An excerpt from the book "Teonanácatl: Sacred Mushroom of Visions"
Below here I am presenting the complete paper on the
Ascent and Spread of Psilocybian Consciousness as it was originally
written by James Arthur (Author of Mushrooms and Mankind) and myself
for the Book, "Teonanácatl: Sacred Mushroom of Visions. One of
29 chapters in this 287 page book edited by Dr. Ralph Metzner with
Diane Corn Darling ansd published by Four Trees Press, Green Earth
The original paper by James and I was kinda chopped to pieces for space
and the title of the article in the book was changed to "The
Ethnomycology and Distribution of the Psilocybian mushrooms." The
printed version runs 18 pages and this version is another 10 pages
longer than the published edited version. So this is an excluisive
paper for the site, although I am posting it on three sites opn the
I am hoping I can post all 7 images in their correct places. In the
book, I only had 3 images.
I was asked to write 12-15 pages but it was hard to keep out info so
the paper grew and grew. Still I edited out about four pages of the
Spanish Conquest so i that info is gone..
The Ascent and Spread of Psilocybian Mushroom
John W. Allen with James Arthur
THE SEARCH FOR A HIGHER POWER
It has become increasingly evident with the current ‘Drug War’
mentality that it is in fact the freedom for the individual to alter
their own consciousness that religion and government do not approve of
nor want in most contemporary societies. Why you may ask? Because there
have been several plants made illegal that are used to alter
consciousness that have absolutely no documented evidence that they are
either harmful nor addictive to humans. In fact quite the opposite is
true, many of these plants have been touted as non-addictive and
beneficial to humans for a wide range of reasons. This brings to
question the real motivations behind prohibition of plants that have
been recognized as valuable teachers for thousands of years by
indigenous cultures all over the world.
The whole thing wreaks of a dumbing-down of humanity through lies and
dis-information geared to pasteurize and homogenize the masses into
good little state citizens conforming to the model of what someone else
thinks life is all about. And of course there is money. Great thinkers,
poets and philosophers throughout the ages have imbibed in a myriad of
consciousness altering substances. The results of which usually entail
a dis-satisfaction or even a disdain for the current paradigm and
movement towards revolution. This presents a new answer to the
questions of prohibition. It is a simple thing to see that dumb people
make good followers and intelligent people incite revolution. Because a
change of consciousness causes one to think out of the box and this is
not permissible in a controlled society, especially if it exposes flaws
in the box. Mushrooms are exactly the type of substance that opens the
mind to see outside the box. In fact they allow one to examine the box
itself quite extensively. These experiential visionary states that
millions of humans have discovered are the reason these words are on
this paper and the fire is in the mind of mankind.
As a child growing up in Chicago, I first became aware of drugs when I
was just about 6 or 7-years-old. About one block from my home was a
small poster pasted on the wall of an apartment building. It was the
most famous anti-marijuana propaganda poster created from the paranoiac
minds of the likes of Harry Anslinger and the FBI. The famous “Warning”
- This may be handed to you by a friend or stranger poster. Of course,
as a child, I had no comprehension of the implications of this poster
at such an early age. Or that marijuana, when smoked, also produced an
altered state of consciousness.
Like Andrew Weil (1972), noted in his book “The Natural Mind”, one
method employed by young children to achieve a state of altered
consciousness was to play “ring around the Rosie.” Well, I too played
“ring around the Rosie.” until I got so dizzy I would fall to the
earth. I also remember as a child having someone hold my stomach real
tight while I would take ten deep breaths and then pass out from
hyperventilating. Looking back on these moments in my childhood I
realized that I could remember the dizzy effects of light-headedness
but was totally unaware at that time that this was an alteration of my
consciousness and that these sensations were naturally induced for the
By the time I was 13-14-years-old, I became aware of another form of an
altered state. This one caused by a mixture of chemicals. One hot
summer day in July in the middle 1950s, my mother was preparing a
bucket of soap, ammonia, kitchen cleanser and other cleaning chemicals
to soak my dirty clothes. She had gone to the back of the house for
over an hour and we wondered why she was taking so long getting back.
My grandmother found my mom lying on the stairs in a state of
confusion, babbling and making no common sense at all. My mom was
looking up in the air exalting, “look at the pretty snowflakes” and
describing how beautiful the rainbow butterflies were. Of course, my
brother and sister and I, along with my grandmother, saw nothing except
the usual everyday Chicago factory skyline from our backyard. I spent
three days with her in the mental ward of the hospital worrying that
she was going crazy and would never return to normal. This was my first
experience baby-sitting a hallucinatory ‘bad’ trip, which according to
my mom, was a strange trip. She did not recognize anyone or me. She was
totally whacked for three days and so I had my first inkling of what
chemicals can do to the mental condition of a person. Of course this
opened up my mind to future possibilities in life.
