Baia and The Mysteries

It is not the intention of this website to prove the usage or otherwise of the tunnel system at Baia. If the original intention was purely to provide steam for the Roman baths then no further speculation is needed. Indeed this remains the official view of the custodians of the archaeological site at Baia.

If the tunnels prove to be more ancient than Roman then we might well wish to speculate about who might have built them and why. 

To do this we might first look briefly at the geography and occupation of this region before the Romans.

Gold lamellae

 

Geography

The area around Baia is the highly volcanic region known as the Phlegraean (flaming) Fields. This extends from Cuma on the west coast to Naples, a distance of some 8 kilometers (5 miles). It encompasses 87 large and small craters situated very near to sea level. The fertility of the soil is high and crops thrive.

Varying volcanic pressure called bradyseism causes a gradual rise or descent of the Earth’s surface by the filling or emptying of an underground magma chamber. The word derives from the ancient Greek words “bradus”, meaning ‘slow’, and “seism” meaning ‘movement’, a word coined by Arturo Issel in 1883.

The rise and fall of the region is measured in centuries and changes in height have reached as much as 65 feet [20 metres] in many areas, Pozzuoli being the epicentre of volcanic activity.

History

The area around modern day Cuma, originally a Greek city called Kyme, shows evidence of Stone Age graves. Pottery dates these to about 2,500 BC. They were a Neolithic people who probably came from North Africa, possibly as early as 3,500 BC, likely to have been a matriarchal society, bringing with them the notion of a nurturing Mother Earth Goddess, as happened also in Greece when the first migrants from Libya occupied it. The Neolithic people’s largest settlement was at Paestum.

Greeks had first settled on the Island of Ischia, which they called Pithecussae, settling in the Phlegraean Fields at Kyme in 754 BC. Kyme is believed to be the first Greek colony on mainland Italy. Dionysius of Halicarnassus and Strabo said that they were directed there by a dove sent by Apollo.

Ephorus stated that Kyme was founded from the mother city of Kyme on the island of Euboea. Ephorus was perhaps biased, as he came from that very city. There was, however, another Kyme in Aeolis, Asia Minor. Arguments exist for either Kyme being the city that sponsored the emigration.

The Greeks prospered. A coalition of local tribes including the Dauni and Aurunci under the leadership of the Capuan Etruscans was defeated by the people of Kyme in 524 BC under the direction of its effeminate tyrant, Aristodemus.

Ships from Kyme and Syracuse in Sicily defeated the Etruscans at the Battle of Kyme in 474 BC.

The Greek period at Cumae came to an end in 421 BC when the Oscans broke down the walls and took the city. Kyme came under Roman rule in 338 BC, after which time it was known to the Romans as Cumae.

In the foothills to the east Samnite strongholds still existed, while to the south the Lucanians also occupied territory.

The Romans had succeeded in imposing peace in the area and among the first villas at Roman Baiae was that of Cneius Cornelius in 178 BC who according to Livy came to cure his arthritis in the volcanic waters.

The Julian family were also early residents of Baiae. Julius Caesar was possibly born here and later built his own villa at Baiae, thought to be a little higher up and to the south of the present day Archaeological Park. It is possible the tunnels at Baia may once have been on Julian property.

Under the Pax Romana Baiae thrived, becoming the centre of summer cultural life for wealthy Romans – Strabo wrote “Neapolis [Naples] has springs and bathing establishments that are not inferior to those of Baiae, although it is far short of Baiae in the number of inhabitants, for at Baiae, where palace on palace has been built one after another, a new city has arisen not inferior to Dichearchia [modern day Pozzuoli].”

The ‘Oracle of the Dead at Baia’ project: by John Smout Baia and the Mysteries

Greek religion

Greece itself is a country broken up by deep gulfs, criss-crossed with mountains and surrounded by scores of islands. It was originally a confederation of independent city-states, each having its own coinage, government, troops, customs and its cherished local myths of origin.

The system of twelve Olympian Gods and Goddesses – originally six of each – was created to satisfy the religious needs and unify both patriarchal and matriarchal tribes, originally centred in the Peloponnese, according to Robert Graves in “The Greek Tradition”. The Olympian Games brought the various tribes together every four years and served to unite the country. Male Dionysus, central to the Mysteries, upset the balance when he replaced female Hestia as an Olympian.

The Greeks thus had two religious systems, their own local beliefs and worship and the official Olympian system.

To the local and national system must be added a third which ran alongside religion, the various so-called Mystery cults that were centred in Corinth, Samothrace and elsewhere, the most well-known today being the Eleusinian mysteries of Athens. It is to the Mystery cults that we might look to gain an understanding of possible ritual usage of the complex system of tunnels at Baia.

The Greek Mysteries

“Whoever among men who walk the Earth has seen these Mysteries is blessed, but whoever is uninitiated and has not received his share of the rite, he will not have the same lot as the others, once he is dead and dwells in the mould where the sun goes down.” The Homeric Hymn to Demeter.

The Mysteries persisted for about 2,000 years. Prospective candidates for initiation originally had to be Greek-speaking free men with no slave blood in their family histories and with no criminal record. Priests subjected candidates to careful screening.

The cult of Demeter and Persephone at Eleusis was initially of only local significance, but soon became an important part of Athenian citizenship, and it eventually developed into a pan-Hellenic system in 760 BC at the time of the 5th Olympiad, when the Delphic Oracle called upon all Greeks to make communal sacrifice in honor of Demeter of Eleusis in order to banish a famine that was then affecting all of Greece. It had achieved wider importance by the time of the Roman empire, whose members continued to observe the Mysteries.

What was the message conveyed at Eleusis, a message that transformed the cult into the most influential and spiritually significant Mystery of antiquity? The veil of mystery, maintained by a severe commandment of secrecy, was never lifted during the millennia. It is only by examining the testimony of initiates that we may gain an idea of the significance that the teachings had for the individual. There is no question of any new religion having been promoted. This can be ruled out because the initiates, when they returned to their homelands after the Mysteries, remained faithful to their own religions.

Instead, revelations about the essence of human existence and about the meaning of life and death must have been imparted to the initiates. Prayers are known from the Mysteries, offered by initiates to Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory, imploring her to awaken and vividly maintain the memory of the holy initiation, that the initiation might persist as an experience illuminating all of life and transforming existence.

Inititation rites from Eleusis, circa 370 BC, showing Demeter and Persephone receiving a group of initiands.

Participating in the Mysteries was an experience that cannot be understood by examining external appearance only, for it caused alterations in the psyche of the initiate. This is evident from the testimony of the most famous initiates.

“Blessed is he who, having seen these rites, undertakes the way beneath the Earth. He knows the end of life, as well as its divinely granted beginning.” Pindar remarking on the Eleusinian blessing.

“Not only have we found there the reason to live more joyously, but also that we may die with greater hope.” Cicero. Local beliefs in Campania

From the ground springs life and to it life returns after death. It was logical to the Greeks and to most agricultural societies that if there was an independent nurturing force then it must lie under the ground and was invariably female, a goddess. In contrast, predominantly nomadic tribes that relied on moving cattle to new pastures, where their animals ensured their survival and the bull was dominant, tended to think of their deity as male.

Indigenous inhabitants of Campania rapidly came into contact with Greek religious ideas through the Greek colonies along the coast. The oldest Greek divinities were gods prominent in eastern Boeotia and Euboea, who were introduced into the first settlement at Kyme. With them came Demeter Thesmophoros, who was worshipped at Eretria. At the same time doubtless came Demeter’s daughter Persephone, with whom she was associated in the Mysteries.

Local tribes readily identified with Demeter in her role as nurturing mother and an Oscan equivalent for Demeter occurs in inscriptions. A deity corresponding to the Latin Libera [freedom] was probably also already in existence, who was equated with Demeter and Zeus’s daughter Persephone [Roman Proserpina or Cora] who was the wife of Hades and Queen of the Underworld.

Demeter, Persephone and Dionysus, the three deities associated with the Mysteries were easily identifiable with native deities and readily attained a position of pre-eminence. The date of their wider introduction into the interior of Campania is uncertain but they were certainly well known by the 6th century BC. These deities were connected with agriculture and naturally became widely popular over the rich and fertile Campanian plain.

Dionysus was born as a serpent-crowned child from the Earth-goddess Semele, whom a flash of lightning had impregnated, he went through a variety of transformations, was then torn to shreds and eaten by the Titans, but restored to life by his grandmother, the goddess Rhea, Creatrix of the world. He possessed a submarine retreat in the grottoes of the Sea-goddess Thetis and assisted at the chief Greek Mysteries, under the protection of the goddesses according to Robert Graves in “The Universal Paradise”.

The ‘Oracle of the Dead at Baia’ project: by John Smout Baia and the Mysteries

Roy Merle Peterson wrote in “The Cults of Campania”, “As a result of its bounteous crops of grain and the abundant yield of the vine, both Demeter and Dionysus seemed to vie with each other in showering their blessings upon it, and so the legend arose that it had been the object of contention between the two for its possession.”

Dionysus was regarded as a liberator and god of the dead. Parallels were seen between intoxication and death, both of which release the soul from the restraints of the flesh. His popularity is proved by the frequency with which he appears in vase paintings. The mystical element pervading the cult of Dionysus was paralleled in the Orphic mysteries, which had attained a full development in lower Italy in the 6th century BC. These doctrines unquestionably influenced Campania to a considerable extent, though no certain evidence for their presence in any particular city remains, unless the tunnels at Baia can be associated with them.

Volcanic regions had long been associated in the Greek mind with portals to a fiery underworld, naturally enough.

Homer’s Odyssey partly describes a perilous boat journey, which may be reasonably identified as sailing through the Strait of Messina up the west coast of Italy. The Greeks thus began to localize Homer’s Odyssey in the Ionian Sea in the 7th century BC. Many places names, such as Circe’s Point, attest to the fact. Baia itself derives its name from Baius, Odysseus’s helmsman. By the end of the 6th century BC the adventures of Odysseus and Aeneas had become fully established as having occurred between Capri south of the Bay of Naples and Ostia to the north.

According to Strabo, 225, citing Ephorus [4th century BC] an Oracle of the Dead was destroyed by a King of Kyme and afterwards restored elsewhere. Lake Avernus itself was chosen by Vergil as the site of the descent of Aeneas to visit the Oracle of the Dead. The tunnels at Baia are 1.34 miles [2.15 kilometres] from Lake Avernus.

Livy mentioned that in 209 BC that Hannibal had sacrificed at the Oracle of the Dead near Lake Avernus.

Other legends too mentioned an Oracle of the Dead in the region, as a place that really existed rather than being a mythological location.

The Mysteries in The Phlegraean Fields

The famous Mysteries celebrated in honour of Dionysus are referred to in an archaic Greek epitaph found near Cuma [Greek Kyme] and assigned to the 5th century BC. The inscription reads “None but Bakchoi may be buried here.”

The tablet proves the existence of a special cemetery where only initiates could be buried. Burial here was probably not a necessary requirement of the worshippers of Dionysus, but was rather designed to meet the needs of humbler folk who had no family tombs and hence were in danger of having their bodies mingled with the profane and points toward the presence of Orphic influence among the devotees of Cuma in the 5th century BC.

Cuma made very sparing use upon pottery of features connected with the myths or cult of Dionysus. The examples of the Dionysiac myths which are occasionally found at a comparatively late period are thought be due to the influence of Paestum.

The cult of Demeter, Persephone and Dionysus is said to have reached Rome in the year 493 BC. This form of worship in which Ceres, representing Demeter, had the leading place was adopted as an official cult by the state, but although the divinities were designated by Latin names formerly borne by old Italian deities, they were considered as foreign gods and their rites were Greek. But the mysteries celebrated in their honour by the Greeks and all features of the worship tending toward orgiastic excesses.

Demeter, one of the so called ‘dii patrii’, came to Italy with the Chalcidians. One of the traditions at Cuma stated that the colonists had been miraculously guided to Cuma at night by the sound of clashing bronze such as heard during Demeter’s ritual. We can assume that the Mysteries were celebrated from Cuma’s foundation. From Cuma interest in Demeter spread to Naples [Greek Neapolis] and extended to the interior of the Italian peninsula as well as north and south along the coast. The cult seems to have had a close relation with that of Apollo, the specific name of his seeress was Demophile and the history of both the oracles and the Demeter worship, when transplanted to Rome, shows an intimate association between them. Persephone/Proserpina, who must have had a place in the Mysteries, was traditionally located more particularly around Lake Avernus.

Addmittance to Demeter’s all female priesthood was considered a high honour. This is proved both by the respect in which the office was held elsewhere in Campania and by a story related by Plutarch. Xenocrite, a concubine of the tyrant Aristodemus of Cuma, was largely instrumental in organising the members of the aristocracy to effect the tyrant’s overthrow. They offered Xenocrite presents and honours, but she asked solely for the privilege of serving Demeter as a priestess.

The site of Demeter’s temple at Cuma was probably discovered during the course of an excavation begun in 1852 among the remains of the so-called ‘Tempio dei Giganti’. Among the remains appeared bits of marble with inscriptions mentioning the Luccei, a family named elsewhere regarding restoration of Demeter ‘s temple. Cn. Lucceius pater and Cn. Lucceius filius restored the worship of Demeter and two married daughters of the elder Lucceius, Polla and Tertulla, replaced the building along with its portico and other features. Cn. Lucceius is mentioned elsewhere in an inscription probably belonging to the year 7 AD, which establishes the approximate time of the restoration.

Occasionally Demeter is represented along with Dionysus, as on a two handled hydria or pitcher portraying the bliss of Elysium. The companion of Dionysus is more often a goddess who is depicted in the form of Ariadne.

Initiation

Initiates experienced the congruity of the beginning and the end, of birth and death, the totality and the eternal generative ground of being. An encounter with the divine that could only be described through metaphor.

The Eleusinian experience is often described in opposites: darkness and light, terror and beatitude, “Both the most awesome and the most luminous of all the divine things that exist among men.” as Aelius Aristides put it.

Emperor Marcus Aurelius counted the Mysteries “Among those endowments that manifest the solicitude of the gods for humankind.”

We know little of the ritual by which the illuminating vision was transmitted to the initiates or the meaning of the vision itself. Processions, rites, sacrifices and purification ceremonies took place publicly and these are known. What took place at the climax of the Eleusinian ceremony has in essence remained a mystery. A law of secrecy was maintained with severe consequences for those who betrayed it.

