Entheogens and the Development of Culture by Various (Ed. John A Rush)

Publication Details

    Entheogens and the Development of Culture by Various (Ed. John A Rush)
  • Author: John A Rush
  • Publisher: North Atlantic Books
  • Format: Paperback


On the face of it, this would seem an odd book for me to review as my personal loathing of drugs of any kind is almost legendary! The way I see it, drug-taking is responsible for the moral and spiritual decline in so many countries around the world.

At every level of society, vast sways of the population are slipping into a dependency upon one artificial stimulant or another and it makes me to se the increasing inability of most people to deal with their lives in a more meaningful and self-empowering way.

I fail to understand the campaign to legalize either cannabis or marijuana other than for medicinal use.

I also frown upon the widespread use and social acceptance of alcohol, given its destructive effects, as well as question the wisdom of the blanket prescription of anti-depressants for the most trivial of mental disorders.

In short, I might state that my position regarding stimulants and intoxicants as being that of someone who is essentially teetotal and who rarely drinks any stimulant stronger than flavored (non-Aspartame) water.

The consequences of my abstinences are that I am always in control of my own mind, am excruciatingly boring  and am, invariably, always nominated as the ‘designated driver’!

However, that being said, I do recognize the fact that there is a quite a difference between ‘recreational drugs’ (those substances which corrode and corrupt society) and ‘entheogens’ (psychoactive substances that are used in religious, shamanic or spiritual contexts).

Entheogens and the Development of Culture, edited by John Rush (author of The Mushroom in Christian Art) falls into the latter category.

It is essentially a collection of scientific and academic studies presented by a range of experts who specialize in the study of entheogen-use through history and culture.

Their commentaries center upon their perspective of trance-inducing re-actives of various types, their use in ritualistic settings and the impact hallucinogenics have upon the formulation of religious belief systems in many cultures.

Each of the papers highlight key elements to the subject which, when read as a whole, offer a perspective upon a form of ritual drug inhalation that has been a popular method throughout the ancient and indigenous world as an effective method for opening psycho-spiritual doors and as a way of accessing the inner realms.

It deals with subjects as diverse as the work of the little-known herbalist Hildegard of Bingen (surely the first Pagan eco-warrior in history), the theories of Carl Jung and his opinions regarding hallucogenics right up to Biblical recipes for the creation and application of hallucinogenic substances such as cannabis for ritualistic and shamanic use.

Whilst each chapter deals with one specific aspect of entheogen use throughout its pages a few core and unifying elements appear.

One of these is that most popular and widely-used type of all the enetheogens—namely the Magic Mushroom, Psilocybe, amanita muscaria or Fly Agaric.

In addition, several authors make reference to the works of the godfather of Ethnomycology research, Robert Gordon Wasson (September 22, 1898 – December 23, 1986) and credits his early researches into the historical uses and sociological impact of fungi.

Entheogens and the Development of Culture is a mighty big book—weighing in at a lofty 600+ pages. However, other than the sore wrists I got from holding it upright, it actually feels like a book a mere quarter of its size due to the speed and ease its narrative carries its reader along.

Each chapter neither glorifies drug-taking nor understates the immense influence that entheogen use has had upon the development of both orthodox religion as well as many mystical traditions.

However, what became so increasingly evident to me as I progressed through the book was that important information that would normally enable the safe and controlled use of hallucinogens has been deliberately suppressed by a religions autocracy whilst at the same time deliberate attempts have been made to erase any historical evidence that the early Christian Church, in particular, initially relied upon their use by the priestly classes for attaining mystical and spiritual insight.

Every chapter is, without exception, so very well-researched and in most cases skillfully written by experts who clearly have a deep insight into the subject. These are not pale social commentaries or passionless intellectual critiques but are informed and insightful dissertations by people who have a close and first-hand experience of their subject fields.

As much as I did enjoy reading ‘Entheogens and the Development of Culture’ towards the end of reading it I was beginning to tire a little of its emphasis upon the historical context that most of the writers were placing their entheogen research into.

Perhaps, I was actually becoming so engaged and enthusiastic about this fascinating subject I really wanted to gain some deeper insight into the modern use of hallucinogens (especially as I had followed with interest the fairly recent banning of the recreational use of psilocybins, or so-called magic mushrooms, here in the United Kingdom as well as throughout other parts of Europe.)

At the point where I was beginning to feel that the book, as good as it is, really did need a contemporary view of the subject to make its coverage complete I was completely unprepared for the revelations contained within its final chapter—an expose by the books’ editor which relates to R. Gordon Masson—the so-called grandfather of hallucinogen research.

This powerful, disturbing and contentious final piece—one that treads upon hallowed ground and openly questions the man’s motives as well as identifying the possible dark forces that were connected to his research, most assuredly reveals that the real history behind entheogen use is indeed one of control, manipulation and suppression—even up to our modern era of social engineering by secret government agencies.


This is a book that reveals the increasingly expansive gulf between modern spirituality and our earlier and more authentic Pagan roots. It shows us how this disparity originally came into being as well as revealing something of the nature of the darkened and increasingly corrupt forces that have conspired throughout history to keep us, as individuals, from discovering our true spiritual heritage.

It is a publication that also offers a valuable insight into how humanity could possibly reverse its current social decline; one that is exacerbated by a widespread use of so-called ‘recreational’ drugs and other socially-acceptable stimulants—all of which are geared towards dumbing us down, into a world that enables us to use natural plant secretions as a way of spiritually engaging with the Universe on a deeper and more meaningful basis.

I shall return to this book time and again to remind myself why I loathe drugs so much but also why I am so fascinated by the opportunities entheogens offer us as a way of opening our hearts and minds to an altogether more lucid reality.



Credit: Review copy kindly supplied by North Atlantic Books.