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What does the myth of Persephone, Queen of the Underworld, tell us about psychedelic integration?
It wasn’t until 1938 that the LSD was first synthesized by Albert Hoffman. Five years later, LSD’s mind-bending effects were discovered. After the first-ever (planned) LSD trip on April 16, 1943 , Hoffman’s lab swiftly started researching and developing a product based on LSD called Delysid. Shortly thereafter, Delysid was made available to the market for research and therapy.
Years later, there are reputable scientists like Nobel Prize winners like Francis Cricked (1953) and Karry Mullis (1993) who thanked LSD for their prize-winning Eureka moments. There is a modern resurgence in scientific interest in alternate states of consciousness as a method of therapy, and the results seem to indicate that psychedelic therapy may be safer, more effective, and with fewer adverse effects than other current methods of dealing with psychological and behavioural conditions. Another main force driving psychedelic science is the increasing need to revisit our relationship with nature as humans.
Entheogens like LSD represent a gateway to facilitate a modern approach to spirituality. Nevertheless, navigating the invisible and ineffable world of psychedelics can be challenging. Lucky for us, we can rely on ancient traditions as a map to guide us to the innermost corners of our beings. And back. Let’s take a look at Greek mythology and how it can help us have a better psychedelic integration.
Demeter and Persephone
Take the myth of Demeter and her daughter Persephone; an innocent child that was forced to rule over Hades – the Greek idea of hell – for 6 months every year, returning to her mother’s warm embrace the rest of the year. This myth gave birth to an ancient religion that twice a year conducted a ritual. Initiates would embark on a journey that ended in the Greek city of Eleusis. Throughout the way, they reenacted the tale of Demeter and Persephone. The Eleusinian Mystery rites invited the participants to explore and integrate their hiddenmost qualities, through narratives and truly psychedelic experiences.
Hoffman, the man who first synthesized LSD, believed in the possibility that this ancient rite was facilitated by a drink based on LSD. When he first synthesized LSD, Hoffman was working on a fungus that infects certain types of grains like wheat and barley called Ergot. This fungus is known for a terrible disease called Egotism with powerful effects on the body and mind.
Now that we understand Ergot better, researchers are linking certain historical events of collective hysteria to ergot intoxication. In times of abundance and good weather, medieval villagers would separate the infected grains before preparing their food, but during times of famine, the population was forced to eat the infected grains, possibly creating wild hallucinations and psychedelic experiences that surprised these medieval communities. Hoffman suggests that before the Middle Ages, the Greeks found a way to implement the powerful psychedelic power of Ergot with minimal side effects.
Witchcraft Accusations and Trials
Several events are being revisited considering the possibility that an Ergot epidemic could have caused an LSD-like effect on unsuspecting villagers from the past. During the Middle Ages, there were several reports of witchcraft spread around Europe and America. Especially in the areas where Ergot grows naturally and during the coldest most humid periods. The most common sights of witchcraft also coincide with the symptoms of Ergot toxicity:
- High Infant Mortality Rate;
- Mental Confusion and Collective Hysteria;
- Occurrence of Strange Visions in Population;
Albert Hoffman documented his first (planned) LSD trip in the book “LSD, My Problem Child”. He consumed LSD in his lab accompanied by his assistant. In the book, the creator of LSD reports that at first, he thought that he was dying. The environment suddenly took a threatening aspect and he started to have unsettling feelings toward his neighbours that came to his assistance. When the doctor finally arrived, the peak of the LSD trip had passed and the doctor confirmed that there was nothing physically alarming about Dr. Hoffman’s condition – apart from the abnormally large pupils.
After the doctor’s prognosis, the chemist finally relaxed. In a few moments, he even started to enjoy the endless patterns and colours that danced under his eyelids. Try to picture entire villages during the middle ages going through this trip collectively. Imagine the strangeness when suddenly large groups of people started having scary visions and pregnant women started losing their babies. Historians suspect this could have given rise to accusations of witchcraft reported during the Middle Ages.
A Time Before The Middle Ages
In the book The Road to Eleusis, Hoffman writes about an ancient religion called the Eleusinian Mysteries. A religion centred around a sacred drink called Kykeon. The rituals of the Eleusinian mysteries took at least one year of preparation. It guided the initiates to an experience of death and rebirth by recreating the myth of Demeter and Persephone. The rites followed Persephone’s descent to the underworld, a place that would ultimately become her kingdom.
There are striking connections between the rites of Eleusis, and psychedelics. This compelled Hoffman to theorize that the sacred drink could be a psychedelic brew. He theorizes a psychedelic brew consisting of barley carefully infected with the Ergot fungus. This theory suggests that ancient Greece had perfected a technique to make their very own LSD-like psychedelic brew. And without a fancy laboratory!
There is no historical evidence that proves that the Kykeon mentioned used in the rituals was psychoactive at all. It could very well be only a chalice of water carrying symbolic meaning. Nevertheless, historical accounts of the Eleusinian Mysteries paint it as an ancient psychedelic experience.
To Hell and Back
The story of Demeter and Persephone tells us a story about taking control of our subconscious. This myth speaks to exploring non-ordinary states of consciousness to face parts of ourselves that we usually don’t face. Becoming royalty in the underworld means getting a firm grip on the innermost corners of our minds.
The most celebrated psychedelic theme in Persephone’s story is that of the integration of the shadow. Psychologist Carl Jung’s work coined the concept of the shadow, a part of the mind hidden from our awareness. Jung claims that the journey to confront, accept, and integrate the shadow asks for considerable moral effort. Looking at even the most obscure corners of the psyche can be challenging. But it is a super common theme during psychedelic integrations. Are you looking for help integrating your psychedelic journeys? Browse our coaches, they can help you tailor your psychedelic integration to your goals and needs!