What we do know is that before the climax of the initiation, before the illuminating vision of the initiates, a sacred potion was administered. In recent times, scholars of Eleusis have advanced the hypothesis that it must have contained some entheogenic compound. Entheogen is a word decided upon by a committee headed by Professor Carl Ruck and means ‘generating the divine within’. The word hallucinogen implies a false vision of some kind and Humphrey Osmond’s word psychedelic has too many connotations of hippies and irresponsible use. This would explain how it was possible for the priests to simultaneously induce, as if in programmed fashion, an ecstatic visionary state in hundreds of initiates.

The ‘Oracle of the Dead at Baia’ project: by John Smout Baia and the Mysteries

Demeter and Persephone holding mushrooms aloft, although traditionally this picture is called “l’Exaltation du Fleur”.

Induction to the Lesser Mysteries occurred at the Spring anthesterion, or ‘flower-springing’ festival. According to Robert Graves a plausible derivation of the Greek word for mystery, mysterion, may well be a contraction of myko-sterion, or ‘mushroom-springing’. The Greater Mysteries, when the initiation of candidates occurred, were celebrated in Autumn, in the mushroom season, according to Robert Graves in “The Universal Paradise”. The celebration was called “The Ambrosia” and the concoction given to initiands was called ambrosia or sometimes kykeion.

The Eleusinian Mysteries, sacred to the Goddesses Demeter and Persephone [Roman Ceres and Proserpina respectively] and also to Dionysus [Roman Bacchus], were preceded by fasting and a ritual bathe in the sea. They then entered a temple, drank mint-water and ate pastries baked in magical and phallic shapes, carried in baskets. As a result, they saw celestial visions which could never afterwards be forgotten.

Interpreter of religious experience Mircea Eliade defined initiation as a principal religious act by classical or traditional societies – “a basic change in existential condition,” which liberates man from profane time and history. “Initiation recapitulates the sacred history of the world. And through this recapitulation, the whole world is sanctified anew… [the initiand] can perceive the world as a sacred work, a creation of the Gods.”

Eliade gave some purposes of intitiation as follows:

• “this real valuation of ritual death finally led to conquest of the fear of real death.”

• “[initiation’s] function is to reveal the deep meaning of existence to the new generations and to help them assume the responsibility of being

truly men and hence of participating in culture.”

• “it reveals a world open to the trans-human, a world that, in our philosophical terminology, we should call transcendental.”

• “to make [the initiand] open to spiritual values.”

Robert Graves was a Greek and Latin scholar whose comprehensive work “The Greek Myths” still remains a much-respected reference for the beliefs of the Hellenic tribes and their mythographical stories in all their various versions. Graves’s intimate knowledge of both Greek and Roman literature was coupled with a unique poetic insight that allowed him to get ‘under the skin’, as it were, of Greek and Roman culture, although he never let his insight overcome the need to corroborate his poetic hunches and collate the hard evidence necessary to support his internal leaps of understanding.

Robert Graves wrote a number of essays on the subject of the Mysteries and about his conclusion that the brew that was drunk was derived, at least originally, from the mushroom amanita muscaria, or fly agaric as it is also known. Graves refers to it as fly-amanite. His most complete explanation is given in his essay “What Food the Centaurs Ate”.

The ‘Oracle of the Dead at Baia’ project: by John Smout Baia and the Mysteries

Two early Greek poets, Sappho and Alcman, had preserved the ancient tradition of ambrosia as a drink, not a food. We can discount alcoholic spirits because the art of distillation had nowhere been invented at that date. Alcohol in any case does not produce god-like experiences.

Graves asked himself what was the ambrosia concoction that was given to intitiates? In Graves’s own words:

“The meaning of ‘ambrosia‘, the food of the gods, like ‘nectar‘, their drink, is: ‘that which confers immortality‘. The Greek grammarians define ambrosia as a thick porridge of honey, water, fruit, olive oil, cheese and pearl barley; though exactly what kind of fruit – whether grapes, quinces, applies, pears, pomegranates, medlars, strawberries, arbutus-berries, or figs – is, oddly enough, not specified. And why did they trouble to mention water among the ingredients? There is something funny here.”

“At this point, I wrote down the Greek words of the ambrosia recipe, as follows, one underneath the other:

• MELI

• UDOR

• KARPOS • ELAIOS

• TUROS

• ALPHITA

“Next, I wrote down the nectar recipe, namely honey, water and fruit:

• MELI

• UDOR

• KARPOS

“And also, while I was about it, the recipe for kukeón (‘mixture’), the draught which the Goddess Demeter, during her search for the lost Persephone, accepted in the palace of King Celeus at Eleusis – thus breaking a prolonged fast – and which was thereafter downed in her memory by initiates of the Greater Mysteries. Kukeón is mint water mixed with pounded barley:

• MINTHAION • UDOR

• KUKOMENON • ALPHITOIS

“Then I remembered how the Emperor Nero, after murdering and deifying the Emperor Claudius, his step-father, had joked about the drug employed by his professional poisoner Locusta: namely, juice of the lethal amanita phalloides, added to the amanita caesarea, an edible mushroom of which Claudius was extravagantly fond. Nero remarked how right the Greeks were to call mushrooms proverbially ‘the food of the gods‘. Two centuries later, the learned philosopher Porphyry, a sworn enemy of Christians, similarly described mushrooms as theotrophous – a post-Classical form of the adjective theotropheis, a stock-epithet for ambrosia – which means ‘god-nourishing’.

“So, if mushrooms were ambrosia, and if ambrosia was mushrooms, be pleased to examine those three sets of initial letters – M-U-K-E-T-A; M-U-K; M-U-K-A. You are at liberty to call me crazy, but I read them as three clear examples of ogham (which was what the ancient Irish bards called the device of spelling out a secret word by using the initial letters of other ordinary words). MUKETA answers the question: ‘What do the gods eat?’; for MUKETA is the accusative of MUKES (‘mushroom’). (It may be objected that the E of MUKETA is long, whereas the E of ELAIOS, ‘oil’, is short; but the Greeks did not distinguish long E from short in their earlier alphabets.) MUKA answers the question: ‘What grants me the mystic vision?’; for MUKA is an earlier form of the word MUKES (‘mushroom’). In the nectar recipe, a terminal A for ALPHITA (‘pearl-barley’) seems to have dropped out; since ‘Demeter’ means ‘Barley-mother’, she could hardly have failed to include barley in her kukeón. MUKA again! Now I could understand the supererogatory mention of UDOR (‘water’), and the too-general mention of KARPOS (‘fruit’), in the ambrosia recipe: U and K happened to be represented by those words in the priestly food-ogham.

Graves noted that in the entire corpus of Greek Literature, mushrooms received no mention, except for the reference to the ancient Greek proverb “Mushrooms are the food of the Gods”. This had led him to think that a religious taboo had once existed – mushrooms were preserved for the priesthood. The many disgusting names given to mushrooms acted as a deterrent: “Don’t touch that my child, it’s dirty!”

Graves began corresponding with R. Gordon Wasson in 1949. Wasson had risen to become US banking firm J. P. Morgan’s vice-president. Along with his Russian wife Valentina, Wasson dedicated his spare time to the study of rare entheogenic mushrooms in history and religion.

Gordon and Valentina Wasson had been fascinated by their opposing stances towards mushrooms. Gordon, born in the USA, had been educated to fear most mushrooms as poisonous toadstools while Russian Valentina picked and enjoyed many varieties, declaring them all to be delicious. They came to realise that this difference is widespread and cultural and like Graves, Gordon and Valentina came to the same conclusion, independently of each other, that religion was behind this. Cultures can be clearly defined as mycophobic or mycophagic and their members as mycophobes or mycophiles. Very few mushrooms are poisonous. We don’t stop eating fruit or vegetables because a few varieties are poisonous, so why mushrooms?

It is ironic that the relaxation of the taboo in England allows the eating of white field mushrooms, though the most deadly European mushroom of all, amanita phalloides, is equally white and has often been mistaken for it.

Dionysus distributing mushroom-like objects.

The irrational abhorrence of eating horseflesh persists in many countries, as does eating pork or beef, again for similar religious reasons, the animals were sacred. In the case of cows in India, it became sacred because of the cow’s dung on which the entheogenic mushroom stropharia grows. It’s use was still current in the 1950s, according to Idries Shah, and presumably is still used by Brahmins today.

Mushrooms are associated with lightning the world over. This is an easy association to understand. They grow rapidly after storms and having neither seeds nor roots appear to have spontaneously formed as a result of them.

The Wassons had collected names associated with mushrooms from all over the world. Toad, serpent and fox occur frequently.

The association with toads and toadstools is also explicable. Toads secrete bufotenin from their warty glands and when ingested bufotenin has a similar psychoactive effect to amanita muscaria.

The ‘Oracle of the Dead at Baia’ project: by John Smout Baia and the Mysteries

Robert Graves recalled that toad, serpent and fox are mentioned together by the mythographer Apollodorus as badges of the three divisions into which the Peloponnese was divided… toad for Argos, fox for Messene, serpent for Laconia. What is more, the Peloponnesian capital, where Agamemnon ruled as High King before he sailed to Troy, was Mycenae [mushroom city]. Agamemnon claimed divine descent from Zeus through his ancestor Perseus; and Perseus, according to the historian Pausanias, gave the city its name because he discovered mukai (‘mushrooms’) growing on the site.

The mushroom amanita muscaria’s contains a psychoactive component which does not survive cooking, but dried and eaten raw can produce celestial visions of the divine and the gift of prophecy. The identification of amanita muscaria as the entheogen originally used in the Mysteries can be unraveled owing to a unique property, the indoles pass into the kidneys and if the urine is collected and drunk it becomes even more potent.

The Indian Rig Veda states: ‘the great gods piss out together the lovely Soma’. The Rig Veda makes it clear that Soma is strained through calf’s wool and then drunk mixed with milk or curds. Soma is mentioned over 100 times in the Rig Veda, here are a couple of examples:

“Like a stag, come here to drink! Drink Soma, as much as you like. Pissing it out day by day, O generous one, You have assumed your most mighty force.” Rig Veda VIII 4.10.

“Soma, storm cloud imbued with life, is milked of ghee. Navel of the Way, Immortal Principle, he sprang into life in the far distance. Acting in concert, those charged with the office, richly gifted, do full honour to Soma. The swollen men piss the flowing Soma.” Rig Veda IX 74.

It has been known for at least two centuries that the Korjaks of Kamchatka do likewise. After drinking the mushroom juice their friends strain the urine through wool and, after drinking it, enjoy the same ecstasies and according to Robert Graves in “Mushrooms and Religion” The Korjaks will pay as much as a reindeer for a single dose.

Lapps and Finns are also said to filter and get high on the urine of reindeer that have eaten amanita muscaria.

Esoteric knowledge of this entheogenic urine-drinking appears to have survived in Titian’s painting, circa 1525, ‘The Bacchanal of the Andrians’. The infant Dionysus urinates while a man on the left scoops up the liquid and others are celebrating while drinking it.

John Allegro, a highly-respected translator of the Dead Sea scrolls team, brought the entire weight of the Christian church upon himself and was more or less successfully discredited for suggesting, through his thorough linguistic reasoning, that amanita muscaria was a substance secretly referred to in many biblical texts. Allegro’s book “The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross – A study of the nature and origins of Christianity within the fertility cults of the ancient Near East” did not deserve this treatment.

Allegro wrote in his introduction: “Armed with our new understanding of the language relationships of the ancient Near East, we can tackle the major problems involved in botanical nomenclature and discover those features of the more god-endued plants which attracted the attention of the old medicine men and prophets. The isolation of the names and epithets of the sacred mushroom opens the door into the secret chambers of the mystery cults which depended for their mystic hallucinatory experiences on the drugs found in the fungus [amanita muscaria]. At long last identification of the main characters of many of the old classical and biblical mythologies is possible, since we can now decipher their names. Above all, those mushroom epithets and holy invocations that the Christian cryptographers wove into their stories of the man Jesus and his companions can now be recognized, and the main features of the Christian cult laid bare.

Urine drinking in Titian’s ‘The Bacchanal of the Andrians’, circa 1525.

“The isolation of the mushroom cult and the real, hidden meaning of the New Testament writings drives a wedge between the moral teachings of the Gospels and their quite amoral religious setting. The new discoveries must thus raise more acutely the question of the validity of Christian “ethics” for the present time.”

   Fresco in the 12th century chapel of the Knights Hospitaller at Plaincourault. Adam and Eve with the tree of the knowledge as amanita muscaria. This image was considered dubious by both Gordon Wasson and John Allegro – it may simply be a stylised tree.

This bee-headed mushroom figure from Tassili-Ajjer, Sahara Desert is 7,000-9,000 years old and highly suggests that the ritual use of entheogenic mushrooms is extremely ancient and goes all the way back to the Paleolithic Period.

The spatial, temporal and logical effects explored in Lewis Carrol’s “Alice in Wonderland”, featuring Tenniel’s picture of the hookah-smoking caterpillar sat on a mushroom, are likely to have been a result of Lewis Carroll’s personal experimentation, the Anglican Deacon having read about amanita muscaria in the Gardener’s Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette of October 1862.

The ‘Oracle of the Dead at Baia’ project: by John Smout Baia and the Mysteries

Mushroom cults and the underworld in South America

The Mixtec Codex Vindobonensis. According to Aztec legend, Ehecatl-Quetzalcoatl created mankind from the bones he stole from the underworld Death God, whose decapitated head Quetzalcoatl holds in his hand. He, and those who sit behind Quetzalcoatl on the left, hold sacred mushrooms and appear to have fangs which suggest that, under the influence of the mushrooms they have been transformed in the underworld into the underworld jaguar. Centre right Quetzalcoatl is gesturing to Tlalóc directly in front of him to open the portal to the underworld. The scene depicts the divine establishment of the ritual consumption of sacred mushrooms. The triangular or V-shaped cleft in the basin of water on the left is a cosmic passage through which deities, people, animals and plants pass from one plane to another. At bottom left two figures stand beside another V-shaped portal of underworld resurrection. The figure on the left who points to the sky also has fangs. He appears to be a human transformed at death into the underworld sun god, or mythical “were jaguar”. This gesture probably signifies resurrection from the Underworld. The two-faced deity in front of him holds what appear from the shape to be sacred psilocybin mushrooms.

   In Mayan heiroglyphs an upended toad represents rebirth. Here an upended toad has a mushroom emerging from its mouth.

The parallels in South America with mushroom cults in Europe are startling. It seems to many that a cultural exchange may have occurred.

