Was there a secret tradition of psychedelics in medieval Christianity? Can evidence of this tradition be identified in the presence of psilocybe mushrooms in Christian art?
These questions are a hot topic of debate within psychedelic academia. On grahamhancock.com, we have provided a platform for this debate between Dr. Jerry B. Brown and Tom Hatsis.
Dr. Jerry B. Brown, an anthropologist and ethnomycologist, argues for and provides evidence of Amanita muscaria and psilocybe mushrooms in Christian art in his book, co-authored with Julie Brown – The Psychedelic Gospels. In November 2021, they were featured as Authors of the Month on grahamhancock.com.
Tom Hatsis, a historian of psychedelia, has written a review of The Psychedelic Gospels, making a case that there was no secret psychedelic tradition in medieval Christianity and that there is no ‘holy mushroom’ to be found in Christian art. In February 2022, Tom was featured as Author of the Month on grahamhancock.com.
Tom Hatsis’ review can be seen here: https://grahamhancock.com/hatsist1/
Dr. Jerry B. Brown’s reply to this review can be seen here: https://grahamhancock.com/brownj1/
By Jerry B. Brown, Ph.D., coauthor The Psychedelic Gospels: The Secret History of Hallucinogens in Christianity, 2016
A WILD RIDE
I stopped publicly debating and communicating with Thomas Hatsis in August 2019, after receiving a slanderous and threatening email from him. I will explain below what promoted this unprofessional outburst.
However, due to the February 2022 posting on Graham Hancock’s popular website of Hatsis’ recent screed against me and The Psychedelic Gospels‒ and implicitly against all scholars who “argue for the mushrooms in Christian art hypothesis”‒I felt an obligation to readers and to the field of psychedelic studies to set the record straight by writing this Reply to the Hatsis Review.
In this Reply, I will also propose a framework for revitalizing the study of mushrooms in Christian art (MICA), and focus the field on the central question: to what extent are psychoactive mushrooms present in Christian history?
Science vs. Religion
As for setting the record straight, let us start with this quote which reveals Hatsis’ main goal, which is to frame the entire study of mushrooms in Christian art as a “science” vs. “religion” debate.
Hatsis: He [Allegro] wanted to end Christianity by showing it to be a fraud based on nothing more than pagan drug use; he had no idea he would inspire 21st century New Agers like Julie and Jerry Brown to build a new version of the faith based on the sacred mushroom of the “Cosmic Christ” supposedly being found in art (Review, February 2022, unless otherwise noted, all Hatsis quotes are from his Review of The Psychedelic Gospels, available here).
Fact Check: First, nowhere in The Psychedelic Gospels (TPG) do we* mention the concept of a “Cosmic Christ” based on the sacred mushroom. What we do say is that “While our findings are startling, it is not our intention to question people’s faith in Christianity, but to uncover a mystery that we believe applies to many religions” (TPG, p. xii).
(*As the sole author of this Reply, I write in the first person. However, when referring to TPG, which I coauthored with Julie M. Brown, I use “we” and “our.”)
Second, as an activist for most of my career, I have been called a few unflattering names, but “New Ager” is not one of them nor is it one that fits my profile (see Jerry B. Brown Wikipedia profile).
Third, and most significantly, the above quote exposes Hatsis’ core strategy, which is to portray himself as a serious scientist, the objective “psychedelic historian,” motivated by the pursuit of truth, while painting me and anyone who advocates MICA as gullible New Agers motivated by a quasi-religious belief in a “secret mushroom cult.”
What I will demonstrate in this Reply is that Hatsis is wrong about numerous details of fact and interpretation when it comes to discussing The Psychedelic Gospels and analyzing medieval works of art. This includes Hatsis’ conspicuous misreading of the “Regensburg Sacramentary,” an early eleventh-century illuminated manuscript, which he describes as the “most crucial” piece of evidence presented in his critical Review of our book.
So, hold on to your mouse! You are in for a wild ride.
HATSIS CANNOT ACCURATELY INTERPRET MEDIEVAL ART
The Holy Lance of the Regensburg Sacramentary
Hatsis wants you to believe that he is an expert on medieval art, fit to judge (and condemn) our interpretations of MICA in TPG from a position of authority. Yet in his Review, Hatsis commits fundamental errors of both fact and interpretation.1
To explain away the mushroom shape in the thirteenth century Plaincourault fresco‒which is iconic in MICA discussions and the main focus of his Review-Hatsis rejects the simple and obvious interpretation that, because the tree looks like a mushroom and acts like a mushroom in transforming Adam and Eve, the tree represents a mushroom.
Instead of applying Occam’s razor, Hatsis argues that the unusual features of the tree derive from two separate sources: the “parasol of victory” and paradiesbaum (“paradise tree” in German). Hatsis’ account of these alleged influences is strewn with errors.
Hatsis: His most spectacular blunder concerns his misinterpretation of an image in the “Regensburg Sacrimnetary”‒an illumination which Hatsis presents as a “most crucial” piece of evidence for the “parasol of victory,” a symbol in Christian art for Christ’s triumph.
