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
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