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.
(Please note: Fly agaric is poisonous. It can also be easily confused with other more deadly species. Consumption is strongly discouraged.)
On the other side of the ocean from Europe, the Mixtec culture likewise employed mind-altering mushrooms in their spiritual ceremonies, as recorded in the Mixtec Codex (13th-15th century). Their Gods were frequently engraved with mushrooms in hand.
Although Mixtecs themselves told white anthropologists they used spiritual mushrooms in their religious rituals, western scientists still doubted them in characteristic condescending manner.
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.
In 1953, amateur mycologist R. Gordon Wasson and his wife Valentina Povlovna became the first westerners to actually participate in a Velada (mushroom ceremony), led by shaman Don Aurelio. Wasson publicized his experience in Life Magazine in 1957, which became the start of the popular awareness of spiritual mushrooms in the west.
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.
That all changed after a French 17-year-old girl jumped off a bridge when eating Psilocybe mushrooms. The Dutch parliament responded with a ban on the sale of so called “magic mushrooms,” which took effect December 1, 2008. From Tassili to Amsterdam, the use of spiritual mushrooms is now officially history.
Dr. Markho Rafael has worked with natural health products since 1996, today specializing in medicinal mushrooms. He does not support the use of mind-altering mushrooms. The article on this page is for entertainment only. Click reishi to visit site for more free mushroom articles, or cordyceps reishi for mycomedicinal products. Note: Absolutely no magic mushroom products, please do not inquire.