From Animism to Non-Duality

Entheogens, religion, and the evolution of the way of life


I ended the last excursion into the prehistory of human societies with a brief account of Indo-Iranians and their discovery of non-dual understanding of reality. Afterwards, I decided to look more closely at the role that cannabis played in those developments, which led me all the way back to pre-religious (and in some cases pre-tribal) societies, both of which I will address in this article.

As I concluded previously, the time when Indo-Iranians arrived to Levant and later to India correlates with emergence of non-dual understanding of reality in each of the respective regions. Furthermore, as I will demonstrate below, Vedic Hindusim and Abrahamic tradition contain almost word for word correspondences which, however, cannot be found in Zoroastrianism (assumed to be original monotheism that influenced the other two religions in question). It is therefore clear that, even though accounts of Abraham and Melchizedek hint at presence of a monotheistic school of though in Levant, it was obviously not Zoroastrianism that Abraham allegedly brought from Ur.

Hence we may safely assume that the knowledge of non-dual nature of reality originated with a common ancestor of Vedic Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, and subsequently Abrahamic tradition. Although the first one is most of the time labeled as polytheistic or henotheistic and the latter two as monotheistic religions respectively (and despite their obvious exoteric duality), we can clearly identify the philosophy of indivisible oneness hidden underneath the complex mythologies.

Many would argue that Abrahamic tradition does not fall into this category, but allusions from Tanakh and later references found in New Testament — such as, “I am that I am,” (Exodus 3:14), “I said: You are Elohim [1], and all of you sons of the Most High,” (Psalm 82:6), “I and the Father are one,” (John 10:30), as well as Ten Commandments (but also many others) — have all almost one-to-one parallels with e.g. concept of Brahman (Satchitananda, i.e. existence, consciousness, bliss), Mahavakyas (“Thou art That”, “This Self is Brahman”, “Consciousness is Brahman”, “I am Brahman”), as well as ethical rules (Yamas) found in Vedas, some of which can be traced back to the oldest layers of Rigveda (c. 1500 BCE).

Similarities between Zoroastrian Avesta and Vedas are not that clear-cut, and due to significant nationalistic undertones, the whole topic is rather controversial. Nevertheless, the rituals and deities described in Zend Avesta undoubtedly show parallels with those depicted in Rigveda, and given that, “The affinity of the oldest form of the Avestan language with the dialect of Vedas is so great in syntax, vocabulary, diction, meter and general poetic style that by the mere application of phonetic laws whole Avestan stanzas may be translated word by word into Vedic, so as to produce verses correct, not only in form but in poetic spirit,” (Alamdar Moghaddam, 2011), there should be little doubt that each one of these three, on the surface wildly different, religious traditions is based off of a common cultural ancestor.

The link between cannabis and underlying monism of those traditions is then quite straightforward but also rather hypothetical.

In the case of Judaism, there are several convincing linguistic attempts to tie the term used in Tanakh to cannabis (Robinson, 1995, Benner, 2020), and even though these interpretations are generally dismissed — especially by rabbinical authorities — there are undeniable archaeological finds that attest to the use of cannabis as incense in ancient Israelite ceremonies at least as far back as c. 750–715 BCE (Arie, Rosen, Namdar, 2020). However, there is no link that would directly tie early Judaism to hemp in terms of its psychoactive properties. Yet, we also know about Scythians and their overall love for inhaling hemp smoke which is well documented. They were the ones who spread the cannabis cult throughout the ancient world (7th-3rd century BCE) as well as the ones who venerated goddesses associated with the Tree of Life (Ustinova, 1999) [2]. In addition to it, we also know that a Jewish apocryphal group of writings from 1st century CE, named Life of Adam and Eve (or Apocalypse of Moses), mentions the Biblical Tree of Life and anointing oil of mercy that can be produced out of it. Obviously in order to gain eternal life, or in other words — immortality.

