Eric narrates his departure from the Catholic Faith and events which led to the foundation of Psanctuary: The Sacred Mushroom Church
This post is in response to a request from an individual who has followed my work for several years. I have a deep appreciation for those who observe from afar and over time, evaluating consistency and commitment more than accolades and accreditations. The origins of Psanctuary may prove valuable information to share with the public, the DEA and perhaps even posterity. Undoubtedly there will be more organizations that seek to follow the path we are forging. In an attempt to learn from lessons taught by previous experience, it seems wise that we prepare for the detractors, the critics, the accusers and even thieves before they enter into the ‘Psanctuary.’ Therefore, it is my intent to lay my work before your feet, in my own words, before others speak for me.
Tongue in cheek, let me suggest that this document can be comparable to Martin Luther’s 95 Theses. Posted publicly on the modern-day front door of the internet, it may not be as detailed in its grievances with contemporary religion, though hopefully it does set the tone for how this disillusionment ultimately led to my quest for enlightenment and, to date, the founding of Psanctuary. Understand that I speak only for myself, Eric Osborne. Other members and indeed my co-founders Courtney and Athena are inspired differently, but our belief is ultimately the same: Searching for a savior outside of oneself is a quest in vain and sacred mushrooms are the most reliable access to one’s divinity. You can look forward to their personal testimonies in a future publication.
As mentioned in the first post, I had attempted to open a sacred mushroom ‘church’ in 2015. From at least 2001, psilocybin was to me the primary sacrament. But to understand how I could even come to that conclusion, one that I still hold, it might be helpful to give some background in terms of my relationship with religion as a child and young adult. To be a co-founder of this organization is beyond ironic considering my belief that in many ways religion has done far more harm than good.
I have always been predisposed toward mysticism and perhaps in the future we can explore ideas around past lives or even simultaneous occurrence of all time. For it indeed seems odd that a mindset such as mine could arise from small-town Kentucky. There are many aspects of my life that are a bit odd (my inborn appeal for snakes, dreadlocks and mushrooms are all aspects of ancient Mayanism, for example) but for the time being I’ll do my best to maintain a linear narrative.
Born in 1978, I was raised in a strict Catholic family. I attended Catholic school until my junior year in college. As a child, my everyday was steeped in deep moral programming. Any car trip the family took that lasted longer than an hour (and growing up in Springfield meant most of them were) required a family rosary. My parents would play recordings of this monotonous prayer being recited at ‘holy’ places such as Medjugorje, Fatima, Lourdes or some other obscure location where ‘the Virgin Mary’ was allegedly appearing.
There was no opting out. We took multiple family trips to places in Georgia and Kentucky where this ‘apparition’ of the Madonna was making herself and her chastisements of mankind known. These strange gatherings would be attended by thousands of zealots, resplendent with end-of-the-world warnings. They were often hot, miserable and went on no matter what the weather was like. And there would be no complaining.
At school, home and social gatherings, sin and guilt were part and parcel of everyday life. Food, fun, friends, sleeping in, staying up late and of course sex were all subjects of shame. The only subjects that didn’t demand a level of internal flagellation was self-chastisement. You could feel good about feeling bad.
I bought into it one hundred percent. We were born in filth and would die that way. The pope’s word was God’s. Only a priest could forgive sins, if we had the guts to confess them. A cracker became the actual skin of a guy who lived 2000 years ago because the priest spoke his mumbo jumbo over it. Looking back, to say I have disbelief in my own gullibility would be an extreme understatement. How could I, even then resistant to social norms, swallow such a crock of crap? There is no reasonable answer other than I had been seduced by nothing less than a cult. Even my grandmother on her deathbed told me, after I had defected, that I was “still a Catholic, would always be a Catholic, and would one day come to realize this.” The epitome of a cult: indoctrinated mind, no escape. Not even in death.
The spell was finally broken by the revelation of one of the most, if not the most, atrocious offenses perpetuated by a religious organization in the history of humankind, outside of the deplorable acts committed by the same Catholic church during the inquisition. I am, of course, referring to the endemic, horrific and dare I say wicked crimes of pedophilia committed by priests, popes, cardinals and bishops. Now I know there was never a pope directly accused of pedophilia, but you’re going to have a hard time convincing me that such heinous and institutionalized behavior wasn’t coming from the top down. Regardless, we know they were aware, even the ‘saintly’ pope John Paul II, and they allowed it to continue. These leaders who turned a blind eye were every bit as culpable as the priests themselves.
