Inkwell: Authors and Artists
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 16 Aug 11 11:08
Mircea Eliade defines shamanism as a technique of ecstasy. Shamans are seen as intermediaries between human and spirit worlds. They have deep understanding of the human soul, and they enter other realms or worlds of experience, often by ingesting entheogenic or psychoactive substances, usually derived from plant sources such as magic mushrooms. In _Forbidden Sacraments: The Survival of Shamanism in Western Civilization_, its author, Donald P. Dulchinos, says that the indigenous practice of shamanism has been under siege for as long as Western European societies have practiced colonialism and Christian missionary work. Only very recently has there been a backlash that condemning the cultural chauvinism that labels indigenous shamanism primitive. Increasingly, shaman-centered cultures are respected for values of community, environmental consciousness, and first-hand spiritual experience. What is not widely known is that Western civilization itself, beneath layers of Christianity and industrialism, stands upon its own shamanic foundation. _Forbidden Sacraments_ explores the rich historical record that shows this foundation, beginning with an exploration of the Eleusinian Mysteries, the central religious practices of Greek and Roman civilization and the source of much of our Western cultural heritage. Inkwell.vue welcomes author Donald P. Dulchinos, a longtime member of the WELL and the author of three books on consciousness and spirituality: _Pioneer of Inner Space: The Life of Fitz Hugh Ludlow, Hasheesh Eater_, New York: Autonomedia Press, 1998, _Neurosphere_, Portland ME: Weiser Books, 2005, and the subject of our current discussion, _Forbidden Sacraments: The Survival of Shamanism in Western Civilization_, New York: Autonomedia Press, 2011. In his day job, Don has spent fifteen years as an analyst and executive in the telecommunications, clean energy and information technology fields. He is currently at Cable Television Laboratories in Colorado, and has done time at the United States Library of Congress, National Economic Research Associates, and the Colorado Governors Office of Energy Conservation. He holds a Master's Degree in Public Administration from the University of Denver Graduate School of Business and Public Management, and a B.A. in Economics from Union College in Schenectady, New York. He served as a charter member of the Board of Directors of the Boulder Community Network, Past President of the Kappa Alpha Literary Society, and as a Conference Host here on The Well, which he joined in 1988. Leading the conversation is Jon Lebkowsky, a blogger (http://weblogsky.com) and author as well as an Internet and web pioneer who cofounded FringeWare, Inc., one of the first Internet companies. in 1992. Jon is an Internet expert and activist as well as a web strategist and developer. He gives regular talks on the future of the Internet, is president of the nonprofit EFF-Austin. and was co-editor of the book Extreme Democracy. He also has a deep, longtime interest in the evolution and expansion of consciousness and transcendant philosophies and practices. Jon was editor of the consciousness subdomain of the Millennium Whole Earth Catalog, and has written for publications like Mondo 2000, Whole Earth Magazine, bOING bOING, FringeWare Review, and 21C.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 16 Aug 11 11:12
Welcome back to Inkwell, Don. My first question is one I often ask authors - what experiences and processes of thought led you to write this book? What was the foundation of the work?
Donald Peter Dulchinos (dpd) Tue 16 Aug 11 18:43
First, let me say it's an honor to have Jon lead the conversation. one of my inspirations as an online counterculture guy. What experiences? um, statute of limitations? College-age chemically mediated visionary experiences got me started, but without reference to the cultural history behind them. That all came way later. My point of reference was Kesey/Thompson, but i was of a slightly later generation as well. The experiences sparked a lot of reading on the history of mind altering substances. gradually, that brought me around to anthropology of indigenous use of natural entheogens (didn't encounter that word until the 90's?) So, among others, Wasson and Schultes and Weston LeBarre, who all brought home the continuity of sacred uses of mushrooms, peyote, et al. As far as thought process, i wondered all along how these experiences could be illegal, but some reading on peyote led me to the fact that some peyote use was legal. And I found the history and eventually the court case that contained the legal argument legalizing peyote consumption within a "legitimate" religious tradition. That was one kernel.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 16 Aug 11 20:32
You start with an account of the Eleusinian Mysteries, which you relate to shamanism and to the evolution of later religions, like Christianity and withcraft. How much do we know about the Eleusinian Mysteries and the use of the drink kykeon? How strong is the evidence that kykeon had psychedelic properties?