When it comes to Zoroastrianism and Hinduism, the direct links to psychoactive properties of a plant granting immortality are solid as the accounts of and respectively attest, but what is missing is a definitive identification with cannabis. To begin with, general consensus is that refers to some variety of Ephedra which Iranian Zoroastrians are known to use for at least last two hundred years, and which is, according to popular belief, sufficiently identified in Avesta as such. Similarly, there’s almost universal agreement that original identity of Vedic is lost despite the fact that some strong opinions pushing for Amanita muscaria, Psilocybe, and already mentioned Ephedra do exists. Since culture and religion are a very sensitive topic, in this instance exacerbated by national animosity, I don’t expect priests and believers to support this hypothesis, but with careful, impartial reading of both Rigveda and Yasna, primary liturgical collection of Avesta, there are striking parallels that clearly point at Indian , an intoxicating paste and milk beverage prepared from cannabis (the raw paste can be used as an ingredient for other dishes as well).

First, let’s look at the word itself. Hindi term comes from Sanskrit , which means hemp, but also breaking or bursting as said of the (Monier-Williams, 1899). The word is etymologically related to Avestan /, and is also known in Middle and New Persian as , which can denote hemp, henbane, or jimsonweed (“bang”, 2020).

I won’t give you a recipe for here, although it would be appropriate, but you can still watch this video to get a gist of it.

When we look into Rigveda, it talks about as a plant and an eponymous drink that imparts immortality and freedom, a beverage that makes the user “attain the light”, and “discover the Gods” (RV. 8. XLVIII. 3). In another place we can read that is “never restrained, […] all-conquering bursting forth”, and “Sage by wisdom”, that it provides clothing, heals all that is sick [3], defends against “the hate of strangers and hatreds that waste and weaken us”. We can also learn that , while generally displaying tender love, gentle in its thoughts, and sweet to the heart, can equally well terrify, strike with alarm, or wound the heart with dazzling flame (RV. 8. LXVIII. 1–8). Rigveda also adds that is prepared by squeezing, and can be “dressed with milk for […] carouse” (RV. 8. LXXI. 5) or served with “grain and curds, with cake of meal” (RV. 8. LXVIII. 1–8).

Yasna depicts as a tall, sweet-scented, fragrant, green-golden-hued plant with stems, roots, and branches that grows like weed almost everywhere, and its primary characteristics is that it “drives death afar”. It further describes as an aphrodisiac, nourishment for soul as well as body (as food), medicine for health and healing, antidote for hate and anger, source of understanding, knowledge, wisdom, but also courage, strength, vigor, and overall vitality, etc. The text also adds that the man who drinks mixed with milk, will become “more prosperous and more endowed with mind” (Yasna 9–10).

As can be seen, while not all of these — sometimes contradictory — traits would fit description of Ephedra [4] (and certainly not fly agaric or any other entheogen), every one of them fits perfectly with characterization of a cannabis plant, its effects and uses. Thus, one can safely assume that cannabis was at the root of understanding when common ancestors of Vedic Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, as well as Judaic tradition discovered the non-dual Absolute Truth.

However, an inevitable question immediately arises — given that hemp was widely used for medical treatment in ancient Egypt at least around c. 1700 BCE (Amin, 2003) and was known in Europe, China, and Japan even much earlier, why was it Levant and Indus Valley that saw the rise of Zoroastrianism, Judaism, and Vedic Hinduism respectively? Why there was no other group of people who would uncover the deepest secret of this universe? [5] And why it all happened at the height of the first imperial era, before the late bronze age collapse, in areas were the most advanced civilizations of the time resided? [6]

The answers lie at the beginning of the journey of Homo Sapiens as it can be still inferred from the patterns found in the communities of African pygmies, Pirahã people of the Amazonian Rainforest, and partly also Aboriginal Australians.

This in itself is a topic that could span several full-sized books, so, just very briefly — all three groups are animistic and egalitarian; pygmies don’t have a concept of tribe or band, they live as groups of loosely related families; Pirahã have no concept of time (thus also no creation myth), similarly Aboriginal time, although it has past and future, essentially happens in the now; Aboriginal creation myth and accompanied stories implement the use of pareidolia as a navigation tool to recognize landmarks on what Aboriginees call songlines and correspond with physical tracks through the bush; none of the mentioned groups is known to use any hallucinogens whatsoever; some groups of pygmies use e.g. cannabis and although the Aka say they have been smoking it since the dawn of time, historians go back and forth over when cannabis got even introduced to the region (Sirius J, 2015); correspondingly, e.g. Baka-Pygmies adopted circumcision into their tradition from neighboring non-pygmy tribes (Fürniss, 2009) who often treat pygmies as slaves; Pirahã are pragmatic and skeptic to the extent that when missionaries tried to convert them to Christianity, they were first intrigued, but when they found out that the missionaries didn’t saw or met Jesus in person, they completely lost interest (Everett, 2010); the linchpin of social life and also everyday drama is sex which also permeates all activities, including ceremonies or hunts; etc.

