Video: Psychedelics: The Ancient Religion with No Name?

February 12, 2021
This discussion between CSWR Director Charles Stang and author Brian Muraresku took place on Febrary 1, 2021.
This discussion between CSWR Director Charles Stang and author Brian Muraresku took place on Febrary 1, 2021.

The most influential religious historian of the twentieth century, Huston Smith, once referred to it as the "best-kept secret" in history. Did the ancient Greeks use drugs to find God? And did the earliest Christians inherit the same secret tradition? A profound knowledge of visionary plants, herbs, and fungi passed from one generation to the next, ever since the Stone Age?

This discussion on Febrary 1, 2021, between CSWR Director Charles Stang and Brian Muraresku about his new book, The Immortality Key: The Secret History of the Religion with No Name, a groundbreaking dive into the role of psychedelics in the ancient Mediterranean world.


FULL TRANSCRIPT: 

[MUSIC PLAYING]

CHARLES STANG: My name is Charles Stang, and I'm the director of the Center for the Study of World Religions here at Harvard Divinity School. That is my dog Xena. She joins me for most events and meetings.

So welcome to the fourth event in our yearlong series on psychedelics and the future of religion, co-sponsored by the Esalen Institute, the Riverstyx Foundation, and the Chacruna Institute for Psychedelic Plant Medicines. We look forward to hosting Chacruna's founder and executive director, Bia Labate, for a lecture on Monday, March 8.

But the next event in this series will happen sooner than that. On Monday, February 22, we will be hosting a panel discussion taking up the question what is psychedelic chaplaincy. That event is already up on our website and open for registration.

And, as always the best way to keep abreast of this series and everything else we do here at the Center is to join our mailing list.

We have an hour and a half together and I hope there will be time for Q&A and discussion. I expect there will be. It is my great pleasure to welcome Brian Muraresku to the Center. Brian is the author of a remarkable new book that has garnered a lot of attention and has sold a great many copies. The Immortality Key, The Secret History of the Religion With No Name.

Brian has been very busy taking his new book on the road, of course, all online, and we're very grateful to him for taking the time to join us this evening. He's joining us from Uruguay, where he has wisely chosen to spend his pandemic isolation. Wise not least because it is summer there, as he reminds me every time we have a Zoom meeting, which has been quite often in these past several months. That's because Brian and I have become friends these past several months, and I'll have more to say about that in a moment.

I will ask Brian to describe how he came to write this remarkable book, and the years of sleuthing and studying that went into it. But let me say at the outset that it is remarkably learned, full of great historical and philological detail. His aim when he set out on this journey 12 years ago was to assess the validity of a rather old, but largely discredited hypothesis, namely, that some of the religions of the ancient Mediterranean, perhaps including Christianity, used a psychedelic sacrament to induce mystical experiences at the border of life and death, and that these psychedelic rituals were just the tip of the iceberg, signs of an even more ancient and pervasive religious practice going back many thousands of years. What Brian labels the religion with no name.

To assess this hypothesis and, perhaps, to push it further, has required years of dogged and, at times, discouraging works in archives and archaeology. There have been breakthroughs, too, which no doubt kept Brian going despite some skepticism from the academy, to say the least. And the truth is that this is a project that goes well beyond ancient history, because Brian is convinced that what he has uncovered has profound implications for the future of religion, and specifically, the future of his own religion, Roman Catholicism. And so with a revised ancient history, in place Brian tacks back to the title of our series, Psychedelics and the Future of Religion.

Now, Brian managed to write this book while holding down a full time practice in international law based in Washington DC. He comes to this research with a full suite of scholarly skills, including a deep knowledge of Greek and Latin as well as facility in a number of European languages, which became crucial for uncovering some rather obscure research in Catalan, and also for sweet-talking the gatekeepers of archives and archaeological sites.

The book was published by Saint Martin's Press in September 2020 and has generated a whirlwind of attention. Brian launched the instant bestseller on the Joe Rogan Experience, and has now appeared on CNN, NPR, Sirius XM, Goop-- I don't even know what that is-- and The Weekly Dish with Andrew Sullivan. He's been featured in Forbes, the Daily Beast, Big Think, and Vice.

Now, I mentioned that Brian and I had become friends. This is true. And I, for one, look forward to a time when I can see him in person for a beer, ergotized beer or not, if he ever leaves Uruguay. But I mentioned that we've become friends because it is the prerogative of friends to ask hard questions. You may have already noticed one such question-- not too hard. This event is entitled, Psychedelics, The Ancient Religion With No Name? For me, that's a question, and it will yield more questions.

I've no doubt that Brian has unearthed and collected a remarkable body of evidence, but evidence of what, exactly? Here is how I propose we are to proceed. First I'll give the floor to Brian to walk us into this remarkable book of his and the years of hard work that went into it, what drove him to do this.

Then I'll ask a series of questions that follow the course of his book, focusing on the different ancient religious traditions, the evidence for their psychedelic sacraments, and most importantly, whether and how the assembled evidence yields a coherent picture of the past. I'll invite him to think about the future of religion in light of all this. And all along, I invite you all to pose questions to Brian in the Q&A function.

OK, Brian, I invite you to join us now. Please materialize. There he is. And I'm happy to see we have over 800 people present for this conversation. So Brian, welcome.

BRIAN MURARESKU: Dr. Stang, an erudite introduction as ever. Thank you, sir.

CHARLES STANG: Thank you, Brian. And please just call me Charlie. Now, let's get started, Brian. So first of all, please tell us how it is you came to pursue this research to write this book, and highlight briefly what you think are its principal conclusions and their significance for our present and future. And keep in mind that we'll drop down into any one of these points more deeply. So don't feel like you have to go into great depth at this point.

BRIAN MURARESKU:: It's a simple formula, Charlie. You take a board corporate finance attorney, you add in lots of childhood hours watching Indiana Jones, lots of law school hours reading Dan Brown, you put it all together and out pops The Immortality Key. It's really quite simple, Charlie. So I was obsessed with this stuff from the moment I picked up an article in The Economist called the God Pill back in 2007. It was one of the early write-ups of the psilocybin studies coming out of Johns Hopkins. Up until that point I really had very little knowledge of psychedelics, personal or literary or otherwise.

To this day I remain a psychedelic virgin quite proudly, and I spent the past 12 years, ever since that moment in 2007, researching what Houston Smith, perhaps one of the most influential religious historians of the 20th century, would call the best kept secret in history. And when Houston says something like that, it grabs the attention of a young undergrad a bit to your south in Providence, Rhode Island, who was digging into Latin and Greek and wondering what the heck this was all about. Like, what is this all about? Where does Western civilization come from? What was the real religion of the ancient Greeks? And what, if any, was the relationship between those ancient Greeks and the real religion of the earliest Christians, who might call the paleo-Christians.

And the one thing that unites both of those worlds in this research called the pagan continuity hypothesis, the one thing we can bet on is the sacred language of Greek. And I just happened to fall into that at the age of 14 thanks to the Jesuits, and just never left it behind. And so for me, this was a hunt through the catacombs and archives and libraries, doing my sweet-talking, and trying to figure out what was behind some of those locked doors. And this is what I present to the world.

CHARLES STANG: Wonderful. Thank you for that. Well, let's get into it then. So I want to propose that we stage this play in two acts. First act is your evidence for psychedelics among the so-called pagan religions in the ancient Mediterranean and Near East. And the second act, the same, but for what you call paleo-Christianity, the evidence for your suspicion that the Eucharist was originally a psychedelic sacrament.

So let's start, then, the first act. And let's start with our earliest evidence from the Stone Age and the Bronze Age. So throughout the book, you make the point that ancient beer and wine are not like our beer and wine. That they were what you call extreme beverages. They were mixed or fortified. But with what were they mixed, and to what effect? And what does this earliest history tell us about the earliest evidence for an ancient psychedelic religion?

BRIAN MURARESKU: Great question. So I went fully down the rabbit hole. And at some point in my narrative, I do include mention of Gobekli Tepe, for example, which is essentially twice the age of Stonehenge. It pushes back the archaeology on some of this material a full 12,000 years. So Gobekli Tepe, for those who don't know, is this site in southern Turkey on the border with Syria. It's this 22-acre site of free-standing limestone, some rising 20 feet in the air, some weighing 50 tons.

And the big question is, what is this thing doing there in the middle of nowhere? It was a pilgrimage site. No one lived there. And this is at a time when we're still hunting and gathering. So we not only didn't have the engineering know-how-- we used to think-- we didn't have even settled life to construct something like this. And nor did we think that a sanctuary would be one of the first things that we construct. I mean, something of symbolic significance, something monumental.

Klaus Schmidt, who was with the German Archaeological Institute, called this a sanctuary and called these T-shaped pillars representations of gods. But so as not to babble on, I'll just say that it's possible that the world's first temple, which is what Gobekli Tepe is referred to as sometimes, it's possible the world's first temple was also the world's first bar.

So back in 2012, archaeologists and chemists were scraping some of these giant limestone troughs, and out pops calcium oxalate, which is one of these biomarkers for the fermentation of brewing. Now, it's just an early indication and there's more testing to be done. I understand more papers are about to be published on this. But the point being, the religion of brewing seems to pop up at the very beginning of civilization itself, or the very beginning of monumental engineering at this world's first sanctuary.

And so that opened a question for me. If beer was there that long ago, what kind of beer was it? What was being thrown into it? Even a little bit before Gobekli Tepe, there was another site unearthed relatively recently in Israel, at the Rakefet cave. 13,000 years old. And there you also found mortars that were tested and also tested positive for evidence of brewing. And inside that beer was all kinds of vegetable matter, like wheat, oats, and sedge and lily and flax and various legumes. So even from the very beginning, it wasn't just barley and water. It was it was barley, water, and something else. And the big question for me was what was that something else?

And when I started to get closer into the historical period-- this is all prehistory. So frankly, what happens during the Neolithic, we don't know, at least from a scientific vantage. And I started reading the studies from Pat McGovern at the University of Pennsylvania. And he was actually going out and testing some of these ancient chalices. And he found some beer and wine-- that was a bit surprising.

In fact, he found beer, wine, and mead all mixed together in a couple of different places. One, on mainland Greece from the Mycenaean period, 16th century BC, and the other about 800 years later in modern day Turkey, another ritual potion that seemed to have suggested some kind of concoction of beer, wine, and mead that was used to usher the king into the afterlife.

So the closer we get to the modern period, we're starting to find beer, wine mixed with interesting things. McGovern also finds wine from Egypt, for example, in 3150 BC, wine that is mixed with a number of interesting ingredients. And I'll just list them out quickly. Like savory, wormwood, blue tansy, balm, senna, coriander, germander, mint, sage, and thyme. So the basic point being, as far as we can tell, beer and wine are routinely mixed with things that we don't do today. And so the big hunt for me was trying to find some of those psychedelic bits. And that's what I get into in detail in the book.

CHARLES STANG: OK. Now let's move into the Greek mystery. So we move now into ancient history, but solidly into the historical record, however uneven that historical record is. And I want to ask you about specifically the Eleusinian mysteries, centered around the goddesses Demeter and Persephone. These mysteries had at their center a sacrament called kykeon, which offered a vision of the mysteries of life and death.

Now, the great scholar of Greek religion, Walter Burkert, you quote him as musing, once-- and I'm going to quote him-- he says, "it may rather be asked, even without the prospect of a certain answer, whether the basis of the mysteries, they were prehistoric drug rituals, some festival imp of immortality which, through the expansion of consciousness, seemed to guarantee some psychedelic beyond." So that's from Burkert, a very sober scholar and the dean of all scholarship on Greek religion.

Now, Carl Ruck from Boston University, much closer to home, however, took that invitation and tried to pursue this hypothesis. He dared to ask this very question before the hypothesis that this Eleusinian sacrament was indeed a psychedelic, and am I right that it was Ruck's hypothesis that set you down this path all those many years ago at Brown? Maybe I have that wrong. But in any case, Ruck had his career, well, savaged, in some sense, by the reaction to his daring to take this hypothesis seriously, this question seriously.

So what have you learned about the Eleusinian mysteries in particular since Ruck took this up, and what has convinced you that Ruck's hypothesis holds water?

BRIAN MURARESKU: Great question. I mean, so Walter Burkert was part of the reason that kept me going on. You mentioned there were lots of dead ends, and there certainly were. And there were gaps as well. And there were moments when the sunlight would just break through. And the quote you just read from Burkert, it's published by Harvard University Press in 1985 as Greek Religion.

And for some reason, I mean, I'd read that two or three times as an undergrad and just glossed over that line. But I realized that in 1977, when he wrote that in German, this was the height of scholarship, at least going out on a limb to speculate about the prospect of psychedelics at the very heart of the Greek mysteries, which I refer to as something like the real religion of the ancient Greeks, by the way, in speaking about the Eleusinian mysteries. I know that that's a loaded phrase. I'm happy to argue about that.

But it survives. Amongst all the mystery religions, Eleusis survives. From about 1500 BC to the fourth century AD, it calls to the best and brightest of not just Athens but also Rome. So Plato, Pindar, Sophocles, all the way into Cicero, Marcus Aurelius, it's an important thing. And even Burkert, I think, calls it the most famous of the mystery rituals. So whatever was happening there was important.

And all we know-- I mean, we can't decipher sequence by sequence what was happening. But we do know that the initiates made this pilgrimage from Athens to Eleusis, drunk the potion, the kykeon, had this very visionary event-- they all talk about seeing something-- and after which they become immortal. They are guaranteed an afterlife. And so the big question is what was happening there?

I mean, if Burkert was happy to speculate about psychedelics, I'm not sure why Ruck got the reception that he did in 1978 with their book The Road to Eleusis. He co-writes that with Gordon Wasson and Albert Hofmann, who famously-- there it is, the three authors. And Hofmann famously discovers-- or synthesizes LSD from ergot in 1938. And it was their claim that when the hymn to Demeter, one of these ancient records that records, in some form, the proto-recipe for this kykeon potion, which I call like a primitive beer, in the hymn to Demeter, they talk about ingredients like barley, water, and mint.

And according to Wasson, Hofmann, and Ruck, that barley was really a code word. What the Greeks were actually saying there is that it was barley infected with ergot, which is this natural fungus that infects cereal crops. Which, if you think about it, is a very elegant idea. Because ergot is just very common. Where you find the grain, you may have found ergot.

Including, all the way back to Gobekli Tepe, which is why I mentioned that when we first started chatting. Because even though it's a very long time ago, Gobekli Tepe, interestingly, has some things in common with Eleusis, like the worship of the grain, the possibility of brewing, the notion of a pilgrimage, and interaction with the dead. So there's lots of interesting details here that filter through.

The long and short of it is, in 1978 there was no hard scientific data to prove this one way or the other. So I spent 12 years looking for that data, eventually found it, of all places, in Catalonia in Spain in this 635-page monograph that was published in 2002 and for one reason or another-- probably because it was written in Catalan-- was not widely reported to the academic community and went largely ignored. So I got a copy of it from the Library of Congress, started reading through, and there, in fact, I was reading about this incredible discovery from the '90s. I mean, about 25 years ago, actually.

