I've been neck-deep in the Mystery religions, which are pretty well-documented by ancient sources. What's crystal-clear to me is that the Mysteries of Isis-Demeter, Cybele, Osiris-Dionysus, Horus-Mithras and the rest* were Entheogen cults, who for many centuries were deeply threatening to the political and religious authorities of their time.
Maybe in ways we don't yet understand: almost as soon as they finally became widely acceptable, Rome suddenly- and inexplicably- changed its state religion° and wiped the Mysteries out (calling William Bramley, white courtesy telephone).
What's also crystal clear to me is that the Mysteries began in Egypt a long time ago, when its climate was moist enough for mushooms to grow wild. I also stumbled upon an important paper in which a writer argues (persuasively in my opinion) that the Egyptians later cultivated these mushrooms for use in rituals.†
Hence the high position given to the lowly dung beetle (Scarab)- mushrooms often grew on cow manure. This also explains why Osiris-Dionysus was identified with the bull. The Road to Eleusis argues that the Mysteries of Isis-Demeter were probably based around psychedelic compounds derived from ergot, a parasitic fungus which grows on cereal grains.
These are incredibly exciting times for anyone interested in ancient religion or mythology, because I'm convinced that the "mystery" behind these wild, ecstatic cults has been lost for 17 centuries, which led to all of the weird corruptions and distortions (including some pretty stupid ones) that have been used to kill and dominate people. It may take at least another century for it all to sink in, but I've sensed a grudging acceptance to the entheogenic paradigm of ancient religion amongst academics. Maybe because most of those in charge of the Ivory Tower themselves had experience with these compounds in their youth.
The paper I mentioned is "The entheomycological origin of Egyptian crowns and the esoteric underpinnings of Egyptian religion" by Stephen R. Berlant. Here's the synopsis:
In this paper, I theorize that the Egyptian White and Triple Crowns were originally primordia of the entheogenic Psilocybe (Stropharia) cubensis, which an Egyptian tale known as Cheops and the Magicians allegorically explained grew on barley, and that Osiris was the God of spiritual rebirth because he personified this and other entheogenic mushrooms. I go on to theorize that the plant known commonly as the Eye of Horus, which the Egyptians included in cakes and ales designed to spiritually rebirth the living and the dead, was an entheogenic mushroom cap entirely analogous, if not identical, to Soma. Finally, I explain why so many scholars failed to discern these identities and relationships for so long.Here's a quoted passage from the Ambrosia Society website:
But the Eye of Horus was heretofore unexplainably also a plant from which the Egyptians made an elixir and cakes they believed could confer immortality on people, about which E.W. Budge wrote: "The gods nourished themselves with celestial food which was supplied to them by the Eye of Horus, that is to say, they supported their existence on the rays of light which fell from the sun which lit up heaven, and they became beings whose bodies were wholly of light. According to one myth the gods themselves lived upon a ‘wood or plant of life,’ which seems to have grown near the great lake in Sekhet-hetep, round which they were wont to sit . . .. In other places we read of ‘bread of eternity’ and ‘beer of eternity.’" (Budge, 1969a,b, vol. I, p. 164)Now, what's fascinating about these ancient cults is that they were by no means a bunch of stoners. Like the Mesoamerican shamans, they took their practices seriously. The Greater Mysteries of Eleusis (Greek for "Advent") were only experienced once in a lifetime, though there were lesser mysteries open for repeat visitors. But partaking in these sacraments required discipline, study and the strictest morality.
...In addition, eyes, like suns, are very appropriate symbols of entheogenic mushroom caps, because ingesting such caps induces the luminous phenomena that solar and lunar symbols so aptly describe metaphorically. Hence, such caps were reputed to give people the ability to see into other realms of reality.
But as I said, they were wiped out in a pretty brutal fashion by the Church (the old "eliminate the competition" routine). And that led to 17 centuries of people trying to figure out just what the hell the Mysteries were about. Out of that came some strange corruptions, like some of the secret societies of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, which in turn inspired the garbled slanders against the Mysteries you still see out mouldering in the conspirasphere, all of which ultimately spring from the hysterical hausfrau mentality of Fundamentalism.
When I'm done with the book I'll return to the Alien Dreaming and the Widening Gyre series, which I recommend to anyone who has stumbled across this blog. Also watch (or re-watch) The Pharmacratic Inquisition- I can't possibly recommend that film highly enough.
Finally, let me just reiterate that I approach this material as a student of mythology, not as a communicant, so I have no ulterior motive in disseminating this information. I'm not proselytizing- this is about historical truth.
PS: Also read Michael Tsarion's appendix on his Irish Origins of Civilization website for more mycological symbolism.
° To realize how shocking Constantine's "conversion" was, just imagine if Tony Blair converted to Islam. No more than 1 in 10 Roman subjects were Christians at the time and most of these were in the lower classes.
† Read up on theories on the Manna from Heaven from Exodus.
* Not a news flash, but Demeter and Dionysus are simply Greek adaptations of Isis and Osiris. By late antiquity, they were widely known as Isis-Demeter and Osiris-Dionysus. Apollo and Horus were understood to be the same, but Harpocrates- or Horus the Child- was recognized separately in the Roman Isis cult and symbolized the Mysteries themselves. I'd argue that Mithras and Horus are probably drawn from the same Mesopotamian source, somewhere in modern-day Iran. Horus is also associated with the Tauroctony in the Book of the Dead.