According to Robert Graves: “Tlaloc was engendered by lightning; so was Dionysus;… so are all mushrooms proverbially called ‘food of the gods’ in both languages. Tlaloc wore a serpent-crown; so did Dionysus. Tlaloc had an underwater retreat; so had Dionysus… Perseus, a sacred King of Argos, converted to Dionysus worship, named Mycenae after a toadstool… which gave forth a stream of water. Tlaloc’s emblem was a toad, so was that of Argos; and from the mouth of Tlaloc’s toad in the Tepentitla fresco issues a stream of water…”

Mushrooms in the Madrid Codex.

The ‘Oracle of the Dead at Baia’ project: by John Smout Baia and the Mysteries

Twice born Dionysus

Returning to the Greek Mysteries, we can shed light on Dionysus, and here I must again rely heavily upon Robert Graves.

“Since Agni, the Vedic lightning god, son of Indra the Vedic counterpart of Zeus, was also addressed as ‘Soma’, his identity with Dionysus is now plain. Dionysus had two births: by his father Zeus’s lightning bolt which struck the earth – his mother was the Earth goddess Semele – and when his mother died (but was afterwards translated by Dionysus himself to Heaven) he was sewn up in Zeus’s thigh and thence born a second time. This is a simple myth to interpret: mushrooms cannot be sown by seed and are everywhere popularly explained as born from a lightning stroke… Also, there are two ways of being inspired by the Soma mushroom: by eating it, and by drinking it (as Wasson explains) after it has been added to the contents of the King or priest’s bladder and then released. The identity of Soma and Ambrosia is indeed implicit in the Sanskrit origin of the word ‘Ambrosia’ namely a-nzrita, a Sanskrit word for the ‘elixir of immortality’, which can mean only Soma.

“The parallels between Zeus and Indra and between Dionysus and Agni are inescapable.” Robert Graves, The Two Births of Dionysus.

Drawing on Gordon Wasson’s work in identifying the Indian Soma with amanita muscaria and its potency after drinking the urine, Graves went on to:

“thank him gratefully for helping me finally to reveal the meaning of Merotraphes (thigh-nursed), Dionysus’s hitherto unexplained nickname.”

“Amanita muscaria grows in relation to a host tree. In Northern Europe this is the birch, which does not grow south of the forty-fifth parallel, which runs through Romania and Yugoslavia. In Greece amanita muscaria grows on the higher slopes under conifers. Dionysus’s cone-tipped thyrsus probably commemorates this botanical fact.” Robert Graves, What Food the Centaurs Ate.

Other psychoactive substances

Robert Graves noted that the secret which Demeter sent around the world from Eleusis via Triptolemus, circa 2,000 BC, was the art of sowing and harvesting corn, yet corn had been cultivated since 7,000 BC – the story does not ring true.

Dr Albert Hofmann is best known for his discovery of LSD. He was the director of research for the Department of Natural Products at Sandoz Pharmaceutical Ltd. in Basel, a fellow of the World Academy of Science and a member of the Nobel Prize Committee, the International Society of Plant Research and the American Society of Pharmacognosy. He wrote many scientific papers and several books: “The Botany and Chemistry of Hallucinogens and Plants of the Gods” with Richard Evans Schultes, “The Road to Eleusis” with R. G. Wasson and Carl Ruck, “LSD: My Problem Child” and “Insight/Outlook”.

Hofmann wrote, “The investigation regarding the putative hallucinogen of the kykeon, the draught which the Goddess Demeter, during her search for the lost Persephone, accepted in the palace of King Celeus at Eleusis – thus breaking a prolonged fast – and which was thereafter downed in her memory by initiates of the Greater Mysteries, that I conducted in collaboration with Gordon Wasson and Carl Ruck, professor of ethnobotany in Greek mythology at Boston University, uncovered interesting parallels and connections between the Eleusinian Mystery cult and certain extant magic cults among the Indian tribes in remote regions of southern Mexico.

“In the Mazatec and Zapotec regions of the mountains of southern Mexico, the thaumaturges and curanderos continue, as they have for millennia, to employ an hallucinogenic potion in their magico- religious curing ceremonies. This potion is prepared from the seeds of certain species of morning glories, Turbina corymbosa and Ipomoea violacea. In the chemical-pharmaceutical research laboratories of Sandoz Ltd. in Basel, Switzerland, we have investigated the active principles of this drug, known as the ololiuhqui potion. These proved to be alkaloids also found in ergot, namely lysergic acid amide and lysergic acid hydroxyethylamide, near relatives of lysergic acid diethylamide, the chemical name for LSD, also a product of ergot.

“We also found the very same hallucinogenic compounds in ergot

of the wild grass Paspalum distichum from the Mediterranean

area. These findings led us to frame the hypothesis that the

consciousness-altering component of the kykeon involved

hallucinogenic compounds similar to those used to this day in the preparation of the sacred ololiuhqui potion. The Eleusinian priests merely had to collect the ergot of this Paspalum species, which surely was very common in the vicinity of the temple, and then pulverize it and add it to the kykeon to give it its consciousness-altering potency.

“Ergot is the name of the sclerotium of the lower fungus Claviceps, which parasitizes grains and also wild grasses like Paspalum. The ears of grain infested by the fungus form dark pegs in place of the normally light-colored grains – this is ergot. It is not at all unlikely that ergot would have been used as a sacred drug in the temple of the goddess of grain, Demeter.

“A further connection between ergot and Eleusis is shown in an Eleusinian ritual that consisted of the presentation of an ear of grain by the priests. This ritual is related to the myth of the barleycorn, which dies planted in the earth in order to give life to a new plant that leaps forth again to the light of springtime. Here we find a symbol of the annual rotation of Persephone from the darkness of the underworld to the light of Olympus, as well as a symbol of the permanence of life in the eternal cycle of death and rebirth.”

Although for some people amanita muscaria might produce the celestial vision, it has side effects and ergot is a much better and more precise entheogen. Could the corn secret which Demeter sent around the world from Eleusis via Triptolemus commemorate the subsititution of paspalum distichum ergot for amanita muscaria? This makes better sense.

The ‘Oracle of the Dead at Baia’ project: by John Smout Baia and the Mysteries

Ceremonial use of the tunnels at Baia

Those who have experience of entheogens will tell you that the full experience entails a sense of complete ego loss and thus a sense of one’s self. The deepest experiences only occur when this has happened – there is no more ‘you’ and ‘it’. In approaching this state one can become highly suggestible and adequate preparation and guidance is important. Modern researchers talk of the ‘set’ and ‘setting’, meaning the mental setting of the individual and the immediate physical surroundings where the event is happening.

Having assessed the suitability of the candidate, the gradual descent down the Great Antrum at Baia could well have been designed to enhance a sense of detachment in space and time, with the eventual ritual crossing of the Styx to rise up to Persephone’s sanctuary making the symbolic break between this world and what lies beyond. Having been interviewed and initiated at the Sanctuary the return route, with its possible two exits via the twin tunnels at the Dividing of the Ways may have served to return those who did not experience the mystical state by means of the way they came in, while those who clearly demonstrated that they had experienced a revelatory vision could be ingineered to emerge to the Elysian Fields by another route. This may be a possible explanation of the double tunnel near the Dividing of the Ways. A possible final Elysian Portal to daylight has been discovered and named by Peter Knight, but the point at which this would join the Dividing of the Ways has currently not been confirmed within the tunnels, although some visible evidence certainly exists. Ground penetrating radar could confirm this in a non- invasive way.

The twin return tunnels at Baia, from the Sanctuary via S120. Could initiates have been returned to daylight in one of two ways?

   Left: Ixion on his wheel with sectioned mushroom between his feet, from an Etruscan mirror. The wings shown will be those of a wryneck, sacred to the erotic God Dionysus which gave him the surname ‘Iynges’ (‘of the wryneck’).

Right: Ixion portrayed on a vase from Cuma [Greek Kyme]. Ixion was father to the Centaurs and in later times the Centaurs formed part of the following of Dionysus, moving peaceably in his festal train among the satyrs, nymphs and Bacchants.

Is there any relevance in the Mysteries for today’s world?

“It is either through the influence of narcotic potions, of which all primitive peoples and races speak in hymns, or through the powerful approach of spring, penetrating all of nature with joy, that those Dionysian stirrings arise, which in their intensification lead the individual to forget himself completely… Not only does the bond between person and person come to be forged once again by the magic of the Dionysian rite, but alienated, hostile, or subjugated nature again celebrates her reconciliation with her prodigal son, mankind.” Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy.

To quote Albert Hoffman, “The requisite transformations in the direction of an all-encompassing consciousness, as a precondition for overcoming materialism and for a renewed relationship with nature, cannot be relegated to society or to the state. The change must and can only take place in each individual person.

“Only a few blessed people spontaneously attain the mystical vision that can effect this transformation. As a result, mankind has repeatedly sought paths and evolved methods to evoke deeper perception and experience. First among these are the different techniques of meditation. Meditation can be assisted by such external means as isolation and solitude, a path the hermits and desert saints followed, and by such physical practices as fasting and breath control. An especially important aid in the induction of mystical-ecstatic states of consciousness, discovered in the earliest times, is decidedly the use of certain plant drugs… I have made it quite clear that their use must proceed within the scope of religious ceremony.

“The fact that extraordinary states of awareness can be induced with various means and in various ways shows us that capacity for mystical experience is innate to every person. It is part of the essence of human spirituality. It is unrelated to the external, social status of the individual. Thus, in Eleusis, free men and women, as well as slaves [Robert Graves disagreed and stated no slaves or descendants], could be initiated.

“Eleusis can be a model for today. Eleusis-like centers could unite and strengthen the many spiritual currents of our time, all of which have the same goal: the goal of creating, by transforming consciousness in individual people, the conditions for a better world, a world without war and without environmental damage, a world of happy people.” Albert Hoffman, The Message of the Eleusinian Mysteries for Today’s World.

 

VIEW OF ANCIENT STRUCTURE FROM ABOVE SHOWING THE OBLIQUE TRENCH FACING VESUVIUS

Geography and history

Geography

The area around Baia is the highly volcanic region known as the Phlegrean [flaming] Fields. This extends from Cuma on the west coast to Naples, a distance of some 5 miles [8 kilometers]. It encompasses 87 large and small craters situated very near to sea level. The fertility of the soil is very high and crops thrive.

Varying volcanic pressure called bradyseism causes a gradual rise or descent of the Earth’s surface by the filling or emptying of an underground magma chamber. The word derives from the ancient Greek words “bradus”, meaning ‘slow’, and “seism” meaning ‘movement’, a word coined by Arturo Issel in 1883.

The rise and fall of the region is measured in centuries and changes in height have reached as much as 65 feet [20 metres] in many areas, Pozzuoli being the epicentre of volcanic activity.

History

The area around modern day Cuma, originally a Greek city called Kyme, shows evidence of Stone Age graves. Pottery dates these to about 2,500 BC. They were a Neolithic people who probably came from North Africa, possibly as early as 3,500 BC, likely to have been a matriarchal society, bringing with them the notion of a nurturing Mother Earth Goddess, as happened also in Greece when the first migrants from Libya occupied it. The Neolithic people’s largest settlement was at Paestum.

Greeks had first settled on the Island of Ischia, which they called Pithecussae, settling in the Phlegraean Fields at Kyme in 754 BC. Kyme is believed to be the first Greek colony on mainland Italy. Dionysius of Halicarnassus and Strabo said that they were directed there by a dove sent by Apollo.

Ephorus stated that Kyme was founded from the mother city of Kyme on the island of Euboea. Ephorus was perhaps biased, as he came from that very city. There was, however, another Kyme in Aeolis, Asia Minor. Arguments exist for either Kyme being the city that sponsored the emigration.

The Greeks prospered. A coalition of local tribes including the Dauni and Aurunci under the leadership of the Capuan Etruscans was defeated by the people of Kyme in 524 BC under the direction of its effeminate tyrant, Aristodemus.

Ships from Kyme and Syracuse in Sicily defeated the Etruscans at the Battle of Kyme in 474 BC.

The Greek period at Cumae came to an end in 421 BC when the Oscans broke down the walls and took the city. Kyme came under Roman rule in 338 BC, after which time it was known to the Romans as Cumae.

In the foothills to the east Samnite strongholds still existed, while to the south the Lucanians also occupied territory.

The Romans had succeeded in imposing peace in the area and among the first villas at Roman Baiae was that of Cneius Cornelius in 178 BC who according to Livy came to cure his arthritis in the volcanic waters.

The Julian family were also early residents of Baiae. Julius Caesar was possibly born here and later built his own villa at Baiae, thought to be a little higher up and to the south of the present day Archaeological Park. It is possible the tunnels at Baia may once have been on Julian property.

Under the Pax Romana Baiae thrived, becoming the centre of summer cultural life for wealthy Romans – Strabo wrote “Neapolis [Naples] has springs and bathing establishments that are not inferior to those of Baiae, although it is far short of Baiae in the number of inhabitants, for at Baiae, where palace on palace has been built one after another, a new city has arisen not inferior to Dichearchia [modern day Pozzuoli].”

The ‘Oracle of the Dead at Baia’ project: by John Smout Baia and the Mysteries

Greek religion

Greece itself is a country broken up by deep gulfs, criss-crossed with mountains and surrounded by scores of islands. It was originally a confederation of independent city-states, each having its own coinage, government, troops, customs and its cherished local myths of origin.

The system of twelve Olympian Gods and Goddesses – originally six of each – was created to satisfy the religious needs and unify both patriarchal and matriarchal tribes, originally centred in the Peloponnese, according to Robert Graves in “The Greek Tradition”. The Olympian Games brought the various tribes together every four years and served to unite the country. Male Dionysus, central to the Mysteries, upset the balance when he replaced female Hestia as an Olympian.

The Greeks thus had two religious systems, their own local beliefs and worship and the official Olympian system.

To the local and national system must be added a third which ran alongside religion, the various so-called Mystery cults that were centred in Corinth, Samothrace and elsewhere, the most well-known today being the Eleusinian mysteries of Athens. It is to the Mystery cults that we might look to gain an understanding of possible ritual usage of the complex system of tunnels at Baia.

The Greek Mysteries

“Whoever among men who walk the Earth has seen these Mysteries is blessed, but whoever is uninitiated and has not received his share of the rite, he will not have the same lot as the others, once he is dead and dwells in the mould where the sun goes down.” The Homeric Hymn to Demeter.

The Mysteries persisted for about 2,000 years. Prospective candidates for initiation originally had to be Greek-speaking free men with no slave blood in their family histories and with no criminal record. Priests subjected candidates to careful screening.

