Mushroom Sacraments in the
Cults of Early Europe
Carl Anton Paul Ruck
In 1957, R. Gordon Wasson, a professional banker and amateur mycologist, inadvertently launched a profound cultural change that has come to be called the Psychedelic Revolution, by publishing an account of his experience with a Mazatec shaman in Hautla de Jiménez in the mountains of central Mexico. The article appeared in Life magazine and was intended as publicity for his forthcoming Russia, Mushrooms, and History, in which he and his Russian-born wife Valentina Pavlovna pursued their lifelong fascination with their dichotomous attitudes toward fungi, which had led them to suspect a cultural taboo upon a sacred object. In 1968 he traced this taboo back to the Vedic Soma, which he identified as a psychoactive mushroom. The identification, if correct, implied that there should be evidence for a similar sacred role for the mushroom in other regions in antiquity where the migrating Indo-European people settled. In 1978, he proposed such a role for the visionary potion that was central to the mystical experience of the Greek Eleusinian Mystery that was celebrated annually for two millennia at a sanctuary near Athens. The possibility that the ancient Greeks indulged in chemically altered consciousness is antithetical to Europe's idealization of Classical antiquity and the proposal was largely ignored. Mushrooms, however, were fundamental to social norms and religious observances in the celebration of Dionysus, and figured in other Mystery cults and in the foundational traditions of many cities, including Mycenae and Rome. The Soma sacrament as the Persian haoma was proselytized to the West by the Zoroastrian priests of Mithras and became a major cohesive indoctrination for the Emperors, army, and bureaucrats who administered the Roman Empire. It survived the Conversion to Christianity in the knighthoods of late antiquity and the medieval world, and was assimilated to the Eucharist of certain of the ecclesiastical elite.
Akers, B.P, Ruiz, J.F., Piper, A., and Ruck, C.A.P., 2011. A prehistoric mural in Spain depicting neurotropic Psilicybe mushrooms? In. Economic Botany, 65(2), pp. 121-128
Bennett, C., 2007. Cannabis and the soma solution. Waterville: Trine Day.
Bonnefoy, Y., 1991. Greek and Egyptian mythology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Translated under the direction of Wendy Doniger from the French, 1981. Dictionnaire de mythologies et des religions des sociétés traditionnelles et du monde antique. Paris: Flammarion.
Burkert, W., 1987. Ancient Mystery Cults. Cambridge: Harvard.
Cooper. J.H., 2000. Etruscan and Lemnian appear to be twigs of the Pelasgian branch of the Indo-European language. In. Mankind quarterly, 40(4), pp.421-434.
Cosmopoulos, M., 2015. Bronze age Eleusis and the origins of the Eleusinian mysteries. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Fabbro, F., 1996. Did early Christians use hallucinogenic mushroom? Archaeological evidence. Available at:
[Accessed 4 December 2015]
Flattery, D.S, and Schwartz, M., 1989. The botanical identity of the Indo-Iranian sacred hallucinogen ‘Soma” and its legacy in religion, language and Middle Eastern folklore. Berkeley: The University of California Press.
Geniusz, W.M., 2009. Our knowledge is not primitive: decolonizing botanical Anishinaabe teachings (Iroquois and their neighbors). Syracuse: Syracuse University Press.
Gershenson, D.E., 1991. Apollo the wolf god, Journal of Indo-European monograph series, no. 8, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, Institute for the Study of Man.
Goldblatt, H., 1994. Notes on the text of Ivan Vysens’kyj’s “Epistle to the Renegade Bishops.” In. Harvard Ukrainian studies, 18(1-2), pp.47-75.
Grummond, N, Thomson de, 2006. Etruscan myth, and legend. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.
Heinrich, C., 1995. Strange fruit: alchemy, religion, and magical foods, a speculative history. London: Bloomsbury.
Hillman, D., 2008. The chemical muse: drug use and the roots of Western civilization. New York: St. Martins / Thomas Dunne Books.
