(Excerpted from “Magic Mushrooms in Religion & Alchemy)
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In the colorful and often bloody history of the Jews prior to the birth of Jesus no one commands more awe and reverence than Moses does. To have frequent conversation with God and receive God’s personal, finger-written correspondence are the marks of a demi-god, not a human, to those outside the faith things may look a little different. The circumstances of Moses’ birth and ancestry are debated even today, but it is generally agreed that he was raised by the Egyptians and may have been groomed to become a high official, if not Pharaoh. He was steeped in the philosophy and religion of Egypt and seems to have been familiar with the solar monotheism of Akhenaton as well as the various magical practices and rites for which the Egyptians were famous. We will take up the story of Moses just after he was seen killing an Egyptian who had mistreated a Hebrew laborer. Fleeing to an area south of the Red Sea, Moses joined a group of Midianite sheep herders. Their leader, a priest named Jethro, liked the intelligent newcomer and gave him his daughter Zipporah in marriage, and for some time Moses lived the life of a simple shepherd. One day, when pasturing Jethro’s sheep on Horeb, the Mountain of God, he saw a strange sight: a plant that glowed like fire, yet gave off no smoke and was not consumed. The story says that this plant was another angel of Yahweh. Moses moved closer so he could see why the plant was not burned. He heard a voice from the midst of the fiery plant call his name. “I am here,” Moses replied. The plant said, “Stay where you are and take the shoes off your feet, for the ground upon which you stand is holy. I am the God of your fathers.”
The god-plant went on to say that it had a plan: Moses was to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt and into a land overflowing with milk and honey. The land was already occupied by the Canaanites and others, of course, but that didn’t matter since God had already given it to Abraham. Several times. “After you lead the people out of Egypt, come back to this mountain and offer worship to God,” said the plant.
Moses was a little unsure of himself. He said, “You, a plant, want me to go to the Hebrews and tell them that I have been sent by the God of their fathers. Great. And what if they ask me what your name is?” The plant answered, “I am who I am [Yahweh]. Tell the sons of Israel, ‘I Am has sent me.’ Then go with the tribal elders to visit Pharaoh and tell him to let all the Hebrews go into the wilderness for three days to offer sacrifice.” Moses was worried. He wondered what would happen if the Egyptians didn’t believe that Yahweh had appeared to him, so the plant gave him a few tricks to convince them.
First it had Moses throw his staff on the ground, where it turned into a serpent. When he picked it up by the tail it turned back into a staff As a result of this Moses was sometimes called “the staff of God.” Then Moses was told to put his hand into his bosom and draw it back out. When he did so the hand was covered with white leprous patches. When he put it back into his bosom and drew it out again the hand was free of the white patches. Next the plant instructed Moses in the subtle art of equivocation: “If the first trick doesn’t convince them, the second surely will. But if neither one works, take some water from the river and pour it on the ground in front of them, and the water will have turned bloody. Now go.”
Moses was still worried. He said, “I have uncircumcised lips. Why should Pharaoh listen to me?” The plant said, “Look, I am making you into a god before Pharaoh. Your brother Aaron can speak for you as your prophet. Besides, it really doesn’t matter, because I will make Pharaoh say ‘no’ every time you ask him to release the Hebrews, regardless of what sorts of magic you show him. I do this so that I can visit many plagues upon Egypt to prove to them that I am God. I will allow Pharaoh to say ‘yes’ after I have killed his first born child, his son, and the first born of every creature in Egypt, including the cattle.”
After saying goodbye to Jethro Moses took his wife and son and began his journey, but then the strangest thing happened: when they stopped for the night Yahweh came to meet Moses and tried to kill him. The same Yahweh who had just finished telling Moses to go on this journey was now killing him on the first night of the trip! This is one of those incidents that theologians tend to skirt, and for good reason. How the almighty God could have failed in the attempt to kill Moses is not told, but in a fit of inspiration Zipporah grabbed a flint and cut off the foreskin of their son; she then touched the bloody prepuce to Moses’ penis, saying, “Truly you are a bloody husband to me!” Because of Zipporah’s bizarre actions Yah-weh spared Moses.
