Πέμπτη, 18 Οκτωβρίου 2012





by John M. Allegro


  1. Introduction
  2. In The Beginning God Created
  3. Sumer and The Beginnings of History
  4. The Names of the Gods
  5. Plants and Drugs
  6. Plant Names and The Mysteries of The Fungus
  7. The Key of The Kingdom
  8. The Man-Child Born of A Virgin
  9. Woman’s Part in The Creative Process
  10. The Sacred Prostitute
  11. Religious Lamentation
  12. The Mushroom “Egg” and Birds of Mythology
  13. The Heavenly Twins
  14. Star of The Morning
  15. Color and Consistency
  16. Mushroom Cosmography
  17. David, Egypt, and The Census
  18. Death and Resurrection
  19. The Garden of Adonis, Eden and Delight - Zealots and Muslim
  20. The Bible as A Book of Morals


No one religion in the ancient Near East can be studied in isolation.

All stem from man’s first questioning about the origin of life and how to ensure his own survival. He has always been acutely conscious of his insufficiency. However much he progressed technically, making clothes, shelter, conserving food and water supplies, and so on, the forces of nature were always greater than he.

The winds would blow away his shelter, the sun parch his crops, wild beasts prey on his animals: he was always on the defensive in a losing battle.

Out of this sense of dependency and frustration, religion was born. Somehow man had to establish communications with the source of the world’s fertility, and thereafter maintain a right relationship with it. Over the course of time he built up a body of experiential knowledge of rituals that he or his representatives could perform, or words to recite, which were reckoned to have the greatest influence on this fertility deity.

At first they were largely imitative. If rain in the desert lands was the source of life, then the moisture from heaven must be only a more abundant kind of spermatozoa. If the male organ ejaculated this precious fluid and made life in the woman, then above the skies the source of nature’s semen must be a mighty penis, as the earth which bore its offspring was the womb.

It followed therefore that to induce the heavenly phallus to complete its orgasm, man must stimulate it by sexual means, by singing, dancing, orgiastic displays and, above all, by the performance of the copulatory act itself: However man progressed in his control of the world about him there remained a large gap between what he wanted at any one time and what he could achieve on his own account.

There was always some unscalable mountain, some branch of knowledge which remained impenetrable, some disease with no known cure.

It seemed to him that if he had managed painstakingly to grope his way to a knowledge and dexterity so far above the animals, then in some mysterious way his thinkers and artisans must have been tapping a source of wisdom no less real than the rain that fructified the ground. The heavenly penis, then, was not only the source of life-giving semen, it was the origin of knowledge.

The seed of God was the Word of God.

The dream of man is to become God. Then he would be omnipotent; no longer fearful of the snows in winter or the sun in summer, or the drought that killed his cattle and made his children’s bellies swell grotesquely. The penis in the skies would rise and spurt its vital juice when man commanded, and the earth below would open its vulva and gestate its young as man required. Above all, man would learn the secrets of the universe not piecemeal, painfully by trial and fatal error, but by a sudden, wonderful illumination from within.

But God is jealous of his power and his knowledge. He brooks no rivals in heavenly places. If, in his mercy, he will allow just a very few of his chosen mortals to share his divinity, it is but for a fleeting moment. Under very special circumstances he will permit men to rise to the throne of heaven and glimpse the beauty and the glory of omniscience and omnipotence. For those who are so privileged there has seemed no greater or more worthwhile experience. The colors are brighter, the sounds more penetrating, every sensation is magnified, every natural force exaggerated.

For such a glimpse of heaven men have died. In the pursuit of this goal great religions have been born, shone as a beacon to men struggling still in their unequal battle with nature, and then too have died, stifled by their own attempts to perpetuate, codify, and evangelize the mystic vision. Our present concern is to show that Judaism and Christianity are such cultic expressions of this endless pursuit by man to discover instant power and knowledge.

Granted the first proposition that the vital forces of nature are controlled by an extra-terrestrial intelligence, these religions are logical developments from the older, cruder fertility cults.

With the advance of technical proficiency the aims of religious ritual became less to influence the weather and the crops than to attain wisdom and the knowledge of the future. The Word that seeped through the labia of the earth’s womb became to the mystic of less importance than the Logos which he believed his religion enabled him to apprehend and enthuse him with divine omniscience.

But the source was the same vital power of the universe and the cultic practice differed little.

To raise the crops the farmer copulated with his wife in the fields. To seek the drug that would send his soul winging to the seventh heaven and back, the initiates into the religious mysteries had their priestesses seduce the god and draw him into their grasp as a woman fascinates her partner’s penis to erection. For the way to God and the fleeting view of heaven was through plants more plentifully endued with the sperm of God than any other.

These were the drug-herbs, the science of whose cultivation and use had been accumulated over centuries of observation and dangerous experiment. Those who had this secret wisdom of the plants were the chosen of their god; to them alone had he vouchsafed the privilege of access to the heavenly throne. And if he was jealous of his power, no less were those who served him in the cultic mysteries. Theirs was no gospel to be shouted from the rooftops: Paradise was for none but the favored few.

The incantations and rites by which they conjured forth their drug plants, and the details of the bodily and mental preparations undergone before they could ingest their god, were the secrets of the cult to which none but the initiate bound by fearful oaths, had access. Very rarely, and then only for urgent practical purposes, were those secrets ever committed to writing. Normally they would be passed from the priest to the initiate by word of mouth; dependent for their accurate transmission on the trained memories of men dedicated to the learning and recitation of their “scriptures”.

But if for some drastic reason like the disruption of their cultic centers by war or persecution, it became necessary to write down the precious names of the herbs and the manner of their use and accompanying incantations, it would be in some esoteric form comprehensible only to those within their dispersed communities. Such an occasion, we believe, was the Jewish Revolt of Al) 66.

Instigated probably by members of the cult, swayed by their drug-induced madness to believe God ad called them to master the world in his name, they provoked the mighty power of Rome to swift and terrible action. Jerusalem was ravaged, her temple destroyed. Judaism was disrupted, and her people driven to seek refuge with communities already established around the Mediterranean coastlands. The mystery cults found themselves without their central fount of authority, with many of their priests killed in the abortive rebellion or driven into the desert.

The secrets, if they were not to be lost for ever, had to be committed to writing, and yet, if found, the documents must give nothing away or betray those who still dared defy the Roman authorities and continue their religious practices. The means of conveying the information were at hand, and had been for thousands of years. The folk-tales of the ancients had from the earliest times contained myths based upon the personification of plants and trees. They were invested with human faculties and qualities and their names and physical characteristics were applied to the heroes and heroines of the stories.

Some of these were just tales spun for entertainment, others were political parables like Jotham’s fable about the trees in the Old Testament, while others were means of remembering and transmitting therapeutic folk-lore. The names of the plants were spun out to make the basis of the stories, whereby the creatures of fantasy were identified, dressed, and made to enact their parts.

Here, then, was the literary device to spread occult knowledge to the faithful. To tell the story of a rabbi called Jesus, and invest him with the power and names of the magic drug. To have him live before the terrible events that had disrupted their lives, to preach a love between men, extending even to the hated Romans. Thus, reading such a tale, should it fall into Roman hands, even their mortal enemies might be deceived and not probe farther into the activities of the cells of the mystery cults within their territories.

The ruse failed. Christians, hated and despised, were hauled forth and slain in their thousands. The cult well nigh perished. What eventually took its place was a travesty of the real thing, a mockery of the power that could raise men to heaven and give them the glimpse of God for which they gladly died. The story of the rabbi crucified at the instigation of the Jews became an historical peg upon which the new cult’s authority was founded.

What began as a hoax, became a trap even to those who believed themselves to be the spiritual heirs of the mystery religion and took to themselves the name of “Christian”. Above all they forgot, or purged from the cult and their memories, the one supreme secret on which their whole religious and ecstatic experience depended: the names and identity of the source of the drug, the key to heaven — the sacred mushroom.

The fungus recognized today as the Amanita muscaria, or Fly-Agaric, had been known from the beginning of history.

Beneath the skin of its characteristic red- and white-spotted cap, there is concealed a powerful hallucinatory poison. Its religious use among certain Siberian peoples and others has been the subject of study in recent years, and its exhilarating and depressive effects have been clinically examined. These include the stimulation of the perceptive faculties so that the subject sees objects much greater or much smaller than they really are, colors and sounds are much enhanced, and there is a general sense of power, both physical and mental quite outside the normal range of human experience. The mushroom has always been a thing of mystery.

The ancients were puzzled by its manner of growth without seed, the speed with which it made its appearance after rain, and its as rapid disappearance. Born from a volva or “egg” it appears like a small penis, raising itself like the human organ sexually aroused, and when it spread wide its canopy the old botanists saw it as a phallus bearing the “burden” of a woman’s groin.

Every aspect of the mushroom’s existence was fraught with sexual allusions, and in its phallic form the ancients saw a replica of the fertility god himself. It was the “son of God”, its drug was a purer form of the god’s own spermatozoa than that discoverable in any other form of living matter. It was, in fact, God himself, manifest on earth. To the mystic it was the divinely given means of entering heaven; God had come down in the flesh to show the way to himself, by himself To pluck such a precious herb was attended at every point with peril.

The time — before sunrise, the words to be uttered — the name of the guardian angel, were vital to the operation, but more was needed. Some form of substitution was necessary, to make an atonement to the earth robbed of her offspring. Yet such was the divine nature of the Holy Plant, as it was called, only the god could make the necessary sacrifice. To redeem the Son, the Father had to supply even the “price of redemption”. These are all phrases used of the sacred mushroom, as they are of the Jesus of Christian theology.

Our present study has much to do with names and titles.

Only when we can discover the nomenclature of the sacred fungus within and without the cult, can we begin to understand its function and theology. The main factor that has made these new discoveries possible has been the realization that many of the most secret names of the mushroom go back to ancient Sumerian, the oldest written language known to us, witnessed by cuneiform texts dating from the fourth millennium BC. Furthermore, it now appears that this ancient tongue provides a bridge between the Indo-European languages (which include Greek, Latin, and our own tongue) and the Semitic group, which includes the languages of the Old Testament, Hebrew and Aramaic.

For the first time, it becomes possible to decipher the names of gods, mythological characters, classical and biblical, and plant names. Thus their place in the cubic systems and their functions in the old fertility religions can be determined. The great barriers that have hitherto seemed to divide the ancient world, classical and biblical, have at last been crossed and at a more significant level than has previously been possible by merely comparing their respective mythologies.

Stories and characters which seem quite different in the way they are presented in various locations and at widely separated points in history can now be shown often to have the same central theme. Even gods as different as Zeus and Yahweh embody the same fundamental conception of the fertility deity, for their names in origin are precisely the same. A common tongue overrides physical and racial boundaries.

Even languages so apparently different as Greek and Hebrew, when they can be shown to derive from a common fount, point to a communality of culture at some early stage. Comparisons can therefore be made on a scientific, philological level which might have appeared unthinkable before now.

Suddenly, almost overnight, the ancient world has shrunk. All roads in the Near East lead back to the Mesopotamian basin, to ancient Sumer. Similarly, the most important of the religions and mythologies of that area, and probably far beyond, are reaching back to the mushroom cult of Sumer and her successors. In biblical studies, the old divisions between Old and New Testament areas of research, never very meaningful except to the Christian theologian, become even less valid.

As far as the origins of Christianity are concerned, we must look not just to intertestamental literature, the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, and the newly discovered writings from the Dead Sea, nor even merely to the Old Testament and other Semitic works, but we have to bring into consideration Sumerian religious and mythological texts and the classical writings of Asia Minor, Greece, and Rome.

The Christian Easter is as firmly linked to the Bacchic Anthesteria as the Jewish Passover. Above all, it is the philologian who must be the spearhead of the new enquiry. It is primarily a study in words. A written word is more than a symbol: it is an expression of an idea. To penetrate to its inner meaning is to look into the mind of the man who wrote it. Later generations may give different meanings to that symbol, extending its range of reference far beyond the original intention, but if we can trace the original significance then it should be possible to follow the trail by which it developed.

In doing so, it is sometimes possible even to outline the progress of man’s mental, technical or religious development. The earliest writing was by means of pictures, crudely incised diagrams on stone and clay. However lacking such symbols may be in grammatical or syntactical refinement, they do convey, in an instant, the one feature which seemed to the ancient scribe the most significant aspect of the object or action he is trying to represent.

“Love” he shows as a flaming torch in a womb, a foreign country as a hill (because he lived on a plain), and so on.

As the art of writing developed further, we can begin to recognize the first statements of ideas which came later to have tremendous philosophical importance, “life”, “god”, “priest”, “temple”, “grace”, “sin”, and so on. To seek their later meanings in religious literature like the Bible we must first discover their basic meaning and follow their development through as far as extant writings will allow.

For example, as we may now understand, “sin” for Jew and Christian had to do with the emission to waste of human sperm, a blasphemy against the god who was identified with the precious liquid. If to discover this understanding of “sin” seems today of only limited academic interest, it is worth recalling that it is this same principle that lies at the root of modern Catholic strictures against the use of the “Pill”.

As far as the main burden of our present enquiry is concerned, our new-found ability to penetrate to the beginnings of language means that we can set the later mystery cults, as those of Judaism, of the Dionysiac religion and Christianity, into their much wider context, to discover the first principles from which they developed, probe the mysteries of their cultic names and invocations, and, in the case of Christianity at least, appreciate something of the opposition they encountered among governing authorities and the measures taken to transmit their secrets under cover of ancient mythologies in modern dress.

Our study, then, begins at the beginning, with an appreciation of religion in terms of a stimulation of the god to procreation and the provision of life.

Armed with our new understanding of the language relationships of the ancient Near East, we can tackle the major problems involved in botanical nomenclature and discover those features of the more god-endued plants which attracted the attention of the old medicine men and prophets. The isolation of the names and epithets of the sacred mushroom opens the door into the secret chambers of the mystery cults which depended for their mystic hallucinatory experiences on the drugs found in the fungus.

At long last identification of the main characters of many of the old classical and biblical mythologies is possible, since we can now decipher their names. Above all, those mushroom epithets and holy invocations that the Christian cryptographers wove into their stories of the man Jesus and his companions can now be recognized, and the main features of the Christian cult laid bare. The isolation of the mushroom cult and the real, hidden meaning of the New Testament writings drives a wedge between the moral teachings of the Gospels and their quite amoral religious setting.

The new discoveries must thus raise more acutely the question of the validity of Christian “ethics” for the present time. If the Jewish rabbi to whom they have hitherto been attributed turns out to have been no more substantial than the mushroom, the authority of his homilies must stand or fall on the assent they can command on their own merit.

What follows in this book is, as has been said, primarily a study in words. To a reader brought up to believe in the essential historicity of the Bible narratives some of the attitudes displayed in our approach to the texts may seem at first strange. We appear to be more interested with the words than with the events they seem to record; more concerned, say, in the meaning of Moses’ name than his supposed role as Israel’s first great political leader.

Similarly, a century or so ago, it must have seemed strange to the average Bible student to understand the approach of a “modernist” of the day who was more interested in the ideas underlying the Creation story of Genesis and their sources, than to date, locate, and identify the real Garden of Eden, and to solve the problem of whence came Cain’s wife. Then, it took a revolution in man’s appreciation of his development from lower forms of life and a clearer understanding of the age of this planet to force the theologian to abandon the historicity of Genesis.

Now we face a new revolution in thought which must make us reconsider the validity of the New Testament story. The break-through here is not in the field of history but in philology. Our fresh doubts about the historicity of Jesus and his friends stem not from new discoveries about the land and people of Palestine of the first century, but about the nature and origin of the languages they spoke and the origins of their religious cults.

What the student of Christian origins is primarily concerned with is, what manner of writing is this book we call the New Testament, and in particular just what are the narratives called the Gospels trying to convey? Is it history?

This is certainly a possibility, but only one of many. The fact that for nearly two thousand years one religious body has pinned its faith upon not only the existence of the man Jesus, but even upon his spiritual nature and the historicity of certain unnatural events called miracles, is not really relevant to the enquiry. A hundred years ago this same body of opinion was equally adamant that the whole of the human race could trace its origin to two people living in the middle of Mesopotamia, and that the earth had come into existence in the year 4004 BC.

The enquirer has to begin with his only real source of knowledge, the written word. As far as Judaism and Christianity are concerned, this means the Bible. There is precious little else that can give us details about what the Israelite believed about his god and the world about him, or about the real nature of Christianity. The sparse references to one “Christus” or “Chrestus” in the works of contemporary non-Christian historians, tell us nothing about the nature of the man, and only very dubiously, despite the claims often made for them, do they support his historicity.

They simply bear witness to the fact, never in dispute, that the stories of the Gospels were in circulation soon after AD 70. If we want to know more about early Christianity we must look to our only real source, the written words of the New Testament. Thus, as we have said, the enquiry is primarily philological. The New Testament is full of problems. They confront the critical enquirer on every side: chronological, topographical, historical, religious, and philological. It is not until the language problems have been resolved that the rest can be realistically appraised.

When, in the last century, a mass of papyrological material became available from the ancient world and cast new light upon the nature of the Greek used in the New Testament, scholars felt that most of the major obstacles to a complete understanding of the texts would be removed. But, in fact, to the philologian the thorny questions remain firmly embedded in the stories, and they have nothing to do with the plot of the narratives, or the day-to-day details which add color to the action.

The most intransigent concern the foreign, presumed Aramaic transliterations in the text, coupled often with a “translation” which does not seem to offer a rendering of the original, like the nickname “Boanerges”, supposed to mean, “Sons of Thunder”, or the name “Barnabas”, said to represent “Son of Consolation”. Try as they will, the commentators cannot see how the “translations” fit the “names”. To the general reader, and particularly to the Christian seeking moral or spiritual enlightenment from the New Testament, such trivia have meant little.

To many scholars, too, details like these are of less importance than the theological import of Jesus’ teaching. It has been assumed that somewhere along the line of transmission some textual corruption occurred in the “names”, or that the “translations” were added by later hands unfamiliar with the original language used by the Master and his companions.

As we can now appreciate, these aberrations of the proper names and their pseudo—translations are of crucial importance. They provide us with a clue to the nature of original Christianity. Concealed within are secret names for the sacred fungus, the sect’s “Christ”. The deliberately deceptive nature of their mistranslations put the lie to the whole of the “cover-story” of the man Jesus and his activities. Once the ruse is penetrated, then research can go ahead fast with fitting the Christian phenomenon more firmly into the cultic patterns of the ancient Near East.

Many apparently quite unrelated facts about the ubiquitous mystery cults of the area and their related mythologies suddenly begin to come together into an intellectually satisfying whole. In any study of the sources and development of a particular religion, ideas are the vital factor. History takes second place. Even time is relatively unimportant. This is not to underestimate the importance of political and sociological influences in the fashioning of a cult and its ideology; but the prime materials of the philosophy stem from a fundamental conception of the universe and the source of life.

Certain highly imaginative or “inspired” men may appear from time to time in a people’s history and affect the beliefs and manner of life of their contemporaries and successors. They adapt or develop what they find and give it a new impetus or direction. But the clay they are freshly modeling was there already and forms the main object of enquiry for the student of the cult’s development.

We are, throughout this book, mainly interested in this “clay” and the very strange shapes it assumed in the mystery religions of which we may now recognize Christianity as an important example.

Of course, history now and again forces itself on our attention.
Did Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob ever exist as real people? 
Was there ever a sojourn in Egypt of the Chosen People, or a political leader called Moses? 
Was the theologically powerful conception of the Exodus ever historical fact? 
These and many other such questions are raised afresh by our studies, but it is our contention that they are not of prime importance. Far more urgent is the main import of the myths in which these names are found.

If ware right in finding their real relevance in the age-old cult of the sacred mushroom, then the nature of the oldest Israelite religion has to be reassessed, and it matters comparatively little whether these characters are historical or not. In the case of Christianity, the historical questions are perhaps more acute. If the New Testament story is not what it seems, then when and how did the Christian Church come to take it at its face value and make the worship of a single man Jesus, crucified and miraculously brought back to life, the central theme of its religious philosophy?

The question is bound up with the nature of the “heresies” that the Church drove out into the desert. Unfortunately we just have not sufficient material to enable us to identify all these sects and know their secrets. The Church destroyed everything it considered heretical, and what we know of such movements derives largely from the refutations of the early Fathers of their beliefs.

But at least we no longer have to squeeze such “aberrations” into a century or two after AD 30.

“Christianity” under its various names had been thriving for centuries before that. As we may now appreciate, it was the more original cult that was driven underground by the combined efforts of the Roman, Jewish, and ecclesiastical authorities; it was the supreme “heresy” which came on, made terms with the secular powers, and became the Church of today. We are, then, dealing with ideas rather than people.

We cannot name the chief characters of our story. Doubtless there were real leaders exercising considerable power over their fellows, but in the mystery cults they were never named to the outsider.

We cannot, like the Christian pietist, conjure for ourselves a picture of a young man working at his father’s carpentry bench, taking little children in his arms, or talking earnestly with a Mary while her sister did the housework. In this respect, our study is not an easy one. There is no one simple answer to the problems of the New Testament discoverable to anyone just reshuffling the Gospel narratives to produce yet another picture of the man Jesus. Ours is a study of words, and through them of ideas.

