Sacred Mushrooms & the Catholic Church

by Ocean Malandra

When the Catholic Church encountered the magic mushroom-using societies of the New World during the Spanish conquest, they immediately denounced them as blasphemous and tried to stamp out the practice. But not only do several Catholic churches from the Middle Ages bear signs that magic mushrooms may have been involved in their ceremonies and liturgy, 20th-century archaeological discoveries like the Dead Sea Scrolls have led prominent scholars to conclude that early Christianity many have been a magic mushroom-based religion itself.

The Flesh of the Gods

In the Aztec capital city of Tenochtitlan, which was as large as the biggest cities in Europe at the time of conquest, magic mushrooms were used in many religious rituals, both large and small. Known as Teonanácatl (God's Flesh), the magic mushrooms allowed those who ingested them to speak directly to God, heal diseases and solve other problems. To the Catholic Church, these practices and beliefs were pure superstition, and the church set about converting the natives to its practices instead, including the ingestion of plain wafer crackers as a sacrament. But the Christian sacrament may not have always been so mundane.

Medieval Magic and Mushrooms

In the centuries just preceding the Spanish conquest of the Americas, the Catholic Church was busy stamping out witchcraft in the Old World. European "witches" also used psychoactive substances, like belladonna and henbane, to reach altered states, talk to spirits and heal diseases. Magic mushrooms may also have been an important part of Medieval healing practices and surprising enough, evidence of their importance has been found in Catholic works from before the witch-hunt craze. A fresco within the 13th-century Plaincourault Abbey in France depicts Adam and Eve on either side of a giant mushroom instead of a tree. The 12th-century illustrated book "The Eadwine Psalter" shows God creating a group of mushrooms that bear a striking resemblance to magic mushrooms: they are created first, before the plants, animals, and Adam and Eve.

The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross

In the mid-20th century, hundreds of years after the church successfully wiped out the use of psychoactive substances in Europe and drove the use of magic mushrooms far underground in Mexico, a startling discovery was made in the West Bank, in Palestine. A collection of documents, now known as the Dead Sea Scrolls, was found and dated to the decades immediately surrounding the death of Jesus and the fall of the Jewish temple. One of the first scholars that worked on the translation of the scrolls, John Allegro, subsequently published a book called "The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross." In the book, Allegro argues that early Christianity, as well as Judaism, is based on hallucinogenic fertility rites involving magic mushrooms.

Magic Mushrooms and the Catholic Church Today

The church reacted to Allegro's book with condemnation so harsh that it ruined his scholarly career and he lost his university job. But the book sparked an interest in the subject that proved to be too interesting and relevant to simply die out. A 2006 study by John Hopkins University shows that giving magic mushrooms to spiritual people resulted in a "complete mystical experience" in most cases, with many participants reporting life changing benefits several months later. Even more recently, other studies have found magic mushrooms to help those dying of terminal illnesses, and several modern scholars have supported and advanced Allegro's historical theories - including a theory that biblical manna may in fact be magic mushrooms.

About the Author

Based in San Francisco, Ocean Malandra is a travel writer, author and documentary filmmaker. He runs a major San Francisco travel website, is widely published in both online and print publications and has contributed to several travel guidebooks to South America.

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