The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross ruined John’s career.
The book was the culmination of twenty years’ study of Semitic and proto-Semitic languages. Allegro hoped it would illuminate the origins of thought, language and religion. People should then be able to better understand where they came from, shed the trappings of religion, and take true responsibility for what they did to each other and their world.
None of this got past the initial shock-waves. The mushroom cloud spread more derision than enlightenment.
Underpinning The Sacred Mushroom is the idea that fertility was of fundamental importance to primitive religion, as it is to life. Allegro set out this concept in a preliminary plan of the book, sent to the publishers Hodder and Stoughton Ltd., on October 23, 1968:
The most important thing in life was life itself, and life is rain. The reasoning is simple. Rain begets vegetation on the earth as spermatozoa beget offspring in the womb. God, the Creator, the source of rain, must therefore be the sperm of creation and the heavenly penis from which it spills. The storm is the orgasm of God. The drops of rain are the ‘words’ of God. Earth is the womb of creation.
In The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross, he ‘set out to trace the expression of this simple philosophy through the sacred literature of the ancient world’.
The clues lay in the development and spread of written language. They criss-cross different cultures and lead into many-layered webs of association. They led Allegro to believe that a fertility cult based on using the sacred mushroom, Amanita muscaria, as a gateway to divine understanding, was at the root of many religions, including early Christianity. The mushroom was seen as a symbol of God on earth. But because mushroom lore was secret, he reasoned that it had to be written down in the form of codes hidden in folk tales. “This is the basic origin of the stories of the New Testament. They were a literary device to spread the rites of mushroom worship to the faithful…The stories of the Gospels and Acts were a deliberate hoax. Through studying Sumerian cuneiform texts which go back to 3500 B.C., we can trace the proper names and words used in the Bible back to their original meanings.”
The ‘deliberate hoax’ idea seemed improbably complicated. And Allegro’s etymologies needed more substantiation – not enough was known at the time about the language of Sumer to verify many of his suggestions. But in the outrage The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross raised among Christian critics, scholars failed to follow up on the main ideas – a way of understanding the fertility concept at the root of religion, and the way language and religion grew up together: the origin of myth and philosophy.
The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross was universally vilified after its first publication in May 1970. But since then, other linguistic and non-linguistic evidence has come to light in support of many of Allegro’s theories. This includes a paper by Russian linguist Vladimir Nikolaevic Toporov, On the Semiotics of Mythological Conceptions about Mushrooms (1985), as well as hundreds of iconographic images, like the Plaincourault fresco, along with several primary texts that disprove most of his opponents’ attacks.
In October 2008 Jan Irvin published The Holy Mushroom: Evidence of Mushrooms in Judeo-Christianity and was the first to present ancient texts that supported Allegro’s ideas, including a 16th century Christian text, ‘The Epistle to the Renegade Bishops’, that explicitly discusses “the holy mushroom”. This book, in a head-on, courtroom-like fashion, analyzes the majority of attacks against Allegro’s work and reveals their weaknesses and motivations, while also showing, in addition to the primary texts, dozens of Christian mushroom icons that weren’t available when Allegro’s book first went to print.
In an April 2008 interview with Jan Irvin, Boston University professor Carl A. P. Ruck publicly endorsed the overall thesis of The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross. Ruck’s article on this subject, Fungus Redivivus, is printed in the 40th anniversary edition of The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross.
In the biography John Marco Allegro, The Maverick of the Dead Sea Scrolls (2005), Judith Anne Brown uses Allegro’s letters and archives to set the record straight on his reasoning and motivation.
Other scholars who have come out in support of Allegro’s work include Professor John Rush in his 2008 book Failed God; Wolfgang Bauer, Edzard Klapp and Alexandra Rosenbohm in their book Der Fliegenpilz, 1991/2000; and Jack Herer, who was working to complete his book The Most High before suffering a heart attack in September 2009.
Astrotheology & Shamanism: Christianity’s Pagan Roots (2006/2009) by Jan Irvin and Andrew Rutajit was the first book to make a serious examination of John’s proposals. It uses iconographic and symbolic evidence to substantiate many of his claims and brings together years of research and hundreds of references, many of which have only come to light since the publication of The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross in 1970.
After 40 years, John Allegro’s idea of a grand unifying theory of religion may be coming to fruition.
The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross was published by:
Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1970 – 1st edition ISBN:0340128755
Doubleday & Company, Garden City, NY, 1970 – 1st US Edition
Abacus Books, Soft Cover ISBN:0349100659
Bantam Books, New York, New York, 1970 – Mass Market Paperback
Don Mills: Paper Jacks, Ontario, Canada, 1971 ISBN:0773710000
Ed. Albin Michel,, Paris, 1971. br. 1ère édition française: Le Champignon sacré et la Croix
Wien; München; Zürich: Fritz Molden: Der Geheimkult des heiligen Pilzes. Rauschgift als Ursprung unserer Religionen
Roma, Cesco Ciapanna, 1980. Il Fungo Sacro e la Croce.
The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross was reprinted in a 40th anniversary edition in 2009 and is currently in print.