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Freemasonry has been described as a continuation of the various Mystery cults which flourished in ancient Rome, Egypt, Persia, and especially Greece before they were indiscriminately suppressed in favor of the new, growing, Christian religion. As Albert Mackey explained, central to these Mysteries, whether they were solar or agrarian in nature, was the indoctrination of their participants regarding the reality of deity and the immortality of the soul.

Short of physical death, how does one provide firsthand experience of the afterlife? How does one induce in another the experience of the latter’s soul being veritably freed from the bonds of the material plane and allowed to wander in the Underworld or in the Heavens? For, this is the type of experience that was reportedly induced in participants of the Greater Mystery. According to Sophocles,

“[t]hrice happy are those of mortals, who having seen those rites depart for Hades; for to them alone is it granted to have true life there; to the rest all there is evil.”

Similarly, Pindar exclaimed:

“Happy is he who, having seen the rites, goes below the hollow earth; for he knows the end of life and he knows its god-sent beginning.”

Plutarch went into considerably more detail.

“[Upon dying] the soul suffers an experience similar to those who celebrate the great initiations... Wanderings astray in the beginning, tiresome walking in circles, some frightening paths in darkness that lead nowhere; then immediately before the end all the terrible things, panic and shivering and sweat, and amazement. And then some wonderful light comes to meet you, pure regions and meadows are there to greet you, with sounds and dances and solemn, sacred words and holy views; and there the initiate, perfect by now, set free and loose from all bondage, walks about, crowned with a wreath, celebrating the festival together with the other sacred and pure people, and he looks down on the uninitiated, unpurified crowd in this world in mud and fog beneath his feet.”

Finally, Proclus described his experience in the Greater Mystery as follows:

“They cause the sympathy of the souls with the ritual in a way that is incomprehensible to us, and divine, so that some of the initiands are stricken with panic, being filled with divine awe; others assimilate themselves to the holy symbols, leave their own identity, become at home with the gods, and experience divine possession.”

The problem of what could have so consistently induced an experience that convinced thousands upon thousands of participants, including even the most intelligent of philosophers, of the reality of the vision shared by all initiates of the Greater Mystery at Eleusis has plagued scholars and scientists for centuries. It was not until the publication of Wasson, Hofmann, and Ruck's remarkable book The Road to Eleusis: Unveiling the Secret of the Mysteries in 1978 that a feasible explanation was finally set forth. In said work, the authors offered the proposal that such an experience could only be induced so consistently and reliably with the use of an entheogenic compound; that is, with a psychedelic drug.

The use of entheogenic compounds in ritualistic settings is perhaps one of the most commonly employed initiatory motif in indigenous and semi-civilized societies. In the Amazon Basin it is ayahuasca, among the Mazatecs, teonanacatl, with the ancient Vedantists, it was soma, and with the Parsis, it was haoma which accomplishes (or accomplished) this experience. But, in all of these cases and more it was or is an entheogenic compound which facilitates (or facilitated) the experience.

In the Mysteries celebrated at Eleusis, the compound which accomplished this actual initiation in its participants was called kykeon and, according to Wasson et al., was prepared from barley which had been infested with Claviceps purpurea or ergot. Ergot, a term which stems from the French word argot, meaning cock's spur, is a fungus which infects cereal grasses and grains including but not limited to barley, wheat, and corn. In the Middle Ages it was responsible for the death of countless individuals who had eaten bread or other foods which had been prepared from ergot infested grains. Symptoms of ergot poisoning, otherwise known as St. Anthony's Fire, are gruesome in the extreme and include intense and alternating feelings of heat and cold, the development of gangrene resulting in loss of limb, delirious hallucinations, and severe gastric disturbances usually ending in death. However, also present within the ergot kernel are certain other alkaloids which have been known to induce ecstatic euphoria in numberless users. For, it was in an attempt to discover a cure for this dreaded ergot poisoning and other ailments (including migraine and respiratory illness) that led Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann to the discovery of LSD-25 in the 1930s.

As in the Greater Mystery at Eleusis, those under the influence of LSD experience alternating panic, shivering, sweat, amazement, visions of light, awe, ego death, boundary dissolution, heavenly ascent, chthonic descent, contact with angels and divine beings, etc. Remarkably, unlike the toxic compounds which are responsible for the severe and detrimental symptoms associated with ergot poisoning, the psychoactive alkaloids which would later be known as LSD are water soluble, and, according to Merkur, Webster, and others, could have been removed from the poisonous alkaloids present in ergot by using a simple and primitive water extraction.

