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The Oldest Taboo in the World

 

As noted in the previous posting, The Dawn of the Entheogenic Revolution, due to not finding a publisher for "PARADISE DENIED," I am presenting some contents of the book proposal on site. In the Introduction, I explain the bizarre nature of the taboo that prohibits, not just our access to psychoactive plants, but even the very knowledge that they exist. In other words, we are forbidden to know about the fact that such plants are being forbidden to us, and why. We are prevented from challenging the taboo because we are kept in ignorance about it.

In the following piece, I analyze the taboo on nature-given visionary plants in terms of the Biblical myth of the Fall. This is the most appropriate context for such an analysis, because the Abrahamic religions based on this myth represent the paternal lie that is calculated to deny humanity its divine birthright: the connection to Sophia, the anima mundi or sentient intelligence of the earth.

 

Introduction to "PARADISE DENIED"

This book challenges an ancient taboo on what may be the supreme religious experience of the human race. It reveals the untold story about how religion originated before humans formed beliefs about what God or Divinity might be.  It affirms what scholars of history and anthropology have come to understand by intensive studies in the long-range view of human evolution: our species encountered God, the divine presence in the world, before we could define it as such.  This encounter took place thousands of years ago, prior to any form of faith defined by doctrine, rite, hierarchy, or institution. Paradoxically, religion as we now define it only became possible due to a taboo imposed on the primordial religious act—the ecstatic, unmediated encounter with Divinity. 

What people today believe about God depends on their being forbidden the sublime experience that stands behind their belief.  

Thou Shalt Not Know

The question our century puts before us is: Is it possible to regain the lost dimension, the encounter with the Sacred, the dimension that cuts through the world and goes down to that which is not world but is the mystery of the Ground of Being?
Theologian Paul Tillich, Hillel Society, Harvard University, 1956



The oldest taboo in the world is seemingly a most potent one. Its prohibitive power cannot be denied, yet it also suffers a fatal weakness. As taboos go, this one is odd, an inexplicable exception. Traditionally, native societies around the world observe taboos, ritual prohibitions. Among the most common are taboos against eating certain foods or animals: the Muslim taboo on eating pork, for instance. Or the Hindu taboo on killing cows. Such prohibitions may look foolish or simple-minded,but there is a profound understanding behind them. All around the world, indigenous people show a sophistication lacking in modern society,  because the taboos they observe are transparent and can always be put in question, or even suspended.

Traditionally, the purpose of a taboo is to preserve the boundary between the sacred and the profane, but the boundary is porous. Cattle sacred in the Hindu religion wander the streets in India in a routine, nonchalant way. The cow may not be slain: this is taboo. But due to open awareness of the taboo—complete transparency—the presence of the cow in the ordinary (profane) world brings to mind another world,  a realm where things possess a different value, connected to the sacred dimension of life. Sacred and profane values coexist and interact, and how they do so is seen in the function of taboos and tabooed objects.


In Native American cultures, taboos apply to totem animals, considered to be forms assumed by non-human ancestors and guides of the community. The definition of what is forbidden is explicit and known to all. Each taboo is particular to the tribal identity of those who embrace it, and unanimously recognized across communal divisions. The beaver may not be eaten by members of the beaver clan, for instance. Other clans may consume it as they like. But on certain occasions, members of a beaver clan do eat the sacred animal in a ceremony of gratitude. The taboo exists to be broken—but broken in a regulated, respectful, and ceremonial way. Periodic breach of a taboo preserves the sacredness of the taboo.

Paradoxically, breaking the taboo is a way of observe it: the beaver is kept sacred by not being eaten most of the time, but then, even when it is eaten, the communal ceremony of consumption is a sacred event. Taboos work positively in indigenous societies because they are openly accepted by the members who are asked to observe them. The tribe knows exactly what it is forbidden to do. Normally, a taboo is open and self-evident. 

Not so, the taboo the original ecstatic religious experience induced by psychoactive plants or medicine plants. This taboo is totally exceptional and fundamentally different from the universal model of prohibition that sets a felxible boundary between sacred and profane. In this bizarre instance, the taboo hides itself from those who are required to observe it. The taboo on original religion is a prohibition that keeps its observants in the dark about what is prohibited to them  Rather than knowing about the taboo, and observing it openly and by consent, the community—in this case, the entire human race—is forbidden to know the taboo exists, as well as forbidden to partake of the tabooed object.