At the end we have to test the validity of our conclusions not against comparative history, least of all against the beliefs of the Church, past or present, but against the overall pattern of religious thought as it can now be traced through the ancient Near East from the earliest times.

The question we have to ask is, does the Christianity as now revealed for the first time fit adequately into what went before the first century, not what came after in its name?

I - In the Beginning God Created...

Religion is part of growing up.

The reasoning that taught man that he was cleverer than the animals made him also aware of his own deficiencies. He could catch and kill beasts stronger and fleeter than himself because he could plan ahead, seek out their paths, and construct booby-traps. Later that same foresight led him to the art of farming and conserving his food supplies against the seasonal dearths.

In the lands of marginal rainfall he learnt eventually the technique of digging and lining cisterns, and civilization began. Nevertheless, vast areas of natural resources were outside man’s control. If the animals did not breed there was no hunting. If the rain did not fall the furrowed earth remained barren. Clearly there was a power in the universe that was greater than man, a seemingly arbitrary control of Nature which could make a mockery of man’s hunting and farming skills.

His very existence depended upon maintaining a right relationship with that power, that is, on religion. Interesting as it is to speculate on the precise forms prehistoric religious thought and ritual may have taken, we have in fact very little direct evidence. The cave drawings found in France, Spain, and Italy tell us little more than that man, some ten to twenty thousand years ago was a hunter, and that he may have enacted some kind of sympathetic ritual of slaughter to aid him in the hunt.

This practical use of the graphic arts is paralleled today by Australian aborigines who accompany their symbolic portraiture with ritual mime, dancing, and recitation of traditional epics. Doubtless primitive man of the Paleolithic periods did much the same, but the oral part of his rituals, which alone could adequately explain the drawings, is lost for ever. The relics of his plastic arts, relief carving, and clay modeling emphasize his interest in fecundity.

The Gravettian culture, extending widely over South Russia and central Europe, and spreading to Italy, France, and Spain, abounds in examples of the so-called “mother goddess” figurines. These clay models of women with pendulous breasts, huge buttocks, and distended beffies have obvious sexual and reproductive allusions, as do their male counterparts.

Doubtless all these had magical or religious purposes, but it is not until man has learnt the art of writing that he can communicate with a later age. Only then can we with any real assurance begin to read his mind and thoughts about God. Unfortunately, this only happened comparatively late in his development, in terms of evolutionary time, barely a minute or two ago.

By then he was by no means “primitive”. The first known attempts at connected writing were crude affairs, registering no more than lists of objects and numbers. But their very existence points to an advanced stage of economic administration, which is amply supported by archaeology. The wonder is that man had been able to progress so far without writing, the one facility we should have thought essential for social progress.

How, we are inclined to ask in our “jotting-pad” age, was it possible to administer a region, farm out temple lands, collect revenues, fight wars, and maintain communications over long distances without easy means of documentation? We are apt to forget that in those days they still had memories. The kind of superhuman results promised the modern subscriber to correspondence courses in memory-training must have been commonplace among intelligent people six thousand years ago.

Even today it is not uncommon to find a Muslim who can recite the whole of the Qur’an (Koran), or a Jew who knows long sections of the Bible and Talmud by heart. The first books, then, were the brain’s memory cells, the first pen was the tongue. It was the ability of Homo sapiens to communicate with his fellows, to organize community life, and transmit hard-earned skills from father to son that raised man far above the animals.

It was this same means of communication that brought him in touch with his god, to flatter, cajole, even threaten to obtain the means of life. Experience showed that, as in his human relationships, some words and actions were more effective than others, and there arose a body of uniform ritual and liturgy whose memorizing and enactment was the responsibility of the “holy men” of the community.

When, around 2500 BC, the first great religious poems and epics of the Near East came to be written down, they had behind them already a long history of oral transmission. The fundamental religious conceptions they express go back thousands of years. Yet there were still another fifteen hundred years to go before the earliest text of the Old Testament was composed. It is not, therefore, sufficient to look for the origins of Christianity only within the previous thousand years of Old Testament writing, nor to start the history of Judaism with a supposed dating of the patriarchs around 1750 BC.

The origins of both cults go back into Near Eastern prehistory.

The problem is how to relate specific details of these comparatively late religions with the earliest ideas about god. Our way into the mind of ancient man can only be through his writings, and this is the province of philology, the science of words. We have to seek in the symbols by which he represented his spoken utterances clues to his thinking. The limitations of such study are obvious.

The first is the insufficiency of the early writing to express abstract ideas. Even when the philologist has collected all the texts available, compiled his grammars and dictionaries, and is confident of his decipherment, there still remains the inadequacy of any written word, even of the most advanced languages, to express thought. Even direct speech can fail to convey our meaning, and has to be accompanied with gesture and facial expression. A sign imprinted on wet clay, or even the flourish of the pen on paper, can leave much uncommunicated to the reader, as every poet and lover knows.

Nevertheless, the written word is a symbol of thought; behind it lies an attitude of mind, an emotion, a reasoned hypothesis, to which the reader can to some extent penetrate. It is with words and their meanings that this book is largely concerned.

The study of the relationship between words and the thoughts they express is called “etymology” since it seeks the “true” (Greek etumos) meaning of the word. The etymologist looks for the “root” of the word, that is the inner core which expresses its fundamental or “radical” concept. For example, if we were to seek the root of a modern barbarism like “de-escalate”, we should immediately remove the “de—” and the verbal appendage “—ate”, slice off the initial “e—” as a recognizable prefix, and be left with “scal—” for further study.

The Latin scala means “ladder” and we are clearly on the right track. But at this stage the etymologist will look out for possible vocalic changes occurring between dialects. One of the more common is between 1 and n, and we are not surprised to find that an early form of the root has n in place of I, so that Sanskrit, one of the earliest dialects of Indo-European, has a root skan - with the idea of “going up”.

Sibilants can interchange, also, such as s and z, and short vowels can drop out in speech between consonants, like i between s and c. In fact, we can break down our Indo-European root scan-, “ascend”, still further into two Sumerian syllables, ZIG, “rise”, and AN, “up”.  Or again, should we wish to track down the root of our word “rule”, meaning “control, guide, exercise influence over”, etc., we should find that our etymological dictionaries will refer us through an adaptation of Old French back to the Latin regulo, “direct”, connected with regno, “reign”, rex, “king”, and so on.

The root here is plain reg - or the like, and its ultimate source we can now discover by taking our search back another three or four thousand years to the earliest known writing of all, that of ancient Sumer in the Mesopotamian basin. There we find a root RIG, meaning “shepherd”, and, by breaking the word down even further, we can discover the idea behind “shepherd”, that of ensuring the fecundity of the flocks in his charge.

This explains the very common concept that the king was a “shepherd” to his people, since his task was primarily that of looking after the well-being and enrichment of the land and its people. Here etymology has done more than discover the root-meaning of a particular word: it has opened a window on prehistoric philosophic thought. The idea of the shepherd-king’s role in the community did not begin with the invention of writing.

The written word merely expresses a long-held conception. If; then, in our search for the origins of religious cults and mythologies, we can trace their ideas back to the earliest known written texts we can use etymological methods to probe even further into the minds that gave them literary form. Having arrived back at the primitive meaning of a root, the philologist has then to work his way forward again, tracing the way in which writers at different times use that root to express related concepts. For, of course, the meanings of words change; the more often they are used the wider becomes their reference.

Today, with faster and easier means of communication, it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain control over the meanings of words, and this at a time when the need for understanding each other is most crucial. In antiquity, people and ideas did not move quite so fast. Travel was not easy; remote areas would stay remote over generations and their languages would preserve old words and linguistic forms long lost in places more open to foreign influence. Religious terminology, which is the special interest of this work, is least susceptible to change.

Even though day-to-day words must develop their meanings to accord with social conditions and the invention of new crafts, communication with the god required a precise unchanging liturgy whose accurate transmission was the first responsibility of the priesthood. In the study of ancient literatures the scholar has to bear in mind that the language of the hymns and epics may well differ considerably from the common tongue of the same period. One of the problems facing the student of Old Testament Hebrew is the probability that the classical tongue of the Bible does not accurately represent the spoken language of the ancient Israelites.

Certainly the vocabulary of the Bible is far too limited in extent to tell us much about the workaday world of ancient Canaan. When it comes to analyzing the linguistic and phonetic structure of biblical Hebrew in terms of actual speech, the conviction grows that what we have is not the spoken dialect of any one community living in a single place at one time, but a kind of mixed, artificial language, composed perhaps of a number of dialects and used specifically r religious purposes.

The importance of a liturgical language from our immediate point of view is that it will have been essentially conservative. It is in such writing that we can expect to find words used in their most primitive sense. If religious terminology in general tends to resist change, this is when more the case with proper names, particularly those of the gods and epic heroes.

It now appears that in many cases these have survived unfaltered over centuries, even millennia, of oral as well as written transmission.

In this one category of words lies the greatest scope for present and future researches into the nature and meaning of the old mythologies. To be able to decipher the name of the god will tell us his prime function and thus the meaning of the prayers and rituals by which he was worshipped. The difficulty in this study has always been that the names are often very much older than the literature in which they occur, and are in- decipherable in that language.

So often the commentator on some Greek myth, for example, has to confess that the hero’s name is “pre-Hellenic”, of uncertain origin and meaning. All that he can do in such cases is to gather together all the references he can find at that character and see if there is some common denominator in the stories or epithets which will give a clue on the meaning of his name. Anyone who has tried this procedure on his own account, or studied in detail the efforts of others, will know too well that the results are often at best tenuous, and the exercise, to say the least, frustrating.

One problem is that the same god or hero is differently described in different places. Zeus merits distinctive epithets and worship in Athens and in Crete, for example. What you expect of your god depends on your physical and spiritual needs in the immediate situation, and the stories you make up about him will reflect the social and ethnic conditions of your own time and place. Clearly, the mythologist can best estimate these local and temporal factors in his material if he knows the god’s original place in the order of nature, that is, if he knows the source and meaning of his name.

The dramatic step forward that is now possible in our researches into the origin of Near Eastern cults and mythologies arises from our ability to make these decipherments. We can now break down god-names like Zeus and Yahweh/Jehovah, and hero-names like Dionysus and Jesus, because it is possible to penetrate the linguistic barriers imposed by the different languages in which their respective literatures have reached us.

We can reach back beyond the Greek of the classics and the New Testament and the Hebrew of the Old Testament to a linguistic source common to all. Furthermore, as might be expected in such a limited geographical area as the Near East, we find that not only have the names a common derivation but many of the religious ideas variously expressed by the different cultures stem from the same basic ideas.

The forms of worship, as far as we can reconstruct them from our limited literary and archaeological evidence, may appear quite unrelated, and the stories that circulated about the gods and heroes may reflect different social and ethnic backgrounds, but the underlying themes are turning out often to be the same.

The worshippers of Dionysus headed their cultic processions with an erect penis, while those of Jesus symbolized their faith with a fish and a cross, but essentially all represent the common theme of fertility and the creative power of the god. Even within the Bible, language has hitherto posed a major barrier to research into Christian origins. Jesus and his immediate followers are portrayed as Jews, living in Palestine and adopting Jewish customs and religious conventions.

The religion propounded by the New Testament is at root a form of Judaism, but the language in which it is expressed is Greek, a non-Semitic tongue.

Words and names like “Christ”, “Holy Ghost”, “Jesus”, “Joseph”, and “Mary” come through Hebrew channels but have Greek forms or translations in the New Testament. The words of Jesus are quoted freely and often given the weight of incontrovertible authority, but in fact nobody knows for certain what he said, since what we have are translations of a supposedly Aramaic original of which all trace has otherwise been lost.

A large part of Christian scholarship has been devoted to trying to reconstruct the Semitic expressions underlying New Testament phraseology, with varying degrees of success but little absolute certainty. In the forms in which we know them, Greek and Hebrew are very different in vocabulary and grammatical structure. They belong to different language families, the one Indo-European, like Latin and English, the other Semitic, like Aramaic and Arabic.

Translation from one into the other can be at times extremely difficult, since they express not only distinctive linguistic attitudes but underlying philosophies. One impediment to mutual understanding between the Semitic and non-Semitic world today is that mere mechanical translation of, say, Arabic words into English cannot express adequately the intention of the speaker and dangerous misunderstandings can too often arise as a result.

What we have now discovered is that by going far enough back in time it is possible to find a linguistic bridge between these ethnic and cultural groups. However far apart their respective languages and philosophies may have become, they stem from a common, recoverable source, and it is there that any realistic study of Christian and Jewish origins must begin.

The root of Christianity in this sense lies not in the Old Testament, but, like that of Judaism itself, in a pre-Semitic, pre-Hellenic culture that existed in Mesopotamia some two or three thousand years before the earliest Old Testament composition. The Christian doctrine of the fatherhood of God stems not from the paternal relationship of Yahweh to his chosen people but from the naturalistic philosophy that saw the divine creator as a heavenly penis impregnating mother earth.

The idea of divine love came not from the Israelite prophet’s revelation of the forgiving nature of his god, but from a very much earlier understanding of the essential need for balance and reciprocation nature, moral as well as physical.


II - Sumer and the Beginnings of History

Civilization began in Sumer, in the Land of the Two Rivers, Mesopotamia. No one knows where the Sumerians came from, but about 4000 BC they were already developing a culture which was to affect the whole world for over five thousand years. The rich agricultural land of the alluvial plains meant there was always sufficient food for man and beast; fowl and fish were in abundance and the Bible did well to find here its Garden of Eden.

Amid such plenty nomadic man needed no more to move from place to place as he exhausted the land’s resources. His was now an urban culture. He could build cities like ancient Eridu accommodating several thousands of people. His simple buildings became classic examples of monumental architecture rising high above the surrounding plains.

Arts and crafts became the specialist industries of the few.

The over brimming wealth of Sumer could attract raw materials and services from these favored lands round about, and a class of traders arose to channel imports through their warehouses and to travel abroad seeking more. Labour was organized and rigorously controlled for efficient production, and in every city management of the economy, religion, and culture was in the hands of the king and the priesthood. For the land was the god’s, without whose procreative power all life would cease.

The king was his bailiff, a less, temporarily earthbound god whose function was also to ensure the productivity of the community. The administrative centre of each district was the god’s house, the temple, with its priestly officials whose control over the people was absolute.

The temple was the seat of justice, land administration, scientific learning, and theological speculation, as well as the theatre of religious ritual.

It was the community’s university and primary school, to which small boys would drag their unwilling steps each day to set the pattern of grammar school curricula for more than five millennia.

It was in such temple colleges that their tutors built, over the next two thousand years, some of the richest and most extensive libraries of the ancient world. From the ruins of ancient Nippur on the lower Euphrates, a hundred miles or so from modern Baghdad, have come several thousand literary texts.

A large number were written in the most prolific period of Sumerian culture, from about 2000 to 1500 BC.

They evince a wide range of intellectual exploration in the fields of theology, botany, zoology, mineralogy, geography, mathematics, and philology, the results of centuries of creative thought. Along with a continuing search for new knowledge went the systematic preservation of past results. The library of Nippur contained texts going back to around 2300 BC, as well as dictionaries, legal works, and myths reaching down nearly to the end of the second millennium.

Elsewhere, the library at Uruk held a range of literature stretching some 3,000 years, from the earliest times to a century or so before the Christian era, when Sumerian was still being used as a special, esoteric language. For, although after 2360 BC Sumer had to share her hegemony of the region with her northern Semitic neighbors of Accad, and afterwards lost political control completely, she had set seal upon the cultural life of the Near East and the world for all time.

Yet, a century ago no one had ever heard of the Sumerians. Archaeologists who were at all interested in Mesopotamia were looking for the remains of the Assyrians and Babylonians, referred to often in biblical and classical sources. About the middle of the nineteenth century Sir Henry Rawlinson and other scholars were examining clay tablets found in the ruins of ancient Nineveh. They were inscribed with wedge-shaped (“cuneiform”) signs already familiar as the writing of Semitic- speaking Acadians (Assyro-Babylonians).

To this family of languages belong Hebrew and Aramaic, sister dialects used in the Old Testament, and Arabic, the language of Muhammad’s Qur’an and the modern Arab world. The initial decipherment of Acadian cuneiform had been made by Rawlinson in 1851, mainly on the basis of a trilingual inscription from Behistun in Persia.

However, some of the tablets now being studied had, besides the familiar Semitic dialect, another quite unknown tongue, interspersed between the lines. The script was the same so that the phonetic values of each sign could be transcribed even though the string of resultant syllables made no immediate sense. There were also discovered amongst the tablets word-lists in which Acadian words were set alongside equivalents in this strange tongue. Some scholars refused to believe it was a real language at all.

They spoke of a “secret script” used by the priests to overawe the laity and preserve their rituals and incantations from the uninitiated. The name by which it was known in the texts, “the tongue of Sumer” was incomprehensible, and it was some years before the experts would take it seriously. However, when, later, monuments were discovered written only in this language and dating from a time before Semitic Acadian was being written in Mesopotamia, even the most skeptical had to admit that there must have existed in the area a pre-Semitic population from whom the Assyrians had borrowed the art of writing.

The cuneiform method of writing was well suited to the area. The alluvial soil of the plains provided an abundance of a particularly fine clay which could be moistened and shaped into a lozenge or pat in the palm of the hand. The earliest shape of “tablets” was roughly circular, smoothly rounded on top and flat underneath. It was the shape of the flat loaf of the East even today, or of the biblical “cake of figs” or circular disk of a spinning whorl.

It was, in fact, the shape of the top of a mushroom, and it was from the fungus that it received its name.

Later the primitive “bun” tablet was regularized into a rectangular slab some two or three inches long and one and a half or two inches wide, and capable of bring held in the scribe’s hand. The soft clay was firm enough to take and preserve the impression made by the squared end of his stylus, but not so tacky as to stick to the scribe’s hand as he worked.

As the texts required to be recorded grew longer, the tablets were made larger so that they could no longer be held in the hand. This meant that when the bigger tablets were introduced the attitude of the scribe’s hand to the clay as it lay now on the table underwent a change, and with it the orientation of the symbols, which turned ninety degrees.

The "jotting-pad” kind of tablet, recording some passing transaction or the like, was simply hardened by being baked in the sun.

But this method gave too impermanent a result for more important legal or religious texts, and offered too much scope to the forger, who had simply to remoisten the clay, smear over the impression and write in a new word. Important documents were baked hard in an oven, and the method is used even today by archaeologists finding sun-baked tablets which could too easily suffer damage during handling.

When the Semites took over the Sumerian technique of writing, it had already developed stylized forms far removed from the first, crude pictorial signs we find on the earliest tablets. The oldest text we know is probably a tally list of some kind and dates from about 3500 BC. It comes from Kish near ancient Babylon, and the signs at this stage are clearly recognizable representations of objects, like a head, a leg, an erect penis ejaculating sperm, and a hand. The signs had been made by drawing a pointed instrument through the clay like a pen.

However, it was found that this method tended to push the clay into ridges before the stylus so that the signs became blurred and crossing over previous strokes obliterated them. So the scribes began simply pressing the end of the reed into the clay forming a series of separate wedge-shaped marks. Inevitably, the flowing line of the original drawings was lost, stylized into formal representations which became further and further removed from the subject.

To take the above examples, we see the following sequence of development:

The importance of such a primitive script for the etymologist is that he can illustrate the word with a picture, as a child is taught to read with bricks on which word and picture are printed side by side.

Thus represents SAG, “head” (the Sumerian words are conventionally transcribed into capital letters, their Acadian equivalents into lower case type, italicized, in this instance, rëshu).

Identification of the object with a human head here, of course, poses no problem, but there are instances where to have the accompanying picture is to gain a valuable insight into the Sumerian mind. For example, where one is trying to discover the significance of fire in fertility mythology, it is useful to know that to represent the idea of “love” the Sumerian scribe drew a simple container with a burning torch inside, to indicate the fermenting heat of gestation in the womb.

Or again, as a sidelight upon social customs, the word for “male slave” was an erect, ejaculating penis superimposed with three triangular impressions used to express “hill country” or “foreign land”, and his feminine counterpart was the usual representation for “woman”, the pubic triangle with the slit of the vulva, with a similar subscription:
The word for “male slave”, ERI, leaves no doubt that his prime function was to procreate more slaves for his master, since a home-born slave was a better security risk than one dragged away from his native land as a spoil of war. Unfortunately, this simple representative writing could not long survive the extension of the art to express more complex ideas than ”laundry-lists”.

That same picture of the erect penis came also to be used, not unnaturally, to express “standing up straight”, or “length”, and so a number of verbs and nouns could ultimately be intended by the one picture. Furthermore, it could also represent the sound of the “penis” word, ush, and so could be used simply as a phonetic symbol where no reference to the meaning of the original was intended.
Our alphabet is also, of course, composed of symbols, which were originally pictures. The letter A, for instance, is derived from the picture of a bull’s head, seen in its earliest form as b’, stylized in Phoenician as 4, and passing into early Greek as ), and A and so on into our western alphabet. Similarly, our letter B began as a picture of a house, or rather, the courtyard of a house, r, which appears in Phoenician as, in Greek as and.

