Spiritual Mushrooms Used Historically in Religious Ceremonies

     

Spiritual Mushrooms Used Historically in Religious Ceremonies


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Note: The article on this page is not an excerpt from the book, "Shroom." It is an article by the webmaster of this site.

Since at least 5,000 B.C., people have used "spiritual mushrooms" in their religious rituals. The San Peoples of Tassili in southeast Algeria left behind cave paintings illustrating dancing, masked medicine men with mushrooms in their hands. It's believed the mushrooms were of the consciousness-altering variety.

The area of Tassili is today an arid and desolate mountainous region of the Sahara desert but in the day of the cave painters, it had a habitable savanna-like climate with cattle, crocodiles and other large animals. Cultural ties of the San Peoples are evidenced across the Sahara region from Chad to Egypt, and perhaps in extension all the way to 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.

Granted, most of us would not consider this form of warrior spirituality in any way "admirable." But it was part of the Viking religious practices, whatever our opinion of them may be. Meanwhile, to the east, Siberian shamans also used Fly agaric as a spiritual tool to communicate with their deities.

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, hasn't been disproven either.

(Note: Make no mistake, Fly agaric - Amanita muscaria - is poisonous and can also be confused with other deadly species. Consumption for any reason is completely discouraged.)

Meanwhile in the New World, spiritual ceremonies using mind-expanding mushrooms were likewise performed. The earliest written record stems from between the 13th and 15th centuries, a text known as the Mixtec Codex. The Mixtec Gods were often engraved wielding mushrooms.

In spite of the fact that the Mixtec people of central Mexico self-professed to use spiritual mushrooms in their religious ceremonies, western scholars still questioned it in a characteristically condescending fashion.

American botanist William Safford argued that peyote buttons were mistaken for mushrooms, while other scientists insisted that the Mixtec culture really did use mind-expanding mushrooms in their religious rituals.

This debate carried on until amateur anthropologist Robert Weitlaner was invited to observe a Mixtec religious ceremony in the early 1930's and witnessed the use of mushrooms firsthand.

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.

Out of 60 Psilocybe species, 25 are known to contain the mind-altering compounds psilocin (unstable) and psilocybin (stable). The two species Psilocybin caerulescens and Psilocybin mexicana are believed to be the ones used by the Mixtec. Although Psilocybin cubensis is now more common even in America, it is believed to have arrived with the 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.

But after a 17-year old French tourist killed herself by jumping off a bridge after consuming Psilocybe mushrooms, the Dutch parliament voted to ban all sale of so called "magic mushrooms." The ban took effect on December 1, 2008. The use of consciousness-altering mushrooms in spiritual practices is now officially history.

     

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Spiritual Mushrooms Used Historically in Religious Ceremonies