They found a tiny chalice this big, dated to the second century BC. It tested positive for the microscopic remains of beer and also ergot, exactly the hypothesis that had been put forward in 1978 by the disgraced professor across town from you, Carl Ruck, who's now 85 years old, by the way. So in my mind, it was the first real hard scientific data to support this hypothesis, which, as you alluded to at the beginning, only raises more questions.

What, if any, was the relationship between this Greek sanctuary-- a very Greek sanctuary, by the way-- in Catalonia, to the mysteries of Eleusis? Was there any similarity from that potion to what was drunk at Eleusis? Did the potion at Eleusis change from generation to generation? I mean, lots of great questions worthy of further investigation. But I think there's a decent scientific foothold to begin that work.

CHARLES STANG: So it may be worth mentioning, for those who are attending who haven't read the book, that you asked, who I can't remember her name, the woman who is in charge of the Eleusis site, whether some of the ritual vessels could be tested, only to discover-- tested for the remains of whatever they held, only to learn that those vessels had been cleaned and that no more vessels were going to be unearthed.

So you were unable to test the vessels on site in Eleusis, which is what led you to, if I have this argument right, to Greek colonies around the Mediterranean. That's how we get to Catalonia. But maybe you could just say something about this community in Catalonia. What is its connection to Eleusis? What does ergotized beer in Catalonia have anything to do with the Greek mysteries at Eleusis?

BRIAN MURARESKU: That's a good question. So I really follow the scholarship of Enriqueta Pons, who is the archaeologist on site there, at this Greek sanctuary that we're talking about in Catalonia, Mas Castellar des Pontos. And you're right. I mean, I wish it were easier. I did go straight to [INAUDIBLE] Papangelli in Eleusis, and I went to the museum. And we had a great chat, a very spirited chat about the mysteries and the psychedelic hypothesis. And I asked her openly if we could test some of the many, many containers that they have, some on display, and many more in repository there. And her answer was that they'd all been cleaned or treated for conservation purposes. And besides that, young Brian, let's keep the mysteries mysteries. Although she's open to testing, there was nothing there.

So when you take a step back, as you well know, there was a Hellenic presence all over the ancient Mediterranean. And to be quite honest, I'd never studied the ancient Greeks in Spain. I'm not sure many have. But it was just a process of putting these pieces together that I eventually found this data from the site Mas Castellar des Pontos in Spain.

And what it has to do with Eleusis or the Greek presence in general, I mean, again, just to say it briefly, is that this was a farmhouse of sorts that was inland, this sanctuary site. But it was not far from a well-known colony in [INAUDIBLE] that was founded by Phocians. These were Greek-- I've seen them referred to as Greek Vikings by Peter Kingsley, Vikings who came from Ionia. So the Eastern Aegean.

And they found this site, along with others around the Mediterranean. And then at some point they go inland. And what we find at this farmhouse is a sanctuary that Enriqueta Pons herself, the archaeologist who's been on site since 1990, she calls it some kind of sanctuary dedicated to the goddesses of the mysteries. And you find terracotta heads that could or could not be representative of Demeter and Persephone, the two goddesses to whom the mysteries of Eleusis were dedicated.

She found the remains of dog sacrifice, which is super interesting. Dogs, indicative of the Greek goddess Hecate, who, amongst other things was known as the [GREEK], the dog eater. So to find dog sacrifice inside this Greek sanctuary alludes to this proto-witch, Hecate, the mother of Circe, who is mentioned in the same hymn to Demeter from the 8th, 7th century BC, as kind of the third of the goddesses to whom these mysteries were dedicated.

You also find a Greek hearth inside this sanctuary. You see an altar of Pentelic marble that could only have come from the Mount Pentelicus quarry in mainland Greece. I mean, so it was Greek. Lots of Greek artifacts, lots of Greek signifiers. There's no mistake in her mind that it was Greek.

I think the only big question is what the exact relationship was from a place like that over to Eleusis. And her best guess is that it was like this open access sanctuary. For those who didn't have the time or the money or the temerity to travel all the way to Eleusis from Spain, here's your off-site campus, right? Here's your Western Eleusis. And there were probably other Eleusises like that to the east. In fact, something I'm following up on now is the prospect of similar sites in the Crimea around the Black Sea, because there was also a Greek presence there.

And I think sites like this have tended to be neglected in scholarship, or published in languages like Catalan, maybe Ukrainian, where it just doesn't filter through the academic community. So I think it's really interesting details here worth following up on.

CHARLES STANG: I have one more question about the pre-Christian story, and that has to do with that the other mystery religion you give such attention to. And that's the mysteries of Dionysus. So the Greek god of wine, intoxication. So how does Dionysian revelries get into this picture? What's different about the Dionysian mysteries, and what evidence, direct or indirect, do we have about the wine of Dionysus being psychedelic?

And what about the alleged democratization with which you credit the mysteries of Dionysus, or the role of women in that movement? What's significant about these features for our piecing together the ancient religion with no name?

BRIAN MURARESKU: Right. So the mysteries of Dionysus are a bit more of a free-for-all than the mysteries of Eleusis. So if Eleusis is the Fight Club of the ancient world, right, the first rule is you don't talk about it. This is all secret. Then I see the mysteries of Dionysus as kind of the Burning Man or the Woodstock of the ancient world. It was-- Eleusis was state-administered, a somewhat formal affair. And again, it survives, I think, because of that state support for the better part of 2,000 years.

The mysteries of Dionysus, a bit weirder, a bit more off the grid. So in the mountains and forests from Greece to Rome, including the Holy Land and Galilee. There's evidence of the mysteries of Dionysus before, during, and after the life of Jesus, it's worth pointing out. So what do we know about those rituals? Not much. I mean, the honest answer is not much. As much as we know about the mysteries of Eleusis.

We have plays like the Bacchi from Euripides, where we can piece together some of this. We have some inscriptions. We have other textual evidence. But by and large, no, we don't really know. But what we do know is that their sacrament was wine and we know a bit more about the wine of antiquity, ancient Greek wine, than we can piece together from these nocturnal celebrations. And what we know about the wine of the time is that it was prized amongst other things not for its alcoholic content, but for its ability to induce madness.

So Dionysus is not the god of alcohol. He's the god of wine. And in the ancient world, wine was routinely referred to as a [SPEAKING GREEK], which is the Greek word for drug. It's something that goes from Homer all the way until the fall of the Roman Empire, over the course of well more than 1,000 years. So the big question is, what kind of drug was this, if it was a drug? And then that's the word that Euripides uses, by the way. He calls it a drug against grief in Greek, [SPEAKING GREEK].

It's interesting that Saint Ignatius of Antioch, in the beginning of the second century AD, refers to the wine of the Eucharist as the [SPEAKING GREEK], the drug of immortality. Now, I don't put too much weight into that. That's all just fancy wordplay. But what we do know about the wine of the time is that it was routinely mixed with plants and herbs and potentially fungi. We don't have to look very hard to find that.

If you look at Dioscorides, for example, his Materia Medica, that's written in the first century AD around the same time that the Gospels themselves are being written. Throughout his five books he talks about wine being mixed with all kinds of stuff, like frankincense and myrrh, relatively innocuous stuff, but also less innocuous things like henbane and mandrake, these solanaceous plants which he specifically says is fatal. And in his book [? 474, ?] he goes out on a limb and says that black nightshade actually causes [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH], which is not unpleasant visions, i.e. He's talking about kind of psychedelic wine. So

We know that at the time of Jesus, before, during, and after, there were recipes floating around. There were formula. The big question is, did any of these recipes, did any of this wine spiking actually make its way into some paleo-Christian ceremony. That's the big question.

CHARLES STANG: OK, that is the big question.

[LAUGHTER]

We're going to get there very soon. All right, so now, let's follow up with Dionysus, but let's see here. Let's move to early Christian. let's take up your invitation and move from Dionysus to early Christianity.

So you lean on the good work of Harvard's own Arthur Darby Nock, and more recently, the work of Dennis McDonald at Claremont School of Theology, to suggest that the author of the Gospel of John deliberately paints Jesus and his Eucharist in the colors of Dionysus. By which I mean that the Gospel of John suggests that at the very least, the evangelist hoped to market Christianity to a pagan audience by suggesting that Jesus was somehow equivalent to Dionysus, and that the Eucharist, his sacrament of wine, was equivalent to Dionysus's wine.

But you go further still, suggesting that Jesus himself at the Last Supper might have administered psychedelic sacrament, that the original Eucharist was psychedelic. So what evidence can you provide for that claim?

BRIAN MURARESKU: I don't-- I don't claim too heavily. I opened the speculation, Dr. Stang, that the Holy Grail itself could have been some kind of spiked concoction. But I don't hold-- I don't hang my hat on that claim. As a matter of fact, I think it's much more promising and much more fertile for scholarship to suggest that some of the earliest Christians may have availed themselves of a psychedelic sacrament and may have interpreted the Last Supper as some kind of invitation to open psychedelia, that mystical supper as the orthodox call it, [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH].

And the reason I find that a worthy avenue of pursuit is because when you take a step back and look at the Greek of the Gospels, especially the Greek of John, which is super weird, what I see based on Dennis MacDonald's scholarship that you mentioned-- and others-- when you do the exegesis of John's gospel, there's just lots of vocabulary and lots of imagery that doesn't appear elsewhere. And very famous passages, by the way, that should be familiar to most New Testament readers.

Like the wedding at Cana, which my synopsis of that event is a drunkard getting a bunch of drunk people even more drunk. So the event happens, when all the wines run out, here comes Jesus, who's referred to in the Gospels as an [SPEAKING GREEK] in Greek, a drunkard. He decides to get people even more drunk. And Dennis, amongst others, calls that a signature Dionysian miracle. We know from the literature hundreds of years beforehand that in Elis, for example, in the Western Peloponnese, on the same Epiphany-type timeline, January 5, January 6, the priests would walk into the temple of Dionysus, leave three basins of water, the next morning they're miraculously transformed into wine. So this whole water to wine thing was out there.

And if it only occurs in John, the big question is why. And there are legitimate scholars out there who say, because John wanted to paint Jesus in the light of Dionysus, present him as the second coming of this pagan God. It's not just Cana. This notion in John 15:1, the notion of the true vine, for example, only occurs in John. The idea of the truth shall set you free, right, [SPEAKING GREEK], in 8:32. That also only occurs in John, another epithet of Dionysus. It's only in John that Jesus is described as being born in the lap of the Father, the [SPEAKING GREEK] in 1:18, very similar to the way that Dionysus sprung miraculously from the thigh of Zeus, and on and on and on-- which I'm not going to bore you and the audience.

But the point being, if the Dionysian wine was psychedelic-- which I know is a big if-- I think the more important thing to show here in this pagan continuity hypothesis is that it's at least plausible that the earliest Christians would have at the very least read the Gospel of John and interpreted that paleo-Christian Eucharistic wine, in some communities, as a kind of Dionysian wine. And I think there are lots of reasons to believe that.

It still leaves an even bigger if, Dr. Stang, is which one is psychedelic? If the Dionysian one is psychedelic, does it really make its way into some kind of psychedelic Christianity? I think the wine certainly does. Do the drugs, Dr. Stang? Where are the drugs?

CHARLES STANG: Well, Mr, Muraresku, you are hedging your bets here in a way that you do not necessarily hedge your bets in the book. So this is interesting. I think it's important you have made a distinction between what was Jesus doing at the Last Supper, as if we could ever find out. Then there's what were the earliest Christians doing with the Eucharist. Then what was the Gospel of John, how did it interpret the Eucharist and market it, and so on. So those are all possibly different questions to ask and answer.

There's a moment in the book where you are excited about some hard evidence. And I want to-- just like you have this hard evidence from Catalonia, then the question is how to interpret it. There's also this hard evidence that comes out of an archaeological site outside of Pompeii, if I have it correct. Let me just pull up my notes here.

So there's a house preserved outside of Pompeii, preserved, like so much else, under the ash of Mount Vesuvius's eruption in the year 79 of the Common Era. Now, that date is obviously very suggestive because that's precisely the time the Christians were establishing a beachhead in Rome. What was discovered, as far as I can tell, from your treatment of it, is essentially an ancient pharmacy in this house. Material evidence of a very strange potion, a drug, or a [SPEAKING GREEK]. A combination of psychoactive plants, including opium, cannabis, and nightshade, along with the remains of reptiles and amphibians all steeped in wine, like a real witch's brew, uncovered in this house outside of Pompeii.

Now the archaeologist of that site says-- I'm quoting from your book-- "For me, the Villa Vesuvio was a small farm that was specifically designed for the production of drugs." That seems very believable, but there's nothing to suggest that the pharmacy or drug farm was serving Christians, or even that the potions produced were for ritual use. So how exactly is this evidence of something relevant to Christianity in Rome or southern Italy more widely?

It seems entirely believable to me that we have a potion maker active near Pompeii. I imagine there are many more potion makers around than we typically recognize. But I don't understand how that provides any significant link to paleo-Christian practice.

BRIAN MURARESKU: Now we're cooking with grease, Dr. Stang. Now we're getting somewhere. So I point to that evidence as illustrative of the possibility that the Christians could, in fact, have gotten their hands on an actual wine. That was the question for me. An actual spiked wine. Because for many, many years, you know, Ruck's career takes a bit of a nosedive. There's John Marco Allegro claiming that there was no Jesus, and this was just one big amanita muscaria cult. There are others claiming that there's drugs everywhere.

Frankly, if you ask the world's leading archaeobotanists and archaeochemists, where's the spiked beer and where's the spiked wine, which I've been doing since about 2007, 2008, the resounding answer you'll get back from everybody is a resounding no. That there is no hard archaeobotanical, archaeochemical data for spiked beer, spiked wine. So what I think we have here in this ergtotized beer drink from Catalonia, Spain, and in this weird witch's brew from 79 AD in Pompeii, I describe it, until I see evidence otherwise, as some of the very first heart scientific data for the actual existence of actual spiked wine in classical antiquity, which I think is a really big point.

Now-- and I think that we can probably concede that. What does that have to do with Christianity? The fact that the Vatican sits in Rome today is not an accident, I think, is the shortest way to answer that. So Pompeii and its environs at the time were called [SPEAKING GREEK], which means great Greece. So if you were a mystic and you were into Demeter and Persephone and Dionysus and you were into these strange Greek mystery cults, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better place to spend your time than [SPEAKING GREEK], southern Italy, which in some cases was more Greek than Greek. I know that's another loaded phrase.

But in Pompeii, for example, there's the villa of the mysteries, one of these really breathtaking finds that also survived the ravage of Mount Vesuvius. And we know the mysteries were there. And we know from the record that [SPEAKING GREEK] is described as being so crowded with gods that they were easier to find than men.

In the same place in and around Pompeii, this is where Christianity is really finding its roots. Not just in Italy, but as kind of the headquarters for the Mediterranean. There aren't any churches or basilicas, right, in the first three centuries, in this era we're calling paleo-Christianity. That's only after Constantine. It's funny to see that some of the first basilicas outside Rome are popping up here, and in and around Pompeii.

So it wasn't just a random place to find one of these spiked wines. I would have been happy to find a spiked wine anywhere.

CHARLES STANG: Sure.