The cult of Demeter and Persephone at Eleusis was initially of only local significance, but soon became an important part of Athenian citizenship, and it eventually developed into a pan-Hellenic system in 760 BC at the time of the 5th Olympiad, when the Delphic Oracle called upon all Greeks to make communal sacrifice in honor of Demeter of Eleusis in order to banish a famine that was then affecting all of Greece. It had achieved wider importance by the time of the Roman empire, whose members continued to observe the Mysteries.

What was the message conveyed at Eleusis, a message that transformed the cult into the most influential and spiritually significant Mystery of antiquity? The veil of mystery, maintained by a severe commandment of secrecy, was never lifted during the millennia. It is only by examining the testimony of initiates that we may gain an idea of the significance that the teachings had for the individual. There is no question of any new religion having been promoted. This can be ruled out because the initiates, when they returned to their homelands after the Mysteries, remained faithful to their own religions.

Instead, revelations about the essence of human existence and about the meaning of life and death must have been imparted to the initiates. Prayers are known from the Mysteries, offered by initiates to Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory, imploring her to awaken and vividly maintain the memory of the holy initiation, that the initiation might persist as an experience illuminating all of life and transforming existence.

Inititation rites from Eleusis, circa 370 BC, showing Demeter and Persephone receiving a group of initiands.

Participating in the Mysteries was an experience that cannot be understood by examining external appearance only, for it caused alterations in the psyche of the initiate. This is evident from the testimony of the most famous initiates.

“Blessed is he who, having seen these rites, undertakes the way beneath the Earth. He knows the end of life, as well as its divinely granted beginning.” Pindar remarking on the Eleusinian blessing.

“Not only have we found there the reason to live more joyously, but also that we may die with greater hope.” Cicero. Local beliefs in Campania

From the ground springs life and to it life returns after death. It was logical to the Greeks and to most agricultural societies that if there was an independent nurturing force then it must lie under the ground and was invariably female, a goddess. In contrast, predominantly nomadic tribes that relied on moving cattle to new pastures, where their animals ensured their survival and the bull was dominant, tended to think of their deity as male.

Indigenous inhabitants of Campania rapidly came into contact with Greek religious ideas through the Greek colonies along the coast. The oldest Greek divinities were gods prominent in eastern Boeotia and Euboea, who were introduced into the first settlement at Kyme. With them came Demeter Thesmophoros, who was worshipped at Eretria. At the same time doubtless came Demeter’s daughter Persephone, with whom she was associated in the Mysteries.

Local tribes readily identified with Demeter in her role as nurturing mother and an Oscan equivalent for Demeter occurs in inscriptions. A deity corresponding to the Latin Libera [freedom] was probably also already in existence, who was equated with Demeter and Zeus’s daughter Persephone [Roman Proserpina or Cora] who was the wife of Hades and Queen of the Underworld.

Demeter, Persephone and Dionysus, the three deities associated with the Mysteries were easily identifiable with native deities and readily attained a position of pre-eminence. The date of their wider introduction into the interior of Campania is uncertain but they were certainly well known by the 6th century BC. These deities were connected with agriculture and naturally became widely popular over the rich and fertile Campanian plain.

Dionysus was born as a serpent-crowned child from the Earth-goddess Semele, whom a flash of lightning had impregnated, he went through a variety of transformations, was then torn to shreds and eaten by the Titans, but restored to life by his grandmother, the goddess Rhea, Creatrix of the world. He possessed a submarine retreat in the grottoes of the Sea-goddess Thetis and assisted at the chief Greek Mysteries, under the protection of the goddesses according to Robert Graves in “The Universal Paradise”.

The ‘Oracle of the Dead at Baia’ project: by John Smout Baia and the Mysteries

Roy Merle Peterson wrote in “The Cults of Campania”, “As a result of its bounteous crops of grain and the abundant yield of the vine, both Demeter and Dionysus seemed to vie with each other in showering their blessings upon it, and so the legend arose that it had been the object of contention between the two for its possession.”

Dionysus was regarded as a liberator and god of the dead. Parallels were seen between intoxication and death, both of which release the soul from the restraints of the flesh. His popularity is proved by the frequency with which he appears in vase paintings. The mystical element pervading the cult of Dionysus was paralleled in the Orphic mysteries, which had attained a full development in lower Italy in the 6th century BC. These doctrines unquestionably influenced Campania to a considerable extent, though no certain evidence for their presence in any particular city remains, unless the tunnels at Baia can be associated with them.

Volcanic regions had long been associated in the Greek mind with portals to a fiery underworld, naturally enough.

Homer’s Odyssey partly describes a perilous boat journey, which may be reasonably identified as sailing through the Strait of Messina up the west coast of Italy. The Greeks thus began to localize Homer’s Odyssey in the Ionian Sea in the 7th century BC. Many places names, such as Circe’s Point, attest to the fact. Baia itself derives its name from Baius, Odysseus’s helmsman. By the end of the 6th century BC the adventures of Odysseus and Aeneas had become fully established as having occurred between Capri south of the Bay of Naples and Ostia to the north.

According to Strabo, 225, citing Ephorus [4th century BC] an Oracle of the Dead was destroyed by a King of Kyme and afterwards restored elsewhere. Lake Avernus itself was chosen by Vergil as the site of the descent of Aeneas to visit the Oracle of the Dead. The tunnels at Baia are 1.34 miles [2.15 kilometres] from Lake Avernus.

Livy mentioned that in 209 BC that Hannibal had sacrificed at the Oracle of the Dead near Lake Avernus.

Other legends too mentioned an Oracle of the Dead in the region, as a place that really existed rather than being a mythological location.

The Mysteries in The Phlegraean Fields

The famous Mysteries celebrated in honour of Dionysus are referred to in an archaic Greek epitaph found near Cuma [Greek Kyme] and assigned to the 5th century BC. The inscription reads “None but Bakchoi may be buried here.”

The tablet proves the existence of a special cemetery where only initiates could be buried. Burial here was probably not a necessary requirement of the worshippers of Dionysus, but was rather designed to meet the needs of humbler folk who had no family tombs and hence were in danger of having their bodies mingled with the profane and points toward the presence of Orphic influence among the devotees of Cuma in the 5th century BC.

Cuma made very sparing use upon pottery of features connected with the myths or cult of Dionysus. The examples of the Dionysiac myths which are occasionally found at a comparatively late period are thought be due to the influence of Paestum.

The cult of Demeter, Persephone and Dionysus is said to have reached Rome in the year 493 BC. This form of worship in which Ceres, representing Demeter, had the leading place was adopted as an official cult by the state, but although the divinities were designated by Latin names formerly borne by old Italian deities, they were considered as foreign gods and their rites were Greek. But the mysteries celebrated in their honour by the Greeks and all features of the worship tending toward orgiastic excesses.

Demeter, one of the so called ‘dii patrii’, came to Italy with the Chalcidians. One of the traditions at Cuma stated that the colonists had been miraculously guided to Cuma at night by the sound of clashing bronze such as heard during Demeter’s ritual. We can assume that the Mysteries were celebrated from Cuma’s foundation. From Cuma interest in Demeter spread to Naples [Greek Neapolis] and extended to the interior of the Italian peninsula as well as north and south along the coast. The cult seems to have had a close relation with that of Apollo, the specific name of his seeress was Demophile and the history of both the oracles and the Demeter worship, when transplanted to Rome, shows an intimate association between them. Persephone/Proserpina, who must have had a place in the Mysteries, was traditionally located more particularly around Lake Avernus.

Addmittance to Demeter’s all female priesthood was considered a high honour. This is proved both by the respect in which the office was held elsewhere in Campania and by a story related by Plutarch. Xenocrite, a concubine of the tyrant Aristodemus of Cuma, was largely instrumental in organising the members of the aristocracy to effect the tyrant’s overthrow. They offered Xenocrite presents and honours, but she asked solely for the privilege of serving Demeter as a priestess.

The site of Demeter’s temple at Cuma was probably discovered during the course of an excavation begun in 1852 among the remains of the so-called ‘Tempio dei Giganti’. Among the remains appeared bits of marble with inscriptions mentioning the Luccei, a family named elsewhere regarding restoration of Demeter ‘s temple. Cn. Lucceius pater and Cn. Lucceius filius restored the worship of Demeter and two married daughters of the elder Lucceius, Polla and Tertulla, replaced the building along with its portico and other features. Cn. Lucceius is mentioned elsewhere in an inscription probably belonging to the year 7 AD, which establishes the approximate time of the restoration.

Occasionally Demeter is represented along with Dionysus, as on a two handled hydria or pitcher portraying the bliss of Elysium. The companion of Dionysus is more often a goddess who is depicted in the form of Ariadne.

Initiation

Initiates experienced the congruity of the beginning and the end, of birth and death, the totality and the eternal generative ground of being. An encounter with the divine that could only be described through metaphor.

The Eleusinian experience is often described in opposites: darkness and light, terror and beatitude, “Both the most awesome and the most luminous of all the divine things that exist among men.” as Aelius Aristides put it.

Emperor Marcus Aurelius counted the Mysteries “Among those endowments that manifest the solicitude of the gods for humankind.”

We know little of the ritual by which the illuminating vision was transmitted to the initiates or the meaning of the vision itself. Processions, rites, sacrifices and purification ceremonies took place publicly and these are known. What took place at the climax of the Eleusinian ceremony has in essence remained a mystery. A law of secrecy was maintained with severe consequences for those who betrayed it.

What we do know is that before the climax of the initiation, before the illuminating vision of the initiates, a sacred potion was administered. In recent times, scholars of Eleusis have advanced the hypothesis that it must have contained some entheogenic compound. Entheogen is a word decided upon by a committee headed by Professor Carl Ruck and means ‘generating the divine within’. The word hallucinogen implies a false vision of some kind and Humphrey Osmond’s word psychedelic has too many connotations of hippies and irresponsible use. This would explain how it was possible for the priests to simultaneously induce, as if in programmed fashion, an ecstatic visionary state in hundreds of initiates.

The ‘Oracle of the Dead at Baia’ project: by John Smout Baia and the Mysteries

Demeter and Persephone holding mushrooms aloft, although traditionally this picture is called “l’Exaltation du Fleur”.

Induction to the Lesser Mysteries occurred at the Spring anthesterion, or ‘flower-springing’ festival. According to Robert Graves a plausible derivation of the Greek word for mystery, mysterion, may well be a contraction of myko-sterion, or ‘mushroom-springing’. The Greater Mysteries, when the initiation of candidates occurred, were celebrated in Autumn, in the mushroom season, according to Robert Graves in “The Universal Paradise”. The celebration was called “The Ambrosia” and the concoction given to initiands was called ambrosia or sometimes kykeion.

The Eleusinian Mysteries, sacred to the Goddesses Demeter and Persephone [Roman Ceres and Proserpina respectively] and also to Dionysus [Roman Bacchus], were preceded by fasting and a ritual bathe in the sea. They then entered a temple, drank mint-water and ate pastries baked in magical and phallic shapes, carried in baskets. As a result, they saw celestial visions which could never afterwards be forgotten.

Interpreter of religious experience Mircea Eliade defined initiation as a principal religious act by classical or traditional societies – “a basic change in existential condition,” which liberates man from profane time and history. “Initiation recapitulates the sacred history of the world. And through this recapitulation, the whole world is sanctified anew… [the initiand] can perceive the world as a sacred work, a creation of the Gods.”

Eliade gave some purposes of intitiation as follows:

“this real valuation of ritual death finally led to conquest of the fear of real death.”

• “[initiation’s] function is to reveal the deep meaning of existence to the new generations and to help them assume the responsibility of being

truly men and hence of participating in culture.”

• “it reveals a world open to the trans-human, a world that, in our philosophical terminology, we should call transcendental.”

• “to make [the initiand] open to spiritual values.”

Robert Graves was a Greek and Latin scholar whose comprehensive work “The Greek Myths” still remains a much-respected reference for the beliefs of the Hellenic tribes and their mythographical stories in all their various versions. Graves’s intimate knowledge of both Greek and Roman literature was coupled with a unique poetic insight that allowed him to get ‘under the skin’, as it were, of Greek and Roman culture, although he never let his insight overcome the need to corroborate his poetic hunches and collate the hard evidence necessary to support his internal leaps of understanding.

Robert Graves wrote a number of essays on the subject of the Mysteries and about his conclusion that the brew that was drunk was derived, at least originally, from the mushroom amanita muscaria, or fly agaric as it is also known. Graves refers to it as fly-amanite. His most complete explanation is given in his essay “What Food the Centaurs Ate”.

The ‘Oracle of the Dead at Baia’ project: by John Smout Baia and the Mysteries

Two early Greek poets, Sappho and Alcman, had preserved the ancient tradition of ambrosia as a drink, not a food. We can discount alcoholic spirits because the art of distillation had nowhere been invented at that date. Alcohol in any case does not produce god-like experiences.

Graves asked himself what was the ambrosia concoction that was given to intitiates? In Graves’s own words:

“The meaning of ‘ambrosia‘, the food of the gods, like ‘nectar‘, their drink, is: ‘that which confers immortality‘. The Greek grammarians define ambrosia as a thick porridge of honey, water, fruit, olive oil, cheese and pearl barley; though exactly what kind of fruit – whether grapes, quinces, applies, pears, pomegranates, medlars, strawberries, arbutus-berries, or figs – is, oddly enough, not specified. And why did they trouble to mention water among the ingredients? There is something funny here.”

“At this point, I wrote down the Greek words of the ambrosia recipe, as follows, one underneath the other:

• MELI

• UDOR

• KARPOS • ELAIOS

• TUROS

• ALPHITA

“Next, I wrote down the nectar recipe, namely honey, water and fruit:

• MELI

• UDOR

• KARPOS

“And also, while I was about it, the recipe for kukeón (‘mixture’), the draught which the Goddess Demeter, during her search for the lost Persephone, accepted in the palace of King Celeus at Eleusis – thus breaking a prolonged fast – and which was thereafter downed in her memory by initiates of the Greater Mysteries. Kukeón is mint water mixed with pounded barley:

• MINTHAION • UDOR

• KUKOMENON • ALPHITOIS

“Then I remembered how the Emperor Nero, after murdering and deifying the Emperor Claudius, his step-father, had joked about the drug employed by his professional poisoner Locusta: namely, juice of the lethal amanita phalloides, added to the amanita caesarea, an edible mushroom of which Claudius was extravagantly fond. Nero remarked how right the Greeks were to call mushrooms proverbially ‘the food of the gods‘. Two centuries later, the learned philosopher Porphyry, a sworn enemy of Christians, similarly described mushrooms as theotrophous – a post-Classical form of the adjective theotropheis, a stock-epithet for ambrosia – which means ‘god-nourishing’.

