Based on stunning photographs of psychoactive mushrooms found in churches and cathedrals in Europe and the Middle East, this presentation documents original research on the presence of entheogens in early and medieval Christian art. After making the surprising discovery of a sculpture of an Amanita muscaria mushroom in Rosslyn Chapel, Scotland, my wife/coauthor Julie and I set out to investigate the presence of entheogens in Christian art: in frescoes, illuminated manuscripts, mosaics, sculptures and stained-glass windows. At the churches and cathedrals studied, we utilized an interdisciplinary approach combining in-depth anthropological field work with art history, church history and ethnobotany.
The key results are threefold. First, we found compelling evidence of sacred mushrooms (both Amanita muscaria and Psilocybe) in Christian art in religious centers as diverse as small parish chapels (France), high holy places (England and Germany), early basilicas (Italy) and remote cave churches (Turkey). Second, based on these findings we proposed the “Theory of the Psychedelic Gospels,” which argues that Christianity has a psychedelic history. Third, these discoveries resolve the epic controversy between ethnobotanist R. Gordon Wasson and philologist John Marco Allegro, which has cast a long shadow over the study of entheogens in Christianity. These results are significant ̶ and controversial.
If the theory of the psychedelic gospels is validated, the scientific and religious communities will have to rethink the history and perhaps even the origins of Christianity. For this reason, in The Psychedelic Gospels: The Secret History of Hallucinogens in Christianity (2016), we call for the establishment of an Interdisciplinary Committee on the Psychedelic Gospels in order to document and evaluate the presence of psychedelics in Christian art.
For a deep-dive into the images and topics covered in this presentation, see our recent peer-review article "Entheogens in Christian Art: Wasson, Allegro and the Psychedelic Gospels," Journal of Psychedelic Studies (2019), available at: https://akademiai.com/doi/full/10.1556/2054.2019.019