Food of the Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge A Radical History of Plants, Drugs, and Human Evolution by Terence McKenna explains how the ancient ritual use of psychedelic plants altered our states of consciousness.
He exposes the roots of commercialism and how governments have followed a basic set of strategies to promote alcohol, coffee and tobacco as mainstream drugs over mind expanding psychedelics.
Mckenna wanted to make people curious about the role of psychoactive plants in human development, here are selected excerpts from his epic work:
Psychedelics Dissolve the Ego Culture
How, specifically, might the consciousness-catalyzing properties of plants have played a role in the emergence of culture and religion?
What was the effect of this folkway, this promotion of language using, thinking, but stoned hominids into the natural order?
I believe that the natural psychedelic compounds acted as feminizing agents that tempered and civilized the egocentric values of the solitary hunter-individual with the feminine concerns for child-rearing and group survival. The prolonged and repeated exposure to the psychedelic experience, the Wholly Other rupture of the mundane plane caused by the hallucinogenic ritual ecstasy, acted steadily to dissolve that portion of the psyche which we moderns call the ego. Wherever and whenever the ego function began to form, it was akin to a calcareous tumor or a blockage in the energy of the psyche.
The use of psychedelic plants in a context of shamanic initiation dissolved, as it dissolves today, the knotted structure of the ego into undifferentiated feeling, what Eastern philosophy calls the Tao. This dissolving of individual identity into the Tao is the goal of much of Eastern thought and has traditionally been recognized as the key to psychological health and balance for both the group and the individual. To appraise our dilemma correctly, we need to appraise what this loss of Tao, this loss of collective connection to the Earth, has meant for our humanness.
Western Dominator Religion Numbs the Soul
We in the West are the inheritors of a very different understanding of the world. Loss of connection to the Tao has meant that the psychological development of Western civilization has been markedly different from the East’s. In the West there has been a steady focus on the ego and on the god of the ego, the monotheistic ideal.
Monotheism exhibits what is essentially a pathological personality pattern projected onto the ideal of God: the pattern of the paranoid, possessive, power-obsessed male ego. This God is not someone you would care to invite to a garden party. Also interesting is that the Western ideal is the only formulation of deity that has no relationship with woman at any point in the theological myth. In ancient Babylon Anu was paired with his consort Inanna; Grecian religion assigned Zeus a wife, many consorts, and daughters. These heavenly pairings are typical. Only the god of Western civilization has no mother, no sister, no female consort, and no daughter.
Modern religion in the West is a set of social patterns, or a set of anxieties centered on a particular moral structure and view of obligation. Modern religion is rarely an experience of setting aside the ego.
Since the 1960s, the spread of popular cults of trance and dance, such as disco and reggae, is an inevitable and healthy counter to the generally moribund form religious expression has taken on in Western and high-tech culture. The connection between rock and roll and psychedelics is a shamanic connection; trance, dance, and intoxication make up the Archaic formula for both religious celebration and a guaranteed good time.
The global triumph of Western values means we, as a species, have wandered into a state of prolonged neurosis because of the absence of a connection to the unconscious. Gaining access to the unconscious through plant hallucinogen use reaffirms our original bond to the living planet. Our estrangement from nature and the unconscious became entrenched roughly two thousand years ago, during the shift from the Age of the Great God Pan to that of Pisces that occurred with the suppression of the pagan mysteries and the rise of Christianity. The psychological shift that ensued left European civilization staring into two millennia of religious mania and persecution, warfare, materialism, and rationalism.