When they arrived in Egypt it was as the god-plant had said. Moses and Aaron showed all the tricks of their god but the court magicians duplicated most of them, even, stupidly, the plagues on their own people. It didn’t matter, of course, because Pharaoh found himself unable to say anything but “no” to Moses’ request. After a series of terrible plagues Moses finally got to play his trump card. He warned Pharaoh that Pharaoh’s son and all the first born of Egypt would be dead in the morning unless Pharaoh let the Israelites go. Pharaoh couldn’t help himself: “No,” he said.
Some days earlier Yahweh had said to Moses, “Tell all the Israelites that they should paint the lintels and posts of their doorways with blood on the night before I kill the firstborn of Egypt, so that I will know to pass over their houses,” and this is what the Israelites did. Also, on that day they were to eat only unleavened bread; no leaven should even be in their houses. Later, after the killing was accomplished, Pharaoh summoned Moses and told him to leave, and take all the Israelites with him. That very day Moses and over 600,000 Hebrews left Egypt, loaded down with jewelery, gold, and vast herds of animals, amazing booty for slaves to come away with.
Moses hadn’t told anyone exactly where it was they were going, but he knew their first destination was Horeb, the Mountain of God. After wandering for some time with little food the people began to complain. Yahweh assured Moses that he would supply the people with food. At night Yahweh sent flocks of quails flying into the camp, and the people ate them. It must have been a vast covey to feed so many people. In the morning there were little white balls the size of coriander seeds covering the ground, but it was not from the birds. When the people saw it they said, “Manna?” which means “What is it?” For some reason manna became the name of the substance. The people were instructed to gather what they needed for the day and eat it, but not to save any for the next day. Those who disobeyed found that in the morning the saved manna had bred maggots and smelled foul.
When the horde was nearing the Mountain of God they camped at a place that had no water, and the people complained to Moses. Yahweh instructed Moses to take his staff, gather the elders of Israel, and go to a certain rock at Horeb; once there he should strike the rock with his staff and water would flow out. This is what he did, and the water flowed.
Finally the sojourners reached the Mountain of God. Now Moses was a clever man, and the first thing he did was mark out boundaries around the base of the mountain. He told the people that Yahweh had told him no one was to cross the boundary and go up the mountain, or even touch the foot of the mountain, or that person would be put to death. No one would even be allowed to touch the condemned person: the execution had to be by arrows or stones. Even animals that touched the mountain would be killed. Then Moses told the people that he would be speaking directly with Yahweh, who would appear in the form of a dense cloud. “What sounds like thunder is actually God’s voice,” Moses said, “but only I will be able to understand what is being spoken. I will tell all of you what it is that Yahweh has said.” With this Moses led the people to the foot of the mountain. Clouds covered the mountain top and violent thunderstorms rent the air. Fires and smoke could be seen on the mountain’s summit.
Moses’ first translation of the thunder took the form of what has come to be called the Ten Commandments. The people said, “Fine, whatever God says, just don’t make us talk with him.” The people kept their distance as Moses approached the mountain and faced the raging storm. Yahweh took this opportunity to present, through the mouth of Moses, a long and specific list of laws, ending with the admonition not to boil a young goat in its mother’s milk, a despicable Canaanite practice of which God didn’t want any part. Then he promised that if the people kept all the laws he gave them he would send his angel before them to destroy utterly the multitudes living on the lands the Israelites were about to ransack. “Exterminate” is the word he used, and although he didn’t do what he promised, this is exactly what the Israelites themselves did when they met in battle the Canaanites, the Amor-ites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, and all the other peoples they ruthlessly slaughtered on their way to establishing Yahweh’s righteous kingdom on earth; in many instances they killed every man, woman, child, and animal.
Moses built a stone altar at the foot of the mountain and instructed some young men to begin slaughtering bulls to burn on the altar; half the blood Moses put in basins and half he threw on the altar. Then Moses turned around and threw blood on the people, telling them that it was the blood of the covenant that God had made with them. Thick clouds covered the mountain for six days, and on the seventh day Moses went up into the cloud. He stayed on the mountain for forty days, during which he must have been taking dictation much of the time, so long was the list of God’s orders Moses carried with him when he finally returned to camp.