Our D was a door, hieroglyphic LI, from which it developed the characteristic triangular shape of Phoenician and Greek delta, Δ, and L. Our letter I came from a very much simplified version of a hieroglyphic hand, through Phoenician j, into Greek Ε. And so on. But the idea of having symbols represent single sounds, consonants and vowels, was a major step forward and was not to be achieved for more than a thousand years after writing began in Sumer.

Just how great an advance this constituted can be appreciated by realizing that the cuneiform system required some three hundred different signs, and that each of these ideograms could represent a number of different sound-values. For instance, the sign for a road junction, SILA or SIL, >—, also meant TAR, “make a decision, judge”, or KUD, “cut”, or KliASh, “break, grind up”.

All have this radical idea of “division” but its extension to similar motifs, physical and juridical, brings under the same ideogram a variety of different words. Similarly, the ideogram for “scrotum”, simply a skin bag, DUBUR, can also represent DUGGAN, “wallet”, KALAM, “kidney”, and even GIRISh, “butterfly”, presumably from its origins in a chrysalis.

When Acadian took over the cuneiform system, the Semitic scribes added to the lists of values attaching to each ideogram those relating to their own equivalents of the Sumerian words. For example, Sumerian SAG, “head”, was translated by Acadian rèshu, so to the Sumerian values of the “head” ideogram, they added their own phonetic and etymological approximations, sak, sag, saq, shak, shag, shaq, resh, res, rish, ris.

(Incidentally, it should be noted that Sumerian and Semitic had single consonants representing our sh sound, shown here as sh in Semitic and Sh in Sumerian.)

Obviously learning to read and write would be very much easier if the student had only to memorize a couple of dozen signs representing individual sounds, consonants and vowels, and use these symbols to express the phonemes of which each sound-group or “word” was composed. He could then build up any word he wanted, like a Meccano model of standard-shaped pieces.

Not surprisingly, until this radical step forward had been taken, proficiency in this highly complex cuneiform system was the privilege of a few, and, carrying with it power and prestige, tended to resist change and the wider dissemination of the craft. Even when it did arrive, alphabetic writing was used to express only the “harder”, consonantal sounds, whilst in reading the “softer” vowels had to be inserted according to the most likely meaning of the word in the context.

This is still the case in many parts of the Semitic world, where vowelling words in Arabic newspaper printing, for example, is the exception rather than the rule. Indeed, full vowelling systems for most Semitic scripts were not introduced until the Christian era, and in the Bible considerable doubt can arise over the precise meaning of a passage because the text was only consonantally written and the context insufficiently clear to offer grounds for certain interpretation.

The advantage of the old, clumsy syllabic writing to the modern decipherer is that it shows the vowels as well as the consonants of the dead language. When one is trying to relate words from different language groups of widely varying dates, every scrap of information about their early pronunciation is of the utmost value. Because we have the vowels of Sumerian we can trace the developments of its vocabulary into related dialects with more certainty than would have been possible had the alphabet been invented and widely used a thousand years earlier.

The Sumerian language is put together like a house of bricks. First, there are certain word - bricks expressing basic ideas, like KUR, “conquer”, BA, “give”. On to these the writer adds other word - bricks, like TA or NE, modifying the verb in some way or adding a possessive suffix, like “my”, “his” or “their”, to a noun. These added particles do not concern us so much in this study, since the words we are interested in are built mainly of the basic word-bricks.

What is of vital importance for our researches is, however, that unlike many other languages, including our own, Sumerian tends to keep these basic idea-words unchanged. English often expresses tense in a verb by altering the sound within the root, as “he gives”, but, for the past tense, “he gave”; “I run”, but “I ran”, and so on. Sumerian will keep the same radical element, merely adding a particle word - brick to modify the verb or its relationship with other grammatical members of the sentence.

Thus in our search for a Sumerian idea-word within Indo-European or Semitic names we can feel confident that, whatever phonetic changes it may have undergone through dialectal influences, the radical element we seek will originally have been a single, unchangeable word-brick. Once we can penetrate to that, we stand a good chance of deciphering the original meaning of the name. Sometimes two or more radical elements can be combined to form a new word-brick like SILA, “road junction”, abbreviated sometimes to SIL.

Clearly this word is a combination of SI, “finger”, and LA, “join together”, the overall picture being that of Winston Churchill’s “victory-V” sign. We should express that supposed original form of two separate but, as yet, uncombined elements as *sI... LA, with a preposited asterisk. This sign, here, and elsewhere, indicates a verbal group whose constituent parts are known to have existed in Sumerian but whose grouping or combination in that precise form does not actually appear in literature so far recovered.

At this point it must be emphasized that although we now have thousands of tablets from which to reconstruct a great deal of the vocabulary of Sumerian, they represent only a fraction of the original literature. Doubtless there is much more to be found beneath Mesopotamian soil, for archaeology has already demonstrated the very high level of Sumerian civilization and extent of its accumulated learning.

It is now possible to propose combinations of known root elements with a fair degree of assurance; nevertheless the asterisk will appear frequently in the following pages and serve to remind us that such reconstructions, however probable, must find adequate crosschecking through the cognate languages if they are to be anything but speculative. Furthermore, they are only possible when the phonetic rules governing consonant and vowel changes from one language into another have been established.

We know that Sumerian was spoken in more than one dialect.

These are referred to in the texts but there is not yet sufficient material to reconstruct them completely, or to know for certain their geographical and literary boundaries. What is now apparent, however, is that some of the most important phonetic changes evinced by these dialects are observable in the forms of Sumerian words as they appear in Indo European and Semitic. Perhaps in the future it may be possible to draw dialect boundaries which will show not only where the Sumerians originated but from what geographical points their language spread into the Indo-European and Semitic worlds.

For the moment, to know the phonetic changes that may be expected in vocal transmission of Sumerian roots makes it possible to trace them in other language families.  For example, to our ears m and g could hardly be more different. In Sumerian, however, they are dialectally equivalent. The word AM, for instance, can appear as AG, MAR as GAR, and so on.

The same variation can be seen in dialectal Greek, as in the word magganon, “hunting-net”, which appears rarely as gaggamon,’ and between Greek and Latin, as in amnos, “lamb”, Latin agnus. Again, to us g is quite different from b, but they can fall together in Sumerian,14 and also parallel one another in Indo-European dialects.

For example, the Greek balanos, “acorn”, is the Latin (and English) glans. Some phonetic correspondences are more easily understood since the sounds are, in any case, not far apart, like b and p, with their “soft” sounds ph and f Latin pater is our “father”. The sounds m and n are close enough to make their interchangeability easily comprehensible, as are the “liquid” letters r and 1.

But not so immediately obvious is a common variant in the Sumerian and Semitic worlds between 1 and n, and 1 and sh, and this has particularly to be looked for when Sumerian origins are sought for names in Semitic format.’ Specialists will note for themselves phonetic correspondences affecting their own fields of linguistic interest, but another variant which may seem strange at first sight to the non—specialist reader is that between the Sumerian Kh, a somewhat throatish rasping sound akin to the ch in the Scottish “loch”, and hardg. This interchange occurs within Sumerian’8 and also externally.

For example, MAKh, “great”, appears in Greek as megas, Latin magnus. On the other hand, Sumerian Kb is found as its straightforward phonetic equivalent in the Greek chei (transliterated in these pages as kh for the sake of uniformity), in, for example, khalbanë, a kind of gum, but as hard £ in the Latin cognate galbanum. Vowels follow a fairly uniform and easily recognizable pattern. However, the sound i often disappears between consonants in the derived forms.

For example the Sumerian BIL, “bum”, appears in the Greek phlego and Latin flagro, “burn” (the source of our “flame”), but the medial i has’ disappeared between the b and!. The full form of the Sumerian original was probably *BIL..AG.

The Greek, it will be noted, has depressed the a of the last element to e, although Latin preserved the original sound. This “flattening” of the a sound is very common. Less expected is the frequent change of the Sumerian u, normally appearing in the cognates as u or o, to the Greek ëta(,).

Among other vowel-changes which might be mentioned here are those combined vowels we call diphthongs. Some are predictable enough when they occur through the conjunction of a and o, for example, becoming long ö, or e and i becoming ei. But some diphthongs have arisen through the loss of an intervening consonant, particularly the letters 123 and r.

An interesting example of this occurs in the title of Apollo, Paian, and the Greek plant-name Paionia, our Paeony. Both go back to an original *BAR_IA_U_NA, which reappears with only the a and u combined in the New Testament Bariönas, “Bar-Jona”, Peter’s surname.

Summarizing: in the language and culture of the world’s most ancient civilization, Sumerian, it is now possible to find a bridge between the Indo-European and Semitic worlds. The first writing known is found on tablets from the Mesopotamian basin, dating some five thousand years ago, and consisting of crude pictures drawn with a stylus on to soft clay.

Later the recognizable pictures became stylized into ideograms made up of nail- or wedge-shape impressions, so-called cuneiform signs, each representing syllables of consonants and vowels.

These syllables made up “word-bricks” which resisted phonetic change within the language, and could be joined together to make connected phrases and sentences. To such word-bricks we can now trace Indo-European and Semitic verbal roots, and so begin to decipher for the first time the names of gods, heroes, plants, and animals appearing in cultic mythologies.

We can also now start penetrating to the root-meanings of many religious and secular terms whose original significance has been obscure.


 III - The Names of the Gods

We are sometimes misled by the proliferation of gods and goddesses in popular mythology into believing that man started off his religious thinking with a vast pantheon of some hundreds of different gods; that, however much his systematic theologians may have attempted to arrange them into some comprehensible order, it required a dramatic revelation from on high to convince him that there was really only one, supreme moral deity.

This idea found great favor with the nineteenth-century theologians for whom the recently discovered laws of evolution seemed to offer a “scientific” explanation of divine revelation. The Old Testament, they suggested, showed how primitive animistic ideas, that is the defecation of inanimate objects like stones and trees, gradually gave way to a more “spiritual” concept of one god, as man evolved towards a “higher” intelligence, and thus made it possible for the deity to communicate to mankind through his servants the prophets.

This singularly ill-conceived piece of biblical criticism had the advantage that its extension to the New Testament revelation by the Christian theologians showed that since Jesus stood later in time his revelation was necessarily more advanced than that of the Jewish prophets and, less explicitly, that the nineteenth-century theologians were rather better informed than either. Unfortunately for these “evolutionary” thinkers the Old Testament will not bear the weight of their theory. Moses is portrayed as a monotheist; the Church divided its Godhead into three.

The Bible cannot be used to illustrate “primitive” religion. The philosophical and moral concepts displayed in its writings vary enormously, and there is no internal evidence for a steady “evolution” of ideas from a multiplicity of gods and moral barbarism to one, righteous and humane, heavenly father. The god who is annoyed because his servant Saul failed to carry out his bidding to wipe out every “man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass” of the Amalekites (I Sam 1 :3), is still pictured a thousand years later leaving his son to die in agony on a cross.

On the other hand, the literature that contains the discourse of selfless love in I Corinthians 13, has already long before recounted a story which taught that lust without affection has a bitter fruit (II Sam 13 :15).

If we are to make any enlightened guess at “primitive” man’s ideas about god and the universe it would have to be on the reasonable assumption that they would be simple, and directly related to the world of his experience. He may have given the god numerous epithets describing his various functions and manifestations but there is no reason to doubt that the reality behind the names was envisaged as one, all-powerful deity, a life-giver, supreme creator.

The etymological examination of the chief god-names that is now possible supports this view, pointing to a common theme of life-giving, fecundity. Thus the principal gods of the Greeks and Hebrews, Zeus and Yahweh (Jehovah), have names derived from Sumerian meaning “juice of fecundity”, spermatozoa, “seed of life”.

The phrase is composed of two syllables, IA (ya, dialectally za), “juice”, literally “strong water”, and U, perhaps the most important phoneme in the whole of Near Eastern religion. It is found in the texts represented by a number of different cuneiform signs, but at the root of them all is the idea of “fertility”. Thus one U means “copulate” or “mount”, and “create”; another “rainstorm”, as source of the heavenly sperm; another “vegetation”, as the offspring of the god; whilst another U is the name of the storm-god himself.

So, far from evincing a multiplicity of gods and conflicting theological notions, our earliest records lead us back to a single idea, even a single letter, “U”. Behind Judaism and Christianity, and indeed all the Near Eastern fertility religions and their more sophisticated developments, there lies this single phoneme “U” Quite simply, the reasoning of the early theologians seems to have been as follows: since rain makes the crops grow it must contain within it the seed of life. In human beings this is spermatozoa that is ejected from the penis at orgasm. Therefore it followed that rain is simply heavenly semen, the all-powerful creator, God. The most forceful spurting of this “seed” is accompanied by thunder and the shrieking wind.

This is the “voice” of God. Somewhere above the sky a mighty penis reaches an orgasm that shakes the heavens. The “lips” of the penis-tip, the glans, open, and the divine seed shoots forth and is borne by the wind to earth. As saliva can be seen mixed with breath during forceful human speech, so the “speaking” of the divine penis is accompanied by a powerful blast of wind, the holy, creative spirit, bearing the “spittle” of semen.

This “spittle” is the visible “speech” of God; it is his “Son” in New Testament terms, the “Word” which,
“was with God, and was God, and was in the beginning with God; through whom all things were made, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life...“
(John 1:1-4).
In the words of the Psalmists:
“By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth”
(Ps 33:6)
or, “when you send forth your breath they are created, and the face of the earth is restored”
(Ps 104:30).
This idea of the creative Word of God came to have a profound philosophical and religious importance and was, and still is, the subject of much metaphysical debate. But originally it was not an abstract notion; you could see the “Word of God”, feel it as rain on your face, see it seeping into the furrows of mother earth, the “labia” of the womb of creation.

Within burns an eternal fire which every now and then demonstrates its presence dramatically, by bursting to the surface in a volcano, or by heating spring water to boiling point where the earth’s crust is thinnest. It was this uterine heat which made generation possible, and which later theologians identified with the place and means of eternal punishment. Also beneath the earth’s surface, lay a great ocean whose waters, like those of the seas around and above the firmament (Gen 1:7) were the primeval reservoirs of the god’s spermatozoa, the Word.

They were therefore “seas of knowledge” as the Sumerians called them,h1 and could be tapped by seekers of truth, whether they looked “to the heavens or to the earth beneath” (Isa 51:6), that is, by means of astrology or necromancy, “divination from the dead”. This notion that mortals could discover the secrets of the past, present, and future by somehow projecting themselves to the “seventh heaven” or down into the underworld gave rise to much mythology and some curious magical practices.

Since common observation showed that dead and decaying matter melted back into the earth, it was thought that the imperishable part of man, his “soul” or spirit, the creative breath that gave him life in the womb, must either float off into the ether or return through the terrestrial vagina into the generative furnace. In either case he was more likely to have access to the fount of all wisdom than when his spirit was imprisoned in mortal flesh.

Since it was given to few men to be able to visit heaven or hell and return to tell what they had seen and heard, there arose the ideas of “messengers”, or angels, those “workers of miracles” as their name in Greek and Hebrew means.

These demigods, or heroes, had access to both worlds and play an important part in ancient mythology. They could come from above in various guises or be conjured up from the ground, like the ghost of Samuel drawn to the surface by the witch of Endor for consultation by King Saul (I Sam 28). One important aspect of this idea of heavenly and subterranean founts of knowledge is that since plants and trees had their roots beneath the soil and derived their nourishment from the water above and beneath the earth, it was thought possible that some varieties of vegetation could give their mortal consumers access to this wisdom.

Herein lies the philosophical justification for believing that hallucinatory drugs distilled from such plants imparted divine secrets, or “prophecies”. Such very special kinds of vegetation were, then, “angels” and to know their names was to have power over them. A large part of magical folk-lore was devoted to maintaining this vital knowledge of the names of the angels.

It was not sufficient simply to know what drug could be expected to have certain effects; it was important to be able to call upon its name at the very moment of plucking and eating it.

Not only was its rape from the womb of mother earth thus safely accomplished, but its powers could be secured by the prophet for his “revelations” without incurring the heavy penalties so often suffered by those misusing the drug plants. Just as these growths were more powerfully endowed with the god’s semen than others, so men and animals differed in their possession of the vital force: some were more fierce and lustful and some were more wise. So-called “men of God" were particularly fortunate in this respect.

They were in a very special sense his “sons”, and had a particularly close relationship with the deity. He could speak through them; they caught his word, as it were, and spat it out to his less god-attuned fellow men. Priest and prophet believed that the spittle-laden breath that came from his mouth when he spoke as the god’s messenger was not his, but the god’s. Such words, once released, had a power and motivation of their own.

They could not only foretell events; they brought them about. No wonder the beleaguered citizens of Jerusalem put Jeremiah and his gloomy prognostications into a miry cistern. Well might they say that in the face of the Babylonian armies he was “weakening the hands of the soldiers who are left in this city” (Jer 38:4). For the same reason the king cut Jeremiah’s doom-laden scroll into small pieces and dropped them into the brazier (36:23).

For the word was as potent in writing as when uttered in speech. In the Sinai myth, Yahweh himself writes the “Ten Words” or “Commandments” (Exod 31:18), and the tablets thus inscribed have thereafter to be kept in a box and venerated within the shrine as a divine manifestation (Deutio).

God was the ultimate source of justice. By this was meant the ordering of society towards stability, maintaining a balance between opposing, otherwise disruptive forces. This might involve laying down certain regulations for conduct to which injured parties might appeal in the courts, but divinely given “law” was not simply a code of behavior.

It was another expression of natural equilibrium, that ordering of affairs that began when primeval chaos gave way to creation. “Law” was thus a gift of God. In Semitic the same words are used for “justice” and religious “alms-giving”, and specifically in the Old Testament, for “rain”.

Thus the prophet Joel bids his listeners “rejoice in Yahweh, your God, for he has poured down for you a shower of rain” (Joel 2:23).

The Hebrew “Law” (Torah) is, literally, the “outpouring”; the “lawgiver” or “teacher” is the “out-pourer”, properly of “semen, grace, favor”. 

Kings and priests are “pourers of bounty”, lawgivers and teachers, in their capacity as the god’s earthly representatives. They were reckoned especially endowed with divine “grace”, the word for which in both Hebrew and Greek refers to the flowing of seed. They were “shepherds” of their people, the idea behind which, as we saw above, had to do with promoting fecundity. In that the king had within him the god’s semen, he was held to be a strong man, representing his god on the field of battle, and no less virile in the harem. When this important faculty deserted him, he could be deposed.

Hence King David, whose name means “lover” or “loved one”, when his manly prowess seemed to be failing, sought stimulation at the hands of a young and beautiful virgin, Abishag:
“and she served the king, but he knew her not”
(I Kgs 1:1-4).
The fertility aspect of divine and royal shepherding can be seen in another Sumerian word for “shepherd” which appears right across the ancient world in names and epithets. It is SIPA, literally, “stretched horn”, or “penis”. We may now recognize it in the biblical phrase Yahweh Sabaoth, from SIPA-UD, penis of the storm.

The Sumerian storm-god, Iskur, has a name with much the same meaning, “mighty penis”. Among the Semites he was known as Adad, “Mighty Father”, with the same general idea of the great fecundator of the skies. In the Old Testament, the name we know as Joseph means “Yahweh’s penis”, really just a shortened form of Yahweh Sabaoth.

Over in Asia Minor, this Old Testament divine title appears in classical times as an old cultic cry to the Phrygian deity Sabazios, euoi saboi.

The name of the god itself is composed of the same Sumerian SIPA to which has been added the element ZI, “erect”. This is just one example of how we can now span the whole area of our study and bring together apparently quite disparate religious cults simply through being able to decipher the names and epithets of the respective gods. Similar phallic designations are given, as we now see, to many Sumerian, Greek, and Semitic gods, tribal ancestors and heroes.

Hercules, that great ”club-bearer”, was named after the grossness of his sex organ, as was the Hebrew tribal ancestor Issachar.

Perhaps the best known of the old Canaanite fertility gods, Baal, derives his name from a Sumerian verb AL, “bore”, which, combined with a preformative element BA, gave words for “drill” and “penis” and gave Latin and us our word “phallus”.

In Semitic, ba'al, Baal, is not only the divine name but has also the general meaning of “lord, husband”. Hosea, the Old Testament prophet, makes a play on the general and cultic uses of the word when he has Yahweh say to Israel,
“in that day you will call me ‘my man’ and you will no more call me ‘my baal’; I shall banish the name of baals from your mouth...“
(Hos 2:16 [Heb. 18]).
More than any other heavenly body, it was the sun which commanded most respect as the embodiment of god. It was the Creator, the fecundator of the earth. The ancients saw the glowing orb as the tip of the divine penis, rising to white heat as it approached its zenith, then turning to a deep red, characteristic of the fully distended glans penis, as it plunged into the earthly vagina.

In the cultic centers this ritual was enacted imitatively by the entry of the priest into the god’s house.

The temple was designed with a large measure of uniformity over the whole of the Near East now recognizable as a microcosm of the womb. It was divided into three parts:
the Porch, representing the lower end of the vagina up to the hymen, or Veil
the Hall, or vagina itself
the inner sanctum, or Holy of Holies, the uterus.
The priest, dressed as a penis, anointed with various saps and resins as representing the divine semen, enters through the doors of the Porch, the “labia” of the womb, past the Veil or “hymen” and so into the Hall. On very special occasions, the priestly phallus penetrated into the uterus where the god himself dwelt and wrought his creative works.

