Wednesday, 17 April 2013

The Psychedelic Origin of Christianity

The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross (1970) is a book by the British archaeologist John Marco Allegro. His early career focused on studying the earliest manuscripts of the Bible, the Dead Sea Scrolls. With this book, however, many say that it ruined his career, although others say it gave him the fame that he deserved. 

The basic idea behind the book is that primitive religions were based on fertility rites (rituals that recreate the reproductive processes of nature either symbolically or through sex). Allegro believed that fertility cults like this used the hallucinogenic mushroom, Amanita muscaria (red mushroom with white spots). He also said that these mushrooms are at the root of many religions, including early Christianity. Christianity was essentially the product of a sex-and-mushroom cult, and the mushroom was seen as the gateway to understanding God. Through this understanding it was believed that fertility would also be promoted.

Allegro argued that the mushroom and its powers were a secret, so they had to be written down in the form of codes hidden in mythical stories. In his own words: “This is the basic origin of the stories of the New Testament. They were a literary device to spread the rites of mushroom worship to the faithful.” Jesus in the Gospels was code for the Amanita mushroom according to Allegro. All major scholars rejected Allegro's ideas, including his academic mentor. Even his publisher regretted publishing the book.

Allegro draws on some interesting evidence to support his theory. He argues that the fresco in the 13th Century chapel of Plaincourault in France clearly shows Adam and Eve next to a tree made of large Amanita muscaria mushrooms. The serpent can be seen coiling around the tree. It seems strange that this mushroom would be depicted in arguably the most famous story in the Bible.

Terence McKenna in Food of the Gods also claims that the fruit which Adam and Eve ate from was a symbol for a psychedelic mushroom, since it gave them “knowledge” (e.g. that they were naked) which they didn't previously have.

In October 2008 Jan Irvin published The Holy Mushroom: Evidence of Mushrooms in Judeo-Christianity which was the first book to present texts which supported Allegro's theory. For example, a 16th Century Christian text called The Epistle to the Renegade Bishops explicitly mentions and discusses “the holy mushroom”. Irvin provides dozens of Christian images to support Allegro's ideas – images that weren't available when The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross was originally published in 1970. The front cover of Irvin's book includes one of these images – some mushrooms can be seen. Some say that in these kinds of images, it is not the Amanita mushroom that is shown, but the more common types of psychedelic mushrooms, such as the ones shown next to it.

More examples of mushrooms in Christian art:










Allegro asserts that it's not such a controversial idea that religions could be based on the use of psychedelic plants. It's been said that other ancient cultures might have used psychedelic plants as well in their religious rituals. In Book 9 of the classic Hindu text, the Rig Veda, a “pressed juice” called Soma is mentioned as something drunk by priests. Some sort of visionary state is reported: "Make me immortal in that realm where happiness and transports, where joys and felicities combine, and longing wishes are fulfilled."

Some say that Soma could have been a psychedelic mushroom, maybe the Amanita mushroom - R. Gordon Wasson held this opinion. Terence Mckenna in Food of the Gods says that a more likely candidate for Soma, due to its better efficacy at inducing psychedelic states, is the Psilocybe cubensis mushroom. This mushroom can grow in cow dung in certain climates, which may explain why the cow has gained such a sacred status in the Hindu tradition. However, other academics claim that Soma was cannabis. In addition, the blue lotus flower was worshipped by the ancient Egyptians and it is now know to have some psychoactive properties.

The Eleusinian Mysteries were initiation ceremonies held every year for the cult of Demeter and Persephone in ancient Greece. A drink called kykeon was consumed which the Illiad says was made up of barley, water, herbs and goats cheese. In the Odyssey, however, the character Circe adds a magic potion to it. Some speculate that the barley used in this drink was parasitized by ergot (a fungus), and that the psychoactive properties of the fungus were responsible for the intense experiences that people reported at Eleusis. Ergot contains ergotamine, a precursor to LSD – this is why Albert Hoffman used ergot to synthesise LSD.

'Mushroom cults' in Mesoamerica date back to at least 1,000 BC, indicated by mushroom stone effigies found in the Guatemalan highlands. In addition, frescoes from central Mexico dated to 300 AD show signs of mushroom worship. 'Sacred mushrooms' feature in Aztec texts as well - the Codex Vindobonensis, for example, visually depicts the ceremonial use of psychedelic mushrooms. The aztecs called these mushrooms teonanactl which literally means “flesh of the gods”. (For further information on ancient mushroom use). Allegro argues that Christianity is just one more example of a religion which at its core involves the use of psychedelic plants as a way to access the 'divine'.

Mushroom statues suggest the presence of 'mushroom cults' in ancient Mesoamerica.

Note: Allegro's views don't necessarily reflect my own. Just because mushrooms have been depicted in Christian art, it does not follow that Christianity is based on the use of magic mushrooms. Allegro might even be guilty of confirmation bias: drawing on evidence to support his hypothesis, but ignoring the evidence which contradicts it. Some say that by doing this he has created an over-sensationalised hypothesis about the origins of Christianity. It is difficult to say how early Christianity originated, but in all likelihood it probably arose due to a variety of factors. It is possible that magic mushrooms were one of these factors (maybe even a driving force), but this idea is still within the realm of speculation.


  1. Having read Allegro's book in the 70's and doing some follow up on mushrooms over the years. it is almost a foregone conclusion that the mushroom played a pivotal part of early Christianity

  2. Sad another Antichrist

  3. You can thank me for the Canterbury Psalter image......I have a few thousand other ones too.