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Persephone's Quest: Entheogens and the Origins of Religion Paperback – July 29, 1992
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From the Back Cover
This fascinating book discusses the role played by psychoactive mushrooms in the religious rituals of ancient Greece, Eurasia, and Mesoamerica. R. Gordon Wasson, an internationally known ethnomycologist who was one of the first to investigate how these mushrooms were venerated and used by different native peoples, here joins with three other scholars to discuss his discoveries about these fungi, which he has called entheogens, or 'god generated within.'
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The book itself is divided into two parts. The first consists of essays by R. Gordon Wasson, Stella Kramrisch, and Jonathan Ott covering everything from analysis of the last meal of the Buddha and the connections in mythology between the lightning bolt and the mushroom to the systematic gathering of evidence across cultures and history of the widespread use of entheogens in religious rites. The second part of the book consists of three essays from Carl A. P. Ruck, a distinguished Greek scholar. As would make sense, Ruck's essays focus a bit more intently on the relation of entheogens to ancient Greek society.
Any book that is a compilation of separate works from separate authors is inevitably going to suffer from a general lack of flow or cohesion and Persephone's Quest is no exception. Certain parts read better than other, notably Wasson's efforts lead the way in this regard, but as a whole the theories and ideas raised are of the prime importance. Ruck's efforts could also be viewed as a bit tiresome, but I am a bit biased in this regard as Greek history is of immense interest and an area of study for me. Some of what Ruck describes may be lost on readers not familiar with the ancient Greek world, but then again this is the case regarding almost any area. Anyone with an interest in entheogens of psychedelics in the parlance of recreational usage will do themselves well to read this book.
It certainly holds a great deal of relevance for today's world and can in fact still be seen in some of the worlds great religions such as Hinduism, where often times a surrogate has replaced the original entheogen, in the Hindu case soma was replaced with the putka mushroom, which is not psychoactive. The simple fact that the use of entheogens was/is so widespread throughout human history is a reason to study it and the current prejudice held against such substances by many academics and authority figures is completely unfounded. It seems almost to be part of a larger movement within a certain section of society that is willing to dismiss the scientific-analytical approach to such diverse topics as global warming, evolution, stem cell research and other so called `controversial' topics. In fact it seems to me that this dismissal of reason is usually coming from some sort of religion inspired dogma.
In light of this the book will probably not be accepted very warmly in religious circles, which is unfortunate. What is maybe more unfortunate is that the will the part of society that readily accepts the side of reason in most of the aforementioned topics continues to persist by in large to a wholesale rejection of examining entheogens and their importance in the development of human civilization. This book is a good start to hopefully change the popular perception on these remarkable substances.
An incredible read, very accessible to anyone interested in mythology and with an open mind.