Keewaydinoquay (Peschal), 1984. With an introduction by Wasson, R.G., The miswedo in Anishinaabeg Life. Verona: Stamperia Valdonega, from the hand-corrected master proof of the unpublished printing, of which only five copies exist, sequestered from access in the Wasson Archives, Harvard Library.
Kiotsekoglou, S., 2014. Stone mushrooms of Thracian megalithic sanctuaries. In. C.A.P. Ruck, ed. 2014b. Dionysus in Thrace: ancient entheogenic themes in the mythology and archaeology of Northern Greece, Bulgaria, and Turkey. Berkeley: Regent Press, pp 241-256.
Klapp, E., 2013. Raven’s bread and other manifestations of fly agaric in Classical and biblical literature. In. J.A. Rush, ed., 2013. Etheogens and the development of culture: the anthropology and neurobiology of ecstatic experience. Berkeley: Atlantic Books.
Klöckner, A., 2010. Getting in contact: concepts of human—divine encounter in Classical Greek art. In. J.N. Bremmer and A. Erskine, eds. 2010. The gods of ancient Greece: identities and transformations. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, pp.106-125.
Kramrisch, S., 1975. The mahavira vessel and the plant putika. In. Journal of the American oriental society, 95(2), pp.222-235.
Kurtz, D., and Boardman, J., 1971. Greek burial customs. London: Thames and Hudson.
Lehmann, K., 1954. Samothrace: a guide to the excavations and the Museum. Thessaloniki: Institute of Fine Arts, New York University.
Levi-Strauss, C., 1955. Tristes tropiques. Paris: Librairie Plon.
Markov, V., 2008. The ancient Thracian megalithic sanctuary ‘Markov Kamak’ at Tsarev Peak in Rila Mountain: semantic and functional analysis. In. Geoarchaeology and archaeomineralogy. Sofia: Publishing House ‘St. Ivan Rilski,’ pp.177-179.
Markov, V., 2014. Archaic mushroom monuments and Bulgarian folkloric motifs. In. C.A.P. Ruck, ed. 2014. Dionysus in Thrace: ancient entheogenic themes in the mythology and archaeology of Northern Greece, Bulgaria, and Turkey. Berkeley: Regent Press, pp.183-198.
Maurizio, L., 2016. Classical mythology in context. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Nichols, B.M., 2000. The fly-agaric and early Scandinavian religion. In. Eleusis, new series (4), pp.87-118.
Petridou, G., 2013, ‘Blessed is he who has seen’: the power of ritual viewing and ritual framing in Eleusis. In. Helios, 40(1-2), pp.309-341.
Piper, A., 2013. The milk of the goat Heidrun: an investigation into the sacramental use of psychoactive milk and meat. In. J.A. Rush, ed., 2013. Etheogens and the development of culture: the anthropology and neurobiology of ecstatic experience. Berkeley: Atlantic Books.
Ritter, M., 2013. New York: AP. Ancient wine cellar unearthed in Israel shows Canaanites enjoyed a sophisticated drink. Available at:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/22/ancient-wine-cellar-israel_n_4323848.html [Accessed 3 December 2015]
Ruck, C.A.P., 1976. On the sacred names of Iamos and Ion: ethnobotanical referents in the hero’s parentage. In. Classical journal, 71(3), pp.235-252.
Ruck, C.A.P., 1978. Documentation. In. R.G. Wasson, A. Hofmann. and C.A.P. Ruck, 1978. The road to Eleusis: unveiling the secret of the mysteries. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. Reprint 1998. Los Angeles: Hermes Press. Reprint 2008. Berkeley: Atlantic Books. pp.85-136.
Ruck, C.A.P., 1981. Mushrooms and philosophers. In. Journal of ethnopharmacology, 4, pp.179-205.
Ruck, C.A.P., 2006. Sacred mushrooms of the goddess: secrets of Eleusis. Berkeley: Ronin Publishing.
Ruck, C.A.P., 2010. Fungus redivivus: new light on the mushroom controversy. In. J. Allegro, 1970. Sacred mushroom and the cross: a study of the nature and origins of Christianity within the fertility cults of the ancient Near East. London: Hodder and Stoughton. Reprint 2010. Los Angeles: Gnostic Media Research and Publishing, pp.351-381.
