On the Right Hand of God
A Partial History of the Sacred Fungi




Part One
    The Fungus Among Us

Part Two
    The Written Word

Part Three
    Naked in the Desert
    Desert Teacher
    Journey to the Mountains
        Mountain Welcome
        Settling In
        Another Encounter
        Green Plant Ally
    The Mushroom Speaks
    What the Hell?
    Blessed are the Meek

Journey to the Mountains

And so it came to pass that Ajax and I started out on our journey to the mountains. It was the 19th of May, 1977, when we left the Hayhook Ranch, in the shadow of Kitt Peak, Arizona, and started out across the desert.

We learned first hand, or maybe that should be "first foot", all about living like an old prospector, walking the land, and sleeping under the stars. I had my sourdough, which I kept like a pet, keeping it warm inside my shirt or sleeping bag. I learned to feel at home on the trail. We learned to appreciate the hospitality and generosity of the ranchers. The trip was a teaching, an adventure and the beginning of a new life. That was before I knew the significance of my destination.

I had my reasons for making the trip all figured out. I knew why I had turned my back on civilization. I wasn't aware of just how well my "ball-bearing shoes" were working. I wasn't aware of any wandering, my path was more or less direct, chosen in advance, and I didn't expect to be met there.

There is quite a difference between the psilocybin mushrooms that we attempted to grow and the Amanita muscaria that was the sacred mushroom of the ancients. One of their major differences is that the Stropharia cubensis is nearly as prolific as the commercial variety, whereas the Amanita may fruit only occasionally and then with only a handful from each mycelium. According to the book, their flesh is immediately attacked by insects and seldom lasts for more than 24 hours. In the dry southwest they tend to last three or four days. Finding them in the wild can be difficult to impossible if you are not aware of their fruiting habits. In the Southwest mountains, that translates into five or six days a year for each mycelium or usually a six week period in the late summer that you could call the "Amanita season".

We weren't in much of a hurry, but the lowlands were heating up and we had hoped to get into the mountains before the summer was over. It took us 2 1/2 months to get to the Wilderness. I knew we were getting close to our goal when we crossed the first ridge inside the Gila National Forest. The trees blotted out the last ranch house and we were free in the woods. We had about 2 weeks worth of food and 50 miles of good country to cross to reach our destination. The rainy season was well under way and there were clouds pouring in over the mountain tops as we descended into the first canyon.

Mountain WelcomeBack to Top

I found a flat place and started unpacking Ajax. I could see the rain swirling over the ridge and decided to put up the tent before I finished unpacking. A few drops splattered on the ground just as I was laying out the tent. This was a simple pyramid with only 4 stakes and a center pole and it can be set up in less than a minute. I was moving as fast as I could, but before I could raise it there was a good layer of water covering it. It turned the meadow into an instant lake and soaked everything I had before I could get it inside. I laughed and shivered inside the tent for about 10 minutes. The rain stopped just as quickly as it had begun. The temperature had dropped about 20 degrees, I was soaked to the skin, and had no dry clothes. I decided that the best thing for me to do was jog down the trail a ways and warm myself up.

As I jogged through the misty afternoon, it dawned on me that this was ideal mushroom weather. No sooner had that thought crossed my mind when I caught sight of a bright red spot out of the corner of my eye. I stopped in my tracks. I turned and saw one of the most incredible sights I have ever seen. There, in the soft defused light, on the damp forest floor, contrasting against the shiny brown of damp pine needles, was the richest red imaginable. A lone Amanita muscaria shown through the mist like the rising sun. It was growing within the curve of a discarded deer antler, as if some artist had placed it there for maximum effect. Just seeing the mushroom was a shock in itself. It didn't seem possible that such an artistically satisfying arrangement could have just happened, but there it was. My heart began to pound. I looked around, half expecting someone to come out from behind a tree and admit to playing a joke on me, but there wasn't anyone for miles, and no one in the world could have done this thing. I was so shook up that I went right back to my tent and crawled inside.

"They've come to welcome you," I chuckled nervously to myself. I smoked a bowl of herb and tried to pull myself together. By the time I had smoked my second bowl, I realized how silly I was behaving. It was just a coincidence that I had arrived just in time for the fruiting season. It was just a coincidence that I had walked 350 miles to get here on the right day for this plant. I decided that it wouldn't hurt to take another look.

