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From the Bodies of the Gods: Psychoactive Plants and the Cults of the Dead Paperback – May 16, 2012
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“An insightful analysis on early funeral rites and ethnomycology . . . deepens our body of learning about the origins of the Christian faith and humanity’s entheogenic history.” (Rob Dickins, editor of the Psychedelic Press UK)
“These were ideas intensely debated by seminarians after the disclosures of the Dead Sea Scrolls. . . . As this book demonstrates, many passages in the Holy Scriptures are incomprehensible as anything but blatant descriptions of the Christian cult of the dead traceable back to the earliest religious rites of prehistory and prevalent throughout antiquity and medieval Catholicism.” (Carl A. P. Ruck, professor of Classical Studies, Boston University, and author of Mushrooms, Myths,)
“After this learned exploration of how necrophilia, hallucinogens, body fluids, human sacrifice, and ancestor worship powerfully influenced the major religions like Judaism and Christianity, it will be hard to view those venerable faiths and institutions in the standard, conventional way. During his stunning intellectual romp, Lee also provides fascinating, even ‘heretical,’ insights into such personages, places, and practices as the Roman catacombs, Last Supper, Eucharist; Neolithic, Hebrew, Greek, and Egyptian burial rites; Horus, the Virgin Mary, Moses, Jesus, the Knights Templar, veneration of saintly relics and the Holy Grail, Minoan mead-making, Dominicans, corpse-painting, psychedelic mushroom-growing, anointing, witch-hunting, Prometheus, and goddess worship.” (Sanford Berman, award-winning librarian and author of Prejudices and Antipathies)
“...the book is a trove to delve into and it’ll be interesting to see what further scholarship it gives rise too.” (Psychedelic Press UK, July 2012)
“From time to time, a book comes along that stops you in your tracks and stuns your mind. From the Bodies of the Gods is such a book. It will—and should—provoke intense discussion about some of the most fundamental underpinnings of Western religions.” (Larry Dossey, M.D., author of Healing Words, Reinventing Medicine, and The Power of Premonitions)
From the Back Cover
RELIGION / CULTURAL STUDIES
“From time to time, a book comes along that stops you in your tracks and stuns your mind. From the Bodies of the Gods is such a book. It will--and should--provoke intense discussion about some of the most fundamental underpinnings of Western religions.”
--Larry Dossey, M.D., author of Healing Words, Reinventing Medicine, and The Power of Premonitions
“An insightful analysis on early funeral rites and ethnomycology . . . deepens our body of learning about the origins of the Christian faith and humanity’s entheogenic history.”
--Rob Dickins, editor of the Psychedelic Press UK
Long before the beginnings of civilization, humans have been sacrificed and their flesh used to produce sacred foods and oils for use in religious rites. Originating with the sacred harvest of hallucinogenic mushrooms from the corpses of shamans and other holy men, these acts of ritual cannibalism and visionary intoxication are part of the history of all cultures, including Judeo-Christian ones, and provided a way to commune with the dead. These practices continued openly into the Dark Ages, when they were suppressed and adapted into the worship of saintly bones--or continued in secret by a few “heretical” sects, such as the Cathars and the Knights Templar. While little known today, these rites remain deeply embedded in the symbolism, theology, and sacraments of modern religion and bring a much more literal meaning to the church’s “Holy Communion” or symbolic consumption of the body and blood of Christ.
Documenting the sacrificial, cannibalistic, and psychoactive sacramental practices associated with the Cult of the Dead from the prehistoric Minoans on Crete to the ancient Egyptians and Hebrews and onward to early and medieval Christian sects, Earl Lee shows how these religious rites influenced the development of Western religion. In particular, he reveals how Christianity originated with Jesus’s effort to restore the sacred rites of Moses, including the Marzeah, or Feast for the Dead. Examining the connections between these rites and the mysterious funeral of Father Saunière in Rennes-le-Château, the author explains why the prehistoric Cult of the Dead has held such power over Western civilization, so much so that its echoes are still heard today in our literature, film, and arts.