BRIAN MURARESKU: It just happens to show up. And I-- in my profession, we call this circumstantial, and I get it. But it just happens to show up at the right place at the right time, when the earliest Christians could have availed themselves of this kind of sacrament. And so in my afterword, I present this as a blip on the archaeochemical radar. And I think it's proof of concept-- just proof of concept-- for investing serious funding, and attention into the actual search for these kinds of potions. And that's all I present it as, is wonderfully attractive and maybe even sexy circumstantial evidence for the potential use of a psychedelic sacrament amongst the earliest Christians.

CHARLES STANG: All right. I'm going to come back to that idea of proof of concept. But I do want to push back a little bit on the elevation of this particular real estate in southern Italy. To some degree, I think you're looking back to southern Italy from the perspective of the supremacy of Rome, which is not the case in the first century. It's not the case in the second century. It's arguably not the case in the third century. And nor do I think that you can characterize southern Italy as ground zero for the spirit of Greek mysticism, or however you put it.

These-- that-- Christians are spread out throughout the eastern Mediterranean, and there are many, many pockets of people practicing what we might call, let's just call it Christian mysticism of some kind. So I'm not convinced that-- I think you're absolutely right that what this establishes is that Christians in southern Italy could have-- could have had access to the kinds of things that have been recovered from that drug farm, let's call it. But unfortunately, it doesn't connect it to Christianity.

And by the way, I'm not here trying to protect Christianity from the evidence of psychedelic use. I expect we will find it. I fully expect we will find it.

[LAUGHS]

I don't think we have found it. And I think that's an important distinction to make.

Now, here's-- let's tack away from hard, scientific, archaeobotanical evidence for a moment. I understand the appeal of that. But if the original Eucharist were psychedelic, or even if there were significant numbers of early Christians using psychedelics like sacrament, I would expect the representatives of orthodox, institutional Christianity to rail against it. I would expect we'd have ample evidence.

Certainly these early churchmen used whatever they could against the forms of Christian practice they disapproved of, especially those they categorized as Gnostic. You mentioned, too, early churchmen, experts in heresies by the name of Irenaeus of Lyons and Hippolytus of Rome. These are famous figures to those of us who study early Christianity.

These two accuse one Gnostic teacher named Marcus-- who is himself a student of the famous theologian Valentinus-- they accuse him of dabbling in pharmacological devilry. And Ruck, and you following Ruck, make much of this, suggesting maybe the Gnostics are pharmacologists of some kind. They're mixing potions. Which turns out, it may be they were.

But they charge Marcus specifically, not with a psychedelic Eucharist, but the use of a love potion. So now it's true that these heresy hunters show an interest in this love potion. But even if they're telling the truth about this, even if it is accurate about Marcus that he used a love potion, a love potion isn't a Eucharist. Love potions, love charms, they're very common in the ancient

So again, if there were an early psychedelic sacrament that was being suppressed, I'd expect that the suppressors would talk about it. Because they talk about everything else that they take issue with. So why the silence from the heresiologists on a psychedelic sacrament?

BRIAN MURARESKU: I wish I could answer that question. I might forward the proposition that I don't think the early church fathers were the best botanists. So when Hippolytus is calling out the Marcosians, and specifically women, consecrating this alternative Eucharist in their alternative proto-mass, he uses the Greek word-- and we've talked about this before-- but he uses the Greek word [SPEAKING GREEK] seven times in a row, by the way, without specifying which drugs he's referring to. All he says is that these women and Marcus are adding drugs seven times in a row into whatever potion this is they're mixing up.

Now, you could draw the obvious conclusion. Is this only Marcus? Well, the reason I mention Hippolytus and Marcus and focus on that in my evidence is because there's evidence of the Valentinians, who influenced Marcus, in and around Rome. The same Rome that circumstantially shows up, and south of Rome, where Constantine would build his basilicas in Naples and Capua later on.

So I'm trying to build the case-- and for some reason in my research, it kept coming back to Italy and Rome, which is why I focus on Hippolytus. When Irenaeus is talking about [SPEAKING GREEK], love potions, again, we have no idea what the hell he's talking about. It's some kind of wine-based concoction, some kind of something that is throwing these people into ecstasy.

Eusebius, third into the fourth century, is also talking about them-- it's a great Greek word, [SPEAKING GREEK]. So, like, they're wonderstruck, or awestruck by their libations and their incense. So whatever these [SPEAKING GREEK] libations incense were, the church fathers don't get into great detail about what may have been spiking them. But we at least have, again, the indicia of evidence that something was happening there.

I wish the church fathers were better botanists and would rail against the specific pharmacopeia. They did not. But we do know that something was happening.

CHARLES STANG: You know, Valentinus was almost elected bishop of Rome. If your history is even remotely correct, that would have ushered in a very different church, if Valentinus's own student Marcus and the Marcosians were involved in psychedelic rituals, then that was an early road not taken, let's say.

OK. Now let's pan back because, we have-- I want to wrap up my interrogation of you, which I've been pressing you, but I feel as if perhaps people joining me think I'm hostile to this hypothesis. I'm not. But I'm pressing you because that's my job. But I want to ask you to reflect on the broader narrative that you're painting, because I've heard you speak in two ways about the significance of this work.

Let me start with the view-- the version of it that I think is less persuasive. And that is that there was a pervasive religion, ancient religion, that involved psychedelic sacraments, and that that pervasive religious culture filtered into the Greek mysteries and eventually into early Christianity. And then was, in some sense, the norm, the original Eucharist, and that it was then suppressed by orthodox, institutional Christianity, who persecuted, especially the women who were the caretakers of this tradition. And that kind of invisible religion with no name, although brutally suppressed, managed to survive in Europe for many centuries and could potentially be revived today.

That's one narrative that I feel is a little sensational. It draws attention to this material. And I hear-- I sense that narrative in your book. I also sense another narrative in your book, and one you've flagged for us, maybe about 10 minutes ago, when you said that the book is a proof of concept.

And when you speak in that way, what I hear you saying is there is something going on. There is evidence that has been either overlooked or perhaps intentionally suppressed. Oh, I hope I haven't offended you, Brian.

BRIAN MURARESKU: I'm bringing more illumination.

CHARLES STANG: OK, great. And that the proof of concept idea is that we need to-- we, meaning historians of the ancient world, need to bring all the kinds of resources to bear on this to get better evidence and an interpretive frame for making sense of it. So I see-- you're moving back and forth between these two.

And I wonder whether the former narrative serves the interests of the latter. That is, by giving, by even floating the possibility of this kind of-- at times, what seems like a Dan Brown sort of story, like, oh my god, there's a whole history of Christianity that's been suppressed-- draws attention, but the real point is actually that you're not really certain about the story, but you're certain is that we need to be more attentive to this evidence and to assess it soberly. So can you reflect for us where you really are and how you chose to write this book?

BRIAN MURARESKU: Good one. I mean, I think the book makes it clear. I really tried. So I'll speak in language that you and our good colleague Greg [? Nage ?] would certainly appreciate. I was not going to put a book out there that was sensationalist. So after the whole first half of the book-- well, wait a minute, Dr. Stang. I go out of my way, in both parts of the book, which, it's divided into the history of beer and the history of wine, essentially. So at the very-- after the first half of the book is over, there's an epilogue, and I say, OK, here's the evidence. Here's the big question. I took this to Greg [? Nage ?] and he said, Brian, don't you dare. And I did not dare.

And so in the epilogue, I say we simply do not know the relationship between this site in Spain and Eleusis, nor do we know what was happening at-- it doesn't automatically mean that Eleusis was a psychedelic rite. Again, it's proof of concept for going back to Eleusis and going back to other sites around the Mediterranean and continuing to test, whether for ergotized beer or other things.

I do the same thing in the afterword at the very end of the book, where it's lots of, here's what we know. Here's what we don't. Here's the proof of concept. Is there a smoking gun? And my favorite line of the book is, "The lawyer in me won't sleep until that one chalice, that one container, that one vessel comes to light in an unquestionable Christian context."

I include that line for a reason. I'm skeptical, Dr. Stang. And as a lawyer, I know what is probative and what's circumstantial evidence, and I just-- I don't see it there. What I see is data that's been largely neglected, and I think what serves this as a discipline is just that. Is taking all these disciplines, whether it's your discipline or archaeochemistry or hard core botany, biology, even psychopharmacology, putting it all together and taking a look at this mystery, this puzzle, using the lens of psychedelics as a lens, really, to investigate not just the past but the future and the mystery of human consciousness.

And I think that that's the real question here. Psychedelics are a lens to investigate this stuff. And I think it's very important to be very honest with the reader and the audience about what we know and what we don't. And I feel like I accomplished that in the afterword to my book.

CHARLES STANG: All right. Now you're a good sport, Brian. I appreciate this. Now I want to get to the questions, but one last question before we move to the discussion portion. That is about the future rather than the ancient history. So how to put this? So let's talk about the future of religion, and specifically the future of Roman Catholicism.

So why do you think psychedelics are so significant that they might usher in a new Reformation? And why, if you're right that the church has succeeded in suppressing a psychedelic sacrament and has been peddling instead, what you call a placebo, and that it has exercised a monstrous campaign of persecution against plant medicine and the women who have kept its knowledge alive, why are you still attached to this tradition?

And how can you reasonably expect the church to recognize a psychedelic Eucharist? Do you think that by calling the Eucharist a placebo that you're likely to persuade them?

[LAUGHS]

If they've been doing this, as you suggest, for 2,000 years, nearly, what makes you think that a few ancient historians are going to turn that aircraft carrier around?

BRIAN MURARESKU: Right. So this is the tradition, I can say with a straight face, that saved my life. It was the Jesuits who taught me Latin and Greek. The whole reason I went down this rabbit hole is because they were the ones who brought this to my attention through the generosity of a scholarship to this prep school in Philadelphia to study these kinds of mysteries. And it was the Jesuits who encouraged me to always, always ask questions and never take anything at face value.

And I write, at the very end of the book, I hope that they'd be proud of this investigation. Because at my heart, I still consider myself a good Catholic boy. The only reason I went to college was to study classics. So it's hard for me to write this and talk about this without acknowledging the Jesuits who put me here. So I don't write this to antagonize them or the church, the people who, again, ushered me into this discipline and into these questions. I write it cognizant of the fact that the Eucharist doesn't work for many, many people.

And so I cite a Pew poll, for example, that says something like 69% of American Catholics do not believe in transubstantiation, which is the defining dogma of the church, the idea that the bread and wine literally becomes the flesh and blood. Many people see that as symbolic or allegorical or just a nice thing, which is not the case. To be a Catholic is to believe that you are literally consuming the blood of Christ to become Christ. That's the promise in John's gospel, in John 6:54-55, that I quote in the book.

So if you don't think that you are literally consuming divine blood, what is the point of religion? Now, I've never done them myself, but I have talked to many, many people who've had experience with psychedelics. And I've listened to the volunteers who've gone through these experiences. And I don't know if it's a genuine mystical experience or mystical mimetic or some kind of psychological breakthrough. And I think we get hung up on the jargon.

But what I hear from people, including atheists, like Dina Bazer, who participated in these Hopkins NYU trials is that she felt like on her one and only dose of psilocybin that she was bathed in God's love. You know, it's an atheist using theological language to describe what happened to her. And she talks about kind of being born again, another promise from John's gospel. And she talks about the visions that transformed the way she thinks about herself.

And so in some of these psychedelic trials, under the right conditions, I do see genuine religious experiences. I see something that's happening to people. And at the same time, when I see a thirst, especially in young people, for real experience, and I see so many Catholics who do not believe in transubstantiation, obviously, what comes to my mind is how, if at all, can psychedelics enhance faith or reinvent Christianity. And so I don't think that psychedelics are coming to replace the Sunday Eucharist. That's, just absurd.

If you are drawn to psychedelics, in my mind, it means you're probably drawn to contemplative mysticism. And if it's one thing Catholicism does very, very well, it's contemplative mysticism. The kind of mysticism I've always been attracted to, like the rule of Saint Benedict and the Trappist monks and the Cistercian monks. And so if there is a place for psychedelics, I would think it would be in one of those sacred containers within monastic life, or pilgrims who visit one of these monastic centers, for example.

Or maybe in palliative care. Maybe for those facing the end of life. There have been really dramatic studies from Hopkins and NYU about the ability of psilocybin at the end of life to curb things like depression, anxiety, and end of life distress. And so part of what it means to be a priest or a minister or a rabbi is to sit with the dying and the dead. And so I can see psychedelics being some kind of extra sacramental ministry that potentially could ease people at the end of life.

Now, I have no idea where it goes from here, or if I'll take it myself. But what I see are potential and possibilities and things worthy of discussions like this.

CHARLES STANG: Yeah. Wonderful, well, thank you. I'm going to stop asking my questions, although I have a million more, as you well know, and instead try to ventriloquist the questions that are coming through at quite a clip through the Q&A. And Brian, it would be helpful for me to know whether you are more interested in questions that take up the ancient world or more that deal with this last issue, the sort of contemporary and the future. You want to field questions in both those categories?

BRIAN MURARESKU: We can dip from both pies, Dr. Stang. Yeah.

CHARLES STANG: OK. So let's start with one that is more contemporary. One attendee has asked, "How have religious leaders reacted so far to your book? Are they rolling their eyes, or are you getting sort of secretive knowing nods of agreement? And if the latter, do you think there's a good chance that religions will adopt psychedelics back into their rituals?"

Now, I think you answered that last part. You're not confident that the pope is suddenly going to issue an encyclical. But I think the broader question of what's the reception to this among explicitly religious folk and religious leaders?

BRIAN MURARESKU: Right. So listening right now, there's at least one orthodox priest, there's at least one Catholic priest, an Episcopalian, an Anglican, and several others with whom I've been talking in recent months. And I got to say, there's not a heck of a lot of eye rolling, assuming people read my afterword and try to see how careful I am about delineating what is knowable and what is not and what this means for the future of religion.

Something else I include at the end of my book is that I don't think that whatever this was, this big if about a psychedelic Eucharist, I don't think this was a majority of the paleo-Christians. And that's not how it works today, and I don't think that's how it works in antiquity. Again, if you're attracted to psychedelics, it's kind of an extreme thing, right? I see it as-- well, OK, I'd see it as within a minority. So somewhere between 1% and 49%. I'm not sure where it falls. But this clearly involved some kind of technical know-how and the ability to concoct these things that, in order to keep them safe and efficacious, would not have been very widespread, I don't think. I'm happy to be proven wrong.

So I think this was a minority of early Christians. And that that's how I-- and by not speculating more than we can about the mystical supper, if we follow the hypothesis that this is a big if for some early communities of Greek speakers, this is how I'm finding common ground with priests both Catholic and Orthodox and Protestants.

CHARLES STANG: All right. Here's another one. I'm paraphrasing this one. In the afterword, you champion the fact that we stand on the cusp of a new era of psychedelics precisely because they can be synthesized and administered safely in pill form, back to The Economist article "The God Pill". Now, that is part of your kind of interest in democratizing mysticism, but it also, curiously, cuts out the very people who have been preserving this tradition for centuries, namely, on your own account, this sort of invisible or barely visible lineage of women.

So can you reflect on the-- standing on the threshold of pharmaceutical companies taking control of this, how is that to be commended when the very people who have kept this alive would be pushed to the side in that move?

