The Immortality Key is an important book. I had only read the Forward and half of the Introduction when I was convinced of the book’s essential thesis:
- The human psyche has an innate capacity for a common experience of “transcendence,” which in our cultural terms might be called “seeing or knowing God.” Transcendence can be found across cultures and time in religious archetypes and practices. But most humans can only obtain the real transcendental experience with the aid of entheogenic (a.k.a. psychedelic) chemicals.
- Humans going back to prehistoric times have made ritualistic use of natural entheogens. Many have emphasized that the transcendence found through these chemically-enhanced rituals is critical to the well-being not only of individuals but also of human society.
- It appears that a single powerful entheogenic experience is sufficient to convert a person for life. (For example, Greeks who underwent the entheogenic ritual at Eleusis were given the title epoptēs, or “witness.” And ongoing research with entheogens has found that a single dose of psilocybin can relieve major depression.)
- Spiritual use of entheogens has perhaps been stigmatized by abuse in the 1960s and 1970s. The hippie movement profaned the use of entheogens that were, and probably should be, sacred.
- Modern organized religions and governments have nefariously eliminated access to entheogens. For example, it is astonishing that chemicals like psilocybin and LSD have been banned under DEA Schedule 1, which is reserved for substances “that have a high chance of being abused or causing addiction, and no FDA-approved medical use,” whereas scientific research has always found them to be non-addictive, with low potential for abuse.
How do you “see God?” As with all human traits, there is a spectrum of capacity. Some people are gifted (or afflicted) with transcendental vision – most likely many of those called prophets. For many more people, transcendent vision can be obtained through devoted fasting, prayer, scourging, or meditation. But it appears that anyone can transcend with the use of entheogenic chemicals. The Immortality Key impresses the notion that Christianity is (in my words) a relatively dead religion: Christian doctrine correctly describes transcendence, but Christian rituals are hollow versions of those that humans have relied on for tens of thousands of years to actually experience transcendence. Yes, these hollow rituals are sufficient for some. For others, like me, they at best offer one fleeting glimpses of transcendence.
The Immortality Key has its shortcomings. After the first few chapters the author bogs down flogging the Pagan Continuity Hypothesis and exulting over his discovery of small scraps of evidence he found in a decade of research. Jerry Brown wrote a good review that should be read to put the book in its proper place.
The book does expound upon a few other worthwhile points. The author is an academic classicist, and along the way he (like all classicists) impresses on the reader how little our culture has evolved from that developed by the Greeks in the first millennium BC. Then he details the shocking efforts by early Christians to try to erase that culture. They nearly did, most unconscionably by burning the library at Alexandria. Today we have only 1% of classical texts known to have existed.
The last chapter is an interesting read: It shows how the concept of “witches” was developed by the middle Catholic Church and used to destroy whatever western folk knowledge of entheogens may have otherwise survived. Then, Christian missionaries in the Americas largely succeeded (often through the force of government) to suppress entheogenic use among indigenous Americans. Hopefully we are now at the end of the war on entheogens and the revival of mainstream acceptance of and access to transcendental experience.