One particular aspect in the life of pygmies warrants a slightly deeper look, because it contains the whole of their way of life in a nutshell. That fragment is elephant hunt which is an elaborated enterprise spanning several days, a ritual and vision quest full of singing, dancing, symbolic plays, and sexual undertones, running throughout the preparation of the hunt, during the hunt itself, and also during the feasting after the elephant was hunted down. It’s a one continuous, integrated endeavor that from the point of view of the participants is indivisible. Furthermore, pygmies mock ambition — rather than gaining prestige, men who hunt too often, are mocked and teased. Consequently, they will prefer to stop hunting for a while, rather than being cursed or exiled (Agam, Barkai, 2018, p. 16–17).

Thus, even though the western researcher feels offended by the term “western man” in regard to interpretation of ethnological data, the general understanding he has of animistic societies is more than misleading. Where western man sees religion and ritual, there is merely a way of life that to him appears as if it contained separate religion and ritual. If he insists on judging in such a faulty way, he must also judge his own western society in that way — he should regard farewell kisses, handshakes, morning coffees, or greeting back-and-forts as, rather impoverished, religious rituals too. He should see religion and ritual in each and every opinion of the “civilized” western man from kitchen talk, to church pomp, money rat race, and ever-present politics in all relationships. Because such interconnectedness of all aspects of life is the lived day-to-day reality of “primitive” cultures. What religion would then the western man actually have?

But let me return to the question of why non-duality emerged for the first time at the place and time it did. Looking at the cultural dynamics of tribal and pre-tribal communities, it should be obvious that culture runs through physical population like a computer virus spreads across a cloud of compatible devices (thus also the irony of nationalism when genetics and culture say two different stories, which is more often than not the actual case). And although the particular mechanics may escape us, it is clearly visible that once a certain information stream reaches saturation it gives birth also to its counter force. Thus, it’s only natural that empires that split off of animism incited the rise of non-duality, because when animism tells “how”, non-duality closes the cycle and explains “why”.

Whether we like it or not, social Darwinism seems to be more or less correct in that the evolution of societies follows the rule of survival of the fittest too. What the social Darwinist overlooks, however, is that the evolution also follows the rule of returning into equilibrium. Thus, we have to ask ourselves really hard what kind of counter force is emerging at the height of our current, ultimate Babylon.


[1] The same word “Elohim” is used in Genesis 1:1 where it is usually translated into English as “God” (“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth”).

[2] Scythians came from Pontic steppe, the home of Cannabis sativa variety that can grow up to 5 m (c. 16 ft.) tall and can have trunk up to 15 cm (c. 6 in.) thick at its base — a regular tree.

[3] In addition to this general statement, blindness and problems with walking are mentioned explicitly. Cannabis is known to be used in ancient Egypt for treatment of glaucoma (among many other problems), and it is even nowadays used as an ointment for arthritis pain relief (Amin, 2003).

[4] Ephedra shrubs are in average around 1 m (c. 3 ft.) tall, they don’t have recognizable branches, and they are not known as a source of food. Ephedra being a stimulant is also hardly known for imparting wisdom and knowledge (traits traditionally associated with hallucinogenic entheogens), or overcoming of anger and hatred which is a peculiar characteristic of cannabis even among other psychedelics.

[5] China and Taoism would be an interesting case study though.

[6] An attempt to embrace non-duality can be seen even in Egypt during the reign of pharaoh Akhenaten (c. 1352–1335 BCE). The religious reform was marked by the elevation of the god Aten above other gods, and, contrary to the custom of other pharaohs who considered themselves incarnations of a particular god, Akhenaten did call himself “son of the sole god”. The system collapsed and returned to polytheism after Akhenaten’s death.


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Amin, O. (2003). Ancient Egyptian medicine. Explore for the Professional. 12. 7–15.

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Last revision: 2022/01/18

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