Shroom:
A Cultural History of the Magic Mushroom

     

Shroom:
                A Cultural History of the Magic Mushroom


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Andy Letcherís 2006 book on the history of magic mushrooms is definitely a must read for anyone with an interest in shrooms; which is not to say that you will necessarily like it. In fact, the intellectual, scientific and clinical analysis provided by the author may actually annoy you. But you still need to read it!

Why? Because there is almost certainly no other living being out there who has read everything - and I mean every tiniest shred and scrap of material - relating to magic mushrooms. And not only read all of this material but then gone to great lengths to compile it into a sequential and digestible summary for us ordinary human beings who could not possibly have done all that research and reading for ourselves.

My main reservation when it comes to this book is that Letcher, at least in the beginning, seems overly prone to side with the critics and skeptics of the many various theories of historic use of magical mushrooms.

E.g. he points out that the ancient petroglyphs in Tassili, Algeria, which many shroom enthusiasts are convinced depict shamans with magic mushroom, could potentially have several other interpretations. The reader is left with a sense that, therefore, the mushroom intepretation is wrong.

And of course, the claim that the Greek Eleusinian Mysteries employed magic mushrooms as a key ingredient is mere speculation; the same with R. Gordon Wassonís claim that the Vedic plant Soma was synonymous with the Fly agaric, or that the Vikings consumed Fly agaric before going into battle. So therefore, again, the mushroom theories are probably wrong, is the sense you get from Letcher. Nevermind that the mushroom theories are actually as credible as any other theories presented.

While critical evaluation is definitely much appreciated in a work of this importance, it should be balanced. It is not Letcherís skepticism that I question, but the lack of balance in his skepticism.

In the first half of the book, he appears skeptical only of the proponents of the various theories of historic magic mushroom use, whereas he appears to accept the arguments of their detractors as gospel, even though those counter-arguments are in some cases very flimsy.

This lack of balance is especially blatant when one realizes that he uses the argument of a changing environment (and flora) against the possible use of magic mushrooms by Druids in a heavily forested ancient Britain even though it grows abundantly in British pastures today, while simultaneously arguing that the Fly agaric could not have been used in ancient Egypt because it does not grow there today.

However, towards the end of the book, the author begins to be more balanced in his presentation. Several times he acknowledges that there is no objective way to be certain of various claims for or against, and that both viewpoints could be potentially valid. Kudos for that!

Now, donít let my slight criticism deter you from getting your hands on this book. It really is a treasure trove for anyone interested in the discovery and early experimentation with magic mushrooms in the West over the past century. The best and most complete account ever written, Iím sure.

Shroom is also a book about the history of psychedelics in general, including mescaline, LSD and ecstasy. Much space is devoted to Timothy Leary and his LSD crusade in the 1960ís, as well as Adolus Huxley's earlier experiments with mescaline.

So in spite of my reservations against Letcherís somewhat unbalanced siding with the critics against various theories of the historic use of magic mushrooms, I insist that if you have a sincere interest in shrooms, you really do need to read this book. Just remember to be open-mindedly skeptical of Letcher's sometimes overly critical commentary about the 'unproven' theories of historic magic mushroom usage. The rest of the book is an excellent read.

     

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Mushroom Books:
All That the Rain Promises and More, by Arora
Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms, by Stamets
Mushroom Cultivator, by Stamets & Chilton
Mushrooming without Fear, by Schwab
Mushrooms Demystified, by Arora

Mycelium Running, by Stamets

National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms, by Lincoff
Psilocybin Mushrooms of the World, by Stamets & Weil
Shroom: A Cultural History of the Magic Mushroom
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Other Books:
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Miscellaneous Websites:
Arctic Drift (Novel), Cussler
The Light Fantastic (Novel), Terry Practhett
Tree Meditations Website
Unconditional Self-acceptance Website (Metaphysical)

 

Shroom: A Cultural History of the Magic Mushroom