Background

Historically, some cults and cultlike groups have sponsored the use of drugs as an integral aspect of ritual. In ancient Greece, for example, the use of ergot (genus Claviceps), a fungus that grows on grains and causes hallucinations, appears to have played a significant role in the rituals of the Eleusinian mysteries, celebrated in worship of the goddesses Demeter and her daughter Persephone. As poets noted, ''I have seen the truth within the kernel of wheat''—a foreshadowing of the Coun-tercultural Revolution/Love Generation, when a purified ergot derivative (LYSERGIC ACID DIETHYLAMIDE, LSD) offered a similar experience. Indeed, the word lysergic means ''dissolving ergot.''

In Islam, alcohol is forbidden, but medieval Islamic sects were formed to use HASHISH (a form of Cannabis sativa, MARIJUANA). It came into use in the Islamic Middle East only centuries after the Prophet Mohammed (lived about 570 to 632) and his followers founded the Moslem religion; hashish was allegedly used to offer a taste of the paradise to come.

In pre-Columbian America, drugs of a wide variety were utilized in religious rituals; the Native American Church still continues to use the

HALLUCINOGENS peyote and mescaline (both de-

More than 900 members of the People's Temple died by mass suicide/murder on November 18, 1979, in Jonestown, Guyana. The leader, Jim Jones, had lured many people into the cult by claiming he would cure their drug abuse problems. (© Bettmann/CORBIS)

rived from the small cactus Lophophora wil-liamsii). Recent court decisions have protected and reaffirmed the right of this church to use these drugs in religious ceremonies. As Preston and Hammerschlag (1983) have noted, this use of hallucinogens is rigidly controlled—part of a transcendent experience, accompanied by rituals of purification, and not lending itself to use on a promiscuous basis.

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