing plants with P. Harmala, etc.)
 To become a master shaman or a master pagan (numerous psychoactive plants used in shamanic trance states and rituals).
 Aphrodisiac effects during the rituals and/or ORGIA (Cannabis, Artemisia absinthium, ibogaine etc.) Whether psychoactive plants and substances fulfill any of the above purposes is very obscure, unlikely and questionable, but evaluating such a statement and debunking the ancient shamanic psycho-pharmacological methods is not the subject of this article. The important point is that psychedelic (mindexpanding) plants, which are, today, totally banned in most of the regions of the globe, were actually an important part of the ancient religious rituals; and ASCs induced by these herbs and plants were essential to fulfill those religious purposes while most of them were used as medicines (Harner, 1973; Metzner, 1998, 2002; Nichols, 2004; Blainey, 2005; Stafford, 1978; Schultz, 1992; Ruck, 2000,
2001, 2006a-b, 2008 2009, 2013 ; Merlin, 2003; Miller, 2013; Diaz, 2010; Sayin, 2012a) .

According to Carl Gustav Jung, a common collective unconscious existed in many different cultures that had no contact with each other and had lived in different centuries; the common symbols, that are called “the archetypal images,” such as the swastika, may have been used by many different cultures (Jung, 1968). Jung proposed some common images and symbols in his famous book “Man and His Symbols,” as evidence of this common collective unconscious; however, any proposed mechanisms for how such a common language of the sub- or unconscious was constructed and concerted, until recently, have not been revealed. Some of the works of Ruck, Lewis- Williams and Kent, today, have raised some insights to explain how these common language items, common archetypes and similar symbols were used in different cultures around the globe that lived very distinctly from each other and used totally different languages, and more importantly, which had no cultural contact and communication because of the distance between them and the eras in which they lived (Lewis-Williams, 1998, 2005; Kent, 2010;
Harner, 1973; Schultes, 1992; Bravo, 1989; Akers, 2011; Ruck, 2001, 2006a-b, 2008, 2009, 2013). Carl Ruck et al., also have interesting claims and hypothesis about the effects and hidden symbolic meanings of psychoactive plants on the formation of some folkloric common fairy tales of many different cultures;
including Snow White, a famous European tale, which exists in nearly all European nations, first collected and recorded by the Brothers Grimm (Ruck, 2006, 2009).

The main hypotheses of this article are:
 Many ancient cultures used some kind of psychoactive plants during some of their religious rites since the Neolithic Ages.
 Most of the mythological figures and characters that exist in tribal religions, in ancient religions and also in the institutionalized modern religions, such as demons, angels, Satan, semi-human animals, gods, goddesses, spirits, ghosts and many others originate from the illusions and hallucinations of ancient “ritual people” in Psychedelic Religious Rites (PRR) who had used psychoactive plants during their religious rituals and who had been very ‘high’ on psychedelic plants.