Click to Subscribe
▶  More from Histories Book Reviews
‘Gaian Collectivity’
Food of the Gods by Terence McKenna
The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge—A Radical History of Plants, Drugs, and Human Evolution
1992, Bantam, NY, 311 pages
I have read this mushroom-head’s book now twice, for the very reason that he views Western Civilization, patriarchy, masculinity and alcohol as evil. For McKenna paradise was lost when feminine partnership societies based on the use of psychedelic mushrooms to “dissolve artificial boundaries” were abandoned for “dominator cultures” based on patriarchal oppression, specifically the evil Indo-Europeans or Aryans. For the author the Tree of Life was a magic mushroom, not a metaphor and the real Eden [this latter I think likely] was northwest Africa in what is now the Sahara.
“The dark night of the planetary soul that we call Western civilization began.”
I did come to the second reading with a high level of skepticism based on the first reading, in which the author states that humans are incapable of seeing beyond their narrow social boundaries without using drugs, and that to be healthy these drugs must be plant based and human society must be plant-based. Meat eating is out. In this the man who writes in terms of evolutionary biology ignores the Stone Age in which humans ate [even for most of Biblical history] mostly meat and agrees with the Fundamentalist “Dominator Culture” Christian, who seas man as the grain-eating creature of the garden of God.
Well, I am the very disproval of his thesis. Other than eating pot brownies now a few times in my life, and occasionally drinking too much alcohol, I have been drug free. I have also been surrounded by drug users my entire life, all of whom suffer from a profound lack of imagination, especially the ones that do acid and eat magic mushrooms! On the other hand, I have broken so many social boundaries in my thinking that I am not only regarded as an insane graphomaniac but have been cast out of “the dominator society.”
Despite my distaste for the view that we can only find enlightenment through drug use, I sought Food of the Gods again as McKenna looks into much of the same early Aryan myth and much more, than I have.
His study of Minoan culture demonstrates his foolish understanding of warrior culture, which he assumes can only be patriarchal. Siting the fact that Minoa had no forts, but just palaces, he concludes that it was a none-violent matriarchal paradise, when it was the scene of the most violent forms of boxing and bull fighting and its shores could only have been kept free of “Aryan dominator cultures” by its aggressive war fleets. Minoa was the Great Britain of the Bronze Age.
For McKenna, matriarchy is all-loving, despite the fact that the most matriarchal nations of Ancient Greece and North America were the most feared warrior societies. He really has the knives out for alcohol, with good reason, pointing out that it is the most destructive drug in human history. His warped reasoning then presents us with a clue to the “mead culture” of Heroic, Post-Aryan, Europe. Although men are credited with ruining everything good and women being all good, it is obvious that women were the first brewers of alcohol. [2] Indeed, McKenna points out that the indigenous Aryan drugs were Soma or Hoama, some plant with hallucinogenic properties, which seems to have been lost, and cannabis, which originated from the Aryan homeland, and mead, fermented honey, which apparently everybody was into. In his narrative, the Aryans then move into Europe, away from the source of Soma and fall away from healthy Cannabis use and then somehow—as herdsmen with no grain farming tradition—introduce alcohol where it was already prevalent, amongst the grain culture of “Old Europe.”
The Aryan used fermented honey and milk before entering Europe. “This was a cultural trait they shared with the mushroom-using pastoralists of the Near East.” But only the mead could have been brought, and in mead halls the common drink was beer as it was everywhere wine was not the common staple. Just as depicted in ancient Minoan art and overlooked by McKenna, it seems that the priestess with her pitcher of drugged wine or beer or mead, waiting Delilah-like for the warrior to return from battle, was beckoning for the Aryan like the first barmaid and last siren in history, to seduce him. Indeed, all of her men were killed and virtually all of her sisters intermarried with the Aryan warriors—sounds like an inside job!
McKenna mines the ancient historical record and finds references to cannabis use in European antiquity, mainly centered closer to the Aryan homeland of Central Asia. The problem he focuses on in the book is how psychoactive substances in nature are often difficult for nomadic folk to bring with them—particularly mushrooms. Cannabis seems to grow everywhere and was even brought into North America in the Upper Paleolithic. And since alcohol occurs everywhere where men and women are charged with processing and storing fruits and grains, this also seems to become a replacement for visionary aids, for all of the drugs not made in a lab, predated civilization, even alcohol.