Consider a crude analogy: a tribe is forbidden to eat baked beans, but never told so in just those terms, that is, never told that baked beans exist to be eaten in the first place. This being so, those who impose the taboo have to make sure that no baked beans are available lest some members of the tribe, ignorant of the taboo, might discover them and eat them. This inverted taboo (as it might be called) requires that the tabooed object be concealed, and more, that it's very existence be denied. It demands that all knowledge of  its availability be supressed, but even more weirdly, of its unavailability. Members of the tribe subjected such an inverted taboo must not even know that they are prohibited from having something. Such are the bizarre conditions of the blinding prohibition that operates in the inverted taboo.

Anthropologists who study taboos and totemic systems do not report anything remotely like the inverted taboo in the entire corpus of studies. The inverted taboo is a unique case that applies to a unique factor in human nature, in the deep structure of our species: the need to know the ontological source of the natural world, the “Ground of Being,” as Paul Tillich calls it in theological terms.  If we accept that the human species has emerged from nature,  the ontological source or the Ground of being for humanity must be the natural world. The inverted taboo is imposed upon our knowledge of that world,  first and foremost, whatever one may imagine of a world beyond from which nature itself has emerged.

The Biblical prohibition “Thou shalt not know” signals a clear and deliberate act of denial. It indicates the peculiar dynamic of the inverted taboo, the way it conceals what it forbids. Stated in more explicit terms the taboo state that thou shalt not know what thou art forbidden to have. The taboo packs a double whammy: against partaking of the tabooed thing, and against knowing that it exists to partake of. Such is the extraordinary and baffling interdiction stated in Genesis, the first book of the Bible.  The fact that the community (i.e., humankind) is not allowed to know what is forbidden to it makes the inverted taboo particularly strong, but also uniquely vulnerable. To make the forbidden object unavailable demands strenuous measures of concealment and deceit (not stating what is denied).  No ordinary taboo requires such measures or such devious tactics.

Blinding Prohibition

Those in the community who impose the inverted taboo do know what is forbidden, of course. Consequently, the community splits between those who impose the taboo and those who are subject to it, a division totally absent in traditional custom. This split in the communal relation to the Sacred engenders a system with a controlling party on one side and the majority of the community, who are controlled, on the other. In other words, the inverted taboo supports a black-and-white division of power, especially spiritual power, and this division more than any other factor defines and determines access to the Sacred. The  division also affords special advantages to the controlling party. Those those impose the taboo use the technique of blinding prohibition to control the tribe.

Blinding prohibition is a powerful tool for social manipulation. This is precisely the particular strength that derives from the inverted taboo. But there is a downside for the controllers in this situation. Unlike the open taboo, which is known to the entire community and adopted by communal consent, the taboo that splits the community depends on a cover-up, a program of deceit that keeps its members in ignorance of what is forbidden to them. Maintaining such a deceit is by no means easy. It requires enormous and elaborate effort over time. It demands arcane tactics of coercion and intimidation. Most of all, it obliges the controllers to involve the community in the cover-up operation, so that those who are subjected to the taboo actually contribute to the deceit being inflicted on them. The taboo-makers must rely on the complicity of the people they dupe with the blinding prohibition to make it work.

If the object under bliding prohibitoin were to be revealed, and the tribe was to realize what it was missing, the entire scheme of control and dissimulation would implode.

Such a vast exercise in deception is precarious, and perhaps hard to imagine, yet it can and does work amazingly well. But inevitably there comes a moment when someone in the community discovers what is forbidden and hidden by the inverted taboo, and challenges it. Such a moment occurred fifty years ago, in 1957, due to a singular event in the United States, and was even announced to the world at large, although the nature of that event and its repercussions are just now becoming known to the general public.

Traditionally, the tabooed thing is a power object. Partaking of it confers special force and knowledge. The oldest taboo in the world cannot be overthrown without access to the experience it forbids, but the deception woven around the taboo makes such access difficult to attain. My purpose in this book is to counter that supreme deceit with clear evidence, both textual and graphic, making it possible to tell a forbidden story and dispel the blinding prohibition. This done, those who care (and dare) can make the choice “to regain the lost dimension, the encounter with the Sacred.”


In this introduction, I will describe what the taboo has concealed since remote times, going back to the  myth of the Fall penned by Biblical scribes about 600 BCE.