“So, if mushrooms were ambrosia, and if ambrosia was mushrooms, be pleased to examine those three sets of initial letters – M-U-K-E-T-A; M-U-K; M-U-K-A. You are at liberty to call me crazy, but I read them as three clear examples of ogham (which was what the ancient Irish bards called the device of spelling out a secret word by using the initial letters of other ordinary words). MUKETA answers the question: ‘What do the gods eat?’; for MUKETA is the accusative of MUKES (‘mushroom’). (It may be objected that the E of MUKETA is long, whereas the E of ELAIOS, ‘oil’, is short; but the Greeks did not distinguish long E from short in their earlier alphabets.) MUKA answers the question: ‘What grants me the mystic vision?’; for MUKA is an earlier form of the word MUKES (‘mushroom’). In the nectar recipe, a terminal A for ALPHITA (‘pearl-barley’) seems to have dropped out; since ‘Demeter’ means ‘Barley-mother’, she could hardly have failed to include barley in her kukeón. MUKA again! Now I could understand the supererogatory mention of UDOR (‘water’), and the too-general mention of KARPOS (‘fruit’), in the ambrosia recipe: U and K happened to be represented by those words in the priestly food-ogham.

Graves noted that in the entire corpus of Greek Literature, mushrooms received no mention, except for the reference to the ancient Greek proverb “Mushrooms are the food of the Gods”. This had led him to think that a religious taboo had once existed – mushrooms were preserved for the priesthood. The many disgusting names given to mushrooms acted as a deterrent: “Don’t touch that my child, it’s dirty!”

Graves began corresponding with R. Gordon Wasson in 1949. Wasson had risen to become US banking firm J. P. Morgan’s vice-president. Along with his Russian wife Valentina, Wasson dedicated his spare time to the study of rare entheogenic mushrooms in history and religion.

Gordon and Valentina Wasson had been fascinated by their opposing stances towards mushrooms. Gordon, born in the USA, had been educated to fear most mushrooms as poisonous toadstools while Russian Valentina picked and enjoyed many varieties, declaring them all to be delicious. They came to realise that this difference is widespread and cultural and like Graves, Gordon and Valentina came to the same conclusion, independently of each other, that religion was behind this. Cultures can be clearly defined as mycophobic or mycophagic and their members as mycophobes or mycophiles. Very few mushrooms are poisonous. We don’t stop eating fruit or vegetables because a few varieties are poisonous, so why mushrooms?

It is ironic that the relaxation of the taboo in England allows the eating of white field mushrooms, though the most deadly European mushroom of all, amanita phalloides, is equally white and has often been mistaken for it.

Dionysus distributing mushroom-like objects.

The irrational abhorrence of eating horseflesh persists in many countries, as does eating pork or beef, again for similar religious reasons, the animals were sacred. In the case of cows in India, it became sacred because of the cow’s dung on which the entheogenic mushroom stropharia grows. It’s use was still current in the 1950s, according to Idries Shah, and presumably is still used by Brahmins today.

Mushrooms are associated with lightning the world over. This is an easy association to understand. They grow rapidly after storms and having neither seeds nor roots appear to have spontaneously formed as a result of them.

The Wassons had collected names associated with mushrooms from all over the world. Toad, serpent and fox occur frequently.

The association with toads and toadstools is also explicable. Toads secrete bufotenin from their warty glands and when ingested bufotenin has a similar psychoactive effect to amanita muscaria.

The ‘Oracle of the Dead at Baia’ project: by John Smout Baia and the Mysteries

Robert Graves recalled that toad, serpent and fox are mentioned together by the mythographer Apollodorus as badges of the three divisions into which the Peloponnese was divided… toad for Argos, fox for Messene, serpent for Laconia. What is more, the Peloponnesian capital, where Agamemnon ruled as High King before he sailed to Troy, was Mycenae [mushroom city]. Agamemnon claimed divine descent from Zeus through his ancestor Perseus; and Perseus, according to the historian Pausanias, gave the city its name because he discovered mukai (‘mushrooms’) growing on the site.

The mushroom amanita muscaria’s contains a psychoactive component which does not survive cooking, but dried and eaten raw can produce celestial visions of the divine and the gift of prophecy. The identification of amanita muscaria as the entheogen originally used in the Mysteries can be unraveled owing to a unique property, the indoles pass into the kidneys and if the urine is collected and drunk it becomes even more potent.

The Indian Rig Veda states: ‘the great gods piss out together the lovely Soma’. The Rig Veda makes it clear that Soma is strained through calf’s wool and then drunk mixed with milk or curds. Soma is mentioned over 100 times in the Rig Veda, here are a couple of examples:

“Like a stag, come here to drink! Drink Soma, as much as you like. Pissing it out day by day, O generous one, You have assumed your most mighty force.” Rig Veda VIII 4.10.

“Soma, storm cloud imbued with life, is milked of ghee. Navel of the Way, Immortal Principle, he sprang into life in the far distance. Acting in concert, those charged with the office, richly gifted, do full honour to Soma. The swollen men piss the flowing Soma.” Rig Veda IX 74.

It has been known for at least two centuries that the Korjaks of Kamchatka do likewise. After drinking the mushroom juice their friends strain the urine through wool and, after drinking it, enjoy the same ecstasies and according to Robert Graves in “Mushrooms and Religion” The Korjaks will pay as much as a reindeer for a single dose.

Lapps and Finns are also said to filter and get high on the urine of reindeer that have eaten amanita muscaria.

Esoteric knowledge of this entheogenic urine-drinking appears to have survived in Titian’s painting, circa 1525, ‘The Bacchanal of the Andrians’. The infant Dionysus urinates while a man on the left scoops up the liquid and others are celebrating while drinking it.

John Allegro, a highly-respected translator of the Dead Sea scrolls team, brought the entire weight of the Christian church upon himself and was more or less successfully discredited for suggesting, through his thorough linguistic reasoning, that amanita muscaria was a substance secretly referred to in many biblical texts. Allegro’s book “The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross – A study of the nature and origins of Christianity within the fertility cults of the ancient Near East” did not deserve this treatment.

Allegro wrote in his introduction: “Armed with our new understanding of the language relationships of the ancient Near East, we can tackle the major problems involved in botanical nomenclature and discover those features of the more god-endued plants which attracted the attention of the old medicine men and prophets. The isolation of the names and epithets of the sacred mushroom opens the door into the secret chambers of the mystery cults which depended for their mystic hallucinatory experiences on the drugs found in the fungus [amanita muscaria]. At long last identification of the main characters of many of the old classical and biblical mythologies is possible, since we can now decipher their names. Above all, those mushroom epithets and holy invocations that the Christian cryptographers wove into their stories of the man Jesus and his companions can now be recognized, and the main features of the Christian cult laid bare.

Urine drinking in Titian’s ‘The Bacchanal of the Andrians’, circa 1525.

“The isolation of the mushroom cult and the real, hidden meaning of the New Testament writings drives a wedge between the moral teachings of the Gospels and their quite amoral religious setting. The new discoveries must thus raise more acutely the question of the validity of Christian “ethics” for the present time.”

   Fresco in the 12th century chapel of the Knights Hospitaller at Plaincourault. Adam and Eve with the tree of the knowledge as amanita muscaria. This image was considered dubious by both Gordon Wasson and John Allegro – it may simply be a stylised tree.

This bee-headed mushroom figure from Tassili-Ajjer, Sahara Desert is 7,000-9,000 years old and highly suggests that the ritual use of entheogenic mushrooms is extremely ancient and goes all the way back to the Paleolithic Period.

The spatial, temporal and logical effects explored in Lewis Carrol’s “Alice in Wonderland”, featuring Tenniel’s picture of the hookah-smoking caterpillar sat on a mushroom, are likely to have been a result of Lewis Carroll’s personal experimentation, the Anglican Deacon having read about amanita muscaria in the Gardener’s Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette of October 1862.

The ‘Oracle of the Dead at Baia’ project: by John Smout Baia and the Mysteries

Mushroom cults and the underworld in South America

The Mixtec Codex Vindobonensis. According to Aztec legend, Ehecatl-Quetzalcoatl created mankind from the bones he stole from the underworld Death God, whose decapitated head Quetzalcoatl holds in his hand. He, and those who sit behind Quetzalcoatl on the left, hold sacred mushrooms and appear to have fangs which suggest that, under the influence of the mushrooms they have been transformed in the underworld into the underworld jaguar. Centre right Quetzalcoatl is gesturing to Tlalóc directly in front of him to open the portal to the underworld. The scene depicts the divine establishment of the ritual consumption of sacred mushrooms. The triangular or V-shaped cleft in the basin of water on the left is a cosmic passage through which deities, people, animals and plants pass from one plane to another. At bottom left two figures stand beside another V-shaped portal of underworld resurrection. The figure on the left who points to the sky also has fangs. He appears to be a human transformed at death into the underworld sun god, or mythical “were jaguar”. This gesture probably signifies resurrection from the Underworld. The two-faced deity in front of him holds what appear from the shape to be sacred psilocybin mushrooms.

   In Mayan heiroglyphs an upended toad represents rebirth. Here an upended toad has a mushroom emerging from its mouth.

The parallels in South America with mushroom cults in Europe are startling. It seems to many that a cultural exchange may have occurred.

According to Robert Graves: “Tlaloc was engendered by lightning; so was Dionysus;… so are all mushrooms proverbially called ‘food of the gods’ in both languages. Tlaloc wore a serpent-crown; so did Dionysus. Tlaloc had an underwater retreat; so had Dionysus… Perseus, a sacred King of Argos, converted to Dionysus worship, named Mycenae after a toadstool… which gave forth a stream of water. Tlaloc’s emblem was a toad, so was that of Argos; and from the mouth of Tlaloc’s toad in the Tepentitla fresco issues a stream of water…”

Mushrooms in the Madrid Codex.

The ‘Oracle of the Dead at Baia’ project: by John Smout Baia and the Mysteries

Twice born Dionysus

Returning to the Greek Mysteries, we can shed light on Dionysus, and here I must again rely heavily upon Robert Graves.

“Since Agni, the Vedic lightning god, son of Indra the Vedic counterpart of Zeus, was also addressed as ‘Soma’, his identity with Dionysus is now plain. Dionysus had two births: by his father Zeus’s lightning bolt which struck the earth – his mother was the Earth goddess Semele – and when his mother died (but was afterwards translated by Dionysus himself to Heaven) he was sewn up in Zeus’s thigh and thence born a second time. This is a simple myth to interpret: mushrooms cannot be sown by seed and are everywhere popularly explained as born from a lightning stroke… Also, there are two ways of being inspired by the Soma mushroom: by eating it, and by drinking it (as Wasson explains) after it has been added to the contents of the King or priest’s bladder and then released. The identity of Soma and Ambrosia is indeed implicit in the Sanskrit origin of the word ‘Ambrosia’ namely a-nzrita, a Sanskrit word for the ‘elixir of immortality’, which can mean only Soma.

“The parallels between Zeus and Indra and between Dionysus and Agni are inescapable.” Robert Graves, The Two Births of Dionysus.

Drawing on Gordon Wasson’s work in identifying the Indian Soma with amanita muscaria and its potency after drinking the urine, Graves went on to:

“thank him gratefully for helping me finally to reveal the meaning of Merotraphes (thigh-nursed), Dionysus’s hitherto unexplained nickname.”

Amanita muscaria grows in relation to a host tree. In Northern Europe this is the birch, which does not grow south of the forty-fifth parallel, which runs through Romania and Yugoslavia. In Greece amanita muscaria grows on the higher slopes under conifers. Dionysus’s cone-tipped thyrsus probably commemorates this botanical fact.” Robert Graves, What Food the Centaurs Ate.

Other psychoactive substances

Robert Graves noted that the secret which Demeter sent around the world from Eleusis via Triptolemus, circa 2,000 BC, was the art of sowing and harvesting corn, yet corn had been cultivated since 7,000 BC – the story does not ring true.

Dr Albert Hofmann is best known for his discovery of LSD. He was the director of research for the Department of Natural Products at Sandoz Pharmaceutical Ltd. in Basel, a fellow of the World Academy of Science and a member of the Nobel Prize Committee, the International Society of Plant Research and the American Society of Pharmacognosy. He wrote many scientific papers and several books: “The Botany and Chemistry of Hallucinogens and Plants of the Gods” with Richard Evans Schultes, “The Road to Eleusis” with R. G. Wasson and Carl Ruck, “LSD: My Problem Child” and “Insight/Outlook”.

Hofmann wrote, “The investigation regarding the putative hallucinogen of the kykeon, the draught which the Goddess Demeter, during her search for the lost Persephone, accepted in the palace of King Celeus at Eleusis – thus breaking a prolonged fast – and which was thereafter downed in her memory by initiates of the Greater Mysteries, that I conducted in collaboration with Gordon Wasson and Carl Ruck, professor of ethnobotany in Greek mythology at Boston University, uncovered interesting parallels and connections between the Eleusinian Mystery cult and certain extant magic cults among the Indian tribes in remote regions of southern Mexico.

“In the Mazatec and Zapotec regions of the mountains of southern Mexico, the thaumaturges and curanderos continue, as they have for millennia, to employ an hallucinogenic potion in their magico- religious curing ceremonies. This potion is prepared from the seeds of certain species of morning glories, Turbina corymbosa and Ipomoea violacea. In the chemical-pharmaceutical research laboratories of Sandoz Ltd. in Basel, Switzerland, we have investigated the active principles of this drug, known as the ololiuhqui potion. These proved to be alkaloids also found in ergot, namely lysergic acid amide and lysergic acid hydroxyethylamide, near relatives of lysergic acid diethylamide, the chemical name for LSD, also a product of ergot.

“We also found the very same hallucinogenic compounds in ergot

of the wild grass Paspalum distichum from the Mediterranean

area. These findings led us to frame the hypothesis that the

consciousness-altering component of the kykeon involved

hallucinogenic compounds similar to those used to this day in the preparation of the sacred ololiuhqui potion. The Eleusinian priests merely had to collect the ergot of this Paspalum species, which surely was very common in the vicinity of the temple, and then pulverize it and add it to the kykeon to give it its consciousness-altering potency.