Before I go any further, please let me acknowledge that of course every religion, every group has it’s saints and it’s sinners. The Catholic church is no different. I still occasionally even read writings of the Catholic mystic Thomas Merton and listen to the inspirational words of Jim Rohn. But, when the scandal broke, as was the case for many my age who had been practicing Catholics, my entire worldview was dismantled. The cult of Catholicism no longer had its hold on me.
Everything they had tried to brainwash me into believing was now in question. It began with the homophobia that had been systematically programmed into me and my peers. Growing up, to be gay was among the gravest of sins — and now you’re going to tell me that the same men espousing this doctrine were raping young boys? No wonder they had been so anti-homosexual. What an effective diversion strategy. (This same technique is prevalent in politics as well, on both sides of the aisle in my opinion, but again, let’s stay on track here.)
Soon I was questioning everything. Every human institution was suspect. And indeed, I began to learn that they were nearly all corrupt in some form or fashion. Food, politics, education, textiles, technology. It was excruciating. Nothing seemed safe. Nihilism was the only valid perspective. If all human institutions are corrupt, then what is there to have faith in?
It was around this time I encountered Rastafarian philosophy. It seemed to make sense to me. The white colonialists had lied about everything, from Santa Claus to our Lord and Savior. Perhaps Africa held the truth. The unspoken assertions about the divine nature of Haile Selassie supported the eschatological claims that had been the foundation of my previous perspective. All the ‘end-of-the-world’ crap that had been shoved down my throat, the awaiting of a savior from the sky, it was bullshit, but here, here was something I could sink my teeth into — here was a real King of kings AND they were telling the truth about cannabis.
The lies around cannabis led to my other significant ideological implosion and ultimately opened my eyes to the mushrooms that had been equally condemned. My family had been scandalized and traumatized by the fallout of my uncles’ and cousins’ involvement in the Cornbread Mafia[LH1] .This syndicate that two of my uncles were high ranking members of, was and still is the largest domestic Marijuana bust in U.S. history. After watching these two uncles and multiple cousins carted off to prison in my family’s eyes, cannabis indeed, was the Devil’s Weed. Never were the laws brought into question. Surely it couldn’t be our loving government that was wrong. Just like it wasn’t the Church’s demands of celibacy upon grown men that contributed to their sexual deviancy. Both Church and State are just trying to protect us from ourselves, right?
However, not only did smoking weed feel good and prove much less harmful than alcohol, even in the early 2000s one could find references to the medical applications of ‘ganja.’ And, like the Rastas claimed, it aided in my meditation and spiritual growth like nothing else. The Rastas were right about Western culture, they were right about weed, they must be right about everything else too, I thought … but boy was I wrong.
For many years, Rasta was just kind of a replacement for Catholicism, come to find out. From 2000 to 2015, I grew out dreadlocks, bemoaned ‘sufferation’ imposed by the white man, condemned pig eaters … and smoked hella weed. Maybe it was like a nicotine patch, allowing me to wean myself from the mental constructs of a cultish childhood. While there are tenets of the ontology that I do indeed value, they are pretty much the same values in Catholicism, Buddhism and most other religious traditions that I can still agree with. In the end it turned out to be more dogma. More rules, more judgment and condemnation.
It would be easy to look back on this era of my life and judge myself a fool. But, as one of my favorite current YouTube mentors, Joseph Rodriguez, points out frequently, the bridge of incidents serendipitously leads us from one place in time, one state of consciousness, to the next, which is right where we are supposed to be in preparation for the next. Over the years the very people I defended, the people I supported in my fight against oppression, one by one, betrayed me in times of need. For one reason or another, when it came time to provide me the same support that I had provided them, it just didn't happen.
My idealism about Jamaica took a while to disassemble as well. Eventually I saw that Rastas weren’t that much different from any other religionists and Jamaica no more enlightened than any other nation. Haile Selassie is still to me an unrecognized revolutionary, and cannabis is still a sacred herb, but the delusion that salvation lies in some belief ‘system’ has been demolished once and for all … I believe. Cannabis has certainly revealed its dark side and I’ve come to understand myself as the only ‘god’ worth worshipping.
Every step of the way, though, the mushrooms were by my side. From my first encounter with them at the age of 19, I felt at home, as if I had found my best friends, my family, my teachers. Aside from my wife of eight years, nothing or no one has been equally loving and loyal. Like the mycelium itself, this love of the mushrooms took root in almost all aspects of my life. They served as food, were my spiritual access point, provided endless laughter, gave reason to my forest wanderings, and satiated my hunger for science.