I trotted back to the spot and the scene was just the same; the mushroom accentuating the curve of the antler and a couple blades of grass tying the composition together. The colors were no less brilliant then they had been a few minutes before. It then occurred to me that there were probably more of these 'shrooms in the area. I turned and crossed the trail. On the other side, not twenty feet away, was another bright red Amanita. I froze in my tracks. Curved around the mushroom, in a mirror image of the first one, was the matching antler.

I turned and looked back across the trail. I could still see the first one from where I stood. I looked back and forth. They were both real and unbelievable. "Just a coincidence," I said to myself. I stood there for a long time trying to find a handle on what was happening. There was nothing in my experience to explain how this could happen. This does not compute. After awhile, I gave up looking for a reasonable explanation. I gathered up the antlers and the mushrooms and went back to camp.

I was sure that there must be thousands of these little devils around for me to have found two in such an unlikely arrangement. I hung the 'shrooms from a string on the center pole of the tent and went back to the spot a third time. I began making circles around the place where I had found them. I made larger and larger circles. I found no more specimens that afternoon.

For the next 5 nights, every campsite I picked out had an Amanita growing within a few feet of where I pitched my tent. Coincidence. It seemed as if these little critters were everywhere. After I had set up camp, I would start making circles around the perimeter looking for more specimens. As the circles got larger I would find fewer and fewer until, usually within a hundred feet or so of the tent, I would cease to find any at all. They really seemed to be waiting for me. I began to collect and dry some of them, although I had no idea of ever eating any of them. I had begun to laugh it off, making light of the whole silly business.

On the morning of the 6th day into the forest, I found the canyon I had marked on the map. As I walked down the trail from the top of the ridge I could hear the water rushing over the rocks in the canyon below. This was the place; high, rugged and with plenty of water. All I needed then was a flat spot big enough for my tent. I parked Ajax on a grassy hillside and headed out to find just the right spot. It wasn't easy. The slopes were steep and overgrown with scrub oak and brush. About a mile upstream I found it. There were two flat places, one on each side of the stream. I chose the sunniest of the two and started back for Ajax. On the way I searched out the easiest route for getting in and out. The place was perfect. It was a good feeling to have accomplished the goal, and having it be so nice. In no time I had the tent pitched and a fire built and was settling into my new home. After some lunch I decided to explore my new neighborhood. I walked down the slope to the stream and stared across it to the flat spot on the other side. My heart jumped into my throat. There, less than 50 feet from my campsite, was a garden overflowing with Amanita muscaria. There were probably 15 or 20 of the little buggers within sight of my tent. "Welcome, Jim. Glad you could make it."

Settling InBack to Top

Ajax had become a liability. He was necessary for the traveling show, but since we had arrived at our destination, he had nothing to do but eat. In no time at all, he had eaten everything in sight and moving him to fresh pasture took up more and more of my time. On one of my trips for supplies, I happened to meet some folks who had use for him and we made a trade. With no more obligations, I settled down to write.

Although I had published a tiny book of short stories and poetry, and had file boxes full of notes and drafts stashed in various places, I was not what you would call a disciplined writer. I worked more on inspiration than on command, so I was having a hard time getting the thing into words. Just as today, the mood for writing, if not the inspiration itself, came just after having smoked some pot. The same is true for playing the guitar or drawing, I just don't get into it if I'm not stoned.

By mid-August I was out of smoke. The last of the stash from the year before had gotten me to that spot, but now I was on my own. I had hoped that the mountains themselves would inspire me to write, but the walking and the beauty had stopped the gears from turning. I would sit with my notebook in hand, waiting for the words to come; nothing came. I had no idea how to re-engage the mechanism. It occurred to me that it would be ironic if I could use the "crank" in those mushrooms to get me back into drive. It seemed inevitable. I was sure that they could have no influence on my thinking; I was immune to their propaganda. I knew their secret and they couldn't do me any harm. So, one drizzly morning, using an ancient Egyptian recipe, I prepared a golden brew.

I had been doing a lot of thinking about these little space bums, reviewing all of the things I had read about them. I had read quite a bit about other people's mushroom experiences, in fact, that is where I got the recipe for my Amanita tea. It has been reported that the alkaloids in these mushrooms can have a serious effect on the liver. I had just recovered from a bout with hepatitis and was concerned about what it might do to me. I had read that one ancient practice was to combine specimens from different myceliums. It seems that there were different amounts and maybe even types of harmful alkaloids present in mushrooms from different areas. I had that covered.