Apparently, not having much of an athletic background and being hopelessly passive in spirit, McKenna and other drug heads of modernity lack an appreciation for the visionary effects of, exertion, exhaustion, violence, sleep deprivation and the dread of being hunted by savage enemies in dark streets, which I have experienced. If you have the ability to stay awake for five days and then fight for 2 hours—you will see some shit and your boundaries will dissolve in places and others may rise. However, I am nothing special on this count, just out of time. For it was normal among primitive warriors of various cultures to achieve visions without drug use, through these very simple and willful—nor passive chemical imbibing—means.
McKenna conducts an interesting discussion of the Eleusinian mysteries and has perhaps the most mature view of the cult of Dionysius and its degeneration into the bacchanalian rites. He shows that the Scythians used cannabis in their campfire songs and sweat lodges and is stricken as if by a great tragedy, that Aryan European Cultures seemed—until the modern age of alchemical experimentation and economic exploitation [which he dichotomously rues]—especially resistant to experimenting with new delivery systems for drug use, for instance never making pot pipes for their cannabis and continuing to eat it instead of toking out like some enlightened hippie. This observation argues against the Aryans being the introducers of alcohol to Europe, but rather having been assimilated by the alcohol cults they conquered. Beer was nothing if not a slave drink, a way to lessen the pain of pointless and unrewarding toil on behalf of one’s betters. For this reason one of my close friends calls beer “the liquid goddess.”
McKenna is rightfully horrified by the commercialization of drugs and alcohol—particularly distilled spirits—and the atrocious Drug War. His answer, as was the answer of his hippie generation, was state control and taxation of legalized drugs, using alcohol as an example—and has alcohol taxation alleviating suffering?
“…distilled alcohol changed the sacred art of the brewer [2] and the vintner into a profane economic engine for the consumption of human hopes.”
Amen. Many a Western “Dominator Culture” Christian would agree with the mushroom merchant here.
He pathetically points to alcohol as the only reason for domestic violence, despite most domestic violence being committed by sober women upon children. For a man who cannot understand that walled cities and forts are signs of military weakness and that the premier martial peoples eschewed walls for mobility, as did the Minoans and the Spartans, both matriarchal warrior societies, he has done the investigator into the Aryan warrior complex a favor by pointing out that the Aryan warrior traded in less debilitating drugs native to his primordial homeland for alcohol in his subjugation of Europe and that the resulting culture was highly resistant to innovations in drug use compared to other societies worldwide.
In Chapter 10 The Ballad of the Dreaming Weavers, the use of cordage and weaving as a metaphor for story-telling is mentioned and under-explored. This is suggestive of the use of cannabis as an intoxicant during story, something later taken over in epic by alcohol. Unexplored by McKenna is the fact that since women did the weaving, that there might be a strong element of the feminine in Aryan Myth. Or, perhaps tale telling was something men did while their wives weaved.
From the Homeric song-stitcher, to the Germanic God weaving on his loom of fate, to the English confidence man serving up a graft as a lie made of whole cloth, to pulp writers spinning “yarns” in 20th Century America, to this writer’s use of protagonist threads within a science-fiction story, it seems likely that the hemp-producing cannabis plant, the high standing of women in Aryan homes compared to more oppressed women around the world, and perhaps even the making of a bowstring by an old craftsman lurk deep in our shared past.
Was this a case of Samson being seduced by Delilah?
Was it a case of seeking on a deeper level for the illusive Truth in an attempt to develop the visionary experience beyond passive intoxication?
Or, was this declination to chase the psychedelic experience an aversion of the doer to settle for the langur of the dreamer?
Did, perhaps, our distant barbarian ancestors conquer a dreaming civilization, drugged in pointless slumber, who declined to even rise from their plush couches to defend their rights to the dark-eyed women who mixed their wine with opium and whispered to them not to worry about the barbarians on the beach…
Perhaps our distant ancestors remembered.
Perhaps we have forgotten.
-1. Pliny did reference distilled spirits
-2. Women were the first brewers in Mesopotamia, see the Epic of Gilgamesh.
prev:  ‘To Guard my Frontiers’     ‹  histories  ›     next:  ‘The Slaves of Chinatown’
the greatest lie ever sold
broken dance
logic of force
Add Comment