In his Review, Hatsis states:
While not a common symbol today, the parasol of victory was very popular in both the ancient and medieval worlds. From Assyria, the parasol of victory made its way onto Herodian coinage.
From there it made its way into Rome, and then even after the fall of the Western Empire, the parasol of victory still entered Christian Europe as we see in this most crucial illumination showing the Canonization of Henry the 2nd as it appears in the Regensburg Sacrimnetary (late 10th century). As Jesus crowns Henry king, the angel to the right is handing him the parasol of victory, complete with the crucifixion at the pinnacle of the nub.
Hatsis claims that the angel in the upper left panel of the image below brings a parasol of victory to the Germanic Holy Roman Emperor Henry II.
Fact Check: I showed this image to Carl A.P. Ruck, professor of Classical Studies at Boston University, who confirmed that Hatsis’ interpretation is dead wrong. According to Ruck, the object is “a lance” not “a parasol.” We know this because the Latin text in the image clearly tells us so.
The Latin sentence inscribed in the green border above and below the angel says “PROPULSANS CURĀ SIBI CONFERT ANGELVS HASTĀ,” which Ruck translates as “Expressing concern/care or setting in motion protection, an angel confers upon him/herself a lance, i.e., takes up arms to protect the emperor.”2
Ruck, an authority on Latin grammar, observes that “Hatsis with the slightest knowledge of Latin should have known that. He obviously has no basis for a sunshade or ‘parasol of victory’.”3
As shown in this detail of the Regensburg Sacramentary below, the capital letters for the Latin word “HASTĀ” are inscribed around the lance shaft in orange letters in the row of writing on the border below the angel, with the “HAS” to the left and with the “TĀ” to the right of the shaft on which the lancehead is mounted.
Any Latin dictionary will tell you that hasta means “spear” or “lance.” Hatsis has completely misinterpreted what he calls a “most crucial” image. Hatsis imposes his own category of “parasol” onto the image, despite the image itself telling us what it depicts!
Indeed, the object brought by the angel is a major Christian symbol: that of the holy lance, not that of the “parasol of victory.”4 Apparently, Hatsis never consulted scholarly resources on the image, which could have easily set him straight. The Holy Lance is the lance that pierced the side of Jesus as he hung on the cross during his crucifixion.
Numerous Factual and Interpretive Errors
Before leaving Henry II and the lance, I call your attention to other elementary mistakes made by Hatsis in his description of the “Regensburg Sacramentary,” based on the U.S. Library of Congress description of this illuminated manuscript. The correct title of the manuscript is “Sacramentary of Henry II,” not the “Regensburg Sacramentary.” The scene is a coronation, not a “canonization”. The Sacramentary dates from the early 11th century (between 1002 and 1014), not the late 10th century.5 These errors betray Hatsis’ sloppy research and disregard for accuracy.
Furthermore, a look at Hatsis’ categories “parasol of victory” and paradiesbaum will confirm that we need pay little attention to his interpretation.
Hatsis portrays these categories as standard, recognized features of ancient and medieval history. Instead, “parasol of victory” appears to be a figment of his own invention, as a database search of major academic journals in Classical Studies and Medieval Studies produces no relevant results for “parasol of victory.”6 Paradiesbaum (not “paradeisbaum,” as Hatsis writes) appears 44 times, primarily in German.
While discussing the paradiesbaum, Hatsis, the “psychedelic historian,” ironically pays little attention to historical context. Hatsis seeks to explain a thirteenth century fresco in central France by citing fifteenth century evidence in Germany and England. Hatsis plays fast and loose with chronology and geography. It is as if all pieces of evidence are floating free of their historical context and can be arranged by Hatsis however he likes.
Furthermore, in TPG we point out it was not surprising to find mushrooms in Christian art, since “Pope Gregory (540–604), known as ‘the Father of Christian Worship,’ believed that paintings of bible stories were an essential tool for the education of the faithful who could not read. In this way, Christian art and images became ‘the Bible of the illiterate’” (TPG, p. 118).
Another significant error in Hatsis’ Review occurs when he attempts to discount this observation by insisting that, when Pope Gregory wrote about teaching the illiterate Bible stories by means of visual art, he was referring to plays rather than images.
Here, I suggest that Hatsis review the text of Gregory’s letters to Bishop Serenus of Marseilles (Ep. 9 and 11), for which English translations and the original Latin are available in a scholarly article focused on the two letters. There is no mention of plays or theater.
In summary, Hatsis’ numerous factual and interpretative errors and his lack of attention to basic historical reasoning reveal his claim to speak as an authoritative psychedelic and medieval historian as an empty boast.
