THE NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
As seen on The Joe Rogan Experience!
A groundbreaking dive into the role psychedelics have played in the origins of Western civilization, and the real-life quest for the Holy Grail that could shake the Church to its foundations.The most influential religious historian of the 20th century, Huston Smith, once referred to it as the „best-kept secret” in history. Did the Ancient Greeks use drugs to find God? And did the earliest Christians inherit the same, secret tradition? A profound knowledge of visionary plants, herbs and fungi passed from one generation to the next, ever since the Stone Age?
There is zero archaeological evidence for the original Eucharist – the sacred wine said to guarantee life after death for those who drink the blood of Jesus. The Holy Grail and its miraculous contents have never been found. In the absence of any hard data, whatever happened at the Last Supper remains an article of faith for today’s 2.5 billion Christians. In an unprecedented search for real answers, The Immortality Key examines the archaic roots of the ritual that is performed every Sunday for nearly one third of the planet. Religion and science converge to paint a radical picture of Christianity’s founding event. And after centuries of debate, to solve history’s greatest puzzle once and for all.
Before the birth of Jesus, the Ancient Greeks found salvation in their own sacraments. Sacred beverages were routinely consumed as part of the so-called Ancient Mysteries – elaborate rites that led initiates to the brink of death. The best and brightest from Athens and Rome flocked to the spiritual capital of Eleusis, where a holy beer unleashed heavenly visions for two thousand years. Others drank the holy wine of Dionysus to become one with the god. In the 1970s, renegade scholars claimed this beer and wine – the original sacraments of Western civilization – were spiked with mind-altering drugs. In recent years, vindication for the disgraced theory has been quietly mounting in the laboratory. The constantly advancing fields of archaeobotany and archaeochemistry have hinted at the enduring use of hallucinogenic drinks in antiquity. And with a single dose of psilocybin, the psychopharmacologists at Johns Hopkins and NYU are now turning self-proclaimed atheists into instant believers. But the smoking gun remains elusive.If these sacraments survived for thousands of years in our remote prehistory, from the Stone Age to the Ancient Greeks, did they also survive into the age of Jesus? Was the Eucharist of the earliest Christians, in fact, a psychedelic Eucharist?
With an unquenchable thirst for evidence, Muraresku takes the reader on his twelve-year global hunt for proof. He tours the ruins of Greece with its government archaeologists. He gains access to the hidden collections of the Louvre Museum to show the continuity from pagan to Christian wine. He unravels the Ancient Greek of the New Testament with the world’s most controversial priest. He spelunks into the catacombs under the streets of Rome to decipher the lost symbols of Christianity’s oldest monuments. He breaches the secret archives of the Vatican to unearth manuscripts never before translated into English. And with leads from the archaeological chemists at the University of Pennsylvania and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he unveils the first scientific data for the ritual use of psychedelic drugs in classical antiquity.The Immortality Key reconstructs the suppressed history of women consecrating a forbidden, drugged Eucharist that was later banned by the Church Fathers. Women who were then targeted as witches during the Inquisition, when Europe’s sacred pharmacology largely disappeared. If the scientists of today have resurrected this technology, then Christianity is in crisis. Unless it returns to its roots.
Like Brian C. Muraresku, author of the excellent Immortality Key that it is
my pleasure to introduce to you here, I was raised in a Christian household.
My family was Presbyterian, whereas Brian’s upbringing was Roman
Catholic. There are many doctrinal differences between these two
denominations but both practice the rite of Holy Communion and until as
late as the eighteenth century both advocated and pursued horrific deaths by
burning at the stake for “heretics”—particularly those accused of
My mother and father met in church in Edinburgh in the 1940s and my
father went on to qualify as a surgeon, subsequently taking up a post as a
medical missionary at the Christian Medical College in Vellore in the south
of India, which he held from 1954 until 1958.
Born in 1950, I was my parents’ only child and our four years in the
“mission field,” embedded in a devout Christian community, were
undoubtedly formative in my life—although certainly not in the way that
my father in particular had hoped. His efforts to fill my head with Christian
ideas, buttressed by regular readings from the Old and New Testaments,
only fueled my growing dislike of attending church and being forced to
listen to long, boring sermons.