“Ergot is the name of the sclerotium of the lower fungus Claviceps, which parasitizes grains and also wild grasses like Paspalum. The ears of grain infested by the fungus form dark pegs in place of the normally light-colored grains – this is ergot. It is not at all unlikely that ergot would have been used as a sacred drug in the temple of the goddess of grain, Demeter.

“A further connection between ergot and Eleusis is shown in an Eleusinian ritual that consisted of the presentation of an ear of grain by the priests. This ritual is related to the myth of the barleycorn, which dies planted in the earth in order to give life to a new plant that leaps forth again to the light of springtime. Here we find a symbol of the annual rotation of Persephone from the darkness of the underworld to the light of Olympus, as well as a symbol of the permanence of life in the eternal cycle of death and rebirth.”

Although for some people amanita muscaria might produce the celestial vision, it has side effects and ergot is a much better and more precise entheogen. Could the corn secret which Demeter sent around the world from Eleusis via Triptolemus commemorate the subsititution of paspalum distichum ergot for amanita muscaria? This makes better sense.

The ‘Oracle of the Dead at Baia’ project: by John Smout Baia and the Mysteries

Ceremonial use of the tunnels at Baia

Those who have experience of entheogens will tell you that the full experience entails a sense of complete ego loss and thus a sense of one’s self. The deepest experiences only occur when this has happened – there is no more ‘you’ and ‘it’. In approaching this state one can become highly suggestible and adequate preparation and guidance is important. Modern researchers talk of the ‘set’ and ‘setting’, meaning the mental setting of the individual and the immediate physical surroundings where the event is happening.

Having assessed the suitability of the candidate, the gradual descent down the Great Antrum at Baia could well have been designed to enhance a sense of detachment in space and time, with the eventual ritual crossing of the Styx to rise up to Persephone’s sanctuary making the symbolic break between this world and what lies beyond. Having been interviewed and initiated at the Sanctuary the return route, with its possible two exits via the twin tunnels at the Dividing of the Ways may have served to return those who did not experience the mystical state by means of the way they came in, while those who clearly demonstrated that they had experienced a revelatory vision could be ingineered to emerge to the Elysian Fields by another route. This may be a possible explanation of the double tunnel near the Dividing of the Ways. A possible final Elysian Portal to daylight has been discovered and named by Peter Knight, but the point at which this would join the Dividing of the Ways has currently not been confirmed within the tunnels, although some visible evidence certainly exists. Ground penetrating radar could confirm this in a non- invasive way.

The twin return tunnels at Baia, from the Sanctuary via S120. Could initiates have been returned to daylight in one of two ways?

   Left: Ixion on his wheel with sectioned mushroom between his feet, from an Etruscan mirror. The wings shown will be those of a wryneck, sacred to the erotic God Dionysus which gave him the surname ‘Iynges’ (‘of the wryneck’).

Right: Ixion portrayed on a vase from Cuma [Greek Kyme]. Ixion was father to the Centaurs and in later times the Centaurs formed part of the following of Dionysus, moving peaceably in his festal train among the satyrs, nymphs and Bacchants.

Is there any relevance in the Mysteries for today’s world?

“It is either through the influence of narcotic potions, of which all primitive peoples and races speak in hymns, or through the powerful approach of spring, penetrating all of nature with joy, that those Dionysian stirrings arise, which in their intensification lead the individual to forget himself completely… Not only does the bond between person and person come to be forged once again by the magic of the Dionysian rite, but alienated, hostile, or subjugated nature again celebrates her reconciliation with her prodigal son, mankind.” Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy.

To quote Albert Hoffman, “The requisite transformations in the direction of an all-encompassing consciousness, as a precondition for overcoming materialism and for a renewed relationship with nature, cannot be relegated to society or to the state. The change must and can only take place in each individual person.

“Only a few blessed people spontaneously attain the mystical vision that can effect this transformation. As a result, mankind has repeatedly sought paths and evolved methods to evoke deeper perception and experience. First among these are the different techniques of meditation. Meditation can be assisted by such external means as isolation and solitude, a path the hermits and desert saints followed, and by such physical practices as fasting and breath control. An especially important aid in the induction of mystical-ecstatic states of consciousness, discovered in the earliest times, is decidedly the use of certain plant drugs… I have made it quite clear that their use must proceed within the scope of religious ceremony.

“The fact that extraordinary states of awareness can be induced with various means and in various ways shows us that capacity for mystical experience is innate to every person. It is part of the essence of human spirituality. It is unrelated to the external, social status of the individual. Thus, in Eleusis, free men and women, as well as slaves [Robert Graves disagreed and stated no slaves or descendants], could be initiated.

“Eleusis can be a model for today. Eleusis-like centers could unite and strengthen the many spiritual currents of our time, all of which have the same goal: the goal of creating, by transforming consciousness in individual people, the conditions for a better world, a world without war and without environmental damage, a world of happy people.” Albert Hoffman, The Message of the Eleusinian Mysteries for Today’s World.

It is not the intention of this document to prove the usage or otherwise of the tunnel system at Baia. If the original intention was purely to provide steam for the Roman baths then no further speculation is needed, but if the tunnels are more ancient than Roman then we might well wish to ask who might have built them and why. To do this we should first look briefly at the location and occupation of this region before the Romans.

 

VIEW OF ANCIENT STRUCTURE FROM ABOVE SHOWING THE OBLIQUE TRENCH FACING VESUVIUS

Geography and history

Geography

The area around Baia is the highly volcanic region known as the Phlegrean [flaming] Fields. This extends from Cuma on the west coast to Naples, a distance of some 5 miles [8 kilometers]. It encompasses 87 large and small craters situated very near to sea level. The fertility of the soil is very high and crops thrive.

Varying volcanic pressure called bradyseism causes a gradual rise or descent of the Earth’s surface by the filling or emptying of an underground magma chamber. The word derives from the ancient Greek words “bradus”, meaning ‘slow’, and “seism” meaning ‘movement’, a word coined by Arturo Issel in 1883.

The rise and fall of the region is measured in centuries and changes in height have reached as much as 65 feet [20 metres] in many areas, Pozzuoli being the epicentre of volcanic activity.

History

The area around modern day Cuma, originally a Greek city called Kyme, shows evidence of Stone Age graves. Pottery dates these to about 2,500 BC. They were a Neolithic people who probably came from North Africa, possibly as early as 3,500 BC, likely to have been a matriarchal society, bringing with them the notion of a nurturing Mother Earth Goddess, as happened also in Greece when the first migrants from Libya occupied it. The Neolithic people’s largest settlement was at Paestum.

Greeks had first settled on the Island of Ischia, which they called Pithecussae, settling in the Phlegraean Fields at Kyme in 754 BC. Kyme is believed to be the first Greek colony on mainland Italy. Dionysius of Halicarnassus and Strabo said that they were directed there by a dove sent by Apollo.

Ephorus stated that Kyme was founded from the mother city of Kyme on the island of Euboea. Ephorus was perhaps biased, as he came from that very city. There was, however, another Kyme in Aeolis, Asia Minor. Arguments exist for either Kyme being the city that sponsored the emigration.

The Greeks prospered. A coalition of local tribes including the Dauni and Aurunci under the leadership of the Capuan Etruscans was defeated by the people of Kyme in 524 BC under the direction of its effeminate tyrant, Aristodemus.

Ships from Kyme and Syracuse in Sicily defeated the Etruscans at the Battle of Kyme in 474 BC.

The Greek period at Cumae came to an end in 421 BC when the Oscans broke down the walls and took the city. Kyme came under Roman rule in 338 BC, after which time it was known to the Romans as Cumae.

In the foothills to the east Samnite strongholds still existed, while to the south the Lucanians also occupied territory.

The Romans had succeeded in imposing peace in the area and among the first villas at Roman Baiae was that of Cneius Cornelius in 178 BC who according to Livy came to cure his arthritis in the volcanic waters.

The Julian family were also early residents of Baiae. Julius Caesar was possibly born here and later built his own villa at Baiae, thought to be a little higher up and to the south of the present day Archaeological Park. It is possible the tunnels at Baia may once have been on Julian property.

Under the Pax Romana Baiae thrived, becoming the centre of summer cultural life for wealthy Romans – Strabo wrote “Neapolis [Naples] has springs and bathing establishments that are not inferior to those of Baiae, although it is far short of Baiae in the number of inhabitants, for at Baiae, where palace on palace has been built one after another, a new city has arisen not inferior to Dichearchia [modern day Pozzuoli].”

The ‘Oracle of the Dead at Baia’ project: by John Smout Baia and the Mysteries

Greek religion

Greece itself is a country broken up by deep gulfs, criss-crossed with mountains and surrounded by scores of islands. It was originally a confederation of independent city-states, each having its own coinage, government, troops, customs and its cherished local myths of origin.

The system of twelve Olympian Gods and Goddesses – originally six of each – was created to satisfy the religious needs and unify both patriarchal and matriarchal tribes, originally centred in the Peloponnese, according to Robert Graves in “The Greek Tradition”. The Olympian Games brought the various tribes together every four years and served to unite the country. Male Dionysus, central to the Mysteries, upset the balance when he replaced female Hestia as an Olympian.

The Greeks thus had two religious systems, their own local beliefs and worship and the official Olympian system.

To the local and national system must be added a third which ran alongside religion, the various so-called Mystery cults that were centred in Corinth, Samothrace and elsewhere, the most well-known today being the Eleusinian mysteries of Athens. It is to the Mystery cults that we might look to gain an understanding of possible ritual usage of the complex system of tunnels at Baia.

The Greek Mysteries

“Whoever among men who walk the Earth has seen these Mysteries is blessed, but whoever is uninitiated and has not received his share of the rite, he will not have the same lot as the others, once he is dead and dwells in the mould where the sun goes down.” The Homeric Hymn to Demeter.

The Mysteries persisted for about 2,000 years. Prospective candidates for initiation originally had to be Greek-speaking free men with no slave blood in their family histories and with no criminal record. Priests subjected candidates to careful screening.

The cult of Demeter and Persephone at Eleusis was initially of only local significance, but soon became an important part of Athenian citizenship, and it eventually developed into a pan-Hellenic system in 760 BC at the time of the 5th Olympiad, when the Delphic Oracle called upon all Greeks to make communal sacrifice in honor of Demeter of Eleusis in order to banish a famine that was then affecting all of Greece. It had achieved wider importance by the time of the Roman empire, whose members continued to observe the Mysteries.

What was the message conveyed at Eleusis, a message that transformed the cult into the most influential and spiritually significant Mystery of antiquity? The veil of mystery, maintained by a severe commandment of secrecy, was never lifted during the millennia. It is only by examining the testimony of initiates that we may gain an idea of the significance that the teachings had for the individual. There is no question of any new religion having been promoted. This can be ruled out because the initiates, when they returned to their homelands after the Mysteries, remained faithful to their own religions.

Instead, revelations about the essence of human existence and about the meaning of life and death must have been imparted to the initiates. Prayers are known from the Mysteries, offered by initiates to Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory, imploring her to awaken and vividly maintain the memory of the holy initiation, that the initiation might persist as an experience illuminating all of life and transforming existence.

Inititation rites from Eleusis, circa 370 BC, showing Demeter and Persephone receiving a group of initiands.

Participating in the Mysteries was an experience that cannot be understood by examining external appearance only, for it caused alterations in the psyche of the initiate. This is evident from the testimony of the most famous initiates.

“Blessed is he who, having seen these rites, undertakes the way beneath the Earth. He knows the end of life, as well as its divinely granted beginning.” Pindar remarking on the Eleusinian blessing.

“Not only have we found there the reason to live more joyously, but also that we may die with greater hope.” Cicero. Local beliefs in Campania

From the ground springs life and to it life returns after death. It was logical to the Greeks and to most agricultural societies that if there was an independent nurturing force then it must lie under the ground and was invariably female, a goddess. In contrast, predominantly nomadic tribes that relied on moving cattle to new pastures, where their animals ensured their survival and the bull was dominant, tended to think of their deity as male.

Indigenous inhabitants of Campania rapidly came into contact with Greek religious ideas through the Greek colonies along the coast. The oldest Greek divinities were gods prominent in eastern Boeotia and Euboea, who were introduced into the first settlement at Kyme. With them came Demeter Thesmophoros, who was worshipped at Eretria. At the same time doubtless came Demeter’s daughter Persephone, with whom she was associated in the Mysteries.

Local tribes readily identified with Demeter in her role as nurturing mother and an Oscan equivalent for Demeter occurs in inscriptions. A deity corresponding to the Latin Libera [freedom] was probably also already in existence, who was equated with Demeter and Zeus’s daughter Persephone [Roman Proserpina or Cora] who was the wife of Hades and Queen of the Underworld.

Demeter, Persephone and Dionysus, the three deities associated with the Mysteries were easily identifiable with native deities and readily attained a position of pre-eminence. The date of their wider introduction into the interior of Campania is uncertain but they were certainly well known by the 6th century BC. These deities were connected with agriculture and naturally became widely popular over the rich and fertile Campanian plain.

Dionysus was born as a serpent-crowned child from the Earth-goddess Semele, whom a flash of lightning had impregnated, he went through a variety of transformations, was then torn to shreds and eaten by the Titans, but restored to life by his grandmother, the goddess Rhea, Creatrix of the world. He possessed a submarine retreat in the grottoes of the Sea-goddess Thetis and assisted at the chief Greek Mysteries, under the protection of the goddesses according to Robert Graves in “The Universal Paradise”.

The ‘Oracle of the Dead at Baia’ project: by John Smout Baia and the Mysteries

Roy Merle Peterson wrote in “The Cults of Campania”, “As a result of its bounteous crops of grain and the abundant yield of the vine, both Demeter and Dionysus seemed to vie with each other in showering their blessings upon it, and so the legend arose that it had been the object of contention between the two for its possession.”

Dionysus was regarded as a liberator and god of the dead. Parallels were seen between intoxication and death, both of which release the soul from the restraints of the flesh. His popularity is proved by the frequency with which he appears in vase paintings. The mystical element pervading the cult of Dionysus was paralleled in the Orphic mysteries, which had attained a full development in lower Italy in the 6th century BC. These doctrines unquestionably influenced Campania to a considerable extent, though no certain evidence for their presence in any particular city remains, unless the tunnels at Baia can be associated with them.

Volcanic regions had long been associated in the Greek mind with portals to a fiery underworld, naturally enough.

Homer’s Odyssey partly describes a perilous boat journey, which may be reasonably identified as sailing through the Strait of Messina up the west coast of Italy. The Greeks thus began to localize Homer’s Odyssey in the Ionian Sea in the 7th century BC. Many places names, such as Circe’s Point, attest to the fact. Baia itself derives its name from Baius, Odysseus’s helmsman. By the end of the 6th century BC the adventures of Odysseus and Aeneas had become fully established as having occurred between Capri south of the Bay of Naples and Ostia to the north.