EARL LEE is a professor at Pittsburg State University and the author of several books, including Raptured, Drakulya, and Libraries in the Age of Mediocrity. He lives in Pittsburg, Kansas.
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First, he credits old, busted research by Budge and Frazier. In scholarship, old is not better. New is better, because it has absorbed and argued for and against the old, built upon it. Look at it this way--would you rather your physician rely upon medical knowledge as it stood in 1890? No. You would reject that as limited, outmoded. You would want your physician to have a good handle on all the medical knowledge that has accrued since then. Same with scholarship. This is not to say that all old scholarship is out-of-the-box rejected, but anyone citing Frazier and Budge nowadays automatically undermines their scholarly credibility, IMO. So there was that.
But okay, I thought maybe this author is writing this in his retirement and is a little off the ball but can still provide some interesting stuff. Instead, more old and busted scholarship was provided and it turned out, did not even offer the proof the author indicated. For instance, from p. 24 of the book "The sacred oils used in the Hebrew christening rites were not ordinary. Typically several drugs were added to them, including hallucinogenic plants and a large amount of cannabis (Godbey 1930, p. 222)." Well, gee, I had to check that out, because I would like to see something other than a website or a post on an entheogen forum about cannabis in the sacred oils, much less other hallucinogens. So I went to JSTOR and got the article in question: Allen H. Godbey, "Incense and Poison Ordeals in the Ancient Orient," The American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures Vol. 46, No. 4 (Jul., 1930), pp. 217-238. A rather elderly article in terms of scholarship that would not normally be cited, but okay. I read the entire article. It was a mishmash unsubstantiated statements and breezy imperialist attitudes about peoples other than Northern Europeans, who are not susceptible to the intoxicating smokes and vapors that Muslims, "Negroes," and so on are narcotized by. I am not making this up. But as an example of the sort of "scholarship" we are talking here, Godbey cites Ezekiel 8:11 as proof that the priests the Temple of Jerusalem were inhaling incense that got them high and caused them to see things, but you can go read that bit yourself. What the priests saw were the images they themselves had painted on the walls of the Temple (in the custom of Babylon), and that was what Ezekiel was criticizing--the importation of Babylonian temple practices into the Temple system (they even supplanted the old Judaic solar calendar with the lunar Babylonian calendar). So Ezekiel was not angry that the priests were becoming intoxicated from the incense; there is no such thing going on. This example shows how faulty Godbey is. I hate to say it, but it is of a piece with how faulty Lee is.
I decided to reread the page Lee cites as proof of his assertation that the sacred ointments were jacked up with hallucinogens, p. 222. But there is nothing on that page about such a thing. And no, the page numbers have not changed. The article I read was a scan from the original periodical. So in other words, this was just a big fat nothing in terms of evidence.
Then there is the tired cannabis in the sacred oil baloney, and I'm sorry, but that's just what it is. To argue that "kaneh bosem" is equal to "cannabis" is a folk etymology. These words are not related linguistically. The phrase is used elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible to mean "sweet cane." There is argument about what sweet cane is, but we cannot say it must be marijuana, which does not look like cane. There is also a completely different word in the Hebrew Bible that means marijuana. This entire argument has never gained any traction amongst bona fide linguists or Biblical scholars, and that lack of traction has nothing whatsoever to do with any imagined stuffiness of those scholars or their wish to "preserve" the sacredness of the Bible. They have no such wish, which anyone who has read any amount of Biblical and linguistic scholarship would know. But let's just put that aside and ask the very most obvious question (IMO) about this issue. The sacred oil in the Temple was used primarily to anoint stuff, not people--the tools of the service, the altar, the props. Why would they put pot in such an oil? But okay, they did anoint the heads of the priests. So how were the priests made high by having some oil that according to this theory had pot in it? While cannabis oil preparations have been used to treat some skin problems, I sure have not found any research that shows that THC goes through the skin and affects the nervous system of human beings. So why would they do this? It doesn't make much sense. Also, remember that the altar closest to the Holy of Holies was the incense altar, not the one where animal sacrifices were made. So why, if pot was so important, was it not a part of the incense? Surely then it would have indeed have had a psychoactive effect. And yet, it is absent. The very basis of the pot in the sacred oil idea is faulty and doesn't even have to get as far as scholarship, which further knocks the props out of the linguistic argument. Personally, I would also wonder why it is that we have so narrowed our view of spirituality that we are certain that the ONLY way people of those times could have experienced visions and wonders was because they were high. This position is a denial of the reality of spiritual experience and unfortunately fits very well with our materialism-dominated worldview. This is not to say at all the people haven't used plants for spiritual purposes. Rather, it is to say that people do not HAVE to use plants to have profound visions and spiritual experiences.