BRIAN MURARESKU: Right. Interesting. So we're going down parallel paths here, and I feel we're caught between FDA-approved therapeutics and RFRA-protected sacraments, RFRA, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or what becomes of these kinds of substances in any kind of legal format-- which they're not legal at the moment, some would argue. Others would argue that they are perfectly legal sacraments, at least in the Native American church with the use of peyote, or in the UDV or Santo Daime, I mean, ayahuasca does work in some syncretic Christian form, right? These Native American church and the UDV, both some syncretic form of Christianity. So it is already happening.

The question is, what will happen in the future. Now I understand and I appreciate the pharmaceutical industry's ability to distribute this as medicine for those who are looking for alternatives, alternative treatments for depression and anxiety and PTSD and addiction and end of life distress. And I think what the pharmaceutical industry can do is help to distribute this medicine. And what the FDA can do is make sure that they're doing it in a way that it's absolutely safe and efficacious.

So I have my concerns about what's about to happen in Oregon and the regulation of psilocybin for therapeutic purposes. I would love to see these licensed, regulated, retreat centers be done in a way that is medically sound and scientifically rigorous. And that's where oversight comes in handy. And I think oversight also comes in handy within organized religion.

And so I do see an avenue, like I kind of obliquely mentioned, but I do think there's an avenue within organized religion and for people who dedicate their lives as religious professionals to ministry to perhaps take a look at this in places where it might work. Like in a retreat pilgrimage type center, or maybe within palliative care. I see a huge need and a demand for young religious clergy to begin taking a look at this stuff. And if there's historical precedent for it, all the more so.

CHARLES STANG: OK. This is going to be a question that's back to the ancient world. So your presentation of early Christianity inclines heavily toward the Greek world. And much of the evidence that you've collected is kind of the northern half of the Mediterranean world. Some number of people have asked about Egypt. Now, what's curious about this is we usually have-- Egypt plays a rather outsized role in our sense of early Christianity because-- and other adjacent or contemporary religious and philosophical movements, because everything in Egypt is preserved better than anywhere else in the Mediterranean.

BRIAN MURARESKU: That's right.

CHARLES STANG: We're often in this situation where we're trying to extrapolate from evidence from Egypt, to see is Egypt the norm or is it the exception? But Egypt seems to not really be hugely relevant to the research. Now is there any evidence for psychedelic use in ancient Egypt, and if not, do you have any theory as to why that's silent? Perhaps more generally, you could just talk about other traditions around the Mediterranean, North African, or, let's even say Judaism.

BRIAN MURARESKU: Yeah.

CHARLES STANG: We've really read Jesus through the lens of his Greek inheritors. What about Jesus as a Jew? What about all these early Christians themselves as essentially Jews?

BRIAN MURARESKU: I mean, this is--

CHARLES STANG: Or-- sorry.

BRIAN MURARESKU: But you're spot on. I mean, this is what I want to do with some of my remaining days on this planet, is take a look at all these different theories. So I present this as proof of concept, and I heavily rely on the Gospel of John and the data from Italy because that's what was there. It's not to say that there isn't evidence from Alexandria or Antioch. I wish that an ancient pharmacy had been preserved by Mount Vesuvius somewhere near Alexandria or even in upper Egypt or in Antioch or parts of Turkey.

A lot of Christianity, as you rightly point out, I mean, it was an Eastern phenomenon, all over the eastern Mediterranean. And I think there are so many sites and excavations and so many chalices that remain to be tested. And now we have a working hypothesis and some data to suggest where we might be looking.

So, you know, I specifically wanted to avoid heavily relying on the 52 books of the [INAUDIBLE] corpus or heavily relying too much on the Gospel of Mary Magdalene and the evidence that's come from Egypt. But clearly, when you're thinking about ancient Egypt or elsewhere, there's definitely a funerary tradition. Whether there's a psychedelic tradition-- I mean, there are some suggestive paintings. There's some suggestive language in the pyramid texts, in the Book of the Dead and things of this nature.

Hard archaeobotanical, archaeochemical data, I haven't seen it. Not because it's not there, because it hasn't been tested. So there's a whole slew of sites I want to test there. When you start testing, you find things. Like in Israel. In May of last year, researchers published what they believe is the first archaeochemical data for the use of psychoactive drugs in some form of early Judaism.

8th century BC from the Tel Arad shrine. This limestone altar tested positive for cannabis and frankincense that was being burned, they think, in a very ritualistic way. Not because they just found that altar. Not because it was brand new data. The altar had been sitting in a museum in Israel since the 1960s and just hadn't been tested. So imagine how many artifacts are just sitting in museums right now, waiting to be tested. I don't know why it's happening now, but we're finally taking a look.

CHARLES STANG: So that actually helps answer a question that's in the Q&A that was posed to me, which is why did I say I fully expect that we will find evidence for this? Because very briefly, I think Brian and others have made a very strong case that these things-- this was a biotechnology that was available in the ancient world. I can't imagine that there were no Christians that availed themselves of this biotechnology, and I can't imagine-- it's entirely plausible to me that they would mix this biotechnology with the Eucharist.

So if we can test Eucharistic vessels, I wouldn't be surprised at all that we find one. Now that doesn't mean, as Brian was saying, that then suggests that that's the norm Eucharist. That would require an entirely different kind of evidence.

OK, now, Brian, you've probably dealt with questions like this. There's a good number of questions that are very curious why you are insisting on remaining a psychedelic virgin. What's the importance of your abstention from psychedelics, given what is obvious interest. You obviously think these are powerful substances with profound effects that track with reality. So why refrain?

BRIAN MURARESKU: I'm asked this question, I would say, in pretty much every interview I've done since late September. And I answer it differently every single time. This time, tonight I'll say that it's just not my time yet. I have a deep interest in mysticism, and I've had mystical experiences, which I don't think are very relevant. They were relevant to me in going down this rabbit hole. And when I read psychedelic literature or I read the literature on near-death experiences, I see experiences similar to what I experienced as a young boy.

And so that's what motivated my search here. Maybe part of me is skeptical, right? I mean, this really goes to my deep skepticism. Maybe I'm afraid I'll take the psychedelic and I won't have what is reported in the literature from Hopkins and NYU. Maybe there's some residual fear that's been built up in me. There's all kinds of reasons I haven't done it. And not least because if I were to do it, I'd like to do so in a deeply sacred ritual. And I don't know what that looks like.

It would have parts of Greek mysticism in it, the same Greek mysteries I've spent all these years investigating, and it would have some elements of what I see in paleo-Christianity. Which, again, what I see are small groups of people getting together to commune with the dead. Which is a very weird thing today. You might find it in a cemetery in Mexico. You won't find it in many places other than that. And so I don't know what a really authentic, a really historic-looking ritual that is equal parts sacred, but also, again, medically sound, scientifically rigorous, would look like. And part of me really wants to put all these pieces together before I dive in. And I think we're getting there.

CHARLES STANG: OK. I wonder if you're familiar with Wouter Hanegraaff at the University of Amsterdam. Those of you who don't know his name, he's a professor at the University of Amsterdam, an expert in Western esotericism. He has talked about the potential evidence for psychedelics in a Mithras liturgy. I'm trying to get him to speak in the series about that. But curiously, it's evidence for a eye ointment which is supposed to induce visions and was used as part of a liturgy in the cult of Mithras. Now, Mithras is another one of these mystery religions.

And apparently, the book is on order, so I can't speak to this directly, but the ancient Greek text that preserves this liturgy also preserves the formula, the ingredients of the eye ointment. So that's something else to look into. So perhaps there's even more evidence. But it's not an ingested psychedelic. And I don't know if there's other examples of such things.

So Brian, I wonder, maybe we should give the floor to you and ask you to speak about, what are the questions you think both ancient historians such as myself should be asking that we're not, and maybe what are the sorts of questions that people who aren't ancient historians but who are drawn to this evidence, to your narrative, and to the present and the future of religion, what sort of questions should they be asking regarding psychedelics? Why don't we turn the tables and ask you what questions you think need to be posed?

BRIAN MURARESKU: OK. So, I mean, my biggest question behind all of this is, as a good Catholic boy, is the Eucharist. I mean, what-- my big question is, what can we say about the Eucharist-- and maybe it's just my weird lens, but what can we say about it definitively in the absence of the archaeochemstry or the archaeobotany? Now, it doesn't have to be the Holy Grail that was there at the Last Supper, but when you think about the sacrament of wine that is at the center of the world's biggest religion of 2.5 billion people, the thing that Pope Francis says is essential for salvation, I mean, how can we orient our lives around something for which there is little to no physical data? How does, in other words, how does religion sit with science?

And when we know so much about ancient wine and how very different it was from the wine of today, I mean, what can we say about the Eucharist if we're only looking at the texts? And so how far should this investigation go? I mean, shouldn't everybody, shouldn't every Christian be wondering what kind of wine was on that table, or the tables of the earliest Christians?

I mean, in the absence of the actual data, that's my biggest question. Because every time I think about ancient wine, I am now immediately thinking about wine that is spiked. Just from reading Dioscorides and reading all the different texts, the past 12 years have absolutely transformed the way I think about wine. And even in the New Testament, you'll see wine spiked with myrrh, for example, that's served to Jesus at his crucifixion. And so even within the New Testament you see little hints and clues that there was no such thing as only ordinary table wine.

So my biggest question is, what kind of wine was it? And shouldn't we all be asking that question?

CHARLES STANG: OK. And that's a question equally for ancient historians and for contemporary seekers and/or good Catholics. What's the wine? What was the wine in the early Eucharist?

BRIAN MURARESKU: Right. And if you're a good Christian or a good Catholic, and you're consuming that wine on any given Sunday, why are you doing that? And what do you believe happens to you when you do that? And does it line up with the promise from John's gospel that anyone who drinks this becomes instantly immortal? And anyone who drinks this, [SPEAKING GREEK], Jesus says in Greek, you remain in me and I in you. You become one with Christ by drinking that.

If we're being honest with ourselves, when you've drunk-- and I've drunk that wine-- I didn't necessarily feel that I'd become one with Jesus. And yet I talked to an atheist who has one experience with psilocybin and is immediately bathed in God's love. And I'm trying to reconcile that. It's a big question for me.

CHARLES STANG: So in some sense, you're feeling almost envy for the experiences on psychedelics, which is to say you've never experienced the indwelling of Christ or the immediate knowledge of your immortality in the sacrament. And you suspect, therefore, that it might be a placebo, and you want the real thing.

BRIAN MURARESKU: I would say I've definitely experienced the power of the Christ and the Holy Spirit. It seems to me, though, that the intensity and the potency of the psychedelic experience is of an order of magnitude different than what I may have experienced through the Eucharist. Now, I've had experiences outside the Eucharist that resonate with me. But when it comes to that Sunday ritual, it just, whatever is happening today, it seems different from what may have motivated the earliest Christians, which leads me to very big questions.

CHARLES STANG: Right. Now are there any other questions you wish to propose or push or-- I don't know, to push back against any of the criticisms or questions I've leveled?

BRIAN MURARESKU: I think you were great.

[LAUGHS]

No, I think you-- this is why we're friends, Charlie. I mean, I asked lots of big questions in the book, and I fully acknowledge that. I try to be careful to always land on a lawyer's feet and be very honest with you and everybody else about where this goes from here. Because my biggest question is, and the obvious question of the book is, if this was happening in antiquity, what does that mean for today? I mean, that's obviously the big question, and what that means for the future of medicine and religion and society at large.

And I guess my biggest question, not necessarily for you, but the psychedelic community, for what it's worth, or those who are interested in this stuff is how do we make this experience sacred? And how do we-- when the pharmaceutical industry and when these retreat centers begin to open and begin to proliferate, how do we make this sacred?

Because again, when I read the clinical literature, I'm reading things that look like mystical experiences, or that at least at least sound like them. Not in every single case, obviously. But things that sound intensely powerful. And it seems to me that if any of this is right, that whatever was happening in ancient Greece was a transformative experience for which a lot of thought and preparation went into. And I think that we would behoove ourselves to incorporate, resuscitate, maybe, some of those techniques that seem to have been employed by the Greeks at Eleusis or by the Dionysians or some of these earliest Christians.

I just sense a great deal of structure and thoughtfulness going into this experience. And I wonder and I question how we can keep that and retain that for today.

CHARLES STANG: Brian, I wonder if you could end by reflecting on the meaning of dying before you die. What is it about that formula that captures for you the wisdom, the insight that is on offer in this ancient ritual, psychedelic or otherwise? What does it mean to die before dying?

BRIAN MURARESKU: Right. So that, actually, is the key to the immortality key. It is not psychedelics. And I offer psychedelics as one of those archaic techniques of ecstasy that seems to have been relevant and meaningful to our ancestors. Things like fasting and sleep deprivation and tattooing and scarification and, et cetera, et cetera. I think psychedelics are just one piece of the puzzle. And I'm not even sure what that piece looks like or how big it is.

The actual key that I found time and again in looking at this literature and the data is what seems to be happening here is the cultivation of a near-death experience. And what you're referring to is-- and how I begin the book is this beautiful Greek phrase, [SPEAKING GREEK]. If you die before you die, you won't die when you die. You can see that inscribed on a plaque in Saint Paul's monastery at Mount Athos in Greece.

And I think it does hearken back to a genuinely ancient Greek principle, which is that only by fully experiencing some kind of death, a death that feels real, where you, or at least the you you used to identify with, actually slips away, dissolves. We call it ego dissolution, things of that nature. We see lots of descriptions of this in the mystical literature with which you're very familiar.

So psychedelics or not, I think it's the cultivation of that experience, which is the actual key. Because what tends to happen in those experiences is a death and rebirth. A rebirth into what? A rebirth into a new conception of the self, the self's relationship to things that are hard to define, like God. What does God mean? Maybe there's a spark of the divine within. And maybe in these near-death experiences we begin to actually experience that at a visceral level. And maybe therein we do since the intimation of immortality.

Joe Campbell puts it best that what we're after is an experience of being alive. That to live on forever and ever, to live an everlasting life is not immortality. That's just everlasting. That's staying within the field of time. To become truly immortal, Campbell talks about entering into a sense of eternity, which is the infinite present here and now.

Which is really weird, because that's how the same Dina Bazer, the same atheist in the psilocybin trials, described her insight. She had the strange sense that every moment was an eternity of its own. And I describe that as somehow finding that key to immortality. And she happened to find it on psilocybin. Others find it in different ways, but the common denominator seems to be one of these really well-curated near-death experiences.

CHARLES STANG: Brian, I want to thank you for your time. I want to thank you for your candor. I want to thank you for putting up with me and my questions. And I want to say to those who are still assembled here that I'm terribly sorry that we can't get to all your questions. But please do know that we will forward all these questions to Brian so he will know the sorts of questions his work prompts. I'm sure he knows this well, by this point.

And I want to say that this question that we've been exploring the last half hour about what all this means for the present will be very much the topic of our next event on February 22, which is taking up the question of psychedelic chaplaincy.

And for those of you who have found my line of questioning or just my general presence tedious, first of all, I fully appreciate that reaction. Just imagine, I have to live with me. But you will be consoled to know that someone else will be-- I will be there, but someone else will be leading that conversation. Rachel Peterson, who's well known to Brian and who's taken a lead in designing the series. So again, that's February 22. That's our next event, and will be at least two more events to follow. All that will be announced through our mailing list.

