The Hidden Symbols

(Excerpted from “Magic Mushrooms in Religion & Alchemy) – AVAILABLE HERE Part II | Part I Moses may or may not have been a religious man before he went into hiding, but he certainly was after his first encounter with Yahweh on the Mountain of God. A burning plant, indeed. After all the stories of Agni and Shiva that have been presented it is difficult not to think of the fly agaric once again, and the setting is perfect. It is in the high mountain conifer forests of the Middle East that the Amanita genus is found, and if there were any segment of the desert population with a knowledge of mountain mushrooms it would have been shepherds. Few people had reason to climb to the high mountain meadows, but shepherds routinely did so. During and after the rainy season the mountain forests fill with grasses and flowers, so during these times desert shepherds drive their sheep to the mountains to feed. The rain also brings many species of mushrooms to these same meadows. The only “burning” plant that enables one to speak with God, at least the only one I have found, is the fiery fly agaric (plate 18). It is possible that the burning bush story represents Moses’ finding the fly agaric on his own accidentally, but it is more likely that he was initiated into a shepherdic mushroom cult by Jethro, the Midianite priest whose flocks Moses was pasturing. This part of the tale hides several other mushroom analogies, in addition to the “flaming plant” correspondence these other parallels seem to be cultic details intentionally inserted into the story. For example, after getting Moses’ attention the first thing the god-plant says is, “Take off your shoes! The ground on which you are so carelessly stamping is holy!” This is vital information, not a pious religious observance, if the plant doing the talking is a mushroom. A cult would want its novice foragers to know that when hunting for the fiery prey, as soon as the first mushroom is sighted it is a good practice to stand still and look around carefully, especially in the immediate vicinity of one’s feet, because if a person can see one mushroom there are probably others nearby, possibly underfoot and unbeknownst to the hunter. Walking through a fruiting grove barefoot is not only more respectful of the god, but it is also more prudent. There is less likelihood of damaging the harvest. Moses was made aware that he was in the presence of a god; one can sometimes feel the same way during fly agaric intoxication. One can also feel extremely energetic and strong, and this strength is not an illusion. It is well known among Siberian users of the fly agaric that feats of tremendous physical endurance are possible under its influence. After “meeting” the god-plant, Moses felt strong enough to come out of hiding and try to right the wrongs being done to his people. He could now speak forcefully enough to argue with the Pharaoh, and well enough to convince the Israelites to follow him. This from a man with formerly “uncircumcised lips,” which implies a speech impediment of some kind. We are reminded by this phrase of Abraham’s similar conversation with God on a mountain top and must wonder about the inordinate interest these men had in circumcision. Moses protested that he wouldn’t know how to name the god when people asked him on whose authority he spoke, and the god said his name was, “I am,” and “I am who I am.” On one level this can be viewed as sophisticated philosophy, a way of forcing people to accept that the god exists within them by making the god’s name an act of identification with the person. “Who is God?” “I am.” Moses realized that “Lam” is the nature of God because when Moses ate the mushroom he felt the god within himself as himself. And because this is a difficult concept to grasp without personal experience, Moses kept it to himself once he arrived in Egypt to round up the Israelites, since there wouldn’t be enough mushrooms for everyone anyway. The two “signs” Moses received from Yahweh may be signs of the mushroom and not tricks to show Pharaoh. The first sign, his staff turning into a serpent and back again, is reminiscent of the serpent and the tree in the Garden of Eden story as well as the “Pillar” appellation of Soma and Shiva. The “stiff staff’ that changes into a “wriggling snake” and back again is undeniably phallic as well as being another mushroom parallel. The second sign occurred when Moses put his hand “into his breast” and it came out covered with scaly white patches. These patches correspond to the white veil fragments covering the “breast” of the fly agaric. The somewhat sticky pieces sometimes adhere to the skin when handling the fresh mushroom but are easily wiped off, just as they can be wiped off the cap. If the serpent-staff and the white patches failed to convince, Moses was told to pour water that would “turn bloody.” Dried fly agarics immersed in water turn the water a dilute red as though a quantity of blood had been mixed with it. The same thing happens to urine, as noted earlier. These were the signs given to Moses to convince others that he had found the correct god-plant: the plant grows in the mountains, low to the ground; it contains the power of a god; it resembles a serpent in several ways; it stands on one “staff’ and is phallic in appearance; it has white patches covering its “breast”; and it glows red like a live coal. Scholars are at a loss to explain why Yahweh tried to kill Moses just as Moses was leaving to perform the task Yahweh himself had assigned. Anyone wishing to demonstrate the perfidy of the ancient God would have to go no further than this verse, so its inclusion here is curious. Since no one has been able to come up