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Austin Cline

Did Early Christians Use Magic Mushrooms, Psychedelic Snails?

By September 4, 2006

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Many religions around the world have incorporated the use of hallucinogenic substances into their religious rituals. Since these substances can induce amazing visual experiences which are interpreted as religious or visions sent by gods. There is no current record of early Christians engaging in such rituals, but some interesting evidence has surfaced which may indicate that they did.

Franco Fabbro writes:

The mosaic floor of the northern hall in the ancient Christian basilica at Aquileia dating back to a period set before 330 AD reproduces several symbolic objects and pictorial scenes. Among these, a baskets filled with mushrooms and another with snails deserve special attention. Mushrooms and snails are two rare elements of early Christian iconography.

Those snails have been identified as Helix (Helix) cincta, whereas the mushrooms are more difficult to determine. They bear typical traits of Amanita cesarea (e.g. a yellow stem) and others of Amanita muscaria (white gills and stem). Several hypotheses on the presence of mushrooms and snails in the basilica have been put forward:

i) both are only simple decorative motives;
ii) they symbolize typical nourishment served during holy banquets or
iii) they were ingested by the (initiated) audience of liturgical celebrations in order to attain ecstasy.

Franco Fabbro leans heavily towards the latter explanation. Given how rare such images are, itís very possible that whatever rituals the Christians in Aquileia might have engaged in were not standard or entirely approved of by others. Of course, during the early stages of Christianity there was far more diversity and no central authority who could dictate the exact nature of permitted religious rituals.

Perhaps if Christians in Aquileia did ingest hallucinogenic substances for religious rituals, itís because this area had a long history of such rituals in other religions and Christians were simply incorporating local religious traditions into their new religion. I havenít read Fabbroís full paper, but I hope he takes a look at local religious history in order to explore that possibility. At the very least, if there is strong evidence of a long history of religious rituals using hallucinogenic substances, this would increase the likelihood that the appearance of snails and mushrooms in a Christian context is best explained by option three above.


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Haha, I knew they were just another group of potheads. Heck, look at Jesus. Religious hippies. Without the sex, which is unforgivable.

September 20, 2006 at 4:24 pm
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