So thank you, all who have hung with us. We still have almost 700 with us. And Brian, once again, thank you so much. And I look forward to talking about this event with you after the fact eventually over a beer. OK-- maybe one of those ancient beers.

BRIAN MURARESKU: I look forward to it, Charlie.

CHARLES STANG: I do, too. Thank you. Thank you.

Well, wonderful. Thank you all for joining us, and I hope to see many of you later this month for our next event.

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CHARLES STANG: My name is Charles Stang, and I'm the director of the Center for the Study of World Religions here at Harvard Divinity School. That is my dog Xena. She joins me for most events and meetings.

So welcome to the fourth event in our yearlong series on psychedelics and the future of religion, co-sponsored by the Esalen Institute, the Riverstyx Foundation, and the Chacruna Institute for Psychedelic Plant Medicines. We look forward to hosting Chacruna's founder and executive director, Bia Labate, for a lecture on Monday, March 8.

But the next event in this series will happen sooner than that. On Monday, February 22, we will be hosting a panel discussion taking up the question what is psychedelic chaplaincy. That event is already up on our website and open for registration.

And, as always the best way to keep abreast of this series and everything else we do here at the Center is to join our mailing list.

We have an hour and a half together and I hope there will be time for Q&A and discussion. I expect there will be. It is my great pleasure to welcome Brian Muraresku to the Center. Brian is the author of a remarkable new book that has garnered a lot of attention and has sold a great many copies. The Immortality Key, The Secret History of the Religion With No Name.

Brian has been very busy taking his new book on the road, of course, all online, and we're very grateful to him for taking the time to join us this evening. He's joining us from Uruguay, where he has wisely chosen to spend his pandemic isolation. Wise not least because it is summer there, as he reminds me every time we have a Zoom meeting, which has been quite often in these past several months. That's because Brian and I have become friends these past several months, and I'll have more to say about that in a moment.

I will ask Brian to describe how he came to write this remarkable book, and the years of sleuthing and studying that went into it. But let me say at the outset that it is remarkably learned, full of great historical and philological detail. His aim when he set out on this journey 12 years ago was to assess the validity of a rather old, but largely discredited hypothesis, namely, that some of the religions of the ancient Mediterranean, perhaps including Christianity, used a psychedelic sacrament to induce mystical experiences at the border of life and death, and that these psychedelic rituals were just the tip of the iceberg, signs of an even more ancient and pervasive religious practice going back many thousands of years. What Brian labels the religion with no name.

To assess this hypothesis and, perhaps, to push it further, has required years of dogged and, at times, discouraging works in archives and archaeology. There have been breakthroughs, too, which no doubt kept Brian going despite some skepticism from the academy, to say the least. And the truth is that this is a project that goes well beyond ancient history, because Brian is convinced that what he has uncovered has profound implications for the future of religion, and specifically, the future of his own religion, Roman Catholicism. And so with a revised ancient history, in place Brian tacks back to the title of our series, Psychedelics and the Future of Religion.

Now, Brian managed to write this book while holding down a full time practice in international law based in Washington DC. He comes to this research with a full suite of scholarly skills, including a deep knowledge of Greek and Latin as well as facility in a number of European languages, which became crucial for uncovering some rather obscure research in Catalan, and also for sweet-talking the gatekeepers of archives and archaeological sites.

The book was published by Saint Martin's Press in September 2020 and has generated a whirlwind of attention. Brian launched the instant bestseller on the Joe Rogan Experience, and has now appeared on CNN, NPR, Sirius XM, Goop-- I don't even know what that is-- and The Weekly Dish with Andrew Sullivan. He's been featured in Forbes, the Daily Beast, Big Think, and Vice.

Now, I mentioned that Brian and I had become friends. This is true. And I, for one, look forward to a time when I can see him in person for a beer, ergotized beer or not, if he ever leaves Uruguay. But I mentioned that we've become friends because it is the prerogative of friends to ask hard questions. You may have already noticed one such question-- not too hard. This event is entitled, Psychedelics, The Ancient Religion With No Name? For me, that's a question, and it will yield more questions.

I've no doubt that Brian has unearthed and collected a remarkable body of evidence, but evidence of what, exactly? Here is how I propose we are to proceed. First I'll give the floor to Brian to walk us into this remarkable book of his and the years of hard work that went into it, what drove him to do this.

Then I'll ask a series of questions that follow the course of his book, focusing on the different ancient religious traditions, the evidence for their psychedelic sacraments, and most importantly, whether and how the assembled evidence yields a coherent picture of the past. I'll invite him to think about the future of religion in light of all this. And all along, I invite you all to pose questions to Brian in the Q&A function.

OK, Brian, I invite you to join us now. Please materialize. There he is. And I'm happy to see we have over 800 people present for this conversation. So Brian, welcome.

BRIAN MURARESKU: Dr. Stang, an erudite introduction as ever. Thank you, sir.

CHARLES STANG: Thank you, Brian. And please just call me Charlie. Now, let's get started, Brian. So first of all, please tell us how it is you came to pursue this research to write this book, and highlight briefly what you think are its principal conclusions and their significance for our present and future. And keep in mind that we'll drop down into any one of these points more deeply. So don't feel like you have to go into great depth at this point.

BRIAN MURARESKU:: It's a simple formula, Charlie. You take a board corporate finance attorney, you add in lots of childhood hours watching Indiana Jones, lots of law school hours reading Dan Brown, you put it all together and out pops The Immortality Key. It's really quite simple, Charlie. So I was obsessed with this stuff from the moment I picked up an article in The Economist called the God Pill back in 2007. It was one of the early write-ups of the psilocybin studies coming out of Johns Hopkins. Up until that point I really had very little knowledge of psychedelics, personal or literary or otherwise.

To this day I remain a psychedelic virgin quite proudly, and I spent the past 12 years, ever since that moment in 2007, researching what Houston Smith, perhaps one of the most influential religious historians of the 20th century, would call the best kept secret in history. And when Houston says something like that, it grabs the attention of a young undergrad a bit to your south in Providence, Rhode Island, who was digging into Latin and Greek and wondering what the heck this was all about. Like, what is this all about? Where does Western civilization come from? What was the real religion of the ancient Greeks? And what, if any, was the relationship between those ancient Greeks and the real religion of the earliest Christians, who might call the paleo-Christians.

And the one thing that unites both of those worlds in this research called the pagan continuity hypothesis, the one thing we can bet on is the sacred language of Greek. And I just happened to fall into that at the age of 14 thanks to the Jesuits, and just never left it behind. And so for me, this was a hunt through the catacombs and archives and libraries, doing my sweet-talking, and trying to figure out what was behind some of those locked doors. And this is what I present to the world.

CHARLES STANG: Wonderful. Thank you for that. Well, let's get into it then. So I want to propose that we stage this play in two acts. First act is your evidence for psychedelics among the so-called pagan religions in the ancient Mediterranean and Near East. And the second act, the same, but for what you call paleo-Christianity, the evidence for your suspicion that the Eucharist was originally a psychedelic sacrament.

So let's start, then, the first act. And let's start with our earliest evidence from the Stone Age and the Bronze Age. So throughout the book, you make the point that ancient beer and wine are not like our beer and wine. That they were what you call extreme beverages. They were mixed or fortified. But with what were they mixed, and to what effect? And what does this earliest history tell us about the earliest evidence for an ancient psychedelic religion?

BRIAN MURARESKU: Great question. So I went fully down the rabbit hole. And at some point in my narrative, I do include mention of Gobekli Tepe, for example, which is essentially twice the age of Stonehenge. It pushes back the archaeology on some of this material a full 12,000 years. So Gobekli Tepe, for those who don't know, is this site in southern Turkey on the border with Syria. It's this 22-acre site of free-standing limestone, some rising 20 feet in the air, some weighing 50 tons.

And the big question is, what is this thing doing there in the middle of nowhere? It was a pilgrimage site. No one lived there. And this is at a time when we're still hunting and gathering. So we not only didn't have the engineering know-how-- we used to think-- we didn't have even settled life to construct something like this. And nor did we think that a sanctuary would be one of the first things that we construct. I mean, something of symbolic significance, something monumental.

Klaus Schmidt, who was with the German Archaeological Institute, called this a sanctuary and called these T-shaped pillars representations of gods. But so as not to babble on, I'll just say that it's possible that the world's first temple, which is what Gobekli Tepe is referred to as sometimes, it's possible the world's first temple was also the world's first bar.

So back in 2012, archaeologists and chemists were scraping some of these giant limestone troughs, and out pops calcium oxalate, which is one of these biomarkers for the fermentation of brewing. Now, it's just an early indication and there's more testing to be done. I understand more papers are about to be published on this. But the point being, the religion of brewing seems to pop up at the very beginning of civilization itself, or the very beginning of monumental engineering at this world's first sanctuary.

And so that opened a question for me. If beer was there that long ago, what kind of beer was it? What was being thrown into it? Even a little bit before Gobekli Tepe, there was another site unearthed relatively recently in Israel, at the Rakefet cave. 13,000 years old. And there you also found mortars that were tested and also tested positive for evidence of brewing. And inside that beer was all kinds of vegetable matter, like wheat, oats, and sedge and lily and flax and various legumes. So even from the very beginning, it wasn't just barley and water. It was it was barley, water, and something else. And the big question for me was what was that something else?

And when I started to get closer into the historical period-- this is all prehistory. So frankly, what happens during the Neolithic, we don't know, at least from a scientific vantage. And I started reading the studies from Pat McGovern at the University of Pennsylvania. And he was actually going out and testing some of these ancient chalices. And he found some beer and wine-- that was a bit surprising.

In fact, he found beer, wine, and mead all mixed together in a couple of different places. One, on mainland Greece from the Mycenaean period, 16th century BC, and the other about 800 years later in modern day Turkey, another ritual potion that seemed to have suggested some kind of concoction of beer, wine, and mead that was used to usher the king into the afterlife.

So the closer we get to the modern period, we're starting to find beer, wine mixed with interesting things. McGovern also finds wine from Egypt, for example, in 3150 BC, wine that is mixed with a number of interesting ingredients. And I'll just list them out quickly. Like savory, wormwood, blue tansy, balm, senna, coriander, germander, mint, sage, and thyme. So the basic point being, as far as we can tell, beer and wine are routinely mixed with things that we don't do today. And so the big hunt for me was trying to find some of those psychedelic bits. And that's what I get into in detail in the book.

CHARLES STANG: OK. Now let's move into the Greek mystery. So we move now into ancient history, but solidly into the historical record, however uneven that historical record is. And I want to ask you about specifically the Eleusinian mysteries, centered around the goddesses Demeter and Persephone. These mysteries had at their center a sacrament called kykeon, which offered a vision of the mysteries of life and death.

Now, the great scholar of Greek religion, Walter Burkert, you quote him as musing, once-- and I'm going to quote him-- he says, "it may rather be asked, even without the prospect of a certain answer, whether the basis of the mysteries, they were prehistoric drug rituals, some festival imp of immortality which, through the expansion of consciousness, seemed to guarantee some psychedelic beyond." So that's from Burkert, a very sober scholar and the dean of all scholarship on Greek religion.

Now, Carl Ruck from Boston University, much closer to home, however, took that invitation and tried to pursue this hypothesis. He dared to ask this very question before the hypothesis that this Eleusinian sacrament was indeed a psychedelic, and am I right that it was Ruck's hypothesis that set you down this path all those many years ago at Brown? Maybe I have that wrong. But in any case, Ruck had his career, well, savaged, in some sense, by the reaction to his daring to take this hypothesis seriously, this question seriously.

So what have you learned about the Eleusinian mysteries in particular since Ruck took this up, and what has convinced you that Ruck's hypothesis holds water?

BRIAN MURARESKU: Great question. I mean, so Walter Burkert was part of the reason that kept me going on. You mentioned there were lots of dead ends, and there certainly were. And there were gaps as well. And there were moments when the sunlight would just break through. And the quote you just read from Burkert, it's published by Harvard University Press in 1985 as Greek Religion.

And for some reason, I mean, I'd read that two or three times as an undergrad and just glossed over that line. But I realized that in 1977, when he wrote that in German, this was the height of scholarship, at least going out on a limb to speculate about the prospect of psychedelics at the very heart of the Greek mysteries, which I refer to as something like the real religion of the ancient Greeks, by the way, in speaking about the Eleusinian mysteries. I know that that's a loaded phrase. I'm happy to argue about that.

But it survives. Amongst all the mystery religions, Eleusis survives. From about 1500 BC to the fourth century AD, it calls to the best and brightest of not just Athens but also Rome. So Plato, Pindar, Sophocles, all the way into Cicero, Marcus Aurelius, it's an important thing. And even Burkert, I think, calls it the most famous of the mystery rituals. So whatever was happening there was important.

And all we know-- I mean, we can't decipher sequence by sequence what was happening. But we do know that the initiates made this pilgrimage from Athens to Eleusis, drunk the potion, the kykeon, had this very visionary event-- they all talk about seeing something-- and after which they become immortal. They are guaranteed an afterlife. And so the big question is what was happening there?

I mean, if Burkert was happy to speculate about psychedelics, I'm not sure why Ruck got the reception that he did in 1978 with their book The Road to Eleusis. He co-writes that with Gordon Wasson and Albert Hofmann, who famously-- there it is, the three authors. And Hofmann famously discovers-- or synthesizes LSD from ergot in 1938. And it was their claim that when the hymn to Demeter, one of these ancient records that records, in some form, the proto-recipe for this kykeon potion, which I call like a primitive beer, in the hymn to Demeter, they talk about ingredients like barley, water, and mint.

And according to Wasson, Hofmann, and Ruck, that barley was really a code word. What the Greeks were actually saying there is that it was barley infected with ergot, which is this natural fungus that infects cereal crops. Which, if you think about it, is a very elegant idea. Because ergot is just very common. Where you find the grain, you may have found ergot.

Including, all the way back to Gobekli Tepe, which is why I mentioned that when we first started chatting. Because even though it's a very long time ago, Gobekli Tepe, interestingly, has some things in common with Eleusis, like the worship of the grain, the possibility of brewing, the notion of a pilgrimage, and interaction with the dead. So there's lots of interesting details here that filter through.

The long and short of it is, in 1978 there was no hard scientific data to prove this one way or the other. So I spent 12 years looking for that data, eventually found it, of all places, in Catalonia in Spain in this 635-page monograph that was published in 2002 and for one reason or another-- probably because it was written in Catalan-- was not widely reported to the academic community and went largely ignored. So I got a copy of it from the Library of Congress, started reading through, and there, in fact, I was reading about this incredible discovery from the '90s. I mean, about 25 years ago, actually.

They found a tiny chalice this big, dated to the second century BC. It tested positive for the microscopic remains of beer and also ergot, exactly the hypothesis that had been put forward in 1978 by the disgraced professor across town from you, Carl Ruck, who's now 85 years old, by the way. So in my mind, it was the first real hard scientific data to support this hypothesis, which, as you alluded to at the beginning, only raises more questions.

What, if any, was the relationship between this Greek sanctuary-- a very Greek sanctuary, by the way-- in Catalonia, to the mysteries of Eleusis? Was there any similarity from that potion to what was drunk at Eleusis? Did the potion at Eleusis change from generation to generation? I mean, lots of great questions worthy of further investigation. But I think there's a decent scientific foothold to begin that work.