Donald Peter Dulchinos (dpd) Tue 16 Aug 11 20:58
ah, that's the second kernel of the idea - Wasson, Hofmann et al's Road to Eleusis, making the case. It's a circumstantial case (to anyone with no personal experience), but having just returned from a Greek vacation, i am reminded how little hard evidence there is for much of what we take for classical Greek history. But as a third generation Greek American (all grandparents were immigrants) I thought maybe there was a case for my own cultural continuity, not to mention all of us Western heirs to Hellenic civilization, similar to the rationale underpinning the Native American Church's exemption from drug prohibition. btw, you can see my thought process recorded for posterity in the Drugs conference, topic 411. A tip of the hat for all the worthies who helped me get rolling on this book way back when.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 17 Aug 11 10:32
Just to clarify for those who are reading this and don't have access to the WELL, Don's referring to a discussion called "Why not an Eleusinian Revival?" in the Drugs conference or forum. That conversation was mostly in 1992-93, so you clearly took some time to write the book. While it's not a long book, it's filled with references - it feels like you read a whole library full of books to show the evolution of Western shamanism from ancient Greece to the present. So there's no real certainty what the Greeks at Eleusis were drinking, but there are descriptions of their experience,and inferences drawn in works like _Road to Eleusis_, which incidentally has a web page here: http://www.psychedelic-library.org/eleucont.htm. One of the authors, Albert Hoffman, wrote that "the cultural-historical meaning of the Eleusinian Mysteries, their influence on European intellectual history, can scarcely be overestimated. Here suffering humankind found a cure for its rational, objective, cleft intellect, in a mystical totality experience, that let it believe in immortality, in an everlasting existence." You had asked, in the discussion in the drug conference, "if many people here believe that entheogens [psychoactive substances] produce a religious experience in the user, or are the inspiration for useful long-term spiritual growth...?" Given what Hoffman has said above, and assuming that entheogens were the jet fuel for the Eleusinian Mystery experience, it sounds like these substances catalyzed whole elements of our culture, including (based on your reseearch) elements of Christianity? Could there be another explanation - other than the incorporation of pyschoactive agents - for the Eleusinian experience?
Donald Peter Dulchinos (dpd) Wed 17 Aug 11 14:25
Maybe. And certainly when i started the book, others encouraged me to propose other mind-altering practices - meditation, drumming, yoga, etc. - but the other observation i made was the widespread use of actual psychoactive agents in a religious context in indigenous cultures everywhere else in the world except Europe. i had to conclude that it must have been true in Europe at some point, just that it had been pressured out of existence earlier, partly by Christian conversion of the experience into a more dogmatic ritualized process and later by the onset of the industrial worldview.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 17 Aug 11 16:15
I get from the book that the Eleusinian Mysteries and the Western shamanic tradition fed into Christianity - can you talk a bit about the shamanic influence and mythic parallels you discuss in the book?