with even a remotely plausible explanation of the episode, I will offer one. We know that sex magic was used extensively by the Tantrics and others in India who also used the fly agaric, and I have conjectured that the fly agaric was used in the sexual practices. The foreskin of the penis is related to the cap of the fly agaric. It could easily be construed to refer to the whole cap and not just the universal veil, and since the entire cap separates from the base at “circumcision,” cutting off the cap still leaves the phallic stalk intact. Moses’ wife touches her son’s “foreskin” to the penis of her husband and says, “Surely you are a bloody husband to me.” What could this possibly mean? We know that Shiva found a golden “linga” that had been placed in a vagina, perhaps with a penis-stone. There is no reason an actual penis couldn’t be used for the same purpose, which would certainly have made Moses a “bloody husband” to his wife, given the way “bloody” juice flows from the moistened “cap. A woman using the fly agaric in similar fashion by herself could also address the mushroom directly with the same statement, “Surely you are a bloody husband to me.” For that matter, so could a man. The story also appears to record a near death experience that Moses suffered, because “Yahweh tried to kill him”; a fly agaric consumer sometimes unexpectedly experiences the same thing. The same god-plant that had revealed mysteries and given Moses newfound strength now appeared to be taking his life; his wife may actually have made a desperate offering of her son’s foreskin to placate the penis-mushroom that was raging inside Moses, touching it to his penis in an act of sympathetic magic. Or perhaps the near death experience prompted Moses to experiment with ways of bypassing the digestive system in order to avoid getting sick, as explained in chapter 5. Moses recovered, of course, and made his way to Egypt. He and Aaron met with Pharaoh and showed him their magic, but Pharaoh was not impressed by it. What he was impressed by was the series of natural disasters the area was going through at the time, which probably included earthquakes and climate-altering volcanic activity. With crops failing, livestock dying, and food stocks running low, the thought of suddenly having 600,000 (or whatever the real number) fewer mouths to feed every day must indeed have seemed providential to Pharaoh, and he let the Israelites leave. Yet it appears Moses played one last trick on Pharaoh. The angel of death passed over the houses of people who had painted blood on their doorposts and lintels, an act that is curiously and specifically linked with unleavened bread. The people had to leave so quickly, the story says, that they had no time to leaven their bread dough, and this odd fact is mentioned a number of times; it was considered so important that unleavened bread became incorporated into the Passover ritual. Yet it wasn’t because they had to leave quickly that the Israelites ate unleavened bread; Moses had already told them not to eat leavened bread on that day. What is the reason for this pretext? A dried fly agaric cap bears a resemblance to a small loaf of unleavened bread and has a similar consistency. Perhaps this is a reminder to eat the mushroom only in its “unleavened” or dried state, not its expanded blood-red state, so that the angel of death will pass by. There may be more, however, to this story of a petty god who mercilessly slew innocent people to prove a point. There are documented reports even in modern times of the poisoning of whole villages due to the consumption of contaminated grain, usually in the form of bread. The last large-scale outbreaks occurred in France in 1816. The poisoning agent was a fungus, Clavkeps purpurea, a sac fungus that attacks the ripening heads of grains; it is a powerful hallucinogen that is effective in minuscule dosages. Commonly called ergot, the plant has long been used in obstetrics and is the source of the extremely potent drug LSD. Ergotamine poisoning is of two types: gangrenous and spasmodic. The gangrenous type is characterized by the cessation of circulation in various parts of the body, resulting in gangrene of the limbs. If the respiratory muscles are affected death quickly follows. The symptoms of the spasmodic type are more LSD-like in nature and include itching and tingling of the skin, visual distortion, twitching and spasms, deafness, hallucinations, and psychotic episodes. The different reactions are caused by two or more different species of Clavkeps, one of which, Clavkeps paspilli, is significantly more benign in its effects. Ergot poisoning can occur wherever grain is grown and consumed; a trained eye can easily pick out infected heads of grain. Moses had been trained in the wisdom of both the Semitic tribes and the Egyptians. He was familiar with their magic and their pharmacopoeia; it is entirely feasible that the knowledge of the various ergot species was part of his education from either or both sources. The growing of grain, after all, is thought to have come to Egypt by way of Palestine. Although there are no Egyptian records of the Israelite “sojourn” in Egypt, it appears from Hebrew writings that by the time of the Exodus a large part of the working class was comprised of Hebrews. There is no reason to assume that they were only brickmakers, the only Jewish trade mentioned in the story. If the circumstances required it, foreigners were employed at virtually every type of work that needed to be done, including farming, milling, and baking; cooks and housekeepers were especially prized among the upper classes. If Moses had really wanted to impress Pharaoh with the power of an angry