Mushrooms in Christian Art Hypothesis
Hatsis and I agree on three broad points regarding the use of psychedelics in Christianity:
- That psychedelic mystery traditions existed in the ancient Greco-Roman world‒the world from which Christianity first emerged.7
- That some early Christian groups used psychedelic plants.8
- That the thirteenth century Plaincourault fresco painted in a chapel in central France, and through it the topic of psychedelic mushrooms in Christian art, were first introduced to popular culture in 1970 through the publication of John Marco Allegro’s The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross due to the ensuing media frenzy and firestorm of criticism that it caused in England.9
Where we diametrically disagree is on the question of psychoactive mushrooms in Christian art (MICA).
The identification of this Plaincourault fresco was the catalyst for the controversy between ethnomycologist R. Gordon Wasson and philologist John Marco Allegro regarding the presence of psychoactive mushrooms in Christianity. While Wasson asserts that “my book brings the role of the fly-agaric in the Near and Middle East down to 1000 BC,”10 Allegro contends that the Plaincourault fresco confirms the remembrance of an “old tradition” late into the 1200s AD.11 (“Fly-agaric” is the English name for the iconic red-and-white spotted psychoactive Amanita muscaria mushroom.)
Although Wasson’s view prevailed and stymied research on mushrooms in Christianity for decades, a new generation of researchers‒including Clark Heinrich, Mark Hoffman, Carl Ruck, and Giorgio Samorini‒has documented growing evidence of Amanita muscaria and psilocybin-containing mushrooms in Christian art.12
A recent study was coauthored by Fulvio Gosso and Gilberto Camilla, who in 2007 and 2016, respectively, published volumes one and two of Allucinogeni e Cristianesimo: Evidenze nell’arte sacre (Hallucinogens and Christianity: Evidence in Sacred Art). The two volumes describe fifty-two color plates showing psychedelic mushrooms, both Amanita muscaria and Psilocybe-varieties, mainly in medieval Christian artworks from Italy, France, Germany, Switzerland, Poland, Holland, and Russia.
On the back cover of volume 2, the authors conclude that as the evidence for the presence of hallucinogenic mushrooms in Christian iconography becomes more plentiful and more widely distributed, “it seems obvious that they are only a small part of those existing or existed.”
Obviously, Julie and I are not the only researchers to propose that there are psychoactive mushrooms in Christian art–although we are the first to conduct onsite anthropological fieldwork in multiple churches and cathedrals throughout Europe and the Middle East.
A brief overview of TPG is available on Graham Hancock’s Author of the Month website post for November 2021. A 30-minute video of our findings, presented at Breaking Convention 2019 in Greenwich, England, can be viewed here.
Amanita Muscaria and Psilocybe Mushrooms in Christian Art
In attempting to build a case against MICA, Hatsis completely ignores or purposefully distorts four fundamental components of The Psychedelic Gospels which contradict his critique of our book.
First, Hatsis claims that “Plaincourault is the linchpin.” However, our case for the presence of MICA does not rise and fall with the Plaincourault fresco alone. Rather, we document the presence of sacred fungi in nine different abbeys, chapels, churches, and cathedrals that we visited and photographed in Scotland, England, France, Germany, Italy, and Turkey (See map, TPG, p. xiii).
Second, while Hatsis is obsessed with denying the presence of Amanita muscaria as the one and only MICA, we–along with Samorini and other researchers–document both Amanita muscaria and Psilocybe-variety mushrooms, which we found depicted in ceiling paintings, frescoes, illuminated prayer books, mosaics, sculptures, and stained-glass windows in churches dating from as early as 330 CE up to 1230 CE.
For example, moving from right to left in this image below from the Great Canterbury Psalter, an illuminated prayer book, we see a stylized red-and-white-spotted Amanita muscaria next to a blue psilocybin mushroom. Psilocybin turns blue when exposed to air.
Third, in focusing exclusively on “historical criteria,” what Hatsis fails to understand is that anthropological studies are frequently based on interdisciplinary research. In TPG, we incorporate the findings of anthropologists, archaeologists, art historians, chemists, classicists, ethnobotanists, ethnomycologists, and medieval historians. In addition, the Anthropological Perspective emphasizes the value of “fieldwork” as the basis for insightful description and reporting.
Fourth, while Hatsis belittles the conversational style through which Julie and I report our findings, he fails to mention that, in our “Invitation to Readers,” we unambiguously state that “This book takes you along, step-by-step, on our decade long anthropological adventure, providing an easily readable account of this controversial theory” (TPG, p. xi).
We did not set out to write a traditional academic work but decided to combine our ethnomycological discoveries with colorful travelogue descriptions and lively dialogue to reach the widest possible audience.
The overwhelmingly positive Amazon reader reviews and endorsements from psychedelic luminaries, such as MAPS founder Rick Doblin, microdosing researcher James Fadiman, and mycologist Paul Stamets, suggest that we have achieved this goal.13
Hatsis cannot be Trusted to Comment on The Psychedelic Gospels
Before turning to the Plaincourault fresco, I would like to document, using direct quotes from the lengthy discussion of Plaincourault in his Review, why Hatsis cannot be trusted to accurately quote, comment on, or interpret our findings in The Psychedelic Gospels.