According to Strabo, 225, citing Ephorus [4th century BC] an Oracle of the Dead was destroyed by a King of Kyme and afterwards restored elsewhere. Lake Avernus itself was chosen by Vergil as the site of the descent of Aeneas to visit the Oracle of the Dead. The tunnels at Baia are 1.34 miles [2.15 kilometres] from Lake Avernus.

Livy mentioned that in 209 BC that Hannibal had sacrificed at the Oracle of the Dead near Lake Avernus.

Other legends too mentioned an Oracle of the Dead in the region, as a place that really existed rather than being a mythological location.

The Mysteries in The Phlegraean Fields

The famous Mysteries celebrated in honour of Dionysus are referred to in an archaic Greek epitaph found near Cuma [Greek Kyme] and assigned to the 5th century BC. The inscription reads “None but Bakchoi may be buried here.”

The tablet proves the existence of a special cemetery where only initiates could be buried. Burial here was probably not a necessary requirement of the worshippers of Dionysus, but was rather designed to meet the needs of humbler folk who had no family tombs and hence were in danger of having their bodies mingled with the profane and points toward the presence of Orphic influence among the devotees of Cuma in the 5th century BC.

Cuma made very sparing use upon pottery of features connected with the myths or cult of Dionysus. The examples of the Dionysiac myths which are occasionally found at a comparatively late period are thought be due to the influence of Paestum.

The cult of Demeter, Persephone and Dionysus is said to have reached Rome in the year 493 BC. This form of worship in which Ceres, representing Demeter, had the leading place was adopted as an official cult by the state, but although the divinities were designated by Latin names formerly borne by old Italian deities, they were considered as foreign gods and their rites were Greek. But the mysteries celebrated in their honour by the Greeks and all features of the worship tending toward orgiastic excesses.

Demeter, one of the so called ‘dii patrii’, came to Italy with the Chalcidians. One of the traditions at Cuma stated that the colonists had been miraculously guided to Cuma at night by the sound of clashing bronze such as heard during Demeter’s ritual. We can assume that the Mysteries were celebrated from Cuma’s foundation. From Cuma interest in Demeter spread to Naples [Greek Neapolis] and extended to the interior of the Italian peninsula as well as north and south along the coast. The cult seems to have had a close relation with that of Apollo, the specific name of his seeress was Demophile and the history of both the oracles and the Demeter worship, when transplanted to Rome, shows an intimate association between them. Persephone/Proserpina, who must have had a place in the Mysteries, was traditionally located more particularly around Lake Avernus.

Addmittance to Demeter’s all female priesthood was considered a high honour. This is proved both by the respect in which the office was held elsewhere in Campania and by a story related by Plutarch. Xenocrite, a concubine of the tyrant Aristodemus of Cuma, was largely instrumental in organising the members of the aristocracy to effect the tyrant’s overthrow. They offered Xenocrite presents and honours, but she asked solely for the privilege of serving Demeter as a priestess.

The site of Demeter’s temple at Cuma was probably discovered during the course of an excavation begun in 1852 among the remains of the so-called ‘Tempio dei Giganti’. Among the remains appeared bits of marble with inscriptions mentioning the Luccei, a family named elsewhere regarding restoration of Demeter ‘s temple. Cn. Lucceius pater and Cn. Lucceius filius restored the worship of Demeter and two married daughters of the elder Lucceius, Polla and Tertulla, replaced the building along with its portico and other features. Cn. Lucceius is mentioned elsewhere in an inscription probably belonging to the year 7 AD, which establishes the approximate time of the restoration.

Occasionally Demeter is represented along with Dionysus, as on a two handled hydria or pitcher portraying the bliss of Elysium. The companion of Dionysus is more often a goddess who is depicted in the form of Ariadne.

Initiation

Initiates experienced the congruity of the beginning and the end, of birth and death, the totality and the eternal generative ground of being. An encounter with the divine that could only be described through metaphor.

The Eleusinian experience is often described in opposites: darkness and light, terror and beatitude, “Both the most awesome and the most luminous of all the divine things that exist among men.” as Aelius Aristides put it.

Emperor Marcus Aurelius counted the Mysteries “Among those endowments that manifest the solicitude of the gods for humankind.”

We know little of the ritual by which the illuminating vision was transmitted to the initiates or the meaning of the vision itself. Processions, rites, sacrifices and purification ceremonies took place publicly and these are known. What took place at the climax of the Eleusinian ceremony has in essence remained a mystery. A law of secrecy was maintained with severe consequences for those who betrayed it.

What we do know is that before the climax of the initiation, before the illuminating vision of the initiates, a sacred potion was administered. In recent times, scholars of Eleusis have advanced the hypothesis that it must have contained some entheogenic compound. Entheogen is a word decided upon by a committee headed by Professor Carl Ruck and means ‘generating the divine within’. The word hallucinogen implies a false vision of some kind and Humphrey Osmond’s word psychedelic has too many connotations of hippies and irresponsible use. This would explain how it was possible for the priests to simultaneously induce, as if in programmed fashion, an ecstatic visionary state in hundreds of initiates.

The ‘Oracle of the Dead at Baia’ project: by John Smout Baia and the Mysteries

Demeter and Persephone holding mushrooms aloft, although traditionally this picture is called “l’Exaltation du Fleur”.

Induction to the Lesser Mysteries occurred at the Spring anthesterion, or ‘flower-springing’ festival. According to Robert Graves a plausible derivation of the Greek word for mystery, mysterion, may well be a contraction of myko-sterion, or ‘mushroom-springing’. The Greater Mysteries, when the initiation of candidates occurred, were celebrated in Autumn, in the mushroom season, according to Robert Graves in “The Universal Paradise”. The celebration was called “The Ambrosia” and the concoction given to initiands was called ambrosia or sometimes kykeion.

The Eleusinian Mysteries, sacred to the Goddesses Demeter and Persephone [Roman Ceres and Proserpina respectively] and also to Dionysus [Roman Bacchus], were preceded by fasting and a ritual bathe in the sea. They then entered a temple, drank mint-water and ate pastries baked in magical and phallic shapes, carried in baskets. As a result, they saw celestial visions which could never afterwards be forgotten.

Interpreter of religious experience Mircea Eliade defined initiation as a principal religious act by classical or traditional societies – “a basic change in existential condition,” which liberates man from profane time and history. “Initiation recapitulates the sacred history of the world. And through this recapitulation, the whole world is sanctified anew… [the initiand] can perceive the world as a sacred work, a creation of the Gods.”

Eliade gave some purposes of intitiation as follows:

“this real valuation of ritual death finally led to conquest of the fear of real death.”

• “[initiation’s] function is to reveal the deep meaning of existence to the new generations and to help them assume the responsibility of being

truly men and hence of participating in culture.”

• “it reveals a world open to the trans-human, a world that, in our philosophical terminology, we should call transcendental.”

• “to make [the initiand] open to spiritual values.”

Robert Graves was a Greek and Latin scholar whose comprehensive work “The Greek Myths” still remains a much-respected reference for the beliefs of the Hellenic tribes and their mythographical stories in all their various versions. Graves’s intimate knowledge of both Greek and Roman literature was coupled with a unique poetic insight that allowed him to get ‘under the skin’, as it were, of Greek and Roman culture, although he never let his insight overcome the need to corroborate his poetic hunches and collate the hard evidence necessary to support his internal leaps of understanding.

Robert Graves wrote a number of essays on the subject of the Mysteries and about his conclusion that the brew that was drunk was derived, at least originally, from the mushroom amanita muscaria, or fly agaric as it is also known. Graves refers to it as fly-amanite. His most complete explanation is given in his essay “What Food the Centaurs Ate”.

The ‘Oracle of the Dead at Baia’ project: by John Smout Baia and the Mysteries

Two early Greek poets, Sappho and Alcman, had preserved the ancient tradition of ambrosia as a drink, not a food. We can discount alcoholic spirits because the art of distillation had nowhere been invented at that date. Alcohol in any case does not produce god-like experiences.

Graves asked himself what was the ambrosia concoction that was given to intitiates? In Graves’s own words:

“The meaning of ‘ambrosia‘, the food of the gods, like ‘nectar‘, their drink, is: ‘that which confers immortality‘. The Greek grammarians define ambrosia as a thick porridge of honey, water, fruit, olive oil, cheese and pearl barley; though exactly what kind of fruit – whether grapes, quinces, applies, pears, pomegranates, medlars, strawberries, arbutus-berries, or figs – is, oddly enough, not specified. And why did they trouble to mention water among the ingredients? There is something funny here.”

“At this point, I wrote down the Greek words of the ambrosia recipe, as follows, one underneath the other:

• MELI

• UDOR

• KARPOS • ELAIOS

• TUROS

• ALPHITA

“Next, I wrote down the nectar recipe, namely honey, water and fruit:

• MELI

• UDOR

• KARPOS

“And also, while I was about it, the recipe for kukeón (‘mixture’), the draught which the Goddess Demeter, during her search for the lost Persephone, accepted in the palace of King Celeus at Eleusis – thus breaking a prolonged fast – and which was thereafter downed in her memory by initiates of the Greater Mysteries. Kukeón is mint water mixed with pounded barley:

• MINTHAION • UDOR

• KUKOMENON • ALPHITOIS

“Then I remembered how the Emperor Nero, after murdering and deifying the Emperor Claudius, his step-father, had joked about the drug employed by his professional poisoner Locusta: namely, juice of the lethal amanita phalloides, added to the amanita caesarea, an edible mushroom of which Claudius was extravagantly fond. Nero remarked how right the Greeks were to call mushrooms proverbially ‘the food of the gods‘. Two centuries later, the learned philosopher Porphyry, a sworn enemy of Christians, similarly described mushrooms as theotrophous – a post-Classical form of the adjective theotropheis, a stock-epithet for ambrosia – which means ‘god-nourishing’.

“So, if mushrooms were ambrosia, and if ambrosia was mushrooms, be pleased to examine those three sets of initial letters – M-U-K-E-T-A; M-U-K; M-U-K-A. You are at liberty to call me crazy, but I read them as three clear examples of ogham (which was what the ancient Irish bards called the device of spelling out a secret word by using the initial letters of other ordinary words). MUKETA answers the question: ‘What do the gods eat?’; for MUKETA is the accusative of MUKES (‘mushroom’). (It may be objected that the E of MUKETA is long, whereas the E of ELAIOS, ‘oil’, is short; but the Greeks did not distinguish long E from short in their earlier alphabets.) MUKA answers the question: ‘What grants me the mystic vision?’; for MUKA is an earlier form of the word MUKES (‘mushroom’). In the nectar recipe, a terminal A for ALPHITA (‘pearl-barley’) seems to have dropped out; since ‘Demeter’ means ‘Barley-mother’, she could hardly have failed to include barley in her kukeón. MUKA again! Now I could understand the supererogatory mention of UDOR (‘water’), and the too-general mention of KARPOS (‘fruit’), in the ambrosia recipe: U and K happened to be represented by those words in the priestly food-ogham.

Graves noted that in the entire corpus of Greek Literature, mushrooms received no mention, except for the reference to the ancient Greek proverb “Mushrooms are the food of the Gods”. This had led him to think that a religious taboo had once existed – mushrooms were preserved for the priesthood. The many disgusting names given to mushrooms acted as a deterrent: “Don’t touch that my child, it’s dirty!”

Graves began corresponding with R. Gordon Wasson in 1949. Wasson had risen to become US banking firm J. P. Morgan’s vice-president. Along with his Russian wife Valentina, Wasson dedicated his spare time to the study of rare entheogenic mushrooms in history and religion.

Gordon and Valentina Wasson had been fascinated by their opposing stances towards mushrooms. Gordon, born in the USA, had been educated to fear most mushrooms as poisonous toadstools while Russian Valentina picked and enjoyed many varieties, declaring them all to be delicious. They came to realise that this difference is widespread and cultural and like Graves, Gordon and Valentina came to the same conclusion, independently of each other, that religion was behind this. Cultures can be clearly defined as mycophobic or mycophagic and their members as mycophobes or mycophiles. Very few mushrooms are poisonous. We don’t stop eating fruit or vegetables because a few varieties are poisonous, so why mushrooms?

It is ironic that the relaxation of the taboo in England allows the eating of white field mushrooms, though the most deadly European mushroom of all, amanita phalloides, is equally white and has often been mistaken for it.

Dionysus distributing mushroom-like objects.

The irrational abhorrence of eating horseflesh persists in many countries, as does eating pork or beef, again for similar religious reasons, the animals were sacred. In the case of cows in India, it became sacred because of the cow’s dung on which the entheogenic mushroom stropharia grows. It’s use was still current in the 1950s, according to Idries Shah, and presumably is still used by Brahmins today.

Mushrooms are associated with lightning the world over. This is an easy association to understand. They grow rapidly after storms and having neither seeds nor roots appear to have spontaneously formed as a result of them.

The Wassons had collected names associated with mushrooms from all over the world. Toad, serpent and fox occur frequently.

The association with toads and toadstools is also explicable. Toads secrete bufotenin from their warty glands and when ingested bufotenin has a similar psychoactive effect to amanita muscaria.

The ‘Oracle of the Dead at Baia’ project: by John Smout Baia and the Mysteries

Robert Graves recalled that toad, serpent and fox are mentioned together by the mythographer Apollodorus as badges of the three divisions into which the Peloponnese was divided… toad for Argos, fox for Messene, serpent for Laconia. What is more, the Peloponnesian capital, where Agamemnon ruled as High King before he sailed to Troy, was Mycenae [mushroom city]. Agamemnon claimed divine descent from Zeus through his ancestor Perseus; and Perseus, according to the historian Pausanias, gave the city its name because he discovered mukai (‘mushrooms’) growing on the site.

The mushroom amanita muscaria’s contains a psychoactive component which does not survive cooking, but dried and eaten raw can produce celestial visions of the divine and the gift of prophecy. The identification of amanita muscaria as the entheogen originally used in the Mysteries can be unraveled owing to a unique property, the indoles pass into the kidneys and if the urine is collected and drunk it becomes even more potent.

The Indian Rig Veda states: ‘the great gods piss out together the lovely Soma’. The Rig Veda makes it clear that Soma is strained through calf’s wool and then drunk mixed with milk or curds. Soma is mentioned over 100 times in the Rig Veda, here are a couple of examples:

“Like a stag, come here to drink! Drink Soma, as much as you like. Pissing it out day by day, O generous one, You have assumed your most mighty force.” Rig Veda VIII 4.10.