CHARLES STANG: So it may be worth mentioning, for those who are attending who haven't read the book, that you asked, who I can't remember her name, the woman who is in charge of the Eleusis site, whether some of the ritual vessels could be tested, only to discover-- tested for the remains of whatever they held, only to learn that those vessels had been cleaned and that no more vessels were going to be unearthed.

So you were unable to test the vessels on site in Eleusis, which is what led you to, if I have this argument right, to Greek colonies around the Mediterranean. That's how we get to Catalonia. But maybe you could just say something about this community in Catalonia. What is its connection to Eleusis? What does ergotized beer in Catalonia have anything to do with the Greek mysteries at Eleusis?

BRIAN MURARESKU: That's a good question. So I really follow the scholarship of Enriqueta Pons, who is the archaeologist on site there, at this Greek sanctuary that we're talking about in Catalonia, Mas Castellar des Pontos. And you're right. I mean, I wish it were easier. I did go straight to [INAUDIBLE] Papangelli in Eleusis, and I went to the museum. And we had a great chat, a very spirited chat about the mysteries and the psychedelic hypothesis. And I asked her openly if we could test some of the many, many containers that they have, some on display, and many more in repository there. And her answer was that they'd all been cleaned or treated for conservation purposes. And besides that, young Brian, let's keep the mysteries mysteries. Although she's open to testing, there was nothing there.

So when you take a step back, as you well know, there was a Hellenic presence all over the ancient Mediterranean. And to be quite honest, I'd never studied the ancient Greeks in Spain. I'm not sure many have. But it was just a process of putting these pieces together that I eventually found this data from the site Mas Castellar des Pontos in Spain.

And what it has to do with Eleusis or the Greek presence in general, I mean, again, just to say it briefly, is that this was a farmhouse of sorts that was inland, this sanctuary site. But it was not far from a well-known colony in [INAUDIBLE] that was founded by Phocians. These were Greek-- I've seen them referred to as Greek Vikings by Peter Kingsley, Vikings who came from Ionia. So the Eastern Aegean.

And they found this site, along with others around the Mediterranean. And then at some point they go inland. And what we find at this farmhouse is a sanctuary that Enriqueta Pons herself, the archaeologist who's been on site since 1990, she calls it some kind of sanctuary dedicated to the goddesses of the mysteries. And you find terracotta heads that could or could not be representative of Demeter and Persephone, the two goddesses to whom the mysteries of Eleusis were dedicated.

She found the remains of dog sacrifice, which is super interesting. Dogs, indicative of the Greek goddess Hecate, who, amongst other things was known as the [GREEK], the dog eater. So to find dog sacrifice inside this Greek sanctuary alludes to this proto-witch, Hecate, the mother of Circe, who is mentioned in the same hymn to Demeter from the 8th, 7th century BC, as kind of the third of the goddesses to whom these mysteries were dedicated.

You also find a Greek hearth inside this sanctuary. You see an altar of Pentelic marble that could only have come from the Mount Pentelicus quarry in mainland Greece. I mean, so it was Greek. Lots of Greek artifacts, lots of Greek signifiers. There's no mistake in her mind that it was Greek.

I think the only big question is what the exact relationship was from a place like that over to Eleusis. And her best guess is that it was like this open access sanctuary. For those who didn't have the time or the money or the temerity to travel all the way to Eleusis from Spain, here's your off-site campus, right? Here's your Western Eleusis. And there were probably other Eleusises like that to the east. In fact, something I'm following up on now is the prospect of similar sites in the Crimea around the Black Sea, because there was also a Greek presence there.

And I think sites like this have tended to be neglected in scholarship, or published in languages like Catalan, maybe Ukrainian, where it just doesn't filter through the academic community. So I think it's really interesting details here worth following up on.

CHARLES STANG: I have one more question about the pre-Christian story, and that has to do with that the other mystery religion you give such attention to. And that's the mysteries of Dionysus. So the Greek god of wine, intoxication. So how does Dionysian revelries get into this picture? What's different about the Dionysian mysteries, and what evidence, direct or indirect, do we have about the wine of Dionysus being psychedelic?

And what about the alleged democratization with which you credit the mysteries of Dionysus, or the role of women in that movement? What's significant about these features for our piecing together the ancient religion with no name?

BRIAN MURARESKU: Right. So the mysteries of Dionysus are a bit more of a free-for-all than the mysteries of Eleusis. So if Eleusis is the Fight Club of the ancient world, right, the first rule is you don't talk about it. This is all secret. Then I see the mysteries of Dionysus as kind of the Burning Man or the Woodstock of the ancient world. It was-- Eleusis was state-administered, a somewhat formal affair. And again, it survives, I think, because of that state support for the better part of 2,000 years.

The mysteries of Dionysus, a bit weirder, a bit more off the grid. So in the mountains and forests from Greece to Rome, including the Holy Land and Galilee. There's evidence of the mysteries of Dionysus before, during, and after the life of Jesus, it's worth pointing out. So what do we know about those rituals? Not much. I mean, the honest answer is not much. As much as we know about the mysteries of Eleusis.

We have plays like the Bacchi from Euripides, where we can piece together some of this. We have some inscriptions. We have other textual evidence. But by and large, no, we don't really know. But what we do know is that their sacrament was wine and we know a bit more about the wine of antiquity, ancient Greek wine, than we can piece together from these nocturnal celebrations. And what we know about the wine of the time is that it was prized amongst other things not for its alcoholic content, but for its ability to induce madness.

So Dionysus is not the god of alcohol. He's the god of wine. And in the ancient world, wine was routinely referred to as a [SPEAKING GREEK], which is the Greek word for drug. It's something that goes from Homer all the way until the fall of the Roman Empire, over the course of well more than 1,000 years. So the big question is, what kind of drug was this, if it was a drug? And then that's the word that Euripides uses, by the way. He calls it a drug against grief in Greek, [SPEAKING GREEK].

It's interesting that Saint Ignatius of Antioch, in the beginning of the second century AD, refers to the wine of the Eucharist as the [SPEAKING GREEK], the drug of immortality. Now, I don't put too much weight into that. That's all just fancy wordplay. But what we do know about the wine of the time is that it was routinely mixed with plants and herbs and potentially fungi. We don't have to look very hard to find that.

If you look at Dioscorides, for example, his Materia Medica, that's written in the first century AD around the same time that the Gospels themselves are being written. Throughout his five books he talks about wine being mixed with all kinds of stuff, like frankincense and myrrh, relatively innocuous stuff, but also less innocuous things like henbane and mandrake, these solanaceous plants which he specifically says is fatal. And in his book [? 474, ?] he goes out on a limb and says that black nightshade actually causes [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH], which is not unpleasant visions, i.e. He's talking about kind of psychedelic wine. So

We know that at the time of Jesus, before, during, and after, there were recipes floating around. There were formula. The big question is, did any of these recipes, did any of this wine spiking actually make its way into some paleo-Christian ceremony. That's the big question.

CHARLES STANG: OK, that is the big question.

[LAUGHTER]

We're going to get there very soon. All right, so now, let's follow up with Dionysus, but let's see here. Let's move to early Christian. let's take up your invitation and move from Dionysus to early Christianity.

So you lean on the good work of Harvard's own Arthur Darby Nock, and more recently, the work of Dennis McDonald at Claremont School of Theology, to suggest that the author of the Gospel of John deliberately paints Jesus and his Eucharist in the colors of Dionysus. By which I mean that the Gospel of John suggests that at the very least, the evangelist hoped to market Christianity to a pagan audience by suggesting that Jesus was somehow equivalent to Dionysus, and that the Eucharist, his sacrament of wine, was equivalent to Dionysus's wine.

But you go further still, suggesting that Jesus himself at the Last Supper might have administered psychedelic sacrament, that the original Eucharist was psychedelic. So what evidence can you provide for that claim?

BRIAN MURARESKU: I don't-- I don't claim too heavily. I opened the speculation, Dr. Stang, that the Holy Grail itself could have been some kind of spiked concoction. But I don't hold-- I don't hang my hat on that claim. As a matter of fact, I think it's much more promising and much more fertile for scholarship to suggest that some of the earliest Christians may have availed themselves of a psychedelic sacrament and may have interpreted the Last Supper as some kind of invitation to open psychedelia, that mystical supper as the orthodox call it, [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH].

And the reason I find that a worthy avenue of pursuit is because when you take a step back and look at the Greek of the Gospels, especially the Greek of John, which is super weird, what I see based on Dennis MacDonald's scholarship that you mentioned-- and others-- when you do the exegesis of John's gospel, there's just lots of vocabulary and lots of imagery that doesn't appear elsewhere. And very famous passages, by the way, that should be familiar to most New Testament readers.

Like the wedding at Cana, which my synopsis of that event is a drunkard getting a bunch of drunk people even more drunk. So the event happens, when all the wines run out, here comes Jesus, who's referred to in the Gospels as an [SPEAKING GREEK] in Greek, a drunkard. He decides to get people even more drunk. And Dennis, amongst others, calls that a signature Dionysian miracle. We know from the literature hundreds of years beforehand that in Elis, for example, in the Western Peloponnese, on the same Epiphany-type timeline, January 5, January 6, the priests would walk into the temple of Dionysus, leave three basins of water, the next morning they're miraculously transformed into wine. So this whole water to wine thing was out there.

And if it only occurs in John, the big question is why. And there are legitimate scholars out there who say, because John wanted to paint Jesus in the light of Dionysus, present him as the second coming of this pagan God. It's not just Cana. This notion in John 15:1, the notion of the true vine, for example, only occurs in John. The idea of the truth shall set you free, right, [SPEAKING GREEK], in 8:32. That also only occurs in John, another epithet of Dionysus. It's only in John that Jesus is described as being born in the lap of the Father, the [SPEAKING GREEK] in 1:18, very similar to the way that Dionysus sprung miraculously from the thigh of Zeus, and on and on and on-- which I'm not going to bore you and the audience.

But the point being, if the Dionysian wine was psychedelic-- which I know is a big if-- I think the more important thing to show here in this pagan continuity hypothesis is that it's at least plausible that the earliest Christians would have at the very least read the Gospel of John and interpreted that paleo-Christian Eucharistic wine, in some communities, as a kind of Dionysian wine. And I think there are lots of reasons to believe that.

It still leaves an even bigger if, Dr. Stang, is which one is psychedelic? If the Dionysian one is psychedelic, does it really make its way into some kind of psychedelic Christianity? I think the wine certainly does. Do the drugs, Dr. Stang? Where are the drugs?

CHARLES STANG: Well, Mr, Muraresku, you are hedging your bets here in a way that you do not necessarily hedge your bets in the book. So this is interesting. I think it's important you have made a distinction between what was Jesus doing at the Last Supper, as if we could ever find out. Then there's what were the earliest Christians doing with the Eucharist. Then what was the Gospel of John, how did it interpret the Eucharist and market it, and so on. So those are all possibly different questions to ask and answer.

There's a moment in the book where you are excited about some hard evidence. And I want to-- just like you have this hard evidence from Catalonia, then the question is how to interpret it. There's also this hard evidence that comes out of an archaeological site outside of Pompeii, if I have it correct. Let me just pull up my notes here.

So there's a house preserved outside of Pompeii, preserved, like so much else, under the ash of Mount Vesuvius's eruption in the year 79 of the Common Era. Now, that date is obviously very suggestive because that's precisely the time the Christians were establishing a beachhead in Rome. What was discovered, as far as I can tell, from your treatment of it, is essentially an ancient pharmacy in this house. Material evidence of a very strange potion, a drug, or a [SPEAKING GREEK]. A combination of psychoactive plants, including opium, cannabis, and nightshade, along with the remains of reptiles and amphibians all steeped in wine, like a real witch's brew, uncovered in this house outside of Pompeii.

Now the archaeologist of that site says-- I'm quoting from your book-- "For me, the Villa Vesuvio was a small farm that was specifically designed for the production of drugs." That seems very believable, but there's nothing to suggest that the pharmacy or drug farm was serving Christians, or even that the potions produced were for ritual use. So how exactly is this evidence of something relevant to Christianity in Rome or southern Italy more widely?

It seems entirely believable to me that we have a potion maker active near Pompeii. I imagine there are many more potion makers around than we typically recognize. But I don't understand how that provides any significant link to paleo-Christian practice.

BRIAN MURARESKU: Now we're cooking with grease, Dr. Stang. Now we're getting somewhere. So I point to that evidence as illustrative of the possibility that the Christians could, in fact, have gotten their hands on an actual wine. That was the question for me. An actual spiked wine. Because for many, many years, you know, Ruck's career takes a bit of a nosedive. There's John Marco Allegro claiming that there was no Jesus, and this was just one big amanita muscaria cult. There are others claiming that there's drugs everywhere.

Frankly, if you ask the world's leading archaeobotanists and archaeochemists, where's the spiked beer and where's the spiked wine, which I've been doing since about 2007, 2008, the resounding answer you'll get back from everybody is a resounding no. That there is no hard archaeobotanical, archaeochemical data for spiked beer, spiked wine. So what I think we have here in this ergtotized beer drink from Catalonia, Spain, and in this weird witch's brew from 79 AD in Pompeii, I describe it, until I see evidence otherwise, as some of the very first heart scientific data for the actual existence of actual spiked wine in classical antiquity, which I think is a really big point.

Now-- and I think that we can probably concede that. What does that have to do with Christianity? The fact that the Vatican sits in Rome today is not an accident, I think, is the shortest way to answer that. So Pompeii and its environs at the time were called [SPEAKING GREEK], which means great Greece. So if you were a mystic and you were into Demeter and Persephone and Dionysus and you were into these strange Greek mystery cults, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better place to spend your time than [SPEAKING GREEK], southern Italy, which in some cases was more Greek than Greek. I know that's another loaded phrase.

But in Pompeii, for example, there's the villa of the mysteries, one of these really breathtaking finds that also survived the ravage of Mount Vesuvius. And we know the mysteries were there. And we know from the record that [SPEAKING GREEK] is described as being so crowded with gods that they were easier to find than men.

In the same place in and around Pompeii, this is where Christianity is really finding its roots. Not just in Italy, but as kind of the headquarters for the Mediterranean. There aren't any churches or basilicas, right, in the first three centuries, in this era we're calling paleo-Christianity. That's only after Constantine. It's funny to see that some of the first basilicas outside Rome are popping up here, and in and around Pompeii.

So it wasn't just a random place to find one of these spiked wines. I would have been happy to find a spiked wine anywhere.

CHARLES STANG: Sure.

BRIAN MURARESKU: It just happens to show up. And I-- in my profession, we call this circumstantial, and I get it. But it just happens to show up at the right place at the right time, when the earliest Christians could have availed themselves of this kind of sacrament. And so in my afterword, I present this as a blip on the archaeochemical radar. And I think it's proof of concept-- just proof of concept-- for investing serious funding, and attention into the actual search for these kinds of potions. And that's all I present it as, is wonderfully attractive and maybe even sexy circumstantial evidence for the potential use of a psychedelic sacrament amongst the earliest Christians.