Throughout the ages, human beings have sought to alter their
consciousness through the use of certain plants and fungi. The
fascination of humans with dung-growing visionary mushrooms may go back
to the earliest times.
It was perfectly natural to seek out the effects these plants would
have when merged with human consciousness, and repeat the experience.
Many such plants slowly became known to humankind and some of these
very plants generated a change in human consciousness far beyond
anything-primitive mankind had previously experienced Which plants, how
to prepare them and the experience they provided was valuable
information to share with family, friends and loved ones.
In their search for edible foods, early hunter-gatherers followed the
manure trails of the large migratory herds. When the weather conditions
were right, they would find mushrooms growing from the manure deposits
of ungulates along the corridor routes the mammals were following.
Being hungry and curious, early humans naturally consumed the small
meaty mushrooms, some of which were psychoactive. Some of the mushrooms
found in the manure of four legged ruminants were Psilocybe cubensis,
Copelandia spp., and some species of Panaeolus.
These fungi presumably were valued not as food sources, but for the
expansion of consciousness and perception they induced. Over the ages,
a growing body of knowledge accumulated about which plants and fungi
brought about what effects and how to prepare them. Archeological
records suggest that early humans knew about these mushrooms’ special
effects and consumed them intentionally for this very reason. Several
writers have suggested that major religious ideas were inspired by the
intake of such entheogenic mushrooms and plants (Wasson, 1968; Allegro,
1970; Arthur, 2000).
We can be assured that the intake of these entheogenic mushrooms
provided the consumers with fantastic visions and images far beyond
anything the hunter-gatherers had ever imagined as being humanly
possible without them. Thus we have early mankind to thank for bringing
certain mushrooms to the attention of our species and introducing the
mushroom-altered mind to human
This work will delve into four families of mushrooms known to cause
cerebral mycetisms in humans and animals when consumed as a food
source. However, primary focus will be on mushrooms containing the
tryptamine alkaloids psilocine and psilocybine in archaeological
records. Examining archaeological records will show that early humanity
knew about these mushrooms, their effects and consumed them for this
THE LIFE CYCLE OF A MUSHROOM
Approximately 100,000 species of fungi are known. Wild psychoactive
mushrooms, known scientifically as basidiomycetes (club fungi), are the
fruiting bodies of saprophytes, meaning they obtain their food by
direct absorption of nutrients from the soil or other medium, such as
the decomposing manure of ruminants or the decaying leaves, twigs and
wood of plants. The nutrients are dissolved by enzymes, and then
absorbed through the fungi’s thin cell walls. Since they lack
chlorophyll, they always feed on live or dead matter bringing about the
decay and decomposition of all organic matter on our planet.
Most fungi reproduce by spores (fig. 1),
tiny particles of protoplasm enclosed in sturdy cell walls. A common
mushroom produces 10 billion or more spores on its fruiting body, while
giant puffballs produce as many as several trillion. Spores are the
seeds of a mushroom. They are found on the gill plates on the underside
of the cap of a gilled mushroom. When the mushroom cap has fully opened
and separated from its veil, the mature spores are dispersed by the
wind or fall directly beneath the mushroom. Various small animals and
insects, notably dung beetles and millipedes, feed on mushrooms and are
instrumental in spore distribution. When the spores land on a habitable
medium, they germinate and form hyphae, which grow and spread under the
surface into many small fine silk-like hairs that collectively form the
mushroom mycelium (spawn). The mycelium grows, radiating outward into
large, occasionally vast mats that permeate the material in which it is
growing. When conditions are correct, the mycelium fruits and a
mushroom appear above the ground. One primary medium is the manure of
four-legged ruminants such as cattle, buffalo, horses and sheep.
Additionally some groups of insects are known to cultivate mushrooms as
food (ambrosia beetles, tropical leaf-cutting ants, and certain groups
of termites).(Encarta, 2000).
WORLDWIDE DISTRIBUTION OF TRYPTAMINE-CONTAING MUSHROOMS
Mushrooms come in many different sizes, shapes and colors and the
mushrooms under discussion here are those capable of producing altered
states of consciousness brought on by the alkaloids psilocine and
psilocybine. Mushrooms with these properties are referred to as,
hallucinogenic, narcotic, magic, sacred, psychedelic, psychoactive,
entheogenic and neurotropic. They have a great diversity and a large
world distribution and in 1957, only seven species were known to the
world. However, numerous species of neurotropic mushrooms have since
More than 180 species of fungi are recognized as containing the
tryptamine alkaloids psilocine and/or psilocybine. They are Agaricales
and include the genera Psilocybe (117 species), Gymnopilus (13
species), Panaeolus (7 species), Copelandia (12 species), Hypholoma (6
species), Pluteus (6 species), Inocybe (6 species), Conocybe (4
species), and Agrocybe, Galerina and Mycena (one each). Concerning the
distribution of Psilocybe, the majority of the species are found in the
subtropical humid forests of Mexico and New Guinea. Mexico has the
highest number of neurotropic fungi, with 76 species), of which 44
belong to Psilocybe (39 % of the world).
