Mushrooms and mind
NATURAL mind-expanding substances have been used by humans for centuries, probably before history was ever recorded. I am speaking of such things as cocaine, heroin, marijuana, nicotine, etc. Perhaps I should call them only mind-affecting substances, some of you may think.
Some of these substances even have been associated with religious practices. Native Americans, for example, used peyote as a part of their religious procedures. It was so important that I recall that it was legalized for that use many years ago.
Why am I writing about such things? Those substances all come from plants. They have nothing to do with mushrooms, which I have indicated in the title is what this column is about.
I am mentioning such things because I think they are commonly known as mind-affecting substances. I doubt, however, if mushrooms are generally know to cause similar mind effects. But they do. That is why I want to tell you about them, if I have my way.
I recently have written two of these columns about fungi and people relations. In the last one, I told about the hallucinogenic “fly mushroom.” Its technical name is amanita muscaria. I said in that column that I would tell you more stories about it, if I had my way. So here we go.
Before getting to amanita muscaria, however, permit me to say this. Other fungi may be mind-affecters, also. I told about ergot in rye and dark wheat which caused the “holy fire” of Europe and the “witches of Salem” here in early America. It is close to LSD in its chemistry.
Other mushrooms may also be mind-expanding and connected to religious functions. A people in southern Mexico have long used a mushroom in their religious activities. It is part of their rituals.
Now, let us get to the fly mushroom, amanita muscaria. I have always thought that the Vikings were big, strong men. That, it seemed to me, was the reason for their success. After seeing their armor and battle dress in Scandanavian museums, however, I changed my mind. They were rather small men.
How, then, were they so successful?
The fly mushroom, amanita muscaria, grows profusely in northern Europe. The Vikings gathered them, let them dry, and took them on their ships when they went to their battles. Before engaging with the enemy, or attacking a place, they nibbled some of the mushrooms. Soon, they felt like they were nine feet tall and tougher than anyone else.
Amanita muscaria probably had some influence on some of our great literature. It is thought that Lewis Carroll got some of his ideas for “Alice in Wonderland” from reading about its hallucinogenic effects.
A book about the effects of the mushroom on Siberian tribesmen appeared just as Carroll was writing his book. It is known that he was very interested in the book.
In Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World,” the inhabitants of their utopian civilization regularly used a perfect drug call “soma.” It was non-narcotic, non-addictive, non-destructive and had no after-effects. It relaxed the user, expanded the mind, gave a pleasant sensation and had no disadvantages.
Huxley probably based his soma on “the soma of antiquity.” References to it are found in “Rig-Veda,” the sacred book of Hindu tradition. It has now been determined that this soma of antiquity was the fly mushroom. So this is probably where Huxley got his ideas for his soma.
Well! You may believe that the fly mushroom influenced some literature or you may not. You would, if I had my way.
Permit to share with you this one other story about the fly mushroom. We were in Sweden in an after-dinner chat with several Swedes at one of their homes. Merle, my wife, used the word “beserk.” Immediately, three of the Swedish women said that was a Swedish word. It means “bear skin” they said. In English, it tends to mean a state of violent rage.
The Swedish women went on to tell stories their grandparents had told. In the 1800s, country Swedes would gather for large neighborhood parties during the long, dark winter. Food, drink, gaiety and mushroom eating went on.
As the party progressed, two men often got frenzied at each other. One might challenge another. Others would belt a bearskin around the two of them, they would each have a knife and they would fight until exhausted or one was wounded, even killed. It was the mushroom-eating that got them going. Beserk and mushroom eating went together for those country Swedes of long ago.
I hope I have convinced you that some mushrooms do affect the human mind. Those which do are not found much in our part of the world, but they certainly have had things to do with other cultures.
Many of the mushrooms we contact are delectable foods. Do not be a mycophobe and fear them. Be a mycophile and enjoy them. You would, if I had my way.
Thursday, June 11, 2009