“Blissful is he who after having beheld the Mysteries enters on the way beneath the Earth. He knows the end of life as well as its divinely granted beginning.” — Pindar

Terence McKenna, an America philosopher, whose worked focused on the nature of consciousness and its evolution, has proposed a theory about the initial spark of consciousness that transformed a prehistoric man into a human being. He postulated that our primordial ancestors incorporated psychedelic mushrooms into the primal diet which prompted self-awareness and eventually language to come into existence.

In fact, the use of psychedelic plants can be traced to the dawn of human history. Since time immemorial, various native cultures used these plants to induce non-ordinary states of consciousness, which played an important role in a variety of spiritual traditions, including shamanic practices, aboriginal healing ceremonies, and rites of passage. Ceremonial use of various psychedelic substances has a long history in Africa (the Iboga shrub), Asia (the Amanita muscaria & Psilocybe cubensis mushrooms, and the Cannabis indica plant), Europe (the Ergot fungi and the Amanita muscaria mushroom) and America (the Peyote cactus, the sacred mushroom Teonanacatl, morning glory seeds Ololiuqui, the jungle vine Ayahuasca, and a variety of psychedelic snuffs).

The psychedelic-induced visionary experience has been evidently seminal to the development of two of the most influential ancient cultures on our planet: India, the mother of Eastern civilization, and Greece, the mother of Western civilization. The earliest known religious texts are a collection of hymns called The Rig Veda, written more than 4,500 years and considered the foundation of the Hindu religion. More than 100 of the Rig Veda’s hymns are devoted to the legendary potion made from the Soma plant, which is praised for granting immortality and divine inspiration. “We have drunk the Soma; we have become immortal; we have gone to the light; we have found the gods (Rig Veda 8.48.1-15).” There are two candidates for the specific visionary plant used by the Indo-Aryan tribes nearly 5 millennia ago: the Amanita muscaria and Psilocybe cubensis mushrooms. Whichever plant was an active ingredient of the sacred potion, the mystical states of consciousness induced by Soma were the principal source of the Vedic and Hindu religion.

Ancient Greeks, the founder of our Western civilization, made the most of psychedelic-induced mystical experience. For 2,000 years, the Eleusinian Mysteries were celebrated in Greece as an annual fertility rite that gave participants the opportunity to glimpse ta hiera, or “the holy,” through face-to-face communion with God.

Among notable initiates into the Mysteries were Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Plutarch, Aristophanes, Sophocles, Aeschylus, Cicero, Pindar, and possibly Homer. As many as 3,000 people participated in the Mysteries every year, which were available to anyone who could speak Greek and had not committed a murder. Initiates could participate in the Mysteries only once in a lifetime and, under penalty of death, were forbidden by law to speak of their mystical experience at Eleusis. One theory suggests that both Plutarch and Socrates may have been sentenced to death for profaning the Mysteries.

The ceremony of the Greater Mysteries was held in the temple at Eleusis, where students learned the “true nature of the soul, its relation to the body, and the method by which it could be purified and redeemed” through spiritual vision and self-realization. Before experiencing the final “soul-shattering visions,” initiates drank kykeon, an entheogenic potion made from ergot, from which LSD is derived. The initiates then spent the night in a darkened hall, where they beheld a great vision, which was “new, astonishing, inaccessible to rational cognition.” Whatever the vision, there is no doubt that the effects were profound. Some hold that a night in the Eleusinian sanctuary may have inspired Plato’s “ideas” and world of archetypes.

Rich symbolism attends the cult of the Mysteries. As the annual celebration of a fertility rite, the Mysteries symbolized for the Greeks the natural cycles of the changing seasons and the miracle of springtime rebirth. In a more metaphysical sense, the Mysteries represented a rebirth of the soul, “that we may live in joy, but also, besides, that we may die with better hope,” as summarized by Cicero. According to Albert Hofmann, a premiere scholar of the Eleusinian Mysteries, “The cultural-historical significance of the Eleusinian Mysteries, their influence on European intellectual history, can scarcely be overstated. 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 ever-lasting existence.”