|The Fungus Among Us |
Although you may not recognize the botanical names of some of the mushrooms that we are going to look into here, you will have no trouble identifying the Amanita muscaria. This is the cute little mushroom, with the bright red cap contrasting with the snow white spots and stype, that adorns everything from greeting cards to hand towels. In olden times, the fairies, elves and Leprechauns were sure to be found hanging out in the shade of it's canopy. These days, Smurfs live in Amanita houses.3 DelPorte/Peyo Coffee mugs, place mats and all sorts of kitchen utensils are decorated with this species of mushroom. It turns out that many of our mythic heroes were named for the amanita muscaria. Many common tools, inventions and weapons were named after some part or attribute of this particular fungus. Many of the words we use today have their roots in some relationship to this mushroom or it's use. To an outside investigator, it would seem that this mushroom is very important in our present culture, even though most people would deny it.
The amanita muscaria grows by attaching itself to the root of a conifer, like the white birch in Eurasia and the ponderosa or yellow pine in North America. This relationship between fungi and conifer is the beginning of our tale and symbolizes the greater connection that we humans have with our fungus neighbors. This seemingly obscure symbiotic relationship between tree and toadstool certainly couldn't be important, but it will lead us to a new understanding of ourselves and the cosmic drama around us.
The other varieties that we will be examining here, those containing psilocybin, are not as popular in our arts and lore. They are relatively drab with cream colored stalks with brown caps and grow primarily in pastures. They tend to "fruit" through cow pies, so they are safe from being eaten by most folks.
There are many varieties of psilocybin producing mushrooms that fruit on the forest floor, rather than pastures, but they are far less conspicuous than the amanitas. Our culture hasn't paid much attention to these plants. However, they have been very important to various cultures throughout history. They were important enough to the people living in Guatemala around 400 BC. for them to carve stone images of these mushrooms with a small grinning figure sitting at the base.4 Schultes These artifacts show that a deep reverence for these plain brown ones once existed. The Mayans, Aztecs and other groups in Mexico and Central America have left us a rich history including many references to their use. To this day, they are still worshipped in isolated areas.
Recently, our own society has become acquainted with the MagicMushroom.
"The use of drugs to alter consciousness is nothing new. It has been a feature of human life in all places on the earth and in all ages of history..."
Ready To Eat
Of all of the drug plants, it is the hallucinogenic fungi that interest us most. They very well may have been the first drug plants used because they require no manipulation to get at the inebriating component. Most of the narcotics from green plants require burning or boiling or drying or some form of refining, while the mushrooms are ready to eat, as is.
Our modern culture has rediscovered the use of some of these plants and some people have included their use in their daily lives. It seems likely that this trend is going to continue. The fantastic effects of these plants has kindled a fear that they are dangerous to Society. These fears are also nothing new; many of history's massacres have been initiated to rid the society of the "evil" of drugs. As is typical of "cultured" society, our historians have removed any overt mention of drugs from our history books in the hope that if no one knew about these evils, no one would use them. Consequently, our culture has almost no knowledge of the involvement of these plants in the formation of our beliefs and attitudes.
It is only recently that any serious research has been directed at the relationship between hallucinogens and the development of early cultures. Once it is understood just how important that relationship has been, our history takes on some new meaning. The "scientific community" has been slow to grasp this connection. Many scientists are reluctant to draw conclusions that get them in trouble with religious leaders or politicians, and have generally declined to study subjects that are considered "borderline" by their peers. The research that has been done shows that "drugs" and mankind have been intimately involved from the very beginning of our identification as being "human".
In the last few of decades, researchers have found clues linking some species of hallucinogenic plants to our earliest civilizations. The purging of our histories has removed most of the direct mention of these plants. In fact, it is very difficult to find any mention of "mushrooms" in texts that we now know were written specifically to mushroom deities. The clues have remained hidden in our mythologies and religions and works of art for centuries. The fungus detectives that followed these clues and made these discoveries are the heroes of our story.
The purge is still on. Our society is still trying to censor drug literature. If we are ever to reach a balanced relationship with our plant drugs and their influence, we must thoroughly understand that relationship, past, present, and future.
The hallucinogens we are going to deal with here are all fungi and most of them are mushrooms. Mushrooms are at once both complex and simple. Their physical structure is as simple as some of the earliest forms of life, yet they can produce some of most complex alkaloids found in Nature. The part that we see above the ground is the fruit. The body of the plant is the network of filaments, known as the hypha, or collectively, the mycelium, that lives in the ground. In some cases this almost invisible "body", can grow to a depth of several inches in the soil, and cover many acres of pasture land.
The body of the plant is actually more like a nervous system. As mycelium grows right in its food, it has no need for a complex physical structure to search for and capture nutrients. This is really the "brain" of the organism, containing many more neural connections than our own little unit. If that sounds farfetched, keep it in mind as the story unfolds.
<- Previous | Next>
Click on Author to return to quoted text.
3 DelPorte/Peyo,King Smurf, Random House, New York, 1977.
4 Schultes, Hallucinogenic Plants, Golden Press, New York, 1976, p 60.
Weil, The Natural Mind, Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1972, p 17.