One of the books that came to mind that day, was The Sacred Mushroom, by Andrija Puharich. His story was so bizarre that I wasn't sure whether to believe any of it or not, but my experience was beginning to sound similar. Andrija is what you would call a "psychic researcher". Right away his credibility is suspect because he has to be involved with at least some shady characters. But his goal was to expose the fakes and study the people that showed some real abilities. He initiated complex procedures for testing the validity of specific kinds of psychic skills and observed his subjects closely during a variety of circumstances. He seemed to be as baffled as anyone else by the weird events that took place during the course of their research, but he reports them in an honest and straightforward manner.

In 1953, Andrija was approached by the Army, rather discreetly of course, to find out if any of his research into psychic phenomena had uncovered a drug that could improve ESP, especially telepathic communication. The advantages of such a drug to the military are obvious. He said that he knew of no such drug. Through a strange set of circumstances, he was experimenting with just such a drug within two years.

Through one of his contacts, Andrija heard about a young man who could read the contents of sealed letters with amazing accuracy. He was doing this just for friends at parties and such, and was not trying to promote his talents. It seems that at one party he was handed a piece of gold jewelry, supposedly of ancient Egyptian origin, and had gone into a trance, uttering strange words and phrases. Andrija lost no time in making contact with the man and making arrangements to work with him. The young man's name was Harry Stone. He was a sculptor from Holland who was struggling to have his work recognized in this country. Andrija offered him living space where he could work on his art in exchange for his co-operation in testing his abilities. It was a good deal for both of them.

The relationship worked out well and they were able to test Harry under a variety of circumstances. It was determined that Harry possessed mild psychic ability, but nothing really spectacular. There were others that they tested that did better, but occasionally Harry would go into a trance. He would speak in a strange tongue and draw hieroglyphics that appeared Egyptian. The staff meticulously recorded everything he said.

Andrija had to become somewhat of an expert in the languages of ancient Egypt to translate the messages, but they were definitely of Egyptian origin and pertained to the sacred mushroom, the Amanita muscaria. They called it the "door to eternity". That was the source of my recipe, although not the only one. All of the ancients recommended the use of extreme care when dealing with these mushrooms.

On one occasion, Andrija, Harry and other members of their psychic detective team were up all night, waiting for a possible telepathic message from Mexico. It was the night that Gordon Wasson was to ingest psilocybin mushrooms with his Curandera, and he was to try to transmit some message to this group in Massachusetts. Mr. Wasson was too overwhelmed by his experience to attempt a transmission and they had also missed the timing by some hours, but a message came through none the less.

They were sitting around the "lab" trying to keep themselves occupied with word games and such, when one of the secretaries went into a trance and started "automatic writing". Andrija would ask her questions and she would answer on paper without being conscious of what she wrote. She drew a map of where they were to find one of the sacred mushrooms, right on the grounds. Two days later, they found the Amanita muscaria growing in the exact spot shown on the map. Of course, everyone was astounded. They all searched the grounds carefully and they found no more specimens.

Another EncounterBack to Top

And so I tipped up the cup and drank the very nectar of the gods I had come to expose to the world. Within a few minutes I felt a light buzz, but nothing more. I waited a few minutes and then doubled the dose and waited some more. At the time I hadn't heard that these North American varieties never have had the hallucinogenic properties of their Eurasian relatives.

Although I didn't think that I was high at all, I sure acted funny by my normal standards. I never even considered picking up my pencil and pad. It seemed to me that if I were going to use these mushrooms for my "get up and go", I was going to need a lot more of them than I had. So I grabbed a handkerchief to carry them in and started off on a mushroom hunt. At first I made rough circles around my camp, allowing for the terrain, but couldn't find any. I branched out into new territory. It was a perfect day for them; cloudy, with a slight drizzle, but none were to be found. Although there weren't any 'shrooms around, there were plenty of beautiful sights to catch my attention and the day sort of got away from me. I was scouring the bottom of a canyon that should have been on the way home when I found the first and only Amanita of the day. It was right at the mouth of the canyon that should have been mine. It stood to reason that there should be more growing between that spot and my camp a couple of miles up stream. I headed into the canyon searching the ground in expectation. I felt good. I walked 2 or 3 miles without seeing any more at all. I looked up at the walls of the canyon and they were unfamiliar to me. I should have been in home territory by then. Besides, this canyon was dry! This was the wrong canyon!