Hatsis: The Browns entered Plaincourault Chapel on July 19th 2012. As they inspect the fresco, Julie immediately notices that Eve and Adam are covering their private areas with “mushroom caps, not fig leaves.”
Fact Check: The actual quote reads “Look,” Julie pointed out, “Adam and Eve are covering themselves with what appear to be mushroom caps, not fig leaves” (Emphasis added, TPG, p. 97).
Now we know Hatsis must have seen the qualifying words “appear to be” as they are proximate to the words he cites. Nor is this a minor oversight, because in the next few sentences Hatsis uses this “quote” as the basis for his claim that Julie and Jerry, “will make an elementary comment that jives with their biases…and build from there without any critical thinking.” This is but one example of how Hatsis cavalierly lifts partial quotes out of context and uses them to claim that we are biased.
Hatsis: To Julie and Jerry Brown the [Plaincourault] fresco proves that Christianity not only has some kind of entheogenic history that includes consumption of the amanita muscaria mushroom, but also that this knowledge survived into medieval times. (The technical term “entheogen,” developed as a neutral alternative to the word “psychedelic,” refers to plants and fungi that “generate the divine within.”)
Fact Check: We never claim that this Plaincourault fresco alone “proves” that Christianity has an entheogenic history. In fact, we present nine examples of MICA in our book. Plus, we devote an entire Appendix of TPG to calling for the establishment of an Interdisciplinary Committee on the Psychedelic Gospels to rigorously evaluate “conflicting interpretations of mushroom symbolism in Christian art” (TPG, p. 227).
Tom Hatsis Throws a Temper Tantrum
Hatsis: Near the conclusion of his Review, Hatsis states “So I end this piece asking the Browns the same questions I’ve been asking them for the last five years, which they have successfully dodged, ducked, dipped, dived, and …. dodged:”
Fact Check: The utter duplicity of this statement is confirmed by a simple Google search. TPG was published in September 2016, and over the next few years, between 2017 and 2019, I publicly debated Hatsis on the topic of MICA–both expressing my views and responding to his claims and questions–on at least three separate occasions. I also had vigorous interchanges with Hatsis on this topic during several podcasts, including this one on “Christianity and the Psychedelic Mushroom – A Debate,” hosted by Psychedelics Today on December 25, 2018.
My first public debate with Hatsis, which took place in 2017 at the Exploring Psychedelics conference, was titled “Sacred Mushrooms in Christian Art? – a Dialectical Conversation.” The second was a 2018 exchange of views presented in a 30-minute Gaia TV documentary on “The Holy Mushroom Theory.”14
The last public conversation between Hatsis and me was billed as “The Great Holy Mushroom Debate,” which took place as part of Breaking Convention 2019 at the University of Greenwich in London. The video (1:23:33) of this well-attended debate was posted on October 2, 2019, and has to date received 7,825 views.
In reading Hatsis’ Review, you may be perplexed by the personal animosity and sanctimonious sarcasm that runs through his tirade against The Psychedelic Gospels. If you are familiar with our book, you were most likely anticipating–as I was–that the most aggressive attacks on this hypothesis, which proposes that Christianity has a psychedelic history, would come from the Catholic Church, not from a “psychedelic historian.”
The source of Hatsis’ resentment is found in a temper tantrum he threw a few years ago. The Great Holy Mushroom Debate at Breaking Convention 2019 was the catalyst that triggered his hostility.
So, what happened?
As you can observe in the Debate video (from 45:52 to 46:46, and again from 56:34 to 58:07), I pointedly call Hatsis out and criticize him for grossly misrepresenting our work, based on his 2018 book Psychedelic Mystery Traditions (PMT) in which he specifically labels Julie and me as “discipuli Allegrae,” as “disciples of Allegro” (PMT, pp. 113–114).
Let’s look at what’s really going on here.
Hatsis main ploy for denying MICA is to set up (and then superciliously knockdown) a bogus straw man by classifying us, along with all researchers who support the “holy mushroom theory,” as “discipuli Allegrae,” which he defines as “a general term I use to refer to those who agree with the theories of John Marco Allegro, whose book The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross (1970) argued that Christianity evolved out of a magic mushroom-eating sex cult” (PMT, p. 108).
(As Latinist and psychedelic critic David Hewett has pointed out, Hatsis’ impromptu Latin term is wrong, as Allegro’s name should instead be Latinized in this case as Allegri. This is an example of Hatsis presenting himself as a knowledgeable expert yet making simple mistakes.)
Hatsis’ ploy is false and deliberately misleading because we unequivocally state in TPG that
“…our theory differs from Allegro’s in three fundamental ways. First, while Allegro denies the existence of Jesus, we agree with those scholars of religious studies who believe that Jesus was a historical figure. Second, while Allegro bases his theory on the speculative interpretation of ancient languages, we base our theory on the plausible identification of visual entheogenic images. Third, while Allegro hopes that his writings will liberate people from the thrall of a false Christian orthodoxy, we hope that our discoveries will educate people about the history of psychoactive sacraments in Christianity” (TPG, p. 217).
