The Egyptian ankh has always been seen as a power symbol for life, but evidence suggests a deeper, more hidden meaning that has escaped most of the scholars of today. Perhaps because it opens a Pandora’s box most would rather leave closed—knowledge of the Amanita muscaria mushroom.
It all began when a dear friend of mine, living in Italy and now in her 80’s, told me about a man named Andrija Puharich who she had known and loved for many years. He had connections to everyone in the psychic field and had shared quite a few secrets with her. But that’s another story.
Intrigued, I read one of Puharich’s books: The Sacred Mushroom: Key to the Door of Eternity. It confirmed my belief that there was more to the ankh story than most of us have been taught.
During the years 1953 – 1955, Puharich was a medical officer and Captain in the U.S. Army. He was stationed at the Army Medical Center in Edgewood, Maryland, after being recruited by the Chief Officer of the Army’s Psychological Warfare Division. His assignment was to study devices which would increase extrasensory perception.
On December 9, 1954 a former research colleague and friend, a woman named Alice Bouverie, called Puharich to tell him about a subject he might be interested in studying. She related that while at a dinner party a young Dutch sculptor, named Harry Stone, had spontaneously gone into a seizure after she had shown him an authentic piece of Egyptian jewelry that had come from the British Museum. It was a gold pendant, belonging to Queen Tiy (Akhenaten’s mother).
After a few minutes, Stone fell into a deep trance state and began talking about his upbringing in Egypt during the Middle Kingdom’s 14th Dynasty, during the time of Ra Ho Tep. He then asked for writing paper and pen, and proceeded to speak and draw in an ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic script.
Alice kept the writings and produced them for a skeptical Puharich, who soon learned that the hieroglyphic script was written in a rarely seen ancient Egyptian form, which very few knew how to decipher. Consequently, he had difficulty finding anyone proficient enough in the linguistic field to even attempt to translate what Harry had drawn. When he did locate a scholar, the translated information was even more intriguing.
Harry’s hieroglyphs referenced a mushroom practice used in the most sacred ceremonies to the Egyptian gods. A plant that the ancients cultivated in what is now known as Syria. It was used to stimulate communication with the gods, the greater cosmos, and served as an aide in the elevation of human consciousness.
The ancients depicted this “unknown plant” in pairs of two, shaped as parasols or umbrella figures. This unnamed plant was referred to in the Pyramid Texts of ancient Egypt as a golden plant with magic properties. (There is no word for “mushroom” in Egyptian hieroglyphics.)
Over a three-year period, Puharich was able to study the Dutch sculptor during such altered states. Harry would often talk about the medicinal qualities of plants while in trance. What was surprising was that Harry had never been to Egypt or studied its history, let alone learned to write and understand ancient hieroglyphics. This ability was only exhibited during a trance-like state.
Harry described one plant in question as “a mushroom with a golden or a red color”. He drew it with white spots. He then related how this particular “sacred mushroom” would “induce a fission of body and mind so that the mind can operate (or travel) independently of the body.”
Puharich discovered that only one mushroom fit Harry’s description—the fly agaric or Amanita muscaria, a plant often used in fairy tales and legends. It only comes in two colors: red and a golden-yellow, has white spots and a “handkerchief” around the stem like in Harry’s drawings.
This mushroom contains muscarine, a deadly toxin that can quickly kill. Despite its non-edible status, the ancient Egyptians discovered a more profound use for this plant as an aid to higher consciousness.
While in trance, Harry talked about how the ancients had found several ways to diffuse the deadly toxin so that one could benefit from its hallucinogenic properties and still live to tell the story of what lay “beyond the veil.”
One such technique was feeding it to snails, who consequently died, but somehow neutralized the toxin in the death process, while the hallucinogenic properties remained in the urchin. This then made it possible for humans to eat the snails and experience transcendence without the deadly consequences. How they came to discover this unique process, we will never know. A much simpler way to safely ingest it was to peel the skin off the cap, then soak the mushroom in vinegar or brine.
This plant was specifically used for inducing a trance in order to attain consciousness expansion and mystical knowledge. It was, in essence, an ascension plant.
The ancients would rub it on an individual’s tongue as well as the top of the skull (the crown or soft spot area known in the Indian religion as the “Aperture of Brahma” or the “Opening of Creation”).
Harry also described a purification by water ritual which preceded the ‘”opening of the mouth” ceremony.
In almost every temple throughout Egypt we see gods offering an ankh to the mouth of the king or pharaoh. Scholars have always translated the symbol of the ankh to mean “eternal life” or “the key to life.” Many will admit that little is known about the ankh symbol, or its true origins, even though many religions which came afterward, would adopt this symbol into their own version of the Christian and Coptic crosses.