Neurotropic mushrooms have been identified as far north as Alaska and
Siberia in the northern hemisphere and as far south as Chile,
Australia, and New Zealand in the southern hemisphere. They gro wild
from California in the western United States of North America to China
and Japan, and from sea level to the high mountan regions up to 4,000 m
elevation (e.g. Psilocybe aztecorum in high mountains of Mexico at 4000
m elevation). As Gartz (1996) has pointed out, "The mushrooms occur in
abundance wherever mycologists abound" (Guzmán, Allen &
Although neurotropic fungi occur worldwide, knowledge of their
distribution is still poorly developed. When they were first
rediscovered and documented (Heim, 1956a, 1956b; Singer, 1949), for a
time it was beleived that they occurred only in Mexico. Later, numerous
species were found in Nprth and South America, Europe, Siberia,
southwestern Asia and Japan (Singer & Smith, 1958). Guzmán,
in his 1983 monograph on the genus Psilocybe showed distribution in all
the continents. Recently, Allen & Merlin (1992) and Guzmán
(1995) described new species Psilocybe in the U.S.A., Mexico, Colombia,
Puerto Rico, Spain, Thailand and New Zealand. Gartz et al. (1995) and
Stamets and Gartz (1995) reported new species from South Africa and the
U.S.A., respectively, confirming the broad distribution of these
peculiar fungi. In this way it seems that the diversity, ecological and
geographical distribution of the neurotropic fungi is so vast and
complex, that Guzmán, Allen and Gartz (2000) decided to publish
a check-list of the known species and their distribution throughout the
world and presented a map of that distribution (fig. 2).
Today we lack records of neurotropic fungi from several parts of the
world, including Russia, Mongolia, Arabia and Turkey, and many regions
of Africa or the Middle East, but this is not to say they don’t exist.
Kmagic mushrooms enjoy growing popularity amongst young teenagers in
Russia, Africa and Israel, where western influence brings knowledge of
their existence. There are no presently known records of wild Psilocybe
from Korea, and Hawaii,. Enen in the U. S. A., mycological research is
somewhat limited in several states, such as Arizona, Colorado,
Illinois, Maryland, Vermont, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and
Pennsylvania, where there are no records of neurotropic species of
Psilocybe. Most recently, two new species have been docymented in
Georgia, Psilocybe weilii and Psilocybe atlantis and a new species are
now reported from Czeckoslovakia (Psilocybe arcana) and Cambodia
(psilocybe angkoria, sp. Nov).
ARCHEOLOGICAL EVIDENCE OF ANCIENT USE OF MUSHROOMS
At an archeological site in the Non Nak Tha region of northern
Thailand, the bones of Bos indicus cattle were recently unearthed in
conjunction with human remains. We know that Psilocybe cubensis
flourishes in the manure of cattle and buffalo in this region of
northeastern Thailand. Terence McKenna has suggested that the temporal
and physical relationship between the human bones and the bones of
cattle is conclusive evidence that psychoactive mushrooms were known to
the people who frequented this region around 15,000 B.P., (McKenna,
1992). He suggested that the consumption of these types of mushrooms
provided a certain impetus to humanity’s intellectual evolution.
On the Tassili Plains in northern Algeria, cave paintings dating as far
back as 9000 B. C. E. (Samorini. 1992; Gartz, 1996) portray
anthropomorphic figures with mushroom images on their bodies, evidence
that mushrooms were known and used in a mystic manner. Emboden (1979)
describes, among traditional folk remedies from the 2nd century Chin
dynasty in China, a cure for
‘the laughing sickness,” mushroom intoxication attributed to the
accidental ingestion of psilocybian mushrooms. In 11th century Japanese
folklore there is a story of a group of woodcutters and nuns who became
lost, hungry, and then quite inebriated after consuming what is
believed to have been psilocybian-containing fungi. This exciting tale
is recorded in the Japanese classic ‘Tales of Long Ago’ and cited in
HISTORICAL DOCUMENTATION OF FUNGAL SACRAMENTS
Ethnomycologist R. Gordon and Valentina P. Wasson first reported the
use of certain fungi as divinatory sacraments in mainstream western
media publications. They documented such use, first in article
published by Life magazine and in several books and numerous journal
publications (Wasson, 1957; Wasson, 1958; Wasson and Wasson, 1957;
Schultes, 1939, 1940). This discovery and dispensation guided the
course of many in western society and eventually reached the
consciousnesses of millions of interested peoples. They also brought to
the attention of the world three other families of fungi capable of
invoking cerebral mycetisms in both humans and animals. These include
the Soma fungi Amanita muscaria and related species, the ergot fungi
Claviceps purpurea, and certain fungi belonging to the genera’s,
Boletus, Heimiella, and Russula.