Off-camera at the debate, Hatsis became visibly agitated at being publicly chastised for blatantly distorting the truth. So agitated that shortly before our next planned debate, scheduled online for September 22, 2019, at The Mt. Tam Psilocybin Summit, Hatsis sent an unprofessional and threatening email to Daniel Shankin, the conference organizer, with a copy to me.
In this email, Hatsis accused me of being ignorant of medieval history and art, and threatened to take off the kid gloves and leave me and anyone who believed in this bullshit about MICA crying in a corner.
At that point, I withdrew from the debate and ended my relationship with Hatsis, stating that “I am a scholar, not a mud wrestler.”15 Obviously, Hatsis, who relishes playing the role of the critic, does not handle criticism well.
PLAINCOURAULT FRESCO IS AMANITA MUSCARIA
Transformation of Adam and Eve
The most well-preserved fresco in the Chapel of Plaincourault in central France is the Eden Scene from Genesis, depicting Adam and Eve and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, around which a snake is coiled offering Eve the fruit of the Tree.
What is dramatic here is that the Tree is drawn in the shape of an enormous man-sized spotted mushroom, with four smaller spotted mushrooms protruding from the long stem of the central “mushroom tree.” To most scholars who study psychoactive mushrooms, the presence of numerous white spots on the caps of these five mushrooms strongly identifies them as Amanita muscaria.
Obviously, this is a stylized Amanita muscaria mushroom, and not a taxonomically precise image‒an obvious fact that somehow escapes Hatsis who in his Review makes much ado about the difference between an actual Amanita muscaria as found “in the natural world” and the image portrayed in this medieval fresco.
Hatsis also observes that “there is no such thing as a giant amanita muscaria; such a concept must be fabricated ad hoc in order to make a mushroom fit the bias.” Again, what Hatsis, who bills himself as an expert on medieval art, fails to recognize is that size matters in Romanesque art.
Given that this Plaincourault fresco belongs to a family of Romanesque wall paintings in central France that have been extensively catalogued by art historians, clearly the artist is emphasizing how significant this psychoactive mushroom is to the Eden story by painting an Amanita muscaria that is as tall as Adam and Eve.16
Upon close examination, Julie and I observed that there are two distinct moments depicted in the Plaincourault fresco: before and after eating of the forbidden fruit. The first “before” moment is the Temptation with the serpent offering the fruit to Eve. The second “after” moment shows the effect of eating the fruit, as Adam and Eve are “skeletonized” indicating they are entering an altered state of consciousness.17 Only a powerful psychoactive plant, in this case the Amanita muscaria mushroom, could occasion such a dramatic transformation (TPG, pp. 102-103).
In a nutshell, the essence of Hatsis’ Review of The Psychedelic Gospels is that: (1) “Plaincourault is the linchpin”‒is the sole sufficient image for evaluating the entire hypothesis of mushrooms in Christian art; (2) Plaincourault is not a psychoactive Amanita muscaria mushroom; (3) therefore, the entire hypothesis of MICA‒as documented by numerous expert researchers analyzing multiple medieval Christian works of art, from diverse European countries, spanning hundreds of years‒is, well, false!
Since Hatsis likes to sprinkle a Latin phrase here and there to give his writings a patina of erudition, I am sure he will not mind me doing the same. How about this one: reductio ad absurdum.
Distinguished Experts Identify the Fresco as Amanita Muscaria
Let us now contrast Hatsis’ credentials for drawing this “No” conclusion about the Plaincourault fresco with the credentials of eminent experts in the field who have concluded that “Yes” the Plaincourault fresco definitely is, or strongly resembles, an Amanita muscaria mushroom, and in doing so establish the consensus view.
No: Thomas Hatsis, who holds an M.A. degree in history, the discipline in which he claims authority; and who has never published his critiques of MICA in peer-reviewed academic journals where his work would be subject to review and approval by independent experts in the field.
Yes: Richard Evans Schultes, Ph.D., the father of modern ethnobotany, and Albert Hofmann, Ph.D., world-famous chemist who discovered LSD, who together write that “The Tree of Knowledge, entwined by the serpent, bears an uncanny resemblance to the Amanita muscaria mushroom.”18
Yes: Giorgio Samorini, ethnobotanist and ethnomycologist, who visited Plaincourault and published articles on the Plaincourault fresco and on “mushroom-trees,” classifying the Plaincourault fresco as the prototypical Amanita muscaria mushroom-tree.19
Yes: Carl A.P. Ruck, Ph.D., distinguished Classics Professor at Boston University, coauthor of The Road to Eleusis and of numerous publications describing the role of sacred mushrooms in Hellenic civilization, in early and medieval Christianity, and in the Renaissance, as well as in European fairy tales.