Donald Peter Dulchinos (dpd) Thu 18 Aug 11 19:42
a number of scholars talk about mythological predecessors to the Christian Gospel. heroes born of virgins, resurrected gods (Osiris). the specific Greek mythology is around Persephone, daughter of Demeter (Roman Ceres), the Earth Goddess. When Hades kidnaps/rapes her and takes her to the underworld, Demeter is sad and the plants of the earth die. When Persephone is ordered by Zeus returned to Demeter, Hades contrives her to eat some seeds of a pomegranates, and it is decreed every year she spends the winter in Hades. What i know from Greek Orthodox religion is that a pomegranate cake (Koliva) is still served to mourners at funerals, a clear Eleusinian remnant. the bread and wine of christianity, the literal body and blood of the god made man Jesus, is echoed in many other cultures that refer to sacred mushrooms as "flesh of the gods". the rapid spread of Christianity through the Hellenistic world was made possible by the many parallels, backed by Roman imperial command and weaponry.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 19 Aug 11 03:58
So just to draw some lines here, the book is primarily about a shamanic tradition that starts with the Eleusinian Mysteries. Shamanism is, per Eliade, a "technique of ecstasy" or transcendence, so the book is about what you might call the institutionalization or codification of transcendental experience throughout the history of the West, and this begins with the secret Eleusinian ritual in Greece. Would it be fair to say that, when we look at the origins of Christianity in the birth and life of Christ, we're not looking far enough back into history? I.e. I get the sense that in moving from the reality of the historical Christ to Christianity, you suggest that we incorporated the earlier Hellenic traditions as well, e.g. the myth of Demeter is incorporated into the mythic Virgin Mary.
Tuppy Glossop (mcdee) Fri 19 Aug 11 05:05
Reading about those connections has been interesting and enjoyable. As a fallen-away Catholic, I was well aware of the fact that many Christian holidays were "over-printed" on existing pagan holidays... but the book has given me a sense of how fluid the early doctrines and practices of Christianity really were. It was all sort of up for grabs in the beginning!
Donald Peter Dulchinos (dpd) Fri 19 Aug 11 21:04
well, primarily, the book started as a polemic in favor of legalizing psychedelics, and turned out to be about cultural continuity, in this case a shamanic tradition that among other manifestations shows up in the origins of Christianity. mcdee, among the many sources I drew on, i'd especially recommend Pagans and Christians by Robin Lane Fox, a long and deep history of those first several hundred years of Christianity.
David Wilson (dlwilson) Fri 19 Aug 11 22:47
Is Fox the anthropologist?
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Sat 20 Aug 11 04:54
Great overviews to get us started...I had the sense that things changed for you during the writing. It is an historical feast and you see the shift of focus from an emphasis on shamanic use of entheogens to the impact of the Eleusinian Mysteries. Can we start with the Mysteries and their immediate impact on Greek culture itself? Would you talk a bit about how it got started and then spread throughout Greek culture, as well as its possible sources from other cultures?
Teleological dyslexic (ceder) Sat 20 Aug 11 12:48
Yes! How do they convey ontalogical truths?
a pythagorean (dpd) Sat 20 Aug 11 13:32
uh, can you ask me something a little harder... Fox is a classicist from Oxford. how the mysteries got started is impossible to say. the descriptions we have date to the classical period ca. 500 - 300 B.C.E. and into the Roman era. Homer mentions kykeon, the potion drunk during the ritual, in the Odyssey, so we're talking ca. 1,000 B.C.E. it just seemed natural to me that the practice survived from earlier tribal shamanism, before the rise of Minoan or Mycenaen empires and urban civilizations. and then again, one has to infer their impact on Greek culture. I'm far from a classical scholar, but it seems much of the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle, especially the worlds of ideal forms, could be informed by altered states/experiences. Plato's statement, "Time is the moving image of eternity", certainly seems the stuff of mystical vision. remember that advances in Greek philosophy or political thought were accompanied by growing military power. i now view the Eleusinian rites as the beginning of the domestication of shamanism, a trend that led to suppression of its mystical side by the time the Romans and Christians came along.
