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The Road to Eleusis

The Road to Eleusis

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Published by Craig Ohlsen

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Published by: Craig Ohlsen on Oct 03, 2009
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06/26/2012

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THE ROAD TO ELEUSIS
Unveiling the Secret of the Mysteries
R. Gordon WassonAlbert HofmannCarl A. P. Ruck 
To Richard Evans Schultes, Ph.D., M.H. (Hon.)Pioneer Explorer of Psychotropic Plants in the New World  Holder of the Paul C. Mangelsdorf Chair in the Natural Sciences Director and Curator of Economic Botany Botanical Museum of Harvard University
F
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by R. Gordon Wasson..............................................................................................
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o much has been written about the EleusinianMysteries and for so long a time that a word isneeded to justify this presentation of three papersdealing with them. For close to
,
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years theMystery was performed every year (except one) forcarefully screened initiates in our month of Septem-ber. Everyone speaking the Greek language was freeto present himself, except only those who had theunexpiated blood of a murdered man on theirhands. The initiates lived through the night in thetelesterion of Eleusis, under the leadership of thetwo hierophantic families, the Eumolpids and theKerykes, and they would come away all wonder-struck by what they had lived through: according tosome, they were never the same as before. The tes-timony about that night of awe-inspiring experienceis unanimous and Sophocles speaks for the initiateswhen he says:
Thrice happy are those of mortals, who havingseen those rites depart for Hades; for to themalone is granted to have a true life there. Forthe rest, all there is evil.
Yet up to now no one has known what justifies ut-terances such as this, and there are many like it.Here lies for us the mystery of the Eleusinian Mys-teries. To this mystery we three have applied our-selves and believe we have found the solution, closeto
,
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years after the last performance of the riteand some
,
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years since the first.The first three chapters of this book were read bythe respective authors as papers before the SecondInternational Conference on Hallucinogenic Mush-rooms held on the Olympic Peninsula, Washington,on Friday,
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October
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ith this little book we begin a new chapter inthe history of the fifty-year-old discipline of ethnomycology, a chapter that for the first timetakes within its purview, and in a big way, our owncultural past, our legacy from ancient Greece. Eth-nomycology is simply the study of the role of mush-rooms, in the broadest sense, in the past of the hu-man race; and it is a branch of ethnobotany.The English language lacks a word to designatethe higher fungi. “Toadstool” is an epithet, a pejo-rative designation embracing all those fungalgrowths that the user distrusts, whether rightly orwrongly. “Mushroom” is ambiguous, covering dif-ferent areas of the fungal world for different per-sons. In this little book we will use “mushroom” forall the higher fungi. Now that at long last the worldis coming to know these fungal growths in all theirmyriad shapes and colors and smells and textures,perhaps this novel usage will answer to a need andcome to be generally accepted.We are three who have enlisted for this presen-tation. Dr. Albert Hofmann is the Swiss chemistrenowned for his discovery in

of 
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, but hisfamiliarity with the plant alkaloids is encyclopedicand he will draw our attention to attributes of someof them relevant to the Eleusinian Mysteries.As we are dealing with a central theme of Greek civilization in antiquity, it was obvious that weneeded the cooperation of a Greek scholar. At theappropriate moment I learned of Professor Carl A.P. Ruck, of Boston University, who for some yearshas been making notable discoveries in the recalci-trant area of Greek ethnobotany. For many monthswe three have been studying the proposal that weare making and his paper will be the third and con-cluding one. The
 Homeric Hymn to
 
 Demeter 
is thesource for the myth that underlies Eleusis and weoffer a new English rendering of it by Danny Sta-ples.It will be my function, in this first of three pa-pers, to stress certain attributes of the cult of inebri-ating mushrooms in Mexico.Early Man in Greece, in the second millenniumbefore Christ, founded the Mysteries of Eleusis andthey held spellbound the initiates who each yearattended the rite. Silence as to what took place therewas obligatory: the laws of Athens were extreme inthe penalties that were imposed on any who in-fringed the secret, but throughout the Greek world,far beyond the reach of Athens’ laws, the secret waskept spontaneously throughout Antiquity, and sincethe suspension of the Mysteries in the
th century
 ..
that Secret has become a built-in element in thelore of Ancient Greece. I would not be surprised if some classical scholars would even feel that we areguilty of a sacrilegious outrage at now prying openthe secret. On

November

I read a brief paperbefore the American Philosophical Society describ-ing the Mexican mushroom cult and in the ensuingoral discussion I intimated that this cult might leadus to the solution of the Eleusinian Mysteries. Afamous English archaeologist specializing in the ar-chaeology of Greece, with whom I had had thefriendliest relations for about thirty-five years, wroteme in a letter a little later the following:
I do not think that Mycenae had anything todo with the divine mushroom or the Eleus-inian mysteries either. May I add a word of warning? Stick to your Mexican mushroomcult and beware of seeing mushrooms every-where. We much enjoyed your Philadelphiapaper and would recommend you keep asclose to that as you can. Forgive the franknessof an old friend.
I am sorry that he has now joined the shades in Ha-des, or perhaps I should be happy that he will notbe pained by my brashness in disregarding his well-meant advice.My late wife Valentina Pavlovna and I were thefirst to use the term ethnomycology and we havebeen closely identified with the progress in this dis-cipline over the past fifty years. That the reader maysense the drama of this our latest discovery I willbegin by retelling the story of our mushroomic ad-venture. It covers precisely the last fifty years. Itconstitutes in large measure the autobiography of the Wasson family, and it has now led us directly toEleusis.Late in August

my bride, as she then was,and I took our delayed honeymoon in the chaletlent to us by the publisher Adam Dingwall at BigIndian in the Catskills. She was a Russian born inMoscow of a family of the intelligentsia. Tina had

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