CHARLES STANG: All right. I'm going to come back to that idea of proof of concept. But I do want to push back a little bit on the elevation of this particular real estate in southern Italy. To some degree, I think you're looking back to southern Italy from the perspective of the supremacy of Rome, which is not the case in the first century. It's not the case in the second century. It's arguably not the case in the third century. And nor do I think that you can characterize southern Italy as ground zero for the spirit of Greek mysticism, or however you put it.

These-- that-- Christians are spread out throughout the eastern Mediterranean, and there are many, many pockets of people practicing what we might call, let's just call it Christian mysticism of some kind. So I'm not convinced that-- I think you're absolutely right that what this establishes is that Christians in southern Italy could have-- could have had access to the kinds of things that have been recovered from that drug farm, let's call it. But unfortunately, it doesn't connect it to Christianity.

And by the way, I'm not here trying to protect Christianity from the evidence of psychedelic use. I expect we will find it. I fully expect we will find it.

[LAUGHS]

I don't think we have found it. And I think that's an important distinction to make.

Now, here's-- let's tack away from hard, scientific, archaeobotanical evidence for a moment. I understand the appeal of that. But if the original Eucharist were psychedelic, or even if there were significant numbers of early Christians using psychedelics like sacrament, I would expect the representatives of orthodox, institutional Christianity to rail against it. I would expect we'd have ample evidence.

Certainly these early churchmen used whatever they could against the forms of Christian practice they disapproved of, especially those they categorized as Gnostic. You mentioned, too, early churchmen, experts in heresies by the name of Irenaeus of Lyons and Hippolytus of Rome. These are famous figures to those of us who study early Christianity.

These two accuse one Gnostic teacher named Marcus-- who is himself a student of the famous theologian Valentinus-- they accuse him of dabbling in pharmacological devilry. And Ruck, and you following Ruck, make much of this, suggesting maybe the Gnostics are pharmacologists of some kind. They're mixing potions. Which turns out, it may be they were.

But they charge Marcus specifically, not with a psychedelic Eucharist, but the use of a love potion. So now it's true that these heresy hunters show an interest in this love potion. But even if they're telling the truth about this, even if it is accurate about Marcus that he used a love potion, a love potion isn't a Eucharist. Love potions, love charms, they're very common in the ancient

So again, if there were an early psychedelic sacrament that was being suppressed, I'd expect that the suppressors would talk about it. Because they talk about everything else that they take issue with. So why the silence from the heresiologists on a psychedelic sacrament?

BRIAN MURARESKU: I wish I could answer that question. I might forward the proposition that I don't think the early church fathers were the best botanists. So when Hippolytus is calling out the Marcosians, and specifically women, consecrating this alternative Eucharist in their alternative proto-mass, he uses the Greek word-- and we've talked about this before-- but he uses the Greek word [SPEAKING GREEK] seven times in a row, by the way, without specifying which drugs he's referring to. All he says is that these women and Marcus are adding drugs seven times in a row into whatever potion this is they're mixing up.

Now, you could draw the obvious conclusion. Is this only Marcus? Well, the reason I mention Hippolytus and Marcus and focus on that in my evidence is because there's evidence of the Valentinians, who influenced Marcus, in and around Rome. The same Rome that circumstantially shows up, and south of Rome, where Constantine would build his basilicas in Naples and Capua later on.

So I'm trying to build the case-- and for some reason in my research, it kept coming back to Italy and Rome, which is why I focus on Hippolytus. When Irenaeus is talking about [SPEAKING GREEK], love potions, again, we have no idea what the hell he's talking about. It's some kind of wine-based concoction, some kind of something that is throwing these people into ecstasy.

Eusebius, third into the fourth century, is also talking about them-- it's a great Greek word, [SPEAKING GREEK]. So, like, they're wonderstruck, or awestruck by their libations and their incense. So whatever these [SPEAKING GREEK] libations incense were, the church fathers don't get into great detail about what may have been spiking them. But we at least have, again, the indicia of evidence that something was happening there.

I wish the church fathers were better botanists and would rail against the specific pharmacopeia. They did not. But we do know that something was happening.

CHARLES STANG: You know, Valentinus was almost elected bishop of Rome. If your history is even remotely correct, that would have ushered in a very different church, if Valentinus's own student Marcus and the Marcosians were involved in psychedelic rituals, then that was an early road not taken, let's say.

OK. Now let's pan back because, we have-- I want to wrap up my interrogation of you, which I've been pressing you, but I feel as if perhaps people joining me think I'm hostile to this hypothesis. I'm not. But I'm pressing you because that's my job. But I want to ask you to reflect on the broader narrative that you're painting, because I've heard you speak in two ways about the significance of this work.

Let me start with the view-- the version of it that I think is less persuasive. And that is that there was a pervasive religion, ancient religion, that involved psychedelic sacraments, and that that pervasive religious culture filtered into the Greek mysteries and eventually into early Christianity. And then was, in some sense, the norm, the original Eucharist, and that it was then suppressed by orthodox, institutional Christianity, who persecuted, especially the women who were the caretakers of this tradition. And that kind of invisible religion with no name, although brutally suppressed, managed to survive in Europe for many centuries and could potentially be revived today.

That's one narrative that I feel is a little sensational. It draws attention to this material. And I hear-- I sense that narrative in your book. I also sense another narrative in your book, and one you've flagged for us, maybe about 10 minutes ago, when you said that the book is a proof of concept.

And when you speak in that way, what I hear you saying is there is something going on. There is evidence that has been either overlooked or perhaps intentionally suppressed. Oh, I hope I haven't offended you, Brian.

BRIAN MURARESKU: I'm bringing more illumination.

CHARLES STANG: OK, great. And that the proof of concept idea is that we need to-- we, meaning historians of the ancient world, need to bring all the kinds of resources to bear on this to get better evidence and an interpretive frame for making sense of it. So I see-- you're moving back and forth between these two.

And I wonder whether the former narrative serves the interests of the latter. That is, by giving, by even floating the possibility of this kind of-- at times, what seems like a Dan Brown sort of story, like, oh my god, there's a whole history of Christianity that's been suppressed-- draws attention, but the real point is actually that you're not really certain about the story, but you're certain is that we need to be more attentive to this evidence and to assess it soberly. So can you reflect for us where you really are and how you chose to write this book?

BRIAN MURARESKU: Good one. I mean, I think the book makes it clear. I really tried. So I'll speak in language that you and our good colleague Greg [? Nage ?] would certainly appreciate. I was not going to put a book out there that was sensationalist. So after the whole first half of the book-- well, wait a minute, Dr. Stang. I go out of my way, in both parts of the book, which, it's divided into the history of beer and the history of wine, essentially. So at the very-- after the first half of the book is over, there's an epilogue, and I say, OK, here's the evidence. Here's the big question. I took this to Greg [? Nage ?] and he said, Brian, don't you dare. And I did not dare.

And so in the epilogue, I say we simply do not know the relationship between this site in Spain and Eleusis, nor do we know what was happening at-- it doesn't automatically mean that Eleusis was a psychedelic rite. Again, it's proof of concept for going back to Eleusis and going back to other sites around the Mediterranean and continuing to test, whether for ergotized beer or other things.

I do the same thing in the afterword at the very end of the book, where it's lots of, here's what we know. Here's what we don't. Here's the proof of concept. Is there a smoking gun? And my favorite line of the book is, "The lawyer in me won't sleep until that one chalice, that one container, that one vessel comes to light in an unquestionable Christian context."

I include that line for a reason. I'm skeptical, Dr. Stang. And as a lawyer, I know what is probative and what's circumstantial evidence, and I just-- I don't see it there. What I see is data that's been largely neglected, and I think what serves this as a discipline is just that. Is taking all these disciplines, whether it's your discipline or archaeochemistry or hard core botany, biology, even psychopharmacology, putting it all together and taking a look at this mystery, this puzzle, using the lens of psychedelics as a lens, really, to investigate not just the past but the future and the mystery of human consciousness.

And I think that that's the real question here. Psychedelics are a lens to investigate this stuff. And I think it's very important to be very honest with the reader and the audience about what we know and what we don't. And I feel like I accomplished that in the afterword to my book.

CHARLES STANG: All right. Now you're a good sport, Brian. I appreciate this. Now I want to get to the questions, but one last question before we move to the discussion portion. That is about the future rather than the ancient history. So how to put this? So let's talk about the future of religion, and specifically the future of Roman Catholicism.

So why do you think psychedelics are so significant that they might usher in a new Reformation? And why, if you're right that the church has succeeded in suppressing a psychedelic sacrament and has been peddling instead, what you call a placebo, and that it has exercised a monstrous campaign of persecution against plant medicine and the women who have kept its knowledge alive, why are you still attached to this tradition?

And how can you reasonably expect the church to recognize a psychedelic Eucharist? Do you think that by calling the Eucharist a placebo that you're likely to persuade them?

[LAUGHS]

If they've been doing this, as you suggest, for 2,000 years, nearly, what makes you think that a few ancient historians are going to turn that aircraft carrier around?

BRIAN MURARESKU: Right. So this is the tradition, I can say with a straight face, that saved my life. It was the Jesuits who taught me Latin and Greek. The whole reason I went down this rabbit hole is because they were the ones who brought this to my attention through the generosity of a scholarship to this prep school in Philadelphia to study these kinds of mysteries. And it was the Jesuits who encouraged me to always, always ask questions and never take anything at face value.

And I write, at the very end of the book, I hope that they'd be proud of this investigation. Because at my heart, I still consider myself a good Catholic boy. The only reason I went to college was to study classics. So it's hard for me to write this and talk about this without acknowledging the Jesuits who put me here. So I don't write this to antagonize them or the church, the people who, again, ushered me into this discipline and into these questions. I write it cognizant of the fact that the Eucharist doesn't work for many, many people.

And so I cite a Pew poll, for example, that says something like 69% of American Catholics do not believe in transubstantiation, which is the defining dogma of the church, the idea that the bread and wine literally becomes the flesh and blood. Many people see that as symbolic or allegorical or just a nice thing, which is not the case. To be a Catholic is to believe that you are literally consuming the blood of Christ to become Christ. That's the promise in John's gospel, in John 6:54-55, that I quote in the book.

So if you don't think that you are literally consuming divine blood, what is the point of religion? Now, I've never done them myself, but I have talked to many, many people who've had experience with psychedelics. And I've listened to the volunteers who've gone through these experiences. And I don't know if it's a genuine mystical experience or mystical mimetic or some kind of psychological breakthrough. And I think we get hung up on the jargon.

But what I hear from people, including atheists, like Dina Bazer, who participated in these Hopkins NYU trials is that she felt like on her one and only dose of psilocybin that she was bathed in God's love. You know, it's an atheist using theological language to describe what happened to her. And she talks about kind of being born again, another promise from John's gospel. And she talks about the visions that transformed the way she thinks about herself.

And so in some of these psychedelic trials, under the right conditions, I do see genuine religious experiences. I see something that's happening to people. And at the same time, when I see a thirst, especially in young people, for real experience, and I see so many Catholics who do not believe in transubstantiation, obviously, what comes to my mind is how, if at all, can psychedelics enhance faith or reinvent Christianity. And so I don't think that psychedelics are coming to replace the Sunday Eucharist. That's, just absurd.

If you are drawn to psychedelics, in my mind, it means you're probably drawn to contemplative mysticism. And if it's one thing Catholicism does very, very well, it's contemplative mysticism. The kind of mysticism I've always been attracted to, like the rule of Saint Benedict and the Trappist monks and the Cistercian monks. And so if there is a place for psychedelics, I would think it would be in one of those sacred containers within monastic life, or pilgrims who visit one of these monastic centers, for example.

Or maybe in palliative care. Maybe for those facing the end of life. There have been really dramatic studies from Hopkins and NYU about the ability of psilocybin at the end of life to curb things like depression, anxiety, and end of life distress. And so part of what it means to be a priest or a minister or a rabbi is to sit with the dying and the dead. And so I can see psychedelics being some kind of extra sacramental ministry that potentially could ease people at the end of life.

Now, I have no idea where it goes from here, or if I'll take it myself. But what I see are potential and possibilities and things worthy of discussions like this.

CHARLES STANG: Yeah. Wonderful, well, thank you. I'm going to stop asking my questions, although I have a million more, as you well know, and instead try to ventriloquist the questions that are coming through at quite a clip through the Q&A. And Brian, it would be helpful for me to know whether you are more interested in questions that take up the ancient world or more that deal with this last issue, the sort of contemporary and the future. You want to field questions in both those categories?

BRIAN MURARESKU: We can dip from both pies, Dr. Stang. Yeah.

CHARLES STANG: OK. So let's start with one that is more contemporary. One attendee has asked, "How have religious leaders reacted so far to your book? Are they rolling their eyes, or are you getting sort of secretive knowing nods of agreement? And if the latter, do you think there's a good chance that religions will adopt psychedelics back into their rituals?"

Now, I think you answered that last part. You're not confident that the pope is suddenly going to issue an encyclical. But I think the broader question of what's the reception to this among explicitly religious folk and religious leaders?

BRIAN MURARESKU: Right. So listening right now, there's at least one orthodox priest, there's at least one Catholic priest, an Episcopalian, an Anglican, and several others with whom I've been talking in recent months. And I got to say, there's not a heck of a lot of eye rolling, assuming people read my afterword and try to see how careful I am about delineating what is knowable and what is not and what this means for the future of religion.

Something else I include at the end of my book is that I don't think that whatever this was, this big if about a psychedelic Eucharist, I don't think this was a majority of the paleo-Christians. And that's not how it works today, and I don't think that's how it works in antiquity. Again, if you're attracted to psychedelics, it's kind of an extreme thing, right? I see it as-- well, OK, I'd see it as within a minority. So somewhere between 1% and 49%. I'm not sure where it falls. But this clearly involved some kind of technical know-how and the ability to concoct these things that, in order to keep them safe and efficacious, would not have been very widespread, I don't think. I'm happy to be proven wrong.

So I think this was a minority of early Christians. And that that's how I-- and by not speculating more than we can about the mystical supper, if we follow the hypothesis that this is a big if for some early communities of Greek speakers, this is how I'm finding common ground with priests both Catholic and Orthodox and Protestants.

CHARLES STANG: All right. Here's another one. I'm paraphrasing this one. In the afterword, you champion the fact that we stand on the cusp of a new era of psychedelics precisely because they can be synthesized and administered safely in pill form, back to The Economist article "The God Pill". Now, that is part of your kind of interest in democratizing mysticism, but it also, curiously, cuts out the very people who have been preserving this tradition for centuries, namely, on your own account, this sort of invisible or barely visible lineage of women.

So can you reflect on the-- standing on the threshold of pharmaceutical companies taking control of this, how is that to be commended when the very people who have kept this alive would be pushed to the side in that move?

BRIAN MURARESKU: Right. Interesting. So we're going down parallel paths here, and I feel we're caught between FDA-approved therapeutics and RFRA-protected sacraments, RFRA, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or what becomes of these kinds of substances in any kind of legal format-- which they're not legal at the moment, some would argue. Others would argue that they are perfectly legal sacraments, at least in the Native American church with the use of peyote, or in the UDV or Santo Daime, I mean, ayahuasca does work in some syncretic Christian form, right? These Native American church and the UDV, both some syncretic form of Christianity. So it is already happening.