By the time I was fourteen that feeling of dislike had crystallized into
detestation. The year was 1964; I’d been back in Britain for six years and I
was having a miserable time at a boarding school in the city of Durham.
Affiliated to the Church of England (which has its own doctrinal differences
from Catholicism and Presbyterianism, but with both of which it shares the
rite of Holy Communion), that school, at that time, was horrible and
sadistically violent in ways I won’t even begin to describe here and was
overlooked by a chilly stone chapel where regular services were held—
services that we, as pupils, were required to attend.
I remember actively dreading those services for being so remorselessly
boring, and actively resenting them for their stupidity and irrationality. Why
should I believe in this “God” and in his “son” Jesus, and why should I
believe in Heaven and Hell, angels and Satan, just because the Bible,
ministers of the church, and my parents told me that these things were real?
They weren’t real to me!
Expressing my rebellion—in my teenage way—by refusing to kneel,
pray, or sing hymns during chapel services, I determined that henceforth I
would question everything and never again take anything on trust just
because some authority figure, or some musty book, said it was so.
By my late teens I was already a committed atheist—indeed atheism
seemed to me to be the only reasonable and rational position to hold in
response to Christian dogma. Then in the early 1970s I attended university
where I studied sociology, at that time a radical and questioning discipline,
and my views hardened further.
I’ve stayed an atheist ever since, in the strict sense of the word—which
derives from the Greek átheos and means literally “godless.” Fifty years
have gone by and I still see no reason to believe in a deity or deities of any
kind. Nevertheless certain experiences that have come my way during this
past half century have changed my outlook profoundly and, while “god”
remains an unproven hypothesis, the experiences I speak of have persuaded
me of the existence of realms and realities other than our own that coexist
with ours, and exert influence upon every one of us, but that largely go
unseen and unrecognized in modern technological societies—particularly
those that have suffered long exposure to Christian teachings.
If I listen to a sermon in church, the experience I have there (almost
needless to say) is the experience of listening to a sermon in church, plus
the experience of whatever reactions the sermon evokes in me.
The “experience” in this case, therefore, is akin to the experience of
listening/reacting to a lecture or to any other kind of teaching. I may learn
something new, or I may be confronted by material that I am already
familiar with. And I may react with any of a broad range of emotions from
crushing boredom at one end of the scale to enthusiastic engagement at the
other, and with varying degrees of agreement or disagreement with what the
speaker is saying.
Likewise if I listen to a lecture or read a book or academic paper on the
human sex act, I may experience the lecture or book or paper as boring, or
stimulating, or intriguing, or disconcerting, or informative, or redundant,
etc. One thing is for sure, however: hearing the lecture or reading the book
or paper is categorically not the same as the experience I would enjoy if I
were actually having sex.
We can hopefully agree, therefore, that—as experiences—teachings,
sermons, books, lectures, and papers are separate, distinctly different from,
and of a lower order than, whatever it is they seek to describe, analyze, or
elucidate. Just as to hear a lecture on sex is not the same as having sex, so to
hear a sermon on the Kingdom of Heaven is not the same as visiting the
Kingdom of Heaven and experiencing it directly.
Which brings me to the subject of psychedelics and the experiences they
My first encounter with psychedelics was in 1974 in England when I
took LSD on impulse at a festival and was rewarded with twelve hours of
bliss, revelation, scary challenges, time travel, and mystery. The experience
was so powerful, however, that I felt afraid to seek it out again—suppose
the second time went wrong to the same heightened level as the first time
went right?—and over the next thirty years I declined several opportunities
for further “trips.”
