Magic mushrooms: history

This page is about the historical use of magic mushrooms in several cultures.

A Concise History of Magic Mushrooms

The text below has been taken from:

Prehistoric Psychedelic Mushrooms

The oldest representations of hallucinogenic mushrooms in the world are in The Sahara Desert. They were produced 7000-9000 years ago. The idea that the use of hallucinogens should be a source of inspiration for some forms of prehistoric rock art is not a new one. After a brief examination of instances of such art, this article intends to focus its attention on a group of rock paintings in the Sahara Desert, the works of pre-neolithic Early Gatherers, in which mushrooms effigies are represented repeatedly. The polychromic scenes of harvest, adoration and the offering of mushrooms, and large masked gods covered with mushrooms, not to mention other significant details, lead us to suppose we are dealing with an ancient hallucinogenic mushroom cult. What is remarkable about these ethnomycological works, produced 7,000 - 9,000 years ago, is that they could indeed reflect the most ancient human culture as yet documented in which the ritual use of hallucinogenic mushrooms is explicitly represented. As the Fathers of modern ethno-mycology (and in particular R. Gordon Wasson) imagined, this Saharian testimony shows that the use of hallucinogens goes back to the Paleolithic Period and that their use always takes place within contexts and rituals of a mysfico-religious nature.

Rock paintings

Rock paintings and incisions of the prehistoric periods are to be found all over the world, and serve as a testimony to the preliterate history of human cultures. Rock art, the first permanent form of visual communication known to man, the same art which led to the invention of writing, goes back almost to the origins of mankind. In fact, in Tanzania, as in Australia, there are rock paintings which it would appear go back 40,000 years and more (Anati, 1989). Since most of the works of rock art were, or were related to, initiation rites, or were part of religious practice and its context, the idea that these works should be associated with the use of hallucinogenic vegetals (as has already been put forward for some specific cases on the basis of ethnographic and ethnobotanical data) comes as no surprise. This use, where it arises, is historically associated with controlled rituals involving social groups of varying dimensions. It is perhaps not a chance occurrence that the areas where examples of rock art are to be found - areas in which it is most often asserted that the use of hallucinogens might have taken place, on the basis of the scenes represented or on the basis of the consideration that this practice might have served as a source of inspiration - are also the areas where the most famous examples are to be found in terms of imagination, mythological significance and polychromy. In California, the rock art of the regions inhabited by the Chumash and Yokut, a polychromic manner of painting - particularly evident during the stylistic phase known as the Santa Barbara Painted Style' has been associated with the toloache cult centered around Jimsonweed (a hallucinogenic plant of the Datura genus) known to have been used by a number of Californian and Mexican Indian tribes (Compbell, 1965:63-64; Wellmann, 1978 and 1981). Apparently, the first examples of Chumash rock art date back to 5,000 years ago (Hyder & Oliver, 1983). The impressive Pecos River paintings in Texas have also been associated with the mescal' cult (Sophora secundiflora, hallucinogenic beans of which were used during rites of initiation on the part of the Indian tribes of the region) (Howard, 1957). Furst (1986) affirms that the mescal cult goes back 10,000 years, which is to say back to the Paleo-Indian Hunters Period at the end of the Pleistocene period. Archeological excavations carried out in the areas where paintings are to be found reveal mescal seeds which go back to 8,000 B.C, when Carbon-14 dated. Peyote (Lophophora Williamsii) has also been found during some of these excavations (Campbell, 1958) An interesting and quite explicit use of cohoba, a hallucinogenic snuff taken from the Anadenanthera peregrina tree has been documented among the peoples of the Borbon Caves art in the Dominican Republic (Pagan Perdomo, 1978). This art is probably an example of the Late Antillian Culture of the Tainos and goes back to a period shortly before the arrival of the Spaniards. In this painting, the subject of inhalation of cohoba - by means of cane pipes - is repeatedly represented (Franch, 1982).

Man And Mushrooms

Further evidence in support of the idea that the relationship between Man and hallucinogens - in this case mushrooms - is indeed an ancient one comes from the ancient populations of the Sahara desert who inhabited this vast area when it was still covered with an extensive layer of vegetation (Samorini, 1989). The archeological findings consist in prehistoric paintings which the author personally had the opportunity to observe during two visits to Tassilli in Algeria. This could be the most ancient ethno-mycological finding up to the present day, which goes back to the so-called Round Heads Period (i.e. 9,000 - 7,000 years ago). The center of this style is Tassili, but examples are also to be found at Tadrart Acacus {Libya), Ennedi (Chad) and, to a lesser extent, at Jebel Uweinat (Egypt) (Muzzolini, 1986:173-175). Images of enormous mythological beings of human or animal form, side by side with a host of small horned and feathered beings in dancing stance cover the rock shelters of which there are very many on the high plateau of the Sahara which in some areas are so interconnected as to form true citadels with streets, squares and terraces. One of the most important scenes is to be found in the Tin-Tazarift rock art site, at Tassili, in which we find a series of masked figures in line and hieratically dressed or dressed as dancers surrounded by long and lively festoons of geometrical designs of different kinds. Each dancer holds a mushroom-like object in the right hand and, even more surprising, two parallel lines come out of this object to reach the central part of the head of the dancer, the area of the roots of the two horns. This double line could signify an indirect association or non-material fluid passing from the object held in the right hand and the mind. This interpretation would coincide with the mushroom interpretation if we bear in mind the universal mental value induced by hallucinogenic mushrooms and vegetals, which is often of a mystical and spiritual nature (Dobkin de Rios, 1984:194). It would seem that these lines - in themselves an ideogram which represents something non-material in ancient art - represent the effect that the mushroom has on the human mind.