Yah-weh, he could have made a great show of threatening Pharaoh in front of witnesses, as he did prior to the killing of the firstborn; if Yahweh had done nothing by the next day Moses would lose face and leave defeated, but if Yahweh performed according to Moses’ threat, Pharaoh would be forced to recognize Yahweh’s power and capitulate. The story tells us that Moses won: there were dead people throughout the city, yet the Israelites were all healthy and unharmed. Barring as unreasonable partisan complicity on God’s part, what should we assume happened here? Could Moses have poisoned the Egyptians’ bread supply with ergot? Logic dictates that if the story has any validity at all the people were poisoned. Moses could have delivered poison to virtually every Egyptian in the city and many of their animals if he had somehow been able to get it into the daily bread, which was the staple food of the whole country; large bakeries were common in the cities. The only poison possibly available to Moses, which could have caused such widespread sickness and death overnight, seemingly selective in its bizarre symptoms and with low, effective dosages was ergot. But how would this have been accomplished? Consider this: Moses has word sent secretly to Jewish domestics and bakers throughout the city, especially those in the Pharaoh’s palace and the homes of influential citizens, that the bread of the Egyptians is to be leavened on a certain day with leavening “from Yahweh,” which will help the Israelites win their freedom. They are supplied with a lump of leavening that is infected with species of Claviceps fungus, dried and ground into fine powder. In those days all leavening was done in the “sour dough” method; that is, for each day’s baking a small amount of fermented dough kept over from the previous day was kneaded into larger amounts of fresh dough, leavening the whole amount. On the given day the Israelites are to use only this “special” leavening when they make bread and must eat none of the bread themselves. Only the Egyptians are to eat it. To be sure of their own safety the bakers must eat bread with no leavening whatsoever. The same prohibition is given to all other Israelites as well: on that day eat only unleavened bread and do not even have leavening in the house. When the fateful day arrives everyone does as instructed, and soon most of the Egyptian population is in the throes of a very bad LSD-type experience (or worse). There is wailing in the streets; there is bedlam everywhere. Many are extremely sick or dying; many are completely out of their minds. Pharaoh, whose own firstborn son was among the dead, summons Moses and orders him and the Israelites to leave Egypt immediately. Pharaoh realized then that Moses was not the smalltime magician he had appeared to be; he had the ear of a powerful and cruel god. Pharaoh’s whole city was sick or dying, yet the Israelites were all fit and healthy. Pharaoh had no choice; he let them leave. Yahweh, through Moses, told the Israelites to “ask” the Egyptians for silver and gold to take with them, each one asking his or her neighbor. The author says the Egyptians complied because “Yahweh gave the people great prestige in the eyes of the Egyptians, and they gave what was asked of them.” Sure. In the midst of unparalleled misery and death the whole city revives just long enough to cheerfully give all their gold and valuables to the Israelites, the same Israelites, who were despised slaves. Now imagine a city filled with sick, hallucinating, and dying people who don’t quickly revive when the Israelites walk into their homes, and the inappropriate generosity of the Egyptians suddenly makes sense. They were too sick or out of their minds to put up any resistance whatsoever; the Israelites, as the story so indelicately phrases it, “plundered” the Egyptians; they robbed them blind. Leaving with vast herds of animals and all the gold, silver, jewelery, fabric, and clothing their animals could carry, the only thing the Israelites seem to have neglected in their looting was a raid on the granaries; as a consequence they ran out of staple foodstuffs quickly on their journey. Before reaching the Mountain of God the wanderers experienced the miracle of the manna. What this was is anybody’s guess, but it does have certain mushroom parallels that, while probably not relating directly to the fly agaric in this instance, may be a remnant of a story that does. The manna made its appearance overnight, just as mushrooms seem to. They were round and white, as some mushrooms are, notably puffballs and embryonic fly agarics. If the manna-balls were kept overnight they bred maggots; mushrooms are vulnerable to maggot infestation, and this is a real problem with the fly agaric. Many is the time I brought home what seemed to be an uninfected specimen only to find it teeming with maggots in the morning. The manna kept overnight also stank: rotting fly agaric flesh smells like carrion, truly horrid. Fly agaric also has an anorexic effect when eaten which lasts for many hours. The mushroom correspondences indicate that the story is a conflation of cultic lore and an early survival tale. The next miracle we encounter is the striking of a rock to obtain water. As well as looking like an egg in its early life, the young fly agaric also resembles a rough white stone, an image later encountered in Christianity and alchemy. This means that an unusual reference to a magic stone could possibly be a reference to the fly agaric. We’ve seen that the pillar gods of India correspond to the fly agaric, as does Moses’ “Staff of God.” Not only does he carry the serpent-staff of God, he becomes known as the Staff of God; Moses becomes a