Even today the Christian ritual and architecture probably owes much to the ancient tradition, as the priest heads the processional through the body of the “womb”, to reach its climax before the altar. The god was thought of as the “husband” of his land and people. This is a common figure in the Old Testament where Israel is featured as the “wife” of Yahweh, usually thus spoken of in passages accusing her of infidelity and seeking other “lovers”.

The Church is also described as the “bride” of Christ (Rev 2I2 22:17). In both cases the god is the fructifying seed, the “Word” or Gospel, “good news”, whose fruitfulness depends upon the receptivity of the “womb” of his people’s minds and hearts.

The seed of God was supremely holy. Whether it appeared directly from heaven as rain, or as the sap or resin of plants and trees, or as spermal emission from the organs of animals or men, it was sacred and to waste it was a grievous sin. The processes and balance of nature demanded its effective use, since without it there could be no life or regeneration.

The words for “curse” and “sin” have their roots in the idea of “seed running to waste”.

This was the sin of Onan who shirked his duty of giving his dead brother’s wife more children by practicing coitus interruptus, or, as the Bible says “spoiling it on the ground” (Gen 38 :1-10).

This was the sin, too, of Sodom whose inhabitants preferred the attractions of two male visiting angels to Lot’s daughters (Gen 19). That much-used religious word “sin”, then, has basically the meaning of “making ineffective”, “failing in one’s object” the direct opposite of “faith”, which is, at root, “to make effective, or fruitful”.

This very ancient regard for the sanctity of semen which lies at the core of the fertility idea is the ultimate cultic justification of the Roman Catholic strictures on birth-control. The real objections to contraception have little to do with family morals or, indeed, with morality at all as the modem world understands the term; it is simply that wasting seed is a religious “sin”; it is a blasphemy against the “word of god”, the “holy spirit”. In the same way, a barren woman was reckoned “accursed”.

Jeremiah vented his wrath upon his fellow-citizens who spumed his gloomy prognostications by wishing their “wives childless and widowed” (Jer 18 :21). Most unhappy of women was she whose husband had divorced her for barrenness or died leaving her childless.

The Hebrew word for “widow” meant originally “wasted-womb”, and similar derivations are to be found for the ancient words meaning “unlucky” or “the left side”, being reckoned the unproductive side of the womb.

In part derived from this idea of the sanctity of sperm and the importance of fertility is the crucial doctrine of the balance of nature. Upon this axiom rested the whole basis of moral and natural philosophy. God, as an act of grace, gives the seed of life. Earth receives it and engenders food for man and beast who eat it and reproduce themselves after their own kind. At death they return to earth which, in turn, produces more vegetation to feed their offspring. So the cycle of nature continues season after season.

But man must soon have realized that this highly desirable state of affairs could continue only so long as new life followed death. Kill too many animals one year and there are insufficient to breed for the next. Reap too many harvests from the same field and you reduce it to a desert. In terms of human relationships, become too rich at the expense of your neighbors and eventually they will turn on you like starving wolves.

Revenge blood with blood and your personal feud will become tribal war. Herein lies the root of the doctrine of loving one’s neighbor; of the “soft answer that turneth away wrath”. Socially, as agriculturally, all life depends upon keeping the balance between giving and taking, and avoiding extremes. Nevertheless, the cycle of nature had first to be set in motion by the creative act of the god, and thereafter the initiative remained with him.

As the New Testament writer says:
“By grace you have been saved through faith; and this was not from yourselves but as a gift from God”
(Eph 2:8).
The Greek and Hebrew words for this kind of “saving” derive from a basic conception of “fulfillment”, “restoration”, “healing” or “life”.

The same element in Sumerian Shush or ShU-A, appears in the name of Joshua/Jesus attached as an epithet to Yahweh. This “salvation” in the Bible is the prerogative of the god, an act of Un— merited love or grace.

It followed, then, that man was continually in a state of indebtedness, or “sin”, ever at the mercy of his divine creditor. When the god for some reason decided to withhold his seminal bounty, all life perished and there was nothing man could do about it.

The awareness of his insufficiency that makes the Psalmist cry plaintively:
“What is man that thou rememberest him...?“ (Ps 8:4 [Heb s]) has had an important, and largely deleterious effect on man’s self-consciousness.
On the one hand it urged upon him humility, and served as a brake to his self-aggrandizement over his fellows.

The Roman general in his triumphal chariot had by him a slave continually to remind him, above the roars of popular acclaim,
“Look back; remember you are but a man”.
On the other hand, a basic insecurity tended to restrict man’s natural curiosity and willingness to experiment dangerously, and has served his political and ecclesiastical masters rather better than his own spiritual and economic advancement.

Cultically, this state of indebtedness gave rise to the idea that man should make the god some token reimbursement, a sacrifice, a kind of atonement which might, in some small degree, restore the balance between benefactor and beneficiary.

Since the first-born of men and beasts, and the first-reaped fruits of harvest were considered to be more favorably endowed with the source of life than later progeny, and thus the more precious and strong, they were chosen for restoration to the deity.

The blood, containing the breath of life, the holy spirit, taboo even now among Jews and Muslims, was first poured back into the earth’s womb, and the flesh then consumed by the element that had created it, fire. Alternatively, part at least of the flesh was eaten by the god’s representatives, the priests. This idea of the atoning sacrifice had an important influence on later developments of the cult, particularly in Christianity and its immediate forerunners.

Here attention was centered upon one particular piece of vegetation, deemed more powerfully endued with the god than any other, and whose “sacrifice” and consumption by the initiate was thought to restore the lost sense of balance, to heal the rift, and to make possible a mystical unity with the god.

Summarizing, then: we should not look for a multiplicity of gods in the ancient world, but rather many aspects of the one deity of fertility, the creative force that gives earth and its creatures life. The god was the seed, his name and functions finding verbal expression in the one Sumerian phoneme U; the whole fertility philosophy on which the various cults of the ancient Near East centre we may term simply a U-culture.

The god expressed his seed from heaven as a mighty penis ejaculating sperm at orgasm.

It entered the womb of mother earth through the labia, the furrows of the land, and formed a great reservoir of potency in the heart of the world. There gestation took place in the furnace of the terrestrial uterus. There, too, was thought to be the source of all knowledge, since the creative semen of the god was also the Word, acquisition of which by man gave him part of divine omniscience.

It followed that those plants which were able to tap this power of knowledge to a greater degree than others, the sources of hallucinatory drugs, could impart to those who imbibed their juice “knowledge of the gods”.

IV - Plants and Drugs

Vegetation was the fruit of god’s union with earth. Like any other offspring, some of the children were strong and vigorous, others weaklings. Some trees had wood that was hard and suitable for building houses and ships, others rotted quickly and proved treacherous. Some woods were springy and full of life, and gave the archer his bow. Others cracked easily and served only for kindling.

Some fruits were soft and sweet, but others bitter and full of some strange power that could kill or cure. Man’s first experiments in the use of plants as drugs must have been extremely hazardous. Doubtless he watched first their effects on animals, as the shepherd Melampus is said to have discovered the purging properties of Hellebore by noting its effect on his goats.’ Gradually experience, often painfully acquired, would have given the inhabitants of each locality a primitive pharmacopoeia for their use, and visitors from elsewhere would have introduced new plants and drugs.

Over the course of time a store of experiential knowledge would have accumulated and been made the subject of special study by a few of the elders, the “wise men”.2

Later the physicians were to become a privileged class of people, wielding tremendous power among their fellows, and ensuring a continuance of their position by maintaining strict secrecy over their craft. Our first medical text is a Sumerian tablet from the end of the third millennium,3 listing remedies made from milk, snake-skin, tortoiseshell, salt, and saltpetre, and from plants and trees like cassia, myrtle, asafoetida, thyme, willow, pear, fir, fig, and date.

Later we find an abundance of medical tablets and botanical lists with their Sumerian and Accadian names for the trees and plants, their fruits, barks, saps, and resins, and their preparation and uses in medicine.

This kind of careful cataloguing of plant-life does not appear in the Western world until the fifth and fourth centuries BC, and particularly with Theophrastus ( 72—287 Bc), a pupil of both Plato and Aristotle. His Enquiry into Plants4 lists some 400 species with their forms, habits, habitats, fructification, and cultivation, and their uses. Clearly he must have put the services of his two thousand or so students to good use since he quotes the results of firsthand enquiry in places which he could hardly have visited himself in one lifetime.

He was also able to avail himself of the observations made into local botanical specimens by his contemporary Alexander the Great and his armies as they ranged widely over the Near and Far East. Thereafter we have to wait until the first Christian century for a comparable systematic study of plants. Dioscorides, a contemporary of Claudius and Nero, has left us, in his De Materia Medica,5 a conscious attempt to systematize rather than merely list the drugs he records.

He separates his remedies into their respective vegetable, animal, and mineral sources. His descriptions are terse and acute, and largely free from old wives tales Happily, from our point of view, about the same time Pliny the Elder (AD 23-79) was writing a rather less “scientific” work, abounding in folk—lore as well as more sober gleanings from earlier botanists.

His Natural History 6 is a mine of information, not so much for his descriptions of the plants and their identifications, many of which are quite unreliable anyway, as for the stories about them which had come down in popular mythology and folk-lore. He describes the superstitions that attended the plant’s extraction from the ground, its preparation, and uses. He gives us stories about how their qualities were first observed by the ancients and why they were named as they were.

Of course, factually his tales are often quite irrelevant, but very often there are elements which relate to a probable decipherment of the name and thus a positive link with another plant or drug listed quite separately. In our quest for the sources of ideas and mythologies, this kind of information is more important than detailed descriptions of the plants’ physiology. Old writings thought to contain secrets of the healing arts came to be highly prized.

Josephus, in the first Christian century, says of the Jewish sect called the Essenes that they display,
“an extraordinary interest in the writings of the ancients, singling out in particular those which make for the welfare of the soul and body; with the help of these, and with a view to the treatment of diseases, they investigate medicinal roots and the properties of stones”.7
Such writings were often ascribed popularly to Solomon, credited in the Bible with knowledge of “trees, from the cedar that is in Lebanon, to the hyssop that grows out of the wall” (I Kings 4:33 [Heb 5:13]). Later tradition ascribed to the king even greater powers, “knowledge of the art used against demons for the benefit and healing of men”, as Josephus says elsewhere.8

He adds that Solomon “composed incantations by which illnesses are relieved, and left behind exorcisms with which those possessed of demons drive them out, never to return”. Interestingly, the practice of this kind of Solomonic demonology was not dead in the first century.

Josephus records actually seeing a cure effected by “this very great power”, by one Eleazar, a fellow-countryman, and very possibly an Essene.
“He put to the nose of the possessed man a ring which had under its seal one of the roots prescribed by Solomon. Then, as the man smelled it, he drew out the demon through his nostrils, and when the man at once fell down, he adjured the demon never to come back into him, speaking Solomon’s name and reciting the incantations which he had composed.” 9
Identifying the drug-producing plants, then, was not the only factor in early pharmaceutical and medical practice. It was one thing to be able to recognize a drug plant, even to know its popular name; it was another to know how to extract and purify the active ingredient, and, above all, to know the right dosage.

There were other complications.

Some drugs were so powerful that they could only be safely administered on certain days, or after lengthy preparation of the body and mind. It was also well known that over-powerful drugs had to be countered with another having the opposite effect, as in the case of the purge Hellebore,10 and with some narcotics which had to be offset with stimulants. To know the correct dosages in these cases required an appreciation of the susceptibility of the patient to the drug’s effects, perhaps the most difficult calculation of all.

Much depended on the recipient’s “fate” allotted him at his birth, the factor that determined his individuality, his physical stature, the color of his eyes, and so on. Only the astrologer could tell this, so that the art of medicine was itself dependent for success on astrology and the considerable astronomical knowledge this presupposed. Just such an astrological chart has come down to us from the Essene library recovered recently from the Dead Sea caves.11

It is written in code, composed mainly by reversing the normal order of the letters, that is, reading from left to right instead of right to left in the usual fashion of Semitic scripts, and substituting Greek and other alphabets for some of the square-letter Hebrew writing found elsewhere in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The document is unfortunately only fragmentary, and has been put together from scores of tiny pieces found scattered on the floor of a cave. Nevertheless, the purport is clear. It is a chart of the physical and spiritual characteristics to be expected of people born in certain sections of the Zodiac. Thus, someone born under the sign Taurus would possess, among other features, long and thin thighs and toes. The spiritual make-up of the subjects was reckoned as so many parts of “light” and so many of “darkness”, the total available for distribution being nine, presumably related to the months of gestation in the womb.

The Taurus person would have a mere three parts of light to six of darkness. More uncouth was the subject whose zodiacal assignment is missing from the text, but whose physical characteristics are marked with a certain coarseness, such as having thick fingers, hairy thighs, and short and stubby toes, and no less than eight parts derived from “the House or Pit of Darkness” and but one from “the House of Light”.

The best-favoured subject recorded in the extant text is a curly-bearded gentle-. man of medium height, with “eyes like black and glowing coals”, well ordered teeth, and fine, tapering fingers, and the opposite apportionment of light and darkness to the last mentioned bully. The Dead Sea Scrolls, like the New Testament, make much of the antagonism between “Light” and “Darkness”, and it is usually assumed that this everywhere is equivalent to “good” and “evil”.

Thus the so— called “Children of Light” are those who do good, and the “Children of Darkness” are those who wantonly harm their fellow-men. However, this distinction is not necessarily what we should call a moral one: the fruits of the “spirit of Truth”, with which Light seems to be identified, begin with “healing”, “peace in longevity”, and “fruitfulness”.

The “ways of the spirit of Falsehood” are greed, wickedness, lies, haughtiness and pride, deceit, cruelty, bad temper, and so on,12 what we should call, in general, faults of intemperance and arrogance, an imbalance of character. We might label such defects as “moral wrong” but in the eyes of the ancient philosophers, they were inherited predispositions occasioned largely by a man’s fate allotted him at birth according to the stars.

Medicine was as much a part of righting this imbalance of “moral” character as religion; the two were, in fact, inseparable.

To administer the drugs correctly one had to know just what were the inherited traits of the patient’s character, and for this enquiry, as our cryptic scroll from the Dead Sea shows, the physician looked to the stars.

The combined arts of medicine and astrology were known and practiced by the Sumerians and their Mesopotamian successors, as we know from their cuneiform records as well as the repute they enjoyed in this respect in the ancient world.
“Stand fast in your enchantments and your many sorceries, with which you have labored from your youth”, cries Isaiah to “the virgin daughter of Babylon”; “perhaps you may be able to succeed, perhaps you may inspire terror. You are wearied with your many counsels; let them stand forth and save you, those who divide the heavens, who gaze at the stars, who at the new moons predict what shall befall you”.
(Isa 47: 12ff:)
Their cultural, if not ethnic successors were the Magi, the “wise men” of Gospel birth story (Matt 2:1).

They were the great drug-pedlars of the ancient world and are often cited by Pliny as sources of therapeutic folk-lore and of the less familiar names of plants and drugs.

He treats them with contempt for the most part, but nevertheless quotes them at great length and says that the philosopher Pythagoras, first in his view to compose a book on the properties of plants, and his colleague Democritus,
“visited the Magi of Persia, Arabia, Ethiopia, and Egypt, and so amazed were the ancients at these books that they positively asserted quite unbelievable statements”.
lS Dioscorides quotes them as sources of “special” names of plants under the title “prophets” (prophëtai). This is particularly interesting because the old Sumerian word for “physician”, A— ZU or 1—ZU, literally, “water—, oil—expert” also stands for “prophet, seer”. The name Essene, known otherwise only in its Greek, transliterated form, comes probably from the same root.14

Prognostication was always an important part of medicine.
“It is most excellent for a physician to cultivate special insight (pronoia, knowing things about the patient without being told them)”, writes a contributor to the Hippocratic Collection (after 300 BC).

“Since he fore— knows and foretells the past, present, and future... men would have confidence to entrust themselves to his care... By an early forecast in each case he can tend aright those who have a chance to survive and by foreseeing who will die... he will escape blame.”
However, there was much more to this pronoia than merely knowing who was likely to be in a position to pay your bill at the end of the treatment. The physician had to be able to communicate with the spirit world, to exercise influence over the gods and demons that controlled health and sickness. Bach disease and each part of the body had its own demon.

To know its name was to tap some of its power and use it on behalf of the patient. So Jesus enquires of the unclean spirit his name and is thus able to banish him into the unfortunate pigs (Mark 5:9). The Greek word daimön derives, through the Persian dew (there is a strong linguistic affinity between m and w), from a probable Sumerian original *DA.....U_NA, meaning “having power over fertility”.

The demon thus had the power of affecting, for good or ill, birth and death and the various stages of health in between. The medicinal drug had similar powers, and the Hebrew word for “be sick”, dawah, and its cognate noun in Arabic meaning “medicine”, come from the same root. So the demon of health and sickness and the drug are radically one and the same.15

If it was vital for the doctor-prophet to know the names of the disease—demons he was trying to counteract, it was just as important to be able to call upon their opposite numbers, the powers of healing contained in the drugs. These were the angels whose names formed an important part of the Essenes’ secret knowledge, to preserve which the initiate was put under “tremendous oaths”.16

The basic principle is the same when Josephus’ friend Eleazar called upon the name of Solomon as he administered the prescribed root,17 and Peter pronounces the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth over the lame man (Acts 3:6), an incantation tried with apparently less success by “the seven sons of Sceva” (Acts i9i3f.).

Since all life derives from the divine seed, it follows that the most powerful healing drug would be the pure, unadulterated semen of the god. Some plants were thought to have sap or resin approximating to this, their “purity” or “sanctity” in this regard being measured by their power as drugs to kill or cure or intoxicate. In Sumerian the words for “live” and “intoxicate” are the same, TIN, and the “tree of life”, GESIITIN, is the “vine”. Similarly in the Greek amos and the Hebrew yayin, “wine”, there is probably a common Sumerian root *IA_u_Nu, semen—seed.18

The use of the name Jesus (Greek iesus) as an invocation for healing was appropriate enough. Its Hebrew original, yehöshiia’, Joshua, comes from Sumerian *JA_U_ShIJ_A (ShuSh), “semen, which saves, restores, heals”. Hellenized Jews used for “Joshua” the Greek name ΙΑΣΩΝ, Jason, very properly, since iasón, “healer”, and the deponent verb iaomai, “heal”, come from the same Sumerian source.

In the New Testament taunt, “Physician, heal thyself” (Luke 4:23), we probably have a direct allusion to this meaning, as we certainly have in Jesus’ title “Saviour”, Greek sötër, the first element of which reflects the same Sumerian word ShU, “save”, and so is rightly used in Greek for saving from disease, harm, peril, etc., and is a common epithet of Zeus and kings.

The fertility god Dionysus (Greek Dionusos) , whose cult emblem was the erect phallus, was also a god of healing, and his name, when broken down to its original parts, IA-U—NU—ShUSh, is almost identical with that of Jesus, having NU, “seed”, only in addition:
“Semen, seed that saves”, and is comparable with the Greek Nosios, “Healer”, an epithet of Zeus.19
The fertility deity, then, appeared in all living beings, but in some more than others.

Those plants especially endowed with power to heal or kill, the drug plants, became the subject of study among the witch-doctors, prophets, and priests of the ancient world and their experiential know.- ledge was passed on within their professional communities and zealously guarded.

As well as the names and identities of the plants, they preserved those of the disease demons and the protective angels whose power was needed to secure and use the precious drugs. Furthermore, an essential part of “healing” or giving life was to know the patient’s physiological and psychological makeup, and the degrees of the “spirits of light and darkness” that he had been granted by fate at his birth.

These traits of character and bodily constitution could be determined by astrological means, so that the early doctors were also astrologers. He was also a prophet, a prognosticator.

The arts of healing and religion were inseparable.

V - Plant Names and the Mysteries of the Fungus

It is in the secrecy surrounding the collection and transmission of the old medical prescriptions that we can see the beginnings of the mystery cults of the ancient Near East.

If we are going to penetrate their secrets we have somehow to discover the names of their prime ingredients, the plants and drugs the prophets and doctors dispensed. We have now at least the advantage of knowing the most ancient language of the area and can in many cases begin to decipher the names of the plants and their attendant angels and demons.

But it has to be recognized that of all branches of research into the life of the ancient world, identification of plant names is one of the most difficult.

The old botanists were as aware of the problem as the modern researcher.
“An added difficulty in botany”, wrote Pliny some nineteen hundred years ago, “is the variety of names given to the same plant in different districts”.1
The more “strange” the herb, the more note-. worthy its characteristics, the greater the number of folk—names. Dioscorides, for instance, gives some two—score names to the Mandrake, 2 that famous aphrodisiac with which Leah purchased a night of connubial bliss with Jacob (Gen 30: 14ff.), and whose narcotic properties could not suffice to give poor Othello “that sweet sleep which thou owedst yesterday”.3

Until comparatively recently, botanists lacked adequate methods of classification, so that plants tended to be grouped together on the basis of what we nowadays would consider secondary characteristics. Thus speaking of the Ground-pine, Pliny records that “a third variety has the same smell and therefore the same name”.