Mushrooms And Dung

In a shelter in Tin Abouteka, in Tassili, there is a picture appearing at least twice which associates mushrooms and fish, a unique association of symbols among some cultures. Two mushrooms are depicted opposite each other, in a perpendicular position with regard to the fish motif and near the tail. Not far from here, above, we find other fish which are similar to the aforementioned but without the side-mushrooms. In the same Tin Abouteka scene, yet another remarkable image could be explained in the light of ethno-mycological enquiry. In the middle we find an anthropomorphous figure traced only by an outline. The image is not complete and the body is bending; it probably also has a bow behind this figure, we find two mushrooms which seem to be positioned as though they were coming out from behind the beings. If the mushrooms in question are those which grow in dung, the association between these mushrooms and the rear of the figure may not be purely casual. It is known that many psychotropic mushrooms (above all, Psilocybe and Panaeolus genera) live in dung of certain quadrupeds and in particular cows and horses. This specific ecological phenomenon cannot but have been taken into account with regard to the sacramental use of psychotropic mushrooms, leading to the creation of mystical religious relations between the mushroom and the animal which produces its natural habitat. The dung left by herds of quadrupeds were important clues for prehistoric hunters on the lookout for game, and the deepening of such schatological knowledge probably goes back to the Paleolithic period (the long period of the hunter of large game). Thus we have a further argument in favor of the version of events that would have it that there have been mythical associations, with religious interpretations, on different occasions, between the (sacred) animal and the hallucinogenic mushroom. The sacred deer in the Mesoamerican cultures and the cow in Indian Hindu culture (the dung of which provides a habitat for Psilocybe cubensis, a powerful hallucinogen still used today) could be interpreted in this zooschatological manner (Wasson, 1986:44; Furst, 1974; Samorini, 1988). In a painting at Jabbaren - one of the most richly endowed Tassili sites - there are at least 5 people portrayed in a row kneeling with their arms held up before them in front of three figures two of which are clearly anthropomorphous. It could be a scene of adoration in which the three figures would represent divinities or mythological figures. The two anthropomorphous figures have large horns while the upper portion of the third figure, behind them, is shaped like a large mushroom. If the scene is indeed a scene of adoration, it is an important testimonial as to Round Heads mystico-religious beliefs. This scene would thus be the representation of a Holy Trinity illustrated by a precise iconography. It is worth bearing in mind the fact that the upper part of one of the three figures in the adoration scene is mushroom-shaped. It could be related to the iconographic figure at Aouonrhat and Motaiem-Amazar described above. But the more or less anthropomorphous figures with mushroom.shaped heads are to be found repeatedly in Round Head art, some with hat-heads of unboned or papillate form which on two occasions are of a bluish color while others carry a leaf or a small branch. The occurrence of various data suggests the presence of a very ancient hallucinogenic mushroom cult with a complex differentiation between botanical species and related mythological representations. Indeed it would be remarkable to find out that, as part of the culture of the late Stone Age which 7,000 to 9,000 years ago produced Round Heads rock art, we were in the presence of the oldest human culture yet discovered in which explicit representations of the ritual use of psychotropic mushrooms are to be found. Therefore, as the founders of modern ethno-mycology had already put forward - and this is especially true of Wasson (1986) - this Saharian testimony would demonstrate that the use of hallucinogens originates in the Paleolithic period and is invariably include within mystico-religious contexts and rituals.

Mushrooms thru the ages

The following text is taken from Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms
Humanity's use of mushrooms extends back to Paleolithic times. Few peope-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. Try 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. Historical record reveals that mushrooms have been used for less than benign 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.) 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 ax, 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 describe the mushroom varieties they loved. The use of mushrooms by diverse cultures was intensively studied by an investment banker named R. Gordon Wasson. The Spanish persecutors, under the aegis of the Catholic Church, made every effort to totally stamp out Peyote use, subjecting the Indians to floggings, beatings, cruel tortures and even death if they persisted. One account states that as a continuation of three days of torture, a disobedient Indian had his eyes gouged out. The self-righteous Spanish then cut a crucifix into the flesh of his chest, and turned loose starving dogs to dine on his innards. They then went to church because they were devout christians. 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, a red fruit leading to spontaneous enlightenment for those who ingested it, was actually a mushroom.

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