“Soma, storm cloud imbued with life, is milked of ghee. Navel of the Way, Immortal Principle, he sprang into life in the far distance. Acting in concert, those charged with the office, richly gifted, do full honour to Soma. The swollen men piss the flowing Soma.” Rig Veda IX 74.

It has been known for at least two centuries that the Korjaks of Kamchatka do likewise. After drinking the mushroom juice their friends strain the urine through wool and, after drinking it, enjoy the same ecstasies and according to Robert Graves in “Mushrooms and Religion” The Korjaks will pay as much as a reindeer for a single dose.

Lapps and Finns are also said to filter and get high on the urine of reindeer that have eaten amanita muscaria.

Esoteric knowledge of this entheogenic urine-drinking appears to have survived in Titian’s painting, circa 1525, ‘The Bacchanal of the Andrians’. The infant Dionysus urinates while a man on the left scoops up the liquid and others are celebrating while drinking it.

John Allegro, a highly-respected translator of the Dead Sea scrolls team, brought the entire weight of the Christian church upon himself and was more or less successfully discredited for suggesting, through his thorough linguistic reasoning, that amanita muscaria was a substance secretly referred to in many biblical texts. Allegro’s book “The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross – A study of the nature and origins of Christianity within the fertility cults of the ancient Near East” did not deserve this treatment.

Allegro wrote in his introduction: “Armed with our new understanding of the language relationships of the ancient Near East, we can tackle the major problems involved in botanical nomenclature and discover those features of the more god-endued plants which attracted the attention of the old medicine men and prophets. The isolation of the names and epithets of the sacred mushroom opens the door into the secret chambers of the mystery cults which depended for their mystic hallucinatory experiences on the drugs found in the fungus [amanita muscaria]. At long last identification of the main characters of many of the old classical and biblical mythologies is possible, since we can now decipher their names. Above all, those mushroom epithets and holy invocations that the Christian cryptographers wove into their stories of the man Jesus and his companions can now be recognized, and the main features of the Christian cult laid bare.

Urine drinking in Titian’s ‘The Bacchanal of the Andrians’, circa 1525.

“The isolation of the mushroom cult and the real, hidden meaning of the New Testament writings drives a wedge between the moral teachings of the Gospels and their quite amoral religious setting. The new discoveries must thus raise more acutely the question of the validity of Christian “ethics” for the present time.”

   Fresco in the 12th century chapel of the Knights Hospitaller at Plaincourault. Adam and Eve with the tree of the knowledge as amanita muscaria. This image was considered dubious by both Gordon Wasson and John Allegro – it may simply be a stylised tree.

This bee-headed mushroom figure from Tassili-Ajjer, Sahara Desert is 7,000-9,000 years old and highly suggests that the ritual use of entheogenic mushrooms is extremely ancient and goes all the way back to the Paleolithic Period.

The spatial, temporal and logical effects explored in Lewis Carrol’s “Alice in Wonderland”, featuring Tenniel’s picture of the hookah-smoking caterpillar sat on a mushroom, are likely to have been a result of Lewis Carroll’s personal experimentation, the Anglican Deacon having read about amanita muscaria in the Gardener’s Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette of October 1862.

The ‘Oracle of the Dead at Baia’ project: by John Smout Baia and the Mysteries

Mushroom cults and the underworld in South America

The Mixtec Codex Vindobonensis. According to Aztec legend, Ehecatl-Quetzalcoatl created mankind from the bones he stole from the underworld Death God, whose decapitated head Quetzalcoatl holds in his hand. He, and those who sit behind Quetzalcoatl on the left, hold sacred mushrooms and appear to have fangs which suggest that, under the influence of the mushrooms they have been transformed in the underworld into the underworld jaguar. Centre right Quetzalcoatl is gesturing to Tlalóc directly in front of him to open the portal to the underworld. The scene depicts the divine establishment of the ritual consumption of sacred mushrooms. The triangular or V-shaped cleft in the basin of water on the left is a cosmic passage through which deities, people, animals and plants pass from one plane to another. At bottom left two figures stand beside another V-shaped portal of underworld resurrection. The figure on the left who points to the sky also has fangs. He appears to be a human transformed at death into the underworld sun god, or mythical “were jaguar”. This gesture probably signifies resurrection from the Underworld. The two-faced deity in front of him holds what appear from the shape to be sacred psilocybin mushrooms.

   In Mayan heiroglyphs an upended toad represents rebirth. Here an upended toad has a mushroom emerging from its mouth.

The parallels in South America with mushroom cults in Europe are startling. It seems to many that a cultural exchange may have occurred.

According to Robert Graves: “Tlaloc was engendered by lightning; so was Dionysus;… so are all mushrooms proverbially called ‘food of the gods’ in both languages. Tlaloc wore a serpent-crown; so did Dionysus. Tlaloc had an underwater retreat; so had Dionysus… Perseus, a sacred King of Argos, converted to Dionysus worship, named Mycenae after a toadstool… which gave forth a stream of water. Tlaloc’s emblem was a toad, so was that of Argos; and from the mouth of Tlaloc’s toad in the Tepentitla fresco issues a stream of water…”

Mushrooms in the Madrid Codex.

The ‘Oracle of the Dead at Baia’ project: by John Smout Baia and the Mysteries

Twice born Dionysus

Returning to the Greek Mysteries, we can shed light on Dionysus, and here I must again rely heavily upon Robert Graves.

“Since Agni, the Vedic lightning god, son of Indra the Vedic counterpart of Zeus, was also addressed as ‘Soma’, his identity with Dionysus is now plain. Dionysus had two births: by his father Zeus’s lightning bolt which struck the earth – his mother was the Earth goddess Semele – and when his mother died (but was afterwards translated by Dionysus himself to Heaven) he was sewn up in Zeus’s thigh and thence born a second time. This is a simple myth to interpret: mushrooms cannot be sown by seed and are everywhere popularly explained as born from a lightning stroke… Also, there are two ways of being inspired by the Soma mushroom: by eating it, and by drinking it (as Wasson explains) after it has been added to the contents of the King or priest’s bladder and then released. The identity of Soma and Ambrosia is indeed implicit in the Sanskrit origin of the word ‘Ambrosia’ namely a-nzrita, a Sanskrit word for the ‘elixir of immortality’, which can mean only Soma.

“The parallels between Zeus and Indra and between Dionysus and Agni are inescapable.” Robert Graves, The Two Births of Dionysus.

Drawing on Gordon Wasson’s work in identifying the Indian Soma with amanita muscaria and its potency after drinking the urine, Graves went on to:

“thank him gratefully for helping me finally to reveal the meaning of Merotraphes (thigh-nursed), Dionysus’s hitherto unexplained nickname.”

Amanita muscaria grows in relation to a host tree. In Northern Europe this is the birch, which does not grow south of the forty-fifth parallel, which runs through Romania and Yugoslavia. In Greece amanita muscaria grows on the higher slopes under conifers. Dionysus’s cone-tipped thyrsus probably commemorates this botanical fact.” Robert Graves, What Food the Centaurs Ate.

Other psychoactive substances

Robert Graves noted that the secret which Demeter sent around the world from Eleusis via Triptolemus, circa 2,000 BC, was the art of sowing and harvesting corn, yet corn had been cultivated since 7,000 BC – the story does not ring true.

Dr Albert Hofmann is best known for his discovery of LSD. He was the director of research for the Department of Natural Products at Sandoz Pharmaceutical Ltd. in Basel, a fellow of the World Academy of Science and a member of the Nobel Prize Committee, the International Society of Plant Research and the American Society of Pharmacognosy. He wrote many scientific papers and several books: “The Botany and Chemistry of Hallucinogens and Plants of the Gods” with Richard Evans Schultes, “The Road to Eleusis” with R. G. Wasson and Carl Ruck, “LSD: My Problem Child” and “Insight/Outlook”.

Hofmann wrote, “The investigation regarding the putative hallucinogen of the kykeon, the draught which the Goddess Demeter, during her search for the lost Persephone, accepted in the palace of King Celeus at Eleusis – thus breaking a prolonged fast – and which was thereafter downed in her memory by initiates of the Greater Mysteries, that I conducted in collaboration with Gordon Wasson and Carl Ruck, professor of ethnobotany in Greek mythology at Boston University, uncovered interesting parallels and connections between the Eleusinian Mystery cult and certain extant magic cults among the Indian tribes in remote regions of southern Mexico.

“In the Mazatec and Zapotec regions of the mountains of southern Mexico, the thaumaturges and curanderos continue, as they have for millennia, to employ an hallucinogenic potion in their magico- religious curing ceremonies. This potion is prepared from the seeds of certain species of morning glories, Turbina corymbosa and Ipomoea violacea. In the chemical-pharmaceutical research laboratories of Sandoz Ltd. in Basel, Switzerland, we have investigated the active principles of this drug, known as the ololiuhqui potion. These proved to be alkaloids also found in ergot, namely lysergic acid amide and lysergic acid hydroxyethylamide, near relatives of lysergic acid diethylamide, the chemical name for LSD, also a product of ergot.

“We also found the very same hallucinogenic compounds in ergot

of the wild grass Paspalum distichum from the Mediterranean

area. These findings led us to frame the hypothesis that the

consciousness-altering component of the kykeon involved

hallucinogenic compounds similar to those used to this day in the preparation of the sacred ololiuhqui potion. The Eleusinian priests merely had to collect the ergot of this Paspalum species, which surely was very common in the vicinity of the temple, and then pulverize it and add it to the kykeon to give it its consciousness-altering potency.

“Ergot is the name of the sclerotium of the lower fungus Claviceps, which parasitizes grains and also wild grasses like Paspalum. The ears of grain infested by the fungus form dark pegs in place of the normally light-colored grains – this is ergot. It is not at all unlikely that ergot would have been used as a sacred drug in the temple of the goddess of grain, Demeter.

“A further connection between ergot and Eleusis is shown in an Eleusinian ritual that consisted of the presentation of an ear of grain by the priests. This ritual is related to the myth of the barleycorn, which dies planted in the earth in order to give life to a new plant that leaps forth again to the light of springtime. Here we find a symbol of the annual rotation of Persephone from the darkness of the underworld to the light of Olympus, as well as a symbol of the permanence of life in the eternal cycle of death and rebirth.”

Although for some people amanita muscaria might produce the celestial vision, it has side effects and ergot is a much better and more precise entheogen. Could the corn secret which Demeter sent around the world from Eleusis via Triptolemus commemorate the subsititution of paspalum distichum ergot for amanita muscaria? This makes better sense.

The ‘Oracle of the Dead at Baia’ project: by John Smout Baia and the Mysteries

Ceremonial use of the tunnels at Baia

Those who have experience of entheogens will tell you that the full experience entails a sense of complete ego loss and thus a sense of one’s self. The deepest experiences only occur when this has happened – there is no more ‘you’ and ‘it’. In approaching this state one can become highly suggestible and adequate preparation and guidance is important. Modern researchers talk of the ‘set’ and ‘setting’, meaning the mental setting of the individual and the immediate physical surroundings where the event is happening.

Having assessed the suitability of the candidate, the gradual descent down the Great Antrum at Baia could well have been designed to enhance a sense of detachment in space and time, with the eventual ritual crossing of the Styx to rise up to Persephone’s sanctuary making the symbolic break between this world and what lies beyond. Having been interviewed and initiated at the Sanctuary the return route, with its possible two exits via the twin tunnels at the Dividing of the Ways may have served to return those who did not experience the mystical state by means of the way they came in, while those who clearly demonstrated that they had experienced a revelatory vision could be ingineered to emerge to the Elysian Fields by another route. This may be a possible explanation of the double tunnel near the Dividing of the Ways. A possible final Elysian Portal to daylight has been discovered and named by Peter Knight, but the point at which this would join the Dividing of the Ways has currently not been confirmed within the tunnels, although some visible evidence certainly exists. Ground penetrating radar could confirm this in a non- invasive way.

The twin return tunnels at Baia, from the Sanctuary via S120. Could initiates have been returned to daylight in one of two ways?

   Left: Ixion on his wheel with sectioned mushroom between his feet, from an Etruscan mirror. The wings shown will be those of a wryneck, sacred to the erotic God Dionysus which gave him the surname ‘Iynges’ (‘of the wryneck’).

Right: Ixion portrayed on a vase from Cuma [Greek Kyme]. Ixion was father to the Centaurs and in later times the Centaurs formed part of the following of Dionysus, moving peaceably in his festal train among the satyrs, nymphs and Bacchants.

Is there any relevance in the Mysteries for today’s world?

“It is either through the influence of narcotic potions, of which all primitive peoples and races speak in hymns, or through the powerful approach of spring, penetrating all of nature with joy, that those Dionysian stirrings arise, which in their intensification lead the individual to forget himself completely… Not only does the bond between person and person come to be forged once again by the magic of the Dionysian rite, but alienated, hostile, or subjugated nature again celebrates her reconciliation with her prodigal son, mankind.” Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy.

To quote Albert Hoffman, “The requisite transformations in the direction of an all-encompassing consciousness, as a precondition for overcoming materialism and for a renewed relationship with nature, cannot be relegated to society or to the state. The change must and can only take place in each individual person.

“Only a few blessed people spontaneously attain the mystical vision that can effect this transformation. As a result, mankind has repeatedly sought paths and evolved methods to evoke deeper perception and experience. First among these are the different techniques of meditation. Meditation can be assisted by such external means as isolation and solitude, a path the hermits and desert saints followed, and by such physical practices as fasting and breath control. An especially important aid in the induction of mystical-ecstatic states of consciousness, discovered in the earliest times, is decidedly the use of certain plant drugs… I have made it quite clear that their use must proceed within the scope of religious ceremony.

“The fact that extraordinary states of awareness can be induced with various means and in various ways shows us that capacity for mystical experience is innate to every person. It is part of the essence of human spirituality. It is unrelated to the external, social status of the individual. Thus, in Eleusis, free men and women, as well as slaves [Robert Graves disagreed and stated no slaves or descendants], could be initiated.

“Eleusis can be a model for today. Eleusis-like centers could unite and strengthen the many spiritual currents of our time, all of which have the same goal: the goal of creating, by transforming consciousness in individual people, the conditions for a better world, a world without war and without environmental damage, a world of happy people.” Albert Hoffman, The Message of the Eleusinian Mysteries for Today’s World.

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