The following notes provide a brief history of the use of Amanita
muscaria in the Old World as well as in the New World. Additionally, we
note the use of the ergot mushrooms from which Albert Hofmann
accidentally discovered LSD. It has been suggested that the Kykeon of
the ancient Greeks employed ritualistically at the Temple of Dionysus,
may have been from ergot compounds extracted from wild grasses in the
Mediterranean (Wasson, Hofmann & Ruck, 1978). And furthermore, we
will mention the use of certain species of Boletus, Russulas and
Heimiellas by aborigines in the New Guinea Highlands.
The earliest record of the possible use of Amanita muscaria as an
inebriant is in the ancient Vedic Hymns of India. Urine drinking
associated with mushroom intoxication is mentioned in the Rig Veda (9th
and 10th mandalas).
Travelers and explorers in Siberia reported this practice during the
late seventeenth and eighteenth century. In her books, "Windmills of
the Mind" and "Hallucinogens: Cross Cultural Perspectives," Marlene
Dobkin de Rios (1976, 1984) discusses the custom of Amanita
urine?drinking by the reindeer herdsmen of Siberia. It is likely that
some psilocybian mushrooms were also historically used in Siberian
shamanism (Wasson, 1968). Recent research shows that certain isolated
groups of Finn?Ugrian people, the Ostyak and the Vogul of western
Siberia, today employ Amanita muscaria shamanistically, as do the
Chukchee, Koryak and Kamchadal people of northeastern Siberia (Heizer,
1944; Brekham & Sam, 1967; Wasson, 1968; LaBarre, 1975).
The contemporary use of Amanita muscaria is not restricted
geographically to Siberia (Arthur, 2000; Ruck & Staples, 2001).
Graves (1960) and Schultes (1976) have revealed that some Finns and
Lapps, as well as Afghanis use this species. Its use is also well
documented in Japan and the Philippines.
Among some groups of North American Indians (Wasson, 1979), the Dogrib
Athabascan (Schultes & Hofmann 1979) and the Ojibway of Northern
Michigan and Ontario (Keewaydinoquay, 1978, 1979, 1998; Wasson, 1979b),
use of Amanita species as a sacrament dates back over four hundred
years. Several tribes (Ojibway, Chippewa, Iroquois and others), have
stories of little people associated with mushrooms which imply a hidden
widespread knowledge of entheogenic mushrooms among North American
The active ingredients isolated from Amanita muscaria include ibotenic
acid and muscimol (Saleminck, 1963; Eugster, Muller & Good, 1965).
The same causative agents have also been isolated from a similar
species; Amanita pantherina (Takemoto, Nakajima & Sakuma, 1964).
Both species are sometimes employed recreationally in the Pacific
Northwest region of the North America (Ott, 1978b; Weil, 1977, 1980)
and in Europe (Fericgla, 1992, 1993; Festi and Bianchi, 1991). There
are several other species of Amanita, which also contain these
classical agents (Ott, 1993; Guzmán, Allen & Gartz, 2000),
but have no history of sacramental or recreational use. The chemical
compounds found in Amanita species are vastly different in action to
those fungi known to contain the alkaloids psilocine and/or
Claviceps purpurea and LSD
A psychoactive fungus, Claviceps purpurea, is the most likely basis of
another historically significant sacramental substance, the ‘kykeon’
beverage of the ancient Greek rites of Demeter and Persephone, which
were held annually for over 2,000 years at Eleusis, outside of Athens,
at the temple of Dionysus in the Elysian Fields. This ergot fungus is
found on several wild grasses common in the Mediterranean region (Ott,
1978a; Wasson, Ruck & Hofmann. 1978; Schultes and Hofmann, 1973,
1979). Lysergic acid is a component of ergot, a small purple fungus
that deforms the grains (Hofmann, 1980, 1983). From this, Albert
Hofmann derived LSD in the Sandoz laboratories in Basel, Switzerland.