Even now, the inexactitude of local plant names is the despair of field botanists. Pliny felt as sorely frustrated:
“The reason why more herbs are not familiar”, he writes, “is because experience of them is confined to illiterate country—folk, who form the only class of people living among them. Moreover, when crowds of medical men are to be met everywhere, nobody wants to look for them. Many simples, also, lack names, though their properties are known...

The most disgraceful reason for this scanty knowledge is that even those who possess it refuse to teach it, just as though they would themselves lose what they have imparted to others.” 5
We have now one great philological advantage over all previous researchers into the identification of plant-names.

Despite the long gap in time between the Sumerian botanists and their Greek and Roman successors it now appears that many of the important names of plants remained virtually unchanged. During the course of thousands of years those titles became attached to different plants: hence the confusion in nomenclatures of which Pliny speaks. But if we can know what the name originally meant, what characteristic of the plant or its drug was foremost in the minds of its first chroniclers, we have a much better chance of discovering its original identity.

For example, we all know what the Paeony looks like:
a beautiful herbaceous or shrubby perennial plant, bearing large double blooms in crimson, rose, blush, and similar colors, a joy to behold in our cottage gardens in May.
Pliny says the name came from the physician god Apollo, whose chant of praise bears the same name, our “paean”.

But he goes on to say it,
“grows on shaded mountains, having a stem among the leaves about four inches high, which bears on its top four or five growths like almonds, in them being a large amount of seed, red and black. The plant also prevents the mocking delusions that the Fauns bring us in our sleep.”
Apparently, one has to be careful how you pick this precious herb. It is best done at night-time,
“because the woodpecker of Mars, should he see the act, will attack the eyes in its defense”.6
Well, of course, this is not our crimson Paeony. It is some magic plant, “the first to be discovered”, as our Roman botanist tells us. For various reasons which will become apparent, we can now differentiate this very special “Paeony” from other plants to which the name was given, and identify it with the subject of our present study, the Amanita muscaria, the sacred mushroom.

Doubtless, the flower Paeony gained the name originally because its flower was thought to resemble the color of the red-topped fungus. It would not have been possible to deduce the relationship between the flower and the mushroom merely on the description given by Pliny: one had first to decipher the name “Paeony” and discover its original significance and point of common reference.

In this case, we can see its original in a Sumerian *BAR_IA_U_NA, “capsule of fecundity; womb”, and connect it with a number of other mushroom names relating to the little “womb” or volva from which the stem of the fungus emerges.7

To take another example: Greek knows the plant Naveiwort as Kotulëdзn, Latin Cotyledon. The word means any socket-shaped cavity, such as that of a hip-joint, or the inside of a cup, or the hollow of a hand. In botanical language the Greek word comes to mean the first or “seed leaves” of a plant, usually of simple form, but it can be applied to many plants having some part of them of a “cup” or “hollow” form.

To discover some more particular reference of the name it is necessary to trace it back to its constituent elements. This we can now do for the first time, showing that its Sumerian source provided a phrase, *GU_ TAL-U-DUN, meaning “ball-and-socket”, or, particularly applied “penis-and-vulva”.8

It is the sexual allusions of the name which, as we shall see, brought it into the range of fungus nomenclature. Furthermore, the specific reference in Greek of Kotulëdön to “hip-joint” gave rise to a number of myths having to do with “mushroom” figures having their hips disjointed or being pierced in the hip or side of the body.9

For the decipherment of plant-names helps us not only to identify those characteristics which caused them to be applied to various species but also to discover the original sources and meanings of the tales which grew up around the plants and their drugs. It is becoming clear that many of the classical and biblical stories are based on pieces of vegetation, and in particular on the sacred mushroom.

There is one overt piece of vegetation mythology in the Old Testament parable of Jotham in the book of Judges. In the story the trees of the forest ask representatives of each species to act as their king.
The olive, fig, and vine are too busy giving of their fruits to men, and in desperation the trees ask the diminutive mushroom (as we may now most probably identify the plant),10 who insists that in that case "they must all take refuge under its canopy, that is, that they treat him as their protector, king indeed”
(Judg 9:7—IS).
This is a parable, rather like some of those in the New Testament, where the explanation is appended for the benefit of the listeners. Perhaps all plant mythology began in this way, each story having one point to make which was brought out by the narrator’s explanation at the end. In course of time, the instructive element was lost and the parable told and retold without its exegetical commentary, in the end to circulate as just a good yarn.

As antiquity came to lend certain of such stories a gravity perhaps not originally intended, they became accepted into a body of cultic teaching by religious authorities, who then set about providing their own explanations and homiletics and accorded the tales divine authority. A vegetation myth could be adapted by a later writer, fully aware of its original significance, to serve as the medium for some new teaching.

Such may be the case with the story of Jonah in the Old Testament, the prophet who was told to preach repentance to Nineveh.

We are now able positively to identify this story as one of a mushroom group, since the famous plant which gave Jonah shade, which “came into being in a night and perished in a night”, and was subject to the depredation of worms, was certainly a fungus.12 Even the prophet’s name Jonah reflects mushroom nomenclature,’ and the quelling of the storm motif is found elsewhere in related mythology.14

But the “moral” of the tale, insofar as we can understand it, seems to have no particular mushroom significance. As we have said, the first step to discovering the nature of vegetation stories and the particular plant or tree that was originally involved is to decipher the proper names. However, in the case of plants regarded as especially powerful or “magic” like the mushroom, additional problems face the enquirer.

The strange shapes and manner of growth of the fungus, along with its poisonous reputation, combined to evoke feelings of awe and dread in the minds of simple folk. Indeed, there must be few people even today who do not sense some half-fearful fascination at the sight of the mushroom, and shrink from taking it into their hands.

Since certain of the species contain drugs with marked hallucinatory properties,15 it is not surprising that the mushroom should have become the centre of a mystery cult in the Near East which persisted for thousands of years. There seems good evidence that from there it swept into India in the cult of the Soma some 3,500 years ago; it certainly flourished in Siberia until quite recent times, and is found even today in certain parts of South America.16

Partly because of the religious use of the sacred mushroom, and the fearful respect with which country-folk have always treated it, its more original names became taboo and folk—names and epithets proliferated at their expense. It is as if, in our own language, the only name by which we knew the mushroom was the folk-name “toadstool”, and that some researcher of the future was faced with the problem of deciding what species of plant life served as the habitual perch of large frogs.

Thus the extraordinary situation has arisen that this most important mushroom cult, from which much of the mythology of the ancient Near East sprang, has been almost completely overlooked by the historians. In the Bible, for instance, where mushroom mythology plays a most important part, the word “mushroom” has been nowhere noted although one of its most ancient names, Hebrew kotereth, Accadian katarru, appears many times in its quite straightforward meaning of “mushroom—shaped capital of a pillar” (I Kgs 7: i6, etc).17

Even among the Greek and Roman botanical works there are scarcely a dozen different words which have been recognized as relating specifically to the fungus, and the whole of extant Semitic literature can produce few more.18 Mycology, as the study of fungi is called after the Greek mukës, “mushroom”, is a comparatively modern science.19

Although the ancients knew that the mushroom’s apparent seedlessness put it into a category of natural life all its own, they did not always differentiate it from other plants, so that its names have to be disentangled from those of quite unrelated species. In seeking for mushroom folk-names and epithets, one of our main sources obviously will be its distinctive shape of a slender stem supporting an arched canopy, like a sunshade.

This characteristic was made much of in mythology, like the Jotham and Jonah stories already referred to. Extended to gigantic proportions this figure is reflected in such imagery as huge men like Atlas holding up the canopy of heaven, or of mountains like Olympus serving the dual function of supporting the sky and providing a connecting link between the gods and earth.20

One of the ways we can now identify the Mandrake as the mushroom is that one of its Greek names, Antimimon, is traceable to a Sumerian original, meaning “heavenly shade”, a reference to the canopy of the opened fungus. Incidentally, the same root,* GIG—AN-TI, gave the Greek gigantes, and in English, “giants”, in pursuance of the imagery of the “giant” holding aloft the arch of heaven.21

Above all, the mushroom provoked sexual imagery and terminology. The manner of its rapid growth from the volva, or “womb”, the rapid erection of its stem like a sexually stirred penis, and its glans—like head, all stimulated phallic names. Of such is the Hebrew kotereih, just referred to, and, coming from the same Sumerian original, GU-TAR, “top of the head: penis”, the most common Semitic name for the mushroom, phutr (Arabic), pitrã’ (Aramaic), portrayed in the New Testament myth as Peter.22

One of the names given the Paeony by Pliny is Glycyside. The name which is meaningless in Latin or Greek is but a jumbled form of an old Sumerian plant-name, UKUSh-TI-GIL-LA, meaning “bolt-gourd; mushroom”.23

The reference to the “bolt” is occasioned by the primitive key which consisted mainly of a rod surmounted by a knob,24 with a right-angled bend at the other end.25 It was pushed through the keyhole and simply lifted the latch on the other side. The phallic imagery of the “knobbed shaft” gave the “key” a sexual significance for the purposes of nomenclature which appears in many instances.

The penis-mushroom was thus in mythological terms, the “key” of the earth, the way to the underworld, the “Peter”, as it were, against which the gates of Hades would not prevail (Matt i6:i8f.; Rev 1:18). Decipherment of plant and drug names not only allows us to share the imagery their shapes provoked in the minds of the ancient botanists, but to learn of the demonic power they were supposed to wield.

This is particularly important with regard to the Mandrake fungus. The Sumerian from which the Greek Mandragoras and our “Mandrake” came was *NMs.TAR.AGAR, “demon or fate-plant of the field”. The consonants m and n have changed places and T has shifted to the closely related sound d.

This particular decipherment has the added interest of revealing the identity and source of another very famous name in drug folk-lore, the “Nectar” of the gods. The Sumerian M of NAM-TAR has made its common dialectal change to Indo-European k and thus produced the Greek Nektar, our Nectar, seen now to be none other than the sacred mushroom, food indeed of the gods.26

It followed, from the reasoning of the ancient philosophers, outlined earlier,27 that if you knew the names of the demonic plants, like the sacred mushroom, you could control them to some extent. It might be possible to make them grow where and when you wanted, and, having found them, pronunciation of the name would enable the finder to take the herb from the ground with impunity. Furthermore, if, like the Mandrake, it had some special drug property which, taken without sufficient care and preparation might occasion bodily harm, it was necessary at certain points in the cultic ritual to speak the sacred name.28

There grew up, therefore, a body of cultic tradition primarily concerned with the accurate transmission of the special, occult names of the and drug plants and their incantations. This was no more than an extension of the secret knowledge of the old witch-doctor or prophetic fraternities. 29 A combination of a highly sophisticated expertise in the nature In t and use of potent drugs with, at times, a pretence to political power, made such communities a menace to government and drew forth a vicious reaction from the authorities.

The whole point of a mystery cult was that few people knew its secret doctrines. So far as possible, the initiates did not commit their special knowledge to writing. Normally the secrets of the sect were transmitted orally, novices being required to learn direct from their mentors by heart, and placed under the most violent oaths never to disclose the details even under torture.

When such special instruction was committed to writing, care would be taken that it should be read only by the members of the sect. This could be done by using a special code or cypher, as is the case with certain of the Dead Sea Scrolls.30

However, discovery of such obviously coded material on a person would render him suspect to the authorities. Another way of passing information was to conceal the message, incantations or special names within a document ostensibly concerned with a quite different subject. Plant mythology, known for thousands of years over the whole of the ancient world, provided the New Testament cryptographers with their “cover”.

Mushroom stories abounded in the Old Testament.

The Christians believed, like their Essene brethren, that they were the true spiritual heirs to ancient Israel. So it was an obvious device to convey to the scattered cells of the cult reminders of their most sacred doctrines and incantatory names and expressions concealed within a story of a “second Moses”, another Lawgiver, named after the patriarch’s successor in office Joshua (Greek Iësous, “Jesus”).

Thus was born the Gospel myth of the New Testament. How far it succeeded in deceiving the authorities, Jewish and Roman, is doubtful. Certainly the Roman records speak with loathing of the Christians and they were hounded with extreme ferocity reserved for political troublemakers within the realm.31 Those most deceived appear to have been the sect who took over the name of “Christian” and who formed the basis of the Church, the history of which forms no part of the present study.

What is of far greater importance is that we may now break the code and discover the secret names of the Holy Plant, as it was called from the earliest times, and gain a deeper insight than ever before possible into the nature of the cult and its place in the ancient world.

In the following chapters we shall look in detail at the way this codification within the biblical stories was achieved.

Foremost among the literary devices used was word-play or punning, already well-established as an important and widespread means of deriving hidden meanings from sacred texts.

VI - The Key of the Kingdom

In a passage dealing with the wisdom and apparent foolishness of Christian preaching, a New Testament writer includes these words: For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and folly to Gentiles... (I Cor i :22f.). In these words is an ingenious word-play or pun on two words for the sacred mushroom, the “Christ crucified”, and it will serve as an example of this literary device and its extensive use in the New Testament.

The word “stumbling—block” (Greek skandalon, our “scandal”), is properly used of a “trap” or “snare”. It denotes a stick or bolt upon which bait is placed and which, if tripped by the prey, sets off the trap itself. So metaphorically it is used for any impediment which hinders or traps an unwitting person. The Greek word skandalon, we can now appreciate, originally meant “bolt” like its Aramaic equivalent tiqla’, and we saw earlier how the phallic mushroom was called a “bolt— plant” because the shape of the primitive key or bolt was in essence a short rod surmounted by a knob, and so likened to an erect penis.1

Thus we may decipher the first part of the passage: “to the Jews” (that is, in the Jewish tongue, Aramaic), the “Christ crucified”, the semen— anointed, erected mushroom,2 is a tiqid’ , “bolt—plant”. Another name of the mushroom is the Greek Mörios,3 and the word for “folly” is mona; so the writer to Corinthians adds “... and folly (mOna) to the Gentiles” (that is, the Greeks), thereby completing the word-play and confirming the one against the other.

An amusing pun on the same Aramaic tiqlO’ , “bolt—mushroom” name, occurs in the story of Peter’s encounter with the taxmen.
“On their arrival in Capernaum,” runs the story, “the collectors of the half—shekel tax went up to Peter and said, ‘Does not your master pay the tax?”
Peter assured them that he did, like any good Jew, since it was an obligatory levy for Temple funds. On receiving his report of the incident, Jesus reacted strongly.
“However,’ he concluded, ‘so that we should not put a stumbling-block in their way (skandalisJmen), go to the sea and cast a hook, and take up the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel”
(Matt 17:24ff.)
The word-play here is mainly on the various meanings of tiqla’, and its cognates: “mushroom”, “shekel”, and “tax”. The intriguing nonsense about the shekel in the fisWs mouth has all the appearance of a piece of earthy folk-humor. The “knobbed-bolt” epithet of the mushroom, tiqia’, has strong phallic allusions, as we have seen. The fish’s mouth also has a sexual connotation, being envisaged as the large lips of the woman’s genitals. The “bearded” mullet in particular was credited with lustful tendencies and associated with the womb.5

To have a “shekel (bolt) in the fish’s mouth” was probably a euphemism for coitus. Pliny has a curious little note which seems to support the idea that “shekels” and mushrooms were connected in folk—lore. He says that he knew “for a fact” that some years previously a Roman official in Spain had “happened, when biting a truffle (tuber), to have come upon a denarius inside it which bent his front teeth”.6

Pliny recounts this highly improbable “fact” to support his quite erroneous view that the mysterious fungus was a “lump of earthy substance balled together”. Is it perhaps a Latinized version of a “shekel in the fish’s mouth” name of the mushroom?

The Old Testament also contains a mushroom story based on the tiqia’, “bolt—fungus” — “shekel” word—play. It concerns the mysterious message written on King Beishazzar’s dining-room wall. It will be recalled that the Babylonian monarch, in the days of Daniel the Jewish prophet, was about to sit down to what promised to be the Babylonian orgy of a lifetime.

Scarcely had the drinks begun to flow and the party to warm up generally when a disembodied hand suddenly appeared before the astonished king and began writing the strange device: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, and PARSIN. (Dan 5:5—25). Much perturbed, he called for his magicians and other men of wisdom to explain the words to him; but all to no avail. Finally, in despair he called the hero Daniel, who treated the company to a long harangue on the evils of the Babylonian monarchy and Beishazzar and his forbears in particular.

He ended this enlightening discourse with his interpretation of the fateful words: “MENE, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; TEKEL, you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting; PERES, your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.” In each of the mysterious words, Daniel found an Aramaic pun: MENE, on the root m-n-y, “number”; TEKEL, on the root t—q—l, “weigh” (cognate with the Hebrew she qel, “weight, coin”); and PERES, a twofold word-play on the root p-r-s, “divide in two”, and Parsi, “Persian”, the Babylonians’ hated enemies.

The introductory formula, MENE, MENE, is comparable in form and content with the invocation, Eloi, Eloi (E-LA-UIA) that preceded the secret mushroom name (see Ch. XVII). It refers probably to the Semitic god of fate, Meni (Isa 6 :ii; RSV “Fortune”), equivalent of the Sumerian NAM-TAR, “fate demon”, source of the mushroom designations Nectar and Mandrake. TEKEL is our “bolt-” fungus, and PARSIN is the Sumerian BAR-SIL, “womb”, a reference to the mushroom volva.

We meet PARSIN in the Greek form Perseia, as the magic herb that sprang from the ground after Perseus had dropped the chape of his scabbard (mukës, also meaning “mushroom”) whilst flying over the site of what was to become Mycenae (the “mushroom” city).8

The combination TEKEL and PARSIN will then be of the “ball-and- socket”, “penis-andvulva” type of mushroom name.9 In his pseudo-translation of the awful message on the wall, Daniel refers TEKEL to the Semitic root of “shekel” just like the Gospel story about the tax-collectors.

Apart from the pun involved, the particular interest of the tale for our present study is that the writer of Daniel has shown that the device used so often in the New Testament of following a genuine name for the sacred fungus with a false translation for the sake of the plot, was an established part of mushroom mythology long before the writer of Mark’s gospel “explained” Boanerges as “Sons of Thunder”.10

The “stumbling-block” figure occurs frequently in the New Testament, but of particular note is its application to the apostle Peter following Jesus’ prophecy of his forthcoming suffering, “Peter took him and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you!’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me. . .“ (Matt 16:22f.). Peter’s name is an obvious play on the Semitic pitrJ’, “mushroom”, and we have already seen that his patronymic, Bar—jonah, is really a fungus name cognate with Paeonia, the Holy Plant.11

Now called a “stumbling-block”, he is given the tiqlJ’, “bolt— mushroom” name,12 a theme which is repeated elsewhere in that over—emphasized and completely misunderstood passage about having the keys of the kingdom: And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock13 I will build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. . . (Matt 16: I8f.).

The sacred fungus was the “bolt” or “key” that gave access to heaven and to hell, a double reference to its shape as a knobbed bolt for opening doors, and to its ability to open the way to new and exciting mystical experiences.14

Calling the apostle “Satan” is in line with his other title of Cephas. Both names are in fact plays on designations of the mushroom, elsewhere seen of that other “bulb” plant, the onion. Greek and Latin apply the name stanion, setania to the onion, and Latin has caepa, cepa for that vegetable, cognate with the French cèpe, ceps, “mushroom The well-known word—play in Matt i6:i8: “you are Peter (Petros), and upon this rock (petra) I shall build my church. . .“ can now be seen as of much greater relevance to the cult than a mere pun on Peter’s title Cephas and the Aramaic word for “stone”, këpha’.

The real point of the whole passage is the word-play on the names of the sacred fungus that “Peter” represented. The commission of authority: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt 16:19), has its verbal basis in an important Sumerian mushroom name *MAShBA(LA)GANTA...T41..BA..J?J,lO read as “thou art the permitter (releaser) of the kingdom” by a play on three or four Aramaic words spun out of the Sumerian title.17

It has, probably, like most other of the directives and homilies of the “cover” story, no real— life significance. Least of all would the passage have been taken by the cult members that one of their number should take upon himself the kind of spiritual authority indicated by the face reading of the text. The sole prerogative of “binding” and “loosing” lay with God.

To the worshipper of the sacred fungus, the deity was present in the mushroom and offered his servants the “key” to a new and wonderful mystic experience. It was this “re— birth”, as it was called, that cleared away the debts of the past and gave promise of a future free from the cultic “sin” that destroyed the initiate’s free communion with God. It was left to a later development of the cult, also calling themselves “Christians” and reading the words at their face value, to accord to their leader and his designates a divine authority for forgiving sins and pronouncing on moral matters which Judaism would have found abhorrent even blasphemous.

If it seems strange to us that the writers of these stories should have used such a trivial literary device as punning so extensively, it should be remembered that they were heirs to a very long tradition of this kind of word-spinning. The Old Testament is full of it, particularly where proper names are concerned, and very many more instances almost certainly lie beneath the surface, where writers are playing with dialectal forms of the words which have become lost over the centuries.