The question is, what will happen in the future. Now I understand and I appreciate the pharmaceutical industry's ability to distribute this as medicine for those who are looking for alternatives, alternative treatments for depression and anxiety and PTSD and addiction and end of life distress. And I think what the pharmaceutical industry can do is help to distribute this medicine. And what the FDA can do is make sure that they're doing it in a way that it's absolutely safe and efficacious.

So I have my concerns about what's about to happen in Oregon and the regulation of psilocybin for therapeutic purposes. I would love to see these licensed, regulated, retreat centers be done in a way that is medically sound and scientifically rigorous. And that's where oversight comes in handy. And I think oversight also comes in handy within organized religion.

And so I do see an avenue, like I kind of obliquely mentioned, but I do think there's an avenue within organized religion and for people who dedicate their lives as religious professionals to ministry to perhaps take a look at this in places where it might work. Like in a retreat pilgrimage type center, or maybe within palliative care. I see a huge need and a demand for young religious clergy to begin taking a look at this stuff. And if there's historical precedent for it, all the more so.

CHARLES STANG: OK. This is going to be a question that's back to the ancient world. So your presentation of early Christianity inclines heavily toward the Greek world. And much of the evidence that you've collected is kind of the northern half of the Mediterranean world. Some number of people have asked about Egypt. Now, what's curious about this is we usually have-- Egypt plays a rather outsized role in our sense of early Christianity because-- and other adjacent or contemporary religious and philosophical movements, because everything in Egypt is preserved better than anywhere else in the Mediterranean.

BRIAN MURARESKU: That's right.

CHARLES STANG: We're often in this situation where we're trying to extrapolate from evidence from Egypt, to see is Egypt the norm or is it the exception? But Egypt seems to not really be hugely relevant to the research. Now is there any evidence for psychedelic use in ancient Egypt, and if not, do you have any theory as to why that's silent? Perhaps more generally, you could just talk about other traditions around the Mediterranean, North African, or, let's even say Judaism.

BRIAN MURARESKU: Yeah.

CHARLES STANG: We've really read Jesus through the lens of his Greek inheritors. What about Jesus as a Jew? What about all these early Christians themselves as essentially Jews?

BRIAN MURARESKU: I mean, this is--

CHARLES STANG: Or-- sorry.

BRIAN MURARESKU: But you're spot on. I mean, this is what I want to do with some of my remaining days on this planet, is take a look at all these different theories. So I present this as proof of concept, and I heavily rely on the Gospel of John and the data from Italy because that's what was there. It's not to say that there isn't evidence from Alexandria or Antioch. I wish that an ancient pharmacy had been preserved by Mount Vesuvius somewhere near Alexandria or even in upper Egypt or in Antioch or parts of Turkey.

A lot of Christianity, as you rightly point out, I mean, it was an Eastern phenomenon, all over the eastern Mediterranean. And I think there are so many sites and excavations and so many chalices that remain to be tested. And now we have a working hypothesis and some data to suggest where we might be looking.

So, you know, I specifically wanted to avoid heavily relying on the 52 books of the [INAUDIBLE] corpus or heavily relying too much on the Gospel of Mary Magdalene and the evidence that's come from Egypt. But clearly, when you're thinking about ancient Egypt or elsewhere, there's definitely a funerary tradition. Whether there's a psychedelic tradition-- I mean, there are some suggestive paintings. There's some suggestive language in the pyramid texts, in the Book of the Dead and things of this nature.

Hard archaeobotanical, archaeochemical data, I haven't seen it. Not because it's not there, because it hasn't been tested. So there's a whole slew of sites I want to test there. When you start testing, you find things. Like in Israel. In May of last year, researchers published what they believe is the first archaeochemical data for the use of psychoactive drugs in some form of early Judaism.

8th century BC from the Tel Arad shrine. This limestone altar tested positive for cannabis and frankincense that was being burned, they think, in a very ritualistic way. Not because they just found that altar. Not because it was brand new data. The altar had been sitting in a museum in Israel since the 1960s and just hadn't been tested. So imagine how many artifacts are just sitting in museums right now, waiting to be tested. I don't know why it's happening now, but we're finally taking a look.

CHARLES STANG: So that actually helps answer a question that's in the Q&A that was posed to me, which is why did I say I fully expect that we will find evidence for this? Because very briefly, I think Brian and others have made a very strong case that these things-- this was a biotechnology that was available in the ancient world. I can't imagine that there were no Christians that availed themselves of this biotechnology, and I can't imagine-- it's entirely plausible to me that they would mix this biotechnology with the Eucharist.

So if we can test Eucharistic vessels, I wouldn't be surprised at all that we find one. Now that doesn't mean, as Brian was saying, that then suggests that that's the norm Eucharist. That would require an entirely different kind of evidence.

OK, now, Brian, you've probably dealt with questions like this. There's a good number of questions that are very curious why you are insisting on remaining a psychedelic virgin. What's the importance of your abstention from psychedelics, given what is obvious interest. You obviously think these are powerful substances with profound effects that track with reality. So why refrain?

BRIAN MURARESKU: I'm asked this question, I would say, in pretty much every interview I've done since late September. And I answer it differently every single time. This time, tonight I'll say that it's just not my time yet. I have a deep interest in mysticism, and I've had mystical experiences, which I don't think are very relevant. They were relevant to me in going down this rabbit hole. And when I read psychedelic literature or I read the literature on near-death experiences, I see experiences similar to what I experienced as a young boy.

And so that's what motivated my search here. Maybe part of me is skeptical, right? I mean, this really goes to my deep skepticism. Maybe I'm afraid I'll take the psychedelic and I won't have what is reported in the literature from Hopkins and NYU. Maybe there's some residual fear that's been built up in me. There's all kinds of reasons I haven't done it. And not least because if I were to do it, I'd like to do so in a deeply sacred ritual. And I don't know what that looks like.

It would have parts of Greek mysticism in it, the same Greek mysteries I've spent all these years investigating, and it would have some elements of what I see in paleo-Christianity. Which, again, what I see are small groups of people getting together to commune with the dead. Which is a very weird thing today. You might find it in a cemetery in Mexico. You won't find it in many places other than that. And so I don't know what a really authentic, a really historic-looking ritual that is equal parts sacred, but also, again, medically sound, scientifically rigorous, would look like. And part of me really wants to put all these pieces together before I dive in. And I think we're getting there.

CHARLES STANG: OK. I wonder if you're familiar with Wouter Hanegraaff at the University of Amsterdam. Those of you who don't know his name, he's a professor at the University of Amsterdam, an expert in Western esotericism. He has talked about the potential evidence for psychedelics in a Mithras liturgy. I'm trying to get him to speak in the series about that. But curiously, it's evidence for a eye ointment which is supposed to induce visions and was used as part of a liturgy in the cult of Mithras. Now, Mithras is another one of these mystery religions.

And apparently, the book is on order, so I can't speak to this directly, but the ancient Greek text that preserves this liturgy also preserves the formula, the ingredients of the eye ointment. So that's something else to look into. So perhaps there's even more evidence. But it's not an ingested psychedelic. And I don't know if there's other examples of such things.

So Brian, I wonder, maybe we should give the floor to you and ask you to speak about, what are the questions you think both ancient historians such as myself should be asking that we're not, and maybe what are the sorts of questions that people who aren't ancient historians but who are drawn to this evidence, to your narrative, and to the present and the future of religion, what sort of questions should they be asking regarding psychedelics? Why don't we turn the tables and ask you what questions you think need to be posed?

BRIAN MURARESKU: OK. So, I mean, my biggest question behind all of this is, as a good Catholic boy, is the Eucharist. I mean, what-- my big question is, what can we say about the Eucharist-- and maybe it's just my weird lens, but what can we say about it definitively in the absence of the archaeochemstry or the archaeobotany? Now, it doesn't have to be the Holy Grail that was there at the Last Supper, but when you think about the sacrament of wine that is at the center of the world's biggest religion of 2.5 billion people, the thing that Pope Francis says is essential for salvation, I mean, how can we orient our lives around something for which there is little to no physical data? How does, in other words, how does religion sit with science?

And when we know so much about ancient wine and how very different it was from the wine of today, I mean, what can we say about the Eucharist if we're only looking at the texts? And so how far should this investigation go? I mean, shouldn't everybody, shouldn't every Christian be wondering what kind of wine was on that table, or the tables of the earliest Christians?

I mean, in the absence of the actual data, that's my biggest question. Because every time I think about ancient wine, I am now immediately thinking about wine that is spiked. Just from reading Dioscorides and reading all the different texts, the past 12 years have absolutely transformed the way I think about wine. And even in the New Testament, you'll see wine spiked with myrrh, for example, that's served to Jesus at his crucifixion. And so even within the New Testament you see little hints and clues that there was no such thing as only ordinary table wine.

So my biggest question is, what kind of wine was it? And shouldn't we all be asking that question?

CHARLES STANG: OK. And that's a question equally for ancient historians and for contemporary seekers and/or good Catholics. What's the wine? What was the wine in the early Eucharist?

BRIAN MURARESKU: Right. And if you're a good Christian or a good Catholic, and you're consuming that wine on any given Sunday, why are you doing that? And what do you believe happens to you when you do that? And does it line up with the promise from John's gospel that anyone who drinks this becomes instantly immortal? And anyone who drinks this, [SPEAKING GREEK], Jesus says in Greek, you remain in me and I in you. You become one with Christ by drinking that.

If we're being honest with ourselves, when you've drunk-- and I've drunk that wine-- I didn't necessarily feel that I'd become one with Jesus. And yet I talked to an atheist who has one experience with psilocybin and is immediately bathed in God's love. And I'm trying to reconcile that. It's a big question for me.

CHARLES STANG: So in some sense, you're feeling almost envy for the experiences on psychedelics, which is to say you've never experienced the indwelling of Christ or the immediate knowledge of your immortality in the sacrament. And you suspect, therefore, that it might be a placebo, and you want the real thing.

BRIAN MURARESKU: I would say I've definitely experienced the power of the Christ and the Holy Spirit. It seems to me, though, that the intensity and the potency of the psychedelic experience is of an order of magnitude different than what I may have experienced through the Eucharist. Now, I've had experiences outside the Eucharist that resonate with me. But when it comes to that Sunday ritual, it just, whatever is happening today, it seems different from what may have motivated the earliest Christians, which leads me to very big questions.

CHARLES STANG: Right. Now are there any other questions you wish to propose or push or-- I don't know, to push back against any of the criticisms or questions I've leveled?

BRIAN MURARESKU: I think you were great.

[LAUGHS]

No, I think you-- this is why we're friends, Charlie. I mean, I asked lots of big questions in the book, and I fully acknowledge that. I try to be careful to always land on a lawyer's feet and be very honest with you and everybody else about where this goes from here. Because my biggest question is, and the obvious question of the book is, if this was happening in antiquity, what does that mean for today? I mean, that's obviously the big question, and what that means for the future of medicine and religion and society at large.

And I guess my biggest question, not necessarily for you, but the psychedelic community, for what it's worth, or those who are interested in this stuff is how do we make this experience sacred? And how do we-- when the pharmaceutical industry and when these retreat centers begin to open and begin to proliferate, how do we make this sacred?

Because again, when I read the clinical literature, I'm reading things that look like mystical experiences, or that at least at least sound like them. Not in every single case, obviously. But things that sound intensely powerful. And it seems to me that if any of this is right, that whatever was happening in ancient Greece was a transformative experience for which a lot of thought and preparation went into. And I think that we would behoove ourselves to incorporate, resuscitate, maybe, some of those techniques that seem to have been employed by the Greeks at Eleusis or by the Dionysians or some of these earliest Christians.

I just sense a great deal of structure and thoughtfulness going into this experience. And I wonder and I question how we can keep that and retain that for today.

CHARLES STANG: Brian, I wonder if you could end by reflecting on the meaning of dying before you die. What is it about that formula that captures for you the wisdom, the insight that is on offer in this ancient ritual, psychedelic or otherwise? What does it mean to die before dying?

BRIAN MURARESKU: Right. So that, actually, is the key to the immortality key. It is not psychedelics. And I offer psychedelics as one of those archaic techniques of ecstasy that seems to have been relevant and meaningful to our ancestors. Things like fasting and sleep deprivation and tattooing and scarification and, et cetera, et cetera. I think psychedelics are just one piece of the puzzle. And I'm not even sure what that piece looks like or how big it is.

The actual key that I found time and again in looking at this literature and the data is what seems to be happening here is the cultivation of a near-death experience. And what you're referring to is-- and how I begin the book is this beautiful Greek phrase, [SPEAKING GREEK]. If you die before you die, you won't die when you die. You can see that inscribed on a plaque in Saint Paul's monastery at Mount Athos in Greece.

And I think it does hearken back to a genuinely ancient Greek principle, which is that only by fully experiencing some kind of death, a death that feels real, where you, or at least the you you used to identify with, actually slips away, dissolves. We call it ego dissolution, things of that nature. We see lots of descriptions of this in the mystical literature with which you're very familiar.

So psychedelics or not, I think it's the cultivation of that experience, which is the actual key. Because what tends to happen in those experiences is a death and rebirth. A rebirth into what? A rebirth into a new conception of the self, the self's relationship to things that are hard to define, like God. What does God mean? Maybe there's a spark of the divine within. And maybe in these near-death experiences we begin to actually experience that at a visceral level. And maybe therein we do since the intimation of immortality.

Joe Campbell puts it best that what we're after is an experience of being alive. That to live on forever and ever, to live an everlasting life is not immortality. That's just everlasting. That's staying within the field of time. To become truly immortal, Campbell talks about entering into a sense of eternity, which is the infinite present here and now.

Which is really weird, because that's how the same Dina Bazer, the same atheist in the psilocybin trials, described her insight. She had the strange sense that every moment was an eternity of its own. And I describe that as somehow finding that key to immortality. And she happened to find it on psilocybin. Others find it in different ways, but the common denominator seems to be one of these really well-curated near-death experiences.

CHARLES STANG: Brian, I want to thank you for your time. I want to thank you for your candor. I want to thank you for putting up with me and my questions. And I want to say to those who are still assembled here that I'm terribly sorry that we can't get to all your questions. But please do know that we will forward all these questions to Brian so he will know the sorts of questions his work prompts. I'm sure he knows this well, by this point.

And I want to say that this question that we've been exploring the last half hour about what all this means for the present will be very much the topic of our next event on February 22, which is taking up the question of psychedelic chaplaincy.

And for those of you who have found my line of questioning or just my general presence tedious, first of all, I fully appreciate that reaction. Just imagine, I have to live with me. But you will be consoled to know that someone else will be-- I will be there, but someone else will be leading that conversation. Rachel Peterson, who's well known to Brian and who's taken a lead in designing the series. So again, that's February 22. That's our next event, and will be at least two more events to follow. All that will be announced through our mailing list.

So thank you, all who have hung with us. We still have almost 700 with us. And Brian, once again, thank you so much. And I look forward to talking about this event with you after the fact eventually over a beer. OK-- maybe one of those ancient beers.

BRIAN MURARESKU: I look forward to it, Charlie.

CHARLES STANG: I do, too. Thank you. Thank you.

Well, wonderful. Thank you all for joining us, and I hope to see many of you later this month for our next event.

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