#72 The (Immortality) [Key], or, evidence of (reincarnation) through [psychedelics]

The Immortality Key: The Secret History of the Religion with No Name by Brian C. Muraresku

Muraresku’s 400-page monolith: It took just under a week to finish it as I was underlining so much of the dense material he presents in the text and footnotes. In a nutshell, he makes a compelling case for psychedelics used as sacraments in ancient mystery traditions, including influencing Christianity. While many psychedelic scholars have focused mainly on the ancient Greek Mysteries of Eleusis—e.g. The Road to Eleusis by Wasson, Hofmann, & Ruck [haven’t read yet, on my list] and Terence McKenna who mentions female-run psychedelic mystery cults of the ancient world in Food of the Gods—I appreciate Muraresku’s deep dive before and after the so-called Eleusinian Mysteries. The Greek town of Eleusis may have been the pinnacle of the ancient mystery traditions in Western culture, but in actuality it was a single node or station in a long line among many. He cites scholars mentioning the Proto-Indo-Europeans and their death cults that involved hallucinogenic beer and/or wine, and that perhaps it was the same root culture that gave ancient Indians their soma and ancient Greeks their kukeon magical elixirs. As well, he backs up all his claims with hard evidence from the budding fields of archeochemistry and archeobotany, where professionals test ancient earthenware for chemicals that would have been left in the pot after cooking or storing of liquids such as these hallucinogenic ritual brews. Muraresku is like Dan Brown; however, The Da Vinci Code was based on historical accounts in a fictional story, whereas The Immortality Key is based on a discourse analysis of ancient Greek, Latin, and biblical texts to name a few (I prefer the term archeo-literature) and hard data in real life. Brian Muraresku is a real-life Robert Langdon! I think that’s what made his book so interesting and pleasurable to read.

I don’t want to summarize the whole book in this stream of consciousness, and I forgot some of the alternative explanations of events I thought I’d write about. One point really stuck out though, that was, his comment about familiarity of that Other World induced by the hallucinogenic potions of the ancient world. Some context first. The opening quote of the book is: “If you die before you die, You won’t die when you die.” This, according to Muraresku, is the biggest secret of the mystery cults. In imbibing the psychedelic brews of old, you would become god-like, have an experience of some Other World, make contact with your ancestors, know from firsthand experience there is something more than meets the sober eye of ordinary perception. The “religion with no name” can nicely be summed up as:

“[T]he initiate will have transcended the very concepts of past, present, and future. Or life and death. Where ‘every moment is an eternity of its own,’ as an atheist once described it to me. Why wait for death itself to experience that? If you’ve experienced it while still alive, even once, then the last moment of your life is a return to something familiar. Practice dying, the philosophers have been telling us for twenty-five hundred years. So that when your time comes, you won’t even feel the flames that engulf everything you ever knew. This has happened before, you’ll remember. This is not dying. This is becoming God. The God you’ve always been. The God the Vatican would prefer you never hear about” (Muraresku, 2020, 374-375, my italics).

The point I want to pick at is the feeling of familiarity of these altered spaces, of being there before. I can attest to such a homecoming feeling from my own psychedelic experiences as everything I knew about myself and my human-constructed world merged or melted (as some mystics say) into something, whatever it is. This is not the reason I take psychedelics, but these types of feelings come with the territory if you research the phenomenology of non-ordinary perception elicited by psychedelics. It is inescapable.

Familiarity, Other World, happened before, remembering, not dying. This sounds like reincarnation. Muraresku, however, mentions “reincarnation” only once during the entire book in reference to a Samaritan sorcerer’s female partner from the first century AD who claimed to be Helen of Troy reincarnated (2020, 293). I wonder why he doesn’t give more thought to reincarnation. Is it because his thesis’s main focus was on finding a psychedelic sacrament from the ancient world that would prove the connection and continuance of a Dionysian religion to Christianity? Of what little I know about Christianity, I don’t think Christians believe in reincarnation; you go to heaven or hell when you die, and forever. But if these Dionysians believed that if you die before you die then you won’t die when you die, does this suggest that psychedelics are like training wheels, or to use an analogy from poker, like “burn cards” before you see the flop (first three cards at once) or turn cards (4th and 5th cards) respectively? Do psychedelics show users what that transition is like from physical existence to a nonphysical one? And if that’s true (say, objectively real), and we sense a feeling of familiarity or remembrance to that experience, then, reincarnation is at play. You can’t remember something you’ve never experienced before. Remembering this space implies you’ve been there at least once before. One could argue that we start out as nonphysical beings, are incarnated into a human being, and then go to heaven or hell forever upon physical death. However, if nonphysical realms are forever spaces, you wouldn’t be able to be incarnated in the first place because you’re supposed to be in a realm that is forever. As far as I know, according to Christianity, you don’t start your existence in heaven, incarnate into a human, and then go to heaven or hell forever based on how you lived your life.

