Detoxing God

There’s some pretty weird stuff in the Bible. Those who are only familiar with all the “thou shalt not”s are missing a great deal. Some of the material is strange enough to rival Alice’s tumble down the rabbit-hole (Charles Dodgson was, after all, a deacon). Anyone who’s read Ezekiel, or Daniel, or Revelation, knows the feeling of having been slipped into some kind of alternate state of consciousness. As students of the Bible have been saying for decades, “What was Ezekiel on?” I’ve always tried to put these unusual writings into context for my students. Nevertheless, some scholars still explore the possibilities that something more than revelation was going on in the desert. A friend of mine pointed out the website Time Wheel, which has a story about Moses and his experience of the burning bush. Time Wheel is an artistic collective, and the story about Moses is richly illustrated. The title, however, is the attention-grabber: “The Bible’s Moses Was On DMT Says Hebrew Professor.”

The article explores the thesis of Benny Shanon, who suggests Moses may have found DMT in the natural store of psychedelics available in nature. As the piece suggests, you have to accept a literal Moses for this to make any sense. Nevertheless, it does raise an interesting question: did ancient people use hallucinogens for religious purposes? We do know that cultures throughout the world have found alternate states of consciousness to be religious in nature. Before the days of controlled substances certain plants and fungi were known to distort reality. Alcohol was one of the earliest inventions of civilization, or perhaps even predating it. When other views of the world are available, it is possible to say that one is by default the true one? It’s a question we face every morning, to some degree. The dream, another biblical favorite for alternate realities, can be just as real as waking.

Controlled substances are dangerous in large groups of people. Not only have modern scientific techniques refined the active ingredients, but we live very close to one another and erratic behavior, perhaps fine isolated in the desert with a cognizant adult, can lead to problems when other people live right next door. Anthropologists assure us that the use of natural “drugs” is/was not uncommon among many peoples who don’t fall under the rubric of powerful centralized government. But was Moses among them? To me, the burning bush hardly seems fantastic enough to require a chemical explanation. In fact, detailed study of even such books as Ezekiel and Revelation often reveal a much more mundane reality behind the writing. Still, imagination is often the key to unveiling realities left hidden to more prosaic minds. So why not see what might happen when the religious are left to their own devices in the desert? The results could change the world.


4 thoughts on “Detoxing God

  1. Last month I gave a lecture at the IAA conference,on Sex, drugs, rock and roll and spoke on drugs. One of the most powerful drugs in terms of getting ‘stoned’ grows everywhere, in English its called Henbane. In Hebrew and Arabic the root is ‘shukrun; which means drunk and the plant was known in antiquity throughout the region. It was used for both medicinal as well as non-medical purposes and the best way to get high is to simply burn the bush and inhale the smoke. It’s hallucinogenic effect is that the following day the user has a hard time remembering what had happened and used improperly, its dangerous, very dangerous.


    • Thanks, Joe! I know the ancient knew about such things, but what I find interesting is how what was once a religious experience is now considered a crime worthy of jail. It’s a funny world.


  2. M.K.

    I haven’t read it, but John Allegro proposed that Christianity itself was fueled by the cultic practice of ingesting entheogens, remember? “The Sacred Mushroom of the Cross”
    It’s interesting to note that the mushroom motif seems to appear, if not ubiquitously, somewhat regularly in early christian art (mosaics, etc.).
    Some who see such practice (ancient or modern) as normative would likely claim that rather than distorting reality, such substances reveal and connect humans to the “true” reality.
    Psychedelics have some powerful and very useful applications, as the science was at one time studying (before the government started “controlling” substances) — and there have been some recent developments in research to re-start the learning around some of the benefits (e.g. treating PTSD in vets).
    For my part, I find it entirely possible, even likely, that some biblical composition could be inspired at least in part by drug trips — and if so, would not necessarily make them less meaningful than otherwise.


    • Hi, M.K.

      Yes, I know of Allegro’s work (it basically ended his career), but I haven’t sat down with it for many years. Maybe it’s time I gave it another read.

      I don’t doubt that ancients used various substances for religious purposes, but I don’t think it was behind most of the visions in the Bible. The reason I think this is because visions still happen and those who experience them are often not drug users. I’m not, I hope, coming across as judgmental. All I really want to suggest is that two different things seem to be at work here. I do need to read The Cross and the Sacred Mushroom–it is probably growing some fungus of its own in the attic!


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