The Sacred Uses of Psychedelics in Human History

The Sumela Monastery (Built in the 4th century) was an ancient Greek Orthodox monastery in the region of Macka, Trabzon, Turkey.

So much has been written over the past several decades regarding the historical use of psychedelic plants and the way they’ve contributed to the evolution of our species. Scholars, writers, and scientists — including researcher Graham Hancock, psychologist Timothy Leary, and ethnobotanist Terence McKenna — have proposed our very evolution is inseparable from the use of psychotropics and the way they’ve shaped the human experience.

And now we welcome a new wave of psychedelic researchers, including author Tom Hatsis, who has deeply considered the ways in which certain plants may or may not have been depicted in ancient and sacred contexts.

Hatsis might be regarded as a man on a quest to prove nature’s plants have the power to bring growth and insight beyond ordinary sources of knowledge and information, but he is clear to distinguish between recreational and sacred use of them. He is also armed with plenty of research that aims to clear up misguided conclusions about the role of psychedelics in history, including their appearances throughout biblical works of art.  

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Entheogenic Studies  

Hatsis focuses a great deal on entheogenic, or psychedelic, studies. The term entheogen was coined in 1979 by ethnobotanical pioneer Carl Ruck to describe psychoactive substances derived from plants and fungi, ingested as part of a sacred ritual to produce visions or gain mystical insights.

With an unusual depth of understanding, Hatsis points out that these once-holy plants fell into disrepute and recreational use in the 1960s, leading to criminalization and disfavor in the larger cultural context, as they were being used as party drugs by those who held no higher intentions other than a desire to become intoxicated.

Hatsis says mainstream media bias led to America’s first real judgment of plant medicines, putting them in a bad light and creating a taboo against their use. The negative repercussions of ubiquitous substance abuse overshadowed the sacred, historical, and spiritual use of these plants, and Western society is still reeling from this misstep.  

Psanctum Psychedelic Library  

Hatsis is the founder of the Psanctum Psychedelic Library, which he created on the heels of a wide range of psychedelic literature he researched, collected, and devoured. The library has cataloged everything from 15th-century ointments to CIA mind-control tests in the mid-20th century. His meticulous work continues to be fueled by his devotion to psychedelic plants and his quest to honestly and faithfully serve culture, history, and the planet. He brings his education, as well as his personal experience, to bear, after decades of expanding his horizons with an array of plant medicines and in his words, “lots—lots—of cannabis.”  

The Psanctum Psychedelic Library is a repository of psychedelic literature that has been largely overlooked — and even forgotten — by academics, healers, and laypeople. Hatsis’ research resurrects the experiences and ideas of Western intellectuals who rediscovered what shamans and mystics all over the world have known for centuries: The power of plant medicines provide access into the deepest parts of the psyche and soul. “These medicines,” said Hatsis, “get us closer to Gaia [Mother Earth]. For thousands of years, people have been using them to get closer to the divine.”  

Setting the Record Straight  

In his interview with George Noory, it becomes clear that Hatsis’ research clears up misconceptions regarding plant medicines, including suppositions made by those pushing for legalization as well as mystical seekers. Part of his contribution includes debunking research and teachings that misrepresent medieval paintings and suggest the use of certain psychedelic plant species were secretly encoded in early artwork.

The thousands of images often cited as proof of the use of holy mushrooms do not depict mushrooms at all, he says. Instead, they are images of stylized trees that can be easily traced to earlier concepts of trees in art. Medieval Christians, Hatsis says, were quite open about using opium, mandrake, cannabis, henbane, but did not mention using mushrooms. Considering the obvious use of all of these plant medicines, there was really no reason why artists would need to covertly place mushrooms in their religious depictions. 

He concludes that while it is okay to be enthusiastic about the use of mind-expanding plants, it’s not okay to make suppositions without solid evidence. 

Hatsis spends much of his time traveling, teaching, and working to show the profundity of mystical experiences whether naturally occurring or through plant medicines. But to be clear, he doesn’t advocate the careless consumption of these substances. On the contrary, he tells Noory, “I  don’t recommend anyone take psychedelics, but if you’re going to, I recommend having a reverential approach.” 

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Comic Bill Hicks' Excellent Inter-Dimensional Adventure

Comic Bill Hicks was described as “irreverent, outrageous, shocking, angry,” and “genius.” He loathed media-entrained helplessness and consumerism, referring to America as the “United States of Advertising.” Called the “comedian’s comedian” by critics, Hicks performed in the U.S., U.K., and Australia until his death in 1994 at age 32.

But the adjectives above cannot fully describe Hicks, who waged war on the cultural trance, calling for a new, awakened consciousness. He was a rock n’ roll Gabriel on the razor’s edge, trumpeting a vision of a vast, human evolutionary shift. Look and listen between the lines and other descriptors will come to mind; “visionary,” “prophetic,” and yes, “dimensional traveler.”

One of Hicks’ alter egos, “Goat Boy,” was a startling stew of Pan, Dionysus, Bacchus, and any hedonistic diety you can think of. Goat Boy was the comic gestalt of Hicks’ libido — seriously explicit, but paradoxically wise and child-like. Gerald Nachman, the San Francisco Chronicle theater critic wrote, “However rough he gets, I felt my head opened up by Hicks. He’s not everyone’s cup of chicory, but If you like your comics witch’s brew-strong, Bill Hicks is the wit of choice.”

Harmonic Convergence 1987

As a teenager, Hicks and his friends discovered psilocybin mushrooms as a tool for spiritual insight. From an even earlier age, Hicks had explored eastern meditation traditions and subjects in the “Course in Miracles” genre. He earnestly and sincerely sought enlightenment, say his surviving friends. And he believed unshakably in UFOs and multi-dimensionality.  

Laser-focused on a career as a comedian, Hicks began sneaking out of his parent’s house to perform in a Houston comedy club at age 14. By 1985, he was established as the leader of the pack of the Houston comedy scene. Hicks was living like a rockstar; drugs, alcohol, wild parties, etc., and over the next few years, he fell into addiction and behaviors that impacted his career and was losing credibility as an artist and performer.

“Bill knew he needed to get sober. From a career standpoint, it became apparent he needed to turn things around,” wrote friend Kevin Booth in his book. But according to Booth, now a filmmaker and producer, the 1987 Harmonic Conversion event was the turning point. The event was organized by author Jose Arguelles, the Aug. 16, 1987 date was chosen because of planetary alignments and the Mayan calendar.  Hicks, Booth, and another friend prepared days in advance with meditation and clean diets.

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