I figured that it was a good time to take a break and ponder the situation. I sat down on a boulder in the middle of the dry stream bed and started to check out my surroundings. I didn't feel alarmed or anything, I was having a fine day. While I was sitting there I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye. It was a flash flood! The muddy brown wall of water was only a couple of feet high, but full of debris and surely could have wrecked the rest of my day had it caught me. I barely had time to get to the bank before the water churned over the rock that I had been sitting on. I had always wanted to see a flash flood, but I wasn't ready to swim in one.

The adrenalin rush brought me out of my lethargy. I looked up and noticed some touches of color on the horizon. The sun was going down, and not where I had assumed it should be. I was lost. I looked around for some landmarks and nothing rang a bell. I checked my pockets; no compass, no matches and soaked to the bone from the damp brush and the constant drizzle. The temperature would fall into the low forties and I would be very cold unless I got my act together in a hurry. No time to fool around. I headed for the nearest ridge that seemed like it might be in the right direction to take a look. I didn't take time to be scared, but poured my energy into finding my camp. Once I had my bearings, it was just a matter of covering the ground. I stumbled into camp on the last flickers of twilight and collapsed into my tent. While I lay shivering in my sleeping bag, the rest of Andrija's story tumbled out of my memory banks and snapped into sharp focus.

Andrija had been drawn to mushrooms on other occasions than the one already mentioned and always there seemed to be some strange circumstances involved, but that was not what was bothering me. The spooky thing was that when Andrija gave his subject, Harry Stone, just a small amount of the sacred mushroom, he immediately "maxed" a double blind matching test with an astronomically high improbability quotient. Within two years after being approached by the Army to find a drug that enhances ESP and the drug finds him. The number one warrior drug in the world volunteers to just the right man. It was beginning to soak into my consciousness that these creatures have the power to deal out here in our real world and not just in the separate reality that they create in the mind. It was sometime during that night that I learned the real meaning of fear. I was aware of their power to communicate, but I hadn't given them any credit for being able to function up here in our world. But now, I was not so sure of myself. How did they pull off these "encounters"? I could not force myself to believe that they were aware and could really be a danger to one of us. But at that moment, when the fear was still a metallic taste in my mouth, there was no doubt that they had tried to do me in, and no amount of logic would slow my pounding heart.

Today, that feeling has faded away, the fear is only a memory, but I respect the experience, knowing that my rational mind is probably involved in a cover-up. For that night, my logic was suspended, blasted out by first hand, face to face contact. Sleep was hard to come by, and fitful when it arrived. I have since convinced myself that if they had really wanted to kill me that they would have succeeded and that my experience was meant as a teaching. At any rate, the encounter shook me to the core.

Green Plant AllyBack to Top

The next morning, I was up before dawn, packing my sack for a trip to town. I was on the road at the first light. It took all day, but a bag of the Holy Herb was found and I soon felt my confidence returning.

There was no use in telling anyone about all of this; my latest mushroom experience certainly wasn't any easier to believe than the first one. Besides, my primary mission was to find something to smoke in a strange town where I knew not a soul. As the Sun sank slowly in the West, I pondered the situation. It seemed to me that since I escaped from the mountains alive, that the danger, real or imagined, was probably passed. If I didn't eat any more of those things and kept the Ally handy, I would be OK.

Through all of this experience, my constant companion and Ally has been the holy plant, marijuana. The Mama Yerba has been my friend, supporter, confidant and guide through a maze of craziness. The plants that had accompanied me into the wilderness and led me to the places for me to learn, were ones I had carried water for, and tended, and lived with the year before. The relationship had been mutually beneficial. But now, they were gone up in smoke. What I was able to score that day was fresh if nothing else. It soothed me deeply, but it was not like my own plants. That day, I laid out plan "A". First, I needed to begin some serious research in the libraries and book stores, to see if I could find any more collaborating evidence. If I could gather enough to support my story, or enough evidence that it wasn't true, either way, it would have to be done. Plan "B" was to carry some more water, do some more tending and in general improve the quality of our herbal relationship. It was decided that it was down right dangerous for jim to run out of good smoke and I vowed that it would not happen again. That is another story.

The result of Plan "A", is what you hold in your hand. This is by no means all of the evidence, but we are not holding court proceedings here. I have just briefly outlined work that has required several lifetimes of study to uncover. There is much more to learn about our relationship with all of the plants around us, especially the hallucinogenic fungi. There are many good books still around that shed more light on the story. Some of these relationships are just now starting to be discussed openly in our culture. There is much more to come.

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©2005 jim cranford