Written by Stephen R. Berlant ∗
In this paper, I theorize that the Egyptian White and Triple Crowns were originally primordia of the entheogenic Psilocybe (Stropharia) cubensis, which an Egyptian tale known as Cheops and the Magicians allegorically explained grew on barley, and that Osiris was the God of spiritual rebirth because he personified this and other entheogenic mushrooms. I go on to theorize that the plant known commonly as the Eye of Horus, which the Egyptians included in cakes and ales designed to spiritually rebirth the living and the dead, was an entheogenic mushroom cap entirely analogous, if not identical, to Soma. Finally, I explain why so many scholars failed to discern these identities and relationships for so long.
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Ethnopharmacology was derived from the Greek words eth- nos for people and pharmacology for the characteristics, proper- ties, and effects of a drug. Accordingly, ethnopharmacology is, by definition, as much a social science as it is an experimental science, in that it is concerned with the way people used and continue to use drugs derived from plants.
Ethnopharmacologists must therefore often rely as much on the methods and materials historians, archaeologists, and vari- ous other specialists use to study a culture as they do on the more rigid methods and materials clinical and experimental pharma- cologists use to study a culture’s drugs. In fact, when the drugs in question are those of an ancient culture, ethnopharmacologists must often rely to a far greater extent, and in some cases solely, on that culture’s literature and art, than on scientifically derived data.
This is particularly true if the drugs in question were used in an ancient culture’s religious rituals, for such rituals were typically performed covertly, as the following passage of the Egyptian Book of The Dead (Budge, 1969a,b) makes clear:
And you shall perform these ceremonies secretly in the Tuat- chamber of the tomb, for they are mysteries of the Tuat, and they are symbolic of the things which are done in Khert- Neter. . . Let no stranger anywhere have knowledge of it. Do not speak about it to any man. Do not repeat it. Let no [other] eye see it. Let no [other] ear hear it. Let no one see it except [thyself] and him who taught [it to thee]. Let not the multitude [know of it] except thyself and the beloved friend of thy heart.
Moreover, this is particularly true when the drugs in question were used in the ancient Near East, for paleobotanical evidence from this region is remarkably rare (Merlin, 2003).
Nevertheless, the literature and art of many ancient Near Eastern cultures have shed a great deal of light on the way mem- bers of these cultures used drugs recreationally, medicinally, and religiously. For example, La droga en el Antiguo Egipto noted pictures of the following psychoactive plants on the tomb walls of Egyptian Pharaohs and their bureaucrats: (1) the lotuses Nymphaea alba and Nymphaea caerulea, which contain the psy- choactive alkoloid apomorphine; (2) Lactuca verosa, a substitute for opium with mild hypnotic effects; (3) the poppy Papaver somniferum, from which opium is, of course, extracted.
It is therefore not surprising that ancient Egyptian priests were designated by the Egyptian word sem for plants, or that these priests contemporaneously served as physicians—for the Egyptians, like all ancient peoples, believed that health and dis-ease could be attributed to the actions of Gods. However, unlike the modern, Western medical practice of prescribing drugs for an afflicted person to take, an ancient Egyptian physician-priest would often himself take a drug that would presumably allow him to commune with the Gods on behalf of the afflicted per- son, and he would often administer drugs to spiritually rebirth, or even physically resurrect, the dead. Hence, Egyptian medicine and religion were inseparable.
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