Shawn Eyer, Past Master of Academia Lodge No. 847 in Oakland, CA, wrote in his paper Psychedelic Effects and the Eleusinian Mysteries,

“the secret of what really happened at Eleusis remains one of the premier problems for historians of religion. That a trance state played an important role in the initiation is being suggested by more and more scholars. While there are various possible means of entering a mind-altering state of consciousness resembling that described in ancient sources, the use of a botanical stimulus is by far the most reliable. The model expressed by R. Gordon Wasson, Albert Hofmann, and Carl Ruck must therefore be taken seriously. Their theory is the first truly realistic explanation for the most-documented aspect of the sacred mysteries; their profound, beneficial, and lasting effects upon the millions of initiates who, at one time or another, stood enraptured on the steps of the torch-lit Telesterion [at Eleusis].”

The Hymn to Demeter gives the constituents of kykeon specifically as barley groats, pennyroyal mint leaves, and water, none of which, besides the negligible thujone count present in the pennyroyal, are known to be notably psychoactive. However, supposing the barley had been infested with Claviceps purpurea, a tea made from the same would produce an entheogenic beverage that would have induced heavenly visions in even the most obstinate of participants. It is this same possibility that we intend to explore within the context of Freemasonry.

In his book Secrets of Eleusis, Carl A.P. Ruck, the professor of Classics at Boston University, argued that the ergot used to prepare the sacred kykeon potion was harvested from the Rarian plain which grew adjacent to Eleusis and was then ceremonially separated from the barley shafts upon what was known as Triptolemos' Threshing Floor. A threshing floor is a circular space out in the open where grains, after being harvested and dried, are smashed with mallets and thrown into the open wind (a process known as winnowing). The grains of wheat, being heavier, fall to the threshing floor to be collected, while the less weighty chaff is blown away by the ensuing wind. On Triptolemos’ Threshing Floor, however, it was the kernels of ergot which were collected, and not necessarily the wheat. Significantly, the threshing floor also happens to be an important symbol within Freemasonry.

The association of Ornan’s threshing floor with Freemasonry stems from the fact that King Solomon's temple was said to have been erected on that very same site. The land had earlier been purchased from Ornan by King David, Solomon’s father, for the purpose of erecting there an altar, whereon David was to make sacrificial offerings after witnessing a vision of the “angel of the Lord” whom was seen standing within the vicinity of the threshing floor. Before that time, all sacrifices would have generally been made on the ‘altar of the burnt offering’ which was housed in the Tabernacle. However, following David’s sacrifice, it was decreed that a permanent temple should be erected atop Ornan’s threshing floor; a temple which would eventually come to replace the 'tabernacle in the wilderness' as the domicile of the Jewish deity. It is this permanent temple wherein the various degrees of Ancient Craft Masonry symbolically take place. Therefore, it was said of the candidate for Masonic Initiation that he is allegorically travelling “to the threshing-floor of Ornan,” that is, the temple of Solomon the King. The threshing floor is thus implicative of Initiation in a Masonic Lodge and the “ground floor” of King Solomon's temple.

Amazingly, King Solomon’s temple can be directly associated with ergot and thus with kykeon. In Dan Merkur’s daring book The Mystery of Manna he outlines what he calls the draught ordeal from the Old Testament book of Numbers. In this Biblical episode two women are brought into the tabernacle, one of whom is known to be an adulteress, while the other is only suspected of adultery. At her trial, the former woman is given a beverage to drink which, since she is guilty, she is told, will cause her thigh to “drop off” and her stomach to “swell.” If the reader will recall, gangrenous loss of limb and severe gastric disturbances were among the symptoms listed which characterize ergot poisoning. Notably, the drink given to the unfortunate woman was prepared in no other way than to collect up dust from the floor which was then added to water, the very dust which in the same episode is then offered by the priests as a “cereal offering” before Yahweh, thereby identifying the floor of the tabernacle as a threshing floor, just like the “ground floor” of King Solomon's temple. This should come as no surprise to Freemasons, since in the Entered Apprentice degree we are informed unequivocally that the tabernacle “was an exact model of Solomon's temple.” If the model was truly exact, then naturally it would have been established, just like Solomon's temple, upon a threshing floor. In the words of Dr. Merkur,

“On the conventional assumption that the floor of the tabernacle was a projection into the era of Moses of the floor of the Jerusalem temple, the concern with a cereal offering suggests the sort of dust that would have been found on the threshing floor of [Ornan], which the Jerusalem sanctuary had once been. Implicitly, dust such as would have been left on a floor where grain was threshed was added to holy water. ...The toxic dust that was taken from the threshing floors and mixed with water for the cereal offering of the draught ordeal may be identified with confidence as ergot (Claviceps purpurea), a fungus that infests the grains of barley, wheat, rye, and other cereal grasses.”

