The Anointed Ones: Secrets of the Messiah Medicine by Michael Albert-Puleo

Anointed OnesTitle: The Anointed Ones: Secrets of the Messiah Medicine [HB] Author: Michael Albert-Puleo Publisher: Mythobotanical Press ISBN: 0312222726 Year: 2008 [2009]

The Anointed Ones is concerned with a religious sacrament, referred to as the ‘Messiah Medicine’, that was purportedly employed by ancient Jews and Early Christians. The ointment conferred visions and communion with God onto the person anointed with it and it is, historically speaking, supposedly of Egyptian origin. Furthermore, Michael Albert-Puleo suggests that modern pharmacological studies reveal this medicine to have psychedelic properties.

The text has a two-fold objective, therefore, to describe the sacrament historically through textual evidence and attempt to explain the use of the Messiah Medicine in terms of a psychedelic, or perhaps more appropriately, entheogenic experience. Of course, any analysis of this sort relies on a twentieth-century interpretation of substance-related religious ecstasy. Not least because the three classic psychedelics Albert-Puleo cites as experientially similar were chemicals isolated in the last 130 years—mescaline, psilocybin, and LSD—and while the former two did have a history of ritual use in plant or fungi form, it is their description by Western scholarship—which is the underlying method of this text—that contextualizes this approach.

In order to demonstrate that such sacraments were utilized in the Ancient (old) world, Puleo employs the work of what we’ve previously termed the entheogenicists: “The mythobotanical studies of [Gordon] Wasson, [Carl] Ruck, and [Albert] Hoffman [sic] provide conclusive eveidence [sic] that an LSD-like extract from the ergot fungus was critical in the celebration of the Eleusinian Mysteries” (Puleo 75). Their description of the ecstatic state is as a communion with the Divine, and Wasson and Ruck’s work in particular, have focused on an examination of ancient cultures and the use of entheogenic substances in this light. Their analysis is used, in part, to justify the object of The Anointed Ones but moreover they lend it a method of historical enquiry.

Puleo provides a historical account of anointing that begins with descriptions from Egypt. The Jewish exile in Egypt, therefore, is understood to be the point in which the practice was adopted, and this ushered in the period of the anointed messiahs—kings, priests and prophets. However, the rule of such messiahs died away, and there was a prophecy that one day they would return. This is a very enlightening section, so far as the importance of the unguent is brought into sharp focus. Moreover, the prophecy anticipates the appearance of Jesus Christ: Christ meaning ‘the anointed one’. It also provides a number of keys used in order to identify what the ointment was made of:

The exact identification of each of the four plant drugs named in Exodus has long been debated. The basic question is to determine what an ancient word for a particular plant actually referred to. Some advantage can be gained by comparing the plant so identified with plants used by other religious and ethnic groups in comparable secular or religious ointments, although the identification of these may be complicated by similar questions (Puleo 33)

Puleo goes on to write that, “[w]hile the exact identification of each ingredient of the Mosaic unguent  may be problematic, the fact remains that a great many plant essential oils contain pharmacologically active components” (ibid.). The four Puleo identified are: Myrrh, Calamus root/sweet flag, cinnamon and cassia. Sweet flag in particular has been noted as being psychoactive in the appropriate doses, while myrrh has soporific effects. Not only does Puleo investigate the properties of these herbs and plants, but also indicates that he himself has tested their efficacy in unguent form. What proceeds from the historical account, however, is that the ointment was the central component in describing someone as a messiah.

To become a true Jewish Messiah, Jesus absolutely positively had to be consecrated in the traditional Jewish manner with the Mosaic unguent. No other process would have caused him, or his Jewish followers, to believe that he was an Anointed One (Puleo 103)

Puleo then examines the history of the early Christians, with various sects, and the establishment of the Church. Jesus, having rediscovered and reinitiated the use of the messiah medicine, increasingly becomes a deified figure, as opposed to a man anointed who then became a messiah. It is a fairly balanced account that depicts the formation of a church whose intentions were more political than spiritual, especially as it became entwined with the Roman empire. What occurs during this period is the loss of the ointment again, and its replacement by non-psychoactive ingredients. Even early Church writers question this loss, when their replacements no longer appear to make those anointed speak in tongues and have visions. Eventually, experience is superseded by the Word and faith as doctrine.

The psychopharmacological reading of the religious experience, which came to fore during the mid-twentieth century, is the underpinning justification for understanding ancient sacrament in terms of hallucinogenic properties. Indeed, Puleo quotes Frank Barron discussing the prevalence of the Christ figure, detached from Christianity, in people’s psychedelic experiences. He goes on to write: “It was expected that the anointed experience would lead to the loss of the “I” or individual ego, and a momentary apprehension of the “I” of the universe, or Oneness with the Creator” (Puleo 118). Entheogenic texts utilize the assumption that the psychedelic experience is universal, and also controllable, yet it would seem that cultural interpretation and personal constituency plays an important role.

Puleo discusses the hedonistic, “wild and crazy place”, of Corinth, and cites Paul’s 1st Letter to the Corinthians, wherein Paul believes the anointing oil is being misused. As such it becomes worthless as it has been attached to profane activity, and interestingly, to my mind at least, this goes a long way to help understanding the oil as having psychedelic properties. If the correct set and setting were used, i.e. the early Christian ritual, then one could be endowed with the Holy Spirit. Another possible reading, which Puleo doesn’t directly broach, is that we are witnessing in the letter an attempted moral control of the oil. Although knowledge of the actual anointing oil may have been lost, the moral attitude toward the use of such substances still exists today—both in sacred and profane form depending on the church you choose. A substance with ‘power’ becomes a tool of manipulation for those who desire such power. So while the Church’s move from a mystical to political entity obscures the role of the oil—the attitude already existed.

Overall, The Anointed Ones is a really interesting and very clearly articulated research that brings attention to the role of the messiah medicine. While there are certainly questionable elements, such as the allusion to Margaret Murray’s Old Religion (which has been quite conclusively dismantled since the 1970s) and occasional factual mistakes (such as citing Aldous Huxley’s death as 1957, as opposed 1963,) the main intention to bring to light the role of the oil is done astutely. A text that students of religion and entheogens will find very engaging and informative.

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