Next to learning the scientific names of every snake native to Kentucky by second grade, nurturing my first successful tissue cultures, Reishi and Chicken of the Woods, was my next most memorable scientific success. As I dove into cultivation and collection, I began to encounter what was then an obscure aspect of myco-culture: ethnomycology, the study of the mushrooms’ influence on culture. Even then, with the little information available, I knew that this would be the direction of my lifelong study and most meaningful contribution. I have humbly begun to recognize that by starting the world’s first public psilocybin mushroom retreat, drawing attention and setting ablaze the fungal fire that now burns across Jamaica, I have had already had a major impact on the cultural landscape. Now, as my fellow board members, Courtney and Athena, and I are spearheading Psanctuary sacred mushroom church, we are establishing a precedent that will no doubt influence American cultural and religious practices.
The first ethnomycological rabbit hole that I found in 2001is still my favorite. The Mushroom Stone is a site that can lead you down a path for hours, if not (as it has for me) a lifetime of exploration into historical use of mushrooms as a sacrament. The site’s author, Carl de Borhegyi, is an art historian, researcher and son of Stephan de Borhegyi, who in the 1950s was the first archaeologist to prove that the Mayan mushroom stones were actually depictions of mushrooms. This led to research revealing an extensive mythology that featured psilocybin mushrooms at the center. Along with R. Gordon Wasson, this father and son team helped prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that psilocybin mushrooms have been held as sacraments for thousands of years.
Carl has taken his father’s and Wasson’s work to a whole new level. He has gone around the globe researching sacred art and found not only depictions of psilocybin mushrooms in nearly every culture but also conspicuous evidence of pre-Columbian circumnavigation, the mushroom as a rite of divine rulership, and even extraterrestrial visitors. As ‘out there’ as this may seem, his research is sound and, in my view, supports the argument that psilocybin mushrooms are the original sacrament and even the basis for the Catholic practice of holy communion and transubstantiation.
Now, thanks to revolutionary publications by authors such as John Marc Allegro’s “The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross,” John Rush’s “The Mushroom in Christian Art,” Jerry Brown’s “The Psychedelic Gospels,” and most recently, “The Immortality Key” by Brian Muraresku, there is ample evidence supporting what many of us have known in our hearts and experienced through the mushroom for decades: this is the sacrament that has been revered from the dawn of humankind.
Of course, any treatise on the sacred use of psilocybin would be remiss not to tell at least in brief tell the story of Maria Sabina. While R. Gordon Wasson and Albert Hoffman are often given credit as the founders of the psychedelic revolution, the truth is that these mushrooms would not have been revealed to us when they were had it not been for this shaman from Oaxaca. These two men may have been at the forefront in psychedelic academia, but for her entire life Sabina had been a custodian of this tradition and practice which is as old as human history.
You see, the earliest records of psychedelic mushroom use are not from the ‘60s, not from Central America 2000 years ago, or even from the ancient Taoists who spoke legends of ‘the mushroom of immortality.’ Our earliest record of psychedelic mushrooms ingested as a spiritual tool came out of caves in Spain, Algeria and Africa. The oldest records of human history some 12,000 years ago depict shamanic use of ‘sacred fungi.’ Our paleolithic predecessors accurately depicted psilocybin mushrooms on cave walls alongside images of cattle (where the mushrooms tend to grow), geometric patterns and anthropomorphized animals reminiscent of modern psychedelic imagery.
When I founded MycoMeditations, the intention had been to reclaim and re-appropriate some of the dignity deserved of psilocybin to the traditional practitioners. It has always been my contention that modern psychedelic sciences give far too little credit and seek little to no wisdom from the ancients who had centuries of knowledge regarding these substances. The hubris of institutions that have taken possession of these ancient plants and practices and now suppose that they are the authority rather than the those who have lived with them for millennia is beyond my scope of comprehension. That isn’t to say that modern research can’t teach us something about the psychedelic experience, but by basically negating the knowledge humans have accumulated thus far is shortsighted at best.
Wasson and Hoffman, after multiple trips to Oaxaca, gained Sabina’s trust, took Maria’s mushrooms, and brought them into the laboratory. Again, this would be fine were it not for the fact that the healer who had served so many, who had given the mushrooms to the modern world, was left destitute and eventually died of malnutrition while her benefactors went on to great fame and wealth. It is deplorable and the trajectory of the modern psychedelic movement seems to honor this legacy rather than reveal the injustice and exemplify more equitable outcomes for all.