Furthermore, it is now becoming clear that many of the Old Testament traditions have reached us in a Semitic dialect which was not the one in which they were composed, so that the original word-play which they expressed has been lost.18

Again, what we call “the lowest kind of wit” was much more meaningful for the ancient writer. Words to him were not just vocalic utterances communicating ideas from one mind to another; they were expressions of real power in themselves. The word had an entity of its own; once released it could effect the desire of its creator. The god’s or the prophet’s word was a thing to be feared, and if maleficent, “turned back” as the Bible would say.

Words which looked alike, we might think accidentally, were considered actually to be connected in some way. Therefore deriving some moral tale or religious instruction from a single word in the sacred text, even though it be interpreted in a way at complete variance to its context, and philologically quite insupportable, was quite legitimate to the ancient commentator on the Scriptures, as it often seems to be among modern preachers.

In the New Testament writings a further element is involved, however. Word-play here can be a purposeful disguise, a means whereby special, secret names of the Holy Plant could be conveyed to the initiate through his informed group-leader without their being revealed to the outsider.

In general, there are at least three levels of understanding involved in the New Testament writings. On the surf ace, there are the Greek words in their plain meaning. It is here that we have the story of Jesus and his adventures, the real—life backcloth against which they are set, and his homiletic teachings. How much reality there is at this level is a matter for further enquiry, but probably very little, apart from the social and historical background material.

Beneath the Greek there lies a Semitic level of understanding (not necessarily, or even probably, a Semitic form, that is, actual Semitic versions of the Greek texts). It is mainly in this level that the word— plays are made. For instance, in the “stumbling—block” cycle of stories just mentioned, the puns are on the various meanings of the Aramaic word underlying the Greek skandalon, that is tiqia’, “stumbling—block” — “shekel, tax” — “bolt—mushroom” Under that again there lie the basic conceptions of the mushroom cult.

Here is the real stuff of the mystery-fertility philosophy. For example, to find their parables of the Kingdom, the writers make comparisons with objects and activities which, at the surface level of understanding, are often really absurd, besides being self-contradictory about the manner and form of the Kingdom’s coming.

The passage that likens the Kingdom to a mustard seed, for example, and then speaks of birds nesting in the branches of the grown plant (Matt 13:31f., etc.), has driven the biblical naturalists to distraction looking for a mustard “tree” suitable as roosting places for the fowls of the air. They could have saved themselves the trouble since the reference, at the “lower” level, is simply a play on the Semitic khardelä’, “mustard” and ‘ardilã’, “mushroom”.19

Furthermore, the whole discussion about the Kingdom stems from a play on the secret mushroom word TAB-BARI, read as the Semitic root d-b-r, “guide, manage, control”,20 the real meaning of this mystic “Kingdom” into which the initiate into the mysteries hoped to pass. For despite the trivial nature of the word-play by which it finds literary expression in the New Testament, the Kingdom of God was a very real experience in the minds of the Christians. It meant the complete domination of the mind and body of the celebrant by the god. He was “enthused” in the proper meaning of that word, “god_filled”.21

So in their respective times were the Maenads of Bacchus,22 and, less violently perhaps, the Methodists of John Wesley. The manner and means of the “domination” were of the utmost importance to the initiate for he was entering upon an extremely dangerous experience. Even with all their knowledge of the identity and power of their drugs, these worshippers at the throne of the “Jesus Christ” fungus knew well that the “Kingdom” they sought might well be eternal as far as they were concerned.

We should not, therefore, be tempted to underestimate either the intelligence of those participating in the cult, or their literary methods in committing their vital secrets to written form. In view of the hostility understandably being shown them by the authorities of the time, Roman and Jewish, writing the New Testament at all was scarcely less dangerous than chewing the sacred mushroom.

It may be of interest here to list the more important secret names of the sacred mushroom on which much of the mythology and homiletics of the New Testament is based. The full forms given here are the Sumerian originals, found actually extant in the texts surviving, reconstructed from transliterations in other dialects, or composed from known values of the words on otherwise existing patterns: *LI_KIJR_ BA(LA)G-ANTA/AN-TI- TAB-BA-RJLI-TI; ANTA; KUR-KUR; *MASh TAB BA R/LI TI UKUSh-LI-LI-GI; *T_BA_Pj..GI; and variants.23

In exactly what forms the Christians knew these words we cannot know; some will have been as Greek transcriptions, others in Semitic form. Now and again the names appear in vocabularies attached to other plants related in some way to the mushroom, and their original Sumerian form can be recognized. Of such are the Syriac and Arabic names for Hellebore, khurbekãnã’ and kharbaq respectively, traceable to Sumerian *KUR_BA(LA)CANTA, “cone of the erect phallus”, that is, the mushroom top. Sumerian KUR means a “mountain” or other conical shape.24

So a doubled KUR will sometimes indicate a double-cone shaped or glans- headed plant. The mushroom, with its split volva was so described, hence the derived Greek name Kirkaion among the Mandrake lists. Our word Crocus has the same Sumerian origin, referring to the phallic form of the flower stem and head. Another of our common vegetable names so derived is Chicory, a variant form of whose name in Greek is Korkoron.

This last occurs also as a mushroom name, and Pliny’s description of “Chicory” shows that whatever magic plant he is describing it is not the culinary root we know so well:
those who have anointed themselves with the juice of the whole plant, mixed with oil, become more popular and obtain their wishes more easily so great are its health—giving properties that some call it Chreston. 25

There has clearly been some confusion here in traditions regarding the plant, with which we may reasonably identify the Kirkaion, Mandrake. The juice was to be “rubbed on” or “anointed” (khristos) , and its properties were so beneficial that it was called Chreston (Greek khrëstos, “good, honest, health-bestowing”, etc.).26

One is reminded of the form of the name by which non-Christians spoke of the object of the sect’s adoration, Chrestus. So Suetonius speaks of the emperor Claudius having to expel Jews from Rome because they were making a disturbance “at the instigation of Chrestus”.27

What Pliny is describing then is the “Jesus Christ” mushroom whose consumption brought on the first—century Christians the vilification and contempt of the Roman historians. The Greek Korkoron, the “Christ” mushroom, appears also as an alternative name for Halicacabus,28 another of the “bolt” designations of the fungus. Its name is related to the Semitic word for “star” envisaged as a penis in the sky, a miniature “sun”.

Our own word “star” comes via Greek from a Sumerian word for “knobbed bolt”. Of Halicacabus, Pliny says: The root of Halicacaks is taken in drink by those who, to confirm superstitious notions, wish to splay the inspired prophet, and to be seen publicly raving in unpretended madness.

He adds that the root is,
“so antipathetic to the nature of asps, that if it be brought near to the reptile it stupifies that very power of theirs to kill by stupefaction”.29
Allusions like this to serpents and antidotes for their poisons or malign influences over the mind, usually imply some special relationship between the plant and the reptile. Mushrooms and serpents are closely related in folk—lore, and in this case we are reminded of the Old Testament passage about Moses’ brazen serpent, on which Jesus models himself,30 that anyone “bitten by a snake might look on it and live” (Num 21:9).

Of the other Sumerian elements that went to make up mushroom names, RI, or dialectal LI, also meant “cone”— or “bun”—shape, MASh (-TAB-BA), “twin”, so LI-MASh meant “two cones” or “hemispheres”, like, MASh-TAB-BA-R/LI. The word GI means “stem” so that LI-LI-GI could describe the mushroom as two halves of the volva separated by the erect stem.3’ Very common in the phallic nomenclature of the mushroom is the Sumerian BALAG, “crown of the penis; glans”. Supplemented by ANTA, “raised”, we shall meet the word in the name given to the Maenads, Bacchantes, and the Hebrew “weepers” for Tammuz.32

In Sumerian, the orgiasts whose task it was to cause the erection of the male organ, and in the cult, the raising of the phallic mushroom, were called BALAG-NAR. By natural association of ideas this combined word came into Greek as the name for an axe-handle, pelekunarion, which was pushed through the central hole of the double- axe head, the peleL’us.33

The extension of “erect penis” words to stakes, rods, cudgels, and the like is common in any language. Of the BALAG-derived words we might cite the Greek plialagx, Latin and our phalanx, meaning a “roller, log, or rank of soldiers”34 Another onion name, referring to the “knobbed root” of the vegetable that provoked phallic allusions, was the Latin pallacana, precisely our Sumerian *BALAG...AN(TA).35

The ancient naturalists speak of a poisonous spider whose name Phalaggion stems from the same root. Its connections with the genital organ are clear from their descriptions of the effects of its bite: The eyes become bloodshot, a shivering settles upon his limbs, and straight- way his skin and genitals grow taut, his penis projects, dripping with foul ooze. 36

Among the antidotes for this fearsome poison is listed Asparagus, a well-known antaphrodisiac, and also named from the Sumerian BALAG, presumably on account of its straight stalk.37 Semitic made a number of roots from BALAG, “crown of the penis”, and found therein words denoting a hemispherical or “bun” shape, as those for a young woman’s firm breast, the similarly shaped whorl of a spindle, half a pomegranate skin, a human temple, and a cake of figs.38 As in the title “Bacchante”, the middle “L” of BALAG became assimilated to the following consonant in pronunciation, giving sounds like “bacc-” or (from the cognate BULUG) “bucc-”.

Latin thus gained its bucca, “cheek”, and Hebrew one of its names for the mushroom, paqqu’ah.39 From the New Testament myth-maker’s point of view, this double pronunciation greatly enlarged his scope for punning. He could use BALAG in full for Semitic roots like p-l-kh, “make”40 (“On this rock I will build (make) my church”), but could shorten it and run into the preceding MASh of the fungus name, finding roots like sh-b-kh, “bless, praise” (“Blessed art thou, Simon Bar—jonah. . .“),41 and sh—b—q, “release, forgive” (“whatsoever you release on earth. . .“),42 and so on.

Having seen something of how the New Testament writers use the old sacred names of the mushroom for their word-play, we have now to look again at the nature of the fungus itself.

From the manner of its growth and its sexual resemblances come many of the “human” allusions in the stories that grew up round it. Its main parts, the “volva” and the “penis” stem, represented the essential distinguishing features of men and women, and in mythology they served as symbols for the male and female characters in the stories.

VII - The Man-child Born of a Virgin

Describing the growth of the mushroom ( boletos) , Pliny says: “the earth produces first a ‘womb’ (vulva)... and afterwards (the mushroom) itself inside the womb, like a yolk inside the egg; and the baby mushroom is just as fond of eating its coat as is the chicken.

The coat cracks when (the mushroom) first forms; presently, as it gets bigger, the coat is absorbed into the body of the footstalk (pediculi)... at first it is flimsier than froth, then it grows substantial like parchment, and then the mushroom - is born.1

More prosaically, perhaps, the process is thus described by a modern mycologist: “In the genus Amanita a membrane surrounds the young fungus. In addition to this wrapper or volva there is another membrane, stretching from the margin of the cap and joined to the stem, as in the mushroom.

Thus it is as if the,
“button stage” were surrounded by an outer skin. As the fungus develops this is torn apart. If its texture is sufficiently tenacious to hold it together, it is left as a cup at the base of the stem . . . With growth the membrane covering the gills tears and is left as a ring on the stem.”
Of the Amanita phalloides, the writer adds:
“Before the volva breaks the fungus looks somewhat like a pigeon’s egg half-buried, or like a small phallus ‘egg’. It is common in glades in woods and adjoining pastures after the first summer rains, and continues through early autumn.”2
It was the fertilization of the “womb” that most puzzled the ancients, and remained a mystery until the end of the last century. To Pliny the fungus had to be reckoned as one of the “greatest of the marvels of nature”, since it “belonged to a class of things that spring up spontaneously and cannot be grown from seed”.3 It was surely “among the most wonderful of all things” in that it could “spring up and live without a root”.4

Until the invention of the microscope the function of the spore, produced by each fungus in its millions, could not be appreciated. The mushroom has, indeed, no seed in the accepted sense, germinating and giving out a root and later a stem apex with or without seed leaves. The walls of each minute spore extrude to form thread-like tubes which branch further until all mass together to form the spongy flesh of the fungus.

The result is neither animal nor vegetable, and the mystery of its proper classification persisted until relatively modern times. Thus a sixteenth-century naturalist wrote:
“They are a sort of intermediate existence between plants and inanimate nature. In this respect fungi resemble zoophytes, which are intermediate between plants and animals.”5
One explanation for the creation of the mushroom without apparent seed was that the “womb” had been fertilized by thunder, since it was commonly observed that the fungi appeared after thunderstorms. Thus one name given them was Ceraunion, from the Greek keraunios, “thunderbolt”. Another was the Greek hudnon, probably derived from Sumerian *UD_NUN, “storm—seeded”.6

It was thus uniquely-begotten. The normal process of fructification had been by-passed. The seed had not fallen from some previous plant, to be nurtured by the earth until in turn it produced a root and stalk. The god had “spoken” and his creative “word” had been carried to earth by the storm-wind, angelic messenger of heaven, and been implanted directly into the volva.

The baby that resulted from this divine union was thus the “Son of God”, more truly representative of its heavenly father than any other form of plant or animal life. Here, in the tiny mushroom, was God manifest, the “Jesus” born of the Virgin “the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation - in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell...“ (Col i :isff.).

The phallic form of the mushroom matched precisely that of his father, whom the Sumerians called ISKUR, “Mighty Penis”, the Se— mites Adad, or Hadad, “Big—father”, the Greeks Patër-Zeus, and the Romans Jupiter, “Father-god”.7 To see the mushroom was to see the Father, as in Jesus the uncomprehending Philip was urged to look for God: “He who has seen me has seen the Father. . . Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me?” (John i4:9ff.). Even the detutns recognized him as “the Holy One of God” (Mark i :24), and it was as “the Holy Plant” that the sacred fungus came to be known throughout the ancient world.

The slimy juice of the mushroom which, in some phalloidic species, spills over the “glans” and clown the stem, seemed to the ancients like the viscous exudation of the genital organs prior to coitus and the seminal discharge at orgasm. The Hebrew word for “smooth, slimy” derives from a Sumerian phrase meaning “semen running to waste”,8 and figures in a number of biblical allusions to the mushroom.9

It was otherwise known as “spittle”, and Job asks if there is any taste in the “spittle of the mushroom” (as we should now read the name of that plant) (Job 6:6).10 To have “spittle in the mouth” was a euphemism in the Jewish Talmud for “semen in the vagina”, 11 and the close relationship between the two fluids resulted in the very widespread belief that spittle had strong curative and prophylactic properties.

Thus, as human semen was a cure for scorpion stings, according to Pliny,12 spittle was a repellent to snakes and an antidote to snake venom.13 Jesus is pictured making a clay poultice to lay over the eyes of the man born blind (John 9:6), mixing his spittle with dust, as Pliny reports that saliva used each morning as an eye ointment cured ophthalmia.14

Rain, the semen of the god, was spurted forth from the divine penis at his thunderous orgasm in the heavens, and was borne as “spittle” from the lips of the glans to earth on the storm wind.15 It was a unique concentration of this powerful spermatozoa in the juice of the “Holy Plant” that the Magi believed would give anyone anointed with it amazing power. They could “obtain every wish, banish fevers, and cure all diseases without exception”.16

So the Christian, the “smeared or anointed one”, received “knowledge of all things” by his “anointing from the Holy One” (I John 2:20). Thereafter he had need of no other teacher and remained for evermore endowed with all knowledge (v. 27). Whatever the full ingredients of the Christian unction may have been, they would certainly have included the aromatic gums and spices of the traditional Israelite anointing oil: myrrh, aromatic cane, cinnamon, and cassia, all representing the powerful semen of the god. Under certain enclosed conditions, a mixture of these substances rubbed on the skin could produce the kind of intoxicating belief in self-omniscience referred to in the New Testament.

Furthermore, the atmosphere of the oracular chamber would be charged with reek of sacred incense consisting of “sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum, sweet spices with pure frankincense . . .“ (Exod 30:34), giving the kind of overpowering hypnotic effect referred to by an early Christian writer when he speaks of “the frenzy of a lying soothsayer” as a “mere intoxication produced by the reeking fumes of sacrifice”.17

That these ingredients formed only part of the sacred incense formula is well known. Josephus says there were thirteen elements,18 and the Talmud names eleven, plus salt, and a secret “herb” which was added to make the smoke rise in a vertical column before spreading outwards at the top.19

With the characteristic shape of the mushroom in mind, we can hazard a fair guess now at this secret ingredient. Knowledge and healing were two aspects of the same life-force. If to be rubbed with the “Holy Plant” was to receive divine knowledge, it was also to be cured of every sickness. James suggests that anyone of the Christian community who was sick should call the elders to anoint him with oil in the name of Jesus (Jas 5:14).

The Twelve are sent out among their fellow-men casting out demons and anointing the sick with oil (Mark 6:13). Healing by unction persisted in the Church until the twelfth century,20 and the anointing of the dying, the so-called “extreme unction” has persisted in the Roman Catholic Church to this day.21 The principle behind this practice remains the same: the god’s “seed—of— life”, semen, found in spring or rain water, in the sap or resins of plants and trees, and above all in the slimy mucus of the mushroom imparts life to the ailing or the dead..

Herein lies also the idea of embalming corpses with ointments and spices. They were not expected to halt decomposition, as Martha appreciated in the case of her four-day dead brother Lazarus (John 11:39), although in Egypt additional measures were taken also to preserve even the flesh. The Hebrew of the story of Joseph’s embalming for forty days uses the word “healers”22 for the practitioners of the craft (Gen 50:2), and the word for “embalm” means also “to come filly to life, mature”, as well as “make spicy”.23

The root goes back to Sumerian words for “spilling seed”, and the conception seems to have been to impart life and rebirth to the dead person in the underworld. So the two Marys come to the grave to anoint the dead Jesus (Mark 16:1; Luke 23:56) as did Nicodemus, bringing myrrh and aloes for the purpose (John 19:39), and as Mary, Martha’s sister, had earlier anointed his feet with nard, anticipating the event (John 12:3).

Things, as well as people, could be anointed with semen so that they became “holy”, that is, separated to the god’s service. The Semitic root q-d-sh, “holy”, is, as its probable root meaning indicates, fundamentally a fertility word. It has to do specifically with the uterus,24 the “holy of holies” of the female, and the inner sanctuary of the temple.

So the cultic furniture was anointed (Exod 3:26, 40:10 Lev 8:ii), and particularly the altar, that replica of the penis standing before the open portals of the temple. In the story of Jacob and his ladder dream, when he saw angels going up and down between earth and heaven, he took the stone on which he had laid his head in sleep and erected it as a pillar and “poured oil on the top of it” (Gen 28:10W, cp. Gen 35:14).25

The anointing into holiness of kings and priests is again largely imitative in character.

The prime duty of the king was to ensure the fertility of the land and well-being of his subjects. Many of the Greek and Semitic words for “lord” and “lordship” convey this idea when seen in their original form.26 The priest’s function was also to see that the god played his part in inseminating the land. The most common Hebrew word for “priest”, köhën, familiar as a well-known Jewish surname, comes from a Sumerian title, GU-EN-NA, literally, “guardian of semen”.27 He had charge of the god’s house, regarded as the uterus where he enacted his role of creator.28

Pouring the god’s semen over 3 Section through the calyx and fruit of Henbane (after F. Howarth, in Josephus, Jewish Antiquities [Loeb, iv] p. 399) the heads of these dignitaries was intended to represent them as “gods”, replicas of the divine penis in heaven.29

The head-gear of the Jewish high priest, called simply a “turban” in the Old Testament (Exod 28:4, etc), was apparently intended to represent the glans penis. Josephus has an extended account of this piece of ceremonial attire.30 He describes it by alluding to several different plants, all of them having a mushroom relevance. One, indeed, Sideritis, actually is a name of the Holy Plant.31

First, the priest dons a skull—cap (Greek pilos, Latin pileus, incidentally, the botanist’s name for the cap of the mushroom), as worn by the generality of the priesthood. Over this he puts a turban of violet embroidery, further encircled with a crown of gold. Sprouting from the top of this was a golden calyx, or seed—vessel.

In order to satisfy the curiosity of his remarkably ill-informed readers, Josephus goes on to describe in great detail the nature and shape of the calyx, “for those unfamiliar with it”, comparing it with that of Henbane, Hyoscyamus niger (fig. 3).
“Imagine”, says our ingenious author, “a ball cut into two: the calyx at the stem presents the lower half of this, emerging from its base in a rounded form.”
He then enlarges on the graceful turn of the sides to the “rim” on to which the “hemispherical lid adheres closely”.

This calyx, he says, is enveloped in a husk or sheath which detaches itself of its own accord as the fruit begins to develop. This is not a very accurate account of the Henbane calyx and its ovary, but it well suits the volva of the Boletus mushroom as the embryo begins to expand. Josephus speaks further of the ragged edge of the lip of the calyx, “like thorns quite sharp at the end”.

This is presumably an allusion to the three— tiered golden crown surrounding the violet turban,82 and in human terms to the edge of the circumcised foreskin. The Bible makes no mention of a golden crown, but it does speak of a “plate of gold” (sis), affixed to the front of the priest’s turban (Exod 28 :36).33

As Josephus was well aware, the word sis is used in late Hebrew for the fringe of shreds of the prepuce remaining after an insufficient circumcision operation, a kind of “crown of thorns” around the bared glans.34 In mushroom terms, this “fringe” will be the membrane that joins the margin of the pileus cap to the stem before its full development. When the skin breaks it remains as a ragged ring around the stem. New Testament imagery has Jesus crowned with thorns and clothed with royal purple (John 19:2).

