Egyptian cult drank a trippy mix of drugs, human blood, and bodily fluids

The cult of Bes may have believed that drinking from special vessels with hallucinogenic drugs, human bodily fluids, and fermented fruit had protective effects.
John Loeffler
A vessel of the Egyptian god Bes
A vessel of the Egyptian god Bes

Davide Tanasi, et al 

Researchers studying a vessel used by an ancient cult worshiping an Egyptian god have identified some of the elements of the concoction it contained, and it was quite a psychedelic brew.

According to a paper posted to the pre-print server Research Square, the roughly 2,200-year-old vessel — which is in the shape of the head of the god Bes — contained a number of psychoactive compounds, including fermented fruit, the plant Peganum harmala (also known as Syrian rue), and Nymphaea caerulea (commonly called blue water lilly). Syrian rue, in particular, is known to be hallucinogenic in nature.

"The seeds of [Syrian rue] produce high quantities of the alkaloids harmine and harmaline, which induce dream-like visions," the researchers wrote.

"As the Bes figure was revered as a protective genius, it might be assumed that the liquid drunk from these mugs was considered beneficent," they added.

The vessel, currently part of the collection of the Tampa Museum of Art, also contained some other surprising elements, as noted by IFLScience. Apparently, members of the cult would contribute their own fluids to the mix, likely as part of a ritual.

While the research has yet to be peer-reviewed, it does provide a tantalizing insight into the religious practices of this late era of ancient Egyptian history. What role the vessel's contents played, or what its significance might have been isn't clear, of course.

There is a lot that we don't know about the religion of ancient Egypt, but it does appear that worship of Bes extended beyond Egypt's borders, reaching as far north as Syria, and his worship may have gone as far back as pre-dynasty Egypt. Bes figures have been found in Minoan Crete and in archeological sites much older than the Bes vessel the researchers studied.

Whether the drinking of hallucinogenic fluids was a part of that export isn't known, and more research is needed to clarify how widespread the concoction might have been in the worship of Bes in Egypt and elsewhere.

"Expanding the sampling chemical study to other examples of similar and contemporaneous Bes-vases becomes at this point critical to ascertain if the evidence here discussed was a rare or single event, or a widespread practice at least for the Ptolemaic period," the researchers wrote.

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