Paradise Lost

The inverted taboo is hidden, but you would never think so from reading the text  that establishes it.  Paradoxically, it is hidden right out in the open. It is stated, but in a disguised way. In fact, this unique taboo is explicitly declared in a story familiar to the entire world: the Fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. This myth is not  unique to Christianity. It belongs to the triad of Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  All three of these religions assume the fall of humankind from a higher or better condition. All three also state that humankind lives in enslavement to the father god. (Joseph Campbell noted cogently that Levantine myth introduces the notion that humankind is a slave to off-planet powers. In the master-slave ideology, the inverted taboo is the primary tool or repression.) The Abrahamic religons assume that we humans are corrupt, “fallen” creatures—in theological jargon, sinners. But what does the loss of the Edenic condition mean, apart from the doctrinal conception of sin? This question leads back to what I call ecstatic religion, original religion.


Defined in terms of the myth of the Fall, original religion is direct contact with the Sacred as known to Adam and Eve before they were expelled from the Garden of Even. Paradise was theirs, not before they ate the forbidden fruit, but before they were punished for eating it.  But that is not quite what the myth says, is it? In the usual interpretation, the myth says that the first parents were cast out of Paradise for eating the forbidden fruit—i.e., for an act of disobedience. What it does not make clear is that the paradisical state was due to the act of eating, and the Fall due to the plant they ate being taken away from them. Eden is a place, the natural paradise of earth, but the awareness of being there comes from the forbidden fruit that grows there. This is the first factor hidden in the disguised message in the myth.

The language of the Eden myth uses devious, deliberately twisted syntax: it leads us to presume that the cause of the Fall was an act of disobedience, but in reality the Fall happens, not because Adam and Eve disobey, but because they are prohibited from having what they are punished for taking. Their punishment is loss of access to the very thing that shows them that they are indeed in Paradise. This is the second factor hidden in the disguised message. 

Do not eat the forbidden fruit: this is the oldest taboo in the world. The taboo against eating from the Tree of Knowledge appears to be imposed for the good of humanity, according to the will of the father god. But this claim cannot hold once the hidden agenda written into the myth is exposed.  Then it becomes possible to understand that the divine prohibition works against humanity, against the fulfillment of  human spirituality (or human potential, if you prefer). Due to the deceit that informs it, the taboo has to be inverted and made to look like a wise and loving prohibition, an act of protection on the part of the Creator who forbids humankind to have something “for your own good.” 

The Edenic myth in Genesis contains a series of motifs that meld into a familiar story-line, expressing the unworthiness of humanity in the eyes of God: man is made the caretaker of the natural world, he is forbidden to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and told he will die if he does so; Eve appears, conjured from Adam´s rib, her purpose is to be his helpmate; the serpent on the tree tempts Eve, telling her the fruit is good and contradicting God, saying that she will not die by eating it, but will become as the gods, knowing good and evil; Eve eats the forbidden fruit and offers it to Adam, who also eats; they realize that the tree is “to be desired to make one wise,” and it pleases them; “their eyes were opened, and they knew they were naked”; God discovers their disobedience when he realizes that they now know they are naked; God curses the serpent, puts enmity between man and woman, and between woman and her seed, condemns them to labor, condemns woman to pain in childbirth and subservience to her mate, condemns them both to eat thorny weeds and to die, dust returning to dust.

And finally, the creator throws our first parents out of Eden.

ThecCreator´s response to the eating of the forbidden fruit is violent in nature and hurtful in its consequences.  Genesis does inform us, however, that “the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil.” Genesis 3:22 introduces another motif of the myth, a second tree: “And now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever.” To prevent this further violation of his will, God drives Adam and Even from Eden.

The Two Trees

Genesis 2:9 describes the two trees, of knowledge and of life. But Genesis 2:17 only forbids eating of the first. Here is another hidden factor in the mythical syntax. Reading the myth in fine detail, we notice that eating of the tree of knowledge brings up the risk that Adam and Eve will eat of the tree of life, which is not expressly forbidden. Why is God so upset that eating of the one will lead to eating of the another? Perhaps because the realization gained from eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge generates recognition of what the tree of life is. The forbidden fruit gives the first parents access to the very biological source of their existence, "the tree of life."  Because this tree could not be attained unless the fruit of the other tree was eaten, access to it did not have to be denied.  Without the forbidden fruit to open their vision, Adam and Eve could partake of the tree of life for nutrition, to sustain themselves, but not to access its deeper secrets, not to attain the secret of life itself.  The tree of knowledge confers the wisdom that opens the way to the secret of immortality, represented by the tree of life (in modern terms, DNA, the human genome, ontogenic and phylogenetic evolution).