Ergot fungi belong to the genus Claviceps, of the family
Boletus, Heimella and Russula
There is substantial evidence of the continuing use on the islands of
New Guinea of several other families of fungi, Boletus, Heimiella, and
Russula (Singer, 1958b; Reay, 1959, 1960; Singer, 1960; Heim &
Wasson, 1964, 1965; Nelson, 1970; Heim, 1972; Rios, 1976, 1984). The
Kuma people of the Western Highlands know these mushrooms as nonda.
Tribes belonging to the Nangamp (the Danga) call them Nong'n. Effects
attributed to these fungi appear to resemble chronic states of hysteria
and madness. It is reported that this madness may last for up to two
days. The term therogen [becoming a beast] has been adopted to describe
New Guinea context of such use. Species used by these natives include:
Boletus flammeus Heim, B. reayi Heim, B. kumeus Heim, B. manicus Heim,
and B. nigroviolaceus Heim; Heimella anguiformis Heim and H. retispora
Heim; Russula agglutinata Heim, R. maenadum Heim, R. kirinea Heim, R.
pseudomaenadum Heim, R. nondorbingi Singer and R. wahgiensis Singer.
Stearic acids have been found in two species of Russula. Causative
agents in the other species of mushrooms used by Nangamp natives are as
Another species of fungus found in New Guinea is Psilocybe kumaenorum
Heim, and it has been suggested by Guzmán (1983) that its
psychoactive properties may be known of and used by these aborigines.
PSILOCYBINE MUSHROOM USE IN MESOAMERICA
Central and North America psychoactive and other mushrooms were first
documented in the writings of early Spanish chroniclers, which included
naturalists, botanists and members of the clergy. Knowledge of these
mushrooms and other sacred plants became known to the western world due
to the writings of Schultes (1939, 1940), Singer (1949, 1958), Singer
and Smith (1958), Heim (1956a, b, 1957a), Wasson and Wasson (1957,
1958), Heim & Wasson (1958) and Wasson, V. (1958).
While the Spanish may or may not have been the first to explore this
brave new world of ours, they were the first to have recorded the
history of their discoveries in the New World. Furthermore, these
Spanish invaders, as explorers, were also seeking such treasures as
Coronado’s "Seven Cities of Cibola" (the lost city of gold or "El
Dorado" as it later became known), the "fountain of youth" and even
aphrodisiacs to seduce young women. There are numerous references in
the literature alluring to the fact that the mushrooms were a possible
aphrodisiac (Wasson, 1980; Allen, 1997).
As the conquest spread through Central America and Mexico, the
historians observed the Aztec priests and their followers being served
the sacred fungi at festivals and other celebrations. The Nahuatl
speaking Aztec priests called the mushrooms teonanácatl
(Teunamacatlth), translatable as “Flesh of the Gods." According to
Wasson (1980), "teo" probably meant awesome or wondrous and “nanacatl”
implied mushroom or even meat.
The magic mushroom was only one of many fungi described in codices
written by the Spanish in the 15th century. They relate that the
mushrooms were often administered among the common people, merchants,
visiting dignitaries. The wealthy consumed them served with honey or
chocolate. Botanists and historians, eager to please their masters back
in Spain, reported the effects of the mushrooms in diabolical terms.
They described the effects of these mushrooms and other plants as
leaving their users in uncontrollable fits, claiming that when under
the influence, native people would even commit violent acts towards
themselves and each other.
They reported that many would fall into rages or into a stupor. While
this may indeed be simply symptoms of ignorance regarding Shamanic
trance and it’s outward appearances it is most likely that this
ignorance was useful to those who could profit from the strangeness
rather than trying to understand it. These descriptions could very well
describe an alcoholic syndrome in contemporary society, but can also be
compared in context to indicate strange plant usage and pagan
practices. To the god-fearing Europeans of those days, this was reason
enough for the devil-possessed natives. The Spanish were also a very
mycophobic (mushroom-fearing) people who deplored the Aztec rituals and
the priests who employed mushrooms and other magical plants as
divinatory substances (Sahagún, 1956).
During this period of conquest, the Spanish invaders proceeded to rape
the land of its many resources and strip away the native peoples of
their culture, heritage and religion. Soon they thus began their
indoctrination of their way of life into that of the native population.
This was achieved largely through the fear of death. Soon the
conquerors began to indoctrinate and enslave the Native Americans and
converted many Aztecs into the world of Christendom. Eventually, the
conquerors succeeded in their endeavor to devour the land they now laid
claim to while the botanists and clergy began to initiate the long and
somewhat tedious task of cataloging and recording on paper all that
they had discovered in the new world.