Ruck, C.A.P., 2012. The great god Sabazios and the crab dance in Athens. In. The stone mushrooms of Thrace. Alexandroupoli: EKATAIOS, pp.193-220.
Ruck, C.A.P., 2015a. The great gods of Samothrace and the cult of the little people. Berkeley: Regent Press.
Ruck, C.A.P., 2015b. The son conceived in Drunkenness: magical plants in the world of the Greek hero. Boston: Nemi / Pen and Anvil Press.
Ruck, C.A.P., and Hoffman, A., 2013. Entheogens, myth, and human consciousness. Berkeley: Ronin Publishing.
Ruck, C.A.P., and Hoffman, M.A., 2012. The effluents of deity: alchemy and psychoactive sacraments in medieval and renaissance art. Durham: Carolina Academic Press.
Ruck, C.A.P., and Larner, R., 2013. Virgil’s edible tables. In. Rush, ed., 2013. Etheogens and the development of culture: the anthropology and neurobiology of ecstatic experience. Berkeley: Atlantic Books.
Ruck, C.A.P., ed., 2014. Dionysus in Thrace: ancient entheogenic themes in the mythology and archaeology of Northern Greece, Bulgaria, and Turkey. Berkeley: Regent Press.
Ruck, C.A.P., Hoffman, M.A., and González Celdrán, J.A., 2011. Mushrooms, myth, and Mithras: the drug cult that civilized Europe. San Francisco: City Lights Books,
Ruck, C.A.P., Staples, B.D., González Celdán, J.A., and Hoffman, M.A., 2007. The hidden world: survival of pagan shamanic themes in European fairytales. Durham: Carolina Academic Press.
Ruck, C.A.P., Staples, D, and Heinrich, C., 2001. The apples of Apollo: pagan and Christian Mysteries of the Eucharist. Durham: Carolina Academic Press.
Ruck. C.A.P., 1983. The offering from the Hyperboreans. In. Journal of ethnopharmacology. 8, pp.177-207.
Samorini, G., 2012. Mushroom effigies in world archaeology: from rock art to mushroom-stones. In The stone mushrooms of Thrace. Alexandroupoli: EKATAIOS, pp.16-44.
Sarianidi, V., 2007. Necropolis of Gonur. Athens: Kapon Editions.
Spess, D.L., 2000. Soma: the divine hallucinogen. Rochester: Inner Traditions / Bear and Co.
Toporov, V.N., 1985. On the seminotics of mythological conceptions about mushrooms. In. Semiotica, 53(4). Translated from the Russian by Stephen Rudy, pp.295-357.
Waites, M., 1919. The meaning of the ‘dokana.’ In. American journal of archaeology, 23(1), pp.1-18.
Wasson, R.G., 1968, Soma: divine mushroom of immortality. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
Wasson, R.G., 1980. The wondrous mushroom: mycolatry in Mesoamerica. New York: McGraw-Hill Company.
Wasson, R.G., 1986. Persephone’s Quest. In. R. G. Wasson, S. Kramrisch, J. Ott, J. and C.A.P, Ruck, 1986. Persephone’s quest: entheogens and the origins of religion. New Haven: Yale University Press, pp.17-81.
Wasson, R.G., and Doniger (O’Flaherty), W., 1982. The last meal of the Buddha. In. Journal of the American oriental society, 102(4), pp.591-603.
Wasson, R.G., Hofmann, A., and Ruck, C.A.P., 1978. The road to Eleusis: unveiling the secret of the mysteries. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. Reprint 1998. Los Angeles: Hermes Press. Reprint 2008. Berkeley: Atlantic Books.
Wasson, V.P., and Wasson, R.G., 1957. Mushrooms, Russia, and history. New York: Pantheon Books.Webster, P., Perrine, D., and Ruck, C.A.P., 2000. Mixing the Kykeon. In. Eleusis: journal of psychoactive plants and compounds, new series 4, pp. 55-86