These hidden meanings deceptively encoded in the myth of the Fall are not evident if we accept uncritically the accepted message of a fall from grace, but such a superficial reading of this multi-motif tale is dangerous. The message of humiliation was intended by the mythmakers, but it cannot be delivered without including some information about the genuine Edenic condition, information that had to be dissimulated. The distinction between the wisdom that gives access to the tree of life, and the state of naïve understanding that precedes it is not immmediately clear in the myth, yet it is essential to the course of events descrived. Placed in Eden by the Creator, the first parents do not realize where they are, or that they are naked. Eating the forbidden fruit (visionary plant) changes their perception so that they see their nakedness—a motif usually associated with the emotion of shame.
As if there were something wrong with being naked in paradise. What they see is the beauty of their nakedness and what surrounds them.

For Adam and Eve, the initial unperceived nakedness of their bodies is a state of incomplete perception: they do see the natural condition they are in, or the natural setting around them. To see that they are naked in paradise, they must have naked awareness. In Tibetan Buddhism, “seeing the mind in naked awareness” refers to enlightened perception of reality free of mental bias and conditioned attention. This is direct awareness of the Ground of Being in Western theological terms -- exactly what Tillick evokes. The Fall story encodes a profound epistemological message: humankind can behold the presence of the natural world either naively, according to pregiven conditions, or by illumination, “naked awareness.” Yet this distinction is obscured in the dissimulating syntax of the myth.

Before Adam and Eve partake of the forbidden fruit they view the natural world naively, their perception masked by the veiling medium of the five senses. They see what the senses show at first glance, superficially, but not what is deeply, intensively welling up within the senses. Eating the fruit offered by the serpent makes them wise and gives them pleasure, so that they see what´s around them in an altered, enhanced state of mind, and see themselves likewise. The emotion of their startled awakening to being naked is not shame, but rapture, the bliss of being alive in a physical body. When the Creator finds them in this state of natural ecstasy, he is angry and comes down monstrously hard on those two strangers in paradise.

Remove the dissimulating language and the hidden message of the myth is clear: this creator wants humanity to remain in a naïve state, like a child who can be commanded, frightened, and threatened, and not in an illumined state, full of rapture and autonomous, godlike knowledge.

Jehovah is indeed a jealous deity, a cruel parent and a wrathful, punitive master. He forbids the natural sacrament that allows Adam and Eve to know as the gods know, to be gnostically awakened. The Biblical story of the Fall carries a direct prohibition against ecstacy, then falsely makes it look as if disodebience is the primary issue of the Fall. But the loss of ecstasy is the true cause, far more than the paternal creator's vengeful reaction to being disobeyed. The Fall myth disinforms us about the condition it sets out to enforce. It has to do so, otherwise it cound not be sustained.

The Fall is not punishment for eating the forbidden fruit, it is the result of not being allowed to eat the fruit, once it has been tasted.
 
When humankind loses the chance to experience ecstatic knowing of the natural world, and to realize its own divine capacity in relation to that natural world, it falls into the “human condition” aptly defined by the curses and condemnations the father god piles on Adam and Eve. We are born to be slaves, and to suffer and die, without ever knowing the rapture of our primal connection with the natural world that birth us. Such is the message of Edenic myth, decoded.

Original Deceit

Up to now it may seem that I am contradicting myself. Above I said that we are forbidden to know that the taboo on the forbidden fruit exists. A taboo is inverted when it does not state what it prohibits, but the Edenic myth does. It names the tabooed object. Or does it? God puts the tree of knowledge under taboo, clearly enough, but again I must stress how the myth dissimulates. The story says that the fruit offered by the serpent on the tree makes the eaters wise, gives pleasure, and changes their perception of themselves and the world around them. This says a lot, and such assertions might lead somewhere were we to ask, What kind of plants found in the natural world can produce these effects? We never go there, however. Why not? Because due to the dishonest intent of its construction, the myth of disobedience only points to the existence of visionary plants—euphemistically, Eve's apple— to condemn them. The myth names the tabooed plant, but forbids us to know anything about it. Consequently, hardly anyone today, asked "What was the forbidden fruit of Eden?", will be able to respond, "It was a psychoactive visionary plant."

The mythmakers who wrote the Fall myth intended to emphasize certain concerns—sin and sexuality, obediance to a parent, guilt, punishment, gender strife, procreation and birth pain, hard labor, and death—and to conceal, as far as possible, those features of the Edenic scene of awakening that refer to the natural setting where it occurred. These features are illumined knowledge, rapture, innocence (“they knew not that they were naked”), sensual pleasure, access to the secrets of biology, a heightened ethical sense ("knowing food and evil"), and the sense of immortality. Such are the suppressed values in the Edenic narrative. These values are downplayed in favor of themes of oppression, sin, and rejection. The natural values of the myth, as they might be called, have not been concealed by accident but by deliberate deceit. The myth is “spun” to hide everything it must reveal about the state of blissful knowing of the natural world in order to forbid that bliss?  The story of what the myth prohibits cannot be told without including these features, but they must be dissimulated to fulfil the chosen intention of the narrative.  

The motif of original sin, formally stated by Saint Augustine in the 4th Century, actually disguises the original deceit of the taboo-makers, the priest-scribes who invented human sin and divine punishment. This invention depends on the division of society under the inverted taboo: those who forbid, and those who do not know what is forbidden to them. Through millennia, Judeo-Christian faith has emphasized the human tendency to sin and the Creator´s need to punish sinners, and almost nothing has gone into looking behind this drama to the natural sense of the Edenic myth. Beliefs about Divinity drawn from the myth conflict dramatically with the beliefs to be discovered behind the myth.

The Paris Eadwine Psalter

The myth of the Fall describes the loss of primary religious experience of eccstatic knowing, but in doing so, it assets that such an experience is possible. The motif of the earthly paradise, a dominant theme in Christian history, encodes a magnificent and life-enhancing opportunity: to awaken in visionary rapture to the divine reality of the natural world and the human condition. It is astounding to consider how little interest and aspiration has been given to this mofit, compared to the motif of the Fall that emphasizes sin, suffering, enslavement, and retribution, themes that have consumed human imagination for more than 2500 years. But there is no paradise lost without a paradise to regain.

If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite.
- British poet and mystic, William Blake

The claim that humanity is “fallen,” i.e., less than it could be, can be balanced against the claim that human potential is open to learning and discovery, amenable to development, and can be infinitely evolved. The oldest taboo in the world stands against the latter claim, and denies the evolutionary promise of human potential, but does not openly refute it. A clever deception factored into the taboo determines how the taboo works. Paradise Denied exposes that deception.

Currently, there is an outpouring of books on entheogenic religion and the Wasson thesis. I am not to only one to be exposing the Biblical taboo, but in this book I have the advantage of rare evidence for the survival of ecstatic religion into the Middle Ages, the Paris Eadwine Psalter. This is a 12th Century illustrated prayerbook existing in only one version, kept in the National Library in Paris. It is filled with over forty multi-colored images of psychoative mushrooms which can be identified botanically by their shape and color. The Da Vinci Code demanded squinting and long stretches of imagination to support of the conspiratorial plot about Jesus and Mary Magdalene. The Paris psalter is gloriously explicit and requires no speculation or squinting. It depicts many Biblical scenes, including Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, embellished with psychedelic images of mushrooms. One panel shows Jesus is his cosmic form as Christ offering the sacred mushroom to our first parents.

The Paris Eadwine psalter recalls the testimony of the heresy-hunter Epiphanius (310 – 403 AD) who wrote that a pagan sect called the Ophites venerated the serpent of Eden because it brought gnosis (illumined knowledge) to humankind. The psalter is rich with graphic evidence for this heretical version of Genesis. According to Gnostics, Yahweh was a false creator god who did not wish us to know our true origins in the universe, nor assume our proper place on earth. By tempting Eve, the serpent brought religious insight into the world. Eve was called “the instructor” because she obeyed the wily snake and gained higher perception which she passed on to Adam and their descendents—that is, to us.

Paradise Denied decodes the Edenic myth and so discloses a faith forbidden by religion as we know it: namely, faith of the human species in itself, in its divine potential grounded in the natural world. It recounts a long-suppressed story, and takes the road less-travelled, a road that began with humankind´s primordial realization of God, Divinity, the Sacred, before doctrinal and institutional religion were asserted in place of that first-hand realization. To recover the paradisical awareness denied to us, this book uses the Wasson thesis of entheogenic religion, and traces its ramifications, spin-offs, and pros and cons down to the present moment.

The book concludes with a consideration of the Pharamacratic Inquisition, the current, stronger-then-ever program to forbid access to nature-given plants that heal and induce ecstatic vision.  

 


Material by John Lash and Lydia Dzumardjin: Copyright 2002 - 2017 by John Lash.