Ancient Greece Revisited – Did the Greeks trip on LSD?

Ancient Greece Revisited – Did the Greeks trip on LSD?

There was a road in Ancient Athens
that led towards the nearby city of Eleusis the site where the most sacred mysteries
in the Greek world took place It was called the sacred way: “Hiera Odos” and parts of it half devoured by moss
are still visible around Athens today Every year, walking around this road Athenians reached Eleusis in a type of pilgrimage ready to be initiated in its mysteries The Great Mysteries of Eleusis What actually happened during those rituals has remained a secret Curiously, one should add … as it was a secret that was shared by hundreds of thousands across Greece But central to the ritual process … was the drinking of a potion Kykeon, a word that simply means mix
or cocktail perhaps but its actual recipe was never revealed. And yet, during Europe’s darkest hour,
a Swiss chemist experimenting with the medicinal properties of “ergot” a fungus that infects wheat crops stumbled upon a compound that would change
the course of history. His name was Albert Hofmann
and the substance he accidentally discovered was a Lysergic Acid Diethylamide Reflecting on the process that led to its discovery,
years after experiencing its miraculous effects firsthand Hofmann realized two important things One, that “ergot”, from which LSD was first derived
was found in abundance throughout the fields surrounding Eleusis and that wheat, from which the fungus was taken,
appeared to have been so sacred to the mysteries that it actually functioned as their main symbol. All of a sudden, the effects of “kykeon” began to sound… … all too familiar The Greeks believed that the mysteries of Eleusis
were founded by Demetra goddess of agriculture and the fruits
of the cultivated fields. To this day, edible grains are still called “cereal” taking after “Ceres”, the name that she took
when her cults moved to Rome The story that told of the mysteries founding
and might even have served as their main theme was Demetra’s quest for her daughter Persephone after she was kidnapped by Hades,
god of the underworld and King of the Dead There, we are told how Persephone was gathering
flowers on lush meadows when suddenly she took notice of a flower a beautiful narcissus but as she reached for it the earth suddenly split and through the dark chasm riding on his golden chariot out came Hades King of the Underworld, brother of Zeus who grabbed Persephone by the arm and dragged her down to his nether-world kingdom. The girl cried to the heavens but Zeus did not intervene as it was he who had orchestrated her abduction
as a gift to his brother. Demetra, hearing the cries of her daughter
rushed to her aid but arrived too late. Desperately, she looked for her but no one
seemed to know where Persephone was no one apart from Helios, the Sun, who witnessed
the events unfolding under his golden course and told Demetra what had happened. Filled with rage against Zeus, Demetra left the palace of Olympus and began walking the earth transformed into an old … mortal woman withdrawing her powers so that throughout Greece crops began to fail and mankind began to perish. Alone, she roamed struck with grief … until she reached… Eleusis. We are told that when Demetra reached Eleusis she bestowed mankind with two gifts First, the grain, through which our race passed
from animal to man. Second, the knowledge of the sacred mysteries
which took away our fear of dying. But what exactly happened during those mysteries? A Greek orator hinted towards the idea
that the mysteries included… visual hallucinations and even proposed “ergot”,
the same fungus used by Albert Hofmann as the potential reason. His reference didn’t seem to interest
academics very much but was caught by an American
“banker turned adventurer” Gordon Wasson, the man who introduced the West to psilocybin mushrooms the so called “magic mushrooms” during the mid 50s Wasson claimed that among the Greeks
mushrooms were known as “vroma theon”, meaning food of the gods but gave no reference to back his claim. Throughout his writings Wasson seems to be
constantly getting ahead of himself driven by a passion of discovery and fueled by
the incredible experiences he had with the Mexican witch-doctor
Maria Sabina during which he lived, “an eternity in a single night,
and saw infinity in a grain of sand” His seminal paper “The Road to Eleusis”
closes inconclusively with nothing but a theory
in search of more evidence But Wasson was in no short supply of friends and among them was no other than Albert Hofmann the man to first synthesize LSD
from lysergic acid which he synthesized from ergot, the fungus that
Wasson initially thought was behind the mysteries. Ergot is a parasite that infects barley and rye,
and Hofmann observed that wherever it was found the fungus was surrounded by legends while infected plants were often called “mad” or drunken, hinting to potential psychoactive properties. Hoffman who by that time had become
a full psychedelics advocate processed ergot with what he thought were the means that Ancient Greeks had available at that time. To his surprise after digesting the brew Hoffman discovered
that in high enough doses ergot can indeed cause mild hallucinations writing back to Wasson triumphantly that … But here lies a problem. The Greeks were by no means strangers
to the concept of simply having fun and if they had indeed produced an LSD analog it’s hard to believe they would have restricted it’s use
to the Eleusinian Mysteries that were only to be had once in a lifetime. Unsurprisingly, another scholar by the name of Carl Ruck joined the discussion to suggest something radical That what the Greeks called “wine” might not be the same beverage that we know today. Ruck began with a well-established fact, that the Greeks always diluted their wine with water, and that not doing so was considered barbaric with warnings about possible madness
or even death. According to Ruck however the Greeks did not possess the technology needed
to distill wine properly and even lacked a word for “alcohol”, suggesting
they had never been able to isolate it. Greek wine then could not have exceeded
a degree of 14% alcohol which they would always and without fail dilute
with at least three parts of water So, how could… what would essentially be classified
as a soft drink today induce the divine ecstacies of its “patron saint” Ruck’s answer was that Greek wine included
much more than squashed grapes and noticed how the female devotees of Dionysus,
the “Bacchae” would wonder the mountainsides during
the winter months in search of a certain “vine” that grew suddenly at the fall of thunder. They would walk holding a “thersus”, a wand with a pine cone placed on its head, the pine cone having long associations with a pineal gland considered by many ancient people to be the seat of human consciousness. Ruck concluded that these devotees these Bacchae were initiated into the powers of the nether world through the “purple dark” of the grain’s sibling that Dr. Hoffman has made available to our generation. The grain’s sibling of course was Lycergic Acid Diethylamide LSD So how about we finally try to give an answer to our question “Did the Greeks trip on LSD?” Well, … … it’s an enticing idea, and it seems to be supported by a few brilliant people including the inventor of LSD himself But it will be very dishonest for us to say that
what we presented amounts to a proof But regardless of the how
the Greeks must have tripped. The visions they saw during the great mysteries included all elements of modern, chemically induced trips Holy Terror, Divine Awe, Sublime Visions while the participants came out changed for life. But for all the tripping we have to end on a sad note. One that provides a necessary link to the present In our days, the city of Eleusis, the most sacred
of sacred sites has been drowned in concrete, iron and gas as Greece’s oil refineries were built there. The Greek poet Nikos Gatsos dedicated one of his poems to Eleusis, as it stands today in sad contrast to how it once stood, he named it … “Persephone’s Nightmare”


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    Dimitra Michailidi

    The great mysteries of the antiquity explained! Lovely initiative, I enjoyed it! Looking forward for the next episode!

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