In The Hidden World: Survival of Shamanistic Themes in European Fairy Tales, Ruck and José Celdrán observe “…but the Tree is like no ordinary tree, for it is a giant specimen of Amanita muscaria.”20
Yes: Ervin Panofsky, Ph.D., eminent art historian. Yes, even Panofsky, who, based on his first letter of May 2, 1952, Wasson famously quotes as the ultimate authority for concluding that the Plaincourault fresco is not Amanita muscaria.
However, in a second letter to Wasson dated May 12, 1952, Panofsky backtracks and acknowledges that the Plaincourault could be “a real mushroom.”
We uncovered this second letter during our visit to the Wasson Archives at the Harvard University Herbarium in 2012 and published it side by side with Panofsky’s first letter to Wasson. See Figures 2 and 3 in our article on “Entheogens in Christian Art: Wasson, Allegro and the Psychedelic Gospels.”
This peer-reviewed article published in the Journal of Psychedelic Studies is particularly relevant to this Reply because:
- it extensively documents Hatsis’ duplicitous labelling of us as “disciples of Allegro,” the discredited and disgraced author of The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross, who argued that “Christianity evolved out of a magic mushroom-eating sex cult;”
- it provides direct confirmation by a JP Morgan Vice President that Wasson served as the “Pope’s banker;” and
- it proves that Panofsky admitted that the Plaincourault fresco could, after all, be “a real mushroom.”
So, there you have it. According to distinguished experts, the Plaincourault fresco is an Amanita muscaria mushroom.
ADVANCING THE STUDY OF MUSHROOMS IN CHRISTIANITY
Allegro is Completely Irrelevant to the Topic
Hatsis repeatedly attempts to narrow and tie the discussion of mushrooms in Christian art to John Marco Allegro’s book, The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross, originally published in London in 1970, and its “discovery” of a “secret amanita cult.”
Here, Hatsis is ploughing fertile ground in popular culture because for many people in the psychedelic community the mere mention of MICA brings Allegro and The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross to mind.
As a matter of fact, Allegro’s book is completely irrelevant to the study of mushrooms in Christian art. Allegro’s book is a work of philology, not of art history or interpretation.
In The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross, Allegro proposes that the earliest Christians used etymological punning and other linguistic techniques to conceal their secret use of the Amanita muscaria in service to a religion focused on fertility, with the mushroom as a potent symbol of sexuality and procreation.
In the original edition of his 253-page book, Allegro mentions the Plaincourault fresco once, and only once, on page 80. Here, Allegro merely reports that others have identified that the tree is depicted as a mushroom.
Aside from this, Allegro’s book is dedicated exclusively to etymology, the study of the origin of words, tracing the roots of Mediterranean languages back to Sumerian with a particular focus on concepts of fertility.
Allegro has nothing original to say about mushrooms in Christian art. He does not produce any new evidence, interpretations, or theories about Christian art.
Nevertheless, to preserve his straw man argument, Hatsis needs to keep the topic of mushrooms in Christian art focused on Allegro and the idea of a secret Christian amanita cult. As a result, anytime someone mentions “mushrooms in Christianity,” Hatsis automatically hears “Allegro” and feels called to step in as the self-appointed debunker. In reality, Hatsis is debunking a ghost.
To advance the study of mushrooms in Christian art, it is time to bury the ghost of John Marco Allegro, which has for the past half-century cast a long shadow over the field.
Revitalizing the Study of Mushrooms in Christianity
I disagree with Allegro’ and Hatsis’ shared focus on secrecy and on amanita. We must move beyond both Allegro, the advocate of a secret Christian amanita cult, and Hatsis, the debunker of a secret Christian amanita cult.
Instead, I call for students of psychedelics in world religions to expand their focus in the study of MICA to include Psilocybe-variety mushrooms along with Amanita muscaria, and to consider other scenarios for the extent of mushroom use in Christian history besides the narrow idea of a secret cult.
As researcher David Hewett points out, until now many scholars in the field have taken it for granted that mushroom use was secret, known only to a few, and always hidden. In The Immorality Key, author Brian Muraresku goes even further and argues that the use of psychedelics was suppressed under the “jackboots of the Catholic Church” as early as the fourth century. The field must stop limiting itself to such an overly narrow scenario for mushrooms in Christianity.
At this point, the central question for the field should be: to what extent are psychoactive mushrooms present in Christian history?
Based on the extensive iconic evidence for psychoactive mushrooms in medieval European churches, we must consider and evaluate several scenarios including:
- Secret use by marginal figures and groups who face oppression, such as heretics and witches.
- Clandestine use by ecclesiastical elite and initiates, who encode esoteric messages in art and text.
- Widespread open use by many groups and figures to whom the “mystery” has been revealed.
Systematically investigating this question is the most important agenda for the field. This agenda includes researching, analyzing, and reporting on mushrooms in Christian art and in Christian texts, over a wide geographic area including the Middle East as well as Europe, and over a time frame that spans early Christianity, medieval Christianity, and the Renaissance.