personification of the god-plant as well as a user of it, the same thing that happened to Soma, Vishnu, Agni, Shiva and Hanuman. “Staff,” like “pillar” and “serpent,” also has the alternative reading of “penis,” as we saw with Shiva. Moses had a staff that sometimes was like a serpent and sometimes like an erect penis, which suggests that perhaps the staff Moses used to strike the mushroom-stone to release the pent-up waters was his penis, which is not a satisfying image. But the same elements can be stated in a different way: Moses “makes water” from the mushroom-stone; it manifests magically through the agency of his “staff.” A gloss puts the location of the miracle at Horeb, home of the fiery god-plant known for its ability to produce two types of magic water. It is interesting to note in this regard that Perseus, beheader of the snake-festooned Medusa and recent convert to the worship of snake-festooned Dionysus, named the city of Mycenae after a toadstool he found growing on the site. A stream of water poured forth from the toadstool. Later, as we will see, the European alchemists likewise extracted divine water from a stone. When the vast caravan finally reached the Mountain of God it was the rainy season and thunderstorms were raging on the mountain’s slopes. Moses’ timing was perfect: the rainy season meant it was also mushroom season. The first thing he did on arrival was to issue a spurious decree from Yahweh: “Anyone who so much as touches even the foot of the mountain will immediately be put to death.” Then he put up boundary markers along the base of the mountain so there would be no question about the point past which it would be deadly to tread. Let us assume that Moses came back here primarily (or wholly) to harvest mushrooms during the rainy season. These mushrooms could serve him well in his new role as leader and priest of a small nation in terms of the spiritual counsel and sheer physical energy they would provide. But if the people found out, two things could happen. They might want mushrooms for themselves, which due to the limited supply would mean he wouldn’t end up with any; or they might brand him as a magician or necromancer and kill him (which wasn’t as likely since the people seemed to like magicians and necromancers at the time). It was the Moses the magician’s—I mean God’s—own laws that made these practices a capital offense. So it was probably for reasons of supply that Moses kept the real purpose of his expedition secret as well as the unavoidable fact that the mushrooms gave him an immense advantage in his dealings with the people. It allowed him to operate at another level of consciousness entirely; the Israelites believed anything he told them because when he was under the influence of the fly agaric, which appears to have been often, he spoke with the power and authority of a god. These people were not twentieth-century sophisticates; they were conditioned to superstition and magical thinking, a trait that Moses exploited to the maximum degree. Moses didn’t want anyone even to see a fly agaric, because they are so striking that they elicit immediate interest. They do not go unnoticed. If secrecy is the intent it becomes imperative to keep people away from the whole area in which the mushrooms are found, in this case an entire mountain or range. And this was not a half-measure; the death penalty assured that the prohibition would be taken seriously. Once the taboo was established (the second taboo of the Hebrew Bible; the first was the fruit of Eden) Moses had free run of the mountain and its forests. He knew exactly where he was and where he was going, and he also knew that he would not soon pass that way again, if ever. As a priest of the fiery god-plant Yahweh he was duty-bound to harvest every fly agaric he could get his hands on. The story tells us that Moses spent a total of at least eighty days alone on the mountain, which in a bumper year could have resulted in numerous specimens. A harvest can easily extend to that length if the rains are propitious and evenly spaced. A bumper crop would have presented problems to someone who wanted to keep his harvest a secret. It would have been difficult keeping anything secret among the thousands of people living together in the most intimate conditions imaginable; trying to hide several large bags of dried mushrooms would have been nearly impossible, especially for Moses, whose every move was scrutinized. His solution was ingenious: he told the ever-gullible throng that Yahweh had ordered them to construct a box of certain dimensions and out of certain materials, and that the box was to be used exclusively for storing the tablets of the Word of God; Moses even showed the people the two small tablets that would go inside. No one seems to have noticed that the ark itself was vastly overbuilt: measuring 52 inches x 31 inches x 31 inches, it could have held dozens or even hundreds of such tablets. Or thousands of dried mushroom caps. No sooner had Moses issued the decree to build the ark than he pronounced still another taboo: once construction was complete, anyone who so much as touched the ark would be put to death immediately. It was carried by rings and poles so that even the bearers would not be in danger of touching it. There were no exceptions. Years later when a faithful steward reached out and righted the ark when it was about to tumble to the ground, the man was executed on the spot, even though he had saved the ark from desecration. There had to have been as great a secret attached to the ark as there was to the Mountain of God for the same excessive taboo to be applied to both. There was, and it was the same secret: the fiery god-plant, grown