may remain forever speculative. However, the absence of direct evidence is not proof that evidence is nonexistent. The Celtic druids and bards had a definite penchant for poetic metaphors—for always speaking in “riddles and dark sayings,” as the Roman historian Diogenes Laertius observed.
It can be assumed that if the druids and filidh did use a psychotropic substance to access knowledge, healing, and wisdom, they would have carefully protected its identity from Roman invaders and Christian missionaries. We contend that the motifs of magical foods can best be explained as metaphoric references to
, the highly valued, red-capped mushroom that was once used shamanically throughout much of northern Eurasia.
Wasson’s Findings on Celtic Toadstools
One reason the possible role of a psychoactive mushroom in Celtic mythology has been overlooked is that
is difficult to find in Ireland today.
grows only in a symbiotic, mycorrhizal relationship with the roots of birch, spruce, and some conifers—and Ireland has been almost totally deforested over the last thousand years. However, there were once great forests of birch and pine in Ireland, so the red-capped mushroom could easily have grown there, as it still does in the forests of England and Scotland, and on the Isle of Man (located between Ireland and England).
Furthermore, even if
never grew in Ireland, the filidh could have easily obtained supplies of dried mushrooms from their Celtic neighbors. The mere availability of
does not prove its use, however. Even ethnomycologist R. Gordon Wasson—the most enthusiastic proponent of the theory that
was used by the ancient Indo-European peoples—once admitted that, in all his research, he had found little evidence suggesting the shamanic use of fly-agaric (
) among the Celts, Germans, or Anglo-Saxons. He stated explicitly that he could find no direct evidence that psychoactive mushrooms had been used either by the “shadowy Druids,” or medieval witches.
Despite the lack of hard evidence, Wasson never totally dismissed the possibility of
use in Europe. Based on his studies into why most European languages are filled with mycophobic references toward mushrooms in general and fly-agaric in particular, Wasson arrived at a very interesting conclusion: