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More from John's unpublished MS

Entheogenic Revelation

The Paris Eadwine Psalter


PARADISE DENIED was intended to be the first complete account written for mainstream readers of the entheogenic theory of religion, or Wasson thesis – so named after R. Gordon Wasson who proposed it in 1968. The thesis has two forms:

In its general form, the thesis states that the primal religious experience of humanity was a visionary trance induced by the ingestion of psychoactive plants. This direct revelation of Divinity was ecstatic religion as it existed long before any doctrines, rites, rules, hierarchy, or institutions.

In its specific form, the Wasson thesis locates the roots of entheogenic religion in cultic use of the fly agaric mushroom (amanita muscaria) in the Ural mountains of Central Asia around 6500 BCE. Wasson is also known, and primarily known to many people, for his book Soma: Divine Mushroom of Immortality (1968) where he identified the fly-agaric with soma, the divine inebriant of Vedic religion.

As originally conceived, I did not intend PARADISE DENIED to plead for or against the Wasson thesis. My aim was to challenge the longstanding taboo on ecstatic religious experience, explain why this taboo was imposed in the first place, and consider the massive pathological impact of forbidding access to the divine dimension of the natural world. To do this, I set out to define the thesis, trace its development, its role in the psychedelic movement of the 1960s, its current ramifications, and let the evidence speak for itself. And the evidence is spectacular. The centerpiece of entheogenic theory in my proposed book was the Paris Eadwine Psalter, BNF Latin MS 8846, a rare illuminated book of the 12th Century. Biblical scenes in the psalter depict in botanically distinct form the “forbidden fruit,” blue-staining psilocybe mushrooms sprouting from the Tree of Knowledge, and other varieties of psychoactive fungi.

The above image of Adam and Eve is one of twelve sections from a full-page panel of the Eadwine MS. The psalter opens with five such panels, lavish in detail and color, and there are three other full-page panels as well, though not all of them show entheobotanical imagery. About forty other images in the 357-page MS repeat the motif of the paradisical tree, often shown in the explicit, literal form of a blue-staining mushroom.

In one twelve-section panel Jesus presides over four botanically distinct types of psychoactive mushrooms, including those that stain blue (right). This startling image, in which the Christian Savior appears to invite the faithful to partake in a sacramental mushroom mass, has appeared on some entheogenic sites on the Internet, wrongly identified as belonging to the Canterbury Psalter. There is much confusion, and scholarly obfuscation, around the precise identification of the Paris Eadwine Psalter, which closely resembles two other 12 C illuminated MSs.

To my knowledge, I am so far the sole investigator to specifically identify BNF Latin MS 8846 as the unique psalter with entheobotanical imagery.

My research indicates that here exist three closely related psalters dated around 1150 CE. The Great Canterbury Psalter, also kept in Paris, is sometimes identified with the Paris Eadwine Psalter. To make matters even more confusing, both are called the Anglo-Catalan Psalter. The Eadwine Psalter, MS R. 17. 1, kept at Trinity College, Cambridge, can also be mistaken for BNF Latin MS 8846 which is, to my knowledge, the sole and unique example of such lavish entheobotanical imagery that survives. I have examined a book reproduction of the Cambridge MS and find many parallels but no imagery comparable to the Paris MS. Eadwine ("generous friend") is the name assigned to the Medieval scribe believed to be responsible for these masterpieces. It appears that scholars attach the same quasi-historical person to all three 12th century Psalters.

Until now, the Paris Eadwine Psalter has been studiously ignored by scholars who refrain from commenting on the blatant mycological images used to illustrate Biblical narratives. The graphic contents of the MS are totally unknown to the general public. My secondary aim in PARADISE DENIED was to introduce this astonishing book to the world.

The images in the Paris Eadwine Psalter are stunning, explicit, and unmistakable. They require no squinting and speculation, as occurs with esoteric doctrines allegedly encoded in great works of art. This one-of-a-kind manuscript presents vivid evidence complementary to the Wasson thesis. Currently, there is a rapidly growing body of research confirming Wasson's views, but nothing accessible to mainstream interest.

I have not seen the original BNF Latin MS 8846—special permission is required to access and handle it—but I have closely studied the microfilm in the library archives. Some illustrations show an elaborate proliferation of mushrooms and elegantly branched mushroom-trees, recalling the surrealism of Dali's paintings (see below). Additional to the literal, botanically identifiable images are many examples of what I call the omphalos-bud: consider what looks like a blackberry behind the head of Adam in the image at the top of this page. The reddish fruit bedecking the top of the Tree of Knoweldge recalls the form of a a pomegranate with its juicy facets. The imagery presents white psilocybin heads side by side with the omphalos-bud and the promegranate motif.

The prototype of the omphalos-bud is the world navel from Delphi. As explained in the Gnostic Gallery 2,

seasoned initiates made a special rite of gazing at the omphalos stone. A peculiar braiding of knotted and bisected chromosome-like structures adorned these stones... By holding their bodily concentration steady, initiates not only saw the Light interpenetrating the omphalos, they entered it, visually. Gazing into the depths of the substantial shadowless white luminosity, they saw the molecular structure of living matter, not just the form of DNA, suggested by the cruciform seed-like nodules engraved on the omphalos, but also the peculiar kinking and twisting of nucleic threads. This was the epiphany of the divine serpentine force to be encountered within the ornamental marble dome. Thus the omphalos, navel, was the entry point for perception of the cosmic umbilicus, navel-string, DNA-RNA.

The capacity to perceive the molecular structure of nature plays a key role in my exposition of the Wasson thesis. Testimony on such perception, including artistic and artifactual evidence, can be found in numerous recent studies, particularly The Cosmic Serpent by Jeremy Narby. Ayahuasca shamans regularly report their ability to see into the molecular dimension, and their knowledge of the psychopharmacology of thousands of species of plants attests to special access to the secrets of nature. This mode of heightened perception is neither theory nor speculation: Narby recounts that the shamans of Peru told him they learned the secrets of the plant from the plants themselves.

Daliesque mushroom tree on lower left panel of folio 5v/.

I believe that the artistic convention of portraying psychoactive mushrooms by the omphalos-bud points directly to initiatory knowledge surving from the Mysteries into the 12th Century. The imagery of the Paris Eadwine Psalter shows both the botanical identity of sacramental mushrooms and the visionary effect they produce, extending to the perception of molecular structure, not to mention particular properties of the internal workings of the Organic Light. The omphalos imagery in the Eadwine Psalter confirms my statement (The Oldest Taboo in the World) that the Tree of Knowledge, the forbidden psychoactive fungus, conferred access to the secrets of biological evolution, represented by the Tree of Life—in modern terms, DNA, the human genome, ontogenic and phylogenetic evolution. This is why the Tree of Knowledge had to be forbidden, but not the Tree of Life. When Adam and Eve awakened to heightened perception by eating of the former, they had to be banished from parasidise, lest they should then access the latter and know, as gods know, the intimate secrets of life. This is how I decode the Genesis myth of the two Trees.

My research suggests that R. Gordon Wasson and his wife Tina may have come close to discovering the Paris Eadwine Psalter. During their trips to Europe, they were often assisted by European colleagues who led them to source materials. In one instance, they were shown an Edenic scene from the Utrecht Psalter (Utrecht, Germany, Universiteitsbibliotheek, MS 32/484), produced at Reims in France around 820 CE, about three centuries before the Eadwine/Canterbury psalters. As the illustration below shows, the Utrecht psalter also contains some imagery suggestive of entheobotany: the mushroom-like forms on wispy stems might be taken for psilocybin fungi. But this imagery is pale and indistinct compared to the outrageous illustrations of the Paris MS.

It is fascinating to wonder what Gordon and Tina Wasson would have made of the Paris Eadwine Psalter had their research led them to it. Scholars today who scrutinize the MS, without so much as a nod to its explicit entheobotanical imagery, often cite the Utrecht Psalter (above) as a prototype. The logical course of investigation for the Wassons would have been from the 9th century psalter tradition to the 12th century psalters.

Typical half-page illustration from the Paris Psalter:

As I was circulating the book proposal for PARADISE DENIED, a friend asked, "What does the Paris Eadwine Psalter prove, regarding the Wasson thesis?" Well, it does not prove anything in terms of Wassons' specific claim that the primordial mushroom cult was Eurasian and employed fly-agaric (amanita muscaria), rather than blue-staining psilocybin mushrooms. It does prove, however, that an entheobotanical cultic tradition, possibly a remnant of the Mysteries, survived into the 12th Century in Europe and profoundly influenced (better said: subverted) the religious art of the time.

BNF Latin MS 8846 does not directly confirm Wasson, but it does confirm a more expansive model of entheogenic theory, allowing for global and botanical variations, and does so in a most spectacular manner.

jll February 2008 Flanders


Material by John Lash and Lydia Dzumardjin: Copyright 2002 - 2018 by John L. Lash.