32 minutes | Jan 27, 2021

Plants of the Gods: Episode 9. Ergot, LSD and the Birth of Western Religions

Ergot, LSD and the Birth of Western Religions – Ergot is a fungus that parasitizes rye where - in the Middle Ages - it was sometimes milled into the flour used to make bread. Unfortunately for the unsuspecting folks who ate the bread, ergot is rich in powerful alkaloids that can cause a range of symptoms, from visions to gangrene to death. Some historians have postulated that consumption of ergotized bread may have cause the bizarre behaviors that resulted in the Salem Witch Trials in Massachusetts in the late 17th century. When employed correctly, ergot offers many beneficial curative properties in terms of treating medical problems in childbirth as well as migraines. And it was the ergot alkloids that inspired Swiss chemist Albert Hoffman in 1938 to devise synthetic chemicals similar to the ergot alkaloids - and one of the results was LSD. This episode also delves into whether visions caused by ergot or other plants of the gods may have played an important role in the formation of several western religions. Sources: Balick, Michael J., and Paul Alan Cox. Plants, People, and Culture the Science of Ethnobotany. CRC Press, 2020.  Harner, Michael. Hallucinogens and Shamanism. Oxford University Press. 1981. Mann, John. Murder, Magic, and Medicine. Oxford University Press, 2000. Muraresku, Brian. The Immortality Key: the Secret History of the Religion with No Name. St. Martin's Press, 2020.  Schultes, Richard Evans., and Albert Hofmann. Plants of the Gods. Vandermarck, 1979. Simpson, Beryl Brintnall., and Molly Conner-Ogorzaly. Economic Botany:Plants in Our World. McGraw-Hill, 2001. Stewart, Amy, et al. Wicked Plants: the Weed That Killed Lincoln's Mother & Other Botanical Atrocities. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2009.
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