The first thing Yahweh told Moses on the mountain was that he, Yaweh, was now accepting costly donations from the people, which Moses should collect and use to build a sanctuary in which Yahweh could “dwell with the people.” The second command was to construct a wooden box, an ark, plated with pure gold inside and out, and with moldings of pure gold. Four rings of cast gold would be mounted (two to a side), through which two gold-plated poles would be inserted for transporting the ark. A seat of gold would then be made for the top, a “seat of mercy,” with two cherubim of gold mounted at either end, their golden wings forming an arch over the seat. Inside this ornate box would be kept the tablets of the Testimony. Henceforth it would be here, on the mercy seat, that God would appear to give his many commands to the children of Israel.
The third item of note that came out of these discussions was God’s directive to construct a large tent called a tabernacle. The walls of the tabernacle were to be made of red, crimson, and violet linen embroidered with golden cherubim. Covering the tabernacle would be large sheets of wool sewn together. Over this would be placed a covering made of ram skins dyed red and over this a covering of fine leather. The framework of the tent was to be made of acacia wood plated with gold, and all the clasps and fittings would also be gold. Within the tent would be a square partition made again of hanging fabric of red, crimson, and violet wherein the ark and mercy seat would rest. Only the high priest could enter this Holy of Holies. The rest of the list contained the many minute details regarding the accoutrements of the tabernacle, the clothing and investiture of the priests, and other details. When God had finished telling Moses what to do he gave Moses two tablets of stone on which were written the Ten Words of the Testimony.
Moses didn’t return for a long time. The people began to fear that he wasn’t coming back, so they went to Aaron and asked him to supply a god to go before them as Moses had done. Aaron didn’t hesitate. He had the men collect all the gold earrings in the camp and bring them to him. These Aaron melted down and cast into the likeness of a bull. The men cried out, “Israel! Here is the god who led you out of Egypt!” The next day a sacrifice was offered.
About this time Moses was making his way down the mountain, and he heard the sounds of music and chanting. When he saw the golden bull and the people dancing and fornicating before it he broke the tablets on the ground and went berserk. Running up to the altar in a rage he grabbed the bull by the horns; first he burned it, then he ground it into powder, mixed it with water, and made all the people drink it. Calling out to the crowd he said, “Whoever is for Yahweh, come and stand with me!” All the Levites rallied around him, and he ordered them to draw their swords and slay every man, woman, and child who had not come to his side. The number of people said to have been murdered that day ranges from 3,000 to 23,000.
After the butchery Moses praised the men who had so mercilessly slain their kinsmen, and in some cases their parents, brothers, sisters, wives, sons, and daughters: “Today you have won investiture as priests of Yahweh, and today he grants you a blessing.” Maybe there is good reason to demand that freedom of religion become part of the constitution of every nation.
After his little fit of pique Moses returned to the mountain, wrote the ten words once again on two tablets of stone and, after forty days, returned to camp. He was troubled when Aaron and the others backed away from him, until they told him that his face was so radiant it frightened them. Moses called them to him and told them what Yahweh had said; then Moses put a veil over his face so he wouldn’t continue to scare them. After this he always kept the veil over his face, except when he spoke with God in the tabernacle tent. Once inside the tent Moses would remove his veil and leave his face uncovered until he came out to tell the people what Yahweh had said; then he would put it back on until the next time. Each time Moses returned from talking with God his face was radiant.
Moses spent the rest of his life writing laws and the punishments for violating those laws, many of which were draconian. Any men or women who are magicians? Stone them to death. The daughter of a priest who prostitutes herself? Burn her to death. A man who wants to marry? Only a virgin from his own family. Curse Yahweh (a fickle and arbitrary god if there ever was one) and what happens? Death by stoning, of course.
Shortly before the Israelites finally attacked the land of Canaan, after they had left Mount Hor and were near Edom, they ran short of food, and the people again complained that Moses had brought them out of Egypt only to die in the wilderness. God heard their complaint, the story says, and as an answer sent fiery, winged serpents to attack them. Many people died from the poison of the serpents and in their fear the survivors repented and apologized to Moses for all their complaining. They asked him to fix things with Yahweh and protect them from the serpents. Yahweh told Moses to make a fiery serpent out of metal and put it on top of a pole, which he did, probably using copper and perhaps some gold to get the fiery effect he wanted. After this, those who had been bitten by the fiery serpents had only to look upon the metallic serpent and they would not die.