Until, that is, I found myself writing a book that I originally intended to
be about the mystery of Stone Age cave art but that ended up being about so
much more than that. The book, published in 2005, was Supernatural:
Meetings with the Ancient Teachers of Mankind, and in 2002 during the
preliminary stages of research, I came across the work of David LewisWilliams, professor of anthropology at the University of Witwatersrand in
South Africa. Newly published that year, David’s book The Mind in the
Cave: Consciousness and the Origins of Art came as a revelation to me. It
presented reams of evidence supported by cogent arguments to make the
case that the characteristic features of cave art all around the world, and the
remarkable common themes in this art created by people who could have
had no direct contact with one another, are best explained if the artists,
wherever and whenever they lived, had all experienced deeply altered states
of consciousness—specifically those trance-like altered states sought out by
shamans in tribal and hunter-gatherer cultures through the consumption of
powerful psychedelic substances. In brief, David’s “neuropsychological
theory of cave art” proposes that shamans of the Stone Age used a variety
of means—notably psychedelic plants and fungi—to enter trance states in
which they experienced powerful visions. Later, returning to the “normal,”
everyday state of consciousness, they remembered their visions and painted
them on the walls of caves.
I quickly discovered that the shamans of tribal and hunter-gatherer
societies still extant in the world today all likewise embrace trance states, in
many cases brought on by psychedelic plants and fungi. Many subsequently
make paintings of their visions and—remarkably—this modern shamanic
imagery, said to depict the “spirit world” and its inhabitants, is strikingly
similar to the imagery of Stone Age cave art.
Being a hands-on researcher I knew that the time had come for me to
renew my acquaintance with psychedelics. For my first research “trips” I
chose to travel to the Amazon rain forest of South America to sit down with
shamans and drink with them the sacred visionary brew known as
Ayahuasca—“the Vine of Souls” or “Vine of the Dead”—in which the
active ingredient is dimethyltryptamine (DMT), the most potent
hallucinogen known to science.
All in all I had eleven Ayahuasca sessions in the Amazon in 2003,
enough to provide me with the authentic firsthand experiences I felt needed
to write my book. But since Supernatural was published in 2005 I have
taken part in more than seventy further Ayahuasca sessions, the four most
recent of which (at time of writing) were held in Costa Rica in December
- My practice is not entirely consistent but I try to make an Ayahuasca
pilgrimage once a year, on each occasion, wherever in the world I choose to
go, joining with small groups of fellow seekers (usually in the range of five
to twenty people but sometimes—rarely—with as many as a hundred), to
experience the brew in a ceremonial setting. Typically these ceremonies are
facilitated by Amazonian shamans or by Westerners who have undergone
apprenticeships with Amazonian shamans and—with increasing frequency
in the Western context—it is women, not men who lead and guide the
Drinking Ayahuasca is hard work. The brew tastes obnoxious—a
mixture of battery acid, rancid socks, raw sewage, and just a hint of
chocolate—and routinely induces diarrhea, intense sweating, and projectile
vomiting followed by exhausting bouts of dry retching. The visions that
accompany all this can sometimes be terrifying, and sometimes deeply
comforting. Extraordinary swirling, scintillating geometric patterns provide
an otherworldly backdrop, but the visions also routinely include encounters
with intelligent entities, sometimes in human form, sometimes in animal
form, and sometimes in the form of part-animal, part-human hybrids—
known technically as therianthropes (from the Greek therion, meaning wild
beast and anthropos meaning man).
Despite having to brace myself for the discomfort of the experience, it is
these visions that draw me back to Ayahuasca year after year—this sense of
gaining entry to a seamlessly convincing parallel universe and of being
offered the opportunity to participate there in intriguing, meaningful, and
sometimes life-changing encounters with seemingly otherworldly entities.
Very commonly these entities appear as serpents or as serpent/human
hybrids, and “Mother Ayahuasca” herself, the entity believed by many to be
the supernatural intelligence behind the brew, is frequently depicted in
shamanic art as a serpent or as a serpent therianthrope. I have met “her” in
this form many times. On one memorable occasion, for example, “she”
appeared to me as a great boa constrictor twenty or thirty feet in length. She
wrapped her coils gently around my body, laid her huge head on my
shoulder, and gazed into my eyes for an infinity. She seemed very real to
me—indeed more real than real—and her presence (despite the “natural”
horror that we humans are supposed to have of serpents) was that of a
deeply compassionate, utterly beautiful goddess who simply loved me for
the longest while during which “she” repeatedly beamed into my mind what
felt like a telepathic message—a very simple, very basic message delivered
nonetheless with astonishing, breathtaking power—that I needed to be
kinder and more nurturing to others.