Given the growing evidence for mushrooms in Christianity documented by multiple scholars, the field would benefit from a good literature review to take current stock of its achievements and limitations.
Likewise, the field needs more galleries of Christian art with quality images, such as those found in Gosso and Camilla’s Allucinogeni e Cristianesimo: Evidenze nell’arte sacra (Italian: Hallucinogens and Christianity: Evidence in Sacred Art). Michael Hoffman has produced an extensive web gallery of mushrooms in Christian art.
Mushroom images in art: The field is also in need of robust categories for classifying depictions of mushrooms in art.
For example, Samorini proposes a two-fold typology of mushroom trees, using the Plaincourault Amanita muscaria and the Saint Savin psilocybin mushroom as ideal types.21
Researcher Michael Hoffman defines three categories for classifying mushroom images: literal depictions of mushrooms, stylized depictions of mushrooms, and depictions of mushroom effects which suggest altered states of consciousness.
I find Hoffman’s categories useful for classifying the two varieties of MICA that we photographed at the following religious sites. The text in parentheses indicates the black and white Figure (Fig.) or color Plate (P) in The Psychedelic Gospels that displays our photographs of these images.
Type of Evidence
|Literal – taxonomically accurate images||Rosslyn Chapel, Scotland (Fig. 1.1)22||St. Michael’s Church, Germany (Fig. 11.2)23|
|Stylized – mushroom-like shapes||Great Canterbury Psalter, England (P12)||Church of St. Martin de Vicq, France (P6)|
|ASC – images suggesting altered states of consciousness||Chapel of Plaincourault, France (P5)||Chartres Cathedral, France (P18)|
Mushroom references in texts: The field also needs a database of textual references to mushrooms in Christian history. Hatsis claims that there are no textual references to mushrooms among Christian theologians.
This can only be a bluff on Hatsis’ part since the research entailed in reading all ancient and medieval Christian theologians would take years.
Ironically, in response to Hatsis’ question “So then where is the written evidence?” it is worth noting that Hatsis himself provides a powerful rationale explaining why early Christians throughout the Roman Empire would refrain from writing about their psychedelic mushroom experiences or about the possible role of “pharmaka” (Hatsis’ preferred term for “drugs”) in the original Eucharist.
In Psychedelic Mystery Traditions, Hatsis tells us that “An accusation of magic, expressly forbidden in Rome, could have landed Jesus in prison, his disciples mocked as followers of a criminal. Why would the gospel authors have written about Jesus’s use of pharmaka? Such a thing could get a person crucified…” (PMT, p. 125).
To realize the ambitious research agenda outlined above, in the Appendix to our book we call for the formation of an Interdisciplinary Committee on the Psychedelic Gospels (TPG, pp. 222-228).
Christianity and the Psychedelic Renaissance
It is time for the study of psychoactive mushrooms in Christianity to fulfill its promise. It is an area of research that has the potential to revolutionize our understanding of the history of Christianity, as well as the ability to influence the future of psychedelics.
In concluding I would like to briefly mention three reasons why documenting the historical presence of mushrooms in Christian art could be relevant to the Psychedelic Renaissance.
First, it may in time provide the catalyst for the Catholic Church’s return to its mystical roots involving direct entheogenic experience of the divine.
Second, it may open the door for the establishment of religious retreat centers, the “modern Eleusis” that Albert Hofmann envisioned, where the Church would offer the faithful safe psychedelic journeys for healing and revelation in the presence of trained guides.
Third, it may meet the “bona fide traditional ceremony purposes” requirement specified in the federal 1993 Religious Freedom Reform Act, thereby establishing the basis for the legalization of the religious use of psychoactive mushrooms as a First Amendment right.
This would be similar to the right to integrate psychedelics into religious ceremonies currently granted to members of the Native American Church who use peyote, and to members of several U.S. branches of the Brazilian churches of Santo Daime and União do Vegetal who use DMT-containing ayahuasca in religious ceremonies.
2 Carl A.P. Ruck, personal communication, December 28, 2021. Hatsis’ misinterpretation of the Regensburg Sacramentary was initially called to my attention by David Hewett, M.A., who teaches ancient Greek and Latin at The Paideia Institute for Humanistic Study and writes about psychedelics in literature and art at cyberdisciple.wordpress.com. Hewett points out that there is an alternative possible translation which would indicate that, instead of taking up the lance, the angel is placing the lance in the ruler’s hand. However, this would not alter Hatsis’ misinterpretation of the image.
3 Ruck, personal communication, December 28, 2021.
4 See Howard L. Adelson, The Holy Lance and the Hereditary German Monarchy, The Art Bulletin 48, no. 2 (1966): 177–92. https://doi.org/10.2307/3048362.
