For nearly two millennia, as many as three thousand Greeks shared similar visionary experiences in the town of Eleusis while celebrating the great Eleusinian Mysteries.
The great Mystery was a six-day festival observed at harvest time that symbolized the cycle of death and rebirth.
What began as a local festival, the Eleusinian Mysteries eventually became a defining piece of Athenian citizenship. The sixth day of festivities included ingestion of a portion known as the kykeon.
Upon ingestion, initiates described a gradual entrance into ecstasy accompanied by physical symptoms including vertigo, nausea, cold sweats, fear, and trembling.
These physical symptoms were met with mystical visions, or epopteia – an aura of brilliant light that appeared within the Hall.
Many considered epopteia incommunicable, recounting “a sense of awe and wonder at a brilliance that caused a profound silence, since what had just been seen and felt could never be communicated; with words unequal to the task.”
Initiates also commonly described encounters with the divine, provoking terror and ecstasy, darkness and light, witnessing “the division between earth and the sky melt into a pillar of light.”
The Mystery drew in well-known initiates such as Cicero, an Ancient Roman philosopher, politician, and lawyer, who believed that those who experienced the Mystery at Eleusis became gentler, lived more joyfully and died with a better hope
He affirmed that the Mystery offered the whole of Greek society the possibility of dying with hope – an immense benefit in a society where hope was brief and fleeting.
The Mystery became a rite of passage for other renowned initiates including Socrates, Euripides, and Sophocles, who only took the kykeon once in their lifetime under oath to never divulge the Mystery under penalty of death, however, this did not stop some initiates from breaking the oath and holding ceremonies in their homes.
Four centuries into the Christian era, the Eleusinian Mysteries was forcibly put to an end and no longer accepted as a traditional part of Greek culture.
A defining piece of the puzzle in the Eleusinian Mysteries is the contents of the kykeon.
In the first recorded literary source of the Mysteries at Eleusis, the kykeon brew was described as consisting of barley, water, and mint.
The barley found in fields near Eleusis was often infested with a fungal growth known as ergot, the compound commonly believed to be the psychoactive agent in the kykeon. In 1938, Swiss chemist Albert Hoffman first synthesized LSD from ergotamine, a chemical derived from ergot.
After this discovery, Hoffman pursued the notion that the entheogenic experience induced by the kykeon portion at Eleusis resulted from the same chemical makeup as that found in another entheogen: LSD. The term Entheogen comes from the Greek root, entheos (God within) and gen- (becoming), or “becoming a god within.”
The writings left behind describing the experiences at Eleusis are strikingly similar to those of other ancient psychedelic experiences induced by entheogens, such as Ayahuasca in the Amazon, the Blue Water Lily in Egypt, and the Soma in India.
Ancient entheogen users often cited a connection to a divine realm or entity, mystical and indescribable visions, the dissolution of the ego or self, and subsequent acceptance of death – all common themes in today’s well-known psychedelics including DMT (dimethyltryptamine), mescaline, LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), and sacred mushrooms (psilocybin).
Throughout recorded history in both ancient and modern times, many entheogen users in widely varying cultures and geographic areas depict comparable encounters.
If these same rites of passage and mystical experiences can be found throughout history and in so many divergent cultures, could these sacred and transformative entheogenic experiences be the true foundation of religion and man’s relationship with the divine?
*This article was originally published at tohigherconsciousness.com