The deep red cap of the sacred mushroom added to its phallic significance in the eyes of the ancients and provided them with words for that color, as will be noted. These “glans-crowned” officials, kings and priests, were then, the messiahs, or christs, said in the Ol Testament to be “smeared with Yahweh” (I Sam 26:11; Ps 2:2), “having the consecration, or crown of God’s unction upon them” (Lev 21:12).

In that holy condition they were not allowed to leave the sanctuary precincts (Lev 21:12; cp. 10:7), unless by some ill chance and erotic dream, they were to spoil their ritual purity by inadvertently mixing their own semen on their bodies with that of the god. In that case they were obliged to leave the sacred area of the Jerusalem temple by an underground passage leading to the profane area of the city.35 Both the Semitic and the Greek words for “christ”, the “anointed, or smeared one”, came from Sumerian terms for semen or resinous saps, MASh and SKEM.

Used as descriptive titles in that language, they appear as a “MASh—man”, exorcist, that is, the priest who drives away demons, and as a “ShEM-man” a compounder of perfumes, the equivalent of the Old Testament mixer of the holy anointing-oils.36 Semitic furthermore combined both Sumerian words into a new root sh—m—sh, “serve” (tables, as a steward; the temple, as a priest; the heavenly throne, as an angel; the genitals, as a penis or a vulva).

Thus the noun means a steward, priest, angel or prostitute.37 An independently derived form very early on came to be used for the greatest “copulator” of all, the sun, Hebrew shemesh, whose fiery glans every evening plunged glowing into the open vulva of the earth, and in the morning “came forth like a bridegroom from his marriage chamber” (Ps 19:5).38

Another important word for a servitor of god in Greek was therapeutes, the verb therapeuo implying both service to god and attendance on the body as physicians, in which sense we have derived our “therapy”, “therapeutics”, and the like. This root also has a sexual origin, as a “giver of life”, and is connected with the Sumerian DARA, “beget”, appearing as a name for the fertility and storm gods Ea and Adad.39

The word therapeutës is of particular interest since it was the title of an ascetic, contemplative sect who have often been compared with the Essenes. They lived mainly in Egypt, at the turn of the era, but probably had a long history prior to that date. We know of them through the writings of the first-century Philo,40 and Eusebius, the Church historian (third and fourth century) 41

The Therapeutae, as they are called, lived in mixed communities, cut off from their fellow-men, rejecting personal property, completely celibate, the women being mostly “aged virgins …who have kept their chastity of their own free will in their ardent desire for learning”. They all met together only on the Sabbath, the women being separated from the men by a dividing partition in the assembly hail.

But every seventh week after supper, both sexes mingled, singing and dancing until dawn, when they returned to their own quarters. Eusebius was so struck by the likeness of the Therapeutae to Christian monks of his own day that he thought they may have been Christians, and that the books referred to by Philo as “the writings of ancient men who were the founders of the sect” may have been the Gospels and Epistles through which they had become converted.

The Church Fathers followed him on this and even Jerome reckoned the Jewish Philo as among the “Church historians”. We hear, too, of an unorthodox Christian sect called the Sampsaeans (Greek Sampsënoi), whose name is certainly connected with the Semitic root sh-m—sh (and so has been hitherto thought to indicate “sun (shemesh)-worshippers”).42

Epiphanius, the fourth-century Christian writer, links these people with the Essenes but thought their Christianity was of a spurious kind, something between Judaism and the true faith.43 Apparently in his time they dwelt in Transjordan, in Peraea, on the borders of ancient Moab, and by the eastern shores of the Dead Sea. Whatever their sectarian connections, their name, as we can now see, demonstrates a clear philological relationship with both the Essenes, “healers”, “life—givers”, the Therapeutae, and the Christians.

In the phallic mushroom, the “man-child” born of the “virgin” womb, we have the reality behind the Christ figure of the New Testament story. In a sense he is representative also of the initiates of the cult, “Christians”, or “smeared with semen”, as the name means.

By imitating the mushroom, as well as by eating it and sucking its juice, or “blood”, the Christian was taking unto himself the panoply of his god, as the priests in the sanctuary also anointed themselves with the god’s spermatozoa found in the juices and resins of special plants and trees. As the priests “served” the god in the temple, the symbolic womb of divine creation, so the Christians and their cultic associates worshipped their god and mystically involved themselves in the creative process. In the language of the mystery cults they sought to be “born again”, when, purged afresh of past sin, they could apprehend the god in a drug induced ecstasy.

Fully to understand the part played by women in the mushroom cult it is necessary to appreciate their role in the creative process itself. The fungus represented a microcosm of the female part of the birth cycle. The “man—child” was born from a womb or volva and its gestation and parturition was as much a part of the female worshipper as the birth of a human baby required the active participation of the mother and the midwife.

In the following chapters, then, we shall pay special attention to the woman and her special contribution to the process of conception and birth, her religious role as a cultic prostitute, and the part played by her ritual lamentation in the raising of the sacred mushroom.

VIII - Woman’s part in the Creative Process

Gestation of the fetus in the womb required three elements: the creative spirit, semen, and blood.

The god provided the first, man the second, and woman the third. Of the human contributions, woman’s was the most powerful and evoked most wonder among the ancients. They believed that it was menstrual blood that formed the embryo.

Pliny describes the process thus:
“(menses is) the material for human generation, as semen from the male acting like rennet collects this substance within it, which thereupon is inspired with life and endowed with body”.1
Women who do not menstruate, records the same author, do not bear children, since the raw material of conception is not present in the womb. On the other hand, a woman who menstruates during pregnancy is likely to bring forth “a sickly or still-born offspring, or one full of bloody matter”. The best time for conceiving was thought to be at the beginning or end of a menstrual period,2 which is why in the story of David and Bathsheba in the Old Testament it is said specifically that the lovers had their illicit intercourse just after Bathsheba had menstruated (II Sam 11:4).

Galen, the second century physician, has a rather more sophisticated theory of the generative process, but still sees semen and menstrual blood as its main factors. The semen, he thought, drew to itself just as much blood as it could deal with, using it as food with which to build the foetus.3 The Old Testament rules for the menstruant (Lev 15:19—25) emphasize the sacred nature of the blood.

Whilst in that condition, everything the woman touches is reckoned “unclean” and this “uncleanness” can communicate itself to other people. A man having intercourse with her at this time renders himself liable to the same seven—day period of ritual disqualification as his wife. It has to be emphasized that this “uncleanness” has nothing to do with morals or hygiene. It is a religious state of taboo. A woman bearing a son is similarly “defiled” (having a daughter requires fourteen days separation), as is a man coming in contact with a dead body (Num 19:11).

A priest is rendered “unclean” by touching a reptile or insect, or involuntarily discharging semen (Lev 22 4,). Rachel used her real or pretended menstrual condition to prevent her sorely pressed father Laban from discovering his stolen property. When he finally caught up with his runaway daughter and son-in-law, Laban searched their tents seeking some household gods Rachel had taken.

She put them under her camel saddle and begged to be excused from rising since the “manner of women was upon her” (Gen 31 :341). Even to have touched the saddle would have rendered Laban “unclean”.

Menses could affect almost everything, by remote influence as well as direct contact.
“Wild indeed”, says Pliny, “are the stories told of the mysterious and awful power of the menstruous discharge...“
He relates a few of them and leaves us in no doubt about the fear and wonder that attended this monthly phenomenon in the eyes of the ancients. Of course, coming from the seat of creation, the womb, menstrual blood was credited with wonderful healing powers. It could cure gout, scrofitla, parotid tumours, abscesses, erysipelas, boils, eye— fluxes, hydrophobia, and epilepsy, whilst quartan fever, according to one source, could be counteracted by sexual intercourse with a woman just beginning her period.

On the other hand, such a source of power was dangerous. Under the principle of like repelling like, which played an important part in ancient philosophy, menses was also considered to be an abortifacient. A smear of the blood could bring about a miscarriage, and even to step over a stain could bring about the same dire effect.5 Similarly, it could abort fruit trees, dry up seed, blight crops, turn wine sour, as well as send dogs mad, rust metals, and dull mirrors. This last effect, incidentally, could be reversed by having the woman stare at the back of the mirror until the shine on the front was restored.6

The distinguishing feature of menstrual blood was its dark color, contrasting with the brighter, oxygenated blood of the rest of the body. Thus dark red, purple, violet, and similar hues came to have a special significance, being so closely associated with fertility.

Kings and magistrates wore purple garments, and the Latin purpura came to mean not only the robes themselves but the high dignity they conferred.7

Most prized of all was Tyrian purple, whose “highest glory”, according to Pliny, “consists in the color of congealed blood, blackish at first glance but gleaming when held up to the light; this is the origin of Homer’s phrase, ‘blood of purple hue’ “8 Further dyeing of a scarlet fabric with Tyrian purple produced the rich color called in Greek husginon, the Sumerian origin of which shows that it meant properly “blue blood”,9 another popular mark of the aristocracy.

The same origin can be found for the “Hyacinth”, in Greek mythology the name of the youth accidentally slain by his friend Apollo, and from whose spilt blood there grew the flower of that name.10 Pliny offers a further connection between purple and menstrual blood when he says that the latter adversely affects this color, another example of like repelling like.11

There is another reference to menstrual blood in the description Pliny gives of a fabulous dragon called the basiisk. It could apparently. kill bushes with its breath, scorch grass, burst rocks,12 and put other serpents to rout.13 It was its blood, however, that was most in demand. According to the Magi, it brought a successful outcome to petitions made to gods and kings, cured diseases, and disarmed sorcery. This last claim was also made for menses, if daubed like Passover blood (Exod 12:7), on the subject’s doorposts.14

The name basiisk actually means, “womb—blood”,15 that is, menses. Pliny adds that some people call it “Saturn’s blood”, which looks like a reminiscence of the same verbal origin, since the name Saturn is partly composed of a Sumerian word ShA-TUR, “womb”.16 One important characteristic of “Saturn’s Blood” was that it was of the color and consistency of pitch.17

The ancients saw a close relationship between this substance and menstrual blood, apparently believing that it was the earth’s equivalent of human menses. Particularly noted in this connection were the lumps of bitumen that periodically rose to the surface of the Dead Sea, “in shape and size”, according to Josephus, “like decapitated bulls”.

He goes on,
“the laborers on the lake row up to these and, catching hold of the lumps, haul them into their boats. But when they have filled them it is no easy task to detach their cargo, which, owing to its tenacious and glutinous character, clings to the boat until it is loosened by the menstrual discharge of women.”18
This tradition is mentioned also by Tacitus,19 referring to other ancient authorities among whom, we know, was one Poseidonius of second-first-century BC. So the relationship between pitch and menses was already well—established and can now be further supported linguistically. 20

The connection of pitch with the womb would lead us to expect that it should be thought to have healing properties.

As Josephus says,
“it is useful not only for caulking ships, but also for the healing of the body, forming an ingredient in many medicines”.21
Dioscorides lists at some length the remedial characteristics of asphaitos, including that it is effective for “strangulations of the womb”, and that, taken along with wine and castor oil, “it drives out menses”.22

The Judean bitumen is the best, according to the same authority, and he notes that “it shines like purple”. The inhabitants of Judea must have been well aware that the extraordinary rift valley of the Dead Sea was far lower than the surrounding country. In fact, as we know, the ground there is the lowest place on earth, some thirteen hundred feet below sea—level.

It was small wonder, then, that the menstrual discharge of the womb of mother earth should be borne the comparatively short distance to the surface of the Dead Sea, and that it should have required the application of the menses of other wombs to loosen its sticky grip. Perhaps the Dead Sea’s proximity to the centre of the earth, and thus the seat of knowledge, played some part in the establishment along its western shores of the Essen settlement at Qumran, the home of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Certainly the blistering heat of the summer months, combined with the belief that there one stood closer than anywhere else to the eternal fires of Hades, had a large part in the formulation of the Sodom and Gomorrah myths, and their overthrow with fire and brimstone (Gen 19:24). Further evidence of how close the ground here is to the fermenting heat of the earth’s centre was recognized in the presence of hot springs on the east side of the Dead Sea, at a place called Callirrhoe. It was thence that the dying Herod was carried to try to find some relief from the pains that wracked his dropsical, gangrenous body.23

As late as the last century, popular local belief held that the hot water was released from the lower regions by evil spirits, merely to stop it being available to assuage the pains of the damned in hell. Another legend said that King Solomon sent a servant to open the springs when he discovered how thin was the crust of the earth at this point. However, lest the threats of the subterranean devils deter his messenger, the wise monarch saw to it that he was stone deaf.24

Near by stood Herod’s great palace fortress Machaerus, and in its grounds, says Josephus, “grew a plant of Rue, of an amazing size; indeed in height and thickness no fig-tree surpassed it”.25 Rue was regarded as the prime abortifacient, as its various names now make clear.26 Pliny said that it would open the womb, promote menstruation, bringing away the after-birth and dead fetus, good for “womb— strangling”, for the genitals and anus, and at all costs to be avoided by pregnant women.27

Josephus’ digression to speak of a particular Rue plant in a topographical account of the Machaerus fortress as it bore on a vital Roman campaign in Transjordan, is strange, to say the least. But we have already seen, when describing the high priest’s head—gear, that the introduction by this author of plant physiology and folk-lore into an otherwise non-botanical discussion usually implies some hidden reference to a matter which he is reluctant to bring fully into the open.

Immediately following the description of the giant-sized Rue and its comparison with a fig, Josephus says that in a ravine to the north of the fortress town, was to be found a magic plant called by the name of the ravine, Baaras. What he says about the plant tallies in some respects with traditional accounts of the Mandrake, which we have identified with the Holy Plant, the sacred fungus. One method of drawing it from the ground safely was to tie a dog to it, then call the animal to follow.

The animal sprang to obey, pulling out the Mandrake, and promptly died,
“a vicarious victim, as it were, for him who intended to remove the plant, since after this none need fear to handle it”.
The canine sacrifice was well worth the prize, since,
“it possesses one virtue for which it is valued; for the so-called demons — in other words, the spirits of wicked men which enter the living and kill them unless aid is forthcoming — are promptly expelled by this root, if merely applied to the patients”.28
Of more immediate interest is the alternative method offered for capturing the root.
“It eludes the grasp of persons who approach with the intention of plucking it, as it shrinks up and can only be made to stand still by pouring upon it a woman’s urine and menses”.29
Thus the releasing agents for the Mandrake were the same as for the Dead Sea’s bitumen.

Furthermore, the Rue which shared some of the medicinal and I abortive characteristics of pitch, was highly regarded in antiquity as an antidote to poisons, particularly of serpents and fimgi.30 We may therefore suspect that in Josephus’ mention of the hot spring of Machaerus, the giant Rue and the Mandrake in the same passage, he is quietly expressing a currently held belief that this particular location by the Dead Sea held a special relevance for the Holy Plant and its antidote.

One or two other references support this idea, as we shall see. The ancients recognized a homogeneity between mineral pitch and the resin of trees, particularly the pine, to which the name “pitch” more properly belongs. Thus Greek has the term pissasphaltos, that is, as Pliny remarks, “pitch combined with bitumen”,31 and this author states that bitumen is commonly adulterated with vegetable pitch.32

Acacia was another tree whose resinous sap was compared with human menses. Pliny says that its “purple gum” had the best tonic and cooling properties and “checked excessive menstruation”33 The Arabs are said to make amulets from the gum of the Acacia with the idea that it is the tree’s menstrual blood, and that they may thereby avail themselves of its power.34

The Acacia shared honors with the Cedar for providing wood for the furniture of the Jewish sanctuary, and was even used to construct the ark itself (Deut 10:3; Exod a:5; etc). Another property shared by both bitumen and resin is their inflammability. Both are sources of fire, a necessary ingredient of generation. As we said earlier, the Sumerian ideogram for “love” consisted of a burning torch in a womb.35

The dull-red tip of the penis was thought of as a fiery brand igniting the furnace of the uterus, as the sun each evening set alight the bituminous heart of the earth. As Job says, “As for the earth, out of it comes bread; but underneath it is turned up as by fire” (Job 28 :). So a pine-torch was carried in wedding processions, as the virgins of the New Testament parable of the Kingdom bore their lamps to meet the bridegroom (Matt 25). In the same way, torch-carrying formed part of the fertility rites of Bacchus.36

The same symbolism lies behind the seven-branched candlestick before the Holy of Holies in the Jewish temple (Exod 25:3 if.).

The phallic nature of the lamps is illustrated by the terminology of its biblical description, beginning with the base as the “loins” out of which the “stalk” rises with its seven arms.

On the top of each was “a cup shaped like an almond”, consisting of a “rounded knob”, or “capital”, and a “flower”, or “bud”. It is as difficult to envisage this ornamentation in literal terms as it is Josephus’ description of the High Priest’s phallic head—gear. However, the reference to the “almond” is a clue to the intended symbolism of the whole, since the name of the tree derives from a Sumerian original meaning “stretched penis”,37 an allusion to the tree’s being the first to show its blossom.38

The erection of the male organ was its “awakening” and in Sumerian the idea was used to express sunrise.39

The lamps before the Holy of Holies in the Temple find expression today in the lighted candles before the Virgin Mary in the Catholic Church. The fertility significance of the practice is particularly clear in the fire ritual of Holy Saturday, as the Church prepares for the rising of the Christ on Easter Day. “New fire” is struck from a flint as a prelude to the ceremonies, and coals lit from it outside the church.

The fire is blessed and brought into the church, eventually to light one candle in which five grains of incense have been placed. Towards the climax of the ritual, the biblical Creation story having been read, the part played by the creative waters are rehearsed before the baptismal font.

Prayer is offered that God,
“by a secret mixture of his divine power, may render fruitful this water for the regeneration of men: to the end that those who are sanctified in the immaculate womb of this divine font, and born again new creatures, may come forth as heavenly offspring. Therefore, may all unclean spirits by thy command, O Lord, depart from hence: may all the malice of diabolical wiles be entirely banished Later the priest breathes three times upon the water in the form of a cross, saying:
“Do thou with thy mouth bless these pure waters...“ and dips the candle three times into the water “of the immaculate womb”, saying: “May the power of the Holy Ghost descend into all the water of this font . . .“
After breathing again three times on the water, he goes on, “and make the whole substance of this water fruitful for regeneration”.

The classical example of the ever-burning fire before a virgin goddess is the cult of Hestia-Vesta, the Greek and Roman representations of the hearth-deity. The names and cults of the goddesses differ in some respects but their origin is the same. The Greek Hestia’s name is also the common word for “fireplace” and “home”, as well as for the central fire of the universe. Euripides calls her “the Lady of Fire”.40

Her domain was originally in the king’s palace, but in the historical period it had become transferred to the town hail, the council-chamber of the magistrates, called in Greek prutaneion.41

Her mythology tells us that she spurned the hands of both Poseidon and Apollo:
“she was unwilling, nay stubbornly refused; and touching the head of her father Zeus... that fair goddess swore a great oath that has in truth been fulfilled, that she would be a virgin all her days”.
As recompense for this great sacrifice,
“Zeus the Father gave her high honor instead of marriage, and she has her place in the midst of the house, and has the richest portion. In all the temples of the gods she has a share of the honor, and among all mortal men she is chief of the goddesses”.42
Not only was Hestia honored in the council-chambers, but at every banquet wine was poured for her at the beginning and end of the meal.43

For she was the first and the last of the children of Zeus, the beginning and end of the god’s creation. Legend had it that the god swallowed each of his children at the moment of birth, but was ultimately forced to disgorge them. Hestia, being the first—born was the last to be regurgitated, and so merited this title.44

This fancy is simply an attempt to put into mythical terms a central feature of the old fertility philosophy. It was believed that the first-born of the womb was the strongest of all the progeny because it was formed from menstrual blood at its most powerful. Next in excellence to the firstborn of the young woman, stood the child of an older woman conceiving for the first time, just prior to menopause.

The idea seems to have been that for some reason irregular menstrual discharge was more powerful than that which occurred at normal monthly intervals. So an adolescent girl’s first period, like that of the older woman who had retained her virginity, was “spontaneous”, and thus all-powerful.

It is strong enough, says Pliny,
“to make mares miscarry even at the sight of it over long distances”.45
Menstruation was, naturally enough, connected with the moon, the “queen of stars” whose periodic waxing and waning controlled the blood of humans and sap of plants.

As Pliny puts it:
“the moon is rightly believed to be the star of the spirit... that saturates the earth and fills bodies by its approach and empties them by its departure... the blood even of humans increases and diminishes with its light, and leaves and herbage... are sensitive to it, the same force penetrating into all things”.46
Should menstrual discharge occur when the moon was not visible the blood was reckoned to have uncontrollable power:
“if this female force should issue when the moon or the sun is in eclipse, it will cause irremediable harm; no less so when there is no moon. At such seasons sexual intercourse brings death and disease upon the man.”47
In biblical mythology this idea of the potency of the first and last menses is expressed in stories of heroes born to aged, previously barren or virgin mothers, like Isaac (Gen 17), Samuel (I Sam i), and Jesus. The New Testament describes the god—hero, like Hestia, as “the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Rev 22:13), and “the first-born of all creation” (Col i :i).