Drawing from Harry’s information, Puharich discovered that the ankh was the true symbolic representation of the sacred mushroom. Oftentimes, the ancient Egyptians displayed hidden knowledge in plain sight that only the privileged few could interpret.
In the oldest Egyptian writings, known as the Pyramid Texts, it references an unknown red/golden plant used in sacred rites. In the Egyptian Book of the Dead they are called it the food of the gods, or celestial food and the flesh of the gods.
Puharich observed that the Amanita muscaria, with its handkerchief skirting around its stem, actually resembled an ankh during its growth process. Could the walls of temples throughout the centuries actually be displaying depictions that foretold of reaching enlightenment through the aid of a natural, plant-based, hallucinogen?
We know that the ancient Egyptian’s also used the psychoactive properties of the Blue Lotus flower for deep dreaming quests, which I wrote about in a prior blog: Secrets of the Ancient Egyptian Blue Lotus. However, sacred mushrooms were in an entirely different category.
The psychoactive effects of Amanita muscaria are not only the deadly toxins of muscarine, but atropine (belladonna) and bufotenin (a secretion also found in the sweat glands of African toads), similar to adrenaline. This presents a unique combo of drugs that produces a highly hallucinatory effect. Harry talked about it being used to also look into the future.
It is no coincidence that the ankh is described as a vessel out of which the gods dispense, or pour, life. Or, as Puharich, termed it: The Key to the Door of Eternity. When Harry was asked about how the mushroom was used, he said, “by opening the door for the soul, by stepping in, and leaving.”
In a hidden away chamber, near the outskirts of Luxor’s Karnak temple, there is a chapel displaying seven doors, within doors, and seven ankh keys. Above the ankh keys is an immense tree of life engraved on the limestone wall. This particular chapel was a ceremonial post where sacred mushroom ceremonies were conducted by the priests after first undergoing a water purification ceremony. This particular purification ceremony can also be seen symbolically on temple walls, where the gods cleanse the king with the water of life (ankhs) in preparation for his ascension voyage.
Crowns signify much more than rulership in ancient Egypt. The crown of Upper Egypt is usually displayed as a white cone or mushroom shape. When the red crown of Lower Egypt is added and worn, it symbolizes the King’s dominion over both Upper and Lower Egypt (according to modern-day Egyptologists). However, Harry’s trance writings referenced an “N ANKH” describing a “red crown” signifying knowledge.
This suggested to Puharich that when both crowns were worn together, it meant the King had merged the upper and lower realms of human consciousness and attained ascension into the higher realms. He had been initiated and “enlightened.”
The sacred mushroom rites were the path to this attainment of “knowledge”. (It is interesting to note that when one becomes a Cardinal in the Catholic Church, they are then permitted to wear the robes of higher knowledge: short red-caped tops, white stem-like skirting, and white head caps. Coincidence?)
On my most recent return to Egypt, where I lead small groups of fellow mystery seekers each year, I started collecting an album of pictures from temple walls of an upside down mushroom sporting a plant stem. This offering is usually given to either the King or to one of the gods. Most people think the object is some sort of cup or drink, but it clearly has a stem and is always displayed the same in every temple scene of its kind. There are so many of these same scenes that one eventually realizes that the ancient Egyptians were clearly into mushroom knowledge as a pathway to the gods and the afterlife.
Mushroom ceremonies have been in existence throughout the centuries, in ancient cultures from Mexico to Siberia. This knowledge is usually kept in the hands of the high priests and the shamans. But If you pay closer attention, you start seeing the Amanita muscaria symbology in somewhat unexpected places.
My home is decorated with both Egyptian and Balinese artifacts. After becoming interested in sacred mushroom rites, I happened to closely examine an old temple rubbing I had from Thailand. Imagine my surprise to find mushroom symbolism in the artwork which I hadn’t recognized before. The rubbing contained a deity scene with three dark “umbrellas”, all shaped like Amanita muscaria, complete with white spots. The three “umbrellas” are placed in front of trees of life–the plant of immortality (see b&w photo).
I wondered at the meaning of the name “Amanita”. It makes one think of the Egyptian God, Amun Ra–the King of Gods. “Aman” is a Muslim name meaning, “lovable protection without fear”. When I looked up the Aman derivative in other languages, it translated as “mouth” or “water”.
Many of the ancient Egyptians clearly found greater meaning in life through examining not only death and the afterlife, but the vast unexplored dimensional realms where human consciousness can attain higher wisdom and knowledge. In that respect, man has not changed much over the millennium. We are compelled to seek out answers to the mysterious, the unexplained, the truth that lies beyond. I, for one, can’t imagine a life that doesn’t seek this greater understanding of all things.
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Dr. Kathy Forti is a clinical psychologist, inventor of the Trinfinity8 technology, and author of the book, Fractals of God: A Psychologist’s Near-Death Experience and Journeys Into the Mystical