When originally searching for the subject of this essay, the topic: Trance and the Everyday seemed to escape me. All around us we see fantastic examples. The Hare Krishnas dancing through the city streets, Tai Chi in the parks, ravers wandering the Valley... But my mind kept wandering further afield. Eventually I found myself returning to my own childhood, reading the Bible and wondering what, other than God, could have caused the many miracles. My young mind, while totally certain that there was some sort of powerful being who caused this magnificent world to be, could not always accept things as simply ‘Acts of God’. I remembered reading Exodus and being completely transported by the journey taken by the Israelites, and started wondering once again what could have caused Moses’ amazing feats.
According to the Old Testament, Moses was a Prophet of God. He was given a vision of a burning bush and communicated directly with God. He took his people into the wilderness and was reported to directly channel God’s power through the working of many miracles. According to the Bible, he also lived for 120 years, a longevity gifted to him by God. Many of the miracles Moses was reported to have performed are similar in nature to those performed by Shamans all over the world. I chose to focus on one single event: the moment God first appeared to Moses, telling him to return to Egypt and free his people from slavery.
When first speaking with God, Moses witnessed a bush that was burning without being consumed. This could have been a hallucination caused by psychotropic plants like Acacia that grew in the region. These plants contain the same psychoactive properties as Ayahuasca, a psychedelic drink used by Shamans in the Americas.
Many species of Acacia, better known in Australia as Wattle, contain Dimethyltryptamine or DMT. DMT is a naturally-occurring psychedelic drug found in plants as well as the human body. If inhaled in smoke form, the effects are almost instantaneous and last for a short time. If the Burning Bush was Acacia, then Moses could have unknowingly been affected by the Dimethyltryptamine by breathing in the smoke. It is interesting to note that the Ark of the Covenant itself, in which the Holy Spirit was said to reside, was built from Acacia wood. This could be explained simply as a connection with Egyptian beliefs. The Israelites had lived for hundreds of years as slaves to the Egyptians, and would have adopted many of their traditions. Acacia appears in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, and has connections to myths involving the Tree of Life as well as Osiris’ death and rebirth. (Shanon 2008)
Those undergoing visions while under the influence of high levels of Ayahuasca sometimes experience a shift in their perception of time. This could perhaps explain the burning bush as well. Instead of witnessing a bush that burned for eternity, Moses could very well have been experiencing one single moment that, for him, stretched on forever.
Another possibility of the burning bush’s origins could have been Harmal, a shrub which name means in Arabic both ‘taboo’ and ‘sacred’. There is a very long tradition in the region of using Harmal for medical purposes. It was also used in exorcisms, abortions and as anti-depressants, and was known at the time to have hallucinogenic properties. (Shanon 2008 58)
The concept of a miracle is a fascinating thing, but the human ability to fight them also fascinates me. At every turn, we find ourselves making excuses for the small miracles in our lives. We call them coincidences, lucky breaks. There is no denying that Moses was a strong man: a leader and protector of men, but whether or not he was God’s chosen Prophet is something impossible to prove. There are many aspects of his life that fit in well with the possibility that he was a Shaman. He brought his people out into the wilderness, healed them both physically and spiritually, and was their direct link to God. He also performed miracles such as parting the waters of the Red Sea and turning the River Nile into blood. It’s likely that we will never know the truth of these miracles, and perhaps it is best if we never do.
Shanon, B. (March 2008) “Biblical Entheogens: a Speculative Hypothesis” in “Time and Mind: The Journal of Archaeology Consciousness and Culture” Volume 1 Issue 1, pp. 51-74