All this doesn’t make sense (partly because of my rambling), which suggests that if we “remember” the familiarity of these spaces elicited by psychedelics, it’s possible we’ve been there before, which further suggests reincarnation. Seeing and experiencing these worlds suggest that the classic tryptamine, phenethylamine, and lysergamide chemicals found in psychedelics (and likely the same and other chemicals found in dissociatives and deliriants, i.e. the broader hallucinogen family tree), allow users to not go through the door to the other side, but rather, to peer through the door or peek through the window into that space. “Practice dying, the philosophers have been telling us for twenty-five hundred years,” Muraresku reminds us. By practicing dying, thereby getting comfortable with the idea that this is not our last stop but one in an infinite series of stops, we can practice living, we can live better, taking away whatever lessons we need to learn from this life in this physical avatar in this corner of the universe at this particular time.

I would love to get Muraresku’s thoughts on the absence of reincarnation in his book, because for me, it’s there, like a whispered scream, implicitly, perhaps unconsciously, woven throughout.

Muraresku, B. C. (2020). The Immortality Key: The Secret History of the Religion with No Name. (G. Hancock, Foreword). New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Brian C. Muraresku website: https://www.brianmuraresku.com

Addendum

It just dawned on me after writing this stream that if members of the ancient mystery cults weren’t talking about reincarnation, were they talking about a similar phenomenon, that is, the nondual state? I have experienced such a state only once after smoking toad 5-MeO-DMT. In this particular experience, “I” experienced the nondual state reported by many mystics and meditators. The kind of nonduality I speak of is equally beautiful as it is terrifying. There is no I and no other, no this or that, everything is one, and I can only remember glimpses of what it looked and felt like. I still argue, however, that this is not what the ancients were experiencing because, according to Muraresku, the ancients were seeing and interacting with their deceased ancestors, and thus, an interaction cannot take place in a nondual state for there must be non-I categories, or categories outside of oneself, with which to interact. To use a computer analogy, nondualism is solid-state drive, while other psychedelics are like hard disk drives, producing states that still allow one to work with concepts, i.e. an X vs. a Y. (I write about this in my master’s thesis, i.e. philosopher of mysticism Walter Stace’s theory of unconceptualizability, Houot, 2019, 13.) The terms ego death and ego dissolution come to mind, so maybe this is what the ancients were experiencing: a merging of self into the other, whatever or wherever the other is, hence, dying before you die. But then I also wonder whether the ancients’ experiences were a combination of the nondual state and reincarnation, for example, perhaps the nondual state is but one step of the reincarnation process. On this note of high speculation, I must mull over these ideas a bit more. Good luck in your own mental chewing.

2 thoughts on “#72 The (Immortality) [Key], or, evidence of (reincarnation) through [psychedelics]”

  1. Hello, perhaps you would be interested in my review of The Immortality Key: https://cyberdisciple.wordpress.com/2021/05/10/cyberdisciple-reviews-brian-murareskus-the-immortality-key-summary-and-collection-of-posts/

    If you are going to use it as a reference for ancient mystery cults, you’d best look elsewhere. The book is woefully selective in its research and tendentious in its presentation of ancient history, medieval, and renaissance history. The book’s ‘secret tradition’ is as fictional as The Da Vinci Code, sadly, and is more an advertising campaign, than scholarship. A real missed opportunity.

    Psychedelics were widespread and common in pre-modernity, including Greek and Christian religions, but *not* in the way Muraresku fantasizes. They were an open secret, widely used across many, seemingly disparate cultural practices.

    I would find a mainstream scholarly book on ancient mystery cults and philosophy, written by a professional scholar, and then simply insert the psychedelics into them.

    1. Hi cyberdisciple, fair points. I appreciate your critical comments in your own post. I thought Muraresku did a good job at hunting down dots to connect in light of 40+ years since the publication of The Road to Eleusis in addition to new testing techniques in the relatively new field of archaeo-chemistry. There is no definite smoking gun of course that explicitly says ancient peoples took psychedelics, but this seems to be the case.

      Was there anything you liked or enjoyed about The Immortality Key? Was there something in it that perhaps prompted your own investigation to “correct” or add to Muraresku’s research? Lastly, I’m curious whether you reached out to him and, if you did, what he said in response to your critiques?

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