Moses and the Burning Bush – a transcendent psychedelic experience?

I’m not the first, and will not be the last, to wonder if spiritual leaders – prophets – may have been influenced by psychedelics.

As early as 1975, Lamar Petersen wondered if Datura seeds may have found their way into the bread, or wine, consumed at the dedication of the Kirkland Temple (Petersen, L. (1975). Hearts Made Glad: The Charges of Intemperance Against Joseph Smith the Mormon Prophet).

At least one scholar, Dr. Rick Strassman, has seen similarities between Moses’ experience and that of those who’ve ingested DMT.

Visions, voices, out of body experiences, physical symptoms, extreme emotions, and in particular that sense that what one was witnessing was felt to be as objectively real or more real than everyday reality.

I have been thinking about the classic account of Moses and the Burning Bush (Moses’ encounter with a bush that isn’t consumed by fire, hearing from a voice that identifies itself as I AM, the feeling – or instruction – to disrobe, and his mission to free Israel), and I think I could make a case from the classic account, found in the Bible. But I think a stronger case exists in The Pearl of Great Price – a text regarded by Mormons as scripture.

I am going to assume that this text occurs at the same time that Moses comes across the burning bush. The text itself does not place Moses elsewhere, but also does not confirm the location; therefore, what follows is meta-text.

The words of God, which he spake unto Moses at a time when Moses was caught up into an exceedingly high mountain, and he saw God face to face, and he talked with him, and the glory of God was upon Moses; therefore Moses could endure his presence.

There are a couple of clues that this may be a psychedelic experience: The texts says Moses was caught up into an exceedingly high mountain. The wording suggests the possibility that Moses was having an out of body experience. After he is taken up to the mountain, a temple of nature, he sees God. He is able to do this because “the glory of God was upon Moses.” What is the glory of God? According to another passage in Mormon Text, “The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth.” Anyone familiar with accounts of psychedelic experiences knows that participants often experience God through feelings of overwhelming love, unity, and see visions of “light and truth.”

God proceeds to introduce himself as Endless, “for I am without beginning of days or end of years; and is not this endless?” Accounts of those participating in transcendent medicine experience journies that include a sense of timelessness; as if the individual is, somehow, outside of time; that past, present, and future are all one.

And it came to pass that Moses looked, and beheld the world upon which he was created; and Moses beheld the world and the ends thereof, and all the children of men which are, and which were created; of the same he greatly marveled and wondered. And the presence of God withdrew from Moses, that his glorywas not upon Moses; and Moses was left unto himself. And as he was left unto himself, he fell unto the earth. And it came to pass that it was for the space of many hours before Moses did again receive his natural strength like unto man; and he said unto himself: Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed. But now mine own eyes have beheld God; but not my natural, but my spiritual eyes, for my natural eyes could not have beheld; for I should have withered and died in his presence; but his glory was upon me; and I beheld his face, for I was transfigured before him.

The passage above is arguably the strongest suggestion that Moses was having a mystical-transcendent-psychedelic-experience. Accounts of persons tripping on LSD include stories of being taken back to the creation of the Universe and witnessing all the events leading to, and sometimes beyond, their own birth.

As the effects of the psychedelic medicine wear off, Moses feels “the presence of God withdraw,” and he was left to himself. However, it doesn’t end. It takes many hours before Moses receives “his natural strength.” What happens when it wears off completely? Moses has a realization that leaves him awe-struck: man is nothing. As an individual, disassociated with The Divine, robbed of the knowledge of how everything is connected, man indeed is nothing.

Moses acknowledges this glorious event couldn’t have occurred with his natural eyes, and required spiritual eyes, “for my natural eyes could not have beheld; for I should have withered and died in his presence, but his glory was upon me; and I beheld his face, for I was transfigured before him.”

This is speculation, a re-imagination of a traditional narrative, built on meta-text. But, it is worth considering. It is worth pondering the role of psychedelic medicine in religious communities and texts.

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