The numerous descriptions recorded by the Spanish clergy and historians
concerning the effects of these drug/herb plants and their use by the
Aztec people treats the subject with loathing and fear, rife in bigotry
and this is somehow justified by demonizing them as evil or some type
of heresy. All of the typical mind-control tactics were used to
discredit the practice of religious plant consumption, effectively
duping the feeble-minded into thinking that plants and their
unauthorized usage was evil and of the Devil. For example: one author
described the mushrooms as "Hongol demonico ydolo" (for more terms and
names of the sacred mushrooms, see Allen, 1997c and Guzmán,
The Spanish persecuted, often murderously, those who did not adhere to
the Catholic ways. This persecution caused the native population to
hide the use of these mushrooms from their Spanish peers and over the
intervening centuries, the native people concealed their use of the
sacred mushrooms from outsiders. Thus the sacred mushrooms remained a
secret until the Wassons celebrated velada with Dona María
Sabina in 1955. While the ludible use of psilocybian mushrooms is
worldwide, the traditional use of these mushrooms is best documented in
certain mountain areas of the Mexican State of Oaxaca in the Sierra
Mazateca region of Southern Mexico. It is there where local Shamans
still employ the sacred mushrooms in magico-religious ceremonies as
their ancestors the Olmecs, Toltecs, and Aztecs did for almost two
millennia. Such use and practice once flourished amongst the Nahuatl
peoples and today seven tribes of indigenous native inhabitants
currently employ more than two dozen species of the sacred mushrooms in
a ritual context for the purpose of healing and curing through
divination and/or via magico-religious veladas (Wasson & Wasson;
Schultes, 1939, 1940; Singer, 1958a).
We would know little or nothing of these indigenous peoples’ use of the
mushrooms was it not for Doña María Sabina, a Mazatec
curandera who shared her secrets with R. Gordon Wasson and photographer
Alan Richardson and made it possible for all of us to experience her
ecstatic and sacred knowledge.
Additionally, Mayan cultures of Central America may also have employed
the mushroom entheogens ceremoniously (J. M. Jenkins 1998).
Guzmán (1997) reported more than two hundred common names were
used by various groups of Indians living in the Sierra Mazateca of
Oaxaca, but now the rare word teonanácatl, first reported by
Sahagún (1569-1582) and then by Schultes (1939), is now commonly
used by western society to name any Mexican hallucinogenic fungi.
However, teonanácatl is not known of nor used by any local
indigenous peoples currently residing in Mesoamerica. Among the most
common Spanish names used to refer tothe sacred mushrooms are: San
Isidros (a saint of agriculture), pajaritos (“little birds”) and
derrumbes (“landslides”). These are the most common names used when
describing Psilocybe cubensis and/or P. subcubensis, P. mexicana and P.
zapotecorum, respectively (Guzmán, 1997; Guzmán, Allen
& Gartz, 2000; Allen, 1997).
MUSHROOM CULTURE IN THE 20th CENTURY
The use of entheogenic fungi for ludible purposes first gained public
recognition through research initiated by Timothy Leary, Richard
Alpert, Ralph Metzger, and others at Harvard University in the early
1960's (Graves, 1962; Weil, 1963; Leary, 1968). Timothy Leary had
consumed seven sacred mushrooms while on vacation with friends in
Cuernavaca, Mexico. After returning to Harvard, Leary believed that the
mushrooms and the special effects imbued in those who consumed them,
could be a beneficial tool in psychiatric medicine. Ten years after
Leary brought psilocybine to Harvard, mushroom use slowly spread from
México (Ott, 1975; Sandford, 1973; Pollock, 1977-1978; Weil
1973, 1975-1976) to the northeast United States and Australia (Stocks,
1963; McCarthy, 1971; Southcott, 1974) and back to Mexico. By the early
1970s, mushroom use became popular in Bali (Schultes and Hofmann, 1980
), Hawaii (Pollock, 1974) and the Pacific Northwest of America
(Weil, 1975). Fifteen years after the announcement of the rediscovery
of the ceremonial use of sacred mushrooms in México,
recreational use of psilocybian fungi had become widespread in the
Pacific Northwest and several Southeastern states of America (Pollock,
1976, Weil, 1977; 0tt, 1978; Singer, 1978).
In Canada, the recreational use of entheogenic mushrooms, particularly
(Psilocybe semilanceata, was first reported from British Colombia by
Heim et al. in 1966. By the early 1970s, public awareness that
psilocybian fungi occurred in British Columbia and other Canadian
territories soon became common knowledge to astute members of the drug
sub-culture (Oakenbough, 1975; Padmore, 1980a, 1980b).
