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Spiritual Mushrooms Used Historically in Religious Rituals

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Spiritual Mushrooms Used
                    Historically Religious RitualsSince at least 5,000 B.C., people have used "spiritual mushrooms" in their religious rituals. The San Peoples of Tassili in southeast Algeria left behind cave paintings illustrating dancing, masked medicine men with mushrooms in their hands. It's believed the mushrooms were of the consciousness-altering variety.

Tassili is today part of the Saharan desert, mountainous and uninhabited. But in the days of the San Peoples, the environment was savannah-like and inhabited by cattle, lions and even crocodiles. There's archeological evidence of contact between the San Peoples of Tassili and other tribes across the Sahara, from Chad to Egypt, perhaps even Greece.

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Because ancient Greeks, too, may have used mushrooms in their spiritual practices. The "Eleusinian Mysteries," continuous for an astounding two millennia, was the most important spiritual initiation ceremony in ancient Europe. Scholars believe it involved use of consciousness-altering mushrooms. With participants such as Plato and Aristotle, spiritual mushrooms may be an important part of the legacy of western civilization.

Amanita muscaria time lapse photography:
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.

It may not have been an admirable type of spirituality practiced by this warrior culture but it was none-the-less part of their religious practices whatever we may think of them. Siberian shamans are also said to have used Fly agaric in their spiritual practices to help them talk to their gods.

R. Gordon Wasson even claimed in a controversial book titled Soma: Divine Mushroom of Immortality that Fly agaric was the very substance referred to in ancient Vedic literature as the mysterious soma, a plant or mushroom extract used in ancient Hindu rituals and believed to bestow immortality of the soul and other divine qualities to the consumer.

(Note: Make no mistake, Fly agaric - Amanita muscaria - is poisonous and can also be confused with other deadly species. Consumption for any reason is completely discouraged.)

                        cubensis 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.

The debate raged on until the early 1930s, when amateur anthropologist Robert Weitlaner got invited to witness an original spiritual ceremony that included the use of consciousness-altering mushrooms.

Two decades later, R. Gordon Wasson and his wife Valentina Povlovna were the first white people to participate in a Velada (mushroom ceremony). This religious ceremony lead by shaman Don Aurelio was described by Wasson in a 1957 Life Magazine article, which became the spring-board for public awareness of mind-altering mushrooms.

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Although the (in-)famous genus of mind-altering mushrooms, Psilocybe, contains 60 species, most do not contain the psychoactive compounds psilocin (fresh mushrooms) and psilocybin (fresh and dried). The Mixtecs are believed to originally have used Psilocybin mexicana and Psilocybin caerulescens. The today more common Psilocybin cubensis is believed to have arrived from Europe.

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.


Paul Stamets, Psychoactivity Conference, Amsterdam, 1999:


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