on the Mountain of God and carried away in the Ark of God. And for those who inadvertently discovered the secret, or simply got too close to it, the penalty was the same: instant execution. After his first forty days on the mountain Moses returned with the Tablets of the Pretext and was shocked to see the people dancing and fornicating in front of a gold bull. The worship of God as a bull was happening at the time in several places, including Canaan, Syria, and of course India, where the “bull” was the red mushroom that turns to gold when it dries. Which form of bull worship the Israelites were performing is not known, but once again there are curious similarities to the ritual use of fly agaric in other areas. We are told that Moses “burned” the bull and ground it to powder, which, unless the bull had been made of wood and merely coated with gold, would not have been possible. He then put the powder in water and made all the participants drink. This sounds more like a ritual than a form of punishment, but punishment comes swift and sure after the drinking episode. “Put the bull-plant next to fire until it becomes golden and so dry that it is easily powdered. Mix the powder with water and drink.” These imagined instructions give a sophisticated recipe not only for bringing about the vital chemical changes that drying produces, but also for getting the mushroom into the stomach without chewing it. Whatever the Israelites were really doing in Moses’ absence is unknown, but the inclusion of the bull-burning episode in the story seems to be another misplaced remnant of cultic mushroom practice. After ordering the slaughter of thousands of innocent people Moses issued instructions for constructing the ark and the tabernacle and then went back to the mountain for forty more days. When he returned his face was glowing so much that people thought something was wrong with him. When a user consumes a large quantity of fly agaric mushrooms this is what happens: the face glows like a red lantern. Capillaries in the skin dilate and the face can become engorged with blood to the extent that others become concerned for the person’s well-being. It is not a subtle blush; it is extremely noticeable. Adding to the overall effect is the fact that portions of the face can drain of blood while the rest of the face remains engorged, creating an even stranger sight: a bright red face with white spots. This is what happened to Moses every time he “talked” with God in privatey and it was so unusual and noteworthy that it has a prominent place in the story. The veil Moses wore to cover his brightness can be seen as symbolic of the veil that covers the face of Yahweh’s angel, the cap of the mushroom, and therefore can be seen as an act of sympathetic magic on Moses’ part. It appears though that Moses used the veil as another ruse. The story says he wore the veil at all times except when he came out of the tabernacle tent with face aglow to reveal Yahweh’s latest messages to the people; then he would again put on the veil and wear it until the next time talked to Yahweh. I propose that far from being worn to hide his illuminated countenance, the veil was instead worn to hide his ordinary, non-illuminated face during the times he was not intoxicated. It would have been more advantageous for Moses to have the people think that he was always in such an exalted condition. Toward the end of their wanderings the Israelites passed through a mountainous region near Mount Hor and the people were attacked by “fiery winged serpents,” whose poison evidently killed some of them. Moses was asked to intervene with Yahweh on their behalf and was told by Yahweh to make a fiery serpent of metal and put it on a pole: this would stop the poisoning. Once again we seem to have cultic information masquerading as a historical event, although it is entirely possible that an actual event forms the basis of the story. We are told that the people had no food, then that they were poisoned by fiery winged serpents, which we immediately recognize as a metaphor for the fly agaric. Hungry people forage for food; if fly agarics were found it is likely they would have been eaten, which would have resulted in numerous poisonings, some of them fatal if the hungry person in question could have wolfed down enough of them. In order to stop the poisonings the simple expedient would be to turn those fiery serpents into fiery metallic serpents; that is, dry the fresh mushrooms to make them safer and more tolerable. It has been pointed out that when a mature fly agaric specimen is viewed in profile it resembles a bird. If that same mushroom is allowed to dry intact the bird disappears and is replaced by a “fiery serpent,” due to the changing shape of the cap and its new metallic color. It is the fiery winged serpent on a pole that eliminates poisoning. An Italian artist of the late fifteenth century seems to have been aware of the secret meaning of the fiery winged serpent in his depiction of the same event (plate 20). The painting shows a fiery serpent attacking the Israelites. The serpent is directly under a tree, where one finds the fly agaric. Its back, or top, is red with white spots and a convex curve in the manner of a mushroom; his underside is not only white like the mushroom’s underside is but also has thin, protruding scales that resemble mushroom gills. The beast looks directly at the viewer with a conspiratorial smile on his face. The two lower victims, already dealt with by the monster, have the look of wishing they were dead; the one with his fingers on his chest looks as though he is about to vomit More examples of suspicious medieval and Renaissance artworks will be explored later.