By the late 1960's, entheogenic mushroom awareness had arrived in the
British Isles (Young et al., 1982; Harries and Evans, 1981; Peden et
al., 1982), spreading to Scandinavia (Christiansen et al., 1981, 1984;
Ohenoja et al., 1987), and other European countries (Gartz, 1993). In
the early 1970s, psilocybian mushrooms gained large followings in
Indonesia, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. Such use is now widespread
amongst tourist populations in several third world countries (Allen
& Merlin, 1992; Allen & Gartz, 1997). Liberty cap mushrooms
(Psilocybe semilanceata) are common in Peru as is Copelandia
cyanescens. Both Psilocybe cubensis and/or Psilocybe subcubensis are
common in Colombia and other South American countries and several new
species have recently been identified from Brazil.
The sale of magic mushrooms, whether sold separately or in food items,
was common amongst certain groups of indigenous peoples living in third
world countries. Tourists were able to gain the confidence of local
indigents in the matter of the mushrooms and their desire to purchase
said fungi through financial offerings definitely influenced many poor
Indian peasants as well as some Mexicans, especially those living in
and around the Oaxacan village of Huautla de Jiménez. Singer
(1958, 1978) reported that Mexicans were debasing the mushroom rites of
the Mazateca people of Oaxaca, especially in and around villages where
shamans and curanderos still practice sacred healing and curing
Throughout Mexico (Ott, 1975), and Guatemala (Lowy, 1977), many adults,
as well as their children, have both been observed gathering and
selling entheogenic fungi to foreigners. Ott (1975) reported that
students in México city were selling mushrooms to other students
at schools and to tourists. For many poor people residing in
undeveloped regions of Mexico, Central and South America, the mushrooms
were a welcome economic boon.
Young Harvard students, graduates, authors and professionals, soon
began a mass pilgrimage to México in search of the "magic
mushrooms." Their only source of information in finding the mushrooms
came from a few local native informants who claimed to know where the
sacred mushrooms grew. Eventually, many native adults, as well as their
children, soon began to seek out the fungi. Innocently enough, the
indigents were only selling the fungi in order to provide their
families with extra food and clothing. Predictably, by the middle
1960s, various scoundrels had learned the fine art of selling mushrooms
that had no entheogenic properties, though this deception appeared to
have subsided by the late 1970's.
Between 1960-1970, thousands of foreigners embarked on a pilgrimage to
Oaxaca in search of the "magic mushrooms." Many of the young foreigners
and their peers who encroached on Oaxaca, hoped to experience the magic
of the sacred fungi. Many did, while at the same time, as noted above,
many eventually ended up with phony non-hallucinogenic fungi. Ott
(1975, 1978, 1979) later confirmed that these practices are common in
México and still occur.
Wasson later wrote that, "Starting in the summer of 1967, army and
federal authorities intervened in Huautla to expel the young foreigners
and Mexicans who had made the place a center of psychedelic
experimentation. The conduct of the young Mexicans, among many who were
delinquents and not a few children of the rich in search of adventure,
was lamentable. The presence of the young foreigners was not scandalous
but notorious. The irresponsible intrusion of the young outsiders into
Huautla encouraged the Mexican authorities to prohibit the
hallucinogens--their traffic and use--by including them (January 1971)
in the health code of the Republic of México at the initiative
of president Gustavo Díaz Ordaz. Federal surveillance over the
area continued until recently, when the youthful visitors in search of
drugs ceased to be so numerous. At present  the municipal
authorities are in charge of the local situation."
As more people became aware of and experimented with hallucinogenic
mushrooms, unenlightened governments of many countries proceeded to
forbid their use and commerce. However, in the United States,
Canadá, Europe and Australia, thousands of individuals continue
using the mushrooms recreationally, but in an illegal commerce (Pollock
1974, 1975-1976, 1975, 1976, 1977-1978); Oldridge et al., 1989; Rumack
and Salzman, 1978; Southcott, 1974, Weil, 1980; Allen 2002). Indoor
illicit cultivation of the tropical fungus Psilocybe cubensis
floutishes on most continents and the Pacific Northwest cold weather
species Psilocybe azurescens is now reported from Europe, but only from
cultures and imported woodchips with natural spawn or from sporeprints
collected from the Pacific Northwestern United States. Presently,
Psilocybe cubensis, Copelandia (Panaeolus) cyanescens and the sclerotia
of Psilocybe tampanensis are legally cultivated and sold in Smart Shops
throughout the Nederlands. Fresh mushrooms (Psilocybe cubensis and
Copelandia cyanescens) are cultivated clandistinely and sold openly in
shops in Christiana, Denmark. Until the summer of 2002, fresh and dried
mushrooms were sold in vending machines and shops in Japan when the
Japanese Ministry of Health enacted laws which described psilocybian
mushrooms as dangerous narcotics, thus making the mushrooms illegal in
Japan (Unsigned, May 29, 2002). Under the old law, the mushrooms were
not considered illegal as long as they were not sold as food items. In
the British Isles, possession of wild and/or cultivated magic mushrooms
is not illegal as long as the mushrooms are fresh (Guardian, 2003).
