You are on page 1of 2

Mushrooms and Man by Paul Stamets Humanity’s use of mushrooms extends back to Paleolithic times.

Few people - even anthropologists – comprehend how influential mushrooms have been in affecting the course of human evolution. Mushrooms have played pivotal roles in ancient Greece, India and Mesoamerica. True to their beguiling nature, fungi have always elicited deep emotional responses: from adulation by those who understand them to outright fear by those who do not. The historical record reveals that mushrooms have been used for less than beneign purposes. Claudius II and Pope Clement VII were both killed by enemies who poisoned them with deadly Amanitas. Buddha died, according to legend, from a mushroom that grew underground. Buddha was given the mushroom by a peasant who believed it to be a delicacy. In ancient verse, that mushroom was linked to the phrase “pig’s foot” but has never been identified. (Although truffles grow underground and pigs are used to find them, no deadly poisonous species are known.) The oldest archeological evidence of mushroom use discovered so far is probably a Tassili image from a cave which dates back 3,500 years before the birth of Christ. The artist’s intent is clear. Mushrooms with electrified auras are depicted outlining a dancing shaman. The spiritual interpretation of the image transcends time and is obvious. No wonder that word “bemushroomed” has evolved to reflect the devout mushroom lover’s state of mind. In the winter of 1991, hikers in the Italian Alps came across the well preserved remains of a man who died over 5,300 years ago, approximately 200 years later than the Tassili cave artist. Dubbed the “Iceman” by the news media, he was well equipped with a knapsack, flint axe, a string of dried Birch Polypores (Piptoporus betulinus) and another yet unidentified mushroom. The polypores can be used as tinder for starting fires and as medicine for treating wounds. Further, a rich tea with immuno-enhancing properties can be prepared by boiling these mushrooms. Equipped for traversing the wilderness, this intrepid adventurer had discovered the value of the noble polypores. Even today, this knowledge can be life-saving for anyone astray in the wilderness. Fear of mushroom poisoning pervades every culture, sometimes reaching phobic extremes. The term mycophobic describes those individuals and cultures where fungi are looked upon with fear and loathing. Mycophobic cultures are epitomized by the English and Irish. In contrast, mycophilic societies can be found throughout Asia and eastern Europe, especially amongst Polish, Russian and Italian peoples. These societies have enjoyed a long history of mushroom use, with as many as a hundred common names to decribe the mushroom varieties they loved. The use of mushrooms by diverse cultures was intensively studied by an investment banker named R. Gordon Wasson. His studies concentrated on the use of mushrooms by Mesoamerican, Russian, English, and Indian cultures.

Mycolatry in Mesoamerica. Inside the temple. (See Brough (1971) and Wasson (1972). Albert Hoffman. One of Wasson’s most provocative findings can be found in Soma: Divine Mushroom of Immortality (1976) where he postulated that the mysterious SOMA in the Vedic literature. they gathered in the initiation hall. pilgrims sat in rows that descended step-wise to a hidden. the Goddess of Earth. The Vedic symbolism carefully disguised its true identity: Amanita muscaria. whose designed purpose escaped archaeologists. paying the equivalent of a month’s wage for the privilege of attendind the annual ceremony. His publications include: Mushrooms. Wasson kindled interest in ethnomycology to its present state of intense study. and Persephone’s Quest: Entheogens and the Origins of Religion. that the Eleusinian mysteries centered on the use of psychoactive fungi. Although some Vedic scholars disagree with his interpretation. The Wondrous Mushroom. Wasson published research on Psilocybe mushrooms in Mesoamerica. central chamber from which a fungal concoction was served. More than any other individual of the 20th century. thousands of pilgrims journeyed fourteen miles from Athens to Eleusis. Roger Heim. From GROWING GOURMET & MEDICINAL MUSHROOMS. and that this secret ceremony persisted for nearly 2. Russia.000 years. a red fruit leading to spontaneous enlightenment for those who ingested it. beyond any apparent structural need. apparently in good humor. Aristotle. Maria Sabina and her Mazatec Mushroom Velada. The pilgrims spend the night together and reportedly came away forever changed. The pilgrims were ritually harassed on their journey to the temple. In this pavilion crowded with pillars. known by historians as the Eleusian Mysteries. Upon arriving at the temple. was actually a mushroom. Wasson’s studies spanned a lifetime marked by a passionate love for fungi. That Aristotle and other founders of western philosophy undertook such intellectual adventures. and on Amanita mushrooms in Euro-Asia/Siberia. Their papers were later published in a book entitled The Road the Eleusis: Unveiling the Secret of the Mysteries (1978). Many cultures portray Amanita muscaria as the archetypal mushroom. An odd feature was an array of columns. R. at a mushroom conference on the Olympic Peninsula. a great telestrion. In 1977. Wasson died on Christmas Day in 1986. Dr. Paul Stamets . These ceremonies continued until repressed in the early centuries of the Christian era. the hallucinogenic Fly Agaric. Plato. ceremonies occurred. For over two milennia.With the French mycologist. underscores the profound impact that fungal rites have had on the evolution of western conciousness. Wasson’s exhaustive research still stands. and Carl Ruck first postulated. and Sophocles all participated in religious ceremonies at Eleusis where an unusal temple honored Demeter. No revelation of the ceremony’s secrets could be mentioned under the punishment of imprisonment or death. & History. Gordon Wasson.