6 One would expect JStor, a database of major academic journals, to give some results when searching for “parasol of victory” (search result here). Jstor turns up 44 results when searched for “paradiesbaum” (search result here). Moreover, journals dedicated to reviewing academic books in the fields of Classical Studies and Medieval Studies return no relevant results when searched for the same terms (Bryn Mawr Classical Review search for “parasol of victory”; search The Medieval Review here (results cannot be linked to).
7 See Jerry B. Brown and Matthew Lupu, Sacred plants and the gnostic church: Speculation on entheogen use in early Christian ritual, Journal of Ancient History, 2014, 2(1), 64–77.
8 In Psychedelic Mystery Traditions, Hatsis identifies three groups that practiced Christian psychedelic mysteries: Nazarenes, pagan Neoplatonists and early Orthodox traditions, 2018, pp. 106-108.
9 Judith Anne Brown, John Marco Allegro: The Maverick of the Dead Sea Scrolls 2005. See chapter 11, Questioning The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross, and chapter 12, Following The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross. Judith Anne Brown, the author of this biography, is Allegro’s daughter.
10 R. Gordon Wasson, letter to Times Literary Supplement, September 25, 1970.
11 This acrimonious controversy is documented by Jan Irvin in The Holy Mushroom: Evidence of Mushrooms in Judeo-Christianity, 2008; and is summarized in chapter 7, “The Battle of the Trees,” in Jerry B. Brown and Julie M. Brown, The Psychedelic Gospels: The Secret History of Hallucinogens in Christianity, 2016.
12 Without commenting on the relative quality of their work, the list of contemporary researchers includes James Arthur, David Spess, Jonathan Ott, Dan Russell, Mark Hoffman, Carl Ruck, Blaise Staples, Clark Heinrich, Jan Irvin, John Rush, Peter Furst, Huston Smith, Jack Herer, Robert Thorne, José Alfredo Gonzàlez Celdràn, Michael Hoffman, Fulvio Gosso and Gilberto Camilla.
13 Mitchell Kaplan, past president of the American Booksellers Association, describes The Psychedelic Gospels as “Part travelogue, part anthropological meditation, and part groundbreaking study showing the use of sacred mushrooms in Christian iconography…” Don Lattin, bestselling author of The Harvard Psychedelic Club says “It’s The Da Vinci Code meets The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.”
14 In this documentary, Hatsis’ and my views are interwoven with a history of the holy mushroom theory, along with commentary by Chris Bennett, Roland Griffiths, and Dennis McKenna, among others. Viewers must subscribe to Gaia TV to watch this documentary, which is part of an original, two-season, 22-episode “Psychedelica” series.
15 Shortly after this email, Hatsis initially apologized but then immediately issued another threat, at which point I definitively withdrew from this debate. The conference organizer allowed Hatsis and me to make separate presentations.
16 Marcia Kupfer, Romanesque Wall Painting in Central France: The Politics of Narrative, 1993.
17 In chapter 7, Battle of the Trees, we write: “I knew that anthropologist Peter Furst points out that one of the most enduring aspects of shamanism is the idea that life is resident in the bones, which are the most durable part of the body, lasting up to 50,000 years after death. Mircea Eliade, one of the world’s greatest authorities on shamanism, writes that ‘Bone represents the very source of life, both in humans and animals. To reduce oneself to the skeleton condition is equivalent to re-entering the womb of this primordial life, that is, to a complete renewal, mystical rebirth’” (TPG, p. 102).
18 R. E. Schultes and A. Hofmann, Plants of the Gods: Origins of Hallucinogen Use, 1979, p. 83.
19 Giorgio Samorini, The mushroom-tree of Plaincourault, Eleusis, 1997, 8, 30–37; and “Mushroom-trees” in Christian art, Eleusis, 1998, 1, 87–108.
20 Carl A.P. Ruck, Blaise Daniel Staples, et. al., The Hidden World: Survival of Pagan Shamanic Themes in Europe Fairy Tales, 2007, p. 349.
21 Giorgio Samorini, Mushroom-trees in Christian art, Eleusis: Journal of Psychoactive Plants and Compounds, 1998, 1: 87-108.
22 On August 22, 2015, while we were writing The Psychedelic Gospels Julie and I met Paul Stamets, one of the world’s leading experts on mycology. Stamets had personally visited Rosslyn and confirmed that the mushroom we found in the Green Man’s forehead was a “taxonomically correct Amanita muscaria.”
23 Giorgio Samorini, Mushroom-trees in Christian art, Eleusis: Journal of Psychoactive Plants and Compounds, 1998, 1:87-108, notes that the depiction “seems to indicate quite clearly that the artist intended to represent this species of mushroom in his bas-relief” (p. 103). Furthermore, “As ethnobotanist Giorgio Samorini observes, ‘The mushroom-tree is realistically rendered with a precision not far short of anatomical accuracy and can be identified as one of the most common Germanic and European psilocybian mushroom, P. semilanceata’,” as cited in Jerry B. Brown and Julie M. Brown, The Psychedelic Gospels, 2016, p. 156.