People have used mushrooms as spiritual tools for at least 7,000 years. Thats the age of the oldest preserved records, cave paintings left by the historic San Peoples in Tassili of southeast Algeria. Images depict what has been interpreted as masked, dancing medicine men holding mushrooms in their hand; presumably of the awareness altering variety.
Tassili is located in an area that today is an uninhabitable mountainous desert. But in ancient times, the climate was wet, allowing not only humans to live there but also cattle, and even crocodiles. The San Peoples were culturally tied to other tribes across the desert, from Chad to Egypt, maybe even Greece.
Jumping forward 3,400 years in time to Greece, 1,600 B.C., we find the Eleusinian Mysteries. Continuous for an astounding two millennia, the Eleusinian Mystery initiation was the most important spiritual ceremony of ancient Europe. Scholars believe the Mysteries involved use of consciousness-altering mushrooms. With well-known participants like Plato and Aristotle, its influence on western civilization cannot be denied.
Later Vikings are known to have consumed limited amounts of the today much feared poisonous species Fly agaric (Amanita muscaria). Ironically, they appear to have used it to overcome fear through religious rituals in which they danced and ate mushrooms before fearlessly going into battle.
Of course many of us may not think highly of the Viking warrior spirituality but it was an undeniable part of their religious practices whether or not we approve. At the same time, across the Baltic Sea, Siberian shamans also used Fly agaric to achieve spiritual communion with their gods.
Fly agaric is even put forth as the source of “soma,” a juice described in ancient Vedic texts as bestowing divine qualities on the consumer, including immortality. Convincing arguments linking Fly agaric to Soma are presented by R. Gordon Wasser in his book Soma: Divine Mushroom of Immortality. His theory, although not proven, hasnt been disproven either.
(Important note: Fly agaric – Amanita muscaria – is poisonous and may also be easily confused with other even more deadly species. Consumption for any reason is vehemently discouraged.)
Across the Atlantic Ocean, spiritual rituals using consciousness-altering mushrooms were first recorded in the Mixtec Codex, which is of uncertain age from between the 13th and 15th centuries. In ancient engravings, the Mixtec gods are often depicted with mushrooms in their hands.
Even though Mixtecs clearly told westerners of their use of spiritual mushrooms in sacred ceremonies, American and European scholars still doubted them in classic condescending fashion.
William Safford, an American botanist, believed the supposed mushrooms were actually nothing but peyote buttons. Other western scholars, meanwhile, insisted that the “spiritual mushrooms” of the Mixtec people really were mind-altering mushrooms.
Raging on until the early 1930's, this debate finally got settled when amateur anthropologist Robert Weitlaner got invited to view a Mixtec religious ritual including the mind-expanding mushrooms.
Then in 1953, mycologist R. Gordon Wasson and his wife Valentina Povlovna as the first westerners became honored participants in a mushroom ceremony – Velada – performed by shaman Don Aurelio. Wasson published his account of the Velada in Life Magazine, 1957. His article initiated the broader public awareness of spiritual mushrooms.
25 species of the Psilocybe genus are known to contain the consciousness-altering chemical compounds psilocybin (stable) and psilocin (unstable). The species used by the Mixtec culture are believed to have been Psilocybin caerulescens and Psilocybin mexicana. The more common and sometimes cultivated species Psilocybin cubensis did not exist in America before the arrival of Europeans.
Today, use of consciousness-altering mushrooms is illegal in most countries of the world due to the fact that they are often misused as recreational drugs. Only in The Netherlands were fresh (not dried) Psilocybe mushrooms until recently legal.
However, that came to an abrupt halt when a 17-year-old girl jumped off a bridge in Amsterdam after consuming Psilocybe mushrooms. In response, the Dutch parliament banned all sale of “magic mushrooms” effective December 1, 2008. So from Tassili to Amsterdam, the use of consciousness-altering mushrooms is now officially history.
Dr. Rafael has worked with natural health products since the mid-90's, today specializing in medicinal fungi. He does not support the use of mind-altering mushrooms. The article on this page is for entertainment only. Click cordyceps to visit site for more free mushroom articles, or cordyceps reishi for medicinal mushroom products. Note: Absolutely no magic mushroom products, please do not inquire.
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