The woman was poisoned by the draught because she was made to drink the dust, toxic alkaloids and all, along with the water. Had a simple water extraction been performed, sifting out the superfluous and poisonous materials and thereby leaving behind the psychoactive components of the fungus, then the adulterous woman would not have suffered such an ill fate. She would instead have been caught up in an intense and rapturous ecstasy, which was characteristic also of the ingestion of kykeon at the Greater Mystery celebrated at Eleusis.

Significantly, in the degree of Fellowcraft, the candidate for passing is given a strange word and shown a most peculiar image with little to no meaningful explanation of its presence: a sheaf of wheat suspended near a waterfall. This depiction is usually found displayed on the south wall of the Lodge, located just behind the Junior Warden. The word associated with it, which can be translated variously as a sheaf of wheat or a stream of water, is equally curious. As Pike pointed out,

“We do not know when this word was adopted, and no one has ever been able to find any especial significance in it as a Masonic word. But I am entirely satisfied that there was originally a concealed significance in every word used in a Masonic degree. Some secret meaning and application was covered and concealed by each of them.”

Robert Hewitt Brown was likewise suspicious of the traditional explanation provided for the word in question, and in Stellar Theology and Masonic Astrology he offered an alternative interpretation, saying that

“[a] reference to the Eleusinian Mysteries will go far to clear up [the probable true meaning of ‘ears of corn hanging by a water-ford,’ or ‘a sheaf of wheat suspended near the bank of a river,’] and give us the true import of this symbol.”

And, right he was. The composite meaning of a shaft of wheat suspended next to or perhaps beneath a waterfall might be explained by what in modern coffee house parlance has come to be known as a pour over, a technique which is used to brew a strong cup of coffee or tea by pouring hot water over the grounds and through a filtration device. If the reader will recall, it is the psychoactive alkaloids of Claviceps purpurea which are water soluble, while the poisonous alkaloids are not. Provided that the wheat in question was infested with the ergot fungus, the act of pouring water over said shafts of wheat would produce a beverage of comparable composition, potency, and effect as the kykeon of Eleusis.

Remarkably, this may also explain another Greek mystery: that of the golden fleece. In Judges 6:37 the fleece is directly associated with the threshing floor, where Gideon places it there as a curious test from deity. We have already seen that in some cases the threshing floor is code for ergot. Moreover, according to Antoine Faivre, fleece was actually at one time used by miners near the Black Sea to filter gold flakes out of rivers, making them veritable golden fleeces. If the fleece could filter gold out of a liquid stream, there is no reason it could not have also been used to filter out the harmful components of the ergot fungus.

To the Eleusinian kykeon was also added pennyroyal mint leaves. In the opinion of Ruck et al., this was included as a means of combating the negative gastric reactions common to ingesting ergot alkaloids. Masonic ritual of course makes no mention of pennyroyal mint leaves, but in a remarkable consistency there is direct mention of multiple gastric aids that would work to much the same advantage as the pennyroyal mint leaves included in the kykeon. We speak here of the so-called symbolic minerals referenced in some versions the Entered Apprentice degree: chalk, charcoal, and clay. Chalk is of course calcium carbonate, the active compound found in digestive aids such as TUMS®. Likewise, charcoal has been long used as a means of treating extreme gastric disturbances and even poisoning. And lastly, clay is the natural source of the anti-diarrheal compound kaolinite, which is a key ingredient in anti-diarrhea medications such as Kaopectate®.

Does this mean that the Greater Mystery of Eleusis has been preserved in the ritual work of Freemasonry? Perhaps that is what the mysterious Alchemist Fulcanelli was alluding to when he cryptically suggested in The Mystery of the Cathedrals that the Freemasons expressed themselves in “argot.” However, to even attempt to answer such a question would be purely speculative. But, then again, so is non-operative Freemasonry.

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Subject Views Written By Posted
Ergot, Eleusis, and Masonic Enigmas 1730 P.D. Newman 12-Jan-18 21:04
Re: Ergot, Eleusis, and Masonic Enigmas 378 michael seabrook 14-Jan-18 22:35
Re: Ergot, Eleusis, and Masonic Enigmas 362 Itatw70s 15-Jan-18 02:09
Re: Ergot, Eleusis, and Masonic Enigmas 397 P.D. Newman 15-Jan-18 02:53
Re: Ergot, Eleusis, and Masonic Enigmas 405 michael seabrook 15-Jan-18 10:59
Re: Ergot, Eleusis, and Masonic Enigmas 350 Poster Boy 18-Jan-18 16:34
Re: Ergot, Eleusis, and Masonic Enigmas 359 Poster Boy 18-Jan-18 17:51
Re: Ergot, Eleusis, and Masonic Enigmas 370 P.D. Newman 18-Jan-18 18:35
Re: Ergot, Eleusis, and Masonic Enigmas 657 Poster Boy 18-Jan-18 19:26

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