Additionally, fresh specimens of Psilocybe cubensis are legal in the
State of Florida.
In the early 1970s, Australian and European backpackers, seeking
alternate affordable vacation resources became ecstatic after becoming
aware that entheogenic mushrooms were common on the island of Bali.
They communicated this message to their friends and eventually Balinese
natives learned the economic value of the mushrooms. This came about
due to tourist influence amongst local native populations at resort
areas in third world countries. By the early 1980's, magic mushroom
omelets and smoothies had become popular numerous resort locations in
Thailand, Nepal, and on both coasts of the Indian continent (Allen and
Merlin, 1992; Allen and Gartz, 1997). It was recently reported that
some species of magic mushrooms are now being served to tourists in the
THE POPULAR SPECIES
Among the 180 known varieties of the neurotropic species, four are
currently sought after and used by hundreds of thousands of individuals
as a source of communication amongst peoples with similar interests,
but most use them not in a ritual setting or context nor for healing or
curing, but rather as a form of recreation.
These four mushrooms include Psilocybe cubensis (fig. 3) and Psilocybe
subcubensis (fig. 3),
the former a coprophilous (dung-inhabiting) species common in
subtropical regions but unknown in the tropics and the latter a
pantropical and subtropical species macroscopically indistinguishable
from Psilocybe cubensis only by the size of its spores. Psilocybe
cubensis is also cultivated (fig. 4)
clandestinely throughout much of the world; Psilocybe semilanceata
often referred to as the liberty cap is common in Europe, Russia,
India, Peru and the Pacific Northwest United States and Northeastern
North America; and the famous blue meanies mushroom, Copelandia
cyanescens and related species (fig.6)
found in the tropics and neotropics of both hemispheres. Finally we
must report that Amanita muscaria (fig. 7)
is also sought after and used recreationally by some members of the
drug subculture and such recreational use is limited to the west coast
of the United States and in Western Europe. It is from these species
that many dreamers find their common ground in forming a symbiotic
relationship with these sacred mushrooms and it is here that some of
those magical tales are told. And now with the Internet, one may also
give thanks to the ‘world wide web’ for the symbiotic relationship it
shares with these sacred plants and those who know and love them. It is
the Internet that is now spreading the word of the mushrooms to
millions of interested individuals throughout the world. It is up to
the individual to stand up to the imposing governments that would rob
humanity of this valuable birthright; the direct experience of
psilocybian mushroom consciousness.
A FINAL THOUGHT
The study of fungi is called mycology and it was R. Gordon and Tina
Wasson, whose life long interest and love of recording the history of
mushrooms and their relationship with mankind, who coined the term used
to describe that particular field of study as ‘ethnomycology’. The term
has been in use for 20 years or so, increasing in its popularity, ever
We, as humans, also share this quest for knowledge and to change the
way we think through the application of healing plants that bring about
an altered state of being is a new way at looking at life and what life
is really all about. We owe a large debt of gratitude to R. Gordon and
Tina Wasson for bringing these plants to the attention of the public.
The authors would like to thank Dr. Gastón Guzmán of the
Instituto de Ecologia, Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico for the use of the
‘worldwide distribution of species ‘ map and to Grant Trowbridge for
his rendition of the lifecycle of a mushroom. All photographs by John
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rising price of mushrooms. Lancet No. 8265:213-215. Saturday, January
John W. Allen is an amateur ethnomycologist who has studied,
photographed and lectured on entheogenic fungi for more than 25 years.
He is the author of seven books, one medical poster, three CD-ROMs of
mushroom data (Teonanácatl: A bibliography of Entheogenic
Mushrooms, Mushroom Pioneers and Psilocybian Mushroom Cultivation: A
Brief History), One Psychedelic Inspired Art CD-Rom (1060 graphic
designs) and many articles on the non-traditional uses and field
identification of psychoactive fungi in the Pacific Northwest of North
America, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Europe,
Great Britain and Scandinavia. Currently Allen provides two great
web-sites pertaining to psilocybian mushrooms, Mushroom John’s Shroom
and Psychedelic Inspired Art: http://www.releasethereality.com/mjart.html
James Arthur is an Ethnomycologist, archaeoastronomer, mythologist,
theologian and shaman. He is the author of Mushrooms and Mankind and
the forthcoming Mushrooms, Ayahuasca and DMT. See: http://www.jamesarthur.yage.net