Jesus is also “the first—born of many brethren” (Rom 8:28), since participation in the mystery of ingesting the Jesus— fungus, was to avail oneself of the power of his primogeniture. It will be appreciated that this sacred virginity, attributed somewhat incongruously to goddesses who spend most of their mythical lives leaping in and out of bed with gods and mortals, is not primarily or even essentially to do with having intact hymens.

Their “virginity” lay in the power of their wombs to produce offspring whose excellence derived from menstrual blood perpetually at its most powerful. The Roman version of the hearth-cult demonstrates certain features which are probably more primitive than the Greek. The central feature of the Vesta worship was the maintenance of an ever-burning sacred fire48 by virgins, called Vestals.

Originally representing the royal house, these maids, at first two, then four and later six in number,49 were called “princesses” and given special privileges in accordance with their assumed rank. They dressed as brides, indicative of their virginity, and were between the ages of six and ten,50 serving for five years,51 that is, until the onset of puberty and marriageable age. In historical times this period of service was extended to thirty years, perhaps with the idea of bringing them into the second most powerful period of their reproductive lives.

Marriage was permitted after their time of service but was unusual, being considered unlucky.52 The girls were released from parental control when they were admitted to the sacred office of Vestal, but thereafter came under the charge of the high—priest, the pontifex maximus. It was he who received them into the Order, taking each candidate by the hand and pronouncing a formula of admission over her.

Her hair was then cut off and hung upon a certain tree.

Discipline was severe. If a Vestal neglected to maintain the sacred fire before the virgin goddess she was beaten. If she lost her virginity she was walled up in an underground tomb to die — or be rescued by the direct intervention of the goddess whom she had betrayed. Her duties involved bringing water from a sacred spring to use in the sanctuary, and the preparation of special foodstuffs.

She also had the care of certain objects in the shrine. Since no one but the Vestals was allowed to enter the inner sanctum, little is known of the rituals and the holy objects of the shrine. As with most information about the mystery cults, accounts that have come down stem largely from guesswork. At the time of the Roman New Year, our Eastertide, a ceremony of extinguishing and relighting the sacred fire was enacted.

The Church strikes “new fire” from a flint; the Vestals used a fire— drill boring into a block of wood, an invention attributed to Hermes,53 with whom the hearth— goddess was associated. The shrine itself was a domed building, representing a potter’s or refiner’s furnace. Fire, in fertility philosophy, not only engendered new life, it purified the old. It is the Semitic word for a refiner’s crucible that underlies the New Testament conception of “temptation”, properly54 “testing, trial”.

So, for the theologians, the eternal fires of hell became the place of purging of the souls of the dead, and later Judaism and Christianity embodied this aspect of the fertility cult into their moral teaching. The shape of the Vesta shrine had another significance for the mushroom cult, since it also represented the domed canopy of the expanded cap of the Amanita muscaria.

Inside the shrine was preserved a thunderbolt cast down by Zeus, it was said, at the founding of the city of Troy.55

To judge from the tradition that this votive object was a replica of the patron goddess Pallas Athena, whose name and epithet both mean vulva”,56 and bearing in mind the traditional shape of the divine thunderbolt, a kind of dumb-bell or divided hemispheres, (z),57 it seems reasonable to assume that the Palladium, as this venerated relic was called, was in fact a representation of the sacred mushroom. Fire and fertility are similarly connected in the person of the Greek goddess of child-birth, Eileithyia.

She is depicted standing with one arm raised holding a pine-torch, the other outstretched with open palm, a gesture of prayer for an easy delivery.58 She was the daughter of Zeus and Hera, “semen” and “womb”, and the name seems to be an amalgam of two elements which otherwise appear in Greek names for the Pine, Elate and Thuia. Both in origin mean “fluid of generation”, that is, “menses”.60

Confirmation of this comes from the botanist Theophrastus who says of the resinous extraction of Silver-fir (Elate) that “it is what the prophets call ‘the menses of Eileithyia’, and for which they make atonement”.61 Thus, in Eileithyia we have a personification of menstrual blood, cedar resin, and creative fire. The common Sumerian word for “Cedar” is ERIN, and this appears in another Greek word for “torch”, helene, or helanë. Here also is the source and meaning of the name of the Greek heroine and goddess, Helen.62

As we saw earlier, she is portrayed in classical mythology as the daughter of Nemesis (or Leda) and Zeus, the result of her father’s mating with her mother in the form of a swan. She was thus born from an egg, like her brothers Pollux and Castor. Nemesis, whose name has come down as the personification of divine retribution, is identical in meaning with the Sumerian original of Nectar, the “fate—decider”, which otherwise appears as Mandrake, the sacred mushroom, or as the Seinites called it, “the egg plant”.63

A further link between Helen and Nectar appears in the drink Nectarion, wine spiced with a wonderful drug called Helenion, named after the good queen Helen. Legend has it that on one occasion when a supper party in the palace of Menelaus looked like being wrecked on the rocks of immoderate grief that followed the recounting of a particularly harrowing tale, Helen laced the company’s wine with “a drug to quiet all pain and strife, and bring forgetfulness of every ill”.

Homer describes this pain-killer further:
“Who so should drink this down, when it is mingled in the bowl, would not in the course of that day let a tear fall down over his cheeks, no, not though his mother and father should lie there dead, or though men before his face should slay with the sword his brother or dear son, and his own eyes beheld it.”
Pliny says that Helenion had its origins in the queen’s “tears”, adding, for good measure, that it was particularly popular in the island of Helene. 65 One supposes it was especially favored among the ladies, for it was reputed “to preserve physical charm, and to keep unimpaired the fresh complexion of our women, whether of the face or of the rest of the body.

Moreover, it is supposed that, by its use, they gain a kind of attractiveness and sex—appeal (veneremque conciliari)”. It also killed mice.66

The “tears of Helen” will be the drops of resin that exude from the pine tree. Besides giving the fire of the processional torch (Greek helene), and the intoxicant and beautifier Helenion, prime ingredient of Nectarion, this resin was thought to be the source of the sacred mushroom, the Amanita muscaria.

As Pliny says,
“the fungi... are all derived from the gum that exudes from trees.” 67
It is to the gum of the pine that an Accadian incantation is directed:
“O kukru, kukru, kukru, in the pure, holy mountains thou hast engendered ‘little-ones’ by a sacred prostitute, ‘seeds—of—a—Pine’ by a vestal...“ 68 with the plea that whatever sorcery may thus have been begotten shall be dispersed.
The “little-ones” and its parallel phrase “seeds—of—a—Pine” are clearly substitute-words for some magic vegetation too powerful even to be given their proper names. Their manner of “engendering” by sacred prostitutes and their resinous origin leave little doubt that it is the Amanita muscaria that is here involved, the “fate-deciding” Nectar.

The name by which the incantation addresses the pine-resin, kukru, is another link with the “swan” motif of the myth of Helen’s birth. Both names go back to a Sumerian phrase meaning “pod”: in the case of the Pine referring to that species which have kernels like small lice “pods”, earning the name of”louse_tree” 68; and as regards the “swan”, because like other fertility-birds, its name was connected with the “womb- pod”.69

Helen’s name, as we saw, means also “pine-torch” and an important source of names and attendant mythologies connected with the Amanita muscaria stem from its red canopy, studded with white flecks.70

Furthermore, the cap has an extremely bitter, “fiery” taste, and a combination of both characteristics is partly responsible for the “burning coal” imagery of Isaiah:
“Then flew one of the seraphim to me, having in his hand a burning coal which he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth...“
(Isa 6:6, 7).
Josephus describes the Baaras plant of Machaerus as “flame-coloured and towards evening emitting a brilliant light”.71 It is the same kind of conception that underlies the vision of the “son of man” standing in the midst of the seven golden lamp-stands, ‘his face “like the sun shining in full strength” (Rev I:12ff.), and of Moses whose face “shone because he had been talking with God” (Exod 34:29).

In later chapters we shall be looking in more detail at the allusions in names and color to the striking deep red or purple cap of the Amanita muscaria.

Even the white flecking caused by the fragments of the volva adhering to the surface was the subject of special epithets, not only on account of the peculiar coloring effect but because the “scabby” aspect reminded the myth—makers of skin diseases, particularly leprosy.

In this chapter we have seen how human gestation of the fetus in the womb was paralleled in the eyes of the ancients by the growth of the sacred fungus from the menses—like resins of certain trees, particularly the conifers. These were particularly powerful, personified in mythology by the goddess of childbirth, Eileithyia, and by Helen, sister of the mushroom pair, Castor and Pollux.

The equivalent of such menstrual blood in human women could only be found in that of virgins, and females having their first child. Here, also, was another reason for seeing the product of the “virgin” vulva of the mushroom a very special growth endued with abnormal power. If the sacred fungus was related by name and gestation to the female organs, the cult which centered on the Amanita muscaria depended in large measure on female participation.

We have now to look at the role of the cultic prostitute in this and related religious practices.

IX - The Sacred Prostitute

In the incantation to the pine—resin quoted in the last chapter, the “little ones” were said to have been engendered by “a sacred prostitute”.

This cultic office was well known in the ancient world. It is usually assumed that the woman dedicated herself to the service of the god as a sexual partner in some imitative ritual designed to stimulate the generative faculties of the fertility deity.

Doubtless in many of the cults she did perform such a function, copulating before the altar with the priests or other male worshippers at certain festivals. However, that this was not her only form of service, or even necessarily her prime function, is indicated by the vegetation reference of the kukru incantation.

In the Bible, the cultic title is used in one case when the woman plays the part of a common whore, where Tamar seduced her father-in-law at the roadside (Gen 38), but elsewhere the sacred prostitute plays her proper religious role, and is associated like her sister of the kukru incantation with hills and trees. Thus Hosea describes the apostate Israelites as harlots,
“sacrificing on the tops of mountains, making offerings upon the hills, under oak, poplar, and terebinth, because their shade is good”.
(Hos 4:13 - Heb. 14).1
The Old Testament speaks also of male cult prostitutes, called otherwise “dogs”. It is more likely that these persons were sodomites than that they served the female worshippers as counterparts to the feminine cult prostitutes. In which case the epithet “dog” is not necessarily a term of abuse, but merely descriptive of their manner of copulation.2

It is perhaps significant that one of the Sumerian terms for “chanter-priest” is GALA, elsewhere meaning “womb”, with a semantic equivalent, USh—KU, literally, “penis-anus”. Their prime purpose may then have been as a means of providing or extracting semen for cultic purposes, particularly for the priest’s anointing as a symbolic “phallus” before the god, a “christ”.

However that may be, it is the vegetative function of the female cult-prostitute that must engage our main attention.

In the kukru incantation, she is credited with engendering the “little ones” from the tree’s “menses”, the resin. Bearing in mind the phallic form of the sacred mushroom, it is reasonable to assume that her task was to “seduce” the little “penis” from the ground by sexual wiles.

Josephus tells us that to stop the Mandrake “shrinking away from the touch” and to make it “stand still” one was required to pour upon it the menses and urine of a woman.4

Where the cult prostitute was herself present this was probably achieved directly, involving exposing her genitals to that part of the ground where the mushroom was thought to lie dormant. Self-exposure of a menstruating woman for vegetative purposes is elsewhere recorded. Pliny says that, in order to utilize the harmful effect menses was believed to have upon “caterpillars, worms, beetles and other vermin”, menstruants “walked around the cornfield naked”, and the vermin fell to the ground.

It was said that the discovery of the effects of menses in this respect was made initially in Cappadocia,
“owing to a plague there of Spanish fly, so that women... walk through the middle of the fields with their clothes pulled up above the buttocks”.5
There are indications that it was considered necessary to make some sort of booth or covering for the witch and the magic plant during the seduction. Hosea in the passage just quoted specifies that the sacred prostitutes practiced their art under trees where “the shade is good”. Ezekiel, in a most interesting passage describing the activities of female necromancers, speaks of some kind of full-length veil by which they “ensnared souls” (Ezek 13:18).

The Holy Plant had to be uprooted under cover of darkness, “lest the act be seen by the woodpecker of Mars” (perhaps a folk—name for the red—topped Amanita muscaria),6 or the sun and moon .7 Among the Accadian magical texts is an instruction for the uprooting of the tigilla, the bolt- or phallus-plant, or mushroom. We have already met the Sumerian original of this name, UKUSh-TI-GIL-LA, a jumbled version of which gave the Greek name Glukuside, Glycyside, for the Holy Plant.8
Go, my son [it reads], the tigilla, which springs up of its own accord in the desert — when the sun enters its dwelling, cover your head with a cloth, and cover the tigilla, surrounding it with flour, and in the morning before sunrise root it out of its place, and take its root...9
The necessity for covering oneself and the magic plant during the process of taking it from the ground, reminds one of another of those apparently banal asides of Josephus when describing the mysterious Essen.

In the midst of an important passage about their manner of discipline, he turns aside to tell us exactly how they perform their natural functions:
they dig a trench a foot deep with a mattock — such is the nature of the small axe which they present to the neophytes — and wrapping their mantle about them, that they may not offend the rays of the deity, they squat above it.

They then replace the excavated soil in the trench. For this purpose they select the more desolate places. And although this discharge of the excrements is a natural function, they make it a rule to wash themselves after it, as if defiled.10
Everything here except the ritual purification is decreed in Jewish Law (Deut 23:12W.), and is no more than commonsense camp hygiene. There seems no point at all in the astute author wasting space describing this normal practice unless he means to convey another of his tidbits of secret information for those who want to look beneath the surface.

The reference to the “rays of the deity” and the lustration might give substance to the idea. The shading by veil or booth of the mushroom-seeker was accompanied by other means of magical protection. Reference is made to drawing circles round the plant and its plunderer with a sword, the metal itself being considered fraught with supernatural power.11

Another form of protection was to sprinkle flour round the plant, as the seeker of the tigilla was instructed in the Accadian incantation. In this case the encirclement offered some measure of protection and the flour was a token of compensation to the earth for its rape, as Pliny says when Asclepius, another name for the sacred fungus, is taken:
“it is a pious duty to fill in the hole with various cereals as an atonement to the earth”.12
It is the same principle at work when the seers offered atonement to the Pine on taking the precious resin called Eileithyia, the “menses” 13

The fundamental principle of fertility philosophy was that of balance, as we have previously noted14

To take any of the fruits of the earth necessitated some measure of compensation or sacrifice to the god. To be effective this return payment should be at least qualitatively equivalent to the gift received, so that only the best of the harvest, the first— reaped of the corn and first-born of the animals, was suitable. In the case of an especially powerful plant like the sacred mushroom, an atoning substitution posed special problems.

Since the fungus was the god himself made manifest on earth, no atoning sacrifice by mortals could suffice.

The seeker could only bring along with him the Holy Plant itself or some symbol of it, and this is probably the explanation of a curious phrase in Josephus’ description of the seizing of the Mandrake:
“to touch it is fatal unless one succeeds in bringing along the thing itself, the root, hanging from one’s hand”.15
The verb he uses, epiphero, elsewhere refers to the bringing of a dowry by a bride to her husband, or the supplying of his own rations by the soldier himself during a campaign. In other words, only the god can atone for himself, and herein lies the basis of the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation and Atonement, which we must examine afresh in its cultic context in a later chapter.

Ezekiel in describing the necromantic ritual of the witches, says they fastened “magic bands” (kesãtöt) on their wrists, and with them “trapped souls like birds” (Ezek 13:20). This rare word is related to the Sumerian KI-ShU, meaning some kind of magical imprisonment, but we have to look to Greek for its precise significance. In the form kistë, Latin cista, it appears as a container used in certain mystery rituals of the Dionysiac cult, supposedly for the carrying of secret implements.

In fact, wherever the cista is graphically represented it is shown as a basket from which a snake is emerging. Thus on sarcophagi inscribed with Bacchic scenes, the cista is shown being kicked open by Pan and the snake raising itself from the half-opened lid.16

The snake is an important feature of the Dionysiac cult and imagery.

The Maenaçls of Euripides’ Bacchae have serpents entwined in their hair and round their limbs, and the snake was the particular emblem of the Phrygian Sabazios (Sabadius) with whom Dionysus is identified.17 It is not difficult to see the reasoning behind the ancient connection between the serpent and the mushroom, which played such a large part in mushroom folk-lore and mythology.

Both emerged from holes in the ground in a manner reminiscent of the erection of the sexually awakened penis, and both bore in their heads a fiery poison which the ancients believed could be transferred from one to the other.
“If the hole of a serpent”, writes Pliny, “has been near the mushroom, or should a serpent have breathed on it as it first opened, its kinship to poisons makes it capable of absorbing the venom. So it would not be well to eat mushrooms until the serpent has begun to hibernate.”18
The prime example of the relation between the serpent and the mushroom is, of course, in the Garden of Eden story of the Old Testament. The cunning reptile prevails upon Eve and her husband to eat of the tree, whose fruit “made them as gods, knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:4). The whole Eden story is mushroom-based mythology, not least in the identity of the “tree” as the sacred fungus, as we shall see.19

Even as late as the thirteenth-century some recollection of the old tradition was known among Christians, to judge from a fresco painted on the wall of a ruined church in Plaincourault in France (pl. 2). There the Amanita muscaria is gloriously portrayed, entwined with a serpent, whilst Eve stands by holding her belly.20

The Bacchic cista and Ezekiel’s witches’ “magic bands” were, then, probably meant to represent the lower “cup” of the mushroom volva, the little “basket” from which the stalk of the fungus emerged, like a snake being charmed from its box. In this conception lies the origin of such stories as Moses, the “emergent serpent”, as now we may understand his name to mean,21 in his papyrus ark, and Dionysus and Jesus in their “mangers”, in essence, “covered baskets”.22

As objects attached to the wrists of the sacred prostitutes at the mushroom—raising ceremony, these replicas of the matted volva, perhaps already divided to reveal the emergent mushroom stem, were probably intended to offer a kind of imitative encouragement to the dormant fungus to open and reveal itself.

The ability of a woman even by her physical presence to induce a man’s sex organ to stir into life apparently without any control on its owner’s part, must have been a source of great wonder to the ancients. It was sorcery, and as such viewed with apprehension and distrust by men generally, not unmixed with religious awe. This was particularly the case with those mystic orders which made use of the sexual power of women for their secret rites.

Of the Essen Josephus says:
“They do not, indeed, on principle, condemn wedlock and the propagation of the human race, but they wish to protect themselves against woman’s wantonness, being persuaded that none of the sex keeps her plighted troth to one man.”23
Of that order of Essen who did marry, he says:
“They think that those who decline to marry cut off the chief function of life, the propagation of the race, and, what is more, that, were all to adopt the same view, the whole race would very quickly die out.

They give their wives, however, three years’ probation, and only marry them after they have, by three periods of purification, given proof of fecundity. 24 They have no intercourse with them during pregnancy, thus showing that their motive in marrying is not self-indulgence but the procreation of children.” 25
One is reminded of the Church’s oft—reiterated edict that the purpose of marriage is the procreation of children. It comes as something of a shock to us in the Western world, after centuries of religiously inspired puritanism, to learn that the ancients attributed the greater inclinations towards sexual indulgence to women.

It was said that the seer Teiresias was chosen by Zeus and Hera to decide on the question whether the male or the female derived most pleasure from sexual intercourse. He replied that “of the ten parts of coitus, a man enjoys one only; but a woman’s senses enjoy all ten to the flill”.26

However that may be, there is no doubt that the sexual power of women was vital to the mystery cults, and accounts in large measure for their attractiveness to women from the earliest times. It also has much to do with the antagonism towards sexuality generally and the distrust of women displayed by the later Church, and the readiness with which supposed witches were hounded by Christians until quite recent times.

The telepathic control over people’s minds exercised by such females; known the world over as “the evil eye”, came originally from .this ability to arouse men’s passions. The Latin fascinus, from which our “fascination” comes, as well as meaning “bewitching”, was also the proper name of a deity whose emblem was the erect penis, and this indeed, as we can now appreciate, is the original source of this word and the Greek baskanos, “sorcerer”.27

It was believed that the malign influences of “fascination”, which came to be extended to any form of mental dominance, could be averted by wearing on the person a model penis, rather as the Christian symbol of the Cross is currently displayed by those within and without the Church to ward off evil. The worship of Fascinus was entrusted to the Vestal Virgins,28 a further indication of the sexual nature of their sacred fire. A similar connection between sexual influence and sorcery appears in the derivation of our word “magic”.

Its immediate source is the Latin magus, representing the Old Persian magush, the title of a religious official whose power of mind and body earned him a reputation for sorcery. We have met the Magi earlier as one of the prime sources in the ancient writings for plant names and medicinal folk-lore. Their title may now be traced to a Sumerian phrase for “big-penis”, and seen to be cognate with the Greek pharmakos, “enchanter, wizard”, from which comes our “pharmacist”.29

Women, then, had an important part to play in the mushroom cult.30 It made them at once respected and feared.

Their power over men and particularly over the male organ seemed magical, and the technical term for this influence, “fascination”, became extended to any form of mental dominance, usually of a malign character. Details of the way in which the cultic prostitutes drew forth the lat phallic mushroom can only be deduced from names and scattered references in literature. But one term seems continually in evidence in describing their activities, “lamentation”.

Just what this implies in its religious sense is the subject of our next chapter.

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