At the end of the day, the direction of my Jamaican endeavor didn’t provide the platform I had hoped for. Michael Pollan and Johns Hopkins have been exceedingly effective in spreading the mushroom message in a manner that isn’t quite congruent with my sort of psychedelic self-reflection. In my understanding, consuming psilocybin is not simply a psychological experience. While research indeed indicates the primacy of the mystical experience, the reporting focuses on the serotonin system, the alleviation of depression, addiction, anxiety, etc. Yes, these can all be outcomes of an encounter with sacred mushrooms, but these results are, in my belief, mere byproducts of an awakening of spirit, the side effects of blocked chi finally being unleashed in the nervous system.
I have worked with many, many people who have had a profoundly mystical experience, indescribable, who would never classify it that way. Folks who have experienced their own existence in a way they never knew, who were transformed by this ineffable encounter, but maintain that it was horrid, uncomfortable or simply absurd. Yet, still, they were to a greater or lesser degree relieved of their prior suffering. When they have the courage to go commune with the mushroom again, they find more relief.
Encapsulating the mushrooms as I did ‘down there’ was also against my better judgment. It was indeed a way to standardize the dosing, but truthfully it was a way to make the mushrooms more palatable. People complain when they have to eat seven grams of funky fungus. Yet, placing them in a pill creates a disconnect. It turns them into just one more medicine that we take that is supposed to “make us better.” And oh, my dear friends, that is not how the mushrooms tend to work. As many of you know, they often make us much worse before they help us heal. And, as difficult as it can sometimes be, chewing up the mushrooms has value that the ancestors understood and that will eventually be proven by science.
Many, many times, I must admit, I experienced a great deal of frustration with folks who, though I did then and still do love dearly, wanted the easy way out. They wanted psilocybin to work like acetaminophen or morphine. And, I do believe that as long as I was in that container I had created and confined myself to, it would always be the same. Eyeshades, capsules and a playlist. No thank you, Michael Pollan. No matter how I would try and prepare people for the mushroom encounter, they wanted it to work like all the other medicines they knew — predictably. They wanted their meeting with God and their kaleidoscopic phantasmagoria of light and sound, and they wanted relief when it was all over. It happens that way occasionally, but rarely and perhaps never without some suffering somewhere in there as well.
There were other factors that led to my departure from that endeavor, but ultimately it came down to one thing: I didn’t follow my intuition well enough from the start. From the very first retreat, I allowed the project to take a form that wasn’t true to my practice. It was void of spiritual dialogue, centered around psychology. This opening allowed a whole host of influences to interfere with what I then believed, and still do, is a sacred, spiritual practice.
That isn’t to say that I haven’t learned an enormous amount about my own spiritual practice and understanding of psilocybin, nor that I don’t continue to support the work that goes on at Myco or Johns Hopkins for that matter. Indeed, my experience administering over 3,000 doses of psilocybin in Jamaica has informed my practice beyond measure and has certainly given me insights into human psychology. It will be a lifelong process to integrate the understandings of human metaphysics that I gained working in that space and, likewise, to apply them. Which is what I intended to do fully from the start and have already begun to do with Psanctuary.
An encounter with sacred mushrooms defies description. We do not have tools to measure the effects or words to elucidate the experience. The psychological outcomes and the emotional relief is the lowest-hanging fruit in harvesting the goodness of these gifts of nature.
We are still recovering from the misgivings of materialism and coming to modern terms with our metaphysical nature. Fortunately, quantum physics is informing this perspective in a measurable way. While it may not come across as such, I am indeed a rational-minded researcher of the psilocybin experience and couldn’t have nurtured my love of mycology without science. Likewise, I couldn’t have come to terms with the strange things I have seen in these thousands of hours working the psychedelic space from a strictly rationalist perspective. Like most of you, I rely on science to contextualize my experience, but I rely on spirit to give birth to it.
I’ve learned a lot of lessons from my time under the mushroom. Perhaps the most important is that all existence is a manifestation of consciousness. Through this understanding, I am able to accept all as perfect, as a rung in the bridge of incidents leading us to the present moment, hoping and helping to make the world a better place. In this spirit of oneness, we welcome all who seek healing from psilocybin to join us for a service. But please know from the start that for me, and for Psanctuary as an organization, communing with this flesh of Gaia is indeed a sacramental, not just a psychological experience.
Born into a divisive post-colonial world, at times I have fallen into the trap of competition. The outcomes have taught me that collaboration is how we succeed. Here I publicly confess my sins.
December 6, 2021
Eric recounts some of his personal and professional experiences regarding the use of sacred mushrooms for overcoming depression.
November 30, 2021
Athena describes her circuitous journey from a religious upbringing, which serendipitously introduced her to psilocybin. The mushrooms brought her to foreign lands, presented her with new friends and a multitude of experiences. All this has led to the founding of Psanctuary the sacred mushroom church. What more might the mushrooms have in store for her?
November 30, 2021