• entheogen •
Pronunciation: en-thee-ê-jen • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: A psychoactive (psychedelic, hallucinogenic) substance used to induce a mystical or spiritual experience.
Notes: Today's word was introduced in the late 1970s as an alternative to hallucinogen and psychedelic substance when referring to the use of these substances to achieve a religious experience. We are including it because it is properly constructed and serves a useful linguistic purpose. All words ending on the semicompound -gen come with an adjective and adverb, like entheogenic and entheogenically.
In Play: So far this word has not wandered far beyond the binding of scholarly journals and monographs, so some of us may have difficulty grasping it: "I guess that means that a nip of peyote can be an entheogen or a hallucinogen depending on whether it gives you visions of heaven or hades." In the world of shamans, no clear distinction is made between religion and medicine: "So would you consider medicinal marijuana psychedelic or entheogenic treatment?" (Notice that psychedelic is spelled psyche- and not psycho-.)
Word History: Today's Good Word first appeared in print on the pages of the Journal of Psychedelic Drugs in 1979. It is based on an even more infrequently used word, entheos "indwelling divine power" + gen "creation (of)", infrequently used since the 18th century. Entheos is a combination of Greek en "in" + theos "god", the word underlying such English borrowings as theology and atheist. The same root that emerged in Greek as theos came into Latin as something like fas-n-, which later became fanum "temple". Someone who was inspired by the gods in a temple was said to be fanaticus "possessed by the gods, crazy". This word, of course, is the origin of English fanatic, reduced to fan in reference to someone possessed by a sport or popular personality. (Let us now rise to thank William Hupy for another excellent Good Word suggestion without the aid of any entheogen or other controlled substance.)