Donald Peter Dulchinos (dpd) Sat 20 Aug 11 14:30
oh by the way, something not in the book, but i wondered later: "It is also said that Perseus (mythic founder of Mycenae), being thirsty, picked up a mushroom (myces), and drinking the water that flowed from it, named the site Mycenae." http://www.maicar.com/GML/Mycenae.html
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sun 21 Aug 11 14:42
You (and others) have speculated that ergot infections on the grain used in preparation of the kykeon, however I found a piece by Edward Beach (writing for the Ecole Initiative - Early Church Online Encyclopedia) doubting that was the case (http://www.uwec.edu/philrel/faculty/beach/publications/eleusis.html), citing an issue I had wondered about: "This hypothesis is rendered less plausible, however, by the extremely volatile character of ergot infections (as in Saint Anthony's fire), which would have been difficult if not impossible to control safely." Ergot's been known to cause convulsions and death. Beach also doubts that there was alcohol in the drink, "since the Hymn expressly states that Demeter did not partake of wine." But he seems open to the possibility that "there might have been an admixture of some other intoxicating ingredients."
Tuppy Glossop (mcdee) Sun 21 Aug 11 14:52
I know we're throwing millions of somewhat random questions at you here, but what made you decide to focus specifically on the Eleusinian mysteries? As you note in the book, the Eleusinian mysteries probably reflect still older traditions, some going back perhaps to the neolithic. Were you looking to establish a clear connection between the main stream of Western culture and shamanism?
Donald Peter Dulchinos (dpd) Sun 21 Aug 11 15:26
yes, i was, but for the specific purpose of constructing a legal argument for legalizing psychedelics. i read the Supreme Court ruling in People v. Woody from 1964 which found religious use of peyote by native americans to be protected by the First Amendment. There were a number of factors, but one was legitimate religious context for such use, including continuity of practice dating back several hundred years. I felt a practice tied to my own ethnic background (all my grandparents were immigrants from Greece) might pass muster. i then thought the fact that much of European civilization refers back to the classical Greeks might not be too much of a stretch either. here's a quote from People v. Woody that i love: "The varying currents of the subcultures that flow into the mainstream of our national life give it depth and beauty. We preserve a greater value than an ancient tradition when we protect the rights of the Indians who honestly practiced an old religion in using peyote one night at a meeting in a desert hogan near Needles, CA."
Tuppy Glossop (mcdee) Sun 21 Aug 11 15:33
That is beautiful. And it's also one of the more peculiar Supreme Court rulings of all time, in that it protects a specific religious observance only for members of one ethnic group. One could also quibble that the peyote religion was actually an import from Mexico c. 1870, and certainly had nothing to do with the traditions of Indians from the vicinity of Needles, California. But still, the general sentiments are wonderful. If only they were more commonly lived up to!
Jennifer Powell (jnfr) Sun 21 Aug 11 15:36
Heya, Don! Is this book going to come out in an electronic version?
Donald Peter Dulchinos (dpd) Sun 21 Aug 11 20:13
Hi Jennifer! not planned, good question. this and my Pioneer of Inner Space were published by Autonomedia, which keeps books "in print" forever. (they have migrated to print-on-demand - is it ok for me to point to http://bookstore.autonomedia.org/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=8&zenid=86517 f47e1e9831135d674ec1b6dd33a my other book Neurosphere is I assume out of print (published 6 years ago) and lends itself to electronic form. anyway, give me a shout before the next Netroots gig and i'll gift you an autographed copy
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 22 Aug 11 10:04
Anyone reading this, and not a member of the WELL, can post a comment or question by sending it via email to inkwell at well.com. We welcome your thoughts!
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 22 Aug 11 10:08
Do you think you have a strong enough argument to build the legal case? Evidence that kykeon was or contained an entheogenic substance seems largely circumstantial and indirect.
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Mon 22 Aug 11 14:59
To attempt one more overview: So you are discussing the evolution of myths, shamanic history and the use of entheogens, and the Eleusinian Mysteries as it underlies Greek and Western civilizations. Due to your Greek background you are also interested in seeing a restoration of the 'Mysteries'. And given your personal journey, would also like to see the legalization of entheogenic use within recognized 'religions' and native cultures. Is that about it?
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