After looking at these several sections and seeing exactly the poor scholarship, lack of evidence, and a lot of repetition, I feel little inclination to read any farther. I decided to then see what else Lee had written and what he taught at Pittsburg State University, which is in Kansas, btw. I could not find that he teaches anything, nor does he have a doctorate. He is a librarian. I have known librarians who were powerful scholars, but this is not an example.This is the work of someone who is not familiar with how to conduct scholarship. He did write "Kiss My Left Behind," which I suspect I would enjoy much more than this work.
Mr. Lee - a piece of heartfelt device - if you're going to base your whole book on the idea that Psilocybin (and/or Amanita) can grow in decaying human bodies, then back up your premise with even one piece of evidence that these mushrooms can indeed grow in this media. As much as your premise fascinated me, reading your book was like trying to talk to a friend at tea with an elephant between you. It can be done but it's very distracting.
If you ever go to a second edition, re-write it - a lot! As I said, you've got some interesting ideas but they got lost in the unsubstantiated woo-woo. The whole topic of sealing up the dead bodies is fascinating but you need to delve into the reasons behind more carefully.
Keenly aware that he can only scratch the surface of his topic, the author wants the book to "lay the foundation for understanding how the ancient cult of the dead...contributed to the beginnings of Christian religion" (5). Indeed, Lee would happily see others clear a broader pathway as he hopes to simply "lay a trail of crumbs for others to follow" (6).
Readers seeking revelation in contemporary Christianity will find an antidogmatic scholar keenly aware of the distance between fact and faith coupled with a spirit willing to decrease this distance, to bring subject and practice closer through the researches of an enlightened mind.
Above all, the book serves two purposes: to provide "a clear explanation, albeit an unusual one, for the complex burial rites of the Egyptians, Greeks, earliest Hebrews, and early Christians"(6); and, to create "essentially a prologue to many other lines of inquiry" (6).
The work succeeds on both counts, providing well-documented interesting information refined from chat piles abandoned by less inquisitive researchers.
Knowledge of both testaments of the Bible and some Egyptology is helpful but not essential: Lee repeats cogent points (for example, he consistently and continually presents the argument that it is valuable to see Jesus not as a radical bent on creating a new religion, but instead as a reformer insistent on following the rites and religion of Moses), rendering them accessible to readers who may find in his words the inspiration to follow his trail of crumbs to other lines of inquiry or--in more postmodern parlance--to take his deconstructed elements and build upon the foundation of his research.
While the arguments and research are fascinating, the book could benefit from more sympathetic editing (see how often he uses the word "church" on pages 51-2, an example of repetition at the level of word choice that I find distracting if not deadening)and--in the best of all possible worlds--a timeline to emphasize the historicity of the presentation.
Nitpicking aside, those of us fascinated by tales of things such as mushrooms growing from corpses or bodily fluids recycled into ointments and unguents for religious practices or of rebellious religious leaders speaking from their heart--and, when defeated, horrifically punished--will take pleasure from reading this book. Certainly, this pleasure will augment our understanding of our present human condition.