I emerged from the session with the clear knowledge that although I
could not go back in time and correct past mistakes and past unkindnesses, I
could choose never to repeat those mistakes and to be a kinder, more
positive, compassionate, and constructive influence on the lives of others.
I do not know whether Mother Ayahuasca is “real” in the way that we
normally mean when we speak of real people or things, but what is
interesting is that at the level of phenomenology (sources thoroughly
documented and footnoted in my book Supernatural), many thousands of
people have undergone encounters with “her” during Ayahuasca sessions
and have had their behavior and their outlook profoundly changed as a
result. Those changes are real even if materialist science would like to
reduce the entity who inspires them to a mere epiphenomenon of disturbed
Very often this entity (who, I repeat, may or may not be real but is
experienced as real) gives us profound moral lessons in the depths of the
Ayahuasca journey. We may be shown episodes from our lives in which we
have behaved unkindly or unjustly to others, or been mean-spirited and
unloving, or have failed to live up to our own potential. And we will be
shown these things with absolute clarity and transparency, with all illusions
and excuses stripped away, so we are confronted with nothing more nor less
than the cold, hard truth about ourselves. Such revelations can be very
painful. Frequently people cry during Ayahuasca sessions because of them.
But they bring insight and give us the chance to change our behavior in the
future: to be more nurturing and less toxic, to be more considerate of others,
and to be more aware than we were before of the incredible privilege the
universe has given us by allowing us to be born in a human body—an
opportunity for growth and improvement of the soul that we absolutely
must not waste.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons why Ayahuasca has been so very
successful in getting people off addictions to harmful hard drugs. For
example, Dr. Jacques Mabit has for many years been offering heroin and
cocaine addicts incredibly effective treatments with Ayahuasca at his
Takiwasi clinic in Tarapoto, Peru, where they might typically undergo
twelve sessions with Ayahuasca in the space of a month. (See here:
A very high proportion of participants have such powerful revelations
about the roots of their own problems and behavior during the sessions that
they leave Takiwasi completely free of addiction, often without withdrawal
symptoms, and never resume their habit. The success rate is far better than
for any of the conventional Western treatments for drug addiction.
Meanwhile in Canada, Dr. Gabor Mate was offering phenomenally
successful Ayahuasca healing sessions to his drug-addicted patients before
the Canadian government stepped in and stopped his work on the grounds
that Ayahuasca itself is an illegal drug. (See here:
As Brian Muraresku documents in the pages of The Immortality Key,
however, Western science, so long recruited to justify the harsh
punishments called for by the “war on drugs,” is increasingly recognizing
the positive, life-changing benefits of psychedelics—in ridding individuals
of post-traumatic stress disorder, for example, or, in the case of those with
terminal cancers, of their fear of death. The potential of psilocybin (the
active ingredient in “magic mushrooms”) is presently being investigated at
the Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research and
it is striking, as Brian reports, that “about 75 percent of the research
volunteers consistently rate their one and only dose of psilocybin as either
the single most meaningful experience of their entire lives, or among the
Likewise, I am here to attest that in several (though by no means all) of
my many Ayahuasca sessions I have been blessed with experiences of such
extraordinary power, yielding such penetrating insights, that I
unhesitatingly rank them among the most meaningful of my life. Indeed
they have been so meaningful that they have changed my entire outlook on
life and on the nature of “reality.” I’m still an atheist, and I still accept that
those scientists who seek to reduce consciousness to matter may be right.
But my experiences with Ayahuasca have convinced me, as no amount of
reading or studying or listening to lectures or sermons ever could, that
materialist-reductionism is a profound error, that to be alive and conscious
at all is a mystery of enormous, immeasurable proportions and, in brief, as
Shakespeare put it in Hamlet, that “there are more things in heaven and
earth” than are presently dreamed of in our philosophy.